Friday, 26 March 2010

Radar recommends: 27 March - 2 April

We Were Promised Jetpacks
[We Were Promised Jetpacks: descending on Edinburgh on Sunday]

Plan your gig-going with our pick of the week's finest live music nights...

Ten Tracks presents... The Verden Whistle Test
Saturday @ Verden Studios, Portobello, Edinburgh / 6pm / £10
You're probably too young to know what The Old Grey Whistle Test was... So, this is a special, intimate studio gig that's all being filmed, featuring the likes of UtR faves Over The Wall, Dead Boy Robotics, Esperi, Fur Hood and John B McKenna. There are only 100 tickets on offer and everyone gets a free DVD. More info here.

La La Vasques, Golden Grrrls, Girls Names
Sunday @ The 13th Note, Glasgow / 9pm / £tbc
What do you get when you mix cool girls with fuzzed out shoegazy style? Perhaps something like these bands. And that's something pretty good.

Haddow Fest
Sunday @ various venues, Edinburgh / 1pm - 12am / £20 (£15 in advance)
Glasgow may have Hinterland and Stag and Dagger, but now Edinburgh has its own multi-venue gig sprawl. Haddow Fest has rounded up a batch of indie-rock bands to entertain the masses, including the likes of Idlewild, My Latest Novel and We Were Promised Jetpacks. Check the website for more information and stage times.

RM Hubbert
Sunday @ Slow Club, The Flying Duck, Glasgow / 8pm / Free
Ex-El Hombre Trajeado man RM shows off his fingerpicking skills with an instrumental guitar set, hopefully with a few pieces from his stunning First&Last album. What a pleasant way to spend a Sunday evening.

The Besnard Lakes, Wolf People, Olympic Swimmers
Sunday @ Captain's Rest / 8pm / £8
Proving that matrimony and work can mix, Montreal's The Besnard Lakes have won over many fans with their sweeping indie rock. Get there early for UtR-featured Olympic Swimmers.

Benni Hemm Hemm, Rachel Sermanni, Graham McGeoch
Tuesday @ Bloc, Glasgow / 9pm / Free
Benedikt Hermann Hermannsson, going by the altogether easier to pronounce name of Benni Hemm Hemm, has brought the gift of excellent folksy pop from Iceland to his adoptive home of Glasgow. Get a free taste tonight as he plus band launch the Retaliate EP.
Also playing The Roxy Art House, Edinburgh on Monday

Dam Mantle, Fox Gut Daata
Friday @ Glasgow Social Centre, Osborne Street / 8pm / £5
Dam Mantle launches a new EP with suitable support from Fox Gut Daata. If you like your beats and blips on the interesting side you should head along. Plus DJ sets from Cry Parrot and Halleluwah Hits.

The Twilight Sad, The Unwinding Hours
Friday @ ABC, Glasgow / 7pm / £10
Just in case you thought The Twilight Sad's live show was lacking a few decibels (you fool!), the Kilsyth band will play this gig with an extra PA, achieving so-called "quadraphonic" sound. Hold on to your hats, and make sure you check out the sublime Unwinding Hours.
Also playing The Warehouse, Aberdeen on Thursday

Conquering Animal Sound, Debutant, Wounded Knee
Friday @ Roxy Art House, Edinburgh / 7pm / £5
Hardly a week goes by where we don't mention a gig by one of these hard-working tunesmiths. Maybe tunesmith is the wrong word, because all three acts like to break conventions however and whenever they can.

Words: Elaine Liddle, Nick Mitchell

What have we missed? Tell us below, or add it to the calendar by emailing

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

So who will be the next Scottish Mercury winner?

Speech Debelle

The odds of a Scottish act reclaiming the Mercury Music Prize would appear to be at an all-time low.

After handing the gong to a bunch of grizzly Northerners last year, the judges reverted to type and bestowed the £20K cheque upon the talented but hardly groundbreaking rapper Speech Debelle (above) last night.

And Glasvegas frontman James Allan couldn't even be bothered to show up.

But on the other hand, if the type of winner does really run in cycles, that could mean that a Scottish win is in the pipeline. First it was Primal Scream in 1992, then a long gap until Franz Ferdinand in 2004, but who will be our nation's next media dahlings?

UtR writers offer their tips...

We Were Promised Jetpacks We Were Promised Jetpacks - nominated by Aimi Gold

We Were Promised Jetpacks can multi-task.

Like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, the Jetpacks have managed the tough task of tapping into the UK and American market simultaneously; making fans and selling albums on both sides of the Atlantic.

