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Gig review

The Great Western

Ambition and innovation is what drives the music industry forward, so it’s great that in the week that TRNSMT launched another instalment of its white-boys-with-guitars cash cow for 2020, promoter 432 took a bit of a punt with the first Great Western – a 50-act, multi-venue event taking place across 10 locations in Glasgow’s leafy West End.

Pressing an assortment of more unusual venues into service is a prerequisite for such a wide-ranging event, so that’s why we kick off in the Mackintosh church by Firhill at 3pm on a Saturday (and not the other place fo worship just round the corner). Malcolm Middleton draws gasps from some of the punters as, despite having a new instrumental Human Don’t Be Angry album just out, he draws from his legendarily sweary back catalogue. That aside, his voice sounds better than ever, ringing out below the massive stained glass window, while his guitar work is excellent, and possibly some influence from Davey Graham, who he admits to recently listening to, showing through. ‘Brighter Beats’ is a high point and Middleton shows his trademark dry wit by “mixing it up with some sad songs”. Although the sedate audience fail to sing along with ‘Blue Plastic Bags’, they make up for it in generous applause at the end of closer ‘Devil and The Angel’. (SMcH)

With venues separated by a half hour walk, it’s – unlike XpoNorth or even the late lamented Sauchiehall Crawl – impossible to take in a bit of every act, so we abandon plans to see Hair of Cursed and set off on foot to the Glue Factory, something of a gulag for the acts and the few hardy punters who actually manage to locate it for Coping Mechanism. This turns out to be one guy with a laptop, although he later adds in a bit of guitar and vocals into the mix. And what a mix it is. Best described (by myself at least) as Aereogramme-esque soundscapes and Cabaret Voltaire beats and noises, there are hooks in there too, with the closing track containing an anthem that’s stadium-ready. (SMcH)

Scarlett Randle in the unfamiliar (to BM anyway) environs of the Webster Theatre, part of the same named church on Great Western Rd. Resplendent in a red suit and sporting a drawn-on moustache for reasons unknown, she sounded good (starting with a cover of ‘Dancing Queen’ cover) but BM had to run for something else… (BM)

Elizabeth Electra has done a few low key shows so this gig at the Burnbank Bowling Club (just off Woodlands Rd) was something of a revelation. Despite a few equipment issues and the bar staff (3 quid a pint mind, cannae beat that in the West End) concerns about setting off the fire alarms (the dry ice machine rendered things completely opaque for a while) she turned in a great performance over five songs, mixing Fever Pay-esque electronica with some big beats and righteous vocals… Ms Electra was not exactly happy with the soundmix tonight but it was actually really good. Among her set he played ‘Obsidian’, a track BM has previously reviewed, and it is a corker… while ‘Hypersthene’ is another glorious tune. (BM)

Next venue on what feels like the Glasgow Marathon course is Burnbank Bowling Club, which, you’d imagine, isn’t used to events of this nature, and certainly not ones that are crowded out the door. Avocet are running late and their sound is blowing up, not that we can tell for sure due to the sea of heads and the only lighting coming from a range of pinprick red and green lasers, leading singer and clarsach-ist Iona Zajac to remark that their biggest problem may be “getting shot by snipers” (lighting is something of an issue in the majority of venues, which will have to suffice as an excuse for the shoddy photos). As the trio’s name suggests, they are influenced by folk legend Bert Jansch, but deliver hazy dreamy folk that’s a late afternoon delight. (SMcH)

It’s great to see The Yummy Fur – at all, as I missed their comeback show (and the Fat White Family support from the previous night, from which John McKeown admits they are “still recovering”) so the unfortunate cancelation of Songhoy Blues at least allows me to catch up on the hits as per the new ‘Piggy Wings’ compilation album. They are however, in fine form, musically better and more together than back in the day, but still with that off-kilter feel that translates into the simple but infectious guitar licks that drive their songs.’Sexy World’ is a real nigh point alongside earlier standouts like ‘Policeman’, but as McKeown announces “this is a new one – sorry!” – there’s none of the disappointment that often occurs when reunited acts have the temerity to perform previously-unheard material. The song in question is as musically fresh as it is lyrically obtuse, tracking the life of Hitler-loving socialite Unity Mitford. Towards the end of a draining, high-energy set McKeown mops his face, exclaiming “we’ve got towels!”. “You’re in the big time now lads!” responds Paul Thompson, and the Franz Ferdinand drummer should know. (SMcH)

