Watching Me, Watching You, Watching Us

Like most that watch it (I’m guessing) and against my better judgement, I’ve grown very fond of Gogglebox, the Channel 4 show that basically watches people watching TV, and that’s it. Myself and Mrs Dave sit together and watch it, definitely the ultimate postmodern TV experience, and another example of TV bringing things full circle.

When televisions first came into the family home they were very much the comunal experience, broadcasts were live and families, friends and neighours would gather round the set with eager anticipation. As more and more people got TVs primetime shows were national events and you could be sure the next day everyone in work would be talking about it.

As teenagers started getting TVs in their bedroom they’d start watching different shows from the rest of the family, but that served to see the rise of shows that all the younger folks watched, and this would be reflected in programmes themselves. Myself and my best mate would watch rock video show The Power Hour / Raw Power where our chat about the videos was as big a thing as the videos themselves. What was surprising was the first time was saw Beavis and Butthead and realised that we were watching characters doing exactly what we were doing, whilst watching them.

Comedy tends to be ahead of the game in reflecting family life, and other shows would follow where a family sitting watching TV would be at the core of the show, The Simpsons and Married with Children being two prime examples. This was taken to another level with The Royale Family where all they did was sit and watch TV. This very much resonated with viewers, and families/friends would watch together as elements of everyone would be in those characters.

In more recent years the increase in viewing devices and ways to consume shows has lead some to argue that just like music, TV has become a more disparate and solo activity, with the notion of viewing as a shared experience being a thing of the past.

I’m not convinced by this, and whilst I’ve spoken about the sharing of clips, and the interactive nature of modern TV via social networking and the phenomenon of things going viral I’ve seen that TV shows are trying to incorporate technology and tailor content to once again make their mainstream primetime shows experience viewing that will be discussed the next day in offices and playgrounds around the country.

Of course we have reality shows and talent shows of every description, where those who might not be interested in the fake boobs in Essex might like the faux friendships in Chelsea, and those who don’t care for cakes might fancy seeing the next batch of aspiring clothes horses. These shows are specifically for people to watch together, debate who they like best and what’s going to happen next. There are goodies and baddies, folks to cheer for and folks to boo, like wrestling without the fighting.

On the flipside from that, whilst reality shows and talent competitions dominate TV, there are some hugely successful primetime shows that hark back to the era of old fashioned entertainment. Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Take Me Out and Surprise Surprise recall the era of The Generation Game, and are the epitome of mass appeal viewing. Whilst foreign language crime series might be the staple of some people’s Saturday night, those shows are what most households sit down to watch together.

Back to Gogglebox. The appeal is with the interaction of the folks watching, that they are big characters, anticipating how they’ll react to something, comparing that to you viewing experience of the show they are watching, and watching Gogglebox with someone commenting on your shared experience with them watching a show. It’s a strange fascination and perhaps the ultimate postmodern TV irony is us watching telly watching people watching telly watching pisstake of people watching telly. Seriously, a few weeks ago Gogglebox ended with their reaction to a skit with Ant & Dec called Ogglebox, where a show that has folk watching telly is used on another show as inspiration for a gag with other folks sitting at home watching telly. Ant & Dec are multi award winning multi millionaires…

I need switch off. Find a hobby and get a life before i implode!


The Single Life Ain’t For Me

Maybe it’s because I’ve been with the awesome Mrs Dave for such a long time, but I’ve not been interested in singles since I was a teenager. As soon as my shelf stacker wages were enough for me to afford albums I’ve never looked back.  Before you click away, this isn’t another one of my isn’t vinyl great nostalgia pieces, when the fact is that I listen to 90% of my music on an ipod, it’s more a pondering as to why I simply don’t engage with singles, especially when I do listen to most of my music digitally.

At the dawn of recorded music, technical limitations meant that records were short in length, and that, coupled with the popularity of radio meant that the single was king. Those of a certain age (myself included) will remember those portable record players where you could stack up half a dozen 7″ singles and listen to them drop one by one. At the time this was hi-tech, and for us lazy types the big appeal was not having the hassle of having to flip the disc after just 3 minutes.

Even when long playing records came onto the market, LPs were primarily a collection of songs, rather that a cohesive body of work. The 1950s and well into the 1960s were dominated by singles, it wasn’t until albums like Sgt Pepper that this would change.

