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!
Haydn Coffee Concerts Wed 20th September 2017 Haddington Town House
A series of 4 concerts, held in the 18th century William Adam designed Town House in Haddington, was a perfect setting for this recital of Joseph Haydn (1739-1809), Mark Simpson (b1988) and Ludwig van Beeethoven (1770-1827). Performed by the outstanding Gould Piano Trio, with Benjamin Frith on piano, Lucy Gould on violin and Alice Neary on cello.
The recital commenced with Haydn’s piano trio in D major Hob.XV:7. Written in 1784, one of his later trios reflecting Haydn’s musical maturity and much admired by critics. A technically challenging piece, dominated by the piano part; the Gould trio, seemed to effortlessly convey the formality but lightness of this piece. Haydn was 45 when he wrote this piece, he also met Mozart in this year, becoming a friend and mentor to the young musician, with whom there was mutual admiration. Considered by some to lack Mozart’s tragic and dramatic life, Haydn was unhappily married and suffered significant facial disfigurement from smallpox infection. He contributed a significant and greatly admired body of work during his 70 years of life.
After Avedon by British musician and composer Mark Simpson; based on a consideration of 4 photos by Richard Avedon, is an exuberant exercise in tone colour and dynamic range. The first piece concerning the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, had an emotional complexity that really resonated, with stunning contributions from the strings, perfectly complemented by the piano. It was a fitting tribute to the sacrifices, but enduring love of the couple. The following piece about a beekeeper was quite agitated and a little more challenging. The following two pieces concerning portraits of Francis Bacon, and Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, had a lot of intensity, which at times was a little heavy but overall I enjoyed these works, with the first one standing out. The colours were magnificent and the Gould Trio were entirely engaged with the piece.
The recital concluded with Beethoven’s piano trio in G major Op1 No 2. Written in 1795, at the age of 25, Beethoven’s hearing was still intact, and he had met and likely studied with Haydn. Mozart had recently died and Beethoven studied Mozart’s work in earnest. Still a young man, the piano trios were his earlier but successful pieces introducing his style to the public. Beethoven remains one the most influential and famous composers of all time. The Gould trio again immaculate in their playing of this lively and passionate piece. A lovely musical rapport, they were a pleasure to listen to. The piece in the Washington post quoted in the Lammermuir Festival brochure is pretty accurate. As they say ,”the only comparison that comes to mind is the old Beaux arts trio; the combination of Jewel like precision and a musical fire that ignites from the first bar”.
Hello Danny, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hi! I’m currently at home in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney in Australia.
When did you first realise you were musical?
I can’t remember not having music in my life. I grew up in a house full of instruments. Both of my parents play a bit, and I have always been intrigued by anything that makes a sound.
Can you give us a brief resume of your musical career thus far?
In the UK, the thing I’m probably best known for is the show, Tubular Bells for Two, where two blokes attempt to play Mike Oldfield’s classic album, Tubular Bells. We juggle 20 instruments between us in a highly theatrical event, as you could imagine. Apart from that, I’ve played in many bands in Australia, and also compose music for theatre, TV and film.
Can you tell us about the ‘Darks Common Underground’ collective?
Darks Common Underground is a fairly recent project I’ve been working on. We are a group of musicians from the Blue Mountains, and I’m the main songwriter. Our music is has a bit of a folk undertone, and we’ve just released our debut single, Meteorites and Other Things.
What does Danny Holdsworth like to do when he’s not being musical?
When I’m not playing music, I suppose my not-so-secret passions are cricket and Nintendo. I’m a bit of a cricket tragic. I play for a local team. I stay up all night watching matches from all over the world. And I also love Nintendo, especially the Zelda series. At the moment I’m absolutely hooked on Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch!
Next month you will be touring your ‘Tubular Bells For Two.’ Can you tell us about the project?
Tubular Bells for Two is a show where two blokes attempt to play all of Mike Oldfield’s classic album, Tubular Bells, live. We try to replicate the album as close as we possible can, juggling 20 instruments between us. It is a tense, theatrical and thoroughly entertaining performance that lives on a knife edge. The task at hand is so mammoth, it really can fall apart at any moment. I developed the show with my good friend and long time collaborator, Aidan Roberts. It started as a silly idea, jamming on a bunch of instruments in our living room. We never thought it would become an actual show, let alone one that would go on to tour the world! We’re both big record collectors, and one day we just happened to have a night listening to a bunch of albums of the seventies. We put on Tubular Bells, the first time either of us had heard it in a long time, and we were just mesmerised by it. So we decided to learn bits of it just for a bit of fun. On the album, at the end of side one, there’s this moment where a bass guitar plays a riff over and over, and then a procession of instruments are announced one-by-one, and each plays the main theme. So we thought, wouldn’t it be great to be on a stage, announce these instruments, then run around and play them all. And so Tubular Bells for Two was born.
