The Henley Festival is a gig to chalk off.
I did it last week for the second time and more than a decade since my debut. My opening line explained this and then I added, ‘I must have done really well to get booked back so soon.’
Festival gigs are often scheduling dependent – hoping not to clash with a massive crowd drawing act.
Driving to my gig on Thursday last week, I was congratulating myself that I had taken the booking the day after the second semi-final of the World Cup in which England had featured (and lost). This was pure luck on my part and an odd piece of good timing for me. I arrive at the festival with a great feeling about the gig ahead.
The comedy tent is small. 600 people or so and it is packed for the show that is about to come down. My old mate Phil Jupitus is on stage and making light work of the hardest art form of them all?
The main stage has room for 4000 people and is where the rock acts get to do their thing. Nile Rodgers and Chic had apparently smashed the place the night before.
My show begins at 9.15 with me due on at 9.45…
I notice an atmosphere, backstage. Staff appear a little tetchy – as if something is about to go down. Not because of me, surely? I notice an enormous stretch limo parked hard against the sort of trailer that I recognise from the movie sets that I frequent occasionally as a visitor.
And I begin to wonder and to fret that a star turn might be due on the main stage this evening – and will suck the audience and leave the comedy tent empty.
I tentatively enquire about whose ride is the limo and might now be ensconced in the trailer?
It’s only Grace Jones and we are due on stage at the same time!
Not many people reading this have not heard of Grace Jones. And for the festival goers who don’t even like her music; their curiosity alone will be too great not to take in her show surmising on her age and just what the hell she might be able to do these days?
My only hope is a diva strop that she is famed for which will see Ms Jones take to the stage much later than billed. Maybe she reads my blog and she wants to see my set?
No such luck.
When our show goes up, our tent is empty and the place is quiet. The first act is a very agreeable comic double act doing witty songs. The small audience are enthralled but then Ms Jones and her band fire up.
By the time I get on stage, our tent is half full and my hope is that it will still be half full when I am through. I am doing my stuff but the noise bleed is so bad, I have no idea whether they are laughing or not. And then I recall something from my youth which makes me laugh out loud.
My older brother Paul had the same Grace Jones album that the whole world had. He played it loudly and too loudly for my dad’s tastes who one day shouted up the stairs as loudly as he could…
‘Will you please turn that shit off.’
Not down. Off!
And some thirty-five years later in quaint Henley-on-Thames, these are my sentiments exactly.