Monday, November 28, 2005

Remembering The Idiots

The YWCA in Dougdale Road, North Kenton, was my first experience in show business other than a brief appearance as a Knight in a Primary School performance aged about 9, my Dad persuaded one of his friends with a DIY shop (Foy/McGeary) to knock up a hobby-horse. I recall galloping in and then being slightly nonplussed by one of the audience bursting into tears…

I don’t particularly remember joining the concert party known as “the Idiots”, our club leader must have eased us in to it in such a subtle way that it just seemed right. The troupe must have existed previously as there were costumes and props upstairs in the loft. However, I don’t recall it being active before I started to take part. The show consisted of songs interspersed with sketches and it was targeted at the older audience, i.e. Old Peoples Homes & drop-in centres. We sang quite a mixture of songs and I generally got the soppy sweet ballads, having the voice of an angel, albeit a specky four-eyed one! I can certainly recall singing “Answer me” (popularised by Barbara Dickson), “Edelweiss” from the Sound of Music and “Where is Love?” From Oliver. There was another boy who got the comedy songs, he was rather short and one of his efforts was to mime to “I went to your wedding” played on a gramophone, dressed in top hat and tails.

We went on a bit of a tour, I can remember doing the show in old peoples homes and church halls. During one show, a member of the audience decided to go back to his room, which involved shuffling through the middle of us mid-show, much to our amusement. Doug always played the Piano (he read music but wasn’t not perfect by any means and had to vamp it to events of course.) whilst backstage, a Mum or two generally helped out with costumes and getting us on-stage. Our big finale was wearing silk-like blue and white tops/slacks & I can recall dire warnings from a mum to make sure we shook well so that we didn’t have post-toilet patches!

One visit was to somewhere called St. Hildas which was an approved boarding school for wayward girls ran by nuns and Doug gave us a good pep talk to be on our guard from predatory females. Ironically, I heard several years later that he was a predatory male but that was after my time and may of course just be an unsubstantiated (although multi-sourced) rumour.

At St. Hildas, I ran into a bit of a problem. Whenever I approached the footlights to sing, I started coughing, although I was fine in the chorus. Doug was wise enough to go into “shipwreck chorus” when he realised I was strugging and I eventually twigged that the footlights were making a chemical smell, the “Cinemoid” colour filter was touching some of the lamps and scorching, a smell that was catching the back of my throat. I was cornered by a couple of girls after the performance backstage but their interest was benign curiousity and I escaped still chaste…

We were at our best singing in the club. Two curtained-off areas were created either side of the stage as wings and we had to be careful to exit on the correct side as there wasn’t a crossover passage. Lighting consisted of a heat & light bulb (a very common 275w blown glass reflector lamp) as general wash from inside the proscenium and a follow-spot worked from the top of the loft staircase. The follow-spot was some form of motorbike headlamp in a swivel assembly and a yellow glass filter could be clipped to the front of it. I was tolerant of open white but many of the other boys were not and so the glare was lessened slightly (& the beam made a little more diffuse) for the sufferers of Kliegl-eye. Needless to say, the lighting cues were managed by two older boys & whoever worked the flood had the raw deal as he was trapped stage left by himself whilst we mostly spent the time between numbers stage right (where there was a fire door if we needed to make an entrance from the back, not that I can remember doing so). Doug’s Piano was also stage right in front of the curtains so that problems could be communicated to him in whispered tones if necessary. When we did perform, the club was converted into a passable cabaret bar with the addition of candles on tables.

I can remember being nervous of my Dad coming to a Club show and seeing me sing for some reason, although in reality he was very proud of me, of course!

We did get to appear briefly in a “proper” show, at the Gosforth Civic Hall. It was some sort of Charity special and our role was to be an amusing filler. Doug had warned us it was a real theatre (it wasn’t!) and that there would be VIPs there (there were, the front rows looked like Penguins!) and all we had to do was a spoof fashion show. I was first on in some two-piece old biddy number and then the rest of us paraded on in increasingly gaudy outfits from the dressing-up box, with the short lad on last in some exotic ballgown or other. Standing in the wings, I experienced the worst bout of stage-fright I have ever had in my life. Despite re-assuring myself that I didn’t even have any lines, I felt the primeval waves of hind-brain dread building up to the point when I thought I wouldn’t be able to go on. Fortunately, I overcame the irrational fear, got on there and enjoyed the experience. I can’t say that it lit any spark of latent TV urges I later life, although I do remember that the audience thought it was hysterical with Doug’s tongue in cheek commentary over the PA system.

To give a taste of the quality sketches we performed, here is a three-parter we used to do:

(Boy A on stage, reading a paper. Boy B crosses the back with a briefcase).

Boy A: Where are you going?

Boy B: I’m taking my case to court.

(Later- Boy A on stage, Boy B enters the other way carrying the briefcase at chest height.)

Boy A: Where are you going now?

Boy B: I’m taking my case to a higher court.

(Later- Boy A on stage, Boy B enters without the briefcase looking forlorn.)

Boy A: What happened?

Boy B; I lost my case!

No comments: