Categories
Great music from the forth valley

Constant Follower release debut LP

One of the best bands to emerge from the Forth Valley release their stunning debut LP.

Artwork for Constant Follower LP Neither Is, Nor Ever Was

Constant Follower. Neither Is, Nor Ever Was

Vinyl, DL, Stream Bandcamp

At time of writing available at:

Avalanche Edinburgh

Low Port Music Linlithgow to name just two.

Over the last five years or so, Constant Follower have carefully navigated their way to this moment, the release of their debut album.

I caught them a few years back at the Mediterranea in Stirling. My phoned pinged with a message from Kenny Bates, an ever present force within the Stirling scene and a prominent member of the excellent Death Collective. He believed he was breaking an (self-inflicted) oath never to be a ‘spam guy’ by sending messages advertising the fund raiser gig.

I am glad he did. 

Several brilliant acts played that night; it was then I first heard Constant Follower. It was a stunning set, I wandered over to the merch stall and purchased the ‘Gentle Teachings EP’, packaged in a neat little envelope with a download code inside it. I couldn’t stop listening to the ‘Gentle Teachings’ EP (When Weird Decibels were in the borders recording ‘February’ I took a wee walk out into the starry sky listening to Gentle Teachings, it’s a moment I won’t forget.)

It feels like every note on ‘Neither is Nor Ever Was’ is carefully considered, the tones swathe into a canvas of warm autumnal colours. Serval spins of the vinyl unravel subtle notes, neatly panned left and right. The keys and backing vocals provide a light, ethereal air to McAll’s gentle vocals. Indeed, there are many musicians on this record that add depth to the album.

There are few bands that can master subtle long held notes (Low spring to mind), few bands are comfortable giving their songs space and time. It’s incredibly tempting to fill the gaps. Constant Follower leave the notes ringing, and as one sound fades, another tone gently enters the field, Kurds playing throughout is precise but natural, his guitar adding brightness to the record.

The album starts with a sway, ‘I Can’t Wake You’ starts gently before the emotive weight builds from the second verse. Synths and keys fly upon the mix. It’s so well structured.

‘Merry Dancers on Tv’ is uplifting, the guitars and keys waltz as McAll observes “this thing is real, its blackened broke and dying”, the best artists always find a balance between dark and light.

Then there is ‘Altona’ a track that cleverly signals the end of the first act. One Word Away is beautiful, it’s impossible not to be lifted by the swelling chorus. WEICHA closes, offering new textures and perhaps a hint to where the band will go from here. I always love tracks that are off centre, landscapes of audio that transport you from the space in which you are listening. As an album it feels complete; it needs to be heard in its entirety.

‘Neither Is, Nor Ever Was.’ is a record of incredible warmth and balance. It helps close the door on the white noise that surrounds modern life. The band have (rightly) had plaudits from a wide range of critics from the national press, I hope they stay with the band in this industry of short attention.

My words may not have the weight of the press, but as a listener, I urge you to buy this record. It will spin on my turntable every time I wish to find a wee bit peace or perhaps, during the longer nights, a bit of solace. 

Pabs

Categories
RiFF The Falkirk Music Scene unsigned gems

Falkirk punk rockers release a belter.

Our fellow Riff friends are back with a cracking EP

Thirteen Ego Trap EP artwork

Ego Trap EP by Thirteen https://ukthirteen.bandcamp.com/album/ego-trap

Available on CD, DL and stream

Back in 2017, at the end of September, the nights were growing longer. Nestled in the centre of Falkirk there was a small, brief, but memorable alt. rock/punk scene playing its first showcase in Behind the Wall. It was (and still is) called RIFF. The explosive music night was driven by Dolly, the indefectible frontman of Falkirk punks Thirteen.

At the end of the night, when the satisfied crowd disbanded under the watchful ushering of the bouncers the bands involved had a chance to huddle around a table, count the ticket money and plot the next event.

At that point it felt like the start of something new.

A second successful night followed, then the momentum fell away. Thirteen regrettably imploded, leaving Dolly to pick over the remains of what was a successful era for the band.

If you listen to the 2017 pulsating ‘Spirit of Resistance’ EP you knew that this band could put out a great record. https://ukthirteen.bandcamp.com/album/spirit-of-resistance The track ‘We Will Overcome’ would become the frontman’s mantra as he refused to give up on the music.

Over the months and years that followed Dolly sought and found new personal for the band. Then came the lockdown. This didn’t stop them; instead, they headed to the studio to lay tracks for what would become ‘Ego Trap’.

Press play on the CD, and the guitars leap out, they have familiar tone that had me expecting Axl Rose to start screeching ‘You Could Be Mine’, but Dolly bursts in with his trademark vocals and Thirteen come alive with their own classic, high octane take on punk.

It’s an excellent production from Bryan Ramage, the pace is relentless, the second track, ‘I Am the Fire’ sparks off a flurry of snarls and guitar screeches. ‘Pearls and Piss’, perhaps the highlight, is uplifting. ‘How did to come to this? Drowning in Pearls and piss!” asks Dolly.

‘Trampled Flag’ offers a well-judged change of pace before the EP concludes with the squalling menace of ‘Thirteen’. This is a statement from the band; “I will never tire” asserts Dolly, “We are Thirteen” replies the band.

This is a great record; created and recorded throughout the most challenging of years. What once was the Spirit of Resistance now appearing to be the Spirit of Resilience.

‘Ego Trip’ is Spirited call to arms for all the Punks, Rock and Rollers and we know that they are out there in Falkirk, they’re just waiting for the shout. This could be it.

Pabs

Categories
2020

Well that was 2020

We’re all going to remember this year because we didn’t expect it to be this way. The start of a new decade, a new year, always brings a sense of hope and optimism. We raised a glass with our loved ones at the start of 2020. Cheers! We shouted, smiled and waited for our hopes to unfold.

Hogmanay, I have always loved it. These days we sit in the house, watch at the crap on TV and sometimes chuckle at Only an Excuse. As 2019 ticked over to 2020 I hugged the family, and we had a wee night of festivities. At the back of my mind was a feeling of excitement.

Weird Decibels had a new album due out in a matter of weeks, we’d release our 9th album on our 25th anniversary. A jolt of pride sparked in my heart; I was still making music with my best mates. Maybe, I thought, we’d get back on the gigs, play a few this year. Yes, 2020 was going to be a good year for the band.

February 7th

We released our new single Not Giving Up. I’m sure this was one of those songs we wrote near the end of our February writing sessions. The response was just incredible.

We put the video out, a collage of video clips from out recording session in Craigenrae. It proved that as we head through our 40s we are not growing up…The video was very popular, however to see it become our most streamed song of all time (on Spotify) was incredible. I couldn’t wait for the streaming payments to ping on my notifications.

Well, the phone did ping! We received enough money from our streams to buy two pints. However, the fact that people were listening meant I really didn’t care if Spotify et al. paid us or not (not being the default)

February 12th

We were back at practise! Greg, now a proud father, beamed as he strapped on the bass. We got straight to work, relearning the songs for the new album. At break we started to make plans for gigs. It was exciting.

