Skip to main content

LAWHolt - Swallow

In the corner of a Leith Walk bar, Lauren Holt is sitting alone reading a book. The fact that the book is a short story collection by American writer Raymond Carver is telling about where this most extraordinary of Edinburgh-based singers comes from artistically. In Carver's short writing life, he produced a body of minimalist short stories that charted crucial everyday moments in small, unromantic lives.

Like Carver, the artist until recently known as Law has produced a series of dark, mood-laden vignettes that sound by turns strident and fragile, her vocal both timelessly soulful and other-worldly, wrapped up as it is in a dense mesh of beats and rhythms that fizz into murky life around her. The lo-fi video for her song, Hustle, is set in the sort of hotel room scenario that looks like it could be in the same neighbourhood where many of Carver's characters eke out their lives.

With such inherent drama in Holt's work, it's perhaps no surprise that the twenty-seven year old singer was asked to provide a soundtrack for the world premiere of Swallow, a brand new play by Stef Smith being produced by the Traverse Theatre for this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“I was really flattered to be asked,” says Holt, with her book of Carver on the table in front of her. “To be involved in something like that in this early stage of my career, I was really pleased. I don't really know anything about theatre, so I thought I'd consider it, because I thought it would be a good thing to learn about and try and get into. Then I read Stef's script and I thought it was beautiful.

“Speaking of Raymond Carver, I thought it was so sad and so beautiful, and the themes really need to be addressed, the themes about the strange person and the beautiful person and the people inbetween. Everything at the minute, everyone's trying to convince themselves that everything's fine and that everyone's beautiful and that we're all great and are all having sex all the time, but it's really not like that.”

Having broken through into the theatre world with her script for multiple award-winning sex-trafficking based play, Roadkill, Smith is no stranger to emotional intensity. In what sounds like a very Carveresque scenario, Swallow finds her taking a close-up of modern life through the eyes of three women who find each other's lives becoming entwined with each other in a morass of connection, betrayal, isolation and heartbreak.

“We've put a whole body of music together which I put down on a four-track in my flat after I read the script,” Holt says. “It'll have a lo-fi feel, which I think will suit the writing, which has a real simplicity to it.

“You know what I like about the theatre?” Holt asks in a rush of words punctuated by a warm laughter that belies her sometimes steely onstage presence. “It's one of the only examples in modern life where women really are being taken seriously. People go there and they do it, Stef's taken seriously when she's speaking to the director, and I'm like, yeah, man, this is how artists should be treated and pushed forward. It's important. At this stage in my career, we all have our insecurities, but because Stef comes from that theatre world, she took me seriously and said she'd like me to do this, and a lot of people don't. I've got a day job, and it's two different worlds, you know, and a lot of the time that other world doesn't care what you do or even know about it.”

Holt's involvement in Swallow stems from Smith hearing her play at a gig organised by her partner, and subsequently writing Swallow to a soundtrack culled from songs from two EPs that can be heard on Holt’s Soundcloud page. The melancholy noir of Hustle particularly stood out for Smith.

“She said it was the rhythm and the mood of it,” says Holt, “and that the writing poured out of her when she was listening to it. That was the first thing I ever did as Law, and it seems to have taken on a life of its own. I can't really remember writing it. It was written fast, in like half an hour or something, and when Stef said that to me I was like, Wow. I think about all the artists that I'm excited by or think about when I'm writing things, and to think that someone like Stef was listening to my songs and being inspired by it, that's amazing.”

Originally from Leicester, Holt started singing aged sixteen after joining in a class that ran alongside a dance class she was already attending. The teacher running the class encouraged her to take singing seriously, and she started playing open mic nights. With early influences including Destiny's Child and Eryka Badu, hearing Amy Winehouse opened Holt up to another world.

“All the hairs on my neck went up,” she says. “Jesus Christ, I'd never heard a voice like that, and from there I went backwards. In the CD sleeve there was a small picture of her CDs, and I went and bought them, and started listening to Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, and then instrumentalists like Monk and Mingus. It was important to me, hearing all that.”

Holt decamped to Liverpool for university, where she started playing jazz gigs and singing “anywhere that would have me.” She moved to Edinburgh five years ago, working a low-key pub circuit and and joining a ska tribute band. She eventually came into contact with Young Fathers, the Mercury Music Award and Scottish Album of the Year winners with whom she shares management and has become kindred spirits with.

Up until recently Holt frequently sang live with Young Fathers, but is now in the midst of recording an album of her own. Such dedication to her work may be undercut by self-effacing charm, but there is a raw openness to her voice that sits so well with Smith's work.

Holt is conscious of the hard work ahead of her, as well as how women can be treated in the music industry. She quotes from the magazine of the Performing Rights Society, the organisation which oversees songwriters royalties.

“It said that only thirteen per cent of women are PRS members.” she says, shocked at such a statistic. “That means that just thirteen per cent of women are songwriters. It's only when you hear something like that when you think, 'Oh, God, well maybe I am a bit of a rarity', and so is Stef,” she says, returning to Swallow.

“Swallow's really important for women,” Holt says, “both for Stef as an artist and for the things the play is about. I think it's a really brave thing what she's done with the script, to really put herself out like that. It's honest.”

Swallow, Traverse Theatre, Aug 7-30, various times.
www.traverse.co.uk
www.soundcloud.com/lawholt

The Herald, August 13th 2015

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

Nomanslanding

Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …

Kraftwerk

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars

A flying saucer orbits over Edinburgh Castle before landing outside the Usher Hall. That's the story anyway according to the animated visuals for this 3D extravaganza from the original electronic boy band. Whether the alien craft is responsible for depositing the over-excited stage invader who briefly manages to jump aboard mid-set isn't on record. The four men of a certain age lined up hunched over fairy-lit consoles and sporting LED laced Lycra outfits as they pump out their hugely influential back-catalogue of retro-futuristic electro-pop remain oblivious.

There is nevertheless a sublime display of humanity on display. The quartet of Ralf Hutter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Falk Grieffenhagen lend a surprising warmth to compositions given fresh pulse by the state of art visual display. While the band stand stock still at what appears to be a set of old-school keyboards, sound and vision are in perpetual motion. This is the case whethe…