Inside The Circus
So it’s 18th February and I’m sat at my desk listening to Diamond Dogs (The album. Which includes the song. Handy) and I thought I’d write a little blog about putting on the event that was one week ago BOWIEOKE CIRCUS.
From the off I’ll tell you myself, Martin, Foz and Dreed all had a wonderful time. Like, we really really loved doing it. We’re all huge Bowie fans. We love those songs (most of them… there are always some grumbles. Why did NO ONE pick Wild is the Wind?). My main concern up until the actual gig was ‘am I good enough?’ ‘Can I do this beautiful man and his beautiful songs justice?’ and then when I saw how excited the audience and our regular singers were (and potentially nervous the newbies would be) I felt an emotional pressure I don’t think I’ve experienced before. The weight of making sure 300 people have a wonderful time is pretty heavy. This never bothers me doing stand-up btw. I once told Bridget Christie I’m motivated by neither money nor a desire to make people happy – and therefore probably in the wrong business. But music… that’s a totally different thing right? I was also worried I was going to cry, having not yet made it through playing Life On Mars? without bursting into tears. But Doctor Theatre isn’t just for colds and flu. He’s pretty good at holding back grief as well, it turns out.
And I won’t go into the pre-show stresses of being the producers of a show that we’re also constantly onstage for. It’s mental. We’re stupid. And a couple of tiny problems at 7pm made me slightly crazy for 15 minutes until I’d had a swig of vodka and a hug from Colin Hoult. Thankfully we’ve got a reliable team who make the night possible. Simon Storey and Neil Hobbs on Sound & Vision. Martin Cavannagh was doing the door, and Ben Walker – thank God – turned up (even though he bought a ticket) and did all the stuff I should have been doing and would have been doing if I had an extra set of hands and wasn’t playing the muthafucking bass. And we went up half an hour late. Sorry. But if any of you have ever seen The Fall live then, you know, it’s fine. IT’S FINE.
So this is what I remember. When Foz and The Baron took to the stage to do their opening number and the room went quiet, my heart swelled. We made this. This is ours. I don’t mean me and Martin. Or the band. Or even the extended Karaoke Circus Family. But us. We 300. Anyway, let’s skip that bit lest I cry again.
So in order…
Rebel Rebel – Amazing fun. We wanted something with a big meaty riff to kick off the show. And it’s one of the easy ones to play.
The Man Who Sold The World – I was having nightmares about this one. The bassline took me a fucking age to learn. No wonder Nirvana didn’t bother doing it properly. My mix onstage isn’t what you hear out front. I get drums, bass, and a bit of singing. But even I could tell it sounded brilliant. Robin Ince and Michael Legge were really funny and both have great voices (NB I’m not going to critique the singers. This blog is about ME and MY FEELINGS).
Be My Wife – Joy to play. We were definitely doing something off Low. It was nearly Always Crashing in the Same Car but we went for this one.
Modern Love – Anything 80s either sounds great or a bit rubbish. in Colin Hoult’s hands it was one of my personal highlights of the night. I still find Modern Love (Makes me sexy) funny. And also Colin is my muse so getting to be onstage with him is always a treat.
Queen Bitch – This was originally a guest singer but they had to pull out due to family illness. When that happens, the song becomes an open spot. It’s another one where the bassline does something weird. I fucking loved it. We sounded ace.
Young Americans – I’ve always wanted to do Young Americans at Karaoke Circus but it has too many words. FAR TOO MANY WORDS and so would never have worked as an open spot so I asked Margaret Cabourn Smith and friends to do it. I love this song.
Boys Keep Swinging – The first of our new guests who didn’t really know what they were letting themselves in for was Peter Serafinowicz doing this one off Lodger. The lyrics are hilarious. Bowie was so funny. Peter had arrived a bit early so we’d let him sing the songs during soundcheck as well so anyone in the room at 6.30pm got to see a treat.
Let’s Dance – After the break it was back in with another open spot. This was also a no brainer and added to the list really early on. That bassline! Oh man. And with the brass as well it was glorious.
Time – Holly Burn. Amazing. This was nearly an open spot (there was no way we’d not do some Mike Garson).
Kooks – So biggest surprise of the night was Adam Buxton. Not a surprise to me, obviously, I’d booked him. I’d had a couple of journalists ask me for a line up and hadn’t told them because a) it’s not really in the spirit of the night b) If people get proper jobs we don’t want the audience disappointed that someone can’t make it. I love Adam Buxton. I really do. He’s one of my all time favourite comedians. And I love Bowie. And I know Adam loves Bowie. And let’s say that if I hadn’t had a heavy guitar strapped around my neck, I probably would made a fool of myself. He dedicated Kooks to Bad Dad who passed away before Christmas, as well as Bowie and the as yet unborn Bowie grandchild. All in all it was much more beautiful that what Gaga did at the Grammy’s. I hope he enjoyed it because we loved having him there. It wouldn’t have felt right without him.
Under Pressure – Come on. What else would be the blind date duet? Fun to play although my hand was really cramping and I ballsed up the riff at the start.
