Gig reviews

24th September 2014

Scotland to BM’s knowledge has to date suffered from a bit of a dearth of maxi-membered female combos (if you leave out the SNO chorus), however this is about to change. Olive Grove records signings Skinnydipper have 7 (or possibly 8 on a good day) female members (on many, many instruments) and one bloke, on drums. It is a fairly unique proposition and one that has been getting them plenty of attention recently, the Vic Galloway show and the Evening Times being among those who have covered this EP launch.

BM was not even supposed to be here, taking a rare night off the relentless search for good music for that other relentless search for…a man. Stood up in Cheetah (bloody Grindr), all dressed up and nowhere to go, spotted (and that’s an unintentional Cheetah pun, readers, they just keep on coming) in the trusty Evening Times (that’s two mentions already so may as well do a shout-out to Eve Times columnist and double date comrade in arms Michelle McManus, only joking readers, that is BM’s credibility well and truly sunk…) that “post-indie girl-pop stringcore”(their own words) comb Skinnydipper were on in Stereo. It was on the way to the bus stop home so well, what the hang…turned out to be a good decision.

The heels were flipping killing me by this time as BM tottered down the stairs into the Stereo basement, where SD were already in full flight onstage. The usual nine-piece line-up was slightly diminished with one call-off/casualty, didn’t catch who or the reason, but the visual impact was still quite arresting, a bit like the Corrs * 3, with a lot of hair (in a good way, girls) and strings everywhere, although BM sincerely hopes the drummer does not hold any of the bonkers views of Mr Jim Corr, obviously all that time on tour with the sisters fried his brain, look him up people under “lizard conspiracy”, and we’re not talking Jim Morrison…) Sound mix was not bad considering the limitations of the venue and the combination of electric, acoustic and harmonies. A wee hint of Belle and Sebastian before they turned professional or possibly Second Hand Marching Band, probably the last en masse combo BM has seen in a small venue. We have drums, bass, guitar, cello, fiddle, vocals, vocals/keyboard and, oh that’s seven, there are some pillars in front of the stage so think we’ve lost someone, apologies…

So SD – tons of musical talent on the stage, they are a bit nervous but also funny, the songs range between delicate close-harmony and strings numbers (some Joanna Newsome tendencies, but again, in a good way) – many of these musicians are on-loan/moonlighting from other local combos, too many to mention here but check out the biog on the Olive Grove website.

There were also a couple of more anthemic tracks (when they plugged in the bass and the drummer got going) and BM even caught a hint of Biffy in one of the choruses, this can only be a good thing though – BM did spot one very well-known face in the crowd (won’t name-drop on this occasion), let’s just say BM doubts they are going to be short of bookings next year. And they are versatile enough for a few Celtic Connections support slots in the bigger venues, looking forward to it.

The gig was topped off (no encore, think they had run out of stuff to play!) by an explanation from one of the main vocalists (not going to name-check you all, it’s not even 8 in the morning as BM writes this and that would need a lot more coffee) about the history of the combo and reason for their current good spirits. The band started allegedly in some cupboard in the West End, with the guitarist (who writes the material) and one or maybe two vocalists, their chief obsession being the work of US film-maker Cameron Crowe. The first batch of songs they did were entirely named after lines/references in CC movies (Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire etc) although by the time of tonight’s gig only one of these survives, and they admit it was not the most viable strategy in pop. The icing on the cake however was that recently they sent some of the recent songs to CC and were rewarded with a “I love this” tweet from the great man. “Just about made my life” said the narrator tonight, to cheers and giggles from the audience. And this combo does giggle a lot, Betty is all for giggling and this was an unexpected but really enjoyable evening.

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8th September 2013

What should we expect from the Music Language Festival? Well, the unexpected for starters. (more…)

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27th August 2013

Despite being a bit of a Doune ‘veteran’ (having attended the last three incarnations of the four-year-old festival) there’s always a pause on arriving for first impressions of the site – since ‘Doune’ is no longer eponymous, having moved from the castle grounds to Doune to Carron Valley – and now to this new location on the Cardross Estate near Menteith.

And following last year’s sprawling location in a hillside fort, we’re back to the feel of that first fest – nicely compact with everything within easy walking distance. (As an aside, a certain website which shall remain nameless generously previewed the festival but tried to divert revelers to Doune Castle. On first viewing there is admittedly a slight feeling of deja vu, so they could be forgiven – ok, maybe not, but certainly the new arena harks back more to the original site and less to last year’s, where the main feature was the rivers of mud which snaked their way down the hill.

