Withered Hand – The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 04/08/12

The last time I saw “Withered Hand” play Glasgow at Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’s it was clear that something had changed. The crowd was packed that much tighter, the anticipation before Dan took to the stage was heightened, and the crowd participation singing along to the likes of “Love in The Time Of Ecstacy” and “Religious Songs” was at a higher decibel level than I’ve ever witnessed before. Tonight at The Queen’s Hall the “Withered Hand” rolling stone kept gathering momentum as Dan readied himself to play his largest headline show to date.

As the hall was filling up a couple of people in quick succession came in to the almost empty room and purposefully stood right in front of Dan’s microphone stand, with a stamp of their feet as a point of exclamation to state that this is where they intended to stay and watch the gig.With the strength of the bill however I guess they could also have been adamant of getting the choice viewing spot for either “Darren Hayman” or “Ballboy“. Both artists managed to conjure up spellbinding sets that proved to be the perfect prelude to the main event of “Withered Hand“. Not content with just having three top quality musical acts, tonight also had the added bonus of “Josie Long” bringing a little bit of the comedy side of the Fringe to proceedings. She did an excellent job compering the evening between bands and struck the perfect balance between being hilariously funny and calling members of the crowd cunts, “One Direction” fans and paedophiles. Certainly being a “One Direction” fan and a cunt are not mutually exclusive, however I digress.

After being introduced to a sea of waving flashing phones on the behest of Josie, Dan appeared solo with his acoustic guitar in hand. He stopped and adjusted the microphone stand exclaiming “Josie’s a lot shorter than me” before kicking things off as he did at “Meursault’s” recent single launch with new track “Life Of Doubt”. We didn’t have to wait too long for a slice of familiarity though as Dan followed up with “Good News” classic and the first song he ever wrote “Cornflake”. Revelling in the generous applause from the now packed Queen’s Hall, Dan welcomed us by saying “It’s lovely to see you all, that’s why I kept my glasses on this time”. He also took the opportunity to thank Darren and Gordon for playing the show intimating that he wouldn’t have been in the position he was tonight if it hadn’t been for them.

It was a night for friends to collaborate as Neil Pennycook from “Meursault” joined Dan for another new song “Love Over Desire”, with Dan introducing him as his oldest friend. “Gethsemane” from February’s “Heart Heart” EP saw more of the band slip on stage, while by “Jubilee” they had swelled to a nine piece as “The Second Hand Marching Band” added their vocals to the mix. Dan apologised for his voice being “a bit busted” (it sounded great) but stated he thought the evening was still “good value for a tenner” to which I’m sure everyone in the venue whole heartedly agreed. Speaking about “Jubilee” he added “I think it’s a good song, I’m not going to be self deprecating tonight. I wrote it on the jubilee, that’s why it’s called jubilee I’m not a monarchist. I don’t want to start people off cause they might get kicked out, Josie Long”.

Before playing a brilliant version of “Providence” Dan joked “this is off an album I released when the dinosaurs were walking the earth”. At the end of the song there were little shouts in high womanly voices of “ye telt it well love, ye telt it well” from grown men around me in the crowd (I must admit I was guilty of joining in). Talking about going to see Morrissey the previous evening Dan told us of how Mozza had committed what he thought was regarded as the number one no-no of performing live by giving the microphone to the crowd. When he continued with “he also took his shirt off” the inevitable shouts of “get it off” rang out from various sections of the venue, Dan didn’t take them up on their prompting replying “it’s not going to happen; look I took my glasses off”. If he couldn’t see the crowds appreciation for “Love In The Time Of Ecstacy” minus his glasses I’m sure he could still hear it as the crowd sung every word back to him. “Love In The Time Of Ecstacy” sounds even better live when Dan is playing with a band, especially for the hits on the kickdrum at the line “from the shopping trolleys on the riverbed, to the sound of the bassbins booming”.

New Dawn” was a fitting choice of song to dedicate to Vic Galloway for his birthday (not that you’ve got grey hair Vic). The trombone player from the SHMB joined Dan back on stage and sounded great filling in the “Nana, nana, nana, nana, naaaaaaaaa’s” with his brass. The rest of SHMB then returned for a beautiful rendition of “A New Case” which they recorded together for “Whatever Gets You through the Night”. Dan’s voice was haunting as he sung “we let our youth go to waste; I let my love go that way”. After playing the song Dan suddenly became aware that with its lyrics it might have been a better dedication to Vic.

I think it’s fair to say that Dan was by this time thoroughly enjoying himself and before the obligatory “Withered Hand” anthem “Religious Songs” he thanked us with  “you’ve been a wonderful audience maybe we’ll do this again next year if I ever make another record”. I certainly have my fingers crossed on both counts. “Religious Songs” rang around The Queen’s Hall with the “la la la la la’s” swirling to the high ceiling and lines like “you stole my heart and I stole your underwear” getting sung back with more vigour than one of Josie’s screaming “One Direction” fans. Dan and the band exited the stage to a thunderous round of applause that soon morphed into a deafening shout for an encore.

Returning to the stage solo just as he did at the start of the evening Dan played a splendid acoustic version of my personal favourite “Withered Hand” song “No Cigarettes”. By now Dan should no longer have any fear as he sings “I’m thinking I’m not the singer that I thought I was, in the solitude before the applause”, but if any little doubts were left lingering in his mind then the audience at the Queen’s Hall tonight certainly did their utmost to squash them. As everyone piled back onto the stage for the finale Dan thanked us all again for coming and said “we’ve got one more song, this is really for all you people with hearts, If I’m going to break my voice I might as well do it here”. A rousing joyous version of “Heart Heart” with a sprawling contingent of musicians on stage drew what was a truly glorious evening to a close.

Mr Willson (with two ll’s) I commend you on making this suburban evening a total delight for everyone who ventured out to The Queen’s Hall to hear your beautiful songs and filthy fucking language.

Ross Cunningham

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