Out of St Petersburg, the darling city of Russia’s love of arts, comes a stylish symphony orchestra that last night toured its way into Perth’s ever magnificent concert halls. The acoustics especially in Perth magnify such moments, transmelding the music into manna for the ears, & thus the soul. For me, Russian symphonic music tends to consist of individual phrases which will then get caught up by the leviathan of the whole of the entire orchestra – rather like the collection of Soviets that make up Russia itself. As for our guests, the Saint Petersburg orchestra played on throughout the 90-day siege of the city (as Leningrad) during WW2. Fortified to their very fibres, they were an institution worth driving a hundred miles to see.
A full house was presented with three Russian compositions – two Tchaikovskys & a Rachmaninov – music created by Russians, played by Russians & appreciated by the world. The first was Tchaikovsky’s sonata-poem & masterpiece, the Fantasy Overtureof Romeo & Juliet, which shows how the living energy of poetry may bound beyond its formal literary restrictions & create the phantasia, the mental images, just well. Composed midway between Borodino & the Oktober Revolution, it reflects the high tide of Tsarist culture. Inspired by Balakirev’s King Lear, it contains an exquisite paean to love, like a lady’s dress willowing through a sunlit glade, whose dramatic reprise near the end may quake open even the stoniest of tear-wells. Conducted by Alan Buribayev, & played by the dapper-dressed, the 20 minutes flew by in a stanzaic procession of music images, in which the essence of Shakespeare’s characters & dramatic message were relayed.
Next came Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto 4 (in G Minor), played by a white-haired, slightly inelegantly-postured Mancunian, Peter Donohoe. Looking a little awkward in his tails, as soon as he sat down & began to play the piece, I knew I was in the presence of a bohemian maestro. Take away the orchestra, dim the lights, add an empty & a half-full bottle of vodka, a gently smoking cigar, & I was transported into the musical sanctuary of this superb musician. As Donohoe surfed the lucid fluidity & swaggering confidence of Rachmaninov’s orchestral design, I gazed on his twinkling, glittering fingerwork, & the overall sound effect seemed rather like stars against a satin sky. Slated after its 1927 premier with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Rachmaninov revised the score to create a now beloved piece.
After the interval, Alan Buribayev returned to conduct Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique,’ a less brilliant affair than his Romeo & Juliet, but one brimful with heart-warming moments of pathos. It was to be the composer’s final creation, indeed he died just weeks after its premier, & it seems almost like we are watching Tchaikovsky’s entire life in music flash before his eyes. Starting out teasing & playful, like a boy cherub at the feet of his parents, there soon follows a triumphant piece hectic with eclecticism, like the waking of a dragon protecting its treasures, the music grows tenser until, towards the end, as the music lifts into a kettledrum quivering, footstomping swirl of strings, I began to obsessively watch Buribayev’s feet as they danced & darted about the rostrum as if he was Northern Souling it down the Wigan Casino. He is only in his late 30s, & is a true talent; a really energetic individual that infuses the performance with his giddying enthusiasm.
After the finale, our rapturous applause eked out two short encores – Bach & Brahms – which tends not to happen so much with British orchestras. The Russians are clearly an extremely cultured people, as increasingly are the very lucky residents of Perthshire, into which region is poured a constant medley of the arts. And long may it continue.
Spree Festival, Paisley Arts Centre – 22 October 2017
Formed from the ashes of the disbanded Fence Collective label in 2013 by the sensational Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail, this Strange Invitation event was a gathering of artists from the Lost Map roster. Just as last Sunday’s gig at the Paisley Arts Centre featuring Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert paid homage to the legendary Chemikal Underground label from Glasgow, ‘Strange Invitation’ was an opportunity to gloat about the treasure trove of artists signed to the independent record label, delivering stripped back performances spread across a Sunday afternoon into the evening.
A sparse crowd at the start were welcomed by the Pictish Trail, goading them to “enjoy the beautiful, miserable songs” that the label has to offer. First on stage, and five years into his solo career since departing psychedelic-dub pop band Brothers In Sound, Ed Dowie travelled to Paisley from London to perform songs from his debut album ‘The Uncle Sold’. Bathed in a pink light, Dowie’s hymns were a soft numbing of the senses using a keyboard, a laptop, foot pedal and backing tracks to lift and lower each song. Experimental snippets such as “Alive” from ‘The Adjustable Arm’ EP sat comfortably with newer compositions such as “Why Do You Live In France?”, with only Dowie’s anxious floundering between songs breaking the intimate and romantic spell which his songs conjure.
Becoming the latest Scottish band to display affection for our four-legged friends (Hair Of The Dog, Dogs Die In Hot Cars, etc) four-piece Good Dog, fronted by Tuff Love/Pictish Trail multi-instrumentalist Suse Bear presented a slightly different key change. Fresh from recently delving into an electronic and synthesiser-fuelled collaboration with Errors’ Steev Livingstone, Bear’s new project debuted at the Spree Festival. The problem and the delight about entirely new bands is a mystique about what songs are about or what titles they possess, but with a voice akin to Sinead O’Connor at her most fertile and carefully-crafted sunlight-pop tunes, the band will do well. Light, haunting tracks and a peculiarly-amiable demeanour between band members Cammy on bass and Iain on drums made this an intriguing and humble first outing. “I’m used to playing bass but these extra two strings are giving me bother”, joked Bear. It honestly never showed. Check the link below for more on this outfit.
Kid Canaveral have incredibly been around for a dozen years now, first performing in a supporting role for King Creosote and tonight’s curator, the Pictish Trail. Tonight, frontman David MacGregor was on hand to deliver a solo, acoustic set exhibiting the alt-pop sounds which have earned the band such plaudits. Announcing himself as “one-fifth of Kid Canaveral”, MacGregor’s soaring vocals are clean and uplifting, accompanied by short, sharp finger-picking on songs such as the fabulous “First We Take Dumbarton”. Joking between songs about being “full of snotters” or “being unable to read (his) useless new Headstock tuner”, MacGregor drilled through songs from 2010’s debut record ‘Shouting At Wildlife” to anthemic “Pale White Flower” from last year’s ‘Faulty Inner Dialogue’ record without fault. Split between heartbreak and yearning, everything spills out in the spectacular volume of his delivery, barely shifting feet and channelling all energy through neck muscles. “How quickly the light drains out of me”, MacGregor sings on second record gem “Low Winter Sun”, before exiting to a much-swelled audience brimming with applause.
New label signing Alabaster dePlume (aka Angus Fairburn) was joined on stage by Ed Dowie once more (Earlier in the evening, dePlume had accompanied Dowie on saxophone during one number), and Ursula Russell on drums. This was undeniably the star turn and strangest act on the bill as DePlume’s peculiar and whimsical spoken word cranked up the ‘Strange Invitation’ event title to 11. “I wanted to impress you so I brought my bling”, dePlume quips before lifting a saxophone to his lips and delivering a stirring, synth-soaked sparkler partnered by meditative Indian psalms to Gregorian monk chanting. Performance poem “Be Nice To People” is executed theatrically and expertly, while at the end of each poem/song, greeted with a smile, air fist-pump and a wiggle of his skinny hips. “I fucking love doing this, if you haven’t already gathered that”, he exclaims. The beautiful harmonies and melodies on the song “They Put The Stars So Far Away” is a magical addition to the set, with only Dowie on keys seemingly unable to conceal his fatigue from travelling so far north. This won’t be one for everyone, but dePlume’s style of jazz and wordplay is something very different and watchable to anything else around.
Post-interval break it was the turn of Glaswegian-based indie outfit Savage Mansion. Led by Craig Angus, spotted dancing to the side of the stage to Talking Heads just prior to their set, the energy of this four-piece enabled them to drive through 9 songs during their half hour set. The briskness of “Trouble In Paradise” slowed down with the pop-edged “Do You Say Hello To Your Neighbours?”, the band’s most recent single. Andrew McPherson cuts an impressive figure on second guitar, flanked by an equally groove-tinged Jamie Dubber on bass, and it was a slightly peculiar sight that the lead singer was arguably the most nervous on show. Gradually, older numbers such as “Elwood” found Angus in his comfort zone, albeit visibly still mildly skittish talking between songs, before finally blustering on a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. Swagger intact, Angus lifted his guitar over his head and left the stage to a ripple of feedback. There was enough to see that this was a good band with streaks of promising rhythm but are still seeking the sound which defines them.
“The Moths Are Real” is the latest album of work created by English harpist Serafina Steer, produced by Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. In an interview which appeared in The Guardian in 2013, Steer remarked “The harp is a lonely instrument. You’re in the spotlight, and generally playing on your own”. Tonight, Steer opts to use keyboards and synth to tell her storie. Shoes off and laid to one side, Steer cut a clement figure on stage, allowing warm, churchly organs to loop and cascade during songs such as “Island Odyssey”. Off-kilter vocals and lyrics walked a tightrope between being evocative and clumsy, with piano ballads that would richly benefit from having a band surround Steer. It becomes apparent that when longer notes are held, Steer is at her strongest as demonstrated on “Uncomfortable” from her ‘Cheap Demo Bad Science’ album ten years ago. “Disco Compilation” should be a powerful arm-twister in convincing listeners that Steer is worth sticking with, but a painful mash of wrong keys, incorrect pitch, teeth sucking and head shaking leads to some sighing in the audience. On record, her music will work but the stop-start, rickety process begins to grate and old-favourite “Curses, Curses” is perhaps the most apt summing up of this set.
Headliner and host of the evening is Pictish Trail. All glittered-up and adorning pink outfits, the five-piece consists of violin, keyboards, two guitars and drums, producing a lush groove which instantaneously washes over the crowd. Anyone who has seen Johnny Lynch live before will know that his light-hearted approach to music can only be undertaken due to his uncanny knack of churning out well-crafted pop songs and reputable musicianship. Having flown from Cologne where he is supporting friend KT Tunstall on tour, Lynch’s dedication to music is admirable and, accompanied by Suse Bear on guitar and keys, freely banters with the crowd during songs such as “Dead Connection”. ‘Cheer, like you’ve won a special prize’, he coaxes with his Bullseye-endorsement. Old favourites such as “Winter Home Disco” from 2008 continue to lift spirits (and arses from seats) while last year’s “After Life” from the ‘Future Echoes’ record is a positively disco-splurging, bombastic climax to this six-hour long ‘gig’.
With thanks given to all bands, artists, and DJ Bartholomew Owl for providing killer tracks between sets (and some outrageously fun theme tunes from yesteryear too), it was time to bid farewell to each of Lynch’s labelmates, and return to Germany. There had been plenty of positives and promising moments during tonight’s showcase, and despite the occasional questionability in confidence demonstrated by some of the artists, there was enough to suggest that this label is one with a keen eye trained to unearth diamonds in the coal. Lost Maps = new-found worlds.
Standing in pride of place in the town centre is the impressive 850-year-old Paisley Abbey – an awesome venue promising a memorable evening, part of Paisley’s The Spree for All Festival (@SpreeFestival). As I joined the queue 20 minutes before doors open, the chat was welcoming and full of friendly greetings. The historic setting and inspiring architecture were rewarded with a fully sold out show and we took our (very comfortable) seats with a great sense of anticipation. The house announcer spoke with enthusiasm about the Festival, as well as the rich heritage of Paisley and its Abbey (@Paisley 2021).
