Monday 30 June 2014

Beerjacket - the 10th anniversary interview

Beerjacket in action at King Tut's for his 10th anniversary

Beerjacket, AKA Peter Kelly, has just celebrated his 10th anniversary with a career spanning show at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, complete with special guests.

I first stumbled across Beerjacket back in 2009 and I have followed his music with interest ever since; admiring the poetic, emotional and descriptive lyrics, the melodies, invention and the independence that has been clearly displayed. 

The personal touch is sadly missing from many things in life these days, so a nice hand written note to accompany an album bought from the Beerjacket Bandcamp page was a lovely gesture.

I thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Peter to look back at his career to date and just as importantly, to look forward to the future.

I am very grateful to Peter for taking the time to answer my 10-questions for his 10th anniversary. It is a fascinating interview that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone reading this blog to follow the link above, or to click on the links to Peter's personal 10-song selection at the end. But don't jump ahead just yet! Read on and find out about Beerjacket's extremely limited edition first album, what Peter thinks is the best Beerjacket song, a metal band with an indie legend and lots, lots more!

1. 10-years and 5-albums (I think it is more but there are 5 on your Bandcamp) is quite prolific and consistent by many artists standards. Can you share any memories about how, why and when you first started writing your own music? Did the music or lyrics come first? Were any of those songs recorded and released?

There have technically been eight, although I would only really speak of the past three being proper albums and especially the past two as they are studio albums. Up until then, I was a self-recorder and I basically released everything I ever wrote in that period. I certainly wasn't any good at recording my own music and I think a bunch of songs were really stunted by poor home production.

By the time I went into the studio to record The White Feather Trail - my first recorded with producer, Stuart MacLeod - I had managed to refine what Beerjacket is meant to sound like and I think it's a really good album as a result.

My writing has changed a lot over the past ten years. I always wanted to write songs even before I could play a musical instrument and before I had anything to write about. I was only about seven or eight years old when I first started writing 'songs' and compiling them as 'albums'  with artwork and all the rest. These, by the way, were blank C60 tapes with covers drawn with felt tips and accompanying lyrics about WHO KNOWS WHAT.

Initially, I hadn't much direction about what Beerjacket was other than acoustic music influenced by Will Oldham, Lou Barlow and Bill Callahan, amongst others. That said, I still released everything utterly rough around the edge. Truthfully, it was probably live performances that brought together a following for Beerjacket - recordings were not a strong point until I recorded my last homer, Animosity. I thought that was probably the best I could manage until I went into the studio with Stuart in 2011 for The White Feather Trail and now I couldn't even think about doing a record with anyone else, let alone by myself.

The White Feather Trail

2. Has your writing style changed through the years - if so, how? How often do you write and have you ever had the dreaded writers block?

I used to write very traditionally, albeit taking the unorthodox approach of recording and releasing everything! The turning point for my writing came when I stopped adopting that 'songwriter-mode' and just wrote in a stream of consciousness style for Animosity. I would step onto a train and just write continuously in a notebook and revisit it when I next held a guitar, taking the same approach to the music. That was pretty revelatory for me as it removed any anxieties about writer's block and made me feel much more creative. I think the truth is that everyone is on the edge of being creative all the time and we put the block in the way through trying too hard.

I don't write continuously and I can't decide it's time. I just have to respond to it when it's on the way and record what appears. I never write anything down in a notepad now and I'm never in the process of writing something. If I'm writing it, I've written it. For me, writing it just means I listened to what appeared in my head, followed my hands and captured it in a recording.

3. Tell us about the lead up to the release of your first album. How were you recording, what shows were you playing and what ultimately made you feel ready to release an album?

There was no lead-up to the release of the album! My first Beerjacket gig was with Roddy Hart at Brel and it was supposed to be the first and last one. I wrote and recorded an album at home on 4-track for the gig, called it Oh My Head and burned 5 copies onto CD-R with cover art made on Microsoft Word! Every copy sold and there was no going back!

