The Freewheeling John Dowie
By John Dowie
A memoir about cycling and stand-up comedy
Publication date: Spring 2018
Delivered to your door plus a story
Live in your living room
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If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake. In 1972 there were no comedy clubs, no comedy agents and no comedy future. There was, however, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I went there that year, making my professional debut and getting my first review, a bad one. (“Fatuous”. The Scotsman.) But a bad review was hardly surprising. Comedy requires practice and, with venues being almost non-existent, practice was hard to find. But I persevered, doing gigs where I could, in folk clubs, music venues, fringe theatres, universities and rooms above a pub. Things improved. By the end of the decade, I was working regularly and earning a living. In the 1980s, “alternative comedy” arrived. With it came more gigs, more money and a lot more comedians. By the 1990s, comedy was big business and about to get even bigger. It was then, with impeccable comedy timing, that I packed it all in.
It was as though my departure was just the break that comedy was waiting for. No sooner had I stopped, than comedians were earning vast amounts of money performing in venues the size of small countries. I, meanwhile, was in a different sort of venue – a one-man tent. How did this happen? Simple. It happened because (as caring professionals have told me) I have an addictive personality. This doesn’t mean, as I assumed, that once you get to know me you find me endlessly fascinating. No, it means that once I get hold of something I like, I do it to death. Which is what happened when I bought a bike.
Oh yes, I thought I could handle it. I’ll just have the occasional ride, I told myself. Perhaps at weekends. Or to unwind after a stressful day. What a joke. Soon I was having bike rides before breakfast. Then I was riding my bike virtually every minute of every day. It got worse. The more bike rides I did, the more bike rides I wanted to do. Soon I was craving longer and longer journeys, friends, family and work all forgotten. In a very short while I had sold my flat, bought a tent, and was riding my bike all the time. Which is why, as former friends and contemporaries dined at the Ivy, I ate beans from a camping stove; as they drank sophisticated cocktails at the Groucho, I drank wine from a plastic mug; as they snorted heaps of cocaine, I rubbed liniment into my legs. The question, though, is this: which of us was the happier? And the answer is: them. Obviously.
I should make it clear that the bike rides I go on are not the kind enjoyed by the shave-your-legs-and-dress-yourself-in-Lycra sort of cyclist. I’ve got nothing against these people, but they’re not my kind of cyclist. My kind of cyclist tends to be either very old or very young, on rusty boneshakers or bicycles with training wheels, and they only have one thing in common: overtaking me on a regular basis. This is because I cycle more like a snail than a man, creaking along, my world on my back (or, rather, my bicycle’s back), with no idea of where I’m going or how to get there. Which explains the slow pace. I mean, if you don’t know where you’re going, why rush?
This book is not just about my life as a cyclist. It’s also about my life as a comedian. In one of those lives, starting off slowly then going rapidly downhill is a good thing. In the other, it’s not. It would have been nice if, just once, I’d got them the right way round. Like my bike rides, this book meanders from place to place, sometimes takes a wrong turn and occasionally gets lost. Which may not be a bad thing. If it wasn’t for getting lost we’d never know where we’re supposed to be. Or so I like to tell myself. All the bloody time.
It’s also a book that has no ending; at least, given that it’s the story of my life so far, I hope it hasn’t. I hope there are still a few more bike rides left: a few more hills to climb, a few more lanes to get lost in. But this is my journey so far. I hope you enjoy the ride. I did.
Quick select rewards
Comedian, poet, playwright, musician, actor, director, author. These are just a few of the words that John Dowie is able to spell. He began performing comedy in 1969, turning professional in 1972. Through the latter part of the 70s he worked with musicians, recording for Factory Records and Virgin, returning to solo comedy in the 1980s before stopping in 1995. After that, he worked as a director and wrote for radio and TV as well as the theatre, most notably Jesus My Boy, which was performed in the West End by Tom Conti and has since been translated and performed around the world. He also wrote a play for children, Dogman, which was issued on CD by Laughing Stock records and as a book by BBC Worldwide. In 2005 he decided to retire from theatrical work of any kind and went off with a bike and a tent. And now he’s back.
