As a poet I’m always excited to be exposed to an exponent of mine art ancient art which I have never come across before. I was delighted, then, to find myself sat down in Edinburgh’s Playhouse immersed in the poetry of the seminal 20th century polymath, Frederico Garcia Lorca. Poet, musician, playwright & lover, he grew from humble rustic beginnings to become one of the most beautiful poets to elucidate the culture of Spain. Alas, his life was cut short by the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), his outspoken liberal views making him the target of the Fascist murder-gangs on 19 August 1936.
His story, & of course his wonderful creative muse, made him a perfect choice to be included somewhere in this year’s war-themed EIF. Giving himself the job of truly elucidating Lorca’s lyrical genius, flamenco genius Paco Pena has weighed heavily on Lorca’s reclamation of Andulusian folklore & songs, & converted them into a wonderful two hour show. While his group strummed guitars & clapped their way through the material, a man & a woman danced elitely to the music, & i really did feel as if I was sat in an olive grove, the fire burning, the wine flowing, & the panorama melting into the sunset & teh Meditteranean Sea.
An excellent addition to the show was the epic visual projection at the back of the stage, which showed in grimy shadowy detail scenes from the Civil War. Then occasionally, Lorca’s poetry would be read out in English, its translated text shimmering in & out of the backdrop. This is perhaps the most powerful performance of poetry I have ever seen, & I know Lorca would wonder at modernity’s ability to eke out the ambrosia of his soul.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
Wed 27th August
Having just returned from Blackford Hill, sunbathing and reading my new copy of Q magazine., I got a call from Damo, asking if I would go to the Usher hall to review the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. as part of The Edinburgh International Festival. Reviewing bands, ballet, comedians & theatrical performances is one thing. – but reviewing a hundred piece orchestra is another. The Usher Hall was packed to the rafters. Having press allocation ensures the best seats in the house. For a moment I felt guilty at the privilege of this blues-busting experience. Then the Orchestra arrived, taking their positions on stage, the ladies dressed in the most elegant of dresses, long and black. The gents in traditional tail-coats. They all looked very nice. Then the star of the show arrived, Mariss Jansons. The Usher hall erupted with excitement as the orchestra tuned into this Grand Master of the Baton. Interestingly, Violin seemed to be a girls thing and Cello a boys thing. I’ve always associated Cello with Girls, because of the instrument’s sensual nature and the way it is held between the legs. (Think Susan Sarandon in “The Witches Of Eastwick.”) Then Mariss Jansons waved his Baton and waves of sonic fidelity bathed me in bliss. The first piece, Symphony No1 in F minor., composed by Dmitry Shostakovich, was such good medicine, and I was transfixed by the conductors control and power to conduct who played what and where.His moves were ever graceful and Divine sank further and further into Classical heaven.
It was a catch 22 position. Did I close my eye’s and drift off into the world that the music wanted to take me.or did I keep my eye on the conductor and marvel at the way he controlled the talents of his orchestra. Multi-tasking was key; there was so much going on upon the stage, & I didn’t want to miss anything. My senses were engulfed to the max, as a smile spread across my face I realized that I was really, really enjoying this. During the interval, there was an old man sat next to me who had been following the musical script in a book he had with him. Reading the musical notes as though he were reading words from a book. I asked him if he could hear the music in his head as he read the music. His reply was, ‘sometimes.‘ Then I discovered that he had been a conductor for the Leeds Symphony Orchestra up until 1976. I was engrossed with his tales of conducting in Yorkshire.
The second half of the performance.Ravel. Piano Concerto in G major. I had been so engrossed in my conversation with the old master that was sat next to me, Tthat I hadn’t noticed that a Grand Piano had taken center stage. Aside from African hand drums, piano is my second instrument and now was my chance to see Jean-Yves Thibaudet in action. As he took to the stage, the audience’s applause nearly took the roof off. To have this close a view of this genius at work really was a blessing. The almost psychic link between pianist and conductor as the piece began with a crack of a whip and then the skill and dexterity of the fingers that brought Ravel back to life. I was amazed ,inspired and very very entertained. What also amazed me was the pianist’s ability to perform this dramatically complex piece without sheet music. The atmosphere of the Usher Hall was multi-orgasmic as the concerto reached its climax. I was speechless.
