Lost::MikeGTN < Lost
It's a beautiful way to get lost, all you need is a bottle and a few nagging thoughts...
Music - Separation Anxiety - A Blog is Born...
Monday 03/01/2011 23:42
Having had some uncharacteristically spare time over the holidays, I've made some changes to the site. Firstly, I've found myself wanting to write more about music in recent times, and to blog about the soundtrack to my travels. That's no bad thing in itself, but I became increasingly aware that the two aspects of the current site didn't sit terribly well together. For that reason I decided to separate out the musical witterings into their own compartment.

Naturally this will still probably end up with me rambling on about music and place - two concepts closely tied up together for me, and something which means I tend to write pretty personally about things I enjoy listening to. It remains to be seen if this will make for sufficiently interesting reading - but it's going to be a curious experiment.

So welcome then to Songs Heard on Fast Trains. I hope the few who read this page will take a look, and that it'll keep this side of things a little tidier too...

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Music - A Year In Songs Heard on Fast Trains
Sunday 26/12/2010 09:14
I agonised over the wisdom of posting a list like this. The drawbacks were of course very apparent - I open myself to accusations of whimsy or elitism with some of my choices, or I miss out something I really liked and realise too late. However, since 2010 is the year I've purchased more music than for any in the preceding decade, it feels important to mark the occasion. I've tried to list things I've listened to most - because that seems like a fair test of how much impact they've made. This does of course miss the acts which have released less music this year but have been very much on my list - honourable mentions to White Heath and French Wives for instance. Also, there are many others just outside the top twenty who I'd love to have included - but there have to be some self-imposed rules or these things would never work.

I make absolutely no apology that this list is largely of Scottish musicians. I've spend an inordinate amount of the last year north of the border on a variety of trips and missions, and this has left it's mark. Also, there is a genuinely supportive network of musicians in Scotland who, as one starts to explore, suggest and link to countless others. That this sprawling and sometimes incestuous network functions on a genuinely human scale is amazing and inspiring to me. Before I knew it, my old preferences for things Scottish had reawakened with a whole host of new talent. There are of course some remarkable artists from elsewhere around the world on the list. There is also an equally impressive network of Scottish blogs which serve this diverse scene - including Peenko, Aye Tunes and the truly inspiring Glasgow PodcART - all of which nurture and promote talent with fervour and humour.

I also make no apology about the downbeat, often acoustic bent of this selection. It's the kind of year it's been - and while there have been some fantastic released by louder or more electronic acts, they've just not achieved the place in my heart that these have.

So, here then are the things which have inspired, delighted and consoled me during the year. Wherever possible, I've tried to link them to a place where you can hear the music almost straight away and completely for free. This has sometimes meant using bands' Myspace pages - which are now rendered pretty horrible by the new platform, but at least allow access to the music. I hope there's something in here which others find equally entrancing...

  1. Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry
  2. Admiral Fallow – Boots Met My Face
  3. Burnt Island – Music and Maths EP
  4. Kid Canaveral – Shouting at Wildlife
  5. Randolph’s Leap – Battleships and Kettle Chips EP
  6. Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre
  7. eagleowl – Into the Fold EP
  8. Yusuf Azak – Turn On The Long Wire
  9. Thirty Pounds of Bone – Method
  10. The Scottish Enlightenment – St. Thomas
  11. Esperi – Made For Life/Snowman
  12. And So I Watch You From Afar – The Letters EP
  13. The Unwinding Hours – The Unwinding Hours
  14. I Build Collapsible Mountains – A Month of Lost Memories
  15. Endor – Endor
  16. The Last Battle – Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea
  17. Maple Leaves – Golden Ether EP
  18. The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light
  19. Thous and Thees – Last Recordings EP
  20. Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou - Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou


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Music - Belle and Sebastian - Colston Hall
Thursday 16/12/2010 23:48
It was something like six years between my first two Belle and Sebastian shows, and on the cold bus ride to Bristol tonight I calculated it was something like four years since I'd last seen them. Across the numerous performances in between my first desperate dash to London and last time, at the same venue as this evening, they've variously sparkled and plain sucked. Tonight, quite a bit felt like it had changed - I was struggling up to Bristol from the new office in Clevedon for starters, and a cold and strange journey it was too - not really knowing where I was, which was an unusual experience for me. The bonus was to be dropped directly outside the Colston Hall - it's new spacious entrance building full of city types enjoying jazz and cocktails. Once inside, despite a bit of a refit it was essentially the same municipal concert hall it had always been. Found a seat in the corner and settled in for the support act Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn. I'd been prepared to be unhappy with this - a story teller and a singer performing together sounded a little bit too staged and corny for starters. What I wasn't prepared for was the razor sharp delivery and witty, clever prose which Kitson provided. Gavin Osborn's songs worked too - not just illustrating or adding colour to the story, but moving on the narrative. This allowed a fairly complex story to be told with genuine pace and humour. Kitson looked like Allen Ginsberg but oddly sounded like Dave Gorman, whilst Obsorn's gently folky voice and guitar were ideally suited to the format. The audience who bothered to wander in were in parts, utterly delighted by the whole performance, as was I. A great choice of support act.

