Rachel Sermanni, the ‘folk noir’ singer-songwriter from Carrbridge in the Scottish Highlands, made a very welcome return to Edinburgh’s Summerhall on 26th January, as part of the venue’s programme of contemporary arts events inspired by Robert Burns, and the spacious Dissection Room (Summerhall formerly housed the Royal Dick Veterinary School…) was pleasingly packed for the occasion. Starting the show in solo mode, Rachel treated us to a brand new song and then switched from guitar to mandolin for the mellow jauntiness of Lay-Oh.
Rachel was then joined by her long-time friend and collaborator, Jen Austin, who provided her unique brand of elegant and expressive piano accompaniment (although she was given free rein to provide a couple of beautifully-constructed solos). The next few songs were drawn from Rachel’s last album, 2015’s Tied To The Moon (which was shortlisted for that year’s SAY Award): the rhythmic and deliciously assertive Wine Sweet Wine (which, it transpires, was written following a night of drinking Bailey’s, not wine…); the mildly scathing Tractor Song, featuring the deeper end of Rachel’s impressive vocal range and some grungy guitar chords; and the epic, dream-like, Ferryman, which exemplified Rachel’s gifts as a storyteller in song. Then it was time for the first guest vocalist of the evening, Charly Houston, who provided feathery harmonies on the delicate Sleep (from Rachel’s debut album from 2012, Under Mountains.
Rachel Sermanni is a very natural, quietly charismatic and assured performer. Graceful and feline in her movement, she stalked the stage during the instrumental breaks and occasionally rose up on stocking-soled tiptoes, in alignment with the cadence and cascade of her melodies. The audience were also charmed by Rachel’s typically warm, witty and often left-field chat and banter between songs. At one point, she drew a delighted response from the audience as she told them of two notable events scheduled for the coming months: a new album and, even more significantly, the birth of her first child. The warmth and love in the room was palpable…
After another new song or two (which sounded great and whetted the appetite for the new album), Jamie Sutherland (of the Edinburgh band Broken Records) sang and duetted beautifully with Rachel on the achingly bittersweet Banks Are Broken (“…tonight is the last time I get to hold you fast and fast go the hours, the river does not wait though we throw rocks to dam our fate, the banks have been broken…). An audience sing-along was enjoyed on the choruses of Rachel’s recent charity single Lay My Heart (half of the proceeds of which support the Edinburgh-based BIG project). As a nod towards the Burns theme, Rachel delivered a unique and elegant take on one of the Bard’s lesser-known songs, Flow Gently, Sweet Afton. They say that time flies when you are enjoying yourself and that certainly seemed to be the case as Rachel Sermanni, all too soon it seemed, rounded off another mesmerising performance with her delicately beautiful cover of the Johnny Cash classic, A Thing Called Love.
As Rachel Sermanni had posted online the day before, this was her last Edinburgh show before her child is born. Once again, she had held the audience in her spell from the first note to the last and underlined her status as one of Scotland’s most singular and loved musical talents.
For more information on Rachel Sermanni, click here.