Tuesday, 30 September 2014


As a follow up to my blog on the re-opening of BLOC I wanted to delve a little deeper into the philosophy of the bar and their music policy in particular. I caught up with Chris Cusack who is the booker for the venue.

1. In terms of music- what does BLOC stand for?
BLOC stands for independent music of all forms. We are as inclusive as possible, hopefully without being inconsistent. We focus on the DIY touring circuit which usually involves live bands and that means a slight bias towards rock and indie, but there is plenty good electro, metal, classical, folk and even hip hop when we can get it.

In terms of general philosophy, we want to provide support for musicians looking to exist as sustainable entities outwith the machinations of mainstream music promotion where money not quality overwhelmingly dictates who and what succeeds to the exclusion of anyone unwilling to compromise their ethics.
Bit of a mouthful but that's the idea.

2. How important have your own experiences of playing in bands been to shaping that philosophy? Care to share any good/bad? 
My own experiences in touring bands (and as the founder of my own DIY record label) have been key to the way BLOC operates. I picked the best aspects of DIY promotion, from my experiences on the continent in particular, and tried to build a system that was realistic for a small business but extremely fair to the acts that perform for us. I wish we could pay double what we do. They deserve so much more. But it is a start and the details (food, drinks, free promo, funding zines etc) all contribute to the sense of investment in the acts and promoters we host.

As for my own experiences, I have had many, both good and bad. Some hilariously so. The most infamous of which - that actually saw me invited to write a chapter for a book published by Cambridge University on the pitfalls of independent music - found me and my bandmates trapped in Prague for 4 days with no transport and our written-off van and equipment in a lock-up surrounding by angry looking dogs and men in greasy vests.

On the flipside, driving across Spanish flatlands, through miles of sunflowers in France or up mountain roads watching a full moon reflect off frozen lakes have all been truly breathtaking. Unloading a van in the French countryside whilst a family of wolves howled in the field next to us was fun. Ach there are so many. This barely scratches the surface. Plus some of them are not entirely PG so probably best kept hush-hush.

3. You have regularly attracted big names for secret/not so secret shows. What is the attraction to them?
The attraction to BLOC for big names is the ability to actually engage with their audience in the most intimate way imagineable. Live music these days is so often entirely soulless. it focuses on light shows and live production and is closer to a circus than a gig. One big, gaudy, flickering distraction to sell beers and tshirts set to music designed for sync-deals in advertising. 

Amidst that mulch, there are genuine, organic outfits that managed to break through and a lot of those acts came from humble beginnings and in some ways miss the buzz of a crowd screaming in their face from less than a foot away.

In the same vein, we are lucky enough that many of the acts who pass through our doors and go on to become succesful keep us in mind and are only too happy to return our good faith. Frightened Rabbit, PAWS, Twin Atlantic and more are good examples of this. It takes a certain kind of mentality to want to do that though. An understanding of why music is so exciting the more directly you communicate. A realisation of how much truer the art is the fewer middlemen and production staff are inserted into the process. Certainly some bands just don't get that. We have found that out in the past. We asked if they were interested and they were very much of the opinion "We can play big places now. Why would we play a small one?" So yeah. It's a mentality thing.

4. Variety is the spice of life and BLOC offers an incredibly eclectic array of nights and music. Did this come about naturally or was it your goal from the start?
Yeah as I said at the beginning, we aim to be inclusive. Personally I get turned off by venues that only book in one narrow field of music. They become like gang-huts. The same faces. The same sounds. It all gets stale and introverted.

I am not going to pretend that I enjoy the music of every band we put on, but I have worked hard at developing an ear for the quality of the music. I might not listen to much in the way of, say, folk music, but I absolutely make an effort to tell when someone does a good job of it. It helps that we work with so many promoters who have more developed ears for specifc genres. That was on purpose. These people are experts in their style and having them on board keeps the quality high but the styles diverse.

5. Are old favourites like Slow Club, TYCI and Blochestra returning? Any new nights?
Yeah those will all still be in the calendar. We have nurtured every one of those from its inception. And yes there will be a number of newer nights like TariboWest and REPEATER. We also have a few fresh ideas lined up for 2015.