Beerjacket's first show at Brel, 10-years ago

4. What lessons have you learned since your first release? What advice would you give to any artists self releasing?

I have learned that it is best to record songs properly! Whether you record yourself or with someone else, whether you are solo or in a band Whatever the case, its a myth that having technology or a machine of some sort means you can release an album! It took me five years to realise that and I managed to make Animosity sound respectable. Even then, I wish that I had recorded it with Stuart in the studio.

Self-releasing is absolutely something I would recommend though if artists can be organised enough to do justice to what they produce. 

The traditional idea of a record label as a stamp of quality is still relevant where were talking about the likes of Sub Pop or Bella Union and its certainly not the case that we dont need labels because of the Internet. 

Nevertheless, its definitely got definite plus points in that you dont have to negotiate (probably hopelessly) for complete creative control, you control everything by default! Nowadays, word of mouth is all the more powerful online as it spreads worldwide rather than being limited to a small circle of mix-CD swappers.

Im really proud of what Ive achieved despite not being attached to a label or management company and there are most definitely advantages to being truly independent.

5. Have you been approached by any labels to release through them? If so, why have you chosen to continue the DIY approach?

I have been approached by labels in the past and Im always really honest with them. Im not available in the way that other musicians might be: I have a family and a job I really care about. Its in the situation I am in that I can be creative and leaving that would not only make me unhappy, it would stall my writing.

Being DIY (although Im not quite anymore, I work with a number of other folks now in recording and performance) is advantageous as I can decide what works for me. I feel that no-one can care as much about an artists music than the artist. I respect the industry though and there are good people working all over it. As long as you are doing what suits you best, you cant go wrong.

6. You have collaborated with a number of other artists on your releases and had a number of guests at your 10th anniversary show. If you could choose a local, national or international artist to collaborate with on your next album who would you choose and why?

Collaborating is great as it not only encourages a fresh voice in your music, its just very friendly and human. Ive been really enjoying that over the past few years.

The people Ive collaborated with have brought a lot to Beerjacket songs (roll call: Julia Doogan, Louise Connell, Ross Leighton, Emma Pollock, Stuart MacLeod, Rachel Sermanni and Michael Cassidy) and these collaborations have come about very naturally.

Beerjacket with Rachel Sermanni

I would love to work more with Kristin Hersh, who I invited to sing on Darling Darkness when we were playing shows together. It didnt happen, although I think well certainly do more together more over the years. Maybe well get our metal band Mildred together one day!

7. You first came to my attention in 2009 with your gorgeous cover of Springsteens Dancing in the Dark, which, if memory serves me correct, was picked up by Rolling Stone magazine. Was that a breakthroughmoment for you? Or do you feel you have had a breakthroughmoment(s)?

That was weird. I recorded that in twenty minutes on a 4-track and having sent it to a pal, it made its way to an American blogger and then a Rolling Stone journalist. There was quite a lot of fuss made about that and, in retrospect, I now wish I had spent more time on it! It was the only cover I had done amidst all these Beerjacket songs and it was, in some ways, a little bittersweet that it got so much attention.

The funny thing was that it was never supposed to be a cover. When I started playing the riff, I thought I was writing something new

8. Youve just played a special 10th anniversary show at King Tuts. Does it feel like a landmark? Are you ready for the next phase (so to speak)? What are your future plans/ambitions?

That was an amazing night. It was the longest set Ive ever played at one hour twenty minutes! The nature of the occasion meant I really had to play all night as old school members of the audience 
expected it. There were so many songs and yet still some inevitable omissions

In a way, it was both a retrospective evening and a hint of the next step. Ill be going into the studio with Stuart next month to begin recording an album of ten of the best Beerjacket songs from the past decade when I was still home recording. There will hopefully be some more guest turns on there too

9. Could you list 10 of your all-time favourite bands/artists?

This is impossible. Here are ten I love:
Nirvana. Kristin Hersh/Throwing Muses. Neil Young. Jeff Buckley. Simon and Garfunkel. Leonard Cohen. Bonnie Prince Billy. Elliott Smith. Bruce Springsteen. Cat Power.

