Friday, 29 July 2016

In The Club - Mark Thomas on The Red Shed, Adura Onashile on Expensive Shit and Ruaraidh Murray on The Club

It was Groucho Marx who wrote how 'I don't want to belong to any club that will have me as a member'. Marx quoted his resignation letter tendered to Milton Berle's private members showbiz haunt, the Friars Club of Beverley Hills, in his 1959 autobiography, Groucho and Me. Immortalised in this way, Marx's words tapped into a form of wilful outsiderdom courted by would-be geniuses ever since.

Even outsiders, however, have to belong somewhere, as three very different Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows look set to demonstrate this year. In The Red Shed, Mark Thomas presents a loving homage to the forty-seven foot wooden hut that forms the Wakefield Labour Club where he cut his stand-up teeth.

In his play, The Club, Ruaraidh Murray sets up a fictionalised account of life in The Tardis, the Clerkenwell-based railway arch turned 1990s hedonist's hang-out, where Brit-artists rubbed up against great train robbers, Boy George was on the decks and absinthe was all the rage.

In contrast, Expensive Shit focuses on a Nigerian toilet attendant in a fictional Glasgow club inspired by real life establishment The Shimmy, which was discovered to have two-way mirrors in the Gents toilet that allowed men to observe women in the Ladies next door. Adura Onashile's new play, which forms part of this year's Made in Scotland programme, contrasts this with revolutionary musician Fela Kuti's very different Shrine club in Lagos, where the toilet attendant once dreamed of becoming a dancer.

In different ways, each play acknowledges a day to day need to come together, be it to campaign, or just to let off steam through laughter, music and dance.

“The Red Shed is this amazing place place that informed me when I was starting out,” says Thomas of the venue where he first performed while a drama student at the nearby Breton Hall college. “Me and my mates got involved in the Trades Council, and would do these benefit shows there that we'd write in the afternoon and perform at night. We first went in 1981, which was a very political time, and we very quickly got involved in left wing activism.”

This set Thomas off on a road which has seen him combine stand-up, activism and theatre in a series of increasingly autobiographical shows that include Cuckooed and the Herald Angel winning Bravo Figaro. Through all of these, Thomas has fused the personal and the political that reflects his roots at the Red Shed.

“What the Red Shed does is embody a sense of working class history. It's fifty years old, and it's full of this incredible mix of people who have led campaigns, and which during the miner's strike in the 1980s fed 150 miners families. Everyone there is an ordinary person who has done extraordinary things. People who go there have won and lost, and there's this real sense of a continuum in this place where everybody's welcome.”

Everybody was welcome too at Fela Kuti's Shrine club, where the radical singer and activist held court in a way that the Nigerian toilet attendant in Expensive Shit was once party to.

“The Shrine wasn't a club like a club in the west,” Onashile says of the club. “It was a big courtyard with stalls selling food and a stage for the band. It was very cheap and open to anyone, and people went there to hear the truth. This was a time of military dictatorship and people being killed, and there was nothing Fela didn't say about that. There was a sense of pan-Africanism, and going against the grain, and of galvanising the uneducated and the poor. Fela had a commune, Kalakuta, and he never turned anyone away from it, but somehow the revolution didn't feature gender equality, even though women were so important, and dancing, singing and performing with Fela onstage.”

Written and directed by Onashile in a production presented by the recently established Scottish Theatre Producers in association with the Traverse Theatre, Expensive Shit brings this home with the toilet attendant's conflicting experience in Glasgow.

“On one level the toilets in a club are a private space,” says Onashile, whose last work to appear on the Fringe was HeLa, which charted the life of Henrietta Lacks, the black woman whose cell stems were taken without permission in 1951, and which were used as raw material for some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs since. “But there is also this awkward social interaction between these attendants, who are often of Nigerian descent, and who don't get paid. The play moves between the woman's experience in this club where men gaze at women through a two-way mirror, and the Shrine, and it becomes about how much agency or power women have.”

For Murray, there were no such barriers at the Tardis, where he began working behind the bar in the late 1990s shortly after he left drama school in London. Brit-pop, Brit-Art and Loaded magazine were in the ascendant along with a culture of hedonism that crossed class divides to make for one hell of a party.

