Phil Zimmerman watches the music at the party last night.
Last night, I went to comedian Phil Zimmerman and (I guess you could call him) musical anarchist Nigel Noize’s annual Guy Fawkes Night party in West Ealing. the fact it was nine days after Guy Fawkes’ night is but a minor detail.
It takes place in the small back garden of a very ordinary terraced suburban house.
Well, it would be ordinary except for the fact that the back garden, the loft and most of the rest of the house appears to be a replica of the Glastonbury Festival.
I do not mean a smaller, cut-down version of Glastonbury. I mean the whole of the Glastonbury Festival stuffed into a small terraced house in Ealing.
There is a video shot last night of the loft (with sound) on YouTube.
The billing for this Guy Fawkes party – yes, there was a billing for it – ran:
Nigel Noize listens to the sights on his phone
This is possibly the most extraordinary house party in London. Live entertainment, music, comedy, film, poetry etc…BBQ, bonfire, firework spectacular, video disco on giant screens in the garden, fun n frolics till the early hours… Become part of the world’s longest music video ‘Time on Acid’ in the loft, or stumble on something strange in the basement… It’s all the masterwork of Nigel Noize, who has turned his house into a weird and wonderful art object, surely a candidate for the Turner Prize!
That is possibly an under-statement.
There is a short clip of part of one of The Spaceheads’ performances last night on YouTube. But, more than usual, the phrase You had to be there rings true.
Last night, Paul Eccentric was back in London for his book launch, having performed at the Glastonbury Festival, where he fell off the stage for a second time – I think the first time was three years ago, but the people in the medical tent still recognised him and, as someone said last night:
“It is not good when the people in the medical tent recognise you.”
Paul is a man of many festivals. He even has a catchy performance poem about it.
Last night, he was launching his new book The Edinburgh Fringe in a Nutshellwhich is somewhat optimistically subtitled A Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane at the World’s Biggest Arts Festival.
The first part – staying solvent – might be possible after reading this book. The second – staying sane – might be a fantastical step too far.
Julie Mullen looked normal last night
Last night’s book launch also included performances from, among others, Rob Auton (who, at one Edinburgh Fringe, managed the impressive feat of getting a 5-star AND a 2-star review of the same performance of the same show), multi-award-winning poet Paul Lyalls (who one year tried to sell the exhaust from his car at his Fringe performances) and Julie Mullen (who looks sane and ‘normal’ but looks can be deceptive).
I should point out other Fringe books are available:
“So why did you write your book?” I asked Paul Eccentric last night.
“I have no idea, really,” he told me, “but someone during the Fringe said to me You seem to be very angry and I said I’m just a bit pissed-off with myself.”
“Why?” I asked
“For badly managing my day, for taking too many bookings in too short a time and forgetting to eat and drink. The guy said: You should write this down to stop other people making these mistakes. So I did.”
Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books
“Someone,” I said, “ told me they thought the book was fascinating to read even if you’re not a performer and not thinking of going up there.”
“Well, people have sai…” Paul started to reply.
I added: “…although it was your father who told me that.”
“He wants to know where his money went,” laughed Paul.
The book’s sections include:
How To Do It
The Show Itself
Travel and Accommodation
Publicising Your Show
Adventures on The Fringe
with advice from producers, performers, venue runners, publicists, reviewers and even me (I seem to have turned into a ‘Fringe commentator’ according to this book).
If nothing else, it is worth reading to see that even a wise participant like Paul Eccentric who has excellent and highly practical advice to give can be conned into thinking I know what I am talking about.
Part of the 400 entourage of Beaters follow Lewis Schaffer in Nunhead (Charmian Hughes with me in the foreground)
In yesterday’s blog, American comedian Lewis Schaffer managed to creep in towards the end. Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I followed Lewis Schaffer for 4 miles through the streets of Nunhead in South East London.
He had organised his second annual Beat The Bounds procession round Nunhead, in which several hundred people walk round the boundaries of the area hitting things – walls, railings, though never small children – with sticks.
Lewis Schaffer managed to get this funded by The Mayor of London, Southwark Council’s Sustainable Transport & Road Safety Fund, Resonance FM, Burger Bear, the Old Nun’s Head pub and the Salvation Army. (Strange but true.)
