I accidentally found The Twilight Sad at RSD 2014, but that’s another story. I went along to see them for the first time on 19th December that same year where Vladimir, a band from Dundee, were one of the support acts. If I believe Stevie Graham, in the summer of that year TTS were on the verge of packing it in and the O2ABC show was at one point being billed as a farewell gig but the sell-out crowd and a triumphant performance swung it around for them. For me they were an overnight success, but I believe they were on the road, below my radar, for years. Fast forward 1 week short of a full year and I was at The Barrowlands to hear them play to a sell out crowd. You’ve just got to “keep on keepin’ on”.
At the same gig I was introduced to the very approachable Davie Speirs, manager of the aforementioned Vladimir. He’s not what you would call an in your face character, but as I understand it, his history in the world of Rock n Roll is the stuff of legend. Since that gig I have been trying to get along to see Vladimir again so when I saw that they were supporting Autobahn at Sneaky Pete’s on Superbowl Sunday 2016, I bought myself a ticket.
The various contradictions to be found in going to see a new band carrying the name of the leader of what remains of the old Soviet Union, in an Edinburgh music venue best known for it’s intimacy, whilst the rest of the world seemed to be steeling themselves for America’s greatest yearly sporting event was not lost on the writer. This was re-inforced when I arrived at the door a little after 7pm (the advertised doors opening time) to be advised in an eastern European accent that the doors would be opening at about 7:30. I wandered back to The Three Sisters, 50yds along Cowgate and enjoyed a pint of Belhaven Best in the outdoor chill of the damp Scottish night, perched on a wooden bench in front of a big screen awaiting the arrival of testosterone loaded American Football fans.
Following my false start and having finished my first beverage of the evening, I am warmly welcomed into the host venue with a smile and an apology for my wait from the ticket checking employee at the desk set up at the front door. Making my way to the bar, past a few younger music fans, I purchased myself a can of Innis & Gunn lager and turning from the bar, I again manoeuvre around the dozen or so gathered music fans and into a secluded corner of the stage front to “check-in” on Facebook and await the first band.
The night of music starts with an Edinburgh band who introduce themselves as Facial Slurs. To put it bluntly, they aren’t my cup of tea, but on another night I might give them another listen. They finish their set and leave the stage. As is the way with gigs at Sneaky Pete’s, in the darkened backroom interior that is the stage area, the crowd and bands pass as one and the same until the music starts. I take up a perch on the end of the bar with an uninterrupted view of the stage and wait for the separation of crowd and band to take place.
The Dundee four piece take to the stage unannounced and launch straight into their opening song. Lead singer and guitarist, Ross Murray bedecked in a heavy black wool shirt, hiding behind his Kyle of The View inspired hair, stands owning centre stage. To his right stands Vladimir’s second guitarist Peter McKenzie, wearing even heavier attire in the shape of a navy woollen jacket. Both look ready for a fight or an afternoon on the terraces, but will there be anything more than a pool of sweat and a couple of feedback spouting guitars left at the end of this set? A third guitar is present, this time it’s a bass and is wielded by James Ritchie and the band is completed by Sam Taylor on drums. All four look to be taking this serious. Determination on their faces and the lack of sideways glances confirms their commitment to making this appearance count.
I don’t have the setlist and if I’m honest, I don’t know the band’s songs that well, but I stand, locked in, for the duration of this part of the set. A set which is split down the middle around a cover which we’ll touch on shortly.
Sonically the first half switches between influences such as: Kasabian, an easy link to make due to their heavy guitar based sound; Editors, as the dark brooding atmospheric sound of the drums and bass float around in the background; and Doves, as echoes of Jimi Goodwin’s vocals subtly infiltrates Murray’s lyrics.
At times throughout the set, I could swear that I am being measured for a box as the lead singer’s eyes stare dead ahead and into my face. There’s a menace about Vladimir.
At mid-set we are treated to a stalwart tune of their shows recently, a cover of Underworld’s Born Slippy. In keeping with their refusal to announce themselves or any of their songs, it’s almost halfway through before most of the crowd twig that it’s a cover and start mouthing the words. A girl in front of me nudges her friend and both smile. From the darkness comes a ray of sunlight.
And so onto the second half of the set. Again there are influences but it seems that our band have found their own sound and by the time they get ready to play there closing tunes, I take out my mobile for the first time, to capture this sound and vision for posterity, filming what turns out to be IN MY HEAD, a song I recognise from early last year. It’s a heady mix of the same sounds, but the repeated chanting of the song title pulls me in and I am fighting an urge to sing along until I eventually give in. Some things are just inevitable. This one is an instant hit for me then and a lasting one now. It finishes with an echoing sample of the song title played back to the crowd as the band ready themselves for their final offering.
The last song of the night picks up where the previous left off and this time Vladimir offer themselves up as “the children” and “ the people”. Who could or would argue. I continue to record the show and begin to wonder if the imagined threatening stare is genuinely in my head or if I could be facing a discussion at the end of tonight’s performance about the copyright laws and the legitimacy of recording an artist’s product without permission. Following the last note strummed on the guitars, the dying rumble of the bass and the last strike of the drum, Murray announces “we are Vladimir”, which is left to echo in the same manner as the closing words of the previous song. It could be a challenge to the next act, or it could just be a verbal signature. Either way, if we didn’t know who they were before, we do now. Our band have by this time stepped off the front of stage to enthusiastic applause and yours truly has switched off the recording device and turned to face the bar again. Sipping on my can of lager, I await a tap on the shoulder which never comes.
Did I mention that there is a menace about Vladimir.
I later meet the lead singer at the bar and comment on how much I enjoyed their set. He is as approachable and conversational as you would hope someone to be, commenting that it was good to be playing in front of a crowd as the previous few gigs had been poorly attended. He excuses himself and wanders off to watch Autobahn.
Do yourself a favour and make an effort to see this band before they get big. Just be prepared to be menaced from the stage and then engaged in conversation at the bar.