February arrived on the 21st of…February and we had a brilliant small gathering of friends at my parents wee bar. A small fire crackled as we all caught up. Dad put the CD on the big Hi Fi, it was a sweet moment. A couple of us made mention of the news coming from China, the virus that had spread to Europe. We shrugged and cracked open another beer.

March 23rd We’re all told to stay at home

March 26th UK goes into lockdown.

I remember sitting in the house, our son was going though his lessons. He did really well. I stepped out into the garden. We are under a flight path; the roar of jet engines was a sound we had gotten used to. The silence was just incredible, in some ways unnerving.

This was getting real.

At some point during the lockdown, I picked up the guitar and started playing, I played for hours, most days. Weird Decibels tunes, solo tunes and covers. I even started writing. I hadn’t heard from the guys much. We were all trying to process our own thoughts.

I decided to build a wee set of songs that I would film then share online.

April 3rd

I could’ve streamed a live show, but the sound would’ve been that tinny, thin sound that you get from mobile phones. Instead, I recorded and mixed the live performance. I lifted a few songs off February, flung in a Nirvana cover and played what is perhaps one of my favourite WdB songs A801.

The LiveCast went down fairly well. The band got in touch, pleased that we had found a way to reach out to our listeners.

I text Stu to see if he would help with the second LiveCast I had planned  

April 12th

LiveCast 2 went out to the world, if play counts are your thing then you could say it was going in the right way. Modest numbers but I guess I’ve given up with all that counting nonsense (who am I kidding! Subscribe! Follow pleeease! ). Stu somehow managed to play live solos over my records, the tricky part was syncing them. That took an age. But it was great to see Stu through the lockdown in this weird kinda way.

Now my confidence was growing, and I wondered how to get Greg and Derek involved.

April 16th I’ll Always Be Here

Our second single from February needed a music video. but with the nation on full lockdown i was wondering how we would do this. Based on the LiveCasts I suggested that we film parts of the single to male a video. Derek went further and it was genius. He got his kids involved, playing drums and guitar! it was brilliant and it struck and emotional chord. I got my boy involved and Greg did the same. It was a celebration of friends and family, the antidote we needed for our heavy hearts as the days apart grew longer.

May 15th LiveCast 3

Greg stepped up and we finally got some bass onto the live recordings. Unfortunately recording into a phone is not best for catching lower tones however a bit of magic EQing in the studio helped a bit. For some reason I looked thoroughly fed up on this live show. The lockdown was starting to bite, I probably had had a few beers and nursing a headache.

Then trying to sync a bass and solo guitar onto my recording was tricky but we got there and people really started to get into the casts, some of the support we got was brilliant.

May 20th

Tommy Clark and Weird Decibels chat over Zoom.

If you are a regular reader of this page, then you will know that our friend Tommy has been a supporter of the band since the Weird Decibels 1 days. He has done so much for the local community and beyond. His radio shows have grown, and he is now heard on a number of stations.

When he agreed to have us on his ‘Next Up With Tommy Clark’ we were delighted. It was a great laugh and he played three songs from February.

May 15th LiveCast 4 A New Hope

It was probably boredom that set in, I started naming the LiveCasts with puns of Star Wars. This recording was probably my favourite, as we were all in this one. Derek had arrived on keyboards. A nightmare to edit all the parts but Greg did wonders with the video editing.

We even managed to fling in a track from the long-lost recordings of Sllablo

On May 24th the Vibration Festival held a live stream of clips of local artists. Hats off to them and I hope they are back in 2021. We appeared amid the numerous local bands. It was a good watch.

June 5th

We stream LiveCast 5 and this was one of our most popular. In addition to more Weird Decibels songs, we played a few covers and a Smith & McCairney track.

July 6th

LiveCast 6 and by now my heart was no longer in it. It was a good recording, Stu, Greg and I had a lot of fun with this one but it felt that it had run its course and there were a number of reasons.

I was missing playing live with the guys and it was getting repetitive. It was time to call a halt on this series. I started to plan a new series of LiveCasts that would be the full band in the rehearsal room.

Restrictions were finally easing, soon we would be back in our room playing live

This happened through the summer. We rehearsed our new album. Sure, we wore masks at practise and kept our distance, but it was great to be back making noise.

One night, as we stood in the yard having a break we even started to think about writing again. Everything started to fall in place as the autumn colours appeared on the trees

Then came the return of the restrictions

We fell silent again. I know some bands were still rehearsing through the new ‘teir’ restrictions, but we decided against it. Since then, we have not been in the same room together.

Then around October there was a video call. Derek wanted to make music videos! We all agreed! When we hung up after a slightly awkward video chat (I’m not good with video chats) I picked up my guitar and started to write some music.

Let’s leave it there.

Stay safe.

See you 2021.

Pabs

Categories
J O U R N A L Lockdown Uncategorized

Weird Times 2

It’s Thursday evening, I made my way downstairs to lock up the house. I look out the window up to the night sky, in the darkness hangs the moon, or the super moon as I would later learn it was called. I’m stunned at how clear it is. I wonder if my eyesight has suddenly improved or perhaps…with the planes no longer flying above us, that I haven’t been aware of how polluted the sky above my home is. It’s a reminder of the weird times that we live in.

As I write from the heartlands of Scotland I think this is week seven of the lock down. Many people now believe that the pandemic has been with us a lot longer. Slowly and silently creeping unseen through the streets, workplaces and homes of our nation. 

It was just a couple of weeks ago when I learned of the passing of my friend, colleague and manager Stevie Leslie. He was a gentleman, he guided me throughout my career with a calmness that I have always wanted to emulate. He had a brilliant sense of humour. He knew I was a keen runner and would often drive past me on the way to work. His small car had a sharp horn that he liked to beep every time he passed me as I ran. Every time I would jump three feet in the air. I would look towards the offending car to see Stevie’s broad shoulders shaking with laughter as he drove down the road. I will miss him greatly and my heartfelt condolences go to his family.

It was a brutal reminder of how horrible this disease is, it can touch anyone, this made me more determined to follow the lock down guidance as much as possible. When I look in horror at the daily increase in the numbers of people sadly passed, I think of all the loved ones that will be forever affected by this tragedy. 

Weird Decibels, like every other musical artist has had to adapt. We have put out another LiveCast and we are currently stitching together all the live performances for LiveCast 4. It’s our wee effort to try and pass time for people. It’s the most active we’ve been for months! 

stu

Just a few days ago I went for a run, I run a lot, but I had been injured so exercise was curtailed for a couple of weeks. As I ran my belly shook, not just a wee wobble but a proper wave. It was like my stomach had a time delay from the rest of my body. Then the wind caught my hair, my growing, peppery barnet that, for some reason I’m refusing to cut until my favorite CrossCuts in Linlithgow reopens. I find myself sweeping my hand through my locks like some washed out middle aged rock star…it feels like I’m growing my hair again, just like I did back in the 90’s when the band started. 

