Sep 262014

Spear of Destiny haven’t let up these past 31 years. Released last week, XXXI/ Thirty One is their first studio album in six years. And they’ll be appearing at the Moorings soon. Suzanne Kelly reviews.

Spear of Destiny xxxi‘XXXI / Thirty one’ was pre-released to fans, and is out to the rest of the world now; details here where you’ll also find a montage of the new material to listen to.

Jools Holland called it ‘possibly [Spear of Destiny’s] best album in 20 years’.

Holland is right. XXXI marks another major milestone in SoD’s continuing voyage.

Spear of Destiny are Kirk Brandon (voice, guitar), Craig Adams (bass, vocals), Adrian Portas (guitars), Mike Kelly (percussion), and Steve Allan-Jones (keyboards).

The music is beautifully written, arranged and recorded; the diversity of the material is striking. XXXI offers epic guitar and vocals as fans would expect. It’s a journey through rockabilly, melancholic dirge, ‘60s retro, uplifting anthems and still each work is instantly, unmistakably identifiable as Spear of Destiny at its finest.

When the album was being recorded, Brandon wrote on his website:

“…it promises to be a more up-tempo record than most in recent years, which can only be a good thing I think. A bit of a kick to it!” 

Here Comes The Sun is perhaps the most positive and affirming track in this collection.

Equally infectious, equally powerful is the haunting, melancholic Sputnik, which was the first track released to those who pre-ordered the album. This builds from a minimalist start featuring electronica echoing what a satellite might sound like in the depths of space to a rich crescendo. Spear’s trademarks are the blistering layers of Portas’ and Brandon’s guitars supported by Kelly’s drums and Adam’s bass, these two tracks exemplify those traits so loved by the fans.

The diversity of this collection is something to marvel at; particularly when a Marvel Comic anti-hero/villain Titanium Man is brought to life. To those of us of a certain age who remember the animated television Marvel comics Iron Man and Spider Man and their theme music, this song could have been written at the time; its 1960s/70s retro feel belongs to a golden age of comics on television.

If Marvel is planning to revive the Russian Titanium Man in one of their upcoming films in the wake of renewed East-West tensions, SoD is in pole position with this track. But it’s not quite as fun as it seems at first hearing; the music is positively fun; but in the lyrics dark roots appear.

An early album review comes from Louder than War; it’s an appropriately enthusiastic thumbs up. It aptly describes the song ‘Australian Love Song’ as ‘a rockabilly trip-out that sounds like a piss take/homage to Nick Cave’. It certainly nods to Cave’s landmark ‘Murder Ballads’ album.

Thirty one years together makes for flawless instrumentals, a unique sound, and some remarkable riffs and harmonies. The layers of vocal and guitars is transporting throughout, though notably in Here Comes The Sun, and the solo in Sputnik. Here Comes The Sun begs to be released as a single; Fascinations offers scathing social critique as it describes bullemia and other ills.

Hurry Home (which features ethereal, plaintive vocals from Heidi Berry) is a worthy addition to the band’s anti-war arsenal

Falling Down is remarkably sad (‘this is the sorry state of our lives’), angry (‘smiling idiots only want to take it away from you’), and harsh (‘the sunlight’s a happy place / but I guess you wouldn’t know’).

The instrumental section of this piece is likewise equally remorseful.

It opens with a single guitar rising and falling at the chorus (‘you could be anything in this life / but you chose every time falling down’), and after the angry part subsides, it fades away in the word ‘delusion’ sung over and over again as if in some tranquilised haze of thought. Between this and Here Comes The Sun is an entire spectrum of emotions.

Write On:

If there is any fault to be found in this latest release, it’s that the lyrics aren’t supplied in the CD; it would be good to have them laid out. As Brandon advises:

“This marks a very big moment for Spear and for myself; it marks a return to the writing process… and the writing deserves as much consideration as the instrumentals at least”

Hurry Home (which features ethereal, plaintive vocals from Heidi Berry) is a worthy addition to the band’s anti-war arsenal. In simplest terms, Hurry Home presents us with a soldier who’s not going to make it. It immediately opens with mournful guitar, and then the vocals. While all the tracks’ lyrics demand attention, these lyrics are particularly worth delving into. Brandon’s written:

“They’ll be no reveille in the morn
They’re be no sleep tonight
We haven’t talked on the phone
I ain’t lonely, but this breeze is”

The word ‘reveille’ puts us in the barracks; the sleeplessness implies worry and the unstated cause of this worry foreshadows a tragic end. The soldier’s denial of loneliness is a very lonely, heartbroken depiction of bravado.

