Monday, September 06, 2010

Edinburgh Diary part three

Edinburgh sunrise

On my last Sunday I was invited to an open mic in the garden at the Pear Tree, where I got up to try out my stand-up routine, such as it is. Having been rehearsing it during my many drunken walks home late at night, it was mostly fresh in the memory, and I mostly pulled it off. The crew I was drinking with loved it, as did one Cammy Sinclair in the crowd, who straightaway got me two gigs for that night, both at decent venues. One of the gigs was at a small comedy showcase and the other was with him and the well-known Phil Kay, on their Cammy and Phil’s Late Night Nonsense show. We sat boozing in the afternoon sun and he told me that “your problem will be when you get successful, you’ll have trouble keeping up the devil-may-care attitude.” I told him that was a problem I was prepared to put up with.

On my first corporate branded stage
I retired home drunk in the afternoon to prepare, before napping, waking up thinking I really don’t want to do this and finally dragging myself to the comedy gig where I sat through truly the two worst comperes in the entire world while they ate up vast amounts of gig-time, then some OK comedians, including Tom Webb, who died at length on stage, before I had to leave to get to Cammy’s gig, without having got on. Cammy and Phil’s show was a very odd affair. Phil Kay didn’t seem to be there at all; Cammy went on and sang some amusing surrealist songs, I popped up and played an accordion solo, which went down well, and then suddenly I was thrust onto the stage to do my stand-up, by now pretty much far too drunk, unable to see or judge the audience, who weren’t, I realised, necessarily expecting some cocky cockney’s stand up anyway. It started badly – after one man shouted “Jon Bon Jovi!” at me, I replied, “well similarly to you, he’s a wanker,” which didn’t get anyone on my side. I retrieved it to some extent by the end, but no-one was warning me about the perils of success this time. Phil Kay came up, having apparently been there all along and, despite starting with a pretty sharp barb – “being an adult I don't care for the jokes” (I think he meant puns) – went on to offer some advice and supportive comments. They invited me to play accordion with them so I stuck around; the second half turned out to be Phil playing completely random, drunken, stream of consciousness songs, while most of the audience slowly made their excuses. Cammy played drums and I played along, trying to guess the key from his Phil’s singing voice, since I couldn’t hear his guitar. Occasionally he would tell me the key, but then not always the right one. It was entertaining, but in more of a what-the-fuck rather than a I-must-do-that-again kind of way. Phil Kay has won many comedy awards and was doing three other shows everyday, so I guess I couldn't really judge him on the basis of that night time stint. But I was glad to get out of there.

By now I could see my departure date approaching, so I stepped up my effort to get round the shows that I could. I went to see An Evening with Dementia, a one-man show written and performed by Trevor T Smith. It was on at 4pm, so I thought they should have renamed it An Adventure in Dementia. “I don't suffer from dementia; I might have it but I don't suffer from it,” he told us early on and the show had great acting and script, and at times was terrifying, when you considered that this could happen to you. The few early cheap laughs were soon washed away when he let on that he couldn't recognise his own family. Obviously for the sake of the play he couldn't be in a too advanced stage of dementia but they went too easy on the confusion and distress aspects, although they did try to present them. It was just drawing to a nice end as he quoted King Lear, but then he described being at his mother’s deathbed and I found it too much and he went on and on about it and I just wanted him to stop but he carried on and on and now I was trying not to sob and then finally he stopped talking about it and went on to something else but now I hated him and could only think Cunt for the last few minutes; until they finally slowly faded the lights with him sat in his chair, which was a great ending.

Then to Chris Sullivan: A Bit of Irish. I hope that when I'm old I can get a gig raconteuring and singing a few old favourites, but judging by the minimal audience the ex-Crossroads star is not taking a great deal home from it. A not unpleasant hour but one of the primary amusements was watching the couple in front row eye each other warily whenever he prevailed on us to sing along. He sung Foggy Dew, The Old Triangle, and finished with Wild Rover and Wild Mountain Thyme. Only when I read his show literature, which sent enquires to his American agent did I clock that this is probably a show aimed at the US market.

