Gavin Inglis is the organiser of Underword. These are his jottings about the wider Fringe 2009.
Sun 30th August
While it may have my dirty fingerprints all over it, Underword 2009 was a product of the eighty-three people who performed and the eight hundred and sixty people who came through the door. Where a show was good, the performers made it so; and where there was a great atmosphere, that was down to the audience. Particular thanks to everybody who donated and helped us break even.
May, Guy, Ryan and the rest of the Fingers crew made us feel at home and were supportive in many small ways that all add up. Anita Govan stepped in and MCed on the night I had to be away for family reasons. And Gillian was very understanding about me being absent for three whole weeks and repeatedly turning up at 5am stinking of cider.
I could not have sustained the run without Team Underword: Craig “shaky bucket man” Senior, Pammy MacGregor in press liaison and all-round support, and Spooky, my squeaky talent relations manager.
Fri 28th August
One disadvantage of being funded largely through a bucket is that people chuck in anything they find in their pockets. I don’t think we actually got any snotty tissues or pocket lint but we did get:
- £1 (counterfeit)
- 5¢ US
- 1 Lat (Latvian currency)
The Lat turns out to be worth about £1.25! Doubt I can find anywhere to convert it, but hey.
Thu 27th August
Was absolutely delighted with the turnout for Dirty Words and Brother Bimbo’s beautifully sculpted beard confounded the staff at Fingers.
The report is in and we raised enough money to buy five gross of condoms for World AIDS Day packs. Yes, that is 720 safe shags facilitated by our talented performers and generous audience. Thanks to all involved.
Wed 26th August
Top hat disaster
I’m half an hour late leaving the house tonight because I can’t find my top hat — an intrinsic part of my outfit for Dirty Words. And for every one of these thirty minutes, my brain says, what kind of idiot can lose a top hat? It’s the size of a basketball and can’t exactly be stacked under things.
My friend Fliss thinks that kids should be made to wear top hats all the time because it would lead to an inevitable improvement in manners and behaviour.
Tue 25th August
I did rather pan security guards at my solo show last week. So I have to admit two surprised me this evening.
I’m heading up the road about 3.30am — bevved — with Alison Dunne of the charming Leicester contingent. We divert past the Esplanade and there are barriers blocking the top end of the Royal Mile, with a security man in hi-viz watching us.
We chat for a bit. He is a soldier named Ricky. When he learns Alison is from out of town and leaving soon, he moves a barrier and takes us on an unhurried tour of the Tattoo arena. We talk about the military presence in the Castle, the Tattoo itself and Edinburgh’s history as a walled city. He’s interesting and well informed.
Then we divert through the Art School and exactly the same thing happens with another guard whose name I don’t catch. He shows us a set of sculptures in progress in the quad, and talks us through each work and the artist behind them. He is a painter of watercolours in his own right.
The Fringe ought to be like this all the time.
Mon 24th August
You haven’t had a proper Fringe experience unless you’ve discovered a completely new act you think is great. In previous years for me this has been Camille, Gamarjobat and even Charlie Cheese (aka Mackenzie Crook), back in the day.
This year I discovered Mik Artistik who was doing two nights at the Thistle Street Bar. Kevin described him as “John Cooper Clarke meets John Shuttleworth” and I think that just about nailed it. He has that same kind of hoarse, desperate delivery and some of his stuff is superb. My favourite is Library:
It’s a bit of a shock
When a phone goes off
There goes a can of pop
YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE EATING IN THE
Sat 22nd August
I see Alasdair Gray at the Book Festival and pop home on the number 31 bus for a quick break.
Seats are short and there is one spare beside me and one in front. A woman sits down with her kid and I offer to shift forward so they can sit together. Next stop, the bus is full and an old lady starts swaying in the aisle so I give her this second seat. I stand in the wheelchair/buggy bit for a couple of stops, leaning as we turn the corners. Then a buggy comes on and needs the space. So I move back to a seat beside an old Geordie gent. At the next stop he gets off so I stand up to let him out. A second buggy comes on and the first one has to fold up.
