andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Andrew C Ferguson’s Virtual Fringe: Leaving the Party Early

I had my bout of post-Fringe tristesse early this year, on Tuesday night. As has often been the case, it was exiting a show in the Jura Unbound series at the Book Festival, in the late evening, and walking along a deserted Melville Street to where I’d left the car, preparing for the 50 minute or so drive home.

It wasn’t that the performance – Illicit Ink’s show, featuring the excellent Halsted Bernard – had brought me down any. Nor was it the fact that, instead of being part of the performance (as I have been at Unbound before, both with the self-same Illicit Ink and Writers’ Bloc) I was an audience member. In fact, quite the opposite: it has been a pleasure this year to sit back and watch my friends perform the hell out of stuff, when all I had to do was sit and watch.

It was the sense I had of leaving the party early: it was a school night; I was driving back over for non Fringe-related matters the next night; those were the main two excuses. But to be honest, I’ve had the same emotion after performing at the Spiegelbar too. Part of it, I think, is just how lonely that west side of the New Town is at that time, even during the Festival: you go in less than five minutes from the creatively spinning carousel that is the Book Festival at night to a place of solitude and parked cars, gearing up for the long drive back to central Fife.

I think it’s the feeling that, no matter how long you stayed up and how many shows you went to – or were a part of – you would always still be leaving the party early. There have been exceptions, of course. Like the year I was staying at Gavin Inglis’s flat, your man being something of a night owl at the best of times. I never knew a breakfast of Eggs Benedict could actually literally bring you back from the dead, but I found that out the next morning. Or it could’ve been the triple strength Americano. But my money’s on the Hollandaise sauce.

Anyways, mustn’t grumble. This year, as regular readers will know, your blog has been doing up a flat in Blackford, and two shows at Summerhall have been followed by a pleasant stroll down the hill to bed, instead of picking up speed past the Cramond Brig (or Miller and Carter Steakhouse, as it now is) feeling like I’m going in the wrong direction.

Plus I have musical plans for the rest of the year, lots of them. First up is the Venus Carmichael gig on 19th September, which I’ll start promoting next week when all this Fringe hoo-ha dies down. I had come hotfoot from a rehearsal with Kelly for that, via South Queensferry (see below). But there’s more, much more, so stay tuned!

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Andrew C Ferguson’s Virtual Free Fringe: ExNihilo

Bram Gieben is a recovering nihilist. In fact, at best, he’s a heroic pessimist. I know this from his show, ExNihilo, which I saw on Sunday, and from the book of the show (how cool is that? CDs too – but no t-shirt. I would’ve definitely bought a t-shirt with ExNihilo on it).

Backed by a sparse soundtrack of growling, prowling synths, Bram’s show tracks his progress from a disengaged believer in nothing having meaning to an engaged, activist(ish) teetering-on-the-edge-of-positive dude, by way of that referendum back last year (goodness! A year ago, nearly, already?) Any one-man show which is even part-autobiographical runs the risk of being seen as self-indulgent, but in reality the set pieces are the star turns: poems like ‘Keep Going,’ and ‘Burn’ (the latter of which caused a fist fight at a Glasgow open mic night, apparently) are utterly engaging.

Likewise, whilst I might have heard Bram’s central thesis before – that we are at the end of days, surfing on the death spasms of capitalism as it impales itself on the three-tined pitchfork of population explosion, climate change, and the military-industrial complex’s blinkered ideologies – I’ve never heard it so lyrically expressed.

I know Bram Gieben through our mutual membership of Writers’ Bloc, as a skilful writer of fiction and perspicacious critic of others’ work. I’ve been a fan of his performance poetry at a distance via YouTube (see below) but I’ve never experienced his solo work this close up, this intense, and this full on.

Please go and see this guy. Last chance this Sunday, 23rd, at 9.30 at Summerhall. Tear up your ticket to see the next stand up comedian, and go and see him instead. You don’t have to be a nihilist, an ex-nihilist, a Yes voter, or even a card-carrying member of the Green Party to enjoy it. You do probably have to be on the side of the angels, however you view that loaded statement.

Bram Gieben is a recovering nihilist. Bram Gieben is one hell of a performer. Go.

