Thursday, 21 August 2014

Withered Hand with Friends: Adam Stafford and Samantha Crain

The Queen's Hall Edinburgh - 21 August 2014

I am way overdue on writing this, almost 2 weeks ago I was looking forward to Withered Hand and Friends. Here is what I can remember:

Withered Hand

This was my second time seeing Dan Willson and his band. First time was in a really small venue, The Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, and it was a wonderful gig so I was really looking forward to this one in the slightly larger Queen's Hall.

Withered Hand

Despite there being two good support acts (see below) and Withered Hand having quite a following, the venue was only half full. I was really surprised, but perhaps this is the fate of bands performing during the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe? So many venues, so many shows.

I have subsequently learned that perhaps part of the reason for the limited attendance was the lack of prior notification. Dan is notorious for his lack of attention to detail, and neglected to publicise the concert to any great degree, only remembering to promote the gig through his email mailing list the day before.

The event was attended by many members of the Scottish indie "scene", including King Creosote (Kenny Anderson) and members of Frightened Rabbit, and despite the lack of notice, a lively disparate crowd of all ages turned up.

This was the fourth year in a row that Withered Hand had performed at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall at the tail end of the Festival. “Here we are again,” Willson announces. “Of the larger shows that I've played, it’s one of my favourite venues because it still feels quite intimate - it’s lovely. They start to get pretty soulless, once they’re big. The Queen’s Hall doesn't feel like that, it’s a cool place.”

Things got off to a cracking start with Horseshoe from the New Gods album, but Dan lost the lyrics about midway through and demanded that the band begin the song again. The enthusiastic crowd clapped and (perhaps ironically) cheered the balls-up. “Don’t clap! Don't f**king clap!” he chastised the smiling crowd.

Horseshoe was not the last song to mess up, and as is customary it seems, Dan has a load of lyrics written on his arm, and refers to them every now and then in ostentatious fashion, much to the crowd's delight.

The sound was great from where I was standing, but I was close enough to hear the stage monitors as well as the main speaker rig. I heard some fans complaining that the sound was a bit muddy from the back, and they couldn't hear certain instruments.  

There was a good mix of songs from both New Gods and the previous album 
Good News, and a really good cover of Charles Latham’s ‘Hard On’ which I had not heard them perform live before.

Willson was swapping banter with the audience members and the rest of the band throughout, and obviously enjoying himself as much as the crowd were enjoying the gig.

A rousing version of Heart Heart completed the first set, and the band went off for drinks of tea or something - but only for a minute or so. Dan came back alone to perform Cornflake solo (while most of the band members looked on from among the audience at the side of the stage) - this was a beautiful version of the song.

Rest of band back on the stage, they went on to give us really glorious versions of New Gods, Hard On and Not Alone - though there were a couple of re-start moments in there too, much to Dan's chagrin and the audience's delight.

A good gig, and although not quite as slick as last time, still very enjoyable.

Black Tambourine
I Am Nothing
New Dawn
Love over desire
King of Hollywood

Love In The Time of Ecstasy
Fall Apart
Religious Songs

Between True Love and Ruin
Heart Heart

Cornflake (solo) 
New Gods 
Hard On (Charles Latham cover)
Not Alone

Adam Stafford

Adam opened the proceedings, looking every inch the vulnerable accountant in his suit trousers, shirt and skinny tie. I'd only heard a handful of his songs (via YouTube) in the few days before the concert, after the full line-up had been announced - and I had been quite impressed with what I had heard. For the uninitiated, Adam Stafford info can be found here.

Adam Stafford

He uses layered vocals and guitar loops to great effect, setting up rhythm (both guitar and vocal) with melodic hooks as he goes - no pre-recorded stuff here, it's all live, well recorded live, while you watch and listen. The overall impression and sound was of a full band playing. 

Many of songs in the set were from his recent album, Imaginary Walls Collapse - including Vanishing Tanks and Shot Down Summer Wannabees. He also aired one new track which was as yet untitled, but he announced as "This is a new one, so it’ll probably be shite!

