Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ryan Drever: My band of 2009

Bronto SkyliftBronto Skylift, who we first featured in the run-up to their T in the Park show, give rock fans everywhere hope for the future of their genre, argues Ryan Drever...


I've been lucky enough to worm my way into an unholy number of gigs this year, and found myself awestruck and frustrated by the vast number of kick-ass Scottish acts that have previously escaped my attention. Rather than punish myself for being so far off the ball I'm playing an entirely different sport: I took it upon myself to make up for lost time.

In my valiant quest I saw so many great bands that truly blew my mind that it would be difficult to pick just one, but in terms of the most fun I had and perhaps the most ridiculously over the top show I've had the privilege to be a part of, I would have to nominate Bronto Skylift.

Tearing up stage after stage from festivals to caravans, sometimes playing Glasgow three or four times in the same week and nearly always ending up on the floor, in the crowd or on the tables, Bronto spent 2009 scaring some, charming others and deafening most with their brilliant, pounding noise.

It's perhaps not always the easiest thing to listen to on record - though the band's EP The Bearded Fish and The Jackalope gets a good step closer - but there is no denying the draw of the band's audacious live presence and home-spun artwork.

Not to be confused with a two man novelty act, this pair possess enough chops to charm (or rather, melt) the ears off anybody yet to be convinced. Well, it worked for me.

Bronto Skylift: Danny Glover Isn't Dead


Bronto Skylift: Eagle Falcon

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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Nick Mitchell: My band of 2009

There Will Be FireworksOK, let's get the niggling doubts out of the way first.

Yes, There Will Be Fireworks alternate rather too diametrically between quiet and (very) loud in that tried and tested post-rock manner. Yes, anyone who runs at the mere mention of the word 'earnest' will balk at some of the gushy sentiment. And yes, there is a feeling that their ship may have sailed, with the success of aesthetically similar bands like Frightened Rabbit, My Latest Novel et al.

But... I don't subscribe to any of these caveats. In all honesty there have been perhaps a handful of new Scottish acts this year who really (and I mean REALLY) impressed me, and TWBF lead the pack.

I think it was their shameless, sky-high ambition that first landed its hooks on me. Without any commercial backing, to go away and record a debut album of such beauty and depth (the whole thing flows like a chilly Scottish burn) comes across like an affront to the usual way bands start out - tentative EP release, followed by another, then perhaps a long-player.

But a watertight test of music is its longevity, and the TWBF LP, along with the likes of Merriweather Post Pavillion, Veckatimest and Fever Ray, has maintained its position as one of the most-played new albums on my MP3 player this year. I can't think of a better barometer than that.

As well as making an excellent album in 2009, TWBF managed to wreck their tour van, appear on STV daytime, blow the roof off any venue they played (metaphorically), write a Christmas song and are rumoured to be well on their way to album number two. Band of the year at a canter.

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Lisa-Marie Ferla: My year in music

Withered HandUnder the Radar writer Lisa-Marie Ferla looks back on her transatlantic adventures of the past year and the music that soundtracked it...


Like many such stories, this one starts with a boy.

His name? Dan Willson. Quiet, unassuming and I doubt he noticed me that night in the 13th Note. The man behind Withered Hand (pictured above) was dishevelled and delirious and concentrating on his songs, these intensely personal, angst-ridden ramblings at once beautiful and profane. Eyes closed, he probably didn’t even notice the girls in the front row singing their lungs out to his 'Religious Songs' like another kind of hymn.

The thing is though, there was another boy. In the dying days of the job I lost earlier this year I saw a message on Twitter that Nick Mitchell and Under the Radar were looking for writers and, armed only with a promo CD by a Glasgow-based electronic act called The Lava Experiments who had seen my own blog I thought I would give it a bash. Nick knew who I was, vaguely – one of my photos of singer-songwriter Beerjacket had actually ended up on the site a few weeks previously – and the interview I put together was good enough to merit me being taken on.

2009 has been a bit of a rollercoaster year for me, but as I have struggled to come to terms with my changing place in the world the opportunity offered to me as a writer for UtR has opened my ears to a whole new world for a girl who, musically, has always looked towards the horizon. That’s not me saying that my taste is expansive, incidentally – more like the music I listen to tends to sound like roadtrips and car chases and epic American sunsets.

There has been a lot of navel-gazing, on this site and others, recently – talk that the Scottish music blogosphere “bigs up” its own undeservedly. It made me laugh because, for years, I turned away from the local. Scottish music was, to me, Texas and my much-loathed Belle and Bloody Sebastian, and the fact that half of Sauchiehall Street wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for MySpace and everybody’s kid brother in some dreadful Britpop tribute band. So focussed was I on my limited edition US import alternative country vinyl that I was oblivious to the wealth of talent on my own doorstep.

This year I saw a US legend older than my father go down a storm at a rainy Hampden Park, and punched the air as my new favourite band rocked a basement in Cincinnati, Ohio. I cried along to my favourite song in the world, live; and blew a kiss at Elvis Presley’s grave (after having my photo taken in front of the plane that bears my name and that of his daughter’s). But among all of these adventures, two moments stand out: both of which were punctuated by Scottish bands and both of which couldn’t have taken place further from my blustery Glasgow home.

Second Hand Marching BandIt was February, as London ground to a halt in the middle of the sort of snowstorm we turn our noses up at north of the border my best friend and I fought to make the train that would take us away for a birthday week in Bath. As I tried to drag my little wheeled suitcase along a particularly treacherous pavement, cheeky voices in rough harmony poured out from my earphones. “Don’t go outside in the rain and the snow!” warned the Second Hand Marching Band (above), but while it was too late for us at least we made it to Paddington in time.

Halfway across the world, another friend and I crossed the Wolf River from Memphis into Arkansas just to say that we did. As we turned around for the drive back into Tennessee a tremendous crack of lightning split the sky in half, and I caught my breath even as the in-car playlist hummed along with some live version of Frightened Rabbit’s 'Good Arms vs Bad Arms'. What I went to America to find, the sound of my soul, was reflected in a band with its roots not a hundred miles from my home.

What a ride. Joyous, life-affirming and essential. In 2010, I continue my education, and I can’t wait to hear what’s out there. An album for Julia and the Doogans, hmmm?

Withered Hand: No Cigarettes


The Lava Experiments - The Release


Second Hand Marching Band - A Dance to Half Death


Julia and the Doogans - New York

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Monday, 28 December 2009

Ryan Drever: My tip for 2010

Midnight Lion

Midnight Lion, a duo comprised of former Drive-by Argument men, Stewart Brock and Lewis Gardiner, unleashed a few home-recorded tracks just a couple of months ago and already, people (particularly industry folks) are practically soiling themselves with excitement.

Taking a darker approach to electronic pop music, these two have managed to create a spacious yet slick sound, all from the confines of Gardiner's bedroom, and with a neat bit of radio play, a growing online fanbase and rabid industry attention, this looks like it could very well be one of next year's success stories.

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Billy Hamilton: My band of 2009

UtR co-editor Billy Hamilton has been a vocal champion of his band of the year, both in our podcasts and in their profile feature back in June. Here he explains their (sometimes divisive) appeal...


2009 has been a dichotomous beast in terms of my musical fancy.

I started the year immersed in rich melodic folk. Now, at the end of the turkey-gorging season, I find myself cocooned by lightning-whipped electronica – a retreat I’m growing rather fond of, it must be said.

With this resting partially in mind then, my band of choice for the past 365 days has to be Edinburgh duo Dead Boy Robotics (DBR).

But it’s not because they’re the outfit I consider to be the most complete or impressive. No, quite simply, I cannot think of one act that has transformed quite so astonishingly in the space of just 12 months as DBR.

