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Stereogram Revue - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 2/12.2015

  by John Clarkson

published: 8 / 3 / 2016

Stereogram Revue - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 2/12.2015


John Clarkson at the Voodoo Rooms is impressed by the Stereogram Revue, a showcase gig for several of the acts on rising local label Stereogram Recordings

It is not easy putting on a gig. Whatever plans you make, however carefully you prepare things, there is always that capacity that it may go wrong. Of course, by the very nature of what a gig can involve – unpredictable musicians, last minute hitches, travel plans going askew – that potential for mishap increases the more ambitious and grand-scale your plans. The Edinburgh-based indie label Stereogram Recordings first announced this Revue show, and another the following night in Glasgow, nine months ago back in March. Its original aim, in the grand tradition of the Motown and Stax package shows of the 1960s and the infamous Stiff Records tours of the late 1970s, was to provide a showcase for all of the eight lyric-focused acts on its roster. Since then it has gone through a long and difficult birthing process. The enigmatic Americana act Milton Star were the first act to drop out, having no current live line-up and choosing to remain in rural Fife where they record their brooding, haunting music in a former church. The London-based cult group the Band of Holy Joy, the label's best-known act, were next to pull out, unfortunately unable to make the 750 mile round trip because of work and financial reasons. Lola in Slacks have meanwhile been off and on the bill twice, initially booked to appear in their full six-piece line-up, then as an 'undressed' two-piece consisting of chanteuse Lou Reid and guitarist Brian McFie, before finally absenting themselves entirely with a sick note the night before the Edinburgh show as McFie has fallen ill. There must have been points in which label owner Jeremy Thoms and in-house PR and A&R man Innes Reekie had despaired if this gig was going to ever come together. On the day itself of the show there are more problems. St Christopher Medal, who are travelling down from Perth, are caught up in the first day of the Forth Road Bridge's sudden closure, and, having been trapped in traffic, arrive very late for their soundcheck. James King and the Lonewolves' bassist Nick Clark meanwhile doesn't make it all, having gone inexplicably AWOL. Yet for all this, even three out of eight acts down, and with various key personnel missing, these prove to be simply teething problems, something to be got around. The Stereogram Revue is a triumph both against adversity and the odds. The first act on the bill of the evening are the Fabulous Artisans. A recording and writing duo since 2007 featuring Glasgow-based vocalist Neil Crossan and multi-instrumentalist Thoms, the Fabulous Artisans have consisted for their rare gigs of actor and former stand-up comedian Crossan and in recent times of guitarist David Paul and keyboardist Brian Walker. Thoms doesn’t do gigs with the Artisans, preferring to adopt a sort of Brian Wilson role, there in the studio but opting out of playing live with them so that he can focus instead on Stereogram and his main band, the Cathode Ray. Clad in one of the new Stereogram T-shirts that Reekie is selling at the merchandise stall and working also as the compere for the evening, he, in a lovely but surreal moment, proudly introduces his own band. Crossan is a big, burly man with a face that might be described as “lived in”, but has a glorious, rich baritone voice that recalls Scott Walker. Thoms’ piano melodies, re-enacted here by Walker, meanwhile have something of the sublime stateliness of Burt Bacharach and the short set of torch ballads they play tonight are alternately heart-breaking or life-affirming, with ‘These Open Arms’, which the crooning-voiced Crossan dedicates tenderly to his wife, proving especially moving. With members in Perthshire, Teeside, Dorset and New York, St Christopher Medal’s situation is even more complicated still than the Fabulous Artisans. Despite being together almost a decade, this is only their second gig, and vocalist and songwriter Ali Mathieson is understandably nervous, taking a last gap of an e-cigarette as his band tunes up and slopping beer over the acoustic guitar that he has borrowed from David Paul. Playing in a makeshift-line up also consisting of bassist Billy Nisbet, drummer David Mack and a young keyboardist from Dunkeld, they, however, quickly warm up. A throwaway opening number about the band’s hopes for the show tonight and tomorrow at the CCA in Glasgow is very funny. Songs from the group’s years-in-the-making just-released debut album, ‘Sunny Day Machine’, such as the elegiac ‘Glori’ (inspired by Canadian writer Don Hannah’s out-of-print novel ‘The Wise and Foolish Virgins’), the soaring ‘Vatersay Love Song’ (about how Mathieson met his wife while teaching on the Isle of Barra) and the epic ‘West’, combine Americana with the pop melodies of Teenage Fanclub and have a lingering quality. Dunbar-based singer-songwriter Roy Moller and His Moller Men play a chaotic but entertaining set. Early on, Moller begins playing ‘Beneath the Tarmac’, the third song in his five-song set, while the rest of his band kick off with the second song, ‘Figure’. “It’s these shades I am wearing,” admits Moller, before they start over ‘Figure’ again. “I can’t see the fucking set-list”. The final song ’I Would Hate for It Not to Be Amazing’ features a guest appearance from Edinburgh-based poet Michael Pedersen, but is also delayed as Pedersen can’t be found, eventually emerging from the toilet after some minutes. For all the mild onstage mayhem which just adds to the fun, Moller’s songs tonight have a punchy 60’s-influenced pop shine. There is some hilarious banter between the Moller Men about their favourite Beatles albums, and Moller has in his new group, which again features David Paul and fine American multi-instrumentalist Lach, who flits between guitar and keyboards, a band of real musical tightness and strength. Glaswegians James King and the Lonewolves are also playing in a reduced line-up tonight, and as a three-piece instead of a five-piece. With bassist Nick Clark having as it transpires forgotten to turn up and guitarist Jake Mckechan more officially absent, that just leaves vocalist and guitarist King, the group’s other guitarist Joe Sullivan and drummer Corey Little. “Knowing Nick he has probably died,” quips King, explaining Clark’s absence but he is clearly pissed off as hell at his missing colleague. The Lonewolves’ music has always been caustic and belligerent, but tonight everything seems to have been stepped up a gear. Dressed in dark suits and wearing shades, King and Sullivan’s guitars catapult and bounce off each other as they slam dive through songs such as ‘Fun Patrol and ‘(Un)happy Home’. Little meanwhile brings a furious energy of his own to his drumming. It is an explosive, breathtaking performance, one which puts a lost sense of danger back into rock music. In what many of the audience who have seen them many times before are saying is the best they have ever seen them, they are absolutely remarkable. While the Band of Holy Joy are unable to be present tonight, they have in their absence deputised front man Johny Brown’s close friend, Edinburgh experimental actor Tam Dean Burn, to perform what they have dubbed as the ‘Scrap and Salvage Movement’, a spoken word performance of some of Brown’s lyrics set to the backdrop of the Band of Holy Joy’s music and Inga Tillere’s always haunting visuals. Burn, who played Renton in the original stage production of ‘Trainspotting’ and has also appeared on television, has an unenviable job, showcasing something so abstract and following on after the Lonewolves, but brings in a focus and passion of his own. It is a brave and gripping if acquired performance, and, with ‘The Repentant’, about a down-and-out, and ’Clear Night, A Shooting Star, A Song for Boo’, which imagines all the electrical appliances in the world concluding with the National Grid being turned off one by one, both of which are taken from the 2011 ‘How to Kill a Butterfly’ album, Burn convincingly highlights Brown’s ability as both a poet and storyteller. Lastly there is Thoms’ own band, the alternative rock act the Cathode Ray. In what is a taut set, their third at the Voodoo Rooms this year, they throw in a spiky new song ‘It Takes One to Know One’, several tracks from this year’s second album ‘Infinite Variety’ including the sinister, metallic ‘Backed Up’; the snappy Blur-esque ‘Resist’ and the Krautrock-influenced ‘Buck the Trend’, before concluding with their crowd-pleasing 2006 first single ‘What’s It All About’. Tonight’s Revue many not have been exactly what Jeremy Thoms intended when he announced it all those months ago. It has, however, at one level succeeded in doing what it set out to do, providing a showcase for Stereogram Recordings and bringing together and highlighting its acts, which for all their lyrical focus, are as musically diverse as they are rewarding. As Jeremy Thoms and the Cathode Ray leave the stage at the end of the night, several members of the audience in the seated area at the right hand side of the stage slide to their feet and start to applaud him loudly. It is very much deserved.

Also at Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh

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Stereogram Revue - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 2/12.2015

Stereogram Revue - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 2/12.2015

Stereogram Revue - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 2/12.2015

Stereogram Revue - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 2/12.2015

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