Live review: Honeyblood (Old Hairdressers, Glasgow)

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This article originally appeared in The Herald newspaper (Scotland).

July 14

(Five stars)

As debut album launches go, noise-pop duo Honeyblood’s homecoming gig will take some beating. “This is the room where it all started two years ago,” mused vocalist / guitarist Stina Tweeddale, flanked by glittering hearts and stars. “The difference is, there are people here this time,” added drummer Shona McVicar, laughing, and she wasn’t wrong. The venue was packed-out, radiating a collective steam, and that’s not to mention the queue of disappointed fans that snaked down the stairs.

The riotous grrrls’ comments served as a timely reminder that Honeyblood have established themselves as alt-rock queen bees in a relatively short period of time. Much of their brilliant, eponymous debut comprises their embryonic (yet prodigiously fully-fledged) songs – as did their uproarious live set – from gorgeous indie-chorale No Spare Key (“the first song I ever wrote,” said Tweeddale), to swaggering axe-pop wig-outs like Biro and Super Rat. Their garage-punk ruckus and minimalist line-up evokes the charged dynamic of the White Stripes (Choker), but they’re equally adept at widescreen alt-Americana (Bud, I’d Rather Be Anywhere But Here). They’re fast and loose; raw and intense. What a glorious, infernal racket they make.

Tweeddale is an electrifying guitarist and rock ‘n’ roll vocalist, McVicar is the fiercest, most charismatic drummer I’ve ever seen, and the smiles and sparks that fly between them are a joy to watch. Much of their calling card is populated by fallen romeos and love rats, but this thrilling gig reminded us that Honeyblood have bigger concerns at heart. “This song’s about Shona”, Tweeddale drawled, as they fired into Killer Bangs. “I need this with you. I made this with you,” she hollered. Try and stop them.

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Related articles: Honeyblood album review, Time Out, July 2014

King Tut’s New Year’s Revolution Nights preview feat Honeyblood (The Herald, Dec 2012)

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Interview: Two Wings

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This article originally ran in The Herald newspaper (Scotland) on June 13, 2014.

Two Wings vocalist Hanna Tuulikki is discussing Peace/Fear, the opening track on the Glasgow folk-rockers’ new album, A Wake. “Somebody said it’s a cross between Kate Bush and Dire Straits,” she says with a laugh. She sounds quite delighted.

Your correspondent also heard the drum-thundering echoes of Easy Lover by Phils Bailey and Collins in Peace/Fear’s maiden bars. “Oh, I love that too,” beams Tuulikki, a multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and truly unique vocalist, who composes Two Wings’ songs in cahoots with Ben Reynolds (vocals / guitar).

“I think there are a lot of pop influences, and a lot of 80s references, on A Wake,” she says of the follow-up to their 2012 debut, Love’s Spring. “We used synths and gated reverb on the snares, and I guess we were less interested in drawing upon folk forms on this record. We wanted to explore the craft of songwriting in a different way. We wanted to connect with the music that first appealed to us as children, and we grew up in the 80s.”

Formed in 2009, Two Wings are a thrilling proposition – equal parts familiar and surprising – and their line-up is virtuosic. Tuulikki’s airborne vocalisms and Reynolds’ soaring guitar solos are flanked by Lucy Duncombe (vocals), Kenny Wilson (bass), Owen Curtis Williams (drums) and recent recruit Jody Henderson (guitar). They interweave madrigals, trad-folk, psalm-singing, chamber-pop and soft-rock, and leave something freewheeling yet easy to love in their glittering wake.

“I don’t think we feel we need to consciously invent something new,” Tuulikki offers. “There’s so much good music, and so many good forms that already exist. We prefer in a sense to make reference to those.”

And so it is that you might discern the new-wave riffs of Television (Peace / Fear) or the sultry harmonics of Fleetwood Mac (Stranger) amid A Wake’s celestial psych-rock arias and acid-country chorales. Its themes are timeless and universal, exploring the myriad phases of love – friendship, lust, death – in language that feels otherworldly, yet applicable to our day-to-day.

Ben Reynolds nods. “Absolutely, that’s what it’s for,” he says. “That’s the great thing about love songs – everyone can find something in there. I like the universality of that topic.”
Both songwriters’ fledgling careers were in improvised music, in Glasgow’s free-folk and noise scenes (Tuulikki performed with Scatter and Nalle; Reynolds was a solo improv-axeman before his bygone stint in Trembling Bells). But do they find it can be liberating to work within the (loose) confines of structured songs, as they do in Two Wings?

“Sometimes in improvisation, it’s quite easy to become scared of form,” Tuulikki muses. “So it’s a really refreshing and freeing experience to work within a known form, and to make music that we might want to dance to within that – although I’d say what we’re doing now is still experimental, because it’s still pushing something in ourselves.”

