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Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers - Interview & Live Review from Pickathon 2008

Sam Crain

I actually know very little about Samantha Crain.  Campfires & Battlefields, one of my regular readers and frequently a kind babysitter of the site when I am absent, emailed me a couple of her mp3s a while back and that was the first time I’d even heard of her.  C&B’s excitement was was obvious, and I have to confess my own pretty much matched his the second I heard her gorgeous, soulful voice break out across the bluesy foundation of the wonderfully sad songs which she writes.

That voice is so rich, knowing and, well, experienced I suppose, that her youth seems almost inconceivable.  21 is still pretty young, and the solidity and presence of the band belie the fact that as a group they are still only just settling on their sound – only just establishing their identity, it seems.  In fact, Samantha herself is only just starting to explore the kind of songs that she herself can write.

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Loch Lomond - Live Review & Interview From Pickathon

Ritchie

This article is very, very long – I’m warning you now. I was trying to cut it down, and eventually just thought fuck it, I don’t have an editor, why not leave it all up there, so I have. There’s a page break though, to stop it eating my entire front page, so if you want to read the whole thing then you’ll have to use the ‘Read More’ link thingy down near the bottom. I’ve also popped in some interview and live footage as well, although the audio on the interview is dreadful, because we couldn’t find a quiet enough spot. I bet the fucking BBC never has to put up with this sort of shit.

Anyway, when you first see Ritchie Young, live, whispering his way through the more delicate parts of Loch Lomond’s material you really worry that he’s going to have the strength in his lungs to force out the rest of the song. It even occurs that he might just apologise, cough weakly and slink off stage in terror. The first time I saw the band perform this weekend they were on the main stage in the midst of a general PA failure, and playing entirely without the benefit of microphones. I’ll be honest, I feared for him.



Then something strange happens. Loch Lomond songs tend to tiptoe along, taking stock of the ground on which they find themselves, before suddenly growing and becoming a bigger, more forceful beast altogether. The do this out of nowhere, too, much like an unassuming lizard that suddenly rears its head, bares its teeth and unfolds a brightly coloured ruff. It’s not terrifying and aggressive exactly, but it is clearly not the meek and defenceless creature you casually mistook it for. Similarly Ritchie will look almost timid and, unamplified, the seemingly disconnected meanderings of the band can sound entirely lost until suddenly, it all changes. The stray strands of instrumental come together to form a coherent swirl of sound, the volume and force of the song elevate noticably and suddenly Ritchie’s voice reveals several new gears. A pained whisper, or a delicate one, breaks out into accusatory wail, like he was suddenly using all of his lungs to push it out instead of just the air in a single breath. The song, put simply, suddenly gets big.

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Bombadil Interview & Live Review from Pickathon

Bombadil

To say that I was not expecting anything even remotely like what I saw when Bombadil played live would be an understatement.  A massive one.  I hate terms like blown away because they are so overused, but I don’t know what else to say.  Giddy?  Exhilarated?  Thrilled to bits?  I don’t know, but even listening to the album now I am taken back to this live show and start giggling, bouncing up and down and wishing I could tell absolutely everyone to go and see this band should they ever get half a chance.  Yes, it was that good; a joyous performance, and a complete celebration of what live music can be.  I saw it almost a week ago now, and I am still bubbling when I think back and try and write about it.

To begin with, though, here’s a little bit of a video that mixes the performance at Pickathon with a bit of live footage as well and, although it’s a bit sketchy, is not bad for a first try.  The songs themselves in their entirety are posted at the bottom of the page.

Bombadil’s album is, I suppose, more raucous than I’d realised.  Listening to it again, I can hear the same songs, and I can see the basis for the live performance, but it is still a relatively studied work of craftsmanship.  It’s a deliberate record, which is the direct opposite of the live performance which is, whilst not poorly executed, just a helter-skelter carnival of chaos and delight.  Stuart plays the piano upside down and back to front, whilst sitting underneath it, Brian and Daniel come within inches of knocking one another flying on numerous occasions, James drums like he’s trying to beat his kit to death,and the whole crazy business so infects the audience with glee that they get a standing ovation and an encore.  At a festival.  I have never seen anything like it.


Bombadil Interview with Song, by Toad from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

Quite how you harness something like that enough to record an album, much less one so considered, is beyond me, frankly.  It must be like two different bands.

Brian agrees that it’s a very different beast.  “We tried to make the record different from the live experience.  We found that if you go into the studio and just thrash around really hard and stuff then it doesn’t really translate on tape.  We just kinda tried to make sounds that we liked recorded, and it just came out maybe more focussed than the live stuff does.