The glowing Daily Mail review of Daniel Cainer: Jewish Chronicles should have warned me, but I was seduced by a quote from Alan Bennett comparing Cainer to Buñuel, if Buñuel had been born in Leeds. Not that I know anything about Buñuel, or much about Alan Bennett, for that matter, but it was a massive red herring. With Cainer’s afternoon TV host manner, radio mic and drive-time ballads I hated it more or less from the off. Things did pick up vaguely when he did a song about a coke-dealing rabbi before swiftly descending back into saccharin-sweet chicken soup schlock but it was lucky I hated it since it meant I could leave early and manage to catch Danny Hurst’s show I Was a Teenage Rentboy. Another northern Jew, this one a short, awkward lad from an orthodox Salford family, Danny’s show was beautifully honest, fascinating, edgy and quite fucking funny as he conjured up his time working a pre-gay village Canal St in 1980s Manchester. Choice info: they don't call it on the game, although they might say on the rent, or on the streets; a pimp is never a pimp but my man or boyfriend; and the best weapon to carry around on the streets is not a Beretta or Stanley knife but some chilli powder under your nails. And this is one prostitute tale that ended well, him happily married with a kid and a career.

I’d spent a fair amount of my time boozing with the cast of Rififi Theatre's Lulu, and despite having heard them frequently laying into it, I felt I had to go and see it. Personally I loved this barmy, hallucinogenic version of Frank Wedekind's 'erotic tragedy', which starred the gorgeous cartoon-like circus star Marawa the Amazing as the eponymous femme fatale. Luckily I’d been warned not to expect a clear narrative, but even I was slightly flummoxed when her husband died and the same actor then appeared playing her father, with only a different accent to compensate. But the music was great, it all looked fantastic, and who can complain about a show where the star hula hoops 30 hoops at once, and which features an Italian polar bear for no apparent reason.

I celebrated my last night in Edinburgh one night early, and ended up in the Royal Oak playing the piano and drinking Guinness in a Monday night folk session until 4am, then poking around the student drinking dives until 5am and then finally making it to the infamous Penny Black, which opens at 6am. Scotland is a funny place: you can’t buy booze off licence after 10 at night, but a pub opens at 6am two minutes from Princes Street, but then that pub doesn’t open on Sundays. Anyway, a great pub and well worth the visit, for a friendly mix of thrill-seekers and hardened alcoholics.

For my last trick I finally managed to get down to Kunt and the Gang: Complete Kunt. More or less the Essex Kit and the Widow, YouTube sensation Kunt and his puppet Little Kunt deliver an hour of perky, bright, catchy ditties with titles like I’m Gonna Lick You Out; Wank Fantasy; Fucksticks; and I Sucked Off A Bloke; after the first one he told the crowd: “That’s more or less the level of it” and with right audience, more-or-less student-age boys, his tales of wanking and, er, more wanking go down a storm. Not by any means big or clever, but brilliant all the same and he puts on a good show, mugging faces in luminous overalls. After the show he stuck around for a beer and turned out to be a decent guy, pretty much the same as on stage, blessed by being able to make a living singing his own material in pubs up and down the country. No idea where he’ll go with it though, since, as he said, he’s hit a glass ceiling, 40 people in a pub, but for next year's Edinburgh he’s written Shannon Matthews The Musical, which should reveal if he can take his talent for smutty rhymes to the next level.

And that was that. I spent a sunny morning on Carlton Hill before meandering down to Waverley Station once more. It was time to clear out my pockets of the maps, guides, flyers, bus passes and used tickets that I had habitually carried around; time to lose the camera bulging out of my pocket, time to wear a different jacket, a different pair of shoes, to buy my food in supermarkets not takeaways, to stop living in an idyll of pottering from show to show, to forget about Princes Street, Grassmarket, Cowgate, open mics and blagging into shows, to face up to needing a job, to the onset of winter, to London; soon enough it was time to go home and get on with it, whatever it might be.