Its Friday I open the blinds. It’s another morning, the news lasts five minutes before I switch it off. I’m trying my best to home-school. I never took school seriously when I was young, now here I am as a stressed out parent hoping my kid will realise his potential while I’m trying to work out fractions. He’s correcting me. 

I still have to go to my place of work, I like my job but the thought is always at the back of my head. What if I catch it…It’s good to speak to people, everyone speaks as normal, there are some laughs but every conversation eventually returns to how bloody depressed I looked in Live Cast 3

Untitled

That was a pain to perform, but yeah I wasn’t in a good mood that day and I think the songs were quite sad. It was however great to get Stu and Greg involved. Derek is laying parts for the next one. I’m loving playing the old songs though. Stripping back the tunes to a bare minimum seems to give them new life.

The doorbell goes. I open it to find a small man walking to a white van. He returns staggering with a heavy box full of beer, he keeps his distance before cheerful shouting ‘That’s you sorted for the lock-down eh?’. I look around the street hoping the neighbours aren’t watching. I store my lock-down booze in my secret vault. I do some more verbs and nouns with the boy. The door goes again. Another box of booze sits on the doorstep. 

The 3rd LiveCast has done quite well some people actually liked the more reflective mood of this one,  this lifts my spirits. Shuffledown had a virtual festival online, they played acts from festivals past and it was nice to be included. I got in touch with family and friends and things seem to be ok. There are things I like about the lock-down. The silent skies that give way to birdsong, the clear air. Even just being away from busy roads and masses of people. I worry a little that I’m starting to like being separated from society. That thought leaves when I phone my family and then it hits how much I miss them. 

greg

I’m going to keep busy with work, family life and the band. It seems like some people think the lock-down is coming to an end, the roads are getting a little busier and people are going out more. It’s not the end, we have to see this through. Please stay in as much as you can, join us on LiveCast 4 if you can, we are playing some songs from the HMR vaults and our Derek will be involved. Take care.

Oh the house martins (not the band…the birds) have returned! All is good! 

Pabs

20191110_115404

 

 

Categories
Lockdown Uncategorized

Weird Times

The Covid Lockdown: Weird Times

I often shake my head in disbelief when I comprehend the times that we life in now. Things will get back to normal they say, not so sure about that. Anyway, closer to home I had started to think about the band.

Before this all kicked off (trying not to be flippant at how serious Covid 19 is) we weren’t practising too much. Greg and Tina had given the world the most beautiful baby boy, his name is Ben, he is a wee gem. That rightly curtailed our practices for a while. After that though, I must be honest, it was easier to not practise, a habit we seemed to be getting into.

P1010540

Then, like most of the population, we were forced to be apart. We had a brand-new album to promote and twenty-five years to celebrate. All this was insignificant in the unseen menace of the corona virus. We cancelled practise and, on the text thread, I think I said, ‘see you in the summer’, that might he a wee bit optimistic now.

We had to adapt. Like many bands have, we now do everything online.

For some reason, at the start of the lock-down, I remember thinking I was lucky enough to have a garden, but it wasn’t enough. I was growing anxious. The state was telling me I couldn’t do things and my world started to close in. The usual shit started to happen, the shortness of breath and my horizon went a bit slanted. I put it down to the drink, that probably didn’t help, but yeah, I get anxious and yes, I hide it.

I hide it well.

The solution? I had to keep busy, picking up the guitar was a good idea. I flicked through the songs that the band have written and, to be fair, there are a few. I had to practise everyday to re-learn the songs. This gave me focus and it felt good. Then I recorded the first session; I didn’t care how it went down. I hoped it would pass some time for people.

Then ‘I’ll Always be Here’ happened. It was always going to be a single, but now the lyrics seen so relevant, so much that I started to wonder if I was self-isolating before all this shit happened. Maybe just in my head… Anyway, the band couldn’t shoot a video, so we had to catch a theme and it was the video calls that everyone was forced to do in order to keep contact with loved ones.

I recorded bits of footage in the studio, but Derek took it to another level. He got the kids involved; I was nearly in tears when I saw what he had filmed, I was so happy. Then Greg sent footage of him playing the bass with Ben and I swear I did weep.

I asked Lewis if he wanted to be in a music video, he said, in kinda pre teenage way, ‘yeah’ but once he got into the studio, he was in his element. My heart danced at his footage.

DSC_6107

I put all the clips together, now I was really missing my friends and my family. We all are. But we hoped by doing this video we would give folks a wee bit hope, that this will end, and we will meet up again. (some won’t, and this breaks my heart.) It was well received, and we were happy about that. Fecking miss the guys.

I started to rehearse a new set of songs for our second LiveCast, I knew Stu would be in the hoose (how did I know that?!) so I asked him if he’d like to get involved (I would love all the band to be involved but I haven’t worked this out yet) to my delight Stu said yes. It took hours to line up all the clips, any recommendations for decent video editing software are welcome.

I had been worried about one of my best mates, I was concerned that he was finding the lock-down difficult. I was so happy when he got involved. He sent MP3’s back to me with his guitar parts and I manged to put most of it onto our live performance. It felt like we were jamming again. Seeing him on the screen with the guitar was very comforting, the dude hasn’t lost it.

The second LiveCast went out and it is doing well, I’m happy folks are enjoying it and that it is passing their time. Now here is the weird thing, I’ve felt more connected to the band than I have done in the past few months. Its funny how these things work out.

We will continue to record mini gigs and as Stu suggested we may put a CD album of the sessions (hell why not). As I write this, I’ve had a few beers (hey, don’t judge, I’m on a weeks holiday) and I know I’m going to sleep (later). Last night I didn’t, I was sober. I lay in bed looking at the ceiling, fighting with my thoughts…one of which was a game of tig. Wondering when the virus was going to tag me and how it would affect my family, my wife who was sleeping peacefully beside me and my son sleeping in the next room. How do I protect my family? Something we are all asking.

We’ve put out a lot of stuff over the years and we have written lots of stories. If this helps pass some time, then that’s great, have a wee look around the site.

I recently saw a picture where Chuck Norris was drinking Covid out of a carton. The man is nails. I would normally say we should be more like more like Chuck Norris, but nah that’s not a good idea. Stay in yer hoose, stay safe and help the NHS.

Before you head off, I would like to give a big shout out to the staff of the SPS. The forgotten service.

Pabs

 

Categories
25 years

Twenty Five Years!

WDB Original 3 track demo photoshoot
One of our first photoshoots for our first demo

On Wednesday the 8th of February 1995 we had our first practise; now as the 8th of February 2020 fast approaches I sit back and can’t quite understand how quickly this time has passed. I often wonder what would’ve happened if certain events hadn’t happened.

Would the band have continued had the first guy that we hired the room from hadn’t been so stoned? We waited for him to lockup but he never appeared so we left the place open. He’d forgotten all about it and let us book the room the next week (still raging at the punks who had bolted the week before…). The practise room became our home for over twenty years.

