I’ve put together a playlist of songs from bands at Latitude and End of the Road who I enjoyed seeing this year. If you have Spotify, give it a whirl.
I’ve put together a playlist of songs from bands at Latitude and End of the Road who I enjoyed seeing this year. If you have Spotify, give it a whirl.
And so, as summer ends, it’s time for End of the Road. Jon and I went for the first time last year, and enjoyed it so much we had to do it again this year. Last year, some of my discoveries included Amber Arcades, Julian Jacklin, Whitney, Dilly Dally, The Big Moon, Blue House, Eleanor Friedberger, Laura Gibson, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, JD McPherson, The Blind Shake and Thee Oh Sees. Some of those have become some of my most listened-to music of the past year, especially Amber Arcades and Julia Jacklin. So, naturally I was hoping for similar discoveries this year. And I think I may have made a few…
Thursday 31 August
I’d got off to a bad start on the day before we drove down to Larmer Tree Gardens on the Wiltshire/Dorset border, when I’d slipped over dashing onto a Central Line train at Ealing Broadway and landing right on my back in the carriage. Ouch! It was a fairly empty train with a wet floor and I had a cup of tea in one hand. Both unusual. Neither would have happened with the normal crowded Piccadilly train in Northfields, but I was already late because that was out of order with a signal failure. Stupid of me to rush for that train. London life.
My sore back made standing for any length of time rather painful – and that is what you do a lot at festivals! Still, the combination of ibuprofen and alcohol staved off the pain sufficiently to get by. We were also lucky that Friday and Saturday were sunny and dry, which allowed plenty of opportunities to relax on the grass. We got there on Thursday afternoon, with a line up of five bands this year to look forward to. Just as we staggered towards the entrance with all our gear the heavens opened. A lot of people were unprepared and frantically started to find ways of protecting bedding and other items from the rain. Welcome to festival land!
Fortunately that was the only shower until Sunday – that is another story. We – or I should say Jon – pitched the tent and we went off to catch some music. Two venues were open – the main Woods Stage and the new band venue, the Tipi Tent, shared the duties. We missed the first band in the Tipi, Slowcoaches, who sounded lively from the campsite. But we got there for The Surfing Magazines, described in the programme as an indie supergroup. Only if you really know your indie! The bands involved were The Wave Pictures, Slow Club and Supermodel. Anyway, The Surfing Magazines were excellent. Sharp guitar rhythms, good melodies and some impressive guitar solos. I kept on thinking Little Feat, though they weren’t really like that. But a similar musical spirit maybe. The 60s and 70s were the bedrock of this sound. I’ll be checking out their recordings, for sure.
Moonlandingz, the Fat White Family spin off, were next. Jon loves them. I’m less taken, but they put on a good show on the Woods Stage and got the crowd going. Their beats remind me of the Glitter Band or the Sweet, though you wouldn’t call them glam. After that it was back to the Tipi, to see Brix and the Extricated. There’s a distinctive feature to this band: they have all played with The Fall – and been booted out by Mark.E.Smith, no doubt. Brix was married to him; last year we heard her give a talk about her book about the experience. The music was similar to that of the Fall – perhaps a bit punkier and fuller. It was entertaining; and there was a great moment at the end when they played my favourite Fall song, “Totally Wired”. Brilliant! First highlight of the festival for me.
And then it was the majestic Slowdive on the Woods Stage. The moon shone down on us, as Slowdive wove their magic: the rushing, soaring guitars, waves of glorious sound. They were perfect for a cool, crisp night in the middle of nowhere. They had a dazzling backdrop of lights too, which added to the entrancing effect of the music. I loved it! (Jon thinks it’s a bit dirge-like and went off to see Japanese noiseniks Bo Ningen in the Tipi – just to give you the balanced view.)
That was it for me on the first night. Go out on a high, rest the back a bit. That was fine, but I and everyone else soon realised that the benefit of the high pressure which brought us an evening and two good days of weather had a downside – it was bloody cold at night! First time I’ve ever worn a fleece to bed. The joys of camping at the end of an English summer.
Friday 1 September
A beautiful sunny day. Where else to start proceedings but the loveliest venue at End of the Road, the Garden Stage, in the heart of Larmer Tree Gardens?
