Festival Music

Flit

EICC, Edinburgh

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Rob Adams

four stars

MARTIN Green just went round to his gran’s for a chat and now he has Flit. Not so much a gig as an installation, it brings together the work of vocalists Becky Unthank and Adam Holmes, a trio of musicians including Green himself, songwriters, animators, set, video and lighting designers, a dramaturg, a stylist, and production crew to tell the stories of migration that Green went off to find after hearing his gran’s depiction of his own family’s displacement.

Taken as a whole it’s an affecting piece, giving off a feeling of helplessness but also an over-riding sense of making the best of often unsought-after situations. It wasn’t necessarily conceived as a folk opera but some of the songs, with the voices lending texture as much as narrative, have the quality of modern day ballads and others, notably Anais Mitchell’s Shenandoah-like, gospel-inflected Roll Away, draw on a tangible tradition.

On a stage that resembles something between a seaside cave with attendant, often referred to rockline, and a sound factory, Green, guitarist Adrian Utley and bassist Dominic Aitchison create an effective ambient soundtrack, with Green alternating between his familiar accordion and what might be a harp made from a double glazing unit.

The backing tracks and stories Green gave to the songwriters were also given to the animators, who have devised eye-catching images that emphasise the human but also the universal nature of migration. Birds, the great migrants of habit, figure strongly. The most powerful moment, however, belongs to Green in a monologue that begins genially and humorously but ends in anger at immigration policies that prevent children, now as with his grandfather then, from feeling safe.