Wednesday 22 December 2010

Belle and Sebastian, Glasgow Barrowlands, December 21st 2010

It dawned on me in the lead up to last nights gig just how fond I have become of Belle and Sebastian over the years and also how much material they have to choose from when playing live. The quantity and quality of material caused a bit of debate in my office with my colleague Tricia who is also a fan as discussed what they may or may not play, what we hoped for...and the more we talked the more I realised that I was really looking forward to the show.

I first caught the band back in 1997 (I think) when they played the QMU in their native West End of Glasgow. There was a real buzz about them in Glasgow, stories of them playing in churches and developing a real following. The QMU gig was rammed and I still remember loving the support band called V-Twin that featured a skinny young Irishman called Bob Kildea on guitar and their singer took great delight in playing with a Theremin on stage. Belle and Sebastian were lovingly shambolic, taking breaks so they could go out for a cigarette or fresh air during the set, just at total ease playing to what must have been their biggest crowd to date. Their warmth and humour shone through, as did the quality of their songs. They already released the ‘Tigermilk’ and ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ albums, I’d been lucky enough to catch them on their now famous radio session with Mark Radcliffe on Radio 1 and had been hooked by their literate songs with seemingly effortless melodies.

6 albums and 13-years down the line later, it is pleasing to say that Belle and Sebastian haven’t changed too much. They are probably a tighter band yet still somehow come across as being a little shambolic, in a loving way. Of course there has been the odd change in personnel, notably Isobel leaving and Bob of v-Twin has now joined the band. Yet the sense of warmth and love from the first time I saw them and from their initial recordings is still clearly evident.

So on to the show.

The band arrived onstage promptly for 9pm due the show being broadcast online and Stevie and Sarah sang a sweet Christmas song, although Stevie was laughing more than he was singing! They then launched into  ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’, the opening track from their latest album. It has swiftly become one of my favourites with Sarah’s gentle vocals leading the way until Stuart comes in to take the song higher until the glorious refrain ‘make me dance I want to surrender.’ Keen to keep the pace up they launched straight into ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ with Stuart defying his cold to dance his heart out, shimmying across the stage. Before moving on Stuart asked the audience (very twee-ly) ‘do you mind if I take my ski jumper off?’

From memory ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ was next up, with Stevie Jackson taking lead vocals, ably assisted by pretty much everyone with the complex and beautiful harmonies and melodies.

The gig passed by in a blur, with many highlights, including;

  • ·         Stuart wading into the crowd with a collection bucket for the Lodging House Mission, a homeless shelter and charity across the road from the venues, stewards also had buckets, fingers crossed for a good total 

  •            Stevie leading the crowd through the key changes and backing vocals for ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’ and comparing himself to Freddie Mercury

  • ·         Stuart behaving like a rock star and walking along the front of the stage, doing his Bruce Springsteen bit and getting people up on stage to dance

  • ·        The glorious pop of ‘If You Find Yourself Caught In Love’

  • ·          A joyous romp through ‘Sukie In The Graveyard’

  • ·         A stunning ‘Sleep The Clock Around’ with a brilliant closing instrumental that just soared

  • ·         The indie disco classic ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’

  • ·         A beautiful ‘Fox In The Snow’, the surprise of ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’ that the band seemed to fly through and ‘Me and the Major’ all from ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’

  • ·         ‘Expectations’ from Tigermilk that brought a very large smile to the face of my friend Ian

  • ·         Monica Queen coming on for ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’

  • ·         Stuart thanking everyone for their work on the tour

By in large there was just a real sense of joy and friendship in the Barrowlands last night, there was a fantastic atmosphere and a shared love of the music of Belle and Sebastian. Well done to them for playing 3 nights at the Barrowlands rather than a night at the SECC. The 7-piece band, backed by strings, were impeccably tight, they looked as if they were just getting going towards the end and could have easily played for another hour or two.

No ‘Legal Man’ or ‘Dirty Dream Number 2’ tonight (they had been played across the previous 2 nights) but with such a back catalogue and the highlights mentioned above I can’t complain at all. If this is my last gig of 2010 then it was a belter.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Cover versions

In another dimension where snow didn't play havoc with the weekend sport I would currently be sitting down to watch the Chelsea v Manchester United match. As it is I have had a rather relaxing day listening to loads of music and thought I'd write a blog.

The music news and social media this week has been dominated by x-factor winner Matt Cardle's cover version of Biffy Clyro's song 'Many of Horror' which has been renamed (well his version has been called) 'When We Collide.' Biffy's legion of fans (a very passionate bunch) are up in arms that the band has allowed someone like this to cover the song and have started campaigns to buy the original (presumably for the second time in their case) to prevent Matt's version getting to number one.

