Search This Blog

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Love, death, family and the soundtrack to our lives

This is not going to be a normal sort of blog update. (Whatever normal is.)
More a rambling monologue, but I will try and section bits off so people can skip to what they are interested in.
Prior to starting I will say that I hope people can appreciate that this is in fact a blog, and not simply a website devoted to music.
Regular readers will be aware of this.
So while there are reviews and interviews there have also been short stories, political rants and posts of a more personal nature.
Some like it, some don't, some understand where I am coming from, while others find it difficult to get to grips with what is going on.
I have had emails praising me for the anarchic no rules aspect of the blog, and equally some have urged me to make it more consistent.
Of course all correspondence is welcome and opinions valued.
Then again that doesn't mean that I will act on any advice given.
That's pretty much a given.
So let's leave it at that and get into this.

Okay, the last few weeks have been a somewhat of a mixed bag with the highs being very high and the lows being...well pretty damn low.
The main thing that has happened is that my uncle has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It's at an advanced stage and apart from providing him with pain relief there's nothing much can be done.
He's the pragmatic sort so there's a great deal of stoic acceptance on his part going on.
What will be will be could be his unspoken mantra.

I would like to think that I could emulate his bravery if similar happened to me, but who can honestly say how they would react until the day comes.
This news has however had me thinking a great deal about family.
Once he passes that is the generation of males that my father belonged to gone
I will then be the oldest male in the family.
A sobering thought.
It doesn't feel like a chapter closing, but the last pages of a book in a series coming to an end.
There is another volume, but his passing will have a finality to it that if I am honest I keep trying to put to the back of my mind.

It would be fair to say that after my father he is the only other male role model I really had, and while I am considered to be very much my fathers son there is a great deal of my uncle in me to.
Without a shadow of a doubt it is his love of music that is the main thing that others see in me.
There is a thread of music fanaticism that runs from my uncle to me, and from there it has been picked up by my son who carries the torch in a certain sense.
My father enjoyed music, but it could never have been described as something we shared a love for.
We connected on other levels, but music wasn't one.
That shared love of rock and roll was/is reserved as the connection between my uncle and me.
You can't miss it,
Very clearly the defining link in the family chain that joins my uncle and myself apart from blood is this love of music.
There's really no getting away from it.
One of my earliest memories is sitting in his home with over-sized headphones on my little preschool head and listening to everyone from The Stones to Elvis, and The Kinks to Johnny Cash.
Thinking back it's now over forty years since I tonelessly sang along to the songs too much amusement from my parents.
There's been a great deal of water flowed under the bridge since then though.
So much that often it doesn't bear thinking about.

Apart from a great deal of water there's also a great deal that I would like to say about how my father and uncle shaped me as a man, but it's difficult.
So difficult that I was actually in two minds about posting anything about this at all.

Then I thought about how eulogies are often tempered with a need not to speak ill of the dead, and how very often there is a need for a positive editing job done on anything that is said in hindsight about those who have died.
It's with that in mind that I then thought I should say something now rather than later.
Something that is mainly for myself, but can't be construed as having a positive spin as it could be it it was said after his death.
I toyed with a few approaches and considered how to phrase it all, but ultimately it would all just be the meat layered over the bones of what basically needs to be said.
The bones being that I want to just say that I love and respect him, and that when the time comes I will miss him.
I will miss him very much.

I'm never sure if talking about things like this makes others feel uncomfortable, but that just takes us back to the start of the update and the thinly veiled point being made that I don't really care.
There's still a bit of me that thinks when I up posts that all I am doing is shouting and muttering stuff into a void.

So with that now out of the way we can now step forward into our shared passion that is music.
My uncle would probably skipped all that and started here anyway.

It's been a while since I have managed to be able to set aside the time to write anything on the bands and artists that I have seen and heard.
In fact I don't seem to have had much time to do quite a few things that I really should have.
The solution may be to register myself as a company and have the government provide me with an allocation of workfare employees, although the words workfare and employee don't feel as if they should naturally go together. so maybe not.

