Isn’t August a superb month for music! As always, our local Belladrum Festival has got things off to a flying start, and not just because this year’s fancy dress theme was ‘space’! This timely nod to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing gave us all a chance to let our imaginations take off and dig out anything silver, white, metallic or vaguely Star Treck-ish from the deepest recesses of our wardrobes.
Or maybe that was just me being too last minute to order a proper outfit. I always enjoyed making my son’s Hallowe’en costumes when he was little, so cobbling together a rough-and-ready get-up is nothing new! A quick dash round Inverness charity shops and in no time at all I was head-to-toe metallic; perhaps not Barbarella exactly but my own wee take on it.
The festival of course was fabulous; it always is. A sublime blend of music, interest, entertainment, quirkiness, fun and colour, with artistic creativity and inventiveness on a stunning scale when it comes to the many gloriously decorated stages. Belladrum has won its place in the hearts of its devoted regulars with good reason; come rain, hail or shine, there is no other festival quite like it.
This year I was playing with acclaimed Invergordon composer and musician, Davy Cowan and his band, the Stormchasers, in the Grassroots tent. Davy, one of the Highland’s finest songwriters, is also a charismatic onstage performer. He often plays solo, or with his son on drums, and when he brings the full band together for festival or concert gigs, it feels like a juggernaut of energy and drive; a playing experience that I love!
And yet even in full throttle, his acutely observed lyrics and thoughts on the human condition never get lost. With subjects as diverse as growing up, small-town life, love, home, war, community, his songs resonate with so many, and his burgeoning following of fans across Europe is testament to the emotional power of his well-chosen words, great melodies and incredible musicianship. Playing music should always be enjoyable - hopefully also fun and exciting - and giving it laldy on the piano with Davy’s band, as well as a gentler approach on the slower numbers, is all those things and much more.
Talking of pianos, later in the month I will be in Edinburgh, where my mission is to seek out the Pianodrome. The initiative of several brilliantly creative musicians, carpenters and craftspeople, it is a complete venue made from old pianos, using all the parts from casings to keys and strings, to create a small amphitheatre-like performance space.
As someone who has always felt almost physically ill at the thought of piano-smashing contests of days gone by – if anything goes against the grain it’s destroying instruments – hearing about the Pianodrome is literally music to my ears. Pianos do eventually get to the point - often after hundreds of years - where they are beyond playable condition, can no longer be tuned and are past re-conditioning or overhauling, but thank goodness folk with vision are breathing new life into these once-cherished objects.
A creative friend in Inverness has similarly rescued an old grand piano, using various beautiful elements of it as feature art in his home, on walls and as hangings. It’s so heart-warming to see such inventive recycling.
Cleverly devised in parts that are slotted together, enabling its sections of tiered seating and performance area to be moveable, the Pianodrome will be in situ in Leith’s open-air market, the Pitt, for the duration of Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. With a rolling programme of music and acts throughout the day and into evenings, this unique venue is sure to be a hit with audiences and performers alike, and I can’t wait to see and hear it.
Having had Fringe shows with our band Dorec-a-belle the last few years in the New Town’s beautiful Merchants Hall, this year I’ll be playing with writer Donald S Murray and friends in the Book Festival; a new one for me and one I’m thoroughly looking forward to. To be able to enjoy two of my passions, music and books, at the same time is fortunate indeed. Summer keeps getting better!
(First published by Scottish Provincial Press 9th August 2019)