Wednesday, 24 March 2010

On the radar: Silver Columns

Silver Columns

Silver Columns - Cavalier

Scotland’s burgeoning musical future has two crucial components: the talented emerging artists, and the forward-thinking independent record labels which nurture them. The Pictish Trail, rigorously maintained pseudonym of entrepreneurial Fifer Johnny Lynch, is of that rare breed who can claim to have a foot in both camps.

In his capacity as musician, Lynch now also comprises one half of electronic duo Silver Columns, who attracted early attention late last year thanks to their anonymity and a trickle of enigmatic tracks that whipped bloggers into a frenzy of excitable speculation.

Meanwhile, along with fellow alibi enthusiast King Creosote, Lynch helps manage the much-loved Fence Records, coordinators of the recent Homegame festival (where Silver Columns made a triumphant live debut) and champions of the likes of UtR favourites Withered Hand, eagleowl and Meursault.

“When I joined Fence Records full time, in 2003, my main objective was to promote my own music,” says Lynch, when asked about the relationship between label boss and musician. “Each member of the Collective has their own solo project, and their respective success is entirely dependent on how much effort they, as individuals, put into it.”

Early glimpses into Silver Columns’ repertoire are indicative of such an effort. Pulsating space organs and breathy call-and-response vocals, respectively recalling the Klaxons and Talking Heads, characterise new single ‘Cavalier’, while the deliciously over-produced drum rolls that feature prominently on acclaimed debut cut ‘Brow Beaten’ are reminiscent of early arcade racing games.

Although Lynch's other unmasked band mate Adem is “a massive fan of the mid/late nineties UK garage sound”, the duo’s inspiration derives largely from sources closer to home: “I’d say our music has been informed by the music our friends make," says Lynch. "That’s always a predominant influence on any musician whether they care to admit it or not.”

Beyond the fraternity of the Fence Collective, Silver Columns certainly have the connections to expand outside the Scottish perimeter that can often smother domestic talent: “Down in London we’ve a network of friends – Caribou, Hot Chip, Four Tet, The Memory Band – who have been supportive of our music.”

We’ll have to wait until the release of their first album Yes, and Dance in May to see if Silver Columns can fulfil their early promise and join the ranks of such esteemed company. But the odds are getting shorter by the day.

Words: Dan Moss

‘Yes, and Dance’ is released on the Moshi Moshi label on 24 May. The first track, ‘Cavalier’, is available to buy from 19 Apr.

To date, all upcoming Silver Columns shows are in London. Check their MySpace for details.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On the radar: Song of Return

Song of ReturnSigning a record deal isn't always the surefire gateway to success it might seem.

When things are going well the label are your best friends, offering to buy you sweets and take you to the cinema, and when things are less than rosy they drop you for the cool kid who just moved in around the corner.

The excellent and now defunct Glasgow electro outfit Union of Knives know only too well the fickle nature of the band-label relationship.

“We were doing okay I guess,” explains singer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Grant. “Over in LA land recording with a big shot producer. Then when we came back to Scotland, the label were concerned about the lack of ‘sure fire number one hit singles’. So they asked us to write some more demos with a view to going back to LA to finish them. Whilst all this was happening, they were losing money so they decided they couldn't send us back over to finish the tracks and also that they wanted to drop us.”

Song of Return - Shackles

After taking roughly a year out Grant decided it was time to make music again:

“I was bored out of my senses having not played live in ages so decided I wanted to get a band together to make all this new music happen live. The new stuff we had been recording had the feel of a different band anyway and as we had lost a few members to babies and weddings etc, we decided to form a brand new band.”

And so Song of Return was born. The outfit is split in two, with Grant and his ex Union of Knives bandmate Chris Gordon writing the music and the live band, which includes members of Admiral Fallow (formerly Brother Louis Collective), and Take a Worm for a Walk Week.

The new songs have an unsettlingly dark sound, complimented by the light vocal tone and falsetto harmonies Grant and Gordon sing over them. If you liked Union of Knives you won't be disappointed by Song of Return: moody, intense electro with ethereal male vocals.

Song of Return - Risk And Writhing

One thing is still up for debate though:

"I should probably say that we might change the name of the band from 'Song of Return' to something else in the next few months," Grant explains. “We're not quite sure what to yet, so sorry in advance for the mix up!”

So, go along to one of the gigs and give a warm welcome to Song of Return, or rather, [insert new band name here].

Words: Aimi Gold

Catch Song of Return live at The Mill, Oran Mor, Glasgow on 25 Mar, and at their official launch at Stereo, Glasgow on 8 May.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

On the radar: The Last Battle

The Last Battle

The Last Battle - Oh Best Beloved

Despite being best described as low key nu-folk loveliness, in terms of band inter-relationships The Last Battle are more akin to Swedish megastars ABBA.

The multi-instrumental Edinburgh six-piece (or septet, as they sometimes are live) only played their first gig in October, but have already earned gushing praise from several corners, including UtR regular Bart Owl.

“We started with the idea that if we could get a thumbs up from the bands we respected and admired, then we’d be doing something right,” says frontman Scott Longmuir. “So when Bart from eagleowl approached us and said he loved what we were doing that was a wee goal scored! We’ve now got him playing on one of our album tracks, which we’re pretty chuffed about.”

Longmuir, along with bassist Paul Barrett, had been part of an art-rock band which they were becoming “increasingly frustrated and bored with” until the middle of last year, and it was from the ashes of that partnership that the genesis of The Last Battle emerged.

“The songs I’d been writing of late were a bit folky and seemed to have a lot of scope for adding more instruments to them,” Longmuir explains. “So I started going round to Paul’s with the new songs and we’d demo them in his front room using an old drum machine and a 12-track, purely to see if we could enjoy making music again.”

And the ABBA connection? “We decided if we were going to do the band thing again, we’d include the people closest to us – take them along with us,” says Longmuir. The rest of the band consists of Barrett’s other half (Flora McKay) on cello, Longmuir’s (Ella Duncan) on glockenspiel and melodica, her sister Arwen on joint vocals and “an old school friend [Liam O’Hare] gently stroking a snare drum”. Live, the band are often joined by Barrett’s flatmate Stephen Kerr on electric guitar.

Despite the name’s military connotations, the band are named after one of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. “I was getting sick of trying to come up with a band name as all mine were crap, so I left it to someone else,” says Longmuir. “One day Paul sent me a text simply saying ‘The Last Battle’ – taken from the book he was reading – so we just went with that.

“We hear a lot of amusing stories that some people expect us to be some sort of up-for-it punk band. We’re about as up for it as a packet of digestive biscuits.”

