Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 13th March 2011 at 11:03pm
I received an email a few days back suggesting that I was neglecting my local music scene in favour of events much further away. It wasn't that polite, but you get the picture. I replied as I have before, that when things locally began to move away from the years of dull pub rock and tribute bands which seem to stifle any kind of genuine creative spirit I'd happily cover them. I also suggested that when promoters here realised that local support for national touring bands was a means of exposing talent to new audiences, that too would be a positive thing. So at first, tonight looked like a 'told you so' moment - yes Admiral Fallow have trodden the southbound path from Glasgow - but we had local support acts didn't we?
Well, kind of.... Lonely Tourist is an expat-Glaswegian now based in Bristol. He takes the stage cutting a rather slight and nervous figure in a check shirt, and with a near apologetic introduction. It's just him and an acoustic guitar slung high on his chest, and the audience don't seem greatly interested in the bar at the back of the room - welcome to Bristol. Then however, he starts to play - the rapid, cowboy-style strum of the busker. His voices soars above the chatter and things get interesting. A gradual drift begins, and by the end of his closing number there are plenty of people watching and listening. Whatever this is, it's probably not folk music of either the new or old variety. Lonely Tourist offers a sort of edgy, acoustic pop with wonderfully self-deprecating lyrics which dodge bitterness in favour of humour. His patter - which he assures us he "left at home" - is muted, restricted to plugging his newly released CD. Recent single "Patron Saint Procrastinate" - on record a sparkling almost country-pop gem - is delivered as a sparse high-speed strum, with Lonely Tourist's voice by far the most important instrument - clear and melodious when he sings, gruff and impenetrable when he speaks between songs. I caught the lyrics of "Delighted" - a tale of skirting the edge of the music industry and watching people become successful - and thought back to my email. I suppose Lonely Tourist is technically local now? I don't think he'll be on the edge of things for long with songs this strong. One to watch for sure, and his debut album can be obtained from Bandcamp.
Port Erin however, were an odd choice to throw into tonight's mix. A three-piece from Wiltshire, who listen to a lot of classic rock music I'm sure. Technically, all three of them showed enormous skill as musicians - with a special word for the sinuous and fluid bass. However, I'm not sure what it added up to? The songs, often perhaps a little over-long, moved from crashing, angry grunge-fests to oddly unnerving Dire Straits play reggae numbers. It was all just confusing, and sandwiched between tonight's other acts it just felt strangely out of place. Like all support bands, they'd brought along their cheerleaders who lounged laconically around the venue during the other bands, but leapt up to support their heroes. It's probably a good thing they did, because I fear quite a few of the rest of the audience just didn't get Port Erin. I stress that this band isn't bad - far from it, they are technically proficient, the vocalist has an engaging falsetto and the drummer is a tiny ball of thunderous energy. But it felt like they'd just discovered Dad's record collection. In another situation, perhaps things would have been different?
At last I get to see Admiral Fallow! Having been elsewhere - annoyingly north of the border I think - for both their previous Bristol shows, I felt like I had some catching up to do tonight. Having been an early adopter of their frankly amazing "Boots Met My Face" album last year, it was fantastic to see it being released more widely - even if this tour to support it had been somewhat dwarfed in significance by their invitation to SXSW. In fact, tonight's performance was the last date before the band jetted off to Texas to join a host of other Scottish musicians. Taking the stage to music which sounded suspiciously like incidental music from Highlander the band opened with the gentle "Delivered". This was the first time the entire band, including the drummer had played in Bristol - and the sound was full and rich - credit indeed to their soundman who had coaxed a surprising depth out of the sometimes rather acoustically dull box of The Cooler. With the audience spellbound, there was no pause at all as the band errupted into "These Barren Years". There was dancing. Not me of course - never. But, in a move seen rarely with cool, Bristolian audiences, there was visible movement at the front of the venue! The set was formed from much of the triumphant album, but a couple of new compositions featured too - they were notable for feeling a little tougher and angrier, with the lyrics interestingly moving from the reminiscence and introspection of "Boots Met My Face" to a wider view of the world. Notably Louis Abbott and Sarah Hayes seemed to take a somewhat more balanced share of the vocals. A set highlight though was "Four Bulbs" - here, the instruments were laid down and the microphones switched off. The band formed a choir around Louis and his acoustic guitar and delivered the song note-perfect, it's aching beauty intact even here in a slightly grimy Bristol nightclub. The audience responded rapturously inspiring a storming, triumphant "Squealing Pigs" before the band left the stage. The encore consisted of a solo Louis covering Elbow's "Switching Off" - the influence clear in this gentle, affecting delivery - before a final and life-affirming romp through "Old Balloons", the song which probably persuaded me here in the first place.
