Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Nick Cave

Edinburgh Playhouse 28th April 2015

Although based in Brighton these days, Nick Cave gigs north of the border in the UK are few and far between. The last one was in the now sadly defunct Picture House in Edinburgh's Lothian Road during 2009. 

With no support band and a relatively early 20:00 start time, there is a growing murmur of anticipation that turns to applause from the capacity crowd at Edinburgh's Playhouse Theatre as the PA quietens down and the house lights dim.
Despite being billed as a solo tour, Cave's 4-piece band (guitarist and violinist Warren Ellis, bass player Martyn Casey, drummer Thomas Wydler and keyboard player Barry Adamson) are The Bad Seeds in all but name. They take up their places first and start the bass rumble of ‘Water’s Edge’. 
Nick  Cave strolls onto the stage, dressed in his usual dark suit, to a tumultuous welcome.

Critics talk of Cave's "magnetic stage presence" but unless you see the man live, you don't appreciate how captivating he is. With elaborate hand gestures even while playing the piano, spasming off his grand-piano stool during the crashing chords of Red Right Hand, or slow strolls along the front of the extended stage, microphone in hand, pointed shoes just hanging over the edge, crouching down to touch the fingertips of adoring fans, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. 
In genial mood and jousting verbally with the audience, Cave responds to someone in the crowd who shouts "We love you" with "I love you too. Well... I'm think I'm learning to love you" and cracks a smile.
I love you too. Well... I'm think I'm learning to love you
The stage setting is heavy with dark velvet drapery and little hanging firefly lights stretching out into the auditorium, adding to the atmosphere. Cave's music is full of emotional intensity, with lyrical obsessions covering death, religion, love and violence. 'I Let Love In' is excellent and is no exception:
Well, I've been bound and gagged and I've been terrorised
And I've been castrated and I've been lobotomized
But never has my tormentor come in such a cunning disguise

Cave's stage presence is such that it’s easy to forget the considerable talents of his band, until you are faced with Warren Ellis’ guitar solo on 'Mermaids' or his violin on 'From Her To Eternity', Barry Adamson's subtle keyboards on 'Breathless' or the rhythm section on 'Water’s Edge'.

During the intense Higgs Boson Blues, Cave is crouched right on the edge of the stage crooning "Can you feel my hearbeat - Boom Boom Boom" over and over to a couple of lady admirers in the front row, their arms held up towards him. His voice lowers as he repeats "Boom Boom Boom" until it's just a stage whisper. Someone in the crowd yells "Yeah!" really loudly and breaks the tension. Unimpressed, but not at all fazed, Cave responds with a hissing "Boom Boom Boom, Motherf*cker!" to cheers from the crowd.

His ostentatious discarding of the sheet notes on the completion of each song, and the interplay with the other band members (a gesture here, a finger point there) illustrate his irrepressible showmanship. He even pokes fun at himself in his amusingly slapdash xylophone accompaniment to Up Jumped the Devil.
Take it away Warren...
Highlights for me are a mixture of Cave solo pieces on piano - Love Letter, The Ship Song, Mercy Seat, and the full band songs - Mermaids, From Her to Eternity and the set closer Jubilee Street.

The encores (and there were 7 songs in all) see Cave leafing through the a swathe of notes and sheet music trying to choose some favorites to perform. He asks Thomas Wydler, the drummer "What's that song - you know the one where the audience singalong?". The informal nature of the choices and lack of a predefined set-list for the encores makes you feel part of a private performance, and Cave doesn't let us down. Every one is a gem. Finally finishing on the slightly pessimistic, but with echoes of Shrek, track: People Ain't No Good. 

This was almost 2.5 hours of sheer entertainment and musical excellence. Full of sections of pure romance but never too far from a garage punk riff. The mixture of intensity, audience participation and stagecraft is everything you would expect from a Nick Cave live experience.

