Musical comedy specialist, Earl Okin, a veteran at ten Festivals, rellects on the highs and lows 01 life on the Fringe.
it was 1983. My manager suggested i ‘did Edinburgh‘. He told me the ways to maximise my chances. ‘We’ll have a show about somebody lamous.’ Wrong. ‘We’ll run lor ten days so we can get two lots oi weekly audiences.’
Wrong. ‘We’ll give value for money; you’ll do a two-hour show.’ Wrong again. For some obscure reason I was listed under Folk, and naturally my lirst audiences numbered eleven, seven, and nine. Somebody suggested l did twenty minutes at the Fringe Club late-night cabaret. I investigated. Willie Wilson, then in charge, regarded the idiot in bowler and spats doubtiully, showed me the performance rooms, virtually asked me it I’d like llowers at my luneral, and disappeared. However, Itriumphed (no really!) and I had 129 in the next night. I was hooked!
What’s great about Edinburgh is audience-attitude. Unlike the media, audiences don’t worry about what pigeon-hole to put you in. They arrive and say, ‘Whatever you do, entertain me!’ Then there’s the apres-show. Ho lonely hotel bedroom; instead lots 01 shows to go and see yoursell, the chance to meet actors and dancers or to be Iealletted to death by groups 01 international terrorists, tribal warriors or aliens lrom outer space (just stand still in the rain and you can be turned into a papler meche model ol yoursell in ten minutes llat) and, who knows, there might be the chance oi a Fringe groupie (well, I still have my dreams). Allin all, it’s like three years ol university social-lite squashed into three weeks, but without the studying.
- 01 course, ten years on, things aren’t quite as innocent as they were. Cynical venue-rentals are often such that you can actually sell out yet still lose money. Then there are the extras. ‘What? Another mike? No problem, that’ll be 2250! ‘Oh! With a
mikestand? That’s £500 then.’ And audiences wonder why they have to pay 28 lor an hour’s show.
Increasingly, major venues and rich managers mesmerlse media-people, so that they tend to leave the George Hotel, stumble across the road to the Assembly Rooms thinking they’ve seen the Fringe or at least the best ol it. Wrong! Speaking oi the Assembly Rooms, incidentally, isn’t it astounding how many artists on the Perrier Award short-list seem to be connected with that particular venue, or how virtually every act on last year’s Granada TV show was appearing there? Mere coincidence, I’m sure.
Forthose wishing to be media-leatured, you have to be either new to the Fringe, orlamous. Unlike Edinburgh audiences, TV and radio like to plgeonhole. ‘We are looking lor new drama, stand-ups, etc. . .’ However good you are, il you don’t lit one ol their categories, then it’s just too bad. ‘Alter all, we have used you on our programme.’ (Yes, that was in 1984, actually.)
Still, I can’t stay away. l’d miss rushing about in the rain, alternative EIDS (Edinburgh-Induced Drop Syndrome caused by doing 40 shows in 22 days), Fringe Club late-night cabaret, general panic. . . and haggis. And alter all, this is my tenth year. It could be my year!
The Horny Years (Fringe) Earl Okin, Southside 92 (Venue 82) 667 7365, 14 Aug-5 Sept, 8.10pm. £6 (£5).
10!!! (Not the Movie) (Fringe) Earl Okin, Acoustic Music Centre (Venue 25) 220 2462, 15, 21-23, 28—31 Aug, 4, 5 Sept, 4.15pm, £5 (£4).
Ifa week is a long time in politics, then two minutes is even longer in live broadcast as radio virgin Thorn Dibdin found out.
The producer gave me a nod, cued up the tape and, as I leant towards the mike, the red light went on. I was all set to broadcast live to the mass listeners of Festival FM. Except I wasn’t: my mind had gone bland, independently deciding to do its impersonation of a freshly laundered undersheet.
