Giant Peach

As a result of curating and presenting David Gale’s Peachy Coochy Nites at ArtsAdmin’s Toynbee Studios Bar throughout the last year I have built up a personal arsenal of presentations.  Since first writing about the Nites here I’ve been compering the evenings – they comprise a selection of six presenters each delivering a show that is precisely 6 minutes and 40 seconds long – and, on every occasion, composing a show myself. After the first couple I realised that I seemed to be pursuing certain themes in my own cooches and decided to let that tendency lead the subsequent shows.
slideshow.jpgReaders who can’t be bothered to use the links are advised that Peachy Coochy is  an image and text format in which the presenter chooses 20 images which are projected for 20 seconds each. Each image is accompanied by  20 seconds of speech. Thus the thoroughly predictable 6 mins and 40 secs duration. Within this strict format imaginative variation is welcomed. I intro and outro the acts. We do six acts in an evening. There’s a laptop, a data projector, a big screen and a P.A.
The choice of topic is entirely down to the presenter, as is the approach to the format – as long as it doesn’t stray from the 20 x 20 bottom line. One of the things that makes the Nites hum is the remarkable range of the responses – people have sung, a physicist explained quantum theory, a bloke memorised his lines, shut his eyes and more or less managed to get the timings right, a naked artist fired surgical staples into her arm…
corset.jpgWhat couldn’t be predicted at the outset of the Nites was the sheer ingenuity and variety of responses to a decidedly severe set of constraints. Strength Weekly holds no torch for corsetry but it must be said that a tight squeeze really does bring out the best in everyday creative folk.
When I was asked to contribute to The City Wakes festival in Cambridge last month it occurred to me that I was in a good position to inflict on an audience a novel variant on the basic Peachy Coochy structure. I had six linked presentations at my disposal and could, therefore, join them up into one continuous 40 minute item. The density of my recurring allusions to the search for identity in a vaporising culture, Celine Dion, the virtues of the collapsible plastic packing case as a model for the early 21st Century self, Hertfordshire, doppelgangers, Amy Winehouse, fascist youth gangs, handguns, pale children and the sheer ugliness of Birmingham would become so much more telling in the new long form, I felt.
Installed in a room beside a church, I explained to the audience the history and background of the Cooch. I had on my lectern a glass of  water to moisten the voice that would soon be committed to establishing the World Image & Text Delivery Duration Record. Would I get through with an acceptable URE (Unforced Reading Error) count? Would I neglect vocal expression in the interests of good diction?
tongue.jpgForty minutes later I realised how touching it was to have imagined that I would reach across for the glass of water, convey it to my mouth, sip from it then replace it without disrupting the minerally cruel and inexorable procession of images through the PowerPoint apparatus. It was an entirely dry run. The URE count wasn’t too bad  – as one moves through the texts (nothing less than three and a half lines per image, nothing more than five) relations between the mind and one’s lips acquire an unforeseen tension and curious brick-like structures randomly obstruct the normally fluid lingual/labial interplay.
Because I didn’t invent it I can say that Peachy Coochy is a dandy little format – some presenters talk directly to the image, maintaining a literal connection, others caption humorously, some go for elliptical counterpoint and the film-maker John Smith asked to be mailed 20 images that he had never seen before then composed a connecting text titled ‘On the Relationship Between Power and Powder’.
And finally, The Guardian, here, catches a Peachy Coochy gig hosted and produced by Forced Entertainment.

