The Gospel According to Mr Niz with the Bevvy Sisters & Soundhouse Choir at The Queen’s Hall tonight brought the sounds of Gospel black music from the Deep South of the USA to Edinburgh, and appropriately this building is a former church with a history dating back to the 1820s.
This event is probably one of the most “off the wall” projects that I have reviewed in a while and with the large number of people involved in its creation and performance there was at times a slightly chaotic element to the smooth running order of things, but it all came together somehow to make one of the most “good-feeling” performances that I have reviewed in a long time.
Who are all the participants then? Well, let’s start with Mr Niz himself. Mr Niz aka Stuart Nisbet is well known to many people as one of Scotland’s best session guitarists and his work on many other musical projects, and his music tonight comes from his 2013 album “The Gospel According To Mr Niz” released under the name of Joe Nisbet Jr. The name and the album are Stuart’s homage to his father Joe Nisbet, an evangelical preacher with whom he toured across the southern states of America as a child. This is not Gospel music played to fit into a genre, but Gospel music coming from where it should always come from, the heart, and there were some great re-workings of gospel classics such as “I'm A Pilgrim” and “The Prodigal Son” blending perfectly with original songs, of which “Too Blue” was one of my favourites. All of the music taken from the album was allowed to come fully to life with the format of Stuart’s band, The Bevvy Sisters and The Soundhouse Choir on stage.
The Bevvy Sisters, Heather Macleod, Gina Rae, Louise Murphy and guitarist David Donnelly are known to many audiences across Scotland (and further afield) for their unique take on some of their soul music favourites and more traditional songs, and Heather Macleod is also the founder and director (and one of the driving forces behind tonight’s show) of the now 100 plus member Soundhouse Choir.
The Choir take their name from The Soundhouse Organisation, a local musical organisation (and registered charity) who promote and support a wide variety of music all year round, often at The Queen’s Hall. The choir were first to take to the stage tonight with music ranging from the contemporary music of Roberta Pia (Whirlpool) to tales of the hardships of working in the mills of old. This choir is a true community choir, anyone is free to come along and sing with them, and this performance was for some members their first public one, and it was nice to see in this set and their later one with Mr Niz how the choir loosened up both in voice and body language as the evening progressed. If you have not heard yet, the choir have been invited to go to Cuba and perform live.
This event was presented by The Queen’s Hall and The Soundhouse Organisation, and Soundhouse also have regular music slots at Soundhouse @ Traverse Theatre, and this year were responsible for organising Tradfest. With this interlinking background, many people on stage tonight have known one another for many years and that is in part what made the atmosphere here tonight such a warm and friendly one. Watching the choir perform tonight though, and seeing just what a special space it is for the many people in it and the community spirit it has created, I suspect that this choir will stand the test of time as one of lasting achievements of Soundhouse.
This evening was simply an enjoyable one and I suspect however that the old founding fathers of the church would never have envisaged a night like this one in their imaginations taking place within their walls – people singing, enjoying themselves, men and women on stage and music from a non-denominational hymnbook. What most of us would call fun, and it all went ahead without any lightening bolts of disapproval from above which is just as well as The Queen’s Hall, which celebrates 40 years as a music venue this year, has just undergone a major and expensive restoration project to allow it to continue to bring music of all genres to us all for many more years to come.
Review by Tom King