On this the shortest day, it’s a perfect time to consider the last year and also to step back a couple of paces from my life and work and consider whether it is all going to plan. Not a bad thing to do whoever you are or whatever you have chosen to spend your time doing.
In the world of my shows, the best thing about the last year was certainly working with Martin, my new accompanist. His contribution of live and extremely lively music to the shows made for an entirely different experience for me and for the audiences. His wide repertoire of music meant that the time between the set shows was full of marches, well-known melodies and songs from the shows. He also brought his anecdotes and repartee to the mix, often making for twinkle-eyed banter and the establishment of a performance relationship that one audience member likened to Morecombe and Wise. Compliment indeed. Whether or not there is any resemblance Martin and I certainly discussed aspects of the hierarchy between our two stage personas while we rehearsed (sometimes in front of the audience) and worked on the fine detail of a new routine. The development of ‘The Last Show of the Day’ as a double act was exciting and challenging and I think we achieved an end result which worked both in terms of the content and of the stage relationship. Adding ‘The Pirate Song’ and ‘When you’re smiling’ to the mix was wonderful. It was like meeting up with two old friends I hadn’t seen for ages. I can’t say my voice has improved much in the intervening years but I can present a song as a showman if not a musician, and having Martin there to pick up my musical pieces from time to time made the songs just about bearable for the audience. In that situation Martin became the master and Mr Alexander the pupil. The hierarchy reversed.
I remember watching the three clowns in Circus Zippo in the 70s and 80s, and the way they played with the notion of hierarchy, twisting and turning the levels between them to great comic effect. We all marvel and laugh still at Laurel and Hardy, the past masters of this theatrical notion. Pomposity and innocence are brilliant bedfellows for comic effect. Martin and I played with this idea. He the innocent musician, the second fiddle to the over-confident and bombastic Mr Alexander. I even had members of the audience reprimand me for how I was to him on occasion and had to explain the intended comic effect we were aiming for, and I think at least started to achieve. Martin is coming to a few more gigs next year. He’s moved to Bristol, a much more accessible and dynamic place than Ilfracombe which is where I met him. He’s really fallen on his feet there and has a very full diary of solo concerts as well as gigs with me. Check them out here (www.organfax.co.uk/players/martinorbidans/ ) and go and listen if he’s in a place near you. He’s a master at his art.
As anyone who has seen my shows will know I don’t change them dynamically. Although Martin and I developed ‘The Last Show of the Day’ as a new piece, it essentially contained elements of routines I have been working to recorded music for years. The umbrella, feather duster and large pink contact ball came into its own this year, and I now feel pretty confident I can get through this complex and intricate manipulation and juggling routine with only the very occasional drop. Adding Martin’s ‘Fantasia on the Archers theme’ to it brought out the comic effect brilliantly. My shows morph gradually year on year but although I worry the audience may be bored of the same old same old, they do still come, they do still applaud and I am still booked. It’s a strange phenomenon that, even with ‘The Classic Show’ which I have been performing with more or less the same props in exactly the same order for over forty-five years now, I still find new things, mostly of infinitesimal detail, in the presentation, and I still love doing it and folk say that comes across and that it doesn’t matter that they have seen it before as each occasion is new, immediate and special for them. That’s what I aim for.
That’s not to say I rest on my laurels. I’ve added a routine with the Rubik’s cube to good effect after spending hours upon hours practising it until I can solve it about 3 minutes (on a good day). I’ve added the extraordinary character of Toulouse Lautrec (see the photo on Instagram – mralexander1234), although he only made a very few outings this year. Maybe more next. The box he is standing on hides a hoverboard and he glides about with an outrageous ‘Hello Hello’ French accent and jokes about Brexit. He advertises Mr Alexander’s Show and hands out a flyer based on Lautrec’s famous poster for Aristide Bruand, superbly created by my artist friend Rob Symington (he who re-painted the lorry house front side, also new this year). I also spent hours rehearsing a Multiplying Bottles effect much performed by many famous magicians over the years, but this effect didn’t even come out of its case once. How strange is that.
The one routine which I spent a lot of time working on and did perform was ‘The Wolfgang Pauli Theorem’. A kind of pseudo-science ‘experiment’ with flashes and a silk which flew around. It never quite worked to my full satisfaction in performance although it almost did at the Isle of Wight Steam Show with great assistance from my friend and fellow steampunk nutcase performer Greg Chapman (www.condensedhistories.com). It may be consigned to the museum in the corner of my workshop.
However what did come out of that routine was the remote control flashbox designed and built by my ‘ingenieur’ Ralph. It is really good and works every time, is safe and easy to reload. As the climax to the (also brand new) ‘Dambusters’ routine, it adds a brilliant sparking exclamation mark to finish the preposterous RAF-dedicated hoverboard flying piece. Again, accompanied by the wonderful Mr Orbidans, in his natural element, playing the famous march.
So is it all going to plan? Well I’m not sure what crazy fool is doing the planning but there does seem to be some sort of plan coming through it all.
For myself, I do want to think about relocating my yard in 2018. It’s a great place but hanging in the air even more immediately now is the likelihood of it all being demolished to make way for a posh housing estate. So I am looking. I don’t need much. A yard for the lorry, with fairly easy access to the motorways, a workshop which will take the trailer and my tools and spare stuff (about 50 square metres), maybe a small office, a yoga space and a loo. I’d prefer it to be out in the country somewhere. I like to give back to the place I live in and am environmentally friendly as well as just plain friendly. Any offers gladly considered…
All the best from a road near you, and whatever road you find yourself on in the new year to come, all the best from me,