Franz Ferdinand: Always Ascending

It may have come to your attention that the mighty Franz Ferdinand are poised to return with a new line-up.
The band’s latest configuration features Julian Corrie, aka synth pop maestro Miaoux Miaoux, on keyboards and vocals and Dino Bardot, once of glam indie pop trio 1990s, on guitar.
They also have a brand spanking new album, Always Ascending, out on 9 February.

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Photo by David Edwards

But we have also been tickled to note that Franz have been touring for the past few months with a striking new backdrop which pays homage to the legendary Barrowland. This fan-shot footage illustrates it well.

The band have already drawn on Barrowland iconography, holding a photoshoot for third album, Tonight:Franz Ferdinand, in front of the venue, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to come up with the idea when they needed fresh visuals.

Something exciting is about to happen

According to bassist Bob Hardy, all they had to do to gain Barrowland’s blessing was to ask nicely. “We emailed them to ask if they’d mind and they said it was fine,” he says. “On the occasions when we have a full screen behind us and it’s lit, it’s amazing. I find myself turning round and watching. It looks just like the sign and flashes just like the sign does.”

“I’ve got so many good memories of going there to gigs,” says frontman Alex Kapranos. “When you see that sign flashing, you think something exciting is about to happen. It’s like going to the carnival, seeing those lights in the distance.

It’s good to go back to Glasgow

“It does feel like you’re taking a little bit of Glasgow with you. It’s quite a good representative tool, because having Julian and Dino join the band brought the band back into Glasgow. It was a conscious decision. When we were first looking for new members, there was so-and-so in New York and there’s that guy in LA or whatsisname over in Australia. We’re a band that plays all over the world and we could have asked someone from anywhere to join but it’s good to go back to Glasgow.”

Hometown gig

Ironically, the band’s first opportunity to show it off in their hometown will be when they play a sold out homecoming gig at…O2 Academy in a few weeks.

Franz Ferdinand play O2 Academy, Glasgow on 17 Feb. Always Ascending is released by Domino on 9 Feb

Walk with us and check out the logo for yourself: http://bit.ly/1WmZjP8

The Grit Orchestra: Bothy Culture and Beyond

We often say on our music tours that Celtic Connections is as much about the connections part of its name as it is about Celtic music, and there can be no better example of this than the Grit Orchestra, a 75-piece beast of a group comprising musicians from Scotland’s classical, jazz and folk fraternities.

The orchestra was initially formed to perform at Nae Regrets, the festival’s opening concert in 2015, which is regarded by many as an alltime highlight of Celtic Connections.

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Photographer:Mihaela Bodlovic

Now artistic director Donald Shaw and conductor/arranger Greg Lawson are getting the band back together for the most ambitious event in the festival’s 25 years. Nae Regrets celebrated piper Martyn Bennett’s final album, Grit; now the orchestra named in its honour will perform Lawson’s arrangement of another Bennett album at Bothy Culture and Beyond at the Hydro, where they will be joined by aerial artists and stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill, who used Bennett’s music so effectively as the soundtrack for his stunning short film The Ridge.

In anticipation of this audio-visual spectacular, we spoke to Greg Lawson about this unstoppable orchestra. But first of all, here’s Donald Shaw…

On Martyn Bennett

When I was growing up playing traditional music, it almost felt like there was a rulebook and there was parameters for how you played tunes and arranged them, and I think that was a generational thing. Martyn was the first person I met who would take a tune and try to break the tradition – not wilfully, just looking for another way. So my experience of him was as a brilliant maverick for traditional music. I think he would have gone on to do exactly what we are doing with these albums himself at some point. He was definitely an important catalyst at a time when traditional music was beginning to find a sense of respect. I’m of an age when I can remember going to school and being ridiculed for carrying a traditional instrument and he was at that time where there was a new feeling about traditional music and the most important thing was that it reached out to the youth. Once young people began to understand it, it changed the whole perception of what traditional music was and gave it a sense of respect and confidence. We are now in a completely different world in Scotland for traditional music, it’s everywhere.

