Posted in SHOFT on Saturday 31st January 2015 at 11:01pm
It's a sparkling, frosty night in the city. Bristol always benefits from a cold, crisp day - and there is something about the wintry atmosphere of anticipation outside The Marble Factory which makes for a buzz among the gathering crowd. We stamp and blow into our hands while a horde of hi-vis clad security, more used to unseasonally dressed, boggle-eyed ravers, look on disinterestedly. Here, tucked somewhere into the industrial zone behind Temple Meads station, is possibly one of the odder places I'll have seen Kenny Anderson perform. From civic halls in rural Lancashire, via rooms above Fife rugby clubs, I feel like I've walked a path with him this past decade. And that's why most of us are here tonight - because there is something about Kenny - or at least his musical-persona-cum-rotating-band King Creosote which makes us feel like we're part of something a little more significant. Something a bit special.
As we're waiting for the doors to open, I overhear a conversation nearby: "I've only heard one song on the radio, and it sounded good...." - and I realise I've written about just this sort of incident before. The unfounded feeling of mild superiority, the slight curl of disdain for the uninitiated. Don't pretend. We've all had it. It's a human enough trait. But any sense of this soon gives way to something very different: I'm excited for her. She's going to hear music she'll want to scurry away to discover. It'll be 'just hers' - a secret that she'll try to share with mildly amused friends. She'll want to find all she can of Kenny's improbably immense back catalogue. And I'm jealous. Because I'll not get to do that again...
But I'm not here to project whimsy onto snippets of probably misheard chatter, and when we're finally inside the huge space which is not really any warmer than outside, it strikes me that its almost two years since I saw King Creosote the band, as opposed to the more familiar solo or small ensemble show which has been ranging the length of the country this past year or so. Most recently this has been on the back of "From Scotland With Love", the beautiful and cheekily irreverent soundtrack to an hour of wonderfully evocative archive footage which aired just before the Commonwealth Games last summer. First up is Sorren Maclean who is part of the band tonight, and has been part of a fair number of Scottish bands over the past few years. Here though he is playing his own songs. Delicate and quiet, embellished with a little of Pete Harvey's cello and some fine fiddle playing - and somewhat typically drowned out by audience chatter. There's a cover of Bob Dylan's "If Not For You" thrown in there too, which is slowed to an emotive crawl, flecked with strings and delivered in his clear-as-a-bell Mull voice. I'm not sure the audience gave Sorren nearly the chance he deserved - but for those of us who listened, it was a rare treat in a support act which fitted the bill perfectly.
It's worth noting that The Marble Factory is in fact part of a larger concern - the Motion nightclub. Next door in what appeared to be a modestly sized aircraft hangar, preparations were already underway for the influx of gurning ravers, and a peek through the security door separating this smaller space from the gaping cavern beyond made me shudder with remembrance of my youth. That was never for me. This also meant that tonight's show was an early one, designed to finish at 10pm sharp to let things get underway at the club. I secretly thanked the youngsters who would be coming to dance for sparing this particular old man too late an evening, as the infuriatingly ever-young Kenny and his band took to the stage. There were familiar faces aside from Sorren and Pete: Amy MacDougall who has been part of the band for a while (sometimes known as Bam Bam) and Captain Geeko the Dead Aviator. Accompanied by an organist, a stand-up bass player and violin, this was the biggest group I'd seen KC front since his last stint with The Earlies in 2011. The tone was set early one with a run of songs from "From Scotland With Love" which started with a soaring take on "Something To Believe In" and culminated in a triumphant and tear-inducing "Paupers' Dough". Scanning back over the audience, there were a good few singing along with the uplifting refrain of "you've got to rise from the gutter which you're inside". There were also many, many happy and bewildered faces who clearly hadn't quite expected this. I've never seen an audience respond with anything less than warmth and enthusiasm to Kenny, and this was no exception. On the stage too, something remarkable was happening, and with the band effortlessly reading each other's cues and Kenny clearly thoroughly enjoying himself, things were sounding pretty good. The set was also peppered with new material - either yet to be recorded or from the currently vinyl only "Three On This Island" record which remains frustratingly elusive to me.
Cover versions have always been a feature of KC shows, and following an anecdote about his learning of instruments being linked to celebrity deaths, the band launched into a weirdly heartfelt take on Demis Rousoss' hit "For Ever and Ever". By playing it straight, not giving in to the temptation to make it a novelty, and teasing out the ache at the heart of the song, a radio hit that blighted my childhood was transformed beyond all recognition. As a counterpoint, the stomping proto-polka of "Largs" whipped the audience up into cheers and handclaps - even some mild bouncing around! No-one seemed to remember how chilly it was, or the fact that they had a cold walk back to cars and buses very soon. At the end, Kenny decided to dispense with the theatrics around the encore and encouraged the band to crouch down on stage in plain sight as the audience hollered for more, feigning surprise when they stood up to play us just a couple more songs. This included "Homeboy" which hasn't graced a KC set with a full band for quite a while, and concluded with a roaring, triumphant version of "The Happy Song".