Perhaps the most exciting part of the proceedings is when it’s time for Free Parking – not a band name, but the realisation that it will be possible to dump the car outside the Hug and Ping without getting a ticket. It’s important to be there early given that 6music favourites Dry Cleaning are performing in the venue’s tiny basement. It’s hard to see the band but we can pick out the vocalist – we’d say “singer”, except Florence Shaw essentially reads poetry over a backing with prominent guitar licks in the style of Scars or Magazine. Shaw’s delivery has the disassociated cool of Nico or Jane Bond, making for the feel of The Fall with a more coherent / comprehensible vocalist. ‘Sit Down Meal’ is the standout on their current ‘Boundary Road’ EP but their set promises much more. (SMcH)

Despite having the time-saving power of four wheels, both TGW and Google’s maps manage to misdirect me into missing Gerry Love’s post-Teenage Fanclub vehicle, Lightships, so instead, we go (back) to (Mackintosh) church, to take in a smattering of Start To End. Personally I don’t really “get” these admittedly very professional recreations of classic albums, but if we learn one thing it’s that guest vocalist Louis out of Admiral Fallow can do a decent job of interpreting Paul Buchanan’s classic, emotive vocal. (SMcH)

Feeling a bit dizzy from too much good music (and it takes a bit of time to absorb and reflect on it) BM was happy to join the throng upstairs at The Doublet, a great venue, for Leyla Josephine to hold the crowd in thrall for some great pieces of poetry despite nursing a vicious hangover (at 7pm, that must have been a real bitch earlier!). Familiar numbers about prisoners and vaginas were great, as were some previously unheard by BM like ‘Kingston Bridge 5am’. LJ is a burning talent whose material cuts through the crap and delivers messages about where we are today with filthy wit but also compassion and tenderness. (BM)

Fauves drew a modest crowd at Oran Mor (maybe !!! at the QM were a bigger draw) but it was well worth it. A five-piece, they played indie-pop funked up to quite a high level, mainly by the quite amazing instrumentation (guitar/bass/sax/drums/keyboards) and moved the crowd to some pretty energetic dancing. The falsetto vocals may not be for everyone but this band has some huge potential with songs like ‘Floating Still’ and ‘Bleep Bop’, which mix styles reminiscent of Hall and Oates (?!) and maybe keyboard player Liz’s other band Boohoohoo, it can move a crowd which is the first step to success… (BM)

Finally, we locate the Maryhill Community Centre, which as it turns out has two rooms very well suited to the live music experience. Apostille, aka Michael Kasparis, is attempting to translate his studio-based electronic dance music into a live event. And goodness me does he succeed. As per most live one-man-bands he is pushing buttons and singing over the top, but there’s an element of mixing and sampling (he even has a confessional moment when he allows us to hear the isolated vocal from one of his rejected takes). But Kasparis throws himself into the live arena – literally, joining the crowd before leaping back onstage (without a leg up), headbanging, and generally adding a whole new dimension to an album-full of highly danceable tunes. (SMcH)

Despite there being a temptation to stay, as many punters have, at what one describes as a mini APT, there is one more ‘must-see’ act.

The 15-minute walk back to the Glue Factory seems unappealing as well as a waste of valuable Rev Magnetic time, but unhappily, Garscube Road turns out to be closed (I’d walked down it earlier) and the ‘diversion’ takes us practically into the city centre and back to where we started 10 minutes later. Dumping the car and walking through a darkened housing scheme we finally find the venue, a little more crowded that previously. It does seem however that Luke Sutherland’s band are winding down their set – until, it transpires they have another 11 (or possibly 6) minutes to play. Good for myself as we catch a cacophonous version of ‘Gloaming’ whose dirty overloaded sound is an unexpected but welcome contrast to the gossamer airiness of the band’s debut album. (SMcH)

Which would be a fine way to end the fest but we catch a little of Cass McCombs, whose country-tinged rock is an ideal wind-down for what’s been an exhausting day.
There’s plenty of suggestions I could personally make for future events, but perhaps it’s been myself who’s been over-ambitious in trying to catch too many acts from the lineup. Instead, let’s just say “roll on TGW 2020”.

(Words: Stuart McHugh / Betty Mayonnaise)