It’s wet in Auld Reekie.
Wet and cold.
A slate grey Victorian sky has been turned the blackest of black.
The rain has soaked me to the bone.
My newly dry cleaned mac is sodden.
My lovely selvedge jeans (and really boys it has to be selvedge…enough with the Next denim) now look like I have pulled them on direct from the wash.
My Brutus shirt is damp.
30 minutes ago I looked quite dapper…now I look a little worse than bedraggled.
Thankfully my hair looks exactly as it did when I left home.
On nights like these male pattern baldness is a blessing.
I’m in the Mash House which, even for an Edinburgh boy, is a hard place to reach…tucked up a dark alley that connects the stag and hen party Hell of the cities Cowgate with the slightly more genteel surrounds of Chambers Street with its museum and University buildings.
There are a gaggle of people here who remember Echobelly from the days when Britpop was not just a thing but was the thing. Like so many bands from the era the label of Britpop hangs uncomfortably around the necks of Sonya Madan and Glenn Johansson. The whizzer japes of “Country House” and the white liiiiiiiines of “Cigarettes and Alcohol” had nothing in common with what Echobelly were offering.
Lyrics that dealt with the reality of racism in a multi-racial society, feminist issues, gay rights and the darker side of life and love. Literate, poetic, provocative and, all the while, delightful thanks to the melodies and musical mastery of Johansson. These were songs to save your life and that could fill the dance floor at any student disco in the country.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple” opined Oscar Wilde and he may have been right but tonight, listening to Sonya sing, I am struck by the purity and beauty of her voice…the simplicity of her delivery and I can’t help but think that the truth, pure and simple, is that she may be one of our very best singers. When she sings it is, mercifully, free from the vocal gymnastics and hysterics of so many modern performers. She delivers each note with the sort of care and attention normally only seen when a new parent holds their child for the first time.
Following on from the success of their last collection of new songs, “Anarchy and Alchemy” and some show stopping, jaw dropping, live shows at the 2018 Star Shaped festival dates they have returned with a new album of songs, gems, from their back catalogue which have been reworked as acoustic delights and, in some cases, transformed entirely, to the extent that they sound like new songs entirely.
Watching Sonya and Glenn run through forgotten charmers like “Something Hot in a Cold Country” from “On” or their wedding friendly rendition of “Firefly” from “Anarchy and Alchemy”…two albums separated by nearly twenty years you are struck by the fact that the passing of time, with all of its sickening crimes, has done nothing to diminish either their musical abilities or their connection with their audience. Johansson plays guitar with a craft, verve and guile that would have Johnny Marr looking on in awed appreciation and Madan holds the entire audience in the palm of her hand with every note she presents them.
Bands often use the word “intimate” to describe a show when what they really mean is “We are not selling as many tickets as we used to” but tonight, in a tiny room in Edinburgh, intimate means exactly that…close, personal, private. There are moments when, despite the crowd singing along, I feel like the only person there, that Sonya and Glenn are playing for me and singing to me. When they play “Insomniac”, which has long been one of my favourite songs by any band, I feel tears well in my eyes and then work their way down my cheeks…I’ve been in the venue too long to pass them off as rain and I am grateful that I have secreted myself in the furthest and darkest corner of the space.
Nobody needs to see that.
As I leave the venue the rain starts up again…falling harder than before on the cobbled streets of the capital, the collar of my mac turned up, my head tucked into my chest and my pace inching close to a jog. I look miserable or guilty…when, in truth, I am filled with joy and freed from the normal emotional burdens I carry.
It is the perfect end to an evening of dark beauty.