TS Elliot once wrote, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper,” & I guess that’s how this blog ended. I’d met a girl on the Thursday night, whose all night drinking antics basically wrote off my friday (Hangover number 9). Then on the Saturday I went to Roslin glen on the edge of town & DJ-ed at Katie Craig’s 30th birthday party in the woods, a complex logistical nightmare which saw me getting into town just in time to sound engineer VICTOR POPE’S last – & dare I say best – show (number 87). This was followed by a paid jam seesion with Luke & Cameron at the Elm Bar, which gave me – on monday morning – my 11th hangover, resulted in me doing fuck all on the monday!
So there we have it, a fizzling ending to a fiery month, nut one which had stirred the soul. During this time I’ve had some great laughs, met some lovely people & seen some great shows. Unfortunately Ive completely ran out of words, so I shall leave you with a few images from my final days at the festival. Ciao x Damo!
Yesterday was a good day & renewed my enthusiasm for all things Fringey. Thus when I stirred this morning to see the time reading 09.53, & I was due to see a show at 10.30, I was rapidly up & dressed in the boy-way, meaning I was out of the door only 3 minutes later. This meant no breakfast, but fortunately my first show of the day threw in tea & cake! Incidentally, the scrumilicious cake was supplied by Henderson’s, the cafe next door to the Jekyll & Hyde, & the excellent tea came from Eteaket on Frederick Street. So to the show… it is called THE TEAROOM & is on twice a day at LAURISTON HALL (22-28 – 10.30AM & 3PM) on Lauriston Street. Very much in the vein of the Fawlty Towers Dining Experience, we are thrust reality TV style into the middle of a tearoom, with the play happening among us. The punters are on the edges of the room while the action is conducted at the three tables in the centre. One by one the characters come in & are served their food & drink by an imminintely watchable waitress named Wendy (Dawn Hollington), all conducted in real time over the two hours of the show. The playwright, TANYA ALEXANDER, gives us several tales, inspired by conversations she’d heard in Bournemouth Tea shops, which now has the customers down on the south coast terrified to speak whenever she goes in!
Back here in Scotland, the real-life sources of these stories give us some very moving moments, especially that of the old fashioned elderly couple who have lost touch with their son after he married an Asian girl. You could tell it wasn’t going to be the same old weekly visit for them, for they’d come in on a Thursday & not their usual Friday, & the fortchoming revelations & reponse of the woman to them is highly emotive stuff. The entire cast, from hilarious fuddy duddies to young college mates, is 12 strong, & one feels like one is watching the aristocracy of the Am-Dram Dorset set… indeed, after a sell-out tour of the show all round Dorset last year, they have gone international for the week as if taking their movie to Cannes… & so they should as its a very welcome, & tasty, addition to the Fringe!
Across the road from Lauriston Hall is the EDINBURGH COLLEGE OF ART, hosting its annual Fringe-time POSTGRADUATE DEGREE SHOW. Here, one can wander through the latest cutting edge art of mankind’s fermenting youth, where the future Turner Prize winner may be lurking in student squalor. One is presented with various medias of the visual arts, of which SHAO-HUAN HSUING’s delectable ESCAPISM stood out. Entering a darkend room one is blasted with computer generated images, on both a screen & a strange model, & the overall effect is spell-binding. Elsewhere, two cute blondes, JOANNA HILL & HEATHER MCDERMOTT, were watching over their funk-fashioned, technicolour jewellery, enabling me to take these photos.
Leaving the art to gain in price my next show was ZANZIBAR FOR CATS (24-29 / 15.00) at the GILDED BALLOON, a very interesting hour indeed. Essentially we are given the latest poetry of HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS, but not from the poet himself, but by a friend he made thirty years ago, ROY HUTCHINS. This loss of ego then results in the listener truly appreciating the poem itself, especially from the mouth of Mr Hutchins, a two-time Perrier nominee, double Fringe First and Performer of the Year Award winner. I’ll admit, I dont know much about Heatchote’s work, but an hour immersed in his thought stream & turn of phrase was a definite ear-opener. Both topical & satirical at the same time, his stuff is more mega-monologue than poetry, yet completly entrancing. His Rhapsode, Roy, is the perfect foil for Heathcote’s muse, & the whole package is like when you get a pie from Greggs thats been out of the oven the couple of minutes it takes for it to cool down enough not to burn your tongue, yet is still heat-retentively tasty!
Feeling orpheus in my psychic sails, outside the Gilded Balloon I stumbled on THE POETRY TAKEAWAY, a wicked little addition to the Festival. Looking something like a posh burger van, the performance poet TIM CLARE scribbles down information from members of the public & will turn them into a poem, all for free. He got a bit of funding off an institution called IDEA’S TAP & its good to see he has realised his idea. Churning out quality poems factory-style is something I’m used to (epics don’t just write themselves y’know), & the presentation of the pieces – on posh paper in posher envelopes – can only serve to please their eventual recipients. Good work Tim, an ingenius angle & as more people get back into poetry, the better it’ll be for us all (especially the poets)!
Next up VICTOR POPE, on his day off, treated me to see a world premier show from the International Festival; entitled THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE at the operatic KINGS THEATRE. Back in the 50’s the young milk man Sean Connery made his debut here in South Pacific, but today it had been taken over by another Pacific lot, namely the Japanese. The production is based on a novel by Haruki Murakami, a surreal author & one of Victor’s favorites. The stage adaption has been made by American actor & film director, Stephen Earnhart, a multi-media affair which is a feast for the senses. Unfortunately, I found the story all over the place, but Victor re-assured me that was Murakami’s style. Still, it was a warm coupel of hours sat in high up in a grand setting, listening to the music this beautiful Japanes woman conjured on her own from her pit full of instruments. With all the multi-media stuff going on I felt as if I sat on the cusp of evolution. When Mr Connery played here, theer would have been painted wooden backdrops, but today we have tv screens with subtitles & projected images on blank screens. After all the theatre I’d been watching, it felt a cool wee, if a little premature, climax – for as of tomorrow we have come to the last lap of the Fringe.