First up was Irish musician Wallis Bird who gave a gutsy performance in the style of Irish traditional music and folk tales; songs full of love and ideas of revelation and intimacy. Her voice rose to reach the vaulted ceiling, filling the hall with a lovely assemblage of melodies. Hitting the body of her guitar to give a deep booming bass accompaniment, she sang “Don’t you know what we stand to lose?” and then in her pure vocals, lyrics and music she exclaims in a beautifully soulful way “I get screwed but I’m not complaining.” Then later a speedy number; “Oh life I love you to my bones”. Bird took command of the stage right from the start and set the evening off on a high note.
The lights dimmed and an expectant silence filled the air, followed by a little introduction and as the members of the orchestra gathered and began to tune up, gradually swelling in volume until it reached the moment of readiness when the music would begin. Then all attention turned to the conductor, John Logan. He it was who was largely responsible for the evening’s one-off collaboration with the acclaimed indie rock band, Frightened Rabbit. Logan’s idea was to write an orchestral score that would accompany Frightened Rabbit’s own songs – well known to the fans whose presence lent the evening an extra air of excitement in their enthusiasm for the music.
It was clear from the start that this was to be a collaboration between two mighty musical entourages. On the one hand the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, on the other the 5-piece ensemble known as Frightened Rabbit, whose current lineup consists of Scott Hutchison (vocals, guitar and principal song writer), Grant Hutchison (drums), Billy Kennedy (guitar, bass), Andy Monaghan (guitar, keyboards), and Simon Liddell (guitar). Each song resonated powerfully as it built up to a climax between the orchestra and the band, the sound dramatically emphasised when the walls and ceiling were lit up in red, white and blue. Somehow the drama lent strength to the lyrics rather than overpowering them. It was as if torrents of Frightened Rabbit’s Indie rock music penetrated into the very walls of the great hall itself.
There was an obvious strong bond between the band and their fans, evident in the reactions of the band themselves and in the waves of recognition as familiar and well-loved numbers were performed, some with and some without the orchestra, such as ‘Poke’ and ‘Good Arms vs Bad Arms’. When they performed the song ‘Floating in the Forth’ on their own, it felt like a rather dark affair of being lost in the water, only for the music to be drowned by the return of the orchestra led by Logan. This moment generated a most pleasurable sense of happy satisfaction and served to emphasise the spectacular amalgamation between these two musical forms, and one which served to enhance my own appreciation and understanding of this extremely accomplished band.
All in all, the entire evening was characterised by a strong feeling of being made most welcome, made comfortable in an absolute feast for the collective senses. The music enthralled and enticed in a most impressive and deeply meaningful way. One felt the sense of pride behind The Spree itself in its mission to present its audience with something unique and memorable. Which indeed they did. This was a special evening, not least because it was literally a onetime event deserving a lasting place in the heart of everyone there. The finale, ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ rose to the high ceilings and was answered with prolonged cheering from the fans, including me. If you get the chance I would recommend Frightened Rabbit live.
Paisley Spree festival, Spiegeltent 18th October 2017
It was a lovely cool evening in Paisley when I joined the crowd gathering in County Square around a charming edifice constructed from wood and canvas as one of the venues for the Spree for All Festival. This was the “Speigeltent” (Dutch for “mirror tent”). The façade, designed to look old, was decorated with lavish paintings and crevice work. It was here that we eagerly anticipated spending the evening with the world famous Scottish musician Dougie Maclean, and his special guests De Temps Antan, a trio – Éric Beaudry, André Brunet and Pierre-Luc Dupuis – all the way from Quebec, who were delighted to be taking time out from their own tour to appear with Dougie in Paisley for the first time.
Inside, the Speigeltent was even more lavish than the exterior; under the dome-like roof, it was a spectacular round space decorated with mirrors, lights and colours; wood carvings and luscious cloth drapes of velvet and brocade. The atmosphere was electric as De Temps Antan, playing fiddle, guitar, foot box and various other instruments with great gusto, got the evening off to a lively start with a high energy performance of traditional Quebec music – with their own contemporary spin – that had the whole audience thigh slapping, hand clapping and some even dancing all around the room. At some points it felt as if the wild shindig would spin away into the night.
Then Dougie walked on stage, acoustic guitar over his shoulder and commenting with comic understatement that this was a funny kind of tent. As he plucks away, and talks to the audience in his distinctive style, just listening to him is very calming in itself. His set list included songs from his new album ‘Inside the Thunder’, delivered as always in a most simple and personal way. In charming story telling mode he informed us that each song he writes is a genuine thing that happened to him or occurred to him. This gives his songs more potency, freedom and mystery as you listen. Even the internationally acclaimed ‘Caledonia’ was a genuine tale of being far from home and feeling homesick. You feel he is genuine and sincere.
Dougie’s lyrics always include a great spirit, “holding forever on the long test of time” and though he jokes and smiles to his audience, his voice grabs you as sounding infinitely sad in character, thus making the man himself all the more beautiful. About two songs in he invited us to join him in song, tutoring us as to the lyrics and their rhythms. We obliged and were praised for doing so, carrying on long into the night. These words, guitar and melodies all seem as free as the man himself, a living man of folk lore, myth and magic. In essence this is a proper bard at work, both ancient in style and engaging in spirit. A smile from him is a glorious thing.
And then, with the strains of the much anticipated ‘Caledonia’ still ringing in our ears ‘Let me tell you that I love you, that I think about you all the time’, it was back to the shindig! De Temp re-joined the stage to perform two final numbers with Dougie, who told us they had not rehearsed or even jammed together. No matter, as we all sang Wild Mountain Thyme (Dougie’s slow version) together, everyone was near to tears of joy and a sense of communal experience. Another one-off triumph for the Paisley Spree 2017 (@SpreeFestival). And another reason why Paisley should be chosen as the UK City of Culture 2021 (@Paisley2021).
