Music review: Song, By Toad’s Granfalloon

James Yorkston
James Yorkston
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Rarely a label to shout about itself, the Edinburgh-based Song, By Toad imprint is one which deserves others making a regular fuss over it instead. Founded by Matthew Young in 2008, it makes a habit of keeping things homespun and low-key, hosting gigs in Young and his wife’s Leith flat, his lock-up recording studio the “Happiness Hotel”, and in less traditional concert spaces around the city.

Song, By Toad’s Granfalloon ****

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Undertaking an event like this, a one-day mini-festival held in one of Edinburgh’s best and most versatile arts spaces and named after Kurt Vonnegut’s term for a meaningless association of people, gave the perfect opportunity for a broad view of the eclectic and excellent music which the label has championed over the years.

The day was presented by Song, By Toad in association with Summerhall’s Nothing Ever Happens Here music strand (the label was apparently founded when Young offered to release the debut record by Edinburgh’s Broken Records before they signed to 4AD; the band’s Jamie Sutherland now programmes NEHH) and was marketed as a launch party for I Will Kill Again, the new album by Neil Pennycook’s revived Meursault project, which was disbanded for two years in favour of Pennycook’s Supermoon alias after 2013’s Something for the Weakened record.

Playing two sets throughout the day – the afternoon’s opening performance as an acoustic trio in the airily intimate main hall and the noisy full-band closing set in the darkened Dissection Room bar – Pennycook is Meursault, as is his band, a quirk of naming which confused even him as he said hello on behalf of those around him.

Whether crooning the tender accordion and violin-backed melancholy of Untitled and Salt (Part 2) with singer Faith Eliott – who played her own set later in the day – or powering through the pastoral rock of Ode to Gremlin (hook line: “the last thing that the world needs now is another song about the f***ing sea”) and the new album’s title track, he’s a songwriter who blends uncanny savagery and sensitivity in equal measure, and a musical auteur whose fame really should be widespread.

One amusing feature of the day was Young, pint in hand, offering ever more gushing and inebriated introductions to his guests (his final misty-eyed and heartfelt paean to Pennycook began with him calling the singer a “pain in the arse” and ended with Pennycook storming on and demanding he stop talking).

Another who got the full treatment was Fife’s James Yorkston, presenting here the debut performance of his gorgeous collaboration with Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke; a largely instrumental set of two lengthy tracks with Yorkston on nyckelharpa and O’Rourke on violin, their tenderly uplifting drone assisted by a few sung lines of the traditional song Edward from Yorkston’s album Just Beyond the River.

Throughout the day, from artists including Siobhan Wilson and experimental electronic composer Now Wakes the Sea, the impression was of a musical collective with one eye on the strength of a song and the other on raw sonic invention.

Adam Stafford’s set was stunning, a wash of looped guitar, effects pedal and vocal soundtrack atmospherics which he hopes to release on a double album; Hailey Beavis offered a striking, guitar-only sonic aesthetic midway between the rootsiness of Stevie Nicks and the gothic melancholy of Lana Del Rey; Lush Purr were a straight-up rock band with shoegaze tendencies.

All are part of a community of talent to support and be proud of.