10. Youve been approached by the BBC for a special TV show to celebrate your 10th anniversary and you have to play a 10-song set. What do you play?

Intriguing and quite unlikely scenario, Murray! (Murray - You never know Peter!)

The first song I ever wrote or could even play on ukulele. The ukulele is a fairly divisive instrument and some people really, really hate it but I probably dont play it too much like a ukulele. Personally, I think its a really beautiful instrument and this song has served me very well, especially when I play it first in a set. It sets a tone and asks for quiet but best of all, its a strong song about weakness.

There are lots of things I love about this song. I wrote it on the train in 2009 and the words just fell into my notebook. This was when I had a notebook! Now the words fall into my head instead, which is fun and strange. It's a song about the destructive potential of passive aggression and how damaging it is to relationships.

This song is based on the image of having one of my children on my shoulders and their arms making it look like I have antlers. I make no apology for writing about my kids and fatherhood in general as that's real and the most important part of my life.

Lay your weight upon me
Your lungs make me breathe

The last thing I wrote before I recorded The White Feather Trail and absolutely inspired by the sound of Louise Connells voice, who agreed to sing on it and who was subsequently grabbed for lots of other Beerjacket songs on that album and Darling Darkness.

The first Beerjacket show opened with this song and its the only song Ive played at almost every other gig since.

As much as it surprises me, this is the favourite Beerjacket song of many folks. Its really a pretty sad song and yet people always ask for it. Maybe its the appearance of eggs in the lyrics, a pretty common theme in my songs bizarrely

Volcano, you melt me
I'm devastated by your grace
Make me pass on my living love
Through hysterical destructive haze
The witches that watch you just wilt and then with away
For no riches or fortunes could ever lay claim to your face

This is the superhero song. Its another song about being a Dad but it could relate to any protective relationship really and is about human failings not getting in the way of everyday heroism.

For my money, this is the best ever Beerjacket song. It has every element of the music Ive been writing over the past ten years and perhaps thats why its been so successful. I love hearing it on the radio, I love playing it live and I love hearing people sing along. I just love it.

This song was inspired by my own home but also Cormac McCarthys The Road. I refuse to wait for everything to be destroyed before appreciating it.

My first big tune! I was totally honoured to have the opportunity to play this song completely live on BBC 2s The Review Show when The White Feather Trail came out in 2011. Paul Morley was a guest on the show and Ive always been a huge fan of his writing, plus everyone I knew was watching along with half a million others. Monumental for me and one of my happiest memories of playing Beerjacket music.

Tied like courage to the mast
But losing to an undead past
Tired, discouraged by the act
Of choosing the bruised old path

Sunday 15 June 2014

Edwyn Collins at Oran Mor

I'm just in from watching Edwyn Collins; a national treasure, a Scottish pop poet who is still producing first rate material at the age of 54 and he shows no sign of letting up.

Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols provided the beats in Edwyn's incredible band, joined by Carwyn Elle on bass, Andy H and David Page on guitars and Sean Read on keyboards. Carwyn and David also played in the support band Colorama. Page was sensational on guitar.

The band took to the stage and launched into a soulful and funky jam before Edwyn was helped on to the stage by his wife Grace; walking across with the help of a cane and taking a seat to huge applause.

Falling and Laughing opened the set in real style, raw upbeat indie guitar pop at its very best. Collins poetic pop lyrics are just beautiful.

Only my tears satisfy the real need of my heart
I resist

Fall, falling, falling again
Cause I want to take the pleasure with the pain, pain, pain

It was swiftly followed by another Orange Juice classic in the shape of What Presence and the upbeat Make Me Feel Again from Edwyn's smash solo album Gorgeous George. There was a sense of urgency about the performance.

Collins was comfortable stretching away back to the start of his career, up to the present time with a selection of material from his acclaimed Understated album and everything in between.

Understated was represented by searing versions of Understated and Dilemma and a gorgeous version of Forsooth with Edwyn owning up to ripping off the Velvets and Lou Reed.

Wheels of Love from the Hope and Despair album was a stand out from a very strong performance, the band jammed on with ease and style.

