Neu Reekie #2: With the Vaselines, The Pastels & Linton Kwesi Johnson

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Leith Theatre
August 17th


With Neu Reekie events, you know it’s going to be an eclectic mix of performances with a thread of connection running between them, with a challenge to trace the links and currents between one and the next. The loyal followers of these legendary mashups of animation, music and poetry veers towards an artsy, Scottish crowd with plenty of beards, craft beer and irony. They are a chilled bunch too; able to stand up through endless off-the-wall animations as the warm up entertainment. The renovated art-deco Leith Theatre is truly a beauty of a venue, with quality acoustics, a domed ceiling and a solid, spacious stage. Founders of Neu Reekie Kevin Williamson and Michael Pederson are almost like a hipper, sweary version of Ant n Dec, rightly thrilled with their continuously impressive lineups. Big respect to them for messing with the territorial hoarding that can come with the middle-class dominated arts scene in Edinburgh, as they have been at the forefront of the genre blending that is rapidly becoming commonplace.


The series of short films kept us mildly occupied for the first half an hour, kicking off with an iconic Canadian animation Ryan about the difficult life of Ryan Larkin by Chris Landreth that won an Oscar for Best Short Animation in 2005. Das Rad, a clever, short subtitled German short film featuring conversations between rocks, was also a winner of many awards. An episode of the original Batman was next, to appeal to the nostalgia of a mainly British middle-aged demographic who could fondly appreciate the kitschiness that was normal to us as children. Molly Nilsson is a Swedish singer based in Berlin. With a stereotypically serious Swedish stage presence, her slightly stilted dancing wasn’t without an underlying self-consciousness. Her clear, strong vocals matched her neat and defined appearance. Her most recent album Imaginations was released in 2017, and continues the poetic synth pop that she’s known for. Tracks like Mona Lisa’s Smile brought in a reggae soundtrack that would neatly create the vibe to welcome the following act.

Linton Kwesi Johnson influenced not just Black youth struggling under state oppression and everyday violence in the 70s, but developed a cult following across the country, particularly among the punks and reggae lovers in Scotland around that time. Author of seminal collections of dub poetry, Voices of the Living and the Dead, Dread Beat An’ Blood, Inglan is a Bitch, founder of record label LKJ Records The crowd was dutifully respectful as he outlined the life and death struggles of the Black community in London in the 70s and 80s, and made sure to emphasise that the struggle is ongoing The poems he chose touched on many of the significant moments in Black Caribbean British history in the past few decades, from the infamous Sus laws, the sickening arson attack of the New Cross Fire that inspired the Black People’s Day of Action, the resistance and uprisings that erupted across the country. Without the usual backing beat from a live band or backing track, the silence brought a solemnity to the occasion. LKJ, now in his sixties, has lost none of his gravity, power and presence. The griot of our times, he explained how the original Windrush generation heroically endured a great deal of the racism coming their way, as they had to provide for their family and make the best of their situation. However, the next generation, born in Britain had different expectations and became the rebels, fighting for many of the rights the new generation take for granted today. He finished by making the point that despite all the pressure and struggles, what a victory it has been for Caribbean people on the 70th anniversary of the Windrush to know they have successfully integrated into Britain, to huge applause and appreciation.

Wishing LKJ could have still been speaking, rather than standing around watching more animations, I waited impatiently for the next two very different sets. There was huge anticipation for the doyennes of the Scottish ‘pop-punk’ scene, the Vaselines and the Pastels. The Glaswegian duo, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKelly form the heart of the Vaselines, an alternative rock band with an interesting history, a cult following in Scotland and a wee one across the water in the grunge scene of Seattle, mainly because their songs were covered by the legendary Nirvana. With a full band to back them, their lyrics are satisfyingly strong and clear, and the good humoured banter between them and the rest of the band likely a left-over from their former marriage. Crowd favourites like Son of A Gun and Molly’s Lips had everyone rocking and enjoying themselves. The band split in 1990 and reformed in 2008 to everyone’s delight. Think slightly jangly guitars, lovely harmonies, strong storylines and some cheeky banter.

The night closed with more Scottish indie pop legends, this time in the form of band The Pastels. Having added and shed various members over the decades, the present incarnation is formed of Katrina Mitchell, Tom Crossley, Alison Mitchell, John Hogarty, Suse Bear and Stephen McRobbie (who also founded the Monorail Music shop, a hub for Glaswegian music lovers). This performance brought a full ensemble of the 6 band members on guitars, drums, keyboard, flute and vocals. Kicking off in 1981, they became a staple of the British Indie scene in the 1980’s. Fading away for a while, they had a great come back with their 2013 album Slow Summits which was shortlisted for Scottish album of the year. For a band that’s been going for 35 years, with cult status among the Brit-pop loving Japanese, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a few more decades of quirky performance yet to deliver to their adoring Scottish fans, nodding blearily but joyously along right to soothing songs like Secret Music through to the end of the night. With DJ sets by Chris Geddes and Andrew Divine thrown into the mix, you can’t say this unique night isn’t great value for money.

Lisa Williams

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