On the mutation of performance poetry into spoken word, and the resulting slow death of whimsy.

Reading Pete Bearder’s wonderful book on the history of spoken word, and listening to the Poet Waffle podcast in which Daniel Cockrill interviewed Jonny Fluffypunk, both spent time lamented that the age of the experimental cabaret performance poet seemed to have passed. A movement in which the term performance poetry seems to encompass everything from naked juggling to indoor fireworks, a time in which the performance of poetry was tied in with either physical prowess and spectacle, or the creation of a separate persona, a poetry character. I’m sure there are performers out there who are still up to these sorts of shenanigans, but they don’t seem as prevent as they used to be. And that’s a bit of a shame, in a way.

When I first started performing over ten years ago, these sorts of performers were the only ones that I knew about. Rachel Pantechnicon, Chloe Poems and others seemed to mix the cabaret style which I craved with poetry in a way that was almost offhanded, they could have been doing anything but it just happened to be poetry. They could have been reading the bus timetable, and it felt like these were just the tips of the iceberg, that a whole world out there existed of quirky characters mixing poetry and all manner of performance art.

It must be said that the Torbay scene, to which I belong, seems to have clung on the longest to this mindset and a healthy local scene exists of poets of spectacular variety and, dare I say if, oddness. Ten years ago, Chris Brooks at Poetry Island and Bryce Dumont at Word Command would invite down the finest performers whose prime purpose was spectacle and comedy. And when I started performing, they encouraged me to be as wacky as possible. I lament the fact that I did not choose an alternative name for myself, but over those first few years I pushed the boundaries of what I thought performance poetry might be. I created a robot to perform on my behalf, Robot Garnham, and I would often perform from the middle of the street, or by phone from the toilets. I performed while eating crisps, or while playing darts. I performed while covered in a blanket because I said I was scared of the audience. I performed from inside a box. I performed while accompanied by a salad spinner, which does a great impersonation of the Paris metro. I performed while on a circular disc which would spin me around. And it all seemed perfectly normal.

And now, I’m achingly mainstream. I discovered slam poetry and won a few slams here and there, and then decided that everything should fit in to three minutes.

When I look at the spoken word community these days there are still plenty of poets who inspire me and make me excited, but the fact remains that over the last ten years, the scene has shifted. Performance poetry is now spoken word, which implies a lack of performance. Poems are earnest and introspective, autobiographical and issue led, which is a good thing, but often you go to a spoken word night and they’re all the same. It’s wonderful, but it gets you down after a while. There are lots of people, but not many characters. Everyone seemed heavily influenced by the culture of slam poetry and by those American poets who shout a lot and hardly pause for breath and get millions of YouTube views. It’s like a sub genre of performance poetry has taken over the scene completely.

And if I can pinpoint the one thing that seems to have killed off the scene in the most part, it would be the slam poetry culture of no props, no costumes. It’s like the slam poetry genre was invented to mitigate against actual performance or spectacle. Maybe there should be a new sub genre of slam itself, weird slam, where anything goes, the bigger the spectacle, the bigger the mark.

And me? I’ve been trying to fit in with both distinct styles. I think I’m probably somewhere in the middle. Yes, I do slam poems, but I try not to be too autobiographical, (my life is far too boring), and I try to have an issue or two beneath the surface. But lately, artistically, I’ve been thinking that the excitement of those early years has been replaced by the need to fit in with the current style.

Bryce Dumont was nice enough, ten years ago, to record every performance I did, and I have all these audio files. They’re a remarkable source of inspiration and I have been going through them, remembering what it was I was doing. I can’t wait to start rehearsing and just going wherever the muse might take me.

This is not to say that the character driven cabaret style of performance poetry is dead. Miserable Malcolm is a superb and hilarious invention, Jonny Fluffypunk is still out there doing his thing, and Rachel Pantechnicon has made one or two appearances of late. It seems, maybe just to me, that the spoken word scene and the performance poetry scene are two different scenes, one rhythm led and rightly obsessed with delivery and writing and heartfelt honesty, the other led more by spectacle and downright weirdness.

So that’s why I say here today, let’s bring back the weirdness! And Torbay seems the only place in the country where that weirdness is still inherent. Tom Austin, Steve O, Shelley Szender and, dare I say if, myself, turning up week after week being as odd and as silly and as funny as we possibly can. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring back the whimsy!