This time last year DBR were, in my mind at least, a plastecine-cast pairing exuding the obligatory pastiche of the hipster mass. I'd say Nick [Mitchell, UtR’s editor-in-chief] perfectly surmised DBR circa-2008 when he described them as “synth prodding wankery” (a pull quote that became their ironic MySpace strap line).

Yet, with 2010 on the horizon DBR are a band with one foot in the future. Tooled up with gun-totting synth and a penchant for pulsing tribal rhythm, Mike and Gregor are flying the flag for the criminally overlooked half of Auld Reekie’s creative undercurrent.

Their chaotic asylum-dwelling sound is founded on a throb of electro-bending and prolonged dog-like yelping. Live, it’s exhilarating: The duo meticulously build gigantic soundstacks that pierce the eardrums like the wrong side of a pneumatic pin-cushion.

On record, they're yet to do themselves justice, but that’s what makes DBR such an exciting proposition. It’s not what they can do that matters. It’s what they could do that really counts.

Words: Billy Hamilton

DBR: As Children We Fear The Dark (part 1)


DBR: We Drown Ourselves (Cartographer Exhales)


Who was your artist or band of 2009? Let us know below...

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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Nick Mitchell: My gig of 2009

David ByrneDavid Byrne, Glasgow Concert Hall
31 March


No grassroots event this, but Dumbarton-born David Byrne's show in the classical setting of the Glasgow Concert Hall was at least a pseudo-Scottish event.

And frankly I'd be telling a lie if I chose any other gig as the best I witnessed this year.

Why? Part of it must have been that strange feeling of collective awe when a roomful of lifelong fans is finally sat face-to-face with one of their musical idols - even if it was from a distant balcony seat in my case.

Byrne restricted the scope of the gig to his work with Brian Eno, but seeing as the famed studio boffin produced three of Talking Heads' best albums, that certainly didn't make for a defiantly obscure song selection.

Byrne has always conducted himself as a multi-faceted artist, a New York Renaissance Man, so the appearance of a trio of modern ballet dancers wasn't exactly a shock (it actually worked well as a visual accoutrement).

What was more surprising was just how great an entertainer the silver-haired Byrne still is at the age of 56, and the entire crowd of fanboys and girls defied the conventions of the venue and were off their seats for the latter portion of the night, when Byrne & band blazed through songs like Burning Down the House and Crosseyed & Painless.

I don't meant to dismiss the exploits of Scotland's younger generation by picking a middle-aged Manhattanite as my live performer of the year, but Byrne was clearly still proud of his roots, and - for what's it's worth - he would no doubt be impressed by the music scene if he still lived here.

(For the record, my favourite smaller gigs of the year included The Japanese War Effort supporting Meursault at The Bowery, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Findo Gask's triumphant sets at T in the Park, the mesmerising Rob St John at Edinburgh's Retreat all-dayer, and an early Dupec show at Sneaky Pete's.)

What was your gig of 2009? Let us know below...

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Saturday, 26 December 2009

Craig Dickson: My band of 2009

Shields Up

The most notable new Scottish act of 2009 for me has been Edinburgh hardcore quintet Shields Up.

Despite only forming in March, they managed to self-record their debut album (released on local label Wasted State Records in October) and have completed three UK tours, playing any number of gigs in between - all while holding down full-time jobs.

It's a hardworking schedule that any band could be proud of, and was a deliberate choice, as singer James Johnson explains: “That was the plan from the start I think. Me and Jak (Camoletto, drums) have spent over ten years playing in bands so we knew what we had to do and decided to do it quickly."

Their self-titled debut was recorded over the course of a week or two at home, and the result is a blistering blast of unpretentious rock. The 13 tracks certainly don’t overstay their welcome, flying by in less than 25 minutes.

But where the band really come into their own is live. The frenetic pace and enthusiasm of their performances have been one of the highlights of my musical year. As Jak puts it: “We just want to have fun and our idea of fun is partying with loud music”.

It's their no-frills attitude, quality tunes and unbridled energy that make Shields Up my choice for new Scottish act of the year.

Shields Up - Death Of You

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Thursday, 24 December 2009

Guest blog: Andrew Manson (Other People)

Andrew MansonAndrew Manson of Glasgow band Other People, who we featured last month, argues that the real meaning of Christmas can't be found on Amazon.co.uk...


Christmas is a funny beast. I always let out a shudder when those picket fence voices first float out of my TV singing 'holidays are coming', but by the end of the 25th I'm usually fairly in swing with at least part of the 'spirit'.

Not yo-ho-ho-ing down the local community centre or anything, but I will have at least pulled a cracker and donned a party hat or two. Handed out a few gifts, that sort of thing.

Only a few gifts mind. I never buy a lot of presents. I don't think I should waste my time and money on folk I never see or barely know. On children that don't even know or care who I am. The doughy elbowed ones will be using their chocolatey hands to squeeze as much out of mum and dad as possible without me needing to contribute, I think. Maybe I'm just tight but to me this is where the meaning of the festive season has been lost.

The fact more and more people are Xmas shopping online shows just how impersonal gift giving has become. It doesn't seem to be about giving, or receiving. It's more like trading. Hearing chat of which places are doing the best DVD offers, as DVD presents are being handed back and forth next to the Christmas tree. That's odd.

The economic slowdown could be the thing that pulls Santa out of this retail snowdrift. If no-one has the cash to buy the gifts to ease the guilt for never seeing any of their relations then perhaps they might just go and spend some time with them instead. Play Lego with their nieces and nephews. Take a bottle of whisky round the houses, get drunk, trip on the dog. Play charades with your parents. Yes dad, of course its f***ing Jaws. Remind these people why they send you a card every year.

The festive season should be about close family and friends, not crippling your credit card on people you don't really know. That would be my Christmas message. Well that, and also that my first draft of 'Gordon Brown Saves Christmas' is almost complete. Any takers?

Favourite Christmas Song: 'Stay Another Day' by East 17

Other People: Whooplash


Other People play Captain's Rest, Glasgow on 29 Dec

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Billy Hamilton: My gig of 2009

Versus

Versus, The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
10 September


To put forward the inaugural Voodoo Rooms-based Versus as my gig of 2009 is doing the night little justice.

You see, this wasn’t just your bog-standard three band soirée that underpins gigs the length and breadth of this country. No, this was a spectacle – a loud one at that.

With Dead Boy Robotics, Foundling Wheel and Meursault taking up the leading roles, the three-pronged stage invasion had melody mingling with discord and folk frolicking with noise.

A pre-show natter with the man behind the concept, Ted Koterwas, revealed a desire to engage the polarized factions of Edinburgh’s music scene in a battle royale of sound that would open up doors and knock down walls.

But it wasn’t about indulging in a spot of musical peacekeeping, it was much, much more. Sounds blasted from the stage as if igniting from a Kennedy Space Center launch pad, while a roll-call of Auld Reekie luminaries took turns in complementing the starring trio’s kaleidoscopic mash up.

Bulging instrumentation frothed with all the frenzy of a rabid dog chasing its tail, leaving the senses of the punters ragged, frayed and, most of all, alive.

By the time the finale of tumbling percussion and electrified synth crushed solar plexuses, you knew what had unravelled was something very special indeed.

A night to remember? Perhaps. A night not to be forgotten. Definitely.

The next Versus night features eagleowl, Found and Oates Field, and takes place at the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh on 21 January.

What was your gig of 2009? Let us know below...

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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Guest blog: James Hamilton (Errors)

James HamiltonAh, Christmas. A time to relax, to turn off our brains and forget the crass commercialism which underpins the annual midwinter shopping rush. A time for forgiving and for forgetting, as Cliff once sang.

But sometimes the uneasy brand associations need to be exposed for what they really are. Step forward James Hamilton of Glasgow electronica outfit, Errors...