Reynolds agrees. “If you set yourself simple parameters, even something as basic as having a song as a starting point, it means you’re setting certain limits in terms of the amount of space you’re opening up,” he offers. “But the amount you can then do is vast. You can do a ballad, or you can do a dance song – it gives you all these options. You can invent your own way of working.”

Two Wings operate as a particularly harmonic outfit, and their moniker is inextricably linked to their sound, their aesthetic, their history. It conveys the songwriters’ sense of mutually-supportive craft (each providing, they say, one wing of their bird), evokes sonic references (both 1968’s folk-rock act Wings and Paul McCartney’s unrelated 70s-pop wonders) – and it traces their nascent work together. In 2008, Reynolds issued a solo recording called Two Wings, for which Tuulikki created the artwork. Its title was inspired by the Rev Utah Smith’s gospel-blues masterwork of the same name.

The Two Wings designate also resonates with Tuulikki’s fascinating endeavour, Away With The Birds (Air falbh leis na h-eòin), an inter-disciplinary venture which celebrates the vocal mimesis of birds in the Gaelic folk tradition. The project is currently seeking crowd-funding to stage a one-off performance by a female vocal ensemble in the harbour on the Isle of Canna this summer.

Does Tuulikki perceive Two Wings and Away With The Birds as having a kinship, beyond their avian resonance? “Although they have strong separate identities, there is a flow between them,” she says. “What I’ve learned from writing harmonies with Two Wings has informed the way I think about composing for a lot more voices, and that applies the other way around too. I think my passion is always the voice, and its exploration.”

Tuulikki’s extraordinary vocals elevate A Wake – from the mediaeval-groove of Loveless to You Give Me Love’s carnal, feverish lullaby – and despite parting titles like Go To Sleep and Adieu, this feels like an LP invested with hope. “I suppose this album is slightly less joyful than Love’s Spring,” says Reynolds, “but it’s about holding on, in a positive sense – and articulating that in a way that sounds optimistic.”

Tuulikki nods. “A Wake comes from the song A Wake To The Dream, which is about keeping something real that was alive – it’s more about that than a funeral,” she says. Her words ring true on the album’s glorious swansong, Go To Sleep, as the band sing together, “awake with the sun”; their bright spirits flying high.

Two Wings’ A Wake is out now via Tin Angel; album launch, Glasgow Nice N Sleazy, June 21; the Away With The Birds Kickstarter campaign runs until June 15.

Related Articles:
Two Wings interview – The List – March 2012

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The 2014 Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award

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The public vote for this year’s Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award shortlist is now open – it closes at midnight on Wednesday May 28. 

Here’s a guide to this year’s longlisted albums, which originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on April 24th. There are also links to my related artist interviews and album reviews throughout.

I’m one of the judges for this year’s SAY Award; full panel info here.

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Since it was launched in 2012, The Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award has celebrated home-grown music in its myriad forms. The 2014 longlist, as selected by 100 industry nominators, follows suit: it spotlights baroque and hip-hop; electronica and indie-pop; folk and jazz and stadium-rock. And it presents them on an even footing, irrespective of genre, label affiliation, critical acclaim or commercial success.

Ten of these titles will be shortlisted on May 29 (nine elected by a judging panel; one by public vote), and one will be awarded this year’s £20 000 SAY Award on June 19 (with £1000 for each of the shortlisted runners-up). In the meantime, here’s to a longlist of day-glo debuts and slow-burning returns; of insurgent rap and saxophone-jams; of human beat-boxing and bruised-folk yarns: of our kaleidoscopic voices.

Adam Holmes - Heirs & Graces - Web

Adam Holmes – Heirs and Graces (Gogar)

The debut solo album from Edinburgh’s Adam Holmes is a stellar homage to trad-pop song-writing, whose warm blend of Celtic ballads and Nashville arias was produced by folk sage John Wood (Nick Drake, Richard Thompson). Holmes was nominated as Best Newcomer at the 2011 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

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Adam Stafford – Imaginary Walls Collapse (Song, by Toad)

Falkirk art-pop polymath Adam Stafford is a Scottish BAFTA-winning film-maker and thrilling live performer and songwriter. His second album, Imaginary Walls Collapse, underscores Stafford’s vivid knack for loop-fuelled machine-hymns, euphoric guitar-pop, beat-boxing and gospel-blues hosannas.

Related articles:
Adam Stafford, Imaginary Walls Collapse album review, The List
Adam Stafford interview, The Herald

Biffy Clyro – Opposites (14th Floor Records)

Biffy-Clyro---Web

Nothing says “bona fide rock gods” like a concept double-album, emblazoned with artwork by Storm Thorgerson (who fashioned Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon). Kilmarnock stadium-rockers Biffy Clyro pulled off such a statement with Opposites, et voila: they bagged their first UK Number One album.

