I am always shocked and astounded when I talk to people about architecture and conservation and hear their opinions on the beautiful cities of our world. More often than not people will talk about Paris, Rome, Florence, Prague or Vienna when describing the most beautiful place they have visited. And why this really annoys me is the simple fact that these people tend to take for granted the beautiful city in which we live. I moved to Edinburgh about 5 years ago. I now have a job, which I love, working with the historic buildings of this city. My degree in planning and then my masters in conservation taught me a very important lesson – to walk around looking up. If you don’t look around and walk with your eyes towards the sky then the things that you miss within a city are incredible. This city is stunning. The organic, meandering flow of the Old Town. The rigid beauty of the New Town. The industrial character of Leith and Granton. The giant villas of the Grange, Sciennes, Trinty. Everywhere you go in this city there is some building or structure that will make you stop and look twice. I think of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. A gothic, red sandstone masterpiece in the heart of the New Town. I think of the Granton Gasholder, an engineering masterpiece of real delicate beauty. I think of castle rock. Of the view from the North Bridge in either direction. This city is a masterpiece of stunning beauty and I often think that the people of the city take it all for granted. Architecture has gone crazy for me. I love modern architecture when it’s done well. I love it when it fits the context. I love it when it inspires and when it interacts with the surrounding environment. It is a true art form – the only art form open to everyone. However, too often I stand among new buildings and feel like I could be anywhere. Am I in Edinburgh? Glasgow? Dundee? Falkirk? Places like Western Harbour, Granton Harbour – they lack soul for me. They lack a sense of place. They lack distinction. I could be in Glasgow Harbour for all I know or in one of the new developments along the Clyde. It worries me. When I walk in the New Town or Old Town I feel like I’m in Edinburgh. When I walk through the Georgian brick buildings in Dublin, I feel like I’m in Dublin. When I walk amongst the red sandstone tennaments of Glasgow I know I am in Glasgow. The design of historic buildings and areas not only created a wonderful environment but created a sense of place, which I feel new architecture often fails to achieve. It’s sad. It makes me sad. I love this beauitful city. I love walking around it and seeing all it has to offer – and it is plenty – and I love falling asleep and waking up to know how lucky I am to live here. I hope others wake up and feel the same, before it’s too late and the city begins to lose what makes it so special. It’s own identity. I fear it may already be too late.
This weekend is the second last Trampoline of 2008 and it’s nice because we have 2 bands who have never played the night before. White Heath are a failry new band to me. I had never heard of them but I do really like when I find a band by chance. Especially one that I really like and that I feel could add to the nights I put on. So yes, I am excited that they are playing and it should be interesting to hear them live having become fond of the tunes on their myspace page. The Wintergreens – well my friend Shonagh introduced them to me really. Matthew from song by toad kind of mentioned them to me but Gunnar from the band is a good friend of Shonagh’s and I had a listen and absolutely love the tunes on their myspace page. I don’t want to tag them with other Icelandic bands becuase technically they are Scottish I guess. But there is something so beauitfully Icelandic about them. They fit perfectly with the scene there and I cannot wait to hear them live either. And just for those who read this page and nowhere else, it was meant to be a 2 band bill with the price reduced to £4 from £5. However, I’ve decided that me, graeme and grant will do a short set to start the night off. We’ve got the shows with The French Quarter coming up soon so thought it would be a good chance for us to road test the 3-piece for the first time. It won’t be a long set but I think we’ll take the opportunity to air some new tunes and just enjoy ourselves. It’s been a while since our last show so it should be a lot of fun. If you want to hear some tunes pencilled in for the album along with two brilliant Edinburgh bands on the up and up. Please come along and say hello.
This is a lovely album. Pure and simply lovely. At times it drifts towards Simon and Garfunkel territory but at others it’s sparse and haunting. At times there’s very little going on in terms of instrumentation on this album and yet the attention doesn’t wander elsewhere. It doesn’t get drawn away from the quality of song smithery on offer here. This is essentially a brilliant piece of music and credit again to Bella Union for consistently finding quality artists. I think this could soon become one of my favourite albums of the year so far.
