Anyone who thought they might be attending a cosy afternoon chat with the Reverend Richard Coles: Confessions, will definitely be confused. Whilst the Edinburgh Fringe programme promises the opportunity to ‘Join former 80’s pop star turned vicar and broadcaster Reverend Richard Coles (BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live, Have I Got News for You) for an hour’s candid chat and confessions with special guest and celebrity friends, the hour’s show is more about his interviewees than him.
In this case, it’s hearing from novelist Louisa Young, talking about her recent book, You Left Early: a true story of love and alcohol. For a time you might be forgiven that the Edinburgh Book Festival has been transported to the Pleasance Courtyard. Following a similar format, with interviewer and interviewee sat in swiveling leather bucket chairs, it’s rather Parki-esque. Coles is a competent interviewer, as we know from his BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live show, but the subject matter, makes for a sobering, rather bleak afternoon of entertainment.
Young’s memoir talks about a stop-start romance with Richard Lockhart, that lasted for decades, in which time he became a celebrated composer, and she, an acclaimed novelist. Always snapping at their heels was Robert’s alcoholism, a helpless, ferocious dependency that affected his personality before crippling and finally killing him.
There is also a shameless plug for her vinyl album, a series of songs written after Lockhart’s death, made with her daughter’s boyfriend, Alex Mackenzie, and like her memoir is called ‘You Left Early (Birds of Britain).
Thankfully the afternoon is not all doom and gloom. The liveliest comes at the beginning, with Coles giving some insight into his past and which he has written about in his candid and colourful autobiography, ‘Fathomless Riches: How I Went From Pop To Pulpit‘.
Coles is a likeable, warm character. He describes himself as “a seedy, overweight and slightly greying, village vicar” and marvels that this is his 30th Edinburgh Festival, and that 30 years ago, rather than standing proud as he now does in his dog-collar, he was celebrating being number 1 as part of the Communards with Jimmy Somerville.
He relates a couple of his favourite stories: how one of his elderly parishioners, when he first took over his new Parish of Finedon in Northamptonshire, is confused he’s not black, thinking they were getting an ex-member of the Commodores; and how whilst administering the last rites to a dying parishioner, he’s met with a disdainful ‘shut up you stupid twat’, the last words this old man would utter.
Coles talks about his former band mate, Jimmy Somerville, brought up in a hard-drinking world in Glasgow before moving to London, and about Somerville’s own alcoholism, which gives him the opportunity to introduce his guest, Louisa Young and her book.
An hour of honest revelations, if you’re looking for an uplifting hour of chat, you may wish to look elsewhere or check out beforehand who his guest is. However what you will witness is a rather lovable and very competent interviewer who will always get the best from his interviewees.