Hidden Door Festival @ Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 25 May

Hidden Door deliver a night that is timely, memorable and creative, with a star-making set from Dream Wife

Live Review by Max Sefton | 30 May 2018

Last May, the team behind the Hidden Door arts festival opened up the Leith Theatre for the first time in almost three decades. The event, taking place in a part of town with huge gigging potential, was a resounding success and they’re back this year bigger and better. Outside, dancers and performers weave in and out of the crowd, while round the next corner you might stumble across spoken word or an array of artistic treats. With events spread over two weekends, the organisers have also packed in a host of musical treats from Sylvan Esso’s bouncy pop burbles to Young Fathers’ unpredictable shapeshifting.

Inside the grand old theatre, the opening night’s first performer is Gwenno, the Welsh-born, former Pipettes frontwoman turned Cornish language advocate. It takes some serious devotion to try and make Cornish electro-pop happen, but she’s stuck with it and released a pair of solo albums that the non-Cornish can still comfortably enjoy, delivering mellifluous melodies over gentle synth swoops and insistent drums.

With her usual partner in crime Cat Myers off drumming for Mogwai in Paris, Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale plays a short solo set drawn from the band’s two records. Opening with 2014 single Bud followed by Super Rat, Myers’ absence means there is a slight loss of dynamism. Thankfully though, Tweeddale has a pleasant voice and a charming stage presence that enlivens her simple songs. It’s also a chance for some rarer material to receive an airing, with the excellent Kissing on You a particular highlight.

“Gender roles are bollocks,” yells frontwoman Rakel Mjöll midway through Dream Wife’s set. It’s the kind of statement that typifies the fiery young band, whose set tonight is a real star-making turn. It’s rare to see a band who look like they love to be on stage as much as Dream Wife do and this energy feeds through to the audience, who sing and bounce appreciatively. On tracks like Fire and Hey Heartbreaker, they accelerate and accelerate, ringing every ounce of drama out of their riotous garage punk.

Guitarist Alice Go eggs the audience on, while Mjöll pogos around the stage. She’s never understated, all quivering energy and dramatic eyerolls as she hollers out the trio’s feminist anthems. FUU is dedicated to “all the bad bitches in the house,” ripping through a jagged riff at neck snapping speed and throwing in a verse of the Spice Girls' Wannabe for good measure, while closer Let’s Make Out is a snappy singalong from a band who already seem like superstars in the making.

Finally it’s time for the night’s headliner, Nadine Shah. Clad in a professional looking black outfit and aided by her band of studio pros, she lacks the anarchic energy of Dream Wife but she’s just as passionate in her own way, attacking political malaise on Yes Men and casting a haughty eye over a pretentious lover on Fool. Shah has a keen sense of justice, attacking Islamophobia, the response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the “fascist in the White House”.

There’s touches of both PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux to her stage antics, contorting into awkward shapes and swaying to the rumbling basslines that underpin her songs. While on tracks like the bitterly sardonic Holiday Destination, she roars like Patti Smith over brooding post punk rhythms in a voice that seems scarcely believable when contrasted to her broad Geordie speaking voice, inveighing against bodies in the water and walls in the desert. It might lack some of the last band in town camaraderie of Dream Wife, but it’s a strong set and one that highlights her grit and vocal talent.

Once again, Hidden Door have delivered a night that is timely, memorable and creative. Long may they bring new life to Leith.

Hidden Door runs until 3 Jun. More details at hiddendoorblog.org