It’s not very often that notoriously reserved Shetland audiences let slip such an unequivocal display of appreciation, but it was quite telling when one woman approached singer Olly Knights following the conclusion of Sunday night’s Turin Brakes gig and engaged him in a lengthy (but purely platonic) embrace.
The acclaimed, well-spoken folk duo had been afforded a rapturous, thoroughly deserved ovation after finishing a second encore to their 19-song set with an inspired, crowd-enhanced cover version of Neil Young’s timeless classic Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
By that stage Knights and his long-time musical cohort, the immensely talented guitarist Gale Paridjanian, had strummed, picked and slid their way through slice after slice of impeccable melancholy drawn from throughout their decade-long career.
Before that had come a 30-minute outing from Channerwick-based singer-songwriter Malachy Tallack. He showcased not only some of the finer moments from his recent LP From The Thorn but also a straggly beard, before road-testing a succession of new tracks including the topical and not entirely serious Swine Flu Blues.
Then came Turin Brakes. Having somewhat disappeared from the radar after a clutch of mini-hits in the early part of the decade – most notably hitting the top five with Pain Killer (Summer Rain) in 2003 – it was difficult to know what to expect from the London pair ahead of the gig.
They first sprung to moderate fame in 2001 with the politely-mannered, gentle guitar pop of The Optimist LP. The record was pretty fine in itself, but the series of tracks they dusted off from it at the British Legion really came to life in a live setting.
Shorn of their usual backing band for a swift, short Scottish tour taking in Lewis, Inverness, Lerwick and Aberdeen in consecutive nights, the songs were adorned only by a pair of acoustic guitars and a stomp board/drum machine. Consummate opener The Door was rapidly followed by Knights’ near-falsetto on Stone Thrown.
It is hard to pinpoint their music precisely, but there are aspects of the slightly angst-ridden laments which bring to mind a cheerier Radiohead, particularly on Mind Over Money whose “I can’t sleep for red eye, internal combustion, can that really happen” lyric could easily have been inked by a young Thom Yorke.
Elsewhere, at least in this stripped-back format, they opted for warm, folkier terrain with upbeat renditions of tracks from the more recent end of their back catalogue, like Real Life and Sea Change. There was also something ever-so-slightly twee about the whole thing, but in a good way.
And there’s no doubt that the duo are affable sorts. Introducing Fishing For A Dream, Knights asked if there were any millionaire fishermen in the house (there weren’t, or at least no-one was admitting to it). He pointed out that the lyrical bent of many of their songs – the sea, the open road, strong winds, fishing – make a great deal more sense performed in rural hinterlands like Lerwick and Lewis than in their normal urban surroundings.
After a little bit of a lull, the tail end of the set saw the audience gleefully lapping up anthems including Long Distance. The encore – trailed with “we’re just going for a piss – not only do we sing in harmony . . .” – was initially bedevilled by the drum machine’s untimely decision to malfunction. But it really didn’t matter a jot as they carried on regardless.
The flawless Feeling Oblivion and Underdog (Save Me) had a fair few voices singing along in unison on an evening which seemed to create a joyous feel-good factor among the sell-out crowd. Full marks to Davie Gardner for putting the gig on.