Edinburgh Festival 2014 – The Prologue

The annual 4am CAB whistle-stop tour of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has begun. As Cheryl would say, Hoo-bloody-rah!

I have a packed out itinerary for the trip, my spreadsheet currently has me down to see seven shows today and a rather leisurely five tomorrow before returning in the evening. Wish me luck, and a lot of coffee.

Rather than preview anything now (I’ve not bought any tickets yet) I’ll be tweeting what I see as I wait to be let in. Follow the progress into madness here: www.twitter.com/4amcab

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Boudicca – Anna Franklin

Like theatre? Live in St Albans? Then you simply must go and see 4amcab’s Anna MacLeod Franklin rip up the stage as Queen Boudicca which is on at the Maltings Arts Theatre from 5th – 7th & 10th – 12th September. We spoke to Anna to get the lowdown:


4amcab: So what’s the play about?
Anna: It’s about the last days of the legendary Queen of the Iceni, Boudicca. The play opens with Boudicca at the height of her power, having sacked Colchester, London and Verulamium. However she faces conflicting choices with the Romans ready for pitched battle, should she evade, retreat, negotiate or meet the Romans head on? The play has been written by local novelist and playwright Imogen de la Bere, who is fabulous. She’s taken an interesting approach in modelling the structure of the play on the Greek form – having serious scenes between two or three characters interspersed by livelier ones – the chorus role in this case being taken by three roman soldiers who are prisoners of the Iceni and provide a running commentary in a lighter vein, however unlike the Greek model the soldiers are drawn into the story and become key players.

4amcab: And you have the title role?
Anna: I do! It’s a very exciting project from a personal point of view – I’ve wanted to play Boudicca since I was about 16, but being able to do so in a brand new play is a great privilege. Also the living history aspect of it is fascinating, there is still a layer of ash under St Albans left from when the real Boudicca razed it to the ground in about 60 AD. Being able to tell the story in the actual place where it happened is rather a thrill.

4amcab: You have original music and costumes too?
Anna: We’re incredibly lucky to have some fantastic local creatives on board. Local composer David Podd has written some beautiful original music for us, some of which has been recorded by counter-tenor Peter Crawford. And local fabric artist Patchwork Toad aka Tiggi Harding has designed some highly stylised costumes with her unique brand of edginess – Boudicca’s battle headpiece has to be seen to be believed.


4amcab: You have 6 dates booked, any plans to do more performances?
Anna: Absolutely! We’re hoping to do a larger scale open air performance in St Albans next year, and beyond that we may tour further afield.

4amcab: Break a leg!
Anna: Thanks! I hope not. I thought I’d broken my arm the other night in rehearsal when I died in an incredibly awkward position and when I got up my arm had gone all floppy and took twenty minutes to work again. Oh no I’ve given the ending away…….

Tickets are on sale here and cost £15 for unreserved seating.

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Crash, burn and rise from the ashes

Depending upon whether you use twitter or facebook (come on, you must have heard of them?!) you will probably know that 4amcab had a bit of a setback with the last episode.  I rather cleverly managed to drop the external hard drive that contained all the recordings and, more heartbreakingly, the work-in-progress edit of the show. 


I had no back up except for a copy of the raw studio recordings with the actors.  I lost everything else.  This means all the mixes that I’d done for the past ten episodes have all been converted from 1’s and 0’s into just, well, nothings.

Before we even started work on the very first script for Series 2, we announced that all the episodes would be released on the 1st of the month, we call it 4amcab Day.  I dropped the hard drive – only 6 inches, I should add – four days before the deadline.  I usually spend about two weeks on the edit, at a nice leisurely pace, so I don’t get too rushed with it.  I now had four days to redo what I had almost finished. 

