writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Blood Indians: A Review

dark nights, cat fights, love bites…

By far my elder brother in the Muso, (1) manicpopthrills, is in the habit of lobbing me recent indie music to listen to, and/or inveigling me into events he’s organised in darkened rooms with guitar-wielding types making assorted noises.

His latest gig, put on with co-conspirator Andy Wood, is in Dundee on 3rd October. Headliners are the inimitable Randolph’s Leap, a band who have featured heavily in previous reviews on this page (and who MPT interviews on his page currently); also on the bill, though, are a newish band, Blood Indians. I expressed approval of their sound one day in the office, and sure enough, the next morning, my clerkly thoughts of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 were distracted by the appearance of the band’s eponymous EP on my desk.

Here’s the thing about reviews of new bands: they assume a level of knowledge of the last forty years or so of popular music in the reader that sometimes just isn’t there. In my case, it isn’t even there in the reviewer. The most obvious way to describe a new band’s sound is to compare them with another, established one. I imagine this trait began in the Seventies, as so many things did, with lines like: ‘they’re a bit like Led Zep, only heavier, man.’

Nowadays, of course, rock reviews are a bit more nuanced. Descriptions often go along the lines of: ‘they sound like Jesus and Mary Chain bumped into Joni Mitchell at a Velvet Underground concert, drove home listening to James Brown all in the same car, and got married the next day with Kate Bush as the vicar and Marilyn Manson playing at the reception.’ (4)

Another, more shorthand way, is to use labels, often in combinations, to give the confused reader a sense of what influences are most to the fore, even if the labels themselves are opaque in the extreme: see, for example, nu-folk, math rock, drip-hop. Okay, so I made that last one up, just to check you were still awake.

It reminds me of labelling theory, the criminological concept that, if you’re labelled as, for example, a bad-ass no-good son-of-a-gun who’d sell his grandmother, it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you behave in an anti-social, chaotic lifestylee, elderly relative retailing kind of a way.

Except, of course, musicians are tricksy critters, and the minute they get pigeonholed as one type of genre, they set about finding the fire escape out of the pigeonhole.

And so to Blood Indians. Vic Galloway has apparently described their sound as ‘goth surf folk.’ I mean, what does that even mean? Goth – yeah, well, any set of lyrics that feature the line I started with, and ‘You feel, I feel, scars heal, this won’t/hurt me…’ (both from ‘Cold Caller’) isn’t likely to be at the shiny happy poppy end of the spectrum.

Surf, though. Is that like, the Beach Boys? A quick listen to an online surf rock radio station suggests it’s that twangy, reverby, whammy-bar wielding, electric guitar sound that’s being referenced there. And folk – well, you can hear their lyrics, and acoustic guitars are also deployed. No hey nonny nonnys though.

So I guess if you unpack it a bit, that gives you an idea of Blood Indians’ sound, and to be frank, it’s a whole lot better than the namechecking of individual bands you might never have heard of outlined above. Still though, it implies a bit of muso-ish knowledge. So how do we do this? Blood Indians, oh Blood Indians, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Probably not so much – more like a dark January afternoon, with the daylight leaching out of the sky by about three o’clock, and a cold tempest of brooding guitars brewing at your heels as you head indoors, catchy riffs tugging at your coat tails.

Or perhaps culinary references work better for you – on ‘Cold Caller,’ the wholemeal strumming of acoustic is quickly smothered in the dark bitter chocolate of the electric, with the female, Scots-accented vocals providing the chilli bite, underpinned by a creamy bass.

Not quite working for you? Me neither. My favourite of the three tracks is probably the middle one, ‘I Lie,’ which again builds slowly out of a single guitar and voice, before vocal harmonies and crunching guitars are supplemented by a whumping bass and hard-driven drums.

The last track, ‘Winter Ghosts,’ has indeed a chilly, ethereal quality that the (literally) mordant lyrics come right out of the middle of: dogs bite, nettles sting, empty lungs are caving in. Again, the fact the girls have avoided the decades-old trap of mid-Atlantic singing accents give the vocals extra emotional depth. It kind of sounds like they mean it.

The cardboard cover of the EP is fairly sketchy information-wise. There’s a bozo in a Native American headdress out front, looking  moody, or perhaps broody. However, a paper insert contains a telling detail, with the biggest thanks reserved to the co-writer and producer, ‘who has worked so hard to get this record sounding exactly the way we want it to.’ It’s so easy to throw a few tracks together (well, not that easy, but you know what I mean) and say ‘that’ll do,’ before moving onto the next EP with the vow to do it right this time. This stuff is hard-crafted, and it shows.

Catch Blood Indians on the way up, at Beat Generator Live, Dundee on Friday, 3rd October. They might well be somewhere more expensive next time around.




(1) Extra points if you get the reference without the clue (2)
(2) Clue’s in the name
(3) Oh all right then! Robert Burns referred to Robert Fergusson ‘as my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the Muse.’ I thought it was funny, but I wish I hadn’t bothered now…
(4) If you pushed me, I’d say they were a bit like His Latest Flame, only heavier, man. But you probably don’t remember them.















