PLUM – STOW TOWN HALL – 11th May 2013

Having left London at 7am in the morning to drive back to Scotland, I arrived in the Borders’ Village of Stow just before 8pm after a brief stop to rest and change. I had known in advance that Kat Healy had been announced as a support act; after chatting to one of the organisers, Chris, I then found that Plum had arrived earlier in the day to lead workshop sessions with a group of local young people. These young people, both primary and secondary school students, had spent the afternoon discovering how to use musical instruments in conjunction with found objects along with a loop pedal to produce music, and would be performing a new piece later, ahead of Plum’s performance.
The small hall with its impressive vaulted wooden ceiling quickly filled up, with many young people amongst the audience. The stage stood ready and waiting with guitars, keyboard, laptop, and other assorted pieces of electronic equipment. As the evening progressed more tables and chairs were brought in and set out as the audience buzz increased in anticipation of what was to come.
Ahead of the music, I caught up with Plum and recorded a brief interview. I also chatted with Chris and discovered that the local ‘SoundOut’ group had organised a self-funded music festival in the town the previous summer, and, thanks to a generous grant from a local wind farm, were busy planning and preparing for a second more adventurous one this summer. This evening represented their first venture as ‘contractors’ bringing ‘hired’ acts to the town. I did a rough head count and reckoned that there were around eighty in the hall which felt about right for the venue and throughout the night, a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere persisted.
Having travelled from Inverness, Kat prefaced her set with a lovely relaxed introduction in which she commented on the rural location, having had to negotiate unfenced roads with sheep and young lambs to avoid, and then discovering that the nearest pub was in the next town. Kat was an unknown quantity for me and, given Plum’s electronic pedigree, was slightly unexpected as she delivered a lovely ‘folky’ set with a presence and vocal style that had me recalling Emmylou Harris, particularly on her ‘Wrecking Ball’ album. For some songs she was accompanied by Stanley Odd’s Thilo Pfander on keyboard.
Following Kat’s set, more chairs were brought out, this time for the group of young people who were about to perform. These young people sat in a horseshoe in front of the stage and began by passing a microphone around to enable each to add their individual pieces to the loop. In addition to traditional instruments, guitar and fiddle, items found in the hall’s kitchen featured along with vocal sounds. As the layered sample loop developed, the young people seemed very much at ease and to be enjoying their opportunity to demonstrate their newly found skills. In addition to being an excellent experience for those who had participated in the workshop and performed on the night, I imagine that the performance would have inspired many of the other young people in the audience.
With little set up to be changed on stage it was soon time for Plum to get started. Since I had seen her previously last Halloween in Edinburgh her talents had been recognised at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards where she won the ‘Best Electronic Artist’ category and I was keenly anticipating another excellent performance. For a hall that hadn’t been designed with amplified music in mind the sound quality was extremely good and I was able to enjoy her set without significant distortion. Three digital projectors helped to add atmosphere with video footage being projected onto the wall behind the stage, adding to the other lighting. Plum was very much at ease as she manipulated the various pieces of equipment, augmenting with acoustic and bass guitars as required. Along with a good selection of previously released tracks she included a taste of what to expect from her new album. Making the most of the opportunities offered by digital recording and distribution she will be releasing this album in two parts starting in the autumn – something that I will certainly be watching out for.
Creating a performance based on looping samples and building up a nuanced and captivating backing for her lyrics is a different skill set to that required to master more traditional instruments, but I believe that it is equally valid when the results are as excellent as those produced by Plum. The set in Stow was equally as exciting and impressive as when I had first seen her in Sneaky Pete’s, however, the experience was very different which was all down to the lovely family-friendly atmosphere provided by the organisers at SoundOut who appear to be extremely passionate about enabling their community to be able to experience great live music. The latter part of the set included a number of dub-step oriented tracks which were particularly well received and had many people up dancing. Although she has been recognised as an electronic artist and incorporates elements such as dub-step in her act, she does not produce long and repetitive tracks, I believe that her principal skill is her ability to create a wide range of sounds and approaches in her work, and helps to prove that genre classifications can be quite misleading. I will continue to seek to avoid genre label pre-conceptions in order to identify other new and exciting artists such as Plum.

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