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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photographs Kevin Byrne (cover art, station hotel, Larbert station), various (studio)
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Coming soon, the track listing and the story behind the songs.
Click here to buy the album. All monies goes towards future recordings.
A 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.
It was a slightly fresh April night to be heading out to Stirling, however there was a promising gig organised by the Death Collective, a small collective of musicians supporting each other as a platform for releasing quirky left field music.
After a brisk five minute walk from the station we arrived at the Mediterranea restaurant.
At the back of the diner, nestled downstairs, is a beautiful wee space for small acts to play. Through the windows at the back of the stage the world flies past, speeding trains on the Dunblane line, police cars rushing past on the Stirling A9, lights flashing blue; this was a distinct contrast to the relaxed vibe that greeted the gathering crowd.
Kenny Bates was on the door collecting donations that would go towards the Death Collectives own PA, which would allow them to start organizing more gigs for touring acts and musicians a little closer to home. Kenny was as chilled out as ever but he appears to be one of the driving forces behind the collective, through Leftfield and later Quitter he has toured Europe and played at gatherings similar to this.
Thurmpy was up first, playing alongside Peter Russell on the clarinet, he played a number of enjoyable songs interlaced with some humorous exchanges with some of his fellow collective attendees.
Next up three musicians took their seats under the colourful spotlights and subtle lighting. They tuned up, checked the mics and plugged in the snyths. There was a quick soundcheck as the growing audience breezily chatted, greeted each other and ordered drinks. Constant Follower, now content with their sound, started to play, the audience fell silent, except for the non intrusive, distant clatter of dinners and the till ringing (it reminded me of feel of First Watch, a track from Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins). They played beautiful measured music in the ilk of Bon Iver’s early work and the slowcore of Low. Their subtle tones layered over some slick guitar and soft baritone vocals was mesmerizing, the audience was captivated.
3rd up Scott William Urquhart reminded me of RM Hubbert, he played a number of excellent compositions. Hamish McBurney followed, passionately sharing some deeply personal lyrics, it was a strong performance.
Sadly, the need to catch the last train home put paid to any hopes of seeing Quitter, so reluctantly we headed back out into the cold Stirling night, a world away from the atmosphere we had just left behind.
It was a fantastic event, many genres of music, acts I’ve discovered and a brilliant vibe. I wish the Death Collective every success, more nights like these will be great for Stirling’s scene.
We are heading into our first professional studio in nearly 20 years in January 2019 so we are looking back at our previous experiences before we went DIY.
The end of the 90’s was a strange time for four musicians who loved their rock. Grunge was long gone, rock was out of fashion (again) and Britpop was now a bloated mess of champagne and coke. Everyone apart from the general public were panicking about the millennium bug.
The band was drifting, by now we were treading water, turning up every Wednesday to play some tunes then we would head home for another week. We were no longer playing gigs or making any attempt to promote the band. We were writing songs though, a lot of songs, now we were away from the ‘classic’ Weird setup, I was full time on rhythm guitars.
After the slightly disappointing second return to Split Level we decided to look for a new studio to record some new tracks. I can’t even remember how we booked the place.
Located in Clydebank, just a short walk from the river is Red Eye Studios, an unassuming single story brick building which seem tacked on the old Clydebank Cooperative. Like many studios it’s not obvious that a fully functioning music studio is set up inside.
Greg drove the first day, I had my license by this time but Greg always seemed to find himself behind the wheel in the early days. We arrived at the studio, rather excited to what lay ahead and this time we were prepared. Derek and I would return for a second day of mixing. So here we look back at our session in this studio.
I thought the studio didn’t look like much when we arrived but this is normal, its whats inside that counts. I couldn’t wait to see inside. I was now getting an increasing enthusiasm for sound engineering. We walked in and there was a long corridor, the guy met us and took us into the control room. We were met by a large control desk and a window that looked into the live room. It was a fairly big room, I think we did all the drums in there, in fact everything. There was no vocal booth or anything like that.
We picked three songs to record. ‘I Tried to Fly’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Sun Shines Brighter’. They were probably our most ‘pop’ sounding songs, quite far removed from the heavier rock we had done previously. They were fairly easy arrangements and pretty straight forward to record. Even when I recorded the vocals I didn’t go for the louder vocals, my style was changing, looking back it kind of lacked the passion that I usually have
I always thought the guitars sounded a wee bit tinny, a bit thin, but we didn’t really cause a fuss, I was starting to wonder if we’d be able to record our own music. On reflection I think my setup didn’t help either.
By the end of the day the only thing left to record was the backing vocals, Stu headed through and started singing the backing vocals to Hope, is quite a high key. There is a bit at the end, ‘la la la la laaaaa’ or something as we head towards the finale of the song. The music was blaring and I looked up, Stu was in the room singing his heart out. I looked back at the desk listening to the rough mix when suddenly the singing stopped. I looked back up and Stu was gone! We all rushed out of the control room, into the live area and there was Stu face planted into the sofa with the music blaring through the ear phones. He’d passed out, it was for a couple of seconds and then he was back up, if a little stunned.
I remember Bo driving me home after I passed out, my heart was still racing and he drove like a racing driver!
Ah the days when I had a (relatively) fast car..
Greg’s love of cars and big exhausts goes back a long way.
