Edinburgh 2012

Scottish National Monument

Before I file away all my ephemera, I'll just list the shows I managed to see at this year's Edinburgh festival - you could hardly call it a review! It was just a week: Saturday 11 - Saturday 18 August, with a stop-off at Bury on the way back for my sister's birthday and a spot of trainspotting.

No shows Saturday and Sunday, just lazy days hanging out in various bars, including George Square Gardens and the new venue Summerhall, a former vet school and hospital - The Royal Dick - and it's huge (we came back on the Friday for a proper look round). They make their own beer there - Barney's - and I had a couple of pints of the Red Rye on Sunday in the courtyard.

Dieter Roth: Diaries

Monday 13 August: took in some art shows, including Dieter Roth: Diaries at the Fruitmarket, an underwhelming  collection of rubbish, flattened and put in folders for a year! Much more interesting were Harry Hill's paintings, upstairs at White Stuff, including some pop stars painted on coconuts. Saw the ever entertaining Robin Ince at The Jam House, a free gig, but I put a fiver in the bucket, and popped along to the book festival to meet up with Sam and his friends.

Harry Hill coconuts

 Tuesday 14 August: got a bus to the Mound (my bus pass doesn't work in Scotland so it was a £3.50 day ticket) to check out the Symbolist Landscape exhibition. It was better that expected; but the subtitle Van Gogh to Kandinsky let it down. There was so much more, including Whistler, GF Watts, Lord Leighton, James Ensor and Monet, plus lots of German and Scandanavian painters such as Franz von Stuck and Villhelm Hammershoi and Akseli Gallen-Kallela - and a couple of dreadfuls by Munch. What was fascinating was that so many of the conventional paintings were contemporary with the more avant-garde pictures, such as by Mondrian, collected together towards the end of the exhibition. Thanks to The Scotsman I got a half-price ticket to Formby, a play written and performed by Ewan Wardop, and smashing it was too - he can really play the banjolele, and we had a good old sing song at the end of the two songs audiences never let George leave the stage before he did - can you guess them? I met up with Sam to go see Paul Foot (not the politician) at the Underbelly and funny he was too, without ever finishing a joke - don't sit on the front row though! It was another late night as well, to see Humphrey Kerr as Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher. It was the sort of tall tale that your grandad might tell you about his role in the downfall of Hitler, and hugely entertaining. It was the last night of the run and the props dept had put some extra bang in the explosion, making the actor jump out of his skin (and the audience too).

Golden double for Chris Hoy

Wednesday 15 August: to the Stand for another Edinburgh stalwart, Simon Munnery, who conducted the whole show - Fylm Makker - from the middle of the audience as a video link. It was a virtuoso performance involving half-silvered mirrors, foot pedals and cardboard animations, and of course Venn diagrams. After a pint across the road we were in the other Stand for Gavin Webster, an old-skool geordie comic, who was nevertheless extremely likeable and shook everyone's hand on the way out. After a Yo! Sushi meal at the top of Harvey Nick's I baled out and let the youngsters go oot on the toon.

Scottish singers plaque

Thursday 16 August: I had a mission, to discover Sally Kennedy's singing ancestor's plaque at the bottom of Calton Hill steps. I was also looking for the Ingleby Gallery, so I got off the bus at the top of the High Street and walked down the Royal Mile through all the buskers and flyerers , checked out the golden pillar box on Hunter Square, looked in at the Collective gallery and made for the Trainspotting steps. Lo and behold! there was the gallery: two floors of lovely Ian Hamilton Finlay stuff, including a film of aircraft taking off from an ironing board and a set of wooden models of Japanese warship chimneys. Back up to Waterloo Place and across a bridge over where I'd just been (Edinburgh is like that) and it was onward to the steps. Found the plaque just past the steps and decided to do something I'd never done before: go up to the top of Calton Hill! It wasn't that bad and ate my sandwiches overlooking a stunning view of Leith. Walked down to the Mound and got the Art Bus (yes, it's back, as a luxury coach) to the modern art gallery for the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition. Now I've never been too fond of Pablo, but the Wyndham Lewis paintings downstairs and the Hockney room upstairs were worth the admission price on their own. There is some local interest too, with photos by Lee Miller and collages by Roland Penrose. Didn't bother with the Munch at the former Dean gallery, now Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 2. Back to the old Assembly for Stewart Lee (who flyered me on the way in!) and his very-post-modern show Carpet Remnant World. Then another late-night show - John Shuttleworth at the Ace Dome. It was quite a rushed performance, with only an abbreviated I can't go back to savoury now as an encore. I look forward to a good two hours at the Theatre Royal in November.

