Song, by Toad

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A Tale Of Two Taverns

[The Sunday Supplement springs forth from the sparkling keyboard of Dianna Robinson this week. You'll remember Dianna from her review of the Men Diamler and Animal Magic Tricks House Gig. This time she's comparing and contrasting life in two key Toad locations...]

Dylan asked me if I’d write a Sunday Supplement for Song, By Toad about a million years ago. At the time, I wasn’t very keen. I had several papers due, a few of which had the ability to cause me to fail out of school. Now I only have a dissertation due. No big deal. Plenty of time to write complete shit about nothing much.

He wanted me to write about the experience of working at the “official” Song, By Toad pub (the King’s Wark. Obviously). I feel there are two large problems with this topic, however. The first, and I feel the most important, is that this is a bit overly-pretentious and the basic concept makes me feel too groupie-ish for comfort. The second, and the most important in actuality, is that I don’t work at the King’s Wark anymore.

I now work in Anstruther, hometown of Homegame, at the Dreel Tavern, which is owned by Chris, an ex-chef from the King’s Wark and his girlfriend Ewa, an extended family member of the King’s Wark. However, I still live in Leith with Shonagh. And I’m still friends with everyone at the Wark and eat a couple of meals a week there. And still refer to it as “the pub.” Just a caveat.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m not only kind of going to write about that. I’m also going to write about bonding over music in Fife, and the strangeness that is the music nerd-dom.

Beginning at the beginning, though, we can discuss the wonder that was serving the Song, By Toad crew. I’d like to say that it was continually enlightening and that I learned about cutting-edge bands and met fascinating people. What actually happened was that we always ran out of Anapai Pinot Noir and gin, Mr. and Mrs. Toad ended up swearing far too much and usually too loudly, Dylan talked absolute drunken shite and got into arguments about the Sugar Babes, Shonagh hid her head in her hands, and various members of Meursault came along for the ride. The music choice gets alternately slagged and lauded (the latter due to my legacy of cd mixes (I like to think)), and the staff table (which they usually occupied) becomes a loud, no-mans land where the staff fear to tread in case they’re mocked for saying ‘erbs instead of Herbs (in my own bitter experience). Because you know what never gets old when you’re an American living in Scotland? Being teased about how you say things. Just a barrel of fun. A laugh-riot you could say. I wouldn’t.

I won’t lie, it was nice having music people who were also my friends hanging out at my place of work, which also happened to be a really cool pub with awesome food. But I have no grand illuminations into the inner workings of the Edinburgh indie/alt folk scene. Other than they tend to get drunk. A lot. Which everyone probably already figured out by this point. As I’m not usually impressed with ideas of coolness or (relative) fame, I probably wouldn’t have realized that what these gin-soaked people were saying was anything other than nonsensical ramblings. But I digress. Very cool for some, though.

Which leads me to my next topic. Music nerds. They are intrinsically different than other sorts of nerds in that there is a patina of coolness to them. Sometimes, a rather thin patina, but a patina none the less.

Now, this concept of the music nerd should not be confused with the cool kids with the hair cuts and the slouchy jeans. I speak of what Americans call “hipsters.” Who also wear slouchy jeans. And have hair cuts, but it’s different. Anyway. Hipsters rely almost entirely upon knowledge of obscure indie bands from the mid-80’s onwards. But not prior to. Because old music is bad. Especially jazz. Yikes! Anything but that. Not that it’s the basis for quite a lot of modern music or paved the way for “controversial” themes in music which constitute several things that the hipster holds sacred. Never mind, that’s an old chestnut.

The music nerd, in my opinion, is the UK’s answer to hipsters. Mostly because I don’t really have a label for them and hipster isn’t quite right.

I should probably mention that I am one. Not to the degree that some people reach where they know every member of every band and what their favorite color is. I really cannot be fucked with any of that. I usually don’t even know the names of the lead singers of most bands that I like. I don’t really see the point – my brain can’t hold all of that information and still remember what day it is, and it doesn’t really affect how I feel about the music the band produces. I like music because, for whatever reason, I connect with something in it, not because the bassist of X band, which was highly influential in the Seattle scene in 1998 is now in Y band with the singer of Z band, which never really made it into the mainstream, but that only makes them more obscure and therefore cooler.

