As an author or chairperson you seldom really see your audience. The house lights are down during the first part of the event, and when they come up for questions, you can usually only single out the person speaking from the surrounding sea of faces. But as a musician in the Spiegeltent, it’s quite different. The lights remain up, and in the café-style intimacy of the place, you have plenty of time to study your audience as you play.
Last night we (the Birnam Quartet: two fiddles, mandolin and piano) began our set at 9.00 and by 9.30 the tables were filling up with exactly the kind of cross-section of people one would expect to find at the Book Festival. Young, old and middle-aged, couples, singles and small groups of friends, some Scottish (judging from the nods of recognition as we worked through our repertoire of the tunes Robert Burns set his songs to), some visitors I guessed from appearances, and also from the looks of intrigue at this perhaps unfamiliar music.
People came and went. By the second set, as we moved onto some more up-tempo sets of tunes, the Spiegeltent, or maybe it was Charlotte Square itself, was really working its magic and (happily for us) there were smiles and looks of appreciation. Feet tapped, fingers drummed table tops. A well-known broadcaster sprang from her booth and twirled her partner in the aisle. The place felt relaxed, warm, womb-like almost, and I imagined that all the literary experiences of the day were being released by the members of our audience to mingle with the music we were making, words and notes swirling around inside the softly lit, mirrored, wooden panelled tent.
It was just one of the many moments that make August in Charlotte Square so extraordinarily special.