Stepping out of the cold St Andrews chill and into the quiet enclave of the Union foyer, I was unsure of what to expect. Having never attended a Music is Love event, nor heard of any of the artists featured prior to the announcement of it, I was both anxious to listen to the music and apprehensive of how it would sound. All of the artists – including the headline act, Meursault, had been described to me as ‘independent’ or ‘indie’, which was such a broad classification as to be practically meaningless. I knew that Meursault’s most recent album, Something for the Weakened (the wordplay is clever) had been short listed for the Scottish album of the year award; beyond that, I was going in blind (or deaf, perhaps.)
I walked into Venue 1 to find it transformed. Normally, the room resembles a warehouse – hollow, impersonal, and usually far too big for any event it hosts. On Thursday night, it became warm and intimate, conducive to close, whispered conversations and quality croons. Round tables and adjoining chairs were interspersed throughout the room, which itself was made smaller by the addition of a soundstage at the end opposite the main stage, which managed the light and sound throughout the night. Strands of fairy lights were interwoven between the pillars at the far left of the venue, emanating a dim, soft glow which somehow gave Venue 1 an aura akin to that of a cozy bar during an open mic night. When I arrived, the room was relatively full, with perhaps 30-odd people sitting and conversing. Throughout the evening, however, as one opening act passed to another, and Meursault’s debut neared, more people filtered in, crowding together either near the door or – more audaciously – right in front of the main stage to listen to what I came to realise was very good music.
Kicking off the night in true St Andrews style was one of our very own stock, Andrew Pearson. Chilled, informal and beautiful, the simple yet eclectic set list paved the way for a great night of music ahead. Pairing ballads for the Glasgow School of Art with home-cooked riffs and some top class banter, Pearson managed to tickle the musical taste buds (and funny bones) of all present.
Sunshine Social was the second opening act, after Andrew Pearson. Self-described ‘multi-instrumentalists’, the Glaswegian band took the stage with a raw passion and verve indicative of their love for and connection with their music. Six band members took the stage, each with an instrument in hand; some conventional – guitar, drums – others – such as the banjo and the glockenspiel – new to the St Andrews music scene. Their music proved to be multifaceted – Sunshine’s set ranged from soulful, plaintive songs to upbeat dance tunes, each characterised by the smooth lead vocals of Callum and the nimble accompaniment by the rest of Sunshine. The set lasted for about half an hour, during which I saw the audience both jump from their seats and groove and sit pensively to listen. The last song they performed, Athole, threw the crowd into an absolute frenzy: near the end of the song, each band member picked up a pair of drumsticks and hammered out six distinct complementary beats that shook the walls of Venue 1 and incited enthusiastic yells and applause.
Finally, at around eleven, the time had come for the feature presentation – Meursault, in all of his glory. Begun by Edinburgh singer-songwriter Neil Pennycook in 2006, the band has so far released three albums and received widespread acclaim both in Scotland and beyond, playing at renowned music festivals such as T in the Park and Glastonbury. The crowd was jostling forward, and even I came out from my nook under the soundstage to better listen to an established name in Scottish indie music. Meursault’s songs were practiced, professional – Pennycook’s voice was raw with emotion but his pitch was controlled – and though I was entranced by his visceral notes, I was aware that he had done this before, that he was able to continuously muster the necessary sentiment for his musical repertoire. I witnessed his face convulse with pain, joy, and sorrow as he ran through the set list, at times moving back and forth across the stage in his fervor.
Meursault’s music was quiet and assured, indicative of a band that had found its niche and which sought to flourish within it. After the last song, the crowd roared for an encore, and Meursault, despite its recent fame, decided to comply with the wishes of students at this small Scottish university. They played one last tune and departed, leaving the audience serene and ultimately satisfied. Upon exiting the Union, I encountered Pennycook conversing with students and other band members outside. He was kind enough to grant me a short interview, which you can find here.
As I listened to my footsteps echo across the Union parking lot, I revelled in the memory of the past few hours. St Andrews does not attract many famous – or even up-and-coming – musicians, much less those of the independent variety. Semi-prominent DJs occasionally come to headline large, expensive events, but they only serve to accompany your night, rather than define it. “Meursault” – the event – was the perfect opportunity to discover two burgeoning independent artists – and one relatively established one – for a negligible price. The venue was fittingly decorated, the audience was robust and supportive, and the music was sheer pleasure. Hats off to Music is Love.