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.

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.

 

 

XpoNorth 2019

Reading Time: 11 minutes

It’s XpoNorth 2019

XpoNorth started off as an Aberdeen based venture called GoNorth at the turn of the century. I wasn’t there. I mean I was around at the turn of the century, and before, but I wasn’t in Aberdeen. I might have been at some point, but if I was, I wasn’t at that.

I was still kicking around the Raigmore Motel, the Market Bar and the Gellions for my musical kicks. The Ironworks was still a carpark and a pet shop, Hootenanny was still a pound shop, Blue Nightclub had only been shutdown once or twice T in the Park was the place to go for festivals. Rockness was six years away from being birthed, and Belladrum was four years away. (That’s right, Bella was about before Rockness.)

Xpo still is, and, but it’s changed a bit. The last person involved in it when it was GoNorth departed last year, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are all over it this year.

It started as a ‘creative industries’ focused showcase. Designed to gather up unsigned and lesser known musicians from around the Highlands, to get them to play, literally ‘for exposure’ and mould them into going through the meat grinder that is the music industry.

My general understanding of the model for newly signed bands to medium to large labels is thus (however granted it will vary to a degree depending on the label);

  • Band signs contract.
  • Band gets advance for an album, promotion, and gigging. The album bit of it includes the booking, hire and all that goes with the recording studio, sourcing and paying for the producer/sound engineers etc. The advance is the band’s wage as well, so they also have to either live off it, or work the day job in between recording and gigging.The advance is as you’d expect, a loan. This gets paid off by the revenue generated by the band through ticket and record sales.
  • Band gets some contacts, guidance, and some influence given in terms of where they are to tour.
  • Once the first loan is paid off, if it is, then it’s time for a new advance, and a second album. Rinse, repeat.

This works for some, but I feel it’s not necessarily the best model for all band to follow – and harvesting all the highland talent like something out of the Matrix doesn’t seem like the best way.

That’s my take on it, but I’m a self-managing kind of person, so kind of a red pill guy. (Red Pill as in I like to know how things work and it’s reasonable to objectively question things, not red pill as in I am woke, there’s a third eye and everything is a conspiracy)

Anyway, as I said, Xpo has changed a bit, even since last year.


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There were a few grumbles that there was less music from the highlands, and some more from ‘down south’ (crettins, that’s how you create a bit of musical diversity, and inspire people. So long as there’s a mix of local and not local, I’m ok with it. Especially as we have local festivals that a few of the bands play at anyway). That’s not a criticism of local bands either, if that’s triggered a wee paranoia trip, I’m just saying that Inverness doesn’t need to get all BREXIT about foreigners coming in and eating our fish.

Regardless of all that, here’s some actual coverage.

I didn’t get to the non-music seminars and networking events this year, as I’ve got a day (and night!) job that’s not that, but Cornwallace wrote a little bit on some of the publishing side of things.

What I did get to mostly, was Wednesday, and the very tail end of Thursday. So, let’s talk about that.

Wednesday

The starting point for myself and Fremsley was the Tooth and Claw. I’d fancied going to see Hamish Hawk in Pentahotel. I’d seen him a couple years back with King Creosote, but hadn’t been able to give it my full attention due to some annoying and distracting chatter. You know when people go to a gig, and don’t actually care about the gig, then spend the whole time trying to make it about them. That.

Timing wise it wasn’t viable though, so I had a catch up drink, as Elizabeth Elektra played above our head. We didn’t get to hear her fully, but it seemed quite Kate Bush esq. The brief bits we caught of the white wig and floaty dress donning avant-garde pop were pretty good, but it was brief. (Oi, hold on, what are ye, the Daily Mail – don’t just write about what the artist was wearing!) But genuinely, we only caught a glimpse, but it sounded alright.

Echo Machine were also recommended, a new-wave synth pop band from Dundee, as were Pure Grief – as a bit of pop punk. I didn’t make it to either. Coming off a nine-day work stretch, directly into Xpo meant I was a bit fucked like. But I’ve linked to those I coulda-shoulda-woulda been to by means of acknowledgement and apology.

Get on with it!

The first proper band I saw was Lunir, at Madhatter’s.

Like a fair few of the talent on show, this was their first time in Inverness. The two piece had the venue giving an intimate feel from the start. They had a small keyboard each, and a mic each. The member that wasn’t the lead singer also had an array of effects, and a fairly minimal percussion set-up.

Lunir had a R&B/Soul vibe at the start. The lead’s voice was smooth and strong. Sometimes vocals are vocals, and sometimes they’re so on point in terms of refinement, they’re like an instrument. In this case they were like an instrument. The drummer’s backing vocals gelled into this fantastically.

There was a hint of jazz creeping in to. When we get to the second song and a rain stick is whapped out by the lead. This was their new single – best way I can describe it is if you were to have Beyoncé working with Lemon Jelly.

Their music was uplifting and wholesome, with a beautify structured drum solo intertwined. They seemed happy to be there cheery as fuck, which as a pundit, helps me be cheery as fuck. At one point we were introduced to a tiny mustard-yellow guitar. Played high up on the diaphragm like George Formby, it was contrasting to the song. The music took me on a journey with set the set list. Each song flows from previous one, complemented the last and evolved the set throughout. It was a musically unexpected but welcome (proper) start to XpoNorth for me.

Next up, was the mammoth journey downstairs to Hootenanny. To see Quiche. Two bands playing in such close proximity was handier than a teenager with a purity ring trying ecstasy for the first time.

I’d added Quiche to my list of bands to see based on the name. Generally, this is a terrible thing to do, as ‘zany’ names can be used as a way to pull people in to see them. See “Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head” as an example.

But Quiche, Quiche has a reputation for being a bland food. I actually like Quiche Lorraine. Lorraine Kelly is annoying, Quiche has a reputation for not being great, yet merge the two and you get something palatable. Perhaps Quiche the band were going to defy the odds too?

Hoots was reasonably full, not heaving, but busy. First thing I clocked beyond that was that there’s a guy that looks like Gary glitter, or that weird Inverness bloke with the long nails that does all that odd dance stuff with young females. (Roddy, Rodney?) That’s unrelated to the band in question though.

Quiche played with vocals and guitar style from the 1960s fused with 90’s/00’s. I didn’t meld into their music massively, but they were decent. My mind did wander a bit whilst listening to them – there was a point I thought the vocalist sounded a bit like Kermit the Frog. In fairness though, they sounded a bit like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, or some of the more experimental Super Furry Animal’s stuff. Need to clarify if they’re Welsh or have just been hoofing aerosols to Peanut Dispenser in their yoof.

I didn’t mind them, but I think, with the style of music they were playing, they could have done with a bit more stage presence.

There were a few bands playing at the same time, so a hasty migration over to see False Friends at The Phoenix was implemented.

Not to be confused with Best Fwends, which I unrealistically was associating the band with, and probably to the detriment of me, but to the relief of everyone else, False Friends are not Best Fwends. Am I going deep and all that?

I got in during their set, and my immediate note was that they had a plastic cowbell. I like these. They have musical merit. They do.

They were the best band of the night for me. The Northern Irish band were happier than a nun stumbling over lovehoney.co.uk and I was immediately warmed to their announcement that they tend to play stuff live that you wouldn’t find as part of their online repertoire. They define it as career suicide, but it’s a good angle, and the choice struck a chord with me. This is me who was petitioning to call a band I was in “Various Artists” so take my insight with a pinch of salt.