Related articles:
Biffy Clyro – Opposites album review, Time Out (London)

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Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)

Preceded by a teaser campaign that rivalled Daft Punk in the cryptic stakes, Tomorrow’s Harvest is the first album in eight years from Edinburgh electro-diviners Boards of Canada. The arcane-pop revolutionaries summon a typically unsettling voyage through warped psychedelia, uncanny sci-fi and pastoral symphonies on their fourth outing.

Related articles:
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest, album review, BBC Radio Scotland

Camera Obscura - Web

Camera Obscura – Desire Lines (4AD)

The fifth album from Glasgow’s vintage indie-pop seducers sees Tracyanne Campbell et al ramp up their lavish chamber arrangements, girl-group harmonies, and melancholic grandeur, to dreamy effect. This long-player has been held up in high places as a highlight of their career.

Related articles:
Camera Obscura (archive interview), Plan B Magazine.

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CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe (Virgin)

The debut LP from Glasgow trio Chvrches is an electro-pop masterpiece which gatecrashed the UK Top 10 and continues to win them global acclaim, but it’s also a testament to Scotland’s collaborative grassroots music community: two of the band were longlisted for the 2013 SAY Award, thanks to their other sonic allegiances: Martin Doherty in The Twilight Sad and Iain Cook in The Unwinding Hours.

Related articles:
Chvrches interview, The Herald
Lauren Mayberry SAY Award interview (scroll), The Herald

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe album review, The List.

Dunedin-Consort-Web

Dunedin Consort (Dir. John Butt) – J. S. Bach: Six Brandenburg Concertos (Linn)

The Herald’s penultimate classical album of 2013, this recording sees Bach aficionado John Butt OBE and baroque ensemble the Dunedin Consort shine new light upon, and breathe new life into, Bach’s enduringly popular Six Brandenburg Concertos. The musicianship on their first entirely instrumental release is stunning, but never showy.

Related articles:
John Butt SAY Award interview (scroll) – The Herald

Understated-(Web)Edwyn Collins – Understated (AED)

The eighth solo album from Scotland’s indie statesman – and second since two brain haemorrhages in 2005 – finds the Orange Juice and Postcard Records poster boy in excellent, reflective fettle, and allies his nascent art-rock and country roots with Motown, Stax, jangle-pop and soul.

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Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse (Atlantic)

Frightened Rabbit had the spotlight turned on them after making the leap from indie (Fat Cat) to major (Atlantic), with many fearing the corporate step-up would compromise their charms. Such concerns were assuaged with Pedestrian Verse – their major-label debut, first Top 10 record, and a superb collection of poetic alt-rock and stadium anthems.

Related articles:
Frightened Rabbit Pedestrian Verse interview, Sunday Herald
Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse album review, The List

Nobody-Seen-Nothin-(Large)

Hector Bizerk – Nobody Seen Nothing (Self-released)

You could never accuse Hector Bizerk of appropriating US rap. Their remarkable, funk-fuelled take on hip-hop is steered by drummer Audrey Tait’s beats, and loaded with (Sauchiehall) street-level poetry courtesy of Louie Deadlife, who rejects cliches, bling and machismo. (“It’s not my fault I’m just a man”).

Related articles:
Hector Bizerk – Nobody Seen Nothing, album review, The List
Hector Bizerk, SAY Award interview (scroll), The Herald
Hector Bizerk interview, The Herald

KidCanaveral-Web

Kid Canaveral – Now That You Are A Dancer (Fence)

Power-pop party-starters Kid Canaveral unleashed a melodious alt-rock barrage on their second album, Now That You Are A Dancer – from the carnal throb of A Compromise to the axe-chiming doo-wop of Who Would Want To Be Loved? (They would, and they are).

Related articles:
Kid Canaveral – Now That You Are A Dancer, album review, The List
Kid Canaveral (archive) interview, The Herald 

Mogwai-Web

Mogwai – Les Revenants (Rock Action)

First nominated for 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, Glasgow instrumental rock behemoths Mogwai return to the SAY longlist with Les Revenants, their terrific (and faintly terrifying) soundtrack for the French un-dead TV series of the same name.

Related articles:
Stuart Braithwaite and Douglas Gordon interview, The Quietus

Rick Redbeard - Web

Rick Redbeard – No Selfish Heart (Chemikal Underground)

In which Rick Anthony, frontman of The Phantom Band, moonlights as a gorgeous, peat-crackling bard, strips his cracked-Americana bare, and floors us with his baritone charms. This yearning anthology of meditations on nature, love and death is intimate yet universal, and timeless.

Related articles:
Rick Redbeard – No Selfish Heart album review, The Quietus
Rick Redbeard – No Selfish Heart album review, The List
Rick Redbeard – interview, The Herald

RM-Hubbert-Web

RM Hubbert – Breaks & Bone (Chemikal Underground)

Insatiable axe-seducer RM Hubbert lifted last year’s SAY Award for 13 Lost & Found, and swiftly released this beautiful follow-up. The final instalment in his Ampersand Trilogy, it sees Hubbert find his singing voice, as exquisite guitar instrumentals alternate with post-rock lullabies.

