Wednesday, 26 August 2009

FESTIVAL COMEDY REVIEW: Alex Maple's Press Release * *


Underbelly
26-30 August 18.25

Self-deprecating can be funny and Alex Maple's jokes about how his jokes are sh*t can actually be very funny. I'm sure the last two words of that sentence will be manipulated into a great press release since this is what the show is all about.

Maple, apparently a former PR guru, brings a few absurdities of the industry to light while being interrupted ever so often by his fabricated ex-girlfriend/techie who offers slightly awkward and uncomplimentary commentary on his set that stumbles throughout. Fully aware of the difficult and scarce audience, Maple is great at making light of his shortcomings and compensating with chocolate, but still the audience waits to laugh at the comedy and not the catastrophe.

It's unmistakable that the man is clever and can deliver puns that will make you giggle but his humour may be best delivered and received among friends, which is not the group he unfortunately collects tonight.

Being part of his intimate circle must be a laugh but for a hearty one, this ain't the ticket. He's adorable though, so ladies, if you sit on the front row he just may look deep into your eyes while trying to pull off a joke about his size 12 foot up someone's vagina. Your choice.

Also published here on Edinburgh Festivals Magazine's website edfestmag.com
or give this guy the benefit of the doubt, a second chance, a beer, your phone number, what have you, HERE!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

BOOK FESTIVAL REVIEW: David Sedaris * * * *


David Sedaris * * * *
International Book Festival
22 Aug 15.30

Sedaris is so unsuspecting. Dressed in khaki trousers (not corduroy or denim) and a smart shirt, Sedaris, a man short in stature, appears to be normal, or rather, boring. Not at all the type of gentleman that would, moments later, smilingly divulge the horrors of defecated American dressing rooms, or light-heatedly tell a story about the highly-homosexual purchase of a four pound box of condoms and strawberries from Costco. The condoms, of course, are gifts to the teenagers who attend his readings. So, yes: not so boring.

Sedaris sails straight into an email reading, an email from Rhonda. Rhonda's email is typical of Sedaris' style, sarcasm and humour: a tasty avocado that pleasantly peels away to its delicious end, or in this case, a hilariously evil punchline. Rhonda seems totally in-the-right for firing off an email in response to receiving pizza vouchers for a wedding gift, an email that's more of a 'f**k you' note than a 'why, thank you' note. Oh, the sweet revenge that carefully composed sentences can bear. A hoot.

He chooses this story, you see, because Sedaris is pleased with himself for finally getting an email address, and the Internet, a year ago; now a new world of humour opens itself up to him as he's particularly dumbfounded that people can, and do, comment on everything, down to the veins in Madonna's arms.

The next and final reading is Laugh, Kookaburra, published last week in the New Yorker. This story is not as evil but funny still, although he confesses to me afterwards that he wishes he'd chosen a few smaller pieces instead. Laugh, Kookaburra is indeed a longish memoir, however a funny and well-crafted recall of a trip to Australia and an introduction to a fascinating kookaburra, entwined with a childhood memory that involves that bizarre family of his who are so endearing now to any fan of his many other memoirs. I assure him, and you, it's a treat.

In the question and answer session to follow, Sedaris' natural wit is unleashed while discussing the rigorous fact-checking involved in personal essays (is there really asparagus on that menu in Daylesford, Australia?) and his preferred editing process which is to edit himself during live readings before submitting a piece to a publisher. He does not recommend the restaurant at Edinburgh's Harvey Nichols (which one is unknown) as he apparently left the place "famished," but then leaves us with his sentiments on Scotland. "Just when you think it can't get any more beautiful, you turn your head slightly,and it does."

We can only hope this means he'll be back to remind us that Sedaris is about as boring as a kookaburra.

Also in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine on edfestmag.com.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Alfie's Place


Newbie but a goodie

THE FOODIE HUB OF LEITH'S SHORE HAS A NEW KID TO COMPETE WITH. THE NEWBIE IS LOCATED IN THE OLD SPOT OF A PLACE SO UNLIKE ALFIE'S PLACE THAT I DO NOT EVEN REMEMBER ITS NAME. ALFIE'S PLACE WANTS TO BE YOUR PLACE; IT'S RELAXING, FRESH, FRIENDLY AND SCENIC. WITH PRETTY, WHITE ORNATE CEILINGS ABOVE, THE WATER JUST ACROSS THE ROAD, BEAUTIFUL BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY ALL AROUND AND TUNES BY SIMON AND GARFUNKEL, THE BEACH BOYS AND FATS DOMINO TO SOUNDTRACK THE EXPERIENCE - IT'S A GREAT PLACE TO STAY AWHILE.

