… being a brief account of my fourth annual visit to “well-set Edinburgh”. Yes, it (the visit) took place last year, and this (the write-up) has been “in draft” until now. But, hey, better late than never. It needs to be published before I go to any of this year’s shows.
Main aim: Fringe comedy. But interspersed with classical music. My notional ticket budget is £10 for the week – last year I spent it on Henning Wehn. But, as always, I have plenty of loose ££ to enable me to give the performers in the Free Fringe some of their just desserts.
I arrive by Airbus A320 on Monday evening, having enjoyed my in-flight dinner of home-made marmite and cucumber sandwiches. The Airport bus is, for the second year, grotesquely delayed by the tram system roadworks. I check into my little room at the Metro Youth Hostel in Cowgate.
My first night out is at the inimitable PBHASC (a.k.a. Peter Buckley Hill and some comedians) and within moments of arriving I have a pint tankard of Festival and I am singing … yes, the audience is busking the Dr Who theme, led by the great man – PBH – himself.
– Addy van der Borgh – naturally funny – gentle humour – with harmonica and helium-filled microphone.
– Kate Smurthwaite – quick and cutting – jumped back and forth between material on politics and female anatomy.
– Dave Williams (the Manchester one) – excellent ad libs, natural delivery, had me laughing to tears.
– Steve Bell (Grauniad cartoonist) … a romp through his favourites from own work.
– lunch with Spicer – cheese and bacon scone with double espresso, followed by a pint at the Cafe Royal.
– quire (but no quaffing) – top notch singing from the lay clerks at St Mary’s cathedral
– a quick trip to the quirky oriental feel of Kebab Mahal – saag ghost – excellent service compared to previous visits.
– Ben Norris – quite famous according to Spicer, but I’d never heard of him.
– the Jollyboat brothers – a singing and dancing duo with talent, and a guitar.
– Nick Hodder – excellent portrayal of nerd-type with mad staring eyes and anorak.
– Jonathan Bowyer – entertaining portrayal of gay football-supporter type.
– HIGHLIGHT: I listen to some little-known gems of the 20th Century organ repertoire, some light, some heavy and all entertaining. Played on the Willis organ at St Cuthbert’s by the big man himself, Kevin Bowyer. His introduction is friendly, informative and there is no trace of elitism.
– my third year of seeing and hearing the unique “geeky outcast” Owen Niblock. He was thrown a bit by almost outnumbering the audience (three of us, all named James, allowing for my middle name) but he pulled it off.
– dashed up the road to hear Porky the Poet (a.k.a. Phill Jupitus) and friend. He saved the best until last, a piece about Jeremy Clarkson attempting to have various types of sex with various types of cars. The ending is good (in more than one way).
– a quick change into my running gear, to join TNT H3 (or, The New Town Hash House Harriers) for their Wednesday evening run. An excellent route, if shorter (4 miles) than expected, beginning and ending in the beer tent in George Square.
– Wednesday is PBH’s day off, so Gordon Brunton takes over as compere, and works his way mercilessly through the audience, ad libbing all the way. Nor am I spared, and my attempts to convince Gordon that I am attached, but that Jenny is not with me in Edinburgh, lead only to his alleging that the reason I have arrived late is that I have obviously just “bumped her off” and have come to the show to provide an alibi. Fortunately I do remember not to protest too much. Later, by a strange co-incidence, about a dozen TNTH3 hashers arrive (some in lycra) to be much mocked.
– HIGHLIGHT: my second ticket of the week, to Mrs Moneypenny‘s kitchen in the Aga Showroom. She asks who in the audience came to her 2010 show, and I am the only one – it was one of the first things I saw in Edinburgh. She is on good form, as are canapes and the glass of bubbly to wash them down. It is a characterful mix of humour, pathos and strongly held opinions.
– a spot of lunch at Peter’s Yard, which purports to be a Swedish cafe, in the company of Spicer (devoid of his Swedish jacket). I dine on a pickled herring smorgasbord, stratospherically priced in authentic Scandinavian style.
– HIGHLIGHT: the inimitable Raph Shirley entertains me in his vigorous and ever-original style with this year’s whirlwind tour encompassing humour, theatre and enigmatism.
– the Free Cambridge Footlights today includes Phil Wang and Bryan Ghosh / Xaablaargh the Conqueror – and an excellent compere whose name I fail to nail down.
– … and star-quality singer-comedian Christian Reilly.
– time to go home, but not without calling in at the cathedral to hear young performers from the City of Edinburgh Music School. My morbid fear of listening to recorder music is miraculously cured on the spot by hearing Oscar Gormley playing Song of the Dancing Skunk by Walter Mays.
– a touch of real-life comedy brought my visit to a neat close – while I was waiting at a bus stop near Haymarket to go to the airport, I noticed that the chaps who were hard at work with their pneumatic drills on the Edinburgh tramway were actually digging up the concrete on the tracks, not laying it. I asked a local shopkeeper what was going on – and was told, “The tram tracks failed their quality tests, so it’s all got to be dug up and done again properly!” Boom, boom!