“For me it was like a pirate ship,” he says of the Tardis. “It was full of people who'd all come down to London and found like-minded people there, people who didn't want to conform to the norm, so you'd have retired gangsters getting on famously with playwrights, and it didn't matter what your race or sexual orientation was. It was a family.”

Murray's fifth Fringe play following successes with Big Sean, Mikey and Me, Box Man, Bathtime and Allie focuses on club manager George's fictionalised attempt to stave off a hostile takeover bid by gangsters inbetween attempting to stage the best party in the world, where even Dustin Hoffman ans Sting might show face.

“The reason I've written the play is partly to document everything that happened, because there's nothing really online about it,” says Murray. “But it's also to try and make sense of why people come together like that, in a way that's trying to get away from authority and not giving a fuck. There's something great about that.”

In different ways, all three plays are about communities which form, and keep o forming, no matter what levels of gentrification or political disenfranchisement are thrown at them.

“What the Red Shed embodies for me,” says Thomas, “is a place where solidarity still means something, and where anyone can come for help, and that's a very beautiful thing.”

Murray, meanwhile, on the lookout for today's version of the Tardis.

“When I find it,” he says, “I'll let you know, and you can come along to the promised land.”

For Onashile, In Expensive Shit is perhaps more complex than the other two plays.

“I want to celebrate Fela's music,” Onashile says, “but I also want to question certain things. You have to be careful at the end of the play that you don't say everything's okay, because it isn't.”

The Red Shed, Traverse Theatre, July 31-August 28, various times ; The Club, Gilded Balloon Teviot, August 3-29, 5-6pm; Expensive Shit, Traverse Theatre, August 4-28, various times.
www.traverse.co.uk
www.gildedballoon.co.uk

The Herald, July 29th 2016

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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Tim and Nel Crouch - Adler and Gibb and Fossils

When Tim Crouch brought his show The Author to the Traverse Theatre in 2010 as part of that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, his dissection of the right to be offensive onstage provoked several walk-outs. While this was in part a conscious provocation for such a reaction, the fact that Crouch's then teenage daughter Nel was ushering the show gave things an extra edge that neither have forgotten.

“I used to have all these irate members of the audience going 'This is appalling',” Crouch senior remembers, “and Nel had to stand there, and all she probably wanted to say was 'That's my Dad.'”

For Nel Crouch, it is the very first Traverse performance of The Author that she remembers.

“About a third of the audience left,” she says. “I've no idea why that was, because it was never that many again, but there is this plant at the start of the show who walks out, so that sort of invites it, and then if people do it means the show is kind of working.”

Six years on, and both Crouch's return to Edinburgh, as Tim Crouch stages a new production of his play, Adler and Gibb, first seen in 2014 at the Royal Court in London, while Nel, no longer ushering, is premiering her play, Fossils, which uses a backdrop of the Loch Ness Monster to explore the idea of people disappearing.

“We were thinking about mythology,” says Nel Crouch, “and the story of the Loch Ness Monster is the biggest myth of all, so we came up with a story about a biologist whose father disappeared when he was searching for the Monster, and we use that as a metaphor for a missing person.”

Adler and Gibb, meanwhile, is ostensibly about a young couple moving into a Scooby Doo style run-down house, but which switches time zones to a decade earlier when a performance art duo lived in the house. Such a description doesn't really do justice to Crouch's biggest theatrical experiment to date.

“You know, my work really lasts forever,” Crouch says of his revival of the play, inadvertently summing up his entire approach to theatre as he goes.

“I've never really seen the point of doing something that you rehearse for three weeks, it has a run and then it's done. Adler and Gibb took five years to put together, and I have a huge investment in this.”

It's an approach that seems to have rubbed off on his daughter, whose work ranges from a pub theatre take on David Greig's play, Yellow Moon, to an all female version of Romeo and Juliet performed by a company who travel the country on bicycles. Crouch's last Edinburgh outing was with her play, Lorraine and Alan, which was a contemporary exploration of the selkie myth, another nautical-based story told to her her by her father, and which has clearly left its mark. Crouch also brought her production of Sabrina Mahfouz's play, The Love I Feel is Red, initiated at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, to Oran Mor in Glasgow earlier this year as part of A Play, A Pie and A Pint.

