Thorncliffe – Cokey Falkow, Phil Reid, Bambam Shaikh, Ian Cognito and Gareth Berliner (MC)

I’ve made it a rule to write up my review as soon as I get in; however, by the time I got in last night I had a thumping headache and simply wouldn’t have been able to do anyone justice. Hence a write up this morning.
Last night I was in Thorncliffe, near Sheffield for FAF Promotions gig there. The line up was very impressive, with Cokey Falkow, Bambam Shaikh, Phil Reid and a certain Ian Cognito headlining. This is also a very nice room to be in, with a crowd well disposed to comedy. At first glance, a sports and social club in a tough district of Sheffield doesn’t sound that promising a venue, but the crowd are lovely. They are really into having a laugh and are far from a constant battle to hold – I wish all audiences were like this. Last night it was the Halloween Special, so the room was decorated in some style, the stage cobwebbed, a smoke machine used, with appropriate lighting and sounds, courtesy of Stoney on electrics. The net result was a very nice atmosphere, which was a bonus to our MC, Mr Gareth Berliner.
Berliner had a good night last night. I’m not sure why or how, but even before he’d said a word, the audience were loving him. This is unusual, as a lot of places are more reticent with their appreciation, waiting to see what a MC has to offer before giving them love. Instead, Berliner had it as soon as he stepped onto the stage. With this, he got off to a flying start. He had a cracking line about the posh undead and then proceeded to rib various members of the audience. The crowd were pretty close knit, with everyone knowing everyone else by name and the more he poked fun at someone, the more the room loved him. He wasn’t brutal or crude, but instead offered up his view of various personages and I think some of these will find themselves with new nicknames for the next few months. During each of his stints, Berliner did well. His second session was notable for some really good material about a heart monitor. This was all very entertaining.
The opening act was Cokey Falkow, a suitably dark act for the night. I’ve seen Falkow before at a Funhouse gig, where although he had split the room slightly, he had made a huge impression on me. Tonight he got really good laughs from improv and simply being himself. All he had to do was look at a certain section of the audience in a particular way and the laughs rolled. There aren’t many comedians who can achieve this. His material went down well, but didn’t seem to make the same impact, which was a shame, as it was really enjoyable. However, this is a bit like saying a Porsche isn’t as good as a Ferrari – both are still pretty damn good. Falkow doesn’t just deliver his material, instead he gives it more panache and this helps send it further. The end result was a great set, reminiscent of Tony Law, but to my mind, better and not so cult. He didn’t split the room, either, although 3-4 chaps didn’t seem to listen, but as they didn’t listen to anyone this doesn’t count. The darker he went the more the room laughed.
After the intermission it was Phil Reid. The last time I saw Reid he was in the process of winning a talent night in fine style. Seeing his name on the bill was reassuring, as I know he has bags of talent. He is also a lot lighter in tone than the other acts and so would provide some contrast. He began with a galloping stream of horse puns that should have left him hoarse. This generated good laughs and he proceeded to hit the room with a solid set that hung together very well indeed. A lot of it concerned children and births and this was very relatable to a lot of the room. Reid is sharp – he overheard an audience member discussing an imminent birth and used this to draw the audience in – a very nice and clever touch. His delivery is joyfully enthusiastic, with a big grin. It’s a churlish audience that doesn’t respond well to his style. Thorncliffe were far from churlish and they loved him.
Following was Bambam Shaikh. I like seeing Bambam, not only because I think he is very funny, but also because it’s always interesting to see how he is received. When Bambam stepped out, I felt the temperature in the room drop by a few degrees. I wasn’t totally surprised by this, as the audience was shocked by seeing something no one expected. I sensed that the audience initially had no idea what to make of Bambam – I felt they were worried that they were about to be made to feel uncomfortable. I believe this is part of what makes Bambam such a good act. He raises the tension, then breaks it by getting huge laughs. Naturally, there is a risk that the audience will laugh for the wrong reasons, or not get the satire behind the jokes, but tonight the audience laughed well. I love the Christianity opening joke – it’s a joy to see who gets it last in the room. Bambam’s set is well thought out and covers a lot of ground. He gets really good laughs when he deliberately lets the character slip for a moment – this also breaks some tension with the laughter. Also, the man behind Bambam, Jay, has a great sense of knowing just how long to stretch a pause out for. The crowd were really into his performance, rewarding him with 2 applause breaks.
Chatting to Jay afterwards, he told me the funniest story I’ve heard all week – after one gig, he was approached by a chap offering him work – a booking for Bambam at an EDL event…
The headliner was Ian Cognito, an act I’d heard of (who hasn’t?), but not seen before. Stoney had been singing his praises on the car share up to the gig, telling me how strong he was. I’d no reason to doubt him and this made me very curious about what I should see. Cognito walked onto the stage with swagger and confidence. I’ve seen confident acts before – one chap I’ve seen walked onto the stage as if he owned the venue and then proceeded to alienate the room. However, Cognito came on not looking as if he owned the place, but more like he also owned every member of the audience and was coming round for tea. This gave him tremendous presence. He didn’t bother with the microphone, he delivered his lines just using his powerful voice. The only time he touched a microphone was to bellow down it to great effect. At one point Cognito delivered his material, stood on two chairs, which was awesome. I’ve never seen a comic dominate a room so completely. There were some people who broke out into chatter every so often and he addressed them, but was surprisingly gentle in this. I think everyone in the room expected him to destroy them so thoroughly that they’d need professional assistance for the next 5 years, he certainly has it in him to do so. However, Cognito could be surprisingly tender, too. He seemed to be able to go from shouting to a much more subtle and nuanced delivery at the drop of a hat. A top notch performance. Cognito also has a good sense of what is achievable. He knew that the room was with him when he did a stunt with the stool of a girl who had left to get a drink. He also tied his material into what the acts had said previously with some lovely references. The material itself was hugely enjoyable, although the gag about Belfast deserved a lot more love. The material about Jeremy Thorpe went down surprisingly well considering there were probably only 5 people in the room who could have said who he was before the night. I really enjoyed Ian Cognito, he smashed this room. The audience loved him, too – seven applause breaks. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen an audience member buy a pint for an act mid-set and pass it over to him. Incredible.