See also https://robertdgarnham.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/spoken-word-as-fun-the-peculiar-torbay-spoken-word-micro-climate/

Chuckles in the Flophouse

Chuckles in the Flophouse

The boutique hotel used to be a flophouse. And now it was a boutique hotel. The transformation from flophouse to boutique hotel was not a gradual process. One moment it was a flophouse, the next it was a boutique hotel. For the same amount of money that could buy you a night in a perfectly ordinary hotel, you could have the experience of staying in a former flophouse. Roland Garnier liked the idea of this. Or at least, he liked the idea of staying in a boutique hotel. Only so that he could say to people, ‘I stayed in a boutique hotel’. He didn’t really like the idea of staying in a flophouse.
There’s something about the word ‘flophouse’. It’s the ‘flop’ part of the word. One could imagine a weary soul trudging the streets of manhattan in search of work and ‘flopping’ into his tiny cabin for the night, tired, aching and hungry. But there were other connotations, too. For too long, the word ‘flop’ had been predominant in the career of Roland Garnier and it just see,es plain insulting that he should now be staying in a house for those who flop. His last solo show had been a flop and so had his collection of poetry. The only thing he didn’t flop at was flopping. This is why he preferred the term ’boutique hotel ‘. It implied a certain distinction.
At regular intervals, the man in the boutique hotel cabin next to his kept chuckling to himself. Roland hopes that the man wasn’t doing what he thought he might be doing. The walls of the boutique hotel cabins were as thin as cardboard and Roland could hear every noise that his neighbour was making. It must have been like this, too, for the original inhabitants of yen boutique hotel, back in the days when it was a flophouse. Or actually, maybe not. There wasn’t much to chuckle about in those days, in spite of Laurel and Hardy. The whole place could probably have done with a bit of a laugh.
Maybe he wasn’t wanking at all. Maybe Chuckles just liked comedy. In which case, Roland thought about knocking on his door and telling him that he was performing that very weekend, headlining at the famous Duplex Cabaret right in the heart of New York’s gay village, bringing his own brand of whimsical comedic nonsense to the Big Apple. But Roland tended to shy away from this kind of impulsive human interaction, and in any case, at the back of his mind was the thought that Chuckles probably was just a prolific masturbator.
That morning, as he had the previous mornings, Roland had gone for a walk two blocks to a branch of Starbucks for a morning coffee and a breakfast roll. Roland had had no idea that they also had Starbucks in the USA and it had been something of a fortunate surprise to discover something so homely in this scary metropolitan city. The man at the reception desk of the boutique hotel had wished him not a pleasant day, but merely, ‘Be careful’. And this is what he’d also said the morning before. Roland really didn’t care for the implications of the young man’s tone, hinting, as he understood it, that he saw Roland as being too naive or trusting to understand the dangers of walking alone in the former skid row district, a district yet to be fully gentrified even with the transformation of the former flophouse into a boutique hotel. Roland lived in Devon, and there were certain areas of Newton Abbot that one simply wouldn’t walk alone, so he was not immune to the dangers of the lower east side, or any built up urban environment. Maybe the receptionist was worried that the death of one of his guests would reflect badly on the next Trip Adviser review.
The thing with the USA is that it’s like a whole different country. As Roland walked along the pavement, which in the USA is called the sidewalk, but still maintains the function and appearance of a pavement, he felt a kind of weird displacement within him that the culture and infrastructure around him was easily recognisable and navigable and yet by turns completely wacko. The number plates of the cars were all different and so were the buses. And the trucks. Goodness knows what was going on with the trucks. They were big and brutal and they looked like they meant business and it all felt rather unnecessary. The inside of the Starbucks, however, seemed like the inside of any Starbucks. It was almost as if they had modelled it on an English one, because it had a counter and a till and a coffee machine and tables just like the good old fashioned English Starbucksies. And the process was just the same. You bought a coffee, sat down and drank it. It’s just like these things are the same all over the world. Travel is likely to make philosophers of us all.
Roland sipped his coffee and looked out at the traffic. He was a little sad that the young lady at the counter had not even flinched, let alone make a comment, when she had heard his accent. And he’d gone to great lengths to emphasise his Englishness when he’d ordered his coffee. ‘Hello there! And a most pleasant morning to You! I would very much like to purchase a cup of your finest coffee, if I might be so bold! I do hope you might accommodate me in this matter!’, he had said, to which he had replied,
‘Sure’.
And then he had slipped back within himself, sitting at the table in the very corner and looking out at a busy intersection, the trucks and the buses and the hubbub of a major city as it wakes and busies itself for another day.
‘Hi. Excuse me?’
Roland looks up. A young man is standing next to him, a cup of coffee in one hand and a plate with a Danish pastry on it in the other. He’s wearing a T-shirt, shorts and a bum bag.
‘Is anyone sitting there?’
The chair next to him was empty. As were most of the chairs in the place. Roland wondered why he would want to sit there when there were so many other empty chairs in the place. He thought that coming to the USA, he might be immune to the various eccentrics and weirdos who populate Devon, but apparently not.
‘No’, Roland says.
‘Hey, you’re . . Let me guess . . Scottish?’
‘English’.
‘Damn, so close. I’m usually good with accents. I met an Estonian once and guessed his accent immediately.’
‘Remarkable’.
‘You here on business?’
‘Kind of. I’m here for . . Work’.
‘Oh? What’s that?”
‘I work in the . . Entertainment industry’.
‘Cool’.
Bum Bag Man sits down and starts drinking his coffee. He then picks at the Danish pastry and feeds bits of it into his mouth, wiping his fingertips on a paper napkin. He doesn’t say anything for a long time and Roland hopes that this is the end of it. But then he says,
‘I’m from Idaho’.
‘Oh’.
‘So I’m not used to this, you know, we have cities in Idaho, but it’s mostly rural, I’m from a rural community, we got lots of cows where I’m from, dairy you see, that’s why I have milk in my coffee because, you know, you got to support the farmers.’
‘I don’t know much about Idaho’.
‘Not much to tell’.
‘And what do you do?”
‘Me? Well sir, I’m a punch hole salesman’.
‘Punch hole?’
‘Sure. For office supplies’.
‘Oh, you mean holepunch?’
Bum Bag Man kind of makes a grimace.
‘That’s a brand name. There’s an actual company called Hole Punch. Hole Punch Inc. I work for Stevenson’s. We actually invented the punch hole back in the 1800s. Our founder says that the idea came to him as if from god, he just prayed one night, and woke the next morning with the Punch Hole clearly defined in his brain. You know, sir, he fell out with his brother, and it was he who started up the Hole Punch Company. But I’m proud to admit, I have a passion for Stevenson’s products that you can only guess at.’
‘And what happened before the hole Punch . . I mean, the Punch Hole was invented’.
‘I guess people just didn’t have holes in their paper’.
‘Fascinating’.
‘Each year we have a ceremony at the factory, to mark the occasion that our founder, Ichabod J. Stevenson, had that vision from god. And they bring out the first Punch hole. It’s kept in a museum, you see, because it’s the size of a small car, this thing, steam powered, and it has to be kept under tight security ever since it killed that chap a few years back. Since then, of course, we’ve all been told not to wear ties or scarves around it’.
‘And this is in Idaho?’
‘Yes, sir’.
Bum Bag Man goes to put a piece of Danish pastry in his mouth but misses and it goes on the floor.
‘So, are you on holiday, here in New York?’
‘Well, sure, kind of. You see, I just broke up with my girlfriend’.
‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that’.
‘We were in the mall. There’s this mall near our town, it’s only a two hour drive away, I’d gone to buy a new phone but when I got there, they only had it in pink. And she laughed, can you believe that? She didn’t feel sorry for me or anything. She just laughed. So there we are in this mall in a suburb of Boise, and she’s just laughing because the phone I wanted was only available in pink. So I ended it. That’s a kind of toxic relationship right there, isn’t it? And I’m any case, she never cared for punch holes. She was a receptionist at a dental surgery’.
‘And you’re here to get over it?’
‘No sir, I’m here to find a new girlfriend. It’s a city of sin, that’s what my pastor says. So if I can find someone, turn them away from sin and towards the wholeness and goodness and purity of Ichabod J. Stevenson, then maybe I’ll be a happier man’.
‘Good luck ‘.
‘I’ll need it. At the moment I’m in my hotel room every night, sobbing.’
‘You’re sobbing?’
‘Oh, yes sir. But I know my time will come. It has to. There’s someone out there for everyone’.
‘Indeed’.
Roland imagined this strange lone figure, miles from his Idaho rural community in a busy city, beaten down by life and lonely, and he started to feel sorry for him. Indeed, if it weren’t for a few subtle differences here and there, they could almost be the same person. Roland had long ago given up hope of finding love himself, and the love that he sought was really no different to that of Bum Bag Man. The only real difference, as far as he could make out, was that Bum Bag Man was wearing a Bum Bag, or fanny pack, as the Americans tended to call them. How could anyone truly be respected if they’re walking around wearing a fanny pack?
Roland looked down at his black coffee. It was starting to go cold. The street outside was as busy as ever. The ability of some people to overshare always made him somewhat uncomfortable and he decided that it was time to move the conversation on to himself.
‘Well, I suppose I had better be going. I’ve got a show tomorrow night and I need to rehearse. Because when you’re headlining at the Duplex, you’ve got to be on top of your game’.
Thus leaving the door open for an inquiry from Bum Bag Man. How could anyone resist such an invitation?
It doesn’t work.
‘Nice to meet you’.
Bum Bag Man hops down off his stool and goes over to the corner where a young lady is working on her laptop.
‘Hey’, Roland hears him say, ‘Is anyone sitting here?’

