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NEU! Reekie! At The Edinburgh International Festival : The Pastels, Leith Theatre

Neu! Reekie! curate the second of their two nights at Leith Theatre. The themes tonight seem to be the ‘DIY or die’ ethic and also playfulness. In opening, compere Kevin Williamson explains that the showing of an Adam West-era ‘Batman’ TV episode instead of their usual avant garde animations or films was a conscious ‘fuck it’ to the reviewers that always comment on these.

After Batman, the opening artist, Molly Nilsson, quietly walks on stage and sets her backing recording running which she will sing over. Her music is a lo-fi synth-pop which akin to the over-produced ‘80s without over-stepping into pomposity. The sounds have a self-consciously vintage feel so this does not feel like merely apeing a style. She achieves this although the echoing drum machine, the dramatic tempo changes and the simple synthesiser chords often have a power ballad feel. Her clear, dark and moody vocals blend with the music as she sings in an innocent way about social problems in ‘Money Never Dreams’ or ‘Let’s Talk About Privileges’.

The political theme continues next with the spoken word element of the evening, Linton Kwesi Johnson. Kwesi Johnson is the father of dub poetry, which is a lyrical chanting to a reggae rhythm. Unlike his records, tonight he performs without any music. He is a small, well-dressed man with suit and tie and trilby hat, whose burring baritone rolls out his patois words to the rhythm. He delivers his poems in a deliberate, serious manner that fits their political content.

We get a series of poems from the ‘70s and early ‘80s which aim to show that his was the rebel generation as they defied the idea that the minority are powerless. He contradicts the idea that the Caribbean community in the UK wanted to remain separate and celebrates that they have achieved integration. The most powerful of all his pieces, ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ was part of a successful campaign to challenge the courts’ application of an outdated law (the so-called Sus Law). He talks through the social context of each piece as the black community seek to integrate into the UK. The fight for the investigation of racist murders at Newcross in an extract of ‘The Newcross Massacre’. The struggle against policing tactics such as Operation Swamp in ‘Di Great Insoreckshan’.

Without explicitly saying so, he provides a living example of the power of community to successfully challenge institutional behaviour through a self-created protest movement. He receives an attentive hush from the audience throughout the performance, which breaks into a the cheering ovation at the end.

Next on stage are The Vaselines, a Scottish five-piece band fronted by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee. They are an indie-pop, Glasgow band known for a lo-fi sound and sexually suggestive lyrics. The band had a short initial life at the end of the ‘80s and broke up after one album that was then cited by Kurt Cobain as a strong influence. Their independent credentials were further burnished by the fact that they did not seek to capitalise on this fame upon re-forming in 2008.

They open with ‘High Tide Low Tide’ an upbeat, rock and roll tune which they sing with a lusty enthusiasm and then remind the audience where they do not come from with ‘I Hate the ‘80s’. The simple ringing guitars and unprocessed sound match this rejection of the decade of leg-warmers and yuppies.

Kelly and McKee had a reputation for sharp dialogue between songs as befits an exchange from former lovers. They do not disappoint in this as when McKee asks her monitor to be adjusted, ‘Could I have a bit less of Eugene?’ and he replies, ‘You’ve had all of me’ to which she quips straight back, ‘It wasn’t very much’ and they both laugh.

The highlight of the set was their version of a song that Nirvana famously covered, ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’. The melacholic vocals of Kelly contrast with McKee’s light but forceful voice to create a strangely nostalgic protest. Other songs exhibit more of the playful side of their banter such as the brief and bright ‘Molly's’ Lips’ and ‘Exit The Vaselines’, which is, of course, not the final song of the set.

Their songs cover love, sex and death with an innocent, melodic vocals but they are clearly a rock band as Kelly’s final act of playing his guitar over the back of his head seeks to emphasise. A delicious sweet and sour.

Last up are The Pastels, who appear as six-piece using wind instruments to good effect in creating their dreamy indie-pop. The relaxed nature of the band is immediately apparent as Stephen Pastel (lead vocals) is ready to begin but then realises that his guitar is not plugged in so we have a few embarrassed seconds of  equipment fumbling. They open with a dreamy instrumental that sets a misty atmosphere. The songs are full of pretty melodies such as ‘Check My Heart’ and allusions using the weather, ‘Summer Rain’.

