I’ve always felt that music, especially at the local level, is sorely underrepresented during the Festival,” says Ziggy Campbell, one of the co-stars of a new short-run Fringe concert series which might help redress the balance a little.
“I lived in Edinburgh for nearly a decade and during that time I didn’t play many shows during August, bar the occasional low-key gig put on by tenacious local promoters.”
This is one of two common complaints to be heard about contemporary music during the all-culture-is-here Fringe month of August; that there isn’t enough of it, and that there aren’t enough Scottish artists being heard at a time when the world has arrived on their doorstep. The former, at least, is fair comment, not that there haven’t been plenty of large-scale attempts to stage showcases of rock, pop and electronic music in Edinburgh during August before.
Campbell’s point isn’t so much a problem of volume, however, because anyone who wants to find exceptional new and established artists on their home patch just needs to know where to look; in 2017’s case, within Summerhall’s Nothing Ever Happens Here strand, at the excellent pop-up Leith Volcano venue, and at the Queen’s Hall, for more folk-oriented acts.
There’s also this gig – specially curated by the Made in Scotland strand of performance from around the country – which features two of Scotland’s most interesting and soon to be recognised new artists.
Billed as “a spectacle of contemporary indie talent” within the evocative and specially-dressed setting of Stockbridge Church, Sounding is a shared-billing show from the group Modern Studies, who released their elegant, orchestral folk-pop debut album Swell to Great on Edinburgh indie label Song, By Toad in 2016, and Lomond Campbell, Campbell’s solo alias. He plays in Edinburgh’s electronic art-pop collective FOUND, who regular Fringe-goers may remember from their success with the robotic music installation work Cybraphon in 2009.
Both sets of artists have extra reason to celebrate their current projects this summer, as Campbell’s solo record Black River Promise – recorded in his Highland home studio and released last year on his own label Triassic Tusk – has been picked up for a wider release by Heavenly Recordings, home to Saint Etienne, Mark Lanegan and many others, while Modern Studies’ 2018 second album will be released by Fire Records, current label of Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, Pere Ubu, Bardo Pond, Josephine Foster and many more.
“We had very humble beginnings and modest plans,” says Glasgow musician Emily Scott, who drew together the then-Edinburgh-based Rob St. John, Perthshire-based violinist and producer Pete Harvey and the owner of Glasgow’s Glad Café, Joe Smillie, as Modern Studies in 2015. Friends and contemporaries with similar musical styles and ambitions, they knew they wanted to make a record and that was it.
“It was all an accident, actually,” says Scott. “It managed to work itself into a record we were really pleased with, that happened to be very well received, and that set us off on a bit of a whirlwind year of live shows, tours, commissions and festivals. We cringe a bit when we think about our first gig, where we didn’t even know who was playing what. In fact, we might still be banned from Brighton.”
For Sounding, the shared history of each artist involved is important. “I relocated from Edinburgh to the deepest, darkest Highlands about three years ago and moved in to an old rural school building,” explains Campbell, right. “It was in a real mess and I had no running water or electricity for the first few days, so I sat around playing my acoustic guitar and questioning my judgement.
“I ended up with a bunch of songs recorded, which I gave to Pete Harvey to do string arrangements for. We decided to record all the string parts live in an old castle in the central Highlands, then I kind of rushed the album out and it perhaps didn’t get the attention it deserved.” It did, however, fall into the hands of Jeff Barrett at Heavenly.
These gigs, says Campbell, will possibly be the only time Black River Promise will be heard live as intended with a ten-piece orchestra, and also with live visuals from his old FOUND-mate Simon Kirby.
“Stockbridge Church is a great space for the shows,” says Rob St. John. “It’s a good size, with nice light and acoustics. While these shows will definitely be a lot more of a fun-time gig than a polite recital, we always enjoy playing in atmospheric spaces.”
“It’s a quietly grand and beautifully proportioned space,” says Scott, “slightly set back from the craziness of the Festival, with an apse for the players and some lovely murals as a backdrop. I hope it will be an attractive prospect to people who want to explore a bit more than the main Festival drag, and I’d like to say they’ll be rewarded with a really memorable experience. I hope for people who don’t know us, it’ll be an inspiring and original evening of new music; and when I say ‘new’, I mean the ink could still be wet on the page for elements of it.”
Without doubt, as each of their recent record deals confirm, it’s not just a local gig for local people.
“It certainly feels like that the Scottish music scene is in a healthy state, but it still can be hard to get audiences to gigs,” says Scott. “They don’t provide the same social function that they used to. In the Festival there’s such a saturation of stuff happening, but this year it looks pretty healthy for local acts. You have to listen a bit harder to hear over the bagpipes.”
• Sounding: Modern Studies and Lomond Campbell with the Pumpkinseed Chamber Orchestra is at Stockbridge Church, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Limited edition publications and a joint 7-inch single on Triassic Tusk will be available at the shows.