Two lone souls in a city of infinite busyness, instant forgetting, a machine bigger than any one person, millions of lives, millions of stories, aspirations and dreams. The present moment is but fleeting because the city never stays still, it’s streets smoothed by centuries of souls vibrant one moment and vanished the next. How many others will come and go, how many others will visit this pounding metropolis only to disappear to their own lives once more? Chewed up, spat out, forgotten?
Roland walks back to the boutique hotel and he thinks of Bum Bag Man, and then he thinks of the ex soldiers and sailors who populated the flophouses of skid row, their lives in tatters, destitute and miserable. He gives the receptionist a weary smile as he passes by, climbs the stairs and feels the undercurrent of misery on which the city has been built, the bones of those who did not succeed the foundations on which every other layer has been placed, individuals blinked out never again to be remembered.
He sits on the bed in his cabin and lets out a deep, deep sigh. It all seems so pointless. Not just the present moment and his reasons for being in manhattan, but everything. History is created the second that a moment has passed. He has anticipated the gig at the Duplex for so, so long, but now it was finally close and the anticipation had mutated, changed to a realisation that everything will be forgotten. The generations pass and they never look back. History is an inexorable dance. How else might he approach each day, but with the sense that he will vanish one day, and nobody will ever notice.
The world is a place of misery and hopelessness.
And then Chuckles starts laughing quietly, to himself. And this makes Roland laugh. And then he thinks about hole punchers and he laughs some more. And soon the two of them are laughing, and then the man in the cubicle next to his starts laughing too. And the lady across the corridor. And another lady. And soon, oh yes, within seconds, everyone is laughing.

