SCOTT HUTCHISON : SOME RECOLLECTIONS AND SOME THOUGHTS

I’ve deliberately taken my time with this one.  I hope you don’t mind that it has turned out so lengthy.

It was Aldo who dropped me an e-mail at work last Wednesday morning with the news that Scott Hutchison had been reported missing with his family expressing real concern about his state of mind.  I was really distressed about this for two reasons.

Firstly, it is very unusual for the authorities to officially declare someone as a ‘missing person’ a matter of hours after the disappearance has been reported and that just didn’t bode well.  Secondly, I had read an on-line interview on an American site just a few days earlier in which Scott had been really frank about his continuing battles with his mental health, saying he was 6/10 most days and 7/10 on good days;  he also referred to the 10th anniversary shows of The Midnight Organ Fight taking place throughout 2018 and how it wasn’t always easy to revisit many of the songs – and in particular he referenced Floating In The Forth which, if you weren’t aware, is the album closer in which the protagonist, having considered suicide by plunging hundreds of feet down from a bridge into the icy water below, changes his mind.

Scott’s last sighting had been in a hotel lobby just a few yards from the Forth Road Bridge.  I couldn’t help but fear the worst.

The other thing disturbing me was, just the fact that some two hours before the news of the disappearance had been made public, I had put a post on Facebook in which I had listed The Midnight Organ Fight  as the latest entry in a daily series in which I was responding to the challenge of naming ten albums that had been very influential on release and which were still listened to many years later.

I emailed Rachel to give her the news….we might not have too much in common musically nowadays, but Frightened Rabbit were a band we had seen on many occasions, going back to the early days and taking in, along the way, a gig in Berlin on my 50th birthday (when we only found about on the day of said show thanks to a text from Aldo!) and a performance with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Paisley Abbey just last year.  Rachel works in the field of employee support, particularly in the area of trauma management, and is familiar with the complexities of how folk react to and cope differently with stress and mental illness.  Deep down, I was hoping she might be able to offer something to cling on to, but her instincts and training said otherwise.

Other close friends were contacted, always by text or email as I just couldn’t trust myself to talk about it without my voice breaking up and my emotions to get the better of me.  Even the text conversations became difficult to carry on with as they degenerated into one word responses of either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the most sympathetic of questions. Social media was beginning to buzz with the news – some folk held out hope, but the vast majority of us were fearing a tragic outcome to the search.

And so it proved, with the discovery of a body in the water overnight on Thursday and the formal announcement on Friday morning.

It’s still hard to take in.

I fell for Frightened Rabbit in a big way when they first burst onto the scene.  Be Less Rude was the real introduction and although it was less than a year since its release, I had it in my 45 45s at 45 rundown to mark that birthday in 2008.  It actually appeared in the rundown just days before the band began the interviews to promote The Midnight Organ Fight, an album which blew me away on first hearing and even more so with the live renditions when the band got out on the road. The official launch took place with a free show at a packed Monorail in Glasgow to a very lucky and grateful audience; it was immediately clear that playing these very personal songs in the live setting was bringing out something very special in Scott Hutchison.  Not for the last time, tears were shed when his band mates temporarily took their leave of him to enable this heart-breaker to be performed:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Poke

The shows over the course of the next year or so just got better and better….sadly, I couldn’t snare a ticket for the one at the tiny Captain’s Rest in Glasgow where the band would give an acoustic performance , featuring a guest appearance by James Graham of The Twilight Sad, that was later released as the album Liver! Lung! FR!, although my dear friend Drew of From Across The Kitchen Table was there.

A small consolation came in April 2009 when Matthew of Song by Toad Records put me on the guest list for a sold-out show at the now-closed The Bowery in Edinburgh at which Frightened Rabbit were bringing down the curtain on The Midnight Organ Fight in a very deliberately understated way as support act to Meursault who were on SbT (and thus, providing me with an opportunity to blag my way in!)  This was the night when I first spoke directly to Scott;  I took the opportunity to mention the blog and to my surprise he said he knew of it and had been really pleased to come across the positive reviews I had given to the records and shows.  On the spot, he offered me an interview about the work that was about to get underway writing songs for a new album and passed me his personal e-mail address on the basis that it was easier to communicate in that way than going through the record label or publicists.

