Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)
Spank's Edinburgh Diary, Saturday 21/08/2021

Edinburgh Festival 2021

The traditional Pile O'Programmes picture for Edinburgh 2021, even though most of them only exist in online form. (The Fringe one isn't even a programme - for the second year running, it's a book full of blank pages sold as a notebook to benefit the Fringe Society at )for Noel, and Diane

It all seemed so cut and dried two years ago. Edinburgh in 2019, Edinburgh in 2020, somewhere else in 2021, back in Edinburgh again 2022. Two years on, one year off, you know how we roll here when it comes to attending the greatest arts festival in the chuffing world.

But let's be honest, we weren't expecting any of the stuff that's happened since then. Least of all that I'd be back in Edinburgh in 2021 with four programmes' worth of events to consider.

So, a quick overview of how we got here. There wasn't an Edinburgh Festival in 2020, at least not a real-life one. The Pals and I managed to persuade our accommodation providers to roll over our booking into 2021: meanwhile, The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent a week in London bingeing on the various online events that were being arranged as some sort of alternative. Not the same thing as a big sweaty in-person festival at all, of course, but we did what we could.

For much of 2021, it wasn't entirely clear if this year's festival would go the same way. At least in 2020, the decision to pull the plug happened as far back as April, so both artists and punters had plenty of time to make alternative plans. But as we rolled into May and June of this year, there was a huge amount of uncertainty as to what was going to happen. The Book Festival laid its cards on the table early, with the announcement of a move from their long-term Charlotte Square base to a new setup in Edinburgh College of Art, one which gave them the ability to run author events to a small in-person audience while having the facilities to webcast them to anyone who didn't feel like travelling to Edinburgh this year.

So that was a start. The Edinburgh International Festival was the next one to jump in, with a small but perfectly formed programme - primarily music, but representing the other arts to a degree as well, and all held in a series of custom-built open-air venues (with all the risks of drowning and freezing that an Edinburgh summer has to offer). But up until early July, it was still unclear what sort of Fringe we would have: the Fringe Society insisted they could put on some sort of hybrid programme of meatspace and online events, but nobody knew how many of them would actually require you to come to Edinburgh.

This was the point where the usual arrangements started breaking down. Normally, we'd be travelling up to Edinburgh with a bunch of Spank's Pals, and we'd be in shared student accommodation for the week. But a combination of uncertainty about what Edinburgh 2021 would entail, concerns about trying to do it in the middle of a global pandemic, and just having other things to do in August, all resulted in the Pals dropping out one by one, hoping that things would be closer to normal in 2022. Totally understandable, in the circumstances.

Meanwhile, The BBG and I weren't sure. We did some digging around, and realised that although our cheap student flats would have to be put on ice for a second year, hotels were surprisingly less expensive than usual - with all the uncertainty about what was going to happen, nobody seemed to be travelling to Edinburgh in August, so hoteliers were looking to lure punters over. Well, it worked. We booked ourselves a few nights in a budgetish hotel, and waited to see what sort of festival would develop.

The answer? Well, not a full festival, obviously, but an interesting one given the constraints. Like International and Book before it, the Fringe has gradually rolled out a mixture of real-life and virtual events, with enough of a range of the former to make travelling up there worthwhile (particularly given some of the inventive ways that venues have been implementing Covid safety protocols). It's a much smaller programme, in much smaller capacity venues, and there isn't anything like the sort of buzz around it that helps you decide what's worth seeing. We've locked down more of our schedule in advance than usual, getting ourselves tickets for shows before they sell out. But we've still got a few gaps in there where we can be surprised.

Still, the biggest surprise is one that we know about already. Because... [actually, this probably requires a bit of backstory for the newcomers. In 2007, after I'd been regularly attending the various Edinburgh festivals for nearly two decades, the Edinburgh International Film Festival announced that next year it was moving from August to June, in a deliberate attempt to separate themselves from the other three festivals. As this meant I couldn't attend it any more, ever since then I've been writing about the film festival in these pages as if it closed down in 2008 and has never occurred since. It's a supremely petty action on my part, and I think it can just about stand one more outing.]

...because, after a thirteen year hiatus, the Edinburgh International Film Festival has started up again. [Told you.] Again, it's shorter, and it's hybrid, but there are several in-person screenings on offer, so a few of them are now part of that locked-down schedule I mentioned earlier. For the first time since 2007, we have International, Fringe, Film and Book Festivals all clamouring for our attention. All we need to do now is go there and watch stuff.

Only a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure if there would be enough going on in Edinburgh to justify the usual daily reports. Now, I think there will be - whether it's going to be a full set of artistic events, or a chaotic collapse into a new lockdown, remains to be seen. But there'll be something to write about, and I'll be doing it here each day over the next not-quite-a-full-week. Watch this space.

  • Saturday August 21st - "[squelching]" (HOH subtitles, Mad God)
  • Sunday August 22nd - "We’re really good at screwing up all of the great ideas we have" (Jeanette Winterson)
  • Monday August 23rd - "If this gets reviewed, they’ll say that it lost focus when we started passing things around the audience’" (Mark Watson)
  • Tuesday August 24th - "Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Sometimes we have to stand on their necks." (Saul Williams)
  • Wednesday August 25th - "Couldn't I just have a lager?" (man in next booth to us, BrewDog St Andrews)
  • Thursday August 26th - "Technically, there's no post traumatic stress disorder, because there s no 'post'" (The Student)
  • Friday August 27th - "How can you trust a man that wears both a belt and suspenders? Man can't even trust his own pants." (Frank)
  • Saturday August 28th - "That's me without a beard and full of amphetamines" (Warren Ellis)
  • The BBG's Postscript - you thought we were keeping quiet about where we ate this year, didn't you?


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