Hoofers – Steve Haze, Harry Stachini, Dave Pollard, Brian Damage and Krysstal with Nick Banks as MC

Tonight I was at FAF Promotions Hoofer’s gig at Field Mill, which on a wet and miserable night was joyfully close to home. This was the Halloween special, made so by Stoney having a halloween play list, which did help to set the atmosphere. The numbers were pretty decent, with extra chairs and tables being needed – always a pleasure to see. There were a couple of pre-gig upsets with the MC being stuck in Japan due to flight delay. Into the breach stepped Mr Nick Banks at very short notice.
It’s always interesting seeing someone for the first time and tonight Banks proved to be both interesting and very entertaining, getting a laugh from his opening words. The fact that this was a Halloween Special gave him a chance to ask the audience what was the scariest thing that had happened to them. I liked this. I liked this a lot. It was a wonderful change to people being asked what they did for a living. This can get repetitive and although as a reviewer, I do see a lot of comedy, plenty of gigs attract a loyal audience and it must be a bit samey for them when every month they get asked who does what. Anyway, this generated some nice responses and the audience seemed to appreciate it, too. There were some late comers, who although they only numbered 6, did seem to make more noise than Brian Blessed treading on a bit of lego. This didn’t put Banks off, who was in the midst of getting great laughs for a wonderfully dark story about a hot dog. He then finished his first session with the rules and it’s always nice to see these being mentioned. For me, one of the highlights of the night was Banks’ story about a chap playing pin finger and getting his comeuppance from a friend of his. This generated a huge laugh and was fantastic, it was even better than his fast as lightning and off the cuff response about the raffle number. Banks had a good night and proved to be a very enjoyable MC, getting strong and persistent laughs.
The opening act was Steve Haze, another act that I was unfamiliar with until tonight. His set consisted of a large number of gags weaved into some anecdotes. Some of these gags were of a certain vintage and were quite possibly known to the audience. However, this didn’t seem to make any difference as he received consistent good laughs for his material, although the big build for the golf joke seemed disproportionate for the strength of the reveal. He got a great response to his part about his dad’s stutter, which was well deserved. There wasn’t a lot of audience interaction, which suited his style, however, when he had a faux recognition of one lady, this did land heavily.
Following the intermission it was Harry Stachini. I’ve seen him before at another FaF night, where he had done well. It seems that during the intervening two months he has improved a lot and I already thought he was good. He opened with referencing some of Banks’ material, which tied his opening section into the night and provided some lovely continuity. Stachini’s material was really good, but what raised it even higher was the feeling that there was a real story and thread running through it all. There were numerous cracking bits in it, too, with Wonderwall and an extremely well drawn drinking challenge being true standouts. There were some very well realised accents that I think add depth to the routine and also a rather spiffing call back. Stachini’s delivery was a bit fast, but I don’t actually think this hurt him, instead it helped him build momentum. He used a lady on the front row as a foil for his material and his asides to her went down very nicely with the entire room. I feel he may have overrun a touch, but considering how splendidly he was doing, I doubt anyone minded in the least. This was a superb performance from a man who has a definite future in comedy.
Dave Pollard had the difficult job of following Stachini. I’ve seen Pollard a couple of times before and the last time I had seen him, it had been at the Roadhouse, where he had been trying some new material. He had a great night that night and I was curious as to how he would fare tonight. I’ve a feeling that rooms either get Pollard’s style, or they don’t and those that get him, will get him in a big way. Tonight they got him in a big big way. Pollard’s style is that of a man on the edge of reason, consumed with rage. The mere sight of this man boiling with anger had the room laughing. This laughter was doubled when he put his headpiece on. Strangely, the room didn’t go quite so much for his material to begin with, as immature ejaculation and conviction and appeal deserved much bigger laughs than they received. This was rectified with the section on alphabets, as this got a massive response. I did think a lady on the front row was in danger of doing herself an injury, she was laughing that much. Pollard’s delivery and material really hit the jackpot tonight. My only comment would be for him to rejig his running order a bit, as the closing routine wasn’t as strong as it could have been – perhaps closing with the alphabet, instead, may be better.
Brian Damage and Krysstal closed. As with all the acts on tonight’s bill, the room really warmed to them. They gave us a mixture of puns and music with some songs. I enjoyed the routines more than the songs, although it must be said that one of them is a real belter. Krysstal has mastered the ability of getting laughs through just standing there and using her facial expressions. She proved to have a strong solo spot with some great material about her gran’s shop. Together they are a solid act who got good laughs and finished the night of with a flourish.

Just the Tonic (Nottm) – Kate Lucas, Mike Newall, Andrew O’Neil and Tim Fitzhigham (MC)

