Archive for July, 2011

Tonight’s gig is billed as serving a dual purpose; A birthday party for Traffic Cone Records which also serves as a rally to promote the Tragic O’Hara is Innocent campaign, with the man himself headlining.

Post-watershed Pivo Pivo is in near darkness as the audience wait for Tragic O’Hara to take the stage and his arrival, when it comes, is punctuated by raucous cheers and sees him chaperoned by drummer and Jump On video co-conspirator Colin Hunter and a traffic cone.

Tragic, standing side-on and facing the right of the stage, offers no introduction as the lights remain dimmed and his eminently powerful voice, wrought with emotion and accompanied only by his own clapping, captivates those assembled and leads them up to the midpoint of his first song. It is here, dead on cue, where stage lights and drums flare and the tone of tonight’s performance is set.

As this first offering draws to a close and the audience takes a second to register what they’ve just experienced, Tragic introduces himself before picking up his guitar and kicking into the next number.

As the evening continues, the crowd are treated to Tragic O’Hara’s distinctive blues rock, backed up by lashings of electric guitar gain and crashing drums. This is the blues, turned up to 11 and filtered through the mind of a pissed off Scotsman.

Not long into the proceedings comes a humorous aside, wherein Tragic suggests that songs are being made up as he and Colin “go along” but, if there is any improvisation at play tonight, it certainly doesn’t show. The two friends form a formidable duo as they peel through a set much more intense than Tragic’s usual live output, with both volume and distortion in absolute abundance.

This is shown to be the result of a conscious decision, on O’Hara’s part, when he apologises to his fans who are used to hearing him play acoustic sets, explaining that he “just feels like rockin out tonight.” For the most part, Tragic’s voice proves a worthy match for the increased aggression of the music, except in one or two places where guitarmanship threatens to drown out vocal prowess. However, this is easy to forgive when taking into account the fact the gig is intended to serve as an outlet for the frustrations, of both artist and fans, resulting from the controversy surrounding the bluesman’s latest music video. As a result, the pugnacity of the pairing’s output seems entirely appropriate.

These aggressive uptempo renditions combine with the low-key nature of the lighting and cavernous aesthetics of Pivo Pivo to make tonight feel exactly like what it has been hyped up to be – an underground, grassroots movement against what the Tragic O’Hara fanbase are accepting as a grave injustice. There is a beery but convivial atmosphere and all present appear to be having a ball, with constant shouts of encouragement, waving of homemade banners and demands for “another tune.”

Dressed in a black suit and two-tone wingtip shoes, Tragic captures perfectly the traditional air of a travelling musician and displays an easy and relaxed propensity for banter, joking back and forth with the crowd. However, underneath this is a tangible air of introspection which seems to tie in with, and possibly explain, his decision not to directly face his audience. Consequently, the Tragic O’Hara live experience feels a bit deeper than those where the average happy-go-lucky frontman ticks the boxes with cocky comments and macho posturing and this, coupled with his confessional song-writing style, sees that the musician does well in coming across as the ‘everyman,’ giving the audience someone to relate to.

Aside from the inspired moment where a member of the audience takes to the stage wielding a Tragic O’Hara is Innocent banner during Jump On – the song behind the contoversy – the highlight of the evening is a notably heavy cover of New Order’s Blue Monday. Those in attendance who evidently remember the original are moved to their feet and numerous lone dancers become as much a part of the show as the man onstage. Interestingly, although it goes down an absolute storm with the crowd, this is the place in the set where the performance is at its loosest, having the feel of two pals jamming together for the fun of it. Certainly an endearing moment, reminiscent of the ‘bromance’ on display between the pair in the video.

Said ‘bromance’ comes to an abrupt halt at the end of the penultimate song, however, when a seemingly heated exchanging of words between the performers sees Colin storming offstage and leaving the venue. There does exist, in performance, the responsibility of professionalism and such tantrums, whatever the reason behind them, are unfair to fellow performers, event organisers and audiences. Whereas the Liam Gallaghers and Axl Roses of this world may be able to get away with palming this sort of thing off as another facet of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, in this drastically smaller scale local context, it just comes across as petty and immature.

To give the frontman his due though, despite being visibly vexed by the outburst – speculating that his accomplice “obviously canny take a fuckin joke” – he finishes the set with a final song and a few well-placed thank yous.