Finally this other guy sits beside me reeking of drink. He talks in incomprehensible murmurs and asks me if I am “slow” because I have difficulty understanding him. He makes a weak joke in every exchange. Like this:
Gav: You’re heading home? Where do you live?
Drunk: Edinburgh. Hahahaha.
Fri 21st August
Overheard in the bookshop of the International Book Festival in the centre of Edinburgh, City of Literature:
“Ewwww, it seems to be all just books.”
Thu 20th August
I visit a vintage clothes shop in town. It’s pretty small and I rarely find anything good there, but I like to check it every few months. Last time I considered a really nice old top hat with a leather box. This time I’m in the door about 15 seconds and flicking intently through some suits when the following exchange occurs:
Proprietor: There’s a biker jacket up there.
Gav: Thank you. (shows no interest, continues to examine suits)
Proprietor: If you like that red jacket there is a bigger size up here.
Gav: Thank you. (shows no interest, continues to examine suits)
Proprietor: There are shirts over there.
Gav: (pauses, turns to proprietor) I’m beginning to feel just a little bit “sold to” here.
Proprietor: What? Get over yourself! I’m just pointing out where the stuff is.
Gav: OK. Thank you. (immediately leaves)
Wed 19th August
I truly had no idea how Newbie Night was going to go. I suppose I feared that the material would not be up to scratch and the readers would be generally weak. But in fact there was not a huge difference between this event and the open mics with more experienced readers. All I really noticed were a few trembling manuscripts in the spotlight — and for people making their debut in front of a Fringe audience of nearly sixty, that’s not bad.
A large part of its success was the audience and their loud and enthusiastic response. I saw the faces of the readers as they left the stage and I could tell how much it meant to them. So if you were in that audience, thank you very much.
Tue 18th August
Tonight the introduction to Under the Bright and Hollow Sky was scripted so I didn’t get a chance to say exactly what I wanted to. But it was this — Underword is about more than comedy.
Robin Cairns describes comedy as the tool he uses to buy enough time to offer his tuppenceworth to the world. I write a lot of comedy myself and with an unknown audience it’s certainly the safest thing to start with. But I wanted very much to include some more challenging material and Andrew J. Wilson’s “postmodern tale of terror” fit the bill.
I taped it with an audience mic, and we’ll see how that comes out; but it is so obviously crying out to be properly recorded. I love, for instance, what the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society are doing with their Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.
Mon 17th August
Putting on something like Underword requires you to get out of your comfort zone a bit. There are so many roles to fill — I’m a programmer, making artistic decisions; a producer, dealing with the Fringe, the venue, the budget; an MC; a kind of green room guy, making sure the acts are OK; a flyerer, hustling for audience; an occasional press liaison; and sometimes, thankfully, a performer.
But I’m not ready for the additional role that Lina at the Thistle Street Bar allocates me tonight. My purple shorts have a huge hole in each pocket and I just don’t have the time to fix them so I’m carrying my coins in a small plastic bag. I bring it out to buy a pint and she says,
“You look like a waitress.”
Sun 16th August
Fringe Sunday did not get a major sponsor this year so the office were unable to hire a full team. As long-term stage managers (if it were the Tattoo we’d be up for a medal soon) Pammy and I and our colleague Mike take charge and operate this year’s Fringe Sunday in the back room of the Queen’s Arms, Frederick Street.
We are a bit lacking in acts, it starts ten hours later and the audience is down significantly on 2008, but the event goes ahead with the cast of Shakespeare’s Ladies in attendance. As usual there are some hitches on the day and we have to relocate to the Thistle Street Bar when the Queen’s Arms closes at 11pm. But the spirit is there and Pammy remains undaunted at 3.30am, heading to the Royal Oak in the rain with only a few pound coins left in her pocket.
Sat 15th August
The Scottish Space Programme
One of the best things about the Fringe is the opportunity to stumble across shows and exhibitions quite by accident. As a wee boy I was fascinated by space travel and science fiction. So I’m absolutely gobsmacked to discover in 2009 that Scotland had its own secret space programme, hidden from the public.
This seems to have become something of an obsession for artist Madeleine Shepherd who has dug deep into declassified files, travelled around the country photographing the industrial remnants of this programme, and even unearthed what seems to be a living relative of Scotland’s one and only astronaut.
