Edinburgh Festival 2019
It’s a couple of years since we last visited the Edinburgh Fringe, so on Friday we set off to the Ninja Pop Up Site, close to Edinburgh Airport. It’s on the Showground and the facilities are excellent.
The drive up was uneventful and we arrived at 3pm to find we’d got the first pitch on the field, presumably because I’d booked as soon as pitches were available. For the first time, there were electric hook ups available, which was a plus, the minus being that the field is a bit further away from the bar and the main campsite, which was a shame.
We chilled on Friday with a curry, before wandering down to the communal bar Tipi where some performers were entertaining the visitors. They struggled a bit to sing together for the first time but when the French girl vocalist did a solo in her own language the talent began to shine through.
Saturday was the day for us to get the bus into Edinburgh and enjoy the sites and sounds, plus we’d booked a couple of shows in advance. First, though, we did a bit of shopping – the balmy weather in Lancashire (really?) had fooled us into thinking it would be just as warm in Edinburgh, so I’d failed to pack enough warm clothes. A quick nip in to Next provided a jumper to keep this old chap a bit warmer during the week.
We picked up our tickets from the Fringe Shop and settled down with a coffee to get our bearings, before eventually having lunch in the Maison Bleue restaurant on Grassmarket. The food was fine but the dining experience wasn’t helped by a particularly smelly tourist sitting at the table next to us. His B.O. was so bad I could barely taste my chicken. He was with three others, so you would have thought one of them could have had a word with him.
After lunch, we wandered down to Underbelly for a quick drink before seeing our first show, the comedian, Maisie Adam.
We’d seen Maisie on Mock the Week and really enjoyed her humour, so were pleased when we spotted that she had a show at the Fringe. We managed to get a seat on the front row, next to some friends of hers from Stockport, and thoroughly enjoyed her act. Like a lot of comedians, her observational humour was underpinned by her own life, and the twist at the end was a great way to finish. Alison gave her 8/10 but I’d go for 7.5/10 I think. She’s only 25 and I’m sure her act will be even more polished by the end of her run.We had some time to kill before the next show, which was Ed Byrne’s Show, “If I’m Honest”. We had a walk around then enjoyed a couple of drinks before making our way to the Assembly Rooms.
This guy’s been doing stand up and TV for 25 years and it shows. The venue was sold out, but, again, we managed to get two front row seats. His act was nominally about being a father to his two kids, Cosmo and Magnus, with much more besides and the audience, us two included, loved it. Definitely, 9/10 from both of us.
We had a lie in and chilled on Sunday, although, the fact that Truckfest was taking place across the road from the site meant it was anything but quiet. I really wished I’d brought my iSpy book of Trucks because I could have completed it over the weekend. We weren’t booked into any shows until 19.30, so we could take our time over a late breakfast and it gave me a chance to write some of this Blog.
During the early afternoon we had a really heavy thunderstorm which lasted quite a while. At one point we had a small stream running through the event shelter and I had to venture out to peg down our neighbour’s gazebo, which was heading to the airport!. The pop up festival tent which we use for storage was full of water and we had to spend some time drying everything out. It’s all part of the fun of being away.
Dinner at Valvona & Corolla, followed by a Louis Prima/Keely Smith Tribute
This was an interesting one. V & C run a number of Italian Delicatessens in Edinburgh and the one where we were going was also a Fringe venue, with a restaurant upstairs. The menu was a fixed 3 courses, with an Italian theme. The food was fine, as was the wine (shop prices plus £5 corkage). Overall I gave it 7/10 for the meal, Mrs B was slightly less impressed with a 6/10.
At one end of the restaurant there was a door leading to the performance space, which was where the show was being held. We finished our meal then went through, to find ourselves in the most intimate of small spaces – there was a small stage for the band and singers, with none of the audience more than 3m away.
The parts of Louis and Keely were taken by Philip Contini and his daughter, Olivia, which in itself was a strange dynamic, given that part of the original shows was the sexual chemistry between the two of them. There’s no doubt that Olivia can sing, but her Dad had such a strong Scottish accent that he was more like Louis Primark, than a native of New Orleans.
They read some words about LP’s life between songs, and did a few of the hits but it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. A very generous Alison gave them 7/10 – they’re getting a 6/10 from me.
Monday was a Bank Holiday in Scotland, so the site was busy with new arrivals and Edinburgh was heaving with visitors. We picked some tickets up for a couple more shows, then had lunch in a fish and chip restaurant. The portions were huge and, frankly, I could have done with a snooze afterwards. Alison had earmarked a deep fried Mars Bar for dessert but in the end it proved a step too far. Instead, we had a couple of drinks in Udderbelly, then joined the queue to see Fags, Mags and Bags.
Fags, Mags and Bags
F,M & B is a Radio 4 comedy that always makes me chuckle and this show was the cast reading it live on stage. It was sold out and we sat right at the back of the stalls. We laughed right through the show and really enjoyed it. As usual, a few people walked out after about 20 minutes – I always wonder if they know what they’ve bought tickets to see or have stumbled in accidentally.
Score-wise, Alison gave it 8/10 and I’ll happily agree with that assessment.
