Archive for September, 2011

[Continued from previous entry…]

With the groundwork for the more established portion of the evening having been set, the consistently fantastic Rose Parade follow the furore of The Hostiles with a slightly more mellow approach to music.

The inclusion of this eclectic collective in any sort of Ayrshire Showcase is an absolute given and their placement on the bill is such that they serve as a welcome breather from the more chaotic and riotous recitals which lead up to their spot.

As Ari, Ed and Stuart meander through an anthemic setlist that necessitates the use of banjos, harmonicas and glockenspiels – as well as the more standard guitars and drums – their folk-tinged indie pulls the crowd together into a cheerfully beery sort of mutual consciousness, as feet tap and heads nod to the calm but emotive soundscape they create.

Rose Parade are an undeniably unusual act but the beauty of it is that this impression is conveyed without ever seeming contrived. There is no great emphasis put on their set’s incorporation of the unconventional; It is merely a part of what makes Rose Parade who they are – purveyors of fantastic and quirky music which succeeds in not insisting upon itself.

And, of course, there are a smattering of more tradtionally mainstream rock moments when the foot tappers become foot stampers. The aptly-titled Grace proves a particular crowd favourite, due in no small part to its simple but ridiculously infectious ‘da da da, da da da’-style chorus, and their recent run of plugging new track Midnight Wine online pays off when its live rendition goes down an absolute storm.

By the time the applause has subsided, Bellow Below appear to kick things back up a notch with their set which succeeds in maintaining the standard set by their recent Bar Bloc performance.

The boys are possibly even more self-assured this time around, with everyone on the stage looking like they absolutely belong there, as Richard establishes the set’s tone by instigating a back-and-forth chant of “waayyyy” with his audience before the band charge through a technically-impressive set which seems to delight in presenting those watching with grave potential for neck injury.

Jamie visibly relishes his position of frontman, for this gig, as he seizes every opportunity to stride out on As In Bear’s makeshift guitar/drum platform, which has now found its way to the front of the stage and undergone a transformation into a catwalk of sorts, and thrusting his face into those in the front row as the band pick, strum and shout up a euphoric racket.

Although all of the members have enjoyed fairly lengthy tenures in the Ayrshire and Glasgow live music scenes, the group’s current incarnation, as Bellow Below, is a relatively youthful one. It is therefore all the more remarkable that they find themselves so high up on a bill littered with pretty prestigious acts and fail to look even remotely out of place.

Bellow Below - Photograph by Kenny Bates

Filling the two headlining slots are thisfamiliarsmile and The Darien Venture who are very much the crowning glory of the event, both being signed to indie labels and enjoying hugely positive levels of recognition. There will be a more appropriate time to take an in-depth look at their impressive live output in future and, for today, it will suffice to say that they placed the cherry firmly on top of a spectacular occasion.

As much as the artists are a veritable credit to the Ayrshire Showcase and manage to do themselves, the organisers and their fans – old and new – proud, it is impossible to overlook the fact that an astounding amount of thought and planning has also gone into this event, yielding equally fruitful rewards for all involved.

Throughout the day, there is a merch stand set up in the corner which, as well as giving everyone playing the opportunity to ply their various wares, provides a high-profile sort of feel. The provision of the option to go and browse demos and t-shirts afterwards is a definite stroke of minor genius which makes each performance seem just that little bit more authentic and meaningful.

The organisers’ shrewd utilisation of networking skills and well-maintained personal relationships with band members mean that all acts are present and correct for the duration of the showcase, happily sipping on complimentary beer and wolfing down pizza as they show support for their peers. This has the desired effect of ensuring that, at no point in the day’s proceedings, the place feels empty or half-full and crowds of people arrive at various times to an ever-more-burgeoning venue.

For today at least, Pivo Pivo feels like the hub of the Ayrshire music scene as the different bands and their respective entourages and hangers-on make the place their own for the evening. The Hostiles tourbus sits proudly in front of the venue as they are interviewed for local radio inside it, familiar faces from As In Bear’s previous gigs join them in scoping out the rest of the talent and the Bellow Below boys hold merry but boisterous court in the smoking area between acts.

Where the performers are concerned, Sunday 5th September is a day of simple considerations and gestures that are lapped up by a willing crowd. For organiser-in-chief Kenny Bates, sound aficionado Michael Butler and the rest of the Pivo Pivo staff, however, it is the successful culmination of months of hard work, not only in the creation of this event but in the tireless pursuit of making their venue the go-to place for unsigned talent in the West of Scotland.

Perhaps the single most telling indication of today’s success is the difficulty it presents those who are present with the intention of documenting and reviewing. Such is the energetic, passionate and ultimately involving vibe throughout the event that it is nigh on impossible to remain just an impartial observer. A difficult person to imagine is the one who would be able to remain in the background watching this spectacle unfold without their enthusiasm and shared passion for local and unsigned music get the best of them and take on the role of yet another ecstatic participant.

