The Elephant Sessions

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The Perth Festival of the Arts is in full swing and I’m about to see the genre-bending folk group, ‘The Elephant Sessions’. This is my fourth event of the festival and so far I’ve loved every one. Tonight’s venue is Perth Concert Hall and the orchestra pit from The Marriage of Figaro has been removed and the auditorium arranged in an intimate cabaret seating style. Support is to be provided by two award-winning acts, Fara and Siobhan Miller.

First up is Fara, a band of four Orkney girls who have been playing music together since early childhood. The long-standing chemistry that they have is visible within minutes of them taking the stage and is particularly telling on their excellent instrumental ‘The Dragon’. There is a real synchronicity to their playing and this shines through with the beautiful three-part harmonies on their cover of Stan Rogers ‘Three Fishers’. The highlight though is an inventive arrangement of Joe South’s ‘Games People Play’, incorporating both pizzicato violins and more soaring harmonies.

Siobhan Miller was recently named Scots Singer of the Year for an unprecedented third time, and when I hear her rousing vocal performance on 19th-century shanty ‘The Banks of Newfoundland, I can see why. Her songwriting skills are rock solid too and she shows them off to great effect on ‘The Western Edge’, which features a terrific piano part. I’m a huge Dylan fan, so I was thrilled with Siobhan’s stripped back arrangement of ‘One Too Many Mornings’ from his ‘Times They Are a-Changin’’ Album.

When ‘The Elephant Sessions’ hit the stage, it soon becomes clear that their take on Celtic music is not quite anything I’ve heard before. Opening instrumental ‘Cup’ almost has an EDM vibe, with some fantastic kinetic drumming from Greg Barry and bassist Seth Tinsley’s handling samples. The next song is hard to describe, with its melding of funky palm-muted mandolin courtesy of Alasdair Taylor, and a fiddle part from Euan Smillie that switches deftly between more traditional Celtic playing and slow, sweeping blaxploitation violin lines. If I had to describe the resulting sound, I’d probably go with ‘Folk-Funk’ or maybe ‘Alt-Disco’. Either way, I like it!

Guitarist Mark Bruce gets his chance to shine with the high energy 'Dirty', which has a much heavier guitar sound live than it did in its original incarnation on the award-winning album, ‘All We Have Is Now’. There is even a hint of Falkirk band Arab Strap on ‘Lament For Lost Dignity’, with its indie sensibility and bass chords. Things get a touch metal on the closing instrumental ‘Doofer’, with more frenzied mandolin shredding from Alasdair and huge sounding power chords ringing out from Marks Fender Jaguar. It also features some varied and innovative violin lead from Euan and there is a distinctly cinematic quality to the coda. It’s a great end to an impressive line-up of Scottish music.

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