A concert by turns melancholy and joyous, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook is a smorgasbord of Scottish pop anthems to shed a tear or sing along to. Leith Theatre does her proud with its elegant semi-circular balcony and spacious standing area. It has received a once-over for the Light on the Shore series at the Edinburgh International Festival, looking very different from its outing for Hidden Door in May.
The beams of bright peacock lights illuminate the wee lassie from Banknock in Stirlingshire with her whispy pixie hair and direct gaze as she stands amongst her band (including brother, Steven) and beside Inge Thomson.
With a slowly swaying, tentative start, Polwart sings, “You know how it feels to reach too far, too hard, too soon, you saw the whole of the moon”, originally a Waterboys tune. The suffused blue wash hints at starlight and the crowd show huge appreciation from the off.
She regales us with stories about the songs’ origins in confident anecdotes. “You can hear the recent Chvrches song in the lavvies at the service station between Edinburgh and Glasgow.” Drumsticks herald a change to a brisk, syncopated beat, and we’re regaled with The Mother We Share while she plays the tambourine, that and the shawl revealing her folk roots.
After the audience participation part, where we are asked to cheer for one of two questions linking music to football, we move to the rock classic So Good To be Back Home by the Tourists and a little bit of hip action as Polwart bops along. We la laa to Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday as Polwart makes figures of eight with her hand looking like she is really enjoying herself, gesturing for us to join in. Somewhere in My Heart by Aztec Camera comes after, “a slice of pop performance”. For some reason the audience don’t dance – just a toe tap here and there. She dedicates The Machines to babysitters everywhere without whom “we would be at home”.
Best known as a singer songwriter, Polwart’s highly-acclaimed A Pocket of Wind Resistance is something quite different from singing these covers, however familiar they are.
Party Feels Two is performed by another member of the band and is a highlight, Polwart humbly accompanying him. There is a gentle pensive ending to the otherwise raucous From Rags to Riches. I Don’t Want to Know is beautifully balanced; and the first half ends with the spacy sounding Teardrop, more of an atmosphere than a song.
Coming back in after the interval there’s the sweet smell of hot bodies and the band start with another sad song, Chance from Big Country. Still not dancing! Thomson sings Mary’s Prayer in her high-pitched voice and two retro numbers, I Could Be Happy (for clapping along to) and Here Comes the Rain are next. As it is the day the great Aretha Franklin died (16 Aug 2018), she is honoured by the a cappella Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, fittingly followed by Women of the World – the choir swells and the drone drones with a churchy feel. Gerry Rafferty, in a pure full voice, is dedicated to their parents, and to end there is a medley including KT Tunstall, Dignity by Deacon Blue and finishing with Sunshine on Leith (Proclaimers). Well she had to really – and it went down a storm!