Ada Campe & the pyschic duck, The Stand New Town Theatre – Edinburgh

Saturday 25th August. 2018

Now I couldn’t possibly go to the Fringe without seeing some comedy, cabaret and magic could I? Ada Campe is all 3 rolled into one magnificent package. I have seen her perform before, at What The Frock! (all female comedy gigs organised by one woman whirlwind Jane Duffus in Bristol) so I knew what a treat this show was going to be. Neither Tangles nor Tom did and I was slightly apprehensive about what they would make of Ada to be honest.

Eccentric doesn’t really begin to cover it. Odd. Hilarious. Camp. Marvelous. Cheeky. Bizarre. With a physic duck! And audience participation moose chases! I shall never again hear the word sweeties without it being in Ada Campe’s plummy voice.

I could hear Tangles giggling away and her smile at the end showed she had also enjoyed the ride. I did bump into Ada Campe herself ( I know, how blessed am I to have been so close to her magnificence?) after the show as I was looking for a lost cardigan and told her how I bought along my friends. She enquired as to what they made of it and when I told her that my American boyfriend was really quite baffled she seemed rather pleased and gave out a hearty laugh.

If you are ever in the vicinity of an Ada Campe performance please go. It will be one of the strangest and funniest hours of your life.

Anyone who can win both old comedian and newcomer of the year awards in the same season, as Ada Campe has done, has to be unique.

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Rip It Up The Story of Scottish Pop, National Museums Scotland – Edinburgh

Saturday 25th August, 2018

How could I, music aficionado and museum lover that I am, spend a weekend in Edinburgh and not go see Rip It Up? Personal recommendations, BBC documentaries and general curiosity led me to the doors of the National Museum of Scotland. A museum I could happily have lost myself in for days. Sadly all I had time for was Rip It Up, but I shall have to plan a time to return and take in more of the amazing building and its collections.

We were the first people through the exhibition doors, meaning more space to explore and there was plenty to take in. Presented in a roughly chronological order, with nods to the Scottish diaspora, the importance of heritage and language as well as looking towards the future, this is how music retrospectives should be done (take note Bristol, this was a much better effort than yours I am sad to say). Lots of different styles of music were represented and there was a clear effort to tell the stories of female musicians, which I really appreciated. Barbara Dickson, Annie Lennox, Lulu (by gosh she was and is tiny – her costumes show just how wee she is!), KT Tunstall, Sharleen Spiteri, Claire Grogan and Shirley Manson all got nods. The mixture of fan, artist and archive material was well blended – I’ve never seen an NME, Ivor Novello or Brit award up close before and handwritten lyric sheets and postcards home gave a real feeling of being connected to the artists concerned. Clearly the curators had developed real relationships with the musicians involved and the care taken was evident. The talking head videos were well done, adding and enriching the material. What I loved most was that clips of the songs were played in each room, reminding you of the artists you were reading about. We don’t all always remember the name of the band, but we do recognise the chorus or hook line.

Including a small tribute to Frightened Rabbit singer, Scott Hutchison who we lost this year to suicide and the copy of the Runrig CD found as part of the wreckage of the Challenger shuttle disaster was a nice touch and pretty moving, as was the gentle tribute to Alan Longmuir of the Bay City Rollers who also died this year.

The ending of the exhibition couldn’t have been more perfect. A series of large screens showing festival performances from some of the biggest bands. I had to stand at the back, dancing and singing along to Travis, The Proclaimers, Franz Ferdinand and Paolo Nutini. I left with a huge smile on my face.

Well done to all involved in creating Rip It Up, you did a sterling job of bringing a whistle stop tour of Scottish popular music together.

 

 

 

 

Gruff Rhys:Resist Phony Encores, Pleasance Theatre – Edinburgh

Friday 24th August, 2018

As if being in a Pianodrome wasn’t enough excitement for one night, we also had tickets to see Gruff Rhys in his late night show at the Pleasance.

Resist Phony Encores was a mixture of songs and chat, with cue cards and a Powerpoint presentation thrown in for good measure. All that I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting philosophy and group dynamic theory but then this was the Edinburgh Fringe.