“I think one thing that we all appreciate in records is variety.  I once heard the Broken Social Scene guy say that what they were trying to do was make mixtapes, almost, for their albums and I kinda like that idea.  You try to get collections of songs unified around something, just to keep things interesting and explore different corners

Harnessing the live energy enough to actually create a controlled recording should, you’d think, take something out of the music.  Listening to the album though, that really doesn’t seem to be the case.  They’re different beasts, definitely, but neither one animal is the lesser for it.

Daniel confesses that it can be difficult to adjust to the two mindsets though:  “We struggle trying to get the energy right in the studio.  It’s really hard to try to find if you’re not performing with anyone, or for anyone.  It’s really hard, at least for me, to get the feelings that I need to get going.  But a lot of the songs always start off more how they are on the record than how they are live, but a lot of times they have to change from record to live.”

That much is true, because the show really does get more and more mental as it progresses.  Actually, it’s a real shame that Mrs. Toad and I only decided to video the first couple of songs of the set to include with the interview videos.  We did it that way partly to keep things simple, and partly so we could still sit back and enjoy the performances we were videoing and not just be at work all the time.  In retrospect I would have loved to be able to show you some of the later songs like Johnny or the truly inspired Cavalier’s Har Hum, but I really had no idea what we were in for.  Next time, we’ll know.

The band was born in a rather unusual way.  When I first read the story on their website about their meeting whilst studying in Bolivia I wasn’t entirely sure that it wasn’t just a massive piss-take.  Apparently not though.  Daniel tells the story like so:

“We were both [himself and Brian] just studying down there, living with families, studying anthropology.  We only had classes a few days a week so we had a lot of off time.  So half the time was spent travelling and and a lot of it was spent learning to play Andean instruments which was the sampone (SP?) which was those pan pipes, and the charango (SP?) which is a ten-string instrument similar to the mandolin.  And we decided that one of our goals was to record an album while we were down there to bring back to the States. So we recorded it in a children’s music school in Bolivia, and they had all the equipment there, and we recorded it just on a computer.”

The educational backgrounds of the band members (“I was a religion major, Stu was economics, Brian was public policy and James was history”) perhaps seems to explain bizarre songs about martyred saints like Julian of Norwich and the distinctly unusual Kuala Lumpur, which constantly flirts with morphing into a deranged nursery rhyme.  There’s a little more to it than that – or less, I suppose you could say.  James the drummer’s explanation of the latter song swiftly punctures any false impressions of excessively scholarly pretensions that it might be easy to project upon the band.

“That song is the result of us spending way too much time in a van, and finding ways to amuse ourselves and it eventually turned into a song.  It initially started with us making up jingles for different things.  We made up jingles for mustard – Stuart’s got a great mustard jingle – there’s a mayonnaise jingle, soy sauce – it’s the only sauce you can soy.  My parents gave me a world atlas that we put in the car for Christmas and we were flipping through it, and Kuala Lumpur was a nice word.”

Stuart adds “I really like the way it sounds.  It’s fun to add extra Ls when you’re saying it – it kinda helps a long van ride go by.”

It must be said that this kind of silliness fits well with the playful nature of the stage show. Who else but a band that writes pop songs with their roots in mustard jingles would play the piano backwards and take to the stage dressed some in suits, some in bizarre tunics covered in fleurs-de-lis?

“I think it was a marching band outfit or something, from a local high school” explains Brian.  “We’re trying to hone in and match the outfits somehow with the music I guess, and channel the sounds that we’re trying to make into some sort of visual representation.”

James jumps in: “I find it really helps me cut loose too, that we go before the show and we change into wacky clothes that represent our band.  That gets me like, time to go, time to get fired up and time to bring it.”

The performance energy seems to be something that they keep coming back to.  In the UK you go to a gig to see a particular band, and you don’t talk through the thing or otherwise fail to pay attention, on penalty of huffy shushes from other audience members.  In the States, live music seems to be very much part of the furniture in many bars, meaning that the obligation to actually listen is rather less.  Personally, I can’t imagine the frustration of playing to a bar full of people talking through your show with their backs to you, but acutally for a band with the kind of performance instincts that Bombadil seem to possess, this is not a problem really.  In fact, James seems to prefer it that way, and his reasoning makes sense:

“We play in some rooms in different towns called listening rooms where everyone’s seated and staring at you and that’s like ‘Whoah, what’s going on here!’  Whereas a loud bar, while it can be frustrating sometimes it can also be extremely rewarding because if you can get a group together and get them really fired up and moving together and having a really good time, there’s no better feeling than that.”

