Thursday, 4 June 2015

Gig Review - Withered Hand (Nothing Ever Happens Here), Summerhall - Friday 8th May

This evening's gig is part of Summerhall's much celebrated, and rightly so, Nothing Ever Happens Here season.  Organised by Jamie Sutherland, frontman of Broken Records, the series has been organised in response to Edinburgh Council's painstakingly slow reaction to Young Fathers' comments on Edinburgh's live music scene.  Fusing a programme that includes established and newer Scottish bands as well as groups from further afar, Nothing Ever Happens Here has reignited an excitement in live music Edinburgh has been needing.

Newcomer Eyes of Others, aka John Bryden, takes the first slop for the evening hot on the heels of releasing his eponymous debut EP.  Bryden's off-kilter electronic pop songs are reflective whilst still maintaining light hearted elements through their arrangements and production.  Cruel Romantic Dreams is a prime example, a downtempo and more serious affair, but littered with laid back and infectious synth lines.  The five songs on display widened Bryden's palette from the EP and let the hooks shine through.  The real strength of Eyes of Others is the production.  Vibrato-less, analogue-sounding synths hint at coldwave influences without ever sounding pastiche, overtly retro or ironic, but instead sit effortlessly side by side alongside more modern percussion and ambient washes.

Woodpigeon, who is currently embarking on a European tour with Withered Hand, strips his songs down to solo arrangements following the more band-orientated recordings that form Mark Hamilton's side of Song By Toad's recent split with Rob St John.  Opening with Knock Knock, Hamilton's voice was evidently struggling to carry over the increasingly busy, Friday night audience.  Towards the latter half of the song looped vocals begin to get lost in the haze.  After a false start to Canada, however, as well as an explanation for the lost voice, a softer approach was taken, with more gentle vocals and fingerpicked, rather than strummed, guitar.  Not only did this approach suit the broken voice, but also helped to carry the songs and focus the crowd.  Woodpigeon shares a skill with Adam Stafford, in taking to the stage with only a loop pedal without falling into the mediocrity and clichés so often associated with a loop pedal.  Although perhaps not as left-leaning as Stafford, the loop provided some of the set's finest moments, particularly in a haunting period of overlaid pitch shifted vocal harmonies that fused seamlessly with Hamilton's broken voice to create something altogether strange and wonderful.

Withered Hand, the man behind Scottish Fiction's 9th favourite album of last year, however, is undoubtedly what the crowd has waited for.  From connections with Edinburgh fixtures, Eagleowl, Meursault and SL records to Willson's history with Fence mean all ages are suitably well represented in the crowd, who welcome the band, as always in Edinburgh, with open arms.  Backed by a 5-strong band, the set sounds a lot more New Gods than Good News, despite being made up of slightly more of the latter.  The balanced set list had the feeling of a rounding off of the New Gods tour.  Now a year after it was released, it truly feels like both albums have settled to be firm fan favourites, meaning Willson is not required to push or promote either.  Singles Horseshoe and Black Tambourine alongside California are ecstatically received, perhaps even more so than old favourites Religious Songs, New Dawn and Heart Heart.  The set could have benefited from the intimacy brought from Woodpigeon, California would have suited the same solo treatment as Cornflakes, and No Cigarettes felt sorely missed but, after all, this felt less like a small celebration of gentle song and more like a victory lap after what has been a hugely successful year for Willson.

- Ashley Leiper

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