“At the time you imagine that you left some sort of mark, some imprint, to show for the flower of your youth, but coming before camera phones and the internet, there isn’t all that much out there.”
So said Grant Campbell, Saint Jude’s Infirmary bassist and chief songwriter, in an interview with AAA Edinburgh, days before the five-piece made their return to the live stage after a seven-year hiatus.
On Friday night at Sneaky Pete’s, the camera phones were very much in attendance, as were many of the old favourites from the back catalogue of the Fife-bred, Edinburgh-based band, who, like the proverbial boxer, are “back for one last shot”.
Of course, there are few sadder sights than that of a once-great fighter raging against the dying of the light after coming out of retirement – but to use the old boxing analogy one last time, Saint Jude’s Infirmary returned to the ring in fantastic shape.
For those unfamiliar with the backstory, the critically acclaimed but commercially ignored band announced themselves back in 2007 with their brilliant debut album, Happy Healthy Lucky Month – a mix of sad, sweeping epics and rollicking bar-room romps which saw them labelled Scotland’s answer to the Velvet Underground. They followed this up two years later with prophetically-titled sophomore effort, This Has Been The Death Of Us.
With Ian Rankin penning the lyrics to one of the tracks on the second album, and Jack Vettriano providing the cover art, a betting man would have been forgiven for putting the mortgage on Saint Jude’s Infirmary making a much-merited breakthrough. Somehow, it didn’t turn out that way, and the band split soon after the album’s release.
That’s ancient history now though. With a new line-up of twins Grant and Ashley Campbell, their cousin Emma-Jane, and the additions of Jamie Brown and Elvis Valentine from Saint Jude’s “contemporaries and mystical peers” the 55s, normal service has been resumed.
Before the headliners took to the stage, the early birds in attendance were treated to support slots from Allen Ginsberg Trio and Hamish Hawk – two bands well worth checking out.
Impressive though both support acts were, Friday night was all about Saint Jude’s Infirmary.
Fan favourites like The Church Of John Coltrane, Tap O’Lauriston and Tacoma Radar were greeted like old friends by an appreciative crowd and, as a statement of intent, the band kicked off with newbie Scottish Blood, a song good enough to suggest there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
The band closed their 45-minute set with a typically ramshackle rendition of All My Rowdy Friends Are Dead, and the crowd filed out of the tiny Cowgate venue with huge smiles on their faces.
It certainly bodes well for what’s to come, and it can only be hoped that when Saint Jude’s Infirmary head back into the recording studio in January to make another album, they finally shake off that “ones that got away” tag.
We’re rooting for you, champ.
Words: Gary Flockhart
Photograph: Ross Thompson