Julian Cope, idiot son of Donkey Kong, prowls the stage and holds the audience in the palm of his gauntleted hand. Bearded, peaked capped, leather-clad he ranges on stage and off, full of lightning vigour and perfect eccentricity. This is not 1979, this is not Liverpool’s Eric’s, this is not the Teardrop Explodes and the first breath of New Wave. This is 2014, and it is The Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Located in Charlotte Square, in one of the two Georgian Squares that bulletpoint George Street, some of the most inspired moments of any of the Edinburgh Festivals will occur. On entering the square, all seems calm, as if you had entered a village fair in rural Somerset. Do not be fooled. Here, amidst these tranquil tents, cups of tea, sandwiches on the lawn and chilled white wine, is one of the beating centres of Edinburgh festival life.
All life is here. The Independence debate is in full swing, from the proponents of change such as Alex Salmond and Alasdair Gray to their opposites, Gordon Brown and others. Picture this though; the debate does not feature shouting, or accusations, or mudslinging. Time and space is given to all viewpoints and the readings and debates are so much the better for it.
Palestine, Gaza, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria are discussed and attempts made, by those who know, to understand the deep complex problems of the middle-east and beyond. These are no dry lectures though – they are scintillating, colourful talks from across the spectrum, from those on the ground.
From the many-pavilioned venues in the Square ideas, thoughts, and laughter spill out. Here, the 4th wave of feminism is discussed. Move silently through the canvas and next door it is the Jesus and Mary Chain who are examined. Move on. Now it is a discussion on Gothic Ghost stories. William McIlvanney reads with his Ayrshire brogue on the everyday made extraordinary. Here, in the main theatre, Max Hastings will talk movingly on the forgotten horrors of the first few weeks of World War One, but for now his audience is taking its seats to the low strains of Deep Purple. In the signing tent a young man is literally struggling for breath so overwhelmed is he to clutch the autograph of George RR Martin, creator of ‘A Game of Thrones’. And amidst all this, small children are making flowers from recycled objects and planting them around the gardens.
If you want comedy it is here. If you want drama it is here. So too politics, fiction, poetry, sport. The glittering and mirrored Weimar splendour of the Spiegeltent provides music well into the night. The Edinburgh Book Festival is quite simply, the essential Edinburgh Festival.
So here, at the end of a summer of sunlit brilliance, ideas and stories will illuminate the approaching autumn and provide a light to be held and cherished over the winter to come.
And you can get a lovely pint of beer too…