Sunday 24 October 2010

Skies Fell at The Arches

Last night Lynn and I went to The Arches to witness the debut show by Glasgow band Skies Fell. I left thoroughly impressed by the scope of the bands ambition to put on such a fantastic night, equally impressed with their songs and how tight they are as a band.

We arrived at The Arches around half seven. Now for anyone who hasn't been to The Arches, it is a huge venue  slap band in the centre of Glasgow. The show was advertised as being at The Arches, but was it in the cafe/bar, or in one of the arches that make up the legendary club venue? I should also mention that the show was free to anyone who emailed Skies Fell for a guest list place.

Upon entering we found some equipment set up in the upstairs section of the cafe/bar, got a drink and caught up with Futuristic Retro Champions and Pareto, both of whom were playing special acoustic sets on the night.

At 8.45 Kunal from Pareto strapped on his acoustic guitar for a solo set, taking in some tracks from the EP they released earlier this year including 'Call Me Alphabet' and 'Nothing Major, Something Sergeant'. Kunal has a knack for finding a refrain and if I was compare Pareto to any and it would be Idlewild. Kunal took the opportunity to play some old songs and a cover of 'Colourblind' by Counting Crows that went down well.

There was a quick changeover and Futuristic Retro Champions came on to play an acoustic set; not something they have done very often. With a set that was even more stripped back than their acoustic set at Bar Brel in the summer, FRC's totally reworked some of their songs and they really showed off the harmonies and melodies.

'Speak To Me' was a real highlight with the excellent middle eight 'you and me are lo-fi, hanging out in our torn up levis, stick a record on the hi-fi, and point the speakers right up to the sky'. A slowed down 'Strawberries & Vodka Shots' and 'Jenna' also went down well.

However the night was all about Skies Fell. After FRC's an announcer took the stage to say that in 20 minutes time we all had to line up against the wall and we would be led to the venue for the night.

So we grabbed a drink and did just that. We were then led through the downstairs cafe/bar and into the depths of The Arches. We got to a door that opened and dry ice came tumbling out. I think the room is normally a rehearsal room, but not tonight! Skies Fell had kitted it out with a stage, sound system and a light show that wouldn't have looked out of place at Hampden for U2.

There was a growing sense of anticipation as the dry ice started to clear and the guitarist and keyboard player took to the stage to gradually build a melody out of nothing. After a while the bassist and drummer joined them before David left his keyboard and strapped on his guitar and the band burst into life.

The opening song was epic and must have lasted a good 7-minutes plus. The two guitarists took the song to new places several times during the song, leaving the audience to wonder if it was still the same song, or if it was a continuous song cycle a-la 'Abbey Road.'

With the band all dressed in white t-shirts and jeans, the light show working in tandem with beats and riffs and songs that sounded huge, everything really came together for the band. I was pleased for them as they had clearly out in the hours in practice but also with organising and marketing such a gig.

Skies Fell were in the mood to show off and they were probably a little relieved to get on stage after all the days planning and dreaming. Their songs sound huge and they has obviously chosen the venue to show the scale of their ambition and sound. Biffy and Muse were bands that sprung to mind during their set, not only because of the light show, but because their riffs just sound like the were created for stadiums.

Their second last song was particularly brilliant and they signed off with no encore. I went into their dressing room with Sita from FRC's afterwards (who goes out with David) and said 'what on earth are you going to do  for your next show?' He just grinned and slapped my back and said 'wait and see.'

If this show is anything to go by, it is well worth keeping an eye out for any announcements.

Friday 22 October 2010

Futuristic Retro Champions RIP?

So Futuristic Retro Champions are splitting up after just over four years of fun, friendship, dancing, singing and fantastic nights out.

It has been an absolute pleasure to work with this band as a brother, friend, manager and fan. As someone who loves music, but has never really progressed beyond 3 chords, I was excited when my sister Carla told me she was forming a band with friends from Edinburgh School of Art. The original 6-piece line-up of Sita (vocals), Carla (keys), Harry (guitar), Luke (bass), Adam (synths and shouting) and Dan Dan the trumpet man, played their first gig at the Wee Red Bar towards the end of 2006 and within a few months and few gigs later The List named them as a band to look out for.

With no money and no driving license between them, they recorded songs on a laptop in flats around the city and their rough demos led to support slots with Friendly Fires, Glasvegas and a young Bombay Bicycle Club. Word of mouth spread to Glasgow and they came over to play at club nights at the ABC and the old Barfly as part of the Dolly Mixture nights and they also made the trip to London a few times. Once to support Manda Rin of BiS.