Pivo Pivo on Facebook

Rose Parade on Facebook

Bellow Below on Facebook

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[N.B. It is indeed regrettable that some bands received less in-depth coverage in this review than others. However, where the Ayrshire Showcase has excelled has been in the presentation of several acts greatly deserving of recognition and worthy of coverage, who will be the subject of full features in Sixteen Sixteen Six in the very near future.]

[Continued from previous entry…]

This is the point in the evening where the profile of the artists raises dramatically. The Hostiles are the definitive Ayrshire ska punk outfit, having been plugging away at building a reputation and fanbase for somewhere around the ten year mark, and are now at a stage in their musical career where they’re more accustomed to high-profile support slots and European tours than humble hometown shows.

It is the presence of bands like this on the bill that makes it impossible not to marvel at  just how much effort and networking lies behind today’s showcase.

Just long enough is spent setting up to build ample anticipation amongst those who have come along especially for the ragtag assortment of brass-assisted punk rockers and, at the same time, show the soon-to-be-converted that they mean business.

As the beginning of what transpires to be a bouncy ska onslaught ups the tempo of the event, there almost immediately emerges a much more racuous vibe as the pints start flowing a little more freely and musicians and crowd begin to feed off each other’s excitement. Frontman Josh, dreadlocks a-swinging, leads a band at the top of their game through an upbeat set that seems to dare anyone in the room not to move around, with this being authoritatively reinforced by his confident instructions to the crowd to move forward and get involved.

In what serves as a distinct indication of their instantaneous and effortless command of the room, the crowd do as they are instructed and the performance is rendered all the more impressive as a result. The five characters onstage are positively bursting with energy and enthusiasm and seemingly simple requests like this, handled in a way that suggests the expectation of nothing less than complete compliance, are what succeeds in setting a new standard for the remainder of the day. It is as though the event is maturing as it works its way into the evening and the more experienced bands begin to exert their influence.

In saying that, no variation of the word mature really has any place near the childlike energy and capacity for merriment on display here. Banter is hurled back and forth between short, punky numbers during which the rhythmic contingent move in such a way that suggests some covert switch of the stage with a large trampoline and the brass section, when not offering up enthusiastic servings of ska, busy themselves with the task of bouncing off the walls.

As for the music itself, it’s ska punk by numbers. There’s nothing innovative about The Hostiles’ sound but, to their credit, they make absolutely no pretence that there is. The guys give the impression that they’re playing the music they love and having a blast while they do so and, although their delivery is consistently tight, their chosen style really relies more on a fun-loving attitude and the desire and ability to get everyone involved in the party. In this, the quintet are impressively accomplished and it is plain to see that their wealth of gigging experience has by no means gone to waste.

Now, involving more established bands in a showcase like this can be a hit or miss move . While the inclusion of higher profile acts will undoubtedly draw in a larger audience and thus result in greater success in terms of the promotion of the lesser-known talent on display, it is also possible that the true aim of the showcase will be diluted if the divide between the established and the newcomers creates an air of entitlement or aura of superiority amongst the acts at the higher end of the scale.

At one point during The Hostiles’ set, it looks terrifyingly as though the latter could be the case, when bassist Chris lets slip that he doesnt “really know who else is playing” which seems to err a little too much on the diva front as, after all, the occasion is supposed to be about raising awareness of unsigned Ayrshire talent. As a result, it would seem only logical that before accepting a slot in such an event, and consequently putting their implicit stamp of approval on all of the talent being showcased, a band would make a point of checking said talent out for themselves first.

Thankfully, the tenor of the rest of the performance succeeds in allaying any such initial fears and encouraging the notion that this gap in knowledge is more absent-mindedness than arrogance.

A particularly reassuring display of unity between band and crowd comes when Josh’s guitar strap comes undone during a positively frenzied chorus and, within seconds, a member of the audience is up on the stage providing assistance and re-attaching the strap to the instrument which is still very much in play.

If any doubt remains about the band’s suitability for the showcase by the time the last song rolls around, it is swiftly obliterated by what proves to be the crowning moment of The Hostiles’ set and a perfect snapshot of the air of mischief that permeates their output. During the last bars of their finale, Josh calls for a ‘wall of death’ – the revered practice of a crowd splitting into two halves before running towards the centre of the room and colliding in a whirlwind of bodies, most often encountered at hardcore punk and metal gigs – and no sooner are the words “I mean it” out of his mouth than a gulf opens at the front of the room and the more adventurous and able-bodied in the audience set about good-naturedly beating hell out of their friends, creating a health and safety nightmare in the process.

With a grasp on the crowd like this and a set that strives to involve everyone, there can be no debate as to whether or not the inclusion of The Hostiles on the bill had a positive effect on today’s Ayrshire Showcase.

There are bruised ribs that will attest to this!

The Hostiles - Photograph by Kenny Bates

The Hostiles on Facebook

[Section 3 of 3 available tomorrow night…]

All is fairly quiet during the descent of the Pivo Pivo staircase to where the Kitchen Sessions stage is functioning as the platform for the provision of a chilled out acoustic start to the proceedings. Leisurely afternoon drinks wash down free pizza, as those assembled mill around sharing greetings and discussing the talent already on display. All in all, a pleasantly subdued start to the Ayrshire Showcase.

