Trouser quest successful

Edinburgh tradition: The first day of the festival (the first Sunday in August) there is a big parade that tie up a lot of roads and generally makes getting around quite difficult. Thousands of pipers, marchers and students on floats.

Personal tradition (in development): Despite my better judgement and all efforts to the contrary, I get caught up in it.

I was shopping for trousers (I brought two pairs with me, tore one pair badly, other pair now so dirty that they are in danger of walking away by themselves) at Armstrongs (esteemed purveyor of second hand clothes on Grassmarket). Chained bike to railings, and just as I had finished a policeman who had been watching me told me that I couldn’t park it there (I imagine it’s the high point of his year, the opportunities to tell people they can’t do this or that, can’t park here, can’t go there are boundless). So I moved the bike. And come to think of it, there were a lot of people just hanging around, weren’t there. Trouser quest successful, I got out of the area just as the pipers started up. It’s amazing to think that there are that many people who play the bagpipes in the whole world (let alone just in Edinburgh). Wouldn’t we notice them practicing?

Went to see Holly Tomas at the Tron at 7:30 – late start, but fine new band including a double bass and percussionist who took over the whole of the back of the stage. Some golden oldies and some fine new tunes (I think), and Holly encores with Parasite (I think that’s what it’s called – not the Nick Drake tune).

When I step out of the toilet door at the Cafe Royal (we congregate in a toilet before the performance in lieu of a changing room – I imagine performers, raw recruits and international stars, hanging about in toilets across the city) I have no idea how many people will be there. So it was a nice surprise to see that a number of seats had been sold (particularly for a Sunday). Warm, too (numbers and warmth do not necessarily go together. Sometimes the nicest audiences are quite minimal – yesterday for example). And very few fluffs on my part – hurrah!

Stopped by the Tron on the way back to see what the Edinburgh Songwriters Showcase open mike was like, but discovered that my Performer’s Card wouldn’t get me in free. I don’t mind paying, but didn’t think I’d stay that long, so I gave it a miss. I’ve booked a spot for tomorrow at 11:30, so we’ll see what it’s like then.

Unless a mad scientist out there knows better.

I’ve been in Edinburgh for a week, now, and yes, it does seem like I’ve always been here.

About ten people in the show, but the front row consisted of four very appreciative canadians, so that was nice. Hopefully they’ll tell all their friends. Less nice was the fact that I had a headache all the way through the show – occasionally a wave of pain would distract me from the task in hand and I’d lose my place. Grr. But there are very few bad clams these days (I used to be justifiably in terror of them), usually just lapses in concentration. I particular, I’ve been lucky with Richenda, the current arrangement of which requires me to noodle over (not too complicated) chords, but I always feel a bit unsure of where I am. I should just ignore the computer and feel the force, of course.

Got to the gym at last – a major achievement. For the record, it’s ok, but a bit stuffy. very fine views over the roofs of Waverley Station to Waterloo Place (it’s a curious fact that the way this city is constructed, you can go down to floor minus three, and still be high above the rooftops on another side of the building). There’s also a swimming pool (I can’t remember the last time I went swimming – I think Sid Vicious was still in the Sex Pistols) which I might use. And a Jacuzzi (which seems more like a bubbling hole in the floor). And a sauna I can use if I can be arsed to go along to the next hotel (the Sauna is “being refurbished”).

Of course, after the exercise I just flaked out on the sofa. All that exertion is probably to blame for the headache.

Bodies, eh? Can’t live with them, can’t … well … you know. Unless a mad scientist out there knows better.

I’m sorry I can’t offer the more traditional Edinburgh lifestyle of Beer, Hangovers and Regrettable Sexual Encounters, but I’m too old – when hedonism becomes a logistical problem, it’s time to dedicate your self-abusive impulses to Chocolate Hobnobs and Kingsize Twixes.


Sorry, what exactly is the plural of Twix?