So, with the lights up, and disappointingly the tradition of girls selling ice cream now dispensed with here, I surveyed the audience. They were a mixed bunch - a fair number older folks like myself, who'd probably grown up with the band and were genuinely eager to see their old heroes once again. Mixed in were a larger group of younger people - far too cool for their own good, they kept their scarves on indoors and posed, hands on angled hips whilst chatting and guffawing about tuition fees and tweeting casually on their 'phones. I was of course tapping away on mine too - answering work emails - I have clearly aged a lot in the last four years.

So, Belle and Sebastian took to the stage in their usual ramshackle way. A full string section again added to the sound, and seemed to bode well for the evening - except that they were largely inaudible amongst the flabby sound. Somewhere in the first few songs, a shift in the balance seemed to have occurred... Always by far the most conciously 'cool' member of the band, Stevie Jackson seemed to be stepping forward to lead the proceedings. This left a slightly sick and rather subdued Stuart to verbally spar with him and not managing much in the way of engagement with the audience. Luckily, the recent record didn't get too much of an airing, with only the strongest few songs making an appearance - "I Didn't See It Coming" and "I Want The World To Stop" retaining their glamour, whilst "Write About Love" sunk without trace - all too easy and not at all convincing. This betrayed the strange set of song choices in the set. With a now extensive back catalogue to plunder, a good few oddities were unearthed to varying effect. Luckily this archaeological dig also provided some highlights including "Dog on Wheels" and "The Stars of Track and Field".

As the long and rather slow set dragged into it's final stages, I found myself getting frustrated with the band. This group of people have inspired such genuine admiration in me and many thousands of others over the years, but seemed to coasting. It was of course, the end of a very long tour. It was also clear that many of them weren't feeling great. Only Stevie, ever professional but strangely turning into Bob Dylan circa 1966 with his wild curly hair, managed to retain any of the geeky and shy star quality which this bunch usually exude. After a disappointly rushed and subdued "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love" - which had been so fantastic here last time - the band managed a pretty decent take on "Sleep The Clock Around" before disappearing from the stage. As they shuffled wearily back to kick off an encore with "Judy and The Dream of Horses" I shuffled away too, to catch the train home earlier than I needed to. It's hard to tell if I've grown out of Belle and Sebastian or whether, tonight at least, they've just stopped caring themselves. This was patently the least impressive they've been since the achingly shy and quiet Shepherd's Bush Empire gig. I felt weary and old heading home, and rather like I'd had a silly argument about nothing with an old friend. Lets hope we can make up sometime soon?

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Music - Yusuf Azak - Turn On The Long Wire
Wednesday 24/11/2010 07:13
I had a conversation yesterday about people caring about what they do. In particular, about attending to the detail of things for their own sake, and not because they're trying to impress or influence someone else. It's a rare thing nowadays to find someone who is committed to something entirely because they see it as intrinsically valuable - and as I get older, more cynical and less forgiving, I see ulterior motives everywhere. Then, with almost embarrassingly perfect timing last evening, the Yusuf Azak record appeared on my doorstep. From the very outset this is about attention to detail and a sense of purpose. The packaging is remarkable - a carefully folded card sleeve, secured with a sparkly sticker. Inside a brief hand-written career summary from Yusuf is printed on crisp paper, lovingly folded around the disc itself. Unwrapping the CD was an exercise in anticipation itself. This is why physical product will always triumph over digital media, no matter how often I kid myself that for half the music I want to own I just can't get my hands on it without the internet.

And the music? The theme of studied craft and commitment to quality continues. Yusuf's breathy, urgent voice is unique - and it's near impossible not to become breathless in empathy as the voice soars and dives over the delicate guitar work. There is a genuine sense of event about this album - it sounds like a celebration of effort and workmanship over the throw-away culture which surrounds modern music. Occasionally the guitar is augmented by brief stabs or washes of strings - never overpowering and just enough to move the compositions forward as Yusuf's voice climbs through the range towards it's next joyful burst. Elsewhere, on 'Thin Air' the spirit of the Beatles' 'White Album' is invoked, and the lush orchestration carries the slightly picked guitar through a beautiful, multi-layered sweep.