On the Grit Orchestra

There was a lot of love for Martyn and for the idea of reproducing Grit and there was an extraordinary energy and sense of commitment on the stage. There’s a little bit of wildness that is maybe curtailed in your typical orchestral scenario where there is still a certain amount of refinement in terms of what venues they are in, the idea that you need to sit still and listen, there’s a certain time when to clap or not. It’s very controlled and that’s fine but when you get a great orchestra, it’s the greatest sound in the world, the power of it is extraordinary. What Greg is creating with Bothy Culture is a massive rave with an orchestra but also drawing on the ability of these amazing musicians to create something special.

On Danny MacAskill

I always thought watching Danny in those films was like watching a dancer, it’s so graceful and felt like there was an obvious connection to music. He’s pretty reclusive so it’s been a long time coming – three years of texts. He’s kind of just a kid who loves going out on his bike, he’s pretty underground but he really loved the idea. He’s a big fan of music generally.

And now here’s Greg Lawson on his mighty creation, the Grit Orchestra…

That first concert was extraordinary in so many ways. I was in a really bizarre state of mind in that I was writing all this stuff and I was thinking ‘do I know what I’m doing here? if I get this wrong I’m going to have to go into hiding’. And so when I heard the orchestra for the first time in rehearsal, which was the day before the concert, I knew this was not the end of something; this was potentially the beginning of something and that frightened me because I hadn’t planned for that at all. And then one day later we are in the hall playing the gig and the response, to be honest it kind of messed me up quite a bit after that. The following year was spent in a state of emotional confusion trying to deal with that response.

The whole idea of an orchestra is that you put the most amount of people onstage that you possibly can and when all of that energy is released into a room, its collective weight has a profound effect on people, that’s why an orchestra was invented and yet it’s become such a safe environment now that I think it’s failed to do that on a regular basis. An orchestra has become industry and people are never really let off the leash. But you can’t control this orchestra. There are no rules of engagement in this group.

This orchestra is not a 19th century orchestra, it’s a different shape. It allows you to explore timbre and music at a different level. It’s so beautifully anarchic with all these mental musicians, it’s like herding cats. But when they do play, they play with spirit. I’m so allergic to hierarchy from the classical orchestras that I like to let this orchestra run along the freest, most chaotic levels possible because I trust musicians ultimately to do their jobs.

You have to play with risk, otherwise you just do the same. I couldn’t have done this ten years ago but the Grit Orchestra has come about because everybody is ready for it. I suppose what this concert Bothy Culture and Beyond is about is establishing a future for ourselves now we’ve actually got this group which is this beautiful expression of diversity, so everyone starts to be affected by each other’s discipline and realise that we have many things in common and the things we don’t have in common are things we can learn and be better and broader and bigger and more provocative.

It represents a beautiful ethic which is about tolerance of difference, saying don’t be afraid of the thing you don’t know, find out about it and work with it and you’ll find that there’s less to be afraid of and so much more to be excited about.

Bothy Culture and Beyond is at the Hydro on 27 Jan. Tix.
Our Trad Trail walking tours for Celtic Connections are available here.

#Grit #BothyCulture #Celtic Connections #MartynBennet

Big Country 35 at Celtic Connections

Big Country were one of the biggest Scottish noises of the 1980s, renowned for their anthemic singles and the distinctive twin guitar attack of the late Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, which seemed to echo the skirl of the bagpipes. The current incarnation of the band, including Watson and his son Jamie, original drummer Mark Brzezicki, bass Scott Whitley and vocalist Simon Hough make their Celtic Connections debut this year with a concert to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their beloved debut album, The Crossing.

We spoke to Watson, who now also fills Adamson’s shoes in his original band, Dunfermline punk veterans The Skids, about his memories of the early days of Big Country and working on the songs which would form the backbone of The Crossing.

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“The Skids actually wanted me to be in the band round about the time of their second album because Stuart was doing all the guitars in the studio, so they thought about getting me in when it came to do it live. But I was probably too young. I was working at the dockyard at the time and there was another ten bands that played down the dockyard and everybody played in each other’s bands. You couldn’t go to school or college to learn about music, you just had to pick it up in little dark rooms above pubs.

