Heaven Up Here – West End Festival

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The Phantom Band

West End Festival All Dayer – featuring The Phantom Band, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, We Were Promised Jetpacks, RM Hubbert, Tuff Love, De Rosa and ULTRAS – Oran Mor, Glasgow – Sunday 21st June 2015

It’s been a hectic week so it’s taken me this long to get the chance to sit down and reflect on Sunday’s West End Festival Alldayer at the Oran Mor. And, boy, there’s plenty to reflect on.

This was the first chance I’d had to see the Auditorium at the Oran Mor and it’s an impressive setting for a show. Whereas the Venue in the basement is dark and claustrophobic, the Auditorium, effectively the top part of the former chart is grand and roomy.

One imponderable as a first timer was how easy it would be to move between the stages. As it turned out the level of sales made it quite possible to see what you wanted although the smaller Venue was pretty crammed by the time of Wells & Moffat (and correspondingly it subsequently took a while for the Auditorium to fill up for the Phantom Band).

Whilst it would be therefore possible to pretty much see at least a part of every act performing, our approach was more geared around seeing as much of the bands that we wanted to see as we could. So the likes of Stanley Odd and Remember Remember missed out on an MPT presence whilst the one serious clash of the days – the Phantom Band vs Wells & Moffat was resolved in favour of the Phantos.

So let’s start at the end and the Phantom Band’s quite astonishing headline set. Whereas at times some of the earlier acts struggled to fill the huge spaces of the Auditorium the Phantos managed this with no bother. Instead it rather felt more like the room was struggling to contain them.

Although the crowd was initially comparatively meagre due to the aforementioned clash (Rick thanking those present for being ‘up here’ rather than ‘down there’), there was a huge energy about the performance with the likes of ‘The Kingfisher’ sounding more than a little unhinged whilst ‘Sweatbox’ got a serious groove on.

In fact a lot of the performance was about the groove and to illustrate just how good they were there was some unlikely MPT dancing (although no alcohol had been consumed) and even a severely improbable Manic Pop Pogo during the closing ‘Throwing Bones’.

The best set I’ve ever seen them play – and that’s saying something.

The Phantom Band played:

1. Tender Castle 2. The Wind That Cried The World 3. Doom Patrol 4. Local Zero 5. Sweatbox 6. The Kingfisher   7. The Howling 8. Into The Corn 9. Clapshot 10. Women of Ghent 11. Throwing Bones

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De Rosa

The Phantos weren’t the principal reason for finally getting to an event that I’d been tempted by in previous years. No, that was the second live performance by the reformed De Rosa albeit with a different line-up from the Baubles show at the end of 2013. Stripped back to the original trio the sound was bolstered by the addition of Gill Fleetwood on keyboards and backing vocals with the latter something which the band have lacked in the past.

It was a sombre set in a lot of respects and initially a little tentative. A downbeat ‘New Lanark’ opened the show whilst the set also featured the likes of ‘Pest’ and ‘Tinto’ and no obvious pop tunes.

But the performance was really energised with the electro double header of ‘In Code’ and ‘Nocturne’. That built everyone up perfectly for  the undoubted highlight of the show – a spine tingling ‘Spectres’ to close – real hairs standing on the back of the neck stuff.

It’s great to have them back.

De Rosa played:

1. New Lanark 2. The Mute 3. Tinto 4. The Engineer 5. In Code 6. Nocturne for an Absentee 7. Pest 8. Spectres

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Tuff Love

It’s only been a couple of weeks since I last saw Tuff Love but if anything they’ve got better in the interim. The set was similar to the Dundee show and with most of the hits at the back end a real sense of momentum was built up. But sound-wise it was a step up even from that impressive show.

The most memorable thing about the show though was the Wall of Death when Suse convinced the audience to split into 2 halves then basically charge into each other. I suspect that the results were rather more genteel than at any metal concert but it was thoroughly entertaining.

Similarly R.M. Hubbert’s performance was notable for more than the music. In this case rather than forcing the audience into a kamikaze maneouvre what sticks out was the combative way in which Hubby took on the folk chatting through his songs. Berating them for their rudeness was appreciated by the vast majority of the folk in the room even if they were somewhat terrified that they might inadvertently interrupt the maestro.