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That Post-Referendum Poetry In Full

I had to be very careful about what I said in public during the Scottish Independence Referendum, given my job (which I rather like and would like to keep!) What I said, or rather shouted at the telly, during the final days of the campaign, in the privacy of my own home, is another matter…

Here’s a poem I wrote several years ago, before the 2011 Scottish Parliament election made the Referendum a reality.  It meant certain things to me then; what it means to you now, after the No result, with our First Minister stepping down and the supposed consensus of the Westminster politicians (it is said) immediately breaking down, might be something else. That’s what poems are meant to be like, isn’t it?

Fellow Scots, whether Yes or No, peace and love. What is the next level for us?

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Back on the Horse

A late-summer wasp, heady with its own venom, banks round for yet another bombing mission on unsuspecting giant bipeds. In external wall crevices, hunter spiders flex their chitinous legs and begin the long autumnal march indoors. The biomass plant facility tolls the knell of parting day, and leaves the world to darkness, and to me. The nights, as they say round these parts, are fair drawing in.

Those of you who know me best know why I’ve been quiet on the performance front this year so far. However, the two Tribute to Venus Carmichael gigs at the Free Fringe have revived my interest in not making a complete fool of myself in public again; and like the buses, I’ve a few things coming up rather than a single one.

The first thing isn’t actually a live performance: it’s a release on Soundcloud which, for reasons which will become obvious, I’m not releasing till 19th September. Watch this space for that one!

Then, on 2nd October, I don my spangly jacket for MC duties at Slam Factor Fife II. A stellar line up of judges – Miko Berry, Kevin Cadwallender and Rachel McCrum – will be performing as well as judging, and I might squeeze a couple of my own in. If you’re in some loose way associated with Fife, and fancy giving it a go, follow the link for an application form.

Then, I have an event to promote my Dad’s last book, A Huntly Loon Goes To War, at the Huntly Book Festival, on Saturday 4th October at 4.This event will be quite special for me, and I hope you can make it if you live locally.

On 3rd October, just before heading up to Huntly, we’re going to see Randolph’s Leap in Dundee, supported by St Kilda Mailboat and Blood Indians (for the syntactically acute, that’s Randolph’s Leap they’re supporting, not us: I don’t think we could squeeze them all in the back of the car). I plan to review Blood Indians’ excellent EP in advance, so keep the dial here for that.

Also in early October, or maybe late September, Kelly and I will be doing a session at Leith FM as Tribute to Venus Carmichael, on Ralph on the Radio. We’re really excited about this – more news soon!

Finally, on 15th November, I’m putting on a show called Stevenson Unbound. More details soon, but in the meantime, this is the spiel:

Spoken word performer Andrew C Ferguson (Writers’ Bloc, Illicit Ink) presents an atmospheric new show in back room of the White Horse, in the Canongate. On a darkening November afternoon, immerse yourself in classic RLS supernatural stories ‘Markheim,’ and ‘Thrawn Janet,’ as sound effects swirl through the half-lit space.
In the final segment, hear Ferguson’s own Stevenson-inspired poetry and prose, including Hyde’s Last Words, where Henry Jekyll’s worse half finally has his say. Do you dare to stay the afternoon?
With special guest. Part of the Edinburgh City of Literature RLS Day programme.
Stevenson Unbound, White Horse, 266 Canongate, 14:00 – 17:00 Saturday 15th November 14+

Things are starting to return, slowly, as autumn advances on us, although it’s still more music-based than fiction. On the Venus Carmichael front, the old girl has been busy writing new songs; I’ve a feeling she might have more to tell us of her life story soon too. I still have high hopes of another musical project I’m collaborating on, although it has a missing component at the moment. I even started a poem the other day. There’s a fair chance I might finish it.

In the meantime, like almost every other Scot, I have strong views on a certain question needing an answer on 18th September. However, the necessities of the day job mean I’m not able to express a view, so unlike almost every other Scot, you won’t be getting the benefit of my opinions.

I’m sure the rest of them will make up for me.

The Coldplay Effect: or, When Good Bands Go Bland

I was standing looking at our late summer garden the other day (yeah, I know the title suggests this is about music, but work with me, okay? It’s a kind of multi-layering effect I’m going for here) and I was thinking that it pretty much reflected the way The Redoubtable Mrs F and I are.

There’s a herbaceous border (non-gardeners, read: the opposite of low-maintenance) full of spiky, interesting things with strange leaf shapes and unusual flowers, almost all of which we deliberately planted, though rarely in the same place; at the back, an oriental style gravel area above the rockery, both stuffed with non-standard, quirky stuff; whilst nearer to hand, artichokes we can never eat because they’re choked with ants rear above a patio that, due to the same organic policy, harbours in its cracks every perennial weed known to botanical science; and in the near bed on the right hand side, mint, geranium and Alchemilla Mollis enact a slow, desperate hand to hand combat for supremacy – a kind of Fight Club with added chlorophyll. We also have courgettes, if we can get to them before the slugs do.

In other words, a garden created by bleeding heart liberals, always seeking that elusive thing: the alternative.

Now, I’m not going to claim we’re anything special in that regard. If you’re reading this, you’re just as likely to be a fellow traveller along the spectrum of difference. I mean, is there anyone out there really looking for the blandest thing on the menu? Well, very possibly, but they’ll have given up reading this piece long ago, and gone off to, I dunno, find more pictures of dogs looking mildly surprised. Vive la difference, right?

Right. So. I was thinking about all of this recently when reading NME’s 100 most influential artists (Daughter and Heiress’s copy: I’ve never really liked NME, and even she, who has the excuse of youth, looks a bit sheepish when trying to slip it under the radar and into the trolley at Morrison’s). Leaving aside the pieces about bands I’d never heard of influencing other bands I’d never heard of, the omissions were the most striking: no Beatles, Stones, or Dylan. Or Hendrix, for that matter.

