Festival time

Yes, it’s August and in Edinburgh that means festival time – the Fringe started last week, the world’s biggest arts festival is underway, and this weekend the world’s largest celebration of the written word, the Edinburgh International Book Festival started. The city is buzzing and packed. And naturally, as usual, I have been clicking away with the camera, especially on the Royal Mile where performers get a space to advertise their shows, some doing small segments of their act to crowds or out in costume handing out flyers to drum up interest in their shows, always a happy hunting ground for taking photos. My Flickr stream normally goes nuts in August, often doubling the normal average views, mostly people looking for Fringe pics, from this year but also looking through the several hundred I’ve built up from previous years.

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(above: this very lovely puppeteer is performing in a stage adaptation of the wonderful children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit; below: actress from Pool of Blood)
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Some performers take it all lying down…

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This lady was doing body art and henna tattoos on the Mile while the performers strutted their stuff, the sunlight hit her and the woman she was working on just right and I managed to get this close up of her plying her art on the lady’s hand, sometimes you get lucky:

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And I got very lucky with this one as the actress held still in a pose with the sunlight hitting her just right, had time to frame her for a profile portrait shot. Quite pleased with how this came out, makes me think of a shot from a 1930s/40s fashion magazine:

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She was part of this troupe, preparing the electric chair from the looks of it:

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Who else do I see on a very sunny (yes, we have had a couple of days of sun! Finally!) Royal Mile but Spider-Man!

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And her majesty Queen Elizabeth I:

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It can be very tiring, the non-stop hurly-burly of the Fringe, so a nap is a good way to recharge – why not just carry your own bed with your for a wee lie down when you feel your energy flagging?

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Some very colourful dancers and musicians from Mother Africa:

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Very exuberant!

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I even saw a man playing the musical saw (and numerous other items from his tool box too!)

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Quick video to capture his playing:

These performers were putting on what looked like a WWII themed Macbeth

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I’ve seen this young chap several times now at the Fringe (usually always with a different hair style), I think I have shots of him going back the last two or three years juggling firesticks and knives, he’s very good

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And this was the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s director Nick Barley at the opening night party on Saturday night

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had a very nice time at the opening party (have several book fest gigs to look forward to over next couple of weeks), plenty of drinks on offer to us, got to chat to some book chums – here’s top science fiction author Ken MacLeod talking with author and academic JF Derry:

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It was too warm inside the Spiegeltent at the Book Festival so once the speeches were over we went back outside. My friend Melanie was at an author event which came out during the party and the book fest folks were nice enough to let her come in and join me, so we sat out under a glowing summer night sky as the festival buzzed around the city chatting and drinking

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And while we were out there I got this great shot of Scottish poet Ron Butlin (left) with my friend JF:

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Already shot ridiculous amount of Fringe photos and been uploading them steadily to my Flickr – quite often shoot another few dozen walking home along the Mile after work, but the weather is supposed to be back to horrid rain again for the next few days so suspect I won’t be walking along taking photos then! Still have a large amount waiting to process and upload though, so that’s not a problem! More to follow…

Festival time Edinburgh

Edinburgh is bursting at the seams as the Festival season gets into full swing (and I’m off to the opening night party at the Book Festival later this evening), the entire city buzzes, the streets are full of crowds and performers, but sometimes you just have to sit down for a break and a chat with a human statue (complete with seagull and pretend bird poo!):

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It isn’t just the Royal Mile that is thronged as the Fringe performers promote their shows, the Playfair Steps are normally a good shortcut from the Mile down to the New Town, past the National Gallery and Royal Academy, but during August it is packed solid with tourists checking out the craft stalls – nice if you are on holiday and can amble at a snail’s pace looking around, pain in the bum if you live here and need to get somewhere for a certain time!

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This lady performer on the Mound is very, very flexible:

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One thing that never changes at the Fringe, one way to stand out among the literally hundreds of other shows happening every single day – show some skin!

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Channel 4 News’ arts and culture correspondent Matthew Cain doing a report from the Royal Mile – the camera was a good 40 or 50 feet away so most folks in the crowd around him couldn’t see it, it made him look like he was walking through the crowd talking to himself:

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Traditional Japanese musician on the Mile

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With the city so astonishingly busy paramedics on mountain bikes are used to get round the crowds for emergencies to treat anyone who needs it until an ambulance can get there. Here’s one hard working bike-medic catching a quick coffee break among the Fringe crowds:

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Lady with her harp:

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It’s Edinburgh, Festival time and seeing a man in a kilt on top of ladders juggling knives on the historic Royal Mile is pretty much an everyday sight as I walk home from work!

