Well, maybe not, but it was what I was believing for a while after last Friday and Saturday.
Nile was in Edinburgh for two shows at Summerhall, Edinburgh’s newish arts venue. Ostensibly, Indigo Nights was a collaboration with Jean Pierre Muller, who has been running a project called Seven by Seven. This has him working with seven musicians on a musical piece in each of the seven major keys in the musical scale; these pieces then illustrate a set of sculptures and become an interactive experience.
Nile had been in Edinburgh last year for the Book Festival and at that time was pictured with the sculptures in the courtyard of Summerhall. So, against the odds, here was the man behind the biggest record in the world in 97 countries at the moment, back in the Dissection Room of the former veterinary college to participate in front of a couple of hundred people on each of two (indigo) nights.
Nobody really knew quite what to expect on the Friday. Muller came out and explained the concept, having painted an indigo feather (one of the seven colours in the spectrum – Seven by Seven, remember,) on an easel onstage. He then explained that the musical key assigned to Nile Rodgers was F and he had composed a suite in that key to be heard along with the sculptures.
As we listened to the first part of Nile’s suite, we noted the various stand-up paintings decorating the stage, presumably Muller’s work; the flatiron building in New York, skyscrapers; a painting of Cab Calloway’s head hanging over the stage…
Nile took the stage amid all this and explained the relevance of the new music in context; he expressed his heartfelt joy at being back in Edinburgh again (after the book festival last year and with Chic in 2009) and then, for the next ninety minutes or so, did the Nile Rodgers illustrated musical autobiography.
The Nile Rodgers illustrated musical autobiography, which I saw and heard last year at the Book Festival, is a continually inventive and frequently hilarious recounting of Nile’s musical adventures. Many of the stories are well-known, but always with a new twist; there are always stories that you’ve never heard; and there are lots of insights into Nile’s music, usually illustrated on the white Strat he seems to now favour (which, incidentally, he himself carries in and out of the venue on his back.)
Throughout Friday’s set, additional stand-up paintings were brought on to the stage; at the first mention of Chic, a larger than life Bernard Edwards proffering the indigo feather which had been painted at the start; a Sesame Street-styled Noo Yawk fire hydrant, Black Panthers marching; a black panther; a Saturn V Rocket.
Nile had most of the audience spellbound for the evening, but it was a weird audience, maybe because it was the opening of an Art event – I guess there may have been a few freebies. Certainly, a lot of people had an air of being, frankly, miffed at having to leave their dinner party between the After Eights and the orgy; I had to suggest to a couple of very well-heeled looking dames that they if they were just here to chat, they may be better moving elsewhere. They were clueless why they were there.
At the conclusion, the stage was teeming with even more stand-up paintings, making a fascinating tableau which repaid a good look. Nile had finished and was chatting with audience members, I got the bus back to Edinburgh’s Manhattan.
The Saturday show had a much greater air of anticipation and I think they had a longer time to prepare the presentation of the artworks; they were simply laid out better on this night and it worked a lot better as a spectacle.
This show was also longer and had an interval; during the interval, the paintings onstage were turned so that the coloured reverses were facing the audience, then gradually returned to the obverse when Nile returned after the break.
On this evening, Nile shared a story about Chic’s “Le Freak” which I’d not come across before; a large part of the sales of Atlantic’s biggest ever selling single may have come from Africa, because apparently African ears heard
“Aaaaaah..Freak out! Le Freak, c’est chic.” as
“Aaaafrica! L’Afrique, c’est chic…”
In a weird twist of fate, we almost saw Nile being brained by the suspended painting of Cab Calloway which fell to the ground just as Nile had finished his explanation of his successful recovery from his “very aggressive cancer” diagnosis of 2009. Lucky it missed him, or we would be remembering the show for different reasons.
After the show, it was too late to get a bus; I’d encountered Nile that evening and had got to thank him for everything, so my friend and I went for a pint in the courtyard of the venue, which was unconsciously a smart move, as we saw Nile leave just before one o’clock; the crowd of drinkers broke into applause, which he acknowledged before getting into his car. He waved fom the car as he passed the still applauding crowd.
Nile’s furious work rate sees him continue to play festivals throughout the UK this summer; I believe Chic “killed it,” as he would say, at a televised performance from Glastonbury the other evening.
Nile signing my copy of “C’est Chic” in 2009 – that’s him at the back!
But he knows he’s welcome in Edinburgh any time…
(Thanks, Gordon, for the picture.)