The package containing my fliers turned up, after a fashion – I found a card saying that they tried to deliver them this morning. I remember thinking that the trip to the sorting office would be easier with a bike when I went on Tuesday. On Monday, I’ll be able to put the proposition to the test.

The festival is hotting up – there were all manner of painted faced loons thrusting fliers into the hands of an unwilling public. And a flamboyant man in a dress running up towards the Pleasance, shouting, presumably, about his show, and wondering why no one was taking any notice.

Edinburgh has to be the only town in the world where the freaks come out on a Saturday afternoon.

As I write it’s Saturday night and the streets are full of drunks, shouting. Don’t they get bored with shouting? Even drunk people must find shouting pales eventually. When I went up to Alldays to get my painkillers earlier on, there were people attacking traffic cones. What kind of mentality is that, exactly? I must have possessed it once myself (not that I ever attacked a traffic cone, but I have allegedly been young and inebriated at the same time), but now it is as alien as the animosity that cats feel for string.

a sport to be stared at blankly

Joined a gym, in the basement of one of the big central hotels, but had consumed several Hobnobs for breakfast, so put off actually going until tomorrow.

There is a black and white tv, ostensibly the posession of one of the SBM comics, but now on the coffee table (There was a tv when we arrived, but since the screen doesn’t work, and all it gives in terms of sound is a hissing noise, it doesn’t count as a television per se. The radio bit of it works, though). It picks up Channel Four, but with no sound. Perfect for watching the cricket. The West Indies appear to be playing craply (all out for a hundred and something), but they have good names, which is important in Cricket, a game in which the commentators like to intone the players names, savouring each syllable, because, frankly, there is little else to do. At the end of the first innings, England were all out for three hundred and something, putting them well over a hundred runs ahead. I have no idea what I’m talking aboout, by the way. The last time I invested any energy in watching a cricket match was 1985 (and I was fairly keen on the 1981 England/Australia test). It’s not a sport to be watched, it’s a sport to be stared at blankly.

Went along to the open mike at Lianachan, a groovy and morally upstanding coffee shop on Blackfriars Street. Ruaridh MacGlone (of Tron sound fame) was in charge. I got a nice build-up (although that can be a bit scary – I always say it doesn’t leave much room to be crap in if the audience have been told you’re really good), and played Where Did It All Go Right, Little Games and (perhaps misguidedly) Automatic – this last being quite long with an extemporised scat in the middle (not one of my best tonight). Had to leave early in order to get to the gig. Hope I didn’t give the impression of being an interloper and stealer of their time.

The gig was much sparser than last night – total of eight, I think, although four of them had to leave (for timetable reasons, they assured Phil). Oddly though, I felt a lot more comfortable playing than I had and felt that I “inhabited” my bits more than I had done for ages. Go figure.

I’m not actually dead, though. Better luck next time.

Our first gig – a free preview (I should have done that). 15 people in, which is okay, considering the festival doesn’t officially begin until next Sunday, but not as many as we had on the same night last year.

I took the bike out for a spin and had my first prang coming down the hill on my way to the soundcheck – an Edinburghian walked straight out in front of me, looking in the opposite direction (so he would have been in considerably greater trouble than me had I been a bus). I just bounced off and landed in the street. He grabbed randomly at my jacket to help me up, saying, “My fault, my fault”. How are you supposed to reply to that? Yes, it was your fault. Well done. I’m not actually dead, though. Better luck next time.

Still finding it difficult to get into some of the songs that I know best with Jezza playing. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.

There now appear to be sofas in the living-room – two of them, facing each other over a coffee table, the kind of arrangement best suited to frosty family meetings (you know, The Parents, The Daughter and The Unsuitable Boyfriend, that sort of thing). Until this morning they were merely obstacles in the hallway, designed to make putting the bikes away just that little bit more challenging.

