Life on the Fringe

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 30, 2009


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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Another fringe benefit for new arrivals like me who now live in Edinburgh is the ability to participate in the acclaimed Festival that happens each August. Unlike the hundreds of thousands of visitors that converge at this time you have no requirement to book accommodation months ahead or worry about whether you will be able to secure gig tickets and the like. Just roll out of bed each morning, scratch your nuts and head out to sample some of the thousands of acts scheduled each day.

After waiting months in growing anticipation you do expect more fanfare from such a huge production, but it pulls it all off in a very low key and typically Scottish manner. Pretty much the first thing I saw at the very first event we turned up to, the Festival Cavalcade held on the opening Sunday of festivities, was a bloody big barricade. It's the only parade I've ever been to that the organisers block hundreds of metres of prime spectating land at the side of the route just after the noise, colour and actual marching starts. Something to do with maintaining taxi access to the central train station and flash flood drainage management (it was teeming down that day), with some terror alert safety precautions chucked in for good measure no doubt.



Karen and I only caught glimpses of most of the marching bands through the 10 foot high barriers, but we were pleased to catch the Trinidad and Tobago steel drummers amongst the motley crew of pipe bands, baton twirlers and motorcycle gangs (no Dykes on Bikes here though) passing noisily by. The Cavalcade is also showcases some of the main acts that perform at the festival each year, so after moving to a more suitable vantage point, the second wave of commercial participants such as Cirque Surreal and The Ladyboys of Bangkok (perennial favourites around here apparently) added some much needed colour to the waterlogged entertainment.

It's a big day indeed on the festival calendar, one in which runs for hours and that a lot of locals actually turn up for as well, but the rain kept pouring. Soaked through we decided to cut losses and save strength for the rest of the month, hoping that the weather would improve in the weeks ahead.



Which, fortunately, it did manage to do. The Royal Mile is the focal point of activities and is the pick up point for tickets with short-term pre-bookings, meaning you can't escape a trip or two along it to check the freaks that converge there to busk and generally entertain. The masked crew above right are some of the more moderate you find along here any day during the three weeks of the festival and I quite enjoyed negotiating the milling crowds, bill posters, flier distributors and zany buskers toward the top of the Mile. It's a great buzz that typifies the vibe you hear about from people who have been to the Festival before. Well worth a loiter if you can cope with the hundreds of gig flyers that you will be given in any fifteen minute period!



From local recommendation, I spent a lot of time with various friends and work colleagues up at the Pleasance Courtyard - an old University building complex to the south of the city centre which has at least a dozen auditoriums of all shapes and sizes and which hosts many of the best stand-up comedians throughout the festival. Again it has a great vibe - all day and well into the wee hours of the morning, with plenty of courtyard seating and freely flowing beer. Come here if you only have a day or two to spend wisely at the Fringe.

For me, Mark Watson was the best of the ten or so stand-ups I caught here. Jason Byrne, a big-name Irish comic with the same manic style as Watson and who performed at the prestigious Assembly Rooms on The Mound, was a favourite at venues elsewhere. On a slightly different note, 'Jihad: the Musical' at the C rooms was a hilarious production that came recommended from Dad from Fringe reports in Australia. I'd be surprised if the whole theatre team makes it back next year, as some of the religious commentary in it has to be in the same league as the Satanic Verses I'd bet.



Another highlight was a visit over the second weekend of the festival from Dutch mate Baastian, who I'd travelled with in the Northern Territory at the start of my journey so long ago. We caught comedians at some of the more grungy venues around the Udderbelly, some beers at more conventional evening venues that have extra-late licences at this time of year, and also Fringe Sunday - a free day event with hundreds of performers (of all varieties) held at the expansive Meadows parklands a few miles south of town.

It's a huge family event really, despite colourful language emanating from the comedy tents, that is great value and well worth a look indeed. We spent a couple of hours along with 200,000 others checking things out before heading back to the ranch for a farewell BBQ in Baastian's honour, in between teasing rain showers. The neighbourhood I'm living in hadn't seen anything like the steak storm we cooked up, and I found myself thinking that it's funny what you end up doing when festival mania takes hold...



For a big event on the world calendar it's a lot less brash and ego-driven than I would have expected. You can live a mile or two from the centre of town and not participate in, or be impacted at all, by the festivities beyond a little extra traffic. Still, it's this relaxed approach that makes the Fringe the laugh that it is. After all these years hearing about it, it was great to make a solid dent in the festivities of 2007.
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