EIF review: Neu! Reekie with Edwyn Collins

“Dangerous artists need safe spaces too,” declared Darren McGarvey, the Orwell Prize-winning writer and rapper, in praise of his hosts from Edinburgh’s iconoclastic music and spoken word night Neu! Reekie (****), Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson. “These guys were for ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ before these were corporate media buzzwords,” he continued, a commanding presence even without the planned musical accompaniment of his wife, Becci Wallace.

Edwyn Collins

To do an a cappella set which fuses rap and poetry in one of the Edinburgh International Festival’s cavernous, socially distanced tent amphitheatres is a risky move, but the acoustics in these things are great, and the voice-only sets here felt as intimate as a concert hall, at least. With hers, Victoria McNulty delivered sharp class-and feminism-conscious poetry, which reimagined the Biblical Eve and Deirdre from the Ulster Cycle in the schemes of Glasgow with a streak of black humour.

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McGarvey’s material, meanwhile, is streaked with anger against politicians who appease “flag-waving dunderheids”, men who mask their own unpleasantness with performative virtue, and his own hidden anxiety in situations like this. It was heartening to hear an artist say contentious things in real life once more, and not through the deadening soup of social media.

The main event came from probably the most self-effacing man in Scottish pop, Edwyn Collins. A long-time dream Neu! Reekie headliner, his well-documented health problems and the events of the last 18 months haven’t managed to dull his wit or his spine-shivering baritone. Accompanied by two skilled young acoustic guitarists who even managed to emulate the glossy future-pop of Rip It Up and A Girl Like You, Collins pulled out every fan favourite from the opening Falling and Laughing to the encore of Blue Boy, even finding room for a first performance of If You Could Love Me since before his stroke.