Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Live Review - Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh: Paradoxical Undressing
St Cecilia's Hall, Edinburgh
20 August 2008

Words: John Mackie

So, tonight's entertainment is in a drawing room, upstairs fromSo, tonight's entertainment is in a drawing room, upstairs from a museum of “early” music. Civilised it certainly is. It lends a restrained and reserved air to proceedings which will permeate into the spectacle produced. You"re not at a rock show or a kegger. You're at a recital. I expected James “Jim” Naughtie to come in with his big headphones and say "Here we are at the Concertgebouw…." My reason for entering this Old Town Howard's End is to see Kristin Hersh perform her “Paradoxical Undressing” show. This is a (mostly) spoken-word deal based around snippets from a forthcoming memoir of the same name. The readings cover such territories as the early days of Throwing Muses, her initial experience of mental illness, life in Providence and reflections on discovering she was pregnant for the first time. She reads out passages from the book accompanied by guitar washes and then intersperses snippets or full versions of songs connected (sort of/sometimes) to the text you've just heard. And certainly on paper it is a captivating concept from a performer who has undoubtedly meant a lot to me over the years.

Christ aye. KH. We do go way back. I first heard a Throwing Muses record in 1988 when I was hirsute and gamine as well as “skint and aflame” and the following year I started a regular habit of seeing them/her live. When I was 17/18 to me she felt like a revered creature from another lagoon, one where people were able to comment on their internal strife and seek insight into why it was taking place. In this land folk searched for a way to “express themselves”. Coming from a "Cultural Chernobyl" one is not accustomed to being around individuals who are “airing themselves” openly or who even risk talking about "internals" in case they might seem to be "making a fuss" or be accused of "being weird". At that age despite of/due to my confused/stifling incoherence I had secret and suppressed yearnings to tackle the weirdness and fuss making machineries which were going on "inside".

It's just this emptiness. I can"t chase it away.

KH was just what was required.

My pillow screams too and so does my kitchen and water and my shoes.

Thought this hardness was a shell. It's a hard, hard hard core.

Home is a rage, feels like a cage. Home is what you read. How you breathe. Home is how you live.

The way she sang these lines and the phrase "This is another ending" in a different tune were moments I used to move the needle to in an attempt to isolate her surges into and excoriation of the words. Listening to her was to hear a form of "self possession" I knew only too well writ on the largest scale. It blew my wee mind) and of course

The house is reeling. I'm kneeling by the tub. Lonely is as lonely does. Lonely is an eyesore. The feeling describes itself.


The more time went on, I started to see what I felt were shortcomings to the lyrics in particular. I guess she was in her teens when she wrote most of these. Precocious stuff but subject to certain concerns and angles that one has at that age which are arguably peculiar to growing pains. For a while I grew out of what she was doing. I wanted fire and ice youth and joy and all that. It never fails to fascinate and frustrate the hell out of me how people can listen to the same piece of music and not only interpret meaning/tone etc in totally opposing trains of thought but also like it for entirely different reasons and pick up on hugely differing facets. Obviously a high number buy records due to the call of fashion or habit but, returning to musical factors with regard to KH, I loved the sense of liberation that was there in her voice. The meaning was there to be seen if you peered in hard enough and if you wanted to make the effort but before you got there you were faced with this magnificent clouded mass of words, of torment and non linear distress, of a sense of hope fueled madness, of words in battle with each other spitting out of a mind way too active for it"s own good. I maybe couldn"t articulate it at the time but there was so much of my experience in what she said and how she said it. The difference being she was able to get a grip on the words for a millisecond or 2 so she could use them. She needed and (often on an involuntary basis) channelled the turmoil, the flux, the rage. It was the thing for me. The music was jerky and seldom stopped changing. Angular. Wired. Skewed. All the best stuff. I have to quote this in full. Here's how KH herself describes the Muses sound in those early days. She sums it up perfectly.

In order to play them right, we gotta play twitchy. In other sections, if we don't play behind the kick, we sound like a giant spaz. We have to hit our notes a breath after every kick beat, even if the passage is racing by at a hundred miles an hour. And they do race by at a hundred miles an hour. Nervous energy is implied in every song; sometimes we gotta downplay that just to make the band less annoying. We don't downplay it for long, though. For the most part, we play as fast as we can, staring at each other, wild-eyed, racing down musical stairs, juggling as we go.

Sadly the more her career went on. I sensed that folk probably saw and heard something slightly different. Maybe they liked the fact that she used acoustic guitar quite a lot. Maybe that was enough to categorize her as an earnest "authentic" performer. Maybe they picked up on how she was prone to occasional stereotyped phraseology in the midst of the mad genius. They seemed to love this type of verbiage the most. The music definitely calmed down and got slicker and less fevered. It lost elements of the frenzy and density and concentrated pain which characterize her songs on the first coupla records. TM closed in on easier (dare one say it) TALKING HEADS (one of my musical arch enemies - "The Observer magazine just about sums him up e.g. self-satisfied, smug") territory at times and the solo records became reserved affairs with a hint of an MOR sound (with outré lyrics). Something started to go amiss. Her best songs have little roots which I prayed would start to branch out and take her into wild and uncharted territory. That's what I wanted her to do. That was the aspect of her that I always picked up on. I wanted more of that. I wanted the music to be heavier, gnarled, crushing, to be charging after and catching up with rawest voice and thought but they seldom did. The music became reliant on specious concepts of a "simplicity" that is not "simple enough" (it seems to me that “pared back” and “stripped bare” are good… declining to use one’s imagination when in a recording studio isn’t) so that you are left with “neither one thing nor the other” (Bob Cunis and John Arlott RIP).

I still needed the frenzy. I needed to hear the pain god damn it. I'm in pain. "We're all in pain". I need to hear this represented in “my music” (with Steve Race). I can't conjure it up for myself. I need to hear my inner workings reflected back to me by a better person in twisted kinship. I still attempted to listen to some of the solo records. They were hard work for me. Some sparks and flashes but song after song just faded into a jungle of increasingly samey themes, bland instrumentation and straight "all on one level" production and arrangements. I would scream at the Binatone. "She has to push herself!" I also seemed to be surrounded by pals who didn"t get her. I think this played on my mind - "a lot of screeching about nothing", "there's no dynamics. It's still on that same level". This one did hit home. It meandered along. No surprises. No ups and downs. A pretty, maudlin soup with some hints of colour and of feist (with a lower case f). It felt like she tried to measure and rein in her voice. It wasn't strange, shattered, huge, erratic anymore. It was often muted and collared and almost genteel.

This pleased the type of crowd I didn"t want to have anything to do with - Silencers/Carol Laula fans. "Blandness" made her very popular amongst folk who consume per se "singer songwriters" with a vengence. In my mind, Michael Marra began saying things like "have you heard this girl? She"s oh so kooky and so great that I'm going to stop writing wee ditties for the common man about Hamish MacAlpine". Growing appeal from these dubious staid sources became apparent. Collaborations with "celebrities" like Stipe (or "Snipe" as the late great D.Boon once called him (by accident)) didn"t help. I thought of all the people I'd like to see her collaborating with. Mackaye, Bazan, Sparhawk and and and…Come on, experiment, look for something, fire, anger, let's have it. I thought this was edgy music which maybe a few misfits like me (that's Dogs D'Amour isn't it? or is it The Quireboys? anyway...) would get. Fuck, now it's filled with people who dig music which they see as being insightful or clever mainly because they do not put themselves in the position to discover any type of music which is "difficult" to them and have no real wish to discover anything else to compare their “favourite” to. These people are not music fans. The act of listening to music is secondary to "other factors" in their lives which might drive them to put on a record.

The older her audience got she seemed to attract "ultra fandom" too. THE LIFELONG FAN - unchallenging consumption, anorak-y documenting, concerned with the act of "record collecting" as opposed to listening. I BUY ALL HER RECORDS. I GO TO ALL HER SHOWS. I AM A FUCKING AGEING SHEEP WITHOUT OPINIONS OTHER THAN THOSE GLEANED IN MY MYTHICAL GOLDEN DAYS "She's got some voice on her that lassie…" Anyway, ahem, there's a show to review…

It's getting close to show time. The crowd is meagre and mostly just older than me (the 40+ niche). There are some keen as mustards in here. There's a guy to my left recording the show on a video camera. He"s even got it on a tripod! Maybe he's been "capped" by "Beanpole" as well. There is another piece of weirdness going down. Namely the practice of playing what sounds like a mix tape of her own songs over the PA. I tried to consider what the motivation for doing sic a thing could be. I guess that if you come to see a KH show then you"ll probably quite like it if they play her music ower the PA at half time as well but it sticks in my craw the same way that I dislike Iron Maiden's obsession with wearing their own T-shirts on stage. I'm thinking to myself. What is this? A scoffy celebration? A lack of other available CDs? A sales pitch? A granny, a sheep shank or the infamous round turn and 2 half hitches as mentioned in the book of Ezekiel? Something about it made me hellish uneasy.

It does lead me towards a reconsideration of some of the more recent stuff. I think to myself, look maybe there has been some effort, at least to keep moving and to reinvent. The record of Appalachian folk songs she did - "Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight" comes to mind. Some of the tunes played wash over me. I start believing that listening to the whole albums these come off must be like wading through hardened gruel. I long for a bit of danger. I think out loud “could more of her solo stuff not sound more like "Listerine" with it"s massive build up and control and pitch perfect lyrics?” This isn't on the mix. I try to think of justifiable reasons for her mellowing. I realise that my head is getting way too hardcore. Jeez, she got married and had more kids and did seem to find happiness. I really am pleased for her at the moment when I think of that. Not long after that smidgeon of happiness, Billy O'Connell, her man, comes on and introduces her and encourages folk to applaud and to behave naturally! Apparently punters attending the show have been doing the "classical thing" and applauding nothing until the end/not laughing at the funny bits etc. I feel very sorry for Kristin at this moment. I can imagine that she may be flummoxed by such po faced reactions. I immediately recall how much I liked her in the day. Billy is an avuncular chap and no doubt and he sets up one of the motifs of the show by describing that the missus is painfully shy (her performance later bears this out. She doesn’t interact much aside from the readings themselves which she does “perform” rather than just “read out”.

