We start with a joke: Albert Smalls is a series of wee gigs held, for Covid reasons, in the car park round the back of Stirling’s venerable Albert Halls, a venue more used to more ‘sophisticated’ events.
Not that the mix of indie and folk that’s been the mainstay of this series’ programming is lacking in class. Roddy Woomble and Rachel Sermanni are among the acts who have graced the temporary (and with all due respect, hopefully short lived) alternative to ‘regular’ gigs.
However, despite the masks and 2 metre-distanced plastic seating and the waiter service (!), everyone in the small and select open-air audience is just happy to banish all thoughts of the pandemic, and lose themselves in music.
Gareth Dickson is support – or as it turns out, ‘special guest’, a long-time acquaintance of tonight’s headliners, having appeared on the opening night of the Deep Burnt festival Constant Follower’s frontman McAll put on in Glasgow 20 years ago.
The Glasgow-based singer-songwriter is armed only with a guitar but delivers so much more – his instrument’s deeply resonant sound reverberating around the arena as his half-whispered vocals occasionally break through. A display of virtuoso guitar work shows why his (temporarily curtailed) day job is as Vashti Bunyan’s guitarist. Dickson’s short set is all originals apart from one cover – not a Nick Drake song (he has in the past performed a set of Drake’s songs) but a Joy Division track – “the other one” he jokes, which which tuns out to be a towering version of ‘Atmosphere’.
Constant Follower will welcome a chance to get back onstage – they will soon, after, have an album to promote, and the fact that it’s on the legendary Shimmy Discs label means that the band can expect some attention, and, hopefully, some live shows further afield than what is a local venue for the four-piece.
Opening with single ‘I Can’t Wake You’ their hushed quietcore is ideal for a impeccably behaved audience (who to be fair, may simply have forgotten how to chatter and rustle sweetie wrappers through a live set).
Their sound may appeal to fans of Low (well, the ones not scared away by that combo’s recent move to a more ‘robust’ sound), augmented is it is by rather underused bassist Kessi who chips in when things need a bit more emphasis. It’s essentially folk-pop, yes, but the twist being the soundscapes that the band construct – Andrew Pankhurst’s lead guitar utilises eBow and sustain for a poignant backing to McAll’s deep mellifluous voice beautifully backed by keyboard player Amy’s in-unison vocal, none more than on another recent single ‘Set Aside Some Time’.
As the sun goes down it’s hard to fault Constant Follower’s set – with tunes that stick and studio sound transported onto the Stirling stage, this would be a ‘gig of the year’ contender any time, and not just because it’s 2021.