Ten for 2010 – Julia and the Doogans

Julia and the Doogans were another early discovery for me this year. I owe AyeTunes a wee tip of the head for these folks, as it was his flagging up of a free gig at the Mill back in March that introduced me to the joys of this band. I’ve seen them a couple of times this year and they always seem to be supporting the least likely bands. Most notably I saw them in the University of Stirling student union supporting Blind Wolves who a) could not have been more different if they tried and b) are a bit rubbish. Which I do appreciate is pretty close to sacrilege in some circles if what I hear from my former compatriots at Air3 radio (probably not still claiming to be ‘Straight Out of Cornton’ these days) is true, but I suspect the contrast with Julia’s gorgeous voice beforehand did them no favours. Though speaking of former Air3 Radio compatriots I did have a surreal moment when listening to the Scotland Introducing podcast during the summer and instead of Vic Galloway’s dulcet tones I was greeted with an entirely different but equally familiar voice. “That’s never that Ally McRae!” says I, but lo and behold it was. I hear he’s one of the folks behind Detour Scotland but I still can’t get past the fact that a voice I used to hear 1350AM will soon be on 99.5 FM…

Anyway enough pointless nostalgia and back to the band. There’s something strangely appealing about the ensemble format, of songs that can be stripped down to just a guitar and a xylophone if necessary or expanded out to something almost orchestral in the rich mix of sounds blending together when all members are present. Listening to them recorded, it’s hard to imagine Come Home or New York City without their cello line and yet they work without it. Oft times the flautist gets a little lost in the blend of the recording, but on stage the flute makes a vital contribution. Perhaps its something about Julia’s voice itself, pure and beautiful, providing a consistent through-line on which the other elements and instruments can be hung or removed as required by practicalities. Perhaps that’s why they work as a ‘and the’ band where others don’t, each of the ‘Doogans’ providing something special to create a richer sound, with Julia’s voice tying them all together to make a coherent whole.

They do a nice line in rather cute home-made music videos, I personally have a soft spot for the little pigs of Maps of the World, but appreciate most people prefer the aesthetic of the videos for New York and their gorgeous cover of The Scientist, so it’s the video for the former that I’m sharing today. It could be quite a sad song when you think about it but the video keeps the tone whimsically bittersweet and oddly hopeful.

Ten For 2010: Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit were my first new musical discovery of 2010, based on a throw away mention in something completely unrelated of ‘some obscure Scottish indie band’. I know, I know, I’m ridiculously late to the party with that band but it was these guys that made me realise how out of touch with new music I’d got and how much good stuff I was missing out on.

My affection for this band managed to be both really obvious and to completely sneak up on me. It must have been just before they released The Winter of Mixed Drinks; because I remember watching a sampler video thing of songs from that album and thinking they were good. At the time I described them to someone as ‘a band that I think I could love the way I love Idlewild, abstractly but loyally, always intending to get round to buying an album and only having seen them live by accident’. I had no idea how wrong I was.

The Midnight Organ Fight, is a very different album to their latest effort, and it was this that pushed them from ‘band I enjoy’ to ‘band I love’ status and has kept them in my top five most listened to bands all year. It’s an album that inspires a very intense, almost visceral emotional reaction in me, that makes me I wish I owned it in about third year of uni. Keep Yourself Warm and Poke are the two songs that grabbed my attention first by dint of pretty much grabbing me by the heart and dragging me back in time six or so years, and reminding me how it feel to have your heart ripped out. There’s a strange mix of sweetness, sadness, rage, bitterness and resignation in the songs, wrapped up in lyrics that are at once quirky and almost shockingly raw. Then, in the second last song, after all the loss and rage that came before, comes Floating in the Forth probably the most hopeful song written about feeling suicidal. If the album as a whole, tips you over, rearranges your thoughts and rips your heart out, that song comes along, gives you a reassuring hug and tells you that you’ve survived, you’re stronger now and that it gets better from here on in.

I’m still inclined to think that The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is a more mature/grown up record, the songs are certainly more radio-friendly and easier to demonstrate their excellence to other people with. Maybe it’ll even be the album that makes everyone else realise how awesome they are and in five years their sold out Glasgow gigs will be at Hamden rather than the Barrowlands; maybe my initial impression was correct and they’ll chug along at an Idlewild level of success for the next decade; maybe they’ll disappear back into obscurity. Whatever happens, here and now, they’ve got some excellent tunes.