Shadow Factory and Robert Garnham : In the Glare of the Neon Yak

I first heard a jazz band in Totnes called Shadow Factory a couple of years ago and I was immediately hooked by their style, their experimentation, their reinterpretation of classic songs and by their wonderful original material. They sound absolutely amazing and they are lovely people.

So I was completely blown away when they asked if their could write some original music for my show from last year, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, with a view to a live performance!

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me a huge honour and thrill to announce that I will be teaming up with Shadow Factory for a special performance of my show in Totnes! This will be a really special evening and I hope you can come along!

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? 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.

Tickets can be purchased below.

https://www.totnespulse.co.uk/product/in-the-glare-of-the-neon-yak/

Spout, the bonus material

During the writing of Spout, I wrote far more than I needed to for the actual hour show. In fact I had several poems about tea left over which didn’t make the final show. I used one or two of these at various performances, but the definitive version of Spout did not contain any of the following poems.

So here, for your delectation, are the poems that didn’t quite make it in to the show for reasons of tone and narrative. Hope you like them!

Typical

I went for a date with a real fun guy
We got on well, didn’t have to try
But what he did just made me cry
He dunked a biscuit in his cuppa.

Typical.
Typical.
Just when I thought I’d
Found the perfect man,
He dunks a biscuit
In his cuppa.

I know you are a sexy hunk
But I was almost sick when I saw you dunk.
Your biscuit is now a sodden lump
When you dunked it in your cuppa.

Typical.
Typical.
Just when I thought I’d
Found the perfect man,
He dunks a biscuit
In his cuppa.

You might say I am very picky
But what you did just made me sicky
That’s the last time I’ll offer you a bickie
If you’ll dunk it in your cuppa.

Typical.
Typical.
Just when I thought I’d
Found the perfect man,
He dunks a biscuit
In his cuppa.

Oh my god
Oh my god
He just dunked a biscuit in his tea.
I drink mine out of the saucer.

A cup of tea with Darth Vader

A cup of tea with Darth Vader
Would have saved us all from
Three trilogies and especially
Those prequels.
A bright and breezy bed and breakfast, perhaps,
Our small table cluttered with cups,
Wobbling slightly but that’s ok,
He uses the Force, and points to the
Tea pot and says, doesn’t if
Look like R2D2?
Ha ha ha ha ha. (Breath intake).

We’d lean back in creaky wicker chairs.
And eat cookies.
Wookiee made cookies in creaky wicker chairs.
I’d check my reflection in his
Shiny plastic helmet.
Do you think the emperor really likes me?,
He’d ask,
And I’d say, don’t be daft, Darth.
More tea?
Is that too much milk?
I know you like it on the dark side.

There’s a crocus in a vase on the windowsill.
It’s so peaceful here.
It’s usually noisy where he works,
No wonder they call it the Deaf Star.
Have you ever actually met Yoda?, he asks.
He sounds just like Miss Piggy.
And then he laughs again.
Ha ha ha ha ha. (Breath intake).
And the couple at the next table look over
And smile,
Non judgementally.

Poem

I took each cherished friendship,
Chopped and diced,
Immersed in boiling liquid.

A fool might see such behaviour
As destructive,
Willingly subverting
Delicacy,
Ungrateful in the afternoon.

But when I drink,
Oh,
It perks me up.

Shall I reuse the tea leaves?

Shall I reuse the tea leaves
That is what he asked.
I know I should use some new ones,
I just can’t be arsed.
Shall I reuse the tea leaves
And pour on boiling water?
Shall I reuse the tea leaves
Or do you think I oughta
Clean the pot swill the pot
Start all over anew?
Or shall I reuse the tea leaves,
What am I to do?

To which I replied,
Reuse them, reuse them,
Oh, you dirty boy,
Oh yes!

The eternal workmans lament. Thirsty work this, love. Thirsty work this. Working on the plumbing in the Wild West saloon. Tut tut tut. You’ve had some cowboys in here.

It’s a tea drinker for me

I prefer a tea drinker.
Always have and always will.
Their steady nerve means
They won’t spill
That blessed drink on the
Windowsill
Or wherever else they’re drinking.
It’s always gets me thinking,
It’s a tea drinker for me.

I always like it hot
That they know their way
Around a pot.
Go ahead and drink the lot!
But you’ll probably need a wee.
It’s a tea drinker for me .

