Your Cheapest Whisky and Soda, Please, to Relieve the Swelter.

Most of the time, Edinburgh suits me. It’s a ramshackle stone tomb of a city. But it also suffers from a well-known seasonal affliction. During the festival, the place heaves with people and the sun burns too fucking hot. The core of the city is old and stiff and not so good at adapting. There’s a lot to like about the shimmering and roaring of the Edinburgh festival, but not if you live here. If you are trying to stay alive when the streets are stuffed to the goddamn gills with tourists, it can feel like you have stupidly hobbled into a stifling, noisy, claustrophobic trap, and you start to dream fondly of the dead wasteland months of winter.

Almost everyone in this part of the world fetishises the sun and the tan. I was like that a long time ago, but now I’d ideally like to keep the pisshole of the sun at a good distance. One of the many things that has broken down in my feeble innards is whatever regulates temperature, and my cracked skin can’t tolerate the yellow solar stream gushing down for more than a hot minute or two before I’m drowning in suffocating heat. Also, things have happened to my eyes, and now my eyeballs feel like they will explode like old glass if left out in the sun for too long.

But if you don’t leave the city, you can’t avoid the Festival, and you have nobody but yourself to blame. So I draw myself up and collapse on the bus to go into the heart of town, where I eat a thoughtless burrito, drink a can of Lilt, and go to see Cate Le Bon at Summerhall.

Summerhall was once a vet school, and now is a multi-arts hub complex or whatever the fuck they call it. Like a lot of other festivaled places, it has a courtyard where hundreds of people stand around drinking, and also only about two toilets. This is presumably because back in the pre-electrical days when they threw the joint together for zoo-doctor training, there was a lot more letting used liquid fly in barely discreet alleyways, leaving Summerhall, like many old buildings, very unprepared for the hectic pace of modern urination.

In the Summerhall courtyard the posh pop-up gin place has no cheap whisky, but luckily the very next posh pop-up gin place has something for me – Johnny Walker Black. I’m not too fond of Mister Walker in any of his hues, and he isn’t too cheap here in the boiled ventricle of the festival, but needs must, and I need a drink, because the refreshment of my tea-time Lilt has long since faded. Luckily, it turns out that Johnny knows his place, and fucks off walking meekly on, buried under the semi-flat soda water from the litre bottle wilting behind the pop-up bar.

Cate Le Bon is playing in the Dissection Room. I once saw Goblin play the live soundtrack to Argento’s brilliantly garish horror film ‘Suspiria’ here, and although the Dissection Room in Summerhall was once probably used for the study of dead dog dicks and horse skulls, it isn’t anywhere near as pants-wettingly gruesome a room as you’d hope. It’s a vaulted, badly ventilated room, with a proper solid bar off down a right angle off-shoot. This means that those stew bums who want to souse properly in booze and cling to the safe bricks of the bar can’t see the stage at all, which allows them to concentrate on getting as cockunting pissed as possible at the gig without any needless distractions.

All the summer in this hall is starting to make me shrivel. Thank fuck, the Dissection Room also has some stools, and I bag the last one, lucky little arse that I am. I’m stuck in the section of the room towards the bar where there is a sort of mature-person’s lounging area and waiting room, and I can’t really see anybody on the stage from my perch unless I stand up on one foot and twist my head as far to the left and up as it will go, ducking and bobbing to readjust as much taller people with working bones and ligaments shift around in the foreground. But Cate Le Bon and the Cate Le Bons are not much for the grand over-the-top exhibitions of excessive stagecraft, so I don’t think I’m missing too much, visually.

I enjoyed the crap out of Le Bon’s album ‘Mug Museum’, which had a suspicious jauntiness and mid-day dozy offbeat energy, but she and her musicians have failed to develop psychic powers to read my mind and play all the tracks I like best off that album, which is a shame. By the time Le Bon and the Cates come on, the air is so hot in the Dissection room that it feels like my hair is slowly sliding right off. If they actually used this room to chop up animal corpses in times gone by, you’d think they’d have better ventilation to get the pong of the dead out. One of the techies opens a window behind me and while this is a noble gesture, it seems to do bugger all except let some hot air moving at a slightly faster clip dribble into the room.

Cate Le Bon plays ‘I Wanna Be Good’ and ‘Daylight Matters’. Her voice is ethereal and slightly alien. It is the sort of music that should be drifting gently cool over a field. There also seem to be a lot of saxophones on the stage, although it is hard to see from this angle. They play that insistent minoring style that you get in Polar Bear or Melt Yourself Down, hep jazz geese honking away.

Possibly as a result of my rapid steaming, Cate le Bon reminds me of a xylophone for some reason. She does little minimal movements, tiny shoulder shrug dances and gentle hand claps, hair flicks in precise numbers. She sings pure and clear, and I wish her voice could convince me that I’m not dying from the heat in here. I’m not sure how people can stand in this sauna with all their clothes on. If I was drunk enough or it became suddenly socially acceptable, I’d be stripped down to my tattered underpants in a flash. The air in here is oppressive and inconsiderate and tastes like it must be a mixture of everybody else’s sweat, evaporating sluggishly enough that it just hangs heavy, beading in the air. Le Bon remarks off-handedly in one of her few quiet words that her dress doesn’t breath and that her suffocation is imminent. You wouldn’t believe it, seeing how poised she is. No doubt the musicians are working their arses off on stage, but I’m still going to the ground in here before she does for fucking sure.

And yet I manage not to drip down off my stool. The music stops and we all have to queue again to get out of this corpse sauna. The sun has pissed off by now and outside the first splash of comparatively cool fresh air is nearly as delicious as a good drink. Everybody goes home, and the festival is almost over. Soon the streets will be lonely and mine again. At least until the next poxing unavoidable summer.

Total Number of Whisky Sodas: A feeble four, because it was too hot to move and get more.
Hangover: Moderate dehydration, but less from alcohol and more from the air turning into a big bastard hot sweat-sponge.

Cate Le Bon:

-Larry Dives

back in that hole

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