FIRST PUBLISHED ON 21 MARCH 2013 IN THE LINE OF BEST FIT
It’s been four years since we’ve had a new Idlewild album, but Roddy Woomble hasn’t been sitting idle. In the year building up to the release of Post-Electric Blues (2009), he upped and left for the Isle of Mull with his wife Ailidh Lennon (of Sons and Daughters) and recorded the stunning Before the Ruin, a collaboration with Kris Drever (of Lau) and John McCusker. Before this, he was the co-curator of the wonderful ‘Ballads of the Book’, a project that paired Scottish authors and musicians.
It’s no surprise that his three solo outings, then, have been steeped in Arcadian themes of community, co-operation, pastoralism and nature. And despite performing in the metropolitan confines of Camden’s Jazz Café, these notions are inescapable tonight.
Woomble, the long, sweeping fringe perhaps the only hangover from his singer-in-a-punk-band days, spends the evening sat on a chair, with his arms hung between his legs. Such is his casual comfort, he could easily be perched in the kitchen of a Hebridean cottage. He smiles encouragingly at his band – Seonaid Aitken on keys and fiddle, Sorren MacLean on guitar and bassist Gavin Fox – as they blast out the best part of his three-pronged solo canon.
When they get it right, it’s wonderful to hear. “Nothing will get lost if we work like we can, until the smell of the earth is worn into our hands,” croons Roddy on ‘Work Like We Can’ – his philosophy captured in one gentle sentence. ‘Waverley Steps’ has the front row murmuring along in what’s the closest the evening gets to a fully blown singalong. ‘The Universe is on our Side’ and the existential ‘Making Myths’, from Woomble’s slightly underwhelming new record Listen to Keep, take on real potency in the flesh and the performance is sparked into life on the occasions Aitken and MacLean take centre stage: transforming the Jazz Café into a Scottish ceilidh hall.
Alas, the overarching theme of the evening is one of “pleasance”. Too little of Woomble’s solo oeuvre excites in the manner which his Idlewild and post-Idlewild collaborative material does. There’s a cigarette paper between many of the core melodies. While his imagery is often stirring, some of the lyrics from the new record jar in comparison (specifically: see ‘The Last One Of My Kind’). He exits the stage to hearty applause: no whoops, few yells – and that sums up what his music has become: nice, gentle, soothing, but nothing to get worked up about.