Every aspect of tonight’s performance can be seen to show a part of Tragic O’Hara’s endearing appeal: Songs with meaning, glimpses of an intriguing personality, a touch of style and the ability to cause trouble everywhere he goes.

Definitely a spectacle worth witnessing!

EDIT: Since the time of going to press, Colin Hunter has posted a YouTube video which gives his views on the disagreement. This can be found via the link at the bottom.

Tragic O’Hara on Facebook

Tragic O’Hara is Innocent Facebook campaign

Colin Hunter’s YouTube video response

Of utmost rarity, at present, is the West of Scotland music enthusiast not sat firmly astride the Tragic O’Hara is Innocent campaign bandwagon. Blogs, Facebook groups and fans’ status updates rally against what appears to be a tremendous injustice brought about by utmost stupidity.

At the end of June, Tragic O’Hara uploaded a promotional video for a song called Jump On which is to feature on his forthcoming 99 Years and Counting EP. The video sees Tragic and an enthusiastic accomplice dancing their way down Glasgow’s Buchanan Street before throwing further shapes in various other parts of the city. The song is decidedly catchy and the video abounds with choreographic hilarity. That, surely, should be the end of the matter?

Well, apparently not.

It would appear that one of the many members of the public who were lucky enough to make cameos, as accidental as they are brief, saw the video on YouTube and took great offence at their inclusion which they saw as a personal humiliation. A war of words – via email – between the aggrieved and Mr O’Hara ensued, during which the complainant demanded their removal from the video, refused to divulge their identity and then threatened Tragic with legal recourse if this paradoxical demand was not met promptly.

Unsurprisingly, this display of unnecessary nuisance and horrifically low intelligence caused quite the stir amongst fans and friends of the musician and a backlash campaign ensued, with the aim of clearing the artist’s name. Tragic, himself, even recorded a video response to the issue. The rallying cry of this movement? Tragic O’Hara is Innocent!

Is he though?

It seems there are several equally plausible versions of events, with the widely accepted one being that an anonymous but disgruntled member of the public has genuinely taken exception to their appearance in the video.

However, there are certain aspects of the story that could be construed as improbable. First of all, seeing as how the public were not made aware of the filming of the video, how likely is it that someone stumbled upon it by chance on YouTube, especially given its fairly small number of views before the controversy?

Furthermore, even if this did happen, how likely is it that this person would take the time to contact Tragic O’Hara to demand the removal of their appearance and then proceed to make this impossible by refusing to identify themselves?

It may well be the case that Tragic O’Hara genuinely is the abundantly unfortunate victim of a malicious campaign of anonymous idiocy but, that said, prudence demands that other possible scenarios are given consideration before a conclusion can be reached.

For one thing, might this all be just an elaborate ruse? Those who have experienced a Tragic O’Hara performance know that the space between songs is often padded out with his own brand of distinctly humourous patter and it doesn’t seem outwith the realms of possibility that some mischievous admirer of his work responded in kind with a wind-up that has now spiralled out of control. Perhaps it caused more offence than was expected and now the culprit feels things have gone too far for them to reveal their well-intentioned but misjudged gag.

Also possible, and bound to prove popular amongst the more cynical, is that the whole thing is a very shrewd publicity stunt aimed at promoting the video. There is no escaping the people’s love of a moral crusade to back up the underdog and there is no debating the boost in popularity the controversy has provided Tragic O’Hara. Supportive Facebook pages, YouTube comments and blog features have abounded, with the recent confirmation of a Pivo Pivo-hosted gig in aid of the campaign serving as the icing on the cake. Such a drama would certainly be simple enough to fabricate, especially with the offending numpty’s purported desire for anonymity.

It all seems to come down to a good old-fashioned matter of trust and the generally unquestioning reaction to the circumstance has been both reassuring and heart-warming. As a musician there must be few things better than the knowledge that, as well as loving your work, your fans have your back.

It seems that, whatever the real story, the outcome has been more than desirable thus far. A fantastic local artist has had his profile boosted, local music fans have been gifted the opportunity to get involved in what feels like a true grassroots movement, music bloggers have a topic which is nothing short of a delight to cover and, on top of all this, careful research by those involved in the campaign has shown that the prospective plaintiff has no case against Tragic O’Hara whatsoever.

No harm, no foul!