Yet the theatrics are not yet over, & I went over to CVENUES, looking forward to the third part of the LULLABIES OF BROADMOOR. This one’s called WILDERNESS (26-27 / 22.20), & with the same four actors once again taking part, Im kinda hooked Eastenders style. This story is about a civil war veteran, who turns up unhinged in London & slays a guy. The story is largely about his inappropriate relationship with the wife of the victim, with the dead man’s ghost turning up from time to time screaming obscenities. The veteran, Dr Chester Minor, is played & cast excellently by Chris Courtenay, easily baring his portion of the quartet’s leading roles as if quaffing a good cup of tea. The writer, STEVE HYNESSEY ,must be acclaimed for his blending of the supernatural, the insane & the human touch found in all three of his plays so far. Couple this with the detailed research he conducted through the medical records of Broadmoor prison, & we have a playwright to be commended. On top of that he’s a proper nice guy. I now find myself eagerly awaiting the final play, THE MURDER CLUB (26-27 – 21.00), as if it were the Christmas episode down Albert Square.
This time next week it’ll be all over bar the the creation of arty montages from the leftover flyers. Finally shaking off the weekend I set off out in the morning to the SUMMERHALL for HOTEL METHUSELAH (19-26 – 10.45 / 12.45 / 14.45). It was first at the fringe in 2006, winning acclaim for its cutting edge stage design & theatrics which are still fresh today. They involve a mix of film & acting, synchronised to perfection, in which the real-life is seen from the neck down & the celluoid gicing us the heads. I was invited along by my mate’s sister, MORVEN MACBETH, who gave a glorious performance (& thats unbiased) of the ghost that haunts her amnesiac ex-husband – a night porter at the hotel. The whole thing comes across very film noir, very European & very slick, a real-life graphic novel with a constant background noise of battle as if one was in Berlin April 1945, where the Germans carried on living an illusion with the Russians roaring over the River Oder. The two main protaganists are supported by the other two great actors & the whole experience is sensual in that late night Soho kind of way, where lipstick smudges on the whiskey glass & illicit sex is stolen in shadowy alley ways
My next show was by the BELARUS FREE THEATRE at the PLEASANCE COURTYARD, called A REPLY TO KATHY ACKER:MINSK 2011 (24-29 / 13.00), a thought-conjuring piece of political brinksmnaship, defiantly highlighting the oppression of the former Soviet Republic, although from the safety of a liberal Britannia! The company was formed in 2005 by husband & wife team NIKOLAI KHALEZIN & NATALIA KALIADA. This year’s show was played by a young Belorussian cast, speaking in their native tongue with subtitles on a giant screen behind them. It is something of a series of vignettes highlighting the life & times of life in Minsk, the capital of Europe’s last dictatorship. It’s actually quite brilliant, & played with an energy that can only come from real-life experience. The finale is an operatic flourish which has a pretty Belorussian woman declaring her country is not sexy, for it has no coastline or mountains, & tells us the only way they can be noticed is by going naked – which she does completely, & then gets painted head to toe with rollers before rolling on paper & making body art. A sublime piece of theatre, as contemporaneously poignant as watching Colonel Gadaffi’s compound being over-run in Tripoli at the very moment she showed us her very impressive lady-bits!
Next came a coffee with this literary agent who’s interested in my Edinad (see above). He’s come down from Perth for a wee chat & to check out the fringe, so I chucked him my free ticket for POLLYANNA at CVENUES (21-26 / 15.00). The story comes to Edinburgh from Eleanor.H.Porter’s best selling 1913 novel, via 1960’s Disney adaption with a young Hayley Mills. By 2011, the SKY BLUE THEATER COMPANY from Cambridge have turned into a musical which has up to 30 characters on stage at any one time. The costumes are absolutely top notch, from the pig-faced young ladies to the witchy spinsters, & the music rolls on with a relish. The leading lady/girl plays an enthralling Pollyanna, combating an equally enrapturing Fagin-like Mr Gripe, giving us the classic good vs evil tayle that stirs the soul. Watching this musical reminded me of seeing Bednobs & Broomsticks for the first time & is very much enacted in that spirit – twas perfect family fare!
Pollyanna in rehearsal…
That was the last show for the day, & time to play a bit of music. After sound engineering for VICTOR POPE we piled over to the REGENTS BAR, Edinburgh’s gay-friendly CAMRA award-winning vestibule of fun & fine ales (plus free condoms & lube in the loos.) Cammy, who hosts the Whistle Binkies open mic, also has a residency here on Tuesday nights, where Edinburgh’s best singer songwriters mingle for music & meetings. Tonight was slightly different, for in the spirit of teh Fringe Cammy had got a couple of comedians to take up some of the slots. Of them I came across comedic Sonic the Hedgehog that is AARON TWITCHEN whose show is FREE TEA & BISCUITS at the VOODOO ROOMS (16-27 / 14.25), which is going to be, if his ten minutes open mic slot is anything to go by, a ball of quality campness!
The final act of the day was my own 15 minutes of ‘fame,’ & a couple of songs of my crafting, accompanied by Luke. One of them, Seminal Lives, written on the orphanage roof near Gwalior that Bonnie’s Linkey Lea festival raises money for back in 2007, I was inspired to sing by mi mate Linday. Last Friday, at the Southsider pub, she’d sang every line to me in a drunken haze, reminding me its a wicked wee track (see below). So I played it to a great response & left the pub a little after buzzing, despite my complete lack of chemicals. On the way home I started writing a tidy wee pop classic called Annie-May, & put it to chords when I got in. I guess that’s what happens when one is swirling about such a cultural cauldron as the Fringe, as people inspire us we become inspired ourselves, for the muses are far to busy oiling the wheels of performance to enact their normal duties, & for once, & for a short while, we humans become gods!
After maintaining a daily blog for 16 whole days, my endurance finally cracked, worn down by one of those weekends I have habitually up here in Edinburgh. Its now Monday afternoon & Ive already missed 3 shows I was meant to see today. However, I have finally stirred from my ridiculously comfy bed & am ready to play catch up. It all began last friday noontime when I went to a playwrighting workshop at the FRINGE CENTRAL entitled CREATING A VIRTUAL WORLD: RHYTHM, LANSDCAPE & IDENTITY. It was hosted by NICHOLA McCARTNEY, an awardwinning & widely comissioned playwight, who oozes proffessional confidence. The thirty or so ‘pupils’ were immediately given the task of writing a piece of dialogue between somebody who keeps a secret & someone who desperately wants to find out what it is. We were then split into groups of four, & read the work aloud. I found myself with two young Cypriot girls & a middle-aged Greek lady… & with Greece being th birthplace of theatre I thought that was rather cool. From then on in McCartney proceeded to give us a lecture in plot-making, completely deriding Aristotle in the process! We then ended with another piece of writing to conclude a highly enjoyable & knowledgeable couple of hours.