Tim Crouch's own work has woven a quiet but wilfully singular trail through the theatrical landscape ever since he performed his first script, My Arm, at the Traverse in 2003. This followed a career that began with him studying drama at Bristol University, where he formed the Public Parts company with his wife Julia, presenting a series of devised shows in offbeat venues. After stints acting in New York and London, Crouch began to make his own work. This included the Herald Angel winning An Oak Tree in 2005, while two years later Crouch was awarded a Herald Archangel for consistent excellence during the Edinburgh run of his show, England.

With theatre a constant presence around Nel and the rest of the family as they were growing up, it was perhaps inevitable that she would follow suit.

“I'm sure growing up around theatre all the time helped,” Crouch says, “but I was torn between doing theatre or art. My dad used to do summer rep I New York, and I'd go and see the shows ten times during the run, and that's what got me interested.”

Like her father, Crouch too went to Bristol University, where she also co-founded a theatre company, Bucket Club, with whom she will be presenting Fossils.

“After I left Uni I was working out what I wanted to do,” she says, “and if there's one thing I learnt off my old dad it's to just go off and do something. That's what he did when he was in his thirties with My Arm, and that's how everything started for him. It's a bit lame doing exactly the same as him by going to Bristol to do drama and then forming a company, but I love it as well. I wish I could see something they did and compare it with what we're doing.”

Even without first hand experience of his formative work, Crouch is a fan of her father's work, and is looking forward to seeing his new take on Adler and Gibb.

“He's constantly interrogating what acting is and what theatre is,” she points out, “and in Adler and Gibb he's just reducing it and reducing it.”

In terms of how her own work might have influenced her father, and Crouch is more circumspect.

“I don't think it has,” she says. “I'm a lot younger than him, I've not done much, and he's so picky and has opinions on stuff.”

Her father points out that “Nel and I will probably never work together. She's doing something very similar to me in terms of narrative, and I wish her real luck, because I know how hard it is, but she's having a real apprenticeship in Edinburgh in terms of fifteen people living on top of each other and all of that. But I don't feel that I've helped her in any way. All I did was be around that culture which she could swim in.”

While Nel Crouch reads her dad's work, she too is resistant to the idea of them working together.

“I can't think of anything much worse than assisting your dad,” she says. “It would be horrible.”

A mutual sense of pride remains, however, which clearly comes from a sense of play that has been key to family life, and which now pulses both their work.

“I love all the stuff my dad does,” she says, “where form and content are as important as each other. I don't know how he does it, but it's clever, but with this rich vein of comedy running through it. He's a silly bugger as well, which definitely comes through.”

As for her father's view of her work, Crouch recognises an inherent intelligence running through it, but he sounds relieved that there is little in the way of angst there.

“Sometimes misery can be a drive to make work,” he says, “but I don't recognise misery as being an engine that drives Nel. As a father, I'm very happy about that.”

Fossils, Pleasance Dome, August 3-29, 2.40-3.50pm; Adler and Gibb, Summerhall, August 3-27, 5.15-6.45pm.

The Herald, July 26th 2016

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Thursday, 21 July 2016

Queens of Syria

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Four stars

Out of the darkness, thirteen Syrian women line up wrapped in a multitude of coloured robes and head-scarves. Speaking in their own language, they become the chorus of Euripides' battle-scarred tragedy, The Trojan Women, telling of fictional peers robbed of everything they had by battles not of their making. This is just a prologue, however, for the series of real life testimonies that come from the frontline of the war these women fled from, seeing refuge in strange lands in what they repeatedly call 'the boats of death'.

Over a brooding minimalist underscore, each woman takes it in turn to read letters, to their parents, children, brothers and sisters they left behind. Delivered directly to the audience, the women's' experiences are still raw, and there are moments when you fear they might not get through it. As their words are undercut by more passages from Euripides, however, the women gain strength from Hecuba, Andromache and Cassandra.

Zoe Lafferty's no-frills production was developed out of a drama therapy project and brought to Edinburgh as part of a UK tour in a collaboration forged by the Developing Artists company, Refuge Productions and the Young Vic. If that suggests a show full of liberal platitudes, think again. As one of the women says, they are not here to entertain us. They are angry, and they have a million stories to tell.

