Category: Music

IDLES

If you’ve not heard of them, then sod off and give them a listen as a lot of what I’m about to write won’t make much sense if you haven’t heard their music and ideologies.

Done? OK good.

When you tell people you are off to a gig at the weekend, people always ask you to describe the band, ‘what are they like?’ they ask.It’s almost always something I answer with a series of comparisons; they are bit like x with a hint of Y and the attitude of Z. That kind of thing…

Yet the best description I can come up with to describe Idles isn’t based on comparing them to anyone as that would be selling them short. The simple description is that they produce ‘angry caring punk rock’ (I’d say their closest bedfellows at the moment are the Sleaford Mods) and ever since hearing Divide & Conquer from their first album earlier this year, they’ve slowly creeped further and further up my playlist. So, with a second album out and a tour announced that was stopping in Glasgow, I quite happily double booked myself and missed out on Superorganism (I’ll catch them again I hope) to head to the QMU for a night of loud, thumping, powerful music. Expectations were high.

From the punk rock side, Idles are a full-on, thrashing guitars, mosh-pit inducing force of nature, with so much energy coming from the stage that you can’t help but get carried along with everyone else – literally in many cases, as I’ve not seen that much crowd surfing for a long time – and get sucked in to the moment time and time again. It’s probably telling that there was very little chatting going on less you miss a second of the visual and sonic explosions that were continually fired from the stage. This band is TIGHT as well, and with a growling, punching, wound up singer up front, backed by two crowd surfing guitarists and a rhythm section that was on it from the second the stepped on stage, it’s safe to say that these geezers work damn hard to deliver.

Lyrically, Idles explore all topics with deep passion, ranging from anger at the dismantling of the NHS and the way immigrants are treated in this country, through to mourning for the loss of loved ones, the depressed, the stillborn and more. Yet it’s the passion and love that comes through at all times. Railing against the establishment is not new, but the confirmation of the strength of ‘us’, of how much better life would be if there was more compassion in the world is what comes across in droves.

At times we are right to be angry, and Idles encourage that anger, that rebellion against the big money that drives our world. The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich, they say, to a packed audience in a vocal student union venue, and with a united roar we all responded, and little by little, faith in the future of humanity was restored.

Expectations met, and then some.

Vinyl is dead, long live vinyl

How do you pronounce it? Vahyn-l? Vīnĭl?

The living room in my childhood home had a big wide bay window. Standing on either side of the windows were two tall white bookcases my Dad built. They had a deeper base section to house the record player and my parents combined record collection; my Mum was a screaming Beatles fan in her youth, my Dad tended towards folk, but both met in the middle ground of singer songwriters and rock bands.

My parents are both musical, Mum played the piano, Dad the guitar and banjo, both sang in choirs and my Dad still performs at the Royal Concert Hall. Music was a constant part of my upbringing and their record collection was a source of fascination and as I look back on music as part of my childhood it’s clear that it holds the key to my musical proclivities.

Somewhere in that collection was an album with an oddly hypnotic cover. I was around 9 or 10 years old when I came across it, around about the time I was starting to discover my own tastes. Top of the Pops was must-see TV, a radio a necessity, and later a tape deck so the Top 40 could be recorded and played over and over. Yet that album, and the subsequent discovery of other albums by this ‘old’ band called Queen (the joys of the local library music section), was one that would stick with me through the years. From the opening Arabic call it offers piano driven ballads, upbeat rock tracks and still one of my favourite Queen tracks of all time, Fat Bottomed Girls (ohhh those opening harmonies).

That said, music is always about fashion and 9 year old Gordon was doing his very best to ‘fit in’ although I always seemed to naturally veer a little off the beaten track. The first LP I bought was Adam & The Ants, Friend or Foe. It was 1982 and Goody Two Shoes was high in the charts. Yet it was the track A Man Called Marco that grabbed my ear, all minor keys, jangling guitar and in contrast to the new romantic pop the rest of the album offers it gave me an entirely ‘other’ musical landscape to explore.

For a while I collected LPs like everyone else until along came Compact Discs. Tiny silver discs you could smother in jam and they’d still play (no, they didn’t demonstrate that on Tomorrows World, take a look for yourself). My Dad has always been a bit of a tech gadget nut, the acorn didn’t fall all that far, and so we had a CD player pretty early on. The player came with a couple of discs as part of some promotion or another, one of which was Live at Marquee which featured a guitar shredding, monster riff of a track by some American dude called Jimi Hendrix who was singing about a Purple Haze and, whilst I didn’t understand what the heck he was going on about, I sure as hell knew that this noise was something I wanted more of. And I wanted it as loud as possible.

And then it was 1984. The year started with talk of Orwell and Big Brother and then along came a band I already knew, with a new album which gave me exactly some of the noise I was craving. Radio GaGa rightly got the headlines, but it was Hammer To Fall and Tear It Up that continued my path towards rock. Fast forward another few years and I’d rattled through early Iron Maiden, Saxon, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and the like, switching my allegiance between vinyl and CD depending on what I could get my hands on.

