As part of the innovative Unbound series of free, unticketed shows at the Book Festival this year, it is certainly a real treat to see such established musicians for nowt. On top of the fantastic lineup, there are also bundles of postcard fliers on each of the black-covered tables which surround the stage, offering a free whiskey in exchange for an email address. This almost makes up for the Siberian weather conditions we have endured to make it along to Charlotte Square this evening.
The Speigeltent is packed by the time James Yorkston (Fence Records) introduces his musical colleagues, and explains that Lisa O’Neill has travelled from Dublin that day to showcase her raw, vital talent. The Pictish Trail is making a rare appearance as he is, at the moment, concentrating on writing and recording, and it is with baited breath that I await his turn to play.
James begins proceedings, and whilst his self-deprecating introduction to his music makes us laugh (“I think I sound like a truck driver when I sing”) his ability to write and convey poignant music is instantly apparent. His playing is remarkable, and his voice conveys real heartfelt emotion.
It is an interesting set-up: each sits onstage with an acoustic guitar (Yorkston’s monographed guitar is a thing of absolute beauty, freshly delivered after being handmade to his specification by an adoring fan) and takes a turn at singing.
There’s a real variety to the music, with Lisa choosing some traditional Irish songs next to her own writing. She sings with a remarkably strong Irish voice, squeezing her eyes tightly shut almost as if the music is dragged from deep inside. She sings of broken hearts, skinny milk and love in the afternoon, and entertains with tales from her life, past and present.
James and Johnny (Mr Pictish) often work together to create a more layered and fuller sound at times. Their voices blend beautifully, and although this performance has an impromptu air, everything they attempt comes off. Johnny is a master on his instrument, and the guitar sounds magical, his voice pure and evocative. He sings of love, too, though with a sadness; he tells of loneliness and the lament in his lilting voice is wonderful.
The show lasts over an hour and a half, and is utterly captivating throughout. The charismatic personality of each musician shines through, and there is certainly not only sentiment, but also amusement: a trio of Ivor Cutler covers is excellent (Lisa not attempting the accent!) and the overall spirit of camaraderie onstage effuses the tent with gentility and light spirits – undoubtedly aided by the rather delicious Jura on offer! A triumph.