I have fond memories of the band being asked to support Kate Nash just as she was breaking at a tiny bar called Henry’s in Edinburgh. FRC’s has quite a strong following and their fans took over the venue that had been set up for an ‘intimate performance’, kicking the chairs to the side of the room and dancing along to live favourite ‘Jenna’ with the band awarding a bottle of wine to the best dancer.

Upon finishing their degrees Luke and Adam left the band and their friend Ceal joined on bass. I still think of Ceal as Elastica-cool.

The Band were heavily encouraged by their art tutor Paul Carter and when he sadly passed away they helped to put on a tribute night in his memory and asked Eugene Kelly from one of Paul’s favourite bands to join them for covers of ‘Son of a Gun’ and ‘Molly’s Lips’. That the band formed shortly after Carla’s 21st birthday was possibly partly down to Mr Kelly who played at Carla’s party, organised by Harry. The Vaselines sense of fun, DIY punk/pop and not ‘selling out’ was certainly something that appealed to all of them.

The band played the biggest show of their career to 2,000 people in March 2009 when Eugene personally invited them to support the reformed Vaselines in London. The band were amazed when kids in Nirvana t-shirts came up to buy their electro pop, but then good music is good music.

Later that year Carla and Harry moved to Glasgow after Carla was accepted to do a Masters in Fine Art and it was then that the band really kicked on. Armed with a collection of brilliant pop songs I encourage them to start releasing them, so in February 2010 they released the FRC EP with ‘You Make My Heart’, ‘Lets Make Out’, ‘DIY Lovesong’ and ‘Told Ya’. There was airplay on 6 music and Radio 1 and another trip to London. The release party at 13th Note saw people watching from the corridor as they couldn’t pack anyone else in. They ended with an inspired cover of Bananarama’s ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ that brought the house down.

With some money in their pockets for a change the band then went into La Chunky Studios in the West End of Glasgow to record their next EP with the lovely Ronan as producer. Pleased with the results they decided to stick it out immediately for free. Entitled La Chunky EP with live fave ‘Jenna’, the summer-tastic ‘Strawberries and Vodka Shots’, ‘Kitten With A Loaded Gun’ and a remix of ‘Told Ya’ the EP brought more great reviews for the band. The band played two of their favourite gigs at Bar Brel and the Hidden Lane Festival (pics from there are displayed).

On her 25th birthday Carla went out dancing with her young teenage friend Fraser Bone – quite a character. The night out and the resulting hangover caused her to right a new song. With no title it became ‘May the Fourth’ after the date it was written, then changed to ‘May the Forth’. She also wrote the 80’s synth ballad ‘Settle Down’. With confidence at an all time high the band were asked by their friend and fan Martin Creed if his band could play with them if they had any gigs in August when he was up for the Edinburgh Festival. They cheekily asked if he could do the artwork for their new single and he said yes.

So with a Turner Prize winner on board as an artist they booked Mono to launch their single, printing 100 copies on black vinyl-esque cd, coming in a 7-inch style package. The Mono gig was a blast with support from the Hidden Masters, Eugene Kelly, Martin and his band, before the night ended with crazy dancing to the beats of samba band Kings of Macumba.

Fake PR took the band on and the single got great reviews and ended up being played by Radio 1 DJ Kissy Sell Out who remixed it twice live on air. He liked it so much that he invited the band to play live with him in Birmingham.

So with things going so well after 3 releases, great reviews and radio 1 airplay, not to mention a couple of small labels sniffing around....the band chose to split.

Unfortunately Carla and Harry split up after 5-years together. A real shame on a personal and band management/fan point of view but things happen. Carla is in the final year of her masters and Harry is now back in Edinburgh concentrating on a PHD.

Carla, Sita and Ceal are likely to form a new band with Sita’s brother on drums and Carla’s long term friend and fellow art student Ross Dixon on guitar. With an ever increasing bank of equipment and production skills, Harry is working on production and remixes and I wouldn’t be surpised if he writes his own stuff too. Carla has also been asked if 2 or 3 of her songs can be featured in a film.

Futuristic Retro Champions will be heading out in style with 2 Christmas/farewell party shows in December.

Dec 10th – Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh
Dec 11th – Captain’s Rest, Glasgow

Harry is mixing all their songs to release an album for these dates. A ‘futuristic retro=spective’ if you like.

