Sunday, December 16, 2012

Monorail and the Cool Cat Club

Monorail’s 10th birthday party, featuring The Pastels, Sacred Paws, Moon Unit and Richard Youngs, at Mono, Glasgow, 9th December.

The Cool Cat Club meets Monster A-Go Go Xmas Special, with The Won Over, Hookers for Jesus and Blood Indians, at Beat Generator Live!, Dundee, 14th December.

Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of crisis amongst record shops? No one wants physical product anymore, no one wants to pay. Music is free to be whatever it wants to be, in the ever decreasing gaps between wage-earning activity; it’s cheaper than chips, and mushier than peas in the retromanic rush to satisfy a craving for an infinite replication of those two or three great and simple sounds in whose presence the listener’s heart first opened. That last sentence adapted from the Camus quote draped elegantly over the artwork of Scott 4*, which I had to reach down from my CD racks, a physical object of some vintage by now, there having been at least one reissue since, and three new Scott Walker albums, which isn’t something that happens overnight. It would be too easy on this occasion to be triumphalist, to point out to Avalanche that the reason they struggle to sell records is that they don’t curate them well enough — too easy because their falling away didn’t come from nowhere, it’s a reaction to lack of interest. But still, it’s sad when you go in and can’t think of anything to buy (I hadn’t seen their closing down statement before, that is sadder still). In the shop, just prior to the birthday bash, I was thinking that my recent Monorail haul (Chain and the Gang, Lee Hazlewood, Cults Percussion Ensemble, Movietone) was going to be enough to keep me going for the moment, until Chris cracked open his just-acquired copy of Dep’s latest foray into releasing records. A white box set called Some Songs Side-by-Side, it comprises two LPs and ‘documents a community of bands that have been active in Glasgow throughout 2012’. Each of the eight bands gets half a side, or twelve minutes. Also included are a poster, three art prints on paper and an LP-sized / shaped sticker by David Shrigley, which reads ‘I collect records, I am obsessed with them.’ There’s a booklet with more art prints and a CD of the music — it’s such a beautiful object. Consider this a rave review, and I haven’t even listened to it yet, though I’m looking forward immensely to more Gummy Stumps and Muscles of Joy, the first released recordings of Sacred Paws, and finding out about other things I’d missed. It’s only £20, somehow. If you love records, you need a copy. Monorail understand that objects matter, they put in the time and care to contextualise them, to make them tantalising. ‘Atmos., transactions, good times’, as a flyer slogan of theirs once had it.

The above written last Monday night, after the gig on Sunday. I stopped to listen to Some Songs, (much more fun than typing) and didn’t get started again. But what happened was: Richard Youngs set up a table with a laptop, a tiny guitar amp and a noise generating thing with knobs, and intoned, using the lower of John Lydon’s two patented notes, ‘Another sleepless night’. It became annoying almost immediately, which was the point, I think. He repeated it continuously for most of the twenty minute set, pausing occasionally to drop the microphone with a loud bang, to set the laptop drum loop going, or stop it again, or to twiddle with amp or noise generator. He’s a great performer to watch — fearless, hyperactive, bloody minded. The last time I saw him he played the same song twice in a row because he didn’t like the key, so he moved the capo on the guitar and played it again. ‘Another sleepless night / Another sleepless night’, on and on. ‘I wonder if he has kids?’ said S. After Youngs, it was all about the drumming: Moon Unit did an Acid Mothers style squall that took a while to whip itself up, but once it had it tore through sails and rigging alike, and you might even say that the drums tore through the guitar and the bass, fixing their vagaries. Sacred Paws were as excellent as they had been at the CCA a few weeks previously, and seemed a little awe struck by the large audience, which thanks to the shape of Mono does look a little like the outer reaches of a stadium brought right up close when it’s packed. A wall of faces. The Pastels sounded louder and generally bigger in this small venue than they had in the Bush Hall, and more overwhelming in consequence. New song ‘Come to the Dance’ came off better this time, more confident, less hurried. There could hardly be more of a home crowd than this, and Stephen took the opportunity of a pause occasioned by a snare drum problem (if there was ever an opportunity to ask for a Spare Snare...) to say a little about the occasion. That he and Dep had started Monorail with little more than a loan, and that it was amazing to have everyone here... He trailed off, and a loud cheer from the crowd completed the thought. Then he dedicated ‘Baby Honey’ to Dep. It would be too easy to be triumphalist, but it doesn’t hurt to be celebratory now and then. Thank you, Monorail.