I mean, really? Arctic Monkeys never listened to any Jagger/Richard compositions? And young Jake Bugg never hunkered down in his tough Nottingham Council estate and listened to the street punk stylings of Subterranean Homesick Blues-era Dylan? And the Beatles – errr… Oasis, anyone?

I guess, being generous, what they’re saying is these guys are the bedrock of modern rock and roll, and they then influenced other people, who in turn are some of the bands I’d never heard of influencing other bands I’d never heard of. Whew! Glad that’s clear – but then, what are these other old-timers like Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac, doing in there?

The truth is, the NME piece is a snapshot in time of something: who it is, as a muso, you’re currently allowed to like (or if you’re a young band trying to get a music journalist’s attention, who you’re allowed to say you like). In other words, who it’s cool to be into (which is kind of like, but not the same as, the alternative).

I’ll tell you what else it’s like – it’s like the Cool Wall in Top Gear (which we used to watch until D & H decided it was too immature for her, when she was around about 8 years old). For those of you unaware of this slice of British televisual history, the tall, bubble-permed one, Chummily Jerkson, would debate with the floral-patterned, floppy-haired one (I can’t even remember his real name) which new cars looked ‘cool.’ He very possibly still does.

Once we’d got through the seemingly endless parade of Ferraris, Maseratis and Aston Martins, Floppy Hair would flourish a photo of something that looked like a fridge-freezer on wheels and head for the Uncool Wall, only for Jerkson to snatch it from his hand and stick it high up on the furthest portion of the Cool Wall, on the basis that it was so ugly it was cool. And then the one called The Hamster (for reasons probably best left unexplained) would try and fail to reach up to get it, and all us tall folks would laugh and laugh.

Not that Springsteen, fine singer-songwriter that he is, should be seen as the musical equivalent of a Skoda Octavia. All the same, his stock amongst the muso community would seem to have fallen steadily ever since his tub-thumping Born in the USA days; it’s interesting that he’s now being rehabilitated, as also Fleetwood Mac, who at one time were seen as part of the bloated, West Coast singer-songwritery establishment that the East Coast punks had to take down with the single thrash of a slightly distorted guitar.
Anyway, that’s only NME’s opinion, and the recent news that they’d suffered a 14.3% drop in sales might have been down to Stones, Beatles and Dylan fans voting with their feet, or just because the young ‘uns read about their rock and roll online mostly these days. Whatever, Fleetwood Mac and Springsteen are two pretty good examples of what happens when those of us who consider ourselves possessors of the legendary golden ears of impeccable musical taste find that actually, someone we really like is, well, dammit, they’ve become popular! Worse than that, they’ve started producing that ultimate evil for the golden-eared amongst us: music for people that don’t really like music.

Before I go on, I really must commend to you the most excellent hatchet job on U2 I’ve ever read, at riot radio. More prosaically, googling “music for people that don’t really like music” also turned up the following exchange on, of all places, Arsenal Football Club’s forum:

Music for people that don’t like music. So dull its untrue.
I like music and I like Cold Play. I hate people who diss what others like just because they done like it. Small minded.
I don’t get this either. Music comes down to personal taste; you can’t say definitively “They are good/bad.”
Not sure I quite agree with that. Jedward for example are undeniably shite. Tbh Coldplay aren’t so much bad as just unbelievably dull




And there we have it: the Coldplay effect. A good, well-respected artist or band toils away, appreciated by the Chosen Few for a few years, then is unbelievably unlucky enough to hit a rising wave of popularity that persuades their record company to promote the hell out of it; and the band, the one only you and the few discerning others truly appreciated, suddenly becomes possessed by those other people.

Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know who I mean. The other tribe, the ones that use music as a kind of background noise; the ones that walk along with some form of semi-melodic tinnitus playing from their smartphones with a sound quality ten times poorer than the worst sixties transistor radio; the ones in the middle of the music festival crowd talking loudly to their mates about their sexual conquests instead of ACTUALLY LISTENING TO THE MUSIC.

My mate Harky was down in London recently to see Neil Young. Being a creative, talented type, Harky gets paid far less than he’s worth, so he’d had to scrimp and save a bit to make it the 500 miles or so to see him, but being a real fan, he reckoned it was worth the sacrifice. Now, to be fair, this was part of a BST Festival in Hyde Park, so there were other acts on, but all the same, His Harkiness was less than impressed by your man who, wandering in fully suited and booted, having clearly just finished work and bought a ticket out of his small change, wanders up to Harky and says, ‘Who’s that up there, mate?’ indicating the man who put the Y in CSNY, on stage giving it plenty at that very moment.

Dire Straits, I’ve always thought, are a prime example of what I’m talking about here. I would still take the witness stand before a jury of my muso peers and argue that, actually, their first album is a truly great, John Cale influenced piece of work, full of tight observational songwriting drawn from Mark Knopfler’s pre-megastar life living in Deptford. I mean, John Peel played them, for goodness’ sake; they must’ve been cool at that stage.

