Faust at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh


It is often difficult to find something to do on Halloween that doesn’t involve excessive amounts of alcohol and outfits that would be deemed offensive at any other time of the year. However, once again the Usher Hall provides the perfect cultural alternative for this day of horrors.

As part of an evening of entertainment, it opened its doors to a freak show of gangsters, dolls, devils and time lords befitting their 1920s horror theme. As guests were welcomed with a live jazz band playing tunes of the time, they were left to soak up the atmosphere in the great building before heading on to the main hall for the warm up act.

Here, Scott Smith – a local musician and illusionist – dazzled the audience through his combination of séance, hypnotism and a thoroughly impressive final reveal which shocked and wowed his spectators in equal measure. Creating a suitably frightening atmosphere, he managed to chill his audience by convincing them that a young girl who died at the Cambridge Street School – the building which lay where the Usher Hall now stands – was trying to send messages from beyond the grave. Smith’s authoritative performance set up the evening perfectly for the main act.

F.W. Murnau’s Faust is one of the true classics of the silent era. A tale as much about morality as a disturbing story of what happens when a man sells his soul to the devil, it remains timeless in its ability to affect the viewer. With cinematography that is nothing short of exquisite for the period, its opening sequence featuring the four horsemen of the apocalypse is still just as haunting today.

It was, however, Donald Mackenzie’s organ recital that stole the show. With an original score composed by himself and loosely based on the original accompaniment and a selection of well known hymns, it brought gusto and gravitas to the piece, creating an incredibly eery and absorbing mood that brought to mind what cinema was truly meant to be.

For the alternative Halloween evening this ticked all the right boxes, allowing for a night to remember, and one to definitely recommend.

Taken from The Student, published online Sat Nov 5th 2011.

Tindersticks presents Claire Denis Film Scores 1996-2009


Claire Denis is well known for her thought provoking films which contain little dialogue, instead focusing on individual themes portrayed through long drawn out shots, sounds and textures. Often abandoning a conventional approach to narrative, she lets actions and music do the talking, creating powerfully absorbing films.

This has in part been made possible through her long term collaboration with Nottingham based indie band Tindersticks. Crafting soundtracks during the creative process, as opposed to being added in the later stages of production, their songs have been made with the direct intention of capturing the various ideas at work in each scene.

A celebration of the ongoing work between Denis and Tindersticks, the Usher Hall put on an evening of live scores played to images of Denis’ films. The result is an original and altogether captivating experience.

Following a few minor technical problems, the band opt to open with one of their own songs “Bearsuit” from their 1997 album Curtains, before breaking in to the emotive title sequence from Nénette et Boni. With ethereal piano and whimsical glockenspiel set against images of Alice Houri floating fully clothed in a swimming pool, the result is enrapturing. It is amazing how the combination of video and sound can make the Usher Hall feel inescapably cavernous; meaningful even outside of the context of the film.

As the set progresses, notable moments are recreated live: the beautiful train scene from 35 Shots of Rum, with its touching acoustic guitar and melodica; the opening scene of Trouble Every Day, which features one of the few additions of Stuart Staples’ impassioned vocals; and the haunting scene from The Intruder, where a single distorted note resonates as two men carry a body dripping with blood over the crisp white snow.

As a live experience, this is undeniably innovative, however a second half featuring songs almost entirely from their own albums reduce it somewhat to a mere music gig. Although arguably their music easily stands on its own, unaided by Denis’ visuals, there is a definite feeling that more emphasis could have been placed on the cinematic element of the performance.

Taken from the Student published Tue Oct 25th 2011.