Books · Music · Theatre

The bitter end – Edinburgh Festivals Days Twenty-six and Twenty-seven.

What's the norm? Edinburgh Fringe - 70 years of defying it

Sunday 27th August and the Bank Holiday Monday 28th August saw the end of this year’s Festivals.

First show on Sunday was Girls from Talawa Theatre Company, a powerful piece about three young women captured by, I guess, Boko Haram after an attack on their village; it’s never made explicit.  The play explores the girls’ different ways of dealing with the atrocities meted out to them.  It ends well for nobody, but neither does Hamlet.  Girls was an excellent play magnificently performed.  I’d like to think  the title is a riff comparing the tribulations of Lena Dunham’s titular girls with some real suffering – the chronology would be about right.

Dear Home Office 2 – Still Pending by Phosphorus Theatre was a sequel to their Dear Home Office, which had lightly fictionalised the stories of nearly all members of the company in their attempts to gain British citizenship and subsequently, security.  I believe that Phosphorus is the project of the two British nationals who set up the company to highlight the plight of the other amateur actors on the stage, who had come to the UK from a variety of countries on several continents.  The show was strangely moving in its presentation of the players’ realities as theatre.

Jess and Joe Forever by Zoe Cooper at The Traverse in the early evening had an advertising poster around the town with a puff-line “You’ll want to punch the air,” so I was afraid this would be the sort of thin that would make me want to punch the writer, director or actors…but no, it was a grand wee play about a couple of kids growing up and growing in love.

Nicola Coughlan (Jess) and Rhys Isaac Jones (Joe). Photo by David Monteith Hodge

(Nicola Coughlan and Rhys-Isaac Jones in Jess and Joe Forever.)

It’s the first play I’ve seen that had dealt with gender fluidity, or at least gender fluidity in our times.  To be hipper-than-thou, the Trav had taped hand-written signs over the gender signs on all of their capacious toilets to indicate that any gender could use any toilet.  Of course there was a woman in the men’s – you don’t have to run after the bus once you’re on it, I suppose.

 

Cosey Fanni Tutti with Ian Rankin Edinburgh 2017

 

We finished Sunday by going to the Book Festival to see Cosey Fanni Tutti talk about her book Art Sex Music, which was fine, but would have been better if it was a better edited book and if the Book Festival interlocutor had been a bit more incisive.  Having read the book, you certainly can’t say her life has been uneventful.

The Fringe ends on the August Bank Holiday and this was the first time for many years I had been in Edinburgh on that day.  I have always been keen to avoid the inherent sadness of the city on that day, when people are doing maybe their final show, or are more likely loading vans with bits of scenery and suitcases before they take their leave with dreams of…something; maybe coming back next year, or maybe never setting foot on a stage again.

Monday 28th August, the end.

Joanne Hartstone gave us The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign based on the true story of a girl who did just that when her movie-acting career wasn’t all she had expected.  Hartstone has toured a lot with this one-woman-show, which was well presented and acted.  Poor girl got a bit emotional when she was thanking everyone at the end of her final performance, so it’s not just me who feels the end of the Festival strongly.  Got a nice little badge on exit.

Second show on the last Monday was Moonlight After Midnight by Concrete Drops Theatre from New York. The company is a man and woman duo who produce and act all their own work, and very good this was too. I checked their Facebook page after this and the seem to have had a great time in Edinburgh; they warmly wished all the audience goodbye outside the theatre.

Unfortunately, the third and last thing we saw on the last day was fairly poor. The actor seemed to be doing the sort of things actors should do, without being very good.

Never mind. We saw tons of good stuff, occasional great stuff and none of my concerns about the city’s superstructure collapsing happened.

It’s noticeable that the locus of the Fringe is becoming more and more concentrated in the Teviot/Meadows/Southside – we only made a couple of trips to George Street, so it is all easily negotiable as long as you have patience with the crowds, or a good working knowledge of the backstreets and shortcuts that will help you avoid the really densely packed streets.

I was personally impressed that we used no taxis this year…

Books · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Day Twenty-four.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Friday 25 August – all killer, no filler…

Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge

 

 

Early evening we saw this year’s iteration of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, performed by Maddie Rice this year rather than the author.

I got interested in Fleabag from hearing about the TV series which grew out of Waller-Bridge’s performance of the play at the 2014 Fringe, it being frequently suggested that if one liked Lena Dunham’s Girls, this was cut from the same cloth.  So I watched the TV series earlier this year and it was good, but not nearly as good as the simply presented hour that is Fleabag on stage; the stage version is both funnier and more sinister than the six half-hours of television. Grim humour, a character who is desperate to be liked but fairly detestable.

Waller-Bridge also appeared at the Edinburgh Television Festival and reportedly said that although Fleabag was conceived as a one-off, she has finally thought of a way a second series can be done…I hope the concept is not stretched too far, but you can’t grudge her capitalising on such a successful play.

