Tommy Smith Sextet: Beasts of Scotland at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight was really three celebrations in one event. The Queen’s Hall is currently celebrating its 40th year as a live music venue and this is also an apt opportunity to celebrate this innovative work and the poetry of the late Edwin Morgan (27 April 1920 – 17 August 2010).
Beasts of Scotland was originally commissioned by the Glasgow International Jazz Festival in association with the Scottish Arts Council and first performed as part of their 1996 events, and the original performance and the recording on its release in 1996 received well deserved praise (and has continued to do so since).
The blending of one of Scotland’s greatest poets of the 20th century (1st Makar in 2004) and the always innovative music of Tommy Smith was a project that not only brought about something unique, but a good friendship between the two men and there was an obvious pleasure in Tommy Smith as he revisited this work on-stage.
Beasts of Scotland takes as its inspirational source the poetry of Edwin Morgan that celebrated the diversity and wonder of Scottish wildlife, and its scope is wide-ranging, from majestic Golden Eagles down to the ever present and troublesome Midge, and all of Morgan’s words were brought to life in wonderful interpretation by Narrator Tam Dean Burn.
You can still purchase the original recording of “Beasts of Scotland”, and with the exception of “Red Deer” which was omitted for several reasons (including performance time available and availability of the original musical score), all our other wonderful creatures were brought to life in their full musical and creative glory as the music of Tommy Smith echoed not only the wildlife of Edwin Morgan’s poems, but the very stories he created around the “Beasts of Scotland. Here they are, performed in the original order tonight as per the original performance and recording track order
5.Red Deer (Not performed)
Beasts of Scotland may be over 20 years old now, but it is still a work of innovation that still has the ability to re-define what many people consider to be jazz music, or even perhaps what jazz music can be capable of in interpretation and performance.
The Tommy Smith Sextet line-up for this performance saw Tommy with Andy Panayi (saxes) Tom Gordon (drums and a Brazilian musical visitor to our “beasts collection”) , James Copus (trumpet), Pete Johnstone (piano – doubling up from Square One) and Calum Gourlay (bass).
This performance was presented by The Queen's Hall and supported by Medici Advisors.
Opening our show this evening was the innovative talents of Square One, a young Glasgow based band consisting of
Joe Williamson – Guitar
Peter Johnstone – Piano
David Bowden – Double Bass
Stephen Henderson – Drums & Percussion
For such a young band, they already have several albums to their recording back catalogue and a wealth of talent to build their growing reputation upon. Guitarist Joe Williamson won the 2018 Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year award and all four band members met each other whilst studying at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (where Tommy Smith is also Head of Jazz).
As a band, Square One could easily take the very safe road of performing the “jazz standards”, but are rightly creating their own music that is as wide ranging as their diverse talents, and a work like “Winters Walk” (from their Double Bind album) gave us all a small taste of what could come from these young musicians in the coming years.
I don’t think that anyone reading this review would argue (well I hope not) that no music can stay rooted in its past glories, and Square One are following in the paths of many jazz pioneers before them and their merging of young indie music styles and cutting edge jazz is I hope something that brings a new generation of younger listeners into the vast landscape that is Jazz music. A small insight as to what future possibilities might come from Square One was possible when Peter Johnstone performed with The Tommy Smith Sextet here on piano.
Review by Tom King