More What I Did On My Holidays

My word, I am pooped. This weekend just gone, I set off for four gigs over two days. My voice still hadn’t (and still hasn’t) recovered from Latitude, so I left little Tim Jr back in Cambridge and resolved to stick to spoken word.

I was in fairly high spirits after my gig on Thursday, supporting Byron Vincent on his Poetry Link tour, at Wax Lyrical in Colchester. It was my first time at the Wax Lyrical night, and Molly Naylor and Ross Sutherland were both on the bill as well, meaning essentially I got to perform with a bunch of much-valued chums. The audience were really lovely and I think I did one of the best twenty minute sets I’ve ever done. I felt very at ease and enjoyed just sort of blathering, telling anecdotes and making up my set on the fly. It also provided yet another reminder of the value of decent lead-ins – not only do they set up the poem nicely for the crowd, but I find now that the right sort of preamble actually helps to put me in the best mental state to perform the poem well. Anyway, basically it was great fun, and I really enjoyed getting to watch Ross, Molly and Byron perform their sets all on one night, to appreciative spectators. Oh, and the sound tech guy was a total champ – he stuck a lovely tickle of reverb on Tim Jr and made him sound all Hawaiian, full, and dreamy. Kudos to that guy.

On Friday it was off to Camp Bestival, down on the south coast, at Lulsworth Castle. There’s something particularly cruel about Camp Bestival’s location – from on site, you can see the ocean shimmering just a mile away. It felt like it was constantly teasing me – I mean, festivals are okay, but with the insanely hot weather Camp Bestival had, you can’t help but wish you were down on a beach instead, cavorting on the sand or diving into cool blue waves.

Camp Bestival started out as a bit of a culture shock – we arrived to find ourselves kicking through drifts of jammy-visaged sprogs three or four deep. Squealing tykes battled with plastic swords, scampered about with balloons and crammed ice cream wafer sandwiches into their red, mewling gobs. The music on the main stages at Camp Bestival was pretty shite. I condescended to watch Florence and the Machine, against my better judgement, and wished I hadn’t. I don’t know what all the fuss is about – all I saw was some crapulent, equine-mawed toff caterwauling and dropping barrages of slurred f-bombs between her nondescript dirges, much to the consternation of the watching parents and children. Beatboxer Beardyman on Saturday was a similar waste of time – a smug, irritating cunt trying to spin a meagre party trick out into a career. I’m easily impressed by beatboxing, but you have to have some kind of interesting content or be exceptionally good at what you do – Beardyman has neither, and he compounds the problem with his constant toe-curling attempts at humour. It’s like being stuck in a lift with Timmy Mallett.

But when the sun goes down, all the children suddenly seem to get removed by some sort of snow plough, and then Camp Bestival turns into a really excellent dance festival. Better yet, because it’s such a family festival, the atmosphere in the late evening stays convivial – there aren’t so many of the boss-eyed spannered townies you associate with banging choons. On Friday night we had a good ol’ dance for many hours, ending up in the Silent Disco. Clare’s Law: as the length of a Silent Disco increases, the probability of both DJs playing Cheese approaches 1. I bowed out gracefully as soused revellers bellowed Hey Jude up at the tent ceiling.

My readings on Saturday went okay. It’s a bit tricky judging content and holding an audience when there are packs of roving kids swarming here there and everywhere, but I think I did okay. The hard thing is that a lot of parents tend to use book tents as creches, plonking themselves down on a cushion and leaving their kids to shriek and run about. There wasn’t too much of that when I was on, though, and I’m usually shouty-shouty enough to make little children run away crying. I did a reading from We Can’t All Be Astronauts in the early afternoon, then a poetry set with Scroobius Pip in the evening. I felt as if my rendition of Dear Man I Saw On The Platform At Colchester was a bit lacklustre – I think I might retire it for a while, just until I get the feeling back. I’m not an actor, so if I’m not feeling it then it just turns hammy, and I don’t want to force that awful am-dram bollocks on some poor crowd.

By the time we were due to leave Camp Bestival, I’d become acclimatised to the huge numbers of kids, and found myself – embarrassingly – putting a hand to my chest and sighing with increasing frequency, as I saw and heard lots of very cute, very endearing things. Camp Bestival isn’t my cup of tea – despite curator Rob Da Bank’s claims of championing new bands, the music in the day is exclusively toothless crap – but the children there were obviously having an absolute whale of a time, and I was really happy for them.

Saturday evening we headed west, down to the Port Eliot Lit Fest. Aisle16 and Port Eliot have an association that goes back longer than I’ve been involved – at the last Port Eliot in 2007, we ended up doing about 20 plus hours of performance over two days; they might as well have renamed it Aisle16stock. I always enjoy Port Eliot because of its limited size – if you do a gig there, you instantly acquire a pseudo-celebrity that lasts for the whole weekend, and you can just wonder around chatting to people.

On the Sunday, me, Ross Sutherland and Joe Dunthorne did a performance of our show Found In Translation, about our attempts to infiltrate enigmatic French experimental literature group, the Oulipo. It went really well, as we suspected it might, because audiences at Port Eliot are always lovely. None of the mothers complained when I did my groin-thrusts and fecal splattering, which was gratifying. The weather on Sunday was crappy in the extreme – it was raining when we got up and it continued, unabated, all day and all evening, not letting up once. Port Eliot isn’t really designed to cope with that sort of weather, and the tent we were performing in was leaking badly, the DI boxes for Ross’s laptop sitting in an ominous marsh and bits of paper plastered to the stage with water.

Later on, I did a reading in the Round Room of the house. As the name suggests, it’s a huge circular room with an elaborate and quite disturbing frieze painted across the wall and a large domed ceiling with a big chandelier hanging from the centre. I was directed to stand right beneath the chandelier, and as soon as I did, I could hear my voice being amplified and projected across the room. I believe it’s called a Whispering Gallery – the acoustics are such that, if you stand in the centre of the room, your voice is projected by the architecture and you can hear everyone in the room perfectly. Lots of people turned up and I really enjoyed reading from Astronauts with my newfound big, booming voice. I did my first ever Q & A at the end, which was fun, and allowed me to babble enthusiastically about a bunch of things I like. Thanks Port Eliot!

Aside from some issues with our car breaking down, we had a great weekend. I think all this living outdoors has worn me down a bit though – I’m feeling ever so slightly under the weather, and I can feel my glands swollen up in my throat like big ol’ gooseberries, so I’m committing to lots of water and quietness for the rest of the week, in the hopes that I can recover my performing mojo in time for Saturday, when I’m off to the Kendal Calling festival for yet more spoken word shennanigans and living under canvas. Hooray!