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The Brownbread Mixtape – Vol. 1

For over a decade I hosted and curated a live monthly variety show called The Brown Bread Mixtape, and it took place upstairs in the legendary Stag’s Head pub here in Dublin. Those eclectic, electric nights in that old Victorian room were some of the most fun and creatively exciting times I’ve had.

The night always had a theme, and then I invited independent musicians and spoken word artists & poets to perform, with their sets loosely based around that theme. And I would always write a handful of radio-style comedy sketches that I performed with my dear friends (and infinitely better actors) Gus, Eva and Sean (aka The Brownbread Players). The atmosphere was always buzzing in that packed room, and the audience was a huge part of that consistently magical experience.

Recently I stumbled across a digital treasure trove of recordings from the shows and put the word out to see if there was any interest in hearing them. I was delighted to see that the answer was a resounding “Hell yeah”, so I have put together the first of a handful of mixtapes from the shows that captures some of the finest musical performances on the rarest nights.

Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed revisiting them. Let me know what you think and feel free to share the soundcloud link onwards to anyone who might dig it. And please support the featured artists — Marc O’Reilly, Rook & The Ravens, Harry Bird & The Rubber Wellies, Lindsey Horne, and Enda Reilly

Welcome to the Internet

Bo Burnham’s Inside is still resonating deeply. His creative mind is at the peak of its powers. And it is such a brilliant snapshot of the digitally connected world we live in, as well as being a profoundly thoughtful exploration of the pandemic and our place in it. This song is a superb standalone slice of genius, and also a great calling card for Bo Burnham’s mighty mix of humour and musical mastery. I have to admit I pegged him completely wrong and assumed (incorrectly) that he was not for me. After seeing this I will watch anything he makes. If it wasn’t obvious already. I urge you to watch it . It is pure creativity and simultaneously it is a study of the creative process. So much more than meets the eye.

Inside by Bo Burnham is a masterpiece

I watched Inside by Bo Burnham on Netflix last night. It was like nothing I have ever seen and I was utterly blown away by it. It’s listed as a comedy special but that doesn’t come close to describing it. It’s a meditation on life during the pandemic, it’s about creativity and the creative process, it’s about mental health, it’s about the digital world we live in, and ultimately it is a really beautiful, clever film. It is time very well spent in the company of a unique mind. Give it a watch, I’m going to watch it again.

Where do you get your ideas from?

This is a classic question that often gets directed at creative people like you and me. And there really isn’t a satisfying answer for it. At least, not a definitive, simple explanation that the person asking will be happy with. For me, it’s about allowing space for little connections or sparks to happen in my brain. Often a good idea will come to me when I am thinking about nothing at all – sometimes when I’m on a walk, or in the shower, or simply staring into space and daydreaming. One pattern I have noticed with myself is when I am beginning to really zero in on a particular project that excites me (most recently this was a comedy play I am writing). Often I will then spot something in the everyday, or a cool concept/thought enters my consciousness, and I instinctively try to connect it to the work I am currently focused on.

So, what could have been a random idea that simply makes me smile or intrigues me and ordinarily gets jotted down in a notebook and filed away, now instead seeks out connective tissue to the project I am working on. I see possibilities for how it could be woven into that project. In the case of the play, I recently had an idea for a cool way of displaying visuals on a screen on a stage, and I quickly realised that this could be something that might work for the play I’m finishing up.

If I was to step back and analyse this a bit more closely, it starts to become a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. In my subconscious there are things rumbling, and I was possibly inspired to think about theatrical staging because I was working on a play. Or its equally possible that this idea was sparked by something else I observed and I was able to draw a connection to the play, and to then find a way to fit it in creatively to the piece.

More broadly though, I think the more you allow yourself to simply daydream and give a project time to breathe & formulate, the more you find that these flights of fancy come to you and, by extension, are something that you can start attaching to your current project like little lego ideas.

Deadlines can be a great forcing function sometimes, but I personally run into trouble when I am pushing myself to write something very specific and am demanding my brain to cook up inventive ideas that simply aren’t accessible. It can be done of course. And I have done it for many projects. But generally I find that you end up going back to cliches, standard tropes and things you’ve done before. If I have the luxury of time, the more I allow myself to not demand a creative idea, but rather give myself leeway to let it take shape in my head before committing it to a page, the better and more interesting it can be,

Everyone has a different process, and many creative people like prompts to spark new ideas, and others simply let the muse take them. As for me, my ideas come from everywhere, usually where there is space to not overthink.

Artlick Lounge: Home of “The Michael Gross Drink”

Back in the days of writing and creating for artlick.com (alas no longer online), I filled my notepads with several ideas & sparks for pieces to post on the site. Almost 25% of my ideas those days were visual – little doodles or sketches – which was probably due to the website being such a visual medium. One such idea was to create a secret part of the site that would take you to our artlick lounge bar.

And of course in that lounge we would digitally serve conceptual and silly beverages. And the signature cocktail was “The Michael Gross Drink”, named after the journeyman actor who starred in the sitcom Family Ties and the Tremors movie series. I remember us being very tickled by the sheer mundanity of calling it “drink” rather than cocktail or martini. And if memory serves, the drink contained whiskey, some prescription medication, and a feature length movie playing inside it.

The idea never went any further than these doodles that I sketched it out. Either it was too complex to pull off with our limited web design skills, or we found another idea that captured our imagination more.

Michael Gross – the actor, not the drink