Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 15th April 2012 at 11:04pm
I awoke to bright sunshine and a distinctly fuzzy head, and decided that the only remedy was to get out into the fresh air and wander around St. Andrews. For a Sunday morning things were surprisingly busy, with irritatingly fresh-faced students already striding around town, some clearly having already done energetic, sporting things. Noticed a few more familiar faces looking distinctly green though, and slinking into Tesco to emerge with paracetamol and lucozade in their shaky grasp. I decided to make the best of my situation with a fine walk to the ruins of the Cathedral and around the town. I don't get to be a tourist very often, and it seemed like a good way to remove cobwebs. Pleasant though it was, it didn't quite manage to shift the fug, and it was with a mixture of delight and relief that I spied the Fisher & Donaldson's van arriving at Younger Hall as I found my way there a little before events recommenced, conveying it's ever-welcome cargo of guaranteed hangover-busting baked goods. This was tempered though by the sight of King Creosote unloading vast amounts of booze from the back of a car. Things were about to start all over again...
Today's events were to take place in The Younger Hall, from the outside a vast grey Greek temple of a place sitting on North Street amongst the tight knot of attractive, ancient university buildings. Inside it had a strangely reverential air - the venue for graduations and classical recitals, it was covered in wood panelling and huge gleaming organ pipes, save for a huge, strangely abstract Eye o' The Dug banner which adorned the back of the stage. Somehow it felt a little more like the mixture of halls and spaces in Anstruther which are appropriated for Homegame use, and once I'd got my bearings in the sprawling building it felt like a fine place to see some of the acts on the bill today, which would likely be a little less energetic than last night's performances. However, openers Randolph's Leap had absolutely no intention of lacking energy - bursting into life with the gusto and pomp of a headliner rather than an opening act, Adam Ross was accompanied by an expanded bunch of co-conspirators, including trumpet, trombone and strings. From the outset this was pretty special - fresh from public opprobrium regarding 'tweeness' and the whole Briangate affair, this band was resolutely not that - going as far as a hilariously poor Josh T. Pearson impersonation in their efforts to prove the case. There was no need at all, with the big, bold sound suiting Ross's compositions perfectly. Rollicking through a set including highlights from recent cassette release "The Curse of the Haunted Headphones" along with some unfamiliar new material, there were even outbreaks of spontaneous onstage dancing. Finishing up with a triumphant big band recasting of early relase "Crisps", the audience stomped and yelled for more. What a way to shake off the last of yesterday's cobwebs. With more of the audience beginning to drift into the hall following the excesses of last night, latest Fence signing Seamus Fogarty took to the stage. Having not managed to catch his performances previously this was something of a revelation to me, as he unravelled strange tales over gentle guitar backgrounds, strange echoing electronics or sometimes almost acapella. His voice, a gentle but emotion-cracked wonder, soared over the silent crowd and into the hall - all the more amazing as it came from the distant figure on the big, churchlike setting of the stage. Some of the material was familiar and bodes well for the imminent album - not least "The Wind" which has recently seen a haunting Geese remix, and the compelling semi-autobiographical storytelling of "Christmas Time on Jupiter".
