Daily Archives: August 15, 2011



Installed on hills, her head near starry bowers
Shines Edinburgh, proud of protecting powers
William Drummond of Hawthornden

Shows – 44
Hangovers – 5

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;

Make tea

Brush teeth

Watch according to Jim

Play cards

Go back to get lunch

Wait in cell for shed call

Read my books

Have a smoke

Have a wash before tea

Watch TV

Doherty 121220

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.

Rose Street

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).

Denis Brutus

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…

Food for the Soul

The Soul Foundation


There is no habitation of human beings in this world so fine in its way…
as this, the capital of Scotland
Andrew Carnegie

Shows So Far – 42
Hangovers – 4

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.

The Soul Foundation

Here’s a link to a video of their stuff by the way…