The Strange and the Eerie: Ballads and Stories of Auld Scotland

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Scottish Storytelling Centre
Aug 22-23 (20:30)

Cantrip Teasel are doing something special. Folklorists & perfomers, they are preserving for society the old tales & songs of the past. There was a time before Netflix, y’know, & even cinema, when folk would huddle round the fire listening to the family tales of witches & warlocks, & splunkies, & murders, &, well, you get the idea. In 2017 Heather Yule, Jeanie Roy Collins and Alison Bell are Cantrip Teasel, two of whom were at the Scottish Storytelling Centre last night regaling us with ancient ballads and stories, whose words sat upon the plunking paradise that were two huge & golden Cetic harps tinkling like angel bells at the gates of Heaven. As their fingers paced up the strings like skipping stones in a elfen pool, I became entranced to the illusion as our two sorceresses wove their incantatory spellcraft.

Thro’ Heather’s haunting storytelling painting vivid images in the mind, to Alison’s melodiously chaunting her ‘sad & gruesome songs,‘ our ladies took us on a dangerous journey, with many a twist in the tale. The hour & a half simply flew by, & as I left I was whistling centuries old tunes with a mind filled with floating coffins & dancing skeletons; & as I stepped onto the cobbles of the Royal Mile, a phantom carriage flashed by me, turned hard right to the snorts of ghostly horses, & hurtled down a close… where it disappeared into the mists of a dreich Scottish night…

Reviewer : Damo

 

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An Interview with Elspeth McVeigh

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Hello Elspeth, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from Scotland – born and bred just outside Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders.
I divide my time between Canada and Scotland – the beautiful, stunning Scottish Borders which is in my blood !

When did you first realise you were musical?
I cannot remember a time before music – its just always been there.
I was very close to my Granny who had a beautiful voice.
She taught me a lot of songs .

When did you first realise you could sing?
I just always did. I sang at gatherings of neighbours where there might be a piano or fiddle. I remember being told, by one old man who wanted a song, saying ” ye have a voice like a linty” ( a linnet).
My heart swoll up with pride!

What for you makes a good song?
A good song is one which pulls at the heart… which speaks to the listener’s fundamental emotions of joy and pain, love and loss.
It can be sung by Elvis, or the person in the street or the greatest of the classical singers – anyone who gets to the essence of the music

What does Elspeth McVeigh liek to do when she’s not being musical?
I read, I hike, I meet with friends and work with an animal charity, I go to concerts!

Can you tell us about your Edinburgh performances : where & when & what?
I’m returning to the Fringe after a successful first try last year – which was early to 19th cent Scottish songs with a theme of emigration. This year I’m exploring the juxtaposition of 17th cent Scottish and French music – two very different styles… Most of this music is pretty obscure and rarely performed, although simply gorgeous. I start with two slightly more formal concerts at St Andrews and St Georges West, ” Ayres of France, Graces of Scotland” accompanied by really wonderful Scottish musicians on theorbo ( which is a very large lute) fabulous player, Kristiina Watts, and baroque fiddle. The last week of the Fringe sees me back at the Space at Surgeons Hall with a nightly performance of early Scottish and European street music ” Remember Me My Dere” This programme is accompanied on clarsach – the Scottish harp. An excellent player, Calum Mcleod accompanies. To explain, early music like this relies on a lot of improvisation from the musicians.
The basic melody, the structure is there, but it is up to the performers to interpret and bring the pieces to life.
The meaning of the poetry, the story behind the song is what drives the music, not the other way about!

What brought you to such a traditional institution as the broadside ballad?
Well, I wouldn’t call the broadside ballad a traditional institution as such.Broadsides were the music of the streets.
At their height, tens of thousands of broadsides were being printed , sung and bought throughout Europe, not just Britain.
Broadsides were an oral tradition. Just the words were on the sheets, not written music.
The sellers sang the latest tune and people bought the words and learnt the tune from listening.

How is the music of the ballads standing up after such a passage of time?
Amazingly well!
Its simply extraordinary how you can come across a ballad which tweaks a memory and right enough… there it is being sung by Dylan to this day (I was at a Dylan concert a couple of weeks ago) or in a pub by musicians who have no idea that what they are singing was written ,sold and sung in the 17th or 18th cent ( or earlier for that matter).
Then of course there’s the delight of these same songs turning up in the US in the 19th cent …
I’ll be singing a couple of Appalachian songs at Surgeons Hall with the clarsach… wonderful the flexibility of the music.
I think of it all as form of Jazz – fabulous!

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What may modern song-writers to learn from the ballads?
Just about anything and everything. I think we also forget that the greats of what we think of as strictly “classical” from Monteverdi to Mozart and contemporary composer, have all drawn inspiration and even the bare melody from what might be called ” the folk tradition” – something embedded in Bach, by the way. It is impossible not to be influenced by this immense wealth of music which has passed into our musical subconscious, so to speak. You can hear it in music of the 1930’s and 40’s as well – wonderful stuff!