Spree Festival, Paisley Arts Centre 15th October 2017
From the ashes of Postcard Records’ second coming until 1995, Glaswegian indie record label Chemikal Underground (CU) has carried the torch for uncovering an adroit mix of lauded Scottish bands including Arab Strap, Mother and the Addicts, Mogwai, Sluts of Trust, and Miaoux Miaoux. Paisley festival The Spree cleverly tapped into this illustrious history earlier in the afternoon by screening the documentary ‘Lost In France’ by Irish director Niall McCann at Paisley Arts Centre; a love letter to Scotland’s independent music scene in the 1990’s. This film was presented at the Arts Centre prior to welcoming CU founding member Emma Pollock of The Delgados and label-mate Robert McArthur Hubbert (Hubby) live on stage later that evening.
Hubby’s candid wisecracking with the audience throughout this set was both engaging and witty, but coexisted with a dark indication of his mental health which one could only show compassion for through applause for being so brave to talk about such issues on stage. Tattooed arms cavorted up and down his acoustic guitar as the last of the autumn insects droned in and out of the stage lights, trying to get a closer look. Playing several songs from last year’s ‘Telling The Trees’ record, the bewitching ‘I Can Hold You Back’ (accompanied by English singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams on the album), Hubby’s comical anecdote about the song being about ‘sneaking into an ex’s home to see if they are shagging anyone’ was slow, tender, and pained.
The vulnerability in Hubby’s phantasmagorical strumming during voiceless songs such as “KAS” and “For Joe” paralleled with his honest tales about the death of his foster-parents, struggles with chronic depression, and marriage breakdown – drifting on the edges of ‘Twin Peaks Theme’ territory in the most elegant and comely way possible. Eyes strictly trained to only gaze at his instrument, Hubby demonstrated how his credible reputation procured masterful names from the Scottish music scene including long-time friend and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, who produced Hubby’s second record on the CU label. Entitled ‘Thirteen Lost & Found’, the record successfully acquired the Glasweigan guitarist the Scottish Album of the Year award in 2013. Joined for one song by Emma, “Monster In The Park” from the latter’s third solo record ‘In Search of Harperfield’ allowed Hubby to take the backseat and allow the vocalist to shine in front of the Art Centre’s theatre-seated audience, before rounding off a 50-minute set with fan favourite “Car Song” which features Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat on vocals on record. Hubby promised a new record with Moffat due for release in Spring 2018, filled with “disco beats and saxophones – but not the type of disco you have fun at”. Already, we cannot wait to hear what the duo have produced.
Approaching two years since the release of ‘In Search of Harperfield’, Emma’s third solo album, the former Delgado’s vocalist was joined by brother-in-law Jamie Savage on keys/guitar, Martin Johnston on drums, and Graeme Smillie on bass guitar/keys. Announcing the Paisley Arts Centre as one of her “most favourite venues”, Emma’s airy and almost-apologetic demeanour helped to relax the audience for the second half, and with the springy-bass sound to songs such as “Don’t Make Me Wait” helped liven proceedings from the onset.
Several times, beg-pardons were made for wires in the wrong place or technical issues, but this was absolutely not ramshackle but rather an amiable feature of a band determined to keep Emma the centre of the attention. The near-insecure lyrics of “Red Orange Green” are swallowed up by a live glam-stomp, and the magical sounds resonating on “Clemency” melt like butter on toast with the gifted story-telling accompanying it. Tic toc drum-sounds and bass-driven guitars on the poppy “In The Company Of The Damned” leave space for the vocals to breathe, with topics drifting towards earlier years of childhood and the death of the singer’s mother just prior to ‘Harperfield’s’ release. “When did you go trading places? Switching roles in little stages”, sings Emma on the heartfelt “Intermission”, explained beforehand as the spell encountered prior to succumbing to death. It’s instantly noticeable that both co-headliners have referred to the loss of their parents and could play a part in why they appear to be such close friends.
Diversity is key, however. Emma’s first solo hit “Paper and Glue” from 2007 album ‘Watch The Fireworks’ is as innocent as it is uplifting, immediately followed by the brooding, vampirous composition ‘Dark Skies’, all haunting reverb and synth, is a quite cinematic penultimate number. “Old Ghosts” lets the band demonstrate how taut they can be, and allows their frontwoman to demonstrate yet another incredible vocal performance. There was something characteristically-Scottish about this evening; the blend of dark humour, working class mindsets which are ill-at-ease with praise, and a prevalent honesty which is often posted missing in the music industry. This was nothing short of a master stroke by The Spree organisers.
Where a person stands at a music gig can often make all the difference in their perception of a band/artist’s performance. But what about all the contributing factors invading that person’s space, and the attitudes which bind themselves to those behaviours? Poet Stephen Watt investigates.
On a balmy, mid-June evening in the summer of 2017 inside Webster Hall, located in the east village of Manhattan, New York, punk legends Buzzcocks were firmly in the throes of delivering a blistering set. On my Honeymoon and suitably ‘buzzed’, I threw myself into the shuffling throng wasting airspace at the front of the gig during single “I Don’t Mind”, released thirty years previously, and pogoed along with complete abandon to Pete Shelley’s hangdog words. As it prevailed, the NY crowd did mind a “pathetic clown hanging around”, and stormily tussled with me until I was safely away from their lifeless position at the barrier.
Something clicked. Whether it was the type of music such gigs spawn, or the age that I was, or being invigorated by the quite-brilliant Rock Junket Rock n’Roll Walking Tour that we had been on that afternoon (check it out at https://rockjunket.com/), or god-forbid, the suitably intoxicated state I was in, there was a time and a place for people – tourists – nuisances, like me and throwing yourself around like a defective jack-in-the-box was certainly not the expected behaviour at a punk gig in the arguable fatherland of Punk Rock. What a silly notion!
Had this been ten, even twenty years earlier, then this may have been accepted. No one is fond of inebriated arseholes slamming their elbows into eye sockets or spilling your extortionate pint all over your newly-purchased t-shirt from the merch stall, but in a society where irritability towards invasion of personal space is on the increase, a party reveller is more than likely to find him or herself being videoed from behind with a tag line that goads fellow sour pusses to criticise, mock, or troll online. There’s every possibility that someone dancing to a band they enjoy will brush elbows or shoulders with someone intent on filming tinny, blurry, and pixelated footage on a smartphone, unable to hold a memory in their head without the need to document it on YouTube or other.
