Live at Glenbuchat Hall/The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen

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Live at Glenbuchat Hall/The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
15 & 16 October 2016

With their two most recent albums having been received with joy by critics and fans alike, it was fitting that these back-to-back shows began with The Stray Birds’ ‘Best Medicine’, a tribute to record shops. As a statement of intent, and a trailer for the 90 minute show, this was ideal, with Oliver Craven impressing on resonator guitar and singing harmony with bassist Charles Muench, as Maya de Vitry’s bluesy, almost melancholic lead, conversely, hints at triumph. The immediate impact of recently co-opted percussionist Dominic Billett was also apparent, adding subtle but significant drive to the set.

But whilst the opening number may have acted as a template for the remainder of the evening, the foregoing description is merely a process statement, and cannot begin to recount the dynamics, emotion and scintillating musicianship, already familiar from the band’s records, that The Stray Birds laid before two enthusiastic packed houses.

From the energetic two-step of ‘New Shoes’ until the final harmonies of ‘When I Die’ (or ‘Never For Nothing’ as Glenbuchat‘s enthusiasts demanded a second encore) the quartet sparkled, Maya and Oliver swapping instruments, with guitars, a fiddle, a mandolin and a blues harp pressed into action as individual songs demanded, with two and three-part harmonies a delicious vocal topping to all four members’ instrumental flawlessness.

And whilst the instruments may suggest that The Stray Birds can be shoe-horned into the bluegrass or country categories, they push at and shatter those boundaries. ‘Third Day In A Row’ hangs on infectious pop hooks and call and response, ‘Harlem’ is arranged as a languid but intense country blues, and ‘Shining In The Distance’ not only resonates with insistent rock rhythm, it displays Craven’s fearless physical courage in playing racked blues harp whilst sporting a full beard. But if the sets’ highlights are almost too numerous to mention, the heavy chain-gang blues treatment of Jimmie Rodgers’s ‘Blue Yodel #7’, complete with searing de Vitry fiddle solo and, get this, harmony yodelling, and the earworm country soul of ‘Mississippi Pearl’ will stay long in the memory.

Experienced rock n roll bands will always depart with a high-energy kiss-off, and from the opening sub-Chuck Berry fiddle licks to its final chorus, ‘Sabrina’ left both audiences breathless, and in Glenbuchat’s case, as has become the norm at that marvellous Strathdon meeting place, jiving furiously.

The Blue Lamp show had the added bonus of a 45 minute set from Edinburgh’s The Jellyman’s Daughter. Aberdeen-born singer Emily Kelly and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Graham Coe impressed the 100-plus crowd, including a sizeable number of their own fans, with atmospheric mini-dramas, the timbre of Coe’s cello adding gravitas to inventive melodies and arrangements, eclectic in their influences from jazz, folk and rock.


Grateful thanks to Craig Chisholm for the Lampie pics, and to Pauline Ainsley for the images from Glenbuchat.
Date added: Oct 18, 2016

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