Galley Beggar were about to premiere some of their new album, Silence & Tears, in front of a live audience and they were … not nervous but a little apprehensive about the reception the new material would receive. Of course, they had no need to worry.
They began with a couple of old favourites: ‘The Outlandish Knight’ and ‘Willow Tree’ before the most typical of the new material, ‘Geordie’ with a stunning solo from David Ellis. ‘Empty Sky’ followed ‘Adam And Eve’ then came ‘Pay My Body Home’, the song from the album that is destined for live greatness and which allowed David into guitar heaven. They closed with ‘Jack O’Rion’, a big ballad compressed into a few minutes’ story-telling – the perfect ending to the set.
Sadly, Celine Marshall was unavailable but her dep, Emma Scarr, did a solid job although possibly without the freedom of expression that Celine might have had. It was still a fine set and one that would have appealed equally to the dedicated fans as well as the merely curious.
Trembling Bells also have a new album, The Sovereign Self, and a new guitarist, Alasdair C Mitchell, but it is still Mike Hastings, a giant of a man who produces a big sound from his Burns guitar who dominates the stage almost as much as Lavinia Blackwall. Actually, Mitchell is more than just a guitarist, sometimes taking over from Lavinia on keyboards and adding another voice.
They started with three songs without a word of introduction, just great waves of sound washing over us and their albums are a bit like that; you have to attune your head to them. The guy behind me remarked that it was like San Francisco in 1968. I’ll take his word for it because I know I wasn’t there but I think I know what he means. I suspect that it’s more the way we remember the sixties to have been than the way they really were.
‘O, Where Is Saint George’, which begins with a fragment of the Padstow May Day song, is perhaps typical of Alex Neilson’s unique imagination moving from a traditional lyric to what sounds like stream of consciousness or cut-up – “Lou Read and Lauren Bacall defeated Asterix the Gaul” and I admit that I looked that up afterwards. ‘Bells Of Burford’ feels like a traditional song written by Dennis Wheatley while melodically echoing ‘The Lyke Wake Dirge’ and was one of the highlights of the set.
There were more moments of weirdness with Alex’s solo turns at the microphone. One might have been called ‘My Girlfriend’s Got No Navel’ but I’m not sure I got that right. When they announced their final number it seemed like an awfully short set but they came back to finish with a spiky version of ‘The Auld Triangle’. Everyone went home very happy and a good many albums were bought – even by me.