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Ghost Quartet review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘performed with a passion’

Ghost Quartet at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Ryan Jensen Ghost Quartet at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Ryan Jensen
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The Ghost Quartet is a band of four musicians/vocalists led by Dave Malloy, presenting a song cycle about love, death and whisky. It’s an intoxicating blend of lyrics and sounds, examining our need to believe in ghosts. There is a rich vein of dark humour both in the lyrical exchanges and in the use of unfamiliar instruments including an erhu, Celtic harp and metallophone, many of which are handed to the audience for them to join in. A personal highlight, however, is Brent Arnold’s haunting cello, tapped lightly with the bow to create an almost imperceptible undercurrent of tension.

Created akin to a double album, the story runs over four sides and each story is interconnected, spanning several centuries.  There’s a tree-house astronomer, a broken camera, an abandoned teddy bear and while there is no strict narrative, the characters are luridly crafted and episodes from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher sit comfortably within the text.

Principal vocalists Brittain Ashford and Gelsey Bell have complementary yet contrasting styles, but it’s Malloy’s engrossing songwriting skills that are the focus here. Try to imagine a song cycle curated by Tim Burton and directed M Night Shyamalan and you’ll begin to get the tone of the piece.

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Absorbing song cycle, imaginatively scored and performed with a passion