andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: October 2015

10 Reasons to see Wildflowers this Friday

  1. They’re playing Electric Circus, in Market Street, which is one of the best wee Edinburgh venues. It’s even right next Waverley, so if you’re from the boondocks like us you can catch a late one home.
  2. They’re supporting the Keston Cobblers Club, who sound interesting, as the name suggests – kind of nu-folk with a bit of electronics thrown in. But Wildflowers are worth the admission money (only ten of your English pounds) alone.
  3. Their new album, On the Inside is terrific. I meant to do a longer review, but in the interests of getting this preview done, there’s not a single weak track on it. Favourites for me at the moment include ‘Where the Flowers Don’t Grow,’ from the original EP, and the closer, ‘Skyscrapers,’ a stirring anthem I can imagine singing along to when they headline Glasto. And quite possibly before that too.
  4. Musically, they’re pretty much exactly how I want a band to sound. Specifically:
  5. Great songwriting – melodic, strong lyrics, telling a story. They reference Fleetwood Mac and the L.A. Canyons singer-songwriter community of the Seventies – y’know, where Venus Carmichael comes from?
  6. Lead singer Siddy Bennet’s vocals.
  7. Her sister Kit Bennet’s backing vocals, keyboards, accordion, and just about everything else.
  8. The guitarist guy’s understated but effective use of both acoustics and electrics – nothing flashy, but he knows how to play. Plus, I’m not, but if you’re that way inclined, he has a kind of Johnny Depp thing going on with the hat and beard.
  9. These guys should be far better known than they are. I saw them first supporting Tom Odell in Leeds, and they stole the show for me (although he was pretty good too – Daughter and Heiress’s choice, of course).
  10. I can’t go. I’ll be in Madrid, sipping a cold beer in the Plaza Mayor. So you have to.

On The Inside

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Songwriters on Songwriting: Fiona J Thom

Not before time, I redress the gender balance, albeit slightly, in my series on songwriters, with Fiona J Thom. Fiona describes herself thusly:

Fiona J Thom is an Edinburgh based singer- songwriter. She has provided backing vocals and second guitar to local bands and fronted her own bands over a 15 year period. Song writing is her main strength and love and has earned her the respect of her peers. The kind of music – Original songs in a variety of styles tinged with folk, country, jazz, rock and some with a more syncopated Latin feel -always with attention to lyrical detail, wit and melody. Current band is called Ms Fi & the Lost Head Band.

In 2014 she added her talents to the theatre production 1933: Ein Nacht im Kabarett written and directed by Susanna Mulvihill with support from Tightlaced Theatre. For this piece she collaborated with Susanna and local singer, poet and actor Beverley Wright on the cabaret songs. Currently she is studying music at college with a view to improving her theory and guitar playing. [N.B. any time I’ve seen her live, her guitar playing looks pretty damn fine already I may say].

She adds: “I don’t follow any current trends in my songs but they are shaped by my life and times.”

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

A bit of both usually. It depends, often a bit of melody will come which suggests a mood and some lyrics. Once the idea is there the next bit is fine tuning the lyrics, adding verses. Occasionally I write lyrics first then come up with a tune.

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?

Usually a guitar, whichever one is at hand. Sometimes I am nowhere near an instrument – in the car, walking, in bed and I just have to keep humming it till I can remember it. I sometimes sing into my phone. I often forget about these nascent tunes and stumble across them much later with no idea how they got there.

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?

It is difficult to put a finger on it. There is definitely a zone and it can be frustrating if you are interrupted on the cusp of discovery or recognition. I think it is a bit like catching a wave for a surfer. I usually find there is an initial spark then crafting follows. I think many poets have said the same thing. Some songs are written in a matter of minutes, others take years to finally gel.

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

I listen to a wide range of music I am sure it must reflect on what I do. I do like a bit of rock so maybe Queen. I grew up listening to their music. They were so good they put me off becoming a musician.

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 have written for a theatre/cabaret piece in what I hope approximates1930s style. It was great fun. I collaborated with Susanna Mulvihill and Beverley Wright. The cast seemed quite happy with the results. There was a parody torch song I was particularly pleased with but I could not include it in my set as it was specific to that production and sung from Hitler’s point of view…

I would like to write for other people again.

Mostly I just write whatever comes: some are easier than others for me to sing.

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

Words change here or there (usually just synonyms) depending on how they scan and what I remember. Some do get reworked, I can think of one I changed so it was less like the song that inspired it. I am open to suggestion; I don’t always follow it, but I am open.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Richard Thompson

Bob Dylan

Norman Lamont

There are loads of great songs out there.