If you have the patience to wait
For a brew
Then I’d willingly spend my time
With you
I can read it in your lips
And in between the sips
My heart it leaps and skips
There’s a tingling in my hips
That I have found the perfect man
Who’s no stranger to PG Tips.
They’re buy one get one free.
It’s a tea drinker for me.

They bring me so much joy
The paraphernalia they employ
For a tea which we both enjoy
And when we’re done you deploy
A tone which is almost coy
As you ask, shall I reuse the same tea leaves?
And I say, you dirty boy!
Oh yes!
It’s a tea drinker for me .

I want a man who drinks a cuppa.
They always make a splendid lover!
In bed at night under the cover
Laying there after a late night supper
Lie back says he, and settle on
I’ll go and put the kettle on
A special brew for you and me
It’s a tea drinker for me

I get no kicks from champagne
But again and again
The same refrain
A man for me
Who knows how to strain
Do I really have to explain?
A beautiful brew inbiber,
A handsome consumer of cha,
No Rosie Lee poseur for me
No crafty kettle cacophony
But what I want I think you’ll see
Is a tea drinker for me

Thirsty work, this.

A monastery of monks in the middle of march,
A sandy haired handyman sanding the landing
A tickle a cough and his mouth somewhat parched.
My throat is so dry, oh, it really is.

The abbot in his habit fails to grab at the hint
Profers a prayer, pats his pocket for a mint
From the depths of his habit, a lozenge or Locket.
My throat is so dry, oh, it really is.

A service is rendered and the monks sing so splendid
And pray away the ailment of the day
And in sunbeams a-slant they grant him a chant
While he calls to the hall like a bad pagan fool,
My throat is so dry, oh, it really is.(a-heh)

In silence and solitude to show their deep gratitude
The veteran bretheren search for comprehension.
In calligraphy, an epiphany amid the handyman’s cacophony,
That a caretaker may care but who cares for the caretaker?
My throat is so dry, oh, it really is.(ah-heh, ah-heh)

Perhaps they could mention divine intervention
So proficient and omniscient and somewhat efficient
A miracle empirical from on high so invisible
A potion a lotion no need for emotion.
My throat is so dry, oh, it really is.

The monastery monks slip from their bunks
And say unto he, would you like a tea?
To which he doth smile, and gently reply,
Yeah, go on then, you twisted my arm.

Dolly tea time.

A porcelain play tea set
And a suburban patio,
My friend’s daughter
Plays dolly tea time,
Pours from a quartet size pot
Into tiny cups on tiny saucers,
Pretends to gossip.

Would you like a cup?

Do you know, I would!

She pours with practised care
And passes me a tiny cup which I hold
In one hand,
Pinky extended,
Saucer in the other.
Mmmm!
Though it’s only water,
This whole scenario is pretend.

Would you like a refill?, she asks.
Dolly is already on her second cup.
Go on, then. You twisted my arm.

Another dainty cup, how like her mother
Does she pour with absolute concentration,
And I sip like a good neighbour.

Because it’s only human to pretend,
Let go of the normality in us all,
Disengage with grown up concerns and find
Genuine pleasure in pretend tea time,
And so you know what?
It makes her feel good,
It make some feel great!

Mmmm!

And by the way, where did you
Get the water?, I ask.
And she replies,
From the toilet.

Not many things went wrong for me at Edinburgh this year, except for . . .

The fact remains that this year I had an incredibly enjoyable time at the Edinburgh fringe. And this is in spite of many things going spectacularly wrong. But the good news is that I had a show I was proud of, and which seemed to get people chatting. There were many times during the week after a gig in which people were eager to share stories about tea and their families, and they wanted to pose for selfies, and one even gave me a packet of biscuits, which I had with my cuppa the next day. But wow, other things certainly went wrong!

Now let’s just put this in to context. Two years ago I flew to Edinburgh and arrived to find that I had lost my passport. That was a bummer. And then the next year, I again flew to Edinburgh, and while I arrived, my luggage didn’t. So I had to spend the first two days of the fringe wearing and performing in the t shirt and the shorts that I had been wearing on the plane. So this year I thought, to hell with flying! I’ll catch the train.

There was also a bit of guilt involved in this decision, for believe it or not, it’s cheaper to fly from Devon to Edinburgh than it is to get the train. My guilt stemmed from the environmental damage that flying can do and the idea that I was saving myself a few hours made me feel bad, particularly as I was only going to perform a show about tea. Ironically, the planet bit back. On the day that I travelled from Devon, the rain was so intense that the line flooded north of Carlisle. So I had to get off at Preston, catch a train to Manchester, a train to Newcastle, and then finally a train to Edinburgh, arriving five hours late during a massive thunderstorm. Oh well, I thought, that’s my bit of bad luck for this year.

Ha. The next thing that happened was to discover that due to a massive mix up, the details of my show did not appear in the PBH Free Fringe brochure. They had the right picture, but the wrong name and description of the show. So I’d arrived at Edinburgh to perform a show that nobody knew about. A secret show! The upshot of this is that I had to do far more flyering and promotion than I have ever done, and that’s the part of the fringe that I hate the most. Flyering and promotion. I’m hopeless at chatting to people, and making small talk. I’m hopeless about talking about my own work and bogging it up. It’s an embarrassing thing to do, and I’m very English in that respect. Yes, I know that it’s good, but it’s not the done thing to tell other people this. I come from a background where I was always told not to boast, and always to put others first. I must have talked so many people out of coming to the show!

