Monday, 1 October 2012

Video killed the music hall star (thankfully, not quite)

Grisel and I met someone who worked in the last days of the music hall on Friday. Not something that that happens to me everyday. Barry Grantham is certainly an old pro and can regale you with stories of working with some of the showbiz greats like Tommy Cooper, Max Wall, Sid Field to name but a few. A meeting had been brokered through a friend to discuss our cabaret night and it was a strange one to say to say the least. Now I'm a great lover of this sort of very old school variety, so I had a very casual idea of this meeting in mind. I thought that we would maybe catch up, swap stories and then maybe talk a little about business. How wrong I was. Guided by my friend the meeting, however, got straight down to business, and this caught me off guard completley. It seemed to do the same for Barry. It was an amicable and fun meeting, if not a little uncomfortable. At one point I decided that enough business had been discussed and we should just relax a little, "Right that's business done, now another beer." I exclaimed. I had meant it to be a cue for us to relax, but because I was the one who needed to relax as much as anyone it came out all wrong. Grisel told me later that it sounded like an order to get the next round in. I do remember that Barry looked slightly startled and immediately reached for his wallet, only to be saved by the rest of the party. Hardly the way to treat a seasoned veteran who had worked on the Great British Music Hall stage.And then there was the venue. We had arranged to meet at a club called The Concert Artists Association, or the CAA, of which Barry is a member . The CAA is a private members club for actors and variety artists in Covent Garden. In The Jester Bar the walls were adorned with photos of showbiz greats from a time gone by. Roy Hudd, June Whitefied, Cardue Robinson and Bill Pertwee jostled for position on the wall of fame. It's almost a museum, and that goes for most of the clientele as well. There was one table of thirty somethings, but everyone else would not be out of place in a home counties bowls club. I wondered if the CAA was single headedly keeping the blue blazer industry alive. It made me think of that famous Groucho Marx saying, "I wouldn't join a club that would have me as a member". Although with membership and bar prices from another era as well I could be tempted. I can't help liking it though, after all I love these old stars, and if it's a choice between this independently run club of enthusiasts, or another Starbucks I know which I'd choose.This strange meeting also made me think about what we are trying to achieve with The Royal National Theatre of Fools. Are we onto something? We have had such positive feedback and I love the idea, but becoming a museum piece is something I want to avoid. I had the great good fortune to perform in a Cabaret night at Edinburgh's Summerhall this year. Summerhall is a one of the more experimental venues on The Fringe and is aiming for year round status. This is cutting edge performance so I was so happy when I went down a storm. I was on the same bill as a very young band that I like a lot. Their lead singer was raving about my act and I was conscious that I was old enough to be his Dad. Maybe cabaret is skipping a generation and spirit of the performers who are on the walls of the CAA is coming back into fashion. I, for one, hope so because apart from a love of these artistes the CAA and I share something else. The alternative comedy boom of the early eighties largely passed us by, and when I turn on the TV and see Jimmy Carr I think that maybe this is not such a bad thing. As early as my teens I used to admire the craft and skill of the likes of Les Dawson and Morecambe and Wise, but was too young to get the radical qualities of the early days of the comedy store, and it's something that's stayed with me. Of course I was later to find out that the alternative comics also admired these artists but were too punk to admit it at the time. The passing of the years has also made me admire some great things that have came out of the creative melting pot of the early eighties alternative scene. I think exciting times are ahead.Eventually I relaxed and it was great to hear some of Barry's Stories. He told of us the burlesque artist who boasted that she moved onstage in an era when if you were nude that was banned. Turned out she stood stock still as she was pushed on a bicycle from one end of the stage to another. I'm sure that Barry was impressed by my own encyclopaedic knowledge of the period... but probably not. (I wasn't even born then, he was there!) I told him, in the politest way possible about my dislike of traditional circus clowns with painted faces and he thought for moment and said, "it's what's underneath the make up that counts". Wise words indeed. He sent us a lovely email the next day saying that he hoped we could work together in the future so it looks like I got away with the drinks blunder. Roll on the end of November when we plan to open.

More info about The Concer Artistes Association can be found at:

Visit Barry's website at:

Be inspired by what Summerhall are up to at:

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancĂ© Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to for more info.

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