From there I went off to see an excellent piece of theatre, being THE GIRL WITH THE IRON CLAWS at the UNDERBELLY (23-28 13.35). Using gorgeous puppets, props & great showmanship, the two young women & two young men recreate the old Nordic folk tale that inspied Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. It tells us the story of a king that has been cursed by a troll-queen. This entails being transformed into a bear every day for three years, turning into a human again only at night-time Meanwhile, he has also ‘abducted’ a young woman to be his bed-mate, but if she ever sees his face the bear would be forced to marry the Troll Queen. I was literally lost in wonderment through the entire show, the star turn of which has to be a strangely sexy Troll Queen, who upon getting angry transforms through the use of puppets & props into a giant monster. A close second comes the bear & its galloping through the forest with other characters on its back. I also noticed that of the two male actors, one looked like Sean Bean & the other sounded like him. Despite being a ‘fairy tale,’ the entire audience was adult & with the stories dark sexual undertones, this seemed rather apt. A great ride, the scenes come thick & fast, full of three-fold repetitions & magic treasures, goodies, baddies & all you expect from classic storytelling!
At VICTOR POPE’S show I met mi old pal CLIFF PERRY, who agreed to join me for a bit of high culture. This was the second show of STEVE’ HYNESSEY’S LULLABIES OF BROADMOOR quartet, VENUS AT BROADMOOR (23, 25, 27 – 21.00) at CVENUES. The story revolves around the notorious ‘Chocolate Cream Poisoner,’ an amorously rejected woman who injected stycharine into chocolates & distributed them round Brighton, resluting in many illnesses & the fatal munchings of a young boy. Declared insane she found herself in Broadmoor, terrorizing both inmate & staff members with her lewdness, nymphomania & primadonna-ing. A great triumph of historical research & storytelling, this play is vey much about VIOLET RYDER, an extremely pretty & talented actress that plays the character of Christiana Edmonds with skill & energy. The Venus connection comes from her looking at Bottecelli’s Birth of Venus & imagining herself doing the same on Brighton beach, a week before she began her spree of confectionary-based daftness. There was never a dip in the telling, by the way, & the play & its pieces were timed just right… bring on the next two shows – I am now hooked!
From the play it was just a short walk to the SUMMERHALL & Bonnie’s boyfriend’s band, THE STAGGER RATS. They’re a good bunch a lads from East Lothian, & my band Saraswathi had shared the bill with them several times. The keyboardist, CALLUM EASTER, had even been in my movie-musical, CHARLIE! They’ve been recently signed up by a bunch of Hungarians, recording an album in Budapest & releasing singles & making videos (see below). I like their sound, its a brand of intellectual rock reminscent of Radiohead, but happier. The crowd was jumping all the way through the music, & afterwards all soul’s mingled happily throughout the very stylish drinking areas. One of these is in the old disecting champer of the Veterinary College, which makes for a great venue. Neon lights poured pastel colours onto teh proceedings while DJ’s played between live acts on its wee but wicked stage. Everyone seemed delighted to be at such a funky spot – as if we’d all stumbled on the El Dorado of nightspots!
Being quite drunk at the Summerhall, I began the descent into hedonism that resulted in the lateness of this blog. First off was a wee pub crawl with pals, from the Southsider pub, through CVenues all the way to Edinburgh’s premier gay nightclub, CC Blooms. Here, to counteract my bum getting pinched by guys I was forced into getting off with this gorgeous bird. Next day – Saturday – was spent showless, as i was preparing gear & tunes for my DJ-ing slot at the Village pub in Leith. This went brilliantly by the way, & I played for an extra hour & a half after I should have done. From there a few of us hit a female friends pad for big Sunday session, watching both series of the Flight of the Conchords interspersed with numerous trips to the offy. Finally, after sound engineering for VICTOR POPE, I met Caska for a trip to the MEADOWS & the ever-endearing LADY BOYS OF BANGKOK (three times a day til the 27th). I’ve got a soft spot for the guys & girls of the show, having spent several years helping them build the complex when I worked for John Diamond. This resulted in many a free tickets for the show, born from the mind of Phil Gandy, a sound Mancunian who has taken the family circus tradition into the a new dimension. Of all the shows Ive seen, however, this particular one has been the best. As the ‘cast’ mime to popular songs from all eras we are presented a blend of comedy, costumes, dancing & audience particpiation that has no equal, & of course theres the question of which of the super-sexy women were born men. For teh crowd the highlight of the show is the renditions of teh Proclaimers’ 500 Miles by the Proclaimers, & You’ll take the High Road, which has every Scot on their feet clapping & singing along, a great source of national pride for all present, & the cabaret version of the Hampden Roar!
After staggering home, then, on Sunday, I found my aforementioned comfy bed & simply stayed there, only surfacing to sound engineer for Victor & teh show before it. This was THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW by GEORGE DILLON at the EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE. This was by far the best auditorium Id been to, & quite a lovely show. Its one man affair, with Dillon playing the part of Saint Matthew as he recites & acts out that particular gospel. He stalks the stage like a raving priest, both passionate & realistic, with various visuals beamed onto a great screen behind him. Its powerful stuff, & whetehr you’re a Christian or atheist, it cannot be denied how electric & eternally fascinating is the story of Jesus’ rise & fall. The how is an houyr & a half long & will be perfomred be perfomed at the SPOTLIGHTS@MERCHNANTS HALL (27th, 20.40) & twice at St John’s Church (24 & 26, 21.30) where he’ll be dropping the visuals & just lighting candles, recreating the atmosphere of its original first century recitations.
Finally, after sound engineering a good VICTOR POPE show, he was invited to the Eyrie room of the JEKYLL & HYDE for a slot in MASAI GRAHAM’S MONSTER MUNCH (to the 28th 20.15). This was for a seven minute slot alongside six other comedians & their seven minutes, a nice mix of comedians doing their best material. The final perfomer is Masai himself, who jolts us through a series of deadpan one-liners & funny punning. Great fun & the shortness of the sets keeps one’s interest at a high level, like swinging through a swingers club, but not never shooting your load.
