Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Cheery cynicism at the Edinburgh Fringe!

I’m still in recovery from my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe – and the associated piss-up with pals from my days as a newspaper journalist in Scotland.

We had a ball as usual but it started badly for me. Before setting off to meet in a bar on Saturday lunchtime, I quickly grabbed what I assumed was an antihistamine tablet and swallowed it.

Turns out it was a sleeping tablet. Ah well, that bit of foil they're wrapped in looks similar, and I can’t be expected to read everything, not with my watery eyes.

So the start of our get together was a little fuzzy for me. At first, I assumed a great depression had descended on me. Well, I am a Catholic from Wigan and unlucky in love …

Don’t know what my mates thought during the early stages my near-catatonic state. Maybe they reckoned I was balefully reflecting on the futility of human existence. I do that frequently, as it goes, especially now that I work in Runcorn.  ‘Thank you! I’m here all week…’

No, lads, it was the sleeping tab that did for me, at least temporarily.

It is, however, impossible to stay miserable or sleepy for long in the midst of such excellent company – Alan and Colin, John, Scott … and Brian (who knows a thing or two about arts festivals).  

By the time we got to our pre-arranged karaoke bar I was ready to swing and sing. Also, I set a new world record time for drinking three large glasses of red wine (i.e.a full bottle) in five minutes. That helped.

And so I was able to belt out ‘A Town Called Malice’ with some gusto. Ditto ‘Shout to the Top’ and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart'. That last one I dedicated to another Scottish friend, Chris, who couldn’t be around for that part of the proceedings, but did rock up throughout the long and boozy day.

We did see some live performers, in case you’re wondering. We saw Rodney Bewes’ one-man show, which was charming and sweet, like the man himself. After that show my friend Alan played the ardent fan in front of Rodney Bewes on a scale I've not witnessed since my own awestruck stances at various Roddy Frame gigs.

We were all impressed by Stewart Lee’s show. He displays a cynicism which is paradoxically refreshing and entirely appropriate in these ghastly times we are living through.

Lee’s timing is perfect. His confident but subtle bitching about the more mainstream of comedians - the sort that become whores to the TV industry - was very enjoyable. I was also impressed by his trademark repetitions and slow-build-ups.

Later we went to see the Irish comic Ed Byrne, and he was rubbish – “pish” to use a Scolttish word. I’d forgotten, incidentally, that he had - along with 50-odd other showbiz fluffheads - signed a 2010 open letter published in The Grauniad, stating opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK. If I’d remembered that I would never have agreed to pay to watch the lightweight berk.    

Byrne did a dull observational comedy routine about parents who take their kids to Costa coffee bars – so lame.  And his overlong routine about his diarrhoea just made me feel uncomfortable. I felt Byrne was just going through the motions (no pun intended) with his show; and that’s not good enough for Edinburgh.

With such a level of complacency I’m not surprised that Byrne is one of those inoffensive, wet comedians, who are fawned over by those despicable people, the TV commissioning bosses.

Talking of which, mindful of the fact that Edinburgh’s International Television Festival (or International Whores’ Convention, if you prefer) was looming, we, the auld gang, took our leave of the fine old city.

But we’ll be back!  We are coming back here!  And we are going to install a fecking karaoke machine!

PS There was a comedian called Sam Brady at the Fringe. Apparently, he is quite well established. I didn’t get a chance to see him. Did he take inspiration for his act from my column on the old ITV ORACLE service?  Hmmm … After looking at his website, I somehow doubt it, as comedian Sam Brady's’ style is apparently ‘friendly, warm, enthusiastic’, and he likes to emphasise human kindness. Sounds interesting, though… good luck to him!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

TV: precious few gems among SO MUCH crap

The state of the la la land that is TV just get worse and worse. Apart from occasional gems, such as the timely repeat of ITV’s Cilla* in recent days, there is so much junk.

Why, for instance does the BBC persist in churning out Casualty and Holby City? They aren’t dramas. They are textbook examples of hand-wringing, liberal issues-led dross.

Coronation Street, meanwhile, is nowhere near as good as it was. It shouldn’t keep chugging away with crisis-heavy storylines, and preachy stuff such as Steve suffering depression, and now Cathy being addicted to hoarding rubbish, and Carla  becoming a problem gambler.

However, the actress who plays Cathy, Melanie Hill, is brilliant. I loved her role as Cilla Black’s mum in ITV’s hit biopic miniseries – especially her yodelling scene. I hope Melanie becomes a mainstay in Corrie as Cathy – but please add some beef to her role.

It was good to see John White as Cilla’s Dad, too. He was so good in Early Doors, one of the few occasions the BBC have ever managed an intelligent take on soulful northern English humour and pathos.

Northern humour still does surface in Corrie, of course, but rarely. The last time I laughed out loud was months ago when Scary Mary talked of her prowess at yoga. "My crescent moon is the talk of the community centre,” she boasted. Fffnnnarrr!

And now, after endless boring cookery shows, we have some awful, overblown bollox of a barbeque competition, ITV’s BBQ Champ. Two things I find irritating about it instantly …

(A) It’s a rip-off of the BBC’s Great British Bake-Off, and that was hardly worth copying.

And (B), two of the new show’s ‘stars’ are among the most irritating people ever to appear on telly. (I know! There’s a lot of competition; are you listening Phillip Schofield and Su Perkins?)

The two supremely annoying people in BBQ Champ are, of course, Myleene Klass and Adam Richardson. Oh, come on, it needs saying!

On a sombre note, there’s something else I need to say too… Requiescat In Pace, Cilla Black.