Wednesday August 31st, 2011 15:02

ED2011 Music Review: The Burns Unit (Burns Unit)

The Queen’s Hall is ignited one Wednesday evening by the highly acclaimed eight-piece Scottish-Canadian supergroup. A self-proclaimed ‘accidental big band’, the members, including Mercury prize-nominated Emma Pollock and King Creosote, hail from varying musical backgrounds such as folk, pop and rap. The outcome of their creative collaboration is stunning; together, they have written and produced some hauntingly beautiful songs. This is a musical experience: constantly changing and swapping instruments, the Unit has a wonderful energy and sense of humour on stage. As Ian Rankin aptly said, this is “one long, involving variety show, full of colour and spectacle and not a few surprises.” Clearly they already have a large fanbase, and Burns Unit deserve to go far.

The Queen’s Hall, 24 Aug, 8.00pm (9.30pm), £15.00 – £17.00, fpp197.
tw rating 4/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 15:01

ED2011 Music Review: NuTrax (Stevie Palmer)

While countless fans scream for Jimmy Eat World and Amanda F*cking Palmer, here, in a community centre back room with the house-lights still on, Scotland’s best-kept musical secret are playing to an audience of ten. Stevie Palmer and Ciaran Dorris play the sort of ethereal folk-tinged acoustic that sends shivers down the spine. The two men take turns playing songs from their solo albums: Palmer sings poignantly of university students and juvenile delinquents sharing street-space in ‘Graduation Day’, while Dorris focus is on his family and childhood in Northern Ireland. It’s a shame that they don’t collaborate more – it’s more like two solo acts than a band – but this is astonishingly good stuff.

Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides, 18, 25 Aug, times vary, £6.00 – £8.00, fpp214
tw rating 4/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:58

ED2011 Music Review: The National (The Edge Festival)

Critically acclaimed American band The National’s incredible concert was all wheat and no chaff. Matt Berninger’s mournful, whiskey-drenched baritone broke the stoniest of hearts during the slow-burning, majestic ballads from their fourth and fifth albums, ‘Boxer’ and ‘High Violet’, while he shouted like a man possessed during the defiant, raucous indie rock anthems from the group’s fledgling years. The dramatic, achingly beautiful love songs had lighter-waving and lung-bursting choruses in spades, but it was their faster, grittier material that literally raised the roof – during the deafening, spirited finale ‘Mr. November’, Berninger dislodged the ceiling tiles from a nearby offstage ledge and clambered into the darkness above. Inconsolable, gut-wrenching despair has never sounded so tearfully, wonderfully uplifting.

The Edge Festival at Edinburgh Corn Exchange, 23 Aug, 7.00pm (10.30pm), £22.50, fpp214.
tw rating: 5/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:56

ED2011 Music Review: A Jazz Education (Cambridge University Big Band)

Brass bands are a quintessential part of British summertime, so to have one visiting Edinburgh from Cambridge in soggy, pre-autumnal days like these is a godsend. Whilst the performance received a standing ovation, it had its faults: some, such as the tremulous vibrato of the trombones and trumpets, added to the charm. Others, namely the two singers’ respective attempts to impersonate Michael Bublé and Shirley Bassey – and often going horribly off-key with the latter – noticeably amateurised the high technical standard, but nevertheless, they had enough stage charisma to produce smiles from the audience. The golden moment was the band’s hauntingly wistful rendition of ‘Sway’, which offered us something rather different. In all, a sunny performance with some rain clouds.

City Edinburgh, 25 – 27 Aug, 3.00pm (4.00pm), £5.50 – £7.50, fpp208.
tw rating 3/5
[pc]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:48

ED2011 Music Review: French Piano Music from 1880s to 1920s (Duo Milhard)

The perfect way to begin a charming Wednesday evening. Gillian Gibson and Sonia Soprano tickle our fancy with a stunning range of duets; from the relaxing ‘Le carnaval des animaux’ by Saint-Saëns to work from the eccentric Debussy, these ornamental pieces take us on a stroll down the Champs-Élysées. After being enlightened by a plot summary of Milhard’s Brazilian-influenced ‘Le boeuf sur le toit’, it was entertaining to try and spot where the policeman gets decapitated and his head stuck back on in this exciting, surrealist piece. A well-balanced programme, it was sufficiently varied to remain interesting whilst maintaining a cohesive collection of French masterpieces. Gibson and Soprano are exceptionally talented pianists: another triumph at St Mark’s.

