Idlewild @ the Ironworks

I can’t help but feel that doing nablopomo this year has been like making a condensed version of my blog. So, really I need to write a gig review and a 2000 word academic film review before the end of the month and I’m golden! Maybe, not, but I did go to a gig on Wednesday night so it only feels right to review it.

I’ve had several conversations lately about feeling like a grown up or just plain feeling your age. I think I’ve found the definitive moment for me. The last time I saw Idlewild I was about 14 (I was a T in the Park with my dad and we caught the tail end of their set) and at their gig on Wednesday night I spotted a young boy, maybe 12 or 13 also at the gig with his dad, and thought he’s about the age I was when I first saw them…and realised that that meant he’s been on the planet for less time than its been since I last saw the band live. Yeah. Otherwise the audience was mostly my age and older which probably tells you both when they were at their peak of success and how long its been since they last released an album. The crowd were enthusiastic but a little restrained – the bouncing was gentler than I expected.

There is something decidedly unnerving about turning up for an indie-rock gig only for the ‘support’ act to be seriously folky and mellow. I did have some serious cognitive dissonance as I recognised first that the song they were playing was These Wooden Ideas and then that the lead singer looked awfully like Roddy Woomble… I did a fair bit of mental scrambling from remembering that one of the guys in the band had a rather folky side project (I was sure, and have since confirmed that it was Rod Jones I was thinking about) and wondering if they were supporting Idlewild on tour, to being increasingly sure that this was in fact Idlewild, just not as I knew them. It was good, just not very…Idlewild-y? I knew they’d seriously mellowed out over the years, I hadn’t realised it was by this much. However, several songs into the set they thanked everyone for turning up early for their acoustic set and all became clear, so I was able to relax and enjoy the strangeness in time for them to do In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction which holds a special place in my heart in general but felt particularly apt in these troubled times. And the guitarist did a fine job of simulating crunchy guitars on an acoustic instrument!

I was a bit uncertain of how it was going to be until they kicked into Roseability and the crowd started singing the refrain back at them. (After all these years, I’m still not entirely certain what exactly Gertrude Stein said was enough…) The band have mellowed out quite a bit since their early ‘a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs’ day – they will always be the band that got live gigs banned in my old student union for the best part of four years, even if everyone I know who was actually in attendance is a bit baffled as to why that gig prompted the ban – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Watching them live, you can still see the shadows of the band they used to be – there were moments, especially during When I Argue I See Shapes and You Held The World in Your Arms when the instrumentals got louder and punkier than expected, when the feedback loop of older songs and audience familiarity with and enjoyment of those songs threatened to pull them back in time. I like the newer mellower stuff, just as much as the older punkier stuff, and listening to Roddy sing I suspect that at least some of that change is that the punkier stuff was probably shredding his voice a bit. (There’s a man who knows how far he can push his voice and sings to that point and no further.) Honestly I’ll take a mellower incarnation of the band, if the trade off is his voice surviving for another ten years of albums and gigs.

I always forget how many excellent tunes they have, and it was a rare treat to be at a gig and think they’d played all the songs I was hoping they’d play only for them to crash into another brilliant and well-loved tune. I might wish I’d managed to see them as a student (c. In Remote Part) but I can’t regret in the slightest having gone to see them, even on a Wednesday night, in packed venue, with a crowd of people having just as much fun and having just as few regrets about how tired we’ll all be at work in the morning.

Farewell to the French Wives

So last Thursday approximately three and a half years after I first stumbled across the mellow, idiosyncratic tunes of French Wives in the shape of their first song ‘Your Friends and Mine’, I finally got around to seeing them live. Given that they were every bit as excellent live as they are on record, it’s rather a shame that this was also their last ever gig.

It was a frankly miserable night, and Kings Court where Mono lurks is not the most promising of locations on a cold, wet and windy night, so I worried the turn out wouldn’t be massive. But thankfully a decent throng appeared to give them a good send off and take one last opportunity to snap up some merchandise or a wee record to remember them by.

From the uplifting opening chords of Younger, during their sound check, I knew it would be an excellent gig. They certainly made it a set to remember, and while the support act Poor Things aren’t quite living up to their own potential yet, the special guests proved just as special as promised in the form of friends of the band, Admiral Fallow – even if the sound mix let them down a bit, my companion mocked me gently for the way my hands twitched to have a go at the sound desk. I reckon its been a fair while since they played before rather than after French Wives on a gig line up, but nonetheless, it was good to hear to some new stuff from them too. French Wives themselves, stuck to familiar ground, playing favourites new and old – to the varied delight of different parts of the crowd – and a special outing for a song that should have graced the album they never finished dedicated to the couple at the table next to me.

They ended their set with Hallowe’en and the reminder that they’d been together for 5 and a half years, and would cease to be in about 5 and a half minutes. As the tiny venue, packed to the gunnels, echoed with the crowd singing the refrain of the song back to the band the importance of chance and luck in a band’s career struck me hard. The charts are filled with dross that got signed and managed to find formula that lets them churn out uninspired drivel, while a wonderful little band like this was allowed to drift away to nothing, loved by those who knew of them, but unknown by millions who might have loved them.

They released one last song, before they went their separate ways, appropriately titled If I Could Disappear which is available for free on their soundcloud page, so if you’ve read my affectionate ramblings about them over the years but never got round to checking them out, here’s one last chance for you.