Fringe by the Sea reviews: Neu! Reekie! | Lulu
An early adopter in terms of boldly announcing plans to press ahead with this year's festival back when any live arts activity in 2021 still looked unlikely, North Berwick's much-loved week-and-a-bit of multi-arts events Fringe by the Sea has happily gotten lucky in terms of arriving at just the right time to avoid the worst of the year's restrictions so far.
The festival’s second day – a beautiful, sunny East Lothian Saturday interspersed with invigorating rain showers – saw a busy and sociable return to careful normality, with shows held in airy, all-seated tents, with audience members distanced at a requested, with two seats between each party.
In the afternoon, Edinburgh's indefatigable music, spoken word and film collective Neu! Reekie (****) occupied the Glenkinchie Lowland Stage, a marquee set up in the grounds of the town's library and the Coastal Communities Museum.
Amid a general sense that everyone was thrilled and relieved to be back at the live performance game, our hosts Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson jokingly confessed that "our patter's still as honking as ever", while contending with an overhead projector which they invited us to imagine was a blaring, surround-sound cinema screen as local filmmakers' work was projected upon it.
In terms of the Scottish spoken word scene, the line-up was starry, not least because Pedersen and Williamson gave readings themselves (the latter's in tribute to the late Glasgow publisher Brian Hamill, who died earlier this year). They were joined by the great Scottish poet and playwright Liz Lochhead, with occasional saxophone accompaniment from her regular collaborator Steve Kettley. In a set which was as warm, life-affirming and thought-fuelling as ever she performed Coming to Poetry, a choice inspired by her "spring romances with John Keats and Bob Dylan", with deeper and newly relevant roots in her fear as a 14-year-old of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Next, Hollie McNish introduced animations made by Glasgow School of Art students to accompany her poems.
The bill at N!R was concluded by Callum Easter, one of the finest musical talents in Scotland right now, a lone composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer whose disorientated stage manner belies the subtle perfection and variety of his music. With accordion, he plays psychedelic shanties; with his guitar playing raw electric chords, he's like an exasperated and emotional Leith Lou Reed.
In the busy big top venue in the centre of town that evening, after a tender acoustic support slot from Siobhan Wilson, Lulu (****) played her first gig back post-pandemic. Slipping easily back into showbiz entertainer mode, her set's resume of a glittering career once again revealed just how much she's done, ranging from the bluesy adaptation of pop classic Shout to encounters with Bond (The Man with the Golden Gun), Bowie (The Man Who Sold the World) and the Bee Gees (To Love Somebody).
An extended later-career showcase of less familiar songs written with her brother was a personal touch, and the singer's fractious exchange with a security guard was an unexpected moment of tension – with nearly two years' offstage, she can be forgiven both forms of release.
The Fringe by the Sea continues until August 15, https://www.fringebythesea.com/
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