Could you briefly explain what it is like to sing with each of your complementary instruments – namely the lute, baroque fiddle & clarsach harp?
To sing with these early instruments is a joy.
There’s a tone to the lute and baroque fiddle which has a particular resonance and softness which simply cannot be given by anything else. The clarsach is a lovely instrument – it has a gentle richness which is a real treat.

How did last nights performance go?
Yesterday’s performance was the first at this year’s Fringe and it was a real pleasure to give and a success.

There was a large audience, who all appeared to enjoy the concert very much. The accompanying musicians were great and the songs and music – 16th and 17th cent Scottish and French – clearly had a powerful effect. Afterwards, a number of people approached me to thank us for either introducing them to a genre they were not familiar with, or simply that overall they enjoyed the music very much.

Which song did you feel resonated most?
Thats always a difficult one, but I think it was the final song in the programme, which is Scottish and dates from about 1530
” Remember Me My Dere”. It is a haunting love song which speaks across the centuries…

What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Elspeth McVeigh?
I have a busy autumn and winter season ahead in Vancouver – exploring baroque Spanish music and a concert of 1940’s and 50’s songs. Perhaps most exciting of all, a concert of 16th cent Christmas music playing with Chinese musicians.
The Chinese harp and violin have a sound which sends shivers up your spine – Monteverdi and his contemporaries would have adored these instruments had he had the chance to hear it, of that I am sure!

Pitta Bread of Delights

JESS ABRAMS / THE VICTOR POPE BAND / QUEENS OF THE BLUES

So much to see, so much to see, so I saw some of it, a jazz & blues pitta bread with slices of meaty sausages that are The Victor Pope Band in the middle. My companion for the night was Ms. Teri Welsh, who was out reviewing the latter segment of my musical butty, & also my bonnie & intellectual companion of some style. First up was the Jazz Bar the classically moody tones of Jess Abrams & her band, who in a recent interview with the Mumble declared her origins as, ‘I’m from New York City with Woodstock, Santa Fe, and occasionally a red van, in the mix (the perils of hippie parents!). Now I live in lovely Edinburgh.’ She built a great rapport with the crowd to immediate effect, holding court from her own living room it seemed, with anecdotes as long as the songs it was all too frickin cool, like, as we jazzelites revolved around the star that is her effortless timing & softly, softly decadence.

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Next up were Edinburgh’s very own Victor Pope Band, led by the lyrical genius, but dress-sense-challenged meteor-mind that is Steven Vickers. Society happens, & he goes through it, & he writes kick-ass songs as he does so. Sometimes three a night if he’s on the verge of a breakdown, so sensitive is the fellow to the writhing, pusillanimous & reckless mass of nonsense that is modernity. Backed up Roy Jackson (aka Nice One Man) on mandolin, melodica, electric guitar, Swanee whistle, kazoo, xylophone and siren whistle, Jess Aslan (aka Terminator Jess) on synth, Graeme Mackay (aka Grime) on bass and Jon Harley (aka Cuddles McGee) on drums, The Victor Pope Band contain clearly some of the best musical talent in Edinburgh. In a recent interview with the Mumble, when Steven was asked ‘How does it feel to finally become a member of the Edinburgh rock aristocracy,‘ he replied

 I don’t know if we’re quite there yet. But if we are I like to think we’re kind of the secret shame of the family. The deformed sibling twisted by too much inbreeding who they keep locked in the cellar and occasionally throw lumps of raw meat at. But one day, through monstrous Machiavellian machinations, he will rise to power to reek his terrible revenge. Kind of like Game of Thrones or summat.
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IMG_20170814_215509728.jpgThe final bit of mi pitta, the part where the meat & the sauce & the salad just blend into one tasty & perfect blob of goo, was the Queens of the Blues by the Blueswater collection of musicians. Teri was loving this – she chose it especially to review – & so was I, as Nicole Smit regaled us in her pink shoes & cyan-blue daisy-dress, backed by her band of seven bootstrapping lads. ‘Alright guys, give me everything you’ve got,‘ she demanded of the band as we were taken on an excellently tunage-chosen voyage of discovery through the leading ladies of the Blues; Esther Phillips, Ruth Brown & all the other greats were assembled into what I thought was the greatest history lesson I’ve ever witnessed. Really fuc£in’ cool!

All-in-all, a bangin’ butty that.

