DAVID BELCHER meets six of the best who are performing on the

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

ARTHUR DUFF made me do it. Six interviews in 24 hours, plus one show

and one show-in-progress. Hard work, it was, in newspaper terms anyway.

Almost made me break sweat. Chasing about in London tubes and taxis.

''Don't complain,'' said Arthur Duff. ''It's ideal training for three

weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe.'' Undeniably, it was.

You can't argue with Arthur Duff, not least because Arthur Duff isn't,

as the name implies, a thick-eared Cockney bruiser. Oh, no. Arthur Duff

is more unstoppable. Arthur Duff, you see, is the nom de guerre of two

remarkably jolly and honest PR women, Anna Arthur and Fiona Duff.

PR. Pee-Arr. Pee-Urrggh. Dodgy concept for us scribblers, PR . . . no

such thing as a free lunch and all that. There were people on their

books that Anna and Fiona wanted me to see; there were people of theirs

I didn't want to see, and some I did. We bartered, did the old-time

journo-PR stand-off two-step. In the end, we are all agreed that the

following six Fringe shows are worth seeing (there was one that wasn't,

too, but I won't name it).

We'll start at a rehearsal for Hell Bent, Heaven Bound, a musical

memento mori uniting the awesome voices of Ian Shaw, Christine

Collister, Barb Jungr, and Michael Parker. The show is founded on 16

songs about death, 16 anthems evoking loss, misery, transcendence, and


As I enter, modern jazz legend Ian is fittingly comatose on the floor,

face down. Has he passed on? Barb lowers herself on to Ian's back all

the better to massage his head. He's not feeling himself today, as it


You wouldn't know it once the rehearsal gets under way, though, Ian

swooping and diving moodily throughout his four-and-a-half octave range.

Christine, emerging solo from the shadow of long-time partner Clive

Gregson, smoulders. Barb is powerfully vampish. Michael dispenses quiet

irony. My half-hour exposure to the show took place under conditions

less than theatrically perfect (mid-afternoon in a redundant school

classroom). Even so, the quartet's impact was staggering. By the time

the show reaches its nightly full-blast finale in Edinburgh, you'd have

to be bereft of life not to have been moved to tears. Book now; take

several hankies; Hell Bent, Heaven Bound is dead, dead brilliant.

So is Neil Innes, treading the boards after a six-year Fringe hia-

tus with More Jam Tomorrow, a thought-provoking entertainment inspired

by Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, directed by John Dowie and

employing the fretboard wizardry of Andy Roberts. Since his last

Edinburgh appearance, the ex-Bonzo and Rutles' sire has created 91 Raggy

Doll TV episodes (''the equivalent of writing 10 feature films''),

scored one actual feature film (Erik The Viking), and starred in a

series of Quality Street ads (''as the world's worst crooner . . . I

skated through the audition, rather a back-handed compliment'').

He's also written a book about fiscal philosophy -- Gloom, Doom and

Very Funny Money: Economics For the Half-Wit -- which is apparently an

accompaniment to More Jam Tomorrow. Alice Through The Supply-Side Bull

Market -- I'm not sure I understand, Neil.

''More jam tomorrow -- but never today -- was what the White Queen

promised Alice as wages. It's perfect nonsense, but close to how we live

now. We chase the ideal -- more money, a cosy retirement home -- and

don't ever ask ourselves whether we want it or not, whether to live for

today or for some indeterminate future.

''The book evolved from the show because I realised I knew nothing

about economics, like most politicians. Although the idea of money is

quite easy, money is to do with human nature, which is much harder.''

The Innesian theory of satire is complex, too. No heavy-handed scorn,

thank you. ''A critic once said 'Neil doesn't put the boot in, but he's

deadly accurate with the pom-pom slipper'. I'm not hard. I can't blame

anyone. I'm more saddened than angered.''

Ditto a more compassionate new breed of stand-up comedy exemplified by

Canadian Mike MacDonald and Chingford's Alan Davies. Both have crafted

autobiographical confessions rather than gag-driven routines. Neither

takes the easy comic option of simply slagging things they don't like.

''I grew out of that,'' says MacDonald, debuting in Edinburgh with My

House, My Rules. ''I began in an Ottawa punk club. I was angry, twisted,

sick and funny -- but anybody with any moral decency should have killed


''What I do now is, I suppose, more normal, more mainstream because,

after having spent some time as a teachers' aid in a school for the

mentally handicapped, I learnt humility and patience. My ultimate goal

is to have a doctor shoot me up with sodium pentothal the minute before

I go on stage -- and my act comes out no different. You have to be

truthful; you have to make people laugh, but they have to learn about

your morality.

''We've had a cynical couple of generations, and now we can stand up

and say that it's OK to be hopeful, it's not hip to be nasty . . . the

world's not gonna end, but we're all gonna have to work hard to fix


DAVIES has certainly worked on his own self-development in the six

years since his first Fringe visit, as an undergraduate thesp in a

production of Lysistrata. ''I remember drinking six pints of heavy and

then walking across car roofs back from the Meadows to Fountainbridge

one night. Despicable behaviour.'' In contrast, Davies's show, The Love

Child Of Alan Ladd, is a gently-reflective piece of ''surreal

twittering'' with adolescent frustration and unhappiness at its core.

Louise Rennison explores similar themes with disarming frankness in

Stevie Wonder Felt My Face, recalling a mis-spent youth in Notting Hill

Gate 20-odd years ago. ''There were these up-and-coming musicians and

artists everywhere, and they were so accessible. We were optimistic and

naive . . . working-class people who crossed the boundaries,


Yet this freedom occasionally led Louise and her friends into stupid,

dangerous places. ''Posing naked for alleged artists. Going out with

precious, boring musicians. Bryan Ferry -- dull. David Bowie -- dull.

I've forgotten most of the rest of them. There's one I can only remember

as Fat Back, and another as CLP.''


''Child-Like Penis!''

Only one hero from that era endures, inspiring Louise's current show.

''Billy Bremner. Senselessly brave, and so dirty. Reprehensible, but so

dangerous. If the show has a message, it comes from Billy Bremner --

'lack fear'.''

Rage is partly the fuel for Blues Angels, a musical history created by

Marsha Raven, erstwhile Hi-NRG diva. Having been much buffeted in her

own career by the (male) musicbiz, she is keen to let the world know

that women truly gave birth to the blues.

''Ma Rainey called it the blues. Mamie Smith made the first blues

recording. Ella Fitzgerald moved it into jazz. Women have always picked

up the torch and run with it, and yet no one knows and women are still

like Tina Turner was in her days with Ike -- we're just there to dress

the set.'' It's apt then that Marsha makes telling use of Sisters Are

Doing It For Themselves.

Arthur Duff would tell you that's a fact, and there's no arguing with

Arthur Duff.

* All six acts appear at the Assembly Rooms. Additionally, Louise

Rennison's show has been filmed by BBC Scotland for transmission on BBC2

at 11.30pm on Friday, August 28. Neil Innes's book is published by

Piccadilly Press in October.