Gone Native

Gone Native is made up of two Scottish musicians, Kevin Gore and Bobby Nicholson, who decided that there wasn’t enough of a local presence at the Fringe. Their songs are angry, passionate, and decidedly political. They sing – and sometimes shout – about Scottish Independence, the rise of the far-right, consumerism and poverty. These moments are always powerful and they moved those in the room. But they’re sometimes guilty of a flaw common to protest songs; they focus on evoking powerful emotion at the expense of nuance, with the effect of alienating those they target, rather than challenging them.

They have clear talent, even if at times, it’s a little frustrating.

Gore opens the show with Far Amerikay, a song about Celtic people emigrating from Scotland and Ireland due to poverty. It’s a gripping start. Gore’s voice is like a force of nature, so powerful that it rings around the small room without the aid of a microphone – it’s a rare and powerful instrument and for me, Gore’s voice was the highlight of the set.

The set moves on to Come Join the Forty-Five, a reference to the 45% of Scottish people that voted for independence. It’s a good song, and Gore’s voice carries it through, but it’s here that Gone Native’s songwriting begins to fall into the protest-singer’s trap. The song opens with the line “We stand proud, our conscience clear”, and goes on to denigrate the ‘lies’ and ‘propaganda’ perpetrated by the Remain campaign, and swallowed by those who voted for them.

Now, perhaps I’m not in the best position to comment on music like this. I’m English and I couldn’t vote in the Scottish referendum. However, I have a lot of sympathy for those who voted for independence. But this song (and the other two in the set on the same topic) are aimed directly at the half of Scotland that disagree with Gore and Nicholson and, basically, I wished the songs had been more convincing. Music has no obligation to be balanced, of course, and many of Gone Native’s songs are just cathartic. But calling those who disagree with you “sheep” and “liars” obviously won’t convince those you’re singing at. Again – there is definitely a place for music like this, but insofar as these songs are meant to be a political tool, I can’t see how they can be a useful one.

The rise of the right-wing across Britain is scary, but above all it’s complicated. It is frustrating to see left-wing music like this only reach for the low-hanging fruit of accusing the right of racism and xenophobia. Much of the time these accusations are accurate, but they don’t explain the whole story.

I’ve focused on Gone Native’s politics because they seem to see their music as marked by its “social commentary”. If you’re unsure about the politics then I’m not sure if this show is for you. If you’re comfortable with the environment Gone Native create (and I, for the most part, was), then you’ll enjoy their playing. They have clear talent, even if at times, it’s a little frustrating.

Reviews by Matthew Bradley

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The Blurb

Two of Edinburgh’s finest resident songwriters return after three consecutive sold out years to perform a showcase of original and traditional Celtic music. Songs of love, travelling, pandas and trams. ‘Rock-solid quality song writing’ (Leith Festival). ‘The same world Robert Burns so divisively captured in the minds of common folk’ (Volition Scotland). ‘Nicholson gives his songs inside a witty and often hilarious delivery – but each song makes a political and/or poignant point’ (Lost Horizons Music, London). ‘Gore is knock-out, his songs balance beauty with fierce rallying cries for social justice' (Fest).