The Last Battle - Any Ocean

Musically, the band’s influences avoid up-for-it punk in favour of more melodic acts like Malcolm Middleton, Arcade Fire, Emmylou Harris, Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes, with a dash of traditional folk. “Non-musical influences would have to be Leith itself,” Longmuir adds. “There’s something very inspiring about the place, especially down by the shore.

“There’s a lot of very talented musicians down here too, like Hailey Beavis, some of Meursault, Kays Lavelle, eagleowl, Alan Oates and Unicorn Kid – who’s just signed to Ministry of Sound. There’s definitely something in the water… of Leith.”

But it’s not just the locals who impress Longmuir. “The Scottish scene is really strong right now – I’m really into Remember Remember and French Wives... Of the newer bands we’ve played with from Edinburgh, for me, Conquering Animal Sound, are the ones who’ve impressed me the most.

“Frustratingly, outside Scotland all of this seems to fall on deaf ears which really riles me,” he adds. “It got to the point that I actually wrote a couple of silly letters to the NME about the lack of Scottish bands they featured, and to my surprise they printed them. Now, if only they’d actually write something about the bands other than patronizingly print my futile letters…”

The Last Battle are currently putting the finishing touches to their first album, Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea. “It’s a loosely themed concept album about two entirely different people that fall in love knowing it’s doomed from the start,” says Longmuir. “We’re chatting with a few labels just now about putting it out at some point this year too, which should be around June.

“Some of our newer songs are veering away from the more traditional songwriting style,” he adds. “We’ve been messing around with the old drum machine again that started this all off, putting it through guitar pedals and generally upsetting the girls, which is not recommended.”

Words: Lisa-Marie Ferla

Catch The Last Battle live at the following dates, and check their MySpace for more shows:

12 Mar: This is Music @ Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
27 Mar: Trampoline 3rd Birthday @ Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh
31 Mar: Maggie's Chamber (top of 3 Sisters, Edinburgh)
18 Apr: Carter's Bar, Morrison St, Edinburgh

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

On the radar: Burnt Island

Burnt Island

Burnt Island - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Burnt Island - Music and Maths

Burnt Island are a Glasgow indie darling's dream band. From working with the Chemikal Underground label to forthcoming support from Aidan Moffat, they've checked enough cool points to chill every rum and coke poured in Sleazy's on a Friday night.

Luckily for them, and us, there's substance and musical merit there too.

While their sound has shades of The Delgados or even wistful Americans Midlake, it's the songwriting that sets them apart, no doubt aided by the fact that they're fronted by novelist-cum- guitarist Rodge Glass.

"The band started out from when I did a song with Vashti Bunyan called 'The Fire' on Ballads of the Book, an album put out by Chemikal Underground a couple of years ago", he explains. "I am mostly known as a writer and Vashti used one of my poems as the lyrics for the song, but when she invited me to play guitar and do some harmonies on the song I really enjoyed the experience and wanted to put a quiet band together."

The music is as understated as their sleepy seaside namesake (think soft plucky guitars, delicate flute licks and demure viola), creating a perfect backdrop for Glass's engaging lyrics and warm vocal tone.

Unsurprisingly, Glass's literary background is key to the way the songs take shape and helps explain why Burnt Island make the ideal accompaniment to a Sunday afternoon curled up with a good book. He cites poetic predecessors Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Bill Callahan as influences, as well as brooding indie-rock outfit The National.

"The core of our songs are the lyrics, and we build everything outwards from there. So that affects the arrangement, the harmonies, the instruments chosen for each song - everything," Glass says. "I like the songs to be ambiguous enough for listeners to have some gaps to fill in for themselves, but rich enough in imagery to have something worth listening carefully to."

To mark the release of their mini-album Music and Maths on the 15th of March, the band are set to take off on a mini-tour beginning on the 7th at Mono.

"After the launch we're doing an acoustic set at Glasgow's Book Festival the night before and playing with Emma Pollock and Josh Pyke at Tut's on March 19th. Then there's a couple of dates in Edinburgh shortly after, one at the Roxy Art House with Kays Lavelle, Alan Bissett and Adam Stafford.

"Does that count as a world tour?" Glass asks.

"Not quite," we reply. But here's hoping the Burnt Islanders catch fire outside Scotland soon.

Words: Aimi Gold

Watch Burnt Island live at the following dates:

6 March: Aye Write Festival (Gutter Showcase) @ Mitchell Library, Glasgow (Rodge solo)
7 March: Album launch at Mono, Glasgow (with Aidan Moffat, the Second Hand Marching Band and Benni Hemm Hemm)
19 March: King Tut's, Glasgow (supporting Emma Pollock)
24 March: The Forest Café, Edinburgh
26 March: Roxy Art House, Edinburgh (with Alan Bissett, Adam Stafford and The Kays Lavelle)

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Thursday, 25 February 2010

On the radar: Stanley Odd

Stanley Odd

Stanley Odd - Think of a Number

In name alone, there's something brilliantly Dickensian about genre melting sextet Stanley Odd.

But the band could have just as easily been dragged from the imagination of Stanley Kubrick rather than Dickens, with the likes of Solareye (vocals), Rune Dog (guitar) and T Lo (keyboards) representing them on stage, where they deliver a thrilling blend of hip hop, indie and funk.

As late guests on the Waverley Stage at the Hogmanay Street Party, the Edinburgh troupe quite literally had a fantastic start to 2010.

Set to release their second single, ‘Think of a Number’, in March on Circular Records, the follow-up to debut ‘The Numbness’, the group’s blatant disregard for conformity rings loud and true.

Hailing from a diverse musical background, Stanley Odd’s ace card is Airdrie frontman Solareye’s powerful Scottish flow, which contrasts perfectly with fellow band-mate Veronika’s milky tone.

Solareye is emphatically in favour of an eclectic approach to the group’s sound: “It's a good thing, I think, because hip hop has always borrowed whatever it liked from all other genres of music and used it to make something new," he says. "This is just like the sampling ethic of classic hip hop only in a live band."

Mainstream coverage on Radio 1 and XFM has blossomed from support by “a bunch of local, underground and internet radio stations,” explains Solareye. “We’re really looking forward to getting out and gigging this year.”

Making these kinds of waves, 2010 could well be the year to catapult Stanley Odd to the forefront of Scotland's music scene.

Words: Dan Moss

Stanley Odd play The Mill @ Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on 4 March, and King Tut's, Glasgow (supporting Killa Kela) on 8 March.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

On the radar: Miaoux Miaoux

Miaoux Miaoux

Miaoux Miaoux - Dream On

Miaoux Miaoux - Snow

At the end of our Django Django interview last month we offered some priceless advice to new bands: name yourself twice. And although we can't claim credit for the latest double-barreled music maestro, perhaps it shows there's something in this ludicrous theory after all.

