David Bleese has established a brand-new comedy record label, Monkey Barrel Records, clearly connected to Monkey Barrel Comedy in Edinburgh. Last year, they recorded a select number of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and are making them available on vinyl for the first time. The first three releases can be pre-ordered now and include Double Take & Fade Away from John Kearns, If/Then from Olga Koch and Eagle Fire Iron from Ari Eldjárn. The records are available as part of their crowdfunding campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/monkeybarrel/monkey-barrel-records), and they will only be produced if they exceed their goal by this Thursday. David spoke with The Fountain about the project in more depth.

TF: What inspired you to set up Monkey Barrel Records? 

We’ve always been big fans of vinyl, and after starting to build up a bit of a collection of old comedy records from the 60s and 70s we starting thinking about how we could do something similar ourselves. We have so many great shows each year, it just seemed a shame not to be able record them in a way that feels true to the live comedy experience. So we got chatting to a few of the acts last Fringe, and this is the outcome. We didn’t want this to be exclusive about streaming or digital downloads – although you do get one with the record – as we wanted to create something physical and tangible that people could own and ultimately collect. Plus, I think there’s something really genuine about putting on a record and sitting down to listen, rather than putting it on your headphones as you get on the bus to go to work. It can be a sociable thing too – which really is what live comedy is all about.

TF: How are you finding that Covid 19 is affecting your comedy shows have you moved any online like The Stand?

Like every other comedy club in the country we’re obviously very closed at the moment. We went from having sold out shows every weekend and a line-up of great tours to nothing overnight. It’s been very hard. We’ve stemmed the flow of cash out as best we can, and now we’re just keeping things tight and planning how we can get back up and running as soon as it’s safe to do so. We made the decision pretty early on that we wanted to try and stay true to what we do, and use the opportunity to work on some formats that we haven’t had time to do before, and we would want to make into live shows later. We released some weekend shows from our archive, which has been nice to be able to share, as it’s not something we’ve done before. We’ve just started a Patreon platform where people can subscribe and get access to old shows and new live content which we are developing. This and the record label launch should offer people a few ways to enjoy live comedy whilst it’s not possible to do so in person.

TF: I see you have three new releases to kick things off, what are you planning to do next?

We wanted to launch the label with a few shows to suit the varied audiences we get at the club. John, Olga and Ari all have a loyal fanbase and have been really well supported when they have performed with us in August. We wanted the first release to embody what we do at Monkey Barrel Comedy, trying to deliver a fair approach to the fringe where people can perform with us and still make a living. There’s been a lot made of the fact August has become so expensive for people to perform now, so our model has always been about making it more sustainable. The challenge right now is that this is a long-term approach, so managing our current situation is doubly difficult. I hope the label is one way of working through this, and we’ve got a few more recordings ready to launch if we generate enough from the crowdfunding campaign. 

TF: What more can we expect from Monkey Barrel in 2020 crazy year?

Longer term, we want to generate new recordings both in and outside of the Fringe, both to help relaunch the club when it’s safe to open again, and also to create a bit more of a festival feel at other times in the year. We’re already in discussion with some other of our favourite acts to do special performances exclusively to record onto vinyl, so the aim is to do regular releases starting in the Autumn with a bit of luck. Records aside, we’re fortunate that we have a couple of sites in the old town that can be live comedy show ready in a short space of time. Back in April, we were talking to people about how we could still do something in August if the Fringe were ever to be cancelled. We’re not at that stage yet, but being able to open 2/3 rooms all over 100 capacity means we can if the conditions feel right. Either way, it will be interesting to see what people are now looking for when things start to get a bit more back to normal.

In the meantime, do consider supporting them with their crowdfunding goal for the records: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/monkeybarrel/monkey-barrel-records