I can’t imagine anyone talking through their kind of show for very long.  Quite how they don’t knock one another out is a miracle.  Numerous times during the Galaxy Barn show Brian and Daniel in particular seem to be within a whisker of a major collision.  There have been more than a few bumps and bruises along the way though, so it seems they aren’t always quite so fortunate.

“My first show with the band actually, we were playing Rosetta Stone I think for the first time, and Daniel came rocking back at me to count in an intro or something, and tripped on a cord and took out half my drum set.  We finished the song though, but with a new drum part.”

Even during their unplugged set, up in the tranquil, leafy setting of the Woods Stage, there was mayhem.  “Stuart managed to knock my snare drum over mid-song and had to hold it for me.  It worked out though.  We’ve had several people tell us that that’s the favourite moment of any of our sets, you know, us breaking stuff.”

Brian agrees: “That’s actually my favourite moment in live shows these days is like when some sort of sound shortage happens and people are looking at each other, or some microphone falls down.”

He’s right actually.  You find out so much more about a band when things start to go a little awry.  Any band too thrown by technical or practical problems can seem not to have sufficient command of the music.  Given that they wrote the songs, that seems an absurd thing to say, but it’s true.  Bombadil on the other hand seem to embrace this with truly impressive confidence.  I go back to the album, and it’s just impossible to project from that just how much this band embrace the vagaries and chaos that they generate.  They seem to revel in cutting loose and operating on the verge of losing control altogether and that, I suppose, is what makes them so incredibly exhilarating.

Toad’s Pickathon pictures | Toad Vimeo page | Other Pickathon Features

Bombadil – Cavalier’s Har Hum
Bombadil – Rosetta Stone

Website | More mp3s | Buy from Amazon

Langhorne Slim - Live at Pickathon 2008

Langhorne Slim

I never asked Langhorne Slim for an interview at Pickathon, and I think it was due to a needless inferiority complex. See, I was contacted by a publicity company about his new album – one of the shiny ones from New York with a good logo, an impressive portfolio of bands, and with a habit of sending a string of stellar press quotes with each email – so I basically assumed he was likely to think Song, by Toad somewhat beneath his station. Having actually met the man himself at the festival, and found him to be one of the nicest, most unaffected and most sincere chaps you could ever hope to meet, I really regret not asking. But never mind, one for the future, hopefully.

The performance was another one up at the Woods Stage, all leafy backdrop and enchanted splinters of sunlight. It was a pretty basic setup, but Sean is one of these guitarists who can make an almighty racket when he chooses, or slow things down to a wonderful suffusion of sadness and regret, which makes for a really emotionally varied and captivating show. He seems to have quite a visceral connection with music too, because within a song he asks us all to stand up and show him that we love to dance (which I don’t, incidentally, but it’s the thought that counts). In fact the dancing theme surfaces a couple of times actually, and between that, the desire to have the audience on its feet and the physical contortions which performing his songs seems to require bring the picture of someone who is simply allowing the music to course through him straight to you, with barely a shred of interpretation on the way. The music is this particular way because it was born this way, not because he is trying to make it this way.

Shorn of the horns and the banjo and the electric guitar of the album the songs are all performed in a largely acoustic fashion, but not for a second do these versions want for the energy of their recorded counterparts. The high tempo ones are as captivating as the sad ones are affecting, and it doesn’t take much for the underlying pathos of even the more upbeat numbers to suddenly be pushed to fore. With little more than a line about heartbreak and subtle shift in the rhythm a song which was charging forwards stops dead, disconcertingly pausing for reflection and making you feel slightly ashamed of bouncing back and forth to a song which it turns out is essentially about abandonment and loss.

In the long run though, you find yourself as swept up by the whirlwind of the performance as the band themselves seem to be, and despite the occasional excursions into sadness, this is at its heart an uplifting, enthralling performance that left both myself and my Midget Companion buzzing with excitment for the rest of the day. Brilliant. And such a nice fellow too. If ever anyone deserved to be this talented it is this man.

Toad’s Pickathon pictures | Toad Vimeo page | Other Pickathon Features

Langhorne Slim – Worries
Langhorne Slim – Sweet Olive Trees

MySpace | More mp3s | Buy from Amazon

Pickathon Discovery: the Oz St. Fossils

Oz St. Fossils

Apparently these lads are a jug band.  I had no idea what jug was, but if it’s like this, then I like it.  Mrs. Toad was reading in the sun when they played on the Fir Meadows stage, and even though I wasn’t listening to begin with, slowly my ears began to prick up.  They were playing what sounded to my ears like old rag-time stuff, but they played it just a little off-kilter and with a slightly flat, un-singerly vocal delivery that made it a bit different and interesting.  And they had a full-time saw player.  Oh yes!