Biffy, have remained quite diplomatic about the whole affair, perhaps a little unaware of the furore as they are currently touring down under. I have to admit a part of me was really hoping that they would come out with some punk rock comment slagging off Matt's version for being 'weak and soul-less'. However, they've remained fairly quiet.

To be honest it is all a lot of fuss about nothing. People have been recording and releasing dodgy covers for years. With regards to Biffy, they have worked incredibly hard to get to the position they are currently in, so some extra income from royalties won't go amiss and all the publicity is driving sales of their own back catalogue. I can't help thinking that Matt's version is pi$h though.

Anyway, on to some good covers.

Quite a few independent bands in Glasgow that I have seen this year have played cover versions. So what is the attraction? Why not play your own material?

Well I'm guessing for one that it is fun. And secondly I am also guessing that playing a cover can inspire you to strive to write something as good as it, or in a similar style.

Great covers from acts in Glasgow this year have been;

Robert De Niro's Waiting - Futuristic Retro Champions
FRC's played this for the first time as an encore at their FRC EP launch in February. The audience reaction was so good that they kept it in their set and released it as a 'hidden track' on their 'May the Forth' single.

Hear the original here

The Visitors - Nevada Base
When Nevada Base announced from the Stereo stage that they were going to do an Abba cover I expected something from Gold. However they played this gem from Abba's last album (of the same name) and I went out and downloaded it the next day. A synth masterpeice! Check it here 

Nevada Base also covered the italo disco classic 'Spacer Woman' and gave it away for free at their gigs. Check it out below

Jet - Sonny Marvello
Big fans of Macca and The Beatles, Sonny Marvello covered this at their 'Pull Me Up' EP launch at Stereo in November, throwing in the riff from 'Live And Let Die' at the end for good measure. The crowd loved it and it remained in their set for their gig at Stirling the following week where it also went down a storm.

At singer Stephen's wedding last year the band played a set and dropped in 'Modern Love' by Bowie and 'Pump It Up' by Elvis Costello, both which they would then occasionally dip into if the mood was right in future gigs.

F**k The Pain Away/House of the Jealous Lovers - Pooch
At a wee gig in Creation Studios Pooch played a deliciously dirty double cover of the Peaches classic 'F**k The Pain Away' before launching into 'House of the Jealous Lovers' causing me to punch the air in delight. A belter of a choice.

I can't help but think how great it would have been if they had won the battle of the bands to play Edinburgh's NYE party and dropped this in. They may be a bit safer with Kitty The Lion!

Paper Planes - Mitchell Museum
Mitchell Museum always play with cheeky grins on their faces, none more so when they get the pleasure of watching the audiences reaction when they launch into their lysergic cover of this MIA pop classic. The boys have also shown their ear for pop and love for fun by covering 'Great DJ' by The Ting Tings.

Some of my favourite cover versions.

Being a huge fan of Teenage Fanclub I was lucky to be turned on to great bands through the Fannies choice of b-sides or live covers, or ltd 7-inch releases. This has to be my favourite cover of theirs though, watch them romp through The Byrds classic 'Feel A Whole Lot Better' with Norman and Gerry taking it in turns.

Jimi Hendrix stops playing to dedicate 'Sunshine Of Your Love' to Cream who split up that day. It is worth watching all the way through but skip to 2 mins 57 seconds if you must.

The Byrds loved Dylan so much that they recorded an album 'The Byrds Play Dylan' (one of my all time faves) and the jingle jangle of their twelve string guitars on Mr Tambourine Man is just glorious.

Oasis rock out with Slade's 'Cum On Feel The Noize'. Glorious punk pop.

Nirvana cover Bowie's 'Man Who Sold The World' and improve it!

And I guess The Lemonheads broke through with their cover of 'Mrs Robinson' although 'It's A Shame About Ray' was such a good album they would surely have broken anyway.

So enough ramblings for now. Covers are fun, Matt Cardle's cover of Biffy is terrible, they should slag him off but take the money. Over and out.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Albums, songs and gigs of 2010

1. Shadows by Teenage Fanclub
See my previous blog

Others I have enjoyed this year in no real particular order, but maybe subconciously....

This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy does it again. An eclectic, eccentric and electric selection of tunes from a man with impeccable taste. From the garage pop of 'Drunk Girls' through to the glorious 'I Can Change', 'Home' and 'Throw'; I live in hope that this isn't LCD's last album.

