'I didn't know nothing about strings and stuff. The guitar had strings, and that was it! I had to learn it all by myself’
Blues 2000 Edinburgh: The Corn Exchange, Sun 30 Apr.
First he was in, then he was out. Robert Plant's short- lived inclusion in the Blues 2000 programme brings back unhappy memories for an event which should have launched last year, but fell victim to a late cancellation of the whole festival when its headliners on that occasion withdrew.
No such traumas are anticipated this time around. and the programme which remains promises a strong day of music in any case, including contributions from folk- blues singer Odetta, harmonica maestro Lazy Lester with Big Joe Louis And His Blues Kings, new wave acoustic bluesman Guy Davis, and Scotland's own Blues 'n' Trouble, as well as a new talent stage.
At the top of the bill, though, sits a seminal figure from the classic Chicago urban blues scene, guitarist and singer Otis Rush. Like so many of the great bluesmen who carved out a new electric version of the music, Rush migrated to the Windy City from Mississippi. He arrived in Chicago as a fifteen-year-old in 1949, where he finished school and found a job, but also discovered the blues clubs, and the legendary Muddy Waters.
It wasn't long before he was gigging himself, sitting in with his heroes on occasion, or leading his own band.
He was one of the exciting new talents on the scene, along with the likes of guitarist Freddie King and the slightly younger Buddy Guy. Like another famous King of the blues, Albert King, he played left-handed, and learned guitar the hard way.
’I had some uncles who played guitar, and anytime they picked it up and played a note, it just ran right through me, and I knew that sound was for me. I would sneak around and play on my big brother's guitar whenever I could, but I knew that I always had to leave it in tune, or he would know I had been at it, so I learned that real early. You see, there was nobody showed me any of that stuff - when I first picked up the guitar, I didn't know nothing about strings and stuff. The guitar had strings, and that was it! I had to learn it all by myself.’
Since no one told him he couldn't, Rush learned to play a conventionally-strung right-hand instrument with his left hand, and has done so ever since, although when pressed on aspects of his style, he offers only a 'I just do what I do’ response.
‘For me, I just play, and what is inside me comes on out. I played in the church a lot, and I like to try to find a spiritual feeling in my music. If people are picking up things from me, then that's fine, but the truth is I never thought about having any kind of particular style.’ (Kenny Mathieson)
FOLK lshbel MacAskill Edinburgh Folk Club, Wed 3 May.
prefer to be in the midst of everyone'
44 IIIE usr 27 Apr—ll May 2000
In what promises to be a wholly absorbing concert devoted to Scottish song, two beautiful, mature voices from the Gaelic and Scots song traditions take the stage at Edinburgh's Folk Club. And, interestingly, it will be the first time they’ll have met. Originally from Strathaven, Alison MacMorland is one of Scotland’s unsung treasures. She can sing a ballad and bewitch any listener, yet she’s largely unknown partly through a lack of recent recordings; the wonderful Be/t WI Buck/es Three came out on vinyl in the 705.
Lewis singer lshbel MacAskiII is looking forward to sharing the evening and admits to a fondness for Scots song (that's the best you’ll get from a Gaell). ’l have a very healthy respect for Scots song,’ she says, ' ’My Ain Countrie', for instance, with its exile theme, there’s a parallel with so much of Gaelic song. And of course, Burns plundered Gaelic music for a lot of his most beautiful melodies.’
MacAskill's unique, expressive style
comes from a deep love of her language and culture, and its heart; the song. ’A song can stand on its own, it doesn‘t need embellishment, or even instrumental accompaniment. People have become too accustomed to harmony.’
A new album, Essential/y lshbel, is safely on the record shop shelves but, for her, the studio process is second best. ‘Recording is not my favourite thing because I hate the feeling of being captured. I don’t really like singing in that environment because you sing to nothing. With a live audience it's different; you're living it. You can feel each other, share the emotion. And I don't like singing at people; I much prefer to be in the midst of everyone.’
What is it that appeals in a song? 'lt's a combination of poetry and melody. But it’s the poetry first. I don't think I could sing a song, no matter how beautiful the melody, if the words did not mean much to me.’
CLASSICAL Academy Now! Festival
Glasgow: RSAMD, Tue Z—Fri 5 May. Academy Now! is a festival where there is an intriguing input of the unfamiliar in the space of just four days. Rooted in the Academy and an integral part of the increasingly admired breadth of music education it offers, Academy Now! is more than a student showcase. Admittedly, high- flying students perform, but the strength of the composers’ roster is its mix of students and those more established in their careers.
Charged with responsibility for the event is Gordon McPherson, recently appointed Head of Composition at the RSAMD, following a few years as Composer in Residence. ‘This will actually be the last Academy Now! as it has been,’ he explains. ’In a way, it forms an upbeat to a different sort of event which we will hold in November. In saying that, though, there is a lot of really good stuff here.’
First among the ’good stuff’ is ’The Pianist' by Jani Christou. ’He’s a Greek composer, a contemporary of Xenakis,’ explains McPherson. ’He was killed in a car-crash in 1970, but wrote a lot of music-theatre in the 505 and 605. He was fascinated by the idea of metapraxis, where actions go beyond the actions that people are expected to do. There’s an emotional virtuosity about his work that can be very disturbing, very exciting and he is very underrated.’
There is a concert devoted to electro- acoustic music and video, followed by an evening of chamber music. Judith Weir's ’Airs From Another Planet’ and McPherson’s own ’Three Minute Philosophy' sit alongside music by Irish student composer David Fennessy. 'He is extremely talented,’ says McPherson. ’His ’String Quartet’ is a fantastic piece.’ Although his new post gives McPherson scope to reinvent Academy Now!, it is, and will continue to be, something exciting in the new music field. Explaining it in a nutshell, he says: ’It is a festival that is relevant to other things outside Scotland and within Scotland while concentrating on the playing and compositional skills of the students.’ (Carol Main)
More than a student showcase, but an Intriguing input of the unfamiliar