BONUS POST : DID THEY CUT THE MUSTARD IN 2017? : #2 : SONG, BY TOAD SHOWCASE

BBC Radio 6 came to Glasgow last weekend with some incredibly high-powered and diverse line-ups at some of the best known venues in the city, with the biggest attention grabber being Depeche Mode at the Barrowlands, a venue they could have comfortably sold-out at least five times over. There was always going to be a huge scramble for tickets for all of the gigs;  they also went on sale on a day and at a time when work commitments prevented me going on-line and so I resigned myself to missing out. There was also the fact that the festival was ahappening on a weekend when I was more or less fully committed to going to a range of other things including football on the Saturday and marking Mother’s Day on the Sunday.

But then something unexpected happened. It was announced that there would be a Fringe aspect with smaller gigs at more intimate venues planned for the lead-in to the weekend, one of which was at Glad Café just a 20 minute brisk walk from Villain Towers, and whose line-up was to consist of three acts from the Edinburgh-based Song, By Toad label. Readers of old will know that I’ve long been an admirer of everything label owner Matthew Young has achieved over the past decade or so, a period in which he has graduated from mere blogging and podcasting into becoming one of the most important and influential figures within the local music scene, so apart from anything else it was likely going to afford an opportunity to have a long-overdue catch up with him if he came along on the night (which he did and we did!). The real bonus however, was the revelation that the gig would act as the Glasgow launch of the new LP from Meursault and that two of the most beguiling acts on the label would provide support on the night. And all for the bargain price of £7.

The night opened with a 40-minute set from Siobhan Wilson. The word haunting was invented to provide a one-word description of her act. A slightly built singer-songwriter who has been recording and performing for about seven years or so, her voice and gentle guitar playing totally captivated the audience.

My companion for the evening – Mike G (possibly the shyest man on Planet Earth) – whispered to me as applause rang out at the end of another stunningly delivered song that her dilevery and vocal range reminded him a lot of Harriet Wheeler. Me? I was thinking of Hope Sandeval during some of the quieter moments and I’m sure others in the audience who were listening intently to every perfectly delivered note were making comparisons with their own favourites and believing that, in a fair and just world, it can only be a matter of time before Siobhan’s talents come to the attention of a much wider public. It was the perfect start to the evening.

mp3 : Siobhan Wilson – Dear God

Jonnie Common was next to take to the stage. Another who has been around for the best part of a decade, he has released a number of EPs and albums under various guises constantly confounding anyone who likes to put their performers into neatly categorised boxes. He’s been mainstream enough to be invited to perform a Radio 6 session for Tom Robinson but I can’t think of anyone else who has released a critically acclaimed album made solely of sounds from his kitchen utensils as he did just last year. Let’s just say, when Jonnie is on the bill, expect the unexpected.

Tonight he was paying guitar – a shit guitar  that had been designed by Kurt Cobain (his words, not mine!!) that would require a lot of tuning in-between songs. He was joined on stage by Gavin Thomson on keyboards and flugelhorn.

The set turned out to be of songs that are at the development stage, but unlike many other performances of that nature where the audience lose interest from a lack of familiarity with the material, such is Jonnie’s natural stage presence, wit, sense of fun and ability to do something you weren’t the slightest bit prepared for, everyone remained beguiled by what was unfolding in front of them.  It was a first for me that someone could use electronic wizardry to make the tuning of a guitar sound like an orchestra playing and who, in the middle of a song in which he had forgotten the words, pressed a button to blast out a, sadly, unused and hilarious jingle specially recorded for a Radio 6 DJ. Oh and who was able, again thanks to some very sharp sampling, to bring us the delights of Lauren Laverne on backing vocals. It was the perfect continuation of the evening.

mp3 : Jonnie Common – Shark

(The Siobhan and Jonnie songs were taken from this 2014 release)

Finally, it was the turn of Meursault to take to the stage. And in the week when this blog is paying homage to the late and great Billy MacKenzie, it somehow seems apt that to put the spotlight on frontman Neil Pennycook, without any question the finest vocalist to come out of Scotland since the turn of the century.

Readers of old will know that Meursault have long been personal favourites. Beginning life as Neil’s solo project, they soon expanded into a highly talented and accomplished group of musicians, some of whom were part of the ensemble for shorter periods than others, and between 2008 and 2014 they released three very different sounding albums of original material, a handful of excellent singles/EPs and one crowd-funded album of suggested covers encompassing a range of styles such as electronica, pop, folk and krautrock. In August 2014 they seemingly called it a day with Neil announcing that he would now write , record and perform under the name of Supermoon. The other band members sought to pursue solo careers or within new bands, most notably Modern Studies whose chamber-pop debut album last year received many plaudits.