Plastic Beach by Gorillaz
Damon Albarn's most ambitious project with his cartoon band to date featuring Snoop, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Mark E Smith, Gruff Rhys, Mos Def and members of The Clash and a whole lot more beside. However it is Damon Albarn that shines through; his ambition and vision combine to create something truly spectacular. 'Stylo' blew my mind when I first heard it on the radio.

Broken Bells by Broken Bells
Released the same day as Gorillaz album this was never going to get the publicity received by 'Plastic Beach', despite it being a collaboration between Danger Mouse and James Mercer from The Shins. It is a stunning album and the opening track 'The High Road' is one of my tracks of the year.

Teen Dream by Beach House
Beautiful songs, harmonies and production combine to create an album that I have continued to return to throughout the year. 'Take Care' is another of my tracks of the year, while 'Zebra' is sublime.

Barking by Underworld
This album really took my by surprise. Losing Darren Emerson from production duties has only driven Karl Hyde and Rick Smith to create an album that is up there with the best work of their long career. Paul Van Dyk produces a couple of tracks, bringing the fifty somethings music to a younger audience. Every track is a winner on this but highlights would be; 'Scribble', 'Between Stars' and 'Diamond Jigsaw'. Underworld also feature in my gigs of the year.

One Life Stand by Hot Chip
Hot Chip are one of my favourite bands from recent years, combining harmonies, humour, pop and dance to create something special and unique. On this album with the title track they flip a commonly used phrase to create something romantic and heartfelt, 'Thieves In The Night' is uplifting and as always I just fall for Alexis' melancholy vocals. The trio of songs 'Slush', 'Alley Cats' and 'We Have Love' are laid back and soulful, highlighting the harmonies between Joe and Alexis, while the closing tune 'Take It In' is a blinder.

There Is A Love In You by Four Tet
An old mate of mine has long raved about Four Tet and their songs have constantly featured on mixes he has made me, however this was the first time I ventured out to buy one of their albums after the usual critical acclaim that it was granted upon release. Playing it in the car on the way home caused me to marvel at the range of music and ideas within the 9 (really 8) songs. The beautiful vocals on 'Angel Echoes' ensure that the song is suitably named, 'Love Cry' takes you on a trip, 'Sing' is funky and playful house and there are glorious moments on every track.

Black Light by Groove Armada
Another UK dance act producing some of the best work well into their career. The singles 'Paper Romance' and 'I Won't Kneel' are just outstanding. Euphoric electro-pop, following on from their previous single 'Song For Mutya'. Will Young even pops up on the track 'History'! The whole album has a sense of occasion with the band really going all out to produce something to remember. Possibly their last album.

The Promise by Bruce Springsteen
A collection of tracks recorded between Springsteen's breakthrough 'Born To Run' and 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' albums. The Boss was so driven to record and release an album that would stand the test of time that he recorded over 40 songs. The lyrics are from the heart, telling about the man on the street, of dreams and of love and hope, the music from the E Street Band is pure at times, down and gritty at others. An amazing collection of songs from a singer-songwriter and a band at the top of their game.

When Boots Met My Face by Admiral Fallow
The care and attention that has gone into the writing, recording and production is evident from first listen to this album. I had dismissed Admiral Fallow when I first caught them supporting Pearl and the Puppets under their previous guise of Brother Louis Collective, although the sound wasn't great that night. However when I caught them under their new moniker they blew me away. Tight and confident, this is a celtic soul band to look out for. Capable of baring their heart and souls and winning others.

Does It Look Like I'm Here by Emeralds
As I only discovered this album (voted no 1 by Drowned in Sound) last week I'm still in the process of getting to know it, but gems like 'Candy Shoppe' ensure it is an album I will be listening to for some time to come.

Sex with an X by The Vaselines
20 plus years since a brief reformation to support Nirvana and The Vaselines were back. Their ear for a pop tune, cheeky sense of humour and innuendo and brilliant guitar pop tunes returned, a little more polished than their initial incarnation, but still with a nice raw feeling. The title track has the instant sing-a-long hook of 'feels so good, it must be bad for me' while 'I Hate The 80's' makes the most out of using Duran Duran as a hook. A welcome return.

Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian
One of Glasgow's favourite bands returned late in the year with yet another clever and consistent album to add to their discography. The opening song has a real northern soul feeling to it, with lead vocals by Sarah Martin before Stuart Murdoch comes in with the lovely refrain 'make me dance I want to surrender'. Their is an upbeat feeling throughout the album and another highlight is 'I'm Not Living In The Real World.' I look forward to catching them at the Barrowlands next week.

