Tag Archives: accommodation

Encounters with Royal princes and a comic’s rough night Up North after a gig

Mark Kelly: not always warm in the West End

Many years ago, I used to write film reviews. The previews to which critics were invited by film distributors started in the morning and ran until about teatime. You saw perhaps three films per day.

One day I was invited to review the soft core ‘erotic’ movie Emily, starring unknown Koo Stark. At the time, she was an aspiring actress. I did not go because I had had a run of soft core films to sit through and the thought of what I presumed would be yet another averagely-directed parade of pointless breasts at 10.00am in the morning was too much for me to face.

A few years later, I was walking past the front of the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street, Soho, when I saw three people kneeling around a body lying face-down in the gutter. It was a girl in what looked like a very expensive coat. They seemed to be attending to her, so I walked past.

In the next day’s newspapers, I read it had been Koo Stark, by then the former girlfriend of Prince Andrew. She had been taking photos of someone outside the Prince Edward Theatre (she was a professional photographer at the time), stepped backwards off the kerb to get a better angle and was hit by a taxi. She recovered.

Last night, I was standing outside the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho with comedy writer Mark Kelly. Koo Stark was not there. The theatre is currently running the musical Jersey Boys.

Yes, that’s irrelevant. All of it.

“Is he still alive?” I asked Mark.

“Yes,” Mark replied.

“Well, I had better change his name in my blog,” I told Mark. “And I will just say it is a city in northern England.”

“OK,” said Mark.

So this is not exactly what Mark told me…

_______________

So it’s the early 1990s and I am performing as a comedian by the name of Mr Nasty and I get a phone call from this guy called Dave who puts on comedy shows in a northern city.

It’s a Saturday night gig I have vaguely heard about. It pays well into three figures – a reasonable amount at the time – plus hotel accommodation.

I get a train up to this northern city and the gig’s fine: local acts with me headlining at the end. There are well over 100 people there. I have been told that Dave has taken quite a lot of acid in his life, but he seems nice – a little scatty, but OK.

At the end of the gig, Dave gives me the money which is what we agreed and says, “I’ll take you round to where you’re staying,” which is where the nightmare begins.

Dave is not totally out of it, but is a bit stoned. It’s about one o’clock on what is now a Sunday morning. It’s the dead of winter. It’s snowing.

We are in the back of a cab and we drive across this northern city which I do not know. We pull up outside a very large, grim-looking building which has no lights on. I have a guitar case and  bag. He takes out two keys and says: “This one’s for the front door; this one’s for your room.”

“It’s this building?” I ask. “You are sure?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Just go in there. This is where you’re staying.”

I think it’s a bit odd, but I get out of the taxi. I have the keys. I have all my stuff. The taxi drives off and  I’m left standing in front of this very strange, grim-looking building with no lights.

I open the front door with the first key. It’s completely dark inside. I step into what looks like a dark, large space. There’s no sound. There’s no-one around – certainly nothing like a hotel porter. It’s absolutely freezing cold; it’s snowing heavily outside, so just being indoors at this stage seems like a bonus.

I know which room I’m supposed to be in because it’s on the second key, but I have no idea which floor it’s on and, in the distance, I can hear kind of groaning sounds. It’s beginning to feel like an Abbott & Costello in The Haunted House type scenario.

These groaning noises don’t seem as muffled as you’d expect in a hotel nor the sort of noises your average hotel guest would make.

By now my eyes are getting accustomed to the darkness.

I dimly see this number on what appears to be a door and it’s not that far off my number. So I inch down the corridor and find a very flimsy door with my number on it. I open the door, go in and then realise I am in a dosshouse and this is a key to one of the cubicles.

The building is full of alcoholics, mad people, the desperate homeless.

It’s obviously massively illegal because there’s no internal lighting. There’s no Health & Safety.

So I think, “Okaay…. I’m inside, it’s snowing outside and I can lock the door and there is a light switch in the room.”

I turn the light on. There’s a heater on the wall, which doesn’t work. The water in the sink doesn’t work. The place is filthy. There’s a hole in the windowpane and snow has come through and is piling up on the bed.

This is in the days well before mobile phones.

I am somewhere in this northern city which I don’t know. I haven’t got a clue which part. It’s now about two on Sunday morning. It’s snowing outside and inside. I am absolutely freezing. I have a guitar case and a bag. And I have no home phone number for Dave anyway.

So I walk up and down the corridor all night with my coat on trying to keep warm and, when daylight comes, I take the milk train out of the city.

Now…

You might reasonably expect that would be the end of the story… You might expect that Dave and I would require no further contact.

But, about eighteen months later, my phone rings…

(…TO BE CONTINUED…)

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Answers to nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe

Next Wednesday is the deadline for the reduced-rate entries in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Programme. Until next Wednesday, the cost is £295.20p. After that, it goes up to £393.60p. So, in a spirit of altruism and pomposity, I thought I’d give my personal opinion on nine Things You Need to Know About the Edinburgh Fringe…

1. HOW MUCH DOES ACCOMMODATION COST?

You know the phrase “an arm and a leg”?

If you think you can get anything as cheap as that, you are having an idle fantasy or you are taking hallucinogenic drugs far stronger than you should if you want to stand upright on a stage.

And, if you haven’t been up, you have no idea. The Edinburgh Fringe is unimaginably large and sprawling. It is the biggest arts festival in the world; Edinburgh is a relatively small city. Last year, there were 21,148 performers in Edinburgh simply for the Fringe. That is just performers. Then you have the back-stage, administrative, media and service industry people and the audiences themselves.

