THE FIELD TRIP by Mitch Benn
Mentor Geldra and his five pupils took their stations.
He gave the four-dimensional co-ordinates to the student at section one; a tall, dark haired confident girl. She entered them into the capsule's navigational cortex and smiled up at Geldra.
Geldra touched the “initiate” pad, there came a familiar grinding sound and they were away. First time off-planet for most of these, thought Geldra, and his own first trip for a while.
He looked around the console at his young crew. He smiled as he saw their faces, each lit up as much by the thrill of the occasion as by the controls they were watching over.
His smile dimmed a little as his gaze fell upon the last two members of the party. The boys he'd stationed at sections five and six.
At section five stood a chubby blond boy, visibly struggling with the the urge to tweak and grab at the switches and pads in front of him. This boy had been more thrilled than anyone at the prospect of the trip; he'd jiggled with nervous excitement as they waited to enter the Type 30 capsule and Geldra had paid specific attention to him as they boarded, fearful he'd start running round and fiddling with everything. Thus far he'd managed to contain himself, and Geldra had been sure to place him at the systems monitoring section, where he wouldn't actually have to do anything unless there was an emergency. Geldra hoped there wouldn't be an emergency.
At section six stood this first boy's inseparable friend, although on the face of things they didn't seem to have much in common. He was slim and dark; while his friend's soft features were still those of a child, his were beginning to harden into manhood. Where Boy No. 5 was academically mercurial, prone to bursts of inspiration and random brilliance in class (while at other times handing in slapdash, overdue and workmanlike assignments, assuming he actually turned up, which was by no means a given) Boy No. 6 was methodical and reliable, even if he did, on occasion, ask rather disturbing questions.
These two boys, who should have been Geldra's star pupils, seemed to bring out the worst in each other. They were always off plotting something in secret, or finding new ways to bend the Academy's rules; bend, that is, not break... somehow they always managed to escape official censure. Between them, they caused Geldra more stress than anyone he'd ever met in his life. Any of his lives. Geldra spied them exchanging mischievous glances and sighed.
The capsule arrived at its destination with a faintly audible thud. Just a short hop; a couple of thousand years.
Geldra opened the doors and led the crew out of the capsule in an orderly queue.
They were greeted by a scene of silent devastation.
“We stand on the the planet Vargahis,” announced Mentor Geldra, “ and this is, or at least was, the city of Masro-Tor.”
They were in a vast empty space which might once have been a grand square or plaza. Around the outside stood the ruins of stone buildings; only the shells of the lower storeys remained. They could have been sleek towers, squat dwellings or great temples once; now, it was impossible to tell.
“Thousands of years ago, this was the capital city of Branta-Harn, a proud nation of over a hundred million people,” intoned Geldra.
“What happened to them?” asked a tall redheaded girl, her distress obvious.
“Nothing happened to them,” said Geldra gravely, “they did this to themselves.”
A gasp of horror passed through the group of students.
"How?" asked Boy No. 5. Beside him, Boy No. 6's cool grey eyes blazed with fascination.
"War," said Geldra. "A decades-long war against a rival nation, Greater Trass. Bantra-Harn sought to end the war by developing a weapon so powerful it could destroy the whole nation of Trass in one blast."
"They didn't use it, did they?" asked a stout brown-haired boy,
"I'm afraid they did. They succeeded in annihilating their enemies, but the force of the blast was such that it shifted Vargahis on its axis. Just a few degrees, but enough to destroy the planet's eco-system utterly."
Boy No. 5 shuddered as Boy No. 6 listened intently. Mentor Geldra went on: "The planet was plunged into chaos. Temperatures soared in some places, plummeted in others. Great storms scoured the face of Vargahis and all life, plant and animal, was extinguished. Now, these ruins - and similar ruins, dotted around the planet's surface - are the only indicator that there was ever anything here."
Boy. No. 5 looked around at the other students. None of them was going to ask the obvious question, so he did.
"Why are we here, Mentor Geldra?"
Geldra smiled, indulgently and not entirely convincingly. "Many millennia have now elapsed since the war. The planet's eco-system is beginning to revive. New life will arise, possibly, eventually, new civilisations."
"Will they be any cleverer than the last one?" asked Boy No. 6.
Mentor Geldra's brow furrowed. "Who's to say?" he coughed. "And for today, that is none of our concern. Our task today is to perform a standard biosphere survey. Just to see how the place is coming along."
Geldra assigned tasks to the students. As Boys 5 and 6 wandered off into the ruins, he silently abandoned any hope of seeing them again before it was time to leave. And that suited him fine.
Boy No. 6 scanned the bleak horizon with his grey eyes. He perched atop a rocky spire which might have been a natural formation, or possibly part of a building, a support strut for an overhead highway or similar construction. There was no way to know.
Looking behind him, he saw his fellow students milling around a large boulder, which was, he now realised, the capsule they'd arrived in. Even our machinery's cowardly, he thought to himself. Most advanced mode of transport in the known universe and there it is, pretending not to exist.
