In the Glare of the Neon Yak Live from GlasDenbury

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a riproaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tightrope walker get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is the sparkling new show from spoken word artist, Robert Garnham.

This audio recording was made at the GlasDenbury festival on the hottest day of the year in a tent in a field in the middle of Devon.

A temporary good bye to Edinburgh, and thoughts on In the Glare of the Neon Yak

So yesterday I did my last show of In the Glare of the Neon Yak. And weirdly it was quite an emotional moment. This show has been with me for almost two years. In 2016 I met up with a famous fringe performer for a breakfast meeting about the basics of putting a show together and they gave me the most invaluable advice. On the way home the next day, an idea came in to my mind to set a show on a train. The first idea was to call it Vestibule Dreams, and that it would be the stories of all the people who were crammed into a Vestibule because there weren’t any seats in the carriage.

Several ideas kept rumbling away in my mind including a show based on the local legend from where I grew up, of Herne the Hunter, the mysterious deer who haunts only when England is in crisis or in peril. I wanted to create a similar myth, and the title came to me all of a sudden: In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I would subvert the myth. A yak which only appears as a symbol that things will be ok. Those who see the Neon Yak will be assured that everything will turn out alright.

The next stage was that I bought a costume. A ringmasters outfit. And the show started to take place, what if I took the costume, the idea for a show set on a train, the idea for a show about a mysterious Yak, and put them all together? I gave myself four months to write the script, took a week off from work, and wrote the whole thing in five days.

Several parts of the show are nods to people I know. Tony the Train Manager is based on a real person, as is Molly. The train is called the Puddlehopper Express, which was what my dad used to call his car. The train company was called Preyard, which is what my dad calls a certain airline which he used to fly with. Jacques the tight rope Walker and Parsnip the clown are characters from a really bad novel I wrote when I was about thirteen.

In January of this year I started rehearsing. Previous to this year, id never been able to memorise a three minute poem, but I decided to memorise the whole hour show. I have no idea how many hours I spent going over the script. I would go to the gym and memorise the show while I was working out. I also worked with a director, who gave such good advice on movement and speech. The music was put together myself and by Bryce Dumont, who sent me thousands of his music files to plough through.

And so it was launched on the world. The first show at Exeter Phoenix was a bit scratchy in that the tech guy played all the music in the wrong order, but it wasn’t his fault.  Nevertheless the audience liked it, and from Exeter it went to Barnstaple, Bristol, Guildford, Denbury and Gateshead, before a final run through in Torquay, followed by Edinburgh.

Edinburgh has been its normal self. On some days I had quite respectable audiences, on others, two or three people. However, I had some amazing feedback. One of my heroes, the performance drag clown storyteller Dandy Darkly came to one performance, and he said some very nice things about it on social media. And then someone left this amazing review on the Edfringe website:

“If a tree falls in a forest, can dullards in pubs speculate as to the physics of sound? Similarly, if you see an engaging spoken word show that isn’t a search for identity or a lecture that resembles a Year 9 assembly, and only three people see it, does that mean it’s a bad show?

For idiots, the answer is obvious, because they’re idiots. However, for the three of us who watched Robert Garnham’s witty adult fairy story about five characters on a train journey from the West Country, the rewards are many.

Going the whole hog in ringmaster garb, Garnham manages to put across a star-struck train guard, a pie-eating clown-fixated trapeze-artist and his former clown lover plus a unique depiction of homoerotic coitus in the toilet of a Cross Country 125 and a sexting octogenarian all within the structure of a tale about the eponymous creature.

Such ambition and craft deserves Hollie McNish’s audience. She wouldn’t miss it, but we’d miss not having shows like this. It’d be like not having forests.”

And now the Yak is done, and I really can’t believe it. I’ve got used to the characters and they’ve become like friends over the last few months. I’m making plans to tour the show around the uk and anywhere else that shows an interest. But the last scheduled show has been done. And I’m only just starting to realise what an achievement it was. The last show had a large audience and there was a big cheer when it finished, and I must admit, I did feel a little emotional.