Out of the blue, Neil announced the return of Meursault with a plan of recording the Supermoon material as a band. An EP, Simple Is Good was released in October 2016 and an album I Will Kill Again in February 2017. In my own perverse way, I didn’t rush out and buy the new material for the simple reason that I’ve always found any live exposure to the power and beauty of Neil’s voice as the best way to be introduced to his songs. So, for the most part as this was a set almost exclusively drawn from the new releases, these were songs with which I wasn’t familiar.

The five-piece band took to the stage – there were some familiar faces with Sam Mallalieu on drums and Reuben Taylor on accordion/piano, but there was a new member in the shape of Robyn Dawson on fiddle and backing vocals while the spectacularly bearded Bart Owl of Eagleowl was on bass (it transpired he was filling in for Fraser Hughes who was unavailable on the evening). Over the course of the next hour or so this wonderfully talented group delivered something that I wasn’t the least bit expecting. It was for the most part a far harder edged sound than I had ever experienced at previous Meursault performances with Neil demonstrating what had been previously been, to this fan, largely hidden extraordinary talents as a lead guitarist making full use of his pedals but all the time perfectly complementing that extraordinary voice of his. As I watched this unfold, certain words from a Beastie Boys song were racing round my brain – mesmerising, tantalising, captivating and devastating. It was the real deal.

And then……..Neil asked for all the sound monitors to be switched off. He picked up a bottle of wine, poured a glass and went over to stand beside Reuben who was seated at the piano (the tiny stage at Glad Café meant in had to be located adjacent). He launched into a cover version of Day Drinker, a song written and recorded by Adam Faucett, an Arkansas-based musician, and in doing so provided a spellbinding performance that caused a few tear ducts to open.

It was, as my Canadian friends would say, awesome. A show-stopping moment that had this mere mortal again trying to work out what special part of the DNA enables talented performers, be they singers, actors or dancers, who, having just left nothing out there during a particular part of a show, let the applause die down and get geared up for what is due next.

All too soon the clock had ticked round to curfew time and Meursault took their leave of the stage. I was quickly over to the merchandise stall where I bought the two bits of music that I had previously held off from. They will be on regular rotation in the coming weeks and months.

mp3 : Meursault – Simple Is Good

I’m not sure how the rest of the BBC Radio 6 show went over the course of the weekend – I would imagine that folk who got to see their favourites in smaller than normal venues or perhaps as the support act to a bigger name, will have come away raving about it. But pound for pound, I can’t imagine they got as great a bargain as those of us at Glad Café, nor did they experience such a varied bill of fare that saw three equally superb acts deliver in their own and very distinctive ways.

JC

THE 500th POST On T(n)VV

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With thanks to everyone, whether you’ve submitted a guest post, left a comment, sent me an e-mail or simply dropped in for a look.

It’s sometimes been a bit of a struggle keeping the new blog going – I’m not sure it will ever give me the same sense of excitement and satisfaction as the old blog – but every now and again there’s something drops into the inbox or comments section that makes me realise that it is still all worthwhile.

I thought I’d celebrate by featuring some songs ripped from the vinyl collection that I don’t think have ever appeared previously on this or the old blog.

mp3 : The Jam – Happy Together
(From the LP The Gift (which I still I have in its pink and white gift wrapping))

mp3 : Meursault – Settling
(from the LP Something for The Weakened (in recognition of one of the best bands to have come and gone in the few short years I’ve been doing this nonsense – good luck with the new venture Neil)

mp3 : The Cramps – Jailhouse Rock
(from the NME compilation LP The Last Temptation of Elvis (in acknowledgement of my first ever gig more than 35 years ago))

mp3 : Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone
(from the LP Highway 61 Revisited (the original 1965 mono version – gifted to me by someone a few weeks ago when they learned I had a passion for vinyl))

mp3 : Randolph’s Leap – I Can’t Dance To This Music Anymore
(from the LP Clumsy Knot (just a way of sneaking in a track from my favourite album of 2014))

Here’s a live ‘unplugged’ version of the Randolph’s Leap song which was filmed in a pub very very close to my place of work in the east end of Glasgow and which was the venue for some of my most magical musical memories this past 12 months.

Enjoy.

And here’s to the next 500 bits of nonsense.