I start with the mackerel kebab (£4.95); the fish is charcoaled and spiced to perfection, speared with a skewer and served with slices of fresh cukes, diced tomatoes, coriander and raita. My friend's aubergine and courgette gougères with garlic yoghurt are like savory little pastry sandwiches: Creations as delicious as they are cute (£5.25).

My friend then has the baked hake for a main, served ingeniously with roasted celeriac, roasted potatoes and garlic butter (£13.95). She compliments the simple but great mix of flavours and how perfectly each item, particularly the fish, is prepared. My ribeye isn't as rare as I'd wanted but tender nonetheless and complemented exceptionally well with chunks upon chunks of fresh lobster atop, a beautiful, classic béarnaise on the side, plus homemade chips: a succulent surf and turf treat that excites, especially at this price (£18.95).

Desserts all sound up our street so we are offered a sampler and so I shall list them with our favourites first: Eton Mess (a mess of meringue, marinated fruit, cream and ice cream, £4.95), Bailey's panna cotta (£5.25), baked lemon tarte (£5.25) and chocolate and hazelnut terrine with orange anglaise (£5.25). I could probably rearrange that list at any given moment though, and would order any of them again and again.

Everything is made in house, down to the bread, mayo and ketchup, ketchup so good that they plan to bottle and sell it! And the chef is all too happy to deliver the dish himself or speak to all of the tables about their experience. Go there, meet these lovely people and eat their stellar food. Enjoy!

ALFIE’S
-63 The Shore
-Leith
-EH6 6RA
-0131 554 2194

OPENING HOURS
-Mon-Sat 12-2.30 lunch
-Mon-Sat 5.30-10pm dinner
-closed Sundays


Also in Bite Magazine, September 2009

FESTIVAL THEATRE REVIEW: Poets' Corner * * * *

Just the Tonic @ The Caves
8-23 August (ex. 18) 13.40


An (oddly) handsome Oscar Wilde and a girl-crazy, self-quoting Lord Byron sip wine and behave like busy-bodied mortals inside Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, discussing other dead colleagues and their possible appearance at the anticipated annual party held at the Abbey.

Past parties apparently have resulted in Keats' embarrassing champagne incident, Shakespeare is repeatedly declared a twat and Wordsworth, too, is shunned. Tonight, Blake arrives frustrated at his choice in apparel, Chaucer pops out for a fag and Dickens laments over his post-mortal influence in the literary world. A surprise guest, Jane Gathering, arrives confused and her reasons for being there (is she dead or alive? is she an important writer?) are explored, as is the notion of being remembered via an inscription in Poets' Corner or else being completely forgotten. A creepy professor reminds that creative writing courses are bollocks, for neither creativity nor writing can be taught or learned, and Jane struggles to accept this for herself.

Although the dark underlying issue of death is always at hand, James Huntrods' Poets' Corner is nonetheless full of wit and charm and is an endearing, convincing and engaging production, especially for anyone whose passions lie in writing or literature. Particularly worth it if you fancy yourself a dead war poet or a Brontë in attendance, this is a humorous and intelligent way to spend a swiftly passing hour.

Also published here in edfestmag.com

Monday, 17 August 2009

FESTIVAL MUSIC REVIEW: Bach for Breakfast * * * *


Bach for Breakfast is quite the preferable way to do mornings. The room is overflowing with classical music enthusiasts who are here to relax and be gently entertained over a cup of coffee.

Beginning with a Bach piece called Gamba Sonata, cellist Ashok Klouda and pianist Simon Lane prove to be tremendous, serious young musicians. Lane's quirky, animated but focused style is so different that I can't take my eye off him, while Klouda is also profoundly skilled, moving and passionate. They also perform Wieniawski's Scherzo Tarantella in G Op. 16 another that is meant for the violin but is replaced with the cello, an entirely unnoticeable fact that Klouda pulls off wonderfully.

Other Bach pieces, 'Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterban' (St Matthew Passion), and then the appropriate 'Ei! wie schmekt ker Coffee Susse' (Coffee Cantata), are performed by soprano Madeleine Pierard and pianist Simon Lepper. Pierard is kind enough to explain the stories behind the songs, which illustrate Bach's sense of humour. For example, in the Coffee Cantata, a girl pleads with her father, who insists that coffee is evil, that she cannot live without it: Mm! how sweet the coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, mellower than muscatel wine. Coffee, coffee I must have, and if someone wishes to give me a treat, ah, then pour me out some coffee! Although obviously not sung in English, it's vivid in Pierard's impeccable performance as to what exactly is taking place in each moment of this beautiful, if also very humorous, operatic piece.