That difficult (and, to me, underrated) second album, Communique, didn’t quite make it, but then we had Making Movies, with Romeo and Juliet, and Love over Gold, with an unlikely hit in Private Investigations. By then, They had started listening to them, those others that don’t really like music, and Knopfler’s worst riff ever became his biggest hit in the MTV birthing pain that is Money for Nothing. Fairly soon after began Knopfler’s long, and it seems deliberate, slide into semi-obscurity, allowing him to be a musician’s musician again. I predict he’s next year’s rediscovered genius. I genuinely do hope he doesn’t have to disappear in a plane near the Bermuda Triangle for that to happen.

I appreciate I’m not telling you much you don’t know here. All artistic reputations can go down as well as up: in another field entirely, I’m waiting for Ernest Hemingway to be rediscovered some time soon as the great writer he truly is. Back with music, Abba have evolved from guilty pop pleasures to respected Scandi noir harbingers (or something), and NME’s poll even included the long-derided Simple Minds as a key influence to The Horrors, The Killers, etc., etc. In a separate development, Uncut has recently run a couple of articles trying to rehabilitate Dylan’s Eighties albums, although I’d take a lot of convincing on that one. I really, really, tried to see Shot of Love as a comeback album. I mean, I was motivated.

Similarly, I’m not exactly breaking new ground suggesting that we all want to be the inner initiates of something: holders of a special skill, possessors of sacred knowledge; owners of the golden ears. That’s why books about how to write bestsellers for screen or page will tell you that your hero can be as flawed, conflicted, addicted and anti-social as you like, but s/he has to be the best damn something at something. Think Lisbeth Salander. Because that’s what we all identify with: that need to be the best damn something at something, even if it’s only cutting the grass in the most perfectly diagonal stripes in the whole estate.

So what am I saying that’s new, that’s the alternative? Just this, I think: if you’ve had a week of everything’s that spicy, maybe you should give in to that craving for the blandest thing on the menu. It’s okay to like vanilla from time to time as well as pistachio and salted caramel.

I’ll leave you with this last example. When I was in Edinburgh recenty, I bought two CDs: a Greatest Hits of Jackson Browne, and Heart Attack and Vine, by Tom Waits. Now, not even the most hard core muso can touch me for the Waits CD: your man is destined to be forever dangling louchely well out of Richard Hammond’s reach, high (in every sense) on that Cool Wall of Music. And, frankly, who cannot love a man who comes up with a lyric like ‘there ain’t no Devil, it’s just God when he’s drunk?’

Jackson Browne, though. Another West Coast singer-songwriter swept into the Pacific by the tidal wave of back-to-basics punk, he’s generally remembered for undemanding, AOR tracks like ‘Running on Empty.’ Too melodic and easy to listen to by far. Truth is though, he’s a damn fine songwriter, and hipsters looking for an alternative Christmas Number One to put up against whatever mush Simon Cowell’s pushing at us this year could do worse than lend their golden ears to The Rebel Jesus.

And if that doesn’t convince you, the fact that he sued John McCain’s Republican ass for using ‘Running on Empty’ without his consent. Plus he went out with Daryl Hannah. Okay, so that’s probably more a bloke thing. But as an environmental activist and regular critic of the US’s policies in Central America, he is your quintessential bleeding heart liberal.

Which reminds me. Must go and harvest some courgettes before the slugs get to them.


summer garden






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Forthcoming Incoming

I’m off to Edinburgh for a couple of days, to soak in the atmosphere through a straw. Stay tuned next week for news of upcoming projects, reviews (maybe), and my next blog entry – The Coldplay Effect: or, when good bands go bland…




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Shome shimply shuper shupermarket wines

I describe myself on this blog as, amongst other things, ‘drinker of wine,’ but frankly there’s not been much evidence of that so far. However, I have been researching some reds for you recently, and the good news is that supermarkets have started to stock some good cheapies recently. Still a lot to get through, but in the meantime:

French Pinot Noir, Vignobles Roussellet, Aldi, £4.39

I’m not a big fan of French wine, and I took this example of the tricksy Pinot Noir grape off the shelf purely because your woman in the Saturday Times recommended it. As so often, she was bang on – it hits you with gentle raspberry first, and then enters into this long, complex relationship with the back of your throat you don’t ever want to end.

Morrisons own Chilean Carmenere, £5.99

Don’t be put off by the naff label with the big red face, this is top damson-y jammy Carmenere, which will go with just about anything.


Latitude, Day 2: Booker T Jones, Afghan Whigs, Oliver Wilde, Bombay Bicycle Club, Catfish and the Bottlemen

It was either that’s the shit or that isn’t the shit, no matter what kind of music you were talking about. I really liked some pop music if it was the shit. But there was a very definite line of what the shit was and what wasn’t the shit. Very strict.

Keith Richards, Life (paperback edition, p. 94)

So saith the Gospel according to Keef, and who am I to disagree? Our second day at Latitude, the Saturday, was fortunately full of music that was, very definitely, the shit.

Unfortunately, due to a late-running bus (perhaps like our two taxi drivers he was subject to a bout of geographic elasticity when he ran over a ley line: see review of Day One) we only caught the end of Booker T Jones, walking into the Festival itself and all the way up to the Obelisk Stage to the unmistakeable strains of Green Onions. He finished his set with a spirited rendition of Time is Tight, perhaps a comment on the rigidity of set lengths at Latitude (of which more later).

I would have liked to have seen more of the Stax legend, particularly if (as one of the images from the Festival suggested) he switched to guitar at some point. By the time we got there he was firmly installed behind the Hammond, which was turned up to eleven: the roving camera at one point caught the session guitarist’s expression, which suggested he was less than impressed with this turn of events. But then, he not da man. Booker T da man.

