Edinburgh Exchange: An Interview with Andrew Collins

While previews and reviews of Edinburgh’s various festivals are fine they only tell one side of the story, that of the spectator. What of the other side of this relationship. What are the thoughts of those who participate in Edinburgh from the stage looking out?
Andrew Collins has been a constant part of my adult life, first as a music journalist on the NME, then as movie critic on EMPIRE magazine, and then back to music with Q magazine at a time when both our musical tastes had matured. Along the way he would all too sporadically appear on my TV and radio, usually with other culturally influential figures such as David Quantick and Stuart Maconie. He also wrote for EastEnders at the time when I used to watch it. Even now he has a regular column for The Word magazine, which is without doubt my desert island publication, so is still integral to what I listen to, see, and read.
In 2003 he wrote the autobiographical Where Did it All Go Right?, which I bought without knowing anything other than it was a childhood memoir, but with a sense that I wanted to know more about this man who had guided me through the good and bad of 90s music. It had the subheading ‘growing up normal in the 70s’, and that’s exactly what had happened to me. This was a childhood journal that celebrated normality, whatever that may be, and didn’t view a happy upbringing as something to be ashamed of.
It was certainly a refreshing alternative to the shelves of ‘misery lit’ that were popular at the time. That’s not to lessen Dave Pelzer’s, FrankMcCourt’s or any individuals suffering, but it was important to realise, at a time when such books were everywhere, that theirs was not the only story around. Once I had read the book I bought a copy for my brother and insisted that he read it. Luckily he loved it as much as I did. Without wishing to labour the point, here was someone who said something to me about my (young) life, and I find that there is a comfort in recognition that is hard to explain. I suppose it’s always nice to know that others share your experiences, both the good and the bad.
Collins followed Where Did it All Go Right? with Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, which dealt with his student life in the 80s and the problems of being a well adjusted and (largely) content young adult at a time when gloom and misery were the hip stances to assume, and That’s Me in the Corner which gives an insight into his earlier years as a slightly bemused music and film journalist. Taken as a trilogy the books tell the insightful tale of how a boy from Northampton ended up, if not always dining at the top table, then dining near it.

For the last couple of years he has, amongst other things, been part of another partnership with comedian Richard Herring producing a weekly podcast recorded in Herring’s house, and which has lead to the pair hosting a regular 6music Saturday morning radio show. For the third year they are bringing the Collings and Herrin podcast to Edinburgh where it can be found between the 11th-22nd at the GRV on Guthrie Street. He is also appearing as part of the Free Fringe in his first solo show Secret Dancing and Other Urban Techniques which can be found at Bannermans pub on Cowgate (under South Bridge) from now until the 21st. I highlighted both shows as part of my comedy preview (see Edinburgh Preview No1: Comedy…), but before he started his run he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Edinburgh Fringe:
SWH: What is your favourite Edinburgh Festival memory or moment?

AC: I was quite excited when Steve Coogan came to see Lloyd Cole Knew My Father, the show I did with David Quantick and Stuart Maconie in 2001. Because I am shallow and easily pleased. Either that or getting a laugh during my warm-up for the live pilot of Banter for Radio 4 in 2005 (we couldn’t afford a proper warm-up). It may be that the stand-up virus got into me on that very afternoon.

SWH: Who, or what, are you determined to see this year?

AC: I always see Stewart Lee, so Stewart Lee. I’m also looking forward to seeing Justin Edwards’ Jeremy Lion character for the first time. And Gutted, the musical by Martin White and Danielle Ward, among whose cast are some of my friends. Never seen Mat Ricardo, gentleman juggler, except on YouTube, so must rectify that, too.

SWH: You’re performing what I believe is your first solo show at this year’s free Fringe as well as reprising the live podcasts with Richard Herring. Can you explain the concept behind Secret Dancing and Other Urban Survival Techniques ?

AC: Secret Dancing is just that: dancing to the music in your head on public transport without anybody noticing that you’re dancing. It’s very subtle. It’s like pushing the dance inwards, dancing with your internal organs. I demonstrate the techniques, and hope for a volunteer or two to do it with me. This has proven a great success at gigs I’ve done with Richard, so it’s all his fault that I’m doing this at all. He credits with me great confidence but no material. So I’ve written some material. I wonder if he’ll like it? He is my unwilling mentor. As well as the dancing, which is mainly standing still to music, I ramble, genially I hope, about things that I have thought about while walking around in London, such as Masterchef and my own mortality.

SWH: You’re also a writer and journalist. Have you considered adapting any of your autobiographical books into some form of live show?

AC: One section of the show, a true story that took place on the train from Surrey to London in about 2005, appears in my last book, That’s Me In The Corner. But so few people bought the book, I think it will be new to most people. It involves thinking about my own mortality as I approached 40, and it’s a story that couldn’t be improved if you made it up. I think. It works because it touches on feelings many people have at milestone ages, as they get older, and who on a train can honestly say they haven’t imaged being involved in a fatal train crash? Even though it happened to me, it has universal themes. I’ve realised, without meaning to, I’ve written a show in which almost everything is true. I wonder if that’s to do with my background in journalism and non-fiction? Maybe.

SWH: Finally, what changes have you noticed at the Fringe over the years, and are they for the better?

AC: More shows, more people, more money. I first went up in 1989, and the Fringe brochure for that year is in black and white. One of the adverts for three reasonably well known alternative comics used passport photos. Most of the ads were handwritten. It’s easy to become nostalgic for that pre-computer age and its quaintness, but I’ve noticed social networking grow over the last couple of years into a really useful tool, for performer and punter alike. Last year, I had two hours to kill, was on my own, and actually put the call-out on Twitter: anybody fancy a pint. A dangerous move, but hey, I met a gang of blokes, one of whom I’d been happily conversing with on Twitter anyway, and we had some beer, and it was a great, sociable way of spending two hours. I have a lot more followers this year, so I guess I should be more careful. But hey, if someone wanted to kill me, a crowded Edinburgh Fringe would not be the best place to do it.

Andrew Collins & Scots Whay Hae! 4/8/10

Andrew Collins’ books are available from Amazon. and all good books shops (the few that remain)

The Collings and Herrin podcasts can be downloaded from iTunes and the British Comedy Guide

Their CD Earth, Wind, Fire and Water can only be purchased from gofasterstripe

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