 

 

 

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Andrew C Ferguson’s Virtual Free Fringe: 10 reasons to see performance poetry instead of stand up

  1. Comedians have taken over Edinburgh’s Fringe. They’ve commandeered all the big venues, and use up all the advertising space with posters of their big old faces, gurning away like the glum game show hosts half of them actually are.
  2. Poets have been trying to plumb the depths of life’s mysteries with words for centuries. Ali Maloney’s Hydronomicon, for example, which I saw on Saturday night, explores flood myths, squid-based horror, and a looming watery world-end in an hour of fathoms-deep word play and performance. It’s also funny in bits, in a dark bouffon-ish way. In contrast, you could walk through most stand ups’ profoundest thoughts without getting your ankles wet.
  3. Stand up comedy shows cost a mint, leaving you less money for a decent rioja afterwards. Ali (and his stablemates in Shift/ A Best of Spoken Word) set you back a mere six quid.
  4. Poets have a greater verbal range. Here’s Ali’s pitch, for example: ‘Lovecraftian death burlesques, apocalypse rap; a bouffon mystery.’ Here’s what will likely be the opening line of most stand ups that have been on the telly: ‘Fucking Edinburgh! It’s fucking great to be here for the fucking Fringe. I fucking love it here. It’s fucking full of fucking Scots fuckers. So what about that fucking referendum then, eh?’
  5. At a stand up comedian’s show, you’ll either be sat beside someone who’s more lagered up than you are, and laughs like a baboon on helium every time the comedian says the word ‘fucking,’ or someone who’s less lagered up than you and is, frankly, a bit disappointed that the comedian, who seemed so funny on that panel show, has to say the word ‘fucking’ twice in every sentence.
  6. In case you’ve developed an allergy to poetry after forced overdosing on Philip Larkin at school, this isn’t like that. It isn’t like William McGonagall either, or that woman down the road who insists on reading a twelve page epic about the death of her golden retriever at every open mic night you’ve ever been at. Ali (and stablemates Bram Gieben, Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay) are the absolute cream of Scotland’s performance poetry scene, combining wordplay and performance in a way that actually can sometimes resemble stand up. Except the words are better put together. And the performance is ten times more dramatic. And they don’t rely on tired old gags about how it’s hard to work an iPhone properly.
  7. They’re local. Even if they weren’t local originally, they are now (well, Bram lives in Glasgow, but he is over here a lot). Most comedians aren’t. Doesn’t make them bad people. Just saying.
  8. You can go for a drink with the performer afterwards (okay, so I know Ali personally, so that helps, but even if you didn’t, he’s such a personable guy you totally could anyway). I was in a bar in the Cowgate once and Paul Merton shouldered me out of the way to get served first at the bar. He’s a big fucker, I’ll give him that.
  9. The  comedians have taken over the biggest, most corporate venues to maximise income: so your night will be spent wedged at the back in a too-small bucket seat between the lagered up baboon on helium, and the unlagered one muttering about the excessive use of that word. On the other hand, Ali and the rest are performing in the atmospheric Cairns Lecture Theatre at Summerhall, which is so intimate you could practically reach out and touch the performer. Or, indeed, the performer could reach out and touch you, as Ali did to several audience members on a rampaging, preacher-stylee segment of his show (but only in a totally appropriate – in the circumstances – laying on of hands kind of way). You wouldn’t get Paul Merton touching you, not unless you were standing between him and his next pint of John Smith’s.
  10. The best of the comedy stuff will be on the telly anyway, so you can watch it from the comfort of your own couch, in easy reach of a reasonably priced rioja.

 

Songwriters on Songwriting: Kenny Mackay

Concluding (for now) my series of interviews with songwriters of my acquaintance, Here’s Kenny Mackay, of Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express fame. Kenny tends to have his own take on stuff…

Incidentally, if you are a songwriter who thinks your answers to these questions would be illuminating, thought-provoking or just plain out there, get in touch.

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

I’m possibly sneaking in here under false pretences as I don’t think I’d really call myself a songwriter. The majority of my ‘songs’ are instrumental and any that do have lyrics, the lyrics are either written by someone else, or co-written with someone else. If it’s the former, I have zero interest in what they are and they’re basically just something that’s in there to stop the listener getting bored between the guitar solos! If it’s the latter, I’ll obviously take a bit more interest, but the lyrics are still secondary to the music.

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

I have two methods of composition. The first is a fairly standard knock it out on the guitar. The second is probably a bit less conventional in that I use a PS2 and Music 3000, which is a sample based music production ‘game’. Originally I had a Playstation and Music 2000, but I upgraded! Unfortunately Music 3000 isn’t a new version of the Codemasters classic, it just happens to have a similar name. But it was only 1p from Amazon! I know, Music 2000 will also work on the PS2, but hey, it’s not the 90s any more! But for both methods it’s the same building block philosophy – start off with one riff you like and keep piling things on top of it until it explodes!!!

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

‘Out there in the ether’? Sounds like it was something they might have heard on the radio and ‘appropriated’! [Yeah, I know. It’s a worry though, isn’t it? ACF] Maybe for a singer-songwriter with a guitar or piano, but for me it’s like one of those 2000 piece jigsaw puzzles of baked beans. Most of the bits look pretty much the same, but they all have a correct position in the puzzle. For me, all the various elements of a song have to go in the correct place. And that takes time. Sometimes a LOT of time! And I only have one rule: if it sounds like it could be done by Oasis, then it’s straight in the bin!