So the week went fairly well, all things considered. People would turn up for the non existent show that was meant to have been at the same time as mine. Some of them stayed. None of the other spoken word artists at the fringe knew that I was there beyond my immediate friends, but I had an audience every day, small though it often was. And the show was received well.

I caught the train home early on Sunday morning thinking that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as it had been going up. The weather was much better, and I only had to change at Manchester coming back. Oh, the luxury! And just as I was sitting back enjoying the feeling of accomplishment on having survived the fringe for another year, I began to congratulate myself on using the train and doing my bit to save the planet.

And then when I arrived back at Paignton, I discovered that some bastard had nicked my luggage!

Home from Edinburgh and a gig in Hampshire

I’m writing this in a chain pub in Woking, Surrey. The pub rhymes with never-vrooms, you know, like a car that’s just built for show. It’s been the weirdest three or four days.

On Saturday I did my last show at the Edinburgh fringe, and while it was not one of my best performances, some friends came along and we had a great time. Indeed, as I fed out into the Saturday night drizzle of Cowgate away from my venue, I felt a little sad. I also felt something else, because the venue has been plagued by drain problems all week and the pungent aroma kind of became second nature after a while. Indeed, while I was flyering outside I would worry that people thought it was me. And then even this worry dissipated, unlike the stench, which just kept on going.

On Sunday I caught a train to Devon. Yes, all the flipping way, changing at Manchester Piccadilly. The first leg of the journey was interesting because I was sitting in a seat that was sideways to the direction of travel, so the Scottish and English countryside was just a blur in front of me. Once we got to Preston, the train became very busy indeed. And when someone went to the toilet cubicle next to me and had a power dump, it took me right back to my venue on Cowgate.

Things got interesting just as pulled into Paignton. This was the moment that I discovered someone had absconded with my luggage. This was annoying more than anything else, because the suitcase contained a week’s worth of dirty laundry, but it was all of my usual every day clothing and a hell of a lot of pants. The only comfort was the idea that it would have been opened excitedly, the criminals wondering what kind of designer clothing might lurk within, only to find vintage Primark pants. Alas, though, the teapot hat was in the case. Yes, the hat which I wore during every performance this summer. The teapot hat, lovingly knitted by Bristol poet and artist Hazel Hammond, was no more. A victim of crime.

The effect of this was that it kind of ruined any sense of achievement in actually arriving home. Instead of relaxing and pondering on the week, I had to go on to websites and fill in description of the case and what was in it, knowing that it would probably never be seen again.

I spent one day in Devon, and then I was off on the road again. I arrived at my hotel last night here in Woking and the receptionist asked me if I had any form of ID. Passport? Drivers licence? Don’t worry, she said, we can take a provisional drivers licence, too. Alas, I had nothing like this, but then an idea struck me. ‘I’ve got my book’, I said, reaching in to my backpack and pulling out a copy of Nice. ‘That will do’, she said, smiling.

Last night I performed in Petersfield at an event called Write Angle. This was an event that I have wanted to get to ever since I took up spoken word ten years ago. I remember looking for videos online of my favourite performer, Rachel Pantechnicon, and the videos seemed all to have been filmed at Write Angle. I caught the train from Woking to Petersfield, a town I knew nothing about, and found the venue. The demographic was somewhat older than my usual audience, and that’s saying something, seeing as though I normally perform in Devon. ‘I thought you were much older’, the host said. I noticed that he had used a picture of me in a wig in the publicity material. ‘That’s because I was wearing a wig in your photos’, I pointed out. ‘Ah! Now, do you wear that so that you look like John Hegley?’, he asked.

The gig went well. I did the Spout show, hastily removing all of the more fruity, sexual poems, and I had no way of knowing if the audience liked it or not, as they were all very quiet and respectful, though at one moment there were four camera phones trained on me, which was a little weird. And I knew that nobody would tag me on social media later on because for some reason the host announced me as Mark Garnham.

Back at Petersfield station last night, I waited for the last train home to Woking. It was a warm night and the moon was riding high, and I felt that strangeness within of not really knowing where I was, geographically, and perhaps mentally, too. The whole week has been an odd blur. Two young ladies arrived with a blow-up inflatable man, which one of them had tucked under her arm. And when the train arrived, it was full of football fans. And yet, this being the Surrey Hants border, everyone was very quiet and respectful and for some reason, as the train approached Woking, the football fans replaced or covered up their football shirts, and gently wished each other a pleasant evening. I don’t know if this is just because people are more polite in these parts, or if their team had lost and they were all embarrassed. I might look up the result in a moment.

So yes, it’s morning now and I’m in the pub adjacent to the hotel. I shall be getting a train very shortly back down to Devon. I’m absolutely loving life as a spoken word artist at the moment, even if I did wake up this morning and not even remember which town I was in!