Reviewer : Damo

Blueswater Presents: Queens of the Blues

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TheSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
15-26 August 2017
21:00


Chasing behind green peacock feather socks and Rapunzel shoes to the top of the stairs at Surgeons Hall was perhaps indicative that something sassy may lie awaiting behind the performance doors tonight, and we were not to be disappointed.  Nicole Smit, a pint-sized diva, in a powder blue kimono and bubblegum baseball boots splashed onto the stage dripping with charisma and charm to begin her tale of the largely forgotten women who shaped the blues. She was flanked by a six piece band, complete with guitar, keyboard, brass and harmonica, on a spacious stage, which was roomy and audacious, befitting of the night.

She began her story back in 1920 with Mamie Smith, a vaudeville singer who was the first person to make a blues recording, then progressing through the years we stop for a celebration and recognition of Chicago blues. The audience are then treated, amongst others, to a glimpse of teenage superstar Esther Philips, Atlantic records’ Ruth Brown and Rosetta Thorpe, who inspired the likes of Elvis and Chuck Berry. Her voice changed seamlessly with the styles, and she crawled all over those lyrics like dirty piano fingers, leaving the audience mesmerised.

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The tasty snack-sized parcels of history sandwiched between each song made perfect introductions that enhanced the performance with depth and richness. We are introduced to big Mama Thornton, whose hits included Hound Dog and Ball & Chain, the latter recorded and performed by Janis Joplin in the 70s. Her voice really was incredible, as she took us on a journey through a mix of styles, touching on gospel, Chicago and New Orleans and then onto some more modern influences, all the while holding the audience captivated and melting into their seats. An utterly enchanting performance, and a festival highlight.

Reviewer: Teri Welsh

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The Other Guys

C Venues
Aug 12-20 (21.20)

The Other Guys is a show that grabs the torch that should be a Fringe show, thrusts it in the air with the poise of one of those Olympic posters & says, ‘lets do this, guys, lets have some proper fun.’ Four youngish gentlemen, friends from their academic years apparently, have forged a feisty star turn based upon the songs of high-pitched warbler, Franki Valli, who with his band ‘The Four Seasons‘ have sold an incredible amount of records since their inception in 1960. That’s not to say me & the wife were fans, we’ve always found Valli’s voice a bit whiney, a bit lost baby goat in the woodsey, but a little dickie bird told us to check out the show, so we did.

Of course at the end we were dancing, as was the rest of the relatively small & cozy room. Because of the size of the auditorium, the show’s quality was in fact enhanced; there was a great intimacy, for example we were sat right behind the bass player & the keyboardist, the latter fellow directing the music with consummate ease. The band are in house, & accompany other acts at C Venues. They told us they’d only had one full practice with The Other Guys, but you couldn’t tell, it all sounded great, & it was nice to see the singers occasionally sweep by the band & give little winks of appreciation. They were actually pulling this one off.

The Other Guys did more than pull it off – they have created something that transcended Valli’s own work, an amazing blend of pop tunes – mainly Valli’s, but some modern – & choreographized chemistry coming from four great mates dancing to old tunes together in their student bedrooms. For Valli fans, all the classics were there – Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Oh What a Night – & it was exhilarating to see the crowd singing along, & swaying in lines, & standing together at the end in one happy, clapping, gospelesque clanjamfrie.

The Other Guys is steeped in the halycon days of vocal harmonies, when in the days before wah-wahs & keyboards, the only way to improve a group’s sound was through the human voice. Roll on seven decades & luckily there are purists still out there who are capable of four-part rock & roll harmonies, & it is sheer serendipity to stumble across them. As we were leaving, a couple of young fiances turned up asking if The Other Guys could play at their wedding in St Andrews. ‘We’re only together for Edinburgh,‘ replied the bass-player, & I urge anyone who is up for being entertained this August to catch their ephemeral orgy of honest, incandescent brilliance while you can. Time is running out, fast!

Reviewer : Damo

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Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness

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Assembly George Square Studios
Aug 13-14, 16-28 (17.40)

Baba Brinkman spits a massively entertaining lesson on the science of consciousness at Fringe Fest 2017. Baba’s raps deal with neuroscience, philosophy and general musings on what it means to be a thinking human being. Our rattle-chanting shaman pontificates on a number of cool topics, the first being the philosophies behind the thought-experimental mind, when he relays a story of a girl born deaf, who spends her whole life learning all the hip hop available through inaudible means. An incredibly intelligent platform for the Baba’s new piece. Our rapper then wonders: If the woman were to gain hearing after all this learning, and had the chance to finally hear hip hop, would she hear something new or would she have already known hip hop through her non-hearing experience?

Not only does Baba Brinkman display tight rhymes, he also gives us tools to better understand ourselves. He is “the first peer-reviewed rapper,” and for this show he worked with Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, who made a guest appearance to improvise some lines about the critical stages of neural development. Science rap could easily be cheesy, but Baba brings serious skills to the stage. The information he presents will keep you thinking for a long time after – maybe a lifetime – and help you understand your mind in a new way. A show, a lecture & a concert all tangled in one enigmatic ball of brilliance. Baba is out there, for sure, but anyone can take a trip to visit him & he welcomes all-comers.