Bridge from the Texas Fever album went down well with some of the guys down the front, one of who in particular was dancing like his life depended on it.

Edwyn back in the day

One of my favourite Edwyn songs is the Motown-esque Losing Sleep which just flows superbly and the band ripped through it with Paul Cook outstanding on drums. Orange Juice were well represented throughout the set and Poor Old Soul was superb.

Collins and his band then delivered three killer songs in a row, with Collins rising to his feet to deliver them. Blueboy got more people dancing and then Rip It Up received a rapturous reception, only topped by the cheers a superb version of A Girl Like You generated.

Edwyn seemed to get stronger and more into the show the longer it went on and he was on top form, sharing banter with the crowd on several occasions.

Fan - I love you
Edwyn - I love you too
Fan - I love you more
Edwyn - I love you more, more

Edwyn left the stage to allow the band to rip it up (pun intended) and jam on at the end of A Girl Like You. I thought that might have been it, especially given the fact that Oran Mor has strict curfews.

Thankfully there was more to come.

Edwyn came back on with Carwen and David on acoustic guitars for stunning versions of Low Expectations and Home Again. Edwyn's voice was strong and true. I particularly love his upbeat pop songs but he knows how to write a heartfelt ballad as well. I'd love to see him do a full stripped back acoustic set at some point.

The rest of the band came on to race through Orange Juice fave Felicity before ending with a rip roaring version of Don't Shilly Shally. Edwyn left to a greta reception and he gave a thumbs up and said he would see us soon some time.

I hope it isn't too long. In this form and mood Collins and his band are an absolute joy and delight to watch perform. Edwyn has an incredible back catalogue and is still producing material that sits alongside his classics from years ago.

A national treasure, a pop poet.

TeenCanteen at Henry's Cellar Bar in Edinburgh

There is something about a gig in a small, tight, sweaty basement bar. There is nowhere for a band to hide, it can make or break them. It is on occasions like this that you can see a band demonstrate just exactly what they have to offer, or fall flat.

TeenCanteen were incredible last night, truly stunning.

Analogue (currently available as a free download from T-Break) opened proceedings; highlighting the harmonies, humour and songwriting talent displayed by Carla, Amanda, Sita and Deborah.

Without pausing to enjoy the applause, the 4 girls started their debut single Honey. There was a nice raw edge to the sound of Amanda's acoustic guitar. The song flowed superbly, rising and falling and powering on through with delicious hooks and harmonies.

I am red when I want to be purple

The band introduced a new song Coming Up Roses and it was brilliant. A Motown beat kicked in and a Spector-esque Wall of Sound built up as the band unleashed choruses and hooks to die for. The closing section was rammed home.

I'll always love you
I'll always be true

The band were in fine form and had the confidence to play a beautiful love song called Under My Cover that slowed down to the point of stopping, just harmonies and breathless vocals before the band came blasting back in.

TeenCanteen are clearly a band that know their pop history; riffs, refrains, harmonies, choruses, false stops, hooks, flows...

Friends was introduced as a song about friends falling out and it started with a bass driven synth

This is how it starts
The beginning of the end
This is the point when you say
You just want to be my friend

It is a brilliantly written and delivered song that builds towards an epic closing refrain. Deborah Smith on drums was sensational, Moe Tucker meats Motown.

(How We Met) Cherry Pie was introduced as an old song they hadn't played in a while. An early demo was picked up for an independent film featuring Karen Gillan. The chorus flows superbly.

Like rain that falls without a warning, on a sunny morning
This is how we met
Like sugar in my cup of coffee, apples dipped in toffee
This is how we met
Like snow fall showing in the summer, with massive claps of thunder
This is how we met
Or missing puzzle pieces meeting, with joys of seasons greetings
This is how we met

New single You're Still Mine (available on ltd edition 7-inch sparkly vinyl here) was a cross between New Order and The Ronettes, delivered with gusto and style.

Going back to the small, tight and sweaty basement; it can really make or break a crowd. TeenCanteen had the confidence to close the show with Vagabond, b-side of their current single and a real tug on the heart strings anthem delivered largely with just Carla on piano and vocals with Amanda and Sita harmonising and Deborah playing just the right amount of drums and percussion.

