Monthly Archives: December 2013

‘DOWN AND OUTS’ IN HAWICK, SPAT EP LAUNCH NIGHT

Friday 18th October found me travelling across the Scottish Borders, through a very dark evening complete with driving rain – my destination being The Station Bar where I was eagerly anticipating an evening of punk excitement. The occasion was the launch of local band Spat’s EP, ‘Down And Outs’, a truly great offering that contains a varied range of exciting songs – with no attempts to conform to current populist trends.

As the opening act got things started around thirty minutes after the billed starting time I wondered if there might be a knock on effect at the other end. Any such concerns were quickly dispelled as I found myself thinking about bands such as Sham 69 – having travelled up from Cumbria, No Thrills managed to trash the myth that ‘punks can’t play their instruments’; their set was very extremely tight and presented a great combination of skillful metal guitar played by a cowboy boot wearing giant alongside a rockabilly styled bass player, supported by a tiny powerhouse of a drummer; all fronted by a combat short and boot wearing singer with short red mohawk hair whose Ian Dury style moves kept the audience enthralled. If I had one criticism, it would be that the sound had been turned up beyond what the room could sustain; the instrumentals remained crisp and clear but the vocals had less clarity. Having said that, the intent behind the lyrics remained crystal clear. This was something that I reflected upon when driving home after the gig whilst thoroughly enjoying Natacha Atlas signing in Arabic (which I definitely don’t understand)!

The second band up were the reason I was there, local band Spat had impressed me from my first hearing – following the departure of Angie, this was to be their first performance with new bass player, and they were also joined by a trombone player who fitted in perfectly. I was very impressed by their ability to inject tremendous enthusiasm into their music. Each song was delivered well, and the idiosyncratic addition of the trombone added greatly to the overall effect. The band quite clearly relished their moment in front of the audience and it was a pleasure to see the smiles on their faces as they gave it their all! Having a personal mention during the introduction to my ‘track of the month’ ‘Robot’ certainly added to my appreciation of their set!

Splinter came, in parts, from Glasgow and Fife and added yet another dimension to the evening – very political and angry, they rattled through a number of quick fire songs, many ‘for the government’ as introduced by front man Dek. The bass player particularly caught my eye, he either had extremely long arms or was somehow enabled to pull off an exceptionally distinctive low-slung playing stance.

To close, The Zips kicked off – a crisp, sharp and tight sound, very reminiscent of The Clash! Their drummer may not win any prizes for delicate subtlety, but he more than made up for that with out and out brutality – no way was anybody in the room going to ignore the drumming! Further to my earlier concerns, the band were requested to cease playing shortly after midnight, around half way into their set. They went ahead and played one more song but wound up after that. Speaking to singer Johnzip afterwards he recognised the need to stick to local arrangements in order not to alienate neighbours so that future band nights might be allowed to continue thereby denying a local audience further opportunities to experience such electrifying music.

All credit must be given the Hawick ‘Underground Army’ for their dedication in striving to bring such excellent bands into the Scottish Borders. I look forward to seeing more of a similar style and standard in the future.


ELEANORE & THE LOST ‘PARLOUR GAME’

In these days of instant gratification, streaming playlists, downloading individual tracks and shuffle players it is such a joy to come across an album that very definitely deserves to be listened to in its entirety, and sequentially starting with track 1. The songs do stand on their own and certainly suffer no significant loss by being listened to in isolation. A number of them also have very well produced and atmospheric videos to accompany them and a search on YouTube will result in a very pleasant viewing/listening experience. The title track opens the album, with a minimalist clock beat rhythm followed by beautifully enunciated naïve vocals that I found to be rather timeless, and had me recalling a number of bands that I had enjoyed listening to way back in the 1960s. The lyrics encourage the listener to put on a mask and explore – thus we begin our ‘parlour game’ that chronicles a journey of self discovery. Shortly the minimalist piano and cello opening develops depth as extra elements are added to the mix. “Don’t be afraid, put on your mask and let’s play.” The time signature of this has prompted me to pay more attention to other music that I listen to as it strikes me that this waltzing rhythm sounds so unusual – just how uncommon is 3/4 time?

