Sitting in the front benches of Summerhall’s Anatomy lecture theatre, wrapped up in hats, scarves and coats, with nothing but two acoustic guitars and a string of fairy lights on the floor in front of us, isn’t the usual way to start a gig.
Rather unusually for a music gig, it kicked off with compère and comedian, Emily Benita, who gave a great effort to warm up the crowd (if not literally).
First up, Harry Harris, presented his latest release, Andre The Giant, interspersed with some tracks from his previous two records. Where delicate backing vocals and instrumentation added depth to his recorded material, the body of songs ran somewhat into one another, with just the unplugged guitar and vocals. Harris is clearly an explorer when it comes to making music – just listen to Wild Bill from his last album, Songs About Other People (which was awarded the top spot for the Telegraph’s folk album of 2015) and you’ll hear riffs to the tempo of Gaslight Anthem and gritty vocal reverberations to the style of Ray Lamontagne. Compare this to his most popular single, The Ballad of Ronnie Radford, and you’ll be lulled by a gentle melody – not unlike Obida Parker’s infamous cover of Hey Ya.
His vocal notes weren’t quite as on point as his chords, however it brought into focus the humanness of making music, adding a rather pleasant grungy edge.
After a quick re-fuel at the bar, Liam Frost was up next – a well-seasoned musician, having played both solo and in a band for the last two decades, he looked at ease and offered up good banter to the chittering audience staring down at him from just a few feet away. Liam Frost and the Latchkey Kids is the latest project from which we were treated to several songs, alongside some old favourites from his first album (with the Slowdown Family).
Despite the chilly surroundings, the atmosphere bloomed from the first strum of Going Steady, and formed a cocoon or so it felt, around this little gathering of people. Frost skilfully brings forth complex melodies from his fretboard, and blasts pitch-perfect notes from a wide vocal range, seemingly effortlessly. Having seen him in the days of Liam Frost and the Slowdown Family I knew he was an excellent musician and songwriter – and this latest performance left no doubt about it. Gone is the young angst and the unsureness: in its place; a confident, comfortable and highly-skilled performer, still delivering gut-wrenching narratives, with aplomb.
More than once the audience held its breath, as he commanded an acute tension, steered by barely-there strings and soft vocals, resounding in the cavernous room. If being unplugged lent itself to anyone – it’s him. If anything, it may be something of a curse for the vocally gifted, as his recorded sound doesn’t quite (and couldn’t) match his live performance. Melodically, he’s a little Sheeran-esque, or rather, Sheeran is a little Frost-esque. Smoke has a sound of Crowded House about it, and other songs hark of Ryan Adams/Conor Oberst, fittingly, as he cites Americana as his greatest influence. The Slow Knife was the highlight of the night – an incredible, stripped-back rendition with the guitar and harmonica. Along with Mercy Me and Ponoma, it’s an outstanding example of how much Frost is exploring new territory and pushing the boundaries in the recording studio. The Mourners of St Paul’s provided a real crescendo of a closing number, a song from his earliest days with the Slowdown Family and one which gets right into your heart. Frost jokes about how all of his songs are dark (they are!), yet they have uplifting melodies and soaring bridges which carry you through the intense feeling, eloquently related through his words.