City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Ali McGregor’s Alchemy Review

By Euan Andrews - Posted on 22 August 2012

Show details
Running time: 
Ali McGregor (vocals), Sam Keevers (piano), Sam Zerna (bass), Chris Wallace (drums)

Statuesque and splendidly coiffed, clad in elegant ball gown and dazzling killer heels, the nightclub diva approaches the microphone through the melancholy blue haze lighting while her tight three-piece jazz group strike up an aching rhythm ready for her to lament over her “Tainted Love”. 

It’s a stylish but fairly straightforward beginning to a show, Soft Cell’s eighties cult cover smash being effortlessly performed by Ms McGregor and her superb piano, bass and drums band line-up. So it’s a bit of a shock, come song end, when she greets the audience with a beaming grin and a broad Aussie greeting of “Well, hello Tuesday!” 

McGregor goes on to explain, with tongue firmly in cheek, that this show is about the transformation of trash into jazz gold. About taking the dire pop hits of her eighties childhood and nineties youth and turning them into the kind of musical perfection she demands today. 

McGregor’s definition of “trash” is rather wide, and seems to extend more towards her created modern persona’s relationship to the screaming fan girl of years gone by. Blur’s “Song 2” (a frisky bossa nova jaunt here) can hardly be compared to the depths of pop refuse plumbed by the likes of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” or Britney Spears’ “Ooops…I Did It Again”. 

With both those latter numbers, the sheer pleasure of listening comes from the realisation that this wonderful music you’re hearing is derived from such shameless crud. At times, McGregor’s eighties pop fan takes over, whether empathising with Madonna’s True Blue phase on “La Isla Bonita” or drooling over the leather-trousered figure of Michael Hutchence before recreating INXS’s MOR dirge “Never Tear Us Apart” as mesmerising torch song.

My personal highlight has to be the quite astonishing bar-room blues boogie medley of tracks by punk-dance outfit Prodigy. “Firestarter”, “Breathe” and “Voodoo People” all coalesce into dynamically co-ordinated perfection and the call-and-response “I got the poison! – I got the remedy!” between McGregor and band is utter delight.

McGregor’s stunning classically trained soprano voice, her exquisite band interplay and near cinematic lighting all combine to make a sensational hour in Assembly George Square’s aptly named Salon Elegance. My only small quibble is how great it would be to hear McGregor’s voice applied to jazz standards and classics, so perfectly does she inhabit the song while performing. 

But, obviously that is the whole point of Alchemy, the fact that while we may be listening to rambunctious 1950s’ cocktail bar jazz, it’s actually Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Push It”, and she pulls off the trick with effortless panache. 

Show Times: Daily at until 26 August at 9:10pm.