“SCOTLAND’S MOST HAUNTED PUB! NOW WITH A POOL TABLE!” proudly proclaims the website of The Banshee Labyrinth, venue for tonight’s show. After the recent closure of the Roxy Art House, just one in a series of venue closures in recent years, Edinburgh seems to be struggling for places to put on a cheap gig, which leaves the city’s underground music scene struggling somewhat. There is a shining light among all this gloom though – or perhaps more appropriately, considering their penchant for all things drone – a fine mahogany gloom among the sickly, sparkling veneer of student nights. Braw Gigs, Edinburgh-based DIY concerts focused on the noisy and experimental side of things, have put on some crackers in the past 12 months; Demons, Sick Llama, Islaja, Pekko Kappi & James Ferraro to name a few highlights.
They now seem to have found a home in The Banshee, a touristy rock pub with a vaulted stone basement so typical of Edinburgh’s bars and clubs. And tonight in this dark, little sandstone wrinkle something rather reassuring occurred.
First up, was new Reekie resident Matthew Collings, recently decamped from Iceland where he had recorded with the likes Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurdsson. Multiple electric guitars and synth were fed through his laptop which duly churned out a series of wonderful organic-sounding tones and growls that Frost would have been proud of. Three guitarists strummed purposefully on stage, an odd sight, only for fleeting moments did their action produce any equal reaction. In quieter moments only the empty twanging of the electric guitar strings could be heard as Collings sucked all of the noise into his machines ready to release them at his pleasure. It may not have been a totally polished performance, but it suggested that he is certainly one to watch out for in the future.
We were then treated to a series of unashamedly traditional songs from Wounded Knee and Wee Rogue. It happened to be Burn’s Night and we got a healthy helping of The Bard’s finest. It was nice to hear some shruti box being played as a kind of proxy-bagpipe, but if I’m brutally honest it all seemed a wee bit out of place and over-long.
Cameron Deas’ performance was split into two pieces of music, the first one drawn from material on volume one of his self-released Quadtych LP, part of a mammoth 70-minute composition. I’m fairly sure he didn’t play for 70-minutes here, but to be honest I kinda lost all track of time. He is a man who has an innate understanding of his instrument. He caresses every note from his guitar, cradling it like he is nursing a sickly sparrow back to health. The opening reminded of Bill Orcutt’s expressive style, but this was just him warming his fingers, his strings seemed to suddenly tighten despite the humid atmosphere. There were sections reminiscent of Robbie Basho, certainly the notable influence of Derek Bailey. However, this was something entirely of his own. He covered a lot of ground; minute twinges of barely-noise, patiently sustained periods of silence and vicious single-note jabs; all interspersed seamlessly with vigorous sections of 12-string melody. Meticulous precision was balanced with a musical flair, and an obvious love of manipulating curious, wonderful sounds from his instrument. To finish he played one of his better known tracks, As Spring Fell From The Leaves, versions of which have featured on a couple of his LPs. A more traditionally composed track than the previous offering, it is a veritable steel-string anthem, full of furiously intricate finger-picking and fluid melody.
Each piece, as is his approach to his various LP’s and CDr’s, showed a completely different facet of his musical personality. Cam Deas is little short of a phenomenon and is adding his own chapter to the lineage of guitar masters.