Tag Archives: Saatchi

At the Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith and his socks and a duck jockstrap gift

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks at Edinburgh Fringe

“Are you doing your traditional late-night tour of the Royal Mile?” I asked comedian and national treasure Arthur Smith yesterday, beside his new exhibition of socks.

“Yes,” Arthur told me. “And I will be introducing the13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.”

“She’s the one with only one sock?” I asked.

“Yes,” confirmed Arthur.

“Which Saturday night?” I asked.

“The 20th,” he said. “Well, strictly speaking, it’s the Sunday, because it’s after midnight.”

“What time?” I asked.

“I dunno,” said Arthur. “One o’clock? Two? I don’t care. You decide. If you put it in your blog, that’ll be the time I do it.”

So, dear reader, Arthur Smith’s legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile this year will start at 01.00am on Saturday night 20th August – or Sunday morning 21st August if you are being pedantic. The starting point, as always, is the top of the Royal Mile outside the entrance to the Castle.

“But what about Arthur Smith’s socks?” I hear you cry with some justification.

Well, tough shit. You will have to read on for a bit.

A few days ago, I got a Facebook message from one Broome Spiro asking if I fancied having breakfast with a stranger.

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

So, of course, I let him buy me breakfast yesterday morning. He turned out to be a retired immigration attorney living in upstate New York who had chucked in his job and gone to work in a pizza parlour. His son had worked in Zoo venues at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago. Broome is fan of my blog and of the weekly Grouchy Club podcast I do with Scotsman critic Kate Copstick.

“How did you stumble on us?” I asked.

“When my son was working at Zoo,” explained Broome, “my wife Penny was following the Fringe on the computer – online, you can almost be here – and we became interested in the politics behind the Fringe and the different business models – PBH and Bob Slayer – and we ran into your blog, which was ‘real’. It’s nice to have it done with historical perspective so you can understand if you are new to it all.

“Over the years, I have collected a tremendous amount of things. My first job was with an antiques dealer, holding up stuff, and my mother made me quit after a month because I had not had a pay cheque yet, but I kept on coming home with antiques. I have this 3,000 square foot house with four 38ft tractor trailers and two barns filled with things and how I finance coming to Edinburgh is by selling things.”

Broome tests the straps of his jockstrap

Broome tests the straps of his gift jockstrap

He took out and showed me a jockstrap made from a plastic duck.

“You created it yourself?” I asked.

“Well,” said Broome, “I found the duck and designed the jock strap, but a guy called Dara Albro is the one who made it a reality.”

“Was it tested for size and comfort?” I asked.

“I was the fitting model,” admitted Broome. “I am going to present it to Paul Currie.

“Why?” I asked.

“I like his show.”

Later in the day, Broome also turned up at the Pleasance Dome for the official opening of the exhibition of Arthur Smith’s socks.

Which is where we came in.

The exhibition includes one sock belonging to (or, more correctly, formerly belonging to) the aforementioned 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.

Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Kate Copstick is of a mind to nominate Arthur’s sock exhibition for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award on the basis that it is “very Saatchi”.

“Have you,” I asked Arthur, “ever been prosecuted in a Scottish court for your legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile?”

“Not quite,” he said. “There was a balustrade on a corner once – well, it’s still there – and I paid a guy to stand on it and take his top off and sing Scotland The Brave and then a woman said Oh! That’s sexist! so she took her top off as well. They were a couple and had a big row. Anyway, the next day I looked, I realised there was a 40ft drop behind it and they had both been arseholed. They could have died. Maybe I would have been up for manslaughter if they had fallen. I dunno.”

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano creator Iain Gordon at Arthur Smith’s opening

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano builder Iain Gordon

Also there at the grand opening of Arthur’s sock exhibition – rather grandly titled Arturart’s Museum of Socks – was Scotsman journalist and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith.

“I am staying in a tent in Worbey and Farrell’s garden,” she told me.

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It makes a lovely splashing sound.”

“Why are you staying in a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“Because I love them. They are sweet.”

“Why a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“It’s really lovely,” explained Claire. “I’ve got a little office in there. And WiFi, a vase with lilies and a carpet. And a cherry tree. Have you heard about Lewis Schaffer?”

“Constantly,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer: sexist or vulnerable?

Lewis Schaffer in days before he went grey

“He forgot his suit,” continued Claire. ”He left it in London. He had to do his show in civies yesterday. In his jeans. But he needs his suit. He usually buys his suits from ASDA because he says they are very Armani-ish. Well, a bit. But cheaper. So he left his suit in London and had to do his show in his jeans yesterday and he is wondering if it is a subconscious desire to give up comedy forever.”

