Ironworks Easter Showcase
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by Margaret Chrystall
LIKE it says in the title of the gig’s charity CD (copies still available, reviewed below) this Easter eggs-travaganza was “better than a chocolate egg”.
The bumper Easter Showcase line-up brought the crowds out on Sunday for the now-familiar double stage set up, this time swapping acoustic acts with full electric line-ups.
Though these showcases aren't – and should never be – about grading bands into some top whatever of “best bands”, on the night there’s usually one or two creating a particular buzz.
And for this one there were two.
Inverness four-piece LIONEL – fronted by Joshua Mackenzie – were the wow-wow-wow! band of the night for many, though the final set from Inverness/Glasgow exiles SCHNARFF SCHNARFF may just have edged it if judged on the size and volume of the crowd’s reaction to the quirky songs and feisty performance.
But how did each act make the most of their 30-minute slot ...?
SUSANNA WOLFE: Acoustic stage opener SUSANNA WOLFE came as a revelation. With a big voice and rock attitude despite the laid-back acoustic format, Susanna gave us confident chat, music for good times – and bad.
“This next one is from my first, quite angry album – my all men are b**tards album,” she laughed. But that song Winds Of Change was in contrast to Susanna’s newer, positive break-up song Thankyou. The song offered the chance to crank up the power in her voice and add a slightly country edge with lyrics to make the love-lorn think – “a broken heart is just a state of mind”.
She had seemed almost surprised when the applause came after first song By Your Side. But it didn’t take long for Susanna and her two fellow musicians – providing extra guitar and percussion power – to look supremely comfortable under the bright lights of the little stage. And, as she confessed before sharing the title track of her new album Healing Rain: “I can’t keep the grin off my face – I’m really enjoying this!”
Best song? Dream Time – The edge in “I’ll be there in your dreams” sounds as much like a threat as a promise.
Find out more: www.susannawolfe.co.uk
DEVIL’S QUEEN: The full-on rock majesty of DEVIL’S QUEEN returned with a new drummer, Andy Nisbet formerly of Toecutter.
We also got the wittiest banter of the night from singer Ross Holland.
Introducing song 2012, he explained: “It was written about how the world was going to end in 2012 ... and because it didn’t we’re going to sing it!”
Ross has got an impressive, gruff – almost bluesy – rock voice. New drummer Andy and bassist Will Crawford make a tight rhythm section and the full-on guitar soloing of Stewart McArthur makes all the right noises. But the set ended sounding samey. And Devil’s Queen could do with taking a leaf from the book of Schnarff Schnarff’s rampaging frontman Myles Bonnar and properly eyeballing their crowd to translate their gloriously scary sound into true performance. Look us in the eye when you rip our vital organs out ...
Best song? Life Goes On.
Find out more? www.facebook.com/DevilsQueen
PAUL MACIVER & LAUREN MACKENZIE: Paul didn’t turn up on the night, so the set became the first-ever Inverness live solo set for LAUREN MACKENZIE – and what a tantalising debut it was. Confessing she didn’t play guitar much – though her playing sounded fine – Lauren rolled out the songs with lyrics mainly by Paul, melodies by both of them.
Words written as sincere testimonies reached in and grabbed your attention. From opener The Only Shore to Farm (“I’m sorry but we have to sell the farm ...”) and Who’s To Blame, Lauren revealed a great, clear voice ... when she wasn’t apologetically ending a song abruptly.
Her cover of Brandi Carlile’s The Story showed off the deeper end of Lauren’s voice, but it was the storytelling quality of her performance, as in Stone (“These days I sleep by a stone/ there’s no passion any more/ you just turn your back on me/Then you fall asleep), that hit home. Sing Sing Sing was like a traditional folk song with lyrics that – according to Lauren – “are about an old man on his death bed”. The lyrics tell the story – “Oh the age of my body is taking its toll/though in my mind I’m still 17 years old” and ends with “I’ve paid the boatman two pennies/he’s waiting for me” and the last request “sing me another song before I go”. It would be good to hear Lauren and Paul perform these songs together.
Best song? Sing Sing Sing.
Find out more? There’s no website or Facebook, but you can hear Lauren sing here: http://youtu.be/n71Fwgw9UG0
LIONEL: What a moment to roll out the big guns. Lionel fired off hit after hit in a set that was a textbook lesson in how to wow a crowd, out to see the best of what local music could offer.
Lionel has been sneaking to greatness in stages, fuelled by frontman Joshua Mackenzie. His vocals, songwriting - and guitar-playing effortlessly weaves between genres and effects with riffs and motifs to keep surprising your ears. Adding keyboards from Gogo McKerrow adds another layer – and with drummer Russell Montgomery – they also sounded great bringing extra vocal power. Their Sparksish falsetto backing vocals “This isn’t New York city” packed an extra punch in This Isn’t. There’s an 80s vibe to many of the songs. But Joshua can sound like everyone from Edwyn Collins to Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner which probably actually means he sounds most like himself. The set was also brilliantly planned to go from sinister high to high – This Isn’t, Too Close To The Flames to Over And Over – epic performances that brought in the devil, selling your soul and even a brief word from Joshua, conscious that there wasn't time for much chat.