St Mark’s artSpace, 24 Aug, 5.30pm (6.30pm), £7.00 – £12.00, fpp205.
tw rating 4/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:48

ED2011 Music Review: Sandy Brechin Band

‘Buckfast at Tiffany’s’. This is just one of many innovative, traditionally influenced songs that Sandy Brechin and his band entertained the audience with. The crowd warmed to them immediately as they watched and listened to the juicy accordion skills, yet even though Sandy Brechin’s accordion was the clear star of the evening, a very nice aspect of the concert was that every member of the band got his own spotlight for a little while. Andrew Mill had everyone in heaps of laughter when he sang two of his songs, another member brought tears to their eyes with his whistle melodies. One gig last year, two this year during the Festival – in thirty years, they’ll perform every night!

Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides, 25, 26 Aug, 7.30pm (8.30pm), £8.00 – £10.00, fpp218.
tw rating 4/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:46

ED2011 Music Review: Piano Favourites (William Alexander)

The topic of conversation in church today was William Alexander’s fingers – how big, how fast, how nimble they were! One woman gawked, comparing them with her own inferior stubs. Alexander’s talent was acknowledged by all, as was the intimate fondness with which he shared each of his chosen favourites. Only the smallest of faults – or, rather, questionable decisions – were made during the performance: Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 No. 3 seemed a dash too fast, a few notes were elided in No. 10, and the bassline of Bach’s and Busoni’s ‘Nun komm’ was not as prominent as usual. These, however, were immaterial details that come nowhere near to eclipsing this pianist’s formidable talent.

St Mark’s artSpace, 27 Aug, 2.30pm (4.30pm), £6.00 – £8.00, fpp216.
tw rating 4/5
[pc]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:39

ED2011 Music Review: Panic! At The Disco

Ready to go. From the first minute, the excitable audience’s attention and cheering was there – it felt as if the concert had been running for a good hour already when lead singer Brendon Urie announced he was “planning to get sweaty tonight”. When the band declared that they did not get audiences like this in America, there was no holding back – they won over the last shy kid in the corner. Considering the already high temperature at the Picturehouse, it was a good thing that Brendon Urie only took off his shirt for the last two songs! A steaming atmosphere, great security staff and superb sound technicians added to the longed-for music to create an unforgettable event.

HMV Picturehouse, 27 Aug, 7.00pm (10.00pm), £17.50.
tw rating 4/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:37

ED2011 Music Review: Big Band Swing (That Swing Sensation Big Band)

At their best, ‘That Swing Sensation’ conjure up a Hollywood movie scene: cool Forties jazz plays in a smoky bar as Sean Connery orders a Martini – shaken, not stirred. At their worst, St Andrew’s and St George’s West is transformed into a wedding disco, without bride, groom or drunken uncle. Almost offensively inoffensive, they restrict their oeuvre to classic big-band tracks without attempting anything more challenging, though their playing is good enough that they could easily carry it off. But that’s almost their charm: no-one in the audience tonight really wanted to see new experimental material. ‘That Swing Sensation’ are first and foremost a nostalgia trip, and it’s an act they play well.

St Andrew’s And St George’s West, 27 Aug, 7.30pm (9.30pm), £8.00 – £10.00, fpp196
tw rating 3/5
[eb]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 14:36

ED2011 Music Review: Adriana Spina

Adriana Spina has a spine-tinglingly beautiful voice, grave and smooth, which beguiled the audience for over an hour with songs from her debut album, ‘Never Coming Home’, as well as older songs. There isn’t much diversity in the songs, which are mostly quite melancholic and deeply personal, concerning the painful process of transition as the album title suggests. Adriana Spina in person is very cheery, though, as she chats warmly and easily with the audience between songs. The finale, and my personal highlight of the set, was a stirring cover of The Band’s ‘The Weight’, which consisted of stunning harmonies with the rest of the band. If there were more variation in the music, this would be ideal.

