This article originally ran in The Herald newspaper (Scotland) on Wednesday September 28, under the heading PASTELS SEDUCED BY THAT EASTERN PROMISE.
Last year’s inaugural Eastern Promise revelled in a sense of adventure. The festival traversed Scottish pop, German neo-classicism and Spanish folk, and its buses ushered us from the heart of Glasgow to the Platform arts centre in Easterhouse.
Picking up from where its 2010 voyage left off, Eastern Promise returns this weekend with a similarly exotic array of global and local names. It allies Scandinavian free-jazz firebrands The Thing, Norwegian singer / multi-instrumentalist Silje Nes and German electro alchemists To Rococo Rot with stellar home-grown acts like underground pop luminaries The Pastels, alt-folk heartbreaker Withered Hand and machine-pop doyens Conquering Animal Sound.
Platform’s music programmer Alun Woodward – who also co-runs the Chemikal Underground label and formerly played with The Delgados – is keen to build on last year’s triumphs. “It’s similar in the sense that it’s a mix of international and UK artists, and features some acts who don’t play regularly in Glasgow, but this year the event is in two rooms so it allows us to work with more acts and gives them more time to play,” he says.
Saturday will also see many of our indie labels helm stalls at the second Scottish Independent Record Fair. “I like the idea of gigs being more than just gigs and the record fair is a great addition,” enthuses Woodward. “There are so many great labels in Scotland and this seemed like a good way to support them, and to add something different to Eastern Promise.”
If space and variation are key to the event’s success, so too are its audiences, suggests Woodward. “I was really happy that people came and listened last year – people sat and really engaged with the music. There was an amazing moment when Rachel [Grimes, of Rachel’s] joined Nils [Frahm] and the room was silent apart from them at the piano. This year I’m really looking forward to Silje Nes – to hear her in the auditorium will be really special. The audiences at Platform are always really respectful.”
Stephen Pastel’s lionised Glasgow indie band The Pastels will play their first live show in over a year at Eastern Promise. He thinks its locale is cause for celebration. “I think it’s important that cultural events don’t become hemmed into a small part of the city,” he says. “Glasgow’s great because of its diversity, because it’s not one thing. I think it’s fabulous to have Platform out there at the perimeter of the city – and I think it’s fair to say that Eastern Promise is probably at the perimeter of what Platform do. I wouldn’t say that it’s super-obscure, but Berlin in Easterhouse? That’s great!”
The Berlin alliance is thanks to German post-rock torchbearers To Rococo Rot and Tarwater – both of whom have close ties to The Pastels and their record label, Geographic. “Tarwater have just made one of my favourite records of the year, Inside the Ships,” Pastel says. “They’re always changing and this record’s looser, less electronic – a really cool sound with Ronald’s brilliant, deadpan vocals. And I love To Rococo Rot. The first time I heard them on John Peel I thought it was so new but with just enough melody to catch onto. I thought they were the future and I’d better get into it. I’ve been a fan ever since.”
One of the highlights of this year’s programme is Pastel himself. His iconic band’s long-awaited new album is due for release next year – will they be debuting any of the new material at Eastern Promise? “Well, we’ve been playing some songs from our new album for a while now – a long time, actually – and we’re getting to the point where we want to hold a few back for people to hear for the first time on the record,” he says. “But we will play a few. Some of them go back to a session we recorded with [To Rococo Rot’s] Stefan Schneider and Ronald Lippok in March 2005, and they will no doubt ask us with a smile if we’ve finished yet.”
Can Pastel give us any hints as to what we can expect from the new songs? There’s a rumour circulating that he refused to sing the word “diplodocus” in the band’s recording sessions – is this true? “Well, yes,” he nods. “I think Katrina [Mitchell] always feels that my words per line are too long in places, and I’m complicated. She was writing for me on one song and came up with a spectacular diplodocus cumulonimbus rhyme. Maybe it was a dare, I don’t know…
“The new Pastels songs feel related to both The Last Great Wilderness [their sound-track to David MacKenzie’s 2002 film] and to Two Sunsets, our collaboration with Tenniscoats, but more direct in places, more pop.
“It feels exciting and bold,” he offers.
The same could be said of Eastern Promise.
Platform, Glasgow, 30 Sep / 1 Oct. Buses run from Mono (King’s Court) and back. See Platform for full line-up, tickets and details.