Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Seven

https://youtu.be/ZoRytcasNrc
So the good thing about the fringe is that you see all kinds of different acts and the potential for being inspired is heightened. I’ve seen so much while here that I’ve got a very clear idea of where I need to be and how the show can be massively improved with just a few small tweaks. Yesterday I was very privileged to have breakfast and a long chat with one of my favourite performers, (who wishes to remain anonymous because of the trade secrets that he divulged thereat). We met at a coffee shop in the new town area and he took me through every aspect of putting on a show, from the logistical detail of publicity and accommodation, to the more fundamental aspects of rehearsal, writing, learning the damn thing. It was the most enlightening couple of hours I’ve spent in a long time, as he imparted information which an artist might ordinarily have to cough up a lot of money for. I bought him toast and coffee to say thank you. In fact, I was so inspired that I went away and did a little bit of writing right then and there.

Now, obviously I should have been flyering. And I did a lot of flyering yesterday, both in the Royal Mile and Cowgate. I flyered like you wouldn’t believe. And while I was flyering I was thinking, I shouldn’t be doing this. But it’s a necessary evil. Spoken word show? Hello madam, I’ve got a show today at three. Spoken word show? Spoken word show? 

It’s a lonely business, flyering, even though you’re surrounded by people. You’re surrounded by all the other flyerers. And they’ve all got various degrees of annoyance, like the pushy ones, or the cheeky ones, or the ones who are just plain rude, and even those who insult anyone who doesn’t take a flyer. What’s that all about?

So I did all this flyering, and what do you think happened? No audience. I could only be philosophical about it, of course. I’m at the fringe, yes, but really I’m not that well known in the slightest. My show is on directly after Harry Baker, and he’s a world slam champion. And I’m also a slam winner. Well, second at the Swindon slam, anyway. Later on in the day I watched Gecko’s excellent show and he did a song about the painting that shares the room with the Mona Lisa and I thought, hmm, I know exactly how it feels!
But it’s all a great experience and a valuable learning opportunity. I’ve seen so much that has inspired me that I know exactly the manner and tone that I shall be adopting in my writing. And yes, I’m probably the oldest performer on the spoken word scene up here by quite some margin, but I feel all new and eager to get on with it.

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Six

Some of my performance colleagues here have been in Edinburgh for the whole three weeks and the fatigue is starting to show. There’s a certain numbness to them, as if they are kind of ever so dissociated from the world around them, a weariness, and most amusing of all, a slight loathing of anyone who’s just arrived. Last night I went to see AF Harrold at Hammer and Tomgue. AF is one of my favourite performers and a jolly decent chap too. He’d just arrived in Edinburgh and he was sharp, articulate, funny, alert. You could sense the hatred in the room.
I’ve only been here a week, of course, but a fatigue of sorts is finally starting to manifest itself. Having said that, I’ve finally got the art of flyering down to a tee. I spent the first few days oblivious to the fact that you have to make an impression and sell your show in about 2 and a half seconds. I’d spend the first two seconds of that time by saying hello. By which time they’d walked on. But now I just blurt out, ‘Free poetry show? Free poetry show? Free poetry show?’ And then act very relieved when someone takes a flier.
My legs ache like anything, I’ve been up and down that sodding hill so many times. I found a short cut the other day, it cuts a minute off the journey, and it was like the best thing that has ever happened. I’m starting to feel like a local. I see people making fundamental navigation errors and I’m thinking, Pffft, tourists! I’ve also built up this witty repartee with the man in the newsagents near my accommodation where each morning he pretends not to recognise me from the day before. Oh, how we laugh.
So there are two more Statics to go. But already I’m thinking of new projects, ambitious ideas gleaned from watching so many wonderful shows. I haven’t seen much poetry: the spoken word shows are storytelling in the main part, and very funny at that. However, I’ve found poetry in the best of places, such as Dandy Darkly’s fantastic Myth Mouth, which I really, really recommend. It’s perhaps been the most inspirational show I’ve seen while in Edinburgh, and the one that has really spoken to me.
It was misty and cool yesterday and I felt right at home. Today it is hot and sunny and I’m not looking forward to it. 
I still haven’t seen any of my flat mates and the same packet of pasta has been in the fridge now for five days.

