IT may be the 70th year of the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, and reminders of a heritage dating back to the first event immediately after the Second World War are embedded into this year's programme, but attending performances and events in the capital in August has always chiefly been about finding something new. Sometimes, however, that can be located in repertoire that is really quite old. In the first of the packed morning recitals at the Queen’s Hall, the Dunedin Consort performed a recently discovered German translation of a work by Monteverdi, this year’s 450th birthday boy, and popular tenor Nicholas Mulroy performed it commandingly at breath-taking speed to launch the series. Three days later, at the beautifully refurbished St Cecilia’s Hall, Peter Whelan’s Ensemble Marsyas played a programme that could have been heard there when it opened in the 1760s, and which included music that possibly had not been heard by a paying audience in the 200 years since. In practical terms that means “new” as far as the Festival’s potential audience is concerned.

I last saw Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape in Edinburgh when Assembly Theatre presented Edward Petherbridge’s acclaimed version twenty years ago, but Barry McGovern’s new performance, directed by Michael Colgan at the Church Hill Theatre, has a strong claim to the adjective “definitive”. After that hour of nigh-perfect drama, I walked across the Meadows to the Festival Theatre Studio for artist Martin Creed’s Words and Music, about which I was delighted that my colleague Neil Cooper had already expressed The Herald’s opinion. A shambolic performance that I found charming only in parts, which got further apart as the hour wore on, I didn’t hate it quite as much as the esteemed broadcaster in whose company I left the venue, but it was undeniably new, if barely formed.

Immediately after that opening Dunedins concert, I did a stint behind a table at the Fringe Society’s Meet the Media event for companies presenting work this year – an opportunity I confess I have avoided in recent years, and some not-so-recent ones too. My loss, I quickly rediscovered from the queue of folk who wanted to see me and included fresh-faced St Andrew’s University students, a lot of American artists as well as performers from Korea and Japan, and the script writer Glenn Chandler, who invented TV’s Taggart. They gave me their “elevator pitch”, and I almost always had something I wanted to ask about their work. I’ll be astonished if I make it to more than one or two of the shows, but it was an important reminder of what the Fringe is all about. Of course my email inbox is rammed, press releases still arrive in the mail, and flyers are thrust into my hand as I go about the city, but actually meeting a broad cross-section of Fringe participants in a focussed way, however briefly, was to be inspired anew by the scale and vitality of the event. The amount of box-fresh new work out there, made by committed and talented people who are desperate for an audience, is truly awesome, to use a modishly over-used expression.

Loading article content

All of which is why it seems to me that people who rushed to book seats for Alex Salmond Unleashed, which opens at the Assembly Rooms on Sunday, have entirely missed the point. There was a time a few years back when a Fringe run was the last refuge of the falling rock star, peddling the hits of yesteryear. Then the kitsch value of old pop music went mainstream and revived careers moved back onto the regular gig circuit. The former First Minister’s lunchtime chat show seems to me to rely on the same sort of easy nostalgia for those who are culturally risk-averse, and it gives me no satisfaction at all that I believe the people who scampered for a ticket for that, rather than some of the adventurous work visiting from every corner of the globe, are being had for complete patsies.