Last year, there were 40,254 performances of 2,453 shows in 259 venues. And that’s just the Fringe. Simultaneously, you have the separate official Edinburgh Festival, the Military Tattoo, the Art Festival, the Book Festival and the Television Festival. Any one of those would be a major event on its own in any other city. In Edinburgh, they are happening simultaneously. Plus there are endless other events and street theatre on a massive scale. And just normal meandering tourists. Last year, at the Fringe alone, there were around two million bums-on-seats for shows. No-one knows exact figures for sure because of the increasingly large PBH Free Fringe and Laughing Horse Free Festival numbers.

It is a simple case of Thatcherite market-led supply and demand. The demand for accommodation is enormous; the supply is severely limited.

Someone I know who is friends with an estate agent in Edinburgh was told – this is true – that one rule of thumb they use for calculating rental rates for flats during the Fringe is to ask the owner: “How much is your annual mortgage?” That then becomes a fair amount to charge someone for the month of August.

I had relatives and friends in Edinburgh until three years ago. Now I have to pay. It’s horrendous.

The phrase to bear in mind with everything connected to the Edinburgh Fringe is “like lambs to the slaughter”.

But, like the mud at Glastonbury, it is addictive.

2. SHALL I GO UP FOR JUST ONE WEEK?

No.

The first (half) week is dead and tickets are half-price or two-for-one. You will get low audiences and even less money. If you do get audiences, they will fall off a cliff on the first Tuesday, when the half-price deals end.

The second week is usually almost equally dead.

The third week perks up a little.

The final week is buzzing.

But, if you have not been there since the very beginning and only go up for the last week, you will have generated no word of mouth about your show, no momentum and no review quotes to put on your posters and flyers. And you will be wiped off the face of Edinburgh awareness by a tsunami of other shows which have all these things.

That is if you even get a review, which is highly unlikely.

Whenever a foolhardy Fringe virgin asks my advice, I also tell him/her:

“You have to go up for three consecutive years”

The first year, you will be lost and ignored. The second year you will, with luck, know how to play the system. The third year, reviewers and audience will think you are a regular and you may get noticed.

I know one act who has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe three times. Great act. Wonderful. Got 4-star reviews every time. But, because he/she could not afford to go up every year, there was no momentum building from year to year. He/she, in effect, had to start from scratch each year as an unknown.

Remember that it is not just audiences but reviewers who have a high turnover. The punter and reviewer who saw your show two years ago is probably not in town/ not reviewing this year.

3. CAN I RELAX ON THE PUBLICITY FRONT BECAUSE MY VENUE’S PRESS OFFICE AND THE FRINGE’S PRESS OFFICE WILL HANDLE ALL MY MEDIA PUBLICITY?

You have no idea how it works.

No they won’t.

The venue’s press office is not there to specifically publicise your show. They publicise the venue and act as a central contact point. They will try to be even-handed, but they have lots of other shows. They cannot do constant hands-on publicity for you.

Same thing with the Fringe Office. They are a central contact point. Keep them informed. But they are too busy to do the impossible and publicise your show. Last year, they were dealing with 40,254 performances of 2,453 shows in 259 venues. And with 21,148 self-obsessed and wildly disorganised – possibly mentally unstable – performers. This year, the numbers will probably be higher.

The Samaritans are the ones to ask for help in Edinburgh.

4. DOES MY VENUE’S STAFF KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING?

No.

Trust me.

No.

Most only arrived a week ago, some are Australian and the ones who are not have little experience of anything outside their friends’ kitchens. They probably had no sleep last night and are certainly only at the Fringe to drink, take drugs and, with luck, get laid by well-proportioned members of the opposite sex. Or, in some cases, the same sex.

Trust me.

With help and advice, they could organise a piss-up at the Fringe but not in a brewery.

5. HOW MUCH MONEY MIGHT I MAKE?

Are you mad?

You have to assume a 100% loss on your investment. Even if people make a profit, they usually calculate that by ignoring accommodation costs and the amount of money they would have made anyway if they had not gone up to Edinburgh.

6. I HAVE A PROMOTER AND/OR PRO AGENT. HE WILL LOOK AFTER MY INTERESTS, RIGHT?

He might do. And you might win the EuroLottery. Or he might try to screw you rigid.

One thing to look out for is an agent/manager/promoter’s expenses.

One performer I know went up with a well-known promoter who was looking after seven shows that year. He quite reasonably deducted the cost of his own accommodation and transport. But, instead of dividing the total costs by seven and spreading that cost between all seven shows, he deducted 100% of the cost from each show’s profits, thus getting back 700% of his total costs.

Another thing to look out for is agents, promoters or managers who take their percentage off the gross, not off net receipts. They should be taking their percentage off the genuine profit – the net receipts after deduction of genuine overheads and expenses. If they take their percentage off the gross receipts before deduction of overheads and expenses, you are being severely disadvantaged.

Alright. They are fucking you.

If your show makes £100 but costs £90 to stage, then the profit is £10. If the promoter/agent takes 10% of that net profit, then he gets £1 and you get £9.

If your show makes £100 and the promoter/agent takes 10% off that gross profit and the show cost £90 to put on, then he gets £10 and you get zero.

And, in both those examples, the show made exactly the same amount of money.

And let’s not even get into the games which can be played with the point at which they add in or deduct VAT.

7. IT’S MY FIRST EDINBURGH. WILL I GET FINANCIALLY SCREWED BY UNSCRUPULOUS PEOPLE?

Yes.

8. WILL IT RAIN?

Yes.

9. SHOULD I GO BACK AGAIN NEXT YEAR?

Yes.

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