What if you threw a party, but no-one came? Sadly this became an all too real experience for the promoter of tonight’s gig at the Fleece. I should have suspected there was going to be a low turn-out when I appeared at the door a few minutes before the official door time clutching my pre-booked ticket. A chap broke off from the group discussing when to open and said “Ah! You’re the bloke who bought a ticket!”. We discussed Bristol’s fickle scene, Glasgow and the frankly crappy weather today before he let me in to the venue. Nothing has changed here since my last visit – still the same dark, cavernous and sticky-tabled spot on the edge of the city centre. A great place to see bands on the ascent – or sadly sometimes turning the curve at the other side. A range of posters above the bar bears testament to the now-giant bands who have passed through the doors, and probably had nights not dissimilar to this one.
So, with a couple more punters through the door proceedings started with Boolfight from Paris. They appear to be a fairly established act, an album and a few EPs into their career, who ply a strange sort of synth-based indie-rock. They were certainly very loud, and got strangely louder as their brief set progressed, until I realised to my amusement that the bass was tickling my nostrils! Not an experience I’ve had before. To be honest, this wasn’t for me. There was a slick, very European feel to the rather long and repetitive songs. However, these guys can certainly play technically well, and they deserve a huge amount of credit from throwing everything into their set despite the poor showing out front. I got the sense they’re really sincere about their work, and while it wasn’t my cup of tea I can see it would have gone down well with the strong following for more traditional ‘rock’ in Bristol, had people taken the chance on the band.
When I saw that Three Blind Wolves had been added to tonight’s bill my first thoughts were of Ross Clark singing in a stream on Detour‘s recent ‘Wee Jaunt’. If he could pull that off, then a big empty room in Bristol surely presented no problems? And it certainly didn’t as Ross’ massive stage personality shone through despite the strange situation and muddy sound. He gyrated and gurned his way through a set taken from their mini-album “The Sound of the Storm” and recent self-released single “Echo On The Night Train”. Having heard some of this material on record, it was great to hear it’s sometimes complicated twists and turns produced live, with sudden bursts of country turning effortlessly into full-on searing blasts of guitar. Alongside Ross’ exertions, the band cut steady and proficient figures – and made a sound much bigger than the four people on stage should have been able to. The small audience, predominantly now made up of the other bands, seemed to have a good time too – and it would be fantastic to see this bunch interacting with a bigger and more responsive audience.
So to Kid Canaveral – a band whose membership seems to span Scotland in origins, effectively linking the Glasgow network to the coast at St.Andrews with all the potential for amazing musical collisions which that suggests. I confess that following eagerly snapping up their EPs as they arrived, I had a bit of difficulty with the recent album “Shouting at Wildlife”, which I loved as a set of individual songs – but rarely seemed to sit through as an album. The great thing of course is that you can do this with Kid Canaveral – each song is a little universe of it’s own, and I’d often find myself obsessing over particular tracks which I just couldn’t help listening to over and over. Luckily for me, following a rip through single ‘Good Morning’, my current obsessive listen ‘Left and Right’ turned up which meant that at least one member of the tiny audience was beaming like an idiot for the rest of the set. I can’t explain my love for this uncomplicated song – it just makes me grin like a twat! Next came a cover – but not just any cover – this was ‘Missionary’ by the mighty King Creosote. This brave choice was pulled off with the song’s plaintive ache intact despite the change in tempo and sound. The short set concluded with a few more tracks from “Shouting at Wildlife”, notably ‘You Only Went Out to Get Drunk Last Night’ where the benefit of having three accomplished vocalists in the band was evident. It obviously hadn’t been a great night for the band – but they played a fine set, and sent me straight back to listen to the album on my journey home which is always a good sign. I just wish that Bristol could have been a bit more encouraging.
Looking back I’m proud I snapped up my pre-booked ticket the moment this gig was announced. Of course there was never any doubt I’d be out to see a band which had bothered to make the trek down from my beloved Scotland to play here – few do, and I can now see why. I had the opportunity to thank the equally bewildered promoter before I left tonight – and like he said, it’s important that bands keep getting the opportunity to play here despite nights like this. I’d love to have offered a word of encouragement to the bands too, for bothering to come down – but they were busy and I was running for the train back home. If you read this, thanks folks – I had fun and I’m just sorry people missed a chance to have a wet Tuesday night in Bristol brightened up immeasurably.
Even in my youth I don’t think I managed to go to four gigs in a row. This thought dawned on me today, as I lingered over a coffee and felt like I was properly on holiday for the first time in years! However, if there has been one aim this week, it’s been to capture as much of the energy, diversity and quality as I possibly can from the complex and confusing music scene here. I’ve been an admirer from afar from more years than I care to remember, but of course way back in the 1990s it was near impossible to be exposed to the diversity of music which the internet and decent connections allows now. So, despite my advancing years and dwindling stamina, I’m pretty excited about music again.