Many stories begin when the hero or the heroine enters a new reality and their lives are changed forever. It might be Alice falling down a rabbit hole, Mole abandoning his spring cleaning and heading for the river, or Lucy stepping through a wardrobe. My new bike didn’t lead me into Wonderland or Narnia or happy encounters with Toads and Badgers. But it did take me to a Sussex graveyard where I awoke just before dawn with my underpants on my head.
- 21st December 2017 Update Nine
I've been told that some sort of festivity is about to take place, followed not long afterwards by the death of the old year and the birth of the new. So, before all that happens, let me sincerely say I Hope You All Have a Wonderful Time During Whichever Holiday You Celebrate and (once again) Thank You All Very Much for Your Contribution to my Forthcoming (February!) Book.
And so,…30th October 2017 A Little Story To Keep Us Going Till The Book Gets Here
There’s a band called Supercharge who used to perform a delightful song entitled, “She Moved The Dishes First”, based on the joke: “My bird’s really posh.” “What makes you think so?” “When she has a piss in the sink, she moves the dishes first.”
The leader of that band, Albie Donnelly, is easily one of the finest men I have ever met. I was introduced to him in the early 80s…11th October 2017 Update Eight
My apologies for the long (and uncharacteristic) silence, which I can now break having received the artwork I’ve been waiting for.
My idea for a cover was to parody the Bob Dylan album of a similar title, only instead of Bob and his then muse Suzie Rotolo strolling through the streets of Greenwich Village, it would be me (photoshopped presumably) pushing my bike through the same streets. I mentioned…24th July 2017 Me & My Band
Mr John Dowie & the Big Girls Blouse was a band comprised of me (lead vocals and Stylophone); Dick Nelson (guitar and arguments); Jim Bates (drums and one-liners ); Rob the Roadie (roadie); several bass players (none of whom ever seemed to fit in); and John Mostyn, administrator/manager, who later went on to administrate/manage lesser Brummie bands such as the Beat and Fine Young Cannibals.…8th June 2017 Me and a Beautiful Bonzo
A guitarist friend of mine once told me a story that made me ache with jealousy. He was in his late teens and on the hippy trail, hitching his way around the usual Far Eastern localities. “What did you do about places to stay?” I asked. “Oh,” said my friend, “I’d walk into the village square, someone would be playing, I’d take out my guitar and join in, and then I’d have a bed for the night and…24th May 2017 Update Seven
I am pleased to say that the editor that Unbound assigned me delivered an impressive series of incisive thoughts. The manuscript has been massively improved. It's now in the hands of a copy editor meaning, I hope, that unwanted apostrophe's, spelling erors, meaningless commas; semi-colons, and stray and unwanted punctuation; will all be ruthlessly excised?!!!!
The passing…4th April 2017 Update Six
I'm pleased to say that an editor has been appointed to work on my book who, apparently, is a "very experienced, non-fiction specialist, particularly good on narrative and voice, who is assessing it from a development and structural perspective, and will respond with an annotated manuscript and a set of general notes, observations and suggestions". Which is excellent news, especially given my belief…12th March 2017 LOST WITHOUT WORDS: Improvising Actors & Women’s Warmth.
In the early 1980s, when I was performing comedy and venues were scarce, I would sometimes book myself into short runs in various fringe theatres. One of them was the Finborough, a tiny room above a pub in Earls Court. At that time the theatre was run by Mike McCormack, along with assistant director, Nina Grahame. I became friends with them both, so much so that when Mike told me about a…20th February 2017 JACK TINKER, DOGMAN & ME.
Jack Tinker was the most rare of all rare creatures – a theatre critic who was loved by the people he criticised; so much so that, following his death in October 1996, the lights of West End theatres were dimmed in his honour. Two memorial concerts were performed on his behalf: one at the London Palladium, the other in his hometown of Brighton.
