Bonnie lassie, will ye go,
will ye go, will ye go,
Bonnie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldie?
(Robert Burns, c.1787)
Aberfeldy is a small village in Highland Perthshire which boasts a population of approximately 1,895 and was the setting for a number of interesting events in the development of the modern Scottish nation. But apart from naming the band after this wee townling; Aberfeldy in Perthshire has pretty much nothing to do with the super-talented Scottish feel-good group from Edinburgh.
A disappointing lack of ticket sales resulted in this hugely underrated outfit being placed unceremoniously in an upstairs practice room at the Ironworks. This is something that the Inverness music scene and the local lovers of good music really must sort out if Inverness is going to attract talented acts in the future. But fortunately, this slightly embarrassing show of Invernesian support resulted in a gig atmosphere which was perfect for the sounds that were coming from the make-shift stage.
Resembling something like a ‘60s sit-in, the crowd of no more than about 60 souls (very young and reasonably old…) were understandably enthusiastic about the potential of an incredibly intimate gig with a genuinely incredible act. Personally I had not seen Aberfeldy live before and wasn’t sure what to expect. Having not been sure about going to the show due to a lack of friends attending (where were you, you missed out?!), I had no sooner taken in the atmosphere and positioned myself in a primary-school-like cross-legged pose upon the floor when the headline act hit the stunningly perfect opening harmonies of the set. My first thought was somewhere between Crosby, Stills and Nash and Belle and Sebastian.
The band, in its current format, consists of: Riley Briggs (Lead Vocals/Guitar and occasional blistering keyboard); Chris Bradley (Guitar and Vocals); Ken McIntosh (Bass Guitar); Murray Briggs (Drums); Poppy Ackroyd (Keyboard, Xylophone, Violin and Vocals); and Kirsten Adamson (Keyboard, Xylophone and Vocals). During the gig, each of these talented individuals gave a stunning performance of excellence in not only individual talent, but the talent to combine that with others’ talents in a meaningful and passionate fashion. This is perhaps something that many up and coming local bands could learn a great deal from.
This wasn’t just a group of mates having a good time; this was serious music played by a group of mates having a good time. And that came across in the intimate setting and helped to boost the atmosphere of the venue. Riley Briggs’ semi-mumbled links between songs took a bit of getting used to, but his comical take on life and the complete lack of connections between the songs and his ramblings just made for a relaxed and fun feeling of absurdity. A couple of highlights were; perhaps the most comical re-tuning of a guitar I’ve ever seen as Briggs commentated as if to keep the audience’s attention; which was already pretty focused on him after his slightly embarrassing tale of being driven by ‘skintness’ to thieving Mr Chris Evans’ pint in Hootenanny’s during his last visit.
I haven’t managed to contact poor Chris, but I imagine he’s still reeling from that event. In all honesty, it didn’t matter what Briggs mumbled about, the audience was on his side. Perhaps a few of the comments were a bit twee, but there wasn’t a person in the room that didn’t chuckle at least once.
Highlights of the musical side included a superb rendition of the legendary ‘Tom Weir’ which had the audience either grooving in their floor-seats or in stitches at the lyrics. The bright ‘1970s’ was a proving ground for Adamson and Ackroyd on backing vocals – a task to which they were both more than capable of stepping up to. From the latest album came the superbly upbeat (for such a dark, soulful outcry) title track ‘Somewhere To Jump From’, which was more than enough proof of how complimentary a xylophone can be in popular music. Adamson and Ackroyd should be commended here for the fact that everything they contributed just fitted; beautifully.
Also from their latest release came the beautifully absurd metaphors and simplistic lyrics of ‘If I Was A Joiner’ which contemplates the very act of writing a song about a lost love. And from experience, it contemplates the emotion of the task very accurately through the masking silliness of the lyrics. Another highlight in terms of performance had to be ‘Claire’ which was performed with such conviction and confidence that nobody watching could possibly doubt Aberfeldy as a bona fide and professional outfit.
In fact, that statement is true for the whole performance, after which I can almost guarantee that every person in the room left with a renewed feeling of brightness and possibility. There are very few gigs (especially available in Inverness) that will not only make you admire some fantastic and genuinely brilliant musicianship, composition, and poetry whilst also making you feel utterly at peace with the world and happy about your existence at a time when there are people like Aberfeldy writing and performing music.
As for the current album ‘Somewhere To Jump From’ (Tenement Records, 2010); Fiona Shepherd from The Scotsman gave it a semi-accurate review. She commented that it was a ‘sign of a very confident band’ which is, from their live performance, completely accurate. But she then finished her review by saying ‘[it] doesn’t make for anything more adventurous than pleasant easy listening’. Well Fiona, I would categorically disagree.
Yes, it is easy to listen to, but if you then listen carefully the extremely well composed music and instrumentation will draw you in. It is then that the beautiful harmonies will captivate you as you are lilted through some incredibly intense emotions by the lyrics of a singer who has clearly been through many ups and downs lately. But Briggs has come out on top with a beautiful collection of heartfelt compositions, which are almost all incredibly upbeat considering the subject matter. This is a brush-stroke of brilliance in my opinion.
Other columnists and reviewers have been disappointed with the lack of dark emotion on the album but, in truth, it is all there; you just need to listen for it. The masterstroke is that on top of truthful lyrics about a problematic time for the band, the songs are beautifully coloured with happiness and genuine musicianship which lets you know that whatever the underlying problems, Aberfeldy are on their feet and ready for anything.
Perhaps, therefore, it is appropriate to return to the verse that began this review. It was after his 1787 tour that Robert Burns became the first lyricist to mention Aberfeldy in popular culture. Far be it for me to compare anyone to the Bard; but, if things continue as they are, the beautiful poetry written by Riley Briggs, accompanied by the incredible sound of Aberfeldy, deserves to make him and his band just as famous and just as celebrated as old Rabbie.
By Mac Ailean
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