Wading through the Content Mines

Time is endless and passes in the blink of an eye. I’ve had loads to write about but I haven’t been sure where to begin; the problem with journalising is it’s easy to fall out of the habit, and when you fall out of the habit you fall off a cliff. But if someone fails to update their blog in the forest and there’s no-one around to read it, did they… and so on.

Before I see where else my sentences take me, I’d like to carve some facts into this entry. Some solid things I have done, before they disappear into the ether. This is difficult, because some of them are OF the either, like podcasts. But if someone… oh, no, not this again.

Next Level Sketch is back as a going, physical concern. We went on stage and we did some sketches, and later this month we’re going to do it all over again, this time with different sketches. And there’s a good chance we’ll be different humans too.

The main feedback from NLS’ live comeback is that performers are remembering how to be performers, but audiences are also remembering how to be audiences. I think this phenomenon is heightened in a venue like The Miller, which has done a superb job opening back up, with its cabaret style tables and strict social distancing; but it’s a small room, with a greatly reduced capacity, and when you’re spaced out it’s much harder to give oneself the permission to laugh than it is when you’re in a packed, sweaty room of seventy.

Unfortunately if appropriately, laughter is a contagion, and groups of people are gloriously unpredictable creatures. That alchemy of when a bunch of individuals becomes a *crowd* is more difficult to achieve under these circumstances, but my lord we’re going to keep giving it a bash regardless. And our capacity will increase as the rules relax and the pandemic recedes…

On that note, my new night, Factually Inaccurate Stand-Up, has its debut show on Wednesday. And, hey, tickets are still available. Come along? I shall be MCing, and our varied special guests are all interpreting our rather woolly brief in several very different but no doubt extremely entertaining ways. As I say when selecting from one of twelve child-friendly reactions before a race in Mario Kart Online: I’m using motion controls! I mean: I’m excited.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/factually-inaccurate-stand-up-charlie-vero-martin-felix-trench-and-more-tickets-156907300961

Here are some other bits and pieces I’ve been in recently.

  1. The IMDP podcast, in which I overcame not knowing EITHER of the films I was supposed to be riffing off by making my director obsessed with the impossibility of accurately portraying duck explosions via CGI.

2. Barmy Nonsense from OMF Theatre

I helped write, record and produce this AGES ago but only now are the episodes popping up on radio and on YouTube. The latest one is available below.

3. Hey it’s Next Level Sketch! The podcast! I’m so proud of this thing, and how we’ve kept things ticking over throughout assorted lockdowns and down-downs. Our latest episode is set in a FANTASY REALM, and I think we’re getting funnier and funnier. And odder. Definitely odder.

And that’s it! Hopefully see some of you other humans on Wednesday. And I shall write MORE BLOG POSTS soon. I have many exciting projects in the pipeline for this summer, and I will launch them as soon as I remember how to get out of bed.

J x

Suburb on the Edge of Forever

I’ve been throwing out #content in various directions lately, but have been neglecting my blog, so here I am writing a post to remind myself of all the stuff I’ve been doing and to try and push me to write something every day, no matter how dry and dreary. Which seems like a strange thing to be writing on a rainy morning.

First up: I finally started a newsletter. I ummed and ahhed and ummed some more about its theme, but finally settled upon “the city”. I call it Suburb on the Edge of Forever, and you can subscribe below if you would like. The latest post is about the demise of the Broadmarsh shopping centre in Nottingham, and how the council has a unique opportunity to redefine what town centres are for (and are hoping they don’t screw it up).

Next Level Sketch, the comedy night I produce, comes back on May 25th, at The Miller in London Bridge. An actual physical event! With jokes in it! Tickets are available here (7:30 show) and here (8:45 show): we’re doing our show twice in the same evening to small-ish capacities due to the Covid rules, but will hopefully be able to increase our audiences as the summer rolls on. We’ve got lots of exciting guest acts booked in, so I would be very grateful if people could go get their jabs and ensure that this is the kind of thing that can actually happen.

We’re also still doing podcast episodes – the latest one is below – but we’ll be releasing them less frequently now that we have a stage show to worry about too.

I am also starting a new stand-up night, also at The Miller, with my friend and fellow NLS human Maddi. After doing my stand-up course earlier in the year, I realised that the only way I would keep up my writing in this format is if I set up a date in the diary when I absolutely had to perform, so logically the only option was to set up a night. Not, you know, just booking an open mic, or performing on Zoom, or something. Oh no. That would have made far too much sense. No: an actual club night, with real comedians booked and me compering. It’s the only way. Sink or swim! Cake or death! And so on.