Boys Outside by Steve Mason
Steve's first release under his own name after many different guises. Is it because the album is a more personal collection of songs? Possibly, but what is important is that Steve's unique voice (almost sounds like harmonies) is to the fore, despite the fact that Richard X is on production duties. The title track is beautiful, as is much of the rest of the album. It would be interesting to hear the acoustic demos for this album.

Songs of the year (in no order)
Didn't Know What Love Was - Hot Chip with Bernard Sumner
Hang With Me - Robyn
I Won't Kneel - Groove Armada
Snow - Miaoux Miaoux
Jenna - Futuristic Retro Champions
I Hate The 80's - The Vaselines
All The Lovers -Kylie
Candy Shoppe - Emeralds
Darkness Descends - Laura Marling
Stylo - Gorillaz
Made of Magic - Sonny Marvello
Take It In - Hot Chip
The High Road - Broken Bells
Diamond Jigsaw - Underworld
Dead Against Smoking - Admiral Fallow
I Can Change - LCD Soundsystem
Take Care - Beach House
Knitted - Miaoux Miaoux
Subbuteo - Admiral Fallow
Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything - Teenage Fanclub
When I Still Have Thee - Teenage Fanclub
Racing In The Street (78) - Bruce Springsteen
Boys Outside - Steve Mason
You Make My Heart - Futuristic Retro Champions
Dream About You - MOPP
Born Again - Stevie and the Moon
Broken Heart Brigade - Little Eskimos
Warning Bells - Mitchell Museum
Pull Me Up -Sonny Marvello
Paper Romance - Groove Armada

Gigs of the year
Paul McCartney at Hampden
LCD Soundsystem at Glasgow Barrowlands (April)
Underworld at Glasgow Barrowlands
Groove Armada at Glasgow ABC
Teenage Fanclub and The Charlatans at Wickerman
Leftfield at Rock Ness
Futuristic Retro Champions at Mono, 13th Note and  The Hidden Lane Festival (couldn't choose)
Miaoux Miaoux at Captain's Rest and Camden Monarch
Sonny Marvello at Stereo (both times)
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas at The Arches

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Teenage Fanclub - Shadows (album of the year)

Teenage Fanclub have been providing a large part of the soundtrack to my life since their classic Bandwagonesque album came out in 1991 when I was a mere fifteen years old. They are still going strong almost 20 years later, still producing life affirming music, creating beautiful harmonies and singing about the sunshine and love. Still soundtracking my life. Warm guitars, melodies, soulful guitar pop/rock, 3 outstanding songwriters.... I could gush on about Teenage Fanclub for hours.

Shadows is a dream album; from the opening riff of ‘Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything’ that leads to Gerry Loves soothing voice, ‘....deep inside I can never let this go’ , it’s probably one of the best things he has written; through to the melodic and mellow ‘Dark and Lonely’ by Norman. ‘I put my arms around you and I feel your heart beat next to mine’. All of Norman’s songs on this album (in particular) are overflowing with love.

‘Sometimes...’ is  quite simply exceptional. Gerry Love’s laid back style takes you on a journey but the chorus just bursts into life;

‘Heading west towards the glowing evening sunset on an august night’
Waking up before the mist has fully lifted in the morning light’

‘You feel the sadness in her eyes’
‘As the autumn wind and golden leaves start singing’

‘Sometimes I don’t need to believe in anything’

Following on from ‘Sometimes...’ Norman bursts into the album with the single ‘Baby Lee’. It is a song that I have almost seen nurtured through to the album having watched Norman playing solo in Glasgow several times through 2009 where he always played this and seemed particularly proud of it. It’s transformed from the acoustic number I saw him perform in Blackfriars basement, although it is still simple and pure.

As I said before, on the evidence of the songs on this album, Norman is pretty much head over heels in love...
‘I’m enchanted, I’ve fallen under your spell, how can I resist when you cast them so well?’

Leading to the chorus;

‘Baby Lee I’m only trying to remind you, they had me in mind oh yeah when they designed you’
‘And Baby Lee I’m always watching from a distance, marry, marry me oh baby now I am insisting.’

Let us not forget about Raymond; the George Harrison of the group. Who joins the album three songs in with ‘The Fall’. It is a deep song, dealing with change;

the leaves on the trees shield my eyes from the sun, but the leaves that I see won’t be there for long,  I light a fire underneath what I was, I won’t feel sad only warmed by the loss.’

One of Raymond’s many qualities as a songwriter is his ability to make it seem easy, lines and verses flow from one to another and that ability is evident on this song.

