bookmark_borderIDLES

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.

bookmark_borderGigs for the soul

“Fry your onions in garlic!”, he shouted.

It was another evening in the Barrowlands, the ageless dance hall turned gig venue. It was late December, 1991, and I was there to see the Silencers, ably supported by the wonderful Humpff Family (wonderful in both name and in their rock/ceilidh stylings). As we were waiting for the Silencers to come on stage, the audience was starting to gear up and the noise was steadily increasing as more and more people came in and jostled their way into the crowd.

It’s the same at every gig. A guitar tech wanders on to the stage to plug in a guitar and is given a rousing cheer, every gap between playlisted ‘intermission’ songs is met with whoops and hollers. It was at this point of the evening that, in an achingly art school moment, a friend attempted his parody of the casual gig goer and their catcalling antics.

“Fry your onions in garlic!” he shouted.

Near us, heads turned in bemusement. Some people laughed and, further into the crowd ahead, a handful of people shouted back some inaudible response. Then the band came on stage and it was all lost in the maelstrom. It’s a silly moment, but it stuck in my head in that way these silly things are wont to do, and it always comes back to me whenever I go back to that dance-hall.

My memories are scattered with such things. I may barely remember who played which venue, or which song a band opened with, but I was there when a topless man, painted bright orange, went stumbling and rolling down the hill at Balloch Park, to the accompanying sounds of a didgeridoo courtesy of Hothouse Flowers. I was there when three people, one after the other, all caught their foot on the bottom step of the little raised area in the ABC, I was there when Guy Garvey pointed right at us during our favourite song.

There is something intoxicating about a good gig with a good audience. Being in the right spot helps, too far back and you are with the talkers and moaners, and alas these days there is a ‘too far forward’ as well; that is a space for young people to bounce and jump and elbow and have their own moments of glee and abandonment that I still remember from my own youth. The best gigs aren’t just about the band and the music; Faithless at the Academy on their farewell tour which was rammed full and for a change it seemed like everyone was up for a good night, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble urging the entire audience to crouch down and laughing as we all eagerly complied, the rousing rendition of We Are Sailing delivered by everyone in the Academy as we were promised the band would come back on to do an encore if we sang loud enough.

This year has, quite deliberately, featured quite a few gigs already, with many left to attend. I’ve double booked myself on more than one occasion, eschewing Superorganism for Idles, and more recently Ladytron over The Prodigy but only because the latter are playing at the single worst venue I’ve ever attended; the SEC, aka the Big Red Shed. For many years it was the largest non-stadium venue in Glasgow, hosting the likes of the Chemical Brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters etc but, thankfully, we now have the glowing UFO-esque Hydro, and the Barrowlands has reaped the benefits as the SEC focussed more on ‘events’ than gigs. Thank fuck.

Attending more gigs than I normally do has had the bonus effect of increasing my tolerance of gig arseholes. They still frequent every gig I attend but I’m much more likely to brush off their antics as just that, antics of people who’ve had a little too much liquid refreshment, or otherwise – I’m looking at all you middle-aged pill poppers raving away at The Orb gig a few weeks back – and I’m just not letting them spoil my enjoyment of the evening. If you wanna spend the money to go to a gig and talk your way through it, that’s cool. I’ll either move, or politely ask you to shut up, but either way, ain’t no skin of my nose.

I’ve enjoyed ear-bleedingly loud gigs in the smallest venues (hello Slime City/These New South Whales/DZ Deathray at the Hug & Pint) to the completely overwhelmingly over the top visual effects offered by Roger Watters at The Hydro (if you aren’t in total awe of a 60foot high laser pyramid, including dissecting rainbow shards, then I don’t even know…). From the wonderful one woman and a guitar styling of the tiny pixie punk Stella Donnelly, to the Olympic Park stadium filling, ridiculously turned to 11, Foo Fighters. I’ve also taken chances and caught bands I’ve never heard of and been rewarded more than is fair, and making more of an effort to catch support bands has, in turn, proved to be a great decision (Gurr and the aforementioned Slime City being the stand outs, so far).

