25 years in showbiz

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As 2013 fades from view, and with it, one largely overlooked anniversary – that is, My First 25 Years In Showbiz – I ponder the fact that I had once considered actually marking my silver jubilee in the media with some kind of tour, or one-man show, but I seem to have settled with some determination into scriptwriting (under which umbrella I include script editing) as my chief creative outlet in recent years, and even radio seems to be fading now, so it seems more suitable to simply mark its passing with a blog entry. Writing prose for free: that sums up my current lot, too.

My quarter-century is well documented, not least in my third memoir That’s Me In The Corner, which you can now buy as an eBook for £5.42 from the evil, tax-avoiding Amazon. (I can’t. Or at least, I can, but I don’t have a Kindle to load it up onto.) So I thought I might cut the yakkin’ and sum up 25 years of indecision and happy accident in a single image. The grab above was captured from the studio webcam of what was the main 5 Live studio in Television Centre, a building now cruelly and unsentimentally condemned. I think an eagle-eyed listener grabbed it, and sent it to me. If it was you, raise your hand: it’s a superb shot. I’m dating it back to circa 2009? I am clearly waiting for the light to go green. My best guess is that I was filling in for Mark Kermode – a gig that I haven’t done since I was pushed off the subs’ bench by Simon Mayo’s producer and replaced by Nigel Floyd and Boyd Hilton because their names rhyme – and Simon was broadcasting from a sporting event, possibly the cricket, which is why the studio was otherwise empty. There I am, on my own, waiting, with my BBC canteen coffee, summing up my own career!

Actually, the very fact that it’s indistinct is perfect. Here are a few other images that either give me a Proustian rush or say something thematic about the past 25 years.

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I’m rather tempted to leave them uncaptioned. Let the images speak for themselves. If they say anything, it’s that I have spent a good chunk of the past 25 years being around famous and talented people and not complaining or being self-conscious about that fact. Not always by the side of a lake in Sweden, as above, usually in front of “branding”, but in the vicinity of talent, and that’s the key.

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This one needs captioning. It’s the mighty 6 Music team finally winning Digital Radio Station of the Year at the Sonys in 2012. I was not there, which is the significant part. I celebrated their win anyway.

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C&H166I hope you enjoyed that visual celebration of not knowing what to do with myself for 25 years. (My home life has been, it must be said, a whole lot less chaotic.) Let’s get on with the 26th and make it so boringly focussed, there’ll be nothing to illustrate it with bar a selfie of me at my laptop.

Happy New Year!

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Writer’s blog: Week 6, Wednesday

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At last. I’m doing something interesting. It’s Wednesday, and instead of photographing myself self-consciously looking to one side in the British Library canteen, or on a train, I write today from Glasgow, which in itself is unusual, and from within a caravan, which is even more unusual. This caravan is my dressing room, for today I am an actor. Look, there’s my name on the door. The caravans are parked up in the car park of a suburban industrial estate, which is where Scottish production company The Comedy Unit live. (They live in a unit.) They are currently making Secret Dude Society for BBC3, or “the Pappy’s sitcom” as it’s colloquially known.

My work as script editor finished just before Christmas, when pre-production turned into production, and any further edits to the script would be the responsibility of the writers and producer. I have just been into makeup (which is another, bigger caravan) although you won’t notice, as I have been made up to look like myself. This is because I am playing “Andrew Collins” in the show. I only have two lines, but it’s a lovely gift from Pappy’s, in return for being the schoolteacher who’s been marking their homework with a red pen since September.

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An actor’s life can be a lonely one. I have discovered that. I am alone in my caravan. The other three actors who are filming today are in their own caravans. Whenever my next-door neighbour, the actor Kim Wall, enters his caravan, it shakes, and so does mine. I am holding up today’s call-sheet in the picture above, but have been careful not to show anything that’s on it, as I suspect this is not for public consumption. I will have to check with the producers before I reveal any more about my cameo role. In fact, I’d rather keep it a secret until the show is broadcast – it’ll be more fun that way. I am expecting to be called to costume any moment, so I’ll stop typing.

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Another rare thing was waking up in a hotel room this morning. There is something slightly extravagant about taking a train up to Glasgow and being put up in a hotel in order to deliver two lines in a sitcom, but that’s entertainment. There is also something about travelling alone that lends you the air of a sales rep. Breakfast for one, all that. Fortunately, I was rescued from the tragedy of eating room service, alone, last night, as Pappy’s – that is, Matthew, Ben and Tom – are pretty much living up in Glasgow for the duration of the show and they took me to their local tapas bar, where we drank beer and picked at “small plates” until midnight, subsequently joined by none other than my old radio pal Josie Long, The Pictish Trail aka Edinburgh’s fine-bearded Johnny Lynch, and “young comedian” Tom Deacon, who I like very much. (Tom is also up to deliver two lines for Pappy’s.)

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Anyway, here’s another pathetic shot of me in Room 212 at the Abode Hotel (or the Adobe Hotel, as Matthew erroneously calls it, imagining it to be photoshopped and daubed with mud). It’s nice to stay in pleasant hotels, but it’s nicer to stay in them with a friend, spouse or partner.