From previous gigs I know that she can be something akin to chatty between songs. Tonight she says next to nothing but demonstrates she is a most expressive narrator who seems to know where to pitch a laugh or a tragic moment (of which there are undoubtedly many) and would struggle to describe/announce the info/advice he"s just supplied. He announces her and she comes on in a low key fashion. The colour swirls start up on the screen behind her. She plucks a pleasant meander on the guitar (which as ever with KH appears to be twice her size) and then starts reading from her "script" on the lectern. It's a good omen to see a lectern on stage. I don’t think I've seen a bad gig performed from a stage with a sheaf of lyrics in full view. I'm thinking expression, ramble, thought, discourse. It starts very well indeed.

The jerry-rigged Jesus on Mr. and Mrs. Bolduc"s living room wall has no face, just a gasping, caved-in head with blood dripping down its chest. He appears to have been crucified on some popsicle sticks. His mottled green and gold surface reminds us of fish scales, his paddle-shaped toes fan out like a tail. It is a singularly gruesome crucifix. We call it "Fish Jesus".

This first extract continued in that vein. A heavily Beat-influenced treatise on a former squat she stayed in once owned by one Napoleon Bolduc. Reading over this I am struck by just how smoothly it reads. It's laconic and downbeat and funny but it has flight of fancy and a glint that I love. It"s a vibrant, fluid piece. Full of that life and joy. Intoxicating. Her speaking voice has a drawl and a weariness in it which is pleasing and rewarding to listen to. She knows how to tell you a story and she doesn't do it in a showy or Vaudevillian fashion. This is a voice of experience but of essential kindness. She finishes the first reading, it would be apt were she to sing the song "Fish" after this and she does. We see a device central to the show for the first time. She does the readings illuminated in front of a series of woozy, washy backdrops. The lights go off at the end of each reading and she sings the songs in the dark. It has the effect of making the songs act as scene changes or chapter headings. It’s like she's strumming a tune somewhere "off" while you gather your thoughts for the next bit.

She sings "Fish" very well. The effect of hearing her voice raised and rasping is powerful after you've heard her speak for the first time in a soft tone. Also the effect in silhouette of the head bobby thing she does is mesmeric. She does try to set up some motifs during the show. The text has a number of mentions to how she stares in front of her in a piercing manner and bobs from side to side too. The effect builds and builds at each interlude until the end when she sings the last song in glorious Technicolor with the lights fully on. The effect of her stepping out of the darkness after the closing reading (which is a positive story involving sandals made from dung (it's true!) re: absorbing the shit in life and getting on with it) is a mighty potent one. She has always had this incredible way of staring straight in front of her while singing (the references to the way she looks on stage complete with the head tilty-ness and stare appear all the way through the readings and act as a sort of plot device link between the music and the text) with the most piercing gaze imaginable. She looks rapt and as if she's held in a trance (another motif of tonight is how the music comes out of her without being composed. It is part of her and as a price it may consume her. To see her at this moment is to believe this is possible).

Tonight she was directly in front of me and stared straight in my direction. I have been in this position at her shows before and it is a thrilling feeling. She is a striking woman. A mix of crippling shyness, inner strength, fire and kookyness with a face and eyes which speak with some eloquence of the turmoil in her life. In one of the excerpts she describes herself as being "short and not weighing any pounds". She is a wisp but there is a real whirlwind within the small frame and to see the sense of oneself bursting out and being conveyed through this act of stepping out into the light is genuinely affecting. It"s the simplest way in which you can say "This is me. I'm still here. I'm telling my own story" It is a highly obvious metaffer and I predicted it's use right from the first note she sang in the dark but man it works. Mainly because of her sheer presence but this helps too- when she comes into the light she sings the song "Cartoons". I have to quote these words to you.

This war's ok. In a sweet old fashioned way. Like a game we play. Guilty of something we forgot. I wasn"t staring. I was just looking far away. Dazzled by something I forgot. Here, drink this down we've been here way too long. Acting this way is a craft I'll shut up soon then we'll go home Covered in band aids and casts.

Beautiful indeed. Look, it's a piece of choreography but for me it was a hellish hellish poignant finish.

So you have a great beginning and end. Looking back maybe these were enough. It's strange tho'. I left the hall at the end of the night feeling saddened and disappointed. On reflection my feelings have changed. I think this is down to having read the excerpts from the book which she's published on the interweb, maybe less than half of which were used on the show tonight. I can't help feeling that something somehow got lost between the page and performance. It is so hard to lay my finger on it. Simply put, it works so much better as pieces of prose to be read rather than performed and listened to in a staged setting. I can't fathom why this is as she has a voice and presence which captivated and in a highly civilized arc demanded me to pay attention. I think it might have been the chopping of the text to fit it into manageable running time for a show. Her word’s reflective canon become constricted through being shoehorned into a timescale. The excerpts she published are far more fully realised and expanded and reveal the power she has as a writer. The style is without mania or frenzy and probably because of this is so adept at describing frenetic and manic moments in her life, of picking through the past clear and cool. The show’s structure is disjointed and the focal points seem to jump all over the place. It's hard to get a grip on where you're starting and finishing. It doesn't appear to have a full narrative and hence it seems to build towards little. Themes emerge and then tail off. I feel that in this format, somehow it needs to be expanded and rounded off to make sense.

Maybe it would work as a simple "book signing reading thing" even. Then she could read selected bits from the book and there wouldn"t feel like there was any expectation of a context or a flow. I do think it has to have more to it to work as an entity like it is at present and Billy did describe this as "a workshop performance", i.e. a work in progress/evolution and one which has been in gestation for some time. For me the role of the songs is uncertain. Possibly she prefers to have the songs so she has the excuse to have a guitar there which she can stand behind for protection. Maybe she feels it's expected of her to sing some songs or the fans won't come along. She's a "singer/songwriter" after all. I do wonder if she needs the songs in this show. I tend to wish/feel that the songs could go and that this show would work better as purely a spoken word piece. She could get more material in and tell the story with greater room to breathe. For someone known as a “musical performer” it would also be a most “challenging” thing to attempt.

She often just performs snippets of songs, something which is irritating in itself from a musical point of view (if you like the song in question then you would want to hear it in full. If you don't like that particular one then it"s a merciful release I guess) and does tend to give a feeling of the musical interludes as being extraneous. One or two of the songs tonight were not to my taste and from a performance pov were obviously knocked off quickly so she could return to the main purpose of the evening. It did seem as if she was on autopilot at these times. I started thinking the "push yourself" thoughts again. Get out of the cruise mode which "they" love so much. Her singing voice was not always at its best. She struggled when she tried some of the higher screamy stuff. The sound from the PA was oddly muted and distanced as if she were just a figure in the dark croaking through a wet blanket. This stripped yet more layers of immediacy and presence from a voice which at it's best is close and ragged and ablaze. Also when you listen to a bunch of different songs from various parts of her career does it show the similarity in what she's done and highlights the (arguably) relatively narrow furrow she has operated in. Song selection tonight seems to be on the arbitrary side (some complement the previous reading and some don't have any obvious connection) and from what I gather has varied significantly throughout the early stages of this project.

Some work - "Fish" and "Cartoons" obviously and there is also a nice snippet of the folk standard "Wayfarin' Stranger" which comes after a piece on a suicide attempt. This underpins and comments on what she's said in a wry yet objective way. The rootsiness removes any chance of the story being purely a dramatic one and returned it to the real in a subtle way which I didn"t particularly grab at the time. Something about this show stays in your mind even if in the flesh you do notice a number of flaws. I'm left thinking again of the shortfall in structure. Some themes were left unexplored or undersold. She hinted at areas such as becoming pregnant with her first bairn but there was little about family life (at other shows she has included material re: growing up on hippy communes. Having read the excerpt in question, this would have been a valuable addition as it left a key area untouched). Even with what was used she does seem to have so much material (written and musical) at her disposal that it will remain a struggle to fit enough in without resorting to Ring Cycle length or leaving out important avenues. Some of it feels thinly spread and threadbare in parts. It doesn't build to a structured end or plot as such either and was partially undermined by the lack of build up towards a finale. We heard loads about the band, a fair bit about mental illness, a quick bit about falling pregnant then the sandal thing and the end which came too abruptly and deflated some of the obvious power to the story. Again using glorious hindsight I would guess she is looking for a written tangential invocation of memories in her past and the show simply is not intended to be a narrative based one. I couldn't see this at the time. All I could think was "she has really lived and I want to hear the story of this life. All of it". She has a campfire storyteller thing going on and it won me over.

The one problem I feel with the writing is the symbolism she uses for mental illness - snake, wolf, bee etc. She's always used these terms in her writing. They get the meaning across clearly and simply but I've heard "an illness of the mind" (including my own) described in this fashion so frequently now that I do find it hackneyed and almost am dram. It's the default way to describe depression and mania and distress. Use an animal similie. "Monkey on my back". "Black eyed dog" (ha!) etc. These were the times in the show when I lost interest and conversely these were while she was tackling the themes I most wanted to hear her talk about. I do feel a sense of genuine disappointment about her use of this kind of terminology. It has something of the “Violet Elizabeth” about it I’ll scream and scream until the bees and the snake go away. Of course if this is not metaffer and she genuinely did see snakes/bees etc well she can only be congratulated for her courage in surviving it all and I will feel a right bastard. I’ve seen some strange things in my time too, I can assure you. Did I ever tell you about the day…?

