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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Joe Stilgoe: Songs on Film

Assembly Checkpoint

Until the 27th August (20.20)

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As I took my seat at the Assembly Checkpoint I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect from Songs on Film. Blending cinema and music into a live performance must be a tricky task. But let me tell you – if you like films, music and have a sense of humour then please oblige yourself to see this show.

I must admit I was skeptical… but the show’s opening – a grandiose piece of tongue in cheek showmanship – had me quickly onside. Mr Stilgoe and his excellent band pass through various references to classic cinema, operating with a high degree of musical talent and a good deal of panache. The audience is treated to a selection of songs which can simply be described as all the catchiest bits from movie soundtracks. There’s strange kind of nostalgia about the experience – in a room filled mostly with strangers, the show plays through a number of shared experiences. Each song has you conjuring up the image of the film in your head, like the sweet smell of your favourite dish, reminding you of its flavour.

Stilgoe’s evident joy in entertaining the crowd is infectious. I was humming along to the tunes I did know and quickly making a note of those of I didn’t. By the end, everyone was standing up, having a wee dance. Impressive, creative and highly enjoyable, this is surely one of the best acts at the Fringe.

Reviewer : Mark Parker

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Melody of Love & Shadows

Acoustic Music Centre

Edinburgh

20th & 21st August

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Situated in the West side of Edinburgh, the Acoustic Music Centre played host to Melody of Love & Shadows presented to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time by Saudha, Society of Poetry and Indian Music.  This was their first trip north to the Edinburgh Fringe and they were extremely eager to allow us into their cosmic world of traditional Indian Folk music.  With words, poetry, musical instruments and voice this was certain to be a pilgrimage through the myriad landscapes of microcosmic India.  Within this extravaganza of musicians we were nobly presented with Chandra Chakraborty (vocals), Kamalbir  Nandra (violin), Chiranjit Mukherjee (Tabla) and Erik Schelander ( Traubadour).  Together they trapped us within a world of wonderful classical Indian music.

Taken straight from the heart of the subcontinent and presented with such beauty, this was soon becoming a relaxed & hypnotic moment in time. Classical folk music possesses a timeless energy, allowing us to connect with our ancestors through music that is traditionally handed down to each generation. Blending story-telling with a concoction of well-known Indian instruments, they brought to life a magical but subtle sound moulded by their native lands’ diverse and musical influences.  Close your eyes, relax, drift away and take a spiritual journey through the natural beauty that is India. With a voice that transcends anything I have heard before, one becomes intoxicated with what you are hearing and witnessing.Like floating on a cloud you feel weightless,  trapped in a bubble of  delightful images.

The bringing together of poetry, verse, music, and story telling is an art in itself.  Allowing this timeless show to captivate you embalms the spirit with a sense of  peace and placement in life.  Tranquility is a major part of this moving and beautiful show… like being cleansed in holy water, we are submerged by a feeling of contentment. But it is not all about the music – visually, Sauda capture the essence of cultural India, with eye-catching traditional dress and gentle body movements, creating a magical piece of Indian culture. If a nature’s history and cultural identity has to be preserved, then there is no better way  than to share it with the world…  and Melody of Love and Shadows plan to do exactly that.

Reviewed by Raymond Speedie

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Sven Ratzke Presents Starman

