The author's blind drawing of This is the Kit, in the dark Pleasance Theatre.
When This is the Kit, “the musical adventure of Kate Stables and friends” finally take to the stage at Edinburgh’s Pleasance Theatre, the audience have been thoroughly prepared for a night of banter, beautiful melody and brass instruments.
Brighton-based performers, Emma Gatrill and Marcus Hamblett, begin the evening with a synth-backed harp and guitar selection. Lyrically, the songs are typical of romantic British folk but occasionally they break from this more traditional style (delivered with Gatrill’s goosebump-inducing voice) to delve into layered instrumentals.The two musicians almost seem to be improvising, bouncing sounds back and forth and reacting instantly to what the other is playing.
The odd intermission between songs allows for jokes, and friendly chat with the audience and Emma Gatrill even hand-delivers a postcard to someone in the crowd (sent by an audience member at a previous show). Watching Gatrill and Hamblett perform is like being amongst friends -albeit incredibly talented ones- and this relaxed atmosphere continues for the rest of the evening.
A blind drawing of Hamish Hawk.
Hamish (“as in Hamish”) Hawk (“as in the bird of prey”), the second act of the night, is best described as the kind of person that mums love. While his sweet one-man-one-guitar tunes initially come off as hokey, his charm onstage -not limited to between-song banter- becomes endearing. He shares stories about dreams in which he gets sushi with Graham Norton, and while performing he smiles and nods to audience members. He seems to have fun onstage by himself, which is in turn generously reciprocated by the audience.
Kate Stables and company reach the stage, and immediately launch into their set with “Two Pence Piece”, from This is the Kit’s latest album Moonshine Freeze. In an interview, Kate Stables has said that with this latest record, it’s hard to know what to take the credit for, as it has been such a collaborative effort. This collaboration is evident particularly with “Two Pence Piece”, in the vocal harmonies provided by Rozi Plain, Kate’s friend and a successful musician in her own right, and in the percussive effects added by This is the Kit touring regulars, Neil Smith and Jamie Whitby-Coles. Emma Gatrill and Marcus Hamblett return as the horn section which adds incredible depth to the sound produced by a band of just four members.
Their set varies from songs like ‘Nits’, a track from the 2015 album Bashed Out which is banjo-based, but punctuated with Sufjan Stevens-esque horns, to ‘Moonshine Freeze’ the latest album’s title track. The performance of ‘Moonshine Freeze’ in particular demonstrates the benefits of the band being on a “neverending tour”. It is tight, well-rehearsed (not to mention performed by musicians of astounding talent) and is met with audible delight from the crowd. It is clear why Aaron Dessner and Guy Garvey are This is the Kit fans- occasionally songs are in some way reminiscent of both The National and Elbow.
Nothing is lost in the transition from record to live show. The sound of the 7-piece group is full and clear, with the bonus of being able to witness in person the fun that each member has as they interact with one another. The feeling of being amongst friends is encouraged by the fact that the musicians are indeed all friends, to which Kate remarks “I’m feeling very spoiled”.
Towards the end of the show, all musicians but Kate take a seat on stage. They soak up the heat from the spotlights (in what is an admittedly very cold theatre- ‘Cold and Got Colder’ is later dedicated to the audience) and Kate performs a cover of “Gone Again” by Morning Star. The lullaby-like song signals the end of the set, as when Kate finishes, the rest of the band rejoin her for the final song and well-anticipated encore.
The show’s lowkey grand finale comes in the form of the title track from Bashed Out. The National-like guitar and horn sounds combined with shimmering drums echo in the theatre and at the end, the band are visibly delighted by the energetic applause from the crowd.
In our interview, Kate Stables said that she has been touring for over a decade. When touring is your full-time job, you tend to get quite good at it. This is the Kit are definitely good at it.