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These Native American musicians are here playing on the streets during the Festival most years:
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Mark Millar at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Over the holiday weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival once again, this time to see top Scottish comics scribe Mark Millar on what I think was his first appearance at this venerable literary bash. I bumped into Mark outside the Writer’s Yurt just before the event was about to start and he seemed pretty happy to be there, smiling and clearly enjoying the idea of being there. This enthusiasm was also evident during the actual event where Mark delighted the packed audience, discussing his comics and film work with much (and often self-effacing) humour before Scotland on Sunday’s books editor Stuart Kelly, who was chairing the event, opened proceedings up for the audience to ask some questions (including, as it turned out, an old friend of Mark’s from Glasgow’s well-loved AKA Comics).

Stuart introduced Mark, inviting him to discuss his earlier work and how he got into comics, with that well-proven path into comicdom for many a British writer, 2000 AD, which Mark was quite honest and candid about, talking about how he was obviously pleased when Tharg’s minions gave him his chance but saying that looking back he thinks he simply wasn’t quite ready at that stage and his writing wasn’t up to par, so there was an element of learning on the job. Naturally the subject of the notorious Big Dave strip for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic reared its beer-swilling head, the series he co-created with Grant Morrison and Steve Parkhouse and which still divides 2000 AD readers. Mark also paid tribute to Warren Ellis and getting noticed in the US comics market when he was given the writing gig for The Authority following Warren’s run.

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(Mark and supporting wine glasses signing for fans after the event at the Book Festival, click for the bigger pic on Flickr)

Stuart, who is a self-confessed comics lover, clearly knew his stuff and asked Mark about a variety of his work, taking us from 2000 AD and the Authority to childhood dream come true of working on some of the biggest comics characters around like the Superman and the Avengers and, of course, re-interpreting and reworking classic Marvel characters to such acclaim with the Ultimates and discussing Mark’s penchant for happily subverting established rules and clichés of the medium (which is, of course, one of the reasons we love him) and then on to creator-owned works such as American Jesus and Kick-Ass.

Graphic novels are, as we all know, now pretty damned big business in Hollywood and its no surprised that one of the medium’s best-known writers would be involved in this comics-celluloid crossover. However, as with much of his comics work Mark’s achieved this in his own style and he was refreshingly straightforward with the audience – it seems unlikely that the glamour of Tinsel Town or huge box office success is going to swell the head of the boy from Coatbridge. In fact it seemed quite the contrary – he was obviously delighted with the success he was enjoying in Hollywood, but he made it quite clear that at the end of the day his main occupation is a comics writer, although as he admitted laughingly, he had always wanted to write a superhero film since he was a kid after seeing the 70s Superman movie and deciding as a boy that he should be the one to write a sequel! Which prompted Stuart to ask him about the Superman movie he was almost involved in more recently, asking what his version would have been like. Laughter erupted as Mark explained he couldn’t tell us about that script idea unless we wrote him a very large cheque. Would he still like to write a Superman film? Oh yes!

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(a page from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s Kick-Ass, published Marvel Icon)

Obviously Wanted came up – a serious box office success although it was considerably different from Mark’s original comics. When Stuart asked him how he felt about the differences he explained he didn’t mind, in fact he said he quite enjoyed the film version; the version he wrote worked perfectly as a comic, eh thought, but not necessarily as a film, so he had no big problem with changing concepts to suit a different medium and besides, he laughed, he loved some additions in the film version, like the loom (super-assassins knitting, what a great idea he commented).

Naturally the film version of Kick-Ass was discussed and the way studios were interested in the property but only if they could change elements they were worried about. Mark had nothing but praise for director Matthew Vaughan (Stardust, Layer Cake and the film version of American Jesus) who agreed with him that they wanted to go with the story from the comics, not some watered-down-by-studio-committee version (which would doubtless excise many of the controversial elements that are central to the concept) and set about talking to contacts to raise their own finance to do the film their way (an approach recently vindicated by the excited studios bidding for distribution rights to the completed film after footage screened at San Diego Comic Con to much excitement), as well as complimenting Jane Goldman’s script-writing ability. He also promises us that what we’ll see on screen is taken directly from the comic original.

All in all it was a cracking event, with a packed and very happy looking audience (including Ian Rankin and his son who is a big comics fan) clearly enjoying the evening discussing Mark’s comics and film work (not to mention briefly mentioning an idea he has been floating to Scottish Television for a possible show set in Scotland, which I’m sure we will hear more about further down the line) and it seemed to me that Mark was seriously enjoying himself talking to a home-country audience about comics at the Festival, carrying on his talk on a more individual level with a line of fans who waited patiently to speak to him while getting their books signed afterwards. As this year’s Book Festival draws to a close in Edinburgh I have to say that evening rounded it off very nicely for the comics fans.