We shuffled downstairs next to the strangely shaped and rather cramped Stewart Room, which seemed to be directly underneath the main stage above. It was perhaps the perfect intimate space in which to witness Barbarossa - an artist from the early years of Fence who has been involved in all manner of other musical outlets over the years. Recently reactivated, James MathÃ©'s own singer-songwriter project drew a huge audience from among the faithful for his beautifully soulful voice and simple, guitar and keyboard arrangements. I'm not ashamed to admit that this was new to me, and I was slack-jawed in mute appreciation along with many of the other casual listeners who hadn't known what to expect but were now hushed and reverential. Some gentle backing vocals from Rozi Plain just added to the sense of quiet wonder in this fantastic set. I can't wait to hear the forthcoming EP, which an informed guess might suggest will be a future "Chart Ruse" subscription effort. After struggling back up to the main hall - and realising just how awkward the building was to get around was despite it's great acoustics and atmosphere, we were treated to a set by The Pictish Trail. Johnny Lynch confessed a little later that with all the work to get this event up and running, he'd not thought a great deal about what to play. In the event, he turned in a warm and memorably emotional solo performance which will remain with me as an Eye 'o The Dug highlight, making this look impossibly effortless in the process. Mixing older tracks like "Words Fail Me Now" with the existential angst of new material like "Of Course You Exist", Lynch worked the audience like a consummate showman. Amid the heartstring tugging though were plenty of laughs, and a little audience participation was called for on "Not To Be" extended greatly from it's brief appearance on the "In Rooms" LP last year. As the song ended with exaggerated Pictish Trail vougueing and the audience yelling responses back at the stage, it wasn't hard to see why this essentially one-man-and-a-guitar act can pack the main hall here. There was just time before scattering off to find refreshment in the short break to catch James Yorkston performing with the lightning-fingered Jon Thorne accompanying him on double-bass, though sadly visa issues prevented Sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan from joining them. As ever, Yorkston was grimly humourous and darkly self-aware and his anecdotes and observations alone could have made up a suitably entertaining set. He too chose to use this opportunity to showcase new material, and the songs which made up the set varied between self-immolating guilt ballads to spirited rants, all of them accompanied by Thorne's dizzying playing. There were genuinely affecting, lump-in-throat-moments aplenty too, and as I cast an eye around the hushed Younger Hall, I could see I wasn't alone in being transported by James's muse. It was magical stuff for sure, delivered humbly and almost apologetically.
Suitably refreshed after a variety of hostelries and eateries had been rapidly besieged by Dug-goers, people began to drift back towards the venue and there was for a moment, a rather pleasant lazy feeling to proceedings as musicians and festival-goers alike sprawled in late afternoon sunshine and waited for things to start up for the last session of the day. If there was one tiny hitch in proceedings it was the extended soundcheck in the main hall which kept people confused and waiting to know quite what to do. As entrance to the Stewart Hall was also via this room, there was no clear idea where to queue. Eventually, some of us were lucky enough to be directed out of the building and into a mysterious door leading downstairs, just in time to catch Monoganon's set. Their set commenced with a couple of new songs which continued in the vein of last year's "Songs To Swim By" album, combining passages of delicate folky loveliness with crashing walls of noise. In the confines of the smaller room, Monoganon in full flight were a force to be reckoned with and happily, as the soundcheck issues upstairs resolved themselves albeit with a huge delay incurred, a steady stream of people managed to get down to catch the blistering end of their set. Another unintended consequence of the delays was that it was possible to stay downstairs for much of Kid Canaveral's set. My deep, near embarrassing love for this band has been detailed here before and the prospect of them clashing was a difficult one to consider, with the logistics occupying a bunch of us all weekend. With the room now full to bursting they struggled up to the stage with Dave MacGregor posing briefly as KT Tunstall. This interest should probably have been predicted by their triumphant set at last year's Homegame, as they proceeded to induce instant dancing in the already uncomfortably packed room. Beside the occasional bob of a Canaveral's head, I couldn't see much but I could hear new songs effortlessly tumbling out of this talented foursome, and on this basis the new album is going to be packed with the kind of moments which once again today induce involuntary smiling in even the sternest audience member. Even some of the security staff looked mildly entertained, and that was no small feat!