Tonight I found myself with a rare Saturday night free to go and see comedy. Saturdays are nights I tend to reserve for family and friends, so this made a nice change. I fancied going to one of the clubs in Nottingham, as I’ve not been to any for a long time and most have their stronger line ups on the Saturday. Out of Glee, Just the Tonic and Jongleurs I settled on JTT, as they had both Tim Fitzhigham and Andrew O’Neil performing. These are both comedians of great attraction to me. I’ve seen Fitzhigham at a rather nice night run by Funhouse in Southwell and O’Neil had a really good series on the wireless last year (Fitzhigham is no stranger to the home service himself), so this settled it. This was to be my first trip to Just the Tonic in a long time. I’ve no antipathy towards the venue, they attract good acts; it is merely open on the wrong night for me. I wouldn’t say it was a full house tonight, but near enough to seem it. One lesson I’d forgotten, though, was to get there early enough to bag a seat in front of the partition. The room always seems to divide up between the people on one side of the railings who want to listen to comedy and those on the bar side, who have seemingly paid good money to sit and talk through the acts. I was sat on the wally side of the partition tonight, which wasn’t ideal. At times it was hard to hear what the comedians were saying above an almost constant hubbub of chatter. This is pretty much endemic for town centre nightclub/comedy clubs, though, as irritating as it was. In a surprise, the MC was Tim Fitzhigham.
When I saw Fitzhigham previously, he was doing a middle set, where he demonstrated an impressive, not to say vast, general knowledge, that his brain could tie in to anything mentioned within the pub. This was excellent, so tonight, I was hoping to see something similar, and had brought a friend with me on the strength of this. Fitzhigham in the role of MC changed this. Owing to the room not being so intimate, the crowd not so attentive and his job being to organise the night, keep things moving and warm up the audience he gave us a different style to that which I was hoping to see. This isn’t to say it was bad, because it wasn’t – he’s talented and did a good job. He just didn’t get chance to range over several topics with lots of clever bits of knowledge, allowing jokes to simmer as people got the references at their own speed. Tonight he came out with the front of his shirt tucked into his trousers, but sticking out elsewhere, which was rather striking. Equally striking was that he seemed to look younger than when I saw him six months ago. Neither is here nor there comedically, but these were my first thoughts as he bounded onto the stage. His compering was of a good standard. He did the basics, working the audience, asking where they were from and what they did there, but lifted it above this level by his actions. Fitzhigham makes full use of the stage. He’ll chat to a chap on one side of it, bound over to the other in a Cleesesque fashion and do a stage whisper. This may sound rather like panto, but it is very endearing and comical to watch. He also demonstrated some lovely quick thinking with a response to a chap who made carpet books. Owing to the lay out of the room and the people who were there to just drink, I’d say that he had about 80% of the room onside, which was a fair achievement. During the last session, I do feel that he could have perhaps kept it tighter, as I felt the room was reaching a tipping point regarding consumption of alcohol and attention span, but he was still lovely to watch. Fitzhigham has two great strengths: his splendid general knowledge, which gives him a huge reservoir of references for use with a more discerning audience and a great aptitude for physical comedy. Tonight, although I didn’t see the side I was hoping for, I still saw something very entertaining.
The opening act was Kate Lucas, a musical comedian. I’ve got to confess that musical comedians who sing full songs do very little for me, personally. This is definitely a fault on my side, rather than theirs. I’ll happily sit through five minutes of set up for a joke, but for some reason, after 30 seconds of a comedy song I seem to switch off. This is a shame, as Lucas had a good night. She gave the room 5-6 songs and they all went down to a great response from both genders, although some did resonate more with the ladies in the room. She has a nice voice, plenty of talent and unlike some musical comedians I’ve seen, she does have different songs. I’ve seen some acts before with one tune, but 5 different sets of lyrics to it and so she didn’t suffer from diminishing returns like that. Although I wasn’t keen on the songs, I did enjoy her work between them. The material on her relationship with God was a particular highlight, being clever and well thought out, plus very funny. Whilst not for me, this is no reflection on Lucas, who received strong laughs.
Mike Newall was the middle act. He has a very low key, low energy approach. In fact, I wasn’t sure of the precise moment he switched from saying hello to beginning his set. However, this style perfectly suits his material. His delivery was at a conversational level, but as the material concerns stuff that is very relatable to day to day life and relationships, it lands all the better for it. He won the room over very quickly with this solid material. He did have to deal with two shout outs, though. One he put down in a friendly way that made it impossible for the interlocutor to begrudge. The other was more involved and concerned a lady from Birmingham. This seemed to go on for too long and whilst Newall kept hold of the room, this did rob him of a lot of momentum. I enjoyed his set, especially his section on money well spent concerning a friend, with the second reveal a lovely addition. The full set was really well crafted, with scarcely a word that didn’t add value and Newall himself reminded me a lot of Alun Cochrane in tone and style.
The closing act was Andrew O’Neil, who I first came across last year with his excellent series ‘Pharmacist Baffler’. This was broadcast late at night on the home service, which was a shame, as it was extremely good and would have done well in the 1830 slot. Seeing his name on the bill was a real inducement to come to this show tonight and I wasn’t disappointed, either. O’Neil has a lively stage presence, with bags of authority, which was used to the full in delivering an eclectic set. He began with a short song which injected energy into the room and was a lot of fun. This was followed by some nice puns and then some material, involving the fantastic and un-improvable line about knowing where your clothes are. The singing was great, as O’Neil has a very powerful voice and only sang enough of a song to make the joke work – an approach I very much favour on a personal level. This was concluded with some good crowd work. There were some transphobic comments from the back of the room, which luckily weren’t audible from the stage. I’ve never understood transphobia and found it highly repugnant that a few audience members should indulge in it. O’Neil is a great performer and ended the night on a wonderful high.

Create theatre – Phil Jerrod, Ben Shannon, Lost Voice Guy, Angela Barnes and Barry Dodds (MC)

An odd quirk of going to gigs is that the closer to home the venue, the harder it is to get there on time. If I’m travelling 50 miles or so, the chances are I’ll get there twenty minutes early. If it is nigh on within walking distance, then I’ll probably have to trot into the venue at the last minute. Tonight I was at Create Theatre, at West Notts Tech, which is less than five minutes from my house; hence a near belated appearance by myself. When the gig was being publicised, only three names were mentioned, with the immortal phrase ‘plus support’. As I got there, I saw Barry Dodds, who I didn’t know was on the bill and this immediately brought a smile to my face. I like Dodds, he’s a fine act and his presence really upped the gig in my estimations.
Although NCF had organised the bookings, the ticket sales and promotion were in the hands of the college and this was something of a weak spot. I’ve been to this venue a few times and it never appears to have been pushed with any kind of aggression by the college. The price I paid was £15, which whilst it wasn’t the cheapest night around, wasn’t outrageous, either and did represent value for money. Numbers weren’t as high as I’d have liked and this was exacerbated by the peculiarities of the venue itself. It is very much like a theatre, with room for 150 or so people and a performance area the size of a badminton court. The end result was a theatre sized room and a pub sized audience. This made for a very strange and challenging atmosphere for the comedians. Luckily the MC was Mr Barry Dodds.
I’ve seen Dodds a few times recently and it’s always a pleasure. The last time I saw him he was closing a night just 2 miles away from this venue and he had a good night then, despite a persistent lady who kept interrupting him. Tonight Dodds came onto the performance area and greeted the room as if it was The Apollo, with bags of energy and affability. This was a really good start to the night. He was handicapped a bit by the fact that 90% of the audience seemed to know each other and was connected to a college – offend one, offend all. However, I don’t think this really held him back that much, as he still did a really nice job of warming the room up. He showed his authority, did the rules and made some real connections with the audience. His first session was banter, then for his second session he found a nice way into some material – Halloween and the M1, which considering that everyone in the room is very familiar with the nearby motorway, was instantly relatable and relevant. Dodds received lots of laughs for his work and it made me wonder why he isn’t better known as a compere, as he has real talent for this. Dodds is a good act, but I think he should get a lot of work as a MC based on what I’ve seen of him.
Phil Jerrod opened, having travelled for five hours to get to this gig. Jerrod has a warm smile and a lot of charm, but more importantly he has a really good delivery for his material. I felt that some of his material may have been a bit too sweary for what seemed to be such a respectable audience, however, his delivery was such that everything seemed to land to a nice response. He did have a bit of bad luck in asking someone their name 5 minutes after Dodds had asked them, but this was no real impediment to his night. His stuff about British murderers not being what they were went down especially well and was well thought out. His set took a turn for the strange when he was stopped mid flow by an audience member who had an annecdote to tell. These sorts of things can seriously derail a night and I almost wanted to facepalm when it happened. However, Jerrod wasn’t put off his stride. He climbed into the second row and sat on a seat facing his communicant in a way that momentarily made me think of Smith and Jones. He then had a charming chat with them before finishing his set. Jerrod engineered a standing ovation which was far from undeserved. He did well and was a fine opener.
After the first intermission Ben Shannon resumed play. He started with some room work before getting into his material. His delivery seemed a bit understated to begin with, but once he got into flow he did very well, giving the room a very pleasant set. He had nice material on auto-correct (with call back) and vegan music, but the section on the quiet carriage was a real winner and thoroughly enjoyable. I felt that although he received consistent laughs throughout, he definitely deserved more for the quiet carriage.
Next on was Lost Voice Guy. This was the first time I’ve seen this unique act. As a chap who can’t speak, his routine is delivered via an Ipad, using pre-recorded segments. This isn’t the most conducive way to deliver comedy, as neither tone nor emphasis can be altered, however, he got some wonderful material out of just this fact alone. His material was really good with the undatables and robot wars being real standouts. He did start off slowly, but built up a lovely momentum, getting some really good laughs. The end result was an enjoyable set from a man who is a fully fledged comedian in his own right and not the token act as he mentioned in his set.
Closing was Angela Barnes, who like Dodds treated the gig as if it were an arena. This was a lovely approach and she did well. Her material hung together nicely, with no awkward leaps and there was a very nice call back, which I’m a big fan of. Her southern accent sounded strangely exotic in my home town, which is still largely a Northern pit village collection, and did her no harm at all. When her material moved onto internet dating, I did nearly groan, as I’ve heard this topic done so often recently, but luckily this was merely the gateway into some good material about a date, not a routine in itself. At one point Barnes came and sat with the audience, giving the gig a nice intimate feel. Her style was pitched perfectly and gave the room a feeling of a shared experience. I enjoyed seeing her.

