Aidan O'Rourke, supported by Sarah Hayes

Venue: Assembly George Square Gardens Spiegeltent
Town: Edinburgh
Date: 30/7/15
Website: http://aidanorourke.net/ http://sarahhayes.net/

This gig took place on 30th July 2015, in association with Edinburgh's annual Food Festival, so there was an opportunity to sample some culinary delights as well as the tasty music on offer. It's probably fair to say that Aidan O'Rourke and Sarah Hayes are both more widely known as leading members of high-profile Scottish bands (Lau and Admiral Fallow, respectively) and this was a very welcome opportunity to catch them performing their solo work.

First on stage was Sarah Hayes, a Northumbrian singer and multi-instrumentalist, currently based in Glasgow, who, when not pursuing solo projects, plays in indie-pop band Admiral Fallow, folk trio Wildings and a range of classical/chamber groups. Her debut solo EP, "Mainspring", was released in 2013 and a new album (a New Voices commission) is in the pipeline.

Sarah Hayes proved to be an engaging performer, helpfully providing entertaining back stories to most of the songs she played. The songs in this sparkling short set were drawn largely from the "Mainspring" EP and the forthcoming album. All of the songs were totally absorbing, with Sarah's captivating vocals and stirring piano accompaniment proving to be a winning combination. The highlights included the elegant "When First I Came To Caledonia", which featured a series of beautiful piano breaks, and "Freddie Matthews", a poignant tale of a young man who died tragically at Hatfield Colliery in 1972 while on picket duty during the miners' strike, told from the perspective of his grieving but proud girlfriend. Sarah finished her set with a magical cover of a Midlake song, which complemented perfectly her interpretations of more traditional material. This was a striking and assured performance from a very talented and committed young musician, who has the potential to become a leading light in the contemporary folk scene.

Fiddler and composer Aidan O'Rourke is widely regarded as one of Scotland's top folk/avant garde musicians, earning him the accolade of Musician of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2014. Born in Oban, brought up on the Isle of Seil and currently based in Edinburgh, Aidan is a founder member of the bands Lau and Kan and his parallel solo career has seen him involved in a wide range of collaborations and recordings. His compositions and playing are deeply rooted in traditional music, while boldly expanding its horizons through embracing a diverse range of musical styles and influences.

Aidan O'Rourke's most recent solo album, "Music For Exhibition and Film (EP Series 1.0)", was released to critical acclaim earlier in 2015 but this gig was all about showcasing new original material which has not yet been recorded. Aidan's first tune of the night was performed completely solo and saw him create a series of electronic fiddle loops, over which he wove a series of mesmerising melodies. He was then joined on stage by guitarist Graeme Stephen and drummer John Blease and the trio kicked into "Okada" and "FYO" (written around the time of the last Budget, as a 'message' to the Chancellor...). Both of these extended pieces demonstrated the full range of Aidan O'Rourke's astonishing fiddle playing and loops and also featured some stunning quicksilver guitar solos from Graeme Stephen. John Blease's masterful drums and percussion also enhanced the attack or light and shade of the tunes, as necessary.

Another new tune, "It Will Feel Longer", was written while Lau were on tour in the USA recently and was notable for its breathtaking twists and turns, as it built to a crescendo, with Aidan O'Rourke displaying all of the boldness, adventure, imagination and intensity of performance we have come to expect of him as a member of Lau. Whether bowing melodically, creating hypnotic grooves and riffs, plucking the strings ukulele-style or plucking the bass string(s) to set up a rhythm, Aidan showed a complete mastery of the fiddle. The closing tune, commissioned for performance initially at a celebratory concert during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, was another lengthy piece, its absorbing ebb and flow alternating between passages of slow-burn and exhilarating walls of sound.

This intoxicating blend of folk, jazz and avant-garde provided a richly-satisfying musical stew and evidence that Aidan O'Rourke is a world-class musician, composer and innovator.

David Ferguson

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