2016 has, without any question, been a terrible year so far and events have cast something of a collective black cloud above the heads of the blogging cognoscenti. The thing is, I don’t think any of those who are being mourned would want us to spend all of our time sitting in our homes recalling musical memories when there are things happening out there in sweaty clubs and venues that are worthy of our attention and which have the ability to make us feel good and happy again.
Last Friday night, I went to a gig where three bands were on the bill in what was (unfairly and very tongue-in-cheek) described on the night as a fleapit of a venue. None of the bands were exactly brand new – indeed they have been going for a number of years and all have a reasonably faithful if small fanbase – but what they were doing was coming together on one bill on the basis of all having initially begun life in the same town some 15 miles south-east of Glasgow and to support the launch of a 6-track EP, on cassette, with two songs from each band. They each played for around 45 minutes and with the exception of maybe five or six songs from the middle band whom I had caught live twice before, the music was all new to me.
And I came away firmly believing that it was a gig that will not be surpassed in terms of sheer enjoyment again this year.
The three bands on the bill, in order of appearance, were GUMS!, The Just Joans and The Hector Collectors and they have the town of Motherwell in common (maybe I should mention that Motherwell is the next stop on the train line after Bellshill which, in this previous posting, I mentioned had a good call on being the epicentre of indie-pop in Scotland. The thing is Motherwell is by far the bigger of the two towns).
The bandcamp page for GUMS! reveals they have been making music since 2012 but all of the band members have been in previous groups that achieved a fair degree of cult status in and around Glasgow over a previous fair few years. They were a four-piece on the night (although at full strength they have six members) with Martin Smith on acoustic guitar, Jack Taylor on bass, Nora Noonan on drums and Joe Greatorex on bass – with lead vocal duties shared by Martin, Jack and Nora. They delivered a set which musically reminded me of my teenage love for the sorts of fast and energetic post-punk/new wave pop that came from the likes of Buzzcocks and The Undertones but that lyrically was as amusing and enthralling as the great Aidan Moffat at his most playful and wistful best. It was the perfect start to the evening as their infectious energy and enthusiasm was picked up immediately by the 100 or so strong audience.
It was the presence of The Just Joans that had caused me to go along on the night. They have, for many years, been a very firm favourite of my dear mate and gig-going companion Aldo and he was dismayed to discover that this gig was to coincide with a long-planned weekend break he was taking in Madrid. I said that I would go along and make sure I got him a copy of the 6-track EP…oh and I suppose I should confess for the record that, in one of those crazy small world coincidences that occasionally happen, one of the band members works in the same office as me.
They have been around for the best part of a decade and indeed played at the Indietracks festival as far back as 2008. They have had a number of personnel changes over the years and are currently a six-piece with David Pope on acoustic guitar and vocals, Katie Pope on vocals, Chris Elkin on guitar, Fraser Ford on bass, Doog Cameron on keyboards, and Jason Sweeney on drums, the last-named of who was playing his first gig with the band. I describe this lot as ‘shindie’ with the first two letters being short for shambling…..but I don’t use the word in any derogatory way.
Every one of them is a talented musician in their own rights and where the GUMS have their musical roots in the late 70s, the JJs are firmly ensconced in the indie sound of the 80s and in particular C86. David is the main songwriter and his subject matters are very reflective and observant of where he and his bandmates live, play and work. His unique vocal style and delivery will never get him past the audition stage of any TV talent show – let’s just say you will never mistake him for being from anywhere other than his home town – but it is absolutely perfect for this sort of music. You only need to glance at some of the song titles – Some Boys Are Bigger Than Others, I Won’t Survive, Hey Boy…You’re Oh So Sensitive, If You Don’t Pull and I Love Me, Who Do You Love? – to realise that gentle, self-deprecating and whimsical humour are at the heart of the Just Joans. They have garnered a cult following that is well-earned and their set made everyone’s grins all the wider.
Finally, there was The Hector Collectors, a band I knew of only by reputation as having formed initially about 15 years ago only to break-up with band members going on to form other groups before deciding to reform (of sorts) and then in the past few months have become a bit more active with them being the prime driving force in putting on the gig and recording the EP. Like the others on the bill, they have had band members come and go and in the studio can have as many as seven members; but the four musicians who played last Friday were Adam Smith (vocals), Ian Smith (guitar), Joe Greatorex (bass) and Gavin Dunbar (drums). They were utterly brilliant from start to finish with a set that came across as a mix of The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit, BMX Bandits, Arab Strap and well let’s be frank, GUMS! and The Just Joans.
All of which got me thinking.
As I said at the outset, it’s been a lousy start to 2016 in terms of a number of musical icons dying or ending up in a hospital in Ireland very unlikely to recover. But we really shouldn’t be wallowing in self-pity for those who are no more, albeit it is right that we keep carrying a torch in their memory. Last Friday demonstrated just how uplifting music can be and how musicians, singers and bands have an uncanny ability to surprise, delight, enthrall and above all else entertain. No matter where you live – New York, London, Paris or Munich; Seattle, Sydney, Singapore, Stockholm or Stenhousemuir; Tampa, Tasmania, Tallin, Tupelo or Torquay; just get yourself out there and be part of an audience. You won’t regret it (unless you happen to be catching Nickelback)
I won’t post any of the songs from the new EP (my cassette is #14/100) as they are available to purchase from here.
Instead here’s some stuff from the back catalogues:-
mp3 : GUMS! – The Willow Cafe
mp3 : The Just Joans – If You Don’t Pull
mp3 : The Hector Collectors – Opposites