Ela Orleans. Live Score for "Lucky Star". Glasgow Film Festival
Joanna Newsom. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Live review. Queens Cross Mackintosh Church. 26 Feb 2016.
The Glasgow Film Festival is now a sprawling event, moving out far beyond its origins at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Rose Street. One of the most intriguing performances in this year's schedule was the showing of 1929 silent film, Lucky Star, accompanied by Ela Orleans playing her newly composed score for the film live. To add to the magic of this idea, the film was shown in the beautiful Queens Cross Church designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I have seen Ela Orleans before, supporting Julia Holter and performing at the Counterflows festival, where she played music to accompany the film visuals of artist Maja Borg. I do enjoy these old silent films, dusted off and presented to a new audience with live music. One of the best that I have seen was ZombieZombie performing to the film "Battleship Potemkin". The film "Lucky Star" maybe provides less drama than Sergei Eisenstein's film to hang music to, but Ela Orleans created a beautiful soundscape for the film.
The film itself is entrancingly filmed. The poor farm girl Mary, played by Janet Gaynor (who was later to become the first winner of the best actress Oscar), falls for handsome Tim, Charles Farrell, just as war is declared. He goes off to war with the bullying Martin Wrenn, played by Guinn Williams who played sidekicks in many Westerns for another 30 years. Tim is crippled in the war and as he and Mary fall for each other, Martin is ready to steal her away. The acting was beautiful to watch, with some greatly choreographed scenes, such as the fistfight at the top of a telegraph pole. I wasn't familiar with the work of director Frank Borzage, but his life makes interesting reading, and in 1929 he was the winner of the first Oscar awarded for a director. The melodrama of the ending may seem a bit dated now, but you are watching the denouement with a satisfied smile on your face. I really enjoy Ela Orleans lo-fi electronica sound and she has some gorgeous albums out that I would encourage you to seek out. With keyboards, violin, electronic sounds and field recordings Ela's soundtrack added so much to the film, defining the characters, the mood, the settings. From bird tweets adding to the bucolic rural idyll, to the bangs and crashes of trench warfare it was an integral part of the whole picture, way beyond what any Wurlitzer organ player would have managed back in the 1920s.
Live review. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. 2 March 2016
Joanna Newsom has been ploughing her own furrow for over a decade now and arrived in Glasgow this week touring with her impressive four-piece backing band to promote her new album, Divers. First up was Robin Peckhold, lead singer of Fleet Foxes, playing a solo set with acoustic guitar. Distinctive and bluesy he held the hall in silence. The church-like atmosphere of adulation continued when Joanna Newsom arrived on stage. With a breezy smile and business-like manner you swept through her set, alternating between playing at the harp or piano, both of which she plays beautifully. Her fellow musicians, including brother Pete on drums and keyboard, rotated through a bamboozling collection of instruments, often changing mid-song several times. Her quirky singing style lies somewhere between Kate Bush, and Bjork on helium, and at times I found it too off-putting to make any connection with the songs. Also the lyrics are interesting and intriguing when read, but unintelligible heard live. When she paused to re-tune her harp she offered a quick Q&A but gave away nothing, her focus seemingly more on her harp than her audience (though most questions were along the lines of "you're great aren't you?" she probably was right just to blank "do you like Buckfast?").
Sonically interesting, but I found it all disappointingly unengaging.