The Pastels weave a spell with their music. Theirs is an intimate sound of friends  taking an evening walk under the sodium lights of the city’s suburbs. The set builds this mood finally meandering to a more exotic place with a psychedelic rendering of ‘Baby Honey’ in a lively tempo set against a pulsing drone. A dreamy pop experience.

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Hidden Door At The Edinburgh International Festival : The Jesus And Mary Chain, Leith Theatre

 

The Light On The Shore strand of The Edinburgh International Festival continues with a night of music curated by Hidden Door who are a driving force behind the resurrection of the Leith Theatre from council storage site to arts venue.

Their show tonight features three Scottish bands. The first up are Spinning Coin who play as a four piece with lead vocal duties swapping between the falsetto of Sean Armstrong and the baritone of Jack Mellin. Their short songs have a lo-fi, jangling-guitar sound and show some influence from The Pastels. The numbers which work best in this set are less slacker and more rock-protest, such as a ‘Powerful’. However, they miss a unifying element to bring together the set which, with the very different feel of the lead vocalists, feels a little schizophrenic.  

Next up, with the theatre near to full, are Honeyblood. The drum and guitar duo have changed the style of their live performance since the early stages of the tour of their second (and most recent) album Babes Never Die. The guitar of Stina Tweeddale has more bass and distortion than previously and so the songs have a much rockier feel. Stina’s vocals also have a deeper, stronger quality to match the guitar sound. They open with ‘Justine, Misery Queen’ and continue with songs about having strength and power to face haters, cheats and critics. The new sound matches this theme of empowerment and is maybe clearest in the difference between their earlier diatribe against ‘Super Rat’ which remains a great singalong of insults and ‘Babes Never Die’ which comes over as a story of overcoming betrayal. Honeyblood drive on with Cat Myers keeping a strong rhythm and on ‘Killer Bangs’ she seems to be appropriately pounding the cymbals like she is trying to drive them into the stage floor. The set finishes with a roaring version of ‘Ready For The Magic’ which features a cheeky bridge where Tweeddale holds a sustained note while Myers necks her bottle of beer. That’s swagger.

Finally, we reach the main act, The Jesus And Mary Chain who set up as a five piece of three guitars, drummer and Jim Reid in front of an array of lights pointing out at the audience. This combined with the downlighting of the stage mean that for most of the gig the band members are hidden or vague shadows with only Reid a clear silhouette for the crowd. One welcome feature of this set-up is that from deep in the audience it is possible to see the stage without obstruction from hundreds of camera screens. It also means the audience focus is on the sound not the band’s movements on stage.

The band open with ‘Amputation’ from the most recent album, Damage And Joy and immediately, their signature rock and roll sound with heavy guitar distortion is clear. This is not a band that should feel like it is a limb cut-off from rock music. As the gig develops, they set out to show this is not the case. The indie classic ‘Head On’ is followed by ‘Blues From A Gun’ which shows the ability to give a blues tilt while ‘Between Planets’ has a danceable, almost pop feel. The basic three chord tunes and the large number of excellent hooks keep appearing and the audience are all in motion. The band use dynamic range to good effect in ‘Some Candy Talking’ where the soft, slow vocals are contrasted with an ear-bursting guitar break. The planned set ends with a rave-like ‘Reverence’ and the floor is bouncing.

The variation continues into the encores which begin with the loping classic ‘Just Like Honey’ and end six tunes later with a raucous chant-along of ‘I Hate Rock And Roll’. This final sentiment is one that this whole gig screams is a monstrous disingenuity but then, the Reid brothers would probably just grin, shrug and walk off to the applause.

Further photographs from the gig can be viewed here.

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NEU! Reekie! At The Edinburgh International Festival : Michael Rother, Leith Theatre

The Light On The Shore strand of the Edinburgh International Festival continues with the first of two nights curated by the increasingly well-known Neu! Reekie! arts collective. For a number of years, Edinburgh-based Neu! Reekie! have been curating evenings of spoken word, film and music focussing on Scottish and avant garde performers.

