Posted in SHOFT on Saturday 8th October 2011 at 11:10pm
For my last night up here I'd managed to find a pretty special event. These are busy times it seems, and with the huge amount of records being released in the next few weeks, along with the sheer number of great gigs tonight I almost wondered if I'd made the right choice at first. Nursing a headache and the beginnings of a cold, having managed to get soaked struggling over to the Southside earlier, I was feeling a little lacklustre and sorry for myself to be honest. Stereo was also pretty packed when I arrived, with a curious mixture of hipsters and diners. I decided to head down to the venue space early just to have a look around and a quiet pint away from the chatter and noise. It didn't take long for me to realise that I'd made absolutely the right decision tonight after all, and I prepared for a very different kind of noise.
I've detailed elsewhere how I never quite got to see Y'all Is Fantasy Island and how that is matter of great personal regret. So I was pretty excited to see that Adam Stafford was one of Martin John Henry's chosen supports for this pretty special album launch show. Coming swiftly after the release of Adam's own record, which is packed full of surprisingly accessible if occasionally challenging songs, this evening couldn't have been timed better. Tonight though, it's just Adam stalking the spacious stage as he begins to manipulate the various gadgets and loop pedals. Slowly, surely the sounds morph into a tortured take on "Step Up Raise Hands" from his recent record "Build A Harbour Immediately". Gone is the lo-fi funk riffing, and instead we have an epic, shoegazey noise built from vocal loops and slashes of guitar. Slowed to a glacial pace, the repeating sounds are damaged and imperfect, but they build into a strange sheen of noise. Then, as Adam's voice begins to impersonate a siren, it's hard not to hear phantom sounds in the spaces and silences. Also from the record, but more immediately recognisable is "Shot Down You Summer Wannabes". The treatment this time is near symphonic - and it's clear that in Stafford's hands the loop pedal isn't just an agent of soulless repetition. In fact working with it is an organic, physical process - visible particularly as he grows in stature to deliver soaring high notes and jerks erratically around the stage to his own vocal rhythms - pausing only to suggestively rub against the mid-stage pillar. This is an intense, intricate performance which creates so much complexity and texture from so little that it's hard to believe at points that it is indeed just Stafford playing. As he leaves the stage after far too short a set, it strikes me there is something rather anachronistic about Stafford - impeccably turned out for the event, faultlessly polite, intelligent and inventive. Your everyday rock star he isn't, and that is something to be celebrated.
I'd also been curious to finally get to see The Seventeenth Century. Following a couple of EPs of often delicate and rather restrained traditional songs, they came across immediately as surprisingly animated given their formal delivery on record. Having been holed up for some time working on a debut album, there is a sense that this rare live outing in recent times has an added edge. Songs take on longer, more progressive forms and "Banks of Home" delivers a spirited, aggressive and emotional take on folk music with more than a nod to more experimental, post rock soundscapes too. "Young Francis" retains it's military air, but degenerates into a wild reeling ending, with the violin being sawed angrily until the bow sheds horsehair while the tune is anchored by some virtuoso horn playing. Having seen the band play like this, I hope that some of the energy finds its way into the album recording. The EPs have been fine, but their painstaking formality doesn't fully convey how powerful and emotionally affecting the band can be in full flight. Tonights performance, in this respect at least, was something of a revelation.
Having seen Martin John Henry's nervous but engaging performance at Homegame, I'd been looking forward to the release of his debut album "The Other Half of Everything" for a while now and wondering just how that quiet, introspective set would transform on record. Well, for starters Henry takes the stage tonight with a full band - a proper rock band in fact which managed to churn out some impressively loud and focused backdrops to his intriguing and sometimes dark lyrics. Alongside the more traditional bass, drums and guitar set-up Martin operated a small bank of electronics which add a further dimension to the sound and drive some of the songs relentlessly forward. The band slips effortlessly from opener "Breathing Space" into the pensive and dramatic "First Light" which works up to some crashing chords before ending with a weirdly funky section. The band are clearly loving every minute of this, and seem to throw every ounce of energy into the performance. Having seen De Rosa once many years back and posthumously enjoyed their records, it's impossible not to draw comparisons. If anything, the band tonight are a little tighter and sharper focused than De Rosa in a live setting, but Henry's songwriting is equally emotive and benefits hugely from this direct approach. Current single "Ribbon On A Bough" is far noisier and punchier here than on record, its singalong chorus and head-bobbingly catchy riff delighting an impressively large audience considering the competition in terms of gigs across town tonight. Finally "There's A Phantom Hiding In My Loft" closes the set, a shimmering and epic final tune which showcases some of the electronic trickery too. Martin John Henry is still the humble character who quietly captured hearts with his songs in Fife, but tonight he's earned the right to defiantly blast this new material at the world.