Fiona can be found at her own site, and is appearing at A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen, on Friday 20th November 2015 at the Village, 16 South Fort Street, Leith.

For those of you who don’t know him, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and a much smaller fraction of Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express. An acoustic offshoot of the latter will also be tipping their hat to Leonard on 20th November.

 

Fiona Jane Thom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking for Leonard

So, as those of you who’ve already been bombed by my ultra-efficient (or not) publicity machine so far will know, I’m co-hosting a Leonard Cohen tribute night with the uber-talented Mr Norman Lamont, singer-songwriter of this parish (and NOTHING to do with Conservative economic policies in the 1980s – that’s the other one, that doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘Lamont’ the proper i.e. Scottish way).

Why Lenny? A previous post describes my long avoidance of his brilliance for the flimsiest of reasons, and my conversion at the hands of his utterly excellent 2012 album, ‘Old Ideas.’ Plus it means working with Norman, as well as a new venture for Isaac Brutal – an acoustic set! I’m really looking forward to working on the two songs we’ve gone for, both off ‘Old Ideas’ – ‘Going Home,’ and ‘Amen.’

Anyway, here’s the spiel:

Leonard Cohen, musician and sage, composer of ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘Suzanne’, ‘First We Take Manhattan’ and of course the ubiquitous ‘Hallelujah’, turned 80 in September.

Join us for a belated birthday celebration by Edinburgh’s singer-songwriter coven. The event is organised by songwriter Norman Lamont (following his two previous ‘Tip of the Hat’ events) and writer and musician Andrew C Ferguson, promoter of successful Dylan and Nick Cave events.

Expect a roster of some of the most talented local bands and songwriters, with their own take on Leonard’s mighty songbook, including Norman himself, Graeme Mearns, Ross Neilson and a host of others.

The gig is free but a collection will be taken for refugee charities and Scottish foodbanks.

A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen, Friday 20th November, The Village, 16 South Fort Street, EH6 4DN 7.30 – 11.00 p.m.

 

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You’ll Be Hearing From Me (Again)

So I have two bits of news. Firstly, my novel of lawyers behaving very badly indeed, which may or may not now be called Buddha Belly, is to be published by Thunderpoint. I received the preliminary edits back from Seonaid yesterday, none of which look too scary. I’m actually looking forward to nailing down the final version.

What’s it about? Property lawyer Simon English has been detailed to look after a client, Jimmy Ahmed, during a night on the town. All seems to have gone well until he wakes up hungover, with a blurred memory of the night before, and Jimmy dead, naked, and in the bath. With his toe stuck up the tap.

To solve the mystery of what happened that night, he has to work with Karen Clamp, a conspiracy theorist from a run-down Edinburgh scheme, who has her own reasons for solving the mystery; cope with his senior partner, aka The Rottweiler; decide which authorities you call, exactly, when your client’s dead with his toe stuck up the tap, and whether you can trust them when you arrive. It’s full of sex, swearing, and Sir Walter Scott references, and I reckon you’ll love it.

I had a foretaste of the kind of star author treatment I can expect (the book’s due out next year some time) last Thursday, when I went to the lovely Suzanne D’Corsay‘s launch of The Bonnie Road, from the same publisher, at Waterstone’s, St Andrews (hence the earlier post about driving home far too fast to the music of Foals, in case you hadn’t worked out the location.) Suzanne and her family, as well as Seonaid, made me feel very welcome: her book is an intriguing tale of witchcraft in late Seventies St Andrews, and I can’t wait to read it.

The second bit of news is, at least for me, just as exciting: meet the new keyboard/harmonica player for the legendary Isaac Brutal band! I’ve known Mark and Kenny, in particular, for a few years now, and collaborated with them on a few music and spoken word projects, but it feels like the next level altogether to be asked to join the band … incidentally, Tribute to Venus Carmichael fans, don’t worry – you’ll be hearing more from her too, soon I hope.

In many ways, it feels like full circle for me. I played in bands at university (not very successful ones, mind) and it was partly an accident of geography – not much in the way of a music scene in central Fife, I’m afraid – that cut me off from doing anything more ambitious than living room guitar for many years, and shoved me sideways towards writing. It was only through the spoken word scene that I began to reconnect with music again, first through the Venus Carmichael project with Kelly, and then other stuff with Mark, Kenny and others. I’m gutted to be missing their next gig by being in Spain – more details soon – but, in the meantime, have dialled in my first stab at a keyboard track for their forthcoming album. The rough mixes are sounding good…

Next up, news of a forthcoming Leonard Cohen tribute night, which will feature Isaac Brutal Acoustic.

 

 

 

 

 

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