Water's Edge 
The Weeping Song 
Red Right Hand 
Brompton Oratory 
Higgs Boson Blues 
The Ship Song 
From Her to Eternity 
I Let Love In 
Love Letter 
Into My Arms 
Up Jumped the Devil 
We No Who U R 
Black Hair 
The Mercy Seat 
Jubilee Street 

And No More Shall We Part 
God Is in the House 
Avalanche (Leonard Cohen cover)
Jack the Ripper 
The Lyre of Orpheus 

Encore 2:
People Ain't No Good 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Hemulens

Wednesday 1 April @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh

Under the auspices of Creative Scotland's Youth Music Initiative, these 3 bands were able to record and launch their music.

The Hemulens

The Hemulens are an Edinburgh based indie band, with members hailing from Scotland, England and Sweden. The band comprises Lewis Lauder (vocals + guitar), Robin Murphy (vocals + guitar), Matilda Sandahl (bass) and Gordon Shearer (drums).

Formed in early 2014, this gig was the promotional launch of their debut single, released 30th March. The single features two songs – Some Kinds of People [Lauder] and She Said [Murphy]. Both were recorded in December 2014 at Castlesound Studios in Edinburgh and produced by Craig Ross (Broken Records).
I'd heard the preview versions of both the tracks and was impressed enough to immediately buy tickets for this gig.
Debut single released 30th March 2015
The Electric Circus was not as busy as I had hoped for The Hemulens, but with the place more than half full, they took to the stage and quickly set up their gear.  Tight timelines with 3 bands in an evening and no roadies to assist, they were ready in 5 mins. 

First song was Look Left Step Right. Loud powerful intro, followed by some restrained vocals and guitar and then full band participation, including ooh ooh ooh backing vocals. Lovely Rickenbacker guitar work and lead vocals from Robin Murphy.
Lewis Lauder, Gordon Shearer, Matilda Sandahl and Robin Murphy 
Having two lead vocalists, and two main songwriters, The Hemulens setlist is quite varied, not in quality, which for a relatively new band is consistently high, but rather in delivery. Murphy's voice is the more melodic, but Lauder has an angst in his voice reminiscent of Tom Verlaine and Television. Shearer's exuberant drumming and Sandahl's understated Gretsch bass both underpin a really tight playing unit. 

The thing that stands them apart, from many other indie bands on the scene just now, is the quality of the songwriting. 

Highlights for me were Eve's Dressed In Red (definitely future single material), and the single launch tracks She Said and Some Kinds Of People.  Some Kinds Of People had glorious Gibson guitar riffs and vocals, while She Said had a lovely driving rhythm, more good guitar work and a slightly more melancholic feel, but drew the crowd closer.

The track Kane, which Murphy announces as "this is one of our newest songs" was wonderful. If this is the standard of their new material, I can't wait for the next release.

Bearing in mind that I'd only heard brief previews of two songs before this gig, I was really impressed. On this showing The Hemulens already have enough quality material to release a good album. A point which I mentioned to Robin Murphy after the gig. He said they'd love to - they just need the money and the time together to do it. 

Help them out and buy the single here https://thehemulens.bandcamp.com/ and when they're headlining bigger venues in the future, you'll be able to impress your friends with "Oh yeah, I've known about The Hemulens since early 2015 - I've got their first single!"

(please feel free to add corrections in comments)
Look Left Step Right
It's Not Easy
Eve's Dressed In Red
She Said
Some Kinds Of People 


Empire By Day  

Empire By Day are an emerging four-piece from Edinburgh. The band consists of Conor Joss on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Scott Cowie on lead guitar, Kieran Lewis on bass and Cameron Barnett on drums. They previously released their Silver Linings EP in July 2014 but this was the launch of their new single Mirrors released 23 March 2015

Empire By Day were the headliners at this gig to launch their new single Mirrors, and had a good following of friends and family. There was some good natured banter as the lads took to the stage, but they didn't waste time launching into Fade Out, from their 2014 Silver Linings EP. 

All their songs provided interesting degrees of light and shade, with quiet interludes of minimal guitar and melodic vocal harmony breaking up the powerful bass, drum and guitar riff driven sections. Scott Cowie's riffs and Conor Joss's vocals regularly provided melodic catchy hooks. 
Got Me Down, Young and Mirrors were my favourite songs on the night.

