After a three year hiatus, Scottish rockers Idlewild return with an acoustic tour of the Highlands and Islands. Buster Stonham makes the 570 mile journey to see them in action.
Five years on from their last album Post Electric Blues and after a three year hiatus, in which their members worked on various solo projects, Idlewild have reunited. Normally when a well established band announces a comeback it’s accompanied by a huge money-spinning tour, but Idlewild have decided to do things a bit differently. The Scottish rockers embarked on a low-key tour of a handful of tiny towns round the highlands and islands of their home country, treating those fans willing to travel the extra mile to intimate acoustic shows in some fairly unusual venues.
Tonight’s gig is in the highland town of Strathpeffer. Once a popular Victorian spa retreat, the town now feels like forgotten relic, complete with crumbling stately hotels and a long disused railway station converted into a museum. But at it’s centre stands tonight’s venue, the town’s beautifully restored pavilion. It’s a fitting venue for the restored Idlewild, who are sporting a few new faces in their line-up. Luciano Rossi (piano and bass) and Andrew Mitchell (guitar) have replaced the departing Allan Stewart and Gareth Russell, but founding members Roddy Woomble, Rod Jones and Colin Newton remain.
The band take to the stage and sit on a row of chairs, mirroring the seated crowd, accompanied by their instruments, with lead singer Woomble carefully clutching a cup of tea – Idlewild’s grungy beginnings look a long a long time ago now. Clearly not in any rush, they begin leisurely with ‘Little Discourage’ from 2000’s 100 Broken Windows. Hearing this normally barnstorming track sung as a tender acoustic ballad is a little jarring at first, but once the shock has warn off, the stripped back sound highlights the subtle melodies and distinctive songwriting that characterises Idlewild’s music. This continues throughout the first set, with the acoustic setup bringing a new perspective to old fan favourites and lesser-known album tracks.
Tonight’s intimate feel gives the opportunity for a bit of fun between the band and crowd, but one fan in particular was particularly keen to make his voice heard, to the visible annoyance of both the band and the rest of the crowd. Thankfully it doesn’t disrupt things too much, and the first of two sets include ‘You Held The World In Your Arms’ and the emotionally charged ‘Welcome Home’.
Midway through the first set Roddy casually reveals the band have been working on a new album set for release next year, taking the opportunity to preview a couple of new tracks. ‘So Many Things to Decide’ in particular stands out as a really promising song. It’s clear that new album will continue with the expansive melodious style that characterised Post Electric Blues, but whether it will be an acoustic album or return to Idlewild’s electric roots remains to be seen. Either way, it’s a welcome piece of news for many fans who thought they may never see another album from the band.
After a short tea break the second half of the show kicks off in a higher gear, with the slightly heavier ‘Too Long Awake’. With the show now in full swing, both band and crowd start to really lose themselves in tonight’s special atmosphere. ‘Love Steals Us From Loneliness’ and ‘Take Me Back to the Islands’ are particular highlights, with Woomble visibly smiling throughout the latter.
The second set closes with the familiar melody of ‘Scottish Fiction’ building to a wall of sound – an impressive feat given the acoustic setup. Woomble and co. are given a deserved standing ovation as they leave the stage and soon return for an encore, covering Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’. New Boy Andrew Mitchell takes over on vocals for the final track an almost manages to steal the show with his impressive vocal range.
After the show a few of the band come out to mingle with the departing crowd, signing merchandise and taking photos. This all adds to the intimate atmosphere of tonight’s show, and coupled with the fact that the band chose to reveal their new album on this tour gives the impression that these highland shows were something Idlewild wanted to do, not just for themselves, but to give something back to the fans. It really did feel like a special opportunity that won’t be coming along again anytime soon. The fact that I had to travel 570 miles from London to see it only makes it more satisfying.
Image by Alan Taylor