With upstairs still rather behind schedule, we were able to make the final ascent in good time to pitch up directly in front of the stage. The choice here had been terribly difficult - with Withered Hand and FOUND closing things downstairs. However, I'd been gently persuaded over the past few weeks that it would be good to see KT Tunstall. I'd never seen her play live, and my only contact with her work in recent times had been via the radio. Contrary to popular myth, I don't think there is any great rift between Fence fans and KT at all, but the rumour persists and there are some I think who like to keep it running. But, tonight at least, back on a familiar stage in their home town KT and some old friends were going to play together again. Whilst I regret what I didn't get to hear downstairs hugely, I am very happy I stayed for this. Like others, Tunstall had elected to play a set of new material - so new in fact that this was the first public airing for these songs. Accompanied by the simplest of band set-ups, including a fantastic steel guitar player, she picked her way through a set of bewitchingly beautiful songs. The tunes were often dark - countering her self-confessed "perky mofo" reputation - and far more anchored to place too, with several of the songs seemingly about the area and in fact the town where we were hearing them. The security guards' burly image had now slipped entirely, with a pair of them jostling each other at the side of the stage to get a good shot of KT on their camera phones. I'll confess that despite my reservations and probably some vestiges of inverted snobbery, I was utterly spellbound by KT's voice. Recalling only hearing it belting out big radio-friendly things - which she is, it must be said very very good at - it was a genuine pleasure to hear this, her more considered side. And any sense that the audience wouldn't be up for this was dispelled by the huge reaction the set garnered - and a quick glance over the shoulder showed that there were a fair few regular Fence folks up here too. Despite any concerns Tunstall had managed the never easy trick of delivering an entirely new set of songs and still pleasing the crowd. It was another of those Eye o' The Dug moments no-one will forget in a while. The news that she will soon be recording in Arizona with Giant Sand genius-in-chief Howe Gelb was also very significant, and the results could be very interesting indeed. The songs performed tonight, stripped back and delivered in the dry desert air, could be some of her finest work yet.
It will probably surprise regular readers to hear I had reservations about King Creosote and Jon Hopkins too. Having heard "Diamond Mine" performed a few times, and having played the record until it was almost worn through, this album has sort of absorbed itself into me - and oddly I've found it strange and difficult to listen to live. However, this was going to be something special. For starters it was the first time that it would be performed in full in the Kingdom of Fife - the geography which inspired and runs inextricably through the songs. Secondly, the band which assembled to deliver this was pretty special - with Geese providing strings and drums and KT Tunstall assuming additional vocal duties. Kenny Anderson shuffled on stage to a tremendous, warm reception, hushing the crowd as Jon Hopkins began to pick out the notes of "First Watch" on the absurdly large grand piano which had been shifted onto the stage for the occasion. What followed is almost impossible to explain in words... With no breaks for between song banter, and with an audience showing the utmost respect for the quiet, delicate nature of the songs the album was reinvented. Anderson was in fine voice, stretching for notes it was surely not possible to reach and lifting onto tip-toes to catch them. Tunstall's counterpoint vocals were utterly beguiling too, and the moments where she and Kenny harmonised and made eye contact should have melted the hardest heart - there is no animosity in Fife, just a genuine love for the craft of musicianship. As the other musicians left the stage, Anderson and Hopkins were left to deliver perhaps the most wrenchingly lovely versions of "Your Own Spell" and "Your Young Voice" which I'll ever hear, before an absolute explosion of appreciation from the rapt audience. Mercury Prizes, even Scottish Album of the Year Awards might be important - but this kind of immediate, emotional feedback must surely transcend all of that critical acclaim?
It was left to King Creosote and Jon Hopkins to close things, and they did so via a clutch of non-"Diamond Mine" material which delighted a crowd which probably didn't think it could be any happier, including a storm through "Spystick" and a superb take on "Home In A Sentence". It could have gone on all night, but as they left the stage again to a thunderous reaction Eye o' The Dug was all over, bar the post match drinking and the mournful "I don't want to go home" tweets, of which more than a few were going to be mine. During his set earlier, Johnny Lynch had asked the audience if this event had "killed the spirit of Fence?". With tongue perhaps firmly in cheek, he reasoned that yes, it had a bit - but that was OK. As scores of happy faces straggled along North Street heading for the after party or their much needed beds, I don't think anything died. In fact, this weekend, something might just have been reborn in this quiet corner of Fife.
"I don't want to go home..."