Finally, Handel's 'Ah, Crudel' (Rinaldo) and 'Tormani a vagheggiar' (Alcina) are Pierard and Lepper's closing songs that has the audience soaking it all in, eyes closed and satisfying smiles abound. It is a performance that gracefully sends us off to the breakfast room, which has a stunning view of the castle, for pastries, coffee and tea, and to ponder the exceptional talent just witnessed, as well as how good life can be with music like this in the world.

Also published here in edfestmag.com

FESTIVAL REVIEW: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS BALLET * * * *


Oh the magic that ensues when a sunrise can don ballet shoes and dance away the darkness.

Snow White and her enviable and near-fatal beauty are back, bringing with her the colourful visions that are the silly seven dwarfs plus the evil Queen, and Snow White's propensity to trust a stranger with questionable fruit. In this version of the classic fairytale, the fear of the dark forests is replaced, for the sake of the little ones, with beautiful moonbeams who sweetly keep Snow White safe in her wanders before Sunrise herself leads the way to Prince Charming.

It's a fab production for the whole family, with breathtaking backdrops projected behind the cheerful faces and graceful tip toes of the Burklyn Ballet Theatre. The gracious gasps and claps from the wee audience members is all the evidence needed to illustrate the mesmerising treat to be found in this rendition of an undeniably enchanting tale.

Also published here on edfestmag.com

FESTIVAL REVIEW: BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY * * *


Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story! * * *
Sweet ECA, Venue 186
9-13 Aug 16.40
14-15 Aug 12.30

Buddy's pretty solid but as for Sweet ECA, that'll be the day. The show, adapted from the West End musical, begins with a hitch or three as the opening scene featuring the KDAV Sunday Party, where Buddy and the Crickets are said to have been first aired, has to stop and start over due to sudden venue blackouts: a technicality that the gang gracefully ignore for as long as they can before we're left to sit in darkness, however enjoying the sounds of Johnny Cash and Jimmy Swan.

When it finally kicks off, it becomes obvious that the audience has a vital part in the show as we're flashed the 'silence' signs when appropriate, then cheers go wild when Buddy takes the stage, surrounded by girls in gorgeous, authentic 50s floral frocks. In an hour and a half of summing up the celebrated and short life of a legend, the story highlights Buddy's insistence on recording That'll be the Day (as opposed to the preferred country tunes of those days), the revelation and joyful simplicity of Everyday, the death-fearing but successful Apollo appearance, meeting his future wife (for whom he wrote True Love Ways) and the tour with Richie Valens and JP 'The Big Bopper' Richardson that would also be the demise of all three men.

It's a rich show with a stage full of talented actors and musicians, both vocally and instrumentally, where a good two dozen songs at least, are performed. As a southern American, I am impressed by the put-on southern accents and would only advise against phrases like 'Cheers, Buddy' as this is not at all an Americanism. Buddy's very lovable but could have had much more volume on his mic so we could better hear and discern his take on the late great's hiccup-style vocals.

The shining star is the stand up bass man, who endlessly entertains with a gazillion impressive manoeuvres including standing on top of, sliding beneath and exalting overhead the life-sized instrument: very rock and roll. Far less amusing is Richie Valen's performance. As a 50s enthusiast, I am pretty sure that Valens was not a male stripper yet this kid's portrayal implies as much. I am in constant fear of having my eye poked out by his extremely well-outlined penis, which is grossly thrust in my face repeatedly. I hate to think of the trauma bestowed upon the sweet grannies in front of me.

Sans the rudeness and technical difficulties, it's a colourful performance by the Viva Touring Company and a fun way to remember a remarkable man.

Also published here in edfestmag.com

FESTIVAL COMEDY REVIEW: Tim:Against All Odds


So there's this Tim guy, right? So Tim is all kinds of frustrated at his uninteresting name and its unheroic associations as there seems to be no Tim in history, save for a grizzly bear enthusiast, who has ever done much of anything useful. If only he had a name like his friend, Maxwell Thor (Thor!), who is always effortlessly saving the day, as well as the lives of a Volvo full of babies underwater. Despite Maxwell's enviable locks, his ability to exude sex when adorning a skirt, and his name (by God, his name!), he is an incredible friend to poor Tim and agrees to journey with him, a mandolin and guitar in tow, to help him fight his way (and a beast called Da Da Da Da) to being comfortable with being Tim.