Sweethearts of the prison rodeo
Last night I was in the 13th Note to see a band called Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, and with a name like that how could I really look to go and see anyone else who was playing anywhere else in Glasgow?
I may be wrong, but without checking I will hazard a guess that they are named after a documentary about cowgirls in prison who compete in penitentiary rodeos.
Although I have no idea why, and maybe it is best not to ask.
The band are from Falkirk - as you would expect from the name (Aye right) - and are more a collective than an actual band.
This being the case it makes it difficult to pigeon hole them as myriad influences proliferate the material.
There was a bit of Booker T, a smattering of Roky Erickson, some garage rock and roll mixed with a post punk attitude going on, and that was just in the one song.
Elsewhere there's some poetry, the topic of the low sperm count in a rabbit to be discussed in song, a bit of socialist rancour and a warehouse of kitchen sinks to be cast into the mix.
To say I was impressed would be an outrageous understatement.
I went to see them based on a casual trawl through the venue listings to see what was on and finding a partially bonkers description of them that turned out to have just been an honest appraisal.
Well worth the four quid admission and I'm looking forward to wrapping my ears around their debut CD and the split cassette that I bought.
Next time our paths cross it will be a more deliberate undertaking on my part as we need artists like this to serve as the flipside of the mainstream coin.
They are the perfect palette cleanser after a day of having heard vacuous chart music being played out in the background as we traipse through our lives.

The Shires
Sadly I missed Ayrshire band 'The Shires' play in Pivo, ( but I did catch the soundcheck of their acoustic set and the positive talk about them is something that shouldn't be considered as hype.
There's an impressive slack jawed delivery of the material that is infectiously insolent in the style of a Johnny Rotten or Liam Gallagher.
That's not to say that the band sound like the Pistols or Oasis, but there's a swaggering attitude that the band share with them that many try to copy, but few actually carry off.
A great deal of it is appears to be the sound of Britpop devoid of any sheen.
Instead it's been torn apart and then rebuilt with more functional muscle added to it.
Considering this was the acoustic set getting an airing it would be naïve to consider that the electric set wouldn't deliver harder.

Scarlet Shift/Colour Coded/Quinny
Going back a bit the last show that was consistently good was the Scarlet Shift/Colour Coded/Quinny outing in Pivo.
Unfortunately it was a show that suffered badly from an audience arriving late in the evening to see Scarlet Shift rather than looking to sample what else was on offer.
It was akin to how people turn out to see the main act on a large tour and make no effort to see the supports.
Unfortunately in this case it means that they missed two acts who were every bit as good as Scarlet Shift and that they would have very probably enjoyed just as much.
Quinny ( played an acoustic solo set that served to confirm to me that given the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time he would be considered as star quality.
His songwriting, musicianship and stage presence is on par with any successful singer songwriter that you could care to mention, but as a bonus he has a great cross over appeal that could see his material attract a wide spectrum of listeners.
Similarly it wouldn't be too difficult to imagine Colour-Coded ( gracing festival stages and performing in front of masses of fans.
It just seems to be the next logical step forward in their career as while they are treading the much trampled indie rock path they do have the songs and stage craft to put them a few steps ahead of the pack.
In fact scratch that.
It's not just a few steps ahead.
They may as well be the dots disappearing over the horizon in the eyes of the competition.
Scarlet Shift ( are in the same enviable position to.
If you want to look for one small thing to critique then you would be wasting your time.
Blurring the lines between rock and pop they are writing anthems that have wide mainstream appeal written all over them.
I'm praying that they break through as pop music is in danger of taking its disposable nature far too seriously.
The mainstream charts need to have a band like Scarlet Shift introduced to the world so that they can claw back some artistic integrity before the labels create a perfect storm of blandness scenario.
Photographs from this show can be found at Gobo Photography

