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OOTB 284 – 17 January 2008

OOTB 284 – 17 January 2008

Performers: Hannah O’Reilly, Susanna MacDonald, Callum Carlyle, Freeloadin Frank, Hugh Man, Tone (featured act), Ian Sclater, Ed and Chris, Dave, Johnny Pugh, Calum Haddow, Aaron Lowen Berger.

‘Twas a fine winter’s night to be venturing forth to the Canon’s Gait and many of Edinburgh’s musicians seemed to think this was true as the list filled up thick and fast. Alas, despite so many there appeared to be few willing to brave the challenge that faces the OOTB reviewer. However, for the first part I decided it was time to be a worthy citizen and give something back to the community. Ably aided and abetted by Ms Hannah O’Reilly read on to discover how our perilous journey unfolded before us (until the second break when we buggered off). I want to add at this point the disclaimer that I cannot be held responsible for any mis-quoted lyrics (you should sing more clearly), omitted or mis-quoted song titles (you should make them more obvious) or mis-spelled names (if I’ve not read them how am I supposed to know). We have also tried to be fairly honest and our mothers always told us that if you can’t say something nice then you shouldn’t say anything at all (oops, that means I shouldn’t really sing any of my songs. Ah well, hypocrisy makes life more bearable…). As a reward, we were given the first slot to share, and, delightfully compered by Mr Daniel Davis,

Hannah OReilly in 2004

Hannah O'Reilly in 2004

Hannah O’Reilly

Hannah took to the stage. Her first offering was Foolish   in which she sang that she was ‘foolishly fooled by you again’ to a descending strummed riff in an open tuning. This was a song which showed off the more gentle and delicate side to Hannah’s voice and though she claimed that she should have warmed up with a different song the audience was suitably wowed. Then, after a minor coughing fit and a brief snippet from her latest song about not being able to write a song (‘I hate this song, I hate this song, I hate this song…’ I think the lyrics were), she launched into Faith  . This song had a mixture of picking and strumming on her guitar and she sang of ‘Faith: the final frontier’. A very strong and laid-back performance set the evening off to a great start.

Next it was me and you’ll have to get that write-up off Rob…

Susanna MacDonald I thought she said her first was called ‘Buddha the Cyborg’, and I’m more than a little disappointed to realise it’s called ‘Buddha on the Sideboard’. Let’s face it; it would have to be pretty good to trump my expectations of Dalai Lama/Bishop from Aliens   as song. As it happens, Susanna more than makes up for it with an engaging tale of domestic strife, details beautifully picked out with sustained 2nds and 6ths, broken by staccato accents. ‘To the critics’ makes my seat a difficult one to occupy as Susanna rails against all those who presume to comment and advise on matters they have little knowledge of. It is acerbic and powerful, and despite perhaps forwarding the untenable position of a performer whose work is only scrutinised by the knowing few, I rather enjoyed it. Back to Susanna…

I was followed by Callum Carlyle who promised a set of ‘frantic songs that I don’t usually play’. He made no apology for ancient strings as he was confident he could ‘make them sound beautiful’. We weren’t so sure however, but his sheer exuberance and energy he put into playing made up for it. He started with I Have Faith In You   with funky strumming and very positive lyrics, which makes a great change from a lot of songwriters (I put my hands up in shame). This had thigh-slapping and bopping from the audience. Next it was a song called Brief Ray of Sunshine  , a song 15 years old that has ‘never really been taken out of the box’. There were a lot of rhythm changes in this one and jumps from riff-changes to strumming and it did feel a little under-rehearsed as to make songs like this flow properly you really need to have confidence in the changes (again hands up as my second offering was much the same tonight). I couldn’t really hear the lyrics properly as they came thick and fast, but again it was a very optimistic offering about an ‘ideal woman’ seen in the moonlight. Finally Callum gave us Superglue  , a song with very heavy strumming of power chords and more than a little reminiscent of Placebo. Though for sheer exuberance give the man a prize…

