The most beautiful town in the world
At about 5AM this morning I was woken by the unwitting heralds of the Edinburgh fringe festival. They squawked me to consciousness those gulls of the Forth, flitting over the rooftops of Leith on the search for food left by last nights revellers. For a moment I thought why dont I get up, march to the top of Calton Hill all pagan style & take a photo of the rising sun to summon the muses & gods into the very spirit of the forthcoming festivities, like my own private Beltane. Then I thought sack that & went back to my kip…
Waking up at a more reasonable hour it was time to go & see my first show. Interestingly its just round the corner from where I live at OUT OF THE BLUE on Dalmeny Street – between Easter Road & Leith Walk. Its one of those community spaces full of artists studios, with a wicked cafe to boot. Also based there is Diamond Events Services, who actually employed me on & off for several years putting marquees & carrtying steel rigging & stuff like that. The boss John Diamond’s an ambitious lad & this year, with the help of an old uni friend Natasha Lee-Walsh, has turned the Drill Hall into a proper venue – LEITH ON THE FRINGE. Its cool to see the Fringe still growing & moving out of its traditional Old Town heartland. Using his years of setting up every body elses events, Diamond has built a cool venue, with a wide spacious stage that was fully made use of by the first show Ive seen – & perhaps with its 10.15 AM start time the first show in the entire fringe. This was an ariel adaption of JM Barrie’s timeless tribute to childhood, PETER PAN.
3 – 28 August 2011 (Not Mondays)
10:15 (60 mins)
13.30 (60 mins) 4, 5, 6, 9th, 14, 16,18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28 August
The audience was a nice cross section of age groups, – with some of the kids sat on mats right underneath the action. This involved 5 pretty women swinging, somersaulting & twisting on ropes with a couple of guys in the wings handling the ropes & making occasional cameos. The costumes were wicked – redskins, pirates, the ticking crocodile & two garish wonderful mermaids who controlled their flapping tails with strings on their wrists. The backdrop was a great screen, which sometimes sillouhetted the action behind it, a wonderful effect providing the highlight – for me – of the show. It was a gravity-defying dance between Peter & Wendy, with Peter behind the screen & Wendy before it, the pair of them waltzing like a couple of spiderwomen. Sometimes we had a conventional play without the ropes which trundled the story along. A very visual affair, it was a cross between a rope access course & ballet, with a very cute Captain Cook. One for the kids definitely.
After typing all that up back at mine I thought I’d have my first sauunter into town to check out the vibe. En route I swerved to Gayfield Square at the top of Leith Walk, where this art installation is supposed to be at a place called WHITESPACE. I couldn’t actually find it (I think it starst tomorrow) but instead I discovered that next door, at Edinburgh’s Framed Gallery, my ex (see last blog) is doing an exhibition later on in the festival! Apparently she’s now Scotland’s premier time lapse photographer! Elsewhere in the WHITESPACE I stumbled into a technical rehearsal of a play called ELEGY (4-8, 10-15, 17-22, 24-28 – 20.30), a story about gay Iraqis I think, directed by Douglas Rintoul (Barbican, Dundee Rep, Complicite) with music by award-winning Raymond Yiu. The floor was covered in clothes, like a sea of cardigans, & after a wee chat with the producer I think I scored some comps – good karma!
