Monday, 27 May 2013

Random Music of 2013. Part 1

As I did the same last year, here is a wee quick review of some of the best new albums that are out there in the first half of 2013. The main criteria here is that these are still on the "being played" pile some time after being bought. There are some others that should have been on it, but were a bit of a let down and got quickly relegated to the shelf, possibly to re-emerge at some undisclosed point in the future. I'm thinking of The Knife - Shaking The Habitual (lots of interesting stuff, but just a big incoherent jumble of ideas), My Bloody Valentine - mbv (still to be persuaded by their charms, though I've never seen them live) and Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (I want to like it, but it is just aural wallpaper).

One thing which is new for me is that I've now bought into Spotify and download a lot of music from them, even hard to find stuff in a physical format, like Dinos Chapman's album. This means that there is a lot of music which I would have bought previously that I now listen to for a while online, then delete, such as Nick Cave's latest album, Push The Sky Away or Daft Punk's album.

There is still plenty to look forward to in 2013, especially with new albums from Fuck Buttons and Boards of Canada imminent. I've been playing their old stuff a lot in anticipation, which maybe explains my first choice here, which isn't a million miles away from them in mood...

Berberian Sound Studio Soundtrack - by Broadcast

Produced for the atmospheric and creepy film "Berberian Sound Studio" the soundtrack by Broadcast fitted it perfectly but stands alone as an atmospheric, creepy, nostalgia-tinged album. It's made more poignant by the fact that Trisha Keenan, the singer from the band, died before the album was finished. 39 wee tracks, like an old BBC sound effects album.

A BBC original for comparison

UHF - by Hacker Farm

Their self-proclaimed philosophy is "make do and mend. Broken music for a broken Britain". Don't know much about the "Yeovil-based electronic collective" but they appear to have cobbled together a lot of old electronica to produce an album that's at times very industrial, at times like trying to tune into the far reaches of an old short wave radio. Always throbbing.

The Island Come True - by L. Pierre

In the early months of this year I seem to enjoyed a lot of lo-fi, found sound-type things. More homemade vibes here on Aidan Moffat's latest offering as his alter ego "Lucky Pierre", now shortened to L. Pierre (I suspect it's to avoid having to explain what "lucky Pierre" is to his son as he grows up, as his toddler's babbling is one of the recordings on here). Even on cd the album is full of the hiss and crackle of old recordings one moment, the shriek of seagulls the next, and is more an atmosphere than a manifesto. A similar feel to Salt Marie Celeste by Nurse With Wound, but in 4 minute bites rather than over 60 minutes, although I could listen to the slow strings on "Sad Laugh" for another 56 minutes quite happily.

 A Wonder Working Stone - by Alasdair Roberts & Friends

Alasdair Roberts latest albums have had the air of a Scottish traditional music archivist beavering away on his own about them as he unearths and reworks old songs. This album is all new material. Alasdair's distinctive vocal style is his recognisable instrument as usual, but he is joined by fiddler Rafe Fitzpatrick from Tattie Toes, electric guitar, a few horns, harmoniums, accordions. It ends up like an evening spent beside a peat fire in a Highland pub whilst a succession of musicians wander in and out with their instruments under their arms. Warming.

Exai - by Autechre

Okay. From something warming to something cold and sharp. Autechre are a duo of electronic musicians. Their 2010 album Oversteps is one that I still play all the time, so I was intrigued to see what their new album would be like when I heard that they planned Exai as a 4 LP, 2 hour extravaganza. Self-indulgent? Lacking a decisive editor? Perhaps. There is a lot of great stuff on here, but I haven't managed to invest the time to get to know it like their other albums so tend to have it's buzzes, twangs and beeps on as background noise. Still listening though.

Pale Green Ghosts - by John Green

This album unlike Exai positively demands your attention. I saw him play live in Glasgow last year at St Andrews in the Square and he put on a great show. This album sees him blowing off steam after a traumatic time recently (outlined in this interview). Recorded in Scandinavia with Iceland's Birgir Thórarinsson it is beautifully produced, slick and the lyrics merit repeated listening. Melancholy, angry, grumpy, bitter and a wee bit of backing by Sinead O'Connor.

