Counterflows Festive Soiree: Aine O’Dwyer, Bill Wells and Usurper, The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, 20 December 2019


Counterflows’ mini-series here in Edinburgh continued last Friday with a festive-themed musical triptych. Pre-event, someone in The Queen’s Hall bar was overheard saying regarding the evening’s experimental music programme, “Even if it’s bad, it’ll still be good”. OK, so it was me that said that, however I’d wager that three hours later most of the grinning audience would agree that this had turned out to be an evening of uniformly first-rate experimental music.

First up was ‘unsung hero,’ multi-instrumentalist and experimentalist Bill Wells, presenting his ‘Winter Dreams’ amongst other short but sweet pieces. Opening with Danielle Price’s slow promenade past the seated audience, playing solo tuba, later Wells’ gentle harmonising on piano with soft, minimalist singing by three vocalists, felt reflective and sad. So too did his greatly slowed down, minor key version of ‘Jingle Bells’, turning this tune into one of the loveliest versions this reviewer has ever heard. A contrast was his dry wit (“I hate Jingle Bells!”) and the final, delightfully dense mash-up of multiple popular Christmas songs which felt overwhelming, much as the festive season can feel nowadays.

An evening of contrasts, second on was Irishwoman Aine O’Dwyer’s intriguing ‘Action tracker mimes’. Presented by the The Glad Scratch Choir, a community choir from Glasgow’s version of Café OTO, The Glad Café, this was a long but enjoyable piece, which as is typical for O’Dwyer, made the most of the considerable performance space. The strong opening found most of the ten-person choir standing with their backs to the audience, scrutinizing us in small hand-held mirrors. Over a slowly undulating vocal drone, the audience and hall became a part of the piece, as singers took turns to comment on who or what they could see in their mirrors. Another highlight was ‘Sleigh bells descending’ when the choir, singing above us in the gallery, dropped tinkly bells onto the floor beside us.

An engrossing evening was rounded off by Edinburgh’s own Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson, also known as Usurper. Entitled ‘The 3 Year Old Hamster’ their absurdist piece had no discernible hamster references. Instead an industrious zentai-suited assistant repeatedly brought parcels to the lads, the household objects and junk inside of each then used to create occasionally harmonious and always interesting music, some might pedantically say, “music”. But to differentiate thus is to quibble, as Usurper’s cunning plan seems to be to make music-making less the sole purview of experts. Finally, their bottle caps and cafetière plungers were scattered on each table, with which the initially mildly perplexed audience quickly took to creating some rather cool sounds. The merrymaking ended only when most noticed that Usurper had in fact left the hall.

This was an evening of cheering creativity, with gently provoking and diverse, mostly locally-generated pieces. The opposite of a stereotypical Christmas show, most striking of all was that it all felt enormous fun.

Underlining the wide coverage of this festival a third Counterflows event coming to Edinburgh on Friday 31 January 2020 presents Joe McPhee with Decoy, with support from Elaine Mitchener. Should be a blast.









The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in concert with Jazzmeia Horn, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Sunday, November 24, 2019

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Within the first few minutes of opening Standard, ‘I Remember You’, liberally enhanced by Jazzmeia Horn’s scat and wittily inventive vocalese, the tone was set for what was an extraordinary, almost jubilant-feeling concert.

Continued here: 



Counterflows: Beatrice Dillon & Guests The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland November 2019

Since 2012, Counterflows has brought experimental and underground music into focus in Glasgow, and this winter it is Edinburgh’s turn to benefit, with three Counterflows events planned. The first of these, last Saturday at former church, The Queen’s Hall, was well attended, no doubt thanks to Counterflows’ reputation, as well as well as to Creative Scotland’s subsidy which kept the entrance price low.

The mostly but not exclusively youthful underground music fans, perhaps facilitated by the mid-set ice-cream, apparently soon dismissed any possible pre-conceptions about the venue, and embraced the place’s great acoustics and the evening’s varied programme.

Opening with a DJ set from locals Tim Fraser and Ailie Ormiston, their low-key and interesting offering was an engaging start to the evening.