Fantastic Voyage – As soon as we confirmed we were doing Bowieoke, I’d asked Waen Shepherd to sing. He’s a huge Bowie fan and I wanted to be surrounded by love and joy, not showboating comics who don’t really like music. I know. I’m a prick. This sounded gorgeous and we were really happy to be doing something a bit less well known.
Rock and Roll Suicide – Kevin Eldon is one of the comics who now love Karaoke Circus so much I feel a pressure to deliver something rapturous. He’d hidden next to Dans and the Baron during part one and provided backing vocals! It’s such a lush lush song and the moment when the brass kicked it was honestly one of those times I can’t believe I get to do this. Naturally we had to end part two there. How does anyone follow Rock and Roll Suicide? They don’t They go to the bar.
Changes – Back in and it was song 3 of 4 from Hunky Dory. Both myself and Martin really wanted to play Quicksand but then we’re playing half the album and that seemed a bit excessive when there was nothing off Station To Station. I loved this. It’s twiddly enough to sound like I’m good but also nice and easy in the chorus.
Diamond Dogs – Second to last guest of the night and it was another stalwart of the Circus, Chris Addison. Because it’s a fairly easy song we’d sort of forgotten about it in favour of the tough ones, confident we’d be fine. I think that’s the reason it ended up being mine and Martin’s favourite song of the night. Easy enough to play so we can relax and Chris is always fucking great, but he knows the show so well he can ride over mistakes and keep going, or do something different from the record and we’ll follow him. We felt like a band. (Note to self. We should form a band with Chris Addison)
Life On Mars? – No crying. Beautiful song. Was a bit drunk by now. That bassline gives me shivers.
Starman – The first people Dreed contacted when we knew we’d got the room was Pappy’s. My favourite moments in KC history are from Pappy’s. They always put on a spectacle and I think we’re now at the point where it wouldn’t feel like Karaoke Circus without them. God knows how much they spent but this was a glorious finale. I spotted something moving through the crowd and shouted at Dave to look. We realised it was a coffin and knew we were in safe hands. I could describe what happened but that’s very poor journalism, so just watch the video and have a bit of a cry. (I’ve just watched it back and had forgotten my favourite bit of every song is when the audience twig what we’re playing…)
Heroes – There were only a couple of contenders for winner’s song. Space Oddity felt too downbeat so we went for this one. It had been the winner’s song at the last ever Karaoke Circus but for various reasons it had been bittersweet. Tonight it was magical though. Songs that nearly made it but didn’t quite… Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, Moonage Daydream, China Girl, Absolute Beginners, TVC15, Magic Dance, All The Young Dudes… and probably at least 50 more.
And that was it. We raised over £3250 for Cancer Research UK and MacMillan Cancer Support thanks to ticket sales and two pieces of artwork donated by Mikey Georgeson and The Baron. Heidi Heelz did a DJ set afterward for us but I was a bit drunk and too excited when she played Candidate. I fell on my arse and now have a properly disgusting bruise.
Some people wonder why we stopped doing Karaoke Circus and 11th Feb 2016 will be carved on my brain as one of the very best nights onstage. But… well, I don’t know if we’ll never do it again (we really did have a fucking blast) but it’s a huge amount of work for one night, both learning the songs, getting all the kit there and back and running the gig, and there’s a bit of an emotional toll too when it becomes something people love so much and therefore have such huge expectations of. And we don’t want to “Red Dwarf Season Eight” it – do we? As long as someone writes about it in their autobiography, we’re happy.
It’s not a two man show, or a four man show. It takes a nation of millions… no wait. It takes a whole team to put this beast on. A thousand thanks to Mikey (acoustic guitar), Dans M&T, The Baron, Simon, Neil, Martin C, Ben W, Nathan (trombone), Martin (trumpet) Nathan (french horn) Arec (Alto sax) Ben (cello & percussion) Amy (violin) Heather (violin) Alex (viola), Idil, Heidi and Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. And everyone in that room on that night. Oh you pretty things.