The Terror - by The Flaming Lips

For a few years I've been buying the latest releases from The Flaming Lips more out of habit than to find anything new and exciting. I even bought the "Christmas On Mars" one, with a mental, low budget sci-fi film bonus disc they put together included (not a classic). However "The Terror" was apparently written whilst they were all in a darker place than recent albums (see also John Grant above) and sonically has benefited from this. The result is the most catchy album of psychedelic, krautrocky, droning tunes you could imagine. The 13 minute "You Lust" track is hypnotic and bittersweet. The video is predictably mental and has been removed by Youtube, who seemed to feel that a naked man and woman being electrocuted whilst a monkey wanders between their legs wasn't appropriate. Pah!

Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time - by Steve Mason

Okay, back to some Scotch stuff. If you've missed The Beta Band, fear not as their former frontman, Steve Mason has released a pop-tastic album. It is the only one on this list with recitations of Dante's Inferno, snatches of Tony Blair plus F1 car noises (although I think the third on this list with seagull squawks). Alongside all of that you've got Steve Mason's familiar lilting vocals and trip-hop beats but there's plenty worth listening to in the lyrics here too whilst you scratch your chin and wonder what it all means (the album title is apparently a Buddhist phrase for a flighty mind that can't concentrate on anything).

Agree, disagree? Give me your opinion.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Two Kids and Suggs All Looking For Their Father

The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, National Theatre of Scotland. Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Suggs, My Life Story in Words and Music. Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow

Quick review of two completely contrasting shows I went to today in Glasgow, which had strangely unifying themes running through them.

First up was the latest piece of theatre from the National Theatre of Scotland, The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish at Tron Theatre, Glasgow this week . It is based upon the children's picturebook written by Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods, Doctor Who scripts, whatever) and artist and illustrator Dave McKean. NTS have already collaborated on a successful stage adaptation of another Neil Gaiman children's book, The Wolves In The Walls which got rave reviews when it was out. However this book, which I've read about a hundred times with my kids in the library, is a shorter, simpler affair and it was harder to picture how it could be transferred to the stage. In it Tom wants his best friend's goldfish so much that he swaps his dad for them. His mum, understandably, doesn't like this idea much so she sends him back out to retrieve his dad. As mum gives them a row a kid in the audience with a great future ahead of him as a heckler piped up "He should have swapped his mum". It was all very cleverly done. We start off in a wee studio space upstairs at the theatre and are lead through corridors, dressing rooms and backstage areas as we track down dad, who has been traded on for an electric guitar, a gorilla mask, etc. The staging was imaginative and worked well with the story and the sets aping the book illustrations were strikingly done. The actors playing the bickering siblings did it with energy and riffed well with the kids in the audience following them on their adventure. It appealed most to my 6 year old, who glowingly praised it as "even better than I was expecting". It has already been shown in various venues around Scotland before landing at the Tron this week but worth catching if it comes to a town near you.

In the foyer afterwards they held a brief "swap shop" with toys, books and games which took a bit of explaining to my pair but they were happy to get a fluffy Tigger for a wooden caterpillar.

By contrast later that day (and clashing horribly with the Champions League Final) we had Suggs on at the Pavilion Theatre. He did this one man show at the Edinburgh Festival last year and has been touring it on and off ever since.

As a youth, ska was the music that pressed all the right buttons for me. People like me who can't dance can dance perfectly well to it and with Jerry Dammers's political ethos driving the Two Tone label it was music with a message too. I was just too young to see these bands live in their prime but have followed all the Two Tone artists in their various solo guises and re-unions ever since umpteen times. Madness never seemed to be in it for the politics (could you imagine The Specials playing at the Queen's jubilee party?). They just seemed to like playing the music and looked like they were having fun. They did sing in their own accents about day to day, mundane events, which was not the normal way of doing things at the time. In some ways it has taken Scottish acts another 20 years to do this and stop trying for some mid-Atlantic drawl. This was something he acknowledged in the show which he had taken from Ian Dury's singing and he illustrated it by singing seamlessly from "What a Waste" into "Baggy Trousers".

