Category Archives: Touring, performance

Giochi Senza Frontiere

This week I’ve been making videos for a band I used to go on tour with until a few years ago. We used to head off to northern Italy most years for a week or 2, playing gigs to a few thousand Italians in Bologna, Parma and other towns that we Brits mainly know because of the specific type of food we eat that supposedly came from there*. The band plays Welsh folk rock, is called Here Be Dragons and is run by my mate Mike.

When Here Be Dragons go on tour, Mike (being Welsh) always brings this little foam filled rugby ball along to chuck around, it works as a combined team building exercise and time filler whilst waiting for things to happen, which is, apart from sitting in a van, mostly what one does on tour. You wait for venues to open, wait for promoters to arrive, wait for sound engineers to turn up, wait for sound checks to start, wait for audiences to come, wait to be given keys for the accommodation, wait for taxis, wait for planes…

Once upon the end of a tour, having unusually had a decent nights sleep and not had to catch the plane at an hour in the low single digits, we were all packed and hanging around outside the hotel for the van to pick us up and take us to the airport. Out came the foam filled rugby ball. Thus we had it in hand as we entered the departure lounge.

We were gently chucking it around while we waited for our luggage to be checked in, as we queued to have our passports looked at, being silly, laughing, getting looks. The instrument cases, going in the cabin to avoid being destroyed by the baggage handlers, gave away our status as musicians so people accepted our playfulness. Big kids.

After all the usual walking down corridors, getting on and off escalators and travelators, we were directed in to a big glass room with plastic airport seating along the sides and a back to back row down the middle. Around a hundred people of various nationalities all waiting together for our winged metal tube to arrive. The band waited as we had been waiting for the last two weeks: we threw the ball back and forth.

Then the plane was delayed. Everyone was getting bored. Except us. We were getting more adventurous and spreading out, moving further away from each other as we got more confident of our aim.

It started with the occasional missed catch, when the ball would roll gently to some stranger’s feet and they would pick it up and throw it back to the big kids… a couple of throws later one of us would pass it to them deliberately. Passengers losing interest in their books or phones watched the fun going on, and if any of them caught our eye we would lob it to them too.

Language, culture and age barriers all melted away like morning mist. Soon they weren’t just throwing back to us anymore, they were looking out for anyone who might be a willing recipient, bringing other people they had never met or spoken to in to the game. Then that became the thing to do and it was obvious that throwers were trying to find a pass receiver who had not taken part previously, hunting for a hopeful face on the far side of the room. Soon, I am fairly sure, all but one person had caught and chucked the ball at least once… All but one man sitting in the central block who was, almost pointedly, reading his pink Financial Times, held high in front of his face. The ball was passed to a young lad sitting nearly opposite. The lad looked around and realised what I have just told you. The whole room seemed to hold it’s breath as he took aim and launched the ball directly in to the paper.

Thankfully, paper man found the incident amusing and we all laughed, able to breathe again. Maybe it was his lad, though I’m not at all certain. Our jet finally arrived, an hour and a half late, but unusually after such a delay, everyone boarded with a smile.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

* A sauce that goes on pasta and thinly sliced pig respectively, in case you were wondering

Leave a comment

Filed under Touring, performance

Thoughts From The Road

I’m just back off tour. As with any journey there are some things that stick in ones mind. The colour draining from the face of the landlord when he realised he had completely forgotten that I was coming and had done no publicity at all. Thankfully I had, and a good turn out of old friends and internet contacts saved the night.

One thing that particularly made an impression on me this time was the extraordinary fact that the person who talks most during a performance is the one who is keenest to tell me how much they enjoyed it. How they enjoyed it when I could barely hear myself over their almost constant stream of interjections I don’t know, I’m all for a bit of interaction, its part of what keeps the show fresh and I often incorporate a good heckle into later performances, but some parts of stories require the audience to be absorbed in the narrative which is hard when someone won’t just be quiet for a couple of minutes. I suppose he was just excited by the newness of the experience, caught up in the moment and in a way I should be glad: Mr. Talky is at least engaging with the performance. At the far end of the bar there’s a couple of blokes who are just having a conversation. One has his back to me, he has consciously decided he is not going to acknowledge that something different is happening in his local. I do sympathise, I have talked the landlord in to breaking convention and booking some storytelling. The landlord has no real idea what it is going to be like. Mr Chatty and his pal have come down for a drink and a chat like they always do, it must be strange for them to find me orating away in the corner of what is practically their living room. It is not a theatre after all, it’s a pub with the bar right there in front of me. I’m pushing the boundaries of performance, we’re back in to pre-Shakesperian times. It’s not that there are no conventions but that there are conflicting conventions and it’s my job to unify them, and the audience. Pretty much all the seated customers are listening intently, the two guys on a table up by the end of the bar amaze me as they are right next to Mr. Chatty but keep their eyes on me the whole time, following every word and neither give up and fall in to talking themselves nor offer Mr.Chatty the opportunity to ‘step outside’. Occasional elements of the a story spark some memory or in-joke and suddenly the English Teacher sitting at this end of the bar is having a conversation with Mr. Talky across twelve feet of oak and beer pumps which makes it impossible for Two Excellent Beards to hear anymore so they start talking too, and I am now using my best theatrical projection to continue the story for the twenty odd people who are sitting nearest to me (and the two guys up by Mr.Chatty who are still somehow unfazed, though each wearing a look of slightly more intense concentration). Usually the assorted talkers do go quiet for a bit here and there, as a room full of hardened drinkers are slowly charmed by the poetry of the Finnish Kalevala or get drawn in bit by bit to the exploits of the Norse Gods. Mr. Talky has momentarily over-ridden his mouth and even Mr. Chatty down the end falls silent and looks over his shoulder, won over by a finely woven web of words or the spell of an ancient adventure cast anew.

Shows where the audience have self-selected and especially where they have paid as well are much easier and often more fun as I can play with the stories a little more when the audience are already with me. Nevertheless it is on the difficult pub gigs where I have to win the customers over and make them into an audience that I know I am really doing my job, not just preaching to the converted, but taking the stories to a new audience, giving the folk back what a fast paced, modern, consumerist culture has taken from them. I hope I stick in their mind as much as they do in mine.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Touring, performance