Pictures: Gary Anthony
Words: Margaret Chrystall
SIXTY-ONE bands showcasing this year at goNORTH over two nights in eight venues makes for a lot of epic rat-running through closes to get to see THAT band.
It was also knackering as you groundhog dayed it back and forward over the same cobbles to catch the next wave of must-sees in the venues an hour later.
But ahead of you is the glittering prospect of the band to fall in love with, that will change your life, perform your next favourite song ever - or, most elusive of all, be the next big thing that – years later – you might be able to say: ‘I was there’.
Or, more commonly in the case of goNORTH: ‘I just missed them’.
This year it seemed as if almost every band was THAT band.
Luckily you had no excuse to miss them as goNORTH always comes with plenty of recommendations. From people you randomly met at the sessions and discussion panels during the day, trusted pundits in town for goNORTH like radio presenters and Scottish music aficionados such as Vic Galloway and Jim Gellatly (who after all began his radio career just up the road at Moray Firth Radio).
There are our own local champions of new music such as Netsounds Unsigned and their podcasts and sessions, online music fans Invernessgigs and those people you find in the music world like Rob Hicks (managing the Ironworks, promoter, artist and record label manager}, Rob Ellen of Medicine Music (promoter, radio presenter, Belladrum’s Potting Shed stage curator, roots connoisseur and innovator), Steve Robertson of 2010 Management (band booker, promoter and band management) seeing and listening.
Or sometimes it’s the band’s friends or another band from the same city, music genre or record label.
Plus there are the inevitable – and welcome - cleverly marketed ads, such as the fliers and tweets from United Fruit, Culann and others.
And goNORTH itself can even take some credit for the pro-active approach bands use to get the word out.
Past years have presented tips on the guerrilla marketing that has become an everyday part of getting a band’s name out there.
And before it was even the new thing, it was being introduced to young musicians at goNORTH as part of the two-day festival's daytime workshops and vitally informative panel sessions with music industry boffins.
But sometimes it’s just destiny that gets you where you need to be.
If I could have had three special pieces of kit to help me cover the two nights of goNORTH music showcasing they would be:
an extending ladder - to get me up to window-height at the too-packed Market Bar so I could have caught the set from Sweden’s PALE HONEY.
a time machine - so I could rewind half an hour to catch Inverness band with a new EP, SILVER COAST in The Room and GARDEN OF ELKS in Blackfriars (who finished five minutes early).
an invisibility cloak - so I could have stood right at the front potentially blocking people’s view to selfishly get closer to see MISS IRENIE ROSE in the paint-fresh Phoenix and to be the one in the crowd handed the guitar to help finish off VASA’s set in Blackfriars (the noise would have been terrible, though).
OUR FUTURE GLORY from Dundee were the ones there was all the early buzz about on Wednesday. Three guys whose soundcheck alone made an impressive noise, their meaty electropop was full-on from the start, using the wooden barrier of the pub’s raised stage area to bring the music to us. No wonder Wall of Sound’s Mark Jones handed out one of his legendary pink homemade handwritten record deal contracts – anyone with the cash would sign them up.
Over at Hootanannys, THE MOON KIDS from Fife were the second of the first four bands to try and see in half an hour and they were wishing “your dreams come true” and impressing with nice harmonies, it was the surprisingly light voice of Liam Champion in PREHISTORIC FRIENDS from Glasgow in Blackfriars though you could barely glimpse the musicians over the crowd – result! in getting the word out – while in the Phoenix, Dundee’s CHARLOTTE BRIMNER was turning a potentially everyday one-girl and guitar set into an occasion, orchestrating a summery-sounding singalong with the crowd for Sunshine Mornings.
In Mad Hatters, Parisian band LE PRINCE MIIAOU were locking down an atmosphere of intensity with the help of a sobbing cello and frontwoman Maud-Elisa’s angsty songs and high, almost batlike? catlike? Super-high, almost whispered top notes that evoked the magic of finally hearing a real mouse singing (they do, you know).
Thank god for the walk to Deeno’s because the contrast between the French band and COPPER LUNGS’
And just when your adrenaline had surged to a high with the in-your-face closeness of a band on fire, there was the Phoenix and singer songwriter ELEANOR NICOLSON’s almost too subtle Someone Else followed by the delicate sound of Social Interaction.
Blackfriars was pretty much guaranteed to be firing out loud guitar music during the two nights of showcases – VASA one of the best with a three-guitar frontline and a finale that was a textbook case of how to leave us on a high with Not Now But Soon.
But if it’s textbook beginnings you want, there’s nothing more to teach given the full-on punk maelstrom of Norway’s HOLD FAST whose first thunderous note was a heart-stopper that painted a rictus smile across your face that wouldn’t shift. Volume and aggression were a killer combination and no-one deserved more respect than the band’s gloriously tattooed frontman Espen.
It was retro sleepytime from Glagow’s ADOPTED AS HOLOGRAPH in The Room, their old-fashioned, gentle acoustic vibe with guitar, fiddle and double bass soothing you back to a ragtime bliss.
In the Phoenix, Inverness singer songwriter DR WOOK was one of the first night’s true originals.
His tough-looking well-inked exterior hiding a sweet side that sensitively explores in The Feeling the insecurities buried deep down in the psyche of a man “doing the best I can … I want you to understand”. The performance was brave, raw and puncturing the respectful atmosphere in the room with its own glorious, gratuitous introductory “Yee-hah!
We were back in self-confessed post hardcore/ math rock territory for Glasgow band FELIX CHAMPION whose utter commitment to the energy needed in a really impressive live set couldn’t be faulted. And there’s an album coming.
Sometimes because of the constantly-moving-on rulebook of goNORTH’s band showcasing, it hurts not to be able to stay for a full set – if only to buy a copy of a CD to take home like a prize to listen to later. Almost as good to hit Soundcloud and YouTube afterwards, of course, internet kids!
You’d have loved to have a CD as a memento of the much-hyped NEON WALTZ’s Hootanannys set as the John O‘Groats six-piece rolled out the mysterious “something” that has got a lot of people excited about them and their music. To look at, they have a little of The View’s cool gang vibe, though none of the swagger. And as they perform there’s almost a passive quality to the performance thanks to the intense concentration they bring to music that can veer from psychedelia to embrace Beach Boys harmonies, Byrdsy jangle and baggy-era epic melody.
Glasgow’s UNITED FRUIT had earlier performed a guerrilla gig before hitting Deeno’s with a set that once again reminded me of the velociraptors ducking and weaving with heads thrown back scenting their prey in movie Jurassic Park. You wouldn’t mess with these guys, who blast their music out at you like a jungle-melting flamethrower and when they say come forward, by heaven you do. Staying for a whole set was a sacrilege when there were bands to see elsewhere. But the reward was seeing the extreme pain etched on the faces of United Fruit’s iron-willed crew, utterly knackered but driving on and ordering their crowd – as if it was an option to do anything else – to “go f***ing mad”.
For Thursday's goNORTH music showcase review, see our music section.