Posted in SHOFT on Saturday 14th April 2012 at 11:04pm
"I don't know where to begin..." sings The Pictish Trail, bathed in purple light in the sepulchral surroundings of Younger Hall - and he's right. Where do I start trying to describe this weekend? Do I describe the huge party, the meeting-up with friends old and new, and one of the most eclectic line-ups of any festival you'll see this coming summer? Or do I got for the almost mystical qualities which these Fence events seem to possess - the build up, the strangely happy bubble we inhabit during the event, and the difficulty in readjusting to real life for days afterwards? Perhaps I'll start right back at the beginning... There's a strange feeling which descends sometime around the beginning of the year. Life is just winding back up to normal speed after the traditional Christmas sluggishness, and the frankly heartbreaking vista of a new working year is opening up. People are tetchy and can't explain why, there is a sense of ennui everywhere. It's around this time usually that emails start to bounce around, tweets are twittered and panic booking of East Neuk accommodation is suddenly rife. Because it's around that awful, gloomy turn of the year when Homegame is announced. So, imagine a year when you enter those dark first weeks knowing that it won't be happening at all this time. It's almost unbearable - and then Johnny Lynch almost casually announces Eye o' the Dug. A few miles up the road, a bit of a different pitch, but essential it marks the gathering of the tribes in the north once again. It was always going to be an interesting weekend...
My own Eye o' the Dug experience began on Saturday, having skipped the pre-party due to being an old fart and not reckoning I'd make it through the trials and tribulations of the next couple of days intact if I started too early. I'd enjoyed a day of lounging around, revisiting old haunts, drinking coffee and watching the curious and ancient university tradition of the Kate Kennedy Parade taking place in St. Andrews. But another parade was under way too - as the crowds drifting along Market Street began to feature more familiar faces... This was going to be a big event - indeed huge by Fence standards. Rather like press reports of protest marches, estimates seem to vary about the total number - with some sources suggesting as many as 1200 attending. As the weather took another bizarre flip from soft evening sunshine to snowstorm, I entered Venue 1 - part of the sprawling Student Union building - not quite knowing what to expect. In the event it was a fine venue - spacious, plenty of bar staff and lots of opportunity to catch up with people in comfort. The security guards were a bit bewildered by the odd mix of people I think, but aside from some curiously fastidious crowd-control they left everyone mostly alone and concentrated on looking fearsomely detached. Meanwhile, Dewars were concocting evil tasting whisky-based cocktails and dishing them out mostly for free. Hence, a lot of people were in party mood from the outset. They were rewarded with Conquering Animal Sound, who delivered a icily cool set of new material which added new layers of complexity on the brittle, crystalline sound which defined "Kammerspiel". I'd never seen the band look or sound more confident, and it was interesting to note Anneke Kampman relying less on effects and sonic trickery and often letting her voice do all the work. Skipping effortlessly from a whisper to a howl, she was accompanied by some frenzied sound manipulation by James Scott who spun between his various instruments without ever letting his ever-secure top button slip. As the relatively lesser known act on a fairly high-profile bill tonight, I think Conquering Animal Sound won a few hearts among the student population and reinforced the reputation they had garnered at last years' Homegame with the Fence folks. What was also increasingly apparent was that with copious alcohol consumption and outbreaks of spontaneous dancing, it was getting harder and harder to evidence the 'two crowds in one place' theory of Eye o' The Dug. It seems the gamble had paid off!
Next up were FrÃ¡nÃ§ois and The Atlas Mountains, and I was forced to confess that I've never quite got this band completely, and I've found it equally hard toput my finger on why not. However, it also occurred to me today that I'd never properly watched them live - and I was struck right away by the sheer energy which the band pour into their art. It was a set packed with shimmery, ecstatic washes of noise and sudden twists and turns. As FrÃ¡nÃ§ois spun and jerked around the stage, squeezing seemingly impossible notes from his guitar, I finally understood what people were seeing here. They'll never be my favourite band I'm sure, but this was an incredible, intense performance which managed to whip the crowd into near frenzy. And that perhaps is what these Fence events do best - presenting you with something new, different and unexpected when you're at you most receptive. Things were getting a little hazy by the time Dutch Uncles arrived on stage. A band I knew virtually nothing about, but had heard discussed in hushed tones earlier in the day. In the event, they deal in a strange brand of synth-pop with sudden jitters and crunches of big, meaty guitar. Musically, they were interesting and had a neat line in turning-on-a-sixpence shifts in pace and time, but I never quite came to terms with the vocals which were a strange mix of buttoned-down, white boy soul and Bryan Ferry. The audience however, loved them and it was impressive to look out across Venue 1 and the sea of bobbing heads and actual, proper dancing going on.