I spent the first day in denial that it was gone.  I went to see a computer specialist to try retirieve my hard work but it was to no avail.  The only way to get the stuff back was to send it to a professional with a dust-free “clean room” who would like to charge me anything from £500 – £5,000 to get my work back.  That would have taken at least two weeks so didn’t help with the imminent deadline and I don’t make Crystal Meth for a living, so I couldn’t afford the price tag.

The only course of action was to hold my hands up (once I’d stopped wiping the tears from my face) and say we’d miss the deadline this month.  4amcab Day would be postponed, at least a few days.  Then something wonderful happened.  I sat down to recreate my masterpiece and it all fell into place.  As I’d been working on it for the last ten days it was all fresh in my memory and I found that my muscle memory (and actual memory) started to remember what I’d done.  I was racing through the episode.  Another stroke of luck was that my cohort, Rachel, had planned to be at the recording but instead sacked it off to drink Pimms at the cricket.  So I had sent her an initial cut of the story for the episode of just the actors performances for her approval.  I was able to pull that off my email and had the starting blocks for S2Ep4 – Spudmarine.


As we credit all the music we use under a Creative Commons licence, I had even kept a record of what music I had used so I was quickly able to download it again and chuck it in the mix.  After a few days of hardcore editing, I had recreated the first mix of the episode.  Then it was just a case of listening back and making notes and adding in extra sound effects to bring it to life.


The episode went out a little later in the day than usual but 4amcab Day was celebrated as usual, more so in fact.  The moral of the story is Don’t Drop Your Hard Drive or Back Your 5hit Up!

It turned out to be a really good episode, listen to the results here.  Also follow us on twitter and like us on facebook if you want to get the inside scoop on what’s going on with 4amcab.

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Drawing Derek

Back when I was at school, I used to do a lot of drawing.  I thought back then that I might be an artist, probably a cartoonist.  I’ve let my skills lapse a bit since then and now most of my sketches are of painfully simple trains for my 3 year old’s enjoyment.

My life took a different path, I ended up working in radio and making this podcast.  Great.  What links my past self with my current one (and this blog post) is that we’d like to give Derek the Bi Polar Bear a face (and a body for that matter).  So, are you an artist, probably a cartoonist?  Would you like to provide the face (and body) of Derek?  Yes?  Good.  Then we want to hear from you.

Have a listen to this: Derek the Bi Polar Bear then open up your pencil case and send us your charcoal sketch, pen and ink scribble, watercolour or digital design.  We’ll feature them on the website (as long as they’re not too rude!) and the best one will be the official face (and body) of Derek.  The address to send them to us, is the usual one: ideas@4amcab.com

I wonder what Squish and the Voice Over Lady look like too?


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Interview: Chris Baker

Here at 4amcab, we are very lucky to have a talented crop of actors that work tirelessly to make the show sound totally awesome.  Our longest serving “thesp” comes in the shape of Chris Baker.  He’s been with us since the very first episode, and boy, hasn’t he grown!  We complied some questions, tied him to a table and forced him to answer them:

Chris in Roberto Zucco

4amcab: Thanks for putting up with our silly show for so long.
CB: A pleasure – Where else could I be a Bi Polar Bear or a Glaswegian Woman in the space of 5 minutes?  Outside of WoW

4amcab: So who are you?
CB: I’m Chris, mostly… I’m an incredibly shy extrovert, I’m constantly acting up but it makes me really really nervous!?!

4amcab: It’s fair to say that you are a natural performer but who is your favourite character to play from the show and why?
CB: Without a doubt Derek, I love letting loose after he pops his pills, in fact the crazier the part the better.

4amcab: How did you first get into acting and what was your first (or favourite) part?
CB: I’ve always been exposed to acting starting with school plays.  I was always the bad guy, actually that’s not true I was also a tree once.  My Uncle was in footlights and my Aunt is Wizadora – still can’t watch it without bleeding from the eyes.  And I studied Philosophy & Drama at University  – I can argue any point and still look like I mean it.  I guess it was Uni where I realised how much I enjoyed acting and realised I might not be that terrible.  The cheap booze really helps with anxiety issues!!!.  My favourite acting experience came from playing Dr Frank-N-Furter in a production of the Rocky Horror Show at Wall Hall students union.  It was insanely low rent, practically just karaoke with an audience, but I loved every second of it.