This wasn’t a Master Class. This was a Professor class.
Divine Loved Every Moment.
National Museum of Scotland
8, 15 & 22 Aug 2014
Encounter the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) as never before with some late night entertainment. Especially for the Fringe Festival, the NMS opens its doors ‘after hours’ for adults (18+) to experience the grand opulence of the Grand Gallery while sipping wine, see special exhibitions, live snippets of festival shows and creative events. For three nights during August you can see all this in a not-so-average festival venue.
From the main entrance on Chamber Street we found the Brasserie was still open for nibbles, dinner and drinks, a brisk stroll upstairs lead you to the bustling and vibrant Grand Gallery. The Main Stage was slap bang in the middle of the space so standing room was at a premium; visitors lined the balcony above to obtain a better view. Queues for the bars either side of the vast hall added to the congestion, the above average prices for below average fizz, wine and bottled beer failed to deter the thirsty visitors. The word ‘BAR’ was projected across the wall for ease of navigation. If you wanted to explore the other areas of the museum you had to leave the drinks behind, which for me, took some of the shine off the evening. There would have been something deliciously naughty about wandering through atmospherically lit exhibits, whilst sipping on a glass of vino. But it was understandable that they were keen to avoid any drunken Ming vase mishaps!
The museum was divided into several performance and activity areas for the night. The aforementioned Main Stage had a varied bill including a trombone quartet, capella singers, comedy tap dancers and a taki maori haka experience – an eclectic mix indeed! Music and chatter echoed around the cavernous Grand Gallery atrium. Old school 50’s Jazz played between acts taking the party people back in time, along with some of the artefacts surrounding us. Over in the Auditorium we were treated to some hypnotic Mongolian grunge and ‘comedy, magic and science’ courtesy of the affable Oliver Meech. The diversity of the acts tied in nicely with the spirit of the museum itself.
My personal highlight of the evening was upstairs in the Event Space. Here we could don white gloves and handle ancient Egyptian artefacts, participate in art & crafts and have our photo taken by the wonderfully silly team from Photo Bubble Booth. Hats, horns, moustaches, goggles, masks, and myriad other accessories littered the floor. You were given eight seconds between photos to dress up as daftly as possible and strike a pose – great fun! Plus it was a nice memento to take away from an enjoyable evening.
Visitors were able to enjoy free entry to the exhibition Ming: The Golden Empire, usually costing £6.50/£8. This special exhibition was an overview of the legacy of the Ming Dynasty, ruling China between 1368-1644. There were also an occasional surprise acts popping up around the site. Too much to experience in only three hours. As darkness fell the atmosphere definitely improved, those inevitable ‘Night of the Museum’ scenarios seem to be more possible! Alas the T Rex failed to move even after a large glass of vino tinto! FOUR STARS
Reviewer : Sarah Lewis
The Cowshed, Edinburgh
Yesterday Avo I saw a Godfather and God-daughter song-writing team that look set to blow Adele out of the water. All original compositions penned by the brain-child behind the street-review Blog ‘themumble.net,’ Mr Damo Bullen plays Bass, who with drummer, Mr Luke Grifiths, provide a very funky rhythm section. Then along came the very, very cute Al Roberts on rhythm guitar and Roy Saunders on melodica & mandolin completing a sonic template for the amazing voice of Kae-Lei Stowell.
A Fourteen year old with an amazingly powerful vocal range that brought tears to my eyes. This always happens when I experience Genius. For a girl to have such realised gift at the age of 14 I am confident in saying that Kae Lei Stowell gave the best vocal performance I have witnessed this Summer season and feel blessed to have been moved by such a fine performance of Rock n Roll.
