Emerging from the Tent
And so, farewell, big starry roofed tent at Potterrow - job done for another festival.You were a strange temporary home after a few years at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre with its warm and dependably dry stage and the comforting aroma of coffee wafting in from the foyer.
The starry roof of the BBC @ Potterrow tent.
When I first saw where the BBC as a whole were pitching up for Festival 2011, (and I mean TOUT Le BBC, not just BBC Scotland), I was far from seduced. For a preview programme the Friday before live coverage began, my job was to interview the comedian Stephen K Amos. He did a brief stand up routine which I was to follow with a ten minute interview. As I watched him work his way through the gags, I became aware that he was turning an odd shade of blue and appeared to be shaking like a leaf. He still had his coat on. The dry ice flooding onto the stage did little to foster a feeling of cosiness and when the set finally ended, I rushed forward with the urge to hug him; he looked like a hypothermia victim. As I surveyed the tent from my new vantage point on stage, I have to admit I couldn't imagine a more desolate place on earth, nevermind Edinburgh.
Wrong. Very wrong...
Two weeks on, despite the daily challenges of technical blips, swamp like conditions around the site where our tent and OB truck was pitched and with no particular place to go to have the team briefing, I find I am looking back on my two week long tent stint for the Festival Cafe fondly. My final show on Wednesday provided an uplifting full stop to the weeks of frantic activity. For starters, I finally shed my cardigan and basked in the warmth of the tent lights. My lineup of guests turned the temperature up a few more degrees - there was writer and broadcaster Jon Ronson, a man whose mission is to dig up the absurdities in life and track down the oddities. His latest venture is a book that helps identitfy psychopaths. Joining him on the stage, streetwise Glasgow based author Alan Bissett.
They hit it off mainly because they were both suffering; Alan's was self inflicted - sunburn, following a mad decision to be "Scottish " and shun sun screen during a walking expedition in the Alps. Jon had, just hours earlier, stepped off a transatlantic flight. As we prepared to go live on air, he cheerily confessed he was barely alive and might not make it through the show. Fortunately they both did us proud. But there was a lot to entertain them - for instance, beat boxing champ Beardyman blew us away with his bamboozlingly versatile mouth.
The audience lapped him up but when I introduce Cabaret artiste Camille O'Sullivan to the crowds, they were positively drooling. This Fringe-favourite has a huge stage presence, and a voice that would break a heart of glass. Camille's final number, a cover of HURT by the Nine Inch Nails, brought tears to my eyes and from what I could gather, a fair few in the audience.
Festival Café 2011 has been able to showcase so many wonderful talents - way too many to mention, but they all made this year's coverage special. Amongst the "English Highlights", Art Malik listening in rapture to Indian Sarod musician Ustad Amjid Ali Khan. Sharing the stage with the brilliant crime writer and Raith Rovers fanatic, Val McDermid, former Punk rocker Henry Rollins and our homegrown polymath, artist, writer and heaven knows what else, John Bryrne. Their conversations about society and its ills was mesmerising to follow - I wish we'd had another hour to broadcast!
Finally, a word about the Danish a capella band, Fork. I spotted them in the "green room" ie crowded portacabin (yes licence payers, we are all in it together!), before they took to the stage and they looked pretty good to me. Once they started their act, they'd been transformed into Viking gods and goddesses - pure theatre. Can I say Mia's legs are the longest I've ever seen on any woman! Fork's version of Bohemian Raphsody very nearly brought the tent down....awesome!
I'm already missing the twinkling lights that dotted the black canvas roof of our BBC tent, even missing the trusty digital clock that kept me on track during the live performances. And I will miss the energy of the team who brought the show together - the backroom boys and girls who rarely get the praise - the producers who search out and book the acts and work long into the night and the hard working volunteer runners who looked after all our guests. I'm already wondering if we can get a fan heater rigged up on stage for next year. Seems I do like camping out after all!.