I enjoyed that, but I hadn’t been listening properly, to tell the truth, so I decided to wander up to the gorgeous Woods Stage to catch another performance later in the afternoon.  They had to drag their mad old piano (all the facing was removed, displaying its innards to the world) all the way up into the Oregon hills to play and the bass was made from a guitar neck attached to an old bass drum, so between the bizarre loveliness of the instruments and the leafy charm of the setting I was already inclined to like it before they even started.

Lead singer Robert Felix looks slightly stunned most of the time, but it gives the music a kind of wide-eyed sincerity that makes a fascinating combination with the deadpan delivery.  He sings like he isn’t trying overly hard to ‘sing’, if you know what I mean, and there are times when you think he’s lost the tune altogether, only for him to reassuringly slip back into it a moment later.  The music is a little like that as well.  There are times when the wagon is so rickety that the wheels already seem to have come off altogether, only for it to casually right itself and carry on ambling its lurching way along the rutted, meandering path it had chosen to follow in the first place.

This deceptive fumbling is great to watch.  They really seem to enjoy playing, and there is a sort of haphazard confidence about their sound that infuses the audience with good will.  The dancing clarinet, echoing bar-room piano and spectral saw all bring engaging flights of fancy to a basic, good time beat, and you really just can’t help but warm to them.  I don’t know how well their music will translate to the Georgian stone of Edinburgh in the Autumn, but I am listening to their live CD here on the boat in Nehalem, and it still carries that ramshackle magic from up in the woods.  Definitely the find of Pickathon, if you ask me.

Toad’s Pickathon picturesToad Vimeo page | Other Pickathon Features

Oz St. Fossils – Boothill Hotel
Oz St. Fossils – Jeweller’s Daughter

Oz St. Fossils on MySpace

Pickathon 2008 - Pendarvis Farm, near Portland, Oregon

Pickathon

We ended up at Pickathon at Mrs. Toad’s behest, would you believe. Yup, the woman who describes almost every band I listen to as ‘moaning minnies’ actually tracked down and booked tickets to this particular festival without so much as a single prompt from my good self. This all happened late last year, after my brother’s wedding. We’d been driving around America afterwards with a limited supply of CDs and the ones she loved the most consistently seemed to come from Portland. At the time it was The Shaky Hands and The Builders & the Butchers. Since then she’s discovered bands like Horsefeathers, the Cave Singers (apparently they’re actually from Seattle) and Alela Diane (again, signed to a Portland label – Holocene – but not actually from the Pacific Northwest). At the time we thought they were all Portland bands, so we booked our tickets and decided to spend a couple of weeks in this part of America, and see if we couldn’t get a bit closer to such an incredible music scene.

Leaving aside Portland itself for a bit – that’s for a later post – the whole festival was truly wonderful. The location was amazing, the bands were superb, the people were incredibly friendly, and we quite simply had an amazing time.

Perched up in the Oregon hills, the setting offered nothing so plain and simple as a campsite. Instead, you had to climb up into the woods and try your luck. We had decided to skip the Friday evening to see The Builders & the Butchers and Eef Barzelay play in Portland (and earn a monumental hangover in the process) so we had to go quite some way to find a suitable spot. The difficulty of finding somewhere to pitch the tent meant that people were spread thinly throughout the woods, with little clusters forming here and there, and none of the sea of identical tents that you see at larger festivals. It was quite magical actually, being perched up in the depths of the woods, and having to clamber down to the trail and walk for about ten minutes to get to the main festival area.

To add to the atmosphere, the Wood Stage was actually perched right up in the depths of the forest as well, creating a tiny amphitheatre surrounded by green, splashed with what dapples of sunlight had managed to actually find their way through the thick canopy. We missed performances by Sam Crain and by Bombadil in this unreal arena and I really regret having done so. But then, we did get to see the Builders & the Butchers. We did, however, catch the superb Langhorne Slim on Saturday afternoon, and we were both smitten – it was a great performance.

