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Anna & Elizabeth Tradfest Summerhall

May 12, 2017 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Anna & Elizabeth Tradfest Summerhall

Tradfest draws to a close with some of the best music yet

From what I’ve seen, it’s been a pretty good Tradfest this year, there has been much to enjoy across a very wide spectrum of music, both from around the world and at home.
Now, nobody asked me to pick a favourite gig, an evening to prize above all the others, and it’s something I would not usually do. But sometimes you just have to do these things, and Anna & Elizabeth’s show in the Main Hall at Summerhall was one of those times.
I say show, because in addition to the wondrous, captivating vocals and instrumental work, they opened each set with a physical moment, step dancing to the stage after the interval, and slow, gentle movements to announce their initial arrival on stage with the lullaby Heap of Horses. And of course, there’s the crankies.
If you haven’t seen these before, I should tell you that these are not a Scottish pantomime duo but tapestries loaded in to a lamp-lit wooden frame and hand turned to accompany the songs and stories. Enchanting and entrancing, these add a whole other dimension to songs such as The Devil’s Nine Questions and Sinking in the Lonesome Sea and their tale of Miss Lella.
If I’ve made this all sound a little on the whimsical side, then let me redress that by saying that these two women are extremely accomplished musicians, steeped in their craft and carrying a deep and genuine love of the material they have culled from archives from New England to Kentucky. In addition, they have collected songs and tunes from the families of musicians who have trodden this path before them.
It all adds up to an evening that contains the essence of folk music; youth and the modern world (a laptop makes a brief appearance to play a 1940s recording while Anna plays a fiddle accompaniment) meeting the music of the past and bringing it delicately but firmly into the present. Young women though they are, it’s almost possible to believe they’ve been sat on a front porch somewhere for over 200 years. I hope that in another 200 years’ time, Anna and Elizabeth will be recipients of the same respect and reverence they give today.
Jim Welsh

Western Centuries Tradfest Traverse

May 10, 2017 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Western Centuries Tradfest Traverse

Western Centuries rock the Traverse

Sitting waiting for the band to arrive on stage, a friend turned to me and said “It does my heart good when I see an upright bass and a pedal steel guitar on the same stage”. A sentiment I with which I must agree – it’s things like that that increase the anticipation of the gig to come. And was this anticipation justified? Damn right it was.
Cahalen Morrison is a well-known and well liked visitor to these shores, his Western Isles ancestry has been well documented in the past, and a series of tours as a duo with Eli West have provided more than a few sublime musical moments. For Western Centuries, though, he moves into a slightly different genre; a five piece band with three singer/songwriters sharing the front man spot, and music that requires him to pick up an electric guitar.
This is a band with many strengths, not least of which are ex Donna the Buffalo man Jim Miller, most recently seen here with Red Dog Run, and Ethan Lawton, both of whom share the vocal duties, Morrison taking Lawton’s place behind the drum kit when he steps out front. They have been described as being successors to The Band, and indeed they have that blend of country and rhythm ‘n’ blues with a soulful touch that does stand comparison.
Leo Grassi’s pedal steel work ices this cake beautifully, and the double bass of Travis Stuart holds everything together. Given that the band claimed to be frazzled – this was the last gig of a three week tour – perhaps he was having to work just a little harder than usual to achieve that. Much of the material was being road tested before recording the next album, from what we heard of that, there’s a great deal to come from Western Centuries.
Jim Welsh

Fourth Moon/Event Horizon Summerhall

May 9, 2017 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Fourth Moon/Event Horizon Summerhall