By the 1970s the LP as a themed(ish) collection of songs were considered the norm for musical acts, and even more so for less commercial types of music. Groups like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd would intentionally turn their back on the singles charts of their day, yet were among the biggest bands in the world. As the CD emerged in the 1980s there would emerge even more acts that shifted millions of albums yet never had a singles chart hit.  I could ramble on about the beauty of an album as a piece of aural art, and the wonder of that as opposed to simply cobbling together some random tunes, but I’ve said that elsewhere, and to value one shouldn’t necessarily devalue the other, should it?

The first music i bought with my own money were albums, and that has pretty much remained how i listen to music. There have been phases where i was heavily into making mixtapes, CDs and briefly playlists for myself and others, but those individual tracks would always come from albums in my collection.

Nowadays i do listen to the bulk of my music on my ipod (not iphone via cloud, even my modern is retro) so even though the technology eliminates the notion of having lots of singles being impractical, yet i find myself still downloading full albums, even when i only know a single track.

Recently i’ve been filling my daughter’s ipod shuffle with music, and she is very much a singles girl. That’s the norm these days, with singles once again overtaking album sales (albeit primarily digitally).  She likes us to make her compilation CDs to listen to in the car, but it’s not in my nature to simply search for and download a load of singles that kids might like, I’m far more inclined to just download a Pop Party or Now compilation and remove the tunes that might be a bit too suggestive or even worse (for her) too dull!

I was thinking on the way home from Glasgow at the weekend that I should make a few mix CDs for us adult, and make them full of new music, but I have to admit that I’m not quite ready to jump onto the singles review on Pitchfork, or Wire, or Gilles Peterson’s playlist.  Maybe I’ll ease myself into single life by making some new Spotify playlists; I listen to it in the back office when nobody else is in, and at the start of the month on my phone (before I use up my data allocation), and pretty much always listen to albums. It might be fun to be selector again.

Of course, even as I’m writing this I’m downloading the latest Aloe Blacc album onto my ipod to listen to; I’m not convinced by all of it, rarely are we fully happy with an entire album, but it’s not in my nature (even with itunes) to remove a song from an album.  I’d be much more inclined to forward past a track I’m not feeling every single time, than not have the album in it entirety.  Maybe I’m just a product of my time, but when I hear that a group I like has a new single I don’t listen to it, but I do get rather excited thinking ‘there must be a new album coming soon’.

So whilst this may seem like thinking out loud filler, just so I could finally crowbar in a line about Mrs Dave, you’d be wrong….ish, but I am curious to try dipping my big toe into the poptastic paddling pool that is the world of the single.  Feel free to suggest some new/recent singles to me, my ears are open.

Society On The Sole Of My Shoes

Beware! I feel a rant coming on…

Coming out of my house yesterday morning, unashamedly sitting there waiting on me at the end of our little path was a cheeky little dog turd.If I had a dog, or if any of my near neighbours do then I could mark it down as just being ‘one of those things’ but none of us do, in fact there are possibly only a couple in our street of exactly 100 houses.

Just two days previously I was taking my daughter around the corner to school, she usually goes on her scooter (or we’d be late most days) and sure enough she rolled right over dog crap.  It’s not just near my house (and there’s a park minutes away from here), dog shit on the pavement is a problem all over Edinburgh, and a ludicrous and unnecessary one at that.

I’m not one for making any Daily Mail style sweeping statements about ‘the type of people’ or ‘the sort of places’ where this is more likely to happen, in my mind this is simply about those people having no respect.  Whether they let their dog shit in their own street, in the park, or they wander to another area, is neither here nor there, it’s the simple fact that they don’t have the decency to pop a plastic bag in their pocket and clean up after their mutt.  Why someone would think that it’s OK for there to be shit lying about on the pavement baffles me; it looks disgusting, it smells disgusting, it gets on your shoes, and in parks there’s the chance that a kid could fall on it.

How do we stop people from doing it, or rather letting their dogs do it, I’m sure that Edinburgh Council could make a few quid (it’ll be a while before the trams break even) so maybe on the spot fines might put some people off; maybe bins with a dispenser with bags; designated areas where dogs can do their business, I’m really not sure.  That loads of folks drop litter without caring a jot, makes it seem unlikely that these people would want to pick up a steaming dog turd, yet I’d much rather step on chewing gum or a MacDonalds wrapper that shit, as I’m sure most would.  Teach the kids, in fact let’s brainwash them into believing that folks that do this sort of thing are subhuman scum (that’s what Partridge would call them) and everyone will think that of their whole family. What kid wants people to think that of them, especially when it’s not their fault.