From below him he heard wheezing and grunting, and soon enough his chubby blond friend hauled himself onto the top on the monolith and sat beside him, panting.
"All a bit grim, isn't it?" pondered Boy No. 5 once he had his breath.
"Oh I don't know," his friend replied, "I think it's rather beautiful in a stark sort of way."
A moment's pause.
"You know why they brought us here, don't you?" muttered Boy No. 5. "They're so paranoid that we're going to start fiddling with things, breaking their precious doctrine of non-interference, that they've brought us to one of the few planets in the universe where there's literally nothing to fiddle with."
Boy No. 6 smiled. "I think you're partly correct. Oh, it's all about the doctrine alright, but I think they wanted to show us this place as an example of futility."
"Futility?" asked Boy No. 5, who then flinched as his friend leapt to a standing position on the narrow rocky platform and gestured grandly at the devastated city.
"This!" he proclaimed. "This is how everything ends up! It's all headed for this. Whether it's war, meteors, the sun going bang or just plain entropy, everything falls apart eventually. So why BOTHER getting involved? Why get attached to anything that'll just be dust in a few million years? What difference can you expect to make in a universe where nothing lasts forever?"
"Except us..." murmured Boy No. 5. Boy No. 6 sat back down.
"Except us..." he said.
Some hours later and a few thousand years earlier, back on their homeworld, back in the Capitol, back in the Academy, hush descended upon the senior dormitories.
In his sleep pod, Boy No. 5 thrashed and grimaced. The day's lesson - whatever it might have been - lingered in his brain and kept him awake. He forced himself to lie still, listening to his hearts beat and willing them to calm down.
It would have been different if I'd been there, he thought. I could have found a way to end that war. I could have brought them together. Now they're gone. Who knows what that civilisation could have gone on to achieve?
What's the point of lasting as long as we have, of surviving and advancing for millions and millions of years, of acquiring all this knowledge and power if no-one ever benefits from it?
We've become the bureaucrats of the universe. Watching civilisations fall, planets burn, species disappear, then glumly noting the time of death and waiting for the next catastrophe.
We're observers, when we could be healers.
When we could be doctors.
A few sleep pods along, Boy No. 6 lay quite still, but also wide awake.
It would have been different if I'd been there, he thought. I could have shown them how to win their silly little war without destroying their whole stupid planet. Think how grateful they would have been... What would they have given me? What WOULDN'T they have given me?
We've allowed ourselves to become celestial gardeners, he thought. Pulling up the odd weed and pruning the occasional dead branch, instead of ripping the whole thing up and rebuiliding it to our own design. As is our capability. As is our RIGHT.
We're the faithful retainers of the universe, when we could be its owners.
When we could be masters.
© Mitch Benn 23.11.13
Have you downloaded any of the new stuff I put up at the online music store? In particular the Medium Rarities Volume 1 collection? You have? Splendid? Are you perhaps wondering what any/all of those songs are about? Well let me explain!
SING SOMETHING FUNNY I wrote this à propos of nothing in particular in about 2004-2005 and it eventually turned up in Crimes Against Music series 3 in 2006. I think I wrote it to be a show opener for the band but for some reason it never really gained any traction. I still like it though; especially pleased with the Brian Setzer-ish guitar.
MAKE YOURSELF A SANDWICH This was written in reference to a public safety announcement the Fire Brigade issued a few years ago warning of the dangers of trying to cook for yourself when you come home blind drunk. Apparently someone actually managed to burn his house down doing this. Enjoyed getting the Tom Waits vibe together; even managed to get my keyboard to sound a bit out of tune.
MOTHER'S DAY Think this was a Now Show song. Fairly self-explanatory.
EARLY 1980s RECORD COLLECTION Wrote this in 2006 when there were suddenly a HELL of a lot of bands who sounded like this. Most of them disappeared after about six months which is possibly why I never got round to releasing it.
CAFFEINE Again, fairly self-explanatory and one I'm sure many of you can relate to.
DEPARTURE LOUNGE BLUES Another one from Crimes series 3; which you may remember (it's pretty unlikely but you never know) had one episode set in an airport. When I was learning guitar back in the 80s I went through a proper blues nerd phase, listening to hours of Cream and Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, and it was fun to channel some of that into this.
SWINDON I think I actually got a request from the Swindon board of trade to use this. I said yes but I don't know if they ever did. A Now Show song from 2006 when it transpired that Swindon had the highest percentage of broadband-equipped households in the country. Don't know if it still does.
DON'T MURDER HALLELUJAH I'm sure you remember a few years ago when whoever it was who won The X Factor that year's "victory single" was a horrendously saccharine version of Leonard Cohen's sublime "Hallelujah"; there was an online campaign to get Jeff Buckley's much nicer version to number one instead. I wrote this for The Now Show in support.