And so my short visit to Glasgow comes to an end - and what a way to see it to a close! With my ears still ringing, I pick my way through the Saturday night crowds, discarded fish suppers and general debauchery around Central Station and head home. It's been, as ever, a bit of a rollercoaster ride through the local music scene over the past few days - and long may these trips continue.
Posted in SHOFT on Friday 7th October 2011 at 11:10pm
Once again, I found myself in Paisley. A year ago I explained how I'd hoped for a pleasant, golden October evening on which to explore the town. In the event, I got a dark, miserable rain-soaked night instead. However, today was different - and dodging the groups of feral kids and fire engines which seemed to howling around the Town Centre with alarming regularity, I made my way along the High Street, taking a longer route to the Arts Centre. I was struck again by the grand civic architecture of the town and the sense that there was a fierce pride somewhere here, but like so many towns across the UK there were more than a fair share of closed up shops and cafes. Given this, its especially pleasing that somewhere like the Arts Centre exists, and remarkably enough, remains in public hands still. Tonight's show was preceded, like last year's 'Paisley Underground' events by an industry panel which was well attended, and as the panel finished and the audience spilled out, Vic Galloway was besieged by folks wanting to discuss things with him in more detail. Picked my way through the crowd which he'd generated and found my seat in the auditorium as the audience filed in.
A lot of people seemed to stay in the bar for opening act The Magick Circle - which is no surprise given the typical local arts centre type crowd who had once again turned out for this event. However, they missed a treat as Laura Carswell, familiar from earlier in the week, rather nervously led this band of local young Paisley musicians through a set of accomplished folk material, which they'd made their own by way of some interesting arrangements. One of the strengths of the Paisley Underground setup is how establised, crowd-pulling acts are paired with bands emerging from Reid Kerr College. Laura's voice was certainly the highlight - on this material striking a high, purely traditional register but lacking some of the depth and range of approaches she'd shown in her solo show perhaps. Added to this was a touch of carefully understated electric lead guitar to enhance and add a little edge to the melodies, and some delicate drumming which underpinned things perfectly. This allowed the band to deliver these traditional ballads and covers with a strangely jazzy edge, veering sometimes into a sort of underplayed folk-rock which looked enormous fun to be playing, and their enthusiasm shone through the nerves into a spirited performance. The opening track was dedicated to Bert Jansch, the very recent loss of which seemed to be affecting a surprising number of younger Scottish musicians too, with many having regarded him as a presence in their earliest musical memories it seems. His style and spirit live on in The Magick Circle particularly, and their sensitive but individual take on traditional songs seems to continue the tradition admirably.
With the audience swelled by latecomers, a surprising number of which managed to miss the start of the set entirely, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat took to the stage. With Wells ensconced behind his piano, the remainder of the band consisted of a trumpet player, a violinist and a double-bass player. With Moffat stationed behind a small collection of percussion instruments, the band swung into a surprisingly full-sounding groove, led by the remarkable piano playing from Wells. Despite Aidan recovering from a cold and having dosed himself up on remedies prior to the show, he was in fine voice - his unconventional Falkirk drawl having softened over the years since I last saw him sing live, becoming a warm and sometimes rather sentimental delivery. Much of the recent "Everthing's Getting Older" album was played and received a very warm response too, not least for "The Copper Top" which became an even more affecting rumination on age and change in this setting. Also played, and I understand from a forthcoming EP, was Bananarama's "Cruel Summer". Given a regretful and rather downbeat treatment, the bones of the song were revealed with a darker edge than perhaps expected given the tone of the original. Afterwards Moffat speculated on whether much of the audience would remember Bananarama? Looking around, I'm not sure many of them would remember Arab Strap to be honest!
Having experienced a rather staid, typically 'arts centre' type crowd here before, it was heartening to see a little banter developing between the stage and the audience tonight. As the band began a new song with a Halloween costume party theme, there was an outbreak of laughter which put Aidan completely off his stroke, exclaiming that Paisley was "easily pleased". I won't explain it here, because I don't want to ruin the moment when this song finally gets a release, but suffice to say it's a classic Aidan Moffat moment where bad life choices, illicit sex, religion and deceit collide. The new material is just as affecting and keenly observed as that on the recent album, with new stories on the old themes aplenty. By the end of the set, the audience just didn't want the band to leave - and I noted that Moffat had turned this not always comfortable auditorium's shortcomings to his advantage by narrowing the gap between audience and performer. No mean feat with these audiences, and testament to both his skills as a storyteller and Wells's remarkable talent as a composer and arranger of backdrops which give Moffat the space to develop his tiny, sometimes harrowing dramas.
