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.
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.
This is out of the Celtic Connections loop, but, after the success of Ane Brun’s gig at King Tut’s just over a year ago, I had to find out if all Norwegians were intent on demolishing Glasgow with sheer bloody volume. It appears they are, and it’s fantastic.
Rebekka Karijord packs as much sound on stage as she can, again filling the tiny venue with mammoth percussion; the beat is astonishing, especially on the really big, danceable numbers like “Save Yourself”, “Your Love” and “Use My Body While It’s Still Young“. These are epic songs, all of them driven relentlessly by fabulous drumming and a wash of ambience that, like Brun, soars high, high, high. She also does reflection beautifully – her own favourite, “Oh Brother”, or the hymnal “Prayer” or the keening “You Make Me Real” or her encore, the title track of her first album “The Noble Art of Letting Go”, are gorgeous.
Karijord herself is beautiful and sexy and mysterious, full of knowing smiles and genuine warmth. The harmonies she creates with her band – three young, charming, energetic guys – are fabulous, Karijord’s range rising higher and higher above them. She finishes the set with “Ode to What Was Lost” which, like “Brun’s “Undertow” is as sonically huge as a cathedral, jaw-dropping and goose-bump inducing. It’s the first of 2013′s wonderful musical experiences.
Really, this is one incredibly talented young woman who, with her excellent new album “We Become Ourselves”, really does deserve worldwide recognition. Of course, she’s from that Scandinavian wonky-pop tradition that sits just outside the mainstream, but I urge you; forget going with the flow, buy the album and listen to some of the finest music around.
While this, I am sure, will be amongst the best music I’ll discover this year, the gig itself won’t appear on the top ten list, largely because of the audience. It’s fairly sparsely attended but there are some real fans and many who are willing to immerse themselves in the experience. However, that experience is spoiled by others, including some chatty couples. The worst offenders, though, are a group of guys up the back who behave like adolescent chimpanzees, guffawing loudly and generally spoiling as many of the numbers as they can, despite shooshes and more than a few dirty looks. Comedy wooly hat guy; specky, wild-haired ugly guy – yes, you know it was you. Astonishingly, another member of the audience tells me that they are the friends and partners of one of the earlier support acts, both of which I missed.
So I don’t know if they were associated with Plum or with Loudon, but a word of advice, guys: if you want your friends to be booked to play with fabulous musicians like Rebekka Karijord in the future, show them and the audience that has come to hear them some respect and consideration; either that, or fuck off and be arseholes in the local Wetherspoons until the gig is over.
PS – one of the offending parties has chosen to reply to this – see below. I’m a little perplexed by the following attempts to justify his position:
(a) – the sound was too low? Then why weren’t you being quieter so you could hear it? The band was playing quietly – so you are incapable of adjusting your volume to compensate? Why should the artist have to play at a volume louder than they want in order to drown you out?
(b) Yes live music is about having fun. That fun is derived from listening to the live music. Chat about it between the songs. If you want to chat while music is playing, put a CD on and stay at home. There are some gigs – huge venues where the sound is ramped up – where your behaviour will go unnoticed; in a small, intimate venue with a small crowd and some quiet, reflective music, your behaviour can be catastrophic.
(c) You admit you were loud, but “not intentionally”? How can you be “unintentionally” loud and intrusive? Could it be that the word you’re looking for is “thoughtless”?
(d) you respected Rebekka Karijord? Then why not listen to her, and allow us to too? Does respect not entail paying attention when someone has rehearsed for weeks just to entertain you?
(e) The whole crowd? There were less than 100 people in the room. Your party seems to have consisted of about 8 or 9 people – almost a tenth of the audience. Six people commented to me about how upsetting you were – that’s a fairly high proportion too.
(f) I’m sorry I missed Plum, I’ve heard she did a really good set. I think she certainly should keep on playing gigs like this, and she should bring along people who support her. What those people who support her should do is have a little consideration for other gig goers and acts, out of respect for Plum and for the type of audience behaviour she would want. I did not say she should “watch who she brings to gigs” because, as she herself said, you weren’t “with” her. She is not responsible for your behaviour – you are. Or do you think she’s your mum?