“Has he started performing comedy now?” I asked, surprised.

“I have heard,” confided Claire, “that his suit is on its way up from London.”

“Via one of his entourage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What other news?” I asked.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Loitering within tent? Claire Smith and Michael Topping

“Topping (of Topping & Butch) has given up alcohol and wants to do people’s feet in Edinburgh. He does reflexology in London. He’s really good at it. He lives in a little castle in London. He thought he would come up here and offer people reflexology.”

“People at random in the street?” I asked.

“Well, he was wanting to do it from my tent, but we haven’t really been able to organise it. We thought, if it was sunny, we could have a garden party. Get a load of people round to my tent and get their feet done.”

“Sunny?” I asked. “In Edinburgh in August? Where is your tent?”

“Near Meadowbank Stadium.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m moving to a flat between Meadowbank and Easter Road for the last four days of the Fringe. It could be noisy at the weekend.”

Meadowbank is a 16,000 seat sports stadium and Easter Road is the 20,000 seater home of Hibernian football club.

“There’s a circus tent down there now,” said Claire.

“Let us hope,” I said, “that they don’t have elephants.”

Arthur Smith and sock of 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

Arthur Smith in Edinburgh with the newly exhibited sock of the 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

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Last night I saw a woman sing with her hand up several dead animals’ heads

The queue stretch along the tunnel last night

Queue stretched along a tunnel while dead animals warmed up

Last night was surreal.

Well, there is surreal and then there is pure gimmickry.

I am not sure which I saw last night.

Pull The Other One comedy club runner Vivienne Soan and I went to see a variety of dead animals sing and perform in The Vaults, which are in an extraordinary officially-graffiti-encouraged tunnel under Waterloo station in London.

The event was artist Charlie Tuesday Gates’ allegedly ‘private’ view and stage performance of exhibits at her Museum of Death.

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house + nose

A very, very large audience was hanging around and queuing outside the venue for about half an hour after the billed start time because, according to the security guy on the door “They’re warming up inside.”

This is not something you necessarily want to hear about performing dead animals.

According to the tease by Saatchi Art, who know a thing or two about ‘bigging-up’ Art: “Despite never describing herself as a taxidermist, Charlie Tuesday Gates was instrumental in bringing this previously dark art into the mainstream with her pioneering performance series, D.I.Y Taxidermy LIVE!”

Charlie Tuesday Gates is a vegan.

The come-on for the show went:

Vivienne watched an ‘animaal-ation’ film last night

Vivienne watched a 21st century fox ‘animal-ation’ art film

“Gates’ first solo show since retirement transports you into a fantasy underworld where beauty and death collide with nostalgia and borderline insanity… Controversial ‘animalation’ video pieces will also be screened and a special live performance of Gates’ Musical: ‘SING FOR YOUR LIFE!’ in which real animals are manipulated by hand to perform, sing and dance in a bizarre talent contest: a cross between X-Factor and Pet Rescue…. Where the recently deceased compete for the chance to live again.

“Her fashion brand ‘Mind Like Magpie’ provides the perfect complement to her sculptural work: wearable art that will be showcased alongside the exhibition… Pieces have been commissioned for Elton John, Beyoncé and even appeared on the holy head of Cara Delevingne.”

So there were the exhibits last night…

…and then there was the performance.

Charlie Tuesday Gates

Charlie Tuesday Gates – hand up dead beast

Basically Charlie Tuesday Gates sang while her hand was inside the heads of dead, skinned animals, moving them as if they were doing the singing… and a man manipulated the fore-legs of the dead foxes, badgers, dogs etc. He used sticks attached to the limbs. It was a bit like some Muppet musical staged during the Weimar Republic with disembowelled dead animals.

Someone in the audience told us: “You know, she normally gives live skinning demonstrations during her shows?”

We didn’t.

Is it Art or is it gimmicky?

Is it Art or just a gimmick? People thought Art.

According to the publicity: “Working with audience participation, she skins and stuffs an animal using only the most basic ingredients: salt, sanitary towels and Shake n’ Vac.”

There has been talk of Charlie Tuesday Gates appearing at one of Vivienne & Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One shows at Nunhead, in London.

I said to Vivienne after the show, as we left through the graffiti-festooned tunnels under Waterloo station: “You should maybe put her on at Pull The Other One in Leipzig. It might remind them of Berlin in 1936. When is your next Leipzig show?”

