Sunday night saw a successful final instalment of one of Scotland’s most innovative creative projects.
The volunteer-run Hidden Door collective specialises in revamping disused and often derelict buildings into bustling multi-arts venues. Now in its fourth year, the space chosen to receive the festival’s kiss of life this time is the decaying Leith Theatre. Once a stalwart of the Edinburgh International Festival in the 1960s, the venue, which first opened in 1932, also played host to bands like AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and Mott the Hoople down the years.
In what was surely a massive blow to the city’s arts scene, similar to the despair after the recent closures of Studio 24 and Electric Circus, the theatre ceased operation in 1988 and has been a refuge to Edinburgh’s pigeon population since. But now, thanks to the enthusiasm, hard work and perseverance of Creative Director, David Martin and his volunteers, this majestic space is once again open to the public.
After a ten-day run packed with spoken word, music, art, theatre and cinema, the closing night was always going to be a special occasion. As teatime approaches, the smell of fresh seafood and other delights from the stalls outside waft through the grand entrance as attendees get their last peek at the various art installations situated in the maze above and below the theatre’s grand circle. A short while later the audience eventually converge in the main hall as the wondrous tones of Song Yuzhe fill the vast Art Deco space.
Hailing from North East China, Yuzhe is the founder of musical ensemble, Dawanggang. The group combine nomadic Chinese song with Yuzhe’s acquired taste for rock ‘n’ roll. Switching between electric guitar and what appeared to be an instrument akin to a banjo, Yuzhe creates a heady soundscape, aided by the impressive visuals and the oddness of the percussion on the backing track.
Next to sit beneath the crest of Leith which is adorned in plaster on the proscenium arch at the rear of the stage is Scottish Album of the Year winner, Kathryn Joseph. Perched at a vintage looking standup piano, Joseph’s light arpeggios reverberate off the peeling walls as hush descends. Her penetrating vocals reach even those sitting high up in the heavens as her angelic delivery cuts through with clarity.
“I’m feeling very very lucky” says Joseph with a tremble before she sails into another number from 2014’s ‘Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled’ album. The audience are in definite agreement with her sentiments as her pained vibrato is soaked up by this historic space. With a final gasp, a beaming smile and a strike of the piano, Joseph skips off stage and we await the finale.
The brainchild of Jack Nissan, the Tinderbox Orchestra formed in 2010 as a small community orchestra with a different outlook to most. The vision was there from the start and over the past seven years the group has expanded to encompass charity, social enterprise and a range of youth arts programmes. The collective enables youngsters with disabilities and those without access to musical opportunities to get in a room with others who want to play. The result of all of this is a lovable bunch of musicians bursting with pride, confidence and talent.
After a considerable amount of shuffling for space on the somehow now cramped stage, the orchestra jerks into life just as ‘Tinderbox’ is projected in pastel colours onto the ceiling. The group share the conducting duties and it’s early in the set that 14 year-old violinist, Farah Fawcett takes the baton for Aftermath. Composed by cellist and arranger Graham Coe, the piece has an Eastern feel to it and is an eerie journey through off-kilter woodwind melody and bubbling saxophones that meld together well.
A particular highlight, amongst many it has to be said, is a collaboration with Black Diamond Express frontman and all-round dude about town, Toby Mottorshead. Live Free or Die has such a palpable resonance that Mottorshead’s energy is felt right around the room. As he holds up a peace sign and screams “You gotta live free”, it’s an easy link to see this iconic gesture as emblematic of the whole evening.
As the set rolls on, the orchestra join up with a plethora of talented people; Dumfries group Taggan and Maidens of Music Community Choir are particular gems. The orchestra are also mightily impressive on their own of course and are perhaps found to be most enjoying themselves on the intriguingly titled Captain Beefheart’s Memorial Picnic. Conducted by young saxophonist Sam Irvine, the piece explores the somewhat juxtaposed realms of jazz funk and neoclassical music from the 20th century, a peculiarly charming amalgamation.
The finale to the finale comes in the form of yet more musical alliances. Song Yuzhe of Dawanggang is welcomed back to the stage before Kathryn Joseph performs The Weary, the bookend to her album, with a mesmerising backdrop from the Tinderbox Orchestra. A rousing encore ensues after an Oscar-length thank you speech from Jack Nissan and the Hidden Door is closed in style.
Channel 7A: Jamie McDonald