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Blog Archive: September 2014Writing Workshop
On Sunday I went to yet ANOTHER BBC writing thing, this time as part of the New Comedy Writing Awards. We'd been told to meet in the cafe area at the Hackney Empire, and when I arrived I happily gazed around spotting the people I thought would be going to the workshop - basically people who looked like younger, paler versions of me, nervously staring at their phones. I enjoy doing this entirely unselfconsciously, very much aware that others will be looking at me and thinking "he looks exactly the same as the rest of us EXCEPT PERHAPS SEXIER." That's definitely what's happening.
After a bit there was an announcement that the workshop was about to begin round the corner and the ENTIRE ROOM rose as one and filed out. I felt sorry for the people working there who must have felt DESERTED. One of the people who rose was Mr N Brennan, from SCHOOL, so we had a chat as we wandered in. I tell you what, even if doing the MA hadn't given me all the 1,000,000 benefits that it did, it would still have been a lovely way of ensuring I always had someone to talk to at Writing Events!
Once inside we had a panel discussion, featuring several of the same people as at the last one of these I went to, with some interesting talk of how they got Where They Are Today. The main Take Home Points were "it takes ages" and "you have to get to know people" but again it was nice to hear everyone saying that the Standard Route of working your way up through Newsjack submissions WORKS. It certainly made me keen to keep at it! The only disappointing thing was at the end when a bright young hope for the future (hem hem) asked for tips on how to get Producers (i.e. people like them) to come and see Edinburgh shows. "Just have a good show" was the answer, which is the WORST ADVICE and also THE MOST POPULAR. It drives me nuts when people say that - how on earth does anyone KNOW you have a good show if nobody has SEEN it? If I did THE MOST AMAZING SHOW EVER in my Mum's LOFT would people somehow find out about it and turn up?
In the second half we did some group work, pitching ideas for a Radio One show. The idea of this, apparently, was to give experience of how group idea pitching works, and it sure did. On the one hand parts of it were ACE as several of us shared ideas, encouraged new thoughts, and were open to new suggestions. On the other hand... well, let's just say that not everybody is designed for this sort of thing and may - OR MAY NOT - have forced some people other to bite their tongue throughout instead of screaming "Stop writing all of you and your friend's rubbish, blindingly obvious, ideas down and ignoring everybody else's. Please." It was A Bit Annoying.
In the first half of this section we had to come up with a bunch of ideas which the Producer Types would listen to then chose one from each group for them to work on further. I would like to report that I didn't take GRATE satisfaction when one of the ideas that the rest of us had forced our two "leaders" to write down was chosen over all of theirs, but alas I am NOT QUITE AN ANGEL. In the second half of this section the rest of us did all gang up a bit more and get some ideas out, but it was still a little frustrating - apparently though this is what GROUP PITCHING is like most of the time anyway, so I guess it was good practice!
When it was finished i FLED - there was NETWORKING to be done afterwards in the cafeteria, but I had to get home and do a whole heap of Newsjack Submission Writing. Clearly the system works!
posted 30/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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The Dowager Duchess Of Dole
On Friday I went to SIGN ON for the DOLE. I've officially been off work for AGES but until recently I was technically a full-time student, so haven't really been eligible, but now that I AM I thought I'd give it a go.
Several people have said to me "Ooh no, I couldn't do that again, it's horrible. They MAKE you go in for interviews and stuff." To this I reply in two ways: firstly, I spent twenty years working in Universities mostly in positions allied to IT departments, so am well versed in byzantine organisational structures, institutional incompetence, low quality customer relations bordering on madness, and sitting around doing nothing for huge swathes of time, so feel well prepared for the experience. Secondly, if they try to make me do anything TOO stupid and/or annoying I can always say "No thank you" and simply go back to the non-receipt of dole situation I was in before.
With all this in mind I was well prepared for what was to follow. On Thursday, while in Peterborough for the Extravaganza, I'd had two text messages to remind me of my appointment time, 11:50am, followed by a telephone call to remind me again. So far so KEEN. At 10:00am on Friday I got a phone call asking me to go in at 11:00am instead and then ten minutes later ANOTHER phone call explaining that the original time had been a clerical error, and could I go in at 11 o'clock instead. I happily agreed, then the lady said "Great, so that's 11:50 then" and hung up the phone. Excellent!
She'd told me that when I arrived I was to fill in some paperwork and then go to the first floor. I arrived at the ground floor at ten to eleven (EAGER, PROFESSIONAL) to find that they had done away with boring old fashioned things like a reception desk, and replaced it with a bunch of people lurking around trying to get the attention of the G4S security guy to see if he had any clue what was going on. Eventually he called over a "floor walker" who told me to go straight up to the first floor.
When I arrived at the first floor there was again no reception, so I had to wait until another G4S security man took pity on me and found someone with a desk to talk to me. This person asked me a) where my paperwork was b) why wasn't I on the second floor and c) wasn't I a bit early for my appointment at noon?
I went up to the second floor, went through the same non-reception confusion, and got waved at by a nice lady who eventually came over and apologised for keeping me waiting. "This is a rapid re-application isn't it?" she asked. My last application was in 1992 so I assumed there was a mistake, which indeed there was. She gave me a form to fill in and then made an appointment for me to go back in two weeks for a proper interview, at 8:30am. I BAULKED at the time, but realised that this was the end of my obligations to DWP for a fortnight, so smiled POLITELY and left.
The POLITE SMILE was indicative of my whole DEMEANOUR, and whilst waiting I realised that this was something I ALWAYS do in these sort of situations i.e. I act like a MINOR ROYAL on a VISIT. It was the same a few weeks ago when I had to have a hospital check-up, I become like MAGGIE SMITH or someone, smiling benevolently at all the dear poor people around me, remarking whenever appropriate how jolly nice it all is and radiating calmness and tranquility. I basically become like the QUeen Mum visiting the old East End during the Blitz.
