On Wednesday 9th March, Music for Dogs will open the 11th Palliative care Congress at Glasgow's SECC. This will be a very proud moment for me. Those of you who know my family's story will know how close this issue is to my heart, and why. We were booked for this gig way back in January 2015 (thanks to Liz Lefroy and Shrewsbury Poetry for offering me a performance just when Dr Derek Willis was looking for something for the conference!) and it's hard to believe it is almost upon us after the long wait.
Thursday, March 10th, the Columba Club at 7.30 Join us for the Coatbridge Patrick's Day Festival
And so to the much-delayed final instalment of this shaggy dog tale - for now...
Yes, we "did" Edinburgh and it was a blast. The city - the festival, everything - was overwhelming, but we survived. The sheer scale of the programme makes it impossible to take in. People - audience members, that is - need to plan the whole thing like a like a military campaign in order to decide what they'd like to see and how to do so. The foot soldiers - performers - just have to get stuck in, take a deep breath and hope they'll come out the other side. I've probably mixed me metaphors there, but you get the drift.
The pace was relentless; we were doing a daily show for almost two weeks, with a one-hour slot within which to get in, set up, do the show and leave things as they were for the next performer. Our venue was not the most salubrious ( a messy backstage are which was shared with other acts and an old-fashioned air-conditioning yoke that had to be emptied of its water overspill regularly) and had one major flaw above all others - there was only a curtain separating us from the neighbouring space, which was home to a rowdy children's show. There were sensitive moments in our show which were almost spoilt by inappropriate sounds and music from next door, but I managed to ad-lib my way around most of them. Hairy, though...
Fringe Central, where performers could go to get online, copy reviews and star ratings, grab a coffee and even nap on a sofa, was a haven in between pounding the streets sticking flyers in people's faces. I tended to spend most of the post-show period there, updating press releases and trying to stay on top of social meeja, (sic), while the lads (husband and his brother) did the bulk of the flyering. The most common sound in the space was of teams of young people (and they seemed terribly young to me) stapling their four and five stars to their handouts. Who were they? What shows were they doing? How did they get the reviewers to come along to their show? I've no idea. Because eventually we got to staple our own four stars to our flyers and so were too busy to chat to them.
Chasing reviewers was probably the most stressful aspect of the whole experience. It's one thing if you are a company or at least have a team of people doing press for you (and you really should have a team if you can afford one); it's another when it's just you doing the whole publicity bit as well as the performing. The media office sends you an Excel file of media and press contacts/reviewers, which is yours to do with as you will. In the months leading up to the festival, I spent a lot of time sending e-mails to names on the list, with an attached press release, and waiting for responses. Of course you target the big beasts first, the Guardian, the Scotsman et al, and the trendy online ones like Broadway Baby. then you go down the list, trying to glean from someone's name and the publication they work for if they are likely to be simpatico to you. A bit like sticking a needle in the runners and riders in the Grand National, really. And then you wait. And wait.
I was very lucky, or the preparation and time i put into the e-mails (which I personalised every time) paid off, because i got four reviewers to come to the show in the end. But it was touch and go for a long time. Apart from an initial early response from one reviewer, i heard nothing until just before the festival or was into my run when they said they would be coming. Two reviewers came to the first performance (on the Tuesday); one was the early responder (the Edinburgh Guide) who gave us three stars, and the other was from BBC Scotland, who'd only made contact a few days before the run and who gave us a rave on the Janice Forsyth show the next day. The irish Post had let me know before the festival that they would be coming along, and their chap duly did on the third day. As it is a weekly paper (published on Wednesdays) we'd missed that week's edition and though we hoped it would be in the following week's one, it wasn't published until a week after our run finished. Our four stars from them, therefore, never made it to the stapler. Nor did the four stars from femalearts , whose reviewer only made it on the very last day. It had been an anxious wait.
So, was it worth it? For me, yes, it was, because I wanted to get reviews for the show (even if they weren't published in time for the run) to use for future promotion and because It was a challenge I'd set myself to survive, which i did - just about! I also wanted to use the opportunity to make or renew contact with other people in the business - a lot of them from my Dublin days, which happily I also managed to do. Would I do it again? I don't think so, or not under the same circumstances. I don't think I'd do the Free Fringe again (some audience members thought "free" meant just that - others were very generous - when what you really mean is give us a few bob towards expenses, you miserable middle-class git) or at least I'd try for a nicer venue. And because I got what i wanted to out of it, a repeat seems a little redundant, certainly for my dodgy knees...
And here endeth the lesson/s. Watch out for upcoming performances (in Glasgow and Coatbridge) and get in touch if you'd like to book the show. Woof, woof!