*****I did an interview with British Comedy Guide. I’ve not put it on the ‘news’ page though because that’d make me a Major League dick bag.It’s here*****Dani Frankenstein Vault Festival Interview 2015Hey Dani thanks for talking to tNC, how have things been going?Very well. I’ve just got back from a New Year’s holiday to Hovet in Norway. I drove a husky sled, ate some gross fermented trout and nearly smashed head first into a partially frozen river. It was great. My office in Clink Street is freezing today, but that’s nothing compared to an unheated house at minus 18 degrees.How does it feel to be part of Vault Festival 2015?Really exciting. I love the Vaults – it’s such an incredible space. I saw Fiona Shaw perform The Rime of the Ancient Mariner a while ago and just fell in love with the place. It’s also a huge thrill to be doing a festival where I get to sleep in my own bed each night, and see my dog. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of theatre. At the Edinburgh Fringe you spend so much time seeing friends doing comedy, so now I want to see some heartbreaking emotional monologues please. More crying please.Any finishing touches ahead of the festival?I think I’m still on starting touches. Actually 2/3 of the show is what I did in Edinburgh last year, and then I’ve been writing some new songs as well. I wont start rehearsing until February though – when I’ll use a music space in Dalston. I do need to sew up my costume however as there is a split right near the bum – but not in a sexy way (is that sexy??)What has been the biggest challenges you’ve faced putting your show together?I’m self producing which I’ve done on Ward & White shows, but they’re just a few nights at a time or one night a week for a month. And I’ve produced a couple of Edinburgh shows but I’ve had someone else helping too. There’s a lot of admin involved and I’m entirely solo with this project so there’s no one to help out with press or remind me to sort out the Public Liability Insurance. All straight forward but I had a lot of work on in November and December, recording my Radio 4 series Dilemma, plus some fun TV stuff. But if I had paid someone else to produce I’d say the biggest challenge was looping clean Jay-Z samples on an iPad mini.You had a great run during Edfringe at PBH Free Fringe Festival, what was that experience like?I LOVED doing the Free Fringe. I’ve never been one of these people who adores going to Edinburgh because of all the bullshit around press/management/competition/sales/huge financial loses. It’s the antithesis of creative expression. Like a slow four week death. However, for me as a performer, knowing that I’m not losing about £350 every time I walk onstage (and someone else is making a lot of money from that), and that my audience will only stay if they love the show, that was brilliant. Plus one of my songs is a spoken word story – which I introduce as being inspired by The Gift by the Velvet Underground. At one show (and I only did 7) Lou Reed’s old sound engineer was in! Total coincidence. He said Lou would have approved, which is obviously the greatest review I’ve ever bloody had.Tell me a little bit about Dani Frankenstein, what can we expect?Dani Frankenstein started out as my Ziggy Startdust. An alter-ego that I could perform with, but was still essentially me in a jumpsuit and wig. But she’s grown into more of a character. I thought it would be really funny to go onstage with the extreme confidence and self belief of Kanye West, all sound bites and ego, but in a tiny fringe venue. I’ve basically made her an utterly delusional fruit basket. My favourite song in the show is a duet with Robin Thicke called ‘I Want You Back”. Robin doesn’t usually turn up though so I normally do his bits too. I’m Eminem, he’s Dido.What was the main inspiration behind your show?For a few years I’ve wanted to do something involving music as a solo performer, but not the ‘stand-up with a guitar’ or – god forbid – a ukulele. And I’m not a good enough pianist for that to be my instrument. And then I saw Tim Ten Yen do a gig with backing tracks in 2011 and slowly the cogs started turning. But ultimately I really really wanted to write an anti-rape anthem (which is in the show as my final song – called Don’t Put Your Dick in Me) that was also funny and realised that it might work if the whole hour was slowly working toward that sort of song at the end – hence a character was born. I get to lull the audience into a false sense of security and Valerie Solanas their arses off for the final 5 minutes. (NB Dani Frankenstein doesn’t hate men and is in no way affiliated with the S.C.U.M Manifesto)When did you realise you wanted to create comedy?I was such an annoying dick at school. I’d be putting on plays with puppets made out of blu-tac, or clowning around trying to make people laugh. I spent one maths lesson pretending to be the Pet Shop Boys in a conical hat. The sort of person whose company I can’t abide now I’m in my 30s. I even wrote a stand-up routine about toilet paper when I was 12. I think it was because post christmas I’d go to WHSmith and buy the cheap stand-up videos. I had Frank Skinner, Baddiel & Newman, Jack Dee, Ben Elton, loads more. My old form tutor said I’d become either a comedian or Prime Minister. I’ve not totally ruled out the second one. But at heart I consider myself a storyteller rather than comic – I’m actually writing a sci-fi drama at the moment. In space no one can hear your jokes.What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far?An audience knows when you don’t want to be there – they can see it in your eyes. So you have to either always find something that makes you want to get up on stage, or give yourself a break. I was backstage at a gig in 2012 and thought ‘I just can’t bear the idea of listening to my own voice for the next 20 minutes’. I didn’t book a gig for 18 months after that. I did knob about doing Shakespeare at the Donmar Warehouse though. Which was glorious fun, awe-inspiring and exhausting.Who have been your biggest inspirations?For this show? Bridget Christie, Crilly & Wix, Sara Pascoe, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Adam Buxton (he does the best comedy songs) Carter USM, Kanye West, Public Enemy, Sleaford Mods and Prince. In fact it was after seeing Prince at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last year that I wrote the first track. He was incredible. Always? David Bowie, Roald Dahl, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Jim Henson.Do you have a favourite music quote?‘We’ve heard it all and we’ve used it all’ Rita Lee – Os Mutantes.And finally what do you hope people will take away from your new show?I wanted to write a something that would be ridiculously fun to both perform and watch. I think the last time I managed that was with my musical Psister Psycho in 2007 (disclaimer – some people really hated it because it was weird. But mainly people loved it including Benedict Cumberbatch). Dani Frankenstein is spiritually closer to that show than anything else I’ve done. It’s very silly and physical, lots of clowning about, but hopefully life affirming and joyful. It’s also rather feminist in content. So if you hate women you probably won’t like it.