“Watch out, look around, something’s coming, coming to town…”

And with the repeated refrain of “Holidays are coming”, the Coca Cola corporate truck wheels onto our screens, lighting up towns and cities and making children smile, because more so than end-of-the-year specials being advertised on television, more than the pound shops stocking up on wrapping paper and garish tat as soon as the Halloween decorations have been taken off the shelves on the first of November, and even more than the annual campaigns to get this or that version of this song or whatever to number one in the charts instead of the X Factor, nothing signifies Christmas more than the Coke truck.

An acquaintance of mine once remarked that she didn’t feel “Christmassy” until she had seen that Coke advert on the television. Now, being a staunch agnostic (if such a thing is possible) what right do I have to morally defend a Christian religious festival? If someone wants a soft-drink advert to sum up the message of peace on Earth and good will to all men, who am I, who celebrates a festival founded upon principles and mythology I have no time for, to take umbrage?

Except that I did, and with good reason. And when I was asked by another friend of mine to write a piece for this blog concerning Christmas, I did try my very best to write something jolly, something witty, something positive...

I do enjoy Christmas, and I deplore the easy cynicism with which it can be knocked, especially when your average moaning cynic (hi) will berate the commercialisation of the celebration while actively ignoring the, y’know, “true meaning” of it. Give me a playlist of songs including ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses, ‘Dead Christmas’ by Monster Magnet and ‘Christmas Steps’ by Mogwai (my personal holy trinity of Christmas songs), a hot cup of coffee while perusing freezing cold, busy streets before meeting friends and family who you really, really make an effort to see for once and colour me seasonal.

What won’t colour me seasonal is that truck lighting up the faces of children and models with perfect teeth, who clearly don’t drink Coca Cola on a regular basis lest they have gnashers like Shane McGowan. “All I want for Xmas is my two front teeth” indeed.

The proliferation of the myth that Coca Cola “invented” the modern Santa Claus might have much to do with the corporation's stranglehold on the season to be jolly (they didn’t invent the image of Santa as a jolly, larger-than-life red-and-white suited man; that image of Santa Claus pre-dates the drink, but the image was steamrollered into public consciousness by Coke's ad campaigns featuring the work of illustrator Haddon Sundblom in the 1940s onwards) but, like Simon Cowell’s feeling he has a God-given right to Christmas number one (until last week), it could be discounted as a minor nuisance that a massive conglomerate holds so much sway over Christmas.

The corporation's unethical-to-outright-illegal activities in South America and Africa in particular are well documented (though maybe, one ponders, not well enough... if you’re interested, why not have a look at ‘Criticism of Coca Cola’ on Wikipedia or visit www.killercoke.org).

Unethical big business! Whatever next? Yes, I know it’s hardly news. So why am I so vehemently aggrieved by Coca Cola over any other organisation? Well, I’m not. What I am, is by the attitude that Christmas to a Christian is represented truly by the image of such a corporation. Maybe it’s not the commercialisation of Christmas that bothers me; it’s the fact that it doesn’t bother those who it should, which bothers me. Yes, it bothers me, but I’m not going to let it ruin my Christmas.



Errors return with their second album early in 2010 and embark on a UK tour in February. See their MySpace for details.

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Elaine Liddle: My gig of 2009

Nackt InsectenNackt Insecten supporting Fuck Buttons, Stereo, Glasgow
24 September


There are countless acts I just knew I would love even before the gig that I could have written about in this slot; so I've picked one which surprised me.

From the little I knew about Nackt Insecten, I was certainly intrigued (this is a guy who did a noise set on the Glasgow Subway, after all) but I didn't expect to be particularly enamoured. Not that I felt I'd hate Ruaradidh Sanachen's work, just that it didn't seem quite for me.

How totally wrong I was. The songs - or rather, very long soundscapes - were indeed a bizarre mash of sound, but they were also breathtaking. They also had the added element of other band members - notably Galchen's Peter Kelly on drums - which lifted them up and made them just work in a live context.

That surprise, the freshness, and the downright hypnotic effect of this particular set makes it stand out so clearly from the rest.

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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Guest blog: Thomas Western

Grant HutchisonHaving recently moved north to Scotland and immersed himself in the Edinburgh music scene, singer-songwriter Thomas Western looks back on his year and talks about the kind of seasonal songs that strike the right note...

It is widely accepted that the notion that different musics can be said to belong to either 'high' or 'low' culture is outdated. Yet there may be something left in this concept that emerges at this 'most wonderful time of the year'. Before I elucidate, I better explain that I am writing from a non-religious but happy to celebrate Christmas nonetheless perspective; for family togetherness and all that.

Commercial Christmas music is largely unavoidable to some degree. It has the same intrusive character as the music that emanates from those kilt shops on Nicolson Street the rest of the year: an aural interloper, an unwelcome guest.

This is why my favourite yuletide music comes in the form of carols. To reiterate, not for their religious content, but for the purity of sound, the harmony, the goodness that shines forth from them in the season that often sees us at our most debased, debauched, and of insectoid deportment. 'The Holly and the Ivy', 'In the Bleak Midwinter', and 'Coventry Carol' are beacons, exposing the crudeness of their pop counterparts, and for me, providing that inner-warmth that we associate with Christmas, but in reality can be hard to find for those of us who don't believe.

I don't ordinarily go in for such elitism, but Christmas pop is usually pretty low.

Speaking of Low, however, gives a good example of how a middle ground has been reached. The band's 1999 Christmas record is great. The covers, original songs, and their arrangement of 'Silent Night' all capture the seasonal sadness, without the sham goodwill of tin-pan tripe, or the didacticism that comes with more overtly Christian carols. Sufjan Stevens fits the bill too, and provides good proof that it is possible to write good pop songs about Christmas (see 'Sister Winter', 'Put the Lights on the Tree', and 'That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!').



Such melancholy flies nicely in the face of forced festive goodwill, which for me is one of the more irksome yuletide gestures. Our moral compasses should point toward kindness and generosity throughout the year, not just when the Coca-Cola adverts appear, and we are allowed to drink glühwein during the day.

For me personally, this Christmas feels special in the sense that it is my first in Scotland. I have hugely enjoyed my first few months in Edinburgh, and would like to thank Ruth from the Bowery and Michael from Jesus H. Foxx for welcoming me with such warmth to a fine music scene. Also thanks to Matthew, Dylan, Jason & Stevie. Ta very much.

The album will be finished in the New Year, and I look forward to more musical good times in 2010.

Thomas Western: Plough


Thomas Western: Your Front Door

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Guest blog: Bart Owl (eagleowl)

Bart OwlHaving played prominent roles in no fewer than four of the acts we've featured this year (eagleowl, The Occasional Flickers, Rob St John and The Second Hand Marching Band) it would have been rude not to ask Bart Owl for his end-of-year thoughts...

2009 has been great. With eagleowl, we didn't play that many shows. But then I think we've played too often in the past, and the ones that we did play were all winners: tour with Rob (St. John) in February, Flowers of Hell, Bowerbirds, ballboy, Withered Hand album launch, Trespassers William, Homegame.

The Playing with the Past soundtracking event - for me personally - is the best thing we've ever been involved in. It's probably the show I'm most proud of, and I think I'll look back in years to come with that same outlook. Also, putting out our first vinyl is kind of a big deal. It's just that extra step. It feels more real, somehow. It's like "We have a 7". We're a proper band now."

We have an EP ready for release in 2010, and a track on a Jonathan Richman tribute album which is due out on Fortuna Pop. So I hope those go well. I think 2010 will also be about playing fewer shows, but concentrating on writing and recording.

More generally, I hope music in Edinburgh continues to grow and thrive. There's been a lot of talk about a "scene" or things building up here over the last couple of years. I see 2009 as the year when more people have got organised and started releasing stuff.