Say we didn’t get conned off Big World Music. Would we have kept our focus as a young band and break out from the local scene?

What if I hadn’t bumped into Stu in Behind the Wall during his time away from the band?

There are many junctions in our story, I do regret that we haven’t reached a bigger audience and I often cast envious looks at other bands who, in a fraction of the time, have achieved things we still dream of. I regret we haven’t tried a bit harder, pushed the music, practised more, gigged more, the list goes on.

But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Our family and friends have been so supportive over the years, the ability to leave home for a few days and record albums is priceless. The support on gig nights, unflinching. From the first school night forays at the Martell right through to the Glasgow adventures and the recent Falkirk resurgence.

Every time we’ve put out a tape, CD or dropped albums on Spotify the loyalty has been there. The support has been a huge factor in us being around for so long.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, a band needs to get along if it is to stay intact. I’ve had musical differences with people in the past, music becomes toxic, friendships break, but with these guys that has rarely happened. When we recorded February (back in November 2019) work and family commitments meant we couldn’t go away for too long, but it was a fantastic experience none the less. The few days we had away reminded me of the strong friendships that were forged back at the old practise room twenty-five years ago.

No band can function without music and thankfully we’re still able to write and record records. Sure, we’ve had mixed results but every album we’ve put out has a story behind it.

Which brings me nicely to our ninth, February. An album that practically wrote itself. These days it can take us over a year to write an album. February was going that way until we decided to get an album out for our 25th. The wee bit pressure got the creative juices flowing, by September we had an batch of songs and I couldn’t quite believe that we were booking a new cottage to record our album.

The story of this recording has been told, there is no doubt (and the guys will agree) that this was the most fun we had recording an album. Doing most of it live gave the record an energy that we’ve always struggled to capture. Mixing took just a couple of months (Weird Decibels 2 was about a year…) and the mastering was outsourced to Andy Taylor who did a fine job with the recordings, especially when you consider it took us four days on a £300 14 year old desk.

Thank you for sticking with us, that’s the first twenty-five years in. Who knows what lies ahead? Who knows what dreams we might yet fulfil? We’re still making things work. We’re Not Giving Up.

DSC_6107
Picture Kevin Byrne

Pabs

Categories
recording February

How We Recorded February

Recording of ‘February’ at Craigenrea Cottage. Sat 9th Nov to Thurs 14th Nov

20191109_145753
Looking for the pub in Straiton

Grey clouds hung in the sky over my house as I waited for the guys to arrive and help transport the growing amount of gear we use for recording. In the corner towered a substantial stack of beer. I looked at it, surely I wasn’t going to finish all that.

In the silence of the house my excitement was growing, it had been over four and a half years since the WdB 2 sessions in Kelso. It was a fantastic experience and I had hoped that this would be similar. As I pondered the decision to stay for just five days instead of our usual seven, the doorbell rang. Stewart was on time as usual. As I greeted him Greg rolled into the drive wearing his usual big grin. The packing began.

The mood was jovial, there was a buzz around us as we packed the gear. Derek was still absent, so we had time for a quick coffee. What lay ahead was on our minds, could we really record an album worth of songs in four days?

IMG_20191109_152248522
Now…How to get in

Derek appeared; we checked the maps. Greg then emerged grinning with three walkie talkies so that we could communicate as we drove. After a comical radio check, we were on the road. I had decided to hitch a lift with Derek.

Falkirk fell into the background; the rain was trying to fall but it failed to dampen the spirits of the band as various bursts of banter flew between the radios. Our three vehicles snaked in a convoy through the M9. It wasn’t long before the towering sights of Glasgow whizzed past. We took the turn for Ayr and gradually civilization fell away as we headed into the country.

Eventually as we made our way through Ayrshire we took a turn onto a small B road that led us to a small village called Straiton. Apparently, there was a pub here, it was just a few miles to the cottage, so we decided on a quick pint as we were running early. However, finding the pub was proving problematic. We asked a local who pointed at a white painted cottage that looked like the rest of the building in the village. Now confused we thanked the lady and headed to the house.

I tried the door, it swung open. For a minute I though I was in someone’s house, a rack of folded umbrellas lay in a hallway, stairs led up to some unseen area however to the left was the welcome site of a small pub, the Black Bull.

A gruff man poured us a few pints of lager. A fire crackled nearby, a small dog, with a fine shaggy coat was clearly enjoying the warmth as the amber light reflected on his fine brown coat. The pub was quaint, it was us and a local that were supping on beer. Refreshed we headed back to the cars (under the limit!). We had to double check the maps, given the remoteness of the cottage it was rather hard to find. After a couple of attempts we found the right road.

As our convoy twisted and turned through the winding narrow single-track road leaves of gold and red fell from the autumnal trees. Above were deep greys, the clouds started to open, and the rain fell.

As we climbed higher into Galloway Forrest Park snow started to fall. The road quickly turned white, I nervously gripped onto the seat as Derek seemed unfazed by the worsening conditions. I however was unfortunate to see the drop that would greet us should we have left the road. However, Derek was in control and the car was capable in the conditions. Greg commented on the radio about the weather, something he is used to through his job.

Just as the snow got worse, we turned a corner and we could see that the road dropped to lower ground. Thankfully here the snow wasn’t falling. After a few more miles of twists and turns Craigenrae was before us, the cottage nestled into the side of a small valley. It stood alone, surrounded my marshy land and just in the distance was a canopy of tall Evergreens. Some had fallen over, a sign of viscious storms that have blown through before.

Our convoy pulled up and we jumped out. The first look at a new cottage is always exciting. Before we opened the door, we grabbed a beer and slammed them together in celebration. Beer fizzed over and spilt on the ground. We greedily gulped our first taste of what would be a few beers.

Derek fetched the keys and attempted to open the door. It was a puzzle, which key was it? We wandered around the property but alas we could not find the door that would unlock! Stu stood by the front door and pointed at the second lock, success! We poured into the cottage and made our way to the living room.

IMG_20191111_093657_563
The idea for this setup came from Sound on Sound. Crazy when you look at it, the overspill etc. But playing live together has worked wonders for the recording.

What greeted us was a large room with high ceilings that was promising for the drum sound. We were taking a different approach to this recording this album and the large room would lend itself to this.

Armed with our cameras we did our tours. There was four bedrooms, two of which were large and spacious. Upstairs was snug with a low ceiling that you had to remember to duck under (possibly a problem for drunken musicians.) It was a nice first impression, a spacious cottage, perhaps a little old fashioned and needed a little upgrade. However, we prefer it this way. We’ve been in modern posh lodges where we were worried about breaking stuff. Not so much here.

With all the equipment, food and drink loaded in. We turned our attention to setting up and getting a decent sound. The big difference this time? We were recording the drums, bass and guitars live and in the same room. A big gamble? Yes, it was.

