The philosopher’s toe: pictures by Andrea McCarthy
Looking back it was a prophetic moment though I did not know it at the time. Almost 14 years ago I covered a Scottish Enterprise conference on the future of Scotland. US futurist Joe Coates, grey and spindly as a heron, stalked the stage and talked about the potential of mobile technology using language most of us hardly understood. What future tourists would want, he said, was a digital companion they could carry in their pockets providing all the information they needed to know about any given place.
In 1997 I didn’t even possess a mobile phone. Now here I am, a director of a brand new media company creating one of those digital companions – or rather, the information that can be loaded on to it.
A roll of good old fashioned drums please. Walking Heads Ltd launches our first downloadable audio walking tour during Edinburgh’s Fringe. At one level Edinburgh Comedy Tour can be taken as a Fringe show (and there are others using digital technology this year) but our 90 minute walking guide includes many layers of information. Just like Joe Coates predicted, it is full of facts people like to know when they visit a new place: where to go, what to see, how to get there. But there’s a difference. With a nice poetic twist, Walking Heads has won a Scottish Enterprise Tourism Innovation Fund award because we promise to take people off the beaten track to reveal the true grit of the place.
So Edinburgh Comedy Tour is a mix of history and folklore, comedy and spicy gossip and I feel it captures the odd Jekyll and Hyde nature of Edinburgh much better than conventional guidebook or guided tour.
With wicked ingenuity our comedian scriptwriters Jamie MacDonald and Harry Gooch have created a surreal narrative that leads you round Fringe comedy venues while developing a dysfunctional but affectionate relationship that leaves you (or me anyway) close to tears at the end. And in the process, with nicely paced navigation from Dougal Perman and incidental anecdotes from comedians Bruce Morton and Susan Morrison, you learn a great deal about the fur-coat-and-no-knickers side of Scotland’s capital. The extra twist to this tale is that Jamie is blind and his running refrain, ‘Be my eyes Harry’, deserves to be a Fringe catchphrase.
Back to the future. We’ve only just begun. We’re learning a huge amount as we go and we have a lot more to learn yet. But already we demonstrate something else that Joe Coates predicted. In the future, he said, companies will be like the film industry: collaborative and infinitely flexible co-operatives, constantly forming and re-forming to share expertise according to the needs of each product.
Unlike a film company, we don’t have best boy nor grip, hairdresser nor continuity girl (though we could do with the hairdresser at times!). But, straddling Glasgow and Edinburgh, Walking Heads is a mosaic of technical and artistic creative talent, buzzing with an enthusiasm that would put big corporations to shame. Of course I am biased and very proud to be part of it.
Since we are a collaborative team, I’m leaving the selling part to other members but I would be mad not to invite you to download Edinburgh Comedy Tour as your absolutely essential companion to this year’s Fringe. At £3.49 for MP3 and £3.99 for the App and Android – that would have seemed cheap back in 1997!