For Redeye we recorded it all one day but only Pabs and Deek went back for the mixing and mastering. I seem to remember Pabs getting excited about a snare ring?
For some reason Pabs and myself went back through, just the two of us to finish the mix, was it the Monday? I remember listening to it in Pabs old Toyota on the way home marvelling at the reverb on his vocal at the end of Sun Shines Brighter like we just invented vocal reverb!!
I remember the mixing of ‘I Tried to Fly’ the engineer had everything panned centre apart from the toms of the drums, so they really stuck out. The bass had a nice tone, the guitars tone was not too bad although having them all panned centre meant the tracks lacked stereo width. So when it came to Hope I asked the guy to pan the guitars, it did make a difference. I found it strange that I had to ask for this, it was another step to the bands eventual hiatus, we were just letting things pass over our head. I think these songs would have sounded brilliant had we not settled for these mixes. Maybe the sound engineer thought we just wanted a demo, I’m not sure. Maybe the guy was just starting out, you have to remember this was twenty years ago.
We didn’t go back to Red Eye studios, the songs were used on the album ‘Coldhome Street’ an album that arguably proved to be our weakest. This wasn’t the studios fault, we had kind of lost out way at this point, this is the only album that we haven’t released on digital distribution but it can be found on Bandcamp.
Red Eye looks like it is still going strong today, judging by the photos it looks well kitted out with rehearsal rooms and the studio is well connected with the local scene. We still had lots of ideas that we wanted to put down for our third album so it was back to the yellow pages to see if we could find another studio. One caught my eye in Stirling.
The heady early days of being in a band are irreplaceable from the euphoric high of writing your first songs to the adrenalized buzz of playing your first gig. A band in its infancy can produce a surge of creativity often known as the ‘early stuff’. Then there were the large high school Martell crowds, the first articles in the Falkirk Herald all the first targets were being met.
So as the dust settled on our arrival at the music scene we knew that new songs had to arrive. By now we were students at college, drinking at every practise and generally having a laugh. We wrote many songs, probably forgot more than we remember. The tracks that did stick had to be recorded; there was a need to be back in the studio. There was only one choice for us. Split Level. Around the local scene our first demo had been a massive success, The Rain, Vancouver and Chameleon had been well received by the local radio station. With this in mind we had to pick three songs that would propel us further.
So here are our thoughts and memories for what would be our last session at Split Level. Also joining us for a look back is our long time friend John Baines who with our late great friend Dave Brown visited during the session.
The choice of studio was a no brainer, we just wanted to go back to Split Level, it had been around 18 months since we recorded our first demo. The choice of songs would prove to be more difficult. We had written a number of songs, we had forgotten a lot more, so much alcohol flowed and we lost focus, it was just a bit of a laugh at this point. I remember Culture Creature was pretty much certain to be on the demo. Summerhigh was an early choice as well I think but trying to pick the third track was tricky. We couldn’t agree on the third song and the studio was booked so there was like a deadline. So I don’t think we had decided, so on the first day in the studio we were picking the last song and that turned out to be Today Was Insane. I didn’t think it was our best, but we went with it. The excitement was still there are we drove to the studio, the place was still a bit of a scrap yard, a wee house hidden by trees just outside the Edinburgh airport.
I remember Neil’s cars, he had loads of VW Scirroco’s (in the yard)
The set up was the same, the studio hadn’t changed which was fine. Neil arrived, he could remember us from the first time and he still had that laid back approach to everything.
I think the atmosphere was different this time, it didn’t have the same feel for me, I don’t think we were ready to be honest.
It’s all a bit hazy now but from what I can remember you’d blitzed through the majority of the songs on your first day and spent (most) your time there on 1 song. Am I right in saying it got a bit smoky in there too? Bizarrely my main memory is of Dave flicking a lit fag into his mouth. Lit end first obviously!
I would’ve paid money to see that! I must’ve been in the vocal booth at that time, I spent many takes trying to get Culture Creature right, not only the vocals but the little guitar part in the middle. Stu and I play a strange dual solo that I don’t think we’ve properly nailed since!
Culture Creature was difficult, it’s a sad song with dark lyrics, I remember after a few vocal takes coming back into the control room and everyone just looked flat.
I Remember deciding to record Today Was Insane either just before or when we got there. Culture creature depressed everybody! Neil wasn’t quite as jovial as the 1st time. Did we crash at Deeks flat in Edinburgh in between days. Can’t remember.
I didn’t have my flat then!
John and Dave were just sitting on the couch. The rest of the guys were quiet and yeah Neil looked a bit bored. I agree with Stu he didn’t joke or have a laugh like he did during the first demo.
I’ll put my poor recollections down to repeated concussions (and alcohol perhaps). Was it not Culture Creature that took the longest? Well worth it in my opinion
Yes definitely, it took the longest. Summerhigh was pretty seamless, I can’t remember how Today Was Insane took but to be honest I didn’t care much for it. Culture Creature was worth it, it was worth the effort to get it right. I think it is one of our best songs, even if it sits in disjointed (but fun) album, Firkin Outburst.
Is the studio still there? Always look out for it when I’m going past.
It is! It’s still nestled behind the large trees, the airport parking edges ever closer though. I think Neil still works in the studio. I’m the same, I’ll take a wee glance over, we had great times in there but to date, sadly, we’ve not been back.