NOTHING FUNNY A Now Show song from a couple of years ago (hence the pessimistic reference to the Olympics); it's actually fairly frequently I find myself in this situation but you can only make it the subject of a song once. I've done it now.
POISONOUS FROGS A couple of years ago Deep Sea World in Fife, Scotland, proudly announced that they'd succeeded in breeding a particularly venomous species of frog. I wondered why the Scots were breeding poisonous frogs in the first place and wrote this for The Now Show to offer one possible explanation (and to pay belated tribute to one of my favourite 80s bands).
AMERICAN CARS As with Poisonous Frogs, sometimes I'll latch onto a news story just because it presents me with an excuse to recreate a particular favourite musical style. In this case it was the 2008 bailout of the near-bankrupt "Big Three" US motor companies (Ford, GM & Chrysler) which gave me a great opportunity to try to perfect my Eddie Cochran sound. I love those records; they're so dynamic and streamlined compared to a lot of early rock n'roll and Cochran was way ahead of his time in terms of lyrical wit. If he and Buddy Holly hadn't been dead by the time the 60s started, the Beatles might never have been necessary...
ARE WE GONNA MESS THIS UP AGAIN? Like many of my generation, I was delighted when the Stone Roses patched up their differences and went back out on the road last year, and not a bit surprised when two gigs into the tour they fell out again...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY WAR (Shock & Awe Mix) Just an experiment I did on my own time, really... I wrote Happy Birthday War on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2007 and then released it as a single in 2008 on the fifth anniversary. I recorded many different demo versions of the song as I was putting the single together and at one point, just to see if it were possible, I stripped out everything except the lead vocal and built this around it. I came up with a completely new chord sequence, moving the song from G major to E minor. Some of the changes are genuinely quite interesting; I had to jump around a bit to keep in key with the melody and that led me to some unusual places. In the end I found the result to be a bit stark (the single version gets away with being lyrically bleak specifically because it's so cheerful melodically) and never did anything with it, but I thought you might find it interesting...
This is a story which has been told quite a few times over the past few weeks, but not quite in full and not by me yet, so here goes...
Like most comedians I know, I didn't dream of being a stand-up comic when I was a child. Most of us seem to have gotten side-tracked into it while pursuing other things. In my case I'd always THOUGHT that what I'd wanted to be was A Proper Actor; that had been the ambition while at university, certainly, until a general disillusionment with the capriciousness of the actor's career ladder (or indeed absence thereof) and the theatre in general set in in my mid-20s (around the time that stand-up began to beckon, as it happens).
It's only in the last couple of years that I've remembered that what I wanted to do when I was LITTLE - the first thing I was actually any good at - was write stories.
I won a couple of little prizes for short story writing at primary school. I loved it, and it was what made English my favourite subject back at Dovedale CP... For some reason, at grammar school, little emphasis was placed on encouraging one's OWN creativity in English lessons, and far more placed on dissecting the creativity of others. In any event, I got out of the habit of writing stories and didn't ever really get back into it.
Until about four years ago.
I have, as most of you know, two little girls; Greta (currently 7 and a half) and Astrid (5 and a bit). This means I've spent a LOT of time in the last few years reading stories out loud. For the first three or four years of that period, generally those large format bedtime story picture book efforts. Some of them are wonderful - Julia Donaldson inevitably springs to mind (I know everyone loves The Gruffalo but check out The Snail And The Whale; amazing hypnotic rolling scansion); a lot of them - in fact, screw it, MOST of them - are dreadful.
As someone who writes songs - which are, let's face it, poems with tunes - for a living, I found myself wondering if I could write one of these verse short stories myself. So I did; it's called Dreaming Dragons, it's a few pages long and one day I might even find an outlet for it.
However, once I'd done it, I found the old long-dormant writing bug beginning to bite again. I started to wonder if I could write something longer, more involved, maybe actually book-sized.
I've long been fascinated with the way certain ideas recur across genres... the way, for example, the classical "prophecy story" has been reborn in the last century as the time travel story... It's the same concept, the perils and pitfalls of foreknowledge. In many ways (just off the top of my head) The Terminator is an archetypal prophecy story, even down to the way the Evil Emperor with knowledge of the future (or in this instance, the Evil Supercomputer actually LIVING in the future), while attempting to defy fate by averting his own destruction (sending a killer cyborg back in time to kill the mother of the leader of La Résistance before his birth) ends up bringing it about (accidentally introducing said leader's parents to each other). People still just don't get how prophecies work...
A particular favourite repeated literary meme is The Lost Child; the infant abandoned, cast away or otherwise transplanted to and subsequently raised in bizarre circumstances, with hilarious/scary/ripsnorting consequences. Goes back at least as far as Moses (and no doubt those of you with a proper classical education will be able to tell me which earlier legend was being cannibalised there); one thinks also of Tarzan, Mowgli, Superman, Will Ferrell's Elf, even Neil Himself Gaiman (from whom all blessings flow) has added to this list with his own The Graveyard Book (whose title seems to nod to Kipling).
