Ane Brun at Oran Mor in December was just fabulous. She’s grown from an obscure Norwegian folk singer into a sensation. She gathers a top notch band around her, most notably bassist Dan Berglund, of the tragically disbanded Esbjörn Svensson Trio; my pal Ian’s a fan of theirs and suspects most of the band may be Berglund’s new group. This is a band that can play anything with consummate ease.
Brun has been updating her catalogue over the last few years, so that even oldies like ‘To Let Myself Go’ sound totally fresh. Once more, there’s enough percussion onstage to rearrange kidneys, and it pounds out the foundations of what she does impeccably; as ever, ‘Worship’ and ‘Do You Remember’ are thumping highlights. The stuff from her new album ‘When I’m Free’ – which has garnered mixed reviews – is slick and expansive, though the whole doesn’t quite get me as excited as ‘It All Starts With One’, underlined by the brilliant and habitual finale, ‘Undertow’. However, there are real gems in there, especially for me the sensuously drum-driven ‘Directions’. She’s incapable of disappointing.
However, gig of the year goes to a half-Norwegian lass, Nadine Shah, at King Tut’s in April. An iceberg when she’s singing, she’s a hoot when she’s interacting with the audience, and takes no prisoners. After ‘Stealing Cars’, I can’t resist and burst out a ‘that’s just beautiful.’ She’s momentarily touched, and says ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Raymond,’ I reply. ‘Daft name’ she says, quite rightly. Brilliant musician, cool, cool woman.
I was very happy to see an old hero of mine, the legendary Bruce Cockburn in October; one brilliant guitarist with a beautiful voice and a line in songwriting that is fiercely passionate about justice and humanity. An activist for decades, anyone who advocates bringing down marauding Guatemalan government helicopters with a rocket launcher can’t be all that bad in my book…
Great to see my pal Jill Brown supporting at King Tut’s, and the headline act, Polly and the Billet Doux were a bit of a revelation; lead guitarist Andrew ‘Steeny’ Steen may well be one of the best live guitarists I’ve seen since… like… ever. Jill is headlining a sell-out Tut’s in January; it’s well deserved for someone who works so hard on her music.
And it was also good to see Pokey LaFarge again at The Art School. After the debacle of a horrendous audience in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, this was a riot, with a crowd that was into him and willing to give him the space to build a relationship, and everyone, including LaFarge, has a ball. Once more, the musicianship was incredible, especially from the genius of Ryan Koenig on harmonica. Watch them here and marvel…
As for theatre – some good uns, including Benny Cummerbund as the best Hamlet I’ve ever seen. But cream of the crop was undoubtedly ‘Lanark’ at the Citz. It’s a novel I like and recognise the importance of in the Scottish canon, but I’m not the obsessive devotee I know some are. But this is astonishing and confirms David Greig as one of the world’s best playwrights. Sandy Grierson is immense in the title role (he has previous form with Greig, playing Malcolm in Dunsinane a couple of years back); self-absorbed, lost, manipulative and manipulated, he comes across as a true oddity. Direction and set design are amazing too. At over three hours, I wasn’t tempted to nod off once, which is a real feat on a work night these days. Stunning.
I picked up on Wye Oak – Baltimorians Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner – after catching ‘The Tower’ on Radio 6. They reminded me of another indie band I fell in love with last year, Dark, Dark, Dark, so this was a speculative gig just to check out a new sound to me. Given my mum had died the day before, I looked at the ticket and initially thought, ‘Nah’, but then decided that it was better to be not in the mood at King Tut’s than not in the mood at home on my own. It was the right decision.
They’re an odd band musically. Wasner is a multi-instrumentalist – bass, guitar, keyboards – and their sound has definitely changed between their breakthrough album ‘Civilian’ and their latest ‘Shriek’ because she is concentrating more on bass than guitar. Melodies are more electro-pop than grungy, her voice modulated somewhat. Stack is even more interesting. I’ve never seen anyone play keyboards and drums. At the same time. Yes, that’s right. Left side doing the keyboards, right side doing the percussion. And it works. It really does.
They are really very, very good. I’d recommend you have a listen to 1980’s-style pop anthem ‘Glory‘, ‘The Tower‘, ‘Holy Holy‘ and their most popular track ‘Civilian‘, one of those lyrics you haven’t a bloody clue about but which nevertheless seeps into your brain and just won’t bloody leave. It’s meaningless and marvellous and quite gorgeous.
Pretty short review because I’m doing it very much in retrospect, but this is a band I’d happily go well out of my way to see again.
After their great mini-set at Sofar Glasgow a couple of months, ago, I was damned sure I was going to see Glasgow’s biggest up and coming band; seems everyone else had the same idea, because Tut’s is an absolute sell out, groaning at the seams for a band that, remarkably, only put their first track online about a year ago. They are going far, and they deserve to.
