Saturday, September 24, 2011

Street Music in Scotland

Each evening upon returning to our hotel in Edinburgh, we were greeted by the sounds of one of the more unusual “rock” bands I have encountered. The Spinning Blowfish include a drummer, a guitar player and a bagpiper. It was surprising how natural the three seemed to be creating a distinctive Scottish sound but with a rhythm and feel that was clearly rock and roll.

A large crowd had gathered, some with camp chairs, in the plaza of the Grassmarket section of the city, so named because it was where the cattle grazed before being sold. The street stage was also the site of many a public hanging over the centuries with those poor souls remembered by a marble cross next to Blowfish guitar case for contributions.

Street musicians seem to be everywhere in big cities these days. In Edinburgh, many were drawn by the Fringe Festival. Some to promote shows (the favorite trick seemed to be lying on on the street holding instruments in frozen poses with flyers scattered around) while others were busking where the crowds gathered on The Royal Mile. Every few hundred feet they were playing fiddles, pipes, guitars, horns and drums. In between were people juggling chainsaws, riding unicycles or doing card tricks. (I have no idea what the bearded man in the Wonder Woman outfit was up to.)

The sounds we heard on our travels varied between local light pipes and classic American rock and roll (at one pub along Loch Duich we heard the entire Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits during lunch). I suspect there is a Bagpipe Muzak Service for gift shops to keep the tourists in a buying mood.

In Glasgow the shoppers on Buchanan Street (recently re-opened after nearby areas had been dressed to look like Philadelphia for shooting scenes in the new Brad Pitt movie, World War Zed) drew more street musicians. A sax player did a pretty fair “Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Outside a subway stop we saw a fiddler who had attached a trumpet horn to his violin to amplify his sounds.

The American influence was prominent. Posters advertised an upcoming Brian Wilson show at the Glasgow Royald Concert Hall. The Oran Mar Theater (in a former church’s basement) advertised a cabaret show: A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline.

Back on Buchanan street, I felt sorry for a couple of tow-headed ten year olds on guitar and drums trying to be heard over a most unusual Scottish Band.

I think these guys were called ClairDonaigh but that is my rendition of their Gaelic CD title. I can report they were loud and I shudder to hear what they would sound like indoors at a bar like King Tut’s Wa Wa Hut up the street.

As for the Spinning Blowfish, I sprang the five quid for a CD so now when I am asked for the magazine ad: What’s on your Ipod? I can say: Scotland The Brave.

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