Gerry bursts back in with ‘Into the City’. As a songwriter Gerry always finds a great deal of inspiration from living in and around the city.

‘Breaking through the warm electric glow, as we drive back into the city.’

If Raymond’s previous song dealt with leaving the city ‘I turn my back on the city sights and I climb into the mountains to see the stars’ then Gerry is clearly a guy in love with Glasgow.

‘Street lights, I’ve been away too long, missing you strolling on, every day and night. For the sweet life, joy in my heart is strong, feel it’s where I belong, every day and night.’

It’s sung in typical Gerry Love laid back style; you can almost imagine him chewing his gum as you listen to it. Bubble gum pop with soul.

‘Dark Clouds’ by Norman is up next, it is short and sweet with lovely strings and some tinkling of the ivories by Dave McGowan, the new recruit to the Fanclub team. As ever, it is full of optimism, talking of the summer sun and basically telling someone to hang on, it’ll get better. There is a beautiful instrumental section where a violin just lifts the song, it is sublime.

‘The dark clouds are following you, but they’ll drift away, I watch the night turning into the day.’

Raymond rejoins the album (vocally) with ‘The Past’ and it starts by carrying on from his little country/city joust with Gerry. It’s pretty philosophical ‘rolling through the city sprawl. On a late night train, the moon will survive us all’.

If Raymond, or a friend he has written this about, is going through a mid-life crisis ‘modern life corrodes us all, you know that it’s true, give yourself a wakeup call.’ Then the message is clear that you can find an answer from the past ‘the past comes back to rescue you’.

Or maybe I am reading too much into that!

‘Shock and Awe’ is more classic Gerry Love with some brilliant duelling guitars from Norman and Raymond.  Following on from that is one of the real stand outs from the album in terms of pop impact, ‘When I Still Have Thee’ by Norman.

It is three and a half minutes of driving guitar pop, full of hope and love. There is a great guitar break and the chorus just comes back bigger than ever ‘but the birds still sing and the sun shines free, no I don’t need much when I still have thee.’

Listening back to the next song, Raymond’s ‘Live With The Seasons’ while reading the lyrics online, it really is amazing how deep he can go with his songwriting while making it all sound so simple. ‘Rain on my face, pulled up from the sea, there’s an ocean of meaning, and a lovers tear.’

Gerry Love has written some stunning songs in his time and ‘Sweet Days Waiting’, like ‘Sometimes...’ has to be up there with the best of them. It’s got a lovely warm feeling to it from the off, more gentle Gerry vocals. It’s melodic and mellow and it again mentions the good old city’

‘Hard nights in the city, hoping for the breaking of the dawn, this big old worlds getting darker, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on, round to the light declining, but somewhere beyond the horizon....sweet, sweet days are waiting there for you.’

It is a gem of a song. Perfect for a summer day, like most Fanclub songs! On the evidence of Gerry’s songs on this album I cannot wait to hear his rumoured solo album that is in the pipeline.

Norman bursts back in with ‘The Back of My Mind’. It’s another love song, with Mr Blake gushing about the girl that is ‘a stream searching for a river’ and ‘a river searching for the ocean.’  The song ends with a brilliant instrumental, guitars, drums, bass and piano all coming together, the sound of a band loving to play together.

‘Today Never Ends’ is Raymond’s last song on the album, kicking off with stunning slide guitar from new member Dave McGowan. It may not be lyrically as deep as Raymond’s others songs and if I’m honest I think the slide guitar rescues it.

‘Dark and Lonely’ is bright and upbeat, yet with a dark undertone with Norman clearly missing his muse as he gets through a ‘dark and haunted night’ and ‘dark and lonely, lonely night’.

Norman is singing his heart out. ‘I have held you in the morning bed and your sleeping body I do know, only you could cure the pain and suffering I do undergo’. The guitar riff is picked out and you get the impression that a lot of thought has gone into the production and feeling.

Shadows is an exceptional album, one that only seems to get stronger with every listen. All three songwriters have produced some of the best work in their careers, Raymond’s guitar playing is quite simply stunning, varying from the simplicity of flowing acoustic chords through to the incredible work on the likes of ‘Into the City’. The harmonies that have marked their songs since the early days are apparent, carrying songs to higher places, the guitars chime and soar and the lyrics are ones that you can relate to.

You have to be thankful for a band like Teenage Fanclub. They’ve been making music for over twenty years and on the evidence of Shadows, as they mature and experience new things in their lives and relationships, they will be making music for another twenty or more. 

