RM Hubbert at Leith Depot, EdinburghSupport: Chrissy Barnacle| Moonsoup
February 4, 2018 at Leith Depot, Edinburgh
Promoter: Ryan Drever
It’s Independent Venue Week, y’know¹. That time of year when we recognise the importance of the small and, indeed, independent venues around the country. The clubs, the bars and the cafes. The record shops and people’s front rooms.
So, let’s go to Leith Depot for a gig. It’s a venue, it’s independent, and RM Hubbert is playing.
For those of you who don’t know, Leith Depot (named for the old Edinburgh bus depot which used to be just round the corner) is a relatively new venue, upstairs from what used to be one of the nastiest pubs in town but is now a pleasant little bar. Nice food. Craft beers. That sort of thing. It – the venue, not the bar – holds about 50 folks, and tonight it’s sold out. Our host, Ryan, has set out several rows of stools for us to sit on, because it’s that sort of gig. I’m not expecting a mosh pit.
Now, Ryan, bless him, has done A VERY GOOD THING here, because he knew that the gig would sell out, and made an effort to book an opening support act with little or no live experience, just so they could play to a full room instead of the usual three punters, soundman and the guy taking the door money. And that lucky band is MOONSOUP.
About whom I know absolutely nothing. . .
Tonight, they are playing their very first gig, and the room is, indeed, full. Normally, we are told, they would have a drummer but tonight they are a duo, a young lady on guitar and vocals, and a young fellow on bass. I’m sure they have names, but if they introduce themselves I miss it. Facebook doesn’t help. The bass player has a hat.
They play a slightly fragile, indie-ish variant of that singer/songwriter thing, with lyrics largely concerned with anxiety and insecurity and the hope that one day things will be better. It occurs to me that they’d go down well in any one of those chic little folky clubs/bars that all New Yorkers seem to go to all the time but probably don’t in real life. You know the kind of place.
I can’t tell you what songs they play, because they’ve not recorded anything yet and they didn’t give any titles away. Perhaps they’re shy? I don’t think so, because, other than some rather self-conscious banter, they seem pretty confident in what they’re doing. They go down well with the crowd², and I look forward to seeing them again, maybe with their drummer next time.
Also likely to be popular in that imaginary NY club is Chrissy Barnacle, a Glasgow lass and most definitely a ‘singer/songwriter’ in the classic solo-artist-with-acoustic-guitar format. She comes on well prepared with water, Red Stripe and Irn Bru, and sings, with almost brutal honesty, about her disastrous love-life, her low self-esteem. Her obsessive relationships and poor life choices. And chocolate. Songs about cannibal rats and witches are clearly not about those things at all. I think they might be metaphors.
“Nothing ruins my life like love”, she sings at one point, which seems to pretty much sum up her stories.
Chrissy is funny, and we laugh as she explains her songs. Even when she tells us why she aborts her cover of a Joanna Newsome song it’s amusing, and I feel oddly uncomfortable with that. The things she tells us are NOT funny, and I wonder if I should be laughing. But more of that later.
It would be too easy to describe Chrissy as ‘quirky’, but she’s worth more than that. To be sure, her voice and delivery are unusual, oddly girlish and innocent, but she’s way too smart and far too good to be dismissed with a single off-hand word.
Now, RM Hubbert.
If you’re familiar with Hubby – and if you’re reading this you probably are – then you’ll know all about his constant battle with crippling depression. I remind myself that I’m here to review his performance, and not his illness, but it’s impossible to separate them, and tonight’s show is inevitably darkened by the recent death of his beloved dog.
He writes, he says, to remind himself of the people in his life. He opens with ‘For Joe’, the first song I ever remember seeing him play, and it’s still as affecting now as it was then. Written for his late ex father-in-law, it’s intimate and utterly lovely and needs no words to let us know how close they were and how deeply missed he still is.
Hubby’s gigs are as much about his stories as his songs. He tells us about his AGA envy and its role in the writing of his ‘pop’ song, ‘Bolt’. He tells us about his move from the city to the seaside, and the use of drink and drugs in ‘Buckstasy’. He offers us the choice of his happiest or saddest song – naturally we choose the latter – and he plays ‘Slights’, a letter to his late father saying the things never said when he was alive. He tells us about tattoos and their relevance to his choice of wanking hand. There’s a running gag about his shiny balls and his ‘average to large’ hands. And he brings a tear to many an eye with ‘Hey There Mr Bone’, an ode to his friend of ten years, his dog D. Bone.
As with Chrissy before him, the things he is telling us are unimaginably grim; but he narrates his stories with self-deprecating humour and we all laugh out loud. I’m still not sure that I SHOULD be laughing but, as ever, we, the audience, are Hubby’s therapist. It helps him, he says, to tell us the stories of his songs.
I notice tonight that Hubby seems to be singing more than he used to. When I first saw him, his stuff was entirely instrumental, just that strange-but-lovely mix of folk and flamenco, but more and more these days it comes with added voice. And a rather fine voice it is too, unexpectedly warm and very, very Glaswegian, shown off in the likes of his Katheryn Joseph collaboration, ‘The Dog,’ and ‘The False Bride’, a traditional folk song which has become a firm favourite. And of course, he plays ‘Car Song’, his and Aiden Moffat’s³ wistful spoken-word memorial to youthful adventures.
He doesn’t, he says, play the fake encore game, and tells us that he’ll just turn around for a few moments and pretend to return for a final song. Which he does, and ends the evening with a little note of hope – a gorgeous cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In the End’.
And that’s that. He’s going out on tour soon, and I urge you to seek him out and listen him play, and to be his therapist for a while. Laugh at his stories and, if you cry a bit too you won’t be the only one. Buy one of his records and he might be able to afford an AGA of his own.
By the way, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL INDEPENDENT VENUE!
- Well, it WAS then, but it won’t be by the time you see this.
- Pleasingly polite, thankfully. Minimal noise and chatter. Which is nice.
- The pair have a new record out soon. It’ll be dead miserable. You should buy it.