BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

MARK THOMAS INTERVIEW: A chat with the Mark on the balcony of the Green Room in Newport Riverfront.

Today was quite a busy day, which, among other things, included me interviewing activist/comedian Mark Thomas.

The day started off with me being in Court in Swansea as an expert witness as part of my job. When I got back to the office I discovered that I have been short listed for another job, so have an interview next week; when I got home I discovered that the Alabama 3 had agreed to an interview on Saturday and the CDs I had ordered from Words of Warning had arrived (as I sit here typing this I am listening to Bender’s last City of Dalston).

We arrived at Newport Riverfront at roughly the time Mark was expecting to arrive, but needless to say he was running behind schedule. “A nightmare journey out of London” I was later to find out. So, together with me mate Squirrel, I wandered over to the Murringer, the oldest pub in Newport and a self styled ‘oasis of sanity in a sea of super pubs’.

As I walked into the Murringer, I noticed a sign on the door stating ‘No Burberry’. I thought this was a little odd, given that there were signed photos of local lads Goldie Lookin Chain on the wall. Now I may not like Burberry myself, but I would defend to the death peoples right to wear it; not tonight though, I just wanted a swift pint. As we sat there we were slowly joined by members of Gwent Anarchist Network. I knew they would be there because I knew they liked Mark Thomas and I knew that the Murringer is the only pub in the area that sells vegan beer. I don’t think Ansells Brewery set out specifically to make vegan beer, it just happened that way. Anyway, after a swift drink, back over to the Riverfront.

Mark had arrived while we had been over the pub, but had nipped out to the shop. ‘Yeah right’ I thought to myself, ‘he’s gone for a pint’, but after hanging around for about twenty minutes, he turned up with a bag of groceries, a French stick and bits and pieces to go with it. Obviously the Riverfront had not sorted out any food backstage. SHAME ON YOU THE RIVERFRONT!

Mark then led us through the auditorium, backstage and through a maze of corridors till we eventually arrived in ‘The Green Room’. Not sure why it was called the green room, there was nothing green about it. What it did have though was a balcony, which is where we conducted the interview so mark could have a cigarette.

Sometimes you see someone and know straightaway that they are going to be cool. My first impressions of Mark were spot on, in fact, if anything he was even nicer than he comes across on stage. Actually, I think I should explain that; I know several people who think he is a rude, angry, loudmouth; but I think because my politics and his are so close (or at least I think they are) I feel some sort of connectivity with him when he is on stage. Whatever, he was really cool and bent over backwards to accommodate us even though he had just had a “nightmare journey”, without food by the look of things, and as soon as he finished with us he had to get ready to go on stage.

I had prepared about a dozen questions but his answers were generally so comprehensive I did not have time to ask them all. I got more than enough material to write up the interview but I could have stayed there talking to him for another hour. Most of the questions were based on politics, we hardly touched on comedy. I felt we had to bring it to an end though, he obviously needed to get stuck into his baguette and do whatever comedians do before going on stage, solo group hug or whatever, not to mention the little matter of his mate Rob Newman starting his set.

He showed us the way back out and we sloped in to the auditorium a minute or so after rob had kicked off. Rob has a slightly different style to Mark. For starters, he came on dressed like a cross between a merchant banker and a teddy boy, wearing a pinstripe suit with a knee length jacket. You can tell Rob comes from a professional comedy background, with a taste for old skool music hall. Long complex stories that fall into place as he goes along with themes developing; well rehearsed (mostly) and slick. He has moved on from his days hanging out with David Baddiel, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, his set is now far more political, which is why he is touring with Mark. He obviously knows his stuff, as his retelling of the origins of the First World War demonstrates; and his description of non-hierarchical anarcho syndicalist organisation brought a smile to my face as it clearly came from first hand knowledge and was pretty spot on.

Mark is obviously far less of a tart than Rob, strolling on stage in jeans, t-shirt and trainers. His material is far more contemporary, focusing on what is going on in the world today and tales of direct action by himself and his mates doing their bit to disrupt the goings on of World Domination PLC. So many subjects are thrown at you it is difficult to remember it all at the end, but I am sure he touched on human rights, war, ID cards, the arms industry, religion, 4x4 off roaders and much more; although I do not recall hime mentioning Coca Cola, a pet hate of his. Having seen Mark a few times over the last few years, some of the material was not new to me, but on the whole, this is a set of fresh stuff so it was well worth the trip.

A set by Mark is far more than comedy, it is educational as well and if you come away from one of his shows without being angry and determined to do something about what is going on around you, you are pretty soulless.

Later, as Mark and Rob were getting into their Toyota people carrier, Squirrel and I headed off to the Taste of Asia for a Vegetable Biriani to wind up a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

My photographic skills in the dark let me down so my pictures are not worthy of publishing, so once again, above we have something taken from


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