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Live Review: Sean McGowan & Brand New Friend @ Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 25/02/19


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Seán McGowan and Brand New Friend have debut albums released last year in common. Both Xtra Mile Recordings signees, the 26-year-old Southampton songwriter and his band has joined forces with the Northern Ireland pop-punk upstarts on his UK tour.

Brand New Friend via Partisan PR

Although the crowd is rather reserved on a Monday night in Edinburgh, McGowan manages to coax some emotion out of the audience with a combination of open-handed charm and towering riffs that outsize the venue several times over. Whether from the intensity of the dynamics or the heart-rending lyrics, by the end of the night tissues are without a doubt being applied to cheeks.

But before Seán and co. tear it up with their combination of authentic rock ‘n’ roll matched with the testimony of childhood heartbreak and social consciousness, Amy Hill has the room holding its breath with her solo acoustic performance and Brand New Friend play a rip-roaring set of two-minute punk tunes. No-one dares move a muscle during Hill’s mesmerising show opener. Her sparse style is reminiscent of other country-influenced alternative acts such as Angel Olsen, particularly her album of two years ago, Phases.

Brand New Friend then take to the stage with a confidence that belies their experience. They don’t take long with introductions before launching into their first tune. It’s clear that they have their act well-honed and thus can afford to have some fun as well. Particularly endearing are the brother/sister harmonies provided by siblings Taylor (guitarist) and Lauren (keys). Frontman Taylor informs us several times that a couple of the songs were inspired by a former girlfriend now based in the city. His passion is evident in the guitar string which pings off and gives him the excuse to play the main act’s gorgeous Fender Mustang.

An emphasis on personal biography is another thing the three acts hold in common with Amy and Seán going into quite specific detail with tales respectively of a Bumble match who followed her to Cuba and a devastating Waverley Station breakup. It’s these humorous but slightly tragic narratives that help to win over the crowd who are less up for the mosh pit that Brand New Friend admirably try to generate.

McGowan makes sure that the suspension of disbelief is disrupted often enough by commenting on the band’s performance as they go along. “We’re getting good at that bit, aren’t we?” he comments during the last song’s guitar doubling. There are many moments where he is isolated before the rest of the group kick in, and in one of these, he semi-ironically compares himself to Pavarotti, which he then qualifies as the Brian Blessed impersonation.

The emotional peak of the set comes with the story of McGowan’s best friend’s mum’s death, a woman who inspired him to pursue music professionally. This is followed up by harrowing tales of alcoholism on ‘Off The Rails’ and the unwanted pregnancy of a friend by a physically abusive partner. Despite this, McGowan has an infectious sense of humour that licences the indulgence in these dark themes and allows the audience to experience these songs with qualified empathy, rather than mere morbid curiosity.

Son Of The Smith is the title of Sean McGowan’s debut album, released in 2018. His support band, Brand New Friend plan to release more music this year following on from the latest single ‘I Was An Astronaut’, which dropped in January.

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