We didn’t have long to kill before the next event, but still managed to grab a cider in the Library bar, before heading to the Cow Barn. We’d booked in advance to see Basil Brush Unleashed, not knowing that his “right hand man” was a friend of a friend.
This was Basil’s first run of adult shows and even though it’s a bizarre concept, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It wasn’t quite the Basil of old, but the show was cleverly put together, with showbiz guests and audience participation. I’m scoring it 7.5/10, Alison’s only giving him 7/10.
We caught the bus back to the site and the German couple who’d been onboard on the way in, were also heading back to the site. I’d rescued the lady from a beetle of some sort on the inboard journey by catching it and releasing it out of a window, and on the way back I stopped them from getting off a stop too soon. All admirable stuff of course, until I also accidentally got them to stay on one stop too many and we all had a longer walk back. They’ve just said hello again to me, so I guess I’m forgiven.
Tuesday was a busy day with two shows in the evening and dinner booked for 9pm, followed by a concert that didn’t finish until 1pm. First off, we’d had a recommendation from friends to see Ray Bradshaw and we’re so glad they told us about him
Ray is a Scottish comedian who’s parents happen to be deaf, and he always signs his gigs himself or, in this case, he had an assistant to sign for him. It actually added something to his set, particularly as we now both know some signs for rude words…
His show was based around the imminent birth of his son in a short while and, amazingly, there was even a six month old baby in the audience. We really enjoyed his style and his jokes, and both of us gave him suitably high scores of 8/10.
After the show, we headed to another venue nearby to have a drink then waited to see Hal Cruttenden.
This guy is well established as a comedian and regularly appears on Radio and TV and this was a reprise of his 2018 show, with some new material added. The venue was very full, very hot and the seating was very cramped, but despite that we had a great time. I suspect he appealed to us lefty liberals much more than he did to the middle aged guy in the row in front. I swear I could see a nerve in his neck throbbing when HC mentioned the B thing and his dislike of Tories.
High scores of 9/10 from both of us.
After dinner at Baba, a restaurant with a fusion of Lebanese and Scottish food, we trekked back up the Mound for the umpteenth time to see a late night set from Electric Swing Circus.
Electric Swing Circus
These guys play electro swing and also run a vintage/swing festival in Birmingham, which we’ll get to one day. We had to wait in the rain for nearly 20 minutes as the previous show overran, so there were a few muttered words before the doors opened. It was a small crowd and the last night of ESC’s gigs but they were great. We danced until after 1am, then did the long walk to catch the night bus back. Alison gave them 9/10 (the band, not the bus) – I’m going for 8/10.
We didn’t get back to the van until after 2am, so it was a shock to the system to have to get up on Wednesday to head back into town. We’d got two shows booked; Arthur Smith and a Silent Disco tour of the city centre.
Balham’s finest has been doing comedy for a long time. We missed his Leonard Cohen show, so I was really looking forward to seeing this one, which is about his Dad, Syd, who, amongst other things, was a POW in WW2. I’ll have to declare an interest here, as my Dad was also called Syd and, he too spent the end of the war as a POW. Arthur’s father was in Colditz, my Dad was in Stalag IXC.
I loved the show, although I had a bit of a weep at one time thinking about my Dad and all he endured. The mood was lightened when a member of the audience decided it was ok to return from the toilet and walk right in front of Arthur’s incredibly talented co-presenter, Kirstie, as she was singing her solo. I had a chuckle with the lady sitting next to me, as he brazenly walked right in front of the audience, through the spotlights, and back to his seat. By the way, the audience was everything you’d expect for a show like this – I suspect that Radio4 listening figures will be down for this day, as their key demographic were all watching Arthur Smith.
I’ve got to score the show 9/10, but Alison was a bit bored and gave him 7/10.
After the show we went for some lunch and a thunderstorm struck whilst we were in the restaurant. We took the sensible decision to give the Silent Disco tour a miss (we found out later it had been cancelled and we got our money back – result!) and, after a brief shopping excursion for Mrs B, we caught the bus back to the site. The bus journey was a nightmare with flooded roads and was accompanied by thunder, lightning and torrential rain. The site had lots of standing water when we got back and one of the access roads was underwater.
We were told by the site manager that there’d been a direct lightning strike on the portacabin toilets where the volunteers were taking shelter and another one on the communal Tipi. No one was hurt and there wasn’t any damage, but it must have been frightening. We decided to leave a day early, on Thursday, as the forecast was for a dry day. We were packed and away for Noon and had a lovely drive back in the sunshine, on quiet motorways amidst beautiful scenery. A perfect end to an excellent (if wet) week.
Things We’ve Learned
It’s probably better to have a shorter stay and fit more shows in per day – we’ve walked about 7 miles every day, which is quite tiring
Wherever we go, people like a green campervan
A bit of Scottish rain won’t dampen our spirits
There are huge numbers of talented entertainers out there, struggling to get noticed
Edinburgh is one of our favourite cities (although I’ll not miss walking up The Mound every day)
We’ll definitely be back to the Fringe in a couple of years.
Here’s a video from our last trip in 2016, followed by one from this year – quite a contrast.