It’s a year for anniversaries at the Fringe. On Saturday morning I ate cake to celebrate the Pleasance’s 30th, and last night downed a beer or two in honour of the Acoustic Music Centre’s 10th year of doing, well, exactly what it says on the flyers.
A home for acoustic music in all its many and varied forms, from the Celtic ceilidh of Feis Rois tonight through the witty and inspiring Burns for Beginners to music from Canada, Australia and the breathtaking marriage of cultures that is Nordic Raga. Not to mention plays from China and the one-woman off-Broadway hit Mata Hari in 8 Bullets.
So I decided that taking in some of the opening night’s performances would be as good a way as any to get a feel for the scope of the programme. And it turned out to be a good move. Three very different acts, none of whom were particularly well known in this part of the world, but all with something distinctive to offer.
Ecouter Ensemble, a Canadian/American trio featuring flute, cello and piano have an admirable attitude to their music, playing what they love, ignoring boundaries and genre-hopping freely in a set that featured Astor Piazzolla’s “Adios Nonino” alongside a wistful take on Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” and dazzling treatments of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Unsquare Dance”. Equally at home in a jazz club or classical concert hall, they deserve the attentions of a wider audience, and hopefully on future visits they will play more than just the London/Edinburgh/Dublin dates on this tour.
Montreal singer-songwriter and ukulele player Monika Cefis played her UK debut gig last night, and came across as warm, charming and not a little bit scatty – she almost wound up the show half an hour early, due, I understand, to not having read her contract too thoroughly. This led to a slight imbalance in her set, but she recovered well and threw in a few cover versions – whether or not the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” played on a ukulele is the oddest cover I hear this festival remains to be seen, but it must be a contender. She has a strong voice and a good delivery, and is at her best when she gives her imagination free rein on “Gooseberry Pie” “Interstellar Time Bandits” and “The Waltzing Dead” (If I was a zombie would you still invite me over?) One to watch.
Sitara Acoustic, Australian sisters Erin and Tess Fowler, are more usually frontwomen for a band back home, but here it was just the two of them. Great vocal harmonies with backing from Erin’s guitar and Tess on occasional piano proved that they are more than capable of doing it for themselves.Some very good original songs too, from the opener “Oh Mama” and single “In the Water” to the memorable “Glass Table” and “Surrender to Sin”. It was the powerful, soulful vocals that swept the gig along, though, and full marks for a triumphant version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” that not many people could pull off.