Wednesday 24 June 2015

Mogwai's 20th Anniversary and West End Festival All-dayer

Live review Mogwai 20th Anniversary gig, Barrowlands, Glasgow. 20 June 2015
Live review - West End Festival ALl-dayer, Oran Mor, Glasgow. 21 June 2015

This weekend there was a spectacular amount of good music performed in Glasgow, which I was lucky enough to see. Local heroes Mogwai are playing a series of 20th anniversary gigs just now and did two sold out nights at the Barrowlands in Glasgow. We pitched up early on the first of these nights, as they had added to a celebratory atmosphere with some excellent support acts.

First up was Pye Corner Audio, noodling away onstage as the crowd arrived. Good to see him perform but listening to it at home it has an old fashioned electronica, John Carpenter-style feel that is maybe better suited to hearing in a dark basement than the Barrowlands Ballroom. 

Without much time for chin stroking, Prolapse were up next. They are a band which passed me by in the early 1990s, their stated aim at that time "of being the most depressing band ever". If Mogwai are classified as post-rock, this was post-punk and probably the highlight of an entertaining evening. Playing together after a few years off they were tense and crackling on stage. "Scottish Mick"  Derrick and Linda Steelard prowled about on stage with the threat of pent up violence hanging over them the whole time. Thankfully they (just about) didn't come to blows on stage. 

Loop were up next, a band I remember more for their wavy flag logo than their music, but my pal accompanying me tonight is a big fan. They have also re-formed after a hiatus of a few years to tour again. Their looping guitars and droning noise place them somewhere between Motorhead and My Blood Valentine at times, but the grey haired, Paul Weller styled frontman, Robert Hampson, steers them away from this.

Mogwai on stage at The Barrowlands

If you've read any other blogs that I've written here you will know that I've seen Mogwai a few times over the years, so it was great to see them again. I'm delighted to read today that they plan to bring out a retrospective box set, "Central Belters" (nice title) in October too. I won't say much about their full-throttled set other than to note that they moved away from their stereotyped quietquietLOUD to give us two hours of loudloudquietLOUD tonight, no place for the likes of their recent gentle, and successful, Les Revenants soundtrack material. It is years since I have seen them play in the Barrowlands and it really is the perfect venue for them. Nice to see Aidan Moffat join them on stage for a rendition of "R U Still In 2 It" too.

One final mention for their excellent 20th anniversary T-shirts, featuring the original Star Wars arcade game, which I guess must be at least 20 years old too. This game (or maybe Moon Cresta) was my all time favourite to play in Treasure Island on Jamaica Street circa 1985 and I was great at it, so I had to get one.

Oran Mor West End Festival All-dayer

Having been very abstemious all night on Saturday as I was running the Men's 10k through the streets of Glasgow on Sunday morning, I was able to relax on Sunday afternoon at the West End Festival all-dayer. A mouthwatering array of local musicians was on offer across three venues within the venerable old church-come-pub and club.

Main auditorium, Oran Mor

Every time I have been to a gig in the main auditorium upstairs the performers on stage beneath Alastair Gray's spectacular murals are competing to be heard over the bar at the other end of the room, which itself is raised up on a slightly higher stage. It cannot be that this place just attracts the rudest of crowds, but has to be down to the shape and acoustics of the place. Fine for a wedding band maybe, not the ideal place to hear the quiet musings of recent Scottish Album of the Year Award winner, Aberdonian Kathryn Joseph. In front of a crowd of those curious to see her after winning the award, her ethereal singing and playing led me to buy her album to listen to it again more closely.

After that we grabbed some food then headed downstairs to The Venue in the basement to hear Man Of Moon, who describe themselves as a "psychedelic two piece". Wearing their influences on their chest, with a Lou Reed T-shirt on, they managed to create their own sound and were good live.

Remember Remember perform for the last time

If Mogwai can conjure up a dark Winter's day in the West of Scotland with their music, then nobody does the sunshine of a Spring morning, sparkling on the early dew, better than the band Remember Remember. I  first saw Remember Remember when they were just Graeme Ronald playing spoons, scissors and various instruments through loops to build a sound picture. They progressed into an impressive instrumental band with three excellent albums to their name, but have now decided to call it a day and announced that their Oran Mor show would be their farewell gig. Lovely as ever and I'm sorry to see them call it a day. I headed home later with an 'E' that Graeme had chucked into the crowd to help me remember Remember Remember. 

Back upstairs to see the ever entertaining and former Scottish Album of the Year award winner RM Hubbert strumming his stuff. He took a more direct (and successful) approach to those who continued to chat away at the bar over his performance. Shouting "Will youse shut the fuck up!" is something I hope Kathryn Joseph doesn't need to add to her stage persona. Nice to see Aidan Moffat joining Hubby on stage to provide the vocals for "Car Song". Passing up the chance to see We Were Promised Jetpacks and The Phantom Band we headed back downstairs to see a great set by Stanley Odd. I haven't ever seen him perform before, although his song to his child, "Son I Voted Yes", was widely circulated after the referendum verdict. Scottish accented hip-hop is a niche market I suspect, but his energy is contagious and his lyrics sharp, witty and political. Fellow vocalist Veronika Electronika (do you think that's her real name?) has a fantastic voice too over various different styles. Nicely done.
Sorry, but whenever we see Bill Wells perform I immediately
see Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas

I finished my weekend of music with Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells playing songs from the two albums that they have collaborated on. Accompanied by a great band of musicians playing assorted instruments, there was Bill on piano and Mr Moffat out front with percussion and vocals. They played a subdued set with a delicate, jazz-inflected atmosphere and it was nice to hear one of my favourites, "The Copper Top" again alongside material from "The Most Important Place In The World". A lovely way to end a great weekend of music. 

