As Saturday’s enthusiastic rugby crowds were attempting the perilous journey home, stepping into the warm, welcoming, creative space of Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery was most welcome. This Strange Invitation, courtesy of the Fruitmarket and Lost Map Records, to enter the gallery space ‘after-hours’ was pleasingly akin to the illicit feeling of being locked in a department store after closing time.
Billed as a night of “fun ‘n frolics at the Fruitmarket”, ambient music and an open bar welcomed guests in from the cold to this well-loved arts venue, which recently hosted a week of artist’s films, installations, performances and music called Open Out.
Before the show there was a chance to view artist Joe Coghill’s exhibition Veramusement, an archival style installation of cassette tapes, signs, paintings and posters that offer a glimpse into the life and work of “rebel artist” John Margotti, who has been pivotal to Coghill’s practice since 2012. Layers of image, text and sound wove a narrative of dissent and drew our awareness to the potent influence of fake news and “alternative facts”.
The evening’s live music began with a short three-song set from Kate Canaveral, one quarter of Kid Canaveral and the group’s “representative on the mainland”. Describing her own music as “experimental electronic”, she entertained the still-assembling audience on guitar with two of the group’s gentler tracks before finishing with a touching version of Dolly Parton’s Bargain Store.
After Kate’s appropriately mellow start to proceedings it was the turn of Happy Spendy. It’s safe to say this little gem of a group had the crowd falling in love from the word go. Derry-born, Glasgow-based singer Eimear Coyle captivated us with her touchingly soft, childlike vocal and endearingly comical between-song banter. In one anecdote she recalled a time when her vocation of choice was misheard as “snowboarding” instead of “keyboarding”, though she promised us she’d make it to the next Winter Olympics anyway.
Featuring keyboards, synths, beat-boxing and guitar, Happy Spendy played beautifully constructed, minimalist pop with the hint of St. Etienne. Regardless of their nostalgic lyrics, the wistful magic of their tunes left us all uplifted and happy. Musical joy incarnate, Happy Spendy make you forget your troubles and those of our chaotic world – even if only for a few blissful minutes. The world needs more music like this.
Next, it was Kathryn Joseph’s turn to wow the audience, abandoning her customary vintage piano in favour of a child-sized version that “tinkled” eerily like a funfair soundtrack, as well as the enchanting yet little-heard harmonium. These minimalist instruments accompanied Joseph’s uniquely haunting vocals as they soared through the gallery space. Performing songs from her album Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I Have Spilled and ending with one from her new project Outlines (a collaboration with The Twilight Sad’s James Graham), Joseph held us in reverential silence as we drifted between this world and the next.
Bas Jan filled the final slot of Strange Invitation, which coincided with the launch of their debut album Yes I Jan. Headed-up by harpist Serafina Steer, who sported a lively dungaree and neon t-shirt combo, the London-based experimental post-punk group delivered a wildly eclectic set of violin, drums, bass guitar, synths, idiosyncratic arrangements and delightful harmonies. The Bas Jan trio create music that spans punk, folk and electronica – often all in a single song. At times Bas Jan seemed less like a band and more like a performance art piece filled with spoken word, percussion, offbeat sounds and lyrics laced with what one listener described as “millennial wit”. Clever and quirky, Bas Jan were a definite crowd pleaser.
Bas Jan’s set came to an end, the Lost Map DJ’s took to their digital decks to fill the room with funky floor fillers, the dance-floor in turn filling with Saturday-nighters fully intent on dancing until the gallery closed its doors once more. Here’s hoping the Fruitmarket open them soon for more live, creative and inspiring events like this.