There are places where dogs are just as common as they are here, yet the pavements aren’t covered in dog crap. Why? Because people there are of the mindset that you should clean up after yourself.  Maybe we should name and shame people; I like the thought of there being a webshite (see what I did there) where if we see this happening we post a picture of the person, or even pin pictures up in the neighbourhood.  In fact, if I won the lottery I think I could easily spend a few weeks roaming the streets with a little shovel ready to tail culprits home and leave a little present on their door mat.

I could go on (no, really, I could…), but my reactions start to get ever so slightly overblown.  Ultimately, life can be shit sometimes, we don’t need to make it worse.



The Stand Interview – Jonny & The Baptists

Jonny & The Baptists are arguably the UK’s hottest musical comedians, playing raucous shows full of songs, satire and silliness. Ahead of the 2014 European Elections they aim to amuse, engage and enrage the political spectrum, and take on UKIP’s ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closest racists’.  They make their debut at The Stand Glasgow on March 30th then head to Newcastleon 31st, and Edinburgh on April 1st.  We channel the spirit of Paxman and Humphreys and ask them a few questions before they head off on ‘The Stop UKIP Tour’. (Since doing this interview Paul Nuttalls of UKIP has been kicking up a stink about the tour and is trying to kebosh it.  The story was first reported on Chortle and has since been picked up by the Daily MirrorDaily Mail, and others, as well as a comment piece by Stewart Lee in the Guardian.)

When you’re given a list of your forthcoming shows and you see that The Stand is included in that list, what do you think?

Our first thought is: ‘that’s awesome’. We first played the Stand in Edinburgh last year, doing Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, and it remains just about the most fun we’ve ever had together. Apart from once when we got drunk and made out in a Leicester Travelodge. But then there was so much awkwardness in the morning, that I think the Stand gig probably just topped it.

The Stand has clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle. Do you think that you’ll need to adapt your act in any way for each club, or does the city/venue not affect what you do?

The opening of the gig is different in every city, as we always try to start with some stuff about the audience and the city wherever we are. Mostly because when we try to learn obscure Wikipedia facts about everywhere while we’re travelling. For example, the climate in Newcastle is oceanic, and significantly milder than other locations in the world at a similar latitude. I just got that right now off Wikipedia. And thinking about it, I guess that’s why people can go out for the night without a coat on.

We recognise that you’ve worked very hard crafting this show, refining it with each performance, and generally giving it your all, so could you overlook that and sum it up for us in an easily digestible soundbite?

It’s funny songs about the world around us. It’s rock n’ roll, but with jokes with a point. Think of it as sort of sex, drugs and rationale.

UKIP are a big old glaring target for comedy, as is anyone who’s views are seen as being a bit more ‘extreme’ than is the norm.  What’s your take on Farage, is he a misguided fool, or a deceptively sharp operator who’s adopting a persona to try and ingratiate himself with potential voters?

Ah, the serious questions now. We try not to talk about Farage, as UKIP’s success has been on his personality, not the issues behind the party. Most UKIP supporters aren’t weird, or extremist, they’re just fed up. But, to take just one little example, their party would cut tax on millionaires and then go even further on privatising and dismantling the NHS. Two of the many things that are wildly out of step with their voters’ viewpoints and interests. Farage has a pint of ale, a flatcap and wants a referendum on Europe. But aside from that he doesn’t offer his potential voters anything they want. That’s terrifying.

Without giving away anything that will spoil the show, do you think that we ‘need’ to Stop UKIP, and if so, how do you think that should be done?

We had a drink with Marcus Brigstocke at Latitude last year, and he said you can’t change the world as a comedian and a satirist. The only thing you can do is try to point out that something bad is about to happen and try to stop it happening as badly. Hopefully, that’s what we’re doing. But the show is a comedy, first and foremost. If it also provokes some debate before a set of elections that are usually met with apathy and disinterest, then that’s brilliant.

With stand-up comedians I’d ask them about whether the show is evolving as their tour progresses.  Does the same happen with musical comedy, are you able to make sweeping changes to things that you don’t feel are working, or with music is it a bit more subtle?

Just like a stand-up routine, we adapt our setlists to suit the current audience, and over the course of a tour, new songs appear, setlists move around and old songs get cut. We’re always writing and try to write about what’s going on around us. Getting to see the whole of the UK is a pretty brilliant inspiration. Also we talk to the audience a lot between the songs, that keep it very new each night.

Does each tour contain all new songs or do you sometimes throw in some fan favourites?  I guess that unlike stand-up folks are perfectly happy to hear a funny song more than once, in fact, songs tend to go down better when people have heard them before?

