Music preview: Little Dragon @ the Arches, Glasgow

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We all want friends in high places, don’t we? And I imagine that’s particularly true if you’re in the music industry. Well, with a recent appearance on Later… with Jools Holland and collaborations with Gorillaz and DJ Shadow under their belts, Little Dragon are probably better connected than your average band.

But it’s not all about contacts, you know. Since they emerged on to the scene with the release of their eponymous debut album in 2007, it’s their varied brand of dark electro and synth-pop that’s been winning them a growing number of admirers.

Fronted by radiant vocalist Yukimi Nagano – whose charisma can forgivably be associated with that of indie pin-up queen Karen O – the five-piece generate a sound that weaves a tapestry of musical influences, ranging from jazz to reggae to house to soul.

The band also retain a maturity that’s clearly taken years to acquire – they were formed at a Gothenburg school in 1996 – while possessing the energy of a youthful act just treading along the exciting borders of the mainstream.

So you see, that’s why Little Dragon are more than entitled to their impressive musical network, and entirely worthy of filling the vast, tunnelled interior of the Arches with their decibels tonight.


Dance preview: Letters From America @ Tramway, Glasgow

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Rihanna at the SECC? DJ Fresh at the Arches? Hmm, you’re after something more highbrow, aren’t you?

Then come to Tramway, and watch the globally-acclaimed Scottish Dance Theatre stylishly sign off its 25th anniversary year with a performance of Letters From America – a double bill of contemporary works by two young award-winning American choreographers.

The first is Lay Me Down Safe, presented by New York’s Kate Weare. Set to the music of artists such as Leonard Cohen and Nouvelle Vague, this piece is an exploration of human inexperience.

Searching for a balance between deprivation and excess is the purpose the second work on offer tonight. Khaos, choreographed by Benjamin Levy of San Francisco, is scored by a composition consisting of harp, a xylophone, and some soft percussion.

This thoroughly engaging show has already been enthusiastically received by Scottish audiences, having enjoyed a successful run at Edinburgh’s Traverse earlier this year.

The quality of the creative output emanating from Tramway doesn’t suffer from it being a subway ride plus a bit of a walk from the sodium lights of Glasgow’s city centre. Indeed, Letters From America is a testament to this arts venue’s well-earned reputation as the proud beating heart of the south side.


Theatre preview: The Little Match Girl Passion @ Traverse, Edinburgh

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The fall of autumn leaves and the rise of the winter sun. Miles Davis’s trumpet and Bill Evans’s piano. Cheese and wine. Isn’t it great when two different things can work so well together? When one entity complements another so well that the qualities of each become amplified in an inspired union?

This promising evening of theatre is all about such relationships. Firstly, it’s about the seamless fusion of literature and music. In 2007, American composer David Lang set the tale of The Little Match Girl – Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic story about a poor girl who freezes to death as she struggles to sell matches to passers-by one New Year’s Eve – to J.S. Bach’s sacred masterpiece St Matthew Passion. The result – entitled The Little Match Girl Passion – was a dark choral work written for a vocal ensemble, and its ability to evoke the raw emotional power of both art forms contributed to Lang winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Secondly, the marriage of Lang’s composition – which he never planned to stage himself – and the world of drama is the very purpose of this bold and unique new production. The haunting harmonies of four barely visible vocalists lend a soundtrack to the action that builds on Lang’s original idea. A screened animation guides us through the themes of faith and humanity that are riddled in the story, from which a barefooted dancer’s graceful little match girl evokes a potent symbolism.

Next, this show is about the coming together of a theatre and an art house. It’s a pure meeting of minds between an establishment that’s acquired a solid reputation for putting on the best innovative and cutting-edge works, and a company committed to realising creative ideals through contemporary performance. The most recent collaboration between the Traverse and Cryptic was on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which won widespread acclaim last year.

And finally, The Little Match Girl Passion will be sharing the stage with another David Lang piece. World To Come, the first of this double bill and a Scottish premiere, sees Southbank Artist in Residence and cellist Oliver Coates provide an introspective score to Irish video artist Jack Phelan’s spooky but beautiful film about a fantasy world born from an apocalypse. Again presiding over this blend of music and visuals is director Josh Armstrong, whose work has been presented across the UK as well as in his native USA.

‘This opportunity to direct a Cryptic show and to work with performers of such a high calibre has been an incredible experience,’ he said.

So, to finish where I began, it’s great when things work together. Literature, music, dance and drama, as well as themes of faith, transformation and mortality – it’s not often you find something on stage that’s anywhere near as complete as this. This is truly what brilliant theatre is all about.