“Men feel they have a right to a space and whatever other bodies are unfortunate enough to occupy it” : Ki Murphy
It would be imprudent to allot all collisions during live gigs with persons who are either drunk or on drugs when a great many are simply and innocently bewitched by their favourite artists playing their favourite songs in their favourite venues. There can be a great many reasons to the enjoyment of any punter’s memory being tarnished. Victoria McNulty, a 32yr old spoken word performer from the east end of Glasgow, explains: “Mobile phones and excessive video are turn-offs. Then there is the throwing of pints, folk off their tits on Cocaine and acting the eejit, unwanted advancing and groping by said-eejits; not forgetting the over-crowding and poor facilities at larger gigs such as TRNSMT and The Stone Roses at Hampden”. Ki Murphy, a 28yr old musician in Glasgow, validates McNulty’s concerns: “At TRNSMT, a young Tory was groping a woman in front of him. Someone he had never even so much as said hello to. I imagine a lot of that is going on in concerts across the world with, in particular, men feeling they have a right to a space and whatever other bodies are unfortunate enough to occupy it”.
There is always a case that there is a gender basis for which space at music gigs will raise concerns, with men frequently accountable for skirmishes and violence triggering in the audience. Alcohol-fuelled violence at the Oasis gig in Murrayfield Stadium in 2009 resulted in eight arrests, two reports of assault, and one man hospitalised as a gang of five thugs showered boots upon his face during support band Kasabian’s set (Oasis violence article). “Overly obnoxiousness is easily one of the worst features of Scottish live music”, explains Ross Quigley, 34. “At Conor Oberst, one guy was being a massive prick to everyone nearby. I don’t even know why he was there as he didn’t seem to like the music. His bird then fell on her arse spilling drink on the people nearby. There’s having a good time and then there’s that shit”. Graeme Caldwell, 29 is quick to sympathise with the plight of those on stage: “There’s not a lot of patience/appreciation for support bands here, and too many people in the crowd are far too quick to throw a pint or a punch if they get restless, or – rather more likely – too drunk”. Sometimes though, it isn’t always alcohol or drugs which stir the feelings of frustration. “Sweaty guys with their tops off”, says Emma McDougall, 36, from near Loch Lomond. “There is always one or ten pushed up against my face – and couples who cuddle all the way through gigs. Why do people do it??”
“Small venues are about getting up close and better assessing new talent and band dynamics” : Grahame Young
If the Scottish mentality of getting MWI (Mad With It) is supposed to be a positive trait, then it would seem that an invasion of space fuelled by chemicals, or stronger, counteracts such notions. There cannot be so many similar stories emanating from Monday nights inside the cosy surroundings of the 13th Note in Glasgow or Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh. That particular venues or nights of the week could influence how persons carry themselves, or identify areas inside a venue where sound vanquishes loutish behaviour and focuses on the music itself – or indeed, lends itself to those once-in-a-lifetime discoveries where everyone yearns to be at (see The Quarrymen at Cavern Club, 1957 or Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, 1976, etc). Grahame Young, 59, from Dumfries is into his fifth decade of gigging and sees the merits in such venues: “In small venues like King Tuts, (Nice n’) Sleazys, etc I try and get close to the stage. It has nothing to do with sound. It’s to get up close and better assess new talent and band dynamics”. Young should know – he was present at King Tuts when Oasis played their seminal gig in 1993.
For the younger fan, new bands play every night of the week across Scotland to varying sizes of crowds – but a lot lies at the door of the promoter to get the right venue at the right time for any band. Siobhan Jensen, a 29yr old rock and metal fan from North Glasgow, considered the spectrum of gig venue size in her home city: “I love the QMU. No matter where you stand, the band is right in front of you – but I also really love the (SSE) Hydro as the sound is amazing and regardless where you stand, you can see the full stage”. Murphy appears more juxtaposed in his opinion of Glasgow’s largest indoor arena: “The sound in the Hydro is pretty good, but it’s hard for an artist to create an intimate connection with an audience when they’re in an airplane hangar”. With Scotland’s rich history in generating so many quality musicians, especially over the past fifty years, sound is always going to play a key part in where a person chooses to stand during a live gig – and audiences are never shy in letting a band or performer know if the venue isn’t up to scratch. “There’s too much noise on acoustic type numbers”, suggests Raymond Lynch, 40. After years of travelling the length and breadth of the country, and to as far-flung reaches of the world such as Singapore to see the Super Furry Animals in action, Quigley believes he has found the formula for where to stand for the perfect experience: “A combination of proximity to stage, where it is not too crowded, finding a spot for the sound quality to pour through (too close to the speakers kills my hearing) and in some cases, where it is easy to nip to the bar/toilet – definitely an age thing there”.