Happily, the weather’s fine on this occasion. And We Are The Physics are luring us towards the main (Jabberwocky) stage. A band always worth seeing, they have gone from sharp staccato tunes to a fuller sound with big, swaggering choruses. They still do that old trick of ‘freezing’ mid-song – part of an almost legendary live act (at least in Glasgow circles). As is often the case at festivals they do a longer set than usual meaning that they can slip in a cover version and also throw the stage open to a random guitarist – christened “Brian”, he shows a neat line in classic rock riffs which adds to the good-natured chaos onstage. This was apparently the last show from the band before their “indefinite hiatus” but hopefully they’ll be back, bigger and louder.

As with any festival, there are choices to be made. Fruit wine or cider? Wood-fired pizza or risotto? No Island or Esperi? The latter turns out to be “no contest” as the close pronimity of the Baino Tent to the Inspire stage means that the former’s visceral rock would easily trump Chris Lee-Marr’s delicately-looped folktronica. Though it turns out that Esperi were delayed in traffic somewhere between Dundee and Perthshire. Narrow escape.
Rick Redbeard, having navigated the backroads from Glasgow, suffers a similar fate, this time at the hands of the Jeremiah Weed mini-stage, which as far as anyone can tell, is a kind of guerilla gig intent on drowning out anything within earshot with a bar band playing INXS covers. The Phantom Band’s mainman, however isn’t fazed by this intrusion, engaging extra percussion – a tambourine – to drown them out, and seems in fine spirits.
He dedicates a marvellous version of ‘Now We’re Dancing’ to some newly engaged friends, and in his laid-back drawl describes the US town where he acquired his trademark hat (“from Pig, Kentucky”) and finally auctions a copy of his album (the winning bid is “£10 and a hand job” to which Redbeard replies: “I’ll not force you to give me the… tenner”.) The music? Oh, superb as usual with ‘All My Love’ and a closing ‘No Selfish Heart’ among many high points.

Over at the Inspire Stage, Vereor have a full run without being disturbed – though their sonic assault is perhaps less likely to be troubled than many. Post rock is probably the pigeonhole of choice, though they mix up loud/quiet with fast/slow – I was going to describe them as “restrained” but their last song blows us away with all three barrels. (The band have now changed their name because their old monicker was “pish” – you can now find them operating as Codex.

As regular readers will know, we are legally obliged to refer to Haight Ashbury’s “sunny Californian sounds”. So they may seem a risky main stage choice, given the usual driech Stirlingshire summer. Perhaps anticipaing the deluge, their sound seems to have changed a little, bass-heavy and a bit more Seattle than San Francisco. Either way, ‘Rest And Be Thankful’ is an enjoyably apt tune.

Perhaps musically polar opposites, Girobabies do still tell tales of Scottish life – a thrashy four-piece, the best feature of their set is the good-natured sparring with the audience, and their song ‘Overheard in the West End’ – inspired by the titular remark “You can’t fully appreciate an oilspill until you’ve seen it on a high-definition tv”.

Back to the Main Stage where Meursault are in full band mode. This means that Neil Pennycook’s already massive voice is amped up to fully complement/compete with his backing cohorts. ‘Flittin’ is as intensely epic as it gets while ‘Hole’ is slow, quiet, and far from family friendly… and probably not festival-friendly either. Though as it happens, their take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ goes down the proverbial storm. My bad.

Unable (again) to resist putting acts in pigeonholes, I choose to dump Our Smallest Adventure into the one marked “post classical”. With song titles as long as the tunes themselves, their cello/violin mix makes for a towering sound.

Bands seem to have joined the bill from far and wide, with no apparent bias towards local talent. Arboteum are a case in point – Americans, they’re part of the Thrill Jockey roster, though more straight-ahead rock that, say, Tortoise or Trans Am. Though what subdivision of the genre should we place them in? There’s a feel of Neil Young to the songwriting (and possibly the beards), but this notion is set on its head by the thudding, Joy Division-style bass. Markedly intense, it’s easy to see why this foursome are mentioned in awestruck tones.

It’s at this point that I start to catch small snippets of acts on all four of the ‘official’ stages. Alasdair Roberts is on the Jabberwocky, bringing songs of love and death to a sizeable and hardcore following. Though since he’s ‘And Friends’ it means that even the death ballads have a jiggy edge to them thanks to Stevie Jones on bass and of course Rafe Fitzpatrick’s violin.
To the Inspire stage again for a quick dose of Bad Jokes – my scribbled notes suggest mainstream songwriting promise – ok, in fact, they say “Stereophonics sound, but descent into lad rock territory saved by cello”. Which sums them up pretty well, the strings making for a pleasingly unusual set.