4amcab: Finally, where else can we see or hear your work?
CB: This week I’m at the Maltings Theatre, St Albans, playing Roberto Zucco in a show entitled Roberto Zucco, being performed by Breakaway Theatre Company (really enjoying the Psycho roles at the moment ;-)). I want to write a Sci-Fi for the stage, it’s in my head but I’ve just got to sit down and get on with it, and there are some rumblings about me directing an original piece for Breakaway.

4amcab: Thanks again for being in the show.
CB: Piss Wizard

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Making 4am Cab – Part 3: Editing

We thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into how 4amcab gets made, so this is the final part of a three part blog post doing just that.  Lee shares his secrets for making the show sound as good as it does.

Part 3: Editing
For the writers and the actors, their job is done.  For me though, the hard work is just beginning.  Rachel has named the editing process TLWE, or The Lee Wilson Effect.  She’s very kind.  All I really do is trawl the internet for podsafe music (more on that later) and bung in a few sound effects and there you go.  Sounds simple but it’s actually painstaking.

The first task is really to get the best version of the actors performances into one final take.  Usually it’s the second run through and the odd retake of the punchline but ocassonally it’s a complete mix of the three.  In S2Ep1: Writers Room, one of the storyline characters takes Spood, our fictional drug with the opposite effects of speed.  For the recording of this scene I needed to keep the actors voices separate.  The scene relied upon a lot of post production to slow down and add reverb, so any overlap of the voices would make it impossible.  As anyone that’s worked in drama will tell you, you get the best performance when the actors react to each other.  However, that’s the last thing I technically needed for this to work.  So what we ended up doing was running the scene several times, then recording both parts separately with the same energy.  I think it worked.

Another device that I use to great effect in 4amcab is stereo.  I use this to add depth, movement and perspective to the show and it makes it sound slick too.  As our budget is zero, I record with just one microphone, so I have to create the stereo image in post production rather than during the recording.  To do this, I need clean takes (no overlapping of the actors) to be able to split up during the edit.  Simply put, I chop up the recording and then adjust how much of each actor comes out of each speaker.  When the music and sound effects are layered on top it makes the show sounds so much better than if it was a mono production.  Of course all this is irrellevant if you listen on your iPhone speaker, so I must also make sure that it works well as a mono listen too.

We think the overall sound of the show is very distinctive.  In fact, most people’s first comment is along the lines of, “It sounds fantastic.”  Although we don’t have a regular theme for the show, each episode does have it’s own identity which also conforms to our overall style.  This theme also forms a leitmotif to inform the listener when we’re returning to the storyline.  Finding the theme, and in fact all the music for the show, is a long process of auditioning and rejecting a variety of music until I find the one that works.  You probably wont recognise any of the music we use as it is created by talented people doing it for the love of it and then sharing it with a Creative Commons licence.  We do credit everyone that we use, so if you like the sounds please do check out the links and listen to other music that they have created.

The sound effects come last.  Once the bulk of the episode is edited, the final touch is to add in the noises to make the sketches, dare I say it, more believable.  This can be anything from a door opening to the beep of a ghost detector.  I take two paths to find the sound effects, firstly I try find them online and secondly if there’s nothing suitable I make them myself.  There are many websites that share sounds for free that other sound designers have created and this is the easiest method of adding them to the mix.  Sometimes, though, they just don’t sound right and I have to make them.  I have recorded car doors, engines, footsteps, paper rustling and oven doors, to name just a few.  Incidentally, footsteps are the hardest one to get right, to my ears, they always sound fake.

