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And he used to be such a nice, quiet boy

Archive for January 2011

Lights, camera, laughter

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With the world the way it is at the minute we all need a laugh from time to time. Comedy clubs have sprung up all over the country as an alternative to the inauspicious working men’s clubs where the comedians of the seventies plied their art.

Showcase cinemas have not been slow to notice this and they made a very substantial investment in live entertainment. It has not escaped their notice that people are starting to stay away from cinemas because of the recession and the explosion of illegal downloading.

Martin, the General Manager of Showcase Coventry, was there to greet me personally and show me around the new area. It soon became clear what they meant by substantial investment. A whole auditorium had had the seats ripped out and replaced with cabaret style tables and chairs. They had a good selection of food to order and a mobile bar set up. This was clearly a serious investment to them.

The food looked to be of fairly good quality and was obviously hot. I didn’t have any myself as we had eaten before we came out. Never mind, we will know next time. The beer was served in plastic pint glasses and was far from cheap. The wine, at least, came served in proper wine coolers. So far so good.

Comedy shows never start on time, they start when they are ready. Comedians need a fair bit of preparation (or in some cases Dutch courage) as they have a lot to remember. It also gave people time to get in the mood, i.e. half-cut.

The compare was a northern lad, Dave Twentyman, who I later learned was an amateur boxer. A compare of comedy is never an enviable job, like being the first soldier to hit the beach. But he carried it off well, keeping the audience chuckling until the first act came on.

Steve Day, act number one, did a fair set. He told us about his time on the Cruise ships, trying to be funny to the nearly dead in what was basically a floating hearse. He told us about his African wife and five kids. Steve is also deaf, note the little ‘d’ in deaf, which means nearly but not quite. Deaf with a capital D means totally. So here we have a Journalist with a stutter reviewing a deaf comedian. Honestly it’s like the blind leading the… never mind. But was he funny? Yeah, not bad.

Our Dave came back on for ten minutes while half the crowd queued at the bar. Serving vast numbers of people from a portable bar is like towing a caravan in a mini. It can be done but never that quickly.

Act number two was a little Hindu guy called Dave Biswas. He started off with a few one-liners that were generally well received, but his material didn’t really cover the things that the crowd could relate to. He had not had the easiest life, suffering from something like Aspergers syndrome and he told us all about it. He became repetitive after a while and people lost interest. I think he needs to throw out most of his material and start again.

Our Dave returned, and he wasn’t slow in noticing the edgy mood of the crowd so he wasted no time in introducing the headlining act.

It is no exaggeration to say that Ivan Brackenbury saved the show. My better half said he reminded her “of that bald bloke with the long hair.” It took me a few minutes to work out that she was referring to Bill Bailey. I understood what she meant, Ivan’s act was mostly music driven. He played the part of a hospital disc jockey, something I suspect he did in real life. Ivan had excellent comic timing and could literally make a joke out of any song or ailment you can mention, usually both in the same sentence. He got the best response out of the audience, and left us feeling like the whole thing had been a worthwhile visit. Of all the acts, he is the one I expect to get his own series.

So the following night I managed to catch up with Dave Twentyman for a quick chat on Facebook, while the better half was engrossed in Dancing on Ice.

What was the best heckle you have ever had and what was your come-back?

I’ve been racking my head for ages trying to think of heckles I’ve had. But the only thing that sticks in my mind wasn’t a heckle as such,but it was bloody awkward.

It was in Jongleurs in Battersea. I was having a cracking gig,but these people sat at a table at the front kept chatting. So I thought I’d better sort it out. I said “hey, it’s not the telly this, I can see u when you’re talking”. The room fell silent & these people just stared at me. To bring the atmosphere back up I tried to engage them a bit by asking where they were from. “Rwanda” was the stern reply in this strong african accent (they were black) & I came straight back with “oh, it’s a good film that”, which got a massive laugh.

What do Northern comics have that Southerners don’t?

That’s a good question regarding the North/South thing. There’s no difference in quality but a Northern accent is so much more distinctive & it sounds friendlier. It’s much more difficult for a Southern comic to gig up North than it is for a Northerner to gig down South…which is good. Sod um, they live longer than us.

