Monthly Archives: June 2018

…It Had Bells On

This week marks the end of an era in this particular part of South East London. For Friday brings the last ever Pull The Other One, the best Nunhead-based comedy night you’ve probably never been to.

Yeah yeah yeah…Comedy nights come and go, don’t they? Well, Pull The Other One was unlike anything you’ve ever witnesssed or experienced. You think a comedy night is three blokes + compere + mildly amusing satirical observations? PTOO bore the same relation to that sort of affair as The Beatles to a skiffle band. ‘Anarchic cabaret’ is the glib phrase they used themselves in their promotional material. It’s close, but it doesn’t fully do justice to the sheer breadth this cavalcade of silliness spanned over the years.

PTOO specialised in character comedy. You’d rarely come across out and out gag merchants. Instead its bread and butter was the bizarre, the ridiculous and the plain daft. I have seen women having onstage nervous breakdowns, eating lettuces, men with the testicles out, men pretending to be frogs, Phil Kay singing his entire set. You name it, it’s happened. Much of its appeal lay in its whole ‘anything could occur in the next two and a half hours’ feel.

Its originators, the ringmasters of this circus of the surreal were Martin and Vivienne Soan. When I first started coming around 2011, Vivienne would be the compere, while Martin loitered at the back and attempted to cue the music for each act. (Indeed Martin’s inability to provide the right music at the right time for the right act has long been a much-loved feature in itself.)

Part of its success was also the intimate setting – upstairs at the Nun’s Head, a cramped room, capacity about 60 with a tiny orange-lit stage, decorated with the kitsch porcelain animals Martin wheels in especially for every PTOO. It was like you were in someone’s front room. And that perhaps was its key – you felt part of a family. There (literally) wasn’t distance between the crowd and the performers. You willed and hoped them to be good, and more often than not they are. If not, so what? They’d be something equally daft and outrageous on after the break.  PTOO has always been mercifully free of the ‘I’ve paid my £10 so you better make me laugh’ mentality that affects other comedy clubs.

If you’ve been you’ll know. If you haven’t, ask for the stories. I hope the Soans reconsider and this is merely a Sinatra-esque ‘retirement’ (I find it hard to believe Martin will be able to give it up completely) but for the moment we have to take them at their word. Farewell Pull The Other One. You made me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh, until I cried, until it was painful and for that I thank and salute you Martin and Vivienne.

The last Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June at the Old Nun’s Head, Nunhead and is, unsurprisingly, SOLD OUT. 


My Second Favourite World Cup Song

I recently interviewed 4AD’s design icon Vaughan Oliver for the wonderful magazine Long Live Vinyl ( and perhaps the conjunction of that with current events made me think of this: my second favourite World Cup-related single. The Young brothers (who are both sadly no longer with us) apparently presented it to both ITV and BBC to soundtrack their coverage of the 1986 tournament and, daftly, both turned them down.

Wish I’d now got around to asking him about the sleeve, surely the only one ever to feature Jimmy Hill….

This Year’s World Cup Post

The World Cup starts tomorrow. The last one, perhaps, that one can enjoy unreservedly.  (I don’t really want about 2022 and everything that that phrase entails yet. Do you know anyone who feels that awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a good decision? Thought not.) In our house the wallchart has gone up, we’ve done a sweepstake – I’ve got Belgium – and the England bunting goes up tomorrow. Even my other half is looking forward to it.

Is it tempting fate to say that I feel cautiously optimistic about England’s chances? I feel that even writing those words down is tantamount to tempting fate. Surely though it can’t get any worse than four years ago? They can’t put on a performance as dismal as Iceland in 2016, can they?

At present expectations are so low that even getting through to the next round and knocking a few goals past….well, anyone even Panama, would constitute ‘success’.

Gone are the days when motorists would stick St George flags on their vehicles, when every Tom, Dick and Harry was clamouring to make a World Cup record. The whole thing now seems to be regarded with a shrug at best, even outright cynicism. Oh yeah, they’ll probably lose on penalties. Again! 

