Saturday, 20 December 2014

Christmas Songwriters' Club

Central Hall, Edinburgh - 20th December

The Christmas Songwriters' Club is an annual event promoting original Christmas songs, festive jumpers & charitable donations. 

For one night every year (just before Christmas Day) a variety of musicians are brought together to write and perform original Christmas songs. There’s just one rule to this club: "No bloody covers – all original songs", and of course the dress code is Christmas Jumpers.

The Club started in 2008 at the Leith Docker's Club, moved to the Queen's Hall in 2012 and 2013 and this year is hosted in the newly refurbished Methodist Central Hall in Edinburgh's Tollcross.

Central Hall - looking good

Proceeds from the event go towards supporting charities that carry out meaningful work – both locally and globally. The Vine Trust and The Stuart Lawtie Memorial Foundation.

I was first introduced to the Christmas Songwriters Club (CSC) last year in the Queen's Hall, drawn by the presence of Kid Canaveral and Siobhan Wilson, both of whom I'd seen and liked at Kid Canaveral's Xmas Baubles IV. It was quite a good night, despite the slightly "slit your wrists for Christmas" nature of one or two performers.

This year the lineup looked even better, with Broken Records, Teen Canteen, Book Group, Discopolis, The Heartland Flyers, The Lonely Together, Supermoon (the latest alter ego of Neil Pennycook) and Eagleowl. Unfortunately Siobhan Wilson (now known as Ella The Bird) was unable to perform after losing her voice.

Book Group

First on were Book Group. They were up-tempo and fun - a good start to the evening. 
Their recently written Christmas songs were memorable for some good guitar, singalong tunes and a real indie rock feel. Enjoyed this set.
Book Group


Not your typical bass, drums and guitar setup, Discopolis – comprised of Fergus Cook, Laurie Corlett-Donald, Dave Lloyd and new drummer Cat Myers confidently provided some good new songs with synthesiser driven sounds.

In particular, Cat the drummer was really great, underpinning some lovely keyboards and vocals. Nice set - just too short.

Teen Canteen

Veterans of recent touring and also at last year's CSC, Teen Canteen were on form.
Teen Canteen
Teen Canteen are Amanda, Sita, Carla & Debs. As usual Carla Easton (dressed for this event in elfin green) led with cheery chat - explaining the new Xmas songs. She explained that the first song 'Christmas Eve Alone' was written from the perspective of their drummer Amanda's boyfriend Rory. Amanda works as a nurse at Yorkhill and often has to work Christmas, so the song was written from Rory's view - alone at Christmas. This first song, although tinged with angst was a fine example of their infectious brand of singalong indie pop. Carla kept the chat going between songs and the whole set was really entertaining. Sadly only 3 songs, must see them again on their own.

The Heartland Flyers

Before the interval, on came The Heartland Flyers, a Scots bluegrass outfit with original Xmas songs called ‘Santa Claus is Taking Christmas Off This Year’ and 'Right Around Christmas Time' in their repertoire.  

The Heartland Flyers
The Heartland Flyers were impressive, did a real fun set and had great sound.


The interval was next and it was an opportunity to judge the Christmas Jumper competition ...

..the woman in the Christmas tree dress won - no prizes, just kudos.

The Lonely Together

The Lonely Together strolled onto stage wearing matching furry animal hats and sang a ‘love story about Edinburgh’ called ‘Hometown Christmas’.

The Lonely Together
Quite a rock feel to their songs, with good sound and some excellent guitar and bass made their set extremely entertaining.

Eagleowl and SuperMoon 

Bart Owl was up first, with Neil Pennycook acting as lyrics prompter and backing vocalist (since Bart's song was only just finished in time for CSC and Bart wasn't sure he would remember all the words). Bart explained the tradition - write a song specially for the CSC and perform it once, and once only. This year he said, he had decided to take Christmas back to its roots and recount the greatest Xmas story ever - Die Hard - told from the perspective of the Nakatomi Tower. So we were treated to seasonal lines like ‘why is it okay to tell your life story on a police radio to a cop you've never met?’ and ‘if you shoot all the bad guys your ex-wife will see you in a new light’ and ‘you've taken off your socks, that’s not ideal.’

