As he turns 45, Fat Roland takes us on a wild tour of teenage life from Abba to ZZ Top, in ‘Seven Inch.’ The new show which is part of Week 53 festival is Developed With The Lowry as part of its ongoing commitment to artist development. In this interview Fat Roland talks us through the journey of going from comedian to theatre maker.
You’ve been around the Manchester comedy scene for some time – why have you decided to make a theatre show?
I’ve been doing spoken word and comedy since 2010 when I won a couple of writing awards. There would be ten people on an open mic, so I started introducing props so people would remember me more. But it’s like the merchandise in Needful Things: the objects began to take over. I had a lifesize cutout of the racing driver Jarno Trulli, a 50-foot scroll, and more illustrated pandas than it’s sensible for an adult to own. Once I introduced cartoons, I needed a bigger canvas. After all, Jarno Trulli stops at five foot eight inches, but cartoons can carry on until the marker pens run out. The Lowry is that bigger canvas. No-one else is doing my kind of gubbins for theatre audiences, and I think they deserve a strange idiot throwing cartoon nonsense at them for an hour.
‘Seven Inch’ was selected from a National open call to be part of Week 53 festival whose theme is ‘Coming of Age.’ What was your ‘coming of age’ moment?
Revolutions per minute. Records are designed to mostly run at two speeds: 33 1⁄3 rpm and 45 rpm. Forget 18 and 21: these two speeds are the most significant birthdays for someone into music. On my thirty-three-and-a-third birthday, I did a club night based on the theme “thirds”. ‘Seven Inch’ marks my forty-fifth birthday – which is actually in August, but let’s pretend it’s in May for the sake of the show. There’s something deeper going on too: when I’m on stage, I become my teenage self again, almost like I’m bridging a gap with the true me, unfettered with all the twaddle of adulthood. I’m an awkward kid finding myself again, with all the growing pains and bad skin and exhilarating self-discovery that entails. Having said that, if The Lowry had asked teenage-me to do a show, I would have literally plopped myself. There’s no danger of that with adult-me, although I guess we’ll find out halfway through the show.
The set for this show will be made entirely from your own illustrations. Have you always been interested in drawing?
Always. Drawing and writing and making music. When I was 14, I remember my maths teacher confiscating a sheet of doodles I’d been scrawling throughout her lesson. She said I wasn’t paying attention, but I flipping was. Not only did I draw and sell a comic in school called ‘The Silly Comic,’ I got an A in GCSE maths. Can’t remember the teacher’s name: Mrs Flipsocks or something. Drawing has always been a useful chute for my cluttered imagination, and I learned with great intent when I was a lad, tracing the interconnecting circles in “how to” books. I’ve rediscovered my cartooning through making this show. These days my approach is far less studious: scrappy and first-draft is fine by me. Cartoons are a real gift for my writing too: I can go to some deliciously dark places while the audience is disarmed with the warmth of the illustrations.
With a title like ‘Seven Inch’ – does music feature heavily in the show?
Yes, but you’ll enjoy it without being a music geek. The music serves the comedy and the spoken word, and I’ve had fun mashing together tunes to make a whole new load of bosh. I mention everything from Abba to ZZ Top, and I’m currently trying to work in a reference to Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. I’ve even written a couple of songs. Everything speeds along, so if I go a bit too obscure on 1990s dance anthems, there’s something else hurtling towards you that should waggle your funny bone. Music informs so much of what I do. I’ve been music blogging since 2004 and write for Electronic Sound magazine. And I’m often surrounded by musicians in my day job at the wonderful International Anthony Burgess Foundation. If my ears dropped off, I’d be stuffed. I hope my ears don’t drop off. Please don’t make my ears drop off.
And lastly, we don’t want you to spend your birthday alone – would you like to spend it at The Lowry with us on 17, 18, 24 & 25 May?
No, you’re alright. I’m staying in to file my mp3s into size order. Wait. Hold on. DEFINITELY come to this. It’s an accumulation of eight years of prancing around on stages, and if you don’t come and support ‘Seven Inch’, I’m coming round your gaff and singing early Justin Bieber songs at your face until the end of time. Baby baby baby oooh, baby baby baby aaaargh.
‘Seven Inch’ comes to The Lowry 17, 18, 24 & 25 May. For tickets and more information visit the website or call box office on 0843 208 6000.