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Gwenno, The Usher Hall, Edinburgh

  • Published in Live


As usual when I rock up to these things, my name never seems to be included on the press list.  I usually find my way via a PR group and Musos' Guide editor. Somewhere between Liz, Christian and Kenneth, Cassandra got a bit lost. And as usual, I end up standing there as if I’m trying to get away with something. As I waited, I saw a few stragglers come in, hoping for tickets to see Manic Street Preachers. I was getting to see them for free. But I honestly wasn’t that fussed as it was Gwenno I had my sights on.

Last year, I had the delightful privilege of seeing Gwenno perform at the Hidden Door Festival.  ¾ length trousers were in evidence (on every performer, so it seemed.  It was the zeitgeist of fashion). She wore Chelsea boots (fashion accessory also sweeping from high street to closets) with such style that momentarily, I wanted to be as cool as her. I looked at her and not only admired her ease with herself and her stage presence but also the way that she glided around her keyboard and effortlessly danced about it, not missing a beat or a note. Oh and yes, she is also good at singing.

Fast forward to Sunday past and here she was again, performing in Edinburgh. This time the joint was much classier - with its constant maintenance and numerous ushers, funders, moolahs from high ticket prices and a host of premium shows. To be honest, I liked the performance space and performance itself better at the Leith Theatre. She seemed to fit that space better – or perhaps it was a better fit for her and her troop of 3 back up people.

She skipped out onto the stage (stage right) and all was blue. For the entire show. Which meant I couldn’t get a decent picture to save my life. She was wearing a white button up dress with her crew dressed in black t-shirt and jeans. After song three, Gwenno stated that, “These are my Druids – magical creatures.” It was unfortunate the crowd was quite thin at this point as I felt the people waiting to see MSP were missing out. There wasn’t much chat from Gwenno, however what she did say was well-chosen and just enough to guide us to the heart of her songs sung in Cornish.

“The old saying is a true saying. The old man who has lost his tongue has lost his lamp.” So here we learn how important this language is to her.  What a risk, what a brave thing to release an entire album in a language most of us do not know. It mattered to her and so she did. It is clear that her upbringing of living with a Cornish speaking father and a Welsh speaking mother had a tremendous influence on her. She went on to say that, “In a fair society, we tend to do the right thing. In an unfair society, Fascism sets in.” Cue big cheer from the crowd. 

What I liked about Gwenno’s performance was that it wasn’t all flash and big gestures. It was sincere, heartfelt and down to earth. It was a refreshing change from other gigs that use all the flashy lights and high tech gadgetry to enchant us. Here we were treated to something much more (don’t use the word authentic…don’t…don’t …argh….it’s over-used)….authentic. 

She ended her set saying the final song was about the greatest invention ever: Cheese. Cheese never sounded so good. She taught us some of those magical words and we sang our way to the end of her show. And then she skipped off the stage.

 As I had my seat for the entirety of that evening’s entertainment, I decided to stay on to see MSP. 45 minutes later I burst out of The Usher Hall (still another 45 minutes left of their set). Seeing the golden spring light reflected on the buildings and feeling grateful for my good decision to leave, I felt I had learned a deep truth about myself: I am not a fan of Manic Street Preachers.


Hidden Door Festival, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh - Opening Night

  • Published in Live
Tonight was a triumph, albeit with a slightly odd running order making for a disjointed start.
The billing of Gwenno, Dream Wife and Nadine Shah together was an excellent mix of the new and the maturing. Only the placing of Stina Tweeddale (one half of Honeyblood) as the second act rather cooled things off after the initial fine start.
Gwenno and band were on sharp at 19:00 and turned in a great performance, full of anecdotal chat, very well received renditions of tracks from current album Le Kov (including the audience chanting along in Cornish about cheese) and earlier material. Clearly pleased to be part of the festival she was full of good cheer and thoroughly at home in the excellent venue.
Change over times were decent tonight, with some contemporary dance going on on the auditorium floor at a couple of points just to divert the attention. Doubtless this would have proved difficult if the event had sold out. Stina Tweeddale was therefore not too long in coming onstage to do her best with solo versions of some Honeyblood tracks. To her credit she at least kept it electric. Shorn of their drum parts, however, the tunes too often didn't do the business (unlike when seen here). As the opening act or in a more intimate setting she'd have been fine but, whether to meet a promise to appear or whatever, this wasn't the most inspired programming.
Thankfully the threads of excitement remaining from Gwenno & gang's performance were easily grasped & pulled tight by Dream Wife. Currently on the crest of a wave the quartet were brimming with energy and all too happy to unleash it upon the appreciative crowd. Obviously relishing the space afforded by the theatre's stage singer Rakel Mjöll in particular bounded about its entirety, striking balletic poses now and again when returning briefly to a standstill. Less controversial than sometimes reported when headlining they stuck pretty much to entertaining, with just a brief attempt to conflate the social mores of not quite 100 years ago as reflected backstage at the theatre (changing rooms denoted by gender as well as place in the company - instrumentalist, singer etc.) with modern gender bias. Depends I suppose who you're happy disrobing in front of at work although I doubt it's a free-for-all at the Royal Lyceum or elsewhere.
I last saw Nadine Shah in 2015 (here) but she seems to have undergone something of a change, into a rather more vampish stage presence (although in no way camp or pretentious). Being fed up singing "about my crap lovelife" maybe has something to do with that. Current album Holiday Destination is though (probably) her most political to date so all black attire, Doc Martins and a serious bob make more sense. Coupled with her easy engagement with the audience and clear pleasure at finally playing Edinburgh she and the band could do no wrong, evening managing to mention the negative aspects of nationalism without getting heckled before later eliciting a resounding cheer for deriding Brexit. All in this was the performance we deserved after the mostly great work put in to prime us for it and it capped off a great introduction for those of us who'd not previously partaken of the festival's musical programme.
Special mention should be given here to the lighting onstage at Leith Theatre. A lot of thought has clearly gone in to the displays used during the performances and that, coupled with the very well mixed and balanced sound (helped along by the great acoustics) contributed a lot to the overall show. Further evidence that there could have been some great shows staged here in the 30 years of it's ludicrous period of disuse but a very positive pointer to what can be achieved from now on. Well done to all concerned.
Hidden Door continues until June 03 - further details here.
Further photographs from this part of it can be found here.
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