We did a a one off performance in 2009 in a small venue to a bunch of family and friends, and we honestly thought that would be the end of it. But word got around about the show and people started inviting us to play it. We did the Sydney Fringe Festival in 2010, then got invited to tour Australia, then we got invited to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. Since then we haven’t looked back. It just keeps going, and we’ve now taken the show all over the world. The big news this time around is that, due to family commitments, Aidan has decided to stop touring the show overseas for a while. So we decided to get someone new to fill his shoes. So this tour will be the first time our new member, Tom Bamford, will be joining us. As you can imagine, its been a huge undertaking for Tom. He’s spent many months in rehearsals, and his first ever performance will be in Glasgow next month.
You have toured the show in both the UK & Australia. What differences, if any, have you found from the audiences?
People in the UK seem to have a strong sense of ownership of Tubular Bells. I get the sense its viewed as a quintessential British achievement. Not only was it a massive hit over there, the music was ground breaking, going against all pop traditions. It was a defining moment for an entire generation, as well as launching Richard Branson’s Virgin empire. So when we first performed the show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we were unsure how it would be received. Here’s two barefoot Aussie larrikins in a crazy performance that, on the surface, seems like some kind of piss-take. But it really isn’t. We take the music very seriously. The humour and theatricality come from the ridiculous situation we have placed ourselves in. But, whilst its an entertaining and tense show, at the heart of it is our deepest respect for this classic work. And I think the audiences really got it and were willing to come on the ride with us. Every night we have the same challenge in trying to pull of a near impossible performance. Sometimes things go terribly wrong, but the audience is always there willing us to get to the end. This isn’t just a musical performance, it’s a tense journey where the music becomes a beautifully structured soundtrack to an epic task. We were absolutely taken by surprise when we received several highly esteemed awards at the Fringe. And I can’t believe that five years on we’re still being invited to perform.
Can you describe the musical partnership between yourself & Tom Bamford?
Tom and I have known each other for many years. We’re both from the Blue Mountains. We’ve played in bands together. We’ve been involved in each others different recording projects, so it just made sense that he be the person to come on board with the show.
What is it about Tubular Bells that has compelled you to recreate it to such a high standard?
It is a piece of music that, I think, stands the test of time. It doesn’t take the audience for granted. It invites you in to go on a journey. It’s beautifully structured, with an arc that is synonymous with a great classical work, or a great film. And even after all these years of performing it, I still discover small details hidden within it. If you’re going to take on performing a piece such as this, you need to do it with the utmost respect.
What will you be doing after the tour?
I’ll be heading back to Australia, preparing to launch the debut album of Darks Common Underground. Plus there’s a few theatre projects I’m really excited about. I love the idea of performing music in a way that gives an all-encompassing experience for the audience. Something more than just a band standing on a stage. Musical performance needs to be engaging, and I have a couple of new projects brewing that will, hopefully, offer some unique live experiences.
30/09/2017 Glasgow : Lomond Auditorium, SEC 01/10/2017 Edinburgh : Queens Hall 02/10/2017 Manchester : RNMC 04/10/2017 Guildford : GLive 05/10/2017 London : Union Chapel 07/10/2017 Birmingham : Birmingham Town Hall
The Lammermuir Festival, under the patronage of Steven Osborne, is East Lothian’s answer to a night of high culture on the town, but scattered amongst the splendidly carved architectural delights of Scotland’s greenest county jewel. Over the weekend, I managed to catch a couple of this year’s outings; the opening concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the antique, cavernous & elegant parish church of St Mary’s in Haddington; & the much smaller, but equally as pretty-a-place-to-be church that is Dirleton Kirk. Both events were packed out & both selections of music were outstanding, as walls & rooves made to reflect choirs & ministerial preachings were all set to amplify & imbue with beauty the dancings of the reeds & strings.
At St Mary’s on the Friday, I was furnish’d with a fine three-course feast all cooked up for our delectation by conducting master-chef, Martyn Brabbins. For starters we had two slices of Wagner; The Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, both of which leapt upon the delicious acoustics of the kirk like young & playful embattling stags. As soon as the Prelude began we were all rooted to the spot, the music wafting over us as if fanning our cheeks on a warm summer’s eve. This opener – to both opera & festival – then grows in intensity until the cosmic, oversensual climax, & we were off, the Lammermuir Festival of 2017 was under way.