Mirrors reminded me of The Blue Nile in style and vocal delivery, and the guitar sequence on Got Me Down could have been a Two Door Cinema Club tribute, but there is no hint of deliberate emulation, the lads always put their unique stamp on each song. 

Smile of the evening was when bass player Kieran shouted something to the cheery hecklers, but we couldn't quite hear what he said. Conor Joss responded "I don't know what he said, but it was Kieran so it probably wasn't funny". Cue "Oohs!" from the crowd.

Empire By Day are destined to be better known. Try to catch them while they're still playing the small venues. 

Fade Out
Got Me Down


The Causeway Trio

Causeway Trio are a three-piece band from Edinburgh blending Scottish traditional music with a diverse range of influences, from jazz, gospel and rock to 20th century classical, minimalism and Eastern European folk. Some examples here

Pàdruig Morrison hails from the Outer Hebrides island of North Uist, where he was raised playing accordion and speaking Gaelic, developing a knowledge of traditional music from an early age. By contrast, classical guitarist Peter Thornton honed his skills in an eclectic mixture of acts, including a Christian metal outfit and playing trombone for several big bands. The jazz component comes courtesy of pianist and percussionist, David Swan.

Peter Thornton, David Swan and Pàdruig Morrison
They took to the stage quietly and, as the opening act, played to a fairly sparse crowd. Which was a shame as they provided some beautiful music and very eclectic sounds. 
Pàdruig Morrison did most of the chatting, mentioning what the songs were called and which of the trio had written them.

They often played 3 or 4 songs which segued into one longer piece of music, almost like movements in a symphony. They provided a real roller-coaster of influences, as mentioned above, but the compositions which stood out for me were the ones with jazz and Eastern European folk influences.

Glorious stuff, and when they provided combined vocal harmonies on the last song Hay Bales, the audience were enthusiastic in their support. 

Listen here http://www.causewaytrio.com/#!music/c9as

Monday, 23 March 2015

Wolf Alice

Òran Mór, Glasgow - 23rd March 2015

I've been following the progress of North London ensemble Wolf Alice since the release of their self-titled EP in 2010. At that time they were a duet of Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar and keys) and Joff Oddie (guitar), and their musical style could best be described as folky-pop with promising tinges of rock. In 2012 Drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis joined the band and they released the single Leaving You.

Ellie and her new shell-pink Fender Telecaster
The next couple of years saw the release of two EPs - Blush and Creature Songs, and the musical style was changing, definitely more hard edged rock, with little concession to their folky-pop roots. 

The band have been doing extensive touring in the US, but this was the kick-off gig for their UK tour, to promote their debut LP, My Love Is Cool (due to be released 22 June). The Òran Mór venue was sold out and the hype was massive. 

So it was with eager anticipation that I stood, watching the stage crew prepare everything for the band. The sight of the hefty roadie strapping on and tuning Ellie's brand new, lady-sized, pink Fender Telecaster was incongruous and raised a smile.

Finally, after some technical issues with a sound pedal, the band bounced onto stage. "Hello Glasgow!" Ellie shouted. The sardine-packed crowd raised the roof with noise.
"Hello Glasgow!"

Fluffy was their first song, and for a band that have yet to release their debut album, they played with the polish of a well-rehearsed headlining act, but with youthful enthusiasm and a serious amount of amplification! While Joey Amey and Theo Ellis provided bowel vibrating rhythm, guitarist Joff Oddie was given free reign to unleash some wonderful riffs and feedback filled sections.  Ellie Rowsell,  alternated between melodic crooning and powerful yelps and screams, provided rhythm guitar.

Storms and Your Love's Whore were similarly delivered, and the audience located centre-stage-front were in full flow, bouncing up to the low ceiling and surging toward the safety barrier. The sound was generally really good, if perhaps just a tad too loud at times. The over-amplification tended to remove the light and shade from some songs.

One of the highlights was Blush (from the EP of the same name), where the first few introductory bars of Ellie's guitar generated an audience singalong before the song had even started. Joff Oddie applauded the crowd. 