The crystal clarity of Eleanore’s vocals is further showcased in track 2 where it is augmented with some powerful electric instrumentation – “there’s something here that yearns, and something more that drives”. Next, track 3 ushers in hints of middle eastern influences that are reminiscent of some of Natacha Atlas’ work;“wrapped in dark, I dream away.” Instrumentally this third inclusion takes the listener back to a more gentle piano and strings combination.

Track 4 is distinctly ‘Evanesence-esque’, and a bit darker, ”there are demons in your soul and they’re tearing you apart” – once again it features a multi-layered and powerful, heavy yet melodic, rock supporting instrumental foundation on which Eleanore’s exquisite voice builds and continues to amaze. The rock motifs are progressed with track 5 which reverts to a more reserved and thoughtful delivery; yet the hint of something more driven, bubbling away just below the surface, keeps letting its presence be known.

A short instrumental interlude echoing the opening track marks a distinct change in the album’s tone – “everything that lies ahead remains a mystery” – as the songs become distinctly less rock orientated, with echoes of Madonna circa ‘Erotica’, and Gwen Stefani becoming audible. This change offers a chance to fully appreciate the full range of Eleanore & the Lost’s skill and creativity, whilst the signature symphonic/operatic sound continues to provide the thread that unifies the wonderful collection of songs; “I am starting to believe, and I feel wonder filling all of me”.

The intelligent lyrics are beautifully nuanced, and effortlessly reflect Eleanore’s personal development and journey through life. ‘The Key’ is a lovely uplifting and inspirational anthemic prelude to the richly textured closing track. “Now I can see what you’ve hidden from me – I’m trapped in the beat, the music’s taken hold of all of me – I’m learning who I am, and she’s stronger than I’d guessed – strange how I thought that I knew you”. The more I listened to ‘Parlour Game’ the more I heard to intrigue and fascinate me; the broad variety of the songs is truly wonderful, Eleanore’s stunningly entrancing four octave voice, and its lack of fast paced tracks results in a rather uplifting yet relaxing listening experience.

FOOTNOTE:

Life seems to be full of coincidences; regarding this album, another one arose when I read the accompanying Press Kit. I am currently in training for the Brighton Marathon in April 2014 to help raise funds for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF); I was pleased to discover that Eleanore was specially commissioned to compose the theme song for WWF’s 50th anniversary – the result piece being ‘A True Nature’ – off now to track that down.

1/ Parlour Game (La danza d’amore)

2/ The Calling

3/ Even More

4/ Demons

5/ Everything

6/ Interlude – La danza d’amore

7/ Hidden Wings

8/ Synthesized

9/ Magical

10/ The Key

11/ Strange

Eleanore – all vocals on all tracks

Parlour Game / string arrangements – Eleanore and Adam Pain, drums & keyboard programming Adam Pain, strings -The Holywell String Quartet (Verity Evanson, Kathryn Riley, Gemma Sharples, Amantha Wijesekera)

The Calling / drum programming, keyboards & bass – Adam Pain, guitars – James Betteridge

Even More / all instruments – Adam Pain, bowed double bass samples provided by Nik P.

Demons / all instruments – Roger Davis

Everything / drum programming, keyboards & guitar – Adam Pain, additional guitar – James Betteridge

La Danza D’Amore Interlude / string arrangement & harp programming – Eleanore, strings – The Holywell String Quartet

Hidden Wings / all instruments & additional vocals – Adam Pain

Synthesized / all instruments – Roger Davis

Magical / all instruments – Roger Davis (originally inspired by ‘Barnes’ by c_housel

Strange / string arrangements – Eleanore & Adam Pain, drum programming, keyboards & synth bass – Adam Pain, guitars – James Betteridge

The Key / all instruments – Roger Davis


SPLINTER ‘HISTORY’

It’s really quite refreshing to be reminded that some musicians and bands are more than happy to remain faithful to their beliefs, both musical and political, as they aim to avoid chasing passing trends. Splinter offer an excellent blend of no nonsense streetpunk delivering a carefully considered critique on today’s society and politics. Fourteen short snappy tracks (plus a bonus one) – driving and insistent, defiant and immediate. This is energetic unpretentious in your face punk that ranks with the best. There are no technically stunning virtuoso instrumental performances, but then again that would be so out of place, just solid and tight, driving guitar, bass and drums.

