XpoNorth 2019 – The story of Duncan

Reading Time: 9 minutes

First and foremost, I am a music appreciator and I am most definitely not a musician. Nor am I a musical creator and I do not work in the music industry. But, I spend a vast amount of my spare time listing to music, either at home or while driving as I go to gigs. And I go to a lot of gigs. Really a lot. At the time of writing, I have been to 148 gigs so far this year, seeing 406 individual performances. I have a further 81 gigs planned until the end of the year. I am sure there will be more before the year is out. I like my gigs.

My favourite kind of gig is one involving local bands starting off, who play a half hour set of original music and then watching them grow as they mature, gig after gig. XPONorth is an ideal platform for these bands’ showcasing and so 2019 is the 4th year running that I have been in Inverness for this event.

Like Woolly, I did not attend the seminars. I was purely at XPONorth 2019 for the music. But, unlike Woolly, I saw a whole load of different bands.

I had the basics of my two evenings planned out, which stretched from 7:30pm to midnight. My must-sees were bands and artists I had seen many times before and knew they were unmissable, namely –
Wednesday = The 101, Moonlight Zoo, False Friends, Cara Rose and Annie Booth.
Thursday = swim school, Walt Disco and Luke La Volpe.

There were no clashes with these but it still left me a few gaps to allow the discovery of new talent; to review previously seen talent and to poke my head around the door of something interesting. The weather was ideal. Dry, warm and still. Nice.

The 101










My starting point was The 101 at the Ironworks. They are a good band, although perhaps just a bit bloated by having 3 guitar players. Still, with one of them on backing vocals, it all adds up to a good sound. Having seen them before, I broke away half way through and walked the maximum venue-to-venue distance (a 3 minute walk) to The Tooth And Claw to catch Elisabeth Elektra.

Elizabeth Elektra

Sadly, she was not my type of music and singing solely to full-on backing tracks does seem like karaoke to me but she makes music that is clearly popular right now and the crowd liked her style. Her energetic performance included heading into the crowd at times, which can be quite intimidating so they politely kept a safe distance. She has a single launch gig soon in Glasgow, if you wish to investigate it.

Having seen enough, I dashed to Hootenanny where the rising stars Moonlight Zoo played a blistering set to a near-capacity crowd. Make no mistake here, they have really catchy songs; a great stage presence and vocals which will astound you. That was 30 minutes of sheer animal bliss.

Moonlight Zoo

Instantly I was off to the next venue; erm upstairs! To Mad Hatters where Lunir was having a bit of difficulty setting up. The beauty of XPO North is they run a very tight ship and the music starts at the allocated time and ends on or before the allocated end time. So, any late starting does mean a truncated set. They finally sorted things out and started 7 minutes late so I guess they had to cut it short. As I listened to the first two songs I realise their soulful sound were not my scene so I decided to head off to the PentaHotel.

There, SHEARS was playing. I have known Rebecca for many years and her recent reinvention fits the mould of the current trends of music. Her voice is utterly amazing but her music is not really for me so I bid a hasty retreat and went back to The Tooth And Claw to try out Folda.


They are electro pop and probably quite interesting but time was marching relentlessly onwards and one of my must-sees was up next at the Phoenix. False Friends were calling me. If you are keeping track, they are band number 7 so far.

False Friends

False Friends always put on a great show and are so much fun to watch. You have a front line of Irish voices, all four who are on vocals at some point. Jonny on acoustic guitar with Anna on keyboards share the main vocals and they put all their might into it. Corrie is on bass with shaved head and Fearghal on lead guitar and they both supplement the sound so well. Callum is on drums at the back, holding the whole lot together. To their absolute credit, they played mainly new songs. I know because that was the 17th time I have seen them live. Jonny debated whether playing new songs was a good move or not but sometimes when it is the first time people have seen a band, any song is new. The crowd enjoyed their set, as did I but Cara Rose was up next at the PentaHotel so I had to run as soon as they were done. I did a lot of running.

I suppose that “unmissable” means just that, but Cara Rose is one of those artists who is truly and utterly unmissable. Her solo piano playing style is a joy to hear and her vocals are wonderfully clear. Her songs are remarkably mature for someone so young and she is a very relaxed and happy performer. The venue was about half full for her set but as her set progressed you could tell they were being quickly won over. I spoke briefly to her an hour later as I spotted her in the Ironworks. She was genuinely surprised but pleased that I liked her music and I had no qualms in telling her this. Good music needs to be appreciated.

