Interview with Lisa Kowalski, producer of Ten Years of Taylor Swift

“Taylor Swift is not only an amazing songwriter with relatable and eloquent lyrics, an incredible singer, but she’s also just such a lovely person.

Lisa Kowalski is a young Scottish singer songwriter and performer – and most of all she is a huge Taylor Swift fan. To coincide with Taylor Swift’s ten year anniversary as a performer Lisa decided to celebrate and to put on an event to bring together all those ‘Swifties’ out there. Well, some of them at any rate.

Lisa’s event ‘Ten Years of Taylor Swift’ was held in Glasgow and Edinburgh and featured a fantastic collection of young, upcoming musicians from around Scotland who each performed their own versions of Taylor Swift classics, from her earlier country tunes to some newer pop princess anthems.

Ten Years of Taylor Swift Show (organised by Lisa Kowalski, January 2017). Our review here.


Why Taylor Swift?

She’s not only an amazing songwriter with relatable and eloquent lyrics, an incredible singer but she’s also just such a lovely person. She’s so kind to her fans and she’s so real. I also just connect with her lyrics and how passionate she is about songwriting. Writing music is my favourite thing to do and she’s really inspired me to be brave and vulnerable when I write my feelings into songs.

How big is the Swiftie community in Scotland?

Taylor sold out the Hydro in minutes, so I would say there’s a fair amount of Swifties! I’ve made lots of friends in Scotland that are her fans and it’s nice to get to talk about her and her music to people without them getting sick of me.

Have you had support from Swifties outside of Scotland?

We had a Swiftie from England fly up to Scotland for the last show which was pretty insane! He also helped us to set up a promotional website for the event which has ended up being really useful.

For this year’s event we had someone from America ask to play and cover all of the plane costs herself! Unfortunately we had all of the acts sorted but it’s pretty insane to have so much talent asking to perform and going to such great lengths to do it.

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You had a fantastic line up of young artists performing in your show. How did you bring the talent together?

All of the acts are people I’ve seen perform at gigs that I’ve also done! I chose these people not only because they’re all absolutely incredible singers and performers but also because I consider them all good friends of mine now! The show really brought us all together and I’m grateful for it.

They’re all so different from each other in the way they sing and perform – some prefer acoustic, others prefer the band. Some have higher voices, others have low. Some have loud voices, others have softer voices. Either way they’re all extremely talented in their own special way and I could never choose a favourite.

Were all of the artists who performed already devoted Swifties before the show?

Not all of them are huge fans but they still managed to take the songs, make them their own and perform them with so much passion. Everyone who performed likes different kinds of music and writes their own amazing songs but they all came together to celebrate one pop/country artist and they did it amazingly.

220px-p1070865_louvre_tc3aate_de_fausta_ma4881_rwkHow did the event in Edinburgh compare to the first event in Glasgow?

Both events were so amazing but the Edinburgh gig was in a smaller venue which I preferred. It made the show more intimate as everyone was much closer and you could see everyone dancing and smiling a lot more clearly which was really nice.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known starting out on this journey?

There’s going to be some ups and downs but it’ll be worth it! Working really hard is definitely the key for success but when it pays off you’ll be so relieved and happy that you devoted as much time and energy as you did.

Do you plan to organize more shows in the future?

There’s a lot of factors to consider before we dive into organising another event as it definitely isn’t easy but I would definitely love to! Making other artists and an audience happy made me really happy and I would love to do it all again.

Lisa, you also performed at the show. As an artist do you have anything exciting lined up for 2017?

Within the next month I’ll be releasing my debut EP of original songs! I’m really proud of all the songs on there and I can’t wait for people to hear them in a new way! I’ll be performing at the VAMOS festival this year which is exciting!

If you could ask Taylor Swift one question what would it be??

It’s hard to just choose one question! I would probably ask for advice on making myself known in the music industry and building a loyal fan base.


