During late August, there is, to my mind, only one place to be. That special somewhere is the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. What makes it so is the annual Festival Fringe, the world’s biggest arts extravaganza, to where all manner of manic and madcap performers naturally gravitate to entertain those of us on the lookout for ‘left-field’ entertainment in a world of stifling conformity.
My first taste of it was back in 1988 (Figure 77.1). I suppose I was lucky: my girlfriend lived in a third-floor bedsit opposite Haymarket station in the city’s West End. As well as being conveniently situated to experience all the Fringe madness, when it was time to go home I was able to see from her (one and only) window my return train as it approached the station ... then put on my shoes, kiss her goodbye, bolt down three flights of stairs, dodge the traffic on Haymarket Terrace and reach the platform, bounding spectacularly through the train doors without breaking my stride. As I said, madness was all around.
Figure 77.1: For reasons that I will explain, and which might not be coincidental, the 1988 Fringe postcard appears to show a slightly unhinged street performer, juggling outside the National Gallery.
Copyright © 1988 EFFS
One Saturday morning that summer was memorably mad. We were wandering though Princes Street Gardens, when I heard a man, with what sounded like an American accent, scream:
‘I’m going to set fire to my hair!’
There was a small crowd gathered outside the Scottish National Gallery. (This is a huge neoclassical building on the Mound, underneath which run the railway lines to Haymarket and beyond.)
Startled, we followed the commotion and heard him repeat his threat. We should have known better. Rather than discovering a suicidal case preparing to end his days in style, we were confronted by a young, hyperactive street performer, reeling in a crowd before letting rip with his repertoire. First, he propelled himself up between two of the building’s Ionic columns, legs splayed, arms waving and presumably with decent treads on his shoes (Figure 77.2). He then began to juggle several flaming torches, tossing them in the air, between his legs and behind his back (Figure 77.3). As a feat of balance alone, it was impressive; not setting fire to his hair – or anything else – even more so.
Figure 77.2: Live at (or rather outside) the National Gallery
Copyright © 1988 Paul Spradbery
His crazy act lasted about twenty minutes and was well worth the five-pound note I could not afford to throw into his hat but did anyway. We spoke to him afterwards. He introduced himself as Rex Boyd from Kansas City, USA, and was the same age as us. We spent the rest of the day roaming the packed streets, stopping to watch any other ludicrous exhibitionists whose paths we happened to cross. On our way back to bedsit-land, we passed the gallery and our new favourite Yank was still wedged between the stone pillars, twenty feet in the air, going hard at it for the benefit of anyone too nervous to look away. Ever since, on my numerous visits to the city, I have never been able to wander past the National Gallery building and not think of Rex Boyd.
Figure 77.3: The manic torch-juggler in action
Copyright © 1988 Paul Spradbery
Old habits die hard – this year’s Fringe (Figure 77.4) ended just a few days ago – and this is undoubtedly true in Rex’s case. Twenty-six summers later, he remains a thoroughly original performer. Some of his recorded antics are available online, as are details of his live stand-up shows. He must, also, still be competent with the torches: his hair is still intact (Figure 77.5).
Figure 77.4: This year’s postcard. The 2015 Fringe is scheduled for August 7th to 31st.
Copyright © 2014 EFFS
Figure 77.5: After years of shinning up stone columns, Rex’s feet now point in entirely different directions. His comedy c.v. is available at http://comedycv.co.uk/rexboyd/index.htm; he has a web site dedicated to motion graphics, video and design at www.rexboyd.co.uk; and there is live material on YouTube.
Copyright © 2007 comedycv
Copyright © 2014 Paul Spradbery