Thursday 31 December 2009

Seventeenth Century & Second Hand Marching Band at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut

My last gig of 2009 was a trip to my all-time my favourite venue to see two of my current favourite young bands in Scotland - Seventeenth Century and the Second Hand Marching Band.

The Second Hand Marching Band are a glorious experiment in quantity and quality, with numbers and members ranging from gig to gig. To list all the members and instruments played would be a blog in itself, so I'll march on (pardon the terrible pun).

Last night there was 18 members of the Second Hand Marching Band on stage. Their dress style ranges from classic geeky indie - red tshirt, waistcoat and jeans, through to glamorous Sophie Conaghan-Sexon on flute and vocals with others wearing Ramones t-shirts, Christmas jumpers and cardigans.

As someone who manages a couple of bands I can only marvel at the thought of trying to get up to 20 people to a practice session or checking who is available for certain gigs. The band managers mobile phone bill must be huge!

The ambition of the Second Hand Marching Band has to be applauded. In a world where bands and artists are selling their souls (if they even have one) for 15-second of fame (never mind 15-minutes), SHMB are warm-hearted, homegrown, lovingly ramshackle and very independently minded.

One by one they take to the stage and then they start, slowly and quietly, gradually building up a cauldron of noise. For those in the crowd watching the band for the first time and being unaware of their numbers, it must have been quite a sight.

I wasn't noting the order they played the songs in, but from memory songs that they did play included;

'A Dance To Half Death' - Every member of SHMB joins in with the beautiful chorus, madolins intertwine with flutes to create a moment of beauty.

'Don't' - My personal favourite. In another universe someone would have started a facebook campaign to get this to number one at Christmas. The melody and beat are infectious and the refrain 'there is something you should know, don't go outside in the rain and the snow'.

The band have released a new EP and the title track 'Grit and Determination' showcases the bands talent and ambition. There is a definite Sufjan Stevens feel to the song. It starts slowly with the line 'I will melt the snow from your heart'. And the song has a warmth that could have melted the snow lying around Glasgow last night.

The Seventeenth Century are an incredible band that I have been following for 18-months now since discovering them busking in Sauchiehall Street. In their early 20's they display musicianship beyond their years. And as the name might suggest, this is not a band that use synths or computers.

Mark Farmer is the singer and violinist and his funky floppy fringe haircut and stage manner immediately attract attention. The band open with a stunning instrumental that builds and builds, reaching climax after climax, ensuring that the audience are fully focused.

The bass player is playing a McCartney-esque style bass, easily the coolest bass that I have seen in a long time. The trumpet player links with Farmer's violin to produce epic soundscapes that echo the likes of Beruit and Arcade Fire.

Farmer sings with all of his heart and seems lost in the moment at times. The band are tight and not afraid to experiment. Single 'Roses In The Park' is played early in the set and is a shining example of what Seventeenth Century are all about. Other songs played include a song called 'Countryside', full of vivid imagery of hills and mountains and a song called 'Francis'.

The band are only on for half an hour and resist calls for an encore. Sadly there is no place in their current set for old song 'Traffic', yet I am sure they will revisit it at a later date.

Seventeenth Century play Oran Mor on January 28th and I would strongly recommend going to see them. It is part of The Mill weekly series of gigs and it's free! Visit for ticket details

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Pearl & The Puppets at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut

Pearl and the Puppets, Brother Louis Collective and Kitty The Lion at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow, 21.12.09

I made it upstairs in Tuts just in time to catch the last 4 or 5 songs from Kitty The Lion, AKA singer-songwriter Anna Meldrum and her backing band. I immediately recognised Anna from the Connect Festival back in 2008 when I liked her solo acoustic set. Unfortunately I didn't like her first song about 'Bird Seed that was trying a little too hard to be quirky, funny and clever. Things didn't really improve through the next couple of songs with the band seeming a little one-dimensional. Debut single 'Lion In The Bed' lifted things slightly and the closing'Catalytic Converter' ended the set on a pelasing note, a more upbeat song with the band and Anna gaining confidence and warming up.