They would have fit really well into Raigmore motel gigs of old. There was nice grimy keyboard, intertwined with an indy/rock feel. They were upbeat, well-polished and I liked them. There was a consensus around various people that had amalgamated into the Phoenix that they were one of the highlights of the Wednesday night. Two folks suggested they were a Christian rock band, based on their outfits being on the wrong side of the colour chart, and being ‘too clean cut’. I’m fairly sure both commentators were wearing all black, which is equally relevant. False Friends could more than hold their own on a main stage at a sizeable festival, with a fine range of songs. They do seem like a group that would be presentable on the telly, if that’s what was being alluded to by ‘too clean’, but better that than being shite, and alternative for the sake of image.

I went over to see Pure Grief in the Market Bar next, but it was packed tighter than the pursed lips of an Instagram influencer posting duckface, so I didn’t. My attention was pulled away from Xpo after that, so pure grief was the last note of the evening.

Thursday

I finished work well after the festivities had started, and only really caught Ghøstwriter. I dunno what the Ø is in reference to, but in electronics it’s the number of phases in a circuit. (Hold down Alt then press 0216 in the keyboard if you’re typing it.) When Prince became TAFKIP that must have been a pain in the tits – there’s not even an alt code for that nonsense.

Ghøstwriter at The Phoenix were the best thing I saw at XpoNorth. Having not been able to make it to Solareye, but having told everyone I knew to go, I was happy to still get a satisfying gig to see.

After the initial acceptance that it wasn’t Matt Berry fronting the band but a doppelganger, all disappointment was washed away. They were diverse, atmospheric, and full of energy. The band was bouncing and it made the evening feel like Thursday would have been the night to be out. I was shattered though. If you think that this writeup is a bit lacking in content, it’s a fair shout – I had to switch notebooks for Thursday and it’s gone AWOL.

I thought it was worth mentioning them though, even without notes, they were phenomenal. Also, there were some grand photos, I’d go see them again without a second thought, though better prepared than straight out of whatever hell of a day I had that I won’t bore you with. Chips N Gravy will tell you all about them though, and we’ll link it up here when it’s on the interwebs.

I finished up with heading to the Tooth and Claw, downstairs. They were holding their own non-XPO open mic night, which brought in good craic and kept it all going.

A final note on the venues, specifically at XpoNorth time

The Market Bar – it’s a great venue for music, in that it’s full of energy and the pine clad walls makes the sound bounce around like nobody’s business it a hotbox for atmosphere, but you need to get in well in advance of the bands you’re going to see, standing room only doesn’t really do it justice in terms of how intimate it can get. Upstairs for the tunes, downstairs for a bit of respite and patter. Prices are reasonable as well for lubrication.

Hootenanny – You’ll generally get more of the trad stuff down here. There’re tables everywhere and a little bit of dancing area, it’s more of a musical restaurant than a bar with food these days, but grand enough, and if you’re needing a seat it’s your best bet. It’s by far from the cheapest watering hole though, and even soft drinks cost a fair few quid.

Madhatter’s – The upstairs for Hootenanny – More of a mixed bag, you’ll get all sorts of music in here, from hip-hop, rap, rock, blues, rockabilly, funk, and world, with splattering’s of everything else too. It’s plastic glasses upstairs, and glass receptacles downstairs, which should help with understanding the difference too. You’ll always get a dance up there.

The Phoenix – This place is pretty decent for the midweek festival, the stage set-up is pretty decent, prices are sensible and it’s the most balanced of the venues in terms of crowd. Never any trouble, comfortable as fuck, and unpretentious.

Pentahotel – It’s a hotel common area in an urban area, so can get a bit crowded, but it’s an alright setup – the bands tend to be lighter here, you won’t get a dance or mosh area. Prices aren’t immensely pocket friendly, but it’s a hotel bar, so you at least know that going in. (Gestures at hoots)

The Tooth & Claw – This is the hive for punk, rock, metal and comradery. It’s packed during XpoNorth and this time had music upstairs as well as doing its own off-programme musical thing downstairs. Prices are on par with the Market mostly.

Ironworks – First of all, prices are decent, and greatly improved on the past. This is the purpose-built venue for music, and the biggest capacity. Having said that, it’s also (personally) one of the least atmospheric of the places, when it’s quiet. I think that goes with the territory though, more suited to big events that it’s going to fill, it can be left wanting for ‘buzz’ if it’s not packed. You’ll not get a seat at this. If the crowd is right, and the band is right, it can be great, but the atmosphere is brought into it by the people.

MacGregors – Didn’t do Xpo this year, which is a shame, because they were one of the better venues last year – the mix of electronic music and more left field stuff, tied with the building’s styling/atmosphere was one of the highlights. Artisan beverages are reflected by the prices.

Mercure Hotel – Don’t get me wrong, I like this place for some things, they do a heap of charity hosting, and it’s great and all, but fuck me, I’m glad they weren’t part of Xpo this year. They do it upstairs, the sound quality and setup of the area was abysmal, and to make up for that with alcohol or even just refreshments is not a viable option due to the cost. A welcome exclusion, sorry guys.

 


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Robin Abbot – 21/07/2018 – Ironworks Inverness pt 3

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Hi, hello, hi. It’s me – Chips and Gravy, ready to blow your tits off with some more dazzling witticisms and scathing self-deprecation. Strap in kids, it’s going to be a mediocre ride.

Picture it: Saturday night in Inverness. The weather is miserable, the local lads don their finest tracksuits, and the pavement is a measly two inches deep with seagull shite. Not a bad night for this place I must say. Time for a journey into the city’s answer to Wembley Stadium: the Ironworks.

Pesky seagulls everywhere

 

I quickly realised the venue’s Groundhog Day-like properties (it hasn’t been painted since my last visit… in 2007) but hey, it’s not raining in here. Time for a pint. JOKE! After my last venture into the wild; I’ve signed off the booze for a while. There are only so many times I can enjoy getting lifted, and I doubt the coppers enjoy lifting me either. I’m a large unit, so I’m told.

Ian’s atmospheric set complimented by a spooky blue stage

ANYWAY, lets get to the point, shall we? A pint of coke (diet, although I’m fairly certain another flavour [edited – now now!] was present among other circles in attendance) and it’s time to enjoy me some fine tunes. Sadly, I arrived late and missed the majority of the first support act, Iain Mclaughlin’s set. What I did see was mind-bendy and brilliant. Somehow one man managed to sound like an entire symphony; loop pedal after loop pedal filled the room with eerie guitar, slow beats and utterly haunting vocals. I’m still gutted to have missed the rest of the set, this dude was shit hot (sorry, I’ve used my adjective allowance for the day, humour me).

A short break interspersed with cigarettes and seagull sightings was followed by Dr Wook’s short but perfectly formed set. An amalgamation of folk, country and acoustic rock shouldn’t have the power to fill a room but alas, fill the room it did. And well, I’d say. Admittedly I didn’t pay as much attention to the music as I did my professional as fuck photography equipment (iPhone 7, bitchessss). I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I remember telling my partner I would buy his CD if I didn’t have more debt than the Eurozone.

More cigarettes, more seagulls and more distasteful cawing from the aforementioned flying fuckers almost led me astray but thankfully Robin Abbot, the man we’d all been waiting for, was about to begin. I’ve seen Robin play the Market Bar more times than I’d like to remember, however this was different. Everyone (including me, wow-fucking-wee) was there to see a local legend realise his dream and finally release his own music into the grabby claws of the general public. Speaking of which, each person was given a copy of his EP “If Not Now?” upon entry to the venue. This gig was so good that I’ve actually listened to it rather than chuck it into the ever-growing pile of discarded Kerrang! freebies and software installation discs from days gone by. This EP deserves more than life as an ash and alcohol-stained, fag-burnt coaster.

