The Edinburgh Fringe covers a very wide age range of performers, from school productions to comedians on their first serious real-world try-outs in front of live audiences. It was heartening to discover this lively ensemble, the musicians all at the other end of their careers, renowned and respected in their fields and still actively performing.

© John Busby
© John Busby

Now the Hungry Lion Roars is a delightful celebration of wildlife in songs and poetry created by mezzo-soprano and singing teacher Joan Busby, acclaimed Scottish bass Brian Bannatyne-Scott with Walter Blair accompanying on piano and actor Joshua Manning reading the poems. The oval shaped St Andrew and St George’s West Church is a surprisingly intimate space which allowed the simplicity and charm of this afternoon soirée to captivate the enthusiastic audience.

The programme was divided up into Birds, Mammals and Fish and finally, Insects, with singers and reader taking turns to entertain. Shelly’s Ode to a Skylark opened proceedings, Bannatyne-Scott’s rich bass following with Carlo Pietragrua’s Tortorella the turtle dove. Thomas Arne, famous for Rule Britannia also set When Daisies Pied from Love’s Labour’s Lost, Busby getting into the character, scattering those warning ‘cuckoos’ round the room. More bird words from Thomas Hardy and William Cowper’s bishop-like jackdaws set the scene for Schubert’s desolate Die Krähe and joyous Die Taubenpost, mellifluously sung by Bannatyne-Scott while Busby captured the melancholy of Ravel’s Le Paon in a beautiful art song interpretation.

Kenneth Steven’s ‘The Small Giant’ (The Otter) “seen off the teeth of western Scotland” and D.H. Lawrence’s wistful Mountain Lion tale set up Hugo Wolf’s entertaining Mausfallensprüchlein followed by Poulenc’s surreal Le Bestaire from Bannatyne-Scott and a spirited Schubert’s Die Forelle from Busby. Robert Burns To a Louse opened the short insect section, with Bannatyne-Scott in full Russian flow for Mussorgsky’s boisterous Song of the Flea and Busby more lyrical in Ernest Chausson’s Les Papillions.

Walter Blair was a sensitive and supportive accompanist throughout, his light and inventive touch allowing the singers to shine through. The voices may have had a touch of grey here and there, but the singers knew exactly how to put a good song across effectively with a certain style. An encore of The Hippopotamus Song had all performers, then the audience, singing along. A charming afternoon.

***11