Festivals · Gigs · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Seven.

70 years of defying the norm - Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Three shows on Tuesday 8 August and a lovely walk through The Meadows on the way to the first. Edinburgh’s Central Park…

The Meadows - Edinburgh Festivals

Judging from the number of families with kids in the queue, I thought at first a big mistake had been made in attending ThisEgg‘s Me and My Bee. We weren’t the only adults in the queue without the wee ones and several others agreed they were confused; the show had not been listed as a children’s show in the Fringe programme.
Luckily I was wrong; although a family show, this was a thoroughly charming hour highlighting the demise of bees in the ecosystem and the consequences of bee extinction, with enough references to motivational speaking and corporate lingo to keep jaded adults happy. We even got a goody bag of sunflower seeds to take away and plant to help the beleaguered bees.

Me & My Bee

I’ve planted them in the back green.

Me & My Bee - Climate Change is Massive. Bees Aren't.

Here’s ThisEgg‘s teaser video for the show, which is on until the end of The Fringe.

From there we made a bee-line to watch Ingrid Garner’s Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany, a monologue based on the performer’s grandmother’s experience of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was beautifully acted and presented in a part of Gilded Balloon (in Teviot Row) called Sportsmans (sic) where I had not been before; sadly, the room was poorly soundproofed, so the noise from the show in the neighbouring room, which sounded like a particularly raucous episode of The Young Ones was very loudly audible throughout about the first two thirds of Garner’s sensitive and mostly quiet show. My heart bled for her; if it was so hard to hear her and concentrate in the audience, it must have been incredibly difficult to perform – judging from the sustained and heartfelt applause at the end of the show, I doubt I was the only one feeling for her. You can’t blame the other company, but I wonder who at The Gilded Balloon thought this would work. Maybe they are just greedy and rent out rooms without researching soundproofing or suitability for the work being performed. I felt ashamed for the city and nominate The Gilded Balloon as today’s AFG.
Garner’s show continues until the end of The Fringe and is excellent – I hope someone takes responsibility to sort out the venue (or she gets a refund of the rental fee for Sportsmans.)

Edinburgh Fringe againt Nazi's

Here is more information about Eleanor’s Story and its background.

Having been stood up for the pint I was meant to have with an Edinburgh music legend, we went to The Playhouse to watch PJ Harvey’s second show as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.

PJ Harvey - Edinburgh International Festival

I had been a bit dubious about this, not having enjoyed her last album as much as the previous Let England Shake,but it turned out to be marvellous, leaning heavily on LES for the bulk of the material. The sound was stunning. I kept thinking throughout the show “but PJ Harvey isn’t this good…” Wrong again.

Gigs · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Days Three, Four and Five.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