Next came something of a cock up on the organisational front which saw us waiting in vain for Afghan Whigs in a packed Radio 6 Tent hot enough to baste a turkey in. We realised our mistake when a largish type with blond highlights bounced on stage and began singing Maneater. Now, your blog had only hazy memories of what Afghan Whigs looked like from a three-glasses-of-wine evening in front of Jools Holland, but was pretty sure a Hall and Oates cover wouldn’t be part of their usual repertoire. Yep, the Whigs were on the other stage, and this was Darryl Hall sui-meme, with presumably Mr Oates in close attendance.

What we did see of Afghan Whigs when we trooped back up to the Obelisk was good, although there was again that sense of the sound dispersing quickly into the vast open spaces beyond the audience. Although they seemed in fine form, and were well received, I couldn’t help thinking they would have been better on the Radio 6 stage, with Hall and Oates delighting their 40-something fans in the sunshine.

Next, food. Regular readers will recall I promised to report back on the food; unfortunately the combination of a four-course tasting menu in Norwich on the Thursday night (good, but a bit fiddly and cheffy in places, and the wine choices were classic French at the expense of a good match) followed by the inevitable big hotel breakfast the next morning and the equally inevitable fish and chips on arrival in Southwold meant your man was, by Friday afternoon, like a bony-armed python still trying to digest a goat (that’s the animal, not the band, Goat: that would be ridiculous). Seriously. No food or drink required for about 18 hours. Daughter and Heiress, with her teenage metabolism, did have recourse to a half pizza with pepperoni that she thought perfectly decent.

On the Friday, however, appetites were back at normal levels, and a short perusal of the many food outlets up and down the slope that led to the Obelisk Stage ensued. The Festival website had not been exaggerating in terms of breadth and variety of selection, although I’m still looking for the tapas. The hog roast on a roll with apple sauce was really good; a later burger from another stall less so. Your correspondent then opted for a lager from one of the bars, who were serving them up in industrial quantities and at eye-watering prices (to be frank, everything in the Festival was think of a number and double it, so you just had to roll with it). On a limited review, then, the food and drink was pricey but good enough.

The hog roast went down to the strains of Oliver Wilde, on the Lake Stage. The beefy bloke with the hair and beard introduced himself as Oliver Wilde. Ah, so the band was called Oliver Wilde, and he was Oliver Wilde! I kind of admired the big chap’s self-confidence. Backed, therefore, one has to say, by four minions consisting of second guitar, drums, bass, and violin, Oliver delivered an enthusiastic performance which almost lived up to the programme’s billing of ‘ethereal, gorgeous music.’ Apparently, his second album – following a brush his own mortality – ‘explores the small matter of the abstract relationship between unrelated things.’ Bristol-based Oliver Wilde is 26 years old.

However, listening to Olly’s ‘melancholic, hushed poetic vocal delivery,’ (according to his Wikipedia entry, which can’t possibly have been put in by his Mum) left room for reflection. As the quote at the top of this indicates, I’ve been finally catching up with the Keith Richards autobiography, and the counterpoint between his tales of what it was like to get started then, and what it’s like for the likes of our Olly now, did have me thinking.

First and foremost, the early Sixties world that the Stones were born out of – blues clubs, jazz traditionalists, folk purists, and a vast, disaffected war baby generation looking for a musical mast to nail their colours to – has long gone. I mean, the blues, jazz and folk clubs are still there, but they’ve been shouldered out of the mainstream by this huge juggernaut that HMV would call rock and pop long ago. The Stones, in other words, were in at the ground floor. And whilst the baby boomers still go to events and buy music – your blog was by no means the oldest swinger in town at Latitude, let me tell you – the way we do that has been splintered and mutated by technology and market forces for decades. Who stays up to hear the singles chart on Sunday nights now?

Second, the tech has become much kinder to musicians. Keith Richards carried a soldering iron to his early gigs to carry out running repairs to his kit; rather unkindly, he suggests the main reason Bill Wyman got in the band was because he had a decent Vox amp to bring to the party, and they couldn’t work out a way to separate the amp from the bass player. Keef had a trusty tape recorder to record demos: astonishingly, he says that even the recorded version of ‘Satisfaction’ had its origins in overloading the tape with a signal from an acoustic guitar.

Nowadays sound equipment is ten a penny, especially second hand; and no self-respecting indie guitarist, however callow, is without his or her pedal board of effects. Which, in terms of producing a unique sound, almost means they have too much choice; ditto their musical influences, which in terms of rock alone, can now mean riffling through fifty years’ worth of stuff. Gone are the days of the early Eighties, when I was just starting to get into student bands, when the scrawled postcards in the music shop window cited the influential Holy Trinity of Lou Reed, Velvet Underground and the Doors.

My point, if I have a point, is that in such a crowded landscape, everything starts to sound a bit like everything else, and even if the means of getting the music to an as-yet unadoring public weren’t complicated enough, the sheer volume of material coming at music fans via the internet means everything has to be packaged, categorised and labelled in some sort of way to provide a thread of meaning through the noisome clatter. Hence monikers like post-punk, indie, fusion, psych, yada yada… love the Rolling Stones? You might like, er, the Beatles.