(g) So you’ve never been challenged? Well, could it be that is because to do so would be to disturb the artist even more? Because an argument kicking off would make things worse? If you weren’t aware of the dissatisfaction many were expressing – including, I suspect, Rebekka Karjiord – then that just goes to show how self-centred you really are.
As for the insult – it was deliberate to provoke a response. It worked. So now you know how your behaviour affects many people, perhaps you’ll reflect on it. As for being ugly – I embrace my ugliness. Try it – it’s empowering.
I’ve written about this before; it astonishes me how self-centred some gig-goers can be, and it’s a pity that, more and more, I am seeing others – audience and artists – having to rebel against it. http://raymondsoltysek.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/the-modern-gig-goer-blessed-with-a-sense-of-entitlement/
Jings, 2012 is turning into a fantastic, vintage year for gigs. I’m loving it.
Gemma Hayes burst onto the scene in 2002 with a great album, “Night on My Side”, and a Mercury nomination. Unfortunately, I think, Ms Dynamite won that year and Hayes seemed to slip out of the mainstream limelight a little, while still maintaining a large, core audience. After the show, she says she’s surprised anyone came at all, given that she hasn’t been to Glasgow since 2008; I have to admit, it was an odd audience, with lots of couples and old hairy men like me, and fewer than I expected of the cool 20-something girls her music should speak to.
Imagine the prettiest girl next door you could ever fall for, double the prettiness and then add a voice like an angel, and you’ll get some idea of what Hayes is like. She is a really good guitarist (this is an acoustic tour) and an even better singer; her voice is pure and intimate, perfect for the confessional nature of much of her material. I shouldn’t like her songwriting - I can’t stand the hand-wringing that masquerades as “feeling” in a lot of recordings these days – but I do, very much. There’s a quiet reserve and dignity about her that speaks of authenticity, that she can be trusted because she draws on her own experiences in a way that looks for insight rather than angst. Her songs are remarkably intelligent, none more so than “Oliver“. She tells the story of its origins in a childhood bully who was actually in love with her; after kicking the shit out of him in a red mist – quite deservedly, I would say – she pines for his attention and hints that, later in life, he broke her heart.
The song is lovely, and if anyone can find a more visceral summary of what it’s like to have your soul shredded than“You ripped the smile off my face
And fed it to the Winter birds
What a wicked boy”
then I’ll eat my hat. It’s a woolly hat. Wool doesn’t taste nice.
Her new album, “Let It Break”, has some cracking songs about the heart on it, like “Ruin” or, my favourite, the anthemic “Shock to My System“, which is just downright catchy while being effortlessly touching. A tale of a life “half alive” because of pain and disappointment and sheer bloody habit being set on fire by the arrival of a love who then simply fucks off, I find myself really touched and wondering about my own life, my own often chequered history. The best songs do that to you, I suppose.
My only relative complaint is about the album. It’s great, and deserves to be huge because she deserves to be huge, but it’s done with a band and multi-tracking and over dubbing, which is just what you’d expect from a studio album. Her show, stripped down so that we can hear that gorgeous voice at its best, delivers those same songs – along with her early hits, great songs like “Back of my Hand” and “Ran for Miles”, and a wonderful cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” – straight to the bloodstream, almost intravenously.
It’s a short set, but one that is quite, quite beautiful.
Oh my goodness, that was a surprise.
I expected to be mildly entertained by another idiosyncratic Norwegian singer, ticking off a bit more Scandinavian wonky-pop. What I got instead was one of the highlight concerts of the year and a live introduction to a singer I’m going to be listening to pretty much constantly for the forseeable future.
Ane Brun and her band are just wonderful. There’s little mainstream about her, though, like Susanne Sundfør, she’s capable of some damned fine tunes. Forget that – utterly mesmerising tunes. She relies on that Scandinavian thing of setting up a rhythm section (three drum kits on a stage the size of a postage stamp) that is quite capable of rearranging an audience’s internal organs, and lays wash after wash of transcendent ambience over it, and then piles on top of that a voice that is pure, pitch perfect and astonishingly engaging. The result is the biggest, widest, deepest, broadest soundstage I think I’ve ever heard in a venue this intimate and in many that are much bigger.