So when contemplating possible themes for A Proper Book Type Book it was the lost child which sprang to mind. In particular I found myself wondering what the science fiction spin on the theme would be... Human baby... abducted by aliens... adopted by them and raised on another planet...?
That's a bit good, I thought. That's a great idea. Surely someone had written that story already...?
Well if they have, it's tucked away somewhere Google couldn't find it.
So about three and a half years ago I began to tinker, with no specific aim in sight, on this story. The story of a little girl, spirited away as a baby by a well-intentioned alien and brought up on another planet. Something about the essential loneliness of her situation - surrounded by friends, immersed in her adopted culture and loved by her adopted family but always ALONE - spoke to me in a way I couldn't ignore.
There's an image in the book - of Terra, perched on top of a high spire, gazing out across the city of Hrrng and up at the stars - which was in my mind from the very beginning (it's even recreated in Billl Greenhead's brilliant animated trailer for the book). It summed up both the excitement and sadness of Terra's situation and it popped into my head whenever I got a bit cloudy as to what exactly the book was supposed to be ABOUT.
Much of the early writing of the book was done on my phone, if you can believe it. Given that this was, thus far, a bit of a hobby rather than a serious project, I would tap out a couple of paragraphs whenever I had a spare minute; on a train or in a café. I didn't write the book in sequence; I had an overview of the plot in my head and whenever a particular event became clear in my mind I'd just go ahead and write that bit. One of the benefits of everything being electronically stored is that I could always make alterations later if necessary.
I have no idea if this is How It's Done, or indeed Not How It's Done. It's just How I Did It.
One of the FIRST sections I wrote was the ending. I'd always known more or less how I wanted the story to end and I think it helped me to write the middle sections of the book, knowing where the plot was headed.
So it was that by the summer of 2011, I had the beginning, significant chunks of the middle, and more or less all of the ending of Terra written.
Here's where it gets interesting (and this is the bit you might have heard already).
I did a voice over job for a travel agents that summer, and part of my remuneration was a good deal on a holiday to Corfu for me and the family (hadn't been on a proper holiday for five years previously, and indeed haven't been since). We'd got Greta her first passport as a baby and now she needed a new one (baby passports only last five years). There's a way of renewing passports where you go in early in the morning and you get it that same afternoon; it's a bit more expensive but SO worth it if you can afford the money and time off because by the end of the day you're actually HOLDING the damn thing. So I went into the passport office near Victoria station at my allotted time (11.30), handed over all the money and documentation and was told to return at 3.30pm. There was no point going home - it takes about 90 minutes on public transport during the day, so I was stuck in town for four hours.
So I turned, as I often do in time of need, to Twitter. "Guys," I tweeted to whoever was receiving, "stuck in town for four hours. Any thoughts on how I might usefull occupy myself?"
Replies started to trickle in, recommendations of places to have lunch or exhibitions to visit... then out of the blue I got a message from Gollancz publishing: "Come and talk to us about writing a novel".
The weird thing was I don't remember feeling particularly surprised, more intrigued and excited. I didn't know whether this was a serious suggestion but it certainly merited the benefit of the doubt. I replied "You're probably joking but I've Googled you and you're in St. Martins Lane. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
Twenty minutes later I walked up to the front desk at Orion Towers and said to a slightly bewildered but very helpful receptionist, "I don't know who I'm here to see but if you find out who does Gollancz's twitterfeed and tell them that Mitch Benn has actually turned up, we'll see what happens..."
Who I Was There To See turned out to be Simon Spanton, deputy commissioning editor of Gollancz, the sci-fi and fantasy division of Orion Books. Over coffee he explained that he knew me from The Now Show, he knew I was a bit of a sci-fi nerd (that's basically the running joke about me on TNS; Jon's tiny, Marcus is posh and angry and I never shut up about Doctor Who) and also that I could write STUFF, he just wondered if I'd ever thought about turning my hand to writing sci-fi books...?
Well, said I, as it happens...
Now I'd like to point out that this was merely the start of five months of negotiations, of me emailing chapters and Simon emailing notes, of discussions and meetings and conflabs of one stamp or another. We didn't actually sign a deal until December, at which point another interesting wrinkle arose...
I'd known in vague terms - as we had discussed it in vague terms - that the book would have to be delivered by "the spring"; this can mean anything from late February to late May depending on what the weather does (I'm not even sure we HAD one this year) but on the contract the date was specified as April 1st. Specific cultural resonance of that date notwithstanding, my problem was this - I was contracted to do The Now Show AND tour with my band for the whole of February and March... My only "window" was a two-week gap at the end of January...
"Clara," I asked my Infinitely Superior Half, "do your uncle and auntie still own that barn in the middle of nowhere in the Peak District? Think they'd lend it to me?"