I’d happily listen to Gruff sing and speak all day and all night, his voice is just so lush and I have to say it, sexy. Again, this I was expecting, having listened to Bablesberg and Gruff playing sessions on BBC 6 Music. I hadn’t realised he is also a very handsome man *sigh*.

With deadpan delivery and laconic style, Gruff told his stories, used his slides and cards to make us laugh and think. He also sang like an angel and played guitar beautifully (left-handed). I did miss the backing vocals on Frontier Man, but everything else worked exquisitely acoustically. I only know Gruff’s recent solo material, I must go back and dig out the Super Furry Animals stuff. I know, I know, but better late then never I say.

I wish I was able to make his solo tour when he plays Bristol in November, but I am really glad I got to see him at Edinburgh at least.

Lizabett Russo & Sink, Pianodrome, Royal Botanic Gardens – Edinburgh

Friday 24th August, 2018

A venue built out of old pianos. In a botanical gardens as part of an international festival of arts. In Edinburgh. Well you can see why I wanted to go, it was just weird enough to be absolutely up my street.

When I say built out of pianos I really mean it. Piano lids repurposed as handrails, pianos hollowed out and stacked on top of each other, backing boards and lids carved up and used as the floor, seats and everything else. With a number of playable pianos dotted inside, which during the day people were encouraged to play, and at night became part of the performance.

We were greeted with the words, “drinks are available under the lime tree and would you like a cushion?” so we knew this wasn’t going to be a standard gig! Sitting almost on the floor, with only about 100 others, in the round, the smell of the wood in my nostrils, I knew this was going to be a memorable night.

Our American hipster compare was very funny (and dapper, he wore his suit well) and brought on Lizabett Russo who was accompanied by Graeme Steven on guitar. She was eccentric in a loveable way and possesses a haunting voice that she uses sparingly to tell allegorical songs about politics and love. If you like traditional music, folk, or quirky artists and get a chance to see her I don’t think you would be disappointed. The spooky quality was enhanced by the sound of the rain falling on the roof of our temporary venues, adding an extra dimension to the sound. As did being in the round, we small audience could see each other and feed off the reactions and expressions. This was helped by a very cute small girl being opposite who was colouring in and completing her sticker book, the babe in arms who wouldn’t go to sleep and a lot of open and eager faces. For the final 2 tracks, one romantic and one more lively, Lizabett was joined by Sink and that sounded even better.

There was a short interval, where we did indeed have drinks under the lime tree and I purchased a one off hand printed Pianodome T shirt (more to keep warm than anything, it had turned quite cold). We were offered blankets, another gig first, and huddled up waiting to hear Sink come back on.  Which they did. Usually a trio, tonight they were a quintet with the fine addition of drums and bass. I liked the double bass player, he had a crushed velvet suit and bright green shirt on. The violinist wore trousers made out of old ties and was barefoot. The sax/clarinetist was clad like a Victorian circus showman. There was an accordion and drums to boot. What was not to like about this so far? Nothing. They played folk jazz, with punk elements, weaving in and out of the space (each other, and us in the audience) while never missing a note. It was playful, vibrant and strange. All things I love in life and music. Elements may have been improvised, I cannot be sure, and there was as much laughter on the stage as off it. Sink were clearly having a lot of fun sharing their music with us and that is an infectious feeling.

As an introduction to the Edinburgh Fringe I couldn’t have asked for much more.

 

John Moreland – St George’s, Bristol

Sunday 5th August, 2018

The last gig of the River Town festival, Bristol’s celebration of Americana music held annually by Colston Hall. Ticket purchased on the strength of the write up in the St George’s programme, which promised eloquence and emotional rawness.

St George’s has proved to be an excellent alternative venue for the River Town gigs I’ve seen, the acoustics are brilliant and the style of music just seems to fit the environment somehow.

Support came from John Calvin Abney, who very patently waited onstage for the venue lights to come down. He has a natural charm and likeability, can play a mean blues country guitar and has the sort of voice that demands your attention. He was superb. One of the best support acts I’ve seen in fact.

I went to buy his CD in the interval and it had already sold out, that and the rapturous applause from the rest of the crowd told me I wasn’t alone in liking him.