It continues:

“Blue on blue
Shot in the back
I understand”

Thinking on this seemingly simple passage for any length of time raises several questions. Is Brandon meaning our soldier was literally shot in the back, or is there an implied dig at the UK’s military?

Could this be a reference to the military continuously betraying troops by sending them on missions without the right equipment and protection, or by sending them on futile life-risking missions (the unfinished Helmand electricity project having just been criticised in the news this week)?

Is the ‘blue on blue’ line echoing the many occasions on which troops have been killed by people who infiltrated the Afghan police and armed forces only to turn on their former comrades to kill them when their guard is down?

This line isn’t likely to have been written without some meaning intended. When Brandon writes ‘I understand’ does he simply mean he believes the soldier was shot in the back – or is Brandon saying he knows what it’s like to be metaphorically shot in the back? In ten, plain, short words Kirk Brandon gives you some fairly large questions to think on – it’s a master class in poetic economy which layers several ideas in a condensed verse.

And if you’re not delving deeply into what ideas may be hidden here, then the last unambiguous lines close the story:

“No last hurrah for you
Just a stone in Arlington”

As poignant and political as Hurry Home is, Titanium Man is as playful (well, on the surface at first hearing anyway). Cry Baby Cemetery is laced with menace and Americana; a synthesizer mimics a rattlesnake as it opens, putting the listener on a dark lonely Louisiana highway at night before the song is halfway started. There really is something for everyone on this album.

The Album Live

Live music trumps studio work and always will. There are acts who put out simplistic but highly produced studio albums but who can’t get cleanly through a single song live (don’t mention the Cardigans… oops).

There are acts like the Grateful Dead which, love or loathe them, created studio albums more often than not as an afterthought to the unpredictable, whirlwind live shows built around remarkable impromptu improvisations which frenzied fans adored. And then again, there are acts which do great work in the studio and equally great if not greater live renditions, like SoD.

They proved this at the Bisley Underworld Festival as the album was launched; the new material was as equally well performed and well received as their cornerstone works such as Take Me Alive. There was also a well thought out, apt cover of Babylon’s Burning, perfect for this punk festival. Cover songs do have a time and a place* (see footnote).

Kirk & Jools

Brandon appeared on Jools Holland promoting the album last week; discussing his music, early life and influences. His choice of material played / performed in the show earns him triple points:

Robert Johnson – Love In Vain
Led Zeppelin – The Lemon Song* (see footnote)
Free Walk In My Shadow
Clash Complete Control

From the new album Holland’s show included:

SoD XXXI – Fascinations
Sod XXXI – Sputnik

Brandon and Holland’s live version of Free’s Walk In My Shadow was high voltage, good fun, and just a bit dirty. You can still access a clip from the show; catch it here.

Brandon’s rendition of Paul Rodger’s vocals were splendid (note – Paul Rodgers will perform at the Royal Albert Hall in early November to benefit Aberdeenshire’s Willows Animal Sanctuary. He and his likewise animal loving wife Cynthia are patrons of Willows. Also on that bill is the Deborah Bonham band; she has likewise donated generously to Willows and is a fellow animal lover).

Back to Brandon’s website where he’s also written:

“These are exciting times… See you on the album release tour in September! I for one cannot wait.”

The wait’s over, and if you make it to the Moorings, or one of the album playback dates (there’s a show near Glasgow on the 12th), you’ll be glad you did.

A Date With Destiny

Experience Spear at the Moorings; they return on Saturday 11 October (do hurry if you expect to get a ticket).

* Compare and Contrast – A Footnote

When Spear of Destiny performed at the Moorings last year, Miley Cyrus had just released something called ‘Wrecking ball’, which involved her straddling said wrecking ball without benefit of protective clothing, or actually any clothing at all (I’m sure it was essential for the creativity of the artist, for expressing individuality, etc. etc).

In that same year that Spear, ToH and Brandon toured and created this remarkable new album, Cyrus has brought us ‘twerking’, taken her clothes off, and has just slaughtered Zeppelin’s ‘Babe I’m Going to Leave You’. We are inexplicably in a world where the latter earns more money than the former. Then again, people will be listening to XXXI decades after anyone wants to see Miley with or without clothes.

