This review originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on January 22, 2014.
RM Hubbert, Glasgow Mitchell Library, Jan 20 2014 (Celtic Connections)
Glasgow axe-sorcerer RM Hubbert should have been a salesman. “I’ve got a very cute do to feed,” he told the sold-out audience at his biggest headline show to date, by way of encouraging record sales. “You wouldn’t want to be responsible for his death, would you?”
It was a typically deadpan moment in an evening infused with a sense of occasion: Hubbert confessed to being overwhelmed by the turnout, and the show felt like a celebration of his last few years and albums – 2009’s First & Last, 2012’s Thirteen Lost & Found (which won the Scottish Album of the Year Award) and last year’s Breaks & Bone.
The gig shone a light across those records, which Hubbert terms The Ampersand Trilogy. The songs therein have gradually dealt with, then drawn a line under, the musician’s parental bereavement, marital breakdown and chronic depression – from the raw grief of 2009’s Jumphang, through the warm epitaph of 2012’s For Joe, to the new-found love, and hope, of last year’s Dec 11 – and live, they underscored Hubbert’s evolution from local DIY insurgent to eloquent (and blackly comic) statesman of Scottish alt-pop.
The evening’s sense of ceremony was reinforced by a brilliant opening set from cult-pop poet laureate Aidan Moffat, and by its special guests: the Cairn String Quartet’s arrangements were as measured, sympathetic and dramatic as Hubbert’s songs (their pizzicato accompaniment to Bolt was particularly striking), and Emma Pollock’s moody recital of pop-noir torch-song Half Light was stunning.
And yet, for all that, Hubbert’s charms were most affecting when they were unadorned. Great is the man who sits alone in the spotlight, breaking hearts with a guitar, unleashing the loveliest dog’s dinner you’ll ever hear.
Related articles: RM Hubbert Interview(s): The Ampersand Trilogy