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Zoey Van Goey / The Starlets / John B McKenna

Glasgow 13th Note (Thurs 18th September)

By • Oct 2nd, 2008 • Category: Gig review

“Eh, I’m quite drunk”. So declares John B McKenna, offering a somewhat unnecessary disclaimer to his appreciative audience. If McKenna was to be judged solely on his appearance and verbose lyricism, the verdict would surely be something along the lines of ‘tortured artist type’. But his frequent and charming between-song banter (including a plug of his demo cd followed by, “I only made six though”) reveals an unjustifiably modest and endearingly unpretentious demeanour.

Songs this in-depth are usually wrought with heartache and lamentation, but this isn’t the case here. McKenna does not completely wear his heart on his proverbial sleeve, yet still reveals an enigmatic and appealing depth. Songs such as ‘Give Them Yr Ghost’ are laced with a Glaswegian accent but his voice is genuinely goosebump-inducing. He plays passionately and with such intensity that I fear for the welfare of his guitar strings! A heart-warming, powerful set from one of Glasgow’s finest singer-songwriters.

The Starlets frontman Biff Smith certainly has the 1950s rockabilly image down to a tee. His voice is not what I expect, and is either an acquired taste or unbearably breathy and sickly sweet, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and settle on the former. An accomplished five piece band, complete with ‘flair players’, could have been plucked straight from the stage of a high school prom 50 years ago. ‘All to make to Feel Brand New’ and ‘Surely Tomorrow You’ll Feel Blue” contain the appropriate “oohs” , whilst ‘Circus Girls’ momentarily transforms The Starlets into a (relatively) raucous ceilidh band. Ending with “the dreary version” of ‘We’ll Go Driving’, Smith sets the scene by asking the audience to picture themselves in a Cumbernauld underpass. Dreary indeed, but still delivered with a raised eyebrow and the most earnest of expressions. The Starlets’ polite brand of rock n roll is perhaps best summed up in the title of their own song, ‘Rocking in a Shy Way’.

I feel I can almost relinquish my bitter resentment towards the countless friends who have returned from this year’s Connect Festival waxing lyrical about their life-affirming Sigur Ros experiences. Thank you, Zoey Van Goey. It is with great smugness that I declare the Glasgow-based three piece to be one of ‘those’ bands. The ones that ensure you need never doubt that there lies a beating heart within your chest. In short, Zoey Van Goey are a beautiful band. Lyrically, they are sweet, witty and heartfelt. Kim Moore has one of the most outstanding voices I have had the pleasure of hearing in a long time, particularly on ‘City is Exploding’. Musically, they are jaunty and soaring in equal measures. A game of Musical Chairs-esque instrument swapping (‘Musical Instruments’?!) showcases the multiple talents of each band member. New single ‘Sweethearts in Disguise’ is apparently a “light-hearted look at the end of the world”. Michael John McCarthy certainly seems to be enjoying the irony as he swings his head about looking very sprightly indeed. Between an anecdote involving a bear in a campsite and a delightful cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Sticking With You’, Zoey Van Goey are simply so sweet that you can’t help but like them! I refuse to believe that anyone left 13th Note feeling anything but love. Wonderful stuff.

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