Related articles:
RM Hubbert – Breaks & Bone / Ampersand Trilogy interview (and further conversations), The Herald.

Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire (Web)

Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire – Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire (Middle of Nowhere)

Roddy Hart’s impeccable take on Scots-inflected Americana swaggered to the fore on this eponymous debut with new backing band The Lonesome Fire. It won him many fans, including US TV supremo Craig Ferguson, who invited Hart to perform a week-long residency on the Late, Late Show.

SCO-Web

Scottish Chamber Orchestra (R. Ticciati) – Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été (Linn)

Featuring excerpts from Romeo and Juliette and La mort de Cleopatre, this exceptional recording from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and lauded Berliozian Robin Ticciati (who has been SCO’s principle conductor since 2009), was awarded last year’s top classical album garland in The Herald.

SNJO-In The Spirit Of Duke (Web)

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – In The Spirit Of Duke (Spartacus)

Jazz firebrand Tommy Smith first appeared on the SAY Award longlist in 2012 with his wayfaring solo LP, Karma. He returns his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, who re-animate the Duke Ellington canon on a spontaneous (yet meticulously stage-crafted) live run-through of favourites and surprises.

Steve Mason- Web

Steve Mason – Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time (Domino)

A socially-charged outing from former Beta Band trailblazer Steve Mason, Monkey Minds… sees the Fife-via-London electro-folk polemicist embrace themes ranging from social (in)justice and protest, to (black) affairs of the heart on swoon-inducing psych-pop serenade, A Lot Of Love.

Related articles:
Steve Mason interview, The Herald

The Pastels Slow Summits (Web)

The Pastels – Slow Summits (Domino)

The first full-length album in 16 years from Glasgow’s beloved indie linchpins, Slow Summits lives up to its name, and then some: it’s a wonderful, unhurried compendium of elevating chamber-pop and hazy, airborne arias. But don’t be misled by its modest charms: The Pastels have been an influential force for 30 years, and our musical landscape would be less colourful without them.

Related articles:
Stephen Pastel SAY Award interview, The Herald

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Young Fathers – Tape Two (Anticon)

Signed to celebrated US rap enclave Anticon, Edinburgh-based hip-hop trio Young Fathers have gradually evolved from party-rap livewires to global brooding-pop concerns, thanks to a series of increasingly potent releases – including Tape Two and its truly wondrous dirge-soul opener, I Heard.

Related articles:
Interview – Young Fathers, The Herald

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The Scottish Album of the Year Award is developed by the Scottish Music Industry Association. The SAY Award shortlist is announced on May 29 – PUBLIC VOTING IS OPEN UNTIL MIDNIGHT ON WEDNESDAY MAY 28 HERE.

Related articles:
The Scottish Album of the Year Award, 2013 – The Herald (plus interviews, reviews etc)
The Scottish Album of the Year Award, 2012 – The Herald (plus interviews, reviews etc)

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Album review: The Phantom Band, Strange Friend (Chemikal Underground)

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An edited version of this review originally ran in The List Magazine, May 2014.

(Four stars)

Who’d live in a world like this? A democratic world, that is, that’s cast in darkness, fuelled by spuds, roamed by statuesque women and barefoot hominids; that’s over-hot and groove-fixated, with a wind that cries the lot of it. One look (or listen) through the wormhole says it can only be The Phantom Band: our six strange (invisible) friends from Scotland-via-Saturn’s rings.

The stellar third long-player from our Glasgow-based prog-pop diabolists maps out, explores and downright rules across a motley realm of far-flung deserts (‘Atacama’) and archipelagos (‘Galapagos’) – with a drum-scorched kraut-folk culinary landmark here (‘Clapshot’) and an industrial electro summit there (‘Doom Patrol’).

Fans of the clanging motorik wig-outs that underscored debut Checkmate Savage (2009) will fall heavy for ‘Sweatbox’ and the robo-bone rattling ‘Galapagos’, while lovers of the twisted machine-melodies that enlightened 2011’s The Wants will find much to admire in kosmische raga ‘The Wind That Cried The World’, arcane lullaby ‘Atacama’ and the rangy, rubbery groove on ‘Women of Ghent’.

Oh, their sonic virtues are myriad – from the retro tech-swagger of ‘The Wind That Cried The World’, to the chiming mirage of ‘(Invisible) Friends’ – but perhaps their biggest charm lies in their circuitous narratives, which pull the (kaftan) rug from under you: the 80s-metal beast that lopes into ‘Doom Patrol'; the slow-burning woodwind fanfares on the rapturous ‘No Shoes Blues’.

It is that deceptively simple ballad that illustrates how much magic(k) the Scottische-pop sextet summon with what they’ve got: the woozy, weird keyboard motifs, the wounded growl of Rick ‘Redbeard’ Anthony’s voice, the howling guitar lines, the prime-evil beats. The Phantom Band are, at heart, a rock group in the most inventive sense – like The Beatles, Can, Pink Floyd – and the world they inhabit is strange, congenial and often beautiful. Wish you were here.

