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Why I’m about to spend two weeks in a car in the name of art

I write, you know, it’s sort of the core of loads of stuff I do—writing is a founding block of good social web engagement which is where I get most of my living from. It’s also part of teaching or training in a way, you need to be able to construct narratives and find the right words. Journalism, or at least the writing of words to order for publication, is fun too. But the writing that’s most rewarding is where you get to have an idea, and then run with the bugger until it’s done.

Listening to all six hundred and ninety eight Elvis Presley songs in order in one sitting was one of those, but Dirty Bristow was sort of like that on a grand scale, and not just me writing.

When you look around there seems to be a straight choice for writers: the web and freedom (but no guaranteed audience or context) or whatever publication will have you and whatever rules they apply. Not that rules are bad: it’s not just the subject/audience/word count stuff that’s the problem, it’s the context and the pressure of it. Want to discuss South American literature and pop-culture in the same breath? You’ll be too worried that not everyone will get it, waste the word count explaining things and end up with something without the élan you wanted.

So we invented a magazine with as few rules and pressures as possible, it seems (artistically at least) to work. That sorted what’s the next challenge?

Piers.

Or to be specific, nostalgia for a lost and fictional time and piers are a good knob to hang this particular type upon.

Danny Smith, with whom I’d managed to hold out against the advice and make the magazine, said there was something in a book visiting all of the pleasure piers in Britain. He didn’t know how many there were, how long that would take, but it sounded good. I said yes, and then basically a lot of people said ‘no’. Or rather they said “don’t do it”, “I’m not coming”, “that’s stupid”, “why?” or most devastatingly of all for Dan “you’re wasting your life” (his mum).

But we’re going to do it anyway. We’ve researched a bit, and know where they are. We’ve press-ganged a driver—I say so my creative stance isn’t diluted, my friend says “so your drinking isn’t interrupted” and she’s possibly half right. But it’s more so I don’t have to worry so much.

I love new places, but find that travel can be a trial, even if arriving is a pleasure.

I get nervous: sit on a train, is it the right train? Is it working? Have I go the right ticket?  What if it doesn’t stop at the right place? What if it breaks down, what if… No, I can’t relax. Not til all decisions have been taken off me—which is sort of why I can cope a lot more easily with the regimented walk/don’t walk watch-the-screens travel by air. I mean, they’re actively trying to make sure you don’t get on the wrong plane—and the consequences of a break-down are a little more final than having to spend the night on Crewe Station.

So if I don’t have to think, and the worst thing that can happen is that I die, I’m good.

I don’t have a point or an allegory for the journey, certainly not one as deeply thought out and involving the A-Team as m’colleague Mr Smith has. Nor am I thinking about group dynamics in a wider sense than I don’t really want to have a row with either of them. I’m not looking for conflict or hardship: the last thing I want is for this tale to turn into one of struggle, of dirty sleeping conditions or danger. We might find some, but I’m more interested in the ghosts of the past.

There’s something we’ve lost culturally, it’s like a love that’s gone and hurts. The empty past leaves you constantly hungry around the heart: it’s true to call it an ache but there are sharp pains too. There’ll be explosions of emptiness, like going over a humpbacked bridge too fast.

Inspirationally, for me the trip is a mirror world version of Drummond and Manning’s Bad Wisdom series. In that two differing writers travel to the unknown, testing themselves and their sanity—we’re hunting the familiar in a county that is changing faster than we can cope with. Except that instead of two independently wealthy ex-pop stars, we’re two people without two pots to rub together; having spent what little spare we had on the magazine itself.

People have been kind, we’ve had offers of support and places to kip as well as a surprisingly quick race to the (low admittedly) Crowdfunding target. Thanks everybody.

If you want to check out something similar, there’s the much smaller scale trip we did around Birmingham’s pubs Concrete and Cocktails that you can download for nowt.

More details of how to help or get involved in this madness are here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/pier-review-a-book-about-a-journey-to-the-outcrops-of-a-dying-culture-311

Twitter – @Pierreview
Facebook – Facebook.com/PierReview

Winona Forever

Forever? Lasted about three days.

Broadcast’s Trish Keenan: a singer for whom life was a discovery | Music | guardian.co.uk

"If the reaction of the blogosphere and Twitterati to Keenan's sudden death are reliable indicators, every one of their four studio albums should have been worldwide No 1s.

