I was compering a big gig in a tent in Bristol tonight and as I had a hotel sorted for me and no programmes to bring along I got the train. I drive nearly everywhere these days which means I see very little of a town apart from the venue and the hotel. You see a bit of the town if you go by rail.
And it's a long time since I have walked through Bristol Temple Meads and walking through the underground tunnel took me back to the mid-80s and heading off on trips to exciting foreign places or for University interviews. The walls echo with the excitement and dread that I felt going out into the world on my own for the first time. Sometimes these timequakes disconcert and upset me, but I liked it today. I thought about the inter-railing and the hitchhiking and the packet of cigarettes I bought at a railway station on my way back from a University interview. I only smoked for about a week and even though I was old enough to be allowed to buy fags I still felt naughty as I surreptitiously smoked a couple sitting in an underpass at a station like this one. I don't think I enjoyed them very much (given I didn't take it up as a pastime) and didn't make it through my packet of 10. But I suppose it was still an important rite of passage. And this station was the starting point (or the first change if I'd got a train from Weston-Super-Mare) of adventures and foolishness and the feeling that my life was about to begin.
I must have been back here a few times since then (I didn't drive until well into my 30s and I remember I had an argument with my girlfriend of a decade or so ago whilst in Cheddar and she drove off in a huff meaning my mum had to humiliatingly drive me to Temple Meads so I could get home - that's probably the last time I was here) but it is those days when I would set off with my Karrimore rucksack that have seeped into these walls and which emerged today and made me smile.
And then how wonderful it was to walk through Bristol (a town that I totally love) in the sunshine. It wasn't just the novelty of having sun on my skin that filled me with endorphins. I was happy to be here and looking forward to the gig. I also like the fact that there are decorated statues of Gromit from Wallace and Gromit all over town. What could better encapsulate the spirit of this city?
And after a couple of gigs that have shaken my confidence tonight was a delight. There were 1400 Bristolians in the tent and they were up for laughs right from the start and I had fun playing with them. I opened with a joke about Cheddar being referred to as Incester (a tightly-knot community) which was made up (I think by Stew) in 1988 and which I used to do in my first stand-up set. And then I asked the audience if they'd like to hear another of my first jokes and they did. It was "My father was the world's first no-armed, no-legged pianist. As he always loved to quip, "I like to play by ear"..... which wasn't very funny because he didn't have a head either." I think I wrote that one at school. And the audience were so good-natured that they laughed more at the rubbish pun than my subversion of it. But I can't imagine many gigs where I'd feel comfortable enough to try such a move so early on.
There was a great atmosphere amongst the acts and back-stage crew and we sat in the evening sunshine watching Andy Murray playing tennis (remarkably using my iPhone and 3G - what a world this has become. Could the 1985 Richard Herring imagine that?) whilst the gig played on. I rolled out a few old favourites, massively enjoying being able to play to a crowd of this size. Bristol with its fibreglass Gromits must be the best city in the world. I don't think there's anywhere that I like playing more. But I'll probably say something different tomorrow.
I did have a slightly horrific moment as I came to introduce the headliner Mark Watson. As I was starting the sentence, "Please welcome..." my brain was lining up to say the words Mark Thomas and just as I got to the Mark bit I realised that was not who I was meant to be introducing, but I couldn't for the life of me think of the name of the big local comedian who all these people had come to see. This could be an utter disaster. But luckily the name Watson flew into my mouth almost before my brain dredged it up. I had had a couple of beers.
Even though I am trying not to drink too much I had a few more beers after the show and lots of laughs, before stumbling back past pissing Bristol men to my hotel.
Another great day to add to my Bristol-based memories. Wonder if I will recall it in 2043.