Two more events at Tradfest

Two gigs, one review. The reason (or my excuse) being that these two bands share 75% of the same dna, which might lead one to think that they share some of the same tunes throughout their respective sets. In fact, other that the three guys who perform with both bands – Geza Frank (whistles, pipes, flute), Jean Damei (guitar) and David Lombardi (fiddle), the music doesn’t have a great deal in common.
The aforementioned Austrian, Frenchman and Italian, who met studying traditional music at the Academy of Irish Music in Limerick are joined in each band by a Scot, (surely making them the ideal outfits for Tradfest). In the case of Fourth Moon, the man in question is Mohsen Amini, and his breathtaking concertina playing blends perfectly with the other three to provide a night of exhilarating, indeed intoxicating, music that totally captivated the audience.
Driven along by some powerhouse guitar work from Damei, they are inventive and innovative, their playing in complete harmony that suggests a very much collective approach to the arrangements of the traditional music that lies at the heart of it all.
They’re the sort of unit that, having seen and heard them once, you leave the concert hoping you’ll get a chance to catch them again as soon as possible.
Having said that, I must confess that I found their appearance as Event Horizon to be something of a damp squib. No Mohsen Amini, instead a synth player whose contribution seemed to consist mainly of phrases and bursts of noise that sat uneasily with the celtic tinged playing of the others.
Taking their name from the point of no return at the edge of a black hole, the theme throughout is interstellar, “Runaway Star” and “Kepler 22”, to give the titles of a couple of the most interesting pieces.
Not the most enthralling night at Tradfest then, but in mitigation, this was a world premier (something they neglected to mention beforehand) and could be viewed as a work in progress. The finished article will feature lights and dancers – both Irish and hip-hop. So it may yet turn out to be something really spectacular.
Jim Welsh

Lankum Tradfest Traverse

May 4, 2017 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Lankum Tradfest Traverse

Lankum raise the roof at the Traverse

The Soundhouse organisation is responsible for staging some of the most fascinating and intelligent musical events throughout the year in Edinburgh, so their association with Tradfest was always going to produce some memorable highlights.
And so it proved on Monday night at the Traverse bar. Four piece Irish band Lankum (formerly Lynched, before the Lynch brothers decided the unsavoury connotations this name provoked was probably not doing them any favours) packed the place to, or possibly beyond, capacity. And the joint, as they say, was jumpin’.
There’s a whole melting pot of influences in Lankum’s music that come to the fore now and again, and I suspect they may have a hard time should they ever wish to convert those at the more genteel end of the folk spectrum to their robust treatment of the music form. I also suspect that won’t worry them in the slightest, and nor should it.
Vibrant and at times raucous, they intersperse songs that range from “Henry My Son” and “Peatbog Soldiers” taking in their own “Cold Old Fire” to the music hall of “Little Tommy Tucker” and “The Irish Jubilee” with anecdotes and “history lessons” – did “Salonika” originate from Dublin or Cork? – to an extent that any band with lesser charisma would be getting urged to get on with it.
They took the hall by storm, a standing ovation as they closed the final set putting the seal on an evening that could only have enhanced their rapidly growing reputation and will be remembered as a highlight of this year’s festival.
A small footnote: one incident that seemed to go over the heads of the audience was the holding up of a photo of “missing teenager Rowan Morrison”. It would have passed me by, too, but for the fact that only that morning I’d been reading an article on folk-horror films – Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw, and of course, The Wicker Man. An odd piece of synchronicity that had me half wondering if I was going to meet her at the bus stop on the way home…
Jim Welsh

Redwood Mountain Tradfest Summerhall

May 1, 2017 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Redwood Mountain Tradfest Summerhall

Summerhall hosts a dazzling debut from this duo

My first pick at this year’s Tradfest was this debut gig by Redwood Mountain, and I couldn’t have picked a better place to start.
Neither of these performers will need any introduction to Scottish audiences, Dean Owens is one of our finest singer/songwriters, and fiddler Amy Geddes has a wealth of experience in her own right and as a member of Dean’s band Whisky Hearts.
Redwood Mountain is a specific project, based on classic folk songs Dean has taken from legendary music collector and archivist Alan Lomax’s The Book of American Folk Songs. Intrigued by the tales set out in the lyrics, he started working out new tunes for some of them.
Reimagining melodies for songs that have stood the test of time is not something to be undertaken lightly, it could be suggested that you are making a rod for your own back – the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. So a subtle touch is needed, and indeed that’s what we get here.
The carefully chosen selection of songs, put to tunes that sound like they’ve always been there, brought to life by two outstanding performers – a recipe for success? Damn right it is.
The hall was sold out, and I’d bet that everyone went home delighted, a good many of them queuing for a copy of the album on the way out. Most of the set was taken from the album – Katy Cruel, Get Along Home Cindy, East Virginia and On the Range of the Buffalo a few of the highlights.
If the rest of Tradfest lives up to this, I for one will be very happy. And if you missed them, they’ll be at Southern Fried in July.
Jim Welsh

