22.9.11

Music preview: Richmond Fontaine @ Stereo, Glasgow

Published by METRO

At first it seems an odd choice of venue for an American alt.country band that’s been on the circuit for almost two decades. After all, formed in 1994 and with ten albums to their name, this four-piece have been performing together for as long as the average Stereo customer has been able to eat without wearing a bib.

But what true music fans will know is that talent and energy, and not age or fashion, are the only ingredients required to make a concert an enjoyable one for any crowd –so it’s something of a relief that Richmond Fontaine possesses both attributes in stockpiles.

OK, so you need some persuading. Let’s start with talent. While the US may not be lacking guitar bands that play in a folky, rootsy manner, what foregrounds Richmond Fontaine from the rest is the lyrical quality of its material. Frontman and songwriter Willy Vlautin’s story-based songs, which focus upon ordinary human beings going about the unexceptional business of their own lives, have earned comparisons with the works of the great American writer Raymond Carver.

Indeed, Vlautin’s writing is so acclaimed that it’s been making waves in literature as well as music. His novels have not only received glowing verdicts from the critics, but have acquired a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic and have won several literary awards.

And, as with one of Vlautin’s books, Richmond Fontaine’s music requires attention. Released earlier this month, the group’s latest record – The High Country – centres around a shy mechanic’s love for an unhappily married counter girl in a rural logging community. This overarching narrative is told through the medium of romantic ballads, spoken word, cinematic instrumentals and garage rock in an artistic fusion that would make even Tom Waits blush.

So it’s fair to say there’s a fair bit of talent on show here. But how about energy? Well, the fact they’re booked for 18 gigs in 18 days on this UK tour goes a long way to describing the passion these guys have for performing live. Covering everywhere between here and Brighton in less than three weeks is no mean feat, it has to be said. And yet after an 8,000 mile journey to these shores from their base in Portland, Oregon, Richmond Fontaine clearly think it’s more than enough time to get around a country of a smaller size than their state.

Tonight, Glasgow should show Richmond Fontaine how much it loves music with heaps of talent and energy, because this band certainly has both bases covered.

20.9.11

Music preview: Howling Bells @ Oran Mor, Glasgow

Published by METRO

So I’m sat with a few friends outside a tea house that’s hidden down a West End backstreet. The year is 2006. Clutching our hot drinks, we speak over the sound of the rain bouncing off the plastic shelter we’re huddled underneath.

‘How were Placebo?’ I’m asked. ‘Ah, not too bad. The support was so much better, though,’ is my response. ‘Howling Bells, they were called.’ The next five minutes consist of me becoming increasingly animated as I elaborate. Amid a few erms, sort ofs and you knows, I explain how the sound of this indie rock outfit is above all progressive.

‘It’s based on steady rhythms and hypnotic guitar riffs,’ I continue, ‘and it’s complemented by the female singer’s soft and charming vocals.’ ‘Their set list featured a mixture of pacy songs, euphoric numbers and powerful ballads – yet the transition between them was seamless,’ I reflect. ‘The sound they retained throughout clearly had origins in experimental jam sets, but it had now been rehearsed into a fluidity tailor made for indie and alt.rock lovers like us,’ I add.

‘It was really enthralling stuff,’ is my conclusion. Looking down at the table, I see our mugs have been refilled and our ashtray emptied during my spiel. I look puzzled. ‘We didn’t want to interrupt you. You wanted more tea, right?’ someone asks me.

Wow, previewing this concert takes me way back. All those years ago, my acclaimed Australian four-piece were touring their eponymous debut album – which included stand-out tracks such as Low Happening, In The Woods and Across The Avenue – and went on to play a string of festivals the following summer.

Howling Bells are now on their third record, The Loudest Engine, which was released earlier this month. Featuring the single Into The Sky, and produced by Killers bassist Mark Stoermer, it’s been billed as a return to form. More importantly, the bedazzling Juanita Stein continues to provide vocals that justify parallels with Kate Bush and Alison Goldfrapp, and the band’s distinctive sound remains.

The night following that afternoon in 2006, I dragged my friends along to a Howling Bells gig at Cathouse. They all subsequently bought the album – one ordered it online, then, after refusing to wait the three days it would take to arrive, went to Zavvi instead – and my work was done.

