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.
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.
In the 23 years that we’ve played around Scotland we have met many great bands and friends. Time often sees many bands fade as we carry on towards out next musical adventure. There is an exception; the wonderful Buzzards of Babylon.
It was around our One More Solo tour back in 2005 that we first met some of the Buzzards. Back then they were in a different guise, Kranksolo, this is where we met current BoB members Rab Dempsey (vocals) and Mike Gordon (bass). We had played the Path Tavern, a small venue in Kirkcaldy.
The Buzzards of Balyon arose from the unfortunate end of Kranksolo and released a fantastic EP; this included Monkey Knife Fight which became a solid live favourite.
Probably one of the best album names of the year is Micrometeoriod Modulation. Rab, Stuart Gillies (guitar), Mike, Stephen Kirk MacLeod (drums) and Alec have produced a thumping 48 minutes of rock, blues and a tinge of metal brought together by their long served sound engineer Travis Whalley.
Opener I Am Hell has a growl, Rabs vocals are always strong, he has a voice and range perfectly suited to the downtuned rock that plays with him. The huge riffs have a blend of Queens of The Stone Age but meater, perhaps in the vein of mid-early Metallica.
The guitars drive the music, with the kind nature but imposing stature of Alec Raeside and Stuart Gillies assaulting both speakers.
The guys are having fun, embracing their superb music that so far remains unsigned, is being unsigned such a problem anymore? The title of the tracks give away some of the enjoyment they are having B U aWzrd being an example. Its quick riffs show the dexterity of the band before they launch into meaty chorus chords.
Rabs lyrics have always been well written; ‘Be you a wizard or a Mother of invention’ he roars as the band changes pace throughout the track. The beauty of B U aWzrd is the many magical roads it takes you down.
This is what people miss when they only listen to bands from the mainstream, they miss bands who are prepared to take risks, push their music in a different way, bands that are happy to play songs over 3 minutes long. At over 7 minutes this is spellbinding.
Morning After is next, subtle guitars gently bring in the song, giving the record a chance to breath and cleanse the palette before the crunch kicks back in. I thought Mark Lanegan was singing for a minute, Rabs fantastic controlled vocals showing his lower range; arguably this is where he thrives.
When Rab snarls ‘I lost my way, I lift my head towards the sun’ near the end of Interplanetary Convulsion you can feel aggression resonating from the usually upbeat Mr Dempsey, it’s a fine track that slows down with the mood as it fades.
Bi-Polar Bear is blues at its heaviest, this is confirmed when the mouth organ floats over the monolithic guitars, it’s a nice change of texture for the record. I’m tempted to say that this is a direction that suits the Buzzards, the moody blues really fits with the pitch of the vocals. Perhaps a highlight of the album.
Buzzards Of Babylon are a fine band; we’ve played a few shows with them and love it. Everytime we met its never like strangers. They can drink…only our Greg has matched them.
They have finally graced us with an album and it is worthy of a purchase. Sure you could accuse us of being bias towards our friends but those that know me say I won’t say music is great without meaning it. Its excellent and satisfyingly aggressive enough to have you nodding your head in approval. Buy it, support one of the unearthed gems of the Scottish music scene, the Buzzards are soaring upwards.
Woke up refreshed and went for my second and final run of the week. During his run I started thinking about the lyrics for quoted not voted. It was a beautiful morning; the sun was just coming up and the countryside was coming to life.
I returned to find the rest of the band up and ready for the day ahead. You could tell that Stu was itching to play the guitar so we headed through to start. However before we could lay those tracks I wanted to back up our work so far and check the drums, that took a wee while so some records were made at Athlete Kings albeit the wrong athlete got the credit!!
Recording Stu’s distortion has been a bit of a challenge; we have different tastes in our sound so I was trying to ignore my preferences and do the best for the band. I started out trying to get a blend of the rode and the SM57 but the SM57 was coping far better with the dynamics of his sound. Every time I moved the rode from the amp the old phase cancellation was creeping in. Now I’d love to spend hours trying to sort that but time was precious in our week. So I stuck with the 57.
We tried a various number of positions (right on the grill to about a foot away) before opting for just of the centre an inch or so from the grill. It gave us a full sound which at first I though was muddy but by then my ears were shot. It was a mistake to go onto my guitars after Stu’s; I though I had my sound before coming to record but my amp just didn’t sound right so I switched back to my old trusted amp distort and ditched the pedal (that would be used later…).
My sharper sound blended nicely with Stu’s heavy tone; I recorded just under half of my parts but we got Stu’s finished at the lodge.
This was the worst day for my ears; the tinnitus was setting in despite trying to keep the levels low. We had a great night though; refreshed from our rest we went straight back into the drink and some silliness found its way onto the cameras.
Tuesday 3rd March
I got up a little later with another bad hangover ( I swear I used to able to drink better than this). I started the preparations for the rest of Stu’s distorted guitars. Again the recordings were nailed pretty quick as we started from where we finished the previous day. We pressed stop at 2pm and decided to go into Kelso for a few drinks.
The Day In Kelso
Showered and refreshed with our best (ish) rags on we phoned for a taxi; a few minutes later we could see the taxi. Now usually when you see our taxi approaching its a mad dash to find the house keys however given the length of the dirt track we had time to make last minute adjustments to our attire!
Kelso is a lovely small borders town; we were dropped off outside the Queens Head and had a few fine pints of Best and Guinness. It was a strange pub, you had to walk through an outside close to get to the toilets. We headed out to the Black Swan which was the ‘local’ pub if you like. We didn’t stay long; the faint hint of bleach was creeping into the enjoyment of my rather drab pint.