The next course consisted of three arias by Mozart, exceptionally sung by the young & meteorically rising talent that is soprano, Rowan Pierce. A Samling artist, she had won the first Schubert Society Singer prize at the London Song Festival in 2014, & one soon understood why as the ghosts of choirboys past lifted her angelically jasmine voice to the rafters & beyond. After an interval of exquisite honeycomb ice-cream & polite chitter-chatter, the third course was served, Mahler’s sleigh-bell jangling, soul-pounding four-part Symphony Number 4. Each of the four movements were played with both neat precision & piece-specific bombast, & the hour simply flew by upon electric wings.
The next night I drove for the first time to Dirleton, a wondrous little place, rather like a Mendips village, quite untouched by modernity, in whose kirk I would be nestling for a while. The reason was to be the Hebrides Ensemble, eight extremely talented musicians who would make Schubert’s Octet in F Major their own. Prior to this was a wee waltz though the short Rhapsodic Quintet of enigmatic 20th century composer, Herbert Howells. One can really feel the burgeoning century’s love-affair with new music in his notes, all of which are most serendipitous to hear. To listen to this particular piece is to enter a dream-bending drama, a darkly dancing-carousel & an exceptional exposition of the full range & capabilities of the Quintet.
To the main action, then, & the Octet – a brazen attempt to out-Beethoven Beethoven – offers the hearer a growing & continuous delight. The opening note drills a hole into the psyche, through which pours wave after wave of Schubert’s melodic genius. Sometimes eyes were closed, sometimes they were gazing at the buttermilk walls, sometimes they were watching Enno Senft wield his double-bass like a medieval potter’s wheel. I felt my imagination hurrying through time to the dances of Regency England, & recreating the dance moves of gallant lords & passionate ladies in my mind. From the Allegro Vivace onwards, this Octet is near perfect, almost otherworldly in its brilliance, full of fluttering phrases & feet-thumping rhythms. Combine all this musical manna with the location & an ephemeral 80 minutes, then a simply wonderful time is had by all.
This was my first taste of the Lammermuir Festival, & I recommend it most heartily. East Lothian is a fascinating & quite frankly gorgeous corner of God’s green earth, & an excuse to wander its contours is to be well-received. Mix into this several heady portions of classical music excellently chosen, excellently played & most warmly appreciated, then one cannot fail in feeling rather exultant about life. Indeed, one could fall in love on evenings like these.
In a sterile period for experimental pop music, Ron and Russell Mael have nailed down fifteen tracks in California which kindles daydreams, pinning hopes like merch-stall badges upon their fans’ space-dandy jackets. Off-kilter pop is the spine which carries the band’s latest album ‘Hippopotamus’. The rambling keys, which are so distinctive of Sparks, are aided by undulating synth reverberations on songs such as the stirring ‘Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)’ and ‘A Little Bit Like Fun’.
The vagaries of Sparks complexion oscillates between meditative and a devil-may-care nature, pegging the listener. On the foolhardy ‘Giddy, Giddy’, the title works in tandem with the light-headedness of the melody before leading into the BBC Radio 6 favourite and monster smash ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’, with its Godhead figure narrating everything the world prays for, from finding missing pets to Arsenal winning – and is a truly breath-taking single propelled by an electronic drive grinding and griping with phenomenal authority.
Like some cultural safari, title track ‘Hippopotamus’ is full of rousing, agitated-lyrics and cacophonous din before tumbling into the glorious melancholy-hype of ‘Bummer’ which sees Russell Mael transform into The Fall’s Mark E. Smith at the chorus. Sparks’ lyricism remains a key weapon in the band’s arsenal, and the gratification in titles such as ‘I Wish You Were Fun’, ‘So Tell Me Mrs Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?’, and ‘Missionary Position’ plausibly surpass some of The Smiths’ finest inventions. On the former, the line “I wish you were fun – you say that your favourite colour’s brown” is an example of the simple but effective humour which the band have so often demonstrated within a number of their spicy compositions.
What is noticeable on ‘Hippopotamus’ is that there is no contrived endeavour to be popular – or even contemporary, and yet somehow the band prosper on both fronts. Film director Leos Carax’s accordion on ‘When You’re A French Director’ is unorthodox but works as a homage to the band’s apparent enthusiasm for his country, while American operatic singer Rebecca Sjowall’s contribution on closing track ‘Life With The MacBeths’ aides Sparks scornful outlook on television’s greed and need for ratings with a quite unearthly and beguiling reverence. This is fresh, Bohemian, tender and intelligent music. Take a step out of the mainstream and wallow in ‘Hippopotamus’ for a while.