I kinda miss the days of delusionary optimism (roughly between 1982-2010), when people actually thought we might have a chance of winning the damn thing.

Oh well, for what it’s worth my prediction is that we’ll get through the first phase but lose to Colombia in the next round. I’d like Spain to win, but I’ve got a feeling it might be Brazil once more.

Graham Taylor 1944 – 2017

I’ve never been one for heroes. I could probably count mine on one hand: Paul Weller, Luther Blissett and Graham Taylor.

Graham Taylor may not mean much to most of you, but as I explained to my other half on Thursday to a Watford fan this is our Bowie moment. He was that important. He was our Shankly/ Revie/Busby and his death feels like losing a family member.

You might scoff at this but Graham Taylor not only taught me (and countless other Watford fans) how to dream but, crucially, how to realise dreams. When I first was becoming aware of football in the mid 70s my local football team were a joke, a lower divisions side who had never achieved anything and never would amount to anything. They were rubbish.

Graham Taylor changed all that.

Around the time he first became manager in 1977 I remember reading that his goal was to get us into the First Division. ‘Really?’ was the silent response of a disbelieving 8 year old. Not yet cynical, I still doubted whether this would be possible. A team like Watford would always be in the lower divisions, wouldn’t they?

What happened next was extraordinary. The years between 1977 and 1984 were like the unfolding of a wonderful gripping thriller. First Promotion to the Third in 1978. The following season another promotion.  Next consolidation, before in 1981 in Taylor announced “it’s time we were moving on”. And we did. Promotion to the First and along the way Cup shocks virtually every season. Man United, Wolves, West Ham were all beaten by the Horns. From being a joke Watford became a club and a town to be proud of. Next we stormed the First Division and finished second to Liverpool. Following that a respectable run in the UEFA Cup and then an FA Cup Final in 1984.

How was this done? By meticulous attention to detail, by superb man-management, by the selection of the right players and backroom staff that also shared his dream and a lot of hard work. If you have the inclination I’d implore you to seek out Lionel Birnie’s Enjoy The Game, the best book I’ve read about Taylor and those extraordinary times.

From being a joke Watford became a club and a town to be proud of. And that transformation has been permanent. Everywhere I have been in the world whenever I have mentioned the words ‘Watford’ in response to the usual question ‘who do you support? or ‘where do you come from?’ the words ‘Elton John’ or ‘Graham Taylor’ are usually heard next.

The other stuff – the family stand, the fast attacking football, the long balls, the bond between the club and the community, and the much-commented upon ‘decency’ of the man has been well documented. I can only add that in my experience the latter was certainly true. My own personal GT story was the correspondence he entered into with my uncle between 1984-86.  We had both gone to a home game in September 1984 against Aston Villa. Villa played the offside trap and my uncle bemoaned this then-familiar sight and dashed off a letter to GT asking why the FA couldn’t change the rules. Taylor wrote a two sided letter back and over the next 18 months a correspondence developed between these two deep thinkers of the game. The fact that this very busy man had taken the time to engage with and take seriously the ideas of ordinary fan impressed me at the time and still seems extraordinary. Would Jose Mourinho do this today?

Of course, the golden years didn’t last. (They never do.) In the week I left school in May 1987 it was announced that Taylor was leaving to take over at Aston Villa. Things wouldn’t be the same again. And for ten years Watford returned to being ‘just’ another club. Then in 1996, after the England/’turnip’ years that rendered him unemployable by just about any other club, Taylor returned to Vicarage Road and performed a similar miracle by taking the club up from Second Division to Premiership in successive seasons.

The incredible happened, not once but twice. This is what Graham Taylor taught me – dream, work hard, prepare well, take yourself seriously and astonishing things can happen. In my home town they did, on a regular basis, between 1977 and 87. I’ll never forget him and what he accomplished.