The track which preceded the album's release (can I call it a single nowadays?) 'The Key Underground' is by far the closest that the record gets to a bona fide pop hit - and even then it's a soaring and swooning composition which has as much of a kinship with the Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine as it does with Yusuf's folkier contemporaries.

As I listened, I knew I wanted to break my years of blogging failure and write about this record - but how? The lazy art of comparison is sort of redundant here and I'm entirely certain to make an utter fool of myself - but I was moved to think of fellow Glasgow musician RM Hubbert, whose sparse instrumental guitar masterpieces aren't a million miles from this. However, where Hubbert stays indoors to provide the necessary introspection and reflection, Yusuf Azak is up early and audibly gulping lungfuls of fresh air on cold winter mornings. This record has certainly arrived at just the right time of year. Highlights and stand outs are hard to pick so soon after first hearing a record, but I find myself returning to 'Christabel Blues' - perhaps the record's most straightforward singer-songwriter effort, but blessed with some dizzying guitar playing which forms into a sort of deranged blues. The song curiously, and rather sadly fades away all too soon - perhaps the only genuine criticism of the album being that it's too short.

If I find myself writing about something here, it's almost certainly wormed it's way into my listening habits in a fairly permanent way. I can't recommend this record highly enough - it's a gem of a winter album. You can get it here and no doubt eventually from the various digital emporia. However, this is one to own and cherish.

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Music - Boolfight, Three Blind Wolves and Kid Canaveral - The Fleece
Tuesday 26/10/2010 23:54
What if you threw a party, but no-one came? Sadly this became an all too real experience for the promoter of tonight's gig at the Fleece. I should have suspected there was going to be a low turn-out when I appeared at the door a few minutes before the official door time clutching my pre-booked ticket. A chap broke off from the group discussing when to open and said "Ah! You're the bloke who bought a ticket!". We discussed Bristol's fickle scene, Glasgow and the frankly crappy weather today before he let me in to the venue. Nothing has changed here since my last visit - still the same dark, cavernous and sticky-tabled spot on the edge of the city centre. A great place to see bands on the ascent - or sadly sometimes turning the curve at the other side. A range of posters above the bar bears testament to the now-giant bands who have passed through the doors, and probably had nights not dissimilar to this one.

So, with a couple more punters through the door proceedings started with Boolfight from Paris. They appear to be a fairly established act, an album and a few EPs into their career, who ply a strange sort of synth-based indie-rock. They were certainly very loud, and got strangely louder as their brief set progressed, until I realised to my amusement that the bass was tickling my nostrils! Not an experience I've had before. To be honest, this wasn't for me. There was a slick, very European feel to the rather long and repetitive songs. However, these guys can certainly play technically well, and they deserve a huge amount of credit from throwing everything into their set despite the poor showing out front. I got the sense they're really sincere about their work, and while it wasn't my cup of tea I can see it would have gone down well with the strong following for more traditional 'rock' in Bristol, had people taken the chance on the band.

When I saw that Three Blind Wolves had been added to tonight's bill my first thoughts were of Ross Clark singing in a stream on Detour's recent 'Wee Jaunt'. If he could pull that off, then a big empty room in Bristol surely presented no problems? And it certainly didn't as Ross' massive stage personality shone through despite the strange situation and muddy sound. He gyrated and gurned his way through a set taken from their mini-album "The Sound of the Storm" and recent self-released single "Echo On The Night Train". Having heard some of this material on record, it was great to hear it's sometimes complicated twists and turns produced live, with sudden bursts of country turning effortlessly into full-on searing blasts of guitar. Alongside Ross' exertions, the band cut steady and proficient figures - and made a sound much bigger than the four people on stage should have been able to. The small audience, predominantly now made up of the other bands, seemed to have a good time too - and it would be fantastic to see this bunch interacting with a bigger and more responsive audience.

So to Kid Canaveral - a band whose membership seems to span Scotland in origins, effectively linking the Glasgow network to the coast at St.Andrews with all the potential for amazing musical collisions which that suggests. I confess that following eagerly snapping up their EPs as they arrived, I had a bit of difficulty with the recent album "Shouting at Wildlife", which I loved as a set of individual songs - but rarely seemed to sit through as an album. The great thing of course is that you can do this with Kid Canaveral - each song is a little universe of it's own, and I'd often find myself obsessing over particular tracks which I just couldn't help listening to over and over. Luckily for me, following a rip through single 'Good Morning', my current obsessive listen 'Left and Right' turned up which meant that at least one member of the tiny audience was beaming like an idiot for the rest of the set. I can't explain my love for this uncomplicated song - it just makes me grin like a twat! Next came a cover - but not just any cover - this was 'Missionary' by the mighty King Creosote. This brave choice was pulled off with the song's plaintive ache intact despite the change in tempo and sound. The short set concluded with a few more tracks from "Shouting at Wildlife", notably 'You Only Went Out to Get Drunk Last Night' where the benefit of having three accomplished vocalists in the band was evident. It obviously hadn't been a great night for the band - but they played a fine set, and sent me straight back to listen to the album on my journey home which is always a good sign. I just wish that Bristol could have been a bit more encouraging.