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

Not sure I really have any fans. Who even heard, say, Dwarf Factory‘s Doom Stalks Your Boogaloo or Lunar Conquistadors‘ Hotwired Into The Cosmos? (Both great albums, possibly due a re-release?) But I think all my influences are glaringly obvious – minimalism, free jazz, prog rock, Krautrock, Japanese noise merchants, post rock, electric Miles, the Paisley Underground, Neil Young, Television, Springsteen, Tom Petty, black metal!!! I had a spell in hospital in 2001, and about the only radio station I could get a decent reception on was Beat 106. Now maybe it was the drugs, but I started listening to a lot of dancey type music and I really got into trance! So I’ll go with Sven Vath! Although now I mention it, that sounds glaringly obvious too!

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I can fairly safely say that whenever I have written lyrics, the potential singer plays no part in it! As long as they work on the page, then that works for me! And if anyone’s looking for me to write lyrics for them, then they should probably call it a day!

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

I think of everything as a work in progress. But then I tend to favour some degree of improvisation, particularly during live performances. That’s the jazz influence! However, most musicians are more like classical musicians, preferring all the bits to be in exactly the same place as they were last time and will be the next time. Things get too loose, they get edgy! And edgy musicians are a liability! Although I’m sure they’d say the same about me!

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

For all the weird shit music I listen to, it’s hard to go outside the conventional idea of the songwriter. A solo artist who always gets lone billing, or maybe even with a band – Someone and the Somethings. Maybe because unless it’s one of those obvious guys (and gals), you don’t really know who’s a songwriter. There might also be other factors. My favourite band of all time is Television. Tom Verlaine wrote all the songs. But Tom Verlaine’s solo work is slightly less spectacular. So we have to assume that it’s not the songs that were great, it’s the band that made them great. And come on, in this age of CD booklets with tiny writing and digital downloads, who really knows who wrote what! What was the question again? Three songwriters. 1) Bruce Springsteen. 2) Neil Young. 3) Don van Vliet. I did seriously consider putting Nick Cave in there, but strip out The Bad Seeds and I’m not sure if those songs are going to sound so good. And apparently every single note of every single Captain Beefheart record was written down. Seems it’s easier to go outside the conventional idea of the songwriter than I thought!

Kenny’s work features on the latest Isaac Brutal CD, Night of the Living Trailer Trash. He also features in one of my own favourite live recordings of recent years:

 

 

Latitude, Day 2: Black Snot and the perils of stage programming

Black Snot.

A phenomenon, one’s reliably informed, more usually associated with exhaust gas-choked central London than the delightful Suffolk countryside. However, a long, hot spell leading up to Latitude Festival had produced a dry, dusty site which, when combined with the passing of many feet and a persistent west wind, meant the local soil permeated into all and any exposed orifices. Producing, in your blog’s case, the aforementioned olfactory by-product: in the case of those staying on site, one can only imagine other, direr consequences.

Minor inconveniences such as this aside, Saturday at Latitude dawned bright and breezy and full of promise of a full day of musical delights. This time the Redoubtable Mrs F sat things out in Southwold, so it was just Daughter and Heiress and myself bussing onto the site amidst the traffic chaos that comes from pouring several thousand music fans down a rural B road at once.

This year did seem a good bit busier than last, to be honest; and whilst that’s good for the organisers, it did on occasion cause a bit of discombobulation – especially when, as seemed to be the case with the later acts, there was an element of mismatch between stage and popularity of performer.

To recap from Friday’s review. There are four main stages at Latitude, in descending order of audience capacity: the Obelisk, big stage in a field with seating set half a mile back a la most festivals; the Radio 6 Music Stage, a tent – mostly enclosed – in the ‘bloody big’ category; the Lake Stage, technically probably capable of having a huge audience, but subject to sound bleed from the first two by nature of the site’s topography; and the iArena, tucked away in the woods, and consisting of a smaller tent with more gappy bits under the canvas so that one could – and did – experience a fair bit of the perfromance from the slope immediately outside the tent itself. There are other, smaller stages, but let’s stick with the main four for simplicity.

Pity, though, the job of the programmer, who has to decide which band should go where. So last year’s Lake Stage kings, Catfish and the Bottlemen, might reasonably be promoted to the Radio 6 Tent; but what of, for example, Leon Bridges, a soul singer who’d had more recent coverage in the music press than said programmer could reasonably have known, and was therefore to pack out the iArena? So many variables – not just the band’s own profile, and previous festival appearances, but recent appearances on Jools (which, let’s face it, is the first we Festival Dads and Moms may have heard of someone) time of day, and, crucially, who’s on at the same time elsewhere.

More on this later – but in the meantime, the traffic jams having caused us to miss Benjamin Booker, we had a brief look at Badly Drawn Boy, (not compelling enough on the main Obelisk Stage to keep us from the merch stalls) and then Sun Kil Moon.