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Five

Well that’s another day done and dusted. I’m really into the rhythm now. The rhythm of expectations being cruelly dashed. Yesterday’s audience was a very minimal two. I asked them beforehand if they were there to see my show and they said, no. But do carry on. Don’t mind us, we’re just here for a drink and a chat. I did a couple of poems without any microphone and then took a couple of selfies. Can’t let an opportunity like this go to waste!
I made the mistake yesterday of going to the modern art gallery instead of flyering. I mean, I’m on holiday. There was an exhibition of Joseph Beuys, one of my favourite artists. I couldn’t spend a whole week here and not see it! The only trouble with Edinburgh’s modern art gallery is that it’s such a long walk from the centre of the city. So the whole trip took about two and a half hours.
Then an offer of a gig came through, representing Team Poetry at Stand Up And Slam, which is a poetry verses comedian slam. Everybody there was so young and whoopy, and the music was so incredibly loud, and the MC shouted and wailed and I couldn’t make hear nor tail of it, but I went up and performed and the place went mad, I won my round and helped the poets win the whole contest. At the end we had to come out with slick jokes or short poems on a given theme and the theme was drinking, so I did the following haiku:
The man with no arms

Fighting in the local pub.

He was kicking off.
Which also brought the house down, and it was only afterwards, like, seven hours afterwards, that I thought about the Fringe joke competition and how it might have stood a chance in that. Had they not already done the competition at the beginning of the week.
So here I am, about to go out flyering and stuff. My legs are aching and it feels like I’ve lost two stone. It doesn’t look it, but it feels it.
Just a quick word about the show I saw last night, Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth. It was flipping fantastic! Storytelling and humour, camp wonderfulness and a celebration of the joy of living. Go and watch it!

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Four

My student accommodation is down the hill past the Scottish Parliament, turn left, then walk halfway to Glasgow. It’s a brand new building with one or two snags, the first snag being that it’s bloody hot even with the windows open, the second snag being that the sensor light in the bathroom stays on as well as the extractor fan for about an hour after use, the third snag being that it’s so far from the centre of Edinburgh. But that didn’t stop me being waken at seven this morning by what I thought was thunder, turned out it was a bloody cannon being fired. Is that normal, or are we at war? It sounded like they fired it right next to the building.
I’ve reached an odd point in the fringe, now. I don’t care if I don’t get anyone to come and see the show, now, because I’ve done it a few times and I’ve had an amazing time doing so. If nobody turns up, then I get an hour off! I mean, the way I look at it is that I’m offering to do a show at three o o’clock every day, and if no ones up for that then, OK, I’m all right with that.
I went to a few shows last night. Gary from Leeds, funny and as human as ever. Dominic Berry,enthusiastic and genuinely inspirational. I wore a tshirt advertising my show, and I thought, that’s a good move. The moment I stepped out the building someone yelled, in a. American accent, ‘Hey buddy, like the tshirt. Naaaahhht’. He’s probably a Trump supporter.
The agenda for today is a few more shows but first I’m off out in search of some modern art. Modern art is my passion and I want to see something inspirational.
Another early night tonight. I’m such a lightweight. The other night I went out with Dominic and Chris White, feeling like an old man. We didn’t even get to where we were going before I apologised and said that I really had to go home to bed, it was almost ten o’ clock. In fact, compared to all the other spoken word artists, I feel like a very old man. Even Gary from Leeds, baldies that he is, is ten years younger than me. I don’t drink, and I really can’t take these late nights. There’s an open mic at eleven pm every night by which time I’m usually in bed. Maybe that’s what’s keeping me sane?
I’m using the wifi in McDonalds to write this. I’m trying to see as much local culture as I can.