This was a weird night. We arrived at the corn exchange and before I can even get in the que Graeme starts flyering for Gimme Shelter. As we walked down the line, I realised something really odd. Death Cab For Cutie have a ridiculously young fanbase and I feel exceptionally old all of a sudden. I had to laugh as we wandered down the line at the blank expressions to Graeme saying over and over “Found, Broken Records, Steve Mason of the Beta Band”. I mean don’t get me wrong, but I was sure Death Cab used to be a really unknown, alternative, cool band. I’m sure they are still alternative and cool but their appearance on the OC certainly opened them up to a world of new, young, hip kids. The haircuts, the Calvin Harris-esque colourfulness, the facial piercings. If I didn’t know where I was I might have said I was at a Fallout Boy gig. It was fucking weird. But also pretty cool for Frightened Rabbit who were the support for the night. I have seen these guys on numerous occasions at small venues across Scotland, so I was fascinated by how their sound would transpose to the big stage. I was delighted that the venue was at least three quarters full when they took to the stage. The benefits of being the only support I guess. But they got a fantastic reception. And rightly so. This was as good as I have seen them. For all the criticism levelled at the Corn Exchange, this was the first time I’ve seen Frightened Rabbit live where the vocals were centre stage. They looked so comfortable on the big stage and gave an assured performance that would have won them a lot of new fans I would expect. Sorry, a lot of new young fans! But songs like Square 9, Modern Leper and Fast Blood stand up alongside Death Cab throw at us during their headline set. First time in such major company, but it won’t be the last I’m sure.
And so to Death Cab. I have to admit. Transatlanticism is a genius album which i love. Plans is a really good album which I enjoy but Narrow Stairs, whilst having some brilliant songs, is a little weak in places. And that’s kind of how I feel tonight as I watch them. I cannot question the performance in any way. They are a great, tight band and the show is most enjoyable. But like their recent album, my interest in the songs drifts. When they play songs from Transatlanticism and Plans and earlier records I am focused and interested in a diverse and brilliant band, but during some of the new tunes I feel a little flat. The encore is a peice of brilliance though with both Title and Registration and Transatlanticism being played, the latter being the set closer. I left feeling happy and energised. As we stood at the both stop to head back into town, the night got a little weirder when some guy asked Graeme if he as in the kays lavelle! He had seen us support Joseph Arthur at King Tuts earlier this year. I was shocked he remembered our name to be honest but it was such a nice feeling for somebody to recognise one of us. Really weird, but really satisfying in a strange way. So yeah, good gig, weird night. But ultimately a good time had and now I can relax and enjoy a weekend of practice and recording.
I spent too much money on music this month. It happens from time to time. I know I shouldn’t but it’s my addiction I guess. I also know my money is going to be scarce soon so I don’t think it’s that wrong that I have spent so much. And the music I’ve been buying is so beauitful I don’t regret one purchase. So far I have bought albums by Olafur Arnalds, Seabear, Johann Johannsson, Sleepingdog, Eluvium and an EP by The Avett Brothers. I have also ordered and album by Finn, a german artist and I cannot wait for that to arrive either. I have to say, what makes me smile most is how I found out about these artists. All bar Eluvium are bands that I have been introduced to through other peoples blogs. Matthew at songbytoad played The Avett Brothers on a recent podcast and I fell in love with them immediately and I discovered both Olafur Arnalds, Seabear and Johann Johannsson on my friend Heidi’s blog WeSinkShips. Through Olafur Arnalds I discovered Finn who is on the same label and has been supporting him across Europe. Eluvium I saw support Explosions in the Sky at the Barrowlands not that long ago but the album I bought is minimalist classical music whereas live he used a guitar, a lot of pedals and a laptop to create a wall of sound. Anyways, I have immersed myself in all these new albums and am loving every second of it. There’s not one album I do not like so far with Olafur Arnalds on almost constant repeat at times! I love other people’s blogs and I love how they are opening me up to lots of new artists. I have actually started to put more weight behind these blogs than behind any music magazine or newspaper review. Whilst I still keep up to date with new releases in the Culture section of the Sunday Times, I have not been paying attention much to what is going on in the more commercial world. Indeed, Ryan Adams who has been a favourite of mine for a long time, hasn’t even had a look in album wise and probably won’t next month either. I can imagine him becoming a stocking filler at Christmas for me rather than something I go out and buy myself. I have an issue with Ryan Adams anyways. Whilst I think he has some stunning albums, I think his output has cost him status as a truly brilliant songwriter. I think it’s great that he wants to keep putting out music regularly, but for every 4 albums he releases, if he condensed them down to 2 he’d produce 2 stunning albums rather than 4 good albums with some stunning songs. It’s a tricky one. I guess I sit on the quality over quantity side of things.