Although my brother has seen Madness perform live a few times, including at their earthquake inducing "Madstock" gig, the one time that I saw them put me off doing it again. In 1992 I saw them at Ingleston supported by The Farm and 808 State. After the first act a minor riot broke out in the crowd which ran about like a flock of starlings meaning that every so often, even when standing still you kept ending up with the brawling skinheads tumbling past you. Apparently it was due to a dispute by rival security firms, but the result was the hall lights being kept on for the main act, a quick blast through their set and no encore. There were no punches thrown tonight as the audience chuckled away at all the right places.

After deciding at the age of 50 to try to find out a bit about the father he never knew, Suggs used this as a springboard to wax nostalgic about his life and music. It was peppered with a few short songs and interesting wee anecdotes. The tightly scripted and directed performance though didn't leave much space for spontaneity or any audience interaction. Before we got there my brother had hoped that we'd be spared a rendition of "Cecelia". But it had to be sung to allow the story of Chris Eubank guest presenting TOTP introducing "Suggs singing Cecelia" to be told. The theatre packed with middle aged men wearing Fred Perry checked shirts over their bulging waistlines would have been happy if he'd come on and played the spoons for two hours, but he gave us more than that.

Two shows for two different crowds but with the same message. Both following people seeking their lost father for a bit of pathos and both finding that adventures in life are best if you've got a family or sister or band of friends to share the fun with.

Monday, 20 May 2013

21km Run Around the World of Benny Lynch, Glasgow

The Glasgow Life of Benny Lynch

You wouldn't know it as there has been little fanfare over it, but 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benny Lynch, Scotland's first world boxing champion. The archetypal Glasgow "wee man" boxer he had no peer in his time, or since it could be argued. Measuring 5 foot 5 and a half inches and weighing in at 8 stone (or 112 pounds/ 52 kg) in his prime, he is arguably Scotland's greatest ever sporting champion.

I decided to come up with a wee running route for myself to follow his story and ended up with a 21km/ 13.5 mile circuit starting at the Kelvin Hall (summarised at the end).

Benny Lynch was born in the Gorbals, Glasgow on April 2, 1913 in a tenement flat at 17 Florence Street. His parents were from Donegal and Benny was their second son. His older brother, James, died from a head injury he received when working in Babcock's in Renfrew. The Gorbals was the most overcrowded part of an overcrowded city and waves of immigrants had made it the most cosmopolitan area of the city too. First the Highlanders and Lowland Scots arrived as they were cleared from the countryside by the landowners. Later they were joined by waves of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish and Lithuanian migrants. My great-grandparents lived in Gorbals Street until they died in the 1960s and that was when my grandparents and my mother moved out of the Gorbals, as the new wave of clearances moved people away to the new "schemes". In 1920 there were 50,000 people living in the Gorbals, a wedge of land with three borders about a mile long and the former site of a leper colony. They were being served by 1000 shops and 130 pubs.

It had been the place where Thomas Lipton came from (Crown Street) and Allan Pinkerton (Muirhead Street) came from but for most people opportunities were limited, particularly in the midst of a depression in the 1920s. It was also the place where John MacLean stood as a Communist candidate in the general election. He died in 1923 when Benny was 10 years old.

The Gorbals was largely flattened in the 1960s with the tenements now all gone.

Florence Street today, no. 17 must have stood in the car park of the Adelphi Centre on the left, with no.85 beyond the new flats ahead.

The last flat that my great-grandparents stayed in is one of the few old tenements that still stands. They lived in the first floor flat here, above what was then the British Linen Bank. If Glasgow City Council don't get their act together it is clear that this building will be going the way of all the rest in the area. Look out soon for a mysterious fire or a declaration of the building being too unsafe to leave standing.
Tenement on Gorbals Street

My great-grandfather, Peter Donnelly, spent his working life as a dentist at Gorbals Cross, despite having no official dental qualifications, which was often the case in those days. I was reliably informed by my granny that as well as John MacLean holding meetings in his Gorbals Cross surgery, he also made gum shields for Benny Lynch. Whenever I have investigated her stories I have found them to be true, and it seems highly likely that he was making Benny's gum shields as it was in the early 1930s that custom made gum guards were first in common use by boxers.