At one point, Joff, Ellie and Theo even did a bit of comic sychronised dancing, with guitars moving in time.

The closing songs You’re a Germ, Radio 1's recent track of the day Giant Peach, and the encore Moaning Lisa Smile sent the whole room dancing.
Ready to crowd surf?
Ellie Rowsell shouted out "This has been such a great start to the UK tour, thank you so much!" and they were finished - well almost finished, because bassist Theo Ellis, then unstrapped his guitar, leapt from the stage onto the barrier, and reverse-dived into the audience. He was carried by the crowd for some time at arms length, face-up, and finally deposited back over the barrier. 

Did they live up to the hype?  
You bet!

Setlist was 
(This is very roughly, cos I forgot to make notes): 

Your Love's Whore
Leaving You
90 Mile Beach
The Wonderwhy
You're A Germ
Giant Peach
White Leather
Moaning Lisa Smile

Support Acts were:


The Crows are a Rock/Punk style group from London. They provided a stonking set of frantic music, with heavy bass and drums, great guitar hooks and vocals delivered by James Cox.
Cox was a menacing figure on stage, and off stage (he occasionally ventured over the barrier into the crowd), combining the vocal styles of Ian Curtis and Johnny Rotten.
Highlights were Crawling and Pray. Listen here - Crows SoundCloud

The Magic Gang

The Magic Gang are from Brighton, and this was their first venture up to the frozen north. They looked like a preppy pop band, but delivered much more. 
The Magic Gang
With probably the clearest sound of the night, they delivered catchy guitar riffs, good vocals and harmonies, all driven by some excellent bass and drums. 
No Fun, Shallow and She Won't Ghost were highlights of an energetic and enjoyable set - they'll do well I think.
Listen to some tracks here - SoundCloud

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Paul Weller

Edinburgh Playhouse - 22nd March 2015

Paul Weller has always been a serious musician. He writes serious songs, and tonight he seems pretty serious about the business in hand. No introduction, maybe just a quiet hello, he kicks of the set with White Sky, the single from the forthcoming album "Saturn's Pattern" due to be released 11th May.

The packed Edinburgh audience are on their feet from the first number and despite Weller's stated intention to exclude any hark back to the Jam or The Style Council, they are loud in their praise and stand throughout. With little chat between songs, Weller powers through number after number, mixing songs from the new album with older stuff, his band a well disciplined and top quality ensemble.

After 4 or 5 songs Weller takes off his jacket and says "It's nice to be back in Edinburgh, last time I was here in the Playhouse was in 1977 and they trashed the seats. I'm not proposing that you do that tonight though!" - a few of us remember those halcyon days, and cheer.

"Here's a song about boxers and fighters in general" - Empty Ring is a good example of his ability to create images with words and melody. The appreciative audience roar their approval. Above The Clouds is the first opportunity for the mixed age crowd to sing along, and they don't miss a word.

A man of few words, but beginning to warm to the very enthusiastic Edinburgh reception, Weller introduces Long Time as a "salute to Lou Reed". The Attic has a wonderful New Jersey carnival sound reminiscent of the early E Street Band. Porcelain Gods, from the Stanley Road album, is wonderful, but turns into a bit of a jam session.

Weller turns to the keyboard and says "This one is dedicated to our keyboard technician, I think that's what they're called these days, who got married today" and launches into a glorious rendition of You Do Something To Me. The couples in the audience snuggle closer together.

A problem with his guitar necessitates a change to the setlist, and one of songs normally reserved for the encores, Broken Bones, is next. The dancing in the aisles immediately starts in earnest. Peacock Suit and Whirlpools End maintain the dance momentum and the Edinburgh Playhouse is really jumping, but suddenly that's the end of the set. Weller thanks us and the band depart.

The noise is deafening as clapping and stamping ensue. The Playhouse audience want more. 

Weller takes his time, but returns after 4 or 5 minutes to perform a couple of relatively low-key numbers These City Streets and Foot of the Mountain. Then he and the band depart again.

The crowd are not having it, and we've all heard that Weller usually does 2 encores, so the stamping and clapping escalates until the Modfather returns - finally smiling. 