To be honest, the main reason for giving the latter a go was the well-publicised spat between Mark Kozelek, the motive force behind Sun Kil Moon, and War on Drugs – ironically enough after sound bleed issues at a festival. No such problems here for your man in the Radio 6 tent, probably the most sound-proof of the stages, but he still wasn’t moving us greatly after a couple of songs, so we made our excuses and left him to his grumpy comments about how sweaty he was. Though some props to the guy for doing a cover of Nick Cave’s ‘Crying Song,’ presumably in sympathy for the recent death of Cave’s son.

We returned to the same tent shortly after, however, for one of the Daughter and Heiress’s picks: Wolf Alice. This turned out to be the gig of the day for your blog: the tent packed, but not so packed as to be a diversion from the excellent, heads down, driving rock the band produced; a charismatic front woman who was capable of roaring, screaming, and occasionally squealing in wave bands only audible, one suspects, to the sharper-eared canines in the audience, but also, as she showed in a rare slower number delivered with especial aplomb mid-set (‘Turn to Dust,’ appropriately enough?) singing, like, proper singily.

I’ve given up trying to keep up with the labels music journos give to bands’ sounds. To be honest, the song structures weren’t so out there as to have eschewed the sacred twelve-bar on occasion, and there was a bass, drums, and two guitars fed through distortion pedals. In other words, pretty much as it should be. And Ellie is quite some front woman: again, she isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, burning-eyed blonde to front a rock band, but she’s got oodles of it, whatever it is. One to watch.

Next, a diversion to the iArena to see the opening numbers of Leon Bridges, a soulful type who had received a lot of sympathetic press recently, and therefore filled the smaller tent to bursting and beyond. He sounded good, but it just wasn’t enough of our kind of thing to detain us from David O’Doherty in the comedy tent, a diversion from the True Path of Musical Righteousness that caused me guilty pangs (I’ve kind of taken a scunner (1) to stand up comedians since they’ve effectively taken over the Edinburgh Fringe (it feels) lock stock and barrel, and I had a personal code of honour to only go and see music acts, but stuff it, it was DO’D, and he does play that wee Casio keyboard after all).

Coming out of the comedy tent, we were in time to catch the last of Laura Marling’s set, which seemed strangely subdued, somehow. However, that may have been because we were sitting quite far out to the side of the Obelisk, where it was easy to feel uninvolved, or at least less involved than in the Radio 6 Tent in the midst of a crowd. I did wonder if Marling, despite being a Big Thing in terms of the pantheon of names appearing at the Festival, might have been better suited in the Radio 6 Tent. I’m glad I’m not that programmer.

By this time the hunger pangs were craving attention again, and Daughter and Heiress and I shared a half roast chicken, smothered in a green and yellow radioactive type material which advertised itself as ‘Lemon and Herb:’ to be honest, though, it was absolutely delicious, although the rapid attraction of dust particles to the dish, the sauce, our hands and, frankly everything else at this point deterred us from finding out if it was finger-lickin’ good or not. Sic transit festival food.

If all of this and the next paragraph’s whinge about crowd behaviour all sounds insufferably middle-aged and fussy, especially when your blog wasn’t even camping out on site but instead was staying in a well-appointed flat in town, well, maybe, but I really, really, did enjoy Latitude again this year, and would definitely come back. The atmosphere is great. The mix of people, and seeing people feeling it’s a safe place to take their kids is great – although the sight of parents holding their pre-schoolers aloft at the louder, late-evening gigs, like some sort of chubby, Boden- and ear-defender-clad sports trophy, did make you wonder whose benefit the whole thing was for; the chance to see such a range of new, exciting bands all in one sun-soaked 48 hour period is great. Most of all, the ability of the best of the music to transcend the fact that the toilets smell like an army latrine in the Gobi desert on one of its hotter days, Suffolk clay is silting up every available orifice, new species of biting insect are trying out their just-arrived mouthparts on a fleshy part of you, and your hands are covered in some form of radioactive lemon and herb goo, just reminds you that, well, great rock and roll can overcome almost anything.

Unfortunately, Catfish and the Bottlemen didn’t quite manage it.

To be fair, they just about did. This blog predicted last year that they were the coming thing, several more esteemed rock critics had agreed since, and interviews with your man Van McCann, the lead singer, had heightened the media interest. Tellingly he’d made a comparison in one article I’d read with Oasis, and the band seem to be aiming for that larrikin, bad-boy image the Gallagher brothers used so adeptly back in the day. Unfortunately, this seemed to translate with the Radio 6 Tent filling with more than its usual quota of teenage and pre-teenage lads and numpties, including one type who barged in beside me and insisted in waving some sort of home made banner with fish on it (Catfish, see what he did there?) all over your blog’s personal space, while his stunted offspring stood in front and jabbed sharp elbows about at groin level.