Our first night will be in June and there will be more details about this when we have figured out what they are.

Whew, what else. Well, in human journal / diary news, I have had my first anti-Covid jab, as Lambeth seem to be a bit ahead of the rest of the country in letting 40+ humans have the vaccine. I could make lots of jokes about how Bill Gates’ nanobots are running free through my veins and I now have lots of positive feelings about Microsoft, but this is too serious a topic for that.

I also had a haircut, so I no longer look quite so shaggy, and can reduce the overall percentage of time spent wearing hats.

It might sound weird, but psychologically I am feeling a little wary about the end of lockdown. There not being a future to speak of has had the effect of allowing me to focus on the present, and I have been unusually productive creativity wise (see above). Now that the future is available again, I suppose I have to carve out what that looks like. And that makes me nervous, because I don’t have a good track record in this area.

Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

It is late but I am not quite ready to give up on my crazy dream of writing an entire new blog post every single day. So! Here I am with fresh bedding and a lively mind with some statements and observations on day 876 of lockdown III. [1]

I just watched the first of the new (ish) Adam Curtis documentary, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head[1]. As with classic Simpsons and 70% of all culture, I’ve already seen the parodies before I got through the episode, but I enjoyed it immensely despite its occasional whimsy and laugh-out-loud segues.

Episode 1 of Can’t Get You Out Of My Head jumped between 1950s America, Britain and China.

Whatever you think of Curtis’ politics or the points he is making, there’s no denying he creates memorable and haunting television. The archive footage is, as always, magnificent, particularly the juxtaposition of dreary 1950s England with the atrocities of its dying Empire in Kenya. One shot in particular, of red jacketed huntsmen with their dogs and horses moving across fields in front of a looming and bleak industrial landscape of chimneys and factories, will stay with me.

What else happened today? Well, I applied to be a train driver. I once dated someone with a father who drove trains for Chiltern Railways, whose main piece of advice was, “never become a train driver”. Given the many thousands desperate for jobs, I am not expecting to become a train driver, but I applied without irony.

I had a phone call with my friend in Istanbul, who is understandably unsettled by Turkey’s descent into fascism. It says many things, and none of them good, that if she leaves, she absolutely will not come back to England.

I managed to write a sketch that I’m pretty happy with, despite being one of my more outre efforts. It was inspired, very indirectly, by The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the question of what happens when all of reality bends to one person’s will, and also that person is running a pub quiz.

I wrote and recorded a theme tune for my friend Rachel’s new improv / baking podcast. It is quite catchy and manages to express a profound ignorance of baking, so I’m pretty happy with it. 

Ah yes, and I wrote a Twitter thread about cycling, which was roundly ignored, so I’m posting it here too, just in case it’s of interest.

Footnotes

[1] As I wrote that sentence, I was distracted by a post-it note coming loose from the wall and fluttering, moth-like, to the floor. What does this augur?

[2] I also heard this very good Kylie song in the supermarket earlier, while buying muesli and marmite. Did hearing the song remind me to watch the documentary? Curtis would say yes.

Illustrated Banality

I am trying to update my blog every day at the moment, which is a project as doomed to failure as the poor coriander plant desperately seeking the limited light of the kitchen window.

Nevertheless, we persist!

The problem is that the days are so packed full of incident and life, and the desire to document every single detail is very strong in me, even though that is impossible as one would need to stop from experiencing and doing things every so often in order to write them down.

I really love hourly comics, where once a year online artists draw what they’re up to over the course of the day. I find the illustrated banality charming. But I suspect my readers – and I know you’re out there, like the aliens pretending to ignore Jodrell Bank – wouldn’t be impressed if I took up the same approach to blogging.

Today’s news is as follows. Now is the time to start playing breaking news music in your head.

1) Samira Ahmed likes my album! She’s been a lovely associate since she stumbled on my New Malden blog many moons ago. I really appreciate her both buying it AND tweeting about it, the kind of double whammy my other so-called friends could learn from [1].

2) It sounds like I might be setting up my own stand-up comedy night. This is both a terrifying and thrilling conceit, at this stage, that needs to be turned into an actual event for when we are actually allowed to have actual events.

There have been many terrible things about lockdown for so many of us, but one unexpected advantage is it has at least helped me stay in the present a little bit, rather than dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. Because, well, lockdown is a kind of eternal present, isn’t it? It’s hard to worry about the future when you’re not sure when it’s going to begin.

