Jen and the Gents-Fringe Review-Sam & Gavin Khan-Mcintyre,Edinburgh Reporter

SAM_0300Up and coming young Edinburgh band, Jen and the Gents, formed in 2010, and have constantly been gigging around the city since, their big break may finally be on the horizon with a performance at the opening of the Fringe at the BBC Potterrow venue. The concert is due to be televised at the end of the month.

The band comprises of Jennifer Ewan who sings and plays guitar, her partner Stuart Crout, otherwise known as Pockets, who plays the drums and sings harmony, Martin Beer, who plays bass guitar and double bass, and Lewis Diamond who also plays guitar.

The concert at the Spiegeltent earlier on the 19th of August, found Jen with her strong voice in excellent form, which she said was the result of a lot of practice. Beer was playing double bass, as the venue had wanted an acoustic set. Jen, a petite brunette with long wavy hair was centre stage, with the toes of her shiny red heels peeping out from under her trousers. Pockets’ long blonde hair stood out as he sat behind the drums, occasionally looking towards the audience. Diamond in his top hat preferred to stand back and focus on his guitar. The venue was packed out, with all sorts of people enjoying a drink while watching the band.

The upbeat and melodically mesmerising songs, sung with a convincing aplomb and described as indie pop, are insightful on varied topics such as life events, relationships, and places, for instance Portobello and its beach, and Suzie’s diner. Otherwise they may be reflections on the way conventional life is lived, such as in relation to owning a new car or Sky TV. from the point of view of an unconventional lifestyle. Jen has a varied taste in music, but folk influences can also be detected. This led to a recent interview with Celtic Music Radio.

The Edinburgh reporter caught up with them after the gig, as they divided their spoils from album sales, before heading off to lunch in a Sushi bar. Happy with the way the gig had gone, they talked about their distinctly un-rock and roll lifestyle, with the preferred drink of choice being tea. They also discussed their aims and ambitions for the future.

This looks promising, as Jen, who also manages the band, said she received an email from the BBC with an invitation to play at their Fringe venue. The BBC had been scouting for local talent and discovered their website.

Although the band harbours modest aims for success, Jen said: – “I don’t want to be famous”. Their ideal gig would be busking at Glastonbury, and they are aspiring to tour some of “nice” Scottish festivals. They have previously performed at Kelburn, and loved its pretty grounds, which were she said: – “a change from other festivals”.

They have played various venues in Edinburgh, with The Bowery being their favourite, and also the Forest Cafe.  Their favourite Festival venue is the Meercat Stage on the Royal Mile, due to the crowds and atmosphere. They most enjoy performing on the street, in the open air.

Her lyrics she said are based on life experiences and an outlet  to express her emotions, such as happiness or otherwise. She said: -“It’s like looking back in a diary”. Within each song, though written in the past, she often finds new meaning as she sings, these are she said: “relevant to my life in new ways”.  It seems like a cathartic process. Jen is currently working on a couple of new songs, for which the melodies have been written. She said: -”I need to write the lyrics, which I am looking forward to”.

Due to Jen’s role as manager it is difficult to find the time to write, because she said: -“I’ve been busy booking the gigs…I need new songs”. She has been she said: – “doing a lot of media promotion and making contacts with industry people about gigs…It would be lovely to have a manager who did it all for us”. For the band making enough money from it to be able to afford to tour and make a living from would be ideal.

During the writing process, Jen usually writes the music first, which can often just come to her. She then works on the lyrics, after which she takes it to the band, who through jamming sessions find their own parts and vocal harmonies. This part of the process is the most enjoyable for all, and when the song comes together.

Jen and the Gents formed in 2010 out of a band called  The Tuberians, a Cajun outfit, which she joined  in 2008,  and played in together with Pockets. They met and played at the now defunct Suzie’s Diner. This had been a venue for local bands, and where they were also fed and watered for free. Originally from Ayrshire, Jen began her performance career in youth theatre, before finding her voice.

