Music Review of The Smile at The Usher Hall

08 June 2022

The Smile Credit Stuera Niven 736X360

[Image credit: Stuart Niven]

It is more than 100 years since the Usher Hall first opened its doors to musicians and audiences alike. Yet Edinburgh’s grand 5-star concert hall shows no signs of slowing down as it continues to showcase top talent from across the music spectrum.

Historic Venue

The Usher Hall is the legacy of Andrew Usher - a whisky distiller and blender - who, in 1896, donated £100,000 to the city to build a venue that ‘should become and remain a centre and attraction to musical artistes and performers and to the citizens of Edinburgh and others...’

Usher Hall 736X360Usher did not live to see his vision realised - he died in 1898 - with the Usher Hall officially opened by his widow in 1914. But to this day the venue, which sits in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle remains true to his wishes by attracting talent from all musical genres to perform.

The Performance

For this sold-out show by The Smile, Edinburgh was chosen alongside London and Manchester as one of only three UK dates of the band’s European tour.

The band, consisting of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood alongside Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, arrive on stage as the voice of Cillian Murphy - of Peaky Blinders fame - recites William Blake’s poem ‘The Smile’.  

The applause for the band grows as the tones of Murphy’s voice fade with Yorke happy to take a moment and absorb the welcome, offering an acknowledging smile before opening the set with ‘The Same’ - the first track from the album ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’.

The title of the opening track offers some insight into the overall feel of the gig and the evening. While ‘The Smile’ is one of several Radiohead-connected side projects, the material is far enough removed from the band’s extensive back catalogue to stand proudly on its own, but offers just enough familiarity to draw in even the most ardent fan. Skinner’s prowess on the drums is reason enough alone to explore the material from the three-piece.

The Smile Credit S Niven 736X360[Image credit: Stuart Niven]

The setlist largely follows the running order of the album with Robert Stillman - who had provided the support for the evening - joining the band on-stage to add an excellent trumpet accompaniment to the popular ‘You Will Never Work in Television Again’.

Yorke and Greenwood interchange between guitars and piano throughout the set but it is ‘Open the Floodgates’ with Yorke sat at the piano and offering his distinctive voice to the vocals where the acoustics of the Usher Hall compliment the act best.

With the set well into full swing, Yorke breaks off to inform the crowd of the band’s realisation that touring an album of around fifty minutes running time would probably require them to write some new material as they then lead into ‘Bodies Laughing’.

The encore sees further new material in ‘Friend of a Friend’ introduced before finishing with ‘Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses’ from Yorke’s solo material.

This was a paid review, written by Stuart Niven for Forever Edinburgh and in partnership with Edinburgh Music Lovers.


Discover the area surrounding the Usher Hall

The Usher Hall is a short walk from Princes Street, one of Edinburgh’s main and most famous streets. Situated just off the bustling Lothian Road, the area around the venue provides an eclectic array of bars and restaurants for a pre-gig rendezvous. Enjoy local craft beer and fantastic food at the Innis & Gunn Taproom or a taste of Thailand at thriving local favourite Ting Thai Caravan. Other options close by for a drink include BrewDog and The Hanging Bat, both of which offer a huge array of craft beers, spirits and food. If you’re looking to make a night of it and need a place to stay, The Sheraton Grand & Spa Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian are both within easy walking distance. Fun fact: the Bell Clock Tower that sits in Festival Square opposite the Usher Hall was originally positioned outside the concert hall. It was moved because it proved unpopular with concert goers because its frequent chimes could be heard over the music!

In 2022, The Usher Hall plays host to a number of exciting rock and pop gigs, including St Vincent, Fleet FoxesWill Young and Sigrid as well as other genres of music including Sunday Classics and screenings with orchestras. Discover the full line-up and book your tickets here >

For more ideas about Edinburgh’s exciting and eclectic live music scene visit our Guide to Live Music in Edinburgh >