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.

Trapped in Kansas and other bands

Well I never quite got round to writing up my last gig but seeing as it featured the same band as my most recent gig I’ll combine the two.

Back in April I had a ticket to see Maps & Atlases with support from Trapped in Kansas and Tall Ships.  I really wanted to see Tall Ships, as they were very impressive as support for We Are Scientists back in June last year.  I listened to a bit of Trapped in Kansas and Maps & Atlases in preparation, and they all seemed to be in the same vein so I was really looking forward to it. However I got struck down by some awful lurgy before the gig and after finishing work I was shattered and badly needing my bed. But it was Tall Ships, after all this time, in Scotland! Urgh. I dragged myself up to Nice N Sleazy’s (the venue was another attraction of the gig) and thought I’d see how it went.

Although it said doors were at 7.30 when I arrived the first support was just finishing their set. I have no idea who there were and frankly the minute or two I heard of them didn’t make me want to find out. At the break I saw Tall Ship no 1 manning the merch stall.  I went over and browsed while he served someone.  Sitting on the top of the pile of t-shirts was a wee hand-written sign appealing for somewhere for “4 nice guys” to stay that night.  Once he was done I asked him if the sign was his.  Yes, he replied, they had nowhere to stay that night and couldn’t afford a hotel.  I said I had a front room they could use, but it was about 10 miles away and they’d be woken by a toddler at 6am.  He politely declined.  Tall Ship No. 1 (ok, I now know he’s called Ric but that still sticks) was so sweet, as he had been in Brighton, I fully believe that if they had crashed in my living room they would have been very well behaved and tidied up after themselves.

I told him I was ill but had ventured out just for Tall Ships. He seemed genuinely touched. I  then reminded him that after the Brighton gig he’d invited our posse to his place but had then fallen asleep in the pub. He seemed genuinely embarrassed. No, really, he apologised several times. I felt sorry for them in their impoverished state and contributed to the accommodation fund by buying a t-shirt.

So Trapped in Kansas were on next, I got up the front to get a good view and I was really impressed with them.  They were tight, interesting, melodic and thoughtful.  The lead singer looks the part, all skinny and indie-looking but actually has some charisma and personality to back it up. I liked them.

Then it was Tall Ships. I was suffering badly from my lurgy but persisted. They didn’t disappoint.  They played many of the songs from their 2 EPs, maybe a new one too but I was too ill and it was long ago and I can’t remember.  They sounded good though.  Tall Ship No. 1 has the courage to sing Vessels with the a cappella closing lines in front of a Glaswegian crowd who didn’t really pay them much attention. I loved it, and can only hope that before too long they are playing larger venues where the whole crowd sings those lines along with him.  The only thing I missed was them changing instruments. That was the highlight of the London / Brighton gigs but they didn’t do it this time. Maybe there wasn’t enough room. It was pretty squashed. Anyway they still have a good energetic performance and even won over the guys behind me who had initially scoffed at their synth to guitar ratio (not enough guitars for them, a sentiment I usually share but am willing to suspend for Tall Ships).

I would have dearly loved to see Maps & Atlases, but was almost dead on my feet and the thought of the early, direct bus home was too much so I bailed.  I felt bad, but really I had gone to see Tall Ships and had done just that, so it felt like mission accomplished.

Fast forward a few weeks and I see that Trapped in Kansas are due to play in the Captain’s Rest as part of the West End Festival.  They were on the bill with 6 other bands as part of Overlook Records 1st birthday showcase.  Fellow gig-goer Susie assured me it would be a good night, and for only a fiver I couldn’t argue to off I went.

After meeting Susie in the bar, we headed downstairs. As we were among the first 20 entrants we were treated to a goodie bag containing a piece of cake, chocolates, party poppers, 2 plastic frogs(?) and a condom. I gave my cake and condom to Susie. I also bought a compilation CD they were selling featuring 1 song from each of the bands. Another bargain at £2.

It was a slow starter, not many people were in the room when the first band came on, but it got progressively livelier.

Once again I’m afraid I only made half the gig, the Captain’s Rest had helpfully turned on the air conditioning in the basement but it had seemingly stored up all the pollen from the previous week and blew it down right into my nostrils, so I was sneezing and wheezing within half an hour. I did see Vasa (instrumental, not too bad) and Bellow Below (better, very good drummer). Then came Salo and I was just scared. They were a lot more hardcore than the others – loud, shouty, screamy and one point drive-nail-from-wall-into-head-y. I’m sure they were aiming to shock, but I found their aggression quite disturbing and unnerving. I was also very glad of my earplugs. Thankfully all bands were being kept to a strict timetable so after 20 minutes it was all over.

By this time the room had really filled up and it was the turn of Trapped in Kansas. The instant they started you could tell they were on another level from the preceding bands (nail-heads aside cos you can’t really compare that kind of thing). Their sound was just so much more smooth, together, coherent.  I had remarked to Susie earlier that the trouble with instrumental bands is that they really have to make extra effort to tell the story through the music alone rather than relying on lyrics.  Although TiK do use vocals there was, for me, much more of a connection to the music with them, I felt something when listening to it (other than nausea from the nail-heads) rather than being disconnected and just observing.  That is not an easy thing to achieve, especially on 2nd time listening.

Although the room had filled up, it became apparent that it was full of people from / associated with the other bands.  They all went a bit mental, cheering, jeering and trying to distract the guys on stage.  Susie and I got caught up in an impromptu mosh/rammy/crowdsurf and given that we are a good foot shorter than most people we were in no little danger of being crushed. I started to wonder if we were the only people who had actually come along as regular punters. Anyhoo Trapped in Kansas managed to finish their set, no thanks to their label-mates, and at their urging even played their last song with their tops off. Well 3/4 of them did, apparently 1 was too modest.

The only other band that I was keen to see was the Darien Venture, but they were on last, after my last bus home so I would have missed them anyway, so I thought I might was well leave at that point and get the earlier bus and home to a pollen-free environment.

It was a good night though, I’m glad the West End Festival has embraced that kind of event and it confirmed for me Trapped In Kansas as one of my definite bands to look out for.