If that is daming with faint praise, pity Iona Marshall -”nice tunes, nice voice”, though I do recall a decided lack of the nasal American drawl beloved of so many of our singer-songwriters.
Oh, The Hostiles are a five-piece ska-punk act from the USA, which is surely description enough? Oh, apparently not, they’re from Ayr, I’m told, though the singer IS from across the pond. There’s a certain generation of UK youth who grew up with the likes of Less Than Jake and their ilk who make up their audience on the Inspire Stage, while their big brothers may well be in the Baino Tent for Paws. A band who are made for small, sweaty tents (if not indie clubs). An unkempt three-piece making grungy, catchy pop… well, you do the cliches, suffice to say that even a cover of Meursault’s ‘William Henry Miller’ has Made in Seattle stamped all over it. Either way, they deliver one of the most thrilling sets of the weekend.

I may have suggested that local acts weren’t a major part of the lineup, so quite how the John Langan Band arrived at their heady slot on the bill was a mystery. However, seems they received this accolade on merit – or size of following. Whatever, a main stage-sized crowd gathers to see their take on folk – Scottish-style trad with a sizeable portion of gypsy jazz thrown in. (Edit: their biog suggests that they are from London, of all places).

Post punk. Now, if that meant a mix of post rock and punk rock, then it might sum up The Simian Line (not Bobby Holly as billed, which let’s face it would be a rubbish name for a band). They claim this is their first-ever gig, but that seems unlikely. Accomplished in the angular pop stakes, they also (when they choose to) make some very danceable tunes. Another (ahem) one to watch out for.

They’re by no means the last band to play (the programme seems to stretch pretty much into tomorrow morning) but our headliners are the swamp rock legends Gallon Drunk. In the darkened Baino Tent, the rammed area around the stage has the feel of a small club gig. One-time Bad Seed James Johnston‘s intensity as frontman for the act fits the surroundings pefectly, making an ideal way to top off day one.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Now, read the review of Saturday’s show

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1st September 2010

It’s been a while since I was at the Liquid Rooms. The venue has just opened after refurbishment following the fire in Christmas 2008, which badly burned the restaurant upstairs and the ensuing water damage affected the Liquid Rooms. But it’s great to see one of Edinburgh’s best venues up and running once more, a place where I have been more times than I can count in the nine years since I moved to Edinburgh.

First up tonight, the support act are the wonderful Sparrow and the Workshop. The Glasgow-based three-piece issued a fine debut in Crystals Fall. Their country-spaghetti-western feel (and I mean that as a compliment) wins the crowd over, with songs like ‘Crystals’ and ‘Into The Wild.’

Broken Records’ lead singer Jamie Sutherland talks about tonight as being a “happy sad occasion”. Sad, in the sense that Gill Dave ‘Gill’ Fothergill is leaving for “pastures new” while cellist Arne Kolb is returning to Germany for “reasons of love.” So it’s an emotion-packed show, which is utterly, utterly euphoric.
The set is interspersed with tracks from the new album Let Me Come Home and last year’s Until The Earth Begins To Part. Head Sparrow Jill O’Sullivan adds her bewitching vocals to one track which is one of those moments.

And over a year since the release of their debut record, still it weaves its magic. It’s still so sweet and fresh. Jamie dedicates ‘Wolves’ to Graeme from the Kays Lavelle for coming to see them and not Phoenix. Arne’s cello on ‘If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song It Would Sound Like This’ is described as being his finest hour with the band, and it most certainly is. Debut single ‘If The News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It’ and album opener ‘Nearly Home’ threaten to bring the roof off all over again.

They encore with a version of ‘Slow Parade’ which is more Buckley-esque than the album version (both Buckleys, since you ask). And we walk home, still on a high the next morning.

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28th August 2010

Another year, another Edinburgh Festival, another Edge festival. Last year we were confounded by the selection of the Electric Circus as a sub for the Liquid Rooms. Thankfully this year, ‘Rooms’ is open again. Never again will we have to experience The Phantom Band squeezed onto a postage stamp stage and singing through a rolled up paper tube. Oh…

OK, hats off to the venue for at least providing a venue of this size in the Capital. But, there are some things it’s just not suited to and this is one of them. We have the added bonus of being so jam-packed tonight (for such is the increasing rep of this band) that were Lothian’s fire officers not busy with every other impromtu sweatbox that pops up across the city at this time of year, I’m sure they would’ve shut this gig down.

