Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Silhouette of Edinburgh skyline

It’s going to be weird not being in Edinburgh for the Festival this year. And not having our house overrun with friends and lodgers for four weeks. I’m sure Jane is secretly relieved, as in previous years I’d say things like:

Oh yeah, I meant to say, we have seven people sleeping over tomorrow night.

For three weeks.

There is a buzz in Edinburgh during August; there is life and energy and creativity. My fondest memories of Edinburgh during the Festival are in the company of Danny Wallace and his Joinees, many of whom have now become firm friends. Sitting in the Pear Tree House garden, of an evening, laughing and marvelling at the tricks of Magic Eric. Or the truly surreal experience of attending a lecture on Creationism at Carrubbers on the High Street in the company of comedian Dave Gorman.

And how could I ever forget my experience last year with Steve Lawson and Cath staying for the duration of Steve’s solo bass show? The loveliest, and noisiest, midnight mice we’ve ever had. But who are now two friends that I love very dearly indeed.

So this year, we’ll have to make purposeful forages into the city to absorb some of that buzz, and fun and excitement. Here are two not-to-miss shows.

Julie McKee/Steve Lawson – The New Standard

Steve Lawson and Julie McKee

Sunday 6 – Saturday 12 August (not 7th), 23:00 at The Lot. Book tickets.

A musical match made in heaven, divine jazz-influenced vocalist McKee and acclaimed solo bassist Lawson give a fresh spin to the pop canon, from Sondheim to Soundgarden. Unmissable. www.thenewstandard.co.uk

I’ve heard some of the demos that Steve recorded while rehearsing with Julie for this, and this promises to be a fantastic gig. You can check out a few of the tracks on their MySpace site at www.thenewstandard.co.uk.

Kockov’s Free Mind Show


Saturday 12 – Friday 18 August, 12 noon, at the Laughing Horse @ Jekyll & Hyde. Book tickets.

Mullet-haired Monrokvian magician, ‘Kockov’, is ‘a deranged Derren brown-style’ mentalist. His comical show displays amazing mental powers. Real magic, real powers, real funny. Unmissable – free entry. Adult only.

This is a show by my National Youth Choir of GB friend Jasper Blakeley, one of the funniest human beings I know on the face of this planet. And for all that I know, the face of any planet.

Edinburgh Food Festival


Check out the first Edinburgh Food Festival being organised by another exNYC friend of mine, Andy Williamson.

It’s time that good food was up there with jazz, comedy, film, literature and all the other fine arts that we call culture and CELEBRATED with its own festival. What better place to do it than in Edinburgh, the festival capital of the world, and what better time than August, when the city is full to bursting with hedonists and culture lovers from all over the world? We’re not limiting ourselves to two senses, however! As well as the fabulous tastes and appetising smells from freshly cooked delicious food, we’ve got great live music, a daily market, a resident poet to stimulate your brain cells and we’re organising conversations and demonstrations that you can just drop into.

Those are the shows that I’ll be catching. What about you?

Returning to normal

Dining Room

Things are slowly returning to normal at Potting Shed HQ. Today we got our dining room back (left) … albeit that it is now harbouring Mum’s PC while it undergoes a full reinstallation of Windows.

James has been upgraded from a futon mattress on the dining room floor to a double bed in the guest room, while Joinee Hazel (#1) and Jo (from Devon) are leaving this evening, and have kindly stripped their beds.

It’s been great fun having so many people to stay. I’ll really miss it when they all go; I already miss Steve and Cath (TSP!) being here — their daily routine, the gig in the evening, but most of all their friendship and laughter.

This festival has reminded me a little of when I lived at the Shaftesbury Society‘s Lansdowne Centre in Bermondsey, London SE1. There were around 14 of us living there, and I loved it. I had my own space when I needed it, and community when I needed that too. We all mucked in together, cooked for one another, prayed and played with one another.

Good friends, good memories, and as much cleaning as I wanted! What a perfect way to live, in Christian community.