Anyway the show is over. I feel down about it in the immediate aftermath and the unceasing adulation pouring forth from the tables - the one to my right in particular - does not help. This area provides a standing ovation… from one person. The lady in question was being a little overly keen and chatty with KH on her appearance at the start and she seemed a mite "blocked up" in her effusiveness. Clearly she enjoyed the show but I hope the ovation wasn't dished out in the style of a "lifetime achievement award". That's a load of keech. Music is not about blind consumption and strong brand loyalty. It's about changing perceptions and development of tastes and strong likes and dislikes. I like to live in the now when it comes to applause. I do apologise whole heartedly but I didn't feel this was a show/performance which merited a standing ovation. I had a horror flashback to my attendance at a Stockhausen "show" at Triptych some years back where he received a standing ovation from the assembled ranks of academe/"youth jazz orchestra" members for conning us into paying £30 to sit in a hall while he sat at a mixing desk and played us a couple of his records. I feel confused and stretched. I go home and mope around. Then I read the text which I’ve just heard her “perform” and I wonder what is going on with me, my opinions, my perceptions. I think of these quotes from a source youse have not heard of -

I don't want to forget all the longing for the good things gone bad again.

If you're given a choice you'll go where you know there's a weight that takes you down sometimes.

Everything you do, what does it add up to, move yourself to be where you're going to be when you are not here.

I think I’ve spent my time with KH expecting her to be some kind of dream performer and it seems that what she is is enough to “pass an hour on a rainy Sunday” and to make me greet when I read things like this.

Terrified of people, I found any contact with the outside world deeply unsettling. Yet having invited songs into my cave, they convinced me that I was burning with sound, not frozen with fear, that I should say, look at us. This sound isn't me; I didn"t even make it up, it just fills me. And it"s my way down to where we all are. That's the spark. I didn't really wanna go down to where we all are, but as it turns out, I'm a member of a deeply social species in which the only truths worth speaking are the most naked. I had planned on wearing all my clothes into these freezing woods; songs asked me to wear none.

That’s magic and why isn’t it enough for me? Anyway…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Live Review - Calvin Johnson / National Park / Withered Hand

Calvin Johnson / National Park / Withered Hand
Lansdowne Parish Church, Glasgow
9 August 2008

Words: John Mackie

As I head through to the Weedge for this gig, all I can think of is how many wee hipsters are going to be there. I can't get my mind off them. This is Calvin Johnson I’m going to see after all…head of K Records… Beat Happening… Dub Narcotic… friend of… known as… recognised as… etc. I fight an internal battle all the way though. He has flown over from Olympia (a place which I picture as being some kind of “nearvana” populated solely by girls who look like Josie Long, the shops are exclusively “wee individual stores”, the only clothes shops are second hand and culty, the only shows are all ages, the talk is all ethical in content etc etc, i.e. an idyll of sorts but somewhere I am also very scared of). I feel so much cynicism in my heart when I think of all this. Maybe it’s me (ha!) but I see all these good efforts as being only for middle class people who look skewed and “stylised” and who are able to project their adherence to these values. I can't do that. I’m too wracked by 37 years to relax.

I feel that the youth see me as the enemy straight away. I attribute that to their perceived aesthetic dislike for my chain store clothes, my fatness, my lack of obvious charisma or pleasing shyness (i.e. hiding behind a fringe for 10 minutes but then giving you a discourse on Of Montreal B-sides…”oh he must be ok after all”... nah, I can’t do that…), my poor background, my lack of “Uni” education, my lifelong feeling that projecting any image intentionally is a dishonest thing to do and my recent awareness that this is one of the factors which excludes one from life. I felt tonight that I was likely to walk into a torture chamber of vogueing and oratory and adherence. I keep trying to remind myself how much I love Beat Happening and Calvin’s music and voice. I make this into a mantra - “Music and voice. Music and voice…” That’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s about.

I’m in the legendary and legendarily leafy west end of the ‘”underground” music capital of Scotland now. At times I imagine this place as the 2nd scariest on earth. Gangs of slickly dressed young bucks terrorising any working people or “genuine social misfits” (what are they really? I only know that certain factors surely make me one. Natch...) who may stumble into the Free State of “alt-dom” by mistake believing it to be subject to the humdrum ways of the rest of the world. In this neck of the woods twee-sters in duffel coats with teddy bears called Aloysius stuffed into the pocket hold court re: their sense of loathing at the average square’s lack of awareness of the works of Maher Shalal Hash Baz. I never picture this place as being full of inclusivity. I tend to feel extremely intimidated by these bairns. I say to myself, “shit, maybe they’ll know that I drink milk these days” or might have deviated from certain paths and they’ll all “presume” that I could never understand them and their penchant for ninny-ish dancing at discotheques.

It’s funny tho. The closer I get to the venue, the more settled I become. I think the sight of a few folk clearly older than me is soothing. What is more calming is the sight of the most violent overflow pipe in the world spewing water out of the side of the church. Hell, we’re all going to drown anyways… Aye tonight is a drink free “all ages show” in a church hall complete with pulpit, the trappings of “community” activities and a number of massive bell-rope things (without bells) hanging in a distinctly noose-y fashion from the oak beams (no doubt these were “dedicated” by “the verger” i.e. the funny wee Tetley Tea man from Dad’s Army or the local Jeremy Beadle in 1213). The Tracer Trails people putting on the gig have also come to the fore and avoided any “cock ups on the catering front”. No scrabbling around for a few scrag ends for them. They’ve provided a sugary yet warming spread of pink lemonade, crispy cake things and soup. I like this immensely. It is cutesy as fuck but, even if the motivation is to do it “the way they do it in Olympia”, I don’t really care because it seems rather nice and civilised all told. Dare one say it, the act of providing civilised fare comes across as “friendly” and not as self conscious as one might expect it to. I sit down and try to focus on my mantra and add lines about how it is OK to be positive in social situations.

I look around. There’s a guy right in the middle of all the pretty girls and speccy boys who has acquired the look of a proper dissipated distracted 40-something bohemian. He is wearing a lengthy coat, bright red trousers, and a Joseph Beuys/Gunter Von Hagens (surely they are the same person?) hat/”death rictus” look. He’s something of a fish out of water in ‘ere. His voice is that of the crusty - middle English deliberately twisted into something way more suitable for that of an urban warrior. He is not genteel. He is just a little too loud for the reserved murmur billowing politely over the PA’s tinny “K Recs” “wacky pop” music. The kids are suspicious of sic a creature. I’m enjoying the spectacle thoroughly. He mills around for a while looking for a kindred spirit. I think he was looking for the bar. He seems to be trying to commit the cardinal sin of “trying to talk” to the youth who are there (this is of course the worst thing one of the uninvited can do in “certain” social settings). Maybe he is there “just to feel girl’s bottoms”? He’s creating a murmur or two of unease as well as a general human seepage away from him into the soup/ lemonade/ cake/ knitting area. Finally, he’s had enough. Right in the middle of a moment’s grace from the chit chat in the room he answers his phone at high volume and he’s gone just like that, off to find a friend in a modern, cold, sober world. Maybe his night will end in a glorious lost whirl of Gitanes, peyote and Gary Snyder after all. Sigh. The room is not bereft of those who fall into the cracks but the others are more timid. The table near me is populated by 2 Everett True/Nigel from East Enders look-alikes, both old enough to be grandfather to some of the folk selling the pink lemonade. And then there’s me of course? Remember, I’m a GSM (see above). I sit in the awkward seat in the corner on the outskirts taking it all in and wondering how to engage with it. I start thinking of all this as metaphor and then thankfully…

The first act up the night are Withered Hand. Jeez man, I loved this set and it was such a nice shock to the system. It re-established balance within. WH are essentially a one man operation called Dan backed up a minimal crew of 3 on auxiliary duties - Bart Christmas aka “The Craig and Charlie Man” from Eagleowl on a mandolin type thing + voice plus a lass on cello and a quiffy guy (who suspiciously looks like an ex-member of a group of local indie bairns who once incurred my wrath going way back) on drums. Basically Mr WH has a certain look - geek, nerd, whatever you call it and of course me being me I immediately imagine it’s a look based entirely on a fashion code laid down by somebody you’re “supposed” to listen to. He’s an outwardly uncomfortable looking awkward guy with glasses, tousled hair and a baseball cap. He’s a ringer for Jad Fair, a realisation which possibly opens my mind a little. It is fully open by the time I hear him coming out with lines like “I lived my life like my heart wasn’t always in it” and “You can keep your blood you can keep your glory. I’m just looking for my voice” It goes on. “ We’ve all got things that make us evil, we’ve all got things that make us cool” and “…and your lips were warm and your hands were cold I never thought I’d feel this old. Isn’t grey hair just the first light of a new dawn?”.

The voice is high and strained but before I know it, it has a soothing effect. It’s because it is not forced. He sounds a bit like Doug Martsch one minute and at other times draws from some of the more obvious “alt folk” sources in phrasing if not in timbre. He is one of those vocalists who have a voice which you can’t quite compare readily to others. He’s no Wincey Willis or whatever he was called so in this case I use that statement very much as a positive. The songs are so natural and relaxed even tho’ they come from experience and disappointment and life - uplifting without artificial sunshine being trowelled on. The music is rattling, and on one occasion rollicking, and warm and the group are sympathetic and light of touch in their playing supplying folky homespun tones and adding the right amount of exposition to the tunes and nothing more. Shit, it seems wholly without contrivance. His songs are pithy and couthy and emotive and offhand and small and wry. There is nothing of the “singer/songwriter”/Martin Stephenson about him tho’ I guess he is a guy with an acoustic guitar singing his own songs about himself in his own way. I think it’s time once again to reinforce the reclamation of the perception of this role from the many dullards who jump to mind when you think of one person playing their own songs. He has a disarming onstage demeanour to die for. It looks as if he tends to forget that he is in front of a mic and talks between songs like he’s gabbling to himself. I like the effect of this hugely. He also says things like “this is for anybody who’s been depressed. That’ll be all of you”.

