We can’t be sure if it’s the end of the pandemic or the last days of summer, but Stirling’s very welcome series of Albert Smalls’ shows has come to a close. These open-air, socially-distanced shows would have been tested if they’d taken place in the torrential rain at time of writing, a week later, but for now they are a dry and balmy oasis in a world of musical drought (clever wording, cheers).
Like everyone else Annie Booth has been away from the live scene for many months and is understandably nervous after her time off “staring at the walls”. However, her short set is welcomed by both performer and audience, with the Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter showing a fine return to form. Her gig-free time clearly hasn’t been wasted, with some newly-written material which augurs well for a return to recording.
However – as I was telling a couple of people new to her work – if she delves into her back catalogue then an excellent set is promised, and indeed we get ‘Chasm’ early on in her set. Alongside ‘Never Go To Church’ from 2017’s ‘An Unforgiving Light’, it’s a good summary of her work – without her band (the track originally recorded with members of Mt. Doubt) it veers broadly between PJ Harvey and Joni Mitchell in tone, and indeed volume, with sudden bursts of guitar.
My companions may have been unfamiliar with tonight’s opening act, but they are seasoned James Yorkston gig-goers – and made the point that whatever else occurs, you are guaranteed a set not short on variety. This applies to the Anstruther musician’s work generally, but his live sets have the wide sweep of his multi-guest ‘Tae Sup Wi’ a Fifer’ shows. And as if reading our minds, he kicks off proceedings with an a cappella folk song, before donning guitar for ‘Struggle’ – one of several tracks on his recent album made with Stockholm’s The Second Hand Orchestra.
‘Ella Mary Leather’ and ‘There Is No Upside’ also come from ‘The Wide, Wide River’ but stand on their own reworked as solo tunes (as listeners to his session for is this music?’s radio show will know, translating very nicely from full band pieces).
There’s a smattering of oldies including an epic ‘Tortoise Regrets Hare’, but the sight of a piano stage right suggests something a little special. The guitarist has, it transpires, acquired a keyboard during lockdown and it has become a medium for his songwriting – so, we’re treated to a trio of new tunes, premiered in the Stirling setting sun.
Lockdown may also have been a reflective time – there’s ‘Keeping Up With The Grandchildren’, written for his 90-year-old father-in-law, and then, a song for Scott Hutchison, which is as described, “more of a disco banger”.
As Yorkston suggests his music is often downbeat, and for those no longer with us – and yes, he will round off proceedings with a 400-year-old folk song where ‘Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard’ do indeed get stabbed. Before that, the possible standout from tonight’s set is ‘Broken Wave (A Blues for Doogie)’ – the track written for the Yorkston/Thorne/Khan album and dedicated to former Athlete’s bassist Doogie Paul, who passed away almost 10 years ago.
Happily, mention of his recent project with Jon Thorne and Suhail Yusuf Khan leads us in roundabout manner to one of Yorkston’s tales which are as much a part of his live sets as his music – on this occasion, detailing Khan’s mistaking a plateful of bright orange Scots processed cheese for papaya.
Perhaps you had to be there. And while no-one wants to be forced to get our live music fix in a car park behind an actual concert venue, open air gigs such as this and the previous Constant Follower/Gareth Dickson show could well be the ‘new normal’.
Well, as long as the rain stays off.