FLUX: The Divine Comedy / Michael Nyman: The Jaffa Cake

Edinburgh Festival: Fringe
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The Independent Culture
It's not often that Michael Nyman finds himself embraced in the sweaty intimacy of a small nightclub. But the first major event of the Flux New Music Festival found Nyman and cohorts The Divine Comedy in precisely that situation: at the Jaffa Cake.

Much of the crowd were expecting a Divine Comedy greatest hits with a sprinkling of Michael Nyman arrangements. From the first swell of unaccompanied strings, it clearly wasn't going to be that way.

The first two compositions were subtle string arrangements that were completely drowned in the hubbub of chat. When Neil Hannon arrived on stage, there was something clearly amiss: his usual big suave gestures and Sixties lounge-lizard persona were swapped for a mixture of humility and hero-worship.

As the evening unfolded, it became clear that not only was Neil Hannon's louche demeanour absent but so were the Divine Comedy's greatest hits. By contrast, Nyman's "hits", the highlights from his career as a soundtrack composer for Peter Greenaway, were re-cast with additional guitar and drums from The Divine Comedy, with Nyman playing piano.

The last time a similar experiment was tried - in the Seventies by Emerson, Lake and Palmer with their interpretation of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition - it was an egotistical effort to highlight their musicianship. The results were soulless embarrassments.

By contrast, The Divine Comedy arrangements are passionate and exhilarating, adding extra dimensions to Nyman's work, with Hannon's rhythmic bursts of guitar fitting in seamlessly and exhibiting the tight control that is the cornerstone of Nyman's finest work.

Does Michael Nyman crave pop star status? Certainly, presented in a rock context, his arrangements stand up well against the spaced-out hypnotic repetition of Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized. The evening's highlight was "Time Lapse", from Greenaway's film A Zed and Two Noughts. It proved as engaging and visceral as any rock song. Flux booking: 0131-557 6969

Anthony Thornton