Counterflows: Joe McPhee with Decoy, with support from Elaine Mitchener (solo), The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, 31 January 2020


The third and last of this season’s Edinburgh – outreach gigs, presented by Glasgow’s Counterflows, was one of the most successful concerts that this humble reviewer has attended in recent memory.

Experimental vocalist, movement artist and composer, London-based Elaine Mitchener‘s solo opening set was truly enthralling. Her manifestly classically-trained voice constantly metamorphosing, much of her songs consisted of varied, sometimes harsh vocalisations, with comprehensible words only gradually emerging, such as in her second song: “The earth cannot move without music”. Sometimes singing in sinuous acapella with recordings of her own singing voice, at times Mitchener evoked a Górecki or Pärt spirituality. And it was hard to imagine the final piece, ‘Amazing Grace’, being more originally or powerfully presented.


Following an interval for ice-cream (well, for a number of us anyway) the second half of the evening comprised a combusting set from creative super-stars Decoy, who from the first launched into the finest of bourachs, like The Necks on speed. Drummer Steve Noble and bassist John Edwards provided superb rhythmic provocation/containment for Alexander Hawkin’s filigree psychedelia, whilst veteran questing multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee injected exquisite sax blurts at perfect moments. The totality was a performance demonstrating tremendous maturity and curiosity. For this reviewer it felt like the perfect gig, and following it I have no doubt their recent recording from Café OTO will have flown off the shelves.

Roll on the official Counterflows Festival, from 2 – 5 April, for more experimental and searching delicacies for our delectation.

Honourable mention must be made of Creative Scotland, thanks to whom the tickets were more affordable.



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