Monday 6 February 2012

Rachel Sermanni at St Andrews in the Square, Celtic Connections 05/02/12

The last time I went to a gig with my father-in-law was to see Dylan play the SECC 4 or 5 years ago. I’ve seen Dylan on 3 occasions; once in an all standing hall at the SECC when he started badly but 4 songs in the band jammed an extended outro to Tangled Up IN Blue and the gig came alive from there on in; secondly at a ‘secret’ show at Glasgow Barrowlands which was pretty special and then that time with Les when it felt like we were sat a mile from the stage and Dylan tottered from his keyboard to centre stage to mumble thanks and I didn’t even recognise one of my favourite Dylan tunes ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’.

I am totally digressing, anyway last night was much better as I headed out with Les to watch rising Scottish starlet Rachel Sermanni at St Andrews In The Square. Quite a special venue for me (and for Les) as that is where I got married almost 3-years ago.

Les likes his old style pubs so he suggested nipping into the Trongate on the corner of Argyll Street and High Street. The pub was mobbed and Irish folk songs were on the go as we fought our way to the bar. The duo were fantastic and the crowd were singing along. We only stayed for one but that was long enough to hear an Irish Folk punk version of The Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’. After we got out Les turned and said ‘Did you feel safe in there?’ I diplomatically replied ‘I think you have to keep your wits about you!’

We rounded the corner to be greeted by the stunning site of St Andrews In The Square all lit up and looking beautiful. The tickets said the show started at 7.30pm and we were pretty much bang on the dot getting in to find that it had sold out and the only seats left seemed to be behind pillars. Thankfully they opened up the upstairs section so we made to the bar to get a beer to take up only for it to close just before we got to the front of the queue!

We headed up to the church style seats on the first floor and got a great view of the support act, a young gent by the name of Rory. He was OK, nimble and inventive finger picking, strong voice but I felt that his songs lacked a good hook or chorus. However I think I may have missed the point – I don’t think that is his style.

Grabbing a beer at the break and then another for good measure to ensure we didn’t go thirsty during the main act. We went back upstairs and slouched on a comfy brown leather sofa to the side, before sitting on the steps at the front as Rachel Sermanni took to the stage.

Rachel started on her own before being joined by an eight-piece band featuring 3 girls on violins and backing vocals (stung harmonies), a keyboard player, guitarist, bass and two people (including Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbot) on percussion.

This was my second time catching Rachel live, the first had been at the Cabaret Voltaire 10-months previously when she had played a solo show. I had been captivated on that occasion, I was even more captivated last night. From the off it was clear that Rachel has a special voice, soft and soothing at times, rising and soaring with ease at others. After one song I commented to Les that it sounds like she is singing harmonies with herself, her voice is that good, effortless.

The band were fantastic, the double bass was discreet yet it underpinned Sermanni’s finger picking style on guitar, the additional guitarist created deft little sounds, the percussion was playful and the trio of female backing singers and violin players added a lot. The arrangements were quite stunning at times and again I had to remind myself that this was a girl in her late teens (or she may be 20 by now).

The audience was polite throughout, almost waiting to see who would be the first to clap. The age range was mixed, some young teenagers through to…well people my father-in-law’s age and probably beyond.

I’m not overly familiar with Sermanni’s songs but those that I know included ‘Breath Easy’, 'Sleep', ‘Song For A Fox’ and a brilliant take on ‘The Fog’.

A week before Admiral Fallow had utilised confetti cannons on their ABC audience. Rachel’s budget doesn’t stretch that far, however she did bring out a bag of party poppers at one stage and the band threw them out to the audience. that lightened the mood although they didn’t really fit in with the music.

One of the highlights was a short song when Rachel remained on stage with the 3-girls to harmonise beautifully. Another was the encore featuring just Rachel and her acoustic guitar, sounding like a young Joni Mitchell, I really want to find out the names of these two songs as I really enjoyed them.

On the way to the train we discussed the show; we both enjoyed it, we thought the band were tremendous, however it was Rachel Sermanni's voice that took up most of the conversation. It is just so sweet, so soothing and then at other times it can just go off to places, sounding raw when required but always under control.

Rachel Sermanni now plays Oran Mor in May and her Black Currents EP is out today.

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