Each year I look forward to Celtic Connections. Each year I tell friends that the line-up is great. Each year I say I’m going to this that and the next thing. Each year I fail to get my act together sufficiently. Each year I only scratch the surface. Each year I vow that next year, I’ll make more of an effort. So this year, I’m going to put together a handy list of some of the things I’m hoping to go to. The festival starts this Thursday, the 16th of January and if the selections below pique your interest enough there is a feast of gigs over on the festival website.
Fri 17th January – Mull Historical Society @ The Arches
Colin MacIntyre’s Mull Historical Society are a long time favourite and have several songs that I’m personally very fond of. This gig will see the performance of his 2001 debut album ‘Loss’, in full.
Tues 21st January – RM Hubbert w/ Aidan Moffat @ The Mitchell Library
Were we a lads mag, there’s a high chance that Hubby would have been our man of the year in 2013, alas we’re not, therefore he’ll just have to settle for being a good dude. Having followed up his SAY Award winning album ‘Thirteen Lost & Found’ with the equally excellent ‘Breaks & Bone’, this will be Hubby’s biggest Glasgow headline show to date. Aided and abetted by the mischevious storytelling of Aidan Moffat, this is a Tuesday night at the library you won’t want to miss.
Sat 25th January – The New Mendicants @ The Arches
Ahead of the release of their debut album, adopted Ontarians Joe Pernice (The Pernice Brothers) and Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) take to the Celtic Connections stage with new material and one would hope some tracks from their back catalogues. As a big Teenage Fanclub fan, only wild horses will keep me away from this one.
Sun 26th January – Olive Grove Showcase @ Oran Mor
An evening curated by local bloggers turned label bosses, the line up here not only includes a very rare performance by The Moth & The Mirror, but also performances by Elba favourites Randolph’s Leap, Jo Mango, and The State Broadcasters.
Mon 27th January – Bobby Womack @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
I first came across Bobby Womack on an old blaxploitation compilation which included his song ‘Across 110th Street’. In the last few years he’s become more of a household name after a guest slot on the Gorillaz ‘Plastic Beach’ record which has invigorated Womack, now in his 7th Decade in music.
Sat 1st February – Bill Callahan @ O2 ABC
Hands down the sweatiest gig I’ve ever been too was Bill Callahan at Stereo a few years back. Seems an odd statement, of course, there was no wild mosh pit but combine a midsummer date with a room full of jumpers and beards, and you’ll get why the temperature was so high. Heat aside, Callahan was an excellent performer that evening and IS an excellent songwriter, from Smog to his solo records, so it’s unsurprising that so many people I know snapped tickets up for his straight away.
‘Tis (has been) the season to download free samplers from labels, ‘zines and other such online outlets. So as well as unwrapping Christmas presents, we’ve been unzipping folders best essay writing service reviews of mp3’s and giving them a listen, and the nice thing that we’ve found, is that it makes you remember some of the great music from last year as well as getting you excited for the year ahead.
Case in point #1 comes from Armellodie Records [FREE SAMPLER HERE]. An assortment of what’s to come as well as some older gems and some ‘rarities’, make this a pleasing listen. I hadn’t listened to The Douglas Firs or Conor Mason in a while and it was very nice to become more acquainted with their newest signing, Appletop. They’re from France, which the label tells us most helpfully, is in Europe. The following track has really whet my appetite for their album, which will be released in March.
Another album that I’m rather looking forward to, which is due out this year, is by Now Wakes The Sea. We put on what I think was their first gig as NWTS back in 2010 and I still remember some of the cool shit they did with noises and looping a transistor radio with a cassette player (i think that’s what it was anyway). They’ll be releasing the follow up to ‘Fluoxetine Morning’ this year on Edinburgh’s mini50 records who handily also give you a bit of an insight into their label with a sampler [DOWNLOAD HERE]
Another local label dishing out the free stuff (well, this one came out in Nov) is Olive Grove Records [FREE SAMPLER] who seem to be going from strength to strength, indeed, their release of Jo Mango’s ‘When We Lived In The Crook of a Tree’ EP and her subsequent performance of it at The Glad Cafe were two highlights of a very good musical year for us at Elba in 2013. In fact, if you’d like to see this sampler in the flesh (sort of), then the Olive Grove roster will be putting on a label showcase at the Oran Mor on January 25th. (Yeah, we know this track is not on the sampler!)