It’s short set, but it oozes class. My only complaint is that they start the set with my favourite, ‘The Seeds You Sow‘, a huge track that demands that you chant along and dance your bollocks off. However, they don’t really let up, and those big chants and tingly synths come thick and fast with ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘Cold Blooded’ and their brilliant new single ‘Messiah‘ (the video is a hoot). They’re a great band, tight as a drum; it’s noticeable that all those difficult syncopations and startling abrupt entries are pin point sharp. Stuart Brock, too, has a wonderful voice, shown to great effect on a kitsch cover of ‘Time after Time’ and an a capella ‘When Doves Cry’, two songs that suit their big, romantic aesthetic.
Fab stuff. A band to watch, big time.
A reprise of last year’s gig, this time thankfully a little better supported. The Youth and Young share the bill again, and hammer their way fetchingly through a setlist that gets them and the audience hot and bothered. This is a lovely band who love their music. ‘Our Father’s Wars‘ is a cracking track with that big anthemic ‘Whoa’ stomping throughout, and ‘Blanket’ and ‘The Colour Upstream’ are clearly radio friendly. I don’t know if Radio 6 has picked them up yet, but they should.
Then on to Revere, with Stephen Ellis back in fine voice and with a beard that has become Old Testamental in proportions since last year. They’re travelling light this time round – no Nick Hirst on keyboards or Ellie Wilson on violin and vocals – which means the use of samples and soundfiles. It feels a little bit less of an event without them, but there’s no denying the quality. They rip through their operatic anthems undeterred: I really do love ‘I Won’t Blame You‘ and, especially, ‘Maybe We Should Go Outside’ simply because they are so ambitious, so over the top. Brilliant stuff.
Afterwards, I get a hug from Ellis and have a chat with bassist Russell Cook. They’re happy to be back, he says, and feels they’re slowly building a fan base here; ‘Aberdeen was difficult, though’, he says, and I wish I’d alerted some of my pal’s up there to go along. Big things are, deservedly, beginning to happen for them though; European label V2 has picked up their latest album, ‘My Mirror / Your Target’. Here, they’re going to work more with The Youth and Young to plug into their local knowledge – there seems to be a genuine bond between two very different bands – and they’re playing house gigs to build support, and if my living room was big enough, I’d have them round tomorrow. If they’re going down that route a little way, I reckon Sofar in London should snap them up.
However, I go out the door happy, because I’ve got ‘My Mirror / Your Target’ on vinyl; and cool, crystal clear vinyl it is too. Yum yum. Next time, I’ll buy them a pint to say thanks.
You always know you’ve been to a great gig when your ears are still ringing two days later.
The Parlotones are a South African band that creates a real buzz in the bar downstairs; there’s a strong and very diverse fan base tonight, and it’s the first time I’ve seen folk gathering to take photos of the band drinking downstairs. Their music is big and anthemic, capable of bombast and humour at the same time. Lead singer Khan Morbee is a brilliant frontman – charming, handsome, a hint of danger (‘I hope Glasgow doesn’t close down on a Thursday night’, he says, and you know he’s the kind of boy to be misbehaving later) – and they’re tight and together.
Big in-yer-face numbers like ‘Louder than Bombs’ or the brilliant ‘Life Design’ are contrasted with more whimsical stuff like ‘Honey’ or the OTT theatrics of ‘Push Me to the Floor’ or ’I’m Only Human’. They’re also capable of really touching numbers too: ‘I’ll Be There’ is as gorgeous a stadium love song as you’ll find, and ‘Fly to the Moon’ is performed off mic and is stunning. The new album due out will be a must, if only for ‘Sleepwalkers’, a stonking track. Fantastic stuff from a band rock’n’roll enough to be downing whiskies on stage. They have a few sound problems – they miss the first few bars of the opening vocal, ‘Push Me to the Floor’, Morbee breaks a string and it takes several numbers to find a replacement from the support band, and at the end, guitarist Paul Hodgson must have been playing so loud he fucks up his amp, and leaves the stage to the others for a quiet, understated conclusion – but they don’t really get in the way of a great set.
Support is supplied by two Scottish bands. ‘One Last Secret’ are a Kilmarnock outfit. They’re very, very good, especially chunky guitarist Fraser, who also breaks a string and has to borrow Morbee’s guitar. Obviously a night for playing loud and proud. Occasionally, they sound a bit like the White Stripes – listen to the opening of ‘Tonight‘ – but they’re unique enough to be worth a following of their own.
The interestingly named Huevo and the Giant kick off the night. They’ve got real ability too, a band in that poppy-rock West of Scotland indie tradition that should attract a lot of business.
So, all in all, a pretty fine night.
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 The Youth and 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 The Youth and 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 The Youth and 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. https://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.