LIVE REVIEW: Aidan Moffat/RM Hubbert @ Cluny (11.12.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Don’t let the fairy lights, the festive jumpers or the sleigh bells fool you; no one here is feeling Christmassy. Quite right too – it’s still far too early for all that nonsense.

Nonetheless, Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert have made a Christmas record, and tonight kickstarts a short Christmas tour. It may seem an unlikely turn for two of Scotland’s most esteemed miserabilists, but any illusions of seasonal uplift prove short-lived. “I hate Christmas, Aidan hates people… it was fucking inevitable that we’d make a Christmas album,” chimes Hubbert, without so much as a flicker. Moffat is equally deadpan, introducing a clutch of songs about “that nice Christmassy feeling you get… that’s always tinged with fucking misery.”

There’s no real cheer among the supports either – though Jenny Reeve and Carla J. Easton do nevertheless illuminate the room with a pair of sterling sets. Performing songs from her band Strike the Colours, Reeve’s minimal solo offerings purvey an appropriately icy sense of wonder, while TeenCanteen frontwoman Easton’s striking voice and pitch-black humour make her an ideal precursor for Moffat and Hubbert’s perverse festivities.

Initially, the spectre of Scrooge is so prevalent that the duo appear reluctant to air Ghost Stories For Christmas’ considerable goods. Instead, tonight’s early stages are a further showcase of May’s terrific Here Lies the Body, whose highlights – the wondrous duet Cockcrow; the nostalgic purr of Zoltar Speaks, the reflective, regretful Quantum Theory Love Song – infuse warm, inventive instrumentals with Moffat’s vivid storytelling and flair for lyrical imagery.

Once the seasonal curtain does descend, the pair’s abounding wryness dials up further still. There are characteristic renditions of Mud’s Lonely This Christmas and Yazoo’s Only You (later taken to Christmas #1 by The Flying Pickets), but the standout is a future festive classic (in my mind, at least!) in the form of their own The Fir Tree. Set to Hubbert’s spidery guitar and a series of scene-setting samples, this spoken word tale of a tree’s topsy turvy lifespan finds Moffat in vintage form, flitting from starry-eyed naivety and cosy rejoice to cruel heartbreak and sadistic horror as its tragic timeline advances.

By now the jumpers are off, the paper hats are scrunched up and the descent is in full swing. What, after all, could be more Christmassy than a hearty rendition of Napalm Death’s You Suffer, or Rosalie Allen and The Black River Riders’ cautionary post-war rumination Hitler Lives? It’s hardly traditional dinner table fare, but tonight they’re a welcome antidote to the annual pre-festive grind. Can we do this every year?

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