Edinburgh Festival Fringe audiences could be forgiven for thinking that the only contemporary music in town has a big red T in front of it. Because, while T On The Fringe’s populist programme has undoubtedly been packing them in, a raft of smaller events have created a little musical underground which is worth taking a serious look at.
Underbelly Live is an initiative set up by John Stout, music programmer at The Usher Hall. Taking its cue from the first ever Edinburgh Fringe music festival, Planet Pop, which blazed its trail at the recently demolished Cas Rock hostelry in the mid to late 1990s, and also from the more recent Tigerfest, Underbelly Live has presented gigs pretty much every night in the environs of the Underbelly’s Belly Dancer space. The last week alone has seen double bills of local talent and acts from further afield, including a revelatory set from Edinburgh’s St Jude’s Infirmary. Previously known for a largely shy and retiring take on black clad guitar noir that nods to everyone from The Velvet Underground to The Shop Assistants, after a couple of years on the circuit they would appear to have come out of their cocoon and discovered their inner diva.
Another highlight was the appearance of Thomas Truax, the goofy American troubadour, whose tales of the imaginary Wowtown are given an even more eccentric twist by the presence of his home made instruments, Sister Spinster, The Hornicator and The Stringaling. Looking like he’s escaped from an Edward Gorey drawing, Truax’s mini symphonies kicked up a back woods storm and interested parties should check out Truax’s releases on Edinburgh’s SL Records forthwith.
Supporting Truax was a live collaboration between Dawn Of The Replicants singer Paul Vickers and the more manic stylings of The Leg, formed from the ashes of Desc and Khaya, and featuring banjos, cellos and animal masks to accompany their quasi Brechtian mayhem.
Meanwhile, down at The Caves, former Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie presented two showings of Lumiere, the impressionistic light based film he accompanied with a live score of deliciously ethereal guitar washes. The third time Lumiere has been shown in Scotland, all were agreed that these heavily attended shows were the most accomplished to date.
More extreme fare has been on offer at Henry’s Cellar Bar, where three Sunday night Giant Tank Versus The Fringe shows were programmed. Trading on the burgeoning noise scene which exists in Edinburgh, promoters Giant Tank gave platforms to Brighton prog pastoralists Ashtray Navigations, who played an Indian raga based drone, while Towering Breaker served up a strangely beautiful set of shimmering intensity.
While all are agreed how, given Edinburgh’s dearth of small scale venues, how crucial Underbelly Live’s presence has been this year, it’s unlikely City of Edinburgh Council will sanction the Belly dancer as an all year round pace. Which is a shame.
The final two Underbelly Live shows take place this weekend. Tonight, not one but two Teenage Fanclub offshoots feature, as Attic Lights and The Primary Five share a double bill. On Sunday the tastefully named Arse 2 Mouth team up with Lazyhand for an infinitely noisier affair. The final Giant Tank Versus The Fringe show takes place at Henry’s the same night, with Parisian free rock duo Blue Sabbath Black Fiji heading a bill that includes Muscletusk, Playground Meltdown and Giant Tank houseband Usurper. All this action and not a red T in sight.
The Herald, August 2007