Occasionally you luck out completely and the support band just happens to be one of your favourite bands too! So it was last night when the mighty Garbage rocked up at the Barrowlands, and were ably supported by Honeyblood, a band I’ve now seen 4 times from headlining the smallest (The Hug & Pint, capacity 100) to supporting the Foo Fighters at Murrayfield (capacity 70,000) and yes, there are themes to my venue and band choices and no, I don’t care.

Fundamentally my joy of going to gigs is hearing music in a rare and raw state, away from production studios and I still love the fact that I can go into a gig with an expectation and have it utterly blown away. Gorillaz have some beautiful songs, some slow paced numbers but their live set is full of energy and M1A1 might well be one of the best opening songs ever? Add to that the joyous feeling of being as one with thousands of other people; arms raised to LCD Soundsystem, feeling the bass move through me, I could have been anywhere as I was utterly alone and lost in that moment along with a couple of thousand other strangers.

These moments of joy, of connection, of passion and positive energy feed my soul for days. The music may vary, but give me an artist who performs, who sweats, and screams, and jumps, and puts themselves into every moment on stage and I’m sold. These are the stars, the people who clearly belong on the stage, who feed off the energy we supply and give it right back in droves. They can be quiet, they can be loud, but if the connection is there then it is an entirely other thing. From the screaming Skin of Skunk Anansie who WILL make you rock out no matter how hard you try and fight it, to the dulcet coaxing and smiles of Guy Garvey, the ability to own a room and make it yours is a special talent indeed.

And it would be remiss of me not to mention the shared joy that is the cover version. Pick the right one and you have an instant massaoake; Royal Blood did it with 20th Century Boy, KT Tunstall drops a kazoo led Seven Nation Army into one of her songs (which works way better than you’d expect!), Hot Chip seamlessly blend Dancing in the Dark with All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem, and last night I left the Barrowlands still happily teary-eyed thanks to Garbage ending the night with a cover of Starman.

I rarely leave a gig without a smile on my face, a lightness in my step. Music can raise the spirit, can soothe and coddle, but a good gig is that and so much more. My soul is sated as I step out on to the street and start the journey home, already looking forward to the next one.

bookmark_borderGig: Elbow and John Grant

We got the train to Manchester in the morning. It rained the entire time we were there, soaking us to the bone as we explored the city centre. We ate in a chain restaurant, Italian I think, before heading to the gig.

That was a few years ago and though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen Elbow live, it was the gig that sits large and raw in my memory. Bawling my eyes out as the lyrics to Scattered Black & Whites ripped my heart wide open, snapshots of childhood memories, my Grandparents, my baby sister, tears streaming down my face.

Maybe it’s because he’s roughly my age with, it seems, a similar propensity for emotion and love and heartbreak, but the lyrics of Guy Garvey have always landed hard and deep. He has the uncanny knack of grabbing a passing emotion, something you feel every day, and capturing it in simple, beautiful prose; “Coming home I feel like I, Designed these buildings I walk by”, tell me that doesn’t strike you when you go back to your hometown.

And that’s the charm of the aptly named Elbow (joints are functional, not glamourous after all) a band that are happy dealing in the humdrum of everyday life, the joy of happiness, the sadness of separation, and even when they do offer the boombastic it is still based on our shared humanities, and still cuts to the quick when needed; from the opening line of Newborn – “I’ll be the corpse in your bathtub. Uselss” – to the closing chords, folding in on top of one another to the cacophonous climax.

More recently, John Grant has started to occupy a similar place, writing with brutal honesty about the fears and insecurities that many people face day in, day out. He occupies a slightly different musical sphere but has the same self-effacing, inclusive natural warmth that Guy Garvey so easily displays on stage. He is equally as fond of the shift from gentle ballad to pulsing electronic throbbing noise, and we got the gamut of his talents in his support slot. Having seen him a couple of years ago at Glastonbury, I can confirm he is definitely one to catch when he returns.

