Thursday, August 28, 2003

Non-musical musings this week – some unrepresentative reflections of the Edinburgh Fringe 2003

Away from the ‘big ticket’ events such as the Perrier Comedy awards, the stand-ups clubbing together and acting straight and the packed-out play in the bog, the Fringe could be variously described as indulgently flamboyant, frustrating and preciously hectic, all played out on the stoic geological canvas of ‘the Athens of the north’. I saw one amusing play/one-man show but wasn't there long enough to see a great deal as those better plays/comedians/performers are expensive. And pub prices eclipse London’s in some cases. We wandered into a reception for young Scottish playwrights, with a pretty decent (if occasionally repetitive) set by a ‘dj’. Saw some bloke I knew at ‘uni’, who told me: “Good to see you're alright because you were a cunt at university." I had thought I'd got on well with him (hence my approaching him) but he was an actor then and is now a journalist, so is newly-qualified for such candid expression. The twat.

Perhaps therein lies the problem of that Fringe fiesta - honesty of expression and the cultural stamina of the expression. Even the location suggests an event literally tucked out of sight of the rest of Europe and the world. All (especially European) nationalities well represented in the audiences but generally not in the performers. Any level of overt political expression seemed, from my brief sojourn, to be seeping away into career concerns among the performers, with insular assumptions of political opinion merely through presence on the part of both audience and performers.

But then it has never been a hotbed of radical socio-political commentary, even though that often makes for the best stand-up. The fringe is already a fat, decadent actor, wanking in the face of his critics.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Patti Smith – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 11 August 2003

Seventies NYC rock icon PATTI SMITH and her band play for two-and-a-half hours on a sweltering August London night. She breaks the patriarchal music industry rules - nothing she does is designed to be cool. “Take the spotlight off me, I don’t like the spotlight shit… Come on, come on! Protest!” Not manufactured or controlled, but angry, politic, natural.

Great renditions of ‘Land’, ‘Because the Night’, ‘Redondo Beach’ and ‘Kimberly’ tingle this (female) reviewer’s spine. A set list enquirer was told the band “just went with whatever” and the result is a real performance, an open dialogue. She communicates through art, poetry, punk, rock ’n roll, chatting, joking with the band, clapping when she feels like it, sometimes holding a book, reading into her songs, affectionately spraying mouthfuls of water at the crowd.

After two hours, the hands of the crowd go up in a wave as she jumps down to go to the bar for a drink, leaving the band playing. Later she sits down on stage to take off her shoes and socks so she can dance barefoot. Chanting a mixture of the US constitution and a rage against Bush, his war and the insidious erosion of poor people’s rights - the rhythm takes over and the audience is captivated as she launches into a raw version of ‘Rock ‘n roll nigger’. She thanks London for demonstrating against the Bush regime, but asks – “Why aren’t you demonstrating now? Is it all alright? Take your heads out of the sand! Children are starving and dying of diseases and we are bombing other countries and killing their children instead of saving the children already starving and dying of diseases – sorry I’m not more articulate”.

Forget articulation: I hadn’t been to anything like it before and was left moved by seminal music, honesty and undiluted passion.

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Monday, August 11, 2003

“I’m ROBBIE WILLIAMS and for the next two hours your arse is mine,” the entertainment product bellowed at the crowd as he broke attendance records just-like-a-football match at his three-day Knebworth live extravaganza.

Luckily I wasn’t there and my arse, as well as my ears, brain and stomach, were safe. I watched only as much as was bearable on the ‘Live’ Channel 4 performance. The crowd, festooned in Union Jack flags and other badges, were well up for sphincter hostage, and he no doubt belted out two hours’ worth of their fave raves, apart from the Take That numbers.

He has become the nineties/naughties modern pop music hero, his trick being to make the live act a very alive, buoyant thing, and my populist side iz tempted to say fair play if it wasn’t ooh-look-at-my-problems well, possibly, but check out the neuroses of the non-public world. They’re the same. But I suppose some people take to the hard luck fake Dfex too.

A lot of people in fact. The three-day, 375,000 here (impressive nos minus some who came twice + 2-3,000 liggers and freebies each night) represented all briefly escapist age groups up until 40. They are not the stock of active, gig-going week in-week out passion, but they must represent some kind of culture. Yes, All Bar Brum. People who may not normally get worked up by music or much else. They care for Robbie though.

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