I was thinking about all that great drumming — particularly Sacred Paws’ — watching Blood Indians on Friday at Andy’s Christmas Cool Cat Club gig. It’s not that you have to have joyously complicated rhythms to be worth watching, but Blood Indians are a little too basic for me. Very straight strumming, or sometimes picking, nothing much in the way of syncopation. They played two covers: ‘Silent Night’, as this was a Christmas gig, and that suited their pared down style well; and the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, which I liked a lot less. The whole taking a synth song and making it a guitar song idea is open to the suspicion that the performer is trying to add integrity in a dreadfully unimaginative way. I don’t like the song either. They were at their best on the closing ‘Wolves’, which is based around Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ riff, and which takes off into strange vocal territory. The two singers’ voices are folky and inward, a bit Rozi Plain, and when they soar and intertwine that can be interesting — mysterious, even.

This year Andy’s put on quite a few gigs: Vic Godard in March, Edinburgh School for the Deaf in September, an Oxjam house gig featuring his own, reformed Candy Store Prophets in October. Then there was a slightly odd experiment in June, when the best band, Creeping Ivies, went on first and the headliners, The High Fevers, essentially a wedding band, played very famous ’60s songs, wearing polo necks and fringes pinched from mid-period Beatles. That didn’t quite work, but it was an interesting thing to try, and it probably paved the way for Friday’s extravaganza. The poster advertised burlesque dancers, in a move presumably half-inched from Dexys, but considerably more down market. It was the incongruity of it that was so wonderful: following the sedate Blood Indians, and in the context of several craft stalls at the back of the room, selling jewellery and home-made greetings cards, we got an amusingly gobby Glaswegian** on the mic introducing two burlesque dancers and one belly dancer. The belly dancer was good (we were warned not to ask her to get her tits out — never had that at an indie gig before), and the other two... I mean, what do you say, really? The second one emerged covered in glitter-filled balloons which she proceeded to burst until there were only suggestively-placed ones left. Immediately after she’d finished, the barman rushed out with a dustpan, broom and bin, the MC still in mid flow with her concluding remarks. You can’t buy faded glamour like that.

All of which was the perfect introduction to the best Hookers for Jesus set I’ve seen. In amongst the crafts stalls was a face-painting one, and Graeme (hair already dyed orange, and a fox tail attached to his guitar) got himself made up as a fox; Andy as a death’s head. They had expanded to a four-piece with the addition of Peter from Vladimir on guitar, and ex-Candy Store Prophet William on bass. I’d been a bit apprehensive that the extra bodies might dilute the Hookers magic, which relies so much on Graeme’s idiosyncratic sensibilities (both audio and visual), but in fact the increased stage presence gave both protagonists more leeway. Graeme got to be more of an axe hero (no pun intended, other Graham), and the extra guitar and bass gave him the chance to open up some seriously corrosive pedals, which made me think of Scars. Andy reacted to this with a visceral performance, shouting choruses, lying down, climbing on to the monitors. It was thrilling stuff: more rock than normal, I guess, but such a slow, strange, gothic-theatrical version of it. This reached its peak on either ‘Cabaret Song’ or ‘The Dead Don’t Dream’, the two dark monologue monoliths of recent Hookers shows. They revisited their cover of Spacemen 3’s ‘I Walked With Jesus’ to increased effect, too, and played a Christmas song — not ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker’, sadly, though it had been a contender (it did get played by the DJ).

After this the burlesque MC returned, in a Darth Vader outfit, to do her own routine. The night’s headliners, The Won Over — featuring my old boss Owen — were always going to struggle against such weirdness, and they were good, but too normal, really. They reminded me of not liking Broken Social Scene and, without being totally overblown, were reaching for the epic without really getting their hands dirty. The night belonged to the Hookers, the fuck ups, the waifs and strays.

* ‘A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.’

** Pretty pleased to discover, looking up ‘gobby’ to make sure it’s a real word, that my dictionary gives ‘a gobby Glaswegian’ as its usage example.

Hookers for Jesus photo by S.


Andy said...

I didn't 'half inch' the idea of having the dancers from Dexy's (though it would be cool to say I did after the excellent show in Edinburgh) but it was more of a happy accident. I'm glad you enjoyed the show and thanks for your support this year. Regret missing the Monorail party, I wasn't aware it happened as I seem to have fallen off the Monorail mailing list.

Dep's record/package sounds awesome, I love context and packaging in terms of music, it's all part of the form for me.

Chris said...

Oh, OK, sorry for saying you did then - but you can see why I thought that. And thanks again for the gig, it really was great, both for the Hookers for Jesus performance and its unusual context.

While we're being accurate, I should say that it isn't just Dep's record, it's a collaboration between his Watts of Goodwill label, Stereo and Re:peater Records. It looks and sounds very lovely indeed.

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