One of the Brighton performers was Victor…18th January 2017 Update Five
Not much news as of yet - the editorial process has begun and I'm looking forward to incisive criticism (from the editor) and childish petulance (from the author). Meanwhile, here's another story (not in the book).
THE ONE-EYED ARTIST & THE HARLEM BAR
Gary Turner was an artist, a musician, a boozer and a friend. Splashing paint on canvas was, I think, the thing that gave Gary the…9th December 2016 100%
It's done! My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed, especially those who gave so freely of their time, tweeting, emailing, pleading and cajoling until the world caved in and we reached our target. More news will follow. As will a book. Exciting!30th November 2016 When I was a Kid (2). An Excerpt From "Brummie", A Poem.
on Saturday mornings
we went to the flicks
(we never said pictures.
we went to the flicks)
if we wanted to go to the flicks
we could go to
the ABC Moseley
or the Imperial
and we could see
and a serial
and what we loved best
was the serial
the serial was great
the hero got trapped…30th November 2016 When I Was A Kid (1)
When I was a kid, Saturday morning cinema shows were a highlight of my life. There would be a feature film of some kind, cartoons, and a black & white serial, my favourite part of the programme. Some of the serials I saw included Zorro, The Phantom, a never ending series of incredibly crummy Flash Gordon films, and the very wonderful Batman serials, two of them, still the best ever portrayal of the…24th November 2016 A Bookshop & A Podcast
Anyone in the Clapham area of London is invited to come along to http://www.claphambooks.com/ where myself and author/comedian Dave Cohen will be reading our respective works, tonight (24th November) at 8. 00. For those who prefer tb be entertained at home, I can be heard chatting with the very lovely Robin Ince and Josie Long at http://cosmicgenome.com/shambles/.17th November 2016 Peter Cook. Born this day, 17th November, 1937. A tiny tribute
Random Thoughts On Peter Cook.
He used to wear
And Chelsea boots
Beyond the Fringing
Cocking a snooting
Putting the boot in
Elegant & slim & thinning
Liked a glass of Gordon’s ginning
Bet he got an awful lot of what we might call…31st October 2016 The Great London Book Tour
I will be reading extracts from ‘The Freewheeling John Dowie’ in a double bill with comedian/writer/musician Dave Cohen. The readings will begin with Dave performing his show “Music Was My First Love” at 8. 00. I’ll follow him at 8. 45.
Here are the dates and the venues:.
Big Green Bookshop Wood Lane, North London on Thursday November 10th at 8. 00.
Big Green Bookshop
Unit 1, Brampton…18th October 2016 POKING LOU REED IN THE BACK (another story not used in my book)
I was never a fan of the Velvet Underground, nor of Lou Reed, until around 1990, when he collaborated with John Cale on ‘Songs for Drella’, a tribute to Andy Warhol. During that time, he released two other albums, ‘New York’ and ‘Magic and Loss’, both of which I played to death, enjoying one song in particular, “Warrior King’, a song in which Lou Reed declared that, if he had the power, there…30th September 2016 Another unused story - the Cruelty of Children & The Showbiz Ego
The showbiz ego is a frail and a fragile thing. You’d think our children would take note of that, and keep their unwanted opinions to themselves. But no.
Towards the end of my comedy career I had made a pilot programme for the BBC. Thinking he might enjoy it, I decided to show it to my six-year old son. After less than a minute he turned to me and said, “Would you mind if I went away and did something…19th September 2016 Me and Marc Bolan (another story not in the book)
Marc Bolan died on September 16th, 1977. He was 29. Most people, when you say his name, will probably think of the curly-haired leader of T. Rex, originator of glam rock, enthusiastic Rider of White Swans and proponent of Hot Love. I enjoyed that particular incarnation but the one I’m more fond of is an earlier one – one in which Marc Bolan sat cross-legged on the floor, strumming an acoustic guitar…8th September 2016 Another story (not in the book)
FOLLOWING THE POLICE
It’s 1979. I’m in a toilet in Clapham Junction, looking at a wall on which various people have scrawled the names of various groups: The Jam, The Clash, The Pretenders, and so on. Amongst the list of names someone has written, “The Police (the band)”.
