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




Festivals · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals Days Twenty, Twenty-one, Twenty-two and Twenty-three.

Edinburgh Fringe - 70 years of defying the norm


Monday 21 August, day 20 of the Festivals…

Mairi Campbell Pulse


Mairi Campbell’s Pulse was a thoughtful and graceful exposition of her own musical journey from the conservatory to the folk tradition, directed by my friend Kath Burlinson.  Very good.

Not so good was the second show that evening…it may have been called “Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men meet Spooky Bitch and the Rockers Uptown.”  At least, it should have been.  I’ll never get that hour back…

Day 21, Tuesday August 22 was a hundred percent day though.

Guy Pratt - photo by Steve Ullathorne


First of all I saw Guy Pratt’s Inglourious Bassterd at Frankenstein’s as part of the Free Fringe.  I had seen him years ago doing a show called My Bass and Other Animals and enjoyed it, so it was well worth going to see the updated version, where he tells anecdotes about his musical career as bass player with Pink Floyd and David Gilmour as well as the numerous superstar sessions he’s done.  Sadly I had to leave quickly at the end of the show so was unable to speak with him and thank him for the magnificent bass part on Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor.”

A little bit later we went to see Alan Johnson at the Book Festival.  His third volume of memoirs has just come out and he was able to speak mostly about the book – a couple of years ago, during a Labour Party leadership campaign, he was at the Book Festival to promote the second volume but was largely asked about the state of the party rather than his book.

When he was Minister for Health in, I think, 2009 he had mentioned in an interview in The Observer about music that he was fond of The Pearlfishers, so with the agreement of the composer, I took the opportunity to give him a copy of The Pearlfishers’ official bootleg.  I think he is the fifth person to have a copy of this – I hope he enjoys it.


Alan Johnson discusses The Pearlfishers with Stuart Ferguson at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Day 22, Wednesday August 23 – one show, Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up.  A successful shot in the dark.  Apparently this won a Fringe First in 2016 and I could see why.  In the lovely surroundings of the Anatomy Lecture Theatre at Summerhall, Hurley’s show is a powerful monologue about people’s reactions to nuclear apocalypse, delivered mostly from a desk where he triggers samples from a couple of pads in front of him.  Sobering and sadly appropriate to our troubled and volatile times.

Day 23, Thursday August 24.  Just one show, which was OK.  So enough said.

I also had a pleasant couple of hours at the Book Festival with my friend Alan Windram from littledoorbooks, where we discovered that he and his wife were coincidentally going to an event the next day, and we agreed to meet up.

Meanwhile, in Musselburgh, a revolution in publishing marketing was underway…


Musselburgh Get a Free Sandwich


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 - One Woman's Truth About Speaking The Truth

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


Festivals · Theatre

This is how we do it in Edinburgh…

The world has clearly gone mad in 2016 (well, actually since the death of David Bowie – was he holding the fabric of the universe together?)
Our lords of mis-rule are liars and fools and there is a depressing tendency toward what is being labelled as “posh” racism.
So it lifted my spirits to see this sign at the Usher Hall as once again Edinburgh waits to welcome artists and visitors from all over the world for the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Fringe Festival


Edinburgh welcomes the world - Edinburgh's Festivals

There are certainly maleficent forces adrift over which we have limited control…meanwhile, we can all just be a bit nicer and more respectful to each other. That’s a start.

Festivals · Music

Edinburgh’s festivals

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

As always, Edinburgh in August was a blast; loads of events and shows which are never less than interesting.  I especially like the fairly run of the mill productions on the Fringe, often late at night, often with a small audience, where you know you’re not watching anything great but you also know that the actors have cared enough to come to Edinburgh to perform.  Nobody’s going to make any money to speak of – in the paper the other day, an actor from Wardrobe Ensemble, who had a hit show at this year’s Fringe (1972 – The Future of Sex) estimated that the troupe would have made about £100 each for three weeks work.  And that’s a show that had great reviews and sell-outs.  So it’s all the more delicious that, to give an example from my experience, an RSC actor would come to Edinburgh to do a one man show that he had originated at 10pm to an audience of eight.


Edinburgh International Book Festival


Some observations from this year’s festivals;

The monologue or one man show is very much in vogue.

A lot of the Fringe shows I saw by school or otherwise young companies started with fairly spectacular “opening numbers,” encompassing music, dancing and physical theatre and then fizzled out with the actual acting being pretty ordinary, a kind of theatrical front-loading which made me wonder if the emphasis in theatrical training has changed.

For the first time in Edinburgh in August, I often saw people queuing to get in to restaurants.  And by that I don’t mean super-hip restaurants but fairly ordinary ones in areas where there are plenty similar places to eat.  Must be a London thing, or maybe people are now more influenced by what is said on social media.

On the upside, I only had to shoosh somebody once (git playing with a plastic bag on his lap during first act of Lanark,)  although I would have murdered the bum whose phone went off in the quiet, intense last stretch of Antigone.  In general, thoughtless mis-use of phones during performances was less prevalent this year.  I also wasn’t aware of anyone skipping into queues before me (never a wise move,) the dread “merging.”

Spiegeltent at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Getting about on public transport seemed easier this year, I think it is an unintended consequence of the traffic routing in the city centre to accommodate the trams.  Travelling on foot still takes twice as long as normal though.

Dynamic pricing has a field day.  Some bars hike their prices in their own festival of taking the piss, as do the hotel chains; some display current prices for rooms outside on displays like on the stock exchange, which is just flaunting greed.  It would be great if the massive profits which must be made from this could be taxed for redistribution among the performers who are coming out with very little, while being the attraction that allows Ibis et al to wallow in lucre.

It was great to see Kirsty Bushell again in Antigone (one of the International Festival’s big deals this year) having seen her years ago in Filter’s Twelfth Night at The Caves, which I always remember as being a production which summed up everything that is possible on The Fringe.


Filters Twelfth Night
Filters Twelfth Night, Kirsty Bushell on the left

Finally…although the magnificent Story Shakespeare did not appear at this year’s Fringe due to circumstances affecting their rehearsal time, they did tip me off to the existence of Popinjay Productions, who are alumni of that project and whose show I got to see.


Locals at the Edinburgh Festival
Just up for the Festival, ennit…oh no, I live here!