As Neu! Reekie! present THE Emelle Album Launch & Special Guests opens, Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson apologise for the clunky title. But they’re keen to stress that the latest edition of their long-running night is a Neu! Reekie! with a difference, even if the opening is as endearingly shambolic as usual. Michael delivers a poem arising from his RLS Fellowship that was deemed unsuitable for Scottish schoolchildren. Kevin’s opening “performance poem” consists of inviting members of the audience to try the Indonesian durian fruit sweets that his children have rejected for their potent stench.
And that goes some way to describing the double-edged sword that is having Neu! Reekie! host your album launch. There’s the guarantee of a host of weel-kennt performers from the Edinburgh scene and the audience that these names attract. There’s also a supporting cast of big personalities and a portion of an audience that is there to see them.
Well before Emelle get to take the stage, Michael has stopped the show to invite musical accompaniment for a spoken word piece, because he likes the song involved so much. Kevin channels John Cooper Clarke in the sort of poem about Edinburgh that appeals to an audience of prisoners in Greenock jail – and a Neu! Reekie! audience. They’re followed by Holly McNish, who delivers a timely version of the crowd-pleasing story about her aged grandmother’s reaction to another Christmas, and a suite of poems from Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood.
The musical section of the night proper is kicked off by Hailey Beavis. Her songs occasionally suggest Kate Bush’s complex structures, but her one-woman five-member band style of guitar is reminiscent of a Billy Bragg in a more pastoral English folk milieu. But it’s the clarity and strength of her voice that is captivating and causes an audience member to silence the noisier elements at the back of the hall.
Withered Hand threatens to capture the whole crowd with a more straightforward singer-songwriter’s set, but his chest infection brings things down a notch before the headliners take the stage.
It’s easy to hear why Emelle are enjoyed by Neu! Reekie! They combine many of the characteristics of many great Scottish guitar bands. Solid songwriting. Perfect vocal harmonies from drummer Rhys Lithgow. Most strikingly, guitarist and vocalist Craig Lithgow’s soulful baritone, rich and recognisably Scottish. And when his twangy guitar starts chugging along, it briefly recalls Neu! Reekie! favourite Davy Henderson in his Nectarine No. 9 days, and their Stacey Keach Dada Message Bag.
And there’s the only drawback of Emelle’s live performance among these strong personalities. Their well-constructed, occasionally angular songs feel like they need the more confrontational presentation of a Henderson or a Reid brother or a Harvey to hold the attention of an audience at the Pilrig Church Hall.
But that’s being greedy – tonight’s about the album, and Emelle’s songs demonstrate that their self-titled debut deserves a spin.