Three acts share the bill for this matinee performance for AWME at The Toff, and the five-piece Scottish folk band Breabach opens with a feisty instrumental piece, featuring a double bagpipe attack from expert players Calum MacCrimmon and James Mackenzie.
“The Shetland Turtle” sets a cracking pace and Megan Henderson’s fiddle takes off with a dark, driving rhythm –crystal-clear and tuneful, expertly accompanied by the double bass of James Lindsay, and Ewan Robertson’s flawless rhythm guitar.
Paying tribute to Scottish poet Edwin Muir, the lyrics to “Scotland’s Winter” soar, featuring gorgeous three-part harmonies and a haunting bagpipe solo, drawn out to the very last superb wheeze by Mackenzie’s pipes.
Later, MacCrimmon tells us that “Gig Face” – which features a fantastically jazzy double-bass solo – is so titled for the nickname his girlfriend gave him because of his obsession with music.
Henderson is adorable as she jumps down from the stage in the last blistering instrumental to perform a lively step-dance in front of the audience, and the double woodwind harmonies throughout the set are especially beautiful. When Mackenzie and MacCrimmon entwine their fluttering, quick melodies on flute and whistle respectively.
Second up is Benny Walker, channeling a 60s wardrobe with his brown pants and white open-neck, long sleeve shirt. His four-piece band plays with strength and cohesive power.
There is a lot of pop variation – “Black And White” is laidback, while “Woman” is funkier rock-pop with an upbeat groove. However, Walker’s husky vocals are sometimes drowned out, and the lack of clarity makes it hard to follow the narratives so central to his songwriting, and to his story of himself and his music.
Walker also talks about travelling, doing music gigs in the Kimberley, where he got inspiration for his song “Enough Is Enough”.
It has an engaging dark country vibe, however, crowd noise around the bar doesn’t do it justice. Walker’s smoky voice erupts into an impassioned cry – it is a great moment, but the lack of audience attention hints that this is not the right audience for this group to play to.
Walker is soothing and sweet, his quiet observations becoming a sea of calm amidst the intense folk insanity about to erupt with the final band, The Good Ship, who display raucous, cheeky irreverence from their very first note.
The eclectic outfits and mad energy are in abundance. The antics of Geoff Wilson breaks down the audience/band barrier – he jumps on a table in the middle of the seated audience section to loudly ring a bell at the end of a song, and later jumps from a bannister, guitar flailing, in a joyful display of vigour during the catchy “Powder Monkey”.
Sea shanties abound, with much shouting from all seven band members on stage, enhancing the foot-stomping fun of “Bury Me”, and the rock pulse of “Somebody Took My Baby From Me”.
The sultry “Sin City Sweetheart” is a heady mix of cabaret and flamenco with a slight country twang, while “Seven Seas” is melancholy with a soaring, plaintive chorus.
The rousing closing song, with its ribald lyrics: “Don’t care about your mouth / only care about what’s down south,” is full of on-stage dancing and theatrics.
It is a ballad that is brazenly celebratory of the joys and sins of the flesh, but also gives a sense of using music – with all of its clamour, hullabaloo and high energy – to ward off the dark spirits and to rally against desolation. And it works well, as the crowd filters out of the Toff into the late afternoon still singing and laughing.