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Ten Years of Taylor Swift (The Mash House: 14 Jan ’17)

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“A fun and fantastic showcase”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Not being a huge Taylor Swift fan myself I was slightly apprehensive before the show. However, I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised. This gig was set up by 16 year old Lisa Kowalski, who with some help from mum managed to put on an entertaining evening any event organizer would be proud of.  The three hour set – a good length! –  showcased a range of Taylor Swift’s material – from her younger country days to newer pop songs.

Before the show there was an excited buzz around the room and I could immediately tell I was surrounded by some devoted Swifties. There was not much in a way of an introduction before singer Matthew Gibb, together with the backing band, started off the night with his original version of ‘Blank Space’.

Soon it was clear to see that despite their young age these are all very talented singers and musicians including The 45 and Beth Swan. Although the backing band added an extra kick of enthusiasm to the night I was glad that there was an acoustic session in the middle, where you could clearly hear each performer’s voice.

Each act enjoyed great stage presence but there were three performers who really stuck out – Ashleigh Burns, Olivia Dawn Haggerty and Lisa Kowalski herself.

17 year old Ashleigh from Glasgow gave an impressive performance with her versions of ‘Love Story’ and ‘Trouble’. Her strong, soulful voice in combination with a charming presence and confidence on stage made it a great set. Olivia impressed with her beautiful ballad version of ‘All Too Well’ whilst Lisa was not only good at talking to and entertaining the crowd, but vocally she also did well, with a good range and a convincing ‘attack’. Although not pitch perfect at all times these girls have serious energy and potential.

All night everybody’s enthusiasm was so contagious that I couldn’t help bopping along and I even got caught up in the whole sing-along spirit of the night! I can only recommend this particular show if you are a big Taylor Swift fan but I really loved the whole idea behind it – celebrating an artist together with lots of like-minded fans. The whole event was brilliantly organized and you could clearly see the huge effort put in from all parties. It was definitely a fun and fantastic way to showcase young talent from across Scotland.

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Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 14 January)

Visit the Edinburgh49‘s Other venues archive.

Blackbird (Bedlam: 16-17 Nov ’16)

“Powerful and moving”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

I was quite apprehensive before taking my seat, as to how Edinburgh University Theatre Company would present the strong, emotive themes of trauma, abuse and love in David Harrower’s intense two-hander. With the entire play focusing on one conversation between the two central characters Ray and Una, how well would the actors sustain and communicate this challenging piece?

The plot sees Una (Sophia Dowson-Collins) seek out Ray (Benjamin Aluwihare) to confront him about the sexual relationship they had fifteen years prior – when she was only a 12 year old girl whilst he was a grown man of 40. She wants to face the past but he is at first unwilling to speak to her. As the play progresses they both go through a range of emotions, sometimes screaming at each other and at other times talking calmly about trivial things, creating a dramatic if at times, confusing dynamic.

The script is complex, taking a while to build and reel the audience in before taking a deeper and darker turn. We get to piece together more about the identities and personalities of both characters, and some surprising twists and turns reveal the truth of what happened fifteen years ago and how both characters have dealt with their experiences since. The silent captivation from my fellow audience members throughout told its own story: at times there was perceptible discomfort, and I personally found the whole thing quite awkward and difficult to watch, but only because the performance felt so real.

Although both performers did well I was particularly impressed by Dowson-Collins’s performance: at times there were long streaks where only she would speak – sometimes to Ray but often more like she was speaking to herself. She was captivating and consistent throughout, bringing a great sense or realness to her character. Aluwihare seemed nervous and awkward for the most part and although fitting with Ray’s character, it was difficult to tell how much “acting” came into play.

The set was perfectly suited to the action: it was very simple with just a couple of seats, a table and some office lockers, making the actors do the work to convey the story. In saying that, what didn’t work so well was the use of a plastic sheet hanging behind Una and Ray, from behind which a girl would appear to represent Una becoming a ghost of herself through everything she had experienced. Although I could see what the production was trying to do I felt like this distracted from the dialogue between Una and Ray, and a more creative way of expressing this idea could have been used to greater effect.

All in I was very impressed by the performance. The themes may not be to everyone’s taste, but it was still a fascinating watch.

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Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 16 November)

Visit the Bedlam archive.