Tom Paxton Queen’s Hall

January 30, 2017 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Tom Paxton Queen’s Hall

Jim finds a songwriting giant is still going strong

To those of (ahem) a certain age – and a fair percentage of the audience came into that category – the name Tom Paxton conjures up memories of youthful years spent in peaceful revolt; non-violent protests against nuclear “deterrents” and the Vietnam war and marching in support of striking miners and equal rights for all.
For, along with contemporaries like the Seegers and Ewan MacColl, Paxton has been active in the civil rights movement and has stood up for his beliefs throughout his life. More than that, he provided a soundtrack to these years with songs that have stood the test of time and remain today the classics that they were then.
That’s not to say that his career is behind him – the night of this concert marked the release of his latest (62nd?) album “Boat on the Water” and the title track was just one of a well-received selection of new and recent material. But yes, most folk had come to hear once again songs they have loved for most of their lives, and they were not disappointed.
Not that Tom did this all on his own. Lined up either side of him were Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, long-time friends and musical collaborators, augmenting Tom’s guitar work with mandolin and banjo and bringing their beautiful harmonies to the songs. They opened the second set as a duo, too, to great effect.
And the songs? Yep, “Ramblin’ Boy” “Whose Garden Was This?” “Bottle of Wine” were all there, and “The Last Thing on My Mind”, which he introduced with the story of his younger daughter hearing it sung in a pub while she was in St Andrew’s. On telling the singer her father wrote it, she was “corrected” by the musician and informed that it was an old Scottish traditional song…ah well, if nothing else it proves how much it is embedded in our culture.
Thanks Tom, for a great evening, and for being Tom Paxton.
Jim Welsh

Ctrl Alt Delamere

August 7, 2016 Festival 2016, Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Ctrl Alt Delamere

Markus Helbig discovers through a bit of banter as to what Neil Delameres new comedy show is all about!

Gilded Balloon at the Museum

Mr. Delamere’s been away from the Fringe for a couple of years as he’s been off on a few adventures. But now he’s back in the Burgh to regale audiences with his tales of derring-do as part of his new stand-up gig, and I do have to say that it certainly made for a diverting evening. But I have a confession to make; I’m not very big on the whole “What’s your name and where do you come from?” staple that a lot of comedians do, I find that it seems like some kind of throwback from old game shows, and never comes across as the most sincere, and that the said comedian may be lacking material to boot! So needless to say when Delamere’s show begins with said format, I’ll admit I did get a bit fidgety.

But to be honest, this is where Delameres true strength lies. Whether he was being sincere or not is beside the point as he was able to mine so much material from it. And he’s extremely on the ball with it, essentially coming up with new material and routines on the very spot. He had such a curious bunch of people he was bantering with in the first few rows, be it the German couple who are both psychologists, or the surveyor with the monotone replies! It was honestly like something out of a sketch show.

I’m not saying the rest of his material was bad, it certainly was engaging, but it did lack the cohesive quality of his audience participation. So if you want a show with some on the money repartee, definitely check it out.

Markus Helbig

Set List: Standup without a Net

August 7, 2016 Festival 2016, Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Set List: Standup without a Net

set list

Gilded Balloon Teviot

I thought I was just going to one of those late night stand up sessions, with different comics reeling off their gags, but how wrong was I!!

The set list is essentially a comedians study notes; a jot of a few words here or there to remind them of the joke they’re about to tell or the tale they’re about to regale us with. But what if they were given someone else’s set list whilst they were on stage and had to entertain the masses with what they could wring from those few words instead?!