The result of this is a dramatic hymn of fury and sorrow, but which, in its delivery, becomes a fearless and profound act of defiance from a disparate group of survivors. By coming together in this way, they have reclaimed a power that speaks much louder than bombs.

The Herald, July 21st 2016

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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Horse - Careful

Horse McDonald was in a recording studio in Cornwall when the seriousness of telling her life story onstage kicked in. The Lanark-raised singer/songwriter had just had a two-hour Skype session with writer and actress Lynn Ferguson, her long-term friend and artistic peer, who was turning Horse's true life tales into what has become a one-woman theatre show performed by McDonald called Careful.

With Ferguson in Los Angeles where she now lives, such transatlantic brainstorming sessions had becoming part of the creative process for Careful, and this session had tapped into some of the more painful areas of McDonald's story. Hyped up on adrenalin and the emotional anxiety of revisiting her past, McDonald's asthma kicked in, and a whole lot more besides.

“I was having flashbacks,” McDonald says midway through explaining the roots of Careful, which runs throughout August as part of the Gilded Balloon's Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme. “There are a couple of stories in there that I've not visited since they happened. One in particular stems from something awful that occurred when I was about seven or eight. You forget that there's all that stuff down there. My biggest fear is that I break down onstage.”

Given the support she has, both from her fanbase and from Ferguson and theatre director Maggie Kinloch, who is overseeing the show, if such an event did happen, it's likely that McDonald would get through it. This has always been the way, ever since the artist formerly known as Sheena Mary McDonald was growing up gay in a macho town in the 1960s and 1970s. Horse's outsider status has remained throughout a thirty year adventure in the music industry, which has seen her work by turns feted, pigeonholed and at times marginalised, even as her heartfelt songs developed a following which old school major record labels might regard as niche.

“I was never really in the music industry,” she reflects today, some nine albums into her career. “From the outset, I never really fitted in. Any articles about me would go on about this cult lesbian singer from Lanark, rather than me being a great singer or whatever alongside my peers.

“Now Careful has come along at this point in my life, where I ask where I've come from and what I've done, and I think it's got a few important messages in it. I'm talking in it about being part of the LGBT community, because I'm someone who's lived through forty years of struggle, through Section 28, all of that. My life is an example of someone who has been through all of that, and one of the things I can say in Careful is that it does get better. There might be a fear of what people think of you, and part of that could be a fear of what you are, I think that mirrors a lot of people's lives, whether they're gay or straight.”

Named after what is probably McDonald's defining song, co-written with former band member Angela McAlinden and which first appeared on Horse's 1990 debut album, The Same Sky, Careful began from a conversation with Ferguson after McDonald and her wife Alanna were visiting her in America.

“I think I'd been telling my stories since I was ten years old,” McDonald says, “and my wife said to me isn't it about time I did something about getting them out there. I've never really been in, but going through all those traumas again did feel like coming out. “

McDonald and Ferguson had known each other since the 1980s, when they shared bills together, with Ferguson performing stand-up with Carolyn Bonnyman as one half of the Alexander Sisters.

“I love Horse,” says Ferguson. “She's a properly good human being, and when you meet her it's impossible not to love her. Some people might want to marginalise her, because she's gay, because she's androgynous or whatever, but for me, she's a national treasure. She's this lovely person who's been through a lot of s***, and is the most settled, normal person I think I know. What I wanted in the play, and it might be to do with how things are in the world just now, is that all the people shouting are the crazies, and I think we've reached a time where people who are thoughtful, caring and beautiful, like Horse, have to speak out.”

Ferguson wrote the play using a series of storytelling techniques she uses running classes designed to draw out peoples voices enough to reveal the real them. The result is a play structured like a set list, so each story leads to another as a song might.

“I'm sort of teaching myself a new language,” says McDonald. “When I first decided to do it, I thought, I've been on a stage, I'll be fine, but this is very different. People have said to me, it's your story, why couldn't you write it, but what Lynn's done is beautiful. It's like a song, and the way it was written was very similar to the way I wrote Careful the song with Angela McAlinden, passing ideas between us.”

