Lucky Just To Be Here

Lately I’ve been trying to find the positive in things. Sometimes good things come through effort, other times through luck.

I had bought tickets to a couple of gigs over the past year but ended up selling them on due to either difficulties with the logistics of getting there or a reluctance to be in large crowds. I’ve not even really listened to much music lately, I’ve been struggling to find anything to really get into. Also music = emotion and I’ve had quite enough of those without inducing any more. Music = opening myself up and I’ve been doing the opposite for a while. Saying that, I have BBC 6Music on in the car and on longer journeys I’ve been giving my kids a musical education with playlists from the 60s, 70s, 80s and a Beatles only special, cos, The Beatles. They like the 60s best so far, although I’m excited to make the 90s playlist next despite them objecting when I sing along. I’m lucky that they both have an interest in music and that I can share this with them. Anyway, when We Are Scientists announce a new album and tour, then you know I’m going to be there no matter what.

I think, I’m pretty sure that this was We Are Scientists gig number 20 for me. I tried to count them all (I’ve written about most on this blog but not all) and I reckon I’m at 20. I’m lucky to have seen them that many times, even luckier to have done so in about 8 towns and cities across 3 countries.

Their album, “Lobes“, came out last month. Initially I popped it on in the car and didn’t really think much of what I heard. Bit too much disco-pop all at once. Then I realised that I wasn’t properly paying attention (due to the driving) and that I had put it on shuffle by accident. I started it again, in order from the start and paid attention (also to the road, I got there safely). Unexpectedly, I got a bit tearful. Those guys. I suddenly remembered all the good music, good gigs, good people that I’ve met through this band and the good times we’ve had. I’m lucky to have that in my life.

The album is great. It’s probably the only We Are Scientists album where comparisons to other bands have sprung to mind (all good ones). It is another highly produced album, which I’m not usually a fan of. I don’t like when bells and whistles get in the way of the essence of good melody, rhythm, hooks and lyrics. Fortunately in this case the not-quite-literal-but-almost bells and whistles only enhance and complement those core elements which are as strong as ever. It’s a more consistent album than previous ones, no big surprises like Headlights, KIT, or Bought Myself a Grave. Parachute maybe comes closest but anyone familiar with the band’s acoustic work won’t find it straying too far from their wheelhouse. Actually perhaps Turn it Up is the outlier of the group. Perhaps I’m also changing my mind about this album’s consistency, there are indeed a couple of nice surprises in there… I’m lucky that my favourite band keep making music that I genuinely enjoy and keep finding new depths in.

So to gig night. I haven’t been to a gig since…well the last gig was also We Are Scientists, unless you count the Strictly Live Tour… I made the necessary arrangements for the kids and puppy and ventured into the West End to Oran Mor. I got there in the middle of the support set, a band called Bleach Lab. They were good. More confident and polished than some support bands I’ve seen. They had a solid, atmospheric sound and the singer had a great voice.

Bleach Lab

My usual gig compadres couldn’t make it so I was considering just losing myself inconspicuously in the middle of the crowd, but then the inevitable Tall Ones appeared all around, so I slinked forward, eyeing up a free space on the barrier, hoping that it wasn’t reserved for someone at the bar/loo when I luckily found people I had met at previous gigs. I secured my favoured spot and wasn’t a lonely loser.

The guys set up their own equipment, so we saw them busy about the stage then go off for a quick costume change and pause for dramatic effect. I kinda miss the days of coordinated outfits or matching smart suits but they all looked great, despite both Keith and Chris wearing dad jeans. Carne was channelling 1970s George Harrison (the hottest Beatle, obvs). They kicked off with Lucky Just To Be Here which is a bold move considering it features Keith singing with minimal accompaniment for a long stretch but it’s a great song that builds in energy and vitality. It’s my favourite song on the new record. Most days. I have trouble picking absolute favourites. Keith’s vocals are powerful and captivating enough that he could easily hold the attention of the crowd that was still warming up. By the end of the number we were thoroughly warmed and ready for more.

We got a generous helping of Lobes, the catchiest tunes from Huffy and a nice mix of older stuff. Kudos to the person who requested Return the Favor, that was an unexpected bonus inclusion in the setlist. I was not at all sorry that It’s a Hit has been ditched to make room for newer/better songs. The additional sounds of the new record sounded more funky than disco-ey live, with most of the elements being added by Carne’s Amazing Magical Effects Gizmo, that he masterfully played in addition to the usual percussion. Despite having a gazillion things to hit all at once, he still amazingly looks like he’s just having a chilled fun bash about, always under control, energetic but never frenetic. I do love that amongst all the trigger pads, loops and effects, a single orange maraca was wielded to the greatest effect. Keith had busy time of it too. With each album comes a signature guitar sound, by now after album number eight, his pedal board must have expanded exponentially and he was as frantic with his feet as he was with his fingers, and the small matter of lead vocals as well, obviously. Chris was as cool as ever. The basslines on Lobes are particularly outstanding and Chris delivered them with aplomb. We are lucky that the band love Glasgow and keep coming back here.