Of course, as soothing and enjoyable as this display may be, it’s not an experience remotely out of the ordinary for anyone in attendance. So, by the time 5pm rolls around and the attention of those assembled begins to wander to the A Series of Controlled Explosions stage due to open in the venue’s adjacent section, there is a tangible air of expectation as the collective consciousness ruminates on exactly how important a moment in time this showcase will prove itself to be.

The crowd are promptly ushered through the two arched doorways into the room where all such musings come to an abrupt halt as As In Bear set about offering up ample justification for the use of any of the plethora of potential puns that can be derived from the name of this second of the two stages.

Upon entry, it becomes immediately apparent that the duo – never one in favour of the preservation of the divide between artist and audience – have completely rejected the idea of performing on the stage they are opening. There exists standing room only, as seats and tables have been removed in order to accomodate Grant, his drum kit and a worryingly unsteady looking makeshift platform upon which stands David, replete with guitar and a look of steely intent.

For the duration of this first slot on the bill, the room is engulfed in a more frenzied affair than even As In Bear generally provide, as the swelling crowd forces bodies closer into the middle where instruments and performers alike are flung around with complete abandon and waves of unforgiving sound are thrashed out in every direction.

An all-too-brief setlist is punctuated with some well-placed dedications and then, in what feels like an acknowledgement of the gig’s significance, the boys unleash a finale even more delightfully chaotic than usual, as Grant’s drums are speedily assembled atop the aforementioned platform and he proceeds to leather his way through a display of sticksmanship which could not be accurately described as anything less than an attack. It is a testament to the appreciation the pair inspire in their audience that the drummer is rescued from several near falls by the willing hands of the crowd who keep him on balance until the crescendo proves too much, the drum stool is discarded and the final crashes are played out – without any noticeable missing of a beat – by a percussionist with one foot on the ground and the other on a pedal raised three feet in the air and attached to a falling kit.

The phrase reverberating around the room is “holy shit!”

As In Bear - Photograph by Kenny Bates

With the audience still reeling from As In Bear’s visceral onslaught, In:Auters return proceedings to the stage for their debut live performance. The four-piece’s first two songs bookend a fairly lengthy period of fiddling with their equipment and nary an acknowledgement that they are in front of an audience until the end of the second number when a brief mumble informs of their name and newcomer status. Musically, In:Auteurs’ set proves a treat, awash as it is with ambient buzzing, droning guitars, understated vocals and a cool retro shoegaze sort of feel.

Unfortunately, this has to be offset against a disappointingly low level of enthusiasm and a lack of any real performance to speak of. Even during the heavier moments of their set, every member appears rooted to the spot with eyes thoroughly averted from the crowd. Being that this is the band’s first gig, some ambiguity does exist as to whether this is the result of genuine apathy, nerves or a misguided attempt at hipster posturing. Whatever it is though, the problem it presents is that their first offering doesn’t serve as much of an unveiling. It is hard to imagine that anyone who watched the set came away from it feeling like they knew any more about In:Auteurs than they did before.

Nonetheless, for tonight at least, their musical performance proves strong enough to maintain the attention and appreciation of the crowd and, when there is no warning before their last song and just another cursory expression of thanks, the idea of this ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude as design rather than accident begins to warrant consideration. After all, the conveyance of such a slacker image is undeniably well suited to their musical style and any effort of a band to present themselves as a package – no matter how lifeless – is always admirable.

In:Auteurs - Photograph by Kenny Bates

A welcome return to a world where artists introduce themselves with confidence and self-assurance comes courtesy of Brown Bear and the Bandits, a three-piece with the uncommon allure of a female drummer who recently erupted onto the Ayrshire scene seemingly out of nowhere.

The first song sets a momentum that endures throughout a set that has the room captivated, as traditional rock ‘n’ roll sensibility melds with strained grungey vocals, inescapable charisma and an unshakably upbeat delivery. Perhaps most worthy of note though, as much for its simplicity as for its effectiveness, is how happy each member of the band appears throughout the set, the drummer clearly having real problems keeping a grin from spreading across her face which appears to inspire similar difficulties in much of the audience.

Brown Bear and the Bandits emit a vibe that wouldn’t seem out of place in a blue collar New Jersey bar and the only real surprises come with a fairly confrontational segment of a song entitled Destiny Dancing and a rendition of the opening verse of Sugarhill Gang’s classic Rapper’s Delight.

Of course, well documented is the procedure for something that ain’t broke and the confessional nature of lyrics like “It’s not that I don’t love you; It’s just that I don’t care” have a timeless appeal that ties in perfectly with the ballsy and emphatic performance to ensure that the trio’s name resides on the lips of those present until well after their set draws to a close.

Brown Bear and the Bandits - Photograph by Kenny Bates

As In Bear on Facebook

In:Auteurs on Facebook

Brown Bear and the Bandits on Facebook

[Section 2 of 3 available tomorrow night…]