Last week for what was probably the first time ever in the history of the world Facebook was actually useful. I know the thought of Mark Zuckerburg’s big blue and white beast being put to good use instead of updates on people’s reading habits about 50 Shades of Grey is hard to believe, but it happened. As I was getting ready to go to the Isle of Wight festival I noticed a post from Neil Pennycook lead singer of Meursault. It read something along the lines of The first 30 people to reply to this email address will be put on the guestlist for a small acoustic single launch gig for their new single “Flittin”. That’s pretty great in itself but to keep reading and find out that there was a special guest support slot from Withered Hand made it even better.
So luckily I was online at the right time and managed to be one of the first 30 to reply and book my place at this tiny gathering of like minded people and two of my favourite Scottish bands. The venue for the show was a small cafe called The Haven in Edinburgh; it was very quaint with wooden floors and a big fireplace sitting underneath a stags head and decked out in fairy lights. I shuffled in and bought a cupcake which the cafe had initialled with an “M” especially for the gig, finally taking a seat at the back of the room past the band. It was a bring your own booze affair due to the cafe not having a licence, so we all sat down with our shop bought respective poisons. From where I was sitting at the far side of the set up of an electric piano, cello and acoustic guitars I could see Dan Willson doing probably the most low key soundcheck ever. It basically involved him strumming his guitar and singing quietly behind a slight partition and out of a propped open door, kudos for truly keeping it lo-fi Dan.
Just after 8 Neil took to the floor and thanked everyone for coming down and introduced Withered Hand to a warm round of applause. Every time I see Dan Willson play live I can’t help but be instantly charmed at how unassuming and modest he is for someone who I believe is one of Scotland’s finest lyricists. He kicked off by saying he was going to play some new songs for us and followed up with ” I don’t know what they’re called”. The first song he treated us to revolved around the lyric “hold me close, I’ve given up the ghost” and already had the sound of a future Withered Hand classic.
That modest nature I was talking about then came out as Dan said “it’s sometimes hard to do this with my mousey voice, I don’t have one like Neil’s”. And where there’s no denying that their voices couldn’t be more disparate if they tried I love them both for different reasons. Song number two was called “Love Over Desire” and Dan alluded to the fact that the songs he’d been writing recently were heavily influenced by his trip to America last year. This particular one had imagery including getting on a plane only after his guitar had been safely checked in the hold. The last new song to receive an airing was called “Jubilee” which was introduced with Dan clarifying it wasn’t about the Queen, but then back tracking slightly to say “well it kind of is but the queen of my life, awwwwwww” which got a nice little laugh from the room.
A brilliant rendition of established live favourite “No Cigarettes” followed with dan telling us it was about peer pressure and being at a party and not fitting in. As he sang the slushing sound of passing cars on the wet ground outside the propped open door added to the atmosphere of the song. His short but sweet five song set was brought to a close with “Cornflake” which Dan professed was the first ever love song he had written. It also happens to contain one of my favourite Withered Hand lyrics in “people get together but we are all alone”. I really can’t wait for the follow up to “Good News”, and on the strength of the new songs from tonight and others I’ve heard at gigs previously I’m in no doubt album number two is going to be just as special as the first.
After a 10 or so minute break and a mini debate of whether the lights should be on or off, the abridged version of Meursault took to the floor. Streamlined to a three-piece Neil was flanked by his cellist and pianist and introduced them by saying “this is a bit of Meursault” to which someone shouted “the sexy bit”, Neil quickly replied with “Thanks Dad”. They opened the set the only way they really could with a gorgeous version of new single “Flittin”. Neil’s ferocious howl rang around the room as he sang “so long it’s been good to know you” and slid seamlessly into the brilliant lyric ” and I’ve got soul, and soul alone will not a dancer make, and thirst itself will not buy me a drink, I’d be laughed out of the place”. For a small crowd I think we managed to make a reasonable amount of noise to show our appreciation for a great set opener.
Neil said sarcastically that they had played in this way so many times before that they all knew what was coming next. The bemused looks on the other members faces was priceless, they did however manage to work out that the next song was “Settling”. I think Neil is becoming one of my favourite musical swearers, it started with the “fuck off” in “Sleet” on “All Creatures Willl Make Merry” and has spread to “Settling” with ” your still waiting on a joke, well all I have are punchlines so ha fucking ha” and “Hole” with “a mile fucking wide” and “cunted little thoughts”. It’s not the swearing so much as the enunciation (fuck that’s a big word for 3am), we all love a little swear word now and then, at least people who watch as much curb your enthusiasm as me certainly do, anyway I digress.
Neil then got his Banjo out for the brilliantly reworked “Lament For A Teenage Millionaire” from “Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues”. The new version just sort of seems right, jangly uncluttered and unprocessed. Although I liked the original I far prefer the new take on it. The afore mentioned “Hole” was up next complete with swearing with Neil saying he thought it might be awkward because he doesn’t play anything on it and would have to find something to do with his hands. He needn’t have worried it didn’t look strange at all and sounded brilliant.
There was then a little in band conversation as to whether they could play a very aptly titled “really really new song” called “Newboy” which had the lyric “I’m a new boy living in an old town”. Neil confessed to being a dick for having a habit of teaching them half of a song and then immediately wanting to play it live. Even if it was under rehearsed it certainly didn’t show and sounded great, he said he makes it up to them with drinks and cuddles afterwards. Neil dedicated the song “untitled” which is the last track from new album “Something for the Weakened” to his girlfriend who he said puts up with his shit and also made the amazing “Meursew” badges you can see in the picture above.
“Mamie” was introduced as the last song but with the stipulation of if it was too much of a downer they would play another one afterwards. It’s a beautiful heart wrenching tale and although I don’t think anyone in the room who just witnessed that set could be put on a downer it was nice to get another song. So the set drew to a close with a first time attempted acoustic version of usually driving up-tempo “Dull Spark” but it still managed to hold all its raw energy despite its unplugged guise. With a thank you for coming and a thank you to Withered Hand and to the owners of the cafe for letting them perform in it the gig ended and the merchandise table got swamped.
What a great way to spend a rainy Scottish evening, being kept warm by not only wonderful music but also the cafe’s specially made chilli and cupcakes and the great atmosphere. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing either “Meursault” or “Withered Hand” in a live setting before I highly recommend you do so at the next available opportunity, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
As luck would have it you don’t have to wait long as “Meursault” have their album launch for the brilliantly titled “Something For The Weakened” coming up this Saturday the 7th of July at The Queens Hall in Edinburgh. They will be running through the full album along with some older songs and there are still a few tickets remaining so go buy some……………..
You can see Neil perform a solo version of “Flittin” here