On reflection I realised that this is an EXCELLENT way to get through such situations - after all, if it's good enough for our great nation's number one family of claimants, then surely it is good enough for me. Next week I plan to open a FETE!
posted 29/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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I was in Peterborough on Thursday to view the closing night of my first ever professionally commissioned piece of ART - The Anglian Water One Alliance Health And Safety Stand Down Day!
CATCHY, right? I think it is going to set the West End alight... in a wet, also safe, way. This was something I was asked to do by Mr CM Smith of Barhale, and also of Being My Step-Dad. He was in charge of the whole event and was hiring some ACTORS to do a session at the end, so needed someone to write a SCRIPT. This is only the second time in my whole life that I have got work through family connections - this first was back in 1988 when I did a fortnight working on SITE, also for Chris. I lost a stone in weight that time, and was a bit disapppointed it didn't happen again!
When I got to Peterborough my Mum collected me and we ZOOMED off to the East Of England Showground. When I was growing up this was the scene of the most exciting thing to happen in Peterborough all year - the East Of England Show, when everyone would go to look at some Large Pigs, try and collect as much Free Tat from the stalls (i.e. pens and those hats made from a sheet of card with a cut out spiral in it) and then look at the Red Arrows go overhead. I even worked there once (or twice?) helping with the parking in the car park - if you come from Peterborough it is pretty much a RULE that you have to do this at some point.
The weren't any animals (though you could still SMELL them, mysteriously) and no red arrows, but other than that it didn't seem to have changed much. The event was happening in The Peterborough Arena, a big HANGAR style building which Anglian Water had hired out for the three days that this was all happening on. We walked in to the main auditorium which was VAST, with about 800 seats, three BIG SCREENS, and three stages - one for the main presentations, one for the BAND that had played during the morning session, and one for the DANCE TROUPE that Chris had got in from a local school to illustrate to his OPENING ADDRESS. When he told me about that i'd thought he was joking, which surprised him - of COURSE he'd have a live band and DANCERS as part of his talk, didn't everyone?
The other half of the room was full of DISPLAYS and STANDS where, reassuringly, you could collect all sorts of free stuff, although I was sad not to see any Spiral Hats. We mooched around, said hello to Chris (who, in his third day, was FULLY in control of the ginormous SHEBANG he was running) and met various colleagues that I'd heard about for YEARS.
At half past three it was SHOWTIME, so nearly FIVE HUNDRED of us filed into the main auditorium to watch the presentation. I'd been asked to write something suitable for this size of room, based around a courtroom scene. It was to have joining in, an EXPLOSION, a cage descending from the ceiling, space for a real site inspector to talk to the audience, and a GRAPHIC video showing somebody being very badly hurt in a real accident. It was quite a lot to get in, but I think I did all right, thought I must say I found the experience of watching it MORTIFYING. Partly this was due to the interactive/PANTO nature of it. Right at the start when the actors got everyone to stand up and raise their hands i turned to my Mum and said "Ugh! I hate this sort of thing!" then remembered that i had WROTE it! I was also VERY aware that the audience was TRAPPED there and would probably have preferred it to be over in five minutes so that they could go home!
The best bit was the bit I didn't do, when the Inspector came on to talk to the audience. He did some proper classy Corporate Comedy ("Anybody here from Balfour Beatty?") and then got people out of the audience to ask them questions about Health & Safety. Whilst doing my research I had become incredibly PROUD of the construction industry's attitude to this - some people (twats) go "ooh, health and safety, it is all red tape that stops sensible people making money", but if you work in construction it SAVES ACTUAL LIVES. They had people from all sorts of different ROLES on stage, who didn't know they'd be picked out, but they were all COMPLETELY on top of it, reeling out lists of all the precautions, procedures and GUIDANCE that was designed to stop accidents. It was inspiring!
So it was all fine, except from at the end when I was told to stand up and be thanked, and almost a THOUSAND eyes turned and looked accusingly at me, and it was really rather exciting to think that something I had written will have been seen by 1,500 people over the course of the three days. That probably means more people saw it over the run than ANY of our Fringe shows!
Like the Fringe shows, however, there was some tidying up to do afterwards, so the whole family of us joined in with taking down tables, moving signage, folding up tablecloths and generally trying not to get in the way, before going off for a BEER. Please note, CORPORATE EVENTS MANAGERS - if you hire me, I not only write the show, I clear up afterwards as well!
posted 26/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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I've got an IDEA on the go at the moment that is making me all EXCITED, so much so in fact that last night I had to retreat into a different room and do a SMALL DANCE. That's Quite Excited!
The idea EMERGED last week when I SWANNED into London Town for a couple of MEETINGS. The first of these was with Mr J Dredge, during which we worked up some THORTS for sketches to send into Newsjack, which is starting again this week - the first episode is on TONITE in fact, so fingers are very much crossed for getting something IN. After that I wandered into Soho and met Ms E Morgan, late of SCHOOL, for a talk about SITCOMS. We'd spoken about an idea of hers a couple of weeks ago, and I was VERY pleased to have another chance to talk about it some more, as it is a GRATE IDEA - it's basically about a BAND, which is something I know about, and we had a delightful time talking IDEAS. The only thing about it that made me slightly sad was that it was SO MUCH BETTER than the vague idea I'd had to write a sitcom about bands. It made mine, in fact, look a bit rubbish.
This was especially disheartening a I sort of NEED to write some sort of original sitcom script. Since Hollywood got CANCELLED I've been very much back on the BBC Radio PLAN to become a Proper Professional Writer. The idea is that you start by submitting sketches to Newsjack, then gradually work your way up until you get to have a meeting with a producer and PITCH your own sitcom idea at the them... and I don't have one, not least because I spent such a HUGE part of this year writing TWO scripts for other people's sitcoms which are now not really any use to me. I said this out loud and Emma said "Well why don't we think of one then? What are your PRECINCTS?"