So if you want a change from watching saturday night telly and you live in the Coventry area why not check it out? More details are available here

Coventry Showcase on a map:


Written by Nick Gilmartin

January 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm

5 of the Best Rock Intros Ever

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In a world where we all have the attention span of a retarded gnat you have to hook us into a song pretty quickly to get us to listen to it. In the late 70s this reached it’s apex with such rock and roll opuses as Bohemian Rhapsody and Bat out of Hell. By the eighties this patience was lost as the world embraced cheesy pop and shoulder-pads.

But here are five of the best songs with intros that just blow you away.

To kick off we have Dire Straits and the spectacular drum solo by ‘Pick’ Withers which takes us by the hand and leads us by the hand into the electric guitar riffs of ‘Money for Nothing’. It works pretty darn well.

They are still around, doing their thing as the elder statesmen of rock.

By 1987 rock was very much on the back-burner as pop and electronic music found it’s feet. The new teenagers wanted something from their generations. The old rockers of the 70s were not all grown up and had plenty of other things to spend their time and money on.

But then a new rock band from Los Angeles blew everything else out of the water. It isn’t hard so see what gave Guns n’ Roses the X factor (sorry to use that term). They did everything previous rock bands have always done. They just did it much much better, bigger and longer. And their lead guitarist, a big ball of hair from Stoke, UK, produced one of the best opening riffs in the whole universe. Do it, Slash.

Of course I am using the original video, not the recent over-dressed version from the Leeds festival last summer. The one with Axl Rose and a few guys PRETENDING to be Guns n’ Roses. Don’t get me started on that, seriously now.

When surveying this post on twitter a friend recommended Cannonball by the Breeders. I had never heard of them, but when I saw the video it all became clear. This tune has been used many times and seems to be a favourite of various review programmes for their montages. So in it goes at number three.

The Breeders got their break opening gigs for Steppenwolf and hit their apex during the mid eighties. They are still around, doing their thing and hosting wild parties here and there.

The second best intro has to go to The Who’s 5.15. Why? Well it really wants me to go out and steal a moped. These boys are the kings of the mods and long may they reign. Their music provided the soundtrack to the film Quadrophenia and stamped their name on music culture. Give it some of this:

But of all the rockers there was one who had the voice to blow the rest away. His timeless rock anthems inspired generations of rockers, and looks set to stay with us always. Let’s just not talk about the shit acting career. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Meatloaf:

If all this is most definitely your cup of Jack Daniels, then I recommend you check out The Little Blackhearts who have just released their new video Rebecca.

Written by Nick Gilmartin

January 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm

My first Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

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I needed therapy after, months of it, and the best money can buy.

If some big guy with a strange Irish accent, talking very fast, offers you cash for a wedding reception for 200 people, you don’t take it. For why, read on.

In the real world I worked for a certain Golf Club, which is a nice, big classy place that treated me pretty well over the months. It has several function rooms upstairs that are my responsibility as Assistant Food and Beverage Manager.

We managed to get the place ready, table plan in, removed anything expensive, locked away in the vaults, double stocked the bar, fitted as many tables in the function suite as we could safely fit, and waited for the fireworks.

We had six security guys hired for the purpose, mostly big, black and bald, nice and sinister. And even they looked nervous.

I stood on the balcony waiting, and my radio crackled to life. “The first guests are arriving.. it is a white transit van.” Shit, here we go, I thought to myself.

So they turn up by the van load.. old and young, brothers and sisters, and lots of cousins.

The guys looked like… pikeys. Trousers and jumpers, to a man. A few in jeans, a lot of nasty gold.

The old ones were pretty much the same.

The kids were wearing a curious mix of old-man suits, complete with flat caps, like they were in a school play or something.

But the women… oh my God. Most were in their early twenties, wearing dresses that barely covered them. Some looked like they were going to a Moulin Rouge theme party, except the dresses were in bright lime green, and orange and electric blue. Some wore barely-mini skirts, some in hot pants with slits cut into them. One, I will never forget, was wearing a tight mermaid dress, in perfect leapard-skin print, with a frilly skirt below the knee that shot out two feet in every direction. I didn’t know you could get dresses that tasteless. They wore more fake tan than Britain had in stock, and they had more fake boobs than Miami beach, presumably paid for in cash.