This was just typical of him.  He was incredibly helpful and generous with his time to those of us who were fans and felt that a humble blogger was every bit as worthy as a feature in the biggest and glossiest of publications.  He was also incredibly popular among his peers throughout the industry.  If I ever managed to have a conversation with another musician, I’d do my best to mention Scott to them and the reaction was always the same – top bloke, incredible talent and sure to be a star who would attract a bigger audience.

These predictions did turn out to be true in that the band moved from Brighton-based Fat Cat Records to sign with one of the big majors in the shape of Atlantic.  There was never quite the mega-beakthrough that maybe the label had hoped for, but the subsequent albums did go Top 20 in the UK and #1 in Scotland where the fan base had expanded to a stage where tours of large-sized venues would sell out very quickly.

I have often said that the band didn’t ever quite hit the heights of The Midnight Organ Fight, but then again that was an impossible task.  The later works, LPs and EPs alike, all contained many gems but I couldn’t quite bring myself to give them five-star ratings.  I still enjoyed going to see the band albeit it had seemed preferable when it wasn’t quite such an audience sing-a-long;  in saying that, I was rightly put in my place by the singer who made it clear, as we chatted briefly in a bar after an acoustic gig in the small town of Gourock on the west coast of Scotland, that he was delighted when this happened as it provided incredible proof that he had connected in a way with people he never thought possible when he was putting the words and music together.  Here’s some examples of the crowd-pleasers.

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Living In Colour
mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Holy

It transpired that the final time I would see him perform was that gig at Paisley Abbey last year where a number of the songs were raised to a whole new level thanks to the orchestration.  The gig wasn’t filmed professionally, but some folk have loaded their own clips to you tube and the likes….I’ve unashamedly pinched this from allroyforprez….and I welled up as I watched it.

I’ve reflected a fair bit on things these past few days. From the very outset, there was a brutally honest vulnerability about Scott’s lyrics which resonated with me.

We live in a world where the pressure is on us to be constantly happy and upbeat – we all fall into the trap of posting stuff on social media about how great things are, how enjoyable a particular experience is, how handsome or beautiful we are looking or feeling and how being surrounded by like-minded people is just the bee’s knees. We’re not so keen to post about the more common times when are in solitude, feeling disappointed, bored, sad or even just ambivalent as it’s not the done thing. It’s amazing how easy it is to create an artificial existence these days.

Scott Hutchison wasn’t scared or embarrassed to write about shit things in life, but he did so in a way which was self-deprecating and often laced with good humour; it’s a trait shared by the boys from the Arab Strap which is why I love so much of their collective and solo material.

His underlying message, to my ears, was that things will knock you for six but there will always be a way to eventually bounce back. He emerged at a time when I was struggling with a few things, particularly at work where, out of nowhere, my career hit the skids through no fault of my own. It was a turn of events which gave me a lot more time to devote to music, such as an increased attendance at gigs now that I wasn’t keeping stupid hours in the office and, crucially as things would turn out, led to the decision to start a blog in September 2006 as a way of ensuring the creative juices kept flowing and that I didn’t stumble into a very dark and painful place.

It’s a period with which I associate a great many cyberspace friends, a number of whom have become flesh-and-blood mainstays over the years. It’s also a period with which I associate Frightened Rabbit….and I find it incredibly sad, and indeed somewhat ironic, to think that someone who helped me immensely through a tough time in my life was unable to help himself when he was at his most troubled.

Thanks for everything Scott. The memories of many nights watching you and your band mates put on spellbinding shows, together with those few times I was lucky enough to talk to you, will stay with me for a very very long time. I’m going to miss you. RIP.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG (on a Wednesday) : #109 : FRIGHTENED RABBIT

This week sees another band that has featured a fair bit round this way over the years.

Frightened Rabbit formed in the Scottish Borders town of Selkirk in 2003, but for the most part have been based in Glasgow.

They have released five albums thus far, along with the best part of 20 singles/EPs, going from small indie labels to a lucrative deal with Atlantic Records back in 2012. I was lucky enough to catch them on many occasions during their stellar rise, watching and enjoying them grown in ability and confidence all the while.