There were stewards with dayglo jackets, musical accompaniment from banjo duo The Relatives, free bottles of water at the halfway mark and a free beer for walkers in the Old Nun’s Head pub at the end.
The first half of the walk was a great day out.
Then – perhaps because it was a Wimbledon Finals day – the heavens opened and part of the North Atlantic fell on our heads.
Forever fun-filled Lewis Schaffer led the 400 strong throng
Afterwards, in the Nun’s Head pub, Lewis Schaffer told me: “They were happy because they were wet. They’re British. They love it. They love suffering.
“Last year we had 250 people. This year I think we had about 400. Some people come and only go halfway with us or they join us halfway through. It’s four miles and these British people, they’re lazy. When it started to rain, people caught the bus home. It was rain even by American standards.”
“Americans don’t have standards,” I told him.
“It was like Napoleon’s march into Moscow,” Lewis Schaffer continued. “You’re going to lose some people along the way but the ones we lost were worth losing. The true winners are here at this pub.”
“So you got pissed-on last weekend AND this weekend,” I said.
Charmian examines her pants. Another blog exclusive.
“Glastonbury was very wet,” she admitted. “There was lightning over me but then it dried out. Right now, though, I have to do that thing that ladies have to do when they step out of their pants. My pants fell down. The elastic went. They were falling down all the way through the walk and I was clutching them. They’re now in my bag.”
“You MCed the Comedy Tent at Glastonbury?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Yes,” said Charmian, taking the pants out of her handbag. “First time. It was fantastic. Great fun.”
“Isn’t it difficult because they’re all pissed or drugged out of their minds?” I asked.
Charmian with magician husband David Don’t in the Nunhead rain yesterday
“I was very well prepared,” Charmian told me, examining her pants. “I made a mathematical chart of all my jokes and put them into statistical families so that, if the backstage people said Only do one minute, I could do the first minute of a joke and then, if they whispered behind the flaps: Keep going! Keep going! The next act isn’t ready! I could keep going on that same subject by accessing the other jokes within that family. They told me: We’ve never had anybody with such amazing time-keeping… and you were quite funny as well. So that was a relief.”
“And how were the toilets?” I asked.
“Lovely,” said Charmian. “There’s only a problem when they try to put proper toilets in.”
The John Lewis roof garden’s exceedingly impressive portaloo
“Ah, you should go to John Lewis in Oxford Street,” I told her, “To celebrate their 150 years, you can get up into their roof garden where they have artificial turf and this week they were watching Wimbledon on giant TV screens. They have the most luxurious portaloos I have ever seen.”
“My wisdom tooth is coming through,” said Charmian, ignoring me, “and I am welcoming it because I need all the teeth I can get but, as it came through at Glastonbury, it was catching on my gum, making my mouth too full of teeth, so I got this speech impediment like a lisp and I thought everybody else might think I was on rugs.”
“Rugs?” I asked.
I have listened to the recording several times now. She said “Rugs.”
“I have got to go,” Charmian said, “because I’ve now got hypothermia and it’s fiddled with my mind. I can’t feel my feet.”
The Glastonbury Festival starts today, so a timely reminder of an act which performed there in 1979…
The Demolition Decorators’ online album, released in 2005
The Demolition Decorators were a collective of eleven musicians and comedians based in London 1977-1981. They were arrested 24 times for street performing and apparently squatted on the main stage at Bath Festival to hold a ‘people’s event’ complete with laundry service. They called themselves ‘incidentalists’ because their performances tended to involve an element of confrontation, Allegedly at one gig, some of the audience were so incensed they firebombed the hall. Some of the Demolition Decorators’ music was released on the internet as an albumDon’t Say Baloney in 2005.
I first heard of them a few weeks ago from alternative comedy pioneer Tony Green, a friend of poet John Hegley.
John Hegley aka 1970s Spudikins
“In the late 1970s,” Tony told me, “Mr Hegley and I ran a children’s theatre company.”
“God help the poor children’s minds,” I said.