And still they manage to rock. Yes, we lose all the drive and urgency of The Howling; and half the instruments on Crocodile (which admittedly has a helluva lot of instruments) are missing from the mix. But, the band pull through. There’s an palpable goodwill towards the band. Something their usual comfortable bonhomie only builds on. (Not to every other band in the world: share you booze with the audience. Always.) Still they can pull back some wins from the situation. Left Hand Wave has a blistering urgency and still Island can reduce the gaggling festivalistas to silence.

And then there there’s the new stuff. The two tracks we’ve previously seen performed have shaped up nicely. But, it’s the totally new one that wins the prize for the highlight of the night. Starts off like the Pet Shop Boys at their perkiest, ends like the perfomrance of Verdi’s Requiem at the end of time, and manages to do it so effortlessly you ould be excused for expecting all songs to do this. One day they will. Bring on the new album! And, the subsequent gigs in proper venues.*


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15th August 2010

“Why are they showing this?” jokes Craig B, noting that the enormous video wall behind them is showing The Shining, in all its nightmarish glory. The reason is of course that The Unwinding Hours (presumably an earlier, frilly-shirted incarnation) were the house band in Kubrick’s cautionary tale of life in the hotel trade.

Whether the hi-tech back projections in Edinburgh’s newest and glitziest indie venue work is open for debate. In this instance, it’s somewhere between a curiousity and a distraction with a constant temptation to check out the visuals, in case the live set is somehow in synch with the film, like Dark Side of the Moon and the Wizard of Oz aren’t.
Fortunately, in full flow The Unwinding Hours are always centre stage, whether via Craig B’s fragile yet impassioned vocal, or through sheer force of sound.
That TUH are a compelling live act is not in doubt, and the surroundings can’t change this. From the opening ‘Knut’ with its incremental buildup to the chant of “we can, we will, we must, get out”, through to a solo ‘Solstice’ that serves as a deserved encore, the focus is on the band who themselves are focused on their craft and united as part of a sonic juggernaut.

‘The Final Hour’ perhaps encapsulates the band – Craig jokes that they prefer to play the track to audiences that don’t know them, and yes, the element of surprise is (as Kubrick might tell you) key, as an aural onslaught hits you square in the chest following a oh-so-quiet build-up. Visually, it’s not quite in ’synch’ with the film, though some bloody explosions lend a suitably gothic air to proceedings.

But as the sound dies down and the final note sounds out Kubrick’s focus falls on Jack’s frozen head.
It’s almost too perfect, but the devoted audience demand an encore. They’re not to be disappointed as Craig returns to perform an Aereogramme tune he’s “had in my head all day” (’Messenger’) followed by ‘Solstice’. The full band then return, now in front of a hall of mirrors for the final denouement in ‘Peaceful Liquid Shell’.

As Craig remarks, Stephen King hated the movie version of his book. What he would have made of the ’soundtrack’ tonight is anyone’s guess, but I suspect The Unwinding Hours Mark 2 would have slotted into the Overlook Hotel’s function suite rather nicely.

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8th August 2010

Taking the train home from the city centre west-bound on Sunday, most commuters could easily be forgiven for having a “WTF?!” moment as they approached West Glasgow’s secluded Eastvale Place.
Firstly because of the pounding bass kicks that threatened to knock the carriage off the rails, and secondly because as the lazy Sunday commuter sped past on the tracks above, their senses would have been assaulted by the visual feast belting their eyes, and the tracks providing the rhythm to the event going on down below.

The event, programmed with one of the best line ups of electronic acts this summer, was The Electric Frog Street Carnival. Curated by the now retired (?) Optimo, it seems that since stopping their Sunday night Sub Club residency the hugely influential duo of JG Wilkes and JD Twitch have never had so much on their plate – the carnival being one of the highlights of a very busy year.

Void of gawdy neon flat bed trucks, Chinese dragons and feathery, peacock-like samba dancers, this was not your average carnival, but it was none the less glamorous. The dancers at Electric Frog were a different breed of movers: khaki carrot top jeans for the boys, long-trousered play suits that made the girls look like Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, big black glasses, small brown brogues, denim shorts, metal tees, and the obligatory 90’s raver, still wearing that floppy hat.

While the early bird punters hit the bar and got their faces painted [it is a carnival after all, despite the differences from your average street parade], those in the know – or lucky enough to be drawn to the Optimo stage by the early crowd – were checking out Factory Floor. Initially managing to get a few heads nodding with their Sonic Youth guitar screeches and whispered vocals from violin bow wielding singer Gabriel Gurnsey , it wasn’t long until the build up of her guitar bashing antics, heavy & dominating early Daft Punk-esque drums, and abrasive analogue synth loops got the front of the tent bouncing. Combined with the brilliant cut up live visuals of the band on huge screens rear of the stage, this early start to the evening was a triumph for the band and the promoters alike.

factory-floor-crowd_1229x922Still being early, most of the carnival goers were at the bar again, or checking out the different parts of the carnival whilst JD Twitch and JG Wilkes were giving a taster warm up for their main set later that evening.

