Posted in Behind the Scenes

Why blog at all …

The decision to start again after a nearly six year lull was made in the middle of last may. It has just taken me a lot longer to reach the point . I look back at the posts and marvel just how much these artists and songs mean to me. The questions were frequently amateurish and I tried a little too hard in being clever. There were so many artists a small fish like myself could not entice to answer written questions to an obscure blog. But glancing at the ‘bands we chatted with’ list is a testament to the character of Scottish artists that did take the time.

I just noted that the Twilight Sad was on that list. While I have not been able to do a normal posting

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Posted in Behind the Scenes

The Lost Church and the missing audience

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I’ve been meaning to go to San Francisco’s best kept secret for a few months now. Being the musical nit pick that I am, it took until last night. A mere 10 blocks or so away, this could well prove to become my second home. That is very much what it is – a lovingly crafted performance space that feels just like it was someone’s production oriented living room. I went to see Dominic East -1/3 of our very own Churches, with the idea of working that into our Chvrches coverage. Instead, I came away with a whole new respect and perspective on the power of the local indie scene. I’ve left the stage empty for now and will come back to the actual performance later. I’ve been disconcerted with my inability to see most of any of the bands that I’ve been covering and discovering (on a weekly basis). Part of the venue’s ethos is to provide “music good for the soul’. Walking back home down the 16th Street and Castro night club corridor put into perspective just how badly I needed to go. I’ve decided to continue to venture forth locally to uncover and share the ‘hidden’ talent right at my door step. Technically, we’ll create a separate section, page or even a twin blog. As I venture forth I will, of course, become known as the Scottish music guy and that leads to the second part of the post.

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While cleaning up the blog (adding tags and categories) I realized I had never posted an intended live review for Admiral Fallow who came to town back in October. This is the point to stop me from dredging forth knowing them since they were called … I was so excited about finally getting to see them,I didn’t give a second thought to matters like attendance. It never occurred to me that I could have an impact. Obviously, there is a reason all my photos were taken from the side of the stage – there couldn’t have been 20 people behind me. I realized, to my shame that night, that it could have been within my power to do something about that. I imagine that the other reason it never went up was that I was waiting for some question answers that never did show up. It really is a foolish thing to hope that time could be found to write responses during a tour. Perhaps the just coined adage ‘ask not what your band can do for our blog but what can our blog do for your band’ is best kept in mind. Realistically, the answer right now is – not much. We don’t need to worry about Frightened Rabbit’s success at filling up the Fillmore. Even though compared to New York, the Chvrches ticket sales seem sluggish, I’m pretty confident that it won’t end up being like the last Aereogramme show there. Writing that is my tacit admission that we won’t likely get through their press publicity storm – let alone get a response back.

The thing I was reminded of last night is that it doesn’t matter. I was reacquainted to a brand of American indie that I’ve unfairly been dismissive of due to my preference to the music of the U.K. I was also blown away by a local singer songwriter whose almost implausibly clever and beautiful turn of phrase should have him opening for Withered Hand’s next show.

It is time to start working on making the flow of music go both ways and,as an additional consequence, I might just be able to make a difference for the next band that somehow manages to make it over here. The Scottish coverage, by necessity, will primarily be about recorded music. For the sake of my musical soul, the coverage of the local scene will be center about live performances and the performance space itself.

For those readers who happen to find themselves in San Francisco, be sure to check out the calendar. Should something catch your eye, I can’t think of a single place that would provide a better evening out than the Lost Church.

Thor

Posted in Behind the Scenes, glasGOwest

Midge Ure Live (Jan 23rd)

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The Venue advertised it as “Midge Ure: the voice of Ultravox”.  While technically true, the set was a fairly representative slice of a 30 plus year career. One of my musical regrets was never having had the opportunity to see Ultravox perform live.

I imagine my first exposure would have been around the age of 17. Having only recently started a part time job after school, I was finally able to buy my first proper turntable and the records to go along with it. I distinctly remember being in the shop trying to choose between U2’s Boy and Rage in Eden. At the time, during the pre-internet dark ages, I knew nothing about either band. For some reason I decided to go with the Ultravox record. Naturally, this meant that the first song I ever heard was ‘The Voice’ and at that age one can well imagine what a profound, and as it turns out life long, impression that LP made. I did go back and pick up the U2 soon after, but that passion began to fade with Joshua Tree. Not so with Midge Ure. Those solo records continued to be a regular part of my life. Naturally, back catalogue and ‘side’ projects found their way into my collection

Coincidentally, I picked up a copy of Ure’s biography a few months ago but had not begun to read it until the show was announced a few weeks back.  It was interesting to read the behind the scenes information on all those releases that I had just dutifully purchased. It is rather astonishing just how much both artist and fan were at the mercy of the labels back then.  The occasional unarticulated misgivings  that I remember having at the time with a few of the releases make a good deal more  sense after the curtain was opened a little and some of the inner workings were revealed.

Midge was quite chatty in between songs, providing snippets of history spanning his entire career. While tuning, in between songs, he joked about the indignity of having to drive up in a van from Los Angeles. “I am a Rock star! I was in LIVEAID.”  Apparently the tour seems to have been a trial run, of sorts, for a potential full Ultravox tour. As Ure noted the band should be the recipient of an award for having unsuccessfully attempted to crack the North American market for the longest period of time.

In a way, the fact that the backing band wasn’t Ultravox and Ure used his guitar for every song turned what might have been an exercise in nostalgia into something unique and powerful. The guitar driven version of ‘Fade to Grey’ was a pleasant surprise. The rousing rendition of ‘The Voice’ toward the end followed by the single song encore of ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ was far more satisfying than I could have expected.