Went with Dave to Whistlebinkies after the gig, managing to catch the end of the folk session. I like this sort of thing – musicians of not inconsiderable skill who just turn up and play, with very little brouhaha and posturing. Or that’s the way it seems to me, anyway.

Is Edinburgh the nearly-new bedding capital of Scotland?

A much more successful day, in a lot of ways (it is, at least, getting better). Finally got telephone access, so I could send my work down to London (and then send it again when it turned out that I had sent the wrong things) and collect my e-mail (99 messages – I was expecting hundreds).

Got the bits and pieces for the bike (lamp, helmet, lock and chain), so now I am technically mobile (although this year we are much closer to the centre of operations, so I don’t know whether I’ll use it that much – doh!).

Phil arrived at about 3:30. We went off for an initial soundcheck at 5:30, only to find another show knee-deep in their own troubles. So in fact we soundcheck tomorrow at 3:30 – Dave will come straight from the train, and there will be an amount of seat-of-the-pantsness.

Did the Tesco thing. There are a lot more students around than there were even yesterday – when I was in Argos earlier on, there was a lot of bedding being bought, and someone was buying two of those sprung recliners – sunbeds – which, given the lack of sun, are probably going to do service as someone’s actual bed. I wonder if Argos stock up specially every year, or will they run out early next week? And what happens to them after the festival? Is Edinburgh the nearly-new bedding capital of Scotland? I think we should be told.

Went to an open-mike up by the castle. it was nice – my reputation preceeded me from yesterday, to positive effect, I think. Ruaridh was in evidence, as was Grahame Mearns from Word, who I saw on Monday night. I played The Secret Agent’s Dream, Iodine and Comforting Lie. The assembled company seemed to like me, and it was good for, as I believe they say, schmoozing. Several people said they’d come down on the 15th, which is nice (but likely? Well, the festival offers many competing delights. It’s always nice to see anybody, though). A venerable gentleman compared me to Earl Okin, which I took as a compliment. Although Earl is a considerably snappier dresser. Frankly, they don’t make spats my size. Pete Rowan dropped by with the proper programmes for Acoustic Underground. There was also a headliner, who was jolly good, but whose name I forget.

[I have since discovered he is called Neil Dixon. And he is jolly good.]

Cooked rice when I got home (i.e. – made food, not bought takeaway – something of an acheivement for me). Heavily knackered. Still – upwards and onwards.

two temperatures for pizza

There only seem to be two temperatures for pizza – hot enough to take the roof off your mouth and stone cold. I’m a greedy boy, so I don’t see a lot of stone cold pizza. Pete H. arrived with his healthy eating habits (mainly fruit, as far as I can tell), and I just went out and got pizza from the takeaway where I got junk food last year. I’m falling back into my bad habits – I’ll be walrus-sized by this time next week.

Or I would be if it wasn’t for my secret weapon – I have a bike. I seem to have bought it, at least on the expectation that I will sell it back at a reduced rate. What will happen if I want to keep it hasn’t been covered. But, wow, cycling really needs heart-‘n’-lungs. I took it up Pleasance on the way back, and was wiped out in an exhilarated sort of way. Hopefully, Dave will be able to help me sort out the saddle and handlebars and so forth when he arrives. I also need a helmet and some lights.

I got way over to Leith Walk to collect the corrections from Ness for the Nick Sharratt book I’m working on at the moment, did bits of money stuff, and work stuff (checked out a local Mac bureau), and bought some clothes at the charity shops that line Nicholson Road, trying to piece together some stage clothes for the Jeays extravaganza, and did some more flat stuff. So I spent most of the day walking around. So I am knackered.

That’s about it.


The gig?

My gig?

Um, okay.