It’d been a couple of years since I’d seen Elbow perform live and it was, as always, a wonderful delight. From the opening blare of the assembled horns of Starlings, through the quiet dark hope of Puncture Repair, to THAT final song that never fails to remind us of our place in this grand thing called humanity.

Elbow have been and have remained consistently good over the 10 years I’ve been seeing them live (which isn’t as easy as it sounds), and whilst they might not be revolutionaries, nor to the musical tastes of some, there is a lot to be said about spending an evening pouring your heart out before having it filled again with compassion and hope, before being hoisted to the rafters as one.

One day like this a year’d see me right, we sang and ohhh how true that is.

bookmark_borderGig: 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.

bookmark_borderGig: The Lovely Eggs

I’d not long finished my dinner and was doing the dishes. Standing at the sink I pondered what to do next and tried to think of reasons not to do any more chores, after all hoovering can always wait until tomorrow, right? We will ignore the fact that my hoovering was probably about a week past needing done, because hoovering is ALWAYS a job for tomorrow; just as dusting is a job for whenever someone is coming to visit, a lesson well learned from my dearest Mumsy.

So you can imagine my excitement when, moments after I’d set the last dish on the rack to dry, my watch vibrated on my wrist to notify me that a new message had arrived! Ohhh me oh my, perhaps an adventure lay within.

And, dearest reader, it did!

A spare ticket for a gig that very evening, to see a band called The Lovely Eggs who I’d heard of in name purely because the person who invited me had mentioned them a few weeks prior. Not only was there a spare ticket, there was also the offer of a lift to and from said gig, so who was I to say no, hoovering be damned!!

I wasn’t fully sure what to expect but the evening started well with the support acts; Mr Ben & The Bens offered some nice pop/rock tunes, Porky the Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) made us laugh, and then it was time for the headliners.

Having not heard much (if any) of their stuff I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but a few bars into the first song and I was pretty sure I was gonna enjoy it. The Lovely Eggs are a wife and husband duo, he drums and controls the samples, she shreds a guitar, screams, wails, groans, and serenades her way through every track. Described as ‘psychedlic post punk’ on at least one website, I loved every second of it.

It’s also a testament to the small gig thinking I posted about recently. The venue, Stereo, holds about 300 people in their basement and I was right at the very front (to one side as I’m 6’1) and lapped up the energy from the stage as Holly whirled and danced and goaded the crowd into reacting. Once again, the ability to turn a gig into a show that includes the audience is a talent and the passion and energy on display was infectious.

If you like punky thrashy guitars over simple melodic tunes, sprinkled with a dose of comedy, then check them out and if you get the chance to see them live, take the plunge.

So here’s to friends, here’s to saying yes on a random Monday evening, and here’s to small venue gigs by bands you’ve never heard of blowing your damn socks off.

bookmark_borderGig: Honeyblood

Have yourself a Honeybloody Christmas!

Featuring sets by Emme Woods, Man of Moon, and The Spook School (I only got there in time to catch the latter), there was a great atmosphere prior to Honeyblood coming on stage.

Having seen them twice, once supporting Foo Fighters at Murrayfield, and once at the teeny tiny Hug & Pint, I had a sense of what to expect.

Expectation be damned!

Honeyblood have been touring for the past few months, and it shows. Up-tempo versions of some of their tracks ripped along, the tracks from the now one-year-old second album sounded vibrant, and before we knew it they’d rattled their way through their setlist and encore.

As it was a Christmas show, there was a pause mid-show for a dance off – cue a lot of pogo-ing, hands raised twirling – the winners of which got up on stage to play a round of pass the parcel, and as a final song a rather kick-ass version of Merry Christmas that Slade would’ve been proud of!

Special mention to the drummer Cat, she’s recently been playing with Mogwai and from that first gig at the Hug & Pint to the other night at the ABC, she’s turned into an absolute monster of a drummer.

All in all a pretty good gig to round off my year.