“How can you say such a thing?” replied Tony. “They loved us. Children love me: I’ve never really grown up myself. I think we were doing a show called There’s No Smoke Without Water, in which I played Sir Water Pipe Raleigh and John Hegley was Spudikins.
“We were at Glastonbury in 1979 and we came across a group called the Demolition Decorators, who were doing an anti-media piece which we thought was absolutely hilarious. They were a rock band / comedy performance band. We thought they were absolutely brilliant. Max Coles was the comic in the crew and he was just sitting in front of a TV set with a 30-foot carpet, looking at it.
Demolition Decorators perform at Glastonbury Festival, 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)
“I think he was making a point about people watching too much TV. On the third day, I think the TV set was smashed to bits with people running around holding pieces of flaming ember that had been the TV set, screaming Coronation Street! Crossroads! – which we thought was a great idea.
“We asked the Demolition Decorators where they came from and, to our great surprise, we found they were based in Holloway so, when we got back to London, we made a point of going to a lot of their gigs.
“We thought they were absolutely hilarious and really liked their music. We both thought they’d take off, but you can’t always spot who is going to be famous.
“I booked them into a really rough club in East London and said: Look, If they don’t like you, they’ll probably kill you and it’s only £15 total for the group. They discussed it, then immediately phoned me back to say Yes and I could not believe how well that gig went.
“They went around asking the audience what they wanted and gave the audience what they wanted, but in their own particular way.
– What would you like to see?
– Well, that bird. Is she, like, yer singer?
– I wanna fuck ‘er.
– Right… What’s your name?
– Right, Bill would like to fuck Jan… And what about you?
– I’m a deeply religious man. Could you do a religious song for me? Something like I Believe.
“They got the whole list of what everyone wanted and most of them were I wanna fuck the lead singer.
“So they erected a tent, banging it into the middle of the floor, causing quite a lot of damage. The singer, Jan, took all of her clothes off, got into the tent and said: Right. I’m in the tent. Is it Bill who wants to fuck me? Come over here and get in the tent and I’m ready for you.
“So Bill walks over towards the tent and Jan says: Hold on just a minute. I’ve taken all my clothes off. Are you going to take yours off? You’ve seen what you’re going to get. I want to see what I’m going to get. I want you to get your clothes off before you get into the tent.
“Of course, the man went a deep shade of crimson and ran away.
“Somebody else said: I’ll fuck ‘er.
“So she said the same thing to him. And Max, who was their comic, said: Look, I’ve got to be honest with you: she’s actually his girlfriend (pointing to the groups’ artistic and musical director Arif) and I’ve always wanted to fuck her. This is my golden opportunity and I’m not prepared to let it go now.
“So he took his clothes off and got into the tent.
“The audience was going: Do you think he’s fucking her?
From inside the tent, Jan says: If anybody else wants to get in, we’ve got plenty of room here, so you can get in and find out for yourself, can’t you?
Another one of the women in the group said: Oh, I think they’re quite attractive, so I think I’ll have a go.
So we have two women in there with their comic, Max.
“He then says: I can’t handle both of them! I need help! Would a man come in and help me out? They’re insatiable! Please! Please!
“No-one got in the tent, of course. So that really had put the audience down a peg or two.
“It was a brilliant success. We ended up with East End dockers, people from the East London Gay Liberation Front, all sorts, all holding hands in a big circle singing Happy Days Are Here Again and that was all down to the – I felt – genius of the Demolition Decorators. They had broken down the barriers of everything I loathe. There was no racism. No homophobia. If the world could be like this – big heavies holding gay people’s hands, some people with no clothes on, black people, white people all holding hands singing Happy Days Are Here Again.
“It was heaven and, since that time, it’s all been a bit downhill, really, John.”
“Where are they now?” I asked.
“Max had to get married, I think, to some Irish woman who had got pregnant. John Hegley told me the last time he saw Max was in the Essex Road and Max died of leukaemia about five years ago.
“Arif – who also called himself Dave – was from New Zealand. After a big gig they did at Ronnie Scott’s Club to try to launch them as a performance group, he thought: It’s not going to work here in England. So he said to Max and people like John Hegley and me who had done guest spots with them: Why don’t you come with us to New Zealand?
