Afternoon Tea & Chat with Jarvis Cocker

Helensburgh Tower Digital Arts Centre

4th December 2016

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Credit given where credit is due. Argyll and Bute seaside town Helensburgh is not an eminent presence within Scottish music folklore but the remarkable transformation of the St Columba church in the heart of the town into a modern performance space, digital education hub, exhibition room, television studio and recording suite, whilst retaining some of its most redeeming features such as the church organ, has breathed new life into the Victorian church. Add some exceptional talents travelling to the town courtesy of Café Improv curator and indie musician, Future Pilot AKA Sushil K. Dade; former member of the Soup Dragons, BMX Bandits and Telstar Ponies, and a lease of new life is stirring in the old girl.

A lengthy queue consisting of the old Glasgow indie mafia, resplendent in winter parka coats, snaked around the side of the building for the third installation of the Café Improv sessions and the arrival of Pulp frontman and radio broadcaster Jarvis Cocker. Inside, a cosy stage was assembled consisting of four lampshades, couches, fairy-lights, piano and drum-kit exuding an enchanting façade to welcome host and interviewer, BMX Bandit frontman Duglas T Stewart. Stepping aside ticket issues at the front desk for the sold-out event, the scene was set to welcome one of the leading figures from the Britpop generation.

Easy chat bounced between Stewart and Cocker, including some of the latter’s earliest memories of beginning a band, using his friends’ interest in his sister Saskia to get them onside. “The shyness I had as a child made me want to start a band as it would mean people would have to come up to me rather than the other way around”, Cocker concedes, “Hi Jarv, I’d want them to say. I really like what you did there”. That feeling of isolation continued as the Sheffield-born pop star revealed his dreams of being a spaceman in his juvenile days. “Perhaps that’s why I associated with the ‘2,000 Light Years From Home’ 7-inch single by the Rolling Stones in my mum’s collection so much – that feeling of being so far away from home was so alluring. Along with your usual comic books, I would read space annuals that were available at the time”. Encouraging the crowd to close their eyes, host Stewart played the song in its entirety to the point where it became a little uncomfortable.

While the chat was pleasant, the congenial qualities between Stewart with Cocker did appear to be somewhat homogeneous at points when discussing interest in androgyny, music, and social ineptness. Little pockets of insight to how Cocker’s interesting mind works presented themselves in an art piece called “Country Rock” by Peter Doid featuring a rainbow on a bridge which appeared on the sleeve of one of Pulp’s albums. “It appears to be some urban thing for badgers or deer, but the rainbow could be a portal to some other place. I like when you get a recognisable event but then a mythical thing happens”. Stewart agrees, offering “We both came from post-industrial, grey landscapes – you can transport yourself on a mind excursion through music”. Heavy, man! After a slight blip with music over the PA, Cocker reveals that after an accidental fall out a window sent him to hospital, he found more time to write his own thoughts down, or “bring your own details into music and bring it to life”. This point about Cocker’s writing would have been a fascinating insight into his lyricism and poetry but unfortunately the interview steered towards production by Scott Walker on Pulp’s fan-favourite “The Trees” from 2001 album ‘We Love Life’, and the opportunity had passed.

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An interval signalled the end of the interview session, allowing the audience to indulge in samosas and chai tea. Whilst a snaking queue appeared to confuse itself around the venue, an unfortunate delay that could have been better spent listening to today’s guest unfurled whilst the smarter fans leapt upon the stage, keen to grab the opportunity to meet with their hero. Cocker was pleasant towards those who queued in their numbers to meet him but looked suitably ill-at-ease too, likely keen to take a break of his own. It could be easy to criticise the organisation at this point after two previous Café Improv sessions must surely have encountered similar situations, but with young girls collecting rubbish in refuse bags and friendly ushers peppered around to offer assistance wherever possible, one was quickly reminded that a number of volunteers are used to make the Digital Arts Tower, as director Brian Keating made a quick impassioned speech referring to the particular detail that the Tower hadn’t received any grants – yet. What was being achieved so far was honourable, if a little rugged around the edges in places.

In the second half, Cocker read an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ in tribute to the point that Wilde had appeared at this venue in 1888 in a programme entitled ‘How to dress as a gentleman’. It was a profound acknowledgement of honest writing as Cocker quoted “Art is the most intense mode of individualism the world has ever known. Leaving guest James Yorkston to take to the stage, the capped Fifer received a warm welcome from the packed audience. Opening with “B’s Jig”, Yorkston’s romantic lyrics and in-between songs chat were perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Each miserable ode was accompanied by a hugely amusing anecdote and having only returned from India 48hrs previously, the Scottish songwriter was unsurprisingly fatigued during each performance – but with its charms. A touching dedication to his late friend and bassist Dougie Paul rounded off a 4-song set with the gorgeous “Broken Wave (A Blues For Doogie)” before apologising ‘Sorry, that was a bit….’, before trailing off. Cocker returned to the stage to perform a wonderful duet with Yorkston on a cover of folk singer Lal Watterson’s “Scarecrow” before an over-needed rendition of Pulp’s “Babies” with Cocker sharing in guitar-duties, kicking from the knee in hallmark fashion.

