Friday, August 22, 2008

Live Review - The Pictish Trail / HMS Ginafore

The Pictish Trail
Avalanche Records, Edinburgh
6 August 2008

HMS Ginafore
Scottish Scullery, St John's Church, Edinburgh
6 August 2008

Words and Photo: Chris Hynd

Instore performances are often a strange thing. It doesn't take on the appearance of a gig, the record store is still going about its business so it is to a few dedicated Fence Records fans and the odd intrigued passer-by that Johnny Lynch, the Pictish Trail, takes to the floor at the back of this venerable Cockburn Street institution. Lynch begins by acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation, like I said above, this is no ordinary gig. He's here to play songs from his upcoming Secret Soundz Vol.1 LP and is completely without amplification. People pass by, people continue to browse the CD racks but Lynch seems unfazed. "All I Own" is a beautiful opener, Lynch picks out a fragile guitar line and his voice strains and cracks along with it and it all sounds rather wonderful. They talk about being able to adapt to the particular surroundings you find yourself in and make the best of it? Well, Lynch certainly did that.

He showcases the best of Secret Soundz Vol.1, joined by fellow Fence head honcho King Creosote on melodica and backing vocals for the majority of the set. "I Don't Know Where To Begin" flows quite majestically, KC's melodica coming to the fore, the stripped back nature of the song accentuating its grace, "Into The Smoke" builds and builds as Lynch and KC harmonise (and try to get us to harmonise along with them!) and lolls and lilts and "Words Fail Me Now" is a little poppy gem for the big set closer (as much as there can be a "big set closer" at the end of a few tunes in a record shop!) and works tremendously here.

Having seen Lynch in solo mode and with band before, I always seem to yearn to hear these songs in a lone acoustic style. It's well-known that Lynch has great ambition for his records and performances as The Pictish Trail but sometimes there's that little bit something extra special about seeing those ambitious songs taken right back to their base, to where they started out back in the East Neuk of Fife. For this half hour, they feel like your songs too and that you're part of what Lynch is trying to put across. I hope he wouldn't have it any other way.

To the other side of Princes Street then as a foul Edinburgh day turns into a foul Edinburgh evening. The Retreat Festival, taking place in the St John's Church Scottish Scullery, is showcasing the best of the country's alt-folk talent and curators Bart (from Eagleowl) and Emily (from Tracer Trails) have put together a fine programme. A programme that includes a rare yet welcome live excursion for Jenny Gordon as HMS Ginafore. Gordon's reticence for playing live is fairly common knowledge so to see her onstage this evening, this time accompanied by a drummer and bass player is an absolute treat and makes you wish that this would be a more regular occurrence.

"Gregory's Girl" opens proceedings, Gordon's voice is unprojected and unfussed but the song is rather sweet and lovely, much like the film from which it takes its basis and the band lends a slight and understated backing but it all comes together well. Gordon often looks like she'd rather be anywhere else in the world than on a stage in front of people at times but her songs more than compensate for that unease, even though she visibly relaxes as the set goes on. "Buccaneer Chic" is a glorious sea shanty and the majestic "Thar She Blows" closes the set on a down beat, yet utterly compelling note.

The band sound certainly seems to suit Gordon's songs in the live arena and while her releases may be lo-fi and scratchy there's a gift in what she does. You may need to dig deep at times but once you're there then it's all the more delightful. Perhaps Gordon's lack of live presence though makes this show extra special, that it's our little secret that we only occasionally get to share with others, that HMS Ginafore should be discovered when you least expect it. Perhaps that's what Jenny Gordon wants all along but I know that when you make that discovery then there's no going back. Gordon's songs will seduce you, enthrall you and enchant you, the fact that you have to work that little bit harder makes it extra rewarding.

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