And as one, they were the rudest people I have ever met. I have dealt with pikeys before in the pub trade, but that is in families of five or ten. Dealing with 150 simultaneously was horrible.

They swore and abused the waitresses, tried to start fights with the bouncers, tried every trick on the bar staff.

We took the starters out to empty tables because they didn’t want to sit down to dinner for more than ten seconds. I poured away more soup than I took out. Half the main courses went into the bin, untouched, even though other tables were still crying out for extra food.

The wedding cake must have been five feet high, just off the floor, and it looked fit to topple over at any second.

By the time we had served the food it was only 7.00 pm and the bar was open till 12.00. They had five more hours drinking! Jesus, lucky I was due to finish at 10.00 pm. Their kids ran around, uncontrolled and hyperactive on red bull. The older ones were practicing their boxing on each other, then the walls.

The madness just went on and on, stressing us all out.

By the time I finished at 22.00 they were three sheets to the wind. I found out the rest of the story the following day. After the bar closed the bouncers hustled them out of the place inside forty five minutes, because we had all just had enough of them.

Once they were outside it all kicked off, fights, glassings, one even got a face of pepper spray from one of his relatives.

At the bottom of the drive the police were waiting to breathalyze the whole lot of them, I don’t know who they caught.

Jesus, what a night. Never again.

Written by Nick Gilmartin

January 19, 2011 at 8:48 pm

The King’s Speech Review

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On the back of my last article I was delighted to receive, out of the blue, two tickets to see the Kings Speech, courtesy of Showcase Cinemas and their delightful PR, Katie McDermott.

Showcase Coventry is a nicely appointed cinema on a retail and leisure park outside the city. We were issued with our tickets within a minute of our arrival and the staff were all very helpful.

The film opened with the King, then Duke of York, about to deliver a speech at the great exhibition of 1936. For him it was a trial. For his audience, awkward. I felt for the guy like no one else in the auditorium. My knuckles whitened, my jaw clenched, my guts twisted in sympathy. It really was that bad.

Colin Firth played the part well. Not just the stammer, but also the fear, the anxiety, the flashes of frustration and temper. The dialogue reflected our vocabulary and even our sense of humour. Stammerers don’t tell long jokes, we tell wise-cracks, one liners and quick come-backs.

The rest of the cast also performed extremely well. Helena Bonham-Carter was perfect as the endlessly patient and supportive Duchess of York (who my generation knew only as the Queen Mother). In parts you can see her heart virtually breaks for her husband who tries so hard against the odds. My own partner, Claire, often faces the same challenges she did. She shared the Duchess’s anger at the world’s treatment of him, and a special pride at his eventual achievements.

Timothy Spall took the role of Churchill with both hands, a part I sense he enjoyed immensely. Churchill also had a stammer in earlier life, and throughout the war years and beyond he and the king remained firm friends.

Guy Pierce continues to excel in new and diverse parts. He played the role of brother David (King Edward VIII and later the Duke of Windsor) with some zeal. It is fair to say that brother David does not come out of this episode looking particularly heroic. We see him bully his younger brother and mocking him childishly.

Childish mocking is something we grew used to, to an extent. We learn to swallow the anger, and smile. That cold feeling in the pit of your stomach will pass in a minute, just let it go. Or so I would tell myself.

But I think the star of the show was Geoffrey Rush, who plays the King’s unconventional Speech Therapist Lionel Logue. Many dismissed Logue as a quack, a crank, and a fake. He was nothing of the sort, of course, just unconventional. Logue is one of the many unsung heroes of the 1930s and 1940s and deserves a little recognition. He was an actor sometimes, and the forerunner of the modern voice coach. He threw away the rulebook and developed his own techniques in speech therapy, many of which are common practice today.

The story continues throughout Logue’s sometimes bizarre treatment of the Duke. They share an informal relationship that sometimes has flare-ups of anger and frustration. There were many scenes of outstanding humour and the comic timing of the pair is a joy to watch.

It climaxes in the Duke’s succession to the throne following the abdication crisis. The challenges his Majesty faces are many. He must now grasp the role of King for which he was never trained and feels ill-suited. Furthermore his country was about to plunge headlong into world war. The final scenes are the King’s rousing address to his nation, galvanizing them to fight, to risk and to endure. Fantastic stuff.