I sat and had a thought and came out with the usual first ideas I have - comics, being in a band, science fiction etc etc, then at the end said, "And, obviously, I worked in University departments for 22 years." Even as I said it LIGHTS started going on in my brain. "There you go", said Emma and there indeed i DID go. My BRANE had cleary been WAITING for this idea because all the way home it kept saying "And what about THIS story? And this Unusual Character?" Working in University departments for 22 years involved meeting a LOT of VERY Unusual Characters!!
I let these THORTS stew in my mind over the weekend, and then on Wednesday sat down for a proper THINK. I wanted there to be a character a bit like ME in it (i.e. someone who'd worked there for DECADES pretending they were only there temporarily), but every time I tried to think of it I pictured Roy from The IT Crowd. I also had an idea for someone based on Marjorie who I used to work with, but could get no further. I had a look at the webpages of a couple of my old departments and was AMUSED to find that although NONE of the admin staff were still there nearly ALL of the academics were, and that half of them were now PROFESSORS! The only one that wasn't was a woman who appeared to STILL be doing the same PhD she'd been doing when I worked in the office next door to her, 20 years ago, and ALL OF A SUDDEN the whole thing fell into place.
I LEAPT into action* (*sat down on the sofa with a pad and pen) and started drawing out a COMEDY DIAMOND. This is something we were taught on the course by guest lecturer Mr Keith Lindsay, and ISN'T a precious gem that remembers Wagon Wheels, but rather a way of describing and devising Sitcom characters. I won't go into it in HUGE detail because, well, he does it better and also CHARGES people to be taught it, but the basic idea is that any sitcom can be described by putting the main four characters into a diamond where each side both opposes and reflects the other. For instance, in Dad's Army you've got Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson as opposites (in terms of class) and alike (they're both officers) while Pike and Jones are opposites (young and old) and alike (not officers). You go into a lot - a LOT - more detail than that, making opposites and similarities between all of them and then GETTING PSYCHOLOGICAL about it in the various further steps, but that's the general idea. He proposes it as a TOOL for working out which characters you NEED.
It is a GOOD TOOL, so good in fact that I did it as a DOUBLE DIAMOND for my show, which is obviously called "The Department". Here is how it looks so far:
It may not look like much at the moment, but it was the start of my BRANE going into OVERDRIVE. You know when Famous Celebrity Authors say "Oh yes, it is always fascinating when the characters start talking to you"? Well it was sort of like that except they started DOING things and ARGUING with each other and BEING IN STORIES. It was amazing! All of a sudden this whole world of STUFF appeared, LO! as if to say unto me "Mark! Here is the thing you're going to be thinking about for the next few months!" and I did get A BIT EXCITED and have to go off to do the DANCE that I mentioned at the top.
It reminded me of the rare occasions over the years when I've written a Good Song* and KNOWN it (*"Good Song" on this occasion basically means "a song that I will be playing at pretty much every gig for the next ten years, knowing it'll usually go down OK). Examples of this are Easily Impressed, The Lesson Of The Smiths and It Only Works Because You're Here, all of which I have done a MILLION times safe in the knowledge that they'd be OK. With each of them I knew that they were KEEPERS as soon as I'd written them (NB if this sounds big headed please be aware that it has happened about SIX times in 20 years of ROCK!) and I got the same sensation with "The Department". I could be wrong - it's a whole new AREA after all - but it felt GOOD.
Now all I need to do is think of three HILARIOUS stories for the first episode, write it, get it commissioned, and then RAKE IN THE CA$H! What could be easier, right?
posted 25/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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At the weekend we went to see some ART that we liked so much we went back again to see it SOME MORE!
The first time of viewing was on Saturday as part of an extended day out in Queen Elizabeth Olympical Park, which was PACKED with stuff to see. We kicked off with a trip round the "Village Fair" round the corner from our house, then saw the "Art-Moves" exhibition (more of which to follow), bumped into Dr N Brown (who wasn't officially part of the ART, but was certainly a highlight) then went on to the "Vintage Car Boot Sale" which wasn't a boot sale at all but was in fact a bunch of very nice old cars next to some stalls selling rather expensive clothes that, a few years ago, would have cost 5p in a charity shop.
It was all JOLLY interesting and fun but also BUSY, so on Sunday we went back to "Art Moves" to have another PROPER look. It was GRATE - a whole bunch of different art-related VEHICLES, including a mobile cinema, and electrically powered moving FOOT, a huge seagull-shaped caravan/information point, a portable music hall theatre, and the boat made of different wooden items that we last saw during the Olympics. To be honest I suspect that The Art In My Gallery MAINLY wanted to go back so she could try and look at the Several Nearly Naked Men who had been powering a big wooden traction engine, and though she was to be DISAPPOINTED, it was a GRATE exhibition to go and see. DETAILS of it are on their website but ALAS it does not feature the best bit of the whole thing: I HAD AN ICE CREAM!
posted 23/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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In theory we've had a year out of the FRINGE CYCLE, but actually it's only four months since we last performed Total Hero Team and now here I am booking the dates for the new show at next year's Leicester Comedy Festival. It comes round quick!
To me it feels a bit weird to be writing a BLURB for a show which we haven't even had a readthrough of yet, but I also know that a lot of comedians won't be thinking about THEIR shows until at least next summer, six MONTHS after they made up a title, so I guess we're a BIT ahead of the curve!
We're going to advertise the show as "Hey Hey 16K (work in progress)" for this one so as to a) reduce the pressure on us to have it perfect by then and also b) to ALERT people to the fact it won't be. Here's what I've written:
A new show from the Leicester Comedy Festival veterans who brought you 'Dinosaur Planet', 'Moon Horse' and 'Total Hero Team'. This one features the usual songs, Dad jokes and titting about, plus time travel, ZX Spectrums, advice on beer, Ada Lovelace, tap dancing (probably) and Steve taking on the role of a lifetime: MJ Hibbett!