Rank Berry/Soul Remover/For What You're Worth
The rock scene of late has been struggling under the weight of all the hardcore bands whose power chords are hammered out in the bowels of hell.
Every amp is on eleven and every vocalists has to sound like Linda Blair revisiting her role in the Exorcist, but via the labour ward.
Or in other words there's a great deals of grunting, squealing and motherfuckers sucking cocks in hell thrown about.
So thankfully both Soul Remover ( and Rank Berry ( steer clear of that and instead look to go down a more melodic route to entertain us.
I've not been shy in my praise of Rank Berry previously and there was nothing on show in this performance that would lead to me to distance myself from what I have said in the past.
While the rock and roll they play has a classic sound to it we can't help but hear it with fresh ears as so few others are doing similar.
Meanwhile Soul Remover are solid in their understanding of what makes good rock music and are not shy in delivering it to us.
While grunge music was the response to a rock world that was disappearing under a cloud of hairspray and lip gloss you could argue that Soul Remover have refused to entertain turning their back on the punk sleaze attitude of that era, and instead just took it into the gym and pumped it full of steroids and put it back out on the streets while telling it to walk like a man.
It's a macho thrill ride, but not in any misogynistic sense.

Both acts are a breathe of fresh air in what is increasingly becoming a stagnant scene
For What Worth ( are a whole different story again.
While they are a rock band they operate on a different level.
While we are all aware of the pop punk scene that came out of the US these young guys are more indie punk.
This is the sound of a band raised on Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys melding that UK indie rock genre to a more US based punk one while neatly giving the shiny teeth and smiley pop angle a body swerve.
It's difficult to watch them and appreciate that this is a band who are just setting out into the world.
Close your eyes and they sound like seasoned veterans who are finally drawing all their talents together to make something special.
Definitely an act to watch out for.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

No Mean City Special - Little Fire Interview

Wooooh. Damien Rice eh? We know each other Jamie so let's me this a bit more informal. So how the hell did that come about? One minute I'm talking to you online and you are packing to go to Switzerland and the next there's photos of you and him performing on the grass like a pair of hippies, and then footage is upped of you singing Hallelujah with him.
Not a bad day for you?

Helloooo! Not a bad day at all.
I was invited at the start of the year to play at the Blue Balls Festival in Luzerne in Switzerland in July - Luzerne is incredibly beautiful - and I’d been excited all year about performing at it.
It’s a definite highlight in my career so far as the line-up included Damien Rice, Elvis Costello, James Morrison, John Legend and a host of acts from around the world who are considered to be at the breaking artist level.
I was certainly in some esteemed company.
It’s the sort of opportunity that comes along and you have to grab at it.

The festival itself turned out to be a wonderful experience.
An event that’s full of real heart and soul.
The energy of the place is amazing and it just felt like the real deal.
I was singing on the KKL Plaza Stage just outside the Concert Hall in Luzerne.
I was on for three hours in fantastic heat on the hottest day of the year so far in Switzerland - I think it was about 35degrees.
The reception from the audience was fantastic. The Swiss are really appreciative and very giving with their attention.
Then during the third hour of the set I saw Damien Rice in the audience watching and I was understandably wowed at this as it wasn’t just a case of him casually walking past.
After I had finished I received a text message from his management asking me if I would like to go backstage and then join Damien on stage at his concert.
I think he was actually almost late for his concert as he was watching me.
I didn’t have to think about how to respond to that.
So after agreeing I was led backstage to his concert and it just felt like I was in a film.
Maybe it’s just me, but I often feel that life often does when it’s at its best, the most real moments feeling rather surreal for their brilliance.
I really did feel that I was viewing myself playing a part in a story.
He came backstage after a fantastic rendition of ‘The Blower’s Daughter’ and asked me if I’d like to join him on stage - inviting me to sing one of my own songs before duetting on Leonard Cohen’s classic ‘Hallelujah’.
Strangely enough I wasn’t nervous at all,
In hindsight I should have been, but I wasn’t.
I’ve done many many hundreds of gigs and performances, all hugely varied in style and space but with this one it just felt so right, so absolutely right and I felt incredibly fired up after singing for three hours earlier on in the day, not phased, not tired or nervous, just thinking that this was absolutely a perfect moment, and it really did feel like it.
For Damien to invite me to sing at his concert is something I’ll always be incredibly grateful for, it was a wonderful experience and his audience were hugely appreciative of me.
To sing with him was an absolute joy, I thought our voices blended very well and I just felt out cloud 9 at the time, I still do.

