In 2018 I toured the fringes and festivals of the UK with my show ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. It was something of a gamble at the time to write and rehearse an hour long poem which took me away from the comedy and whimsy and into a strange territory of myth, folk-lore, atmosphere and storytelling. The show had taken a few years to write, from around 2015, and almost a whole year to learn. I was hugely pleased with the outcome and I got the chance to perform it everywhere from Edinburgh to London, the GlasDenbury Festival to Surrey, and then with a live jazz band in Totnes. It is the piece of work which I’m proudest.
Performing the show was a weird experience. Over the Edinburgh fringe, I suddenly became aware that the characters were almost friends, and that I would look forward to performing them again when their part of the show arrived. Indeed, it was something of a shame when the run ended and I felt genuinely sad not to perform these characters for a while. Almost immediately I began to think of a possible sequel to the show, yet I knew that it would not be the same because I didn’t want to spoil the mythology that I had built up around the show. ‘
‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’ took place on a sleeper train heading north, filled with circus performers, and stalked by the mythological entity the Neon Yak, loosely based on the folklore tales of Herne the Hunter. I decided that a follow up show would have a similar structure, (characters telling their tales), but I wanted to go deeper and move the focus of the show to the actual situations in which these characters found themselves. I wrote three new pieces and also ‘borrowed’ the long poem ‘Bulk Carrier’ from my 2018 book Zebra, and then wrote a kind of framing narrative to bind all of these together. I envisaged an LGBT astronaut, flying to Venus, being consoled throughout his long journey by stories which would remind him of the importance of his community, until the final story details his own adventure when he finally gets to the planet.
The individual sections which make up the show could easily stand alone as performance pieces: ‘Bar Code Blues’ takes place in a supermarket in the 1990s with a character who is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. ‘Bulk Carrier’ takes place on a container vessel in the middle of the ocean which is haunted, (Why not?), by the ghost of Marcel Proust. ‘Much Ado About Muffins’ is a modern retelling of the Shoemaker and the Elves, taking place in a bakery which refuses to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding. And the final piece, ‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’, takes the astronaut to a planet where every desire and hope are granted.
And as a special link to its predecessor, the voice of Ground Control is none other than Tony, previously the Train Manager from ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. A change of career, perhaps, but he’s lost none of his humour.
I’d hoped to perform the show all over the UK during 2020, but world events put paid to that. With a show already written for 2021 and the publication of my new book to tie in with it, I knew that Electric Dragons would probably have to be mothballed for quite some time. So this autumn I set about making it into an audio play, a monologue delivered with musical interludes and sound effects, which I might unleash on the world this Christmas.
It’s been an amazing journey working on this show. Obviously, it’s a shame that it didn’t get to see the light of day in 2020. But without the constraints of having to fit the show into an hour slot, I was able to stretch my legs a little with the audio version. I do hope you will like it, and let me know what you think of it.
00.00: Lift Off! Voyage of the Starship Poopscoop
06.23: Bar Code Blues
22.00: Bulk Carrier
33.26: Much Ado About Muffins
49.30: Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus
Imagine a prison
Impossible to break from
Yet without physical form.
Built not of brick but of pain,
Life ruined by the abstract.
There are others of your kind
Unseen in their struggle.
But the very nature of your
Blinds you to them.
Rather than fight, they pine,
Or else ignore the obvious,
Face sweating behind bitter masks.
Those who are fortunate
Fill you with anger.
Their love is nought but luck,
And now they love their luck,
And how lucky their love.
Another head of sweat rolls
Beneath your jaded caricature.
They’re so immature.
You dance in your mind.
Rhythms so sensual
Pounding party silly rhythms
Inexplicable sun shining smiling
Fresh faced rhythms incomprehensible
That fact should swamp denial,
Go on dance close your eyes and
Dance and let yourself go in a
Way that shouldn’t be disco lights
Flashing almost unbelievably as you
Submit to the bounty of freedom
Sugar flip heart pump running
Fingers across the forbidden and
Not one ounce of tired regret
Just don’t. Open. Your. Eyes.
Steadfast in your culture.
Grey tomb of the senses.
Flesh unblemished by whip crack.
Absolute devotion to the ether.
Shouting loudest from the opposite shore.
Anger seething in the night.
You’ve got to do what’s right.
You’ve got to do what’s right.
You’ve got to do what’s right.
Imagine a prison
Impossible to break from.
Not one, but many
And in some places more than others,
Only the lucky few have ever escaped.
Sometimes it’s hard to look at the world and think that things are getting better for those in the lgbt community. There are still places where ignorance and superstition reign.
I recently read an article in Time Magazine about the struggle for gay rights in Africa. Indeed, it’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. And of course, the current situation in Russia seems more ludicrous every day. It makes me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where such things are not a big deal.
This poem, which I hope to perform soon, is an attempt to understand such issues.
For those who are the exquisite hidden in cupboards.
For those who fortune denies because they refuse to shout.
For those who would otherwise shine so bright were it not so dark and needlessly so.
For those who are conscious ever more obviously than the jaded so called moral imperative.
For those who multicolor the beige.
For those who feel that burning pounding quick-tempo heartbeat tick tick ticking absolute proof down deep within.
For those who don’t want to upset anyone.
For those who are being true to themselves.
For those who love.
For those who would dearly like to love but never will so long as they’re fumbling in the pitch dark.
For those who would spread compassion if given the chance.
For those who stand tall and proud in the face of ignorance.
For those who challenge the invented with the blinding torch of truth.
For those who caress and whisper sweet nothings and then open their eyes to find an empty bed.
For those who don’t want to shock and close the door voluntarily.
For those who care too much.
For those who feel they have no brothers or sisters.
For those who feel they are the only person ever ever ever ever to feel this way.
For those who make a thousand tiny differences a year.
For those whose revolution will knowingly take longer than their own lifetimes.
For those who would otherwise be flogged or hanged or stoned or cast from the safety of decent thought by those who profess to know the truth of words written fluently yet deliberately twisted ambiguous in order to hide the cultural anger seething beneath.
For those who delete their browsing history.
For those who try to prize open a door knowing that it will be slammed shut but keep on trying nonetheless.
For those who paid the ultimate price.
For those who resort to secret languages and those who give in and try to decipher filled with the eager promise of just knowing.
For those who are afraid.
For those who never will.
For those who see the world quivering ecstatic and reach out with trembling fingertips ever so eager to be a part yet knowing deep down they never will because they are really not as brave or as fortunate as those who color the world with love.
For those who hide behind masks of dubious preferences just to make it look like they are one of the crowd.
For those who are furious.
For those who are curious.
For those who log on with an alias.
For those who dance ecstatic the most writhing sexual beautiful hypnotic dance but only to themselves alone alone alone in the mirror.
For those who feel that everything is hopeless faced with ninety six percent against, newspaper editorials, fuming spitting evangelists, political bullies, idiots with guns and clubs and religious texts, charismatic spirituality, cultural commentators and peddlers of hated.
For those who burst out so fast that the world never could catch them.
For those who burned up too soon.
For those who took a chance and flowered briefly then disappeared leaving behind them the hint that if done differently it might actually work.
For those who are vehement in their love.
For those who are just plain unlucky.
For those who are scared.
For those who are scarred.
For those who would otherwise be sacred.
You are the real
And your time will come
When superstition loses and common sense takes over.
Pile up your love right now
So that when the doors finally open
It will all come tumbling through.