A performer (or a stripper with a famous line dancing relative) just can’t buy an ability to write, to perform, to sing (please do not listen to the live Cyrus version of ‘Babe’ – it will stay with you for a long time for all the wrong reasons), however much money they and their team have. Apparently you can’t even get competent advisors however much money you have.

La Cyrus has explained she committed this crime to bring Led Zeppelin to a new generation. Don’t know where she’s been, but Zeppelin is deservedly everywhere. Cover songs do have their place and time; this slaughter of a classic will send banshees screaming into the night in terror. In fact people on Facebook are reporting that when she starts screaming frightened pets are hiding under beds and trembling.

It occurs to me that Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime. Perhaps he should have taken his kit off. Thankfully, this particular cover version shall pass, if not soon enough.

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Sep 232014

bce14-017 Big Country will be performing songs from their classic multi-million selling album ‘Steeltown’ on Friday 3rd October at The Lemon Tree. With thanks to Dave Hill.

‘Steeltown’ is the second studio album and was recorded at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm with Steve Lillywhite producing. It was released on 19 October, 1984. Bruce Watson remembers the time very well, amid the nationwide strife back in the UK, fully in the grip of the Miners Strike:

“We started work on Steeltown back in June 1984 at Abba’s studio. We worked alongside Steve in Studio One as Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber worked on ‘Chess’ next door in Studio Two. Stockholm felt like the most expensive place on earth – it’s as if we were on a different planet to how things were back home – my Dad was a miner, so what we did was knuckle down to hard work for six weeks”.

Regarded by many as a classic, the multi-million selling Steeltown went straight to the Number 1 slot in the album charts.

The band will perform songs from the album as well as the classic hits and live favourites including

Harvest Home – Fields of Fire – In A Big Country – Chance – Wonderland –  Look Away – The Teacher

Plus many more…

Steeped in a stunning catalogue of proud and stirring hit songs such as ‘Fields of Fire’, ‘Chance’, ‘In A Big Country’ (which sold 2 million), ‘East Of Eden’ and their biggest UK hit ‘Look Away’, along with massive albums such ‘The Seer’, ‘Steeltown’, ‘Peace In Our Time’ and the triple Grammy –nominated, ‘The Crossing’, Big Country continue to look beyond the next horizon in 2014.

The band – BRUCE WATSON (guitars/vocals); MARK BRZEZICKI (drums, vocals); JAMIE WATSON (guitars/vocals) and former SIMPLE MINDS’ bassist/vocalist , DEREK FORBES – will be augmented on stage by SIMON HOUGH ex-front man for DENNY LAINE (WINGS), ERIC BELL (THIN LIZZY) etc.

For further info:


Friday 3rd October,
The Lemon Tree,
5 W North St,
01224 641122
doors 8pm
£27.50 inc B/Fee

Sep 122014
Ollie and Quincy

Ollie Howell with legendary film soundtrack composer and record producer, Quincy Jones.

London-based drummer Ollie Howell, who brings his acclaimed quintet to Aberdeen next week, has some high profile admirers.With thanks to Rob Adams.

Howell ‘floored’ Quincy Jones, the legendary film soundtrack composer and record producer who worked with Frank Sinatra and oversaw Michael Jackson’s multi-million-selling album Thriller, during a performance staged to feature some of the best students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff in 2009.

This led to Jones, who is affectionately known in the music business as Q, mentoring the Wallingford-born Howell and monitoring his progress as he has moved into a full-time professional career.

“Quincy’s one-quarter Welsh and was being presented with an honorary doctorate at the RWCMD when I was a student there,” says Howell.

“I was a big fan of his work on the Sinatra at the Sands album and when he invited me to New York to play with some of his friends after hearing me on that concert in Cardiff, I had to pinch myself. He later invited me to Montreux Jazz Festival and I’ll be visiting him in Los Angeles later this year to go through plans for my next album.”

Howell has also been taken under the wing of the legendary former Miles Davis drummer Jimmy Cobb, who featured on Davis’s classic Kind of Blue album, and is the first musical recipient of a Sky award, having won a Sky Academy Arts Scholarship earlier this year. A television documentary will be screened on the Sky Arts channel during 2015 as a result.

In between these and other career highs, which include winning the prestigious Peter Whittingham Development Award in 2012, Howell has had to deal with being diagnosed with a debilitating brain malfunction, which required urgent surgery. He has now fully recovered and named his first album, Sutures and Stitches, which was released on Whirlwind Recordings, after the experience.

