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Edinburgh's Festivals

Published
October 10, 2018

IN 2017 the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, also called the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, celebrated its 70th anniversary. The 2017 Fringe Festival sold 2,696,844 tickets. There were 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows at 300 venues. The total audience attending reached 450,000. On top of that, there is the Edinburgh Book Festival, which attracted 250,000 people. Some of the venues of the Fringe Festival included a swimming pool, a bathroom, and a football ground, a tunnel and a race course.

This year, 2018, when I attended, there was a further increase in visitor numbers. The Edinburgh festivals have an array of comedy and drama and the heart of the old city, the Royal Mile between Edinburgh castle and Holyrood Palace, has many amateur and professional performers attempting to sell their shows.

There are four main festivals in Edinburgh. They each extend over two or more weeks and are all held at more or less the same time in August, to make it convenient for summer holiday visitors.The festivals are:

The Fringe Festival began in 1947. The Fringe itself is now larger than the Edinburgh International Festival — the original, official festival. The Fringe began when some artists thought the official festival was too stuffy. Great British performers such as Richard Burton, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Allan Rickman and Derek Jacobi were all on stage at the Fringe in their younger days. So was Robin Williams, who performed in 1971. These days, Fringe performers come from more than 80 countries.

Edinburgh is a great city for festivals. It is enormously historic, has lots of parks and public spaces, and is easy to get around as well.

St Giles’ Cathedral or High Kirk, a place of worship for 900 years

Edinburgh Scenes including Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Scots Greys Monument, and the Festival


Performances

The first performance I went to see was Luisa Omielan. Her performance was called Politics for Bitches. This was about the inadequacies of the British health system. It was very emotive and it told how her mother died of bowel cancer, and how she was undiagnosed and had 22 appointments. When she was diagnosed, Omelian had to use Cannabis oil to alleviate the pain. When her mother came home to die, she needed an IV — a drip — and she was told by the National Health service (NHS) that they couldn’t provide anyone to help with the drip. So Omelian asked for the drip and a nurse to help with the drip on Facebook and she got that and it was one more month with her mother. It was a very interesting. It was a very emotional performance, one that everybody could relate to, somewhat different from her normal performances.

Then I saw a New Zealand comedian by the name of Alice Snedden. The name of her performance was Self-Titled. It was a hilarious performance about how she was born and stories about her family. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

I went to a performance called Vape Lord by a well-known British TV personality and actor named Jamali Maddix. This was really interesting. Maddix is a Londoner, an atheist of partly Jamaican and Arab descent. He had a six-part TV series which I saw on Netflix called Hate Thy Neighbor, in which he had attended Ku Klux Klan (KKK) marches in the United States, and also fascist marches in the Ukraine, and he told the story of just how harrowing that was. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff seeing this black-looking guy marching with the KKK and the fascists, interviewing their leaders, while surrounded by a white mob who would kill him if the leader gave the word. He was funny in Vape Lord. I enjoyed his humor. I wish I had gone out and spoken to him afterwards.

Queens of Sheba talked and performed about being a black woman in the workplace and how they were controlled and how they smiled, how they approach people. Then they talk about hip-hop, and how that denigrates black woman and it was very interesting. They labeled hip-hop as their ‘apraxia’. It was very interesting for me to see a slice of the world that black women live in, that I wouldn’t normally see.

The next performance I saw was a Brooklyn comedian whose stage name was Murray Hill. The title of his performance was About to Break. This was a hilarious performance by a woman who played the part of a man. She was somewhat overweight and leaned over like Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, and asked everybody to take photos. So I took photos, and said she really looked the part. She didn’t forgive me — in fact, she made me go up on stage and dance! Cracking jokes made the most of the night, and it was all worthwhile.

More Edinburgh excitement!

Ashley Blaker was the performer at the next show I attended, Observant Jew. This was really interesting. Blaker talked about Orthodox Judaism, sometimes also called Observant Judaism. He talked about the Jerusalem Post and how some Orthodox Jewish communities don’t allow photos of women from their community in the newspaper. Many of the Orthodox Jews do not even watch TV. He had six kids, and said that, as a father, there was a lot that was good about a community where the children don’t get bombarded with the evils of the outside world. He explained the dress that Orthodox Jews wore. However, I was surprised to find out that the men don’t actually shake hands with women. This was a surprise.

A woman called Kate Berlant had a show called Communikate. Now, she was hilarious. She was from Los Angeles and had lived in New York. A lot of the audience at this performance were Americans. She pretended to be a psychic and she had everyone in stitches.

The last performance I saw was by the notorious Russian group Pussy Riot, and was called Riot Days. I’ll have more to say about that below.