Saturday 4 December 2010

Music in/from Alloa/Stirling

At the start of November I headed along to good old King Tuts Wah Wah Hut to catch Miaoux Miaoux playing with Mitchell Museum. Also on the bill was a young band called Minature Dinosaurs who hail from Alloa. Their set was excellent and I bought their CD afterwards, I drunkenly described them on facebook on the way home as a young Franz Ferdinand/Orange Juice and I still stand by that description in my now more sober state.

This was only a week after being blown away by a ferocious set by Little Eskimos, who also hail from Alloa, it got me thinking; they have quite a good wee scene going on up there.

I thought they were all from Stirling but I have been assured they are actually from nearby Alloa. I'll mention both in the blog title just in case!

Like the Glasgow scene, it is also quite incestuous with lots of people playing in various bands and helping out with production etc etc. Members of Minature Dinosaurs play in the new line-up of Little Eskimos and Kevin (lead Eskimo) produced the Dinos EP. Stevie from Stevie and the Moon used to be an Eskimo and electro pop guru MOPP is also a member of Stevie and the Moon. With me so far?

Well it doesn’t matter, lets get straight to the point of the blog and give a bit of background on all of these artists and more and find out what they are currently up to.

Stevie McCrorie is the lead man behind Stevie and the Moon. I was introduced to the band at the start of the year when I was compiling a charity CD for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. Stevie submitted the euphoric ‘Born Again’ from his forthcoming (at the time) mini-album ‘These Old Traditions’. From a very strong album, this was one of the real stand-outs.

Stevie has a very strong voice. The guys from Sonny Marvello were so impressed with his performance when they played with him that the bass player labelled him 'the Scottish Bruce Springsteen'. It's a typically uncanny Marvello description, heartfelt songs from someone with a big heart and a voice full of soul.

On the title track of the mini-album Stevie talks about needing time 'to live our fantasies and wildest dreams'. From the album you can tell he is a dreamer but he has his feet firmly on the ground and the songs are of love, hurt, regret and hope. 

Stevie and the Moon have a new single coming out very shortly and will be headlining King Tuts for the first time on December 11th

Before you go any further, click on the link above and play 'Broken Heart Brigade'. It is a storming track that is one of my current faves.

OK now you have done that, lets crack on.

I was also introduced to Little Eskimos around the same time and they submitted the track ‘Get Yourself Together Kid’; another stand out. I’d seen the Eskimos name on various flyers and listings and as a sucker for a good band name I was keen to find out more. So I invited them to play an acoustic set at the venue and Kevin (head Eskimo) turned up and wowed the crowd with his solo performance, including a brilliant cover version of David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’ that sent a tingle down my spine.

It took a further 7-months before I got to see Kevin with some more Eskimos as his band was going through a bit of a line-up change. His performance totally blew me away. Quite a few people I know from Alloa/Stirling way have described Kevin as a genius. In the few times I have met him and from several online conversations I can certainly tell his love, passion and knowledge of music is pretty unbelievable. He seems to making a name for himself for his production skills as well as his songwriting with an amazing ear for a tune.

Anyway, on to the music. Little Eskimos at Tuts in October were outstanding. A comparison to The Hold Steady was probably a pretty simple one to make given the guitar sounds and passion. But simple will do me just fine. 

Hopefully by now the guitars are in top gear and the chorus has already lodged itself in your head.

'remember the time when we went to see Soulwax, you couldn't even look at me, I had to stay with your friends, who owe me an apology, when there were too many dj's, i got f**king off my face, when I turn around, swallow me down, I felt completely out of place, so join the broken heart brigade.'

Go and see them live and you'll hear a load more gems like this. I hope they release an album in 2011.

MOPP plays keyboards in Stevie & the Moon, however he comes into his own with his solo material. He's made a bit of a splash in 2010 and I expect he will go on to bigger things in 2011, especially with the backing of the excellent Jen Anderson as his manager.

MOPP has already released two singles. I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with the first one 'Everything' but the second single 'Dream About You' is excellent. Think Ibiza via the East Coast of Scotland (where the video was shot - I imagine it may have been colder than they look) and you're getting there. It was a song I heard when I first visited his myspace and I loved it then and love it now, and I'm the proud owner of a lovely 7-inch that you can order from Euphonios Records

Visit MOPP's myspace and you'll find a couple of tracks featuring Stevie (from and the Moon) and it is interesting to hear Stevie's vocals on house/electronic tracks. My fave is 'A Day Needs More Love'. It builds gradually and from 1 minute 40 seconds it goes into something genuinely superb with Stevie's voice straining with soul and the production taking it higher.