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Interview: Aidan Moffat and Paul Fegan

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(Photograph by Neale Smith)


This interview originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on April 10, 2014.

Lately, Aidan Moffat has remodelled himself as Tom Weir. The Scottish cult-pop makar has swapped indie garb for fair-isle threads as part of Where You’re Meant To Be – a road trip, tour and ensuing film, conceived in cahoots with film-maker Paul Fegan, which kicks off with a series of ceilidh-style gigs round the country later this month.

Moffat will debut a new body of work inspired by our oral tradition, backed by James Graham (The Twilight Sad), Jenny Reeve (Bdy_Prts) and Stevie Jones (Alasdair Roberts). The gatherings span Port Ness Social Club, Faslane Peace Camp, Glasgow Barrowland and beyond, and will welcome local folk-singers and storytellers – plus unplugged-punk poet Wounded Knee, championship bothy balladeers Geordie Murison and Joe Aitken, and travelling folk torch-bearer Sheila Stewart.

Footage from the shows, the trips, and the characters they meet en route will provide the groundwork for a feature-length film, directed by Fegan (ere of Triptych festival), to be premiered after the close of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games in late August.

Where You’re Meant To Be is part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme, and its exploration of Scottish folklore and identity resonates as the independence referendum approaches – but the project’s roots go deeper than that. “I had the idea to do a ceilidh-style gig with spoken word stuff years ago, and I asked Paul to promote it,” Moffat recalls. “Then we forgot all about it for ages – I did the album with Bill [Wells, which bagged 2012's Scottish Album of the Year Award] and there just wasn’t the time.

“When I had some free time, and started thinking about it again, we were in the pub with Stewart Henderson [of Moffat's label, Chemikal Underground] and he came up with the idea of trying to get funding. So it went from talk of doing a few gigs, to re-writing an album’s worth of songs, making a film and touring all over the shop. It’s become this massive cultural event,” Moffat says with a laugh. It’s popular too: free tickets for the eight-date tour were snapped up in a couple of hours.

Where You’re Meant To Be transcends time, and current events, in many ways – it excavates and updates forgotten songs, celebrates traditions before they are lost (Sheila Stewart is the sole surviving speaker of local travellers’ language, Perthshire Cant), and looks set to uncover many a yarn on its 21st century journey. “There’s lots of stories too,” says Fegan, who received numerous awards for his 2012 short documentary, Pouters. “Whether they’re about Faslane protesters, or a crofter in Skye swimming his cattle, or the Loch Ness monster, we want to display these stories, and characters, and characteristics … of contemporary Scotland.”

Moffat’s trad-folk reworkings are similarly forward-looking. “There’s a song I do called The City Tonight, which takes its melody from Bonnie Glenshee, but I didn’t like the words,” he says. “In Bonnie Glenshee, there’s a man and a woman breaking up underneath the beautiful scenery of the hills, and I just thought, ‘I feel the same way about the city’ – the Kingston Bridge at half five in the morning is as exciting to me as any hill. So I transposed the action to the city.”

The project’s title track, Where You’re Meant To Be, locates its protagonist in Moffat’s beloved Glasgow local, Nice N Sleazy. The narrative also features WYMTB player James Graham (“he’s the Jim in the song,” says Moffat), but the synchronicity doesn’t end there: its melody was inspired by a ballad sung by Sheila Stewart’s mother, Belle (of Blairgowrie’s “Travelling Stewarts”).

“It was actually Belle Stewart who sparked this whole idea,” says Moffat. “I was listening to an album of her [unaccompanied] stuff, and that’s when I started to think more about the storytelling thing, because that’s what her songs do. You have to concentrate. And I like the challenge of it – trying to hold people’s attention when there’s nothing else is quite difficult,” he says. “It’s like stand-up comedy in a way, which is kind of what the live set’s turned out like. Most of these old traditional songs are hilarious.”

Despite the (erroneous) “miserabilist” tag that dogged his former band Arab Strap, Moffat’s approach to Where You’re Meant To Be has been anything but. “I knew there was going to be a film of this, a portrayal of Scotland, before I wrote a lot of the songs, and I thought, ‘I don’t want Scotland to be seen as this miserable place’,” he offers. “I’m sick of Scotland being portrayed as a cesspit of violence and bigotry – especially now, in this year, when we’re supposed to be discussing its future. I want to be seen having a laugh. I mean, it can be a dark, miserable place – look at those clouds today – but it’s a beautiful country. And it’s a hilarious country.”

