For many Fringegoers, rock’n’roll at the Edinburgh festivals consists of spilling out of a late night comedy club after a few sherberts and heckles. Even in its 75thanniversary year, the Fringe is still better known for its world-beating diet of theatre, comedy and circus than for embracing popular music, yet there are ample concerts and music-themed shows in this year’s programme, from bumper open air gatherings to tribute shows to cult artists.
On the latter front, one of the most intriguing offerings is Fata Morgana at the Pleasance at EICC, a new drama which is billed as “a hallucination from the mad sensational life of Nico”, the model and artist whose Teutonic alto graced some of the Velvet Underground’s saddest and sweetest songs from All Tomorrow’s Parties to I’ll Be Your Mirror.
Over thirty years of Fringe attendance, Pip Utton has written and performed one man shows about Charles Dickens, Charlie Chaplin, William Shakespeare, Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher. This year he portrays enigmatic musical legend Bob Dylan in a new play written by award-winning director John Clancy and directed by another noted Fringe face, David Calvitto.
Acclaimed actress Apphia Campbell returns with her searing Nina Simone show, Black Is the Color of My Voice, also at the Pleasance, and singer/songwriter John Edward Jones reprises the title role in Something About Simon – The Paul Simon Story at Assembly, which is this year paired with a new tribute, Something About George – The George Harrison Story, with West End performer Daniel Taylor in the role of the quiet Beatle.
This gentle mix of music and biography crops up in a number of shows at theSpace Venues, including The Nashville Story, The Fleetwood Mac Story, The Carole King & James Taylor Story and the Motley Crue Story, although we may just have made one of those up in vain hope…
For real-life back stage stories try Andy McLeod’s one man show Anoint My Head – How I Failed to Make it as a Britpop Indie Rockstar, at Just the Tonic. Based on the best selling memoir it’s the true story of how McLeod’s band The Pointy Birds failed to make it – despite sharing a stage with bands including Pulp, Radiohead and Blue.
If you would rather watch original artists performing straight(ish) gigs, head to Summerhall for a series of concerts, with highlights including Glasgow duo Sacred Paws (6 Aug), indie pop performer Honeyblood (11th), surf instrumentalists Los Bitchos (16th), Welsh wonder Cate Le Bon (17th), Norwegian folktronica artist Jenny Hval (18th) and the alt.pop joys of Tune-Yards (24th).
Dundee-based electronica artist Su Shaw, aka Shhe, presents a more soothing, immersive experience with multiple outings across the Fringe of her audio-visual installation D Ý R A, which was inspired by a field trip to Dýrafjörður in the Westfjords of Iceland and is intended to evoke the calming aura of that rich coastal landscape for a small audience lying supine on yoga mats.
In contrast to Summerhall’s female-dominated musical programme, the line-up of Edinburgh Summer Sessions at the Princes Street Gardens bandstand is an overwhelmingly male affair, kicking off with mellow soul man Michael Kiwanuka (8th Aug), the slick funk, jazz and soul pop of Simply Red (9th), two nights of the irrepressible Tom Jones (10th/11th), concluding with the thoughtful Scotpop of Travis (14th. Simple Minds have added a second night on 13thAugust at which they will celebrate the 40thanniversary of their epic breakthrough album New Gold Dream and raise funds for UNICEF’s work with children in Ukraine.
The Summer Sessions have proved controversial in previous years, due to restricted access to Princes Street Gardens for non-gigging members of the public, and the huge hoardings which have blocked views, not just of the Gardens but also the Castle for those on a Princes Street evening meander, but they undeniably attract a new audience to the Fringe.
The same promoters are doubling down this year with the return of the Connect Festival, which now takes place on the final weekend of the Fringe at Ingliston’s Royal Highland Centre with a left-of-centre line-up including The Chemical Brothers, Mogwai, The National, Self Esteem, Idles, Little Simz, John Grant and Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler, while Rage Against the Machine warm up the site on 24thAugust.
Whether or not these large scale concerts will have that elusive Fringe spirit remains to be seen but it’s safe to say that the returning Pianodrome venue, built entirely from repurposed pianos and this year sited in the atmospheric Old Royal High on Calton Hill, will provide a more singular sonic experience with free lunchtime concerts every day at 1pm and a full Pianodrome Live programme every evening from 9pm throughout the Fringe.
A particular highlight of the Pianodrome programme is Tales of Transatlantic Freedom by Andrea Baker of Sing Sistah Sing, which takes in musical styles from opera to blues and explores the links between Scottish traditional music and gospel.
The Edinburgh International Festival, meanwhile, maintains its commitment to a strong contemporary music programme under outgoing artistic director Fergus Linehan, with Leith Theatre once again the hub for a diverse line-up encompassing New York rapper Princess Nokia (17thAug), spoken word artist Kae Tempest (20th), Americana singer/songwriter Lucy Dacas (25th), indie rock’n’roller Ezra Furman (23rd), local heroes Arab Strap (19th) and Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer Aroof Aftab (21st) while Sons of Kemet (14th) and Jeff Mills (11th) serve up fusion jazz odysseys to take your brain to another dimension and everyone bows down to electronic jazz pioneer Herbie Hancock who makes his Edinburgh Festival debut aged 82 at the Playhouse on 7thAugust.