Comedy preview: Omid Djalili @ King's Theatre, Glasgow

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Thank goodness this guy doesn’t need an introduction – because I really don’t have much room to write one.

What, with the second series of The Omid Djalili Show, his work for the moneysupermarket.com adverts and a starring role in Brit flick The Infidel, this larger-than-life comedian has a more-than-adequate public profile. Surprisingly though, it’s been almost four years since his last stand-up gig.

Thankfully, he’s hopped right back on the circuit with his new show Tour of Duty as if it were a bike. Djalili is back to his best, offering an amusing perspective on the Arab Spring, terrorism and other topics through impersonations, sketches and observations – not to mention belly dancing – encompassed by his good-natured brand of humour.

I’m struggling to think of funnier comedians who thrive as much on the big stage as this comic does. Love or loathe this confident yet loveable showman, he’ll endeavour to warm every inch of King’s Theatre with laughter this Sunday.


Music preview: Liz Green @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh

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With a double measurement of 1930s jazz and a generous drizzle of modern English folk, Manchester-based blueswoman Liz Green serves up a dizzying cocktail of sound, complementing perfectly the main course of her rich and distinctive voice that has echoes of Jolie Holland and Karen Dalton.

I might be describing her music in as many words, as so many critics have, if I hadn’t asked Green herself for a description. ‘Tragi-comic pop,’ was her prompt response. ‘Tragi-comic’, she reasoned, because her spooky yet smart lyrics dwell on tales of death – a subject not always morbid, but sometimes amusing.

But, with her eerily jaunty jingles, why ‘pop’? To annoy people who forcibly thrust upon her other musical labels, apparently. And it looks like the three faux genres listed on her MySpace page – French pop, gospel and screamo – make a similar point.

Indeed, the singer-songwriter admitted that being associated with certain styles of music, and being compared with legendary artists, is sometimes suffocating – however flattering. ‘I can understand why people need to compartmentalise like that, but it can place extra pressure on you as an artist,’ she said.

Green broke into the music industry back in 2007, when she triumphed in the Glastonbury Emerging Talent contest and went on to play on the Somerset festival’s Pyramid stage. After releasing her first single Bad Medicine also that year, she was quickly shepherded into a studio to work on an album.

‘It was all a little bit scary,’ said the former support teacher. ‘A friend suggested that I record a single, then all of a sudden I’m Zane Lowe’s “hottest new sound”. I was getting a lot more attention that I was expecting, and it was quite bewildering. It was never in my mind to become a professional musician.’

Rather than rush out a record at the height of this early fame, as you’d probably expect her to have done, Green chose to stick to her own schedule. She spent four years touring in the UK and Europe, sharing stages with the likes of Jose Gonzales and Bon Iver, and only released her much-anticipated debut album on Monday.

And she’s very proud of the result. Entitled O, Devotion!, the record includes the singles Displacement Song and Midnight Blues, and is packed full of songs that are elegantly literate, comfortably rhythmic and bedazzlingly original.

Now back on the road, the Wirral-born musician’s forthcoming tour takes her from Inverness to Amsterdam – and she’s particularly eager to play at Electric Circus. ‘I have a few good friends in Edinburgh and I really enjoyed playing there on previous tours,” she said.

At a time when only the most powerful of recording artists seem able to do things their way, Liz Green proves otherwise. If you believe in giving artists credit where it’s due, then you’ll agree she’s one worth seeing.

Opera preview: Pass the Spoon @ Tramway, Glasgow

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I’m taken back to fond memories of watching an old children’s TV show as I gaze over the cast of Pass The Spoon. One character is called Mr Egg, another The Banana, and the piece is set in a kitchen. Any allusions to my early childhood, however, are greatly compromised from the moment I notice the writer credit – David Shrigley.

The artist, famed for his surrealist cartoons and drawings, has acquired a dedicated following in Glasgow since he graduated from the city’s School of Art 20 years ago. And indeed, the result of his bizarre but brilliant imagination’s latest creation is one that will not disappoint any of his fans.

Teaming up with respected director Nicholas Bone, award-winning composer David Fennessy and exciting contemporary music group Red Note Ensemble, Shrigley tonight takes his darkly comic talents to the stage.

Musical, opera or melodrama, Pass The Spoon is a predictably quirky affair that takes place in the studio of a daytime cookery programme. The hosts, June Spoon and Philip Fork, work with ordinary ingredients that take on extraordinary personas as they’re used to make a dish for sinister show guest Mr Granules.

Originally conceived back in 2008, the project is being staged by Edinburgh-based company Magnetic North – acclaimed for productions such as Walden, which went on two national tours.

