As I pull up to Birnam Arts I scan anxiously for a free parking space, but there are none to be found. We drive up the hill a bit, navigating the dodgily parked cars, but there is nothing there either. Finally, we get parked about a quarter of a mile down the street. It's not a pretty park and a traffic warden would probably question its legality, but at least we can get to the show.
Bear's Den is the band that has brought the gig-goers to Birnam in their droves this Friday night. I have checked out a couple of their videos on YouTube and liked what I heard but I had no idea that they had developed such a large (and punctual) fanbase. The last time I have seen Birnam Arts this busy was when The View played their 'Hats Off to the Buskers' 10th anniversary gig back in 2017.
I'm here with my friend Paul and as we queue for the bar he takes a look round the room and says: "Damn, we are the oldest people here". He's right, the last gig we went to together was the amazing Dean Friedman Backstage at The Green Hotel, and the audience there skewed a lot older. This crowd though has me feeling so old that I start Googling botox and hair plugs. They are both way too expensive though, and besides, I have enough pain in my life as it is without volunteering for it.
I'm here with my friend Paul and as we queue for the bar he takes a look round the room and says: "Damn, we are the oldest people here". He's right. As the show begins the hall is already nearly full and we find a space to stand near the back. The support act, Christof van der Ven, is a Dutch singer-songwriter who has been providing banjo, guitar and harmonies for Bear's Den since full-time band member Joey Haynes left the band back in 2016.
Christof plays an extremely well-received set of his own material from his soon to be released Empty Handed album. His fingerpicking style is delicate and romantic, putting me in mind of '60s era Leonard Cohen, but he has a sweeter voice, more along the lines of James Taylor. The songs too show great potential, with 'Lucky' (which for some reason reminds me of 'Fire and Rain'), the lush waltz 'Big Men At Heart' and 'Empty Handed' among the highlights.
It's not long before Christof is back on stage accompanied by Bear's Den frontman and guitarist Andrew Davie, plus multi-instrumentalists Kevin Jones and Marcus Hamblett. They start with a song off of their debut 2014 album 'Islands'. 'Elysium' is a song that for some reason did not thrill me on record but it seems to adapt extremely well to a live setting. Stripped of its production flourishes and subtly augmented by Marcus's trumpet, it seems a much more direct and urgent affair, with a lovely lyric urging 'don't let bitterness overcome you'.
Even better is the beautiful 'Magdalene'. It has a cracking banjo line played by Christof and an anthemic chorus courtesy of Andrew. Already the crowd are starting to sing along. It is one of those gigs where the other concert-goers are such dedicated fans that you start to feel embarrassed about not knowing any of the words. One of those gigs where the guy to the right of you is giving it laldy so you wordlessly sing some random vowel shapes to try and hope you don't stand out.
Bear's Den are great showmen and the audience just about lose their s*%t when they unplug from the PA system and do a rendition of 'Sophie' completely unamplified. Bear's Den are great showmen and the audience just about lose their s*%t when they unplug from the PA system and do a rendition of 'Sophie' completely unamplified. It is a touching moment, marred only by a drunk guy pushing his way noisily through the crowd shouting: "I've got drinks, coming through! Coming through!" He looks around, unsure of his place in the crowd, "Natalie! Natalie! Where are you?! I've got your rum and coke!"
The best songs of the night are saved for the end though. 'Above the Clouds of Pompeii' is a real tear-jerker dealing with a child's grief. 'I was too young to understand flowers slipping from her hand ... don't cry, hold your head up high, she would want you to, she would want you to'. This is followed by 'Agape' which finds the guys unplugging their instruments again and heading into the crowd, where the audience form a circle around them. It's a sweet song with a Fran Healy melody and it is a fitting end to a night of expertly performed laid back music.
Rona Munro's version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a very modern chiller, with great a set, impeccable performance and evocative sound design.
September 11th Wednesday 2019
The Echo Lab in Perth offers taster sessions for both guitar and drums. Colin fancied seeing if he had what it takes to be the next Jimi Hendrix.
September 2nd Monday 2019
The Blonde Bombshells of 1943 is a nostalgic slice of musical theatre brought to you by the talented repertory cast at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
August 30th Friday 2019