As an added bonus, here’s a wee trip to Pepperland (animated music videos, how I love thee), courtesy of the video for Bright Pink Bookmark.

Ten for 2010: French Wives

List season is almost upon us. Which is always an odd time for me when it comes to writing this blog, as it’s a film blog and I don’t do top ten films of the year. Mainly because I consider it a good year if I see twenty films I hadn’t seen before. If you’ve been following my ‘12 films’ project then you already know something like 75% of the films I’ve seen this year. I write an annual round up of the documentary features and shorts I’ve seen over the past year, somewhere between Christmas and New Year, and that’s it. (I’ve only seen three documentaries this year, so I see a lot of documentary viewing in my immediate future.)

However, of people who feel moved to email me directly about the blog, almost all of those enquiries are about my rare music posts. So for this silly season only I’m going to do a series on the best musical discoveries I’ve made this year. In another life I’m also a DJ for hospital radio (Radio Royal: plug, plug) where I do a Scottish Music show, which features an unsigned half hour. Unsigned is actually a fairly loose term, but generally means small, fairly obscure or likely to only ever have had radio play on Rapal or Scotland Introducing previously. So my choices are going to skew Scottish, indie and obscure, as they are mostly bands I discovered while searching for new tunes for my show.

First up we have Glasgow based band French Wives. The List once described French Wives as: “a young band with heart, talent and a trombone.” Which I personally find one of the most irresistible descriptions of a band I’ve ever heard, and given that the full blurb that came from makes up the band’s profile description on last.fm quite a few people felt the same way. I first discovered them on the compilation that Have Fun at Dinner put together earlier in the year. Your Friends and Mine was apparently the first song they ever wrote and is definitely an auspicious start. Their recent single Welcome, In The Light features excellent fiddle and some nice harmonising.

The are currently running a project called ‘Home Fires’ where they are giving away a song from their back catalogue every Monday for seven days. Accompanied by little videos of random cover versions and antics from the band.

Speaking of random cover versions, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cover version of Caravan of Love before and the commentary that accompanied their attempt would suggest why…it is unexpectedly difficult to get right…

They’re bouncy, indie-pop, with witty lyrics and unusual instrumentation choices, just what you need to fight through a gloomy Scottish winter. Songs for days when the heavy grey skies lift to reveal crisp cold sunshine and beautiful blue skies that make being freezing cold all worth while.

Oh and there’s no swearing, a definite plus when I’m picking songs to play on the radio…

Singing Our Language

I’ve been meaning to write a proper, serious entry on Gaelic and minority languages in general for ages but its just not happening at the moment. So in the meantime I’m just going to get a little over-excited about the recent resurgence in Gaelic language rock music.

On my travels around Glaschu lately I keep seeing big banners with ‘Cum Gaidhlig Beo’ (roughly ‘Keep Gaelic Alive’) which naturally I approve of – seeing Gaelic in everyday life always makes me happy – but I was puzzled as to why they were around. The Mod’s in Gallaibh this year so its not that, thus the mystery continues. Anyways, I was in Glaschu for dinner recently and by strange chance we saw one of those signs while the radio was playing Radio nan Gaidheal which led to me getting to listen to that station for longer than I normally do (the evening DJ speaks so fast I’m lucky if I can pick out a handful of words) before my travelling companions got bored and we went back to Rock Radio. The point of this story is that the music playing was fairly mainstream rock/indie stuff with some smaller bands thrown in and one of the songs they were playing was in a mix of Gaelic and English. Being quite a nice little song I thought I’d see if the playlist was up on the website (surreal conversation in the car as to whether Radio nan Gaidheal has A lists and B lists and what would be on there) and lo it was. Turns out I was listening to Rapal and though I never did manage to track down the track I was listening to I did find a bunch of other excellent tunes in Gaelic to spend my new-found wages on. Rapal run an annual competition for a song written in Gaelic and there’s a wee highlights video on the website which I found to be a handy (though frustrating as many of the songs have never been released) guide for venturing into new territory.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Continue reading “Singing Our Language”

Julia & the Doogans/Be A Familiar @ The Mill

So, last Thursday night I went to see Julia and the Doogans at Oran Mor (well technically downstairs at the Mill, because free gigs are not to be sniffed at).