First on was Aaron Lee Tasjan, a singer/guitarist from Nashville. His songs were engaging and rich in characters. He was a good racounteur too – told some funny and self-deprecating stories about his experiences as a “country rock” singer, and how he began, struggling to master all the chords in Beatles songs, and going to watch Ted Nugent, to see how guitar heroes played. He didn’t become a guitar hero, but he sings a good song. He got a great response from the crowd. One to look up, no doubt.
Then it was over to the Big Top to see our old friends (for the third time this year) Goat Girl. They got a big crowd in a sweltering tent – it isn’t ventilated in the same way as the BBC Music tent at Latitude. The band played a short sharp set – they still only seem to have half an hour’s worth. They were good, but didn’t seem to have quite the elan they had in the Sunrise Arena at Latitude. Maybe the size of the crowd was new to them. Maybe in time they will also project themselves as personalities a bit more – even alternative grungy indie bands are allowed to do that.
I caught a little bit of country rock duo Shovels and Rope on the Woods Stage, while I lay in the sun for a bit. Liked their sound – I’ve always been meaning to listen to a bit more of them. Back to the Big Top after that for All We Are. They were one of Jon’s highlights at Latitude. I missed them then, so wanted to see for myself this time. They’re a Liverpool three piece (the drummer, who also sings, is Irish) and have that Merseyside pop sensibility alongside the indie guitars and some punching bass and drums. They are attuned to today’s sounds but still have time for wall of noise guitar solos, which I liked. Jon reckons they could make the step up to the big time, like the 1975. He could be right.
Back to the Garden stage to catch the second half of old folkie, Michael Chapman. He’s a bit more than that – his slide guitar fused the blues with English folk. His gruff voice came from a similar place to the great John Martyn. Marc Riley is a fan and he’s one I really should more about already. In the late summer sunshine it was rather soothing; but I’d like to see him again and take it in a bit more. Stayed at the Garden for the next act, Rylie Walker. He’d been in the Observer’s rather extensive list of best albums of 2016, and I’d checked it out on Spotify. Liked it – brought Nick Drake to mind I thought at the time. Wasn’t listening closely enough. Live, Ryley and band, who are from Chicago, played in a tight circle with real intensity, weren’t so much folk as free form jazz rock, with some searing guitar work from Ryley and his other guitarist. Jeff Buckley came to mind too. This was a real revelation – the new sound that excited me most during the festival. And I wasn’t the only one – he got a very enthusiastic reception.
A familiar pleasure next, with Parquet Courts. A bit weird to watch them on the Woods Stage in the middle of the afternoon. They lost a bit of their intensity at a distance, and their singing was exposed a bit. But they rocked in the usual way, with razor sharp rhythms and a lot of attitude. Still enjoyed the duo of “Master of my Craft” and “Borrowed Time” and still regret that they don’t play “Stoned and Starving” live anymore. “Instant Disassembly” makes up for it a bit. And it was the first moshing of the festival that I saw, so they got a bit of reaction in the sunshine.
I went back to the tent for a bit of a rest after that, which meant, unfortunately, I missed Omni in the Big Top; but I had to do a bit of pacing this year. I then had a very good Goan fish curry before going back to the Garden Stage to see Jens Lekman. This was a bit spur-of-the-moment. I’d never heard of him and just read the blurb while I was having a rest. He sounded like an interesting observer of life. And indeed he was. But his music – even the melancholy ones, of which there plenty – was completely joyous. A superb singer, a great band, lovely harmonies, and melodies which took you back to those guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s – Andrew Gold, George Michael (his voice had similarities), even Abba. But laced with trenchant observation about the details of life. It was brilliant and the crowd, as darkness fell, absolutely loved it. It was very danceable and had some great singalong moments. There was a beautifully sad song called “Black Cab”, which is one of his early numbers. The harmonies were heart wrenching. If Rylie Walker was a revelation, so was Jens Lekman. The peak moment for audience participation was when he sang what he said was his favourite song as a 14 year old: “The End of the Road” by Boyz II Men. Corny as hell, but wonderful. He has guested twice before at End of the Road, in 2007 and 2013, and said he’d never quite dared to play it before. He did tonight and it was a triumph. Totally uplifting.
Hard to get a decent photo of the whole band once it got dark, so this was the best I could manage.
