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Guest Column: MJ Hibbett’s Edinburgh Fringe guide for bands

By | Published on Tuesday 6 August 2013

MJ Hibbett

The Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest cultural event, and the massive open-access bit of the wider Edinburgh Festival, is now in full swing – as you’ll discover from our sister magazine ThreeWeeks, which covers it all. Every genre is represented at the Fringe, though it’s comedy and theatre most people talk about.

But the music community does take part too, some flying in to do one-off gigs, but others doing what the comedy and theatre crowd do, and sticking around for a week or three; doing a residency, or turning their music into something more theatrical or cabaret like. But why would an indie band want to do the Fringe in that way? And if they did, what do they need to know?

MJ Hibbett, now a Fringe veteran, is back in Edinburgh this August, and here he tells the music community why they should likewise do the Fringe, and if they do, what they’ll need to know in advance.

Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe you’ll always find a few people from indie bands who’ve decided to try out a new, more thematically linked, suite of songs in a theatrical setting. Or, to put it another way, there’s always a few lead singers who couldn’t persuade their bands to do a rock opera about biscuits and so have had to come and do it on their own. I very much sympathise with such people, and to ease their transition I’d like to offer this brief list of the main differences between playing gigs and playing The Fringe.

1. Everything starts on time
At normal gigs the phrase “Doors 7pm” actually means, “For God’s sake don’t turn up until at least 8.30pm unless you want to stand in a room smelling of toilets, drinking cans of lager at a fiver a go watching a band of haircuts pretending to be The Libertines”. At The Fringe, however, “Show starts 7pm” means, “This is when it actually starts – if you’re not here by then you can’t come in”. As a performer you soon become aware of how important this for your audience – you run late they’ll start to panic about getting to their next show in time and might both leave before the end. Which brings us to…

2. Small audiences are fine
On tour there’s nothing more dispiriting than outnumbering the audience. You’ve spent ages making travel arrangements, booked time off work and typed your little heart out on Facebook promoting it, all to play a gig for the unimpressed landlord of a funny smelling pub in Tamworth. At The Fringe, however, tiny audiences are called “intimate” or “enthusiastic” and if you get more than ten in your tiny little room it feels like Wembley Stadium. Best of all you’ve got a whole string of chances to get an audience tomorrow, and the next day and the next, because…

3. It goes on forever
For a band touring is a week long hassle of daily travel confusion and eating at service stations. The Fringe takes three times as long but all happens in one place, so instead of getting into vans you can have a succession of massive lie-ins and instead of getting lost on ring roads you can acquaint yourself with the many wonderful pubs of this fine city. You’ll get to know, and love, Edinburgh so much that you are absolutely guaranteed, at some point during your stay, to think sincerely to yourself “Hey! Why don’t I just move here?” because you will also discover that…

4. Your cynicism is nothing
People in bands like to think that we’re a cynical, hard-bitten bunch lurking at the edges of society being cool with our coats on. When we first arrive at The Fringe we’re astounded by all the perky young people skipping gaily along the Royal Mile, delighting one and all with their energy and enthusiasm, singing a capella while dressed as soldiers from World War One. This lasts about five days, at which point they realise that they’re not going to be discovered by the RSC, not going to cop off with any of the cast of The All Female History Boys, and are probably going to be blowing the whole of next year’s student loan on chips. However, anonymity, financial disaster and a failure to cop off is like mother’s milk to people in bands – it’s what we live for – and so we can get on with enjoying the fact that…

5. You get reviews
Bands can go for years – decades – without being Professionally Mentioned, because rock critics are a tiny cadre of miserable old sods who rouse themselves every few months only to compliment their advertisers. The Fringe, on the other hand, is knee deep in fresh faced teenagers scurrying around town desperate to find something new and exciting to write about. People in bands like nothing more than Being Mentioned, even when our names are (inevitably) misspelled, and so we come to love these tiny little Fringe reviewers and soon become versed in…

6. A whole new lingo
As soon as you get your first review you will find yourself saying “Yes, but it reads like four stars” and this is just the start of a whole new language. “Going up” (starting), “papering” (giving away free tickets in the street), “rigging” (making sure the lights work) and more will infiltrate your brain and earn you funny looks when you get home and call your bass player “Darling.” Don’t worry though, because however ‘theatrical’ you become you will always have one thing to keep you going, one great talisman of hope, which is…

7. At least you’re not a comedian
Comedians seem so happy go lucky on stage, forever making wry remarks and asking people what they do for a living, but during The Fringe you may actually meet some in person and discover that, by comparison, you are a Sunshine Unicorn skipping along a rainbow, full of happiness for the success off your friends, unconcerned with money and ready to give of your time with joy. If Ian Curtis had met more comedians he’d be alive today and presenting on The Disney Channel.

And that’s the big message you get from all of this. It turns out that all the disappointments and thwartings of ROCK prepares you for everything and anything that The Fringe can throw at you. Spending a lifetime in bands leaves you uniquely qualified to just enjoy the shows, the people, the excitement, the drama and, most of all, the lie-ins of Edinburgh in August. Once you’ve had one of these wonderful holidays in showbiz you’ll want to come back every year, and you’d be right to do so, because The Fringe is fantastic!

In fact – hey! Maybe we should all just move here?

MJ Hibbett (and Steve) will be performing their latest show, ‘Total Hero Team’, every day at The Dram House Upstairs in Edinburgh at 6pm until 17 Aug. After that, you can catch them back down in London at the Camden Fringe at The Camden Head at 8pm on 23 & 24 Aug. More information here.



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