Following this teaser, Liquid Liquid, the seminal 80’s New York post-punk group that Optimo took their name from were on stage. Set against a backdrop of cutting edge electronic music, the band seemed very dated at first, with their twangy bass guitar grooves and nonsensical lyrics. However, as their set progressed, patterns emerged, and it was easy to see how their legacy has inspired many: from the chants of James Murphy, to the cowbells of the Rapture; Liquid Liquid are the original dance-rock crossover band and deserve merit for helping to inspire and create the boundary jumping dance music we enjoy today.

And no-one jumps boundaries in electronic music quite like Sensu. The three of them seemed to enjoy the freedom of a live set, huddled around glowing Macs and samplers, triggering patterns but never following them, they were creating architected blocks of sound, and demolishing them as soon as they liked. It’s the kind of dance music you’d want to live in.

crowd-shot_1229x922As many of the punters did. Queuing in the 1-in-1-out system for an age to get into the Sensu room to see the hosts themselves, and also for the legendary Felix Da House Cat. For the unlucky ones who didn’t get to witness Felix cross the voids between genres like he had nine lives, there was Alter Ego on the Optimo Stage. Looking like Clark Kent Vs Slimer, they specialised in hard dance music that had the crowd going, and performing against the huge cut up live footage of themselves like the Old Grey Whistle Test gone crazy, they left a super hero sized trail of mayhem for Optimo to compound on.

And that the carnival leaders did, with and all batons twirling, all whistles blowing set. Pulling classic Optimo moves, they teased the crowd all night long with mash ups of familiar tunes mixed deep within dirty bass lines, bouncing drums, hissing snares and popping percussion, relentlessly pushing the crowd to dance as much as they could. And then more, when they dropped ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk as their set closer. JD Twitch and JG Wilkes should be commended for not only hosting such a cutting edge event, but after ten years in the circuits, still being pioneers in the electronic world.

If Optimo were the carnival leaders, Simian Mobile Disco were the daredevil act, leaping around a circular collection of monolithic analogue synths and futuristic electronic equipment, creating high-wire synth lines and huge washes to completely immerse yourself in like a safety net. These boys really know what makes our bodies move. With a huge back catalogue of well known hits and the excitement of this being their only Scottish appearance planned for this year, the atmosphere was electric, not just the music, and they eventually built up such a charge the train lines above probably won’t need powered for the next week.

If I was a commuter on the train above that day, I know where I’d be using my return ticket for straight away: Eastvale Place’s Electric Frog Carnival – a bullet train of innovation and excellence, shooting its way into the future.

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1st August 2010

What a tribute to David Cameron’s nonsense, two Scottish bands supporting a more renowned American band; which is basically how the Second World War was won, except that it isn’t in any way.

My Tiny Robots are notable for two things: the guitarist is wearing a Roxy Music t-shirt, and also their music, which straddles the somewhat familiar boundaries of folk and indie, sounds really good. There’s hints of the idiosyncrasies of a few 80s bands like Roxy Music, Orange Juice and Talking Heads mixed with more modern folk. The songs take on a appealingly wistful tone and it’s just very difficult to resist all the things this band offer.
Fortunately that’s okay.

Then there’s Jesus H. Foxx, who despite having a name that implies some sort of hip connection to Jamie Foxx, sound heavily influenced by bands like Pavement and fellow Jesus namedroppers The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Crowding the stage with seven musicians, they have vocal harmonies that are worth going to war for, and though that would probably seem like a rash decision in hindsight, it works really well alongside the almost apathetic lead vocal. They’re so good at their style of early 90s/late 80s indie that they could make an excellent impression of victims of a time travelling accident, or a band that decided to travel forward in time because that scene was too crowded or something, probably neither, they sound great.

Dum Dum Girls behave on stage as if their only prior exposure to Edinburgh was a few choice pages of Trainspotting and seem almost scared to talk to the audience – the brains of the operation, Dee Dee, offers only a few words of gratitude between songs over the entire set.
Still, their performance makes up for the lack of conversation. Powering through songs from debut album ‘I Will Be’, they breathe explosive energy into songs that seem a little bit reserved on record and every chorus is eagerly anticipated for the brief replete joy it will bring. There’s nothing at fault, there we have it – Dum Dum Girls: a very, very good live band. Hopefully future releases will reflect this too.

