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Edinburgh Fringe 2021

Elsa McTaggart : When The World Stood Still

Elsa McTaggart

Genre: Live Music, Storytelling

Venue: theSpaceUK – Symposium Hall Garden


Low Down

Heart-warming stories of life on a Scottish island in lockdown, with the added challenge of turning a hovel into a habitable home.  Oh, and some lovely foot tapping Scottish tunes to clap and stomp along to.


The site of a boiler suited bloke wheeling a similarly attired girl around in a wheelbarrow might normally attract more than a raised eyebrow or two but this is the Edinburgh Fringe remember, so hardly anyone batted an eyelid as Gary Lister heaved his wife Elsa McTaggart gently onto theSpaceUK’s impressive Symposium Hall Garden stage.

At least he didn’t tip the barrow up, instead allowing her to descend as gracefully as one can from such a mode of transport and explain to their curious audience the link between wheelbarrows and the Celtic music scene.

Turns out that, after a decade continuously on the road, Lister and McTaggart’s peripatetic life was rudely interrupted back in March 2020 by this Covid thingy leaving them scrambling to find a way home from their spot in sunny Spain (where they were happily entertaining all and sundry) to their but and ben on windswept Lewis on the Outer Hebrides, making it across the water from Ullapool just as the doors slammed shut on just about every part of UK life.

Stuck on a Scottish island, flat broke, their barely habitable hovel lacking even the most basic of amenities (although running water was available courtesy of a badly leaking roof), Lister and McTaggart looked to music for inspiration.  And found it, as well as the funds to start a new life in what has now become home.

The power of the internet (yes, it’s even staggered as far as Lewis) enabled McTaggart to start sharing photographs of her new environment which in turn inspired her to write some new tunes, which she then recorded and/or live streamed across the ether and, hey presto, before long she and Lister had amassed a YouTube following numbering in the thousands.

Encouraged by this and the desire of their growing world-wide audience for more of their sublime music, McTaggart hit on the idea of composing a lockdown album, inviting individuals to sponsor a tune based around a memory they wanted to capture.  They were inundated with requests to the point that they ended up recording and mixing over twenty pieces of music, a selection of which Lister and McTaggart are now sharing with Fringe audiences.

McTaggart’s easy style of storytelling creates a wonderful picture of life in this Hebridean idyll in what have been challenging times of late, her sense of the ridiculous and her ability to charm people no doubt proving invaluable in persuading countless locals to lend a hand in what remains something of a work in progress.

They’re both very accomplished musicians too and absolutely passionate about their craft.  In this show, Lister is on keyboards and accordion and McTaggart rattles through an impressive range of instruments including violin, low whistle, mandolin, banjo and bouzouki.  There’s never a bad time for a ceilidh of course, so it didn’t take long for the music to inspire a great deal of foot tapping and clapping.  And if you closed your eyes, you could feel yourself being transported north to Lewis with its broad windswept beaches, turquoise seas and skies that seem to go on for ever.

Great tunes and amusing craic make this an excellent way to spend an hour on a Fringe  morning and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch this talented duo busking at the bar in theSpaceUK’s Surgeons’ Hall in the early afternoon. This is certainly a show to recommend – very joyful and uplifting – although do remember you’ll be sitting outside (albeit undercover) and the Edinburgh winds can whistle around a bit even in August.  But not to the same melodic effect as that produced on stage.