A few years later takes you to the moment when I walked into the kitchen to the sight of my Dad washing the dishes to the accompaniment of Appetite for Destruction (on cassette tap I should point out). All the kids at his school were talking about it so he thought he’d give it a listen. I quickly snaffled it for myself.

My own CD player soon arrived, a mini-stereo. Just in time for Rage Against the Machine, and whilst the first track I played on it was The Silencers Painted Moon, Killing in the Name Of, was the one that got the “turn that down” shout from downstairs… (I slammed my door and turned it up in protest).

A few years after that, Smells Like Teen Spirit posted on my bedroom wall and a re-introduction to vinyl at Hospital Radio Lennox. 1000 LPs and 4000-odd singles lined the shelves, with regular additions every week. A mixing desk, microphones, even broadcasting live from the Balloch Highland Games (from a caravan, also known as our outside broadcast unit).

DJs never really left vinyl and whilst CDs were useful at times, the joy of getting that crossfade between tracks just right, teasing in the few opening bars before dropping THAT track that always got people dancing. To help raise funds for the hospital radio I used to DJ at parties (think local bowling greens, Aunties and Uncles getting their groove on) and over time you got to know what would work, disco classics for the 40th birthdays, 2 Unlimited for the kids.

Of course let’s not forget the humble cassette tape which was the format for the majority of my music listening through my teenage years. A double tape deck at home allowed for mixtapes, a walkman (my first Boots own brand still the best) gave me freedom to take my music with me everywhere. A habit that persists to this day.

I moved away from vinyl in those years and my CD collection grew and grew; the first CD I ever bought was Bananarama: Greatest Hits (1988), the last was Foo Fighters Wasting Light (2011). Somewhere in the latter half of those 23 years the ‘mobile’ part of my listening habits moved to mini-discs; I had a mini-disc component in my stereo, a personal player, and even a mini-disc player in the car (where it was an obvious upgrade over cassette tape). Alas it never really took off and I was left with a betamax solution in a VHS world. RIP Mini-disc.

Let’s speed things up, it’s 2018 and we’ve zipped on past MP3s, Winamp and Napster and I now stream all my music from the cloud. I have one only device capable of playing CDs in my home (a Playstation) and I’m not even sure if my car has a CD player as I just connect my phone via bluetooth, or listen to (DAB) radio. The future is here and it’s online, bye bye physical manifestations of media!

I should at this point mention that up until last year I still owned a record player and when my parents moved out of the family home their depleted vinyl collection came to me. I spent a few wonderful weeks reliving my childhood through Abbey Road, Andy Williams, Simon & Garfunkel and Queen. I revisited my own LPs – Deacon Blue, Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, Simple Minds – and let the nostalgia wash over me. Such great times and memories to be had.

The scratchy sound on the older Beatles albums, all recorded in Mono, the remembered skip part way through Bridge over Troubled Waters, to my first ever gig to the strains of Belfast Child.

Kadunk, kadunk, kadunk. Time to flip the record over for side 2.

Kadunk, kadunk, kadunk. Flip the record over.

Kadunk, kadunk, kadunk. Flip the record over.

Kadunk, kad… ok that’s enough of that.

I had forgotten the downside to vinyl.

Unless you are playing through a stack of singles (who else had a ‘drop arm’ on their record player?) it gets a little monotonous flipping sides and whilst that can some churlish and, I think, for some it is entirely the point, a way to slow down and be ‘part of’ the listening experience for me it starts to getting mildly annoying.

A long bath is out of the question, kadunk, kadunk, kadunk. Some music to accompany washing up? Kadunk, kadunk, kadunk. Want some background music whilst you tidy up a couple of rooms… you get the picture.

That veneer of nostalgia soon faded, I put the records away and returned to Spotify. I threw together a quick playlist to replicate the songs I’d been playing on vinyl and after a couple of (uninterrupted playback) hours it struck me that the physical manifestation of the albums are not where my memories are stored, I can access the same memories, same emotions just by hearing the music.

It will transport me to the same time and space – The Heat Is On is the drive to my grandparents in Rutherglen – regardless of format. With that mindset I suddenly had a few boxes of vinyl that were, essentially, worthless to me.

So I got rid of them.

I passed a selection to someone who I knew would appreciate them and the rest went to the charity shop. I have no emotional attachment to the pressed black circles other than a mild case of ‘things were better in my day’ nostalgia. My attachment is to the tracks, the music and the performances they held, music and performances which are readily available in other formats, other formats which are decidely less hassle to use.

Editors Note: He’s steering clear of any discussion about fidelity on purpose.

It was World Vinyl Day recently (technically Record Store Day but that just makes me think of the Guinness Book, Norris McWhirter, Roy Castle…) and given the queues outside the record stores it’s safe to say that vinyl is not dead. But why?

