Nice to see WPM back after a long hiatus as a part of the celebrations for Book Week in Scotland; nice too to see it come to Greenock to celebrate the newly minted Beacon Arts Centre, a lovely facility by the water with stunning views and a great wee theatre. It’s going to liven up the arts in Inverclyde, and the healthy audience suggests it’ll be well used.
The Clutha disaster hangs heavy, though. It’s just been announced that one of the probable victims is John McGarrigle, a Glasgow poet. I don’t think I ever met John, but the Clutha was a favourite meeting point for many of the poets I know like Jim Ferguson and Graeme Fulton, and he was a popular figure among them. Hostess Kirstin Innes and short story writer Alan Wilson read two of his poems, and superstar Tom Leonard reminisces about him. All of the acts pay their respects in poignant and sensitive ways, just as it should be. I read at the Clutha a few times years ago; it has always been a haven for radical writing and music, and I sincerely hope it rises again.
First on the bill is Rachel McCrum, Jenny Lindsay’s Rally & road partner. She has a gorgeous voice, honeyed with Northern Irish. Her poem about learning to sail with her father is lovely. Herald big-hitter Neil Mackay reads from his new novel, ‘All The Little Guns Go Bang Bang Bang’, interestingly about two 11 year old ‘hitmen’ in Northern Ireland. Martin O’Connor‘s writing for theatre and drama projects is terrific, playing and expanding and exploding not just Glasgow vernacular but the very essence of what it is to be Weegie, including a terrific Glasgow singalong party (‘Gie’s a song, Eddie…’) and the fractured prose of a union meeting. Excellent.
Adam Stafford wowed me at WPM 2 a few years back. I really like the way he builds his music live through looped guitars and beatboxing; it’s a fascinating process, and he has a lovely voice over the top of all that. He has trouble with his loop pedals tonight, and unfortunately has to abandon his set after a couple of numbers go awry. No shame there – he gives us enough to emphasise what a talent he is.
The night finishes off with ex-Delgado Emma Pollock. She’s lovely, has one of the sweetest voices you could ever hope to hear and is a real superstar of the indie folk rock scene in Scotland. Just her voice and an acoustic guitar, her four numbers are a delight, and she ends with the hit Paper and Glue. A real touch of class on the water.
But the star of the show for me is the venerable Tom Leonard. I haven’t seen him for years and years, and I am absolutely and childishly thrilled that he remembers me. He’s quite open about having been on the wagon for ten years or so, so I hope he doesn’t mind me telling a wee story about him. When I was Principal Teacher at Linwood High School, I asked him to do a reading for our kids and, of course, he generously agreed. I picked him up from the station and he looked just a bit ragged. He’d been round at Eddie Morgan’s house the night before, he said, and they’d stayed up late sorting out the world, telling stories about mutual friends and had, he admitted, more than a few wee golden sweeties. As a result, I suspect the last thing his head wanted to do was to spend the morning with a bunch of weans. So in he comes, gets himself seated – and he absolutely blows the kids away. They loved him, his humour, his charm, his downright humanity. He and Morgan were gold dust when it came to engaging pupils with poetry and with their heritage. The man’s a legend.
So he dips into his encyclopaedic knowledge to tell stories of poets from Inverclyde, reminisces about his friendship with W.S.Graham, reads a touching poem he wrote for his son’s wedding, lambasts the establishment with ‘Being a Human Being‘ and just about has me falling off the chair at the beauty of ‘June the Second‘, one of those tiny jewels of a poem, like Morgan’s ‘Strawberries’, that captures an infinitesimally small and specific moment of love that, because of its impossible humanity, seems utterly universal. So short, so brief, so seemingly uncrafted, it is one of my favourite poems.
So a good night; well done to Inverclyde Libraries for tempting WPM out of semi-retirement to come doon the watter. In the past, I always fancied reading at WPM, but was never invited. Dammit – it’s a class act.
PS – Rachel McCrum says that Rally & Broad is coming to Glasgow for a short residency at the Tron. I’ve never been to one of their events, but by all accounts they’re fantastic, so make sure you get tickets…
I never really connected with Editors until their latest album, “The Weight of Your Love”. It’s an album that’s had mixed reviews, largely because of the production which takes a swing away from indie rock values into more a by-the-numbers anthemic, stadium-friendly ethic. I like it, I have to say. Lyrically, it’s pretty shocking at times; “Two Hearted Spider” might as well have been called ‘The Beast with Two Backs’, for god’s sake, and ‘Bird of Prey’ is largely meaningless. But that last track indicates the strength of the record: while it may be a semantic mess, it is really quite a gorgeous sound.