I realise I should talk about the set, the setlist and the general atmosphere, however Cornwallace and Woolly Dermal have thankfully beaten me to it. I can say that despite the infestation of sky-vermin, (very) questionable dancing and lack of alcohol, the evening was fantastic. Robin’s songs were full of emotion and sincerity, made even more poignant by the many friends called up from the audience to play with him. I hope one day to be sociable to a point where my friends would even consider being seen out with me, never mind turn up and play at my gigs. Who am I kidding? I have no friends (except beer, and he’s dead now).

I know I’ll see Robin play again (and probably again and again and again) but this was a very special night. And I didn’t even get shat on – not by anyone who matters, anyway. 11/10 would see again.

Part 1

Robin Abbot – Ironworks – 21/07/18 part-1

Part 2

Robin Abbot – Ironworks – 21/07/2018 part 2

Robin Abbot – Ironworks – 21/07/2018 part 2

Reading Time: 10 minutes

 “If Not Now?” EP Launch event – Robin Abbot with Charlie’s Ranch

The Reader and the Storyteller

Robin Abbot. What can you say about him? As part of the cluster of TheNettle.scot writers that were present at this venue, Cornwallace has already covered a review of his gig, which you can get to by clicking the link at the foot of the page. This review was written – in part at least – before reading it, so it’s possible that there may be a bit of cross over in the content. 

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Myself and Cornwallace had reviewed the shambolic Day of the Dead festival event together previously, way back in November last year. So the idea of a few individually subjective; but hopefully interesting enough to read as standalone reviews is not a new one on our part.

The established Inverness Gigs site were hosting their own event at the Highland Games, so we figured they had that covered, letting us get on with this one.

For me, knowing I’d have a review of this gig coming, the latter half of the day was writing up the previous night’s events – Hamish MacDonald, and Victoria McNulty, in time to publish prior to heading out for a run round the Ness Islands, and some pre-gig grub. 

I like to shout out good places to eat, and La Tortilla is no exception. Given that – for me – going for a run isn’t as fluid an event as I’d like it to be. (see the 90’s Reebok advert “Belly’s gonna get ya” (!) I went for something healthy after that.

Historically I’d like a nice wine or sangria there, but today was a coca-cola, and veggie Salamanca Paella day. (Alright, fizz isn’t good for you, but it was nice and cold). Anyway, this isn’t an inane Facebook post with pictures of dinner, but I thought it worth mentioning that the chow was good.

Thankfully for my stupid body, there was a light drizzle by the point it was time to head down the hill to the Ironworks

The legacy

As with many of the good folk of the town city of Inverness, especially those that frequent the Market Bar, I’m well used to seeing Robin perform. You can catch him most nights in there, Thursdays on with Punching Elvis, Mondays as himself, and dotted about on other days either with Dorac-a-Belle or the Mystic Shoes, depending on the week. He plays other places too, I’ve vague memories of either Mystic Shoes or Stetsonhead playing at a work Christmas party several years back too. Needless to say he’s a busy, versatile and adaptable fella. He’s got a well renowned legacy with several of Inverness’s key bands and musicians from over the last 20 plus years.

Actually, on that, he’s not only a versatile one, he is an inspiring one too. His songs are heartfelt, emotive and his lyrics are relatable. Many a night in far darker times was I a bit lost, and popped along to the HQ to find his mix of soulful singing and generally warm character having lifted my spirits. Gradually I came out of the dark place, and I don’t think it’s insincere to say that the regular, and out-and-out good music he produced helped.

I’ve actually wanted to review Robin for a long time, and have had a few false starts – I think once you become familiar with a selection of songs from a performer you see regularly it makes it harder to write about it.  That’s how I was finding it anyway – so I was getting to the point I thought it wouldn’t be viable to write one up.

I was delighted to see that he was launching his own EP, and jumped at the chance to see him. As an added bonus about a third of TheNettle.scot were also keen to witness the gig. If Not Now?” seemed apt in a number of ways.

IF NOT NOW EP, artwork by Moa Holmgren

 

Gig time!

The first bonus on arriving at the Ironworks was the free five track EP,  a cracking gesture, especially given that the gig itself was only a tenner. It was a well packaged one too, with a significant and nice dedication on the sleeve, especially fitting given the emotive and impassioned nature of the works within.

It was a bit after eight when we got there, to find the first of two support acts, and proprietor of IMOUT Records Ian McLaughlin having opened his set.

I grabbed a glass of coke for myself and meandered up to the standing area.

Iain Mclaughlin accompanied by guitar and the sound of his own voice on a loop track.

Ian’s was an atmospheric composition of layered loops of his own guitar, that he build up throughout the piece. Showing off his vocal range and skill he performed well – doing both his own harmonising and singing, again with the use of a loop pedal. I’ve seen him before and was pleasantly surprised then, as I was now. His music was dramatically different to last time, and on this particular day I’d describe him as Inverness’ answer to a cuddly Trent Reznor. That’s meant as a compliment by the way. With the almost choral feel of the soundscape, it gave depth to the Ironworks venue. 

Dr Wook

Once Ian closed, there was a brief interval before Dr. Wook took to the stage.

He had an almost one man band set up around his feet, the drum of which was noteably colourfuly decorated. This set initially manifested as a forlorn folky affair with a song “Need more time to find more time”, or at least that was one of the lines.  Potentially. We need to spend more time, to pay more attention to the lines.

At this point I was still taking in the guitar, I liked the fact it was missing a scratchplate, although you can’t see that in the picture below, it looked like a well broken-in instrument. Hence the lack of track name attentiveness. That’s my excuse anyway!

Songs such as “Reilly”, and “Don’t think” followed thereafter.

Lyrics such as “You said things are built to last, well you can blow that out your ass” sung with a good folk voice akin to the auditory equivalent of caramel.

The set got faster and harder as it went on -with the last song that, I particularly liked. “Not for me” – which we’ll publish a video of on TheNettle.scot Facebook page in the next few days.

Lyrics “Spare me your redemption, spare me your lies. I can’t stand it when you’re running around; with another disguise” were delivered with zeal.

Dr. Wook with a wee tune.

The set closed to a fair whack of appreciation from the growing audience. Time for another cola, and a cancer stick before Mr. Robin Abbot was to appear. (don’t smoke kids, it’s not good for you). The remaining market bar faithful floated and swished into the venue for the headline act.

The main man

Robin appeared on stage by himself with his guitar, with great humility; thanked us all for appearing and opened with one of his classic tracks. “I like to Lie” I knew so well from other shows, known to me so well could pretty much recite it word for word.

“I was lost, and you were too,

and you can say we were just to young, but that’s just not true.

Struck dumb,but you stayed smart, but we fell into each others arms, the night before we fell apart.

We got down, we got high.

I’d like to say that we were in love, but then again I like to lie.”

It’s always been his own songs that stood out for me, and this was a nice familiar and soft start to the show.

Robin takes to the stage for the opening song.

The reception from the already lascivious fans spilled in with perfect time, before Robin swapped the guitar for the bass, and his band made the way onto the stage to join him.

As a solo performer I’m used to Robin’s work being slow and impassioned,  in a hauntingly beautiful way – but the burst of energy from this number was ska-punky and reminded me of a more youthful era. It was a welcome addition to the night, and incited wolf whistles galore from the adorning audience.

The next song, “The one the world forgot” was of a similar vibe to the previous song – with the punk element turned up a notch. It was announced as the song that had “a kind of vibe”, but the specifics weren’t mentioned.  In all honestly It felt a bit detached from Robin’s previous work, and I found the lyrics a bit dark. Talk of opening up veins, suicidal thoughts and silent screams didn’t fit with the music, didn’t seem to suit my experience/interpretation of Robin, and it was the only song that didn’t seem to fit well into the sincerity of the set.  It was maybe one for the younger minded in the audience, but not my cup of tea.

