Gigs solo

Pablo played the Tolbooth Stirling 3rd October 2015

The Tolbooth Stirling supporting JJ Gilmour Saturday 3rd October

Oh the lights are Blue! (picture by Greg)

The nerves kicked in about lunch time as I walked along Blackness shore with Kirsty and my boy Lewis. What if I broke a strings? What if forgot the words or the chords. I looked over the river Forth; surrounded by the landscape that have provided much of the canvas for my music. I’m starting to hope that tonight will open new doors.

I kiss Kirsty goodbye, Lewis dropped off at his Grandmas (thanks!) and I walk to the train, guitar case in hand ready to catch the 5 past 5 to Stirling.

I crash down with all my gear onto a seat opposite a strange guy who looks half paranoid and half irritated. Eventually he relocates to a more comfortable seat. I turn to look out the window as the landscape rushes past. Alone with my thoughts its usually here I think of Weird Decibels. Before a gig the four of us are involved in some sort of banter; I haven’t played a lot of solo shows but this seems to be recurring thought.

The train wheels into Stirling; the city is bustling with people. I dodge through them and make the journey up the hill towards the Tolbooth. Eventually I reach the venue and I am greeted by Katie and her friendly colleague whose name has escaped me.

I’m lead to the dressing room; backstage there is a fridge with beer. Filtered coffee sits on a percolator and there is a box of curry. I head through to the stage.

I find JJ Gilmour on stage doing his sound check and Phil, his pianist, is in the seats listening to the performance. I’m delighted that the seats are out; it was the same set up used when I came here to see RM Hubbert.

JJ Patiently battles with a poor monitor sound that is eventually fixed by the sound engineers (who did a fantastic job for me). JJ is a perfectionist, he is clearly concerned about the on stage sound and you could tell he was thinking of the audience that would arrive later having paid money to see him.

Eventually the sound is settled; I sit back and listened to JJ and Phil play a few tunes which I really enjoyed. Its my turn to go up and sound check. Those nerves? Yeah they come storming back.

My sound check was terrible, I was all over the place. Usually with the band we settle our sound quickly and confidently hammer through our song. Solo? Much different. The silence of the room, every single string and every word sung is heard. It is a pressure I’m still getting used to. I regained my composure and for the first time I nervously asked the engineers to adjust my monitor sound. Suddenly I realised how important it is to nail your on stage sound. The guys could not have been more helpful; the sound was balanced and now the echo (or latency) from the back of the room was no longer putting me off. I strummed through a number of songs and my confidence grew.

Sound check concluded I stood with JJ and Phil; two cracking blokes who were happy to share stories to a guy who is interested to hear about their successful musical careers. Clearly they have had some amazing times with the Silencers and the many artists they have met along the way. The conversation turns to the present music industry. JJ is visibly frustrated at how musicians are treated these days, he explained that he had went to a TV station where musicians were playing.

(Not his exact words)The receptionist, paid, the guy who escorted me up to the studio, paid, the presenters, the sound engineers, the camera operators, paid. I look at the artists and they are the only people in the room who weren’t paid.

This struck a chord with me.

We all went back stage and had a blether about all things music; I found both JJ and Phil to be great company.

Time was flying and my stage time was approaching. I was escorted by a young stage hand awaiting instruction from the sound engineer; all very professional and certainly not what I’m used to!!

Set list

  1. I Had To Turn It Around

  2. What Are You Running From

  3. Looking From The Outside

  4. Awkward

  5. The Boxer

  6. Let Autumn and Winter Pass

  7. Hard Working Man

  8. Blue lights

The lights went out and I made my way towards the stage. I could feel the presence of the audience and I can’t remember if there was applause or silence. My nerves had really kicked in; I took a moment and lifted my father’s Takamine over my shoulder and stepped towards the mic.

I Had to Turn It Around is fairly easy to play and it went well. The applause was brilliant; I smiled, through the first song unscathed! I slowed things down with What are you Running From, my composure was now on and my confidence starting to rise. Looking from the Outside was fine, I think I hit a wrong note here but I carried on. I loved playing Awkward to an audience that listened to everything I played. Boxer went down well and I dedicated Autumn to Kirsty who had been joined by Lisa and Greg (thanks guys!).

Hard Working Man went the way I wanted; I slowed it right down at the end. The audience were very enthusiastic. I wasn’t used to this and I loved the experience. I went into Bluelights, the lights went blue (like that last time) a nice touch. This is a moment that will not leave me. Then there was the applause at the end, as a grass roots musician you wait for moments like this. I looked up to the lights, bowed, and left the stage.