Being a sad old person, I think I’m just so happy to listen to somebody who seems to write about life remotely as I know it - domestic despair, late night wanderings, uncertainty, where is my direction in life?, is there any point to “having a direction?”, bemusement, the search for happiness/meaning etc. These themes are all here in the wonderful music of Withered Hand and within the songs on his fantastic “Religious Songs” EP. This week it really has been “seldom off my turntable”…in a virtual sense. As a postscript to WH, there’s a rather touching interlude later when Dan bumps into someone in the crowd who is wearing the same jumper (white and stripy), hair and general demeanour. He seems to enjoy this immensely and the 2 pose for a photo! Seeing the 2 of them together was incredible. The doppelganger seemed more than a little uncomfortable. Dan didn’t. The contrast is amazing to behold. One of them looks like he was quite simply born to look like he does. The other guy does not. In my jaundiced mind (I do admit this is not the nicest of observations!) I can see the other guy primping and preening before he left the house, trying to assume a look. I just can’t picture Mr. WH doing this. It seems to sum up the liking I have for him and his music.

Aye well, on to National Park. Frankly this lot at best fell into the non-descript category following on from Withered Hand as they did. The feelings of total anticlimax were intensified further by the ensuing Calvin show to an extent where it felt as if they were akin to “athletes competing in different disciplines” i.e. one feigning “passivity” sandwiched between 2 multi-taskers. I found NP to be so standard, so reserved, so safe, so secure (just like thae friends who are left behind “amongst the books and all the records of your lifetime”) and so nonaligned was their performance with the sense of otherness/excitement/quality engendered by the other 2 acts on the bill that it felt as if, instead of watching a “live” act we were simply sitting idly staring at a grainy TV recording of “A SCOTTISH JINGLE JANGLE ACT c. 1990” i.e. one that you didn't like, probably featuring Joe McAlinden.

For the duration of the set it was as if the “twee” ones in the room had been replaced by many of the youth I encountered in those days when the UK was on the cusp of the “great” indie crossover. Goodbye to my beloved Talulah Gosh and yer Shop Assistants. The Milltown Brothers are here. We’re talking over the show. It’s all about aggro and 30” flares now. I’m at an indie night in Fife, a bunch of baggy scum have invaded and there are fisticuffs every time Bill Gimmix tries to play either “Touch Me I’m Sick” or “Baby Honey”. The scent of soup from the kitsch kitchen next door brings me back to reality. It’s not Joe Mac on stage but it is a man who looks too like Edwin Collins to be trusted. I’m sorry Jim but they appear to be playing tunes that are too Teenage Fanclub oriented to be enjoyed (by me). (Oddly enough I learn later that Gerry Love is/was an occasional member and that they are longstanding legends of the scene with the Edwin guy having been in BMX Bandits and others. I also read a quote that refers to them having no similarity to bands such as TFC. I’m sorry but that is completely wrong…).

The “fannies” brand trademarks are ever present - loping wee ditties that sound undernourished and puffy, repetitious of passages heavy on “chiming” guitar strolls. They play in a flat manner, perhaps explained by the presence of 2 locums filling in at short notice. The most enjoyable times come when they do one (an instrumental of all things) that sounds like The Vaselines. This tune had a rattle and a ramshackle rasp which at least possessed a semblance of life and vitality. For once it sounded as if they were putting their stones into it and like the Frances and Eugene show of yore there was a heady suggestion that they might no make it to the end of the song but the important thing was that what they did up to that point was a snippet, a bare moment of glory, a hint of SOMETHING. The rest of the set relied heavily on humdrum plaintive Norman 'n’ Gerry and returned to safe and planned and cosy. I think my reactions were probably stirred by the Edwin thing which was on my mind throughout, i.e. I became consumed by fear that I was about to witness the total horror that is that skinny white boy funk guitar sound and would have to endure a massively unnatural way of vocalising. Acht, it wasn’t anything which scared me in the end. I was just numbed a little after the unexpected high I had witnessed before they came on. There were not offensive. The lass on the drums had a jazzy way of playing which probably hinted at the “droney” and loose textures and soundscapes which they are most likely aiming for and that the rest of the world seems to think they are producing. Aye it is strange how perceptions do vary...

Sanity in the sense of deviation from the norm was restored with Calvin Johnson. Firstly, all amplification was removed from the scene, well unplugged at least. The “house” lights are on and he comes across in his pink flip-flops and picks up a raggedy guitar. He wanders to the back of the “stage area” (there’s no stage you see, just an area where the music is produced and strangely at this point I think of my bedsit days, i.e. I sleep in a “sleeping area” instead of a bedroom, have a wank/think about “going to the bridge” in the “living area” etc etc) and releases that voice. In an era where crass and gross acts of exaggeration are commonplace this voice is surely a truly unique entity - a bottomless, trembling baritone, wavery in note but trenchant and unswerving in passion and conviction. His themes contain something of the Norman Rockwell (if he frequented drive-ins). All sock hops and hula hoops. He has written seemingly exclusively about stolen kisses and delightfully bruised ankles and hidden glances for 25 years. His songs are from a land and time that never was - chaste and lovelorn but bereft of the negative part of longing (i.e. the sense of reality when it hits you with all the what ifs and loose ends) and seeped only in a satisfying sepia hue of romanticism and “carve his/her name on my desk” (distinctly softcore) heartstring tugging.

This is all from a world completely unknown to me but hell I can dream too goddamn it. Yes it is VERY TWEE. I don’t think I can defend that and I don’t really want to. He has always made other worldly music all of it underpinned by the lush theatrical voice, one of a storyteller with a hint of a shaggy dog glint. The songs could be show tunes if he lived in another dimension. Big and camp and sparkly but perfectly balanced by one of the other features of the Calvin aesthetic ie the punk rock side. Perfection and “playing ability” are not considerations to him. It is all about the moment and mood, impact and feel. Tonight the songs are wholly sparse and unadorned. The majority are just voice and rudimentary guitar with one memorable and spectacularly straight faced one about sitting alone at the movies (see what I mean about the “off kilter” nature of it?) has voice only. Here he indulges in some entertaining and thrilling hand gestures, the kind which surely started the “Calvinism” cult adhered to in certain parts. It’s so impassive that it makes me want to laugh out loud and I think that’s the point.

A fair few numbers seem to be off the cuff affairs. Near the start he announces “here a few songs. I just made ‘em up” and it does sound like that, as if he is simply riffing and ad libbing on his familiar themes and dipping into the tried and tested CJ phraseology but man it’s exhilarating. You can’t keep your eyes off him. He plays one or two recognisable songs - including the lovely “Can We Kiss?” from his skeletal first solo record “What Was Me”, the arrangements and tone of which tie in more closely to the set up of tonight’s show than his most recent “…& The Sons Of The Soil” LP recorded with a group of K alumni. His songs have changed so little over the years that he might as well have been doing a set of Beat Happening classics. As much as I would have liked that to have been the case for the sake of selfish and shitty spent old man nostalgia it really didn’t matter and it would have been somehow inconsistent with his non-careerist and evolving makeup and rightly so. Look, there’s nothing that hasn’t been said about him over the years.

Leaving aside underground aesthetics and all that (info can be provided from anywhere on the interweb) I find his lack of willingness to do a rock or an indie show thing liberating and his committed, undeniably contrived and arch performance and presence have an element of the mesmerising to them. It’s as fascinating to watch other folk’s reactions as it is to watch Calvin himself. I have officially the worst seat in the house and because he tends to stay near the back of the stage his head becomes an unused PA cabinet (a brand manufactured by a company using my surname) and his torso a pulpit. This situation and my shyness in terms of attracting attention by being seen to move to a better position/not wanting to block other folks view does lend itself to a drifty feeling and an opportunity to observe what’s going on in the rest of the Sunday School group. Because he has such a massive reputation and position in the “underground” fraternity you can see that folk don’t know how to react to him at first. He doesn’t say anything for a while and then embarks on a long and deadpan ramble about British money which people seem to react to in an edgy fashion. Is he meaning to be funny? How are we supposed to react to him? Is he saying anything seminal etc? The stripped back nature of the show is obviously dividing opinion tho’ folk probably will not allow themselves to register any voice of dissent or feelings of discomfort re the fluffed notes and the wobbly singing for fear of being seen not to ‘understand’. I can see this factor at large in the room. There’s a mix of genuine joy as well as chin stroking and jaw dropping and confusion and bemusement going on and I’m really relishing it.

