HQFU / Fair Mothers @ The Hug and Pint, Glasgow

fairmothers

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

It might appear odd to pair lo-fi Scots alt-country with melodic electro dance-pop, but Celtic Connections’ programming of recent years has been pleasingly eclectic. Perhaps raising an eyebrow from the trad-folk and roots purists, tonight showcases some of the finest new music to originate from the country’s north east.

A reasonably scant crowd gathers at The Hug and Pint, one of Glasgow’s best small venues. The 100-odd capacity room can be cramped and sweaty when stuffed full, but this evening there’s breathing space to comfortably appreciate the sounds. It’s fairly quiet – this is one of many evenings over the packed Celtic Connections period which feature multiple excellent gigs at the same time in venues across the city – but those in attendance are well rewarded with a night of diverse beauty.

Fair Mothers is essentially the solo moniker of Aberdeen’s Kevin Allan, who seems at times a tentative performer. But with the backup of Pete McConville on electric guitar, and gorgeous vocal contributions from Kathryn Joseph for a chunk of songs from Marcus Mackay-produced debut Through Them Fingers Yours and Mine, Allan’s vulnerability sits more comfortably.

The confessional Burns is subtle and unguarded in its simplicity, whilst the stripped-back folk of Glitterball is bleak but beautiful, with Joseph’s instinctive harmonies injecting an uplifting warmth. Blind is superb, proving just how well the two singers voices complement each other. Similarly, set closer What Have I Done is a fitting finale – a lovely, delicate waltz full of heart and heartbreak.

Sarah J Stanley’s HQFU project combines mesmeric visuals, intelligent electronica and stunning vocals akin to Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn. Despite dark lyrics, it’s music to move to and the crowd responds accordingly. The blips and beats of highlights Dust & Dirt and Poison pulse through the veins like the elation that follows a cleansing cry.

Fair Mothers and HQFU demonstrate the strength and difference of the new sounds of Scotland. At either end of the musical scale, both acts deserve a wider audience, and with any justice they’ll soon see that reward.

 

 

 

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Lost In France @ O2 ABC, Glasgow

lostfrance

This review originally featured in The Skinny

In 2015 a group of scene-defining Scottish musicians escaped from the present to travel almost two decades back to their past. With the space and distance to reflect on their collective youth, revisiting the French town of Mauron where they played a small festival in 1997, they uncover the scale of the impact their exuberance and self-belief has had on the story of independent music.

Lost In France is director Niall McCann’s intimate, innovative portrayal of the mid-90s Glasgow music scene and the rise and significance of seminal Scottish record label Chemikal Underground. It is poignant, inspiring and sincere, and despite missing two crucial characters on the recent trip (Aidan Moffat and Alun Woodward) due to schedule clashes and personal circumstances (though the pair are omnipresent in the film), it’s the story of the interwoven lives of a core group; Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, who along with the inimitable RM Hubbert once booked bands for the 13th Note in Glasgow, Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite and three quarters of The Delgados and founders of the influential Chemikal.

Each character’s tale intertwines, awash with both humour and a sorrowful reflectiveness, every central figure given due focus and reverence. From Hubby baring his soul on a ferry, to tender moments between former Delgados, industry lynchpin and successful solo artist Emma Pollock and producer extraordinaire and drummer Paul Savage; to Kapranos’ slight sheepishness surrounding his band’s phenomenal rise in the face of others’ apparent lack of success, McCann shows his subjects truthfully and sympathetically.

But perhaps the film’s most touching moments – amidst the swelling sense of pride for the central belt’s impressive DIY ethos and creative output, and the enveloping, era-defining soundtrack – come from the emotions shown by Braithwaite and Chemikal/The Delgados’ Stewart Henderson. Henderson’s passion for music, his anger and dismay that the likes of The Phantom Band never stood a chance, and his fear for the records that might never be are all candidly revealed, the bittersweet aftertaste of devotion and commitment to a cause ravaged by a rapidly changing industry landscape.

The event is tonight simulcast throughout cinemas in the UK and Ireland, and this evening most of the main protagonists reunite as supergroup The Maurons following the screening, with Pollock and Hubbert initially the central focus for their co-written Monster in the Pack, all the more beautifully bolstered by tonight’s superb backing band.

Then it’s a tribute to 80s inspiration, with Braithwaite taking the lead to cover The Jesus and Mary Chain and Kapranos and Pollock joining the guitarist for shared vocal duties for a brilliant version of The Pastels‘ Nothing To Be Done. The Franz Ferdinand hit Jacqueline is almost as frenetic and punchy as its early noughties incarnation and it’s a treat to witness Savage on stage behind the kit again. Kapranos returns to the frontman role for the punk romp frivolity of Owl in the Tree from lost favourites Trout before the band departs too soon after just a handful of songs.

DJ sets from the likes of Miaoux Miaoux follow at the aftershow, as does an ear-bleeding, hair flipping, riff-shredding cacophony from more recent Chemikal signings Holy Mountain. But it’s the film that leaves an indelible mark, with its stories that needed to be shared, and its celebration of a musical history that must be preserved, cherished and lauded.