Today’s highly enjoyable day began with a tidy up of mi pad. A couple of weeks of flyers, notes & clothes had basically been accumulating & the place was a complete tip… I even washed up fer fuck’s sake! A tidy house is a tidy mind, & thus empowered the foundations for a fun slice of the fringe pie were laid. Stepping out into the blinking noon sunshine I pottered up Leith Walk slowly joining the buzz of humanity that rush around the centre of toon like the atomic particles of Uranium. However, dead still, as still as a forest in winter, were four Chinese folk squatting lotus-style in the yellow uniform of FALUN GONG. They were sat at the far east end of Princes Street, next to the statue of Wellington, & behind several poseters taped onto the floor. They were squatting eyes closed & silent, but the images & text on the posters spoke volumes. Apparently the Communist regime in China is torturing its way through the Falun Gong community, whose truthfulness, compassion & tolerance is changing peoepl’s life for the better. Its a bit like Buddhism meets Tai-chi meets meditation… its not my cup of tea (I prefer a cup of tea to relax, & eastenders) but here’s what it looks like;
Leaving the Falun Gong folk I went up to my first show of the day, MUSE CHANTEUSE (15-20 / 14.30), at SPACE CABARET on the North Bridge(from 22-27 they are at at SPACE@Jeffreys Street / 18.35) . The venue is a Parisian style hotel bar, & I found a wee comfy corner to watch the show. This is a wonderful little cabaret piece, blending LISA BYRNES’ own material with famous classics such as Habenera from Carmen, My Funny Valentine by Rogers & Hart & La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf. She is a trained opera singer & this tells in her flawless, inspiring voice, delivered with a great confidence. Her accompaniament is a lovely fellow called Chris Taylor, whose fingers danced across his keyboard like cats on a hot tin roof. Cats, thats right, they were cats, & Lisa a purring pussycat, & indeed the show’s theme was the Owl & the Pussycat, a liebmotif they occasionaly brought into the show’s rich & varied soundscape. Of the songs my favorite was one of Lisa’s creations, Fare the Well, a poignant Burnsian beauty inspired by her grandmothers journey to Australia for love; leaving friends, family & country behind forever. I couldnt find any youtube footage of the show, but here’s a clip of Lisa singing opera in a far grander setting than a hotel bar…
At the same time as I was getting mi high culture, miss Katie Craig went reviewing for Damowords for me at VENUE 13. Her show was FLESH EATING TIGER (17-20 / 19.00) & I shall leave you in her more than capable literary hands. In fact she’s reading our one of her short stories on the 27th August at the Book Festival’s Spielgeltent @ 4PM…
At the outset of “Dr Apple” the diminutive “Miss Hyde” bursts on to
the stage. With her sassy New York vowels and thick red rimmed glasses
She looks for all the world like a miniaturised and half baked version
of the secretary from Ghost Busters. She hands cookies amongst the
audience, assuring us they are “pretty loaded” and explaining that we
all now part of a neurological experiment. It’s Doctor Apple’s last lecture of the term, and things are about to go throughly awry. The explosion of dance, music and comedy that follows is the most refreshing antidote to the horror-porn of Irvine Walsh imaginable. Sure, it’s a little wide eyed and optimistic: it definately makes LSD look like a fantastic idea, perhaps even a sollution, and the grusome possibility of it’s links to schizophrenia, for example, are skimmed over as lightly as a stone hopping across the river. Thank goodness, really, because what we have instead is a well executed attempt to honestly convey the experience of the drug: spacial distorition, the loss of the ego, a dislocation of sound and meaning, all are depicted on stage creatively, originally, and most of all convincingly. Some of those in audience who laughed nervously as they bit Into their cookies may well wonder if they’ve been laced after all. What gives solidity to the madness are the sharp and witty lines, the tender portrayal of character, the bright bursts of song and explosions of dance.
Mark Junek’s sensitive portrayal of Apple, a man on the verge of collapse, is deeply endearing and hurt little by his looks- Apple is extremely easy on the eye. Indeed, every member of this young New York cast is a stunner, so much so that it’s quite distracting. When Apple’s ex wife begins to plague his fantasies I can’t help but wondering when these beautiful youths had time for all this life to happen to them. Ultimately: the show is lighthearted and fun. Nessa Norwich steals the show as hide: more bouncy than a trampoline, cookier than cookies and looking, through the acid-gaze of apple, as though she has been illustrated by Dr Zeuss.
If you’re looking for a show with an anti-drugs message for the kids avoid this at your peril- they’ll be writing to Santa asking for some sweet sweet candy- but if you’re in the market for fun, this one is not to be missed.
Back in Damoworld I went off to see a free show at OPIUM on the Cowgate. My reasons for doing were football related. I’d met a Spurs fan who was doing a show on the evening that Tottenham had been drawn against Hearts in the Europa league. Thus, expecting a rowdy atmosphere I thought I’d check out his show on the day of the game (today). Unfortunately, with it being a 17.15 show all the Spurs fans were near Tynecastle at the other end of toon (Spurs won 5-0 by the way). It was still a good crowd, however, & we were in for a treat. The title of the show, THE SINGLES COLLECTION (19-23 25-27 / 17.15) has no real baring on its content, but this is soon forgotten as we enter the cockney comic mindset of Tim Shishodia and Andy Davies. Of them, Shishodia has more kudos ( Winner Cavendish New Act 2010, Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year 2010,) but it is Davies who takes the senior role, with Shishodia coming across as his backward sidekick. This only heightens the chuckling, however, & the hour is great fun. The comedy itself was super-classic, with Andy Davies revelling in the art of telling hilarious stories with dody punch lines (the jounrey is the destination I guess) & Shishodian a master of surreal yet sexy one-liners (thats sexy in the Ive just pissed myself fashion). A great way to spend yer tea time…
From the Cowgate I quickly sped to VICTOR POPE’S latest show, which was defintely a yang after the recent yins. There were only four people there, two of whom were in their 70’s & definitely didnt get the prostitute song. Still, after the show me old pal Ro Campbell was cycling past the venue on his too-small BMX & gave me a couple of comps for his comedy show, UTTERING BAD SHILLINGS (16-28 / 22.35) at THE STAND COMEDY CLUB 4. Thus with Victor in tow we went along & had a barry old time. I’d met Rowan when I first moved to Edinburgh 7 years ago – he was going out with the cousin of my ex-birds ex – & I’ve seen him slowly work his way up in the comedy world. He’d decided to be a stand up comedian in the Shetland Islands of all places, resulting in 48 14-hour crossings over the stormiest ferry route on the planet, just to get to his mega-bus. Roll on a few years he’s now the Scottish Comedian of the Year 2010 & is about to go on a two month tour of Asia!