6. I believe the sound system has had a severe upgrade. Can you share the spec? What other improvements have been made?
The sound system has been upgraded but, without being too technical, it's more in the realms of the out-board and mics. To make it more user friendly, especally for bands that bring their own engineer. We had the PA system upgraded quite recently and in truth it is beyond the necessary rating required for the venue which means we can afford not to push anything or endanger the speakers by running too hot. The new outboard is just another stage in our ongoing determination to keep the facilities evolving. We have also improved the DJ set up and equipment. But that is far from "job done". When the chance arrives, we will look to replace these again with better or newer items. It's an ongoing project.

7. BLOC has been the scene of some mental nights; the recent We Are Scientists/Paws show looked incredible. How did that come about?
That came about for a lot of the reasons mentioned previously. Specifically the guys in PAWS, who have played for us many times, were touring with We Are Scientists and suggested it to them. They accepted and the rest is history. It was a pretty spectacular event and the guys in both bands were as down to Earth as we had hoped. Again, it takes that mentality to enjoy a tiny show like that when you are used to playing The Barras. A certain lack of pretention. It is refreshing to encounter that in succesful bands and WAS were as friendly and down-to-Earth as you will meet. it goes without saying that the guys from PAWS are not easily sucked in by that minor celebrity bullshit.

8. What’s your favourite choice off the new food menu?
I have to admit, the boys in the kitchen have really taken it to the next level with some of the new stuff. I pride myself on my spice tolerance (because I am an idiot probably) and thus the Balkan 176 burger was pretty exciting - and surprisingly challenging. It really is pretty bloody intense.

But for flavour, I would say that perhaps the Cuban bagel is hard to beat, though the burgers have been selling like crazy. I don't know man. That is easily the hardest question yet. I love food. Dammit.

Okay. The Cuban Bagel. No. Wait. The Cashew Crunch.

The Durty Burger - try it!

9. Bloc has also branched out into a label. What releases do you have coming up?
We have a couple of albums in the pipeline, including Felix Champion's debut near the end of the year. Those guys are a genuinely dedicated, hard-working group of young guys and seeing the effort they have put in to pursuing their band we were only too happy to be able to help them fund the release.

In the immediate future we have another compilation of Scottish acts. To be precise, it is a series of four compilations as part of a bigger whole and released every fortnight from September 18th. The various bands involved are pretty stellar. United Fruit, Adam Stafford, Felix Champion, So Many Animal Calls, The Cosmic Dead... some of the best underground acts in the country.

Oh and all of those compilations are completely free, just like our shows.

10. Any tips or advice for bands or artists looking to play BLOC?
If you want to play BLOC just drop us an email. Details are on the website, bloc.ru, and I reply to every (non-bulk) email I receive. Which can sometimes be a painful undertaking but, as someone who has written thousands of gig and tour emails and had about a 5% response rate, I made that promise to myself from the start and I am sticking to it.
If you want a gig in general - and assuming you have all the usual rehearsal/demo/professionalism stuff in hand - just make sure you don't sell yourself short. 

Music has become an easy way for non or ex-musicians to make cash by inserting their "expertise" into what should be a fairly simple process. Don't waste money on needless PR or management too soon. Don't pay to play. Don't agree to bring coachloads of your family down to Liverpool so you can say you played The Cavern. And probably most poignantly, think twice before agreeing to endless streams of gigs where you are asked to sell tickets. You invariably end up milking your relatives for pity-money, selling at cost price and ultimately it is a form of pay to play.

Don't get me wrong, there are times that a specific support slot or venue will be worth it but, if the promoter or venue shows you no evidence of ever developing that relationship, I would suggest you take your business - and audience - elsewhere. There are plenty of alternatives and plenty places only too happy to have you.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The referendum in music

Last week was a monumental week in Scottish history. Passion was in clear evidence on the streets of Glasgow and beyond as supporters from both sides made their case for independence or to stay in the UK.

Everyone had a part to play.