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Seven : A joke offered to Frank Skinner, and semi naked men.

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Seven

So today is already my last day at the Edinburgh fringe. As always I’m going to feel very guilty leaving tomorrow morning. Guilty knowing that so many of my friends and my new friends will still be here, working away and worrying and celebrating and commiserating and I’ll be on a train going back to Devon, hopefully. Or stuck at Preston again.

This is my sixth time at the fringe. I started out with Dan Haynes in a show called Poetry Ping Pong, and since then I’ve brought Static, Juicy, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, and of course, Spout and The Two Robbies. I also had one year doing guest spots at other people’s shows. And that was the best. It was totally worry free!

I went flyering today. And I met some very interesting people. One lady pointed at my flyer and said, ‘oh wow, it’s you!’, like this was the most amazing thing ever. And then I met a gentleman who was very excited because he had just seen Eddie Izzard walking along the street. ‘I saw Frank Skinner the other day, too’, he said. ‘And I told him a joke! It goes like this. Why shouldn’t you wear Ukrainian underpants? Because Chernobyl show. Ha ha ha! Do you get it? Chernobyl show. Yer-nob-will-show! Ha ha ha! Do you think he will use it in his act?’ I told him that he might do.

My audience yesterday was amazing. Not only was it my biggest yet, (if you include me, then it was in double figures), but a couple from Leith came along, and they had seen me last year. Indeed, they’d come especially to see me, which was totally amazing to know that I have fans in so many parts of the country. And after my show they gave me a packet of Scottish shortbread as a present. How many other performers get presents from their audience, I wondered.

As soon as my show was done I had to scoot across town to a cabaret where I was doing a guest spot. While I was doing this, the most amazing torrential rain storm erupted. I had to shelter halfway at a shop awning because the rain was so intense. I think it would have been dryer to stand in a shower, that’s how intense the rain was, and the street became flooded within less than a minute. I was joined by a party of young men who were obviously out on the razz, and as the rain intensified they took off their t-shirts as they surrounded me. And I was thinking, hello, this is a nice day at the office. I’m sure they might have taken off more had it been even wetter.

So it’s been an amazing week and as ever, I have no idea how I’m going to go back to normal civilian life. This has been a week of amazing memories and wonderful people, and apart from the train dramas at the very start, nothing has gone hideously wrong. And will I be back next year? If I can get my head around flyering, and actually enjoy it, then yes, definitely.

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Six : The ennui is setting in

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Six

And then before you know it the fringe experience is almost at its end. I only have two more shows to do and one guest spot and then that’s it. The end of Spout, for now, and I can start looking forward to doing poems about things other than tea. That’s going to be such a bonus. I’d almost forgotten that anything else existed as a potential for poetry.

I’m writing this in a crowded bar at midday having just seen Melanie Branton’s lovely kids poetry show, Rhyme Marmalade. And that’s the amazing thing snout Edinburgh during the fringe, you can end up seeing anything and whatever your friends might be doing, rather than reading about it later in social media.

I had one of those days, yesterday, during which I was walking around the city almost all day. I tell you, I was knackered by six in the evening. It was my fault, really, as I’d spent the morning doing my laundry at the student accommodation and half of that time was figuring out how to load credit on to the card that one needs to use the washing machine. And that left me with less time actually to get out and do the things I needed to do.

And one of the things that I needed to do was to go over to the new town area and appear at an LGBT cabaret show at eleven o clock at night. Only it was due to start twenty minutes after my show ended. So I did a dry run, choosing the route and finding the venue so that it didn’t come as a nasty surprise when I had to do it for real. I then discovered that I’d left some bits at my student flat that I needed, so that meant a walk across town in the other direction to fetch them. It was one of those days.

So I only had the time to see one show, and that was Dominic Berry’s show at the Zoo venue, and I loved every moment of it. Dominic has always been one of my favourite performers and a personal influence so it was great to catch up. I won’t give anything away about his show, suffice to say that it is brilliant, funny and meaningful all rolled in to one.

So, then. Two more days of flyering. Two more days of Spout, and the sound bleed coming from the room next to my venue, where it sounds like someone is being murdered every night. And then a thirteen hour train journey back to Devon followed by work the next morning. Oh well.

This bar is getting crowded now of people coming in for the next show. Apparently she has on office party, and she’s also been on the radio publicising her show. There must be fifty or sixty people in here. My average audience has been two. . .

Onwards, as they say, and upwards.

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Four. Or is it five?

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Four. Or is it five?

The Edinburgh fringe is hard work. It’s a fourteen hour a day job mostly spent out of doors. The flyering is conducted in a sea of humanity, people from all over the world in anoraks and rain macks, holding umbrellas aloft, wearing earphones, desperate not to get flyered. It’s physical and it’s relentless. There are hills everywhere, and cobbles. It’s impossible to walk in a straight line because of all the hills and the cobbles and the tourists but every now and then you might meet someone who seems genuinely interested in what you have to offer.

