Sunday, August 24, 2003

Edinburgh Festival Review 

I've finished the novel I brought with me (Magnus Mills' splendid "The Scheme For Full Employment" a return to the form of his first two) and have an hour to kill on my last evening in Edinburgh, so here's a quick festival report. It's typed on our host Alan's iBook, with its tiny keyboard, so may have more errors than normal. There's saxaphone music playing as I type, and Sue's reading about couturiers.

Best Play: Dark Earth by David Harrower. A gripping, superbly staged state of Scotland play at the Traverse (we seemed to spend a lot of time at the Traverse), brilliantly acted, especially by John Mackay as the father. If this tours, see it.

Runner Up: The Straits by Gregory Burke, which is about to tour. Not as showy as his first, Gagarin Way, which we saw two years ago, but a powerful, well staged autobiographical piece with four fine young actors. Set in Gibraltar during the Falklands War.

Most disappointing Play: The Thebans. I'm normally a huge fan of the author, whose version of Medea two years ago was fantastic. Here she's crammed three great Greek tragedies into two hours and come up with a bum aching, repetitive, over acted melodrama. Mind you, it was better than My Arm, a tedious gimmicky one man show by Tim Crouch, that doesn't count as a play, though it was advertised as one (and published as one by Faaber - go figure).

Best Exhibition: The Boyle Family Retrospective at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. A fascinating couple of hours, hard to describe in haste. Highlight: the fourteen sand pieces where the family (husband, wife, son, daughter) replicated the same square of sand over two tides and seven days, using techniques they keep secret, producing fourteen completely different sandscapes. Mark Boyle (the father) was wandering round while we were there, his voice booming at us both from the documentary on show in a corner and wherever he happened to be standing at the time. A show that makes you look at the world afresh.

Worst exhibition: Julian Schnabel at the Royal Botanical Gardens gallery. Luckily, the weather was ace and the gardens were lovely because Schnabel is full of schnit.

Best Comic: Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure. Oh, Ok, he was the only comic we saw and, if you don't know what a 'Googlewhack' is, I'm sure a search engine will tell you. I've tried to insert one in this piece. It should be pretty obvious (does a googlewhack count if it's deliberate? Don't ask me, but you can e-mail me if you spot it. No prize, sorry, I'm a penniless author). Sue saw 'Are You Dave Gorman?' two years ago and made me watch the TV show, which I quite enjoyed. But live, I laughed 'til my eyes watered. A very funny, very well structured show. I'm under orders not to give any of its storyline away, but it's about to tour. If you like using the internet (and, uh, you're reading this) and the tour comes near you, tell him Dave sent you.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Concert For A Landmine Free World, Leicester 

It topped 100F at Heathrow, making it the hottest day ever in the UK and slapping in the face those who deny that global warming exists. In Nottingham, however, it was pouring down and our departure was delayed by waiting for the rain to clear. That meant we missed the first half of the Cosmic Rough Riders set inside DeMontfort Hall. They were indoors and had shed their lead singer and main songwriter, Dan Wylie, since I last saw them. They are no longer the ugliest band I've ever seen. Instrumentally, they're great, in a mid-60s Byrds sort of way. Vocally, they're less strong (but more in the right key) and some of their back catalogue song choices weren't the strongest (drop the Glastonbury song, boys), but the last single Because You was nice. I'll be picking up the album.

Outside, we sat down just as the rain hit. The Guinness golf umbrella and black bin liners I'd brought came in handy. Rain kept coming during Aqualung's Radiohead meets Coldplay set and we chatted with Terry, Sue, Liz, Rob and John about past and future gigs. I wandered off and watched the end of Rosie Thomas's set, nice Joni Mitchellish stuff. Sue was somewhat disconcerted by our having met up with a bunch of people even keener on getting near the front than I was, but by twenty past seven, we found ourselves standing four back from the front, centre stage, in the remarkably relaxed crowd. Fifteen minutes later, we were saying 'Blimey, that's Emmylou Harris. Why's she wearing sunglasses?'

Only it wasn't Emmylou, who appeared moments later, looking stunning (hard to keep my eyes off her all evening). No, it was her mum, who watched the whole show from the side of the stage. The five acts sat on stools across the stage (with a Leicester born Pretender on additional guitar) and Emmylou kicked off with 'Red Dirt Girl', the title track from her latest album. The view was great, the sound was terrific, the weather cleared (hardly a drop of rain the rest of the night). It was one of those shows where everything came together (apart from the odd drunken, 'Steve Earle' shouting grebo - Billy Bragg evidently taught Emmylou the meanings of 'Grebo' and 'Builder's Tea' on this two date UK tour).

