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OOTB 316 – 2 Oct 2008

OOTB 316
Ms Fi, Nelson Wright, Tica, Nicky, Paul Hughes, Susanna and Gudrun, Calum Carlyle, The Weather Underground, Broken Tooth, Ross Neilson, Jenny, Kevin O’Neil, Casey Graham

Rob Sproul-Cran needs no introduction, and is on top compering form with musical trousers and all. He kicks things off with “I saw you cry, the day he died”… well I don’t know if that’s it’s name, but it is a beautiful, sparse and empty emotional landscape, over which his fragile voice flows (Rob can belt it out at times, but this seems to be a fragile voice song). Beautiful teary stuff.

Fiona J Thom in 2008

Fiona J Thom in 2008

Ms Fi treats us to two, I thought, new songs, but it turns out they may have been kicking around in a dark corner of her lair for months, nay years. I don’t know why they haven’t been out in the open much of late, because they are some of the best I’ve heard. Wonderful classical-style guitar parts with walking bass-lines and arpeggios and Ms Fi’s trademark Fi-rhythms. “Rise” delves into the grim world of having to get up for work on winter mornings in the dark, and the chaos ensuing from not being able to match up your socks. The second song is probably my fave, with a crisp clear vocal lamenting lost love (i think). It’s beautiful, the combination of guitar and melody. “Seems I’m false again, when I tried so hard to be true”. Truly top quality songstress-ing from the Fi, which literally has the crowd transfixed in silence.

Nelson Wright squeezes one song into a packed evening – “The Dream” is a musical re-creation of that weird confused state we sometimes find ourselves in when we awake from a bizarre dream. It’s atmospheric and other-worldly, with immaculate finger picking and slight discordance resonating through the spoken word verses to create a bewildering, intriguing eeriness which envelops us all.

Tica is relative new-comer to the old scene, and very glad she’s popped across the pond to see us. She has a unique take on the singer-songwriting thing, and I am already a big fan. Her funky little chord progressions and lyrics & vocal style which vaguely reminds me of Stephen Malkmus (Pavement front-man, this is a good thing, he is practically a god) are, well, very cool. Plus she is wearing a sideways baseball cap, which has to be cool. Probably the one of the most memorable songs of the evening is her first, where she asks “does she make you happy / does she make you crazy happy? Cos she’s he craziest bitch i ever knew”. Strong emphasis on the “bitch” bit. I tell you, I’ve had this song in my head for days since. The American twang and apparent randomness of some lyrics (“did we break his brain today?”), and melodies which veer into almost spoken word (but not quite) are refreshing – I recommend you get your hands on her CD!!

Nicky has only been on stage properly twice – this being the second time. She looks so confident, and her voice is so strong, you would never ever guess. She’s never had a guitar lesson but has been making stuff up for years, which results in some inventive guitar playing – not a G, C or Am in the house folks, which is one of the things that appeals so much to me. The first song features some pretty frantic guitar playing, and shows off the power in her voice. I didn’t totally catch the lyrics but there was definitely something about slippers (?!). “Ice Cream”, she tells us, is a kind of fairy tale story about a boy who lived on a bouncy castle and a girl who lived on the edge of time. This is not the sort of thing you hear every day, and it was an intriguing story. Another of my evening’s favourites was the third of her set, which had an amazing guitar riff using unusual chords and seemed to jump around all over the fret-board. ‘We can(’t?) stop the rain from falling’…her voice soars over the crazy chords. I’m sure Nicky will be back, a very promising OOTB debut from possibly the youngest performer we’ve had for a long time.

Paul Hughes is testing out 3 new songs on us tonight – solo rather than with his other half McQuade – who together did a storming featured slot recently. These are all well-constructed songs which don’t give away the fact that some of them or only 2 days old – an assured & confident performance. They all deal with that old love – the first one may be a celebration of new found love “hey hey, you take my breath away”, and the second (“falling”?) seems to be a lost love song – you can feel the pain in his voice, he cant get on his feet again cos he’s falling. Or is it ‘falling in love’? In the third song he asks “are you over me?”. Another heart-felt plead. I know these subjects are re-visited a million times by singer-songwriters, but you can never really have too much of it when it’s well done like this. We’ve all been there.

Susanna and Gudrun et a squashee slot and it’s really nice to have a break from the guitars for a bit, as Susanna takes out her trademark harmonium, and together with some breath-taking harmonies from Gudrun, they set about creating a whole new atmosphere – dreamy, angst-ridden yet beautiful couple of songs. The two vocals swirl around each other, with harmonies drifting in and out. It was hard to catch the lyrics and I wouldn’t like to guess what these were about, but the atmosphere is definitely one of something fairly dark and sometimes intense, yet sometimes gentle and serene. I was momentarily transported to a different world.

Calum Carlyle kicks things off with a bit of a comedy number, for whose existence we can be thankful to the one and only Nyk Stoddart. Nyk provided the title of this song, and Calum defied belief by creating the song, named “my penis is a gyroscope”. Apparently you can get to heaven even if you have a you-know-what – a bit of a revelation for the women in the audience perhaps (kidding). I learned quite a lot during this song, I have to say, I didn’t know a you-know-what had so many uses. The song’s only 28 hours old and he didn’t even forget it! In fact he played with his usual confidence and top quality guitar playing. Second song “The Acid Test” has crazy rock-n-roll strumming and you can hear the drum-kit in his mind. ‘I looked inside your mind, to see what I could find…’ he yells. I’m not sure what he finds, but this is ROCK. Man. Finally the epic “the sound of falling in love at first sight” is a beautiful heart-felt song with an extended intro on the old 12-string. You can see in his face that he means every word… Great to hear this song again, even if he does quite often play it.