Benny's older brother had been a keen boxer. Benny had a rough early life, getting slashed in the face by a gang as a youth and he was once fined 10 shillings in court for street fighting. As a schoolboy he started boxing and was spotted by Sammy Wilson who became his manager. 85 Florence Street was where Sammy Wilson, one of the many Gorbals bookies of the day, had his pitch.

The 'Squiggley Bridge' leads to Clyde Place.

Sammy set up his own boxing club a few hundred yards around the corner at 49 Clyde Place, the New Polytechnic Club, or "The Polly". This street just south of the 'Squiggley Bridge' is largely gap sites now awaiting redevelopment and no sign of The Polly remains. The depression meant that the chance to earn a few pounds boxing at the various "booths" around Glasgow, Falkirk and Edinburgh in all the touring fairs was appealing. Sammy had him running up and down the nearby Cathkin Braes to train, and soaking his hands daily in the brine water of the nearby fishmongers of Stockwell Street to toughen up the skin. He started him in the "booths", such as McOnie's Ring in the Gallowgate where the prize money was £1 and 5 shillings for a six rounder, top of the bill fighters shared a £7 prize. The average weekly wage at the time was £2 and 10 shillings, if you could find work.

Kelvin Hall

By the time that he was 19 years old he had fought 30 official professional fights and about the same number of unofficial booth fights. His chance to move up a level came in 1934 when he was on the under card at the first ever boxing bout at the Kelvin Hall, in the west end of Glasgow. Although it wasn't a title fight the 10,000 crowd saw the local man beat Carlo Cavagnoli, the European Flyweight champion. It was the start of a long association of the Kelvin Hall with boxing. This hall was later to host title fights of many other Glasgow wee men who became world champions, such as Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt.
Site of the "Olympic Sports Stadium" between Myreside Street and Duke Street

Eight weeks later he won the Scottish Flyweight title, beating Jim Campbell on points after 15 rounds at the "Olympic Sports Stadium" in Parkhead, more commonly known locally as the Nelson Lea whippet race track which stood just north of Celtic Park. Nothing remains of this here, just a piece of waste ground between the train tracks and an electricity sub-station.  A more decisive victory came at the rematch only 6 weeks later (by which time he had also fought and won two other fights). This was held at Cathkin Park, then home of  the now defunct Third Lanark Football Club.
Cathkin Park, Glasgow
He won again in 15 rounds, in front of a crowd of 16,000 people. In the last 3 months of 1934 he fought a further 6 fights, including one against Pedrito Ruiz, champion of Spain, at City Halls, currently home of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Glasgow City Halls

He was now set for a non-title fight against reigning world champion, Jackie Brown in Manchester. The story is that his manager told him to ease back so that Jackie would agree to a title fight and the match was declared a draw after 12 rounds. The plan worked. Six months later they met again in Manchester, in September 1935, and Benny Lynch became Scotland's first world boxing champion. Jackie Brown could not continue in a bout that lasted only 4 minutes and 42 seconds after being knocked down 8 times. It was a ferocious bit of boxing and you can watch it here.

There are three tales you hear recounted of crowds of Glaswegians greeting people off the train on their arrival in the city. The Socialist John MacLean arriving back in the city after release from prison, Laurel and Hardie in 1932 and Benny Lynch, the newly crowned World Flyweight Champion. 20,000 people greeted Scotland's first boxing champion on his return at Central Station, although Glasgow City Council didn't feel his feat merited an official reception. By 1936 his personal life was more troubled with plenty of people helping him to spend his money, his marriage struggling and he fell victim to the traditional Scottish vice of alcohol. He was back together with his wife for a while living in a flat on Rutherglen Road in the Gorbals, above Kings the Tailor. They then moved to a house on Gloucester Avenue, Burnside which he called Belle Vue, after the venue of his title win in Manchester.
Gloucester Avenue, Burnside
Struggling to make the weight for fights now he managed to beat American based Philipino boxer Small Montana in 1936 at Wembley, London in 15 rounds to silence the authorities in America who claimed this man as the world champion. 40,000 people came to the then home of Clyde Football Club, Shawfield Stadium, to see him defend his title against Peter Kane in what is often cited as his greatest victory.
Shawfield Stadium
However alcohol was making him increasingly ill and at his next defence he forfeited his title in 1938 when he was unable to make the weight for the fight with Jackie Jurich. The fight still went ahead and he won, though lost the title. He was 26 years old.