Backstage JJ and Phil were sipping from what I was assured a nice red, a far cry from Buckfast! I cracked open one of our complementary Becks and took my place in the audience.

I liked their show, a really entertaining mixture of songs from the past and present. Halfway through the set JJ took the time to ask the audience to give me a round of applause; it was a nice touch, its been a while since I’ve been called ‘young Paul’! The stories were brilliant, then the sing along from JJ’s fans at the end was fantastic. I really enjoyable performance from them.

Afterwards, we stood at the merch stand. To top off a fantastic night I sold out my CD’s albeit with a little gentle recommendation from JJ. I signed some of the copies and spoke to some lovely people.

A once in a lifetime experience for me? I hope not!!

Thanks to

Kirsty, Greg, Lisa, Kenny, Katie, the sound team, the staff at Tolbooth and of course JJ and Phil.


Paul Henry Smith live at the Tolbooth Stirling 6th March 2015

Paul Henry Smith at the Tolbooth Stirling 6th March 2015

Thanks to Eve Smith, Dale Ashworth and Greg McSorley for the pictures

Live at the Tolbooth Stirling
Live at the Tolbooth Stirling

I had just returned form Kelso; I had recorded for a whole week with Weird Decibels and my voice was shot. Sitting in the quiet of my house I was desperate to give my wife and boy a cuddle. I hadn’t seen them for a week. The phone rang.

Kirsty was on the line calling from work to tell me that the car was making a bad knocking noise and that driving through to the Tolbooth would not be a good idea.

Slightly frustrated that I wouldn’t see my family I made plans to get the train. So I grabbed a quick sandwich and a strum of the guitar, packed it up and headed out of the door, case and bag in hand.

Whenever I play a gig I’m with the band; I was struck by how alone I felt. I boarded the train and took my place in the carriage beside the bikes hoping that a cyclist would not take my spot. As the train rattled towards Stirling I had the feeling that everything in my musical life was changing. I don’t know why I thought that.

As a worrier I like to be prepared for anything so I went into a shop to buy some batteries for the acoustic pick-up. A fight started outside; I had to swerve by the angry youths with my dads Takamine in hand. Safely avoiding the rabble I headed up the hill to the Tolbooth.

Esperi was already sound checking when I arrived; he looked alone as well, sound checking by himself and playing all the instruments that were set up on stage. He was very meticulous about his sound. Everything had to be right and I admired that.

alone back stage time to burn...
alone back stage time to burn…

I met Kenny Bates, a nice guy who was running the show. He led me backstage to the dressing room and explained what was happening; I settled ticket sales and he left. Again the loneliness kicked in; if the band were there we’d probably dipped into the beers in the fridge.

Something, Someone arrived a little late; a very friendly trio of young musicians were talking rather calmly about playing at the King Tuts. I guess it was just me but I’d be amazed at playing all these great venues. It reminded me that I really need to get out and play these venues.

I sound checked last (I was first on) and I was very nervous. I was glad I had rehearsed so much, the songs were second nature so it made it easier. It was so strange playing alone.

A quick sound check was done; the sound guys (Dave and co) were keen to wrap up and I wasn’t the headline act so I headed off stage and went to meet the other artists in the changing rooms. Esperi (Chris, nice guy) and Something Someone were all exchanging gig experiences. I felt out of place at this point although it didn’t take me long to settle in.

A trainee journalist Sam dived downstairs to ask us for interviews; I was rather taken aback by this. So I headed up with the young guy and he pointed a camera at me and explained what he wanted. He was a nice chap; when he asked my age for some reason I said 38 (not quite there yet…) and he quipped that’s not too old for a rocker. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I found it funny; the age thing is starting to creep in I guess.

The interview actually ended up being more about Weird Decibels as he was quite intrigued about our 20 years together. I was happy our band was getting a bit of extra publicity through my solo work. I hope he completes and shares his article.

Kenny approached me before the gig with stage times. I noticed I had 30 mins although in the contract it was only 25 mins so I had to find an extra song…

The Gig


Set list

  1. Looking From The Outside

  2. What Are You Running From

  3. I Had To Turn It Around

  4. Awkward

  5. Let Autumn and Winter pass

  6. Power (extra song)

  7. Hard Working Man

  8. Bluelights

I had not been this nervous since Weird Decibels first gig. Every footstep, when I picked up the guitar, strumming the first chords and singing the first lines felt like so heavy. The nerves eased though. I looked up and could only see bright lights and the stage was hot. I finished the song and the applause was magnificent. Then there was the silence. Its hard to describe what it is like when people are actually listening to every chord and word of your songs. Truly amazing.

