Scot:lands review: Lau:land | Shet:land | New:found:land

Candles illuminated the New:found:land performance at Old St Pauls Church. Picture: Ian GeorgesonCandles illuminated the New:found:land performance at Old St Pauls Church. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Candles illuminated the New:found:land performance at Old St Pauls Church. Picture: Ian Georgeson
NOW in its second year and rechristened Scot:lands following last year’s inaugural Your Lucky Day event, this bold attempt to inject some cultural vibrancy into the former hangover-soothing deadzone of 1 January was unchanged in all but name.

Lau:land - Assembly Roxy

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Shet:land - Greyfriars Kirk

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Lobster:land - City Art Centre

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New:found:land - Old St Paul’s Church

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The format remained the same, with participants assembling at the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street to spin a wheel, be handed a postcard bearing a map to one of nine hidden venues around the Old Town, and then venturing off to enjoy a free performance before repeating the process.

For the sake of managing crowd numbers, it wasn’t possible to choose your own route through the performances, although music-lovers might have been pleased to find themselves in the first instance at Lau:land in the sometime Assembly Roxy venue on Roxburgh Place. Hosted by Edinburgh-based contemporary folk trio Lau, this venue was a feast over two levels.

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Upstairs in the attic, Lau themselves played on a scheduled repeating cycle to inevitably full audiences, while downstairs a revue of the band’s invited guests performed in the grand old church hall – indeed, the view granted of some of Edinburgh’s most impressive and generally closed-off public spaces was one of the day’s most rewarding features.

Here in the darkened hall, with a screen of transparent drapes hanging in sequence from the ceiling and across the front of the stage, the harp and electronics duo of Mary MacMaster and Donald Hay created a sound which was haunting and far more experimental than the perception of trad Scottish music might have led its listeners to believe.

Those with a liking for the more old-fashioned folk style, meanwhile, were well catered for at Greyfriars Kirk, where a roll call of ten players under the wing of Shetland Arts’ Shet:land played. Their similarly impressive venue was augmented by a tourist-friendly trio of split screens behind them showing scenic tableaux of the islands. “Welcome to Shetland, as you can see from the view behind us,” we were jokingly informed at one point. “You’ve never seen such beauty on stage.”

A few minutes’ walk away at the City Art Centre, two of the more mainstream names performed. Where the flow of people was for the most part cleverly managed at this year’s Scot:lands, queues did tend to build up here and there, and the one on the ground floor of the City Art Centre for the lift up to King Creosote’s Lobster:land was among the more infuriating.

The top floor room in which KC (aka Kenny Anderson) and his seven accompanying musicians (including Edinburgh’s own Withered Hand) played was an oddly modern and somewhat unsuited environment to the Fence Collective’s usual rustic aesthetic, and the staggered arrival of a new load of audience-members every few minutes didn’t help matters, but the music was typically sublime and lent itself well to soothing heads still tender from the night before.

Finally, in Old St Paul’s Church on Jeffrey Street, there was New:found:land. In the darkened church hall, with just a spotlight on the altar’s cross and a cluster of candles in the centre of the floor lending illumination, the audience watched as the band played in the round. In this context the barely-lit sextet sounded otherworldly, mixing the most delicate of acoustic guitar playing from RM Hubbert with FOUND’s murmuring electronics.

On a day filled with a cleansing sense of artistic wonder and enjoyment, this was the show least likely to be forgotten.