The drums were placed just off the centre of the room facing down the longest part of the room. I set up the amplifier stands and placed the amps next to the kit, but they faced away and up towards the ceiling. These amp stands were brilliant. They really helped cut out low frequencies you get when you have an amp nearer the floor. Greg had placed castors on his bass amp, this also helped lift it off the ground and greatly reduced the boomy sound we often get. With the amps facing away from the drum the idea was to try and cut spill. There would be mic spill and I would embrace it to give an overall live sound however it was important it wasn’t overbearing.

The drum kit was miced up, a SM57 on the snare, Audix D6 was on the kick with the mic placed about halfway into the bass drum. I added the Stagg condenser to help with the ‘slap’ of the kick. The two Rode NT2-A’s were placed lower to be nearer the kit (cutting bled from the amps but not eliminating it). We placed mics around the toms and fed this into a mixer that we then wired into the Korg D3200 (our multitrack) this helped cut down the number of tracks we were recording (the Korg allows up to 12 tracks recording simultaneously).

On the guitar and bass amps we placed SM57s placed near the centre of the grill, Stu’s mic was angled slightly away to reduce the proximity effect and clear up the sound. The SM57 worked well on Gregs amp. I wanted to DI the bass, but earth problems prevented this. I had a spare mic for guide vocals.

With us all set up we played a few tunes; Derek needed a monitor so I provided him with a small mixer and a set of headphones. The rooms sounded great, it was loud, despite our amps being down fairly low.

After some technical wizardry we managed to get the Liverpool Man city game streaming on the big tv, Derek was delighted.

IMG_20191109_213112941
Relaxing on the first night

After we were done Derek heat up some pizzas and we sank beers. The first night was a laugh, we listened to some of our forgotten tracks from the WdB2 sessions. We really went for it. Outside the weather was getting worse, the winds howling sleet, snow and rain falling. So, we drank. Greg necked half a bottle of Gin, I finished all my lager, Stu and Derek did a fair bit of damage to their beer stack. Derek started to fall asleep sitting up with his nose dipping into his cider (he swears he was just sniffing the drink) We partied into the early morning then staggered to our beds.

Day two, Recording live.

I was up first and entered to a scene of destruction, Tins everywhere. After a quick tidy up the rest of the guys surfaced and we had some breakfast rolls with coffee. Greg was struggling, he looked around the room then quickly left to go to the toilet. He was looking a little green around the gills…

He felt a bit better, so we got ourselves tuned up and started to record. The first songs went down quite easily. We played live and we all had to make sure that we didn’t make a mistake as it would be heard on the overspill. We got off to a good start, most songs were done in a couple of takes but I did lose it with ‘Be Here’ a song I find tricky to record live. Tensions flared a little but it didn’t last. After a few hours we were halfway through the album!

IMG_20191110_104914134
Its a take. Note the large glass of water for Greg

Delighted with the progress we stopped just before dinner. I had a bad headache now, the drink from the night before making itself known. Derek had started tucking into his beers in the afternoon, I joined him. Listening back to the recordings was promising. Sure, they were a few little ticks and glitches but nothing that was causing me concern.

After a superb dinner (Chicken dish, Derek had prepared it and it was wonderful) we settled down for more beers. Stu had set up the Sega Saturn, which is now a traditional part of the recording weeks. Greg laid off the alcohol, Stu wasn’t as thirsty as the night before, but Derek and I had a few. It was a quieter night; the second night usually is.

Day three Mad Monday

We had a hearty breakfast and we all felt a bit better than the previous morning, so we set up and recorded the second set of songs. The tunes were fairly straight forward with the exception of ‘The Plan’. I decided to simplify the riff and overdub the more complicated guitar line later. I didn’t want to keep making mistakes. Recording live is quite psychological, you start to tense up and you don’t want to let your bandmates down. We had to take regular breaks with one or two of the songs, this helped reduced the tension that was building. Not between each other but in ourselves. (or maybe just me)

20191109_170835
Level check, we did loose the tesco bag… how unprofessional!

We finished with ‘We’re Not Supposed To’, of all the songs this was the one that we weren’t sold on. We started to play it, but we didn’t feel the same vibe as we had with the others. We recorded a quick version (turns out I had forgotten to record vocals!)

Here we were in the late afternoon; we had all the songs down! It was an incredible feeling. I checked the songs and we fixed all the minor errors that had cropped up. I even started to lay some vocals

Derek cooked another blinder, this time some spaghetti Bolognese that Stu raved about (until the steak pie the night after). We opened the wine…

20191110_115404
We started early everyday!

We watched some of the old band videos (as we do) and the atmosphere went a bit flat. We were all quite tired and low in energy. So we switched off the video and started to play some heavy music through the monitors and we played it loud. Wine flowed, Stu was on fine form and eventually was dancing up and down the kitchen. When I looked to see Stus best moves a pair of legs rose up from behind the kitchen counter, Derek doing a handstand… Derek and I then dived on an unsuspecting Greg only for me to be (somehow) lifted up by Derek and spun around. He does like his wrestling! It was a great laugh, we were up until early morning, Derek and I stayed up and listened to some of our old music. It was a great day.

Day Three

With the main songs all down we turned to vocals and solos. Stu had recorded sketches of all his solos and really helped make recording them easier. I spilt the vocals over two days, some were recorded easier than others.

As I recorded the rest of the guys were trying to set records on Athlete Kings, so between takes all I could hear was the furious button bashing, I think one or two long standing records were broken.

20191112_122550
Look at the concentration!

On the first day of overdubs things generally went well. The songs were now taking shape and we were far more relaxed than we would normally be during a recording week.

Time flew and it wasn’t long that Derek prepared his Steak Pie which was another cracking meal. We knew in advance that Derek was going home the next day however unlike the last time, this was expected, and we had a good night listening back to 80’s rock. It was however not a hectic night as the one before.

Day Four

After a leisurely start to the morning, I headed out for a walk around the cottage grounds. The air was so fresh, crisp touches of winter frosted the ground and there was a gentle mist hugging the trees.

IMG_20191111_083723868
Get someone decent on the desk…

It wasn’t long before I was back onto vocals, Stu had nailed many of his solos so there was not too much left for him to do. On the other hand, I had, for some reason, left the louder vocals to the last and it was a bit of a struggle to get them done. My voice did hold out though and I managed to get the vocals down. There were some songs that suited the gravelly sound I started to get as the voice burned out.

20191109_184840
Stu had wrote the solos beforehand and it paid off

Derek left (work and family commitments) and then there was three, we continued to work away on the recordings and to our amazement everything was done by the afternoon.

It was my turn to make a meal, so I simply flung a lasagna in the oven and it was done. With us fed and watered we settled down to some Phoenix nights which was classic, then No Country For Old Men, another brilliant film, (there was a whole shelving unit full of DVDs and videos). It was such a chilled-out night. After Stu and Greg retired for the evening, I decided to go for a walk under the star lit sky. It was an amazing night; the bright white moon lit the surrounding of the cottage and everything was still. Thankfully the generator hadn’t kicked in to recharge the cottages battery, every time that went off it made you jump as it shattered the peace and quiet. The hut in which it lay was like something out of a horror movie and it creeped me out…

received_408841173339171
It was remote, there was always time to clear your head. The only sound was a small burn trickling past.