The next support act was Brother Louis Collective. With a flutist and clarinet player taking to the stage, along with a double bass player (who was also in Kitty The Lion) I was immediately interested to see what sounds they could produce. The band impressed - they were tight and the second song in allowed the flutist to create some lovely melodies and the clarinet player came in at the end with a brilliant solo, with the resulting jam taking the band into a kind of 70's rock direction. Although I quite enjoyed the bands set, I couldn't help but think that the vocals didn't match the music at times. The flutist and clarinet player were creative and inventive with their melodies, with singer struggling to create any to match his lyrics.

And so on to the headline act; Pearl and the Puppets. I caught Pearl and the Puppets for the first time at King Tuts back in January and then at the Wickerman Festival in July when Katy Sutherland (Pearl) excelled, first by headlining the Solus Tent with a full band, and then playing acoustically on the main stage. I was keen to see how the band had developed over the last twelve months.

The band started nervously, perhaps due to the three photographers in the press pit at the front of the stage. Two of Pearl's MySpace hits 'Mango Tree' and 'Because I Do' were tossed into the set early on and quite a lot of the crowd seemed to lose interest after those songs. 'Because I Do' is surely going to be a hit single in 2010 - simple pop that will have kids humming along on first listen.

Judging by the amount of chatting going on through Pearl and the Puppets set, many had been driven to Tuts out of curiosity and were either not impressed enough or too drunk to listen to her songs, which is a shame as the band were clearly annoyed and disturbed by the chatting. It was a short set, with nothing really of note to get excited about with the highlight being the encore - a solo cover of 'Use Somebody' followed by a full band version of 'Make Me Smile'. It was interesting that Pearl (Katie) seemed most comfortable while playing solo and the beautiful cover of the Kings Of Leon smash hit was easily the song that saw her seem most confident.

It's still early days for Pearl and the Puppets and with a crack management team and major label backing 2010 promises to be a big year. Tonights show wasn't their best gig, but the band are still relatively new, they are certainly very young, and a couple of tours will see them feel more at home on stage together.

Friday 18 December 2009

Pet Shop Boys, SECC, December 17th 2009

Pet Shop Boys, Bad Lieutenant and Unicorn Kid at the SECC

Thursday 17th December 2009

It was a cold, cold night in Glasgow, but a display of warm electro tinged pop by the Pet Shop Boys warmed the hearts of thousands of music fans and got them into the festive spirit.

I arrived at the venue early, keen to see a bit of Unicorn Kid, the Edinburgh teenager who is causing a stir in all the right places just now. I had seen Unicorn Kid at Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh back in August and had been impressed and slightly jealous of the way he whipped an enthusiastic crowd of teenagers into a frenzy with his beep, bleeps and melodies. The cavernous SECC (albeit one of the smaller all-standing venues) was a different matter though - especially considering the fact that the vast majority of the audience were not really who he is aiming his music at. Yet it must have been a great experience for him, although the huge stage highlighted that he doesn't really do much other than push a few buttons and wear a lion hat - his presence is certainly limited although the tunes have enough melodies and ideas going on to mark him as 'one to watch'. He is still incredibly young and has literally came out of his bedroom to remix Pet Shop Boys, tour the UK and America. It will be interesting to see how, and if, he develops and starts to right lyrics, if he sings, or gets a singer.

Unicorn Kid was told to halt his set at 7.30pm promptly to allow the roadies to set up the stage for Bad Lieutenant - Bernard Sumner from New Order's new band. The band took to the stage and Barney said 'hello we're New…Bad Lieutenant.' They kicked off with a song off their debut album called 'This Is Home', although the soundman seemed to have forgotten to turn the mics on and it was only halfway through that the sound of the vocals came on. There was another track of the LP before Barney's co-singer Jake Robins said 'heres one you might know' before the instrumental build up to the New Order classic 'Bizarre Love Triangle'. This classic track quickly wakened and thawed the crowd with some pogo-ing and punching of the air near the front of the stage. Barney did a little bit of his 'dad-dancing' and whistled and whooped… 'you say the words that I can't say.'