I think that's fairly to the point! Now all we have to do is... well, do it!
posted 22/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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After a week of interning and then another last day at work I'd planned to have Tuesday as a DAY OFF. This may sound weird when i am generally OFF anyway, but I usually tend to fill my days with DOING stuff so every now and again it's nice to set aside a full day to sit on the sofa and watch TELLY.
ALAS Tuesday wasn't to be that day, as I had a TONNE of things to do, not least of which was to finish off the Totally Acoustic podcast. I always forget how LONG this takes to do, though a lot of this is because I keep forgetting I'm meant to be listening critically and just enjoy it. I SHOULD be writing down all the songs performed and considering which to include, and how to edit them together, but I usually end up LARFING and/or thinking "Who is making THAT noise in the background?"
Anyway, it is DONE now and ready for you enjoy over on its webpage, where Mr T Eveleigh, Mr D Leach and MYSELF are waiting to entertain you. I can't stick around to talk about it though, I've got a PILE of things to do today so I can try and have TOMORROW off - there's four episodes of Doctor Who to re-watch, and the longer I leave it the MORE there will be to catch up on!
posted 17/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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Networking For The Terrified
I seem to have finished work several times this year, and did it AGANE on Monday. I finished getting paid in May but stopped going in full-time in April, having agreed with my boss that I'd pop back and do the days I owed him as and when it was needed, so as to make sure the project we were working on got finished properly. Hence on Monday I did the LAST of these days, and made it official with a Manly Handshake and proper goodbye. I've got to go back IN to take back my keys at some point, but I think this counts as the LAST last time I'm there!
I'd spent most of the day being reminded why I LOATHED SPSS so much (for those who don't know, it's a Stats package designed by statisticians to be INCREDIBLY PAINFUL TO USE) so I thought I deserved a Relaxing Pint afterwards. Luckily I was popping into The King & Queen because I'd forgotten to pay them for the room for Totally Acoustic last week and, even though they hadn't realised, thought I ought. I thus got to sit in one of my favourite pubs in London and ponder a) what had just FINALLY finished and b) where I was off to next.
For LO! after a bit of a MONTH of endings - work, the MA, the internship, and DREAMS of HOLLYWOOD - I was heading on to something NEW. As one of the (many) people who'd sold sketches and/or gags to the last series of Newsjack I'd been invited to the Writers' Briefing, where they tell everyone what the NEXT series is going to be like. It was being held downstairs in the Albany, and when I arrived I spent a happy five minutes identifying the Lonely Writer Types there for the meeting - mostly men, mostly pale, mostly middle-aged (or at least middle-aged looking), nursing a pint on their own and looking at their phones. How I chortled as I sat there alone with my pint and phone!
I was soon joined by Mr J Dredge, so we went downstairs and were ALSO joined by Mr H Carr. My WORST FEAR of this sort of thing is being the ONLY PERSON stood on their own with no-one to talk to, so sat between these two, and with them chatting to others too, I felt like a PLAYA!
The first half of the talk was about slight changes to the format of the show, and what sort of thing they'd be looking for, while the second half was a Q&A with some writers. It was VERY interesting, especially the fact that not only was there a CLEAR ROUTE from sending in sketches, to SELLING sketches, to getting invited to the writers room, to getting COMMISSIONED, and then to (i surmise) HOLLYWOOD, but they happily talked about it as a THING. This is more career planning than I ever had in 20 years of ROCK, or indeed of 20 years of a Proper Career!
Afterwards we went upstairs for further chat but before long the other two had gone home and so I was left alone. I'd only really spoken to Harry and John and thus had done NO NETWORKING. I knew that this is pretty much the POINT of this sort of thing but it TERRIFIES me. I decided to seek advice, so texted home to ask The People In My Gathering whether I should a) network b) just come home. I rather hoped she'd say "come home!" and give me an excuse to do so, but instead she said "Network! But come home if it's horrible."
I gritted my teeth, threw myself back in... and it was FINE. I spotted someone else lurking at the edge looking TERRIFIED and purely by BEING NEXT TO HIM encouraged him to... well, get away from me and go and talk to someone more important. I got a beer and tried again, this time standing next to a conversation and gently merging into it. I believe this is how confident people do it, and it seemed to work, and soon I had had a PERFECTLY PLEASANT CHAT and been introduced to both the Producers of the show. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!
It was all going swimmingly at this point so I thought the best thing to do was GET OUTTA THERE before I said something dreadful OR got horribly drunk OR broke something. Thus I got to leave with my head held high, feeling I'd made a decent start on this next bit. Now all I need to do is write some Hilarious And Topical Sketches!
posted 16/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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Last week's Totally Acoustic was an HEROIC VICTORY in the face of overwhelming odds, for LO! several things went slightly wrong, but still we overcame them. HEROICALLY!
The first issue was with people turning up - I think I was SPOILED last time because everybody was pretty much THERE by just after 6pm and we even ended up starting a bit early, but this time it was well past 7pm before we had the full compliment of ACTS, and had several audience-members rolling in LATE, falling foul of the common assumption that when we say "It starts at 7:30" we mean "It starts at 8:30" when, of course, what we really mean is "It starts about 7:45ish, depending on when everyone can have a wee and get a drink."
Once that heinous obstacle was overcome another problem arose, in that Mr D Ransome, booked to play that evening, was unable to do so due to a VIRUS what had destroyed his vocal chords. He still BRAVELY came anyway but was unable to perform, so I GRABBED Mr T Eveleigh who had fortuitiously turned up WITH A GUITAR. He protested that he doesn't carry one round with him at all times just in case a possible gig appears, but had been given it earlier in the day. I, kindly, decided to believe him.