Tragic O’Hara’s Jump On video

Tragic O’Hara is Innocent Facebook campaign

Tragic O’Hara is Innocent gig in Pivo Pivo, 27/7/11

Tragic O’Hara on Facebook

A pre-gig look at As In Bear’s Facebook shows a photo of an open space in a crowd wherein lies the wreckage of what was clearly once a guitar and drumkit, as one onlooker – presumably a band member – clutches a broken drumstick. This serves as welcome respite from the usual generic band pictures and the image’s connotations of destruction and disorder succeed in evoking tremendous excitement at the prospect of seeing these guys live.

No more than twenty people occupy Bar Bloc, as tables are cleared away to create standing room in front of the stage, and that’s counting the members of the other two bands on the bill and the staff. There is the disappointing feeling that what looked set to be an evening of swirling bodies, flailing limbs and instruments in flight is going to turn out to be something of a non-event.

As In Bear (made up of David the guitarist and Grant the drummer) take the stage and it’s bated breath all round…

All fears immediately subside as the first note of opener Too Bad triggers an explosion of energy which sees David abandoning the confines of the stage area and tearing straight out into the middle of the modest audience. Territory firmly mapped out, he launches into a one-man riot of mesmerising proportions, equal parts frenetic dance and out-of-control seizure.

Grant takes his cue from this and the drums kick into full force as he assumes a frantic demeanour which matches that of his fellow noise-merchant perfectly. Every beat is a veritable assault; his face set somewhere between a growl and a grimace as he proceeds to lash his kit, as though intent upon some crazed sonic vendetta.

And with this, the tone of the performance is well and truly established. With each successive song, the pair wade further into their auditory catharsis, dragging the audience in with them as heads and feet move in time with every crash of a drum or slash at a set of strings.

As In Bear’s material being entirely instrumental, it is to their immense credit that they manage to keep everyone in the venue captivated for the duration of their set, given how difficult it can be to draw in listeners without the hook of lyrics or vocal melodies to compliment the music. It is, without a doubt, their stage presence and enthusiasm which sees them so effortlessly surmount this obstacle.

That’s not to say that their music itself isn’t accomplished, if tending towards the abrasive, but it wouldn’t do to get too hung up on the intricacies of As In Bear’s sound when looking at this performance. Although their offerings do vary from studio to live setting, in terms of volume and violence in delivery, the part of the evening truly deserving of coverage is the sheer energy on display.

A few more spectators arrive as the set progresses but that’s really neither here nor there. What started out as a fairly empty and subdued room felt instantly packed the minute the duo launched into their performance. In a situation where the tenor of the evening rested solely on how the band decided to carry themselves, As In Bear have succeeded in setting the place alight with a captivating blast of passionate vehemence.

Watching them peel through their set, the mind goes to all those interviews with bands who have ‘made it’ and their talk of still having given it their all during early shows, the sincerity of which often seems so dubious. The mind goes to those moments and returns to the centre of Bar Bloc to focus on a band who will be able to regale such stories without the slightest fabrication and a sense of superiority abounds with the realisation that everyone present in the room will be able to stand as testament to that.

Little is said between songs, with David confessing to those gathered that their “patter is shite.” There is a cursory introduction and a shout out to Bar Bloc as their “favourite venue” but the only extended monologue comes from David when he acknolwedges the two bands above them on the bill. This is a genuinely humble moment which makes apparent As In Bear’s knowledge of the scene they are a part of, as well as their admiration for their fellow performers. This seems appropriate, given that there’s really no need for arrogance or ‘swagger’ when your performance hits as hard as theirs does.

In spite of this evening of huge positives, one thing As In Bear definitely need to work on is their self-promotion. There was no entry fee for this gig and the headliners, Mojo Fury, have a fairly high profile at present. As a result, the crowd should never have been so small.

This is a band that deserves a hardcore following and this was a show that should not have been missed. Outside of writing or performing, garnering a loyal fanbase ought to be David and Grant’s main priority until such time as venues like Bar Bloc are heaving with people itching to get in on the action.

Overall though, As In Bear prove a fantastic experience. The set doesn’t deliver quite the level of destruction and disorder hinted at by the picture on the band’s Facebook – although the close of the last song does see David’s guitar being dropped like a piece of trash and left in the middle of the floor –  but this omission is more than made up for in energy and enthusiasm. It is fantastic to see musicians with the balls to just throw themselves into a performance with such abandon, regardless of the size of their audience.

More of this is needed!

 

As In Bear on Facebook

Bellow Below is a name you’re going to see on a lot of Glasgow gig bills in the coming months. Whether or not it will be spelt properly is a different matter and one which is already becoming a source of humour amongst their fans and exasperation amongst their members.