Encouragingly, the Bristol audience already knew Admiral Fallow were destined for big things - the support slot with Frightened Rabbit likely having confirmed this was something special. They left the stage, almost directly heading to the USA with the genuine warmth of the often tricky Bristol audience ringing in their ears. It had been a special night for a couple of very special bands. And it was sort of local, I suppose...
Posted in SHOFT on Monday 7th March 2011 at 9:03pm
Even the curious and rather melancholy sepia toned sleeve is mysterious... a moment in an unknown subject's life captured in time. Welcome to the odd world of The Son(s), a strange, shadowy presence - much vaunted by knowing bloggers with a interest in Scottish music, yet detached and distant from any sense of a scene or network. It remains to be seen if this publicity-shunning behaviour will pay off - I detect a minor backlash from some of the more serious-minded types already in fact. But whether or not we know who is involved or indeed how many Son(s) there really are, the simple truth is that they have delivered a remarkable and accomplished debut album which appears to have satisfied and rewarded the massive curiousity around the band.
The album kicks off with the slick but spiky soul of "Dogs Boys & Men", the track building through layers of joyous sound before jittering into a chunky, noisy guitar outro. Impossibly catchy hooks tumble from the song, and this sets the tone for much of the album. Drenched in harmonies which would make a Beach Boy smile and full of clever instrumental twists and tricks, the sound is polished, clean and carefully arranged. In fact, if it's possible, things might just be a little too perfect in places. Somewhere prior to the middle of the record the pace slackens and the songs begin to blur a little into a sheen of sweet harmonies and washes of strings. It's a little like eating too much ice cream - it hurts the teeth just a little, but you don't want to stop. Things tighten up though in the form a trio or particularly strong songs - starting with "Sold Down The River", ushered in by a shimmering wash of sounds, driven by a relentless piano and acoustic guitars and with a little judiciously applied cello, not for the first time the vocals have a strange but not displeasing hint of a young and still giving-a-shit Elvis Costello about them here. As the track swoons out of view, the sound of the sea heralds the arrival of "There's a Hole In The Middle of The Sea". A modern day shanty, plucked gently on a guitar while the now familiar chorus of voices twist around a central, simple vocal. For me this is perhaps the album's highlight - and the best expression of the fusion of polished modern production and warm organic acoustic tunes. The triad ends with "Count Your Feet (Version)" which appears initially to built around the bassline of the theme from gritty seventies cop series The Sweeney. Cracked and pained vocals soar about the distorted crash of percussion until a choir of baritone voices join. There are careful and light touches of Americana here, but they're never allowed to dominate the mood.
Album closer "Mars Just Plied Her With Gin..." is perhaps the most straightforward composition here, but it still impresses hugely with its woozy, bluesy harmonies and dizzy swoon into a proper, grown-up guitar solo alongside a chorus of "It's only when you get this drunk that you can feel the world spin...". And drunk is pretty much where we end up, intoxicated by the slick harmonies and beautifully constructed layers of instrumentation. Like all the best episodes of drunkenness there are things you'll forget and perhaps wince at tomorrow when the memory returns - but mostly this album is the perfect antidote - spectacular, complex stuff which pays off repeated listening.
The Son(s) is out now via Olive Grove Records.
The Son(s) - Mars Just Plied Her With Gin...
Posted in SHOFT on Friday 4th March 2011 at 10:03pm
As last month's performance indicated, Debutant is in no sense a dedicated seeker of rock star glory. So, it perhaps shouldn't be a surprise that this album sneaked out quietly - indeed it's more of an unexpected release than anything creeping out of Radiohead's stable this month! Preferring to let his music speak for itself and throwing in perhaps the ultimate self-deprecating barb, it's important to point out that this album is entirely free. As ever it's easy to dismiss or overlook something you get for nothing - but to overlook this work of surprising breadth and clarity would be criminal. In part the album collects some of the Debutant music which has been circulating around the web for some time - not least the tracks which appeared on the split 7" with Conquering Animal Sound on Gerry Loves Records. Indeed, "Thirst" opens the proceedings with a gently strummed guitar and whispered, reverb drenched vocals which hark back to Galaxie 500 - particularly when the keening guitar melody sneaks into the mix. Debutant's voice doesn't feature hugely on the tracks collected here, which is perhaps a shame because where he does add vocals to the intricate layers of guitar work the music is lifted and spins in new directions. When he sings, his lyrics are obscure, guarded and indirect - tiny tales, of which we only get to see a small part. The simple acoustic backing on "Silencing The Guns" belies a bitter, whispered lyric which seems to reflect on the horror and pointlessness of fighting a war - but again, Debutant is careful not to give too much away. He seems much more comfortable to deliver the atmospheric beauty of instrumentals like "Yeah! Currahee!" which slides quietly in before ascending via layers of almost choral guitars. It ends with the shimmering chords dancing around like voices in the roof of a cathedral. On good headphones, the effect is blissful and transporting.
