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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

blog 149. Edinburgh Whites-Up for the Fringe

(and The Stand does a funny!)

Like a Damascene revelation it occurred to me that if the Edinburgh International Festival is the predominantly white middle class getting their artistic rocks off then the Fringe is the offspring of the pwmc just getting their rocks off. Free fringe is the overflow - like a cultural refugee camp.

In august, Edinburgh turns into that slice of over rich lemon torte with chilled mascarpone and three brave raspberries on the side that flaunts itself at you when you’re not hungry.

It’s some kind of enjoyable madness here right now - not so much a line up as a pile up. There is hardly a spare inch within the conflict zone that isn't plastered with carefully nonchalant mug shots of blokes looking out from posters advertising 'comic genius' 'outrageously funny' 'pushing the boundaries' (which means he does paedophile jokes).

But – where are all the brown/black performers? There are more than there used to be, I grant you. It no longer feels quite like I am back in my sixth form (see blog 41. Not a Lesbian but...) However, it still appears to be England’s white middle-class playground for the month of august.

As someone who dallied with the festival 15 years ago as an infrequent punter then from 2010 – 2014 as a performer – I feel a bit poacher-turned-gamekeeper now that Edinburgh’s home.

At least the ubiquitous ladyboys have brown skin under that makeup.

When I first ‘fringed’ on a pitch outside St Giles Cathedral in 2010, I was often distracted by large camera lenses thrust in my face. I was attempting to prevail with poetry over guys with guitars doing cover versions of The Proclaimers. It didn’t occur to me till later that I hadn't seen many brown performers that day either. Now as well as the ladyboys there are African choirs and other non-white acts more obviously dotted round.

The weird thing is that this city is actually wonderfully mixed. Having trouped round a couple of dozen schools last year with Casey & the Surfmen I saw numerous black and brown faces well integrated in local schools. A couple of weeks ago, local press reported an Arab guy suffered a brutal racially motivated beating by three white blokes. I presume he also lives here... So the city isn’t a white-out the rest of the year.

Some of the local papers have gamely put brown faces in their fringe and festival coverage. In fact a huge WELL DONE to The Stand for getting a black female face on the front page of The Herald today (Monday 10th) Well done because it’s so out of kilter with The Stand-ard line up as to be possibly one of the best laughs they’ve delivered.

According to the front page of The Herald this woman stepped over to comedy from cat walk modelling. She is gorgeous and I hear she is very good – but that’s not what’s funny here.

When I lived in the N.E. (attending the Newcastle Stand comedy club) I heard rape jokes (once from a Stand comper) and misogyny (not even the sort that’s supposed to be ironic) as well as the dreary guess-which-celebrity-I-look-like from the overwhelmingly white male line-ups. But hey – a free ticket is a free ticket and I did once win a meal out to which I took one of my bestest girlfriends by putting my Stand ticket in a glass at the bar J

Edinburgh is also home to Professor Sir Godfrey Palmer. I was listening recently to his painful though uplifting and humorously told accounts of a life time of achievements where the white establishment – like a plastic coat –  tried to keep out the warm rain of his intellect, talents and potential. One of my new resolutions is to strive if not for his achievements, at least for his equanimity.

It echoed many experiences I’ve had – not least being elected to Newcastle city council in 1989. As the first black woman – welcomed initially - I was subsequently sent to Coventry for 6 years by the then council leader Jeremy Beecham when he discovered I wasn’t a tame darkie after all.

If I could force myself to believe in multiple identical coincidences as the lost boys forced themselves to believe in fairies, I wouldn’t fry my brain so often.

Maybe it’s time to rename the fringe. It’s not really a festival, cultural / arts or otherwise.  You’ll get shafted on any street corner by creatures whose craft is – well – shafting people. Street acts  are often bawdy rather than creative like one Canadian woman  escapologist who seemed to have a 50 shades of grey THING going with a member (you’ll excuse the unintended pun) of the slavering male audience.

The free fringe has a lot going for it. It's less limp and tried to assimilate itself into a niche that used to be filled by the fringe proper. But frankly it’s a rickety boat in the Med with too many people aboard.

There is lots of good stuff if you can find it. Last night at blind poetics – which was a hoot - I got flyers for two promising one woman shows and I even enjoyed the ridiculous waste of money pretty fireworks on the way home.

Call it what it is. It’s just a party. ‘Fringe’ is a word redolent of ‘alternative’ ‘out there’ ‘not mainstream’. It’s the most mainstream event going. It’s a wild party for the pwmc with minimal concessions to it being 2015. Attention seeking and adrenalin are the drugs of choice. It’s noisy and it can be, to my knowledge, aggressive if say one performer doesn’t clear a pitch before the next guy thinks he is due.

Should we take a leaf out of Dave Cameron’s book and re-name it the SO CALLED fringe?


  1. So maybe the true fringe is the ginger, introvert, middle aged, fat frringe who stays home :) Me. :)

    1. Definitely. And as every nook and cranny becomes a venue your kitchen will be next :)