Back to form, the track that followed had the crowd bopping away, including Derek on the guitar feeling the effervescence  of the track whilst simultaneously pushing it out – folks, we might have found the elusive solution to the perpetual energy problem. The positivity eking out of this one came from both the arrangement, and the lyrics;

 “We could both tell different stories; that is in the past, I don’t want to be your first I only want to be your last”

Robin followed up with a track from his newly launched EP, and flagged that, on the EP itself, the cello track is played by Imke Henderson, but in the rush to production the crediting was missed. A wee apology and nod to Imke.

The song itself “Die for you” reminded me a bit of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” in terms of the initial melody. It was obviously a big and important part of Robin’s story and personal journey – which was plain to see. His delivery and conviction to the song was almost overwhelming. Robin is a credit and inspiration to those he encounters, and lyrics like this show how much this whole process meant to him. Where Robin is now, on stage, with a loyal and ever expanding following, give a message to those who have gone through difficult times, and kept pushing through. Don’t give up.

The Mystic Shoes

Following this, Robin brought on Dickie Bills on the cajon, and Derek Urquhart on the sexy red telecaster to make up the line up of the Mystic Shoes, with a glowing introduction to each member. They played a cover of Gillian Welsh’s “Back in Time”. Where you can see some of Robin’s musical influence may come from.

Bills departed the stage and James Harvey, whom the man of the moment described as the well revered “grandfather of the local music scene” to perform one of the many highlights of the night a rock number which I regrettably missed the name of. Clever lyrics which I recall were “I’m a war-torn soldier, not your white knight”  – The song may have been called the “The wrong Mr. Right.” – one wee niggle with Mr. Abbot is that he doesn’t introduce a lot of his songs by name. It seemed like a newer one though, I’d not heard it before that I recalled. I’d’ve stuck it on the EP, but there are perhaps plans for it further down the line.

She Once Cared

Liza Mullholand of Dorac-a-Belle entered the fray for another track from the EP, “She Once Cared“. Again, Robin’s lyrics are stirring, sometimes very melancholic, but put across in a way that you feel the music as well as hear it. It’s safe to say he’s got an impressive reserve of songs, and this EP is only the tip of the iceberg for those that haven’t heard him. There was a Pink Floyd feel to the almost score like support of the other band members.

Back to bass for Robin with “The Girl That Was Her” followed by a song dedicated to another sadly departed local legend Billy Morrison – a gent that is fondly remembered by nigh on all that encountered him. Citing him as his inspiration and the reason he was standing on the stage today, the song featuring the lines “face of sixty summers, looking back at me”. It’s hard to see how Billy couldn’t have been an inspiration to local musicians all around the town.

For nostalgia purposes, here’s a wee vid of Robin and Billy playing together back in the day.

The set finished up with the brilliant “Rock N’ Roll” which set the crowd into the final stage of elation, and a rush to the front for some. With Robin himself shoulder bopping, and doing what he loves, you can see the music, writing and creativity is monumentally important for him and, by proxy those around him. Robin is a musician  with a warmth, maturity and fervor that drives him forward, and can’t help but infect those lucky enough to be around him.

 

A rocking close to the gig!
Robin on the bass guitar, one of many instruments within his remit.

I’d recommend taking some time out to see Robin if you can, it’s worth your time. For the songs he performed tonight, and his other pieces that either didn’t fit, or there wasn’t space to cram into the night. His heart and soul are in this release, and you can practically feel it.  If we get a link to his EP for sale, we’ll happily post it up here.

After the close, we trundled off to HQ for a final couple beverages.  Some of the fans who ventured in had switched to coke, perhaps to allow preparation for an extended party and celebration ahead. We were off the cola, and onto a nightcap each, then off to bed!

 

 

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For Cornwallace’s review and take, have a peek here:

Robin Abbot – Ironworks – 21/07/18 part-1

Robin Abbot – Ironworks – 21/07/18 part-1

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Perseverance, with a touch of panache, personified: What happens when you don’t give up”

Robin Abbott and [Lots of Friends] – Ironworks, Saturday 21st July, by Cornwallace

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Intro:

Saturday night at the Ironworks, the headliner being Robin Abbott.  Known to so many throughout Inverness he hardly needs my introduction, but sure that TheNettle.scot will cover some of this stuff in another review, being that Chips & Gravy and Woolly Dermal were both there also.  Hopefully one of them will provide things like ‘background,’ or ‘detail,’ or even ‘facts.’  Things like band members’ names, or song names, etc. 

I didn’t see the lead up acts either.  Not a good start to a review, putting it like that.  However, I wanted to write this anyway, as there is something I wanted to say about this. 

The short version is that it was a good night out.  The longer version is below.

The night variously had 1, 2, 3 or 4 people on stage at any given time. Please note both the various line-ups and instruments being played in the photos dispersed throughout below.

Main bit:

I had seen Robin Abbot perform a number of times in the Market Bar, in any number of variations and incantations of acts.  What I was looking forward to out of this night was to see him doing his own stuff.  What much of the crowd was there to see was someone they knew was good at what they did, and they wanted to see him, after years of not getting to this stage, succeed.

Fan at the front rocking it ‘til the end.  Anonymous here in the picture, but got the feeling they weren’t very anonymous to very many people in the crowd…

If I’m right, and I’m pretty sure that this is one time I can say I am, Robin has been knocking around the Inverness music scene for the better part of 25-odd years, but this is the first time he has brought an album out.  This itself is indicated by the album title ‘If not now?’

Actually, as a quick aside on that, the first 100-odd people got a free CD of the album as a part of the ticket price.  I was pretty chuffed about that, thought it was a classy and generous thing to do.  Actually, come to think of it, generous is an accurate word to describe the feeling for the night.  It was people willing him to succeed, and him doing so.  I am just over 24 hours away from the experience now, and think that this resounds as correct.  The place, and the night, had heart.

You know what it feels like to see someone do something that they believe in.  This was that. 

This night very obviously meant a lot to Robin, and he got a lot of support for it.  He got a raft of musical support on stage, and a ton of it from the parochial crowd.  The Ironworks can be a great venue, but it also risks being a big barn of a place where you can rattle around in.  The place was somewhere over half full in terms of capacity, but the feeling of the room was more than that.  I realised that this was the first time I had seen him not on that tiniest of tiny stage at the Market.  He had a lot of stage to fill at the Ironworks, and it felt natural that he was up there filling it.  Intimate, but at scale.

                              

These 2 photos fit within well-worked moment of build-up in the set, where it went from solo, to 3 on stage, to different 3 on stage, to 4 coming together to build up the set and the night.

 

Under such conditions of support, one can always look back reflectively and throw out a sweeping statement such as ‘the night was always going to work under such conditions…’ Yet there would have been stress, and a lot of meaning, and risk and fear regarding finally putting his own stuff out.  Finally trying out his own voice, so to speak, at that level, in his own way, with his own material. 

And please realise that this next thought – this is not being emotional, not me being caught up in the moment, or angling to push someone forward.  Beyond all of the story behind it – the journey, the time, the wondering if it was ever going to happen.  Beyond all that, cutting to the actual music, he was good on his own merit.  The songs stood up.  The night and the entertainment factors stood up as well. 

There was one song where I was thinking of the upmost need to send this to my brother, as the sentiment would resonate with him.  There were others that were optimistic, or downhearted, talking of the inevitable scar tissue coming from negotiating the potential of love with another.

Full band sound, full support on display.

The songs had heart.  They were good, they are ones I want to listen to more, for the music, but I also want to listen more closely to the lyrics as well.  I came in with curiosity, and went out with a desire to listen again, listen more, listen more closely. 