Afterwards I joined the merch queue to see what was on offer, unfortunately the guys themselves weren’t manning it so it was left to a poor fella who had to contend with piles of shirts overflowing on a too-small table, trip-hazard boxes all around his feet and a payment system that seemed to require manual typed entries each time, making for very slow progress indeed. He persevered bravely and eventually got through the long line of people. I picked up a deck of the tarot cards cos they have cool artwork and I really don’t need any more WAS t-shirts. Many thanks to the Oran Mor staff who luckily helped me out the locked door after they let me stay and chat after chucking out time.

It’s been tough times for us all over the past few years. We all need a little bit of luck now and again to help us on our way. All of us who secured tickets to this gig had some luck. We saw a great band have a great time playing some great songs. We were all lucky just to be there.

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.

Remember that time I was in Los Campesinos! dressing room?

So last Thursday I got a call from an old friend to say that she would be photographing a band that night at Oran Mor, and she asked if I’d like to come along. The main act was Los Campesinos!, and she had been doing some work for Strange News From Another Star, who had been touring with them. I didn’t know much about either band, but it had been a while since I’d seen her and she lured me with the promise of a guest—list spot, so I couldn’t refuse. I’m not at liberty to divulge the name of this friend for various complicated reasons so I’ll just call her Holly.

After receiving a parking ticket last time I attended a gig at Oran Mor I decided to play it safe and get the bus. I got to the venue, doors weren’t open yet (do Oran Mor ever open on time?) but I couldn’t get Holly on the phone so I just waited in line and hoped for the best. Eventually they let us in and I was relieved to find that my name had indeed been added to the guest list. First time that’s ever happened and it was for a band that I had barely heard of prior to that morning. I could see people in the queue behind me wondering why I was so special, I daren’t let slip the tenuous connection I had with their favourite band lest they blew my cover and stole my little chitty.

Once in the main hall I found Holly who told me she had also managed to acquire an Access All Areas pass for me. There was a bit of time to kill before Strange News were on, so we headed up to the band’s changing room. Now if this was any band that I liked I would have been freaking out at this point. As it happened I was casually sharing a lift and being introduced to people that I had no idea who they were and I’m sure some of the kids downstairs would have given their right arm to be in my position. It was probably just as well because I was able to act like a normal human being among other normal(ish) human beings rather than a blithering idiot or start-struck fangirl. I will say that everyone I met was very nice and I got offered several beers and food from their rider.

I chatted to Holly for a bit and we caught up on her recent adventures. Then it was time for Strange News to go on so we headed back downstairs. The band and Holly were a bit disappointed to see that the hall was still quite empty and no-one was down at the front. I tried to explain that this was fairly normal fro Glasgow and that people would drift down eventually. The band were having none of it. Say what you want about Strange News, but they are not shy and they do like a bit of audience participation. Lead singer/guitarist Jimmy was practically herding people to the front and demanding that they join in. Strange News are a loud band to say the least. I had learned my lesson after sustaining ear-trauma at The Airborne Toxic Event earlier in the week and had purchased some ear plugs. I was glad of them. There are only 3 in the band but they go hell for leather and thrash, wail, yell and shout their way through their songs. I think most of the audience was somewhat taken aback by the sheer force of nature in front of them but with some encouragement they were soon jumping around, squatting on the floor and yelling as per Jimmy’s instructions. Holly was down by the stage taking some shots, and went back for a second burst after the drummer, Harry, took his shirt off. Towards the end bassist Mark, who had been playing the whole set perched on an amp, came down into the crowd, gave his guitar to some unsuspecting bloke at the front then went for a wander and a dance with some other people.

After they were done Holly and I wandered back upstairs again. I met more of the guys from Los Campesinos! who were mostly just quietly preparing by themselves. Unlike Strange News who had been scoffing burgers or kebabs or something about 2 minutes prior to going on stage. Oran Mor used to be a big church, so all the rooms are quite grand with arched ceilings and remnants its former glory scattered around. There are two or three different performance spaces, a couple of bars and restaurants. The dressing rooms were upstairs and the guys were all impressed with the facilities, although they kept getting out the lift on the wrong floor and bursting loudly out into the dining rooms where genteel West End ladies were trying to enjoy their supper. I kept pinching myself to make sure this wasn’t some surreal dream.