Cara Rose

Indeed, what happens at these events is that the artists themselves become fans of other bands. I lost count of the number of performers I knew who were in the audience for other sets and thoroughly enjoying it all. It has long been said that the Scottish music scene is perhaps unique where bands will praise other bands when they gain success and do not just humph about it with a “why not me?” attitude. That camaraderie is a testament to its strength and potential to grow. It was also nice to see music pundits Vic Galloway and John Robb in the crowds, loving every minute of it.

Zoe Tait

I missed Acrylic as I wanted to hear Zoe Tait back at the Phoenix. There is an engaging quality to the loud and forceful delivery of her own songs. Her lyrics are still quite teenage but I can see a lot of potential as she will inevitably move into more mature subject matters than just bad break-ups. One to watch.

Keir Gibson at the Ironworks was someone I had encountered before, although I did not realise this until I looked up my gig history a lot later. With the help of a guy on piano and backing vocals, the half hour was filled with good songs, well sung and the crowd knowing they were seeing a class act. It was after this set I chatted with Cara Rose but I had to be brief as I had that running to do.

Emme Woods
Keir Gibson

What then happened was a comedy of errors. I caught Emme Woods play to a capacity crowd in the Phoenix dry ice fog but a restricted view meant I tried out The Woods quickly next at Hootenanny. This was a solo act doing a really long looping song which I did find quite tiresome. Escaping, I headed back to the Ironworks to catch Annie Booth. Once there, I realised she was not the band who was setting up. I was confused and it was 11:30pm at night. My brain really could not process why she was not there so I gracefully retired back to my hotel room. Only as I was falling asleep did I realise I had gone to the wrong venue. Duh me. I was too late to remedy it but was happy that I had seen 12 bands in full or toe-dipped and I had had a really good day.

Thursday evening was set to be much of the same but the daytime need to get out of the way first. So, I hire a bike and cycled the 30 mile very scenic loop around to Beauly and back. As you do.

Goodnight Louisa

Seconds away and round two. 7:30pm was seeing Goodnight Louisa at Mad Hatters. I could only stay for the first 15 minutes but that was a good set. I had not realised that Skjor had broken up and this is what Louise is up to now. Very nice indeed.

Swim School

A dash to The Tooth And Claw allowed me to catch the full set by my current favs swim school. They play superb songs and even threw in a new one, which I spotted. The crowd liked them too and that is always nice to see and hear. Another quick dash back to Ironworks and I caught the tail end of Fauves who really know how to get the crowd going.

A few experiments were next and I saw Ukku who were really not my scene. So, I went to see Lizzie Reid charm the socks of everyone at Phoenix. That band really knows how to play well. I saw most of False Friends in the audience and caught up with half of swim school too as I headed out to my next gig. The next blind date was Spoke Too Soon who played a superb set at Hootenanny. They are well worth seeing again.

Spoke Too Soon

Outside there was pavement art persuading anyone and everyone to see Ivy Flindt upstairs next. Well, I am not one to decline such positive invitations but was sadly disappointed by the music which really did not have that much substance to it. So, I went to see A Dazed Digital Age back at the Ironworks who have the sound that is currently bubbling up from nowhere which everyone will love in the next 6 months or so. They are going to be big. Mark my rather feeble prediction.

The Dazed Digital Age

The cream of the night was the fact that Walt Disco were scheduled for Mad Hatters and that venue was just not big enough to contain them. Right from the start, they blew the roof of it with an explosive performance which is as infectious as it is spectacular. If you have any chance of seeing them live, never pass it up.

Walt Disco

They were band number 9 of the night and things were starting to thin out. I went to the Market Bar for the first time that trip and it was packed to the gunnels with folk waiting to see Pleasure Heads. It was clear they could put on a show but the crowd’s very boisterous enthusiasm meant that even seeing them was difficult and so I had to leave to actually be able to breathe! People were being turned away at the door as there was literally no room left inside.

I headed back to Hootenanny and am very pleased that I did as it was a first time see for James Gordon And The Power who were a late substitute for the unable-to-make-it-due-to-family-matters Mark Sharp And The Bicycle Thieves. James put on a superb show with great songs. Once again a nice find and another to put on my watch list.

Finally, as pumpkin time approached, the last band to see were Luke La Volpe at the PentaHotel. Imagine, if you will, that George Ezra bloke but with so much better songs and a much better attitude and you are half way there. They are a superb band and the lack of audience did not do their great music justice. Prior to that though, I had a lovely chat with Anna & Jonny from False Friends. Such nice people.