I got a bit behind over the last few days. We went to fourteen shows, only one of which I won’t mention, so quite a good strike rate. There does seem to be far fewer duds on the Fringe than say, fifteen or twenty years ago.
Friday kicked off with Chris Davis’ One-Man Apocalypse Now at Sweet Grassmarket, an hour long one man solo reduction of Coppola’s masterpiece, a film I think I have seen more often than any other. It was good; Davis seems to be a Fringe professional, doing some hard flyering and indeed another free show after midnight at The Counting House.
An hour or so later, we were at The Space in Niddry Street to watch our favourite company, Fourth Monkey, who have given so much pleasure over so many years now with their singular style and adventurous productions. This year they are visiting Edinburgh with a triptych of plays under the banner Women of Greece, based on Greek myths, opening tonight with Persephone. The company did not disappoint, all the familiar tropes were in place in the venue that they use so well. Every year seems like the best year. It was a shame they started about twenty minutes late, but I put that down to it being a first night.
Then we went a bit off-piste (for me anyway) and went to Underbelly’s Circus Hub in The Meadows to watch Elixir, performed by Head First Acrobats. If you enjoy watching handsome young men performing unfeasible acrobatic stunts, this is for you. I’m neutral.
Today’s Annoying Festival Git is shared among those who think their whispering is inaudible. By definition, it is not.
Saturday started gently with Bob Kingdom’s The Truman Capote Talk Show. This genre has become very popular; an actor appears in the character of a dead writer, actor or musician and addresses us from beyond the grave, including all the subject’s “greatest hits” and pithily assessing the successes and failures of their life. I’ve seen similar on Oliver Reed, Tony Hancock and Nina Simone in previous years. Kingdom’s show is fine and will get better as it eases into the run – it made me think and has given me a couple of additions to my reading list.
Big Brother Hamlet: A Surveillance Adaptation by International Collegiate Theatre Festival is a mouthful and a title that didn’t augur well. What it was turned out to be a perfectly fine Hamlet interpretation with some great ideas and acting that really didn’t need the “Big Brother” conceit of having about a dozen supernumerary actors on stage in cowls mechanically observing the action surveillance cameras. Maybe the show was devised so that all the members of the company could come to Edinburgh, hence these other parts? (In the UK now, we think of the Endemol show when we see the words Big Brother; the reference here was more to Orwell’s original Big Brother, however obliquely. It’s interesting how the phrase Groundhog Day now means something quite different to its original connotation subsequent to the film of that name.)
Pike St. at Roundabout in Summerhall was next and would be the first outstanding thing I’ve seen this year. The venue was deeply impressive, a bespoke theatre-in-the round with excellent sound and lighting options. This allowed the amazing Nilaja Sun to perform her piece most effectively, where she used her body and a variety of voices to portray several characters going about their lives in the Lower East Side of New York City (I think it’s called acting…) This would have been the second show in Edinburgh and it’s already entirely in place.
In the evening, we were back to The Space to see Fourth Monkey‘s Persephone, the second of the Women of Greece series. They went up twenty minutes late with no explanation or apology, really annoying because twenty minutes is not an inconsequential amount of time during the Fringe. People will have other shows to go to. The fact that Persephone was brilliant doesn’t sweeten the pill; rather, the fact they were late for the second night leaves a bitter taste. Once is maybe understandable, twice is arrogant. They know they are great, no-one is going to leave. I was discussing this very loudly in the queue because the guy in front of us had been in the queue for the Hamlet I was at in the afternoon and had been telling people he knew someone from Fourth Monkey who was in Edinburgh. It must have been the girl in the red dress, because that who he was filming covertly (annoyingly) one seat away from me. Saturday’s AFG.
We had limited time to get to the day’s last show, Frankie Boyle at the EICC. My heart lifted as I saw numerous signs around the venue saying if you left, there was no readmission, including toilet breaks (spelled out for the vodsels -put eight pints in, something will come out during Frankie’s marathon one hour set.)
The threat was balls. Fifteen minutes in, the exodus of weak bladders started and they all got back in. At least the couple in the first seats I went to had cut to the chase and already spilled their drinks on the floor, so I reconsidered and sat in row W next to quite a friendly bloke who texted and took videos throughout Frankie’s marathon ONE hour set. He at least didn’t need a piss.
Oh yeah, Frankie Boyle. He was quite funny, but not as funny as taking £17.50 a ticket for ten nights in a 2,000 seater. Sheep. More power to Frankie’s elbow.
Sunday then. At the back of twelve we were at Underbelly to watch the excellent Harry by Poor Michelle. Performed by the writer Caitlin McEwan and Sophie McQuillan, this is a play about two late teenage girls who grow up together devoted to the fandom of Harry Styles, then grow apart as one of them grows up and another crashes and burns because she can’t let go of her devotion to Harry. It was a great experience because it was a play about one of my favourite subjects – not Harry Styles, but being a pop fan; but slightly compromised by one of the actors not having as good projection as the other.
Peer Gynt by Gruffdog Theatre at Zoo was absolutely fine for fans of physical theatre. Lovely venue.
Blank Tiles at Assembly in George Square was better. A monologue by one Dylan Cole about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease on a Scrabble winning, Star Trek loving, Rubik cube solving geek, it is at once funny and touching.
Later that evening, we went to Dance Base to watch Lady Macbeth, an investigation of the motivation and psyche of that imaginary character rendered in the medium of interpretative dance. It was very good, but sometimes I think “Stuart, you need a word with yourself…”
The evening finished with another visit to The Space to watch Fourth Monkey‘s take on Titus Andronicus. Predictably great. On time tonight, but running overtime. No problem, got the night bus home, which is a Fringe show in itself.

