Sunday, 6 April 2008

Ed Byrne/Maxwell's Fullmooners - The Church on the Hill, Glasgow, 21/03/2008

Reviewing these two shows as a single entity seems like a logical decision. They were advertised together as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, with a discount for buying tickets for both, they were in the same venue, one after the other, and Ed Byrne was involved in both.

As a venue, the Church on the Hill had its advantages and its disadvantages. A big old converted chapel, with a high roof, stone walls, booming echoey acoustics and a generally gloomy atmosphere, it was, in a way, the perfect location for a Fullmooners show, although less so for Byrne’s solo appearance. However, it was also bitterly cold inside, was a lengthy trek away from the city centre, had awkward door arrangements and officious staff, and being in a residential area, was subject to strict regulations about how long it could stay open. All of these things made it overall probably a quite poor choice by the promoters to mount the shows there.

The result was that, arriving half an hour before showtime for the first of the two performances, we were left standing outside on a cold night until ten minutes before the scheduled start, whereupon it took around 45 minutes to get the full queue of audience inside resulting in the show itself beginning around 40 minutes late. Which would not have been a problem, had the same procedure exactly not been followed for the second show, even though there was a gap of well over an hour between the two, plenty of time for one audience to be moved out and the next moved in. Instead, those who had booked tickets for both were left standing around, refused permission even to queue up to re-enter, were subject to another late show, and were then effectively denied their money’s worth when the show was forced to end earlier than it should have by fact that the venue had no license to stay open.

All in all, it could hardly have been more of a shambles. So thank heavens the comedy was good, because with the paying public having been treated so badly, it would have been very easy for the whole night to fall as flat as a pancake.

Ed Byrne, of course, was always going to be a huge draw for the crowds. An instantly recognisable face from his many television appearances, there was not a single spot in the venue left unoccupied with even the standing areas packed to bursting point. Byrne has made something of a trademark of pedantic humour, with most people first becoming aware of him through his classic dissection of Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic.” These day’s he seems to be more into movies, with his last tour focussing on the Michael Douglas film “Falling Down,” and this show taking a long hard look at the super-intelligent shark flick “Deep Blue Sea.”

Aside from that, with his quick-fire delivery he tackles a whole host of subjects over the course of the hour, the most in-depth being his forthcoming wedding, and the planning thereof, and more to the point the expense of the planning thereof. He also has a chance to delve into a spot of nostalgia, having attended University in Glasgow, giving him another opportunity to let his pedantic nature run amok on the slogans and banners which used to adorn his Student’s Union.

With Byrne you are always in a safe pair of hands, and the audience lapped it up. My only real criticism would be that the one hour running time seemed rather short given that, unlike the Edinburgh Fringe, there should have been no real time restriction on the show. However, given what would happen later, perhaps that was all for the best.

Maxwell’s Fullmooners has become something of a cult phenomenon since its first appearance on the comedy scene in 2005. Hosted by Byrne’s good friend and fellow regular on Irish TV’s “The Panel,” Andrew Maxwell, it is a late night with comedy, music and breakdancing, and audience participation in the form of howling at the moon, usually best enjoyed whilst in a state of mild inebriation. Part of the charm of the show is the apparent chaotic nature of proceedings, however it can rarely, if ever, have ended in quite so shambolic a manner as on this particular occasion.

Taking to the stage, after inadvertently locking himself into the backstage area, in his customary Dracula cloak, Maxwell himself spends the opening of the show whipping up the audience into a frenzy with his usual hyperactive Irish charm while bantering away with co-organiser Sir Tim Fitzhigham. Having seen rather a lot of the man in the past year or so, much of his performance was familiar, but for anyone who has been following him they might like to know that an ending to the “playing a show for the provisional IRA” saga has moved on a chapter and may be coming to a BBC screen near you sooner rather than later.

The first guest act on the night was Stu Who? Something of an legend on the Scottish comedy scene, and now a regular on the Jongleurs circuit, Stu could best be described as the angry old man of comedy. With jet black dyed quiff and dark glasses, he prowls the stage, laying into the younger audience members as he reels off a monologue on the advantages of growing old disgracefully. Approaching sixty, he has energy that would put much younger comics to shame, and the ability to build an almost instant rapport with his audience, and sets the night up nicely.

After the customary song from ethereal ukulele player Lady Carol of the Moon, on this occasion essaying us with Radiohead’s Creep, and a turn from the energetic Zoo Nation Breakdancing Crew, the second comic on the bill is a slightly strange choice. Billed only as “Not Billy Connolly,” he took to the stage in an obviously fake wig and proceeded to perform with all his namesake’s tics and mannerisms, he performed a set based mostly around the experience of touring Northern Ireland as part of a band during the troubles. The problem was, it was performed in such a way as to assume audience familiarity with the situation, and I simply found the whole thing slightly confusing, and not a little offputting.

Now here’s where things started to unravel, because by now it was five to one in the morning, and at this point it transpired that the venue was only allowed to continue operating until one, and the police were outside insisting the show come to an end. And so matters became highly chaotic, with Sir Tim and promoter Alan Anderson rushing in and out, trying to convince them to allow things to continue, while hasty messages were relayed to the stage, and Byrne, who had been advertised as the star attraction, being rushed on to perform as hastily as possible so as not to let the punters down.

Byrne managed to perform for ten minutes or so, but matters were clearly coming to a head, with threats of arrests being made, Maxwell trying to storm through it as if nothing was happening, Sir Tim trying to keep control of matters and Anderson looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights, eventually a compromise was reached that Lady Carol could perform one last song while everyone was leaving, but of course nobody moved and instead the night ended in a mass singalong of “Ring of Fire” performed with something of a blitz spirit while the police threatened to turn off the power.

So a strange night, all in all, and not one that went exactly the way it could have been expected. But not one that anyone present is likely to forget in a hurry. And having spoken to Stu Who? about it since, he made the point that in a way, there could be no more perfect ending to a Fullmooners show, than in chaos with everybody linking arms and singing Johnny Cash while the bizzies tried to arrest us for smiling without a license.


Ben said...

Sounds utterly chaotic - but, as you say, at least it was memorable!

Anonymous said...

That Maxwell boy is a Star.He needs a wider audiance.