By: Bruce Cowie
Photos: Lesley Crawford
Half Formed Things | website | facebook | bandcamp |
Leith Depot, Edinburgh | September 2, 2016
Once upon a time there was a band called A Fight You Can’t Win. They played noisy, waspish post-punk songs, and they were quite rude. I loved them dearly, but they went the way of all things, and are no more.
But now – of course, there was going to be a ‘but now’, wasn’t there? – half of them are back with a new thing. Guitarist/chief sweary guy Matthew Bakewell and drum murderer1 Stewart McLachlan have assembled a NEW THING with singer/pianist Morgan Hosking, and it’s lovely.
Tonight’s not their first ever gig – there’s been one or two already – but it’s the launch show for their debut EP, and it’s sold out. Always a good sign. And there’s going to be home-made chutney.
Leith Depot is a new venue for me. It’s a tiny room above what used to be, apparently, the ‘worst pub in Edinburgh’, but the gentrification of Leith Walk has made its mark here, and it’s now a trendy little bistro bar place, with craft beers and food that’s more than just dead animal paste deep fried in batter. There’s a jar of olives on the counter.
Anyway. Upstairs, and it’s boiling hot already. The fans are on, and Alex Auldsmith kicks things off with half an hour of acoustic singer-songwritery stuff about pain and sadness and alcoholism and being afraid, but manages to do that and be funny at the same time. He has a setlist, but ignores it and just wings it, mixing in old songs and new stuff he’s never played before. He fucks up once or twice, but we forgive him.
Now, I’ve seen our next turn a number of times, and I still don’t know how to properly describe what he does. Kapil Seshasayee, for it is he, assaults a lovely baritone guitar in a way he probably didn’t learn from a book, bangs and bows a thing which appears to be made of nails and a biscuit tin, and sings songs about… stuff2 in his distinctive nasally voice. Rhythms and various other noises are provided by the laptop on the table. Written down like that, it all sounds horrible, but it really isn’t. He’s unusual, certainly, and a bit of a challenge for some in the audience, but I like him. His songs are different every time I see him, and tonight he’s sludgier3 than usual, louder and more aggressive. He gyrates like a very twisty thing and spends a fair amount of time on his knees. It’s OK, there’s a carpet.
So, it’s time for Half Formed Things, and it’s volcanically hot in here, and really quite dark. Never mind, though, we’ve got chairs to sweatily stick to.
I’m not sure if there is anybody in the packed room who expects a new version of A Fight You Can’t Win tonight – probably not, to be fair – but if there is, they’ll be disappointed. HFT is a much more subtle thing. Even, dare I say it, more mature. I’m guessing that this is mostly the responsibility of Morgan on the piano and her lovely, warm, smokey voice. More of which later.
(I need to insert a caveat here. You should be aware that I wasn’t expecting to be reviewing this gig, so I wasn’t taking notes. I’m doing this entirely from memory, and I’ll probably miss stuff out, and get other stuff wrong. Please don’t kill me.)
There’s only three songs on the EP being launched tonight, so I’m hoping they’ve got some other stuff ready, or it’s going to be a short gig. Well, as it happens…
Right from the start, we are shown that the frantic, hyperactive post-punk noisiness has been gently set aside with ‘I’m a Butcher’ – it’s barely there. Matthew’s voice has never been as exposed as this before, but he’s fine, he can handle it, and it’s odd to see Stewart not trying to destroy his drums for a change. At first, anyway. Then it gets loud.
There are moments during the evening which remind me irresistibly of A Fight You Can’t Win – Matthew’s phrasing, the odd bit of guitar –but it’s like AFYCW smoothed out and rounded off and dipped in dark, bitter chocolate. And obviously the banter is as cheerfully vulgar as always. That’s never going to change. Unlike, I’d guess, the next song.
Which is ‘Short Harvest’, the first one drawn from the new EP. But not a new song, oh no. This is an old Clayface song, Matthew’s pre–AFYCW band. Now, I’ve never heard the original, but I doubt it was ever played at this slower pace, and I’ll be willing to bet it never included Morgan’s piano. Or her voice. And I bet it was never half as good as this, but don’t tell anybody I said that, because the rest of Clayface are in the audience tonight, and at least one of them is considerably bigger than I am.
Another couple of non-EP songs, and then the undeniable highlight of the show, and the bit that truly shows off Morgan’s skills. ‘The Tower’ is pure joy, utterly gorgeous, and undoubtedly the best song that Matthew has ever created. And, to be honest, it’s Morgan who makes it. Her voice, her piano, are simply sublime. Even the “woo-oo” chorus is a joy. The audience approves, and quite right too. I wish it was longer. But never mind, the Morgan show continues immediately with ‘Swami’ the closing song from the EP, and the one which is totally Morgan. Pretty much just her and her piano, smooth and warm and slightly jazzy and wholly wonderful.
A seamless segue into ‘The One You Hate’, bringing the set to a rousing climax, and they’re done. But we want more. Have they got more? It seems that they have. Morgan seems a bit shy, and apologises in advance to her boss, who is standing over there by the bar, and her parents, who have just arrived from Australia. We get a stripped out version of something called ‘Prayer to God’, which is very, very sweary. It’s just a tiny bit of Matthew’s guitar and a lot of Morgan piano-ing and swearing and asking for someone to be killed, preferably painfully. Stewart sits this one out, which is fortunate, as he’s broken his kick pedal at some point during the last song.
And then they really are done. It’s been properly good, and we’re all more than happy. The band seems genuinely overwhelmed by the support and love that they receive, but it’s no more than they deserve. Half Formed Things are absolutely one of the best bands in Edinburgh right now. If you weren’t there and don’t know what they sound like, I urge you to check them out. Go to Bandcamp and listen to their EP. Maybe buy it. And they’re going to be doing a lot of shows in the near future. Go to one. Go to all of them. And I challenge you not to be impressed.
Right, I’m off home. I’ll just stop and pick up some of that chutney.
There’s none left.
- And member of EVERY band in Edinburgh, ever. Without exception.
- I was chatting with him before the show, and he told me the story of that time in India when he became a transvestite for the day and spoiled everything. That’s the kind of thing he sings about.
- Well, HE isn’t. His music is. I have no idea how sludgy Kapil is. He has a magnificent beard, though.