I just broke the back of my Edinburgh Fringe run; finished my 10th lunchtime performance out of 19, made it past the halfway stage. I’m having some inspiring shows, seeing some great stuff as well (I’ll write about that later), and performing Disobedience is very different to my normal set (and lifestyle), so that’s a fresh feeling.
It has rained almost constantly, pouring down hard for hours on the city. Edinburgh is full of sudden heights, deep cellars and cobbles that feel properly ancient, rather than historical in the ‘behind a rope pointed out by a tour guide’ sense. When I get back to the building in Morningside where I’m staying and walk up the stone stairwell to the apartment, the stone steps are so old, the middle of each one has been worn away by peoples’ footsteps. Even the schmaltzy burning torches around the castle, blurred by dimming light and more rain in the evening, make the castle itself feel old in a true way. Only one sunny day in two weeks, I think.
Then once every few days a jet fighter plane buzzes the city, passing overhead so low and loud it roars like a close crashing jumbo and I think of 9/11 every time. The first time I was waiting at a bus-stop and almost fell over. I have no idea why the Scots put up with it, don’t shoot the bugger out of the sky.
Morningside, just south of the centre, is possibly the best place in the world I’ve ever stayed for any length of time. Out the door, within 50 metres there are four different independent coffee shops or tearooms. Every single possible amenity, posh or simple, within a five minute walk, plus the buildings are gorgeous.
I’m still overwhelmed by how many thousands of shows are on: narrowed it down to 15 paid shows (keeping to budget) and a longer list of free things. Each day I tick a few off. But each day I discover more to add than I’ve ticked off, so my list is longer than on day one. Even running around town like a drenched idiot, I’m missing loads.
Ryan’s Cellar Bar is a plush little jazz room underneath a sports bar and restaurant. I have 40-50 seats in theatre style, a beautiful, slightly heavy-keyed baby grand piano that’s seen much jazz club use and a small backstage area they’ve roped off out of their restaurant. The venue staff are gorgeous; they’ve been totally helpful. After me (I’m on first), they’ve got varied fringe shows to deal with all day – so it’s carnage. After two performances I abandoned the PA system because it constantly got unplugged and cables got switched around all day. I’d show up, only to spend a panicked 20 minutes trying to get microphones to work before I was supposed to start. Then realised (obviously!) that I didn’t need to mic anything, rolling unplugged was much better.
I think I would’ve been lost without MJ Hibbett and Carsmile Steve, who shared a flyer with me and showed me just enough of the ropes to get me going, without patronising or making me feel like a dick. Last night, sitting with them in the Pleasance after Josie Long’s show was the first time I felt properly immersed in this weird comedy/performance scene that floats to the surface at Edinburgh like an enormous trade fair of entertaining humans. They know everyone, without being remotely showbiz.
I’m very proud of Disobedience; I reckon by show three it was doing what I wanted it to do. Early in the run I dropped a song (‘Pinkle Purr’) after only one or two performances, because it was too downbeat and gothy, too near the start of the set. Replaced it with something sweeter. There’s also still one poem I’d love to add, maybe for the final week, although it pushes the length a bit. In the middle I do two T-T songs, partly to tell a little story about them and partly because it shows how big an influence over me A.A. Milne has been, without me even realising til recently.
It is a very isolating experience though, being away from home for so long, yet not touring different cities and getting that regular fix of new surroundings. Not being in any of the cliques of comedians or theatre groups, I have found myself alone (which I’m fine with) but surrounded by people who are fiercely, loudly not alone. I think this is exacerbated by the tone of Disobedience, which ends in a very melancholy way, so each day at 2.15pm when I finish and say thank-you, I’m feeling rather sad. It goes, obviously, as soon as you have a drink with someone or go watch some comedy. But you know what I mean.
Anyway, I’ll do proper thank-yous at the end but must mention, as well as Mark and Steve, I’ve been totally amazed by the hospitality of Scott (from Frightened Rabbit), in whose room I am lodging while he’s on tour across the USA with Death Cab. He’s got possibly the finest book collection I’ve ever seen outside my Mum & Dad’s house. Singer Davey Byrne organised that, and (no surprise in terms of helping people out) Dave Hughes introduced me to Byrne and fixed me up when I was desperate, after my original accommodation fell through. My lovely friend Gwen in Dunfermline also immediately offered a room.