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27th July 2010

So, with the new no-go Scooter Tent, it’s just as well the organisers decided to put Wickerman faves More From Jim (Summerisle Stage) up on the big stage. Where, frankly, they’ve always belonged. The sunshine seems to think the festival’s over and we’ve got that weird misty rain thing that hits one day every couple of years. Thank god for this lot. For those not in the know MF-Jim purvey punky-ska. But, without any of the spiky posturing usually so evident therein. This band exist purely for the sheer-joy of the music. And, as such, they have 80% more bounce. We are now officially awake.

White Heath (Solus Tent) are marvelous. End of story. WH make epic folk music. Using a fairly eclectic collection of instruments they build a maelstrom of sound, underpinned by a deep melodicism. It’s hypnotic and ridiculously catchy at the same time. It’s like that big music you hear talk of. There’s a thin line between serious (both readings) intensity and pretentiousness. WH are not just walking that line, they’re doing back-flips down it. And artful and truly exciting band. A band that can only really bear comparison with The Phantom Band, insomuch as they’re making something truly unique from a solid folk base – the sound is completely different. It’ll take a lot to beat this as the best thing seen here this year.

Canada’s Grass Mountain Hobos (Summerisle Stage) play bluegrass. You know the kind that’s honed perfectly for events of this size. They’re damn fine too, thoroughly entertaining. You’re not interested? Ok, well move on then…

The worst name of the festival award has to go to The OK Social Club (Solus Tent). In fact, I’d already formed an opinion based on this and was going to give them a miss. But the rain came on. Thank you rain. They start with a number that seems unwise; its obviously their best. The big hooky beast. It’s usual to finish with the biggy. But, then they do another. And, another. I’ve been dragged to see The Wildhearts on numerous occasions. And, from what I was promised, I expected something like this – they never were. Every single one is a stone-clad first-in-the-air classic. Seriously. Honest, sweaty, rock and roll that passes the whistle test.

More bluegrass with Blueflint (Acoustic Village). No, come back! Been meaning to catch this duo for a while now. The judicious swapping of locations for the dance tents and acoustic village meant this wasn’t going to mean the trek it would’ve been in previous years. So, I have now sampled their gentle americana imbued with sweet tunefulness. A little one dimensional but its a nice enough dimension.

Conquering Animal Sound (Solus Tent) are a glitchy girl/boy – laptop/guitar duo. The use of multi-effects and loops on the vocals lends a character to this that lifts them slightly above the myriad of others messing about in this area. It gets rather hypnotic after a while. In the good way.

Devotional art can be transcendent. I used to visit a friend in Deptford and always be tempted to head for the gospel hall at the end of their street on a Sunday morning. It sounded so awesome. Who knows, maybe it could even turn me. The Glasgow Gospel Choir (Summerisle Stage) are the sound of the most cliched happy clappy vicar’s easy 70s MOR collection with the word ‘God’ thrown in here and there. Looks like satan still has me for a (dead) sunbeam.

What seems, initially, like another of the ATD-i acts, United Fruit (Solus Tent) (really, is there a dreadful name sweep going on this year?) reveal a lot more depth over their set. Mainly this is due to the jazzy interludes and storming bass-playing. Still, even with the wider influences, they seem to be pulling the shapes and making the sound but have yet to really find their own voice. But, I’m looking forward to them doing so.

Car trouble (oh yeah) means that Withered Hand miss the start of their set. A couple of the OK guys come on to lead the crowd in a rousing cover of Teenage Kicks while we wait. A few tracks in WH appear. Unfortunately, the hassles and rush seem to have taken their toll on the band. We get a stab at a few songs. They’re flat and distracted. All of which is completely understandable. Hats of for being troupers, we feel you pain.

Huzzah for Kitty The Lion! Fantastic kitchen sink drama lyrics (about not getting out of bed all day, having chewing gum in your hair etc). All deceptively mundane. And delivered with deceptively simple guitar parts. Slightly country tinged. Certainly the most dancing going on I’ve sen for any act in this tent yet. If this don’t put a smile on you face, your dead. They won’t thank me for this, but: It’s like Kate Nash if she was actually as good as the Guardian seems to believe. And Scottish.