Review: Visions of Paradise

Tonight’s concert was fun, despite not being able to get into St Mary’s Cathedral when we were supposed to, due to the Dunedin Consort’s Sir Michael Tippett Centenary Concert living up to its name and lasting almost exactly 100 years!! (I wonder if Tippett lives in Brigadoon.)

We retreated to Walpole Hall. “I look for three things in a good rehearsal space,” said conductor Will Dawes, “a good acoustic, the right temperature, and that it doesn’t smell.” Walpole Hall failed gloriously on all three counts. Vacated by a group of martial artists just as we were entering, this wind tunnel of a hall positively glowed with the scent of perspiring athletes! Erugh!

This was my first public appearance with a choir since the NYCGB reunion choir last year, at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, and a better sounding choir I couldn’t have hoped to have sung with. There were parts of the Penderecki and Duruflé that were still being sight-read, but the overall sound and dynamics were quite remarkable for a choir that first met on Monday and had had only three rehearsals.

We opened with Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, a piece that Jane simply thought was the choir warming up (in the same way that an orchestra tunes at the beginning of a gig)! I was the only bass 2 in choir E and had the priviledge of belting out a bottom … er, note on my own as the piece ended. What is it about Scandanavian composers that make them think that they have to mess with the rules? This was truly a build-your-own Ikea composition. Great fun, but I was still a little lacking in confidence.

Next up Stabat Mater by Krzysztof Penderecki. Having previously sang Veni Creator with NYCGB I have a fondness for Penderecki. By this evening I was beginning to see how the score worked and it was looking less and less like a game of Su doku where you had to work out what the Sops were doing, and then where the Altos came in in that choir before you had any hope of seeing where your own part’s entry came in! My secret weapons: a yellow highlighter pen, plenty of numbers drawn in bars, and thick black, demarcation lines. I loved the piece (how it resolves at the end is magical) and was growning in confidence by now.

Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, Op 9 is one of my favourite pieces of music; my second favourite requiem after Mozart’s. I first heard the orchestral version on a cassette owned by (exNYCer) Jonny Coore in 1996. But I’ve never had the opportunity to sing it. Until tonight. My brother-in-law-to-be Martin said that this was the loudest choir he’s ever heard. (Note to NYCers: blimey! and that’s a choir without Lard and Duncan Gorwood!) I had my confidence, and I wasn’t scared to use it. I belted out the fff passages. And the ff passages. And, as it happens, anything marked f and mf as well.

By the Kyrie my back was killing me. I’ve had trouble with my back for the last couple of weeks, and as the girls began to sing the Kyrie it felt as though someone was slipping a knife between the vertabrae of my lower back. “Lord have mercy,” I began to pray. As the concert went on I was trying to relax and not tense up, subtly fidgeting and twisting my back to ease it up a little. Walking back to the Chapter House after the show was an act of determination and effort. But I noticed that I wasn’t the only person having trouble walking.

The two soloists were great. Chris, a chap I’d sat next to in my first rehearsal, was so nervous before we began. But he had no reason to be. He sang the baritone solo with great confidence, and a depth and tone that belied his slight figure. The soprano solo (sang by a beautiful blonde, Irish girl whose name I didn’t catch) was also sang beautifully, accompanied by a mournful cello, also played beautifully. (His music was propped on another chair; seemingly his music stand went walkabout.)

A great experience with a great sounding choir. We finished the night in The Teucher bar on William Street, where I met up with friend Jamieson Sutherland and another friend of Jonny Coore.

Reviews: Steve Lawson, parts 2, 3 and 4

Well, since blogging last I’ve been to Steve‘s show three further times, including last night’s final show of the run.

Jane came along to Sunday night’s gig (*****) — that was my review score of the evening, not some random expletive! — and was especially moved by “For Eric” a track that Steve wrote for his friend Eric Roche. Every now and then, watching Steve’s bass antics, Jane would turn to me and mouth “Wow!” The show ended with Steve duetting with (fellow ex-NYCer) saxophonist Andy Williamson.