Although this is his first piece of theatre, Shrigley is no stranger to dabbling in art forms other than the picture-postcards for which he is most decorated. He’s also authored many books, created animated shorts, released a spoken word album and directed music videos for Blur and Bonnie Prince Billy during his colourful career.

The Macclesfield-born artist may have exhibited his work around the world, but he’s treating only Glasgow – the city that trained him – to this one.

Music preview: Red Snapper @ King Tut's, Glasgow

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So tonight, downtempo is going to take acid jazz out on a date. They’ll meet up with their friends leftfield and trip-hop, before heading to a party over at experimental and electronica’s place.

Thinly-disguised genre-dropping has no place in music journalism, you’re right, but Red Snapper are otherwise quite difficult to describe.

The London trio are renowned for fusing electronic loops with acoustic riffs live on stage – creating a moody, groovy sound that both complements and transcends the pace of life.

Comprised of three core members, the band have recorded with various guest musicians since signing to Warp in 1996. Latest album Key – which includes the mischievously upbeat single Loveboat – sees the group collaborating with UNKLE contributor Gavin Clark, saxophonist Tom Challenger and folk singer Eliza Carthy.

While there are many events you can blow £15 on in Glasgow on a Thursday night, you can be sure that this Red Snapper gig – with Glasgow’s own jazz/hip-hop crossover quintet dBass supporting – is one of the catches of the day.


Theatre preview: Men Should Weep @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh

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That we can relate to a play written of the hardship of the 1930s depression doesn’t reflect very well on our society in the 21st century, does it? Yes, as many of us struggle on amid soaring energy prices and a bleak employment market, it’s an appropriate time for a theatre company to re-tell a story that takes place in a world of crippling urban poverty. But taking Men Should Weep on a tour of the country represents a gamble of sorts by the National Theatre of Scotland, because the piece has been hiding away for a generation.

Penned by Scottish female playwright Ena Lamont Stewart, this unflinching work was first performed in 1947 by the Glasgow Unity Theatre. After this company’s closure four years later, nothing became of the play, which gathered the dust of three decades in theatrical obscurity before its slightly cheerier re-write enjoyed a brief run in the early 1980s. However, it was not until 2005, when it was named as one of the National Theatre’s 100 Plays of the Century, that Men Should Weep achieved the broader acclaim it deserved.

Its heroine is Maggie, matriarch of the Morrison household, who live a hand-to-mouth existence in Glasgow’s Gorbals. Conflict between the characters is never far away, alluding to the gender and class dynamics that prevailed in the interwar years.

‘Men Should Weep is one of the very best plays ever to be written about the corrosive effects of poverty,’ said director Graham McLaren. ‘This is not a problem that has ever gone away.’

So, as the weather worsens and our budgets tighten with winter beckoning, this production won’t exactly remind us how lucky we have it today. However, it’s not the job of this theatre company to tell us stories that make us feel happy and comfortable. Its purpose is to challenge and provoke, and, in putting on this visceral, populist work, the National Theatre of Scotland is succeeding admirably.


Music preview: Annie Mac Presents... @ the Arches, Glasgow

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It’s Bonfire Night tomorrow, didn’t you know? Well done if you did, because it’d just about slipped my mind. It just doesn’t seem quite as exciting as it was when you were wee, does it? Back when mum and dad would buy you sparklers and take you to one of their friend’s houses, where, for the only day of the year, you’d be allowed to get dizzy on lemonade until ten o’clock on a school night. Ah, the memories…

Well, now I’m going to snatch away those rose-tinted glasses just as easily as I placed them over your eyes in the first place. We’re all grown ups now, and, unless you have kids of your own, there’s a far more important occasion occupying the November 5 square on your calendar – Annie Mac is coming to Glasgow.

Yes indeed, this Dublin gal – renowned for enriching our airwaves with the very hippest in new dance and electronic music on her Friday Radio 1 show – will be travelling with a convoy of talent into town to play at the Arches tomorrow night.

Since 2005, the Annie Mac Presents tour has covered practically every partying inch of the country, showcasing the very finest electro, dubstep, disco and drum n’ bass. This year, she’s taking it to North America and Australia as well as to best clubs over here – high time for the Arches crowd to show her what it’s capable of, methinks.

Supporting the good lady herself is dance music legend Erol Alkan, who, as with each since his breakthrough in the early noughties, is enjoying another hyper-productive year as an artist, producer and DJ. Alkan is probably best known for pioneering the ‘mash up’ – the art of throwing together two different tracks and making it work – the most famous of which was a fusion of Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head with New Order’s Blue Monday.