Acoustic Music Centre at St Bride’s, 27 Aug, 6.45pm (8.00pm), £8.00 – £10.00, fpp192.
tw rating 3/5
[km]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 12:02

ED2011 Music Review: The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra (Edinburgh International Festival)

This gorgeous performance shows the array of music that this very talented orchestra can play. We are introduced to the Korean instrument the sheng, played masterfully by Wu Wei in the piece ‘Šu’ by Unsuk Chin. With this piece, we see every instrument of the orchestra played to a new standard, generating various sounds and textures. Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, ‘Pathétique’ by Tchaikovsky was the final piece of the set, played with such heart-breaking emotion that it stole away everyone’s breath. The precision and unity within the orchestra, along with their showmanship, gave a fantastic performance, only to be surpassed by their two encore pieces at the end. This is perfection for lovers of classical music.

Usher Hall, 24 Aug, 7.30pm (9.15pm), £12.00 – £42.00, eifpp34.
tw rating 5/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:31

ED2011 Music Review: Mike Whellans

From the first minute it felt like sitting in a living-room with a couple of friends, having a beer and a good laugh – a welcoming, funny, intimate atmosphere that continued when Mike Whellans entered the stage. Drums before him, guitar in hand, and harmonica strapped round his neck, he sounded more like a whole band than just one musician. Fantastically skilled on the mouthy, a gifted blues voice and the pure coordination of three different instruments make great entertainment. In between songs, he told anecdotes that delighted the whole audience, and when he started to recreate the sound of a whole drum-kit with just his voice, eyes stared in astonished disbelief. A shame it had to finish eventually!

Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides, 12 Aug, 9.00pm (10.oopm), £8.00 – £10.00, fpp212.
tw rating 5/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:30

ED2011 Music Review: The John Lennon Experience (Mike Powell)

Beatles fans beware! This is not a show in celebration of, or even about, John Lennon. Rather, it’s an hour of self-indulgent nonsense from a man who believes he is repeatedly visited by Lennon to ensure his legacy continues. For Mike Powell, it’s a miracle he went from being musically inept to being inspired to write over 300 songs and, if the songs he performs to a backing-track were half as good as a bad Beatles record, his story might be somewhat impressive. However, Powell is a distinctly average, deluded musician who lacks charisma and is genuinely surprised that the likes of Yoko Ono have never responded to him, despite his story being corroborated by Uri Geller on ‘GMTV’.

Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides, 12 Aug, 6.00pm (7.00pm), £6.00 – £8.00, fpp n/a.
tw rating 1/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:28

ED2011 Music Review: Eliza Carthy Band

Eliza Carthy, carrying a cup and saucer, strides out on stage. “It looks like tea but actually it’s gin,” she says, before proceeding to tell a typically bawdy anecdote about Billy Bragg. Then, cuing the music, she opens her mouth to sing, and a voice emerges like honey-soaked gravel. Her tell-tale Yorkshire twang firmly grounds the ethereal songs, which, though Carthy describes them as “miserable… hinting at something rude”, actually cover subjects as disparate as Friday night fights and, er, donkey-riding primates. Carthy and her band are a mass of brilliant contradictions: they are just as beautiful as they are ridiculous, just as funny as they are “miserable”, but at no point is this show anything less than great.

The Queen’s Hall, 12 Aug, 7.30pm (9.00pm), £14.00 – £16.00, fpp204.
tw rating 4/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:26

ED2011 Music Review: Caroline Gilmour: Take A Look – Free (Caroline Gilmour / Free Festival)

Local singer-songwriter Caroline Gilmour carries the talent and presence of her contemporary predecessors (KT Tunstall, Amy McDonald, etc.) whilst still remaining true to herself as an artist. Overcoming initial technical difficulties (she was, after all, playing backing-tracks from her iPhone), Gilmour opens her set with a nice folky number, showcasing her soft yet strong vocals as she sings of independence and getting over past relationships, a theme which continues through many of her songs. Taking a break from the backing-tracks, Gilmour broke out a completely acoustic and surprisingly good cover of David Guetta’s ‘When Love Takes Over’. Finishing the set with ‘Spaces’, Gilmour proves that she’s a Scottish rock chick in the making.

