The regal and ornate Music Hall, Aberdeen, is where bands approaching, or have already reached, the big time play. They perhaps cannot quite fill out a venue the size of the AECC GE Oil & Gas Arena, and yet are maybe too big for the Lemon Tree, but that’s all splitting hairs when it comes to measuring success.
The Music Hall is about to undergo a £7million renovation and, to celebrate this, there are three consecutive nights celebrating what has become an institution for culture and, of course, music, in the city. The first, Lights Oot! Connect:ed, is musical; the second, Lights Oot! Your Hall Your Story, is storytelling; and the third, and last, Lights Oot! Hootenanny, is a ceilidh.
Once inside, as it is now, there’s an organ as classical as the pictures painted on the walls. The floor area wasn’t even cordoned off from the stage, only the stage’s moderate height separating performer from audience. So quite intimate in comparison to the aforementioned arena; but still quite big, too.
Over the last year Aidan O’Rourke, fiddle player and composer; and Jason Singh vocal sculptor, composer and sound artist, have been working as Aberdeen Performing Art’s (APA) first associate artists. They’ve been working with local musicians and in communities around the North East, providing tuition and mentoring, as well as creating new work. This free entry concert marks the end of their time with the Music Hall, and features many of the participants that they have worked with during the project.
First up was the duo in question, Aidan associated with the Music Hall and Jason with the Lemon Tree. Anyway, the very first song featured gusts of wind via Jason on his microphone. This, as the audience would soon find out, formed only part of his capabilities regarding his sound effects.
The ambience was also built with some sparse violin from Aidan. His playing got suitably Celtic as it developed. The violin became almost as constant as the underlying ringing background noise. The latter, via Jason, giving the piece booming power. Some clever looping went on with the violin. Further sound effects were soothing in a sleepy and appealing sort of way.
Beatboxing was a prelude to the violin, for the next track. The latter had an almost folky, celebratory feeling. Beatboxing, as in its name, is very percussive and underpinned the whole rhythm of song. It all was curious, a bit like Ireland having its own corner in South London.
They were then joined onstage by Clutch and Rahul Ravindran, the former on guitar and the latter on vocals. It was spacy and ringing, underpinned by yet more commanding beatboxing. The Arabian vocals of Rahul gave the vibe of religion ringing through Middle Eastern communities, time to declare to God. Before everyday life can recommence, one must worship, sort of thing. This was all steeped in the blues. Curious, again, the word.
The duo then found themselves on stage with fiddler, Sarah Beattie. This piece was entitled “The Night Fold”. Again, there was blowing wind, this time blowing wind washing over the venue. The ambience side of things was also assisted by Aidan, and not just Jason. This was as Sarah painted a mournful melody. There was a coming together for beautiful, but ultimately sad, music.
Then came that twin melody, fiddle and violin, which shot straight to the heart. Jason then came in with a sound that could only be described as bubbles rising to the top of the water, developing into something that underpinned the swing of that folk vibe. There was then an abrupt segue into a new theme, but worked well, and was a joy to listen to. Beatboxing proper kicked in and does its best, and succeeding, to not sound out of place.
Aidan came offstage, though Jason remained and was joined by The Vocal Ensemble. Jason had an infectious explanation of benefits, and satisfaction gained, from crowd participation. What followed was an improvisation consisting of a humming exercise, seeing how the audience responded.
There was Middle Eastern vibrato, via Rahul, which dominated, though the voices of the others complemented well. The highs reached by the female members of the ensemble a case in point. The beatboxing also built up the intensity of the improvisation. This was then looped, locking in nicely. Some African fire dance-esque shrieking.
Aidan came back on, joining Jason, Rahul and friends. Again, there was a sizeable Middle Eastern sound, which came with atmospherics from a core two on violins, with vocals and effects. Rahul’s vocals sounded improvised, but reached some incredible highs.
Then out of nowhere the song reached a style inconceivable for the many not familiar with Middle Eastern music, really interlocking with the beatbox. The water effects reared their bubbles, again, and the bubble bursting really interacted, and bounced off, the other elements expertly. Even the violin riffs well with its more ‘urban’ counterparts.
After an interval, the duo came back on stage. They announced that one of the performers, Simon Gall, couldn’t make it due to a lung infection. Anyway, here, this reviewer saw things on a violin he’s never seen before, like fingerpicking its strings for bassy resonance. There was some dramatic and fast playing, playing it through a multitude of effects pedals. Jason then came in, looping a layer of rhythm under all this drama. There was respite, practically just the violin, for some excellent dynamics.
They were then joined by vocalist Cindy Douglas, Colin Edwards, and, again, Sarah Beattie. A monologue explained the upcoming song. Basically, a woman had premarital sex with her fiancé. He was punished with lashes, she was stoned to death. The vocals themselves were bleak, perhaps suitably. The lyrics were, too, with imagery of a flower having its petals crushed. There were strains of violin, which furthered that feeling of bleak despair. They then echoed the vocal melody as it ascended.
There were deep and bassy effects via the vocals of Jason, which furthered the hellish soundscape. Lone violins sounded like extinguishing the flame of life, as the girl herself died. You could hear a pin drop. The main vocals, “I close my eyes, to bring her back to me”, and, “we must not forget, what evil happened here” are blunt, to say the least. The mourning vocals took on a brief, Middle Eastern form.
Come the next song, Jason turned to the audience, saying in a conspiratorial whisper, “Aiden just said, it’s the rappers”. And so came Jack III and Jahh Jizzle. This song was introduced with plucked violin. An uninhibited Jahh was really letting fly, and Jason was underpinning a relentless flow. This flow doubled up, pinning back the ears of his captive audience.
There was good use of hooks in a genre that sometimes mistakes repetition as lazy, rather than a tool for optimum song crafting. Jack was holding his own, too. At this point this reviewer realised the violin was being played like a bass guitar. Now it was time for Jack to double up his flow. Jahh closed proceedings with sample verses from his recent release, The Jahh Jizzle EP, such as those from “All Over Me”. Very good, indeed.
Once that was over, APA’s two associate artists had yet more friends to invite onstage. This came in the form of Fiona Soe Paing. This was Swedish in essence, folkish and with a real swing to it. All this reviewer could do was equate it to Swedish death metal, which utilises some of those folkish elements.
Some satisfaction and appreciation was gained from this entry level grasp of proceedings. Light wind, via Jason, blew through the track as the melody kicked into life. It then became really joyous, aspects seemingly taking on a classical bent. This ‘wind’ came in again, as things slowed down. The melodies reminded one of what you’d hear during most bagpipe numbers. A highlight of the night so far.
Finally came two songs from the curtain callers, The Connect Group. Basically just about everybody from that night onstage. It began creepy, with percussive hitting of violin strings with bow. The guitar then kicked in, and suddenly the song took on a more earnest vein.
The beatboxing was holding it all together, rather than becoming a distraction. The Middle Eastern vocals surprisingly worked well in this context. The song then seems to segue into multiple violin harmonies, six of which onstage in total. There were world elements, too. Perhaps African. It had an irresistible hook, aswell. Another highlight of the night so far.
Their second effort had a touch of sorrow, again, six violins in unison. It was previously explained how many time signatures were in this number. The song proper had a bass that came into the song with such clarity that it give the song a new introduction. A Middle Eastern influence was, again, heard. An emotional crescendo built to make yet another highlight of the night.
Words by Andrew Watson