Next up was the Cross keys hotel where a lovely lady was trying to make us feel most welcome in the rather sterile surrounds. When she finished her brief introduction Greg, as blunt as you like, asked ‘Whaurs the Red Lion?’.
A pint later we headed out; I stood in awe of the swarm of starlings that were forming amazing shapes above the square of the town. Dusk was setting and our stomachs were growling. We reached Cobbles.
Cobbles was cracking; we had our 20th anniversary celebration meal in here. Fine real ales and a selection of fine steaks ( I had a burger, a great burger at that). Bellies full and satisfied we headed off into the damp night to find Greg’s Red Lion.
When we found said pub a slight air of disappointment descended upon us. The bar was split into two parts. It was dead apart from one man and his dug (no seriously). The barmaid, who could hold her own in a scrum, was nice enough but we decided to head off to the first establishment that served up fine ale, The Queens Head. After another fine pint and a whiskey or two we grabbed a taxi.
Let me take you back to the Weird Decibels 1 recordings. Back then we headed out on a cold frosty evening to the local pub in Ettrickbridge. We had a lodge that was located up a narrow track with a steep drop to the side of the road. Greg drove us in the camper van that night and as we headed down the difficult route Greg decided to wind me up. He switched off the lights of the van and drove in the dark… Now I’m a bad passenger at the best of times…I didn’t help when he put the hazard lights on for illumination…
Fast forward 3 years and the taxi driver who was kindly taking us home over heard us recall this tale; as we approached the dirt track to gain access to the lodge he turned off his lights much to the delight of my fellow band mates! Dicks.
We had a fantastic night in the lodge; four great mates belting out tunes and busting moves on our makeshift dance floor (the drum kit was packed). It was a classic night.
A few months ago at practise, Derek suggested that we run and promote our own music night for a change; give the promoters a wee break. So Derek, Greg and Stu ( I was kinda leaving it to them to be honest) fused their music biz minds together and came up with SYTB promotions.(if you’re wondering its Strumit, Yellit, Twangit and Bangit)
A venue was needed, 13th Note were offering their excellent venue plus sound man for a very competitive price. It seemed too easy. The only thing we needed now was other bands.
We talked about the bands we have played with over the years and wanted a good mix of styles for our debut event. Up stepped Miss The Occupier, Dark Arts and Ciceros Secret. Three fine and very different bands.
Here is the story of the night.
The first thing that surprised me was my car; the boot swallowed up the bass amp plus two guitar amps without so much as a shrug. Gear packed we battled though the rush hour traffic back to the city of Glasgow which is still basking in the after glow of the Commonwealth Games.
We arrived early so I had time to sample some of the 13th Notes grub. Its all veggie; to be honest I could do with a night of the red stuff so I ordered a cracking veggie burger. Once we were fed we headed down stairs to one of the cities most iconic wee venues. For a band our size it feels more like home; even a modest crowd fills the room so that settled us.
The sound check went smoothly; the other bands rolled in. It was nice to see Jon from the Dark Arts; we played for a least three years together in the Seventeenth. Now I’m not saying it was a time of high fives and fist pumps, we had our moments, but it is a time I look back fondly on; it was nice to see the fella again. I was tempted to ask if he still listens to the old Seventeenth records (I do) but I let that one pass.
Ciceros Secret arrived; they are a nice bunch. We played with this young band back in November 2013 at the Garage Attic that was a crazy gig; their fans stormed the stage and the place turned into a mosh pit.
Miss the Occupier are friends of our friends and it was nice to meet them.
Now that the greeting were out the way it was time to get down to business.
The crowd floated in as Miss The Occupier took to the stage playing a fine mix of their own tunes which reminded me of Joy Division, they had a really clean, punchy sound; Roz the singer owned the stage. The crowd swelled and the temperature rose; the 13th Note atmosphere was here!
I really enjoyed their set you should check out their excellent video on YouTube
Sometimes it good to hear something you know, the Dark Arts provided a cracking set of rock covers for the now packed audience. Pearl Jams ‘Even Flow’ was excellent; Jon was particularly good on the bass. He had his sound spot on which was not really a surprise given that he was a perfectionist back in the Seventeenth days.
It was our turn to step up and time was pressing I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little rushed. I quickly set up the gear and we were ready to go. Or so I thought.
Kill it! Kill it!
Little Thoughts Lost
I Hear the City
We started well with the now stable Speak which often opens our set. This flowed nicely into Kill it! Kill it! Slight confusion at the intro but generally nailed. Then it was a wee hello to the crowd; straight back into Miss Asphyxia. By now I could hear my guitar on stage and it seemed out of tune but we flowed onto Wonder where Stu held the notes. A quick tune up confirmed that the G string was well out (har har). That fixed we moved on to a strong finish. New song Little Thoughts Lost got a little lost in my head! However Deliverance, Joker and new favourite I Hear the City went down well.
It was good to see the crowd right next to us; I was pleased everyone had stuck around to the end. It was hot; my shirt and tie combo was beginning to feel like a bad idea.
Before I knew it we were done and quickly packing up the pedals to allow head-liners Ciceros Secret on.
These guys are in their late teens; their music is high energy experimental metal. Its loud and in your face and I hate to say it but it took me back to the days when we started 20 years ago! Long hair waiving, loud music, playing hard and fast and not caring that some of the crowd were now starting to disperse into the late Friday night.
For those that remained they were treated to a brilliant show; their guitarists weaving through the crowd not missing a note. They were a brilliant end to the night.
We learned a few lessons on the night. Bands will run over, its natural with live music. So I’ll try not to rush my set-up in future. All in all it was a very successful night.
Final thought goes to our fans. Given that many of you have now seen us live many times we feel we are in a unique place that we have a group of friends that want to come tine and time again. The effort you guys make is quite simply brilliant. Thank you for keeping the band live.