Be there for the gigs, they will be emotional and they will be pop-tastic. I put a question mark at the end of the blog title as I hope their music will live on....

Futuristic Retro Champions will always bring a smile to my face, only for now, there is a tinge of sadness. If there is another band out there who play with such a sense of fun, have harmonies, choruses and melodies and a pure pop philosophy, I'd like to hear and see them.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Glasgow music scene, October 2010

The excellent website Drowned in Sound recently carried a blog/article listing their (or at least the journalists) top 10 acts to look out for in Glasgow.

I always like lists; creating them, reading them, debating them. Unsigned music champion Jim Gellatly always provides his ‘ones too look our for’ for the forthcoming year with a list of ten, while Radio 1/Scotland DJ Vic Galloway provided a list of 50 for 2010! And if you think that is going overboard there are acts that he didn’t include that should have been on it.

The DiS list includes Miaoux Miaoux and Mitchell Museum who are two acts that I particularly like, some that don’t really do it for me and a couple I need to check out on Myspace and live around Glasgow. It is hard to keep up with everything!
(Miaoux Miaoux) 
(Mitchell Museum)

The Glasgow (and indeed Scotland) independent music scene is exceptionally strong just now. I imagine that if it was the mid 90’s to early 00’s then a lot of the bands kicking around the scene would have record contracts. As it is, with a distinct lack of money in the record industry, bands are releasing their own music online;  free or otherwise and through limited edition cd’s or vinyl with increasing levels of creativity. Some, the aforementioned Mitchell Museum included, have even released singles/EP’s on old school cassette!

Alongside an ever increasing number of bands or electronic artists, is a creative element that are doing their best to champion the music to a wider audience. Small labels, bloggers, podcasts and then multi-media extravaganza that is Detour. There seems to be a growing movement  that I think could explode into something quite huge by the summer of 2011.

With the level of passion and energy surrounding the independent scene at this moment in time, you get the feeling that something big is going to happen. That could be an event, a happening, recognition on a national scale (Manchester seems to be the city receiving that recognition just now) or (and this is something I would love to work on) a festival for unsigned acts.

I thought I’d come up with my own list, not including the bands that I work with – the previously mentioned Miaoux Miaoux, Futuristic Retro Champions and Sonny Marvello, who are all excellent in their own unique ways. You can read all about them in some of my other blog entries.
(Futuristic Retro Champions)
(Sonny Marvello) 

So here is a list of just 4 bands I think you should check out, along with a list of some ‘movers and shakers’ in the Glasgow independent music scene. I may well write another blog with another 4 bands if time allows.

Admiral Fallow (previously known as Brother Louis Collective) released their debut album ‘Boots Meet My Face’ earlier on in 2010. The album received extremely positive reviews, sold out of its initial pressing and led to lots of festival appearances and gigs here, there and everywhere. The band will play their biggest gigs to date this December when they support Frightened Rabbit at the famous Glasgow Barrowlands.

Their singer, Louis, isn’t just content with fronting his own band, he also plays in the Moth and the Mirror and Song of Return. Quite where he gets the time to do all this is anyone’s guess!

My first glimpse of Admiral Fallow was under their previous guise, supporting Pearl and the Puppets at King Tuts. I wasn’t overly impressed, although the sound wasn’t very good that night and lots of people were talking - a pet hate of mine. My second glimpse totally changed my opinion. They seemed more confident and at ease, perhaps they had grown into the songs, all of which are very personal. Flute, Clarinet, Double bass, guitar and drums all combine (sometimes with added piano and other assorted instruments) to create a cavalcade of melodies that seem to flow with ease.

Louis Abbott looks deceptively older than he is (mid-20’s I believe) and it is astonishing to hear such an accomplished and mature album from someone of his age. The album isn’t one you would just put on for the hell of it, you need to be in the right mood. For example, playing the Strongbow Tent at Rock Ness wasn’t really the right setting for these songs. I think that is a strength of the album though, the songs have a depth, they have genuine passion and even from first listen it is clear that a lot of time, effort and care has gone into the writing, crafting, recording and production. You need time and the right environment to enjoy them.

‘Subbuteo’ is a song of Admiral Fallow’s that immediately caught my attention due to the title. In it Louis talks of revisiting his home town where he got a ‘kicking’ (hence the album title) and the lyrics are particularly poignant.

‘oh it might sound dull, but dull’s sometimes all we have’ and the rather beautiful ‘we’re all just trying to float, while everything seems set to fall.’