Music played its part; Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand both nailed their colours to the Yes mast by playing a show in Edinburgh to highlight the case for independence. The Last Night Of The Proms was taking place at the Royal Albert Hall, meanwhile in Edinburgh there was flag waving and patriotism of a different kind.

Pic from The Scotsman 

However, it was two D.I.Y artists that stole the show with their songs in support of Scottish independence.

Stanley Odd were the first band to make a real splash with a song called Son I Voted Yes. Scottish hip hop really isn't my thing, but fair play to Stanley Odd for translating their feelings and passion into music while others simply voiced opinions.

Son I Voted Yes has some excellent moments, notably after the second chorus leads into a more upbeat second verse.

Son I just wrote this
I thought you might like to know
That I voted yes
Cause a yes vote provided hope
What the futures holding
No-one can rightly know
I'm tired of the same old script
And what's next only time will show

The second verse is fantastic, speaking real common sense politics. The lyrics and rhymes are clever, the groove is laid back and cool.

See the older you get the less you see things in black and white
And I'm just trying to do what I think is right
Just simply yes, the problem isn't solved
You can't change the world taking no risk at all

It's interesting listening to this song almost a week down the line. It sounds like a lost lament.

Two days before the referendum Gerry Cinnamon posted a video of an acoustic folk song online called Hope Over Fear that he had finished writing 5-minutes before. It hit the nail on the head, this is what a lot of the political arguments and debates had boiled down to. Gerry is a lovely and passionate guy who I have known since I got into his old band The Cinnamons and I put them on a couple of times

Gerry's passion is on clear display in the home-made video he posted on Facebook. Within hours it had been shared hundreds of times. The next day there was a video posted on his page of people singing it in Inverness! It captured the mood perfectly; the yes camp were positive and hopeful, ready for change no matter what it threw at them, ready to cut the ties that had led to so much hurt and heartache in the past.

Hope over fear
Don't be afraid
Tell Westminster Tories that Scotland's no longer your slave
Carpe diem
Will you cease the day
Rip the chains from the unicorn Scotland's no longer your slave

Gerry sings from the heart, looking and pointing directly into the camera to get his points across. I get goosebumps at Gerry's line;

Will you stand up and be counted?
Cause i'll be stood there by your side

Listening to Gerry's song now is quite emotional. So much has happened since he wrote it spur of the moment, caught up in passion and optimism. Gerry's passion and desire for change won't die and his song could have a long life in the continued campaign for Scottish independence. You can download it HERE. It is also now on iTunes.

Top marks to both Stanley Odd and Gerry for being vocal in an art form. It has certainly led to new fans for both and may even lead in a change of direction for Gerry as he moves forward - could he be the people's poet?

To get an idea of the reaction Gerry has had I'll end this blog with as post Gerry made on Facebook;

Gerry - 'Right last week i wrote a wee song about Independence and posted a video from my phone bfr i even learned it (That's why i sang the wrong words in the chorus) Within less than an hour my FB went into complete meltdown. It flew round the world a couple o thousand times bfr i even had my lunch. Its now at something like half a million views on all formats. I can't get my head round it.

The feedback I've had has been mindblowing. 10s of thousands of ppl msgn from around the world -Manchester, London, Nottingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Texas, Quebec, then Hawaii, Mexico, Ireland, NI, Wales, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Croatia, Catalonia and Turkey all wishing us well in our fight for freedom from Westminster. 

Without getting too emotional i just want to say im truly humbled by the reaction and kind words from everyone. I'm not very adept at selling myself bcs i think it's it's a contradiction to what we're trying to achieve and i don't take compliments very well so it's been a bit of a learning curve. 

Anyway the other night i jumped in the studio just bfr Jam Night @ the Priory Bar and in 20 mins recorded a quick demo of Hope Over Fear. My mgmt posted it on bandcamp for ppl who were asking for a download. I've since had 1000s of msgs asking specifically to put it on itunes. It took a while to finish the upload process but it's up now. I'm off to Italy on Saturday for some chill out time then ill be back in the studio to finish recording the new singles and the EP. 