Turns out John Calvin Abney plays with John Moreland which could well get very confusing I’d imagine. John and John came out to a very warm welcome (although I could have done without the blokes behind me talking, or the drunk bloke who kept shouting out who was sat nearby – keep it to yourselves next time please boys).

The promised brilliant lyrics were there, as was the raw emotion. Lost love, regrets, searching for meaning, hope and home in turbulent times, all there. Sung with the sort of gravel and grit that can only come from lived experience. From the soul. From deep within. The places we usually keep hidden and don’t reveal. There is an honesty to this music, the sort that makes you feel that JM couldn’t not make music if he tried. It’s just in his blood, his heart and his soul and he spills them all out on stage for us.

I was (and am) very tired and hot (will this interminable summer ever end?) going into this gig and I said to myself “he’d better be worth it.” Well he was. Both John’s were.

Jonathan Bree – Rough Trade, Bristol

Thursday 2nd August, 2018

August is a very quiet month for gigs, trawling through listings to find something to go to I found this gig. I was both intrigued and scared by the prospect of Jonathan Bree but my nerves were reassured as soon as I found out Jeff was going. It is always a good gig when he is there. If nothing else, I can relax and be more myself, knowing there is someone else there who will let themselves go and enjoy the music to its fullest. The reassurance of knowing you won’t be alone at the front giving it some always helps.

Rough Trade’s live room isn’t exactly huge. I’ve only been in it once before, for Gaz Coombes’ album launch (which feels like it was ages ago but was only a few months back). The stage is small and low and there weren’t more than 100 people there tonight.

Support was from local band Poisonous Birds who were loud, interesting and hip. I liked the song they introduced as “this one is a rock song” and one that I think is called Little Puzzle. The rock one was exactly that, dirty great drums and wailing guitar. Some of the other tracks jarred, aspects of the music were quite experimental and I wish they’d let things flow a bit more, for when they did, they were good. Overall worth checking out though.

Jonathan Bree, along with a bassist, drummer and 2 dancers climbed gingerly onto the stage. They had to, they were all wearing white, full face, lycra masks and wigs. Costumed as if it were 1913, the dancers in white knickerbockers and bonnets, and the band in a pallet of grey high waisted and high necked garb. Even the microphones had a retro feel (it is possible they were made of wood). I wasn’t sure it was sci-fi or costume party. Definite Doctor Who villain vibes. My immediate thoughts were “I hope they can breathe, don’t fall off the stage, can keep that white outfit clean” followed by “I’ve not taken anywhere near enough drugs in my life for this to make sense.”  I was worried, if I’ I’m honest.

There was no talking, only singing. It was more performance art than a gig. It was creepy yet alluring. Not being able to see the faces forced you into listening more intently and interpreting the movements as a way to anchor yourself in the songs. The songs were very good indeed. For all the show, it was Jonathan’s deep voice and inventive music that kept me entertained. Drum work that was understated and changed rhythm patterns, held up by sparse yet perfectly placed bass and electronics with occasional choir like backing vocals and strings (ably demonstrated by the dancers using lacrosse rackets). It held exactly the right tension between commercial pop and creative electroncia. Sort of like a more poppy, synthy Nick Cave. With interpretive dance. In masks.

Once I stopped worrying about if they could breathe and them falling over I relaxed and got into it. I was moving and dancing, getting carried off on a strange cloud of music. Yes it was weird. Yes it was creative. Yes it was theatrical. But I liked it an awful lot. The masks were odd. They are supposed to be. They jar. That along with the lack of talking made it hard to feel warm towards the band, but it also focussed you in on the sounds. Sometimes we reveal the deepest and most truthful things from behind masks.

Jonathan Bree is a creative and talented musician, clearly. Why he isn’t more widely known I do not know. He was every bit as good as most of the output on BBC6 Music (better in fact). I would be very happy to see him again. With or without the masks. It was one of the strangest concepts for a gig I’ve come across and if the music hadn’t have been so damn fine it wouldn’t have worked. It did, though, and I’ve stretched the outer limits of my sonic comfort zone a little more.