Jim Gilchrist: Lau’s mini festival

Lau, from left: Martin Green, Kris Drever and Aiden O'Rourke in concert. Picture: Contributed
Lau, from left: Martin Green, Kris Drever and Aiden O'Rourke in concert. Picture: Contributed
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COLLABORATION between diverse artists is at the heart of folk trio Lau’s mini festival

Traditional music, string quartets, electronic wizardry and cross-genre encounters in abundance... welcome to the creative republic of Lau-Land. Passports not necessary; open minds helpful.

Since forming a decade ago out of sessions in an Edinburgh kitchen, the prog-folk trio Lau has attracted a sheaf of awards and plaudits, as fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, accordionist Martin Green and singer and guitarist Kris Drever developed their own powerful and often improvisational take on traditional and contemporary folk music as well as a willingness to collaborate with talents as diverse as the late, lamented jazz-rock bassist Jack Bruce, electronica pioneer Adem and the classical Northern Sinfonia.

Now their penchant for wide-open musical colloquy is coming home to roost, as they bring their own three-day mini festival, Lau-Land, to Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall and nearby Summerhall from 27-29 November. Three headline concerts will include Lau themselves playing with the Elysian Quartet – a collaboration which went down a storm at this year’s Celtic Connections, supported by singer-songwriter Ella the Bird, with the second night headed by left-field soul singer Joan As Policewoman (with special guest Adam Holmes) and the third featuring Scottish folk legends Capercaillie and Dick Gaughan. Summerhall, meanwhile, will host workshops, informal sessions and, it is hoped, much spontaneous collaboration.

The concept of Lau-Land was hatched back in October 2012, explains fiddler O’Rourke, when their then agent, Alan Bearman, offered the trio the chance to curate a weekend event. “This was something we’d spoken about before, so we put it on at the Kings Place venue at Kings Cross, and we enjoyed it so much we thought, ‘Let’s try and do three more.’”

In the meantime, Unique Events, organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, got wind of the plans and invited them to stage a limited version of Lau-Land to help bring in 2014. Lau went on to stage another “land” at the Sage, Gateshead in May, and plan another for Bristol next year.

In the meantime, this month’s Lau-Land further celebrates the trio’s ethos of dispelling musical boundaries and encouraging collaboration, sometimes between unlikely-seeming participants. Apart from the headline concerts at the Queen’s Hall, the set-up at Summerhall will see workshops given by O’Rourke and guitarist Drever, while Highland piper Allan MacDonald will present an advanced piping counterpart and American singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell will preside over one on lyric writing. Summerhall’s bar will host informal playing sessions and, in association with Distil, the Scottish initiative to help musicians expand creative horizons, a “Lau-Lab” will be set up, “with a small PA and recording equipment as well as cameras and a cameraman and editor,” says O’Rourke. “We invite people to just go for it, so we’ll get some nice footage and some nice connections between artists that might not have had a chance to work together before.

“We’ve spent enough time over the last eight or nine years, travelling around, going to festivals, to understand that if you can get bands to hang about in the company of other bands, you can’t but help musical connections happening.”

By headlining with such disparate elements as themselves, the string quartet, Joan Wasser (aka Joan as Policewoman) and Capercaillie, says O’Rourke, “we’re trying to give audiences an insight into what has inspired us – musicians we love and want to play alongside.”

Because Edinburgh is where Lau formed, and where O’Rourke still lives, with Green in nearby Pathhead, they wanted a folk emphasis. “We were lucky enough to get Dick Gaughan, who’s a hero to us all, playing alongside Capercaillie, who of course are from Argyll, where I grew up and spent my teenage years devouring their music.”

Back at Summerhall, Green will perform an electronic solo spot, while Drever will be joined by banjoist Eamonn Coyne, and the trio’s long-time sound engineer, Tim Matthew, brings his own band, Mystery Juice into the mix.

Following Lau-Land, the trio fly to to Australia’s Woodford Folk Festival on Boxing Day, then return to record their next album, on which the Elysian Quartet will be a key presence, with their collaboration, The Bell That Never Rang, which made such an impact at Celtic Connections, providing a centrepiece. The album will appear in the spring, by which time Lau will be touring the UK and Europe.

While each trio member has his own projects, they manage to maintain their schedule as a trio. “Anything else we do,” says O’Rourke, “we check in first to see how it fits with the trio’s plans. Lau is the mother ship for us all.”

• For further information, see www.lau-music.com