And – I’m sorry – but what is it with people moving about so much in these crowds? I totally get why a big conga line of twenty-somethings might want to plough, hands joined, to the front of the audience just before or even during the opening numbers. The serving system at the massively overpriced bars is Byzantine in nature, and anyway, the collective hive mind might take a bit to get going. I completely get that. But once you’re wherever you’ve got to, just stay there, okay? I mean unless you suddenly discover you actually hate Catfish and all his Bottlemen with a passion, can you not just stay in one place for the rest of the performance? They don’t last long, and trust me, if you needed the toilet, you would’ve bitten the bullet and gone before they started.

(And … breathe). Catfish and the Bottlemen delivered a high octane, raucous performance which had the crowd totally lit up. They’re not about to add a string section or collaborate with Brian Eno or anything, but if you like your rock straightforward, loud, and with stadium-friendly melodies, they are definitely a band to catch as they continue their inexorable rise. McCann is a compelling front man with an eye to the main chance. Probably better to be more lagered up than your blog was, is all I’m saying.

The last band we intended to see, again in the Radio 6 tent, was the Vaccines. They were on at the same time as Portishead were playing the Obelisk main stage, and it would have been interesting to see just how busy the latter was, because the Radio 6 was packed to the gunnels (if tents have gunnels) and beyond. In the interests of shielding Daughter and Heiress from some of the more extreme ruck-and scrum tactics of the crowd this time, I’d positioned myself against one of the metal posts that held up the back of the tent, with D & H in front. This strategy was also designed to give us a quick exit at the end in order to catch the bus back into the village – a strategy, which I quickly realised, which was flawed, when I turned round to see a crowd maybe 100 deep and 500 wide behind us.

What we saw of the Vaccines was really promising, and Daughter and Heiress has just found out they’re playing at the Usher Hall on 7th December. However, this time it was D & H, somewhat to my surprise, who said she’d had enough of being shoved and jostled, and we made our escape into the night, to where the taxi drivers circled like brightly-coloured tiger sharks round a crowd of other early exiters.

And so another Latitude Festival comes to an end for us. Our plans may take us elsewhere on holiday next year, although I would definitely like to be back some time. Festival economics dictate that this year’s increased numbers (I assume) will be something the organisers will want to build on. However, it is one of Latitude’s USPs that it’s a relaxed kind of affair, so I hope that’s factored in, as well as a willingness to take risks with the programming, particularly on the smaller stages. Until then, we shake the dust of Suffolk from the soles of our feet finally, although it will live on in our hearts.

Just not forever, we hope, in our nostrils.

 

 

 

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Latitude, Day 1: The Worst Band Name Ever

We came across the worst band name ever two years ago when cruising in a boat on the Norfolk Broads (I know, this appears to have nothing whatsoever at all to do with a review of last Friday’s Latitude Festival, which took place in Norfolk, not Suffolk, but work with me, ok?). We pitched up at a pub in a place called Thurne, where, a sign at the side of the bar informed us, One Hand Clapping would be performing that very Saturday.

One Hand Clapping. I ask you. I suppose they could have been some sort of Buddhist folk-rock band, all tinkling bells and clunking gongs, but the image I had was of some bozo with a Clavinova, churning out Stevie Wonder covers, with a lucrative sideline in weddings and bar mitzvahs. However, the Redoubtable Mrs F made further inquiries and we went anyway.

It was one of the best nights in a pub I’ve ever had: One Hand Clapping turned out to be a good going covers band, majoring in 60s and 70s, who gradually built their set towards a finale that had the whole bar variously singing, dancing, and clapping along (with both hands). The fact that only one of them was looking forward to his own sixtieth birthday hadn’t affected their abilities: there was a female singer and guitarist, a lead guitar player who occasionally took on vocal duties, a bassist and a drummer.

Two years on, we were again on a boat in the Broads in July, we again moored at Thurne on a Saturday night, and lo and behold, One Hand Clapping, the Band With The Worst Name Ever Who Had Been Surprisingly Good, were playing again. We ordered our reasonably priced pub meals and took a ringside seat, awaiting their arrival.

But wait. Age had not withered them, at least not substantially, but ego, it appeared, had shrunk them. The lead guitarist had got rid of the bass player and drummer, it seemed, and the lead singer – his own wife – had been relegated to setting up the amps and occasional flute playing duties. Lead Guitar Guy had drafted in a mate, who was a pretty decent guitar player, but not so you’d notice since the Main Man instructed his missus to turn his own amp up so far you couldn’t hear his mate’s finer noodlings half the time.

A cautionary tale, then, which we took with us to Latitude. No matter who you are in music, sometimes all the choices left to you are occasional flute playing duties, or divorce.

There were no flutes immediately apparent at the Latitude site – perhaps surprising, given the hippy reputation of this particular festival – and, indeed, both days were dominated by the sound of grinding guitars of various kinds – no bad thing for this blog, if you already know its prejudices. First up, though, was Curtis Harding, a soulful sort whose style, the programme advised us, was ‘born in Michigan and bred on the road.’ He was excellent: good, soulful voice, handy guitar player too, with (mostly) his own material, although he did a good cover of Ain’t No Sunshine When You’ve Gone. From under a tent flap, the band was good, too.