Because Miaoux Miaoux, the nametag for Julian Corrie's creative endeavours, is gaining admirers at a rate roughly twice as fast as could normally be expected (by my estimates).

But Corrie, it seems, had less careerist intentions in his choice of name: "When I thought of the name Miaoux Miaoux it was kind of a catch-all phrase for 'anything that I write with no specific purpose' - offcuts, ideas, beats - but it's definitely taken on its own identity. Plus it's the noise that French cats make, and I like cats!"

Indulging in a boundary-crushing mélange of electronica and post-rock sounds which he describes as "tricky beats, harsh glitches and soft pulses", Miaoux Miaoux is enjoying a return to underground prominence after a couple of years on the sidelines. He recently played warm-up for Geoff "Portishead" Barrow's new band, Beak, at King Tut's, he remixed a song for Zoey Van Goey, and he has a new EP (called Blooms) on the way.

In case you missed him first time around, Miaoux Miaoux put out an album in 2007 called Rainbow Bubbles - although its timing wasn't exactly ideal for Corrie: "I had to leave Glasgow more or less the day after it was released, so didn't get much chance to promote it. People have said some very nice things though. Hopefully with the new EP coming out I can give it a better shot."

Unlike some of his glitchy contemporaries, Corrie, who also plays guitar in indie-pop outfit Maple Leaves (UtR profile), does not shy away from singing duties. "I've been listening to a lot of Apparat and Postal Service recently, and maybe because of that the new record has a lot of vocals on it," he says. "But then I'm a massive fan of Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed etc, and I think my stuff bridges the gap quite well. Oh, and decent dubstep, like Mount Kimbie and Appleblim."

And anyone planning to attend one of his live shows with visions of one-man-and-his-MacBook might have a surprise in store. "I was obsessed with doing an improvisational show for ages, where I go on stage with nothing prepared and program everything live, but it got very stressful and complicated," Corrie says. "Now I've got more song-based stuff it's me, an electric guitar, a synth and an MPC (Music Production Centre). I like to avoid using computers on stage if I can help it - I've been to a few electronica shows that look like a sales conference."

Miaoux Miaoux is the latest in a succession of electro-flavoured artists to set sparks flying in Scotland, and Corrie is upbeat about the current scene. "Scotland's always been amazing for music of all kinds, and electronic music is no exception - producers like Akira Kiteshi and Loops Haunt are doing completely mindblowing things on a regular basis, not to mention the LuckyMe guys. I guess it's that much smaller that you can build communities, and support one another a lot easier."

With his thoughts already turning to a second album, it looks like Miaoux Miaoux could soon rank in reputation alongside such mirror-image names as Django Django, Zombie Zombie, Liquid Liquid, and - dare I say it - Duran Duran.

Words: Nick Mitchell

You can see Miaoux Miaoux live TONIGHT (16 Feb), supporting Unicorn Kid at King Tut's.

The Blooms EP is released on 16 March with a launch party at The 13th Note. As well as a live set from Miaoux Miaoux, the night will feature Firebrand Boy and a DJ set from Errors.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

On the radar: Over The Wall

Over The Wall
[Picture: David Forcier]

Over The Wall - Settle Down

Over The Wall - Thurso

Once you’ve lived in Glasgow for a certain amount of time, you start to believe the place is bleeding bands.

Funny thing is, even though everyone suddenly seems to be in one, it still feels like you’ve heard them all before. Are you getting old? Or is the neverending conveyor belt of Pavement pastiches and Next Animal Collectives just getting tiresome?

If this is what you ask yourself, then don’t fret- it might be time to go Over The Wall.

Ben Hillman and Gavin Prentice are, by day, two friends who met eight years ago in student halls. By night, they create uplifting, playful pop injected with positivity and lyrical witticism - and they're being increasingly noted by those searching for something a little left of the local band norm.

Both members sing, milk beats from laptops and play a plethora of instruments, including guitar, keyboard, harmonica, stylophone and mandolin.

“Ben plays trumpet too - can't forget that as it's where a lot of the euphoria comes from,” Prentice says. “Off the back of our first EP a lot of people seemed to think that we were ‘folktronica’ but that label tends to mislead people. They get a wee surprise when they see us throwing shapes in our live show.”

Named after an Albion Rovers fanzine from the 80s, there's a decidedly vintage element to the Casio-littered duo. As Prentice tells it, their exact influences are difficult to pinpoint. “Ben and I first bonded over classic pop songwriting. Stuff like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, early Tom Waits and The Beatles were the things that brought us together.”

But Over The Wall sound like all and none of these artists, all at once. “We don't necessarily sound like that but that's because we were born in the 80s and live in Glasgow,” says Prentice. “You can hear where we're from.”

For Prentice, that place is Bathgate, these roots informing much of the lyrical content: “It was a big deal for me, growing up, to have a narrative as to why where I lived was like it was and that it was once different, and where it was going. If there's a common thread in our lyrics, it's anxiety over finding your place,” he says. “Basically, it's Thatcher's fault that I feel like I don't fit in anywhere!”

Still, humour is an important brick in the proverbial Wall, originally concocted out of necessity when numerous wires from keys and computers led to technical problems and horrendously long gaps during their early sets. “I suppose we just got used to having a chat,” Prentice says. Although the duo would balk at the idea of being pigeon-holed as some kind of novelty act, one of their main priorities is to provide entertainment: "We're not there to look cool."

Following positive critical response to EP The Rise and Fall of Over the Wall, packed out gigs in the central belt and appearances at a fistful of festivals, Prentice and Hillman are currently finishing their debut album, due out in May, with single 'Settle Down' poised for release on 5 April.

“I suppose this is the calm before the storm. Hopefully it'll be a storm, anyway,” Prentice ponders. With so many fans hungering for something different, and Over The Wall meticulously placing each beat and raucous chorus hook, it’s hard to see how the weather won’t get a good bit windier.

Words: Lauren Mayberry

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Thursday, 4 February 2010

On the radar: Divorce

DivorceFor the last half-century the numbers of married couples in Scotland separating has been on the increase. While the end of a marriage is not normally a cause for celebration, it can allow the partners a release to move on.

Similarly in the ascendant, but providing a release of a different kind (how's that for a link?), are Glaswegian five-piece Divorce.

With dates all over the UK under their belts since late 2008, they have earned a serious reputation for their blistering, cathartic live sets. In that time they have also released their debut EP to a warm reception from critics and fans alike, their ‘pop songs for burn victims’ finding many an appreciative ear.

