doors seven pm, walking down through the town, past the bars and the crowds of pavement smokers, wet grey sky sunset behind the castle rock, street lights sparking up, dusty black cabs, cobbles.
liquid room dark at the bottom of a narrow stairway, black padded walls, dim lit bar across the back wall, a few tables along one side, scattered ones and twos talking quietly, four red lights down low on the stage. out the back through the exit doors an alleyway and a courtyard full of lamps, stone walls stretching up all the way six flights to the slates. rain, black shiny pools between the tables.
waiting on the front for the band, barrier cold against chest and the guy sound checking is pretty tall but when he stands up to test the guitar the top of his head doesn't even reach the mike. room filling with people, buzz and chatter and the sound system turning slowly up onto a slow cut jazz version of nothing compares to you.
band shuffle on stage, no big fanfare, clumsy cut to the background music ("nothing compares, nothing comp-") and yes, mark really is that tall. the polish girl over my shoulder says something about horse's heads to her boyfriend and she laughs into the sudden pause.
mark looks out over the crowd, half confused, half pleased, guitar against his chest. "well, good evening y’all" and then straight into don't take my sunshine away. and it’s awesome.
so the sound isn’t quite right the first two tracks, but that’s half the price you pay for being up the front. the band are tight and familiar, teasing each other, laughing. this is the first run through of a new set list, there’s the occasional partway fuckup moment of confusion but when they are together they are so together.
apple bed slow and yearning, whispered words so the audience creeps closer towards the stage and the lights are low and pretty overhead and almost everyone in the crowd seems to know the lyrics.
the keyboard player takes the pj
there’s a fan at the front of the stage aimed onto mark’s face, so his hair’s moving and the tails of his jacket are blowing back like he’s playing on a mountain top or the edge of a cliff. heroic . . .
an incredibly posh voice from the balcony shouts "mark, you're a fucking genius," into the silence between songs, and yes to the sentiment but no to the prince charles stylee enunciation, and oh christ, yes, we're in edinburgh . . . mark looks down, awkward, embarrassed but pleased and then looks back out into the lights and smiles.
“we hardly ever play this one . . .”
and oh sweet god, they actually play more yellow birds and it’s all achy lovely dreamy sweetness and no-one moves for four minutes.
homecoming queen and i know that they’ve been using this to finish off and it doesn’t feel like anywhere near long enough. “some folk like to sing along to this one . . .”. and they do. and it’s not the end.
jumbled bits and pieces of clarity, “the parasites will love you when you’re dead,” ,“i got sunburn waiting for the jets to land,”, trickle of sweat running bright down mark’s cheek and into his mouth and it’s an image with a tune within a tune . . .
they play morning hollow and i’m thinking no-one else could get away with this, this slow sad lovesong to a dying dog that never slips into anything sickly or sentimental. and i remember why i love them so much, because every song is like seeing the world for the first time, like the first time you see a calf being born and the tenderness and the dirt are all mixed up together.
sweet spooky ripples of piano all over spirit ditch and then, a little later pig, cut from fragility to brutality without a seam. without an apology. somewhere i read that mark got into rock because it was the first thing he ever heard that was louder than a dirt bike.
an hour and a half, two encores and late licence permitting they could have come back for a third. when it’s over no-one rushes for the doors.
outside it’s still raining.