I ponder this fully aware that I’m challenging the progress of technology in another area (books) by resorting to paperbacks instead of my Kindle…

The very thing that ends up annoying me about vinyl is perhaps the very reason to embrace it all the more. I mean sure every 20 mins or so you have to get up, or stop doing whatever your doing, to flip the damn thing over but in our always-on hyper-connected world, is that such an onerous task? Is it so hard to tear ourselves away from our screens for those few seconds?

I’ve no doubt there is likely an element of rose-tinted viewing when some people, particularly of my generation, look back at their experiences of vinyl. Yet looking at the people in the record stores today and you’ll find the usual mish-mash of ages, so it can’t all be that.

Putting aside those whose argument is seated in fidelity (hey, I wrote that Editors note ya know!) is this, to coin a phrase from James Murphy, simply “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties” *, a harking back to something deemed to be somehow better without any substance to that argument?

I have no idea what the real answer is and no doubt there isn’t AN answer at all. I’m sticking to my take, vinyl is popular because it’s a way of taking some ownership of your time. In the fight against social media and the tiny electronic miracles we keep in our pocket, it seems that an ageing non-digital format, one that is prone to damage and can only do one thing at a time, is managing holding its own.

Pianoforte

I’m sure I had full length trousers I could’ve worn – I know for certain I had a pair of dungarees at some point during the height of my Oor Wullie phase – but for some reason in my memories of cycling to my childhood piano lessons I’m always wearing shorts. Wheeling my big black Raleigh Enterprise out of the garage as the first snow of winter falls, I sling my music bag over my shoulder and head round to see Mr. Pullen (he wasn’t ‘Robert’ until much later on).

To properly paint this picture, let me give you some more detail. This was at a time when everyone, EVERYONE had a BMX. My bike was not a BMX, it was known then as a ‘classic tourer’ but today (if you stripped it back from 3 gears to none) it would pass for a fixed-gear bike, you know, the type all the hipsters use to slowly pedal up hills. It was not a cool bike.

And that music bag? It wasn’t a rucksack, or a sports holdall, but a music case. A satchel style leather briefcase that you could only, would only, buy in music stores.

And I took piano lessons.

I never was a cool kid.

These were my Saturday mornings for many years. I started my piano lessons when I was about 8 or 9, and the routine never really changed. Get (woken) up, have breakfast, then shove whatever piece of music I’d been learning into my bag, not forgetting the book of scales, and cycle round for the most dreaded 30 minutes of my week lesson.

On arriving at my piano teachers house, I’d leave my bike round the side of the house, ring the door-bell and, on hearing the bellowing ‘come in’ from upstairs, I’d walk in, and head up said stairs to wait in the spare room for the previous lesson to finish. It was only ever for a few minutes, but I realise now that it was my first real experience of nerves; sitting there wondering if I’d practised enough, or whether he’d get annoyed at me.

Once it was my turn, I’d warm up my fingers with scales and arpeggios. My piano teacher would correct mistakes and make me repeat things, making sure I got my finger positions correct, and that my stance and hand position. Then it was onto whichever exam pieces I was learning. Play it through. Faster… louder there… no that’s not quite right… and once that was done, on to the dreaded sight reading. I never got the hang of it, never found a way to make it easy but it was part of the exam so needs must.

After a few years, as I progressed, the exams got harder, the pieces more complex and challenging, and my relationship with my piano teacher, Mr. Pullen, changed. He would start to ask me what music I was listening to, start to give me pieces that weren’t classical… Joplin, Gershwin entered the fray.

At the time I had a love/hate relationship with the piano. It was something I felt I was ‘made’ to do and whilst my friends could skip out of school and go play, I had to go home and do my practice first. But looking back I realise that I really did enjoy the playing (not so much the endless practising), especially latterly when I realised I could transfer what I had learned to more contemporary songs, rock classics, Elton John et al.

Learning to play the piano, learning to play any instrument, includes learning the theory behind the music. At least it should’ve been a big part, but when it came to sit the mandatory Grade 5 Theory exam (all the grades before that only required a practical exam to be passed) I was a bit taken aback to find out I had to know ‘theory’ whatever the hell was. My piano teacher was confused, why was I surprised, hadn’t I done theory exams for all the other grades?

No, not I hadn’t yet, for some reason, he presumed we’d been covering that stuff all along, not sitting chatting about the latest bands of the day… oops.

What followed was the precursor to all of those wonderful school and college exams, a frantic few weeks cramming to learn what I could – the joy of mnemonics to learn the keys, Every Good Boy Deserves Fun, understanding how compose a tune based on a few opening bars – before heading up to the big city to sit an actual exam. I was 13/14 at the time, had never sat a written exam in my life and my memory of entering the exam room in Glasgow University is formatted movie style, with that long pullback zoom effect as I looked down row after row of single desks, stretching off into the distance. To this day I’ve no idea how, but I passed!