Stuart always said that during that Skids period he wanted to do a two-guitar thing with me and I just thought he was being kind but one day he just turned up at my flat and said ‘today’s the day’. The week after that we got ourselves a portastudio, a couple of guitars and a synthesizer and started writing songs and those songs became part of the first album. We had at least half the album written early 1981.

At the time it was just Stuart and myself, we never had a band, we had a drum machine and a synthesizer. We would stick the synthesizer on an ironing board. We could have ended up like Soft Cell or Depeche Mode at one point because we were doing a lot of synthesizer stuff. There wasn’t a time limit or pressure to come up with something because no one else was interested at the time so we were doing it to amuse ourselves, but there was an end game aswell, which was to come up with some really good songs. We would send demos away to different labels but a lot of them weren’t interested and said ‘guitar music’s dead, synthesizer music is coming in now’ but we kept chipping away at it.

The idea from the very start was to make it cinematic and as big as you can get. There was loads of twin guitar bands out there like Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and AC/DC and we loved those bands but we didn’t want to sound like them. They were very blues-based and we decided not to do any blues bending, though we did do that later on. What we did was play melodic lines straight and put loads of effects on them and we had the big power chords. Every song that Stuart and I recorded in the early days was almost like The Shadows without Cliff Richard – every track was an instrumental until Stuart took the cassette away at the end of the day and worked on his lyrics and we would change guitar lines to suit the vocals after that.

It’s like losing your virginity, it’s your first time and it was a good experience. Everything was new to me and I can remember a lot of stuff from that era. I was able to work in big studios with top class producers, just watching them, looking and learning all the time. It was a dream come true for me. I preferred the studio to live actually because that’s what I always wanted to do.

Nowadays technology is so different. I could record an album on my phone. It’s great being back in the studio with The Skids again, that was absolutely wonderful. There’s not that many recording studios left apart from RAK, Abbey Road and Rockfield from those days. There’s just the sound of the room and a combination of the desks, the microphones, the engineers. It’s just the mojo, it’s the magic.”

Big Country play ABC, Glasgow on 26 Jan

 

Celtic Connections: Trad Trail Tours

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It’s our third year at Celtic Connections, and we’re very proud to run our Merchant City Trad Trail tours again. The tours have sold out for the last two years and we’re expecting to do so again in 2018. Places on the tours are limited, but there are still some tickets available here.

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The tour begins at the Scottish Music Centre on Candleriggs. A resource for both the public and professional musicians, the SMC is a treasure trove and home to a huge archive of Scottish music material.

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The good people at the SMC have kindly collated a mini-exhibition of Scottish music artefacts relating to Celtic Connections, and along with a welcome dram of Legacy from our kind sponsors, Tomatin, we will be telling the tales behind these objects before setting out on our tour.

Tomatin Legacy

From Burns to the bards of the shipyards, unusual rider requests, skirls and skirmishes, the tour traces the story of Glasgow’s folk and roots scene, including legendary sessions in long-standing bars to today’s Celtic Connections headliners. Walking some of Glasgow’s oldest streets, our expert guides share tales of the songwriters and storytellers who have shaped the city’s vibrant folk culture.

The tours start with a dram of Tomatin and end somewhere cosy where you are welcome to buy another whisky or warm your hands around a cup of tea or coffee.

Tours start Fri 19 Jan and tickets are selling fast:

 

Flashback: Glasgow 96 & The Original 13th Note

The end of the year is traditionally the time for looking back, and with that in mind we asked Glasgow-based writer Damien Love if he had anything lurking in his archives that might be a good fit for our last blog post of 2017. He’s had a rummage and pulled us out a cracker: this is a piece he originally wrote back in 1996, about the scene that was then bubbling around the fabled original 13th Note club, at its old home on Glassford Street in the centre of town.