Next up was London’s Café OTO stalwart, Oxford-based jazz pianist of distinction, Pat Thomas. His 30-minute set was a thing of beauty, to this listener encapsulating a Cecil Taylor-style creative brilliance with Oscar Peterson pulchritude. Graceful, intelligent and apparently entirely improvised, another hour of this would have been welcomed by many.

A second highlight was Porto and Edinburgh-based drummer Paul Abbot and electronic musician Rian Treanor, whose highly integrated slow-build set entranced. An impressive showing, especially considering this was their first collaboration.

Headliner, London-based artist and musician, Beatrice Dillon, known for her interest in the intersection of bass music, house and experimental music, was reportedly here for her first live set ever in Scotland. The trancey style hit the sweet spot for the rhythmically swaying audience.

This initiative was a great success (indeed, what’s not to like: experimental music; in a church; ice-cream; beer..)  Let’s hope that Counterflows can find the ongoing funding to bring its excellent programmes eastwards on an annual basis.



Fergus McCreadie Trio, St James Scottish Episcopal Church, Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, 26 October 2019

20191027_175135The monthly jazz gigs at this north Edinburgh venue are becoming increasingly popular with locals, perhaps as the church hall setting acquires greater familiarity to a jazz-going audience. Of course, what matters most is that Jazz at St James is hosting, in this middle-sized concert space, some really excellent Scottish music.

Last month Bill Frisell – channelling Kevin McKenzie Trio was hosted here, whilst next month (on Saturday 16 November), piano – sax duo, New Focus Duo will re-visit with their lyrical jazz-classical.  Riches indeed.

But tonight it was the turn of the youthful Fergus McCreadie Trio (FMT) who played a lovely, mature – beyond – their – years set to a full house.

McCreadie composed most of the tunes tonight, other than an evolved piece by double bassist David Bowden, who was BBC Young Scottish Musician of the Year 2017, nowadays leader of energetic world music – jazz group, Mezcla.

Tonight’s concert consisted mostly of McCreadie tunes from the band’s 2018 award-wining debut album, TURAS, his signature Celtic jazz beginning as a still, small voice, gradually building to high-speed, thunderous climaxes before resolving serenely. The newest tunes – some as yet un-named and hopefully to appear on the next FMT album due out in early 2019 – were noticeably richer and no less melodious than the earlier ones.

To this listener there is a quintessential Scottishness to McCreadie’s compositions, related to the Celtic lyricism but also to the wide-ranging emotional intensity. The pianism is evolving fast and his much-vaunted star quality is emerging too in his band mates, Bowden and dynamic drummer Stephen Henderson. Already gigging overseas, this is a band well worth keeping an eye on.



Fergus McCreadie presents: Luca Manning with Laura Macdonald & Fergus McCreadie / Charlie Stewart & Fergus McCreadie, St Bride’s Centre, Edinburgh, Scotland, 19 October 2019


Last night as part of mini jazz fest ‘Gallus‘, a full house was treated to a beautiful airing of young singer Luca Manning‘s newly released debut album, When The Sun Comes Out.

A lovely mix of Standards, two pieces by Manning, one by Fergus McCreadie, a Joni Mitchell and the traditional Loch Lomond as encore, this felt like a milestone performance for the charismatic Manning who clearly has a successful career ahead of him. Stalwart alto saxophonist Laura Macdonald‘s accompaniments were perfectly judged, whilst McCreadie’s piano was occasionally a little loud but otherwise as ever, heaving with creativity.

The second half of the gig was reportedly a gift from McCreadie to himself, and had him duetting with old school-mate and friend, folk-jazz fiddler Charlie Stewart. Starting at slow – moderate tempo, the pair played Scottish traditional tunes, McCreadie at times briefly soloing off piste into some upper register jazz figures. The pace gradually picked up to stompingly rapid and soul-stirring fare.

Two excellent concerts for the price of one. Clearly Scottish music – jazz and traditional, and that interesting mix of both – is in rude health.