Maybe When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog was always going to be an impossible record to follow. Adopting as it did the Mary Margaret O’Hara approach to song-gathering: wait until something great turns up before you even consider including it, even if that means an album of spontaneous songs takes five or ten years to put together. Which is OK for a first album, but who’s going to wait around that long to see if you can repeat the trick? Night Falls Over Kortedala felt too much like an attempt to force the issue: luscious production dressing up songs that didn’t quite have it. With the exception of ‘And I Remember Every Kiss’, which he didn’t play at Oran Mor on Thursday. His set consisted of a few old songs (‘Black Cab’, ‘You Are The Light’) and the songs from Kortedala which aren’t ‘And I Remember Every Kiss’. So how come it was brilliant?
He started with a song ‘about cutting out all the bullshit’, which sounded as if he meant business at least. A capella at first, ‘I Am Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You’ soon picked up its plinking piano and swinging drums, and came instantly alive. Then a segue into ‘The Opposite of Hallelujah’ (‘Dexy’s!’ yelled Chris in excitement, as the Celtic Soul Brothers were suddenly before us), and it’s all effortlessly pop and exuberant and the noises aren’t there to plaster over cracks, they’re as essential as they are bright as they are batty. As the song closes and the laptop plays the xylophone outro, Jens picks out the notes in the air above his head, like he’s plucking fruit from the Clangers’ music tree. Later in the set the laptop will take over completely to allow the whole band to stretch their arms out to the sides and swoosh around like aeroplanes. It’s all as carefully planned as the album it comes from, but done with a lightness which lifts the curse, and the songs get to breathe. The band are a lot to do with this: particularly the drummer and the violinist, who play with such verve that there’s no chance of a mire. Jens too, strikes one as more of a performer than a recording artist – didn’t he say somewhere that ‘Do You Remember the Riots’ once had a big arrangement, but they couldn’t top the simple finger-snap backing? He should get back to that instinct.
In a great pop detail, Jens has taken advantage of his resemblance to the young Scott Walker (who would have given anything to have been Swedish), and had keys on strings made up for himself and the band to wear around their necks. The cover of Scott Sings Songs from his TV Series is brought to 2008. For the rest, ‘A Postcard to Nina’ is spun out to twice its original length as Jens fills us in on the background story, talking over the music, and ‘Pocketful of Money’ (‘a song about payday’) is done with the crowd whistling and singing the Calvin Johnson ‘I’ll come running with a heart on fire’ sample. An octave too high. Come on, Glasgow, I thought you were hard? But it’s a lovely end to a show in which Jens betrays not the slightest awareness that he may have slipped a bit from being the king of Richman rock – and, who knows, perhaps he hasn’t after all.
And so to Edinburgh, for Ray Rumours, who were playing as part of Ladyfest. I was looking forward to this much more than Jens, their recent run of split singles having been a wonder to watch unfold. But you never can tell, can you? The venue, the Forest Café, was the problem. ‘Cost: free. All ages welcome! BYOB’ ran the blurb on the website, which sounded friendly, if a bit hippy-ish. The place was kinda grimy though. As were the dreadlocks and the bare feet of some of the people in it. Did your mothers never tell you to wash behind your ears? I wondered. Or in front of them? Or to vacuum the carpets if people are coming round? Or, failing all of that, not to fall over fighting then dry hump each other on the floor at quiet acoustic gigs? It was such a shame – in any pub in the city, this would have been a great show, and it was still alright, but... there was half an attentive room, to the left, and then to the right all these other folk who had come because it was free and they wanted somewhere to be loudly alternative. Somehow Ros managed not to be phased by any of this, even enquiring, ‘So I hear there are some people here who have lived up a tree for six years?’ [Pause. Cogs whirred. BIG CHEER from the right.] She thought, living in London, that this sounded quite nice. Then they played ‘Secret Hideout’. There were three in the band, sitting in a row: Ros, a second vocalist and a drummer, equipped with only a snare drum and a tambourine, which was surprisingly effective. There were flamenco flourishes, quiet finger picking, a Spanish song (the one that breaks into English at the end – ‘If you’re going to make me choose / Between you and anything / I’ll choose you / I’ll choose you’). They seemed to pick songs as they went, asking the crowd ‘Do you want a fast or a slow song next?’ and going in to ‘Staying In’ as a result (it’s relatively fast). Under the hubbub, they were as warm and fun and mildly melancholic as their records, and it would be great to see them in better surroundings.
Finally, a mention for one of the support acts, Sarah Doherty. In bright red tights, with a painted guitar, and the chords to her songs written in biro down her left arm. Really pretty songs, what she’d written of them. One stopped dead and she explained that she hadn’t written the second verse yet. Another, ‘about an Irishman’, was Bowie’s ‘Changes’ with different words, the chorus going ‘J-J-J-James Joyce’. She gave that one up in embarrassment, saying that the whole point of the song was that ‘James Joyce’ sounds like ‘Changes’ (it does?), and that if we wanted we could use this joke later in the evening and pass it off as our own. Almost before she’d got going, she modestly declared that she would vacate the stage to make way for ‘people who have played before’. Great first gig, Sarah!