The band has a performers’ pass for the festival, paying a license fee of £30. This enables them to attend talks and workshops. So far Pockets, also a music producer, has briefly attended only one event, a talk on circus acts. He said he had the idea of playing the Ukulele and juggling at the same time. Let’s hope the hard work pays off, and they acheive their ambitions

For more information on upcoming gigs, visit their website at

http://www.jenewan.co.uk/,

or their Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/jenandthegents

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Tradfest: The Story of Scotland’s Creation

Cailleach's house. credit Catriona MurrayThe audience at this Tradfest event learned how Scotland came to be formed in the new telling of the 3,000 year old myth of the Cailleach, or old hag,  who, it is believed, created Scotland.  The storytellers brought the tale to life through wonderful narration, bright costumes and traditional music.

Taking place at the Storytelling Centre, the myth was narrated by Janis McKay and David Campbell. The hour-long performance was accompanied by renowned traditional Scottish musician Allan MacDonald.   The performers’ aim is for the story to become part of the ‘yes’ campaign on Scottish Independence. Their inspiration came from the Finnish Creation Myth, Kalevala, which helped Finland’s  independence from  Russia .

Janis McKay took centre stage looking dramatic in a flowing floor length turquoise gown, embroidered with Celtic designs. After an introduction to the evening, she explained how the story was put together through research and with guidance from Campbell. He was fittingly resplendent in traditional highland costume, complete with a bright yellow shirt and red necktie, costumes which set the atmosphere for the night’s theme. Campbell narrated the story alongside Mackay, also taking the part of the male role of the young prince.

She then introduced MacDonald, describing him as a “wonderful musician”, to which he replied “And she’s an awful woman!” to roars of laughter from the audience made up of people of all ages and cultures, and with the theatre full to capacity.

The stage was now set for a light-hearted and entertaining evening, as the audience settled down in expectation, and the lights dimmed. In fact, MacDonald, from his place at the side of the stage, did indeed transpire to be a wonderful musician, evoking a sense of Scotland’s natural beauty. Painting a picture of the mist over the mountains and scenic lochs through several traditional instruments. These included the smallpipes, Jew’s harp and malodoan, with Campbell weaving music into the storytelling with an obvious talent and skill.

MacKay began the narration of the tale by explaining how the story of the hag Cailleach unfolded. We learned how she had been living and working in Finland, when she came across the work of Elias Lonnrot, who had gathered and wrote a creation myth for the country in the 19th Century. She said:- ”While I was there I asked what is the Scottish original myth?” She then started to do research into  this, and explained:-  “I was guided by David Campbell, and we found this Earth Cailleach figure. What you will hear has been rescued from many tales, but the words are our own.”

She also completed the story’s setting for us, about a place called Glen Lyon in Perthshire, which is very isolated from anywhere. Here , she said: – “The Cailleach’s little house, about four feet tall, still stands”. Campbell explained that this was where the shrine to the Caillieach (meaning old woman in Gaelic) is maintained. This has been taken outside the house and left to stand in the air for the summer until the arrival of winter, or Samhain.

She said this is  a “tribute to the goddess,” and the “longest continuing ritual in Europe” from ancient times. Until very recently, it was carried out by a shepherd, and is now carried out by the local historical society.

We were then transported into another world  as the story progressed over the next forty- five minutes, with a genuinely infectious  sincerity and passion. This enabled the suspension of disbelief and a childlike entry into the magical world of gods and goddesses, princes, hags and strange creatures and beautiful beings.

The theme, as in the billed title, was creation. The tale of how Scotland emerged from a wasteland where there was once nothing, when the Callieach, described as “the mother goddess and creation of this land” came into being. She made “the first and ancient rock of her beloved Caledonia” which was claimed to be Iona. The story documents how she created each aspect of the country, the islands when “she gathered peats and carried them on a creel on her back. She fell, and the clods scattered, creating the islands”, mountains, the lakes and streams, were also made.

Described as “the hag of winter”, she was not ready to lose her grip on the land, when one night her alter ego, Bride, the goddess of spring, came into existence, through a dreamlike vision.  Bride threatened to uproot the Cailleach’s cold supremacy her with her youthful beauty.

For Bride, flowers and grass grow everywhere she walks.  The Cailleach becomes inflamed, and therefore dresses her in rags, enslaves, then imprisons her, “but her beauty never fades”. Angus Og, the prince of the eternally youthful and green land of Tir Na Nog, sees what is happening in a dream and sets off towards Bride.