As vogue goes, the current rising trajectory of female artists budding in the Scottish music scene will likely rotate into something else but during the course of the last twelve months, a welcome spate of talented, exciting, and tumultuous women has muscled their way to the front of ones to watch – and importantly, listen to. Somehow, it doesn’t seem so coincidental that a new ‘Wonder Woman’ film is earmarked for release in 2017. Poet Stephen Watt investigates.
For the past thirty years, Scotland has had two female pop stars – Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics and Sharleen Spiteri of Texas. Everyone knows that. No others. Not one. Well, except Shirley Manson – the firecracker frontwoman of Garbage. And Clare Grogan, leading lady of Altered Images and Gregory’s Girl actress. And Eddie Reader, and KT Tunstall, and Amy MacDonald, and Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins), and Isobel Campbell (Belle and Sebastian), and Emma Pollock (The Delgados), and Helen Marnie (Ladytron), and Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches), and Emeli Sande, and Dot Allison (One Dove/Massive Attack), and Rose McDowall (Strawberry Switchblade), and… I think the point has been made. Scotland has a wealth of cherished female artists who have been delivering sweet strains and punk perspectives for decades and it isn’t until one really examines their record collection that it becomes so alarmingly obvious that their songs are what consoled you during that bitter break-up, reassured you before that significant job interview, or stimulated you to make those changes in your life which had become habitual.
There’s never been a lack of talented women in Scottish music, but there has been a lack of female musicians who have broken throughJosephine Sillars
A pending viewpoint would be whether or not a strong female presence in the Scottish music scene has always been prevalent – if somewhat unappreciated – or if the evolvement of an intoxicating female presence across the country heralds the beginning of an innovative progression in readdressing the gender disparity. Fife punk outfit The Twistettes consist of sisters Jo and Nicky D’Arc, a two-piece force of nature, who moved to Glasgow to create their own fuss. “There weren’t many local examples of women in the music scene in Fife”, states frontwoman Jo – I suppose the cities may have been more accessible but I think a lot has changed over the years. Living in Glasgow means I know a lot of female musicians so it’s easy to think that there’s a strong female presence – but there still aren’t enough women being encouraged to pick up an instrument on the whole”. Likewise, central belt outsider, songstress Josephine Sillars sings in her newly-released single, ‘everybody’s got their problems with power’, but she detects a move away from the conventional billings: “When I first started playing Glasgow (Josephine hails from the Scottish Highlands), it was dominated by bills of male musicians. That has definitely changed, and I think a lot has to do with confidence – not in the musicians, but in the bookers and promoters. Bands such as Honeyblood, and more recently with Kathryn Joseph, have inspired a confidence in booking female musicians. There’s never been a lack of talented women in Scottish music, but there has been a lack of female musicians who have broken through”.
Initiatives such as Girls Rock Glasgow and Girls Rock Edinburgh help provide free instruments and lessons for young girls to pick up and explore in safe spaces Carla Easton, TeenCanteen/Ette
Herein lies the crux. There remains a need for women to be booked, written about, featuring at regular events for reasons other than achieving an agreeable male-female ratio which questionably addresses any imbalance. TeenCanteen and Ette keyboardist/singer Carla J Easton has appeared as one of the hardest-working and promising talents in the country over the past handful of years. “There are more females making music in Scotland than when TC started in 2012”, she offers – “Certainly more all-female or predominantly female groups, but I’d argue there’s always been a strong presence of women making music in Scotland since the early eighties when mass unemployment and social politics levelled the gender divide and everyone picked up an instrument and formed a band in a glorious burst of DIY subculture. Sophisticated Boom Boom, Twinset, The Shop Assistants, Sunset Gun, The Vaselines, The Fizzbombs, Rote Kapelle – that’s just a handful of bands that were all active when the Scottish pop scene exploded and all feature amazing female musicians. I see it happening again now and it’s truly amazing! Initiatives such as Girls Rock Glasgow and Girls Rock Edinburgh certainly help cultivate this environment – providing free instruments and lessons for young girls to pick up and explore in safe spaces”.