In all, a film I heartily recommend, as it blends drama and humour so effortlessly. The cast are magnificent and I am sure it will sweep the board come Oscar time.

For more information on Stammering please click this link

Written by Nick Gilmartin

January 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm

The King’s Speech and I

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There are many things that come naturally to me, for example mixing flavours and anticpating customer needs.  Some things don’t, and sadly public speaking is one of them.  So I would have to be a total lunatic to suggest that I speak live on radio about not being able to speak.  But why?

Coming soon to a cinema near you, and an Oscar favourite to boot, is a film called the King’s Speech.  Colin Firth portrays King George VI, a rather shy fellow who was suddenly pushed on to the throne after his brother abdicates.  Traumatic enough in itself, his problems were compounded by the fact that he had a severe stammer.   The film has proved a major talking point in the US, with debates online and on radio.

Adrian Goldberg, bloody nice bloke.

I knew instantly it should be worthy of some attention in dear old Blighty too so I fired off an e-mail to the main man at BBC Radio West MidlandsAdrian Goldberg is a fellow I had been in correspondence with for a while but never actually met.  I wrote a few pieces for his website, the Stirrer, last year.

My day got off to an expensive start when I filled my tank with as much petrol as I could afford.  To put it in perspective, if it were beer to drink, I would still be under the legal limit.  My sat nav is never happier than when I take it to Birmingham.  It suddenly turns into some kind of Sergeant Major.  “Left, right, left, right, left… HALT!”

BBC West Midlands is a rather swanky place, part studio, part shop and part exhibition center, very people friendly.  Except on New Years Day it was all shut except for the studio.  Through a glass partition I could see the back of a man’s head as he spoke into the microphone.  The studio PA came out to tell me that I had a few minutes yet so I waited.

Preparing for a radio speech took George IV hours, he went through breathing techniques, relaxation and allsorts.  I had a can of red bull on my way in and hoped for the best.  I took this opportunity, though, to pace up and down, breathing like a sex pest, trying desperately to get my heart rate down.  But the more I tried, the more I felt a coranary coming on.  I recited my quotes to a model Dalek, until I noticed people staring in the window at me.  Carry on people, nothing to see here.

After a few minutes I was called in, during the commercials, and introduced to Adrian.  He seemed, indeed is, a nice sort of fellow.

“Ah Nick, come in,” he said “We are very interested to hear about you and how you cured your stutter.”

Hang on.. cured?

“I haven’t, I still have it.”  I replied, in perfectly clear speech.  Which would confuse some people.

“Okay, no problem.”  Adrian replied, the corner of his eye registering the smallest flicker of concern.  He had never actually heard me speak before, so this was a bit of a gamble for him.

So off we went, Adrian led the conversation then gave me ample time to answer, he didn’t interrupt or try to finish my words off, which is the worst thing you can do to a stammerer.  We discussed the film, which admittedly neither of us had seen yet.  We discussed people’s attitudes to stammering, which are generally reasonable, and occasionally rather bad.

We got on to the various therapies available, the best available being the Maguire programme and the Starfish project.  A short phone-in followed.  A chap was on the line who coped admirably well with a stammer for years while holding down a stable job as a journalist.  To me, this boded well for my future aspirations.

We discussed my treatment, which in truth amounted to very little.  After years in and out of therapy I decided to just live with it.  But, and this is paramount, I must learn not to fear it.  The Maguire programme had a stage involving public speaking.  However, without knowing it I had gone one better.

Way back in 1998 I went off along to Greece on a bit of a tour of self discovery.  To find work I had made myself walk into every bar, club and restaurant in Malia and sell my abilities.  It was hard, nerve-wracking, and, yes, often humiliating.  But after dozens of no’s I finally found a little bar on the top of a hill, and the barman said ” Yeah, alright.”  This piratical looking individual, Manos, became a long time friend of mine.  I digress.

The whole interview took about ten or fifteen minutes and, I later learned, had a very positive response.  It also got a plug or three for my blog, Birmingham Food and Drink.  (Cheers for that, Adrian)

So I hope all of this helped my fellow stammerers.  If any of you out there wish to contact me about the interview, my contact address is here.

In all, an unusually productive New Years morning.

To learn more about stammering and it’s affects, please check out: