It’s been a long day – and Birmingham seems like another country now. Quite a bit has happened since then in fact. I got up early, and disappeared into the bowels of New Street while it was still dark. I felt pretty grim, the usually October cold barely suppressed, and strangley nervous about the days ahead. I stake a lot on my visits to Glasgow – and sometimes expect too much.
As we emerged from the tunnels though, I knew today was going to be just a little bit exceptional. The day had dawned cold and clear, with perfect blue skies. As we sped north, through familiar territory from last week’s jaunt, I managed to settle my unease with coffee, music and the chance to really relax for the first time in a long time. I contemplated the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review later with some magnanimity – I’d made my predictions, but wondered if this trip might be a last fling before the belt tightened. All the more reason to make it count in one sense. No pressure then…
So fast-forwarding a little, I find myself in Macsorley’s – a corner bar near Central Station which I’d wandered by countless times on my travels. Inside, it’s tiny and the interior is like a shrine to traditional Scottish pub traditions – a U-shaped bar, surrounded by woodwork. Just dark enough to feel private, just busy enough to feel comfortable. I was immediately at home. It was interesting to study the customers – a mixture of town centre types, out for an early drink, and those here for the entertainment – a more mixed bunch, lots of knitwear and the inimitable Glasgow style. In the corner, big Jim Gellatly appeared to be conversing with a lost Kray triplet. I felt instantly at home, found my corner and settled in.
First up was Cristin Mackenzie from the Isle of Lewis. His gentle songs were carried above and beyond the bar chatter by way of his colleague who deployed a range of instruments, from whistles to what appeared to be Northumbrian Pipes. Occasionally, his voice too soared high above the background noise, which unfortunately prevented him from being heard fully. A talented young guy with lots of local support in Glasgow. A real pleasure to hear him.
Next up was Sarah Banjo – a recent discovery for me, and someone I really wanted to see perform. She started out, an alluring and unassuming shamble of clothes and glasses at the front of the room, before very suddenly, a high clear voice soared. There was something about her phrasing, her use of repetition and the construction of her songs which made me think of Olympia and K Records – Lois and Mecca Normal. But her use of guitar and banjo brought the music effortlessly back to it’s Scottish roots in that rare pool of talent, Anstruther. She also practically refused to stop playing, which is always a good thing in my book. Part way through the set she switched from a quietly strummed guitar to a more robust and eponymous banjo. A remarkable set which lived up to all my expectations.
And so, to Esperi – perhaps the artist I knew most about on tonights bill. His recordings are careful, fragile things which threaten to dissolve like ancient wax cylinders. Live, it’s quite remarkable to see how these tiny works of genius are created. He flits from instrument to instrument, setting up a loop from live sounds. The microphones are moved, and impossible toys are produced from his bag. Tiny whistling sea horses, bells and whistles. Over all of this, his quiet voice weaves gentle songs. I’m glad I got to see this because the performance is so much part of the sound. A remarkable talent.
So, as I trudged down Argyle Street in the inevitable rain, I reasoned that today turned out pretty well, despite my reservations. It’s good to be back.