Of the song itself, “Careful is a touchstone,” she says. “It's a thread that's run throughout my entire career. It's the song I always wanted to write. It's my My Way. When I wrote it I thought it was a lovely song, but I didn't realise the impact it's had on other people. The last few years some of my fans have reached out to me, and I never realised the effect it has until that happens. The first time it happened, a family sent me a video of them sitting in a circle, singing it, ad your song's not your own anymore. Music has been such an important thing to me, so when I hear a song that's special to me, I get the gist of what my song might mean to people.”

Like Ferguson, Kinloch was a fan of Horse's music, and when Ferguson approached her to direct Careful, “It was like a Christmas present. She's such a brave and bold performer, and to do something like this, that's not a gig, but is a theatrical experience, I suspect that as a musician she'd just reached a point where she wanted to explore things beyond her music. That's quite a scary thing to do, but maybe it's something to do with where we're at as a society just now, where we need people like Horse to just tell it like it is.”

Beyond Careful, music remains important for McDonald.

“It's like a drug,” she says. “It's something that happened when I was a kid, and started playing the guitar aged ten in my back bedroom. I couldn't talk to anyone, I had no friends and I was very lonely, so I found my own escape. My whole journey has been about getting through all that, and about finding my voice. Now, all these years on, I have my voice, but I also have the joy of performing.”

Careful, Gilded Balloon at the Museum, August 3-28, 7.30-8.30pm.
www.gildedballoon.co.uk

The Herald, July 19th 2016

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Monday, 18 July 2016

RolePlay

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

A storm may be brewing over London's Docklands at the opening of the third play in Alan Ayckbourn's Damsels in Distress trilogy, but that's just a hint of the explosion to come when Justin and Julie-Ann attempt to host a dinner party for their respective parents to announce their engagement. As they prepare, hints of trouble ahead are already apparent, both through Yorkshire lass Julie Ann's highly-strung brittleness and the phone calls from Justin's already pickled mother. It is only when ex lap dancer and gangster's moll Paige Petite literally drops onto the balcony from the penthouse suite upstairs, however, that things really start cooking.

What follows once the parents arrive is a devastating portrait of turn of the century Britain riven by a north-south and class-based divide, where the only thing that's on an equal footing is a destructively cloying patriarchal conformity. Director Richard Baron navigates a cast led by Christopher Price as Justin and Kirsty Mackay as Julie-Ann along a magnificent tightrope of tragi-comic grotesquerie, so by the end you're practically willing Justin to go on the run with Gemma McElhinney's already reinvented Paige, saviour complex and all.

While McElhinney taps into Paige's contrary complexities with a fearless mix of vulnerability and in-yer-face emancipation, it is Amanda Osborne as Ab Fab style casualty Arabella who blurts out the play's funniest line. In a world where even Paige's lunk-headed minder Micky finds a sense of freedom while the real bad guys get what's coming to them, the sozzled politesse with which it is delivered sums up the enormity of the social gulf she and everyone else totters so unsteadily between with comic class in abundance.

The Herald, July 18th 2016

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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Doctor Faustus

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

The dressing up box sitting at one end of the Kibble Palace is telling about the latest venture put together for the fifteenth anniversary season of Bard in the Botanics. As a clock ticks behind it, here, after all, is the laid out apparel of dress to impress immortality designed for a life destined to be unlived.

After remaining monogamous to Shakespeare's collected works for so long, the Bard in the Botanics company have been tempted by his contemporaries for a new strand dubbed Writing the Renaissance. If setting out its store with Christopher Marlowe's unhinged and altogether wilder play than most of Shakespeare's canon is a statement of intent, the future should be nothing if not lively.

This is especially the case if Jennifer Dick's relentless ninety minute adaptation for three actors is anything to go by. Here Adam Donaldson's bookish Faustus chalks pentagrams either side of a Pandora-like box that sits dead centre on the floor. With Ryan Ferrie's Good Angel sporting a bright blue suit embossed with gold leaf crucifixes at one end of the room, and Stephanie McGregor's gothic sprite Mephistopheles at the other, it is as close a physical approximation of devils and angels looming over Faustus' shoulders as one can get onstage.