I’m with a pal who was into their older stuff, and I have to say that’s where the strength lies. It’s actually surprising how little of “The Weight of Your Love” they do play – the big singalongs of ‘Honesty‘, ‘Sugar’ and ‘Nothing’ for instance, and one of my favourites, the funky ‘Formaldehyde‘, as well as those bloody spiders – despite this being the album tour.
And I kind of get the feeling that the fans in the audience aren’t all that disappointed, and are quite happy with a setlist that is actually pretty retrospective. Despite the fact that I don’t know much of this, it does seem much more direct, more grungy, more honest than the newer material. ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool‘ really kicks on, and ‘Munich‘ gets the crowd revved up. They finish with a metaphorically and literally blinding ‘Papillon‘, a kind of Sisters of Mercy meets Depeche Mode moment that works well.
So – next stop is to track down all the old stuff. This was a good, good gig, but I’ll enjoy it even more when I see them again and can connect with the stuff that really sets the blood pumping.
Just one down note: my pal and I go for something to eat before the show and apparently miss – dammit – the wonderful British Sea Power. A band that strong deserves to be co-billed, and if they had been, we’d have happily gone hungry.
I’m knackered. Shuttling around the country visiting schools, two gigs in two nights and a day trip to London for meetings. I may sleep the weekend away.
However, I’m glad the energy levels kept up well enough to see The Heavy. They’re a hardcore R’n'B band, heavy on the soul sound of the 60s updated with smattering of grunge, punk, hip-hop and snarling rock. Their latest album, ‘The Glorious Dead’, is very reminiscent of the days of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, with great harmonies over grooves embellished by massive horn sections, strings by the barrowload and acres of backing singers.
Live, the band (singer Kelvin Swaby, guitarist Dan Taylor, bassist Spencer Page and drummer Chris Ellul) are backed by only two saxes, so the reliance is on a much meatier arrangement. If anything, Swaby’s vocals are better unmitigated by the studio production of the album – he has to bellow and hoot and holler – and the sound is much more raw and even more fun. Backing vocals are provided by the audience anyway – they’ve been here before and have a knowledgeable fan base – and it’s a hoot. I know enough of the music to howl along with ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ and to join in the choruses of most of the rest, including ‘What Makes A Good Man‘ and ‘Curse Me Good‘. There really isn’t a bum note all night, and I dance my bollocks off for ninety minutes energetically enough to suffer from excruciating cramp in my left calf muscle at three in the morning; that’s the sign of a good night out at my age…
Support is provided by The Computers, or, as Alex the lead singer informs us, ‘The Motherfucking Computers from warm and creamy Devon’. He is a cross between Elvis Costello and Dennis the Menace, and their loud and proud rock and roll is bonkers. A very hot warm up act, and well worth checking out.
It’s wonderful to see Ane Brun again; once a year isn’t often enough, though. Having just released two compilation albums, she’s on the road to promote them. However, this isn’t a straightforward retrospective in any way, shape or form.
Last year at WOMAD, I asked her about the difference between her first folky acoustic albums and 2011’s fantastic ‘It All Starts With One’, which was huge and sonic and operatic in scale, with washes of strings and keyboards and layers upon layers of thumping drums. Yes, she said, it was deliberately different; a self-taught musician, she had reached the point where she wanted to grow and extend and experiment. That album was a huge leap forward, and an explosion of creativity.
And so this gig is about reimagining those earlier songs, and the results are beautiful and often quite astonishing. Songs like ‘The Fall’ and ‘My Lover Will Go’ are reinterpreted with woozy trip hop beats and seductive rhythms over which vocals soar; a pleasant surprise is the presence of the gorgeous Nina Kinert, a bit of a Norwegian wonky pop superstar herself. She adds great texture to Brun’s already magnificent voice: ‘To Let Myself Go’, already a slow burning moody number, gains oodles by Brun and Kinert howling in counterpoint above thrashing sexually charged keyboards and percussion. Most wonderful of all, I think, is ‘Humming One of Your Songs’ which in the original is melodic and catchy; here, it’s slowed right down and thumps the guts like the best of Portishead, Brun as gloriously and seductively erotic as I’ve ever heard her.