His quintet, which features tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Mark Perry, pianist Matt Robinson and bassist Max Luthert, appears at the Blue Lamp, Gallowgate on Thursday September 18 at 8pm.

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Aug 292014

This is a great time to be a musician; it’s also a very hard time to be a musician as well. Arguably technology is behind this paradox. On the one hand, because technology has made it both easier to record and share new music, there has never been more competition in the music industry, and good bands have to stand out against a huge pool of talent all clambering for attention on YouTube and the like.

On the other hand, the ability to harness technology successfully is essential for fledgling acts and producers, and mastery of technology is what makes certain acts sound unique and separates them from the crowd. The more an aspiring musician knows about the aspects of the arts of performing and recording, the better their chances are for success.

The Ruptured Ducklings and their members are not leaving their success to chance; they’re going down every avenue of the industry, as I find out. By Suzanne Kelly.

DSC_0031Jonny Lees and Calum Farquhar meet me at their new recording studio/practice space in Aberdeen called D-Range, off Holburn Road. Tucked away in a beautiful garden setting, D-Range is in pristine shape.
The two met at Aberdeen College, both studied music and went on to complete an HND in Sound Production.

Their main music preference is for Rock but they have a wide music taste; Green Day was mentioned, as was admiration for Butch Vig, producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Partners Lees and Farquhar have designed an impressive recording/rehearsal room and offer state-of-the art engineering/production facilities. Local acts are beginning to gravitate to D-Range, but that is only part of Lees’ and Farquhar’s enterprise.

The duo is in a band together.

The Ruptured Ducklings are Jonny Lees – Vocals; Mike Love – Lead Guitar (Backing Vocals); Calum Farquhar – Rhythm Guitar (Backing Vocals); and Allan Constable – Drummer. The act has just had a date at the Moorings which went down very well by all accounts. They have another gig coming up on the 20th September at The Moorings and will be giving away free EP’s. The band can be found on Facebook; they can also be found on soundcloud.

Calum and Jonny’s interests aren’t limited to running the studio and promoting their band; they are working towards launching their own label.

The_Ruptured_Ducklings_LogoWe discuss the pros and cons of music in Aberdeen; the two think the city is in one of its upwards cycles. They feel the opening of the venue Downstairs and acts like Semperfi and Akord who played download last year are helping to bring a positive energy to the local music scene.

They are very interested in helping young, developing talent. They want to bring high standards of recordings up in Aberdeen so bands don’t need to go elsewhere for the standards they require. And it seems to me that they have a great deal to offer in that regard.

What does the future hold for D-Range? Their plans and services include monthly live streaming of bands, hosting band nights, voice overs for tv & radio, selling Acoustic Treatment products. D-Range also offers low tutor/solo rates between 10am – 5pm Monday to Friday. Their goal is to constantly sustain their high standards; I think they definitely will.

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Jun 242014

Jasmine Minks release a new single in tribute to a lost friend and colleague, and stalwart of Aberdeen’s early indie/punk scene.

Jasmine MinksBackground

Positivity is required. It’s 2014 and the World Cup. France are flying, England are…. well, doing what England tend to do in World Cup finals… keep everyone on tenterhook’s as to how it will go.

Scotland didn’t make it but we did beat the 2006 runners-up France on their own turf which felt as good as winning the world cup and the Jasmine Minks were there to witness it.

It was to be the last real get together for us with our friend and roadie Mark (aka SCARS). He died not too long after.

This song is a tribute to the Man; he was a soul that shaped us in so many different ways. He was one of us. It’s a song about remaining strong through a time of change and so often to many adversity and worry.

Production rationale

The main constraint to music these days is appetite. What drives us to keep on doing what we do? Positivity that’s what!

We believe in the capacity of (good) music to make a change for the better. We made a positive change. We have for the first time in a career spanning over 30 years included the bagpipes on a Jasmine Minks song.

Think the Minks meet McCartney on a boozed up Mull of Kintyre giving it a “wishing we were Brian Wilson” kind of vibe with some Jethro Tull flute thrown in for good measure with a twist of guitar alongside power drumming and you have a cocktail to provoke the senses that will leave them shaken and most likely stirred too.

