This is, truth be told, something of a guilty pleasure. No, not seeing Hamish Hawk – he is after all all, over 6music and heading for stardom, at least in that universe soundtracked by the nation’s hippest ‘big’ radio station.
No, it’s the fact that we could now be attending a hot and sweaty show crammed into one of our reopening gig venues like King Tut’s or the 13th Note, getting up close and personal with hundreds of other gig-goers.
Or, we could instead embrace the ‘new normal’ permanently. Which is, in Summerhall’s possibly temporary outdoor venue, being ushered to your seat, which is surrounded by plenty of personal space (there’s around 80 of us here), and ordering your drinks for delivery by scanning a QR code. Very 21st Century, very 2021.
And of course, with a very slight hint of rain in the air as we arrive, we’re under cover, but with only a fresh breeze to remind us we’re outdoors.
Hamish Hawk has a short trip across the courtyard to join us – his band are there before him, playing him on like they might a crooner in Vegas. Hawk strides onstage, hangs up his coat – “100% wool” he jokes later, “ideal” for such a show – and launches into an amped-up version of The Magnetic Fields ‘Underwear’.
Such is Hawk’s confidence in the strength of his songwriting, he is next able to dispense with his two ‘hits’ right at the start of the set – there’s ‘Calls To Tiree’, even more emphatic in a live setting with its shredtastic guitar solo, which also helps define Hamish Hawk as a band as much as the vehicle for its frontman, who has performed mostly solo of late. That’s as much due to the pandemic as anything else, with his rise to national acclaim only accompanied by home livestream sets, but his days with backing band The New Outfit are something of a distant memory – until tonight, with the potential of his songwriting partnership with guitarist Andrew Pearson fully realised.
‘The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973’, with its “‘Common People’ sung by Christopher Wren” line, inspires another line of thought. Solo Hamish Hawk never really elicited comparisons with other singer-songwriters. Now, with the muscular backing, is there a little bit of Pulp in there? (mmm, no). Is there a tinge of Ian Curtis in the baritone notes? (not too much, more in the dancing). Jack Lukeman? Gene? Eventually we go for Lloyd Cole fronting Microdisney and settle back to enjoy the rest of a fine set which showcases forthcoming album ‘Heavy Elevator’.
Which is something that band are doing as much as the audience. While Hawk strides confidently around stage, completely at ease even with the slight shock of his audience being completely visible in the daylight, he’s a charming and self-effacing host, clearly just enjoying playing live again – they’ve been “chomping at the bit” to do so, he says.
There’s one break from the new convention, right at the end of a fast-paced and exhilarating set, as the frontman dismisses the rest of the band for a solo take on crowdstopper ‘Catherine Opens A Window’ – a poignant tale of “growing up in a cul-de-sac” which always seems to have much more behind its lyric. As with every performance of the tune over the years, it leaves the audience breathless and slightly moist of eye.
One small aspect of this new gig-going realm may be the seemingly timetabled sets, as we’re all done and dusted in around an hour – Hawk has several albums under his belt to draw from, but to be fair, not all the band are based in Edinburgh, perhaps stymieing any more comprehensive rehearsals. However, this of us “cool enough” to know the words are invited to sing along to a rocking take on the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Happy When It Rains’. An apt coda for tonight’s comfortably-ensconced crowd, though on this showing, for Hamish Hawk’s future gigs, whether indoors or out, the venues are likely to be considerably bigger.