Which brings me to the stages at Latitude. There are four main ones: the Obelisk, which is your standard issue festival main stage, on a grassy plateau at the top of the site, with stands set well back; the Radio 6 Music Tent, which is a big but (as we shall see) not always big enough full on tent, open at the back and sides, but with plenty of canvas to keep the sound and atmosphere in; the Lake Stage, down by the bridge, which is a great venue for passing traffic, but is open to the elements and can therefore suffer from sound bleed most (as Norma Jean Martine found to her cost last year); and the iArena, where Curtis had been doing his soulful thing, a smaller tent in the woods with more of a gap under the canvas.

You can kind of understand the organisers’ original thinking on this, of course: iArena small, more intimate, Lake Stage for the up and coming young thrusters; Radio 6 Tent for the coolest latest things (Anna Calvi, for example, last year) and the Obelisk for the big acts that everyone would want to see. However, matching band to stage can’t be easy, and this year there were what might have been a couple of mismatches, of which more in the next post.

That said, Curtis Harding was just fine in the iArena. Our our next act, after we’d caught the end of Philadelphia-based The Districts (not bad at all) was Fife’s own King Creosote, with a superb set that drew initially on his most recent album, From Scotland With Love, but also included plenty of other material for hard core fans to enjoy. This was in the Radio 6 Tent, and the enclosed space helped the band’s more intimate sound – not that they were lacking amplification. Kenny did us proud – and it was nice, I may say, to have at least one band that made good use of acoustic guitar. No flutes though.

Next, it was back to the iArena for an act that I sincerely hope to see in a sweaty Glasgow venue in November: Ezra Furman. Your blog was temporarily confused and thought Daughter and Heiress was taking him to see George Ezra, which was confusing on two grounds. Firstly, why was he playing on the smallest of the main stages? Secondly, why had D & H forsaken indie rock for a sensitive pop troubador?

However, it soon became apparent that the only thing Ezra Furman has in common with George Ezra is in fact the name, Ezra. And even then they use it at different bits, don’t you see? Out of this haze of confusion (blame the heat, the dust, the lack of alcohol) it quickly became apparent that Ezra Furman was, in fact, right up your blog’s street. The programme entry referenced New York Dolls, Ramones and the E Street Band, and all of these influences were in play: the latter especially by means of the big chap giving it laldy with a saxophone right up front, although his style was probably more a blend of Clarence Clemons in his pomp and Bad Manners ska-influenced honking. Great guitars, and a bit of keyboard that could’ve been further up in the mix if anything, but overall a terrific sound. Literate lyrics – well, Tom Sawyer got a mention at one point, at least.

I found myself thinking that Furman himself was part of a continuum of what I’d call ‘street-punk-ness’: that indefinable mix of insouciance, sarcasm, and vulnerability that inspires devotion even as the possessor of it is spitting irony right in your face. Mid-Sixties Dylan had it; before him, folk such as Eddie Cochrane, and then of course the likes of John Lydon and Debbie Harry. Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice, featured in Saturday’s review, has it in spades. But Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends was the gig of the day for me, possibly of both days, and that was in the far from ideal iArena hanging onto a tent flap.

Oh, and plus he wore a dress, which takes a bit of attitude, even in these so-called enlightened times.

The last complete gig we saw, since we left half way through Alt-J (nothing wrong with them, although not my kind of thing, really) was Django Django in the Radio 6 Tent. This was a band I’d done my homework on, having listened to their most recent album at least twice (yeah, I know, the sheer dedication!) Half-Scottish, they’re an extremely marketable blend of synth and guitars, and what impressed me most was their songs were genuinely catchy and melodic, and worked well live. They may well have been Daughter and Heiress’s gig of the day, and although Ezra shaded it for me, they were pretty great, too.

My only criticism was your man’s guitar playing seemed pretty minimal: but I guess they would say it’s integral to the sound, not the main instrument. To which I would say, if you’re going to strap on a Telecaster, you might as well use it. It’s not just for decoration.

Or risk ending up on flute duties.

 

 

 

 

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Andrew C Ferguson’s Virtual Fringe: Fair Warning

Calling all Fringe performers: this year I’m doing nothing at the Edinburgh Fringe at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilcho. For a number of reasons. This, of course, frees me up to come to your show, and maybe even do a wee review of it. So, in case you weren’t going to anyway, be sure to invite me – best way is probably through the medium of Facebook – and I’ll probably say I’m maybe coming, by which I’ll mean I’m maybe coming, because there are a lot of shows and I have to travel in from Fife’s dark interior.

However, priority will be given to folk I know personally, who are good types, and who’ve been to one of my shows in the past. Just saying. So there.

Next up, more Diary of a Festival Dad as the final sartorial and other preparations reach a conclusion….