Nocturnal cycling piano player

A couple of evenings ago I was drinking in the city’s Grassmarket, an area I rarely drink in these days – its mostly tourists and first year students who go there – but I was meeting some friends who have been working abroad and arranged to meet several folks there. The whole square has been done up recently to make it more open; if you don’t know the city its a square behind and below the imposing bulk of Edinburgh Castle in the Old Town, one side lined with pubs and inns, some of which are very old (going back to the 1500s), some of which, when they were actual coaching inns, played host to Robert Burns on visits to Edinburgh. And as we sat outside on a warm evening we heard music. Not unusual in a public square, especially during the Edinburgh Festival. And we all turn to see where it is coming from and we see a man in evening dress and top hat cycling his piano through the Grassmarket as he plays. When I told other people of this the next day I got the ‘oh, Joe’s off on one of his magical fantasy land tales again’ looks, but I have documentary evidence:

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I must apologise for the low quality of the pics, but shooting freehand (not that a tripod would have helped if I had it since he was moving most of the time) in a dark square at night is never going to give crisp, clear pics and the flash wasn’t much use in that situation either. But I had to try and grab some pics because even in Festival time Edinburgh you just don’t see a man cycling a piano through the city streets at night all that often. It was all wonderfully eccentric and delightful and magical and I loved it. Little bizarre delights like this that the city sometimes just throws up to you are part of what makes life fun. And here’s a very short video clip – its brief and even darker than the still pics, very murky night-time streets (and far away from the street lamps) but it was the best I could do on the spot to give you a tiny taste of this piano moving through the streets as he played:

Out with a bang

And thus Edinburgh’s Festival season, the world’s biggest arts festival, comes to an end for another year with mighty explosions echoing across the city like the pounding of the Castle’s cannons as the traditional classical music and fireworks concert took place. I was lucky enough to be invited to my friend’s workplace which has a good view out towards the front of the Castle rather than standing with the 250, 000 others in the streets and hills of the city watching it all. It was a lovely late summer evening as we walked into the city centre, the last glow of the sun washing the stones of the Castle in a copper glow before finally fading into darkness, the stars beginning to appear in the sky above the floodlit fortress. An air of expectation from thousands of people waiting in the dark… The orchestra in the Gardens begins to play and suddenly the dark night explodes in light, colour and sound, incredibly ephemeral sculptures and flowers of light in the air, lasting only seconds.

I love fireworks – there are some things you never grow out of an a huge fireworks show is one of them. But fireworks launching into the sky from an ancient fortress atop a volcanic rock is something else again. I love living here. You can view the full set at larger sizes on my Flickr stream.

Fringe time

Its Edinburgh, its August, its time for the first stirrings of the world’s largest arts festival. The Fringe starts officially over the weekend, but already most shows are in town and running their (much cheaper tickets) previews. The husband and son of Mel’s cousin are over from Norway and I met them all straight from work at the Pleasance, one of the main spots for Fringe life. Mel and I introduced the Fringe newbies to our laid back way of doing it, which is to park out bums on a seat in the cobbled courtyard of the Pleasance (a hub with dozens of shows going on all the time, from tiny rooms to proper theatre sized shows) and wait for the many people coming round giving out flyers and telling folks about shows until we saw one we liked and off we went to see Son of a Preacher man, a stand-up comedy with Markus Birdman, an aetheist son of a clergyman – it was brilliant and I highly recommend it if you’re going Fringeing.

Afterwards we headed back down to the Royal Mile to get some food at Wannaburger and as we approached the Old College Building we heard a powerful beat and decided to have a quick look. We found Binari, a Korean musical group pounding drums in the old quadrangle, the sounds echoing around the space as they performed a sound check, that wonderful, almost frantic and kinetic drumming and singing. And its just so cool that walking past somewhere you just come across something like this, but that’s what happens in Edinburgh at this time of year. Its a circus, its maddening, busy and crazy and at the same time brilliant.

Last time I was in this building was for the launch of a major Scottish history book in the gorgeous Neo-Classical space of the Playfair Library, this time it is Korean musicians in the quad filling the night with music. After we’d had a late meal we walked up the Royal Mile, even near 11pm still buzzing with people as the Fringe starts up then as we approached the top of the Mile we had another treat.

A rehearsal for the Royal Military Tattoo was finishing up at the Castle and the cavalry were leading their horses down towards the horse boxes to take them home. Imagine a warm summer night in the middle of the Old Town, lights from the Tattoo flickering across the Castle and bagpipes playing while the clip-clop, clip-clop of horse’s hooves come down from the Castle, creak of leather and clink of metal as cavalry troops lead their immaculately groomed animals down the cobbled street then round past the hub to the waiting transports. Even in Edinburgh this isn’t exactly an everyday sight.

How beautiful is this horse? Just think, this is all happening in the heart of a capital city at 11pm, with a huge castle right behind me as I took this while behind the horse you can see the floodlit Herriot’s School which at night looks like where very young wizards get sent before they are old enough to go to Hogwarts.

Even at that time of night you can see the sky just doesn’t get fully dark at this time of year. Shame I didn’t have the tripod to take these properly but obviously I wasn’t quite expecting this. A little bit on unexpected magic.