Hey, I like to think of myself as well-travelled, but until today I had never seen or used one of these before:

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It’s a kind of self-contained, ready-loaded individual plastic coffee filter-ette. Environmentally destructive, it also makes a disgusting cup of coffee, I discovered this morning while waiting in my room to be picked up and ferried to the “unit base” and thence to the filming location. (Mind you, I put UHT milk in it, and that’s against nature, and the downside to making coffee in a hotel room is, of course, that you use water from a bathroom sink, which isn’t for drinking.)

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As I type, I’m on the train home from Glasgow and back in the stultifying realms of the usual sort of Photo Booth picture I take of myself for Writer’s Blogs. The actual filming took very little time, although it was thrilling to be around technicians and crew who know exactly what it is they’re doing. It’s like a well-oiled machine. If something went wrong, you just know these people would deal with it, and get back on schedule.

Director Ben Kellett (the man you see at the end of Mrs Brown’s Boys, taking a bow with the rest of the crew and family), whom I’d never previously met, seems to be “on it”, and Pappy’s seem pleased with the way the show’s panning out. I won’t give anything away about my tiny cameo, or Tom Deacon’s, but it’s in what’s planned as the final episode, and this was my costume. (I wore my own trousers.) Oh, and when I mischeviously Tweeted the shirt earlier, one brilliant wag asked, “Are you playing Jason Manford.” Now that’s comedy.

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It’s been a fun trip. I managed to write a 1,000-word feature on Judd Apatow for Radio Times on the train journey up, and my Films Of The Day copy for Radio Times on the train journey back. I’m like a shark; if I stop moving, I die.

By now, this caravan will have been converted back into a dressing room for the next actor. But it was mine for a couple of hours. Mine.

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2011: on a mission

Here, then, after much deliberation are my Top 27 LPs of 2011. I’ve placed them carefully in order of greatness, but, to dust down an old cliché, if they are in this list, they are great. (Also, by the time you are about halfway down, you can barely get a cigarette paper between them.) I know it doesn’t matter in the broader scheme of things, but I have spent the past couple of weeks intensively listening again to the contenders for the Top 10, sometimes mixing them up on my iPod so that I don’t know what’s coming next, which may be counter to the spirit of the album, but it helped me make some difficult choices. There’s nothing like the feeling when a track comes up on shuffle from a playlist comprising only your favourite albums of the year and you don’t immediately recognise it but you know you love it. That way, impartial assessment can be achieved. So …

1. Rob St. John Weald

2. Ghostpoet Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam

3. Metronomy The English Riviera

4. The Horrors Skying

5. James Blake James Blake

6. Adele 21

7. Jonnie Common Deskjob

8. The Kills Blood Pressures

9. Battles Gloss Drop

10. Elbow Build A Rocket Boys!

11. Luke Haines 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early 80s

12. The Wild Swans The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years

13. Katy B On A Mission

14. Death Grips Ex-Military

15. Bon Iver Bon Iver

16. Anna Calvi Anna Calvi

17. Chris T-T Disobedience

18. TV On The Radio Nine Types Of Light

19. Lymes Goodbye Bangkok

20. Little Dragon Ritual Union

21. Frank Turner England Keep My Bones

22. Los Campesinos! Hello Sadness

23. Bombay Bicycle Club A Different Kind Of Fix

24. Alex Turner Submarine

25. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi Rome

26. Das Racist Relax

27. Martin John Henry The Other Half of Everything

Here’s what happens now: you’ll post comments beneath this list and ask me why I haven’t included an album you love, and it will be because of one of these two reasons – I haven’t heard the album, or I don’t like it enough to put it in my Top 27. So, no King Of Limbs by Radiohead or PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. It’s just a matter of taste. There’s something very odd about liking one of the most successful albums of all time – Adele’s 21 – but I’ve had it for most of this year and I’m still enjoying listening to it. I can’t help liking so many of this year’s Mercury shortlist either – that’s just the way the cards fell. I have no desire to shock you with my obscurity or impress you with my cool. I am 46.

I do like the fact that my list is bookended by two Scottish-based solo records with a similarly pastoral/geographical looking cover, and that both are solo debuts, too. That seems entirely apt. I’ve found my love of music reinvigorated this year, as I’ve stated for the record elsewhere – by depping on 6 Music, by watching Later…, by hanging around Josie Long, and by the fact that smaller labels tend to put handwritten notes in with things, and that makes me take notice. I like that this has happened, as I was worried that I could no longer form new relationships with artists. This turns out not to be true. I’m genuinely more excited about the new than I am about the old as this year turns into another one.

Enough of my yakkin’ – let’s play some records!

