In truth, it wouldn’t have been altogether that surprising to see a few teary-eyes in the audience. The song was the astonishingly long ‘Gently’ – 9:44 on the EP of the same name and possibly longer live. It may not be the happiest track in the world, asking: “Am I the only one who is tired of it coming around,” and pushing on from there, but it is absolutely stunning.
And although it arrived halfway through Rachel’s set, it seems the perfect place to start when describing the artist’s performance, because although the song is lengthy, the lyrics and music are starkly moving and thoughtful throughout; painting pictures and taking the listener on a journey as they float into the ears.
To be able to not only hold but transfix an audience through such a lengthy selection takes particular talent. The numbers and aptitude of the band on stage at Summerhall – two fiddlers, a drummer, guitarist and pianist – no doubt helped, but at the centre of the beautifully sculpted Scottish ambience was the lyrical and vocal talents of Rachel Sermanni.
Sermanni’s literary inspirations are often evident. She speaks of coming up with the video for ‘Tractor’, based on Plato’s allegory of the cave, while living in a squat in Rotterdam, and performs ‘Ferryman’ solo, a song presumably inspired by the chapter of the same name from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha which saw the band leave Rachel to perform under the spotlight.
The two song are entirely different, ‘Tractor’ an upbeat, drum-lead pop number and ‘Ferryman’ a stripped-backed journey of a song with only the mandolin on the stage – but they sit side by side on Rachel’s 2015 ‘Tied to the Moon’, and the consistencies; the emphasis on the pondering lyrics and encapsulating melodies were evident. Further highlights included ‘Everything Changes’ and ‘Run’.
The magic of Rachel Sermanni’s work is in her ability to guide her listener into another world and out the other side through a particular strain of thought in the way that any great fable can.
An encore consisting solely of Johnny Cash's 'A Thing Called Love' - a song which Rachel seemed to decide to play there and then - closed the night in fitting fashion. The artist commented on how pure a love song the number was, and it slotted in perfectly with her set. The same raw emotion and pensive honesty runs throughout Sermanni’s storytelling. A really beautiful performance.
Stuart Kenny 5/5