The Twilight Sad

HARRY WRIGHT is witness to The Twilight Sad’s maelstrom of furious noise, and chats to singer James about redemption.

Arab Strap Gig James Graham No One Can Ever Know R.M. Hubbert redemption Scotland The Portland Arms The Twilight Sad

“Scottish, noisy, miserable… but they’re honest songs. They are what they are.” This is James Graham’s response when asked to describe his band, The Twilight Sad, to potential new listeners. This shrugging response, this strange negation of anything special about his music, seems curiously apt.

Whilst The Twilight Sad are a very special band, they write songs cryptic in their mundanity, lines of lost innocence like “The kids are on fire in the bedroom” overlaid by ferocious electric noise which muffles and blurs them out as it adds fire and bite. There’s a real honesty to this process, an acceptance that life isn’t perfect or even comprehensible, and that music should show the blurs and the joins. It’s an approach familiar to one of The Sad’s biggest influences (and my favourite band), Arab Strap.

I ask Graham about the band’s new album, ‘No One Can Ever Know’, which bears distinct Strap-esque stylings – the layers of guitars have been peeled away and replaced with bare, sparse drum machines. “We had the songs first and only then went into the studio to do the production”, he tells me. “It just didn’t make sense to have these noisy guitars over the top of them”.  I was concerned as to whether this pared-down approach would work live, but the band sound as furious as ever, Graham coming close to tears at points, animating himself around the stage seemingly caught in a whirlwind created by his own music.

The set is a mix of old and new material, with R.M. Hubbert, a genuinely intriguing songwriter, supporting. Hubbert is, to put it lightly, a big lad, but his virtuosic acoustic guitar work and his delicately heartbroken lyrics belie his stature. “I wrote my first lovesong at 35, for my wife, and she left me at 37”, he tells the crowd. Yet he plays it anyway. “Guys – get hold of your girl, or your guy, and tell them you love them”, he adds at the end. “Oh – and wash your arse. Women like a man to have a clean arse”.

Jarring, but somehow, that’s the fundamental message of the night – the possibility of beauty and happiness from within the deepest heartbreak. “We pair off in the violence”, Graham sings on ‘Don’t Move’. I ask him about the redemptive potential of his music, the sense of extraordinary uplift which comes from watching bands at their best, and especially a show as emotive and loud and tonight’s. “Redemption is always there”, he says, “but you have to search for it – that’s what our music is about.” Indeed, behind The Twilight Sad’s melancholia and feedback, there are beautiful, memorable melodies that you go away into the night singing. Surely that’s what any band should be seeking to attain.

“I haven’t even had me dinner the day”, says Graham, somewhat surprised, as he heads back inside to get ready for his set. His disarming amicability is part of what makes The Twilight Sad important: something positive will always exist. But No One Can Ever Know.