Neil and Bart - Die Hard, the greatest Xmas Story ever told
This was excellent stuff and the audience were well impressed
Neil ‘Supermoon’ Pennycook, keen to stress that this next song was of course a work of complete fiction, then provided his trademark full-voiced and slightly unnerving songs about "Our guy who is stranded at Amsterdam airport at Christmas gets a skinful and hires a prostitute". 
This was probably the most entertaining set of the evening. 

John Mackintosh

"Ladies and gentlemen, Christmas's John McIntosh", the penultimate act played cheery and authentic folk in his seventh consecutive appearance at CSC

Broken Records

Broken Records were the least Christmassy of the bands, and their specially penned song "My Beer Drunk Soul Is Sadder Than All The Dead Christmas Trees In The World" was enthusiastically received by the crowd, who by this time had been cajoled to their feet and were actually dancing between the tables to the very loud rock-driven sound.

Broken Records
They finished their set with a cheery "See you in the bar" and they were off. This was a great conclusion to the music for the evening.

The obligatory raffle prize draw was next, and finally it was time to go home - or to the bar to mingle with the acts.

My personal opinion is that the Christmas Songwriters' Club is an acquired taste. If you go expecting a full-on music concert with a series of bands, you will be disappointed. It is more of a fund-raising and slightly self-congratulatory party of like-minded musicians. The audience is largely made up of friends and relatives of those performing, and therein lies one of the problems..the level of loud chat during many of the performances was distracting and downright rude. Each band set was only a couple or three songs long, with adequate time to chat between acts. There were also multiple areas in the venue that these people could have gone for a chat without talking over the live music. Sheer thoughtless ignorance.

That said, this was quite a fun evening and I actually enjoyed most of it - especially Bart Owl's Die Hard Christmas Story.

I might just go again next year, if perhaps they can advise the audience to avoid chatting throughout the performances!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Christmas Baubles V

Portobello Town Hall - Sat 13th Dec 2014

Kid Canaveral's Christmas Baubles V

This was the fifth pre-Xmas music-fest organised by Kid Canaveral and the second involving Lost Map records. It was also the second time that the venue for this event was the lovely Portobello Town Hall.
Official Baubles-V poster
A truly eclectic lineup had been drafted in to perform - with Lost Map stalwarts (and hosts) Kid Canaveral, but also a heap of other musical styles and the surprise headline act, Ibibio Sound Machine.

As per last year's event the organisation and attention to detail was excellent, with local brewers William Brothers supplying the beer, the gig was due to last from 2:30 until midnight with a break for food from 5.40pm to 7pm. 

David Canaveral on kegs

Hosts, David and Kate Canaveral had already provided ticket-holders with a wealth of information and some do's and don'ts e.g. "Please do not bring any of your own booze into the venue, even if you think you've been terribly clever about concealing it. It's a condition of our licence and we'll only take it off you and drink it later whilst writing devastatingly witty, unkind things about you on the internet." :-)
This was definitely the "must go to" pre-Christmas bash for 2014.

Line-up and order of play was:

Kitchen Disco DJs
Throughout the night, while cunningly clothed in Christmas lights and offering plates of home made Christmas treats at the turntables, Kitchen Disco kept us entertained with a fine selection of toons. 

The Spook School
Nye Todd (guitar & vocals), Adam Todd (guitar), Anna Cory (bass and vocals), Niall McCamley (drums)
Spook School started the event with some loud, post-punk, indie songs. Drummer Niall did the between songs chat and at one point invited us all back to Adam's flat for some vegan cheese - "I've got so much vegan cheese" Adam told the crowd, but didn't give out his address. 
Adam, Nye Anna, and Niall before they took their clothes off
Adam was impressive on guitar, Nye provided most of the lead vocals in fine style, although Anna's voice was also great when she led. Drums and bass pretty prominent, but definitely guitar-led, they were slightly marred by echoey sound. Nonetheless Here We Go and Will You Always Be My Friend were particularly good, and despite Portobello Town Hall being less than half full, there was still some bouncy dancing going on. I would like to see them again with better sound.

