I’m shite at gig reviews.
I can’t: identify musical styles; remember the set-lists; or even, and this is a biggie, spot the “bridge break” in a song, if that’s even a thing. I do this writing thing because others have told me I write good …… so here’s another one. The facts are recorded as I remember them.
The Back Story – Always a good filler.
Back in the mid nineties I was most often to be found in my local from Thursday to Monday. If you caught me early enough I’d be six pints into a weekend long drinking session, singing along to a juke box playing The Verve’s Lucky Man or Oasis’ Champagne Supernova with the rest of the pub. If you caught me a bit later, then Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler would be getting the same treatment. Meanwhile, just 12 miles away, Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton were making music that was influencing the rest of Scotland’s music scene, none less so than Belle & Sebastion who incorporated the band’s name into the title of their 3rd studio album, The Boy With The Arabstrap, a move which reportedly didn’t wash well with either of the Falkirk boys. Way back then I had heard of Arabstrap but didn’t make time to listen to their contribution to the sounds of that era and only in the summer of 2013, whilst driving home from work listening to Marc Riley on BBCR6 did their music make it’s way into my consciousness. The song was The Frst Big Weekend and give or take a few details, it struck me that this song had captured that time in my life. I also found I had an affinity with the monotonic spoken word delivery of the acerbic lyrics, reflecting the feeling we all had on the Monday after our own first big weekend.
I went home and looked up Arabstrap online and a short while later (honestly) once I had circumnavigated the sex toy references, I discovered a whole new world of music. Now with a family and a settled life (ie, no Thursday to Monday weekends in the pub, I dipped into the abundance of material available on various streaming sites. Through the medium of internet exploration, I made up for my lack of interest shown back in the 90s, but I also decided not to go too far back and discovering that both Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat had developed solo careers, a few hours later I was into my 3rd play of 2009’s Waxing Gibbous from Malcolm Middleton, which I decided to buy in CD format through Bandcamp. This was also the way I bought A Quarter Past Shite, a collection of rejected songs, which I believe was recorded mainly in his flat overlooking the entrance to his local in Falkirk.
Malcolm has released a few pieces under the pseudonym of HUMAN DON’T BE ANGRY and my CD purchases to date have included Live In Leeds which arrived with a personally written message on a post-it “Happy New Year David! From Malcom.”
I got the same nice touch when I bought 2015’s Electric Blue, released again under the alter ego of Human Don’t Be Angry, on clear blue vinyl with the words “Mmm… I Love Curry. Sorry. Enjoy! Malcolm” NOTE: That’s the wrong spelling of Currie Malcolm.
Between then and now I have watched and waited for the opportunity to see him play live but gigs have been few and far between….until now.
As a short aside, I did manage to catch Aidan Moffat on a couple of occasions. Most recently at the premier showing of Where You’re Meant To Be! at the Barrowlands Ballroom. The showing was followed by a performance of songs from the film courtesy of Aidan and a few others who had appeared on the big screen, the highlight of which was the point where Aidan, singing with The Twilight Sad’s James Graham providing support, burped after slugging a mouthful of lager from a can and continued to sing right through without missing a word. James didn’t fare so well and fell into a fit of laughter, which then kicked off the rest of the band and subsequently the audience.It was like domino rally as smiles and sniggers broke out from the front to the back of the hall.
The other time I saw him was when he played with Bill Wells at The Wickerman Festival in 2015. I had earlier offered to take my 10yr old son along to see John Cooper Clarke but was stopped as his mum’s maternal instincts kicked. “Not really the kind of thing Logan should be listening to at his age.” I accepted this and trotted off to see JCC myself. Later that day I offered to take him to see Aidan Moffat, “the guy from Arabstrap. The post folk band from Falkirk. He’s got a beard.” I think the mention of a beard fooled her into a false sense of security. Logan stood mesmerized at the front right of the barrier, watching as the bearded provocateur battered rhythmically on the drums, accompanied by Bill Wells on Keyboard and introduced the second song of the night with words along the lines of “This is a song about having sex in a kitchen sink. I hope you like it.”
After the performance, Logan persuaded me to buy him a hoodie with the words “Normal People Scare Me” on the front. I think of this gig as his first step towards his own identity. A coming of age gig. Only time will tell.
A bit of background isn’t a bad thing when you can’t tell rock’n’roll from post folk, so it’s worth adding that, on the lead up to this gig myself and my missus have had a hectic time. Life has played a few curveballs over the past few months with stress levels running at a high but on the 27th May we made our way to see Malcolm Middleton play The Art School in Glasgow. This is Malcolm Middleton who was recently described on BBCR6 afternoon show by host Laurene Laverne as “the glass half empty member of the former Scottish indie group, Arabstrap”. Maybe a night on the couch would have been a better choice.
Malcolm Middleton – The Art School, Glasgow
Setting off on The Pictish Trail.
At about 8pm we approached The Art School, climbing the San Francisco-esque Scott Street, we can hear music. As I wrote above, things have been hectic and I had mis-read the doors open time. We entered The Art School venue for the first time and received a friendly reception from the guy checking the tickets as he inquired if we had been here before and then went on to direct us to the Assembly Hall at the top of the stairs.