A young Tony Green (right) at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival (Photograph by Anna Smith)
“We never did. But Jan, who was his wife and the mother of his child, unfortunately did go. They were only there about six months before she was killed in a freak accident in April 1982. She was with their child in a van on top of a hill. She had left the handbrake off, the door came open, the child nearly fell out, she leant over and saved the child but somehow went under the van which ran over her.
“I’ve not been in touch with anyone because, as you know, I am a computer illiterate but, as far as I know, Arif is still there and involved in children’s theatre.
“It was a great pity. Mr Hegley and I were great fans of the Demolition Decorators. The theatre group we belonged to wrote them off as nothing more than anarchist ego-trippers. That was not our view at all.”
Diarist Paul Lyons remembers the Demolition Decorators online HERE… And there are memories of Glastonbury 1979 HERE.
Shortly after they arrived, Martin and I went out to buy him some beer. When we returned, Vivienne and my eternally un-named friend had built a wigwam in my back garden.
Vivienne (top) and un-named friend yesterday
“Didn’t you have one as a child?” Vivienne asked me.
“No,” I replied.
“I thought everyone had one,” said Vivienne.
“Not me,” I said.
My eternally un-named friend said she had not had a real wigwam as a child and had had to make-do with some cardboard boxes.
I did not even have cardboard boxes.
Life can be a trial.
In a couple of weeks, Martin is going up to Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. Last year, Martin was chosen as Muncaster Castle’s Fool for a year. This year’s Fools festival is being held 25th-29th May. So he has to drive up to Cumbria, attend the choosing of this year’s Fool on 29th May, then drive overnight back down to London to set up the regular monthly Pull The Other One on 30th May.
“Then the next morning,” he told me, “I have to pack up the set and travel out to Leipzig where I do a week’s pre-publicity with Vivienne for our Pull The Other One show on 7th June.”
Upcoming Pull The Other One show Leipzig
“And that’s now going to be a regular show in Leipzig?” I asked.
“Bi-monthly until we live there.”
“You are still thinking of moving to Leipzig?” I asked.
“Definitely,” said Martin.
“Martin,” said Vivienne, “I keep getting people come up to me and saying Oh! You’re still here, are you? I thought you were moving to Leipzig. It’s a long-term plan.”
“Definitely,” said Martin.
“It’s the end intention,” I suggested.
“Well, said Martin, “not the end. The beginning.”
“You can speak German?” I asked.
“Of course not,” said Martin. “Nein. Einen Aschenbecher danke.”
“What does that mean?”
“An ashtray, thankyou.”
Vivienne Soan and palm yesterday
“It just shows,” said Vivienne, “how long he’s taken to learn that phrase. He gave up smoking five years ago.”
“It’s handy, though,” said Martin. “I intend to live in Leipzig sooner rather than later. Viv will be able to get work out there.”
“Well,” said Viv. “If I could, that would be great.”
“We WILL be able to get work out there,” said Martin.
“I hope so,” said Vivienne.
“We ARE going to get work out there,” said Martin.
“Gizza job,” said Vivienne. “Put that in your blog, John. Has anybody got any work for us out there?”
“What I intend,” said Martin, “is to create an annual Festival of The Surreal and get funding for it in Leipzig. The Greatest Show on Legs have always had an element of popular appeal but always with an edge of the surreal.
“I want to get away from all these absurdists and de-constructionists and surrealists and just get back to proper good old-fashioned British eccentricity. I think the continent – and especially Leipzig – is going to open their arms to us, because they seem to have lost that appeal in their cabaret.
“They have very strict, skill-based cabaret. Which is very good. But very much like Cabaret the movie. Great compere. Lovely song and dance routines. And all the artists are very skill-based – contortionists, magicians. But the absurdist side of things – though I don’t want to use words like that – the eccentric side – is lost.”
“What’s the distinction between absurdist and surreal?” I asked.
Vivienne suggested: “Absurdism is like big, big, big. Surrealism is more cerebral and pictorial.”