And it’s gorgeous. I don’t know enough of the songs to rhyme them off – I will soon – but one after another has me muttering “Jesus” at the end of yet another wringing out of the senses and emotions. The new album – “It All Starts With One” – features heavily. The single “Do You Remember” is a thundering drum-driven pagan thrashing: if you don’t dance your bollocks off to it, you are clearly in need of urgent hospitalisation. And she ends with “Undertow” which just soars and soars and soars and when you think it can’t soar any higher – up it fucking well goes.
Brun herself is lovely. She’s very beautiful – those eyes! – but much more attractive is her enigmatic charisma, warmth and obvious delight at the roaring reception she gets. I dunno – I reckon she would be perfect in the part of a Norwegian Resistance agent in a World War 2 movie. I haven’t a clue where that came from, but it’s stuck there now.
I don’t know where this will come in my end of year top five gig list, but it will be in there somewhere. Easily. Ane Brun is a singer I must have more of. Must, must, must, must. Definitely. Must.
Do you think I liked this a wee bit?
Footnote: Support is supplied by a member of her band, Linnea Olsson, who is excellent. A solo cellist and vocalist, she loops, samples, overdubs to produce a quite lovely sound. Definitely worth checking out on You Tube, bearing in mind that the compression ruins the hugeness of her sound.
An indie night, courtesy of my nephew Andrew. Guitar bands have kind of fallen off my radar recently, and aren’t the kind of thing I’d generally go to see, but that’s something I’ll need to change. Four bands are up, complete with flailing guitars, driving drums and lots and lots of testosterone. I’m the oldest bloke in the place – Andrew hears a couple of punters speculating that I might be a scout – but that doesn’t stop me appreciating what’s on offer.
We manage to catch a couple of numbers from Tegan, the first band up, and I’m sorry I didn’t hear more and can’t find them on the web. What is noticeable is the size of the soundscape they create – it’s huge, courtesy of two fine guitarists and a powerhouse of a drummer. Their songs are almost prog-rock in their ambition: pretty impressive.
Two bands from Dunfermline are on the bill, and they’ve brought a busload from home to support them. Best of the two is Coviets, a Libertines-inspired three-piece that are tight and accomplished and capable of belting out some stomping punk. The dynamic – lead-singing drummer, impossibly cool lead guitarist who wears ridiculously low-cut jeans (why bother?) and introspective bassist – works well. A fine wee band I’d happily see again, though they’re more to Andrew’s taste than mine (Guinness-fuelled “Fucking brilliant” is his verdict).
The second Fife band is Modern Faces, who finish the night in the graveyard slot. They’re good musicians – especially the lead guitarist, who is a real talent, despite his unfortunate sideburns – but a Kelly Jones clone of a lead singer, an over-reliance on Kasabian thrash and just a little bit of youthful pomposity means they’re too generic for our tastes (that’s Andrew’s word, not mine). My feeling is that indie has become too reliant on emulation, and that’s the problem with this set.
Sandwiched between the two are headliners Strangeways. The Dunfermline crowd disappear after Coviets to fill up on booze downstairs, returning for Modern Romance, so the audience thins out to a handful. That’s a pity, because they miss what is, for me, the best act of the night. A London six-piece, their songs are witty and intelligent, their musicianship can’t be faulted (great guitar work!) and they’re capable of intense energy thanks to the use of two very different lead singers who each bring something unique to the the dynamic, both stylistically and vocally. I’ve been playing the video of their single, “Violence and Virtue”, on Myspace for a couple of days, and with it’s gloriously wonky riffs and changes of pace and melody, it’s grown on me as a genuinely innovative sound from a band that have a lot to say that should be heard. The most original act of the night, I hope an album is coming soon and that they get the record deal they deserve.
A respectably sized crowd turns up this time to give Astrid Williamson something approaching the reception she deserves. Supporting Kathryn Williams, she’s at the piano again, but she’s brought a guitar to widen her set list and assures us she’s practised since the Oran Mor gig back in January – though there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, being on the road as part of a tour seems to have allowed her to polish up some of her very best gems.