One further short break later & a resounding version of Pulp’s “Disco 2000” alongside house band The Poppadoms, the evening was concluded with a film-choice selected by Cocker, opting for Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns”, rounding off a fine afternoon of music, film, and food. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember that Jarvis Cocker has been involved in creating music since 1978 and one couldn’t help but feel that a wealth of fascinating anecdotes, advice, and perhaps a couple more songs would have been greatly welcomed but overall, there is stepping stones being planted by the Digital Arts Tower and Café Improv which have to be commended. If I could just get the Tower’s staff to remove a block on my phone number (Checks have been tried and tested, guys – loosen up), then I would be delighted to return and see its progression over the coming months.

Reviewer : Stephen Watt

Mozart’s Last Symphonies

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

6 / 10 / 16

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Is it that time of year already? The leaves are in their first flush of Autumnal colour, like a wee brown bruise on a plum, while in the changing room at the Usher Hall, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is slipping into its stylishly eclectic ebony uniforms, in order to sail us all through a season of classical classics. Then who better to begin with than the master himself, Amadeus Mozart. Back in 1788, the fellow spent a summer composing three of his greatest symphonies, a swansong if you will, numbers 39, 40 & 41. Unfortunately for Amadeus, war broke out in Austria, which saw Vienn’a art-lovers flee the city in fear, thus reneging on the admission fees to see Mozart’s new wok.

In fact, in his lifetime (he died in 1791), only number 40 was performed. Roll on almost 250 years, & the SCO are giving us quite a treat by playing them together. Svend Brown told the Mumble, ‘One of the marvelous hallmarks of these pieces is Mozart’s marriage of ‘learned,’ profound musical thinking with popular courtly dance tunes & the interplay of human drama that carachterises his operas at their most glorious.‘ Yes, a suitably wonderful start from the SCO for the 16-17 season.

As a spectacle, an orchestra begins with its conductor, & Robin Ticciati was on top form. A nimble-footed adonis, he kept up a vastly entertaining barrage of flicks & flows with his mercurial wand. From the jarring start of movement number one, in the 39, we were immediately flung into the marvel that is Mozart’s genius. After an half hour of supreme musicianship from the SCO – one of the warmest orchestras I’ve seen in recent years – the familiar strains of 40 filled the Usher Hall. A smooth, superlatavian ride thro’ Mozart’s muse, one could actually feel the revolutionary thought-waves that were just about to explode across Europe.

There is no whimsy in these three symphonies, no dredge or drudge, only beauty & the honey-laden sparkle of summer. Yes, Mozart captured the moment with perfect diligence, & one which was created last night with dazzling panache. Roll on net month

Reviewer : Damian Besson Bullen

Midstock 2016

Dalkeith Country Park

September 3rd

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Dalkeith Country Park is always a great place to take the kids for an afternoon, pre-dinner stroll. However, when Midstock rocks up for its annual bonanza, the kids are like, ‘We Love Dalkeith Country Park!’ Combine a great line up of acts, some quality food & a really fun & vibrant fairground & you’re on to a winner – especially when its a case of ‘taps aff, sun’s oot’ as it was last Saturday. We stayed a couple of hours me & the fam, catching Dave Pearce whistle through a wicked hour of hands-in-the-air, foot-thumpin’ club classics, followed by a wonderful rocky set from a Maltese Band – Airport Impressions – who were kicking off their Scottish tour in Dalkeith.

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Then it was time to go home, & as we left the smaller children were being replaced by teenagers on the fairground rides – a a couple of drunk mums  – & the later crowd was massing through the gates. On another occasion me & the wife would have stayed longer, but we had to sort things out for school. But driving away both us & the kids were happy, saying, ‘we really enjoyed that.’

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Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

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STATEMENT FROM MIDSTOCK FESTIVAL

The directors of Midstock Festival sincerely apologise for the disappointment our patrons suffered as a result of our headliners, Scouting For Girls failing to perform as planned.

The band’s transport broke down en route to Dalkeith and despite their best efforts, was unable to get to the site. This incident was completely out with the control of the festival organisers but behind the scenes, Midstock Festival made every attempt to assist them. Sadly, everything went against the clock and we had no alternative but to announce that the band would not be performing.

We are as disappointed as all of you and we hope you can support us as we try to recover from the backlash we’ve received as a result.

As residents of Dalkeith and strong supporters of the community as a whole, we endeavour to produce the best festival for you that our budgets allow and will continue to do so. What we didn’t have last night was another headlining band to replace Scouting For Girls.