The gig kicked off with ME, feeling a bit nervous because I'd not really had much time to practice in the week due to doing my INTERNSHIP. I felt even MORE nervous when, 2 seconds into the start of an attempt on The Perfect Love Song I broke a STRING. Unable to do anything PICKY, and not having a spare string, I was thus forced to start my set with a DIFFERENT song, which wasn't ideal as it was one of the STERNEST ones I have. Here's what I did:
Burn It Down And Start Again
In The North Stand
Another Man's Laundry (hanging on your line)
20 Things To Do Before You're 30
I've not done Burn It Down And Start Again on my own before, and I'm not HUGELY sure that it worked - it does lack any kind of HUMOUR, which makes it a bit difficult to start off the whole set with, and without the band it's pretty much the same all the way through. A song that DID seem to work, however, was In The North Stand, getting its first ever public airing. I think it was all right - I can always check when I do the podcast!
With that all done Tim came on and did a couple of songs, ALSO rising heroically above challenges when he realised that he might have a guitar but he DIDN'T have a plectrum OR a capo, two things that he ALWAYS uses. He powered on regardless though and, as you'll hear when the podcast is done, sounded LOVELY.
Having fought bravely through all these TRIALS we had a quick break and then Mr David Leach came on. He too lacked a capo, but his greatest CHALLENGE was a group of Quite Chatty People in the corner. This doesn't happen very often at Totally Acoustic, which always surprises me as people are SO used to talking at gigs these days, but David dealt with it MASTERFULLY, pausing a song to say "SHH in the corner!" and then interacting with them in a friendly, yet FIRM way. It is always good to see someone do a gig who is REALLY GOOD at doing gigs, and he continued very much in this way, doing an HILARIOUS and also TOUCHING set. I've wanted to get him on at Totally Acoustic for AGES, because every time I've seen him I've thought "I bet The Songs In My Set would LOVE him" and indeed she did. Actually, the whole audience did, he was ACE!
Happy with our evening we relaxed into several BEERS and CHAT and all the good things that accrue when you start a gig at a sensible time in a room full of delightful people. Despite all the ALMOST INSURMOUNTABLE PROBLEMS (hem hem) we had faced, I'm extremely glad that Totally Acoustic is back, it's GRATE!
posted 15/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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A Visit To Westminster
On Tuesday I went to WESTMINSTER for a special DO celebrating the completion of the EPPSE project. This was long running longitudinal study which my old boss had been one of the people in charge of, so I'd done bits and bobs for it over the years and INDEED had had the last 18 months or so of my final contract paid for by, so I thought I ought to go!
The event was taking place in Portcullis House, a new-ish extension to the Houses Of Parliament (it's over the road, but still counts). I'd been forewarned by those in the know that it could take a while to get in through the airport-style security. People in the know KNEW, for it took AGES, and the wait was not helped by the two posh women behind me who complained NON-STOP about how it was going to make them LATE. It turned out that they'd been told to get there at least fifteen minutes early but had turned up ten minutes later than their event STARTED, but no, apparently it was the fault of the people who dared to be in front of them. "There should be a seperate queue" they said, like people who'd clearly been in a seperate queue their whole life.
There was quite a lot of this sort of thing going on, especially when we got near the front and people tried to brush past. In front of me were more posh types (it's part of Parliament, i was probably one of the least posh people there), including a VERY stern man who protected the queue integrity. "We have an engagement to get to!" protested one interloper. "WE ALL DO" said the man ahead, STERNLY. He brooked no dissent, it was ACE.
Inside it was all very pleasant, although I soon realised that pretty much the only people I knew there were my old boss and my OTHER old boss, both of whom were GLADHANDING, so I got myself a glass of wine and went and looked at the ART insteadd. All around the building were specially commissioned or purchased portraits of famous politicians, which was DEAD interesting. Some of the artworks were ACE, some were RUBBISH: ART REVIEWS. There were also Actual Politicians swanning around between rooms that they'd booked. One very familiar face strode past me, leaving a meeting. "Who IS that?" I thought, then turned and saw a room booking display which said "PETER HAIN." If only such displays were provided in everyday life, it would solve me a lot of BRANE STRAIN!
The DO itself was very pleasant - I said hello to various people, had some vegetable samosas, and watched a whole bunch of speeches. The first was from THE MINISTER, who seemed TINY and YOUNG, though this may have been because he was AFEARED talking to a room FULL of gristled, street tough ACADEMICS. His name was Sam Gyimah and he was a TORY, but it was still All Very Pleasant - Early Years Policy Making (for such it was) does encourage Consensus and Agreement as it seems to rely on this KRAZY IDEA called EVIDENCE BASED POLICY MAKING. Imagine that!
After some more speeches by the various BOSSES and some more BOOZE it was time to go. As I left I was texting home and almost fell over the out-stretched legs of someone lolling in the corridor. I turned to see which OAF had almost tripped me up and realised that it was a jolly, slightly drunk looking, Ken Clarke! Talk about GLAMOUR!
posted 11/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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After worrying all last week and JUMPING every time my phone went PING with an email message (which was invariably from LinkedIn or Twitter) I finally decided on Monday to EMAIL Nickelodeon to ask if there was any news about the Writers' Program, which I'd got into the final of last month. I got an Out Of Office reply saying the nice chap I'd been speaking to wasn't in until Wednesday, which at least meant I didn't have to leap around for the next 24 hours!
That evening The Messages In My Inbox suggested that, as I knew who the other finalists were, I could have a bit of a NOSEY round and see if they'd mentioned anything on social media, in case they knew more than me. CUNNING! Thus I sat down and had a SNOOP, and eventually discovered an update from Nickelodeon themselves, last week on their Facebook page, announcing the two FINALISTS for the Program... neither of whom were me.
