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Feature:

Hybrid Formations

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A meander on cultural confidence,

artistic boundaries, and non-city-based events

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by clare archibald

Music is more than the tune of moment or memory. It is also perhaps the most easily accessible and identifiable arts intersection of people and place, and the whirls of networks that configure around and through both. It is a cross-pollination. It carries seeds of many things, some not always apparent at the time. Perhaps a book is referenced but passes you by then someone later points out, for example, the Gertrude Stein words inherent to the music of Broadcast and you then go and read at source. Or maybe it was the well tested pop quiz answer of Camus, and The Cure’s Killing An Arab. There are many Venn diagrams to be drawn of words and music. This should perhaps be a review of the latest James Yorkston curated Tae Sup Wi’ A Fifer but is instead an unrepentant ramble through the crossed and uncrossed paths of where we end up when words, music and place combine.

Tae Sup Wi’ a Fifer is a seasonal set of music and spoken word gigs put together by singer songwriter, musician and author James Yorkston to enable “intimate performances and new musical discoveries” at the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy (pronounced Kircawdee). Kirkcaldy is an old linoleum factory town which lies at the corner of the Kingdom of Fife that edges round Scotland towards open North Sea. It is haunted by a high street that is more façade than reality, the crux of its fading existence appearing to depend on unease of parking, yet it still has these 180 seated pockets of optimism.

A review would tell you that at this 20th gig in the Tae Sup seasons (in existence since 2015), the room was packed with the combined heat of sold out and an air conditioning system that had been switched off due to electrical issues with the soundcheck. Boiling it was, and this perimenopausal woman who was there on her own – having begged a guest list ticket but no plus-one – was able to share a laugh about internal heating systems with the woman in front who had inadvertently ended up on her own (her companion who had driven her there from Glasgow to see headliner Justin Currie, having opted to wait after the first set in the café bar downstairs).

I would tell you that there were a lot of middle-aged men in the room who seemed pretty flushed with excitement to be seeing the former Del Amitri frontman up close like this. I’d acknowledge that I was pretty disinterested and had half expected myself to leave quietly before his set. I stayed, however, and had my assumptions subverted. They were admittedly based purely on my limited knowledge of Nothing Ever Happens and later seeing Justin stride somewhat self-knowingly down Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street in the early 90’s and were quietly deconstructed by his voice, multi instrumental playing and clearly highly skilful song-writing, and perhaps also by his verbalising that he was a wee bit nervous. I would tell you that James Yorkston said that his favourite thing was the unaccompanied voice as an introduction to Nell Ni Chroinin. Nell, from West Cork expertly sang both her own compositions and traditional folk ballads deeply rooted in the Beara Peninsula both in Irish and English, intersecting both with some audience singalong and foot tapping. I would probably devote a whole paragraph to how the brightness of the emergency light above the door annoyingly imposes regulation on a room that is always free roaming in its range. Perhaps comment on Yorkston, who makes it his thing to open the nights with a song, kicking off this one with a song written with his young son after a trip to the beach.

That’s not really why I was there though. I was there because of carparks and the Cocteau Twins and the omni-direction of the word support. I was there because a few years ago a friend happened to see Brigid Mae Power as a support act to one of their favourite musicians. They mentioned her to me and I checked out her music and liked what I found. More importantly when I read around what I listened to, she’d recorded her earlier work in a Galway carpark. She’d also been compared by critics to This Mortal Coil because of her dream like use of vocals as instrument in a manner akin to Liz Fraser’s inner found sounds. For me this was perfect serendipity as I was writing a piece about women being alone in carparks and had been thinking a lot about Liz and wordlessness and the shapes that reverberate from this. So, of course, I emailed Brigid and asked if she would answer some questions for me so that I could incorporate her recording experience and one of her tracks as an additional layer to my piece. She got back quickly with a ‘yes’ – despite not knowing me and being busy in America when I asked – and gave me her time, words, faith and good wishes. Shortly after the piece was published, Brigid, who lives in Galway on the West coast of Ireland, played two Scottish city dates, one in Glasgow, one in Stirling, but I couldn’t make them due to logistics of work, travel and money. So, until Tae Sup, I hadn’t heard her play live.

Brigid has the kind of voice that you want to hear live because it sounds so unworldly at times you perhaps feel subconsciously drawn to testing its real life authenticity. The vortex of oblique emotion that she can create, in an almost discordant rhythm with her playing, is both compelling and enigmatic and you want to be fully sucked in to the teetering but held whole space of it that only a live performance can do. So of course, I sent another electronic message, this time to James Yorkston, asking him if I could have a review ticket because the gig was now sold out as I couldn’t afford to buy when they first went on sale, and he went out of his busy way to check capacity and get back to me, a person he doesn’t know, with a ‘yes’.

