Hamish Hawk, The Great Eastern Festival, Edinburgh, 27th November 2021
The Great Eastern Festival is Edinburgh’s new one day festival of musical exploration and discovery, taking place across three venues. On a very cold Edinburgh Saturday, there is a tangible buzz in the air in the Summerhall venue. Hamish Hawk is playing two sets at the festival, the first a stripped-down acoustic set at Summerhall, and the second a full band set at the nearby Kings Hall venue in the evening.
At The Barrier is in attendance for the acoustic set, and it is immediately apparent from the very full main hall, that Hamish is an artist with a growing and appreciative audience, for his distinctive and captivating music. The excellent and recently released Heavy Elevator album has been quite rightly very well received in the music world.
The main hall seems a perfect setting with its ornately decorated high ceilings and sense of space for the music to breathe. Hamish comes onto the stage, bathed in light from a red spot-light, accompanied by Stefan Maurice on piano and Andrew Pearson on electric guitar. With the first song and its backdrop of gentle and nuanced instrumentation, the quality of Hamish’s voice immediately draws you in. It is the most exquisite combination of Leonard Cohen’s storytelling timbre and Howard Devoto’s Magazine era edgy post-punk vocals. There is a third ingredient that weaves all the elements together into Hamish’s striking and unique voice, which is an expressive ability to articulate and carry deep emotion.
The next song, This, Whatever It Is, Needs Improvements, Hamish introduces with a thank you to the audience for turning up so early in the day, and in a reference to the brisk weather outside, expresses the hope, to much laughter, that “I am not the only one wearing long johns.” The song in this setting is really quite beautiful and has some lovely guitar embellishments, that have a cool roots and blues feel.
Hamish, to a shared amusement with the audience, describes the acoustic set as “a pot of tea” and the full band set to follow as “a pint of best”. The warmth of the communication with the audience is palpable and speaks to an artist who really cares about connecting in this way with his audience.
The title track from the Heavy Elevator album is next up, which Hamish explains they have never played live before. Every word is sung to make it count, and the piano and guitar add delicate brush strokes to the overall sound painting. It’s a song that, particularly live, conveys a sense of complex emotion that is trying to be heard and accepted. The audience response is very appreciative of this fabulous reading of a great song.
The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973, the signature track from the new album, is introduced as being “…. about racquet sports and livelier”. The sound of recognition from the audience is testament to the tour de force nature of this song. As the enthralling words come pouring out from the stage, you also notice Hamish’s natural use of his hands and facial expression to underpin the remarkable word imagery conveyed by his voice. With the refrain, “To write a cathedral I’ll need a ballpoint pen,” Hamish seems to attack every word as if it defines the moment there and then, that is being shared with the audience.
The set moves into New Rhododendrons, which is just exquisite, with Andrew’s continuous echoing guitar and Stefan’s reverberating piano chords, the perfect accompaniment. Hamish moves his gaze around the hall as if he is singing directly to individual members of the audience. The final line “If you lose track of what you’ve loved in the past. There’s no going back” is succeeded by the sound of Andrew’s guitar gently dying away. A very poignant finish to an enchanting set, which is of course followed by resounding and sustained applause.
Hamish plays Glasgow’s iconic King Tuts venue on the 28th January and Leeds University on the 11th February. If you can, please go along, and experience the wonderful music, words, and voice, of one of our most exciting and gifted emerging artists. You will be very glad you did.
Photography by Gareth Allen