What ever happened with Sons & Daughters (Summerisle Stage)? Remember when it all seemed like theirs for the taking? I genuinely couldn’t tell you how many albums they’ve released or if they have any credibility any more. Judging by the crowd reaction, their are still in the good books. And, understandably so. The swampiness that threatened to subsume some of their material seems to have been traded for a dark grooviness. Wave by wave, the crowd gets bobbing along. By the time Johnny Cash comes along you could be convinced its the best thing in Scottish music in the last five years, instead of just the best thing they’re ever likely to do.

It’s one of the things about these festivals that an act can be over-subscribed if they can bring good crowd of their mates in. Glasgow’s Alex Kapranos (Acoustic Village) must be a popular guy, he’s managed to stow out the acoustic tent. And, it’s understandable. He’s peddling a set of bouncy, squiffed pop numbers that seem destined for arena tours as soon as he finds the band to back him.

I’m guessing record labels are still looking for [INSERT TOWN HERE]’s answer to the Arctic monkeys. They could do a lot worse than Hip Parade (Solus Tent) as that quaint little fishing village on the Clyde’s candidate. In addition to delivering the huge instantly catchy punk-tinged tunes, they have swagger and great snotty attitude to them. I mean, what’s the point in having choruses if you’re not going to make them this big?

And, its another thing about these festivals that you catch as many acts on their way down as you do in the other direction. Always latecomers to the whole Big Beat thing The Go! Team (Summerisle Stage) seem destined to be the band that defined 2006. Of course, then they take the stage and they couldn’t be more relevant to right here, right now. You probably know the score, but to me this is a revelation. Let’s take this damp scots crowd and bounce them until the grin hurts. And, by god, they do.  Some people pay good money for that sort of thing.  they may have just come on and did everything you know they’re going to do, but the import of that needs to be experienced.  It all makes sense and seems so important.  Not sure I’ll ever buy any more of their records than I have, but I will camp out overnight to get tickets for the next Barrowlands gig. By the time they finish, I’m contemplating dancercise and WANT to be the Go! Team. Not in the band, not one individual, but the whole entity. How great would that be?

Ocean Colour Scene play that tune off the telly; we set fire to the big fella and the 808 State djs play Voodoo Ray (yes) for what seems to be about six hours. Another fantastic Wickerman down.

Is it next year, yet?

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26th July 2010

Last year’s Wickerman Festival had a preponderance of young bands deeply in the thrall of Win Butler and chums. If the trend round the clubs and smaller venues if anything to go by, this year it’ll be all jaggy riffs and ATD-i’s back catalogue. To be honest we didn’t really expect it from the first band on offer. Yes, Call Me Ishmael (Solus Tent) are all skinny jeans and wrestling with guitars as if they’re possessed snakes. And, they’re pretty good at it. We wouldn’t fault their delivery. They certainly got the coterie that made the effort bounce around. But, ultimately, it’s empty and just seems like a big game of dress-up. Why wouldn’t you just form a tribute act? Or maybe it’s too early and I should’ve gone back to bed.

Polarsets, however, are in a strange place; they’re very evidently influenced by the clutch of vaguely 80s bands (Killers and their ilk) so big a few years ago. So, too late for jumping the bandwagon and too early for a revival (or do these things come round sooner now?). Hopefully the latter, cause god knows they need the time to work on material.

To my ears, we take a step back to last years bands with Galleries. Only there’s not a stupid beard or fiddle in site. Instead they take all the massive epic bits of Arcade Fire and instead of emulating them do something new with them (pay attention at the back). Delivering this stuff as a straighter rock band gives it a completely different edge. They step on the toes of James and Muse with the size of the noise they make – but in a good way. No, that is possible. A band you want to see on a much bigger stage with a massive. They’re reaching for the sky and we celebrate their ambition. Plus they have a song about The Wombles.

Panda Su’s recorded output has always suffered from a strange schizophrenia. One of ‘those’ vocal deliveries, you know very singer-songwriter. But, rather subtle instrumentation always made the stuff never less than worth-a-listen. In the live arena, the dichotomy is just magnified. A girl with a guitar and a bunch of avant knob-twisters and never the twain… It just doesn’t gel at all. There’s much to commend each of these parts, but when the whole is less than the sum of the parts you’re doing something wrong.

And, nearly completely opposite is Edinburgh’s Black International. An underwhelming recorded output gives lie to what turns out to be a serious kick-ass old school power-pop trio. There might be great songs in there, but it doesn’t matter we’re carried along by the sheer drive of their energy. Fine stuff. Now, let’s see if you can get that recorded.

The bars of Duncan of Jordanstone will be empty tonight. Here come Dundee’s The Lost Torodovs an eastern European folk tinged troupe mixed with surreal burlesque. If you can’t imagine that I can’t get any more accurate. We are treated to some rather lovely laments and just as it’s threatening to be a bit one-dimensional (musically) it blummin’ well kicks off. If I could do that kicky dance thing, I would’ve been, instead I had to make do with hading off for a few good shots of vodka.