From there I headed up for my first saunter up the Royal Mile, & the sensory riot of colour from the flyer-flinging companies. They are mostly fresh from drama school or university & I love the way they are dressed up in costume, or sporting ‘team’ t-shirts with the name of the show emblazoned upon them. As one can set off through London with pockets full of cash & find them empty on completing the traversal, one sets off up the Royal Mile during festival time with empty pockets & finds them full of flyers upon exiting that excited street. Among them I received this from a bunch of giant Korean babies in boxer shorts grinning & gesticulating wildly behind some knee-high dancing puppets;
A Korean News Report
Just off the Royal Mile is the National Library of Scotland where I am typing this right now. Alongside Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Aberystwyth & the British Library in London, it reveives a copy of every book published in the UK. It will be a great central base for me during the fringe, just a stones throw from most of the venues & an oasis of quiet in which to write. I need it really, as Ive got a lot to see & turn to words & being here will keep things nice & fresh. Whilw here Ive done a wee spot of study & came across the Gobleki Tepe, an 11,500 year old temple from the dawn of civilization. It seems that this was the first (known) time that people left their little packs of hunter-gatherers & came together in force to create a piece of worship-art. Our neolithic ancestors would probably have gazed upon quality carved animals such as boars, cranes, foxes & scorpions in the very same way me & the half million or so due in Edinburgh sit in silence before the godlike performers of the Fringe; or as teh 19th century german philosopher Nietzche once wrote;
Singing and dancing, man expresses himself as a member of a higher community: he has forgotten how to walk and talk and is on the verge of flying up into the air as he dances. The enchantment speaks out in his gestures. Just as the animals now speak and the earth gives milk and honey, so something supernatural also echoes out of him: he feels himself a god; he himself now moves in as lofty and ecstatic a way as he saw the gods move in his dream. The man is no longer an artist; he has become a work of art
Toward sunset me & Victor Pope went up to the COUNTING HOUSE on West Nicholson Street for the Laughing Horse Free Fringe performer’s party. Last year they gave away unlimited Kopperburg, but this year, to account for the massive influx of new acts, it was just a wee sample in a small glass. Still, they did have plenty of prawn cocktail wraps! The Laughing Horse started in 2004, with three acts playing for free in a single bar. This year there are 352 different acts spread out over 16 venues across town! Whats happening now is what happened with the ‘official’ fringe, which began as an alternative option to the International Festival (of high culture) started in 1946 to a cheer us all up after the austerities of WW2. Over the years the Fringe would turn into a coroprate whore, charging high prices to both punter & performer. Its good to see the Free fringe blossoming well & making culture affordable to all – you basically chuck your cash in a bucket at the end of the show! This year’s fare were all gathered in this far too small a room, fanning themselves with their own flyers to counter the steadily increasing sauna-like temperatures. Before I scarpered, streaming sweat, I caught three comedians (whose names I didnt catch) doing 5 minute plugs of their shows, the best jokes being;
I told my German mates I want to move to a nice part of their country – they said why not try the Black Forest – I said I dont want to live in a gateaux
I dont go to Thailand for the sex trade, the weather or the food – I go for the free shoes – you find loads of them outside the temples
Cooling down in the fresh night air I set off home, stumbling on a guy who was chalking FREE MUSIC TONIGHT on the pavement. This led me the the Captains Bar on south college street, where mi mate Mike Breen (he’d starred in my musical Alibi in 2007-08) was playing guitar & singing to the accompaniment of two fiddlers. A nice way to finish off this first day of the Fringe, sat next to me a middle aged Antipodean couple on their first visit to Scotland, checking out the traditonal vibe. While at the Captains I noticed they had their own finge line-up – paid poets in the morning (9AM-10.30AM / £5.50 with a coffe & a cake) & poets, writers & musicians every night for free from 7.30. My interest was piqued, actually, because Owen Shears – the only poet Ive connected with of my generation – will be there on Saturday 13th August. I didnt intend to pay for a ticket this fringe, but I might make the exception just that once – he’s a fellow poet after all & the lad has to eat! Its all rather apt really, as the great Scottish poet William McGonnagal died next door! He’s not to every one’s taste, but I think I’ll finish today with a couple of extracts from one of his babies about Edinburgh itself;
Beautiful city of Edinburgh!
Where the tourist can drown his sorrow
By viewing your monuments and statues fine
During the lovely summer-time…
…Beautiful city of Edinburgh! the truth to express,
Your beauties are matchless I must confess,
And which no one dare gainsay,
But that you are the grandest city in Scotland at the present day!
Joke of the Day
An Englishman, Irishman & a Scotsman enter a bar – the bar man goes, “Is this some kind of a joke?”
The Counting House Blackboard