Investment rationale

We made a genius move and have invested our lives in building our WALL – this WALL enables us to do our thing despite being in different areas all over the place – it’s a construction of our Work Art Life and Love

We did it ourselves via technology, the internet and the skill set of a group of musicians spread from fields afar such as Norway, Aberdeen and Glencoe to the London outskirts of Sutton to make this positivity happen. We hope you enjoy!

Available via digital download from iTunes, Amazon etc from 22nd June.

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Apr 252014

Patrick Duff brings his remarkable skills back to Aberdeen on 30th April, but this time with some exciting added extras. Esther Green writes.

Patrick Duff BnWPatrick Duff returns once again with Craig John Davidson as Special Guest, but this time as a collaborator in an exciting new venture – a white vinyl 7” split release single.

Because of the special connection the Bristol-based singer now has with the Granite City, The Blue Lamp has been selected for the Launch Party for the record.

2013 saw Patrick release two albums; Visions of the Underworld, now available through Rough Trade and Seven Sermons to the Dead, a record originally commissioned by Bristol City Council.

With that in mind, here are seven reasons why you ought to come along to what promises to be a fantastic night…

1) The Songs.  Patrick has an incredible body of work behind him, whilst trying out new material all the time.  He may include the occasional cover in his shows, rarely – if ever – dipping into his extensive Strangelove back-catalogue, but mainly taps the rich vein of his solo career.

2) The Stories.  He’s a man of many stories, all of them fascinating, many of them almost unbelievable and some hilarious. As well as the eloquence of Patrick’s delivery of these tales, their intensity and personal nature is something to savour.

3) The Atmosphere.  If you have ever attended one of Patrick’s concerts, you know what this is about.  The audience silence means something, an experience he often refers to “deep listening”.

4) The Special Guest.  A Fat Hippy Records favourite, Craig John Davidson’s talents are outstanding.  A great songwriter and musician in equal measure, he never fails to impress audiences with his finely-crafted guitar style.  He recently toured successfully with label-mates in Los Angeles and can be found playing various venues around Aberdeen.

5) The Single.  It’s a celebration of the friendship and musical brotherhood of its collaborators and we’re all invited. Patrick’s “Thought Birds” and Craig’s “Mr Manners” are popular live tracks among their respective fans and you will have the chance to grab a copy of this very limited edition collector’s item.

6) The Voice.  Patrick has the most beautiful singing voice – often unexpectedly courageous and cavernous, it is a soulful, pure and expressive sound.

7) The Experience.  You will never forget it.

Links and Info.


Pre-order the single

Upcoming concerts

Patrick Duff on Facebook

Patrick Duff on Twitter

New interview with Bristol’s Artscare Records

Craig John Davidson on Facebook

Craig John Davidson on Soundcloud

Links to previous Aberdeen Voice articles about Patrick Duff

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Sep 272013

Aberdeen’s undisputed Ambassadors of Blues Gerry Jablonski and the Electric Band excel themselves with a standard-setting live show and new album ‘Twist of Fate’ that deserves wide acclaim. Suzanne Kelly reviews.

Jablonski Electric Band 1 -  Credit: Julie ThompsonGerry Jablonski and the Electric Band would have been my first port of call musically if I were in charge of Aberdeen’s City of Culture Bid.
This is Aberdeen’s longest serving and most talented blues/rock outfit.
Years of hard work, dedication and progress have turned out a diverse, blues-infused album with an individualistic sound.

Jablonski and the Electric band are the kind of journeymen that make going to see live music the pleasure it should be, a good antidote to manufactured bands and reliance on costume changes for audience captivation.

Several hundred other people agreed with me; a hugely enthusiastic crowd enjoyed the band’s high octane set at the Lemon Tree on Friday 20th September where the new material was given the enthused reception it deserves.

The opening acts were Hell house and The Ruckus which at different points evoked Paul Rogers & Bad Company to AC/DC with a strong finale number ‘Nothing to Lose.’ 

From his acoustic blues days through Cloth Monkey, from the powerful Union Terrace Gardens Jubilee party to the present, Jablonski has grown into a seasoned, entertaining front man. The Lemon Tree saw him and the band giving it their all.  Jablonski started the set on his own with an instrumental which invoked The Rolling Stones ‘Hipshake.’

As the band joined him on ‘Sherry Dee’ I was momentarily distracted by some of the crowd; I wondered why people come to see live music if they’re going to talk (if not shout) above it and spent their night taking selfies. But everyone was soon totally caught up in the set, and wouldn’t have noticed if the place had crumbled around us.