Then, of course, there are the big, big numbers from ‘It All Starts With One’: that bonkers double drum of ‘Do You Remember?; the crushing beauty of ‘These Days’; the almost hallucinogenic mantra of ‘Worship’. Her final encore – after her version of ‘Big In Japan’, which would easily get on my compilation of top ten covers of all time – is, of course, ‘Undertow’, that gloriously delicate piano refrain and that fabulous delicate voice giving themselves up to the biggest, loudest, most thunderous sound on the planet.
Once more, Ane Brun is fabulous. And once more, I’m happy to admit I just love her to bits.
Well, that was fab…
A last-minute opportunity to grab a ticket for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds saw me catch one of the most eclectic, gloomy, surprising, ambitious, infuriating songwriters I know - and the man who wrote the script for one of my favourite all time Westerns, ‘The Proposition’.
Cave has a new album out, the brilliant ‘Push the Sky Away‘, itself a gloriously brooding, beautiful song he finishes the main set with. It’s a fabulous album: he starts the gig with “We No Who U R” (Warren Ellis with that trademark flute the Seeds use so often) and includes ‘Mermaids‘ – I mean, what the hell do you make of ineffably wonky lyrics like ‘She was a catch / We were a match /I was the match /That would fire up her snatch’ , that then turn into just one of the most gorgeous refrains known to man? Then there are the two stonewall epics they perform: “Jubilee Street” and, my favourite from the album, “Higgs Boson Blues” are monumental.
There are a number of similar biggies thrown in to the setlist, including the misanthropic ‘Tupelo’ and simply psycho ‘Stagger Lee’, both of them howling and cacophonous (as they need to be), and brilliant sinagalong oldies like ‘Red Right Hand‘ and ‘Deanna’. The unutterably lovely ‘Into My Arms’ heralds three piano-acoustic numbers mid-set (along with “Watching Alice” and the gorgeous “People Aint No Good”) that shows Cave is a true romantic at heart, but a heart that’s just a little on the black side.
The man is 7’5″ of sheer goth charisma, easy in himself and with his audience: this is the first time I’ve seen him and wondered if he’d be all glum and introspective, but not a bit of it. Dammit, the man’s a real rock star. The Barrowland audience is hot and fractious – within six feet of me, one girl faints and two guys start fighting – but absolutely committed to having a ball. And we do.
Awfy, awfy guid.
Nadine Shah is perhaps the scariest singer I’ve seen since Geddy Lee of Rush screamed at me for three hours in 1979. I’m with a pal who says she finds it difficult to watch her during the first three songs in case laser beams shoot out of her unblinking eyes and burn us all to a crisp. Of Pakistani / Norwegian parentage, she’s all ice queen.
Then, she decides to talk to us, and we discover she’s a beautiful, charming girl full of kooky smiles and the broadest Geordie accent you can imagine. The difference is quite astonishing: Goth Goddess one minute, Giggly Gal the next.
Her music is unashamedly gloomy; towards the end of the show, her guitarist retunes; ‘Is that it?’ she asks, to which he replies ‘Fine. Close enough for Goth.’ That has her collapsing in a helpless heap. She has a marvellous voice: what it lacks in octaves, it more than makes up for in timbre and texture and sheer bloody volume; when she fills her lungs and opens her throat, she can hold her notes loud and long and spine-tingling, despite the heavy cold she’s carrying. Combine that voice with the often industrial noises of her music, it all adds up to an intense set.
She’s showcasing her new album (I get it on vinyl! Whoopee!) and there are some cracking tracks. The opener for the record and the show is ‘Aching Bones’, startling in its clanging zither and pounding drums and snarling piano. Most of her work is about past and lost love and the winter of the soul that results; ‘Winter Reigns’, and aching bones indeed. ‘To Be A Young Man’ is slightly more up tempo and growls a great rock beat, but there’s a real poignancy about the lyrics, apparently inspired by a man in his sixties observing to Shah that he was able to forget how old he was until he caught his reflection in a mirror. God, do I know that feeling…
‘Floating’ is terrific too, a yearning for a lover shared with another leading to a state of near madness, while ‘Never Tell Me Mam’ is a slow-burner that builds in emotional intensity to a huge climax: she’s great at that sonic wash I love so much. She ends with a wonkily heart-stopping version of ‘Cry Me A River’ that fits her ethic perfectly.
She’s young and relatively new, and this is a short set. With a bit of time and a bigger repertoire under her belt, she’ll definitely be one to watch. My pal and I agree: we wish her lots of success.