About a year before this, I’d done three tours as the “special guest” of Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, a comedy-rock band…2nd September 2016 Some Stories
I have begun sharing stories (not in the book) on Facebook & Twitter. Here are the first two:
1. ALMOST A KEN CAMPBELL STORY.
SCENE: THE OLD VIC THEATRE. KEN CAMPBELL'S COMEDY IMPRO WORKSHOP. KEN HAS HAD TO GO AWAY. IN CHARGE OF SOME TERRIFIED ACTORS ARE ME & MY GOOD FRIEND, THE ACTOR MAC MACDONALD.
ME & MAC: So. Let's try doing a scene in ... oh, let's see .... a chemist's?
TWO TERRIFIED…15th August 2016 Update Four
The unimaginable (to me, anyway) has happened. Thanks to old mate David Olrod I have been dragged, blushing and simpering, into the 21st Century and the world of social media, i.e., Twitter (which I quite like) and Facebook (not so keen). Old friends have sprung from the Facebook woodwork, not the least of whom is musician Jim Bates, former drummer in my "comedy rock band" the Big Girls Blouse, and…12th July 2016 Update Three
It’s been a while since I poked around in the gloomy recesses of my shed (partly because I’ve been away riding my bike) so here I am, covered in cobwebs, clutching some sort of garden implement – the function of which I have no knowledge of – with a quick note to let you know what I’ve been up to.
One of my ambitions, once the book is published, is to see if I can wring some sort of theatrical…8th June 2016 A Brighton Gig/A Small Splash
I am reading extracts from The Freewheeling John Dowie on June 16th at the Old Market in Brighton & Hove, courtesy of local impresario Mr David Olrod. I will be joined by multi-instrumentalist Charlotte Glasson. Full details can be found here http://theoldmarket.com/shows/john-dowie/. I’ve also been honoured with a story in the Tunbridge Wells Times, which in no way makes my toes curl with horror…1st June 2016 A Message From Alan Moore
That fabulous fabulist Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Halo Jones and much more, including the keenly anticipated novel Jerusalem (bigger tha the Bible apparently) was given a draft copy of my book and very kindly wrote the following:
“John Dowie is the archaeopteryx of alternative comedy, in that the fossil record makes no sense without him. Now, with The Freewheeling John Dowie…11th May 2016 An Interview
Those who like to listen to clapped-out former comedians banging on and on about themselves for what seems like hours can do so by going to http://tinyurl.com/zfw2r9s. The interview is conducted by Martin Walker for broadwaybaby.com and he is a very pleasant, witty and articulate man. When he can get a word in.3rd May 2016 A GIG
“It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”
On May 19th at I will be performing a thirty-minute extract from “The Freewheeling John Dowie” at the Poetry Café (in London’s Covent Garden) as the special guest of comedy stalwart DAVE COHEN.
Dave is a writer, comedian, Perrier nominee, a founder member of the Comedy Store Players and has written for many shows including Have I Got News For…8th April 2016 Update Two
John Fleming, comedy entrepeneur, blogger and keeper of the Malcolm Hardee flame has written a nice piece...7th April 2016 Update One
I am thrilled and heartened by the number of responses and pledges I’ve received so far. Thank you all very much. (If I know you and you haven’t received my personal thanks it’s because (a) I don’t have your email address and (b) I don’t do Twitter because (c) I drink.)
What began as a joyous deluge has now become a (perhaps) more realistic trickle. I am hoping now that word-of-mouth…
These people are helping to fund The Freewheeling John Dowie.
Bryan Lock Smith