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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The Songwriter’s Circle at MacGregors: Original Tunes on a Tuesday night

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

A couple of thoughts behind the write up for this review.
One of them was the title. So many options for wordplay with the “Circle” motif for the Songwriter’s Circle!! And don’t think that we at TheNettle.scot are bigger people than putting in some poor pun action. We are not.
The original title thought was ye olde classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” Partly as it just played so well to the positive idea of wanting the longevity of these nights to continue unbroken into the future. Partly it was the lure of lazy writing. Again, don’t put these things past the good people at TheNettle.scot Me either, come to that..

Another aspect of this which I wanted to play with here is to have another element other than just a review. The logic behind this thought is that this is an ongoing thing. Normally the reviews are about a time and a place. This shall happen, but before this, a bit about the premise.

The Songwriter Circle is a regular 8pm-10pm thing. Tuesday nights at MacGregors. It’s run by Nicki Murray, and friends. Here’s a link to his stuff, and also a gratuitous link to an interview with the man himself by our buds at Inverness Gigs.
And fuck it, here’s him/ them in another incantation, playing at Sofar Sounds. Not massively them, to be honest, more Lydia Bennett. I’ll put this in though while I’m doing gratuitous plugs – not because I know her, but I have heard her before and her voice is lovely, so why not. We’re here to promote music, and she’s worth promoting, definitely, as is SoFar Sessions. You’re welcome.

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Back on track. Sometimes the Songwriters Circle has a small number of people playing, sometimes the place is rammed. I’ve been a few times, but finally with a camera and an inclination to write about it.

The premise of it is as it sounds. People come, whoever wants to turn up on the night. They play their own original music.
Whereas there’s a lot of crossover obviously with elements such as the MacGregors and Hoots Trad sessions, in that all are welcome and that people join in on the songs if they want, there are distinct differences which make it worth a look in its own right.
[*Note: unfortunately, I wanted to link to the details on the MacGregors website, but it was being slow, annoying and rather (read very) shit. For a good wee pub, they dropped the ball on this. These sessions also aren’t listed on their events calendar either it seems, but then again most don’t seem to be… However, here’s a link to at least something in order to get a feel of their other more traditional sessions. Hopefully close enough is good enough.]

The feel of these comparators is mostly just for the lazy drinking souls of us like me, though. If you’re a songwriter, and looking for a bit of community, or just an area to practice your songs with an audience, I’m sure there’s a whole world of difference to this weekly regular gig.

The chance to get there and have a bit of community was something that I could see looking into the Circle from my vantage point on the near outside. Hopefully this perspective is not a mere projection, or blowing wind up your arse, as it did feel like the support thing and the ability to share and have space and a voice were important components for those playing.

 

And for those playing on Tuesday the 19th of March [for those interested in structure, this is where the general ‘this is what this thing is about’ turns to the review of the night] this did seem to be the case, looking on.

This night, there was mostly Nicki, and one other playing. There was another guy there, the guy that you exclusively see the back of the head of from my photos. Don’t think that I’m doing him an injustice though. I got there a little late, but he was seemingly happy to be just a support for others in this. If he’s there playing another night, then maybe one of you good people will get the chance to see him tear it up, unlike me. However, I guess this is another element of the concept, that people can input as much or as little as they want, they can build their confidence over time if they want, they can do whatever they want. It’s that kinda place.

Nicky playing music, whatever the variation of performers on the night, is always something to see. The ease at which that bastard picks up on the music around him is a sight to see in itself.

 

A case in point. The guy in the photos with the beard. Sorry, didn’t get his name, but again, that’s not massively the point of these sessions. Anyway, he’s there sitting and talking about the next song he’s playing. He states that he had the chorus down pat, but that the verses came to him just the night before. International premiere of fresh virginal come down literally in the last shower song. Good song too, by the way, nice dark comedic tone of the way technology is sculpting our relationship with life these days. Anyway, he’s playing it for the 1st time, so working without a net. As he’s going along, Nicki decides to pick up a violin. He plucks it for a second, then decides that the best way to go is to draw the bow across the strings. And at that, they are off. Main guy having beautiful little support strings, with happy campers like me in the audience.

If I write about Nicki again, I’ll bore you with this again. But he has talent to burn. Lovely, raspy, soulful voice as well. And in these sessions, he has shown the ability to create these moments for audience as well as for himself, and for the other musicians.

I have been pretty positive in my reviews of late, but not going to change that here. It was a good night. It’s a joy to watch him do his thing. The eclectic range of what else you’re gonna get in these sessions is a bonus.

