Hidden Door Festival: Idlewild + Manuela + Hamish Hawk + Dama Scout @ Leith Theatre, Edinburgh 27th May 2017
The Hidden Door Festival is an annual non-profit multi-arts festival in Edinburgh, now in its fourth year. This year it is taking place from 26th May to 4th June in the long-derelict old Leith Theatre, a venue currently undergoing restoration. For more details visit the website: http://hiddendoorblog.org.
The first band in the main auditorium last night was Dama Scout, a dreamy, fuzzy indie guitar pop band who are a bit Lush, a bit Cocteau Twins and a bit Sonic Youth. The music’s fine, with some wonderfully noise-encrusted twin guitar attacks and delightfully droning, chiming female vocals that successfully evoke the best moments from the late 80s shoegazing scene. The three-piece did, however, seem a little dwarfed by the vastness of the Leith Theatre stage.
Hamish Hawk & The New Outfit are a somewhat more idiosyncratic affair centred heavily around the eccentric personality of its Edinburgh-born frontman, who last night was sporting a brown suit. Sporting an array of guitar types and an accordion, they occupy an ostensibly baffling yet somehow coherent space between Pulp, The Proclaimers, Meatloaf, Belle & Sebastian and Frank Sidebottom. The songs are anthemic, poetic pieces of working class observation. Hawk himself is a witty yet charmingly modest character, explaining to the audience that he was struggling under the heat last night because “Edinburgh seems to have moved 3/4 of the way to the sun over the past couple of days”. He did just fine in the end.
Manuela is a band formed by ex-Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy and his wife Manuela Gernedel. The music has a more laid-back, sombre vibe than McCarthy’s erstwhile outfit. Her twangy vocal style is certainly unique and something of an acquired taste - one that I didn’t quite acquire last night. The atmospheric, vaguely experimental, Stereolab-influenced soundscape tends to sink in the subconscious far more efficiently when heard in the background of quiet room whilst lying on a couch, whereas on stage it seemed to blend into a blurry muchness only distinguished by the aforementioned vocals. The audience was somewhat thin and unenthusiastic, with too many clearly tied up waiting at the understaffed bars. This was also the case with the earlier bands, but was quite a surprise here considering the FF connection.
Idlewild was the band that finally made that Edinburgh crowd go… well… wild. Mind you, the long-lasting indie-pop-rock outfit were playing on their home turf. Musically Idlewild are decent but not overly original in their manner of peddling catchy, REM-meets-Jimmy Eat World anthems. Too frequently the songwriting takes the easy shortcut of repeating the same lyrics over and over. However, unlike most of the other bands seen so far at the festival they had a clear handle on how to generate rapport with the crowd in this medium-large venue. Instead of politely standing 2-3 metres back from the monitors and literally/metaphorically sinking into the background, lead vocalist Roddy Woomble and guitarist Rod Jones moved straight to the precipice of the stage to fully engage with the audience. The sheer white-hot energy they generated was palpable, and undeniably spectacular for a band which has been going for more than two decades. When the lass behind myself and my gig-buddy shouted “Roddy we love you!” and persuaded me to lift her up on my back (the bouncer signalled “no” to us, putting paid to that idea - although his actions were arguably understandable in the interests of health and safety), it was obvious that the punters were being delivered the requisite thrills.