Under Western Skies: Roddy Frame Takes The Bandstand
Built in 1924, the proud little bandstand in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park lapsed slowly into disuse by the last decades of the 20th century, and was finally closed in 1999, from which point it was left to crumble into what looked like terminal disrepair. Anyone who remembers it from that period will recall the open-air amphitheatre as a sad, forgotten spot of cracked concrete and overgrown dereliction, neglected by just about everyone except teenagers looking for a place to go.
“I’ve been here before,” Roddy Frame says, looking out from the stage of the bandstand, which was lovingly restored and reopened in 2014, and is currently the home of the Summer Nights festival sponsored by Magners. “Not playing. Just hanging about. Funnily enough, I think I was drinking cider…”
Regular visitors over the past few days will know it’s been National Roddy Frame Week on the Glasgow Music City Tours blog, and we wanted to bring proceedings to a close with a few words on Frame’s gig in town last night.
Arriving on stage following support from Glasgow’s Siobhan Wilson and a playlist of tunes that sounded like a C90 mixtape he might have compiled himself (The Clash, The Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, Orange Juice), the facts of the case are it was a solo performance: one nimble man in black taking on a show that lasted around two hours armed only with a couple of acoustic guitars, an occasional harmonica, and the variously vigorous backing vocals of the varyingly intoxicated audience.
“I’d love to know what anyone passing by who doesn’t know what’s going on down here thinks is happening,” Frame mused, after the crowd had ripped enthusiastically into the martial “High! Land! Hard! Rain!” chant that closes ‘The Boy Wonders.’ “It must sound like a National Front rally or something. ‘Are they sieg-heiling? On a Friday?’”
‘The Boy Wonders’ came during a late song sequence devoted to Aztec Camera’s ageless debut album, High Land Hard Rain, a set-within-the-set that also included ‘Oblivious’, ‘Walk Out To Winter’ ‘Release’, the ever-astonishing ‘We Could Send Letters’ and ‘Down The Dip,’ with its ferocious acoustic-machine-gun white-light coda riff on Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).’
Predictably, it was this essential stuff, along with a thrumming reworking of 1987’s life-affirming FM monster ‘Somewhere In My Heart,’ that drew the biggest reaction. But around it, Frame provided all the evidence, for anyone who was listening, that he has only continued to evolve and grow more nuanced as a player (a jaw-dropping “Spanish Horses”) and songwriter, even when paring it right down, as he has on his most recent records.
As daylight disappeared and the evening cooled, some of the night’s most affecting moments were drawn from LPs like Surf, last year’s fantastic Seven Dials and 2006’s Western Skies, an album made of memories that vies as Frame’s greatest yet. (Then again, another of the evening’s highlights was a late rendition of ‘Mattress Of Wire,’ the Postcard single originally recorded in 1981, when he was around 17-years-old.)
Most of these songs are downbeat in character, but this was hardly the nature of the night as, around them, Frame peppered the set with long sections of increasingly mischievous chat, bantering in a way he hasn’t quite since he was sharing a stage with old pal Edwyn Collins in their gabby guise as The Disclaimers. At a rough estimate, the show was around 70 per cent music to 30 per cent blether.
Notable topics under discussion included: the wonders of the Wikipedia page on Buckfast Tonic Wine; an irreverent spot of impish product placement for hosts Magners, replete with cheesy guitar jingles; and, best of all, an epic discourse on the particular nature of the glam-droog subculture in the Glasgow of the early-1970s, with sinister gangs in top hats, eye-liner and high-waisters charging into battle while chanting Gary Glitter songs, as European scientists gathered on the sidelines to study the sword wounds they inflicted on each other. (“‘What kind of sword was it?’ ‘Just a normal sword.’ – They don’t makemen like that anymore….”)
This led the way into his song about that time and the Bowie-Bolan creatures who first turned him on, ‘Rock God’ – the acoustic nature of the night meant it was shorn of the Mick Ronson-esque guitar solo found on the Western Skies version, but he made up for that by cramming in several more Bowie-referencing riffs.
If you’ll forgive the toot of our own trumpet, the other highlight of the evening, at least where we were sitting, was when Frame gave a shout out to your friendly neighbourhood Glasgow Music City Tours. “Sounds like a cool thing they’re doing… I wrote a wee thing for their blog about going to see gigs at The Apollo. In the introduction, the guy wrote that I’d ‘decamped’ for England. And I thought, de-camped: that’s the perfect word to describe somebody leaving Postcard Records…”
From this, straight into “a Glasgow song” with the longing-leavers anthem ‘Killermont Street,’ replete with its new ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ mid-section – a moment that, on paper, should be corny, but in practice, with the voices of the amphitheatre joining in, is spine-tingling.
Elsewhere among the blether, Frame mentioned he might not be around much for a while, as he is about to start working on a book (“It’s what rock stars do now…”). Whether or not the working title is De-Camped, we couldn’t possibly say. But, before he left, just when everyone thought the show was over, he reappeared to leave us with the world debut of a gorgeous new song that shows his writing at its most Cole Porterish: “…Don’t want to lose my hair wondering Who Goes There each time you’re out past One…”
A fine farewell. Somebody’s probably got it up on Youtube by now.