Stand out tracks on first hearing are ‘Technology’s Lies’, ‘Keyboard Cowards’, and “dedicated to the government” as introduced by Dek when I witnessed them live – ‘Imbeciles’, “the world’s being run by fools”. The album ends with a special bonus track that begins at a slower pace than the rest, initially it sounds as if it will be a bit more laid back but the lyrics reveal a much darker side and the tone of the track changes – the title ‘Night Clubs’ is absolutely nothing to do with an enjoyable night out in the city – it is about the culling of young seal pups.

Shev – bass

Dek – vocals / drums

Rik – guitar / vocals

1/ History

2/ Fashion Victims

3/ Flashback

4/ Tecnnology’s Lies

5/ Cut The Crap

6/ Anticipation

7/ One Of The Same

8/ Keyboard Cowards

9/ Cloud Of Regret

10/ Era Collapse

11/ Forget

12/ Imbeciles

13/ Got A Feeling

14/ Last In Line

15/ Night Clubs

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SPAT ‘DOWN & OUTS’

“The liars keep on lying and the triers keep on trying and the ones who don’t have fun they all refuse ……… the show-offs keep on showing and the know-it-alls keep on knowing and the posh ones keep on looking down their nose ……… so rise up high and look them right in the eye ……… you gotta fight for the right to be you!” (Fuckwits)

Nestled in the rolling Scottish Borders hills is the mill town of Hawick, famous, amongst other things, for its quality knitwear and rugby; it gained national headlines a few years back over a row about whether or not ladies could ride alongside men in the town’s historic Common Riding, and more recently as a result of having a district in ‘GTA V’ named after it. It now deserves a further place in the headlines as a result of the efforts of some dedicated local musicians. Spat’s line-up may have changed since they recorded this excellent EP but the band have been able to make up for Angie’s departure by incorporating Tazz on bass, and Cozzy with his trombone!

They bill themselves ‘Punk Rock, Riot Grrrl/Boy Madness from The Scottish Borders!’ In years gone by the ‘Border Reivers’ freely roamed around the area regularly criss-crossing an almost irrelevant border, these historical raiders are now replaced by many talented musicians. Spat add to that pool of talent and offer an exciting alternative to help increase the diversity of live music that can be enjoyed in the area. Despite working hard to help bring other similar bands into the area, it seems that there remains a certain reluctance to accept bands that are not prepared to restrict themselves to more traditional folk/rock, or churning out cover versions of favourite songs. In fact it seems that many venues quickly lose interest when the words ‘perform their own songs’ are mentioned – such a shame that people are denied opportunities to experience and appreciate original talent.

The lyrics of the opening track, ‘Fuckwits’ sets the scene for what is to follow; recognising that we are surrounded by many different ‘types’ of people, some positive and others negative – the message is, ‘what is most important is to be true to your own beliefs, stand up and be proud’. Listening to this I was reminded of a wonderfully vivid part of Simon Armitage’s ‘Black Roses (The Killing Of Sophie Lancaster’ where ‘Sophie’ lists the range of humanity that passes by outside the flat that she shared with boyfriend Robert:

“We could bolt the door

and keep the world out

or watch the world

as it wondered past,

in all its glory, beautifully mad,

all the nightshift workers and daylight shirkers,

the mods and rockers and emos and moshers

and joggers and bikers and slackers and slickers

……………………………

and the dog-walkers and the dawdlers,

all the late starters and the early risers …

all the human race in its crazy parade.”

Sophie and Robert were attacked because of their alternative dress/culture; I find it extremely refreshing that bands like Spat continue to advocate personal choice and freedom rather than become absorbed by some boring ‘normal’ standards.

The EP continues with ‘No Thrills’, a short and snappy number that would would have been very much at home back in the early days of punk, but still sounds fresh and current to me! ‘Robot’ so impressed me that I featured it as my ‘track of the month’ for October, there are shades of Poly Styrene as Hay powerfully delivers another heart-felt plea for self-belief and honesty – “just take off your mask and be free!” The penultimate track is ‘S.A.D.’, the opening bars of which remind me very much of early Black Sabbath, it soon develops a distinctive character that showcases the band’s instrumental skills – it certainly puts paid to any suggestion that punks cannot play their instruments! The lyrics are intelligent and thoughtful too, which is another thing that appeals to me. Finally, ‘Snobs’, another song with a clear message of self-belief and anthemic hook, “I don’t backstab and I don’t bullshit ….. I’m more real than you’ll ever be.” During initial hearings I was getting a ‘misheard lyric’, “I don’t back down and I don’t bullshit”, which might be misheard but probably wouldn’t be misplaced.

