The Lunatic Fringe (of Edinburgh)

When you’ve lived somewhere all your life (or at least for the vast majority of the portion of your life that you can actually remember, as in my case), you tend to take the things that are there for granted… even if they’re the very same things other people will travel thousands of miles to come and gawk at. Case in point: when Edinburgh goes crazy with the largest arts festival in the world every August, I always used to spend more time getting irritated by all the tourists getting on buses and gazing around in wide-eyed astonishment, as if they needed not just the fares and destinations but the entire concepts of fiat currency and motorised transport explained to them while I just wanted to get home from work before midnight, than I did actually going to shows. But this year will be different, thanks mainly to living with a certified Fringe addict.

We’ve been to two shows already, which is quite good going considering there have been exactly two nights of August so far. Last night’s was a complete live performance of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells by two men. (For those of you that don’t know me, I am a massive Mike Oldfield fan. For those that do, my apologies, I’m afraid I’m going to bang on about Tubular Bells yet again).

This is my collection of Mike Oldfield CDs. Please don’t be alarmed, I am seeking professional help.

I didn’t know what to expect at all. It always feels a bit dangerous going to see a new interpretation of something that’s so close to my heart (in this case the album that first made me realise how amazing music could be), but this time I wasn’t disappointed!

For a start, it was very faithful to the original version, more than I would have thought possible with only two musicians and no pre-recorded backings, and probably even more so than some of Mike Oldfield’s performances of it. They also had a pretty impressive range of different instruments; although there were synths and samplers, they didn’t rely on them too heavily. I counted six guitars, a mandolin, one and a half drum kits, a glockenspiel, two kazoos and of course the eponymous long thin metallic hanging things in addition to the four assorted keyboards and the bewildering tangle of wiring underneath. The two guys both switched from one instrument to the next at an incredible speed, sometimes playing two at once while also adjusting things with their feet. I also didn’t see any sheet music or notes anywhere on the stage, so the whole thing must have been quite a memory test. But despite all this, one of them still found the time to down a half-glass of red wine during one of the quieter moments.

I’d definitely recommend it if you’re a Tubular Bells fan. Even if you’re not, it has to be one of the more entertaining ways to spend an hour of your August. Where else do you get to see one man going mental at a drumkit and a kazoo simultaneously while another hammers out piano chords and makes caveman noises into a microphone? 🙂


An Aversion To Versions

When there are different versions of a song or piece of music, I’ve noticed I get quite picky about which one I listen to, even if the differences are only minor (like two different mixes by the same artist). I was thinking about it this morning as I picked out Pet Shop Boys – A Red Letter Day to perk me up on my way into work, and noticed myself avoiding the album version in favour of the single release.

Almost all the time, it seems to be that the first version I hear burrows its way deep into my subconscious and settles in as my favourite, then any other ones I hear subsequently fail to unseat it. I remember how disappointed I was when I bought the CD of Hergest Ridge, one of my favourite albums by one of my favourite artists (Mike Oldfield) and found it sounded nothing like my Dad’s old LP that I knew and loved. In fact it sounded so weird and stripped down in comparison that I took my first CD back to the shop thinking it was faulty. It wasn’t… I later found out that the original mix actually wasn’t available on CD at all as Mike Oldfield had decided he liked a later remix better and wanted that one used for all future releases. (On the plus side, though, I was ridiculously over-excited when he eventually changed his mind and I finally got my hands on a shiny CD copy of the “real” Hergest Ridge – only fifteen years later!).

Often I end up raiding my Dad’s music collection or scouring the internet for that elusive version of Pachelbel’s Canon or Space Cowboy that I heard years ago and still can’t get out of my head. (Amazon MP3 is a godsend… they seem to have almost everything and you can preview it before buying to make sure it’s the “right” version!). It even happens with our own music sometimes… I still have a copy of the old vocal-less, keyboard-less MIDI demo mix of It Could Be Different because I listened to it so often back when we were making that song that sometimes I just crave hearing it again rather than the much more polished final version.

Actually I can only think of one song right now where the version I ended up liking wasn’t the first one I heard. Even though I’d got used to the album version of Running Man by Jimmy Nail first, it’s always sounded bland to me since hearing the single release.

Other music news: still haven’t managed to book any more gigs or festivals yet, though I’m looking out for them. Still also practising away at the piano and been meaning to post about that again. Still slowly getting nowhere with new Sonic Triangle EP, I’m sad to say :(.