Finally, we couldn’t really leave it without mentioning the ever delightful Asthmatic Kitty seasonal sampler. Just look at the cat gif on the download page! [FREE DOWNLOAD HERE]
This December, this very day, we bring you the return of the Elba Annual! For this first annual post of 2013, we were very lucky to get some insight from Jo Mango. Jo’s career is something of wonder consisting of a great collection of material alongside regular collaboration work, including a recurring presence in the band of modern folk heroine Vashti Bunyan. Her beautiful EP When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is released today on Olive Grove Records and we featured the title track on our most recent mixtape. I recommend this EP most highly. It has a storytelling quality that immerses you completely in the song; the vocals, lyrics, scoring and production all contribute to this. It’s a succinct little listen that is as close to perfection as you can get. Jo’s account of 2013, much like her songwriting, is very compelling. There’s also a little bit of news regarding what’s to come in 2014. Did I say little? I meant huge. A huge bit of news!
Album of the Year
White Lighter – Typhoon.
I’m probably doing that classic thing here that big groups of people voting on best albums of the year always do, which is picking the most recent! But I think I’m mostly picking this album because of the experience that went along with it. Sometimes, as the years go by, you begin to feel like the magic and the energy of really being a crazy fight-to-the-death spend-your-last-pound suffer-the-post-gig-blues-for-a-month fan of music can wane a wee bit. Or it seems like it was a long time since you last heard an album that spun you round with how much you’d never heard anything like it before. So when you have a special moment with an album, it becomes a bit more precious. I really love the songwriting of Typhoon. I listened over and over again to their previous EPs etc. (the lyric writing in a song like “Sickness Unto Death is just amazing). So I was really waiting for their new album to come out. When it did, I made myself wait, like a little kid, until the CD from their Bandcamp arrived through the post from America. The day that it did, I took a really long bus journey with my headphones on and listened to it through twice on my headphones, in my own little world. It was like drinking a long cold drink just to sit and listen. I’ll admit I hadn’t done that in a long time. And the sun was a low winter sun that made wonderful patterns on the windows as a tiny moth walked back and forth across it while I listened. I nodded my head as they sang: “I will try to hold it, I will try to keep the moment, like a photograph of the sunset, like a little kid with a bug net, like a dying man, I swear.”
Song of the Year
Frightened Rabbit – Nitrous Gas
I really hate picking favourite songs. Eeek. I think it’s just impossible. There are too many of them! And they all serve a different purpose for a different time in your life, don’t they? However, if I have to choose, then I thought I should probably choose a song that compelled me to put it on repeat, that I could listen to tens of times in a row and still enjoy. Well… I use the word ‘enjoy’ loosely! Because this is such a sad sad song. But there’s something just so compelling about ‘Nitrous Gas’ by Frightened Rabbit. Those low voices, and the vocal harmonies are beautiful. The chord choices are perfect. It’s transfixing.
Best Gig You Played
Oh, the best gig has to be one of the shows we did in Japan. The engagement of the crowds with the music on that tour was extraordinary – it was such active listening that it felt like the music was being pulled from us. All the shows were brilliant, especially the night we played for Pastel Records in Osaka and one at the gorgeous Hi Fi Cafe in Kyoto (where Paul Buchanan was playing on the stereo when we first visited). But I think the stand-out show was out in the countryside in Ukiha – a really small town surrounded by fruit tree orchards and rice fields. Water/Wood Records and the band AutumnLeaf along with their family and friends put on the show, which was held in an old Japanese Medicine Museum. Apart from the giant bugs that fell from the wooden ceiling onto the stage while we performed (it was so quiet that you could REALLY hear a bug drop… ugh!), it was a perfect night. After the show we all sat down to a massive plate of sushi and fried lotus root, and communicated somehow in broken English/Japanese and laughed through the early hours. We slept on the floor in a hundred year old Japanese house with wood carved screen panels, Shinto shrines in the corner, and no bath (because we use the hot springs from the mountains). Altogether beautiful really!