As good and evil wrestle for Faustus' soul, a form of celestial cos-play takes place which, stripped back as it is in Dick's production, possesses an intimacy that looks increasingly like a tug of love, where hearts and minds as well as souls are up for grabs. This is accompanied by swathes of sonic sturm und drang, which comes in the form of amplified piano crashes and satanically inclined vocal distortions that could have been lifted from big screen schlock-fests involving massed teenage possessions.

Beyond such technical alchemy, it is McGregor's full range of emotional extremities that is most memorable here. Like a comic book super villainess, her face is a picture of low attention span contortions that flit between manic glee and unhinged fury in a heartbeat. Seen in close up in this way, such a series of facial tics makes for a fascinating reflection of Mephistopheles' tortured psyche. As her presence as demonic predator crumbles with Faustus' own demise, it is the final image of Mephistopheles that is most affecting, as she exits heartbroken, back in Hell once more.

The Herald, July 18th 2016

ends

Planet Pop, Flux and the 20-Year Trickledown Effect to Edinburgh International Festival

When Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan announced his first programme in 2015 would include a gig by FFS, a collaboration between Glasgow-sired art-rockers Franz Ferdinand and post-modern music hall duo, Sparks, it was a headline-catching statement of intent. While previous EIF programmes had featured the likes of rock and roll poetess Patti Smith performing alongside minimalist composer Philip Glass, here was an event rooted in Scotland's DIY pop underground which had subverted the mainstream.

This year, Linehan's contemporary music programme has been developed further. Glasgow instrumentalists Mogwai performing a live soundtrack to Mark Cousins' film, Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. Former Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffat will perform alongside Where You're Meant To Be, Paul Fegan's film that follows Moffat's journey in song around Scotland.

Moffat's performance will take place in The Hub, where Chemikal Underground records mainstay and former member of the Delgados, Emma Pollock, will appear alongside a mini supergroup that includes the Cairns String Quartet and RM Hubbert.

Quebecois apocalypsists Godspeed You! Black Emperor appear in concert at Edinburgh Playhouse, where they will also perform a live soundtrack to dance company The Holy Tattoo's performance of their key work, Monumental. Back at the Hub, Edinburgh's own Young Fathers will play two shows that show off their unique mesh of beats, bombast and electronic fizz.

This comes at a time when a public consultation is being undertaken by City of Edinburgh Council on a legislation which states that all live music must remain inaudible beyond the four walls of the venue it is being played in. While such legislation has been derided as a physical impossibility, EIF's programme highlights the importance of grassroots music venues which are currently being gentrified out of existence across the UK.

This was made clear following the Edinburgh International Film Festival screening of Lost in France, Niall McCann's new documentary film charting the early days of Chemikal Underground records. The film focuses on one particularly messy French sojourn for the label's roster, who at the time included the Delgados, Arab Strap and Mogwai. Following the screening, Emma Pollock tweeted a picture of the West Bow branch of Sainsbury's Local where a large pub called the Cas Rock once stood.

Without the Cas Rock, it remains unlikely that any of the artists mentioned would have found an Edinburgh venue to hone their craft in a way that has seen them graduate to EIF. It was here too that collective desire to fill a musical gap during August's festival season resulted in Planet Pop, a month long annual festival which began in 1996.

Over twenty nights, one could see Mogwai playing third on the bill to a small audience waiting to see headliners Urusei Yatsura. Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos' early band, The Blisters headlined two nights before, while The Delgados supported Eugenius. Also on show were Edinburgh talents such as Ballboy and Idlewild, the latter of whom again played third on the bill, while Arab Strap played the following year.

“To us popular music was this massive gaping hole in the biggest arts festival in the world,” Jonathan Kilgour, one of the original collective behind Planet Pop and guitarist at the time with Police Cat remembers. “We didn't know what wasn't possible, so we decided to try to fill that hole ourselves.”

A similar idea had been hatched by David Sefton, who in 1993 had started the Meltdown festival on London's South Bank. Unlike EIF, Meltdown ignored categories in favour of a more eclectic approach.

“I was coming to Edinburgh every year with that background,” he remembers, “and was painfully aware that while you'd hear amazing things, at that time in Edinburgh, music was defined as purely classical in the International Festival. This became something of an obsession for me as so much great stuff was happening at the time that wasn't being reflected in the major UK arts festival.”

