Music review: Notes from Shetland to Shanghai, theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh

Notes from Shetland to Shanghai, theSpace on the Mile (venue 39)
Notes from Shetland to Shanghai, theSpace on the Mile (venue 39)
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Building on her Fringe debut last year, Sophie Rocks combines her accomplished playing on the pedal harp with pre-recorded poetry in a short but thoughtfully compiled show on the theme of immigrants, those  they have left behind and those who receive them, welcomingly or otherwise.

Notes from Shetland to Shanghai, theSpace on the Mile * * * *

She voyages in words and music from her native Shetland, returning there after ports-of-call including Israel, Canada, and China, each place prompting a different pairing of music and poetry, punctuated by the dolorous leave-taking of a ship’s foghorn. She embarks with the wistful Shetland air Da Slockit Light, evoking the extinguished lights of empty cottages.

Apart from folk tunes, however, the show is also an engaging introduction to some lesser known contemporary pieces for pedal harp. Romanian-born, Israeli domiciled Sergui Natra’s Sonatine, for instance, provides an edgy setting for the all too familiar anti-immigrant diatribe captured in Brian Bilston’s palindromic poem Refugees, which returns later to counter the rant with the converse, humanitarian view.

The music itself often relates, directly or otherwise, to loss and displacement, with Sally Beamish’s percussive Nigerian tribute, Awuya, accompanying Mahmoud Darwish’s ultimately optimistic Who Am I, Without Exile, while a tantalisingly fleeting extract from Canadian Caroline Lizotte’s Exosphere ripples delicately, almost imperceptibly, into silence.

Harp and poetry may boast venerable bardic associations, but there are moments here when the words can distract from the music, and vice versa. However, Rocks’s musicality and warmth prevail. The show closes with the lovely, sailing boat-inspired air, Swan LK243, as lines by former Edinburgh Makar Christine De Luca, a Shetlander of immigrant stock, celebrate “the best in Scotland, an open heart”. And this is a very open-hearted show.

JIM GILCHRIST

Until 24 August

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