“I enjoyed Pink in concert even though I was surrounded by teens” : Mike Friel
An age thing. Something which is apparent in every passing year one gets older. More and more bodies appearing between you and the stage. An oppressive attentiveness to the guy or girl standing to the side of you being younger, a better dancer, better-looking, and appearing to know the lyrics of that band you love more than your own mother, better than even you do. The response is overwhelming in favour of feeling the age thing. “I don’t feel the need to be in amongst it any more” / “I think it’s a factor – I would be in the mosh-pit down front ten years ago” / “My hips don’t move like they used to”, offers a flavour of some of our interviews. Not so Irish punk Mike Friel, 49: “It isn’t a factor to me. I tend to move towards the front/middle and stop before it gets too packed. I enjoyed Pink in concert even though I was surrounded by teens”. It’s a refreshing, if brave, attitude to take. John Peel’s omnipresent existence at new, upcoming bands was always considered a revelation – something to aspire to, but there is little worse feeling than finding that Gloria Estefan’s sage advice materialising when ‘the rhythm is gonna get ya’ comes true, and boy – it doesn’t look good. “I would say age is an issue”, offers Young. “If I find a band draws a younger audience than my age group, I tend to stand further back. I saw The View in Tuts and the average age was 18 when I was 51. My Bob Harris moment”. Certainly better than a Rolf Harris moment, in any case! Speaking from my own experience, I often found that dance gigs warranted persons of my own age drifting further in towards the front as limbs loosened, gaps appeared (often seeking pints of water to cool down), and the beats of Orbital, Chemical Brothers, or Japanese Popstars squelched into something more danceable than the oft-riotous opening to proceedings. However, for the more subdued indie-rock performance, depending entirely on if it was a new act in the primary stage of their timeline or a Britpop band egged on by similarly-aged supporters, would sway my position during a gig. Confidence would breed in the shape of a crowd, or filter if accompanied by just one other friend – the latter more often the case during my thirties. McDougall signs up to this notion: “I think it’s more the band I’m there to see. For example, when I saw Placebo, I loved it right down the front simply because they so many top tunes”. Music wins!
“It’s a sad fact but after the Paris attacks, I tend to look for fire exits now” : Emma McDougall
The contemporary live music scene was forever changed in November 2015 during an Eagles of Death Metal gig in Paris when a terrorist attack led to the death of over one hundred people in attendance (Parisian terrorist attack article). I can recall attending The Prodigy/Public Enemy gig a week or two later in the Aberdeen Exhibition Conference Centre where huge queues were forced to stand outside the venue while security meticulously frisked every person attending, allowing only for women to come forward first out of the biting cold. It was unwanted but very necessary. “It’s a sad fact but after the Paris attacks, I tend to look for fire exits now and make myself really aware of them at venues”, offers McDougall. Closer to home, the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 following pop star Ariana Grande’s concert spiked all gig-goers concerns that the greatest risk to them was no longer the pogoing, drunken idiot at a Buzzcocks gig but rather something much darker and dangerous. Twenty-two people, including young children, never returned home that evening and raised alarm across the country if the entrances to the gigs you were attending were not greeted by a tsunami of fluorescent bouncers ready to poke and prod every orifice in efforts to ensure that everyone’s safety was paramount. But both in Manchester and in Scotland, there is a need to let loose and enjoy the moment. Regardless of what hazards socialising anywhere may present, music or alternative, a diversion from the cold political world during the working week’s waking hours is often savoured.
“What makes Scotland so special is nostalgia, the rich mixture of established touring acts, and socialising in a vibrant local scene” Victoria McNulty
It is November 2010 and a crowd of us have travelled south to London Olympia, waiting to see Primal Scream perform their ground-breaking ‘Screamadelica’ album in its entireity. The crowd is uncommonly reserved, staring at Bobby Gillespie with sterile expressions painted upon every face. The lads with which I have travelled south from Scotland with shuffle forward, mirroring every invisible maraca shake, every twitch of the hip, hoarsely echoing “MY FUCKING LIGHT SHINES ON”, moving closer and closer towards the barrier. It becomes apparent that the accents around us have changed. We are now parallel with Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow men and women, fists pumping the air like town criers. The t-shirts are saturated in sweat, hair glued into tight curls on the forehead. “We’ve the best fans in the world”, states Jensen. “Atmosphere is the key ingredient”, proffers Lynch. Add those two ingredients and perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the stylishly dressed Londoners have vacuumed backwards from the stage, allowing a more northern contingent to vacate that space. “Scotland is special because it is steeped in nostalgia, a rich mixture of established touring acts, and socialising in a vibrant local scene”, suggests McNulty. It is a true statement. Britpop bands still win sell-out crowds across Glasgow, the Edinburgh Festival has welcomed the likes of Sigur Ros and PJ Harvey over the past couple of years, and with several local festivals operating including Tenement Trail, Stag and Dagger, and King Tut’s New Year/Summer Revolution to name a few, it clearly still grabs the interest and excitement of both students and seasoned ravers. Glasgow, especially, wins favour among those interviewed. “I don’t know about Scotland as a whole, but Glasgow normally goes for it”, hints Murphy. “It has that reputation among artists as well, creating a madforit feedback loop”. Young sums it up: “Its Scotland. Our home. Its kin folk with a common understating. It’s tribal. It’s a connection. It’s in our DNA as a progression of our ancestral Celtic roots to accepting all genres of music. It’s in our veins. We live for it”. Clearly someone should have this engraved into the Barrowlands’ brickwork.
But is that mentality enough to overcome the infuriation or fear of drunks, molesters, terrorists, or simply appearing past-your-best? Is there anything which the public appears to bypass? McNulty raises one final issue: “I prefer to stand at the back at music gigs, away from the speakers. I have Aspergers and part of it makes me really sensitive to sound, so bass and bass drums make me quite uncomfortable. I prefer the Barras for sound because it is less tinny, and sometimes less booming than other venues”. Illness, physical obstructions and social unease all have a part to play. “I can’t say my choice in where to stand has ever been dictated by the sound from a quality point of view, but volume is an issue if I’m right in front of the speakers – I already have to wear earplugs because of the tinnitus due to attending too many loud gigs”, states Caldwell. In 2017, music festivals in Scotland now cater for Blue Badge parking, accessible viewing platforms, assistance dogs, and more but several venues remain without facilities for wheelchair users. Only last year, a BBC survey UK-wide uncovered that 12.5% of people had been refused entry owing to their disability, and nearly half of all respondents felt worried about asking music venue staff for help. That is a tragic statistic, and with many mental illnesses not being so apparent on the surface raises questions about the attitudes of the staff permitting entry – and those fellow revelers standing alongside.