So if there’s ever a band I should be previewing, it’s this one. I’m afraid it’s you and I in that tea house today, and I’ll bet you a cup of yogi chai that you’ll enjoy this gig.

15.9.11

Clubs preview: Factory Floor @ Death Disco, the Arches, Glasgow

Published by METRO

You know what? I’m not going to try and patronise you by asking if you’re aware of what will be occurring tomorrow evening. Of course you know, and so does much of the country. After all, two words have been scrawled in permanent marker on the body calendar of Scottish clubbers for the past ten years.

Death Disco: a night of electro bedlam that attracts the most exciting talent on the circuit. As such, its most loyal followers will have had their outfits and pre-drinking schedules planned since the previous month. However, I bet the event’s clockwork-like regularity means that it tends to slip off the radar of many who are interested in going, but who’ve never been before. Am I right? Some of you – and I count myself in this – must be guilty of ‘we could always just go next time…’ syndrome. So let me give you two reasons why we should both go tomorrow night.

With over a dozen acts competing for our attention across two venues – inside the Arches and over at SWG3, which can be reached by a ‘disco bus’ – Factory Floor is a stand-out highlight. This Hackney trio will be blending their raw sound of hollow kick drums and Krautrock basslines – which has earned them comparisons with New Order – live on stage with some ambient synth and echoing vocals.

If you want a pun, then you’ll be satisfied to know that the spirit of these guys promises to live on long after they clock off. After all, if trends really do follow a 20-year cycle, then this lot are right at the helm of re-imagining the second summer of love – taking place tomorrow night not in Manchester, but in Glasgow.

Next, we can register on the Death Disco mailing list and get our tickets for just £7 – that’s less than 50p for each act on the bill – but we should do it fast, because this year’s fresh intake of students are bound to be on the ball.

So come on, let’s actually go to Death Disco this time. Please?

13.9.11

Theatre preview: The Missing @ Tramway, Glasgow

Published by METRO

On March 19 2009, Claudia Lawrence, 35, failed to arrive for her morning shift as a chef in York. She was immediately reported missing, but two-and-a-half-years later, posters appealing for information on her whereabouts still hang in the city.

Given the high profile of this case, this probably won't come as news to us. But we still care, don't we? While her name may feature in only the yellowing front pages of tabloid newspapers today, we continue to hope for a happy ending. Yet Claudia represents only one of a staggering number of Britons who have still not been found. Every year in theUK, more than 250,000 people go missing. But, besides melting into this statistic, what actually happens to them and their families?

In his debut novel The Missing, Andrew O'Hagan approached this hypothesis with a journalistic endeavour and a human sensitivity. He set out to meet the grieving parents and teenage runaways behind disappearances that fail to make the headlines and occur on a daily basis. The result was a deeply sad and moving work that alluded to notions of community and alienation, and it made the shortlists of three literary awards following its publication in 1995.

Eleven years on, the story is making a bold leap from the page to the stage. The piece begins with a Scottish journalist reporting from outside the home of Fred and Rosemary West, wondering to himself why more hasn't been made about the lives of their victims. Who were these women, he asks, and why were many of them not reported missing? His search for answers takes him back to Glasgow and Irvine during the late 1960s, in a journey that evokes the childhood memory of a young boy vanishing from his neighbourhood.

O'Hagan has had considerable influence over the creative process behind the production, which has seen him work with the National Theatre of Scotland's John Tiffany for the first time since the pair's collaboration on 2009's Be Near Me - a dramatisation of another one of the author's works.

Complementing the play is a new video installation by contemporary artist Graham Fagen, entitled Missing, which again draws on themes of collective memory and personal responsibility in context of the issue as a societal concern.

It may be difficult to look forward to a couple of events of such a sombre nature, but it's easy to get excited about two world premieres of great promise. Tramway is one of the best in the country at showcasing challenging and purposeful works, and it looks like it's got it right again here.

9.9.11

Music preview: Africa Hitech, Rudi Zygadlo @ the Arches, Glasgow

Published by METRO

The people. The parks. The subway. The rain. They’re all cornerstones of life in Glasgow, for unique reasons. I’m going to add electronic music to that list. After all, this place loves its tunes – in a fanatical way. It’s something of a wonder that there isn’t a statue of Richard D. James towering over Buchanan Street, casting a long shadow over a city that truly thrives on its nightlife.