To anyone still hurting after Friday's result bear in mind what Scotland has achieved in the last 6 months. Something has stirred in the people of Scotland and folk are waking up to the possibilities. There are events happening all over the place. Get involved, this is YOUR revolution. Unite the clans, this is only the beginning. Saor Alba x'

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Talking in Tones by The Charlatans

The Charlatans are set to release their first new material since the loss of drummer Jon Brookes to brain cancer last year. Also their first new material since the release of Who We Touch in 2010, when Brookes was diagnosed with a brain tumour

Talking In Tones is to be released on a limited edition run of 500 7-inch singles via The Quietus.

As a huge fan of the band I am excited by the prospect of a new album and Talking In Tones is a stimulating single to usher in the next phase of the band.

Tim Burgess seems to have embraced middle age with a spring in his step. Despite the lack of new Charlatans material, Burgess has released a book, a solo album, founded his own label, curated festival tents and launched Tim Peaks coffee over the last few years - as well as touring with The Charlatans and re-releasing some classic albums. Tim is also prolific on Twitter and well worth a follow for his insights into The Charlatans and for his fantastic taste in music.

So there has always been something for fans of Tim and the band to look forward to. Although it is safe to say that it is new music and gigs from The Charlatans that most fans look forward to the most. Personally speaking, this is a band I've been following since I started hearing songs like White Shirt and Sproston Green on mix tapes in the 5th year common room back in 1991.

So what is Talking In Tones like?

Tim himself has said on The Quietus website that he always thought this should be the first track people should hear and I can understand why.

There is an edge and a mood to the single. Martin Blunt's bass is dark, the percussion has a middle eastern feel to it, Collins guitar is sparse until the chorus.

Burgess sounds distant, cold, matter of fact, his voice fitting in with the lyrics and mood of the song.

I never liked the fact
And I don't like to moan
I thought we had a pact
Talking in tones

I don't know how to act
When you pick up the phone
I'll start filling in the gaps
Talking in tones

Collins guitar bursts into life, the pace picks up and the band hit a real groove for the chorus. I'm looking forward to hearing this song live.

Ooh I feel strengthened
By your presence
It's like heaven
In six's and seven's

Talking In Tones is released on 29th September and can be pre-ordered via Norman Records.

Check the video HERE

The Charlatans are playing The Garage in London on 20th October. Fingers crossed they come back to Glasgow soon.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

First Aid Kit at the Old Fruitmarket

I had great intentions to review every album I bought this year - it hasn't happened. However, one album that has been on heavy rotation has been Stay Gold by First Aid Kit.

Johanna and Klara Soderberg are two sisters from Stockholm in Sweden. The siblings have produced a delightful album; full of exquisite harmonies and glorious melodies. I couldn't wait to discover how they would sound live.

The fact that the show was in the Old Fruitmarket added to the appeal, not only for me, but for hundreds of others as it sold out quickly. I was actually too slow off the mark and it was only thanks to my friend Rose that I got to the show.

What a show!

The support act was a guy called Jo Rose. We were standing towards the back of the venue for a beer and a catch up chat. All of a sudden the music cut dead, like someone had pulled his lead from his guitar with a loud sharp bang. Unfortunately the guy had collapsed on stage. There didn't appear to be a great deal of panic around him on stage so we guessed he was OK - thankfully he was and after a good 15-minutes he was helped to his feet and left to a big round of applause. There were a few jokes floating around the bar that 'at least there was a first aid kit in the house'. (groan)

There was a bit of a delay following that and then an announcement to confirm he was OK. Time for First Aid Kit.

Johanna and Klara were joined by pedal steel guitar and a drummer and what a glorious noise they made together. They opened with Stay Gold in a blaze of golden light, looking absolutely stunning.

The colour theme continued with a beautiful Blue. The sisters harmonies were truly spellbinding and I found myself falling in love with Johanna, especially when she shook her long golden hair.

At one point the sisters came to the front of the stage and sang without any microphones. It was a very special moment that highlighted their voices, harmonies and beautiful raw edge that resulted in a huge cheer.

Pic from @thepopcop 

My Silver Lining and The Lion's Roar were real highlights in a very strong set. However the encore was even better.

