Chrysalis, at The Scottish Storytelling Centre Edinburgh, featuring Cindy Douglas and Kathy Dyson was a musical journey through the words and music of women both as songwriters and performers that was part of the larger three day programme of events that make up this year’s Audacious Women Festival weekend (20-23 February).
This is the fifth year of the festival, and from the opening introductions it is obvious that the big question here is just “what does audacious mean to you personally”? Well, of course the answer to that is different for every person attending the festival. For some that might be taking a giant step like climbing a mountain, but for others that equally giant step might be just speaking their opinion out aloud for the first time. The other clarification that I need to make here is that although there are some “women only” workshops, the festival is open to men too with an invitation to define and make their own audacious steps in 2020 too.
For some people reading this review, it might seem odd that it is, as you will see from the name at the bottom, written by a man, but although there are many events and choices in life that only women can experience, there are also many more that we all share together irrespective of gender, and that is important to always remember. I am also reviewing this performance because Cindy Douglas is one of my favourite jazz singers and it has been too long since I heard her sing live. Also, the chance to hear Kathy Dyson playing guitar was not to be missed. Both Cindy and Kathy are songwriters and performers steeped in jazz and blues music, so of course this was always going to be a performance that interpreted jazz and non-jazz songs in a unique style, and I have only selected a few songs here for this review.
You cannot go far in music without encountering the music and lyrical pain of Billie Holiday, and two standards, “God Bless The Child” and “Good Morning Heartache”, and few people interpret these songs with such an individual style as Cindy Douglas does. Keeping with the classic jazz/blues theme, was another fine performance of “Willow Weep For Me” written by Ann Ronell.
Jazz music is a form that allows you to go anywhere that you want with your voice, and you either love or hate scat vocalisation. For myself, there are only a few singers out there that I can ever listen to doing this as most do it so badly, but Cindy Douglas is always on my “listen to” list.
Although with jazz arrangements, jazz music was not our only source of musical inspiration for this evening. In fact, the songs chosen for this set were more focused on the lyrics and the story contained within them, and there can be few songs that focus on women being in a situation that forces them to make an almost impossible choice more than Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green”. Just what do you do when the only choices available are not the ones that you really want? If you have not heard this song about Joni Mitchell deciding to give her new born child up for adoption, then Google it now. This song for me though was an odd one as although the interpretation and arrangements from Cindy and Kathy were interesting, this song is simply perfect as originally written.
Cindy Douglas is also an interesting songwriter, and “Buried” is as good an example of any as to why we need to hear more of her own work, and more work with Kathy as the two make an interesting musical partnership that I am sure is going to be creating much more in the future.
So much of this review has up until now been about Cindy, but Kathy as a guitarist simply has the talent and skill to move in any direction that she wants musically and choosing to be playing a seven string guitar tonight added to those options available. For any guitar geeks out there, note, only one single guitar pedal used on stage - sometimes less really is more.
The one thing that cannot be escaped though in this show is that although Cindy and Kathy have been friends for a long time, this is actually their first live performance together, and there were times when an obvious lack of pre-show rehearsal time were showing a little bit (even on Skype, the small time delays make perfect timing together impossible) but somehow, in the context of this whole event I actually liked that and the little unexpected moments that it brought to the stage. Here there was just that feeling of two friends coming together in that old jazz custom of musical improvisation.
This event touched upon many non-musical themes too, and one being the special connectivity that women have with nature and its continual cycle of re-birth. Is this true? I don’t know to be honest, but I do think that we have somehow all become in our modern lives far too disconnected from the natural world. I have a belief that the world around us at every level is actually sentient in some way that we do not understand and given the chance to be closer to nature, we all re-connect with it in some instinctive way. Also I believe that often artists, musicians, poets and writers can somehow get a little bit closer to that source than others can.
This review deliberately is not using our usual star rating system as it seems totally inappropriate to be using it on an event that is all about people taking their own steps, large or small and making their own choices and statements. Such things should never be judged by others.
Review by Tom King