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Four

So I’m over halfway through my run now at the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s been the usual case of highs and lows, though the highs are not as high as last year (with that whole Guardian joke lost Thing) and the lows are not as low (I arrived with all of my luggage). I’ve had good audiences and bad audiences. I had a day with low attendance but the audience was incredibly enthusiastic and generous with their donations. I’ve had a day with a sizeable audience who just sat there in a stony silence.

As ever it is the camaraderie which makes the fringe. My venue is a complex of seven stages and in other rooms are magicians, actors and comedians, and we all meet up in the room where we store our fliers, and chat about how it’s going. One of them told me that he spends eighty pounds a day hiring four flyerers and then gets audiences of sixty, which more than pays for them, it’s simple economics, he says. He’s a magician. Others are more philosophical and say, well, whatever happens, happens. Going on the advice of the magician, I hired a flyerers for an hour. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

I’ve seen some amazing shows, so far, and I’m aiming to get out today and see some more. In fact I might hold back on the flyering and enjoy a day in Edinburgh. The best thing I’ve seen so far is my favourite spoken word artist, Dandy Darkly, and his show All Aboard, a rip roaring cabaret style digression on politics and social issues delivered in brash camp storytelling. It was utterly transfixing and Dandy remains of the finest performers I’ve ever seen. Fay Roberts show The Selkie was a quieter mystical study of myth and nature.

The other day while I was flyering, someone asked me if there was dancing in my show. I shall only come along, she said, if there’s dancing. Someone else asked me what the weather forecast was, and when I said I didn’t know, she got very angry. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

So I have three more shows to go and a couple of guest spots here and there. And each night I come back to my student flat, cook dinner, drink red wine and ponder on how it has gone. And of course, I think about next year. What can I do next year? Now, what can I do?

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day One

I’m currently on a train heading north towards Edinburgh for the fringe. This is my sixth year as a performer, and my eighth in all, so I’m starting to feel like an Edinburgh veteran. Yet for some reason it seems in inconceivable that I’m going at all this year. I suppose the main reason for this is that I feel more prepared than I have done for years, with a show that I have rehearsed and polished and written specifically for the fringe, rather than a collection of greatest hits. I have also done more promotion work behind the scenes, and worked with a director. My whole year, in fact, the last two years, have been leading up to this, and yet, now I’m on the way, I can hardly believe it.

I stayed in London last night, in a hotel that I’ve been staying in on and off for twenty years. There’s something labyrinthine about the place, with rooms and corridors decorated as if from 1970s Czechoslovakia. There’s a complicated system of dials and knobs next to the bed to work the radio. The bed is surrounded by tongue and groove pine panelling. Every morning for the last twenty years, a man who looks like Leonard Cohen rules the breakfast restaurant with an iron fist, but he wasn’t there this morning. I felt cheated. I hoped that he was okay. It just didn’t seem the same without him.

The madness starts tomorrow, with my first show, and appearances at other events. I also want to see as much as possible when I get there, particularly cabaret and comedy as well as spoken word. And this is the first year that everything has gone ok. I haven’t lost my passport like I did the year before last. My luggage hasn’t got lost, like it did last year. And I won’t be staying in a tent or a flat with no roof, like I have done in years past, but in the same university flats that I’ve used for the last couple of years. Auld Reekie awaits, and I can’t wait!

A Brief History of the Thing on my Ear

About a month ago I noticed a lump on my earlobe which shouldn’t have been there. It wasn’t there before but it was there now. I knew that it was something dodgy so I went to the Doctor and she agreed. She explained that it was caused by exposure to UV light and this was a direct result of the hole in the ozone layer. I don’t want you to worry, she said, but we need to treat this seriously.

