Music & Spoken Word review: 404 Ink & Neu! Reekie!: The Big Ten for Christmas, Summerhall, Edinburgh

The 'tenth birthday party' theme of this night of live music and spoken word was a wee bit disingenuous, given that it actually referred to the sum total of years in existence for host Neu! Reekie! (eight this year) and publisher 404 Ink (only two, but hugely successful for its youth, not least through its 2017 Nasty Women anthology). Both are among the most exciting and challenging arts facilitators in Scotland and both were able to call on genuinely big names for the occasion.

Margaret Atwood PIC: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

404 Ink & Neu! Reekie!: The Big Ten for Christmas, Summerhall, Edinburgh ****

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In 404 Ink’s case, this meant an appearance – albeit only onscreen from her home in Canada – for friend and mentor Margaret Atwood, who read an excerpt from The Handmaid’s Tale and answered some questions. For Neu! Reekie!, it meant a live appearance by former KLF musician, conceptual artist and all-round seer Bill Drummond, who addressed the crowd with a series of his own thoughts without benefit of a microphone.

404 Ink also welcomed spoken word and poetry sets from Helen McClory, Nadine Aisha Jassat and its breakout star Chris McQueer, while N!R! presented an exclusive duet from Scottish singers and songwriters Siobhan Wilson and Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale, whose stark and minimal set included a track named The Third Degree from Tweeddale’s next album and a haunting take on Silent Night.

The headliner, meanwhile, was writer and rapper Darren “Loki” McGarvey, whose terrific year has included an Orwell Prize and a very successful Edinburgh Fringe show. This truncated version of his Poverty Safari set was as provocative as anything Neu! Reekie! has programmed, looking to smash assumptions and provoke thought rather than make pals, especially around the vital but contentious subject of toxic masculinity. His powerful closing piece Don’t Jump – performed with permission at a show where Neu! Reekie! was collecting for charity in memory of its much-loved friend, Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison – was a particularly humbling moment. - David Pollock