Next up was Sarah Tanat-Jones aka Synaesthete. She was previously involved in a couple of groups (Radials and Come On Gang!) but recently embarked on a solo career with her debut album Array. Responsible for the Baubles V official poster above, Sarah regularly combines art and colours with sound as befitting someone who benefits from that rare gift synaesthesia
Sarah Tanat-Jones aka Synaesthete
As a solo performer, her set was heavily tape-loop and drum machine driven, but lovely vocals and very melodic. Sarah even got the Portbello crowd participating in some clap-along numbers in her Kate Bush meets the Burundi Drummers tracks. Really good set. One track entitled "You Only Call Me When You're Drunk" was an fine addition to a gig where Kid Canaveral performed their "You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night" :-)  My interest was piqued enough to subsequently purchase the Array CD and accompanying artwork.

Randolph’s Leap
The Leap were earlier in the proceedings than I had expected, but what a great set. 

Randolph's Leap
They were on top form, and all their recent gigging has helped to provide some light and shade in their performance. Weatherman and I Can't Dance To This Music were highlights, but an almost a cappella version of Natural was my favourite song of the set despite a wee glitch in the lyrics by Adam. 
I Can't Dance

This was a really professional and well performed set by the Leap. Songs were: Goodbye,
Microcosm, Natural, Foolishness of Youth, Weatherman, News, Hermit, I Can't Dance and Clumsy Knot. Definitely my favourite set of the afternoon, and I suspect that view was shared by much of the audience, shown by the fact that the crowd made a real clapping, chanting attempt to get them back for an encore. Unfortunately time was tight and there were many more bands to come, so no encore. 

David Canaveral introduced PAWS as "the band who had a stand-up fist fight with Morrissey". This is related to an event in May 2014, in Santa Ana in California where, through social media, they and another band (We Are Scientists) gained almost cult status when they ran foul of Morrisey's management. Read the background here.

This evening the band themselves, to their credit, were keen to play this down. 
They were formed from the ashes of a Glasgow-based band called “A Copenhagen Hope” 
After the departure of one of its founding members (Nick Anderson) the remaining three friends (Phillip Taylor, Josh Swinney and Matthew Scott) formed PAWS.  

In Porty Town Hall they were loud and rocking, possibly just too loud as the quality suffered a tad. However as the last set before tea-time, they really got the crowd jumping.

Food Break
Next was a break for dinner and we dashed off to get a table in the nearby Bonoful (Bangladeshi & Indian Restaurant). The food was excellent, service was pretty quick and the Bangla Beer (new to me) was delicious!

The Pictish Trail and Sweet Baboo
Johnny Lynch along with his new Moshi Moshi labelmate Stephen Black were in the post dinner slot, and their's was a gentle, hugely enjoyable and very humorous set with each taking turns to perform songs backed by the other. 

Sweet Baboo

Pictish Trail - Little Donkey

You what?

Their recent tour has obviously resulted a well rehearsed and fun set. If you get a chance to see 'em both live - just go - you won't regret it.

Hector Bizerk 
After releasing the SAY Award-nominated ‘Nobody Seen Nothing’ Louie and Audrey have been touring for some time. The time on tour has resulted in a pretty slick performance. Louie is the rapping wordsmith and Audrey is his guitarist and drummer. Not sure who the bassist was, but he was good, we were also treated to some live art on a large canvas at the back of the stage, and a break-dancer-cum-flag-waver.

I'd seen Louie once before as a guest in a gig in Easterhouse to raise cash for the Cairn String Quartet's trip to Austin Texas (for the South by Southwest SxSW festival), and was impressed with his brief appearance then. This was a much more extensive set, backed by a band, and when David Canaveral introduced them as "hypnotic" he was spot on. Despite not always making out the lyrics, it was a really good set and far more fun than I had expected. They certainly warmed the crowd up for the next act.......

Kid Canaveral
Our hosts for the afternoon then to took the stage, armed not only with their usual Buckfast refreshments but also David's "Most fabulous Xmas decoration ever" - an illuminated Buckfast bottle.
Glowing blue Buckfast bottle to the fore (left of monitor)

Unfortunately, the "Most fabulous Xmas decoration ever" which was plugged into David's guitar pedals for power, caused the pedals to fail, much to the delight of the crowd and the mock exasperation of the other Canaverals. David scrabbled around for an alternative power source and we were off.
Despite this initial glitch, the Canaveral's set was particularly good, starting with the seasonal Low Winter Sun and rolling through their best known numbers, pulling out all the stops. In particular Kate's guitar playing was excellent, and their new keyboard player, Michael Craig, added extra depth on several tracks. 
David MacGregor's Fabulous Christmas shirt
Setlist - Low Winter Sun, And Another Thing!, Skeletons, Good Morning, Without A Backing Track, Her Hair Hangs Down, Who Would Want To Be Loved, The Wrench, You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night and Compromise. 
This was one of the best KC performances I had seen, and probably my favourite set of the evening session.