In his 104th listed fight he was knocked out for the first time in his career, August 1939, by Aurel Toma in London. His boxing licence was withheld as he could now no longer pass the boxing board's fitness tests. For cash he went back to boxing in the booths for a while, but despite trying to dry himself out by staying with the monks for a time at Mount Melleray Monastery near Waterford his health was failing.

In 1946, aged 33 years, he died in the Southern General Hospital and was buried at St Kentigern's Cemetery in Lambhill. Funnily enough this is the same cemetery where my great-grandfather was buried 16 years later. Benny Lynch's gravestone has been restored to mark his achievements, and although Lambhill Cemetery is not the most evocative graveyard in the world, it is worth making the effort to go and see his final resting place.



For a running route to visit some of these places I started at the Kelvin Hall on Dumbarton Road and then headed down towards the Clyde and ran along the riverside until I came to the "Squiggley Bridge" after about 4km. Crossing here to Clyde Place where The Polly gym used to be, then along the south bank of the Clyde past the Sheriff Court and around the Central Mosque to come to Florence Street. I then turned back and past the Citizen's Theatre and the tenement photographed above. From there I headed south over the M74 and up Aikenhead Road towards Hampden. After about 8km Cathkin Park is off to the right, a sad and bucolic sight. To extend the route by 6 miles you can head along Curtis Drive towards Burnside to see where he lived once he had some money in his hand, a remarkably mundane street. Alternatively head down Polmadie Road, to Rutherglen Road, where he also lived, before coming to Shawfield Stadium at about 11km. Head across the Clyde and around the left hand side of Celtic Park and around the Forge Shopping Centre onto Duke Street. A quick right turn takes you to the end of the closed off Myreside Street to the wasteland where he won his first British title.  I then headed along Duke Street towards the City Halls in the Merchant City and then back through town to Central Station. Then up St. Vincent Street back to the Kelvin Hall after 21 km. For map see mapmyrun website.

Central Station, Glasgow

Monday, 13 May 2013

Tectonics Music Festival, Glasgow

Live concert review

Conductor Ilan Volkov started the annual Tectonics Festival in Iceland last year, and this year also brings it to Glasgow. Although few of the musicians played both events, the ethos was the same at the two sites, mixing musicians and composers from different backgrounds to see what happens. The whole event was carefully curated by Volkov, with many of his own favourites included. A major focus of the weekend was to present works by American composer of experimental music, Alvin Lucier, who both performed and had an installation on show at the City Halls.

Tectonics beer mats

Not many weekends of classical music start with the audience being given wristbands to wear and with branded beer mats. Day 1 opened with a BBC commission by David Fennessy (Prologue, Silver Are The Tears Of The Moon), a work inspired by Werner Herzog's diaries apparently. It started with a dramatic blast of strings then slid along nicely, keeping the 5 percussionists of the orchestra busy until they were helped out when about 20 of the orchestra joined them on they wee percussive frog things that the One World Shop sells. It was a lively start before Morton Feldman's piece Cello and Orchestra slowed things down. Creeping along and creepy it felt like incidental music to a tense scene in a horror film. A problem I have with a lot of modern classical music is that really the only place you are frequently exposed to it is in soundtracks, so it's hard not to make those connections. Next up we had the first piece by Alvin Lucier, Exploration of the House. The orchestra played short snatches of Beethoven which were recorded and looped back into the hall, and that recorded and looped again. It became increasingly muddy, with distortion and feedback, increasingly droning and abstracted in a way specific to the room and the time. Maybe you end up with a version of the piece akin to how the increasingly deaf Beethoven heard his works. After the interval the composers (Charles Ross and Frank Denyer) were more bearded, so chin stroking was more the order of the day for their pieces The Ventriloquist (in which the composer conducted his improvisers by using a sandbox, some water, seaweed and shells) and The Colours of Jellyfish, which was very delicate, floaty and hard to nail down, a bit like a jellyfish I suppose. (Remind me to tell you my story about accidentally swimming into a sea full of millions of baby jellyfish that had just spawned.)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Things were already over-running as we all shuffled next door into the beautiful venue of the Old Fruitmarket which was soon reverberating to Hanna Tuulikki's piece Voice of the Birds/ Guth na eóin Her distinctive voice (which can be heard here or on cd with Two Wings) lead a choir of female singers mixing Gaelic folk song with bird song from field recordings echoed by the singers. I do love her voice and the whole thing was also visually beautiful. I'd look out for more of that.