Consisting of Hillary Van Scoy and Vickie McDonald on guitars, VSO on bass, Andy Browntown on drums and Sinead Youth on vocals, the band are currently putting the finishing touches to a couple of new releases for this year.

Although formed out of a frustration that there were precious few bands in Glasgow making a really filthy noise, nominated band spokesman Andy tells UtR there was no clear agenda in mind: “All we wanted to do was 'make a noise', not 'do a punk band' or 'do a metal band', if we had tried to make it that specific we probably would've sounded rubbish!”

Divorce - Early Christianity

Occupying territory between noise rock and no-wave (or 'nae wave', as they call it) with a nod to 80s punk, this is not music for the faint of heart. The tight rhythm section holds everything together while the guitars are manhandled into emitting all manner of pained shrieks. Over all this Sinead’s vocals are strident and angry with an underlying tunefulness.

Their debut self-titled 10” is out on Optimo Music in 2009, they have a split 7” with London art-noiseniks Comanechi coming out early this year on Merok Records, and they even have plans to go retro and release a split cassette with fellow Glaswegians and previous tourmates Ultimate Thrush later on. Why the antique format? “Cassettes are great, and it's gonna be fantastic to share one with probably our favourite band in Glasgow right now!”.

With a penchant for chaos and a love of inciting circle pits and human pyramids, Divorce must be witnessed in the flesh. Having notched up gigs with bands like Part Chimp, Deerhoof, HEALTH and Lovvers, they're keen to keep preaching their twisted gospel to everyone who’ll listen and will be taking their violent noise to as many new locales as possible. Having spent 2009 making friends and blowing minds, they plan to keep on doing just that in 2010.

Words: Craig Dickson

Divorce - Juice Of Youth

Divorce play The 13th Note, Glasgow on 13 Feb, Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh on 14 Feb and Glasgow School of Art at midnight on the same date.

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

On the radar: Incrediboy and the Forget-Me-Nots

Incrediboy and the Forget-Me-Nots

Incrediboy and the Forget-Me-Nots - Cinderella

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Glasgow's own musical superhero - Incrediboy, and his group of instrument-slinging sidekicks, The Forget-Me-Nots.

"The name came from a woman I saw singing one night in a tiny bar in Glasgow" explains Incrediboy himself - or rather his Clark Kent alter-ego, Christopher Pranks.

"She was singing a song about "indestructaboy" and I thought something better as a name would be incrediboy, and at that point I thought, 'I will be Incrediboy'."

One swift change in a phonebox later, the band which had been Remarkable Rocket and the Jealous Moon Band became Incrediboy and the Forget-Me-Nots.

Their adventures first began a couple of years ago when Christopher, then a frustrated bassist "sick of waiting for guitarists to start writing songs", learned to play guitar and bought an eight-track.

Influenced by Bright Eyes, Elliot Smith, and other such talented wordsmiths, he began writing and recording dreamy, wistful folk pop in his bedroom. "I've always had more of a kinship with words rather than music, and these artist have such an unbelievable grasp of language," Christopher says. "Elliot Smith, in my eyes, is the best musician of our generation. To me he's all four Beatles in one body."

The band is now happily heading in a slightly different direction - with more input from the other members.

"Writing songs is much more of a collaborative experience these days", Christopher says. "Normally I have something in my head for each instrument, but the others are normally on the same page and if not, then the parts they introduce are better than what I've devised.

"We've been described as a folk-pop band with post-rock tendencies before, and I think that's pretty accurate. Recently there's a lot more energy to the songs, they are much more upbeat."

Plans are in place to record an EP in February which Christopher promises will include "a new song, untitled at present but probably the best we've every written."

Incrediboy and the Forget-Me-Nots - Tender is the Night

Their next challenge will be to top their first ever gig - at the Carling Academy with French Wives. "It's yet to be surpassed", says Christopher. "The Wives are a fantastic band, and we've been friends since the start. The success they're enjoying is nothing more than deserved."

Meanwhile, if you've every fancied being a superhero, the band is still on the lookout for a second guitarist. Those without big red flashing telephones or giant searchlights can get in touch via

Words: Elaine Liddle

Incrediboy and the Forget-Me-Nots play the Captain's Rest on Friday (29 Jan) with Laura Healy and Digital Dinosaur, from 8pm.

What do you think of this comic book collective? Let us know below...

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

On the radar: Django Django

Django Django

Django Django: Love's Dart

Even in our digitised world there hasn't been much in the way of biographical backstory to be gleaned by typing Django Django into your search engine of choice, save for an art-filled MySpace page, a stated admiration of Joe Meek and a loose Scottish connection. It would seem 'the band so good they named themselves twice' prefer to lay low.

But when I get in touch with drummer Dave MacLean to try and find out more about this elusive quartet I learn that he can physically do little else right now. "2010 is off to false start because I've been in bed the whole year so far with swine flu! But when I get back to London it's going to be very busy."

Like countless bands before them, three quarters of Django Django met at art school - in Edinburgh, to be precise - but it wasn't until they hit the Big Smoke that it started happening for them as a band.

"Edinburgh was great, it's a great city to be a student in," says Dave (who also goes by the DJ moniker Hugo Paris. "I always knew we would do the band thing properly but it took us years to get round to it. Somehow we all ended up moving to London for different reasons and the band gradually came together, starting off with Vinnie [Neff] and myself recording songs in my flat after work. We brought in Tommy [Grace] and Jim [Dixon] to go live and become a real band."

Together, the four sound like what might happen if you took the seeds of pop music to another planet and let them grow independently for a decade or two. That's not to make the grandiloquent claim that it's like nothing else ever recorded; rather that it's wide-ranging, not a little skewed, and mostly ignorant of current trends or fads.

Django Django: Storm

Take 'Storm', for instance. There's a hint of Spector Sound about the insistent, pitched drumbeat, a touch of 60s yé-yé in the jazzy guitars and a smidgen of the Beta Band's nonchalant croon in the vocals. Or 'Love's Dart', with its burnt wood guitar riff and clip-clop coconut rhythm, like the soundtrack to the weirdest western you've (n)ever seen. Or there's the thumping remix ('re-version' would be a better word) of Clock Opera's 'White Noise'.

But being hard to define, to sum up, is surely a good thing for a musician? "Yes I suppose it is," Dave says. "Again it's not something we've contrived, it's just that we're into loads of different styles of music so we draw influences from a pretty eclectic range of stuff. That tends to mean that each song sounds a bit different from the last but for us that's the fun of making music... seeing what you come up with next without worrying if it sounds like this or that."