Last show of the night was at the Garden Stage again. Jon joined me for this one. Lucinda Williams, one of the great – and angry – country singers, with a strong strand of bluesy rock flowing through many of her songs. Some of her ballads are the saddest things I’ve ever heard – her song “Ventura” was my No1 sad song in my Duende top ten a while back (still getting a few blog hits for that one). Other wonderful heartbreakers include “Over Time” and “Lonely Girls”. I’m less bothered about the rocky and angry stuff, although “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” and “Drunken Angel” are both great. The former is probably her best seller – naturally she didn’t play it tonight! She had a good band, but together they had a predilection for something not far off southern boogie. Nothing wrong with that, but some of it was a bit uninspiring. I was very conscious too, that having got Jon along, he wasn’t looking too impressed. He stuck it out though! Yeah, so a bit disappointing for me, but I have a very particular take on Lucinda Williams’ music, and I guess that’s not where she’s at right now.
And that was it for Friday. We were both pretty pooped and went back to the tent for a large glass of Jack Daniels – the perfect nightcap!
Saturday 2 September
Another sunny day and another start at the Garden Stage. Another American folk/country singer to start the day. This time John Moreland. He didn’t look like your archetypal Americana singer – no plaid shirts here! Shaven head, shades, large black beard, rather daunting-looking tattoos, dressed in black. A big man. But the way he played his guitar was with passion and sensitivity; and his songs were wistful reflections on the struggles of ordinary life. Yes, it didn’t take long to think of Bruce Springsteen in his folky moments. It’s a long tradition, stretching back to Woody Guthrie and the blues. Reading about John later, he started as a hardcore punk (which explains the look) and had his musical revelation listening to Steve Earle. He was a man of few words between songs, unlike Aaron Lee Tasjan the day before. It was all about the songs. Great stuff, and when I got home I listened to a couple of his recent albums. Really good. If you like Bruce, listen to this…
After that Jon and I bought a beer and strolled over to the Woods Stage for a bit of Irish folk. The band were called Lankum. They were good. They mixed traditional ballads and jigs with some of their own, modern songs, reflecting on things like the impact of the massive recession that hit Ireland as a result of the 2008 debt crisis. As a sucker for that celtic soul, they did the business for me.
Next, over to the Tipi, for Aussie band Lowtide. The programme made me think they might be a bit like Blue House, a discovery from last year. They were, but with added washes of guitar, almost in a Jesus and Mary Chain Style. They also were rather different because they were three quite young people with one guy who looked like someone’s Dad. Far be it from me and Jon to be judgemental about that, but it’s quite unusual. Their sound at the Tipi was a bit murky, but you could sense the potential in the music. And yes, since being back I’ve been listening to their 2016 eponymous album and excellent singles, “Julia/Spring” and “Alibi”. They are in the shoegaze mould, worthy successors to the likes of Slowdive.
Back to the Garden Stage for Moses Sumney. He made a fascinating sound, with accompanying guitarist/bassist (I couldn’t see which). Blimey, how do you describe it? A bit of Maxwell, a touch of Prince falsetto, some James Blake electronics. Jazzy to start, getting ever more spiritual as it progressed. I lay on the grass near the back, staring at the blue sky and fluffy clouds, dozing slightly, and having quite a surreal experience. I wouldn’t mind seeing him again – he has something special there. Future Mercury Music prize nominee, undoubtedly.
Then it was the amazing Duds at the Tipi. A Manchester band. Heard them a bit on Marc Riley. Like 80s post punk – Gang of Four perhaps – played at a hundred miles an hour. Hardly any song longer than two minutes. The philosophy of Wire. All dressed in industrial grey – a Devo thing going on there. Very percussive: drummer and percussionist, two choppy guitars, pounding bass. Absolutely brilliant. All over in twenty five minutes – probably played fifteen songs in that time. A highlight.
Another chance then to lie on the grass, this time at the Woods Stage. The Canadian band Alvvays were on. Great melodies, one or two punky riffs. Hints of Blondie, certainly. But as Jon suggested, they sounded a lot like Amber Arcades – or maybe it’s the other round, because Alvvays clearly had a big following already. An excellent band and another to check up on.
After that, well we had to go and see Let’s Eat Grandma in the Big Top. The two teenagers from Norwich playing a mix of prog, dance and general weirdness. Quite high up the bill and a large crowd. More scope for lights and a show. They have got slicker, but it’s still basically the same performance as we’ve seen a few times before, though there was at least one new song. Still no communication in between songs. And over in half an hour. Thought that was short-changing the audience a bit, given it was programmed for an hour. And they left out at least one of their best known songs, “Rapunzel”. It’s going to be interesting to see where they go from here. They certainly are distinctive, but can they sustain it?
