Glasgow Jazz Festival – Nerija, St Lukes, 23rd June 2017

Ok, I know that I will automatically lose 90% of you by the mere mention of the word jazz, but, as the saying now goes – nevertheless, I will persist. I get it.  As I have written about previously, only around a year ago I would have been exactly the same. Yet here I am writing about my first taste of the Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Since my jazz awakening, I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to take in some live music.  There are pubs and clubs that run regular jazz nights, but somehow the thought of going along to one of those on my own is more daunting that going to a gig solo, which I do frequently.  It seems Edinburgh is more of a jazz town than Glasgow.  However, I got wind of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, signed up for info, and when the dates and acts were announced I was fortunate to be able to get along on the Friday evening.  Even more fortunate, I found that Nerija were due to play that day.  I had heard some of their work I think on the radio initially, then had come across them by association with other acts I was sampling.  They stood out for me because they are almost always introduced as an “all-female ensemble”. I suppose if this fact is not unique, it is certainly still remarkable. In any case, I decided they would be a perfect first jazz concert so got myself a ticket. It wasn’t even worth asking anyone else to go, having mentioned that I was even listening to jazz I got the very face in return that I used to make, so I left well alone and trotted off on my ownio.

I made the mistake of assuming that it was like a “normal” gig and when the ticket said 7.30pm, the first band would be on no earlier than 8pm and the main act around 9pm. I was wrong.  I got there around 7.45pm and the support were just finishing.  I guess 7.30pm meant 7.30pm. Oh well.  I snuck in and took a seat.  They were called Bitches Brew and were a 2-piece consisting of a double bass player and a percussionist.  (Also all-female).  The double bass picked out a slow, languid, groovy bassline/melody and the percussionist performed with around 8 different drums in front of her, I think 1 from every continent, which she played together, with her hands. I’m not sure, but I think the piece was improvised as well.  It was captivating.  Again, it’s probably the kind of thing that a couple of years ago I would have found curious, but kinda weird.  On Friday, I found it fascinating and compelling.  I was sorry not to have seen more of them.

It was also the first time I had been in St Lukes, which seems to have suddenly emerged as a go-to venue in Glasgow.  Like Oran Mor, it is a converted church, although not much conversion has taken place (perhaps it still functions as a church, I don’t actually know) but it is gorgeous inside.


Nerija came on and launched straight into their first piece.  It was beautiful, powerful and majestic. I was overwhelmed. I actually cried. It was just all too much for me. For a few reasons:

I couldn’t believe that I had actually discovered this complex, raw, but life-affirming genre of music and I was finally seeing live the incredibly passionate and talented people who perform it. I was so thankful that everything eventually came to this point, but also full of regret that it didn’t happen to me sooner.

I had had a ridiculously stressful week at work, and the sheer relief of just sitting back and letting the emotion of the music wash over me released something that couldn’t be contained.

I was alone. At that point I just needed someone to share this with, but there was no-one.  I don’t mean a life-partner necessarily, just friend/acquaintance, anyone.  I think I know literally 2 people who are into jazz – one of them lives in another city, 1 lives in another country.  I was busting with all these feelings and responses to the music and being there in that moment and I had to swallow it down and that sucks.

Anyway, I pulled myself together and focussed on enjoying the performance.  Nerija are phenomenal.  They are all incredibly talented musicians, and as each song was introduced we were told which of the band had written it, it seems they are a collective of incredibly talented songwriters too. There were 7 of them, but I understand a couple of the regulars were absent, however the stand-ins fitted in seamlessly.  I don’t want to leave anyone out, as they were all worthy of singling out, but particular mention has to be made firstly (of course!) of the drummer.  Unfortunately, from where I was sitting I couldn’t see her much, but I was mesmerised by her drumming.  I have said before how jazz drumming is just pure art, well seeing/hearing it for the first time in a live setting was as if all drumming I had seen and heard up until now was done by chimps holding mallets with oven gloves.  Just. Pure. Art.  Also, as each of the instrumentalists took a turn at solos etc, the others got a rest.  Not so the drummer, she kept going through every piece with intricate rhythms and inventive use of the various parts of the kit.


The trombone player deserves special mention for seemingly impossibly quick manoeuvring on her solos. (Yes, I am giving plaudits for jazz trombone solos, I am a new person!) I was most taken, however, by the tenor saxophonist. I have read/heard about people becoming one with their instrument, but I have never seen it in the flesh before.  She became the sax and the sax became her. She played with such spirit, the notes spewing out of her, brewing deep inside then flowing out through the medium of her instrument in waves of soaring melodies contrasted with dark, punchy, jagged bursts.  I wanted to be up, dancing, moving, cheering and clapping but I was constrained to my chair, only able to nod along.  I wanted to turn to someone and yell “this is fecking amazing!!” but I maintained composure.


It was a shame that the venue didn’t fill up. Most people took the cabaret style tables at the edges of the room, rather than the rows in the middle, giving the impression that there were fewer people there.  I fully realise that I am approaching this with the enthusiasm of a new convert, but it’s a shame that Glasgow, a city priding itself in its musical heritage and vibrancy can’t muster the support for this kind of concert.

