Festival Diary: Doghouse for Damon Albarn after helping to burst distancing bubbles

I used to think Scotland's Covid rules were baffling and hard to keep up with. Then the Edinburgh festivals began.

Damon Albarn performed at the Edinburgh International Festival this week. Picture: Jessica Shurte
Damon Albarn performed at the Edinburgh International Festival this week. Picture: Jessica Shurte

Over the past few weeks every event and venue seems to have adopted their own policies on physical distancing, ticketing, ordering drinks and where they want face coverings to be worn.

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has had the strictest physical distancing policy, in keeping with the two metre rule in place when tickets went on sale.

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But the gap between audience bubbles has created easy access for some audience members to make a beeline for the stage during some of the livelier shows at its vast pop-up venue at Edinburgh Park.

Chrissie Hynde performed a series of Fringe shows at the Queen's Hall.
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This is all well and good during an encore after a standing ovation, but Damon Albar n ended up in the doghouse on social media, presumably from those who has purchased seats in prime position, after urging the audience at the start of his second of two shows to head down the front.

The resultant scenes and inevitable complaints undoubtedly inspired a series of Twitter posts from the International Festival urging concert goers to “remain seated throughout the performance” and admitting that Albarn’s antics had sparked “discomfort for some”.

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For anyone looking forward to one of the final EIF shows, the festival had a simple, but polite, message: “Clap your hands, stamp your feet and enjoy the final weekend.”

At MultiStory, a contender for the best new venue of the festival season, Celtic fusion stars Shooglenifty achieved the seemingly impossible by turning the roof of the Castle Terrace car park into a scene more in keeping with a nightclub dancefloor.

The socially-distanced audience did not need to be invited to get on their feet twice after drummer James Mackintosh told them: “You know, you are allowed to dance, as long as you stay in your bubbles.”

Bubble dancing was certainly the best way of keeping warm during a show that I’ve discovered over the past month – I was even shedding layers as the show went on.

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They have been packing them in tight at the Counting House, where Fringe veteran Phil Kay was offering a very different rock-and-roll experience.

He literally jammed his way through his show, much of which was inspired by what one audience member had for their lunch, on his guitar.

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Any audience nerves about the lack of any distancing in the seating arrangement were soon dispelled by having to keep an eye out for pepper pots, which were regularly launched over their heads.

"It’s health or safety – you can’t have both,” he insisted, to even more bemusement.

With much of Kay’s audience appearing baffled by his ramblings it was hard to tell if he, like many others who have taken to the stage in Edinburgh this month, was a tad ring rusty.

There was something almost reassuring about Chrissie Hynde’s show at the Queen Hall’s, where she and James Walbourne, her bandmate in The Pretenders, made several false starts to the opening number in their set of Bob Dylan covers.

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Hynde, who was treated to a few folk whistles from her first-night audience, was wearing the best T-shirt I’ve spotted during the festival. Its simple message? “Don’t pet me. I’m working.”



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