Music Matters couldn't be a better name for Edinburgh Carers Council's third annual concert, which supports their work in providing advocacy, support and information to those caring for people with mental health issues. Held at Edinburgh's Electric Circus, it was clear from the atmosphere and from remarks made by the organisers that music does matter a great deal to audiences and musicians alike. Not least to those directly affected by mental health issues.
For many, having a creative outlet is an essential coping mechanism for psychological struggles. Channelling difficult thoughts and experiences into making music is key for so many, whereas, listening to that music, for others, can be their salvation. And tonight seemed like a perfect encapsulation of this symbiotic relationship, as the audience fed off the passion and raw emotion exhibited by tonight’s performers.
Kathryn Joseph’s story really attests to the notion that out of dark times we can make beautiful things, if those destructive experiences are channelled into creating. After having lost a prematurely born son, Kathryn Joseph (real name Kathryn Sawers – her stage-name is a tribute to her late son), she immersed herself into music. It was a coping mechanism, as well as an act of self-preservation; knowing that the demons of loss and anguish could get the better of her if they weren’t taken to task, and remoulded into her gorgeous windswept and weather-beaten ballads.
Joseph takes to the stage with a broad smile, the excitement palpable as it crackles between artist and audience. She has spoken of her love of performing live, how this is the only time she feels truly uninhibited and unselfconscious. This is immediately evident, as her voice, which is gorgeous on record, seems even better suited to this environment. Here it is uncaged and prowling, as she sits at her piano with a sustained sidelong glower, both seductive and terrifying in equal measure.
Winner of this year’s Scottish Album of the Year Award for her album Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, Joseph’s music is robustly idiosyncratic and very Scottish, a continuance of the alt-folk lineage paved in recent years by the likes of Karine Polwart and King Creosote. The Aberdeen native has a voice that swoops and arcs around melodies with the vocal drama of a young Kate Bush, before bedding down into a hushed, crackly drawl, like Joanna Newsom’s if it were aged in oak whisky barrels.
Joined on stage tonight by producer-collaborator Marcus Mackay on percussion, who supplies added ambience as he runs a violin bow over the edge of cymbals and adds gentle, understated beats to Joseph’s piano-led songs. These songs are consistently darkly-tinged, giving a drama and melancholy which thrives when they are delivered live.
I can only speculate as to how much of a therapeutic pursuit making music is for the wonderful singer-songwriter headlining the event, but my guess would be, to a large extent. Out of loss, we can often find ourselves, find our voice, and, for a creatively-orientated individual like Kathryn Joseph, we are the joint beneficiaries of that quest. Without her songs, and without music in general, many of us would find life harder to cope with. Music matters.
Written by Tom Grayson