As I got older, the practice became a chore and eventually, in the lead up to my Grade 7 exams, I stopped. I was 15 and girls, and the desire to be ‘cool’ for them, took over my desires. For a while afterwards I would occasionally, if everyone was out of the house, pull some sheet music from the piano stool and belt out a few tunes, Billy Joel, Abba, The Beatles, but as other interests came to the fore, so my piano playing dwindled and eventually stopped completely.

Over the past few years, as I’ve started to focus more on how I spend my free time, I’ve been looking back with my rose tinted glasses on. It’s easy to forget how hard I worked, how much practise I had to do (and was cajoled/told to do!) to get to the level I was at. Mr. Pullen was a great teacher, he was strict and a bit shouty when he needed to be, but as we both grew older, my attitude improved and he mellowed. Now I look back with kind fondness on the man who helped embed the deep love and appreciation of music that I hold to this day.

My Mum played the piano which is why we had one in the house and thankfully when they moved they took it with them. It’s a gorgeous little upright that for years sat behind a dark black patina until my parents had the wood stripped and now it’s a glowing, dark golden colour, all wood grain and autumnal tones. It’s nothing special in terms of name, or sound, but having spent so many hours playing it, in my mind it’s definitely MY piano (a discussion I will have, forcibly, with my sister if needs be!). A couple of years ago when my parents sold the family home there was a serious conversation about whether they’d get rid of it and I protested loudly enough that it currently sits in the living room of their new flat.

That was probably the discussion which refreshed thoughts of piano playing somewhere in the dustier corners of my brain, stirring up memories to spiral into shafts of murky sunlight. Snippets of pieces I used to play became ear worms, Minuet in G topping a new playlist of piano tracks.

My musical tastes have grown in the intervening years and looking at the sheet music available now reveals a swathe of artists that I love; would I be able to play some Radiohead songs? How about some Weezer? Who knows, but it remains a thought that bounces around in my head now and then, could I re-learn enough to play a few tunes? Do I have the dedication to practice regularly? Where the hell would I put a Yamaha P115 keyboard anyway?

I guess there’s only one way to find out…

Gig: Post Modern Jukebox

Everytime I listen to the current hits of the day I come away with a catchy tune in my head. Sure it’s auto-tuned, heavily produced, and reliant on a hook rather than things like a melody or a smart lyric but they are catchy nonetheless. And yes, I am big a huge snob about this and no I don’t care.

For me the sign of a good song is one that can embrace change, that can be rendered new by a change in tone, or pace, or instrumentation. Some bands do it to themselves (think Creep by Radiohead, from thrashy distorted guitars to heartfelt acoustic ballad) and some artists grab a handful of such tunes and make a career from twisting and cajoling them into new shapes.

So, to be fair to the popstars of today, it’s safe to say that SOME of their music holds up to that test; when Scott Bradlee’s Post Modern Jukebox rolls into town and provides a swing/jazz musical makeover to modern pop songs the results are utterly, bewitchingly, fantastic. Check their Youtube channel for some examples.

But how well would those cover versions hold up live? Well, suffice to say that rarely do I remember smiling so much during a gig, and yes there was no small amount of shimmying too.

Covering tracks like Are You Gonna Be My Girl, Seven Nation Army, Creep, No Surprises, Chandelier, Cry Me A River, Shake It Off and more, the performers delivered time and again. With the main compere, who also sings, and four other singers, plus a tap dancer, to entertain us, whilst the voices may change but the style remains true.

And what voices they are, the main singers all delivered whether giving us a jazz hall smokey rendition of Seven Nation Army (quite possibly my favourite of the evening and not JUST for the amazing shimmering dress), serenading us through Cry Me A River, or big banding their way through Shake It Off, you can’t help but smile, boogie and sing along. Ohhh and the clarinet/saxophone player almost brought me to tears when they stepped in front of the mic for a low key rendition of Creep. One voice and a double bass, stunning.

A far cry from the ‘I’m the rockstar, you are the audience’ affairs you see far too often at the Academy, PMJ turned the entire place into a big house party that just so happened to have an amazingly tight band performing that night, ohhh and your friends just so happen to have a fair set of lungs on them and, hey, you know ALL the songs!

This was my first time seeing PMJ perform live, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, having only really seen some of their YouTube videos (worth noting that the performers in the videos were not on stage last night, it’s a revolving cast) but I was blown away by the calibre of every person on stage, and the entire experience is (obviously) a whole lot more involving up close and personal although, admittedly, we were right at the very front.

If you get the chance, this is one jukebox that is well worth dropping a few dimes into.

New Bands and Small Venues

For a while now I’ve been on a mission to discover new music. That might just be music that is new to me, or it might be actually new up and coming bands that I’ve not heard of, but I’ll happily admit that the recap of my musical year that Spotify provided was a bit of a shocker. We all have our own self-image but, musically at least, I didn’t think I was quite as mainstream as all that… stats never lie though, right?