Once the first edit is done.  I try to leave it for a day or two and then come back and listen through to the whole thing with a pad and pen, writing down anything that doesn’t work as well as it should.  I then go in for a second edit before sending the finished mp3 off to Rachel for her to tell me what she likes/hates.  I then ignore Rachel and publish it online and on iTunes.

Then we get ready to do it all over again.

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Making 4am Cab – Part 2: Recording

We thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into how 4amcab gets made, so this is the second part of a three part blog post doing just that.  Lee shares his process for recording.

Part 2: Recording
Once the script is finished, usually a day before the recording, it’s emailed out to the actors.  The 4amcab Company will all have been roped into booked for the recording date and be chomping at the bit to get to the biscuits with the most amount of chocolate on them.  We’ve recorded the show in a plethora of locations, including my shed, my car, my garage and a few local venues that have been kind enough to lend their facilities.  We currently use a basement room in the Alban Arena, which sounds surprisingly acoustically good.

I arrive slightly early, something for which I’m not known and set up the mobile studio.  There’s a mixing desk, one microphone which has switchable polar patterns (that just means that it’s suitable for any number of actors recording at the same time – it has nothing to do with Derek!) and a small solid state recorder where all the voices of the actors are transfered into 1’s and 0’s.

Gradually the actors arrive ready for their moment to shine.  I’ve got an unusual directing style in that I don’t immediatley give any, or at least it’s minimal.  The thinking behind this is that the actors all give their time freely and I want them to give the best performance that they can and play to their own strengths.  Most of the time they are very good and just require only a little nudge or explanation of the sketch to find the humour.  In fact, I’m constantly impressed with how flippin’ brilliant they all are and we tend to only do two takes and the occassional pick up to give a variation on the punch line.

Due to the last minuteness of the script, the actors sometimes won’t have had the chance to read the whole thing through before we start.  With that in mind, and as the episode is broken up with other sketches along the way, we always start recording the story first.  This ensures continuity of the characters and for the flow of the story to make sense.  From here on in, it’s just ploughing through the episode’s other sketches and getting the best takes possible.  As we have our own company of actors and we write with them in mind, they are cast into their roles before they arrive.  It is very rare to have to make changes, however, it’s at this point that I know if a sketch doesn’t quite work and I can try a different actor or even a frantic last minute rewrite.  So far we’ve only ever cut two sketches and that is testament to the quality of the writing, awesome acting and flow of the episodes to date.

Once we’ve wrapped the recording, assuming I don’t drop the recorder on the floor without saving and have to record the whole thing again (this actually happed for Series 2 Episode 2!) we all toddle off in our various directions to relax and return to normal life.

If I’m lucky there’ll be a chocolate biscuit left!

Oh yeah, then there’s the small matter of the edit.

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Making 4am Cab – Part 1: Writing

We thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into how 4amcab gets made, so this is the first part of a three part blog post doing just that.  Rachel shares her writing process.

Part 1: Writing

I jot down ideas as they come to me, to be written up later. When I get stuck, I put it away for a bit, and come back to it. If that fails, the method described by John Cleese here is very useful for getting a creative solution to a seemingly impossible problem. When writing sketches for radio (or, podcast), this excellent blog post by Dan Tetsell is pretty much the definitive guide in terms of formatting etiquette.

This book by Sally Holloway can show you how to get comedy out of nothing by brute force, effectively.

So Lee and I write up as many sketches as we can think of, put them in a drawer for a week, go to work, put the kids to bed, look again at the drawer, wince, sleep, get up, look at th- you get the picture. Then, finally, we make a really strong cup of #tea, open the drawer, read everything we’ve written, and hone it down to make it ‘better.’

Lee is in charge of the final script. He decides on the final order, and might include sketches that have been submitted to the show by other writers. Then we read it half a dozen times, make tweaks and usually decide that everything needs completely re-writing.

Luckily, we have a solid deadline in the form of the recording date, so there is absolutely no choice but to get it finished by, in series 2 episode 2’s case, 7pm tonight.