When it was time for Los Campesinos! to go on Holly and I went down to have a look. She had already seen them a couple of times, but it was the first time for me so I was curious to see what they were like. I liked them. Thankfully they were less angry and shouty that Strange News, but the earplugs still came in handy. There were loads of them on stage, I think about 7 in the band. We hung about at the back for a bit, then Holly wanted to try and get some shots so we went round to the side nearer the front. I couldn’t see most of the band members but I got a good view of the lead singer and a couple of others. Realised I’d been chatting to the lead singer earlier. Once again thought to myself how different I’d be feeling if this had been a band I was really into. It was a nice reminder that they are just people.

The guys from Strange News came to join us at the side and I’m afraid my attention was diverted from Los Campesinos! for a while as I chatted to Jimmy et al, discussed the show and got lots of hugs from each of them. Well Holly was getting hugs so I thought I might as well get in on the action too. Strange News joined Los Camp on stage for their last number and a final goodbye.

We returned to the dressing room where a bit of a celebration was going on. Well Strange News were celebrating by drinking lots, Los Camp had a brief period where they analysed their performance then decided they might as well drink some more too. I borrowed Holly’s camera (yay!) to take some group shots. I haven’t seen the results yet, and I’ll admit I’d had a fair amount of vodka by then so I’m sure they were all blurry or squint.

We decided to go out and get some food, because the rider had been pretty well decimated. Holly, Jimmy and I went round the corner to a fast-food place where she got some pizza, I got some questionable-tasting chips and Jimmy tried to chat up a girl who had been at the gig, and was clutching one of his EPs, but who turned out to be a 15 year old lesbian who was having none of it.

We wandered back round to the venue. Actually that may have been when we took the photos. I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, things were winding down, people were starting to move on. The tour was heading to Leeds next, and more than once I got invited along, they seem to just pick people up as they go, but I had to decline as I had a small child to take care of at home. One of Los Camp (I think) suggested that I bring her along, which I’m sure she would have loved, but I’m sure once the reality of having a toddler in a tour van hit home they would have chucked us out somewhere around Carlisle.

The group were heading on into town to go to Nice N Sleazy’s and much as I would have loved to go there with Holly I had to go and get a bus home. I found the Strange News guys, said goodbye and thanked them for letting me in and arranging the guest-list and pass. They were such cool, friendly guys. It had been an unexpected, fun, surreal evening. All in a day’s work for an indie-band on the road and their photographer. 

The Joy Formidable, Oran Mor Glasgow, 19th October

At last! A gig to attend and something to write about! It’s been really quiet gig-wise for me since, ooh June? That’s way too long. I have tickets booked for November but just couldn’t wait that long.

My music-loving friends have been recommending new music to me, so when I get the chance (not often) I’ve been working down the list.  A week or so ago I tried The Joy Formidable. They turned out to be one of those bands that I was instantly drawn to. I listened to the album several times over and started doing some research on them. Found out they were playing in Glasgow in a few days time. Those same friends encouraged me to go and said their live shows were always good. I didn’t need much persuading frankly.  It was too close to order tickets online, and there seemed to be plenty left, so my obliging husband offered to pick them up when he was in town for work.

Unfortunately by the time he got there, Tickets Scotland had sold out. I phoned the venue and they said there would be some available on the door but I would have to get there as early as possible. Argh – I had a parents’ night at my daughter’s nursery to go to beforehand! I had been planning on doing that, then just wandering down to Oran Mor in time to catch TJF, not caring much about the support bands. So the race was on. The wee one was left at home playing with her new lego set with her dad, I raced down to the nursery, exited as soon as was polite and legged it to the West End.  After literally running from my car to the venue, arriving dead on 7pm, I found a note pinned to the door saying that due to unforseen circumstances doors would be opening at 7.15 but there were still tickets available. I breathed a rather large sigh of relief, then noticed that there was nobody else there. No queue, no loiterers, no touts, nothing. Odd. Then I realised that it was bloody freezing and everyone had probably gone upstairs for a drink. I couldn’t risk missing out on getting a ticket so I stayed put, trying not to think about the squillions of rats that used to live there before the venue was done up into its present condition.  Slowly people started to emerge and queue, I bagged a space right by the door for maximum ticket grabbing opportunity. Eventually, it must have been after 7.30pm, the doors opened, I got my ticket (still with a fecking booking fee, my current pet peeve!) and I got into the warmth to thaw out.

I’d never been to a gig at Oran Mor before, so I had a wander round, initially taking up a spot on one of the comfy seats round the side, but as the first support band came on I ventured out on to the floor.  Well what can I say about Creatures of Love?  They were loud, but I would discover that was par for the course as the night went on. They certainly put a lot of effort into their image, the lead singer wore a hooded black cloak and her actions and gestures seemed to be rehearsed and overly theatrical rather than spontaneous reactions to the music.  They had lots of small but very bright lamps everywhere, and strobing all over the place. I hate strobe lighting, it makes me feel uneasy. And I am inherently distrusting of  bands that put too much emphasis on style over substance, but actually they were not that bad. The singer had a strong voice, and the elongated lyrics and soaring melodies allowed her to show that off without being too self-indulgent. The accompaniment was a kind of wall-of-sound approach but it suited the look and vocals. It took me a while to get into them, partly cos I was focussing on thawing out and partly cos I really wasn’t expecting that kind of thing.  I probably won’t seek them out further, but I’ve certainly seen worse support bands and they did set the tone for the rest of the night.

