Twelfth Day @ Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 7 April

Live Review by Jonathan Rimmer | 13 Apr 2017

For a few reasons, Glasgow's Hug & Pint is the perfect venue for Scottish folk duo Twelfth Day to launch their new album. The room is cosy and intimate, with candles and seating provided so you can better appreciate harpist Esther Swift and fiddler Catriona Price’s expertly crafted melodies. 

On the other hand, it’s a dark basement, with a ceiling so low it makes Swift’s clarsach look almost comical. Weirdly, though, it’s a setting which seems to suit Twelfth Day to a tee. Although the pair are classically trained and perform tunes that are impressively cinematic, their lyrics and vocals suggest they come from more of a gritty folk tradition.

This is made more potent by the breadth of their output. Playing tonight with the addition of a drummer and double-bassist for only the second time ever, they cover everything from pronounced drinking songs to a folk arrangement of the Franz Schubert piece Romanze, sung in German. Surprisingly, none of this feels out of place. Despite their taste for unorthodox arrangements, they possess a unique sound that manages to be both ethereal and experimental. 

The journey Twelfth Day take you on has pretty parts, but it's also filled with syncopated rhythms, huge octave jumps and dramatic key changes. Face to Face, for example, kicks off with dissonant staccato on the fiddle before leading into a gorgeous sweeping melody that envelops the whole room.

There are more delicate moments: Another Phase in History is a touching tribute to a Syrian friend they’d met while travelling, while Gold and Swilling’s Celtic harmonies are effortlessly charming. Ultimately, it’s the band’s flair and imagination that make them infinitely more appealing than the majority of Scottish traditional acts currently attempting this kind of crossover sound.

The song Cracks is the climactic moment of the set precisely because it has all the elements that sum up their talent: quirky words, a foot-stomping beat and a technical tour-de-force on strings. It’s a rousing finish to a set that explores so many different emotions, leaving you unsure how to feel. But then, perhaps if Twelfth Day did opt solely for either sombre or dramatic they wouldn’t be half as interesting.