They did indeed lend it to me (thanks again Ken & Liz) and so it was that the book, which thus far had been lackadaisically pieced together in idle moments over the course of about two years, was finished in a burst of furious industry in two weeks flat.
It's now 18 months later and the book is three days from publication (officially anyway; I've noticed it already turning up in a few shops). I've written a sequel which should see the light of day about this time next year and once I've got the Edinburgh Fringe out of the way I'll start work on book three.
Reviews have started to come in; positive beyond my wildest expectations. I'd hoped people would like this book and thus far it seems they do; what's gratifying and exciting is that they seem to really GET this book.
I'm still HORRIBLY nervous though. Over the years, I've trained myself not to get too emotionally invested in my little projects, be they albums, tours, videos... Otherwise it's just too painful when they almost inevitably go off at half-cock. Everything I've done has been perfectly successful within its own sphere but the ones which might have bumped things up a notch kind of haven't. So I try not to get too invested in them.
I have completely failed in this regard this time round. I'm TOTALLY invested in this book because I had to be to get the thing written. But so far the signs are good. They're very good in fact.
So what I'd like to ask is this: If you buy a copy of Terra, and you like it, all I want you to do is persuade ONE friend to do likewise. That's all I need.
I'm doing signings this week in Liverpool, Manchester and London and there will be more in due course; going to try and do some while up in Edinburgh and then maybe fit some in around the Hitch Hiker's touring schedule in the autumn.
I'm on an interesting journey right now and I hope to meet lots of you on the way.
Here's where we're up to.
First of all, an exciting new aspect to the whole project: My author pal Lee "Budgie" Barnett, who some of you may know as the guy who does the Fast Fiction Challenges (give him a title and a spare word to include in the text and he writes a 200 word short story RIGHT THEN) has his own Comic Relief project; he's going to write 24 SHORT STORIES IN 24 HOURS.
We've decided to combine our efforts and so while I'm trying to write and record an album from scratch in one day, Budgie will be trying to write a short story anthology from scratch in one day IN THE SAME ROOM. I hope he has some decent headphones.
You can read up on (and contribute to) Budgie's project here, and feel free to boggle at some of the famous authors he's persuaded to come up with the story titles for him (name dropper).
The venue where all this lunacy will take place is: The Vineyard Community Centre, The Vineyard, Richmond TW10 6AQ.
We'll be starting at 12.30pm on Friday 15th and working through to 12.30 the next day - I know I originally said 9am, but on reflection it occurred to me that the bits people are actually going to want to WATCH are the start and finish line, and one way or another anyone who's up at 9am on a Friday generally has stuff to do...
The whole thing will be live streamed right here at mitchbenn.com.
NOW, there are some favours I'm going to need, and any help would be much appreciated.
SUPPORT CREW - I have a couple of friends and relatives who've already volunteered to pitch in but obviously nobody's available to help for the whole time - life goes on, etc. I'm going to need a couple of spare bodies around to keep an eye on things, make coffee, welcome such people as might turn up to watch, make coffee, make sure the video stream's working, make coffee...
If any of you are able and willing to get to Richmond for any part of that 24 hour period, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and introduce yourselves.
BITS AND PIECES - I have pretty much everything I need technically but there are a few bits and bobs which would make life easier. I could really do with borrowing the following items:
One guitar stand (i've got two; gonna need three)
A sustain pedal for my MIDI keyboard (I'm such a ropey keyboard player I've never felt the need to get one, but if - as may come to pass - I get one of my Actual Keyboard Player friends to overdub my dreadful clonking in the later stages, I should at least have a sustain pedal handy for them to use).
and the big one:
A DECENT BASS GUITAR. The one I've got is pretty beat up and buzzes a bit - it's adequate for my usual needs but I feel I should at least use a noise-free bass for a recording I'm actually going to be selling. Anyone got one I could borrow for a day?
The album will, as previously announced, be available for download from my online music store as soon as possible on Saturday 16th, but you can sponsor me right now if you like.
Finally, as if I didn't have enough going on, I've become a TWITTER MILLION TEAM CAPTAIN. This is a combined Twitter-based effort to raise a million quid by getting celebrity Team Captains (and me) to rally people under their respective banners to raise at least £50 each. If you're doing something for Red Nose Day - or thinking about it - then please add your project to my Twitter Million team.
MY PLAN FOR COMIC RELIEF IS AS FOLLOWS.
I'm going to ATTEMPT to write and record a whole album of comic songs in twenty-four hours, starting at 9am on Red Nose Day (March 15th) and working through the night, delivering the finished product at 9am on Saturday 16th. It should be available for download shortly thereafter.
That's about as far as I've got with the plan... I'm worklng on the logistical end of it right now and I'll update as soon as I have more details.
I'm going to be working in an open space so people can come and watch if they like - although it may be a rather disappointing spectacle, consisting as it will of me staring at my iMac, frowning and drinking coffee - and I'll find a way of live-streaming a webcam feed so the whole thing will be visible online (note to self; DON'T PICK YOUR NOSE).