Apparently, him actually being Australian didnt go down well with the Glaswegian crowd at the awards ceremony last year & he got pelted with plastic bottles on the stage. Yet he has Scottish roots (he’s a Campbell) & the experience inspired him to seek out his Scottish identity, the result of which is his totally endearing, often hilarious, highly creative show. We are taken on a journey through time & space, via a mushroom trip at Eyres Rock & a comedy gig in Perth prison to a bunch of tattooed lifers, to discover that his great-great-great grandparents were both Scottish convicts sent to Australia. After all the theatre Ive been watching my mind has become attuned to a good story, & to see it blended into stand-up was inspiring to see.
After Ro’s show he said I could hang with him awhile & gain an insight into the life of a comedian at the Fringe. After his show he had to race across town to headline a Scottish comedians night the UNDERBELLY, which resulted in him cycling & me jogging our way across town. With my hooded top up it looked like a scene from Rocky. We made the show with seconds to spare & Ro literally walked into the theater & onto the stage, sweating & breathless, & went straight into his set. I’d heard most of the jokes back at thE STAND, but found them even funnier actually, & its interesting to see how joke-virgins respond to material. After the set we then returned to THE STAND – this time the main venue – for more late night comedy. It was nice to see Ro finally relaxing, bantering with the fellow purveyors of his craft & guffawing loudly to the artists.The show is called POLITICAL ANIMAL – compered by wild-haired ANDY ZALZTMAN (22-25 / 00.00), which sees four different comdeians from around the festival perform each night. Of them, I found Richard Sandling’s character – SPAK WHITMAN – to be absolutely hilarious, whose social poetry is side-creasingly funny & is satirically superior to all those poets who take themselves so seriously! He got a show at THE CANONS GAIT (20-28 / 14.25) & I will definitely be going to check it out. I didnt stay til the end, though, what with all the day’s award-winning comedians I’d massaged mi funny bone enough, & the laughter had all-but dried up – but I left Ro with a hug & a thank-you & walked back hame in the warm glow of contentment…
Jokes of the Day
You’re a lovely couple… were you both there when you met Tim Shishodia
This morning I popped round to Donna’s pad with mi pen & paper to take notes for her review of OUT OF ABINGDON. Seeing as it was such a sunny day & she had the day off, she’d decided to hit the charity shops down Stockbridge. This gave me the perfect oppurtunity to check out the recently opened JUNGLE CITY exhibition at the BOTANICAL GARDENS. For the next few weeks Edinburgh’s most gorgeous greenery is playing host to a large host of tigers, orang-utangs, crocodiles & an exotic parrot-thing, each one a plastic canvas for the artists of Scotland. There were some very interesting creations, from the Orang Utang made out of postcards to the chequerboard, plastic tubed crocoldiel. A neat move is that they are all standing on wooden boxes marked fragile – a clever nod towards their endangered status. The idea is that they will be moved into spots around town in September, & a month later be auctioned off to raise funds for the preservation of the real things. Me & Donna had a great half hour walking among them, & some of the aesthetics were top notch. Funnily enough there was as Celtic & a Rangers tiger, which shows how sectarianism seeps into every facet of the Scottish psyche
From there we hit the affluence of Stockbridge, which feels refreshingly normal considering whats happening in the centre of town. While I read thro a book on Minoan Crete in the very fine Oxfam bookshop, Donna bought 3 pretty dresses for £21, & you could tell our recent brush with the visual arts had inspired her choices. From Stockbridge we walked up into town, pausing on teh Mound to soak in teh atmosphere. Its quite a hub of Fringe traffic, with queues for the Virgin half-price ticket booth blending with crowds ringing the two free entertainment sectors. After this square area one is chanelled along a narrow passage, with the national gallery on one side & a row of stalls on the other. These sell all manner of ethnic goods, from stone carvings to photographs of Edinburgh, & are always bustling with ladies bending their backs to get a better look.
After the passageway we ascended the hunchback of the Old Town to descend into a busker-friendly Grassmarket. Of these ephemeral entertainers, these two young guys, THE SHOWHAWK DUO, were the most amenable.
We now settled down at THE BEEHIVE INN, watching the buskers over a couple of beers. The place does have the best beer garden in Edinburgh, but when you can listen to top music & people watch why bother. As we had a bit of time to kill before TWONKEY’S CASTLE, we thought we’d check out a couple of the Beehive’s free shows. The first was DAVID LEE NELSON’S STATUS UPDATE (5-28 /15.45), a hybrid affair of stand-up comedy & an angsty video diary about breaking up with his wife. One minute I’m flung into the world of American comedy clubs (jokes about hockey, blacks, pot & sucking dick for pot), while the next I’m squelching around without mi wellies in the tears of his soul. It was good fun ‘n’ all but I was thinking to myself, get over it lad, she’s not coming back. I think he’s realised this though, for after seeing a facebook photo of her with a guy with a handlebar moustache, he took the moral highground & actually deleted her from his friends. Well done that man!
Next up was the DRAWABAOUT (15-20, 22-27 17.00) which is partly run by CRESSIDA BROWN, who I’d met the other day. I thought she wasn’t doing a show, & I guess she’s not really, for the Drawabout is something else alltogether. The ‘punters’ meet outside the Beehive & are presented with a board full of sketch paper, a trolley full of pencils & felt-tips, a genial leader of the troupe & a guitar wielding troubador. The idea is that the leader finds members of the public who are willing to be sketched for a few minutes, & while we’re sketching them the leader asks about the lives, which the troubador will then improvise a song about. Then we all show our sketches, slightly competitively, to the model(s), who then chooses one to take home. It was a great laugh, & challenging too, & despite me nor Donna ‘winning’ we throroughly enjoyed the hour. Interstingly enough, after the show Cressida went off to make up the all-night short list session for the TOTAL THEATRE AWARDS, which will then be decided on by a group of top level judges such as Pippa Bailey.