At these moments I love him even more for testing the resolve of the more flamboyantly attired in the room. It makes me sad that people are obviously reacting and double taking in this way. FOR THE SAKE OF FUCK. If you like something, shout and scream about it from the rooftops. If you don’t like it go and find something else. I just wish folk wouldn’t have ulterior motives for listening to music. That’s a theme that I can’t get away from. I listen to music because certain things produce indescribable effects and intangibles within. I don’t continue to listen to music because a certain publication or fat bloke writing in a carpetless hovel lovelorn in the middle of the night told me I should or because I think it might get me “in there” or advance me. Seeing reactions from folk like I did make me sad but they also strengthen my resolve to (a) keep listening to music for my own reasons and (b) realise how much I love Calvin’s music. I come back to myself and his voice is still going. It’s warm and treacly and I love it for what it is and what it isn’t and everything in between. That’s why I like him. I start thinking of the words to a BH song and I realise that “everything I learned has been burned…” I would hope that some of the folk sitting agog had their minds blown because that’s as it should be.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Interview - Eagleowl

Words: Chris Hynd

Edinburgh trio Eagleowl create this quiet, beautiful, slow, melodic sound - guitars and strings meld into one and their voices complement the hum and whir of the instrumentation perfectly. Guitarist and vocalist Bart from the band agreed to answer some questions so, albeit delayed due to the band releasing their debut EP and the work Bart did curating the Retreat Festival, here they are.

I was reminded by a friend recently that I saw you a couple of years ago supporting A Hawk And A Hacksaw at the Subway Cowgate I think it was so you've been around for a wee while now. Can you give a brief history of the band, how you got together, what brought you together and all that?

Eagleowl has existed for about three years now. It started with just Malcolm and myself. We knew each other through mutual friends – we used to get drunk and watch horror films together. I guess we still do. I think that was important to be friends first and have similar interests outside of music. We played for about a year or so (including the Hawk and a Hacksaw show) before being introduced to Clarissa. Malcolm and Clarissa already knew each other, but didn’t know she played music until we all played a gig together with another mutual friend – Mark Hamilton from the Canadian band Woodpigeon. He was over in the UK on his own and wanted it to put together a large backing band for some shows. It involved us all playing together for the first time during sound check, then having a quick rehearsal in the car park outside the venue. I have a really nice memory of that evening, though I’m sure the audience probably don’t. It was a bit shambolic.

As a quiet band with a sparse sound when you play live, is it difficult to not get distracted by the chatter of the crowd especially of those who aren't paying attention? Obviously, I'm thinking specifically of those who were talking over you at the Low Lows gig - how disheartening is an experience like that to you onstage and to those who are paying attention to you?

I remember the Low Lows gig well. It was really tough. A lot of the songs are quite personal to me, and I think we each individually put a lot into our music. So for a large proportion of the crowd to treat it as ‘"background music" for their conversation, it’s really hard to take. It’s frustrating, but you just got to focus on the positive. Even if it feels like the worst gig you’ve ever done, or that no one in the room cares – there’s normally someone in the crowd paying attention. Even if it’s just the sound guy. We’re not naïve – we know that not everyone is going to be into the kind of music we’re playing (nor would I want them to be). So you just learn to deal with it – concentrate on what you’re playing, and hope that it’s reaching someone out to someone.

You've played a lot of shows around Edinburgh now and are probably seeing a nice little DIY scene developing, centred around what you could call nu-folk/anti-folk bands. As a band with more in common with the likes of Codeine or Low, how do you see yourselves in relation to those more folky bands? Or is it more to do with finding yourselves among like-minded souls and helping each other out in a city that's maybe viewed in a lesser light gig-wise than it's counterpart to the west?

It’s hard to say. I know what you mean – there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening at the moment in Edinburgh. We’re part of the fife kills: collective – which is a group of like-minded musicians based in and around Edinburgh. I don’t really like genre terms, but the collective is primarily what you may call "nu-folk" with people like Rob St. John and the Wee Rogue, but it also has elements of electronica, courtesy of Groaner. I think we get labelled "folk" quite a lot, as we use a range of what are viewed as "traditional" instruments. I think what unites the fife kills guys is a willingness to experiment – it's based on folk but there’s a desire to push things forward and experiment with the form. So it breeds quite a healthy diversity. We’re also good friends with the Bear Scotland guys – Meursault, Withered Hand, Les Enfant Bastard, the Foundling Wheel, etc. I think it’s a similar thing – we share similar influences and have a similar DIY approach to making music and putting on shows, but it’s the desire to experiment and push things forward that keeps things interesting.

Following on from that, do you think more can be done to encourage and develop DIY promoters/bands/writers/artists etc in the city or is it just a matter of word of mouth and people finding things out for themselves?

You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I still don’t know. I’ve been playing in this band for over three years. I’ve been putting on shows for about two. You mentioned Edinburgh being viewed in a lesser light than Glasgow in terms for gigs. I see a lot of great things happening in this city. There’s a really strong community developing and a lot of great musicians here. I hope it’s only a matter of time before the press and wider public pick up on that.

But at the same time, even if that never happens, I kind of feel that we’ll carry on regardless. We didn’t start this band to make money or get famous. We just wanted to write the best songs we could. If people want to hear them, then that’s great. But if not, we’ll keep playing. Even if it’s just for each other.

I picked up your 2 track CDR at the Fence Homegame a few months back you were part of a really strong night of music curated by Tracer Trails, how was the night for you? And what did you make of the weekend as a whole? As someone who went for the first time, there was a great atmosphere and a sense of being at something really special, did you get that sense as well?

It was my second time at Homegame. I have to say it’s my favourite festival. It’s the only one we’ve ever played at (if you don’t include Retreat! I guess!), and I think we were a bit spoiled that way. It’s such a relaxed vibe, and there’s no ego or bullshit. There’s no divide between the artists and the audience – mainly because most of the audience are in other bands. That’s the way I like it. Fence have done a wonderful thing for Scottish music in general. In terms of DIY promotion, they pretty much wrote the blueprint that we’re all following.

I mentioned your CDR, which is very lovely indeed. Do you have plans for more recordings and how do you approach writing and recording your songs? Do you all bring ideas to the table and thrash it out among yourselves or is it one person writing the songs?

Actually, in the time it’s taken me to reply to this interview (sorry!), we’ve released our first proper EP. It was recorded around the same time as Homegame, and the first time we’ve tried to do a proper studio recording. We’re very pleased with it – to the extent that I’m now a little embarrassed by the demo recordings we’ve been punting about for the last couple of years.

In terms of writing, I write most of the songs – but I generally come up with the basic idea and a loose structure, and then we flesh it out in practice. And Malcolm (violin/ukulele) has written some songs for the band as well. We’re trying to work together more in the development process. I’m not very comfortable as "front man". I’d prefer it if lead vocals were shared – I just think this helps vary the sound and make it more interesting for the listener. But it’s hard to write words for other people to sing.

Finally, what are the rest of your hopes and plans for the band in the coming months? Hopefully they won't involve more gigs with an overly loud and chatty crowd!

Now that we’ve got our first proper release, we’re hoping to play as many shows as we can up to the end of the year, then hopefully work on some new material. We’ve got a mammoth two date UK tour planned (Edinburgh, then London) with our friends Small Town Boredom, who are promoting their rather beautiful LP "Autumn Might Have Hope". We’re also playing the Gimme Shelter festival in October.

Eagleowl's debut EP, For The Thoughts You Never Had, is out now. Check out the links below on how to pick it up.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Live Review - The Pictish Trail / HMS Ginafore

The Pictish Trail
Avalanche Records, Edinburgh
6 August 2008

HMS Ginafore
Scottish Scullery, St John's Church, Edinburgh
6 August 2008

Words and Photo: Chris Hynd

Instore performances are often a strange thing. It doesn't take on the appearance of a gig, the record store is still going about its business so it is to a few dedicated Fence Records fans and the odd intrigued passer-by that Johnny Lynch, the Pictish Trail, takes to the floor at the back of this venerable Cockburn Street institution. Lynch begins by acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation, like I said above, this is no ordinary gig. He's here to play songs from his upcoming Secret Soundz Vol.1 LP and is completely without amplification. People pass by, people continue to browse the CD racks but Lynch seems unfazed. "All I Own" is a beautiful opener, Lynch picks out a fragile guitar line and his voice strains and cracks along with it and it all sounds rather wonderful. They talk about being able to adapt to the particular surroundings you find yourself in and make the best of it? Well, Lynch certainly did that.

He showcases the best of Secret Soundz Vol.1, joined by fellow Fence head honcho King Creosote on melodica and backing vocals for the majority of the set. "I Don't Know Where To Begin" flows quite majestically, KC's melodica coming to the fore, the stripped back nature of the song accentuating its grace, "Into The Smoke" builds and builds as Lynch and KC harmonise (and try to get us to harmonise along with them!) and lolls and lilts and "Words Fail Me Now" is a little poppy gem for the big set closer (as much as there can be a "big set closer" at the end of a few tunes in a record shop!) and works tremendously here.

Having seen Lynch in solo mode and with band before, I always seem to yearn to hear these songs in a lone acoustic style. It's well-known that Lynch has great ambition for his records and performances as The Pictish Trail but sometimes there's that little bit something extra special about seeing those ambitious songs taken right back to their base, to where they started out back in the East Neuk of Fife. For this half hour, they feel like your songs too and that you're part of what Lynch is trying to put across. I hope he wouldn't have it any other way.

To the other side of Princes Street then as a foul Edinburgh day turns into a foul Edinburgh evening. The Retreat Festival, taking place in the St John's Church Scottish Scullery, is showcasing the best of the country's alt-folk talent and curators Bart (from Eagleowl) and Emily (from Tracer Trails) have put together a fine programme. A programme that includes a rare yet welcome live excursion for Jenny Gordon as HMS Ginafore. Gordon's reticence for playing live is fairly common knowledge so to see her onstage this evening, this time accompanied by a drummer and bass player is an absolute treat and makes you wish that this would be a more regular occurrence.

"Gregory's Girl" opens proceedings, Gordon's voice is unprojected and unfussed but the song is rather sweet and lovely, much like the film from which it takes its basis and the band lends a slight and understated backing but it all comes together well. Gordon often looks like she'd rather be anywhere else in the world than on a stage in front of people at times but her songs more than compensate for that unease, even though she visibly relaxes as the set goes on. "Buccaneer Chic" is a glorious sea shanty and the majestic "Thar She Blows" closes the set on a down beat, yet utterly compelling note.

