June 2, 2016
Wednesday evening saw a veritable magician conjure up ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ in the Long Room – although apparently Professor Richard Wiseman would much rather you called him a psychologist. Mind Magic, his talk on the human brain and its willingness to see magical miracles, proved that we’re all a bunch of happily gullible fools; ones who can’t even see fluffy, chest-beating gorillas staring them right in the face. After a potted history of his life in magic, from an adorably awkward teenager to becoming a member of The Magic Circle, and finishing with his current academic research about why our brains are so willingly confused, Wiseman set about proving (and disproving) a series of illusions.
His casual, chatty style of hosting relaxes the room, and we humiliate ourselves by repeatedly falling for all of his “misdirections” – that’s a fancy wizarding term, I think. He walks us through video illusions, debunks photos of ghostly occurrences, shows us how easy it is to look like a master of body language, and hints at the stage props which help him to look so darn magical. The show’s penultimate finale involves the entire audience: on entering the room, everyone received four playing cards. With the help of an instructional vid, we rip our cards, throw them on the floor and somehow conduct magic in our very own hands! I have since tried and failed to recreate this at home…
Wiseman’s final trick uses super-quick, impeccable mathematics and he bows out to huge applause, leaving the floor covered in torn up diamonds and spades and a giggly, excitable audience.
Next up in the Long Room is a showcase curated by Jenny Lindsay – aka Rally, of literary cabaret super-duo Rally&Broad. First on the stage is Louie and the Lochbacks, a super-group of sorts made up of Louie (Hector Bizerk’s lyrical mastermind), Charlotte Brimner (who we’ll see later as Be Charlotte) and two members of Glaswegian six-piecer Pronto Mama. Separately, the members have serious gigging credentials, but tonight is the Lochbacks’ first gig as a group. As expected, Louie’s storytelling is scenic and powerful, and backed up by the accapella vocals of the trio behind him, it makes for a properly moving performance.
Glaswegian poet McGuire follows, bringing poems of tricky subject matter. He narrates perspectives on sex, religion and politics with fluidity, jumping between viewpoints and even using salad ingredients to formulate a cutting take-down of political prejudice and xenophobia.
Scottish Slam champ Iona Lee follows, fresh from representing her country at the world championships in Paris. She talks of folklore, retelling the ballad of Tam Lin with a bleak, romantic witchery, slams the Tampon Tax with a scathing dismissal of ‘bad’ blood and navigates the murky waters of memory loss with touching, imaginative sensitivity. Too good.
Jenny Lindsay performs a poem of her own – a loving snub to the City of Edinburgh, and all its attention-seeking, flouncy frills and dirty, crumbly wynds – before introducing short sets from Be Charlotte and Marc Rooney of Pronto Mama, who add a musical touch to the evening’s focus on lyricism and wordplay. Be Charlotte’s imaginative vocals sound incredible on their own, but when she brings in a backing track it’s easy to see how her talents translate into huge, innovative pop songs. Marc Rooney’s set is “in danger of becoming a farce” – his words, as he and Pronto Mama bandmate encounter a series of tech difficulties, but the audience supportively clap a false start and fall back to a focussed hush when the duo begin for real. Delicate, soulful songs show off Rooney’s versatile voice, as he journeys through proper balladry with a tiny touch of Jeff Mangum about his more experimental vocal fills.
There’s a small break before Jonnie Common’s headline set – just long enough for him to arrange a multitude of wires and buttons atop a sparkly silver table cloth. Joined by powerhouse drummer Peter Kelly, Jonnie Common’s set is one of the first he’s played since fathering a wee one, and he jokingly tells a cute anecdote about his farting kid before claiming he isn’t “one of those” parents. He dips in and out of songs both old and new, and much to his delight, he “doesn’t fuck them up.” Packed full of kooky detail and off-the-cuff daydreams, we’re treated to a song about how the air conditioner thing on top of a bus looks a bit like a bat, and then familiar fan favourite Photosynth. His gadgetry ranges from knobs and loops to a good, old fashioned harmonica and the live drums add an urgency to Common’s intelligent, understated tunes. He’s joined on stage for a punchy rendition of Scratch Und Sniff by his Carbs bro MC Almond Milk, and closes the show with a self-proclaimed medley for a warm, witty end to a night of words and wizardry.