The music, of course, was pretty great too with the highlight being the first time we’ve seen Aidan Moffat join Hubby on stage for the closing ‘Car Song’.

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We Were Promised Jetpacks

Fresh from a tour of the continent, We Were Promised Jetpacks set their stall out rather differently from normal with a ‘stripped back’ performance. In practice this meant not just less noise but also less velocity with a remarkably controlled performance.

They’ve previously demonstrated that this approach can work on record (on the ‘The Last Place You’ll Look’ E.P.) but nevertheless it’s still impressive how tunes like ‘It’s Thunder, It’s Lightning’ and ‘Short Bursts’ work in this format.

Most of the noise in the set was reserved for a terrific take on ‘Peaks and Troughs’ from the last album but, particularly with MPT energy levels starting to flag, the overall effect of the slower approach was less satisfying than a regular show. Whilst I do think the approach is worth persevering with, perhaps dropping slower versions of songs in amongst the adrenaline of a regular set would work better than as an exercise in its own right.

Opening act ULTRAS were the only discovery of the day. Based around Gav Prentice formerly of Over The Wall, ULTRAS retain OTW’s knack for a great tune but presented in a harder edged package.

Interestingly unlike many of their contemporaries they don’t shy away  from taking a political stand with their material. Slightly ironically the most overtly political (and somewhat metallic) tune  ‘The Path To Being Paid’ was probably the song I enjoyed the least. But my overall impressions of the set were very positive.

Other than the full sets described above we did manage to catch a chunk of start of the Wells and Moffat set in the Venue before the Phantom Band. This was the one clash that I wish could have been scheduled out but knowing we weren’t hanging around it was difficult to get into the gentler songs from the back of the floor although ‘Lock Up Your Lambs’ was stonking.

What we saw was also slightly marred by folk talking at the bar (where was Hubby when we needed him?) but it was still enough to make us regret that we couldn’t have seen more.

Sometimes these events don’t quite live up to the sum of their parts and turn into tests of endurance but it’s fair to say that Sunday was one of the very best. Roll on next year!

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ULTRAS

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A fearful Auditorium trying to stay quiet for R.M. Hubbert

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The not particularly terrifying other half of the Tuff Love Wall of Death!

Monkeys Can Actually Be Mafia Bosses – Francis Duffy and The Kingpins interview

FD and The Kingpins

Francis Duffy and The Kingpins are pretty new to my ears (writes Andy Wood) although they have been gigging locally for a couple of years now around Dundee.

They first came to my attention via an online demo, ‘The Scratch Tapes’. Despite a title that suggests something roughly recorded in a rehearsal room the songs sound pretty accomplished to my ears. They are quite an old-fashioned band in that they write and perform energetic, strong songs built around a dual guitar sound.

The stand-out song for me on the demo is the opener ‘Show Me That You Love Me’. It starts off with a riff that certainly bares a loose resemblance to the Rolling Stones ‘Satisfaction’ but has a loose, raw charm of its own with a Garage-Punk feel and a good groove. ‘Paradise’ is quite pretty with a more nuanced vocal and some pretty moments but occasionally slips into slightly predictable ‘ballad’ territory and, in my humble opinion, is the weakest song of the four here. ‘All The Zombies (Are Out Tonight) is a pretty cool song a solid rhythm allowing the guitars space to soar with a punchy chorus. ‘How To-Do Manual’ has a gentle, atmospheric opening and some delicate interplay between the acoustic and electric guitar before developing into a noisier creature. The vocals on the songs veer from defiant and snotty, to confused and lost and there’s a nice variety between the four songs.

The demos show a lot of potential and I have to say I’m looking forward to hearing Francis Duffy and The Kingpins live and seeing how they progress in the coming months.

Since I knew nothing about them I thought an introduction was in order. Michael Buchanan (Francis Duffy) kindly agreed to answer some questions ahead of their show at The Cool Cat Club in support of Withered Hand on Saturday 27th June.

Hi, could you please introduce yourselves.