Sounds bizarre? You don't even know the half of it. They're ridiculous. In an hour that passes obliviously, these two manage to create an intimate room full of fun, stupidity and silliness that has everyone willing to not only adorn a Tim sticker but eagerly queuing up to do so. This show is an unexpected treat, the sweetest surprise I've experienced during the festival thus far. I was sorry to leave so soon and can't wait to see what this ruthless pair will come up with next. Too funny; just beware if your name is Tim.

Also published here on edfestmag.com

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

DANCE: The Carolina Shag



Fancy a shagathon?

ON A MUGGY CAROLINA NIGHT, MY FRIEND TRIES TO COAX A GENTLEMAN STRANGER TO JOIN HER FOR A SHAG ON THE BEACH. FLATTERED, THE MAN EXPLAINS THAT HE'D LOVE TO, IF ONLY HE KNEW HOW. THE EPITOME OF SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY, MY DEAR FRIEND REPLIES, "DARLIN', I'LL TEACH YOU HOW TO SHAG."

Where I come from, the Shag Shack on Folly Beach is not a whore house, and shaggin' by the sea ain't a crime. The Shag is the South Carolina state dance, much to the amusement of its British tourists.

A six-count descendent of first the Little Apple and then the Carolina Jitterbug, the Shag is a broad name for a range of swing dances originating from the big band era of the 1930s. According to a Shag historian (you heard me), the term was coined on Carolina Beach, North Carolina as it was widely practiced along the coasts between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Wellington, North Carolina. The phenomenon that evolved as the Carolina Shag is, for the most part, associated with the 1960s, the era's easy-going r & b (think Chairmen of the Board), and, oh yes, the beach. Preferably at night.

The shag is just so sunny, lazy and, as you can imagine, flirtatious. While you must keep your hips and upper body relatively stationary, the shag comes alive in the fancy footwork, kicks, turns and twists. When both partners get the hang of it, the result is an extremely fluid and fun work of art - put a warm, salty southern breeze into that equation and it's easy to see why shagathons and beachfront shag competitions have such a big following even today.

To get a good feel for the dance, you can Youtube it, or there's actually a feel-good, 1963-based film called Shag that was shot on the Carolina coasts (with Phoebe Cates and Bridget Fonda). There's even a couple/dance team here in Edinburgh who can teach you how to shag (har har!). I caught the Fly Right Dance Company recently at the festival and they demonstrated the Collegiate Shag, a form from New Orleans, that is best practiced, I can only presume, to a bit of Fats Domino! So find a partner you fancy and start shaggin', ya hear?

Fly Right Dance Company
Unit 2C, Station Yard
Hospital Road
Haddington
East Lothian
EH41 3PP
01620 829988


Also published in the dance pages of Bite Life Magazine, September 2009



Sunday, 9 August 2009

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Camille O'Sullivan: The Dark Angel * * * * *


Camille O'Sullivan: The Dark Angel * * * * *
Assembly Hall
Saturday 8 August 2009
20.00
Aug 6-31 (ex Tuesdays)


Everyone can see her knickers, and absolutely no one is complaining.

French-Irish siren Camille O' Sullivan is still as uninhibited as always, combining raunch, laughs and fishnets with that throaty, exceptional voice, and a stellar song catalogue to boot.

Sequin dresses hang overhead and drape across mic stands and speakers as a corset-clad Camille works an audience in love, flirting and flaunting and falling into the laps of her adorers. Raucous as she is delicate, the seductress stumbles and stomps about clinging hilariously to a bottle of wine before fragiley letting her hair down, pin-by-pin, and baring her soul with tear-flushed eyes to Dillie Keane's Look Mommy, No Hands.

Camille proves she can absolutely hold her own on Tom Waits' Misery is the River, Nick Cave's The Ship Song, David Bowie's Rock 'n' Roll suicide, and certainly with Kirsty MacColl's In These Shoes, where she insists, while donning shiny red shoes to match her knickers, 'let's do it here.' I think half the room would have, as all are transfixed by all of that wit, legs and lipstick. Saucy, unmissable stuff.

Also published on www.edfestmag.com

FESTIVAL KIDS' SHOW REVIEW: Mildly Terrible Revenge of the Slightly Evil Brainwashing Puppets * * * *


Mildly Terrible Revenge of the Slightly Evil Brainwashing Puppets * * * *
A children's show
Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom
Saturday 8 August
11.15 am
Aug 8-16,22-23,29-30 11:15 (1hr)


Note to wary mothers: it's not as scary as it sounds.