There's been a lot of great bands emerging over the last while, putting on great shows. But this year, a lot more people have put out proper releases. I think it's an important development - to make a record of what has been achieved, and create a chance for what's happening to get recognition from outside of Edinburgh. Which is important to help stop things getting too insular and self-serving. I guess Kilter - who are putting out our single - are an example of this. They've been operating for a while putting on shows as 'Tracer Trails', but this will be their first actual release.

My alternative Christmas message?

Enjoy yourselves. Responsibly.

My favourite Christmas song?

Well, it's kind of obvious for us, I guess, but 'Just Like Christmas' by Low is hard to beat. I made an alternative christmas compilation album for my friends last year, and there was lots of good stuff on there. One was 'On Christmas Day' by Leadbelly. It's great. The whole thing is really is really bright and happy - like one big chorus. The main line is: "children get so happy on Christmas day". I like the way that it captures that childhood wonder and excitement about Christmas, without getting into any of the religious connotations. In a similar way to how the Low song does. I think that's what Christmas means to me.

eagleowl: Sleep the Winter


eagleowl play the Christmas Songwriters Club at Leith Docker’s Club, Edinburgh on 23 Dec

Image: Shannon McClean

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My Christmas: Jenny Reeve (Strike the Colours)

Jenny ReeveWith the day of over-eating and cheap crackers fast approaching, the singer from the Glasgow indie-folk collective Strike the Colours tells us what the festive season means to her...


I’m not that fond of Christmas. It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with friends and family, or look forward to the food, daytime telly, boozing, pretty lights, that kind of thing.

It’s just that in my head I imagine snow and open wood fires, romance on a ridiculous scale, a man wearing one of those chunky woollen jumpers with diamond patterns on and if I’m honest, probably candles. Every year, I daydream about these things and instead end up sitting in a confined space with my (somewhat depleted) family feeling confused and cranky for no good reason with a paper hat on my head that keeps slipping down and making my ears itch.

I am so lucky in countless ways - I love and am loved in return, I have a dog called Panda who lets me put reindeer antlers on her without complaint and who has the good grace not to scratch them off until I am out of sight, no-one makes me go to the pantomime and generally speaking, none of my family get that upset if the actual day doesn’t yield a proper Christmas dinner (last year we had pizza on Christmas day, then actual Christmas dinner on the 3rd of January because no-one could be bothered to go to the supermarket on Christmas Eve).

So yeah, perhaps it’s more that I yearn for a traditional Christmas, or wish that more of my family lived in this country (or indeed, that we lived there!) so I could celebrate with them properly and not just grin stupidly at a webcam which then gets used for a tour of my brother’s nasal passages or my Dad’s orchids. Maybe.

Or perhaps I’m just not that into Christmas? Crass commercialism aside, it seems to make people very cross indeed and not at all rosey-cheeked and tra-la-la but then, I still haven’t met that guy in the chunky-knit sweater. I bet then I won’t be able to get enough of Bing Crosby, paper hats, mince pies and stupid cracker jokes.



Strike the Colours are having their own Christmas party at The Admiral, Glasgow on 23 Dec, with RM Hubbert, Burnt Island, Olympic Swimmers and Dave Gow of Sons & Daughters

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Sunday, 20 December 2009

My Christmas: Grant Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit)

Grant HutchisonWhen we asked Frightened Rabbit drummer Grant Hutchison for his Christmas message, he replied with an original Christmas poem. An instant classic, we're sure you'll agree...


As the first snow falls on the glistening ground
The sound of drunk songs can be heard all around
The smashing of glass and the kissing of faces
And two f***ing neds drawing blades at ten paces

The lights on Buchanan Street glimmer with pride
And shoppers they come and they go like the tide
It's Christmas in Glasgow and everything's rosy
With Buckfast galore to keep one and all cosy

It's a chance for us all to just and sit in our pants
And pile on the pounds and have X Factor rants
As cards are replaced with a mass festive text
We wonder which Christmas song will Cliff bastardise next?

Exercise makes way for Trivial Pursuit
The only thing healthy is booze soaked fruit
Unwanted presents are a thing of the past
As Amazon's wish list makes shopping easy and fast

Our wages are spent before we even know
On Spongebob guitars and cans of fake snow
Jamie, Nigella or Delia Smith?
Who's turkey tastes better when burnt to a crisp?

And once it's all over it's back to real life
Where the people are sadder and normality's rife
But at the end of all that it's a sure fire thing
That at least you were drunk so won't remember a thing!


Frightened Rabbit - It's Christmas So We'll Stop


Frightened Rabbit play the ABC, Glasgow on Tuesday, although it sold out long ago.

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Friday, 18 December 2009

Radar recommends: 19 - 25 Dec

Paper Planes
[Paper Planes: descending on Sneaky Pete's on Saturday]

It's the last Friday of 'proper work' for us at scotsman.com towers today before the holidays kick in, so this week's live music round-up has taken on a distinctly lo-fi, stripped-down feel.

Having said that, the blog will be kept rolling right through the festive period with more Christmas messages, artist-of-the-year nominations and tips for 2010, so keep reading. It beats watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses.


Saturday 19th

• The Lorelei, Miss the Occupier, Roadway
@ Moorings Bar, Aberdeen
• The Xcerts, Flood of Red and Healthy Minds Collapse
@ The Doghouse, Dundee
• Delta Mainline, The Gothenburg Address, Saint Jude's Infirmary, Daniel land and The Modern Painters
@ The Caves, Edinburgh
• Elvis Shakespeare Christmas Show
@ Elvis Shakespeare, Edinburgh (all-day event)
• Malcolm Ross & The Low Miffs
@ Electric Circus, Edinburgh
• Paper Planes, Mitchell Museum and Cryoverbillionaires
@ Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
• Crufts 4 with Findo Gask
@ Nice'n'Sleazy, Glasgow
• French Wives
@ Oran Mor, Glasgow

Sunday 20th

• The Twist, The Mirror Trap, Tango in the Attic and The Secrets
@ Dexter's Lounge Bar, Dundee
• ballboy
@ Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh
• Findo Gask
@ Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
• Flood of Red, The Xcerts, Healthy Minds Collapse and There Will Be Fireworks
@ King Tut's, Glasgow
• The Slow Club
@ The Flying Duck, Glasgow

Monday 21st

• The Xcerts, Flood of Red
@ The Ironworks, Inverness
• Fur Hood, Stevie Jackson, San Fran & the Siscos and Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers
@ The 13th Note, Glasgow
Pearl & the Puppets, Kitty the Lion, Brother Louis Collective
@ King Tut's, Glasgow

Tuesday 22nd

• The Xcerts, Flood of Red
@ Tunnels, Aberdeen
• Frightened Rabbit, Three Blind Wolves, The Moth & the Mirror
@ O2 ABC, Glasgow
• Joe Strummer Tribute Night
@ King Tut's, Glasgow
• Paper Planes, The Second Hand Marching Band, Peter Parker, RM Hubbert and Schnapps
@ Nice'n'Sleazy, Glasgow (over two nights)

Wednesday 23rd

• The Cinematics, Kick to Kill and Jonathan Carr
@ King Tut's, Glasgow
• Paper Planes, The Second Hand Marching Band, Peter Parker, RM Hubbert and Schnapps
@ Nice'n'Sleazy, Glasgow (over two nights)

Thursday 24th

• Casino Brag, Transfer Audio and Variety Suite
@ Box, Glasgow

Friday 25th

Nada, unsurprisingly. Enjoy your turkey!


What have we missed? Tell us below, or add it to our gig guide by emailing utr.scotsman@gmail.com

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Stevie Kearney: My band of 2009

How to SwimWhen the dark, mysterious powers behind UtR first suggested that each of us hacks pick a band of the year, I decided to let my iTunes play count decide it for me. So, Withered Hand it is then. Except, as phenomenal as Dan Willson is, it seemed too obvious.