Seriously, check out her exhibition at Transreal Fiction in the Grassmarket. How did we not hear about this sooner?
Fri 14th August
Texture of the Chemical Poets mentions that Tickle is the one to challenge if you want to battle them. This is one joy of including poets from a hip-hop background rather than from the litmag scene.
Of course my mind immediately starts setting up spoken word cage matches from the programme:
- Gary Death and Kevin Cadwallender vs. Anita Govan and Laura Hainey
- Word Dogs vs. Loose Tongues
- Shakespeare’s Ladies vs. Stefan Pearson
You only get these great ideas once the programme is finalised.
Thu 13th August
Spoken word injuries
I have a classic Fringe experience and have to rush from Underword (ends 20:55) to Tea Tales (starts 21:00) at the West Port Book Festival where I am the guest MC. It’s a fun event based around bawdy Victoriana — although the audience seems mostly Spanish — but somewhere during the event I strain a muscle in my back. It hurts every time I roll over in bed.
How the hell did I do that while reading in a tea shop?
Wed 12th August
Loathsome Is My Name
(this space reserved for a listing of the excellent stuff covered at Cover Versions)
Tue 11th August
One guy heckled Alistair Findlay during his new poems about social work. “Cheer up!” yelled this guy, and Alistair considered it, then did move to some lighter ground. Everyone who spoke to me later had been enjoying the more challenging social work poems and wished the guy had kept his mouth shut.
But Loose Tongues has a better heckler. I’m sitting right at the back beside two middle-aged women. Lynsey Calderwood is relating a sensitive tale of a young girl’s maturation which includes a reference to her touching herself.
“Disgusting!” hisses the woman beside me.
My first urge is to say politely, “Don’t tell me you ladies never masturbate?” but I fight it. After she visibly recoils from the word “lesbian” I ask whether they’re in to hear the feminist poetry or just have a drink. They assure me it’s for the poetry.
By the time “over the shoulder boulder holders” are mentioned, the heckler is — honestly — rocking back and forth with her hands over her ears. I must admit I find this impossibly funny.
In time I manage to understand that they’re at Fingers “to hear the piano” and inform them they’re three hours early for that. There follows simulated childbirth on stage and the hecklers scurry out to a bold line about “fucking”. After they’re gone, one of the performers mentions farting.
Mon 10th August
Magicians and Fascists
I make time to catch the first Fringe show I have no part in — magician Fritz with a Z at tePOOKa. He is great fun and makes a lot of his interaction with the audience. He has suffered a flyering disaster and has a disappointing crowd, mainly composed of friends. But this makes it feel more intimate; he learns everybody’s name and has us all on stage at some point. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the link between magic and storytelling — watch this space.
Pammy gives Craig and I a lift up the road. We pass two blonde girls. She rolls down the window and yells at them, “Fascists!”
Sun 9th August
Dreams of Poets
In the small hours I dream Fingers has become an immense venue, the size of the big hall at the Assembly Rooms, and it is absolutely packed for Alistair Findlay. A youngish guy in a grey suit and mad hair introduces himself to me. “I'm Alastair Findlay,” he says, and explains he writes short comic tales about farmyard animals. This is not going to sell to an audience interested in football, John Knox and social work.
At night I dream about meeting John Hegley on a castle rampart. He has changed his style and now has a total psychobilly haircut.
Sat 8th August
At lunchtime I meet Pammy in Susie’s Diner to talk press strategy. I spot space for a flyer underneath a large canvas painting and stick one up. Just as I press it home, an orange butterfly drops from beneath the canvas, does a circuit of a nearby table and flies out of the open door.
The family at the table gape at me. I quickly give them a flyer. “That happens every night at the show,” I say.
I head to the venue to catch the opening night of Utter!. Cutting it characteristically fine, I bump into my cousin on a moped across Frederick Street. Although he lives in Edinburgh we don’t really meet up; it’s only at strange random times. He is going on holiday for two weeks — a brave effort to avoid Underword entirely.
Finally all is in place and we’re out flyering everybody who passes the venue. Minutes before we start, a thundering jet streaks very low across the New Town.