Obviously, other people don’t feel the same way. Those people probably can do all sorts of things like walk and chew gum AT THE SAME TIME, which is more than I can handle. More power to them.

BUT. They are still nerds. Encyclopaedic knowledge of anything is nerdish behaviour. It’s just…music is cool. Therefore, the music nerd is the coolest of all of the nerds in nerd-dom. And when they wear Chuckie T’s and Journey t-shirts it’s ironic. In fact, nearly everything the hipster/music nerd does is ironic, and therefore cool. Irony is the coolest of the literary devices, after all.

The music nerd is a socially awkward being by nature, and they tend to flock together like near-sighted seagulls around a Joy Division record. When two music nerds meet, they must judge each other to see if their particular nerdish beliefs conflict or correspond. It’s almost like a mating ritual, you could say, except that these are nerds, and if mating were involved, it would be a maladroit occasion and no-one really wants to think about it. But, as the relationship between music nerds contains a bit of the “us against the stupid world” mentality, mating ritual is a pretty good approximation of the event. Although, if it all goes bad, I would probably say that it’s a territorial dispute. Or something. I’ve sure Levi-Strauss has an opinion on the subject.

Anyway.

I shall use an example from my life to illustrate this phenomenon.

The setting: the fun side of the bar at the Dreel Tavern (you know, the drinkin’ side)

The players: me and my new Dreel comrades

Graeme was going to Argos, and Mike decided to take the plunge and purchase his first iPod. However, he didn’t have much music on his computer, so he asked me if he could take some from mine to fill the tiny music machine.

What ensued was a solid hour of subtle jabs, recriminations, defensive positions and guarded approval until mutual respect was achieved. Because, you see, two music nerds had just stumbled onto the border of their mutual stomping grounds. And it was on, just like Donkey Kong. “You like them? They’re shit.” “Yeah, but have you heard this…” “You should really just plunge an ice pick into your skull if you think that’s good.” “I can’t believe you know this band! No one knows this band.” etc., etc.

Mike’s friend Matt, and outsider to the process, attempted to become involved with the conversation. And, in a typical guy manner, tried to protect me from the insults my music collection was receiving, with such helpful things as “Don’t listen to him, he’s an ass. You can like whatever you want.” All very well-meaning and noble, I’m sure, but completely lost in the game. This was the testing grounds of music nerd bonding, and there is no place for hurt feelings, only strong defences and pointed observations.

You can all visualize it, because you all – to a man – have experienced a similar thing. Maybe it wasn’t your iTunes library, probably it was your wall of cd’s. Or, if you’re the coolest of the cool, your vinyl collection. Or just a scroll through someone’s iPod when they’ve left it around unattended. Music nerds know this ritual in their very souls, because it’s a part of us. We love to geek out over music, and we like it when someone actually gives enough of a shit to play along. And when they do, we’ve found a comrade in arms, someone to shake our fists with at the corporate shit machines that produce pop music. A temporary soul mate, for a few moments in time.

And they all get together and drink far too much gin.

Photos: King’s Wark © Shonagh Massie 2010, Dreel Tavern © Dylan Matthews 2010

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A Message From The Pop Cop

[This week the Sunday Supplement has been provided by Jason of the popular and well respected blog; The Pop Cop, which was recently deleted by Google following unsubstantiated DMCA allegations.]

“This is the dangerous time. The moment of transition where, in sporting terms, the boy must become a man. There is bound to be hype as well as expectation. It will not be long now before people note that Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski aren’t as young as they were, and somebody will need to succeed them. British tennis is on a high but, if it is to be sustained, something of substance will have to be manufactured from its raw material. Andrew Murray is in pole position. What comes next, as much as anything else, is a test of his drive. The growing suspicion is that Andrew is the future of Scottish tennis.”

So wrote Simon Buckland in the Sunday Times on June 9, 2002 – less than four weeks after Andrew Murray had turned 15. It would be a further three years before he’d become familiar enough to be called “Andy”.

Buckland must have a huge sense of satisfaction looking back as the first national newspaper journalist to not just spot the potential for greatness in a kid so young, but stake his professional reputation on it. The Sunday Times doesn’t make a habit of printing 1000-word features on complete unknowns in their third year of high school. The article exists in the British Library as an undeletable piece of history that documents the earliest known mainstream reference to one of the most talented sportsmen Scotland has ever produced.