Blur's Graham Coxon called the news "devastating". Chillwave artist, Toro Y Moi, aka Chaz Bundick, tweeted that Keenan was "one of my biggest influences", while Colin Meloy from the Decemberists' wrote, "So sad. Everyone should listen to Broadcast today. Come on let's go …", referring to the title of an early Broadcast single.

Even the Arkansas Times was touched by Keenan's passing. The truth is that while Broadcast were shamefully underrated they were also quietly, beguilingly influential. They encouraged people to seek out esoteric or long-forgotten music – from electronica to folk." – Broadcast’s Trish Keenan: a singer for whom life was a discovery | Music | guardian.co.uk.

Map of Birmingham— Inebriance Survey

Pub Map.pdf (1 page)

Map of Birmingham: Inebriance Survey 2011 PDF

Now that is what I call a map. Every pub in Birmingham as available from the Open Street Map XAPI (on 6/1/11), for use as a navigational aid.

Plotted as a mapless map with Maperitive, and text tided up in Illustrator, no data was added or removed (except for duplicate of ‘The Tennis Courts’ in Perry Barr, which is plotted twice on OSM).

Prints  available , although you’re free to open, download, and explore the PDF.

Data and icon from and © Open Street Map under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence and as such the PDF/image here is too.

Funny, ha ha.

The ability to make people laugh has always been something that is fairly central to my personality. I’m not entirely sure why, but it wasn’t for cliched make-the-bullies-laugh at school reasons, because I did—and they still hit me. 

That was a lot more to do with me being obviously poorer and shyer in a school full of the confident entitled. And a bit of a dick, I’ve always been a bit of a dick.

I’m wary of being seen to be taking anything overly seriously, or being unable to break the tension with a quip. Confrontation so rarely solves anything, so if you can dodge it all the better and that has something to do with it but there’s a streak of performance and the need for validation in there too.

Writing gentle satire, or being amusing around strict parameters is easy—there are hundreds of people doing it fairly competently around the country every day. Creativity is different though, if you have to come up with the ideas rather than react to situations, if you decide that adaption of existing jokes to the situation isn’t what you want to do, if you want to be funny without it relying on reference, then it’s somewhat harder.

I’ve done plenty of compering, quizes, awards, that sort of thing, where a tiny bit of wit will do wonders to prop up the ‘turns’. I’ve also injected the odd bit of humour into the various other bits of public speaking I do as part of ‘work’, that’s easy and really does help get the point across. 

What I’ve not done is stand-up comedy. 

Well, not until last week. When I, er did.

Stand-up is the purest form of entertainment, it’s just one person talking, and that’s exciting. It’s also quite scary, and difficult. I’ve always thought that I’d like to and would be able to, but have never got round to doing anything.

Part of the reticence has been because no-one is pushing me to do it, I’ve got plenty of creative outlets and it’s just another one. Putting myself forward to do even an open slot somewhere seems boastful somehow, I’d need proof that I could do it. Partly it’s that I want to be great at whatever I try, and as an art form it doesn’t offer many safety features: no-one can really tell how comedy is going to go down, and a silence at a stand-up gig leaves no hiding place.

All of which is why that, despite being bad at learning (or being taught, rather), I signed up for a course in stand-up a couple of months ago. I’d seen James Cook, the tutor, perform: being accomplished, funny, and obviously in control of an audience. There was stuff I could learn there, and I also had a vague feeling that the pressure to produce material might help my other writing.

I can write, I think, it doesn’t usually take me that long to produce something when I sit down to do it—but the time it takes me to actually start is sometimes a problem. I can only work well when inspiration strikes, or when a deadline is looming, and usually manage it by not attempting to work when I don’t feel right. I’m not going to do it, I figure, so I can get on with other stuff until the time comes. It’s a solution, but not a good one, and I thought perhaps that working on stuff across a couple of months could really help.

The other people on the course, run from a windowless but expensively carpeted conference room at mac, were a mixture of those that were thinking of doing it professionally eventually and those that just thought it might be fun. All were obviously comedy fans, which I guess you’d have to be. 

Alongside exercises, bits of stuff about things like mic technique, there were a couple of great sessions from comedians Andy White and Gary Delaney where they talked about how they worked and how they got started. The main thread of the sessions, though, was practical: listening to others trying out material and, when I could pluck up the courage, doing a bit myself.

