Some product

No, not a blog entry about the new exfoliator I have been using this week – which has turned my face into a lady’s – a different kind of product. My first ever and possibly only ever DVD. Available today from Go Faster Stripe at a hopefully affordable price of £12, Secret Dancing is the souvenir of my 2010 Edinburgh show, filmed at Cardiff’s Masonic Hall on November 3 last year before an enthusiastic sellout audience of podcast fans who had to put up with my one-man show in support of the actual Collings & Herrin headliner. You can watch two short clips FOR FREE on the Go Faster Stripe website, which is also the only place you can buy the disc itself. I haven’t actually held one in my hands yet, but I love the simple way it’s been designed and packaged. It’s weird for me to watch it, especially in the unforgiving glare of the house lights required for filming, and to see the sweat build up around my brow, and the occasional nervous jiggle of my leg.

I know I am an impostor in the world of stand-up, but I hope this brief flirtation with my favourite form of entertainment has been if nothing else, self-aware and appreciative. I loved doing Edinburgh on my own last August, as you know, and it is testament to the idiosyncratic, cottage-industrial autonomy of Chris Evans at Go Faster Stripe that this lovely document of that adventure can even exist. I hope you like it. The extras are rather sweet: Richard’s glowing introduction and career retrospective; a poor-quality bootleg of the Edinburgh show at Bannerman’s, made by fellow Free Fringer Frog Morris; some iPhone footage of Richard and I preparing for our now-decommissioned 6 Music show in Caffe Nero and in the 6 Music office; and a terrific video by Nathan Jay for one of the tracks he allowed us to use for the Secret Dancing demonstration. (Tough luck, Mark Ronson, BAD, the Wiseguys, PM Dawn and the Sugababes: we chose not to use your music!)

The two free clips are here:

Serial killers

Masterchef

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Return to Edinburgh

Not literally. I have been back in non-Edinburgh, as the rest of the world is still officially called, for three days, and part of me misses parts of it. It’s raining as I write, which of course takes me back. But not as much as The Illusionist, or L’Illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet’s greedily-anticipated follow-up to Belleville Rendezvous, or Les Triplettes de Belleville, his exquisite first animated feature in 2003. These films take time. Because he made such an impact with the surreal, often grotesque, old-school animation style of Belleville, which, if it resembled any period of Disney at all, recalled the sketchy lines of The Aristocats, it was always going to be tough to follow it up.

And so The Illusionist proves. Based on an unfilmed script by Jacques Tati, it exists as a tribute to the great French clown, who embodies the main character, and is duly silent, or thereabouts. It’s gorgeously drawn – especially the backgrounds – and you’d have to be pretty miserable not to be charmed by the early scenes, when our dog-eared magician tries and fails to compete on a late-50s music hall circuit suddenly dominated by rock’n’roll groups. The palette is as muted as the dialogue. But the lack of words throughout, occasionally replaced by grunts and rhubarb, may not be to modern tastes, and the gentle pacing and all round lack of narrative thrust might also explains why it has failed to set the box office alight, even in France.

It lacks the showbiz pizazz and musical appeal of Belleville, despite being set in the world of theatre, but if taken as a hymn to both Tati – whose relationship with the wide-eyed young Scottish maid who accompanies him to the big city is never creepy, more paternal (it was written as an apology to the daughter he abandoned and never knew) – and to Edinburgh, where the bulk of the story unfolds (and where the wandering Chomet now lives and works), it hits the spot. Not that it matters, but the geography as well as the atmosphere of Edinburgh are singularly and accurately captured. Real places – including Grassmarket, South Bridge, Princes Street, Jenners department store as it would have been in 1959, and the Cameo cinema, which is showing Mon Oncle – are enough to make a recent refugee very nostalgic for the previous two weeks.

So, definitely worth your time if you wish to spend an hour and a half in the company of skilled draftsmen and draftswomen, gently and wordlessly being shunted from France to Scotland, all the while admiring the view and supporting paint-and-cell artistry. But don’t expect any explosions, or sex or girls with dragon tattoos. More The Aristocats without the musical numbers or the cats. And with a rabbit. The rabbit was brilliant.

Edinburgh, man

It’s real. It’s happening. It’s in my hands. The Edinburgh Fringe brochure has arrived. And it has not one but two shows with my name on. Until it’s in your hands and all that admin has solidified into some words on a glossy page, it’s hard to believe that you’ll be standing on a stage trying to entertain people in a Scottish city at an international arts festival.