I have a possible venue in mind already but it's not confirmed yet; meanwhile if you know of anywhere I could do this feel free to tell me about it. The stipulations would be: MUST have wifi, must be insured to have punters coming in and if at all possible should be somewhere within the Richmond/Kingston nexus (I'd like to be close to home if only so I don't have to get up at 6am in order to start at 9).
Once the album's finished I'll upload it to my online music store and obviously all proceeds from download sales will go to Comic Relief. There'll be other ways of raising money with the project; I might get people to sponsor me by the hour and maybe also take cash pledges in return for people giving me ideas and suggestions to work from.
Which leads me to this:
The BIG question - and one which I'd love to hear your ideas on - is this: How do I prove that I'm doing it for real? How do I demonstrate that I'm not just recording stuff which I've "written" previously and memorised?
Those of you who've seen me live will probably have seen me do That Thing I Do where I get suggestions from the audience at the end of part one, write something quickly during the interval and play it at the start of part two. What we need is some way - some VERIFIABLE way - of opening that process up to the public. What I'll need is either enough suggestions for at least ten songs (the album has to come in at over 30 minutes - whether this means ten three minute songs or twelve two and a half minute songs I'll likely decide on the day) or maybe ten/twelve suggested song TITLES. I'll need some way of moderating this so that I can prove that I don't see those suggestions/titles UNTIL 9am ON THE DAY. Any thoughts you might have as to how I can achieve this, please email me at email@example.com...
This isn't a BBC project - so far, they're welcome to jump on board if they like - it's just a ME thing so far. As regards musicians helping out; I'll be playing all the guitars and bass and programming the drums (nae offence Ives, it'll just be quicker that way) but may bring someone in to overdub my crappy keyboard playing in the later stages.
Unless of course there are musicians out there who fancy the idea of rocking up at about 5am to contribute a few licks... God knows there are enough rock stars knocking around in Richmond Upon Thames...
There's even a possibilty of extending the concept to include another challenge, involving something other than music, but I'll be announcing that a bit later...
So that's the plan. Best thing to do is follow me on Twitter (@MitchBenn) for updates, but since most of you will have followed the Twitter link to get here, you know that already...
Meanwhile, seeing as you're here...
MY TOUR'S UP AND RUNNING. Leicester tonight and Barton-On-Humber tomorrow. Since there aren't many midlands/northern gigs on this year's schedule (I know, I know, but as I've explained before it's NOT UP TO ME) I suggest if you're within range of either or both of those DO check 'em out as they may be the only gigs you ARE in range of.
I'm addressing myself now principally to those of you within striking distance of Ham in SW London (where we live) and in particular those of you who are less than obsessed with football.
I myself, as many of you know, am broadly indifferent to football which in this instance is a bit of a bugger as were I NOT indifferent to football I might have known thought to consult the Euro 2012 schedule when programming THIS, the latest in our (heretofore) highly successful series of fundraising comedy gigs at (and in aid of) my kids' school here in Ham.
The night in question, next Tuesday (June 19th) is, I now discover, the night on which England will play their final group match of the Euros; that is to say, the final match they're guaranteed to play, and, if they play the way they usually do on such occasions, the match which will determine whether they get any more matches. It is, in other words, a Big Deal if you like that sort of thing, and a lot of people do.
The usual roster of friends and neighbours who have packed out every previous school comedy night are, as such, proving a little thinner on the ground on this occasion, and fair play to 'em, but it leaves me in a bit of a spot.
The school's worried that attendance will be so low it'll end up losing money on the show which is a bit of a bummer for a fundraising gig. There doesn't appear to be another night I could re-schedule it to (and I'd probably lose the acts in the process, of which more in a minute) so it's basically a question of do we pull it or don't we.
I REALLY DON'T WANT TO PULL IT. I know that football means a lot to people but I also know that there are MANY people who either ignore it when it's on or indeed seek refuge from it, and it's to these people I'm appealing. I'm know there are enough of you within range of this gig to pack it out and I also know you'll have a great time if you come along.
In particular the bill I've got lined up is truly spectacular; I'm MCing, but never mind that, we not only have the delightful Carly Smallman and the terrifyingly cool Nathan Caton, we also have the genuinely legendary BOOTHBY GRAFFOE. I'm SO pleased Boothby agreed to do this (I've been desperately trying to get him on The Distraction Club all year but we haven't managed to make it work yet). The word "genius" gets slung around a lot in comedy, generally without justification but in Boothby's case it barely covers it. He is one of the finest live comedians this country's ever produced and if you haven't heard of him that speaks more to the vagaries, caprices and tortured politics of the comedy business than to the man's talent. Ask any comedy nerd and they'll back me up on this. Boothby's one of the greats.
And WE'VE got him; he doesn't gig that much any more so he's not that easy to see live anywhere, let alone for the ticket price we're charging.