The Weather Underground kicks off with “when the morning comes”, a vaguely Dylan-esque vocal style, and perhaps a nod to the man lyrically (‘gotta find a place to shelter form the storm’). I couldn’t quite follow the lyrics but they drew you in – they are intriguing and often random-sounding, with references to Venus and Mars . . . The second song has a nice wee chord riff with stream of lyrics over the top in story-telling style. It seems to be telling someone to go and get “that thing called life”, which could be a lesson to us all. He fits a lot off words into a short song, I’d like to read them all written out to find out what’s going on in these stories! Finally “I think I” … ”might be losing part of my soul” – oh my god, I hope he managed not to lose it. The vocal has hints of Lou Reed here and there. He’s cooool.

Broken Tooth starts with a song he’s been writing on stage rather than with pen & paper, over the last few weeks whilst performing in various places. That’s something you have to be pretty confident to try! But you could never tell this song may not have been fully formed. It has a punchy and confident METAL riff!!! Pretty catch wee riff with stop-starty bits and BT’s crazy lungs yelling out “was not the devil…?” Everyone’s twitching in their seats – you can’t sit still to a song like this, makes you want to be head banging or something. Next song is “Hold Fast Boy”, fast becoming a Tooth favourite, with its epic meandering tale about a ship not sinking yet, and Abraham and Lord Nelson and all sorts of characters popping in. It has a guitar whizzy intro and extended outro and shows off the Tooth’s incredible fret-board whizzery.

Ross Neilson plays a rather nice looking Guild guitar, and sings songs which seem to seek better times & escape from the mundane realities of life… ‘going to a place where I feel I can breathe again’. Quite repetitive and strangely catchy melodies. He’s vaguely reminiscent of Elvis Costello in his second song, where he exclaims ‘you think I’m selfish, but I just want to do it alone’… and it has a ‘lee dee dee’ instrumental singy bit. Never heard such a thing and it induces interest from the audience. It works! People should use random variants of ‘la la laa’ more often! His last song. “sunbled”, continues in a similar vein to the others, and has some hint of Wreckless Eric, I am told. Ross Neilson is definitely becoming a more and more assured performer and his songs are getting more addictive with time.

Jenny was a performer I had never seen before but I certainly hope I will see again. The first thing that got me was the soft and under-stated quality of her vocal, which reminded me a little of Dido. It envelops you in a warm blanket of calmness. Or something. There’s a nice groove to her songs in the rhythm of the strumming. I liked the line ‘she never told the truth but she never lied… she must have been a rebel’. The melodies stick in your mind – I am humming it as I type! ‘Time & Tide’, the second number, has a similar tone to it. Jenny explains it’s about how, no matter how hard the wind blows, the mountain will never bow down to it. Nice metaphor and the song has imagery which transports me to some kind of sea shore with lapping waves on the shore. The last song takes on a flight with dabbled light on our faces. Again, imagery that transport you out of the city and into the air. She sings in her luscious voice about “tingles down [her] spine” during the flight. This song, and her voice, send tingles down my spine!

Kevin O’Neil appears to be a man with a few things to get off his chest. He plays a beautiful looking semi-acoustic orangey red coloured guitar, which survived an earlier incident during Nicky’s set in which it crashed to the floor. Phew thank god it survived! “After the fall of man…” he exclaims “…what is wrong and what is right?”. There’s some big life-changing ‘future of human-kind’ type questions in here. The songs do not reach epic proportions but the lyrical content certainly does. After that cheery stuff he plays a ‘non-autobiographical miserable song’, in which the narrator goes to the bar, and er, gets a drink. Kevin stands stock-still for his whole set. I don’t know if this is nerves, or just the fact you can’t see a damned thing when you’re glaring into the lights on that stage. Either way, he seemed to be starting to relax towards the end, so let’s hope this continues.

Casey Graham is our final performer of the evening, and what a good way to end… he is an assured & quality performer who is new to OOTB, but we certainly hope he’ll be back soon! Another from across the pond, he has only recently come to Edinburgh, and begins with a song he apparently wrote 2 years ago but had absolutely no memory of writing it whatsoever until he came across it that morning. Well we’re glad you found it! Immediately kicks in with some of my favourite picky guitar playing and descending bass-line, hinting at the folk-tradition but definitely with its own thing going on. It’s about the ‘last troubadour on the street’, and there’s a part of him in all of us. Though not a topical singer, he gives us a comedy rendition of “the ballad of sarah palin” who will ‘fight for the right… until all the ice caps melt’. Couldn’t be a better time to sing this song, it’s all over the news, and as Casey rightly points out, he only has a few months in which to sing it! A very insightful and amusing, yet political song. Finally we go back to a theme of tonight: Dreams. In “Dream song” he ‘caught a glimpse of the sacred melody’… again reminiscent of 60s protest singing in style & lyrics with ‘I heard a story of youth revolt and fighting to be free’. This was a brilliant end to a brilliant evening. I hope he comes back.

Review: Lindsay Sugden Compere/sound: Rob Sproul-Cran

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