A cover of Simon and Garfunkel's America sent shivers down my spine. We had moved down closer to the front around halfway through the gig and it was amazing to watch the two sisters singing together in close harmony, bouncing off each other, egging each other on.

Master Pretender was glorious before a beautiful mesmerising Emmylou ended the night. The band stopped at one moment to allow Johanna and Klara to step in front of their mics and sing with the crowd. I've never heard a Glasgow crowd singing so well!

I'll be your Emmylou and I'll be your June
If you'll be my Gram and my Johnny too
No, i'm not asking too much of you
Just sing little darling, sing with me

The Old Fruitmarket was a fitting venue for a memorable performance from a band riding on a high and in sensational form. I hope they come back soon.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

TeenCanteen at Broadcast

TeenCanteen brought their blend of melodies, harmonies and catchy choruses to Broadcast in Glasgow last night. A summer single that featured regularly on 6music (championed by Marc Riley) and festival appearances at T in the Park, Wickerman and Indie Tracks has led to a real buzz about the band.

They played a brilliant set, starting with glorious 3-part harmonies that led into Analogue. A modern day love song that led straight into the brilliant pop of How We Met (Cherry Pie).

Debut single Honey was a delight, highlighting the sense of melody and the song structures that allow   lead and backing vocals to combine so beautifully. The band were looking and sounding good.

pic by Hannah MacMillan

Friends is one of their best songs, the combined synth and bass riff at the start has a sense of power and drama, the heartfelt vocals tell of love that is coming to an end. The closing section is tremendous, the drum rolls are pure Spector-esque. I can't wait to hear this recorded.

This is how it starts
The beginning of the end
This is the part when you say 
You just want to be my friend

Vagabond is the b-side of TeenCanteen's current single and it is absolutely gorgeous. Amanda and Sita dropped their guitar and bass and sung their hearts out along with Carla on stunning 3-part harmonies. This is a real heartburner of a song.

You're Still Mine is the a-side and it brought a huge cheer. The New Order-esque bass line got people dancing down the front and the band jammed along at the end.

The band made reference to the forthcoming referendum when introducing Coming Up Roses as the punchy chorus references YES several times. It's driving Motown beat made and the chorus made it a stand out.

It's A-L-W-A-Y YES
I'll always love you
I'll aways be true

TeenCanteen are planning to record an album over the next few months and had the confidence to end  the set with a brand new song called Sirens. It was brilliant, another song I can't wait to hear recorded.

Monday, 15 September 2014

My Girl Midge by BMX Bandits

BMX Bandits return with their first release since the brilliant In Space album, released in 2012 and reviewed in a previous blog HERE

My Girl Midge is released today as a FREE DOWNLOAD via Elefant Records

Duglas T Stewart, singer, songwriter and leader of the BMX Bandits explains; 'My Girl Midge was recorded by David Scott and me on August 27th on David's home studio. It is a song about loss and heartbreak but I wanted it to be more than just another sad song. I wanted the song to be filled with the light of love and for it not to be maudlin. There are too many maudlin, self pitying songs out there and often I can't hear very much love in them. There is sadness in this song but I hope people can have a little dance to it or at least a smile.'

Duglas continued; 'I really hope people will like it. If it doesn't grab you the first time please put it on again and give it another chance and I'm sure you will be firm friends in no time. This is an important track for me.'

Duglas added; 'I'd like to thank David for all his t.l.c. for the song (and for me), for his generosity in sharing his amazing talents and for helping find the last missing piece of the jigsaw. I'd also thank all the other Bandits past and present for helping make my musical dreams come true. …and to everyone who has supported and connected with BMX Bandits music thank you.'

The addition of David Scott to the band has been welcomed by fans of the band. Scott is a supremely talented producer, musician and songwriter (The Pearlfishers) in his own right and is someone who  understands the sounds that Duglas wants to achieve with his own songs.

It is clear why Duglas is so keen to get My Girl Midge out into the world. The lyrics and vocal performance are evidence that this is an important (and personal) song. You can hear and feel the love and hurt in it. 

