The Tunnels in Aberdeen, for such a dark venue, glinted quite bright with orange Christmas lights strewn above on the ceiling. Dry ice also billowed around said arched ceiling. First up, though, was local solo acoustic singer songwriter, Cara Mitchell. Her set began sombre, and you could definitely hear the Björk comparisons. There was a certain vibrato to her voice, the way those notes sustained.
“You can come a bit closer, if you want”. And so began “Sail Away”. It had a certain strutting rhythm to it, that voice shaking like a chill down the spine. Then came a change as if to be running. This was before going slowly, briefly speeding up and coming back down, again. Intensity proper then reared its head.
The next number was delicate, dainty. Her voice was questing, sounding hurt, even. It then soared to a crescendo. Despairing, perhaps indignant. She then performed a cover, by the name of “Echoes”. This was despondent and melancholy. Her guitar work got bolder, the volume rising. Things then softened, again, and yet, again, built itself up.
“So, I left my job two weeks ago… this song’s called ‘Get Me Out This Place’”. This was a tad happier than before, despite its lyrical bent. It was bold like before, a bit of a swagger. Dynamics wise, there was a good mix of loud and quiet, and all the varying degrees in between.
Sombre was, again, the word that cropped up subsequently. This was adjoined to light strumming. Both these things encompassed the mood of the song as a whole. The guitar picking got brooding and atmospheric.
Then came Prentice Robertson, sans his band, indie rockers, Vistas, from Edinburgh. Again, a solo acoustic singer songwriter, but with a difference. He began with sedate guitar, then suddenly lively. There were moments played with a self assured flourish. It became driving and layered, latter courtesy of a loop pedal.
Really lively and exciting, until, “pretend that never happened”, when things got a tad awry but he was self deprecating enough to acknowledge the humour of it all. The thump of the bass drum was replicated hammering the palm of his hand over the soundhole. This saw lively response and cheers.
Vocals for the next were reminiscent of Razorlight’s frontman, Johnny Borrell. It was quite soulful , maybe wistful, too. It had a duel vocal going on, throwing his voice like two people singing at once. Very talented, certainly more than just an accomplished musician.
Things got intense with the following number. It was driving and, again, looped and layered. There was real immediacy to it. It then got a bit choppy, stabbing chords kicking in. Calming down a jot, it still, however, remained quite bold.
The subsequent song started with a flourish, played with a real energy. Dynamics saw the song brought right down for the next verse. Next was raucous, rollicking. Punky, almost. There was a clever pause, mid song, where you could hear a pin drop, before re-emerging.
Then came “Electricity”, which was, rhythmically, very interesting. Funky in an indie context, sort of thing. It was imploring and impassioned. It got more interesting with some tuneful lead playing, more melodically pleasing than off the cuff wankery. After this was a top of the lungs refrain, strums in between. Arguably engineered for maximum response from the crowd.
Headlining were another Edinburgh band, in more of a folk rock mould, Withered Hand, made up of vocalist/acoustic guitarist, guitarist, keyboardist and trumpeter, bassist and drummer. Kicking off with “Horseshoe” was melancholy strumming, the keyboard organ adding to it a real sense of mourning. The vocals were accentuated by sudden drums. The latter were lively, giving the song real spunk. The guitar hero moment came, and it was a satisfyingly simple riff.
Song “Providence” followed. This seemed wistful, with a bit of a swing to it. Then the song dropped right down, drums building it back up. Excellent dynamics. Drums also heralded a syncopated riff moment. Then followed some light heckling of frontman Dan Willson’s nervous disposition, asking if he were feeling confident. “I’m working on that”. The song that followed, “Fall Apart”, was jangly, with joyful guitar. It implored the crowd to “come on”.
After this the band did a bit of heckling themselves, with Dan declaring, “Ah, we’ve got somewhere to stay, now…this is a song about being faraway from home”. “King Of Hollywood” had a real spirit to it, a real, rambling rocker. Shadows-esque guitar was very satisfying.
At this point, it was obvious Dan was a very shy man, daresay suiting the introduction to what was forthcoming. Indeed, soft and delicate. The song, “New Dawn”, then paired down before crashing all around, ending with a rocking flourish.
“I Am Nothing” began without even a breather, pounding drum greeting driving bass before everyone else kicked in. It had real energy and excitement. Booming bass drum brought forth another crescendo, and an abrupt end pulled enthusiastic applause.
For “Love In The Time Of Ecstasy”, they said, “…it’s for anybody that’s vandalised something and felt sorry about it the next day”. This was just Dan and his guitar, gradually joined by the rest of the band. The backing vocals brought real beauty to the arrangement. What’s more, the line, “bass is booming”, was greeted with, yes, booming bass drum. Simple, yet genius. The drummer was also using beaters to achieve a different sound. The little things, as they say, made all the difference in this one.
“…it’s really nice to play with these guys because none of them are horrible”. “Black Tamborine” had moments where the band syncopated with the drums, very satisfying. These flourishes conveyed real joy to this reviewer. The guitar was heroic yet simple. Much fanfare came with the song’s end.
“California” came next, but not before introducing the band to see who would garner most and, rather mischievously, least applause. The song was definitely different to the rest of the set so far. It was harder edged, and also rousing. A down on your luck, with maybe an aspect of rising to the challenge, sort of thing. The guitar solo was really gritty. It seemed, daresay, to have a folky swing to it plus a real powerhouse drum performance.
“New Gods” had bass locking in with the melody of the guitar, laidback and kind of moody. The drums then locked in with the whole thing. Dynamics, again, were at play. Just bass drum and vocals before the song gradually built up, again. It was driving and folky. Again, attention to detail with the beaters.
With “True Love And Ruin” came a driving energy, especially for an acoustically driven song. The rest of the band lent it extra power. The refrain took it back to the start, the cycle repeating. Perhaps strains of trumpet in this one, giving it mournful power. The tempo seemed to double up upon itself, reaching climatic speed.
“Religion Songs” was definitely earnest and heartfelt, particularly with lines like, “religion is bullsh*t, it’s all about metaphor”. The whole thing sounded like a reinterpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”.
“This is a happy one, so…” And so the song began, with a real, unexpected energy. The vocals shoved a multitude and plethora of words out the mouth, a punky immediacy to them. The crowd were pogoing, and then the band brought things right down. Hammering right back up again, though.
The night was due to come to a close, and all that was left was for Dan to do a Prentice Robertson. This entailed a couple of solo performances, and at one point he was heckled to perform the first track he’d ever written, but declined vigorously. Anyway, things were unabashedly serious and candid, until, of course, lines like, “…get my d*ck inside her” blurted out.
The finale, the last hurrah, did come. The song appeared like the previous, though no punchlines ever surfaced. He introduced it as being all about authenticity, with the trumpet rearing its brass neck, again. A good line, perhaps the best of the night, came with, “I’m not the singer I thought I was…the solitude before the applause”.
You can buy Withering Hand’s album, 2014’s New Gods, here.
Words by Andrew Watson