For the last few years I’ve tended to rely on the same few sources; a mixture of random recommendations from friends and colleagues, the occasional blog post or album review here and there, but I always seem to fall back to the same two places for ‘new music’. namely BBC 6Music and Spotify.

6Music is definitely my touchstone and the place I’ve picked up new favourite artists the most. More recently though the “Discover Weekly” playlist by Spotify has thrown up some gems, but I know that, as it’s driven by my listening habits, it can get a bit samey and it’s not really expanding my musical tastes/vocabulary/library.

Looking at my upcoming gigs for the first half of the year I also realised my desire to find new artists isn’t just about finding new music to listen to, it’s about finding artists to connect with and the new experiences to be had there. With that in mind, and whilst I’m not against massive auditorium style (I have a couple planned already) I have found myself more and more drawn to smaller venues towards the latter part of last year and I can see that trend continuing.

Luckily Glasgow has a myriad of such places, the type of venue where you are never more than 40 feet from the performance (for Glasgwegians I’m classing King Tuts as the top ‘size’ end of this scale), places like The Hug & Pint, Broadcast, Stereo, and the 13th Note.

So how do I find these new artists?

Emails from ticket vendors helps – hat tip to See Tickets here as their ‘if you like X, you’ll like this band’ listings – and of course scouring Facebook has also turned up some gems, and when I say ‘scouring’ Facebook I of course mean I stalk a few people who are always out and about at gigs for bands I’ve never heard of, it’s great fun (and just in case, hi Stevie W, hi Angela B!). Equally, more and more artists and businesses use Facebook Pages to promote gigs, so I’ve started following as many of those as I can.

With all that in place I’ve now got quite a few more bands to listen to, and a rapidly expanding playlist of tracks to sample. Sure, it can be a bit hit or miss, but it’s fun spending time of an evening listening to random tracks and letting myself disappear down musical rabbit holes.

So far I’ll call out Cherry Glazerr, Car Seat Headrest, Gurr, Ghostpoet, Vultures and Zoe Bestel as ‘new discoveries’ that are worth a listen, and I’ve already got tickets to see one of them when they hit Glasgow.

How do YOU find out about new artists? Any tips or tricks to share? Or any new artists I should be checking out? Leave a comment, share the love.

When Sgt. Pepper arrived

Earlier this year I listened to the remastered, reissued Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – an album that was released six years before I was born. The first thing that struck me was how similar it was to Nevermind by Nirvana. No, really.

Nirvana had been making some waves but the first time I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit on MTV it made me stop and turn and stare. What was this? It wasn’t heavy metal, it wasn’t indie rock, it was new, and once I managed to get a copy of the album it stayed on my stereo, on repeat, loudly, for several weeks. It was the soundtrack for my first winter at college and to this day still invokes memories of student unions and drunken nights of experimentation, it also opened the door to another band that has never left me, Pearl Jam (who had released their first album a month prior).

I grew up listening to Queen. A band I latched onto in my parents LP collection, nestled alongside my Dads folk albums, and a plethora of singer/songwriter records (Sedaka, Joel, Manilow), ohhh and that copy of a Saxon album. I’ll skip past the bit where I totally ignored my Mum’s Beatles albums because the covers ‘looked like old music’ (don’t worry, I’ll come back to the Beatles soon).

Of all those early Queen albums ‘Jazz’ is the abiding memory; that weird black and white spiral cover, and the range of songs was what grabbed my attention – Fat Bottomed Girls, Dreamer’s Ball, Bicycle Race, Jealousy, Don’t Stop Me Now. This was a rock band play jazzy piano bar numbers? Silly songs about riding bikes? And to this day the drum riff in Fat Bottomed Girls still gives me goosebumps. It was a good grounding for my first forays into the world of popular music.

Queen ‘The Works’ was the second album I ever bought (the first was Adam & the Ants, Friend or Foe) and they remain a firm favourite, the type of band I love to sing a long to because I know all the words. Yet despite the emotional link to my childhood their songs never really spoke to me and as I grew into an adolescent I found their heaviest tracks didn’t rock hard enough and their later tracks all seemed a little too radio friendly (I prefer early Queen, gimme Sheer Heart Attack over The Miracle any day).

I was kind of stuck in my musical habits, but it was Top of the Pops and the Top 40 on the radio that was my gateway for those years. Iron Maiden were next up on the list – I can probably still remember all the words to every song on Piece of Mind – as I explored a heavier sound, gravitating towards big stupid guitar riffs like many a young teenager.

Having a parent who is a secondary school teacher also, occasionally helped. Imagine my 14 year old surprise when I walk into the family kitchen to find my Dad doing the dishes whilst Appetite for Destruction is blasting from the cassette deck because ‘the kids at school were listening to it’. The opening stuttering loops of Welcome to the Jungle is also on the list of goosebump moments.