Look, nobody came, but I didn’t expect them to, because I hadn’t promoted it, and the festival hasn’t really started yet and yadda yadda yadda. Pete came – I put him on the guest list, and an australian student wandered in and there were some ESS members. About ten people altogether if you include the bloke behind the bar, although the band who were on after me wandered in and out. Nobody paid. I should have done it as a free preview – that might have got bums on seats. I did my hour, and then they asked for an encore (and made a fair amount of noise), which was nice. I played quite well, but with a few glitches that I’d like to ireon out – in particular, my voice kept breaking, which was a legacy of my feeling tired. It was very useful for me – a sort of dress rehearsal for the other two gigs (which were the only ones I had any chance of attracting anyone to), and now these people, at least, know who I am and what I do. And a gig is a gig – it’s not really the number of people in the audience, but what’s in your mind. I just had to try to keep the people who were there from feeling uncomfortable, and I think they enjoyed it, even if they thought I was mad to play a concert to an empty room. I, myself, did feel a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to mention it to Ruaridh (the sound man, and a performer in his own right), because it wasn’t his responsibility. It was to do with trying to get used to the room, and the chair I was sitting on (which was about 5cm higher than I would have liked). Hopefully, if I can get some time at the ESS nights (at the same venue), I’ll be more comfortable next time (a fortnight today, the 15th). I have to do something to stop the guitar slipping off my leg. And sort out a proper set-list, at least in my mind. And find ways of promoting myself. And practice, practice, practice!

And next time, I’ll try not to tire myself out on the day of a gig.

The giant bar of Galaxy was more difficult to justify.

A much quieter day, a sort of non-day.

Woke up at 11:00 which I thought at the time was a kind of bonus (I’d thought I wouldn’t get conscious until the afternoon). Every action seemed to be negated somehow: I found that Peter Rowan had left a message with his real number (which I later tried and had obviously written it down wrong), went to a nearby cyber cafe to ask whether I could plug my powerbook into their phone socket, and was told yes (but when I went back later some snooty guy told me no I definitely couldn’t in a tone of voice that suggested he thought I’d asked to have sex with one of their PCs). No e-mail then. Went to the Cafe Royal to see if I could track down the keys to the flat, but Ian, the owner had only just come back from holiday (for which read “no”). Pete phoned to tell me I could have access to the flat. Tomorrow. Probably.

So maybe I should have stayed in bed after all.

After the e-mail debacle, I gave up and got more unhealthy food (Doner and chips – it’s a bad sign when the people providing you with the stuff look at you as though you are mad).

Actually, that’s what I’ve had most of – incredulous stares. Meanwhile, I’m getting grubbier and grubbier. I really need access to that shower.

Speaking of which (ish) I did have my first whiff of that authentic Edinburgh malty smell today (or thought I did) – I’m staying at Fountainbridge, near a brewery (and where Sean Connery came from, I seem to remember), and sometimes the smell sweeps over the city. It was a couple of years before I got the courage together to ask what that smell was. I mean, you don’t, do you?

I noticed shops have closed down since last year when I was perambulating this afternoon, and saw the first signs of people setting up the venues (people with wood and hammers outside Bedlam, at least), and checked out the new neighbourhood. We’re near a KFC and Holland and Barratt, for a real battle between junk and nutrition.

I justified tonight’s kebab to myself on the grounds that it contained salad, and thus vitamins, if you were wondering.

The giant bar of Galaxy was more difficult to justify.

Well, adonish.

Day one for me, day minus two for the fringe.

I estimate that I had three and a half hours of sleep last night. That sort of thing always lends a slightly surrealist edge to the day. Then I had to pack (there is a part of my brain that finds it difficult to accept that packing doesn’t just happen by itself – I should have been born aristocratic, I’m sure. I was kept awake last night by the conviction that if I didn’t get everything done right in the two hours after waking up the whole affair would be a disaster that I would never live down). As it is, I’ve only forgotten the fliers and mailing list cards, which Laura will hopefully post to me.

Ellie suddenly appeared at King’s Cross to give me keys, money to get the electricity going (enough, as it turned out, to get the main circuits on but provide no hot water) and instructions on how to do it. And then was gone again.