Bad Lieutenant came back to the fore with their single 'Sink Or Swim', before 'Summer Days' melted into another familiar intro, 'Crystal', New Order's comeback single from 2001. As it finished the synths started for 'Out Of Control', Sumner's collaboration with Bobby Gillespe and Primal Scream. This is an amazing song of the Scream's XTRMNTR album and well worth tracking down if you haven't heard it. You may have noticed a hint of surprise in my review that Sumner was choosing to play New Order songs, this is due to his profile split with long-term friend and legendary New Order/Joy Division bassist Peter Hook. As a New Order fan my heart leapt at the end of 'Out Of Control' when it segued into my all-time favourite song 'Temptation' - a New Order classic from 1982 that still sounds fresh and vital in 2009. The guitar riff, the lyrics, the hooks and that glorious refrain 'oh you've got green eyes, of you've got blue eyes, oh you've got grey eyes….and I've never met anyone quite like you before'. Absolutely brilliant. And if that wasn't enough Sumner ended the gig with the Joy Division classic 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'.

The curtain dropped, the lights went down, a huge white wall was standing on the stage - a mic in middle and a bank of computers and keyboards to the right (stage left). The music started, a display of graphics came on the wall - were Pink Floyd about to play? The wall opened in two places and out walked Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe with coloured boxes on their heads to launch into 1988 single 'Heart'. 'Heart' contains the simple yet beautiful and meaningful lyric 'I'm in love with you, I mean what I say, I'm in love with you' and I guess that is one of the reasons Pet Shop Boys music has stood the test of time - it is simple yet extremely clever pop music.

'Did You See Me Coming' was next as the crowd found their dancing feet, 'Go West' was dropped in early and the crowd found their voice, expertly conducted by the ringmaster Tennant. 'New York City Boy' proved a hit with the crowd. Full marks have to go to whoever devised the groups stage set - the boxes were knocked to the ground, used to make mini-stages, steps and buildings. Every song had images, graphics or videos displayed in the background, their were costume changes - with Tennant playing the city gent, the futuristic pop star and just a good old Pet Shop Boy.

The hits kept coming for almost 2-hours straight, some I remembered and some I had forgotten. 'Love Etc', 'Suburbia', 'Being Boring' (what an ironic title - could the Pet Shop Boys ever be boring?). 'Always On My Mind' promoted a hands-in-the-air moment with Tennant grinning widely at the crowds response. He was having just as good a time as the crowd.

With so many songs coming thick and fast it was impossible for me to remember the order they were played in. There was a 3-song section where things were slowed down to reflect the fantastic stage show and the 4 dancers that ensured the crowd always had something to watch.

There was a point during the fantastic 'What Have I Done To Deserve This?' when I wondered if those were the precise thoughts going through Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe's minds as they looked out at their adoring masses. The answer was in the music - inventive and original pop with a highly artistic edge, songs and melodies that became engrained in peoples mind on first listen, pop songs that stand the test of time, pop songs to soundtrack nights out - songs to make people dance and sing.

There were many highlights during the two-hour set of stunning pop, but the bit in 'What Have I….?' when Dusty Springfiel's voice kicked in with her image projected on to the white wall was simply stunning - euphoric. It was pop, house, dance and soul all merged together to create something truly special. 'Since you went away, I've been hanging around, wondering why I'm feeling down..'

Two of the biggest highlights were yet to come 'It's A Sin' and the groups debut single 'West End Girls'. Glitter cannons showered the crowd in glitter as everyone danced and sang along. Pet Shop Boys ended with their Christmas song 'It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas' with snow falling from the roof of the venue.

This was a stunning example of how pop music can bring people together, there were teenagers to people in their 50's (possibly 60's) dancing and singing as one, smiling and laughing. I hope Unicorn Kid stuck around to watch the show…