If anyone in Scotland is looking to mount a performance of John Cage’s 4’33” – that landmark piece celebrating the ambient sounds of an ostensibly silent space – you could do far worse than to stage it in the University of Edinburgh’s Teviot Debating Hall. As the name suggests, it’s a room built to support and amplify the spoken word: a quality which made it singularly ideal for the two softly-spoken performers who passed through it for a sitting-room-only gig last Monday night.
Few acoustic surroundings would have better served Ciaran Lavery’s set, his quiet, gravelly voice frequently accompanied solely by the tapping of his hand on his guitar or his foot on the floor. Despite an admittedly mournful bent to his subject matter, Lavery reassured us about his well-being with a semi-sincere ‘inside, I feel fantastic’ as he rolled into closing number Return to Form, every piece of its punctuation echoing loudly through the hall.
It almost seemed a shame that Luke Sital-Singh’s purpose-designed opener, Cynic, wasn’t the a cappella showcase he’d initially envisioned it as, given how this might have sounded here. Still, the transformation it underwent from its noise-laden album incarnation into a piece for voice and echo-chambered guitar was perhaps almost as electrifying. Like Lavery, Sital-Singh acknowledged the morose nature of a lot of his offerings, but at least there was a wide range of moody-gitness to choose from, with selections spanning the breadth of his songwriting career, plus a Tom Petty cover to boot.
Between the subject matter and the fact that both Lavery and Sital-Singh seemed set in a sort of permanent Damien Rice mould, you’d imagine things might have worn thin after a while. But the fact that the duo had dubbed this their ‘Magical Misery Tour’ was a good indication of the entertainingly self-aware commentary offered between songs, which kept things light and entertaining throughout the evening.
The really telling quality about the quietness of the venue, though, was that it meant you could hear every last movement from the near-capacity crowd: any time someone in the room shifted about or left their seat. It was a good sign then that, throughout both performances, there was rarely such a sound to be heard. The audience sat still, listening attentively – or, as in the case of the person directly in front of me, quietly but emphatically swaying in their seat to Sital-Singh’s music. As good a tell as any that a gig is doing its job.