Monday night, Steve was beginning to look really tired (****). The audience were great, however. I got to sit on the otherside of the stage and watch the banks of pretty, flashing lights from his looping rack units, rather than his magic fingers and fretboard action. Another ex-NYCer, Mike Jeremiah, came with me to the gig.

Last night (******) was a sold out show — they were turning people away at the door — and although by this point Steve was looking utterly exhausted the crowd really gave Steve a boost, taking his playing and humour to new levels. It was the best set of those that I’ve attended.

Steve and Cath are leaving Potting Shed HQ shortly — I can hardly believe it’s been nearly two weeks that they’ve been here — and I’m quite sad that our ‘midnight mice’ are going. It’s been great fun to have them around, and they’ve become two really good friends.

Review: Steve Lawson, Bass: the Final Frontier

Score: ****

Last night Eddie and I went to Steve Lawson’s gig in town. (You can read Steve’s opinion of last night on his blog.)

I’d never seen Steve play before — other than twiddling on my acoustic guitars here at Potting Shed HQ (Festival Accommodation Dept.) — so it was a real treat to not only see and hear him for the first time last night, but also be his roadie and help him set up and strip down his live rig. I was standing in the foyer before the gig waiting patiently with about 30+ other people, whom we were all hoping were also there to see Steve (they were … and more!), when all of a sudden, like the Shopkeeper from Mr Benn Steve suddenly appeared, snatched the ticket out of my hand, handed it to a pretty girl who looked at it, blinked and said “THANKS!!”, and told me to “Follow me”. I followed him. Steve, it seems, had promised a complimentary ticket to this girl, but had forgotten. So she got my comp and I got in as his roadie/tech support.

Having pulled off the covers from his speakers, and helped save one of the C Central staff from a sugar overdose by relieving her of her last three Moon Pies (?!) — which I then left on a couple of seats in the middle of the front row thinking that somehow that might indicate to punters that those seats were taken. But alas! It appears that Moon Pies do not hold the same seat-saving properties as towels, items of clothing, “This seat is reserved” signs, and tigers. Not at the Fringe, anyway. Not at this gig at the Fringe, at least.

Steve’s hour-long (or thereabouts!) gig takes the form of beautiful, looped instrumentals interspersed with random, but very, very funny chat. There were a couple of moments when I was crying with laughter, particularly during the monologue when Steve abruptly stopped playing to explain just how he was playing all this live. Seemingly it’s all done with chinchillas. But they do get paid Union rates and have adequate breaks, so please don’t be alarmed.

One of the attractions of attending last night’s gig was that ex-Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt would be guesting. But to be honest, I was a little disappointed (when he eventually turned up about 20 mins late!). Steve had told me before hand that Guy would be playing along to one of Steve’s songs — I guess having another live bassist saves on at least one bass loop. But instead, Mr Pratt launched into his own relentless back-catalogue of funky 80s-inspired basslines.

What followed is a little hard to describe. At times there were moments of musical genius. At other times it simply looked like one bass genius trying to salvage his Fringe show from the hands of another (pissed and more famous) bass genius! And then he left, just as quickly as he had appeared — Guy Pratt has left the building! — Steve looked a little confused, and looking around the room asked, “Did someone just come in?”

Back to the main attraction. Back to a mellowed out and very beautiful solo bass track written for friend and guitarist Eric Roche.

I could have sat and listened to Steve’s combination of funny chat (hecklers welcome!) and beautiful, layered music for hours; 60 minutes was just not long enough (particularly when a quarter of it was hijacked by another rock star!). Steve isn’t your stereotypical bassist: a flurry of clichéd chops worthy of the demo booth at your local guitar store. Steve’s music is complex and intelligent, layered and melodically beautiful. It just so happens that he plays it on a bass guitar.