I actually found this much more difficult than the more theoretical stuff. I didn’t want to say anything that would nudge people away from their own paths, I was worried about a homogenising effect with 14-15 would-be stand-ups working on routines in the same environment. It didn’t happen, without too much thought about style people seemed to find their own ways.

By the end-of-term showcase, in front of about 80 people, everyone on the course had enough stuff. Some had way too much and squeezed it into their allotted five minutes. It was an incredibly supportive audience, and each comic went down well.

I did struggle with material, I was after something that was sort of simultaneously clever and accessible and I couldn’t find anything I was happy with. In the end I’m not sure if I didn’t chicken out and go for easy laughs. I’m not sure I respect me as a stand-up, I think I can do it but I’m not sure if I can do it as well as I’d want to. I think I’ll wait for the big idea before having another go.

That’s not the fault of the course, which was really great and runs again in January. You’ll enjoy it if you have a go, I promise.

Can’t stand up for falling down

This is me doing straight stand-up comedy for the first time, just five minutes and a couple of fucks:

Jon Bounds – stand up by jonbounds

Stand Up

Next Friday (26th November) I’m doing a brief set as part of this Stand up Comedy thing.

I’ve not written the act, as such, yet—but it’ll probably be something to do with beards.

Beermat Art

My submission to the Beermat Show. Thanks to EAP and those that told me their favourite drunk euphemisms.

The King and I — my Elvis Marathon.

Pleased to have one less thing in common with the Wonder Stuff, I do love Elvis. I love the hillbilly cat and the jumpsuited entertainer, and to prevent disillusionment I find it fairly easy to avoid watching the films — it’s not as if they are in heavy rotation on our mainstream channels these days. A love for the King is an isolating love these days. Elvis has become a rubber hat and plastic sunglasses, a jumpsuit and a remix opportunity. Elvis has become, like every dead musical artist worth remembering, a tribute and moneymaking sinkhole.

And I’m as much to blame as anybody, I own an officially licensed Blue Hawaii Hawaiian shirt (see what they did there?), an ‘Elvis pig’ (in mitigation, a gift), and book-after-book both scurrilous and fanboy. But I love the King, it’s where me and Chuck D part company (“Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me”) and one of the few touchstones that I’m sure I would have with bum-sex comedian Frank Skinner (who paid silly money for a shirt that may have belonged to EAP).

It’s a love based on the iconography as much as the music, the belts and glasses as much as the sultry vocals, That’s The Way It Is as much as the Carson show and really; ’75 as much as ’56. We’re around the 33rd anniversary of the death of Elvis Aaron Presley, and if there’s anything more undignifying than “dying on the toilet” it’s Elvis Week 2010. A week long excuse to bombard fans with emails for inglorious tat: Jailhouse Rock Flip Flops, the Elvis Hot Sauce Sauce Gift Set (including Elvis Don’t Be Cruel Hot Sauce), the Elvis and Dale Earnhardt Fantasy Race Car Magnetic Guitar Bottle Opener and left over Elvis Week 2009 Golf Balls. But, there’s still the music. In October a new Elvis Complete Masters 30 CD set is being released at the paltry sum of about £573.78 plus shipping, containing all 711 master recordings and a hundred or so rarities — no better way to make sure that it’s the music that matters.

Elvises

I couldn’t justify a pre-order for that, but I could beg and borrow all studio recordings released to date—and I can listen to all six hundred and ninety-eight of them in order. I could do the listening bit as I was ill with a stodgy cold and home alone as my other half was away to visit friends for the weekend—had she have been in situ there would have been no chance of getting through it in a sitting. A ferociously opinionated music fan, Jules has banned many of my favourites from play in her presence, mainly what she calls “wimpy indie music” (The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, Black Box Recorder amongst them) but my recent obsession with listening only to covers of the Stones’ Satisfaction didn’t go down well either.

So I did, I loaded them all into iTunes, ordered by recording date as best as I could, from 1953’s My Happiness to 1976’s recording of Way Down (a posthumous Number One in the UK in 1977). That’s 1.2 days according to Apple. I started at 1pm on a Saturday, with intentions of attempting it in one go.

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Magical Timperley Tour