Personal space has an important, invisible role to play in everybody’s lives. Finding your place at a music gig can be as arduous as finding your place in life, but when it’s found then try enjoy what led you to be there and remember those with whom you share that room. Get in the zone – and stay there.
Rich thanks to Raymond Lynch, Victoria McNulty, Graeme Caldwell, Ki Murphy, Grahame Young, Siobhan Jensen, Mike Friel, Ross Quigley and Emma McDougall for their input during this piece.
Stephen Watt is the Dumbarton FC Poet-in-Residence, a crime poet, one half of gothic spoken word experimental act Neon Poltergeist, and author of the poetry collections “Spit” and “Optograms”. You can follow more of his writing on his Facebook page or his Twitter handle @StephenWattSpit.
I had been looking forward to this gig since I bought the tickets last May. Having seen him at the same venue for the last three tours, it always sells out and I wasnae going to be taking any chances on being in the audience. Having seen him perform his classics from the three albums, Replicas, The Pleasure Principle and Telekon last year. Although it was a fantastic gig, I was left hungering for his new material.
Numan’s most recent offering Savage (Songs From A Broken World). Has received critical and public acclaim, giving him his first top ten album chart placing in over 30 years. So the anticipation for last nights concert was huge. Opening with the first track off of Savage. Ghost Nation. His tight band.shook the venue with a powerful musical onslaught that would pave the way for 90 mins of rock n roll genius.Numans stage sets have always been massive and this was no exception with a backdrop of screens that displayed the dystopian imagery that is the basis of his new work and a light show that was mesmerizing.
Numan and his band had the audience in the palm of his hand, of course, there were firm fan favourites, ME, Metal, I’m An Agent, Down In The Park, Are Friends Electric? And a beefed up rendition of Cars, all given the Savage treatment. But it was his new material that I had paid to see and hear and I wasnae disappointed. The stand out track from the new album, My Name Is Ruin, features backing vocals from Numan’s daughter Persia, although not on stage, the screens displayed her vocal part, the smile that spread across Numans face, was nothing other than that of a proud father, a touching and very human aspect to this example of what makes him and his fantastic band so relevant.
A Five Star Performance that left everyone fulfilled and screaming for more. Good Time Divinexxx
To celebrate the release of his fourth album, Keith Jack is taking to the road on his ‘Movie Nights’ Tour, where he will be performing tracks from iconic movies; The Bodyguard, Dirty Dancing, Jailhouse Rock, Batman Forever plus so much more. The Mumble were lucky enough to catch up with the fine fellow for a few words…
Where are you from and where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from Dalkieith, near Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian. At the moment, I’m sitting on my sofa at home in London.
When did you first realise you were musical?
When I was really young! I remember, when I was only around 5-years old, singing traditional Scottish songs – such as ‘Donald, Where’s yer troosers?’ – with my Papa!
When did you first realise you could sing?
I suppose when I began singing those Scottish songs with my Papa. I guess I made my vocal debut in Australia when I sang a song at a family party!
What, for you, makes a good song?
A good story. The best songs are always those which allow you to go on some kind of journey.
You are quite famous for your roles in Musical Theatre. What is it about acting and singing that makes you tick?
I just love it. It was a hobby whilst growing up, now it’s a job, which is a dream come true for me. I get such a buzz from performing. When acting in shows I get to be someone else, when performing in concert I get to be myself. So, I suppose you could say I have the best of both worlds. Acting and singing makes me who I am and helps keep me upbeat and positive.
What are your top three musicals?
1. The Phantom of the Opera
2. Blood Brothers
3. Mrs Henderson Presents
What does Keith Jack like to do when he’s not being musical?
I love to do really normal things – chill with friends; play football; go to the gym; go out to dinner and, of course, go to the theatre!
Next month you will be touring your Movie Nights show. Can you tell us about the project?
The Album and the forthcoming tour, has come from my massive love of films from a young age. I wanted to find a good mix of songs – both young and old – with all different styles and have them led by strings, giving a different feel to all other movie albums.
I feel like we have really achieved this, making it more my own style without losing why people fell in love with the song in the first place.
Can you describe the chemistry between yourself and your Musical Director, Scott Morgan?
We are really good mates and have a great rapport that stems from sharing the same sense of humour, good banter and a love of practical jokes. On stage, as well as being very like-minded in the way we like to approach songs and their arrangements, we have a good laugh. We don’t take each other too seriously and that comes across. It really is a team effort when we are on stage together.
As a Dalkieth lad, how many free tickets have you given away to friends and family for your tour opener at the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, East Lothian?
Of course, when performing so close to where I come from, I receive a huge amount of support from friends and family. However, I’m also lucky enough to have a really loyal fan following and they all support me really well, too. Ticket sales for the Brunton Theatre – and, indeed, for all of the dates – are performing very strongly, so it’s quite fortunate that I have quite a small family as I don’t think there’ll be much chance of giving many away.
What will you be doing after the tour?
My career has been so busy recently, which is great! I had, literally, just finished performing in Bill Kenwright’s Saturday Night at the Movies tour, alongside Joe McElderry, before I started preparing for my own Movie Nights tour. Then afterwards, I hardly have the chance to catch my breath before beginning rehearsals for this year’s pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks. I feel so lucky to be constantly doing what I love most!
We took our seats in the venue, just as the support act Gypsyfingers were taking to the stage. A quartet from London with a powerful rhythm section. Supporting the ethereal voice of Victoria Coghlan. Seductive and beautiful in equal measure. On Keyboards and lead guitars Luke Oldfield. The quartet took their audience on a musical journey that was fully immersive and entertaining.My companion likened Gypsyfingers to Coldplay. Hmmm yes, I can see where you are coming from. Gypsy Fingers have a better lead vocalist though. Indeed we both agreed. however, Luke Oldfield’s closing guitar expert licks were nothing short of Matt Bellamy. At the interval, my musical companion bought Gypsyfingers new Album. So am going to be hearing a lot more of Gypsyfingers in the near future, It was a lovely experience.
