Despite having two albums and several EPs in his catalogue, Mancunian singer-songwriter Minute Taker’s To Love Somebody Melancholy is not a compilation gig or even a tour of an album. The show is a carefully structured song-cycle featuring thirteen songs that collectively tell a single story. It also feels like a mini-orchestra is playing rather than a solo artist. Minute Taker (Ben McGarvey’s stage name) is joined on-stage by four other musicians, playing between them the cello, violin, viola, drums and synths as well as providing backing vocals. The collective seems perfectly rehearsed and their musical skills combine to create rousing ethereal soundscapes that equal more than the sum of their parts. Minute Taker’s inspirations – Tori Amos, Kate Bush, David Bowie and Björk – are evident in the otherwordly, atmospheric production and haunting vocals.
There is, however, another contributor whose talents form a key aspect of this piece – Ana Stefaniak, an award-winning animator whose images adorn a giant book-shaped projector and provide us with a beautiful visual representation of the song cycle’s storyline. Influenced by Japanese anime and including scenic photography and digital manipulation, the accompanying film is as much part of To Love Somebody Melancholy as Minute Taker’s music. The soporific vocals and forlorn lyrics dance us through this story, while visually it is represented in surreal, kaleidoscopic images and delicately rendered gothic fairytale figures. Glasgow’s Websters Theatre is also an especially apt venue with its grand ecclesiastical exterior and moody, intimate performance space inside.
The narrative itself focuses on a relationship and its troubled trajectory, pulled apart by the presence of a third figure – a mysterious entity who takes hold of one half of the couple, enticing him with bouts of creative artistry, but followed with pain and infectious loneliness. The performance is part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival and the connection to the subject becomes clear as the demonic character from the story, along with the dark bile-splodges and inky raindrops represent depression or melancholia. Alternatively, the story can be seen as an allegory of other issues such as addiction or the AIDS epidemic.
Although the subject-matter is important and the musical talent self-evident, the show may, for some, feel a little repetitive in places and could perhaps have been condensed to a smaller set, with more variety in tempo and possibly more energy and vibrancy from the calmly-rolling supporting images. However, this might interfere with the intended atmosphere – that of dark, reflective melancholia. The mellifluous vocals and near-monochromatic visuals are needed to convey the nihilistic feel of the central story.
To Love Somebody Melancholy is a carefully crafted piece of unearthly, moving music and often hypnotic animation that opens up a story familiar to many. The attempt to shine a spotlight on mental health awareness is also admirable and, according to this Glasgow audience during the post-show Q+A session, achieves its intentions.