More Kantele Music

A more substantial blog, soon – but in the meantime, I’ve uploaded a track with the kantele I was telling you about in it (for those of you technically minded, I recorded the kantele part using a single Rode M2 mike, placed close to the middle strings – it’s absolutely dry: I’ve not added reverb or any other effect).

I’m still just mucking about with it, really – I don’t really know how to play it, but setting the song in A major gave the maximum opportunity for simple accompanying lines.

Keeping Fit by Breathing: A Time Capsule in Blackford

As some of you know, we’re currently doing up a flat in Edinburgh’s South Side, with a view to (eventually) Daughter and Heiress using it as her student accommodation. It’s an ex-Council flat, built around 1960, in a block of 6. We think the old lady who lived in it it last moved into it with her husband when it was new, as its first tenant. It’ll be, as they say, nice when it’s finished: great location, with views of Arthur’s Seat out one window, and Blackford Hill out the other. Solid, roomy construction, but everything needing done.

As we’ve gone through the arduous process of stripping away wallpaper and floorcoverings, the flat has gradually given up its secrets. It’s what you might call domestic archaeology: decorators seem to like leaving little messages, such as the the blokes who, 15 years apart, decorated the living room and left, under the wallpaper, their names, and the fact they were cousins. Or this little chap, left hidden by another decorator under the paper in the main bedroom:

Photo0015

Another thing which our tradesmen seem to have turned up is this rather impressive looking metal knob – I thought at first it had come from the 1990s central heating, but a Google search reveals the company to have gone into voluntary liquidation in 1970, so it’s a bit of a mystery what it was:

Photo0016

Best of all, though, is the copy of a page of the Scottish Daily Express dated Saturday, September 19th, 1959, which turned up when the guys were lifting old floor coverings in the kitchen. Talk about a time capsule! A columnist called Albert Mackie has a rant about the removal of a clock at Edinburgh’s West End, and various other malfeasances, which mainly can be laid at the door of the Edinburgh Corporation (one Councillor, George Hedderwick, is slated whilst Mackie admits ‘even on the subject of smoking, while I don’t agree with him, I admire his single-minded sincerity in wanting smoking stopped’).

The entire bottom half of the same page, though, has even bigger news: Campbell’s Soup is back in the shops, for the first time since the war. A reminder, perhaps, that rationing had only ended 5 years earlier, in 1954. The flat itself is a reminder of those times too: the larder has a solid concrete shelf to keep meat cool in those pre-fridge days. We’ve decided to retain it as an original feature, much to the disgust of the plumber who had to core through it to get the piping for the new central heating system in.

There are some great mad wee small ads as well. Individually tailored slacks and jodhpurs, anyone? 100% Nylon outsize dress, in a ‘non-transparent floral design’? Just in case, you could wear the ‘briefest bra in the world,’ as worn by ‘models and showgirls.’ More practical, perhaps, a ‘sit-at ironing table, to save back and leg strain.’ Or ‘support & conceal those varicose veins with Helsur nylon elastic hose!’

The list goes on. ‘All-purpose’ chairs. Army blankets. Naval open razors. 8 watt amplifier, to ‘transform’ your guitar, or ‘similar instrument.’ 24 inch deep frame log saws. Learn Radio and TV servicing ‘for your own business/hobby.’ Cut your own hair with the patent ‘Easytrim.’ Hernia sufferers were spoilt for choice: the ultra-lightweight Rupta-Brace offered ‘undreamed-of relief,’ while the Autocrat Airmatic Appliance enabled you to tackle the heaviest and most strenuous work with COMPLETE CONFIDENCE. Not just complete confidence, mind – COMPLETE CONFIDENCE.

My favourite, though, has to be this ad for keeping fit by breathing:

keep fit by breathing

I think it’s my duty to rebury the paper under the new plywood floor I’m putting down in the kitchen ahead of tiling it. Mind you, the way these renovations are going, I might take a note of the address for the Rupta-Brace…

Songwriters on Songwriting: Me!

The other guys are a hard act to follow. However, while I’m waiting for a couple more in this series to come in, I thought I’d have a go at the questions myself. So…

Andrew C Ferguson is a writer and musician blah blah blah. Since I’ve updated the About page recently, you can always go there if you want a flavour of who the hell I think I am.

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

Music first, almost every time. It’s interesting that the other guys have different approaches, which is why I asked the question, of course, but for me it starts with a tune, or a bit of a tune. It might only be a few notes, but unless there’s some sort of musical hook the song doesn’t get going, really.

Like Norman and Mark, I have a notebook, and jot down lyrics which can sit for months, or years, waiting for the right melody before they become something. I suppose, having written in so many different forms – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, stuff in between – before I dared to call myself a songwriter, I’m stupidly confident I can knock out a few words if there’s a tune of some sort to set them to.