But sticking on anything with a 4/4 rhythm simply won’t do here. Let’s be honest, Glasgow folk want to be where the momentum’s at. They hanker after the new kid on the block, the next big sound, the current buzz, and the Arches has remained equal to this demand with extraordinary success. The decibels of IDM, dub-step, Italo disco, glitch and a dozen more sub-genres of movements past have echoed around its vast, tunnelled interior since 1991, and the venue has become the city’s favourite big club in the process.

Keeping with such traditions in the year of its 20th anniversary, it invites on to the stage an act called Africa Hitech – a name that probably doesn’t ring any bells. Rest assured, however, they’re signed to Warp and their album 93 Million Miles has earned the plaudits of many an underground publication – such being the criteria necessary to attract clubbers thirsty for a musical experience of quality over one determined purely by the size of an artist’s profile.

Africa Hitech is spearheaded by Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek – whose various projects span everything from breakbeat to soul music – and as suggested on the tin, produces a sound with a distinctly worldly feel.

Heavily influenced by techno and grime, the duo indulge on some intriguing acoustic embellishments and robust basslines here, yet what’s currently pricking up ears on the circuit is their winning cocktail of foot-tapping percussion, hip-shaking grooves and dizzying vocal loops that achieves a fine balance between African and electronic music.

And step forward, Rudi Zygadlo, the main supporting act. Since his move to Berlin last year, Glasgow’s own innovator has been busy taking his own brand of progressive dubstep further into unchartered waters, drawing upon an ever-growing index of musical influences with an endearing originality and a precision that beggars belief. Zygadlo’s brief return to native shores heralds his new EP, which is released on Pictures later this month.

Some of you are nodding your heads, while I can see a few who are scratching them. Fret not, for all you need know is that an evening of electronic music at its current cutting edge will be taking place, and I expect to see to see you there.

DISCLAIMER

Please bear in mind the date some of these posts were written, for many of them are politically as well as linguistically naive. The majority of the views and opinions expressed I no longer hold. The sole reason I've continued to keep them on this site is because to showcase the diversity of this portfolio. Thanks!

1.9.11

Opera preview: Greek @ Traverse, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

You’re the artistic director of a theatre. You’re getting scripts thrown at you day in, day out, but you cannot for the life of you decide which one to commission. Fair enough, you think, there are worse jobs. However, you’re under pressure to have a schedule in place. It’s down to you to choose something really good that’s guaranteed to get bums on seats and be loved by your audience.

Well, how about a piece that’s been entertaining crowds for the past 1,500 years? Sounds like a safe bet. A Greek tragedy. Everyone likes the classics, right? That may be the case, but this isn’t just any old theatre you’ve been put in charge in. No, with respect to Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, you can’t get away with flogging such material at this venue.

After all, you’re working at the Traverse – an establishment that’s acquired a solid reputation for putting on cutting-edge, innovative and above all, new, drama – and that just won’t wash with your audience.

But don’t worry, you won’t have to go back to the drawing board. The original Sophocles play is pretty accessible to people in this day and age, you know. It focuses on a man struggling to avoid fulfilling a prophecy, drawing on universal themes of destiny and free will. What’s more, it’s already been transformed into a modern production that’s enjoyed great commercial and critical success. Into an opera.

Yes, you heard me correctly. A fellow called Steven Berkoff gave himself the task of revamping Oedipus the King into a piece suitable for a modern audience back in the early 1980s. Later on that decade, Mark-Anthony Turnage – a composer – thought he’d have a go at making an operatic version.

The result was an opera called Greek, which illuminated the frustrations of its angst-ridden protagonist Eddy in a decaying east end of London. Greek was described as provocative, visceral and brazen upon its release, but it was Turnage’s score – which indulges heavily on jazz – that was singled out for the truly flattering plaudits. It soon became regarded as a contemporary classic.

Wait, it gets even better. This groundbreaking production is, for this year only, in the trustworthy hands of the Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales – two world-class forces in the world of opera.

So all in all, it sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it? But hang on a second, there’s just one more thing. With Greek ticking so many boxes necessary for a great night out at the opera, just imagine the previews it’ll get. It’s definitely a winner.