A festival within a festival, though of course Retreat! isn’t part of the Edinburgh festival at all – it just happens to be on at a time when tourists lucky enough to be in the city can, perhaps, catch up on some of the finest local talent .
Locals here too of course, though given that we’re – technically – in Leith, it’s a fair old walk from anyone who lives in the leafy environs of Morningside or somewhere.
It’s actually a decent venue -a church hall of course, but as Emily tells us, she has probably searched through “every hall in Edinburgh” before settling on this for this, te third incarnation of Retreat!
The gold lame curtains that clad the stage (yes, a proper stage!) are a stunning, if probably flammable, bonus. Apart from anything else it allows changeovers between bands to take place easily, and brings back a memory or two of the halcyon days of the Glasgow Apollo.
A success in terms of the 300 or so people who attended over the weekend, and a critical one (recipients of a Herald Angel, which a previous Edinburgh non-Festival festival, Tigerfest, also received), it remains for me to chip in with a quick roundup of the final quarter, given that I just miss Gordon Ballboy and the break for sustenance, and arrive for the final 4 bands.
Indeed, I arrive to see a strangely-clad compere (in full Pierrot gear and pointy hat if memory serves), who makes way for The Douglas Firs. First spotted onstage is Bart Eagleowl, and Retreat! co-organiser, also in a strange chequered clown suit, presumably part of the same job lot (or tablecloth).
There’s also someone who looks a bit like a former member of St Jude’s Infirmary, and as they turn it is indeed Emma Jane, of said Edinburgh should-have-beens. The indie supergroup break into a motorik groove and vaguely remind me of something… probably the CD received and dispatched to Al Souter for a recent 5-star review…
Eventually the singer, obscured by a speaker, comes into view and it’s Niall, currently of Jesus H Foxx, and formerly multi-faceted highland groovers Hookers Green. Seems like a bit of a supergroup has been assembled.
Musically it’s a combination of fluid and regimented, so loose enough for the individual players to have fun without quite losing the thread.
Milk are, apparently a supergroup of a different kind. Apart from boasting singer of My Kappa Roots, there’s also the son of one of the Associates in the lineup. Despite someone having already reported that it’s Billy Mackenzie’s lad, the more likely scenario is that he offspring in question is that of Alan Rankine, guitarist and keyboardist with the 80s chart act. Which is probably irrelevant, as we can’t quite figure out which one he is anyway, and Milk operate very much as a unit with the vocalist is the centre of attention anyway. The band hail from Glasgow and though they seem to be very pleased to be at Retreat!, musically they would be much more at home onstage at Stereo, offering that slightly off-kilter indie dance that the likes of Correcto or V-Twin (or even, whisper it, Franz) are known for.
Meursault are second-top of the bill (more on that later) and prompt perhaps the largest crowd reaction of the evening. Perhaps ideal Retreat! material – folky, indie, edgy yet decidedly ‘pop’ at times, they unleash a fearsome sound which must knock first-time listeners back on their feet every time, computerised beats driving tunes powered by harmonium and banjo, and Neil Pennycook’s vocals, as ever, hardly requiring the venue’s modest PA. Justice is in short supply in the indie music world, but if any comes their way then Meursault should be getting their message out to a wider audience, and soon.
Headliners – largely because they are impossible for anyone to follow – are The Leg, led by Dan out of the legendary Khaya and also featuring another former St Jude’s former member, drummer Alun. who also takes on some vocal duties. Oh, he’s dressed as… well, a mutant cat may be the intention.
His bandmates (guitar/vox, and cello) are also masked, presumably in case of any suits over loss of hearing/sanity in the audience. The Leg – minus Paul Vickers on this occasion – make which might loosely be termed punk rock, or perhaps art terrorism, and while they especially on record may be a difficult listen, live, with the occasional flashes of Khaya’s songwriting genius married with a sonic onslaught, thy are indeed the act that no-one could ever hope to follow.
In all, a critical and (it seems) commercial success. Let’s hope that Retreat! continues its advance in future years.