While I can’t lay claim to having published any predictions in The Pop Cop which have come to fruition quite so spectacularly, I did take just as much pride in trying to do what Buckland did, albeit in the field of music rather than tennis. Days upon days were spent scouring the underbelly of the Scottish music scene, trawling through MySpace links, frequenting obscure, dingy venues in the off-chance that mythical ‘next big thing’ would be tuning up.

If you look through the many Scottish music blogs (and there seems to be a new one springing up every month), you’d probably come to the conclusion that, in comparison, The Pop Cop wasn’t exactly overflowing with such recommendations and tip-offs – and you’d be right. When you have spent three years building up a blog to the point where people are actually paying close attention to what you write (and, believe me, it took at least two years to feel that was the case), a certain responsibility comes with it. There’s nothing more tempting than publicly declaring “this band will blow you away/change your life”, but the moment you do so, you dangle a very dangerous carrot. If it proves to be false hope (yes, I know taste is subjective, but still…) and a reader loses faith in your judgement, you are screwed, because judgement is the single most important quality in your control as a music blogger.

However, last week’s crushing turn of events made me realise that the one thing that was not in my control was history. All it took were a few anonymous, unjustified complaint letters for 35 months of work to disappear into an internet black hole. Unlike Simon Buckland, if any of my predictions for stardom prove accurate, there will be no record of it. All I can hope for now is that The Pop Cop blog will be remembered. And if just one reader discovered a love for an artist they’d never heard because I wrote about them… well, I’d be pretty fucking gutted. Just one?!

Seriously, though, it was a blast.

* The full explanation of The Pop Cop’s demise and the campaign to recover its work from Google can be found here.

* A Facebook group called ‘Get The Pop Cop back online’ can be found here.

* The Pop Cop is on Twitter here.

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Jenny Soep at All Tomorrow’s Parties

[This week's Sunday Supplement is brought to you by Jenny Soep (pronounced 'Soup'), who has made it her mission to hunt down 'bloody good gigs' and draw her experience of them onto paper. A bit more time-consuming than taking a photo. But that's what she does, and she's pretty damned good at it, if you ask me.  Last weekend Jenny was at the Matt Groening ATP, where she captured the moments below. You can see more of her stuff over on her own blog, which you should obviously take a look at.]

Hello folks. This is the complete antithesis of Song By Toad, as in no words of wisdom, complaint, rant or fancy shall flow forth from my firmly clamped bouche.

Not this time anyway.

Instead I am offering up the following laid out on a delightfully sparkly silver platter for you to feast your eyes and cogitating mind upon.  They are (this bit is the informative bit, so pay attention) all drawings, hand-drawn from the press pit at Matt Groening’s most fabulously embroidered-together festival set list.  I will admit they’re not the actual papery drawings – that would be impossible, and some skull-duggery has been afoot with photoshop as you may notice, but all the squiggly sketch-like marks you see on the images were done during the live performance of each artist.  I have lightened or darkened some areas to suit my memory, and for just a bit of fun really. However it has meant about 24 hours extra work that I never intended.

Yes I met Matt Groening. Yes I was inwardly spasm-dancing-about-manic-excited, but yes, I activated my super-secret-superficial-forcefield to appear composed and unaffected.  Most people at the festival met Matt, and a huge amount even got photos complete with cuddles and probably even a leg over, signed and doodled-on posters, t-shirts and other extremities, some folks queueing for hours without titbit. I however, got Matt’s email address, and the cute little lady that was with him – could have been his wife, could have been his PA. She asked specifically for my contact details. So let’s see if anything comes of it.

Meanwhile, I got a cracking load of drawings done of the best music festival I’ve had the joy of infiltrating.  Got the attention of most of the musicians, met a good few of them impressing them with my doodle power before exiting with a flourish and a promise of a copy to be mailed toute-de-suite in the digital post before a fortnight was dead and gone.

So here you are. The first instalment of my favourite acts of Matt Groening’s ATP and his delicious music taste quenchers. Enjoy.