'Hold On' featuring Beth is more of MOPP at his best. Like the aforementioned acts, it will be interesting to see what he comes up with in 2011 and it is great that he is comfortable working with a variety of singers.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed Minature Dinosaurs when I caught them at Tuts in early November. They describe themselves on their myspace as 'dramatic indie pop'. It is a pretty good description and one that I can't better for now.

With some members still in their teens and only 18-months together as a band, it is still early days for Minature Dinosaurs but they already seem to be on the right track with radio airplay and regular gigs.

'Write Back' gets a chorus in under a minute before a lovely guitar break and instrumental. With a clear ear for catchy guitar pop, (I would imagine) a few Franz Ferdinand records in their collection and the guidance of Kev from Little Eskimos in the studio it will be really interesting to see what they get up to in the next 12-months.

I got in touch with my friend Craig when I told him I was going to write this blog on the acts above. He said that the 'scene' doesn't end there and pointed me in the direction of Jack Butler, Must Be Something, The Mix Ups, Tegan and Kid Adrift (he grew up in dollar).

So check them out.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Underworld, Glasgow Barrowlands, 26th November 210

So it is Sunday afternoon, two days after a blinding gig by Underworld at the world famous Glasgow Barrowlands. As I was a little delicate yesterday, my memory of the actual setlist or order of songs is a little hazy, but here goes.

I met one of my very best mates, Reddy, in McChuills in High Street, a real music pub and the bar staff were playing Bowie and Motown to kick start the weekend. We’ve had many a good night in McChuills pre/post Barrowlands or a night out. As it was we only stayed for a couple of pints so we could head round to the Barrowlands to see the support act Silver Columns.

It was pretty quiet when we got in just after 8pm and Silver Columns had just started. They were stuck behind a decorated table/desk so I’m not sure if they were actually playing any instruments, but they were singing and camping it up big style.

‘Cavalier’ burst into life, all twitchy and glitch synths with a call and response vocal. Unfortunately Silver Columns didn’t seem to have access to the full Barrowlands sound system, a real shame for them and for the crowd which was filling up fast.

‘Columns’ was beautiful, gentle vocals, all melodic and wistful. People were starting to dance, particularly the two skinheads in front of me who were far from discreet when licking their wraps of speed!
‘Brow Beaten’ brought things to a close, Donna Summer-esque disco via Fife, with echoes of the Beta Band. It was a short and sweet set; one that I am sure generated some new fans that will be checking out their album.

I’d made the mistake of keeping my parka on for Silver Columns and headed down to the cloakroom to stick it in ahead of Underworld. I should have stuck it in at the start of the night. The queue was massive and it took me a full 25-minutes to get it in.

I got back up the stairs just in time for the start of Underworld. The Barras was far from sold out, a far cry from the last time I saw Underworld in the same venue in 2002 when they took the roof off the place with Born Slippy getting a rapturous reception. At least there was space to dance, and dance we did!

Underworld’s latest album has been getting fantastic reviews and it was clear from the start that they would be mixing plenty of new songs with some of their classics. Karl Hyde was a lithe livewire from the offset with the euphoric ‘Heaven, heaven, can you feel it, can you feel it?’ hook from ‘Always Loved A Film’ generating a surge down to the front.

The duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have now been recording music together for 30-years, although it was only (arguably) after the addition of Darren Emerson to the band and the release of dubnobasswithmyheadman in 1994 that they began to get success. An outstanding album, it was included in many end of year polls, despite the onset of Britpop.

Darren Emerson has now left the band, however their creativity shows no signs of diminishing and with trance guru Paul Van Dyke helping with the production on the latest album, they appear to be gathering new fans rather than losing them. It was certainly a mixed crowd, teens to people in their forties and probably even their fifties.

‘Scribble’ is another new track and the melodic synths caused many down the front to sing along with the riff.
Older fans needn’t worry, Underworld were determined to take the crowd on a trip through their back catalogue. If Brian Wilson and Phil Spector are masters of taking someone on a trip with a 3-minute pop song, then Underworld are masters at the 9-minute epic, with many songs segueing from one to the other.

‘Two Months Off’ brought a harder edge as the and delved back in time, Hyde was bounding about the stage, dancing behind a screen, generally vibing off the crowd and getting them up for it in return. Synths came bursting into life alongside the squelchy beats and kept pushing on as the dancing down the front got fiercer.