Their beautiful debut album These Four Walls gut-punches with emotionally driven lyrics and music that compliments, rich in dynamics and confident in delivery. Opening track 'Thunder and Lightning' is a statement that demands attention, with vocalist Adam Thompson's performance sung and shouted with obvious passion.

In quieter moments, such as 'This is my house, this is my home', the album shimmers with stunning melody and subtle guitar hooks.

Accessible without trying to be, We Were Promised Jetpacks should be given every accolade that raises their profile and ensures These Four Walls reaches every house in the country.

Play: Quiet Little Voices

Broken RecordsBroken Records - nominated by Andrew Learmonth

Apart from great songs and great musicianship, what Broken Records have that makes them potential Mercury winners is commercial appeal.

Until The Earth Begins To Part (UTEBTP) is an album like Elbow's Mercury-winning Seldom Seen Kid. Those already aware of the band love them wholeheartedly, but UTEBTP is a record that can induce plenty of potential converts.

It's clever, affecting, complicated music they write, not introspective self indulgent nonsense. That doesn’t stop them being a band who would be equally at home on the playlist of Radio 1, 2 and 6, and there's probably some folky, world music show on Radio 3 that they could be shoe horned into.

The true test of any song on any album is how it would sound on the radio. ‘If The News Make You Sad...’ sounds amazing.

Play: If The News Makes You Sad Don't Watch It

BeerjacketBeerjacket - nominated by Elaine Liddle

Alongside the token jazz act of the year, the Mercury judges have often seen fit to shine a light on solo singer-songwriters. Granted, it's not since Badly Drawn Boy in 2000 that someone of this ilk has won, but take a look back at almost any year in the last decade and you'll spot one: Laura Marling in 2008, Fionn Regan in 2007, Seth Lakeman in 2005.

The styles might differ but the common thread is of solitary, guitar-strumming writers stringing their emotions into a well-crafted song. Beerjacket certainly has that in hand on latest album Animosity. Meanwhile his Springsteen-covering ways have brought Peter Kelly the attention of a wider audience in recent months, just the kind of buzz Mercury judges adore.

And can't you just picture Lauren Laverne smiling over 'Dancing in the Dark' during one of those awkward nominee interviews they show on BBC2 before the announcement is made?

Play: Drum

Maple LeavesMaple Leaves - nominated by Clare Sinclair

Having adorned the T Break stage after just three months of being and armed with the sort of summery melodies and harmonies that leave you with no choice but to sing along to, who else could storm future Mercurys Award shows but Glasgow triad Maple Leaves?

Not every three-piece can make such a big, voluptuous sound, and it’s their sheer musicality that does it for me every time. Having been spotted so quickly in their careers, and with an eagerly anticipated EP due for release this autumn, this is a band capable of taking us back to the roots of music, much like Belle & Sebastian once did.

Play: Easy Speak

MeursaultMeursault - nominated by Stevie Kearney

On sheer omnipresence alone, Meursault deserve an award. There is a credible rumour doing the rounds that the Edinburgh band have pioneered cloning technology and there are actually seven Meursaults – one for each day of the week.

Other than their ferocious schedule, there are lots of reasons to love this band. Last year’s Pissing on Bonfires, Kissing with Tongues was a superb mixture of structured songwriting and strange electronic noises, which may be just the right combination to appeal to the Mercury judging panel. The new material currently doing the rounds at their many gigs is, in a word, awesome.

With the backing of Song, by Toad records and plans afoot to tour a little further from home, next year should, if there is a God, see Meursault break into the mainstream both in the UK and abroad. Like a favoured son leaving home, Meursault need to be packed off into the big bad world. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Play: A Few Kind Words

Withered HandWithered Hand - nominated by Lisa-Marie Ferla

Okay, I'll admit it: on first listen, the odds look steep. Scratchy vocals which could at best be described as eccentric, lo-fi production; lyrics which reference loneliness, depression, religious guilt and masturbation... Withered Hand is hardly a mass-market proposition.

A listen to debut album Good News however reveals an accomplished singer-songwriter in his Sunday best, face washed and long hair tucked behind ears. It's just as clever, just as raw - but laced with moments of sublime singalong harmony which couldn't help but raise a smile in the grumpiest of judging panels.

Every one of these lists needs a singer-songwriter, and you'd be hard placed to find a better one in Scotland than Dan Willson. Antony and the Johnsons' strangled frog vocals took the Mercury crown, Badly Drawn Boy strummed and hummed his way to the prize - if there was any justice, Withered Hand should too.

Play: No Cigarettes

Wounded KneeWounded Knee - nominated by Billy Hamilton

The roll call for this year’s Mercury Music Prize suggests the odds of Drew Wright (AKA Wounded Knee) one day emerging victorious with a cheque for £20K are fairly slim. But, think about it: is it really that preposterous?

