Gig Review + Photography by John Bentley

Isle of Eigg resident Johnny Lynch has been performing as Pictish Trail since the early 2000’s. He describes himself as ‘svelt, intelligent, adorable balladeer, trapped inside the body of an oversized, oft-bearded folk ogre’ and his musical genre as ‘lo-fi scmaltz’. A larger-than-life figure, Lynch is co-organiser of the Howlin Fling Festival on Eigg, he has apparently played at every single Green Man Festival and is head of Lost Map records (he previously ran Fence Records). Clearly unmissable.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

It’s all very economical tonight with the support act coming from Monoganon (aka John B. McKenna), who is also Johnny Lynch’s right-hand man and co-band member in Pictish Trail. Monoganon has been making music for some years as a band, but tonight main-man McKenna does his one man show with the help of guitar, keyboards, electronics and a selection of outrageous wigs.

Monoganon, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

Monoganon, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

It’s an unpredictable, theatrical, genre-defying, experimental, eccentric and existential set. Starting out solo with a recitation, read from a piece of paper, the music builds-up and develops until, towards the end of the set, he’s assisted with filling out the sound by Lynch. His final, virtual prog-rock, number sees him singing, inexplicably hooded, standing on a chair amongst the audience. Interesting stuff.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

Pictish Trail has been performing as a full band until recently, but on this tour it’s just Lynch and McKenna playing guitars and all sorts of electronics. The economy of the reduced band might be something to do with being Scottish, Johnny explains, but it also enables him to try new arrangements of songs. Both men sport an incongruous combination of boiler suits and facial-glitter, with McKenna modelling yet another wig and Lynch wearing his trademark peaked cap. With the cap and beard he looks rather Fidel Castro-like. Appropriately there’s a laid-back cabaret / night club atmosphere at the Trades Club, with the floor laid-out with chairs and tables (plus candles) for punters.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

Pictish Trail kick off with a couple of older songs from the acclaimed ‘Secret Soundz Vol 1 & 2’ albums, ‘I’ve Been Set Upon’ and the rather splendid ‘Michael Rocket’, which must be one of Lynch’s best songs. There are a few compositions from the most recent LP, ‘Future Echoes’, which Lynch describes as a pop album about death. With the stripped-down line-up the structure of songs is more laid bare, defined by Lynch’s strong, clear vocals.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge

Pictish Trail gigs are notable for jaunty banter with the audience. Before launching into ‘Dead Connections’, Lynch asks if we have any dead celebrities living locally. A strange question, but then death is the album theme. He tells how when he asked the same question in Sheffield, Joe Cocker was mentioned: Lynch thought the responder said Jarvis Cocker and was shocked to hear of Jarvis’s ‘premature death’. He expressed relief when reassured it was ‘only’ Joe, but apparently there were some of Joe’s friends / relatives in the audience. A cringe moment. A true story? Well maybe, but a good one anyway.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

I’ve not been to a Pictish Trail gig before, but research suggests they can be pretty lively affairs. Lynch explains that Hebden Bridge is the last gig of this tour before they return to Glasgow and Edinburgh for one off shows. He’s driving all the way back tonight and so this is not a typical gig. If tonight represents the ‘restrained’ version of a Pictish Trail gig I’m certainly up for seeing the full band in party mode. The last Howlin Fling Festival on Eigg apparently ended with everyone heading down to the beach for an after-Festival party.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

Also revisited tonight is ‘Columns’, a song by Silver Columns, Lynch’s former electro-band collaboration with Fridge bassist Adam Ilhan. Silver Columns were ‘electro-spandex’ he tells us. ‘Of Course You Exist’ (another song from ‘Secret Soundz’) goes in a different, heavier, direction, with some tasty buzz guitar sounds from McKenna. There’s some real diversity in the set. Meanwhile ‘After Life’ from Future Echoes finishes with a rather epic ending. A big sound produced by just two guys.

Pictish Trail, Hebden Bridge, 13-12-17

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