Vesper Walk describe themselves as a “quirky five to eight piece band performing art-pop music in a gothic style.” Founders and core performers Catherine Cowan and Lisa-Marie Baker have brought their latest project to Edinburgh, a narrative sequence of their songs which tells the modern fairy tale of a young pianist called Sarah, who is taken from a world where “beauty is known as kindness” to an appearance-fixated Hollywood in which beauty is simply “something to be bought and sold”.
There’s a strong whiff of cabaret here, but without the luxury of the lounge; the clock is ticking.
There is little or no preamble here: as the lights, unusually, rise on the audience, the group begins their first song and there is little or no pause from then on, each song introduced with the minimum of narrative and illustrated by a single projected image behind the band. There’s a strong whiff of cabaret here, but without the luxury of the lounge; the clock is ticking.
Sisters Cowan and Baker are accomplished pianists and vocalists, who are ably supported by singers Gracie Falls, Amie Robertson and Joyce Griffiths on what, unfairly, must be termed “backing vocals” despite their intrinsic necessity. The ethereal atmosphere of many of the songs is enhanced by Lucy Charnock’s sensitive cello while Alex Staples on bass guitar provides not so much rhythmic power – that’s ultimately down to Edward Simpson on percussion and sound-samples – but invaluable, subtle “colour”. (Alas, he’s not the strongest of vocalists, but his contribution in that sphere is kept to a minimum.) A couple of songs inventively use clapping as percussion, although the band’s attempts to include the audience don’t really work.
As with most fairy tales, we’re not talking about the most subtle of moral points being made here – though one does wonder if the uncredited statistics about women and beauty, which are projected on the screen at one point, come from America – not least because we’re told that “54% of women would rather be hit by a truck [my italics] than be fat”. Don’t we have lorries in Britain?
So our notional heroine Sarah does become a plastic ghost of her younger self, forever striving to keep her youth and looks in the name of continued popularity and success in show business. Yet there’s little doubt that her true love won’t ultimately save her, meaning that the overall story arc linking the songs lacks sufficient drama – especially given that she has to rely on the advice of a narratively convenient fortune teller to point out what she must do. That Cowan and Baker are unable to resist having the climax happen “one stormy night” is just mildly disappointing. Still, fairy tales are where many of our most fundamental clichés come from!