Melodic with bittersweet lyrics and a cello, I’d only heard one of their tracks but when ayetunes pointed out that they were playing a free gig in Glasgow on a night I would be there anyway, I couldn’t resist. Oh and they were every bit as lovely as expected with a collection of unexpected instruments (any band that manages to include some xylophone on not one but two tracks and has the aplomb to reproduce the sound live on a tiny xylophone that comes in a pale green carry case – with match beaters – and carry it off is a winner with me) and some gorgeous lyrics. Very much a loose collective, with band members disappearing gradually throughout the set until there was on Julia left on stage with her guitar for the final song. I’ll definitely be wanting a copy of their EP once its out.

I knew absolutely nothing about the 2nd band of the evening Be A Familiar beforehand so I had no idea what to expect and really they couldn’t have been more different from the 1st band if they’d tried. They were really up and bouncy, which given that I was all mellowed out from Julia and the Doogans was a bit…jarring. Plus the male lead singer/guitarist came on to tune up and looked a bit, well like he was trying to be Vince Noir from The Mighty Boosh (some of you may be making appreciative noises at this juncture but it wasn’t really a good look from where I was standing) and they initially seemed painfully hip and trendy. However, after the first couple of tracks they started to get into it and relax and so did the crowd. The trumpet player got in on the action, female-lead singer started to harmonise nicely and they began to look like they were having fun. The lyrics got a bit lost at some points but the tunes were good and they definitely deserved an audience more inclined to dance than that nights. They’re actually somewhat mellower on record than they were live, so I can sort of see why the organisers put the two bands on together.

I’d definitely go see both bands again live.

Be A Familiar

This was the best photo I got all night (camera-phone not the best in the world) so you get the sweet little video for ‘New York’ instead of pics.

And then he gave me a strawberry…

Back in January I was talking to one of my mates about music, Owl City in particular (Postal Service lite that they are), and how out of touch we’d grown with new music. I miss the days of having a flat mate who wrote for the student newspaper and thus would abuse my ears with whatever strange or beautiful pre-release or upcoming band she was currently reviewing (Dogs Die in Hot Cars, where considerably better by the time they were being touted as ‘the next big thing’ in 2005 then they were when we saw them being a support act in 2003). I meant to make a post about it and then never got round to it. Appropriately a major reason for the delay, initially at least, was that I was busy doing new music related stuff.

Via the magic of twitter I ended up filming Kirsty McGee and the Hobopop Collective at Classic Grand during Celtic Connections.

Which was great fun (check them out if you can, a very fine selection of banjos there) and also the first gig I’ve been to since I saw the Plasticines in Camden back in September. My New Years resolution is nearly always to go to more gigs, though that’s not exactly viable in the current climate (though naturally if anyone reading this is in a band and would like their gig filmed and a wee DVD made for publicity purposes, then do feel free to get in touch, work is always welcome). Instead I’m stuck following local music blogs with envious eyes and scouring Spotify to swat up on the bands they rave about.

Frightened Rabbit are my newest discovery on that front (Keep Yourself Warm and Poke are favourites) on the surface they’re very much typical Scottish indie band in sound, but there’s something about them, a certain undertone to the lyrics perhaps, that makes me think I could come to love them the way I love Idlewild. I’m less certain about Second Hand Marching Band, there’s something strange and interesting about their musical sound but I’m not quite convinced by what the lead singer’s doing with his vocals.

Of course then comes the issue of what actually counts as ‘new music’ after all, many’s the band that chugs along in obscurity for years before gaining any sort of mainstream acceptance. Acts like VV Brown and We Were Promised Jetpacks are fairly straightforward to classify but others aren’t so easy. I first saw and fell in love with Drive-by Argument when they played our student union back in 2005 and some of those same songs appeared on the album they released in 2008, do they count as new (actually I think they might actually count as defunct these days but never mind)? Where does the line between new and simply a bit obscure fall. Where do people like Amplifico and Bastard Fairies fall? Personally I can’t think of Vampire Weekend as a ‘new band’ because I saw them live back in 2007 and they seemed to be pretty much on the up then. A lot of my new musical obsessions come from mix tapes friends make me, so there was a period of my life when new music and Canadian music got a bit conflated (which led to Wild Light and the National getting tagged incorrectly as ‘canadian’, I really ought to fix that) in my head. How new is new? Shiny and new in one country may be old and tired in another. Who decides, and at the end of the day does it really matter?