So I looked to see who was second and found Meursault. Dear Lord, I am such an Edinburgh cliché. So I scrapped the preposterous iTunes notion and went back to searching around the disused back rooms of my mind.

After a mentally and sometimes physically painful deliberation, I decided the band who have given me the most enjoyment this year has been Glasgow’s How to Swim.

One key reason for this is that I hate being late to the party. I sometimes get there so late that the place is scattered with empty bottles and everyone has either gone home or crashed out.

With How to Swim, I was fairly punctual in my arrival at the metaphorical party. Not early exactly (the band have been playing in various forms since 2000), but early enough to make small talk in the hall about my job whilst glancing nervously towards the door to see if anyone else was going to turn up. How to Swim turned up and their live act is certainly something to treasure.

My affinity for the band is partly because I regard the 2005 It Stings When I EP as one of my finest ever random purchases. Then I lost my copy. But 2009 was the year a copy re-emerged to gift me joy in the form of Gregor Barclay’s haunting voice and the sinister imagery he creates. 'There’s a Building There' has to be my all time favourite stalker song.

The new material has also lived up to previous acclaim. Perhaps with the release of the album Retina, iTunes may well be able to pick my band of 2010. So, thanks to a combination of discovery and rediscovery, How to Swim have made me happier than any other band this year.

How To Swim - There's a Building There


How To Swim - Genesis P and Me

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Thursday, 17 December 2009

My Christmas: James Graham

James GrahamJames Graham is singer and lyricist in Kilsyth band The Twilight Sad, who released their second album Forget the Night Ahead this year to wide acclaim. He's also a big fan of Christmas apparently...

What's good about Xmas?????

The answer to that is what's not good about Xmas????!!!

Over the past four years Xmas has been my favourite time of the year. When you're younger birthdays, school holidays, Easter and Xmas are your favourite times of the year for three reasons: presents, chocolate and no school!

As you get older things change, the presents get shitter, chocolate makes you fatter and you wish you were back at school so you could try harder and get better qualifications so you don't find yourself travelling round the world with five other guys in the back of a splitter van :P

Although I say that I have found a new appreciation for Xmas as it's the only time that I get to see all of my family and catch up on all of the shite TV and films that I love so much. It also lets me buy all of the music that I have illegally downloaded and like, due to the HMV vouchers that I have instructed all my family to get me instead of the Lynx Africa deodorant/shower gel combo that I always seem to get.

As a band we have a Xmas ritual, we all go to the Swann Inn which is located in my home town Banton on Xmas eve with all our friends and get absolutely out our tights. This year will be no different. You would think after spending four years solid on the road with each other we would be sick of the sight of each other and that's mostly true. But no matter what, on the eve of Xmas in 50 years time you will find four haggered old alkies talking about the time they played Sleazy's for the first time and nae c*** turned up.

My favourite Xmas song is by Chris de Burgh and is called 'A Spaceman Came Travelling'.

BAAAA HUMBUG!

James' list for Santa:

HD TV
Box of Malteasers
A tour bus
Tickets to Pavement at the Barras
Warp20 box set
Wagamama cook book
Trip to Buckfast abbey

Twilight Sad: Reflection of the Television


Twilight Sad: I Became a Prostitute

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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

My Christmas: Peter Kelly (Beerjacket)

Peter KellyWhat's Christmas all about again? Someone's birthday or something? The 25th of December now means different things to different people. So in the run-up to Santa's arrival we'll be asking some of Scotland's music makers what their Christmas message is. First up is Peter Kelly, who has caused quite a stir this year under the guise of Beerjacket...

I must have been maybe eight or nine when I caught my Mum out on a lie for the very first time.

Christmas was but weeks away and the existence (or otherwise) of Santa Claus was a heated topic within my class at primary school. I was a fervent, card-carrying believer in him, flying in the face of the frosty cynics with (and from) whom I learned as a child.

But doubts had been planted in my mind.

Mum has always been an overly cautious driver and she was focusing fully on a tricky mini-roundabout. She was therefore caught unawares when I told her, “Some kids at school have been saying Santa Claus isn’t real.”

Fixated as she was on her manoeuvre, her parental consciousness depleted, she added her concurrence to the matter: “Yes - that’s true.”

Come on, Mum. Everyone knows Santa is for real.

Christmas has always been a source of great joy for me. It’s December and I’m a child again. I love the lights... I love the sounds... I love the irrational sniggering happiness of it all. It’s like everybody’s birthday at once. Yes, I know, it’s one particular person’s birthday.

It’s my mate Ross’s birthday. Happy Birthday when it comes, Ross.

I even love the music. And I don’t mean the cool music (Low’s beautiful Christmas EP, Frightened Rabbit’s stunning It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop, the impeccable Sufjan Stevens 5-CD Christmas compendium...) or even the ironic, you-only-like-it-because-you’re-aware-it-sucks music (Christmas Wrapping... Merry Christmas Everybody...). No, I mean, like Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. Like, Do They Know It’s Christmas? Even Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. I love those songs. In fact, I’m gutted that ill health has prevented me from contributing to the Avalanche Records Christmas album because I had either a Mariah Carey cover or a similarly sappy original song planned for inclusion. Christmas is not only an opportunity not be cool, it is MANDATORY not to be cool.

So this is Christmas. And what have you done?

Well, I suppose this might have been the year when my musical project Beerjacket was sort of legitimised in the public eye. A fairly self-destructive rather than self-indulgent solo project, as it has been, I’ve been at this for five years now. It’s never been especially festive given its cheery themes of isolation, disillusion and passive aggression, therefore I’ve generally avoided the month of December for public outings when I’ve run into the likes of female rugby team Christmas nights out when I played shows, more or less into the face of the wind. This year - the year when Beerjacket was outlandishly endorsed by the ohmygoodness likes of Rolling Stone – has been no different. I hung up my cloak for now in November, at least till sometime next year, playing out my final show of 2009 for Glasgow PodcART. It was a pretty emotional night for me, putting a full stop to this very successful, if tumultuous year.

And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear.


Well, without fear, what exactly would I write about? What exactly would anyone write about? I’ve actually shelved immediately plans for a new album for now, so soon (too soon?) after Animosity as I wait to discover what, if anything, I really need to let people hear. I plan to record a few months from now (I had planned to commit an album to tape before the end of the year… but what exactly is the hurry?) and if/when I do, I feel sure it’ll make as excellent a Christmas gift for all the family in 2010 as my current album would certainly make this Christmas, which one can easily find in quality record stores such as Avalanche in Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as at iTunes, Amazon MP3 and eMusic.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Beerjacket: Drum

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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Craig Dickson: My gig of 2009

Frightened Rabbit
[Photo: The Queen's Hall]

Our 2009 round-up continues today as new UtR writer Craig Dickson nominates his favourite gig of the past twelve months...


Frightened Rabbit, The Queens Hall, Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 August


Frightened Rabbit have been playing material from The Midnight Organ Fight across Europe and the US for over a year now, and it shows. For this Edge Festival gig the band was tight, the performance polished, but the sincerity of the music still clearly apparent.

Everything seemed to come together, with the sell-out crowd in the palm of their hands from start to finish. The atmosphere was first-rate, the fans responded with complete warmth, singing every word back to the band and creating that interaction that's one of the hallmarks of a great show.

Combined with impeccable sound, an electric atmosphere and a sensational performance, this was pretty much everything you could ask for in a gig, and a reminder of just how vital and exciting live music can be.

What was your gig of 2009? Let us know below...

