sun 09/08/2020

Rick Redbeard, Electric Circus, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Rick Redbeard, Electric Circus, Edinburgh

Rick Redbeard, Electric Circus, Edinburgh

The Phantom Band singer brings his solo album to the stage with little fuss but stunning power

Rick Redbeard: the phantom singsLisa-Marie Ferla

Rick Redbeard has a pirate’s name and a voice like deep, dark water. Behind the colourful alter ego stands (or, as was the case last night, sits) Rick Anthony, singer of The Phantom Band, the Scottish six-piece whose two albums – Checkmate Savage and The Wants – have recently stretched the admittedly painfully limited parameters of contemporary rock music to thrilling extremes.

The Phantom Band's sound is a manic tangle of folk, krautrock, doo-wop, post-rock, operatic excess and electro-pop kitsch. Anthony is not nearly as ambitious or eclectic when it comes to his own music, but the results are no less enthralling. He always seemed the most obviously “folky” member of the group. His mother, Gaye Anthony, has recorded several albums of traditional songs and sea shanties, and her influence has obviously left its mark.

In such intimate, unfussy confines the strength of his songwriting was enforced rather than undermined

His recently released debut, No Selfish Heart, has its roots in simple Scottish folk textures but folds in vintage singer-songwriting alongside flashes of country, blues and skeletal Americana. Lyrically, it broods with ancient myths, elemental imagery and Gothic horror, but there is humour, too. On “Now We’re Dancing” Anthony appears at the foot of his lover’s bed, “wearing just a beard and a smile”.

This was his first appearance since the album’s release; or, as he put it, “my first opportunity to disappoint a lot of people.” Not so fast with the self-deprecation. Sparse enough on record, live his songs featured nothing more extravagant than an acoustic guitar, his extraordinary rich baritone, the occasional drone from an effects pedal and, on the deeply wonderful “Any Way I Can”, the rhythmic jangle of his “novelty slipper”, a cross between a tambourine and a jester’s footwear. On several songs he was joined on harmony vocals by his sister Jo, whose voice was, sadly, often inaudible but which eventually found its rightful place on a gorgeous rendition of the traditional ballad “Kelvin Grove”.

You couldn’t call it polished (aside from a jingling sock, his sole stage props were four bottles of beer, a bottle of wine and a glass of whisky), and he took a little while to settle, but in such intimate, unfussy confines the strength of Anthony's songwriting was enforced rather than undermined. “Old Blue” possessed the kind of universal simplicity that you find in Kris Kristofferson’s greatest songs and almost nowhere else, not least when he sang “help me believe I’m a man”. “Now We’re Dancing” was light and playful, like midnight faery music; “Cold as Clay”, conversely, was truly death-struck, as dark as anything that ever appeared on Johnny Cash’s American Recordings.

Two terrific new songs – including a tightly-coiled minor key beauty called, I think, “Dragon Lair” – suggest there is plenty more where No Selfish Heart came from. The only negative is that Anthony is so good it rather makes me fear for the continued existence of The Phantom Band. Here’s hoping he can juggle both.

Aside from a 'novelty slipper', his sole stage props were four bottles of beer, a bottle of wine and a glass of whisky

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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