Among the interviewees featured here are the young gent who was in charge of booking bands for the club, future Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos (then going by the name Alex Huntley), Chemikal Underground founder Stewart Henderson, members of BiS, and Teenage Fanclub’s Gerard Love. It’s a terrific snapshot of the much-loved venue and a young scene that went on to help shape music in Glasgow in the two decades since. All aboard the time machine for ’96…


Untitled-1Down at the Rock & Roll Club

(A version of this story was originally published in Scotland On Sunday, 1996)

 

The perfect career trajectory for any band has probably been best defined by the Buzzcocks: out of nowhere and heading right back there. In the case of Bis, regardless of their ultimate destination, the first half of the equation, at least, could at first glance appear to ring true. All at once this year, it seemed, the band were everywhere – grinning out from newspapers, the subject of features in Melody Maker and The Face, and gaining airplay on real, proper, daytime radio. Then, in the cresting moment of a frenzied period of attention, Bis, a band not yet out of their teens, became the first ever unsigned group to appear on Top of the Pops, earning themselves a place alongside Bowie, Roxy Music and an armful of others in the programme’s archive of ‘seminal TOTP moments.’

Of course, however, Bis didn’t simply arrive fully formed on the scene. If anything, they represent the most visible tip of an iceberg of bands, too disparate to be labeled a movement, that has been growing in Glasgow over the course of the past two or three years.

The one unifying factor between all these groups is the crucible in which they have been given the chance to form and evolve: that alchemical site is a modest-looking pub on Glassford Street in the centre of the city, called The 13th Note. It’s no exaggeration to say that this venue has effected a sea change on the city’s musical life, thanks to an enthusiastic, nurturing booking policy; the fact that it provides bands with a free P.A. system for gigs; and its lack of a ‘pay to play’ system.

For a while back there, music in Glasgow was in serious danger of being gently strangled by the influence of what has come to be known as ‘the Bellshill sound,’ and the impact of the mighty and blessed Teenage Fanclub in particular. The Fanclub are magnificent, of course. Not quite so great was how every new band that emerged seemed, to a greater or lesser extent, to be taking notes from the blueprint TFC had so successfully drawn up for themselves.

“The Teenage Fanclub thing was Glasgow for a while,” agrees Stewart Henderson, drummer with the Delgados, the band behind the Chemikal Underground label also responsible for issuing Bis’ first three singles. “We were in a band before the Delgados who, without any fear of contradiction, could be labeled as striving for that sound.”

The upshot of this situation was a kind of self-perpetuating vicious circle. With a mind toward profit, promoters, particularly those working with pubs and smaller venues, were eager to book acts they felt sure were going to generate money for their establishment, replicating sounds that were tried and true. Citing the example of King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Teenage Fanclub’s Gerry Love says, “When it opened, King Tut’s was probably the most interesting place to go and see new bands. But it’s a very Music Biz place; they were dealing with agents, putting on bigger shows, and maybe doing local acts only once a month or so. You were entering The Music Business when you went to King Tut’s, and, if you confine it to a business thing, then people think they’ve got to conform to what The Business expects.”

Flash forward to now. We’re in a sweating red basement, capable of containing maybe one hundred people, at a squeeze. Maybe. At the far end of the bar, just beyond the scattered and scarred tables and chairs, play a band who look as though they’ve stepped from the fever-gripped mind of a paranoiac comic-book artist. Their songs are wire-tight blasts of geekish venom, rarely lasting much longer than a minute. They are called the Yummy Fur. They are not what the business expects. Neither are this next mob, the eerily, angrily chanting grrlpunks Lungleg. Nor are this trio of kids who don’t even have a bass player or a drummer, battering out a fresh, frenetic mix of a bunch of good things you’d forgotten you loved. They call themselves Bis.

“We played our first gigs in the 13th Note” says Steven from the latter band. “It was about the only place in Glasgow where you didn’t have to pay to play. We gave Alex a fanzine and a tape and asked him to give us a call if we could play. To get a gig there all you have to do is…ask!”