The band sound certainly seems to suit Gordon's songs in the live arena and while her releases may be lo-fi and scratchy there's a gift in what she does. You may need to dig deep at times but once you're there then it's all the more delightful. Perhaps Gordon's lack of live presence though makes this show extra special, that it's our little secret that we only occasionally get to share with others, that HMS Ginafore should be discovered when you least expect it. Perhaps that's what Jenny Gordon wants all along but I know that when you make that discovery then there's no going back. Gordon's songs will seduce you, enthrall you and enchant you, the fact that you have to work that little bit harder makes it extra rewarding.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Live Review - Harvey Milk / Oxbow / Take A Worm For A Walk Week

Harvey Milk / Oxbow / Take A Worm For A Walk Week
Stereo, Glasgow
13 July 2008

Words: John Mackie

Sunday night in a cellar with hissy plumbing and a pillar in the middle of the floor. Take A Worm For A Walk Week are 4 westenders ("I was born a stone’s throw from The Captain’s Rest" etc) who left me feeling not a whole hell of a lot. Maybe it’s cause they wear matching spandex leotard things. Maybe it’s the feeling I could be watching ANY band who have set foot in the LOCAL west coast "noisecore", and heavy leaning variants thereof, arena since the late ‘90s. They don’t go into full pelt near enough for my liking and tend to exist in a limbo where they haul back the "paste" and the speed to self consciously shoehorn in a mathy (I guess I’m showing my age and lack of recent engagement in life. Nobody uses that type of terminology any more. We have evolved, you know... aye…) "bob and weave" here and there. Stabs of unwelcome confusion enter the tunes and I find myself wanting them to just put their fucking backs into it rather than continue to try to out think me. That’s not to say that, at least on first listen, they don’t emit a skittishness and disquietude which seems mostly unadulterated by contrivance and their sense of a momentum rush is appealing when they allow themselves the indulgence of letting in the rock.

The musical similarities with tonight’s openers Desalvo (who thankfully I missed, given my previous brushes with their brand of Burntisland Youth Theatre am-dram and lumpy, grumpy, pishy "noise") are clear. Again the culprit is mostly the misplaced humour (see later), though Take A Worm... are obviously a superior act. In short hand terms they favour the jumpy to the elephantine. Take A Worm…’s "presentation" is not reliant on butcher’s aprons or the extremity of your opinions on how shocking you find public appearances from a fat man’s blubber. Sadly their appeal does seem to rise or flounder on how entertaining you find the sight of students leaping around in Rollerball priapic-bulge leotards. I lost all focus when I felt the pain of realisation that the floppy haired vocalist had worked too hard on the sourcing of his onstage banter. I detected the hand of something akin to "exclusive to you" excerpts from thae wonderful worlds of Meatwad and (Erwin) "McSweeney’s" and "Wonder Showzen" and "Adult Swim" or whatever it’s called, as if prior to tonight he had consulted his pals on just where to trawl those archives of alternative Americana which those folk with shoulder crossover "record bags" all love so much. "Well, maybe after song 7 I’ll give them a burst of series one episode 7". I guess he’s spent some time thinking of how such infra dig quotes will sound coming from a man dressed as one of Hesketh Racing’s pit crew. I’m a perma-peeved soul these days. I appreciate folk who play music and don’t give you any shite along with it. Sadly in my fickle mind I now can’t hear any quality in Take A Worm...'s sound. I can't even remember how they sound. All I can recall is one very smug young git in fancy dress trying to impress his pals with some quotes. Maybe I’m being too harsh.

In this worn frame of mind I come upon Oxbow. They are a band I’ve been vaguely aware of since almost the dawn of my time being aware of music and I feel aggrieved now that I never took the time to explore their sound and look on them as being anything more than what I thought to be - "noisy generic hardcore with a muscular semi naked black frontman". Lazy perceptions, though of course only the first bit is wrong. I saw the pictures of an animated grunty Eugene Robinson in full flow and presumed he was espousing the punker "heavier than thou ethos". I guess that ER’s onstage persona is concerned with the challenging of said perceptions or of (racial/sexual) identities or at least the rules of stage craft.

It starts with the sight of Eugene, the aforementioned "muscular, soon to be semi-naked, black man" sharp suited and booted throwing a mic stand into the crowd, yelping randomly, casting off a distinct air of foreboding and cutting many a multi-hued shape. The band rumble and squeeze out dense blocks of sound which break into jerky rhythms and build to cacophony and back in moments of brooding and tenderness one minute and then emptiness and reflection next. They have a great sense of control, of how to build and release and there’s a "restless stranger"-ness to it which I find hugely enjoyable.

Different soundscapes are explored on a whim throughout. Howling blues, folk inflections, the momentum of hardcore, sheer glorious angularity, the precision riffage of the Scratch Acid-types, the old school beats of "the type of band" one used to see in my "glory days" of US noise, the uncertainty of life and the assault and "abrasive textures" of The Swans. It all seems to come from an avant-garde sensibility. The feeling you get when you realise that it’s up to you to create your own tone and identity and rules. The liberation of performance and the search for something, man. These things are all there in Oxbow and I feel an undoubted buzz and shiver from watching them. I found that there was a visceral thrill to be gained when you looked and there was Eugene, rambling and riffing, twisting and projecting, with the falsetto kicking in just as you expect him to unleash a scream and then vice versa, removing a garment after every song until by the end he was leaping around in a pair of boxers, a leather waistcoat and a pair of white socks. For a second I think, maybe it’s all vaudeville and no "depth"?! Then I think, look, would I know depth when I saw it? What is depth anyway? It is awkward at times to gauge the tone of Robinson’s performance (he also seems to have been taking his clothes off on stage/doing a similar show for the whole of Oxbow’s 20 year career), including as it does frequent bouts of "willy adjustment" and fondling.

In my head, I cannot resist the delicious feeling that any sense of spectacle which might have been produced by Take A Worm... wearing "blatantly "cock-hugging uniforms has now been made wholly irrelevant by the nature, as well as the basic abundance, of Eugene’s act, some of which is undeniably vaudeville. This is performance art goddamnit. I have thought long and heard since this gig of whether I should be sceptical of someone who performs and who puts on a "show" and of whether it is wrong to enjoy something so much primarily because of the up front IMPACT of it. Did Eugene’s act make me challenge myself, whatever that means? Well I guess it did. Next to me, a group of Desalvo and Take A Walk...'s WAGs appeared to become genuinely excited by the sight of a well-endowed man pawing himself. Their reaction was of the "Are you feeling hysterical?" "No, he’s feeling mine" variety. Of course for a while in my attempts to "unfold the cranium" I tried to claim that I responded to it in a manner full of probity and intellectual challenge but of course I didn't! I enjoyed the absurdity, the madness, the moments of high camp and for once I enjoyed the attempts to drive through the murk and the mundane and find, as my beloved Werner Herzog would call it, "an ecstatic truth". The feeling which Oxbow left me with of, for once, feeling as I if I was attuned to an ability to look outwards as well as always, always inwards was priceless. To use a cliché popular amongst "you, the living", for once in my life, I went with the flow and I loved this hour of my life with Oxbow.

And after all that came Harvey Milk. Aye, I’m afraid I feel drawn to crass terminology and description. Quite frankly I found them to be …entertaining… but to say that for me they paled in comparison with the massively multi-dimensional Oxbow would be to imply a level of understatement which is clearly beneath me. I guess in the internal climate I was in at the time any band would have seemed severely meat and potatoes after the full smorgasbord presented by Oxbow. HM fully confirmed what I think of them from the records. The pulsing riffage is great and warm and cocoon like, the volume is massive and tantalisingly close to being fully enveloping. "I only wanted the spark, I only wanted your hearts…I only wanted the high, wasn’t much more to my life." Yes. What I wanted was to wade in the volume and the noise and the jest and zest of distortion and bludgeon, something I do dearly love. I do, but I wanted a surprise or two to go with it.

The setlist might well have been written thus -

"1. Slow, lumber-y one lasting for 12 minutes."

"2. Slow, heavier one with a lot of messing about in the middle."

It was just so uniform, so straight. I struggled to see where it was going or what impact it could make on me. I do appreciate the effect of power and repetition and drone but there was something missing on the evidence of tonight’s show which I couldn’t really put my finger on. Maybe it was the intense distraction provided by all the messing about/"indistinct" bits? These have festooned their recordings from the year dot. I just can’t find much appeal in the act of interrupting a passage of pleasing, heavy guitar with some shouting in a silly voice and/or an inexplicable gap in the tune to accommodate "humour". I suspect these additions may be evidence of HM’s own avant-garde/experimental roots and leanings (see above) but for me they present a significant barrier to enjoyment gleaned from HM. At the least, I would class these interludes as "wearing" and as "longeurs" which make me want to tell them to "shut up and play yer guitars", a request which I don’t feel is anything to be ashamed about despite the fact that I am probably from the demographic who you might stereotypically "expect" to offer such advice.

At worst, however, these interludes come across as oddly gloaty and perverse and inexplicable. I guess I’m being too harsh again. The persona of this band of course is not one of smug Take A Worm... young bucks. They do of course have legendary status and first semi-released material in the early 1890’s. Quite simply, they have a pleasing look to them, generous of girth and follicle and are clearly in love with primordial guitar. Their persona’s are warm and it looks like they’re all enjoying it.