Whilst that may be our friend Oliver Wilde’s problem, our next band, Bombay Bicycle Club, are well on the way to pulling themselves up from the depths of the tangled undergrowth into the upper branches of mainstream visibility. I find it quite hard to describe BBC’s sound, having seen them twice live now; it bases itself on the interplay of two guitars in true rock style, but the riffs are spiky, complex affairs, sounding at times almost African-influenced (particularly on one of their best known tracks, Always Like This). Similarly their rhythm section can do far more than deliver simple four-to-the-floor rock beats, switching to a bhangra feel for Shuffle, for example, and of course the Bollywood-influenced Feel.

As they were limited to an hour (one suspects the main headliner, Damon Albarn’s, request that he play longer put paid to any suggestion that they play an encore for the ecstatic crowd) the set was a tightly focused hits package; the three songs already mentioned, plus a rapturously received How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, and Carry Me, being other highlights. It was, we thought, a fitting end to our two days at Latitude – daughter and Heiress’s favourite band.

However, the Festival had one more surprise for us, as, on our way past the Lake Stage, we were arrested by the sight of a more than decent sized crowd going radge bongo (a technical music reviewer’s term, I believe) for Catfish and the Bottlemen on the Lake Stage. Confusingly described in the programme as ‘hotly tipped English kids hailing from Wales,’ further seconds of research suggests the band members come from places like Accrington, Sheffield, and, er, Australia. Frontman Van McCann (the one from Oz) formed part of the reason for us to stop, look and listen: a proper climbing-the-walls-with-his-guitar kind of frontman, he generated enough energy to power the amps, the stage lighting, and half the surrounding food outlets all by himself, and still have something to put back into the National Grid.


Partly also it was the sound they generated: songs like their current single, Rango, a good old, old-fashioned, heads down, no nonsense bit of rock and roll. The Sage of Deptford himself would approve, I reckon. They play the Caves, Edinburgh, on November 12 amongst other places.

…and finally…

Daughter and Heiress and I had just the best time at Latitude this year. If the reviews above carp a bit about sound quality, that’s not to detract from the musical enjoyment to be had. Just as importantly for your Festival Dad aged 51 ¾, the whole atmosphere of the place was relaxed, friendly, and safe-feeling. Having heard horror stories of T in the Park (the previously mentioned sledges of alcohol, the early morning cavalry charge for the newly-cleaned toilets) there were some fatherly apprehensions as we approached on the first day. These soon disappeared. There was very little drunkenness to be seen, and the only drug-taking we experienced was the two girls in front of us at Bombay Bicycle Club sharing a spliff. If that’s the worst that happens, and a bit of jumping around if you’re in the thick of it, I think the organisers have done all right.

We will be back.




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Latitude, Day 1: Kelis, Temples, Norma Jean Martine, Anna Calvi

There is something distinctly odd about Southwold, Suffolk. On the surface, a well-to-do, tea and scones, Edwardian seafront and shops selling pricey driftwood kind of place, the concept of distance, and interrelationships of physical locations, seem to have an elasticity that belies the town’s outward respectability. After three sets of directions along the lines of ‘you just go straight down there,’ we were no closer to finding our rental cottage, or even the place where we picked up the keys. Eventually, we saw the latter – an old water tower – away in the heat-blurred distance, across The Common, which seemed to lend itself to a dramatisation of an MR James short story in which the hero is pursued by some nameless horror as the fog rolls in menacingly over the salt-spiked grassland.

Daughter and Heiress and I left the Redoubtable Mrs F to it, to catch the bus to Latitude. She was subsequently to discover that, by taking a short step further along the High Street, she could reach the water tower in about two minutes flat. And the whole of Southwold just seems to be like that – you walk for ages, and then turn down a side road to discover you’re nearly back where you started. Probably ley lines involved somewhere. Sound, too, seems to travel in unusual ways.

More of sound bleed later on. In the meantime, there were some bands to see, once we’d oriented ourselves in the Latitude site. For those of you who haven’t been, you approach through a wooded area which slopes steeply down to the river; there’s one small stage on that side, but over the bridge things open out to a rising slope which houses most of the rest of the stages, including the Radio 6 Music tent. Then, over the top of the rise, there’s the main stage, the Obelisk, where we encountered Kelis, our first act (apart from a rousing final chorus of I Don’t Want to Change the World, by Billy Bragg).

Kelis is an interesting chameleon of an artiste. The early part of her career featured her as a pop/R & B/dance style diva, with mainstream hits such as Milkshake. In her latest incarnation, after a gap of some four years between her previous and current album, she cooks up a wholesome diet of funky, brass-laden soul that James Brown or one of Saturday’s highlights, Booker T Jones, would nod approvingly along to. Her latest album, Food (she is a cordon bleu chef as well, so the culinary puns are a bit more warranted than usual) features one track, Friday Fish Fry, which is my personal favourite: a sassy, knowing, old-school slab of soul with a great, hook-laden, chorus.

The challenge for Kelis is to produce a live show that makes sense of the differing phases of her career, and marries the current material with her older songs in a way that makes sense. She managed this pretty effectively live, in a set that featured old favourites like Milkshake and Bounce, although highlights for me were the aforementioned Friday Fish Fry, and another song during which she and the backing singer – no mean chanteuse herself – did a vocal run that ended with the Kelis hitting a note that was just about audible only to non-humans. Boy, can that girl sing!