Time for the show I was most looking forward to. Car Seat Headrest on the Garden Stage. I was not disappointed. They were awesome. I saw them in Manchester earlier in the year and loved it. This was similar, although it veered off the main flow of their latest album towards the end, and we didn’t get the likes of “Unforgiving Girl” and “Fill in the Blank” (unless I misheard). That was OK, because we’d had the two songs which were my absolute highlight of End of the Road this year: the grungy riffing of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” and then the truly anthemic “Drunk Driver/ Killer Whale”. Just as in Manchester, everyone seemed to know the lyrics, especially the chorus. There were loads of inflatable whales being chucked around the front. I wonder whether the band were a bit bemused about that whenever it started. Only in England! I forgot I had a sore back for those two songs. Just brilliant.
We stayed at the Garden Stage for the closing show – Ty Segall. Father John Misty was on the Woods Stage and he would have been good, but I had to see the visceral rock’n’roll of Ty and his band. And blimey, did they rock! Bludgeoned you into submission with the fat riffs and wild solos. The moshing was everywhere. I started quite a way back and found myself retreating, to avoid wild dancing youngsters. Someone lost their trousers. A girl lost her phone probably. It was minor mayhem. Much as I loved it, I didn’t feel like being too close because of my back. For once, I thought, am I too old for this? Shall I just go and see Father John Misty? There will be melodies. But no, I said to myself. This is the spirit of rock’n’roll. I went and bought a pint of Beavertown Gamma Ray and returned to the fray. It was awesome really. The equivalent show to Thee Oh Sees last year. One to remember. A sledgehammer of a performance.
Jon was there too, but we’d ended up in different parts of the crowd. We met afterwards, and agreed, again, it was time to go back and enjoy some JD. The weather forecast for Sunday was relentless rain all day. With fog on Monday for the journey home! We thought about it. We’d had two and a half excellent days. We’d seen most of the bands we most wanted to see. Did we want to get drenched all day, or cram into the two tents that everyone would be heading for? Maybe not. We decided to skip the last day.
It meant we missed the Jesus and Mary Chain, Julia Jacklin, Girl Ray, Shame; and Japandroids in the late Big Top slot, filled by Teenage Fanclub last year. But we saw the first four at Latitude, and I’ll be seeing Julia Jacklin again in November. There will be interesting bands we missed out on – Deerhoof and Waxahatchee were two for me. But we were home by midday, and I could rest in my own bed! Yeah, it was good enough for this year.
Looking forward to next year, and I’ll try not to injure myself the day before…
We got the news today that Walter Becker, one of the two main men – with Donald Fagen – behind Steely Dan, had died. The band were due to tour the UK this autumn. I read that Fagen said that the current tour would go on. I hope so, because it will be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the work of Walter Becker and Steely Dan. They are due to play the O2 Arena in London in November. A whole load of us are going.
Recently I wrote a Steely Dan Top Twenty blog at the request of one of my friends. It sparked off quite a debate amongst us about what should be in that twenty. That is because there are just so many good songs. As I said in my book on music, “I Was There – A Musical Journey“:
You just immerse yourself in the groove, in the lusciousness of it all. The quality. The most reliable sound around. If in doubt, put on the Dan… it always makes sense.
It couldn’t have happened without Walter Becker.
I went up to the Finsbury pub in North London on Thursday to see a band called King Nun, with my friend Jon G and his son Louis. They’d seen King Nun at Latitude and really liked them. I was watching Marika Hackman at the time, but thought I’d go along with Jon and Louis this time, and see how good they were for myself.
The Finsbury is just by Manor Park tube (and Finsbury Park) on Green Lanes, a long road that takes you on a North London journey from Stoke Newington to Turnpike Lane. It’s well known for its Greek and Turkish restaurants – the Cypriot version. Something I can relate to, having lived in Cyprus for three years in the late 60s, and near Finsbury Park for a year in the early 80s. The Finsbury is a decent pub – rough brick walls and wooden floors, good beers (including Punk IPA) and very nice pizzas ,which we sampled tonight. Loads of people sitting in the outdoor garden, either for a smoke, because the weather wasn’t bad, or because it gets pretty noisy inside once the bands start up in the adjacent room.