Ah, now to the next performer and a veteran at OOTB, a man who really needs no introduction and whose musical style is an experience: Mr Freeloading Frank. His first is a ‘serious song’, qualified by an open tuning and finger-picking. He has trouble knowing which way is up and down. A ‘rich man sitting at his desk… don’t care about the rest’ as he Frank delves investigates the implications of investing in the weapons trade. This is the more reflective, sombre side of Frank and the open tuning gave and Indian twinge to the bridge passage. Where was the sitar? To move things on quickly Frank swapped his guitar and told us about a public health meeting on Monday to legalise cannabis. He then started what can be best described as a ‘ditty’ entitled Cannabis is very good for you  . Stacked full of witty catchy rhymes this had the audience positively chortling as he told us it was good for ‘you and you and you and you and you and you and you…’, apparently written to prove he can write more serious songs. He then had to loosen his wrist after all the finger-picking to start a love song with country-esque strumming which imagined what would happen if he were a number of professions, with the most memorable for me being ‘If I was a priest I’d tell everyone what you said in confession’. Frank is a very clever lyricist and enjoyable for that.

Then we had Hugh Man who proclaimed that when it comes to the state of the world that Sometimes I Just Don’t Get It   before launching head first into a frantic diatribe about, well, the state of the world, I suppose. He asked ‘Is there something wrong with me?’. He did seem a little nervous and I thought the song would be better conveyed if he relaxed a bit, but OOTB’s quiet audiences can be very nerve-racking for some performers (where was my hand again? Oh yes, in the air confessing to the same thing). The song finished effectively abruptly. His second song was a new one, apparently more melancholy and reaching into the ‘spiritual realms’ about a ‘war of dark and light going on and some people might not know it’. This had gentle strumming in E minor as he told us ‘Every shadow must be cast by a shining light’ and that ‘Our self respect is everything’. He was more relaxed in this one. He finished with A Little Bit of Harmony   which switched to E major and sang that ‘A little bit of harmony can take away the misery’. There were a lot of lyrics and I couldn’t catch many of them but he certainly sang as if he meant every one of them. Hugh’s songs are quite long though, which at an open mic can seem rather self-indulgent, especially as the audience are not really geared up for watching one act for a very long time (except the featured act). A competent set none-the-less.

Now we have reached our featured act for the evening, Tone. He prefers to sit and gaze up into the mic and is joined on stage for his first number by Josh on the sax. He speaks to us first in French (something about a petit champignon and that il fait chaud, I became suspicious that he had been studying a standard grade/GCSE textbook before coming to play) before assaulting into a catchy quirky picked chord riff where ‘Time flows by as in bed I lie’ and ‘the streetlights are out of sight’. Fantastic jazzy sax let us know we were in for a good half hour of music. Actually catchy, quirky and fantastic are the words I think best describe his whole set. With a gentle, almost spoken, laid-back vocal, reminiscent at times of Finlay Quay, a higher-pitched Leonard Cohen who can actually sing or, more frequently, Evan Dando and the Lemonheads he took us through almost virtuoso guitar playing with high ‘oohs’ in Too Much For The Mind   and Wildebeast  , where ‘No one speaks to you, scared of what you might do’ (and uses the ‘oohs’ to create a vocal that recalls The Lion Sleeps Tonight  ) , to Feel No Need  , where a slow melody contrasted brilliantly with a fast-paced picked guitar counter melody accompaniment reminiscent of Beethoven. Then he moved onto a new one never played in public before. His guitar had gone out of key, but that didn’t matter too much as it was quite a country song and added a honky-tonk effect. The he donned a harmonica to play Terry Nutkins  , a homage to an 80s TV star. The harmonica line sounded like Come On Sweet Caroline   before he sang ‘Like animals are to Terry Nutkins my vocation is you’ (see what I mean about quirky?). Then he returned to his virtuoso blue-grassy guitar before his final song. He asked tentatively about covers which resulted in a resounding hiss from the crowd so resolved to do another original (yay!). With an Aussie outback like ‘bong’ on the guitar he told of a rather bad relationship where ‘She played games with my aching brain, that’s why you’ve got me on the run’. And with an ‘ay’, an ‘oh’, a ‘no’ and a ‘sssh’ he ended a mighty fine set that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