I grew in confidence as I played through the songs; I kept an eye on the time and worryingly I was hurtling through the set. I loved playing my old song Let Autumn and Winter Pass and it was nice to fling in Power ( I needed it!). Hard Working Man felt very emotional and then I announced Blue Lights. As I started picking the first notes all the lights turned blue. A truly great moment; I’m gutted I forgot to thank the technicians for that moment.

1487379_10205277325266016_4720673684599392173_nThen it was over (25 mins!); and my kind family and friends told me how much they enjoyed it. That was really nice. I headed backstage an again I was alone to gather my thoughts before I opened the fridge door and helped myself to a free beer!

I headed back out to watch the other acts and I stood with my friends and family. I was delighted they all came through to see me play; humbled to be honest.

music solo writing

I can explain everything…



Thinking about this for the cover
Thinking about this for the cover

As I reach the twentieth anniversary of first stepping up to the microphone to be lead singer of Weird Decibels I look back on the past two decades with a sense of achievement that the four of us have written and recorded seven albums with another one on the way. I feel lucky to be able to write songs (a few great, some good some bad and some awful) it is something I take for granted and I cannot understand when people say they cannot write songs. Then I remind myself that I cannot do the things others take for granted. Derek thinks the drums are easy… Stu pulls a solo out of the hat and the Bass I recorded for the album Morningday made me appreciate just how good Greg is at his chosen music discipline. Anyway the bottom line is I have to write songs all the time, for I fear if I stop I will lose the only skill I have. This brings me to the ‘solo career’, my mistress in the Weird Decibels marriage.

You may wonder why I express guilt at creating music without the band. There are a number of reasons. The main one is I’m not creating music with the guys, something I swore I’d do so long as they let me. The second is some of my best work (you may disagree) has been on my own where it should be with the guys and sometimes I think I spread myself too thin. There is only so many albums you can write and they should always be the best that you can create.  So I’ll take you on a wee tour to see how the solo albums fit in.

Solo albums are a lonely experience. Lewis keeps me company
Solo albums are a lonely experience. Lewis keeps me company

The first was ‘Gods In The Kitchen’ a rather rough acoustic album recorded 1997 on a four track, this would be just around 1997’s Weird’s  ‘Firkin Outburst’,  at this point the band was beginning to lose its way (although its a good record). Next was 1998’s ‘Monkeys On A Stage’ another sketchy acoustic album. 1999 saw ‘A Twist and a Turn’. Three albums in quick succession. At this time Weird were about to end their first era and release ‘Cold Home Street’ in 2000. 2002 saw ‘The Armour is Broken’ the first solo album (and perhaps last) that I was insanely proud of. Around this time I was in the Seventeenth were our writing was frustratingly sporadic. The writing slowed.

However 2004 saw the return of industrious writing and the second coming of Weird and ‘One More Solo’ around this time Derek and I recorded Sllablo’s 9 hours. My fourth solo lp ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’ arrived 2005 as Weird leaned towards covers to pay for the ‘lodge’ albums Riot/Quiet Act which would arrive 2007 and 2008 respectively. This phase was lean lyrically, songs of drink, ennui and Eurovision… Things went quiet for Weird after the ‘Acts’ so 2009 saw the release of ‘Creeping Ash’ my 6th solo acoustic album. After this record I swore never to write another acoustic album again.

2012 saw three years of focused writing to create Weird Decibels 1. I could not believe it had been a four-year gap between Quiet Act and WdB1 It is however arguably our best record. I had sickened myself of the acoustic guitar and had been listening to a lot of early Metallica and Megadeath so lyrically it was a lot stronger than previous albums. This brings us to 2013. We had started writing Weird Decibels 2, Derek sustained an injury and I had writers block, The band now had down time and I had to find a way to write songs again. In December 2013 I sat staring out the garden thinking that I was finished writing songs. So I played the guitar and listened to RM Hubbert until my fingers blistered. I record it all into a Nexus 7 and Morningday started to take shape. A full five years since my last solo record.

Kevin Bryne on drums and Jemma Bur Piano/Violin have helped shape Morningday
Kevin Bryne on drums and Jemma Burt Piano/Violin have helped shape Morningday

Morningday is still unfinished and I have the usual concerns of how it will turn out. It’s more than a solo album Kevin Bryne (drums) and Jemma Burt (piano and violin) are very much involved. Its strange having a full band sound without Weird Decibels. Morningday started out acoustic but it grew into something different and refreshing. All my energy has went into it which is where the guilt comes in. However I conquered the writing block. I feel recharged and ready to put everything into Weird Decibels 2 which will be the 17th studio album of which I’m a part of. Chuffed with that!