Multi-instrumentalists Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford took to the stage, surrounded by the instruments that would recreate Mike Oldfield’s masterpiece landmark album, Tubular Bells. Daniel and Tom are both Australians. Daniel is no stranger to Edinburgh, having played this performance to sold out Fringe audiences for a number of years now. This was Tom’s first time in the United Kingdom, having spent the last three months in preparation for this performance.The Queens Hall suited the musicianship of this two-man orchestra. Playing over 22 instruments between them for this 52 minutes of musical dexterity. Mike Oldfield would approve, the sound reproduction was excellent and the duo entertained the audience with humour and musical grace, Dashing from instrument to instrument to give fans of this most famous.musical score a treat for the senses.
My own copy of Tubular Bells came from a Charity shop 10p bargain box, it was free with The Mail On Sunday and was hiding in the Divine Music Library. Luckily I found it without too much hassle. The album has been on a loop all night as I write this review. When it was released in 1972 it was one of my brother’s fave albums, so it was introduced to me at a very young age. Having never seen Mike Oldfield live, Tonight’s musical treat was note to note perfect. The audience loved it and after The Blue Peter theme tune (The one and only Mike Oldfield single that I purchased as a nipper) was played out, our two musical Mavericks received a standing ovation of which was justly deserved. A contemporary musical masterpiece of our times, brought to life in an interesting and innovative way.
Hello Leigh, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Hi there, I am originally from Perth in Scotland, but call Edinburgh my home now. A proud Scot through and through, but a citizen of the world too I feel.
You are the songwriter & frontman for Echo Arcadia singing – where does your love of music come from?
I have, like many singers will say, had it since I was very young; regaling my mum with Wings ‘Mull of Kintyre’ when I was about 5. I sang in a church choir in my following years, holding the heady heights of Head Chorister. My parents didn’t really furnish me with the extensive musical tastes that many people seem to enjoy, so mine came from random pop music I was exposed to in my teenage years. I kind of wish they had force fed me music, it would have saved the journey I had to make, with the Lighthouse Family being a favourite band for a while haha.
When do you know you have written a good song?
I guess its like when you make a good cake, or a chair, you eat it or sit in it (respectively, or not, i’m not here to tell you what you can sit on or eat). If my 6 year old listens to it and he’s singing the chorus later that day, then i’m usually pretty convinced. I am absolutely self taught, so I try and write what feels good to my ears, and if that song sounds good to me with just my voice and an acoustic guitar (as I record it on my phone to send to the guys fro critique) then I know it will sound good with all the bells and whistles **actual Bells and Whistles are optional
Can you tell us how your band got together?
The story is long and… well, storied. I had written 4 songs with a friend of mine after I had been out of bands for a while. I wanted to form a band to play these and write some more as I went along. This band was called Brightside, and was great fun, though much sweeter pop music than Echo. As that band lost a member or two, I sought out new members but knew it wouldnt be the same band anymore. So, gumtree was used and abused and we managed to pull together some genuinely talented musicians to form Echo.
What’s the story behind the band name?
This is one I may get wrong, as I’ve retold it a few times and I’m sure I’ve made up some aspects haha. Our keyboard player as we reformed our band, had a girlfriend (now wife, but no longer our keyboard player) who worked in art. She had suggested a name based on the painting Ecce Arcadia, which is the entry to paradise that Pan guards (maybe). Now in Scotland an Ecce has drug connotations, and since we had been in the studio and using the infamous Space Echo, We substituted Ecce with Echo and bobs your uncle and fannys your Aunt.
Your sound is very indie-esque- what are your personal influences from this era?
Personally, and it will have to be as mine is the least diverse and interesting musical taste in the band, I love Radiohead, REM and my absolute favourites are The National.
How do you present your songs to the band, do they have a say in what gets used? Everyone gets a say, I foolishly encouraged a democracy in the band and it regularly bites me when i just want everyone to do what i want. The song writing dynamic has shifted musically with Dawid, our Guitarist, working with me to create the soundscapes, its really brought what i try and do onwards in leaps and bounds. The whole band will listen to my ideas and then inject their own take of it into everything we do. I feel this gives the songs a more unique vibe, as their musical tastes are wide and varied.
What does Leigh Moyes do when he’s not making music?
I have a beautiful Partner called Molly who has just given me a gorgeous daughter to keep my 6 year old little boy on his toes (that’s not the only reason of course, but its a pleasant side effect), so that keeps me very busy. Echo is a very family cebtric band, with both Euan and Dawid having children, Euan most recently had twins just a few months ago, and dawids lovely daughter is in our video for ghosts dancing with my son. I have actually just started blacksmithing and university studying Applied Pharmacology, because life wasn’t hectic enough
Your new album “Visions of Symmetry” is out now. Can you tell us about the recording process?
The process was a long one, as we recorded the full album, except the interludes and hidden track, in demo form first. We like to record it as if that is the finished article, so its tight and presentable. We lived with this for a few months before we had 2 weeks in the Slate room, part of the famous Castlesound studio complex, with Garry Boyle both engineering and Producing the album. Even with what, we considered, a final rendition of the album, Garry (who has worked with us for several years now) knew how to get the best out of each track. I spent every day there, with each member as they recorded and it was a genuinely fun, exciting, exhausting, rewarding experience.
What are your favorite songs on the album?
That’s a toughie, I honestly do love them all, but i must say that Cinderella is my favourite just now. We have just released a video for it, which is a short film made by Ryan Jon Amey Henderson to our little ditty and it has cemented it as my favourite (though Hurricanes still hold on tightly to second place).
What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you & the band?
We are in the process of hopefully licensing the album to a North American label and getting out there to do some gigging, as well as putting more work into Visions Follow up album, which is already sounding strong. If you dont stop, they can never catch you!