After the concert we relaxed a wee bit backstage before going outside of the concert hall to speak to people, it felt absolutely brilliant, I felt like I’d been brought into something very special and the energy in the air was electric ( or highly acoustic ). We took a walk down to the local park where we performed his songs together, my songs together, improvising on each and making up new songs completely as topics and themes were suggested to us by the rather lovely group of people who had gathered with us in the park that evening. “ Have you seen the moon” was one completely new improvised song we came up with taking turns to come up with verse and melody and it was a brilliant experience to have Damien sing with me for my song ‘All I Need in Life’, there’s footage of it on You Tube and I think our voices are actually brilliant together.
Can you imagine what it would be like if I had listened back days later and it was terrible.
It doesn’t bear thinking about, but I like it.
I really enjoyed improvising, and I think it’s a big part of my nature, so to be playing music, singing and improvising with Damien Rice was a pure joy in itself.
It was just great fun rather than it being a taxing or nervy experience.
The man himself is brilliant and was great fun to be around.
I genuinely couldn’t say one negative thing about him.
A lovely guy.
After the show we went back to the hotel for his reception and then partied into the night in the grand surroundings of the Schweizerhof Hotel.
There was nothing exclusive about it and it was brilliant to party with some new found friends who had been at the concert and the park gathering.

So the festival as a whole was a bit of a blast?
The festival was absolutely brilliant it really was. The staff are all volunteers and my artist liaison Nik was brilliant at showing me around Luzerne.
 It sounds like a cliché, but I really did meet so many lovely locals who have become new frinds who I will be keeping in touch with.
Was this connection with Damien a one off, or are there plans for anything else?
We’ve been in contact since the festival and whilst there are no concrete plans to collaborate officially just as yet I’m sure that our paths will cross again on a nearby shore at some point. 
When situations like this come up you must be thinking in the aftermath that pretty much anything is possible? Then in the cold light of day reality probably bitch slaps you as find yourself looking for a coffee with only change rattling about in your pocket. Would that be a fair perception of it?
I’d have to say I strongly agree with your first point and strongly disagree with the second point, if there’s anything I’ve truly learned the value of appreciating over the past few years it’s that anything really is possible for me and that nothing should be discounted as being out of bounds in the realms of possibility.
I’ve always known inside that good things were going to happen, I just wasn’t sure exactly what or with who.
The events of the past few years have really reinforced that feeling of self-belief and forging a real sense of the self-fulfilling prophecy within me. I believe we can all do things which truly rock our worlds and that we are only limited by our imagination and our own apathies.
I do believe that vision, focus, positivity, talent, application and desire form a big part in achievement as opposed to it being a case of chance or ‘luck’ or even good fortune. I think you can make yourself considerably more likely to enjoy particular things if you really drive towards them with an open heart and an open mind. Little in life is set in stone but if your resolve is firm and you know in your heart that you want to do certain things in life well you’ll find your way won’t you?
So when you are in the cold light of day with just enough change to get a coffee, then there’s always the coffee to be savoured, and the sun and the memories.
It’s all good.
I’m not a complete dreamer though. I’m a realist to an extent to, but I think we have to be realistic about what that even means. I just think it’s important to believe in yourself, yet be quite self-aware and be honest with yourself about what it is you want to do, or where you want to go.
That self-realisation is a big part of any journey and surely plays a role in all the best journeys. The cold light of day reality in my mind is that things have never been more exciting, things have never been more possible, and I’ve never been more positive about life than I am right now.
It works for me. I never knew when I was younger that I would share stages with people who I’ve looked up to for such a long time but I would never have said it definitely won’t happen. I think being open to the possibilities in life is key.
So onto more positives. You have something lined up with Admiral Fallow don't you? That's got a quality stamp on it hasn't it? Do you see it as another stepping stone towards something special on the horizon?
I’ll be playing my next adventure in Glasgow on Friday 13th September at Broadcast as part of the No Mean City Festival. I’m looking forward to it for sure. I think the gig in October with Andrew Roachford in Edinburgh will be a real high for me to, I love that man.
Speaking about special things on the horizon. Where's the album? How long have you been promising me this? It feels like you told me that you were recording an album as far back as in a past life. I would need regressive hypnosis to go back far enough to recall exactly when you first mentioned it.
It’s been a long time in the making, maybe too long, maybe there’s no such thing coming at all. (Joking)
I feel like it’s been important to me to have had this journey that I’ve had so far before doing this, as if each experience with the music has been a part of the patchwork of me that I’ve needed to get together before I do it.
I’ve been writing songs as I go through the past few years and I just wanted to be really sure I had the songs, the right ones for the album.
I think I’ve been promising you the album for quite some time now.
I just want to make sure it’s really good and I’m absolutely ready, and now I am ready.
I’ve picked out the places where I want to record it and I’ve the musicians in place. I don’t enjoy recording studios all that much and have vouched to record in a number of different places, interesting places that inspire me or ones I’m hugely comfortable in. I don’t find recording studios to be that comfortable a space.
They’re often way too clinical and I don’t feel especially relaxed being boxed in.
It's been a funny old trip hasn't it. From supporting JLS to The Secret Sisters. Opening for Joan Armatrading and playing with Damien. When you focus on the high points it's not been too bad has it?
It’s fantastic man, absolutely fantastic, blows my mind in fact, and this is just the beginning of the beginning. I’ll be singing my whole life and I will one day look back and the adventures and experiences of right now will still be part of the beginning.
If my career is a long road then I’ve just laced up my boots and taken the first couple of steps.
I know I’m going places, I don’t always know exactly where, but for sure I am. There’s so much possibility and scope so why not!
So what's happening next. You finally going to go on the road and tour. A real tour either as a supporting act or a headliner. Is that the plan?

