Ali Ferguson at Edinburgh Caves

Ali Ferguson / The Blackheart Orchestra

The Caves, Edinburgh
Sunday, 10th September 2023

So, what to do on a Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh? The perfect time for some quality chilled guitar sounds from Ali Ferguson and his band alongside the magical duo of The Blackheart Orchestra! The chosen place was The Caves, a small to medium sized venue hidden in the darkest depths of Edinburgh’s old town, but it’s a revelation with its high stone ceiling and stone walls and… well, stone everywhere really! This was a solid and marvellous sound box for what we were about to witness. What a backdrop for the lighting effects!

The Blackheart Orchestra brought their Celtic/Brontë style soundscapes, evoking images of love, found and lost, and death across expansive moorlands and high-top cliffs. Dramatic aural imagery! There was an array of keyboards stretched across the stage within which was hidden guitars, bass and drum pads. We were clearly going to be in for something a little special!

The Blackheart Orchestra at Edinburgh Caves

The opening song, Raise Your Heart, instantly caught the audience’s attention with its catchy singalong chorus… but not quite enough to raise their hands which the rhythms called out for. Drown Me Out kept the catchy rhythms going as both Chrissy Mostyn and Rick Pilkington moved around each other with slick ease, swapping keyboards and other instruments, Rick hitting the rhythm box as well as playing keys, and Chrissy singing whilst adding keyboards and effects. You’d think they would tie each other in knots as they intertwined arms to play opposite ends of the same keyboard! All in all a very slick operation indeed, and one which created a wonderful sound that wrapped around everyone in The Caves!

The Blackheart Orchestra at Edinburgh Caves

‘Has anyone seen us before?’ asked Rick Pilkington. ‘So, you came back to see a most miserable band’ he responded in a self-deprecating manner to the raised hands in the room. ‘You must be a miserable audience, so here’s a miserable song about death’. Perhaps not the best way to introduce In Another Lifetime, but the audience latched onto the dark humour and loved the soft and gentle emotiveness of it all, with the aural image of heaven and the afterlife.

There were the delicate sounds and vocals of A Dangerous Thing, as Chrissy appealed to her innocence in matters of love. I had expected a catchy and rocky Astronaut, however any guitar riffs were minimised, so the song was dominated with keyboards and effects. Still, very catchy and magical.

More humour from Rick, explaining that during the recording of Dust they changed the speed of his vocal and he came out ‘sounding like large whales mating’!! No evidence on that front tonight as Chrissy took on the vocal for this live version.

The Blackheart Orchestra at Edinburgh Caves

Final song in the set was The Flood. Rick donned his electric guitar with the tease of an epic guitar crescendo. No disappointment as the song grew to its full 10 minutes! The audience were enlivened to give a rapturous applause to a wonderful and magical set. Afterwards, Chrissy described The Caves as a new favourite venue, stating that they shall return. Let’s hope it’s soon.

Blackheart Orchestra Setlist
Raise Your Heart
Drown Me Out
The Tide
A Dangerous Thing
Under The Headlights
In Another Lifetime
Night Circus
The Flood
Chrissy Mostyn – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Rick Pilkington – Keyboards, Guitar, Bass, Percussion, Backing Vocals

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How was Ali Ferguson to follow that? ‘Sublimely’, is the simplest answer. Ali Ferguson rarely plays his material live these days, although he is occasionally spotted on stage with his occasional long-time musical partner Ray Wilson in venues across Poland, the Netherlands and Germany… or alongside his buddies in the band Red Box. This is just his third show of his own material in Scotland since 2019, and the second to be arranged to coincide with the Big Big Train tour arriving in Edinburgh later the same evening, and there were many BBT fans (aka ‘Passengers’) present.

Ali Ferguson at Edinburgh Caves

The set was dominated by Ali’s latest ecologically and peace themed album The Contemplative Power of Water. It opened gently with Ali’s ode to planet Earth, and the ignored potential it holds as climate change bites. Then that opening guitar lick howled! The resounding emotional tone of the Earth’s cry engulfed the cavernous stone walled venue – Wow! It resonated right through each person in the audience. The rhythms began to build, lifting the audience through the clouds and giving them the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ view of our planet Earth.

I’ve often – controversially – described Ali Ferguson’s albums as the solo albums that Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour should have released. Apparently, I am not alone in that thought. The description also gives one an idea of the songs and guitar sounds expected during the set.

Ali Ferguson at Edinburgh Caves

Ali Ferguson’s new album, however, rocks that little bit more than his previous two, The Windmills and The Stars (2011) and A Sequence of Moments (2016). This was evident on second song, Children of Men, with its bass beats and riffs, but still with Ali’s gentle and lilting vocals on top.

After the ‘rawwk’, the gremlins hit – inevitably according to Ali! Very subtly, however, one heard the gentle tones of the theme to the Hamlet Cigars advert (Bach’s Air on a G-string), from bass player Lawrie MacMillan, as his drummer brother Ashley’s in ear monitors were sorted. There were many smiles throughout the understanding audience. Well played Lawrie! Also joining them on stage was keyboard player Liam Saunders, who appeared on the album alongside Ali and Lawrie. [edit] There was also a backing vocalist, Kim Shepherd, who added gentle female accompaniment, which I sadly missed from the band introductions.

Ali Ferguson at Edinburgh Caves

Out of the Dark followed. This can easily be described as an Ali Ferguson classic. Gentle rhythms and keyboards tones under a gentle guitar and vocal melody. Then that guitar solo and tone hit – another Wow! moment as the aural emotion created was breathtaking and uplifting enough to bring honest tears to this reviewer’s eyes. I speak for myself, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone! There are not many guitar players who have done that to me. Kalle Wallner of German band RPWL did once, at a show in the Netherlands.

Returning to first album, The Windmills & The Stars, we’re given a unique The Windmill, merging into a marvellous second part of All in the Winds, complete with some wonderful melodic solo bass, courtesy of Lawrie MacMillan. The light and melodically pleasant Coincidence is No Accident, with its subtle catchy chorus followed, Ali asking ‘Does anyone have that CD?’ to not much response. ‘That’s OK’, says Ali, ‘Neither do I!’

Ali Ferguson at Edinburgh Caves

This is very much a family show as Ali’s wife Jenny did much of the organising and his two children helped with merch and other necessary tasks. Ali told a story of his daughter coming home from a world project at school, where a squishy ball was used while repeating the phrase ‘Peace Begins with Me’. Now there’s a title, he thought! Apparently, she hadn’t been told the story, but I’m sure she was more than delighted with the result.

A return to the grooves of The Contemplative Power of Water with Stare Into Sunlight before the final song, which had been much anticipated by this audience. The Catacombs rightly got a rousing response as it was introduced, with its delightful tones as we were raised “Four hundred miles up…”. The ending guitar solo was just the perfect way to finish.

Ali Ferguson at Edinburgh Caves

Quite simply the best Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh in a long time! And Ali, please sort out more solo gigs, wherever they may be!

The Contemplative Power of Water (Pt. I)
Children of Men
Out of the Dark
You Can’t Hold an Ocean
Coincidence is No Accident
The Windmills (part) / All in the Winds
Peace Begins With Me
Stare Into Sunlight (Release/Control)
The Catacombs

Ali Ferguson – Vocals, Guitar
Lawrie MacMillan – Bass
Ashley MacMillan – Drums
Liam Saunders – Keyboards
Kim Shepherd – Backing Vocals

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[Photos by Chris Simmons]