We were then presented with three ‘squashees’ as my arguments with adjectives and complaints with comparisons that comprise writing the review began to draw toward the final battle. Firstly Ian Sclater, who, aghast with no covers, told us that he’s tired of ‘being a pale imitation of Donovan’ and as most of his songs are written for a band he brought his own backing track to play along to. Ian has a good voice and he crooned to a song that can only be described here as ‘classic rock’ saying you’ve got to ‘Talk to Somebody’ (I also assume this is the song’s title) and ‘Don’t hide away’.

Then Ed and Chris came. Apparently last week was their first public performance. They sounded new and fresh and played Heart of my Existence   had possibly the best lyric I’d heard all night with ‘Existence is spread so very thin upon the rocks like moss and lichen’. These guys sing with Scottish accents, with perfect applied harmonies, two guitars and are going to be so very good very soon. They are laid back and do remind you a bit of Idlewild. Definitely keep an eye on them.

And then the last performer before the second break, Dave. Very politely thanked us for fitting him into our schedule before singing a gently picked love song. Though he said ‘Seven worlds will collide whenever I am by your side’ it was not the Crowded House song. He seemed really nervous, and sang to the mic, but still gave a very heart-felt and decent performance.

Rob again… Johnny Pugh (debut) This debutante launches into ‘Loose Ends’, a familiar tale of loss, he sings ‘Where are you when all these pieces fall into place?’ By the third verse, though, Johnny pushes it up a nocth, and the lyrics are wrenched from within, dripping with emotional rage. He has great control of dynamics on his second, called either ‘Lost without you’ or ‘Waiting for you’ (I’ll learn the title next time round) It reminds me of he whose name shall never be uttered in open mic circles (don’t know why), Damien Rice. Good stuff, though. ‘Let go’ opens as slow stadium guitar rock, and another tale of loss. Surprisingly, all this mourning wasn’t in the least bit depressing, testament to the delivery. This too gathers momentum, as he sings I let you go, and my love she turns to hate.   This may be his first OOTB, but clearly he’s done this before. Hopefully not the last time here.

Calum Haddow welcomes the many OOTB virgins in the audience with his most poptastic and accessible tunes, ‘Death to the Animals.’ What, seriously? No, everyone looks on in a state of disbelief as Calum delivers with absolute conviction such gems as tear him to bits; I’ll cheer you on  , and there’s a death stink around your head.   Nature, red and tooth and claw, sung with the ferocity of a rabid marmot. I loved it. ‘A simple plan to destroy the court(s)’ details one man’s quest against The Man as anything but a theoretical matter: we’ll suffocate them where they stand.   Powdered wigs as choking hazard, who’d have thought? This song also features the most masterful recovery of a plectrum this reviewer has ever witnessed. I don’t know what happened, but it looked like something out the Matrix. ‘First Aid’ is a personal favourite, although I’ve never seen Calum himself sing it. Behind the humour of an incompetent medic lies a harsh war song. We will both be walking out, I swear   And when Calum yells, Stand up, get up…   the impact is total.

Aaron Lowen Berger Master of the instrumental opens with a soft and mellow one. Reminds me of ‘You’ve got a friend’ but Aaron never slips into melodic cliché. His second, ‘Overdoing it’ is a funky blues that does what it says, this stuff is not easy, and Aaron clearly relishes the challenge of a piece which is difficult in so many ways. Picking, fret stretches and speed all add up to a work-out, but Aaron copes capably. Incidentally, this guy is the Featured Act in two weeks (31/01/08), so come enjoy before the boy disappears back to New Jersey forever.

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