The Cowshed,in the Cowgate has the perfect dance floor all dusty and strewn with straw. With a band as good as this, I was hooked immediately, and the funky moves began. A new band,original songs and with such an impassioned, evolving soul Diva as Kae Lie Stowell leading the quartet. How could they go wrong. FIVE STARS
Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
O’Neill’s performance was strong and energetic from the start. He erupted onto the stage wielding an electric guitar, a wealth of musical knowledge and a keen sense of humour, all of which he shared forthright and throughout the show with an excited audience. Despite the shows title ‘History of Heavy Metal’, this show is not only for lovers of heavy metal music, but for all. O’Neill is both informative and entertaining in his deliverance, and if his knowledge and his passion does not draw you in his witty jokes and charismatic energy will. When a performer enjoys doing their own show so much its hard not to enjoy it with them and in this case it’s evident how much O’Neill enjoys fusing two of his passions, Heavy Metal Music and its life span and his own art form, stand up comedy.
When I said this show was for all I meant it. I went with two of my counterparts who like myself were never big on Heavy Metal, however we left the venue after the performance with a new found understanding, or for want of a better word curiosity, for a music genre and its disciples, a warm feeling as though we’d been welcomed into a new community and sore sides faces from laughing for the best part of an hour. We are all in agreement that for this show Andrew O’Neill with his magnetic enthusiasm, passionate knowledge but mostly his whimsical personality and performance has earned himself all FIVE STARS.
Reviewer : Dermot Nelson
This is how it should be done.I joined a couple of friends waiting in a Que. The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside and down we went. Imagine being transported back to Andy Warhol’s art factory in 1967.
Only Andy had borrowed a Tardis to travel into the future to persuade Lux Interior, Poison Ivy, Nick Knox and Aphex Twin to collaborate with The Velvet Underground in an immersive cutting edge art project that was multi media and packed to the rim with everything that would captivate and engage my pleasure buttons. The spirit of Andy Warhol was very present. He was smiling. And like me. He, loved it. FIVE STARS
Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
The British love a good impersonator, the ability to emulate to a tee some famous figure off the telly. However, to do this with the unbelievably beautiful, million-single selling singing voices of the the world’s greatest ever divas takes some doing – yet Christina Bianco pulls it off with an ear-shattering ease. Joining her (in drag) is her taller, more hairier equally as powerful a singer, Velma Celli. They clearly share chemistry on & off stage, & seem to love every second they spend singing together.
The show consists of a wide choice of costumes, & an even wider selection of Divas both dead & alive – Gwen Stefani, Cher, Shania Twain, Billie Holiday & many more all get the Bianco treatment throughout the 70 mins of this pulsating, ear-trembling, soul-quivering show. Velma is more than just a comedy side-kick, & her diva exit towards the end of the show is absolute genius. I, & just about everybody else in the audience, were completely blown away by the bacchanalian energy of Bianco & Celli, which coomplled many to stand clapping in ovation at the end of the show. A well worthy FIVE STARS.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
To a packed Usher Hall, the ever-amiable EIF director Jonathan Mills delivered his opening speech, highlighting the themes of this year’s season, from war-theme plays to South African extravaganzas, celebrating 20 years of that nation’s independence. Together, he called this year’s offerings would, ‘defy the immediate circumstances of their creation.’
Then came the first half of the concert, the first offering controlled with one of the world’s two best conductors, Oliver Knussen (the other is the 90-year old ). This was Arnold Schoenburg’s FIVE PIECES FOR OCHESTRA OP 16, a wonderful piece of quite modernist music that is over a century old. We are presented with quite an otherworldly sound, the third piece in particular reminiscent of walking through a swamp, with bubbles of music rising to the surface. Schoenburg called this piece ‘summer morning by a lake.’ The music somehow paints colours in the mind as this eerie soundworld immerses one’s thoughts in dreaming.
The second piece was Scriabin’s PROMETHEUS, THE POEM OF FIRE, & indeed the music
flows as if one were reading poetry, as a series of short musical flourishes making for a splendid composite whole. At the front-centre of the stage, Kirill Gerstein dramtically waved his arms & danced his fingers over his gleaming ebony grand piano. Deeply engaging, this pre-great war slice of Scriabin’s avant-garde mind was performed beautifully by the orchestra, the highly watchable Royal Scottish Orchestra. With the excellent acoustics of the Usher Hall to cast their melodical medley up into, the music was a joy to hear
Reviewer : Damo Bullen