So many questions.
Let’s start with the big one – why are we here? Well, to celebrate the return of one of Scotland’s most loved (by fans), but most under-appreciated (by all but said acolytes) musical acts. The band split, in case you were wondering, in 2005, it’s fair to say “burned out” after years of critical acclaim but not enough in the way of commercial success.
So what have the quartet been doing since then? Aside from having families / lives away from showbiz, a variety of mostly musical activities – variously: solo careers, programming arts venues, running their Chem19 studio and producing a multitude of upcoming acts, establishing the Scottish Album of the Year Award, helping sustain the careers of other acts via their Chemikal Underground label, and firefighting (the last two, perhaps surprisingly, unrelated.
But why now for the grand reunion? Basically, it seems, having met up at the wedding of Mogwai frontman Stuart Braithwaite, talk turned to perhaps making music together again.
And, via four “warm-up” shows in England, here we all are, at Glasgow’s legendary Barrowland Ballroom, where, pptly for the grand old venue, the walk-on music dates from the 1930s dance band era. Expectation is high among the sell-out crowd, and frankly ebullient reports from the previous quartet of dates mean that there’s little fear of any anticlimax.
When the band finally arrive onstage, the welcome is pretty rapturous – one suitable for homecoming heroes and long-lost family rolled into one. Which is exactly what they are – the Scottish indie mafia are out in force tonight, many of the band’s fans also musicians themselves, having played on the same stages during their heyday, and for some of the younger enthusiasts, quite possibly having had their work recorded by Paul Savage.
And the drummer-turned-producer will doubtless, over the next 90 minutes or so, have be impressed by the crystal-clear sound that their complex setup demands.
We revisit sophomore album ‘Peloton’ first in what is a real ‘best of’ collection. ‘Everything Goes Around The Water’s flute flourish kicks off a career-spanning set, followed swiftly by ‘Accused of Stealing’, from Mercury-nominated long-player ‘The Great Eastern’. These two releases form the backbone of the set, the former perhaps the most familiar to hardcore followers, and the latter the introduction to many more casual followers.
We’re then treated to another from TGE, Stewart Henderson putting aside his bass for the sleigh bell intro on ‘Aye Today’.
There’s little chat initially, and most of it comes from Emma Pollock, as she congratulates an audience member on managing to clap along to ‘Child Killers’ “bizarre” time signature changes.
She also treats us to some trivia regarded as too niche for the rest of the tour – the exact location where she was when she heard that ‘Pull The Wires From The Wall’ had topped the Festive 50 (Crossmyloof Morrisons, since you ask).
Pollock also also declares the evening a “special occasion” for more than one reason, as the band celebrate another great Scottish artist. It’s Burns Night of course, and along with twin vocalist Alun Woodward, they celebrate the Bard with a short take on ‘Parcel of Rogues’ before segueing into the machine-gun snare intro of ‘Under Canvas Under Wraps’.
From then on in a 20+ song set it’s all highlights and a euphoric revisitation of their glory days – ‘The Light Before We Land’s whirling maelstrom of strings, Woodward’s distorted second mic vocal on ‘American Trilogy’, the euphoric darkness-into-light moment on ‘The Past That Suits You Best.
Whether the band have been working on new material is unclear, but when Pollock (apparently) announces that they have three new songs, with the following tune having been played just once, there’s brief excitement followed by confusion – as they kick into ‘Reasons For Silence’ my only question is, am I having a colossal case of deja vu (or is it jamais vu?) brought on by some sort of medical emergency? I briefly consider calling an ambulance before concluding that this 22-year-old track is merely making its live Scottish debut.
Of course, there’s no reason, now the band are “together” again, that new material shouldn’t be forthcoming. No pressure. But as well as Alun Woodward’s post-split career as Lord Cut Glass, Emma Pollock has made several excellent (and underrated) solo albums, easily as deserving of the critical acclaim of Laura Marling and the commercial success of Amy Macdonald.
I digress, but only temporarily as the set winds towards its climax and we’re treated – honoured – to hear ‘Everybody Come Down’ and ‘All You Need Is Hate’ – two latter-period tracks penned after their landmark, Mercury Prize near-miss; two tracks whose perfect pop choruses were inexplicably neither Christmas number one or Eurovision winner.
‘If This Is A Plan’ is an almost anti-climactic end despite its proggy key changes and massive chords, before the band skip off stage with a quick “bye”. We know that there will be an encore, and, one suspects, the band are also confident that their break will be a fleeting one, with a slight rejigging of the setlist from the previous shows. However, fans up and down the country will have got to hear debut ‘Monica Webster’, as raggedly glorious as back in the day when the band drove the artwork all the way to London in advance of taking delivery of 1000 7″ singles.
‘Coming In From The Cold’ and ‘No Danger’ follow, before the show’s final song, a climactic ‘Thirteen Gliding Principles’. It’s astonishing to think the behemothic belter began life as a b-side of ‘Cinecentre’ before being reworked, following the realisation of the possibilities in chucking the kitchen sink at it in terms of production might offer – and, thus, putting down the blueprint for the band’s trademark sound.
It’s a fine tribute to tonight’s string quartet, “without whom this would have been shite”.
There’s just one final, vital question, and an unsubtle hint from Emma Pollock provides the answer: as well as the planned Primavera shows, there will be something else a bit closer to home, “at a bandstand near you”. We can’t wait.