https://youtu.be/DJQKEo1neUE

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part Three

I am deep into the Fringe, now. Yes, I know that sounds weird. But I’m into the rhythm of the Edinburgh Fringe and what it means to be here, which is to say, the usual routines of flyering, exit flyering, chatting to people, finding out when other people’s shows are, and that big contentious issue, the Bucket Speech.
What is the Bucket Speech? Well, this is the free fringe, so we don’t get paid to perform, but we don’t have to pay the venue either. Because of this, we are not allowed to charge visitors entry, but we are allowed to pass round a bucket at the end. Now I was having serious philosophical thoughts about this and I decided not to do a Bucket Speech, (the bit at the end of each show where you ask for donations), and instead make the whole thing free. Yes, really. Absolutely free.
I’m not yet sure if this is a good strategy. For me the joy is sharing the words and meeting people. There’s no way that I’d recover the costs of coming here. Now it must be said that I might change this philosophy, depending on how things go.
I have been flyering. But I haven’t really done that much. Yesterday I did lots of flyering in the Royal Mile, but then got bored, so I went to the museum and I had an excellent time.
I’ve met so many friends up here, people who I know from so many different parts of the country, like Rose Condo, who I met in Manchester, Dan from Bristol, and Sam Webber, who I know from Barnstaple. Today a friend is coming up from London. It’s like the annual meeting place of performance poetry.
The plan for today? More flyering, and I’ll be performing on the Royal Mile with some other poets. I haven’t even thought about open mic nights yet, or anything like that.
And the Fringe Flu? I haven’t caught it yet.

Edinburgh Fringe Blog Part One

Well here I am then, on a train heading to the Edinburgh Fringe. Well, almost. First of all I’m going to Woking to spend the night in a room over a pub, and then tomorrow morning I will be flying up. It was either that, or fifteen hours on a coach. In fact it’s cheaper this way than getting the train. How ludicrous is that?
So how am I feeling about all this right now? There are several emotions. I’m nervous, naturally, that everything is going to go tits up. Nobody will show up for any of the gigs, and when they do, I fall into that age old trap of being crap. I’m excited, because this is the Edinburgh fringe and a lot of my friends will be there. I’m also grateful that I am able to spend an entire week immersed in art and culture.
I’m also nervous that the logistical arrangements I’ve made will fall apart. The accommodation, the travel, the train, the plane.
So here so am, then, on the train, and I’ve managed to get a high profile seat in first class. It was a whole three quid extra to get in here, and I feel privileged, because they don’t just let anyone in. That three quid means a lot.
And I’m the only one in here as the train leaves Exeter, which makes me feel kind of poncey. But then a lusciously blonde muscular lad sneaks in and plugs his mobile phone into the charger. A minute or two back he’s later to look at his phone. Then he slides in, commandeers the seat for himself. Good move!
And oh mamma, what a good looking chap he is. Amazingly he offerere me a Fruit Pastel, and then we get talking. Where are you going? Woking? Me too! Where do you live? Paignton? Know it well! What do you do? Spoken word artist? I’m a property developer. And we chat for ages, about books he’s read, his love of To Kill a Mockingbird, his skills as a weekend surfer, and then it starts to get embarrassing. Whenever I try to relax he asks something else, and all the time I’m looking at those luscious legs.
At Honiton he gets off and meets a man on the platform who gives him a suit in a bag. He gets back in and looks at the suit, the tie, spreading them out on the table. Very smart! We chat some more, and then the man comes to check the tickets.
You’re in the wrong section, he says. Please move back to the standard class.
I’ve still got two hours of this train ride to go, but I’m already thinking, ah, yes. The adventure has begun!
And will I still be thinking of this blond lad in seven days time?

https://youtu.be/YjpL6VZtC78

Paignton station.


Exeter St David’s station.

What is Static?