He also told a great story, about the last time he was in the Queen's Hall, back in 2007 when Donovan and David Lynch were promoting the benefits of transcendental meditation.  They had just proposed that regular group meditation can influence whole cities or countries - making them peaceful or "invincible", when some young kid stood up and asked "How do you know this stuff?" The TM gurus were unable to answer!

He finished up with His Acres

I enjoyed his whole set, and he was really well received by the crowd. I suspect Adam will have won many new fans from this performance.

Samantha Crain

Samantha Crain was up next. From Oklahoma, small in height, and elfin in face, she greeted the crowd confidently clutching her acoustic guitar. As with Adam Stafford, I had listened to some of her music in advance of the concert, and was looking forward to hearing her live.

Samantha Crain
Her voice was sweet, and her lyrics sharp - a kind of Sheryl Crow/Melanie crossover. She is also an accomplished guitar player as demonstrated on Teaspoon In The Morning.

Samantha told some good stories while guitar tuning between numbers ("Heaven would be 20 ready tuned guitars setup behind me", she said) about the inspiration for certain songs, and the lyrics for others e.g. Somewhere All the Time was inspired by the film Convoy, For The Miner is a Jason Molina tribute, and Devils in Boston was actually about New York but it didn't scan :-)

A beautiful set, and well received. If you see she is performing near you, go and see her, you won't be disappointed.

Santa Fe
Somewhere All the Time
Elk City
Devils in Boston (actually New York but it didn't fit)
Never Going Back? (not sure about this title)
Songs In The Night
Teaspoon In The Morning (guitar picking)
For The Miner (Jason Molina tribute)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Randolph's Leap and Guests

The Bowler's Bar, Glasgow - Sunday 27 July

I've got a wee bit behind with the whole gig review thang, so this is a week or so overdue. This was part of the East End Social project ....

"The East End Social is an ambitious new music project bringing a host of concerts, events and workshops to the east side of Glasgow. Running from April to August 2014, The East End Social promises an eclectic music programme across a range of venues, appealing to visitors and east end residents of all ages."

This particular whole-day-gig was organised by Randolph's Leap and Olive Grove Records under the banner "I Can't Dance To This Music Anymore" (click to view promo video recorded prior to the gig at the Bowler's Bar)
Randolph's Leap - Hosts for the day

The line-up for I Can't Dance To This Music: 

Randolph's Leap

State Broadcasters

Skinny Dipper stripped back sets from:

The BMX Bandits


Kid Canaveral
Adam Ross

... with Vic Galloway on DJ and compère duties

I was particularly looking forward to the Leap and Kid C as always, but also keen to see Meursault before he metamorphoses into a new entity, and of course the BMX Bandits. I knew little about Skinny Dipper or State Broadcasters, but if they were friends of the Leap they were bound to be good I reckoned.

Vic Galloway was playing some tunes, old and new - Blue Nile, Cocteau Twins, Pictish Trail etc. to keep the crowd happy, but at the appointed hour (13:00) Adam Ross of Randolph's Leap stepped up onto the tiny stage and did a few introductions before launching into the first solo acoustic set.
Adam solo acoustic set
He started with Cassie O’Tone "I sit here in the bath and pretend i’m doing the luge. I keep misjudging corners and break my skull in two" and followed with 3 new songs which all sounded pretty good - no idea of the titles, but something like Under The Sun, Regret, Place That I Linger. He finished his set with Psychic from the Real Anymore album. Lovely stripped back set and Adam's voice never fails to impress.

BMX Bandits were up next - well four of the seven Bandits with a guest appearance from none other than Adam Ross on drums (first of several guest appearances by Adam).