So I am looking for permanent violin/cello players for the kays. This is just a short post but basically, if you know somebody in Edinburgh who might be interested then please let me know. I doubt we’ll use them often when the full band is involed, but given that I’m trying to strip back the sound on the recordings and have plans in my head to go out sometime in the middle of next year on a stripped back tour I would love to be able to compliment the sound with more strings. Anyways, if anyone is interested or knows anyone who is interested please ask them to drop me a line at email@example.com
Willy Valutin is the lead singer of Richmond Fontaine. I have only one album by Richomnd Fontaine ‘The Fitzgerald’, which is a whiskey soaked exploration of true americana. It’s as bleak an american country album as I own. It’s a stunning exploration of the downtrodden in American society and it’s almost as if Vlautin himself is the spokesperson for those lost voices. In a country of hope he speaks for the hopeless. I am lead to believe that other Richmond Fontaine albums do not follow suit and are more upbeat affairs in the vain of Uncle Tupelo – which is again appealing, I just have never got around to buying any others. And certainly from their live performance at the Bongo club a few years back it was clear that the quiet, bleak approach is not one that they tend to stray towards. Most interesting of all at this show was the fact that along with all the Richmond Fontaine music on sale you could also buy both Willy Vlautin’s novels for what some people do not know is that along with being a talented songwriter, Mr Vlautin is a fantastic novelist. His first novel, The Motel Life, won him critical acclaim and rightly so. If the Fitzgerald is a voice for the hopeless, this book is the story of the people that he sings about. It’s a stunningly bleak piece of simple literature portraying a story of hope about 2 brothers, Jerry Lee and Frank. Jerry Lee kills a boy in a hit and run and the 2, in desperation, run away from the tragedy. Unable to cope with the guilt Jerry Lee tries to commit suicide but fails. The story focuses mainly on Frank, how he copes with bis brothers situation, flitting from one bad scenario to another but mainly waiting and hoping. This is a simple, spare and honest book which tears at the heart strings every step of the way.
His follow up novel Northline, is of a similar vain, telling the story of a women who runs away from her boyfriend who mistreats her. She gives her baby away, not ever telling the father, and builds a life in a different city, hoping to escape the numerous demons which she left behind, knowing that that will never be completely possible. The beautiful twist to the story is her fantasy relationship with Paul Newman, whom she turns to in her darkest moments. Her subconcious saving her from the harsh realities of her past life. It’s a truly lovely story and is accompanied by a soundtrack cd, music written by Willy Vlautin. It’s not often somebody comes along and touches your life through both the music and literature. It’s even rarer that the person, famed for his music may actually be more proficient in writing. Honestly, I’d recommend you check out both Willy Vlautin the musician and author, especially if you like your music and literature soaked in a lot of whiskey with a major dose of heartache. Touching, beautiful and well worth a listen/read.