Django Django

Neither do they fret much about their identity, but despite the fact that they're now embedded in the east London scene, they still feel the pull of home. "My family are in Fife and Tommy's are in Edinburgh so we come back pretty regularly," Dave says. "London is great but for me and Tommy Scotland is our home and we'll end up back here. We've only done a couple of gigs north of the border but we're back up in March to play the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh and Fence Homegame in Fife so we're looking forward to that."

First on Dave's to-do list for 2010 is shaking off his swine flu affliction, but looking farther ahead, he sees a busy agenda looming on the horizon. "First we're mastering the next single 'Wor' and getting that out," he says. "At the same time an American release of our first single is due out, then lots of gigs... we're off to SXSW which is great. Then when we're back we'll be concentrating on finishing the album. We also have some exciting remix projects on the go so we'll have to somehow find time for that... so it's shaping up to be a pretty busy year for us."

With the chatter about this eccentric act growing steadily, you might stumble across the words Django Django more and more. New bands take note: name yourself twice, and double the hype.

Words: Nick Mitchell

Django Django play the Fence Homegame and the Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh on 13 March.

Django Django: Skies Over Cairo

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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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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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Monday, 30 November 2009

On the radar: Stanley


Play: Flowers

Imagine, if you can, that you'd broken up with your partner. At the time the separation made perfect sense. There’d be no more arguments, no more uncertainty and you’d get back to the carefree life of singledom.

But then, imagine (stay with us on this) that you realised you’d messed up. The light of day had shown that you’d run away from someone you were madly in love with.

Most of us would have walked the obligatory post-breakup road of getting drunk and sending a couple of weird, slightly unhinged, text messages, before ending up in the arms of someone we didn’t really want to be with.

But for Stephen Podlesney, the frontman of Aberdonian quintet Stanley, that wasn’t going to be good enough, so he wrote Flowers, a song of utter sincerity. As you listen to Podlesney promising to change and begging his lover to “please come home” you understand exactly what she means to him. Even the Littlest Hobo would have settled down.

The song is testament to five of the most proficient musicians on the Aberdeen scene. Named after comedian Stan Laurel, Stanley couple a love of slapstick comedy with serious ambition. Podlesney claims, with scant regard for modesty, that they have "the intelligence of The Divine Comedy, the creativity of Radiohead circa The Bends and the soaring vocal talents of Scott Walker.”

Play: Join Hands

With the mixture of orchestral backing tracks, guitars and vibraphones, the live show would be disastrous if it weren't for the tightness and dedication that comes from a band made up of music teachers and guitar salesmen.

Add the powerful, almost operatic quality of Podlesney’s voice and you have something that could very easily tip into a Mike Flower’s Pop tribute band. Thankfully, the sincerity of the music ensures it’s a sound that’s far removed from kitsch.

It seems with every gig Stanley become more original, more willing to let loose and discover their own sound more. With an album nearing completion, you can expect more gigs throughout Scotland soon.

Words: Andrew Learmonth

Play: Made for TV

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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

On the radar: Panda Su

Panda SuThe gift of the gab’s not a trait you’d readily associate with an Ailuropoda melanoleuca, otherwise known as the Great Panda. Lumbering and lonely, the animal’s monochromatic fur and moribund features cry out like a downtrodden mime who’s discovered surround sound.

This notion of the panda’s lip-closed solitude filters into UtR’s train of thought as we prepare to wax lyrical with Su Isabel Ferreira Shaw. After all, this is a girl who decorates her cranial canvas like an endangered Chinese mammal; a girl whose mew spills out like a gush of painstaking isolation; a girl who prefers to go by the alias Panda Su.

But despite our preconceptions, Shaw is not at all quarantined from conversation. In fact, we’re finding it rather difficult to get her to pause for breath.

“The biggest perk of the job, so to speak, is that I get to share a stage with bands that I really admire and that have had a big musical influence on me,” she exhales. “Three years ago I was writing fan mail to King Creosote and chasing around KT Tunstall asking her to sign her name on a piece of paper which I would then take home and frame. This year I played on the same bill as both of them at Homegame.

“That's an amazing achievement for me to be in a position where I get to play my music to people who are equally as excited about it as I am. And I get to do so whilst sharing the stage with bands and artists that I really like.”

Play: Eric is Dead

She may be dishing out doe-eyed homages, but the part Scot, part Portuguese songstress’s own star is quickly expanding into a sparkling constellation. Shaw’s craft of esoteric acoustica bedded under a charm-soaked intone has begun to lubricate the gullet of Scotland’s musical underbelly.

“I have a fairly unconventional approach to writing songs,” explains Shaw of her creative process. “I don't have an idea about what I want to write about, I sit down and words fall out my mouth onto the piece of paper in front of me. I don't choose them and it's not until after that I start to pull comparisons and find the relationship between what I'm singing about and how it actually relates to me.”

So what is it that makes Panda Su so special?

“Well, I spend about an hour before every gig locked in the venue toilet applying black and white paint to my face,” Shaw japes. “In terms of songs, I write about the same things as everyone else but I write about them in a less obvious way. You can take one of my songs, pull it apart and make it relate to you in any way you want, and the way it relates to you is probably completely different to the way in which it relates to me.”

She continues: “I don't write about concrete things in an obvious way because personally I find that really dull. When I listen to a piece of music I don't want to know what the singer is singing about because that strips out all the fun for me and makes it boring. “

Boring is one slight you could never fling at Shaw. Her sound veers from folksy canticle to chart-bopping ditty with schizophrenic regularity, marking Panda Su out as a cut above the vacuum-packed hoards of humdrum sonic tailchasers.

Yet for Shaw the future holds no thought of fame. “It's a real shame that people these days grow up wanting to be famous. Not successful or inspiring or influential, just famous - like it's a physical job that they can apply or attend an interview for,” she sighs. “I don't think people realise that doing music and trying to make a living out of it is quite challenging and requires some real hard work.

“From quite early on I decided that I wanted to do as much as I could myself. For my first release I did all the artwork myself, set up my own record label and put it out under that. I think it's more fun that way. It's a lot harder work, but ultimately, much more rewarding and definitely worth it.”

Play: Moviegoer

Those rewards are now being reaped. Shaw recently shared stages with Fence Collective luminary Kenny Anderson and the pristinely tuned Frightened Rabbit. For a girl who spent her formative years in a school band with members of The Seventeenth Century, this rise in fortune has been a long time coming.

“Back in those days getting through to the second round of our school's shitty little rock band competition felt like we'd just been asked to headline Glastonbury,” she regales. “Suddenly, it's not all about getting signed up to some major record label that's going to put you in a dress and stick you in front of a camera. There's been a real emphasis on DIY and I think that's a really positive thing.”