I’ve been developing Static for almost a year now. During that time it has metamorphosed into something completely different from its origins, and the discovery process has been both fun and rewarding from an artistic point of view. Along the way, I have had to learn a lot of new things and come to terms with concepts which is not known anything about, such as ‘scratch nights’, ‘blocking’, ‘mind maps’. It’s all been a little bit scary.
‘Static’ the show sprang from a short performance art piece which I’ve performed here and there, also called ‘Static’. Indeed, the show ends with this piece, which people have often described as thought provoking, sad and subdued, which isn’t my normal style at all! During the piece I would examine issues of movement and geography, expectations and identity, all during a five minute ‘poem without words’.

When it came to thinking of ideas for a one hour show, I thought back to this piece and I decided that I could expand it, make it autobiographical, and yet encompass much else, focussing more explicitly on issues of identity. This forced me to look at my own life and upbringing, my own desires and motivations, my own life. Born and raised in Surrey, there was always this sense of movement, which is something I touch on in the show.
The writing process has been fun. I started out with a loose narrative and some old poems which I’d performed all over the UK, but I soon realised that I should write new material for it. And because the show is autobiographical, the poems are more introspective than normal, with one or two of the usual comedy ones thrown in for relief. Four of them are brand new and will be heard when the show is performed for the first time. Two of them have wriggled free of the show, and I have performed them for the last couple of months: ‘Jamie’, and ‘The Doors’.
The show also incorporates some prop work which I have been developing, including a theremin, and a large hadron collider.
So I’m looking forward now to the challenge of learning the show, working on it and perfecting it. I’ve been working with Ziggy Abd El Malak, a fantastic director who has completely changed the way that I perform and approach both performance and rehearsal.
The show will be performed at the Artizan Gallery in Torquay for the first time on 29th May, then at the Guildford Fringe, before a run at the Edinbrugh Fringe in August.

Due to the sloping floor, stay away from the Edinburgh Fridge! (Four years of festival accommodation)

I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe four times now. Each time was great and I’ve made a lot of friends. The first two times I went was merely to watch stuff, and the last two times was as a performer. The city and the whole event are maddeningly beautiful, insanely vibrant, the people are nice, the weather is mostly bearable. But the highlights each time for me have been the various places I’ve stayed. Year One. 

I went up with friends. There were six of us. We decided to flat share and we managed to find the most magnificent flat in a converted school down by the Water of Leith not far from the book festival site. We each had our own bedroom and the place had obviously just been converted into flats, the whole place felt new. Admittedly, it was a bit of a stroll to get to the old town.
But the most interesting thing about the place was the upstairs door. There were six bedrooms, one bathroom, but eight doors. One day I decided to see what was behind this door and I was intrigued to find a staircase going down. The staircase was carpeted and decorated and seemed to go on, down and down, twisting and turning throughout the bowels of the old school. Finally I came to the very last turn and the staircase just stopped. There was a wall. The staircase went absolutely nowhere.
Year Two

The second year was a cracker. I went up with the same people and again we hired a flat. This time it was in the new town area, a fantastic tenement building looking out over the street to a church.
For a start, again we all had a bedroom. Yet the place had seen better days. The floor in every room sloped down so that all the furniture was at an angle, and the fridge freezer looked like it might topple over at any moment. I was too afraid to use my wardrobe. It had a beautiful internal staircase which wound around the outside walls, the kind of staircase that one could easily make a good entrance on in an old black and white film. And most intriguingly of all, the seventy year old landlady turned up on the first day so that she could show us her wedding dress.
Which was somewhat bizarre. No towels, but we saw her wedding dress.
She warned us not to open the door upstairs at the back, and that it was off bounds. With that, she took her wedding dress and left us at it.
Naturally, the moment she had gone we opened the forbidden door only to discover that the room inside, which had once been another bedroom, had no roof. No ceiling, no roof. Just the leaden grey Edinburgh sky.
Year Three

