As I was leaving, Brogues (who actually does seem to read this blog, bless him) asked if I’d written a review in my head yet. I said yes, but it might be quite scary. I walked slowly across to the youth hostel, all of fifty feet away, feeling so weighed down. In the morning I took out my pad and had a go, ended up crying all over again. As I had, in the middle of the front bloody row, the previous evening a few songs into The Pastels’ set. Crumpled in S.’s arms. Ten feet from Stephen, who must have seen me. I imagined him thinking, ‘Some people take the immutability of Pastels sets really badly’, but that wasn’t it, it was to do with my grandmother’s illness. You don’t want to read about that. But this set of theirs, evolving slowly since at least 2003, about which I complained on Tangents last year (I’m so glad it didn’t close before I got a chance to write an apology piece), felt on Friday like an old and much needed friend. Kicking off with ‘Charlie’s Theme’ and Alison’s discordant trumpet opening. It’s delicious, the way it melts from that into Katrina’s downbeat drum patter. Then ‘Secret Music’, which Stephen announced as being from ‘an album we’ve been making for most of our adult lives’. Some things take that long, though. It doesn’t mean they’re not worth it.
According to the set list, ‘Slowly Taking Place’ is the name of the long instrumental song which appeared at the same time as The Last Great Wilderness, but wasn’t included. It’s like the dark side to ‘Charlie’s Theme’. All minor chords, surging, overwhelming. And it brought us to this year’s new song. On the list, ‘Don’t Wait Too Long’, and no, not a Beach Boys cover. Stephen told us a story about graffiti in a Bearsden cemetery, which I was sure was leading up to ‘Fragile Gang’, but it was nice to be wrong footed. So not only a new song, but a new Stephen song, and a new Stephen song about friendship at that. There is no better kind of song, if you were wondering. It sounded great, quite fast and poppy, at least relative to the gentle and brooding Last Great Wilderness tone that tends to dominate these days. Then on to last year’s new song, Katrina’s ‘Ballad of Two Elms’, wistful and sedate, autumnal, circular, completely wonderful. Tantalisingly, there was what seemed to be another new song listed as an encore, ‘Shadows’, which didn’t get played. We got ‘Nothing To Be Done’ again though, which was fine by me. Oh, and they played ‘Flightpaths to Each Other’! Again, a lift from the gentler tone. Things have shifted, slightly. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to watch them do it.
Of the other bands, the best were Bill Wells’ National Jazz Trio of Scotland. Perversely named, obviously, as they sound even less like any kind of traditional jazz than The Bill Wells Trio or Octet ever did. There were also four of them. Bill played guitar rather than his usual keyboard-with-a-sampler-sat-on-it. Lovely finger picking electric jazz guitar, but always with some contrasting strangeness keeping the sound fresh. All instrumental, though with some song melodies (‘Smile While Your Heart is Breaking’ was one, I think). There had better be a record of this amazing and gentle music coming out. Backed with a marimba and a viola, Bill did quiet-as-you-can-go dynamics in the Tolbooth bar, oblivious to the noises of cash registers and car exhausts through the open window. The whole room strained to hear, and you could tell everyone was enraptured. They finished and I had no idea if they’d played for an hour or for ten minutes.I still don’t really get Tape. Their sound is very pretty, very relaxing. There is the squeezebox drone, a guitar, a xylophone. Bill notwithstanding, instrumental music often leaves me cold. Tape don’t exactly do that, but the warmth is only there when they’re actually playing. Can’t remember a thing, now. Taken by Trees were good, playing songs from last year’s Open Field LP. The sound, particularly the drums, was richer than on record (Chris thought this about Victoria’s voice, too). She squeezed her eyes shut singing certain lines, and stood for one song tapping a cymbal with a brush. Metronomically, arm outstretched. They sound a bit too much like a toy band though, and Traceyanne Campbell’s ‘Lost and Found’ still stands out a mile as their best song. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ closed the set, and sounded pretty good. Better than it did before, easy.