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Opinion

Robin Ince: ‘Performing at three festivals in three days is a fitting end to Fringe month’

After the exertions of the Edinburgh Fringe, would a whole weekend of music festivals finish Robin Ince off?

Having had the rare experience of spending one month in just one city, the final weekend of the summer became a haste of travelling as I performed at three music festivals in three days. 

I have been performing at End of the Road for 16 years and it has one of the finest comedy stages in the world – a wooded slope leading to a stage of immaculate slats that I am told I once described as straight from the imagination of the forest pixies playing Jenga. To be surrounded by so many squirrels and so much photosynthesis emboldens a performer. I am blessed by one comedian being stuck in traffic, which allows me an extra 20 minutes of tangential stand-up under the canopy. In past times, the storyteller Sarah Bennetto and I would put on impromptu shows late into the night. It was here that Charlotte Church sat on a bale of straw and sang Hopelessly Devoted to You. Earlier that evening she had been watching Sufjan Stevens and singing along as she look nips of gin and orange. A man turned to her and said, “You’ve got a nice voice.” As she said, “Thanks very much” you could see him realise just who it was. 

I have tremendous respect for Charlotte Church. She is prepared to stand up and fight as the status quo tries to dehumanise her and mock her. She is a force to be celebrated. I think even more on this now Sinéad O’Connor is dead, another force perpetually demeaned. When Jude Rogers interviewed Charlotte at the Laugharne Weekend festival, she spoke of how many singers of her generation were told by their management to keep quiet when it came to social justice and politics.

Music and comedy were my entrances into ideas of social justice; they were what transported a middle-class home counties boy into the experiences of others. Thank you to The Specials, Billy Bragg, Rhoda Dakar and so many more. My standout performances of End of the Road were the prog-punk cacophony of Deerhoof and Be Your Own Pet, a stirring splicing of Bikini Kill and Blondie

From Salisbury to Sevenoaks and to Camp Wildfire where the audience are taught archery during the day, which can be worrying for a performer. The toilets take me back to Glastonbury 1989, but this is another environment of trees and stories and enthused imagination. My visit is brief, joyous and includes the best vegan meal I’ve had this summer. 

My final journey is to Birmingham. I celebrated the Midlands in my recent radio series Reality Tunnel and received much feedback from this unfairly maligned area of England. The Moseley music and art festival is in a local park with a lake and ducks and I perform on what I think are usually public tennis courts. Backstage there are tea and coffee-making facilities and Billy Bragg. 

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It is a Narnia of a festival. You walk through a small gap in suburbia and find yourself surrounded by folk music and poetry. The local independent bookshop, The Heath Bookshop, has a stall, and I find myself irresistibly drawn to a book about the design of the wallets that your photographs would be returned in after you sent the film to the developer (ask your parents) and another on the male gaze of naturist photography from the 1920s onwards, Nudism in a Cold Climate.

I had worried about this weekend of festivals so soon after the artistic exhaustion of the Edinburgh Fringe, but after each one I am more alive than before and more fuelled to tear into the world. Now is the season where I return to performing within walls and under roofs, but I enjoyed the sky and the squirrels as stage companions; a little Beatrix Potter with the prog punk. 

Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

Robin Ince is a comedian, writer and broadcaster.

His book Bibliomaniac (Atlantic Books, £10.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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