So of course, I did worry, but I decided also not to tell anyone because that would just spread the worry. I became aware of the lump at all times and regular Robheads will have noticed a slight reduction in selfies at this time. I continued with preparations for Edinburgh and zipped about all over the UK performing my new solo show. Barnstaple, Bristol, Guildford, Denbury, Torquay, Newcastle. Yet at the same time there was this nagging doubt in my head, that I couldn’t really enjoy any of these experiences because of the Thing On My Ear.

The ironic thing is that generally, I do not go out into the sun. I work indoors and the only time I go outside is to queue for a train or to walk to the rubbish bins. Nevertheless, I undoubtedly had a Thing On My Ear and it must have come from somewhere. Every time I shaved, I saw the Thing On My Ear. Every time I made plans for anything beyond Edinburgh, I thought of the Thing On My Ear. And every time I heard that someone had died, I thought of the Thing On My Ear.

The other weird thing that happened was that I worked really, really hard. I rehearsed every spare minute, and wrote the best I’ve ever written, and I put everything into every performance, particularly Totnes and all of my Yak shows. It was like I was trying to say something to the Thing On My Ear.

Today I got my emergency hospital appointment. I arrived early and a nurse asked me to go in a room and take off all my clothes. ‘But it’s on my ear ‘, I pointed out. ‘Yes, but we will need to see all of you’.

I duly undressed and seconds later, the door opened, and in came prominent Bristol poet and artist Hazel Hammond. Well, I thought, what kind of a sick joke is this? But she wasn’t Hazel, of course. She was the doctor, a wonderfully eccentric German lady who told me to lie on the bed. She then went over every inch of me, humming every now and then, flicking at various bits like one of the judges on British Bake Off looking at a meringue. She then looked at my ear. ‘Ah yes’, she said. ‘That is skin cancer. Now put your clothes back on’.

I did so, and I felt pretty down. The last time I dressed like this while feeling down was after that night of passion I spent with my ex just before I was dumped. She came back in the room.

‘You know, it is a very common form. It has a technical name, but it’s better known as a rat lesion. It’s not nasty though we will have to remove it at some point. This won’t be for a long time, in fact, you might think we’ve forgotten all about you. But rest assured, Mr Garnham, we haven’t forgotten.’

‘So it’s not . . A really bad one?’

‘No, it’s not. It’s a rat lesion. You have fair skin, Mr Garnham. You have the same sort of skin that ginger haired people have. Keep away from the sun. Go out, Mr Garnham, and do some shopping. And enjoy your afternoon. But keep away from the sun. Here are some leaflets. And on the day of your operation, bring a book to read. There will be lots of waiting around ‘.

So I’m back home, now. And the future suddenly looks much brighter, at least, with one less thing to worry about. Edinburgh now beckons, and so do many other exciting projects, and I’ve got a sudden urge to do two things. The first is to become more active in looking an environmental issues, which means, alas, I might have to start doing poems about recycling and sustainable energy. And the second is to reread some of my Hazel Hammond poetry books.

The moral of all this is, of course, that we should all cover up more in the sun. One of the leaflets says that it’s best to wear hats and use sunscreen. The bus home took me past Torquay sea front where semi naked people were frolicking in the sun, and I felt bad for them. Other people won’t be so lucky and we should perhaps do all that we can to make sure that we lessen the risks.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak

Mentioned in the Guardian, Telegraph, and on BBC Radio Five Live and Radio Two as having one of the funniest jokes of the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, Robert Garnham returns with his new show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak.
Robert Garnham presents a poetical, theatrical spoken word piece set on a sleeper service on a cold night. Storytelling combines with comedy, poetry and spoken word as Robert tells the tale of a train full of circus performers, stalked through the night by a mysterious supernatural entity, the Neon Yak. Wordplay and whimsy abound in this brand new solo show.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a riproaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tight rope Walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F?

img_6460 An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is the sparkling new show from spoken word artist, Robert Garnham.

Longlisted for the last three years as Spoken Word Performer of the year, and featuring on TV advertisements for a certain building society, Robert is proud to bring his new work to several venues over the summer.
Watch this video for more information