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Actually, for bonus, there were a couple. One was the voice of this lady shown here. It was indicative of what I’m trying to highlight. She was nervous but wanting to sing. She got care and support in the circle, and from this found her voice. I’m glad she did, it’s was a beautiful, crisp, tender timbre. Most excellent. She also found her confidence, surprising even herself by getting up again a few songs later for a second song herself.

Another bonus was the other main player for the night, who decided to stay on after the scheduled 10pm, just for the fact that he was enjoying playing, and we were enjoying listening. It’s the way things should work, and here, on this night, in this place they did.

If you like hearing new voices and original songs, it’s worth a look. I imagine that if you’re a songwriter and want a supportive space to try them out in public, I imagine that these sessions hold even more meaning and promise.

This is one of the good things going on for live music in Inverness. And what else are you going to be doing on a Tuesday night…

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Ewan C Grant – MacGregor’s Bar 28/06/2018

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Nod to igigs and preamble

This here group of words created by the infinite monkeys and infinite typewriter theory put into practice; is about Ewan C. Grant, but first, a word from our sponsors*.

*we don’t have any.

Here at TheNettle.scot, we’re all about reviewing from a sort of gonzo perspective, by the audience, from the audience’s point of view, rather than as a polished promo site where we fill space with “band x were playing, their new album is coming out, the lead singer is 5”9 and recalls a time when Toblerone was better, we talked to him about that”

The idea behind it is for it to be reflective of what you’d experience yourself as a reader. So if the music’s pish, we’ll say it is, if it’s golden, we’ll say that too.  If you read our articles and feel inspired, or think, “they’re talking shite”, or you could do better then fire in, and send it to us. If it’s coherent and covering something that you think could do with some exposure, there’d be folk up for reading it.

The day started with one of our guys getting heckled on Facebook by the Inverness Gigs owner, about coverage. Disappointingly that didn’t turn into a full on war of words – as that would’ve been entertaining. It did two things.

  • It led to the little preamble above.
  • It did remind us that we should get off our aging posteriors and get out and do some writing.
Off to the gorgeous Eden Court to collect some lanyard wanker passes – hidden at all times unless needed for venue access.

 

 

In fairness, we were anyway, and Cornwallace did a decent three piece article on XpoNorth, which will have a link to at the bottom of this one.

The day

Firstly, a wee shout out to Teuchter’s Comedy Club in La Tortilla. Myself and a pickle of friends went there for a bit. (That’s the collective noun for a group of my friends.)  As ever, there was  a good variety of acts, but one in particular, whom I regrettably can’t remember the name of, and didn’t take note of, was outstanding. She did a bit about driving, but the energy, enthusiasm and delivery was superb. No guy there with a bad accent desperately seeking approval stating “Am I right girls, am I right?” either.  Which was nice. 

Feel free to give us a nudge with last Wednesday’s lineup Teuchter folk.

Edit: It was Jenny Johnstone. If you see her on a billing, go see her. Sod it, go see live comedy in the highlands anyway, Teuchters in particular do it right and have made the circuit in Inverness viable and peachy!

 

Digression over, onto the music!

I was out on Wednesday and Thursday observing, but because the town city of Inverness was a 30 degree sauna, and venues were selected based – rather selfishly – on ambient temperature rather than bands. MacGregor’s won out mostly, as a top notch venue, providing the commodity that is good airflow.

A quick stop in TheNettle HQ for an interesting discussion about the music industry and XpoNorth in general, then off to the correct venue. We’ll perhaps do an article about XpoNorth as a whole and the industry, but for now I feel there’s already been plenty digression.

We went to see Ewan C. Grant!

Ewan is part of the two piece band WOMPS, they’re pretty sexical, you should check them out on their Facebook page, YouTube or bandcamp.com. But I’m not going to go too far beyond that, as today is all about Ewan.

Ewan’s own project is also a two piece. Though he’s lead vocals, and effects, whereas the girl was keyboard and effects.

A warm interaction between the two performers. Music was outstanding though.

Wine purchased for myself and the almost willing participant that I’d dragged along; we got ready for the thirty minute kinetic eardrum massage.

The venue was well filled as the deep bass, and almost Orb, Mike Oldfield or old Apollo 440 trance like sounds complemented the air.  This worked well with MacGregors, which was vastly superior to the fifteen or twenty people that were in the Ironworks immediately beforehand for someone else.

Ewan started singing, and it was not as expected. In fairness, the whole thing wasn’t as expected. For some reason I thought the side project would be an acoustic affair, but this was one of the gems of XpoNorth for me. It stood out as something different from what felt like 60 percent of the XpoNorth bands sounding like Biffy Clyro, or some indie rock hell. The singing initially sounded like the LCD Soundsystem singer, singing in the style of Joy Division, to a better version of New Order’s music, if that makes any sense at all.