My friend Rich is one the wonderful band Glissando but also runs his own record label called Gizeh Records which puts out his own bands releases but also those of Her Name Is Calla. That is until recently when he signed up a Belgian artist called Sleepingdog. He raved about her to me, but as usual when somebody tells me to check somebody out I was slow to do so. But I am glad I did. He sent me her recent album Polar Bear, which I am listening to right now, and I have to say it’s absolutely gorgeous. Touches of Bjork in her voice, beautiful piano and strings. Very bleak, very minimal, hauntingly beauitful. But I didn’t write this post to tell you about the whole album, I just wrote it to say that there is a song on the album called ‘Your Eyes’ and it is now up there with my favourite songs. It has everything I look for in a song and makes me very jealous that I didn’t write it! I have been thinking a lot about the Kays album and how I want it to sound and this song sums up the mood that I would like to capture on the album. It’s a beautiful tune, sung by a beautiful voice and once again I can only praise Rich for his taste in bands. A fantastic addition to his label which seems to be going from strength to strength. I am so chuffed for him that he got hold of this artist. She’s magic and everyone should check her out at: http://www.sleepingdog.be
So it’s another month and another Trampoline show. This month features 2 new bands at Trampoline. Not new in the sense that they were recently formed though, just new to me and new to playing Trampoline. Which is kind of nice. As much as I love putting on bands I know and love, it’s always nice to be able to have a fresh line up and so the Wintergreens and White Heath provide that opportunity. The Wintergreens have a bit of mogwai to them, a bit of sigur ros – though not just because there front man is Icelandic. Actually, sod that, I’ve been listening to a lot of Icelandic music of late and I feel the Wintergreens fit into that scene rather perfectly. I really am looking forward to seeing them live. White Heath sound magic too. A really interesting dischordant sound with a hushed/mumbled vocal line. I think it’s going to be a good one. Hopefully I’ll have a third act on the bill but if not it will be a cracker anyways!
As for the Kays. Well, Graeme, Grant and I had our first proper practice in ages yesterday for the upcoming December shows and recording. I have to say, it was as good and enjoyable a practice as I’ve been at in a long, long time. I don’t know what it was about it but it just felt right. The sound was stripped of bass and other instruments and it felt like the songs could breathe and everything felt right. Most exciting was the fact it helped clear things up in our heads. ‘The Hours’ was changed significantly yesterday and Grant commented that it just felt right, felt more emmotive and so much better than the way we’ve been playing it. Those little things at practices excite me, energise me and make me focused. I have practice this week with my all star friends for Gimme Shelter, at which I will also be playing piano for the fabulous Team Turnip, and then more practice this Sunday as well as a recording session for the album. It’s all really positive at the moment. All really focused. You never know, we might actually have the album done before February. Which would be a relief!
I actually wrote this a while back for Endearingly Ramshackle but decided it should be on my page as well and given the fact it will be re-released soon, even though only released recently – it’s a long complex story! – we all deserve a refresher in one of my favourite bands.
It could be said that given that Bart has been a part of The Kays Lavelle set up and a good friend of mine for some time that this review is touched with a great deal of bias. So before I even start on the review, I want to set the record straight.
Before I knew Bart I went to see Eagleowl at the Wee Red Bar with Kays bass player Jake. After the gig I drunkenly cornered Bart to tell him that Eagleowl were my new favourite band and that they were “fucking amazing” or something along these lines. I’m sure Bart remembers this well – or perhaps tries to forget! Only Meursault have suffered a similar drunken rambling – something along the lines of “you’re my second favourite band behind eagleowl” if I recall.
Anyways, nothing has changed since that fateful night. Apart from being one of the most talented musicians I know, Mr. B. Owl has the knack of writing some brilliant, brilliant tunes and on For The Thoughts You Never Had he takes this to a new level. And now his band mates are chipping in with their own little gems too. I used to tell Bart he needed drums and that his vocal needed to be more prominent – I think he may have taken onboard my second comment – perhaps not deliberately – but the first one he has completely ignored and by God was he right too. This band don’t need drums and they never will. They don’t need anything other than the three perfectly matched voices, the wonderful use of a wide array of string instruments and the great tunes that they consistently produce.
I am in awe of their togetherness as a band and if this EP is not heard by people far and wide then it’s a crime. Buy this EP, if for nothing else the sheer brilliance that is the title track “For The Thoughts You Never Had” which is undoubtedly the best song I’ve heard for a long time. ”Blanket” is another brilliant folk song where Bart and Clarissa’s vocals combine beautifully. And let’s not forget Malcolm who has not only contributed a tune to this EP but whose fantastic violin playing perfectly compliments the dirty guitar and lush double bass that makes eagleowl, eagleowl. This is just brilliant. If I didn’t already love these guys this would win me over every time.
I’d like to add that I think Motherfucker is a genius piece of pop magic but don’t be sucked in by it because the real beauty of this band lie elsewhere. They have matured their sound and the warnth to the ep is in stark contrast to the early recordings I’d heard. It’s like Bart found his heart and now he wants to share it with us all and the world is a better place for it too.