Ibibio Sound Machine
ISM were the surprise headliners for Baubles V, though perhaps the fact that they share an agent with Johnny Lynch meant that it should not have been such a surprise :-)
Fronted by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine is a mash-up of African and electronic elements of West-African funk mixed with post-punk and electro. Weird and wonderful folk stories, recounted to a young Eno, in her mother's Ibibio tongue, by her family form the basis from which the band's unique musical sound is generated.
Hello Edinborough!
They were dance music through and through. The Ibibio lyrics were well beyond my limited linguistic skills, but the band were excellent and Williams, sounding great, was an eye-catching centrepiece in her impressive shoulder-pad and hips dress.

I can only bend over this far in this dress!

Portobello Town Hall came alive with some exceptional dad-dancing among a simmering dance-club crowd, and as things warmed up, hats and jackets were abandoned. A fine finish to a really good afternoon and evening.

The evening session in particular was a glorious mix of Scottish Indie, hip-hop and Afro-electric funk. Well done Kid Canaveral and friends for this fifth installment of Xmas Baubles. Just remember to order more beer next time - bar was drunk dry by 11:00pm!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Roddy Frame

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow - 02 December 2014

Roddy Frame 

It's a formidable task for me to write an objective review of a Roddy Frame live performance, because his songs are like time stamps that bookmark key sections of my life. I grew up listening to his work - from the Aztec Camera/Postcard Records days, through the Rough Trade records and then his various solo releases. Many of the tracks evoke a strong feeling of time and place. 

I recently purchased his latest work,  Seven Dials, which was recorded at Edwyn Collins' London studio and was released on his AED Records label. Their relationship dates back to the days when Aztec Camera, Orange Juice and Postcard Records' boss Alan Horne sat in the Equi Cafe in Sauchiehall Street, plotting global domination. So it's great to see them sparring again. The new album is good, and gets better on repeated listening.

I've seen Frame in concert several times before, mostly in relatively small venues during his Aztec Camera days, once solo in the Edinburgh Playhouse and once headlining a late summer gig (with Del Amitri) at Edinburgh Castle - but it has been quite a while since our paths have crossed, so it was with some anticipation that I climbed the steps of the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow.

The venue was full to busting (with the exception of 2 empty rows in the middle of the stalls for some strange reason) by the time the band picked their way carefully across the darkened stage accompanied by some considerable crowd noise. However the audience saved the real cheers for Roddy Frame as the spotlights came on and he bounced onto centre stage looking pretty damn youthful. "Hello Glasgow!" he grinned. 

Picking up his acoustic guitar, he launched straight into the first few chords of Oblivious and the curiously subdued audience clapped politely (more about this later). I had actually forgotten what a virtuoso Frame can be on the guitar and on this track he showed just how good he is. 

Over the next two hours we were transported back and forth through a song selection that covered the last 3 decades, with a reasonable but not huge emphasis on the new album.
Backing vocals too
The band were well rehearsed and with 2 backing vocalists-come-violinists on several tracks, the sound was really excellent, however whether it was the nature of the venue, or the fact that the audience were almost all of a certain age, I am not sure, but the place was not exactly buzzing. Even after Oblivious and Deep And Wide And Tall, there was an almost rapt silence between songs. 

Roddy then suggested that because it was such an intimate homecoming gig, and everyone was so quiet, that perhaps he could chat a bit about the songs too. He went on to talk about when he went to America, met a girl, spent time in New Orleans listening to so many different types of music, and how this was the inspiration for Bigger Brighter Better. 

Next up was 40 Days Of Rain, apparently inspired by a time when he was going through some serious heartache (no details) and his visit to Winchester Cathedral, seeing the Shrine of St. Swithun and the legend of how if it rains on St. Swithun's day we all get rained on for 40 days. He said "Those of you who don't know me - well this is the kind of thing I like to write songs about" with a cheeky grin.