Their sophomore album, The Midnight Organ Fight, released in 2008 is nothing short of a masterpiece and a work that I would have no hesitation in placing very near the top of the best ever LPs by any Scottish singer or band. It’s actually quite hard to imagine that f’Rabbit were so unknown at the time of its release that the launch was via a free show at Mono Records…

I’ve liked some but not all of the material since the move to the major label not that it matters as there is no doubt its has massively broadened their appeal, certainly here in Scotland where they have become something of an institution with live shows selling out in double-quick time. They remain a superb attraction in the live setting, and their show with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Paisley in October 2017 was one of the highlights in a year that was packed with them. I’m hoping, in due time, some material from that night will be made available.

I’m absolutely delighted that they are so popular as frontman Scott Hutchison has always been one of the nicest men in the music business, always happy to talk to fans and those with an interest in the band, giving freely of his time to bloggers as well as numerous worthy charitable causes. Not sure if I’ll ever again adore anything as much as I did that 2008 album….they are touring it and playing it a series of 10th anniversary gigs this year, and tempting as it is to go along, I’m going to make do with the memories of the small and intimate venues where you could see the frontman welling up from the heartfelt emotions associated with songs that were written to cope with a painful break-up, mixed in with the pride and happiness that was coming from the reactions of the ever-growing audience.

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Keep Yourself Warm

JC

A SPECTACULAR SPECTACLE

This blog started out back in 2006 just as Frightened Rabbit were beginning to get noticed, initially here in Scotland and then, thanks to a combination of some very fine early releases and some equally fine live tours It also helped that lead somgwriter Grant Hutchison was such a sound and decent bloke who, fully understanding and recognising that new media, including blogging, could go a long way to breaking new and emerging talent, was always willing to give of his time to anyone who asked for it.

Back in April 2008, Frightened Rabbit released a monumentally impressive sophomore album. I wrote an awful lot about Midnight Organ Fight over at the Google version of this blog before it was unceremoniously torn down. Like many others, I fell head over heels for its intense and passionate blend of indie-pop/folk across songs that, for the most part, dealt with falling in love like you’ve never done before only for it to all go horrendously and hideously wrong. The lyrics were honest to the point of brutal with absolutely no sugar-coating whatsoever. It also helped that I was at the launch gigs in tiny Glasgow venues, including Mono and King Tuts, at which you could see at close-hand just how difficult and painful it was for the frontman to relive so many real-life episodes through the medium of song.

The album featured in many end of year lists and deservedly so. The band followed it up with The Winter of Mixed Drinks in 2010, their third and final LP for indie-label Fat Cat Records, a record that broadened their appeal enough to attract the attention of Atlantic Records with who the band signed a deal not long after. Maybe it was the music snob in me, somewhat annoyed that this band that I had been lucky enough to see around the toilet circuit were now capable of selling out Barrowlands in a matter of minutes and had an audience that wanted to sing-a-long to everything, thus ruining the subtle parts of the gut-wrenching songs, including the ones that were on the newer records. But I sort of lost interest in Frightened Rabbit, albeit it was genuinely pleasing to see them become a little bit wealthier on the fruits of their labours.

I did, however, see the band back in 2013 when, by complete chance, they happened to be in Berlin when I was celebrating my 50th birthday with a first ever visit to the city in the company of Mrs Villain. We were having a fantastic time enjoying the sights, including out at the Olympic Stadium the day after my birthday when a text flashed up from Aldo telling me he had noticed Frightened Rabbit were playing in what seemed to be a small-medium sized venue in one of the more bohemian parts of the city. We managed to get tickets and along we went – it was a decent gig but nothing more. The songs were largely drawn from what was then their most recent album Pedestrian Verse, a work that I had bought but only listened to once on the basis that it didn’t do anything for me, and the live renditions didn’t really spark much either. Having said that, it was still a great way to have an unexpected night out in Berlin.

Four and a bit year on, I ventured out to see the band again. It was apt that I was in the company of Mrs Villain and Aldo. It was the latter who had spotted that the band were putting on a special show in which they would be accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) inside the very grand Paisley Abbey, a church that dates back in parts to 850 years ago and is still in use today. The show was part of the sixth annual Spree Festival during which the RSNO always team up with a Scottish band or singer and perform inside the Abbey. We were lucky enough to see Twilight Sad and Admiral Fallow with the orchestra back in 2013 and that proved to be a special and enjoyable occasion.

