Festivals chief to juggle duties with Fringe show

Councillor Richard Lewis with singer Andrea Bake, behind. at last year's Fringe. Picture: Toby Williams
Councillor Richard Lewis with singer Andrea Bake, behind. at last year's Fringe. Picture: Toby Williams
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HE is the politician who suddenly inherited responsibility for overseeing the world’s biggest arts festival.

But Richard Lewis, the SNP councillor in charge of the Capital’s money-spinning festivals and events, will face an additional challenge in his first year in the job – performing in his own Fringe show throughout August.

The culture leader, an established musician and conductor before he was elected, booked a full run of performances with American mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker just weeks before he was asked to become the city’s official festivals and events champion.

He was propelled into the post at short notice after the previous long-time incumbent, Steve Cardownie, suddenly quit his role as leader of the SNP group in the City Chambers in March.

At the same time Councillor Cardownie also relinquished his key role as figurehead for the council’s involvement in the city’s festivals, in which it invests more than £4 million each year.

Cllr Lewis will have to break off from a schedule of hosting receptions, meeting visiting VIPs and attending shows as a guest across the city to help stage a celebration of the great African-American female voices, entitled Sing Sistah Sing.

Songs made famous by the likes of Nina Simone, Ella 
Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Diana Ross will be performed by the pair at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, in George Street.

Their show – which will also feature numbers by lesser known figures such as Lena Horne, Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson – will recall the impact made by each singer’s on-stage performances, as well as their efforts to rail against discrimination and involvement in civil rights campaigns.

The two performers have known each other for years thanks to their extensive work in the past with opera companies in Germany, while Cllr Lewis has also been a long-time voice coach to the British-American singer, who is based in East Lothian.

Cllr Lewis, who studied music at Edinburgh and Oxford 
universities, said: “The show goes right back to the roots of gospel and blues music, with songs from the late 19th century, looks at some of the really pioneering figures to emerge in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and comes right through to the present day.

“Andrea has a real ability to cross over between different styles of singing and it’s something she really enjoys doing.

“What’s good about the format of a Fringe show like this is the hour-long format, so it’s quite manageable. I’ve just had to blank out a couple of hours each day we’ve got a performance. It’s really all been a happy coincidence in some ways.”