The fact that Ewan had a hair cut that looked like Friar Tuck had managed to sort his bald spot was unrelated to the quality of the music, nor was the fact that he appeared to be wearing shoes without socks, but I wrote it down for some reason, so I’m throwing it in here.

Epic hair dude! But they rocked, didn’t get to see much of ‘not Ewan’ as she was focused on the task in hand.

The hair is not a criticism though, Emo chic, or whatever it may be, I for one welcome our varying hair overlords. In fact I’d encourage interesting hair.

There was a lot of technical kit, on show. I play guitar and drums, and am used to running things through an amp, fx pedal, pre-amp then PA, so could not begin to detail what they were. I’m going to take a stab that one of the Korg devices was an arpeggiator , but that’s a guess – as is the spelling of said device. Boxes that made the keyboards and buttony music things bend.

Dials and gadgets a-plenty.

The whole thing was atmospheric, and not in an “ambient sounds in the animal section of a museum” or “Historic Scotland battle recounting over a cassette loop” atmospheric way. The soundscapes, and an amalgamation of noises without your little sister or annoying cousin being able to sing along in a 4:4 timing and ruin it were very refreshing to hear.

The lyrics themselves weren’t too clear, but I think that was very much the point. My friend described the vocals as Ian Curtis’ suicide, which I didn’t think was fair at all. I thought the “Barry White of Whale Sounds for singing” was more apt. Deep wailing. Not whaling, wailing. This was much better an event than I’m making it out to be.  It felt very Joy Division influenced generally, which works, as we like Joy Division generally. There wasn’t much of a stage presence, but then there was also no stage, so technically, that’s ok, right?

I would have normally expected this sort of gig to have been performed in somewhere like the Bongo Club in Edinburgh. Dark rooms, UV lights, but it was grand having it in a place like MacGregors, well lit, well aired, nice chunky stone walls; it gave a bit of balance to the whole experience.

The only downside was we put our nearly full wine glasses down to have a cigarette outside (apparently no drinks outside after ten, on that night) and it either got cleared by the staff, or someone took a five finger discount. I’m sure if we’d’ve asked, we would have got fresh glasses, but we had other places to be so just went on our merry way.

On the whole, it was a cracking half hour experience. The number of lanyard wankers was minimal, the venue and staff are brilliant, and selection of drinks is tasteful.

The gig itself was, for me, the highlight of the whole festival so far as the music goes. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ewan very much a marmite type affair. Not in that he goes well on toast and is made of an extract of yeast, but you’ll either really take to his work, or not. But check him out.

Part 1 of XpoNorth Review:

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education

Part 2 of XpoNorth Review:

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education – Wednesday 27/06/2018

Part 3 of XpoNorth Review:

XpoNorth and the joys of rapid fire music education – Part 3. 28/06/18

 

XpoNorth and the joys of rapid fire music education – Part 3. 28/06/18

Reading Time: 7 minutes

XpoNorth and the joys of rapid fire music education, Pt 3.

 

Continued from Pt 2

There is a genuine potential risk in putting on an event 2 nights in a row throughout the week. People go out the first night, as I did. Get caught up in the moment, and potentially have a bigger night than they expected on the first night, as I did.
Then have to get up and go to work, not pacing themselves for the longer haul over the 2 nights as their rational brain had sternly imposed upon them before the first night got going. As I did.
So there is a period at the start of the second night where you (read ‘I’) wonder about the balance between sense and fun. I also remembered exactly why I decided the last couple of years that I was gonna take some time off of work for this event and do it properly.
Ah, the best laid plans of bullshitting oneself. A fine art, honed and polished well. At least that was how it seemed after work, thinking about and banking on the restorative powers of beer, the energy of the crowd, and – to bring it back to the matter at hand – live music.
Luckily the restorative power of all came through for the Thursday night, and with (second) wind in the sails, 3 bands were seen.
I had planned to start the night seeing ‘Carma,’ but foolishly was directed to the wrong place by a friend, and didn’t double-check. Then I planned to see Ida Kudo, but the friend with the early start who I kept out too late the night before wanted to go back to MacGregor’s for the beer, and would’ve be a right schmuck to impose myself again. Sure I saw a friend straight after that couldn’t stop raving about how amazing she was, but that was after the fact, so I had to suck that one up and put it down to the pre-acknowledged random nature that I knew would be a component part of the night. Instead, the night was started as stated at MacGregor’s with good beer and:

Ewan C. Grant

Those into them were keen, and were keeping their front and centre spot
Hard to get closer to get a photo. 