“June the 7th,” said Vivienne.

“Have you any locals on the bill?” I asked.

“We have Felix & Jander, a couple of local artists in Leipzig. Jander is a mathematician and an artist. He is going to give a lecture to the audience on mathematics.”

“Is he a fine artist or a performance artist?” I asked.

“A performance, fine and mathematical artist,” replied Vivienne.

This did not make things any clearer.

But, perhaps, I would not have it any other way.

Last night was surreal.

That is good.

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Even average run-of-the-mill advertisements today are a bloody sight better than Van Gogh ever was – and funnier

I was talking to comedian Martin Soan‘s daughter Sydney yesterday.

She is writing what sounds like a fascinating university dissertation on Humour in Graphic Art and I told her I don’t think her father is actually a comedian at all – he is a performance artist with humour in everything he does. Art ain’t just Tracey Emin’s unmade bed in a Saatchi gallery.

A famous English comedienne once wisely told me that, because of the money involved, the best creatives go into the ad industry, the second best go into television and the third-rate go into PR for the publishing industry because there’s no money into it.

People complain about advertising hoardings in the street but they wouldn’t complain about a new art gallery which has free entry and, every day, changes the art it displays. That’s what ads are. You drive down the road or you walk down the street or you take a tube train anywhere in London and you’re travelling through an ever-changing art gallery. Some of the most creative people in the country are creating continually visually and verbally exciting works of often high originality, displaying them across the country at roadsides, on buses, in trains and stations… and these very creative and usually very costly visual works are constantly being changed for something new and equally visually stimulating and original.

In the Renaissance, art was sponsored by people who had the most money – the Church and the Medicis. The same applies today. The ad industry, using commercial businesses‘ money is sponsoring sometimes great, though always transient, art. I still remember some of the images in a famously surreal Benson & Hedges ad campaign of long ago. They were a bloody sight better than Van Gogh’s awful pictures of sunflowers or dodgy-looking chairs. And I remember the Benson & Hedges cinema ads. Particlarly one shot in the desert with a lizard and an isolated luxury house with a swimming pool.

People complain about ads between TV programmes but they don’t complain about the quality of up-market art films on TV or in the cinema. Per minute of screen time, an ad very often costs more than a mega-budget movie. And often both are directed and designed by the same people.

The ad industry attracts, most often, the brightest, best, most creative visual talents in the country because that’s where the money is. The best graphic artists, the best photographers, the best directors, make-up artists, designers and cinematographers earn their living from the ad industry. The highly-regarded British film industry is built on the financial cashlow provided by our ad industry which supports and stimulates the talents of the best creatives.

Capitalism?

It’s bloody great for Art and ‘twas ever thus.

But what I don’t understand is this…

It seems to me that US ads are concerned with selling the qualities of the product – all those dull shampoo ads telling you the scientific reasons why the product supposedly works.

It feels like UK ads are more concerned with making jokes, adding surreal images, linking the product to a general but very vague happy feeling. What are those Guinness ads about? They’re not about the quality of the beer – not when you are watching Peruvians doing odd things in Andean villages. What are the Marks & Spencer ads about at Christmas? Not about the products they sell; this year it’s all about Peter Kay and Twiggy prancing around very entertainingly.

US ads have a tendency towards the hard-sell. UK ads seem to be soft-sell sometimes to the point of the joke or the surreal image overwhelming the product. The artists seem to have taken over the asylum.

What’s that all about?

Is it because, as American comic Lewis Schaffer currently says in his act, the British like to define themselves by their humour – or, as Colonials like him would say, humor?

All countries believe they have a sense of humour/humor but Britain, suggests Lewis, is the only country that actually thinks its strongest defining factor is its humour. Even Margaret Thatcher had to try to appear to have a sense of humour to soften her image. Being seen as ‘strong’ is not enough in a British leader; he/she has to be seen to have a sense of humour.

President Obama has to show humour too, for PR reasons. But Americans do not see humor as their best characteristic.

The Americans arguably like to see their best quality as being go-getting and full of energy. The French define themselves by their food or as great philosophers. The Germans are efficient. But the British think their single main national defining characteristic is their humour.

To an extent, you can get the feel of a country by watching the type of ads they create. In UK ads, humour often seems more important than products’ qualities.

For sure, any day, I’d rather watch Peter Kay dancing in a Marks & Spencer TV ad than hear about the quality of their beans or sprouts – or look at another badly-drawn bunch of sunflowers by Van Gogh.

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