Our amazing review by Get Out Glasgow!


Tonight’s headliners were billed as the ‘first classical ensemble’ to headline King Tut’s. And while we could moan about semantics of what counts as ‘classical music’ and while we could point out that Icelandic experimental, post-classical string group Amiina played here in 2007, it almost feels rude. As, for the vast majority of the night, Cairn String Quartet absolutely deserved the hype that they have received in certain quarters of late. Playing to a nearly sold-out, diverse and vocal crowd, the classically trained four-piece – successful session musicians in their own right – delivered a confident and intelligent selection of instrumental covers and vocal collaborations.

Opening proceedings (and attempting to calm down a rather rowdy crowd) were the thoughtful, delicate and sonorous group, Quickbeam. On a visible high after recently releasing their excellent eponymous début record, they presented an undulating, instrument swapping set utilising everything from trombone to hand-pumped organ to – acting as a precursor for the headliners – a dramatic string section. At times reminiscent of mid-period, cinematic Sigur Rós or early, whispery Mogwai with exceptional modern folk melodies, it’s not difficult to imagine them headlining Tut’s this time next year. A particular highlight of their set was the devastating, guitar pounding ending of ‘Immersed’, suitably flooring the audience with its noisy beauty.

But, as valiantly as Quickbeam attempted to simmer doon the crowd, the first few songs of the Cairn Quartet’s headline set were marred by an overly chatty audience. Once calm was explicitly asked for, however, more respect was given to the performers. Tonight’s concert served both to show off the skills that this quartet have in re-arranging pop music in an interesting way and also to present the best of emerging and established Scottish musical talent. The covers played varied greatly in source, time period and degree of hipster-credibility. This was a setlist that veered from versions of songs by Chvrches to Rihanna, effectively tied together not only by the unifying timbre of the instruments but also a confidence in performance and arrangement. This was an act of unification that was extended to the evening’s collaborators. Primarily providing vocals over string versions of their own songs, you suspect that these indie semi-superstars were the main reason that a lot of the crowd was in attendance. The collaborations ranged from Dundee’s noisenik agitators Fat Goth to Kid Canaveral, Prides and the ‘secret’ collaborators of the evening, Young Fathers. At GOG, we’re always excited to see Scottish hip hop reaching a wider audience so the appearance of these three MCs was a particular treat. The biggest cheer of the evening was reserved, however, for recent Scottish Album of the Year winner, RM Hubbert, doing his post-flamenco thing to sounds of rapturous approval.

The whole evening, covers and collaborations, hinged on coherence. It hinged on the quartet making these songs as much theirs as their collaborators’. Luckily, through their own inimitable style – effortless and timeless – they stamped their own identity on the evening. There was absolutely no chance of a revolving door of (male) collaborators using the all-female quartet as a backing band. This was a democratic experience of shared ownership: collaboration in its most natural form.

There’s something wonderfully disruptive about filling the Tut’s stage with acoustic instruments, blowing away the old, fusty lad-rock with sheer joy. What separates Cairn String Quartet from your bargain bin ‘String Quartet Versions of a Popular Band’ CDs you buy in sub-par service stations on the M74 near Carlisle because you forgot to bring the converter for your MP3 player and you can only get Capital FM on the radio is that the Cairn Quartet have a tangible sense of vivacity in their performance. These are not dead-eyed session performers, these are women who love what they do. There is a lack of pretension and a willingness to collaborate not just with the musicians and singers in this one-off event but with the audience themselves. The final songs of both the main set and the encore initiated a mass sing-a-long, firstly with that newest addition to the canon of universally adored Scottish pop songs, ‘Take Me Out’. The song, up there now with ‘Real Gone Kid’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ in the holy trinity of Scottish pop, had the crowd quietly (and respectfully) mouthing and singing along, smiles on everybody’s faces. The evening itself then ended with the inescapable ‘na-na-na-na’s of ‘Hey Jude’, the voices rising to a full-throated holler.

This evening proved that the real joy in the Scottish music scene at the moment is collaboration, a theme underlined just last week with RM Hubbert’s SAY win, Thirteen Lost And Found, which features just about every Scottish musician and their Da. So whether this collaboration is between musicians, bands or even between an act and audience as a unified whole, it’s time to get involved!

Quickbeam don’t have any Glasgow shows planned at the moment but you should definitely check out their new record

Cairn String Quartet also don’t have any Glasgow shows in the near future. They do, however, form part of the Electric String Orchestra who are playing with GOG favourites Stanley Odd in Edinburgh on the 2nd of August. Tickets here.