Ah. In one fell swoop my thoughts of HOLLYWOOD were denied. In many ways it was a relief, as it means I can now plan a whole HEAP of things for the rest of this year, but in lots of other ways it was a HUGE disappointment. The program sounds AMAZING, and it would have been an INCREDIBLE way to suddenly have an entire career in The Writing. Now I'm back to the long way round!
I've been cheering myself up about it today by making a BIG LIST of all the aforesaid things that I now will have plenty of time for, like going on Actual Holiday, recording the new Validators album, doing the new SHOW, writing new SCRIPTS and, who knows, maybe even SIGNING ON! I have had time to have a little bit of a MOPE about it but, as everyone says, getting ON the shortlist in the first place was pretty cool in itself. Now I just have to find the next cool thing and do THAT!
posted 9/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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Walking Without Dinosaurs
Friday was a LONG day full of ACTION and, mostly, WALKING.
It started at lunchtime when, after meeting Mr J Dredge for one of our regular CONFLABS/Sketch Thinking Meetings, i WALKED to the King & Queen to drop off posters for next week's Totally Acoustic (Thursday 11th 7.30pm, feat. Daniel & Norbert Dentrassangle and David Leach) then into Soho to Gosh! for comics, and then all the way back to St Pancras to catch a train to Leicester.
For LO! I was back in town for a PRACTICE with The Validators, although the practice wouldn't be starting for a good TWO HOURS after I'd arrive in Leicester - as per I'd had to roll up super early to avoid paying a MILLION POUNDS for a train ticket. Rather than just go and sit in a pub I thought I'd go for a bit of an old wander, so went off WALKING around FOUR of the SEVEN places I lived in during my 14 year stay in that marvellous city. THUS I strode across Nelson Mandela Park and to Brazil Street, marvelled at how much the whole Filbert Street/Upperton Road area has changed (a whole FOOTBALL GROUND has gone, as has a BRIDGE!), and visited Walton Street (home to many of the glory years of VOON), Eastleigh Road (where I lived in a bedsit) and then Paton Street (where I first shared with Dr N Brown). It was a lovely trip, during which I was continually and simultaneously AMAZED by a) how much had changed and b) how much had stayed the same. This was all summed up by my final stop-off in The Western, a pub that has ALWAYS been at the corner of Leicester's West End, but is VERY different to how it used to be. It's about three times as big now, having knocked through into another building, and has a THEATRE on top of it too!
After a refreshing and well-deserved PINT it was time to head over to Frog Island for practice, and I realised that, as Stayfree's rehearsal rooms are by the side of the canal, then surely I could just FOLLOW the canal from Western Boulevard to get there? I thus got to have a DELIGHTFUL walk beside the canal, only getting slightly confused for approx 2 minutes due to a JUNCTION, and arrived just in time to have my Canal Navigating SKILLZ witnessed by Mr T "The Tiger" McClure, who'd turned up in the car park at the same time.
Shortly thereafter 80% of The Validators were gathered in the rehearsal room - Mrs E Pattison was not attending, which was probably just as well for her as POO GOSH but it didn't half WHIFF in there. As I say, Stayfree is right next to the canal and you can certainly detect a HINT of DAMP in the rooms, and also the ingrained SWEAT of hundreds of (mostly) young gentlemen rocking out within them without ventilation.
We slightly less young but still VIGOROUS gentlemen warmed up our ROCKING MUSCLES with a go through of 20 Things To Do Before You're 30 then launched into "An Easy Christmas", which is going to be this year's addition to the Christmas Selection Box. In line with the sentiment of the song we decided to do it as easily as possible, and so it remained in "Full Hibbett Skiffle" mode. NB this is the style that pretty much ALL my songs start out in which is usually IRONED OUT by The Validators so they sound at least a LITTLE bit different for each other, but this time we went FULL ON into it. It felt GOOD, and so NATURAL that when I did a whole ENDING bit at the END everyone just went with it, ALMOST as if they had done exactly this kind of song a hundred times before!
Our next task, however, was not so simple. Last time we'd tried to work out a band arrangement for That Guy but had got comprehensively STUCK on the chorus. This had been caused by everyone focusing on the vocal medley in the chorus, which VARIES SLIGHTLY, and the fact that the third and fourth line are slightly different from the first and second and also each other. We're not used to that kind of complexity! This time we started afresh and went round and round and round, playing the chrous again and again and again until Tim found the right way to play it. One has to feel for Mr Pattison in these circumstances - the rest of us can get our INSTRUMENTS out at any time at home to try stuff, he can only WHACK drums in the rehearsal room - but eventually we got there. It took so long that Tom had time to pop home and get his Recording Device, and returned to find the rest of us having a lengthy, complicated, discussion about drum patterns. "Play the verse part in the chorus!" said Frankie, "and the riff bit in the verse, the jaggedy jaggedy one", I added. It all got a bit confusing, but eventually we got through two verses and two choruses (largely through Frankie saying reassuring things like "It sounds like Madness, honest!" whenever Tim questioned our direction) after which I pointed out that there was a WHOLE OTHER BIT to do now, and also that the adjoining RIFF bit was DIFFERENT the third time round.
Eventually we worked out that there were eight - EIGHT - different parts to the song! EIGHT!!! I didn't realise it was PROG ROCK when I wrote at it, but we worked and worked at it for over an HOUR so that when we eventually played the whole thing through from start to finish it felt like we had been on an OUTDOORS ACTIVITY BONDING WEEKEND together!
With that finally sorted we just had time left to try out the new Middle Section for Burn It Down And Start Again. The songs as it stood had been going well in practices previously, but I'd felt that it wasn't quite ENOUGH - with all the historic establishment EVIL coming out in the news recently I thought the song needed a bit more STUFF in it. I was right - if you heard the very foundations of the aforesaid establishment QUAKING at about 8:20pm last week, this will have been the cause.