There are many ways to interact, build confidence and wonder at others and online is obviously one of them but sometimes the actual physical doing is necessary and sometimes, for many reasons, that is not possible. In these days of hybrid forms and reduced boundaries vs increased barriers due to compressed funding streams, to have a non-city that provides city equated entertainment is sadly perhaps seen as a luxury. Yet to be both an artist/writer/musician and a punter is perhaps a necessity.

Between the written carpark and Kirkcaldy this October was a lot of life, words and confidence growing on and off the page, with and without music. Kirkcaldy isn’t a city, Fife doesn’t have a city. Cities operate culturally more than anywhere on networks; words and music nights are started and people put their friends on, their friends say they’ve done the night, add it to their bio, get another night, friends make friends at the nights, get put on at a night and so it goes; the city swirling around as the cultural epicentre of those who matter, even when those who matter equally have perhaps already been gentrified out, made invisible or simply never wanted in. How then do non-city dwellers find or make their chances to learn, enjoy and develop; how does cross pollination between the form of artist and punter occur? The answer I would argue is in non-city-based nights like Tae Sup, and literary equivalents like Untitled in Falkirk. In actually not telling people that to get ahead artistically that they have to hangout in city bars and at city-based networking events.

Between the carparks and Brigid performing songs from her second album, The Two Worlds, she wrote a MeToo blog post. What struck me, in addition to the horror & honesty of what she wrote, was that she said (on Twitter) that she’d worried about sharing her experiences prior to the MeToo movement partly on the basis that her opportunities as an artist might be diminished. This thought came back to me just before the Tae Sup gig when Brigid was publicly supportive of another Irish musician, Hilary Woods, who turned down an offer to play the Other Voices festival in Dingle in Ireland on the grounds that no fee was clearly offered despite the costs that would be incurred in playing. I watched the online debate with interest as many artists gave their opinion and experience as different to hers as if somehow believing that this had authority to negate hers. Words of parapets, consequences and exclusion were used. Acts of solidarity not to take people down but simply to stand with them and their choice and challenge the established facts of parapets and use words of equality not to boost profiles but to actually open access beyond territorial networks where people draw their own lines of what is acceptable to them. Lines of balance where the grids of words and music exchanged are open to personal negotiation in recognition of the fact that not all worth is always financial, and the nuance of value must be decided by the owner of the notes.

The words to songs of course matter and I was, if I’m honest, worried that Brigid’s MeToo post would diminish the oblique beauty of her songs with words of explanation, as for me, the wonder has been her ability to capture attention and emotion in only the suggested and non-specific. In Kirkcaldy though it was still possible to be awed by her singing and her propulsive piano, guitar and accordion playing in the in between spaces of words. Like her eponymous debut album, The Two Worlds is steeped in musical heritage but still comes across as instinctual and unique in its stretching, folding and holding of voice as both space and instrument.

James Yorkston said, I hope, truthfully, that he came across Brigid via a You Tube recommendation having watched a Lisa O’Neill video. This also is what makes Taesup special, Yorkston’s gathering of words to be sung on the road and in the background as he writes his own songs. No doubt with inclusion of friends but also with an openness to others. You could argue that Taesup should have a local’s spot, that it should have more female headliners to reflect its improving gender balance, all have valid cases to be made, but I also love how different parts of the world are brought back from travels to this unknown town in a kingdom that has no city. Brigid made reference to the Hibernian invasion with Lankum and Lisa O’Neill playing Glasgow on the same weekend, that Yorkston is able to offer a non-city-based strand to this is admirable and necessary on many levels not least word of mouth and role modelling. People outside of cities need to know they can still make things happen as both artists and punters on their own terms and in a pleasing touch Taesup were in fact commissioned to put on a night at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival in a cross pollination of place, words and music, also contributing to the nascent and perfectly named Outwith festival in Dunfermline.

People outside of everywhere but their own heads need to know that they can just ask and see what happens. That they can go just up the road and thank a stranger who took a leap of faith with them; to somewhere where artists stand behind their own merch stalls in emphasis of the fact that the physical and the real and yes, money, also matters. Where it can be acknowledged that asking for – or giving something – for nothing doesn’t mean you always give your words away for free or as reward. Where awkward conversations can be had because they are made possible by others who are us.

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Tae Sup continues on November 17th

with Roddy Woomble, Archie Fisher and Ora Cogan

Find details here

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Clare Archibald will be exploring the idea of female lone gig-going in Issue 2

of GoldFlakePaint’s physical journal – released January 2019

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