From the Underbelly to the Museum…

Jarrow road to the deep South - Stuart Maconie

 

…to watch Stuart Maconie’s Jarrow Road to the Deep South, a talk based on his latest book of social history, Long Road from Jarrow.  This was a Fringe rather than a Book Festival event; Maconie is as good a performer as he is a writer, so needs no interlocutor to discuss the work with him.

The book describes Maconie’s 300-mile walk from Jarrow to London, following the route of the Jarrow March of 1936.  The walk allows him to compare the hopes and dreams of the marchers of sixty years before with the social conditions now in the villages and towns they both passed through.  I haven’t read it yet, but the show makes it essential – well, it was anyway, I’ve enjoyed all his books.

Finally that evening, I met Alan and Susan from littledoorbooks as we had arranged the previous day to attend The Unthanks‘ show at The Book Festival. The Unthanks have recently released an album of their interpretations of the songs of Molly Drake, which I have been enjoying for the last few months, but an appearance at a Book festival seemed tenuous…it turns out that the author David Mitchell, who was a guest programmer and the presenter of the evening’s event, just really likes The Unthanks and is also researching a book about musicians and was keen to ask the band about their processes.

Understandably, and unusually for the Book Festival, there were several musical performances by way of illustration of these quiet, gentle songs performed to piano accompaniment…the pounding rain on the marquee was loud against this, but couldn’t have been foreseen.

What probably could have been foreseen for an event starting at 9:45pm would be that the noise of the fireworks at the conclusion of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (at the Castle, over the road,) would have been intrusive. What definitely should have been foreseen was the noise of the band playing their gig in the Spiegeltent across the square, at a different Book Festival event…you could have forgiven The Unthanks a flounce as they tried to play over three different intrusions, but they carried on in good spirits.

Finally, some local colour in the restroom of one of our overflowing city centre taverns this evening, where we sure know how to welcome our visitors!

Edinburgh pub urinals

 

 

 

Books · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Seventeen.

Simon Callow Edinburgh International Book Festival

Friday 18 August.

Only one show today, which was the fairly unedifying sight of Simon Callow “doing a corporate” at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

I should have read the programme more carefully and I would have noticed that Callow, a fine author and actor, was appearing at an event sponsored by an Edinburgh fund management firm in memory of a former employee who was also a “much-missed Edinburgh impresario,” in fact, one of the founders of Underbelly.

So sadly, no audience questions and no signing session from Callow, who did what was expected of him and told some of the stories which are familiar to those who have enjoyed his books.  When asked who were his heroes, he cited the honouree of the lecture along with Gielgud and Laughton, mentioning he had only heard his story that afternoon, which was a damn fine piece of acting…

Books · Festivals · Music · Pubs · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Eleven.

Edinburgh International Book Festival - who are we now?

Saturday 12 August…I’m way behind…

We only had three shows booked today and were possibly a little relieved that the first had been cancelled.  It’s only the second cancellation I can remember having in umpteen years of attending Fringe shows and I subsequently learned it was due to a bereavement of a member of the company presenting the show…I hope it all worked out OK for them.

When the programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival came out, there were two people who I really, really hoped would be visiting and I got one of them.  I’ve banged on about how great Jess Phillips’ Everywoman is on here before, so it was good to get the chance to listen to her speak about the book and her job; happily, she speaks just as she writes…

 

Jess Phillips Everywoman Edinburgh Festival

 

I was able to thank her for the book afterward…

Jess Phillips with Stuart Ferguson Edinburgh Festival 2017

And got a pleasing dedication…

Jess Phillips Everywoman

A few hours later we attended The Unmarried, a new piece by Lauren Gauge, at the Underbelly Med Qu

The Unmarried, a new piece by Lauren Gauge

This was a refreshing and interesting piece – rave theatre? Epic poetry with beatboxing and live vocals? Either way, highly recommended and playing right until the end of the Fringe on 28 August.  I wish I had been sobererer…

Here’s a trailer Gauge has put on YouTube.

The Toad from Badger & Co. was also packing Book Festival tickets…

 

Toad from Badger & Co. selling tickets - Edinburgh Festival 2017

 

Books

Jess Phillips, Everywoman

Jess Phillips‘ piece in today’s Observer reminded me of how much I enjoyed her book Everywoman which I read pretty much in one sitting a couple of weeks ago.
The piece in today’s paper is to draw attention to the sheer disruption the imminent General Election will cause to the business of government and, more importantly, the disruption which will be caused to conviction politicians such as Phillips…she does not relish having to tell her constituents that although today she can fight their cases as their MP, next week she will be plain Jess, a candidate for election. I guess she will win her seat again, but she resents the break in continuity of the work she undertakes for constituents.