Stewart Henderson takes up the theme:”Because the 13th Note was so keen, so easy-going about putting bands on, all these bands who were starting up – us, Urusei Yatsura, Bis, Yummy Fur – it was inevitably the 13th Note you were going to play. To be honest, I think that the 13th Note, as far as the bands are concerned, is a testament to Alex more than anything. He’s the one booking all these bands, and when you talk to him you realise just how dedicated he is to getting all these bands in. So, hats off to Mr. Huntley”

‘Alex’ is the dapper figure of Alex Huntley, the man chiefly responsible for organising gigs at the 13th Note, who supplies the perfect analogy for his and the venue’s role in the scheme of things:

“Did you ever read the Raffles books when you were a kid? The thief who stole from the upper classes and stuff? He used to have this thing, he used to play cricket – it’s all dead toffee-nosed – and cricket used to have two people who played, ‘Gentlemen and Players’. The Players were professionals: they got paid for what they did; and then there were the Gentlemen who played just for the sport of it. And I feel I’m more in the… Well, I’m not in the Players side, put it that way.”

Like all good things, Alex’s involvement in promoting at the 13th Note came about more by accident than design. In the days when, as he says, “you couldn’t get a gig unless you sounded like Teenage Fanclub or Deacon Blue” his band, the Blisters, played a disastrously-attended club night, following which he was offered the chance to run the club himself, because the original organiser “couldn’t be bothered any more.”

As a result, Alex’s approach is that of a fan, more than that of a businessman: “We’ve had some quite unusual nights” he says. “Some quite ridiculous nights as well. My attitude throughout the whole thing has been to give everybody a chance, no mater how…ludicrous they seem. Quite often it’s only one chance if they’re really awful. But with some of the bands, like Urusei, when they started out, they were pretty shambolic. I feel that if they’d gone to King Tut’s then and said ‘We’ve got this band that play some daft tunes’, then Tut’s would’ve said, ‘You don’t seem very professional – no gig.’ Whereas at the 13th Note, it’s more like ‘Oh wow, you look like you’re having a lot of fun, come and play here.'”

Pat Laureate, founder of Glasgow’s Vesuvius label, which has had a symbiotic relationship with the 13th Note over the past two years, comments, “They don’t have any standards! There’s not a certain type of band that they like there or don’t. Anyone can play there, and that’s really important. It’s the sort of thing that would drive me mad, personally, if I ran it. I mean, I couldn’t stand some of the stinking bands that play there. But at the same time: it’s very important that someone’s doing it, or else nothing would emerge.”

In its small, Glasgow way, the 13th Note is to the city’s emerging music scene today what CBGB’s was to the New York Punk renaissance of the mid-seventies, to the extent that groups are associated with the venue both by locale, and by name. (There is one obvious difference, though: CBGB’s was a dive, whereas the Glasgow pub attracts band members as much as a café/pub as a place to play.) Like New York’s legendary Bowery venue, the reputation of the 13th Note is now spreading beyond the confines of the city. Both Stewart from the Delgados and Steven from Bis separately report that bands in England are beginning to ask them about playing at the 13th Note.

“People say that playing here, especially downstairs, is like playing your living room.” Says Alex. “Just the familiarity of it – you kind of know half the faces in it because they’re in all the time, and there’s an informal atmosphere. If you go to a proper venue, the lights are down onstage, then they come up and there’s the band and you watch them for forty minutes, and then they come off and the gig’s over. Whereas, at the 13th Note, everybody’s sitting about having a drink, chatting, and then some of the guys who are chatting get up on stage and do something, and then come off again and sit back down. Which helps create a setting for communication. The word ‘community’ springs to mind”

Teenage Fanclub’s Gerry Love hits a similar note as he muses on the venue’s success, and the affection it inspires. “It shows that if you provide a stage for people, they can make art and music which is relevant and different. The 13th Note, it seems more…communal, than most other places. It’s a more Punk Rock place, y’know? More grassroots. One of the things that attracts me about going there was that I knew I wasn’t going to hear the same old sound.

“But personally,” he adds, “I think it’s the big windows in the café upstairs that are the key.”