This band’s enthusiasm is really quite infectious and they truly deserve to be given a fair hearing – having seen them live I can also confirm that they are equally proficient and exciting outside the recording studio.

Hay – vox, guitar

Ainz – guitar

Angie – bass

Ryan – drums

1/ Fuckwits

2/ No Thrills

3/ Robot

4/ S.A.D.

5/ Snobs


TOM PERLONGO ‘ALL TIED UP’

Tom is extremely passionate about his music. Strongly influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa and Eric Clapton this album brings a selection of original compositions to complement his earlier ‘Blues To The Max’ release. His timeless blues sound includes a contemporary edge as he works his way through a range of songs that demonstrates his range of skills; his masterful guitar playing is a perfect accompaniment for his deep soulful voice.

I have been lucky enough to have been kept informed about the development of this album which makes this release so much more special for me. I previously reviewed ‘Blues To The Max’ and have been able to hear Tom’s music develop from interpretations of other writers’ songs to a greater focus on his own writing. Whilst there is always a place for well played and inspired covers, I have to admit a strong preference for original work and this album doesn’t disappoint. The range of songs contained here is enhanced by the input from Jan Carroll Gregory who shares writing credits on two of them, ‘Hoochie Coo’ and ‘Little Miss Lucky’. Tom is an extremely accomplished guitar player, favouring a special ‘Violator’ as produced by Haywire Custom Built Guitars; his voice could equally have been ‘custom made’ for blues. I can readily imagine Tom and band playing these live in some smokey basement bar, less likely in real life due to indoor smoking bans here in the UK, but smoke of not I’m sure that a great night would be had by all. The songs range from quirkly up-beat numbers, through much more laid back slower ones and includes the extremely poignant tribute to Tom’s late father, ‘Rock My Tears Away’. This album is very much a labour of love and has a great deal of emotion invested in it.

I can easily see’All Tied Up’ helping to increase Tom’s audience, and look forward to hearing more new songs in future.

1/ I Can’t Sleep

2/ Hoochie Coo

3/ All Tied Up

4/ Walkin’ Shoes

5/ Poison In My Eyes

6/ Little Miss Lucky

7/ She Loves Me

8/ Paper Thin

9/ Rock My Tears Away

10/ Stogie Smokin’ Woman


FERAL CONSERVATIVES ‘BREAKS AND MENDS’

Living in the UK and being amazed by the desperate machinations of our current Con-Dem government I was immediately drawn to find out more about a band called Feral Conservatives. I have to admit that what I discovered didn’t quite match my initial expectations; but I certainly wasn’t disappointed and am glad that the name caught my eye and caused me to click further! I had expected something dark, angry and punky with lots of ‘gnashing’ teeth melded with thrashing, discordant, feedback ridden electric guitars! Whilst there are definitely some hints of anger and discord, what is offered in this album is a very different beast indeed. Feral Conservatives are a multi-instrumentalist duo, Rashie and Matt, who describe themselves as playing mandolin-based indie rock with an aggressive edge and a soft bottom (although neither of them will admit to having the soft bottom).

Somebody once told me that the use of a ukelele would automatically bring a smile to her audience’s faces – the prominence given to the mandolin by Feral Conservatives adds an equally positive enhancement to this album. The selection of songs is intriguing and provides ample opportunity for Rashie and Matt to demonstrate their diverse talents. ‘Control’ is a great opening track that grabs attention – dropping the mandolin, ‘Golden Coast’ follows nicely on whilst the next tracks in sequence move pleasingly towards my latest ‘track of the month’, the delightful ‘Haven’t Given Up’. I do love the vibe of ‘Can’t Do This’, but there is a crucial aspect of the lyric that means I will have to avoid playing it on radio – sometimes ‘radio edits’ can work but I fear such treatment would be a step too far and would crucially spoil this song.

Rashie and Matt must be commended for producing an excitingly diverse album that suggests much more is to follow – I eagerly await future developments, but in the meantime will continue to revisit and immerse myself in this wonderful offering.