With my wine in hand I took a sip and looked up into the night sky, another recording experience was over but I was happy at this point I felt it went really well and it was far more enjoyable.

Mixing

It was great to be back home with the family. Once we were all caught up my thoughts turned to mixing the album. I started work on the mixes soon after I had unpacked all the gear. From November through to the time of writing I mixed for an hour or so a day. We decided against overdubs and layered guitars and that really helped unlock the sound of the record. There are a few little glitches, but it gives the recording a live feel and it has energy. As I write this, I am planning the final touches before sending the tracks off to be mastered by Andy Taylor at Homegrown productions.

February, our new album will be released 2020

Pabs

Categories
Its a Grand Day Out music studios

It (Was) A Grand Day Out.

Pabs looks back at how we created and recorded our unplugged album Its A Grand Day Out. Available to buy and download stream from Bandcamp. Alternatively you can stream on all digital platforms including Spotify.

Words Pabs

Photographs Kevin Byrne (cover art, station hotel, Larbert station), various (studio)GDODigDistro

Nearly two years ago I celebrated my 40th birthday, my how time flies. Amid the generous presents there was a gift voucher for some studio time at a place in Edinburgh. It was a great idea for a present but it got me wondering what could be achieved in 6 hours. I’m terrible for procrastination and didn’t book the studio for months. Time was passing and the voucher was due to expire. So I got thinking again.

An album would take weeks, and EP probably a weekend, certainly more than the six hours on offer. So I thought about a live studio performance, recorded professionally. It would be a great opportunity to capture our live sound. I contacted the studio from where the voucher originated and enquired if they would be able to facilitate the band playing live. They couldn’t. They did offer to move us to another studio outside Edinburgh but I didn’t feel this was an option. I suggested a refund for the voucher but the studio wouldn’t budge. I then suggested we strip back to an acoustic album. They agreed it could be done so the band started to prepare.

A couple of weeks before we were due to record the studio contacted me to say they were pulling the plug. Thankfully, perhaps in mind they were letting us down, they offered a full refund it was a turn of luck that I was waiting for.

So with the money safely back in the bank I wanted to fulfill the gift that was given to me and started to look around at studios. After a few emails I to some engineers I decided to go local and contacted Andy Taylor at Homegrown Productions in Larbert. He was happy to do the project but i’m not sure he was aware of how many tracks we were planning…

20190126_133913.jpg

I visited the studio and met with Andy, a friendly chap who was happy to advise about the project. He was a little surprised when I suggested that we would be recording 15 tracks, I think he was expecting us to do a lot less. He offered some good suggestions, like different sticks for the drums and one really important point was practise, practise, practise.

The feel of the studio is great, hidden away on a working farm just outside Larbert, you would miss it if you weren’t looking. Its well decked out, a comfortable control room, a live room and an additional area for guitar work (we wouldn’t need this). There was a mixture of analog and digital equipment. I guess I have missed the experience of recording in a professional studio and letting someone else do the work. We agreed a booking, now it was up to us to get the heads down.

Picking the Songs

We got together and had a look through the albums to see what would work with the distortion switched off. There were a few obvious choices and some surprising picks as well.

Songs like ‘Vancouver’, ‘The Rain’, ‘Just For Today’, ‘Culture Creature’ and more recent tracks like ‘I Hear the City’, ‘Wonder’ and ‘Curtain Hits the Cast’ were picked. One thing that was quite obvious for the band was the high number of Whapper Stormer songs that were filling the set. So we looked again and found some of our forgotten favourites. ‘Flame’ has always been one of those songs we regretted not getting properly recorded. It was never mixed as we ran out of studio time. We put the track on Coldhome Street and that was never officially released (although if you are curious it is on our Bandcamp page). When we played at practise it sounded really good, it hadn’t aged much, although the lyrics were written by a heartbroken 21 year old and not the hand of someone of nearly 42 years so that was quite a strange experience stepping back into my old awkward shoes.

‘Side by Side’ was another song we hadn’t officially released (again you can find it on Bootleg 2 on Bandcamp). It was nice to play this track again. ‘Cold Calling’ was a little rusty but once Stu and I synced in it worked really well. Then Derek suggested ‘Industry’.

One of our more heavier numbers I didn’t think It would work but it did. The mood was still there, the intensity of the track was still evident. Now we were growing in confidence and curiosity, we tried ‘Educational Suicide’ but that didn’t work, we briefly tried ‘Three Days Ago’, again that didn’t fit in too well.

We were settling on songs but one was missing, a song that defined the early 2010’s for us, ‘Wonder’. It sounded good on the podcast version and went well when we practised it so it was in. Towards the end of our sessions the Rain was dropped, one of our best known songs from the early years. I was disappointed but the rest of the guys didn’t think it was going to fit with this volume of songs.

On the Day.

There is no denying that it was exciting to be going back into the studio after all these years. As much as I love DIY recording it was nice to think that someone else would be at the helm. We turned up to the small studio on a fairly overcast day broken by the cold winter sun. A sharp breeze passed the imposing wind farm nearby, the large white colossi steadily turning. Stu parked rather oddly and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Then Derek with his large SUV rolled onto the edge of Andy’s lawn. Car parking is not our strong points.

 

We entered into the control room, the desk was fired up and ready to go. We headed into the live room and started to set up. There was a jovial atmosphere, it was great to hear band banter flowing again, we don’t do this enough, I thought.

20190126_102150.jpg
I look on as Andy sets up. It was strange to let someone else do all the work!

Andy entered the room after briefing introduction he got to work on setting up the sound. This was when I began to wonder if  we were stretching the session too far. However it didn’t take us long to set up, after a few soundchecks we were good to go.

Playing through the first songs was straightforward, we had tea and coffee so it was all going well until the first mistake. Nerves started to creep into us all and we had to retake a couple of songs. We soldiered on, time was now an issue, we were aware of it and I think it was affecting our performance. There was one song, ‘Sky is Falling’ I think, where I completely forgot the vocal melody despite playing it for weeks on end. Our minds were just going blank as we reached into the 4th hour of our session. But we got there, a little bruised and battered, 15 songs recorded live. Now for the quick mix, could we really finish this album in 2 more hours?

This was where I was trying not to impose on Andy, I forgot we had just over an hour to mix 15 songs. Now I realised how lofty my expectations had been. I guess because I’ve recorded the band so many times that I thought it was possible. I suggested some mix changes during the first song, put the vocals up, nah drop them again, essentially I was now doing what I do in the home studio, spending an age mixing, however time was something we did not have.

So I reluctantly stepped back and opened my first beer and let Andy do his thing. 20 minutes past our time we had a CDR with the raw mixes. I had mixed feelings now.

