Books unbound

Throughout August, Edinburgh is transformed into a city of endless culture. Multiple festivals run across the month offering every kind of entertainment imaginable. One of these is the Edinburgh International Book Festival. For anyone interested in anything related to books/reading/literature, it is a haven amidst a quite overwhelming number of shows and performers.

Last year the Book Festival started up a series of events called Unbound. These are free evening events where authors appearing otherwise at the festival come along and perform. Last night Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses was performing songs and doing readings from her book Paradoxical Undressing (released last year in the States as Rat Girl). To my shame, I didn’t know much about Hersh or her musical background before going to this event. I’m not sure why – everything about them is exactly to my taste. I dare say had I known about them as a 16 year old my life would have been transformed…

Hersh didn’t speak much really except to read from her book – a few passages followed by two or three songs, followed by another passage, and so on. From the moment she sat down and began to sing, I was transfixed. I don’t always enjoy reading memoirs so I wasn’t sure what to expect of the readings but I liked that it was more stream of consciousness than anything. Perhaps that it was based on diaries she kept contributed to that. But it was her songs that really drew me in. She has a remarkable voice and is an extraordinary guitarist. In one of her readings she described her attitude towards music. Now, I wasn’t taking notes and a horrible head cold means my memory is fried so I can’t really remember the exact words, nor do I have the book as a reference. Regardless, the description was something along the lines of music being so fundamental to her being that it is almost physical – songs create themselves within her and she has to expel them in order to maintain some kind of wellbeing. Her description was much better than that but you (hopefully) get the idea.

I found her to be a totally engrossing performer. When she sang her eyes stared fixedly ahead, only moving to glance briefly at what her hands and guitar were doing. Though she was singing songs composed years ago and lyrics which she will have sang endless times, it sounded to me like she had never sang them before. There was an incredibly freshness to her performance and her description of her music being something almost elemental seemed apt indeed. It felt completely natural, even the sometimes ethereal noises made in place of actual lyrics. I’m looking forward to listening and exploring Throwing Music and reading the book in due course.

I didn’t take any pictures but there are some nice portraits here from the evening.