Sunday, 23 August 2015

Beware the spellchecker!... the real names of those Acts! - Edinburgh 2, Steel, Science and Beefheart

This weekend's Morning Star has published three of my Edinburgh festival reviews edited into one article. It is here. It is a masterpiece of compilation and compaction, and I have the utmost respect for those who can do this important job. However, when you are doing this, it is tempting to rely on the spellchecker to ensure accuracy. When you deal with people's names however, that sometimes goes wrong! As it has here! (How many can you spot?*)

The names of some less well known acts and actors have fallen foul of this gremlin, and for accuracy's sake, I'll reprint the original reviews with the real names, below! (My favourite typos are that great band - The Kings of Wheeze and the wonderful new talent - Erin Discarder!!). 

Oh, and if you haven't got your tickets for Elvis McGonagall, at the Stand in the Square - why not? 1.40pm every day until the 30 August. Tickets here.

Who do I think I am? - Mark Steel 5/5 - Assembly George Square, 20.15.  Until Aug 30.
Mark Steel - Who does he think he is?

So. The question on everyone's lips as Mark Steel took the stage in his first return to the Edinburgh Fringe in 20 years was... Would he be able to restrain from mentioning his newly acquired fame at being publicly rejected as a Labour supporter, even if his show was supposed to be about his own birth background (he was adopted from birth).

No great surprises to find out that he couldn't! But he didn't allow it to interrupt the flow of what was an intriguing birth story, yet ultimately one that had less influence on him than his upbringing in Swanley, Kent. For, what emerged from a fascinating story, was that Mark Steel - far from being the offspring of a North London lass, and a French man is in fact, half Scottish, and half Egyptian Jewish!

That, however, is (less than) half the story! For the scourge of British capitalism, whose socialism was fed by the unacceptable face of capitalism exemplified by the corruption of 'Tiny' Rowlands, Sir James Goldsmith and their ilk, has discovered that his birth father is a Wall Street trader and backgammon champion, who played with them in London's swanky Claremont Club!

Almost needless to say, it hasn't lessened the ascerbic tongue that Steel employs to flay those who  suggest that the financial crisis is caused by the poor having too much money, or that allowing gay marriage somehow devalues 'straight' marriage!

But the story both demonstrates how our background is the main driver in the formation of our character, but also allows a softer side of Mark Steel to emerge, especially in the clear love for his adoptive parents, but also in the understanding of his birth mother, and in particular, her family - even if they are revealed as Socialist Party supporters (the SWP's own particular 'People's Front of Judea' moment)!

What is also intriguing in a more general sense is the move of many of the more experienced 'political stand-ups' into more personal, narrative-based material. Mark Thomas also is experiencing that journey with both his Bravo Figaro, and his Cuckooed shows.

Once again - the personal, is the political. Especially in the person of Steel's birth father who, Steel wagers, wouldn't have been rejected from supporting the Labour Party! Get a ticket if you can.

Different for girls?
The Periodic Fable - a 'Panto Science' production,  Assembly Rooms 12.15. until 30 Aug. 4/5.
A Children's Panto Show? On Science teaching? In the Morning Star?

Unusual, perhaps. But if you consider the challenges that this show throws out it makes perfect sense. Designed to reclaim science for everyone and away from the clutches of the geeks, it shares a lot of space (and some of the jokes!) with E4's The Big Bang Theory - and that is no criticism! It also challenges gender stereotyping in the work we do - a key Star principle!

Indeed one of the key premises outlined by writer Bruce Morton and collaborator, Zara Gladman is that science is for women as well as men, girls as well as boys - and the response to the show from the  children present showed that it seemed to be working!

The performers, Erin McCardie and Karen Fraser establish an almost instant rapport with the young audience and the 'evil' Bruce Morton creates the panto vibe. Like good panto, there's also something in it for the adults. Topical references like the 'girls in the lab' gaffe of biochemist, Sir Tim Hunt and puns (Van der Giraffe Generator anyone?) are sprinkled among the songs, physical activity and experiments.

The show is witty, and succeeds in bridging an awkward gap. Its short length and small cast should mean that it is easily transferable to other venues after its run here.  

Beefheart and Cheeze 2, Henry's Cellar Bar, 14.08.15 7.00pm 4/5
In these days of tribute bands and rehashing of classic albums, how do you pay tribute to an

artist such as Captain Beefheart. So original that he hardly ever played his own material the same way twice! That's the problem facing Orange Claw Hammer (the name is taken from a track from the classic Trout Mask Replica album), a four piece formed by saxophonist and composer, Steve Kettley, to celebrate the Captain.

They do it by using Beefheart's music as a starting off point. Authentic tracks like Click Clack, and Veterans Day Poppy, are the inspiration rather than a copycat subject. And the tracks used are those that are primarily instrumental. Few attempts are made to replicate Van Vliet's gravel voice and exotic lyrics (although it sounds like Kettley could have a good crack at it, from the short examples here)!

That it works is a tribute to both Kettley's sax playing, and Stuart Allardyce's guitar. And the love of the blues-based, free-form style that is the real connection between Orange Claw Hammer and Beefheart's Magic Band. It isn't Beefheart. The lack of vocals alone ensures that. But in its instrumental homage, perhaps it is a truer tribute.

The Kings of Cheeze, support band for the night, fitted into the evening well. Their folk-rock, jazz-influenced style gave us the perfect starter for the main menu. Guitarist, Dave Gray and the unique tones of vocalist Trish Murry lead a fine band. If you like your music more on the arhythmic track, both these bands will appeal.

*There are six separate typos (plus one is repeated three times.)

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