Sunday 24 August 2014

Skinny Dipper - Masks EP

Earlier on in the year I featured an interview with Lloyd and Halina from Olive Grove Records; a lovely organic DIY label from Glasgow. The duo's enthusiasm for new music in the city is infectious and I always keep an eye and an ear out for the music that they are either releasing or talking about.

The name of Olive Grove's latest signings caught my attention - Skinny Dipper. Who or what is a skinny dipper and do they like to skinny dip?!

Answering two of those questions the band say they are 'almost a girl group'. There are 8 girls and 1 lucky boy with a healthy background in groups like Randolph's Leap, Aerials Up, Quickbeam and Trapped In Kansas. So they have been around enough to know what they are doing.

Skinny Dipper, before the skinny dip

Masks is a gorgeous EP, perfect for the sunny Autumn day when it first entered my life. The production (Stuart MacLeod) captures the harmonies, melodies and feel of the music perfectly.

The 5-track EP is coming out on 12-inch vinyl and as a download on 8th September.

Landing openings proceedings and vocal harmonies combine with beats, violin and keyboards in a beautiful manner. The bands ear for pop shines through with catchy backing vocals following the first instrumental section and the whole song flows along.

The vocals that introduce Hospital Bed are absolutely beautiful (beautiful is a word that may be used a lot in reviews for Skinny Dipper). The band highlight their skills superbly on this song, capable of bursts of flowing melodies from nowhere.

Gentle guitars usher in the superbly titled The Kids Are Moving On. A soulful trumpet and slow considered percussion kick in at just the right moment. Skinny Dipper are in no rush, they know they are capable of moments of beauty and they inject them at just the right moments in this song. The closing instrumental is glorious, life affirming.

So swing fast and swing hard
For what you want to hold in your hands

Cellphones is nothing other than atmospheric ambience underpinning someone talking about Cellphones in a paranoid fashion. I was quite disappointed on first listen that this didn't go anywhere.

There is no surprise that the band opt to close the EP with Son Of A Mitch. Yet again the band show that they can fly and flow with the best of them in the exquisite closing section. I do hope to catch them live in full flight at some point in the not too distant future. The band play with fellow Olive Grove band Call To Mind at Stereo in September.

Skinny Dipper create moments of wonder on their debut EP. Definitely worth a dip (groan).

Sunday 17 August 2014

Teenage Fanclub at the Kelvingrove Bandstand

Thanks to everyone who came to our show tonight. We really enjoyed playing for you. Will live long in the memory. Good old Glasgow

On Friday night Teenage Fanclub played the Kelvingrove Bandstand in the West End of Glasgow, coming back from 4-years away and reminding us all what a truly special band they are with a set spanning their entire career to date, culminating with a glorious extended version of debut single Everything Flows.

The show sold out in 25-minutes, sparking a scramble for tickets amongst some of the bands most diehard fans. Thankfully most seemed to get their hands on some for the night. I certainly bumped into a lot of people I have met via the bands Forum over the years.

The weather was dry, there was even a bit of sunshine as my friend Lorna and I walked through Kelvingrove Park to the strains of the band sound checking When I Still Have Thee around 5pm. We felt like teenagers as we attempted to peer through the fence to catch the band in action!

We headed to meet with friends and family at the Big Slope - very handy for Bandstand gigs - and enjoyed some food and a few beers discussing what songs we thought/wanted the band would/to play.

Support on the night was provided by long term Fanclub friend Joe McAlinden under the name Linden. Chiming guitars and well crafted melodies were the order of the day with Brown Bird Singing sounding superb. The closing version of his old bands Superstar was excellent, an unexpected bonus.

Middleage Manclub

Linden left the stage and a DJ came on and to our surprise my sisters band TeenCanteen's new single You're Still Mine was played alongside an excellent selection of songs containing Felt, Sugar, Orange Juice and The La's. It was a lovely moment.

'This is exactly what the bandstand is for, moments like this' (or words to that effect) came over the sound system and and strolled Teenage Fanclub; Norman, Gerry, Raymond and Francis, joined not only by Dave McGowan but also by Finlay MacDonald.

Teenage Fanclub strolled on to the stage to a huge roar and the 6-piece (for much of the night) got straight into action with It's All In My Mind.

We were at Raymond's side of the stage and the sound was a little muffled to start, but we moved down to stand at the side of the wooden benches near the front and it sounded much better.

The band were enjoying themselves and the Bandstand was absolutely packed out,  it seemed much fuller than Belle and Sebastian and thankfully the venue had learned from the crazy bar queues at that show and put on a second bar. 