I am naturally excited to be doing ten Collings & Herrin podcast shows this year, August 11-15, 18-22, at the GRV (where we saw Michael Legge and Johnny Candon last year; a really nice, tiered venue). We are part of the Five Pound Fringe, which means it costs five pounds to get in. You can buy tickets here. But I am more excited, and more frightened, about doing my first ever solo show, at Bannermans, August 7-21. This is part of the Free Fringe, which means it is free to get in. You can read about it but not buy tickets as there are no tickets here.

The Edinburgh brochure comes at a vital time. It reminds me of all the good that has come from my partnership with Richard Herring, without whom I would never have dared to venture out solo. I am having many new experiences because of this partnership. Unfortunately, I am also currently having a couple of bad new experiences, but the less said about those in a public forum the better.

There are many amazing things to see and do at the Fringe. I can’t think of a better way of saving money in a recession than to not fly abroad and instead go on holiday to Scotland and invest money in the thriving live entertainment sector on your own doorstep. Go here for all your information and ticketing needs. Initiatives like the Free Fringe and the Five Pound Fringe are what it’s all about. I am pleased to be a small part of it, once again, sandwiched between Andrew Bird and Andrew Clover in a brochure. Wish me luck.

It’s showtime!

Or standing perfectly still time. Well, that’s it, I really am going to do my first solo stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s official. I suppose it was official when I agreed the dates and venue with Peter Buckley Hill, organiser of the Free Fringe, under whose benevolent, free-conomic umbrella I shall be performing, and it will be even more official when the Fringe brochure comes out and I can actually flick through to my name, but it’s official enough for me when Chortle list it, as they have. You can see the listing here. You can’t book tickets as the Free Fringe is free – that’s the very essence of it. You just have to turn up. And if you like it, you are encouraged to leave a voluntary contribution on leaving. This strikes me not just as a terrific venture to support, within the Fringe, but also a realistic way for me to test the water on my own.

The show is officially called Secret Dancing … And Other Urban Survival Techniques. Many who have been to the live podcast gigs, or indeed the work-in-progress nights I recently did with Michael Legge, or indeed a couple of Robin Ince’s compendiums at either the Bloomsbury or the Roundhouse, will have witnessed Secret Dancing. Although it wasn’t planned as such, and only came about through the podcasts, Secret Dancing has proved to be the anvil upon which an hour-long show could be struck. I am still writing around it, and hoping to do a couple of previews, probably in London, before Edinburgh, but I must admit, I’m hoping for some crossover with the podcast audience. I have been writing jokes, and even writing routines, but on my experiences thus far, I think reading out things that have been written is probably not my natural metier. So a hopefully genial form of rambling and reading off the side of a bottle of Colgate Plax may be result.

Secret Dancing runs from Saturday August 7 to Sunday August 22, at 12.30 lunchtime, at Bannerman’s, 212 Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1NQ

Concurrently, Richard and me are doing ten live podcast shows this year, having dipped a toe in the water with one in 2008, and five in 2009. Collings & Herring Podcast Live is part of the Five Pound Fringe and runs from Wednesday August 11 to Sunday August 15, and Wednesday August 18 to Sunday August 22 at The GRV, 37 Guthrie St, Edinburgh EH1 1JG (tickets cost £5). The listing on Chortle is incomplete, plus it only has a picture of Richard on it, so wait for the Ed Fringe listings, coming within the week!

Those who know me will remember that my first Edinburgh Fringe was back in 1989, when, as a wide-eyed postgraduate comedy fan, I went up with Renaissance Comedy Associates, a comedy threatre group formed at St George’s Medical School in Tooting by Matthew Hall, who would later become the household name Harry Hill. He and I co-wrote a daft musical play called President Kennedy’s Big Night Out, in which I played a Wichita man who had surgery to turn him into a teddy bear, while Matthew played Val De Mere, a nightclub singer linked with Jackie Kennedy. It was an amazing experience, even though we only got one review, which was very bad, in the Scotsman. Matthew caught the bug, big time.

Then, in 2001, me, Stuart Maconie and David Quantick broke ranks and wrote a show about our shared experiences at the coalface of rock journalism, Lloyd Cole Knew My Father, which played in the afternoon at the Pleasance, and drew sufficient crowds and good notices to make it an expensive holiday but one that we thoroughly enjoyed. We even transferred to the ICA in London, and did the show in Belfast, and at Yo! Sushi in London. We were also invited to support Lloyd Cole himself with part of the show, at the Bloomsbury in London. This was a dream fulfilled, so we stopped after that, once we’d made it into a 6-part Radio 2 series, which at least meant we got to do the Drill Hall, standing in a row, holding scripts, on our own, without being on other people’s shows.

Here are a few pics from ’89 to get me back in the mood. I can’t wait. Hope you’re in the right place at the right time.