You don’t want people coming to see the same fifteen songs every year but simultaneously if I go to see Prince I would be heartbroken and disappointed if he didn’t play Purple Rain. I’m not saying we’re as good as Prince. Some people have said that, of course, but it’s not for us to say.

How, if at all, does the show differ from your club set?

Our club sets are our loud sets. A lot of our songs work within either the context of an hour long show, or make a lot more sense once you’ve had fifteen minutes or so to get used to us and see where we’re coming from. At a lot of clubs you don’t get that luxury, so we try and put our ‘Big Noise, Big Laughs’ material forward as quickly as possible, perhaps throwing in a quieter more considered song at the end of our set once we’ve got the audience on side. I feel we get to fit more politics into our hour shows, plus we get to play around with more instruments and take more musical and technical risks – you can’t exactly show up at a club with a saxophone and a dulcimer in tow and expect them to have eleven DI Boxes and four rifle mics…

If someone has seen you before, how will this compare to previous shows?

This show has more of a throughline and an identity of its own, where our last two shows were more like a load of songs with talking in between. Also we now do a full striptease* (*this is a lie).

Do you stick primarily to comedy venues and festivals, or are we just as likely to see Jonny and the Baptists pop up at music festivals in the summer?  If so, do the crowds react differently?

We do Latitude every year, but that’s more of an arts festival than a music-only festival. We played Bearded Theory in Derby last year. It was amazing, we went on after Asian Dub Foundation. That was mental. Everyone there was either a druid or weirded-out that there were so many druids. We’d definitely do that again.

It’s a perceived stereotype in comedy that when audiences see an act they don’t know walk onstage with a guitar, they tend to groan, but if the act is then good they’ll react even more positively.  Is that the case for you, or as a duo do people take you more seriously?

There’s nothing worse in life than a comedian badly playing a guitar and changing the words to another song with the word ‘vagina’. That’s hell. So I get why people might worry. But these days musical comedy is so good, with Tim Minchin, Isy Suttie, Abandoman, Mae Martin and Grace Petrie to name just a few, I don’t think people are as nervous. It’s definitely true that if you make a lot of noise and be both very funny and make good music then the reaction is massive. But then, you’ve got to do both things really well, so I guess that’s fair.

Both Scotland and The Stand are immersed in the independence referendum debate. Jonny and the Baptists have a song called Scotland Don’t Leave Me, do you play that on this tour, and if so, how do you think Scottish crowds will react in comparison to our English counterparts?

Well we’ve played that song in Edinburgh for a whole month in 2012 and 2013, so we’ve seen a lot of reactions. The song is just a funny way to talk about something serious. Scottish Independence is not unlike a break-up. England have been dicks, not treating you right, sometimes playing away, and now Scotland has had enough and might move on. But come on! Surely we’ve got to stay together for the little kids, Wales and Northern Ireland?

A lot of people will see you as ‘that funny person’ but we’re wondering if you have an interest, passion or hobby that will surprise people, making them think ‘I never expected that’?

Paddy can crush walnuts with his bare hands. Jonny can bathe four times in one day and then shed his skin like a milk-snake. (Paddy can actually do the walnut thing. Jonny cannot shed his skin.)

Our clubs attract a different sort of clientele during the festive period, and also during Glasgow Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Fringe, do you find it  a different experience playing ‘off peak’ in front of a ‘real’ crowd? 

Of course. Festivals are weird things where most people are on holiday and in a very different mood and frame of mind. ‘Real crowds’, if we can call them that, have decided this is how they want to spend a hard-earned night off. We love both audiences, but the best is playing to people in their hometowns during their normal working week, because you feel really privileged that they’ve trusted you with their evening.

Last but not least, some stand-ups aspire for greater artistic credibility and go off and do serious acting or write a book or a play; in keeping with this train of thought, can we ever expect to see a Jonny and the Baptists freeform jazz or alt. country album?

Oh yeah. The next record is going to be alt-polka-gangsta-rap. Just MCing and viola. We call it ‘Skintight Fast Al and the Shibby-Fresh Poncho Revolution’. It’s so good people will be hospitalised.

Interview: Dave McGuire 7.2.14


The Stand Interview – Mark Nelson

Homegrown Stand favourite Mark Nelson has emerged as a top drawer talent over the past couple of years. Fringe shows, radio shows, writing for TV, his star is on the ascendancy; Mark shares his thoughts on comedy in advance of his Glasgow Comedy Festival shows on March 22nd and 23rd.

When you’re given a list of your forthcoming shows and you see that The Stand is included in that list, what do you think?

