We walk down into the stone basement of the Royal Oak; a tiny room, space for a couple of performers and a crowd of about thirty, all crammed in. The sets are unplugged, and we’re sat a matter of feet from the performers, standing with their guitars.
This show is exactly what it promises: good music for a fiver, played by talented musicians.
First, Louis Gilman. He’s a good singer, with a natural understanding of how to work a space like this – his playing is gentle, and he draws the audience in closer to him, sometimes so that we’re almost straining to listen. The songs he plays also benefit from a light hand: they’re old folk songs, the kind you used to hear around a campfire, and they’re darker and more gothic than much ‘folk’ music you’ll hear today. Someone observes that Edinburgh’s a good setting for songs like these, and a good day for them too; outside is all mist and drizzle and stone passages. Two highlights are Leave her Johnny and Queen Jane. Gilman doesn’t apologise for the sombre tone of his songs. “Music’s sweet and lovely” he says bluntly, “so if you just sing about sweet and lovely things you get an overload. You need to contrast it with the darker things in life”.
The second performer is James O’Hara-Knight. He has a different style to Gilman, more upright, and he strums at his guitar rather than picking individual strings. His voice is deep like oak, and his songs perhaps more recognisable. He sings about the human and mundane, he covers Dylan among others, and again it’s a good set. The audience clearly enjoy themselves; there’s a friendly atmosphere throughout, and each song is greeted by generous applause.
This show is exactly what it promises: good music for a fiver, played by talented musicians. Take it in with a pint one afternoon and you won’t be disappointed.