Concert for a Landmine Free World
Princes Street Gardens
IN perhaps the finest gathering of singer-songwriters ever witnessed in the Capital, a capacity crowd were treated to a night that will live long in the memory by country-folk superstar Emmylou Harris and some of her illustrious friends.
A very low-key and showbiz-free introduction saw Harris introduce her constant companion in the series of Concerts for a Landmine Free World, Steve Earle - who would later steal the show with his stunning compositions and gravelly voice.
No small feat seeing as he was sharing a stage with folk heroine Joan Baez, England’s Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders fame, all luminous talents in their own right.
All five singers sat together on stage throughout, accompanied by Hynde’s guitarist Adam Seymour, and basically took it in turns to sing anti-war-themed songs - "Welcome to the Anti-Militarist Tattoo!" as Bragg put it - in a laid-back fashion more reminiscent of a songwriters’ workshop than a formal concert.
Harris kicked off the show with her own stunning composition Red Dirt Girl, a tale of relatives lost to the Vietnam War or its aftermath.
Earle offered up You Know the Rest, an attack on American revisionist history, while Baez paid him a high compliment by following with one of his songs, Christmas in Washington.
Next to Harris, Earle and the crystal-clear tones of Baez, Billy Bragg’s voice sounds a little rough around the edges, but his recent status as the musical interpreter of Woody Guthrie’s unfinished songs more than emphasised his right to keep such company.
Chrissie Hynde is not exactly known for her political songwriting but her unique voice and turn of phrase ensured she was not left in the shade.
Then Bragg played up the workshop aspect of the show with a speech on "things we nicked from Bob Dylan" before launching into an updated version of The Wolf Covers Its Tracks, a song Dylan used to sing with Baez when they were lovers.
Midway through, Vietnam veteran and landmine victim Bobby Muller, the leader of the anti-landmine campaign, came on stage to explain exactly where the money from this charity event is going - few could fail to be moved by his impassioned speech against the hidden, indiscriminate killers.
The second half of the show belonged to Earle, and his duet with Harris, I Remember You, closing song The Devil’s Right Hand and encore Jerusalem proved the highlights of the show.
In the end, it was all about the belief that the world can still be changed for the better, whether it’s ridding the world of landmines or Earle’s belief that one day we will see peace in the Middle East.
"Believe in the impossible!" was Harris’s parting message, and, in the shade of Edinburgh Castle - an edifice built solely for the purpose of keeping foreigners out which now welcomes people of all nations into its walls - there’s no reason not to.