The annual Edinburgh-in-August recommendations

Evening on the Royal Mile

Going to Edinburgh in August? Every year for the past 5 years or so, I write up a post with my recommendations from the thousands of shows available in Edinburgh during the month of August, between the Edinburgh International Festival, the Festival Fringe, and the International Book Festival– so once again putting pen (or keypad strikes) to paper, I submit to you, dear reader, my recommendations for Edinburgh in August 2015. I tend to focus on the Fringe and the Book Festival, never having quite made it to the actual Festival myself- but I hear the lineup this year is terrific.

 

The Fringe

If you’ve ever been to Edinburgh in August, you know the drill- there’s a million shows on every single day, all of them are touted to be “genius” and “laugh-out-loud funny”, and it can be hard to sift the wheat from the chaff. Only have a few days and don’t want to waste a minute? Here’s my top recommendations for comedians that have been excellent any time I’ve seen them before- don’t forget to check the dates! While many are performing every night for most of the month, even comedians in Edinburgh need to take a night off occasionally- and some only perform for a few days in the whole month.

Comedians I have seen and would book first:

Reginald D. Hunter – some of you will know him from his successful “Songs of the South” programme on BBC, or Channel 4’s “8 out of 10 Cats”, he’s possibly one of the coolest comedians you’ll see, very funny and consistently sharp- but not for the easily offended.

David O’Doherty: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at David O’Doherty” – Also known simply as “DO’D”, he’s a genuinely funny gent who combines whimsy, social commentary and music. Highly recommended.

Matthew Collins, one of my favorite people, who you may recognise from BBC’s “Great Unanswered Questions”, is returning to the Fringe with not one but two shows- bringing back his well-received “Favourite Waste of Time”, as well as a new show, “The Benefit of Several Doubts”, which looks to be a cracker.

Eleanor Tiernan is possibly one of the smartest comedians around- don’t miss her “Don’t Cry for Me Eleanor Tiernan”

Damian Clark may have a surprise or two up his sleeve for his new show, “It’s a Good Day to Damo”

If you’re looking for sketch comedy, Foil Arms and Hog are consistently funny, and will be in Edinburgh for most of the month of August.

On August 17th, Jarlath Regan will be bringing his immensely popular “Irishman Abroad” podcast to Auld Reekie for a live interview with Jason Byrne, which really shouldn’t be missed if you’re in town that day.

If you’re going to be in Edinburgh in late August, Conor O’Toole and Alison Spittle are well worth a look- you weren’t planning on doing anything else in the middle of the afternoon anyway, were you?

On the list of so-obvious-I-shouldn’t-have-to-tell-you: Jason Byrne, doing “20 Years a Clown”, can make just about anyone laugh until they cry; Andrew Maxwell (“Yo Contraire”) almost never fails to elicit guffaws; the ever-brilliant Brendon Burns is back with “The Brendon Burns Show Again” (though I think he should really have a show titled “I thought he wasn’t coming back?”- I was very disappointed a few years ago when he claimed it was his last time at the Fringe); Stephen K Amos has three shows this year- a talk show, imaginatively titled “Stephen K Amos Talk Show”, his own one-hour standup show “Work In Progress”, and on the 17th he will be talking with Olly Double, curator of the British Comedy Archive, about his career in comedy. All three would be ideal, though obviously if that’s not possibly any one of those shows would be worthwhile, as he’s consistently excellent. Glenn Wool returns to the Fringe with the unusually-titled “Creator, I am but a Pawn”; crowd favourite Jimeoin’s new show “Yee-haa!” should be great fun; Adam Hills: Clown Heart would be a worthwhile investment of the ticket price, and Mark Watson (he of the many 24-hour shows) is doing 2 shows again this year: “Work in Progress” and “Flaws”, both of which should be excellent (note that “Flaws” is only on the 28th and 29th of August). “Edinburgh’s favourite Canadian resident” (a title some might politely argue) Tom Stade is back with “You’re Welcome!”, and on August 13th the satirical and sharp Robin Ince makes an appearance with his show, “Robin Ince’s Reality Tunnel”.

Shows I would take a chance on? Alex Horne’s Monsieur Butterfly, in its second visit to the Fringe, still looks like fun. I’ve heard great things about Al Porter, and his Fringe debut “Al Porter is Yours” looks simply fabulous. Alexei Sayle: Talking Comedy (part of the “Talking Comedy” series with the British comedy archive) looks like a good use of an hour (the shows in that series with Nina Conti and Jo Brand also look like they would be outstanding). I’ve also heard good things about Bec Hill, so would safely assume her show “Caught On Tape” could only be excellent.

I always like to take the opportunity to take in a theatre show, and this year I’d recommend “Charolais”, which premiered at the Dublin Fringe in 2014, where it won the “Little Gem” award, and has been described by the Irish Times as “A fast-paced, witty, and intensely emotional tale filled with laughter, loss and despair”.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival

Lots of people go to Edinburgh during August and only take in shows at the Festival, or the Fringe- I know, because I did that for several years. Stumbling across the Book Festival (I was often there too early in August to have previously even seen it) was what turned Edinburgh in August from annual excellent routine to outstanding celebration. I love books, and even just hanging out in the bookshop at the International Book Festival is an inspiring and rejuvenating experience. No surprise, they have an outstanding lineup again this year, if you happen to be in Edinburgh August 15-31. A few that caught my eye:

Christopher Fleet & Daniel MacCannell: Mapping Out New Stories – if you’ve ever been to Britain or Ireland, you may be aware that there is a perhaps small but devout group of people (their U.S. equivalent might be people involved with Open Street Map) who love everything to do with maps. If you also love the stories that can be told from reading a simple map, this event might be the one for you. It looks unmissable to me.