The warm chords of About You lifted the crowd further and we sang-a-long heartily. I am a little hoarse this morning!

Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything was classic Gerry Love who looked super cool playing bass to Norman's left. The band romped through Baby Lee - two brilliant songs from their last album Shadows

Pic from Ian Matheson

Don't Look Back generated a great reaction from the crowd, a real classic with the band gelling superbly, swiftly followed by Start Again and My Uptight Life. Love, Blake and McGinley - all getting a chance to display their craft to an appreciative audience.

If I could find the words to say
The sun shines in your eyes
So brighten up my city skies

Norman joked about the bands rider of Haribo and Dave duly departed one stage door and came back out the other side to throw packets into the crowd!

The band were on fire and the audience responded during I Need Direction. A guy and girl went down the front to dance in front of the band and the audience responded en masse. Before you knew it there must have been a couple of hundred people jumping about and singing down the front. The look on Norman's face was priceless. I was too busy enjoying myself to get my phone out for a picture. It was a special moment; band, song, audience and venue combining.

What followed was even better; a glorious run of songs with people greeting them like long lost friends that they wanted to embrace and show just how much they loved them and missed them.

Pic from Alan Clarke

Did I Say is Norman Blake and Teenage Fanclub at their very best; a flowing, melodic and poetic love song;

Hey, did I say, that I smiled when I first heard your name
Fell in love, and I still feel the same way...

Can't Feel My Soul is one of Raymond's best. His guitar playing was exceptional through the night; none more so than during the closing section of this song.

Sparky's Dream is guitar pop perfection. There was a mass outbreak of pogo-ing down the front, people hugging each other, singing and jumping in time with the music. Some hardy souls relived their youth with some crowd surfing. It was great fun.

The 6-piece band with 3 guitars sounded superb, especially on Fanclub favourite The Concept. The crowd sang with gusto.

I didn't want to hurt you, oh yeah

The 3-song encore was perfect. McGinley's masterpiece Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From, Love's fans favourite Please Stay and then an absolutely epic extended version of Everything Flows with 4  guitars sounding like heaven on earth.

View of the crowd down the front for Everything Flows (pic from Ross Sinclair)

The band jammed on and the crowd sang the chorus as grown men punched the air, pogo'd and crowd surfed. Everyone - band and crowd - had smiles as wide as the Clyde on their faces.

As Norman's tweet states - this will love long in the memory.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The New Mendicants at Bowlers Bar

'A Guinness please.'

'That'll be £2.70'


A Tuesday night in Bridgeton soundtracked by the beautiful voices and songwriting talents of Norman Blake and Joe Pernice and £2.70 a pint of Guinness. If Guinness did gigs in small East End Bars....

The New Mendicants are Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Joe Pernice (The Pernice Brothers), thrown together by chance (neighbours in Canada) and a Nick Hornby novel. Their debut album Into The Lime showcased their songwriting talents and harmonies, put them in a room with a couple of acoustic guitars and a glockenspiel and they are an absolute joy to watch.

I debated whether to drive to the venue or get the train and have a couple of midweek drinks. As the gig was in such a different venue, it was 13-minutes on the train from Uddingston to Bridgeton and the venue was a stones throw from the station; I opted for the drinks and was pleasantly surprised by the price of a pint.

My brother was running a little late so I waited outside for a wee while, long enough for a young guy to walk by and offer 2 smokers the chance to buy a £350 bike for £50....

I decided to just head in and leave Ross' ticket at the door. My friends Lorna and Colin were in, so I grabbed a Guiness (did i mention it was £2.70 a pint?) and caught up with them while watching the end of support act Ella the Bird who had a gorgeous voice and looked pretty gorgeous as well.

Ross arrived and we headed towards the front of the small bar to catch up with fellow Fanclub nuts Barry and Macca. Both were in good form and looking forward to the bands forthcoming show at Kelvingrove Bandstand.

Joe and Norman worked on a list of songs as they prepared to get underway. It was a lovely informal show.

Norman ponders what gems to select from over a Guinness

Songs from The New Mendicants album opened the show; Sarasota and Cruel Annette. The duo joked about not seeing each other in a while (Norman has been in and around Glasgow working on the new Fanclub album) and remembering the songs, keys and chords.

They gelled effortlessly and good humour was evident throughout the show. Joe joked about Norman emailing him to say he got their tour expenses down to £178 - Norman mentioned that this was because they were staying at his parents after every show - including those in Inverness and Aberdeen, adding 'don't worry Joe, Bellshill is a 45 minute drive from everywhere.'