 

 

 

 

 

This was an intriguing way to enter into a second sequential night on the town sampling bite size chunks of music. We had come here (MacGregor’s) for the beer, but there were many known faces already grooving along to the music upon arrival, us having missed the first 2-3 minutes making our way from a restorative, constitutional start-up beer at the Black Isle. No music there, but the upstairs garden and sunshine nevertheless providing its own part in kicking the evening off, after the non-starter wrong venue fuck-up that saw us miss ‘Carma.’
Walking into Ewan C. Grant, there was a packed house already. I don’t know if they are much better known beyond my particular ignorance (if so, someone please contact The Nettle and clear up the name bit above…), but people were out for it and up for it. They were grooving along in that subdued, internal dancing while looking at my feet way that combines so natural with certain brooding forms of base driven melody.
This certain brooding form of melody was driven by tech – board, keys, wires, dials, and a whole lot of the boy/ girl duo creating the music staring at what they needed to turn or press at the right time. It was good for what it was. Not front and centre for my taste, but really, I enjoyed them and so did the crowd, and what can you say against that?
There was a background overarching deep base feedback loop resonance that permeated for the entire set, continuous across time and linking the individual songs by virtue of this continuance. It varied in accordance to the songs, but it was a steady heartbeat feeding through the entire set.
This in itself created an ambiance and atmosphere in the way that steady, repetitive bass it wont to do. Beyond the regularity of this side of the coin, there was actually some decent diversity of tune on the other side of the coin. They were at what could be considered to be the start of the night, and being this time of year where the light from the sun stays on well into the night, they were playing in semi-twilight.
While perhaps best sampled drug-fucked at 2am in a smoke-filed basement somewhere, this twilight element was perhaps a good 2nd best experience of the mood with which to see them. I wouldn’t say that it was amazing, but it was certainly good. I’ve seen more inspired in the genre, but for what it’s worth, they were mostly after the witching hour, an advantage not given to these 2 surely fine people. I think that with more inebriation and a later hour it would have helped, but still, I think that if they were to play in town again, I’d give them a go.

Miracle Glass Company:

Vocal harmonies, energy, and seriously good 70s throwback fun

 

The next stop was over at Hoots, and the Miracle Glass Company, another chosen on the merits of under 60 seconds ‘they look the goods’ research.
Straight up, these were – for me – the best band of the night. I put in the caveat ‘for me,’ as it is important in context. I was there at the start with a number of people, and I was there at the end with one friend. The rest had looked, not much liked, and wandered off to await the next band upstairs. To double-down on this, another friend came up and asked us if they were good and worth staying for. We both enthusiastically gave the thumbs up, but he was off again after less than a minute of his own assessment.
This was a band that divided the crowd. Some – like most of the fuckers I knew – gave it a thumbs down. However, me and my dancing buddy absolutely, categorically, fucking loved them.
Hooting-and-a-hollerin’ loved them. Bedouin tribe rattle the tongue call out across the desert love them.
This was some stand up, take it for what it is throw-back classic 70s R-O-C-K rock! Parts reminded me of the Steve Millar Band, part West Coast American easy rock like the Eagles or some such, part Boz Scaggs, even (because of the beginning harmonies on one song) part Sandy Rogers.
Most songs we thought reminded us of something or other from the decade, it seemed.
The lead guitar was classic surfer dude rock, the base player classic stoner, greaser dude tight-shirt bounce, and the drummer decked in Bee Gees glory was giving it his all, and was good at it.

The most striking thing about them was that all of the 3 sung, either individually or in harmony. They engaged the crowd, they caused dancing and smiling and tapping on the shoulder to point and smile. Fuck they were fun. It was a shame that the nature of the music divided the crowd, but then again I suppose that this is a risk of music which is so unashamedly that which it is. For me, they were great. I’d bounce and smile and holler to them again any time.

The Dazed Digital Age

Heading upstairs from Hoots to Mad Hatters, we gained just the single decade, transforming from 70’s guitar-driven harmonising vocals 70’s rock, to synth-driven, low wave pulse driven prog-rock. Think less new romantics like Soft Cell, less Talking Heads in their bouncy synth moments, or any of the 80’s rap and hip-hop, and more Gary Newman or Peter Murphy and Bauhaus.
Again, there was a good crowd and a good mood for this one. The stated partner in crime from the night before had announced as from the first song that they were a fan. For me, it was an interesting one to try to pin down. And I also acknowledge here that there was a sidebar influence on my thinking herein. The keyboardist for Lional was the frontman here, still with the groove factor sunglasses on, but now with his own sunglass-bespectacled partners in crime on stage helping him out.