We were treated to a fine selection of Duglas T. Stewart's whimsical stories between songs, with the Bandits trademark humorous/sad lyrics during the set. Rachel Allison's lovely voice adding a real depth to the songs - which included:

Fireworks, And It's You, Do You Really Love Me  (Daniel Johnston cover), Students Of Life, Listen To Some Music and Disco Girl.
BMX Bandits, well some of them

Kid Canaveral's David MacGregor was next on the bill. Without his band members to reign him, he probably spent as much time chatting with the crowd as he did playing songs, but it was all good fun, and even funnier was his attempt to curtail his language (which can be colourful on occasion) as there were young kids in the audience :-)
David MacGregor representing Kid Canaveral
Despite the extensive banter, David manage to play: Her Hair Hangs Down, What We Don't Talk About, You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night (with well orchestrated audience participation and harmonies), Low winter Sun & And Another Thing. Really enjoyable set from David on great form.

Neil Pennycook was making one of his last appearances under the name Meursault.

This was the first time I'd seen Neil live, despite owning several of his albums. The first thing that struck me was the power of his voice. In the small Bowler's Bar venue, he didn't really need the microphone for the louder vocal sections, and indeed stood well back. 
Meursault - Neil Pennycook
The set consisted of a mixture of Meursault tunes and some interesting covers. Set list was roughly: Flittin' (great version - Adam on Drums again!), Death to Meursault, Lioness  (Jason Molina cover), Memoirs of a Stockbroker? (Mungo Jerry cover), Lament For a Teenage Millionaire, Day Drinker (Adam Faucett cover) and a couple more. This was a compelling performance by Neil and well received by the audience.

After a considerable amount of sound engineering, Skinny Dipper ("almost a girl band") took the stage - all 9 of them!

Skinny Dipper stage crowding
No need for Adam's presence this time, they brought their own drummer :-) Skinny Dipper are a new band with three members of Randolph’s Leap in them. They’ve got a new EP coming out towards the end of the year or the start of next year.

Skinny Dipper have been described as "sunshine-pop harmonists" and they did just that - bright, mostly happy tunes well performed with big strings, brass and keyboards backing. This was a lovely set in a (by this time) well packed Bowler's Bar.

Press labelled as "Caledonian alt-country charmers", State Broadcasters were on next.

Completely unknown to me me prior to this gig, the Broadcasters line-up unusually included a harp, a cello and two trombones, as well as the more usual guitar and keys. 
State Broadcasters
Their songs were ear-catching and sounded great in the tiny venue. Of course, they too needed a drummer for a couple of tracks and enlisted the help of Mr Ross. By this time Adam was beginning to get embarrassed at being described as the Jools Holland of the drums, but he worked his way across the stage, through the band, eventually found the drum stool and proceeded to drum through the next couple of numbers very ably. State Broadcasters are definitely worth further investigation on this evidence. 

Finally it was the turn of the hosts - Randolph's Leap, who on this occasion were a trombone player short of the full Leap ensemble. 
Adam glad not to be drumming
Exuberant and fun as always, there were a couple of songs I'd not heard the Leap do live before - namely Crisps and Undergod, but perhaps that was due to the missing trombone of Fraser Gibson. 

One of the highlights of their set was their cover of Camper Van Beethoven's "Take The Skinheads Bowling" where Adam insisted that Neil (Meursault), David (Canaveral) and Graeme (State Broadcasters) join him on stage for the vocals. A wild and crowd-backed version of Skinheads followed with wholehearted chants of "Got big lanes" and "All the same" etc.
Funnily enough, in the following song, Counting Sheep, Adam inadvertently swapped back into Camper Van Beethoven mode and mixed up the lyrics, to much crowd cheering. 
As always, Randolph's Leap live are something not to be missed and their set ended a very fine afternoon and evening of quality music, friendly banter and inter-band camaraderie.