20190126_133936.jpg
Work starts on the mixes. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Old Friends back in the Bar

After a healthy wee cheese and ham roll from the shop next to the pub I was ready for a fair few pints and some catching up with the band. We dropped all the gear off at Derek’s and headed around to the Station hotel for a couple. Our good friend Byrne turned up for a blether. We didn’t stay long however, we headed back to Derek’s, the guys were eager to hear the CD. I just wanted a beer.

After a few laughs and drinks by the fire we spun the CD. Already I was picking at it, what was I really expecting to achieve in 6 hours? 15 songs? An album completed? It sounded pretty good but not finished. It sounded thin, lacking in presence, my high hopes for this album were fading, but the guys around me were loving it, I didn’t have the heart to tell them at that time I wasn’t happy.

 

I spiralled into a bit of a downer for a few weeks after it. It was a long winter for me, I just wanted to shut myself off from everyone. I logged off the internet for nearly 3 months and didn’t go near the acoustic album. I still wasn’t enjoying the record, but the performances were good. Perhaps revisiting the mix would work. We still had some money left from the gift voucher and the guys were happy to put some extra cash into the record.

Some weeks later I returned to the album and started to take notes. I asked the rest of the guys to give me their opinion of the songs. They were generally good, one or two tracks were in danger of not making the final cut. I contacted Andy to explore further mixing.

The extra studio time comes to the rescue.

Springtime had sprung, green was returning to the trees and the last of a fairly mild Scottish winter was fading. Optimism was back in my thoughts, I had booked in another 4 hours of mixing and would be attending the studio with Andy during the May weekend. The mixes went really well, he had already started to work on the songs by the time I arrived at the studio. The tracks needed subtle tonal changes, in addition, turning up Stu’s solos and integrate guitar parts worked wonders for the feel of the album. It was now vibrant and full of personality. It was good too have input into the mixes. Andy is so laid back, he listens to all suggestions and will gently disagree if you suggest something that won’t work.

As this was a live session all 15 songs responded well to the tonal and fader adjustments so it turned out mixed a lot quicker than anticipated. There was also a desire not to lose the live feel of the record.

Mastering was booked next. I decided to step back for this. It was a subtle master, with Andy leaving a significant amount of dynamic range. Hearing the single (the Ending and Trying to Grab Hold) it makes sense, there is a good dynamic range in the streaming sound.

The Photoshoot.

DSCF2884 copy.jpg
Pic Kevin Byrne. WdB with some of our lifelong friends. 

Kevin Byrne is a great friend, always happy to help the band and he, like many of our friends, has been there from the start (in 95!). He takes a guid photo. We needed a theme for the album, ‘Its a Grand Day Out’ so we decided to head to the pub, the Station hotel, which, as its name suggests is next to Larbert train station. The idea was to invite our lifelong friends and have Kevin shoot pictures as we got drunk. It worked quite well, there was a brilliant portrait taken of us before we left the pub.

20190126_170145.jpg
Kevin with Greg. Kevin has taken many great photographs for us. 

As we passed the station I suggested we take some shots on the platform, after all most days out start and end at a train station. These shots were superb and one made it to the cover of the album. The guys suggested releasing a couple of singles, so I looked through the photographs that Kevin had taken but none seemed to fit. Kevin stepped up and took some stunning shoots. My favourite being the speeding train blurring past the static platform, we used that for the Ending.

DSC_6188.jpg
Pic Kevin Byrne. Brilliant picture of the station hotel where we had a few drinks after the recording session. 

After the original photoshoot had taken place we headed back to Dereks and drank into the night. Surrounded by friends, listening to vinyl and building beer towers. It felt like the old days that we used to have. We celebrated into the morning hours, after two years of highs and lows we finally had the album we wanted.

Pabs

Coming soon, the track listing and the story behind the songs.

Click here to buy the album. All monies goes towards future recordings.

Categories
1996 Gigs

29th June 1996 Crossgates Biker rally gig

 

WDB Original 3 track demo photoshootA story from the vaults. It was June 1996 and we had been offered a chance to play a festival in Fife. 

After all the brilliant early gigs, the big crowds and the respect that we started to earn around the scene, it wouldn’t be long until we were brought back to earth with an almighty bump. We would play a gig that we would never forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Chris (late singer of Cage and longtime friend of the band) approached us under the blue neon haze of the Martell, we were all well on under the influence of cheap lager. He asked us if we fancied playing a festival, a biker’s rally in Crossgates, a small mining village just 2 miles from Dunfermline. This would be one of our first ventures out of Falkirk. A festival ( T in the Park was in its prime and we wanted to play a festival), a chance to play outdoors to an enthusiastic crowd of rockers, let’s face it, everyone who rides a motorbike likes heavy rock…right?

We didn’t enquire why Cage couldn’t do it but considering they had been asked to play the gig must’ve meant that it was a good setup. We agreed; Chris gave us the details of the organisers. It would be our tenth gig, the date was set, June 29th 1996.

Greg drove us across the Kincardine bridge, the day was fairly clear with sunny intervals, the trees full and green. We were in a jovial mood, Stu and Derek had a carry out and were keen to have a few beers before we played.

When we arrived, we bounced out the car, dressed in our checked shirts and ripped jeans, Stu in black, our long hair draped over our shoulders. The bikers turned to look at us, they stared for what seemed like an age, then lost interest. There was a mixture of leather clad bearded giants and weekend riders who on weekdays, we imagined, would be professionals that would spend Monday to Friday bored behind a desk trying to sell insurance. A short distance down the field stood, flapping in the early summer breeze, a white canopy tent. Within this, on some wooden pallets was the stage, to see this was rather deflating. There was a PA left idle. The speakers buzzing as we approached to set up. There was no sound engineer, no rack of lights or crowd barriers. Derek unpacked his kit and started to set up.

We plugged in our gear, Pabs tapped the mic to ensure it was working. Stu shredded some chords as Derek hit a roll on the drums. A diesel generator nosily rattled as it spilled out fumes just beyond the tent, this was our power source. Outside, under the occasional burst of sunlight, the bikers were indifferent as they started to play their drinking games. With a bottle of whiskey in one hand, a biker held a pole as another leather clad rider wheezily ran up to the pole, placed his forehead onto the shaft and ran around in numerous circles before being egged on by his brethren to drink from the whiskey bottle. As the red-faced biker swigged the spirit the crowd roared in approval. Back in the tent we played a song then waited for the bikers to swagger into the arena. Still we waited. A young mother carrying her child, stepped under the canopy and took a seat at the back, this was to be our audience.

We started to play our growing collection of songs, the generator in the background roaring over our guitars. The lady bounced her child to the music. After our first song we thanked her and tried to entice the crowd into the tent, it was not to be. Goaded by their peers the drinking games continued, roars and laughter spilled in from the field. We were the background music. Stu shouted, ‘any requests?’, a drunken biker hollered ‘aye get off the stage yer f*cking shite’

By the time we had finished the set a couple of curious peeks into the tent was about the best we could muster from the crowd. We had played our own songs, perhaps flung in a cover but it made little difference. We stepped off the stage and back into the field. We avoided the cow pats and stares of the inebriated crew. Stu and Derek had somehow acquired onion rings crisps and were merrily drinking cheap lager under the late afternoon sun, after this a drunken Derek and a sober Greg piled into a transit van with some of the bikers to get a chippy. Pabs, alone in the field was keen to go home, an alien in this unknown world. To make things worse for the brooding singer, Derek had left his kit up on the stage which another band had started to use so we had to wait until they had finished. To compound his misery the bikers piled into the tent to listen to the band.

