Here’s an unedited version of the piece I wrote for yesterday’s Independent, on My Edinburgh.
Trawling Edinburgh Festival for the sites of my old publicity stunts, celebrated in the #Twithibition I have just launched, has been a contemplative experience. The stunts celebrated 25 years of mischief, but that was then. What is now? I thought it worth considering how the Festival has evolved as I trekked around the city putting up posters.
I have been going to Edinburgh for years and there is always much that is astonishing, vibrant and beautiful on offer at the Festival – of this year’s crop, Sian Williams’ one-woman show for The Kosh at the Gilded Balloon and Shed Simove at Belushi’s are two to look out for. Sian Williams is the same age as Madonna and considerably sexier; she is compelling to watch. Shed, inventor of the Clitoris Allsorts, is like Trevor Baylis on crack.
But despite the amazing things that are, as ever, on offer, it’s clear that Edinburgh is at a crossroads. Arguably, some City grandees are not able to organise a piss up in a distillery. Princess Street has been dug up just as the Festival started. What planning genius came up with that one? Producers report resources have been pulled away from the Festival; the Assembly Rooms, mid-renovation, was a building site in week one, with one of its auditoria unfit for purpose – the council should be shot for not readying it for the Fringe. The insanity of moving the Film Festival to June is nearly as bad as serially under-funding the International Festival.
I believe that the blame for all this lies at the door of the city fathers, who appear to be unconsciously frittering the spectacle of Edinburgh away, dissipating the energy that has, for many years, seen journalists fighting tooth and nail to get up there every August to run up their expense account and discover the latest bright young things on the international arts scene. Even the bright young things are being discouraged from coming, as student accommodation gets ever more expensive in the city.
Venue controllers bemoan the lack of media attention outside of Scotland. Spreading out the festival over five weeks is a mistake; they should be condensing it to three! Considering it is the largest Festival of its type in the world, the coverage Edinburgh gets, outside a few broadsheets, is pitiful, with little or nothing in the news pages. The fledgling Manchester Festival seemed to get it right, but Edinburgh has slipped – it’s not seen as one of the greatest shows on Earth any more.
Tellingly, the BBC sent fewer staff to cover Edinburgh than went to T in the Park. Even the Scotsman is only using six reviewers. In a tenuous economic climate, it is foolhardy of the Edinburgh council to disregard the impact, and undermine the vitality, of the Festival and the revenues it brings.
There is, at least, good digital representation being developed to help build audiences – I am addicted to the iFringe app for iPhone – but the Festival needs to keep drawing in new talent and audiences and media. It can’t rest on past laurels as, to punters in their 20s, the Festival icons of 30 years ago are vastly distant and mostly irrelevant. Forget the past – the Festival needs to focus on what’s happening now. Stretching the Festivals out so that the Music, Film, Book and Fringe, etc, become ever more separated is preventing the sort of international coverage that Cannes enjoys from happening in Edinburgh. Something needs to change if the Festival is to remain relevant in another 30 years time.
To read the article as printed, click here.