Art bus

Friday 17 August: spent most of the day at Summerhall looking at the many art exhibitions on show. It's like a college degree show with so many rooms to explore and only a badly photocopied map to guide you. Liked the Demarco Foundation rooms, with more Ian Hamilton Finlay, and the Phenotype Genotype ephemera. Then it was a walk to the Pleasance Courtyard, thence to the Brewdog Bar in Cowgate, and a farewell meal at Absolute Thai.

Cages for art

On Saturday it was down the west coast on Virgin to Manchester and the tram to Bury, and on Sunday I made use of one of my free member's tickets on the East Lancs Railway, where steam locos 80080 (made in Brighton) and Jinty 47324 pulled me to Heywood and Rawtenstall and back. Stopped off at Ramsbottom for some black peas, but the stall had gone, its pitch taken over by a Tesco carpark!

80080 tank at Ramsbottom


Bauhaus at the Barbican

Can someone explain to me how you can buy a Travelcard (from Brighton) online? As it happened, the ticket office at London Road beat the online best, coming in at £13.80 (with senior railcard), but it meant I missed a train! Also, on the Barbican website, I could have saved a quid by booking online, but I'd have to specify a time! Ah well, swings and roundabouts.

I was off to see the Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition at the Barbican, not a venue I relish, so it's London Road > Brighton > East Croydon > Farringdon (spanky new station) > Barbican tube, then follow the yellow line to the Art. it's £8 to get in and it starts upstairs on the balcony. Now I love the Bauhaus, I've been to the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin and have fond memories of the Modernism exhibition at the V&A back in 2006, but I'd heard it's not that good - a Torygraph writer was particularly disappointed, so, I treated it as work (I have a book to write on graphic design) and dived in.

From the outset, however,  I was impressed, and over the edge of the bacony got a preview of the treasures to come, downstairs. It's just so good to see real artwork - the holes where Kandinsky put his compass to draw less-than-perfect circles, the postcards they loved sending each other, the home-made diplomas. They must have had so much fun - they were just so MODERN, doing the 60s in the 1920s, with their jazz bands, miniskirts and geometric hairstyles. And I'm delighted by the odd anachronism that crept in, like on Peter Keler's design for Moholy-Nagy's studio: just a bare room painted in three shades of grey with a one-legged table in the corner holding a slim record player, but with the curved trumpet form of a gramophone arm upsetting the perfect rectilinearity of it all. I couldn't find an image of it, but here's another from the same series.

There was no photography allowed and of course that particular gouache was neither in the £32.95 catalogue nor available as a £1 postcard (the postcards were from the Bauhaus-archiv) so you'll have to take my word for it. There was lots lots more to love: all the famous chairs (and you can even see them in a catalogue where you could actually order and buy a Mies van de Rohe tubular steel job, brand new), the lamps, the teapots, the textiles. Then there were the toys, the very weird puppets, sculpture, woodcuts, typography, colour wheels and exercises, Petshop Boys-style dance costumes, experimental photography, adverts for Nivea creme... but most of all it's the personal stuff, the questionnaires, the letters, the photos of teachers and students having a wild time before the killjoy Nazis put a stop to it. It's not really about the artists, though, but there are enough Paul Klees, Kandinskys, van Doesburgs, Feiningers on show to satisfy anyone. If you ever went to art school, you owe them all a huge debt; if you didn't, like me, you'll wish you were around between the wars when there was everything to live for. It's on until 12 August.