The Douglas Firs played their first ever set a month or so ago, in support of eagleowl at the latter’s EP launch. And just in case you didn’t think that the Edinburgh alt-folk scene was so incestuous that it is probably fucking itself, never mind a close relative, what is nominally a solo project was fleshed out by notable band-whores Owen Williams and Bart Owl.
The slightly less promiscuous Steve (Jesus H. Foxx) played guitar and the definitely-not-promiscuous-at-all-cos-her-fella-will-fucking-kill-me-if-I-say-so Emma Jane (St. Jude’s Infirmary) tackled vocal duties. I didn’t recognise the gentleman playing bass guitar, so it’s possible he’s the only chaste one amongst the lot of ‘em, although given the company he was keeping I doubt it.
Joking (and tortured analogies) aside, it’s really rather cool that, having worked away on the Douglas Firs as a solo recording project for so long, Neil was able to find so many people to offer encouragement and support for his band. Those first steps out of the bedroom are generally so daunting that Edinburgh has a (really rather good) open mic night named after them, and although Neil is hardly a blushing debutante as far as live performance is concerned, it must still take some nuts to give a new project its first outing.
I very much enjoyed the gig, although I confess that the extra instrumentation wasn’t always as mysterious and glacial as they more enigmatic demos I had already heard, but the extra subtlety will hopefully develop as the band get a little more practise, and as main man Neil Insh (Jesus H. Foxx – sl*t!) spends more time on the live arrangements.
Musically, this project is a winner, frankly. I am listening to the Haunting Through EP which I picked up on the night (acquire one here for the princely sum of 50p) and every single song is good. There are a couple of odd Jesus H. Foxxy moments – most notably the piano on Grow Old and Go Home – but presumably Neil wouldn’t be in that band if he didn’t like the sound. In general though it is far dreamier than anything you might already recognise, prefering a sort of drifting sonic mist to the rising rhythms of his other band.
Lovely harmonies and swells of vocals are used to cut through the clouds, which tend to be alternately smothering or meandering, but which then swirl into clarity around these vocal eddies whenever they gain enough momentum to break through.
I doubt this music will ever bother the mainstream. It’s not really insistent enough for that, but it sounds increasingly like Neil is working on an album I am going to enjoy immensely, and I am grateful to Owen, Bart, Stevie, Emma and their mysterious bass-playing friend for helping nudge this most ephemeral of projects that little bit closer to bearing fruit.