Book Of A Lifetime: Little Goes A Long Way, By Syd Little
Friday 02 July 2010
When I tell you which book had a lasting effect on my life, you may presume I am being facetious. I would like to declare that the book that truly altered the course of my life was Zola's The Beast in Man, a book I adore. Sadly, but honestly, the book that has had the greatest impact is Syd Little's Little Goes A Long Way.
Seven years ago, I put on a show called 'The Award Winning Robin Ince, Star of The Office, Series 1, Episode 5 (First bit)'. I played a psychotic version of myself explaining in rabid tones how I was responsible for the best in UK TV and radio. I had imagined that maybe 5 per cent of the audience might really believe the man on stage was a lunatic. A few days in, I was horrified to discover that upwards of 80 per cent believed it was real: I was Antonin Artaud re-imagined by Heat magazine. They even believed the bit where I furiously punched a melon that represented Vernon Kay's head until it exploded.
My "spirit guide" in the show was Syd Little. I would read from his autobiography while the music of Philip Glass played in the background. This helped dramatise the story of Syd musing on how much Cliff Richard liked curry.
To distract myself from my disaster, I took to turning up at late-night clubs with my Syd Little book and a variety of portentous tunes. I would stand in front of the pleasantly drunk crowds and read Syd as if tackling Macbeth. I started patrolling the Edinburgh charity shops, picking up Mills & Boon romances about vets curing arthritic horses and reading them accompanied by some Vaughan Williams.
While my main event was falling apart, my 3am sideshows were a joy. I enjoyed it so much I started a night called The Book Club, where idiosyncratic performers would be glued together by readings from my expanding library of the odd.
The shows led to a tour and some award nominations; we even won some. I had forged new friendships with all manner of excellent and idiosyncratic performers. We made podcasts and radio shows.
Once the Book Club seemed to lose its sheen, I killed it off, with the exception of festival outings. It was at one of these festival outings that I met a literary agent who suggested the show would make a good book. Meanwhile, I replaced the empty slot with a benevolent book club which celebrated greatness and wonder, with scientist and musician guests. This led to a sold-out show at the Hammersmith Apollo where Jarvis Cocker sang "I Believe in Father Christmas" before Richard Dawkins took to the stage to talk about spider-web evolution.
I've never enjoyed my work more than now. One moment I am sitting in a studio with comic-book legend, Alan Moore, talking about sock puppet gods, the next I am on stage with physicist Brian Cox trying to understand dark matter. I believe none of this would have happened if I hadn't come up with a disastrous show that led to me walking the streets in search of places to read out Syd Little's Little Goes A Long Way.
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