Back in the days when Pete Saunders was playing with The Damned, the band’s rider was lavish to say the least. Captain Sensible would get a crate of Theakston’s Old Peculiar. Singer Dave Vanian would be given four bottles of tequila. “Then there was a wall of lager and a small amount of white powder on the table, “ Saunders recalls.

This August Saunders has brought a Fringe show Blues and Burlesque to the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh. It’s fair to say the rider this time around isn’t quite as excessive. 

“Well, we get a 25% discount in here, as opposed to a fridge full of beer,” Saunders explains, while sitting in the venue’s bar.

Saunders, who, also worked with 1980s singer Carmel McCourt, is perhaps most famous for being one of the original line-up of Dexys Midnight Runners. He played keyboards on the debut album Searching For the Young Soul Rebels before leaving the band led by the iconoclastic Kevin Rowland. 

Now he has swapped the world of pop for Portobello. Or in his case Musselburgh, where he is camping for the month whilst performing Blues and Burlesque with dancer and singer Belle de Beauvoir. He also has a solo show, Not On Eileen, about his Dexys days, at the Fingers Piano bar.

And Saunders is not the only former pop star to be found at the Fringe this year. Thursday sees singer and broadcaster Tom Robinson visit the capital with his show Up Close and Personal, which combines a mixture of his classic songs and stories, whilst Robinson’s 1970s contemporary Dean Friedman is performing all this week at the Fringe. 

The Herald:

And Chris Difford, in between gigs with his band Squeeze, is at the Frankenstein Bar until Friday, performing songs from his back catalogue which stretches back 50 years and telling stories about their creation. 

“This is my third Fringe now,” Difford tells The Herald, “and it’s always a challenge worth taking because I think you learn so much about your timing and about what you can and can’t achieve in a short space of time. It’s very different from being in Squeeze, of course. It’s more of a stand-up show. 

“When you’re on stage with the band we have very little time to talk because we’ve got 50 years of songwriting to perform in front of an audience. So, we’re playing one song after another very quickly. And at the best of times we’re not very talkative as a band anyway. So when I get on my own I get a chance to expand and tell stories about what it was like at the very beginning for us.

“The last time I did it, about five years ago, it was like being a vicar in a church. You never knew how many people were going to turn up, but you had to be reverential the whole time.”

For Saunders, the difference between his past pop life and his Fringe present is simple.

“The biggest difference is this is my baby. I’m not one of eight people and there are no sociopaths in the show,” he explains, laughing. 

Who could he be talking about? “I get on all right with Kevin actually. We bump into each other now and again. 

“But this is my baby and also I work with some absolutely fantastic talented women. 

“It’s close to a theatrical experience. It’s not as male. By its very nature. It’s not as testosterone-based as a bunch of blokes on stage with bands.

“The true spirit of burlesque is a self-awareness and parody. It’s always aware that it’s absurd and that’s what’s very healthy about it.”

Saunders first brought his burlesque show to the Fringe in 2012 because he didn’t think he’d get much work in London during the Olympics. He’s since taken it to festivals around the world. But Edinburgh is still the one that stands out for him.

The Herald:

“There’s nothing like the intensity of Edinburgh. It’s bigger. The fact that there are fire-eaters and jugglers and people doing Lear naked. And you’ve got pop guys and the opera and Pina Bausch. Everything is all here. If you go to Adelaide it’s a couple of little things in the park. It’s nothing compared to this.”

In some ways Saunders has come full circle. The 63-year-old first came to the Fringe in 1977, before he had played in any band. “I started with a musical version of King Kong. It was terrible. We played in Wester Hailes, in this horrible bar which had been built for the people of the estate who resolutely refused to be entertained.”

Things are better for Saunders in 2023. But, in the end, is there any money in performing at the Fringe? 

“I’ve almost covered the costs of the campsite.”

Blues and Burlesque, The Voodoo Rooms, until August 27 (except tonight and August 21), Not Now Eileen, The Fingers Piano bar, 3pm, until August 27 (except tonight and August 21)

Chris Difford: What Happened? 50 Lyrical Years, Frankenstein Pub, 6pm, until August 24 (except Saturday and Sunday) & 10.30pm, August 16-17 & August 22-23

Dean Friedman - Words and Music, St Andrew’s and St George’s West, 7.30pm, until August 20

Tom Robinson: Up Close and Personal, The Stand New Town Theatre, Thursday, 9.20pm