Then came the climax of the Beehive session, & PAUL VICKERS surreal show, TWONKEY’S CASTLE. Meeting up with his brother, VICTOR POPE & his mum Anne (see yesterday), we found ourselves right at the front & in the midst of the action. Words cant really describe what goes on in Paul’s mind as he floats from piece to well-written piece, delivering his puppet-peppered comedy with a dead-pan relish. He also sings, & bloody well at that, which gave the show a category of Cabaret. But its not cabaret – you cant really label it. Perhaps Vic Reeves & Des O Connor high on helium gas while Monty Python dance about them naked is kinda close, but its an hysterical ride through a man’s imaganation, & a mind thats growing confident with his material. He’d unleashed Twonkey on the Fringe last year (see you tube below) & where next Mr Vickers… Twonkey’s Space Station?
After the show I bid a farewell to Anne & remarked on how wonderfully she’s coping with both her sons being mad-as-hatters performers. I think she’s buzzing really, not many mum’s can say theyve seen their kid do a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, let only both of them. Apparently it was her mum who set the boys off on the path, making them do puppet shows about the Royal family in their early boyhood.
Alone now (Donna had gone off too, trying to re-organise her mind after Twonkey’s onslaught), I went to catch the last show of the day at PARADISE IN AUGUSTINES. This is at Saint Augustines church, where two theatres have been built & a number of interesting plays put on. Mine was EXCLUSION, from newly formed WHOOP N WAIL theatre company. This play is their first production & gives us a blend of Prisoner Cell Block H & the X Factor. As the audience enter the theatre they are given three seperately coloured badges, corresponding to the coloured pockets on the grey uniforms of the three prisoners. The raison d’etre of the show is to raise public consciousness as to the effects imprisonment has on women, & is delivered with panache. The three actresses play both gaurd & prisoner & work well together in whatever combination the plot gives us, as it leads up to the climax of teh audience choosing which prisoner should be released. Actual prison life is portrayed well, from the mundanity of folding laundry to the illicit fun of home brew, while there is also modernist film footage in an X Factor style, which breaks up the action cleverly & dramatically. An engaging play, this, & a window into a world we would prefer to be curtained off.
Joke of the Day -
I quit drinking 3 years ago… since then Ive lost 15 pounds… & all my friends
DAVID LEE NELSON
So this is it, the eye of the storm, the heart of the show, day 14 of 27, the number of lines in a sonnet, the number of stations of the cross, the number of incarnations of the Dalai Lama thus far. A time to take stock on what I’ve witnessed – great acting, funny-as-fuck comedians, graceful movements & quick-witted improv, moving writing & stagecraft to stir the soul… keep it coming people I’m havin a bloody ball!
This afternoon I ventured out into the rain to see acclaimed writer & actor Steven Berkoff’s OEDIPUS (18-29 / 13.20) at the PLEASANCE GRAND theatre. He’s acted in a Clockwork Orange & Rambo, early nudges in the right direction towards him producing this classic piece of drama. What a sensational piece of writing from the lad, turning the words of Sophocles into a wonderful blend of iambic pentameter & cutting half-lines, yet still mainting a thoroughly modern flow. The story is old, from the time of the Theban legends that were sung by the Greeks as they camped outside of Troy. Yet this tale of a guy murdering his father & marrying his mother still resonates, via Freud, through the modern psyche. Berkoff’s interpretation often grips you in the solar plexus & keeps your eyes & ears on every nuance of the action. This takes place before a vast Dali-esque backdrop & around a large table. There the chorus of 8 guys move about in grotesque synchronicity as a fantastic Oedipus plays out his tragedy. His wife, Jocasta, played by an enigmatic Anita Dobson (I saw her husband Brian May in toon the other day by the way), flows about the stage with menacing allurement & the whole package is a remarkable tribute to the timeless magic of theatre, born from the well-springs of the Elusian mysteries & still captivating onlookers today!
Come evening tide I went to sound engineer VICTOR POPE on the occasion his mum came to town. If it were my mam coming up & I was playing his material, I would have edited it to about 3 minutes worth. However, he ploughed on regardless &, depsite the flashes of mysogony & wanking jokes, she loved it! After the show she took me & Victor out for supper next door to the Jekyll & Hyde at the Edwardian tea-shop style Dogs restaurant.
We were joined by Victor’s elder brother, PAUL VICKERS, the one-time lead singer of psychadelic-poet-storm band THE DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS. He’s doing his own show, TWONKEYS CASTLE, the sequel to last years shows TWONKEYS COTTAGE. Its a surreal mad-cap laugh & has been getting good revies & tomorrow Im off to see it with the ‘family.’ A funny moment occured when one of the Dog’s lovely waitresses recognized him & said, “My hands stink of cheese becasue of you!” raising my expectations of an interesting show. The food was tasty by the way, a duck starter & a steak main I couldn’t even manage a supper come bedtime!
While I was out dining, I gave my review tickets to mi good pal DONNA SYME, who went up to THE JAZZ BAR to see Australian duo OUT OF ABINGDON (15-22 / different times). I buzzed her the next morning for her opinions & was told she’d had a great time – the music easy to the ear & soothing for the soul & I wholeheartedly agree (Im listening to the CD they gave us right now). The performers are Tina on double bass & Warwick on semi-acoustic & the chemistry they share is really relaxed, spreading the heart-warming vibe all through an attentive audience. They share vocal duties, hers flowing like liquid & his powerfully husky like the singer from Morphine. They played for an hour, blending their own well-crafted songs with covers such as Sensitve Kind (JJ CaLe), Clap Hands (Tom Waites) & Glory Box (Portishead). The musicianship was excellent, especially the unique accents & unusual techniques rising from Warwick’s finger-picking. Donna said it was just the right songs she needed to hear at that moment & left the Jazz Barr uplifted & ready to drink!
