I don’t mind admitting I hit my first dip of the Fringe. It’s natural. I’m not used to doing solo stand-up, and – now that the live podcasts are running – I’ve certainly never done two shows in a day, anywhere, ever. Clearly, there are harder jobs in the world, whatever Jimmy Tarbuck told Richard Herring, but I can only compare it to what I know. Plus, I am away from home and missing it. The flat we’re in is reasonably civilised, even though most things in it don’t work, or don’t work properly (Justin attempted to lower the clothes-drying rack in the kitchen yesterday and, surprisingly, it didn’t work), but it’s still a student flat far away from my house with squeaky doors and dingy lighting especially above the sink in the kitchen, and I’ve been in it for over a week now. I don’t wish to overstate the case: I am feeling OK, just weird. The longest stretch I’ve been up at the Fringe in previous years has been a week. But I’ve got eight solo shows to go, seven podcast shows, and nine nights. It’s sort of homesickness, coupled with lifesickness and normalitysickness. I’ll be fine. Perhaps washing my first week’s clothes in the washing machine will set me up for the second week, psychologically.
Anyway, perhaps this explains why I opted for a night of musical comedy last night. This double lift was supplied by Tara Flynn, whose Big Noise is at the Gilded Balloon’s Wee Room, and Gutted, Martin White and Danielle Ward’s ambitious musical centred around a country house murder spree at the Assembly’s chaaandaliered Ballroom (on the stage vacated only moments before by Christ On A Bike).
I’ve met Tara through the Michael Legge Entourage. She’s a charming daughter of Cork who used to be in the Nualas and now has a repertoire of her own comic songs. It really is a wee room, and though Tara’s budget, as she keeps reminding us, doesn’t stretch to a band, or a wind machine, she does a great job of making the compact audience feel part of something much bigger; with deftly arranged backing tracks, which range in style from Kate Nash-style DIY indie to French chanson, Tara sells them as if she were on a much bigger stage, and brings the room with her. Between songs, she is self-deprecating and humble, but always beaming. The music and vocals are serious, while the lyrics are jarringly surreal and inventively silly. I loved her Bjork Song, and Custard, and a beguiling ballad about falling in love with “the fog from the film The Fog.” It’s the Boosh-like oddity that clinches it. She is clearly having a tremendous time when she throws herself around to an 80s pastiche, which, she says, actually fits her big, flyaway hairstyle. She mentions but doesn’t name her “African-American husband” a few times in the banter, which was weird for me, as Carl was sitting behind us, and had handed me my ticket at Secret Dancing in the morning. (He dutifully watches Tara every night. What a guy.)
Had a couple of drinks on the roof with Tara and Carl and their circle of friends, including the formidable Janey Godley, who regaled us all for a bit with some of her no-prisoners tales from the home front, and the stage of Spank. It was like having a private gig! (Janey was on the bill when I did my solo stand-up debut, way back in 2006, when our shared publisher Ebury staged a night of comedy featuring a number of their authors, including Julian Clary and Mark Thomas.)
Then I went north – which, due to the incline, feels instinctively like south – to finally catch up with Gutted, which I have been looking forward to seeing since I got here, but was graciously allowing to “bed in” technically.
Starting at 11.15, it’s a fabulous way to end your night, although the man with the notepad sitting in the row in front of us nodded off very briefly after what must have been a long day of writing in his notepad. I must admit, I was a little tired myself by the end, but the sheer energy levels of the motley cast ought to keep any audience awake – as does the concentration required to follow what’s being sung, as some of the words are lost in the mix. The Kind Hearts and Coronets comparison made by Steve Bennett in Chortle (four stars!) was on the money. I also felt I was in the presence of the spectre of Rocky Horror.
As regular readers will know, I actually love a stage musical, and I’ve seen quiet a few over the last few years in London’s West End. Gutted may lack some of the polish and mechanics, but it more than compensates with confidence, and despite the comic flourishes and black humour, it’s based on a really catchy and impressive book of songs. If a DIY ethic lies beneath (the white plastic sheeting lashed around the proscenium arch was a nice punk touch), the writing and the songwriting are worthy of a mainstream theatre audience. I would say this – and I do know many of the cast and crew – but Michael Legge is hilarious as the blind priest, and Colin Hoult plays a number of blinders as every member of the Bewlay family, bumped off by revengeful bride Sorrow, played by non-comedian Helen George, whose professional song-and-dance skills raise the game. It was cool seeing the familiar likes of Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Sara Pascoe, the Penny Dreadfuls and Jim Bob throwing themselves into the moves and singing. It kind of sounded like a joke, or a massive folly, when I heard about Gutted in its early stages, but it’s grown into a monster, and a good monster.
By the way, my trusty Edinburgh tour guide and personal MacBook engineer Tony Cockbongo is in a band with the drummer and guitarist who play with Danielle and Martin onstage in Gutted. They are called the Graeme Mearns Band. That is the end of this plug.
Even though I’d had two whole pints of beer at the Gilded Balloon, and took another one into the Ballroom with me, I would have been just as effusive in my praise to Martin, Danielle, Michael, Margaret, Jim, David, Thom etc. in the Performers’ Bar afterwards (to which I was able to gain access using the Assembly pass of Dan Tetsell aka Tiny Andrew Collings aka Mr Cabourn-Smith, which of course he is too busy with his new baby to use, and is, in a way, my pass, as he is up in Edinburgh to play me in next week’s As It Occurs To Me). I was excited when Martin, resplendent in his red stage jacket, revealed that all the character names come from David Bowie songs – Sorrow, Bewlay, Mrs Station etc.