Next up in the main hall were Romanian born husband and wife double act Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram who "represent the Hyper-Spectral trend in contemporary avant-garde music" I believe. They presented and conducted three pieces of their own work, involving prepared pianos, sheets of metal, drone-merchant Stephen O'Malley on electric guitar and computer generated noises (which they both faffed about with a bit in a slightly irritating way). Their demeanour and their music both lacked any humour or levity.

My own personal supergroup -Stuart, Hildur and Aidan's Group

With much that had gone on already over-running there had been a lot of dashing from one act to the next without pausing. So it was good to get back to the Old Fruitmarket and find that the bar in there was now open as we entered the more relaxed "late gig". Stephen Pastel was doing a DJ set (which didn't include any Kenickie - its an old grudge that my brother carries against him). Then Scotland's national treasure Aidan Moffat, Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite and Iceland's Hildur Gudnadottir took the stage. Hildur Gudnadottir was one of the main attractions for me this weekend, as I loved her solo album Leyfdu Ljosinu from last year but here she was background cello-ing for Aidan's words and drumming and Stuart's archetypal guitar playing. Then we had Oren Ambarchi leading an arrangement of Knots by James Rushford. This was the first time that I felt the noise warning signs around the venue were justified, as excellent drumming from Joe Talia, fought against Ambarchi's bizarre guitar and feedback playing. The strings and horns of the BBC SSO including Volkov and Hildur Gudnadottir were almost inaudible behind it. It was droning magnificence and virtuoso playing, although I did go home with a touch of tinnitus I think. I've often seen people try to juxtapose electric guitars against classical line-ups. They can compliment each other, but they never seen to meld together, one always seems to overwhelm the other. Tonight the guitarist won.

Day 2. The second day started with a performance piece by the fragrantly named "anti-band" Asparagus Piss Raindrop. I may have missed some of the narrative as I arrived late. However it ended with 4 people dressed in fluorescent headbands wrestling for a table of drums whilst a hooded man, in the style of Abu Ghraib, rattled his chains against cymbals. You get the gist.

Asparagus Piss Raindrop
To the grand hall where four pieces by Alvin Lucier were performed. Some had an air of being physics or acoustics demonstrations. We had Anton Lukoszevieze on cello evoking resonance from a variety of amplified vases, then Frank Denyer playing a meditative piece on the piano accompanied by "slow sweep pure wave oscillators", creating throbbing interference as the tones crossed. #next we had Bird and Person Dyning, electric birdcalls creating feedback through speakers whilst Lucier stalked the hall with microphone to alter it. If the first half was interesting, the second half was excellent. First there was the newly commissioned Criss Cross for two electric guitars and pure wave Oscillators.

Stephen O'Malley and Oren Ambarchi

Here Stephen O'Malley and Oren Ambarchi sat across stage from each other and had an electric guitar-tuning face off. O'Malley is a founding member of doom metal, earth shattering noise merchants Sunn O)), whose live performances are notorious for the volume levels. This was much more subtle, and again a physics lesson as the guitar tuning got them to a similar frequency and created a tremulous beat in the room. My favourite part was the acoustics lesson added by a police car passing the hall at the start of their piece, with it's sirens giving us the full doppler effect. It really seemed appropriately timed by our local constabulary and fitted the piece just fine.