Oh dear – I think I’m losing my blogging mojo. Time was when I’d be so hyped up after a gig, I’d be sitting up until the wee small hours reliving the event. Now, despite even hitting an excellent WOMAD this year, it’s taking me forever to get round to reviews. Dammit…
Anyway, Woodend Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club is hardly the kind of place where you’d expect to see cutting edge music. Yet thanks to member and muso Alan Hendry, it’s doing a roaring trade in cool stuff. I’ve already seen Amanda Shires and Eleanor McEvoy there, so it felt like it was time to check back in. And Chastity Brown doesn’ t disappoint.
Brown is a real storyteller, usually of love and loss – she has a romantic soul, for sure. She has a new album out, the refreshingly un-overproduced ‘Back Road Highways’, and she showcases most of that tonight. ‘House Been Burnin’ is a slow burner (sorry, terrible pun) that effectively summons up the Tennessee heat she’s grown up in. It shows off a great blues voice that is reminiscent of Joan Osborne or Janis Joplin, and a really soulful ‘woo-hoo’ to go along with it. ‘I Left Home‘ could have been sung fifty years ago by a gospel choir, and songs like ‘When We Get There‘ or ‘Leroy’ are smoky numbers that have real atmosphere and a poignant wistfulness.
She’s not all intensity and seriousness (though, to be honest, I prefer it when she is): ‘After You‘ is a jaunty, optimistic anthem that is fine but is maybe a little – ummm – insubstantial. For me, the standout song is the magnificent and brutal ‘Man and Gun‘, a song she sings with such passion and intensity that you suspect it must have deep personal significance for her (there’s a line that suggests she may be singing about her own abusive father, but she doesn’t expand on that). She certainly throws her heart and soul into her songs, like ‘Solely’ and ‘Could’ve Been Sunday’ (a fantastic track that sounds as if it belongs on some brilliant blaxpoitation soundtrack from the 70s, along with a couple of Marvin Gaye and Bobby Womack numbers).
At the end of the set she looks exhausted and ripped to shreds by the emotional wringer she’s put herself through. The audience – which is always one of the most diverse, respectful and downright civilised I’ve come across – go nuts.
Thanks to my pal for buying me a ticket to this lovely gig from the queen of the bottleneck guitar: apparently, I’m doing her a favour, because her hubby – my pal and boss Donald – is a long time fan while she isn’t too keen, and I’m saving her from having to go with him. More than happy to help out, Claire! It’s the first time Donald’s ever seen her live, so he’s in heaven.
I’ve always admired Bonnie Raitt without ever being a dyed in the wool fan. Her music is blues-tinged Americana (or Americana-tinged blues; whatever) that is intelligent and humane and intimate. While she’s never really broken out massive time (the beauty of not being a mega-star, she jokes as she’s introducing one of her personal numbers, is that no-one is interested in her sex life other than herself) she’s always had a passionate following and a host of respectful dabblers like myself who like her for her left-wing eco-credentials as much as for her music..
All in all, this is great. She has gathered a fine band of venerable musicians around her: George Marinelli on guitar, James Hutchison on bass, Ricky Fataar on drums and the extraordinary Mike Finnigan on keyboards. It’s tight and together, as you’d expect from old friends who have been playing together for years, though, just occasionally, it’s a little too slick for my tastes: I like the rough edges to show now and again. But much of her excellent new album “Slipstream” is showcased, including a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” that’s guaranteed to go down a storm in Glasgow. She calls herself a “curator”, which gives the impression that she’s a covers girl, but she’s also a brilliant songwriter in her own right, and “Used to Rule the World” and “Marriage Made in Hollywood” are evidence of that. Let’s face it, her songs are covered by so many artists from the latest generation who know a thing or two, like Bon Iver and Adele.
However, it’s three oldies and weepies that really get me. She belts out “Angel from Montgomery” and, especially, an encore of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that show off her voice which, on first impression, seems ordinary but is actually gorgeous because she emotes simply through the perfection of hitting notes, of holding semi-tones that are pin-sharp; none of your faux high jinks intricacies here (God save us from the Celine School of Warbling). And that is best shown in one of the early songs of the night that actually propels me onto my feet for a standing ovation 90 minutes too soon: ”Love Has No Pride” must be one of the simplest and most beautiful love songs ever written, and she delivers it as well as it deserves, and then with knobs on.