This, however, took the whole collaboration thing to entirely new heights. There’s a depth and emotion to Scott Hutchison’s song-writing that lends itself perfectly to huge arrangements such as were provided on the night. The show opened with three songs that I didn’t know at all thanks to them coming from albums or EPs that had been released in 2016 or 2017 and which I hadn’t picked up; nevertheless, the atmosphere was incredible with a reverential and fully seated audience hanging onto every note, with not even a whisper to be heard during the performance. The band’s playing was perfectly in tune with the orchestra, beautifully understated within a minimum amp so that the entire sound could be enjoyed.

And then something truly magical happened. The band, with the exception of Scott, took their leave. The singer said that he was about to do the scariest thing in his entire life as a performer. And with that he began to strum and play this:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Poke

One of the highlights of Midnight Organ Fight and a song that conveys all the sad emotion of how it feels to be broken-hearted while failing to comprehend just why everything went pear-shaped. It’s a song that uses the word ‘cunt’ and Scott didn’t hesitate to utter it, despite knowing he in the middle of what to many people is a very sacred and spiritual location.

The audience applause went up a fair few notches at the end of the song. I didn’t think the night could be bettered and would happily have gone home there and then thinking it had all been worth it.

The band came back on and Scott said they were going to perform some songs without the orchestra before ending the night with further collaborations. I was gob-smacked that the next four songs turned out to be energetic and immense versions of tracks on Midnight Organ Fight immediately followed by two of their more pop-orientated songs from some of the later albums.

The night ended with five more songs performed alongside the orchestra. It is worth stating, this was a full orchestra with strings, brass, wind and percussion, with every player being internationally renowned. The band really had to be on top form to cope with it.

The night ended with all sorts of thanks offered prior to the playing of the final number. I was sitting there quietly wishing for a particular song as I reckoned it would make for the perfect ending as it really did offer the greatest potential for an orchestral arrangement. But at the same time, I thought it might just be too much of an ask for the band to pull it off in such distinguished company. If I believed in God, I might even have offered up a silent prayer at the time with an ask….I simply sat there and hoped. I later found our Mrs Villain was hoping for the same thing…and although I never asked him, I’m sure Aldo was also hoping for the same.

And we got it:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Keep Yourself Warm

I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved emotionally by one single song performed in the live setting as I was sitting there in Paisley Abbey. As it ended, I, along with just about everyone present, leapt up and roared an approval with a sustained round of applause – just as you do when you’ve enjoyed a classical music performance. I glanced across at Aldo and we simultaneously mouthed the word ‘wow’. There was no need for anything else to be said.

Back in 2013, footage was later released of The Twilight Sad/RSNO efforts and indeed this can still be viewed on-line. If the same thing happened from the other night, I’ll be sure to draw it your attention.

I’m still getting shivers days later thinking about it.

JC

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (43)

7fat33_cover_lo-res_600x600_1ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 26 MARCH 2008

By now you’re probably all thinking its going to be really old stuff in this particular long-running bout of nostalgia. But as you can see from today’s posting, that ain’t necessarily so.

This was my favourite single of 2007. And it made such an impact on me, that its right up there as one of my favourite singles of all time.

I never imagined when I started this blogging lark that I would end up rediscovering such enthusiasm for new and fresh music. I always thought that was something best left to the kids. Certainly, when I was twenty years younger, there was a part of me that felt sorry for the old fogeys at the gigs I was at – I couldn’t help but think they looked so out-of-place.

Nowadays, I am that old fogey. And I don’t give a toss what anyone thinks of me. And If I can get down to the front of the gig, then all the better.

This lot are playing a tiny venue in Glasgow this coming Saturday evening**. And I’m going to be there are as they unveil the songs that are going to make up their forthcoming sophomore LP, as well as the older stuff.

Frightened Rabbit are a fantastic and exciting band. They’ve been increasing their fan base thanks to support slots with the likes of Sons & Daughters and Editors. It’s time they stepped out into the limelight.

Why this song? Its hard in some ways to put into words. I first heard it when Comrade Colin posted it over at his blog and just fell head over heels for it. I tracked down the LP the following day and it went immediately onto heavy rotation on the i-pod. Later in the year, a very slightly different mix was put out on 7″ vinyl, and that’s what I’m offering here:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Be Less Rude
mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – The Greys

I know…..some of you will be asking if this is really better than a single that hasn’t made the Top 45 such as Billy Bragg doing Levi Stubbs’ Tears?? Probably not….but as I said at the outset of all of this, there are some days when a particular song captures my mood and another doesn’t and where they feature in an all-time list will fluctuate.