This was an amazing performance and one that was lapped up by the packed audience.

Chants of one more tune were politely declined. More please.

TeenCanteen have a few festival shows coming up at; T in the Park, Wickerman Festival and Indie Tracks.

Monday 9 June 2014

SAY Award 2014 shortlist

The Scottish Album of the Year Award (SAY Award) has been a welcome addition to the Scottish music calendar since it was established in 2012.

The Award really highlights the incredible diverse musical and artistic talent throughout Scotland.

The winning artist receives a cheque for £20,000 - a lot of money to some of the artists on this years shortlist and previous winners; RM Hubbert in 2013 for Thirteen Lost and Found and Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat in 2012 for Everything's Getting Older.

I'm surprised albums by Adam Holmes and Adam Stafford didn't make the cut from the long list - two beautiful albums.

The shortlist is below and the winner will be announced at the Barrowland ceremony on 19th June. Good luck to all the artists below and well done for making the shortlist.

Biffy Clyro - Opposites
Starting with a big hitter - the mighty Biffy. A double album that gave them plenty of scope to show how far they have come as a band - musically and lyrically. Biffy have a knack for writing anthems and there are some wonderful warm guitar sounds on Opposites.

Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
Boards Of Canada came back from the wilderness to take everyone by surprise with the release of this album. Another unique talent that produce some beautiful soundscapes that build and take the listener on a journey.

Chvrches - The Bones Of What You Believe
I blogged about this album HERE and if anything my affection for it has grown. In with a real chance and I'm sure it would be a popular choice. Pop with a cutting edge.

Edwyn Collins - Understated
I'm very fond of Edwyn Collins music and the man as an artist. Dilemma is a very strong album taking in Edwyn's fondness for Velvet's style ballads and his love of Northern Soul, also rocking out at times. Too Bad (That's Sad) was one of my faves from 2013.

Hector Bizerk - Nodoby Seen Nothing
The lyrics, humour and social commentary in some of the songs I've listened to are clever. This just isn't for me at all.

Mogwai - Les Revenants
Mogwai are in quite formidable and prolific form at the moment. Their Mogwai play Zidane show was a highlight from last summer and their latest album Rave Tapes and tour saw them in powerful and mesmerising form. They play by their rules and their rules only. Les Revenants finds them in mellow form at times with xylophones and acoustic guitars. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? is a stunning cover song featuring Stuart Braithwaite delivering a brilliant vocal performance.

RM Hubbert - Breaks Bone
Can Hubbert follow up last years victory? He is certainly in with a chance after delivering a strong and very personal album. Hubbert's guitar playing is wonderful and unique.

Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time
Following on from the wonderful Boys Outside album, Mason is in typically eclectic form. Mason's voice is lovely, he sounds like he is harmonising with himself. It is just so sing song and likeable. Mason also has a fantastic ear for a tune; be it acoustic or electronic. Monkey.... allows him the space to fully explore his talent; instrumental tracks separate the full songs. Lonely is a standout for me from a brilliant album.

The Pastels - Slow Summits
I would personally be delighted if The Pastels walked away with the prize next week. I've been into them since the early 1990's, discovering them through Teenage Fanclub and enjoying their wonderful contribution to music. The Pastels love of music shines through in their albums and Slow Summits is a real highlight from a long career. From the pure pop of Check My Heart to the melancholy loveliness of Summer Rain, to the stunning largely instrumental title track - The Pastels have produced a brilliant album.

Young Fathers - Tape 2
I bought this album after the journalist Nicola Meighan played a couple of tracks whilst standing in for Vic Galloway on Radio Scotland. They've come a long way since I first saw them playing with my sisters old band Futuristic Retro Champions. There is a real melting pot of influences encompassed in Tape 2; I hear echoes of Marvin Gaye and Massive Attack amongst others. A win for Young Fathers would really make a statement for the wonderfully rich, eclectic music scene that we have in Scotland and that the SAY Awards celebrate.