Words: Billy Hamilton

See Panda Su for yourself at the following shows:
29 Nov @ Westport, Dundee
4 Dec @ The Roxy Art House, Edinburgh
5 Dec @ Duke's Corner, Dundee
17 Dec @ 13th Note, Glasgow

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Sunday, 22 November 2009

On the radar: This Silent Forest

This Silent Forest

Play: Falter Discover

Play: I Have To

This Silent Forest is a three-headed beast*, producing music in a trio of ways: full band, acoustic and orchestral shows.

Headed by lead singer Graeme MacDonald, the five-piece, which includes MacDonalds' sister and Bronto Skylift drummer Iain Stewart, have been making music together since 2008.

“This Silent Forest came together through friends and other bands, a very organic birth,” MacDonald says. “The songs by themselves, just my voice and the acoustic, never sounded as full as they did inside my head, so I formed the band to get the sound I wanted. After a few changes in line-up we are now creating the sound I’m after.”

Simple song structures, along with lyrics that wouldn’t necessarily be filed under 'cryptic', mark This Silent Forest as a band that wears its heart on its sleeve. Folksy guitars and Celtic sounding vocals add to their allure, and it was this sound which helped earn them a place at The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, an event which pairs bands with a 15-piece orchestra at the Old Fruitmarket this week.

“I grew up on the classics of our generation, Queen, Runrig; rock ballads at their best, dad rock", MacDonald laughs. “My mum subjected me to classical music which was amazing, it’s where I get my love of melody I think and I’ve always wanted to play with an orchestra.”

Stepping up their rehearsal regime, the band hope their hard work will pay off with more exciting gigs next year. “I need to practice constantly just to keep up with my band," MacDonald says. "Everyone in the band knows we have to work, work, work to achieve anything; hard work is something that will hopefully make us and me stand out.

“We’ll be in the studio in the New Year recording and then playing shows around the country. We want to play in unusual places, with other great bands and of course we are looking towards the summer festivals.”

* Please note, for the purposes of the article three-headed beast means a band who play in different forms. Please also note, the beast is friendly.

Words: Aimi Gold

This Silent Forest play The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle Showcase at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow on 25 November.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On the radar: The Unwinding Hours

The Unwinding Hours
[Iain Cook and Craig B in their Aereogramme days]

Play: Knut

Most music fans in Scotland would agree that Aereogramme's end was premature. It was doubly so for me, as I had to leave their farewell gig at the QMU early to catch the last train home.

But their fans - especially the loyal ones who did stay and miss the train - will be buzzing at the news that after a lengthy hiatus two members of the triumphant post-rockers - singer Craig B and guitarist Iain Cook - are returning under the name The Unwinding Hours.

As if to tee up this semi-reformation, the Aereogramme song 'Barriers' soundtracked a recent TV advert, taking the cult Glasgow act to a wider audience than they ever had before. Better late than never?

Singer Craig B thinks it is: "I’m not sure if our record sales have grown at all but what I find interesting is how happy people are that we got used. I think anyone who knew Aereogramme thought we were somehow unlucky to not find success and so to get an advert is a great way for more people to hear what we did. I think the YouTube video has had 241,000 views and that is far more people than we ever played to in our nine-year career."

Far from ending in a blaze of bruised egos and creative differences, Aereogramme broke up after their final album, the presciently titled My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go, failed to haul them up to a higher rung of the ladder. So how does it feel to move on?

"I’m not sure about 'moving on' as such but the chance to work with Iain again after Aereogramme has been very enjoyable since our approach was incredibly relaxed," Craig says. "We weren’t aiming for a new band, we just started writing and it slowly developed into a full album."

As he suggests, the new project seems to have arisen naturally after the initial stock-taking period. "I didn’t pick up the guitar for nearly a year after we split up," Craig recalls. "I just felt I had nothing else to write but it slowly came back and so I started to record some demos at Iain’s studio with no clear aim in mind. We started to collaborate more and the songs started to develop but we were never in any rush to get back into another band so we just kept writing by ourselves."

Only two songs have appeared on The Unwinding Hours' MySpace so far - a demo of 'Solstice', and 'Knut', featured here - but already Craig's vocals are unmistakable, set against a backdrop of slow-building guitar and simple piano patterns. It's more progression than reinvention, as Craig confirms: "There were four people writing in Aereogramme so I’m sure there is a difference but the elements that Iain and I brought haven’t changed that much... I think."

Unlike other new bands, the duo's musical CV already runs to several pages, and their former label have confirmed they will release the debut album next year. "Chemikal Underground were supportive from the start," Craig says. "They always said they would be interested in anything we would do and we have had a great relationship with them for years. They just patiently waited on us finishing the album."

With experience also comes a dose of realism for Craig: "I spent years in Aereogramme feeling constantly frustrated at the lack of progress in comparison to the effort everyone was putting into the band. I really don’t want to go down that road again. I’m incredibly proud of this new album and I’m happy for it to find it’s audience whatever size that might be. Obviously I would love as many people as possible to hear it. We had no expectations when we started this and that has always felt incredibly liberating."

The Unwinding Hours play their first show as part of Celtic Connections at the ABC, Glasgow on 31 January, with a tour pencilled in for later in the year. This time round us East-coasters will just have to take the night bus home.

Words: Nick Mitchell

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Monday, 16 November 2009

On the radar: Thomas Western

Thomas Western

Play: Plough

Play: Your Front Door

Some acts toil for years to make their mark. Others never manage to succeed no matter how hard they try. To their eternal frustration, it has taken singer-songwriter Thomas Western less than a month to become the talk of the town.

Having moved from Derbyshire to Edinburgh for a spot of postgraduate study and musical adventure, Western’s first month was a whirlwind of activity. He got his first local radio appearance, had his EP in several shops, featured on some prominent blogs and managed to become ‘musician in residence’ at the capital’s much loved Bowery venue.

Not all of this was part of a master plan, as Western happily admits. On his serendipitous Bowery meeting after a Jesus H Foxx gig, he says: “I met Ruth who runs the place, and half-jokingly asked if I could play every week. She said yes”.

As part of the link-up, Western will also produce an album - another unique offshoot of the collaboration between performer and venue. “The plan is for me to write three songs each week to play, then to record and release them as an album at the end of it all”, he enthuses.

After starting out as a drummer, Western has moved on to solo work, although he admits he was “too scared for a long time”. But he says that this also acts as a spur: “In playing by myself I am totally accountable to myself and if the music isn’t good enough, then it is my responsibility to work harder at it”.

Western’s musical style is, at times, similar to the 1960s San Francisco folk scene epitomised by Tim Buckley - his vocal style is also not dissimilar, singing in octaves other artists would never dare attempt.