Heavy Metal had me for a few years, but it wasn’t until 1991 when an 18 year old me first heard Smells Like Teen Spirit. That distorted, fuzzy, broken guitar ripped through the airwaves, and a visceral voice attacked the chorus and OMYGODWHATISTHIS was all I could manage. Over and over, the bass thumping, the drums thudding, volume at 10. We had moved on to CDs now, insert disc, set to repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’d never felt anything like it, never heard anything like it, and it felt new and, as cliched as it now sounds, it felt real. This raw, beautiful, screaming voice, those soft and loud songs, the pop sensibilities that kept getting ripped up and stomped on. Nirvana were the Queen I had longed for and I had only had to wait 10 years for them.

Fast forward to 2017 and whilst it was Nirvana that dragged me to my musical home, it was Pearl Jam that stuck with and grew with me. They fed my desire for meaningful words to sing, for dark songs for darker days, for uplifting anthemic beats and howling guitars. Sonically they were in the same dirty world as Nirvana, a basement growl thrust into the ether, but then THAT VOICE came booming and hollering at me from inside my own head.

I’ve only seen them live once and I will happily, joyously admit that I wept big fat tears and adopted the lyrics of the opening song of the set into my heart once again. Release Me, sings Vedder, howls Vedder, his throat ripping my heart asunder. As I flashed back to those first listens, curled up in my old bedroom, my teenage angst writ large. A matter of timing for sure, a happy coincidence of lyric and emotion, something I’ve rarely felt since, at least not until a little band called Elbow and a man called Guy Garvey reached into my heart and my soul, pulling line after wonderful line for his songs.

I veer to playlists more and more these days but sometimes it’s good to go back to an album or two. In ‘Ten’ by Pearl Jam and ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana, you have two of my Desert Island discs. Sgt.Pepper would have to be another, yet it wasn’t one of those buried in my parents collection (my Mum preferred their early stuff, she was that screaming, hysterical teen). I discovered it years later.

There’s been a lot written about the remastered release that was issued earlier this year and whilst it’s not quite like listening to the album for the first time back in 1969 it is definitely a markedly new sound for a well worn friend.

But stop and try and imagine something.

Imagine you are that child who is starting to explore music. Who has the lay of the land, can pick out reggae from soul from folk from classical. Who has a framework within which to work, a way of discovering related artists and songs.

Now, can you imagine what it must’ve been like to listen to Sgt.Pepper for the first time?

Listening today feels a bit like stepping into a time capsule, but not back to 1969, instead we are transported to an entirely different reality, taken through wonderous vistas, fantastical places and everyday melancholy. Each song is a perfect example of itself and I never tire of listening to it, even more so with this new release as you are able to pick out individual instruments and voices much better than before.

There hadn’t been an album like that before and whilst each song is memorable in it’s own sense, the format and construction was so completely new to the mass audience it was presented to it must’ve been utterly, wonderfully, bemusing. Imagine taking your new Beatles LP home, pouring over that album cover, reading the sleeve notes, before sliding the dark vinyl from its sleeve and dropping the needle and OMYGODWHATISTHIS!

Will we ever get another Sgt.Pepper, another Nevermind moment? As music skews away from the mainstream more and more, and pop music is continually filtered and processed down, I have to wonder if future generations will experience the same kind of bewildered awe that some of us have been lucky enough to experience.

Albums (not tracks) that land with an impact are few – Beyonce’s Lemonade springs to mind – and typically the impact these days is not purely musical, it requires a level of culture resonance and weight for an album to make a big impact on the masses.

But I know that somehow, from somewhere, an album will arrive.

Everyone will stop.

Everyone will listen.

Everyone will react.

And I just hope I’m still around to hear it too.

Band of Skulls

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Band of Skulls, innit @bandofskulls

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First things first, don’t let the name put you off, this is not a death metal (or any other kind of metal) band. Think bluesy rock, think White Stripes, think Slade, think Led Zeppelin if the songs were more melodic? … ohh I’m going to hell for that comment!

I’ve seen them a few times now, from their first album tour where me and another 60 odd souls realised that ‘hey, these guys are good’ to an audience of several hundred a few years later. I am still waiting on their “big breakthrough” but, like Eagles of Death Metal (also NOT a metal band), I’m quite happy that they remain reasonably under the radar; although to be fair Band of Skulls have supported Muse so I’m still not sure why mentioning their name to people I know enjoy rock music still illicits blank stares.

This time around saw them performing at The Bungalow in Paisley – one of four smaller gigs they are doing to support Independent Venue Week – and I joined maybe 100 other souls at this sold out gig. Not a venue I’d been in before, but I’d say it would be at capacity at about 150 so it was a bit odd to see so much room for a sold out gig, maybe Monday night syndrome?

I feel sorry for those who had tickets and didn’t show up because they missed a belter of a gig. It was pretty much a showcase for all of their best known tracks, a few they admitted they hadn’t played all that often, and a chance to bed in a new drummer (which is why these smaller gigs probably appealed ahead of a new album and bigger tour next year no doubt).