Generally we eschewed the main stage and its smaller neighbour, the Fir Meadows Stage, because they lacked a little for the friendly intimacy that seemed to be the beating heart of this festival. The gentle slope that banked towards the main stage, backed by towering cedars, made a gorgeous place to lie in the grass and relax though, and the view across the wooded valley was beautiful. The food was to be found there as well, and as well as finally presenting somewhere in America where the coffee isn’t thin, grey, flavourless dishwater, the edibles were excellent. There was Thai (I even ate a veggie and tofu (tofu!!) rice roll with a bit of sweet chili sauce and liked it so much I had more the next day), some fine calzones and, the pick of the bunch, a phenomenal Mexican stall. Mexican food in Britain has become something like curry – it is little more than generic brown sludge that doesn’t in the slightest resemble the cuisine from which it is descended. The quesadillas at this place were fucking brilliant, and we had loads of them!

The music at Pickathon is quite specific: American roots, be it blues, bluegrass or (new to me) jug. The more traditional of this stuff I can really do without, but the acts booked overlapped with more vaguely defined Americana such that there was almost always something on that I wanted to see. And when there wasn’t, well I may not put pure bluegrass on the stereo myself, but the sawing fiddles and exceptional guitar playing that delivered everything from joyous stomp-alongs to heartbreaking balladry gave the whole place a wonderful atmosphere. If you are just lying in the sun, reading a superficial but largely entertaining book, not really paying attention to anything, what would you rather hear in the background, a mediocre indie four-piece trotting out the same old shit, or some old-time goodness, full of genuine happiness, genuine heartbreak, and not a sniff of cloying celebrity aspiration in sight.

Generally we found ourselves gravitating towards the Galaxy Barn as the day drew to a close. The American’s frankly chidish attitude to alcohol (I am not blaming the organisers here, the state enforcers were sniffing around like randy mongrels so they had to be incredibly careful) was tedious, with only a couple of designated beering pens allocated, but it did mean one thing: you didn’t end the day absolutely wasted. This was a refreshing change for a couple of reasons: firstly, I was able to properly enjoy all the music I went to see, and secondly, finding our way back up to our tent in the middle of the woods was Blair Witch Projecty enough, without adding a bladder-full to the mix to make life even harder. It bloody hard to find a single tent in the middle of the woods in the pitch black with no more than the camera light on the back of your mobile phone to guide you. And then on the Sunday night some bastards moved their tent clear across the path, which made life even more confusing. My phone’s battery was fast disappearing when I was finally able to successfully locate Toad HQ and calm an increasingly fretful Mrs. Toad, who was increasingly certain that we would end up having to sleep rough in the middle of the forest.

The last night, before almost losing the tent, was spent sitting around the bonfire outside the Galaxy Barn, talking to random strangers about their work promoting blues music in Portland, their time spent living in Israel and Jordan, and random band members about how much they loved the festival. I’ve never been anywhere where so many of the musicians hung out (check out the new vocabulary – awesome!) until the end, mixing with punters and chatting and enjoying each other’s performances. We ended up chatting to members of Bombadil and Loch Lomond, given we knew them from the eariler interviews we’d conducted, and they. And at one point Shawn (or Sean) from Langhorne Slim came over to congratulate me on my excellent choice of attire (a Langhorne Slim t-shirt) and chat about things in general. If I have ever met a nicer bloke, I don’t remember it. He was so genuine and sincere and just, well, incredibly nice, that it really served to highlight what a special festival this really was.

All in all, thoughout our stay in the Pacific Northwest, the people we have met have been some of the most incredibly open, friendly and helpful people in my life. American friendliness can be irritatingly claustrophobic when it’s forced or learned by rote, as it often is. But here people just seemed so sincere, with their ‘have a great day’s and their interest in what you were doing and their eagerness to be helpful and to include you in what was going on, that it was impossible to be cynical. Even for me. The two most over-used phrases, by miles, in this part of the world are ‘hang out’ and ‘awesome’, but they are just so true. Instead of being superior and English about it, you end up wanting to just hang out with everyone and wishing you could say ‘awesome’ with such incredibly heartfelt sincerity.

Toad’s Pickathon picturesToad Vimeo page | Other Pickathon Features

The Cave Singers – New Monuments
Oz St. Fossils – Tryin’ to Get Home
Jolie Holland – Stubborn Beast
The Gourds – Dying of the Pines

Live in Edinburgh This Week - 21st November 2011

Well one thing’s for sure, live in Edinburgh this week will very much not be me.  I have a rather nasty flu/tonsillitis throat infection thingy (I’m not a doctor so I am not sure which, but you know the kind of thing I mean) and it means that swallowing is extraordinarily painful, even if it is gin.

I am not sure that soaking the paracetamol in alcohol particularly aids in its efficacy either, but as I said, I am not a doctor.