Festivals · Gigs · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals – Day One

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Today was the first day (I believe) of previews for The Fringe.  Certainly it was my first show of about eighty events I’ll be attending over the month of August.  My partner became a Best Friend of The Fringe this year, which entitles her to loads of “2 for 1” tickets, invitations to Fringe parties and a programme cover that looks like you.

I made that last bit up…

Edinburgh 2017 - The Fringe

Anyway, she bought loads of tickets and asked in return that I try to write about as many shows as possible, which I will try to do within my usual rules of never writing about anything I don’t like.  I picked that up from Paul Williams, who made the point that if you write something negative, you might put off someone who would have actually have enjoyed the show/album/film.  So, never miss the chance to say nothing.

Edinburgh Fringe posters 2017

Edinburgh is jam-packed (or maybe “ram-packed” in Corbynese) with people, even over the last few weeks, so I imagine it will get unbelievably busy over the next few weeks.  I assume these are visitors taking advantage of the weakness of sterling, and fair play to them.  In theory this will bring lots of business and spending to the city, which is a good thing; I do seriously worry if we have the infrastructure to handle it though – trams which stop about 10:30, overflowing bins, narrow roads and pavements.  Time will tell.

The BBC are using the grounds of George Heriot’s School again this year for broadcasts and events – they were still setting up today and it looks much bigger than last year, both in size and intent.

Edinburgh Festivals - the Old College

 

Edinburgh Festivals 2017

 

BBC at Edinburgh Festival

From there I took a walk to George Square, which has been developed as a Fringe hub over the years and now seems at tipping point. I cannot imagine a taste in food or drinks that was not being catered for around the perimeter of and in the square. The rain was gently pouring as I took these pictures, a familiar feel in August.

Sunny Edinburgh Festival

 

Underbelly George Square Edinburgh Fringe

My purpose was to see Richard Carpenter is Close to You, a new show by Matthew Floyd Jones, who is also known as the piano player in Frisky and Mannish, who have been doing well at the Fringe these last few years.

It was a first night, a preview, and there were still a few bits to be smoothed out, but I expect on this evening’s showing this will be one of the hits of this year’s Fringe.  Richard Carpenter welcomes us to yet another night in Purgatorium, where he mulls the implications and frustrations of being “the piano player in The Carpenters.”  Jones mixes musical pastiche with comedy and a bit of Kundalini yoga in a one man show which is sometimes cruel but ultimately coming from a place of love for its subject.  I certainly hope it does really, really well.

Richard Carpenter is close to you - Edinburgh Fringe 2017

 

wee coo Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Annoying Festival Gits – Part One of a possibly interminable series. The middle aged guy with the wife and grown-up daughter who just stood in front of me in the queue for tonight’s show. I had to tap him on the shoulder and explain that the queue had formed behind me, not in front of me. I know my inner Begbie is not wrong and I was pleased to start as I mean to go on with AFGs over August.
Peace, out.

Gigs · Music

Diving for Pearls

Colin Steel Quartet - diving for pearls

Diving for Pearls is the great new album by the Colin Steele Quartet.  Released on Friday 28th July on Marina  records (who commissioned the project,) it’s an album of jazz interpretations of the music of The Pearlfishers.