I said above that despite the lack of details provided in this review, I wanted to say something.  I think that this is it. 
I went in out of curiosity.  Because of the night and what it was and what it meant, I could have gone away with the entertainment of a story about a dream, and being there the moment a stage of that dream was fulfilled.  And I did, for sure (and with a CD!), and this was seriously an amazing feel throughout the gig.  But over and above that, I left wanting to hear the music again, to listen to it more, and share it with loved ones with whom I have talked about topics of resonance and care and meaning.

It was a good show, with good music, by a good musician – and a lot of support by those that already knew that.  You will have the chance to see him, come what may.  But for mine, I hope that his own stuff, in his own way like this, is something that we get to see more of.

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Day of the Dead – the Ironworks – 24/11/17 – POV2

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Dead deserve better – What could have been at Dia Del Los Muertos

Inverness, Ironworks, 24th November, 2017

 

What a shame.  What a God damn fuckin’ shame.  What this night could have been is anyone’s guess.  What it ended up as is somewhere neatly and comfortably within the imagination of… –fuck, I’m genuinely trying to think.  Well, for sake of argument, let’s say the imagination of whoever is booking the music for Johnny Foxes – if you’re outside of Inverness, take this as a template for the local standard ‘Plastic Paddy Pub with a little local angle’ bar.  Safe to say a reasonably shitty pub where you are sometimes, despite promises to yourself, lulled to.  A pub that trades in a safe ‘we’ll get numbers through the door’ kinda way.  For this night in Ironworks, add into that person’s imagination a ‘we’ve got a kooky little angle going on’ kinda feel.

Not to say that this could not have been something different.  Hand to heart, it had the potential to be so.  Not just potential.  For fuck sake, it should have had a good hard look in the mirror and seen what it both could – and by rights should – have been for the night. 

As a matter of hanging my mast to the wall, so to speak, I’m going to give you a feel of what I was hoping for – what I think could have been.  In terms of bands I’ve seen live – if I’m gonna put it out there – it would be something along the lines of this, or this.  Or this.  Or so many other options…  Which is to say that it’s a doable thing.  I have displayed reasonably specific tastes and biases here, I know.  In the end though, I would have settled for something – anything – in terms of the music, which was vaguely Day of the Dead’ish.  In any way that anyone could connect the as belonging to the theme.  Make it dark, or at a pinch, even a slight bit Hispanic.  Let your imagination go in a way that the organisers didn’t.

Which is in itself part of the point I’m trying to make.  There’s anything and anywhere that this night could have potentially stretched out to.  Instead it was within the realms of some bastard signed up for a theme night at Johnny Foxes and playing it within the acceptable margins.

It didn’t need to be this way.  It didn’t start out this way.  Upon entering, the thoughts and feeling were so much more positive.  I entered in to find the music catching the ear as a positive.  The looping, bounding energy of a pan pipe driven dance music surge, compelling me out into the fray, weaving in and among the crowd, a crowd who had come to party.  Who came to give a shit, in a way that the paid up entertainment couldn’t live up to.  But for all this talk of disappointment, to start with I walked in with hope and a smile.  I walked in to the tones and beats of pan-pipe driven techno dance, and people moving to it.  I thought that the night was but young and that there were corners and shenanigans to explore in the open barn that is the Ironworks.  I came front and centre, drawn by the luminosity contained within an array of blow up dia del los muertos heads, 4-5 feet tall, glowing and stretched across the stage.  There was the dj giving this interesting tease of music, and a hula hoop artist on stage, looking part Wonder Woman, part Alice Cooper, and part hula hoop, such was their stylised affinity to the spinning sensation they were creating around them – soon to be spinning fire.  Immediately I warmed to the moment at hand, and felt that warm buzzing sense of realisation that only half of the entertainment that was to be had was on stage, as the themed up and caring ‘let’s float this thing’ crowd gave as good, and ultimately more, than what they got.

 

The feeling that the entertainment was to be had as much through the crowd as on the stage was, in essence, half right.  For the best and the worst of the extremes of the night were to be had on stage, with the rest of one’s ‘fill’ of entertainment to be had of the crowd, a good deal of which put in an effort to be proud of, and one which genuinely lifted the night.

                           

And from all of the above, all of the potential, all of the good and all of the fun that I did have – let’s not be uncharitable here – inevitably sat in the mind alongside and rubbing negatively in a ‘my brain is being dragged arse-end backwards like some bastard rubbing it across mid-grain sandpaper’/ ‘I’m really not having the good time I was promised’ pain emanating from the night and the music.  Which in the end is the essence of it all.  There was a sold out crowd, dressed up for the moment, willing it into action.  It was something that the crowd was quintessentially ‘up’ for. 

There were the fire-twirlers on stage.  The hula-hoopers.  The skills shown from the burlesque draped performer suspended above stage on a wooden hula hoop size ring.  When I said the best of the night was on stage, this is true, these people were it, and it was genuinely a spectacle. 

There was fire-breathing.  There was dancing.  There was mood.  There was style.  There was so much fucking potential to the night that you wouldn’t want to try to count it.  But in the end it was all let down by the dj.  Not to disparage the dj – he did what he was asked to do I’m sure.  I can see someone look him in the eye and saying: “we want you to invoke some shit, lame-arsed middle of the road safety feel to our Day of the Dead party’.  To harp on in a ‘you can tell I’m not really a full-blooded fan of the place’ type analogy, imagine if Johnny Foxes could be arsed to attempt such an event – think of the sort of thing that would satisfy the need for a fair bit of money folding over the bar, and a bit of dancing.  If the dj had that remit, if they were told “Do that!”, then they fulfilled the remit beautifully.  If they were asked to inspire some feel and drive and people walking out with thoughts along the lines of “Wow! – they nailed this whole Dia de los Muertos’ thing”, they fucked up.  Bad.

It was so fucking disappointing.  Again, if I was in Foxes, I’d see where they were coming from, and to be fair, in that context I’d probably be quite impressed with how they handled themselves.  Being though that it was billed as something better, something fundamentally ‘more’ than this musically safe, by the book pap that my intrigue with the original pan pipe techno fusion that I walked into soon turned into, all I can say is ‘what a fucking shame’.

I can’t say I didn’t have a good time.  I can’t say that the populace of Inverness didn’t come out to play.  They did their bit, in no uncertain terms.  What I am saying is that there was a big, sweet, wide-open goal, and they fucked it.  They sprayed it wide by playing it safe and lame with the music.  As much as I was wanting to feel the dark and the intrigue and the drive and the pulse of the half-beating heart of the day of the dead, this was a wasted opportunity.  The crowd were up for something.  The dancers were.  The fire-breathers were.  All that had to happen is someone had to give the dj some sort of free reign to not play it safe with some sort of Johnny Foxes lame-arsed shit.  It saddened me.  But this is, from what I’m led to understand, Inverness’s first crack at such a night.  The crowd showed themselves willing to see where such potential could take them.  Let’s hope next year the organisers give the Dead the same level of respect. 

~ Cornwallace

For the other nettle review of the event,  see here

 

Day of the Dead – the Ironworks – 24/11/17 – POV1

Reading Time: 9 minutes
 
It was an icy night. On another night I may have walked down some steps, slipped, broken my back or cracked the back of my head on some concrete, and missed the Day of the Dead Spectacle that occurred in the Ironworks Venue on Friday. I didn’t fall though. If I had, fate had it covered, another fella has also reviewed DoTD having attended it in an entirely unrelated capacity to myself.
This gives us two separate independent reviews of the night from two different perspectives. We want more of this going forward, as person 1 reviewing may have an entirely different night and experience from person 2, so it’s good to have two stories. The other one is here
 
I stopped in at the market bar prior to hitting the Ironworks, where I was kindly greeted with a beverage waiting for me. Had a good couple blethers with good couple of friends there over a number of subjects, plans, ideas, the future, nonsense, the rat race, and the fantastic and meticulously arranged fairy lights that were all over the bar and walls – although it is still bloody November. No sign of tinsel though, so in my book that’s acceptable.
 