We, of course, have our next Ides of Toad gig on Sunday, when the awesome Withered Hand, Samantha Crain and Mike MacFarlane will be at Henry’s.  I should also point out that I am selling tickets to the Song, by Toad Christmas Party for a mere £8 at the moment, but that price will disappear sometime this afternoon, so if you want the cheap tickets better get ’em now, otherwise it will cost you the (still extremely good value for money) sum of £10. Go here to get yourself sorted out for the finest carnival of Christmas piss-artistry to be had in Edinburgh.

However, until then, here is some stuff to keep you entertained in Edinburgh this week:

[Edit: fuck fuck fuck, I forgot that Alex Cornish has a full band plus strings show at Cabaret Voltaire on Thursday 24th.]

Monday 21st November 2011: Rozi Plain, Jamie Harrison & This is the Kit at the Electric Circus.

I am not sure if I am even going to end up getting this posted in time for you to scoot down to the Electric Circus and catch this, but if a Fence Records/Red Deer Club one-two isn’t enough enticement then umm… well, you deserve the X-Factor or whatever it is you end up doing instead.

Rozi Plain – The Lang Toun (James Yorkston Cover)
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/RoziPlain-TheLangToun.mp3]

Thursday 24th November 2011: Django Django, The Marvels & Snide Rhythms at Sneaky Pete’s.

Django Django were absolutely all over the radio about a year and a half ago, and they’ve been quietly recording their debut album ever since.  Judging from the songs we’ve heard so far, it should be very good indeed.  They are a little like Jonnie Common in the sense that the music they make may be rather experimental in terms of its constituent components, but the end result is pure pop (although I’d be tempted to say that the similarity ends there). This stuff even gets me wanting to dance.  Yes, you read that right, even me.

Django Django – Waveforms
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/DjangoDjango-Waveforms.mp3]

Saturday 26th November 2011: Lach’s Fort comes to Le Monde.

It’s a very, very odd place to do it, but when you’re looking to put on an event which is a little different to what a place is used to, then picking a surprising venue could just end up working in its favour.  Lach is bringing his New York night to Edinburgh, with film, esoteric DJing and live performances from Seafieldroad, Lee Patterson, Emily Scott, head BMX Bandit Duglas T. Stewart, comedian Chloe Phillip and more.

Sunday 27th November 2011: Withered Hand, Samantha Crain & Mike MacFarlane play the Ides of Toad at Henry’s Cellar Bar.

I am really looking forward to this.  Apart from the excellence, the humour and the pathos of Withered Hand, I am really looking to Sam Crain’s first Edinburgh gig.  I first me her at Pickathon in Portland in something like 2008, and we’ve pretty much had this gig in mind ever since.  He voice is amazing, and her songs are absolutely gorgeous.  Mike MacFarlane is a relative newcomer, but having seen him for the first time at the Antihoot this Summer I am really interested to see more.

Withered Hand – Providence
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/WitheredHand-Providence.mp3]
Samantha Crain – We Are the Same
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/SamanthaCrain-WeAretheSame.mp3]
Mike MacFarlane – Waltz
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/MikeMacFarlane-Waltz.mp3]

Sunday 27th November 2011: Loch Lomond, The Last of Barrett’s Privateers & Pronto Mama at Sneaky Pete’s.

Loch Lomond’s new album is out now on Chemikal Underground, and having played here a couple of times, they are back with something approaching a full band (although like many bands I know and love, establishing what, exactly, their standard, full lineup is isn’t entirely straightforward). They’ll be joined by impressive Edinburgh folkies The Last of Barrett’s Privateers and Pronto Mama, about whom I have to confess to knowing more or less nothing, sorry.

Loch Lomond – Elephants & Little Girls (Toad Session)
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/LochLomond-ElephantsandLittleGirls-ToadSession.mp3]

Some Ides of Toad Updates

I keep fretting about over-pimping my commercial enterprises on this blog, but I really should just stop worrying.  Putting on live shows is not much more than an extension of me insisting on telling you what sort of music to listen to, so really there’s not much difference between haranguing you about your buying habits and haranguing you about what you do in your free time really, is there.

So, after a fantastic gig with The Last Battle, Dad Rocks! and Shoes and Socks Off, and a brilliant day in Anstruther with Hott Toadzzz! it’s probably time to give you a wee nudge about our last five gigs of 2011.  Yes, you heard that right, five more still to come before that Post Alcoholic Stress Disorder sleep prescription taken by all Scots on the 1st and 2nd of January every year.

For those of you who want tickets in advance, which would be nice, you can get them at Avalanche Records on the Grassmarket or online from Brown Paper Tickets.

Saturday 19th November 2011: Gummy Stumps, Weird Era & Battery Face at the Wee Red Bar.