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Monday, 14 December 2009

Elaine Liddle: My band of 2009


[Photo: Luke Joyce]

In the first of a series of blog posts in which UtR writers pick their favourite bands and gigs of 2009, and tip acts to look out for in 2010, Elaine Liddle plumps for a band who we featured back in August

They might have been officially around since 2006 - but 2009 was the year I finally began to love Brother Louis Collective. Before January they were one of those names I'd heard in the general chatter, always assumed I'd quite enjoy, but then been distracted by something else before I remembered to investigate them. Then I saw them live and it all started to make sense – so I came back for more.

In case you didn't catch their UtR profile, BLC's music is folky but not too folky, sweet but not saccharine. Put simply, they write good songs about love and life.

A high point in the bunch of times I saw them perform this year was - bizarrely for an accomplished six-piece band - the stripped down version at the Strike the Colours album launch in Stereo. Having apparently stepped in at the last minute, and without half the band, they nevertheless pulled off an engaging and entertaining set.

Recent Brother Louis Collective blogging promises that their very first album will be out early next year (so I guess I'm not *too* late in catching up with them). Ten tracks recorded at Chem 19 with Paul Savage certainly mean there will be more to look forward to in 2010.

BLC - Barren Years


BLC - Squealing Pigs

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Friday, 11 December 2009

Radar recommends: 12 - 18 Dec

The Twilight Sad
[The Twilight Sad: bringing the festive decibels to Edinburgh and Glasgow]

Status Quo are rocking all over Scotland this week (well, Aberdeen and Glasgow to be precise), so surely there's nothing more to be said for live music over the next seven days? What can possibly survive in the wake of the ponytailed rock gods, you ask?

Well, if Francis Rossi & co don't satisfy your cultural appetite (and what's wrong with you?), then you can at least take your pick from this lot...


Aberdeen
Luke Leighfield
Wednesday @ The Tunnels / 8pm / £5
Piano-based pop from the globe-trotting 22-year-old, in support of his recently release pay-what-you-like download album Have You Got Heart?
Also playing Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on Thursday


Dundee
Findo Gask, Popolo
Saturday @ Dukes Corner / 8pm / £5
Glasgow's deranged electronic pop purveyors ply their trade at the Dukes on Saturday, with support from highly rated Popolo. Bring your dancing shoes.

Dividing the Line, Proceed, Paradian
Sunday @ Dexters / 8pm / £6
A night of screamo-emo action at Dexter's as part of the 'Fezant is Present Tour'. There will be shredding riffs (and shredded fringes).


Edinburgh
Trampoline All Day Event: Mitchell Museum, Lyons, Jonnie Common, Debutant, The Scottish Enlightenment, Jill Leighton, Esperi, Lady North, Conquering Animal Sound
Saturday @ Wee Red Bar / 2pm / £5 (£3)
Over the past few months we have recommended no fewer than six of the acts on this all-dayer from Trampoline, so all that's left to say is get down there if you want to hear some of the best new music in Scotland. Simple really.

Hey Enemy, Gatechien, The Fatalists
Monday @ Sneaky Petes / 7pm / £4
Post-punk beats from London's Hey Enemy on tour with twisted French duo Gatechien. Support from local noiseniks The Fatalists
Also at The Tunnels, Aberdeen on Sunday

The Pineapple Chunks, The Leg
Tuesday @ Wee Red Bar / 7pm / free
You'd be hard pressed to find a more gloriously ramshackle, insane gig than this eccentric pairing of Edinburgh bands.

**UtR's gig of the week**
The Twilight Sad
Tuesday @ Voodoo Rooms / 7.30pm / SOLD OUT
Fresh from taking on the USA yet again, the strangely uplifting home-grown miserablists play a pre-Christmas show. If you have a ticket, enjoy, if you don't, too bad.
Also playing Nice'n'Sleazy, Glasgow on Wednesday

Little Comets
Wednesday @ Cab Vol / 7pm / £7
Recent Columbia signings Little Comets bring their major label alt-pop up the road from Newcastle, with support from local indie-rockers The Debuts.

Pulled Apart By Horses, Taking Chase
Wednesday @ Sneaky Pete's / 7pm / £6
Energetic and highly-rated hardcore from Leeds' Pulled Apart By Horses with support from Edinburgh's own melodic rockers Taking Chase. Lots of ruckus in one very small room.

Hardcore Christmas Party: The Colour Pink Is Gay, Corpses, Shields Up, Hey Vampires, Fights & Fires
Friday @ Bannermans / 8pm / £6
Good value hardcore punk rock christmas bonanza featuring some of Scotland's freshest talent, plus Worcester's Fights and Fires.
Also at Nice N Sleazy in Glasgow on Thursday 17th


Glasgow
The Phantom Band, Lord Cutglass, Sparrow and the Workshop
Saturday @ The Arches / 7pm / £10
Chemikal Underground double whammy as the Phantom Band celebrate having one of the albums of 2009 in Checkmate Savage.

Remember Remember, Happy Particles, Cheer
Saturday @ CCA / 8pm / £4
The lovely Remember Remember wants to say Merry Christmas - and how better than to share beautiful looping tinkly tunes in a party with the equally pretty Happy Particles.

eagleowl, Woodenbox, Withered Hand
Monday @ 13th Note / 9pm / £tbc
E(e)agleowl have a very nice new single called 'Sleep the Winter' which they are launching in Glasgow on Monday. Dan of Withered Hand and Ali of Woodenbox are both keeping it solo in their support slots.

Paper Planes, Peter Parker, Symbolics
Thursday @ Pollokshields Burgh Hall / 8pm / £3
Lucky Number Nine and Say Dirty records team up for a Christmas piss-up in the southside - with UtR-loved Paper Planes and added DJ action from Chris 'Beans' Geddes and Andrew 'Divine' Symington.

Panda Su, Kid Canaveral, The Darien Venture, Tokyo Knife Attack
Thursday @ 13th Note / 9pm / £tbc
Those Glasgow PodcART chaps have good taste, eh? And not just because it's similar to ours. Proceeds from this festive frenzy go to the Yorkhill hospital Christmas fund - which should give you a warm seasonal glow.

Big Ned, Nacional, Black Jash, If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now
Friday @ Captain's Rest / 8pm / £1
"Doom'n'roll" Stooges-esque topless cowboy fun from Big Ned, for the Green Door studios birthday bash.

Words: Craig Dickson, Elaine Liddle

What have we missed? Tell us below, or add it to our gig guide by emailing utr.scotsman@gmail.com

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Under the Radar podcast #6

Podcast #6Christmas. It might be chilly outside but it's hardly the coolest time of the year is it? We over-indulge in party snacks, strange, once-yearly liqueurs (eggnog?!) and belt-busting meals, before battening down the hatches on our little cocoons of reliable family customs, TV drowse-athons and enough lighting effects to melt Greenland. In short, the carving knife is all that's cutting edge about Yule-tide.

So it pleases us at UtR to know that the young hipsters and hipstresses of the Scottish music scene are equally predictable at this time of the year. Don't believe us?

Well, Billy caught up with a quintet of his favourite music makers for some festive banter, and was treated along the way to a poorly executed version of The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping, a shameless plug for Terry's Chocolate Orange and the earth-shatteringly weird coincidence that two separate musos both long for one of those tiny screwdriver sets in their Christmas cracker.

Panda Su, French Wives, Conquering Animal Sound, Dead Boy Robotics and Cancel the Astronauts... we're looking at you.

We also asked a few more of our favourite acts of 2009 to contribute either Christmas-themed - or just plain new - songs, and eagleowl, The Last Battle, There Will Be Fireworks and Tokyo Knife Attack duly obliged.

Again, the sound quality isn't perfect, but rest assured that top of our list for Santa this year is some professional recording gear. Hope you enjoy it anyway...