MIR was to be playing at the Market, whom I quite fancied seeing, but I’d got free tickets to the Ironworks thing, and as it was sold out, and was potentially a one off, it would have been rude not to go
 
Not really knowing what I was going to be faced with for the Day of the Dead event, anyone popping in was a potential candidate as a performer, having just chosen the market as a pre-event drink location. A lass came into the bar, took her trousers off to reveal stripy stockings/tights – was she to be an acrobat in the event I was going to see? 
Was the Jeremy Corbyn doppelganger in the corner going to be part of the live act. Wait, he’s putting on a leather flat cap and leather or PVC jacket – is he a BDSM Jeremy Corbyn special guest. Was he going to be in a cage with an angle-grinder on his crotch?
 
For context, here’s the promotional video that the organizers had circulating.
 
 
So a gimped up public figure wasn’t impossible.
 
At this point I was a bit concerned, my usual method for taking notes for events is an electronic notepad type affair, and it was very much not charged, so all my writing was being done on a couple sheets of A4 paper, all over the place looking like a tribute to a spider trailing congealed blood out of three of it’s eight legs. 
The paper was folded too so all notes were like old (bad) university notes, the fear of it looking like incoherent ramblings with no context at the end of the night was real. I’m bad for not using the lines. But the review is here, so it must’ve turned out ok.
 
Trundling off down Church Street, then through Academy Street, I made my way to the Ironworks. There were plenty of folk dressed up in the spirit of the whole affair, similar to the Colonel Mustard event, where there were banana’s everywhere.
 
It had crossed my mind that DOTD had a similar trait to some of the other UK wide events floating about on facebook, which gave me some concerns. Occasions where events have been advertised over a bunch of locations around the UK, then the actual venues have been retrospectively added.
 
There was an Octoberfest beer festival that was meant to be held in the Ironworks, but got canceled, either due to poor ticket sales, or due to the fact a few photos had been circulating from the first couple attempts at it being hosted. That event was advertised as a Hanoverian extravaganza, with high spirits, fine beers in litre glasses and traditional dress. 
 
In Leeds for example, it looked nothing like as was originally advertised, and more resembled the 1980’s fairy washing up adverts with a long row of cloth covered tables, with a few depressed people at the foot of the table sharing a ‘world beers’ Christmas multipack.
 
I was concerned that DOTD was going to be a similar washout.
There’s another couple events coming up in the same vein – RIO themed party event, and a Balls and Prosecco night (that could be one of two very different type of events, I’m guessing it’s the tamer of the two possibilities).
.These concern the old cynical wench that I am. But DOTD wasn’t cancelled, it sold out, and was happening, so here we go. 
 

This is word for word how the event was advertised, so fairly easy to compare what’s promised with what happened. I’ve emboldened what was said to be offered:
 
Day of the Dead comes to Inverness
🎉 Europe’s largest confetti cannons 🎉
💀 Skull face painting 💀
🕺 World renowned circus acrobats 🕺
🔥 Stage flames & fire breathing show performers 🔥
It’s time for Dia De Muertos – Day of the Dead! In the last few years, Day of the Dead has exploded in popularity and this year we’ve decided to go MASSIVE. Think carnival atmosphere, candy skulls all over the place, and real Latin American flair!
We’ve gone all out on providing an authentic Dia De Muertos experience for you: expect world-renowned aerial acrobats, theatrical circus performers, and professional Latin dancers performing throughout the night! 
Day of the Dead just wouldn’t be the same without great music, and we’repushing the boat out this year with live percussionist performances and a host of international DJs. Combined with Europe’s largest confetti cannons and CO2 guns, pyrotechnics and fire breathers, Day of the Dead is set to be the most insane spectacle of the year!
There will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with the Day of the Dead festivities – professional film makeup artists will be running a candy skull face painting station, and huge piñatas will be scattered around that will need teams of you to break open!
Make sure you don’t miss out on this year’s most spectacular event – Day of the Dead!
 
 
I got in in a timely manner, pretty much as doors opened, and it didn’t take too long to get in, everyone was of a cheery disposition, and my word, more people had gone to town on makeup and attire appropriate for the theme. Hats off to everyone. There was a giant maleficent on stilts, mingling with the crowd spilling through the door. In fairness, it was someone on stilts, they weren’t actually a giant, but you get the point. White contact lenses in too.
 
One of the first things I clocked as you came in was one of the advertised offerings, professional face painting. So I joined the queue, this was about 10pm, so the queue, spoke to a few folk in the queue, for a while.
Fast forward an hour and a half, and one of the two face painters was packing up to go home. I got to sit down at that point to get my stuff done. Wait, back up – AN HOUR AND A HALF! To queue for face paints. They could have done with two more artists here. Maths says if the queue grows for half an hour, then it takes an hour and a half to catch up with that, then you half the number of facepainters, there’s something bloody wrong.
 
The output in terms of quality from the painters was top notch though, they took their time, and were professional, but under-resourced. They could have done kid style quick facepaints, but that would have been dire. It would have cheapened the event and you’d’ve ended up with 400 spidermen wandering around.
 
The event was a sell out, Ironworks capacity standing is 1000 with the balcony open. It wasn’t so crude maths says, what 750 tickets sold. Two face painters is not enough.
 
So I missed an hour and a half of the show to allow for a fair review of the skull painting. I was with folk though, so they were able to fill me in for the bit of time out of the five hours I was there.
 

There was a recurring theme with the whole event in terms of what the organisers outlaid.
The promo video showed cages, circular saws leather and such like.
 
There were no cages, there was a scaffolding swing with a hoop attached to it. Periodically throughout the night it was used by one of the poor three performers, who covered the shared roles of circus performers, Latin dancers, and acrobats. There wasn’t often that the three of them were on stage together, the male of the group’s main forte was fire poi, and fire breathing  which he was very good at. The two girls did a mix of the rest.
 
The acrobatics, and circus performing was one and the same thing, swinging in the hoop, that kept looking like it was going to fall over, it reminded me of one of those 1970s/1980’s flatpack garden swings that you could get out of the Index/Argos catalogue or Littlewoods/Woolworths, but without the final steps of properly securing it to the stage. It may have been, but it was wobbly enough that your attention was drawn to it.
 

Pyrotechnics and fire breathers. Pyrotechnics implies to me, sparks and stuff coming off the stage, so it was just fire breathers. It’s like saying fire and breathers as an act. It was one and the same – furthermore, this could just have been put across as circus performers. But then, where were the clowns? (Joking, but you get the point)
 
This goes for the professional Latin dancers too, that was the same three poor people. Working time directive surely has an impact on the poor sods, one of the girls looked like she was questioning her life decisions, or dying of dehydration by half way through the night. 
 

Internationally renowned DJs – if they he was (again, it was one guy all night) then they kept his name a secret, and restricted his music choices to safe club music, rather than Mexican themed music. It was pleasant enough for the crowd, but with songs like “shout out to my ex” by Little Mix coming on, again it wasn’t really what was advertised. If he was technically ticking the international box, he may have been from outside of the UK, but he was far back, so it was hard to tell.