Todays blog has a wee theme – that of the lovely, heart-warming topic of prison! One cannot know how important one’s liberty is until it is taken away from us. Hemmed in by four walls in a life of mundane monotony, the prisoner would give anything to merely walk among woods, let alone wander through Edinburgh at Fringe time. A week or so back I was in the Forest Cafe & stumbled upon a fanzine/small press convention where a pal of mine, Nicky Melville from SHELLSUIT MASSACRE, was selling some of his work. He was recently the writer in residence at HMP Edinburgh & this very morning I was looking through the small book of prisoner writings called Routine he’d compiled & given me at the Forest. They basically describve a prisoner’s day & I’d like to give one as an example;
Watch according to Jim
Go back to get lunch
Wait in cell for shed call
Read my books
Have a smoke
Have a wash before tea
Shellsuit Massacre in action
A far cry indeed from all the fun of teh Fringe. With this imperfect prison existence in mind I went to see the play RELEASE (16-29, not wednesdays, 14.00) at the PLEASANCE KINGSDOM. The young company is based in Chatham, Kent, & the play was devised by the actors themselves, after researching their material with real offenders. What we are given is a riveting piece of drama, telling the stories of three recently released prisoners & the people who’s lives they touch. Its really realistic by the way, & the desperation that these social-outcasts must feel is played pitch-perfect. The cast is only three-strong – a Scots lad, an Asian lad & a lassie – but they do marvellously well when changing accents & personas for their various parts. Combine this with some wicked moments of multi-media stagecraft, such as subtitles in a nightclub, & a fiery finale to never forget, it was a pleasure to see such a modern play sweeping majestically over a similarily modern topic.
Walking thro toon I was given an impromptu, once-in-a-lifetime performance of LETS GET ARRESTED by this pissed up druggy called Steve. I saw him running up & down a pedestrianized Rose Street, yelling & barging into folk. The climax of his show began when he knocked over a wee boy, resulting in members of the public restraining him & calling the cops. A few minutes later seven cop cars were inching into Rose Street, the first of which coughed up a female copper who immortalized our star with the line, “Steven, what ye ap tae!?” “I’ve just been doon the alcoholic problem clinic!” he replied, earning the answer, “That’s no excuse!” & a bundle in the back of her car. The other cops then began to take witness statements as I mused back on the earlier play, Release. It’s highly likely that young Steven has served time before, & is a prefect example of Release’s sentiment. During the play I learnt that only 27 percent of men & 13 percent of women offenders get a job when they return to ‘reality,’ the first steps on that slippery slope to recurring criminality!
My final piece of prison-themed ‘entertainment’ was at the INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL at CHARLOTTE’S SQUARE at the west end of the New Town. It is the largest in the world & consists of several marqueed ‘theatres’ where punters can watch authors splaff on for ages for a tenner a time. There is also a bookshop & circular, circus-style Spiegletent for beer, food & free entertainment. For two weeks every year all aspects of the literary cosmos – readers, writers, publishers, booksellers & agents – all gather in the salubrious Georgian surroundings for a good old-fashioned chin-wag. Its not particularly elitists, howver, & the grounds are open to all. If anyone wishes to sample the vibe, I reccomend going along to the free AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL IMPRISONED WRITERS SERIES (13-28 – 17.45).
Amnesty was set up fifty years ago (1961) in an effort to free two young Portuguese men who had been jailed for raising a toast to freedom (the Portuguese were still clinging on to Goa at the time). The casue soon spread, fostered in that especially volatile decade that was the 1960s – a time of great social upheaval & unrest. Today’s talk was about the 60s themselves, where the writings of four prisoners were read by four modern authors. Of the writings, it was the poetry & story of Denis Brutus (read by George Makana Clark) which pleased me most. He was a black South African – imprisoned on Robben island for example – who’d been shot in the back once for trying to escape. Surviving this he was instrumental in getting SA kicked out of the 1968 Olympic Games & subsequently the entire movement. Hearing his words reminded me of poetry’s ability to record emotion & zeitgeist with just a handful of words & images. You can find his own at – www.worcester.edu/DBrutus/ , & here’s a youtube of him reading his work out before his death a couple of years back.
Of all these dissident expressions of intellectual protest, the gem has to be the letter written by Martin Luther King on April 16th 1963, from the isolation of a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. While in liberal England teh Beatles were opening up the human relations with their chart-topping single, From me to You, Birmingham was the most segregated in the entire United States & King had flown eagerly into the lion’s maw. It was read out by Vivien French, a prolific children’s author famous for her Tiara Club stories & her Tales from the Five Kingdoms. She read with great distinction, & by the end of the long letter, with King apologising for its length but saying there was little else do do in prision but think & write, I was verging on tears. King was saying stuff like the airtight cage of poverty & how no motels woudl accept him so he had to sleep in the corner of his car & how his first name was never Martin but always nigger. A sobering day, then, one sent, I think, to remind me that, although Im having a barry old time up here in the Scottish capital, in this Goan pleasure bubble, the world is still full of vast imbalances. Despite the vast imrpovements made America way in social equality, Mr King would still be dreaming, I believe…
Woke up with Luke on my couch. He’s renting his flat out to some students up for the weekend, a common way for Edinburghers to make some cash. A few years ago I was on Scotland Street in the New Town & renting mi quite cushy flat out for loads o money. Anyhow, the key was on a string through the letterbox, & after cutting a new one for my ‘guests’ didnt put it back on the string. Then, just before my cockney thespians arrived, I nipped out for some trinket or other – forgetting that the key was no longer on the string & was on the kitchen table, locking me out. Then the guys arrived in their car & the only way for me to let them in was by smashing the back window. I was in a hurry you see, heading to Ireland or something, & even to this day I still have a wee cringe about it from time to time. I then asked them for teh cheque & thy goes, “We’re not givin’ it to a burglar!” Better out than in, though, & I’m hoping by talking about it I can exorcise the ghost!
With the sun shining I woke Luke up & offered him my spare ticket to the FOODIES festival at Holyrood Park. For those who don’t know Edinburgh its a stunning setting, flanked by the Queen’s palace & the highland-scape of Arthur’s seat. There’s always events there, from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army doing manouveres there in 1745, to the forthcoming FUN DOG SHOW (21st Aug – 11Am-3PM) where anyone can enter their dog in competitions like waggiest tail and basic agility. Today, however, it was all about food & drink & was the best tenner a punter could spend so far.