Play: Podcast #6


Running order:
00:54: There Will Be Fireworks: In Excelius Deo
07:10: Interview: Panda Su
10:32: Panda Su - Eric Is Dead
15:44: Tokyo Knife Attack - Invisible Sister
20:15: Interview: French Wives
23:30: French Wives - Me vs Me
28:04: eagleowl - Sleep the Winter
34:09: Interview: Conquering Animal Sound
37:48: Conquering Animal Sound - Where The Wild Things Are
42:22: Interview: Dead Boy Robotics
44:31: Death Ohh Eff - Me and Fift (Dead Boy Robotics remix)
48:22: The Last Battle - Once Upon A Boxing Day
54:14: Interview: Cancel The Astronauts
57:27: Cancel the Astronauts - Funny For A Girl


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Podcast: Billy Hamilton, Nick Mitchell

Previous UtR podcasts

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Editorial: The sound of 2010?

UKThanks to the BBC Sound of 2010 poll, Stornoway is now on the musical map. Well the Oxford band is, not the Hebridean town.

And that's about as Scottish as the record industry in 2010 is going to get, if you believe the BBC's 'tastemakers'.

In case you haven't yet heard, this is the list of names and locations of the artists who will be soundtracking next year:

Daisy Dares You - London
Delphic - Manchester
Devlin - Essex
The Drums - New York
Everything Everything - Manchester
Giggs - London
Gold Panda - London
Ellie Goulding - Powys, Wales
Hurts - Manchester
Joy Orbison - Croydon
Marina And The Diamonds - London
Owl City - Minnesota
Rox - London
Stornoway - Oxford
Two Door Cinema Club - Northern Ireland

The main criteria for the annual predictor game, which always ladles each act with a generous helping of hype, is that the artists tipped must not have had a top 20 single or album before mid-November.

Now we're not implying that any of the acts we've featured in the past year should necessarily have been included, because potential unit-shifting is not one of the criteria we adopt at UtR. But there are Scottish acts who could potentially make a commercial breakthrough but are conspicuous by their absence. Unicorn Kid, Broken Records or Young Fathers, to name a few.

If this sounds eerily familiar, then you may remember our last editorial debate, 'Does thinking local mean staying local?', where we lamented the flat-out rejection of four of Scotland's most exciting bands by a London-based music editor.

Disheateningly, the massed ranks of the music media appear to be resolutely stationed down south, and from 136 pundits, the BBC hasn't enlisted the help of anyone in the Scottish scene. If a music supervisor for Hollyoaks is deemed an expert, then where are the Scottish radio DJs, magazine editors, critics and label scouts?

We don't want to come across as bitter, Saltire-waving nationalists, but surely our native music makers deserve better recognition than they're currently receiving on a UK-wide level.

What do you think?
Is the BBC poll a good representation of cutting edge music, or is it unfairly weighted towards London?

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Monday, 7 December 2009

On the radar: The Darien Venture

The Darien Venture

The Darien Venture: Television Was Called Books


Rising from the ashes of several different bands and fuelled by a string of mutual friendships, the resulting Ayrshire quartet, The Darien Venture, are a considerably more airtight unit.

Boasting rich experimentation and spectacular harmonies, the all singing (some dancing) line-up of Dave Martin, Liam Rutherford, Kyle Shields and Jonny Beveridge are currently carving out a name for themselves in what has long been a cluttered Glasgow scene.

"Myself, Jonny (drums) and Liam (guitar) all lived together for four years while we were at university in Ayr," says bass player Kyle Shields of the band's formation. "Dave (guitar/vocals) and I played in a band together for a while called Fragile, and when the band split we decided to form The Darien Venture with Liam and our friend Marco. Marco has since left and Jonny was his replacement."

Mixing blistering drum-work with intricate guitar interplay and an acute pop sensibility, The Darien Venture create an immensely layered soundscape that offers a rewarding listen far beyond the realm of conventional and formulaic rock dross - lyrically, drawing on everything from post break-up catharsis to the fragility of youth to pirates (no, seriously).

"Dave (guitar/vocals) usually comes to us with something from his book of magic, and we tell him what we think works well!" jokes Shields.

To slap a big dirty label on it would no doubt sell the band short. Their sound borrows as much from Reuben, Nirvana and Jimmy Eat World as it does Michael Jackson, Rush and every good 1980s movie ever made.

"Its a bit of a mixed bag" says Shields. "We're all into pretty different styles of music, but there are some bands we're all really into. I would say we get the heavy grooves from bands like Isis and Tool, the harmony and melody from the Beach Boys and Weezer and the raw energy of stuff like At The Drive-In."

The Darien Venture: 1.21 Gigawatts


Their progress, though initially hindered by an unintentional spate of line-up changes, has been given a jump start this year. Several live stints across Scotland and the release of a well-received split release with neighbours, Trapped In Kansas, has gained the band increasing support from local crowds, as well as attracting positive critical attention and even some airplay in the process.

As they continue to put the finishing touches on a second EP with further plans to tour in the pipeline, The 'Venture appear to be making the most of this, now solid, ground. "Just now, we're having an awesome time playing gigs and getting to meet the people that come to the shows as well as other bands." says Shields. "As long as that continues and we get to travel some more we'll be pleased."

What exactly lies ahead remains to be seen, but as their confidence and fan-base continues to flourish, theirs - however odd - is a name to remember.

Words: Ryan Drever

See The Darien Venture live at the Glasgow Podcart Xmas Party, The 13th Note, Glasgow on 17 Dec.

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Friday, 4 December 2009

Radar recommends: 5 - 11 Dec

eagleowl
[eagleowl: swopping down on The Bowery on Friday]

We edge ever closer to Christmas party season this week. But if you want to purge all thoughts of 70s glam rockers with mirrored hats and 80s woolly jumpered, mullet-headed warblers for the time being, you may want to head down to one of the following recommended gigs...

Aberdeen
Steve Earle
Tuesday @ Music Hall / 7.30pm / £22.50
The bearded US singer-songwriter and spiritual counsellor from The Wire tours his latest album, Townes.
Also playing Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on Sunday and The Ironworks, Inverness on Thursday

Edinburgh
Sebastian Dangerfield, Washington Irving, We Were Promised Jetpacks (solo)
Saturday @ The Bowery / 7.30pm / £5
Edinburgh indie quartet with support from recent blog stars Washington Irving and Adam from the Jetpacks.

The Last Battle
Saturday @ Carters Bar / 9.30pm / Free
The Edinburgh band launch their Christmas single, Once Upon a Boxing Day.

Schwervon!, Withered Hand, The Pineapple Chunks, Les Enfant Bastard
Saturday @ Henry's Cellar Bar / 7pm / £5
The cream of New York anti-folk is joined by the cream of Edinburgh anti-folk for this intimate night of, er, anti-folk.

Tubelord, Trapped in Kansas
Monday @ Sneaky Pete's / 7pm / £6
Tubelord trade in high voltage fight-pop, while Trapped in Kansas are quite simply one of our favourite new bands of the year.

Deerhoof
Tuesday @ The Bongo Club / 7pm / £12.50
Change of venue, which means now you'll be able to get even closer to the deranged noise emanating from the San Fran band's amps.

Benni Hemm Hemm, Alasdair Roberts, Wounded Knee
Wednesday @ St Mark's Unitarian Church / 7.30pm / Donation
Icelandic troubadour Mr Hemm Hemm leads the musical prayers at this unusual church gig, with excellent support/collaborations.

Broken Records
Wednesday @ Cabaret Voltaire / 7pm / £7
Everyone's favourite Edinburgh-based klezmer-tinged seven-piece play their own homecoming (with a small 'h') show.

