Gig review gig reviews (Scottish)

Edinburgh Free Fringe Festival

Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival is renowned for the variety of fresh new talent that descends on the city, but it was only when I rattled off the list of bands I was going to see that I realised that I was essentially revisiting last year’s festival.

Although, critically, I was going to do all this on the cheap (i.e. for free, though in all cases a donations bucket is there for the generous).
So despite Scotrail doing their level best to spoil things for everyone (even the guard gets in on the act describing the management’s 2 carriage effort as “not a particularly smart move”, a sprint up the Bridges gets me to the Counting House just in time for Amoeba to Zebra.
There’s not a lot I can say as I reviewed this last year, but the recommendation “must see” still applies. Curiously, the troupe – Yorkshire indie rockers Being 747 – are in the children’s programme this year, and consequently there are plenty of under-16s, and indeed under-5s in the crowd. Strange to think, a few hundred kids over the three weeks must attend this, their first rock gig – for rock gig this show certainly is, the band’s sound being big and meaty, a big swirling mix of punk and prog. For some the fact that they tell the story of the earth’s evolution in the 60 or so minutes of their set is secondary to the animal heads and monkey noises. One for kids big and small, then.

Similarly, Disobedience -a collection of the words of AA Milne set to music, is though ostensibly aimed at kids, but as we find, the collection of poems is smart enough to work for grown-ups too – ‘Market Square’ is for the adults, about rabbits or for the kids, concerning Communism – that’s what Chris TT tells us anyway, and he has studied AA Milne a little, defending the author against the oft-held belief that he was a bad father to Christopher Robin, Chris pointing out that as he’d survived the Somme he could maybe be cut a little slack.
The other point of note is how many songs I know – ‘Halfway Up The Stairs’ of course, and the ‘The King’s Breakfast’ and ‘Lines and Squares’ – all set to music composed by Chris TT in folk mode and partnering a couple of his own tunes including ‘Hedgehog Song’ which he confesses were unwittingly influenced by AA. In all, something of an ideal combination.

Did I mention that I made it from the Counting House to Ryan’s Cellar Bar in the required 10 minutes, in ill-fitting shoes? Yes, I have been working out, thanks for asking. No such urgency for the next show, and indeed when having a quick pint with Mark Hibbert and musical sidekick Steve Hewitt (and Chris TT joins us) I’m informed that John Otway has left the, er, city, taking with him his lecture/chat-based show gig. This is a little irritating as while I’ve seen Otway probably every year he’s appeared, the ‘An Audience with’-style show (this may well be accurate, I’m guessing but I guess I’ll never know – but a lecture from Otway would have been something special).

Instead, chips and a little street theatre, which seems to have a South American pan pipes theme this year. No sign of Whitehouse or Higson, so irony aside, it’s time for MJ Hibbett and his latest musical, Moon Horse. This isn’t the same show as last year of course, that was Dinosaur Planet. Though there is a certain element of not changing a winning formula, so without giving away any endings, it’s the tale of the aversion of the total destruction of the planet by an alien race and its evil earth-based collaborator, as seen through the eyes of a wizened academic. With songs. And yes, the formula is still a winner.

Another lung-busting sprint from the east end to the Grassmarket, where another branch of the free Fringe is active, and staging one-man-show Twonkey’s Castle. Indie kids will recall Paul Vickers as frontman of Peel faves Dawn of the Replicants (and Pluto Monkey). They may not, however, have thought of him as a likely kids’ entertainer. And if they’re thinking of calling Childline after this set they would be entirely justified. Happily, most of the audience are adults, including a sizable proportion of ‘more ‘mature’ ladies who end up in the front row, and whose expressions (one woman in particular) would freeze hell over. For those of the audience who get it it’s a laugh-a-minute stuff, although far from the mainstream – the story is of how Twonkey is forced to move from her cottage to a draughty castle due to being haunted by the ghost of Lilian Gish, the actress who eloped to Lichtenstein with her joiner. Or something like that. A variety of (Vickers-powered) personnel are employed to get the story across, including some ‘unusual’ ventriloquism puppets and a jazz assassin, while the finale is a game of ‘Cottage Cheese’ where a blindfolded Vickers identifies various putrefying dairy products by smell alone. All this is interspersed with tunes which, despite being basic and rather overloaded in the iPod, are distinctly Vickers / Reps in style and delivery.

Scotrail attempts to spoil the party again on the way home, though in keeping with the last act, do so by diverting me to Platform 0. Somehow I avoid Hogwash Farm, and the Fife Circle, and make it out of Edinburgh alive, and despite donations, not unjustly poorer than when I left. The Free Fringe is the way ahead.

more photos from the Free Fringe on Flickr

(Have been experimenting with the video on my new(ish) camera – at least the sound on this one is ok!)

By Stuart McHugh

itm? head honcho

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