The festival had been on since Friday & I thought it would be a pleasant change from the theater & comedy (though I did sound engineer for VICTOR POPE after the event). It is essentially a great market place, with stallholders paying 600 quid each for the chance to show off & sell their wares to both the public & retailers. For me & Luke this was something of a christmas day, as we free-sample our way from stall-to-stall, getting drunker & drunker by the glass. Our main base was this gin stall who kept bringing out samples on trays all afternoon. After hitting it off with two ladies, we could then get four glasses each, resulting in 16 glasses per tray. To suffice it to say we were very soon completely reekin’!
We’d met the ladies at a whiskey tasting session, for Glenrothers single malt, compared by this cheery, balding big guy who taught us how to really appreciate a whiskey. First you must tip your tongue in with a wee waggle, as if one is engaging in cunnlingus, to get the sweetness of the whiskey. Then, taking a large sip, one must ‘chew’ the whiskey to distribute the flavour around the mouth. It was quite a revelation, actually, as I usually just neck the stuff straight & burn my insides in the process. Suffice it to say Luke had nailed all four of his samples during the lengthy opening talk on the history of Glenrothes distillery, & we both mineswept the marquee on the way out, competing to get the biggest glass of our own unique blend of Glenrothes!
The festival wasnt just about getting hammered by the way, there was a vast array of foodstuffs from all over the country; funky fudge & dynamite salami, chilli balsamic & Chiltern chutney, it was an Alton Towers for the taste-buds. Every hour there would be a couple of live cooking sessions from some of the top British TV chefs. We also had some entertainment laid on, culminating in a great show from Edinburgh motown band THE SOUL FOUNDATION. A curly haired black dude leads his well-dressed band -lads & four cute birds in red dresses through some proper classic tracks, which had me & Luke dancing with two new women in the sunshine. Of the four women, all were mums – some married, some single – but all of them getting away from the kids for the day. There were still a few bairns around, however, & at first the SOUL FOUNDATION’S dancers were all toddlers – but by the end of the afternoon they had a massive crowd all getting on down.
Here’s a link to a video of their stuff by the way…
Other great cities have magnificent buildings, great parks & gardens –
man has made beautiful cities by his work; but Edinburgh possesses
gifts straight from the hand of god Rosaline Mason http://www.damowords.co.uk/pdf/The_Ediniad.pdf
Shows So Far – 39 Hangovers – 4
Today was another late starter, up at the GILDED BALLOON for the intellectual esspresso that is THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT (4-18 / 17.15). Now, Ive seen improvised comedy before, & improvised songs & all the hip-hop shit, but this a masterclass in the art of bardery. We are given six guys – three of which are part of SHOWSTOPPERS by the way – who are led by the Goader of the Rhapsodes, Sean McCann, a flamboyent master of ceremonies who straddles both stage & stairwells with the eye of a renaissance painter, overseeing proceedings & never letting the vibe dwindle below seering. The rhapsodes then bound their lyrical way through a series of ‘games’, such as reading through an audience members book & carrying on the tale themselves when bid to do so. Tonights books were Dracula, The Three Muskateers & The Scotsman’s book of Scottish words the by the way. The 70 minute show concludes with a Shakesperian-style play, beginning with a an English sonnet & rollicking through several acts of hijinks & Iambic pentameter. Todays fare was Gordon of Hawaii & was proper wacky! A fantastic piece of entertainment, it gives one faith in the bardic tradition & a personal succor to my love of the sonnet form (see the Ediniad above.) The crowd loved to see such expressions of the soul of poesy, among which were the male members of the FITZROVIA RADIO HOUR, who joined me in a morethan generous applause.
After the show it was time to sound engineer for VICTOR POPE, which saw him give his best performance yet. It was helped by a large Saturday crowd, including a wee gaggle of drunken hen-party style girls who treat his show as a karaoke. In the crowd was a couple of cool kids from Glasgow. The guy, Kev, works on KCC radio in Liverpool, hosting the afternoon DRIVE TIME SHOW (15.00-17.30, mon-fri, http://www.kcclive.com/ ) & was taking his lady friend out to the festival. Somehow he ended up at Victor’s gig, & was absolutley loving it. In the photo below he’s the guy on the right
After the gig I invited him to see his fellow Weegie, THE WEE MAN at THE PHOENIX on Broughton Street (15-29 / 20.15). Its a great wee pub teh Phoenix & ive been in some proper states there – it attracts some reyt carachters, but Ive never seen anyone quite like the WEE MAN there. Between catching his show last year & seeing him down the Phoenix he’s become an internet sensation for his bonkers happy hardcore tunes (see my blog for the 2nd August). This year’s set was similar to last years, including the moment where he downs an audience member’s pint! Also from last year was getting a couple of guys up to help him with a tune by beat-boxing. It was great fun watching both Victor & mi new best mate Kev being chosen! This year’s show is called THE NEDATOR, a parody of the Arnie classic, which is actually the name of a funny-as-fuck fifteen minute film which begins the show, which Im happy to discover was put on You-tube only yesterday… enjoy
At the end of the show I told him he should write a fuckin sitcom, & asked whether my instinct was right in him being actually middle-class & the ned was something of a persona. “Something like that,’ he replied & handed me a flyer for another show he’s doing at the Phoenix, teh sketch show ENDEMIC (18-27 / 22.45) where he appears alongside 5 other comedians as simple, clean cut Neil Bratchpiece. Here’s an extract from an interesting interview with the Sun newspaper which gives us more about him…
But is this new man Neil anything like his Wee Man persona at all?
“Sort of,” he says, sheepishly. “The first time I got steaming was on Buckfast when I was 14.”
But that’s where any similarities end. Neil, from Motherwell, left Dalziel High School with five Highers – four As and a B – and went on to graduate from Glasgow University in English literature and film and TV studies.
The Wee Man came from a part in his stand-up comic act, after he started gigging from the age of 15.
He says: “I originally called myself Scratchy. Then that became The Wee Man.
“To be honest, I think I prefer anything to Neil. It’s such a nothing name. There’s no zing to it.
“But I created him because I was fed up with the amount of comics who were taking the p*** out of neds.
“So I decided to do my act from the neds’ perspective. I became a spokesperson for the ned, to give them a voice.”