Scene Report: Glasgow August 2010
06 Aug 2010
resident glasgow hack rachel bolland uncovers the good work of the instinctive racoon label, the one creative scotland collective and bands such as three blind wolves, french wives, washington irving, midnight lion and suspire in the first of her dispatches from a peculiar town where irn-bru outsells coca cola.
Glasgow has an incredibly rich history of great music, producing some fantastically diverse acts over the years. Home to Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Primal Scream, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Franz Ferdinand and, um, Darius Danesh, to name but a few, Glasgow’s music scene has always been famed for its vibrancy, and the city’s crowds are very often noted as some of the best in the world.
In more recent years, a new crop of Glasgow bands have made a name for themselves in British indie. Head to Glasgow’s (in)famous Nice n Sleazys in the city centre on any night of the week and you have a fairly high chance of running into members of the Twilight Sad, Dananananaykroyd, Copy Haho or Errors. But there’s a whole host of smaller bands, ones that haven’t quite made their way into national consciousness yet who are keeping the city’s local scene alive and thriving.
LABEL FOCUS: INSTINCTIVE RACOON
A big player on this particular scene is a rather fantastic label called Instinctive Racoon, They’re just one of those labels that seem to find exclusively amazing acts to release and they’re responsible for a lot of great music in Glasgow right now. Run by Jamie Webster and Ben Soep, Instinctive Racoon are commited to “preserving Glasgow’s rich heritage of music by finding new ways to create” which they see as a integral part of keeping audiences interested in local music. A testament to the fact that they’ve got their head screwed on the right way is that three of their acts were chosen to perform on the T Break Stage at this year’s T in the Park out of the hundreds that sent in demos. It’s small labels like this that giving local bands an opportunity to release their records and keep regional scenes thriving.
THREE BLIND WOLVES
Three Blind Wolves’ frontman Ross Clark has been operating as a solo artist in and around Glasgow for a good few years now, managing to make quite a name for himself with his own brand of bluesy-acoustic folk. His new band (whose moniker is in fact lifted straight from one of his solo tracks) however, has a much rootsier feel to it, one that suits Clark’s vocal style down to the ground.
Three Blind Wolves specialise in bluesy Americana with a very classic rock ‘n’ roll. Their music is evocative of 50s America and probably wouldn’t have been out of place at the ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ dance in Back to the Future. This influence means that Three Blind Wolves are very much a breath of fresh air in amongst some of the more run-of-the-mill indie that’s regularly churned out.
The distinct country feel is a big part of what makes their debut EP, The Sound of the Storm so incredibly special. In six tracks they manage to show more talent and diversity than most bands could achieve on a full length LP. Opening track ‘Hotel’ seamlessly blends three songs into one. Beginning with a wonderful distortion infused mess of noise before segueing into something that really belongs at a square dance and then pulls back and becomes a very bare, display full of raw emotion. In one five-minute track they display their ability to perfectly nail several genres and blend them together in a very ambitious way that somehow isn’t clumsy but completely works. The whole EP is like that: full of twists and turns that keep you guessing even after multiple listens.
With the folk revival that’s emerged over the last couple of years fiddle players have popped up in a lot of bands. Many of the pioneers of this movement, Johnny Flynn, Noah and the Whale etc have lovingly embraced the violin which for so long, during the Brit-pop and guitar heavy days of indie had no place inside the sacred covers of the NME. Despite its current popularity, French Wives have made their use of the instrument unique enough that they aren’t lumped in under the nu-folk umbrella.
The Scottish influence in French Wives’ music allows them to distance themselves from Mumford and all their chums. They marry together a very traditional Scottish sound with upbeat, modern indie to create something quite unique and really rather wonderful. In the two-years they’ve been together the quintet and their unique brand of indie folk have made fans in, among others, Vic Galloway, Steve Lamacq and Mystery Jets’ Kai Fish, who recently invited them to play at his London club night. This year they have taken the festival circuit by storm, including headlining the T in the Park’s emerging talent stage.