Gradually the audience were warming up. Roddy asked how 2014 had been for us, and went on to say that 2014 had been a year of mishaps and change, but a great year for him. His tour manager broke his foot, he got this new band together and he'd recorded his new record at AED Studios where "Edwyn Collins is the boss. In fact I think Edwyn is a real mogul these days" This was the introduction to the first number from Seven Dials - White Pony - a song about life, just taking some time out to stop and look around at where you are and what's important.

Postcard (possibly my least favourite) and a soulful version of Working In A Goldmine were next. These were followed by In Orbit, just organ and drums with Frame on tambourine ("I've had a spiritual conversion" he joked) and On The Avenue was piano and violin backed. Both really special moments.

Down The Dip was done solo with Frame on acoustic guitar. Because it shares some chord sequences with Dylan's It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) a verse and chorus of this were added at the end in frenetic style. 

The beauty of We Could Send Letters marked the first audience singalong and by this time the local worthies in the audience were giving it large, lots of shouts and repartee, most of which Frame dealt with in sparkling form. One particularly persistent chap, who had seen Aztec Camera at the Barrowlands 30 years ago and was still wearing the same t-shirt he bought that night, was not to be put off and continued to make a lot of noise. Cleverly he was asked his name - Neil Howie - and this seemed to satisfy his quest for stardom and he quietened down.

They finished up the first set with The Crying Scene and Somewhere In My Heart.

The first encore was a track from Frestonia, possibly the least well know of Frame's solo albums. The song was Rainy Season and it really worked - slowed things down with a section reminiscent of early Fleetwood Mac and Albatross, before a blitzing finish.

Of course, this was a homecoming gig, so despite the band leaving the stage again, we all knew it wasn't over and sure enough, encouraged by lots of noise Roddy came back on alone to perform Killermont Street, that hymn to the bus station just across the road. A heartfelt early song which somehow morphed into Wild Mountain Thyme with Frame on harmonica. It sounds cringe-worthy, but everyone sang along and it felt fine.

The band re-joined Frame and a gospel fuelled version of Back On Board finished the set.

Memorable gig for the inter-song chat and the song selection.
Everyone left in good spirits.

-- Setlist --
Deep and Wide and Tall
Bigger Brighter Better
40 Days Of Rain
White Pony
Working in a Goldmine
In Orbit 
On the Avenue
Let Your Love Decide
Down the Dip 
We Could Send Letters
The Bugle Sounds Again
The Boy Wonders
Walk Out To Winter
The Crying Scene
Somewhere In My Heart
-- Encore --
Rainy Season
-- Encore 2 --
Killermont Street
Back On Board 

Support was:

Miriam Jones

Originally from Cranbrook (British Columbia) and now based in Oxford UK, Miriam Jones has been tagged as part of the Americana/Folk-Rock/Singer-Songwriter genre. I guess that kinda covers it, but that doesn't give you an insight into the quality of her songwriting. 

Miriam Jones at Royal Concert Hall Glasgow
About half the Glasgow audience were still milling about in the bar/foyer area when Miriam took to the stage. On this occasion, Miriam was joined by Simon Edwards on bass (ex Fairground Attraction) 

The audience were a little on the quiet side, but Miriam chatted about how lovely Glasgow was in the sun, and how unexpected that was. She said she'd been out to the Kelvin Art Gallery and seen some lovely pieces of art, and was really enjoying Glasgow. "Kelvingrove" someone in the audience shouted out. "Ah yes, it was Kelvingrove Art Gallery" Miriam responded. 

Simon Edwards on bass & Miriam Jones
She played many of the songs from her upcoming release Between Green and Gone, but the standout tracks for me were Don't Be Hard On Me, Missed You, Train and Float. The songs were in turns introspective & thoughtful, followed by downright rocky. With Edwards on bass and Jones swapping between acoustic and electric guitar, the set was really lovely - gradually drawing more of the die-hard drinkers from the bar into the auditorium. 

The final applause at the end of her set was heartfelt and warm.

I was able to purchase a pre-release version of Miriam's new album and she even signed it for me. I will follow her progress with interest.