The Lemon Tree is astoundingly quiet. Five young ladies stand onstage playing beautiful alt-folk tunes, as a sold-out 200-strong audience gathers around small candlelit tables. It is quiet, peaceful, civilised; the crowd is silent, soaking in the music. Not bad for a venue that once boasted an audience so loud that Mogwai didn’t return to the Granite City for over a decade.
Rewind an hour or so, and Aberdeen-based singer-songwriter Cara Mitchell has just taken to the stage. Balancing her soft vocals with delicate guitar work, it wasn’t long before Cara captured the crowd’s attention as she played through an impressive set. It would be easy to compare her to Katie Sutherland, or fellow Aberdonian Amber Wilson, however Cara has a unique delivery to her vocals that can’t quite be pinned down. Despite a couple of technical difficulties, Cara coped well, playing tracks like Little Birdies, new song What I Do In My Dreams, and a cover of Let’s Buy Happiness’ Fast Fast.
Steven Milne, lead singer of The Little Kicks and solo artist in his own right, was next to grace The Lemon Tree stage. Meandering his way through a set comprised mostly of songs taken from his superb debut album, Chasing Phantoms, Steven proved to be a popular choice of support with the crowd. Acoustic arrangements of tracks like set opener Being Human, Born in a Different Time and Best of Times sounded as fresh and interesting as always, and certainly kept the crowd happy.
But the act everyone was there to see was Rachel Sermanni. Too many reviews of Rachel seem to focus on her ‘young age’. So let’s acknowledge this, but move past it and never speak of it again. Because however old she is, her song-writing talent and stage presence is, quite simply, fantastic.
Taking to the stage with just an acoustic guitar for company, Rachel opened her set with a heartfelt solo rendition of Eggshells. Before long, she was joined onstage by a stripped-down band – a quartet of extremely talented ladies – who took on fiddle, piano and backing vocal duties. While on her own Rachel proved to be a captivating performer, with her band her set soared to new heights. Together they created an enigmatic and engaging performance that enthralled the audience for the best part of an hour.
Lilting waltz Bones was an early set highlight, the urgent pizzicato strings offset nicely against Rachel’s increasingly-energetic guitar strumming. Rising and falling, the song is beautifully constructed and set a precedent for the rest of the show: from the quirky Pirate Song to the gorgeous harmony-driven Little Prayer, the set ducked and dived through a range of emotions and sounds. Throughout, Rachel was a delight to watch; her natural charm winning the audience over instantly as she chatted between songs.
Closing the show with another solo moment – Song to a Fox – Rachel Sermanni left the stage with a ‘thank you’ and a big grin on her face. She was, quite rightly, mobbed at the merch stand afterwards (and was even coaxed into signing a couple of enthusiastic fans’ chests). And then she was off: an early morning flight to London awaited her, to allow for an appearance on Radio 2, before flying back up north to play Inverness that night. All in a day’s work for one of Scotland’s most exciting new singer-songwriters.
Rachel Sermanni’s new EP, Black Currents, is out on the 6th of February.