It can be hard to balance real, raw blues against the desire to put out a neat, tight, clean set, but they walk that line. They are clearly tightly rehearsed without losing any of the fresh feel their material demands live.

Jablonski Electric Band 2 -  Credit: Julie ThompsonFor me two of the (many) highlights were the very powerful ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Preacher’, from the new album (then again there was also some delicious slide guitar).  You would be justified in buying the album for ‘Preacher’ alone; a dark, heavy track reminiscent of Clapton/Cream, with a twist.

The lyrics deserve more attention than I’ve been able to give them so far, but the title track ‘Twist of Fate’ a slower, beautiful bit of blues is poignant.

What ‘Twist of Fate’ is about is explained on the album notes:-

“During the recording, our drummer and friend has been battling his illness, hence the title of this album.  Music is a great healer and a magical force, but it should never be above family and friends and those you love.”

The press release promised:

“There is real passion and pain on this album and it takes the band and their electric music to a whole new level.” 

The promise was kept.

Gerry kept referencing the importance of his wife and family to him during the set, and how important the families of the bands are to the whole. This support is clearly crucial, with drummer Dave Innes receiving treatment for cancer. Not that you would have had any clue of this on the night; he was a smiling, powerful force.  It would be remiss not to credit the harmonica work from Peter; a perfect foil for Gerry’s solos.

It was over an hour into the set, and I was wondering how many more songs they would be able to get through without all of them tiring – the drumming was impeccable, the base understated, elegant and reliable – as it’s supposed to be. Jablonski’s vocals are getting better and deeper all the time; but it has always been the amazing fills and solos that I find compelling.

There was some slowed-down traditional blues towards the end, but the way Jablonski plays deserves more attention than it’s had to date. The bass player is not to be overlooked – you can’t do anything like this without a solid bass. The set flew past; the title track from ‘Twist of Fate’ came close to the end. The set’s ended, but things are just beginning for JG and the Electric Band.

‘Twist of Fate’ is available on Fat Hippy Records and at all good record shops.  www.fathippyrecords.couk

More photos of the band from the Lemon Tree by Julie Thompson can be found here:

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Sep 172013

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Gerry Jablonski

Gerry Jablonski and The Electric Band have long been one the most successful acts to come out of Aberdeen.

Their first 2 albums on Fat Hippy Records have sold to classic blues rock fans all over the world and both albums have had to be re-pressed to supply demand for their music!

On the 23rd September Fat Hippy will release their stunning third album Twist Of Fate.

Recorded whilst the band were fighting for their future as drummer Dave Innes (Midge Ure, Marillion, Fish, Bay City Rollers) battles with stomach cancer there is real passion and pain on this album and it takes the band and their electric music to a whole new level.

The band will play Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree on September 20th; other upcoming dates include 21st September at Non-Zeros, Dundee and 27th September in Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms.

With tours of Poland, Germany and Czech Republic already booked for 2013 and 2014 to launch the album and interest from the USA growing every day you should probably catch this band whilst you can!  More info:

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Sep 132013

Whilst I’m not sure if there exists a specific and empirical Scottish identity, which leaves me a bit unsure as to how to vote next year, for the selfish purposes of this article, I’m saying that it’s been a good couple of years for releases by Scottish musicians, writes David Innes.

2012 saw terrific releases by Meursault and Two Wings, each experimental but melodic and thought-provoking. In 2013 so far, the John Langan Band’s so-called pan-European traditional acoustic music was displayed to magical effect on Bones Of Contention and bluesier offerings from Dave Arcari (Whisky In My Blood), Hot Tin Roof (All Night Long), King King (Standing In The Shadows) The Black Diamond Express (Brimstone For Hell) and the perennial Blues ‘n’ Trouble (Try Anything Twice) have all impressed critics, reviewers and fans alike.

Colin MacKay169Johnny and the Copycats have celebrated more than half a century of never-say-die gigging by releasing 50 Years On and new CDs by Colin Mackay and Davy Cowan, both the subject of Voice interviews, have come our way.

We’ll get a copy of the Copycats’ disc, but in the meantime, what about Buckie loon Mackay’s recording and Highlander Cowan’s release?

Do What You Love (Colin Mackay, Self-release) was recorded in Nashville, with production legend Bil VornDick at the board.