There is something wonderful about a venue so small that you are feet away from the band, and their ‘stage’ is raised all of 10 inches off the ground. Even standing at the back I could see the band members smiling, laughing, chatting to the audience away from the mics. The type of gig where you feel as involved as the band and the energy flows back and forth.

Band of Skulls are my type of rock band. Heavy at times, but with good tunes and a sense that they don’t take themselves all that seriously, after all it’s only rock and roll (and I like it). There are no 5 minute guitar wank solos either, just tune after pounding tune, and then a sudden calm for a quieter song that hushes the entire venue. Captivating.

Worth a mention were the support act, Vanilla Sky Mistress. A little too snare drum heavy for my liking, it was only towards the end of their set that I realised they had more than two drums on stage… that said with a lead singer who knows how to use her voice (and what a voice!) they could be a name to look out for or, you know, change?

Not a bad way to spend a Monday evening, and a great reminder of the power of connection that you get in a small venue.

Sloshed

I joined Hospital Radio Lennox when I was 16, primarily to complete the community service section of my Boys Brigade Queens badge, but I’ll admit the idea of being a ‘DJ’ tapped into my love of music. That plus the fact that a friend was already doing the same thing which brought a level of comfort knowing that there would be a familiar face there.

A few years later, long after I left the Boys Brigade behind me, I was still going along to do the request show on a Thursday, occasionally covering other timeslots and, even better I was starting to help out on Friday and Saturday nights doing discos! As Hospital Radio was a charity we were a reasonably cheap alternative to the usual local DJs (the ones who yak over every damn record at the party!) and I have to admit, I loved doing them.

We were mostly hired to do birthday or engagement parties – with the notable exception being the local school Christmas disco where we got to play chart music! – and after a few of these you start to get a sense of which records to play and when to play them, and more importantly what tracks to chain together to keep people on the dance floor.

For example, what you play BEFORE the buffet doesn’t really matter all that much but AFTER the buffet is when you break out the disco tracks, the Abbas, the soul classics, and 70s rock standards; I’m still amazed how many people will dance to the Stones (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

My post-buffet track of choice was always Disco Inferno by the Trammps, from which you could head to ABC by the Jacksons, or maybe crank it up for some RESPECT (Aretha or Erasure depending on audience age) and so on until it was THAT TIME OF THE EVENING.

THAT TIME OF THE EVENING was the point towards the latter end of the night, when you’ve got a constant stream of people bopping away and you’ve spotted that the Aunties (it was always the Aunties!) had already had a few dances and had sat back down for a few songs to get a wee rest, THAT was the moment you reached for the dog-eared copy of a Daniel Boone album, and cued up Beautiful Sunday…

Memories of those nights came flooding back to me last weekend at a wedding reception I was attending, as the opening bars of that song belted out I was hauled up to dance along, and within a few seconds I was lock step with everyone else on the dancefloor, doing the Slosh.

After the song ended I returned to my chair to the utterly bemused looks from a friend and her partner. I can’t recall exactly how she phrased it but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of “What was THAT?”… it was about then I realised that the Slosh is not a UK wide phenomenon (at least not any more).

Now, if you are from the West of Scotland (or perhaps Central Belt?) then even if you don’t recall it, you’ll no doubt have seen this odd little line-dance style performance to the aforementioned track. If not, you are going to the wrong parties…

After a bit of googling it turns out that the dance originated back in the 70s (which matches the timeline for the Daniel Boone track it’s associated with), and apparently there is a Belfast version as well, called The Slush (I kid you not).

Quite why it has persisted for so long in certain parts of Scotland – but not others as a highlander friend of mine confirmed – is beyond me. It’s not that great a song, nor that interesting a dance, and if I had to hazard a guess I’d suggest there is something to do with social class involved as well – dance as an outlet of joy amidst poverty, the weekly outing to the Barrowlands when it was still used as a Ballroom etc etc – but regardless it remains a staple of wedding receptions and parties across the land.

Still confused? Here it is being performed in its traditional setting.

TRNSMT Festival : Radiohead

Last Friday I took a day off work to go and walk about Glasgow Green, on the opening day of the inaugural year of TRNSMT Festival.

And no, I don’t know why they don’t like vowels.

The festival ran the entire weekend – with Kasabian and Biffy Clyro the headliners on Saturday and Sunday respectively – but I was happy enough to score a one day ticket, ostensibly to see one of my favourite all-time bands, Radiohead. The last time I saw them was also at Glasgow Green, on a dreich evening with a weird atmosphere, and it was a bit of a disappointment. Not so this time round!

