This blog started out back in 2006 just as Frightened Rabbit were beginning to get noticed, initially here in Scotland and then, thanks to a combination of some very fine early releases and some equally fine live tours It also helped that lead somgwriter Grant Hutchison was such a sound and decent bloke who, fully understanding and recognising that new media, including blogging, could go a long way to breaking new and emerging talent, was always willing to give of his time to anyone who asked for it.
Back in April 2008, Frightened Rabbit released a monumentally impressive sophomore album. I wrote an awful lot about Midnight Organ Fight over at the Google version of this blog before it was unceremoniously torn down. Like many others, I fell head over heels for its intense and passionate blend of indie-pop/folk across songs that, for the most part, dealt with falling in love like you’ve never done before only for it to all go horrendously and hideously wrong. The lyrics were honest to the point of brutal with absolutely no sugar-coating whatsoever. It also helped that I was at the launch gigs in tiny Glasgow venues, including Mono and King Tuts, at which you could see at close-hand just how difficult and painful it was for the frontman to relive so many real-life episodes through the medium of song.
The album featured in many end of year lists and deservedly so. The band followed it up with The Winter of Mixed Drinks in 2010, their third and final LP for indie-label Fat Cat Records, a record that broadened their appeal enough to attract the attention of Atlantic Records with who the band signed a deal not long after. Maybe it was the music snob in me, somewhat annoyed that this band that I had been lucky enough to see around the toilet circuit were now capable of selling out Barrowlands in a matter of minutes and had an audience that wanted to sing-a-long to everything, thus ruining the subtle parts of the gut-wrenching songs, including the ones that were on the newer records. But I sort of lost interest in Frightened Rabbit, albeit it was genuinely pleasing to see them become a little bit wealthier on the fruits of their labours.
I did, however, see the band back in 2013 when, by complete chance, they happened to be in Berlin when I was celebrating my 50th birthday with a first ever visit to the city in the company of Mrs Villain. We were having a fantastic time enjoying the sights, including out at the Olympic Stadium the day after my birthday when a text flashed up from Aldo telling me he had noticed Frightened Rabbit were playing in what seemed to be a small-medium sized venue in one of the more bohemian parts of the city. We managed to get tickets and along we went – it was a decent gig but nothing more. The songs were largely drawn from what was then their most recent album Pedestrian Verse, a work that I had bought but only listened to once on the basis that it didn’t do anything for me, and the live renditions didn’t really spark much either. Having said that, it was still a great way to have an unexpected night out in Berlin.
Four and a bit year on, I ventured out to see the band again. It was apt that I was in the company of Mrs Villain and Aldo. It was the latter who had spotted that the band were putting on a special show in which they would be accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) inside the very grand Paisley Abbey, a church that dates back in parts to 850 years ago and is still in use today. The show was part of the sixth annual Spree Festival during which the RSNO always team up with a Scottish band or singer and perform inside the Abbey. We were lucky enough to see Twilight Sad and Admiral Fallow with the orchestra back in 2013 and that proved to be a special and enjoyable occasion.
This, however, took the whole collaboration thing to entirely new heights. There’s a depth and emotion to Scott Hutchison’s song-writing that lends itself perfectly to huge arrangements such as were provided on the night. The show opened with three songs that I didn’t know at all thanks to them coming from albums or EPs that had been released in 2016 or 2017 and which I hadn’t picked up; nevertheless, the atmosphere was incredible with a reverential and fully seated audience hanging onto every note, with not even a whisper to be heard during the performance. The band’s playing was perfectly in tune with the orchestra, beautifully understated within a minimum amp so that the entire sound could be enjoyed.
And then something truly magical happened. The band, with the exception of Scott, took their leave. The singer said that he was about to do the scariest thing in his entire life as a performer. And with that he began to strum and play this:-
mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Poke
One of the highlights of Midnight Organ Fight and a song that conveys all the sad emotion of how it feels to be broken-hearted while failing to comprehend just why everything went pear-shaped. It’s a song that uses the word ‘cunt’ and Scott didn’t hesitate to utter it, despite knowing he in the middle of what to many people is a very sacred and spiritual location.
The audience applause went up a fair few notches at the end of the song. I didn’t think the night could be bettered and would happily have gone home there and then thinking it had all been worth it.
The band came back on and Scott said they were going to perform some songs without the orchestra before ending the night with further collaborations. I was gob-smacked that the next four songs turned out to be energetic and immense versions of tracks on Midnight Organ Fight immediately followed by two of their more pop-orientated songs from some of the later albums.
The night ended with five more songs performed alongside the orchestra. It is worth stating, this was a full orchestra with strings, brass, wind and percussion, with every player being internationally renowned. The band really had to be on top form to cope with it.
The night ended with all sorts of thanks offered prior to the playing of the final number. I was sitting there quietly wishing for a particular song as I reckoned it would make for the perfect ending as it really did offer the greatest potential for an orchestral arrangement. But at the same time, I thought it might just be too much of an ask for the band to pull it off in such distinguished company. If I believed in God, I might even have offered up a silent prayer at the time with an ask….I simply sat there and hoped. I later found our Mrs Villain was hoping for the same thing…and although I never asked him, I’m sure Aldo was also hoping for the same.
And we got it:-
I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved emotionally by one single song performed in the live setting as I was sitting there in Paisley Abbey. As it ended, I, along with just about everyone present, leapt up and roared an approval with a sustained round of applause – just as you do when you’ve enjoyed a classical music performance. I glanced across at Aldo and we simultaneously mouthed the word ‘wow’. There was no need for anything else to be said.
Back in 2013, footage was later released of The Twilight Sad/RSNO efforts and indeed this can still be viewed on-line. If the same thing happened from the other night, I’ll be sure to draw it your attention.
I’m still getting shivers days later thinking about it.