To Summerhall, then, last Thursday, to see Meursault, an indie musician of the type
favoured by my friend and ex-colleague, Manicpopthrills. I had an ulterior motive in scoping out the venue for a forthcoming Dylan-related musical project which I’ll tell you about soon.
Meantime, Summerhall itself is an interesting place. Back in the late 18th century when I was a lad at university, it was the veterinary college part of the University – named the Royal Dick Vet, after William Dick, the benefactor (no sniggering at the back there). I shared a flat with my mate Kenny, a vet student, nearby, and tended to hang out more with the vets more than the lawyers, as being marginally more interesting (although there were exceptions in both directions).
At some point in the 1990s, I think, the vets moved out to Easter Bush (I told you already, no sniggering) and Summerhall became an arts venue. This particular gig was in the Dissection Room, which I had high hopes of being an old-style anatomy theatre, with racked seating above a central stage where the animals had been dissected and the band now played. As it turned out, it was a biggish space of a similar size and L shape to the Liquid Rooms. However, other rooms are also available in the venue.
First up, support was provided by Wojtek the Bear, who were slightly dismissively labelled ‘standard indie pop’ by He Who Knows About This Stuff (I suspect ‘indie’ and ‘pop’ are not really meant to feature in the same handle). Featuring a violinist/keyboard player as well as a brass section of one to supplement the standard two guitars/bass/drums format, I thought they were okay: the vocalist had a good voice, and although it was difficult to make out what the lyrics were about, he was clearly singing about, y’know, meaningful stuff, and pleasingly, retaining his own (Scottish) accent as he did so.
Anyway, I’ll leave it to Mr Manic to give you a proper review, but they sounded pretty good to me.
The main act, Meursault, didn’t disappoint either. The brainchild of singer-songwriter Neil Pennycook, their Wikipedia entry tells me their sound has variously been labelled folktronica, alternative rock, and indie folk; their name derives not from the Burgundian white wine, but from a character in a novel by Albert Camus. So there.
If I tell you his band included a piano (Pennycook himself, for some songs) a flautist, not one but two violinists, and a guy who alternated ukelele with acoustic guitar, you might think it all sounded a bit …. well, twee. And in the wrong hands it would have been.
Fortunately these acoustic instruments were offset heavily by some crunchy electronic beats and samples, as well as Neil and another band member trading different keyboard
settings on some songs. It all sounds a bit mental, and in the wrong hands it would’ve been, but your man clearly pumps musicality out of every pore, and it all, somehow, worked.
Plus of course the songs are solid, whether plated by this intriguing ratatouille of folk and electronica, or just Neil and his acoustic guitar. I have to admit the full band songs were my personal favourite, but they must be a bugger to arrange. Still. Inspiring.
A much better review is available now from Mike on the manicpopthrills site.
Speaking of which, those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I often have a word from our sponsors at the end, in the shape of me trying to sell my own music to you. Well, this is that word: some time ago, back in July in fact, I mentioned I was working on an EP of Americana-flavoured songs as my next release.
Well, here it now is – it’s called ‘Letter to Dead End, Indiana,’ and I’m pretty proud of it. A couple of folk who should know say it’s the best my vocals have sounded on my self-produced material, and it also features my new baby, the lap steel guitar I got for my Big Birthday back in September.
The songs featured are:
‘Tears Like Crystal’: a few of my songs over the years have featured angels, and I’m not sure why, as I don’t know I buy into the whole feathers and harps idea. Although there have definitely been times in my life when I’ve felt there’s someone up there, wherever ‘there’ is, watching out for me.
The song’s really about one of those people who the light shines through brighter than most. My new pal from Indiana, Joel, is one of those types. I could name a few others but they’d probably go all embarrassed.
‘Wrong Side of Town,’ with a different treatment, might have fitted my Springsteen-styled album, ‘Leaving Time’: it tells the story of a kid at a crossroads in a difficult situation, facing all the baked in inequality in our modern society. It could be set in Lowland Scotland or Dead End, Indiana. Which is kind of the point of all the songs.
Having said that, the last one, ‘Interstate,’ is definitely set in the vast open spaces of the States. Last year, we went on holiday to Northumberland and I brought back a dose of Covid-19. This year, we went to Spain and I brought back a bottle of wine, so I’ll leave you to guess which vacation I preferred.
However, the Covid had unintended consequences, as I came up with this song while in the grip of the fever stage one night. It’s basically the plot of a Lee Child Jack Reacher novel, boiled down to seven minutes, if your man had taken a different bus and our protagonists were left to sort things out themselves.
All proceeds from the EP, by the way, go to the Red Cross to help out those poor blighters in Ukraine.
What has all this to do with my review of a Meursault gig? Not much, perhaps – except to say I’m now working on my next album, which will very much be a singer-songwritery effort, and some of the noises Meursault made have, shall we say, struck a chord. I’m inspired to expand my palette beyond acoustic instruments on this one.
But don’t hold your breath, if you were thinking of doing so. I’ve already got about twenty songs to choose from, some old, some more recent since that brain-clearing trip to Spain. Next year, maybe!