Set-list was: Goodbye, Foolishness Of Youth, Nature, Isle of Love, Weatherman, Microcosm , Undergod, Hermit, Take The Skinheads Bowling (Camper Van Beethoven cover), Counting Sheep, I Can't Dance To This Music Anymore and Crisps

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Broken Records with Kid Canaveral and Book Group

Queen's Hall  - Saturday 2nd August 2014

As the press office at the Queen's Hall put it "This is a homecoming show by Edinburgh's Broken Records to celebrate the recent release of their eagerly anticipated third album Weights & Pulleys. As well as a full performance featuring the new material and old favourites, the night opens with special musical guests Kid Canaveral and Book Group and will be the best way to kickstart your 2014 Fringe."

Broken Records release history:- 
Until the Earth Begins to Part (2009), Let Me Come Home (2010), Weights & Pulleys (May 2014)

I knew little of their first two albums (on 4AD records), but recently heard "Winterless Son" on BBC 6Music late one evening and more or less went straight out and bought Weights & Pulleys the next day. The new album was recorded in Edinburgh, and with the support of the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, it was released through their own newly created label, J Sharp Records. So I was looking forward to hearing not just the new album, but some of their back-catalogue too. Even better, as an added bonus, one of my favourite live acts, Kid Canaveral (full band) were supporting, along with another local band, Book Group.

Rory Sutherland fiddles up a storm
Broken Records has increased in numbers and it was a 9-strong band that entered the stage area accompanied by a single strobe light and rising excitement and cheers from the crowd. Two drummers (two!), horn section, strings, multiple guitars, keys and extra bass made a marvellous sound in the small Queens' Hall venue. 
Along with the massed instruments Jamie Sutherland's voice was strong and the opening song Ditty (We Weren't Ready) was a real show kick-starter. This was followed by Winterless Son. The crowd were dancing and the sound was great - not to mention the light show. This is the first "indie" band I've seen with such a slick setup, lights, instruments, sound equipment - even a "guitar roadie" constantly re-tuning the guitars. I guess this might hark back to their 4AD days?

The band have been tagged with various labels over the years, comparing them to Arcade Fire, The National and even Springsteen amongst others, but I think that the combination of good songwriting and their varied set of instruments (accordion, violin, trumpet and trombone) makes them unique, but they definitely should work on keeping that individuality. The new album is mostly glorious with several stand-out-on-first-hearing tracks. The others grow with more listening.

Set-list was:
BR Set-list

Kid Canveral

I'd just seen David Canaveral last weekend doing a lovely acoustic solo support for the Leap at the East End Social gig, but was looking forward to the full line-up and some of their more up-tempo and electric guitar driven tracks.

The Kids in full flow

They kicked off with the slightly unseasonal but rather fine Low Winter Sun, followed by Without A Backing Track, with Kate Canaveral on lead vocals and David, Rose and Scott doing the driving rhythm. The recent single Who Would Want To Be Loved was next, combining some lovely Kate and David guitar with the irresistible lyrics “You start to feel that you’re destined to drown in your kitchen sink, and nobody waits forever because everyone dies eventually.

After the heart-achingly beautiful Her Hair Hangs Down, David turned to the audience and looking at the possibly slightly inebriated guy in the cowboy hat who was dancing to every single song, he said with a big grin "D'you know, I think that's the first time anyone has danced to that song at a gig"

This was a really smooth but uplifting set from Kid Canaveral, and as they finished up with a great full on version of A Compromise, and despite considerable audience appeals for "More!" they exited the stage and the lights came up - no encore. The price of being a support act I guess.

KC Set-list: Low Winter Sun, Without A Backing Track, Who Would Want To Be Loved, Her Hair Hangs Down, Skeletons, Sometimes and A Compromise.

Book Group

Previously know as Bad Books, but were forced to change to Book Group due to an existing Manchester group of the same name.

Book Group

Described as "thunder drums + pop fuzz hooks. Prone to use of megaphone", this was my first hearing of Book Group. They were entertaining. The songs were pretty catchy and seemed well written, but the sound was not always great, particularly on the vocals.

Listen to Some of the tracks from their recent EP "Tantrums" here