Four and a half hours on the train and then I fetch up in Ellie’s kitchen, watching some appalling game shows (such as one where the extended family play stupid games to win trips to theme parks for children) and the national lottery. Which I failed to win. Again. I noticed that every time the machine spews out a ping pong ball and the number is announced, the audience cheers. It struck me that these people are applauding numbers – “OK, ladies and gentlemen .. a warm welcome to TWENTY-THREE! Please give it up for… THIRTY-SEVEN!”. I assume that the next month won’t consist entirely of watching bad tv on a fuzzy black and white set, but right now time seems to stretch curiously – the train journey itself took about a week. By next Thursday it will seem like I’ve always lived here. I think Thursday is the preview for the Jeays extravaganza, and my first gig is on Tuesday (I had thought that the 29th was a Sunday).

Time, eh? It’s a bugger.

I got my commitment to healthy living off to a good start by looking for health clubs / gyms / leisure centres in the yellow pages (The gym around from here has been turned into a LazerQuest, which is an interesting social development, albeit one that helps me not a jot) and eating a pepperoni pizza, a large bar of Galaxy and a packet of chocolate digestives with caramel filling. Where those sprung from, I have no idea – is it a Scottish thing? Are they new (and if so, has anyone told NTK)? Am I (oh no!) eating experimental biscuits?

Are they safe?

(They’re caramel chocolate biscuits – of course they’re not safe.)

I did look around a health food shop – poked my head in the door and then decided to give it a miss. When I have relocated, I’ll get a giant bottle of vitamin pills as my initial contribution to The Flat (although I’m sure that Dave eschews vitamin pills in favour of actually eating nutritious food, which is dangerous, radical thinking if you ask me). I have also thought of renting a bicycle.

I’m not obsessed with health, you understand.

When I came up to Edinburgh the first time a few years ago, I was still drinking, and so entranced by the apparant lack of licensing hours. But that was only for three days. The following year, I came up for two three-day stretches, but this time I was dry and taken with the notion that I was the only sober person in a three-mile radius. Last time I was here for the whole fringe (August 4th to 29th, at least) and realised that, were I to still have that initial enthusiasm for inebriation, I would have been dead by Fringe Sunday. This time I come up during July to find the sun shining (thus confirming my suspicion that the Edinburghians suspend summer for the duration of the festival – I haven’t been here in such fine weather since 1977) and stay for exactly a month. By next year I’ll probably be living here (actually not, I think that would be A Dreadful Mistake – you occasionally meet people seduced by the festival into thinking that Edinburgh was a year-long laff-riot. It gets cold enough in August – God only knows what February’s like). I want to stay fit this year – or at least, as close to fit as I get.

If I had exercised as hard in my early twenties as hard as I do in my mid-thirties in order to hopefully stay only mildly chubby, I’d have been an adonis. Well, adonish.

When Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome finishes (or when I become bored with it, whichever is the sooner), I’ll go to bed. I have an appointment with unconsciousness I’d like to keep.

Woodcutter’s Ball and Night of a Thousand Stars

This was a concert at the wonderfully louchely-apportioned Embassy Rooms, which I think were fittingly a centre for the Lounge Scene at around the same time. I remember the evening going on for a very long time – such that at one point I wondered whether that was it for the rest of eternity, like a musical take on The Exterminating Angel. It was also when I began to formulate my theory that Blegvad induces a sort of chaos in performance to bring something out, which I formalised seeing Slapp Happy a couple of years later.I went to the loo at one point and there were performers standing around in the foyer evidently unsure of what was happening. A lot of back catalogue was covered. Some people did their own material. Eddi Reader did Gold. Jakko Jaksyk played at a point where the stage was so full he had to stand behind the scenes and stick his head out through a curtain, or at least that’s how I remember it.

My memory is that it was strangely wonderful. The chances of our seeing its like again are very, very slim indeed.