Anyway, I for one thoroughly enjoyed the performance and will be looking to attend more similar events as often as I can.  If Nerija or any other jazz ensembles are coming to a town near you, give them a try, you might just enjoy it!

West End Festival All-Dayer, Oran Mor, Glasgow, 18th June 2017

Once upon a time, the West End of Glasgow was pretty much home. I lived there as a student, and in neighbouring areas for several years afterwards.  During that time, I would always take in some of the annual West End Festival’s events.  Now that I live out in the suburbs (eww, do I?) I may browse the programme now and again, but I had got out of the habit of delving in.  However, this year, when PAWS announced that they would be featuring in the WEF’s “All-Dayer” – a not-quite-all-day multi-stage event at Oran Mor, I had to get on board.  It may not be the most highbrow of the WEF’s cultural offerings but frankly, I need some loud rock music right now more than I need the Bard in the Botanics.
The day turned out to be a hot and humid one, not ideal for heading into a converted church venue late-afternoon.  I’m not sure what ticket sales for the day were like, but I suspect a large portion of people who had bought them decided to ditch the gigs and park themselves in a beer garden instead.  It was a tempting thought.
Instead, I first headed upstairs to the “Auditorium” to catch Kid Canaveral.  I saw Alasdair Gray’s painted ceiling for the first time, and it is impressive indeed.
Kid Canaveral are a band that I have listened to occasionally, usually when they have cropped up as “related artists” to something else I have been listening to.   They are part of that folk/rock scene that I dip into now and again as the mood takes me.  As a live act, they come across as more rock than folk, but the intricacies of melody and harmony remained to give a softer, more aurally interesting presentation.  I was impressed and would definitely actively seek them out from now on, both to listen to and to see live if the opportunity arose.
The surroundings lent an added dimension to proceedings, with the late afternoon sun streaming in the stained glass windows and lead singer David’s anti-Tory semi-rant against the backdrop of Gray’s mural depicting the words “Let us flourish by telling the truth” particularly poignant.
The room was sweltering and the sun was still shining outside.  I had an hour or so gap in between bands that I wanted to see, so I headed outside and took a walk around the Botanics.  No Bards though.
Back inside Oran Mor I ventured into the basement, and while the decor was less salubrious, the air conditioning was fully functioning.  I was keen to get a good spot for the headliners, PAWS, so thought it would be worth getting there a band early just in case it was busy.  It was not busy.  It was dead.  The preceding band were called Bloodlines, and clearly had ambitions to be the next Biffy Clyro. The lead singer came out all swagger, verging on aggression.  The crowd was tiny, and dispersed around the room at side tables and the bar.  He thought the best way to get us down the front was to swear repeatedly at us.  It didn’t work.  As their set went on, more people entered the hall and a slightly larger group formed.  Their set was standard shouty-rock.  Only 1 song, Mothers Misery, had some depth and left a more favourable impression.  The singer removed his top, further enhancing the Biffy-wannabe status, which was later cemented by several songs that were pound-shop rip-offs of Biffy.  On their last song, the singer wanted to crowd surf.  But there was no crowd. So he leapt off the stage, physically rounded up people in the room, forced them into a small pack at the front, then “surfed” them for about 5 seconds.  Mate, if there ain’t a crowd ready and willing to catch you and hold you aloft, don’t engineer one just to fulfil your rock star ambitions.
PAWS were up next.  As they set up, people began to drift down to the front, so I edged my way among them.  It still wasn’t a large crowd, but the room gradually filled.  PAWS have quickly become one of my favourite bands, due largely to their live shows.  This one was slightly different in that the crowd wasn’t full of PAWS fans.  It was my first PAWS gig where I wasn’t squished and trampled seven ways throughout.  Weirdly, I missed that.  The absence of the uber-fan posse was evident during songs that usually elicit mass sing-alongs/shout-outs such as Get Bent.  I won’t repeat the lyrics here, but if you are not familiar – look it up and you can probably make a guess as to which lines are usually belted out with great enthusiasm.  Saying that, as the set went on, I think the band began to win over the audience, and I could detect increasing warmth and appreciation from behind me, and for the encore, there was a definite push forward as people were eager for more.
I am always moved by Philip’s passion and emotion in his lyrics and delivery, combined with the raw energy and sheer noise that just 3 band members can generate.  Josh’s drumming, once again, is awe-inspiring.  I have seen him play….5 times now and still don’t know how he does it. He looks so uncomfortable and out of control, yet plays so precisely and with such skill. He frequently mended/reinforced his sticks with gaffer tape, and often tested a couple out to see which would hold out longest.  I want him to come on with a supply of 50 sticks to see him through the set, but apparently, he prefers the gaffer tape method. Perhaps they don’t want to blow their fee on an endless supply of sticks. Amazes me every time.
So they ended on a high, with a proper encore – every time I have seen them previously they have just blasted through without adhering to the ritual of leaving, then returning to the stage.  The crowd by this point was a crowd, had Philip felt the urge I’m sure he could have crowdsurfed without any prior audience instruction.  The band have certainly won some new fans and proved themselves capable of headlining such a large, prestigious event.  Even if I prefer the small sweaty clubs, it’s good to see them doing well and gaining recognition.
So out into the night, which was still light.  A good not-quite-all-day.