I mean, songs are just flash fiction that rhymes mostly, right? Could explain why mine are so wordy…

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

Well. Again, I’ve played guitar for years, and that was initially my go-to instrument – usually the De Ville semi-acoustic, because it’s so easy to pick up and play.

However, I bought a second-hand Korg X5D  off Gavin Inglis a couple of years ago. It’s got some good sounds and some not-so good sounds, but one good one is a setting called ‘rock piano.’ A whole lot of songs are starting to come out of that, now. Basically, I’m not a good enough guitar player to know how a complicated chord change, or a melody line, can be played straight away – whereas with the piano, you can modulate chords or pick out a melody with only the most basic musical knowledge.

Having said that, I could never imagine not using the guitar at some point with most songs – it brings a whole different energy. I mean, I’m not planning a whole career of slow piano ballads!

The main thing though is capturing the melody (see below).

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

Melodies have a really unfortunate way of coming to me at inopportune times – my mobile phone has a collection of voice recordings of me going dah dah-dah, dah-dah-dah dah… as quietly as I can because there’s a tune in my head and I’m trying to capture it before I forget it. I’m usually doing it quietly because I’m in a public place and trying not to have people think I’m in need of urgent psychiatric assistance.

One place I hear a lot of new tunes is in the swimming pool. I’m not sure why: I think it’s a combination of half-heard songs over the tannoy, and the rhythm of the swim. Either way, it’s pretty hopeless – I can’t sing them into my mobile, and when I get back to the dressing room there’s Bogie in the Morning on Forth FM or whatever playing some crap song, and the whole tune just gets obliterated. Really annoying. I’ve composed whole albums in the Fife Institute, but I can never remember them!

If I’m really lucky, I wake up on a non-work day with a tune in my head (they often come to me just at that stage of waking up, when the door to the sub-conscious is a sliver ajar; or, funnily enough, just after lunch) and I can fire up the computer, switch on the keyboard, and capture it without waking the rest of the house up. Then, sometimes, it feels like I’m pulling a kite in out of the sky – it really does feel as if the whole thing’s been up there, waiting to be hauled in whole.

Or, the other analogy I have for the process sometimes is that it’s like that experiment you used to do in Chemistry making nylon – did you ever do that? Where you wind a bit of this glistening thread onto something and, gradually, gently, you pull more and more of it out of this beaker full of gak until you have a great long piece of the stuff. If I have a chorus, for example, but not the verse; and I just have to sit and wait for the rest of it to get drawn out, piece by piece.

The lyrics are a lot more mechanical – after that intial idea in the notebook, it’s a case of deciding what story I want to tell. That can take a while. I’ve got a tune down in Mixcraft at the moment that I think is The Best Tune I’ve Ever Come Up With (I tend to think this about every third song or so) and I’m trying to craft lyrics that are good enough for it.

It’s kind of like the tunes are female friends of mine and the lyrics are new boyfriends who are never quite good enough for them. Work that out for yourself, Sigmund.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

Fans? Shucks.

Carole King. When I used to write songs back in the day as a student, I had a bad case of Dylanitis and thought the lyrics had to be some sort of mad poetry. Unsurprisingly, my lyrics turned out as if I’d been bin-diving in Bob’s paper recycling – really bad knock offs.

King, on the other hand, taught me that you can say things quite directly and simply and that’s all you have to do, if the tune and the performance is good enough. That came from her crafting songs for other people with Gerry Goffin in the Brill Building in the early Sixties, but she didn’t forget it when she went solo in the Los Angeles Canyons. It’s about capturing an emotion.

Also anyone else who writes lyrics that have the ring of honesty. A lot of the early punk was like that. Though it’s hard to beat as a couplet the Proclaimers line ‘Even with the girls on the back of the bus/there was always the risk of a slap in the pus…’

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I don’t have much of a singing voice. I mean, I can just about hold a tune, but that’s it. I suppose, though, I write with my own voice as the initial instrument, and then stand back in awe when a proper singer like Kelly takes it and does what she does with it. I mean, the very first time she’s done some of my stuff the hairs on the back of my neck have literally stood up. Listening to a playback of my own voice singing makes my teeth stand on edge.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Pretty much fixed. I sometimes think a word or two could’ve done with a bit of fiddling, but by then it’s usually someone else singing it, and I feel it’s too late to tell them to change.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Dylan (obviously, though he’s still a bad influence)

Nick Cave: I’m a late convert, but the breadth of what the guy does is just stunning. My brother recently called the song Norman Lamont covered (see below) Cave-esque, which I’ll take any day.

Leonard Cohen. Again, a bad influence on me, because he’s got that whip-smart, literate, lyrics-as-poetry thing, but they’re never just smart for the sake of it. And he’s not depressing! Well, not all the time.

And to redress the gender balance, Suzanne Vega. Oh, and Regina Spektor.

 

Andrew C Ferguson can most usually be seen toting his De Ville as one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael. Their EP is still available, but not in the shops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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