Citing his influences as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Will Oldham and Jeff Buckley, it's easy to see where the inspiration has come from in tracks like ‘Plough’ and ‘Your Front Door’, the latter featuring on Western’s wonderfully homemade and packaged EP ‘Quite Early One Morning’. There is also something charming and old fashioned about finding a CD in a shop which appears to be made from paper and UHU glue, potentially falling apart at any moment.

Western plans to release a solo album in addition to his Bowery sessions album. Beyond that, he doesn’t rule out playing as part of a band again. “There is a joy to playing with other people that is lacking from solo performance, so I would really love to get an ensemble together at some point," he says. "It is dependent on meeting the right people though."

Given how much Thomas Western has achieved in the short time he has lived in Scotland, by this time next year he could be running the country, although surely he's too honest for that.

Words: Stevie Kearney

Thomas Western’s EP is available from emusic and iTunes, as well as Avalanche in Edinburgh. His Bowery album will be released later this year and his first full solo album is due to be recorded in early 2010.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

On the radar: Other People

Other People

Play: Whooplash

Play: Halloween

Other People are in no hurry.

Their music may have a certain chaotic urgency, but they're quite content to take things at their own pace.

"When we started the band we faffed about a bit. Then we faffed about some more," jokes singer and guitarist Andrew Manson. "We played our first gig in April this year and have managed to cram five more in between then and now, a work rate described as 'sports casual'. It's all been pretty relaxed so far, enjoyable even."

Scrambling together Other People by poaching from other (people's) bands, Manson explains their beginnings:

"When we first got together we sat down and talked about what we wanted the music to sound like, I think we ended up with half-drunk concepts like 'a cross between In Utero and Oracular Spectacular' or 'Pixies crossed with The Beach Boys'. Squint pop songs with loud guitars really. So far it's ended up more a mix of David Bowie and L7. And Bruce, our drummer, is a whizz in the studio, so he can really capture that Paramore sound!"

There are glints of Johnny Foreigner and Dananananaykroyd in the punchy vocals and pitched guitars, but Other People are actually more controlled than both bands. Fight-pop with a restraining order if you want to label it.

Suffering from intense memory weakness, recording is a welcomed necessity for Other People: "We are recording at the moment, not to release, just so we don't forget the songs." laughs Manson.

"We have ten now, and a lot of new stuff that seems to be progressing really quickly all of a sudden. If we don't commit the ones we already know to some sort of recording then we will forget them. The band has a ten song memory, no more, no less. Which is just as well, because a lot of great records are ten songs long."

Live is where Other People are best heard, with Andrew's vocal range and tone a driving force behind the songs; in 'Whooplash' he sounds like a weekend drunk reeling off his shopping list. If you're not sure what to drink at the pub, have a wee listen above for inspiration. You might even see Other People at the table beside you, with Manson explaining their future plans:

"We'd like to to meet more often socially. To play to more people, maybe more than once a month, in different cities. To get on tour and come back smelling more competent. To think about what we have done, and do it better. And, to find a nice girl for our bassist Dave."

We'll leave most of that to them. And ladies, the last point is over to you.

Words: Aimi Gold

Other People play Define Pop 2 at the Flying Duck (Kitchen Stage), Glasgow at around 7.30pm on Saturday. See preview below.

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Monday, 9 November 2009

On the radar: Ambulances

AmbulancesThe debate over the power of the web in promoting new bands just keeps on going.

But when your MySpace page convinces a renowned producer to fly from New York to Scotland to record your debut album, you can pretty much put a tick in the “pro” column.

For Ambulances, that's just what happened when Kramer got in touch. You might recognise the name from some of his former clients: Low, Daniel Johnston, Galaxie 500, Jon Spencer... even GWAR.

“He said he'd do anything to work with us,” explains Ambulances singer Sara Colsoton, “so we hired a cottage in the country, made a big pan of soup, set up our instruments and Kramer arrived with a teapot and laptop ready to go.”

Play: Come With Us

What emerged eight days later was Ambulances' dreamy, laid-back, stunning self-titled album, which Kramer describes as “a post modern psychedelic masterpiece”.

“We didn't plan anything with regards to what tracks to record,” Sara says. “Whoever wasn't sleeping, or walking the dog, or collecting logs for the fire, played on whatever song, and in a week we had 14 done.

“Rather than huff and puff over what to put on the album, we just put it all out there cos that's how it fell together.”

The six-piece – Sara is joined by guitarists and vocalists Scott Lyon, Graham Jack and Chris Miezitis, bassist Stephen Oswald and drummer Al Fraser – hail from Fife.

Sara says: “It's just a wee place, and you gravitate towards folk with a similar outlook on things. We were all drawn to the same places, so it was inevitable that we'd be drawn together.

“The band just came from enjoying each other's company and listening to each other's records – anything from Ivor Cutler and Robert Wyatt to the Beach Boys, Kate Bush, Gram Parsons and old reggae stuff.”

Play: How Could You Leave Me Here?

As far as promotion goes, they have a similar style: “We just take things as they come. If anyone offers us something and we can make it, we'll be there.

“People are only just starting to hear about us now. Hopefully some of them will like what they hear and we'll get to play for them. We're just back from supporting Damo Suzuki in London which was a huge thrill.”

Ambulances are also “doing wee bits and bobs” with fellow Fifer Steve Mason and will record some new material in the new year. “The Beta Band were always trying new things, and we definitely want to push things in different directions," Sara promises. "So we can't wait to see what comes from that”.

Words: Elaine Liddle

See Ambulances live at the Greenside in Leslie on November 27

Play: What I Thought Of

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Thursday, 5 November 2009

On the radar: Washington Irving

Washington Irving

Play: The Magician

Play: It Creeps

It makes sense for us to be talking about Washington Irving.

Not only is their name being bandied about Glasgow town, a number of them are in bands we’ve covered recently (My Cousin I Bid You Farewell and The John Knox Sex Club), and to top it all they make music in the vein of some of Scotland’s best and most successful indie-pop exporters.

Think Belle and Sebastian or Camera Obscura: simple yet poignant lyrics, sung in a broad Scottish accent, that sit nicely over the accompanying plucky guitars and flute trills.

Alongside the usual staples they have a unique mix of instrumentation that includes the singing saw, piccolo, mandolin and a mixture of melodicas, maracas and a bouzouki, which is a traditional, pear-shaped, stringed, Greek instrument (thanks Wikipedia).