The 2nd encore is more like the thing - Picking Up Sticks is powerful and full of Weller on guitar. There's also a slightly superfluous drum solo, but no matter, The Changingman, one of his best know tracks is next. The aisles are full, the dancing is frenetic but finally it comes to an end. Weller, really smiling now, thanks us all and says goodnight.

We all know that "you never get 3 encores", and anyway the house lights have come on, the PA music has started up, and a third of the crowd are already headed towards the exits. Despite all this, the die-hard front half of the hall are still noisily demanding more

Much to my surprise Weller bounds back on stage alone, quickly followed by the other band members. "Thanks for being such a great audience. Here's one you might remember" and A Town Called Malice halts the exodus of non-believers in their tracks. 

A Town Called Malice
This is an very fine rendition by Weller and the band, if perhaps a little less polished than the previous setlist. I do believe that this is actually an unrehearsed 'extra' for a very enthusiastic and appreciative Edinburgh audience. Everyone goes seriously wild and we all pull out our best 1980s dance moves. 

Finally it is really over, the house lights come back on, but everyone goes home happy.
I'm glad I was there.

White Sky
Come On/Let's Go
Uh Huh Oh Yeh
I'm Where I Should Be
When Your Garden's Overgrown
From the Floorboards Up
Into Tomorrow
Saturn's Pattern
Empty Ring
Above the Clouds
Long Time
The Attic
Friday Street
Porcelain Gods
Brand New Toy
You Do Something to Me
Broken Stones
Peacock Suit
Whirlpool's End

These City Streets 
Foot of the Mountain 

Encore 2:
Picking Up Sticks
The Changingman

Encore 3:
Town Called Malice

The Support was:

The Merrylees

I arrive just as the lads are starting (bang on time). I was immediately struck by two things. Firstly they look like they've just stepped off the set of a 1990s teen nerd movie (think Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) but carry it off with aplomb. Secondly, these guys can really play and sound very professional for a local band yet to release an album.
Touted as purveyors of 'Psychedelic Western Pop', the band members are Ryan Sandison, Simon Allan, Reuben Toy, Lee Brown, Kev Tierney, Craig Somerville - all from the Edinburgh, Glasgow area. 

The Merrylees 
Since their debut in 2013, The Merrylees have gained notable recognition and celebrity support. After hearing their music,  Richard Hawley produced their 2014 single “Forever More“, and the band were also nominated for “Best New Band” award by the Scottish Variety Awards. They've been gigging hard, supporting the likes of Paul Weller, Temples and Babyshambles and working on their debut EP.

With 3 guitars, a bass and a slide guitar on top of the punchy drums, The Merrylees really deliver a glorious sound. The introductory theme from Once Upon A Time In The West and the addition of a Mariachi style trumpet on For You makes me smile. 

The vocals and harmonies are good, and the soundmix is just right so the lyrics can be heard over the lovely guitar riffs.

Definitely a cut above the average support act, these guys are really worth hearing live. Will look forward to some headline gigs to promote the debut EP - hopefully soon.

Listen to the Merrylees on Soundcloud or Bandcamp

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Joan Armatrading

The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh - Thursday 19th March

Over her 42 years of recording and touring, Joan Armatrading has never done a solo world tour. For this, billed as her last major tour, she has decided to do a series of intimate, small venue, solo concerts, and The Queen's Hall is the ideal venue for this type of gig.

She walks on to thunderous applause, a huge grin stretching right across her face. "I actually came out here to do something, but I've forgotten what it is," she frets, gazing around the stage. "People tell me that’s what happens when you get old."
It’s the first of many jokes from a seasoned performer who seems to be really enjoying these smaller solo gigs. 

The stage is sparsely furnished, 3 guitars on stands, one keyboard and a small screen to host rolling videos or photographs. No mike stands, she's wearing a wireless head mike. Armatrading looks relaxed and chats easily with the audience.

"I was thinking that I might play a song from each of my albums" she says, "but with 20 albums that's not going to happen." However she says "But I will be playing a selection of songs that cover my career" and she kicks off with City Girl.

