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...

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.


Readers 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…


What 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?


Forty 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.


Trying to Situate Syd

I gave a talk at ‘The City Wakes’ the other day. This is the week of events in tribute to Syd Barrett currently underway in Cambridge. Syd was a founding member of the Pink Floyd who lost his mind, probably due to an excessive intake of LSD, then spent the...

Roger, Syd & the Batman – the Dark Night of Cool

This is the text of a talk I gave at Borders in Cambridge in October 2008, in the course of the weeklong ‘The City Wakes’ , Cambridge’s tribute to Syd Barrett of the Pink Floyd. I lived round the corner from Syd Barrett in Cambridge in the late 50s...


To the rear of the Don Pasquale restaurant in Market Square, Cambridge is the unisex toilet. Seated there momentarily whilst en route to a meeting with a group of City Walking Tour Guides whom I am about brief on the favourite locations of Pink Floyd founding genius...