Best Gig You Saw
I really did NOT go to enough gigs this year. But stand out shows have to be the set that Japanese band “Alps” (maarupus) did at our Kyoto show. Their music is so unbelievably delicate and quiet, and they have no idea how talented they are! I tried to record them on video on my iPhone, but you can’t hear them, because they were too quiet even for the microphone to pick up! The other one that sticks out in my mind was a two-piece version of Prehistoric Friends, with Casio keyboard and Viola. What a genius combination that is. And the show (at the Old Hairdressers) was for a homelessness charity too.
Any Musical Thoughts to share on the Year 2013
2013 was a year I tried to collaborate more, to let go and say yes to things, to give things a go. So I think the results of that when they come out in 2014 will be my vocals or contributions cropping up in lots of different places. I’m looking forward to that.
What does 2014 Have In Store for You
Ok… I’m going to say it out loud, put it out there, and therefore it has to be true. A NEW ALBUM!!! I really need to pull my socks up and get faster at writing albums. 6 years between albums is not acceptable! (Maybe playing in Vashti Bunyan’s band, something rubbed off on me, I don’t know). So we’ve got three songs at least ready to be recorded. And the ideas are coming. I’m thinking this album is going to be more of a pick-me-up. I need to write songs to cheer me (after listening to Nitrous Gas on repeat, obviously!!), so that’s what I’m aiming for. I also hear that Vashti is in the studio at the moment, so I’m hoping that she might have me back to play some shows with her if she takes that back out on the road in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy the EP (and potentially a remix album/EP too).
Jo Mango plays The Glad Cafe on 14th December with Call To Mind and Behold, the Old Bear. Tickets are available here.
As a fortnightly mixtape, we’ve found ourselves getting rather giddy days before we actually publish this post, and it’s because we’re so eager to share it. Isn’t that the point of a mixtape after all? Over the past few weeks we’ve been once again immersing ourselves in the latest sounds to come our way as we prepare for the weekend of gigging which is actually, already underway. Miaoux Miaoux last night, Pixies tonight and Shellac tomorrow, but for now, here’s our latest mix.
Book Group – Victory Lap
Phil: Gerry Loves Records have been quite a launchpad for artists over the last few years and I’d expect their latest release, a double A side from Edinburgh based Book Group, to lead on to bigger things for the band. The release comprises of two catchy as you like indie pop tunes which truth being told, I struggled to choose between for this mixtape. I’ve plumped with opener, and live favourite, Victory Lap, a rousing slacker-ish rock track which has had me humming the chorus in my head since I set my ears on it. The AA side is released on Nov 25th and they play a couple of launch shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh next week, details here.
Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper 
Phil: I mentioned the gigs which we are headed to this weekend. Last weekend however, there were a plethora of ‘epic rawk n roll’ shows going on in Glasgow, very few of which had tickled our fancy. However, I couldn’t help but have pangs of jealousy as I saw the tweets come in about the Frightened Rabbit gig at the Academy. I would have dearly loved to have been there and seen them open with Holy, before moving on to this one, The Modern Leper, from 2008’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’.
The Nightingales – The Book of Right On [DOWNLOAD]
Kim: Last week something marvellous happened. The Nightingales, who I like to think of as the band who just keep coming back for more, made a song available for free download. The track they decided to gift to all was a cover of Joanna Newsom’s The Book of Right-On. What has been delivered is, I think, a really interesting study into how songs are perceived. I’m a huge fan of Newsom and I’ve had many conversations over whether her music is accessible and with how difficult people find her song-structure. In this rendition, there is so little melodic deviation from the original track and yet it feels like a song that’s too straightforward for The Nightingales. The lower register of the harp is used as a rooting bass line for this playful incarnation and the verses are so charming with the little percussive flares. Grab this one here and give the two a play, side by side.
Woven Tents – Kids In The Park 
Phil: Woven Tents are a band I know very little about but they provide one of the many excellent tracks which make up Dirty Beard Monthly’s first compilation. ‘Kids In The Park’ is a fuzzy psychadelic trip through jazz and rock and is the ideal buffer for the tracks which follow on the compilation, which you can download, for free! This track is taken from the recently released ‘Leave Your Monsters At Home‘ EP.