Bentinck Miner’s Welfare – Ian D Montfort, Stoney, Tom Binns, Ivan Brackenbury and Christian Steel (MC)

Tonight I was at the Bentinck Miner’s Welfare for the Tom Binns triple show. I’d brought my mum and dad, plus my friend to see this. When you see a lot of good comedy there is always the temptation to send messages to everyone you know, on facebook anyway, telling them of a great night that is in the offing. However, rather than alienate friends through bombarding them, I’ve decided to share posts on my wall, but only to specifically ask people when I know they’ll really enjoy a particular show. Tonight’s show was one of these. Whilst Tom Binns was the name that persuaded me to round up the family, we were also lucky in the MC, Christian Steel, a man who added to the mirth of the evening.
As compere, Steel gave the room a balanced performance. He mixed material and banter skilfully, with no feeling that he was crowbarring references in. This is all to the good. He’s got a nice turn of phrase and had a cracking throwaway phrase that received a good laugh. His material felt relevant and in his banter he singled out the people who offered up the best prospects for mirth. He didn’t spend too long on any one person, either, nor did he hit any mines in the shape of people sat arms folded incommunicado, as I’ve seen a few MCs go head to head with those types and gain a pyrrhic victory. There was none of that tonight, just a man doing what was necessary in a skilful way and getting laughs as he did it. My mum liked him, too, which on one level is neither here nor there, but I do like to hear any member of the audience appreciating an act. Whilst Steel didn’t do the rules, I don’t believe he had to, as Stoney has a recording that does this during the warm up. This left Steel with more time for mirth, which he took good advantage of. Steel’s timing was also good. He didn’t do too long as MC, nor did he skimp, either. He prepared the room nicely.
The first act was Ian D Montfort, psychic. Montfort is a well fleshed out character with a lovely speech pattern and some rock solid material of the ‘how does he do that’ variety. In contrast to the last time I saw him, this room immediately got the joke, which was nice. Montfort held the room easily, showing the many permutations of Sue Walker. He was a bit unfortunate in picking someone who hadn’t brought their reading glasses for one part, but this was an extremely minor hiccup in an excellent set.
Resuming after the intermission was Stoney, who had what may be described as a mixed night. He began with a long drawn out silence, establishing his presence. I’ve seen this work wonders a few times, whereas tonight it seemed to work against him. I feel this was because he was performing infront of people who know that he is a jolly type of cove, rather than the brooding type. He wasn’t helped during this with some noise coming from the tap room. He went on to ask about Simon Pegg, which drew only one response. I believe this was more due to any members of the audience not wanting to stand out, as opposed to any lack of knowledge and he could probably have pressed on with that section. As it was, he moved on and his night then picked up as the room warmed to him. He got good laughs for his visual gag, for his haunted house and for his medical ailments. Whilst he didn’t have as good a night as I’ve seen him have, Stoney didn’t have a bad night once he got going and he did get some good laughs.
Tom Binns followed Stoney. He gave us a superb middle with an amazing set involving an entire family through the medium of ventriloquism. The various family members gave Binns free reign to throw out all sorts of material and one liners and a brilliant running gag as he introduced each family member. I saw this set in July and the amount of improvement on an already great set since then was remarkable. As strong as Montfort and Brackenbury are, this section may be even better.Truly splendiferous.
Closing was Ivan Brackenbury, the hospital DJ. This began to an electrical hiccup, which was surprising, as FAF tend to cover every detail to quite a degree. This was only a 15 second wonder and laughs were gained as it was resolved. Brackenbury did a stellar job of closing, with some audience members getting jokes faster than others, depending on their musical knowledge. If you can picture a room full of people laughing loudly, and my mum having hysterics, then you can imagine the night nicely. Whilst I could argue that the middle act was stronger than the DJ, finishing in this order is probably for the best, as this section is easier for a drunken audience to get and is also bombproof in any room.