Follow You Down was sung beautifully, the cover of Sandy Denny's By The Time It Gets Dark was spine tinglingly good.

Blake and Pernice 

It was then time for what I can only describe as a friendly game of top trumps, with Norman and Joe taking it in turns to play a song they had written.

Joe played some crackers including; There Goes The Sun, A Penthouse In The Woods (about finding porn mags in the woods as a kid) and a stunner called The Loving Kind. (forgive me for not knowing/remembering other titles)

Norman dug into his back catalogue and brought out You Was Me (from the Jonny album) Dark and Lonely, I Don't Want Control Of You, Baby Lee, a really brilliant Everything Flows at the request of Joe. Did I Say is one of the best songs Norman has written - and that is saying something. Hearing it stripped back to the bones is a joy.

Hey, did I day, I don't mind if you want to go back
To the lake where you learned how to swim with the sun
Beating down on your back in the morning of dawn
For you girl, are you waiting for me?

I'm sure that the two could have played for another hour or two with ease. It was fantastic to watch two genuinely brilliant songwriters displaying their craft in such a unique environment.

As it was time got the better of us and it was time to head for the train - which was delayed, then cancelled and Scot Rail got me a taxi home. Maybe I should just have driven after all!

Monday 4 August 2014

The East End Social and Edwyn Collins at Glasgow Green

I last blogged about Edwyn Collins back in June following an outstanding performance at Oran Mor. In the blog I said that I would love to see him do a full stripped back acoustic set at some point.

Well the Gods must have been smiling upon me as on Saturday Edwyn travelled North to play an acoustic show for the East End Social at Glasgow Green as part of the Commonwealth Games. Not only that - it was completely free!

The team behind the East End Social must be heartily commended for the exceptional programme of music that they have curated before, during and after the Games. There have been pop up shows in Dennistoun, a Neu! Reekie extravaganza at Platform in Easterhouse, shows in teeny tiny Bowlers bar in Bridgeton, we had a full on festival at Glasgow Green over the weekend and things are due to be brought to a close in epic style at the end of August with a weekend in Richmond Park featuring Mogwai headlining one night and Optimo the second!

The blank canvas that the team were given has been coloured in beautifully; legends, innovators, cult bands, young bands breaking through and everything in between have been given a chance to demonstrate the musical talent and variety that is on offer in the city of Glasgow.

To be quite honest, it is music that has been the highlight of the Commonwealth Games for me. The East End Social is one thing, there has also been the Belle and Sebastian show at Kelvingrove Bandstand (also loads of free shows there as well as stuff by the likes of The Waterboys) and all kinds of things going on down by the waterfront at the BBC featuring the likes of Simple Minds and the gorgeous Rachel Sermanni.

I could have done with a few weeks off to try and make the most of it!

Anyway, back to Edwyn at Glasgow Green.

Edwyn was thankfully playing inside a beautiful big tent called The Playhouse. I would love to see it installed permanently on the Green, it was a brilliant venue.

What made this show extra special was the fact that we took our 3-year old daughter Zoe. It was her first full gig -quite something for a 3-year old!

There were a number of young families down the front, so we got down and grabbed a seat on the floor, the friendly crowd stood behind the young kids, allowing them the chance to sit and watch a master at close quarters.

Zoe watching Edwyn and James

Edwyn was accompanied by the guitar virtuoso that is James Walbourne and there was a clear bond between the two, despite the fact Edwyn forgot his surname; causing laughter on stage and in the crowd and becoming a running joke.

The duo opened with Losing Sleep and Make Me Feel Again, the tent was packed - due to the fact that a genuine Scottish musical legend was playing - and the rain. People were listening from outside according to friends I spoke to later.

Edwyn was in great form, getting more and more into it the longer the show went on.

Home Again was exquisite; full of melody and emotion. It was my first time hearing it live since reading Grace Maxwell's book Falling and Laughing - The Restoration of Edwyn Collins. I had a little tear in my eye.

When I was a boy
Well I heard somebody singing
And I heard the guitars ringing
And it brought me home again
Home again

James was truly brilliant on the guitar, able to play anything and everything - and that is exactly what they did; delighting the crowd with Orange Juice classics Blue Boy, Falling and Laughing and Rip it Up.

Rip It Up was great fun with Edwyn egging James on and taking the mick in just the right way. The crowd loved it.

Don't Shilly Shally was brilliant and I was a proud Dad as Zoe clapped along and nodded her head.

A Girl Like You closed things in style with Edwyn humming along with the melody and congratulating James on his guitar playing.

This was a great little show. I'd love to see Edwyn play his songs in this stripped down acoustic way again in the future.