Festival Freshly Mixed broadcasts from a beige-coloured bedroom suite at the top of the Festival Club. The receptionist has a chair in the corridor (no table, just a chair: Frankly Minimalist), the hub of operations (phones, computer, spare CDs and Band Aid: Frantically Messy) is in one bedroom with the editing room in the en suite bathroom: Fairly Minuscule. Across the corridor, with the dreaded Red Light hanging on the door is the
lther bedroom, aka Studio Firmly
I was scheduled to provide a four-minute package for Festival Roundup, the early evening programme hosted by Lynn Ferguson. I’d last seen Lynn as the larger halfof the Alexander Sisters. successfully keeping a ravening hoard of skinheads at bay during her spot at the Calton Studios. Fuckin' Mental. Sol knew I would be in safe, ifviolent, hands.
The first problem was to get the live material from Lily Savage‘s show at the Assembly Rooms. Not having thought to get clearance to record the show (sin number one in the radio canon) we decided to go in undercover, recording clandestinely from the centre of the crowd (sins two through eight). A Fortuitous Meeting the following day got us our clearance, but the tape was virtually
unusable. Firstly our cover had been so deep that much of the Savage satire was masked by belly laughing clones, secondly, Savage uses the F word at least five times in any given joke.
Now “fuek‘ or rather its diminutive “fckn’ as Scouser Savage says it, may be all right for a lS-rated film like The Commitments but for Festival ching Mousy, even in the Ferguson slot, the fekns had to go. Out came the razor blade and sticky-tape (so that‘s what the Band Aids are for) and with a ﬂick of the wrist the offending words were removed. But what to put in their place? Turn the tape around perhaps, or record a few "Beep‘s especially"? In the end a
‘ simulated warble was considered i suitably pointless.
It was time to go on. The taped
; highlights ofthe Savage show went
, out. lsweated in the guest reviewer‘s chair. Festival Frighteningly
3 Mindblown. Lynn asked me my first
. question and I started to speak. Time % slowed down, the seconds passing
: like years. I have no idea what I said,
except that l denied being catty. Offair, the reliefhit me with the
, force of a sixteen-cup pot ofespresso
mainlined into the cranium. My tongue, which on air had felt like a lead balloon, suddenly became lucid. I rushed round the town, high as a kite, frantically searching for someone who had heard me perform. I‘ve no idea whether I was any good, but what the hell, gimme my own show, now.
The Democrat HQ in the Watergate Hotel was burgled, thousands queued up to see Tutankhamun’s remains and, in Edinburgh, the 26th Festival opened without ﬂags or bunting because of a builders’ strike. The year was 1972 and Thom Dibdin’s first packet of Embassy No 10 cost 181/2p.
I Two minutes’ pandemonium was suggested by Norman McCaig as ﬁtting commemoration of Hugh MacDiarmid’s birthday when the pair appeared with Sorley MacLean in The Heretics, an evening’s ranting and raving about Scottish literature by Scottish literati.
I Shoelng the way at Waverley Market was The Great Northern Welly Boot Show with songs by ex-Humblebum Billy Connolly. The allegory of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilder’s work-in practised what it preached: everyone received equal wages, even the strippers who satisfied the (then) modern convention by baring all for the beneﬁt of two gigantic puppets of Messrs Heath and Wilson.
I John ‘the only ﬁlm festival worth a damn’ Huston opened the ﬁlm festival and presented his ﬁlm Fat City. First time Scottish director Bill Douglas was also present with his stark autobiographical My Childhood which went on to win the critics’ prize at Venice.
I ‘Fascinatingly squalid’ was the kindest thing anyone said of Groupies, a true life documentary of young American girls’ athletic encounters with the intimate regions of British rock stars (including, appropriately, Joe Cocker).
I Frank Dunlop’s production of The Comedy of Errors was revived by the Young Vic. The play was translated to modern Edinburgh with Denise Coffey defying Shakespearian convention by portraying Ariana as a Marchmont matron.
I The Fringe Box Olllce moved to the High Street, generating massive ticket sales during the ﬁrst week. Plummeting sales in the second week were attributed to people opting to put their feet up and watch the Munich Olympics.
I Jack Kane became the first Lord Provost to visit the Traverse Theatre when he went to see Tom Conti in CF. Taylor’s The Black and White Minstrels The tale of right-on. left-wing wife-swapping and a coloured lodger in Glasgow‘s King‘s Park had the Traverse‘s trendy punters rolling in the aisles in self-recognition.
The List 21 — 27 August 1992 7