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Late December is a time for looking back on the past and making plans for the future. As Goodbye Mr Mackenzie wrap up their 2019 comeback tour with a wonderful romp through 16 of their finest songs from their days of yore, it’s uncertain if they’ll choose to do so again. However, the future is in good hands with the Filthy Tongues, the opening band and musical vehicle for three of the Mackenzies, both bands’ main songwriter and vocalist Martin Metcalfe, rock solid bassist Fin Wilson and expressive drummer Derek Kelly.
The Filthy Tongues are a darker beast than the Mackenzies, with fewer of the pop sensibilities than the previous band, but much more texture and eerie atmospherics, as well as biblical overtones to match Metcalfe’s apocalyptic preacher persona. In an all-too-brief set ranging through songs from their two brilliant LPs to date, the Tongues go from the juddering stomp of Burn You Up to the angular Take It, the Old Testament wrath of Jacob’s Ladder to the motorik propulsion of Money Can’t Drive. Their sound is given full flesh by the five-piece lineup and warmly received by the crowd, most of whom have arrived early to see this incarnation of Metcalfe, Wilson and Kelly. It’s music deserving of a much wider audience, but judging from the reception to the killer 40-minute set at the Liquid Room there’s a lot of new converts to their cause. “I hope you like the headline band,” Metcalfe jokes, “I’ve heard they’re not bad.”
As the Mackenzies take to the stage they’re given a rousing welcome, none more so than guitarist Big John Duncan, whose career stretches back to the heady days of punk primacy in The Exploited. Big John has had some medical issues of late, and enters the stage with two crutches held aloft in greeting before taking a seat on a stool from which he issues forth immaculate guitar parts. They begin with the anthemic Jezebel, and it’s clear that the band are in fine form, as is the capacity crowd.Metcalfe remarks that he’s seen many of the faces in the crowd at all the previous Mackenzie reunion shows.”Are you not overdosing on this stuff?” he asks. “Or are you building a tolerance?”
They move from their self-titled single to the title track of their landmark album Good Deeds and Dirty Rags, detouring via a cover of 80s Edinburgh cult band the Shop Assistants’ Something To Do. By the time they hit the upbeat Open Your Arms, the crowd is in full singalong mode, many of them knowing every word to every song. It’s a wonderfully communal atmosphere, topped off with their undisputed classic The Rattler. The band exit the stage after a little over an hour, but there’s no way they’re being let off the hook by this audience.
“Youse are all c***s!” yells Big John in jest as the band return to the stage for three encore songs. “Youse made me walk down those stairs and back up the again!”
He takes lead vocal for the punk blues of The Way I Walk, and it’s followed with Goodwill City, one of several acutely observed numbers Metcalfe has written about Edinburgh. An unplanned Now We Are Married ends the night, and none of the fans were left with any questions about their complete devotion to the Mackenzies. Metcalfe remains on stage for another minute or two, leading the crowd in a vocal rendition and singalong of a few lines from The Rattler. It’s a lovely end to what could prove to be the Mackenzies’ last ever gig, but let’s hope not. In any event, the Filthy Tongues have another album in the works so there’s no chance of Metcalfe and his musical brethren staying silent for long.
Words: Simon McKenzie