Somewhere behind their stoic facial expressions and the faint tremble in drummer Grant Hutchison’s voice, there was no mistaking just what an enormous challenge it was for the members of Frightened Rabbit to hold it together throughout this, their first performance since the death of their singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison.
Songs of Frightened Rabbit, Sleep in the Park @ Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow ****
His suicide in May at the age of 36 was desperately sad. For all the fine tributes that have been made and shared in Hutchison’s memory since by family, friends, fans and fellow musicians alike, his bandmates – not least his brother Grant – would have been well entitled to lock their instruments away with the memories of their days as one of Scotland’s best-loved indie-rock bands and never access either again for fear of the emotional reckoning it would bring.
And yet here they were, performing a short set with a series of guest singers as part of Social Bite’s Sleep in the Park – one of four simultaneous charity events in cities across Scotland that saw thousands bed down in the open air on a wet and cold December night to help raise millions of pounds for the homeless.
Maybe not the most comforting of settings for their much anticipated return, but somehow still apt in its own resolute and compassionate way, especially considering how much Hutchison did to help good causes in his lifetime.
Credit to singer-songwriter Ross Clark, a long-time stalwart of the Glasgow music scene, for having the guts to open with faithful renditions of Old Old Fashioned and Good Arms vs Bad Arms. It fell to someone to be the first to prove that, while Frightened Rabbit’s music can never sound the same again, it can still sound supernaturally wonderful.
Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil subsequently went for raw power, tearing at the seams of The Modern Leper with his serrated voice and overdriven electric guitar, before puncturing the heavy atmosphere with some much-needed levity by leading a delightfully unlikely cover of one of Hutchison’s favourite songs, Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark.
Kathryn Joseph was the perfectly emotive choice to tend to what was always going to be a tearjerker in Head Rolls Off, Hutchison’s smilingly irreverent musing on faith and death, containing a lyric oft-quoted in his memory: “while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”.
Courageous in his own right for conquering the vaulting vocal of Keep Yourself Warm, The Twilight Sad’s James Graham ended the show by hailing the Frightened Rabbit members as “f*****g heroes”, and he was right. Hutchison’s songs deserve to be sung forevermore, and what bravery and strength and integrity his bandmates showed in making sure that it be known. MALCOLM JACK