Throwback to the 80s this time. What they aimed to do, they did

The issue of conflict for me is that in Lional I think that his music brings something seriously good into the balance and the mix of the band. For me here, it was less a component part, more the unleashed main game. And once again for me, as opposed to healthy swathes of more appreciative crowd, this percentage growth affected the balance unfavourably.
To which, I know that this is unreasonable thing to say, they being two different band and outfits. This was very clearly an 80’s loving outfit that were good at replicating the feel of the area. I remember thinking that they should get a go on the soundtrack to the next series of Stranger Things, or that they would have happily grown up on the goodness movies like Short circuit or Weird Science, and would have fit beautifully into the genre.
It just wasn’t necessarily that inspiring to me. It was good, it was enjoyable, it was even authentic. But after a while it was a bit samey. In a 30-minute set, this is either a desired effect, or a problem. They are relatively newly formed however, so the answer to this will work itself out in the mix.
They also formed the end of the whole program and thus the XpoNorth event. Good kudos for them, and one appreciated by a good deal of the crowd. Not my thing, but I can appreciate being outnumbered in this, as well as the respect that they were afforded in this spot on the running list. They are what they are, as described above. If this is for you, then check it out.

And then…
After them, the lights went on, the bouncers stepped close into people’s personal space and politely but convincingly suggested that everyone would be happier to drink up and get out. I’m sure that there was a bunch of people hyped up and keen to move onto the next place.
I took the opportunity to remember the bed that I didn’t give enough time the night before, and headed off. 2 nights, 8 bands, and a lot of ‘I’m gonna keep them in mind should they ever come back.’
Mostly though I just went home full of new music and happy that such a thing as XpoNorth exists.
Until next year. I’ll do it right then, I shall once again promise myself…
-Cornwallace

Links to Facebook pages (except for E.C. Grant, who didn’t get that love from the XpoNorth page, and who I couldn’t confidently track down): [We did – Ed.]

The Dazed Digital Age
Miracle Glass Company
Ewan C. Grant

 

Part 1:

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education

 

Part 2:

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education – Wednesday 27/06/2018

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education – Wednesday 27/06/2018

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Part 2 of 3 – Wednesday night

I have been lucky enough over the last few years to see some amazing bands for the 1st time because of XpoNorth, and it was always going to be the case this time out as well. In fact, the only band out of 8 of seen this year that I had already seen before was Lional, and the only reason I was going to see them again was that I just will see them, come what may, given the opportunity.
In saying this, as the separate ‘Intro/ overview’ review explains in slightly more detail, I found out about the event very late in the day, owing to what I think was a balance between poor advertising, and me being in a cave, apparently.
To try to counter this, I spent a frenzied, unfair and very off-the-cuff couple of hours trying to sample each of the 68(!) announced acts, by virtue of the links to their Facebook pages provided on the XpoNorth page, and hearing that which they wished to promote themselves by therein.
Some (the minority) didn’t have actual videos posted there, and I felt for the one on the XpoNorth page who’s link wasn’t actually a link, just the name ‘ewenc.grant’. I did actually see that act on the Thursday, but didn’t hear any correction of the name, so on the Thursday review that’s how it’s dubbed. If anyone wants to correct me here, please feel free to do so.
This process was unfair, but also just a guide, knowing that I’d also go to things by virtue of what others I was going with wanted anyway, which did eventuate.
More than anything, I had to approach this with a certain mind-set – a ‘sensibility’, for the Jane Austin oriented. I had to head into town with an open mind and just see what the next couple of nights would offer.
And so to start…

Megan Airlie:

