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 performance out of it. After a couple of try-out gigs I’m pleased to say that this looks likely. The first, organised by comedy writer Dave Cohen, took place at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden, where my performance was enhanced by the sound of beer bottles being tossed into crates, as mentioned in this review by chortle.co.uk’s Steve Bennett:
“This is John Dowie's first gig in 14 years, and it's a low-key affair in the basement of a Central London poetry cafe. It's a small venue whose staff, inappropriately enough, seem averse to the very idea of spoken word, given the Niagara of bottles being tipped away upstairs. And continents have shifted with less fuss than the furniture being moved around. 'I've played punk clubs quieter than this,' Dowie sardonically notes.
That's his sense of humour: Downbeat. Underdog. Brummie. He played the punk clubs back in the day because he was a comedian before 'being a comedian' was much of a thing, certainly outside of the 'take my mother-in-law' club circuit.”
Steve goes on to say
“He's charting some recollections of these days of the 1970s and 1980s in a new memoir.
We learn from one extract that he was inspired to become a comedian after seeing Spike Milligan in his absurdist post-apocalyptic masterpiece The Bed Sitting Room in Wolverhampton, hanging around the stage door afterwards for a fleeting encounter with his new hero that would stay with him forever.
After a young lifetime hitherto defined by Ambition crushed with the phrase 'it can't be done' – how stark a contrast with contemporary generations forever being told they achieve be whatever their dreams desire – the evening was a revelation. Dowie soon found himself gigging as a comedian, lugging around a battered suitcase of props that attracted the attention of Her Majesty's customs officials.
He joined a band, too, recalling the rock and roll excesses of trashing a dressing room after a vodka-fuelled gig where he was given the immortal ultimatum: 'They say they'll pay you if you keep your underpants on.'
These stories are extreme, but it's the wit in the details that makes them so funny. His descriptions tease out the comic tension, bringing out the absurdity, often at his own expense.
There's poignancy, too. After doing so much in his career, he decided to quit after finding he was left with 'no aspirations of any kind' and instead dedicated himself to his other great love: drinking. He finally rose from this self-imposed slump after finding a new addiction in cycling. A trip to the Continent provides cause for both reflection, with a visit to a war cemetery, and slapstick, as he tries to dispel an unwanted erection during a visit to an attractive chiropractor.
Judging from these extracts, The Freewheeling John Dowie will be a delightful and droll collection of anecdotes from an offbeat life, sure to amuse. That they contain an insight into the pre-comedy circuit world of entertainment is only a bonus.”
The second performance was in my old home town of Brighton. Many old home town faces were to be seen and very welcome they were too. The gig was organised by the dapper David Olrod, a founder member of Stomp and an old friend. No review from the Brighton show but a good feeling was engendered by a warm and welcoming crowd leading me to feel optimistic about a Freewheeling theatrical future.
And if anyone's hankering after a bike ride of their own, let me recommend a just completed ride through the Vale of Pewsey. I began in Bristol, took an off-road cycle path to Bath, then on through rolling hills and quiet lanes to Bradford-on-Avon. I found a B&B before spending the next day cycling to nearby Trowbridge, where I rode along the Kennet & Avon canal (home to 29 separate locks so plenty of schadenfreude fun to be had watching narrow-boaters traversing those). That took me to Devizes then on to Newbury where I took an exhausted train home. My plan is to return to Newbury and ride to London via Reading, alongside the river Thames. Perhaps I’ll see you there.
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