Assembly Spiegeltent
Until the 28th August
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Sound:5 Atmosphere:5 Performance:5
Hmmmmmm….. The title of this show and its wonderfully glam advertising plastered all over Edinburgh. Got me intrigued for this one. Bowie is my man and was always the artist that I would travel the world to see live. I managed this nine times before The Master ascended to the Heavens. I have never been a fan of Bowie cover bands and have always felt a little embarrassed for the imitators of the Leopard Messiah. But…. tonight was different. Sven Raztke is a German and Dutch dramatic queen, who is as handsome as he is in fine voice, as camp as Freddy Mercury and looks like Citizen Smith, the 70’s sitcom Troitsky Star. It made for an interesting combination of characters, weaving in and out of cabaret tales.
The backing band looked awesome and equally as handsome, led by the longtime collaborator Charly Zastrau, who played the keys with a finesse and professionalism that was not far removed from Mike Garson. The arrangements of both Lady With The Ever Grinning Soul and Starman were nothing less than stunning, so tastefully done. Ear-candy to the Max. The lighting was also superb, the larger of the Spiegeltents is massive, as one would come to expect from such an established establishment, with the sound production beautifully done too.
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Sven cut a convincing take on Bowie, but not as Bowie, Sven has a personality that is too big too simply be an impersonator. He’s got his own stage-presence, and is a budding rock star with the vocal cords to match. Sven’s show is rather a true Bowie fan’s appreciation of the Master’s work. Charming and flirting with the audience, titillating and tantalizing in a very gay way, Sven made me laugh out loud when he had an energetic connection with George the Builder. In this season of theatre swamped with serious tones it was refreshing to experience Stardust. And yes indeed he did have it! Stardust is what makes it such a special and beautiful thing. If you love Bowie its a must. If you enjoy delicious cabaret its a double must. Bravo! Oh Aye. Sven is a 5 star Guy.
Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
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Sigur Rós,

Edinburgh Playhouse

16 August 2016

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Stepping away from the Edinburgh Festival pandemonium on Princes Street, Icelandic post-rock giants Sigur Rós arrived to provide some essential tranquillity and transcendental sensations to the crushed eardrums. Having only had the opportunity to see the band once before, a misspent hour trying to discern their glorious creations above a conga-line of vest-topped ‘lads-on-tour’ types at Benicassim Festival in Spain eight years ago, not disregarding a breath-taking solo performance by frontman Jónsi Birgisson in Glasgow’s hideous O2 Academy around 2009, I highly anticipated this gig inside the capital’s Playhouse arena.

Stepping into the seated theatre arena and observing the stage exhibited in a sylvan display befitting of the menacing Metz-adverts from the late 1990’s, it was clear that this was going to be more of a show – and ultimately, less of a gig. The cinematic projections flickering behind the band trio of vocalist Birgisson, bassist Goggi Holm and drummer Ori Pall Dyrason did little to enhance opener ‘Óveður’ slow-burning and understated entrance. Remaining partially hidden, it was a gentle beginning to proceedings from a band with no new albums since ‘Kveikur’ three years ago.

Despite the minimal movement and the bowed heads of the band through the duration of the show, the graceful birdsongs emanating from Birgisson, presented in the hopelandic approach which the band is so famously lauded for, breathes life into daydreams and sets the audience at ease during songs such as ‘Starálfur’ from 1999 album ‘Agaetis Byrjun’. Ten years since Sigur Rós acclaimed ‘Takk’ album have now passed but there was no suspension of affection afforded to the stunning ‘Sæglópur’ with its uplifting keys, mimicking the Mogwai-blueprint of slow build-up being destroyed by Dyrason’s thundering drums broadly filling the venue, whilst doubling up as pianist right of stage. The glorious strains of ‘Glósóli’ from the same album also resonated with the crowd with its ingenuous, slow-march wonderment suiting the dewy-eyed audience.

Sigur Ros 2 (1).JPGIt may have been the setting, beautiful as the Edinburgh Playhouse is, which seemed to sit uneasy with me at this point of the concert. The connection between band and audience is non-existent with the exception of a solitary thank you from Birgisson half-way through the set, and the overall output seems poorer for the absence of former keyboardist Kjarri Sveinsson. Even Birgisson looks tired, stripped of the feather head-dresses and playful attitude from years gone by, only once threatening to come alive during ‘E-Bow’ from 2011 live motion picture and album ‘Inni’, before returning to his sorrowful crooning. It could simply be that Sigur Rós are one of those bands who simply work best at home with headphones on and eyes closed, but after promises from the Icelandic trio to showcase a sense of adventure during their forthcoming dates, the concert was at threat of twisting itself into one, long self-hug as boredom crept in. Why exactly drummer Dyrason had to take his shirt off is anyone’s guess as the only bead of sweat in the theatre belonged to the bar manager who opted to close the bar before the first song had finished – a poor move at what, essentially, is considered to be a post-rock gig.7