There is genuine delight when you realise you have weekends coming up at The Stand. The clubs are so well run and the audience are so well versed in comedy that you can concentrate on being funny rather than having to worry about anything else. They remind you why you loved doing this job in the first place.

What’s your take on each of the 3 Stand clubs, both the clubs themselves and the audiences at each?

Edinburgh – I love the closeness of Edinburgh. On a Saturday night when you can’t move in the place, it feels like the audience is right on top of you. Luckily I’m not one for jumping about on stage or else people would die.

Newcastle – Really come into its own. Audience are fantastic, staff are wonderful and as I imagine a lot of others have said the food is out of this world.

Glasgow – Best comedy club in Britain.

Do you need to adapt your act in any way for each club, or does the city/venue not affect what you do?

Don’t really have to adapt anything at all as most audiences are the same. If anything it is more of a challenge to play Edinburgh than Newcastle due to the differing nationalities. Some nights in there can be like UN conferences which makes the gig a lot of fun.

Your show description is suitable enigmatic, is that because it basically is Mark Nelson, on stage, telling jokes, being funny; or is it because you’re currently working on themes, narrative threads and all those things, and a vague title means you’re not pinned down to anything specific?

To be honest I’m not a theme kind of comic. I very much admire those that are able to weave in and out of an over-arching theme or narrative over an hour, but it’s just not me. Essentially what you get is just me trying to make people laugh for an hour. A man’s got to know his limitations.

You’re known for a dark sense of humour that’s not afraid to find its target, walk up to it, look it in the face, and knee it in the balls.  Now that we see you on Facebook smiling for photos with your adorable kid, does that mean we should expect doting daddy rather than hilarity hitman?

If anything the new material I have is probably the harshest stuff I’ve ever written. I think the fact that I haven’t slept for 6 months has released this arsehole that loathes the world. I’ve never really been comfortable with the dark tag as comedy now demands pigeon holes. Oh he’s a Northern comic, oh she’s a whimsical comedian, ‘oh he’s a dark comedian’. It’s the easiest thing to label me as but I wouldn’t say I was particularly dark or offensive. Some of the jokes in the new show are certainly challenging but you’ll only get offended if you are an idiot.

At the moment, your child has no idea what you do, but there will come a time when those youtube clips will be watched by your little one, do you see what affecting what you do onstage?

I hope not. I’d like to think she’ll be proud of her Dad and what he does but the reality will be all she’ll see is a barrage of people calling him a prick on Twitter.

In addition to this, you’re also a happily married man; is domestic bliss conducive to good comedy, or are the plenty of other things to fuel your fire?

Married life is very conducive to comedy as it is what you are living at that moment, so that is what you write about. I think being happy if anything makes you dig even deeper to find out what is shit about everything. People expect comedians to complain about life. For an audience a comedian is essentially a release for everything that pisses them off. They just can’t say it out loud.

How, if at all, does your full length show differ from your club set?

It doesn’t differ hugely, it’s just longer. There are some bits that will not work in a 20 minute set because they take too long but generally most of the stuff should be able to be said in front of a weekend audience. My first goal is always to be funny. Unfortunately you get lumped with this club comic tag as 90% of the professional comics in the country are. It is made to sound as if it is something to be ashamed of that you are doing your job every weekend.

If someone has seen you before, how will this compare to previous shows?

It you have enjoyed what you have seen of me before you will enjoy this. It is just me telling jokes about things that have happened in the world and to me. I’m not going to suddenly whip out a harpsichord and sing a 40 minute ballad about sperm whales in some vain, desperate effort to be considered different and original.

Your show is described as ‘gimmick free’, in an age where there are people doing all manner of weird and wonderful things in an attempt at coming up with the next big thing in comedy, wouldn’t you agree that the purest form of comedy remains a man or woman on stage, with no props, simply telling jokes and funny stories?

Absolutely it is. Substance over style every time. You can be as avant garde as you like, you can have Powerpoints shooting from the end of your dick but at the end of the day most people just want to see you say funny things. From the very beginnings of stand up, the very best have always just been someone onstage being funny. Billy Connolly, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Joan Rivers, Jack Dee right up to the very best now, Doug Stanhope, Frankie Boyle, Tom Stade, Mick Ferry and so many others. There is a reason Louis CK is the best and biggest comedian in the world, because he is just someone telling jokes.

You had your own radio series at the beginning of the year, and you’ve been writing for the likes of Russell Howard’s TV show.  Do you see yourself diversify more into other areas of comedy, or is stand-up always going to be your primary focus.