I'd seen Steve Earle's Jerusalem tour earlier this year -a bitter, angry, anti invasion of Iraq show. Tonight, he'd shaved his beard, was wearing glasses and a short sleeved shirt and looked like a mild mannered accountant (albeit one with rage bubbling underneath, a bit like the D Fens character Michael Douglas plays in Falling Down. As a songwriter and musician, Steve dominated the evening, though there were no big egos on stage. He played along with a lot of the other singers. Joan Baez was like the patron saint of the show - a silver haired grandmother centre stage: lovely voice, but lacking something for me. Her version of Earle's 'Christmas In Washington' was only so-so. Billy Bragg played a wonderfully rewritten 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards' (a song he's updated every time I've seen him) and I wish I could remember some of the anti Bush and Blair witticisms he included. Later, he updated the standard 'Bourgeois Blues' into the 'Bush War Blues'. Chrissie Hynde started with 'Biker', which is an OK song but an odd choice. She seemed slightly uncomfortable throughout, not used to being on stage listening to other people. Steve's 'Ashes To Ashes' was probably good, but a bloke to my left collapsed, hopefully just from dehydration, and had to be passed into the moat for first aid (well done, Rob and John, who helped) rather distracting us from the song. At the end of the first half, the founder of the Nobel peace prize winning Campaign For A Landmine Free World, wheelchair bound Bobby Muller, made a stirring speech.

Highlights of the second half included Chrissie Hynde doing a stunning, almost acapella 'Hymn To Her' and duetting with Emmylou on Gram Parson's 'She'. Then there was everybody singing Tim Hardin's classic 'Reason To Believe', Earle's 'Jerusalem' and the closer, Earle's 'Devil's Right Hand'. The encore was a loose but loving version of the standard 'Goodnight, Irene' which Sue shocked me by confessing she'd never heard before. I mean, OK, she's a wee bit younger than the rest of our small gang, but even Bryan Ferry recorded 'Goodnight, Irene'... The show was over by ten and we were able to watch the (not so) final episode of '24' before bed. A magic night out ending a fine festival, heat and all. We'll be back.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Summer Sundae 

'Summer Sundae' is a kind of mini-Glastonbury at Leicester's De Montfort Hall, just round the corner from where Sue works, which is useful for parking. On the Saturday, I fancied seeing Laura Cantrell at three. However, as the temperature in our garden hit the mid-thirties, we decided to leave the 45 minute journey until the day reached a more temperate 30C, just before six. We arrived to find three of the festival's four stages in action, lots of stalls, a relaxed crowd, many of them flat out from the sun, and The Alabama Three about to come on. We put down our blanket in a prime spot as they began with with 'Woke Up This Morning', the theme song from 'The Sopranos''.

Often a mistake to start with your best known number, as it can be downhill ever after. Yet A3 were perfect for the hot, hot evening, and, anyhow, all their numbers sounds pretty much the same - a kind of combination of country and blues to a techo backing. In less relaxed circumstances, their humorous intros might grate on me. They're from Brixton, yet pretend to be from the deep south of the US and do some sarcastic stuff about the Rev Jim Jones before a fan comes on stage to ask his girlfriend to marry him. It's rather reminiscent of Hank Wangford, the London GP who does a more reverential act as a comic Nashville star and, who, coincidentally, I saw play the Riverside Festival last week (for some reason I'm going to a lot of festivals this year. We're off to Edinburgh in 12 days). On the whole, A3 are fun and don't outstay their welcome.

'Now And Zen' my favourite noodle bar from Glasto, are here, but we've bought sandwiches, so reserve that pleasure for tomorrow. Two quid buys me a decent latte. Sue's very fond of tonight's headliners, The Gotan Project, whose album fitted perfectly as were driving around rural France in the blazing heat. They'd have been ideal in the hot afternoon, but their set relies on projecting images onto a screen, so they don't take the stage until it's dark and....

And they're background music. I'd have been happy for them to soundtrack my reading the paper but it's too dark to read so we sit down and watch their arty projections. Later, as the set progresses, we stand up and sway our hips a little. Half the set takes place behind a screen. Then the projections stop, the screen goes and we see why they needed it. Visually, they're very dull. But the music is nice and I manage to think through a bit more of the plot of a novel I'm preparing. We leave during the final encore, getting home in time to watch 'Pop Idol' and, in my case, most of a rather good documentary about 'Straw Dogs' before bed (the tape ran out). Maybe I'll write about 'Pop Idol' and how it relates to my novel 'Dying For You' another day.

A decent day out, especially as the two day ticket was only a fiver more than the one day ticket for today. Sunday includes, this evening, The Concert for a Landmine Free World , featuring Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Chrissie Hynde, Joan Baez and Emmylou Harris , all of whom I like and the latter three of whom I've never seen play before. And it's a great cause, too. Probably be rather more crowded than yesterday, though. Full report tomorrow.

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