Her voice is in cracking form, easily driving more upbeat numbers like “Shhh…” or “Hozanna”, but the gentler songs really shine: “Only Heaven Knows” the unlisted track at the end of “Day of the Lone Wolf” album, is wistful and brooding and perfect, as is the beautiful “Eve” from her latest album, “Here Come the Vikings”. Both songs show just how fine a piano player she is, but she’s great on the guitar too; the lovely, light “Superman” (“Oh how I wish / You would be my Superman”) has most of the males in the audience seriously considering wearing their underpants outside their trousers just to oblige.
Her music has been a big part of my soundtrack over the last six years, and I’ve never really been able to pin down which of her songs I’d take to my Desert Island. However, she finishes with “This is how it’s done here”, I think the first time I’ve heard it live, and that settles it. For me, it’s a song about the utter improbability and unexpectedness of love, and the inevitable, delicious pain that lies in the path you have to take to negotiate it. “Love,” she sings, “is a curious land / where you can never be a native or stake your claim”, a sentiment that I should have had tattooed on my heart years ago. The emotion of the refrain is capable of dismantling a listener:“I’m sorry that I came without warning, And I’m sorry that I led you astray. I would never harm a breath in your body, But there’s nothing much left to say; This is how it’s done here.”
It is just stunning.
Kathryn Williams is new to me, but the audience is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Both of her – she’s heavily pregnant – put on a lovely performance full of cheeky lyrics and woozy melodies. The band is great, throwing everything from hurdy-gurdies to vibraphones into the mix. The set concentrates on her new album, and songs like “50 White Lines”, “Wanting and Waiting” and “Just Leave” are real stand outs. She’s sweet and perhaps a little eccentric and, despite getting irritated by sound problems from time to time, builds real warmth with the audience. A good show.
Honourable mention to local singer, Emma Jane, who opens the evening with a short set. The girl has a great voice – a bit like Carol Laula with the volume turned down a bit – and she writes fine songs; her opening number has a bitter lyric about Glasgow sectarianism. Highlight, though, is a cover of “Ain’t no sunshine…”, delivered with real grace. Her guitarist, Iain McKinnon, is pretty damned good too. She’s just as talented as other young singers who get much more attention – such as Lisa Mitchell, who I saw last month – so I hope she has the success she deserves.
Usually, I’d rather have my eyeballs pierced than go to a Christmas gig to promote a Christmas album. However, given that Thea Gilmore is a left-wing, atheist, activist folk-rock singer with a penchant for paganism and recording fierce protest songs, this was always going to be a bit different.
Oxford-born Gilmore is an engaging hostess who seems to be more at home in King Tut’s world-renowned sleaziness than the glossy arts centres she says she’s been playing since late November, and that makes the evening go with a swing. She has a beautiful voice, rich and honey coated and pitch perfect: her acapella “Sol Invictus” is mesmerising, as his her wistful interpretation of “Blue Christmas”. She showcases most of the new album, “Strange Communion”, and songs like “Drunken Angel” and, especially, “December in New York” are lovely songs that exploit the poignancy of winter rather than Christmas itself, and are therefore worth hearing at any time of year.
There are plenty of danceables too. “That’ll be Christmas” is a typical poppy festive single with a playfully cynical edge, full of tired waiters in stupid hats and drunk relations telling dirty jokes. Her folk roots are revealed in the fantastic “St Stephen’s Day Murders” (multi instrumentalist Fluff provides a brilliant violin riff), a song that’s reminiscent of “Fairytale of New York”, which – coincidentally given that it’s chosen by a cheeseboard of Christmas songs, a dart and a bit of audience participation – they do energetic justice to during the encore.
She finishes with “Old December”, another beautiful ballad. The audience sings the show to a close with the line “Sing for old December”, and I’ve never heard a hairy-arsed Scottish mob sound so angelic. Gilmore enjoys herself immensely – she is clearly mad about Christmas – and the enthusiasm communicates, especially to the big bloke in front of the stage who seems to think his black fedora makes him look attractive and who dances like no-one is watching. A good night out.