The music room is a nice space – probably big enough for 200 people. A small stage. There were three bands on. We saw them all.
First on were Kid Wave. They played a melodic and dynamic rock’n’roll. Singer Lea Emmery (who’s Swedish, though the band is London-based) had a bit of style and a good voice. The lead guitar could have been mixed up a bit more, but I liked their sound. One to check out on Spotify and elsewhere.
Next up were Venture Lows. I thought they were American, but, in fact, they are from East London. They had an intriguing line up – a guitarist/singer and two bass players. Playing different lines. There may have been a drum machine thrown in from time to time, but, fair to say, it was very rhythmic – and choppy. Singer Hassan Anderson hammered out the words at rapid pace. I got early Foals, Talking Heads, Vampire Weekend, but also Sleaford Mods in the sound at various times. Jon suggested Joy Division later. Interesting.
Then King Nun. I’d checked out their four songs on Spotify and thought they were OK. Singer Theo had a high register scream and the guitars slashed around. But it didn’t truly rock – not listening for the first time. But I sensed it would live, and indeed it did! Theo had a few technical problems and got a bit stroppy about it, but I don’t think the audience minded. The riffs pounded, and the band really put their hearts and souls into it. It was an energising show.
The jerky riffs and Theo’s voice put me in mind of White Stripes from time to time, but there weren’t quite the solo guitar pyrotechnics of Jack White. They got a few heads banging at the front, and look like a band with good prospects. Listening to those four songs on Spotify again when I got home, they took on a different complexion. Harder. Nothing like a live show to enhance your appreciation of a band!
I don’t do it that often outside the festivals, but it is good to see noisy up and coming bands you don’t really know. They reaffirm your faith in the spirit of rock’n’roll.
Last week I went to the ICA Cinema to see John Scheinfeld’s “Chasing Trane”, a new documentary about the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. For me, the greatest of the sax players, the man who took the instrument to the edge, and back again, in much the same way as, later, Jimi Hendrix did with the electric guitar.
The film took us through Coltrane’s difficult childhood, his times in the navy, early struggles with heroin addiction, and two marriages. And of course the music. Inspired by Charlie Parker, he went on to play with Miles Davis twice. First time, he was eventually thrown out because of his addiction; second time he joined the band that recorded the sublime “Kind of Blue”. There’s some wonderful footage of the band playing “So What” and “Freedie Freeloader” from that album. I found that very moving. A band in total synch, masters of their craft, operating in a different dimension. True art.
Coltrane got too big to be in someone else’s band – even when they were making “Kind of Blue”, he was also recording the first of his great albums, “Giant Steps”. He formed a legendary quartet, with Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on piano, and a succession of bassists, stabilising with Jimmy Garrison, who played on the ultimate Coltrane album, “A Love Supreme”, recorded in 1964. The film explores this period in some detail. It’s fascinating. How he disappeared into his upstairs room for days on end, and eventually emerged with all of the album down on paper. He envisaged the whole thing in his head before he began to play.
Coltrane didn’t only take his instrument to the edge, but he brought a spirituality to the sound which was unprecedented. When he played his soul cried out from that saxophone. He wrote a piece called “Alabama” after four girls were killed when the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed in 1963. It aches with the pain of that tragedy and the assault in black people in the US that it embodied. There is footage of him playing the tune – so resonant in the days after the Charlottesville demonstrations and terrorist attack, right now in 2017.
There is a stellar array of interviewees singing the praises of Coltrane. Family, good friends, fellow musicians, and musicians today who have been inspired by his music. Kamasi Washington and Common, Doors drummer John Densmore, Carlos Santana, Wynton Marsalis and Sonny Rollins, amongst others. And there is ex President Bill Clinton, knowledgeable and passionate about the music of John Coltrane. Talking with respect and awe. Oh my God, the contrast with the soulless, self-obsessed hater in the White House now!
John Coltrane died from liver cancer at the age of 40 – so young. He was taking his music ever further beyond traditional jazz boundaries – sonically eastward in his last years. And his last ever tour was of Japan. There is a touching interview with a Japanese Coltrane obsessive who met him on that tour, as he visited Nagasaki, to pay homage to all those who died in the nuclear explosion. There’s a story of Coltrane being late getting off a train at Nagasaki, because he was lost in music, playing his flute, imagining the horror of Nagasaki through a melody. Absorbed, in another world.