Rashie Rosenfarb – vocals, mandolin, piano, bass

Matt Francis – drums & percussion, guitar, organ

1/ Control

2/ Golden Coast

3/ Brighter Dawn

4/ Friends Bail Always

5/ Recycled Parts

6/ Haven’t Given Up

7/ Can’t Do This

8/ Captivated

9/ Hourglass


ROY’S IRON DNA ‘UNDER MY SKIN’

On the face of it this seemed like the musings of another ‘angsty’ teenager, but this was no ‘ordinary son’, and on closer inspection things weren’t quite as cut and dried as they seemed. There was definitely something about Berwick-based indie band Ordinary Son to be experienced here, but there were a number of differences. The name Roy’s Iron DNA might share the same letters, and the bands may share members – but there are clear musical differances. Ian S. Thompson seems to be the only remaining original link , and is clearly the driving force behind the two bands – RIDNA offering an electronica focussed output to complement the more guitar based music of Ordinary Son.

This album certainly takes the listener for an interesting and stimulating journey through accessible electronic music that clearly benefits from links with other genres. The lyrics provide much more than a simple sonic nuance and seek to add a further layer on interest. Much of my music listening is carried out whilst driving and this album provided a great soundtrack to my trips to and from the recent ‘Audio Soup’ Festival near Dunbar when I was acting as a ‘roadie’, transporting the ‘Joint Venture’ sound system. Much as the album seemed to provide a perfect soundtrack to my driving in and out of the festival site I’m certain that it would have been equally at home being projected from the Joint Venture Sound System with the sun going down, and just as well-placed whilst chilling at home.

A great mix of tracks is included – I had heard ‘Watching The World Go By’ in advance of the release and it continued to impress, likewise ‘Sunshine’ which had been offered as a track for re-mixers to get their digits into, but the initial highlight was ‘Rooftops’. Despite highlighting these two tracks, I am certain that there is sufficient diversity contained and the weeks/months ahead will find me gravitating towards other tracks depending on my mood.

1/ Heaven Sent Insane

2/Watching The World Go By

3/ Rooftops

4/ Gamble On a Why

5/ Sunshine

6/ Everything Is Everything

7/ Clouds

8/ Only You


HEALTHY JUNKIES ‘THE LOST REFUGE’

Following a successful appearance at Rebellion Punk Music Festival in Blackpool, a copy of the latest album release by Healthy Junkies dropped through my letter box thanks to Royal Mail efficiency. ‘The Lost Refuge’ is another album that had been partially ‘drip fed’ to me thanks to certain tracks being made available pre-release – with my appetite whetted there was no point in waiting to play it, and once unpacked, resistance was not an option; ‘Resistance’ is also the opening track, one of those that I had already heard. With the opening track testing the limits of my stereo I felt so privileged to be able to listen to it – almost like a spoilt brat. OK, it’s time to try to get serious, but the second track (‘Spoilt Brat’) is another that I had previously heard – a glance at the remaining tracks revealed that I should prepare for many new aural experiences, with only one other that I had previously heard, ‘Witches Of Lust’. There was also the promise of something very special by way of Edith Piaf’s (in collaboration with Marguerite Monnot & Louis Guglielmi) ‘La Vie En Rose) – I certainly anticipated something quite different to previous covers by Grace Jones, Donna Summer, and Aretha Franklin. It used to be so simple – you read ‘Sounds’, ‘Melody Maker’ or ‘New Musical Express’ to find out what you could about any exciting new bands and musicians – very occasionally a few of them would appear on ‘Top Of The Pops’ or one of the few other TV music shows; and if you were extremely lucky they might play live somewhere near you. Then, of course there were the vinyl releases which presented magical opportunities to actually hear the music, often in one sitting from first track side one to final track on side two! The album sleeves, particularly the gatefolds, and printed inserts would provide a further layer of information and images. Now it’s all so fragmented – wonderful photos of recent gigs, teaser videos and audio available on platforms such as YouTube and SoundClound – also it is so much easier to cultivate a connection with a band or artist and feel some involvement with them as they work on new albums or participate in tours. Add social media such as FaceBook, Twitter, and others into the mix and ……..well, I’m just so glad to be alive and able to immerse myself in this new interactive on-line world!

‘The Last Refuge’ follows on from then excellent and diverse ‘Sick Note’ and demonstrates a step up to another level.