Canal House – Charmian Hughes, Jon Pearson, Ed Patrick, Ryan Mather, Damian Kingsley, Stevie Gray, Scott Bennett and Matt Hollins (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. As I’ve previously said, this is my favourite night of the comedy calendar. Mostly this is because you never quite know what you will get. There is usually a good mix of acts, including some from out of area and often someone will surprise you with a really strong showing. There is also a nice balance between established acts trying new material and also new acts, just starting out. There were 30 people or so in tonight, which whilst that would fill some gigs, seemed a little low for this room. Tonight’s compere was Matt Hollins.
Hollins is an act who has impressed me the last few times I’ve seen him. He’s been sharper and more focussed than previously, so I was curious as to how he would make out as MC, as this is a different skill set. The answer to this is that he suffers from a couple of disadvantages, but neither are anything that can’t be overcome. On the plus side, he looks smart in a suit and does have an air of authority about him and his material is good. This all helps. On the other hand, Hollins has a low energy, downbeat approach. This doesn’t assist him in injecting energy or atmosphere into a room. Also, his banter is a weak partner to his material, with him not having the fast responses, or ready made lines for the interaction that his banter provoked. He could make a virtue of his downbeat manner by referencing it in a large way, suggesting jobs that he was too dynamic for and so on. If done extremely well, this could help him compere, with the less energy he used the more the audience getting into it. Considering that Hollins is a lot stronger on material he could perhaps play to this strength during his compering. I’m not usually a fan of this, as I feel it eats material rapidly and sometimes the crowbarring in can be pretty obvious. In this case, I mean asking leading questions where Hollins can ambush the audience with material. A lot of comperes ask audience members what job they do. This is something that I feel is overdone. I’d like to see more variety, such as what’s your favourite film/animal/Christmas present. Asking something along these lines, where he will probably find 2-3 usual answers, would give Hollins the chance to have prepared material ready and this would make a big difference. As it stands, he didn’t have a bad night, but he could have had a better night and with a few tweaks, he could have had a great night.
The opening act was Charmian Hughes. She made a good start and had some interesting material about comedic bravery, plus lots of enthusiasm about her ex. However, there was no feeling of connection between her and the audience. Should she have just referenced the fact that 30 people were in the room with her, it would have helped tie her in.
Jon Pearson was next, doing some new material. This is the 3rd time I’ve seen Pearson in 9 days and this is no hardship, as he’s a really strong comedian. He immediately demonstrated his ability with some great ad libs to a shout out about Watford. This was followed by a selection of new material. Relationships was good, cuteness started slowly, but then suddenly came alive in a big way with the dog mating and the Karma Sutra was really good. This was the first time any of these routines had been performed and they all have great prospects, albeit cuteness needs another look at the beginning.
Ed Patrick opened after the first intermission. He wasn’t helped by 5 late comers arriving, but despite this he didn’t do badly. The reveal on the aggressive driver was a bit predictable, but the Communist stag do more than made up for this. The finger section was perhaps a bit overlong, but still enjoyable, whilst the closing section on Attenborough was a bit weak. The delivery was convincing and this wasn’t a bad set.
Ryan Mather was next, on his second gig. I saw Mather last week at a gong show, where although I wasn’t that impressed, personally, he did make the final. Tonight it was the same material, which in such a new act is to be expected, so this is no criticism. His delivery isn’t bad, although he does burn up a lot of calories moving about the stage. He had a nice reference to the previous comic, which went down well. Mather received consistent laughs during his set. To progress he’ll need more stage time to develop his style and also more material, as his anecdote will only take him so far.
Damian Kingsley had a good night. Resigning from non-jobs is a fantastic premise and there is a lot of fun to be had with this. His routine was very pleasant with a lot of laughs, including some lovely touches. His delivery was confident and strong, helping to sell the material. I enjoyed his set and considering I wasn’t familiar with Kinglsey prior to tonight, I hope our paths cross again.
Stevie Gray, who resumed after the second intermission, injected some welcome energy into the room. He immediately made his presence felt with a high energy approach. This was very shrewd on his part, as his first routine required audience interaction and he created the requisite atmosphere swiftly. He received a small applause break for a wonderful ad lib about egalitarianism before moving onto a pirate song. For this he required another audience member, picking me. It was interesting being up on the stage, seeing things from the view of the comic – 25 shadows and 5 faces. This song went down well and then he moved onto a political song, which was really strong, getting good laughs. Gray has a real stage presence and he is also confident enough to involve the audience. Despite having only seen him last Monday, I enjoyed seeing him again tonight. His section had a joyous enthusiastic feel to it.
Scott Bennett, an extremely strong act, closed, doing new material. He has a relaxed presence on stage, but this conceals a razor sharp comedian. For every audience interaction, Bennett has an extremely fast comeback. This was a joy to watch. Of the new material, paint balling and showers are both good, although I really liked his opening material about emissions. The wedding section was great, as was being home alone. The running gag about his hair was fantastic and really added value. Tonight was a wonderful night and Bennett really added to it.

Stage Dive Comedy – Jon Pearson, Josh Smith, Seymour Mace, Jared Shooter (MC)

