SANDI THOM – THE VOLUNTEER HALL, GALASHIELS – 16th JUNE 2013

Following some recent clear and sunny weather, I was expecting some stormy weather as I drove towards Galashiels, the ominous looming clouds that appeared to be gathering ahead seemed to reinforce my thoughts, but I was actually looking ahead to Sandi Thom including ‘Stormy Weather’, a track from her latest album, in her set. This had provided a powerful rocking opening to her set when I had previously seen her in action last November in Glasgow’s King Tut’s.

This time I had a much shorter distance to travel. As I was parking up outside the venue, work was under way to continue decorating the town with black and white for the forthcoming ‘Braw Lads Gathering’. Inside the hall, the stage backdrop continued the black and white theme. The night had been organised by the locally based ‘Reiver Promotions’ in an attempt to try to provide something a bit special in an area where people normally have to travel to the cities to experience more established acts perform. I have previously experienced other attempts to do the same which failed to succeed due to not being able to entice enough people to come along and wished this one to be a success. There was an encouraging looking queue outside and the hall looked to be rapidly approaching half full when I arrived just after the doors opened. Later on I reckoned the hall to be possibly 95% full. The audience spanned generations from some who looked almost pre-teens to others who made me feel that, for a change, I wasn’t the oldest there.

The opening act had been chosen as a result of an on-line vote which gave a number of mainly local bands a chance to bid for the place. The eventual winners were the very local, Galashiels based, five-piece Torino. Reflecting the ‘Braw Lads’ colours, the band took to the stage dressed mainly in black. Despite being a local band I hadn’t heard them previously so didn’t know what to expect. What I experienced from the start was extremely competent, well produced insistent rock played by the lead singer, two guitars, bass and drum combination. At times I found myself thinking about Muse, although I certainly won’t make any strong comparisons as they struck me as a band keen to forge their own distinct sound as opposed to simply aping other better known ones. They all looked seriously intent on delivering their songs, and despite a couple of minor initial sound hiccups, maintained a tight performance throughout. Their set included tracks from EPs ‘The Newton’s Law’ and ‘The Cable Telegraph’ along with two new songs, ‘The Grudge’ and the intriguingly titled ‘More Fun Than A Clown On Fire’.

When Torino’s equipment had been removed from the stage, it was not replaced by other amplifiers and speakers, nor did another drum kit appear; clearly I was about to experience a different side to Sandi than that which had been showcased in Glasgow. Sandi was announced and came on stage alone to sit centre stage and take out her harmonica. Her opening number was ‘Help Me’, also the opening track on ‘Flesh And Blood’, but what a revelation it was as it was simply delivered accapella with occasional harmonica passages. Following this extremely impressive start, she continued on her own by accompanying herself on guitar – and I got to experience some ‘Stormy Weather’, again quite different to what I had been used to, both on the album and previously live. Two more solo numbers followed before she was joined on stage by her band, Mike, Scott and Allan. The band added another guitar, a keyboard providing a piano sound, and the percussion was a sit on cajon with little else.

Throughout the set, Sandi kept the audience informed and entertained between songs with her anecdotes which gave an insight into how her musical career had developed from an early age, including time spent travelling to gigs in the back of a fish van which resulted in her spending four years having “an absolute ball and smelling of cod”! The acoustic set included wonderfully moving versions of Guns ‘n Roses’ ‘November Rain’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ which added further layers to her thoughtful range of original songs.

Sandi seeks to engage local acts in her shows and the selection of Torino as support act was supplemented by a very well received appearance by young local girl Rebecca McCue who joined Sandi to sing her seminal hit ‘I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker With Flowers In My Hair’. I had the privilege of chatting to Rebecca ahead of this special opportunity for her, she was understandably a bit nervous but at the same time displayed an impressive amount of confidence. When she did appear on stage she showed no real outward sign of nerves and delivered a wonderful and strong vocal performance to accompany Sandi. I feel sure that Rebecca will have happy memories of the night, to help encourage her as she seeks to progress her own musical skills.

All indications are that the night was a tremendous success, with many in the audience enthusiastically discussing the performances afterwards. My principal memory will be Sandi’s powerful, emotive and engaging vocal performance, sympathetically supported by her guitar, harmonica and band. I wish Bill Jeffrey of ‘Reiver Promotions’ equal success with future attempts to bring such excellent music to the Scottish Borders. Roll on the next one.

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