Fegan shares Moffat’s outlook and aesthetic, and hopes the film will find its own path around the tour; that the tales will tell themselves. “Because we’re not coming from a conventional film background in terms of approach, any aesthetic element has to work around a set schedule,” he offers. “We’re not only going to shoot on sunny days, or wet days – we need to shoot with what we get. It’s possible that all we’ll get is rain shots, but that can be quite beautiful too.

“For me, the focus is on getting as much material out of the tour as possible,” continues Fegan. “We’re trying to avoid making a fly-on-the-wall rock-doc, so it’s finding a balance between Aidan, and his process, and the picture of Scotland he’s taken and reinterpreted. A lot of the characters in the film will reflect an older part of Scotland and those traditions. It’s not going to be a wild road movie.”

So there won’t be any filmic shots of Aidan flashing his bum out the car window? “Oh, that might happen,” deadpans Moffat. “In fact, I’d say that’s quite likely.”

Where You’re Meant To Be starts in Port of Ness Social Club, Lewis, on April 19, then tours.

Related articles: UFO spotting with Aidan Moffat, The Quietus.

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Go East! Introducing the East End Social.

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This article originally appeared in The Herald newspaper on January 30, 2014. The listings have been updated to reflect names such as Hudson Mohawke, Todd Terje and Norman Blake having just been added to the ever-growing programme.

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Back in 2000, Glasgow’s Delgados released a great album called The Great Eastern. Issued on the much-missed alt-rock charmers’ own Chemikal Underground imprint, it was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, but its significance extends far beyond that. The LP was named after a former mill and homeless hostel near Chemikal Underground’s Bridgeton home, and it resonates with the label’s ambitious new venture, The East End Social. It’s a globally-influenced, community-focused music programme for the East End of Glasgow, and an official Culture 2014 event that will initially run from April to August.

From large-scale gigs in East End parks to samba workshops in primary schools, The East End Social looks set to culturally remap the city during the Commonwealth Games and beyond, as evinced by its emergent music programme (which will unroll much more fully across a range of genres in the coming months). So far, it includes Glasgow post-rock deities Mogwai (who’ll play as part of a major live music event at Richmond Park over the last weekend in August) and Ghanaian pop trailblazer King Ayisoba (who’ll perform at Easterhouse arts venue Platform on April 10), plus local old-time dance band That Swing Sensation, reggae champions Mungo’s Hi-Fi, beat-boxer Bigg Tajj, Dutch avant-jazz miscreant Zea (The Ex), school choirs and community workshops – not to mention a programme of upcoming Scottish bands, co-curated by BBC Scotland’s Vic Galloway.

The bill looks set to be as inclusive as it is varied. “One of the key elements of The East End Social is that it’s not specifically an alternative or indie music programme,” says Stewart Henderson, who co-founded Chemikal Underground with fellow ex-Delgados Alun Woodward, Emma Pollock and Paul Savage in 1995. “We see The East End Social as being a celebration of Glasgow, a celebration of the East End, and a celebration of the music that binds us all together,” he says. “There’s absolutely nothing elitist about what we’re trying to do – it’s about trying to connect, and reconnect, communities in the East End through music, and to try and energise this side of the city with events that haven’t been happening regularly, or haven’t been happening at all.”

Among The East End Social’s flagship events is a reggae sound-system at Alexandra Park Gala Day (June 21), courtesy of home-grown sound-system Mungo’s Hi-Fi, who’ll be joined on the mics by UK dancehall legends YT and Tippa Irie (with more acts TBC). It marks
their first-ever large-scale party in the East End, according to James Whelan of Mungo’s Hi-Fi. “The chance to share what we love to do with East End folk in a large public space has never come around before, and it’s something we’ve always wanted to do, ” he says. “From our perspective, there are no venues at all in the East End where we could run a sound-system session, and late-night life is next-to non existent – the area is sorely under-represented in this respect.”

Whelan continues: “As well as sharing our music with local people, and giving the East End its first taste of real community sound system dance, we’re hoping that plenty of Commonwealth visitors will make the trip to Alexandra park, to create a multi-cultural and positive atmosphere.”

The Gala is an annual fixture in the East End calendar, and Henderson suggests that bringing something new to existing events is key to the ethos of The East End Social “This isn’t just a programme exclusively curated by us, or something that we’ve chosen to deliver to the East End,” he says. “We’re looking to work alongside people who’re already doing stuff, and maybe improving or extending the existing provision. It’s about trying to weave this project into the fabric of the East End community. It’s about what’s already happening here; it’s about trying to draw these disparate threads together.”

Henderson and Woodward have been liaising with East End organisations and communities since last summer, which has led to East End Social ventures like bringing a Dixieland jazz band to a pensioners’ party (as they did at Christmas for Bridgeton Community and Learning Centre), putting samba percussionists into Dalmarnock Primary (planned for later this year), and equipping another local primary school, St Anne’s, with instruments, and recording facilities, via their lauded Chem19 studios, with a view to them recording a Commonwealth song. (Members of The Vaccines and Frightened Rabbit are rumoured to be lending a hand). They’re also developing a music project for a local care home with DIY heroes Howie Reeve and Rory Haye, and will be promoting the Playlist For Life charity – an initiative which acknowledges the importance of personalised music playlists for those people suffering from dementia.