I’ll be sticking them up on my own neglected blog at some point soon with the rest of ‘em. (PS You may have noticed, being an observant bunch, I chucked in an extra drawing of Pavement who are curating and playing their own ATP this precise weekend. I drew it at their Barrowlands gig the week before. It was an excellent but thickly steamy hot gig. I was sweating and I was just in the press-pit holding a sketchbook. Pansy.)

Click on the thumbnails below to open a larger image…

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Wagons Roll

[The Sunday Supplements are your chance to have your thoughts published on Song, By Toad. Email your ideas in to sunday(at)songbytoad.com]

I haven’t had a drink since Tuesday 20th April, when I had two pints at the King’s Wark, and haven’t enjoyed a ‘proper’ drinking session since three days earlier than that. (That was Tomfest, for those that were in attendance)

This brief period of abstinence is not due to any new found sense of piety or temperance, it’s simply down to a course of weapons-grade antihistamines the doctor has put me on. However it has given me a glimpse into how my lifestyle would change if I were to strap myself into a comfortable seat on the wagon in a more committed fashion.

When I gave up smoking around five years ago I found that it was relatively easy to quit by simply not telling myself that I’d “given up smoking”. Instead I decided to simply stop buying cigarettes on a habitual basis, and told myself if I ever felt like a cigarette I could have one. This decision was made easier by returning home from living in India and having to make the adjustment from paying 60p a pack to more than a fiver. That was enough of a shock to the system to securely underpin my decision. I found that avoiding the psychological pressure you can put yourself under by insisting on a rigid and steadfast regime of abstinence and telling yourself that you’ve “given up”, coupled of course with that sudden stratospheric cost increase, was enough to discourage me from continuing with the habit.

Not that I’m planning any sort of similar strategy with the booze, I was born in a pub and have continued merrily marinading myself for the 35 years since; but I might carry on behaving myself for a little while longer after my course of tablets finishes next week. My wallet is certainly appreciating the break, and waking up without a hangover each weekend morning has been a pleasant novelty, too.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been to plenty of gigs, a couple of meals out in restaurants, quiet encounters with drinking partners in pubs, and friends’ rowdy birthday celebrations, and remained ‘dry’ throughout. There is however, a point during a heavy drinking session when the rest of the party attain a certain altitude you simply can’t reach while sober, and you either leave and go home or assume the sensible, and quite boring, ‘designated driver’ role.

The thing is, I don’t actually mind the fact that drink is an ever-present spectre in the cultural space that I inhabit, I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Nevertheless, the enforced change of pace, a brief “walk on the mild side” if you will, has been an intriguing experience.

Dying for a pint though.

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In Which Mrs. Toad Sets You Straight About the Election

[This was supposed to be this week's Sunday Supplement, but because we're lazy (and hungover) bastards Mrs. Toad and I didn't get out of bed all day, not even to go downstairs and turn on the computer.  Nevertheless, it's rare that she bothers her arse to rattle out anything for this tawdry little rag so I thought I'd better publish it at some point - thank you darling!]

This week, we all have to decide to whom we would like to grant the stewardship of the country to for the next four years.  I use the word stewardship for a reason.  The definition : a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others sums up politicians’ role for me.  Basically, they work for us, a point that the laudable website theyworkforyou.com tries to make alongside making it pretty easy to contact your local MP.

However, despite all our fulminating, tutting and headshaking, very few of us contact our MPs on a regular basis to tell them what we want from them.  And fewer and fewer of us actually vote ,  Scotland is a particular laggard.  Despite the advent of leaders’ debates, the level of interest in this election seems pretty low given the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in. But whilst we may well end up with a different government, the reality of it is that whoever gets in will have to cut the budget (and services) drastically.  Your sole choice on election day this year is pretty much to select which proposed set of cuts you are happiest with, the source of misery that least affects you or those you care about.  Hardly a cause to chain yourself to the railings over.

None of the parties are being fantastically upfront about how they will achieve these cuts and all err on the optimistic side (the Tories proposal to cut $10bn of Westminster “waste” is particularly fatuous. As can be seen from this graphic that would constitute the entire budget of the Ministry of Justice.  One might expect a tad more detail on just where these cuts will fall). Read the rest of this entry »

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Good Morning Britain?