So, tonight was Pivo Pivo’s 10th Birthday celebration. This cellar venue near Central Station has hosted an incredible range of talented folks over the past few years, and it’s hard to believe that it’s a decade since the venue opened. Tonight started gently though with widely-tipped singer-songwriter Alex Cornish. There’s no doubt that he’s a talented guy with an ear for a radio friendly tune – which his recent BBC Radio 2 session is testament to. But for me it’s all just a little too easy, and lacks an edge. A Dire Straits cover is a step too far, and appears to be done with no sense of irony. It’s interesting to compare this to the young acoustic acts who played at the 13th Note a couple of days back – and to realise that they really want to be heard. Having said that, Alex closed his set with a song which featured a rather fine violin loop. I’m a sucker for violins, but I can’t forgive ‘Brothers In Arms’ even for that.It just wasn’t for me.
Next up was Andrew Jones performing without a band tonight, but for the first time with a female co-vocalist. She was nervous it was plain to see, but her crystal clear and pure voice worked beautifully alongside Andrew. Whilst not a million miles from Alex Cornish, the sense of purpose and self-belief was much more evident, and we got a witty and charming set, the highlight of which was ‘It Happened Another Way’ – a cautionary tale of bookshop literary romance which I’m sure many will relate to, the current writer included!
And so to White Heath. I’ve tried and failed to describe this band before – and I’m not sure I’ll succeed now. They shamble on stage, a collection of rather slight, somewhat geeky young men of the sort you’d expect to ply Oasis covers at a sixth-form disco. And then all hell breaks loose… Eschewing a traditional rhythm section, trombone and a single bass drum are used to startling effect. Over this piano, guitar and violin are laid, building an epic – almost filmic – sound, which occasionally hints at eastern and oriental influences. As a second song, without pause the band roar into ‘Election Day’ from their debut EP, the vocals turning into a pained, plaintive howl while the trombone tries to take the song into Eastern Europe or the Middle East. ’7:38am’ and ‘Leviathan’ follow with Sean Watson promising “some pop music next”. We’re not disappointed, as the band romp through the comparatively sunny ‘GG’ before returning to their apocalyptic roar with ‘Blue’. The crowd can’t respond favourably enough, and the band are clearly touched by the response. Now signed to the legendary Electric Honey imprint (who have previously championed Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol and Biffo Clyro among others) critical acclaim and widespread exposure can’t be far off for this remarkable and truly original band. I’m so pleased I was able to see them.
As I stumbled back to my adopted home for the week via a guilty visit to the Blue Lagoon, I reflected that I’d been somewhat spoiled for music this week. However, all being well, the run of fine Scottish music won’t stop just yet with Kid Canaveral due a visit to home turf next week! It’s been a varied, enjoyable and tiring week – and I only wish it could continue!
I’d been to Paisley once before…I’d decided to fly up to Glasgow on a whim, and soon realised that the associated hanging around and the time wasted at the airport quickly made my much loved train journey a very sensible option. However, on the return I’d used the rail-bus link to get back to the airport, just to do a little extra track. I remember descending from the platforms at Gilmour Street to a grey evening and the minibus endlessly circling quiet, menacing estates on the way to the terminal. I’d not taken away the best impression.
Today dawned wet and grey, with some filthy weather predicted. I spent the day in record shops and drinking coffee, using a break in the rain for a wander down Byres Road for old times sake. Booking my ticket back in August, I’d envisaged a golden autumn evening in which to reappraise Paisley – it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to get one. So stepping out of Gilmour Street and into the Town, rather than the backstreets, I was quite surprised to see a little bustle of activity around the Square. A new shopping centre was mostly closed for the day, except for a supermarket on the corner. However, I did note the presence of three separate chain betting shops next door to each other – either a bit of neat licensing and planning work, or an indication of the population’s overwhelming propensity to gamble. Moreover, I noted some impressive buildings around the town, the red sandstone churches and municipal buildings dominating the area south of the station.
I headed for the Arts Centre, with the intention of having a pint first. I popped into a newsagent on the way to grab a paper, and almost kicked a chap sitting on the step, drinking mouthwash. Here I almost got angry because I didn’t want to have to tell these kind of anecdotes about a place which was struggling hard to drag itself through difficult times, but he was minty fresh proof that Paisley wasn’t a picnic just now. I found a fairly sensible looking pub, and ordered my beer – noting the barmaid giving me a very strange look. I thanked her and offered my cash and she stopped and fixed me with a glare. It seems my politeness had been mistaken for a chat-up line! I explained I was English which seemed to satisfy her immediate concern, and she noted that the locals only ever said thank-you when they were propositioning her. I eyed the large bouncers who were looking on with interest at our prolonged conversation, and decided against any attempt at witty response.