“We are Francis Duffy and The Kingpins consisting of Francis Duffy AKA Michael Buchanan – Lead Vocals, Sam Flint – Drums, Ken Wiggins – Guitar, David Gallagher – Guitar, Cavan Short – Bass.”

Could you tell us a bit about how you came to be Francis Duffy and The Kingpins? How long have you been playing together and how did you form?

“Oh dear, that’s some amount of time to think back to. I think me, Cavan and Sam were around 14/15 when we formed our first band together. We recruited another couple of our mates as guitarists. Called ourselves The Phase, played a few gigs in a place known as The Shore, thought we were the next big thing as teenagers do (we were awful). I think you can still find The Phase on MySpace and hear how awful we were but please, please don’t look it up haha.

“After that we went through a few guitarist changes (thanks to my lead singer syndrome, haha) until now where we are in our early 20s, very settled and having a fantastic time playing together and making music.”

What was the thinking behind the name?

“In terms of the name, that’s complicated. “Francis Duffy” was my grandad, whose name I decided to adopt as some sort of stage name due to his massive influence on me. It seemed like a good idea at the time, a nice heartfelt tribute to him but it probably just confuses people or makes people think I’m incredibly pretentious because I gave myself a stage name!!

“The Kingpins” is something that comes from a couple of things. I wrote lyrics to this blues song that we had going a couple of years ago, and it was an atrocious piece of music, totally offensive to actual blues musicians. However, my lyrics were really good and I didn’t want to waste them. Called the Kingpin of Crime it was about a monkey who was a Kingpin in a 1950’s alternate universe where monkeys can actually be mafia bosses, talk, wear suits and smoke cigars.

“That in itself was influenced by the fact I’d just been reading a Spiderman comic and I had The Kingpin stuck in my head.”

What are your influences, musical or otherwise?

“Our influences are so varied. Just to give you an idea, the reason we don’t do a cover song in our set is because not one of us has the same taste in music. It’s ridiculous; we cannot find one song we agree on.

“I think our biggest influence is probably each other. We write songs all together as a 5 piece. Our writing process is basically to bounce music back and forth until something sticks and it somehow evolves into a song. We tend to let things come to us quite naturally, anything that feels forced or isn’t fitting together after a certain length of time, we just scrap because we know it isn’t for us.”

What have been the highlights of being in a band so far?

“We played Dundee’s Oktober Fest last year… in October. There were so many people there, and we got a fantastic reception. After we came off stage when we were having many, many drinks people kept coming up to us and complimenting our music. To have people compliment music that you have created is a massive buzz. It’s a really good feeling.”

And the low points?

“We found a One Direction CD in Sam’s car once; I think that was a real moment of devastation for all of us.”

You’ve recorded a few demo songs to date. Any plans for recording a single or E.P.?

“Absolutely. However we want to do it right, and get it right. A 5-student budget can make that difficult but I am hoping we can get some sort of EP out soon.”

How would you describe yourselves to someone who had yet to hear or see you live yet?

“I’d say to them ‘We are the best band in Dundee, that’s all you need to know.’”

What plans do you have for the coming months?

“Beg people to give us gigs, haha. Seriously, hopefully we will get plenty of gigs and we are constantly writing. We are hitting such a creative vein right now in terms of writing, songs of varying styles and genres keep coming out and surprising us all.”

Anything else that you would like to add?

“Anyone who has taken time to listen to our demos, been to see us live I think we would all like to say a huge, huge thank you.

“There are a few people, friends, who I think have actually been to every single gig we have ever played in every evolutionary stage of the band in the last 10 years. To them a very huge thank you because there have been times where it would have just been us and the bar staff if it was not for your continued support.”

Francis Duffy and the Kingpins make their Cool Cat Club debut on Saturdauy 27th June supporting Withered Hand. More info here.

Unfortunately Saturday’s planned show with Withered Hand  at the Cool Cat Club has been postponed until the autumn.

You can hear ‘The Scratch Tapes’ in full here.  Here’s a track from the demos:

The Start of the Summer – Ash live

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Ash / Hyena / The Bucky Rage – Liquid Room, Edinburgh – Tuesday 9th June 2015

It seemed entirely appropriate that Ash should arrive in Edinburgh on the first day of the hottest spell of the year given that new LP ‘Kablammo’ sees the band return to their strength of delivering unadulterated upbeat guitar pop.