(There was more of the band tucked around the corner also. And while they deserve exposure, it shouldn’t be ‘over-exposure’ like my phone did here – apologies. She does have a face, I swear)
One who did catch my ear straight away from the maybe not quite 60 seconds my extremely non-rigorous sampling research was Megan Airlie.
As an aside, one of the unknown things that such an event provides is the ability to see venues that you wouldn’t normally go to or associate with such activities as live music. The PentaHotel was such a place.
One of the bonuses of this was the discovery that they had a really nice outdoor courtyard space. Although this was somewhat countered by only having Bud Light on tap (everyone had drunk the other tap dry before having to succumb to the fate of Bud Light), it is still a nice thing to discover and keep up the sleeve.
Anyway, the short research I did made me think of someone crooning some lazy soft rolling blues in a 1930s Speak Easy, which was enough to pique the interest and get me there.
There was definitely some of this feel in the mix on the night, but the image that most strongly resonated was that of how the band were tapping into something that was, now they were showing me the links, quite cyclical, popping up through the decades. I thought of the speak easy, and then of the edge of MoTown with a Booker T groove but with an Otis Redding gravel in the voice. A friend leaned in and said it reminded them of Jeff Buckley, which actually was very fair comment, and something I wish I’d thought of.
All of these over the decades tap into a smooth, soulful goodness. The band behind Megan Airlie were understated but definitely made a good mark. Some with bare feet, or intense emotion on their face (that’s you, Mr Bass Guitar), or salt-shaker in hand to smoothly add to the rhythm, and with at least 3 of them harmonising well in the back-up vocals, they completed a good sound which centred naturally and rightly around the lead of Megan Airlie herself – guitar in hand, and voice that capped off the whole ensemble.
I liked the whole band and would definitely give them another go, but if I had to pull out one stand-out element it was her voice. Controlled, going from sullen moody to emotive and raw and raspy, she was seriously good.
It was also a good start to this whole XpoNorth thing, I thought, happily knowing that I’d had my last Bud Light in a long time (if all goes to plan), and that they were a band to look out for in the future.
Next step, Hoots.

Tamzene:

The place was already packed by the time I got there, although obligingly people were standing a little back, offering space gladly pilfered front and centre.
I, like many living in Inverness I’m sure, had seen Tamzene a few times, yet for me it was a little while ago, and as a solo act. There were 4 on the stage in this incarnation, and the band behind her, back-up vocals included, definitely added a roundness and completeness to her presence and the whole performance.
In terms of the music, it was utterly intriguing to me, in a positive way, in that it slapped some of a well-worn musical prejudice out of me, smartly. For the thing was that her songs sounded like straight up and down, clear, bonafide Top-40 songs.
Her voice was of the quality, as was the mixing. More than that though was the sound, the feel, and looping and rhythms in the songs. I kept thinking that these would be good songs to use for some ad where they have the young and the beautiful selling a pair of shoes/ a watch or some clothes brand as a lifestyle choice. Maybe shot in black and white, or as though every day was in the golden light of the sun setting over the warm, embracing water in Spain.
The funny thing is, for all that, I really enjoyed the music. Seeing this stuff live, I understood some of the appeal to it. It was smooth, it was layered and patterned in the change-ups in the songs. It showed imminent skill and was fundamentally likeable. It was also astounding, as an aside, to not only see what would happily fit into the Top 40 live, but to see it in, and from what I understand, from Inverness.
I liked the band and in and of themselves, but also very much liked that they kicked me up the arse (if it was the soundtrack to an advertisement, the foot doing the kicking would have had either radiant, never worn before white or maybe gold trainers – possibly Adidas – adorning it). It pushed me past being dismissive, and showed me the skill and likability of it.
It still wouldn’t be my ‘go to’ music, but out of all the music over the 3 nights, I can see the marketability of this act as much as any. Good for them!

The Dunts:

The eclectic nature of the XpoNorth programme hits home when you wander from Tamzene straight to The Dunts, as we did. From the clean, light and relatively airy downstairs of Hoots we traipsed up the stairs of The Tooth & Claw.
It was a hot day anyway, and the heat held sway up there in this venue. I distinctly remember feeling the humidity starting to cling to me walking up the stairs, and by the time my waist was about level with the floor on the ascent, it was like being waist deep in water, the 2 levels of warmth and atmosphere being so distinct – head muggy, feet cool. I warned the partner in crime for this gig coming up behind me, but still wandered in.
We’d bought a beer downstairs for the glass over plastic factor as well as the chance to chat, wandering up when we heard them start. They were easy to hear but not as easy to see. The heat and the dark sheet walls and the smoke machine that someone was a little too over-excited about meant that for large patches the 4 on stage were more or less silhouettes in the mist.
That is all the ‘other stuff’ though. The music itself was pretty good. Not great, but absolutely toe-tapping worthiness. They were also the 1st band I saw that had people gleefully dancing to them, including me, so gotta give them this as well. However, out of all of the bands across the 2 days they were the one that myself and said partner in crime turned to comment a couple of times about what did seem quite clanging errors. Spots where they just, not to put too fine a point on it, fucked up. They played though them and kept their heads about it all, but they were there.
Saying that, I wouldn’t say that they had polish at the forefront of their minds in quite the same way as Tamzene directly before or Lional directly after them. They were a fun, raucous, raw, charged up, young band that needs a little polish, needs to define what they actually want to play, but do not need to find more fire in the belly. That they have down pat.
Above I mention about them potentially wanting to decide what style that they want to play. Maybe this isn’t a thing, maybe they’re bouncing around genres happily – the audience were. It did raise comment between us though. There were times at the start where I most thought of influences like the Fratellies, or even the White Stripes. In the middle they felt a little bouncier and pop-punkier (is that a word…), and for the last few songs, more standard rock/ hard rock/ pub rock angle.
They were hard to pin down in terms of style, they were a little unpolished, and they were obviously pouring buckets of sweat and trying their hardest in the upstairs heat. In among all that, there was something genuinely infectious about their playing and their energy.
They make me want to see them again.
In a year or so, when they’ve got some of the kinks ironed out.