Tonight I was in Chesterfield for the opening night of Stage Dive Comedy, at Real Time Live, a possibly converted factory. This is a rock venue with a lot of similarities to the Roadhouse in Birmingham, although without the biker’s bar upstairs. The room was laid out with chairs surrounding tables, but all facing more or less towards the stage. The stage is rather big and there is probably enough room on it for a panto, if push came to shove. The comedians reached the microphone by walking through a gap between two banners, with lots of dry ice and flashing lights. This resembled stars in their eyes to a degree. The venue was more or less packed out, which was good, however, I feel that instead of hard rock, the playlist could have been a bit lighter after the 5 minute calls, as befitting a comedy night.
The MC tonight was Jared Shooter. He was playing to a room where he knew all but 8-9 people. This can work both ways. On one hand, he knows all of the in jokes and his references to the ‘Rainbow Room’ will automatically mean something to most of the audience. On the other hand, if you rely on material as compere, this can eat up routines very quickly. Shooter uses a lot of material, Siri was pretty strong, but his banter wasn’t especially sharp or incisive. He’d chat to someone, but not really follow it up with anything particularly witty, although in fairness he did have a lovely line when he found a lady was a carer for her brother. This was a shame, but hopefully he’ll get faster at thinking on his feet when receiving answers from the audience. On the plus side, Shooter did the rules, which a surprising amount of MC’s fail to do and he has a lot of charm and enthusiasm and this is a nice bonus. Audiences want to like him and this gives him a lot of leeway. On the debit side, apart from the banter, he wasn’t as disciplined regarding time-keeping as he could have been. His sections went on a bit longer than was necessary, not being as punchy as they could have been. With his charm and enthusiasm, Shooter could be a strong MC, but he isn’t there yet.
The opening act was Jon Pearson, who had jiggled his set about tonight. I’ve seen him a lot of times and I’m used to the various components in his expanding repertoire, but tonight he changed the order and this is where experience comes in useful – there was no jarring links or leaps, it all felt very natural. He received good laughs for some references to Mansfield and gave a very nice set to an audience that appreciated him. He did lose the room slightly a couple of times, but never for long and this was towards the end of an extended bumper 35 minutes set.
After the first intermission it was Josh Smith. At first there was a bit of feedback on the sound system, making him sound as though he was speaking through a fish tank, but luckily this was soon resolved. Smith has a quiet, almost understated delivery. This drew the audience in, with them listening to him. This is a very nice style, but may not work in a rowdier environment. He didn’t have many huge laughs, but instead built up lots of little laughs until the end, when he hit home with a nice call back. It may be to his advantage to just start a bit stronger to establish himself and to add a bit more punch around the 10 minute mark when the energy dips a touch. The end result of this was a nice and pleasant feel good set.
The closing act was Seymour Mace, a comedian who I have heard nice things of, but hadn’t actually seen. He has a big stage presence and had to do nothing beyond walking onto the stage to establish his credentials. He received an early applause break for some improv and went on to have a set hugely appreciated by the audience. He has lots of energy and a real eye for the surreal. This is combined with a performance, rather than a delivery, that puts his material over incredibly strongly. His material is sound, with the Hulk section a real stand out. There is a lot of joy in his style and I thoroughly enjoyed his set.

Cross Keys – Sean Morley, Tom King, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Wayne Beese, Luke Regan, Freddie Farrell, Andy’s Fowler and Hughes (MCs)

If you ever wondered what Dr Who’s parlour looks like, then the upstairs room at the Cross Keys provides the answer. There are enough random items dotted about to provide a bit of a distraction, but it does give the room a splendid feel and tonight went some way towards off-setting the small crowd. As this was a Fowl Humour gig, the two Andy’s each did a spot of compering.
Andy Fowler opened as MC. He kept the comedy side light, not bantering with the crowd or doing material, but instead went through the rules with enough panache to get laughs and set the night rolling.
In contrast, after the intermission, Andy Hughes took a different approach to compering and went for material to rebuild atmosphere. Hughes had some good stuff about his student days and this was all rather good fun, as well as being funny.
The opening act was Sean Morley, who demonstrated an impressive ability to hoover up material from the environment as he went along. He began by shaking the hand of every audience member. This obviously wouldn’t work in a big venue, but tonight it went over very well. This was followed by a polite reshuffle of the seating, with everyone being moved forwards. This all sounds very simple and more like admin than comedy, yet Morley received good laughs for this. With Frank Carson it was the way he told them, with Morley, it was all in how he did it. There was a late comer whom Morley had a lot of fun with, but whom he may have pushed a trifle too persistently, but this was far from disastrous. This was a very nice ad-libbed set, from a chap with a polite and dry style who obviously has a lot of talent.
Tom King was up next. King is a fine comedian who I’ve seen a couple of times and it doesn’t take much imagination to see him turning pro in a few years. He has that feel of quality about him. He’s got a good reliable set, that he sells to the audience with utter conviction, no matter how unusual the topic. This is a winning combination. Tonight, he gave us a set of two unbalanced halves. The half that relied upon material was as strong as you’d expect, soap getting a good response from a small audience, the same for his opening songs. However, he was knocked off his stride by the very ornateness of what to all intents and purposes is a Victorian Parlour. He became distracted by the various items dotted about the room – 6 clocks, soda siphon, lampshades made from bowler hats and so on. He mined this for material, improvising a set with these bits and bobs. Unfortunately, whilst keeping hold of the room, this didn’t really result in a huge laughter dividend. This was a bit disappointing as he is a good reliable act.
Jeanette Bird-Bradley followed. She began well with a nice routine based on cress and she adds real value to it with the emphasis she lays on the words ‘very bad man’. She then proceeded to use some material I’ve not heard from her before relating to pants. There is a good routine in this, but it requires editing. It was a little bit too wordy. There were some very nice lines and the end result wasn’t at all bad, but if she took a blue pencil to all of the words that don’t add mirth, then the final result would be a lot stronger and more punchy. The delivery was very pleasant and it’s nice to see an act two nights in a row use completely different material, especially one who is so new, so top marks on that.
After the intermission it was Wayne Beese. I’ve seen Beese twice before and he is what I’d call a natural compere. He has the ability to unearth the funnies from members of the audience and knows just what to ask to get the best result without spending too long on one person. Tonight I wasn’t sure which route he was going to take – banter or material. It’s quite possible Beese didn’t know himself till he began performing, but either way, when he went for banter it was a good call. It was remarkable how much he got from a small audience in the way of building blocks for comedy. He managed to ask the right questions to unearth two wonderful stories involving vomit, during the course of a really fun set. Beese is very genial and not aggressive, which probably helps. People are very willing to open up to him. If he ever decides to quit comedy, he should apply to the police as an interrogator. I can well imagine him asking a room full of suspects if they’ve ever had anything happen on a bank raid that was embarrassing and half of the suspects opening up to tell him all about it….
Luke Regan followed. He had some nice material – the Tog rating was a particularly good line, but he was perhaps a bit unlucky with his stuff on The Smiths. In a larger room, he would have had better odds of finding a fan which would have helped that bit. His delivery was confident and whilst it’s evident that he’s got potential, he is still a work in progress. He didn’t have a bad night, he did well, but it is early days in his career. I think in a year or so, he’ll be a much stronger act and I look forwards to seeing him again.
Freddie Farrell closed. I was very pleased to see him on the bill, as I had been looking forwards to seeing him at the Nott’s Comedy Festival. As he could no longer make this, tonight was obviously a nice bonus. Farrell is very polished, moving from section to section without any jarring pauses or erms or arrs. His delivery is really good and this helped him establish his presence effortlessly. He had some great material, the stand out for me being the material about his eldest, especially the football match.