Friday 19 June 2015

The Circus Comes To Town

Zippos Circus, Glasgow. June 2015

Some circus memories triggered off by our trip to Zippos Circus last night

Zippos Circus in Glasgow

My eight year old daughter recently saw posters for Zippos Circus, who were about to perform in Glasgow's Victoria Park. She said she wanted to go and I was amazed when she said that she had never seen a circus before. As a child in Glasgow we went every Christmas to the Robert Brothers circus in the Kelvin Hall. We went with my parents and my grandad, who loved circuses and I can remember him rolling backwards and forwards in exaggerated laughter after clowns had thrown a bucket of water over us that turned out to be confetti. In the Kelvin Hall you would go into the carnival first, look at (and smell) the sad elephant in its carnival cubicle and be enticed into the circus in the adjacent hall. The Kelvin Hall was home to Glasgow's annual circus from 1924 until 1987 when it was converted into a sports arena. So for me the circus always evokes a nostalgia for my Glasgow childhood of the 1970s and 1980s. I realised that it was time to take my children to the circus again, as we hadn't been for about 6 years, so it was no wonder that my youngest couldn't remember.

Programme for National Theatre of
Scotland's "Wall of Death"
The circus which I remember in the Kelvin Hall was very much the type of circus which features in the film Dumbo, with elephant acts, acrobats, clowns and tight-rope walkers. Many of these acts require great strength, practice, skill and bravery which modern day audiences don't require from their performers in the days of CGI enhanced films. There is no digital enhancement in the circus, it's all real. The nostalgic Victorian circus acts like the motorcycling "Wall of Death" was the subject of a National Theatre of Scotland piece in 2010. That captured the feel of the strange, itinerant life of circus performers. One of the finest circuses which I ever saw was in Soviet-era Moscow in 1985. Russian circus goes back to the time Catherine the Great founded two circuses after seeing a travelling English circus. In Soviet times the circus enjoyed great state subsidies, put on a par with other art forms like ballet and opera. In the Moscow State Circus arena there were 5 interchangeable floors under the circus ring which came up between acts. After some acrobatics a floor for equestrian acts would come into place, then an ice rink for massed skaters, including a large, uncomfortable bear in ice skates. A pool would be brought up to allow some seals to perform, then another floor where tigers and elephants did their thing. That has probably been the biggest change in circuses over the years, the increased concern for animal welfare meaning that large animals are no longer the main attraction and I'm sure few would complain about this.

Moscow State Circus Programme
Like many people I've seen the Moscow State Circus when they've toured to Glasgow in their tents also, last time about 10 years ago in Bellahouston Park I think. They have toured the world since 1956, at that time as a Communist cultural export to the world, and when we saw them they have some fantastic acrobatic performers and old fashioned strongman acts, with trucks driving over them.

Programme for Medrano Circus
The last circus which we saw as a family (which my daughter was too young to remember) was in the south of France when we were on holiday. I came back from an early morning wander around town to get some croissants to inform everyone that I'd spotted a circus tent in town and had excitedly bought tickets for the evening performance. European tastes on animal performers were slightly at odds with British circuses at that time and as well as Chinese acrobats, clowns, trapeze artistes and jugglers we saw tigers, elephants camels and horses. I have to say, the mixed smells of animal dung and candy floss is something that the modern circuses just don't manage to recreate. The headline act that night were a Brazilian team of motorcyclists, the Diorios and their "incroyable Globe Infernal". I think I recognised a couple of them in the Zippos headline act last night.

Aerial artiste Stephanie
Zippos 2015 Circus Show, under the name "OMG!" contains all the things you'd expect. You realise that the people collecting your tickets and selling you programmes are soon going to be putting on their costumes and leaping about for your entertainment. In a small circus venue you are also face to face with the performers and see the effort they are putting in, the muscles on their arms. You can also see that if Stephanie the "aerial artiste" falls to the floor there is no safety net or ropes to help her.  Animal acts have largely downsized from lions and elephants to dogs and budgies, with some handsome performing horses mixed through the show too. The acrobatics of the "Zulu Warriors" were my favourites whilst my children preferred the slightly terrifying German double act on the "Wheel of Death".

Duo Galaxy, The Wheel of Death
Clowns you either love or hate. My grandad loved them, the more hammy the better. Musical clowns the Rastellis go through many classic old clowning tropes with great aplomb, whilst contortionist Odka provides some of the truly "OMG" moments with the strange shapes she contorts her slight frame into. 

The grand finale of four stunt motorcyclists speeding past each other within a metal sphere is suitably spectacular and evokes the Victorian "Wall of Death" from the days when circuses were in their heyday.

An excellent family day out, the result of lots of hard work by all involved and if you don't catch them in Glasgow this weekend they will be heading on to Greenock after that. 

The Zulu Warriors acrobat troupe

Lucius Team motorcycle stunts
in the "Globe of Terror"