Sefton was joined by Alex Poots, who has also worked on Meltdown, and, after being rebuffed by EIF, the independently run Flux festival brought the likes of Nick Cave, The Divine Comedy and Michael Nyman to town. A triple bill of Scottish acts at Flux featured Mogwai, The Delgados and The Nectarine No 9. Like Planet Pop, Flux was designed, according to Sefton,“to plug what seemed like such an obvious gap. If you look back to the 1990s, and well into this century, most of the traditional festivals viewed their music programmes strictly in terms of the classical and traditional. Modern music was something written for an orchestra by someone who hadn't died yet.”

While all this was going on, a local operation somewhat fancifully dubbed the House of Dubois was introducing Edinburgh to leftfield electronica and experimental sounds in a way that was way ahead of the curve. One of the House of Dubois' earliest ventures in 1998 was to put on the second ever UK gig by the then little-known Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the decidedly un-rock and roll confines of Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street.

“I felt very strongly that the music I liked, at least, the more experimental stuff, wasn't coming to Edinburgh,” says Christine Wilson, who formed one half of the House of Dubois. “We came up with what now looks like a rather random plan to put GY!BE on at Stills. One of the curators there was a friend of mine, and she was up for it. In all honesty, I didn't really know what I was doing. I was only twenty-three, but the gallery was our idea. We contacted GY!BE, and the deed was done.”

Given the limitations of an art gallery sound system, it was perhaps no surprise that GY!BE blew the speakers, thus cutting the gig short. Within a year, GY!BE were on the cover of the NME and selling out venues ten times the size of Stills.

Young Fathers are a more recent addition to Edinburgh's musical landscape, but have made waves since first forming at the original New Street site of the Bongo Club, now demolished to make way for the controversial Caltongate / New Waverley development after being a gap site for more than a decade.

“Young Fathers have been all around the world at least twice now,” their former manager Tim Brinkhurst points out, “and it’s good for the world to come to them, for a change.”

Why it has taken EIF twenty years to embrace contemporary pop music the way Linehan's programme has is something to do with the sort of resistance identified by Sefton.

“There’s a lot of people still don’t think pop music is art,” Brinkhurst observes. “Just trying to get government to recognise the importance of pop music is painfully slow and in the meanwhile nothing changes. Maybe they should try to imagine what the city would be like without live music, apart from a few weeks every year. A bit like Elmore, Oklahoma?” he posits, referring to the film, Footloose, set in a town that has banned music.

Linehan himself accepts that “live music year round is really complicated in Edinburgh. People are doing really great things here, but institutions in Edinburgh aren't as connected with popular music as they are elsewhere. There's something to be said for rock and roll not being too institutionalised, but popular music is still an outsider artform in Edinburgh, and maybe doesn't get the respect it deserves, but that's changing, and I hope we can continue to be a part of that change.”

As Sefton and Poots went on to run the Adelaide Festival and Manchester International Festivals respectively, in Edinburgh, grassroots initiatives such as Tigerfest, Retreat!, and the Song, By Toad record label's archly named Pale Imitation Festival picked up the slack from Planet Pop. As did the Summerhall-based Nothing Ever Happens Here year-round promotions which have provided a focus of sorts alongside venues such as Henry's Cellar Bar and Sneaky Pete's.

As for the future of EIF, according to Brinkhurst,“They should give Young Fathers a venue to curate every year, with a decent budget so we can get some good stuff on from around the world. Ground-breaking music presented like a cutting edge theatre show, working with top lighting, sound and wardrobe designers. Apart from that, why shouldn’t it be taken as seriously as the other festival elements and included every year?”

Monumental, featuring Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Edinburgh Playhouse, August 8-9, 8pm. Godspeed You! Black Emperor in concert, Edinburgh Playhouse, August 10, 8pm.
Young Fathers, The Hub, August 14-15, 9.30pm.
Where You're Meant To Be followed by a live set by Aidan Moffat, The Hub, August 16, 5pm.
Emma Pollock, The Hub, August 25, 7pm.
Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise, with a live performance by Mogwai, Edinburgh Playhouse, August 27-28, 9pm.
www.eif.co.uk

ends