3 February 2018
It is fitting that The Mackintosh Church in Glasgow was the venue for Siobhan Wilson on Saturday as her dulcet tones are of the most ethereal kind this side of paradise.
Published in Crash
Celtic Connections has graced Glasgow with 25 years of live musical entertainment now — a tremendous endeavour undertaken by all those involved, and always received with warm welcome by the fair city’s denizens as a remedy for the winter blues.
The Mackintosh Church provides the evening with a looming sense of grandeur that suggests an event of biblical nature is about to unfold before us. It is therefore a mopped-brow of relief when the humble Jamie Sutherland (of Edinburgh’s Broken Records) skips on stage, whips on his open-tuned steel string and provides our hushed audience with the raw catharsis only an honest human is capable of. His lone-wolf performance tactfully balances wit and sincerity, evoking the worldly-wise vocality of Alexi Murdoch, but manages to bring it home on account of his personable demeanour.
Armed with an infectious set of pearly whites, Siobhan Wilson takes her position just shy of the pulpit, before a sold-out auditorium, and billows out the title track of her second album There Are No Saints to commence her sermon. Preluding with this hauntingly stunning little ditty envelops the audience within moments and elicits an awestruck response that seldom wavers. The clarity and capacity of her ethereal vocals swiftly fill the hall from floor to rafters — swirling around like a sorrowed spectre searching for serenity.
For Whatever Helps she dons her electric guitar and harnesses a distorted and breathy coupling that hasn’t been bettered since Death In Vegas’ Girls. This fuzzy successor switches up the evening’s atmosphere and introduces Siobhan’s darker, neo-noir edge. Those savvy enough amongst us detect early on (I will confess ignorance to this), and is confirmed by her word, that she is performing her latest album cover-to-cover — a piece of intel that goes down swimmingly with her congregation on account of the sophomore offering’s flawless flow.
Through grilled windows dances the sapphire shadow-play of a charging ambulance, its drone muffled by the sanctuary of Siobhan’s dulcet rendition of Dear God — which she states herself is ironically fitting. Over an eerie guitar, she floats forth with hushed vocals akin to Mazzy Star and hung are we on every goddamn syllable, pulling apart each tender lyric for meaning as to why some amongst us still believe in an almighty presence despite feeble evidence.
The Elgin-born singer flaunts her bi-lingual prowess on Paris Est Blanche and J’attendrai, supplemented by her twinkling French piano — both resplendent and endearing in equal measure. Her celestial vocals on Incarnation makes its flirtatious high-wire act over guitarist Matt Rawlings’ pit of distortion even tenser, as at the flick of his wrist we are thrown from our shelter into the seething sonic storm. In backing this evening the Demi-Octet (two violins and two cellos) provide the set with a textured depth that elevates it beyond the typical singer/songwriter affair — a beautiful accompaniment, exploiting all the acoustics on offer.
Seldom do Siobhan’s Scottish tones seep out in her singing, but during tune-to-tune interludes the contrary presents itself. Her charming rapport with high school pal Rawlings, and furthermore her adoring crowd, lure us into her folksy aura even more. An exchange between the two about being victims of bullying, endearing nicknames, and a special ‘dinosaur language’ they invented during adolescence woos us absolutely with comical affection. Never is a hint of hubris detected, instead she shows genuine gratitude for our presence and laces the evening with her homely and convivial Caledonian patter.
With her ‘last track’ — as she embeds in air quotes — It Must Have Been The Moon her voice pitches between casual and angel with an ease that makes us mortals shake. As she retakes the stage for her double encore, a shadowed crowd member shouts out a request for Terrible Woman — which she obliges, but adds that she has struck the track from her live repertoire for fear of being considered the object of the title. However, from her delivery of the tune to the two that follow and the night as a whole, she can seek solace in the fact that there is positively no evidence available to suggest that she is anything close to terrible.