SO HERE'S WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO; if you're free next Tuesday and you fancy seeing a bill the Comedy Store would give its eye teeth to put on at about a third of what it costs to GO to the Comedy Store, then please click on the tickets link or call the school (0208 940 7911) to book tickets RIGHT AWAY. If I can get a big enough block of tickets shifted in the next day or so to allay their fears that this one's gonna be empty, then we can go ahead as planned.
Don't miss this opportunity to see a terrific bill in a friendly place and at a knock-down price - and help me out in the process...
BTW Ham is a bit out of the way but it's an early start (7.45; EXACTLY the same kick off as the football *facepalm*) so we'll be done easily in time to catch buses and tubes home. If you need any clues as to how to get to and from the venue mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Realise this blog isn't anything as like as busy as it used to be; I'm guessing the reason no-one's complaining much is that you're all following me on Twitter anyway. Thing is, occasionally I have something to say to you all (and indeed to y'all) which needs more than 140 characters or even one of those annoying sequences of 140 character bursts, and this is such an occasion so Your Attention Please...
Through no fault of anyone in particular, a bit of a crisis has arisen in my affairs - those of you who are now devotees of The Distraction Club (and scarcely have devotees been more devoté) will have figured out that its usual First Tuesday Of The Month pattern will bring the club back to The Phoenix on Tuesday November 1st.
The TROUBLE is that, just four days later on Saturday November 5th, we (that is to say the band and I) are doing our once-yearly Big Deal London show at the Bloomsbury.
I'm coming under a LOT of pressure to cancel the Distraction Club. I'd really rather not and besides which it isn't even entirely up to me. The Club is jointly organised by the three band members and our pal Matt Blair; the most I could do unilaterally would be to pull out of that Tuesday's D-Club show and leave them to muddle through without me. While I have no doubt that they COULD muddle through without me, I can't help feeling that this wouldn't help, as a Distraction Club sans me is every bit as likely or unlilkely to impinge upon the box office for the Bloomsbury gig as one WITH me (if nothing else because I'm not sure how clear we could make my non-involvement to prospective club-goers).
My own take on it is that I'm not convinced that The Distraction Club going ahead on the Tuesday WILL massively impact on attendance at the Bloomsbury on the Saturday, but obviously I can't prove this from here and hence the pressure being brought to bear upon me right now.
Which is where you guys come in.
The only way I can calm everybody down and proceed as normal will be if everyone who is CONTEMPLATING buying tickets for the Bloomsbury show does so AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Here's the link to the ticket site. Did you get that? Just in case, here it is again.
If I can get enough people to pre-book for the Bloomsbury show as to assuage the anxieties currently being rather forcefully expressed to me, then maybe I can go ahead with the Distraction Club as planned WITHOUT spending the next however many months having to avoid people.
There is an additional problemette; the date of the Bloomsbury show is not just November 5th, it's SATURDAY November 5th. As my limey readers will know (and I'm guessing that's most of you) the big November firework displays are always on either the 5th itself or on the Saturday nearest to the 5th and this is BOTH. I appreciate this might make that night a complete write-off for anyone with kids (or indeed anyone who like fireworks, and who doesn't). I reckon that if we DO get a poor turnout for the Bloomsbury show it'll be at least as much down to this factor as to anything else I'm doing that week, but human nature being what it is I know I'm going to have a hard time convincing anyone of this. So if you would have liked to come to the Bloomsbury show but can't because of firework commitments, could you do me a favour and email me to tell me so? I may need some testimonials. Only if that REALLY is the case, mind you. Don't make stuff up, I'll know...
Hey, that wasn't so hard. Maybe I'll try to blog on a more regular basis again. As you were...
Two new projects!
Firstly, I've started a new podcast!
I'm quite pleased with how quickly I've managed to get this together; literally a few days ago I thought it might be fun to start a podcast showcasing the work of newish or jobbing comic songwriters; I put the word out on Twitter that i was lookng for submissions and within about 48 hours I had enough for two or three shows. Fantastic.
The podcast itself is up here and should turn up on iTunes in due course; meanwhile if you or someone you know have some funny songs you'd lie to me consider including, there are a couple of stipulations:
You MUST own the copyright in the song, or have the EXPRESS permission of whoever does own the copyright. And if the copyright is split between more than one person - if there are co-writers, or if the writer has a publishing deal - ALL interested parties must give their consent to my using the song. This also means I can't play any Weird Al-style reworded versions of other people's hits. Tune and words have to be original.
There's no minimum recording standard; if the song's good enough I'm happy to play it even if the sound quality's a bit ropey.
We're not on the radio now, so sweariness is not really an issue.
There's no money in this, for me or anyone else. The idea is for comic songwriters to get their work out there to (I hope) a decent online audience.