In their FaceBook profile they describe themselves as a ‘female fronted, new wave, punk, grunge band that are DIY and hungry’ – this seems so simplistic and only just begins to describe them. They absolutely project self-belief and massive determination with obvious elements that would suggest new wave, punk and grunge – but DIY suggests a certain lack of professionalism which is most definitely not true. This album exudes mastered perfection with a raw edge. I have been lucky enough to see them play live where they replicated their recorded sound – I have no reason to doubt that the various songs contained here would sound equally exciting and polished in a live environment. Whilst I can identify a variety of echoes from previous years/decades, this is not to suggest that they are simply seeking to copy other acts – the sound is very current and retains its own distinct validity. That said, I found myself recalling memorable evenings with Gong and Hawkwind live on stage, whilst also remembering the wonderful interaction between Phil and Nina playing live.

In summation, this album is an absolute gem – the music is inspired and varied, with some really great special moments – the circus ringmaster ‘call’ in ‘Scam Update’, the music box interlude (see later), an entertaining duet and some powerful instrumental work to supplement Nina’s wonderful engaging vocals. I usually hesitate from suggesting ‘bests’ as I believe my feelings can often vary with mood, environment and other factors – I do, however, imagine that ‘If You Talk To Her’ will be a very firm favourite for a long time to come.

………. and ‘La Vie En Rose’? Well it certainly pleased – AND was very different from Edith, Grace, Donna and Aretha, starting with a musical box melody before a very brief and frantic pure punk rendition, Nina gives the world yet another dramatic interpretation!

Nina Courson – vocals

Phil Honey-Jones – guitar / keyboard / vocals

Tjay Tarantino – bass guitar

Steve Nightmare – drums

Adam Lewis – drums on ‘Cat Story’

1/ Resistance

2/ Spoilt Brat

3/ Play Me

4/ Scam Update

5/ If You Talk To Her

6/ Swansong

7/ La Vie En Rose

8/ Cat Story

9/ Mad Parade

10/ Shine A Line

11/ Witches Of Lust

12/ Coz It Sucks

13/ Sex War


THULA BORAH, ‘QUALIA’

I recently spoke to Thula Borah’s Lloyd and Matt about a range of things relating to the band’s name, album title, music and artwork. During that discussion I noted that I had been listening to ‘Qualia’ whilst driving – in fact much of my music listening now is done whilst driving about, and if not that, then when travelling, making good use of my i-pod when cycling, or on bus journeys etc. It strikes me that there are many similarities between their music and a long journey. Driving along a road can often seem rather repetitive, yet under closer inspection there are many differences to notice – road signs, junctions, other vehicles, roadside buildings and changing speeds to name just a few; the important thing is to maintain concentration.

The individual tracks may initially appear to be a bit repetitive but closer and repeated listening reveals a wonderfully layered palette of ethereal, swirling, wistful, climactic, orgasmic, intertwining, hypnotic sounds with subtle nuanced progressions. As an alternative to simply aiming to critique the music I have dipped into my memory banks and selected some journeys that might have been particularly enhanced by being accompanied by each of the tracks from this album.

1/ ‘MIDNIGHT MORNING’ – gentle swirling guitars and layered percussion gradually building in intensity and hinting at more to come – after an overnight drive from Scotland travelling on a fairly deserted A1 / A1(M) and M11, the traffic on the clockwise M25 increases as dawn approaches but is still freely moving with nothing to slow my progress. The approach to the Dartford Crossing coincides with the first signs of the morning ‘rush hour’ to come. Crossing the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge as the sun rises I get a brief opportunity to glimpse the ships docked by The Thames at Purfleet before the journey’s first queue as I take my turn to pass through the toll lanes before the final few miles of motorway and then into suburban south east London for a rest before a busy day using my trusty Oyster Card to travel into central London ahead of the evening’s gig in Camden. So good to be able to find an empty parking space right outside my destination.

2/ ‘SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY’ – the first vocals on the album enigmatically ask “tell me when”, a more upbeat tempo than track #1 – with the long hard, relentless ascent from the car park behind me, it is now possible to enjoy a relaxing approach to some of the more challenging descending sections of the ‘Black Route’ at the Glentress mountain bike centre. With so many ‘false’ crests, I’m not always entirely sure just when the next main downhill descent will begin. The more gentle forest track sections are followed by an increased tempo down the rocky steeper sections. The variety of emotions that accompany a circuit of one of the ‘Seven Stanes’ routes is mirrored by the way this track develops from opening chords to final phrases.