But now it’s getting a bit warmer and the humans are getting more optimistic, I need to think about what events I want to put on, and how to go about it. I think we can all agree that the world needs more laughs at the moment.

3) Our sketch comedy podcast is going to be rebroadcast on a community radio station. I find this tremendously exciting, but as with 2), this is a nascent thing rather than a big, details and posters announcement. But after the joy of hearing a song of mine played on the radio; it would be a similar pleasure to hear me pretending to be a pirate.

4) I did a helpful thing, and was rewarded with a sausage roll. This is the kind of society I like. It’s what Ursula Le Guin would have wanted.

5) It was also a frustrating day because my mind had been flirting around like a moth all day, and I’ve found it hard to make myself do tasks, like a dog who knows absolutely that his dog is calling him but has detected a really fascinating smell and frankly the human stuff can wait. I am hoping that tomorrow I will be more successful at achieving the boring, practical tasks I failed to do today.

6) I have new glasses!

[1] This is cod passive aggression, but it reads like actual passive aggression. Therefore, it made me laugh and I kept it in. Behold: the writing process!!

Diagnosis: clown

I burned myself last night. I was half reclining on the sofa, like a Roman, and spilled hot tea all over my chest.

I quickly removed my T-shirt and jumper, and got in the shower and poured cool (but not freezing) water at myself while checking the NHS website to check I was doing the right thing.

Twenty minutes later I stopped, climbed out, and resigned myself to a topless evening, like George Costanza on the shitter.

This life has been an increasingly klutzy one. Pre lockdown, I went on a spate of leaving things on trains, from glasses and hats all the way up to backpacks. Now we can’t go anywhere, I’m limiting myself to smashing receptacles and tripping over things, like Kramer ending every scene with a perfect few seconds of slapstick.

I wonder if I should see a doctor, but I’m worried I’ll be diagnosed as a clown.

Swells reviews my record from beyond the grave

I do like writing songs but I’m not very good at promotion. If this was 1994, I’d sign to a major label, despite all my protestations at being “alternative”, just to escape the anxiety of writing to people asking them to listen or give coverage to my work.

A few more nice things to report, though. John Kennedy was kind enough to get in touch to say he liked “This Can’t Go On Forever”, so maybe he’ll play it on the radio. And the nice human behind the Phoenix Remix did a song-by-song review, comparing me to some artists I never expected to be compared to.

My pal Geoff found himself wondering what Steven Wells would have made of Ruthless Window.

Swells was the anarchist bulldog of the NME, never happy with a song unless it was by the Asian Dub Foundation and specifically about freeing Satpal Ram. He would often tear my favourite bands a new collective arsehole, but he’s almost invariably be very funny while doing so. I miss that kind of music journalism. To be honest, I miss music journalism in general.

Swells died a few years ago, sparing him even the unlikely chance of coming into contact with my twee-pop record. But Geoff had a go at divining what he would have thought:

“I think he’d approve of your make it up as you go along approach to lyrics and the idea that spending more than a day on an album was excessive.

“However, I can’t help but think the use of a ukulele would be a provocation too far and would take up most of the word count.

“The singer from Los Campesinos described getting torn apart by Swells as one of the highlights of his career. It was a given he would hate their music but he felt it was a rite of passage for an indiepop band to get a kicking from him.”

Mildly irritating Mark Beaumont just isn’t the same.

Newsjack

A friend of mine has the delightful twitter bio “I used to make comics on the internet!”.

Even less impressive than that is the news I *almost* got one of my sketches on the BBC’s long-standing, satirical-ish open submission radio comedy Newsjack.

I pressed the big red button and convened a special episode of Sketches That Never Quite Made It, to celebrate and commemorate this near miss. Mum, I was nearly on radio four!

Please listen below. It’s a good time.

Gonna be a painter all my life

There’s an old Hefner song called Alan Bean, named after the fourth man on the moon. It always got to me, because Alan Bean went to space, saw the earth spinning away beneath him, and knew what he wanted to be. “Gonna be a painter all my life,” sings Hayman, as Bean.

It almost feels a throwaway line, but it is the heart of the song.

I’ve never been to space, but I feel like I’m still awaiting that eureka moment of understanding what it is I should be doing. This year, I have been throwing lots of harpoons into the sea, like the harpoon of my solo album, and the twin-pronged harpoons of sketch and stand up comedy.

I’ve found the craft of writing, producing and performing these harpoons very satisfying, and people have said nice things about the craftsmanship of these creative darts. But ultimately, I haven’t hit any whales, and without hitting a whale, I can’t sell its blubber for oil and cosmetics.