Nevada Base have been a favourite Glasgow band of mine for a while. They are laid back to the extent they are practically horizontal. Singer Albert has a kinky afro, they are all very tight on and off stage and they have songs to die for. I was blown away the first time I saw them, the energy they created transferred naturally to the audience and got people dancing – something that doesn’t happen too often in Glasgow with new bands when people tend to hand around drinking, taking in the vibe and not wanting to let themselves go until they see what the ‘cool kids’ think.

Their taste and style is different too. For example when I caught them supporting Memory Tapes earlier this year they announced they were going to play an Abba cover. Rather than launching into something predictable off ‘Gold’ (as cool as that would have been), they played a song called ‘The Visitors’ off Abba’s last album (of the same title). It was a synth masterpiece and I immediately downloaded the album the next day – highly recommended by the way.

But it is their own songs that caused my ears to prick up. ‘If I’m Late’ perhaps hints at how laid back the band are; ‘if I’m late, then I’m late, then don’t wait.......’

‘Electric Touch’ has a great synth looped around beats and bass and builds to a crescendo with Albert yelping ‘believe me, you’ve never seen such an electric touch, an electric touch’ while ‘Love In My Mind’ seems so simple, yet it is really clever. With the backing of small local label Flowers in the Dustbin and their own studio, I look forward to hearing more songs from the band.

I was walking down Sauchiehall Street in June 2008 having just returned form a year travelling when I caught sight of a band busking outside Marks and Spencers. They played a cover of Beruit’s ‘Postcards From Italy’ and when my girlfriend (wife) returned to meet me from the shop and said she had to go to Boots I remained in the street watching the band. They played an early song of theirs, the absolutely beautiful ‘Traffic’ (still my favourite song) and I immediately fell in love with them. With a trumpet player and with their singer playing violin they immediately seemed different while at the same time they looked like a real band. Stopping to talk to the band they informed me they were playing Bar Brel that night and I went along. On a beautiful sunny summer evening in the West End of Glasgow I feel even deeper.

Mark Farmer has a voice that soars and a presence that demands your attention. The band can lock into grooves and the trumpet and violin can take them off into places that others can’t reach. With plans in place to release a record through Electra French (who released the Mitchell Museum album this year) 2011 could be a very exciting year for the Seventeenth Century.

Seventeenth Century play the Classic Grand on bonfire night as part of Scottish bloggers Aye Tunes and Peenko’s joint night. Well worth a note in your diary.

I heard about Barn Owl through my friend Sam who is aware of my love for Teenage Fanclub. Sam has been recording and producing Barn Owl and he suggested that I check them out. As someone who is pretty creative himself, not only as a producer, Sam has his own small label; the brilliantly titled ’45-a-side Records’ and he recently brought out a compilation album featuring a Barn Owl track and they were playing at the launch night.

Prior to the launch night I’d been playing them quite a bit on Myspace. Their laid back style and the effortless way that the two guitars combine got me quite excited about seeing them live.

They didn’t disappoint. Following a frantic game of five-a-sides I dashed across town to the 45-a-side night to meet my wife just as Barn Owl took to the stage. They are a young band and they seemed really relaxed on stage with just the right amount of nervous excitement, yet quite humble in a kind of ‘you’re here to see us?’ type way. A nice way.

They didn’t disappoint, combining elements of early Fanclub with later day Fanclub, with a dash of Pavement thrown in for good measure. James Scott on bass looked lost in his groove, bouncing around like a young Dougie Payne from Travis (although thankfully with the bass strapped a lot lower). The singer looked like he was either in his teens or just out of them and his guitar melted into the lead guitarists, complimenting each other perfectly.

I look forward to seeing them again. They are far from the finished article but if you take the time to listen to their songs online or go and see them live, then I hope that you will agree that they have immense potential.

Movers and shakers (sounds cheesey, I know)

It is quite hard to keep up to date with all that is going on in the Glasgow/Scottish music scene. Thankfully there are a number of people that are working hard to promote the scene, introduce music fans to new bands and artists that are developing independently at their own speed with no financial backing.

I’ll start with Glasgow Podcart. I have been fortunate to meet Halina who runs Podcart on a few occasions and whenever I do I compliment her on her energy, enthusiasm and passion. Anyone who visits their website, listens to a podcast or attends one of their events (not just limited to music) will understand why. It is infectious!

