The Wee Red Bar – the student union at the Edinburgh College of Art – is a great little venue for a gig: good sound, cheap drink and an understandably arty atmosphere. However, even though it’s a stone’s throw from the Grassmarket and Cowgate, it remains one of the city’s lesser-known venues – which means trying to get a crowd along to it can be a challenge.
Bainbridge Music continue to try to help put the Wee Red Bar on the map with the launch of The Quad, a new monthly night featuring bands from Edinburgh and further afield, at a rock-bottom price.
Tonight features a strong alt-folk and alt-country lineup, giving the first Quad a quirky bohemian edge. First up is singer songwriter Al Shields, whose set of Deep South-tinged country and blues numbers conjure up images of train-hopping hobos fishing by the bayou.
With a warm, mellow voice and some meticulous finger-picking, Shields’ laid-back songs and delivery matches the mood; and set things up nicely for the livelier acts to follow.
And if it’s lively you’re after, Glasgow-based Kochka will deliver (with a side-serving of pickled originality and joyfulness).
With their Eastern-European influenced sound, the band’s most obvious reference is the gypsy punk madness of Gogol Bordello; but Kochka have a special flavour all their own. Frontman Markk demonstrates this from the outset, wandering through the crowd barking welcomes through a megaphone before the band launch into an infectiously upbeat set.
Guitars, synths and strings all contribute to the Kochka sound; with Sherryl’s drumming binding the whole thing together as she rapturously gives herself over to the swirling rhythms. A cover of traditional Russian folk song no-idea-of-the-name-of-it-but-it’s-the-theme-from-Tetris is a highlight, even causing an impromptu bout of Cossack dancing from the floor…
As Markk weaves his loudhailed thanks through the crowd once more, the stage is set for headliners Augustalia. Dominated by Hannah O’Reilly and her bleached-blond quiff, Augustalia’s music is – like an absinthe milkshake – an intoxicating cocktail of ingredients which shouldn’t really work, but which proves guiltily irresistible.
The straight-on country tones of the swoonsome single Foolish therefore rub innocently pure angel wings with the dirty little horns of their debauched twins, such as the mischievously maverick Lick Up Your Daughters and the yelp-filled Love & Laudunum. The boys in the band provide a tight and driving sound, particularly when Adrian’s lead guitar is allowed to take a central role in proceedings, ripping through the alt-country cornfields like a teenage tearaway on a motorbike.
Hannah’s banter is always a feature of an Augustalia gig and tonight is no exception, even with the small number of ears being treated to her particular line of foul-mouthed charm. Though some may view this as a bit anachronistic, it actually helps show what live music is all about: real tunes played by real people with real talent and real passion. More power to Hannah and her vernacular.
The first Quad is therefore a success – a well-planned lineup by the Bainbridges that serves up three entertaining acts linked by a common countrified thread. You really should make the effort to find out exactly where the Wee Red Bar is for the next one.