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (22)

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Today’s friend electric probably doesn’t need much of an introduction as I’m guessing most of you will be familiar with his work.

Drew is the very substantial talent who sits Across The Kitchen Table.  You never know until you pay a visit just what musical offerings will be on the menu as Drew has the most wide-ranging taste of anyone that I know.  The tunes alone are an excuse enough to make you want to be a regular visitor but the sprinkling of fairy dust comes courtesy of the writing which is a combination of  social commentary, personal diary, critical analysis and the occasional delve into the memory bank.

I’ve been lucky enough to have hooked up with Drew on a number of occasions, mainly through us being in the audience at gigs over the years.  But we’ve also made specific arrangements to meet up outwith said gigs and I’m in the privileged position of having actually sat at the very kitchen table which is pictured at the head of his blog.  I can vouch that the boy makes a mean bowl of pasta and also knows exactly the right sort of wines to accompany the food…..

So I’m very proud to say that Drew is more than a Friend Electric but, like many other bloggers that I’ve been lucky enough to have met in the flesh over the past 8 years, a true friend. He is generous to a fault and great company no matter the location, be it a large city centre concert venue or the snug of a small lounge in the small town in which he lives with his wonderful family…his kids are going to grow up with great taste in music and inherit a very fine and quite valuable record/CD collection.

Here’s something I’ve stolen from him, penned back on 7 February 2012:-

VINYL TIME

Picture the scene, it’s Saturday just before noon, the breakfast dishes are done and the kitchen cleared up. Number one son is away with the better half fucking up packing some poor unfortunate’s shopping in the aid of school funds. Leo is sitting at the “pooter” watching Remembrance Of The Daleks which will keep him engrossed for as long as I let him sit in front of the thing.

So,  I find myself at a loose end with nothing to do. Well there is the washing machine to load, the hoovering to be done and a few other things that I could be doing but nothing urgent.

During these rare occasions I retreat to the dinning room and put on something that I have not got round to listening to or something that I haven’t listened to in ages.  It will always be on vinyl, as well,  it just feels right that when I’ve got the time I sit down and give an album the attention it deserves moving only the once to flip over the vinyl. After which I will go back to whatever mundane tasks need to be done happy in the knowledge that I have just listened to something the way it was intended to be listened to,  no skipping, shuffling or repeating.

On Saturday I found myself in a quandry. I had the urge to hear Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues but that would mean playing a cd and this was ‘Vinyl Time’. I decided that as I could not think of anything else I wanted to hear more, I would break the rules this once. I did toy with the idea of playing All Creatures Will Make Merry as this was re-released on lovely red vinyl last year but no, Pissing On Bonfires it had to be.

And for the next thirty eight and a bit minutes I sat on my chair and immersed myself in what is still  an amazing listen even after being heard by these ears tons of times. It feels as fresh now as it did when I first purchased it on a whim and waited ages for it to come.

If there are any of you out there that don’t own a copy of this absolute gem get yourself over to Song By Toad pronto and purchase it and as much of the label’s back catalogue as you can afford. Then mibbe one day they will be able to afford to do for Meursault’s debut what they did for the follow up and release it on vinyl which would spare me the dilema of breaking the rules of ‘Vinyl Time’.

mp3 : Meursault – A Small Stretch Of Land

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The rather sad news emerged the other week that Meursault will soon be no more as Neil Pennycook, the main man in the band and possessor of the finest voice in all of Scotland, wants to branch out into new things and work with other musicians.  The band play their final ever gig in Edinburgh later this month.  I intend to be there…

 

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (3)

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Matthew Young has a blog called Song by Toad and he also runs a fantastic label called Song By Toad Records. He is an incredibly talented, generous and humourous human being on so many levels. He’s also a fantastic writer.  I wish I’d come up with this from earlier this month:-

TEN YEARS OF SONG BY TOAD, WHY DO I FUCKING BOTHER?

First things first: the answer to the above question is that I have absolutely no fucking idea why I bother.

Secondly: I have absolutely no idea if I’ve been doing this for exactly ten years, but I know it’s roughly there or thereabouts. It may not have a date stamp, but the first review I ever wrote was of Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and that was released in April 2004, so I guess ten years is a reasonable guess.

It’s not strictly ten years of Song, by Toad either, because when I first started writing about music on the internet I didn’t call it Song, by Toad and it wasn’t a blog, initially. I just fired up reviews on a static site which nobody read.

