Edinburgh International Festival: The 2021 line-up

Anna Meredith
Anna Meredith

Laura Mvula, Nadine Shah, Anna Meredith, Damon Albarn, Karine Polwart, Floating Points, Kathryn Joseph, Caribou and tUnE-yArDs are just some of the highlights from the eclectic lineup of music coming to Edinburgh as part of the International Festival

by Jamie Dunn | 02 Jun 2021
Oh, how we’ve missed the electricity and communal thrill of live performance. After over a year of empty stages, we’re tremendously excited to see the festivals and venues we love revealing their plans to make the tentative steps back to something close to normality. We’re particularly excited for Edinburgh to once again overflow with art with the return of the Edinburgh International Festival this summer, which is back with a global celebration of music, theatre and dance taking place 7-29 August.

“The programme we are announcing today represents a carefully organised return to live performance,” says Fergus Linehan, EIF’s director. “It is a collaborative effort between those who live in our city, our artists, the team at the festival, our donors and stakeholders and all who will be coming along to our performances.”

The Comet is Coming by Fabrice Bourgelle
The Comet is Coming by Fabrice Bourgelle

As ever, Linehan and his team will be bringing a world-class selection of work to the Scottish capital, with 170 performances announced this morning, covering everything from classical music and opera to star-studded theatre, dance and spoken word. We’re particularly excited about the eclectic contemporary music lineup, which features an enticing blend of brilliant Scottish artists alongside international talent.

Anna Meredith, Damon Albarn

First to catch the eye are two recent Scottish Album of the Year Award-winners and Skinny favourites: Anna Meredith and Kathryn Joseph. Meredith helped open EIF back in 2018 with the stunning audiovisual piece Five Telegrams, and the composer will be back again this year to perform music from her second album, FIBS. Meanwhile, Joseph will provide beautiful ballads from her debut Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled and its follow-up, From When I Wake the Want Is.

You’ll find more uber talented female voices on the bill with the soulful Laura Mvula, who’ll be bringing her brand of 80s new wave-inspired dance-pop, and Nadine Shah, who’ll be getting the chance to perform tracks from her fourth album, Kitchen Sink, in Scotland for the first time. Widely regarded as the voice of young African womanhood, Malian actress, musician and social activist Fatoumata Diawara, we’re told, will be tackling subjects such as “the pain of emigration, the struggles of African women and life under the rule of religious fundamentalists” with her first EIF performance.

Damon Albarn will be back at EIF this year accompanied by a band and string section. Expect performances of some of the iconic songs he’s recorded as part of Blur and Gorillaz, as well as from The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, his current musical project inspired by the landscapes of Iceland, which he completed during lockdown and we’re tod explores “themes of fragility, emergence and rebirth”. And electronic music producer, DJ, and musician Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points will bring his euphoric live show to Edinburgh.

Folk, jazz, dance and trip-hop

Modern UK jazz will be well-represented at EIF this year with performances from KokorokoMoses Boyd and The Comet is Coming – the latter returning to Edinburgh with their explosive cosmic jazz rave. Scottish trad-heads, meanwhile, can look forward to Inverness-born fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm, Glasgow instrumental folk band RURA, instrumental trad trio Talisk, Gaelic supergroup Dàimh, all-female Scottish-English collective the Kinnaris Quintet, and Glasgow’s Breabach, who’ll be bringing their double bagpipes, Gaelic vocals and step dancing to EIF.

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Karine Polwart talks songwriting at Edinburgh International Festival

Karine Polwart

Inspired by our Digital Composers series and developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in consultation with music educators, this project looks to help senior pupils who are looking at creating their own music, by providing them with insight into the song writing process from a variety of musicians, singers, and songwriters.

Multi-award-winning Karine Polwart has built a hugely successful career out of songs that tell stories and is one of Scotland’s best-known folk talents. In this conversation our host Lucy chats with Karine about the depth and breadth of her career, from starting out in bands through to making music for theatre and beyond. They explore her inspirations, her passions and her songwriting techniques.

Listen to the interview with Karine Polwart at: Digital Songwriters | Edinburgh International Festival

Way beyond Hadestown: the windswept rush of folk musicals

In 2011, I watched a flock of British folk luminaries, led by US singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, perform Mitchell’s folk opera Hadestown at London’s Union Chapel. Ten years on, Hadestown has been a hit at the National Theatre and on Broadway and has led the way for an increasing number of songwriters to merge folk and musical theatre.

“Hadestown was inspiring to quite a lot of us,” says Maz O’Connor, who is among the singer-songwriters to make that leap. “It showed that you don’t have to identify as a music-theatre composer, you can just be a songwriter and work in a longer form. It made me realise I might already have the tools to do it.”

O’Connor performed in the RSC’s 2013 staging of As You Like It, which featured a score by Laura Marling, and in the folk-inspired “play with songs” Narvik in 2017. Now, she is developing her first musical, The Wife of Michael Cleary, based on the true story of Irish dressmaker Bridget Cleary, killed in 1895 by her husband who believed she had been abducted by fairies and replaced with a changeling. “There’s a lot of folk songs where women get murdered by their lovers, but it’s quite difficult to find a context to sing them in,” says O’Connor. “This piece allows me to have an opportunity to explore and contextualise it, rather than just sing a murder ballad.” The musical, she says, will suggest “how nationalism, folklore, superstition, religion and patriarchy all work together to create violence against women”.

a woman standing on a stage: Bethany Tennick as Eilidh, and Kirsty Findlay as Arran in Islander. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian© Provided by The Guardian Bethany Tennick as Eilidh, and Kirsty Findlay as Arran in Islander. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian

Finn Anderson’s folk musical Islander was a hit at the Edinburgh fringe in 2019 and has since been released as an album and adapted for BBC Radio 4. A two-hander about a girl whose life is changed when a mysterious stranger washes up on the shore of her island home, it is steeped in folk traditions of both music and storytelling. It also feels very contemporary, the songs built up in layers of beautiful vocal harmonies using live looping. “I’m always interested in innovation versus tradition,” Anderson tells me. “Traditional music wants to be alive, and wants to always be breathing and living.” Continue reading

The Folk on Foot Festival of LOVE!

14:00​ Nancy Kerr and James Fagan

14:05​ Heidi Talbot

14:20​ Seth Lakeman

14:35​ Lady Nade

14:50​ Kris Drever

15:05​ O’Hooley and Tidow

15:20​ Chris Wood

15:35​ Nancy Kerr and James Fagan

15:40​ Bella Hardy

15:55​ Sam Lee

16:10​ Rachel Newton

16:30​ Eliza Carthy

16:45​ Beth Porter and the Bookshop Band

17:00​ Gwilym Bowen Rhys

17:15​ Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver

17:30​ Martin Simpson

17:45​ Kerry Andrew/You Are Wolf

18:00​ Seckou Keita

18:15​ Peggy Seeger

18:30​ Kitty Macfarlane

18:45​ The Breath

19:00​ Steve Knightley

19:15​ Karine Polwart

19:35​ Jon Boden

19:50​ Nancy Kerr and James Fagan

Donate to support the artists and the charity Help Musicians at https://www.folkonfoot.com/festival

💿 Buy CDs at our virtual merch tent at https://www.folkonfoot.com/festival

⌚ Running order (all times GMT and approximate)