Of course, there were moments to be cherished too. ‘Hafsol’, the B-side to big hitter ‘Hoppipola’ (omitted from tonight’s setlist) was a tender slice of pop added into the band’s setlist, while ‘Kveikur’, the title track from the band’s seventh album in 2013 is a distorted, ugly rumble showcasing Holm’s bass at its heaviest and Dyrason’s strength behind his kit, all the while red lava spews upon the crimson-lit screens behind. While it is an arduous task for any band to connect with a seated audience, the final number of a fifteen-song set belonged to ‘Untitled 1 – Vaka’, with pre-recorded cello, glockenspiel, and violins all accompanying Birgisson’s lyrics “You sigh low tonight, you’re so alone”.

It was an interesting lyric. Around the Playhouse, the crowd were on their feet, standing ovations awarded to the stage-bowing trio, appeased that they had got their money’s-worth. For this reviewer however, it was a disappointment. No bantering crowd. Lack of connection. Samey-songs. More show than gig. Sighing lowly, I felt alone with my thoughts, unable to connect with what the rest of the audience seemed to be feeling. Once, I had travelled to Reykjavik due to my love for the band and what it represented. Perhaps the expectations had been set too high all along.

Reviewer : Stephen Watt

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So Good A Thing

 Saint Marks Art Space
11th and 12th August
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Sound:5 Atmosphere:5 Performance:5
Now, this was a perfect show to review on very wet and windy August Wednesday night. The Waldorf Wayfarers are 28 performers that come from as far afield as Australia, Taiwan, Italy and Scotland. Directed and conducted by Judith Clingan. With such a talented international ensemble, I knew I was in for a treat. I took my seat in the church pews and the 28 performers took their positions on the altar to treat us to an hour of angelic voices. From Gregorian Chant to contemporary classical compositions, both a capella, and with period instrumental music, the audience was taken to different times in history entirely.
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 The performance held me in its entirety, I closed my eyes and meditated bringing full attention to my sense of hearing. With Judith Clingan explaining each piece before it was performed., the evening proved educational and lush ear candy. The acoustics of Saint Marks perfectly complimented and enhanced what was being presented. Demonstrating how versatile the human voice can be, from a traditional choir to being surrounded by tropical birds in a rain forest. There was also a piece inspired by the witches of Macbeth which was both disturbing and beautiful at the same time. This choir has come a long way to present this vocal magic. It was a perfect experience and I can not reccommend it more highly.
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Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
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Kiya Heartwood & Tejas

St Bride’s Acoustic Centre

10th & 11th August

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Going to see Americn trad-band Kiya Heartwood & Tejas is what the Edinburgh fringe is all about. My god-daughter’s band were up from Lancashire at the Fringe, & Kiya very kindly gave us all tickets to witness her, I can only see, musical genius at work. What a lovely story-teller Kiya is, backed up by Janna on electric guitar & the highly accomplished raven-haired Anna on fiddle, they transported us across the oceans to the heart & soul of American music, forged in many a fire-lit mountain cabin over the centuries.

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Kiya’s songwriting ranges over topics which strike something in her poet’s soul – a stike in 1900 in Pennsylvania, the slaughter of 1400 Native American horses, the rush & flush of Flamenco music, its all there as she crafts her beautiful, meaningful songs which all possess the kick of an angry mule. Of these, there was a wonder in her Burial Ground, which we were all invited to sing-a-long to – & we did. Her accomplice, Janna, also shared the stage with a well-wrought number, concerning her youthful angst at growing up in the New Mexico… ‘Im trying not to be Midwestern,’ she tells us, ‘but I keep it all inside & it tends to fester.

Their last number was a rip-roaring rendition of Drowsy Maggie, & one notices the Celtic roots in all her work. This is why she loves Scotland so much, I guess, & returns to perform to her much-appreciative audience. It was a special hour or so with the ladies & the Mumble wishes them well as they play one more gig at St Brides Acoustic Centre today, before training it & ferrying it all the way to Ventnor on the Isle of White – a long journey, but being American they’d be used to it.

Reviewer Damian Beeson Bullen