Preview: Underground Live (Teviot Row House, Thursdays 9.00pm)

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Underground Live is a weekly live music night hosted by the Edinburgh University Student’s Association. Every Thursday from 9pm the EUSA present some of Scotland’s, and particularly Edinburgh’s, new musicians in the cozy basement of Teviot Row House.

Band Programmer for the EUSA, Kyle Wilson, sums it up perfectly; “Underground Live is a place for new and upcoming bands to showcase their music. Edinburgh, or in general the east coast, has a lot of talent. And you can come and check it out for free.”

Previous performers, to name a few, are the likes of ‘Indigo Velvet’, ‘Earths’, ‘Universal Thee’ and ‘The Rising Souls’. The series of Underground Live events run up to the 1st of December this year and there are many acts to look forward to such as ‘Teek’, ‘The Boy with the Lion Head’, ‘Delphi’ and ‘Moonlight Zoo’.

To have a look for ourselves we attended the ‘Underground Takeover’ where Underground Live teamed up with Oxjam Edinburgh (part of Oxfam’s music festival). The night featured Edinburgh based band ‘The Factory’ (now named ‘Ignu’) who showed off some of their original pop and folk tunes. Two further acts, that will both be playing at this year’s Oxjam ‘Edinburgh Takeover’ were Michiel Turner and ‘The Micro Band’. Michiel Turner charmed the audience with his unique voice and jazz/soul and folk style. ‘The Micro Band’ brought their positive attitude and catchy tunes on stage and got a few folk up off their seats!

Oxjam ‘Edinburgh Takeover’ Manager Karl Wood was heavily involved in the event and was particularly impressed by the venue; “It’s absolutely brilliant to work with the Underground Live team. They showcase some of Edinburgh’s finest emerging acts in an excellent venue.” And we agree – a small stage makes the event feel intimate, and low comfy seating add to the vibe.

The Underground Live  events are a fantastic way to scout out Edinburgh’s musical talent and not only is it completely free but you can enjoy student prices at the bar even if you are not a student!

For more information take a look at the Facebook page on https://www.facebook.com/UndergroundLiveEdinburgh/?fref=ts

Or for a full list of the upcoming events visit http://www.channel7a.com/venue/teviot-undeground/

Iona Young

+3 Review: Blueswater Presents: Queens of the Blues (SpaceTriplex: 5-27 August: 22.30: 50 minutes)

“A classy, confident and charming performance”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Queens of the Blues is a new show presenting a musical history of powerful women who have influenced blues as we know it over the years, presented by Edinburgh band The Blueswater. The two main singers in this show (Nicole Cassandra Smit and Ruth Kroch) are perfect to represent such women: both give a classy, confident and charming performance with just the perfect amount of sass.

The show begins with an a capella song, which each member of the band joining in one after another. There is a large variety of songs including When the Levee Breaks by Memphis Minnie, Better Watch Your Step by Koko Taylor and Ella Fitzgerald’s Cow Cow Boogie.

One particular favourite of mine was the performance of the original version of Hound Dog by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. And I also had to admire Ruth when she announced she was going to give a solo rendition of the legendary Nina Simone’s Blues for Mama. But with her feisty attitude and powerful, soulful voice she really pulled it off!

The girls really keep the whole show moving, giving explanations about the history of each song and making jokes with the band. The old school blues band (including a two bassists, a guitarist, a drummer, harmonica player and a keyboard player) also all seemed relaxed and it was clear they all enjoyed playing together. At one point there was even a short stint by a trumpet player who surprised the crowd!

The only thing I wish is that we would have had a chance to dance, and given the vigorous foot tapping going on around me I am sure most of the audience would have agreed! The songs became more upbeat as the night went on and although the audience was at some point encouraged to dance the seating was so close together that there was not really enough space.

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Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 23 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Karmana, Songs of the Roma (Summerhall: 12-20 August: 21.15: 1 hour)

“Fantastic, moving and highly recommendable”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Karmana, Songs of Roma is performed in the Library Gallery of Summerhall. As the Scottish guitarist and composer Simon Thacker and Polish cellist Justyna Joblonska walked in to the room the small crowd fell silent. They did not introduce themselves which I found a little odd but as Thacker began his solo instrumental performance of Albedo I guessed this was to add to the dramatic effect of the song. Immediately I could see that this is one very talented musician who is clearly passionate about his work.