Once this CD is done I’m going for it. My hope is to join a tour basically. Be a support to an artist that I can feel connected to.
That’s one idea and I think it could be the next step. I’m contacting a few people just now.

I have a dream team of people I would like to work with in terms of management and in terms of record label and in terms of going on the road with and I aim to follow these roads of possibility as far as they will go. Dream a little dream hey.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Best song I have heard today and I've heard a lot of good songs.

Belladrum - Tartan Heart 2013

The tartan heart is shaped like a balloon and Banksy's little girl is watching it flutter away.
That's the image on the t-shirt and it's a representative image of the festival itself.
A bit cheeky, a bit anarchic, a bit of a mirror holding itself up for us all to see ourselves in.
Twin Atlantic and Seasick Steve were the big hitters of the Friday night, but I didn't get there until the Saturday
Not to worry though as with the summer still hanging in there it was the perfect opportunity to grab at one of the last festivals of the year.
So after a quick stab at orientating myself I struck out and first full band of the day that I sampled were the absolutely fantastic Three Blind Wolves.
Think about Biffy Clyro being filtered through an Americana kaleidoscope and you might just be getting close to what the band are all about.
Bit of post hardcore with pop sensibilities wrapped in a country twang.
The live show crackles with energy and it was no surprise that for an early afternoon slot they pulled a solidly appreciative crowd to them.
Next was a seat in the comedy tent where we were abused in the nicest possible way by Billy Kirkwood who is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best compères on the circuit.
An Ayrshire man he may be, but we wont hold that against him.
With his quick witted style of comedy he soon managed to make everyone feel equally comfortable as he tried his damnedest to get kids to swear, and that's a massive talent it itself.
Wee Man could very easily trade in his Burberry cap and career as a comedian for one as a rapper as his rhymes are pretty sharp, and full kudos has to go to the beatboxing audience member who did a rather impressive job of backing him up.
It can't all be fun and games though as the Fleetwood Mac tribute band did their level best to night nurse us all to sleep after that.
Thankfully The Noisettes weren't up for taking any prisoners and once again highlighted to anyone who would lend them an ear that they are one of the most accomplished artists doing the festival circuits.
While the pop hits may have been yesterdays news this is an act who deserve a long career in the sunshine so please don't let them fade away to reside in the where are they know columns of the music mags.
Get on board and shake yer booty to them and hang in there as we deserve a band as good as this in our lives.
James were of course a crowning glory.
My last experience of them was one that is best forgotten due to it being a set that was sunk by ongoing technical problems that had nothing to do with the band themselves.
This time it was note perfect though.
Tim Booth was in fine form and lyrically we should be celebrating his genius while applauding the work the band put in behind him.
They managed to create an atmosphere that is special to festivals.
A large moment of communal bliss that swept through the crowd and ended the night on a solid highpoint.
Fair play Belladrum.