“Chasing Trane” is the sort of film which will, I’m sure, appear on BBC 2 or 4, or Sky Arts at some time in the future. Look out for it. Even if you are not a big fan of jazz music, you could be moved by the life, the art, the soul of this great man. The man who took the saxophone into places it had never been before, leaving a legacy which inspires to this day.
On Wednesday I went to see Laura Gibson at the Oslo, Hackney. A great place for a show. A good space upstairs and an excellent bar downstairs, which serves one of my favourite IPAs, Beavertown Gamma Ray.
I first saw and heard Laura Gibson on the main, Woods Stage at End of the Road in 2016. I liked her music, even though it was a bit lost in the open air space of the big stage. I bought her latest album, “Empire Builder”, a lovely collection of urban folk songs, if there is such a genre. Laura has a beautiful, plaintive voice, with a bit of that twang you get in a lot of modern singer songwriters. And, live, a hint of echo from the sound desk.
Two songs quickly became my favourites: “Louis” and “Caldera, Oregon”. I guess they epitomised what I liked most about Laura Gibson. Wistful but also uplifting. Happy memories as well as sadness. I rather neglected the rest of the album as those went on my justgoodsongs playlist, to be played again and again. And so, on Wednesday evening, I was trying to mug up again as I took the Victoria Line up to Highbury and Islington, and the Overground to Hackney Central. Oslo is close that station – in fact, I think the building may once have been the station entrance.
Laura was on a double bill with Karl Blau, a respected country artist, but came on before him. Had to give his show a miss tonight, to get home at a sensible hour, for the next day. She played for an hour, mostly songs from “Empire Builder” (which was good!) but with a few new pieces too, which sounded promising. She’s in the middle of recording a new album. She also brought on a couple of guests. First, a South African friend who played the viola alongside two tunes, the album opener, “The Cause” and a lovely song called “The Search for Dark Lake”. Then Karl Blau’s steel guitar player came on to accompany Laura on “Two Kids”.
Laura herself played a small acoustic guitar, mostly plucking the strings to give the tunes a rich bass sound with forays onto the higher strings. When the viola and steel guitar were in play, she chopped out the rhythms in accompaniment.
“Empire Builder”, the song, was a highlight. Laura pointed out that the title was the name of a train in the US, not a state of mind. That makes sense. A lot of Laura’s songs feel like they are about travelling, the journey through life, searching. That was a theme too, when I was in Edinburgh last weekend, and saw Deborah Brennan singing the songs of Joni Mitchell.
And the final song was “Louis”. Of course it was! Relief – I thought for a while I wasn’t going to get either of my favourites.
I always enjoy shows when the songs are stripped down to their essence, as they were yesterday. For the most part, it was just Laura and her guitar. Brings out the beauty of the melodies, and Laura Gibson has some very beautiful melodies.
Here’s a video of “Louis”, which hopefully gives you a sense of what I’m talking about.
Catch one of her shows if you can, and listen to “Empire Builder”!
My wife, Kath, and I have just spent a few days at Edinburgh Festival. It’s the first time I’ve been to the festival since 1981, when I went up for a week and slept on a friend’s floor, while going to all sorts of weird and wonderful things day and night. I can’t believe I’ve never gone up again, specifically for the festival – I’ve been a few times on business, and once taking my son Kieran to have a look around. But anyway, here we were these last few days, and was it good? You bet!
The whole event is so vibrant, so brimming with interesting things to do and see. A fantastic experience. I’d recommend it to anyone. And Edinburgh is such a beautiful, grand city. I’m not sure there is another city in the UK with such a dramatic setting. There are a few photos at the end of this blog – quite random, I only had my iPhone with me. They might give you a sense, if you’ve never been there. But only a sense. You have to see it for real.
The Festival is a cornucopia of the arts. You can only scratch the surface in three days (spread over four) as we had. In that time we saw 12 shows and went to 2 galleries. And lots of bars! A great experience.
