The announcement last week that KT Tunstall will host the Assembly Rooms’ Music Hall stage alongside fellow traveller Pictish Trail and local singer-songwriter Alannah Moar as part of this Saturday’s Burns&Beyond Culture Trail is a welcome addition to the four-hour compendium of Edinburgh city centre events. Presented by the capital’s long-standing promoters, Unique Events, the addition of Blue Rose Code, aka singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, will see Wilson bring a full band and string section to Greyfriars Kirk.
The presence of such major artists in Burns&Beyond’s three-week celebration of Robert Burns that also sees in Edinburgh Chinese New Year gives the programme a deservedly higher profile. Beyond any notions of starriness, however, one of the key things about the Culture Trail is its localism.
This is apparent across all stages that make up the Culture Trail, be it in the Gilded Balloon’s comedy line-up or the Chinese lanterns hanging in St Giles’ Cathedral, as well as those mentioned. Edinburgh’s various and numerous grassroots scenes are celebrated the most, however, across three stages that showcase some of the finest talent on our doorstep which audiences are encouraged to move between.
With more of an emphasis this year on George Street, where some of the city’s more elegant hidden venues reside, Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson’s long-standing spoken-word and music night Neu! Reekie! takes up an unlikely residence in Freemason’ Hall. Down the road in the Assembly Rooms Ballroom, meanwhile, just across the hall from where KT Tunstall is playing, Aidan O’Rourke of Lau curates the second edition of Lucky Middlemass’s Tavern.
With the Burns & Beyond Culture Crawl straddling both the capital’s Old and New Towns this year, the Liquid Room on Victoria Street will host The Leith Collective, a gathering of the clans presented by multi-tasking producer, singer, band-leader and DJ Joseph Malik. Malik will oversee proceedings alongside DJs Jo Wallace and the legend that is Ashley Beedle of Ramrock Records, who released Malik’s Diverse 2 album, as well as Stranger Things Have Happened, the all-star Edinburgh soundtrack created by Malik’s all-star ensemble, Out of the Ordinary.
After several successful shows over the last six months show of strength, The Leith Collective’s Liquid Room show will feature the massed ranks of the Easter Road Soul Band, vocalists Daniel McGeever and Einstein, as well as comedy raconteur Paul McNeill. Also performing will be the Burns-meets-Iggy-Pop-based super-group The Bum-Clocks, featuring actor Tam Dean Burn, his brother and Fire Engines and Boots for Dancing drummer Russell Burn, ex Josef K and Orange Juice guitarist Malcolm Ross, plus internationally renowned keyboardist Steven Christie.
The main focus for the Leith Collective’s Culture Trail extravaganza, however, will be on three very different female vocalists. Lynzie Dray, Rosanne Erskine and Becc Sanderson have all previously sung live with Out of the Ordinary, with Erskine and Sanderson having also appeared on Stranger Things Have Happened. With Malik’s backing, all three have joined the Ramrock roster. Sanderson and her Sextet have just released Bows to Bowie, an album of jazz versions of David Bowie songs, while Erskine and Dray will shortly be heard on singles released through the label.
“We’ve achieved so much with Out of the Ordinary over the last six months,” says Malik, “and this time out it’s about the three singers. They’re the best singers around right now, and we’re taking things to the next level.”
With Out of the Ordinary having recently played Neu! Reekie!, the Culture Trail line-up includes Williamson revisit his performance of Tam O’Shanter accompanied by high-flying contemporary dance troupe the Kixx Collective and musician Craig Lithgow. The event also sees Pedersen join forces with Davie Miller of electronic pioneers Finiflex/Tribe for a set commissioned by Andrew Weatherall for his Festival No. 6 event. The pair will be joined by Carla J. Easton, the Scottish Album of the Year shortlistee who has previously appeared at Neu! Reekie! with her band Teen Canteen as well as a solo artist. Headlining the Freemasons’ Hall is Stanley Odd, the Leith-based hip-hop squad playing their first full band show in two years.
“The cross-cultural relationship between hip-hop and poetry has always been important to Neu! Reekie,” says Pedersen. “Hip hop artists like Stanley Odd are leading an exploration of language in much the same way Burns did years ago, and I’d like to think if Burns was around today, he’d be doing something similar.
For Lucky Middlemass’s Tavern, designed to re-create and contemporise the atmosphere of an old Edinburgh speak-easy, O’Rourke has pulled together a line-up featuring poet Nadine Aisha Jassat and a raucous fusion of Irish and Scottish folk with Bluegrass presented by the Kinnaris Quintet. While the gorgeous strains of Rozi Plain will headline, a special mystery guest is also scheduled to appear. This fits in with the clandestine off-piste activity of a Jekyll and Hyde city like Edinburgh.
“An exciting hotbed of music, writing, scurrilous thought and late night activity,” is how O’Rourke sees the Lucky Middlemass’s Tavern concept. “It’s much more of a salon this year, and I think there’ll be things that come up as well about what’s going on politically in the world just now.”
Such activities have long been a part of Edinburgh’s unofficial culture over several centuries. With roots in the old Scot:Lands event programmed by Unique on New Year’s Day when they were programming Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events, the Burns&Beyond Culture Trail is arguably a reclaiming of culture at ground level.
Malik in particular is on a mission to gather up the creative forces already embedded in the city’s artistic life. For all three curators, this means bringing all artists home to roost, whatever the genre. As Malik sees it, “All my musical heroes live in my home town, and I get to play with them and hang out with them. We’ve got the post-punks, the jazzers and the techno kids, and what we’re doing is bringing every single aspect of Scotland’s music scene together.”
Burns&Beyond Culture Trail, various venues, Edinburgh, Saturday, 6.30pm-10.30pm.
The Herald, January 23rd 2020