Gig review: Withered Hand/ballboy/Darren Hayman

Withered Hand/ballboy/Darren Hayman

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, August 4.

Over ten years of living in Edinburgh has convinced me that the place with the best programming (particularly for leftfield music) has got to be The Queen’s Hall. That period has seen me see some great acts here (Tindersticks, King Creosote, Low, Sons & Daughters, Yo La Tengo, The Delgados, Mogwai, Divine Comedy, Echo and the Bunnymen, Daniel Johnston, Idlewild, Broken Records, Elbow…those are just the ones I can think of, off the top of my head), and tonight is no exception.

It’s a triple bill that has pulled together three excellent acts, and is compered by Josie Long, who is hysterically funny and a reminder that whilst the fringe goes on outside, there are plenty of great acts in amongst the dross. First on is Darren Hayman, whose prolific output is all the more impressive given how high in quality it is. He begins at the piano for three songs, including the absolutely beautiful ‘Ship’s Piano.’ There’s no outing for tracks off his forthcoming Lido, but we do get an insight into yet another project he has on the go, all about the Essex Witch Trials. He told me afterwards that it has all been written -so I think we can safely expect to see this in about six months.

The first time I saw ballboy was at this very same venue -supporting The Delgados. That night he blew our minds with a reworking of ‘Born In The USA.’ Tonight, he gives us several new songs ‘Slip Into The Ocean Slip into The Sea’ and ‘The Parade.’ His dry sense of humour makes us laugh when he introduces ‘I Gave Up My Eyes To A Man Who Was Blind’ by telling us that someone once asked him -apparently in all seriousness -if it was a true story. Gordon McIntyre is a lyrical genius, and it’s clear why the late, great John Peel (and many others) have and continue to hold him so high.

Now, Dan Willson AKA Withered Hand started recording after Peel died -but I’d be willing to bet that he would have had as many entries on the hallowed Festive Fifty as the two other guests of the night. Dan arrives on stage solo, and the version of ‘Cornflake’ he gives us is brilliant. He’s joined by a number of guests, the first one of which is Neil Pennycook from Meursault, who joins him for a new song ‘Love Over Desire.’ Malcolm Benzie from eagleowl contributes violin and mandolin to much of the evening’s proceedings, including ‘Gethsemane’ from this year’s Heart Heart EP and another fine new song ‘Jubilee.’

THe first time I saw Dan live was third on the bill at the much smaller Cabaret Voltaire at the end of 2009. He’s come a long way in profile since then, but he still seems genuinely humbled to be headlining the Queen’s Hall. Yet there’s so many people here, so thrilled for him to have got here. He dedicates ‘New Dawn’ to the BBC’s Vic Galloway thanking him for his support (Galloway is one of many from the Scottish music scene in the hall tonight). It’s now been three years since his debut LP Good News, and I’m itching for the follow-up, when he’s ready to give it to us. There’s a new 10″ that he’s been teasing us with on his web page.

THe highlight though is the expanded Withered Hand line-up bolstered by the Second Hand Marching Band for ‘Religious Songs.’ On vinyl, this is a joy -but I hope someone recorded tonight’s version, because with the crowd singing along to every word, the effect is brilliant, and I don’t know whether to cry or scream for joy.

Three very talented songwriters, all who have given us so much already-and who, hopefully, have far more left for us to hear.

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