Here are just a few highlights:
Comedy. More of this on offer than anything else. We saw a couple of big hitters, Alexi Sayle and Mark Thomas, who were trenchant, left wing and very funny. I was surprised how much Alexi dissed some of the new stars, who do their arena tours. Too middle class. Touch of envy? Mark used predictions from the audience to improvise, as well as weaving in tales about his father. Glaswegian comedian, Scott Gibson, was hard-hitting and moving about his relationship with his father too. Alice Marshall went for the jugular in the relationship between women and men. And Luke Rollason was just bizarrely funny (and serious) in his “Planet Earth III”. In essence, he used mime plus the odd noise to depict animals in the cheap version of the Attenborough classic, as the planet went to pot. I’ll never forget his angler fish in the dark, where he wore an angelpoise lamp on his head which he switched on and off while uttering daft noises and staring madly. Or his pregnant seahorse. You have to see it to understand!
Music. We saw three things. A great jazz/country session at the Jazz Bar by Lorna Reid, a Scottish singer. I liked it enough to buy three of her CDs! A beautiful session at Saturday lunchtime called “A Case of You – The Songs of Joni Mitchell” sung and played by an Aussie called Deborah Brennan and her two band members. You could lose yourself in this. And two sisters, calling themselves Flo and Jo, who sang observational songs about our lives today. Humorous, daft, piercing. And some very impressive wordplay and harmonies. Really engaging.
Drama. Just the one performance, a play by a group called the Theatre Department (of where I know not) called “Carravagio: Between the Darkness”. An exploration of the great artist’s final years on the run, after he killed a gangster in Rome, who wanted money back. An intense depiction of his passion, his rage, his rivalry with the artist Carracci, who was happier to paint what the punters wanted. Blimey, bang in the middle of Saturday afternoon in a hotel in the New Town! That’s Edinburgh Festival for you, if you want it.
Poetry and the spoken word. We saw Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate, accompanied by John Sampson, who played an array of wind instruments to accompany her powerful, touching, funny, trenchant poems. The opener, a reflection on the First World War was truly moving. Poet Luke Wright, someone I knew from Latitude, performed an amazing one hour monologue called “Frankie Vah”. The theme was the 1980s, the conflicts in that era, and Frankie’s journey as a punk poet and as a person. It was intense, powerful. The music enhanced the emotion. One of the highlights, for me. Gentler, but poignant, was John Osborne’s “Circling the Radio Times”, John’s story about his grandfather and his relationship with him. I saw a bit of this at Latitude. It was great to hear the whole thing. A lovely reflection on ordinary life.
Art. Our hotel was on East Market Street, pretty central. Just down the road was the City Art Centre. It had a fascinating exhibition on three floors called “Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections”. It pulled together art and artefacts from around Edinburgh’s galleries, to tell the tale of Edinburgh. Loved it! The picture that really grabbed me was “The Entry of George IV into Edinburgh from the Calton Hill ” by John Wilson, painted in 1822. It made me want to go up Calton Hill, which we did on the sunny Sunday morning. I loved some of the modern photographs too. We spent a bit of time in the Scottish National Gallery as well. So much to see there, and we only had time to see a small amount, but we refreshed our memories of great Renaissance and Dutch artists. Including some Carracci!
Food and drink. Well, you can certainly drink in Edinburgh! Saturday night was pretty wild, especially in Cowgate. I liked all the open air tents, especially down in the University area. Some great local IPAs there. The one I particularly liked was Drygate Gladeye, one of a number of Drygate beers, which was in a space by the “Gilded Balloon” complex. We had a nice, slightly quieter place near our hotel too, called the Pitt (I think). Again there was an open air space, as well as an indoor cocktail place and an art exhibition. The weather was nice enough to hang out there a couple of nights before we went back to the hotel. And, although we mainly snacked, and had great breakfast bacon rolls at Baba Budan, under the railway arches on East Market Street, we did go to one excellent restaurant/bar, Bon Vivant, on Thistle Street. That’s on the New Town side. Recommended by my friend Annabelle, who lived in Edinburgh for a few years. Quality food and a really interesting wine list. Noisy, because it’s essentially a pub with a restaurant area, and a lot of people turn up, but well worth a visit.
A brilliant few days. Here are a few photos to finish off with.
The Scott Monument you cannot ignore.
My favourite tent, down by the Gilded Balloon. This was Friday afternoon. On Saturday evening it was rammed.
A wobbly view, taken through a frosted window in the City Art Centre, looking over Waverley Station to Princes Street.
Views from Calton Hill.