The sold out Leith Theatre roars like it’s probably not done since AC/DC graced the stage in 1976 at the sound of the campaign name so close to the hearts of so many in Leith, trying to fend off the gentrification of the area, and in particular the controversial £50m development which would unhouse many current tenants, including music venue Leith Depot.
Kayus Bankole bounds across the stage flashing a cheeky grin to the crowd and his bandmates. Alloysious Massaquoi stands steely, ready to wow the crowd once more.
Hidden Door renovated the formerly abandoned, breathtaking old Leith Theatre for their music, spoken word, theatre, dance and arts festival last year, and they’ve been reaping the benefits ever since. So has the local community and arts scene.
The venue hosted Anna Meredith, Idlewild, Kathryn Joseph and more for Hidden Door in 2017. Cabaret Voltaire regulars Fly Club brought a New Year’s Eve party to the venue. And for 2018, Hidden Door were back - as well as renovating and taking over the State Cinema, due for demolition across the road, for one last hurrah. This year the likes of Sylvan Esso and Submotion Orchestra had already headlined the main stage of the theatre earlier in the preceding days.
But if there was ever to be an Edinburgh moment, it was to be Young Fathers, the Leith locals and experimental, Mercury-Award winning trio who sold out the theatre months in advance.
People were draped over the balconies on all sides, looking down on the stage and the packed out dance floor, which was just as it should have been - a pit of sweat and dancing, with ticket holders competing for the best views of the local heros. The view of the rest of the theatre, from both the floor and we imagine the balconies, was a sight to behold as well.
To say Young Fathers have been a revelation on the Scottish music scene (and beyond) seems a notable understatement. For Edinburgh to have produced a group of such widely-acclaimed talent, and in a field like hip hop, is a huge source of pride for a city too-often accused with lacking a music or arts scene. This latter point is also something the very existence of Hidden Door, with its exceptional variety of performers, works to disprove.
Young Fathers latest and third studio album Cocoa Sugar received five stars from the Guardian - and much more importantly, it’s original, it’s unique, and it’s infinitely listenable.
The group open with ‘Wire’ from the new record. A frantic mix of drums and keys. The wonderfully Scottish opening line screams: “oh you fucker I can dance”, and the Leith crowd are up for the task.
‘The Queen is Dead’ followed from Tape Two and the deep basslines of ‘Feasting’ from Shame, before the irresistible ‘Toy’ from Cocoa Sugar. It’s always a credit to any band when the crowd are looking forward to the new stuff almost more than the old favourites.
‘Wow’, ‘GET UP’, ‘Tremolo’ follow. It’s wall to wall hits with Young Fathers, and it continues throughout the night. It’s clear to see how much they’re enjoying themselves too.
“My brother is down there on my right,” says Kayus Bankole. “My sister is down there on my left. Tonight you’re all our family.”
The atmosphere throughout is absolutely electric. Three Leith locals on stage commanding thousands of Edinburgh locals (and no doubt many who had travelled for the show) through waves of bouncing and sweat.
Nearly every song the group perform is book-ended by a wall of appreciative screaming, often for 10-30 seconds at a time, from the crowd before the Young Fathers get back to their setlist. This only increases as the concert goes on.
It’s hard to list highlight moments in a gig that is filled with bangers and which each get an insane reaction from the crowd, and in a show which seems to flow so seamlessly through the hour set, but single ‘In My View’ and ‘Holy Ghost’ from the new record are predictable, particular crowd-pleasers, older songs ‘I Heard’ and ‘Low’ very welcome additions. 'Lord' is simply euphoric.
The performance itself is hypnotic. It’s crazed yet measured. Incredibly energetic and passionate. The Young Fathers are in control. They’re such a special band, and you only have to look at their limited media appearances to confirm that.
After winning the Mercury Prize Young Fathers were labelled publicity shy by many, but only because they they refused to speak to right-leaning newspapers like The Sun, Daily Mail, The Times and The Telegraph because, they told NME, “There are certain publications that are cross-the-line evil to us because of their Islamophobia and homophobia.”
They finish on ‘Shame’ from 2015’s stunning White Men are Black Men Too record. Sensing the end of something special, the crowd pushes forward. Leith Theatre shakes like it’s not done in years to the sound of three locals who’ve returned to rock a breathtaking venue that was likely shut to the public when they were growing up in Leith.
Between the Save Leith Walk campaign, the emphasis that Hidden Door places on the importance of spaces and the work that the festival puts in to innovation, creation and renovation, and the fact that this is, in Young Fathers, one of the most exciting, innovative, experimental bands in the UK, in Europe, and beyond, right now, this was always sure to be a concert for the ages. Edinburgh knew it. That’s why it sold out so far in advance. Tickets to this gig were like gold dust. And in no way, shape or form, did Young Fathers disappoint.
This was a gig for Edinburgh. A gig for Leith. It will be marked as a moment in time for both.