Not a bad anniversary party at all.

Photograph used without permission.
I tried to find Paul Campbell who took it, but failed.
However I am happy to credit him and if anyone does know him please feel free to highlight that I have used his photograph and if there is an issue I will of course remove it as I appreciate that this is his work.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

No Mean City Special - Blindfolds interview

It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride for you guys, and currently the plaudits are coming in hard and fast.
Has the speed that you are drawing attention to yourselves come as a bit of a surprise?

 (Stuart) - People keep saying this to us, but it really doesn't feel that sudden, we spend 20 hours a week in the studio. At the same time we're thankful we're even getting to play some of the shows we're getting on.

The emergence of a band into the public eye – especially one of tender years – can often draw some negative attention with claims that it's all just hype, but you have consistently shown that you can walk the walk rather than talk the talk.
Is maintaining artistic credibility, as opposed to reaching for celebrity status, an attitude that you feel you have to solidly maintain?

(Conor) - Yes, there's a lot UK bands falling out of hip music blogs as fast as they rise. We try to keep things as they come from us, we're not going to change because some teenage hype band fan doesn't like it. Primarily it's all about the songs though, we'd put some of our new songs up against anyone.

There's some heavy duty influences on show in the music.
Lots of late seventies to early eighties punk bands keep making an appearance.
Bands that had some bite to them.
Do you consider that has broadened your appeal to an extent?
It does seem that for every fan who could be viewed as a peer of the band that there are equally older music lovers letting your name trip from their lips to?

(Conor) - We all grew up on punk, so i think it's really important to keep those ties tight to our music. I remember looking at the Strummers and Lux Interiors from my parents record collection and thinking you didn't have to be ridiculously good looking to be in a band. We think it's great that some older people are coming along to the shows, it's sort of a nod in the right direction from the people that showed us the music in the first place.

Where did your influences come from?
For many it's a parental/older sibling thing, but for others it's a voyage of discovery.
Someone listens to BRMC or Primal Scream and then moves on to reading an interview with the band paying homage to their influences in it, and that then leads to fan to check them out, and from that introduction it's becomes a long - but enjoyable - trip into the past.
And of course it can be a bit of both.
Where do you guys sit within that?

(Conor) - Rock n Roll is a carrying on of a tradition, all the way back to the delta, people have heard something with a kick and added something on. I think that's very important though, giving it a spark of youth and relevance, you could go see endless niche bands covering blues and 50's rock and roll all night and it would just sound like the Eddie Cochran records, but not as good. You've got to take the root of your influences but still remember what you are about, and what you are trying to say, keep it fresh and free of pigeonholes. But that tradition of digging back into the roots is amazing, it's helped us all discover great music, and it stands the same for Hip-Hop and Electronic too.

Just for a second collectively can you sit back and think about how things are going for you all.
Is there a surreal feel to it all?

(John) - We're trying not to look at where we are, it's great we're being able to actually do this, but we're keeping our heads down and not looking around.

How was the T in the Park show?
Is that the highlight of the year for the band so far?
Realistically it's every young Scottish bands dream to play there isn't it?

(Stuart) - That show was great, we were completely blown away by the reception. It is a milestone in any band's life, i know when we started it was one of ours, but T Break for most Scottish bands it seems to be the be all and end all of being in a band, that it's the peak of a Scottish artists career. I think more artists need to see it as a stepping stone, a great opportunity, but one that can lead to more exciting things.

(Conor) - I agree.

So you have a slot on the No Mean City bill next.
That's a bit of a far reaching festival that is shaping up to be rather special.
Are you looking forward to that, and what's your expectations from making an appearance as part of the line up?

(John) - We're all looking forward to that show, there'll hopefully be a lot of people there who wouldn't usually jump in to see us play, hopefully people will like it.

Once the tour with Drenge is finished what's the plan of action.
Are you booked in for some studio time, could there be some headlining dates on the cards?

We've got an A / B side single dusted off ready to release, we'll hopefully have that out before October.