The band were recently handed a last minute slot opening for Salò in Bar Bloc and, in support of the feature you’re now reading, guitarist/vocalist Richard took the time to answer a few questions…

Can you give us a brief history of Bellow Below?

“We’ve been a band for about a year now. All of us were in a band called Oslow before but then our guitarist/vocalist left and we decided to continue with a different name.”

What has been the defining point for you, as a band, so far?

“For me, the definining point was when we played with Tera Melos, who are absolute heroes of mine. I don’t really want to speak on behalf of the others but I think that’s maybe unanimous. We got to see them play in Scotland for the first time ever at their soundcheck.”

What can we expect from you guys in the near future?

“At the moment we are getting ready to record our first EP and we’re also busy writing new stuff. I don’t really know if we have a set direction but we are always trying to improve as musicians and songwriters as a group. We also like to go over stuff we’ve already written and make it better if we can.”

Bellow Below has the floor. Tell the world what you want them to hear…

“Coffee is for closers only.”

—–

Arriving at Bar Bloc in time to catch the guys preparing for their performance, focus goes first to the stage set-up. The front line sees Richard and Jamie manning their own microphone and guitar at each side and bassist Darren between them, with Joseph on the drums at his back. Due mainly to this dual vocal approach, such a layout seems to give the band a self-assured presence and suggests that a powerful performance lies ahead.

Bellow Below are a band with a strikingly long and diverse list of influences and this is evident in their appearance as well as their performance. Richard and Jamie seem an especially strange partnership, with Richard’s guitar-held-high stance and indie charm standing in stark contrast to Jamie’s long hair, sleeveless shirt and crazed look that permeates the band’s more aggressive onstage moments. Nonetheless, as tonight’s performance will go on to illustrate, it’s a partnership that works well.

The simple words “Hello! We’re Bellow Below!” herald the beginning of the evening’s performance, before those assembled are led swiftly into what turns out to be a false start.

Fortunately, the band are unphased by this, regrouping quickly and leading the audience straight down a path of searing vocals, crashing drums and flailing time signatures.

The room remains a collection of expectant faces until a clever stop/start segment midway through the first song draws the front few rows in and sets them in enthusiastic motion. From this moment onwards, a quick scan of the room reveals the fairly sizeable crowd that has materialised for the quartet, which is impressive considering the eleventh hour nature of their appearance.

The short space of time between the first two songs is astutely utilised to direct all present towards the location of two free downloadable tracks and then it’s straight back to business.

Taking further stock of the performance during this second offering, it becomes apparent that there is an accomplished atmospheric thread running through the band’s material, working as an effective backdrop for the heavier segments.

This careful balance is furthered by the the vocals, which range from the carefree and clean to the anguished howl, by way of a few well-placed “woah-oh” moments. It is Bellow Below’s skilled use of this variation that renders them able to lull their audience into an almost trance-like state with the mellower moments before picking up the pace and aggression and snapping them abruptly back to life, keeping them on a tight leash for as long as they have the stage.

Without explicitly drawing the Biffy Clyro parallel, it would be fair to say that the boys have captured that distinctive West of Scotland sound, style and flair that the music world is currently going mad for.

However, while this is a tried and tested formula which is obviously working for the band on a personal level, it does give rise to the concern that it may prove difficult for them to set themselves apart from the plethora of other acts adhering to the very same formula.

The best thing Bellow Below can do to draw away from the pack is to continue to embrace their wide array of varying influences and strive to showcase this diversity in their own musical output. Talent and confidence have come as no problem to this band. The only hurdle left to overcome is to further develop their sound, until it is distinctively theirs.

This doesn’t take away from the fact that tonight’s audience experienced an excellent performance from musicians who, as a result of their time spent in other bands, already have a dedicated following. Their stage presence is considered and effective and, as Richard’s own words suggest, they seem determined to make sure everything they’re doing counts and is done to the best of their collective ability.

It is easy, then, to understand their consternation at having their name frequently misspelled, given how strikingly evocative the Bellow Below moniker is of the impression the band delivers in a live setting. Their quiet confidence and onstage presence point to the band’s knowledge of their enormous potential lurking just below the surface.

Just make sure you’re there when that Bellow emerges, eh?

Bellow Below on Facebook

Two free downloadable tracks

The decision to cover this month’s Sneak was made the morning after the last one. The decision to focus solely on the first band on the bill came a little later.