I only discovered blogs a couple of years later, and realised that I was actually writing one already, so I moved everything over to Blogger and suddenly there I was, writing a blog like so many others. And the rest, of course, is history – if you know about the site you probably know it all already, and if you don’t then you probably don’t care.

I suppose I have to mark a (vague) ten-year anniversary one way or another though, and I suppose I’ve lived through the full cycle of blogging as it emerged, peaked and now seems to be petering out somewhat.

I say that, but people who talk about the death of blogging annoy me now as much as journalists who, back when it first emerged, would say that blogging was killing journalism. Blogging is simply a form of writing, and any good writer should be able to write a compelling blog. Blogging itself has simply been incorporated into mainstream journalism, and there are also more and more ways for amateur enthusiasts to get involved these days, so it would be daft to say that blogging is in decline.

What is in decline, though, is the sense that blogs are the drivers of the broader music conversation*. Back in about 2007 or 2008 they – or we, I suppose – seemed to be where an increasing number of fans went to read about new music. But that audience seems to have wandered off recently and blogging has diffused into dozens of different variations, from online magazines like Drowned in Sound, which publishes plenty of bloggy pieces but is still basically a magazine in digital form, to Twitter, which is published fan participation at its most minimal.

If you think about it, back when they first began to rise to prominence, blogs were the embodiment of the promise of the internet. Interactivity, amateur involvement, instant reactions… all the things we still talk about now. But back then there was no social media, for example, so all the silly conversations we see on Facebook and Twitter now actually used to take place in forums and in the comments sections on blogs. The informal nature of the writing was a welcome change to the rather stuffy world of real music journalism as well, but they learned their lesson pretty fast, and now professional journalists (being talented writers, generally) write some of the best blogs out there.

Most prominent bloggers with ambition either parlayed their status into jobs in the music industry itself or turned their blogs into online magazines, and the emergence of these has filled a large amount of the space between the amateur and the professional music press which bloggers had briefly threatened to overrun on their own.

Random chatter has now moved to social media as well, and as a consequence not only have blogs’ readerships declined, but that argumentative bickering in the comments section has moved elsewhere as well, and with it the obvious evidence of an engaged audience which made blogs so enticing to a music industry which, in 2009, had pretty much no idea where its audience had gone.

Nowadays, we know. Music fans are all over social media, they supply all their listening stats on Spotify, and with Soundcloud and YouTube embeds it is pretty easy to gauge exactly how much traction a newly released song has gained. Blogs somehow seem so old fashioned these days.

Partly, they have destroyed themselves, I must say. Posting and re-posting all the same old shit, regurgitating press releases, needless click-baiting, it all seems a bit passionless and craven. Some people made a real name for themselves with their blogs and it seems a lot of people are entering into the field with that as the goal from the start, rather than just for the joy of writing.

Back then, people blogged for loads of reasons. Some of those reasons are better served by social media these days, and others by other forms of participating in the music industry. Not all that many people wrote blogs for the particular joy of writing, or even because they thought of themselves as writers. They weren’t, they were music fans, blogging was just a way of enjoying music.

But I think that’s why I am still going some ten years later, when most people have a two or three-year trajectory from starting off to petering out. As well as music, I actually love writing and I always have. Song, by Toad isn’t just about reviews or finding the most acest new music ever, I just enjoy sitting down at the keyboard and wondering what nonsense is going to emerge this time.

It’s a pretty standard artistic cop-out to say that I don’t really expect people to read this blog, but I don’t. I’d like people to read it of course, but it’s not something I expect. There are more informed and analytical writers out there, and god knows what most people make of my music taste.

I’ve no idea where I’m going from here, either. There’s no real sense that I want to stop, although I would imagine that it’s pretty obvious that the label is taking more and more of my time these days. But two things come together here at Song, by Toad – my love of music, which writing the blog has enabled me to explore to levels I never really imagined, and my enjoyment of the act of writing.

I rarely know what I am going to write about, and although I think about albums a lot before I write about them, I never really plan the actual thrust of a write-up or think about phraseology or anything like that, I just sit down and write. And it’s fun. And I guess that’s probably why I’m still going after ten years when so many people who started at the same time has quit.

*Awful expression, I know. Sorry.

