Edinburgh, St. Celia’s
I’m playing a “songwriter-in-the-round” charity event in Edinburgh with Ricky Ross, Karine Polwart and old friend Gary Clark. It’s taking place in the oval Georgian recital room that is St. Celia’s Hall, now part of the Music Museum with its virginals, spinets and harpsichords sitting around at every turn. There’s an ancient little pipe organ powered by a foot pump at the head of the room. This is all quite posh and interesting. We meet up, soundcheck and have a little rehearsal of our finale before I duck outside to take a gander round the capital gleaming in the evening sunlight, angling madly everywhere, making sudden shadows at corners, blinding you as you cross an intersection. I drift up the Royal Mile, past the countless cashmere and shortbread shops, to the castle esplanade where Dels Utd play in July. I look out over the Firth of Forth, with its steely sheen, to the mossy hills of Fife. A man loiters in a “Donald Trump Is Not The Messiah” T-Shirt, at least I think that’s what it says. I spy a robot lawnmower nudging around The Mound. Day-trippers take photos. I wander downhill, trying to get a little lost. I find a street market in a modern square, just shutting up. There are wooden pop-up food outlets and a man with loop pedals and a guitar perched on one of their roofs. He finishes a funky jam to indifference from the milling tourists. I park on a marble bench and eat a culinary item called a broccoli slider, something middle-class schoolboys might call a stream of wet snot. I dribble feta onto my stage outfit and tut. The air is perishing but the sun roasts my back. It’s a world-class city hoaching with history and quirkiness and wonder. The difference between the two towns on each coast, forty miles apart, always seems vast. Glasgow is a tool shed, a midden, tacked onto Edinburgh’s elegant townhouse. Here the wilds of Scotland make inroads into the heart of things; the sea, the rocky Seat, the unruly castle cliffs. In Glasgow there’s just the fetid urban river, seeping through quietly, speaking more of dereliction than mountain air or ocean breeze. Edinburgh has a ring road so that its triumphs remain untarnished. In Glasgow the motorway bulldozes into the centre, throwing old churches and tenements into the verges and carving apart once thriving neighbourhoods. The historical got told to take a hike a long time ago and the modern that replaces it? It’s a mess of junk and imposture. Glaswegians fill this gap with attitude. We’re all walking around like its New York but we know we’re in New Look. In Edinburgh they’re all walking around like they’re in Edinburgh.
The show rips along with humour and genuine spontaneity. For the audience encircling us it must feel like witnessing a rehearsal; not a bad thing, I feel. It’s nerve-wracking waiting your turn, watching the others ply their trade and thinking, shit, that’s good. I try to raise my game with limited success. I do a tune on the piano, luxuriating in the privilege of playing an acoustic grand, teasing the dynamics that digital keyboards can never supply. Even better, when you sit at such furniture you suddenly look like a musician. Perhaps nobody will notice.
The four performers chat a little in the dressing room before we return to the empty hall to coil and case our gear. Farewells exchanged, I dump my instruments in the boot and put my foot down. It’s a clear spring night and I race home through quiet streets and then the open road that takes me to my doorstep. Did I just get away with it again? No one’s baying for my blood, the knives are not out. But one day I will be exposed, pilloried, defrocked. It will, I suspect, be a kind of freedom.