With all that done it was time to pack up. Frankie was heading home and Tim to READING for an early morning meeting, so it was just Tiger and me who headed across town to see exactly HOW much The Hind had changed under new management. During my time in The Western I'd read an article about the changeover in "The Leicester Drinker" and was very happy to read that it now had FIVE of its five beer pumps working, as opposed to the previous NONE. I was less pleased to find when we arrived that they had an Open Mic night on, which mostly featured the WORST SINGER IN THE WORLD singing along to a karaoke machine at ENORMOUS VOLUME and dedicating songs to members of the bizarrely appreciative audience. You know that bit in talent shows when they get the over-confident LOONIES on to HOWL at Simon Cowell? It was like THAT!
Mind you, I guess anyone overhearing could have said the same for us, as The Tiger and I chatted excitedly about how the Album Of Hits is shaping up to be just that. As I've said before, the plan this time is to do a SHORT album where EVERY song is a HIT (where "HIT" translates as "a song that I can happily play at solo gigs and people will like it"). We ALWAYS have this as our plan but it never seems to come about - this time, hopefully, will be different.
And so it was a very jolly, very KNACKERED, very SWEATY Hibbett who got his tea in Tesco Metro before hopping on the train to Leicester. It had been a long day, but a VERY productive one!
posted 8/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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Unemployment At Last
Now that my degree is OVER I am, I guess, technically UNEMPLOYED! Or, as I like to say "A Freelance Writer". Who is unemployed.
I only realised that this situation had finally come about towards the end of Tuesday, as I had decided to award myself the day OFF. Lucky for me I'm not signing on as yet (I thought I'd wait and see how things go for a few weeks before putting myself through all that) otherwise THE DOLE OFFICE would doubtless have been knocking on the door, demanding to know why I wasn't out ON MY BIKE looking for work.
The day off was meant to feature a lot of watching TELLY, and I did manage to watch a bit, including the first episode of season two of "Under The Dome", the SILLIEST programme that has ever been on TV and yet strangely COMPELLING watching. I kept thinking "Is this a clue to the mystery? Or just appalling acting and horrendous writing?" The first episode was even more RIDICULOUS that the first series had been, and yet it was written by Steven King. Is it MEANT to be like this terrible? WOT is going ON? I shall have to watch Episode 2 to find out - CURSES!
As it happened I didn't get to watch episode two because I became busy RECORDING. As stated previously, I've done a fair bit of demo recording recently - INDEED, on Monday I'd added to the demo tally with versions of "Back For Good" (for a thing) and our NEW CHRISTMAS SONG which we'll hopefully be recording in a couple of months - but that had been done using the Live Recording function, wich is PEASY. On Tuesday I had to do some "proper" recording with the actual four-track.
The reason for this activity was that John The Publisher had asked if I had some cheesy instrumentals he could send off for a BRIEF for a TV programme. I suggested a couple of tunes from a while back when I'd done LOADS of such things (mostly collected on Hibbett's Superstore) but had had an idea for ANOTHER. I thought it would be a fun way to spend an hour or so, but it ended up taking AGES, largely because I'd written it in a DIFFERENT KEY to usual. My songs are almost always in G or C or occasionally A, but this one turned out to be in D#! I'd WHISTLED it into this new app I've got which tells you what NOTES you're playing, which I thought was TERRIBLY clever, until I had to sit down at the keyboard and work out how on earth to play it. Those black notes are CONFUSING! It took me SO LONG to work it out, and even LONGER to be able to play the bloody thing, that it did make me wonder if it might have saved me time, overall, to have actually sat down and LEARNED THE PIANO at some point. I mean, I only spend a few hours a YEAR trying to play keyboards, but surely by now it must have added up to at LEAST the length of a week long intensive piano BOOTCAMP?
Once the keyboards were FINALLY done it was a blessed relief to sit down and record the guitar part, as a CAPO makes ALL chords into easy chords, regardless of KEY. However, I was a little distressed when I'd finished to find out that this had made the KEYBOARD part WRONG, and I had to go and do it ALL OVER AGAIN. In the long run this was GOOD, as the final version of the tune was MUCH better, but GOOD LORD it was frustrating! And THEN, after that, I had to do a really difficult BASS LINE and THEN work out some difficult keyboard CHORDS. If you ever wonder why people still form bands these days when they can easily record everything alone, THIS IS WHY!
Once it was all done I did a mix, which sounded AWFUL, so I went off to the shops in DISGUST. Once I'd returned, lunched, and got some more vital telly watching done, I returned to the track and remembered the first rule of home mixing: "if everything sounds awful, take all of the effects off and try again". I took all the effects off and it sounded MUCH MUCH BETTER already. PHEW! The second rule is "once you've made it sound nice you probably don't need the fifteen extra tracks of nonsense you stuck on top to try and make it sound better the first time" and this too proved to be true. The only thing the song still needed was some kind of vocal hook - John The Publisher had asked for an INSTRUMENTAL, but it sounded like SOMETHING needed to be there.
The song has a bit in it that goes "Da-da da DA" at the end of every verse, and I'd thought I could call it "Alam Kazam" as that kind of fitted, but the more I thought about it the more it sounded like "Alan Alan". I VERY BRIEFLY considered calling it "Local Area Network" (A LAN, a LAN) but even I didn't think it was very funny, so thought I'd try and see if I could find a sample of people shouting "Alan!" I guessed a good place to start would be to see if I could find any evidence of people calling for someone called Alan, and thought a festival might be somewhere that this happened, but little did I know that Shouting Alan At Festivals is totally a REAL THING! Hoorah! It's got facebook pages and everything!