 

 

Piñatas, there were meant to be giant Piñatas – not a bunch of empty ones that you buy for £1.99 from Tesco (or Tescos, if you’re from Inverness – why people, why, there’s no S at the end!) We didn’t even get to destroy them, perhaps a health and safety issue for the venue, or perhaps a lack of confectionery  I did get a bag of Haribo sweets thrown at me later in the night though, so maybe that’s a technical win for the organisers. (Or just a big bag of nope!)
 
Percussionists, I’m just calling this out as bollocks. There were no percussionists. Confetti and CO2 cannons were also lacking, and the atmosphere was brought by the crowd, not the event. Though the event brought the crowd, so go figure.
 
There may have been confetti cannons in the last half hour (I left then, along with half the crowd, so it’s entirely possible they finished with a big bang), but you’d’ve expected them to present on the stage.
In fact. Lets think about this. Europe’s largest confetti cannon. I used the power of the internet, and found this. This is from Bestival, this year. Bestival is a festival in England, in the UK, in Europe. So if the venue organisers were true to their word, they had multiple cannons larger than the one in the video below.
They didn’t. That would have been in the venue and obvious. You’d still have cleaners cleaning up the confetti today.
 
 
So, from the point of view of was it as advertised. No.
That being said, anyone I spoke to enjoyed being out.  A fairer advert for the event would have been; do you remember the nightclub from Inverness of old called Blue. Do you remember Gs. If you took the two and mashed them together, removed the drugs, and leaned slightly closer to Blue’s music than Gs, what do you get? Day of The Dead comes to Inverness.
 

The night was a success for the promoters, they must have been rolling in it. People enjoyed it. But it was a wasted opportunity to do something really quite cool and spectacular. An opportunity missed. You didn’t go? You missed nothing. It was a nightclub event with very little of note. Soz.
 
Day of the beige.
Next up, a taste of RIO comes to Inverness in April. 
No thanks. 
 
 

A divergent ramble about random weekend offerings in Inverness 3/11/17 – 4/11/17

stetsonhead-marketbar
Reading Time: 6 minutes

A weekend in Inverness, featuring Stetsonhead, Stravinsky, Highland Techno Collective, Sargent Major and others

 

So, there was a plan for the weekend.  There genuinely was.  It’d been a little while since I’d gone and seen some live music, and I also wanted to dabble with my first foray of doing exactly what I’m doing now – a review for here. 

So far so good, and this feeling doubled up when I saw what was on offer.  Walking past the front of Hoots I had a peruse of the poster of what’s on for the month and Saturday night came up trumps with The Mystic Shoes.  Later on in the day saw the StetsonHead were playing the Market on Friday night.  The ‘plan’ seemed perfect enough.  Two exceptionally good experiences to be had, showcasing some of the stalwart local talent in Inverness.  Let’s lock it in, so the thought went.

 

Of course this isn’t what happened.  Well, not ‘of course’, I guess, but instead, what happened was Inverness.  Inverness happened.  A random weekend just on the wrong side of the turning of the clocks to the dim and dark winter months has me writing a love-note homage about the town/ city* instead.

[*Note – I leave this debate for another time – suffice to say it is small enough to be a town, Royal degree has it as a city (so I’ve been told), and my personal opinion, the thing I wanna highlight here in this review/homage, is that it fights above its weight, however you want to classify it].

 

Friday night started off indoors with a movie.  It’d been eyeballing me for a few weeks since I picked it up for 50p, the sticking point to watching it being the inherent risk for it to be either great or utter, utter shit.  Cockneys Vs. Zombies (how can you not try a movie with that name for 50p?) turned out to be neither extreme, but well watchable.  Gore, humour, that freakishly scary Cockney gangster ‘pig-farmer’ from Snatch as a bad –arse old-age pensioner.  It did what it said on the box, and also turned out to be a good start to a great weekend.

 

Next stop was the Market Bar and StetsonHead.  I’m sure that somebody here on The Nettle will do these guys justice sometime with a set piece review just focusing on them.  I’m hoping it’s me, as they are one of my favourite local acts.  They’re not going to be for everyone, but what they do, they do exceptionally well.  Pounding, driving, lurking, menacing, growling doses of mood ooze out at you.  This Friday night it skulked off from the stage and permeated the (admittedly small) space in the Market and had everyone ‘in.’  I didn’t see the start or the end of the gig, for other long-winded reasons, but not for lack of love for the band.  If you get a chance to see them, just do. 

 

stetsonhead-marketbar
Stetsonhead doing their thing.

 

Next stop was to deliberately meet people elsewhere, but 1st bumped I into a lovely couple I met recently and was reminded of how many fundamentally good and interesting people there were in Inverness.  They’d just been to the ballet in Eden Court, and talked in emotive terms about tears streaming down their face, about the beauty and the flux of emotions they’d just been through.  To get out of chronological synch I took their advice and did see the ballet on the Saturday night, an experience I hadn’t had before but will do again.  I didn’t have the same reaction, I didn’t even have the same reaction as the friend who came with me, a more experienced hand in these things, but it was well worth checking out.  Scottish ballet company did two versions of Stravinsky, one classical re-telling and one modern ballet counterpointing the diversity of the medium.  The dancing showed what the human body is capable of – not mine, necessarily, but there is apparently the potential to leap in the air and just hang there for a second telling gravity you’ve got other plans for the moment.  There’s the ability to – shit, seriously, thinking back on it, there was a lot more to like about this ballet stuff than I imagined, not least of which was the orchestra in the pit, once again showcasing the talent and the connective pull of music.  Yeah, give it a crack if you haven’t before, people.  Like it or don’t, it’s worth the respect to try it and find out for yourself.  It took me a good long while to come to this conclusion, and I’m not going to go all reformed smoker evangelical on you, but it’s well worth giving it a chance.

 

Anyway, in among this weekend that was there was also a techno night on at Ironworks on the Friday.  Not always my cup of tea, and as has almost been universally noted about the Ironworks, it’s a good venue but can feel like people rattling around an empty barn if not enough people are there, which was the case by the time I got there.  Despite this, the guy up on the decks was working it, the crowd of true believers was loving it, and the lights and the base thumping through me were personal highlights.  With the caveat of not being on the right gear to fully appreciate the nuances of such repetitive music, I gotta say that it was worth it – another one to dabble with properly in the future.

 

Light and Decks at the ironworks
Lights and Decks

Lights and decks at the Ironworks

 

Over and above this there was Sargent Major rattling out some classic pub rock when back at the Market again on Saturday.  The people were dancing and the place was bouncing.  The two-piece had a drummer on the floor with a mike hanging over him making him sing ‘up,’ reminiscent somehow of Motorhead’s Lemmy.  He wore gloves for the drumming that made his hands seem 3 sizes smaller than the rest of his body.  The singer was self-deprecating funny as well as having a good voice.  They knew what the punters wanted, and they gave generously.  What’s not to like.

 

The Saturday night was rounded off by some bumping into people in the smoking area of Hoots and some dancing upstairs to the DJ, in a dance/ retro style that blew over to outliers including The Doors, Talking Heads and whoever the fuck did the well-known ‘I’m free (to do what I want, any old time…)’.  Suffice to say that they held me there well past at least 3-4 self-determined claims of ‘I’m heading off soon,’ and if that’s not a skill in a DJ, I don’t know what is.

 

Also thrown into the weekend mix was getting in early Christmas shopping at the monthly Farmer’s Market on High St.  That and croissants (don’t know the stall by name, but I gravitate to them whenever I can for their buttery flaky joy that is croissants), and venison sausages for dinner that night.  There was the reliable smiles and quality coffee at Velocity, lung-cleansing taking in the air along the river and artery clogging delights of late night kebab shops with the not so stable hordes. 

