HE is the politician who has suddenly inherited responsibility for overseeing the world’s biggest arts festival.
But Richard Lewis, the councillor in charge of Edinburgh’s money-spinning festivals and events, will face an additional challenge in his first year in the job – performing in his own Fringe show throughout August.
“It’s really all been a happy coincidence in some ways”Richard Lewis
The SNP councillor, an established musician and conductor before he was elected, booked a full run of performances with American mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker just weeks before he was asked to become the city’s official “Festivals and Events Champion”.
He will have to break off from an extensive schedule of hosting receptions, meeting visiting VIPs and attending shows as a guest across the city to help stage a celebration of the great African-American female voices, entitled Sing Sistah Sing.
Songs made famous by the likes of Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Diana Ross will be performed by the pair at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, in the New Town.
Their show – which will also feature numbers by lesser known figures such as Lena Horne, Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson – will recall the impact made by each singer’s on-stage performances, as well as their efforts to rail against discrimination and involvement in civil rights campaigns.
The two performers have known each other for years thanks to their extensive work in the past with opera companies in Germany, while Mr Lewis has also been a long-time voice coach to the British-American singer, who is based in East Lothian, but has performed all over the world.
Cllr Lewis, who studies music at Edinburgh and Oxford universities, said: “The show goes right back to the roots of gospel and blues music, with songs from the late 19th century, looks at some of the really pioneering figures to emerge in the forties, fifties and sixties, and comes right through to the present day.
“Andrea has a real ability to cross over between different styles of singing and it’s something she really enjoys doing.
“To get that real sweep of history you’re obliged to do that, if you’re going to take in the big performers of gospel, jazz and ragtime and the first African-American singers like Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price to break through into the high art of opera. We get to play such a huge range of music.”
Cllr Lewis was propelled into the post at short notice after the previous long-time incumbent, Steve Cardownie, suddenly quit his role as leader of the SNP group in the City Chambers in March. At the same time, he also relinquished his key role as figurehead for the council’s involvement in the city’s festivals, in which it invests more than £4 million each year.
Cllr Lewis added: “What’s good about the format of a Fringe show like this is the hour-long format, so it’s quite manageable. I’ve just had to blank out a couple of hours each day we’ve got a performance.
“It’s really all been a happy coincidence in some ways. My background is as a performer and it’s also a rare opportunity for me to work in Scotland.
“A lot of my previous work used to be in musical theatre or opera and I used to have to go away for four to six weeks at a time. Clearly that’s not really possible for me now, but with a show like this Andrea and I, who know each other very well, can get together to rehearse and perform pretty easily.”