It may be famously awash with ambitious funnymen and eccentric thespians but nowadays the world’s biggest arts festival welcomes a weird, sometimes wonderful array of music types too, from rappers to writers to proper bands doing proper gigs.
As this year’s Fringe nears its final weekend, Clash rounds up a mixed bag.
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MOONLIGHTING MUSIC GEEK 1
A fine beats-and-pieces music journo turned acclaimed comic actor/improviser - IS THERE ANYTHING HE CAN’T DO? - Joseph Morpurgo has been creating bewilderingly clever comic worlds for a few years now, usually utilising found sounds/pictures/video, and this time he’s combined those passions. Soothing Sounds for Baby is a show chiefly based on bizarre albums, with Morpurgo embodying the cover stars, from an oddball old piano fellah to an abysmally-monikered R&B act. It’s brilliantly done, occasionally disturbing, and ends with a devilishly catchy new sample-based composition. Turns out he can do that too. And now he’s been nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award. Jesus.
MOONLIGHTING MUSIC GEEK 2
Sadly Clash misses the tremendous-sounding Kraftwerk Badger Spaceship, a spoken-word piece “about one idiot’s battle with electronic music,” by Fat Roland, another electronic music writer. We turn up in plenty of time, after a tip-off from the activist comic Mark Thomas (who was itching to see it but his show’s on at the same time), then wonder why nothing’s happening, and eventually discover that it finished three days earlier. One idiot’s battle with how calendars work. Still, we’ve had a word and he’s promised to restage it elsewhere, post-Fringe.
With so many deeply weird shows around it’s easy to dismiss the ubiquitously big BBC tent, home to the One Show and other dubious delights. But this year they’ve also snuck on some cracking bands, half-hour hit nuggets curated by 6Music’s Vic Galloway. Although sitting down feels weird. At the Idlewild show Clash perches next to an excited dad and bemused teenaged son, who’s clearly been dragged along but can’t help getting into it too as the Edinburgh-formed rockers are in riotous form. Even Roddy Woomble looks impressed, heading stage right to watch the rest of the band play whenever he gets the chance.
Clash makes a spectacular entrance for the Admiral Fallow show a couple of days later. It kicks off at the same time I’m coming out of another show round the corner. So I make a mad dash, arrive late, find my seat in the dark, and fall straight through it. Turns out it was ‘up’. Painful in so many ways. Still, the Glaswegian folk-poppers are fecking great, favouring stuff from the slightly underwhelming new album, yes, but showcasing it wonderfully, overrunning nicely, and dissing anyone who nips out for the loos. Well, the stand-ups won’t stand for it: why should bands?
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Another serious outfit, from much further afield: somehow the bewilderingly talented Nashville collective Good Company have ended up as house band at the anarchic Cray Cray Cabaret, providing slick backing for tone-death comedians (with a few exceptions, such as the multi-talented Tiffany Stephenson, whose marvellous Fleetwood Mac/Eric Cartman mash-up might well ruin Stevie Nicks for you, for a while).
Cray Cray is hosted by award-laden Canadian comic/musician Phil Nichol, and Good Company bandleader Mike Willis also hijacks one of his other shows every night, drunkenly bitching about Phil’s lack of singing then taking over the stage before they both embark on an epic crosstown comedic odyssey, busking, picking up stray harmonica dudes, and random punters. A proper Fringe happening. It’s worth catching Nichol in Giant Leap, too, a foul-mouthed play about the guys who scripted the fake moon landings. You’ll pick up some spectacular new insults.
NWA (NEUROSCIENCE WITH ATTITUDE)
A good few hip-hoppers have graced the Fringe in recent years: Scroobius Pip, Shlomo, Beardyman, Ed Sheeran associate Abandoman, ex Mark Ronson rapper Doc Brown, but perhaps the most consistently acclaimed here is Baba Brinkman. The cultured Canadian made a huge splash with his Rap Guide to Evolution a few years back, and is tackling climate change this year.
Clash, being tight, instead opts to attend his free show, Off the Top, hosted with his wife, the neuroscientist Heather Berlin. It’s a fascinating if sometimes baffling look at how the brain works when someone creative is, for instance, freestyle rapping. Although the best bit is when a guest sings about circumcision and a whole family troop out indignantly. Never bitch at a freestyle rapper: they’ll use you for punchlines for ages.
More free shows. Daryl Perry and Sunil Patel’s Dopeness: A Guide To Hip-Hip offered “free crack cocaine on arrival” but sadly never happened due to a one-sided rap-style beef between a couple of free Fringe companies. Shame. The excellent newcomer Amir Khoshsokhan’s Milk and Hedgehogs features some fine beef-based material about Tupac, the influence of gangsta rap and – yes – how it all relates to hedgehogs.
Brendan Murphy’s bizarre character-fest Bagman includes a tremendous Seasick Steve-style bluesman and Bjork, while Chris Martin – the comic, not the Coldplayer – commissioned a musician mate to make a live score for This Show has a Soundtrack. Comedy with backing music works surprisingly well, it turns out. If the punchline fails, the painful silence is much less deafening.
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Words: Si Hawkins