True to its warm, evocative name (and nature), The East End Social will explore and celebrate the area’s rich heritage and social history. This, of course, includes its iconic neighbourhood venue, the Glasgow Barrowland, which is set to host traditional Tea Dances, replete with a local Big Band, on May 3 and 4. “We want to try and hark back to the halcyon days of the Barrowland Ballroom,” Henderson offers. “We’ve got this 18-piece jazz band, That Swing Sensation, and we’ll have tea, cakes, drinks, and there might be vintage buses running to the venue, or people in doing hair and make-up,” he says. “We want to cater for some of the older East End communities – Easterhouse, Bridgeton, Rutherglen – but also to welcome people from all over Glasgow, and we’d be looking to try and attract younger people who’re into the vintage side of things as well.”

This sense of inclusion, and accessibility, is a critical touchstone of The East End Social. “This is a co-operative project that we think can only continue to grow and gain momentum long after the Commonwealth Games have gone,” says Henderson.”Lots of different people, venues, organisations and businesses can legitimately consider themselves to be part of The East End Social – it’s Bridgeton Community Centre, it’s the Gala Day at Alexandra Park, it’s Dennistoun Barbecue and it’s St Mary’s Church in Calton. All of these things have the ability and capacity to inform what this project is about – which is trying to invigorate the area that we’ve called home since 1997, and trying to instil as many small and large and indoor and outdoor music events as we possibly can.”

He also identifies The East End Social as being a critical venture for Chemikal Underground, whose current artists include Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert. “This is not a stand-alone project for us,” Henderson says. “I see this as being a significant part of where we want to go, moving forward. Not that we’d ever look to turn our backs on the release of records, which will always be a part of what we do, but if we’re able to pull this off, I see Chemikal Underground as having a key role to play in becoming an arts organisation within the East End of Glasgow,” he offers. “Now is our opportunity to see if we can help to enliven areas of the East End; to see if we can shine a light on a very under-appreciated side of the city.” You cannot fault their bright ideas; their great (Eastern) expectations.

The East End Social is supported by Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme’s Open Fund and urban regeneration company Clyde Gateway. The Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme is a partnership between the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee, Glasgow Life and Creative Scotland. www.eastendsocial.com

THE EAST END SOCIAL: HIGHLIGHTS SO FAR

April 10: Easterhouse arts venue platform (whose music programmer is Chemikal Underground’s Alun Woodward) welcomes Ghana pop visionary King Ayisoba, as part of a kaleidoscopic bill with the Dutch freak-jazz of Zea, and Glasgow tropical-noiseniks Sacred Paws, on April 10.

May 25: The East End Social and Optimo will transform the Barrowland Ballroom into a club bacchanal featuring some of our most thrilling global and local electronic acts, including unmissable live performances from Nordic electro seducer Todd Terje and throbbing hypno-groove pedagogues Golden Teacher, plus DJ sets from Glasgow’s inestimable Optimo (JD Twitch and JG Wilkes), Hessle Audio’s Ben UFO and Tim Sweeney (Beats in Space / DFA).

June 7: Davey Henderson’s art-pop iconoclasts Nectarine No.9 will reconvene at Rutherglen Town Hall to perform ‘Saint Jack’ – one of the truly great Scottish albums – with support from ace latter-day post-punk reprobates Casual Sex.

June 21: Scottish Album of the Year Award nominees and reggae sound-system Mungo’s Hi-Fi will make their East End debut at Alexandra Park Gala Day on June 21. They’ll be joined by dancehall renegade Tippa Irie (who’s been sampled by the Black Eyed Peas and collaborated with Alexander O’Neal) and YT (plus more TBA) – sure to attract nearby music lovers and roots voyagers from further afield.

August 5 / 6: Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Joe Pernice’s glorious New Mendicants bring the summer harmonies to Bridgeton’s excellent (and intimate) Bowler’s Bar.

August 8: Scottish Album of the Year Award winner RM Hubbert brings his beautiful, heartbreaking Ampersand Trilogy (and his deadpan anecdotes) to Rutherglen Town Hall. The flamenco-punk heartbreaker will be supported by brilliant primal-folk sage Richard Dawson.

August 30 / 31: Post-rock overlords Mogwai, who scored their first-ever Top 10 album this year with Rave Tapes, are a flagship act for The East End Social. The long-time Chemikal Underground affiliates will perform at a major live event in Richmond Park on August 30, while August 31 sees an all-day party curated by Numbers and Optimo, headlined by electronic superstar Hudson Mohawke. It looks set to be the last big weekend of the summer.

www.eastendsocial.com

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Interview: Ela Orleans

ela orleans

This feature originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 26, 2014.

