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.
Reviewer : Stephen Watt