Stand up will always be my main love and that will never change but I have enjoyed dipping my toes into other things. Writing the radio series was great fun because it was such a different discipline to writing for stand up and enjoyed that learning process. My plan is definitely to broaden my horizons more in the projects that I write for.

You’ve recently been gig at the Soho Theatre in London, does being Scottish become a ‘thing’ when you do shows outside of the country?  Do you change material about certain places in Scotland to give them a more universal appeal?

Being “Scottish” gigging elsewhere can be both a benefit and huge hindrance but yes it absolutely does become a thing. Whether that is something we make it ourselves or not I’ve not quite worked out yet. The accent thing is always the main problem but it is fairly easy to just slow down. I actually like slowing it right down as it means I’m actually doing less material onstage and therefore getting paid for less work. As for material, I believe people like hearing about the quirks of other countries so as long as it is not too parochial then it’s fine.

Both Scotland and The Stand are immersed in the independence referendum debate. As a Scottish comedian do you feel compelled to include referendum material in your act, and if so would you give your own opinion on the yes/no debate? 

A huge deal of my new material is on the referendum. It is the biggest most exciting time for our country in centuries. I think if you are a Scottish comedian and you are not even slightly referencing it then you are not doing your job. As for where I stand I personally think we should vote Yes. It is a huge opportunity for us and one I think we will regret if we don’t take. I believe people who live in a country deserve the right to decide who governs that country and not be subject to leaders we did not vote for.

A lot of people will see you as ‘that funny person’ but we’re wondering if you have an interest, passion or hobby that will surprise people, making them think ‘I never expected that’? 

I once won a runner-up trophy for doubles table tennis in Dumfries. My life has essentially all been downhill since then.

Interview: Dave McGuire 11.2.14


The Stand Interview – WitTank’s Naz Osmanoglu

Fresh from delighting the audience at our Newcastle club, and currently TV run on BBC Three’s Live at the Electric, acclaimed sketch group WitTank prepare to return to the Edinburgh club on March 18th with The School.  Naz Osmanoglu, Kieran Boyd and Mark Cooper-Jones, are respected stand-ups in their own right, but together they’ve really made an impact.  Sit up straight, pay attention, and read this interview with Naz.

When you’re given a list of your forthcoming shows and you see that The Stand is included in that list, what do you think?

We love the Stand as I think many comedians do – its known for being a club for people who really love their comedy and in our experience its always been the case: the crowds are great at all the venues and in terms of atmosphere, The Stand is unbeatable.

What’s your take on each of the 3 Stand clubs, both the clubs themselves and the audiences at each?

As WitTank we have only performed at Edinburgh and Newcastle, however as a stand-up I’ve played them all. I think what’s interesting is that whilst they are all very much individual rooms they still seem to share a similar quality in terms of atmosphere. My personal favourite is Glasgow as I’ve found the crowds there most uproarious and up for it.

Do you need to adapt your act in any way for each club, or does the city/venue not affect what you do (be that solo and/or as a trio)?

As a trio, we may need to adapt what we’re doing dependent on the room lay out – being a sketch act sometimes require wings and areas for props and what not. However as a stand-up you might tailor your material (especially my opening) dependent what city you’re in.

We recognise that you’ve worked very hard crafting this show, refining it with each performance, and generally giving it your all, so could you overlook that and sum it up for us in an easily digestible soundbite?

Having been to boarding school and survived, WitTank now return… dealing with a sadistic headmaster, strange teachers, upset pupils and the odd Disney character hidden down in the basement. This is EXACTLY what boarding school was like…

Would we be right in guessing that Mark’s time as a teacher has influenced the content of the show?

Absolutely – Mark is a teacher in real life and as such knows the inner workings of school life. I think it also shifted the focus from the pupils to the staff – this show is about working in a boarding school and the different members of the faculty really.

One would guess from your posters (and not doing any research) that you are indeed posh, private/boarding school types, thus being perfectly placed to poke fun at the schools, the pupils and the parents. Is that a correct assumption to have made?

Absolutely. Mark and I went to the same boarding school where we met and started writing comedy and Kieran actually went to school down the road from us, but we would only meet him in university.

How has the show evolved from the school sketches that were filmed for Live at the Electric?  Did you have to create a narrative the links together those sketches, or did you have the full show in mind when writing those sketches for TV?

The BBC sketches definitely informed the show but the tour show is more narratively linked and the material is different from the TV sketches. As we’ve worked on the tour show I think the three main characters are now a little more fully drawn – also this show has many other characters to populate the school.