Laughing Horse at The Pear Tree, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 Aug, 4.00pm (5.00pm), free, fpp198.
Laughing Horse at Koko, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 Aug, 7.30pm (8.30pm), free, fpp198.
tw rating 3/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:26

ED2011 Music Review: Trinity Guildhall At The Fringe (Trinity Guildhall)

With almost comedic ease, pianist Paul ‘Harry’ Harris tears into a medley jazz piece, with woodwind player Simon Bates switching between alto saxophone, flute and clarinet periodically. It’s a perfect introduction to the launch of a new series of Trinity Guildhall syllabus books for these instruments. After 135 years of instructing students in music, drama and dance, the board is now trying to edge away from classical music, and displays this well with this performance by these two stunning musicians. The pieces themselves are very much below Harris and Bates’ standards, designed not to be played to adoring fans but to be taught and learnt – but the appeal remained even for those of us who were just listening and not learning.

Blackwell’s Bookshop, 18 – 20 Aug, 2.30pm (3.30pm), free, fpp222
tw rating 3/5
[ja]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:25

ED2011 Music Review: Alex Yellowlees Gypsy Jazz Quartet (Alex Yellowlees)

There’s a special kind of joy that’s to be found in watching practised professionals who still love what they do. The chemistry within the quartet is mesmerising, the world built between the musicians full of energy and bursting with busy music. A smooth-as-silk rendition of ‘Minor Swing’ made all musicians drool with envy as we watched eight pairs of hands dance tirelessly across fretboards. The quartet itself was a one-off event, but it’s certainly worth looking out for more music at St Bride’s, as each performance is guaranteed to be blisteringly good. Only if we were allowed to dance could this hour of music have been improved – regardless, it was the fastest hour I’ve spent at the Fringe.

Acoustic Music Centre at St Brides, 12 Aug, 8.30pm (9.45pm), £10.00 – £12.00, fpp193.
tw rating 4/5
[ja]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:24

ED2011 Music Review: Dave Stewart

Dave Stewart delights his audience with newly composed acoustic music, played on the guitar, electric guitar and piano. His music is soulful and beautiful, lulling most of the audience into a peaceful state of serenity over the course of the hour. His songs on the electric guitar are not as good, however, with many sounding similar to each other; his technique is also evidently less polished than the acoustic version. Stewart’s lack of conversation between songs would usually have been a hindrance, but there was something about the music which justified the surrounding silence. Set in a stark room, the evening would have benefited from more a atmospheric environment, but overall this is an enjoyable hour of music.

Acoustic Music Centre at St. Brides, 13, 16 Aug, times vary, £6.00 – £8.00, fpp201.
tw rating 3/5
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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:24

ED2011 Music Review: J S Bach – The Six Organ Sonatas (George Wilson)

It’s rare that a concert venue does so much to impair an audience’s enjoyment of the music it presents, but the fact that Canongate Kirk’s pews face directly away from the organ being played meant that we had no connection with the musician at the keys. The instrument itself, designed to accompany church services, doesn’t flatter Bach’s famous pieces, though the technical abilities of performer George Wilson were brilliant considering these were originally written for four distinct instruments; Wilson’s hands and feet worked furiously. A musically interesting and technically complex trio of organ sonatas was lost in the rafters as all we had to watch were a few old flags nudging at the ceiling.

Canongate Kirk, 18 – 19 Aug, 5.00pm (5.45pm), £8.00 – £10.00, fpp n/a
tw rating 2/5
[ja]

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Wednesday August 31st, 2011 11:22

ED2011 Music Review: Beethoven Violoncello And Piano Cycle 1 (Anne-Isabel Meyer And Peter Croser)

Close your eyes and give yourself over to this masterful rendering of Beethoven’s earliest compositions. Take care, though, not to close them for too long, for fear of missing the heart-warming sight of the musicians’ appreciative faces and genuine zeal for the pieces being performed; or even the Gothic church venue, with its glistening windows and golden trickles of sunlight seeping through, so appropriately suited to the gentle melody. All this combined whisks the audience away on an hour’s journey of majestic 18th Century delight. Though at times I found myself craving the more renowned pieces of Beethoven’s musical genius, this cycle was a stimulating luxury nonetheless, as it provided a genteel route of escapism from Festival madness.

St Andrew’s and St George’s West, 16 Aug, 2.30pm (3.30pm), £7.00 – £9.00, fpp196.
tw rating 4/5
[ma]

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