For the second song Thacker was joined by his playing partner Jablonska who’s performance was equally captivating. The flowing sounds of the cello combined with the intricate sounds of the guitar hypnotised the crowd, who remained so  silent throughout you could have heard a pin drop.

Throughout the show Thacker takes the audience on a Romani musical journey with songs from the gypsy tradition. In between songs he explains the history and meaning of each song including his thoughts and reasoning behind each composition. His own personal experience with Indian, Balkan and Spanish music add a special twist to the performance from beginning to end.

Personally I thought the highlight of the evening was when the endearing singer and violinist Masha Natanson joined to complete the trio. Originally from Lubin, Poland, Natanson adds a new, traditional element to the performance. As cliché as it may sound, I really did get goosebumps when she began to sing Ne Govorite Mne O Nem (Don’t Talk To Me About Him). Natanson sang with such emotion that although I couldn’t understand the Russian lyrics I could tell she was portraying a heart-broken woman. At one point she even charmed the audience with her premiere of speaking in English to a crowd and no one could help but smile and giggle as she tried her very best!

Perhaps I have been caught up in the excitement and excess of the Fringe but the only thing I would like to have seen improved was the set. The whole room was lit in a romantic red but I feel focusing more of the lighting on the performers would have added to the dramatic effect of the songs.

Overall it was a fantastic, moving and highly recommendable show – particularly for those interested in the traditional music of different cultures.

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Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 16 August)

Visit the Summerhall archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

 

+3 Review Moondogs (Edinburgh International Film Festival: 17 June ’16)

“Heartwarming and well written”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

This year the 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival brought a wide range of films and documentaries home to Scotland. We took a look at the world premiere of Philip John’s Moon Dogs – a Scottish coming-of-age film – released on the 17th of June 2016.

Two step-brothers Michael (Jack Parry-Jones) and Thor (Christy O’Donnell) are thrown together through their parents’ marriage and the relationship between the two is far from perfect. Michael is a temperamental, slightly gullible young lad who having just finished high school is trying to figure out his future. Thor is the more quiet, reserved, artistic type who prefers to lock himself in his room to focus on his music and block out the rest of the world.

For their own individual reasons they decide to embark on a trip from their home on Shetland to Glasgow. With no money or any idea how they will get to there, they are lucky – or perhaps unlucky – to meet the wild, free-spirited yet slightly troubled young woman Caitlin (Tara Lee) who decides to accompany them on their journey.

The story focuses on the trio’s travels rather than their final destination. Throughout the film there are some beautiful shots of Scottish scenery and at times it almost feels like you are on a tour through Scotland’s landscapes and its society. With brutal honesty the film shows the best and the worst sides of Scotland. The three meet a variety of characters, from kind hearted locals to cruel criminals, whom anybody in their right mind would avoid.

The script, written by Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel, brings out a range of emotions with some charming and funny exchanges but also some darker, serious moments. Although this independent drama does at times appear a little awkward and staged this could be a reflection of how the characters themselves are feeling. At the beginning the boys, despite needing one another to make their journey to Glasgow possible, are both displeased at the idea of travelling together. As they begin to warm to each other the scenes and the interaction between the three appears to become more natural, resulting in some endearing moments for the audience and some sympathetic giggling.

The casting works. Michael and Thor are naive through their sheltered upbringing and young age and actors Parry-Jones and O’Donnell are very authentic in their roles. Tara Lee gives a captivating performance as Caitlin, although her questionable decision making and flirtatious nature make her a somewhat difficult character to comprehend. Personally I found this made her quite difficult to warm to, although perhaps the point of her role is more to provoke the boys and test their boundaries rather than to be a likeable character.

I would say Moon Dogs is a heartwarming, well written film that causes much amusement as the trio battle with the hardships of their journey and with growing up – as you do!

 

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Moondogs at the EIFF 2016 & at the British Films Directory

Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 17 June)