Next up was As So I Watched You From Afar. I’d heard of them, vaguely (kind of memorable name) but had no idea what they were like. They set their own kit up, and I just thought they were the roadies, but after much twiddling of knobs, complex electrical engineering and discussion of tunings and levels etc, they gave the stage the ok, walked offstage, paused for about 3 seconds, then walked back on again, picked up their guitars / sticks and immediately began thrashing about, louping around the stage, bashing into each other and producing the most incredible sound. It was actually kind of funny to see that transition, and the seriousness with which they undertook each role. At first I found it hilarious and a bit weird, but once I started to listen to the music I was well impressed.  They are an instrumental band, no vocals at all, so that in itself makes them interesting. In the middle of the 2nd song the term “math-rock” crept into my mind, they have lots of complex rhythm and timing changes, and a tightness to their playing through multiple pauses and changes of direction. Well I say that, they did rely on lots of rather obvious nods and winks between each other, but regardless it was pretty impressive. I had properly warmed up, in both senses of the word, by that point and really got into their set. The floor was still quite empty so I had moved down to the front and managed to get on the edge of the barrier. There was a group of dedicated ASIWYFA (even that isn’t easy to type) fans in the middle, and at one point the lead guitarist jumped over the barrier and threw himself in amongst them. Most non-ASIWYFA fans kind of leapt back in horror and didn’t know what to do with themselves. I just laughed.

And So I Watched You From Afar

Once they finished their set they walked off, to great applause and cheering from the whole crowd, I reckon they’ve got a bunch of new converts there, again paused for about 3 seconds then were back on to pack up their stuff. I know a lot of bands do that, but it was just so funny to see the contrast with the way they act during their set.

The good thing about the delay in us getting in was that there was less of the interminable wait between bands.  TJF’s set was all prepared (they had their own roadies) complete with nautically themed backgrounds, a mini ship’s wheel and bell, an electric harp and a massive gong.  I mean a humongous gong. I wouldn’t like to be responsible for moving that. So they came out and I was dissapointed to see that Ritzy’s head was obscured from my vision by the aforementioned ship’s bell. But thankfully she is just as prone to louping about the stage as the guy from ASIWYFA was, so I didn’t miss out too much.  They were awesome. The crowd were really up for it after the 2 supports, and the band looked like they were having a good time too. I’m still not that familiar with their songs, having only been properly listening to them for a couple of weeks, so I wasn’t able to sing along etc but it was kind of nice for me to be able to watch a band as a kind of impartial observer, rather than having a lot invested in them.  The performance was energetic, raucous and loud. Very loud. My ears were ringing for 2 whole days afterwards. But it was good, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Joy Formidable

I liked that the drummer was out at the front of the stage, to the right of us, perhaps to accommodate the harp and gong, but it’s nice to see drummers being able to escape the confines of the back of the stage.  There was nice interplay between the band members and some chat from Ritzy.  My only problem was that the bassist, Rhydian, tried to spur the crowd on by repeatedly shouting, “come on you f*ckers!” which, given that I was standing right in front of him, felt quite aggressive and uncomfortable.  Actually the crowd were remarkably well-behaved, usually when I’m on the barrier I get a bit crushed, but there was no surging forward or stampeding at all. Well maybe in the middle, but not where I was.  They finished and went off and everyone was expecting an encore, but the roadies mercilessly began ripping the set up, without so much as a pause to give us time to bask in the glory of what we had just witnessed.

It was only about 10.15pm when I got out but I didn’t feel like we had been short-changed, I think the sets were all a decent length they had just reduced the usual massive break beetween bands. It was mid-week and I had work to go to the next day so I was quite grateful to be out early.  I wasn’t so grateful for the £60 parking fine I found on my car when I got back to it – apparently it is metered until 10pm there. I hadn’t even checked because every other street I have ever parked on in Glasgow is only metered until 6pm. Oh well, I had had such a good night even that didn’t bring me down.

So now I can add The Joy Formidable to my list of must-see bands, my wise friends (that’s be mainly you Zoe 😉 ) were right, they are an excellent band and their live shows are even better. I’m glad I made the effort,  I feel much better for having seen some live music again and I have another new band to check out in the form of And So I Watched You From Afar too. Not bad.

PS I apologise for crappy images, but I only had my phone and I was right at the front, so didn’t want to be fiddling with it and trying to get shots all night. To the guy who was 3 along from me and kept waving his camera and using flash(!) all night – you are a twat and should’ve been thrown out.