An Open Letter to Mandolin Orange
Dear Emily and Andrew,
Thank you for coming from North Carolina to Glasgow last night, the second gig of your European tour. We didn’t make it easy for you. The Scottish weather was at its worst – Storm Abigail brought driving sleet, icy rain and strong winds to the city, confining you to your hotel room for most of the day. We then put you in possibly the worst venue in Glasgow, a dark soulless basement room not best known for its acoustics. And then we threw a friendly drunk into the mix, who cheerfully sang along, out of tune and out of sync, for most of the gig. But you came and you stayed, and you played the most beautiful, tuneful melodies that Glasgow has heard this year. You turned around the bad venue, captivating the packed audience and transforming the space with your harmonies and humour.
I first heard Mandolin Orange play at Americanafest in Nashville about four years ago, when your first CD ‘Quiet Little Room’ had been released and provided most of the material for your short set. That forty minute gig was the highlight of Americanafest for me that year, and I returned to Scotland clutching my Mandolin Orange CD like gold dust, eagerly telling anyone who would listen about your music. You now have four albums and your first European tour is promoting the latest gem, ‘Such Jubilee’. But with such a wealth of material to draw upon, I was delighted that your Glasgow set not only covered material from all four CDs, but also pushed boundaries with covers from Dylan, Peter Rowan and others.
Your set list was perfectly chosen. ‘One More Down’ and ‘Poor Boy Poor Me’ from ‘Quiet Little Room’, and ‘House of Stone’ and ‘Cavalry’ from ‘This Side of Jordan’ – each one perfection, the harmonies from your instruments and voices intertwining like dancers. And so many instruments! Mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric guitar…… with eyes closed, at times it was difficult to comprehend that these rich layers of sound were made by only two musicians. It was a delight to watch your interactions: two skilful musicians in complete synergy, playing against each other, watching and waiting, smiling and laughing, with the sum being so much greater than the individual parts.
The set showcased the wonderful new CD, ‘Such Jubilee’, but not blatantly so. You didn’t even have any of the new CDs for sale due to a supply mix up, although a few lucky people snapped up the vinyl copies you had brought. Your set list was interspersed with many of the new tracks, with highlights including the opening track, ‘Old Ties and Companions’, ‘That Wrecking Ball’ and ‘Daylight’.
After two encores, demanded by an audience that didn’t want you to leave, the set ended with ‘Waltz about Whiskey’, very appropriate for the Scottish audience on such a miserable, dark night. By the end of the evening, I was sitting cross-legged on the sticky concrete floor with a huge smile on my face, happy and grateful for being able to hear your fabulous music in such an intimate venue in my home town. Such Jubilee indeed.