You’re back for more Live at the Electric, are there differences in both writing and performing for TV as opposed to live tour shows?  Do you have more freedom when it’s live?

You definitely have more freedom when it’s live as you’re not confined by location or time or number of persons in a sketch. Having said that though, we really enjoyed working on LATE and it has certainly acted as a jumping off point for us in terms of developing the world of the school.

Is there material that works for TV and not on tour, and vice versa?

Yes – there is not always a lot of crossover. Often live material takes advantage of the audience being there in the room and of course makes use of the fact the audience have to imagine the setting. Similarly when creating a televisual sketch the environment is real and not imaginary so the tone is very different. Some material does work in both arenas but we would always have to adapt it.

If someone has seen you before, how will this compare to previous shows?  And same question if they’ve just seen you on TV.

This show is very different to previous live shows as it is narrative based and follows three characters (with a few others as well). It is also set in one location – the school. Our previous live shows have always been varied and different sketches bouncing from one place to another, so this is new for us. If you’ve seen us on TV, you have already met a few of the main characters but in this show they have a completely new adventure. Also I’m much sweatier in real life – seriously it’s kind of impressive.

All 3 of you have solo stand-up careers running alongside WitTank, do you try and separate your writing and onstage persona for the solo stuff?  If you came up with what you believed to be the funniest thing you’ve ever thought of, would it just be for what it’s best suited to, or would you be tempted to keep it for the solo show?

I’d take it and run… No to be honest we have had situations like this before and if the idea is best suited and executed in a sketch then we do it that way as that is the best thing for the idea. If it is more suited to stand up then whoever thought of it, puts in their set. Often we try both and whatever medium is naturally the best, it goes that way.

Both Scotland and The Stand are immersed in the independence referendum debate. Do you feel that you need to work it into your act when in Scotland? If so, what approach would you take?

We are a group who specialise in silliness and have never had a serious political thought between us in our lives. Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to pass comment on a very serious matter we clearly no very little about.

A lot of people will see you as ‘that funny person’ but we’re wondering if you have an interest, passion or hobby that will surprise people, making them think ‘I never expected that’?

Well Mark plays the violin and piano beautifully. He is also a chorister and very dedicated to geography – it’s not an act, he actually enjoys looking at maps.

I’m very interested in film and cinematography. I used to be able to do the splits and I have a MA in English Ecological Poetry.

Kieran has nothing.

Our clubs attract a different sort of clientele during periods like the Glasgow Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Fringe, do you find it  a different experience playing ‘off peak’ in front of a ‘real’ crowd?

Not especially. Every crowd is different, whether it’s an Edinburgh festival crowd or an ‘off peak’ crowd. Each one behaves differently anyway and there is no ‘typical’ audience.

Interview: Dave McGuire 19/2/14


Record Review Round-Up

I had planned on doing a longer piece on Neneh Cherry’s new album, but there are quite a few new releases that have caught my eye/ear in recent weeks, so here’s a cheeky round-up.

Neneh Cherry ‘Blank Project’
Neneh Cherry has always danced to the beat of her own drum, from when she burst onto the scene, heavily pregnant singing Buffalo Stance on Top of the Pops, through her genre busting worldwide smash 7 Seconds with Youssou N’Dour, not to mention her cooking show (nah, don’t mention that), hers is a distinctive voice.  Just over a year ago, she returned from a self imposed exile with The Cherry Thing, an album with Swedish freeform jazz trio The Thing.

Now, back with her first solo album in a whopping 16 years, Neneh Cherry is still ahead of the game, and cool kids that won’t remember her first time around might very well be rummaging through their parents collection (or more likely ‘acquiring’ the back catalogue online).  The album kicks off very minimal, with sparse beats and Cherry’s distinctive vocals, and I thought ‘oooh, this is going to be interesting’.  All of her albums are different, and this one is dominated by beats and bass.

There are all manner of nice little touches with cowbells, shakers, gongs and the like, a couple of clubby tunes in the mix, but this is an album you could immerse yourself in with a pair of headphones, but equally it could be the soundtrack to your night in a cool bar.  You can tell that Swedish star Robyn has been influenced by Cherry, who in turn uses their collaboration Out of the Black to expand the sound of the record.  It’s never dawned on me how alike they sound, and the harmonies are bang on.

St Vincent
I’m slow to jump on the St Vincent bandwagon, but now that I’m on it I’ll bagsy a comfy seat. Like a cross between Beck, Bjork, and the aforementioned Neneh Cherry, with some in his prime Prince thrown in for good measure, St Vincent’s sound is all that and more, and very much now.  Following her much acclaimed album with David Byrne, this is what she’s describing as her ‘party album’.