Melancholic keys contrast with the upbeat percussion and handclaps; Stewart's vocals are straight from the heart, stretched (in the right way), yet considered, soulful and melodic. 

The home recording allows David Scott to display his skills while Stewart's songwriting is clever and heartfelt; within 3-minutes we learn of a couple meeting and falling in love while both were broken or hurting from previous relationships. Sadly, things didn't work out.

Just a reminder - this song is FREE! If you know of the work of Duglas and the BMX Bandits then you'll marvel at this latest addition to his work. If you're new then this is a fine opportunity to dive in at the deep end.

My girl Midge, we met when I was broken
Didn't think it would work, but still i was hoping

She would make me feel alive again
I would see love in her eyes
And then I could grow into a whole person
But I grew to slow, oh no
Now she'll never know, what she'll never know

Oh Midge it's killing me
Our future together will never be
Oh Midge it's killing me

My girl Midge we met when she was hurting
Thought I saw something but I wasn't certain

Something buried deep inside
Thought if I found it we'd be alright
But then it didn't work out like I was hoping
My girl Midge, I lost her now I'm broken

Friday, 5 September 2014

The reopening of Bar Bloc

The Bloc Party goes on.

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to the reopening of Bar Bloc on Bath Street.

Innovation, creativity and guerrilla marketing have helped Bloc become an established and vital part of the Glasgow music scene; well loved and recognised by artists such as Louis Abbot (Admiral Fallow) and Glasgow mavericks Detour (Ally McCrae and David Weaver).

An eclectic roster of regular nights is enhanced by Bloc having its own orchestra (Blochestra) and record label.

Bloc's eclectic music policy and reputation for looking after bands and artists has resulted in all kinds of secret shows from big name acts. Before closing for the refurb the venue hosted an incredible last minute show by Paws with their friends We Are Scientists in tow. It has yet to be confirmed if that was the mental night that pushed them into the refurb - although  reports and pictures from that night are pretty damaging!

We Are Scientists at Bar Bloc

Only kidding! But Bloc has been well loved over the years and a refurb had been planned for some time.

Bare brick walls and cool lighting enhance the vibe, moving the bar back a few feet has added more space, a new sound system will only improve Bloc's reputation for live music, the toilets have had a radical overhaul and the nice cobbled effect out the front just helps keep Bloc that little bit different.You step off one of Glasgow's busiest streets and into another little world.

What else has changed?

Well the menu - last night guests were fortunate to sample all kinds of delightful food courtesy of @furiousFoodBloc, the burgers were delicious!

Last night wasn't mental, it was a chance for Bloc to open its doors and show off the look and feel. Regulars that I spoke to were very happy with the improvements and pleased that the vibe was still distinctly 'Bloc'.

The mental night will probably come on Saturday night when Roman Nose bring their electro techno noise to the party crowd.

Bloc did treat guests to 3 fantastic solo performers. Adam Stafford was in excellent form, creating little riffs and noises from his guitar, looping them and flourishing them with all kinds of melodies and noises, looping them too and then singing over the top.

I hadn't seen Adam playing live for a while and he is always astonishing to watch; inventive, creative and most definitely talented. There is no-one else like him. His last two albums (Build A Harbour Immediately and Imaginary Walls Collapse) are pretty incredible and well worth checking out. The song Shot-down You Summer Wannabes is a particular favourite of mine.

I caught up with Adam for a beer after his set and fans of his music and talent will be delighted to know that he is working on his next album. Congratulations to Adam on the birth of his daughter - I am sure that will inspire some excellent new work.

Adam Stafford

Ella the Bird (Siobhan Wilson) was up next and she produced a mesmerising performance; sitting at her keyboard at first and then picking up an electric guitar for the second half of her set. Her voice was utterly gorgeous, dreamy at times and then capable of soaring effortlessly at others.

I thoroughly enjoyed the set and bought her Glorified Demons mini-album afterwards. This is a special talent.

The night was running behind schedule which meant that I was leaving just as Rick Redbeard was starting his set. 

Bloc is back - and it means business. The look, feel, roster and the creative and hard working team at its heart will ensure many more brilliant nights in the future.