So was Kenny happy? It's always hard to know if the misunderstandings and disappointments documented in his songs are recent, or hark back to the past - and so many of his songs have lived previous lives, reinvented and reinterpreted as he works with different musicians. But tonight, on stage with a band he clearly loved playing with and to an appreciative and surprisingly large audience, he looked pretty content. I hope the people who'd come out on the strength of that one song on the radio are now avidly seeking out new King Creosote material, just like I was after I first discovered them.
Posted in SHOFT on Friday 2nd January 2015 at 9:07am
It's been a long while since I could legitimately refer to myself as a Music Blogger. So long in fact, that a good number of the contacts I made back then have largely forgotten who I am and are focused on getting more active and prolific champions to notice their own next big projects. That's how music works, and in some ways I'm surprised it took such a long time to happen. One way I'm not forgotten though, is by the mailing lists of press people. This produces an endless queue of 'for review' items even now - often wildly badly targeted, almost exclusively pretty dreadful too. But once or twice, this historical status has landed a gem of an anticipated release in my lap - and I've felt almost guilty for eagerly downloading it, knowing the chances of me writing anything on it are vanishingly slim. So this post is as much an apology and a nod to those who've sent me good things during the year as it is a personal end-of-the-year list. This is after all, how my blogging began...
So in a pretty lean year when I've had to be very selective about where my money goes, what has been essential? Have I been more conservative - or still struck out into uncharted waters? Well, the content of my list is unashamedly focused on the Scottish music which has dominated my listening over the past decade for sure - but there are a few blasts from the past creeping in here too.
In no particularly sensible order, here is my list...
Posted in SHOFT on Monday 17th December 2012 at 7:12am
Those with long memories, unaffected by a year or two of musical excess, will recall that Songs Heard On Fast Trains grew out of an unprompted end-of-year favourites list on my not usually music focused personal blog. Well, somewhere in the summer I decided to stop writing here - a decision which weirdly aligned with a whole lot of other changes, which result in a very different set of circumstances right now. At the time, I decided I soon missed my interminably long descriptions of music, and oddly - to me at least - so did a few other people. I thought about casting around to see if there was anywhere I could contribute, perhaps even anonymously to avoid the whole "but you're not Scottish" bullshit which plagued the last few months of Songs Heard On Fast Trains too. In the end, the solution came rather unexpectedly from Mr Peenko himself. Lloyd approached me to write for his excellent, exclusively Scottish blog which tidied away a lot of the issues, and let me ramble on again about music I loved. He has also been incredibly tolerant of my erratic work rate, constant disappearances to the United States and general failure to thrive. I'd promise to improve, but I suspect he knows it won't happen!
So, we approach the end of a year which has been pretty momentous for me personally, and a little strange musically. There have been few really startling albums - but lots of smaller releases by bands I've loved. One thing which has remained constant is how important music has been to me - and how big a part it has played in all the other changes I've seen this year. So, when asked to contribute my favourite albums of the year to Peenko I struggled somewhat - but came up with things which I've listened to a great deal. These are records which have sustaining power above and beyond the norm - and which I'd wholeheartedly recommend.
Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 18th July 2012 at 8:07am
It seems fitting that what is very likely the last review on Songs Heard on Fast Trains should feature a number of performers who have cropped up throughout the life of the blog in various guises. Like this blog itself, they've marked some changes over the past several years and are probably sounding just a little more world-weary and damaged than when they set out on the journey too. But, that's perhaps no bad thing as it provides the seed for a pair of simply recorded but hugely engaging collections of music. Writing about music is something I've always done - and probably always will do somehow, somewhere - but it's clear that this particular vehicle has run it's course and is now causing irritation and dismay more often than it informs or delights. I know when I'm beat - but thankfully these folks don't have any intention of sloping quietly away while there is music to be made. Thus this split EP, delivered on the defiantly outsider medium of the cassette, presents two distinct views into a music scene which remains healthily challenging and richly inventive.