The centrepiece of the album is the epic "King of Doublespeak", clocking in at near six minutes in length and as ambitious and remarkable in its scope here as when performed live. Opening with the almost painfully understated couplet "Excuse me while I think out loud/but my heart is on my sleeve", the track climbs through a gently picked opening before layers of blissed-out feedback wind around the melody - just occasionally drifting out of control before being gently coaxed back into the current. Its hard not to completely love this song, which perfectly sums up the Debutant experience. "Thirst" also makes two further, very different appearances as Parts 2 and 3 take a more traditional song structure based around precisely picked acoustic guitars as Debutant whispers "brightness fades and voices echo" effectively describing his own delivery as the album closes on a quiet and reflective note.
It's been easy to get frustrated watching Debutant play down the release of this album via social media. His quiet lack of confidence and air of self-deprecation hides a remarkable ability to build layers of whispered vocal and twists of intricate guitar melody into something quite considerably more than the sum of these simple parts. It's simply not right to let this release go unremarked - this first collection of Debutant's music signals a triumph of the simple DIY spirit over the tendency to over-produce which seems to be creeping into all kinds of music just now. Download and enjoy, but send your encouragement because we need more of this stuff!
Debutant's 'We Stand Alone Together' can be downloaded from bandcamp for free.
Debutant - King of Doublespeak
Posted in SHOFT on Saturday 26th February 2011 at 11:02pm
One or two people I discussed today's events with thought it excessive to make a 400 mile round trip for a gig. I always stay quiet at such moments, because it's far from the most ridiculous mission I've ever despatched myself on. However, they were right that this was an exceptional trip - and it's one I've been anticipating for some time. So, after a lazy trip up to Clitheroe and a wander around the curious old town I made my way to The Grand. A word first about this venue - new, purpose built and spacious - I was struck by the posters for upcoming act. This place appears to be becoming an essential stop for bands working their way around the north, and no wonder. The main room has a raised bar area at the rear, with some pretty fantastic sound and lighting equipment installed too. I'd never really associated Clitheroe with investment in the arts - to be honest, I'd never really associated it with anything until tonight!
First up tonight was Mick Travis who had the difficult job of dealing with an audience who were still keen to hang around the bar catching up with old friends. The nature of these Fence Collective gatherings is such that the same faces pop up, sometimes travelling miles across the country to do so. Indeed an urgent tweet just before the doors opened indicated that The Pictish Trail was on his way, despite a signal failure at Darwen! Mick dealt well with the initial indifference of the crowd, and began playing understated acoustic songs with a sweet surface but an underlying dark heart. It was during "The Ballad of the Bootboys" with it's gritty, modern tale of post-Madchester comedowns that I thought I'd heard this before - and only recourse to the web indicated that Mick had once been part of the Blackburn based indie-pop band Tompaulin. Mick was joined on stage for several songs by Stacey McKenna of the former band also - both now recording for the Blackburn label Winterbird Recordings. On these duets, with the quietly strummed, sparse guitar and understated vocal duets there was something of a Galaxie 500 feel developing at times. Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable short set, which managed to motivate a fair chunk of the audience.