It's difficult to describe just how moving and heartening tonight's performance was, and how well this music works in a live setting despite it's quiet, reflective nature. The simple instrumentation suited the setting and the material perfectly, and the intimacy of it's tone worked incredibly well here. My journey back to Glasgow was full of all the usual spectacle which a late evening here produces, and it was hard not to see some of this through the storyteller's eyes. Maybe I'm just getting older, and as the song says after all, everything is...
Posted in SHOFT on Thursday 6th October 2011 at 12:10am
Opening events tonight are local band Water Wolves. A simple enough set-up of two guitars and drums, which results in a surprising amount of jangly, surfy noise from the trio. The songs are packed with pop choruses and twangy solos which sometimes threaten to burst free of the songs completely. There's clearly a local audience for the choppy, stuttering gems which Water Wolves produce in short sometimes twee, sometimes abrasive bursts. The solid but uncomplicated drums pin it all down squarely, which given the lack of a bassist is no easy feat. There is a degree of ramshackle chaos here too, as the competing guitars sometimes stumble over each other in the melee. But this is proper, old-school indiepop delivered with a touch of Glasgow cynicism. When they cut loose and the tunes tumble over each other in an effort to be heard, it's pretty convincing stuff. Noisy, fun and unashamed of it's heritage. Well worth a listen, and certainly needs further seeking out on my part. There is talk of a tape on their MySpace page which I'd love to get a listen too.
Manchester's Milk Maid have been causing a bit of a stir lately, and their debut album "Yucca" is a noisy, low fidelity joy. So, it was good to see them on this tour with kindred spirits Mazes. Fresh from an Edinburgh show last night, it was interesting to note a Paws shirt on their guitarist, perhaps as a result of an international football style shirt swap? Given his position at stage-front it was hard not to notice their cooly disinterested bassist, who looked a little reluctantly and disdainfully out into the usual motley Captain's Rest audience. Once underway though, things became very, very loud indeed. Tougher and if possible, a little messier than on record, but the classic pop tunes buried inside Milk Maid's songs is never far from the surface. "Girl" is delivered with surprising delicacy, though still elicits a heckle of "is tha' lood enough fa ye?" from the never timid Glasgow audience. Sometimes the vocals drown in the noise - with the soundman struggling manfully to keep up with the increasing volume, but the melodies survive the onslaught intact. There is peculiar to Manchester blend of late-60s pop at the heart of Milk Maid's sound which maybe didn't sit so well here, where there is an established tradition of similar era-transcending noise pop? There's also a sense that people are here tonight because of the buzz around the bands on the bill, and aren't perhaps engaging with the music. This isn't helped by the largely stoic response from the band as they band plough into the set with a snarl. It ends with a better reception though, and I for one am happy to have seen and heard Milk Maid at last. It's certainly the loudest performance I've seen for years.
Before Mazes come on stage I overhear a snippet of conversation about a 1990s revival. The group discussing it seem to think this is, by definition a bad thing, and seem to be lumping tonight's acts firmly in that camp. I'll confess I'm a bit shocked, because despite my own observations and thoughts expressed in the Song, By Toad podcasts, I'd not really thought of this as a viable or even realistic idea. The people here were largely not around for "Slanted and Enchanted", and I can imagine from my own first reactions, their joy at discovering it. I guess I hadn't expected the backlash to start quite yet?
And perhaps the observations about the 90s revival are in some ways valid as Mazes arrive and burst into their set, sounding uncommonly like Polvo once again. Having seen them play at The Mad Ferret a month or so back, I know what to expect as they morph effortlessly into Dinosaur Jr. for "Go Betweens". The trio are a little more communicative and strike up a little stage-to-audience banter, which eases things. In between these odd conversations which don't really transcend the language barrier at times, the band throw in concentrate bursts of noisy, edgy brilliance. "Boxing Clever" is their most Pavement inspired moment - shuffling, choppy and gloriously simple. The music geek factor is upped a notch by inclusion of a Wipers cover which will feature on a forthcoming split 7" with Eagulls. Assisted on a couple of tracks by Milk Maid's Martin Cohen, the band sound tight, focused and complex. The set is a little longer than the one in Preston, and certainly louder and more self-assured. They leave the stage to a resounding reaction for former single "Most Days" having overcome the audience's earlier coolly disinterested stance by delivering infectious and irresistible noisy pop.
On the way home I find myself pondering the sense that there's nothing new under the sun, and the sense of heritage evident in all of tonight's acts. I wonder if is this really is a revival of my own musically formative years or whether it's a response to similar conditions for the arts which favour a pared-down, lo-fi approach? There's a whole other post in that and I resolve to think about it more, and thus probably won't ever manage to write it. But, if the 1990s are coming back can we please skip all that britpop nonsense?
Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 5th October 2011 at 11:10pm
It's that time of year, once again, when I find myself in Glasgow for a little while. Having planned one or two musical things for later in my stay, I was content to see how this evening panned out. Faced with a choice which I'm just not used to, I decided to kick my stay off with some quiet, acoustic music. It also meant a chance to visit The 13th Note again, which is always welcome, and as I relaxed with the newspaper during my pre-gig pint and listened to the selections from the near-legendary jukebox, I reflected on recent experiences elsewhere - and how much more civilised live music seems to be up here. In the event this was a wonderfully haphazard gig - and a real labour of love, with handmade CDs available on the door, a disappearing soundman, and one of the politest and most respectful audiences I've been part of for a very long time. That the organiser - also performing tonight - managed to pull this together seemed unlikely - but in the event it all turned out very well indeed.
First up is Laura Carswell from Paisley, and part of folk band The Magick Circle who by a quirk of coincidence I'm expecting to see later in the week. Laura trades in simple, direct and insistent compositions which, despite her background in folk music have the knack of turning into quiet, acoustic pop songs without warning. Moving from introspective, carefully constructed verses into clarion-call choruses, there's a little tension and drama in her delivery which keeps the audience rapt and surprisingly attentive. Song titles are a little hazy but "I Don't Blame You" has hints of a bitter edge - not wanting to play around anymore, but with perhaps a sense of resignation which is reflected in the bluesy, robust delivery. I'm also reminded of former-Glaswegian Lonely Tourist when Laura sings about the internal conflicts of the music business, with an uncompromising observation of "...the price you had to pay/for all that shit on stage" - and I'd love to know who is this about. Mid-set, a well chosen cover of Cat Power's version of "Sea of Love" is delivered raw and soulfully. Having consider this at some length, I'd say this one has the edge because, whilst I love the original, I'm sometimes put off by the overtly laconic edge in Chan Marshall's take. New material abounds in tonight's set, and by her own admissions nerves come with it. But this is assured, honest and beautifully direct music. I look forward to seeing Laura in a full band setting soon.
Next up is the humble, self-effacing and disorganised I, Khant who has also, it seems, doubled as the promoter and organiser of tonight's show. When on target, he delivers lyrically complex, if rather downbeat acoustic songs with plenty of dramatic shifts and clever melodic twists. With a low, reflective voice which occasionally leaps with emotion and stretches for impossible high notes, I'm moved to think of an acoustic Twilight Sad perhaps? There are even some brave acapella moments. Like all of these Glasgow acts, everyone is of course in everyone else's band, and I, Khant adds a kind of quantum take on this by peforming a cover of his own band's song which seems to be called "Momo". Moving to a piano for this, he delivers a sparse clipped melody and impenetrable but rather mournful lyrics. Picking out minor notes he intones with what seems to be genuine dismay "I'll be stuck like this for a while". Some of the material feels like a demo for a fuller band treatment, and I find my mind filling in the spaces and wondering what other projects I, Khant is related to. A quick internet search is fruitless, so I'm going to have to dig deeper.
Finally, Tom Morris steps up. Keeping his donkey jacket on due to feeling grim this evening, he shows no signs of this in his performance. His bluff, northern voice translates into a surprisingly mobile falsetto at times with almost no sign of effort. I'm familiar with Tom only from his vocal duties in the sprawling, dramatic post-rock outfit Her Name Is Calla, and a couple of band compositions feature tonight in stripped down form. What these solo songs share with their full-band counterparts is a sometimes ambitious, sprawling structure and Tom's vocals which which stray from a whisper into a remarkable howl. The songs are complex, heartfelt, consciously well-constructed nuggets of pop music, encapsulated in the familiar singer/songwriter format, but hardly limited by it. In particular "Survivor Guilt" is literal and painful, and when cut loose, Morris's voice is big, characterful and compelling. I'm also struck how matters of faith and religion recur in the lyrics here. Thrown in for good measure is a surprising cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" remembered from childhood, however it's clear than many of the audience tonight don't have enough years on the clock to share this recognition. Finally "Could Have Been A Fire" closes - a low key, high pitched ache as Tom shuffles off the stage, almost apologetically. With something like six self-released EPs of his material out there somewhere, this is going to require lots of further investigation.
Shuffling along the rain-soaked street back to my base for the weekend, I reflected on how I always go home with a list of music to investigate, and all kinds of new leads to follow up on. It's rare that I wander off from gigs closer to home with the same feeling these days, and again I'm struck by Glasgow's ability to both nurture local talent and to attract performers from elsewhere. It's going to be a busy few days, and this evening was the perfect way to kick things off.
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.