Fife set for the sounds of summer at outdoor festival

Midge Ure
Midge Ure

Summertime in Fife looks set to have a new, spectacular – and regular – addition.

Following it’s maiden outing last year, the Byre At the Botanics festival in St Andrews proved to be such a success it now looks set to be a permanent fixture on the Fife calendar.

A scene from the production of La Boheme from the company OpearaUpClose

A scene from the production of La Boheme from the company OpearaUpClose

Set in the beautiful St Andrews Botanic Gardens, this year’s programme offers an even wider variety of entertainment, with something for everybody, and coordinator Ruth Marsh said she was thrilled to be coming back.

“The Botanic Gardens are a truly beautiful setting and turn the concerts into a unique and memorable night out,” she said.

“With Elkie Brooks sold out and tickets for the likes of Midge Ure and the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK going fast, it’s fantastic for the town to be able to host large-scale live events.

“It’s a real draw for visitors and a treat for locals to have big name acts on their doorstep.

Ray McVay leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK

Ray McVay leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK

“We’re also proud to support young local companies like Screaming Peacock, who will be dishing up their Fife venison burgers and sausages to concert-goers through the month.”

And one of the highlights will be Midge Ure, with the last chance to see his ‘Something From Everything’ concert, featuring songs from right across his 40 years in music.

“This is the last time for this,” he said, “it’s been going on for the last year and this will draw a line under it.

“We came off the previous tour with the same line up, myself and the duo India Electric Company, and had such a good time when it came to the end of it, I came up with the concept of carrying it on with ‘Something From Everything’, a track or two from every official album that I’ve put out, which is 16 in all.”

The result is a journey through Midge’s back catalogue, featuring songs from the Rich Kids, Visage, Ultravox and as a solo artist.

He says choosing which tracks to play wasn’t easy.

“Because I was altering the arrangements so much and doing these very stripped down acoustic versions of the songs, there were some songs where I couldn’t get my head around making the transition from electric to acoustic, so there was a fair bit of prep work and lots of rehearsals.

“So I made a list of all the songs I potentially wanted to do and then focused on those that worked within that format. The thing I discovered was, that when people heard these songs stripped down, they heard more than they would in the recordings.

“I produce my own stuff and I’m guilty of multi-layering my productions, so there are a lot of melodies and counter-melodies all fighting to be heard. So when we did this it was a chance to say, right, you play this part, you play that part and I’ll keep the rhythm going in the middle, and all of a sudden you could hear these melodies independently and then when they came together they could play at the same time. It gelled, it was like creating atmospherics without electronics.”

The show’s laid back feel allows for Midge to spend time talking between songs, and he makes for a most engaging presence on stage.

“Well, I’ve been doing it for a while! I’m going out with a full band later in the year and there won’t be as much chat.

“In an acoustic scenario like ‘Something From Everything’ it is very chilled and atmospheric and you can prattle on and tell stories and talk about the songs.

“I think people find that infinitely more engaging than just saying, well he just sang for an hour and a half. They’re getting all the songs they were going to anyway, but they’re also getting this little bit of me and people like that. It’s basically just an extension of me coming and playing in your sitting room.”

Having toured relentlessly since the release of his last studio album ‘Fragile’ in 2014, Midge says he’s found it hard to find the time to work on new material, but now has plans to get back into the studio.

“The last two years have been intense on the touring front, it’s nobody’s fault but mine, but I am working on new material, though it’s been sporadic.

“I’m also working on a new album of orchestral versions of Ultravox and solo material. I’ve really re-imagined the songs. I’ve gone back and looked at them and turned them into something spectacular. So I’ve been doing all this stuff, as well as touring at the same time.”

Back in the early 70s Midge was also touring heavily and says that St Andrews was a familiar stop.

“St Andrews Uni in the student union – that was a regular date for Salvation, my first band, when we were touring around Scotland. We played there on a regular basis.

“You had the Top Rank gigs and the ABC gigs back then, so those were the sort of places you played. There was a big circuit there and the student unions were a main part of that so you went out and cut your teeth and learned.

So with St Andrews being the final ‘Something From Everything’ gig, will Midge give the people what they want and roll out ‘Forever And Ever’, his 1976 number one with Slik with which he has an uncomfortable relationship?

“No! They’re going to have to keep wanting!”

Also making a return to St Andrews are OperaUpClose with a contemporary twist on Puccini’s classic La Boheme.

Founder and artistic director, Robin Norton-Hale, set the story in modern-day London, and in the process bagged an Olivier Award for best new opera in 2011.

“We started in 2009 in a 35-seat room above a pub,” Robin says, “it was very up close and the thinking was that fringe theatre had existed for years, but fringe opera didn’t.

“So in the same way that fringe theatre was about shaking up the classics, such as performing a two-handed Shakespeare, opera had never had that done to it.

“In many people’s minds, opera was still very elitist, so we wanted to see if it would work in that grimy pub setting – and it did!”

La Boheme was the company’s first production and Robin found that people who would normally go and see a production in big opera houses loved her work, and people who would never go to the opera were coming along too: “So we were pleasing both potential audiences.”

Since then OperaUpClose has been a touring company and has grown to play mid-size venues, but without losing any of its trademark intimacy.

“Our style is that much more immediate and intimate. We’ve done this production that we’re bring to the Byre on a mid-scale level for quite a long time now.

“It’s about real people doing ordinary things and the production is modern, it’s set now. Mimi is an immigrant who is working as a cleaner to send money to her family to give them a better life, so it’s even more relevant and contemporary than ever.

“The audience are going to find that there are a few surprise elements to this production. It’s going to be really fun and engaging and if we’ve done our job properly, hopefully there will be a few tears at the end too!”

Elsewhere on the bill is The Glenn Miller Orchestra UK, playing the music of the big band leader of the 1930s and 40s and band leader Ray McVay said that he too had been in St Andrews before.

“Around 1992 I took three members of the band, who’d played in the original Glenn Miller Orchestra, to St Andrews to play golf.

“I’d called up a week before to see if I could book them on to the Old Course and was told there was no chance. When I explained who they were the guy’s attitude changed! So I drove them to St Andrews, it was a surprise for them, and they couldn’t believe they were going to play there. It made their year!”

Ray began in the music industry playing rock n’ roll as musical director for impresario Larry Parnes, which meant working with legends such as Eddie Cochran, Billy Fury and Gene Vincent, before he returned to his first love, the music of the big band era, and was asked by the president of the Glenn Miller organisation in the USA to set up the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK in 1988.

Almost 30 years later the band is going strong and Ray put his success down a lack of his kind of music on the radio.

The band has played all over the world, from South America to Japan, and Ray says he’s now looking forward to bring the show to Fife.

“We’ll be playing all Glenn’s popular hit numbers like In The Mood and Little Brown Jug and we also play a few little tributes so we have a Frank Sinatra song, a Louis Armstrong song and a tribute to Harry James, things like that.”

For tickets to any shows in the programme, visit www.standrewsbyreinthebotanics.com or call 01334 475000.