Tinderbox Fest 2015 – review

by Ben Glue

So, my experience of the fifth anniversary Tinderbox festival. Well the story started the day before, when I turned up at the beautiful Lady Glenorchy Church, which is now the Assembly Roxy, to volunteer and lend a menial hand… physically ready, but emotionally oblivious to what lay ahead!

I arrived mid afternoon to a hive of activity. Whilst the sound engineers struggled skillfully with the logistics of a 70+ orchestra at a non “plugged in” venue, a core Tinderbox team of the most creative people I have ever met organised and fine-tuned both frantically and tirelessly.

The first sign that this was much more than just a gig was when I arrived at the foyer to find a several-tonne, oriental electric rickshaw/tuk tuk, with a bizarre fabric house built onto it, stuck half way through the tiny, ornately carved church doorway! This was an installation providing a soundscape and information about the Beijing Community Rickshaw Project, which is yet another facet of Tinderbox’s diversity you should really google. The strange vehicle also served the noble purpose of acting as a gigantic play toy for all of the young kids that turned up on the day of the festival, freeing up their parents to take in the orchestral wonders and peruse the stalls. The youngsters, whilst happily exploring the heavily decorated tuk tuk, seemed at times pleasantly confused by the lack of a coin slot.

Fluttering overhead came more wonderment. Firstly in the form of a huge cloud above the stage, that was being built by an artist (Oana Stanciu) out of nothing but a lifetimes supply of baking paper and an invisible web of extremely fine fishing line! The ‘Cumulo Nimbus’ exhibit grew and grew, symbolically as the deadline loomed nearer.

The next overhead surprise came from the growing realisation that what at first glance looked like homemade bunting, really was… and much more.  This was the ‘Journey of a Thousand Wings’ installation by Kate MacKay, comprised of hundreds of silk swallows, each adorned with a hand written haiku and from many different languages.  So often in life things which appear at first glance so simple turn out to be so beautiful. The idea blossomed from the title, dreamed up by a ten year old Edinburgh girl, into an international project involving people from local schools and youth groups in Edinburgh, to migrant factories and schools in Beijing, to slums in Delhi. Then later with Tinderbox’s involvement, it evolved into a multicultural orchestra, giving local youngsters the opportunity to learn and collaborate with artists from China, Chile, Bosnia, Croatia and Ghana. With the right attitude there really is no limit to what can be achieved from such a simple, yet inciteful, concept.

When the 7pm deadline for the install day arrived and we had to vacate the building, there was an air of relief, yet also an apprehension of just how much was still to be done.

First thing the following morning was dedicated to the completion of Cumulo Nimbus, which had evolved into a fifteen foot wide, ten foot high, fluffy statement, that loomed above the vast performance area, which was now an organised snake pit of cables and mic stands. By ten o’clock young musicians began to fill the church, and with this congregation of creativity, the feeling of excitement began to lift the spirits of all.

As the festival began, established bands rocked the upstairs theatre and main hall, while up and coming young bands provided a relaxed and informal place to chill on the comfy sofas that adorned the downstairs snug bar.  Whether your tastes are eclectic, ambient or just down right foot stomping, there really was something there for everyone.

The crowning jewel was, of course, the Orchestral performances and collaborations. Never before have I experienced a building filled with the most wondrous of sounds. Not just from the stage but also from musicians on the balcony behind and several wondering through the crowd! the lighting, somewhat akin to a pink floyd concert, roused yet more emotional senses. It truly was a night I will never forget. the fact that this all culminated from a youth arts charity and not a major commercial production just beggared belief.

For me the absolute highlight came from a young man Thomas. He had been diligently helping out all weekend, a shy person whom I had not noticed with an instrument, or in any sound checks. When the encore came he performed an amazing rap over the top of the Tinderbox classic Bethany Lane to close the night. It truly blew me away. When I spoke to him afterwards, still in disbelief, he told the first time he had performed the piece was to nearly three thousand people including the Dalai Lama on his visit to Edinburgh in 2012! The experience had totally redefined his life he told me. Seeing the change Tinderbox had made for him, redefined mine.

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Ben Glue is a poet based in Edinburgh.

Photographs by Chris Scott