The lights works incredibly well with the music throughout the show, there was some old skool acid house smoke machines going on, at times the lights went off completely so all you could see was the lights of Underworlds bank of equipment and the silhouette of Hyde moving in time to the beats. His stream of consciousness lyrics making him dance musics version of Bob Dylan – or maybe not!

Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it, it was the moment that I was waiting for as the beautiful bubbles of synths came through the speakers signalling the start of one of electronic musics all-time classic; ‘Rez’.
The crowd knew it, the band knew it, it was party time and time to dance. The speed of the synths built up, the high-hats were kicking in, the beats came out of nowhere and we were off on a musical journey. Hands were in the air, people were jumping, everyone was dancing and grinning like loonies, drug induced or natural.

Just when you thought it was coming to an end, Underworld pulled their old trick of segueing into another one of their classics; ‘Cowgirl’. The crowd were singing along with the refrains ‘an eraser of love’ and ‘I’m invisible’ before the synths took over, lifting the song and the crowd even higher.

The reception afterwards was rapturous. As if to highlight how much they believe in their new material, Hyde strapped on a guitar and they launched into the New Order-esque ‘Diamond Jigsaw’.

‘Moaner’ saw things go really old skool with masses of dry smoke punped into the crowd and lights flashing on and off all over the place. The crowd were going mad for it.

With mass dancing going on to one of the heavier songs in the Underworld cannon, we were suddenly brought to a standstill with our arms in the air and more smiles as wide as the Clyde on our faces with the opening synths of ‘Born Slippy (Nuxx)’. Hyde’s lyrics kicked in ‘...she smiled at you boy’, the synths kept coming, Hyde started again, things were about to kick off big style.

The big beats came in and hands were down and everyone was dancing like their lives depended on it. ‘Lager, lager, lager, lager, shouing, mega mega white thing, mega mega white thing.’

There can’t be many ways to top that and Underworld didn’t try!

Friday 26 November 2010

Vigo Thieves at the Apple Store, Glasgow, 25th November 2010

Shock horror – two blogs in a week. And it will be three after Underworld tonight.

This one is pretty short and sweet.

Last night I went to the Apple Store in Buchanan Street to catch the Vigo Thieves playing a free gig. The band who have recorded some imaginative promo videos throughout 2010 got the gig as they said they recorded their video for ‘Steal Your Heart’ on an i-phone 4 and edited it on a Mac. You can watch the video HERE

I’ve been following the Vigo Thieves since the start of the year when my friend Helen suggested a trip to Wishaw to see them at the Soul Suite in the Commercial Hotel. I hadn’t been there since around 1997 when I went to my mates 21st and was surprised to see it cleaned up and excited to feel a real buzz about the place in anticipation of the Vigo Thieves first ever ‘Shook To The Bones’ club night on their home turf. The band were (admittedly) a little worse for wear by the time they took to the stage, but the aforementioned ‘Steal Your Heart’ stood out with it’s biting guitar riff and refrains. And as someone who was a teenage Bon Jovi fan, I still like to hear the odd ‘baby’ in a song.

Since then they have released a couple of singles; ‘Steal Your Heart’ and ‘Blood Red’, played loads of gigs, been hard at work writing and recording, they’ve been played on Soccer AM and they’ve also played at Ibrox and received the endorsement of a certain Mr McCoist. So it is fair to say that they have had a pretty productive 2010.

On to the Apple Store. Due to their drummer being out of action for the time being after an operation on his arm, the band were armed with a huge Mac screen for a backing track. They opened with new song ‘Echoes’ before a few technical issues with the Mac caused a short delay and I heard someone mumble ‘should have got a Dell’. Undeterred the band launched into another new song, the rather epic ‘Sound of Summer’ which warmed up the ever growing crowd on a cold winters night. The piercing, circular guitar riff led into rumbling bass and the opening lyrics ‘it was the sound of the summer, playing on the radio, you could feel the heat, the drums were beating...’

The song goes up a gear into the chorus; ‘Come on baby, don’t break my heart, i’m all dressed up, and out of luck, the drums are beating, my sweat is cold, remember that summer, it was raining gold’.

It was a short set last night, but that only served the band well, highlighting that they set out to write songs about love and hope, with sing-a-long choruses and infectious guitar lines.

Previous single ‘Steal Your Heart’ took things up a notch, more swirling guitar riffs with a nod to the likes of Simple Minds and U2 and uplifting lyrics ‘stay young in your heart, stay young in your mind’.

The band may have played another song or two, but after a few post gig beers my memory fails me, I do know they ended with ‘Blood Red’ and its hooks were being sung by me and my mates as we headed off into the night.

I look forward to seeing the band in 2011 when their drummer returns.