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Kid Canaveral’s Lumber Party II @ Stereo, Glasgow

kc

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

A troupe of nuns adorned with eye patches and smears of lipstick, a raffle, electro and indie-pop, drink-fueled dancing, and a SAY Award winner at a tiny piano; what more could you want from a Saturday night? Lost Map’s foray into events continues with the second installment of Lumber Party – a loosely Valentine’s Day-themed celebration of diverse, energetic entertainment.

Lumber Party II, put on by Lost Map lynchpins Kid Canaveral, is seven hours of eclectic enjoyment, kicking off with the beguiling Kathryn Joseph. Standing behind a small plinking piano and hand-pumped harmonium, the songs become new entities. The high-pitched clink of the toy keys gives a sinister edge to the likes of The Worm and new song Tell My Lover, but allows Joseph’s bewitching, distinct vocal to be the central focus. Despite tracks that sit deep in the heart of darkness, between songs she’s as engaging and funny as ever. Rounding off the set with These Three Desire Lines, written last year with The Twilight Sad‘s James Graham but tonight sung alone, it’s entrancing even in its stripped-back, solo state.

London-based trio The Drink inject some 90s nostalgic guitar riffs into the basement space, ramping the sound up loud. Lead singer Dearbhla Minogue’s vocal is deceptively sweet whilst packing a punch as they power through some straight up pop-rock. Next up are Kid Canaveral, tight through tracks from their latest album Faulty Inner Dialogue and previous two records, despite some technical glitches. Pale White Flower and Her Hair Hangs Down are highlights, as is bass player Rose McConnachie’s deadpan disapproval for You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night. The Canaverals are in fine form, as hosts and performers, with most of the band later resurrected in another guise – the prodigious cover choir, Rides of Christ.

From Bowie and Talking Heads to TLC, the fully decked-out Rides spill over the stage in eye patches and eye shadow, doing an amazing job of covering all manner of artists. There’s sing-a-longs aplenty and Kate Canaveral is outstanding during Cher’s Believe – serious stuff with the added aid of vocoder for ultimate authenticity.

Artist Sarah J Stanley in her HQFU incarnation is perfectly pitched for the post-1am crowd. With a sharp visual setup enhancing the club feel, the enduring revelers are rewarded with an excellent set of instinctive beats and stunning pop vocals.

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Meursault – I Will Kill Again

mersault.jpg

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

When main protagonist Neil Pennycook called time on Meursault in 2014 after three albums proper, fans hoped it wouldn’t be the last they’d hear from him. Transforming into Supermoon, Pennycook carried on, but the unexpected resurrection of his former guise has yielded beautiful results.

The reclamation of Meursault with I Will Kill Again feels like a glimpse of hope amidst heartbreak, or rather a story of sufferance coupled with an emerging determination to carry on. The Mill is delicate keys and drifting guitars that cradle an acceptance of the everyday. ‘We’ve seen it all before / I know now what must be done,’ proclaims Pennycook with his distinct anguish.

With the humdrum comes realisation and resignation, and another dip into disappointment. Ode to Gremlin is a gorgeous ode to the futility of figuring out heartbreak as he sings, ‘The last thing the world needs now / Is another song about the fucking sea.’ Written originally as a rock album, the dissolution of Mersault’s former live line-up led to the arrangements of the tracks changing over time, and there’s a gentle elegance to the songs.

Oh, Sarah is a succinct sea shanty-esque dedication to a fictional ghost, with Pennycook’s vocal taking on a distant quality, singing far from the mic with wild intent, whilst Belle Amie slows the pace before his trademark wail is unable to be contained as the track builds. I Will Kill Again has a soaring, filmic quality as its narrator recounts how time changed and dulled affection, while closer A Walk in the Park is a glimmer of tainted, restrained optimism.

I Will Kill Again is a strong first release of the year for Song, By Toad records, from the artist that properly launched the label back in 2008. Filled with majestic, sorrowful beauty and touches of light, it’s a welcome return for one of Edinburgh’s most treasured acts.

 

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Roaming Roots Revue @ Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

yola

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

Now in its fifth year, the Roaming Roots Revue has come to serve as somewhat of a centre piece in the annual Celtic Connections calendar. Possibly the showcase’s most ambitious yet, tonight sees the collation of the most artists for the concert so far, from Scotland and beyond, celebrating the 2017 festival’s loose theme; The Women of Song.

It’s no mean feat to ensure the smooth running of such a packed show, but it’s a well-oiled machine with a glamorous lustre. A mix of long-established stars and those on the rise, glorious cover versions and artists’ originals, the Royal Concert Hall’s vast stage is a constant bustle of activity, with multiple standout moments.

Host and curator Roddy Hart, backed by his incredibly tight band The Lonesome Fire, kicks off with a nod to Joni Mitchell, before English soul singer Yola Carter takes her first turn of the evening with a beautiful rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Scotland’s Emma Pollock follows with her string-infused Dark Skies and a fabulous version of Kirsty MacColl’s They Don’t Know.