Looking back I'm proud I snapped up my pre-booked ticket the moment this gig was announced. Of course there was never any doubt I'd be out to see a band which had bothered to make the trek down from my beloved Scotland to play here - few do, and I can now see why. I had the opportunity to thank the equally bewildered promoter before I left tonight - and like he said, it's important that bands keep getting the opportunity to play here despite nights like this. I'd love to have offered a word of encouragement to the bands too, for bothering to come down - but they were busy and I was running for the train back home. If you read this, thanks folks - I had fun and I'm just sorry people missed a chance to have a wet Tuesday night in Bristol brightened up immeasurably.

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Music - Alex Cornish, Andrew Jones and White Heath - Pivo Pivo
Saturday 23/10/2010 23:36
Even in my youth I don't think I managed to go to four gigs in a row. This thought dawned on me today, as I lingered over a coffee and felt like I was properly on holiday for the first time in years! However, if there has been one aim this week, it's been to capture as much of the energy, diversity and quality as I possibly can from the complex and confusing music scene here. I've been an admirer from afar from more years than I care to remember, but of course way back in the 1990s it was near impossible to be exposed to the diversity of music which the internet and decent connections allows now. So, despite my advancing years and dwindling stamina, I'm pretty excited about music again.

So, tonight was Pivo Pivo's 10th Birthday celebration. This cellar venue near Central Station has hosted an incredible range of talented folks over the past few years, and it's hard to believe that it's a decade since the venue opened. Tonight started gently though with widely-tipped singer-songwriter Alex Cornish. There's no doubt that he's a talented guy with an ear for a radio friendly tune - which his recent BBC Radio 2 session is testament to. But for me it's all just a little too easy, and lacks an edge. A Dire Straits cover is a step too far, and appears to be done with no sense of irony. It's interesting to compare this to the young acoustic acts who played at the 13th Note a couple of days back - and to realise that they really want to be heard. Having said that, Alex closed his set with a song which featured a rather fine violin loop. I'm a sucker for violins, but I can't forgive 'Brothers In Arms' even for that.It just wasn't for me.

Next up was Andrew Jones performing without a band tonight, but for the first time with a female co-vocalist. She was nervous it was plain to see, but her crystal clear and pure voice worked beautifully alongside Andrew. Whilst not a million miles from Alex Cornish, the sense of purpose and self-belief was much more evident, and we got a witty and charming set, the highlight of which was 'It Happened Another Way' - a cautionary tale of bookshop literary romance which I'm sure many will relate to, the current writer included!

And so to White Heath. I've tried and failed to describe this band before - and I'm not sure I'll succeed now. They shamble on stage, a collection of rather slight, somewhat geeky young men of the sort you'd expect to ply Oasis covers at a sixth-form disco. And then all hell breaks loose... Eschewing a traditional rhythm section, trombone and a single bass drum are used to startling effect. Over this piano, guitar and violin are laid, building an epic - almost filmic - sound, which occasionally hints at eastern and oriental influences. As a second song, without pause the band roar into 'Election Day' from their debut EP, the vocals turning into a pained, plaintive howl while the trombone tries to take the song into Eastern Europe or the Middle East. '7:38am' and 'Leviathan' follow with Sean Watson promising "some pop music next". We're not disappointed, as the band romp through the comparatively sunny 'GG' before returning to their apocalyptic roar with 'Blue'. The crowd can't respond favourably enough, and the band are clearly touched by the response. Now signed to the legendary Electric Honey imprint (who have previously championed Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol and Biffo Clyro among others) critical acclaim and widespread exposure can't be far off for this remarkable and truly original band. I'm so pleased I was able to see them.

As I stumbled back to my adopted home for the week via a guilty visit to the Blue Lagoon, I reflected that I'd been somewhat spoiled for music this week. However, all being well, the run of fine Scottish music won't stop just yet with Kid Canaveral due a visit to home turf next week! It's been a varied, enjoyable and tiring week - and I only wish it could continue!

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