Being honest it’s hard to imagine Ash not delivering with their impressive back catalogue. They’ve got more than enough great songs for a set of more than 90 minutes and that was certainly true of Tuesday night. But pleasingly the show wasn’t simply a run through of their greatest hits with two thirds of the new LP also played and that seems to me to be a healthy percentage.

This was no ‘promote the new record’ tokenism either. From the opening ‘Evel Knievel’ onwards the new tunes slipped in effortlessly between the classics. On the evidence that it got stuck on the internal jukebox for much of Wednesday ‘Shutdown’ was the one for me that benefited most from live performance but I was disappointed not to get ‘Hedonism’’ from the new record.

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Of the older songs with only a couple of cuts from ‘Free All Angels’ there were some less obvious choices in ‘Jack Names The Planets’ and a scorching ‘Wild Surf’. It was nice to hear something from ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ although in fact ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’ was the only record completely ignored even if the entire ‘A-Z’ cycle was represented solely by ‘Arcadia’.

This was MPK2’s second Ash show but it has to be said that the band may not welcome him back for a third as the first time he saw them was the night of Tim’s dental emergency. Tuesday’s problems were certainly less painful in comparison but the show certainly wasn’t glitch free as a problem with the bass drum saw ‘Evil Eye’ grinding to a halt mid song. Perhaps as a result the show also overran meaning that the encore was, rather frustratingly, cut back just to ‘Burn Baby Burn’ (which might indeed explain the apparent omissions).

With a return to Scotland promised for Ash in November I suspect that the Manic Pop Family will be in attendance again. But perhaps we should be looking out the lucky white heather for the band in advance …

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The Bucky Rage

Not a lot to say about the supports to be honest. The Bucky Rage brought something visual to the show but didn’t do much musically for me. But at least they had some character which tour support Hyena lacked. But then again four earnest young men pitching for that crowded market between grunge and metal isn’t really my thing.

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Hyena

Ash setlist:

1. Evel Knievel 2. Cocoon 3. Jack Names The Planets 4. A Life Less Ordinary 5. Go! Fight! Win! 6. Goldfinger 7. Wild Surf 8. Free 9. Kung Fu 10. Let’s Ride 11. Evil Eye (parts 1 and 2!) 12. Oh Yeah 13. Shutdown 14. Orpheus 15. Moondust 16. Arcadia 17. Shining Light 18. Machinery 19. Angel Interceptor 20. Girl From Mars
Encore – 21. Burn Baby Burn

There’s No Window – Book Group live

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Book Group / digitalanalogue – Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh – Friday 5th June 2015

After a year of shows often burdened with one form of technical difficulty or another Friday night’s Book Group show at Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh was a return to blistering form.

Burning right from the opening ‘Lowdown of a Loud Sound’ they ripped through a 10 songs set of old tunes and new.

If you’ve followed any of the Book Group stuff on here, you’ll know how wonderful I think the old stuff is. And that was absolutely true of Friday night because these songs sounded as good as ever. ‘Lowdown’, ‘Year of the Cat’ and a surprise outing for ‘Seedlings’, were all a potent reminder of why BG are one of my absolute favourite bands at the moment. Oh and for some reason for the first time ‘A Rough Wooing’ reminded me of R.E.M. (or at least the first verse did!)

Unusually ‘Victory Lap’ was not played as the last song and it did feel slightly restricted in its position of being the penultimate tune. But equally it’s easy to see why they’d want to finish with a searing run through of ‘Here Is Too Near’. It’s a problem a lot of bands would kill for and perhaps the solution is to reserve ‘Victory Lap’ for the encore …

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Despite the set being longer than Dundee there were actually fewer new tunes on display and perhaps wisely they were spread throughout the set instead of being presented as a block at the start.

Crucially on this evidence the new songs sounded every bit as vital as the old tunes and the weedy sound which blunted their impact at Duke’s was nothing but a receding memory.

The danceable new-wave pop of the newly re-christened ‘Actress/Model’ is certain to become a live highlight on this evidence whilst all the other new songs had a zip lacking on their previous outing.

