Edinburgh: The Fringe Files Part I

This month marked my first trip to the famous, frantic, fevered Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And my renewed love affair with alliteration, apparently.

The Fringe has been on my ‘must do’ list for many years, along with the West Country and various cast members of the film 300. But every August, fate has conspired against me and I’ve never been able to make the trip. Until this year, when I was presented with a tantalising opportunity…

No, I wasn’t acting in anything. Nor was I singing, dancing, miming or semaphoring. I was, instead, given the chance to travel up with my beau’s folk band as they played various gigs across the fair city. Basically, I’d be a groupie*.

Obviously, I accepted the challenge and herewith recount my adventures to you, tiny darlings. Part one, as detailed below, covers my first couple of days in Edinburgh with the beau when we discovered the delights of the Fringe as best we could. The second part, coming soon, will detail the band’s story, when all hell broke loose a little bit.

Let’s begin…

For those who don’t know, the beau (Ben) is the bass player in the six-piece folk rock band Green Diesel. They play a mix of original and traditional tunes at gigs across the country, and are currently signed with Talking Elephant. This is what they do (beau is the eejit back left):

Green Diesel had been booked by Lost Horizon’s folk club to play a series free gigs over a few days at the Fringe in early August. As a supportive girlfriend, I felt it was my duty to accompany them to the world’s biggest arts festival and help them listen to great music, watch splendid shows and drink copious amounts of beer and Scotch. It’s just the sort of splendid person I am.

The Demon Gin, Edinburgh fringe road trip, fringe festival
Road trip

Bright and one Saturday morning, the beau and I set off from Canterbury to Edinburgh. We drove up with all the kit a couple of days early so we could see some shows together and have sex in all the apartment’s rooms before the rest of the band arrived** by coach a couple of days later.

434 miles, a bag of Opal Fruits (it’s what they’re called, children) and only one Paul Temple audio mystery. We did it in just under eight hours. BOOM. 
In an effort to do my bit, I sourced the band accommodation back in February. Normally Edinburgh Fringe + seven people + parking vital = are you INSANE woman??? Luckily, after much digging, bagged an absolute gem via Edlets: apartment 16 in 51 James Square on Caledonian Crescent.  

Three bedroom apartment, two bathrooms, secure parking, 15mins walk from Old Town (or a £6 taxi ride) and a Co-op and good pubs on its doorstep. Oh, and did I mention there was a swimming pool? Because there was a fucking swimming pool. All for an extremely reasonable rate.

I can’t recommend the apartment highly enough. Agnes, the owner, could not have been nicer and we found tea, coffee, milk, bread and OJ waiting for us. After eight hours on the road from Kent, the apartment was paradise. Even though we instantly faced an impossible choice…

Tea consumed, the two of us tried to see as much as possible on Saturday night and Sunday before the relentless band schedule commenced. Obviously we only scratched the surface of the Fringe, but we had a grand time wandering from place to place, catching free shows in between pre-booked delights.

For those still planning to explore the Fringe this month, here are some of my highlights… 

The Royal Mile (I know)
Seasoned festival goers will probably mock me, but I decided to brave the Royal Mile early on. For those who’ve never walked the famous street during the festival, the city’s main artery becomes an artistes’ cattlemarket where performers from hundreds of shows set up camp and flyer the fuck out of you.
The sheer number of people can be quite overwhelming, but it’s a great way of getting into the festival spirit – and to laugh at people trying to be edgy.
Obviously, this was part of the act!!!

I actually bumped into a girl who I’d previously acted with in Faversham – she was in town with two shows as part of Another Soup’s Victorian Vices programme. Small world, small world.   

Fin Taylor: Real Talk, Just the Tonic at The Tron, 10.20pm nightly
(and the Terrible Tron)
After seeing a bit of mediocre improv on Saturday night, we were in need of food and ducked into a standard looking chain pub for a quick cheap dinner. Oh how wrong we were to do so.
The menu promised sausage and mash, with colcannon and fried onions. After a considerable wait I was given cold mash, brown sludge AND vegetarian sausages. Observe my Twitter disgust:


I turned down the food and asked for my money back, and assured the  bar staff that I would never return. I showed them, I did!…..Little did I know that the show we’d booked to see that night was actually in that very pub’s basement.  Cue me sneaking into the venue in a large hat and dark glasses, and begging the beau to fetch the drinks all night while I fought any urge to go to the toilet.
It was worth the effort as the evening show was Fin Taylor’s Real Talk. We had chanced up his stand-up at a festival last year, and his full set is worth every penny. He’s easily one of the best comedians I’ve seen in a long time. Beau and I were doubled up with laughter, and never has a room been so joined by a mutual love of Robot Wars. Fin has also been singled out as having one of the best jokes from the Fringe this year.

Twas a great start to our visit.***

Here’s a teaser:

Upstairs Downton: The Improvised Episode, at The Counting House, 2.30pm daily
On Sunday, the beau went to do some afternoon band admin and I went in search of a reported free burlesque show at The Counting House on West Nicolson Street (it’s never too early for nipple tassles).
Unfortunately, there was no burlesque to be found but I did stumble on an outstanding free improv show, Upstairs Downton. A small cast acted out a mock episode of Downton Abbey while playing the hat game – before the show, audience members wrote random phrases on bits of paper and put them in a hat. Any time someone in the audience shouted ‘hat’, a cast member had to immediately draw a piece of paper from the hat, read it aloud, and go with it accordingly. This is a format that can easily go wrong in unskilled hands, but the cast were exceptionally strong and the entire show was hilarious as a result – and it was free! I gave generously to the donation bucket. I was that person nudging other people saying “that fiver in there, I did that, I did that, I’m generous!”