Sampling done I finished off the track and sent it to John The Publisher, just in time for The Not Just The Bands At My Festival to come home so we could head off to HULA HOOPING CLASS, what we do every week. I thus spent my first day UNEMPLOYED writing a song called "Alan!" and dancing around with a hula hoop. What do you say to THAT, Norman Tebbit? HA!
posted 5/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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Back To School
This week is Back To School week all over the country, and still, over SEVERAL years since I left school (SEVERAL) it is a wonderful feeling to know I don't have to go at ALL, EVER! It felt even better this year as I didn't even have to go to work, and was able to sit at home as all the "first day at school" pictures flooded Facebook from proud parents. I say proud parents, but a part of me does wonder whether all of those photographs are actually the parents' way of saying "HAHA! Revenge at LAST! I have looked after you long enough, now feel the WRATH of EDUCATION!" Actually, this makes sense of a LOT of things - I'm sure I remember my own parents LARFING in my face after I started school and saying "HA! Being forced to go outside and play instead of watching TV all day doesn't seem quite so oppressive NOW, does it?"
As it turned out though I did SORT OF have to go back to school, as we were having our post hand-in day get-together for the MA, as 4pm on Monday was the FINAL deadline for handing in our Big Scripts and thus our final final piece of work. I handed mine in AGES ago but lots of people were doing it on the day itself and, whatever way you looked at it, this was a BIG MOMENT. It's a whole two years since I sat in The Parcel Yard PANICKING about starting the course, and now suddenly it's all finished. Where did the time go?
We'd decided to have a big MEET UP to celebrate the fact we'd finished, and also to talk about what we'd do next. We thus had a Formal Discussion about an hour into the evening, when we agreed to sort out a monthly date when we could all meet up - probably a Monday or a Wednesday as those were always the days we were in school anyway - to read scripts, talk about ideas, and maybe organise some SHOWCASE nights. I'm collecting dates from everybody to work out when we can all meet, but that's about all the ADMIN we need, for LO! we had leapt straight into all the Talking with a VENGEANCE. I've always said that the BEST bit of the course was going to the pub afterwards and throwing THORTS at each other, and this continued to be the case as everyone sat around PITCHING ideas, DISCUSSING ideas, and variously HAVING ideas! It's lovely to be able to sit in a room with people and say things like "Ah! But what is the inciting incident?" without feeling like a COLOSSAL WALLY!
It was also nice to have a few BEERS and a NATTER! Once I'd wobbled home I did think I should probably feel something a bit MORE about the course finally finishing but I realised that only the OFFICIAL bit was over. The good bit's still going on!
posted 3/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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Plug At The Criterion
I went to Leicester for a gig on Friday night, but NOT a gig I was actually playing at! This radical departure from the norm was due to the fact that Mr C Lawson's band "Plug" were playing and as a) i owe him a PILE of gigs b) after years of him hearing about Plug I was eager to SEE them and c) it was in The Criterion, so I thought it would be fun. It was!
My trip had another departure from the norm in that I DIDN'T stay in the Ibis, but instead at The Grand Hotel! I was quite excited, as when I was a student the Grand was the place where SWANKY STUDENT SOCIETIES had their annual Balls. Indeed, when I was PRESIDENT of the prestigious Leicester Polytechnic Poor Theatre Society (yes, that's right, it IS impressive) we had OUR ball there. I seem to recall we had chicken with gravy and CRISPS on top. 80's cuisines! It was also slighty cheaper than the Ibis on the accorhotels website, so I rolled up into the splendid entrance lobby and checked in to a rather jolly old fashioned Victorian Hotel. It felt a bit NAUGHTY to be there on my own but I don't think it's going to become a TREND, as it also featured quite a lot of old fashioned hotel NOISES from creaky plumbing and also showers that don't quite work properly. Be strong, The Ibis, I shall return!
Once checked in I set off to by some WINE, for I was heading out to see Dr N Brown's new house first, and bringing WINE is what us sophisticated types do. I had to negotiate my way through Leicester's Critical Mass Bike demo to GET to the shop, but once I had done so I made my purchase, hopped in a taxi, and was soon in scenic Braunstone, where Neil and Daniella showed me round their new house. It was very nice, tho i was a bit jealous of all their STORAGE! I was FED with Samosa Chaat and ROMANIAN PLUM VODKA, which made me feeling warmed through!
We then wobbled our way to the bus stop and into town, arriving at The Criterion to find that Chris had the sort of WORRIED FACE that made me even more pleased that I wasn't doing a gig myself! We were joined by Mr M Collins, late of the band Amphetamine Trash and Sorted Supremo Dave Dixey, which would have made for a VERY pleasant evening anyway, even without the addition of a RATHER EXCELLENT rocking combo.
For LO! PLUG were BLOODY GRATE! They are a proper covers band in that they do a LOAD of covers of EXCELLENT songs but DO NOT try and make them sound like the original record, so it was like seeing a band you really like doing an ENCORE for the ENTIRE EVENING. They did lots of songs that people of our age would have put on a tape to impress a GURL about 20 years ago, so Buzzcocks, The Cure, Elvis Costello etc etc, and a BRILL version of "Shaking All Over". The best bit though was when they did "This Charming Man". We could scarce CONTAIN ourselves, and there was an outbreak of DANCING at the back of the room - indeed, by the end of the evening, there was a LOT of ACTUAL DANCING going on all over the place. To make clear how amazing this was, it happened in a PUB in LEICESTER. People NEVER dance to bands in pubs in Leicester!
It was a HUGE amount of fun, made even more so by seeing Chris a) do the STAGECRAFT I remember from when I was in bands with him a million years ago and b) looking so happy knowing he was in a REALLY GOOD BAND. It was like everyone could sing and/or play their instruments, but didn't feel the need to go on about it. It was ACE - I must go to some MORE gigs like this, I had an EXCELLENT, and I didn't have to carry any gear out either!
posted 1/9/2014 by MJ Hibbett
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