The Cailleach then washed her plaid, and to dry it out, threw it over the mountaintops, coating the land in ice and darkness.  She sees a beautiful young face in her well, perhaps a younger version of herself. The prince soon arrives, and a battle ensues. He tells her:- “Begone, begone, your time has come”, portraying the eternal struggle between life and death.

The Cailleach had no intention of growing old gracefully, but is finally defeated and driven away to her isle in the west.  She eventually comes to realise what she has become, when she speaks to the tide about “how she is no longer mighty.”

The story ends when Bride then “took the outstretched hand of Angus and walked into the living Earth”, and flowers grew behind their footsteps.

With regard to the ‘yes’ campaign,  Campbell spoke to The Edinburgh Reporter explaining the nationalist aim for the story.  He explained:-  “The Finnish story was part of the thing which galvanised the sense of belonging, that traditional independence lives in the heart and spirit of the people.”

He continued:- “We aim to support the ‘yes’ campaign where we can through performances for example at the Edinburgh Fringe. The tale spreads a sense of the legend and story of people, and if people get that strong feeling, then that belongs to our destiny.”

“You can gather people’s support in elections or “win by poetry” as its beautiful sense speaks to the heart, spirit and imagination, but once the support is there, you rule by prose.”

For more information, visit:

http://www.daviddcampbell.co.uk/about-me.htm

http://www.janismackay.com/about-me/

Photos courtesy of Mike Wilkinson and Catriona Murray

Tradfest: Lore of the Land

Sam Khan-McIntyre published in Edinburgh Reporter on April 30 2013.

Link: http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2013/04/tradfest-lore-of-the-land/

Folklore Tapes Night. Rob St _JohnA night of folk music with a modern interpretation, as well as a talk on field recordings was brought together by Folklore Tapes. This is an ongoing project of documentation and collaboration of experimental audio and visual responses to different themes within folklore.

As part of Tradfest, the festival of traditional arts currently taking place, this event was held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Tom Western, a PhD student on field recording in Post-war Britain, began proceedings with a presentation to a full auditorium of 99, mainly young people.

Three diverse folk music acts followed the talk. First on stage were Ian Humberstone and Malcolm Benzie, with an intriguing tale set to modern and traditional instruments.   Iona Magnetic were next on stage, mixing folk stories with electronic music techniques and improvisation. Finally, the evening ended with Rob St. John, originating from Lancashire, with his band incorporating a more classical set up.

As the lights dimmed, and the audience hushed in expectation, Western took the stage and began with a 30 minute presentation on the authenticity of this type of field audio. Such recordings are produced outside a studio, and can feature natural sounds, or musicians and storytellers in their own surroundings. These began as an aid to research work,  and then used for documentary purposes.

Western first attempted to define the folk genre, when he said:-  “It’s hard to define but the borders between folk and pop music are seen as being opposites. Folk music has dealt with technology by embracing it and its effects.”

Western focused on the process of folk recording as “models of authenticity”, and related the difference between true and false recordings, and the way field recordings are placed in this context. He also explored the supposed authenticity of recordings since the Second World War, particularly  whether technology really adds legitimacy. Western explored the media’s role, and its commercial aims. He explained:- ”These are relevant issues because reproduction and recreation of the recordings contribute to the corruption of authenticity. This can also lead to distortion and fragmentation of the original sound.”

Ian Humberstone and Malcolm Benzie were next to appear, with the tale of esteemed witch, Mariann Voaden, who in the  late 19th century offered magical remedies, predictions  and fixing of curses. Mariann lived in a derelict house in Bratton, Devon, until it eventually fell apart and burned down. The house’s decay, and the effects of this on Mariann were themes in the music.

The traditional instrument, the harmonium, lent a core authenticity to the thirty minute piece, while adding a new interpretation due to the inclusion of the modern instruments, the violin and cymbals. These all combined to create an eerie and atmospheric sound, with a sinister and dark, slow deep haunting melody.  We could imagine Mariann deep in the dark woods in that house which is creaking and groaning with a life of its own.