Tonight’s show features four performances with short films bridging the change-overs. Each performer is introduced by the Neu! Reekie! duo of Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson with Williamson being excited enough to try out his Leith-tinged German in honour of the appearance his favourite, Michael Rother whose band name Neu provided inspiration for half of the collective’s name.

The short films are an interesting mix with one notable early one providing a nearly wordless and uncertain story featuring a Ninja thief, spider-torturing scientists and an incompetent killer chicken. As a stimulation to the imagination for the evening, it was an excellent primer.

The first act are The Honey Farm, a hip-hop trio formed in East Lothian who criticise the misogynistic and violent strains of some rap by parodying them. ‘L.A.D.S.’ makes clear the mockery, as the act portray young men out on the town boasting about their genitalia and quipping “I’m cheeky like a Nando’s”. The danger in their act is that in parody, they can appear to be just in love with sexism and violence as those they seek to mock. The fine line that they have to tread is how far they spell that out to the audience and here they straddled it enough to be uncomfortable watching for this old male. The group show some early nerves but with pace, rhythm and wit demonstrate that there will probably be much more to come.

The next act are The Fire Engines and this is their last ever gig. The post-punk outfit formed in 1980 and lasted a year. They burned brightly and briefly but have had a significant influence on the scene in Scotland. They reformed in 2004 playing only a handful of gigs including a 21st anniversary celebration of the film of Trainspotting at this same venue.

Lead singer, Davy Henderson, wanders on in a silver foil anorak like a marathon runner just finished his race, until you realise that he has just got a t-shirt and his pink boxer shorts underneath. He opens with a cheery, sarcastic “Hello teenage of Leith” and spends the rest of the performance demonstrating that he is definitely not out of puff!

The Fire Engines play up to their name which comes from the psychedelic rock group, The 13th Floor Elevators. The rhythm section provides a steady, simple beat on top of which Henderson jams distortedly and discordantly. An excellent example is ‘Get Up And Use Me’ with its insistent, repetitious guitar chords and wild distortions. It is a perfect example of skronk.

After four songs of bouncing discord which see Henderson often on his knees wrestling with his guitar, he finishes the first half of their set with a childishly huge grin and grasping his whammy bar, he wiggles it recommending “Everyone should get one.”

The Fire Engines get a rest and on prowls Lydia Lunch, a poet who made her first impression in the anti-commercial, No Wave movement in ‘70s New York. She walks slowly and silently along the front edge of the stage obviously staring into the audience’s eyes before placing her notes on a lectern beside two microphones. She performs in a confrontational and committed style. Her voice can be strident or soft and the second microphone, which has an echo effect, is used to create a distant perspective from the punchy sentiments that she expresses.

Her message is a hard but positive one to embrace life’s challenges and conflicting appetites and all. She throws herself fully into the paced delivery of each story and her final one on the inevitable approach of death chimes perfectly with her opening cry to get on and live an involved life. The performance is deliberately discomfiting and several times, she challenges those talking at the back of the theatre with the apt “What are you hiding from?”

The stage is reset and the Fire Engines appear for their last set. Russell Burn, the drummer, appears in a loud party shirt, Davy Henderson has removed his silver foil as if cooked through and now sports a dark blue, woolly, ear-flap hat to set off against his boxer shorts. The band are joined by Malcolm Ross (guitar) originally from the Fire Engines contemporaries, TV Art and Josef K (and others). They play four more songs of which ‘Dischord’ is the most magnificent piece of honest, descriptive titling which ends after a blur of notes and distortion to a beat perfect finish. The crowd roar their approval and the band are called out for a final bow.

Tonight’s eclectic line-up is completed with the appearance of Michael Rother, a pioneering figure in music having set up Neu and Harmonia and played in Kraftwerk. He plays a selection of all his previous works with his band, particularly by Hans Lampe on drums.