So, to the Arts Centre. A rather fine old church converted into a permanent arts venue. Stepping inside, a busy little cafe and reception greeted me, and I stopped for a coffee while the Music Industry Panel concluded in the auditorium. This meant a passing nod to DJ Vic Galloway as he popped out for a cigarette – thus completing the set of prominent Scottish radio celebrities for the trip! Sizing up the audience, they were certainly ‘arts centre’ material. Having been in the top quartile age-wise for the past two nights, I slipped down to the middle here, with some serious looking local ‘arts’ folk in evidence, sipping gingerly at beakers of red wine and talking about exhibitions in ‘town’ – which surprisingly, given the culturally diverse and exciting city on their doorstep, appeared to mean London!
First up, and to be totally honest the reason I’d trekked out here tonight, were Julia and The Doogans. I’ve loved Julia’s songs since first hearing ‘Collide’ and had always hoped to have a chance to see her play. Tonight the band was small, but made a big sound with Jennifer on keyboards and Renata on cello. This conjured a lush, deep sound to counter the clear, high vocals. I don’t often use the expression, but it was utterly beautiful to hear. Julia herself appeared nervous but soon got into the swing of things, playing among others ‘Diamonds’, ‘Come Home’, ‘New York City’ and ‘Answer’ which only exists as a demo as far as I’m aware. She intended to finish with a solo tune in ‘Glasgow’ – but a guitar tuning issue meant she decided to sing this acappela – a brave move but one which earned her rapturous applause from a tricky crowd.
The headline act tonight was former Delgado Emma Pollock. Two albums into a solo career she has proved that she justly shared the songwriting credit for her former band with some clever, often rather complex pop music. I confess her most recent record The Law of Large Numbers hasn’t really clicked with me yet – but in listening to it last weekend to prepare for tonight, I recognised some really fine songs which I wanted to hear live. The set combined these with a handful from the first, rather more direct ‘Watch the Fireworks‘ album. It was fantastic to see how much fun her live band seemed to be having, with multi-instrumentalist (and impressively bearded) Jamie Savage demonstrating a dizzying range of skills in particular. Standouts for me were the stunning ‘I Could Be a Saint’ and storming ‘Adrenaline’. A thoroughly enjoyable set, which got the seemingly rather staid audience whooping and hollering towards the end.
So, back to Gilmour Street in the rain – and finally something of a reprieve for Paisley. The Arts Centre is a gem of a venue, despite it’s deeply uncomfortable seating – and that they have the vision to book bands like these is heartening indeed. For my own part, I caught sight of my developing beard in the train window and realised with some horror that I resemble Henry VIII somewhat. Perhaps I should leave that to the professionals too?
Its become apparent that age and aging will be the recurring theme of this visit to Glasgow. Turning up the day after my birthday, in the midst of a month which is always turbulent, means that it was never going to be far from the agenda. However, oddly, I seem to be enjoying the first flush of a mid-life crisis which is allowing me to behave cautiously badly. Yes, the late nights take their toll – and the ever present hint of a cold surfaces in the dark mornings – but mostly, I feel strangely free to do what I wish just now.
Hence tonight – originally my ‘evening off’ of the trip, but populated by a late showing at the 13th Note. It’s a fair number of years since I’ve been downstairs here – and I confess I can’t even remember who I saw. Tonight though, things kick off with GoLucky – essentially a one-man show, but helped on this occasion by “Mrs Go Lucky” on vocals and ‘rockenspiel’ and a colleague on keyboards and violin. Of the three bands on the bill I knew least about them, and possibly left most impressed by them. The tight, cleverly-worded songs were carefully accompanied with enough embellishment to draw out their intricacies. A fragile voice, buoyed when it counted, by his wife with a high, clear and alluring voice of her own. Bonus points to Go Lucky for naming a song “Texaco” – a word I used to obsess over slightly, noting how strange it sounds if you repeat it to yourself over and over. I suppose I had quite a sheltered childhood in some ways…But as for Go Lucky, they are very much worth your time and effort.