Sure, his freeform expressionism is hardly in keeping with the mainstream-manicuring of the modern day; then again didn’t Talvin Singh (who?) encounter the same protestations?

Likewise, Wright’s indecipherable intone may seem too obscure for the MP3-attuned masses, but , let’s face it, Dizzee Rascal’s elocution left a lot to be desired.

And as for being from north of the border? Well, if a transvestite American can win it then, hell, surely a robe-adorning Scot with a penchant for hymnal skatting [keep it clean gents] is in with a chance?

In fact, the more I think about it the more it becomes clear: Wounded Knee is a shoe-in for the Mercury Music Prize.

ErrorsErrors - nominated by Nick Mitchell

The precedents for an instrumental electronica Mercury winner are practically non-existent - unless you somehow squish Roni Size's hyper-speed D'n'B into that particular musical cookie cutter ... maybe not.

But that surely means that Errors' time is ripe for some breakthrough recognition.

Last year's ungrammatically-titled debut LP It's not something but it is like whatever - and indeed the How Clean is Your Acid House? EP that preceded it - were both thrilling portals into their unique sound world, lying somewhere on a weird continuum between Warp Records and Mogwai.

The Rock Action-signed Glasgow quartet are currently busying themselves with album number two, and you can bet they'll be pushing their abstract yet danceable crossover jams even further forward.

If Led Bib can make the shortlist this year, then why not Errors for 2010?

Play: Salut France

Do you have a future Mercury tip? Let's be hearing it...

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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Ah, Bristo: Retreat! festival

Withered Hand
[Dan Willson of Withered Hand]

Hot on the heels of Trampoline’s four show Fringe extravaganza, the boys and girls at Retreat! have announced the return of their August-time Edinburgh music festival.

A more condensed version of last year’s month-long sprawl, Retreat! 2009 will take place on Sunday 16 August, cramming 15 tunesmith into Bristo Hall’s intellectually enlightened cove. What’s more, it’s absolutely free.

Bart Owl, co-organiser of Retreat!, explains the festival’s ethos: “I always found it frustrating that at a time when there was this huge international audience in our city, there were no chances to see Edinburgh acts. So Retreat! was intended to be a celebration of Edinburgh music - a way for those people to be seen. Although it's not an exclusively Edinburgh line-up, that's been the focus.”

Rob St JohnWith a line-up boasting UtR regulars Rob St John (right), Withered Hand and Meursault, as well as Wounded Knee and Viking Moses, Retreat! offers ear-soothing refuge from the Fringe’s hustle and bustle. But rather than acting as a toff-excluding antidote, Retreat! is a welcoming sanctuary for all:

“I don't want to ever sound like we're against the Fringe, as it is a really exciting time to be in the city,” explains Bart. “But there are two aspects I don't like: there isn't enough representation of local acts, and the events are generally too expensive. Last year when Retreat! was a series of gigs, they were all priced at £3. This year, it's a single free event. So I don't think we're taking an audience away from the Festival or from any of the other great events happening in the city. There's room for both.”

An enchanting day of music delivered via the spirit of community, Retreat! 2009 rolls out something for music lovers of all predilections:

“The show runs from 11.30 in the morning till 11 at night, then DJs till 3am,” says Bart.” The venue is really central, and near a lot of other Fringe venues. I think a lot of people will show up early with and set up camp for the day and try see everything. But a lot of people will just come and go as they please - come and hang out and see some great bands before going off to another show, or kill a couple of hours between shows. And that's fine – just as long as they come back later for a dance."

And, with a swell of talent on offer, there’s ample opportunity for a special collaboration or two:

“Both Withered Hand and Jo Foster are playing and they usually collaborate or at least help each other out,” teases Bart. “Also Viking Moses and Rob St John have been working together at recent live shows, playing on each other's songs. Tisso Lake, I've been told, is planning on a 'choir' backing band for this show - basically just getting as many backing singers on board as possible. And I think there should be more than enough volunteers in the room.”

Retreat! runs from 11.30am –late on Sun 16 August at the Bristo Hall, Edinburgh and costs not even a penny to enter.

The full line-up is:

Withered Hand
Jo Foster
Wounded Knee
Rob St John
Viking Moses
Tisso Lake
Moustache of Insanity
Allo, Darlin'
My Tiny Robots
Come In Tokyo
Enfant Bastard
The Pineapple Chunks
The Leg

For more information on this lovely festival click here

Words: Billy Hamilton

Play: Withered Hand - No Cigarettes

Play: Rob St John - Like Alchemy

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