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MPG Acoustic Showcase (At The Jazz Bar)

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

A Friday classic at Edinburgh's famous venue, The Jazz Bar, the MPG Acoustic Showcase is a tapestry of soulful, exciting, and comedic musicians with great acoustic offerings to start off the weekend.

jazz bar acoustic swing Edinburgh guitar musician singer song-writing

“Everyone got on stage and played together. This felt fitting for the show, since that is exactly what it is, a tapestry of sounds and sensibilities, and the perfect way for any music lover--whether you're on stage or in the audience--to start the weekend."

Last Friday, I found myself at one of my favourite Edinburgh venues: The Jazz Bar. I came on a Friday evening, at 6 pm, for their MPG Acoustic Showcase, starring singer-songwriters Mike MacFarlane, Paul Montague, and Graeme Mearns. It's a chill, fun time at one of the best venues for music in Edinburgh. Because The Jazz Bar not only has amazing offerings in terms of jazz music, it's an underground oasis of music. You walk down the steps from the busy Edinburgh street, and then there you are, listening to live music, anytime from early evening until 2:30 am (with extended hours during The Fringe, of course).

And that was what I did on Friday. After a busy week, it was an incredible feeling to walk down into the basement of The Jazz Bar, sit at one of the candlelit tables, and listen to the retro 30s style music playing on the speakers before the show. Chatted with Andy, the friendly-slash-sardonic bartender, and sat down as I waited for the show to start. Mike, the host, got onstage, and after trying to figure out whether he, or Paul, or Graeme would open the show, he picked up his guitar and said: "Let's not organise--let's not break with convention." And then he began to play.

What a way to start the night! Even though Mike said to me later that night, "I'm not a musician, I'm a dog-walker," and handed me his dog-walking business card, nothing could be further from the truth. Inspired by 70s folk revival artists such as Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, and John Martin, Mike MacFarlane is true to that style. His calm, sweet voice, matched with the stylised plucking and folksy strumming on the guitar, transported me, to a place where stories of falling in love and getting lost in nature and living in dreams of nostalgia is an everyday occurrence. He hit all the notes on the guitar so that no other instrument was necessary, and sang so that emotion lived everywhere in him, in his voice, in his shining blue eyes. When he played his original song, "Lost," it was his best: soulful and sensitive, with delicate lyrics that made it moving and deep, his voice and guitar playing interweaving, achieving a perfect balance between the two.

But the amazing performances didn't stop there. Next on was Graeme Mearns (pictured above), a singer-songwriter who, in addition to playing at The Jazz Bar for the Acoustic Showcase, also has a two-hour Acoustic Swing show there on Wednesdays. He's also been preparing for a Fringe Show (which you can learn more about here, if you want to go this summer). So he knows his stuff, and he's a musician who knows exactly what the audience wants. So it's no surprise that when this tall, skinny, moustachioed man in a dark suit and pointed leather the shoes--the jazz musician version of Dalí--walked onto the stage, his presence immediately took over. Swaggering up to the mic, he said, "It's too hot for this rock 'n' roll malarkey, isn't it?" But it wasn't too hot, because he brought the heat and we loved it. With his fast swingy rhythms and, in his first song, an original, a Spanish guitar sound, the audience buckled in for the ride. We were spellbound by this musician whose performance was all at once magical and mystical, and his technique impressive, as he plucked at the guitar in long solos. It's no surprise that Tom Waits, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and Django Reinhardt are all huge influences for Graeme.

After Graeme, it was Paul Montague's turn to go onstage. This singer-songwriter, who plays the guitar and harmonica and sings, has a sweet, emotional voice, that tells you a story anytime he sings a song. Oftentimes, he's accompanied by pianist Olly Farrell, who also has a residency at The Jazz Bar on Thursdays with The Future Heroes. Together, they are POllyglamorous, and many of their songs are comedic and oddball, which is a great way to end the night. One song, for example, is all about Paul's strange behaviour when it comes to how he gets on with his neighbours, such as taking their packages that arrive, or trying to kiss them hello. "For some reason," he began playing, "my neighbours hate me." Paul leads with his guitar and storytelling style, and Olly adds in perfectly-timed comedic bits with the piano, and the two play together in a kind of dance.

At the end of the show, guests were invited up. One of them was Jill Demann, a Parisian who moved to Edinburgh a few years ago and has now started writing music with Paul and Olly. She opened up with Norah Jones' "Turn Me On," and with her voice, soulful and jazzy and gentle, sang several beautiful ballads, as well as a duet with Paul. Mike got onstage and had a go at the electric guitar. And at the very end of the night, just after 8:30 pm, everyone got on stage and played together. This felt fitting for the show, since that is exactly what it is, a tapestry of sounds and sensibilities, and the perfect way for any music lover--whether you're on stage or in the audience--to start the weekend.

Learn more about what's on at The Jazz Bar here. This venue, described by Graeme Mearns as "a real haven for musicians," should be visited by anyone visiting Edinburgh who loves music (especially jazz, of course!). To learn more about the musicians reviewed above, you can learn about Graeme Mearns here and Olly Farrell here.

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