This is really what we need just now. A bit more colour, More glamour. More fun. And, Dundee? I’m sure that’s only because it’s where the family settled when driven out their home by cossacks.

It’s food time, so we decide to check out I Blame Coco (Summerisle Stage). Ok, the bar’s down that way too. Ok, I wasn’t really holding out hope for some top pop star in the making. But, I really wasn’t expecting the abominable 6th form type band that was up there. Seriously, I had to get close to the stage to confirm those were bona fide old session musicians. As for the songs…. I know parents are meant to support and encourage their kids, but sometimes the truth would be kinder.

All of which I mention because next we catch (a slightly stripped down) Aerials Up (Solus Tent), who peddle a particular kind of poppy rock that – to me – seems very Glasgow. Big gregarious songs with no pretensions. Hearty backslap of a tune. I can assure you L’il Ms Sting would kill for half of one of any of these numbers. Fine stuff. The rumour going round is that Be A Familiar have knocked it on the head just as it was about to happen for them. The perfect opportunity for these guys to nip in and fill the gap, IMO.

Och, I know we’re meant to be above the raw fun of Goldie Lookin Chain (Summerisle Stage), but c’mon it’s a festival. GLC was, as the do. The (really young) kids loved them.

I wish I could be as positive about Tony Christie. I’d like to think he was taking the money and not caring about the half-assed pub crooner performance. Even so, you think he’d have the self-respect to care that folk seemed to be enjoying it as joke. Remember he’s not here for all the good work Hawley et al may have did to rehabilitate his name. He’s got the gig because of Peter Kaye. It’s woeful and quite painful to watch.

Which is pretty much the exact opposite of what you could say about Mitchell Museum (Solus Tent). Debut album The Peters Port Memorial Service has been universally lauded and the guys seem to be determined to celebrate that. The sizable (biggest in the Solus of the weekend I reckon) are quite happily to go along with the sentiment.

On return from visiting the facilities on site (and let me say they seemed to be much better cared for this year) I spot a freak chance to nip into the Scooter tent. Last year on the closing night they had imposed a one-in-one-out policy for the last night closing act Bad Manners. This year it seemed to kick in mid-afternoon. So, when I see a gap I reckon I need to at least take a look at Ed Tudor Pole (Scooter Tent). Coz you do, don’t you? And, he was fantastic. Just him and an acoustic guitar that appeared to be held together by gaffer tape. We get treated to a mix of old standards, new songs by him (mainly about how rubbish so/self-called punks are these days) and the ‘hits’. All sprinkled with anecdote and gentle ribbing of the audience. But the most surprising thing is that he’s an astounding rockabilly guitarist. And, the instrumental he wrote for Malcolm played entirely on the open guitar is rather touching.

Far from what the name would suggest Midnight Lion (Solus Tent) do a kinda 80s synth thing. It’s quite reminiscent of the good bits of Ultravox. And, they do it well – the audience are loving it, just not me. So, I go check out the other 80s tribute act: The Futureheads (Summerisle Stage). What can I say? They’re damn slick on a festival stage these days. They have some corking tunes. And they even have the crowd pleasing comedy cover version (replete tonight with gender specific backing vocals for the crowd). If anyone asked me, I’d say I really like this lot. But, I never listen to their albums I’ve bought and the live set didn’t have me rushing back to them.

It’s possibly the most glorious day of the summer so far. So what could be better than a little Teenage Fanclub? I think they may have finally had the official national treasure stamp this year. They get a huge crowd who seem to just be exuding nothing but good feeling toward them. It’s a hits heavy set and there’s dancing and bouncing and singling along from the off. But, I think the slipped in more from the new album than they normally would at an event like this. The crowd don’t mind: A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met yet. No, really, it was like that.

Then it gets a bit chaotic. Having made the heartbreaking decision to skip Buzzcocks (Scooter Tent) due to the probability of not getting in. It was off to see Django Django. But they seemed to be late starting, so I thought I’d take advantage of he big screens over at the scooter tent for a bit. Then I ended getting herded about with the crowd as they were all at the exit not the entrance. Got back to the Solus and the band seemed to be playing the most interminable and dull intro. So I went back for more ‘Cocks. Of course after failing to get in or seeing anything it struck me that I should go back and check DD. got there for the last number and it was completely blinding. Damn. Shoulda stuck with the first plan – always the best policy

Day one down.

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