Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 13th February 2011 at 11:02pm
It was a strange week for gigs in Glasgow. As ever there was an embarrassment of riches on offer, and when Edinburgh was linked into the equation, it all got very complicated. However, oddly, everything seemed to have focused on Friday evening. Having nailed my colours to the mast of Conquering Animal Sound some time back, this made the choice a little easier. However, with the cities all gigged-out over the previous two nights, Sunday presented a challenge. Then I spotted this curious event. Heavenly Records, formerly home of a variety of very hip artistes in the 1990s including Saint Etienne among others, has recently undergone something of a reinvention. With the label now focusing on more folk-based Americana, this tour attempts to showcase three of their more recent signings. So it was back to the familiar dungeon of The Captain's Rest via a less confusing bus ride this time. The venue was a little quieter, and as I descended to hear the first act I was a little concerned it might be very quiet indeed.
James Walbourne kicked off proceedings to a fairly empty, but gradually filling room. Performing on acoustic guitar, accompanied by his brother, he trades in a rough-edged, regret-tainted American blues. His songs are compact, complete stories which he sometimes seemed to get lost in - the duo reviving themselves with an initially amusing but ultimately a little wearing 'duelling banjos' finally at the end of more than one song. There is no doubting these gents' technical skills, and James is clearly a songwriter of some craft and pedigree. However, there is something of placing ones head in the lion's mouth here... after all, Glasgow has produced an endless stream of very successful acts in this alt-country and folk vein. Things take an interesting turn when a mandolin and a washboard come into play, and we're treated to a joyous romp through "Waiting Room Blues". On these simpler compositions, James seems able to stretch his legs, enjoy the space they allow and not get bogged down in attempting to write to a formula. The set ended on a high, with the room a little busier and the Walbourne brothers clearly pleased they'd made a few converts tonight.
Next up were Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou. It seems like much longer than a month since I sat in a chilly metal church in Edithmead watching this remarkable duo performing. The format tonight was the same - a single microphone, two eerily similar voices, and lots of warm, engaging and genuine music. Kicking off with the new song "Spin Me A Rhyme", the set was largely based around the new album - due in April and the pair's first for Heavenly. As ever, Trevor started lots of rambling stories about the origin of songs, which it was left for Hannah-Lou to rescue from whimsy! It's a pleasure to watch them perform, and it was interesting to note the generally rather talkative Captain's Rest crowd standing in rapt silence between songs on a number of occasions. The response to the set closing "Cheap Wine" was particularly rapturous, and I was struck again how these seemingly simple songs, performed on the most minimal of instrumentation can fill a room and demand attention. For my own part, I wondered if the novelty might wear off a little seeing them performing in a more traditional venue, but it was really good to see them again and their genuine warmth and remarkable skill with a tune left a notoriously tricky Glasgow audience equally impressed. I now can't wait to see them again, though this opinion may change if the back of my head features in their forthcoming 'Eleven Nights Under Tin' film!
If the accusation of delivering whimsical stage banter is levelled at Trevor Moss, then I'm not entirely sure how to describe the curious but engaging casual soul-bearing in which Jules Baenziger aka Sea of Bees indulges before, during and after her short set. Jules is an interesting character in herself - a curious bubble of positive energy and wistful regret which appears to flip on the turn of a coin. Her songs are much the same - slight, near silent passages crash into heavy-handed, pained endings. Her voice varying from a slight high-pitched waver, to a howl of pain. At several points I'm reminded of the voice and songwriting of Mary Gauthier - another largely autobiographical writer. Accompanied only by Amber on electric guitar, Sea of Bees weave intricate but often rather inexplicable and inaudible tales with names such as "Wizbot" and "Gnomes". Jules explains her motivations before these songs, often focusing on her wish to express a single feeling or a thought which is difficult in words or in person. This confessional aspect makes Sea of Bees engaging but sometimes uncomfortably voyeuristic listening. The audience however loved the music and the unlikely duo performing it.
Trundling home on the bus, I pondered the brave and unlikely direction that Heavenly Records have taken. These artists aren't going to be selling buckets of CDs, that's for sure - but they offer integrity, craft and honesty...rare qualities in the music business, and particularly in the trade of the journeyman singer-songwriter which all too often descends into murky cover versions and crowd-pleasing blandness. An enlightening evening with some old friends, and hopefully some new ones too.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.