Yesterday was possibly my best ever day at the Edinburgh fringe in six years or so. I flyered all morning with Rob Barratt for our show at Banshee Labyrinth, which is my favourite venue in Edinburgh just for its sheer quirkiness, but also because the performance space is amazing and atmospheric. Nervously, with five minutes to go, we hung around outside the venue and it looked like there was nobody interested. Rob went inside to prepare our space, when a group of people arrived for our show. And what a show we put on! Rob whipped the audience into a frenzy with his audience participation poetry, and my material went down really well too, and we made such a great atmosphere that I wished every show could be like this. We were funny, whimsical, charming, non threatening and generally made everyone feel great, and that made me feel great, too.

I spent the afternoon in my student accommodation rehearsing for the BBC slam, in which I as entered. This meant that I couldn’t do any flyering until twenty minutes before my actual show. I arrived at the slam, met the other wonderful poets including the amazing Carys Hannah, and took a deep breath, and went for it. As luck would have it, I was drawn last, and for my first poem I did Beard Envy. And the audience seemed to like it a lot! I got through to the next round, amazingly, during which I was first on, and I did, ha ha, the Orgasms poem. Once again the audience seemed to love it, and afterwards I did think to myself, gosh, have I just gone to the BBC and spent three minutes talking about orgasms? Alas, it was not good enough to get through to the final, but I had an amazing time and it really made me feel upbeat.

I then hurried over to my venue and did a frantic twenty minutes of flyering, fully expecting that I would be going home early with no audience, and I didn’t mind, as I was pretty exhausted. Y now. My flyering was somewhat interrupted by the spectacle of watching a man dressed as a clown drive his Nissan Micra into the pedestrianised zone and get pulled over by the police. Amazingly, I ended up having the best audience of my fringe so far! How on earth does that happen?

Admittedly, a lot of them had come specifically to see me. How they found my is anyone’s guess, as I’m not in the Free Fringe brochure, but they’d seen me at various gigs all around the Uk, in Cheltenham, Wolverhampton and Swindon, and they told me afterwards that they even quoted the Fozzie poem to each other at odd moments. This made my day, as it proves that there are Robheads in places other than south Devon!

So I did the show and it was probably my best performance yet. And it made me feel amazing! The audience lingered around afterwards to chat, which is always a good sign.

It’s the next day now, and I’m writing this while I’m waiting for my laundry. It’s been an astounding week so far!

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Three : It’s not raining

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Three : Its not raining

It takes a very short time to get in to the swing of Edinburgh, the routines and places for flyering and the shows that need exit flyering and the methods of flyering and the hours spent flyering and the strategies for flyering and then having small audiences because you haven’t flyered enough.

Today started out weird. There are a lot of musicians staying at my student accommodation and as a special treat they decided to put on an impromptu spur of the moment concert. So a youth orchestra set up in the ground between the student flats and had just started but then had to stop because the bin lorry needed to get through. The Albert Hall this ain’t.

Later on a similar thing happened. I stopped to watch a street acrobat, he had a huge crowd around him and he was doing something very impressive involving a tightrope and some juggling, but nobody was paying the slightest attention because a lady had had rather too much to drink and was having her can confiscated by two police officers. And I tell you, she was kicking up such a stink. Shouting and screaming and yelling and everyone was watching. The acrobat almost fell off his tightrope.

One of the pleasures of Edinburgh is that every now and then you might see someone famous. Eddie Izzard once tottered on a cobblestone and almost crashed into me which running across a street once, a few years back. But today, I saw Paul Merton, a comedian I have admired for a very long time. And a cunning plan took hold. I would give him my flyer! And I would invite him to Spout! And he would come along and like it a lot and tell everyone, and before long my show would have audiences of a hundred or so. But instead I babbled something incoherent like, ‘I’ve always been a fan of your work!’, and he said, ‘Thanks’, and I said, ‘Have a good afternoon!’, and he said, ‘well, i’d better be off, then’.

I did a show today with poetry and folk legend Rob Barratt. We had been given odd slots around the schedule to fill in for people having a day off. We got to our venue only to find a comedian setting up. She had had yesterday off by mistake, instead of today, and was firmly intent on doing her show today anyway, even though the room had been scheduled to us. Seeing that she was not exactly in a position to do her show, alas, she relented, and the room was ours. Amazingly, this was Rob’s debut at the fringe, and he was excellent, funny and as whimsical as ever.

I went for a hot drink at a trendy drinks van next to one of the squares. Tea please, I said. Sorry, we don’t do tea. Oh, coffee then. Ok, sure, that will be four pounds. How much?! Four pounds. OK, here you go. I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t take coins. And just wait at the end of the counter, please. Fabian will make your coffee, he’s a coffee artisan and it should only take six minutes . . .

I’m back at my accommodation this afternoon. I’m having a few hours off before flyering, time I’m using to rehearse poems for the BBC poetry slam tomorrow night, which I shall be losing in the first round, hopefully doing a valiant job as the oldest competitor. So I’ve been running through my poems and timing them, standing in the window and suddenly realising that everyone must be able to see me, gesticulating madly like a bad politician. Even the bin men looked up, at one point.