Referring to the genesis of TeenCanteen, Easton heeds that there was no blueprint for a women-only line-up: “When any band forms, you form it with friends. Under the name Zuzu’s Petals was myself, Sita (former band-mate in Futuristic Retro Champions) and had studied at college with, Debs – best friend since aged 11 – and her cousin Ross Dickson, who then moved to London for work. I asked my friend Emma to join because she could play guitar and sing, and similarly when Chloe joined, she was a friend who could sing and play bass, and learned to play guitar to join the band. Because she was one of my best friends, I knew she would and that was the missing piece”. Easton continues, “I noticed having three girls up front and singing could generate harmonies descending from the girl-group records from 58-63 that I love obsessively. There’s something quite powerful when you stack three female voices together that just gets me every time. I call it my own ‘utopia’ when we sing together and bend and shift”. The Twistettes incarnation shows similarities, having blended female only gender and mixed bands before finding the formula which worked for them. D’Arc explains: “There was no real reason other than practicality. We’re sisters and have played in bands together for years. I wouldn’t say there was much difference between all-female bands and mixed bands – it all depends on personalities and we’ve been lucky that pretty much everyone we’ve played with have been cool”.
Patriotism can often be so imperceptible that it coils itself into the mindset and become perceived as the accustomed way of things. This is apparent where men rub themselves against women at live gigs, or online trolling/domineering male attitudes comes to the fore such was the case of Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry in 2015. As a high-energy, unmanaged punk band, it may come as no surprise that The Twistettes have been on the end of unsavoury behaviour by male punters in the crowd: “At one gig, a drunk, boisterous guy kept shouting to me while I was singing, saying ‘You’re lovely…. look at your legs…. etc.’. I don’t know what he was expecting me to do but after continually ignoring his advances, he lifted a monitor speaker in front of me and banged it down. I felt quite freaked out, and then he began swinging himself up on stage. I saw red and stopped playing to kick him square in the back out of our space and shouted something about ‘wrapping my bass round his head if he didn’t fuck off’. Nicky was 6 months pregnant and I kept thinking he was going to fall on her and bring the drums down. I was so angry and embarrassed to have been pushed to that. We still finished the set though. Mental”.
Not that every gig is as savage as the one which D’Arc conveys, but a picture is painted in terms of what women can occasionally expect when confronted by drunken revellers, and the rapid transposition, or deterioration, from admiration to irritation. Even subtle misogyny has crept into the foreground. Sillars recognises this: “It can come down to simple things like when a promoter will shake my (male) drummer’s hand and not mine or direct all his questions to him and not me – even when the band name is literally just my name. It happens a lot actually”. Such incidents cry out for men to speak up and against chauvinistic prejudices but also paints a sad picture that men are needed in the first place to speak publicly on behalf of women at all. Not that this behaviour is solely reserved for the backcloths of gigs either, as Sillars adds “I’ve been catcalled by people in the audience and it is usually best to laugh it off or reply with something light so the rest of the audience do not feel uncomfortable”.
It is a commendable approach which Sillars adopts, albeit a sad issue to grasp in 2017 – some forty years after the red-blooded male stranglehold of the seventies music scene. Easton is keen to add that her bands have been “lucky to have never encountered any sexism when playing live but it shouldn’t be about being ‘lucky’ – the question shouldn’t be being asked in the first place because it shouldn’t be an issue”. If it isn’t the fans who women in Scotland need to be wary of, then what about those in charge of booking/promoting acts for gigs and festivals, and why do these billings frequently appear to be predominantly male-led? Glastonbury Festival has announced this year’s headliners as Radiohead, Foo Fighters, and Ed Sheeran whilst from the ashes of T in the Park, new Scottish festival TSNMT have also confirmed Radiohead, alongside Kasabian and Biffy Clyro. That is a top-heavy, male-orientated selection by any stretch, and the underrepresentation of women in music appears to be as prevalent now as it has ever been. Easton offers “I would never want TeenCanteen to be booked for a slot or appearance in order to ‘tick’ a diversity box for gender equality. I’d want us to be booked for a show because we were considered to be the best for that slot. I sometimes struggle with labelling myself as a ‘female singer songwriter’ because I often just think of myself as a ‘singer songwriter’ – but I want to encourage more girls to pick up and play and write and sing and perform in bands so if identifying my gender in what I do helps then I’ll do it”.