Oh dear. My first visit to Edinburgh as a performer was with a colleague and we decided it would be much cheaper to camp. We found a lovely campsite at Morton Hall to the south of the city, about forty minutes by bus. Yet this was my first camping trip since 1984 when I was ten. 
We arrived at ten in the evening after a twelve hour train ride and then a fraught taxi, only to have to put up the tent. I remember feeling very miserable but willing to make light of the matter, only for me to accidentally break the zip of the tent once it was up. You can imagine how bad this made me feel. And then to be woken at two in the morning by the intense cold, a cold unlike any other I’ve ever experienced, all the time wondering if that room with the missing roof was still vacant.
When I told all my friends, they laughed heartily.
Year Four

And so to this year. Once again I decided to flat share, yet this time it was with a website who paired me with four other people in student accommodation. Thankfully, the building was brand new and right in the city centre on the Meadows, and everything was shiny and modern, clean, efficient. We had a room each as well as a lovely living room and kitchen which looked as if they were sets from Star Trek. 

  

Only . . . there was only me there. Or at least, that’s how it felt. I never saw another person, and if they had snuck in, then they were very quiet. I had six rooms all to myself, in the middle of Edinburgh, during festival season!
But were there other people? There were subtle clues. One day, I found a Sainsbury’s carrier bag in the fridge. And another day, a floater in the toilet. Neither of them were mine. Ostensibly, I was alone in my own flat.
Or was I the mystery one, who my flat mates never saw, and pondered over?
So yes, Edinburgh is a place full of memories for me, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of accommodation I have next year! 

What did I learn from my two and a half days at the Edinburgh Fringe?

What did I learn from my two and half days at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Unlike my friend Mark, who’s bald, Edinburgh Festival has a humdinger of a fringe. Every year I go along and every year I’m astounded not only by the variety and the general craziness of the place, with every nook and cranny turned into a performance area, and every footpath filled with flyers, barkers, publicists, posters and people, but also by the intense hard work put in by those who have shows there.
I was in a show this week. It wasn’t my show. I was a guest in someone else’s, and that kind of meant that I didn’t have to do any flyering. The guilt I felt at not doing this seemingly simple chore was far outweighed by the relief that I didn’t have to spend all morning standing in the Royal Mile speaking to complete strangers, or leafleting similar shows, and talking, talking, talking about it.
You see, that seems to be the knack. If you can summerise your show in just three or four words, then you can save your breath and get everything out as the tourist walks straight past. ‘Its a show about a man who realizes halfway through his driving lesson that the whole world is counterfeit and that he is just a figment of the imagination of a dog owned by his brother in law’, won’t do. Better to say, ‘Imaginary dog show with fart jokes’.
I went along to a few shows and three in particular stood out, not only because of their subject matter, but also because of the work put into them to promote and engage with the audience. AJ McKenna’s Howl of the Bantee affected me deeply, it really is one of those shows which changes the way you think. Excellent performed, thought provoking, incredibly well-written, I could not fault it. The only problem seems to be that it has been put in a venue a little outside of the city centre in the new town area. The show is timely, honest, angry, looking at the media portrayal of transgender issues and the dangerous labeling of anti-trans thought as ‘banter’. You will learn something from this show.
The second show which affected me was Dominic Berry’s Up Your Game : The Downfall of a Noob. A comedy / music / poetry show about Dominic’s self realization through gaming and computer games, I was hooked throughout due to the humor, the energy, the storyline and the promise that Dominic might get his kit off. (Actually, I only discovered the nude part of the show afterwards, and it just happened to be the night I came that Dominic had decided to drop that element from his show). Funny, philosophical, wise and sexy, the show spoke to me and stayed in my head for days afterwards.
There are other good shows, too, of course, in the spoken word bracket. Rob Auton’s Water Show is a highly polished, funny, thoughtful piece, as you would expect from a performer for whom I have the most incredibly respect. Tina Sederholm’s show is mighty, thoughtful and incredibly well put together. I’m so totally in awe of her performance style and general oeuvre, and I’m glad that it was she who was crowned Swindon Poetry Slam Champion all those years ago beating me in the final! She oozes talent and class.
I came back too soon. I’m so glad that I went along. I really don’t think I could manage the whole three weeks, unless I were financially secure and had help from others. It’s this help which seems to be a part of the spoken word community at the fringe, with all the poets and performers seemingly sticking together and helping each other out. I spent a very fine afternoon in the bar with Matt Pernash, aka Monkey Poet, chatting and laughing, drinking and writing silly poems, drinking and listening to music, drinking and chatting about all kinds of stuff, and drinking. Indeed, the highlight of the fringe for me was persuading him to perform the outside of a crisp packet. Actually, he didn’t need much persuasion. I could have spent the day just listening to him talking about his poetry adventures!
So, what did I learn from the fringe? That it’s the hard working poets who seem to achieve the most success. Which, I suppose, is a way of telling myself that if I want to go next year, I’d better start working on it now! 