3/ ‘NO SIGNAL’ – very quiet start with dreamy guitar motifs that have me recalling times spent immersed listening to albums in the 1970s, Dave Crosby’s ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ / if only I could be sure which tracks are being prodded in my memory – en-route to another gig – this time the early evening traffic on the M8 into Glasgow has resulted in a crawl – absolutely no danger of exceeding the temporary 40mph maximum speed limit displayed on the overhead gantries! When faced with such traffic I find myself thinking how lucky I am that such driving conditions don’t form part of my daily routine, if they did I might find it harder to remain calm and enjoy the swirling and atmospheric music playing out on the car stereo. There is a contrast between the slow moving traffic and the way in which some vehicles switch lanes – the section of the motorway that goes through the heart of this great city never ceases to keep me on full alert as traffic joins and leaves the main drag on both left and right. So thankful to be off and have negotiated the bewildering grid street layout to finally park directly outside the legendary ‘King Tut’s’.

4/ ‘BASS RIFF SONG’ – a discordant intro followed by incessant rythms, setting me up for a rocking night – this journey started off around nine hours earlier, well before sunrise at a virtually deserted bus station in Galashiels when the Megabus pulled in to enable me as the single waiting passenger to board and select a seat from the many empty ones. In mid afternoon the scene outside the now almost full coach (mainly filled at the Manchester stop) was anything but deserted as it progressed through north London – Cricklewood reminds me of a Ten Years After album, Swiss Cottage triggers a memory of an Al Stewart song, Lords Cricket Ground has Booker T & The MGs ‘Soul Limbo’ playing in my head (I still haven’t quite got used to cricket not being covered by the BBC); as we get nearer to Victoria Coach Station, traffic continues to build, past Hyde Park Corner then finally there’s hardly a square metre of tarmac that isn’t covered by coach, double decker bus or black cab. Eccleston Place is provides brief and unexpected calm before the coach turns into the arrivals stance. With only hand luggage, and having opted for a seat directly behind the driver I’m soon off, and after a quick ‘comfort break’ and stop to top up my Oyster Card I’m soon on my way anticipating the excitement of the gig to come at the legendary ‘100 Club’.

5/ ‘HYPHEN’ – another highly charged atmospheric opening, initially just guitars prior to full band adding further complexity – such a good feeling to know that I am into the second half of the journey from Scottish Borders to the Isle Of Skye. The relatively depressing central belt is now well behind me as I make my way through Glencoe marvelling at the towering Buachaille Etive Mòr on the left with Aonach Eagach ahead on the right. These massive rock formations appear almost sentient as they flank the route towards Ballachulish and beyond, reminding me of the pleasures ahead climbing in The Cuillin! This track seems particularly appropriate for a trip to the Inner Hebrides as it manages to incorporate hints of celtic folk rock before culminating in a marvellous sense of achievement, akin to reaching one of The Cuillin peaks – and then the exhilaration of descent.

6/ ‘ZERO PROGRESSION’ – a slightly ‘spacy’ opening to the final track on the album, rather dreamy guitars continue the development, accompanied by some cymbal work that has me reliving Pink Floyd circa Umagumma, building to some equally ‘trippy’ vocals – after almost half a day in the air, the flight across The Atlantic nears completion – looking out of the cabin window the peaks of The Andes become clearer as the plane begins its descent towards Lima as we fly over the snow capped mountains on approach to Lima – then landing and progress through airport arrivals before the coach negotiates the hectic city traffic as we head for the overnight accommodation. Then some sleep before waking – music morphs into noise patterns – I’m on a park bench by the River Tay on Dundee’s riverside within sight of the Magdalen Green Bandstand where Thula Borah are playing as part of a video shoot – maybe the whole thing was a dream – did I really undertake all these wonderful journeys whilst listening to ‘Qualia’? Spend some time immersed in this album and see where you are transported to!