Naturally the return of Louis de Bernieres (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) on 16 August is sold out at this point, but returns may be available nearer the date- worth looking out for!

If you’re looking for fun for the kids, Chris Judge and David O’Doherty are introducing the second “brilliantly funny handbook for avoiding danger of all kinds” by Dangerologist Docter Noel Zone, with the help of Judge and O’Doherty, on Sunday 16 August at 12:15pm. Highly recommended.

See Jane Smiley discuss her “ambitious and much-feted project mapping America’s experience of the century” on Tuesday 18th August at 11:45am (it’s only £10 for an hour with a Pulitzer Prize winner. You cannot beat that).

Alexander McCall Smith’s “Love Affair with Edinburgh” is also sold out, but another good one to keep an eye on if you’re free on the 18th of August. His discussion of W H Auden with Auden’s literary executor, Columbia University English professor Edward Mendelson, on the 19th still has tickets available, though, as does his discussion of his favorite characters on the 21st.*

Ian Rankin is one of my personal faves, so any of his guest selector “Words and Music” series would be excellent – though the conversation with Richard Havers about his history of Blue Note Records (think Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk) especially stands out.  He’ll also be discussing previously-unpublished Rebus stories on the 24th in advance of a new novel in November; currently sold out, but one to watch if you’re a fan.

Another of my favorite authors, Christopher Brookmyre, will be discussing his new book “Dead Girl Walking” on the 31st, and will also be participating in “Why I Call Myself a Feminist: A Rally, A Rant, A Story, A Song, A Protest, A Poem”, which looks like great fun, on the 30th at 8:45pm.

Ken McLeod will be exploring the poems of Iain Banks on Sunday, 23rd August, revealing a different side of the popular novelist in his early verse.

Translator Daniel Hahn hosted an event with Neil Gaiman a few years ago that was absolutely delightful, and he’s back at the festival again this year hosting Translation Duel: German on the 23rd, among other things.

Angus Peter Campbell, author of the first novel simultaneously published in Gaelic and English, will be talking about “Writing at the Crossroads” with one of his translators, Gillebride MacMillan, on the 25th, which looks intriguing.

Alistair Moffat’s “Story of the Scottish People” looks like a worthwhile and interesting way to pass an hour of the afternoon on the 29th.

Dublin novelist John Banville will be speaking about his new novel on the 31st, in a talk entitled “When Adultery Becomes Theft”.
*as of time of writing

What to do..?

Scott Monument in Edinburgh
Scott Monument, Edinburgh

I highly recommend one of the open-top bus tours of Edinburgh- they all leave from Waverly Bridge near the Scott Monument- it’s hard to miss. There are tickets that cover more than one tour, which are a pretty good deal- for only an additional £2 you can take more than one of the open-top bus routes around the city within a 24-hour period. The best value is to take one of the sightseeing tours around the city and also do the Majestic tour to the Firth of Forth waterfront and Royal Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens is a great way to spend a few hours, and well worth the visit. I also very highly recommend the Grand Plus ticket, which includes the Firth of Forth bus-and-boat cruise, but that’s only available April-October, unfortunately.

The National Gallery is not to be missed. It’s free in, and has amazing exhibits. One of my favorites? The opportunity to stand a mere couple of feet away from one of Monet’s “Haystacks” paintings. Wonderful stuff.

Edinburgh is a delightful place just to walk around in and admire the scenery, too. Definitely bring a camera, strike off in one direction and see where it takes you. Calton Hill is a great walk, and Arthur’s Seat is fantastic in decent weather.

There’s loads of other things to do in Edinburgh- Greyfriars Kirk is well worth a look around, there’s always the castle (though the cover charge seems a little steep to me, I’ll admit), and of course plenty of shopping etc. For the more bookish (and who doesn’t love a good books maps and prints shop?) there’s the wonderful Old Town Bookshop, and map-lovers will delight in the Carson Clark Gallery on the Royal Mile. A free one-hour tour of the Scottish Parliament building is also highly recommended- it’s a fascinating and beautiful building, and the tours are excellent. These are just a few of my favorites….

Go eat!

There are plenty of great places to eat in the city. One of my favorite Edinburgh eateries is Gordon’s Trattoria on the Royal Mile, even just for one of their delightful desserts (they do an excellent banana split, which is hard enough to get…). One of my favorite places in Edinburgh, and the staff (and owner) are really lovely. On a good night it’s often sort of like stopping in to a dinner party that goes on every night. Delightful.

There’s also a wonderful Italian restaurant called Pompeii at 62 Grassmarket in Edinburgh, which is convenient to most of the city center and has an excellent menu and lovely service.

No list of Edinburgh eateries would be complete without a recommendation to stop in to City Restaurant at 35 Nicolson Street (within a few minutes’ walk of much of the city center)- something for everyone, good food, great service, relaxed surroundings and reasonable prices. And they do a mean mac & cheese…

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