Thanks to Damien for the archive piece. There’s more of his writing at his website, and he can be spotted on twitter @DeviceMonstrous

The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology

 

Compiled by founding editor Mark Fisher, The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls brings together 256 pages of XTC goodness to celebrate Limelight fanzine’s 35th anniversary and the band’s 40th anniversary. Mark has kindly donated a copy of this splendid publication for a competition over on our Facebook page. We managed to nab Mark for a quick chat and he also agreed (without  much persuasion) to compile an XTC Spotify playlist for you. Over to Mark…

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I blame Stewart Lee. My daughter was working in the Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh when she overheard him talking to fellow stand-up Joanna Neary. The two comedians were sharing their love of XTC, the band that brought us Senses Working Overtime, Making Plans for Nigel, Towers of London and a dozen classic albums.

My daughter knew I was a massive fan too. In fact, while still at school, I had set up the official XTC fanzine Limelight and had published it for ten years until 1992. I was Mr XTC.

She butted in on their conversation and told them about her old dad. Lee and Neary were delighted and said they’d love to see the fanzines. A few days later, I was digging out my old copies and wondering if anyone else would like to see them.

Before I knew it, I had reawoken my inner teen fan boy, got back in touch with singer Andy Partridge and the rest of the band and started planning a celebratory book. The result, published this autumn, is The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls, a 256-page anthology of the original fanzines supplemented by new interviews with the band and other articles about Swindon’s finest.

Appropriately, it also features Lee and Neary talking about their favourite XTC songs along with comedians Phill Jupitus, Kevin Eldon and Paul Putner. “Even their trousers are great,” says Eldon.

For me, it was a brilliant opportunity to take a nostalgic look back at the cow-gum-and-Letraset era of bedroom publishing and to see afresh what a rich and rewarding band XTC were. Not only is their music varied, surprising and invigorating, but also the band members are a continual source of good humour, witty observations and sharp analysis. What fanzine editor could ask for more?

Luckily a whole generation of fans agree with me and the book has been rapturously received.  Louder Than War called it “music publication of the year,” while critic Dom Lawson welcomed it as “the most comprehensive and incisive book about XTC yet published”. I’m not going to argue with that.

All that remains is for me to think about volume two . . .

Mark Fisher author of How to Write About Theatre credit Lotte Fisher 8007

Mark Fisher

The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology, £17.99 (free UK postage) from www.xtclimelight.com

Mark Fisher is a theatre critic, editor, feature writer and freelance journalist. He has written about theatre in Scotland since the late-1980s, contributing theatre reviews, interviews, arts features and travel articles to newspapers and magazines in Scotland and all over the world.

Untypical Girls: Styles and Sounds of the Transatlantic Indie Revolution By Sam Knee

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, women in music often had to shout to be heard. This book traces the sounds, attitudes and thrift store looks of women who refused to be silenced. From the punk and post punk scenes through the permutations of indie, shoegaze, grunge and eventually riot grrrl, Untypical Girls is a celebration of all things female in independent music.

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Author Sam Knee has unearthed hundreds of previously unseen photographs of bands such as the Slits, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland and Bratmobile; and of personalities including Viv Albertine, Lydia Lunch, Siouxsie Sioux, Courtney Love, Kim Gordon and Annabel Wright and Katrina Mitchell (The Pastels). Exclusive interviews with Debsey Wykes of Dolly Mixture, Julie Cafritz of Pussy Galore, Gina Davidson of Marine Girls, Kira Roessler of Black Flag and Erin Smith of Bratmobile provide insight into the politics and daily realities of the time.

We’re running a competition on our FB page to win a copy of Untypical Girls… many thanks to Cicada Books

If you don’t win, our friends Monorail Music have signed copies in stock…

1980-MoDettes by David Newton

MoDettes 1980 by David Newton

1984-Kim_1_Dave Rick

Kim Gordon: 1984 by Dave Rick

This book follows on from Sam Knee’s previous titles, The Bag I’m In Memory of a Free Festival and A Scene In Between. Untypical Girls is a timely publication for feminists, fashionistas and music afficionados.