 

I never quite got to see The Mystic Shoes, but like me, they’ll be around in this underrated town for a wee while yet.  When they do, do yourself a favour and give ‘em a try.  Or wait for a favourable review here, which is the angle I’ll take next time I see them, and then see them anyway.  Your choice.

 

This review wasn’t quite what I had planned, but the weekend wasn’t either.  The point being that there’s a bit of something for everyone on a random weekend in Inverness.  I couldn’t quite get to the fireworks or bonfire, either at Bught Park or Rosemarkie which friends said was a great time, and there was a range of other events missed to.  But fun was there to be had, and had it was. 

I’ll try to promise to be more ‘on point’ with the next review, and have it stick to a band and the event they create.  For here though, I just wanted to pay a wee homage to Inverness and the options that it presented on one random weekend.  Onya, Schneckie!  Love ya work!

 

 

Colonel Mustard & the Dijon5 – Yelloween + Spring Break + Dj Butterscotch Ironworks 27/10/17

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Colonel Mustard & the Dijon5 – Yelloween
+ Spring Break
+ Dj Butterscotch
Ironworks 27/10/17

 

So, it was Hallowe’en weekend once again and not a creature was stirring except the sea of costumed fannies disco-sliding their way to the Ironworks to see the yellow machine that is Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 supported by their Dingwallian hip hop pals Springbreak and DJ Butterscotch. As per usual I was one of these fannies and I couldn’t wait to ‘dry hump to the beat’ with my fellow ‘6th Dijoners’.
As I skipped down the road to the Ironworks, filled with jakey oysters and good ol’ Innis & Gunn, I witnessed a troupe of pissed up bananas buying fags from the International stores and a shitfaced unicorn chatting to a giant Lisa Simpson. Normally I would chalk this up to an unwanted Blue WKD flashback from the 90s, but for tonight only this shit was real and my for once my fellow Invernessians had done the Colonel proud and dressed to impress/freak me out.
The late opening of 10pm for the Ironworks had the inevitable effect that by the time the doors had opened, most of the revellers were in high spirits as well as in uncomfortable costumes. Pint was had at the bar and a glance over the dancefloor reveals a ghost town of an Ironworks, but Springbreak weren’t due on stage until after 11pm and The Colonel not til after the witching hour so fingers would have been crossed for a late surge of folk if I wasn’t clinging on to my precious pint so tight.

Spring break so mad I could punch a dolphin

Dj Butterscotch was on the ones and twos before Spring Break was due on and considering he is the MC from the aforementioned band. He was looking to have a busy night as he appeared between bands and at the start/end of the night too. The hardest working man in Dingwall certainly earned his Benjamins that night as he booted out some of the best dance happy hip hop tunes seen since Kriss Kross made us ‘Jump’ and question their confusing trouser situation. Dj Butterscotch expertly guided the crowd before, after and between bands, through a maze of classics designed to pick up his audience and keep them warm whilst the bands got their shit together. Lad.
Dj Butterscotch morphed fully into the Badger-sized Rat as the rest of Springbreak bounced onto the stage and he slickly eased into MC duties for the Black Isle band, starting with the procrastinator’s anthem ‘The Slouch’ and then quickly followed by a cover of ‘Pumped up Kicks’ by Foster the People (yes I had to Google the fuck out of that for a band name). I needn’t have worried about the size of the crowd either as by the time they had finished their second track, the place was mostly packed.
Spring Break cover many a topic in their set, covering subjects as diverse as farmyard equipment, hangovers and traversing the difficult terrain of anger management and dolphin bothering. There’s tons of humour in their set and Butterscotch has a terrific way of involving the crowd in the band’s banter. Spring Break is the first, last and only word in Dingwall hip hop. One hopes the scene can expand but as we all know; what goes to Dingwall normally stays in Dingwall.
Over the years, Inverness has welcomed The Colonel and his pals a few times, most recently at Belladrum where they ‘knocked it oot the park’ (Mustard dance move number 72) performing to a packed Garden Stage in the middle of the afternoon (over 9000 people I am reliably informed). For those 7 people who didn’t attend that gig I suppose I can describe Colonel John McMustard and his yellow clad Dijoners as three parts disco machine to one part public service announcement, pushing a lifestyle of ‘Peace, Love and Mustard’.

Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5
The spectacle that is Colonel Mustard is something to behold. Ten to fifteen members invade the stage all resplendent in yellow and led by the Colonel himself who tonight was dressed as a disco Teen Wolf complete with his usual bejewelled disco Colonel cap. Their opening number was the crowd greasing ‘International Sex Hero’ and the dressed up, pissed up crowd bounced along like the refresher bars had only just hit them there and then. The Colonel employs a ‘Dijancer’ who mainly directs the crowd in the various dance moves required to enjoy the Colonel’s music completely. Decked out in a disco ball, flashing helmet and a cape that looks like it was designed by Elton John for Dracula, the Dijancer bounces along with the crowd, playing the bongos and demonstrates the many, many audience participation elements to the gig. He often crowd surfs in a giant inflatable unicorn across the crowd, but the alleged word on the street (steamin’ Davy from Dalneigh) is that the risk assessment was too hefty for the Ironworks to be arsed with (scoundrels).
The Colonel has a lot of time for patter with the crowd and he managed to coax five wimmen dressed as bananas to climb onto the stage and join the band for the audience participation favourite ‘Dance off’. The Dijancer clears a space in the middle of the dancefloor amongst the crowd and then encourages people to enter and throw, what turns out to be, some particularly inadvisable shapes. Tracey from Boots attempts a health and safety defying version of The Worm whilst Steve the cashier from the Co-Op has a go at shaking his jelly and I for one was not entirely ready. Fortunately, I was one beer shy of my ‘dance like a fucking idiot’ quota so I just quietly egged on these heroes on from a safe distance.

Colonel Mustard & the Dijon five
It being Hallowe’en, Colonel Mustard treated us all to a cover of ‘Ghostbusters’ and it was an effing triumph. I had been handed a beer between tracks and I now was knee deep in a shameful display of dancing like Ray Parker Jr wasn’t watching. But hey… if you can’t dance like that with the Colonel, when can you?? (Never. The answer is never.)
Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 then busted out the track that made them Belladrum sensations – the Raga infused ‘Cross The Road’. This educational song is designed to teach young and old how to safely cross the road and to encourage everyone to make your lollipop man your new ‘pally-wally’. Along with his Dijancer pal, the Colonel proceeds to herd the entire audience onto one side of the Ironworks and then musically instructs the mob on how to cross from one side of the room to the other (repeated multiple times just to make sure of our future safety) whilst busting out rhymes that Shaggy would be proud of. This is a real people pleaser of a tune as everyone is swept along with the patter and the movement of your neighbour. I fucking love the inclusivity of Colonel Mustard and although this was an over 18s only gig, they could easily have entertained kids and adults alike. For those looking to bond with their kids or some shit, Colonel Mustard would be a perfect festival band for you to pretend y’all like each other and no doubt there will be plenty of opportunity to do catch them at festivals in the new year.

The Colonel at Inverness Ironworks venue

The gang spent an hour on stage and in that time, I had high-fived my neighbour to the beat, performed various orchestrated dance moves, proclaimed ‘Peace, Love and Mustard’ exactly 724 times and spilt the total of 4 pints down myself as the crowd danced like we had just found out Stranger Things was back on the Netflix (it fucking is you know!)
The Colonel ended things with a bow to the theme from the Golden Girls and that’s exactly what it feels like to be at a Colonel Mustard gig – to quote the man himself ‘Everyone is happy, everyone is smiling, no one here is sad anymore’. The Colonel came to Inverness and injected some love and happiness into the people’s lives and I’m still trying to shake the disco, glitter and joy from my blackened soul. Well played Colonel, well fucking played.