I arrived around 3pm, quickly made it through security (well organised and friendly too) and set about exploring the site just as Everything Everything started their set. Aside from the main stage, there was a second smaller stage sponsored by King Tuts, the Jack Rocks tent (guess the bourbon sponsor for that one), and the Smirnoff DJ bus. Given the size of the site, I think the layout was ideal, it didn’t feel crammed and there weren’t any noticeable pinch points either. Admittedly that may have changed during the downpours on Sunday.

The line-up on Friday was a bit of a mixed bag for my tastes but I was suitably impressed with what I heard from Rag N Bone man (that guy has got a set of pipes) and although London Grammar sounded very beautiful it seemed an odd choice for a main stage (clearly I was in a minority given the crowds). I spent more time in the early afternoon at the King Tuts stage listening to Be Charlotte, Saint Motel, Honne, and Louis Berry. I even managed to squeeze in a couple of wanders back to the Jack Rocks tent (and so discovered The Sundowners and Black Honey).

A minor criticism would be the on-stage timings; It seemed, more than once, that all the live acts finished their sets around the same time meaning there was a lull in proceedings across the site. It was at those times that I, and many others, gravitated towards the thumping bass emanating from the Smirnoff dance bus, hidden away in a wee glade down next to the river, which had a constant stream of DJs lined up.

It was great to see local businesses strongly represented on-site, with many of the food stalls given over to the likes of Marthas and Nomad, and overall it seemed pretty well organised, even if they were a couple of minor last minute fixes going on (one of which to put up some screening round the gents urinals!).

So far, I was enjoying my afternoon, wandering around and soaking in the fun, friendly, atmosphere, itself a nice change from the moronity that T in the Park had become.

And then, all of a sudden, it was time for Radiohead.

First things first, no, they didn’t play Creep. I wasn’t that bothered myself, although it would’ve been good to hear the mass sing-a-long it would have started. Ohhh and they didn’t play Just either, not that anyone seems to mind that (except me).

It was about 9.40pm when they crept on-stage and immediately launched into two tracks from OK Computer; Let Down which worked surprisingly well as a set opener, and then Lucky which soared much higher than it does on the album.

From there they ran the gamut of newer tracks and fan favourites, treating us to the full range of the exploration and sonic devices they’ve toyed with from OK Computer onwards. There, There and 2 + 2 = 5 were nice reminders that when they put their mind to it they are a very good rock band, Ful Stop and Everything In Its Right Place pushing them out into thumping bass driven dance music, all underpinned by that ridiculous voice that seems to be getting better and richer with age.

One thing you cannot say Thom Yorke lacks is emotion (even if it’s very controlled), and whilst the crowd interaction was minimal, the big screens showed his commitment and love of what he was doing with smiles and fond glances out to the crowd. In fact everyone on-stage looked like they were having fun, with pleny of smiles going round from band member to band member. Age changes us all? A happy Radiohead?

Two encores zipped us back to OK Computer, with a huge roar for Paranoid Android and, yes, I shed a tear when they played Fake Plastic Trees* (I always do), and then it was a quick final trip back to The Bends before a rousing send-off with perennial favourite Karma Police, the crowd well enough versed to continue repeating the final refrain as the band left the stage.

And then it was all over and, as I sat on the last bus home I realised just how perfectly that final song had captured my experience. For one day, in the heart of my home city, wandering round a festival site, bumping into friends, chatting to strangers, enjoying cider in the early evening sun, I was transported out of the city and into the festival bubble where I happily lost myself, if only for a few hours.

* bonus, all three Glasto performances sync’d in one video

Upcoming gigs

Turns out I’ve been stealthily filling my calendar with gigs, so much so that I almost repeated my epic fail of last year by double booking two on the same night (sorry Wolf Alice but War on Drugs beat you to the date this year).

The list, so far…

And yes, this is exactly why I preface calendar events with an emoji.

And for a nice change, most of the bands listed above I’ve never seen live before. Weezer and Gorillaz being the stand outs; Weezer are one of those ‘how have I NOT seen you live before now’ kinda bands for me given I’ve been perennial favourites for coughs 20 years?

Elsewhere, the last time I saw Radiohead at Glasgow Green it was… interesting … and a bit of a (literal) damp squib so hopefully this time round (this Friday!) it’ll be better. If they put on a show half as good as their Glastonbury headline set from last weekend we are in for a treat.

Having seen Royal Blood at the Barrowlands I’m intrigued as to how they will ‘fill’ the Hydro sound/performance wise but their Glastonbury set suggests it won’t be a problem!

Then there is the small matter of Band of Skulls at a tiny venue in deepest darkest Paisley, the ever wonderful KT Tunstall at the Kelvingrove bandstand (please don’t rain!), and Grizzly Bear I’ve seen before but will need to get back to their stuff as it’s been a while but their gig was a fun one. Not the most eclectic list of gigs ever, but I don’t care. If 2016 taught me anything it’s GO AND SEE LIVE MUSIC WHILE YOU CAN!

And yes, I AM considering Katy Perry tickets.

If you are going along to any of these, gimme a shout, always more fun in a crowd!