I have a habit of ending up here at the wrong times – and this hastily arranged trip was no exception as I’d arranged to head back tomorrow missing a Fence show which had an almost dream line-up for me. However, I’ve also had a fair share of happy accidents which have led to me crossing paths with some interesting new music. This time though, my timing had worked out perfectly in terms of catching up with the progress made by some of my previous exciting discoveries, as under the auspices of the West End Festival, Electric Honey records were curating an evening at Òran Mór which would also serve as the launch for White Heath‘s album. So, once a large wedding party had been negotiated and everyone had found the right location within the sprawling and beautiful building despite the efforts of security staff to direct us otherwise, the stage was set for a varied and interesting evening of music.
First up were Stirling’s Minature Dinosaurs who may yet represent the future of Electric Honey following a single release early this year. I’d not stumbled across this band before, and found them a bit of a strange proposition at first. They appeared on the surface to deliver pretty standard, anthemic indie-pop – albeit with reference points which were as impeccable as their heavily sponsored attire – showing from the outset that they had a clear understanding of the Scottish pop pantheon from Franz Ferdinand right back to touches of Orange Juice. Try as I might though, I just couldn’t get used to the curious yelping vocal delivery. Throughout a pretty frantic and busy set, there were touches of promise – lots of driving beats and infectious choruses, and where the space and time was allowed in their short snappy songs, some rather lovely swoons of guitar. When they played slower numbers, there was time to enjoy the potential here, but when they cranked up the pace and rattled through faster songs it became a little bit formulaic. I found myself willing vocalist Barry Maclean to sing in his own voice, which seemed melodic and strong at times, but veered into the affected whooping as things picked up pace. Its fair to say though, that a lot of people clearly enjoyed Miniature Dinosaurs set, and with time and space to develop – which Electric Honey have always seemed adept at providing for bands – they may yet deliver some interesting work.
I’ve been openly airing my near desperation to see French Wives for some time, and could hardly disguise my joy when they appeared on this bill – along with the news that Electric Honey will release their debut album sometime next year. Sadly, it really wasn’t to be French Wives‘ night, and from the outset they were dogged with sound problems which left things a little muddy and drowned the quieter parts of their set in a hum of feedback. Add to this an over-excited bar area full of Stow College students and their families, all gleefully but inconsiderately chatting – and it wasn’t going to be an easy gig. Proceedings began with “Covered in Grace” which promised to burst through the less than perfect conditions with it’s soaring violin and vocals. The band played all of their recently released EP on Red Hat Records, including a surprisingly toughened sounding “Big Brave Boy” which seemed bigger and bolder than on record, with chunkier guitars and rather fine bass playing – an element of French Wives I’d perhaps not picked up on until tonight. Despite their clear irritation at the sound situation on stage, French Wives managed to sound nothing less than huge in the hall, and thankfully the wonderful harmonies and Siobhan Anderson‘s soaring violin work managed to pierce the wall of low-level interference. Throughout the set, it was fascinating to watch the comic interplay of bizarre gurning and odd gestures between guitarist and bass player, who seemed to make the best of a bad lot and were determined to enjoy the experience. “Halloween” from the band’s debut single was sadly frustrated almost entirely by the ongoing poor sound and growing audience chatter, but still managed to deliver it’s thunderous ending which led swiftly into “Me vs. Me”. The angry edge to the performance actually served this tune well, with Stuart Dougan fairly snarling the line “I’m not having fun anymore“. I know the band didn’t, but most of the audience did. True professionals, one and all – and I’m pleased to have finally managed to see them play.
Woodenbox took to the stage looking fairly relaxed about proceedings. After all, they had a plan to deal with the sound issues – and it seems that was to simply blast on through it at full tilt. Indeed from the moment the mariachi brass and energetic harmonies first slammed through the muddy mix, the plan worked perfectly. The amazing and animated crowd response to “Life From Above” was surprising, after all this is in essence country music delivered with a degree of authenticity, and there was something incongruous about a crowd of young hip students and their folks reacting like this in the curious celebratory atmosphere which was developing in Òran Mór as the night wore on. Woodenbox had the advantage of a huge range of genres to choose from in their sweep across the vast continent of Americana, and things moved swiftly and effortlessly between swampy, southern darkness through whistling spaghetti western themes into moments of off-kilter skiffle and jazz. Vocalist Ali Downer looking every inch the archetypical southern man, but revealed his origins with a strange inter-city accent that could be from anywhere in the Central Belt, as he introduced the fantastic “Draw A Line” as their first ever single. It was delivered triumphantly with a joyous and blaring brass ending which managed to persuade sections of the partying audience onto their feet at last. Finally, a roaring take on “Hang The Noose” defeats the chatterers and the muddy sound once and for all with it’s unstoppable howl. They made it look easy tonight, and weirdly the thorough blasting which they gave the PA seemed to have finally cured it of it’s frustrating issues!
It was a big night for White Heath as their genuinely stunning debut album was launched at last, marking the culmination of their work with Electric Honey and Stow College. There was a sense that this was a graduation, and the gents from the band were dressed for a formal occasion tonight – making me feel just a little guilty for my description in an earlier live review! They took to the stage at Òran Mór to a remarkable reception, their ranks now including bass guitarist Craig Salter. As a low rumble of noise emerged, for one awful minute it seems the sound issues were back before it became clear that this was the brooding introduction to “Maker”. Soon the piano twined its jazzy improvisation around the emerging melody, and the sound began to build via the medium of Sean Watson‘s soaring vocal, eventually erupting into a tremendous noise. This collapsed directly into the sublime “Election Day” which shuddered and lurched beautifully with the addition of bass. I was struck by how White Heath have developed and changed in the short time since I last saw them play, and how the process of working over these songs in the studio has given them the confidence to experiment and play with their sound. As a perfect example, “GG” tonight becames a punky, joyful thrash with weird electronics jittering and dancing around it’s dark pop core. It’s utterly exhilarating to watch a band so clearly excited to be playing and comfortable enough with their material to turn some of it on it’s head entirely – not least the most reinvented song in White Heath‘s arsenal, “7:38am”. Tonight this adopted a strangely clipped, almost funky and tense edge which sent me back to the recording at the first opportunity to look for the clues that this was hidden in the track all along. The evening’s highlight for me arrived with “Past The Satellites, Into the Fray” which sets out tense and controlled but finally and joyously exploded with Shoub‘s vocal outburst and energetic tom-tom solo, provoking incidents of sudden and spontaneous dancing in front of me – and a bit of keyboard trashing rock’n'roll activity on stage too! With the album played in its entirety and thus well and truly launched, the most exciting aspect of tonight for me was watching these songs continue to evolve beyond their recorded form – and I sense that White Heath are not going to stand still for long.
As a truly wonderful audience reaction echoed around Òran Mór, I left the rather stunned and genuinely delighted looking band to the family and students who were keen to shake hands, hug and congratulate them. It had surely been White Heath‘s night, and despite a pretty remarkable line-up of bands it seems only right it should have been. It’s still early, when I emerge into a chilly but bright evening – and hopping onto a bus which takes the ski-ramp of the A82 and soars by the hulking Stow College building, I wonder not only what’s next for the bands I’ve seen tonight – but what amazing futures are already being dreamed up inside?