ON A warm and unseasonably balmy late-September evening in the Scottish capital, the autumnal sounds of the Rachel Hair Trio provided a stark contrast to the weather conditions outside The Pleasance.
Indeed, Hair’s music is more likely to conjure up images of falling leaves than palm trees; nevertheless, the Ullapool-born harper has a canny knack for blending traditional and contemporary Scots-Irish tunes (and songs) to suit the right environment. And so she proved.
Aided and abetted by Jenn Butterworth (guitar and vocals) and jazz musician Euan Burton (double-bass), the trio had just come off the back of playing 18 concerts inside 10 days during a jolly jaunt to Norwegian schools. However, if battle-fatigue was a factor, it certainly didn’t show during a sprightly 90-minute set bestowed upon a healthy – but by no means large – audience.
Hair sits/stands just to the right of the boards, allowing Butterworth to take centre-stage. Why she doesn’t position herself front-and-centre might be due to Hair’s admirable modesty or Butterworth’s height. One would suspect stage logistics is a more likely answer. That said, it was the fashionably-dressed Butterworth whose songs stood out most during the first half.
‘The Grey Funnel Line’ – a wordplay on the Royal Navy’s steamship lines of yesteryear – proved “raking through my dad’s record collection” can unearth a rare gem. A tender number about “trying to reach someone that’s just that little bit too far away” (‘Island’) also managed to touch the heart as well as the head. Butterworth, though, let it be said, must be one of few musicians to have her own iPad stand (one presumes for reading lyrics as opposed to trawling the web).
Hair, on the other hand – who, as a harpist, discovers no shortage of problems when carrying a Clarsach halfway around the world – did provide a fine tale to go along with the self-explanatory ‘I Lost My Harp In Barcelona’. A mesmeric tune that refers to the time her harp got left behind at Gatwick airport, as a piece of music; it’s just as beautiful as a stroll down Barcelona’s La Rambla.
But let’s not forget Euan Burton. Despite suffering a crack in his double-bass (the East Kilbride jazzer used a vice to stop it from making a buzzing noise) this was one of the rare occasions he got his own microphone. His witty repartee ensured the audience received their fair share of laughs (“this is the first time I’ve had a pillar [onstage] to prop me up after a few pints of Guinness”), and given his sensitive playing it’s little wonder folk musicians are recruiting so many from the jazz world of late.
Later on, then, and after a flurry of funky jigs and other, ethereal-sounding tunes, highlights included ‘Marie’s Tune’ (originally featured on Hair’s first album, Hubcaps And Potholes) and a sing-a-long to Allan Taylor’s ‘Roll On The Day’. A somewhat romantic-sounding ode to someone Hair had never met before (‘Francie’s Jig’) was a nice surprise. However, a more groove-orientated track dedicated to Hair’s Uncle Jack – who came from the rough streets of Glasgow’s Govanhill – certainly had a touch of ‘Walking On The Wild Side’ about it.
Rachel Hair might be one of few harp players to lead her own band, but it’s a refreshingly welcome one. If her warm presence around these parts can produce equally warm weather during the autumn months, then let’s hope she embarks on a Scottish winter tour once her new, forthcoming album is completed. Even if she doesn’t, her friendly grin, animated playing-style and endearing music will no doubt receive warm smiles wherever she goes.
Barry Gordon, Northings