+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)