REVIEW: The Stray Birds find magic touch at Mareel

The Stray Birds played to a packed Mareel as the headline act in a night of Americana. Photo: Steven Johnson

The Stray Birds are just about as fun a live band as you could wish to see.

It was a privilege to be at their Mareel concert last night (Saturday) as they cast a spell over their capacity crowd, ensuring feet were tapping from first song to last.

For those who saw the American roots outfit here last year, their prowess will have come as no surprise.

But for others, like myself, seeing them for the first time (and, more importantly, hearing them for the first time), it was a magical experience, one certain to prompt a reshuffling of the in-car CD collection.

However, the night of Americana began with two Scottish groups. First up, local band Kansa stepped up to the tee (minus their absent double bassist Adam Priest).

The five available members notched up a half-hour set during which everyone was at the top of their game.

Karlyn Grains and Norma Wishart combined beautifully on vocals, while Lois Nicol, Adrian Wishart and Robert Wishart were delightful on fiddle, mandolin and guitar respectfully.

Their covers of well known country and bluegrass hits went down a storm.

The Jellyman’s Daughter, from Edinburgh, provided superb support, as did local band Kansa.

Next up, Edinburgh band The Jellyman’s Daughter continued the feel-good atmosphere – despite their amusing claim that they have a habit of turning happy songs into depressing ones.

Indeed, Emily Kelly and Graham Coe’s sweet harmonies worked wonders in both old standards and their own creations.

Multi-talented instrumentalist Coe (who counts the guitar, mandolin and cello among his tools) and mandolinist Kelly were, on this occasion, joined in their music-making by a double bass player who only came into their lives two days previously.

The new addition performed admirably, her bass providing an extra layer of richness to an already polished sound.

The group’s upcoming album, set to be released in March, is likely to attract considerable interest in the isles.

When the first two acts had finished, the short break allowed the audience time to consider just how lucky they were.

It had already been a rare feast of talent, a double bill worthy of a venue ten times the size of Mareel.

Yet – staggeringly – there was more to come. And it was about to get better still.

Founded as a duo in 2010, Pennsylvania band The Stray Birds soon evolved into an all-singing three-piece whose brand of clever, bouncy Americana has since been toured to critical acclaim throughout the world.

Last night their standard instrumental set-up saw Maya de Vitry on acoustic guitar, Oliver Craven alternating between electric guitar and fiddle, and Charlie Muench on double bass. Meanwhile, a drummer kept time behind them (even joining in the singing at one point, too).

Ushered along by the easy banter of Muench, his red hair touching his shoulders, the set list contained a mix of thigh-slapping hand-clappers and gentle, pensive numbers.

However, the balance was most definitely tilted towards the former.

But it was not just the audience who were enjoying themselves. It was plain to see the band were too – not least Craven, who took the opportunity on several occasions to leap headfirst into euphoric solos, a look of pure contentment forming on his face as he did so.

When the three voices sang together, gliding over the pick and strum of the strings, it was near perfection.

The Stray Birds are performing again today, with an acoustic set at 4pm (Sunday) at Carnegie Hall, Sandwick. The Jellyman’s Daughter and local singer-songwriter Adam Guest are in support.

Their shows are part of Wordplay book festival, which closes tonight after talks from Liz Lochhead and novelist Christopher Brookmyre, as well as an open mic night at Mareel.




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