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Friday, 30 March 2012

AQNI Mini Music Fest - Brown Bear and the Bandits/Randolph's Leap/Michael Cassidy/Fole - Stereo (28/3/12)

It's been a while since I've been in Stereo.
Truth be told there's not been a great deal going on in the venue that has piqued my interest since Michael of Wrecking Pit Promotions upped sticks and fled the country for pastures new.
However with Brown Bear and the Bandits launching their debut EP there it would have been worth laying a bet that I would be darkening their doorway sooner rather than later.
Among others, I've been championing their corner since I first heard them do an acoustic set in Ayr's Su Casa.
So I wasn't going to miss out on the night that would be the culmination of all their hard work to date.
For those who don't know, Brown Bear and the Bandits have been paying their dues on just about every stage, and every corner of every pub going for the last twelve months now, and right at this moment in time it would appear that they are on the cusp of reaping the rewards for doing so.
You can tell that everything is going according to plan as it would be fair to say that for a Wednesday night in Glasgow that Stereo is pretty busy.
Pretty damn busy in fact.
Far busier than most would expect when the headlining act has not been spawned from the dear green place.
That in itself is an achievement, but when the band themselves are met with a resounding cheer when they take to the stage you can just tell that something special is happening.
It's the sort of response that is usually reserved for the darlings of the NME and their peers.
The here today and gone tomorrow acts that are thrown forth to the music machine as the latest great white hopes.
Cannon fodder to the indie loving kids.
This is different though.
There's no media manipulation at play.
No deep pockets of a record label to be dipped into for promotion.
This is just the old fashioned, and more laudable, results of building up a solid grass roots following and making a real connection with an audience through the pure unadulterated performance of the music itself.
When Matt, Stuart and Kay tear into the first song of the set you can immediately feel that they are hitting the ground running and enjoying the experience as much as those in the audience are.
For all the times that I have previously seen them play this is the first that I've had the pleasure of seeing Kay behind a drum kit as opposed to playing the Cajon.
The difference is night and day to the sound.
Everything opens up and the music sounds that much bigger, louder and muscularly more urgent.
Meanwhile as she provides the driving beat out front Stuart is tossing his hair about and laying down solid bass lines while Matt holds it all together with a very wide grin on his face.
As the night continues there isn't a dip in the quality as all the songs from the EP get an airing along with older favourites.
In a conversation I had with a random guy we were talking about how sometimes when people say a band are good what they really mean is that they are good for a band who are playing a pub or club, and not necessarily a band that could be considered good if playing the biggest stages in the world...........but that's not the case here.
Brown Bear and the Bandits have the ability to cross over to a much larger audience without really breaking much of a sweat.
So remember. You read it here first, or if not then second or third or whatever.
I'm just glad that I'm experiencing this band early doors.
Prior to Brown Bear and the Bandits we all got to see Randolph's Leap.
They're a sixteen legged groove machine. Eight members strong and featuring a small horn and strings section.
There's no point trying to hang your hat on a reference point musically.
It's a sprawling mess of fantastic musical influences that probably shouldn't work, but does.
At points it's a tad whimsical and at others more serious, but while the material is well rooted in telling a story in the folk tradition, there's very little folky about what the band do.
If there was ever a band that lent themselves to people saying 'you had to be there' then it's Randolph's Leap.
Any band that can get me tapping a foot and cracking a smile out is all right in my book and I hope our paths cross again in the near future.
Maybe next time I'll be able to wrap my head around them and mention something more cohesive for people to get their teeth into.
Meanwhile I'd recommend you check them out.
Before Randolph's Leap it was another performer that I'd heard a great deal about, but up until this point hadn't actually seen, called Michael Cassidy.
Once he started it was no surprise to me that others have been throwing his name in my direction as a young man to lend an ear to.
His vocals are firmly Scottish sounding without pandering to the current angle that many others are going for.
Instead of it coming across as if he is pushing it with an affected turn of phrase I would say he has a far more natural sound as he performs his eloquently crafted lightly folk influenced songs.
As a song writer he has the admirable ability to make a real connection with those he is performing to.
I could imagine that in more intimate setting the impact of his performance would have been magnified and provided those watching with some really special memories to take home with them.
Opening act of the night was Ayrshire based Fole who similar to Brown Bear and the Bandits I've become a firm fan of.
Each time I've had the pleasure of seeing them I have noticed an incremental improvement in their performances.
There's no great leaps forward, but instead a steady and solid step in the right direction that bodes well for their future.
On this outing the three piece had swelled to a four piece with the addition of a female vocalist called Louise and this is the evidence of how they are gradually getting better and better.
It wouldn't have immediately sprung to my mind that the music required an additional singer, but there was no doubting that it's a move that has worked.
It doesn't matter that I hadn't considered it as they had and it shows that they know what they are doing.
It's not that the material has been drastically changed, but more so that it's been complimented by the addition of her voice.
An analogy would be that she was the missing piece of the jigsaw that no one noticed was actually missing.
It's a short set they play, but it's a compact one that shows off their skills as a band.
Two of the songs, Randoms and Shakespeare Says, work as gateway songs that will bring you in and allow you to get comfortable before moving on and discovering what other treasures they have tucked away.
Give it another year and I wouldn't be surprised if I was back in Stereo reviewing a Fole album launch and virtually saying the same about them deserving the success they have garnered due to the hard work and talent that they so obviously display.

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