The Countess of Fife
Lammermuir Hall, Edinburgh International Conference Centre
26th August 2022
During an Edinburgh International Festival Fringe ’22, littered by a binman strike, The Countess of Fife brought an overdue dose of freshness to Lammermuir Theatre in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. LTW’s Harry Mulligan reports back on the show, and takes a look at debut album Star Of The Sea.
The Countess of Fife performed songs from Star Of The Sea, the inaugural album from the band. It is a nod towards Leith in Edinburgh and the guidance of seafarers who recuperated there.
The album itself was the golden lining of Covid-19, written and recorded during the pandemic at the legendary Castle Sound Studios.
Outside in the queue, chatter had circulated about the inevitable infestation of rodents submerged under mountains of refuse during the binman strike. This left the crowd in an almost pensive, excitable, state prior to entry for this sold out show. It was, however well worth the wait, and that became clear as we entered the sonically magnificent venue, with almost studio-like deadened sound.
Everyone was anticipating a play-through of Star Of The Sea, fronted by Fay Fife from Edinburgh punk-pioneers, The Rezillos. Local musician Allan Mcdowall provided warm, twangy guitar on each of the tracks. Kirsten Adamson, daughter of Big Country’s Stuart Adamson provided backing vocals, additional guitars and keys. Al Gare played impeccable stand-up double bass, and metronomic Willie Molleson nailed it on drums. All members sang backing vocals besides newbie Al Gare.
Despite a career unselfishly devoted to her main creative outlet, The Rezillos, it became clear as the songs progressed that Fife has an authentic, heartfelt love for American country music. That affinity seemed shared by the rest of the band, whether real or imagined. Even Adamson seemed to have more Nashville than Dunfermline about her, not to mention a musicality inherited, one assumes, from her father. The duration of the set was an hour, allowing Fife herself the time to relax into it, and permitting the audience to almost meander with her, as she lovingly introduced her creative offspring to them one at a time… I feel I have developed a sure-fire relationship with her during the course of the pandemic.
The following are my reflections on these endearing compositions which will be released on the band’s debut album Star Of The Sea on the 14th of October.
Wandering Star sets the mood with an a capella introduction communicating a desired vocal strength from Fife as if she is singing to her own imagined younger self. The backing vocals were striking and astute, and the musicianship session muso quality.
Empty Headed, an ode to the chaos of unthinking youth; Mcdowall’s twangy guitar riff brings this song to the crowd, and the backing vocal from Adamson gives it a bouncy feel: ‘She’s lost without rhythm, without a child, without money….’ The theme of loneliness and isolation emerge in this composition; it recurs throughout.
In Trapped, again, the theme of loneliness and sadness predominate, harkened in by minor chords and supported by a soft male backing vocal. There is a rich sense of melancholy throughout, that Patsy Cline would have been proud to called her own. Interestingly, it was soon noted that Kirsten Adamson has a vocal range considerably higher than Fay Fife’s, providing a top-end edge to this song.
In Sixteen, Fife assumes a sarcastic but self-effacing younger self: ‘I’m sixteen, I’m not pretty or smart’. If one closes one’s eyes during this song, it is utterly easy to visualise that one is in the Grand Old Opry…
Goodbye Motorbike Guy leaves the listener speculating about the experiences behind the lyric, bouncing between foreboding and hopefulness. This is Fay Fife at her best ‘…in an old leather jacket …make a rock n roll racket’…
Let This Night be Over is a beautiful ballad that showcases Fife singing in a way that many of us never get to really hear with The Rezillos. What a shame..
As the name Humans are a Bad Breeds suggests, this song evokes imagery about the worst parts of humanity and is the closest we’ll come to Fay rapping during the middle eight…. The stunning guitar from Mcdowall and incredible accompaniments from Adamson, certainly left this reviewer wanting more.
Second Fiddle: This barn dance was happy-go-lucky, and what was needed. It had everyone up on their feet, knocking elbows.
Don’t Dress Me Up: This brought the performance to an undesired end. The appreciative audience were left on a high, not only to the show, but also to a surreal Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022.
All words by Harry Mulligan, find his archive here