Lucier's finale was a cracker. Short pieces from The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever were played on the grand piano then replayed via an amplified teapot. Lucier himself studiously attended to his score, all professorial and serious with his half-moon specs as he lifted the teapot lid up and down to vary the volume of the familiar tune. You can say all you want about what this tells us about space, confines and rooms, but it was highly entertaining too.
Alvin Lucier's installation includes oscillators and ping pong balls
The next orchestral performance brought new works by Chiyoko Szlavnics and Martin Suckling. The former started with an electronic tone which was then echoed by the orchestra with a dystonic and melancholic feel. Martin Suckling's piece, Release,started with a dramatic blast from the whole orchestra, which they then repeated and distorted, before starting again. I liked this one a lot and it was reminiscent of the looping Gudnadottir or even Andrew Bird do as individuals, but here done with a whole orchestra.

It was the chance to see Hildur Gudnadottir perform that made me get a ticket for the weekend and she was up next in the Fruitmarket. Sitting alone centre stage with her cello and her laptop, atmospherically lit she appeared all vulnerable. She told us a sad tale of missing home and of a friend who recently lost one of her twins and she dedicated the piece to the child. Full of concentration she then built up the looping tune for voice and cello that is Allow the Light. Perfect setting for a lovely piece and I hope she takes good memories home from my city of Glasgow.

There was no rest for the entertained as we were marched back to the hall for the closing concert, more world premier, BBC commissioned pieces. The whole orchestra were back out of their box for John de Simone's new piece Geek. I had dashed to the hall today from taking a dozen children to the (bloody brilliant) Star Trek Into Darkness earlier and there was plenty of the tropes of John Barry and John Williams on show here. A big piece for a big orchestra from a big man, it was played at full throttle and was a lot of fun. Finally, the orchestra played a new concerto by Dumitrescu for orchestra and electric guitar, played by Stephen O'Malley, Elan and Permanence. The percussionists were very much to the fore and we finally got to hear them play the two big tombola things which had been on stage all weekend. In this episode of the battle between guitar and orchestra the orchestra won but they came closer to blending the two.

Stephen O'Malley and the BBC SSO
It has been a fascinating weekend of interesting and varied music. One thing which it has been good to see was that there were decent attendances throughout, and I hope that this means Tectonics can become an annual event. The musicians throughout were flawless in their playing, technically everything ran smoothly and was well organised.

Loved it.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Public Service Broadcasting at ABC, Glasgow

Public Service Broadcasting, Inform Educate Entertain Tour, Live Review

Maybe it was my recent morning spent browsing old films in the BFI Mediatheque at Bridgeton Library that drew me to Public Service Broadcasting who played last night in the ABC2 in Glasgow. However, I was glad that I went and as my wife said afterwards "that was better than most things that you drag me to."

They have just released their first album, Inform Educate Entertain, and to promote it are doing a wee tour of the UK. They've a couple of EPs under their belt and their live shows are fairly unique. They are a two piece who go under the names of Wigglesworth on drums and corduroy-clad and bespectacled J. Willgoose Esq on electronic jiggery-pokery, banjo and guitar. They play live in front of old TVs and a screen playing sampled archive films and snippets of voices. Here is what you can end up with...

I was hypnotised by some of the film footage such as the road safety film and the old documentary "Night Mail" and the music blended well with it. Although there was no chat from them except computer generated voices, á la Kraftwerk, they were humorous enough amidst what was at risk of becoming a bit dry, with a roomful of people standing to watch a band play over footage of the London blitz or 50s fashion shows. It was entertaining stuff, but it is hard to focus on the films and the music. I've bought the album now to see how it works on its own. The music reminded me of Zombie Zombie who also do this sort of thing over old films. I saw a great performance by them accompanying Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin at the Arches once. I also have been humming tunes by Looper (Belle and Sebastian's Stuart David) since coming out of the gig, which they reminded me of.
Well worth catching if you get the chance. Tightly worked, catchy, hypnotic but I think I'd like to sit in a comfy chair and tap my toes to it next time I see them.
PS Can I also say that their merchandise is quite groovy?