This incident aside, the feedback we have had about Midstock Festival as a whole has been largely positive and has encouraged us greatly. The appetite for a good musical festival on our doorsteps is still there and we thank those who take the time to give us this feedback.

Thank you to each and every one of you who came along and we hope you enjoyed the rest of the day. We will continue to work tirelessly to bring the best acts we can to Dalkeith and we hope we can count on your support in the future.

Emma Pollock

The  Hub

25th August

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Emma and friends were joined by a full house at the Edinburgh festival this year, the small stage seemed to be packed with musical genius, Emma is joined by her regular touring band, plus friends and colleagues who are themselves influential names in Scottish music: crossover ensemble the Cairn String Quartet, Glasgow pop vocal duo Bdy_Prts, and acclaimed guitarist and singer RM Hubbert all offered something different to the set.

The last time I saw Emma was as a Delgado’s fan in the rather more gritty atmosphere of the Caz Rock, which is sadly no longer part of Edinburgh’s music scene. Tonight saw Emma deliver a fantastic set.  Much of the audience like myself where in their 40’s and have obviously followed Emma in her career since the late 1990’s, the set did not disappoint with a mix of old and new songs.

Emma’s roots still remain indie rock, the impressive cry of the bass and the recognisable rasp and beauty of Emma’s voice took you back 20 years, you felt the audience struggling to stay in their seat as more familiar tunes from The Law of Large Numbers LP (2010) The set offered a good balance of songs that allowed the audience to get lost in the music while others offered a real punch and had you dancing in your seat.

When they were not knocking out great Tunes, Emma enjoyed the banter with the audience, Emma really sang the praise of the work that goes into the Edinburgh Festival and how it supported an eclectic choice of music each year, with this gig they nailed it, great venue and great all round performances from all that graced the stage. I will certainly be checking out Emma’s new album ‘in search of Harperfield’ which was released earlier this year.

Reviewer Dolina Gorman

Grit

Playhouse

23rd August

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Sound:5 Atmosphere:5 Performance:5

There are not enough stars available for this glorious Edinburgh Festival happening. This was one of those moments when you know you are watching history being made. Those who were there will never forget they were and it will be talked about for years to come.

This Grit Orchestra is made up of musicians from all musical walks of life, some reading music and some learning by ear. There are around 80 members in this group, led by Greg Lawson, the orchestrator of Martyn Bennett’s album. There is something beautiful about witnessing a group of people creating an overwhelming musical experience. This ‘Celtic’ music is by no means easy, in fact it is complex with dance beat undertones, flowing traditional melodies and polyphonic orchestral weavings. All of the technical finesse is underpinned by amazing energy, commitment and passion.

Bennett was born in Canada and moved to Scotland with his mother Margaret Bennett, a Gaelic singer and folklorist from Skye. His natural ability on the highland bagpipes led to him later studying violin, piano and composition at Broughton Music School and then the RSAMD.

His catalogue of output included pieces for bagpipes and string quartet, which led to Lawson’s belief that had Bennett lived longer, he would have finally written for orchestra, confirming that the orchestrated version of GRIT was the perfect progression for his music.

The original album was composed during Bennett’s struggle with cancer and as his ability to play his instruments began to waver, he used his electronic skills more and more, pulling together samples from many traditional songs, singers and storytellers including Sheila Stewart, Lizzie Higgins and Mairi Morrison. This is a celebration of Scotland’s past placed in the now.

Stand out movements included MOVE containing fragments from ‘Moving On Song’ (Ewan MacColl) and Blackbird containing parts of ‘What A Voice, What A Voice’ (sung by Lizzie Higgins on the original recording, daughter of Jeannie Robertson). The tradition packed into this music is immense and we left full of inspiration to listen to these original recordings and beyond. The personal hope is that these original folk geniuses are listened too and sought out by all those who hear this music The singers in the Grit Orchestra have huge boots to fill and they showed skill and power as they soared above and through the orchestra.

The result of Greg Lawson’s orchestration and Bennett’s original vision was a thrilling, modern Celtic, Scottish fusion that was quite breathtaking. Music crossing boundaries and borders, people coming together to create something very special indeed.

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The full house audience was buzzing before a note was played and the evening certainly did not disappoint. An electric evening! There was a 10 minutes standing ovation, two encores and a moving audience singalong of Paisley Spin (which isn’t on the original album). The audience would happily have listened to the whole album again, one member of the audience requested exactly that! As we all sang the final encore the orchestra gentle left the stage, section by section, leaving the audience singing “To each and everyone of you, I say goodbye, farewell, adieu.” Perfect, poignant, a lasting memory.

Be part of this legacy. Go see GRIT wherever and whenever you can. Buy the album. Listen to the music of Bennett and all those who feature on his album.

Reviewed by Ali Bell and Denise Borland

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