Track listing:

1/ Midnight Morning

2/ Sleeping With The Enemy

3/ No Signal

4/ Bass Riff Song

5/ Hyphen

6/ Zero Progression

Thula Borah are:

Lloyd Fay – vocals & guitar

Kevin Heimann – guitars

Matthew Williams – bass & vocals

Michael O’Rourke – drums


SANDI THOM – THE VOLUNTEER HALL, GALASHIELS – 16th JUNE 2013

Following some recent clear and sunny weather, I was expecting some stormy weather as I drove towards Galashiels, the ominous looming clouds that appeared to be gathering ahead seemed to reinforce my thoughts, but I was actually looking ahead to Sandi Thom including ‘Stormy Weather’, a track from her latest album, in her set. This had provided a powerful rocking opening to her set when I had previously seen her in action last November in Glasgow’s King Tut’s.

This time I had a much shorter distance to travel. As I was parking up outside the venue, work was under way to continue decorating the town with black and white for the forthcoming ‘Braw Lads Gathering’. Inside the hall, the stage backdrop continued the black and white theme. The night had been organised by the locally based ‘Reiver Promotions’ in an attempt to try to provide something a bit special in an area where people normally have to travel to the cities to experience more established acts perform. I have previously experienced other attempts to do the same which failed to succeed due to not being able to entice enough people to come along and wished this one to be a success. There was an encouraging looking queue outside and the hall looked to be rapidly approaching half full when I arrived just after the doors opened. Later on I reckoned the hall to be possibly 95% full. The audience spanned generations from some who looked almost pre-teens to others who made me feel that, for a change, I wasn’t the oldest there.

The opening act had been chosen as a result of an on-line vote which gave a number of mainly local bands a chance to bid for the place. The eventual winners were the very local, Galashiels based, five-piece Torino. Reflecting the ‘Braw Lads’ colours, the band took to the stage dressed mainly in black. Despite being a local band I hadn’t heard them previously so didn’t know what to expect. What I experienced from the start was extremely competent, well produced insistent rock played by the lead singer, two guitars, bass and drum combination. At times I found myself thinking about Muse, although I certainly won’t make any strong comparisons as they struck me as a band keen to forge their own distinct sound as opposed to simply aping other better known ones. They all looked seriously intent on delivering their songs, and despite a couple of minor initial sound hiccups, maintained a tight performance throughout. Their set included tracks from EPs ‘The Newton’s Law’ and ‘The Cable Telegraph’ along with two new songs, ‘The Grudge’ and the intriguingly titled ‘More Fun Than A Clown On Fire’.

When Torino’s equipment had been removed from the stage, it was not replaced by other amplifiers and speakers, nor did another drum kit appear; clearly I was about to experience a different side to Sandi than that which had been showcased in Glasgow. Sandi was announced and came on stage alone to sit centre stage and take out her harmonica. Her opening number was ‘Help Me’, also the opening track on ‘Flesh And Blood’, but what a revelation it was as it was simply delivered accapella with occasional harmonica passages. Following this extremely impressive start, she continued on her own by accompanying herself on guitar – and I got to experience some ‘Stormy Weather’, again quite different to what I had been used to, both on the album and previously live. Two more solo numbers followed before she was joined on stage by her band, Mike, Scott and Allan. The band added another guitar, a keyboard providing a piano sound, and the percussion was a sit on cajon with little else.

Throughout the set, Sandi kept the audience informed and entertained between songs with her anecdotes which gave an insight into how her musical career had developed from an early age, including time spent travelling to gigs in the back of a fish van which resulted in her spending four years having “an absolute ball and smelling of cod”! The acoustic set included wonderfully moving versions of Guns ‘n Roses’ ‘November Rain’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ which added further layers to her thoughtful range of original songs.

Sandi seeks to engage local acts in her shows and the selection of Torino as support act was supplemented by a very well received appearance by young local girl Rebecca McCue who joined Sandi to sing her seminal hit ‘I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker With Flowers In My Hair’. I had the privilege of chatting to Rebecca ahead of this special opportunity for her, she was understandably a bit nervous but at the same time displayed an impressive amount of confidence. When she did appear on stage she showed no real outward sign of nerves and delivered a wonderful and strong vocal performance to accompany Sandi. I feel sure that Rebecca will have happy memories of the night, to help encourage her as she seeks to progress her own musical skills.

All indications are that the night was a tremendous success, with many in the audience enthusiastically discussing the performances afterwards. My principal memory will be Sandi’s powerful, emotive and engaging vocal performance, sympathetically supported by her guitar, harmonica and band. I wish Bill Jeffrey of ‘Reiver Promotions’ equal success with future attempts to bring such excellent music to the Scottish Borders. Roll on the next one.