This will be a noisy one, and it also just happens to be my birthday so I warn you, I will be getting fucking shitfaced.  Weird Era are travelling up from Manchester, and will be joined by Gummy Stumps, who I thought were amazing at Retreat! this year, and Battery Face, who I was introduced to by Alastair from the excellent Deathpodal.

Weird Era – Summer Heights
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/WeirdEra-SummerHeights.mp3]

Sunday 27th November 2011: Withered Hand (solo), Samantha Crain & Mike MacFarlane at Henry’s Cellar Bar.

Samantha Crain was originally introduced to me by Campfires and Battlefields, and I interviewed her at Pickathon back in 2008, back when I was embarrassingly new to interviewing. Since then she’s continued to release amazing stuff, and is finally able to make it to Edinburgh for a gig.  She’ll be joined by local favourite Withered Hand, and the fella who caught my, umm, ear the most at this year’s Antihoot – Mike MacFarlane.

Samantha Crain – We Are the Same
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/SamanthaCrain-WeAretheSame.mp3]
Mike MacFarlane – Waltz
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/MikeMacFarlane-Waltz.mp3]

Saturday 10th December 2011: Song, by Toad Records Christmas Party at the St. Stephens Centre.

I don’t have to tell you that this will just be a big, warm and fuzzy celebration of another year of sweary fun and generally releasing commercially inviable and eye-wateringly amazing records. Take that, music! Oh, and it will be both BYOB and child friendly, although I suspect the latter part will become progressively less true as the night goes on and I get more and more plastered.

Sunday 18th December 2011: The Black Tambourines, Joanna Gruesome & Dolfinz at Henry’s Cellar Bar.

This will be loud and messy and awesome. Three young bands who make a racket and write bloody great pop songs. It’s on a Sunday, I know, but let’s face absolutely no-one is going to be doing any serious work that week are they?

The Black Tambourines – A Lot of Friends
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/TheBlackTambourines-ALotofFriends.mp3]
Joanna Gruesome – Sugarcrush
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/JoannaGruesome-Sugarcrush.mp3]
Dolfinz – Coral Reefer
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/Dolfinz-CoralReefer.mp3]

Saturday 31st December 2011: Song, by Toad New Year’s House Gig at umm… our house.

We don’t have tickets available for this yet, and the lineup is unconfirmed, but well, I just thought I’d let you know that it would be happening. We’ll get two sets of live music, wander into Inverleith Park with some champagne to watch the fireworks, and then get drunk and play loud music until the last person gives in.

I am Sick of Green-Field, Refugee Camp Festivals

I am sick of them, and I am not going anymore. You know the ones, hundreds of tents as far as the eye can see, grass which gets ground to dust or churned into mud within a day, fields strewn with polystyrene boxes, paper plates and plastic pint pots, toilets as fearsome as the fucking Sarlaac pit.  I could (yes, yes, and do) go on, but you know what I mean when I refer to a green-field refugee camp festival.

I am not just being prissy about hygiene and personal comfort or anything like that – well, the toilets are pretty horrific – I just don’t like large groups of people.  In fact, off the top of my head, the only time I actively enjoy crowds is at a football match.

As well as attending quite a few for the sheer enjoyment, I ended up going to an awful lot of festivals last year as Meursault’s driver, and most of them really, really were fucking awful.  The funny thing is, though, from the band’s perspective the best shows didn’t always come at what were, from a punter’s point of view, the best festivals.  They had a riot playing T in the Park, for example, whereas from a fan’s perspective that’s a festival I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

Still, driving them around did give me a pretty thorough overview of the UK festival circuit, and whilst it was fun to try lots of the big ones, including my first trip to Glastonbury, I think I have come up with some general guidelines for myself when it comes to festivals.

For example, five thousand people is already way too big.  The lineup at End of the Road saves it, but in every other sense it is just the same as all the other festivals – the same food stalls, the same venues, albeit in a different field – all these are just businesses which tour the festival circuit all year, meaning one festival looks pretty much exactly like the next.

I did think Truck stood out though.  For all the lineup wasn’t as strong as the likes of Green Man or EotR, all the stalls at the festival itself were provided by local businesses.  This meant not one single one of those depressing places which tour each and every UK festival was there, and this gave the place a real character of its own.  We were lucky with weather too, which helped, but this was one of my favourites.

Of the smaller festivals, well you all know how much I love Pickathon and Homegame, and the Fence Away Game last year was just mind-blowing.  At these smaller festivals the landscape tends to more in evidence, as it isn’t overwhelmed by the miniature city which lands on top of it for a week.  And I may be a city boy at heart, but a weekend in a tentopolis in a field doesn’t seem like a holiday, but a weekend in the Scottish mountains really does.