Along with well-established artists – Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross, Brazilian singer Roberta Sá – this evening sees the inclusion of many ‘ones to watch’, from Texan Sarah Jarosz to Welsh singer Sarah Howells as Bryde, with the tricky task of covering Bjork’s Play Dead and tackling Gillian Welch with Rory Butler. Butler also interprets Suzanne Vega’s Luca, and Benjamin Francis Leftwich takes on Tracy Chapman.

Frightened Rabbit‘s Scott Hutchison gives an incredible full band performance of his own Death Dream, before a stunning, jazz-infused We Float by PJ Harvey. Manchester-based singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop is also a standout, from the Eurythmics’ Love is a Stranger with Field Music to a fabulous incarnation of Walking Barefoot by Patti Smith.

Kathryn Joseph shines, somehow filling the auditorium with just her powerhouse vocal and piano for new song Tell My Lover, before an outstanding Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac. Emma Pollock’s return with Kate Bush’s The Man With the Child in His Eyes accompanies the announcement of a repeat performance of her Running Up That Hill tribute. Staged last September in Aberdeen, Glasgow is due to see it again on 20 May at the O2 Academy.

Yola Carter provides the most memorable and unbelievable of showstoppers – a blistering, effortless Carole King-penned (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, with Carter channeling the great Aretha Franklin. Joseph and Hutchison have a hard act to follow with Feist’s hit 1234, while Blondie’s Call Me is a raucous ensemble piece.

Tonight embodies all that is special about Celtic Connections – unique, one-off performances and collaborations, the celebration of songs and songwriters. Jesca Hoop is stunning, closing the show with a sensational Wuthering Heights. Despite some of the audience making an exit before the end, others are swaying with the highest approval, no doubt already anticipating what next year’s Roaming Roots will bring.

 

 

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Pictish Trail @ Oran Mor, Glasgow

pictishtrail

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

Just hours after Donald Trump is signed in as leader of the free world, the sparkle and wit of Johnny Lynch, aka Pictish Trail, is the perfect tonic to lift the spirits. Emerging with a full band cloaked in silken robes to Gregorian chants, he opens with the celestial drift of Rhombus, revealing a tasseled poncho of pineapples, fronds and cacti set off by glittering warpaint and a twinkling beard.

The rousing chorus of Lionhead sounds immense – it’s a bold, melodic anthem of erasing idols and releasing the past. Words Fail Me Now follows, one of just a few older songs in the set, along with the beautiful Winter Home Disco. Dead Connection’s energy and upbeat synths belie its black themes; similarly, Easy With Either makes full use of its additional live strings, recounting Lynch’s lucky escape from a lorry load of falling logs in one of the several car crashes he’s been lucky to escape intact.

The swelling electro-pop of Who’s Comin’ In? is up next, then Lynch welcomes back-up singers the Rides of Christ, made up of Lost Map‘s Laura, Bart from Eagleowl and half of Kid Canaveral, all impeccably bedecked in nuns’ habits. Lynch’s vocal was given deserved prominence on last year’s excellent Future Echoes LP, and tonight it’s particularly strong on Far Gone (Don’t Leave), a trip-hop tribute to Fargo. An ethereal Strange Sun bursts with bird song, whilst Suse Bear’s addictive ascending bass line powers a raucous encore of Afterlife, before a supercharged take on the Bronski Beat-esque Brow Beaten by Lynch’s Silver Columns project, as some of the nuns are let loose to cut the rug down the front.

Despite an abundance of morbid themes, this Celtic Connections show is awash with colour and celebration. Pictish Trail is clearly touched by the crowd’s rapturous reception, but it’s the audience that’s most grateful for tonight’s shimmering musical antidote.

 

 

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Frightened Rabbit: Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow

frbarras

This review originally featured in The Skinny

It’s been a year of contrasts for Frightened Rabbit – from praise in the spring for their most ambitious record yet, Painting of a Panic Attack, and end-of-year album list vindication, to health problems, tour exhaustion and fraternal acrimony. But they have managed to swim through the shite of 2016 – and tonight’s final of three sold-out shows at the legendary Glasgow Barrowlands proves the struggles have only served to strengthen the five-piece.

A decade on and five albums in, it’s a far cry from the shy solo acoustic performances of Frabbits past, as tonight they’re as big and as bold as they’ve ever been. It’s a glorious celebration of how far they’ve come and frontman Scott Hutchison is in fine spirits, his frenetic energy palpable throughout the packed ballroom.

The Modern Leper stirs the first of many singalongs and it’s easy to forget the band are at the end of a long run of shows. Living In Colour makes full use of the sprung floor before the sublime pre-Christmas treat of The Twilight Sad‘s James Graham joining his pals to perform lead vocals on Be Less Rude.

Things is also incredible, showing the full scope of the group’s ability to build anthemic, chest-bursting odes to anxiety, whilst Old Fashioned is toe-tapping, gig-going communality at its best. Snake and Scottish Winds are a perfect start to the first encore, then My Backwards Walk and The Loneliness and the Scream signal an uproarious end before an extra encore of Keep Yourself Warm.

Selling out three consecutive nights at the Barras is an impressive feat, and tonight feels like a reward for Frightened Rabbit as much as it is for the fans. The band’s elation at the crowd’s reaction is obvious, but they’re more than deserving of the worship.

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