If Kelis didn’t quite manage to engage fully with the crowd beyond the front ranks, it wasn’t really her fault. The main stage is, like all main stages, a great big block of wood, canvas and electrics in the middle of a field, and allied to the rapidly dispersing acoustics that entails, she took on probably the hottest period of the afternoon when the thermometer was pulsing way past thirty and the audience was wilting. I would see her again, but only in a smaller venue with walls (I guess I say that about everything, to be fair). Special mention to her tight backing band, with the horn section most obviously to the fore, but also some nice guitar work (again, take into account guitar player’s bias, but soul music isn’t exactly natural territory for the guitar to stand out).

Next up were Temples, a very now band. In fact, the lead singer, James Bagshaw, told the audience it was exactly two years since he and his co-writer, Tom Walmsley, had gone to Latitude as fans and written their first songs. Now here they were on the Radio 6 Stage, tearing the place up.

To call Temples a guitar-based band is like saying Westminster Abbey is mainly stone-based in construction: the songs start and end on riff-heavy contributions from Bagshaw’s Gretsch, or on a couple of numbers, a 12-string Rickenbacker. This latter guitar, in particular, gives a clue to the style: Temples are solidly, irredeemably retro, with the Sixties jangly/psychedelic heritage evoked by the use of effects that derive solidly from that period. To be honest, when I heard their CD I was disappointed it was so completely rooted in that tradition: drenched in reverb-heavy, swirly guitars, it could have been recorded in 1967.

Live, though, the band were an enjoyable proposition; the songs-well constructed, and the sound having a bit more crunch and bite than the recorded sound in the confines of the Radio 6 Tent. Plus points also included the Walmsley’s hair, which Daughter and Heiress thought better than most girls’. An advertising jingle for Tresemme can only be a phone call away. More seriously, these guys are just getting going, and if they’re currently reaching backwards for influences, their musicality on stuff like Colours to Life suggests they might well develop into something entirely new.

Back to that sound bleed issue. We came upon our next act by accident – the Lake Stage is down by the water, and we were relaxing with a quick bite on the grassy slope above it, when we became aware of someone rather good on with an electric piano. Initially thinking this was Rae Morris, whom I had previously reviewed less than generously, I was interested to have a second listen – but to do so, we need to get much, much closer. Uphill and to our right, Goat were doing their goaty thing in the Radio 6 Tent; and much further away and behind us, Rudimental was pounding away with his heavy artillery on the Obelisk stage. Closer and closer we drew, to discover the curly-tressed songstress was not Bombay Bicycle Club’s former backing singer at all, but Norma Jean Martine.

Only in my Mind evokes K T Tunstall a bit, but it was really when she switched from guitar to piano that her songs really took off, perhaps partly for the pragmatic reason that the combination of the keys, another guitarist and drums were a bit more able to carry the day against the Rudimental/Goat bombardment. A New Yorker, vocally she bears some comparison to Regina Spektor, although her music and lyrics are just a bit more direct. She wisely finished with what I thought was her strongest song of the set, Game Over. Definitely the find of the first day.

Anna Calvi finished our first day. Previous listenings on Jools Holland’s show had convinced me enough to buy a CD of hers, but I hadn’t been totally convinced. Calvi just strikes me as doing her thing more with her head than her heart. That may be unfair. However, I wasn’t at all surprised to read in the programme that she was influenced by her father’s musical tastes, which ranged from Captain Beefheart to Maria Callas. Her vocal style incorporates an operatic element, and there were certainly a few runs on guitar which owed more to symphonic instruments than the usual blues-derived rock tropes (although she could do them too). Certainly, this is one woman that knows how to tote a Telecaster. However, I remained admiring but unmoved, I’m afraid.

And with that, we decided to cut out early, having decided that Lily Allen wasn’t as much our cup of herbal tea as Two Door Cinema Club (having said that, good wishes and peaceful intentions to Ms Allen: I hope the crowd was kinder to her in person, than some people had been on Twitter). Thereafter, there was only the taxi ride back to the holiday cottage to survive. Neither our taxi driver tonight nor the one on Saturday was to know where Church Street, which has surely run off the High Street for many decades if not centuries, is. That old geographic elasticity at work again, obviously.

Report on Saturday to follow.




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Diary of a Festival Dad Aged 51 ¾ Part Deux: What Not to Eat (and Drink) (and Inhale)

Now then, as they say in Yorkshire (usually before they say something like, this talk about soft Southern nonsense like tungsten carbide drills is all very fancy, but what about your mother and these bloody galas? (If you don’t get this bit in parentheses, follow the link to the relevant Python sketch and be educated)) that soft Southerner Shakespeare might say music is the food of love, but anyone who knows this blog personally will know that it is an army that marches on its stomach, so the issue of what to eat at Latitude is not one to be taken lightly.

A reminder of the importance of Festival catering came during the recent interview at T in the Park with Mr Tinie Tempah, who seemed more keen to talk about the availability of different kinds of roast meats on the Sunday than his key musical influences (not necessarily a bad thing, some might think.) Apparently, having been given a plateful of roast chicken, Tempah Minor was crossing some kind of invisible catering line by asking for a bit of roast beef as well, and only got a tiny – or indeed, tinie – wee bit. Shame. Perhaps the chef wasn’t a fan.