The City Wakes

is the title of a Cambridge-based festival celebrating, from October 22nd to November 1st, the pre-London years of Syd Barrett, one of the founder members of Pink Floyd. Syd died in 2006 after many years of reclusiveness that followed his withdrawal from the band as a result of a slow but irreversible breakdown that was probably precipitated by an excess of LSD.
I grew up in Cambridge with Syd from about the age of 14 and went on to share flats with him in London in the Swinging and Delirious ’60s. A number of his friends, including myself, will contribute to the city-wide programme of tributes, exhibitions and events in his home town. I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do in a parallel universe, namely conduct guided tours of something. In this case and universe I shall be guiding enthusiasts around ‘Syd’s Cambridge’ – an excellent opportunity to revisit the Hallowed Hippy Havens that mapped out the angel-headed youth that many of us were sure we were navigating. I’m doing a talk at Borders and also presenting an Especial Cooch. The latter is an extension of what has rather rapidly become a London must-have occasion: David Gale’s Peachy Coochy Nites, details of which can be found here not to mention here. The especiality is outlined here.

syd.jpgIf I were pressed to make one useful comment about Syd it would be that before the surly craziness came he was a delightful, delighted, sunny, beautiful and amusing man. This photo from The City Wakes site finds him in typical shape at the age of 19.


I’ve been setting up a series of art’n’entertainment evenings – David Gale’s Peachy Coochy Nites (the term ‘Peachy Coochy’ refers to a type of performance that cannot be given its usual name in this context. This is not Strength Weekly toying with its readers’ curiosity so much as the consequence of a legal constraint that will not be discussed any further) – at ArtsAdmin’s new bar in Toynbee Studios, down London way. topplehouse.jpgLast Thursday was the inaugural occasion, featuring presentations from dancer Wendy Houstoun, visual artists Dan Harvey, Jeff McMillan, Gary Stevens and Dragan Alexsic and myself. The presentations consisted of responses to the following brief: you have 20 images and 20 seconds per image. In those 20 seconds you talk about the images. You must be precise. That’s it.
As a means of tempering the oral exuberance of young architects a Japanese architectural firm restricted pitching session invitees to the aforedescribed format. The feeling was that 400 seconds per pitcher was a reasonable amount of time in which to make a decent case and ascend to the short list. The format has been recognised around the world as a rather good set of constraints for non-business purposes. Give it to a bunch of artists, performers and anyone with a tale to tell or a point to make and see what happens. The other night, playing to a packed bar, the pioneer coucheurs (Fr, ‘mauvais coucheur’ – awkward customer) mounted the podium and submitted to the merciless machine timings of a Powerpoint show set to progress through an image series at precisely 20 second intervals.
pansy.jpgAnd what a pleasure it was to behold! We had Harvey, wry but poignant, on his Arctic visit; McMillan on Lubbock, Texas, his paintings and his roof garden; Houstoun’s strident and witty manifesto for the wholesale rejection of most aspects of everyday life; Stevens – normally the monkey in the pack, delivering an entirely straight but thoroughly absorbing disquisition on Van Eyck’s ‘Double Portrait’; myself with a tale of Capgras syndrome and parallel universes; finally Alexsic, suffering from flu and exhaustion, breaking most of the fundamental ground rules with great charm and laconic three second-long speeches instead of the mandatory 20 seconds, applied to images of his drawings.
The coucheur needs to have his or her wits about them. Speech units must terminate at the point of slide transition unless the coucheur has designed segue into the system. At this early stage in the development of the form that will supplant karaoke it may be wise to echew extreme purities – they will only constrain the innovators in non-fruitbearing ways. However, it is certainly possible to identify a small number of offensive practices: the use of random images that are connected in a random manner i.e. there is no continuity to the text that frames the images; the use of non-random images in a non-random manner i.e. the presentation resembles a conventional narrativised ‘My Holidays’ show in which the theme is privileged to the exclusion of the unexpected counterpoint of images.
Within seconds of writing the second half of the last sentence I retract it. This is far too prescriptive – what must I have been thinking? Were this fastidious prescriptiveness to be extended to the neurosurgeons, policemen, robbers and collectors of Unusual Things who might grace the evenings with their stories then we would have no stories. Which reminds me, I must try to persuade Hazel to do it.
Next Peachy Coochy Nite: February 28th. Booking advised.