[My turn for a Sunday Supplement. Don't forget Sundays are a blank page for you to write your own article and enter the world of Toad. Submit your ideas to sunday(at)songbytoad.com]

My drinking companion had encountered a conundrum. He explained to me that he had decided to buy a gift for someone to celebrate her achieving British citizenship after emigrating here some time ago from one of the colonies. He went on to describe the struggles he had endured trying to find a suitably ‘British’ gift. He wanted something that encapsulated and defined the British experience, yet everything that came to mind somehow related to only one of the home nations, while alienating the others.

My only suggestion was a Mini with the Union Jack painted on the roof. He said he wanted to keep it under a fiver.

It is interesting how difficult it is to define Britishness nowadays. A generation or two ago it would have been simple, ask my grandad. He’s a proud Welshman, and watching him, at eighty-nine-years-old, belting out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and Sospan Fach at a rugby international will dispel any doubt about that. Yet as a career soldier who saw combat in the Far East, and now as a Chelsea Pensioner, he has always clearly stated he’s British first, then Welsh. His generation saw the British identity and way of life, whatever precisely they may have been, under attack from hostile foreign forces; and that external threat galvanized those defending this little island. The benefits of a phalanx of unity far outweighing any vanities we may have been tempted to indulge by our internal borders.

The question of what it means to be British is under examination again as the general election campaigns steadily grind down our patience and tolerance. Each party prominently attaches a GB sticker to the bumper of their bandwagons, and the leaders each try to stake their claim to the identity of these four nations, racing to fly the Union Flag proudly from the summit of their manifestos. It all makes me feel a bit queasy.

I wonder, however, whether it’s really that important anymore. We’re no longer under attack from hostile forces from over the channel. We actually get on quite well with the Germans, French and the rest of them, both on a diplomatic level and a personal one.  The people of each home nation are having fun indulging in their individual national identities. The Welsh and the Scots have been at that game for a while now, and the English are beginning to catch up, finally celebrating everything great about England instead of trying to batter the rest of us into submission with that ill-defined notion of Britishness we seem to have laboured with and then abandoned.

It is indeed an odd identity crisis we suffer. What gift would you have bought?

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Thoughts On A Scene

[This week's Sunday Supplement has been prepared for us by Ali Millar. Noted for her tireless work on putting together last year's hugely succesful Oxjam festival, Ali is about to venture into the murky waters of live promotion... Don't forget to email us at sunday(at)songbytoad.com if you've got an idea for a Sunday Supplement you'd like to see published]

Before I start this piece I want to kind of issue a small disclaimer, that what follows is mainly a collection of (poorly) gathered thoughts that have been floating around somewhere in my head for a while, and I just wanted to throw them out there. Also I want to apologise in advance that this is very much an Edinburgh-centric piece.

I’m pretty new in terms of understanding the city’s music scene, but having organised, promoted and sweated blood organising Oxjam in Edinburgh last year I kind of jumped in at the deep and quickly became familiar with at least one facet of the music scene in Edinburgh. Prior to this I guess I was like a lot of people, I went to the bigger gigs, went through to Glasgow for a fair few shows, and moaned that nothing much went on here.

I can honestly say too that in the promotion of Oxjam so many people got behind us and helped out, Nick over at what was Under The Radar, Jim at Cab Vol, Andy and Alex at Off The Beaten Tracks, Matthew who put up with us on far too many occasions and most notably Meursault who did just about whatever we asked them to do. And it was a nice feeling, that there was a city kind of rooting for it to be a success, which it was and hopefully will be again this year. All of that, and more besides, really made me protective of the music Edinburgh has to offer. This has a flipside as at times I get frustrated that it doesn’t get the wider acclaim it deserves, and I can’t help but feel there must be more that can be done to promote it within the city and further afield too. Also there is the danger that I have become slightly blinkered in my view, I assume that everyone is going to gigs, buying EPs and albums by local bands and generally embracing what the city has to offer, all too quickly I have forgotten that for many people this simply isn’t the case. The problem is most people I talk to are all involved in music in some way and so I’m seeing the city through their eyes and we’re all looking at it close up, through music tinted glasses and the danger is that we could become complacent and self congratulatory when in actual fact there is a lot more that could be done in terms of promotion and exposure.