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Interview: Rachel Sambrooks

One of our new writers for the second series is Rachel Sambrooks.  She sent us several sketches during our submission window but it was one in particular that we just had to use.  We asked her a few questions and she answered them:

4amcab: Hi
Rachel Sambrooks: Hello you

4amcab: Thanks for submitting material to us for our second series.
RS: Thanks for including it.

: So who are you?

RS: I am a writer, performer and teacher, so I do freelance projects related
to theatre/radio etc. I’ve had funding for projects and writing and done
stand up but I’m concentrating on writing at the moment. I’m also a mother
of two and carer for my feisty, cheeky but language disordered (it’s a
disability thing) youngest.

: We loved the idea of a Russian girl sending out emails to try find

love.  How did you come up with the idea?
RS: I received a series of spam emails from supposed Russian beauties who
sounded like they knew me, even though it was obviously made up. It made me
laugh and I wondered what would it be like if they were real. I wrote a
draft sketch and ideas and thought it might fit the tone of the 4amcab

: We’ve asked you to write a story arc for the characters of

Svetlana and to introduce other people in her life.  How did you
approach the challenge?
RS: I had already imagined her living in a house share of lovelorn lovelies
so after you suggested building a narrative and gave me some great ideas
(thanks) I expanded on that and tried to include the funniest email scams I
had received. It’s a nice way to use the stupid dross you get without just
blatantly saying ‘look at this scam isn’t it stupid’.

: Finally, where else can we hear your words?

RS: I’m just in the process of setting up a website and I’ll be putting my
stuff up on there. You can also follow me on twitter: @labellaraquella.
If anyone does like what they hear, please contact me if you have any
writing work! (Worth a try even in an interview, isn’t it?)

: Thanks again for writing for us

RS: Thanks so much for having me!

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Other podcasts we like

We’re a liberal bunch here at 4amcab and as such we’d like to tell you about a couple of our favourite podcasts, that we have nothing to do with.  Some nay sayers might say, “Nay, they are your competition for listeners!” but the way we see it is that if we tell you about them and you enjoy them, then we’ll get that nausiating smug feeling and karma might come into play.  I’d like to tell you about two shows that are quite similar to the sort of thing we do but also have their own twist on produced comedy.

Kim Noble’s Prawn Facts
Kim Noble's Prawn FactsIf you’ve never entered Mr Kim Noble’s world, then prepare for a bizarre treat.  He reminds me of that awkward schoolboy that sat in the corner of the classroom and had pockets full of marbles and snot all over his face.  A misfit that never really managed to develop his social skills at the same rate as everyone else.  Of course, this could be an elaborate cover and he may be the life and soul fo the party in real life.  His Prawn Facts podcast, of which there are currently seven episodes available, take the form of an investigative journalism approach to a theme or subject and are forged from phonecalls, vox pops and monologues that circle around and back to where they began.  An entertaining and creative listen.  Follow him on twitter too for photos and commentry of him surreptitiously touching things in public without their owner knowing.

FISTBUMPIN’ with Flat 29
FISTBUMPIN' with Flat 29Imagine a trio of performing arts graduates who specialise in music and sound and have a bit of time on their hands.  Sounds like it could be awful, but FISTBUMPIN’ (for they use capitals themselves) with Flat 29 is a delight.  It’s a composition of sketches and music of their own creation and the closest thing we’ve found to 4amcab so far.  Of course, they are very talented musicians and we can barely play the triangle (even if Rachel holds the hitty part) so they’ve got a great additional element to what they do.  They are clearly good friends too and the inclusion of an occassional outtake, left in for comedy value, is perfectly judged.  They are also on twitter too, so follow them for more details of their stuff as and when.  Should also mention they also have an album which, rather generously, they allow you to listen for free on their website.

 If you do go and listen to either or both podcasts, tell them that @4amcab sent you ;-)


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