As one component part of the registered charity Tinderbox Collective, the orchestra returns to the Edinburgh Fringe for a dazzling showcase of fusion music.
Two rows of numbered PCs, a dozen red office chairs and a photocopier are already incongruous additions to Edinburgh Central Library’s grandiose, wood-panelled reference room. A modest stage, a smattering of instruments laid out on the floor, and a multitude of criss-crossing wires only add to what looks like, at first glance, a messy bricolage. But this is no instance of unorganised, unexplainable chaos, nor an unfortunate relegation of a promising performance to a makeshift venue. This setting is symbolic for Tinderbox, who are not just using their run of nine shows to demonstrate incredible talent, but to promote an earnest campaign: that libraries should make donated musical instruments available to rent, just like one does now with a book.
Such activist leanings are not obvious as the musicians emerge at 8pm, suddenly. (no dimmed lights, no prior warning.) Before long they’re crawling about the place, glaring and smiling, rising and falling, up the aisle and back down again, jumping, turning and running, all while playing their melodies from memory. At some points there’s a reassuring lull of strings and wind, or complete monophony underpinning project manager Claire’s vibrato singing, while other moments find themselves dominated by bona fide guitar solos, or screeching strings. Intersecting melodies and syncopated rhythms are a core component of Tinderbox’s creations, but in between are the shocks and surprises that keep you captivated: a capella, impromptu clapping, or drumming getting faster and faster.
What these musicians do so well is marry seemingly contradictory concepts, both in the songs they compose and the performances they deliver. Within one song a rapper can induce stunned silence as they rally against unnecessary wars and global injustice, but then everyone is up and about again, waving their instruments and roaming the stage to a traditional Scottish jig. The movements required for such a fast-paced, awe-inspiring spectacle necessarily require regimentation and discipline, but the results are exuberant, exciting and surely rewarding, too. Even the colours the musicians wear are perfectly complementary (almost too complementary to not appear coordinated), yet the overall effect is casual: some wear ripped denim jeans and doc martens, others traffic-cone-orange trousers.
Tinderbox encapsulates the essence of creativity; mixing things up and messing with convention, pushing instruments to their limits and integrating those who deserve attention. (While this performance featured music made by a Balkan music camp and the trad duo Jellyman’s Daughter, another night could host the grassroots collective Culture Clan.) They sing about “community”, “hope”, “change” – they are, to quote their own lyrics, “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.
Can such a vibrant, intense and varied programme be boiled down to a stand-out moment? I suppose local librarian-turned-poet Hannah McCooke is the star of the show. Her lament for the “concertos left unheard” holds weight because her local area, Craigmillar, is piloting the aforementioned We Make Music Instrument Libraries campaign. I don’t believe that every person who picks up an instrument needs to share their journey with an audience. But for the few that choose to do so, as Tinderbox have demonstrated so compellingly, the results can be magical.