Despite my slight optimism in midweek I am being forced to accept that this is going to be a very quiet year in Edinburgh. The only consolation (if it can be called that) is that it is seemingly the same for everyone, but it's a shame that I have taken the chance on a bigger venue in the year when the Olympics/the recession/the dissatisfaction with high prices of everything in Edinburgh (delete or add as applicable - there's no definitive answer) has sucked out all the punters as if someone opened the door on a space craft. I got a respectable 158 in tonight, but that is half the number that came to see me last year and my lowest Friday night Edinburgh audience since 2005 (and only because the room that year only held 150). It's very hard not to let your head drop as you think about the financial implications. I was hoping to make some money this year, but that does not look very likely. I felt a bit sick before the show and was worried that my anxiety might shine through. But they were such a good crowd that I forgot about all that and just enjoyed it. I am being remarkably philosophical about everything this year. Some acts like to blame anyone but themselves when things aren't going as expected, but I don't think this is anyone's fault. Not even mine. I don't think it's going to pick up once the Olympics are over either. But we'll all just have to push on and make the most of it.
The Fringe has got too big and there are too many comedians and the bubble is probably about to burst. It's open to the same market forces as the rest of life and it can't expand indefinitely and things can't keep getting more expensive without something breaking. But in a way the fact that the Fringe has become some massive means that it might actually return to being a festival of comedy and theatre and music rather than a place to get "discovered". There was much more chance of this happening in the early 90s when there was less competition. I think acts now realise that they are largely coming up here to do shows and get better at what they're doing. The chances of winning a prize or even getting reviewed in a national newspaper are so small that you can't even realistically hope for that. It'd be nice to think that a quiet year might make everyone involved take a step back and concentrate on making the whole thing more cost effective for acts and for punters. Because it's my guess that less people are coming here because it just costs too much, which is as much to do with locals ramping up prices as acts doing so. It's an interesting time. And it will be just as interesting to see the effects.
But with the bigger acts failing to sell out, the smaller acts are not achieving the usual overflow in sales. But also if the big acts don't sell out then the venues don't make the money that helps them subsidise the smaller acts. I wonder if part of the problem is that old farts like me keep coming back and thus it's harder for newer acts to make the break. I don't think Michael Mcintyre really diverts many Fringe goers from the other shows (people go to see him and wouldn't be bothered about seeing anything else were he not here), but ironically Stewart Lee (taking a random example) is getting an audience who would go and see something exciting and new. Perhaps.
It's impossible to come up with a simple explanation, especially when you're in the heart of it. But I think next year I personally will not be aiming for such a big venue, partly because it's not fair to take that big an audience away from other shows, but mainly, I must admit, because I don't think I can sell that many seats. I don't really want to lose money up here, but it's not necessary for me to make any either. The show that I create for the Fringe should go on to make its money on tour.
I got an apology from the Udderbelly staff about the commotion that the Olympics had caused the other week and accepted that it was extraordinary circumstances and that they hadn't expected that response. I assumed that meant that they would now turn off the TVs in the bar area, but apparently it doesn't. There was a fair amount of disruption again yesterday. I think it's an odd choice from the venue, but maybe they feel they have to try and salvage something (and the poor ticket sales will affect them too of course), but that pretty much settles it for me that this is not the place I should be. I really like the actual venue, especially on the two occasions that it's been full, but if I come back to the Fringe then all these circumstances make me think that it should be on more modest terms. I am in this for the sake of creating good shows - TV and prizes are not even an outside possibility for me. I reckon I have 150 people a day who will come and see me regardless of where I am and what the papers say or don't say. And I think I should probably content myself with that. Or maybe it's time to bow out and let the others have a go.
I saw my first show of the Fringe this afternoon, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden with a thoroughly enjoyable hour of old jokes and silly songs, with the odd bit of darkness about the approach of death. It was just the right mixture of nostalgia and corniness and proper comedic and musical skill. They have made the sensible decision of only playing the Fringe for a week. The lucky blighters are escaping this artistic Colditz long before the rest of us.
Afterwards I had a drink with them and another member of their audience, Rodney Bewes of Likely Lads fame. I have met him once before as he auditioned for "You Can Choose Your Friends" and he is, I think it's fair to say, something of an eccentric character. He was very keen to talk about the Likely Lads, doing so without any prompting from me or Ronnie and telling us some stories about James Bolam's vociferous support of the unions and the fact that Mike Hugg (who wrote the theme tune) was rather reticent when it came to speaking. But then he came out with an extraordinary anecdote in which he claimed that Jimi Hendrix had played on the Likely Lads theme song. I assumed he was joking or pulling our legs (as did Ronnie I am sure) but he was quite insistent that they had recorded the song at a studio where Jimi was also working in the next room along. He said Jimi heard the song, liked it, and wanted to be a part of it so jammed along. We chuckled in disbelief but Bewes said that even his wife hadn't believed him, saying he'd gone home and told her and she'd said, "Why do you keep making this stuff up?"
This additional detail is clever if it is a fabrication - Bewes is admitting that he has a reputation for bull shit, but on this occasion it was totally true. It was so artfully done that it made me more suspicious, but when we wondered why he'd been at the studio himself he said he'd sung on the track. Which surprised me almost as much.
Now he didn't say which series the theme tune was for, though I think he did mention Mike Hugg which would suggest it was "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads" and when I put this nugget up on Twitter to see if it was common knowledge I got a few people pointing out that Hendrix was dead by then and that he hadn't been in the country for the original series (though tantalisingly he was in the country when they did the radio version at the Paris studios- which could account for it). The general consensus was that Bewes was "mistaken" or could he have been confused and thinking of a different programme or maybe Jimmy Paige? Or maybe he was just deliberately spouting crap to impress or mock us. But what a fantastic fact or fiction that idea is and how wonderful to be bullshitted by Rodney Bewes. Unless his own reputation has indeed screwed him over and the unlikely story is actually true.
Let's say it is true. Tell the world!