The hypnotic lock-rhythms with Rother’s heavily processed guitar produce an ambience for dancing, after a little coaxing. Having initially stated that he would not speak much in the gig and that the audience should let the music move them, Rother asks “Do Scottish people dance?” and then, he gives them permission. After that, an audience that seemed almost stupefied in awe of this legend seem to shake themselves and the floor starts to sway and groove. The final numbers see the whole audience bobbing and bouncing in individual musical dreams. Rother plays with speed up and slow down of tunes as he originally did in the ‘70s, though this can be fine-tuned now with the array of processors on his desk. The end is greeted with great cheers and cries of more and Rother seems surprised and delighted to return for two encores.

The Neu! Reekie! comperes come out clearly brimming with justified pride. The acts may not all be new but then Neu! instead seems to mean the edge of art. The artists tonight, new and old, played their role superbly in challenging and provoking.

Further images from the gig can be viewed here.

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Festival Coverage: Y-Not Festival 2018

With last year’s festival leaving little more than a bad taste in the mouths of returning regulars and festival virgins, organisers of this year’s Y-Not Festival needed to not only pull out all the stops in order to make it memorable, but address at the litany of issues that surrounded last year’s ill-fated iteration.

Though many people assumed, and espoused, that 2017 was the final nail in the festival’s coffin, either for them personally, or for the event as a whole, organisers promised profusely in the lead up to this year’s festival that last year’s shitshow wasn’t going to repeat itself.

Thankfully, much of those promises came to fruition, and with the exception of bouts of bad weather that evoked strong feels of déjà vu, 2018 was, by and large, a success.

Even seconds after arriving at the festival site, it’s clear that improvements have been made. Temporary roads/walkways have been installed across the drop-off point, and security seem thorough but friendly – a welcome change from last year’s arrogance and indifference.

Once inside, the first noticeable change is just how different the layout is to previous years. Gone are the separate areas that provided their own personalities but stymied the festivals geographic flow. Instead the main stage sits at the bottom of a hill, in the centre of the arena, with other stages, bars and the usual festival miscellany scattered around the outside.  

The result is a festival that flows much better and has the added advantage of a gentle slope providing good visibility towards the Main Stage, often regardless of where you’re stood. The acoustics also carry far better than previous years, something we found out on Thursday Night as Razorlight took to the Main Stage to entertain those of us eager to kickstart the weekend early.

Friday is where the change in atmosphere, at least compared to last year, is most noticeable. Spirits are both high and flowing from the outset. And where last year’s atmosphere harboured an edge that was difficult to put your finger on, this year feels more in keeping with the “small, fresh and loud” tagline of previous years.

Exacerbated by the heat, it doesn’t take long for true festival merriment to take hold, as the beers start to kick in and Nottingham’s Vega Bay take to the quarry stage. With a set of easy going indie-pop that perfectly matches the weather, it’s the ideal way of start proceedings.

Elsewhere across the weekend, the likes of The Lancashire Hotpots, Everly Pregnant Brothers and Beans On Toast return for their annual appearances, amusing and entertaining crowds across Friday and Saturday respectively. And headline appearances from The Libertines, who start shaky but end on a massive high, and Catfish And The Bottlemen prove that indie is still alive and kicking, even if it is starting to go grey.

Of course, Y-Not’s always been about offering a platform for up and coming bands, with stages like The Allotment devoted to just that. This year is no different. And bands on the cusp of breaking such as DECO, No Hot Ashes and Sheafs all proving that while indie royalty might be greying, they’ll always be fresh-faced new blood jostling for their crown.

It wouldn’t be Y-Not, nor would it be the Peak District, without howling wind and sideways rain, and Saturday and Sunday definitely don’t disappoint. And though tents, tshirts, jeans and just about everything else might be dampened, spirits certainly aren’t. And while Y-Not may not feel like the same convivial festival it once was, it’s still family-friendly and good natured, and most importantly, more than made amends for the year before. 

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Lisa Loughrey, Workman’s Club, Dublin

It’s Friday the 13th and the low evening sun is casting long shadows through the haze of gorse fire smoke that is blowing over the city. Regular readers may remember Lisa Loughrey from her work with The Mariannes,and last year’s single , ‘Coming Up’. Tonight she’s back in The Workman’s Club for the launch of her debut solo EP, Plans And Schemes. Backed by Lucie Azconaga on fiddle and accordion, John Linnane on banjo and guitar, and Damien McMahon on upright bass,  the sun streaming in the windows of the Vintage Room creates a perfect atmosphere for Loughrey’s tunes. Together with the faux retro décor, it gives the impression, as she accurately observes, of “being in someone’s front room”.