Send mp3s - or links to where I can get mp3s - to email@example.com
Good that's that. And now the other thing:
Starting on April 5 I and my pals The Distractions will be hosting a regular evening of music and comedy at The Phoenix in Cavendish Square, London. The club will be called Sing When You're Grinning and I'm just sorting out the line-up for the first show. I'll put details up here as & when. I'm really excited about this as it's something I've been contemplating for quite some time and it's great that it's going ahead.
Right, if I'm about to generate some traffic onto this site for the first time in months I'd better update my giglist...
Ok, here's the plan.
Anyone who wants to help out with and/or be in the video for my new single PROUD OF THE BBC should turn up in front of BBC Broadcasting House tomorrow (Sunday 3rd) at 11am.
If you're not sure where that is, it's here. Nearest tubes are Oxford Circus and Regent's Park.
The plan is to shoot in front of BH for a couple of hours (or until they tell us to bugger off) and then move on to BBC TV in White City for some time after lunch (probably 2 or 3pm - sorry I can't be more precise but that's the nature of guerilla film-making).
I'm sorry but I can't pay anyone's transport costs or even buy you lunch (I could offer to do so if I knew for a fact that only three of you were coming but if I make that promise now and 200 of you turn up I'm going to look a bit stupid. And poor); this is strictly a for-laughs deal I'm afraid, but I'm hoping it'll be a fun day and produce something worthwhile.
There's no age-limit either way but if you are thinking of bringing kids along do bear in mind how much standing around doing nothing there is on a film shoot. Also it goes without saying that anyone who's normally your responsibility to look after is STILL your responsibility... MY kids will be there so who knows they may form a little gang...
We're hoping to create a cross-section-of-the-public effect so if you have any sort of work clothes or uniform it might help if you wore that (sorry if the idea of wearing your work clothes on a Sunday offends you). Similarly if you have a particular "look" (Goth, Metalhead, Hip-Hop etc.) feel free to give it full expression.
While I'm here I should give you a bit of background as to the song itself, so you know what you're getting involved with.
As most of you know, I've been doing work for the BBC for a decade or so, but I've been a staunch supporter and fan of the Corporation since long before I ever had any connection to it, and I get quite nervous - and more than a little angry - when the knives come out for the BBC, as they very much have been of late. It's particularly annoying since the Beeb, as a public service broadcaster which is (in effect if not strictly technically) more or less publically funded, is never in a position to defend itself, even against its most partisan critics.
So I thought I'd write something which expresses how I feel, and how I believe a fair majority of the British public feel, not that you'd ever know it from reading the papers (who, needless to say, have their own entirely selfish reasons for wanting rid of the BBC). I wrote this song, Proud Of The BBC, and we've been doing it on our current tour. The response the song's been getting has taken me completely by surprise (standing ovations, people wiping away tears) and I've realised I may actually have started a bit of a "movement" here, so we've decided the song has to come out as a single, and that means making a video.
I might add that all this has been decided in the space of the last week or so, hence the panic and disorganisation, but that's how I roll, generally speaking...
Just thought I'd better fill you in on all that; so if you feel how I feel, that the BBC, while imperfect, is one of the things that makes life in Britain bearable and occasionally wonderful, and that it needs to be celebrated and defended, then I'll see you tomorrow morning.
Oh yeah - bring brollies. Weather looks perfidious but that's ok; there's even a line in the song about lousy British weather.
The kind of apology I ought to make for the extraordinary length of time that's elapsed since my last entry (no, don't scroll down and check the date, I'm so ashamed... oh too late) will frankly a. take all night and b. completely ruin the mood, so can we just take it as read that I'm sorry?
You want to hear me say it, don't you. Fine.
I'M SORRY. There. Happy now?
There are of course all sorts of reasons and excuses for why I've been away for so long, some more valid than others; I'm currently feeling Not Altogether Well for the second time in about six weeks, which truly sucks and is NOT like me.
I've also been beavering away at a composition job; it's a pitch, an audition if you will, for a project I may well not get but it was so interesting having to raise my game and take some actual TIME over something (I had six weeks to work with rather than my customary 36 hours and/or 15 minutes that it'll still have been worthwhile even if I don't. Not AS worthwhile, but worthwhile *crosses fingers, fdinds itg imopdssioble tyo tpyoe wiutyh foinghers croisdsed, uncxroisses tyhem. Phew*
Anyway, now I'm back and I promise I'll try to keep this place a bit more up to date (look! I updated the gigs page and everything!). iPhone-based blogging is intermittently successful, so whenever it is I'll try to hammer one out with those RIDICULOUS LITTLE PRETEND KEYS (the iPhone is a gorgeous piece of kit though; look at its little homescreen blinking away, aw honey I can't stay mad at you).
Be seeing you (did you see The Prisoner on Saturday? I liked it but I can see why people didn't. And leading into it with Britain's Got Talent was just plain cruel; any BGT viewer who stuck around for The Pris would have had a nosebleed in five minutes and an aneurysm in ten).