The album is quite spiky, full of attitude, and oomph, and most definitely cool.  Whilst catchy, accessible, and sort of ‘pop’ there’s so much more to St Vincent.  The album opens with a track about how the internet helps people with unusual sexual fetishes realise that their not alone, bubblegum pop this isn’t.  Annie Smith is intelligent, witty, articulate, full of artistic flair, and boy can she shred. Us miserable old gits tend to resent these talented folk, but I’m loving this record.

This is a multi textured piece of work, it’s careful and considered, yet still retains a raw element that I’m guessing is important to St Vincent. Stand out tracks include Prince Johnny, the bold electro pop of Digital Witness, the bound to piss of a few Christians ballad I Prefer Your Love – that phrase is followed by the words ‘to Jesus’.

I’m sure that this album will be a fixture of the end of year Best Of polls, but what would be cool is if it reaches a broader range of people, as it has the potential to move beyond the more serious music fans.

Elbow ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’

Many people thought that Elbow’s previous album was a bit of a let-down, whilst that was inevitable following their awesome breakout album Seldom Seen Kid, I reckon that’s a little bit harsh.  I’m guessing that as a response to this, they’ve taken things down a few notches, less lush orchestration, bombastic, singalong choruses, and whilst still being very much Elbow, is a slight departure.

Elbow have their fair share of critics, and this album most definitely won’t win any of them over, in fact it’ll probably piss them off even more.  For those that do love them, they’re the band of the everyman, creating beauty from the everyday.

Guy Garvey is just a few months younger than, and I’d look at him and think he was old before his time, all sensibly dressed, concerned with the simple things in life like a good beer, a smoke, enjoying a decent LP or book, and the love of your friends and family. Then I realised that’s what folks of our age do, and I’m getting comfortable with that.

Not so sure this album will be used as incidental music on everything under the sun, like the Seldom Seen Kid, but The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is an assured work by a band at the top of their game. It might not be earth shattering, but from time to time the middle of the road is an OK place to be. Heartfelt and sincere are things the cool kids should get on board with, they’ll outlast ironic t-shirts.

Thievery Corporation ‘Saudade’

Alongside Kruder Dorfmeister, the Thievery Corporation’s DJ Kicks was one of the defining mixtapes of the era, I heard it after many a night in a club, in bars, and shifted tons of them when working at Tower Records.  Unfortunately for the Dapper Dans from Washington DC, their own downtempo, electro, jazz-lounge, didn’t have the same impact.  I bought a couple of their albums in the hope that they’d find that winning formula, but to no avail.

Now, many years later, I saw that they have a new album, and knowing nothing about it I thought I’d give it a listen, and was pleasantly surprised.  Thievery Corporation are back on the scene with a bossa nova album, yes, and actual full length album of bossa nova tracks.  With a handful of guest female vocalists, including Nouvelle Vague singer Karina Zevian, the album stays true to modern bossa nova, but also retains a Thievery Corporation feel.  I’d be curious to see this live, if they had a good group of musicians tour the record, it could be excellent.

If bossa nova ain’t your bag, I’m doubting that this will change your mind, but if you got excited by Bebel Gilberto when she burst onto the scene, then you might want to check it out. Personally, I’d say that a 5 or 6 track EP would’ve been enough for me, but I enjoyed this and applaud them for trying something different.  I’ll now be looking out for their next release, when previously I’ve not bothered.

Pharrell Williams ‘GIRL’
The biggest selling artist of 2013, whatever Pharrell lends his name to at the moment turns to gold ( or rather platinum) be that the insanely catchy Happy from Dispicible Me 2, the insanely catchy Get Lucky with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers, or the insanely catchy yet morally dubious Blurred Lines with rapey Robin Thicke, of which he seems to have emerged relatively unscathed.

I was hoping that this was be good, but my initial reaction is that it has many of the ingredients needed for a modern soul/funk classic, like Cee Lo, Andre 3000, Aloe Blacc, or Prince (when he’s good) but it lacks soul and a proper groove.

Happy is definitely the best track on the album, and whilst the rest of the record is full of potential singles, I don’t predict earworm status for any of them. The track Lost Queen stands out to me, it has the feel of an unreleased track from the soundtrack to a Lion King sequel, not sure what it’s doing on the album.

This album is OK, but like too many Prince albums, there are a few really good numbers but the rest sounds like someone very talented going through the motions (although loking very good whilst doing it). Pharrell might not yet have lost his midas touch, but the gold is definitely tarnished!