She calls the crowd to a hush and introduces herself with an old Mariannes tune, ‘Lost With All Hands’. Her voice is so rich that the slight touch of reverb makes her sound like a chorus. The full band joins her on stage for the first of the new songs. This time it’s a legit chorus as the quartet all contribute vocals to ‘Annabelle’. The aforementioned ‘Coming Up‘ follows.

‘When You’re Older’ is a song inspired by an incident in a petrol station when a man asked the girl behind the counter for her number. He was driving an ice cream van and brought her a 99. His proposition was fruitless but it inspired a beautiful work of art. It’s a slow, traditional style ballad, and it is followed by an actual traditional song: a slightly jazzy reinterpretation of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ that appears on the new EP.

Lucie Azconaga’s accordion gives the Mariannes’ ‘God Fearing Woman’ a Jacques Brel feel. Loughrey picks up the bouzouki for ‘Dancing Plague’; a song inspired by the medieval dance of death contagion. A storming version of, folk hero, Maura Connell’s ‘Summer Fly’ feels particularly apt in the stifling twilight. It tastes like kisses, warm cider and midge bites down by the estuary. ‘Where Did September Go?’, “a song about letting time get away from you”, is strangely reminiscent of Nirvana’s Unplugged session. It’s probably a consequence of the accordion and the Leadbelly-ish rhythm of the tune.

A round of introductions and thanks for the band and crew is followed by the haunting ‘Sadhbh’ before the upbeat ‘Potters row’ closes the set. Loughrey has the rare power to make it seem, even in a crowded, sweaty room that she is singing directly to you.

Check out Plans And Schemes for yourself here

 

 

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Festival Preview: Y-Not Festival 2018

With last year’s festival leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many (and not just from the sea of mud they had to contend with) this year’s festival certainly seems to have a lot resting on it. In the organisers’ defence however, it seems already that no plight has fallen on deaf ears, and no complaint gone unacknowledged.

While Y-Not has grown substantially in recent year, shedding its tag line of ‘Small, Fresh and Loud’ in the process, the fact that the concerns and complaints of last year’s festival have seemingly been addressed suggest the festival still retains its original ethos as being entirely about the punters, rendering some last year’s backlash instantly moot. And though much of what was raised by attendees was certainly pertinent, the metaphorical deluge weathered by organisers following last year’s event was almost as bad that which forced the festival to be cancelled in the first place.

Of course, though change may be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we approach this year’s festival, it would be remiss not to mention the positives that surround Y-Not year after year, and the reason people return, year after year.

Aside from your usual big name bands that grace the Main and Quarry stages, which this year includes the likes of The Libertines, Manic Street Preachers and Catfish and the Bottlemen, Y-Not has always championed unsigned bands and local talent, regularly partnering with the likes of UK promoters This Feeling as well as BIMM, giving punters the chance to catch the next big thing, before they blow up.

This year is no exception. The aforementioned This Feeling will take over The Allotment Stage, bringing with them underground heroes in the form of No Hot Ashes, Proletariat, Vida and Bang Bang Romeo. And though many festivals these days offer up a taste of the ‘unsigned’, the intimate surroundings of Y-Not means there’s every chance you could be literally rubbing shoulders with the next big thing while watching the current!

While music obviously plays a huge part of the weekend, Y-Not’s always been touted as a family-friendly festival, with plenty to do for everyone across the course of the weekend. Not much seems too have changed in that respect, and if it has, it’s certainly for the better. With the Octopuses’ Garden area keeping young ‘uns occupied with workshops and games inside the arena itself as per usual, the main addition to this side of things is the activities taking place in the morning over in the Family Campsite. And though little has been revealed yet as to what this side of things entails, you can bet it will be more fun for kids than sitting around and waiting for the arena to open!

Easily one of best festivals of its size in the UK, and one with its heart in the right place, anyone stubborn enough to not give the festival another go after one bad year seriously needs to have a word with themselves. See you there!

You can find more information about the festival here.

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