Lional:

(The heat went up, the jacket came off. The music remained consistently good.)
I’ve talked before about Lional, and shall again, with any luck. Fuck they’re good. I liked The Dunts, for sure, but going straight from there to The Phoenix, this element of polish resonated.
As it turned out, the dining room of The Phoenix is a surprisingly good size and feel for a venue for live music. If they were wondering about it ever, they should consider it as an option. It’s popularity – i.e. Lional’s – did seem to surprise the venue, though.
I was glad that there was a small break to get there and to get a beer, and I really felt for the 2 poor, hardworking bastards behind the bar that were understaffed and working their arses off. It was a wait for the beer, but they do good beers there. Apologies, but I had to segue to applaud these 2 for their obvious hard work in lubricating the crowd for the gig to come. To the bar staff!!
Lional have brought out a new album recently, and a couple of weeks ago did the launch at The Ironworks. They’ve got a video clip for the new single, they have a strong, deep back catalogue now to work with, and they have a guy on the keyboards wearing super cool sunglasses inside at night. Oh, and a shout-out to the bass player’s shirt n’all. Class.
Upon reflection, if you say them walking down the street, they had such different fashion to each other you wouldn’t connect them, but luckily this says nothing about the tightness of the playing, which again struck me ‘bout them.
The style is mostly 80s through 90s Brit-Pop influence, but it’s hard to leave the categorisation there. They bring something else to it, which I know is there, and like, but unfortunately cannot pin down, no matter how many times I see them. By this stage I’m inclined to say that this final ingredient is their own originality. Being a band from inverness people may baulk at that, but the more I think about it, the more it seems valid.
Either way, they are a tight, sharp outfit. Even now I can recall the clarity of the guitar riffs, the build-up of the songs, the clean pause, slow-down and build up again. That, or the drive of other songs – punchy, sharp, infectious. It’s quality rock, with some pop, some syth on keyboard, and some noticeable groove support with the drums and bass.
If anyone actually reads these, then there sick of me saying this by now. Just go and see them, ya bastards.

Emme Woods:

By this time of the night I really was sated. Had happily got my fill of good music, and partner in crime for the night was working early in the morning and agitating to go home. The vibe in town was good though, the weather warm, and the part of the personality that sees the reason and logic of going home happy was unceremoniously brushed aside by the part of the brain saying ‘fuck it, let it roll on!’ Convincing them that half hour more wasn’t going to do them any harm, and that it was my buy and their choice for good beers at MacGregors, lack of sense happily held sway, and we got to see Emme Woods.
Again this nudging was in part due to the instinct over science research conducted, wherein it took under 10 seconds to decide Emme Woods had a good voice, moody and dark and smooth, and a good sound.
The confession here is that by this time of the night, the ‘feeling the vibe’ had definitely taken over any thoughts of ‘let’s really stop and analyse this for the purposes of a review’. This was added to by the packed bar, open back glass windows letting in the cooling air and also letting the crowd spill out into the beer garden. People, beer and good times were flowing by now, and the band were underpinning this atmosphere admirably.
The voice was not only dark and smooth, but also demonstrably a powerful roar when she wanted. The band was good. They played the songs and the crowd, and all were happy with them being in control, if control was a word for the atmosphere generated there and then.
They resonated in a few ways for me. Her voice reminded me at times of Patti Smith, and at others of just plain Smith (e.g. songs like ‘Baby it’s you’).
There was a distinctly 70s angle going on, but then among that there was a trombone doing rhythm. A fucking trombone! And it was good! It worked! It added fun, style and dancability (again potentially making up a word here sorry, by in keeping with the feel of this stage of the night, it feels somehow legitimate to do so).
From all this, though, what they gave, to give it anthropomorphised form, mostly resonated in the big smile of the guitar player in the hat, which was matched by the crowd all around. They were solid, tight, but creating a vibe of late warm night looseness in the place. A smart scheduling move to put them on there and then, and they carried it off with aplomb.