 

Post Edinburgh Musings

It’s been a week now since I returned from Edinburgh. A week of being back in the daily grind of work and things. In fact I have work for the next eleven days now, so Edinburgh, and all of those shenanigans, seems such a long way away.

But it’s been a week of developing ideas and concentrating on other poetic projects, and getting ready for the next Poetry Island, and performing in Totnes, and revelling in the freedom of performing other poems. You know. Not the ones that I did in Edinburgh, day after day.

Edinburgh was a kind of exquisite madness. It’s kind of the performance poetry equivalent of being in the army. Everything was so structured and so far removed from every day life that it was an incredible relief, almost, when we did the last show. By the end of the week the audiences were large and enthusiastic. In fact there were two wonderful highlights on the last day: one chap in the audience told us that we were the best thing he’d seen at the Fringe. And then the next day I was contacted on Twitter by someone who said that they could have watched us for hours!

It’s all a far cry from the day when we had two leave before the end, a man who kept yawning, and a Chinese lady who fell asleep at the back of the room.

So now I’m filled with ideas for next year, and a one man show that I’ve been developing. I spoke to a colleague the other day who’s possibly going to be doing some original music for it. And I have very clear ideas on the tone of the project. How exciting is that!

The weirdest thing about coming back early is the thought that a lot of my poetry friends are still there, still pumping away at it. They keep putting pictures on Facebook. So I come home from work and immediately I’m right there. I’m with them.

There’s one thing that I wont miss and that’s the camping. I’ve not been camping for 30 years. I’d quite forgotten how hard and how cold and how cramped it is. Standing up becomes such an exquisite joy. Sitting down becomes heavenly, especially in a chair. Night attacks of cramp and of being so cold that you use anything at hand to keep out the cold. I bought a hoodie on the second day. It became my most treasured item because it kept me warm. I was sleeping with the hood up. This is for my art, I kept telling myself. That, and the strange looks people gave me in the communal bathrooms the next morning while I was spiking my hair. Campers. Miserable lot.

I’ve got loads to get on with. New poems, for example. For some reason I have this annoying habit of working on several poems simultaneously. And a couple of projects which I can’t tell you about at the moment, but will become apparent very soon.

But for now, I’m fully integrated back into normal society.

Here’s a new poem for you:

Poem

20140808-073325-27205347.jpg

It’s official.

There’s no-one in Taunton named Jeff.

And I’ve checked.

I counted all the Jeffs in Taunton and

There were none.

I thought I found one but she

Was actually called Beth,

Not Jeff.

I checked both spellings,

Jeff with a J

And Geoff with a G

And there were neither of each.

I checked the floor tile warehouse

And every burger van

And I couldn’t find a single Jeff anywhere.

My notebook entry says

‘Number of Jeffs in Taunton, one.’

And the one is crossed out and amended to zero

Because as I say I accidentally counted Beth.