Midnight and I was truly done. Another 12 acts seen and a fantastic time was had. XPO North is cementing its place as a music festival of pure quality and long may they continue to support these up and coming bands in Inverness. A big thank you to the organisers for all their very hard work.



Jocktoberfest – Saturday 8th September – official pt. 2 – Woolly Dermal

Reading Time: 12 minutes

It’s still Saturday Mun!

part two of two

So in part one of the Saturday Jocktoberfest review, we told you of our experiences with Alice Brown, Calum Mackenzie Jones, Carma, King Kobalt, Mr Still, Sara Bills & the Hasbeens and Sarah Gallagher. Then we realised it was going to be a bit too long of a read for some folks to continue onwards, so splitting the article seemed like a good idea. 

There was also the Friday one, covering DJ Blair Massari,  Keir GibsonTable for FourThe Guilty Pleasures, and  Tweed if you want to read about your favourite band.


Want to see more reviews, previews and stuff like this as it’s published. When gigs are appearing and all that?
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If, as mentioned in part one of our review King Kobalt woke up the Dutch Barn Stage, then Tistik was the fella that kicked the Hayloft Barn into distinction.

Tistik appeared on stage complemented by the multifaceted DJ Butterscotch, of his own, and Spring Break fame. As Butterscotch handled the intro of Tistik with a turntablism meets digitalisation remix of the lyricist’s name, the loquacious Tistik burst in with a rapid and stupefying demonstration of his verbosity and skills. Serving as an introduction to himself, he followed this up with a slower number.

Tistik – watch this guy!

The variation that Jocktoberfest have in their acts, whilst managing the transition between them well demonstrates how this wee festival, seeming on the face of it humble and dainty is a well polished and well-engineered work of art. Tistik is a good example of this – in the manner in which you’d plan a set whilst DJ’ing – the festival takes you on a journey from dawn to dusk – tugging your heart strings in the morning, and letting you get right into it in the evening. Tistik shared the fact that he was autistic with his audience, and dedicated his next track, “Sensory Issues” to anyone else with autism. He engaged well with the audience, and they loved him for it. There were a collection of other passionate so

DJ Butterscotch – turntabling to fame

ngs also thrown out to reverberate around the stage and wee arena, covering the unacceptability of drug abuse, and a range of other important subjects that were clearly close to his heart. Throughout,  DJ Butterscotch provided some appropriate and spectacular sounds that aided the genius orator as he won the hearts of those around him.


Grace and Legend: Bekah’s voice was both graceful and legendary
Grace & Legend: That guitar though!

It felt surreal after leaving that, the dimly, but atmospherically lit barn, to be greeted by the sun again, but it was time. Grace and Legend were the next band up, and fuck me, what a voice. I’d not heard these folks before, but they were something else- a powerful Rock/Metal four piece. The lead singer was by far the stand out in the act, delivering songs such as Dark Disguise and Dear Old Friend, with the sort of authentic, “I feel like I’d get one of their tracks on a KERRANG! Magazine CD” vibe. Is KERRANG! still a thing?



Grace & Legend: Full metal, erm, T-Shirt

They were shit hot though, it was surreal seeing the lead come off the stage and sing directly to a toddler in ear protectors, but the wee one loved it, and it’s the sort of thing that’s unique to this here festival. I loved them, but not as much as my fellow reporter, who I think was imagining being personally serenaded by the lead; Bekah, on a private island.


The Vandal: Nigh on impossible to catch still

Back in the Hayloft barn and The Vandal was delivering powerful, pumping and surging beats with a commanding vocal. The rapper very much delivered his life through the microphone – you could feel it. It was by far the grittiest set of the night, but it was also one of the most open and raw.

The Vandal: Wick waxing lyrical

LIlura was next up, and unusually for her, singing solo – full credit to her for that too; her band members were unexpectedly unable to make it up to the venue, but she owned the stage even without them with a phenomenal presence. She’s a determined soul and a credit to what you can do with a bit of drive –  with her performance flowing through the main stage, the whole set was divine.

Lilura: On fire, figuratively
Lilura: She owns your soul

Esperi – I only managed to catch a little bit of. I’ve seen him before in all his full creative glory, which you can have a gander at here. The day’s set was more of a covers vibe, and less introcate than the linked gig, but pleasing none-the-less. The set was more than fitting for the crowd and the venue, and at the end he brought his little ones up on stage who looked like they were having the time of their lives. That moment reminded me of my own little heroes, and the brilliant time I’d had with them the previous year. That aside, it’s a great reminder and a good point in this review to press how child friendly, and child embracing the festival is. Take your little ones  they’d love it. 