JC adds

Matthew didn’t add any songs to that particular posting, so I’m going to post a few things you’ll find on his label, beginning with an old song from probably the best-known act on Song By Toad Records:-

mp3 : Meursault – A Few Kind Words

Now a songs taken from Imaginary Walls Collapse, a release that should have been named Scottish Album of The Year 2013 (but somehow it didn’t even make the final shortlist of 10)

mp3 : Adam Stafford – Cold Seas

And finally, something rather beautiful and moving from Bastard Mountain, a Scottish indie/folk supergroup (of sorts!) given that they consist of Pete Harvey & Neil Pennycook from Meursault, Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow & the Workshop, Rob St. John from eagleowl & Meursault, Rory Sutherland from Broken Records & Reuben Taylor from James Yorkston & the Athletes.

mp3 : Bastard Mountain – Meadow Ghosts

Now get yourself over to this website and spend some money.

More Friends Electric next Monday

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 81)

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I’ve been looking forward to posting this 7″ single for quite some time.

First of all, a little bit from wiki:-

Meursault are a Scottish indie rock band from Edinburgh, formed in 2006. Led by singer-songwriter Neil Pennycook, the band’s musical style has been variously categorised as folktronica, alternative rock and indie folk. The band themselves have described their most recent work as “epic lo-fi”. The name of the band is a reference to the main character of L’Etranger, the existentialist novel by Albert Camus.

Their releases to date have been generally well received by the music and entertainment media, both in Scotland and on a nationwide level. In 2009 The Skinny placed the band’s debut album, Pissing On Bonfires / Kissing With Tongues at No. 16 in their “Scottish Albums of the Decade” list; while their second full-length release, All Creatures Will Make Merry, has been reviewed favourably by a number of notable media outlets.

“Something for the Weakened” is the third studio album released on July 16, 2012 on Song, by Toad Records. Regarding the album, songwriter Neil Pennycook noted, “This album makes more sense to me, and I think I’m more relaxed this time. I can hear it as a body of work, and it resonates more with me than the other records.”

Unlike the band’s previous two studio albums, Something for the Weakened does not feature any electronica elements, with Pennycook noting that his Macbook broke prior to recording, and that “I think we all wanted to move towards something which had a more human element to it.”

Recorded by band member Pete Harvey, Something for the Weakened is the first Meursault album to feature contributions from Lorcan Doherty, Sam Mallalieu, Kate Miguda and Rob St. John.  Neil Pennycook notes, “With the last two records I was into that idea of just locking myself in a room for a few weeks and emerging with an album, so it was nice to have everyone getting together this time, bouncing things off each other.” Pennycook also noted that the band had more input than on previous recordings; “When the songs are being recorded/arranged the rest of the guys have a lot more input now due to the nature of the sessions. Whereas before I treated recording as quite a solitary thing, I play better with others these days.”

Upon the album’s release, he stated, “I’d written a bunch of songs, a few we’d been playing live for a little while in some form or other, but most were worked up from pretty sparse guitar, piano and vocal demos.2

“The song “Flittin’ gave me an idea of what I wanted the album to be about. While the other two are pretty heavily-themed, I just wanted this album to reflect what was happening over the course of a year. I don’t think the lyrics are quite as metaphorical as they’ve been in the past, they’re a bit more direct and that’s what I was after. That carried through the instruments as well.”

The lyric, “So long, it’s been good to know you,” featured in “Flittin'”, is by Woody Guthrie.

It’s the single Flittin’ which is featured today.  This is a single that I would have very high up in my list of all-time favourites….not quite enough to break into the 80s dominated Top 10, but without any question, this is my favourite 45 of the past decade or so.

Much of this is to do with how unprepared I was for it.  I’m a huge fan of the debut LP from Meursault, but I’m less enamoured by the follow-up.  Matthew from Song by Toad Records is a friend of mine, and he was telling me ages in advance that the material for the third LP was a bit special.  And he was right….

It’s an astonishingly beautiful but powerful record.  It’s also one in which most of the songs are able to be arranged in different ways depending on the live setting – Meursault mostly perform as a standard five or six piece band but there are occasions when they are accompanied by a string section while sometimes Neil Pennycook will perform solo; but no matter the type of show or the number of musicians on the stage, Meursault will never fail to leave you gobsmacked at the quality and magnificence of a performance which will stay with you for a long time.

Flittin’ is a great example of what I mean by the different styles.

mp3 : Meursault – Flittin’
mp3 : Meursault – Flittin’ (piano)

The A-side is a glorious cacophony of acoustic guitars, keys, drums/percussion and strings over which Neil stretches his vocal chords to stay on top of it all and remain in control.

The B-side however is just a vocal and piano. It might be the same song in terms of tune and lyric but it’s a totally different song in every other respect and is, in this fan’s opinion, one of the most beautiful bits of music I have the pleasure of having in a vast collection.

Enjoy