Whatever Gets You Through The Night is a wide-spanning arts project: an album, a film, a stage show and a book have all come together under the umbrella heading of ‘somewhere in Scotland, between the hours of midnight and 4am.’ The collaboration is the brainchild of actor and director Cora Bissett, with several musicians, writers and film producers taking part including Withered Hand, Swimmer One and Eugene Kelly. On this evening at Summerhall, the 50-minute film was screened before three of the musicians performed short sets.
Seafieldroad, Rachel Sermanni and Bigg Taj were the live performers and they all shone in front of the crowd. However, the focus of the night was the film, a thing of imperfect beauty directed by Daniel Warren. It is made up of songs written especially for the project by a number of Scottish musicians, with footage of live and acoustic performances and of the songs’ inspiration. Between the songs are short clips: we see music rehearsals and the view of choppy waters from a ferry. Particularly effective are the scenes shot on the road, speeding along in the darkness as rainstorms hang over the mountains, or as the low-hanging sun lights up sheets of cloud. The end of the film is a montage from CCTV, infrared and police cameras set to Talkingmakesnosense’s ‘Set In Negative’. Deer lurk in the woods, riots light up the screen, the stars sit idly in the sky. These shots broaden the horizons of the film beyond the music itself.
The filming is soft and beautiful in natural scenery, blurry and neon-filled in a club scene. A cheery song called ‘Chips and Cheese’ is accompanied by drunken shots of late-night Glasgow. Occasionally in the middle of songs the film shows parts of the live show’s performances, drawing the strings of the project together cleverly.
Meanwhile, the settings of the songs vary: a simple rehearsal space, a joke shop, a nightclub, a chapel, a dark conservatory. Disappointingly though, it isn’t always set in the wee hours. This might seem insignificant, but the foundation of the project is its nocturnal setting: scenes in broad daylight detract from the feel of the film. Of course, an entire film in grainy darkness wouldn’t work either, but one scene shot in the middle of the day by a lake makes it difficult to buy into the premise wholly.
Not all of the songs are gems, but there are several standout numbers. Swimmer One’s kaleidoscopic entry is an early highlight, while Bigg Taj and Wounded Knee beatbox together in a nightclub, providing a fresh view of 21st century Scotland. However, it is Rachel Sermanni’s simple and sweet ‘Lonely Taxi, 2am’ which leaves the biggest impression: her voice flits from vulnerable to full-bodied as she sings about a late-night journey home through the Highlands.
This collage of songs and images shows Scotland in its darkest hours: the product is a sweet, fond depiction of the nation. Although it’s beautifully filmed and recorded, it’s not a masterpiece; asking so many artists to work independently is a gamble which gives mixed results, a problem shared by precedents of the project like the film Paris, Je T’aime. Nevertheless, part of the joy of the film is its homemade, patchwork quality. At its best, this is a poignant tribute to the land of the brave.