The New Smu: Edinburgh Fringe Special
I will be taking a brief hiatus from my usual format this month to highlight some of my favourite music, musicians and music-related shows from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you get a chance to catch any of these artists live in the future please do, otherwise, check out the links below to listen to them online.
Music is for life, not just for August!
Ensemble Mik Nawooj – Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience
Deftly sidestepping any trace of gimmickiness that the title might suggest, this was a powerful and dramatic mixture of classical and contemporary that entirely deserved the standing ovation it received. Performing in collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and MC Young Reshaud, Ensemble Mik Nawooj (EMN) fused rap with strings, woodwind, French horns and a fabulous soprano to offer reworkings of favourite staples in an exciting, exhilarating format that had me grinning from start to finish. Whilst contemporary artists like Kanye and Adrian Younge play with a similar melting pot of sounds the full-throttle live performance, and lack of reliance on samples, gave this a unique feel. Novel but most definitely not a novelty act.
Liz Jones and Broken Windows
After performing together as a band for seven years this was the first outing at the fringe for Liz Jones and Broken Windows, but hopefully not the last. With the onstage rhythm section including everything from a mandolin to a washboard this was not only a technically impressive show but one soaked in the lush, emotive depths that only bluesy rock and roll can reach. Highlight moments from me were the caustic revenge-track Narcissist and smooth ballad Lover, which unveiled Jones to be just as good at sweetly melodic vocals as her trademark rasp.
Dean Owens and the Sinners
A wonderfully unusual mixture of Scottish folk and the kind of American country made for knocking back tequila in a dusty desert. Owens’ vocals are warm but rough in the right places and fully embrace the melancholic nature of his songs. Joined by Kirsten Adamson, daughter of Big Country’s Stuart, on backing vocals, along with a fantastic band including double bass and trumpet, this was a set so evocative of its own particular brand of arid, downbeat drama that you could easily disappear into it. Adamson also shone when taking lead vocals for a couple of numbers, her crystal clear voice reminiscent of a young Dolly Parton. The two singers worked together perfectly both in duet and alternating on backup, sharing the same composed restraint that makes it seem like the easiest, most effortless thing in the world to produce such gorgeous sounds. The highlight track for me, Companera, has been on repeat since.
Countess of Fife
The irrepressible Fay Fife (formerly of The Rezillos) brings buckets of her spiky energy to this alt-country project, mixing folksy harmonies with punk aggro to create both surprisingly tender moments as well as the more expected rock and roll. Like Shane MacGowan or Marianne Faithful, Fife’s raw unpolished vocals fit this sound like a glove and, for my money, come alive in a way they rarely have before.
The B Collective – Murder Ballads
A bit of a naughty inclusion in this list as this show was definitely more theatre than gig, but how can I pass up on the opportunity to recommend a blackly comedic adaptation of the 1996 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album of the same name? Skilfully avoiding any whiff of tribute act, or any slavish re-enactment of Cave’s delivery and appearance this is a clever reworking that pays homage without being weighted down by deference. Some songs, such as The Curse of Millhaven, become highlights in unexpected ways, whilst the iconic Where The Wild Roses Grow is almost thrown away in jest. To describe the source material as a cult classic would be doing its success (and infamy) something of a disservice, but it certainly has its fanatics and adapting it is not for the faint-hearted – so it is with great relief I can say it is unlikely to disappoint.
Normal services will resume from September when I will be back to featuring my favourite new releases from upcoming and unsigned artists. If you would like to submit your music to be included in a future edition of The New Smu please email me at email@example.com and include a link to your track. I don’t care if you have 25k followers or only your dog has heard it, as long as it’s interesting, beautiful, weird or wonderful.