Enough, this is long. Next week I’ll write about shows, plus audience numbers stuff, plus all the skeptics and rationalists here and my insane weekend lurches down to play shows in southern England on my days off.
Loads of love. xx 🙂
If you want to see Disobedience in your town, talk to a venue or promoter of family-friendly events, or organise an event yourself: I’m not doing a full tour, just accepting a small run of shows in November. There are some hard and fast rules: there must be a playable piano (or professional standard piano keyboard), the venue must be seated, with all ages access. Although it’s not a ‘kids show’ per se – probably appeals most to adults who remember the poems –children are welcome and there are no swear-words (occasional dark ideas / mild gore).
My punk/folk rising star friend Frank Turner just released his fourth album England Keep My Bones. It’s a great record but more importantly, I sang on it. Buy it from iTunes HERE.
To mark the occasion, journalist Brad Barrett has re-published his 2008 joint interview with me and Frank from 2008, where he got us to question each-other. Read it on his blog HERE.
Finally, a T-T live show suitable for your Grandma and your kids: renowned underground punk/folk singer-songwriter Chris T-T (“genius, a modern-day Blake” – SUNDAY TIMES, “genius” – HUW STEPHENS, RADIO 1, “genius songwriting” – THE GUARDIAN, “The best English folk singer for 50 years” – FRANK TURNER, “Chris T-T’s an idiot!” – JACK OSBORNE) performs brand new musical versions of A.A. Milne’s classic 1920s poems…
Not me though, I was gutted.
Shows how naive I can still be – I’ve always loved Emin’s art, so I made fat old assumptions about her empathy with other people and felt surprised and betrayed to discover her ideology sucks.
Emin’s new exhibition Love Is What You Want at London’s Hayward Gallery is as compelling, blackly comic and angry as ever, by the way.
If there’s a problem with her work in 2011 it’s simply that tapping veins of self and displaying them in public is passe now, normalised by millions of people – especially kids – who over-share like mad every day online.
I wear a white poppy for Remembrance Week for this reason: I want to use this time to remember and think about all those whose lives have been blighted by war, just like others do. But I do not support the Royal British Legion. Instead I prefer a sister symbol that is equally as meaningful and as historically and ideologically valid, with the same underlying intention.
The white poppy has been around since 1933 and grew as a symbol of remembrance alongside – rather than later than – the red poppy. Crucially, the white poppy is an alternative to – not in opposition to – the red poppy. It is not a political symbol, certainly not a combative symbol of ‘the left’ but a quiet, traditional pacifist one. Pacifism is a non-threatening minority belief, often faith-led (such as with the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers – from whom I learnt the history and significance of the white poppy).
The World Book Night project is getting some hefty plugging from the BBC and the broadsheets, after an initial push on the Culture Show at the end of last year. It was conceived in 2009 by James Byng of Canongate at a talking shop to find new ideas for publishers. It is supported by the BBC along with a range of leading lights in publishing and run (intriguingly) as a ‘charitable company’.
The project asks people to apply to become ‘book givers’, picking a book that they wish to give out to lots of people. Recruits will each get 48 free copies of their chosen book and on one night – Sat 5th March 2011 – amid a co-ordinated wave of excitement and media interest, distribute them to the masses. On the same night, the organisation itself will give away books to places where they’re hard to get (they mention prisons and hospitals). Sounds ace.
What is music media figure Charles Hazlewood and Jo Brand’s production company What Larks doing apparently ripping off creative work from a small charity for disabled musicians?
In the past Hazlewood has been involved with some genuinely interesting projects, combining a career as a moderately successful conductor with roles in events management and the media.
He’s part of the Somerset crowd, conducted the first symphony at Glastonbury Festival and does good work popularising orchestral music.
But this week I found Hazlewood involved with a bit of media chicanery that appears deeply underhand and leaves me questioning his motives.
For the past five years, small but highly respected disabled musicians’ charity Drake Music has been developing an ambitious large-scale project called Concerto, to launch and support a working orchestra for musicians with disabilities and provide them with bespoke new music to perform.
We’re only six weeks into 2011 and it’s already shaping up to be the finest vintage year for album releases in half a decade, probably longer.
Time after time in the past month, bands and artists I love have produced the goods, headed towards their peak form or returned with true passion and creativity after a gap.
In fact, I have heard almost enough albums in January alone to equal my 10 favourites from the whole of last year.
For me the clear masterpiece so far is PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, which repositions her as a world-class outward-looking war artist.