Sitting in the pub the weekend before, with a few Sneak regulars, the subject of the Bloodlunch preview had come up and resulted in a highly enthusiastic discussion about how “insane” the performance was and how excited everyone was to see if they would live up to it that Thursday. Cue the decision to review Bloodlunch alone.

The temptation to watch the preview was resisted, which led to several days filled with anticipation of the sort that only comes from the prospect of a totally fresh live experience courtesy of a band of whom you have no existing knowledge.

Finally, the night arrives, the journey to Glasgow is negotiated, entry is paid and seats are taken.

As Bloodlunch take to the stage, they look to be a typical metal band, with bassist and vocalist forming a ragtag arrangement of rolled up sleeves, long hair and piercings.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult not to judge a book by its cover when you have absolutely nothing else to go on. Thus, having setttled in for what looks set to be a fairly run-of-the-mill testosterone-driven metal performance, there is a near transition from seat to floor when the vocalist opens his mouth just long enough to utter “get it right up all of ye” before his band crash into a set which is far from run-of-the-mill.

Stagelights blare and Bloodlunch’s distinctly heavy sound pummels the audience as the vocalist Michael Wiseman leans into a traditional rock ‘n’ roll stance and bellows frantically into his vintage-style microphone. The intricacies of this moment could be easily missed and this would be a genuinely sad oversight, because the way in which Wiseman invokes the spirit of Elvis Presley and then proceeds to shit all over it with his gloriously gruff and vulgar songmanship and ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude ties in magnificently with their hilariously crass approach.

It takes a couple of minutes for the room to come out of its stupor and, when this transition is complete, all appear captivated by the singer’s manic stare and frenetic energy as the band piledrive their way through song after song.

The music itself suggests a dominant southern metal influence with something approaching rockabilly scratching away under the surface. Although none of the songs showcased tonight could be described as foot-tappers in the traditional sense, there is definitely an infectious rhythm driving the set (infectious being perhaps a worrying pun, given the nature of some of the lyrics.) Switching between fast and slow but always with a distinct air of menace and vulgarity, it’s really a style to be heard rather than described.

The performance is undeniably chaotic but the band don’t seem too bothered. It seems there is no setlist, as the band “don’t write it doon,” and the predominant sound between songs is a bizarre ruckus somewhere between arguing and incomprehensible banter. Essentially, Scottish humour at its crude best.

A few songs in, the audience is curtly informed that “this next tune’s about gettin a blowjob while you’re havin a shite.”

The lyrics that follow are not complex, appropriate or intelligent. What they are however, when combined with the unique persona the frontman has moulded and the aggressive but fun nature of the music,  is genuinely amusing in the crudest way imaginable. A chorus of “Holy moly! Holy moly! Suckin on me while I’m havin a toley!” sees a room full of faces registering shock then turning to check the reactions of their companions before disintegrating into fits of laughter.

Occasional goading of the audience for their lack of enthusiasm (although this may have been a misinterpretation of their shock and awe at the performance in front of them) and throwaway comments about their early spot on the bill are tinged perfectly with that aforementioned Scottish humour, so as to make it all seem more like part of an inside joke than genuine complaints. At one point, the guitarist comments that all present are probably just waiting for the headliners to play and then, without missing a beat, the vocalist chimes in with “this next one is a 31 minute…” before cutting off mid-sentence, as Bloodlunch smash back to life, seemingly without the slightest regard for how they are perceived.

The more cynical could dismiss such a performance as contrived, but to do this would be to overlook the most important part: the sheer fun of it all. Setting aside the music for a second, this is a band worth watching because they are immensely entertaining and there is the distinct impression that they would be having a great time with or without an audience.

The only complaint, with regards to tonight, is that the band seem to have been misplaced on the bill. The Bloodlunch experience positively reeks of pint-soaked debauchery and it seems an opportunity for an even more electric performance was missed tonight, due to their early stageslot. Had this lot been put onstage at eleven o’ clock, in front of a rowdier crowd, the place would have erupted!

Nonetheless, the performance was magnificent. The musical proficiency of all concerned was clear to see and, perhaps ironically, the apparent disdain for the idea of playing to please the audience ended up being immensely entertaining. The boys seem self-assured in their own ability; happy with what they’re doing and content that they’re doing it well.

Is that not what it’s all about, after all?

Bloodlunch on Facebook