We remember this gig to this day; we laugh at it now. Chris probably had a grin on his face when we accepted the gig, a wee chuckle knowing what we were getting into.

Categories
Pablo likes this Pabs Stumbles Upon shuffle down The Falkirk Music Scene

Shuffle Down 2019

 

Pics Greg McSorley

59306031_10216874762394696_4068747769337085952_o

Another week’s work done, heading off slightly earlier on a Friday is always a good thing; but this weekend was going to be rather special. Shuffledown was back, and this time the festival was to be split over two days, the Friday and Saturday.  A bold move for the young festival now entering its fifth year.

It was a blustery walk under light grey skies, April coming to an end and the hints of an early summer were already starting to show in various gardens, as we walked down to the train station, once again on our journey to the Dobbie Hall, a fine venue that has become home for the best indoor music festival Falkirk has to offer.

Friday

When we finally arrived at Larbert station and made the brief walk to the venue, it was an unusual experience to be attending Shuffledown on a Friday night, this was the first year that the festival had expended to two dates. I must admit, I wondered how I was going to hold out when I heard that Harviestoun were serving real ales. (their Bitter and Twisted is my tasty favourite.)

We arrived at the doors, it already felt that Shuffledown Friday would have a different feel, absent were the craft stalls and various activities that usually take place inside and around the venue, instead this was a night purely to enjoy the bands and it would prove to be a cracking line up.

Rubian took the stage first, they were a mixture of bright breezy rock with perhaps the occasional hint of sadness highlighted by Cheryl Risk’s impressive range of vocals. They have been one of many bands that regularly play in Falkirk that are enjoying a fairly steep ascendancy in the Scottish scene. With the crowd steadily arriving, a lot of younger faces were making me feel my age, but a good atmosphere was building. Real Life Entertainment stormed the stage with a passionate set, they saluted the crowd with a can of lager and angrily swaggered into their set of slick cut alternative rock. It was enjoyable, and they cleverly varied their pace throughout the brief time they were on stage. Falkirk’s Pleasure Heads have been doing well and the young team down the front of the stage loved them (the auld team watched from up the back). The band, all donned in white tees crafted a brilliant set, early on there was reminders of early Artic Monkeys, with a bit of attitude and sharp guitars. However, the second half of the set was superb, with more emotion, depth and contrast in their music, proving that they have the ability to evolve their sound. Just a few miles from Larbert is Denny, home to Shuffledown veterans the Nickajack men. They played well and are always enjoyable, they are well suited to SD.  The Friday night had worked.

By this time, we were fairly well on and left before we had a chance to see Baby Strange, the last train was coming although I do remember having time for a quick pint and a nip in the Station Hotel. Turns out we missed the train…

58698578_10216874785595276_805684106078715904_o
Ghostwriter back on the main stage for 2019

Saturday

When I awoke, the whiskey I swore I would never have, reminded me that respect for Scotland’s wee dram should never be forgotten. So, my fuzzy head put paid to an early return to Shuffledown. Instead we ate a sensible lunch and meandered back to the venue. Unfortunately, we missed a few of the earlier acts. However, for the first time, (ever I think) we would see the full set of the headliner, who this year would be Malcolm Middleton.

It was Saturday afternoon, we were back at the Dobbie hall, my head was a little fragile, so when I could hear the music from the main road, I knew it would be loud. When we opened the door to get into the main hall we were hit by a wall of sound that emanated from a trio, that would be Primes. They were brilliant; tight knit as you’d expect from a three piece, their soulful vocals lifted over the hall. They didn’t let up as they leaped from song to song, I quickly forgot about my sore head. Greg was a big fan. Ghostwriter were back, fresh from the high of getting airplay on BBCs ‘Introducing Scotland’ the band looked confident as they once more took to the stage, it’s a venue they clearly enjoy playing. There is a good dynamic range in their songs, ‘I’m Not Trying To Get To Heaven’ remains a highlight, ‘Trashy Blond’ another. They ended with a brilliant tune (I don’t think its released, Sorrow Machine, I think), building from a slow start to an epic solo filled finished, It was impressive. They do soulful bluesy rock well.

After a brief venture into the fresh April air for some street food (amazing pizza, Irn Bru then a coffee, yep I was in for the long haul) We headed back into the dark of the main hall. Playing accordion backed by some subtle electronic beats, Callum Easter confidently took to the stage alone, a silhouette, in front of sweeping blue lights. He changed the atmosphere, the crowd focused as he played his harmonious offerings. I thoroughly enjoyed Broken Chanter, a music project by David MacGregor backed by his band. With a proud Scottish accent in his vocal delivery akin to the Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit; they had an excellent mix of emotionally lifting songs. They were my festival highlight, playing well constructed songs, this appears to a be a music project in its infancy and I wish him and his team luck. Medicine Men delivered some heavy pulsating tunes with a bit of 80’s electronic synth, their album ‘Into The Light’ is worth a spin and were another great SD discovery; fans of Tame Impala will like these guys (one of the reasons I go every year, find new bands). After a brief break, Bossy Love stepped up; the duo, described by the Guardian ‘like Prince on a trampoline’, commanded the crowd. Singer Amandah has such a presence, an energy that she wanted, and succeeded to share with the crowd.  Finally, we had Malcom Middleton the headline act of Shuffle Down 2019. The last time I saw him live was at the Falkirk town hall supporting Teenage Fanclub. The Dobbie hall got busy, a late surge in punters came into the take a look. It was a great set, with a few lifts from his latest album Bananas, Buzz Lightyear Helmet, (not sure we’ll get better names for a song this year) was a highlight.

Malcolm Middleton finished and left as the applause died down. The lights on the stage fell dark and it was quickly stripped by the busy sound crew, we looked on as we sipped the last of our ales. The crowd slowly left the building, it was the end of another Shuffle Down. ‘Next year?’ a few people could be heard saying as they drunkenly swayed passed, I met some friends who had never been to the festival before, they had thoroughly enjoyed their experience. They were amazed that all these bands play in their town, on their doorstep.

The work that goes into the festival, I would imagine, is substantial. The volunteers who give up their time and the organisers Rikki and Laura who, when family time permits, throw everything into this. The result? A family run, local festival with an atmosphere that brings people together in these times of self-interest. And you can’t forget the money that has been raised for many local charities (this year Maggies) Five years of Shuffledown, what an achievement. This year has not disappointed. In what has become my yearly ritual, I keep my fingers crossed and hope it returns.

Words Pabs