But however you look at it, and whether you think it’s not worthy of a place in chart rundown of this nature, there’s no denying that both Be Less Rude and The Greys are great bits of modern indie-pop with a Scottish twist.

(** well, they were back in March 2008.  I doubt they’ll be doing so tonight!!)

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Parts 51-55)

Back on 8 October 2011, I started a series called ‘Saturday’s Scottish Single’.  The aim was to feature one 45 or CD single by a Scottish singer or band with the proviso that the 45 or CD single was in the collection. I had got to Part 60-something and as far as Kid Canaveral when the rug was pulled out from under TVV.

I’ll catch up soon enough by featuring 5 or more at a time from the archives..

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(51) Friends Again – Honey At The Core b/w Lucky Star : Moonboot Records 7″ single (1983)

Read more about Friends Again here

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(52) Frightened Rabbit  – Fast Blood b/w Soon Go  : Fast Cat Records : 7″ single (2008)

Read more about Frightened Rabbit here 

NB : Part 52 was actually Be Less Rude/Sing The Greys but I featured this on T(n)VV a few weeks back.

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(53) Geneva – No One Speaks b/w Closer To The Stars b/w Keep The Light On :  Nude Records CD single (1996)

Read more about Geneva here

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(54) The Gentle Waves – Falling From Grace b/w Going Home b/w October’s Sky b/w Hold Back A Thousand Hours : Jeepster Records CD single (2000)

The first solo recordings released by Isobel Campbell who at the time was still part of Belle & Sebastian. Also worth mentioning that Falling From Grace has been one of the most downloaded tracks I’ve ever made available….

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(55) Glasvegas – Geraldine b/w The Prettiest Thing On Saltcoats Beach b/w Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime : Mercury Records 2 x & 7″ singles (2008)

Read more about Glasvegas here

Parts  61 -65 next Saturday…..

RECALLING THE EXCELLENT DEBUT SINGLE (Part 2)

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From 2007.  Two songs that sadly don’t get aired in the current live shows:-

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Be Less Rude

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – The Greys

Both are slightly different mixes from what are available on the debut LP.  These are songs that take me back to seeing this lot in loads of tiny venues all across Glasgow hoping that it wouldn’t take too long before their talents and abilities to effortlessly knock out tartan-tinged tunes of hope and despair were more widely recognised and rewarded.  It took a few years but in due course the major label did come knocking.

I’ve written before that while I’m sad to see the sound dilute a bit as it became more appealing to the masses there is no way I’m going to accuse Frightened Rabbit of ever selling out.  The live shows today, certainly on the basis of the gig I was lucky and unexpectedly enough to catch in Berlin just a few months ago, remain just as joyful and moving in equal measures as they were in the days of sweaty Glasgow basements.  And it also seems that the boys are just as approachable and self-assuming as they’ve always been.  Increasing fame and some fortune doesn’t turn everyone into an arsehole.

Quick update on some more box takedowns.  Most recent two have been for a Charlatans single and for a live recording of a track by The Smiths….one that was never made available commercially but which came from a radio recording of their first ever live appearance in Scotland back in 1984.  A wee fightback comes tomorrow….

A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT

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Dear Reader

TVV was a blog hosted by blogger.com between 30 September 2006 and 24 July 2013 when it was taken down by the host for what was alleged to be continued violations of copyright policy.

The millions of words that went into some 2,500 posts have gone forever.  Blogger has in effect carried out the modern-day equivalent of book burning. It’s not a nice feeling.

But, to paraphrase Mr Stevie Wonder – I ain’t gonna stand for it which is why within a matter of hours of learning of the demise of TVV, I’ve got myself a new host to start things again.  So a warm welcome to The (new) Vinyl Villain.

It will take time to populate T(n)VV with links etc so please be patient with me as I learn how to properly make the most of WordPress.

And if you don’t mind…..please spread the word of where folk can find me.  I won’t be linking to places like Hype Machine or Elbo – they were great in driving up traffic and attracting new readers, but probably played a big part in the demise of TVV by drawing attention to the mp3s.  This time round it’s going to be different…..but the same if you know what I mean!

mp3 : Frightened Rabbit – Music Now

Happy Listening