I got my copy a couple of weeks ago when the project was premiered at The Rose Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival.  The band played all of the album (as one can see from the set-list above) in more extended versions.  Pianist Dave Milligan, who arranged the music, was outstanding.

The Pearlfishers’ music has been one of the great joys in my life over the last 25 years or so, and it is good to see the work being extended into this field.  Also good to see the composer, who was in attendance at the concert and took his bow in a proper showbiz style.

 

Gigs · Music

Saint Etienne, Queen’s Hall 09 June 2017

Sarah Cracknell by Claire Anderson
(Sarah Cracknell by Claire Anderson – thanks Claire!)

 

Saint Etienne were at the Queen’s Hall on Friday evening.

As when I’ve seen them before, the gender balance was 85/15 male to female, which split I guess is caused by a mixture of the guys in the audience being a) record collector types like Pete and Bob, b) guys that really fancied Sarah Cracknell or c) guys that really want to be Sarah Cracknell.  From the amount of awkward dancing going on, I think c) may have had a majority.

Or maybe all the girls were watching Robbie Williams at Murrayfield.

Whatever.  Saint Etienne continue to do the business really well…

Saint Etienne at Queen's Hall

 

…Sarah with her feather boa as seen in Claire’s picture above and the guys up at the back of the stage looking as if they are thinking about Pickettywitch b-sides (this is not a bad thing – Bob Stanley’s Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé is one of the finest books available on pop music, particularly his chapter on The Bee Gees.)

Saint Etienne Queen's Hall June 2017

 

I’d like to think the back-projection below was for the Edinburgh crowd…I tried to explain it to a girl from Nebraska standing beside me who was baffled.

Josef K - Saint Etienne

 

Gigs · Music

The excellent Violet Leighton

From Violet Leighton to Stuart Ferguson - speak low

I’ve recently been listening to this excellent album from 1997, Violet Leighton’s Speak Low.

It came a bit out of the blue at the time, on the the Blu Jazz label which was set up by Bill Grainger specifically to release a record on Violet, if I remember correctly.  Bill had done very well in the previous few years with the Clubscene label, which served a very different kind of music remarkably successfully, being the dance music beloved of the M8 dance scene of the nineties.  It was a huge scene for a while, post-rave but a lot more energetic; its Beatles was TTF, its drugs were Buckfast and Kensitas Club; its Detroit was Bathgate, the home of Clubscene.

You could sell pretty much anything on the Clubscene label and we would wait eagerly for the rep to arrive in the shop with the latest releases.  Often they were white labels in paper-sleeves, but they would sell immediately and it was sometimes hard to keep titles in stock.  In Glasgow anyway, Clubscene releases would often outsell the current top chart singles.

So, when Bill saw Violet performing in a club, he had the means and desire to fund this record, which was a departure for him in featuring the cream of Scottish jazz musicians (Nigel Clark on guitar and production, Brian Kellock on piano, Mike Bradley on drums and the master of bass, Ewen Vernal) backing Violet on a selection of jazz standards – Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, etc.  The band also essayed two great Stevie Wonder covers, “Visions” and “Tuesday Heartbreak.”

I don’t quite know why I’ve been listening to it again so often after all this time – it might be a wee, recent fascination with the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You” – but I guess quality is eternal.

I remembered also in August of 1997 trying to think what a good night out for three couples in Edinburgh would be, where the six in question had widely disparate or even indiscriminate musical taste.  Violet came to the rescue as she had a gig in Edinburgh that night…

Violet Leighton The Tron Edinburgh Jazz Project

It was one of my best decisions, everybody loved it.

I seem to recall Violet was backed only by Nigel Clark on guitar and Ewen Vernal on bass and the show was a triumph and not just for me.  We also sold quite a few copies of Speak Low in the Megastores in Edinburgh and Glasgow (Violet is from Glasgow) around this time.

Violet is still doing some gigs, usually in Glasgow.  I don’t know if you can still buy this album, though.