Her voice is strong, and the guitar is excellent, both in timbre and her ability. More amazing guitar work was to follow and I have to admit to being surprised and impressed at her guitar skills. 

The Caribbean-born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter tells us that she is on the 112th show of her “final major world tour”, and after the second number Promise Land, she claims that she is already so tired that “this is the last song”. The audience roars, because when she sings, her voice is ageless: she can still reach the high notes of her youth and is clearly bowing out of intensive touring with her famous powers undiminished. She's joking of course, and begins More Than One Kind of Love at the keyboard. The song has a beautiful organ gospel sound, and her voice is effortless. 

Returning to yet another guitar (the guitar-tech guy was kept busy all night, re-tuning and cleaning the strings of her 3 guitars) she plays a few chords of All The Way From America and receives a smattering of applause. She stops and says "So, some of you recognise this one - feel free to sing along. Don't join in if you don't know it" - big smile.

Alone with a guitar and keyboard – with occasional pre-recorded enhancements - the well-chosen set list reflects a remarkable career. She flits from folk to raw blues to some feedback filled rock with ease. These are timeless tunes and the song In These Times – accompanied by images of anti-war and apartheid protests interspersed with images of human love, is a particularly powerful moment.

Outside Ronnie Scott's in 1974
The banter returns as she introduces old photographs of herself: Posing outside Ronnie Scott's, getting her MBE, meeting Mandela and, not least, being immortalised in the Beano cartoon Tom, Dick and Sally. 

Despite joshing us earlier about not performing (probably) her biggest hit, Love and Affection receives a standing ovation, 1983 hit Rosie although wonderful to start, with sparse reggae guitar, is slightly messy, but is soon forgotten as she moves into Drop The Pilot and Me Myself I

Highlights for me are the blues slide guitar of My Baby's Gone, the jazz-blues excellence of Steppin' Out and the feedback fueled sections of Drop The Pilot.

Armatrading eschews the encore ritual and instead remains on stage, savouring the moment as the crowd stamp and cheer for more. Still smiling, she says jokingly "Wow, I didn't expect that. That came out of the blue!" 

The "encore" is Willow and the audience, shy to start, soon form an enthusiastic choir to finish a wonderful set.

Setlist: City Girl 
Promise Land 
More Than One Kind of Love
All the Way From America 
In These Times 
Mama Mercy 
My Baby's Gone 
Down To Zero 
Steppin' Out 
The Weakness in Me 
Empty Highway 
Woncha Come Home 
Love And Affection 
Drop The Pilot 
Me Myself I 
-- encore --

The Support Act was:

Adriana Spina

Local girl Adriana told us that Armatrading has always supported new music and local talent. For her 2012 Starlight tour she invited 56 singer–songwriters/artists to open for her in their respective home towns. In this series of concerts, 8 of those support acts were chosen to support her in the UK. She said she is honoured to be one of the 8 and has been Aramtrading's support in Ayr, Dunfermline, Inverness, Perth, Arbroath and Aberdeen. Tonight is Edinburgh and tomorrow Glasgow.

Adriana Spina

Spina is relaxed and chatty, telling us she's from Livingston originally. "Is there anyone from Livi here tonight?" she receives a cheer.

Her voice is strong and she can strum and pick a mean guitar - you can tell immediately why she's been chosen to support Armatrading. The songs are well written, quite personal, some beautifully melodic and some are real up-tempo guitar numbers which you could imagine being performed with a full band.

She also plays a hear-wrenching cover of Woodstock, written by "One of my favourite songwriters" Joni Mitchell.

Highlights for me are Two Steps (a story of being on the road) , Fall (if you're friends with a songwriter don't ever tell them any secrets cos it'll end up in their songs) and the poignant Jeannie's Song written for her "wee Edinburgh Granny" on her 80th birthday "It's my turn to sing you a lullaby, it's my turn to keep you safe".

Her album Never Coming Home is available now and definitely well worth a listen.

Don't Recognise Me
Two Steps
The Same Drum
Jeannie's Song