But then T in the Park is, you might have noticed if you saw any of the coverage, based in Scotland, a country where, as Mike Myers once proclaimed, most cooking is based on a dare. Besides, if you’ve been drinking the sponsors’ beer all day it probably doesn’t matter what you eat. (Tennent’s was once described by our Justice Minister, Kenny Macaskill, as ‘cooking lager:’ Like most politicians, he immediately recanted his honest comment as soon as the headlight glare of the media caught up with him).

At Latitude, things look a bit more promising. The website is a little coy – this blog would have liked to see actual menus – but promises tapas, for example. Having travelled and eaten in Spain quite a bit, we look forward to coal-black, oozing chunks of morcilla, the Spanish black pudding; some gleaming, freshly carved slices of bellota jamón, cured from pigs in the Northern uplands who cavorted daily on a diet of acorns; perhaps a plateful of gambas al ajillo, prawns arching their backs on a bed of garlic, made golden by the intoxicating spice mix the Valencians put in their paella dishes. We will report back.

Burgers are also mentioned, but being Latitude, we can probably safely assume they’re posh burgers, hand-minced with ineffable care by cheery, smiling red-faced men in striped butchers’ outfits called something reassuringly old-fashioned like Arthur or Percy; while outside, the burgers’ cousins still frolic happily in the fields beside the village. In the nearest farm, happy little pigs grunt contendedly, knowing – and indeed accepting, of their fate of being, one day, pulled pork in a granary bun to be eaten to the distant strains of an indie guitar riff.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, the point is, I’m sure the food will be fine, and let’s not get into the politics of how, in our enlightened times, you now have to pay a premium for food that might not have come from mistreated animals or chemically poisoned crops. As an aside, though, why is it you pay more for unwaxed lemons than waxed ones? How can that be?

Of more concern perhaps is what one can’t bring into Latitude. The Festival website is quite particular on that. Excessive amounts of food – well, I get that: no one wants to stand in the hot sun next to the guy with a rucksack full of enough egg mayonnaise sandwiches to last him the entire weekend.

Excessive amounts of alcohol. Hmmm. This sounds like a challenge, especially when one hears tales of T in the Park goers using sledges to bring in their supplies. Yes, sledges in July. We Scots are famed for our ingenuity. On the other hand, I’m not sure jiggling a bottle of reserva-level Ribera del Duero on the bus from Southwold is going to provide the best complement to the aforesaid bellota ham.

Other prohibitions are more troubling. No nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide? What are these people going to do – perform dentistry on each other? I know some might say having a tooth pulled is better than listening to Tinie Tempah’s set, but he’s not even on the bill. Nitrous oxide. I must be missing something.


Ah. Daughter and Heiress knows about this. It appears that laughing gas – although I always thought that something of a misnomer, never as a kid having been greatly inclined to chuckle when exiting Mr Simpson’s surgery, clutching my mouth and leaving a trail of blood spots to encourage the next child on the vertiginous staircase with the gaps between the treads as I went – is classed as a legal high.

Oh well. I suppose you could always bring in a bottle of that pink mouthwash stuff the dentists insisted on having you swill to help you spit out the combination of enamel, amalgam, blood and metal left over when they had done with you. Perhaps that would induce similar memories, and give you a sort of psychological high.

What we shouldn’t be doing, eating-wise, of course, is exactly what we are doing the night before the Festival – staying in the Maid’s Head Hotel, Norwich, and shelling for the full bhoona of a Wine and Dine menu. The sample menu offers such delights as ‘Ballotine of Cromer Crab Mousse and Cucumber, Tomato Concasse, Tomato Gel, Crispy Seaweed Salad, Avocado Oil’ all washed down with a glass of Pouilly Fume. And that’s just the course between the starter and main. Four courses in all, different wine with each, and then port with the cheese. It doesn’t actually say that they offer a personalised service where the weakly bleating remains are carried up to their rooms by the staff, but one would think so. It may be Percy’s pulled pork in a bun goes entirely untouched at Latitude the next day. Either way, we’ll report back on that too.

Now then. Next up, the music itself.





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News from Venus

More to follow soon, but I just wanted to share news of our forthcoming EP – the first two tracks are uploaded to Soundcloud, including the downloadable one, Highway Tonight. It’s all quite exciting!

More news, including the promised posts on Latitude, once I’ve wrestled Soundcloud to the ground. And, in fact, now I have:

Venus Returns – Real and Virtual EP Launch
After an enforced lay off Tribute to Venus Carmichael, the only known tribute band to the eponymous singer-songwriter, come back with a bang. Two Free Fringe shows and their very first EP, showcasing their own take on 5 of Venus’s classic songs!

Check out the EP contents on Soundcloud – and until 9th August, download Highway Tonight free. Then, on 9th and 10th August, come to a very special Free fringe event – Tribute to Venus Carmichael play the songs, and spoken word performers read from her blog, telling you a little of her extraordinary life story.

We don’t know where Venus Carmichael is right now. Her blog is only updated once in a blue moon; she left no forwarding address, and her gigs are so low key they don’t make the music press these days. We do know that cassettes of previously unreleased material still make their way to her tribute band’s door. Some of these new songs will be performed for the first time on 9th and 10th August.

So come along, or tune in, to hear the story and songs of Arbroath’s most famous daughter who, back in the day, traded songs with the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young. Unlike any other show you’ll see on the Fringe – and it’s free!

Venus Returns, Cortado Cafe, 244 Canongate, EH8 8AB; 13:35 Sat 9th and Sun 10th August (1 hour)



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