I saw red and stopped playing to kick him square in the back out of our space and shouted something about ‘wrapping my bass round his head if he didn’t fuck off Jo D’Arc, The Twistettes
Yet the struggle often comes down to one issue and one issue alone: sex. Regardless of someone’s talent, women continue to be assessed by looks, shape, and appeal. D’arc untangles this theory: “It’s both society’s view of women and women’s view of themselves which create this struggle. Women’s power within the music industry is primarily rooted in how we look and selling sex, therefore we are viewed less able than men in many aspects of the music industry (aspects which don’t require this). It means women often need to fight to be recognised as being as valid as a man with a guitar or a synth. This becomes especially heightened the more ‘techy’ your musical job is. Synth players and producers get a harder time. Big respect to female sound engineers as it must be pretty tough sometimes”.
It’s an intriguing observation, and one which many will have missed. What about the women working off-stage? Is it something which is quite obviously absent in Scotland? I certainly struggle to think of many I’ve noticed over the past twenty years around the city’s music scene. D’arc continues, “On the flip side, women will be commended and receive additional attention for being involved in music where her male counterparts do not experience, so it can go both ways. While attention is often rooted in surprise and, as much as it can be flattering to be viewed as ‘exceptional’ or ‘out of the norm’ I don’t think that this is particularly helpful in encouraging more women to pick up instruments. Hopefully one day we’ll get to the point where a woman can walk on stage and do a set of crazy tech heavy live music and folks won’t bat an eye lid…or mutter that famed positive/negative – ‘she’s amazing for a girl’. The other aspect of this is women’s confidence in their abilities. The masculine tone of the music industry can create doubt and worry that stops women putting themselves forward. The amount of house parties I’ve went to and lassies are absolutely rocking the decks when they think nobody is looking is unreal but when asked if they gig they’re like ‘oh not…I couldn’t do that!’”
“For me, gender isn’t an issue when it comes to performing and playing”, Easton indicates – “but it does the beg the question why some bands are not asked “What reasons led you to forming a male-only band?” as much as they are when it is solely females in the band. I’ve been involved in Futuristic Retro Champions consisting of three girls and two boys, my solo album ‘Homemade Lemonade’ was made with Joe Kane and when performed live is four boys and three girls, and then I was the only female in the band I recorded and performed with during my recent residency at the Banff Centre for Arts in Canada”.
In which case, does it then beg the question is there too much scrutiny being put upon female involvement within the Scottish music industry? Whether the individual involved is working class, black, survived sexual assault, or queer should not be an issue just as much as that the music is all-important and if the output is unsatisfactory, then the record-buying public simply are not going to buy into it. In terms of music output, Scotland is enjoying its richest spell for quite some time. Easton provides “I’m really excited about Tongue Trap, Bratakus and Fallope, and The Tubes. Emme Woods is one of the most exciting singer-songwriters I’ve encountered live in years – Rose McDowall is performing live again, and everyone should see Chrissy Barnacle perform – delighted to have her band Joyce Delaney support TeenCanteen at our Sirens launch in Nice n’ Sleazys on 22nd April – people should get a ticket for them alone”, Easton proffers. Sillars agrees with this sentiment; “Emme Woods and Chrissy Barnacle, not forgetting Laurence Made Me Cry, always excite me”. The admiration for Tongue Trap and Chrissy Barnacle is also replicated by D’Arc, keen to support this prolific period for Scottish women in music: “There are so many great talents around just now – Misc Meat, Fisty Muffs, singers/musicians like Ella Maby, Becci Wallace; producers like Audrey Tait, Jess Aslan, Sev Dudzinska. The female MC Empress has blown me away recently with her new EP ‘Turning Tables’. Hip hop and rapping is so male dominated that it’s really refreshing to see some lassies getting involved, and Empress is one of the best… love her”.
And it isn’t just Scottish women who are currently producing some of the most enthralling music around right now. English/Icelandic punksters Dream Wife, LA grunge outfit Girlpool, and Glasgow-based, Slovenian DJ and producer Nightwave aka Maya Medvesek are a small sample of acts in the world who are currently subscribed to promoting sounds which get under the skin, and bruises. In times when the United States of America is led by a misogynistic, bloated He-Man in a suit, there is a swift riposte of female acts currently mapping the lay of the land and chronicling the rise of women to the forefront of music – in spite of powerful adversities. Perhaps Scotland is proving itself to be leaders of the pack once more, and by addressing dated attitudes head-on, will inspire the next wave of young female Scots to show to the world that they have so much more to offer, if only promoters open their doors – and their minds.
Rich thanks to Josephine Sillars, Carla Easton (TeenCanteen/Ette) and Jo D’Arc (The Twistettes) 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 https://www.facebook.com/StephenWattSpit/ or his Twitter handle @StephenWattSpit.