Joining the bill is experimental pop artist Charli XCX, whose infectious dark and moody style has attracted a growing army of followers, and Brooklyn MC Azealia Banks, known for her blend of filthy raps and bouncing electro beats. Glasgow’s own rising sub-house star, HaHaHa, also makes an appearance on the main Arches stage.

No, you won’t be getting any lazy conclusions like ‘she’ll set the dancefloor alight’ or ‘there’ll be fireworks when she takes to the stage’ from me. Just go out and experience Annie Mac’s set live tomorrow, as opposed to annoying your neighbours by cranking up her radio show tonight. And remember, remember, the fifth of November – whatever that means.

Comedy preview: Steve-O: The Entirely Too Much Information Tour @ O2 ABC, Glasgow

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Do people actually pay money to watch someone set their own head on fire? Swallow a goldfish? Chug beer up their rear end?

The answer is clearly ‘yes’, because this guy has enjoyed incredible success performing such outrageous stunts on our screens over the years. With highlights including hurling himself four storeys into a hotel swimming pool and riding a unicycle into an alligator’s pond, you’ll know Steve-O from Jackass and Wildboyz – shows that grossed millions of dollars and made him a household name.

However, after subsequently developing psychiatric problems and enduring time in rehab for drugs and alcohol abuse, the British-born comic came up with a new idea. He wanted to continue putting himself through the sickening and dangerous ordeals, of course, but alongside a stand-up routine.

Besides discussing frankly how he overcame his addiction problems and struggles with fame, Steve-O’s material drew largely on the mayhem that surrounded the filming of Jackass. The Entirely Too Much Information Tour started in the US and Canada, before crossing continents to Australia earlier this year and beginning its four-week run in Europe last month.

It’ll soon be the turn of Glasgow’s O2 ABC to welcome the 37-year-old to its stage. He’ll find himself in a country that made him smile on his previous visit, as he tweeted from this year’s Fringe: ‘Walking around Edinburgh, I’ve seen a bunch of dudes wearing skirts. I had no idea Scottish dudes actually wore those things out. Hilarious!’

Anyway, I know you’ve made no plans for the evening of this maniac’s sole Scottish date, because it falls on a Sunday. You’re not exactly going to be doing a lot, and this performance is guaranteed to make you forget about the impending start of the working week more than most other activities.

But if you decide to go, please don’t try anything silly at home afterwards. I just couldn’t live with myself if anything bad were to happen.


Music preview: Ellen & the Escapades @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh

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You’ve had a rotten week so far. On Monday you were late for work, because your train was delayed. A black cab sped past you during Tuesday’s lunch hour, covering you in dirty puddle water as you waited for the green man at the traffic lights. Welcome to November. Unless you win big on tonight’s lottery, you’ll somehow need saving from your midweek blues while the Christmas countdown remains at least another calendar page away.

Meet Ellen & the Escapades – the folk-pop quintet who’ll be your saviour tonight. Guaranteed to tide you over to the weekend is the band’s warm sound, delicate rhythm and evocative lyrics, which perfectly complement the distinctive vocal style of their frontwoman. And venues for such a performance don’t come more suitable than Edinburgh’s Electric Circus. As they play out their enormously catchy songs in this intimate hub at the heart of the city, the Leeds-based outfit’s soothing soundtrack will transcend the cold reality outside.

“We’re really excited about coming to Edinburgh. It’s our first trip to Scotland and the only one for now, so we’re very much looking forward to it,” said the eponymous vocalist and guitarist Ellen Smith.

While she cited Ryan Adams and Carole King as among her personal influences, the singer described the importance of Fleetwood Mac in shaping the band’s own sound, and explained how Bob Dylan and the Beatles are majorly revered by all five group members.

For an outfit formed just over two years ago, Ellen & the Escapades appear to have learnt their trade with extraordinary speed. In their relatively short life they’ve supported Paolo Nutini, played a host of top UK festivals, including Glastonbury, Green Man and Bestival, and set up their own label – Branch Out Records.

Their biggest break, however, was when they triumphed at the Glastonbury Emerging Talent contest in 2009. ‘It just seemed to open a lot of doors for us because people became a lot more aware of the band,’ said Smith. ‘We’ve been very lucky.’

With each release gaining them greater airplay and critical exposure, the momentum is well and truly behind this five-piece. Their new single When The Tide Creeps In – which reached No.1 in the Amazon Folk Downloads Chart – is a heart-warming, soul-searching acoustic epic, and a harbinger for a forthcoming debut album that’s set to hit the shops next year.

So, is there an escapade this lot are likely to turn down? ‘Actually, the name’s really just down to alliteration to be honest,’ said Smith. Well, with the band in the thick of their first national tour, they’re certainly living up to their moniker whether they like it or not.