That essentially is the essence of “Set List”.

And I’m wild about it! I have seen those late night comic extravaganzas in the past, but to be honest they’re not exactly my thing. It happened on a few occasions that you may have seen the same comic earlier in the day or just a day before, and they’re recycling the same material they did previously. But here they really have to think on their feet, and you get anything from really well deduced jokes to really bizarre randomness. The latter champion on the night I saw was Felicity Ward, a girl with a true random energy who channels it through her performance, and the former was Hardeep Singh Kohli. He was quite swift witted and used word play to his advantage wherever he saw fit. He also helped to champion this show, and its host Kai Humphries. Apparently, until Mr. Humphries took it upon himself to save it, this show would have went the way of the dodo this year! I’m genuinely glad and genuinely relieved that he proved successful in his campaign. Not only was this the first time I ever got to experience the show, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of it! And I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I think that a show like this, that is so distinct, should it ever leave us, it would be sad day for this festival. It may be a strange and unpredictable animal, but it’s the perfect beast to embody the spirit of the Fringe.

Markus Helbig

Set List: Stand-Up Without A Net

Whyte Tradfest Scottish Storytelling Centre

May 7, 2016 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Whyte Tradfest Scottish Storytelling Centre

A union of gaelic song and ambient sound provides the tradition with something new

Alasdair and Ross Whyte may share the same surname, but are apparently unrelated. And it did seem a bit of a stretch to find a relationship between Alasdair’s traditional gaelic song and Ross’s ambient soundscapes.
But working together in a bold and uncompromising experiment, they have created something that – while uneven and not always successful – is an audacious attempt to marry two disparate musical strands and create a sound that enhances both.
This performance suffers from the chosen austerity of the presentation; neither man speaks or, for that matter, communicates in any way with the audience, Alasdair’s decision to sing the second song seated on the floor with his back to the auditorium may be meant to convey an intensity of involvement, but comes over as mere self-absorption. The lack of colour both in their mode of dress and in the abstract visuals projected behind them does little to enhance the experience. (On the visual projections, they might learn from Gol, who performed at the same venue later that night and made excellent use of front woman Roxana Vilk’s film making skills).
However, after a somewhat dry start, the gig came to life midway through with Ross Whyte’s instrumental piece Rise and took off from there. The final two songs in the set proving just why Alasdair Whyte is held in such high regard in his chosen profession.
Jim Welsh

Nordic Fiddlers Bloc Tradfest The Pleasance

May 6, 2016 Gigs, Reviews Comments Off on Nordic Fiddlers Bloc Tradfest The Pleasance

An inspired and inspiring performance from one of the finest bands in folk

There’s a wealth of fine fiddle players in international folk music, it’s a rich tradition in most music cultures. While many use their talents as “the fiddler in the band”, there are those who come together to share the stage with naught but their instrument of choice.
And some fine duos and trios there are, I’ve heard a fair number in my time, but none have given me the sheer joy of the music that Nordic Fiddlers Bloc deliver. Anders Hall (Sweden, fiddle & viola) Olav Luksengard Mjelva (Norway, hardanger and octave fiddle) and Kevin Henderson (Shetland, fiddle) play as if they’ve been together all their lives.
Beautifully played and beautifully presented by these “sharp dressed men” (copyright ZZ Top) they combine the traditions of their countries with some exquisite compositions of their own. Their crisp, disciplined playing is shot through with a degree of inventiveness that is rare in my experience, and the on-stage humour at the expense of each other’s homelands adds to the enjoyment, but is never allowed to get in the way of the music.
Highlights? Well, Da Scallowa Lasses, The Hen Hunt, Deliverance…ah, the whole set was a highlight. If you missed them this time round, don’t make that mistake again.
And to finish, a mention for Eoin O’Brien and Conor O’Sullivan who opened the evening. Added at the last minute after a gig of their own had been cancelled, they played a short set that showcased O’Brien’s fine voice and some haunting work from O’Sullivan with a sound only a Gretch guitar can produce.
Jim Welsh

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