They’ve so far released two double A-side singles on Instinctive Racoon, Halloween/Dogfight and Me vs. Me/Hyndland Weather Bear. Even in these four, very different, tracks their potential for success is completely evident. If they keep writing beautifully bizarre love songs like ‘Halloween’ (“And at midnight we’ll howl at the moon as the clock strikes/And I’ll kiss you under a severed head”) or stupidly catchy folky-indie pop like ‘Me vs. Me’, which has the potential to become a huge summer anthem, they’ll have no problem convincing the rest of the country that their one of the best things around at the moment.
Yet another Instinctive Racoon signing (what can I say, they’re a really, really good label), Washington Irving again manage to capture the wonderful spirit of traditional Scottish music and make music that wouldn’t seem out of place in a dingy pub venue or at a ceilidh (Scottish dance/piss up – pronounced kay-lee).
On their Debut EP Little Wanderer, Head Thee Home, Washington Irving have found a wonderful balance between tapping into that beautiful Scottish habit of being completely miserable (think Frightened Rabbit’s seminal The Midnight Organ Fight for cheer level) and fantastically upbeat. Opener ‘Sisi’ is a perfect example of the former. Although it’s incredibly morose (“Your husband’s out praying that you won’t come back again/Will you do the same to me?”), it’s just so, so beautiful, as is the whole EP. ‘The Glebe’ is the only track with female vocals and while it’s slightly shaky, it is the imperfection that make it so perfectly charming, coupled one of the best lines I’ve heard in a long time: “I picked a fight with myself that night/And I know I won, because I’m fucking solid.”– it’s just so beautifully Glasgow.
Despite what this article suggests there is music going on in Glasgow that isn’t related to Instinctive Racoon. When I first came into contact with Midnight Lion they had management and record companies swarming round them like flies. I spent a week working in the same office as one half of this dark electro-indie pop duo and every night after work he was being whisked off by a different industry player to be wooed at exclusive gigs too good for us regular folk.
Thankfully though, the hype around Midnight Lion is completely justified. Formerly members of Drive By Argument vocalist/keyboard/synth/guitar player Stewart Brock and drummer Lewis Gardiner make music that has the perfect balance between being completely mainstream accessible while managing to maintain credibility. It’s not hard to imagine them being on a lot of tipped 2011 lists come November/December and with the hype around them building, and the major label interest, they look set to explode fairly soon. There’s a few tracks of theirs floating around blogs and on their MySpace at the moment, particular favourite being ‘I Will Be King’ but the dramatics of ‘Sleeping in the Woods’ get me every time. It remains to be seen if Midnight Lion live up to the potential that is obviously seen by so many people but it’ll be incredibly exciting to find out.
Suspire are one of those really great rock bands, no frills, no gimmicks. They just know exactly how to produce wonderfully intense indie-rock (they’ve recently had a gig moved from an outdoor venue inside because they’re too loud).
Originally formed in 2002, Suspire have gone through a whole myriad of line-up changes over the last few years with drummer Clare Kelly being the only original member still remaining. Now joined by brothers Mark and Paul Duffin, the trio have been operating in their current guise for around two years now and, so far, at least, it seems to be working. Suspire just play the kind of music they love, that is balls to the wall, loud, rock music. Having said that, they aren’t your average indie group and they have no intention of being the kind of band Radio 1 are going to be playing during the day (although, I’ve heard Pulled Apart By Horses on daytime Radio 1, so anything’s possible). Debut EP ‘Legislate for Luck’ perfectly showcases everything that’s great about this band. The title track in particular is heavy with catchy guitar riffs and incredibly impressive percussion.
ONE CREATIVE SCOTLAND
Clare Kelly is also one of the masterminds behind One Creative Scotland, an arts and music movement that aims to bring together music, art, theatre and film all under one roof. It’s a celebration of the creativity and ambition currently circulating in the arts scene borne out of the frustration that many bright young things in Glasgow were feeling a few years ago. The focal point of One Creative Scotland is a bi-annual event that takes place at Glasgow Tollhouse Studios and offers a wide range of art, film, music and any other kind of creative discipline you can think of really
So, that’s pretty much it for Glasgow at the moment. There’s obviously a hell of a lot more going on that I couldn’t feature in this but other great bands to check out at the moment include: The Cinnamons, Peter Parker, Astral Planes, Admiral Fallow, Sparrow and the Workshop, Kitty the Lion, Jo Mango, Meursault (yes, they’re from Edinburgh but are still AMAZING). Catch y’all in Sleazys sometime.