MONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2019
Edinburgh: Yes, you've got all that to look forward to this month. But in London, in July, we also get to see lots of stand-up comics holding preview shows in a desperate attempt to bash out an hour's worth of material before the Fringe starts. Given the nature of work-in-progress shows, it would be incredibly rude to use them to jump to solid conclusions about what the finished product will be like, so I'll limit myself to a few vague observations. Paul Putner's Embarrassment is a rather charming piece of work, structuring the story of his early life around his love of the band Madness and their own rise and fall, to coin a phrase. It's blatantly pushing a lot of nostalgia buttons, but curiously an audience largely made up of people too young to remember the 80s seemed to enjoy it just fine. Andrew O'Neill's snappily-titled We Are Not in the Least Afraid of Ruins; We Carry a New World in Our Hearts has the potential to be terrific, and bits of it (particularly the ending) already are: but when I saw it it was overrunning by 30 minutes, and he'll have to take care in the edit to maintain the delicate balance of ecological preaching and daft gags. The most uncomplicated fun I've had at a preview this year has been Elliot Steel's Merked, seeing how his style has developed since a memorable New Year's Eve gig a year and a half ago, where he took a collapsing show and steered it like the Titanic around the iceberg. He's in total control of his material: his routines start off baggy and improvisational, but quietly build in focus until he hits a series of laser-calibrated punchlines. And he's still only 22, the little sod. See him now before he's too big to play the Free Fringe any more.
Music: The moon landings have been a frequent topic of conversation this month, what with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and everything. And I've come to the conclusion that for those of us born in the sixties, it was absolutely catastrophic to our development. As kids, we watched this huge leap in human evolution happening in real time on telly, and assumed that this was the sort of thing that our species just did every few years: I'd have plenty of similar experiences to look forward to over the rest of my life, and this was just the first one. Well, that didn't work out. Still, both The BBG and I felt that the anniversary should be marked somehow, so on the night of July 20th we went to the Barbican to see Icebreaker perform Apollo, Brian Eno's ambient suite that originally accompanied the first great Apollo 11 documentary film, For All Mankind. Some of this music has gone on to soundtrack the likes of Trainspotting as well as everything else, but here it's given the twist of being played live on instruments rather than magicked out of synths and delay units. The result keeps the drifty eerieness of Eno's atmospherics, whilst adding a distinctly human touch. It's a lovely combination, and having footage from For All Mankind playing alongside it is the perfect finishing touch. I should also mention Icebreaker's excellent opening set of newer works, including my first ever encounter with Michael Gordon's Trance 4, which kicks ridiculous quantities of ass.
Telly: Part of what made the Apollo 11 landing stand out for me is a childhood memory of being dragged out of bed at four o'clock in the morning on July 21st 1969, so that we as a family could watch Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. Fifty years later, it struck me that rewatching the British TV coverage of the landing - which is, after all, how any Brits who were alive at the time experienced it - would be the perfect way to commemorate the event. Except, um, you can't. It's kind of shocking that a major bit of British telly has been almost entirely lost, but a couple of programmes (still around on catchup services for at least the next couple of weeks) have attempted to patch up the holes. The Sky At Night did a rather nice job of assembling clips of BBC coverage of the space race up to just before 1969, with lots of unexpected appearances from childhood favourite presenters, and a lovely interview with James Burke in the present day. Over on Channel 4, Moon Landing Live kind of did what I originally wanted, but using clips of news coverage from all over the world (largely Walter Cronkite in the US, but plenty of others too). There are some fun overlaps between the two programmes: James Burke suggests that the BBC got premium access to NASA facilities because he asked more probing questions, while the Channel 4 show starts with a clip of Burke asking Neil Armstrong if he's considered the possibility that he might die in space. And if you need a fun chaser after all that drama, there's always Public Service Broadcasting performing The Race For Space at their very own Prom. Retro! GO! Fido! GO! Etc!