Looking around the dungeon which is the downstairs part of the 13th Note, I realised that the only people even close to my age were the parents of one or two of the bands, and some spectators who seemed to be linked to the rather wonderful Glad Cafe project – which recently benefited from a fine compilation CD released by 45 A Side Records featuring one of tonights bands. If this was making me feel old, then the next act surely would. The Lonely Oatcake sound like Hank Williams, had he been reared on Withered Hand and Nirvana. The music is clever, quick-witted and tinged with Ben’s sad violin. The lyrics however, are straight from a bedroom or a sixth-form common room. This isn’t always bad, and some of the songs, taken in context have an internal charm of their own. However, it gets a little hard to splice the music and the lyric at times, which is a shame – because it’s never less than enjoyable to listen to these guys. For me, raised on a diet of Dylan and Neil Young long before I discovered indie music, this is the band I wish I could have been in twenty years ago. The troubling matter is that I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t be in the same band today given half a chance!
Finally, we come to Barn Owl. Despite being ‘yet another animal named band’, these guys have done incredibly well over the past year or so. Certainly, I’ve been hearing their names in all sorts of places – which given the huge physical distance between me and the grassroots music scene in Glasgow, is no small feat. It’s a stripped down Barn Owl tonight without their organist – who also adds a variety of other tweaks to the sound. However, this didn’t change the fact that these gents can write a sterling song! Tight, clever and almost effortlessly, they slipped through a set of occasionally stratospheric pop songs. Dual vocals, with an occasional nod to Pavement, are supported by a really great little rhythm section who hold everthing together. Highlight for me is “When No-one Is Around” which appeared on the aforementioned Glad Cafe CD. It’s a complicated song which rewards a good listen. All sheen and pop on the surface, but with hidden depths.
So, I left the 13th Note feeling decidedly old, but also thinking that maybe I could use the excuse of a crisis of confidence to revive my own musical meanderings. I think, perhaps, I need a good night’s sleep!
It’s been a long day – and Birmingham seems like another country now. Quite a bit has happened since then in fact. I got up early, and disappeared into the bowels of New Street while it was still dark. I felt pretty grim, the usually October cold barely suppressed, and strangley nervous about the days ahead. I stake a lot on my visits to Glasgow – and sometimes expect too much.
As we emerged from the tunnels though, I knew today was going to be just a little bit exceptional. The day had dawned cold and clear, with perfect blue skies. As we sped north, through familiar territory from last week’s jaunt, I managed to settle my unease with coffee, music and the chance to really relax for the first time in a long time. I contemplated the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review later with some magnanimity – I’d made my predictions, but wondered if this trip might be a last fling before the belt tightened. All the more reason to make it count in one sense. No pressure then…
So fast-forwarding a little, I find myself in Macsorley’s – a corner bar near Central Station which I’d wandered by countless times on my travels. Inside, it’s tiny and the interior is like a shrine to traditional Scottish pub traditions – a U-shaped bar, surrounded by woodwork. Just dark enough to feel private, just busy enough to feel comfortable. I was immediately at home. It was interesting to study the customers – a mixture of town centre types, out for an early drink, and those here for the entertainment – a more mixed bunch, lots of knitwear and the inimitable Glasgow style. In the corner, big Jim Gellatly appeared to be conversing with a lost Kray triplet. I felt instantly at home, found my corner and settled in.
First up was Cristin Mackenzie from the Isle of Lewis. His gentle songs were carried above and beyond the bar chatter by way of his colleague who deployed a range of instruments, from whistles to what appeared to be Northumbrian Pipes. Occasionally, his voice too soared high above the background noise, which unfortunately prevented him from being heard fully. A talented young guy with lots of local support in Glasgow. A real pleasure to hear him.
Next up was Sarah Banjo – a recent discovery for me, and someone I really wanted to see perform. She started out, an alluring and unassuming shamble of clothes and glasses at the front of the room, before very suddenly, a high clear voice soared. There was something about her phrasing, her use of repetition and the construction of her songs which made me think of Olympia and K Records – Lois and Mecca Normal. But her use of guitar and banjo brought the music effortlessly back to it’s Scottish roots in that rare pool of talent, Anstruther. She also practically refused to stop playing, which is always a good thing in my book. Part way through the set she switched from a quietly strummed guitar to a more robust and eponymous banjo. A remarkable set which lived up to all my expectations.
And so, to Esperi – perhaps the artist I knew most about on tonights bill. His recordings are careful, fragile things which threaten to dissolve like ancient wax cylinders. Live, it’s quite remarkable to see how these tiny works of genius are created. He flits from instrument to instrument, setting up a loop from live sounds. The microphones are moved, and impossible toys are produced from his bag. Tiny whistling sea horses, bells and whistles. Over all of this, his quiet voice weaves gentle songs. I’m glad I got to see this because the performance is so much part of the sound. A remarkable talent.
So, as I trudged down Argyle Street in the inevitable rain, I reasoned that today turned out pretty well, despite my reservations. It’s good to be back.