You Stole My Last Black Marker Pen – Malcolm Middleton live

Malcolm Middleton – The Caves, Edinburgh, Tuesday 27th November 2018 (with Broken Chanter – solo), and St Luke’s, Glasgow, Wednesday 28th November (with Withered Hand – solo) 

Having regretted taking in only one of Malcolm Middleton’s full band shows on the ‘Summer of 13’ tour, I was always going to take in both Central Belt dates this time around, two school nights or not.

The excellent new LP ‘Bananas’, out now on Triassic Tusk, is certainly up there with the very best of his albums, marrying a more organic sound than of late to an innate flair for melody.

But, first up the supports, which were different on both nights.

The Caves was depressingly empty for the Broken Chanter set on Tuesday. This time out, it was David performing on his own with Jill unavailable. Consequently, he snuck a couple of Kid Canaveral tunes into the set but it was the Chanter originals that really impressed, with set closer ‘Free Psalm’ the stand-out.

The much bigger St Luke’s (laid out with seating for the Wednesday night) was hardly busy either when Withered Hand took the stage. Battling another cold (for some reason we rarely see Dan play when he’s fit and healthy) he ran through at least some of his greatest hits.

Unlike the Edinburgh band show (review still to come) neither of the new songs were offered up but a set of hits won over the increasing crowd rather easily. MPK2 though suffered a bit of an existential crisis when Dan talked about his own teenagers, as MPK2 realised that he won’t be a teenager for much longer!

And so, to the headliner. Both shows were performed with Malcom backed by the band that had recorded ‘Bananas’  – David Jeans on drums, Stevie Jones on double bass and Graeme Smillie on keyboards with Jenny Reeve joining in on backing vocals for the majority of the set.

Both sets were near identical only being differentiated by the fact that one of the acoustic numbers that Malcolm opened the shows with. Unsurprisingly, given that Malcolm usually features his new records heavily when touring, all but one of the songs from ‘Bananas’ were included.

But the rest of the set was a little more unpredictable.  Rather than filling the set with the hits, this time the songs seemed to have been selected on the basis of which ones would suit the largely acoustic set-up. As a result, yes, we got the likes of ‘A Brighter Beat and ‘Blue Plastic Bags’ but there were some notable omissions – no ‘Red Travellin’ Socks’, ‘Loneliness Shines’ or ‘Break My Heart’.

Instead a chunk of of the set was drawn from both ‘5:16 …’ and ‘Sleight of Heart’ but I can’t imagine anyone complaining at the chance to hear ‘Week Off’ or ‘Crappo’ or ‘King of Bring’.  [Edinburgh setlist] [Glasgow setlist]

On balance, I think, Glasgow edged it musically with the up-tempo pop tunes, such as ‘A Brighter Beat,’ just having a little more kick than they did in Edinburgh. Having said that, the extended outro for ‘Momentary Lapse’, with Malcolm playing off against Graeme’s keyboard over Jenny’s backing vocals, was probably more impressive on the Tuesday.

Both nights though emphasised the not inconsiderable melodic strengths of the new record with the likes of ‘What A Life’ and ‘Twilight Zone’ perfectly suiting the bandand establishing themselves as persistent earworms over subsequent days.

Having peaked with ‘Momentary Lapse’ in terms of momentum, the rest of the set was the come-down culminating in a finale of a perfectly pitched ‘King of Bring’.

Just like the supports, the crowds on both nights were quite different. The turnout in Edinburgh was well below what I’d expected. In advance I couldn’t see any reason that the room wouldn’t have been rammed but, regrettably, it was far from that. What on earth was on that night that was so good that it was preferable?

Unfortunately, despite Malcolm being as relaxed on stage as I’ve ever seen him and engaging with the audience throughout, it was also the sort of crowd that Edinburgh gets a reputation for – laid back to the point of indifference with most drifting away at the end of the set with little more than perfunctory applause.

By contrast, Glasgow seemed busy such, that if the seating laid out wasn’t quite full, the number of punters standing behind and to the side would have more than filled the empty seats. On a truly dreadful night it was a good turnout and the audience responded enthusiastically to the songs old and new. They also got into the spirit of the sing-a-long sections of the show particularly for ‘Blue Plastic Bags’ but also during ‘Momentary Lapse’ to the extent that Malcolm doubled back on the ‘’Fuck off with your happiness’ couplet as a wee bonus. At the end, despite his repeated insistence that there would be no encore, a decent number were still prepared to try and win one.

Amusingly, there were setlist issues on both nights but particularly on the Tuesday with Malcolm announcing ‘Gut Feeling’ no fewer than three times then complaining that he couldn’t read his setlist (in orange felt tip!).  Which it transpired was different from everybody else’s.

By contrast, the only problem on the Wednesday was the relative shortage of setlists which forced Graeme to continually peer at Malcom’s to try and work out what was next. But at least the singer knew what was coming!

Overall it was a privilege to be able to see such an impressive set twice (and I wasn’t alone in doing so).  In the end, I do think that the show benefitted from veering away from a hits + new album format to take in some lesser known numbers. I’d love to see this line-up play some more dates at some point in the New Year.

The ‘Malcolm Goes Bananas’ tour concludes with dates in Leicester tonight (5th December – The Cookie), Birmingham (6th – Hare & Hounds) and Liverpool (7th – EBGBS).

Solo Broken Chanter in Edinburgh

An ailing Withered Hand in Glasgow 

Malcolm at the Caves

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