Martin Soan in my living room on a previous visit
“If you take it literally,” said Martin, “surrealism is real things taken and given extra meaning. Absurdism is real things with no meaning whatsoever. The one common denominator in comedy between absurdism, surrealism and deconstructionism is it has got to be entertaining and funny. That’s what I want to get back to. It’s easy to be absurd and not funny. Are you going to Glastonbury this year?”
“No,” I answered forlornly.
“We are doing a Pull The Other One Glastonbury Festival Special on Friday 27th June – Glastonbury weekend. Basically, people can save themselves a shedload of cash, come to our show in Nunhead and experience exactly what they would at Glastonbury. We’re going to have a very frightening, naked person walking around drunk and shouting, installations, top-notch comedians, very high profile bands…”
“He’s one of those installation guys. I’ve got a juggler, a face-painter, everything you would experience at Glastonbury – including a really shitty toilet and the audience will sit in little tents.”
“How will people see over the tent in front of them?” I asked.
“I’m building levels,” said Martin. “It will be tiered tenting.”
“And all this,” I asked, “is going to be in the upstairs room of the Old Nun’s Head pub?”
Martin Soan sits by my Picasso yesterday (It was free in the Scotsman newspaper)
“Yes,” said Martin.
“And you’re going to have Oasis playing?” I asked.
“Definitely,” said Martin. “I’m going to have one of their record covers on stage and play a track of their music and that’s exactly what it would be like at Glastonbury – just like you would see them very, very far away.”
“What about the rain and mud at Glastonbury?” I asked.
Martin ignored this, but I think it is a very valid question, although maybe surrealism would insist on no rain and no mud at a re-imagining of Glastonbury.
“I’ve always been aware of him, but I’m not sure he’s my main influence.”
“Who is?” I asked.
“This is the duck from Southampton” – The Iceman via Skype
“This is the duck from Southampton,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question and holding up a Polaroid photo. “Do you remember that show?”
“Not specifically,” I said. “Describe what you do in your act – for people who have never seen it.”
“It’s not really an act,” said The Iceman. “I do it for real.”
The Iceman tries to melt a block of ice on stage in various increasingly desperate ways.
“Has the act changed over the years?” I asked.
“It’s got more reflective.”
“The ice?” I asked.
“The act,” said The Iceman.
“How?” I asked.
“More thoughtful,” said The Iceman.
“How?” I asked.
“At the Royal Festival Hall,” explained The Iceman, “I sat with the block of ice. Reflecting.
This week The Iceman showed me the ultimate aim of his acts
“Originally, the act was pretty straightforward: I put the duck under the ice and tried to use lots of different agents to melt the ice. I was the catalyst. Breath, friction, de-icer sprays, salt, money, a blow-torch, hammer, chisel, explosions… and the duck would usually still be not afloat. So, in a way, the whole thing was a study in failure. But then, as Simon Munnery said, we all knew the block of ice was going to melt in the end, so I could not help but be ultimately successful.
“Now, though, it’s… well… slower, really. There’s less emphasis on trying to melt it. I’m just being with the ice while it melts.”
“So basically,” I said, “the act is developing towards a point where you are going to sit by a block of ice and not do anything.”
“Yes,” agreed The Iceman. “At the Royal Festival Hall in 2011, I read the Financial Times while sitting next to the block of ice.”
“And did reading the Financial Times help?” I asked.
“Well, I think people thought I was trying to make a point,” said The Iceman. “The theme of Stewart Lee’s show there was Austerity. On my website, there’s quite a few photos of the block at the Royal Festival Hall and you’ll probably notice, if you’re kind enough to visit, that, in some of them, I’m looking very reflective. Very thoughtful.”
The Iceman reflects with ice & duck at the Festival Hall, 2011
“What were you actually thinking?” I asked.
“That’s difficult to decipher,” said The Iceman. “Thinking about things like the history of the Universe. Have you read that they’ve just spotted some evidence of the original Big Bang?”
“I didn’t really understand it,” I said. “It seemed to say that everything expanded very quickly, faster than the speed of light. That’s what any Big Bang does, isn’t it? Did you understand it?”
“I’ve got a feeling I was there at the beginning,” said The Iceman. “I think we all were.”
“Well,” I said, “bits of us were. And we’ll all be there at the end. The Sun will expand and explode and everything will be stardust. We are stardust.”