Colin is careful to point out that the Nashville connection does not necessarily mean that he’s recorded a country album, citing southern rock and soul as big influences on his writing. There’s no doubting that there’s a toughness and swagger about his own material on Do What You Love.

Perhaps it’s because he’s wearing his own clothes on his own six compositions that these are where he turns in his strongest performances. This is especially evident on the opening three tracks, the title track, the Miracles-esque Whisky Morning and Let You Go.

VornDick’s hand-picked session men are a massive part of the album, laying down surefooted, sympathetic tracks which enhance immeasurably Mackay’s songs. He has said himself that he was in awe of the talent surrounding him during the recording, and there’s little question that both producer and musicians have inspired Colin to demonstrate his own vocal abilities to fine effect.
Aberdeen Voice interviews Colin MacKay

Davy Cowan 168aFurther west on the Moray Firth, Davy Cowan, formerly of Celtic crowd-pleasers Coinneach has been coached and encouraged by producer and Barbaraville label owner Martin Stephenson to find his own voice and become known ‘beyond the village’.

Working Man’s Dream (Pictish Pop Records/Barbaraville) is already creating minor tremors beyond the Black Isle.

It’s a solid set of original songs, with a faithful cover of Tom Paxton’s Ramblin Boy included, and the producer has brought the best out of Cowan by encouraging him to find his own voice to emote his personal, yet universally-themed songs.

He’s a lucky guy.

At times displaying the tough yet vulnerable cracked emotion of Johnny Cash, and occasionally recalling the sonorous timbre of Tom Russell, his performances have credibility and are delivered without histrionics or Autotune.

Whilst for the genre junkies and categorisation obsessives Working Man’s Dream can probably index-carded and filed in the Americana drawer, the album is simply a welcome example of mature home-grown songwriting and delivery, drawing in Celtic and country influences, with an added energetic punk edge as needed.
Aberdeen Voice interviews Davy Cowan

Sep 132013

Itinerant Scots have been accused of many musical misdemeanours. Musicologists have built careers tracing the global paths that Scottish traditional music has wandered along, injecting swing into cowboy music, adding Hebridean angst to the blues and a hint of bothy life into bluegrass. Since the heady days when The Old Blind Dogs linked New Deer with New Orleans there’s been a consistent interest in setting traditional Scots tunes against global rhythms. Along those lines, and on the face of it, this looks like an interesting CD release from Huntly’s Deveron Arts, reviewed by Graham Stephen.

CeilidhcatuBrazilian musician Allysson Velez, inspired by ceilidh music, recognised rhythmic links with his own tradition and its African slave roots. He teamed up with Omar Arif, a West African musician living in the area, and a handful of local musicians, including fiddle maestro Paul Anderson. The result is Ceilidhcatu, promoted as ‘a transcultural community of art’.
What I expected was a cross-cultural stew of shared enthusiasm with musicians sparking off each other’s playing and musical styles.

This may well happen in a live situation, but much of this recording lacks a dynamic spark, sticking to repetitive, unadventurous arrangements and never quite matching its ambitions.

Too often it sounds like two styles brought hesitantly together, shyly inter-mingling, but happier to stick to familiar territory. That, you may argue, is itself a fundamental tradition in the NE.

Not that there is anything wrong with the performances. The musicians play well, which is frustrating, because at times the formula works, giving hints of the possibilities. The relentless African drum patterns, for example, enhance the gloom and menace of Twa Corbies.

Driven by Anderson’s strong fiddle, The Devil In The Kitchen set threatens to take off, demanding to be pushed into overdrive by some strong percussion. When the drums arrive, however, they stick to a repetitive groove regardless of changes in the tunes, where subtle shifts and textures would have brought the set to life.

Opening track Scotland The Brave also suffers from this sense of deceleration, giving a feeling that the two elements have been brought together separately, rather than being a natural bonding. The traditional songs and tunes chosen are also very familiar. Perhaps a choice of material beyond the standard session repertoire might have enhanced the project.

Significantly, the strongest tracks are duets featuring only Velez and Afif, their hypnotic Maracuta rhythms echoing the legacy of slave trade links between Brazil and Africa. Set against this, an unexpected unaccompanied version of The Rovin’ Ploughboy, perfectly sung by Shona Donaldson, somehow encapsulates the aching soul of the NE bothy ballad while Steve Brown’s pipes on Farewell To The Creeks sit well in natural sound effects.

NordEste/NorthEast (Deveron Arts)