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.

 

 

Spoke Too Soon – EP launch ft. – Fight the Raptor – Cherry Park – Below The Neck

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Spoke Too Soon

Featuring: Fight the Raptor | Cherry Park | Below the Neck

EP Launch – Ironworks 01/09/18

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First of September – the day for EP launches it seems.  Sly at Last were launching their EP in Mad Hatters, and Spoke Too Soon were launching theirs in Inverness Ironworks.

I weighed up which one I was going to see and review – although there was potentially enough time to see both, I wanted to do a full writeup, rather than an I woz ere and I saw this band type article, so from a reviewing point of view a choice had to be made.

Being that I’m an impoverished sod I’d normally go to the free gig of the two, which would’ve been the Hoots/Mad Hatters gig, but the Spoke Too Soon EP launch was only six quid, and had four bands playing. In hoots I can get one and a half glasses of coke for six pounds, versus paying £1.50 per band to see the Ironworks.

Going to Ironworks I was also less likely to encounter the ever pickled eegit that I had witnessed the other night, completely misinterpreting the phrase “dance as if no one is watching” in more of a “please, look at me, look at me twirl” following an affected entrance, swinging between emotions and dramatic facial expressions like one of those boglin puppets that you got in the 1990’s that you stuck four fingers in to manipulate. 

With that in mind, The Ironworks was the place for me tonight, which, it transpires, was a good decision.

Following a day of enthusiastic discussion with tourists about; Outlander, whether someone was related to the Old Fox, and where Mel Gibson fits into all of this, a good bit of punk was what was needed to ‘purge the 1/12th Scotch on their grandfather’s side holidaymakers’ from my mind.

It’s not that I dislike my job, it’s actually pretty cool, and flexible, but sometimes the craic can be a bit samey, much like your mum.

Below the Neck

The first of the four bands set up on stage. From the first note sprung, my face was vibrating with the force of the thrashy metal madness being fired at me, and my fellow audience members from the stage.

On a side note, we will update the photos here, but this is what was available at time of going to publish

These gents are animated as fuck, which is what you’d expect from a metal band. Actually, that’s doing them a disservice, you do occasionally get static metal bands, which doesn’t go well towards a good gig – for me a lot of metal is about the performance, it has to be. Below the Neck were full pelt with personality.

It was actually their first live performance as a band, and as I understand it, the singer’s first stage performance ever. You couldn’t tell; far from it – there was a slick interaction and confidence which came off as a really impressive debut from Fred Durst in a beanie and his crew. If Fred Durst didn’t have a whiney voice and was likeable.

Their second song came in with a train type momentum and rhythm; Songs like that are always a winner for me, across any genre. if I wasn’t reviewing I’d be up for awe bit of a mosh pit – is that allowed these days, is it still a thing? 

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin

It led on to the next gratifying  number, a thrashy song with minor notes intermixed throughout, sounding like a Sepultura piece had been amalgamated with a hidden track on a Korn or Nirvana album.  This was followed by an anthemy type affair which again got my approval. It was as if the cookie monster was sad, whilst listening to thrash with major chords. Sounded a bit like an early Papa Roach tune.  I wasn’t able to make out the lyrics for any of these songs due to the style, but I think that’s fairly standard for a first listen of compositions in the cookie monster metal genre.

Also standard was the broken string from one of the two guitarists, but they fired through like true pros. They coped well with the Inverness reservedNESS from the crowd.

ReservedNESS, that should be a thing right? We’ve had RockNESS, MockNess, NESScon,  ProudNESS, so why not ReservedNESS, where everyone goes to a live gig and stands like mutes whilst a medium sized band perform. I guess we don’t need a named event for that. The crowd were beginning to warm though, Below the Neck had lubed them all up by the end, ready for the three further acts to come.

Something different this way comes.

Cherry Park, owning the stage

There was enough time for a plastic pint of coke and some fresh air to debug my eardrums after the first act and I was all set for Cherry Park.

Cherry Park opened their set with their beautifully crafted melancholy song which I would speculate was called ‘Unhappy Birthday’. As Ewan (bass) and Theo (lead guitar) threw the lyrics “blow out a candle for me, sorry that I didn’t come to your birthday” a feeling of warmth ran through my soul. Had I pissed myself? Na, it was just the contrast between the previous act and this band that was most welcome. Not good or bad different, just complimentary.

Their second track was proper bangin’ mun! In The Dead of Night was an optimistic, ‘this is what gigs are all about’ type track. The energy Cherry Park emitted was rubbing off onto the crowd like a panda spreading it’s pheromones on a tree.

This may have actually been what was happening, it was quite toasty up on the stage I hear.  Ironworks, is that what you do? Are your crowds powered by to secretions from the bands glands? In fairness there was enough quality tunage that the likelihood is it was a reaction to the general just swellNESS of the Cherry Park outfit.

Belting it out.

There was a song dedicated to fans of the film ‘The Room’ – which, by the way, is in the “so bad it’s watchable” state of affairs that you should watch it. Once. Just so you have.

The next track, I didn’t catch the name of, but it was a proper curl your toes with joy, I’m at a fucking NoFx gig, this is amazing tune. It was just spectacular. This was peak gig for me, all instruments and vocals amalgamated into a well crafted thing of beauty that gave me that warm feeling again. *checks* – Still haven’t pissed myself. Given that the drummer, Donna, had just finished doing a 10k Beast Race hours before, the fact that she wasn’t asleep was amazing enough, so gee-ing it laldy relentlessly was pretty spectacular.