It’s another one of those stand-out single song performances that make a night. Fabulous, Bonnie, just fabulous.
Well, that was just about the best display of stagecraft I’ve ever seen. Vintage Trouble are a blues band from Hollywood who really belong to Glasgow (their forthcoming DVD is of their last visit here), and they treat a passionate crowd to a show that is nothing short of legendary.
The band consists of Nalle Colt on guitar, Richard Danielson on drums and Rick Barrio Dill on bass providing the drive for Ty Taylor, a voice who is simply one of the best I’ve ever heard and a charisma that could light the Christmas tree in George Square. Within six minutes the audience have been whipped up into a frenzy and – and this is really cool – have basically joined the band as one of the musical instruments. There’s no awkward “well it’s time for you all to sing along” moment; from the first moment, Taylor is conducting us, having us bellow and hoot and whisper and yell as an integral part of the band’s arrangements. Twice, he goes walkabout deep, deep into the audience, and the band signs off as the audience chants a refrain and they hurdle the barrier and head for the merch table, where they no doubt press the flesh for ages. I’ve never, ever felt so involved in a gig in my life.
They are the essence of cool (Danielson resembles a saloon bartender from 1870, while Dill and Colt look like very expensive Amish hitmen; Taylor goes for the tight tartan suit and cravat) and they seem to enjoy each other’s musical company enormously. It’s rip snorting stuff; tracks from their first album like the fantastic “Nancy Lee” or “Blues Hand Me Down” are belters for singing along to, though there’s no hope in hell of getting near some of the notes Taylor does. Technically, he’s as good as Joe Tex (they do a storming version of “Show Me“) or James Brown or Robert Cray, and only needs a bit of life’s grit to propel him to that kind of superstardom. “Run Outta You” is as soulful as anything you could find in the charts in the sixties, while the acoustic “Not All Right By Me” is the sweetest of sixties protest songs. They go back way further, though, and new stuff like “Before the Teardrops” and the new single “Pelvis Pusher” are obvious paeans to 1950s rock’n'roll.
Look, based as it is in an aesthetic that harks back to the soundtrack of 50 years ago, this isn’t, essentially, my kind of music; but I don’t really give a fuck, because they do what they do better than anyone I’ve ever heard, they’re musically right on the button, they’re inventive as well as being retrospective and, at the end of they day, they make damned sure I have a ball. And for all those reasons, that means there’s plenty of room in my musical world for a whole lot more of their irrepressible groove.
Unfortunately, they suffer from an occasional problem at King Tut’s: the curse of the partisan crowd. Main support act Youth and the Young, a sort of ceilidh band with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder who play music that’s a cross between The Lumineers and Big Country, have brought a fairly sizeable support from their Edinburgh home. They’re a very, very crowd pleasing band, full of noise and charisma and energy, and they corral half the audience into something like a mental Strip the Willow for their penultimate number. They’re definitely Scottish folk for an independence age. Good stuff.
Annoyingly, most of that audience then disappears when Revere take the stage, and that’s a pity because, as good as Youth and the Young are, the step up in class and professionalism is immediately palpable. Revere are a band deserving of a bigger stage (they need one for their electronic gizmos) and certainly a bigger audience. Right from the start, that huge anthemic sound kicks you in the gut; big melodies, big riffs and lots and lots of sheer invention. Lead singer Stephen Ellis is the perfect front man with a great voice and a huge personality, and the whole band is so tight and together it’s scarey.
They hit the big anthems from their last album, “Hey! Selim”, pick of the bunch being “Throwing Stones“ and “We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow“, Ellis coming down into the audience to lead the singalong, just about throttling Youth and the Young’s lead singer in the process. But even better is the stuff from their new album, due for release in September. “I Won’t Blame You” is typical of their epic style (and there are some stunning remixes available for free download from their site), and “Keep This Channel Open” is a fantastic first single. They finish with “Maybe We Should Step Outside”, which for half of the song is acoustic and reflective but, of course, ends with an absolutely bonkers mega-coda that sounds like an orchestrated battlefield.
Unfortunately, the audience by this stage is too sparse and too insipid to merit an encore, however much the half-dozen fans like myself down the front try to whip up some enthusiasm. Afterwards, I explain to Ellis that that’s Edinburgh punters for you: they always leave before the end of the party, and take all the wine with them. A pity, because they missed a group of musicians capable of real greatness who may just be my new favourite band from England.