Music & Spoken Word review: Neu! Reekie!, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Hollie McNish PIC: Robert Perry
Hollie McNish PIC: Robert Perry
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Amid the celebrations going on this year for the 40th anniversary of the Queen’s Hall, it was good to see Neu! Reekie! taking the reins for an evening. The music and spoken word event promoters’ sense of devilment thrills and amuses as much as their ability to book outstanding artists, and their arrival in this southside venue from their usual Leith bolthole was a welcome development.

Neu! Reekie!, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

From the roster of musicians, poets and spoken word artists who usually play N!R! or might suit its style, this was also something of a greatest hits show. Former Arab Strap singer turned Scotland’s bard of the wryly self-doubting Aidan Moffat made an appearance, as did the Ted Hughes Award-winning poet Hollie McNish.

The Northern Irish electronic producer and composer Hannah Peel brought the Scottish premier of Chalk Hill Blue, her new album with poet Will Burns. A driving, ominous bed of atmospheric electronic squall and searing violin was orchestrated by Peel from an office stool between banks of electronic instruments and keyboards, while Burns interjected with the gravely intoned words of “a man on his worn-out, empty way”; a supremely powerful and transporting combination thanks to Burns’ evocation of wild nature and urban life alongside such elemental music.

That former Beta Band singer Steve Mason arrived with only a couple of guitars and a keyboard player, and managed to deliver a set of expansive, elegiac indie rock was an unlikely conjuring trick. Drilled with his own particularly rich sense of questioning lyricism, he performed cornerstone solo works including Boys Outside and his recent album’s title track About the Light, and caused much amusement with his unrelenting determination to play the Betas’ Doctor Baker despite numerous false starts.

A thunderous finale was provided by Harbingers Drum Crew, an emotional onslaught to rival the more subtle earthquakes which had gone before. - David Pollock