Edinburgh Festival isn’t all about the bustling energy of Fringe Central and the Royal Mile. Across Princes Street is the New Town district of parks and elegant architecture, and Hendrick’s Gin Parlour with their Carnival of Knowledge. I head over for some high-brow oddities (and, OK, a free gin)…
The Georgian building nestling on the Royal Circus is redolent of antique wood, leather, stuffed animals and bookcases. Everything runs at a genteel gin’o’clock pace and, of course, the bar serves deliciously sophisticated cocktails.
As I’m welcomed across the threshold by the doorman, I pick up a copy of the free “Unusual Times”, printed on sepia toned paper with refined typographic design and etching style illustrations. Inside its pages, I notice features on “Reasons To Grow Swan’s Feet”, and “Dream Theories”, as well as the programme for this weekend’s events. Talks with authors, sociologists, scientists and spoken word artists are served up, catering to those with a penchant for the macabre or esoteric.
I notice a chaise longue in the hall, with a bookologist offering “Bibliotherapy” sessions, and I sign up for a therapeutic chat about my life and reading habits. Turns out my ailment is “A need to be outside”, and I’m prescribed a literary work of non-fiction that charts the travels of an outdoor swimmer around the UK.
A gong rings, and a free poetry event is announced upstairs. I saw Mark Grist at Latitude Festival, and enjoyed his warm style and material, so I head up to join them. Collecting my cut crystal glass of gin and tonic – with cucumber, naturally – I take a seat around one of the laciest cabaret tables I’ve ever seen, carefully setting my glass upon the coaster.
Mark Grist is an English teacher-turned Rap Battle Champion, and he’s here with fellow poet Tim Clare in a nominal tribute to notoriously bad Scottish poet William McGonnagal. Both poets have worked extensively with kids, their creativity fuelled by wild young hip-hop minds, and we are treated to engaging anecdotes, raps about board games, and a passionate diatribe on middle-class Portishead (the town, not the band), inspired by WW1 heartthrob Rupert Brooke.
Grist’s relaxed ease and jovial sparkling eyes fit well with Clare’s enthusiastic nervous energy. Even Grist’s chatty introductory speech is rhythmical and draws us in to the poetic realm.
Honesty and truth ring out through the two poets’ work (for isn’t the essence of rap “keeping it real”?). This is British culture now, the unrepresented, the anti-elite, the suburban and the street. Look, they’ve almost got me doing it. Not as stylised as Chap Hop, this is the average chap-on-the-street hop. And there are plenty more surprises throughout the venue’s varied programme.
So, for a little refinement this Fringe, seek out the mind-expanding powers of the gin parlour. Refresh your brain.
Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge. 1 Royal Circus, Edinburgh EH3 6TL. Entrance free, events may be ticketed. 7-10 August.