Justin Currie, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, performed tracks from his solo albums and the Del Amitri back catalogue to a reverent congregation of fans and festival goers.

A sold-out Paisley Abbey was the beautiful venue for this collaboration between orchestra and songwriter – now a well-established part of the Paisley Spree Festival programme. Currie is the son of former RSNO chorus master John Currie. His obvious excitement, and apprehension, for the set was understandable as he took to the stage and waited for the orchestra to begin the stirring and sumptuous arrangement of ‘What Is Love For?’ The rarely performed ‘Baby, You Survived’ also received the lavish orchestral treatment, along with Del Amitri regulars ‘Just Getting By’ and ‘Be My Downfall’.

There was a break for the RSNO for four songs in the middle of the set – although Currie noted that they still had to “sit there and take punishment” while he performed, accompanied by guitarist Stuart Nesbit. Nesbit’s lap and pedal steel added flourishes of warmth and hints of country music melancholy throughout the set – including refreshing the sound of Del Amitri hit ‘Always The Last To Know’ after its many years on the road.

Currie is on the cusp of releasing his fourth solo album and the new songs in the set will have whetted the appetites of fans hungry for new material. The tender and swaying ‘Crybabies’ was in complete contrast to the echoing and brooding of ‘I Love The Sea’ – which sounded like a Bond theme in the hands of conductor John Logan – and hopefully both will appear on the new album.

Logan’s deftly written arrangements developed Currie’s intimate solo songs into epic productions that would befit any dramatic film score. ‘The Fight To Be Human’ was a highlight – allowing the orchestra and audience to fully indulge in an extended bout of what Currie described as “prog rock”. Del Amitri fans may have been slightly disappointed at the absence of string-accompanied favourites, such as ‘This Side Of The Morning’, but this was a showcase for his solo work and how well it could be arranged for an orchestra. Also, Currie pointed out that “anything remotely up-tempo would be chaos in here” adding “I’m sorry if anyone’s expired from a low heart rate”.

On stage Currie is usually more conversational and his audiences more vocal – joyously singing with him or calling out requests between songs. However, the more formal nature of the evening – and the necessity to wait for all the performers on stage to be ready to begin each song – meant that there were more moments of respectful silence. Even during the climax of the set the singing of ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ from the pews was hushed , although some members of the RSNO could be spotted swaying and singing along as their colleagues played. The standing ovation at the end of the set, when the audience were released from their thrall, was the testament to the power of the performance.

The Del Amitri back catalogue is worshipped by devoted fans, but it was the stunning orchestral arrangements of Justin Currie’s solo work that had the audience rejoicing in the Abbey.

Set list
What Is Love For?
Just getting By
Baby, You Survived
Be My Downfall
Falsetto
Crybabies
Always The Last To Know
Driving With The Brakes On
Still In Love
Little Stars
I Love The Sea
Sleep Instead Of Teardrops
The Fight To Be Human

My Soul Is Stolen
Nothing Ever Happens

Photos © Rhiannon Ormerod