Festival Diary: Demarco starts the festival season with a bang

If you’re going to start the festival season with a bang you might as well start it with Ricky Demarco.

Women's football play Sweet FA is back at Tynecastle Park for the Fringe. Picture: Simon Messer
Women's football play Sweet FA is back at Tynecastle Park for the Fringe. Picture: Simon Messer

He may be into his nineties, but the artist, art collector and infamous agitator was still bubbling with passion, anger, dismay and enthusiasm when I found him ensconced in Summerhall, bemoaning his failure to find a secure home for his archive, the lack of funding support he has had and his decidedly mixed feelings about the state of the festivals he has attended since their inception in 1947.

Demarco is famously hard to interrupt in full-cry, as a member of Summerhall’s staff discovered when trying to let him lock up for the evening.

He was merely warming up for an hour-long “in conversation” event at the Signet Library, one of the grandest venues in the city, where Demarco’s 75-year involvement with the festivals was celebrated with an “in conversation” event with Creative Scotland’s visual arts chief Amanda Catto, who managed more than most to get a word in.

Richard Demarco has been in every festival season since they were launched in 1947.

So keen was Demarco to hold court on his experiences of the festivals that he was off and running before Catto had even managed an introduction and while the event’s VIPs were at a drinks reception downstairs.

It’s very early days, but I had to hold up to a “schoolboy error” at the Fringe by turning up to the wrong venue before the festival had even opened officially.

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Despite all the uncertainties hanging over the return of the festival this year, it’s been reassuring and just a little surreal to see all the venue launches returning to their previous slots in the busy “Week Zero” calendar.

Underbelly’s is usually the first to draw a bumper crowd of journalists, publicists and assorted festivalisers and this year was no different – except for the fact that the launch gala had relocated to the McEwan Hall from its traditional home at Underbelly's upside down purple cow venue.

I walked right past an impressively enormous crowd queuing to get into the McEwan Hall and a crowd of “well-wishers” greeting me outside before realising the error of my ways.

I heard my name in a more ominous tone echoing round the hallowed building when Charlie Wood said he and fellow Underbelly director had taken a vow of silence and promised to ignore the “debates and arguments” that had reared their head in the run-up to the Fringe.

I won’t be waiting till the end of August to hand out awards in this column.

The Pianodrome team deserve a commendation for not only staging a launch at the old Royal High School more than a week before most of the Fringe’s big boys, and actually running shows several weeks early, creating a relative air of calm behind the scenes compared to the relative chaos elsewhere as venues were being hammered and nailed together.

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Also quick off the blocks with the most remarkably timely Fringe show were This Is My Story, the company which is bringing back Sweet FA, the little-known story of the rise of women’s football during the First World War, to Tynecastle Park, which hosted a launch event just 24 hours after England’s “lionesses” had claimed glory in the European Championships at Wembley.

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