I wouldn’t say that I’d become blasé about seeing Book Group live but being honest it’s been a wee while since I’ve seen them be quite as amazing as they were on Friday – roll on the next show!

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Support came from digitalanalogue and I confess that it wasn’t quite what I expected either. With the album having being described variously as “drones” and “ambient” it was a pleasant surprise to find that the songs were a little more direct than I’d expected.

Ranging between Ian Turnbull performing on his own and being joined by 2 cohorts (including Neil Supermoon) there was some fun to be had from watching the three of them shuffle between the gear on the restricted stage. That and hearing the loudest squeaking stool at various points during the set.

More importantly musically there was a bit of a piano led Mogwai vibe at times and overall atmospheric is a fair description. But it certainly wasn’t as nebulous as I thought it might be with all the songs retaining a degree of forward momentum. I rather liked it.

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Book Group played:

1. Lowdown of a Loud Sound  2. Year of the Cat  3. Mayonnaise  4. The Art of Underachieving  5. A Rough Wooing  6. Season of Screams  7. Seedlings  8. Actress/Model (a.k.a. Opening Night?)  9. Victory Lap  10. Here Is Too Near

 

Another Quiet Night Out In Dundee

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OK, looking back at last night, let’s concentrate on the positives.

First the bands – as well as being brilliant acts both Tuff Love and Bruising were an absolute joy to deal with.

Tuff Love seem to get better every time I see them and last night was no exception. Mixing up recorded tracks from the E.P.s and split single with just as good new songs, they demonstrated just how much terrific material they have and sounded tremendous.

Arms politely twisted to do an encore they played another new song ‘Duke’ which already sounds like it’s going to be a set highlight for the foreseeable future. In fact after the show Suse did promise an album before too long – can’t wait!

Sometimes you hear a couple of songs from a band which sound great but when you see them live – that’s all they’ve got. That emphatically wasn’t the case with Bruising who were everything I could have hoped for on the basis of songs like ‘Can’t You Feel’ and ‘Talk About Death’.

They performed a really strong set to back up the handful of tunes that they’ve released so far and they’re amazingly well behaved house guests as well!

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A big thank you to Andy for stepping in to open the show at very short notice – A Hooker Without Jesus indeed. It wasn’t at all surprising that the Hookers for Jesus material worked so well as spoken word but in amongst everything else it said a lot for Andy that he pulled it off given that it was probably extra stress that he could have done without.

That the bands sounded so good was entirely due to the efforts of Scotty Russell who did a fantastic job with the sound and played a huge part in making the evening such a musical success. Thanks, Scotty.

Thanks also to Alan Wilson for his help in getting another impressive slot in the Courier for the Tuff Love interview last week.

Thanks to Mrs MPT for the “Manic Pop Catering” which was appreciated by everyone and to the staff at Drouthy’s too for letting us run the show.

Finally, a big, heartfelt, thanks to our small but perfectly formed and extremely appreciative audience. Turn-outs like that can be quite disheartening but the fact that everyone there enjoyed themselves did help ease the pain.

You’ve got one last chance to catch Tuff Love and Bruising tomorrow night (Saturday 30th) at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen where they’re joined by Miaoux Miaoux. That’s a seriously impressive bill.

Here’s the MPT element of last night’s playlist (pre-bands):

Lioness – Blood Indians
Frack – STOOR
Safari – Breeders
Here Is Too Near – Book Group
National Sunday Law – The Paranoid Style
Jumpers – Sleater-Kinney
Drive Blind – Ride
Under A Rock –Waxahatchee
Horsehoe – Withered Hand
Blue Line – Let’s Active
Eyes So Bright – Cate Le Bon
Split Your Ends – Wire
Bright Yellow Gun – Throwing Muses
Felxi Baumgartner – Memory Man
Actor Out of Work – St Vincent
Atheist Money – Adam Stafford
Dust In The Gold Sack – Swearin’
Hard Light – Band of Susans
In My Head – Vladimir
Girls Like US – PINS

Tonight – Tuff Love and Bruising! at Drouthys in Dundee

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