But far from rendering them obscure or difficult, this folk sound is commercial enough to make a mainstream crossover seem tangible, as drummer, Chris McGarry, explains:

“We’re more influenced by Scottish and Irish folk than American folk. Our songs lend themselves well to an energetic drunken hootenanny. Crowds have recently started flailing around frantically at our gigs. At the single launch of 'The Magician', Joe's (the singer) mum was almost crushed by a bunch of rowdy shinty players!”

When they’re not playing host to potential parental murder the band have found time to record and release some of their material, recently working with Marcus Mackay, who put the first Frightened Rabbit album to tape.

“We also want to get lots of new songs into the set and onto record,” McGarry says.

“We recorded a single with Marcus earlier in the year. He's just built a new studio, the Diving Bell #2, which we went to visit the other week. Hopefully we'll be recording there soon.

“We also plan to play more gigs outside of Glasgow, go back to Inverness, Edinburgh and Aberdeen soon. Tours hopefully, up and down the country, coast to coast, nationwide."

So there you have it. Now you get talking about them too.

Words: Aimi Gold

Want to see Washington Irving live with your own eyes?
Go to The Mill at Oran Mor on 19 Nov and you'll see them with Anna Meldrum - tickets are free, text MILL44K to 82500 to claim a couple. Or see them acoustic with Jeremy Warmsley in Brel on 5 Nov. Lasty, they also play The Bowery in Edinburgh on 5 December with Sebastian Dangerfield and We Were Promised Jetpacks (acoustic solo).

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

On the radar: Black International

Black International

Play: Dread Excerpt

Play: Idle Worship

Compiling a weekly listings guide can be a thankless task. No matter how thoroughly you’ve drained the internet’s information-drenched well, there’ll always be someone out there to spot that ‘must see’ show you’ve omitted. And by god, do you hear ALL about it.

Despite the music-nerd policia's omnipotent threat, an afternoon of well-honed gig scouring sometimes uncovers a band that can penetrate even the weariest ear-canal. A band very much like Black International.

By shovelling fuzzed-up guitars and clattering drums down an acrid hole of industrialised post-punk, the Edinburgh based trio make for a welcome antithetical thrill compared to the city’s gentile folk exterior. So the question is: where the hell have they been hiding for so long?

“Have you ever found a band that you thought none of your friends had ever heard before, and you keep them a secret until you feel the time is right to initiate a deserving few?” frontman Stewart Allan asks of a curiously perplexed UtR. “ We want to be that band, a band that people listen to in their rooms at night while they plot their escape from whatever tedious rituals they find themselves doing in order to scrape through life."

It’s an intriguing, if not perilous, MO for a fledgling act to embrace. By entrenching themselves in the curious niche that attracts those of a more refined musical palate, Black International could quickly find themselves sinking down the sands of oblivion if they don’t satisfy the hipster droves. Not that they’re worried. Far from it:

“It seems like everyone plays an instrument these days, and it’s difficult to walk down the street without tripping over a load of white, middle-class boys with shiny guitars,” snarls Allan. “Unfortunately, not everyone is a true musician, and it helps occasionally to see a band that do something a bit more interesting than a three chord thrash and orchestrated stage invasions. Of course, we’re not really musicians either - we just pretend to be and hope no-one notices.”

Just over three years old, the band’s clatter of drone and gristle is gradually surfacing in a city drowning with artists desperate to be heard. So what does Allan make of this rash of new music now sitting on his porch?

“I think the Scottish music scene is perhaps the strongest it’s ever been, maybe since they got rid of lead pipes in tenements peoples’ brains have been less prone to damage,” he splutters heroically. “Also, a lot of older Scottish bands are enjoying a resurgence, bands like Josef K, Orange Juice and the Fire Engines, and I suppose a fair few people are inspired by that, the idea that these guys were doing great stuff 30 years ago and that Scottish music isn’t just the jock-rock and limp white soul that lots of us grew up with.”

As for the future, Allan wants only for simple things: “It’s always going to be more difficult for a band in Edinburgh to get recognition from a Glasgow-centric media, but I suppose developing a cheeky wee following across the country and then having the opportunity to look a bit further afield would be a good starting point for any band in our position,” he states reasonably before adding : “I’d just like to make it clear that we’re all exceptionally nice boys, and that we always wear clean underpants.”

Words: Billy Hamilton

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Friday, 30 October 2009

On the radar: My Tiny Robots

My Tiny Robots

Play: Other People Matter

Some bands appear to do everything right but, when the proverbial push comes to shove, fail to light up the stage. Thankfully, Edinburgh trio My Tiny Robots [MTR] are not one of these bands.

Comprised of frontman Dylan Childs and multi-instrumentalists Ryan Marinello (also of Occasional Flickers fame) and Russell Williams, MTR illuminate the ear-sockets with a forever sought but rarely captured trait: charisma.

Underpinned by a playful sense of humour, there’s an astonishing diversity to MTR’s songs. Childs notes: “We always find it reassuring that any comparisons to other bands tend to differ wildly according to the songs that people have heard at any given time."

A trip to the band’s MySpace confirms this, with the punkish shards of live favourite The Haircut Song juxtaposing against a bizarre cover of Greece staple You’re The One That I Want. It’s a contrast that typifies MTR’s refusal to take life too seriously.

So far, the band’s output has consisted of EPs, with their first release, Some of my Best Ideas, put out on their own label Kraken Records. There are plans afoot to release two more EPs in the spring, but the ultimate aim, according to Childs, “is to make an album or two that we are all really proud of”.

He adds: “None of us has aspirations of world domination, but any time someone you don't know comes up to you in the street to tell you they think one of your songs is amazing rates pretty highly.”

MTR typify the DIY scene in Scotland by making much of their music at home, although they admit to problems when it comes to the practicalities:

“Recording is often hampered by trying to cram one normal person and two 6' 5" - but slim - people into a tiny spare room to share one of the two mics without banging their heads on a cabin bed,” says Childs.

Describing the Edinburgh scene of five years ago as “Glasgow's fractious and incoherent cousin”, Childs is keen to hail the impact of bands like Meursault, Withered Hand and Jesus H Foxx in breaking new ground for the east coast.

Going hand in hand with this new-music revolution, Childs attributes “some brilliant independent promoters, three times the decent venues of five years ago and bloggers that people actually read” to the success of the scene.

As one of Auld Reekie’s most popular live acts, MTR are a band that understands the need to entertain. But if there’s any doubt about their musical acumen, one listen to Other People Matter will end the debate. It’s not just Edinburgh that needs bands like this; it’s the whole goddamn country.

Words: Stevie Kearney

My Tiny Robots play Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh on November the 5th

Play: Kenny Rogers (Scent Of A Woman)

Play: l.i.d.l acoustic

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