I feel mean for fixating on one aspect but the final straw came when a hugely pleasing grinder, one which had more musical ululations and deviations than some in the set, descended into a full take on "Jerusalem" - aye that one, Quentin Blake, or whatever he’s called, God nutter AND handy at drawing the BFG with a red crayola - hollered by the wonderfully named Creston Spiers to a cacophony of comments along the lines of "Fuck Oaf Ya English Bastard" from the knowledgeable, ever-shouty Glasgow crowd. I believe this tune in reality is called "Anvil Will Fall" but whatever its title, it just can’t, all told, be seen as a highlight of any band’s oeuvre. They get away with it because of their affability and the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any wankery motives in doing it. Maybe they’re simply having a blast, and enjoying the response it produces from "typical Weedgies". Look there’s nothing wrong in all this (rewind to what I wrote aboot freedom and avant-garde above). Sadly, it ultimately "challenges" me to an extent where I become confused and leave the building. I can't see the point to it and feel frustrated in how often they deviate from what I find enjoyable in them. Ach, I’m sure the joke’s on me. Well, it is. I think by accident I just found the overall theme of tonight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Interview - The Pictish Trail / King Creosote: Part 2

Words: Chris Hynd

And so we return to our heroes where we left off with them in the corner of Edinburgh's Doric bar. Kenny had just got a round in, Johnny resisted the temptation to say naughty things about him when he wasn't there. Let's return to the story.

Going on to talk about Fence Records, you've been receiving a bit more attention of late, for example from the national press, TV and radio. Does that bring with it some extra pressures or is it just a good thing for what you're doing to be getting that extra interest?

JL - “Yeah, it's nice totally, the positives outweigh the negatives. We've had some good national press and also have ambassadors for Fence recording on other labels, Kenny's one with the whole Warners thing, James Yorkston was arguably the first bigger name, Gordon with The Aliens and more recently KT Tunstall. That was a different audience for us but it was getting the name out there it brings in a lot of folk. There were people at that instore there who were at that KT Tunstall gig we did last month and I know who are big KT Tunstall fans so it's weird as we're not looking to convert Tunstall fans, it's not going to happen!”

KA - “One at a time!”

JL - “One at a time. The thing is, the perception of how Fence is is that it's bigger than what it actually is. We struggle to sell a lot of records but because it's pretty much a 2 man operation it doesn't really matter...”

KA - “Well, it does! If we can do well in a year then we can do more records by more artists, the more people buy the more we put out, the less they buy then we have to cut it back. We never get into a financial stushie, or we're having to borrow money or thinking “we have to sell!”, it's the other way round. If we do well, let's make more, if we don't do well then let's make less.”

JL - “On a big scale, we're not selling a lot of things. With The Caves gigs, it takes a lot of effort to get people to buy tickets for them, I'm always very frantic the day before the show thinking “oh shit, we've only sold 60 tickets” but we've been lucky with the last couple of shows managing to sell a couple of hundred but it still requires a massive walk-up. I'm still aware that people don't have to have it immediately, unlike the Homegame, but there's other things that haven't got there yet. The ideal thing for us I think is that in the next 5 years if we can get a fanbase of say 500 people, at the moment it's about 200 that are hardcore, who just have to have everything then that's perfect. We wouldn't have to worry about losing money on a record.”

KA - “If 500 people are willing to buy 1 record a month...”

JL - “That's unrealistic.”

KA - “It's 12 records a year, I think it's quite realistic. Imagine at that stage if we had, maybe not the cream of Scottish bands but better bands who were willing to do smaller runs of things then you could do that, you could have one a month that 500 people would be willing to buy. I'm not saying it's within our grasp, we've got to work hard for that but we've received bigger bands approaching us to do things and we're like “why?” It's like you said, the perception of it is bigger than it actually is. There is a lot to be said for playing that Homegame. The thing about Homegame is that it attracts the media, and not just the Scottish media but the likes of Channel 4 have been up filming and it's just unusual. So even though you're playing to a few hundred people in a completely inappropriate hall, there's a spin-off from that in that it's so wrong it's completely right! I think by Fence remaining small, that's the attraction for it.”

JL - “It's really tiny, that's the bizarre thing. You have all these major labels, Kenny was on 679 - a major label trying to be an independent label and they got it because they were getting into certain media streams, they could get TV and adverts and stuff. Conversely with us, we're managing to get some good mainstream media coverage that doesn't really equate to record sales. I don't know if that's because record sales are on the wane, for us they've gone up year-on-year, we're probably the only record company in the UK that's managed to do that but only because we're not selling that many anyway.”

KA - “We were a label when we were selling less than 10 CDRs anyway and we were a label that other labels knew about so we were attracting the music fans within those record labels and still had music fans working for them, that was the thing. It wasn't anything to do with numbers, it was about people finding music they like and there's probably very few people working for major labels who actually give a toss about the music they're putting out because if they did they wouldn't work there. So, if you're working and trying to sell a product you don't like, that's a certain type of person who would do well in any business but if you're working with something that you're precious about you'll either do exceptionally well or you'll do nothing because you just happen to like something that is just so obscure and ridiculous so it's a trade-off for us. We want to attract music fans but they've got to be the type of music fan that we want to attract! We don't want to attract people who are expecting too much, you can't attract somebody who's only been to about 3 gigs that year, they're only going to be disappointed.”

JL - “These people who are only going to a few gigs and they just happen to stumble across a Fence thing, maybe they will enjoy it and maybe they will keep buying stuff...”

KA - “We know that we have got acts that you have to grow to like.”

JL - “Yeah, there are acts on Fence that people hate, who are totally different to King Creosote or myself, but there are those who think they're the best act on Fence. There's people who think Art Pedro is the best act on Fence, he's not, but he's really good and he's totally insane. He's just given me another EP, his third EP in one month, the guy is so prolific. Seeing the type of music fan who likes that sort of thing the most is quite interesting. With Art Pedro, it is quite difficult to get into. He can't sing, he can't play guitar in time but he writes these amazing songs. Lyrically, it's quite heavy going but you have to persist.”

KA - “Even in the early days, we never made it easy, you know with that whole Shinya Mizuno thing? At the time, that really shocked the Fence hardcore, it was proper Japanese pop and really bizarre but at the time people were used to Lone Pigeon, myself, Pip Dylan, Billy Pilgrim, they had an idea of what Fence was and along came this thing that slapped them in the ass.”

But it's a good thing to challenge people though isn't it? Make them feel uneasy and take them out of their comfort zone and have to try a bit harder to get it?

JL - “Definitely, but you can't make everyone happy. I like pretty much everything that's on Fence, I don't think that there's anything I don't like or wouldn't listen to regularly but we can't expect that of our audience at all.”

KA – “It's 2 people's music tastes, I mean our tastes are slightly different but Johnny and I haven't yet had a major clash over a band. Johnny may try and convince me of the merits of an album by whoever and vice versa but we each know that we're not going to both like that thing, it just becomes the white elephant in the room. For us, it's music that's got the right spirit behind it, and there's other things that influence what we release. It's about bands that are willing to play live, well maybe not HMS Ginafore who's the most unwilling to play live, she has no expectations, she's not phoning us every day saying “why is my album not doing better than it is?” so there's this sliding scale of people who are desparate to play everything right down to people who never want to play live but when they do it's just jaw-dropping and there's just everything in between. It's up to Johnny and I to work out where we place them in some kind of pecking order. It's like “this guy is working really hard, he's amazing, we need to at least match his talent” and we've got people who have huge talent but don't want to play live so we don't base this thing on how they play live, we've just got to think of another way to do it. That's what we're good at, we always come up with some bizarre way of overcoming these obstacles, but there's 2 of us to do that.

“When KC got busy, I just couldn't run Fence. The KC thing is a shackle, there was so many things to sort out but we made the decision a while back that it was actually good for Fence that KC goes forward because King Creosote the live band is very much a Fence Collective band. It's done Johnny no harm, it's done On The Fly no harm, we're like a united force under this one name and that's how it should be. The KC thing will dip and Johnny's thing will come forward then his thing will dip but hopefully we'll always be there in some form pushing things forward.”

Cool. Continuing the Fence theme, I grew up in Kirkcaldy just down the coast from yourselves and growing up there was just nothing culturally interesting in Kirkcaldy...

JL - “There still isn't!”

There still isn't, and that's why I moved but just up the road from me something was happening musically. What do you think it is about the East Neuk of Fife that has led to the setting up of what's now known as the Fence Collective?

JL - “For me, when I was first introduced to Fence as a student at St Andrews I was a big fan of the Beta Band and Belle and Sebastian and The Delgados, at that time up and coming Scottish music. Within my first week seeing Kenny playing in a bar in St Andrews with this batch of musicians with him, hearing him play for 3 hours I thought it was incredible, I hadn't heard anything like this. I went back 2 weeks later and he was doing the same thing but totally different songs and with different people playing with him but still the same crowd who were there and just loving it. I saw that there was this thing going on in this town, people are seeing this music and they want to be involved.

“The Fence thing for me that totally bowled me over was seeing Kenny and his brothers singing together, the 3 of them, I think the best musical thing I've ever seen. There was just this spark and I think, like Kenny said, there was something about the Fence thing that just attracted fellow musicians. I had my own songs at the time that I didn't want anyone else to hear and after seeing them do that...”

KA - “What you've got to remember is that Johnny was just one student in a huge pile of students that just breenged into that bar and I'd say that most of them left the bar because we weren't playing a Crowded House song or something that they knew. That's what I was saying about Fence, it attracts the people it's meant to attract. Johnny has an ear for that and we impressed him enough but a lot of people probably thought “yeah, it was alright but there was a couple of real bum moments. It sounds like they don't rehearse...” but it did weed out the people who were for it.