If there was ever music fit to soothe such tricky moments of departure, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo probably wrote it. Proceedings open with the lazy, mock self-congratulatory backslapping of "You Are An Excellent Human Being". The delicate construction is built around a swaggering bassline and washes of ghostly steel guitar both courtesy of Robbie Lesiuk, which provide a canvas for the laconic vocals of D.King. Coming on something like a central-belt Will Oldham, King's lyrics veer from cynical irritation to surreally descriptive passages while his vocal switches seamlessly between an Elvis Presley sneer and howls of genuine frustration. It's an odd, unsettling prospect at first but this blend of fragile, blasted country-pop and acidic Scottish wit comes together in a strangely addictive fashion. The stuttering "Let Redemption Sway You" follows, and is oddly like the Rolling Stones at their edgy, enervated late 1960s best, its distant lead guitar playing a respectful second string to a shuffling, urgent rhythm. This swiftly becomes a stripped-back gospel number, a chorus of voices transported directly from the Flying Burrito Brothers back catalogue accompanying D.King in his role as edgelands preacher, living on the margins and barking his message at unsuspecting passers by. Adam Stafford's influence is more apparent on "No Match for the Monster" which spirals around a thunderous, distorted bass and beat-box rhythm. King's vocals here are a mutant megaphone growl, snarling through a confusing, paranoid blues. His lyrical preoccupations tumble over each other, as the apparent after effect of weekend excesses are described as "lying dormant in an ecological cage" before he becomes rightfully enraged at "the atrocities committed by the British Empire". This is a twisted, angry and rather beautiful mess of a song, low in fidelity but high on ideas and bursting with snippets of lyrical brilliance. Somehow too, it reminds me of a rather less uncomfortably nihilistic Royal Trux in it's sprawling, damaged bluesy delivery. Finally, "Indecent Love" is a comparatively clean and shiny thing built around gently strummed acoustic guitars and fervent handclaps. Via a brittle echoing meander of steel guitar, King swaggers through the closest thing he manages to a good old fashioned love song. It's just as warped and uncomfortably deranged as the other songs here, but using a more conventional structure manages to worm its way into the memory.
While country music doesn't seem any closer to resolving its intractable image problems, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo manage to smuggle its soul out of the bloated excesses of the Grand Old Opry and install it somewhere in downtown Falkirk. The resulting tumble of blasted ballads, twisted spirituals and good-time rock and roll are proud to come from the wreckage of that once proud genre but are delivered with a cynical sneer which all those emerging hipster rock bands can only dream of perfecting. Ultimately, the "Control Horses" EP is self-assured, grimly humourous and dangerously addictive listening.
Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo - Let Redemption Sway You
Adam Stafford is no stranger to writing experimental and challenging music which deviates from the usual structure of the rock song, as evidenced on the entirely acappella "Awnings" project. Here on "Slam Your Doors in Golden Silence" he takes on the challenge of writing four pieces for film, dispensing entirely with his distinctive vocals. In distinct contrast to the Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo side, these accompanying tracks are a more restrained affair, but remain surprisingly accessible. "Where Cuckoos Will Spend The Winter (Will Soon Be Revealed)" is essentially built around a trio of guitar lines - a pensively plucked rhythm which plays host to a delicately pretty repeated motif and a wandering, echo-laden solo. These intertwining themes enter and leave the piece with the spaces filled by a shifting buzz of feedback which is never allowed to get out of control. "Working Hard to Breathe" centres on two jangling, nagging guitar notes while a glacially slow bassline shores up the piece. Perhaps the most distinctive link to Adam Stafford's more familiar solo material is the twisting lead guitar lines which dance around these elements. The sinister hum which shifts around the reverberating bass and guitar of "Vessels Shifted" has something of a David Lynch quality to it. An unsettling soundscape, with snatches of indecipherable speech in the background which have the uncomfortable air of a fevered, long-forgotten Reichsparteitag speech. Finally "Temperatures Will Respond" twinkles into being - a cascade of glassy, high-register guitar notes accompanied by plangent and sinister bass. The elements of the piece coalesce around the simple melody, additional guitar parts joining to shore things up as they build towards a cliff-edge, heart-in-mouth ending.
There is an overly simplistic view that instrumental music - and especially music written for film - is as simple as removing the words from a traditional composition. Of course it's not, and the discipline and restraint shown throughout these four pieces betrays Stafford's skill as a film-maker as much as his musicianship. The best soundtracks are able to augment and support what occurs on-screen without dominating or distracting the emotional focus. These pieces manage that ably, but also stand up as beautiful, intricate and often delicately celebratory pieces in their own right. It's a side to Adam Stafford that his songs and lyrics often obscure, and if it moves you to look at some of his filmmaking too then it's work is done.
Adam Stafford - Vessels Shifted
"Control Horses" and "Slam Your Doors in Golden Silence" will be issued as a split EP on limited edition orange cassette with an aqua case on August 23rd via Wiseblood Industries.
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.