Equally, when the people are fewer it just feels more like an expedition and less like a stampede.  It feels like we’re visiting the countryside rather than barging across it, and I do think that breeds a slightly different mentality in the fans as well, and that they are more likely to be respectful of their surroundings under these circumstances.

I have also learned that I don’t actually care as much about lineups as I would have thought.  I could go to the End of the Road Festival twice and still not see everything I wanted to see, but on a couple of occasions that has led to me worrying about what I might be missing, rather than simply relaxing and having fun .

What I find is that, for all I obviously want at least some bands I really like to be there, when the lineup is a little patchier there is more time to just relax and enjoy being away from it all.  It’s nice to have little pockets of time where you aren’t thinking about what is happening on whatever stage.  I like there to be a few things I am really keen to see, a few things I am interested in taking a chance on and quite a lot of time I am not fussed about anything.  At those times I tend to just sit back and relax or go and see a band I have never heard of, which is really nice way to spend a weekend.

Without the experience, the infrastructure or the financial backing, these festivals can be a little hit and miss I guess.  Close to Edinburgh there are a couple – Kelburn Garden Party and Doune the Rabbit Hole – which look really interesting and which have been described to me as both brilliant and awful depending on who I’ve spoken to.  I’d still rather go there than Rockness though.

There are also a couple of interesting ones a little further afield.  One, The Insider, I know nothing about but is located up near Inshriach House in the Highlands near Aviemore and should be spectacular.  The Imploding Inevitable Festival seems to be quite similar in spirit, is taking place in Fellfoot Woods in Cumbria.  Both the lineups have that excellent combination of complete obscurity and a handful of bands I really want to hear, and both locations look really interesting.

The thing with these really small festivals, though, is that their PR reach can be a little limited, so there are no doubt dozens of others going on around the UK I’ve never heard of, but whatever they are they look a damn site more like fun than any of the big boys which, honestly, just bore me to tears these days.

Toadcast #138 - Loch Lomond Toad Session

Video: VimeoYouTube
Photos: Flickr
Audio: freely downloadable below…

Loch Lomond came over to the UK in May to play some dates in Scotland, so we took the opportunity to record a Toad Session with them.  We first met the band when we went out to Pickathon in 2008 and interviewed them there.  Since then we have released a split 12″ and an EP by them over here on Song, by Toad Records.

Elephants & Little Girls is actually from that split 12″ release, but the other three songs are new, and from their next album.  That album has been finished for about three months now I believe, although I have yet to hear it, so all I know about it is from these three songs.

Many thanks to Gavin Tarling for recording and mixing the session, to Matthew Swan and Fiona Buckle for their help with the photography and video cameras, and to Chris Bryant for being in the band for the day.  Feel free to help yourselves to the downloads, and enjoy the videos.  The whole interview can be heard on the podcast below, the video at the top of the page is sort of a general video of the whole day, and those of the individual songs are embedded below.

Toadcast #138 – Loch Lomond Toad Session
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/songbytoad/ToadcastNo138.mp3]
Loch Lomond – Blood Bank (Toad Session)
[audio:http://www.matthewjamesyoung.com/ToadSessions/LochLomond-BloodBank-ToadSession.mp3]

Loch Lomond – Egg Song (Toad Session)
[audio:http://www.matthewjamesyoung.com/ToadSessions/LochLomond-EggSong-ToadSession.mp3]

Loch Lomond – I Love Me (Toad Session)
[audio:http://www.matthewjamesyoung.com/ToadSessions/LochLomond-ILoveMe-ToadSession.mp3]

Loch Lomond – Elephants & Little Girls (Toad Session)
[audio:http://www.matthewjamesyoung.com/ToadSessions/LochLomond-ElephantsandLittleGirls-ToadSession.mp3]

01. Loch Lomond – Blood Bank (Toad Session) (04.39)
02. Run On Sentence – Out in the Woods (11.07)
03. Sallie Ford – Danger (14.35)
04. Loch Lomond – Egg Song (Toad Session) (22.10)
05. Vadoinmessico – In Spain (27.02)
06. Brothers Young – Good Deeds (32.35)
07. Blitzen Trapper – Black River Killer (37.10)
08. Loch Lomond – I Love Me (Toad Session) (45.00)
09. The Generationals – When They Fight They Fight (48.24)
10. Loch Lomond – Elephants & Little Girls (Toad Session) (59.35)