Doing this also made me feel strangely queasy however, and I became aware that once again I'd been led off the straight and narrow by a Fence event. My physical and mental condition degenerated further during the extended DJ set by Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard of Hot Chip fame. Somewhere in the middle of this, the fire alarm sounded. Potentially the slowest evacuation in history followed, and squished into the narrow space leading from St.Mary's Place into the building, it became apparent just how many people were here. Despite the minor inconvenience, and thankful for the virutal face-slap of fresh, cold air I plunged back into the building for Django Django. I'd been looking forward to this after falling unexpectedly under the spell of their delightfully odd, eponymous debut album a few weeks back. Dressed in dizzyingly matching shirts, they stood behind their machinery coaxing out remarkable noises. Again, it seemed to perfectly hit the spot for both of the sections of the audience, which had in any case mostly melded into a single, sweaty mess on the jammed dancefloor. All thoughts of this event being somehow outwith the 'spirit' of Fence, or too big to be as intimate as usual had entirely fallen away. In the midst of the shuddering beats and deliriously proggy sounds emanating from the stage, old acquaintances were renewed and new ones made. Even the stoney-faced security types were managing a smile by the end of the Django's set.
However, for me I realised that food and sleep beckoned. Having seen Errors fairly recently, and given that I was pretty much incapable of coherent speech I decided to leave it to the younger and fitter ones. As I surveyed the carnage for one last time before stumbling out into the cold night air, I was struck by how well all of this had melded together into an incredible event. The floor was filled with dancers, a conga led by a wheelchair wound it's way through the crowd, various musicians who were due to be performing in mere hours were comprehensively enjoying the evening, and would surely never be up in time? It looked, sounded and ultimately felt fantastic to be a part of this.
Posted in Computers on Wednesday 11th April 2012 at 7:47pm
Having had an extended break over Easter and also taken the days between the weekend and my trip to Fife as leave, I've slowly worked my way through a bunch of things I'd meant to do but never quite got around to. Some of these were things I'd promised to other people - others were things that only I would beat myself up about. So, through a haze of procrastination and diversion I finally set about improving the usability of my online 'movebook'. While the public face of this is the rarely clicked little link to a table of what trains I used that day, the administrative backend has remained in a similar primitive state since I started the project about eight years ago. In particular, I quickly realised that the database of stations I'd imported wasn't going to address the issue of rare track tours - and there have been many frustrating occasions when I've been away from home and suddenly realised I can't input the data, as adding a location relies on direct access to the SQL server. Likewise, as my wrists begin to ache more readily with age, reducing the number of keypresses to get data into the system is a useful goal, and I'd long imagined a system of 'favourite journeys'. So the new 'almost 2.0' movebook interface allows me to do all of this, from practically anywhere. It's also much cleaner and less clunky for little screens and quick access. Of course you, the reader, will likely never see this - but it was really quite fun to dust off the coding muscles and make something useful and practical to 'scratch an itch' - which is of course the genesis of many a household name in applications! One day, perhaps, I'll consider my replacement for the increasingly wobbly Locoscene database, which seems worryingly unmaintained these days.