Reviewer : Michael Beeson

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An Interview with The Friel Sisters

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Hello ladies, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
ANNA : Hello! We’re born and brought up in Glasgow, with all of our family hailing from northwest Donegal in Ireland. It’s a dangerous combination!

What for you makes a good song?
SHEILA : Something with good feeling and a melody that doesn’t leave your head
From a singers point of view a gem of a song would have lyrics with real purpose, passion and poetry. Songs that make you think, love or challenge you are equally as important as songs that capture a by-gone time or important event in history. From a musicians point of view the air has to be as captivating as the lyrics. We all have a soft spot for an air that is in a minor key, there is something other worldly at times in those airs!

Do you herald from a musical family?
ANNA : Our family on our mother’s side is very musical, our grandmother and her brothers and sisters would play the fiddle and could all sing. We’re very lucky to have had such a background that this type of music is just what we are naturally drawn to. Our uncle is a great musician, but not so much in the traditional music scene. He plays everything and used to play in a number of excellent bands, including playing bass with Scottish band Simple Minds.

What do the Friel sisters like to do together when they’re not being all musical?
CLARE : We love to travel, which is perfect because we’re always away playing! We spend as much time as possible in Donegal with family and friends. Anna and Sheila are dentists as well, and Clare has just finished a degree in Pharmacology and Biochemistry so we’re always up to something!

How do you select the songs for your repertoire?
CLARE : We got a lot of songs from our family they would be older songs from northwest Donegal. We pick our tunes from old recordings, or from tunes we play in sessions with friends or even just tunes that are in our head. It’s nice to reflect on friends and family in our music and a mix of what’s old and new. We’ve started writing a few tunes ourselves recently and we’re excited to have some of that material included on the album and in our live shows.

Which instruments do you each play?
SHEILA : Anna plays the flute and whistle. Sheila plays the uilleann pipes, flute, whistle and Tibetan singing bowl (bit of a curveball yes!) Lastly, Clare plays the fiddle and mouth organ. We have other instruments that we mess around on but only dare to take them on stage once in a blue moon! Singing is a big part of our music too – we sing mainly together in unison. Our lineup also includes a guitar player – the amazing Hajime Takahashi. He’s from Japan originally, but lives in Ireland. He’s amazing and has brought so much to our music. On occasion we have other musicians guesting with us too – we love incorporating bouzouki and bodhran whenever we can.

What is it about traditional music that makes you tick?
CLARE : The feeling. It could be a fast reel or a slow song, but it can make you feel every emotion. The music is so vibrant, whether it’s fast or slow there is so much bite in it. It’s also an incredible living link to the past and the generations of musicians that have come before us. It’s a really special art form in that sense. Much of it has been passed down without being written down and learned from ink, which gives it a real sense of life and resilience.

You have toured Europe, America and Asia, which has been your stand-out performance on each of these continents?
SHEILA : Wow, this is a tough one. Gigs normally stand out when you have an audience that appreciate the music and enjoy themselves – we love to see people up dancing or being totally drawn into a song. We couldn’t possibly begin to narrow down one stand out for each continent because it might start an almighty argument between the 3 of us! One recent gig stands out for all of us though – winning the prestigious Loïc Raison Trophée at Festival Interceltique de Lorient last year. The crowd was incredible and it was a bit of a shock for us. A very memorable night for us!

Can you tell us about your Edinburgh performances: where & when & what?
CLARE : We’re playing two gigs, Saturday 12th August and Friday 25th August, both at the Acoustic Music Centre @ UCC (Venue 138). We played as part of the Acoustic Music Centre series last year and really enjoyed it. We even had a bus come from Glasgow come over filled with prosecco. It sounded like a party bus! That’s happening again this year so I’m sure it’ll be a great couple of nights.

This year you will be recording your second album, how is going & which pieces are to we look out for?
ANNA : The album is going well! We are in the mixing stage at the moment. We put a lot into it and have a lot of material. It’s just cutting back now that is the really hard part and trying to put across the energy we have when we play live!

What will the Friel Sisters be doing for the rest of 2017?
SHEILA : Playing! Plenty of tunes and gigs, as well as getting the album out.
2017 has been a very productive year for us behind the scenes this year so we are really looking forward to getting all of our new material out and showing people what we have been up to. We don’t have a launch date fully secured yet for album 2 but that will be a highlight, as will the tours we are planning to launch it. We also have some new videos in the pipeline, which is a new thing for us, and very exciting as we worked with some really talented friends on the project.


You can catch the Friel Sisters in Edinburgh this August 

@ the Acoustic Centre, Saturday 12th & Friday the 25th