Ukulele Death Squad are having massive Fringe this year. They have played Womadelaide, Hosted  their Uke Festival (Fruke Festival) at Carclew and they wind up with two shows of their original music (50 Shades of Uke) at The Regal Theatre in Kensington Park this Saturday (4pm and  7:30pm). But tonight was something pretty different.

While playing The Edinburgh Book festival, UDS were invited by illustrator Reinhard Kleist, to provide some live music at the launch of a graphic novel based on music and writing by Nick Cave (who collaborated on the project). This lead to the hatching the idea of doing a whole set of Nick Cave songs, and he we are! Proceedings commence with Eamonn Burke reading The No Pussy Blues as a poem (he has the words tucked in a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare). He is joined by what is a very different looking line up of The Squad.

Julian Ferguson and Reuben Lugge are missing in action. Rueben having re-located to Sydney and Julian had a nasty fall last weekend at Womad and is currently in hospital recovering. But the Ukulele show must go on and Matt Barker and Ashley Randall has been recruited to bolster the ranks. Barker takes lead vocals on The Weeping Song and has the voice of an angel. A quite beardy angel, but an angel nonetheless. As soon as he started singing the room was transfixed. Ashley Randall has been worked with UDS previously and her vocals are a perfect match to take the PJ Harvey part to Barker’s Cave on Henry Lee. Push The Sky Away is a terrific inclusion. Where The Wild Roses Grow, is haunting and beautiful. It is as much a testament to Cave’s writing that these songs are strong enough to stand radical re-imagining, as it is to UDS and their ability to uke-ify these songs in new and beautiful away.

I have joked before that I ordinarily wouldn’t be found with fifteen nautical miles of a ‘uke’ based performance, but if the UDS performances of the last three years have proved anything, it’s is that in the (red) right hand of talented people (and a more open mind) the uke is a remarkably beautiful and fragile instrument. The other difference is these guys play with folk rock gusto, adding some ‘rollicking’ when appropriate, and then holding the breathless audience spellbound with gossamer delicate musicianship.

Red Right Hand, is a show highlight for me. A favourite song played extremely well, but the backing vocals are a show on their own – utterly beautiful. They wonderfully deliver Shivers and when they announce The Ship Song an excited gasp goes through the crowd who sing along. Into My Arms is another favourite for this crowd. Matt Barker taking lead vocals once more, he theatrically reaches his arms with longing as his voice quivers and shimmers. Towards the end they stop playing all the instruments and round it out with acapella vocals. When Benjamin Roberts explains Nick Cave recorded a duet with Johnny Cash, there are disbelieving cries ‘NO!?’ It’s on American Recordings Vol 4 and came about after Cash had covered The Mercy Seat on an earlier record in the series. It’s a good excuse to play So Lonesome I Could Die. Eamonn Burke returns to front stage for a wonderful, People Ain’t No Good, with massed backing vocals again elevating proceedings that are thrilling and unexpected.

They apologise that they haven’t got any songs left to do an encore with. Apology accepted, but unnecessary.

Live Review By Ian Bell 

SET LIST   
No Pussy Blues (Eamonn Burke poetry reading)
The Weeping Song
Henry Lee
Push The Sky Away
Where The Wild Roses Grow
Red Right Hand
Shivers
The Ship Song
Into My Arms
So Lonesome I Could Die
People Ain’t No Good