I hadn’t finished the book’s last few chapters until this evening. The positive, energetic experience that I had squares well with Ure’s expressed realization of the power of a more intimate connection with his fans. The reaction I witnessed to ‘Vienna’ was no different than the reaction to Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’. Personally, I don’t understand how either one makes for a very good sing along but the point is the deep emotional connection of the fans, for all intents and purposes, was the same.

Walking into the venue I was greeted with the Thompson Twin’s ‘Hold Me Now’.  I have this love– hate relationship with most of the decade. While waiting for the show, people around me are reminiscing about having recently seen the Human League and New Order and I’m thinking about how much I’m looking forward to seeing Chvrches in a few weeks time. Don’t get me wrong – my first CD was ‘Crash’ and I have a very vivid memory of listening and waiting for an American college radio station to play something from ‘Power Corruption and Lies’ in the summer of 1983. I just don’t understand how those of my generation stopped looking for new bands in 1989.

None of that has anything to do with my appreciation of the show. It’s my blog and that means I can vent whenever I want. I’ve never stopped being a fan of Midge Ure. Watching a few Slik videos for the first time  before the show, I was struck with how powerful the voice was even then. Finally hearing an artist whose songs have been inside my head most of my life was a moving experience. It was long overdue.

Even better– I’ve now got a fair bit of his soaring guitar to accompany it.

And, one day, I might just get to see Ultravox afterall.

Thor

Posted in Behind the Scenes

But when will you actually listen to all the music?

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I’ve taken advantage of a few generous bundle sales lately; entire back catalogues at Christmas prices. I’m running into something that’s been bothering me for months now. I’ve become pretty adept at buying but really falling behind at listening and, even worse, enjoying what I have.

The first step of the solution is to ditch itunes and flac all the CDs into the ‘Scotstunes’ folder. I’ve been avoiding this musical restructuring for a long time. Halfway in the results are interesting. Of all the old mp3 files I’ve found lurking about only a small percentage were actually Scottish. Most of it wouldn’t be missed if deleted. While my musical tastes have not really made a seachange, they have become very much aligned with and finely attuned to Scottish indie.

I’ve toyed with the idea of listening to and buying nothing but Scottish music for a year. Rather silly and, in a way, it’s happening naturally anyway. I visited the revamped Avalanche website today and found that I had all but one title from the initial Scots indie selection. Apparently, even though it may be considered blasphemous in certain circles, I’m just not a fan of Paul Buchanan’s voice.

Features have become sporadic partly because the distance is becoming slightly oppressive. The price of Scottish musical knowledge is not really ever getting to see what I’ve come to love. I get to see Frightened Rabbit again in March. I saw them back in November. I’m not begrudging them their success, but I’d really like it if some of it would rub off on a few others.

For me, there is no recourse but to dive even deeper into the music. The hook and the rewards are too deep.

More interviews are certainly forthcoming. Apparently a few people are reading and this year promises to be as good a release year as the last was. Looking back, it was rather phenomenal.

Who else is going to remind people that they still need to listen to Ballboy or that they really should have some Geneva in their collection?

Posted in Behind the Scenes

The Wedding Present Live Review

What does the Wedding Present have to do with a San Francisco based Scottish Music blog? –  Pretty much everything. In large part, it is why we are San Francisco based and, in small measure, it explains the Scottish focus.  

Back in early ’96, unable to find anyone willing to take the trip to Toronto to see the ‘Mini’ tour, I began asking in the WP mailing list.  I was a relatively new fan having only been made aware of them with the release of Watusi. Eventually one lone soul responded that they would love to go – the only catch being she was in Australia. In the end, I drove 2 hours each way for a 1 hour set. It didn’t disappoint. They played my Favourite Dress!  I bought a signed cd and t-shirt to send to Australia. It was the least I could do.  Speaking to Dave at the merchandise table, I also asked him for a recommendation. He offered up BIS. This led me to purchase ‘The Secret Vampire Soundtrack’ and begin my love affair with Chemikal Underground.  Apparently a mutual love for Gedge is enough to spark a potential long distance relationship. Email turned to phone calls which turned into the idea of meeting in person. You don’t need to have listened to nearly 2 decades of the Wedding Present to know how it  turned out.

It did, however, set up the decision of meeting in San Francisco or London. The obvious choice led to a 10 day trip to England. The chemistry didn’t survive reality but the gigs were pretty decent:

Dave Graney, the Frank and Walters, The Divine Comedy, Mogwai and Urusei  Yatsura twice, Richard Thompson, and Pooka. While there,  I was even asked by a young Stuart Braithwaite what I thought of BIS. Unaware of the family connection, I wisely said they were pretty good

One of the other highlights was listening to Everything Must Go on a Sunday in a Chelsea record shop before the next day’s release. My own life had suffered a horrible self-inflicted blow.  The transition from the Holy Bible to the follow up was deeply personal. I once saw Richard Thompson open up for Crowded House with my ex-wife and at that time thought I never wanted to see him after a break up. It is, of course, exactly what I did that  year; at the Royal Albert Hall no less.

I was quite impressed by the Divine Comedy as well. Casanova was just out and Liberation and Promenade were picked up at the show (avoiding the eternal which was better controversy). When I got home the Manics finally made their way to North America.  I even joined the Divine Comedy mailing list where one day someone asked  what the Manics were like.  The chemistry was right this time. She was from San Francisco. I moved, we married and in between a Cinerama tour that  started and ended here we adopted a cat and named her Sally. It would seem that I had to go to London to get to San Francisco.

Thanks for the wedding Gedge.

Review? They played Seamonsters in its entirety!