Although my 1st Edinburgh festival was in 1986 (starting with seeing Rowan Atkinson at the Playhouse at Midnight) I first took my future wife in 1989. Our last show that year was a Charity show for Nicaragua. On the bill was a certain "God & Jesus". Do you have any recollection of that show?
Generally my memory for old shows is terrible, but occasionally I get flashbacks. I have no recollection of doing a Nicaragua benefit in 1986/9, but benefits were, and are, normal: ie I've never turned one down. Missed a couple due to diary mistakes in thirty years but that's all. However, I do remember God & Jesus being dropped from a benefit because of an intervention by a now deceased comic, and it being written up by John Connor in The Guardian that we had withdrawn from it because of our fascism. Those were the days.
Can you remember your first Edinburgh festival? Did you have any expectations and how did these compare to reality?
I was in a revue called "Jane Austen: Astronaut?" The director/producer chose the title - I asked him about it and he explained it was a take on "Steve Austin, astronaut". The six million dollar man. Made no sense then or now. The company were doing two shows - Zola's Germinal and the aforesaid revue. We travelled up in the back of a van with the props. We slept like sardines on the floor of a house in the Newtown. Sometimes in the morning girls would walk over you and you could see up their skirts. Chris Morris, BBC reality check man was in the cast. Nice chap. Another bloke was really depressed. I was singing "God Save The Queen" by The Sex Pistols in the filthy kitchen and I'd got to the "no future" chorus when he corrected me : there's too much future. That's how it looks when you're depressed.
In the revue I had two 5 minute standup spots and against my will agreed to be in a couple of sketches. I loathed sketches back then.
On the night of arrival after hours in the van we all got drunk and the producer/director persuaded me to work the follow spot and be in Zola's Germinal. I knew I'd been conned the next morning, but I'd given my word. I played The Police. All of them. The cast wore black and no shoes, and didn't bow at the end so as to leave the audience unsettled; it was that serious. I didn't have any black clothes so wore whatever I was wearing when I came on halfway through in slow motion to quell the rioters as The Police. I didn't turn up once for the show because I was losing my cherry up Arthur's Seat.
The first ever God & Jesus gig happened that year at the fringe club ending with the line "We'll only go if you throw glass", a request the crowd accepted.
I don't remember what I expected. It was a blast.
Obviously you have been going to the Edinburgh festival for a long-time and it has changed almost beyond recognition since I started going. What do you think has improved and got worse?
Improved AND got worse? I can only think of myself.
The epicentre has shifted south; it used to be evenly split old and new town. Posters got bigger.
My wife (DarkChatter) Anne used to visit the notorious Tunnel Club? What are your memories of that venue and Malcolm Hardee?
Hello Anne. A Tunnel veteran! I loved it there, the sheer violent energy, the almost incessant heckling - you couldn't just come down and trot out your act. Skint Video got demolished. They were not a respectful crowd. I remember one night they'd heckled all the acts off within half an hour, a disasterous night for a normal club, but it felt like a victory for The Tunnel.
Open spots were like sacrificial lambs; I was heckled on once, prior to being heckled off, then brought back on by "More! More!" for my encore. This process repeated four or five times without me saying a word; it was a game. You either died, or stormed it there. I did both several times.
In the toilets once one bloke said to his mate "It's been a good night" and his mate replied "Yeah, but if Malcom gets his bollocks out it'll be a great night". And that was true. And he always got his bollocks out, as I recall.
Malcolm memory: Malcolm used to steal, that is established. One late night in Edinburgh we were at some BBC flat and Malcolm did a hilarious dance with a hoover. On the way out he showed me what he'd nicked from the bathroom, explaining he could never go into a bathroom without stealing something. I believed him and forgot about it, until years later when he and his wife Jane popped into my Stoke Newington flat late late late and Malcolm was pretending to be drunker than he was, crashing around in the bathroom for ages. When eventually he returned to the kitchen-lounge area I said "Alright Malcolm, what have you nicked?" and he got out a tiny bottle of my girlfriend's essential oils. But it was too quick and not enough. "What else?" I enquired, and another bottle was produced. This went on for twenty minutes until the entire contents of the bathroom were on the coffee table, and Jane had made him promise there was nothing more. When hometime came and me and Jane were supporting him down the stairs I realised he had dumped an entire bottle of perfume over his coat. God I laughed. The thing is, having asked around later, it wasn't true - he didn't habitually steal from bathrooms; that was a joke just for me. RIP.
She seems to recall you having an act where you pointed at owls. Is that correct or is her memory playing tricks?
No. That was Kevin MCaleer . When I saw him do that on Saturday Live I fell off my stool laughing.
One of our favourite performers is John Hegley. ( I believe we saw you perform with him at The Traverse a few years ago). What are your memories of working with him?
I love John Hegley. He is great. My favourite joke of his, that I have seen him do many times, and always cracks me up is this: At the beginng of the show, if there's no one in the front row he persuades people from the back to come to the front. No jokes, just persuasion. For ages ,it feels. Finally, when he's got everyone where he wants them he says: "I think I preferred you the way you were". Genius.
What is the weirdest request you have ever had from a fan?
On request I signed a woman's thigh once in Exeter. She was with her boyfriend. Each to their own.
What made you decided to bring Alan Parker back for a final tour?
It's not a final tour, but a farewell tour. Farewell to you, the audience: he's on a mission to persuade people to kill themselves as the best method of combating climate change. How? By Morriss dancing yourself to death. He calls it English Jihad.
Why do it again? I did a retrospective at the Bill Murray, resurrections of previous shows, and not only did Alan go well, but I thought up several new bits. Somehow it is perhaps funnier for a fifty year old to be spouting such material.
How disappointing was it not to complete your tour this year?
Very. I've still got 29 unsold tea towels.
In the absence of an Edinburgh festival this year how did you fill the month of August?
Walking the dog, mowing the lawn, not doing emails. I started planning how to turn the garden into an art exhibition/amusement park but did not bring it to fruition.
Did it feel strange not heading to the Scottish festival in August?
Yes. Thirty years!
Have you made any plans for 2021?
No. Well, I'm still mulling the garden plan.
Overall, how has lockdown been for you?
My wife and daughters flew to Australia right at the start so it was just me and the dog. I installed an outdoor light with a motion sensor, and that brought me much joy - I'd wave at it and it would light up. It was like having a friend.
What have you missed the most?
We live in Cardiff and have been (and are again) subject to local lockdowns but, fortunately have managed a few breaks. Have you been away at all?
I went to Stroud for the launch there of "What am I?" a retrospective art exhibition of my stuff curated by Andy Holden.
Weirdly, we have rather enjoyed being forced to spend a lot of time in our house without the need to constantly rush around. Have you enjoyed the quieter year and "getting back to basics"?
I really loved the quiet roads and the resurgence of cycling".
Thanks to Simon for taking the time to talk to us, if you want to take a look at what Simon
has (or perhaps hasn't) been doing and has planned you can visit his website here.
You can also check out the art in the "What am I?" retrospective that Simon mentioned here.