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

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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.

Edinburgh Fringe, days three and four

Well I’m starting to get into the swing of it now. The rhythm. Leaflet and smile. Leaflet and smile. Poetry death match, madam? Leaflet and smile. And then go to someone else’s venue and leaflet and smile. Poetry death match, sir? And then get to your own venue and hope they damn well turn up.

‘Yes. Sounds great. I’m busy today but I will definitely come along tomorrow’. That’s what they say. But then they hear that there’s an act at the same time involving tightrope walking badgers. How can poetry possibly compete against tightrope walking badgers?

We had our best audiences over the last two days, six at a time. Yesterday was weird, though. Two of them left before the end, and one of them fell asleep. That’s never a good sign, is it? Mind you, she looked absolutely pooped. And I know how she feels. Festival fatigue set in yesterday and I just had to go to a book shop for a bit and pretend I was elsewhere. Just for a bit.

I’ve seen some really good comedy, though. Ever since last year I’d wanted to watch John Kearns, and sure enough he was brilliant, funny, inventive, harmless and likeable, and I was very glad that I went even though everywhere I go I have to lug around a big cardboard envelope containing the shows props. You have to stow it, you see. Stow it in the corner whenever you get to someone else’s show.

But the funniest thing I’ve seen is a comedy motivational show by Ken Do. Hilarious stuff, physical, character driven comedy which made me laugh like nothing else I’d seen for months. I wanted it to go on for much longer than it did even when Ken invited me up to help him illustrate some of his confidence building measures.

Everyone should go and watch this show, it’s at Pivo at seven each day.

Been performing elsewhere, too, at an event called Jibba Jabba. The audience is generally bigger than ours. It’s a confidence thing, you see.

There’s something weird happening, too. I mean, weirder than walking round in a tshirt which has a picture of your own face on it. People keep saying, ‘I’ve seen you before, were you here last year?’ And someone asked me if I was married to Sarah Millican. I’m not. I did a Google picture search on ‘Sarah Millican’s husband’. It was scary. Try it.

One day to go, now. I feel for my fellow poets who are here for the month. Jack Dean, Rob Auton, Tina Sederholm, Dominic Berry, it must be so, so tiring and emotionally draining. On the plus side, they’re probably not staying in a tent. Forty year old and I’m camping. Never again!

Home tomorrow. I’m typing this at a picnic bench on a campsite at seven in the morning. How I long for simple comforts, like doors and a roof!

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Edinburgh Fringe, Days one and two

And so into battle every day, against thousands of other shows, leafleting in the Mile, leafleting outside our venue, leafleting outside other peoples shows and venues, and talking to people about the show and summing it up in three words (‘ Poetry death match’), and leafleting and leafleting some more, and then one person turns up on the first day.

And worse than that, she hadn’t even come to watch us. She had expected something else to be on. We invited her down into the basement of the Royal Oak to our performance space and we performed just for her. But then she said she had to leave at half past to see something else, so we stopped the show halfway through and reminded her that she needed to go. She didn’t clap much.

The second day we had a fifty percent increase in viewers, and they both stayed to the end. One if them was Tina Sederholm. The other was an Australian we met earlier.

But it’s so much more than just our show. I went to see one of my heroes, Rob Auton, he was brilliant and honest and human and everything that’s good about the human spirit was exemplified in him. We chatted afterwards, and I helped him pack up. As a fellow performer, you see, the importance of getting the venue ready for the next performer is paramount. And another poetry hero was also there, Byron Vincent.

Then I went off to see a drag artist, Mzz Kimberley. She was fantastic and belted out some classics to an audience of eight blokes. She sang to me. I could have watched all night. And when I left, I saw Eddie Izzard crossing the street. He stumbled on the cobbles in his high heels and bumped into me. Oh. These chance encounters!

A poet gave me his flyer. It must have been his last one, as he had written his set list on the back, I wanted to go and find him. It was probably important!

So it’s a cattle market here, of shows and flyers and leaflets and slow walking tourists. But I’m getting the hang of what’s required, hence this blog. Getting the word out there, you see!

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