I have some inkling of how hard Matthew works, and reckon he should be exempt from this conversation, and I know too that there are a number of promoters out there who also work tirelessly and for not much in return. So maybe the issue here isn’t about doing more, but doing what we do a bit smarter. Maybe we could showcase something that the city has to offer, broaden the appeal and instead of it being the vision of one promoter or one charity event we could host an event that showcases the breadth of the talent within the city from the perspective of a number of promoters, and additionally the growing number of record labels we have too.

The press also have a certain responsibility, not just to promote bands, but to do so in a way that supports the city as a whole. It seems to be the only way that a critical mass can be reached that then allows for bands to get the attention they deserve. Okay, I understand that journalists have to be objective and if, in their objective opinion they listen to something they don’t like, then fine give it the review you think it deserves, regardless of where the musicians are based. That’s okay, and sure, it might cause a bit of fuss, but that’s all part of writing something down and letting people see it, but when it comes to covering the city as a whole it’s important, at this stage, that the coverage is favourable, that it creates an excitement and that the city is talked up as much as possible. In the recent past there have been examples where it was questioned whether the music scene could hold its own out with Edinburgh. Pieces such as this do nothing to help the bands, labels or promoters who all believe in what’s going on and who all want Edinburgh to have the wider recognition it so badly deserves. Also if our own national press, representing the city, can’t find it in themselves to promote the city, to be passionate and to pass that on to readers, then how can we expect to get wider coverage on a national level? We need to draw more people in and the media can play such an important part in this.

I suppose all I’m trying to ask in a roundabout way is what can we do to promote the music scene within the city more effectively and how can we open it up to wider audience both within and out with the city? It seems that this is the only way to ensure that it will continue to grow, to attract new talent and to not stagnate. We have an excellent base here of bands, bloggers, promoters and record labels, there is a lot to shout about, and more shouting that could be done.

Oh, and speaking of promotion, there’s a great gig on Thursday 22nd at The Wee Red Bar; Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers, The Stormy Seas, The Kays Lavelle and Tony Yorston, only a fiver in with free cake. Shameless plug. Sorry!

Woodenbox – Crooked Mile

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Meursault – Sleet

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How I Misspent My Holidays

[In this week's Sunday Supplement, our favourite raconteur and bon vivant Campfires & Battlefields talks us through his experiences at this year's South By Southwest festival, which included meeting a certain infamous amphibian acquaintance of ours. Don't forget, if you'd like to contribute to the Sunday Supplements, just email your article in to sunday(at)songbytoad.com]

Well that was fun.

I flew into Austin pretty late on the Tuesday night, but my SXSW experience really began a few hours earlier, while I waited for my connecting flight out of Dallas.  Anyone who has passed through the Dallas Airport knows that it’s typically all ten-gallon hats, oversized NASCAR belt buckles, and poorly-concealed firearms.  But on this one night, in this one terminal, the place was almost entirely given over to the pallid, assless hipster set in their tight black jeans, one knot of whom particularly caught my eye.  There were five of them, and they were almost complete strangers to one another, having just met about ten minutes before, but despite all this they were busily hatching a plan to rent a car together so they could cover that last few hundred miles to Austin in case they didn’t get a standby seat on the plane.  I shuddered and thought to myself, “this is how horror movies begin,” then gratefully patted my inside pocket for the hundredth time, just to make sure my plane ticket was still there.  It was, and so I boarded, my head filled with disturbing visions of those poor suburban youths, stranded along some lonely stretch of highway in an overheated Kia, easy prey for any one of the thousands of sunken-eyed drifters who vote in Texas elections every year.  May god have mercy on their souls.