Posted in SHOFT on Monday 9th April 2012 at 10:04am
When Fence Records announced their most recent grand scheme for making music just that little bit more special, I felt a familiarly strange mixture of excitement and heart-sinkingly blind panic. Because, when Fence tell you something is limited it genuinely is going to be a scare pleasure. Be it the finite number of precious Away Game tickets, or "Chart Ruse" - this subscription-based series of 7" EPs all playing at 33rpm to squeeze in as much music as possible, the announcement is followed by blind panic among the Fence faithful. For me, this meant desperately competing for a terrible internet connection at a freezing East Croydon station, imagining the innocent passers-by accidentally stealing my PayPal password over the airwaves. It was worth the chaos and concern however, as so far lucky subscribers have received Withered Hand's splendid "Heart Heart" EP, and will shortly get their hands on this new release by Delifinger.
Delifinger - also known as Matthew Lacey - is part of the OLO Worms. That curiously complex Bristolian collective which is going to be responsible shortly for one of the most dizzyingly varied debut albums of the year. As one of the songwriters which provide some form and structure to the otherwise strangely scatter-gun approach which the OLOs take, Lacey's craft needs to be subtle and versatile - and this EP showcases this very ably indeed. There are hints of his other work here too, as title track "Escapes" edges in gently with ominous beats and strange electronic noises. Lacey's delicate multitracked vocals take on a strangely traditional, madrigal-like quality in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the track. Somewhere in the midst of this, the droning equipment comes to the fore and the guitar takes centre stage. Since there is just a hint of summery west coast pop buried in here too, it ends up being both ancient and modern all at once. Meanwhile the more upbeat "Take It Slowly" is a gorgeously odd nugget of country pop, complete with a bassline borrowed from a Johnny Cash hit and a swooning chorus reminiscent of Gene Clark at his lyrical finest. Harmonising effortlessly with both his own rebounding voice and that of Anneliesa his wife, Lacey's simple but effective guitar is augmented by charmingly low-budget organ sounds in these sections too. Again I'm struck by the timelessness of Lacey's writing - and this could just as easily be some late-sixties psyche pop single spinning on the deck. It's simple, direct and incredibly enjoyable.
When we reach the portentously titled "It's Not Going To End Well For Me". Delifinger has entered the strangely reflective zone where he is often at his best. The musical backing here is perhaps more reminiscent of his work in OLO Worms with fractured sound fragments sliding in and out of a soundtrack constructed from rumbling bass sounds and synthetic drums. Lacey sets out the dark territory he's going to explore with the opening couplet "There's too much on my plate/my bones deserve a break". This is a tale of being stretched too far, and the danger of being on the edge of your patience and tolerance. As the hiss of tinny percussion sounds slides in, the vocals slip even further into the background and start to shatter and fragment. Clipped, weird yelps and spectral moans echo around and everything becomes just a little bit disconcerting, as somehow this is the soundtrack to an inner monologue which you get the sense you really shouldn't be hearing. While this reflective approach bewildered me a little in the live performance at The Fleece, it makes much more sense here, reverberating spookily in my headphones. The organ which heralds the coming of closing track "Mining" rumbles equally ominiously, and rather surprisingly that is just about the size of it - a brief, strangely gloomy drone fading out as the needle lifts.
Atmospheric and far more complex than the simple instrumentation might imply, Delifinger has turned in a strange, sometimes impenetrable but always compelling EP which is a very worthy addition to this series of Fence releases. It will of course come with a remix by another Fence type by the time it reaches subscribers, and will be subject to the witheringly defiant approach to digital releases which means a download code might follow, at some unknown future occasion. Until then, the rare pleasure of lifting a real, tangible audio artefact out of it's beautifully designed sleeve and placing it onto the deck should be celebrated. The fact is that Delifinger will transport you to a place where formats just don't matter.
In deference to the concept behind the "Chart Ruse" series, there will be no audio preview at the end of this review. You'll just have to take my word for what strangely subdued pleasures await with the "Escapes EP" - though you can watch the video for "Take It Slowly" here. Non-subscribers can pre-order the EP from Fence Records directly here. Delifinger shares a launch with Seamus Fogarty at The Wilmington Arms, London on Thursday 19th April, and in his native Bristol at CafÃ© Kino on Friday 20th April.
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.