Where I stayed

I ended up at a place in Milton Road West, which I found on Airbnb. I stayed with a married couple. One was from Kurdistan, the other was from Turkey. They make me feel more than welcome.

I paid $400 for eight nights. The bus ride into town only took twenty minutes, but I enjoyed the neighborhood as well. It was a fifteen-minute walk to a shopping mall, at Kinnard. I had lost my phone and I needed to buy a camera, my camera had also been misled or stolen somewhere, and I really needed to re-equip myself.

I was walking around Edinburgh watching many of the performances. I dozed off and had a dream that a woman had broken up with her husband and that I could get a casual ticket to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on the Royal Mile. The Tattoo started at nine pm. I walked up to the mile at a quarter past eight, and I managed to get a ticket for twenty pounds. I was absolutely amazed.

History of the Military Tattoo

2018 was the 69th year of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which began in 1949. It’s held in the evening, and this is no coincidence as the word ‘tattoo’ comes, in this case, from the Dutch expression tap toe, meaning turn off the tap. In the old days, soldiers would march through the streets of the town with flaming torches to make sure that the pubs closed and would pick up their comrades as they did so, heading back to the camp. This is also why the late night bugle call in British and American military camps is called ‘taps’. Many countries have some version of an evening parade of this sort.

The show was for ninety minutes. Many famous regiments and battalions with Scottish connections take part, along with civilian performers from Scotland and Great Britain, other British military units, and overseas performers.

Some of the military units taking part this year included the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Queen’s Royal Hussars, the Scots Guards, and battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland: the Royal Scots Borderers (1st), the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd) and the Highlanders (4th), plus a band from the Royal Air Force.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is iconic, it’s internationally recognized as one of the most prestigious military shows in the world. It also takes enormous pride in running an inclusive initiative called the Pipers’ Trail, which enables people in the community to take part in the Tattoo. The Pipers’ Trail has been developed to encourage and promote traditional Scottish art forms and ensure that this cultural identities of Scotland are showcased internationally.

Here is are massed pipers playing the ever-popular regimental quick march, ‘Highland Laddie’:

International acts this year included the Banda Monumental De Mexico. Over a hundred performers celebrated Mexico’s rich mixture of histories and heritage, which includes the Aztecs.

There was also a combined performance from the Czech Republic, by the Central Band of the Czech armed forces and the Ondráš Military Art Ensemble.

The Combined Bands of the Royal Cavalry of the Sultanate of Oman turned out to have an all-female military band. They were looking out towards the majestic Arabian night sky. The men were on horses, I think. Then there was the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill team. They put on a really impressive American rifle drill. Then there was one more. This was called the Top-Secret Drum Corps, from Basel in Switzerland. Some of the world’s most illustrious and dynamic percussionist reflected on space time and the speed of light.

There was also the Shetland Fiddlers, Hjaltibonhoga. They put on a performance called The Order of the Stormbirds, some of which I captured in this video:

There’s videos of everything in the festival on Youtube, of course.

There were amazing fireworks, and the guard of honor was from the 51st squadron of the RAF. There were young Edinburgh high school girl dancers, and also some high school students from Malawi who were dancing as well. They have a sister city relationship — that was pretty amazing.

Pussy Riot

I wanted to see the Russian band Pussy Riot on a Friday night, and didn’t realize that the show was going to be three hours long! I’d already acquired a book which told their story. Two of them had been political prisoners. In 2011, Maria Alyokhina had started a protest music band called Pussy Riot, because they believe that women should be able to protest and do what they wanted.

Pussy Riot in Edinburgh

They had objected to the fact that President Vladimir Putin had traded places with the prime minister, Victor Medvedev, in order to get around constitutional term limits and then run again for president. The band had decided to start a protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The cathedral hosted corporate banquets and they got in on that pretext. On page 16 of the book, Riot Days, written by Ms Alyokhina herself, she’s got a list of what the church could charge for the corporate and business people.

Church service — — $50

Corporate budget — — $970

Carwash — — $100

Laundry and dry cleaning — — $160

Pussy Riot got into the cathedral on an entertainment pretext and then tried to sing their song song ‘Punk Prayer’, which has an English translation with notes about what it all means, here, and here as well. Basically, it is an attack on the stuffily reactionary alignment of Putin’s Russian nationalism and the Russian Orthodox Church.

They only managed to sing one verse, the opening lines that go:

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin / Banish Putin, banish Putin

— and then they were caught. Maria and another singer named Nadia were jailed. The third one was released but Maria did two years in jail as a political prisoner. She talks about the political prisoners under the Soviet Union and in today’s Russian prisons. She did a lot to improve the position of women in those prisons who were getting $4 a month for sewing. Making clothes in clothing factories. That was pretty shocking.

Here they are in Edinburgh, 2018, in video:

And here:

And that's all for now!

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