Other highlights from Cherry Park included the track “Reptilian” featuring lyrics “I’ll Shed My Skin”, a slower, emotive song that sounded a bit soundscape-ish due to the harmonising of all three of the guitar type members complementing each other’s different vocal styles.

They finished up with the last song that sounded a bit like Feeder’s Oxygen, but with more depth to it. Side note, I’m still partially convinced Oxygen is a song about buzzing on aerosols, but that’s just a theory. Cherry Park owned the set, and the playout was brilliant and the whole thing felt like a gig you’d make the effort to travel to go see – so we’re lucky to have them here in our wee town city of Inverness. 

Hold on, I’m going for a number three? Er what?

The third band, and last support act up were Fight the Raptor, who opened with mellow stums, like the start of The Burning Red by Machinehead then fired into rock riffs.

As the three piece band got into the first track, my honest initial thought was that I didn’t like the vocals, and it felt a wee bit like a garage rock band, rather than the well put together previous two acts.  I was restricted to using my notebook in the dark briefly due to my phone having a tantrum, so ended up with a couple bits of scrawled illegible notes for the second and third tracks.

 

There was a fair bit of initial screaming type vocals, but a bit of atmosphere kicked in with some pinched harmonic bass in the musical break in the second track, sounding a bit like Phil Collins was frottaging with Pink Floyd. It wasn’t too bad, but the point I started enjoying the band was from the third track in.

Unrelated to the start of the enjoyment (I was drinking coke, not snorting coke, drugs are bad m’kay), the next song was announced as about drink and drugs. Halfway through the song it switched into a sample sound that I’ve noted down was like funky tripping music. It was at this point whilst trying to balance a plastic pint of coke in my mouth, bop to the music, and write in the notepad that I spilt the coke on the notebook. The fact that I was moving with the tunes was good though, I think the band just needed to warm up a bit, and they had.

The Bassist, being bassisty

“This song is about the seaside” was how the bouncing, rocking thrashing piece was put together. There was a good bit of fingering too. EEEEYY! The song about the seaside contained lyrics about drowning, which was heartwarming – and they managed to make their guitar sound like a helicopter. I didn’t get all the lyrics, but was this a coastal rescue song? Obviously is was. (not). But it was good.

The pumping industrial opening of the band’s interpretation of a love song came next. This one had some interesting sounds in it, and the group really shone with this one. There was a Squarepusher type bass-iness in there, and the track felt like a whole range of genres were played with, squeezed out and forged into their own style of metal. It was good eh!

‘ere’s the drummer too

The singer dedicated the next song to people that have put up with him personally over the years, but the most important part was that the song had a cowbell. Need more cowbell. It was a pretty pumping, Oi! Oi! Oi! song, which led into the last track, which induced proper moshing in the crowd. Moshing is a rare sight these days, but like ducks fucking, and white dog poo sightings, it was welcomed as a nostalgic sight from my teenage years. 

 

Spoke Too Soon

Three acts played, three acts good, let’s get onto the headliners. Spoke Too Soon’s backdrop was slightly different on the stage. In the build-up, the curtains were down, the lighting was different and there was sci-fi space music and an ominous atmosphere.

Spooky…

The atmosphere was building until someone – lets call him Dave – pulled the plug out of the amp. He put it back in though and the ambience was back. Well done Dave. Spoke too Soon assembled on the stage to get their EP launch up and running.

Bursting into life, their first track’s opening sounded like Screamager by Therapy?, but with out the frustrated depressed Irish vocal tones, then flowed through and finishing up nicely with some ska-punk

Animated as fuck

Number two was a euphoric alt-rock number, shaking the crowd into full pelt. The band were all over the stage kicking their legs, jumping and just giving the whole thing a fun and proper EP launch party feel. This was carried through to their third track, a song that I can most closely relate to Green Day’s “Brain Stew” but with a Top Gear driving album guitar lick. Wait, OMG, are they doing the soundtrack to a new Road Rash game? They fucking should – I’d happily drive round on a bike with some whips and chains. Erm, too much? Moving on.

All together now!

The Lead singer was elated to buggery with the whole thing as he introduced

a song from their EP. Potentially called “Standing on the edge”, It was a punky twangy number, that sounded like a dastardly cartoon evolving into a bit of a beastie boys vibe in the style of rock music.  

At one point the singer managed to get most of the crowd to crouch down like a collective of weird fiddler crabs, and if you can get a crowd to do that, you’ve won. I’m not sure what it was all about, but if you can do that, you’re sorted in life. Life goals and that.

The band just look cool!

There were a couple more pop-punk type songs, and one that was so new t

hat it superseded the EP’s release. Rather than describe it, I’ll just let you see it here – it’s about one minute in.

 

All in all Spoke Too Soon come across as seasoned, with a good singer that can sing in the traditional sense. As the last song played out with a fast, upbeat energy the fan-base lapped it up. It were good, the band were delighted, the crowd was delighted, and I was happy to have again been lucky enough to have seen a small band make a big impact.

 

Audio description:

 

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