Anyhoo, what can I say?  SXSW was a complete blast.  Even better than I’d expected.  In four days I think I saw about 30 bands, including Shearwater twice, Liars (who fucked me right in the ear socket and made me their bitch), Quasi, Plants and Animals, The Rural Alberta Advantage, The Low Anthem, Fanfarlo, Timber Timbre, Basia Bulat, Midlake, Twin Atlantic, We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Black Angels, The Wave Pictures, Slow Club, Titus Andronicus, Japandroids, Morning Benders, St. Deluxe, Lou Barlow, Yellow Fever, The Lovely Eggs, yadda yadda yadda.  I saw bands in proper clubs and I saw bands in churches and hotel lobbies and clothing stores and pizza parlors and bowling alleys and vacant lots.  And all over the streets.  Highly concentrated musical awesomeness from 11:30 am to 2:30 am every day, plus vast quantities of free beer, tasty chow, and about a million people all being remarkably civil to one another.  And great weather, except for Saturday, which was freezing and raw but still a good day for boozin’ and chattin’.   What’s not to love?

In my inexperience I bought a SXSW wristband and stayed at a hotel out near the Austin airport, so I needed to take a shuttle back and forth every day and night.  It was fine, but in retrospect I probably should’ve passed on the wristband and shuttle and put my money to better use by getting a hotel room right in downtown Austin, within staggering distance of Sixth Street, SXSW ground zero.  The wristband doesn’t guarantee admission to shows, it just allows the wearer to enter official showcases before the proletariat and without paying a cover charge.  But seeing as the wristband cost $165 while the cover charges were only $15-$20 per showcase, I didn’t like how the math turned out at the end of the week.  The unofficial day parties, where I saw one amazing band after another, were free and wide open to the public, wristband or not, although a few (like the Paste Magazine party) required people to RSVP online beforehand, which is not particularly burdensome.  If you can drag yourself out of bed by noon, getting into these day parties is not difficult.  I highly recommend it.

As good as the music was, the fellowship was better.  I got to spend some time with Matthew, who turned out to be an excellent companion despite the odor, and I also met Peej, Esquire, and the lovely ladies in his life, the Honorable Vic Galloway who hospitably offered me a cigarette about five seconds after meeting him (a simple but endearing, open-handed gesture I thought), a very sweet kiwi songstress named Michelle, and a drunk guy on the street who used Michelle’s camera to take pictures of his own ass.  Good peoples all.  And at long last, I managed to see Broken Records perform live.  In fact, I got to see them play two absolutely scorching sets in two very different venues, and even had the good fortune to meet those enterprising Sutherland boys and nearly the whole Broken Records posse.  Pardon me for getting all fan-boy, but that felt good.  They made a gorgeous racket and did Edinburgh proud, rest assured.  Oh, and during “the pause” in Slow Parade?  Total silence.

Guy Clark – Dublin Blues

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Liars – Mr. Your on Fire Mr.

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The Black Angels – Black Grease

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The Lovely Eggs – Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion?

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Broken Records – Slow Parade

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Och The Week: Scottish Music is Stronger Than Ever

[In this week's Sunday Supplement, we have a very personal view of the current Scottish music scene from one of its most authoritative correspondants; Milo McLaughlin]

Note: It’s true that the appallingly-named ‘Och the Week’ hasn’t become a weekly occurrence over on my own blog as yet, with this only the 2nd installment ever. But as I was writing this I thought it might work as part of Matthew’s Sunday Supplement especially as it has a similar theme to his excellent recent article for Drowned in Sound.

This week I’ve been reflecting, after another brilliant Homegame Festival, of just how strong the local scene is at the moment. I’ve been writing about Scottish music for the last five years for various publications and for my own blog, and I can honestly say I have never been interested in covering what’s popular. Instead, I’ve tried to champion the underdogs, the interesting, sometimes shambolic, sometimes wilfully obscure artists that no-one else really gave a fuck about.

But now I find myself in the strange position of seeing my favourite artists actually enjoy a modicum of success – with heaps of coverage both in print and online, radio play, decent record sales and sold out gigs. Ok, so Homegame this year was a much smaller capacity affair than last year, but selling out a few hundred tickets in an hour is still impressive. And the integral presence of the Edinburgh bands I have come to know and love over the last few years, in particular Found, eagleowl, Meursault & Withered Hand makes it all the better.

Seeing King Creosote, Pictish Trail and Adem play Withered Hand’s No Cigarettes for the BBC nearly brought a tear to my eye, being both a spellbinding performance and a testament to how far that particular songwriter has come in the last year, with the talent of all involved only denied by the curmudgeonly and cloth-eared.

