St Judes Infirmary - National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh , 22 August 2009
Good things come to those that wait. In terms of the second St Judes Infirmary album "This Has Been The Death Of Us" , a follow up to the 2006 debut "Happy , Healthy, Lucky , Month", the intervening period has felt a long and frustrating gap. It is unclear how autobiographical the album title is as you can't go two and a half years between recordings without the odd bit of wear and tear. However the album launch for the St Judes second offering couldn't have been better timed and further confirmed the band's ability to stand out from the crowd. Playing the National Portrait Gallery to the backdrop of an avant-garde "Rough Cut" exhibition of modern design pieces echoed St Judes commitment to doing things a wee bit differently. Playing a tea time slot during the Edinburgh festival may not be unusual however playing a free gig amongst the scores of underachieving, overcharging comedians was a welcome break from The Fringe turning Edinburgh into some sort of monstrous stand up comedy Disneyland.
The good news for the dedicated fans and the toil of the band is that on the evidence of the showcase on Saturday, it looks as if the wait has been worthwhile. The ambient and comfortable surroundings allowed the new material to shine and the elapsed months since work begin on this record has seen the group mature in terms of sound and individual ability. Hearing the new material live, and then later on an advance release copy of the album, the patience and precision in all the songs shines through. Compared to the populist "record it quick and pile it high" thrills and spills of "slagheap" indie , the endurance delivered in "This Has Been The Death Of Us" sticks to it's principles - an almost unique approach at the end of this decade. The detail and delivery of every song has always gained St Judes respect from a devoted and appreciative few rather than the adoration of the masses. The band have always been appreciated in the highest circles in Edinburgh with top crime writer Ian Rankin and acclaimed artist Jack Vettriano keen supporters . Both do parts of narration on the album building on the eerie darkness of the lyrics and contrasting with the melodic and melancholic vocals. Saturday's show started with a loop of Vettriano as Jack had preferred to go to Leonard Cohen in Monaco than be at the launch in person. (Bet we had better beer) Where other bands have tampered with this type of format in the past these interjections, and poetry between songs from Ryan Van Winkle, the in house reader at the Scottish Poetry Library seemed natural and seamless.
Moreover the sound of St Judes has grown and potentially the band are now close to being able to recreate the genius of their writing on record and during live performance. Despite the band using three guitars, Emma Jane's voice continues to mesmerise and outfox anything more commonly heard at present. Duets with Ashley, backed by contrasting guitar styles, show a melody and range that more popular outfits can only dream about (sorry Florence). Another original step was seeing a band who had shown enough thought of how to write proper parts for the cello in their songs rather than some trendy notion that a string section will add something while complicating a lick more suited to rhythm guitar. This coupled with a more up tempo approach to drumming by Catherine Myers stops the risk of some of the slower numbers running down the cul de sac of country.
It is very difficult to compare the sound and approach of St Judes with anything commonly prominent at the moment and, like highly acclaimed acts of the recent past such as Silver Jews, Secret Machines, etc , the band run a risk of being musicians musicians. However one of the clever outcomes of doing a free gig in an unusual location is that folk who previously may not have made the effort, stumble across the venue and leave impressed. The short set made sure that happened with an original version of the opening track from their debut "The Church Of John Coltrane " where the opening verse was recited by Ryan our poet in residence. Adding to this and giving a sense of symmetry not often seen in a Portrait gallery, the band closed with the final track from the new album - "Foot Of The Walk" where the lyrics had been penned by Ian Rankin. The bottom end of Leith Walk perhaps being as far as one can get from the opulence of the Edinburgh International Arts Festival and has been the setting of many a Rankin story murder. The distribution of songsheets, meant that we could all join in with a rousing conclusion. Despite being tucked away as track twelve on the new disk, the song deserves has an anthemic quality and deserves prominent airplay. St Judes are probably the most melodic band I've ever been encouraged to join in with. A risk I can't see many others taking however if Florence Welsh reads this and fancies a pub sing along and a pint please get in touch.
"This Has Been The Death Of Us" has an official release date in September. You don't need to be an acclaimed Scottish Painter or a multi million selling crime writer to enjoy it. Rankin's famous character Rebus may advise that its "worth investigating"…
Written by Ian Campbell
Saint Judes Infirmary Myspace