The Mars Volta
Wednesday @ HMV Picture House / 7pm / £17.50
You can excuse the odd ten-minute guitar freakout if Cedric Bixler-Zavala still manages to do a handstand while bending his versatile vocals around their bizarre subject matter.

The Banana Sessions, Small Feet Little Toes, Freemore
Thursday @ The Bowery / 7pm / £5
We first encountered The Banana Sessions playing covers on the Glasgow-Edinburgh train one night. Now they're playing proper shows and they shouldn't be missed.

**UtR's gig of the week**
eagleowl, Withered Hand, Jill O'Sullivan
Friday @ The Bowery / 7.30pm / £5
The much admired Edinburgh collective eagleowl launch their kinda-Christmas-kinda-not single Sleep the Winter. Read our interview with Bart Owl a bit further down the page.

Glasgow
Vic Godard and the Subway Sect, The Sexual Objects
Saturday @ Stereo / 8pm / £10
Punk pioneer Vic (he was supporting The Clash in '77) celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Creeping Bent label at this Sounds in the Suburbs night.

Brother Louis Collective
Sunday @ Bloc / 8pm / Free
UtR-tipped six-piece with heart-felt, sweet folky numbers are at Bloc tonight.

Sunn 0)))
Sunday @ Stereo / 7.30pm / £15
Every bearded-chin-stroking muso-boy in Glasgow will be having their very cores vibrated by the US doom merchants with their grimm robes and reaaalllyyy loooonnng, REALLY LOUD notes.

The Gothenburg Address, Loss Leader, The Bucky Rage, Aidan Moffat (DJ set)
Monday @ Mono / 8pm / £5
Band who include sometime Arab Strap and Zephyrs members and make beautiful shoegazy-style instrumental tunes launch their debut album with help from one-man gloom extravaganza Loss Leader.

Ensemble Thing
Wednesday @ 13th Note Cafe / 9pm / £4
Lots of talented folk from a bunch of other Glasgow bands/orchestras get together and make lovely, “post minimalist” music.

Malcolm Middleton's Long Dark Night
Thursday @ Oran Mor / 7pm / £14.50
Get your festive celebrations off to a cheery start with Mr Middleton's intimate show of wintry acoustic songs “about love, hate, death and other stuff”, plus a solo support slot from his former Arab Strap bandmate.

Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers
Thursday @ King Tuts / 7.30pm / FREE
Woodenbox do a sneaky wee acoustic gig in the bar at King Tuts – and won't even make a dent in your Christmas present fund... unless you want to partake in the accompanying supper.

Nuts and Seeds: Box Elders, Goldern Grrrls, Mazes, Water Wolves
Thursday @ CCA / 8.30pm / £4
A transatlantic mix of bands as Nebraska brothers Clayton and Jeremiah McIntyre head up this Nuts and Seeds night along with experimental noisy Glasgow trio Golden Grrrls.

Any Color Black, Less Than Sober
Friday @ Stereo / 7pm / £6
I'll forgive that whole 'American spelling thing of coloUr' thing because this fun electro-rock duo make me want to dance.

Edwyn Collins, 1990s, The Low Miffs
Friday @ ABC / 7pm / £18
The Orange Juice man has made a significant return from illness in the past two years so fans shouldn't miss this rare show – along with two bands indebted to the Postcard records legacy.

Words: Elaine Liddle, Nick Mitchell

What have we missed? Tell us below, or add it to our gig guide by emailing utr.scotsman@gmail.com

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Thursday, 3 December 2009

On the radar: Louise McVey and Cracks in the Concrete

Louise McVey and Cracks in the Concrete

Play: Night


The first time I heard Louise McVey’s rich, gothic voice, like crushed purple velvet and poisoned honey, I was spellbound. Dressed like some kind of burlesque Victorian governess with her prim hair and wide sleeves, and with Cracks in the Concrete’s spine-tingling accompaniment providing the perfect backdrop, the 13th Note’s stuffy basement felt almost enchanted. Not for nothing has the act been compared more than once to the perfect soundtrack for a David Lynch movie.

Named after a line in a Frank Black song, Cracks in the Concrete was originally the solo project of Graeme Miller and set up to cover collaborations with other writers and musicians. He teamed up with singer McVey, recently returned to her native Scotland, to play a short-notice set at the Dunstaffnage Festival last year but soon discovered a shared creative vision and love of dark tunes.

“We haven’t been able to get rid of each other since,” McVey jokes. Joined by Gordon Macpherson on drums, Jimmy O’Donnell on piano and Garry Freckleton on bass guitar, they now perform as part of a 5-piece band.

“We don’t want to give the listener too much of an easy ride,” McVey says of the collaboration. “At the same time though, we are interested in meeting them through expression – a sort of melodic and musical contradiction.”

This involves everything from changing time signatures, unorthodox use of instruments, FM radio looping and a live show involving the band’s “spirit guides”. The result “suggests an underlying foreboding or unease,” says McVey of the band’s combination of melody, expressive dynamics and dark, unsettling lyrics.

Play: Ode


As if to prove their offbeat nature, McVey and Miller list their influences as “creaky old horror movies, dusty old books, sleep deprivation, the wind…” and such artists and authors as Arvo Part, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Mervyn Peake, The Birthday Party, Haruki Murakami, Erik Satie, Serge Gainsbourg, Thomas Hardy, The Cramps and MC5. But they are also big fans of their hometown scene: “It’s a very supportive and encouraging environment for bands to develop,” says McVey.

Optimo Music release Louise McVey and Cracks in the Concrete’s debut self-titled EP digitally in early December and on 10” in late January. Catch them live at Glasgow’s Captain’s Rest on 28 December.

Words: Lisa-Marie Ferla

Hear more on their joint MySpace page

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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

It's a new Errors album and it's not like whatever

ErrorsGlaswegian electro boffins Errors - who we tipped as future Mercury Music Prize winners earlier this year (place your bets now) - have announced details of their second album.

It's still unclear whether the title's a pun on the popular TV cook-off, but Come Down With Me will be released on 15 February through Mogwai's Rock Action label.

The follow-up to their debut, It's Not Something But It Is Like Whatever, the album was produced by the band themselves in their self-built (and supposedly baltic) studio, with additional help from Steve Ward.

Come Down With Me will be preceded by a single, 'A Rumour In Africa', on 25 January, and the band will head out on a UK tour with Scottish dates at The Grand Ol Opry, Glasgow on 25 Feb and The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen on 26 Feb.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Feeling festive yet?

Under the Radar ChristmasIs the first day of December a legitimate point to start looking forward to Christmas? Not that we have much choice in the matter, thanks to the incessant carol-soundtracked adverts that elbow in between TV shows from mid-October and the twinkly displays that festoon every shop window.

But we're no Ebenezer Scrooges here at UtR, and, despite the widely bemoaned stranglehold that The X Factor currently has over the once competitive Christmas chart battle (or perhaps because of it), it seems that independent bands and artists are also getting into the spirit of the season.

Already, we know of two up and coming Scottish bands with their own Christmas songs freshly pressed: There Will Be Fireworks (see Radar Recommends below for gig info) have just this week recorded a typically uplifting, Latin-titled effort called In Excelis Deo, while relatively new Edinburgh band The Last Battle are set to release their own more reflective lament, Once Upon A Boxing Day, next Monday.

Expect to hear both on our Christmas podcast coming soon, as well as a host of other select tuneage.

Have you heard of any other alternative Scottish Christmas songs? Leave your suggestions below.

From next week we'll be looking back on the year that was 2009 with our writers' choices of the best bands and gigs, some guest bloggers and plenty more besides. But before that, we'd like to know how the year was for you...

What was your favourite gig?
Which UtR-featured act did you enjoy most? (hint: see the full list on the right)

P.S. Tickets for the ever popular Fence Homegame went on sale today. It's not until March but it always sells out fast. More info here.

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