Esperi – Not the best shot of the man himself, but it captured the feeling he created

Esperi was the last of the sets in the “it’s a chilled out Saturday afternoon, sip some fine refreshments and be civilised” camp. As I happily meandered away from the gent that produced one of my favourite market bar gigs of last year, I found my way back to the Dutch Barn, to be greeted by Ruaridh MacLean.


Ach, it’s a fella with an accordion, some folks might think. But for those who had either experienced Tweed the night before, or anyone that’s been to see anything at Celtic Connections, anything other than the dreaded singing circle – (why oh why!) – the use of ‘the box’ – as the instrument is sometimes known – isn’t restricted to singy-songy teuchter music or pirate shanty town ditties. Calum did his bit to rip out any old fashioned concept of what Trad music was, and showed us plebs what it is.

Ruaridh MacLean – bringing the box to the 21’st century

One of the things I had scribbled down in my notes was that Ruaridh was the Jamie Callum of the accordion – in a good way like! What I meant by that is there was a ton of energy and craic from Ruaridh. He almost seemed hyperactive, as he thrust out “Freaker’s Ball” – one of the highlights for me. There was a frigging immense cover of ACDC’s thunderstruck, but on the accordion – which you have to hear live, it was, well, it was exciting to hear – but I’ve got a soft spot for that song, so there may be some bias coming in. 

Ruaridh’s originally planned finalé was a mental version of Ring of Fire. A very adult version that would make yer da blush. I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire, was replaced with “fucking Gaelic choir”, and so many of the words were substituted it was more, a song sung to the high paced music of the tune. The crowd were bouncing so much, and the stage was so animated that it got to the point the signage behind Ruaridh passed out and tried to attack him – i.e. it fell over. The hero I am though, I lept to the rescue and re secured the stage props so the show could go on. Much like in the past, I once bought a house so an old man didn’t get evicted. I feel both the sign and the old man have forgotten this act. Though the sign doesn’t claim to be sentient, and it wasn’t the sign’s fault it fell over. Perhaps.

Ruaridh MacLean: This is also the face the audience were making

Ruaridh may have thought he was finished, but the crowd weren’t having it, which worked out well as the band that was meant to be on after; Busker Rhymes, were not there yet (and as it happened, didn’t end up appearing). The ginger hero fired through another twenty minutes of fast paced mania, feeding the now frenzied crowd (and dinosaurs) with everything he could. The final tune was a cover of Dirty Old Town, before the hero that is Ruaridh MacLean was able to relinquish the stage for some well earned recovery. What a guy!

At this point, the Hayloft Barn felt like it turned into the a collective gathering of some of the traditional pubs’ gigging musicians in Inverness. Inverness sneezed it’s talented session musicians onto the stage and Davy Cowan was first up, and had the crowd bopping about like nobody’s business. Like a mexican restaurant where the food is the same ingredients but folded up in a way to make the food taste different, a fair amount of the who’s who of the sneck was onstage, either with Hot Rats or the antecedent Davy Cowan band.

Davy Cowan Band: Party Time!

This was by no means a bad thing. Davy, Robin and co. played a selection of covers with one or two originals, and the whole thing felt almost festive. There was a definite party feel to it; echo’d by Davy’s comments, dedicating one of his songs to those that chase house parties. There was a good highland feel to the whole thing – rosy cheeks and cheer in abundance. Davy often goes as Davy and the Stormchasers – I’m not sure if the rest of the fellas on stage were the Stormchasers in question, and I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about storms being interesting to look at but  dangerous, but without knowing for sure, I’ll leave it.

Back across to the bigger of the two stages for Emma & the Ragmen – they shared some of the extended stage time that would have otherwise been utilised by Busta Rhymes, and used it well. The crowd were happily manic by this point in the evening and the rocking and rolling of EATR – [side note: love that acronym by the way] kept the crowd going. The, what I’d refer to as  sophisticated voice of the lead was great, and the group kept the crowd happy and bouyant with a good bit of craic,  and their effervescent feel with a bit of a jazzy, jivey feel to them. They’re playing in Mad Hatters in November too if you fancy a geek.

Emma & the Ragmen

Hot Rats were the final act on the Hayloft stage.  They played a banger of a gig, making sure new fans and old gave their all to dance to their set. With Dickie Bills at the heart of the beat, the mix of punky thumps and beats kept everyone moving.

