The first in a new series of family-friendly matinee shows titled Glorious Traces Legacy, organised by The Glad Cafe and The Glad Foundation in association with Creative Scotland, this afternoon’s Withered Hand gig is just the fuzzy glimpse of sweet community and sweeter spirit to set you off on your festive holidays.
Recalling my own first gigs as a child of single digits, I remember being more interested in pulling apart the beads on my mother’s bracelet, probably, than looking up at what was happening onstage.
The challenge for Glorious Traces, then, is inevitably going to be a case of attention: how to keep a room full of babies and toddlers quiet enough to deliver a set, especially when it’s hard enough sometimes to negotiate a loudly drunken crowd of adults?
For Withered Hand’s Dan Wilson, however, the question of attention is half the fun.
With a primary school teacher’s inquisitive ease, Wilson strikes up many a conversation with his pint-sized audience, encouraging heckling and posing deep questions about the universe.
Amid ponderous exchanges about “shoes from Mars” and a sprinkling of festive chat, Wilson delivers an hour’s worth of beautiful, candid songs drawn from both older material and 2014’s New Gods.
Opening with ‘No Cigarettes’, “a sad song about a pantomime horse”, the wistful escapism of his lyrics (“think me and you could maybe use a lost weekend / I’ve been losing all my friends”) effortlessly captures that bittersweet sense of lovelorn loneliness that often haunts the holiday season.
A lot of Withered Hand songs are the soundtrack to your twenties: to being out of sync with the world, clinging to old lovers, feeling like you’re always performing a perfect self and stumbling clumsily over the performance, failing to paper the cracks.
Listening to them in this cosy environment, surrounded by indie-loving families rustling bags of organic candy just a few days before Christmas, I’m struck with the sense that there’s this way through all the sad songs: the loneliness is peppered with energy and hope, the gurgle of a wee kid who’s learning the value of endurance and patience and genuine love.
Explaining the boxing analogy behind ‘Horseshoe’, Wilson talks about being in love as a feeling of invincibility, like you could knock out anything and anyone, like someone put a horseshoe in your glove.
This message of power persists as Wilson also admits to the kids he was once kicked out of the school choir, and when he reminds the audience to not let people grind you down, to pursue your dreams anyway, someone wryly chips in: “are you addressing the adults now?”
Any scepticism I might’ve had about the logistics of a children’s matinee gig were blown away by the natural rapport Wilson establishes with his audience, and the lovely vertiginous effect of innocence and experience brought together so warmly.
Whether artfully switching up the fruitier lyrics of ‘Cornflake’ for the comparatively wholesome “I’d do anything for chips and cider”, or singing about painting the lustre on the sun, it’s clear Wilson has a child’s eye for tenderness, sentiment and humour too.
“The most important thing about Christmas is that we love each other,” he says, halfway into the set, a priest making his earnest, endearing sermon—“but also the presents, of course the presents.”
The shiny fat cherry on top of the Christmas cake is the set’s closer, an original Christmas song called ‘Real Snow’ which asks us to be here, in the present, looking up and enjoying the free gifts of the world as we try and unplug ourselves from machines, huddled against coal-effect fires and feeling okay about not knowing what will happen tomorrow.
When Christmas is often shoved down your throat, imploring us to be happy and in love and grateful for everything, it’s nice sometimes to lean back into uncertainty, to admit the soft bright experience of the year’s close as this precious and communal thing, that doesn’t have to mean anything more than in its own fleeting joy.
Words: Maria Sledmere