Iona Magnetic, a band comprising David Orphan from Iona along with Alexander Borland had only decided to play the festival two weeks ago, and despite only one rehearsal of their 30-minute set under their belt, despite which their sound was still very professional.

Their first tale was called “The Fishermen and the Fairy Mound”. This folk tale is of two fishermen coming home in bad weather when they encounter the fairy queen going past Sithean Beg (the little fairy mound). She beguiles one of them and takes him away. His friend pleads every night with the fairies for his release, until finally a year later the queen consents to the fisherman’s return in exchange for his catch as ransom.

The band incorporated old and new instruments, cassettes, abstract films and field recordings in the local tongue to create a whole multimedia experience.  The backdrop film was an abstract in black and white. The 8mm film had been left in water to coat it in algae, which created an interesting effect and was played in vintage mode.

The cracking and hiss in the film’s audio indicated traditional materials and old recordings. The field recordings from Iona of wind and waves crashing, signified the fisherman’s doom, but the birdsong allowed us some hope. These also added authenticity to the piece and created an effect of the tale’s otherworldliness.

The ukulele as well as manipulated cassette players, mixed traditional and modern, bringing the piece into the present and indicating the evolution of folklore.

The darkness of harmony and broken melody were hypnotising in the dark auditorium, leading us to believe in the fairy queen and her beguiling. The slow tempo included sudden crashes and bangs, but the ukulele melody provided lightness towards the end as the danger decreased as the fisherman was rescued from the other world and returned home to the sound of the xylophone.

The second tale was about Netta Fornario. Netta went to Iona in 1929 with the intention of living there, and also further her occult studies as member of the group Alpha and Omega. This was part of the Order of the Golden Dawn, who were involved in astral projections and who performed magical rituals in the woods. Netta was found dead in these woods in dubious circumstances, perhaps as part of a ritual. She was discovered on top of a large cross carved in to the ground, along with a dagger and a blackened cross, which Western explained as “all very strange and arcane”.

The background film of decay contributed to the dark and sinister atmosphere. It was made on Super 8 film coated in dead insects and incorporated field recordings of a voice telling the story in tongues, as if from the past.

The incessant instrumental beat signified Netta’s heartbeat, and the twanging ukulele signified her move to the Scotland that she loved. The field recordings of wind and waves crashing show her doom, as the music became eerie and dangerous. It was as if Netta was running, scared. The music speeding up, with bangs, and the screen turning red, signified her death on the cross. It ended with a sinister recorded voice talking of how she was found.

When asked about his inspiration for the piece, Orphan said: – “I guess because The Fisherman and the Fairy Mound is a local story that I can relate to, as that was where I walked past a lot and the menfolk raced horses around it on a midsummer eve. It was a leftover from a pagan tradition. The piece is not done in a uniform way. The soundtrack is done in our way, keeping the same thing alive, but differently.”

Rob St. John with his band were the final headlining act, his set included the release of his new 7″ single Charcoal Black, with the b- sides The Bonny Grey/ Shallow Brown. Charcoal Black is a traditional Lancastrian melody from 1905, about the Industrial Revolution and crumbling mill towns contrasted with green fields. This is a ballad sung with energy and conviction, with the vocalist adding to the drama with his impressive stage presence and energy which made the music come to life.

“Shallow Brown” is a sad, haunting piece about the death of a loved one, Juliana; is a West Indian sea shanty from 1908; and an affiliation to slave ships on the port of Sunderland Point in Lancashire in the 1700s. The band has a modern set-up, with an electric guitar,  the moog and drums accompanying traditional folk songs. St. John said: – “I feel we’re on an exciting learning curve, with brand new songs recorded last year. These are traditional songs but reinterpreted. This is a wonderful space, brilliant sound and lovely people, I can’t ask for much more.” Judging by the applause at the end, they did themselves and the venue justice.

The event was part of Tradfest, a festival of traditional Scottish arts. This runs in Edinburgh between 24 April to 6 May at various venues. It is part of the celebrations for Mayday or Beltane, the traditional start of summer. The festival encompasses music, song, storytelling, dance, crafts, folk drama and celebrations of the environment. The festival is based on previous festivals such as the Edinburgh People’s Festival and the International Folk Festival.  Events included are to suit all tastes, including families and children.