The last I heard, the weekly podcast was receiving over 1,000 downloads an episode. It may well be closer to double that now as in true entrepreneurial fashion Halina is setting up partnerships with people in other countries and Glasgow Podcart also now have a tie in with the excellent Wickerman Festival. Podcart is by no means a one woman band. Halina has an excellent group of creative and artistic people supporting Podcart as they raise awareness about the arts scene in Glasgow.

If you want to keep up to date with independent music in Scotland (and beyond) this is a great place to start.

Jim Gellatly has been a champion of Scottish independent music for a number of years now, yet his enthusiasm for discovering new talent and helping to break it shows no signs of diminishing. His weekly podcast may feature more ‘established’ acts than the likes of Glasgow Podcart, but he is still not afraid to stick his neck out and say he likes/loves something if it takes his fancy.
 (Jim Gellatly)
Jim also has a show on Amazing Radio and has recently helped out by hosting charity events organised by the lovely girls from Pooch and Together Beat Cancer. All in all, a lovely guy with a huge wealth of musical knowledge.

I’ve only been to a couple of Detour events as they take place on monthly on a Wednesday when I either tend to be playing a late night game of 7-a-sides or watching the Champions League. I really should sacrifice a game to go more often. Set up by Ally and Weaver, Detour is a bit of a multi-media extravaganza, a cauldron of ideas, bubbling over with enthusiasm that is captivating the independent music scene. They quickly outgrew their initial monthly nights at Bloc in Glasgow to go on tour (taking in Inverness and Edinburgh), have a special event on an island in the middle of Inverness at Rock Ness, have a couple of secret events in Glasgow that included acts playing in the toilets of Mono and various other locations around the city, and held larger events at the Buff Club.
 (Weaver and Ally)
On top of that they kidnap bands and take them to secret locations to film them and have a podcast. Ally from Detour has already stood in for Vic Galloway on Radio 1, all this and Detour is only just approaching its 1st birthday!

Now back at their spiritual home of Bloc, you never know what Detour are going to get up to next. Their monthly line-ups and secret gigs stay under close wraps which is just one of the ingredients that makes this particular cake a pretty special one, especially in today’s day and age when news is online in seconds and everyone seems to know what is about to happen.

The Popcop seems to be growing in stature, possibly helped in that sense by the dilemma the blog faced earlier in the year when due to giving away free music the blog was taken off the internet and the owner immediately lost access to years of work! It didn’t seem to matter to the powers that be that the artists involved has consented to giving away their music for free.

Thankfully thanks to a campaign to save the Popcop – complete with t-shirts and promo video, Popcop is back, better than ever. It’s a site I visit most days as the news service is top class and often delivered with a great deal of humour. Popcop is also a member of the Music Alliance Pact – highlighting top up and coming artists from around the world and giving away free music, The Guardian has recently joined this pact.

For up to date music news, views and interviews then this a great place to start.

Three blogs that have their own individual styles. Peenko highlights new bands on a Monday, has great features and interviews on labels, releases and bands, puts on his own nights (with Aye Tunes) and also very kindly highlights free downloads on a Friday for the weekend.

Aye Tunes gives you a one stop shop for gigs from the week ahead and is more flexible with his approach than Peenko, if he wants to write a preview or review he will, if he wants to offerhis opinion on something he will.

Kowalskiy strikes me as being the young kid on the bloc and has interviews with bands and the odd review. His enthusiasm, like everyone in this article, is clearly apparent.

There are many, many more bands/artists and movers than shakers than this blog or the DiS blog can possibly feature that are worth checking out. Little Eskimos, Ray Summers, Vigo Thieves, Adam Stafford, Roddy Hart and MOPP are just a few (not all technically from Glasgow but definitely part of 'the scene').
(Ray Summers)
However I hope that anyone reading this blog takes some time to visit a Myspace site, checks out a gig, reads a blog or downloads a podcast. One thing might lead to another. You could visit Nevada Base’s Myspace and then discover Pooch or Any Colour Black; a night at Detour might encourage you to put on your own night and realise that if you have an idea then with a little bit of work it can develop into something special; by downloading a FREE podcast you might discover your new favourite band; or you might just bump into the boy or girl of your dreams at a gig in the Captain’s Rest.
 (Laura Boyd form Pooch)
It’s worth noting as I end this piece that the vast majority of this movement are doing it because they love music and the arts, not for any financial incentive, although with a rich vein of talent and so many entrepreneurial minds out there I certainly won’t be surprised if some mentioned go on to make money in the arts and entertainment industry.