“I’d say something philosophical, but I’m not in the mood,” he grinned, before firing into the scary solo guitar riff of last song Over And Over. The words sounded like a knowing quote from someone who knows their music history – that precocious knowledge is in every Lionel song. But the words, just as believably, could come straight from the fertile creative imagination of the Lionel frontman.
Best song? Too tight to choose between This Isn’t, Over And Over and Too Close To The Flames
DYLAN TIERNEY: It was good to hear new songs from Inverness singer songwriter DYLAN TIERNEY, such as I’ll Find You, as well as classics like The Boat Song which brought a singing crowd onside. Maybe he suffered from playing at a point in the evening when a lot of people were arriving, but he had to weather quite a bit of chat from the crowd beyond the inner scircle of friends and fans.
Best song? The Boat Song
Find out more? www.facebook.com/tierney.dylan
GARDEN OF ELKS: The jump to the spiky sound of three-piece GARDEN OF ELKS was probably one of the biggest contrasts of the night. Hear guitarist and singer Niall Strachan in full flow with drummer Kirstin Lynn and while taking the musical assault like a warm giant-hailstone storm in the face, your mind is shouting “Arthouse!”, “Lo-fi!”, “What the hell is that time signature?”. It’s bracing, it works – and just one eighth of the Easter gig’s egg-static musical feast.
Best song? This Morning We Are Astronauts.
Find out more? www.facebook.com/gardenofelks and for their videos and artwork too: garden-of-elks.tumblr.com
CRYPTIC KEYS: Making for the busiest set of the night at the acoustic stage were the crowd of CRYPTIC KEYS’ fans who almost blocked the front of the small acoustic stage where you had to work hard to catch more than a glimpse of the threesome. The same enthusiasm turned the Keys’ party song Wreck The Hoose into a huge singalong. This three-piece has rapidly learned to turn their “upbeat acoustic style” – their term not mine – into something special. The vocals of Dail MacDonald and Rhia Innes work together seamlessly, backed by Michael MacGillivray’s acoustic guitar. Not every band’s songs could take that stripped-back exposure, but from The Warrior which started the set to new song Head To Toe with its “I need you” and “I can’t wait for the weekend” choruses, it just focuses your attention on their core strengths. Voice, rhythm, lyrics.
Best song? Jumping Trains, but Wreck The Hoose is rapidly becoming a fan singalong classic.
Find out more? www.facebook.com/Cryptickeys
SCHNARFF SCHNARFF: For many people Schnarff Schnarff would have performed the set of the showcase – and the big performance certainly made a euphoric way to end the night. Dirt set it off with Jamie Douglas, Richard Douglas, Brian Farquhar and Andrew Maclean cranking up an engine of sound that roared behind Myles Bonnar’s 5-star frontman performance like a Formula One racer. The lesson this crew taught was how to grab a crowd’s attention. Myles has got something that keeps you watching every move. Charisma? Commitment? He certainly goes for those vocal performances – best of the night finisher Urrrgh, now a chant that infects the fans down the front quickly, spreading back and embedding “coming to get you” and “I built my wife a home”. The good news for anyone not there to see Schnarff Schnarff or who wants to hear more, is that their new EP is just out on Electric Honey. As well as Dirt it’s got Urrrgh, Modern Day Cowboy and live biggie The Worst plus Fear – which has a darkly brilliant video to go with – find it online.
Best song? Urrrgh, but Fear is breathing close now ...
Find out more? www.facebook.com/SchnarffSchnarff
Ironworks Easter Showcase CD: Better Than A Chocolate Egg
(£2, all proceeds to Archie Foundation, available from the venue)
WITH an always eclectic choice of acts for any of the Ironworks showcase gigs, you’re guaranteed variety. And that’s true of the musicians and songs on this CD too.
All the acts which played, bar Lauren Mackenzie, have provided a track for this first-ever showcase gig CD.
But it’s such a great idea – especially if you want something lasting to help recall what was a top night – that we can only hope it will become a regular offshoot of all the showcase gigs. And it’s also good that it can help support an important local charity too.
What is even better is that every track is strong in its own right and as a snapshot of some of the best bands and musicians playing live in Inverness, it’s also a great advert for what you can hear, here and now in spring 2014 in in venues and bars across the area.The indie rock attack of Schnarff Schnarff’s Urrrgh is a massive electric surge to start off the music, with Cryptic Keys mellow acoustic Jumping Trains adding sepia images of regret in its lyrics, before the full-on edge and discord of Garden Of Elks’ Rowan’s Magical Bucket. Lionel’s retro 80s-tinged/totally now rock is well-represented by 2 Close To The Flames, one of the highspots of their live showcase set. Dylan Tierney’s Boat Song is one of his live highs too, while Devil’s Queen’s stomping heavy rock pumps through Why Create. The CD finishes with Susanna Wolfe’s Wild Night, a pristine acoustic recording that lets the emotional vocal shine.