Manhattan 34 – Joel Henderson, Lucy Thompson, Aaran O’Tang, Lori Edwards-Suarez, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Thomas Rackham and Dave McGuckin (MC)

There are certain stock phrases that are used when it comes to commemorating the death of your wife’s gran, however, I doubt that ‘she’s dead, but the comedy in Leicester is live’ is one that will be used often. It seemed logical, considering she died two years ago and it was just my presence at a family dinner that was being discussed, but I think the logic was lost in translation. So tonight, I found myself driving to Leicester on another stormy night. The venue was Manhattan 34, with a cracking little cellar for a comedy night. It was also packed, with standing room only and extra chairs being needed, giving it a tremendous vibe – the polar opposite to 5 comics in the corner of a room of drinkers who are wondering what’s happened in their pub. I do wish the chaps upstairs would turn the music off, though, or at least turn it down, as it does seem to compete the comedians at times.
The compere tonight was Dave McGuckin who took a light touch approach to adding humour, injecting energy instead. Although to be fair, this isn’t a room that requires that much warming up. Half of the Leicester comedy scene were present, so there was a backbone of people who were really up for comedy and the rest of the room were polite and attentive. All that was really required of McGuckin was to organise the night and get acts on and off, which he succeeded in.
Opening was Joel Henderson who took a somewhat novel approach, almost an anti-comedy approach. He turned the conventions on their head, delivering jokes without punch lines, anecdotes without endings and dropping material seemingly part way through. He’d then return to this material much later on, not in chronological order, adding the reveal. When it became apparent that this was his tactic, it made sense of him leaping from topic to topic at random with no links or flow. This did generate laughs, not huge laughs, but laughs none-the-less. I felt that tonight, it seemed more of a concept than a finished product. There is certainly mileage in it and I admire the intelligence of it, but I think it needs more work. It might have worked better if there had been more of a balance to the set. Getting the set up, then an apparent dead end to that material and then 5 minutes later the reveal dropped out as an aside is ok, but it gives the routine a lopsided feel. If the set up was intrinsically funny, then he could be onto a real winner with this.
Lucy Thompson was up next. I like Thompson, she’s got good material and a nice delivery. Tonight she was doing a mix of established stuff and material never aired before. She had nothing to worry about, everything went well with her getting a lot of appreciation from the audience. A couple I was sat with on a rather comfy sofa, thought she was very good, and it’s nice to hear people speaking highly of comics they have just seen. The bull fight could do with a bigger surprise to the reveal, but the rest of the material stood up extremely well, including the new stuff. She is onto a real gem with the list of beverage times. I can imagine this becoming really well developed and worked out into a real banker. It has tremendous potential for the occasions to be tied in to anything topical or relevant to the night.
After the first intermission, it was Aaran O’Tang trying out some new material based around religion and heavy metal. It’s perfectly acceptable for comics to refer to their notes on new material nights. I prefer this to someone desperately trying to find their place on an Iphone. However, tonight O’Tang referred to his notes that often it had the effect of crucifying his set. It became less a delivery and more a read through, robbing him of a lot of his momentum. The bits that he didn’t need to refer to he delivered well enough and it is a shame he hadn’t prepared better, as he would have had a better night and also gained more of a feel for the potential of this set. The material contains a few nice touches, especially the CD/Tape section, but it really requires stripping down to its’ essentials, as there seemed to be a lot of extraneous detail that didn’t add substance nor comedy value.
Next was Lori Edwards-Suarez who was the comedy virgin of the night. She had material that was personal to her, being half Spanish and so on. This wasn’t bad, nor was her delivery. The room listened to her and she received laughs.
Resuming after the second interval was Jeanette Bird-Bradley, who began with the sort of night that comedians wake up sweating about. She stumbled over her opening sentence and then a minute later, a crucial prop was nowhere to be found. Being stood on stage in front of a room full of people desperately searching through paperwork for the right prop as the seconds tick by can’t be a pleasant experience. It is much to Bird-Bradley’s credit that she kept it all together, without panicking or asking to be beamed up by Scotty. Thinking on her feet, she acknowledged this nightmare and got laughs for it. Not sympathy laughs, but nice laughs of appreciation. She then put this behind her and cracked on with her set. She delivered an enjoyable set, although she could improve the lost list (Library, Debenhams) by obeying the law of three and chucking in a really good, unlikely, third place. Lenny Bennett could do with a bit more work, but as this is new material, that is to be expected. This was a creditable performance with 8 likes used.
Closing the night was Thomas Rackham. You can go months without seeing someone, then you see them every week, no hardship for me, as at his best, this chap is excellent. Tonight he bounded onto the stage looking a bit of a cut above the rest of the comics. I’m not sure why this should be, but he seemed to get the room’s confidence before he had even opened his mouth. This could be because he is on a roll at the moment and is gigging regularly, but either way, it was very nice. He had a belter of a gig. Whilst I felt the clipboard at work stuff wasn’t his best, the rest of his material was top notch. Hand movements, horse, in fact pretty much everything worked wonderfully. His delivery seemed to keep up the momentum, building up the laughs. This was in some ways a lot like watching a professional act doing a quick 10. And speaking of ten minutes, Rackham’s time seemed to fly by, ending all too soon. The standout material tonight was the British Bake off, which was gloriously OTT and worked all the better for it. Rackham is the first comedian I’ve seen to be asked for his autograph after a show.

Blessington Carriage – Gong Show. Jone Pearson, Jack Shanik, Stevie Gray open 10s. Gongs – Ryan Mather, Andrew Marsh, Ben Oram, Jimbo, Nicky Priest, Barrie Fox, kevin Caswell-Jones

