This was a unique, life-affirming and spectacularly hilarious event. But a bit of history first.
Aidan Moffat, sometime Scottish chronicler of the gritty and profane side of urban life (key quote: “it was the biggest chicken (ok the male member of that species) I’d ever seen, and who’s to say where that chicken had been?”), former member of Falkirk miserablists and seminal (missus, yes in this case yes) duo Arab Strap (don’t Google this) has in the almost 10 years since the big separation had a charmed life as a serial collaborator. Solo albums and most recently two records with jazzer ledge Bill Wells have led to a maturing of the bearded badboy of Scottish extreme carousing. He has even done a kids’ book ffs, although Betty would be unlikely to buy her kids it, too many beardlove flashbacks.
So Aidan has made a film, directed by Paul Fegan, of his 2014 detour around the more obscure parts of his native land, trying to “reinterpret” the traditional song repertoire, including those sung over the years by Scottish folk matriarch Sheila Stewart. This is not the “IS THIS A FILM?” website so BM will leave you to see this for yourself, suffice to say it has some memorable scenes, from the stark disagreement that Stewart (who died later that year) has with Moffat’s theory that “rural” songs could be updated to urban settings (“no Aidan, you’re just wrong”) , the reaction of some of the village hall audiences to Moffat’s updatings (jaws dropping, silence, fury etc) and the manful efforts of the collaborators on the tour (Jenny Reeve especially but also James out of The Twilight Sad and others) to guide Moffat and at times act as an artistic crash barrier to his tendencies. BM understands that the film is touring in March/April with the man himself appearing (not sure about the rest of the band but his website will no doubt tell you) in some outposts of Scotchland – JUST GO AND SEE IT, or Betty will stiletto you.
So the music, and will also keep this brief.
Firstly, the Barras looked and smelled more like the GFT (well maybe not the toilets) with chairs laid out in rows. Aidan or his management had taken the rash decision to give everyone a token for a dram at the bar, which did not have the usual crack team of pourers, instead what looked like the relief managers team. This led to chaos (partly because whisky, well what do you want with that, oh well what do you have, ice or no ice, one lump or two JUST GET ON WITH IT). Waited 25 minutes at the bar, still nowhere near getting served, then as the film started, the shutters went down. You can imagine reaction to that, with Friday night punters more than ready for that first taste of the weekend – oh dear me, worst bar fiasco since Last Big Weekend, but we don’t talk about that, do we?
Anyway, Moffat started with a solo interpretation of a trad song about the evils of alcohol, only he could get away with bawling this over the howls of the disappointed punters who were considering battering the shutters down at that point. After the film there were a couple of tunes from one of the trad acts that he met on his travels, two pension-age loons from the North East. They proved very adaptable and well up for any audience, outlook far beyond the beard/jumper conservatism cliche of some of the others in the film (Sheila Stewart did not have a beard, but she would have had if she was a mannie). They were old enough to remember Polaris first coming to the Clyde and their 60s protest song was joined in with enthusiastically by the now more relaxed crowd (bar open again by this time). They also did a number (and this is BM thinks unprecedented in this venue) to the tune most of us would call the “Billy Boys” and got away with it (song was not about religion or history thank the Lord, but they also looked pretty handy and BM thinks if challenged either of them could punch most people’s lights out, fit like indeed).
Moffat then appeared with his touring band, a five piece BM seems to recall (although had had my and several other people’s free dram by then); Jenny on fiddle/vocals, James on backing vocals, plus a guitarist (a Frabbit?) and bass (don’t know). Mainly songs from the film, updates of Stewart’s and others’ work, they worked well live, and will be on an album to be released later this year, if the folk traditionalists don’t lynch Aidan first. The man himself was relatively professional compared to some of his previous “young man” antics (can think of a few epic rants onstage over the years, and several fights), and did express some doubt that his updatings really worked. Sheila in the film tells him that the songs “should not be changed” but her folk colleagues and even herself later admit that of course a song cannot be passed down the generations like a carbon copy, every next person puts their mark on it.
Aidan performed one number which will not be on the album, even he thinks it is potentially so offensive that it just “isn’t worth the hassle” – will leave it to your imagination, or YouTube.
A great night with some seriously gut-wrenchingly funny moments, BM’s decolletage was aching for several days afterwards.