As we entered the hall, a couple of female ‘art students’ passed us on the way out, wearing heavy jumpers, jeans and doc martins, they smiled at us. Lorna nudged me and looking at her geometric patterned black and white jacket. With an ironic smile she pointed out that she felt “a bit overdressed”. Directly in front of us to the right of the bar, was the merchandise stall. I walked over and saw “Pictish Trail” merch for sale alongside the new album from Malcolm Middleton. “So that’s the support tonight” I thought to myself. I was less than happy as I had been hoping to catch him for a while now but I had missed the start of the set. I look up towards the raised stage at the far end of the hall. There stood a short, bearded, skip cap wearing islander, off to the left, finishing of a song and stripping off his guitar saying “That’s the last acoustic song I’ll be playing for a while.” The audience sniggered at a shared joke we had missed by being late. I check my phone and notice a facebook message has arrived. It was Malcolm Middleton replying to my inquiry about set times. ” Pictish now. I’m on at 8:30″. Again the personal touch.
We were treated to the last two songs of Pictish’s set which was enough to let me know I would buy his album, Secret Sounds, that was on sale. The music was good. The Lyrics clever, but it was his connection with the crowd that really impressed. He was comfortable speaking to the assembled bodies in front of him, pointing out that there was “plenty of merch for sale. Buy a t-shirt. The small and medium sizes are printed in white writing and the large and extra large ones are done in black. I’ve just realised that’s a good way to divide a gathering into size based groups.” Again an appreciative sound of amusement emanates from the crowd. It’s not all about the music. He finished his set and was roundly applauded. Both Lorna and me agreed that further listening was required.
Interval and Smiles
With our plastic beer glasses in had we make for the speaker structures at the front of the stage. A protruding block provides a seat for Lorna as the interval is sound tracked by cheesy dance tunes. As we talk, the stresses of the past few months start to slip away. Lorna has a natural smile on her face for the first time in a while. Strangely I find myself enjoying the sounds and also the strong vibrations from the speakers which are causing my jeans to move. Note: On the other side of the M8, down at The SSE Hydro, Brian Wilson is performing tonight. Good Vibrations all round then!
Malcolm Middleton –
As the interval filler music fades, out strides the main act and his band. He stands in front of a two story synthesiser keyboard. Underneath sits a black flight case with ARABSTRAP painted in white lettering. A link from the past or a pointer to the future? There have been rumours that Malcolm and Aidan are spending a lot of time together and that a show might be on the cards.
Standing at about 6′ 2″, sporting a neatly trimmed red beard, wearing a dark polo shirt, jeans and a khaki skip cap, Malcolm is not your typical front man. He could easily blend into the crowd in any pub or club without as much as a second glance. He introduces his cohorts. Johnny (The Pictish Trail) on keyboards, Joe on bass and unknown on drums, before describing his role as singer, guitar and synth player. Pointing out a white knob in the middle of his keyboard he confesses “I don’t know what that does”.
Turning to his laptop perched on the aforementioned flight case, our host advises everyone that he is just checking his e-mails and after a few seconds of key tapping and chin scratching, with a look of disappointment declares “nope she’s not answered.” Shrugging his shoulder he presses a few more buttons and gets the music started.
The set is heavily loaded at the front end with Summer Of ’13 tracks. Just this week I heard an interview where he admitted to having re-written the album after long time friend and fellow Arabstrap member, Aidan Moffat had openly described the first offerings as “boring negative shite”. Opener, As John Lennon Said, with the positive line “This doesn’t mean I’ve completely failed” might have gotten things off to a good start and might have been followed by a tune introduced as “an AVICCII cover”. From here on the songs travel between quiet instrumental solos through cleverly crafted soliloquies via raging guitars a la The Pixies. At one point I can hear a touch of Big Country, but it’s very feint. Mid set he introduces an old song, Red Travelling Socks, from Waxing Gibbous – a personal favourite of mine.I tried to record it but our proximity to the trouser wafting speakers made that a spectacular failure.
There are older songs in the set which elicit a quiet sing along from those in the know.I even managed to pick up the Chorus to Fuck-It I Love You and I join in. There are times throughout when the only thing to be heard is the quiet spoken word offerings from Malcolm. The crowd quietly listening to every syllable – a mark of the respect they hold for the man in the middle. At one point Malcolm announces, “That’s a first for me. I don’t think I’ve had a lighter held up at one of my gigs.” More laughter and smiles.
All too soon the set is brought to an end and all four musicians walk off. A period of “we want more” chanting, is rewarded by the reappearance of Malcolm on his own and he treats us to an acoustic set of 4 or 5 songs. The first sounds like it’s being made up on the hoof and the lyrics allude to an attempt to reset the bar after too much success, by writing a “shite song, which is this song.” Cue laughter.
Before bringing this acoustic outing to an end, we are treated to a song which captures Malcolm Middleton and his constant battle he has with himself. During Devil & The Angel, which I think everyone in the room has heard before, except me, we are hanging on every word waiting for the outcome to be revealed.
The Devil’s message
“And you’ll never amount to anything
You’ll never achieve anything
You’ll never be good at anything
And your songs are shit”
The Angel’s message
“Because you can amount to something
You can achieve anything
You can be good at something
And your songs are alright”
There is palpable disappointment when Malky plunges for the former, believing
“I’ll never achieve anything
I’ll never be good at anything
And my songs are pish”
Too late Malky my old mate, your songs are good and to plagiarize and bastardize my favourite Wayne Coyne lyrics.
Do you realize, Sardonic Self Deprication Makes You Smile?
PS. Whilst I am buying the Secret Songs double album at the bar, I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Is that Aidan Moffat at the bar?” I look around to see the bearded post folk film star chatting with 2 fans. He’s holding on to a can of Innes & Gunn in front of his chest. After parting with my cash, shaking hands with Johnny (Pictish Trail) and receiving my free music on a postcard, I walk over to Aidan and stick out my hand. “I’d just like to shake your hand. I saw your film at The Barrowlands. Brilliant night. Brilliant gig.” Aidan proffers his own hand and says “Thanks.”
Maybe I’ll get to see ARABSTRAP yet.