James Mackenzie with support from Hospital Corner and Daniel Gunn at Tooth & Claw, Inverness

Saturday night saw James Mackenzie’s return to Inverness having now relocated to Germany. This was the third night of his Scottish tour having played in Leith and then Lower Largo the previous night, with the tour finishing off in Thurso on Sunday.

Opener Daniel Gunn produced a set which moved between smooth sounds and a more raucous Southern rock and blues. “Black Magic Woman”, for example, invokes a bit of a Walking Dead soundtrack feel. A rogue cable caused a little disruption in the set but it didn’t knock Daniel out of his stride. A voice that could fill a much larger room. For fans of Wesley Schultz and Vance Joy.

Chris Finn is the force behind his project Hospital Corner. On the face of it Chris has an indie folk/pop sound where he pitches his voice and mood of his songs with his guitar, first acoustic and then towards the end of his set when he switched to electric. It was subtle too, especially the mood created in ‘Sensory Pleasure’. As I said, on the face of it Chris has an indie folk/pop sound, but please check out his EP ‘The Itchy Eyes’ as you will find that there are many layers to Hospital Corner.

Also, there is clearly a strong rapport between Chris and James as there is a fair bit of banter between them through both sets. Something that has no doubt been missing with the curtailing of acts touring together over the last couple of years.

Through both sets the crowd grew and from James’s reaction as old friends arrived you sensed that this was going to be an emotional set. It was an unusually nervous James that took to the stage, as a lot had happened since his last show in Inverness, and he was now up in front of an audience that knew him well including members of his band the Aquascene, and musical collaborist Chris Gorman. No pressure then.

James has a lot of new songs which have not been heard in Inverness, and has released an album too. With a set predominantly based on his new material it was well received and interspersed with James’s usual banter, and those who wanted to hear the ‘hits’ weren’t disappointed either. The new material predominantly came from his album ‘The Honeymoon’ which he released last year with ‘Heart’s on Fire’ opening both the album and his set.

A lively start continued in this vein. He built it up to a singalong to ‘Shoulders’ and when James involves the audience, they more than respond. He did tweak his set a little by bringing in ‘Cap To Wear’ and if he could I’m sure he would have played his back catalogue all night. With “Closer’ he brought a song that he could not have gone further to write in his four days in Australia. An even shorter stay than Novak Djokovic, but clearly more enjoyable. The set drew to the most rousing end when he played an emotionally supercharged “Boat Song’. 

This was a different James to the one that had left Inverness; it was evident that he had grown further into the role and he’s been learning his craft. In Germany he has been playing to audiences where he hasn’t been afforded the goodwill of a home crowd. When taking the stage an artist needs a presence, and while James has never been short of that, it is clear that his presence has grown, whether it be the way he uses the stage, or holds a note, there is clear development. He may have stepped onto the stage a little nervous but he left it a lot taller.

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Chartered surveyor by day, music reviewer by night, and occasionally I get to use my camera. A strange mix, but one that I enjoy. A chance meeting in the queue for Bella in 2010 led to the opportunity to write for InvernessGigs; a far cry from the days of writing for a football fanzine back in the late 80s, early 90s. My interests lie between the mainstream, the emerging and the local. Increasingly I find that we have more than enough locally to entertain us to necessitate a trip south. I’m always happy to give a listen, whatever the genre. Inverness has a plethora of talent, all of which I am more than keen to write about. If it encourages just one person to make the effort to listen to some new music I’ll be happy. You can contact Frank direct via frankieboyfin@gmail.com