Last year saw the Edinburgh-based songwriter Jane Blanchard make quite a splash, on this website at least, with her fantastic EP, Still, Again right in the upper echelons of my favourite EPs of 2020. Released via the DIY-label, Gerry Loves Records, the EP was a beautiful juxtaposition of noise and melody, taking the singer-songwriter blue-print and running it through a wave of atmospheric distortion. Back in January last year, Jane took her guitar along to the beautiful settings of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall and recorded a five-track session, which after being streamed as part of Flourish Festival in New Brunswick, Canada, is receiving it’s online premiere here today.
The session has taken on a certain additional resonance since its recording, as the venue, like so many, has since been forced to close its doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, although it has found a new life in recent months as a walk-through testing centre. Jane’s set consists of four tracks from Still, Again, as well as an older favourite, Island, lifted from 2018’s ENEMY EP.
Although recorded entirely solo, Jane’s performance is particularly remarkable for the way it captures the intensity of the recorded versions. Like Still, Again the session opens with Missing Me, with its jangling, clatter of guitars and impassioned vocals that seem to crackle with distortion in all the right places. From there, Jane slides into the more quietly intense Still, Again with its wavering, percussive guitar-line, brought sharply into focus without the usually prominent drum beat. Probably the biggest departure is Settle, the original is full of crescendos of pounding drums and fizzing guitars, here it’s given a more sensitive, if no less wonderfully jarring, treatment.
The waltzing Island might be a throw-back to her previous recordings, yet it feels like a delightful re-imagining, showing the subtle changes in both her playing and singing; it is a song reborn, and a stand-out moment as a result. The set closes with both a change of instrument and a change of mood, as Jane takes to the venue’s grand-piano for the spell-binding Take Me Home. Originally recorded on guitar, here it is given a beautiful make-over, coming out with a touch of Regina Spektor, as the warm strains of hammers-on-strings fills the grand setting with a suitable sense of majesty. At a time when live-music, in the UK at least, has ground to a complete halt, this a timely reminder of just how powerful it can be, even in an empty hall, it manages to reach out and make a connection, like seeing a photo of an old friend, this is a reminder of just how much we need it in our lives.
Making this live session was one of the highlights of my life, and it was so special to share it with everyone involved. The Usher Hall is a beautiful beast, and it was magical to stand on that stage and perform. There was no audience – instead ghosts and memories of great gigs floating around. I’ve felt truly welcomed by the Scottish music community since moving here from Canada a few years ago. I’d like to thank Andy and Paddy at Gerry Loves Records, Mario Cruzado, Sneaky Pete’s and everyone at The Usher Hall who made this project possible, especially James Bruce.
Continue to support your local venues however you can, whenever you can. You can also donate to Music Venue Trust to support venues across the UK.Jane Blanchard on recording as Usher Hall