Then only a couple of days later, on Wednesday evening, we had Meursault doing a session for Marc Riley on 6Music, with Riley also playing a track from Edinburgh band North Atlantic Oscillation’s excellent new album on the same show. If I wasn’t so knackered after the Anstruther shenanigans, I could have enjoyed gigs by two excellent local artists during this week, The Japanese War Effort and The Gothenburg Address.

And Panda Su, who like almost all of the artists I’ve mentioned above, I championed on my I Hear a New World podcasts for the Skinny Magazine over a year ago, had her song Eric is Dead played on the season finale of Skins on E4. Whatever you think of the programme itself, that’s some accomplishment for a formerly unknown Fife-based singer/songwriter. Something is clearly in the air/water/beer/fudge doughnuts around here at the moment.

Back to Homegame, and I was chatting to Mr Toad himself after Findo Gask’s gig in Legends (his first words to me were ‘you sweaty little bastard’ as I had danced my arse off to their set whilst wearing a large seafaring style jumper) and we discussed just how great it is that the current crop of bloggers from Edinburgh and Glasgow are completely unconcerned with the old bullshit about rivalry between the two central belt cities. People are up for collaborating, for interacting, and just generally being really positive.

Jim from Aye Tunes says in a recent interview with fellow weegie blogger Peenko that it was the explosion of new Scottish music blogs that inspired him to start writing more regularly, and it’s hard not to be inspired to greater things when there’s so many talented people around you doing creative things. As well as bloggers, that goes for podcasters like Glasgow Podcart and We Sink Ships, photographers like that Dylan bloke from Blueback Hotrod who has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, Lisa-Marie Ferla (also a fine blogger), the multi-talented We Sink Ships (yes, them again), promoters like Trampoline and the Gentle Invasion and of course the musicians themselves.

Matthew and pals have of course been performing inhuman feats of sleeplessness in order to put their ambitious plans for Song, By Toad Records into action, with some highly impressive results so far. I bought the Cold Seeds LP from the clammy hands of Mr Gummi Bako at the Hew Scott Hall merchandise stall and spend a blissful afternoon soaking up its ethereal charms on my return, and I recommend you do the same (and no I’m not on commission, the record really is great).

And things don’t show any signs of letting up as more new musical ventures seem to be popping up all the time round here. Alongside exciting releases planned by 17 Seconds Records and mini50 Records this year, new label Gerry Loves Records, set up by Andy Lobban who also does Off the Beaten Tracks (and designed this very site under the guise of his nonimage persona) are releasing a split single from Conquering Animal Sound and Debutant, released on 5th April 2010, and there’s even something called Leith Records which has popped up recently and looks like it might put out some interesting stuff. And that’s not to mention Ten Tracks, where (coughs as throws in deeply unsubtle plug) you can buy my own bundle of weird and wonderful tunes under the name of I Hear a New World (look out for the clanger).

So there’s a lot happening, and I for one am grateful. But as a very small, peripheral part of things, I’m in two minds whether to do a Sam from Quantum Leap and say ‘my work is done here’ as I vanish in an unconvincing flash of electric blue to another underlooked musical arena, or to dig deeper in the crevices of the local music scene to discover the next bunch of unlikely underdogs..

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Toadcast #113 – The Anstercast

We’re in Anstruther this weekend for Homegame, and so we got incredibly pissed late at night and recorded a podcast for you all, just as a special extra Sunday Supplement.

This should give you a taste of our Homegame fun and, sadly, also an idea of just how much of a wreck we all make of ourselves in Fife once a year.
Honestly, this is my favourite festival in the fucking universe, possibly only equalled by Pickathon, which is incredibl e.

Toadcast #113 – The Anstercast

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01.Withered Hand – No Cigarettes (01.34)
02.Silver Columns – Yes and Dance (Silver Columns Remix) (08.31)
03.Findo Gask – Wrapped in Plastic (Live) (14.00)
04.Adem – Everything You Need (20.02)
05.Django Django – Love’s Dart (29.52)
06.FOUND – Freaky Freaky Chancer (33.37)
07.Cold Seeds – The Perfume of Mexican Birds (43.43)
08.Love.Stop.Repeat – The Ghost of What You Used to Be (50.52)
09.FOUND & eagleowl – Some R. Kelly Cover (58.52)