St. John’s ambience

I wasn’t expecting this. By which I mean I wasn’t expecting 2011 to introduce so much new music into my life. Nor was I expecting Rob St. John’s debut album Weald to arrive, halfway through November, and make a meaningful claim on my Top 5 albums of the year. Song, By Toad is just one small label I have been introduced to in 2011. (Visit their website if you like.) Edinburgh-based, it grew out of a blog and seems to throb at the centre of a whole DIY scene, putting many of its releases out on vinyl. You may have heard Meursault – they’re on Song, By Toad. Rob St. John makes melancholy, pastoral folk-blues, his voice as deep and meaningful as Ian Curtis’s, or Stuart Staples’, and Weald seems to be something of a concept album linking his Lancashire birthplace with his adopted Edinburgh. It’s haunting and elegaic and sad, and I can’t stop playing it. It’s out now, on vinyl, but you can hear two tracks, among others, on the label’s Soundcloud.

The blame for this reawakening of my appetite for new music on small labels can be pretty much laid exclusively at the doorstep of Josie Long. Ever since being thrown together by 6 Music, Blind Date style, in June, I freely admit to being infected with her enthusiasm for independent music from the fringes. It’s not that I ever forsook indie, but this century has beaten a lot of that previously cherished bias towards the independent sector out of me. As “indie” has mutated from a state of mind, an ideology, into a catch-all term for guitar music by young men who don’t shave, I have grown weary of it. Meanwhile, I’ve found getting to the end of a whole album increasingly difficult. I’m sure it’s me and not music, but since the turn of the millennium I’ve become more and more picky about what I’ll listen to. But this year, my whole attitude to the 6 Music pigeonhole has changed: I now sift through all the advance CDs I get sent and make a concerted effort to select up to a dozen to take home, usually the ones from small labels. That’s affirmative action. If something has a sleeve, or a photo, I’ll often overlook it. A handwritten note will catch my eye and earn at least three minutes of my time. This is how I’ve discovered Jonnie Common, Ian Humberstone and Rob St. John on Song, By Toad. And Lymes on Mollusc records. It’s how I ended up listening to Death Valley Screamers, We Have Band, Tom Eno, Mint Julep, Fireworks Night, The Lovely Eggs, Martin John Henry, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, Heart Kills Giant and, only this week, Naomi Hates Humans. (I also listened to countless others that I didn’t like. There’s still a door policy.)

Hey, my tastes are pretty vanilla in other respects. You know I like Adele, and she’s one of the biggest selling artists of the year. I also hold a torch for Elbow, and Manic Street Preachers, who are played on Radio 2. And Metronomy, Ghostpoet, the Horrors and Anna Calvi are all straight off the Mercury Prize nominations list. But I will say that letting the output of small labels into my life has coloured it in a bit. And Rob St. John’s Weald is just one of those colours.

I am of an age where cynicism is a way of life. I have a tendency towards grumpiness that is definitely index-linked with my advancing years. I am in many ways blasé and jaded. But adolescent excitement is, it seems, still a possibility.

Josie and I will be on until December 17. After that, we don’t know. But it’s been an enjoyable run that has done my greying soul the world of good.

A lotta meatballs

It’s been a looooooong time coming, and it was originally logged in the wrong category, and for some reason it’s UK only, and the picture used to illustrate it is all out of perspective and makes me look like a ventriloquist’s dummy … but it’s nice to be back in podcast form, with Josie, and tucked inside the 6 Music portfolio. You may now subscribe via iTunes and listen to 50 minutes of the non-music bits from Saturday’s show on the very first Andrew Collins and Josie Long podcast. I guess in some ways it’s a luxury to have done five Saturday morning shows that weren’t made into podcasts; in any case, here we are, bedded in, getting used to each other, mucking about, starting with one thought and ending up on an entirely different one, and reliant, as ever, on your contributions in terms of jingles, texts, emails and Twitter contributions. It’s a fun show to do. Josie’s enthusiasm is quite extraordinary, and it’s hard to imagine anyone so grateful and delighted to be on the radio. It’s her show, really, and I’m happy to help. This week, with your assistance, we invented a band, Dublin Robot, who now have a detailed backstory, again thanks to your archaeological input, and whose first record we intend to play next Saturday.

As if often the way with new podcasts, thanks to the unique (ie. arcane) way in which iTunes calculates their “popularity”, we rose like a bubble to the top of the charts yesterday. Here is the evidence, which is important, as we’ve dropped out of the Top 10 already, as the world grows bored of something so old. But it was nice to be there for a bit.

We actually got as high as number 4 after I’d taken this grab. And we were number one in the Music podcasts, which is a bit mad, as it isn’t one. Now it’s been re-categorised as a Comedy podcast but isn’t in the Comedy podcast charts. Ah well. By the way, sorry it’s UK only; I suspect that’s to do with the licensing of the snatches of music that still find their way into the podcast via beds and intros/outros. It certainly seems to be the case with other podcasts from 6 Music. Hey, subscribe, artificially push us momentarily back up the charts for no discernible reason!

Or just tune in on Saturdays, 10am-1pm, for as long as it lasts. You never can tell.

In other podcast news, thanks to Graham Tugwell, we have two more Collins & Herring Pretend Podcasts from the 6 Music archives in the tank, ie. I’ve sent the files and blurbs over to the British Comedy Guide for processing. So listen out for those. These are the final Tugwell Tapes, Pts 5 and 6, and feature two “deps” Richard and I did in 2009. Check the BCG for updates. Maybe the next one will be a real one?