And then:
After they finished, it was definitely late for a school night, and most knew, even if they had only planned to go out the one night, that they’d had enough fun that they’d be lured back out again the next night.
That’s in a separate Thursday review, hopefully easily clickable from where you’re reading this.
-Cornwallace

Links to Facebook pages:
Megan Airlie
Tamzene
The Dunts
Lional
Emme Woods

 

Part one can be found here:

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education

Part three can be found here:

XpoNorth and the joys of rapid fire music education – Part 3. 28/06/18

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Part 1 of 3 – Introduction and Overview

Tall and talented bass player for Lional, stylish shirt indicative of the unheard of Invernesian heatwave XpoNorth added to the joy of

XpoNorth, as advertised, is a creative arts festival. The main heart of the event is centred at Eden Court, where over a couple of work days, traditionally – perhaps I can legitimately use that word now that it has been has been going for a few years now in Inverness – there are a range of amazing sounding talks and events to whet the appetite of the culture inquisitive and hungry.
This is coupled by evening entertainment which stands out in the calendar as 2 amazing, diverse nights of multiple, beautiful, rapid fire music opportunity, coming from 7-8 venues across the heart of Inverness, all with 3-4 bands on both nights.
The basic premise is that each band get 30 minutes to showcase themselves and capture the audience. For live music fans, what this equates to is a veritable smorgasbord of tapas bar hopping goodness, sampling a wide range of experience in a small space and time.
And with this opportunity comes people, out and about on school nights, pumped and primed and keen as mustard at the feast on offer.

Emma Woods late on Wednesday, MacGregors. Beer, music and crowd all flowing fine

In relation to the main event/ day events at Eden Court, I unfortunately cannot comment, really, apart from what I read and what others told me.
I’ve been keen for this part and it sounds amazing, however for the last few years I have either been at work for these sessions, they have been booked out, or I have in some other way stuffed up and not got to this part of the event.
I have to say on this point though – either in my defence or as a gentle prod to the organisers – that this year it felt that the event was criminally under-advertised. I remember seeing a poster in where the upcoming gigs and events are placed in the front alcove of a music shop on Church Street a couple of months ago, and thinking I really want to do this properly this year. About Tuesday this week a friend asked if I was all set for it starting the next night, and knew that from this beginning, I had to get my skates on.
I’m sure some of the fault is in me living in a cave, but the numbers and feel on the street, as well as direct questioning to many all speaks, I think, to the legitimacy and generality of my experience here. A great product, under-advertised, and undersold.
While this is a shame, there was still an amazing amount on offer that I did get to see and want to thank the organisers for – thanks! – and it will be that which will form the reviews of the event.

The 2 reviews I’ll be writing here on XpoNorth will be on the music programme part of the overall event. I’ve split it into the 2 as a natural split exists, i.e. Wednesday and Thursday nights. Also because of the volume of content. I saw 5 bands on the Wednesday night and 3 on the Thursday, so might as well carve them up in this way.
One aspect of this event to consider, before launching into the band reviews, is that the nature of both the event and us as humans, as social creatures, necessarily played their parts in the choices of the bands that I managed to see.
My Thursday night serves up a couple of examples. I wished to see Carma early on, however relied on my friend saying it was at the Ivy Bar, instead of looking at the running sheet to confirm it was at the PentaHotel. My bad.
I also wanted to see Ida Kudo, who a friend said afterwards was amazing and their stand out – a fact that was both heartening and shit me off a bit, as I said no to that, as a friend preferred to go to MacGregors instead as they wanted a tasty beer just then. At least the beer was tasty.

 

Beyond the haze, The Dunts, top of The Tooth & Claw

As a connected aside, there’s a part of me that wonders about doing this ‘better’ next year – for I will get back to this great event next year.
Better may turn out to be selfish – decide on the bands I want to see, and go ahead and listen to them, instead of either being pulled to other people’s options, or pulled at times from listening and into conversations, which also happened a good deal.
I know that this will provide a better focus on the music, but also hesitate as it’ll influence the experience in other ways as well. As I say, as collective, social beings, there is something lost in this choice of path also.
I have no real answer here to this thought, only a ponderance that perhaps the beauty of the event lies, ultimately, as demonstrated in the music programme, in the choice we were lucky enough to have on offer.
And over to the reviews,  which will appear in tomorrow’s edition bastardwordiness.thenettle.scot,  just a simple click away… 

Part 2:

Xpo North and the joys of rapid fire music education – Wednesday 27/06/2018

Part 3:

XpoNorth and the joys of rapid fire music education – Part 3. 28/06/18

 -Cornwallace