Water of Life – Liquid City/The Shellycoat 
Phil: Water of Life is a collaboration between musician Rob St.John and artist Tommy Perman (ex-FOUND) and is probably one of the most fascinating projects I’ve seen. The tracks were inspired and made by exploring the natural and unnatural water flows throughout Edinburgh. I can’t quite do the project justice here, but really, go, look, enjoy, wonder and immerse yourself in the website they’ve put together. There’s field recordings, some fantastic photography and words about their expeditions and I’ve already lost a fair few evenings getting lost in it all. Oh, and there’s a sound map. I.am.in.heaven.
‘Water of Life’ is released on December 9th as a Ltd Ed 7″ folio, including a 7″, essays and prints as well as a digital download of the tracks.
Miaoux Miaoux – Stop The Clocks 
Kim: This month the ListLive event in Stereo, which Elba are this very day recovering from, provided their platform to Chemikal Underground dance darling Miaoux Miaoux. Julian Corrie’s dreamy indie-electro music arrived last year on debut album Light of the North, which very deservedly made its way onto the Scottish Album of the Year longlist. Stop The Clocks is a song that pulls back from his playful electro-pop into something more emotional. As set closer it really cemented itself as a pivotal number. It opens on ringing fingerpicked electric guitar and a muted beat. Julian’s voice is soft and pure here but his little percussive breaths break in and let you know that this song is not what you thought it was going to be. When the synth appears it causes a great swell of breath to the lungs. This track is not overcomplicated in scoring. It does what it needs to. When the instrumental breaks it is time to dance, all the way to the crescendo and then through it, into the light.
Jo Mango – When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree 
Kim: Female artists telling grand stories are a great weakness of mine. Jo Mango’s upcoming EP When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is a delicate weave of tales; threading myth, the mystical and the grim(m). After an early morning listen, I marked it as this year’s whimsical winter music. There will be nothing better than navigating icy paths to these sparkling tracks. The scoring on this title track is sparse to begin with and her voice is so fragile that you are left feeling vulnerable. The chorus is a pain-stricken mourning of the loss of a home and hideaway. By the time the sound fleshes out, you may very well be reduced to tears. When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is being released by the lovely people over at Olive Grove Records on the 2nd December and Jo Mango plays The Glad Cafe on 14th December. She will also be appearing on the delectable Olive Grove label showcase in the Oran Mor on the 26th January as part of Celtic Connections.
Casual Sex – Soft School
Kim: Up and coming Casual Sex are back on home soil after a long and hard spell on the road supporting Franz Ferdinand. The Bastard Beat EP launch is tonight in Nice N Sleazy with support from noise monsters Halfrican and dirty synth duo Ubre Blanca. I’m a little bit obsessed with the Ubre track Taxed. It would be the perfect score to Snake Plissken’s Escape From Glasgow. I don’t think Kurt Russell would make it out alive. Picking a track of the headliner for this mix was a fucking good job to do. Casual Sex have amassed a tight little package of heavy surf-rock. There’s no wistfulness here, just jaggy 80s rock fitting for the titular act. Soft School was the b-side on the Stroh 80 single released earlier this year. Did I miss any innuendo?
Shellac – Canada
Kim: This weekend, Phil and myself have both opted for all out nostalgia with our gig choices. Where Phil will be listening to the sounds of Black Francis and his merry men (literally as, alas, there will be no Kim Deal – a deal breaker, personally), I will be off to SWG3 to be ear bashed by Shellac [of North America]. Shellac seem to illicit mad cackles from me. Their minimalist rock is unrelenting and it instills a craziness in my mood. Canada fits into what has become the place on the song list for my indulgent track. This is the track that will make no sense anywhere else on the mix so it gets jammed on at the end BECAUSE I LOVE IT and it just MUST be on the mix! I can think of only one other artist who might surpass the closing artists on these last three mixtapes for all out gushing. I wonder if I will find some tenuous reason to work them into a future mixtape. Watch this space.