Pop-noir collagist Ela Orleans’ LP Tumult In Clouds is aptly named. “I look for tumult in everything,” says the Glasgow-based artist, who was born and raised in Poland. “I have a lot of conflict in myself, and I’m always questioning things. I like to find that conflict in music too.”

Orleans’ mesmeric aesthetic is equal parts melodic and dissonant. It variously blurs and conjures minimalist electro, vintage film-pop and distorted psych-rock, the latter of which recalls her tenure in New York’s sonic underground. A multi-instrumentalist and former member of Glasgow troupe Hassle Hound, Orleans’ dramatic solo voyages have won her admirers in The Pastels, Thurston Moore and David Lynch, not to mention a remix commission from electronic powerhouse Warp. She’s set to collaborate with film-maker Maja Borg at this year’s Counterflows festival, on a bill that also stars casio-busking enigma The Space Lady, with whom Orleans has been aligned. Certainly, both acts are out of this world.

Tumult in Clouds scooped last year’s Mercury alternative, the Dead Albatross Prize (beating My Bloody Valentine, Broadcast and Factory Floor). It was recently reissued on CD and double-vinyl via Orleans’ Parental Guidance imprint, after its initial 2012 pressing sold out. As with its stellar, Ray Bradbury referencing predecessor Mars is Heaven, Tumult in Clouds takes myriad cues from literature. It variously cites Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud, Aleister Crowley and WB Yeats, whose poem, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, affords the LP its title. (“A lonely impulse of delight / Drove to this tumult in the clouds.”)

“I felt that line represented the time when I was writing the album,” Orleans offers, stirring coffee in a Glasgow bookshop basement. “I thought that the poem was not necessarily only about war – it was about agreeing to die; to diminish. Or, you know: screw the world, I don’t care, I will do whatever. Of course, that’s simplifying the poetry, which I’m very good at,” she says with a laugh. “But the poets I like are really good about describing feelings while hiding behind something – the weather, or natural causes, or war, which blows like a wind through history. Poems give me a rhythm which fits with the ostinati character of music. It’s like building on circles; on the routines of life.”

There are intricate shapes and structures throughout Orlean’s work. “Yeah, I get almost obsessive about details,” she nods. “It started with a record being stuck, actually. I remember when I was a kid, I had a copy of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby, and it jumped, so it was like – ‘cry, cry, cry, cry’ – and I started singing along to that. I always liked that pattern, I remember it vividly. And I always like to repeat a word – for example, ‘chair, chair, chair, chair’ – until it completely loses its meaning, and it becomes something else.”

Orleans sings the praises of exploring others people’s words. “I have a hard time writing poetry myself – I’m afraid it won’t be universal,” she says. “I don’t want to patronise anybody with my thoughts. I don’t want to express my hate for my past loves, or not-loves. I don’t have that need. Plus, English is not my first language. But WB Yeats – well, nobody’s going to question that. I do, however, like to cut and add things.” Tumult in Clouds’ aural and lyrical cut-ups are abstract yet cohesive and vivid, thanks to a series of possible narratives, which are signposted by recurring motifs and evocative, if murky, titles (Diving Into The Wreck; Rolling Waters). Just don’t call it a concept.

“I don’t really have the capacity to make a concept – it disagrees with me,” she smiles. “If I was going to create a great concept, I’d like to be a scientist, and have a concept that would be useful for humans. But I like art to cover life, and I think that concept in life is really boring.” Orleans, rather, thrives on the beauty and designs of chaos, and on experimentation, such as her Counterflows collaboration with Borg.

“Maja is very sensitive to music,” she says. “She’s very connected to it, she has a great ear for sound and she won’t let any false note come in.” (The same could be said for Orleans.) “Our show is going to be a bit of an experiment,” she continues. “It’ll be partially live, and we’re designing a screen installation with different visuals. Maja’s going to do some reading and I’ll do some songs.” Their artistic partnership is ongoing. “Yeah, she’s doing something for my new record too,” says Orleans. “I’m working on a new LP and a new 12 inch. The 12 inch will be dance music; the new LP will be my regular, irregular collage.” Orleans’ forthcoming album is set to feature long-term champions Stephen and Katrina Pastel. “I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me,” she states.

Whether creating uncanny, monochrome pop or composing glimmering techno, Orleans has a knack for art that is challenging yet welcoming; keen-eyed (and eared), yet open-armed. “I like to find melody in everything,” she muses. “Even my noise attempts are melodic.” And despite their thrilling sonic divergence, Orleans’ songs have common origins. “I think they all start out from the same point,” she offers. “It’s just they all have different impulses. They’re on different frequencies.” Thank heavens for these impulses of delight.

(Photo of Ela Orleans by Natalie McGowan)

Related articles:
Tumult in Clouds, Album Review, The List, March 2014
Music Language Interview (feat Ela Orleans), The Herald, September 2013

 

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