Everywoman by Jess Phillips

In one of these happy accidents, I picked up an immaculate copy of Everywoman in a charity shop for £2.49 – it feels as if it was an unsullied review copy – which was great, because much as I wanted to read Phillips’ book based on reviews, I kind of felt it would turn out to be one of these things that stays on a well-meant reading list for years without ever actually being read.
So let’s say the universe presented the opportunity.
Everywoman is neither strictly autobiography or personal manifesto, rather a mixture of both, very much in the style of Caitlin Moran’s books about herself (or a thinly veiled version of herself.) Like Moran, Phillips is a natural writer and is easy to read. Some people would admire her clarity by saying she sees things in black and white, I think it’s more like seeing things in colour.
For example, she writes in great detail about the difficulties caused by her brother’s heroin addiction, both before and after her enhanced visibility as a Member of Parliament and public figure. Luckily, the brother has now overcome his addiction, but does she now describe him as an all round great guy? No, Luke is a “good enough partner, a pretty good dad, an awesome uncle, an okay brother and an average son.”
Phillips goes into extreme detail about the amount of online abuse that she and other MPs receive. It’s not just even the MPs who receive the abuse and threats nowadays, but people with the most liminal connexions can be targeted – relations, certainly, but also some bloke you were pictured with at a wedding five years ago, which picture is available on social media. So Phillips says she has to warn all her relations if she knows she is going to say something controversial in public.
But hearteningly, she is not afraid of being unpopular, because that is just going to happen if she does her job right and it “turns out that not being popular actually means not being popular with the kind of people you wouldn’t want to go on a date with or find yourself in the caravan next door to on a holiday.” Amen.
An excellent book which I think I will probably be giving to a few people to read. It’s not as if we can’t benefit from a bit more politics this year…

Books · Music

Waywords and Meansigns

 

Waywords & Meansigns Finnegan's Wake

Derek Pyle from Waywords and Meansigns was recently in touch to tell me about their Finnegans Wake project.

Released on 4 May this year, this will be the third iteration of a project setting Joyce’s book to music.  (I am impressed with anybody that has even read Finnegans Wake, much less set it to music…)

I had a conversation about the impenetrability of the book when I was in Ireland visiting a friend earlier this year.  We were in a pub in Galway at the time, which I was impressed to find was a few streets away from Nora Barnacle’s house, which is now called the Nora Barnacle House Museum.  It’s only open during the summer, but the picture below adequately illustrates the gormless look of someone standing outside a closed museum on a cold January afternoon.  It was about to snow.

 

 

The Nora Barnacle House James Joyce

The Waywords and Meansigns project is well worth a look and listen, the first two editions are available on the website, with the third being available from 4 May.
Among the artists on the new edition are Tenement and Temple, the latest project from Johnny Smillie and Monica Queen. The pair have given us some lovely music over the years, as Thrum, then a series of Monica solo albums, and now as Tenement and Temple.

Books · Music

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography

 

Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen's autobiography

Like many aging men, I got a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run for Christmas, which I’ve just finished.

A tremendous read and one of the best ever rock biographies or autobiographies.

The terse, pared-down detail evinced in Springsteen’s music and lyrics is also present in his prose style, which is modern and vibrant..he DOES THAT a lot, but it is all acceptable in context.

He is uniquely impressive in having a sober and accurate impression of the depth and breadth of his talent as a musician (as well as his shortcomings in that field…not for Bruce any of the “gee, shucks, I got lucky” shruggings all too present in artists’ autobiographies;) he spells out in great detail how hard he worked to hone the talents he realised early on were his, the nights and nights of watching the lead guitar player in visiting touring bands then going home and practising what he had seen until falling asleep with the  guitar on his chest; the realisation on first hearing a recording of his singing that he would have to make some other efforts in the presentation of his vocals.  There is no false modesty, either in this or in his portrayal of the benevolent dictatorship which was the E Street Band.

Plenty detail on all periods of his career, which is great given that most people in his position would have concentrated on the years of extreme fame.  For those of us who believe he was never as good as the first few albums, this is a boon – there’s lots of stories of the times and circumstances when he was writing and performing as well as this;

Particularly good are his descriptions of people’s entries and exits to and from the world – his childrens’ births and developments, the deaths of Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons, his father…unromantic, but deeply felt and effectively communicated vignettes.

Also uniquely, one does not anticipate a follow up volume in years to come.  There is the distinct impression that he has said all he wants to say and is satisfied with how he has said it.

The clip below was the first thing that most people in the UK saw of the exotic legend that was the early Bruce Springsteen, screened on The Old Grey Whistle Test – I remember watching it a lot in Bruce’s in Rose Street Edinburgh on the brand new video tape machine…

He was at least as good a few years later in 1981 on The River tour at The Edinburgh Playhouse, but that is another story…