Knightmare Live – Level 2, Pleasance Forth, 5.30pm daily

The much discussed Knightmare Live. If you haven’t heard of the live show, and are a fan of the late 1980s kids TV adventure programme, you really are missing out. If you’ve never seen the kids’ TV show GET OUT GET OUT OF MY BLOG GET AWAY FROM ME!!!

The live version of the hallowed TV show is unadulterated joy. Treguard, Lord Fear, the knapsack, the big pointless dragon – they are all there. Two guest comics attend each night and guide a hapless volunteer through a flimsy set and a series of challenges in the style of the show we know and love. Within a matter of minutes, everyone was shouting “sidestep right! RIGHT, RIGHT, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”, cheering at the appearance of the life force, and solving riddles in high-pitched squeals. The small cast was outstanding, and several of them (as you’d expect) had solo comedy shows elsewhere in the Fringe. The show is a steal at £13, I would have happily seen it a million times. 
The Tron Kirk, The Royal Mile
Hark at the venue where we spent a great deal of time on our trip. This beautiful old church was converted into a glorious music venue for the festival, featuring entirely free events. 

Tables and chairs, very comfy sofas, and a bevy of acts were laid on from 12noon to midnight (and beyond) every day. Beers were pricey and not spectacular, but they brought in some tasty bottle ales half way through our stay, which were most welcome. 

Green Diesel played there many times, but beau and I were lucky to catch a few early shows from the raucous bluegrass folk quartet Tales of Two Counties, who were great fun and very supportive of all the gigs in the Tron Kirk, and the gorgeous all-female folk band Scowlin Owl. The latter band do beautiful harmonies, and we ended up sharing a few beers with them over the course of the week – genuinely lovely lasses.

Scowlin Owl

But there was an unexpected highlight of the Tron Kirk. And I’m not talking about the bouncer who asked me for ID and then questioned whether my driving license was real because I ‘couldn’t be 33’. Ahhhh. That was a pretty good day……sorry, where was I?

Appearing as a promo for the ticketed Best of Burlesque show (at Assembly George Square Gardens nightly at 11.55pm), each night a chorus of different ladies enter the once sacred Tron Kirk and performed gorgeous, comical, sensual dances for our delight. One lady (whose name I could not grasp) did a veil dance that made me feel new interesting things, and there was also a double act involving a lady dressed as a flower and a woman in a giant bee outfit….it worked, somehow. A delicious tease.

Between shows of near-nudity, the fantastic comedy duo Jollyboat performed a series of pirate-themed covers of popular songs. Silly, brilliant fun. They have a full free show every day at 5pm at The Beat, Cowgate.

If you’re in town, with nothing to do, head to the ol’ TK. You won’t be disappointed.

The Captain’s Bar, South College Street

Late on Sunday, we ducked into The Captain’s Bar for a pint and to see an Edinburgh-based friend’s excellent folk duo Gillywolfe play their regular weekly music session (Kent pals, they will be at the Faversham Hop Festival at the end of the month and are well worth seeing).

This is a consistently solid wee pub, with traditional music every night and often into the afternoon. The Royal Oak (a couple of streets away) maybe the famous salt-of-the-earth venue for live folk music and late night sessions, but the Captains more than holds its own in the music stakes. Lovely people, delicious beer, and oddly untroubled by the hordes of festival goers, this became a regular watering hole for us. Prices are also very reasonable compared to the festival price hike you find in most other venues.

I even did some singing when I returned there later in the week with JB (Green Diesel’s accordion/mandolin monkey). Apparently my song made one of the customers (a fellow Irishwoman) cry. Which may have not been a good thing.
The Five Thirty Cabaret at The Famous Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square
I defy anyone not to swoon a little when they enter a Spiegeltent. Glittering mirrors, carved wooden booths, deep sensual colours, and delicious cocktails. The Famous Spiegeltent is a mainstay of the Fringe, hosting parties, music, comedy acts and, of course, top notch cabaret shows.

I was sad to be so time poor (and, after a couple of days, money poor) on my trip and missed the chance to dress up and spend the night dancing at La Clique and Club Spiegel. But I did grab an hour to see the fantastic Five Thirty Cabaret, a mere £6 for some excellent afternoon entertainment.

The shows features some of the best performers from the Fringe, and on my visit, I was fortunate to see the fantastic Desmond O’Connor (master of comic ukulele songs), the delightful crooner Frank Sinazi (yep – a cross between Sinatra and Hitler), time-travelling magicians Morgan and West, Marie Antoinette-esque dancers Hustle, and the out-fucking-standing Oz comedian Damian ‘Damo’ Clark. I wish I’d had time to see his whole show – never has a man summarized the prep needed for a hangover in your 30s so beautifully.

As you may know, several Spiegeltents tour the world. If one appears anywhere near you, go and revel in its splendor. Canterbury folk! The Spiegeltent will be returning to this year’s Canterbury Festival, so book your tickets soon and do your best to support its appearance

Ahhhhhhh! So much whimsy, and still all the band banter still to come…

Check back soon for Part II of the Edinburgh files. Bring gin. Or whiskey. Or both, in a teapot.

*I was a terrible groupie as it goes. I only had sex with one member of the band, who I already livd with, and scored no drugs. But I did share a nice bottle of Malbec with them, and we went for tea and cake.
** We didn’t (we did)
*** I should point out that the combination of me not eating and drinking many pints of cheap beer DID mean I ended up crying on the apartment sofa at 1am, asking the beau if he really really wanted to see Knightmare Live because I felt he wasn’t engaging enough in the idea of it. If nothing else, I am a catch.