Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s Steakhouse for the FaF Promotions Boxing Day gig. This is a little gem of a night. I arrived there way too early, but what I lost in seeing another episode of a Christmas box set, I gained in chatting to Fran Jenking and I count myself up on that. Bizarrely some of the people who had bought tickets didn’t show up, rendering what should have been a packed out room, less busy than usual. However, this was nothing that our MC couldn’t cope with.
Our compere was the articulate Sully O’Sullivan, whom I last saw at a tough drunken bank holiday gig, where he had mixed compering and riot control. Tonight he was able to use his talents more widely. He began well by pointing out the irony in his being a New Zealander and a Vegan in an Australian steakhouse. This was followed by some very good room work, involving delving under the Christmas tree in search of toys and presents which he made full use of. O’Sullivan seemed to find the right balance in ribbing people – being funny and slightly cutting without crossing any lines. This was shown in him getting four people to the stage and having the audience vote for who looked most like they were homeless, a serial killer and a 70’s porn star, etc (I was voted serial killer by a roomful of people, which is a bit disconcerting). This was a wonderful piece of work and really brought the people sat in the room together as an audience. I was especially impressed by how after the first intermission he dealt with a drunk who was prone to shout out – O’Sullivan fished out a Where’s Wally book from under the tree and passed it to the drunk with the instruction to read it whenever he got the urge to talk. This was a night of good compering that melded wit, charm, energy and authority.
The opening act was Carly Smallman, someone whose name I’ve seen online, but whom I’d never seen in person. Smallman has a warm smile and looked happy to be there to perform and this in no small way half won over the room before she had even started. Her set could be split into four parts, room work, song, room work, song and this worked very nicely. In speaking to the audience, she did suffer a bit from not being in tune with the local accent, but she made this into a strength by being honest enough to admit it and making a joke out of it. This worked very well when dealing with a drunk who thought that her set was more interactive than what it was. Smallman was astute enough to feel where the sympathies of the room lay and made the most of this when dealing with him. I especially enjoyed her quick wit in ad-libbing a callback to O’Sullivan’s compering when she spoke to a chap about his impending homelessness. I have said this before, but I will say it again – it’s great when an act has been listening to the MC and knows who is who. The songs were both good, being well written and sung well, with the one about a brother probably being the standout. In fact I would say that both were as strong as anything I’ve heard on the wireless, if perhaps not quite as broadcastable. This was a very enjoyable performance that injected a lot of fun into the room and I don’t think anyone would have objected to her having had more stage time.
Following the intermission there was a magician who had been booked directly by the venue in order to make the night that little bit more special. I’ve very little knowledge concerning magicians, although I have seen some very talented comedy magicians such as Doug Segal, Alan Hudson and Wayne the Weird. This chap, Paul Grundle, was much more of a magician than a comedian, which became apparent when he opened his slot with a couple of old jokes, but from here he wisely stuck to magic. He certainly looked the part in suit and bright waistcoat and the magic was of an high order. The tricks all came off well, apart from where an audience member forgot his card and there were some spectacular moments. Possibly the funniest moment came from a lady he picked in the audience whom he asked to think of a word and the word she picked had Stoney almost falling out of his chair with laughter. Grundle’s delivery was very down to earth and I felt that it might have benefited from something lifting it a bit. He went down well with the room, but owing to the nature of his show, it did take the energy levels down, but these were rescued by O’Sullivan in time for the headliner.
Gavin Webster was the headlining act. I’ve seen him before, when he played Field Mill and he’d had a good night then. Webster is a solid presence who efficiently closed down the drunken heckler with a great return volley concerning kids and football and handled a polite and fun shout out from Mrs Bluey well. Webster did 30 minutes or so and it went quickly with the room thoroughly enjoying it. Although I thought the ghost routine was smashing, he didn’t really do it for me. I could admire his timing and his technical expertise in crafting his set, but I found his running commentary a little bit distracting and to me, it got in the way of the routines. The rest of the room found his asides to be very good, so it’s horses for courses and whilst Webster isn’t really my cup of tea, he was 30 or so other peoples choice of brew and he had a good gig.