Karine Polwart – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
November 16, 2019
(Yes, it was a week ago, but it’s been a rather chaotic week, yet this has left a nice glow…)
It’s that time of year – yet again – when thoughts turn to end of year lists. High on the list at 17 Seconds Towers is Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook (see here for review), eleven songs from the last fifty years of Scottish popular music delivered in her own style.
Interviewing her in August, she explained that the album evolved out of the exhibition on Scottish pop music that took place last year at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and a night of Scottish pop in a folk style that she curated at the Leith Theatre. ‘The amount of effort for one night led to four days in a studio and pondering the issue of ‘How can you make a go of them in a way that’s not shit karaoke?’
As anyone who has heard the album will attest, it’s most definitely not shit karaoke. The show opens with her radical reworking of The Waterboys’ ‘The Whole Of The Moon.’ The skill of the reworking is that it maintains the spirit of the song, even though it doesn’t have the famous trumpet solo.
There’s some excellent banter form the stage, drawing upon her time growing up in Stirlingshire, including an excellent story about the girls who decided that they weren’t going to do knitting if the boys weren’t. She sheds light on the songs – it’s still a surprise to learn that Strawberry Switchblade’s song ‘Since Yesterday’ is about nuclear war.
When interviewed, she indicated that there wouldn’t be a second volume, but there’s a number of tracks that get an airing tonight. On paper, a choir of schoolchildren coming on stage to join a version of Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone Like You’ should have been unbearably cloying, but it comes together surprisingly well. Perhaps the highlight, though, is a medley of Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ and Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown boy.’ She jokes that it’s because they both feature the word ‘rain’ prominently in the song but it’s a genius reworking. As a songwriter, it’s understandable that she may not wish to do a second volume, but her reworkings make for an engaging listen.