“Happiness….”, sang John Lennon in 1968, “is a warm gun.” But what Lennon didn’t know was that, in fact, Happyness is a new comedy festival that takes place in Inverness over the May bank holiday. I have just returned from its golden shores and am brushing the heather from my hair as I type (Auld Heather was quite a gal)
Happyness (the name was suggested I gather by Bill Bailey) is the brainchild of that formidable Femme de Comedie Karen Koren, mother of the Gilded Balloon, one of the Edinburgh Fringe’s great venues. Looking no doubt at the Kilkenny and the Machynlleth comedy festivals she has decided that Inverness could make a great addition to the comedy buff’s calendar – like those 2 areas of outstanding natural beauty Inverness is a handsome old town full of historical incident, surrounded by sumptuous mountains and lakes, with a canny, urbane populace.
It is true that the audiences were small but those people that did turn up to the dozens of shows on offer were appreciative and pleasingly vocal. I have no doubt that there will be larger numbers next year and that in five years time the town will be teeming with comedy lovers keen to laugh and to enjoy the fabulous landscapes.
My own sojourn began badly with a brutal dawn flight from Luton airport where I realised I had left my mobile phone at home. On arrival in Scotland however the sun was out and I was warmly welcomed by Karen’s tireless team of attractive henchwomen so it was not long before I was feelin da happyness.
I was billeted at a hotel in the centre of town on the banks of the River Ness with all the other comedians, which gave a great opportunity to catch up with old muckers (big hellos to Jenni Éclair, Fred Macaulay, Janey Godley and Michael Redmond) and to take a look at some of the younger comics doing their stuff – I was especially impressed by Bec Hill, an Australian who draws her act as she does it, Daniel Simonsen a Norwegian master of Nordic gloom and Cornish comedy rap dudes Hedlov and Passman. As at the Machynlleth festival I was reminded of my early days at the Edinburgh fringe when all the performers would congregate at the Gilded Balloon after their shows, comparing notes and bitching about other comedians.
I MC-ed a couple of shows, did a turn at another and took over the Inverness open top bus tour for the afternoon. Some of the passengers were evidently expecting a more conventional tour and looked surprised when I talked about the laird of Poundland, revealed that the Loch Ness monster had been a double agent during the war and did a spot of Highland dancing on a roundabout.
Between gigs I pulled on my walking boots and took to the hills clutching my new OS map, stumbling through bogs, clambering up crags and gazing across at the dreamy horizon of not-so-distant mountains with their silvery highlights of snow. No mobile meant I was not distracted from the view by the need to take a photo of it or ring someone up to describe it.
As I passed a bush 2 deer stumbled out looking rather, er, sheepish. Inspired by the warm Scottish air, the prospect of summer and the certainty of the guffaws in the town far below me, I leapt onto one of the deer and rode it magnificently across the glens. Hey you can’t say I didn’t – you weren’t there. But be there next year if you dare.