But this is all I want to do. I want to write, and perform, and sing, and create stuff of value. I don’t expect ever to make a living out of it, or even what that means; and I think I am okay with that.

Today I went on a Twitch stream hosted by the comedy legend John Dredge. And he introduced me as a comedian and musician.

And you know, for the first time I felt comfortable being introduced in those kind of terms.

Alan Bean died a couple of years ago. And I think I’m going to be a writer all my life.

Ruthless Window by James Walsh: the story of a debut album

The problem with life, like history, is that it’s just one thing after another. I’ve always struggled to process things while they’re happening, both in terms of what I’ve done (good and bad) and what has been done to me (ditto).

Time whooshes by like one of Douglas Adams’ deadlines, and so it’s taken me over a month to write about my debut solo album, which was released in early February and “officially” released[1] a couple of weeks ago.

It’s been a surreal experience, particularly in terms of people a) seeming to like it and b) expressing this by buying it and telling me how much they like it.

Like a lot of people I am a complicated mix of anxiety, terror, self-doubt, fear, and occasional bouts of extreme creativity and self-confidence. When I sat down in cold, cold January with the idea of writing a new song every day until I had enough to release an album, I wasn’t being serious.

It was an ironic joke to tell friends: “ah, another lockdown, guess I’d better write an album”; a sequel to that period in my early twenties when I told everyone I was writing the next great American novel.

Well, it turns out that somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, somehow, I wasn’t being ironic. I have written and recorded the album; and, more unexpectedly, at least to myself, I have had the confidence to tell the world about it. Want to listen to it, or even buy it? You can!

I wrote a bit about the genesis of the album on my bandcamp page, and I also gave an interview with Phoenix Remix about how the thing came together, so I won’t repeat myself here. But if you are interested, do click through and read about it all.

The most exciting thing so far has been hearing back from songwriters and musicians who I have long respected, telling me the thing I have done is good. You see – and this might be linked to some of the things listed above – I sometimes find it very hard to accept that anything I have done has worth. This is a longstanding issue, and something I’ve been talking through with the appropriate professionals.

But if Chris T-T, Elizabeth out of Allo Darlin’, MJ Hibbett, and Tjinder Singh out of Cornershop[2] say they enjoyed it, then I will have to bow to their superior talent and experience with regards to my songs’ objective worth.

I also had the very surreal experience of hearing my song on the radio, specifically White Heat, on the Folkhampton show. Given Top of the Pops no longer exists in any meaningful form, getting on the radio is probably the most exciting thing that could ever happen, and I am so happy and grateful for this to be a thing that happened.

I’m very grateful to all the people who have taken the time to listen, especially those who have got in touch to tell me what they thought about it. Some friends with excellent musical and production talents have already said they’d like to be involved with the follow up, so hopefully that will be something that will happen later this year.

And – who knows – maybe I’ll even get on stage and do some live dates.

I must also thank Bill & Ruth, whose spare room and conservatory doubled as recording studios, and also Ruth and her cat made their way onto the recordings. Probably the funniest thing about recording the album where I did is that Bill is a ridiculously talented guitarist, and did I ask him to play on any of the songs? No I did not. He’s a teacher, he seemed busy. But I hope he will on the follow up.

[1] I posted about it on Twitter.

[2] Ok, technically, the first three liked it, and said so. Tjinder just said it was good I was keeping busy.

I walked to Canterbury in the snow by mistake

I walked to Canterbury today, to make the most of the snow and its hated enemy, the sun. A lot of my life is staring at slightly differently sized rectangles of light. I sleep surrounded by them, and I spent my days pressing bits of them with my thumbs.

I’m sure this is a lifestyle a lot of us are familiar with at the moment.

I set out with no particular direction or destination in mind, but with a dim sensation that my day would be a failure unless I could stomp across a field of virgin snow. This I achieved by heading through the yard of St Martin’s church in Herne, following a footpath which eventually opened up into the field I had been tingling about.

I also met a horse.

The horse was guarded by a do not feed the horse sign, but clearly someone with a handy hay supply had ignored it. And that’s the problem with signs: some people see themselves above them.

One regular whinge from this rambler, repeated in many a furious blogpost, is how easy it is to feel hemmed in on public footpaths, which are often narrow paths surrounded by barbed wire to stop Johnny Public from meandering out into private land, a concept we all know is very important to us capitalists. Snow makes it much easier to lose one’s path, leading to a freedom usually limited to walks on the downs, the moors, or in the mountains.