Robin Ince appeared, either drunk on the giddy excitement of doing four shows a day, or drunk on drink. I actually hugged Michael Legge, as it felt like the theatrical thing to do. You can tell that Jim is having a brilliant time; he’d never been to the Fringe before (although he has played a gig at Bannermans!), and decided to book a hotel for four nights this year and come up. Then, due to the interlinked worlds of Robin, with whom he’s been playing, and Martin, he got cast -poetically – as a fatman and a lounge singer, and wound up doing the whole Festival. As you know, I am as much of a fan as a friend of his, so it’s a blast to see him breaking new ground.
Sorry if I sound a bit you’re-my-besht-mate. I am actually writing this in the cold, sober light of the next day. And the fact is, my evening of musical entertainment and a boozing cheered me up a bit. Good to see Richard Herring out and about, socialising, too, if drinking herbal tea in a bar full of pissed ponces braying “You were marvellous, darling!” can be equating with socialising. I knew he would be judging us all from his high horse of temperance, but let him.
Saturday: a late ascent from bed, due to late night, but my head was cleared by fresh air, the walk uphill on a sunny day, and the coffee, smoothie and bagel I had at Foodies in Holyrood. Although she didn’t see me, Sarah Millican was having a power breakfast over the other side of the cafe. I waved on my way out. I had a gig to do. Another full house today, with people being turned away (including Jim and his family – oops!) and a really hot one, despite two fans whirring away. I found out afterwards that the critic Bruce Dessau was in. Eek! I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand, or I’d have been more self-conscious. After overrunning by three minutes yesterday, I was determined to rein it back in, so I cut the bit about The North Face – and, by accident, the man holding the sign saying GOLF SALE – but this allowed me to savour the birding ambitions and Masterchef, and to comfortably get the Secret Dance-off with volunteers going – two of whom were Legge/Podcast regulars Sarah and Barry. (Funnily enough, someone on here accused yesterday’s volunteer of being a plant. There are no plants.)
I was drenched by the end of it, and pretty uncomfortable in Caffe Nero afterwards. I actually had to break out my emergency shirt – the grey one – for the Podcast gig. Not that I was going to outgun Richard Herring in his suit. (I’d assumed he was going for a job interview straight after the gig, but he was wearing it out of choice.) Again, a difficult crowd to warm up, despite being long-time ticket holders and, by extension, you’d have to assume, fans of the podcast. At times it really was like doing it in Richard’s attic. I think they were having a nice time – except when they were shocked by some of the riskier material, or being called hideously ugly by Richard and holding up their middle finger for him to see – perhaps they just didn’t feel comfortable enough to show it.
Fair dos. It must be a weird gig to attend. First of all, there is no warm-up or acclimatisation period as there would be with a full evening’s entertainment where the podcast is the second-half climax – we just turn up with the laptop running and start, without the crutch of some prepared banter or jokes – and secondly, it’s a small, long room, unlike last year’s small, wide room at the Underbelly, which felt friendlier. We’re having a good time, although we’ve yet to hit a point where we are on an even footing. It’s very much Richard free-forming in a whoosh of hangover-free energy and me listening to him. I hope I am pulling my weight. I was very pleased with the “receipt” punchline I ad-libbed yesterday after one of his long diatribes against me, so let’s hope less is, if not more, certainly as much. It’s always – alright, almost always – fun to meet the nerds afterwards and have our photos taken with them. Today we had our photo taken with Sarah from Nottingham, who took the photo of my book in Nottingham Waterstone’s which remains on the book page of my website. This is her:
Here is the blurb for Podcast 125, which is available from the British Comedy Guide and iTunes already.
In the fourth Live Collings & Herring Podcast from the GRV at the Edinburgh Fringe, Podcast 125, we are still trying to process the loss of Podcast 123, which leapt, like Scrappy the dog, from the equivalent of a ledge in a Dracula castle in Aberdeenshire and was never seen or heard from again. Unbelievable! We also berate “the most disgusting woman in Britain”, Carla Bruni, the right wing Americans who object to someone building something two blocks from the non-existent shadow of the Twin Towers, whoever it was who stole Richard’s blue towel, Ewen McGregor’s character in Angels And Demons (which is a bang up to date cinema reference) and of course those who believe in love. Richard’s gaping bag gets a mention, too. It’s all very serious, as befits an audience keener to listen silently than, say, laugh.
Ah yes, Richard’s towel. What a terrible life he’s having. Because he helpfully offered to change £50 of my Free Fringe bucket change into notes, using the money he’s raising for Scope, I carefully counted the coins out for him this morning and left them in a bag on the kitchen table. Unfortunately, because I am innumerate, I counted out £40 instead of £50, by mistake. (How many more mistakes will I make? It’s like I am destined to push him away.) A practiced miser, Richard is able to count loose change simply by holding it in his hand and weighing it. He knew it was short, and it was. So I counted him out the missing £10 and in effect paid to be belittled and slandered onstage. Richard was feeling tetchy because someone in the flat had taken his frankly used bath towel off the radiator in the hall and used it. Chief suspect was Andre “Vinny” Vincent, he is a passenger here, and perhaps not yet used to the rules of the house, which clearly state: the blue towel in the hall is Richard’s; do not use. To add to his woes, Richard had left an important lead on the floor at the GRV yesterday, which he needs for his show, so was on edge until he actually had it back in his careless hands this afternoon, and then placed precariously inside his gaping bag so that it can be lost again in the future.
On the way back from the shops, I passed Andy Smart, a true veteran of the Fringe and the Comedy Store Players, whom I met in 2001, and remember fondly from when he was in the Vicious Boys on the telly in the 80s. We nodded at each other. He is the spirit of the Fringe.
I am planning a quiet Saturday night in, on my own. I have two Celebrity Masterchefs to catch up on, and some Indian snacks in the fridge. An alcohol-free evening awaits. Unless someone texts me from a bar and I am unable to resist. Staying in doesn’t get much tougher than this.