Dan Wilson of Withered Hand was clear from the start that he wasn't in good shape tonight. Dogged by a sore throat and a heavy cold, he made a remarkable attempt at pressing on with things. Starting off alone on the stage with "No Cigarettes" his high voice sounding more cracked and damaged than usual actually almost suited the songs - and as he pointed out, he'd been sick while recording the "Good News" album too! With most of the fans now down at the front of the room, there was a disrespectful racket of talking from the bar - perhaps a drawback of the large open space? From a wander around the town later, I can see there is little to do here unless you're out in the pubs - so a fair amount of locals appeared to have met for a social event at The Grand. Dan struggled on, inviting his band (dubbed "The Laties" for this brief tour) to take the stage. With just a drummer and a cellist they took on "Cornflake", "New Dawn" and "Love In The Time of Ecstacy" with Dan struggling but the strength of these remarkable songs shining through. Eventually, the poor guy could take no more, and struggling with his voice and the racket that the locals were making, Withered Hand called it a night. A shame, because I could have listened for hours to the simple but lyrically dense tales which they spin.
And so to the main event - with the majority of the audience now pressed up against the stage, including the massed ranks of The Earlies friends and family which went by the collective name of 'Fanage'. The huge band took to the stage - eleven members if I counted correctly, ranged across hammond organs, bass, congas, drums, guitar and a small but respectably equipped brass section. It was clear from the outset that this was going to be pretty special. King Creosote appeared to a hearty welcome and explained how this would work - they'd play the whole of the "My 13th Bit of Strange in 15 Years" album live. It probably wouldn't be released. Simple. As if to further illustrate the point proceedings began with "The Big Idea" including the line "...your ears are filled with stolen, compressed tunes". And with a swirl of organ, The Earlies burst into life. The sheer, dizzying variety of genres which The Earlies delivered in the course of the set is both a joy to listen to and oddly confusing. Kicking off with the almost ska-tinged "Collector of Mundane", it was clear that King Creosote was in fine voice tonight too. The huge disadvantage of hearing the album live was the lack of song titles to refer back too - but some have become familiar, not least the stirring "Swallow Dive" which rattles in on a martial drumbeat with lyrics which see KC taking a tour of the sorry, financially embarassed isles. It ends with The Earlies saluting the audience as the drum fades to thunderous applause. The audience are loving this, the band are clearly enjoying themselves and Kenny looks genuinely touched by the reception these songs are receiving.
As "Tits Up" chugs into a Black Sabbath style riff, KC starts to spit lyrics around a refrain of "I'm alright, I'm just not that bright..." as The Earlies mutate into some sort of Zappa-esque parody rock act. They shift modes like this with little effort, the gurning and gesticulating of the hammond player apparently signalling to the band what is required in each case. They also seem to almost instinctively respond to Kenny's changes of mood and tone, as after all KC songs are never quite the same twice. In a couple of quiet passages, it becomes clear that the locals are still chattering away at the back, and Kenny makes reference to this by altering the lyrics to include the lines "...an audience that couldn't stay quiet for ten little songs" before deciding that's probably enough "...if he wants to leave with all his teeth".
With the whole album played to a riotous response from both the KC faithful and The Earlies' Fanage, the band return in party mood to deliver an encore. Starting with live favourite of some pedigree "La-di-da-di-da" the audience respond with foot-stamping, hand-clapping sing-a-long glee. This naturally leads into KC's take on Hamish Imlach's "Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice". With The Pictish Trail now installed as an additional Earlie and pogoing insanely around the stage, its become nothing short of a triumphant end of tour party on stage. With a further admonishing word about the annoying chatter earlier on, Kenny introduces "Twin Tub Twin", tapped out on his guitar at first, before the band tear into the extended end section with more frenzied dancing and backing vocals from Johnny Lynch - echoing similar scenes in the surprise 'moshpit' in front of the stage. A final, reflective but triumphant take on "678" and the evening is over - the band off to celebrate and the locals still chatting at the back.
Whether these songs will ever see light of day is unclear - it seems wrong if they don't because far from being some sort of unformed collection of music, the "Bit of Strange" is a complicated, brilliant clutch of songs. Of course in the world of King Creosote nothing is solid or set in stone - songs re-emerge in new guises years later and are reinterpreted with different bands and musicians, indeed "Bats in the Attic" from this set of songs appears to feature on the upcoming "Diamond Mine" collaboration with Jon Hopkins. In some ways, I can't help but feel a little deflated after the show - it was utterly brilliant and well worth the travel, but almost like seeing Bob Dylan twenty years ago - there is so much in KC's massive back catalogue that could have been played but wasn't. I decided to focus on the wonderful music that I'd heard, and look ahead to Homegame for the next installment.
As I wandered back to the hotel, Clitheroe was in full swing - semi-clad teenagers falling over PCSOs and into the ancient streets. I contemplated the "silver in my sideburns" and decided it was time for sleep...
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.