The lead’s gruff voice fitted the close of a party vibe well, and their set was primarily tunes that you could pogo, shoogle and bounce to, which was a perfect close for the night. These guys haven’t played together for a long time, so this was like a proper reunion for them. They were loving it, and you could feel it in the air.

HOT RATS: Guys, we’re getting the band back together!


The penultimate act for the bigger of the two stages was the Ska-punk band The Matatunes. Sweet mother of fuck. Firstly, fitting them all on stage was impressive, there were like, forty of them. 

The Matatunes: All together now!


Ok, I may be exaggerating, but there were a fair few – which you’d expect from a ska band. If Ruaridh was the act that got the crowd hyper, The Matatunes were the band that injected madness into them. I’ve never seen the like at Jocktoberfest. Spring Break finished the live band aspect of the event last year, and it was a thing of beauty, I had my son on my shoulders with glee.  This year’s close was batshit crazy, and the wee man would have been watching from a bit further back if he’d been with me this time.  I’d’ve maybe put The Matatunes in the Hayloft Stage, but it’s easy to say that with hindsight. 

The Matatunes: band of brothers

Manic is the word for the crowd – there was a wee bit of silliness from a couple audience members, which resulted in said members ending the event before the close of the set, but it was dealt with well by the Jocktoberfest team, and the band handled it well too. For the most part the whole close was pretty epic though, it was grand, the beaming grins on the band were scintillating as they pumped out tune after tune, like concentrated and condensed cubes of pressurised energy.

The Matatunes: Closing the live acts for Jocktoberfest 2018

It’s rare to see a full band where every single member is fully chock a block with outgoing personality, and  no one that saw The Matatunes could reasonably suggest there was anything other than that for each member. They even had their own Bez-like character of Happy Mondays fame, dancing and bouncing about – albeit sans maracas. They put on a show, and what a performance – they’re very much worth going to see. If you ever wondered what it would be like to have Redbull and Lucazade (pre-sugar tax) injected directly into your veins then it’s probably safer and wiser to seek out the next gig The Matatunes are playing, and pay them a visit. 

Once the mentaltunes finished their set DJ Daddy Cool appeared to woo the audience into a chilled and welcome wind down, for a happy close of mingling, dancing and happy feels.

DJ Daddy Cool seducing the late night Jocktoberfesters.


It was time for a pizza, having lamb burgered myself to death, and the night was finished off by a luscious caramelised onion, goats cheese and olive pizza. Honestly, just the tits!

Last year I’d used the taxis, but nearly got crushed on the way back out due to the taxi driver forgetting that hand breaks were a thing. Essentially I had to leap out of the way of a car, after trying to open the boot was just enough force for the damn thing to start rolling down the hill. My kids thought it was all very exciting as they stood at the side oblivious to the potential mind scarring horrors they’d narrowly avoided witnessing. You reading kids? If I’d been a less responsible dad you’d’ve been squished, not carefully standing behind the fence out of the way. Still funny is it? IS IT? Ok, fine.

This year we’d arrived by car, and left by car. Traffic was not too congested and it was a civilised drive back, albeit with a man/caveman hybrid dressed as a dinosaur, and his bushy bearded support worker in the back. Amazing what you find in Munlochy on a Sunday morning!

Overall, I got to see most of the bands playing, but missed a couple out – apologies to those we didn’t manage to catch; I think we missed two, either through food breaks or logistics, specifically Gordon James and the Power, and Never Knowing.

Sorry guys, we’ll catch you about next time you’re near!

One of our folks did manage to catch the very much up and coming Never Knowing on video and a couple pics for a bit which you can see here:


and if you wish to have a look at GJATP – they’ve a page here – and are playing in Buckie on the 27th October in the Pub in The Square. (That’s it’s name, we’re not just being lazy)


As a final wee note; Outside of the music, the other highlight of the festival is how kid friendly it is. There always seems to be an industry with the wee sproglets constructing  buildings out of hay in the barn stage. It’s delightful to watch them all work together like crazy oversized worker ants. It’s a true reflection of the whole festival’s vibe. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is welcoming. A place to forge new connections and friendships. Not forgetting of course, it’s also a place to try new beers and ales, a connection with such fine things should not be overlooked. 


Thank you Jocktoberfest 2018 and goodnight! 


Want to see more reviews, previews and stuff like this as it’s published. When gigs are appearing and all that?
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.For Woolly’s Friday insight:

Jocktoberfest 2018 – Friday 7th September – official – Woolly Dermal

and part one of Saturday:

Jocktoberfest – Saturday 8th September – official pt. 1 – Woolly Dermal