“Do you sing?” asked The Iceman.
“No,” I told him.
“You’ve made Malcolm Hardee into more of a star than he was when he was alive,” said The Iceman. “He was a very funny man. I don’t think he ever reckoned me, though he was kind enough to book me.”
“Did he not reckon you?” I asked, surprised.
“Perhaps he did,” said The Iceman. “He did book me once on The Tube with Jools Holland.”
“Did the rock music fans of Newcastle like you?” I asked.
Singer Morrisey is a man who enjoys a laugh
“Morrissey was on the show,” said The Iceman. “He showed a distinct lack of interest.”
“Well, that’s Morrisey,” I said.
“Morr-icy,” mused The Iceman. “He was probably admiring me without realising it. Tell me if you’re bored…The block never stayed up on the platform.”
“When?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“When I did my act,” said The Iceman. “It always collapsed. I always refer to the one at The Tunnel…”
“Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club?” I asked.
“Yes,” said The Iceman. “I got stuck in a bus in the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames and the block melted so, when I put it on the platform at the club, it was just a bucket of water. So I went home quickly. The audience had a reputation for throwing things at the acts.”
“Your act was very time-sensitive.” I said. “When I booked you on TV recordings, you had to do the act at the appointed time and no later.”
“I was amused by your organisation of the Hackney Empire show,” said The Iceman, “because, on your schedule, it said Ice block arrives at stage door at blah blah time… It made it into an epic event.”
“There was no point being late,” I said, “because your act would have disappeared.”
“Dice-appeared,” said The Iceman thoughtfully. “Only the second half of my Hackney Empire act is on YouTube. But I quite like that, because the ice block is moving around in the audience.”
“Yes I did,” said The Iceman. “In the Cabaret Tent. I was the only person at Glastonbury to have an electrical source in order to have a fridge for my block of ice.”
“Did the Glastonbury audience appreciate your act?” I asked.
“I think they were a bit stoned. It was an interesting experience. I seem to remember Malcolm Hardee’s tent moving a lot when he was – what’s the phrase? – I suppose ‘bonking’ is the polite word. I have this image in my mind of a tent vibrating near my fridge.”
“What do you do for the rest of your time?” I asked.
“I work very hard and I have a proper job. I want it known that I do a proper job and I am in a long-term relationship and I can hold down a relationship with The Icewoman. People often think I’m disturbed.”
“Do you want me to quote that?” I asked.
The Iceman is keen to emphasise he is “frighteningly sane”
“I’m frighteningly sane,” said The Iceman and then laughed loudly. “I like that… Frighteningly sane. I want you to quote that.
“I do do a lot of research on human beings. I work with quite a wide range of human beings, especially teenagers. It’s interesting for me to assess human behaviour. It feeds my work.”
“So,” I asked, “I can say in the blog in print that you do other things? That you’ve got a job.”
“Even if I don’t know what it is.”
“Yes, I’ve got a job and it’s worth a few bob,” said The Iceman. “I used to say that in the act. After all my efforts trying to melt the block of ice, when people were not really laughing, I used to say Well, at least I’ve got a job! and they would laugh at that and then I’d say It’s worth a few bob! That’s actually from the act. Do you see it as an act?”
“I see it as a lifestyle choice,” I said.
“Yes,” said The Iceman, “I’ve stayed with it. And, in one way, that’s a curse., because I can’t really develop it much. People tend to think Once you’ve seen the ice block, you’ve seen the ice block. But I think there’s a certain consistency about repeating the process. Though I’ve got bigger gaps these days.”
“Bigger gaps in what?” I asked.
“Between performances,” said The Iceman.
“What number of blocks are you up to now?” I asked.
With an iceberg, more is below the surface than is seen above. Thus too with The Iceman? Or is he just having a good laugh?
“I used to be very meticulous in documenting it,” said The Iceman. “And then I think I threw my documentation away.
“So there’s a lot of controversy for art researchers about what number I’m up to.”
“Perhaps you should start again,” I suggested. “Start at 1001 like the carpet cleaner.”
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”.
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.
4. DOES MY VENUE’S STAFF KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING?
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.
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?