“The reason I stuck in St Andrews is because I'm from St Andrews and spent the best part of a decade in a band doing what you're meant to do as a band only for that band to fall apart at the seams. St Andews is a university town so it's very transient, every four years you get a completely different audience. I just had this idea, “you know what? Let's just play here.” 1 – there's no music scene, nothing to compete against. 2 – people don't expect anything so it's like you're saying, if something kicked up in Kirkcaldy it would probably do amazingly well but it would take time. We took the best part of 2 or 3 years to find the audience that liked us. When we started, for every 40 people in the bar, 38 were like “well, that was pretty guff” but that 2 were ardent fans. And then the next week, they were joined by another couple but it just took time. Johnny arrived in 1999, we'd been doing that for 3 years and that audience changed all the time but the students in St Andrews who did get into us they took that away as, not one of the highlights of their university career but certainly something that they treasured. We had some amazing, mad nights.”

JL - “Such incredible nights. One of the best things I went to see was Kenny, his brother and the rest of the band dressed up as women, they made a proper effort, it wasn't just guys in drag, they properly looked like women, really ugly women!”

KA - “We'd done this thing before, the 4 Davie's, so let's do this covers set but let's dress up as our own dads. So we dressed up as older guys, my dad's really into that scene, ceilidh bands so we did that and it was funny. I just got it into my head that we should just do this regularly, the next thing should be the 4 Mavis, i.e. wives of that band, so that was the next thing. The next thing was the 4 Boris, the Ukrainian cousins, just stupid stuff, ridiculous stuff. We'd do the same gig, every second Wednesday without fail, it went throughout the summer. We found out that during the summer when the students were away you had to play a different thing, you're playing to golfers and a few celebs and a few more locals as well so we had to modify it. During that summer we thought “you know what? We should do more covers but let's not do them as us, that's quite embarrassing. We were competing with this other guy who did covers, we played Wednesday's because we didn't want to play weekends because we thought everyone's out at the weekend, we wanted to play a night where people have to make a bit of an effort and that thing where “wouldn't it be great if a weekend actually started on a Wednesday night?” Thursday night was always a big night for students as they all had Friday off. We built this Wednesday night up but it took time as nobody was out on a Wednesday night, it was completely the wrong night.”

Going on to talk about this year's Homegame, which you've mentioned, you were both heavily involved in the setting up and the running of it. Did that leave any time to actually enjoy the weekend?

KA - “That Homegame we did, for me, was my favourite one. One of the main things about it was that it was a return to an earlier Homegame, we kind of built the stress levels up. The first one was really difficult...”

JL - “Oh man, so many mistakes.”

KA - “So many duffers, but we learnt from it, The second one, there was new mistakes. The third one, new but by the fifth one we kind of went back to something like Homegame 2. It's like when you're studying for your Highers and you're looking back at an O-Grade paper and thinking “why was I so panicked about that O-Grade? It's so simple”. It was kind of like that for me, taking a step back. I knew where Johnny was, he knew where I was, it just ran like clockwork, it was easy. There was a lot of work in the background, Johnny did a lot of the set up work, for me running a PA and doing sound there is a stress doing that and the first time I did sound, in Pittenweem, was horrible, I thought I couldn't do this. But this time, I stood back and it sounded good. If you could have taken that sound and multiplied it and made it a big gig it would have been the best live sound you could have, it just sounded brilliant. There were times where we were right in the firing line but we were always there and present and in years gone by, was it Homegame 3 where we had that press deluge...?”

JL - “That's the worst thing. There's press up for it and you know you have to impress them , you literally can't spend 5 minutes with them every day so you have to let them fend for themselves. And these are the people who kind of have the best time. The Homegame thing is good. I've pretty much organised all the different bits of it, the booking of bands, scheduling but a lot of the onus is on the bands to be there on time, set up and go and there's been a bunch of things happening where me and Kenny haven't been there and the band have just gone on and played. If you were at any other festival, people would think “this is really rude! Why aren't we being told when to go on?” but because it's Fence bands they know we're off doing stuff. I email them beforehand to let them know that if we're not there then please just go on and do your thing, set up your own sound if you need to. We're going to make it bigger next year...”

I was going to ask that, whether it was going to become bigger? There's a lot of interest, tickets sell out really quickly and it is becoming a really big deal to play there and attend it.

JL - “There is a lot of pressure to make it a really big thing. Kenny's managers are big managers, proper mainstream big and they've got this thing that we should make it a 10,000 capacity festival. We were like “well, we're not going to do that” but at the same time we would like to make it a bit bigger, it feels shit for all the people who don't manage to get tickets because you know that those people who want to have tickets will really fit in. Festivals only get shit when they really have to push on individual names, they have to drag all that kind of stuff in and maybe Homegame will get to that stage. I don't think it has to but at the moment we've already got some names for next year which are really big and we're really excited about but we don't want to announce them. If we announce them, we'd have 10,000 people wanting to get tickets and we don't want to do that.”

KA - “It's back to getting the wrong type of people.”

JL - “Exactly. You want to have a crowd there that feels special because they're seeing this act. I am really excited about the next Homegame. We're going to sell as many tickets as we can to folk that want to be there through the Fence website and we'll cap it at a certain level, we might announce 1 or 2 acts afterwards. We're going to look at what we can do in that time, look at what we can fill up without making it shit! Without making it just like any other festival.”

KA - “That Homegame just passed was kind of like an exam in a way.”

JL - “It's the one thing on Fence where everyone knows they have to get a ticket early. It's the same case this time, there'll be a privilege ticket upfront, if you're one of the first 500 you'll get a special thing. We just want to keep that sort of thing in there, “I was one of the first 500 so I got a 7 inch”, that's why I do this thing at the Caves where you get a 7 inch. Hopefully it'll get to the stage where you can't buy that thing afterwards, you can only get it at that gig. That's what we want to do with this Homegame, create an excitement for the real hardcore and if other people want to come and they're excited then great.”

KA - “And it's leaving it loose enough where we can put in these random things, every year there's this random thing and we allow that to happen and we encourage it. If you go to the type of festival that's so tight where every slot is filled, well what was great last year was that there was empty slots. People couldn't turn up or didn't turn up – one of the highlights was that Three Craws set which only came about because Lone Pigeon didn't want to play after all. I'm sure he would have played a blinder but the thing about Homegame is that people always zone in on the things that have been shoehorned in there, like us playing in The Ship. People expect an after-hours thing at Homegame, everyone's twittering about “what are they going to do?” and that's brilliant.”

JL - “It's catering for an audience that are total Fence fans and real music fans and are excited about new things happening and don't yearn for the old days and it being better in the old days, people who are excited about what's coming next.”

KA - “We did have people at that Homegame who had basically moaned at every Homegame since the first one – not as good, not as good, not as good, then at that one just went, “actually, pretty good.”

JL - “I think this year as well with there being less people and it being more exciting, trying to instil that feeling. At the moment right, I'm getting these phone calls while we're speaking from this guy from The Skinny and Drowned In Sound about this interview I was meant to have with them this evening. Well for me it's more important to do an interview like this for a zine that's going to be passionate about music, generating more excitement about something within their small little thing.”

Cool, thank you sir. Just to finish up then. How excited are you about the future of Fence Records and who from the label do you tip for success?

KA - “I think The Pictish Trail!”

JL - “Sickeningly enough, I think Rozi Plain. We've got this album coming out in October, and I'm doing a tour with her in September, it is absolutely stunning. She's this girl from Bristol who sent us this thing last year and it was the most lo-fi thing you've ever heard and we were like “look, no-one's going to buy this. We like it, the song's are great but there's potential in this record and the songs are big enough to go for it a little bit more and add these other things.” She went back and recorded stuff in Fife, recorded stuff in Bristol and has come up with this album that to listen to is an absolute joy. There's so much going on there but it's sparse at the same time, she doesn't over egg the thing. Every time I listen to that record, and I've listened to it twice every day for the last 5 months or something, I always get something new from it. I think she's absolutely amazing and has that thing the first Beth Orton record had when it came out, everything that was great about that and holds promise for all the ones after it. Her voice is amazing, her playing's great, her lyrics are really sparse, there's hardly anything to the construct of the songs but they hold it together. I've done some press on it in this past couple of weeks and we've already had some feedback from people like BBC 6 and Word magazine, the sort of medium-level media things, they're not Mojo or Uncut or Radio 2, the champions of new music and they're really into it. We know this record's hopefully over the course of a year will get an audience. That's the big thing for me, but we're also working on a Fence Collective record.”

KA - “It's still in our heads!”

JL - “It's still in our heads but we have a pile of songs and it's hopefully going to happen over the next 3 or 4 months and make an actual Fence Collective album and not just a compilation.”

KA - “We've also got The Red Well in the studio and hopefully we'll get that by Homegame.”

JL - “They might be gigging that by the end of this year so we'll hopefully release it by February/March next year. There's a few things that are coming in. There's a band called Love Stop Repeat that I really like.”

KA - “I got an amazing demo sent through by Animal Magic Tricks. Check them out on their Myspace, it's this lo-fi, hard to describe, sounds old, like 1940s. I dunno, it's just bonkers! We've got HMS Ginafore.”

JL - “Kenny and Jenny have done a record together, we're putting it out in November. That is amazing. I'd forgotten about that actually!”

KA - “It's because it's already in there, it's already a classic!”

Well, it sounds like the future's bright, the future's Fence! I can't tell you how much of a joy it was to speak to 2 people who care so much about what they do and about the music they're putting out, whether it's their own or other people's. As they said, it's a rare thing for those running a label to be such music fans, and just downright good people. They even gave me a lift to Johnny's gig at the other end of Princes Street, which they were running late for because this interview went on beyond the time I thought it would. You could do worse than have these 2 on your side and I wish them all the success. They bloody well deserve it.