Photo by Michael Kim
Happy Christmas Toadlings, I hope the year has been good to you. For once I am honestly being sincere, too, although you could be forgiven for hearing sarcasm in pretty much everything when reading this blog.
Mrs. Toad and I have slept in spectacularly and are wandering off to visit my folks in an hour or two, so we’re pretty relaxed at the moment, with Bette having beaten the UK transport chaos yesterday and got us down from Edinburgh to Brighton a full two or three hours faster than our scheduled flight would have done. Good old Bette.
Anyhow, the pictures at the top and bottom of this post were taken by the splendid Michael Kim at our Christmas Party on Saturday night, so I thought I should share them, given he was a/ kind enough to donate his time and b/ took two such excellent pictures.
No-one ever, ever buys tickets to our shit in advance so inevitably I was a bit worried about attendance again on Saturday, although it turned out to be totally needless. It was busy, sweaty, raucous and brilliant fun, and it was finally what I would want from a label Christmas party.
You’d be forgiven for wondering what the fuck I am on about with that statement, given some of the awesome nights we’ve had in the past, but two in quick succession taught me what I didn’t want the Christmas party to be: namely The Queen Charlotte Rooms three years ago and the St. Stephen’s Centre the year after.
Don’t get me wrong, the venues were great, and the people running them were a genuine pleasure to deal with. Also, the shows themselves were absolutely fantastic too. The only problem was that those of us who are actually part of Song, by Toad Records ended up basically just working all night.
Because we tried to put the gigs on in somewhere a bit special, the venues in question weren’t real music venues, both myself and the bands spent hours cleaning up after the show, moving drum kits and amps, and often helping to load out the PA, either on the night or with horrendous hangovers the night after. Believe me, as fun as the show itself is, this kind of stuff takes the shine off it pretty fast.
I tried to change this last year at Summerhall by introducing the short sets at the beginning of the night, where all sorts of bands on the label and assorted pals came up and played really short, minimal, informal sets of about three songs or so, before the main gig kicked off.
The idea was to give the night something of a more informal feel, and allow bands on the label to turn up and play, without having to take it too seriously. Sort of a cross between a gig (for the punters) and an office party (for us). It still didn’t really work however, once loading out that damn PA and getting all the kit and the amps back was done and dusted. Carrying heavy things with a massive hangover and a thin film of sweat forming on your back ain’t fun, as you can imagine.
So this year I thought, fuck it, Edinburgh has Christmas Songwriters and Christmas Baubles if it wants a big show, let’s do something scruffy and messy this year, and do it mostly for the benefit of the folk on the label and the people who come to tons of our gigs and buy loads of releases and basically know our stuff inside out and who, rather than a showcase, would probably appreciate something a bit different from the usual Song, by Toad fare.
Doing it at Henry’s made perfect sense as well, because we’ve worked with them such a lot this year, and had some truly brilliant shows there – it kind of feels like the blog’s spiritual home in Edinburgh at this point.
And that was about it, I think I can safely say. Reuben Taylor’s piano set was amazing, Dan Mutch sang about screaming like an ocelot (Baboo!), and Yusuf Azak did a fucking great version of Gin & Juice, which was just about the most unexpected thing I could have, er, not expected.
As for my own set, Christ knows. I can tell you that it happened, that it sort of went according to whatever thin veil of a plan there was, and that Sam and Pete were fucking awesome, but apart from that I have no idea what on Earth it will have looked like to people in the venue. Baffling nonsense, probably, but it was awesome fun.
Zed Penguin, for possibly the first time, were probably the most sensible band in the whole lineup. Their new stuff is sounding pretty great too, I have to say, and I am really looking forward to hearing some new recordings.
And then, finally, PAWsault. For a band which hadn’t rehearsed together at all, not even during soundcheck, this was absolutely brilliant. The band itself was Ryan and Phil from PAWS with Neil and Sam from Meursault, because neither band could turn up in full, so they just decided to smoosh together what was left and hope for the best.
They tore through Flittin’ and William Henry Miller by Meursault, as well as Bloodline and Winners Don’t Bleed by PAWS, which even Ryan had never played before, and despite the lack of practise, the versions they produced were honestly fantastic.
Things got a bit messy during Fairytale of New York when two stage invaders none of us had ever seen before commandeered both the lyrics sheets and the microphones, but they were retrieved just as everything threatened to go to shit and the stumbling throng onstage managed to limp through to the end of the song with some vague semblance of giddy completion. At this point Pete and Reuben were literally playing the piano with their arses mind you, so just getting through to the last verse at all felt like a bit of an achievement.
The final squall of Jingle Bells ended up pretty much like a homoerotic punk rock equivalent of the That’s All Folks at the end of a Warner Brothers cartoon.
And that was it. Perfect.
It fell apart, gloriously, by the end, but only at the very end. I think we managed the right balance of everyone on the label getting shit-faced and celebrating, with some properly good tunes and a great gig. Alright, Gin and Juice, me doing ridiculous spoken word version of songs on the label, and PAWS and Meursault massacring one another’s tunes might only appeal to the more hardcore fans of the label, but that’s what a Christmas party is supposed to be!
And it was amazing. So a massive thank you to everyone who played and who came along, I had an absolute whale of a time, as you can probably tell. And also, seeing as we’ve just turned five, an extra thank you to anyone who has bought a record, come to a gig, mentioned us to a friend or, incredibly, agreed to release a record with us over the last five years. It’s been a fucking blast.
And wait until you see what we do in 2014. It’s already shaping up to be properly fucking awesome.
Photo by Michael Kim