These puppets are simply annoyed that someone's hand is up their backside, someone who cares not that maybe they don't want to be forced to kiss each other and speak in ridiculous voices. These puppets have had enough.

Sebastian is a pompous Frenchman puppet who obsessively coaxes his pony friend and foe (sex unknown) into taking control of the girl controlling them, and eventually, the human race. There's also a devilish monkey, controlled by a really awkward but really likeable script-reading dude in the corner, who also wants to rule the world as per the button on the wall which could make the sun turn black. Really, it's not as scary as it sounds.

Sebastian keeps it light by talking about his giant bum, which he claims is currently not covered by pants. Silly dances, animal sound competitions and crowd-assisted sing-a-longs (with really fun lyrics like 'Pirates' pants are brill-i-ant') make every little one wide-eyed, beaming, and seriously adorable. Us big kids love it too.

Lesson to be learned: Not all puppets are wusses. Consider their pride the next time you want them to make out and tell stupid jokes; that ain't cute. But this free festival show? So cute.

Also published on www.edfestmag.com

Saturday, 8 August 2009

FESTIVAL MUSIC REVIEW: Antonio Forcione * * *


Introduced as a "genetic experiment gone horribly well” and “a man with hands like a tarantula” (huh?), Forcione confesses that he usually plays selfishly but this time translates the soundtrack of his childhood into his funky, signature tap and slap guitar stylings.

Classic covers like the Beatles' Yesterday and Come Together, Stevie Wonder's Superstitious and I Wish, and Marvin Gaye's I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Motown 50th anniversary tribute) intertwine with Forcione originals in an imaginative, masterfully executed set that sufficiently satisfies casual music lovers and guitar enthusiasts alike. The crowd even gets an unnoticeably unpracticed rendition of Billie Jean in tribute to its late great creator, all proving that it's an hour totally worth that fiver.

Assembly Hall, 7-29 August (ex. 17) 18.00

Also published here on edfestmag.com

FESTIVAL COMEDY REVIEW: Jason Byrne: The Byrne Supremacy * * * *


The potty-mouthed Irishman still manages to make the audience smile and swoon despite accusing a 15-year old boy in the audience (seated with his mum no less) of a masturbation-incepted hand injury and insisting that farting into a cup, which is directly placed in another's face, is ultimately the best way to gross out his sister.

Byrne hits on hilarities of his childhood spent with a lazy eye, or as one audience member so eloquently asserts, his 'cock eye', while being sure not to skip on special adult moments involving poo pains and sex strains, and the belief that ejaculation should certainly come with gun-like sound affects. In the end it's revealed that his shoe-ends are left untied to illustrate his belief in the tap-tap syndrome (ie. irritating the living f**k out of women), and just when the laughter eventually dies down to a chuckle, a song is heard overhead that sums it all up and makes the gutter-minded audience smile as we depart.

Assembly Hall, 6-31 August (ex. 17,24) 20.15
Venue 150@EICC 21,22,28,29 August 22.30

Also published here on edfestmag.com

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

SONG OF THE DAY: I'm Your Man by Leonard Cohen



No, not the Wham! version (wait, maybe I'm the only one who would think that?!). My former boss, Mo, brought this video to my attention. Only now in the facebook age, years after I worked in his tasty and much-missed steak house, have I realised that he and I have a lot of similar tastes in music (Antony and the Johnsons too, for example) and that he devotes his attentions to things online apart from porn. It should be also noted that the great Mo once also managed punk outfit Bad Brains.

Tell us all about it, lovely Leonard.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

SONG OF THE DAY: Ragged Wood by Fleet Foxes


I was lucky enough to hear this song for the first time during a solitary visit to the Lake District, positively one of the very, very best album absorption experiences I have ever had. I couldn't possibly think of a better backdrop to this brilliant album than breathing in crisp mountain air, hiking between the rugged hills, waterfalls and mountain streams. And now this is the scene I immediately associate with these songs. It makes me remember exactly how I felt that day, why I'd left town, how nice the sun felt, how nice the rain smelled, the surrealism of finally seeing Wordsworth's garden, grave and homes after dreaming about it for so, so long and how badly I needed this music at that very moment. I'd felt unable to connect to anything for a while. Ragged Wood stands out to me because of how it's able to be like two songs within one, which is the best case scenario with tunes like this - they're so good that you just do not want them to end.

Listen to Ragged Wood on Spotify.