Comedy playlist music is rather Pavlovian, although I’ve yet to begin salivating when I hear Danny and the Juniors, or the Clash at work, I do get excited. I’ve not yet begun to play air drums yet, but that is surely only a matter of time. Some of you will have realised by the playlist that tonight I was at Spiky Mike’s gong show in Derby. I like Funhouse’s gong shows. They are friendly, with no baying mob mentality and I’ve yet to see any of the acts pack the audience with supporters. This gives them an open feel. Tonight was a busy night, with many newcomers, so many that more chairs were required – something that I like to see. I suspect there was a cancelation on a car share, as we seemed to be low on contestants for a change. Considering that the weather was that bad, I was almost as concerned that my car would sink as crash this would be no surprise. To add to the night, we had three established acts polishing material. Whilst I adore the box of chocolates that is a gong show, it is nice to see some professional acts share the bill, too.
The opening act was Jon Pearson, fresh from a weekend playing Glee down in Oxford. I’ve seen Pearson a lot of times and it’s always a pleasure to see his name on a bill. It does help that he is always developing his material, but you know you are in safe hands when he is present. Tonight he came on to a room that seemed a bit slow to get going, probably due to the number of people who weren’t used to seeing comedy live. This was only something that I noticed through having seen him so often, I daresay that no one else picked this up. They soon warmed up and had a great night. The new gym routine is continuing to prosper, giving great dividends. Tonight, Jon seemed to be on something of a roll with the number of call backs and this really added to his set, gaining him strong laughs. The same can be said for the accents and impression. The gluten material is showing promise, although the Terminator section isn’t there – yet. It will be eventually and when it is worked out it will be strong – like a four legged animal. After his set, Pearson had a good half a dozen people shaking his hand, complimenting him on his work, a nice sign of appreciation of a lovely set.
Jack Shanik’s set could be described via a mathematical formula: 1970’s style delivery + bang up to date references x good audience interaction squared by one liners + a nice flow = an extremely enjoyable set that the audience really went for.
I’ve seen a few comedians that have a whiff of the Wheeltappers and Shunters about their style. However, mostly these have been comics who also marry this delivery to a set that doesn’t contain a single reference to anything post 1980. Shanik is different. It was rather like watching an episode of The Comedians and suddenly Ken Goodwin starts doing a series of jokes about Nigel Farage, not that Shanik covered politics, but you get the impression. This made for an interesting juxtaposition and one that I warmed to. The rest of the room did, too, as he got constant laughs, something that probably didn’t help settle the nerves of the gong show contestants, but then you can’t please everyone.

I’m not always a massive fan of one-liner comedians, with a few notable exceptions (Pagett, Delaney, etc), as I feel a lot fail to build any sense of momentum or feel for a flowing set. Quite often a joke is left to live or die on its’ own with no sense of the set building to something. The best of the one liner experts join jokes together to give a flowing set that builds momentum (see Pagett) and tonight Shanik achieved a nice flow between his jokes, which gave this sense of a set, as opposed to snippets of one. The interaction with the audience was a nice bonus, as this served to draw everyone in. Very enjoyable indeed.
The third of the established ten spots actually went on to close a section of the gong show, but I’m going to review him here, to separate him from the contestants. Stevie Gray had the awkward job of following Jimbo, a contestant who had torn the roof off the gig for all of the wrong reasons. He had a high energy approach, which was a good choice on his part. His set could be divided into three unequal parts. Part one was straight stand up, this went down fairly well, although there is room for a possible double reveal on one section of his material (tossed himself off a bridge?). The second part consisted of some props and gags based upon them. The audience liked this, but I felt there was scope for improvement. Finally it was some songs. These weren’t bad, people laughed and there is room for development. The end result was entertaining without requiring too much thought, which was nice for a Monday night.

My feeling is that Gray was trying new material out and this was a work in progress tonight, rather than his strongest material. He had a nice delivery and plenty of stage-craft and went down well. I’d like to see the finished article, as he had a good night.
The opening contestant of the gong show was Ryan Mather, performing for the first time. Mather’s material consisted of a funny story involving a night out that turned bad. This wasn’t bad for a first attempt, but seemed more of a party piece anecdote than comedy. It would also be hard to develop further, as shown in the final, where he had nothing else to give.
Next was Andrew Marsh. He began with a song (never good in a gong) and then moved onto some material. Unfortunately this wasn’t punchy enough to win over the judges and he was gonged off. He stumbled a bit over his delivery just prior to the vote and this can’t have helped him. Should he begin with some fast jokes with quick pay offs, he would do better. Also, daft as it sounds, having kept his coat on, he didn’t look like he was staying, which is probably neither here nor there, but would have been the first thing my gran would have asked if she’d seen him.
The next contestant was very interesting for all of the right reasons. Ben Oram made a nice start, doing jokes about pubic hair, before making a reference to classic top of the pops that really deserved more than it received. His material was pretty good and showed a surprising level of depth. However, his Don Estelle reference was perhaps 40 years too late and was probably the root cause of what I thought was an undeserved gonging. Oram’s delivery was convincing and he definitely has a nice turn of phrase. I’d like to see more of him, as I thought he showed promise.
The following contestant was very interesting for all of the wrong reasons. Jimbo had evidently decided to take some Dutch Courage prior to performing. It is quite possible that he came to this decision at tea time last Friday and immediately commenced this programme. At first I didn’t realise he was totally rat arsed. I just saw a pensioner dressed as if he were going line dancing, who seemed to have trouble enunciating his words. However, as he mumbled through part of his opening sentence and stopped to breathe it became apparent that he wasn’t at his best. His material ran along the lines of, ‘There are known. The US secretary. The US secretary of defence. He said there are unknown knowns. No, he said there are unknown.’ We never got to the bottom of it, as this took five minutes to get out. By now, some of you will have done your maths and realised he lasted the entire five. In a fit of schadenfreude, every judge voted for him to continue, almost indefinitely. In one respect this was deserved, as he had the room in stitches. I was rather concerned that he might have won, instead he came second. I’ve no idea where he was going or what he was going to say. It’s possible he may not have done either.
Nicky Priest resumed after the intermission. He began with an old gag about a chap visiting the doctor with a cricket ball up his bum. This didn’t go down that well. Priest’s style of delivery also worked against him. Whilst being shouty and loud may work in a large room, or one that is rowdy, on a Monday night in a small intimate gathering it was counterproductive. If he had started with fresher joke and a more quiet and perhaps understated delivery he would have achieved a lot more.
Barrie Fox had a low powered start and failed to build enough momentum for the judges to keep him on. He wasn’t there long enough to leave a strong impression, but perhaps given more stage time he would do so.
The final act was Kevin Caswell-Jones. He had a very enjoyable and comprehensive set. He began with a list of heckles received, which was a way of getting lookalikes/appearance gags worked in, although surprisingly he didn’t reference Patrick Stewart, which could prove a rich vein of material. He then hit warp 9 (sorry) with a call back to contestant no 1’s story, getting good laughs. Caswell-Jone’s set had a nice balance between audience work, and material. Some of the material was better than other bits, but the good stuff was more than decent, even approaching what I would call strong. He has a good stage presence, making me wonder if he has ever done any am-dram. The simple things, such as a quick left and right look before mentioning his wife were real winners, adding depth to what was already a very good set. He was a deserving winner.