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T in the Park: Saturday roving report

Eddy Grant opens the Main Stage

With memories of a litter-strewn airstrip and 80,000 dancing, drinking, singing, colliding, wretching, cavorting, exposing, stumbling, pissing people fading as fast as my sunburn, it’s time I posted my second annual T in the Park roving report…

Straight off the trusty shuttle bus – via the bar, of course – we decide to sample some sounds, so off to the Main Stage.

The sight of a 60-year-old man playing guitar with his crotch and posterior makes for uncomfortably embarrassing viewing. But Eddy Grant compensates for this rockstar faux-pas with a grin-inducing clutch of reggae hits. ‘Electric Avenue’ may be the crowdpleaser, but it’s the off-beat reggae grooves like ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ that get the early afternoon crowd bobbing on the spot.

Grant can still put on a sprightly show, but he was clearly surprised by the reception: “I don’t know how you have so much energy. It must be the oats!” No Eddy, we suspect it’s something less wholesome.

One lager later and with the early afternoon proving unsurprisingly bereft of must-sees, it was time for a casual mosey on down to the T Break tent. Haight Ashbury, the Glasgow band named after the San Francisco hipster area, were obviously aiming to recreate something of that whole 60s vibe with their steel guitar and wispy hair. But their moody, plodding indie was just too morose for this phase of the festivities.

Blinking in the intermittent sunshine, I then find myself wandering past the main stage as Kate Nash does her spoken/uh-oh/Topshop-angst thing far away on stage. With her set-up resembling a submarine school disco, it was kinda appropriate, if not satisfying, that the music that billowed over our heads sounded like a carefully orchestrated fart in the bath.

Which only left one option: Will Young. A swift appraisal of his Pet Sounds Arena set revealed a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd of onlookers singing along to his soppy hits. The standard-issue R’n’B backing band didn’t look the least bit embarrassed by having to play with the Pop Idol warbler, but one song was really all we needed to hear. Such high hormone levels in such a confined space cannot be good for the health.

MGMTA bit later and with a full tent, the stage is set for a triumphant show by MGMT. Bandanas and sunglasses play into their exotic prog-rock allure, and ‘Electric Feel’ injects some energy into a sluggish start, but just when they’re about to assail us with readymade anthem ‘Time To Pretend’, the low-end of the soundsystem audibly explodes. The crowd stay on-side for the remainder, but this could have been so much better.

With one and a half album’s worth of recorded music in the can, The Twilight Sad are a strange choice for the T Break tent. But instead of acting all complacent and ‘T broke’, the band are in typically uncompromising form: a few new songs are tantalising, but ‘Cold Days From the Birdhouse’ is one of those shut-eye, unforgettable festival moments.

My only trip to the terminally uninspiring Radio 1/NME Stage is inspired by The Raconteurs. On the back of Consolers of the Lonely, they are a band gleefully indulging in their American-ness, with bluegrass fiddle on ‘Old Enough’, stadium rawk on ‘Salute Your Salution’ and Detroit pop classicism on ‘Many Shades of Black’. It’s unfair to lay all their success at the winklepickers of Jack White of course, but his scintillating talents upgrade many an average song tonight.

Rage Against The MachineWith the poor, misguided ones herded towards the Kaiser Chiefs, the enlightened among the hoards swarm to the Main Stage for one of the most exciting T headliners of recent years: Rage Against the Machine. And they were rewarded with an awesome band on awesome form. De La Rocha’s defiant posturing and Morello’s jaw-dropping guitar playing belie the passage of time that’s elapsed since their 90s heyday, and blistering tracks like ‘Guerilla Radio’, ‘Know Your Enemy’ and, of course, ‘Killing In The Name’, inspire scenes of bodily carnage from where I’m standing a few yards from the front. De La Rocha’s anti-Bush rant (“When I said George Bush should be assassinated, I meant he should be tried as a war criminal and hung as a war criminal!”) is the only respite in a scintillating show.

I stumble towards the Edinburgh bus queue tired, cold, drunk and mud-splattered. The journey home is going to be rough, and the random girl who sits next to me and asks – constantly – if I unerstaun her wasted ramblings isn’t helping.

Versions of these reviews were written for The Skinny

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June in singles: reviewed by The Twilight Sad

The Twilight Sad admire a copy of Gavin Rossdale's new single
[Images: John Lewis]

Instead of my usual ramblings on the month’s singles for The Skinny magazine, this time we decided to let someone else do the slagging. The Twilight Sad are one of my favourite bands of the past year, and even produced The Skinny’s album of 2007. I met them before their gig at Tigerfest in Dunfermline to play them some CDs. It went well until they started stamping on them…

James Graham – vocals
Andy MacFarlane – guitar
Craig Orzel – bass

THE RASCALS – FREAKBEAT PHANTOM

James: I don’t mind that.
Andy: It just sounds like that other band, the Shadow Puppets.
me: D’you not think he sings like Alex Turner?
Andy: Aye I’ve listened to that Shadow Puppets record and I get confused.
me: Rating out of ten?
James: Six.
Andy: Aye, it’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just aaaaverage.
[Craig enters]
Andy: Ye missed the first one. A scouse band. Would you be intae that?
Craig: Aye why not?
James: He doesnae need tae hear that one.

6/10

James: Put on Little Man Tate, cause I know that’s gonnae be pish! I heard one song by them and I nearly spewed.

LITTLE MAN TATE – WHAT YOUR BOYFRIEND SAID

Andy: They should just give up man.
me: Rating out of ten?
James: One. Two. One and a half. That was bollocks. I knew that was gonna be bollocks. I could dae this for a living. This is great.

1.5/10

LEVELLERS – BURN AMERICA BURN

Andy: Is What A Beautiful Day getting reissued? That’s a ten!
James: How old are the Levellers? Pretty old.
me: I didn’t know they were still together.
James: Neither did I.
Andy: It sounds like a gypsy version of The Associates. I dunno why they’re still together.
James: Four, at the best. One for the fans!

4/10

GAVIN ROSSDALE – LOVE REMAINS THE SAME

Andy: See if it sounds like Gwen Stefani, it might be awright! Anyone who’s boabin’ her gets five marks straight away!
James: This is gonnae be shite. [sings] Swallowed. This sounds like a drummer’s old band. Pure pop rock. They were amazingly bad. This just sounds like too American, like that band Daughtry. Slash played wi them once, and that’s what this sounds like.
Craig: The start of it sounds like the Velvet Underground.
[play intro again]
Andy: Aye, Heroin.
James: It sounds like Heroin, plus he’s got five bonus points for shagging Gwen Stefani.
Andy: Two points for Heroin and five for Gwen Stefani, so that’s seven.
James: Naw ye cannae give it seven!
Andy: But if ye read the review it’ll be explained!

7/10

JASON MRAZ – I’M YOURS

Andy: What’s he got tae dae wi anything?
me: “San Diego-based troubadour”, apparently.
James: Eek.
Andy: This sounds like Jack Johnson or something.
James: I think a wee minus point might be in order.
Craig: [copying a lyric] I can’t take no fucking more either!
Andy: That’s no even worth talking about!
James: Gie that nothing. They were signed for tax reasons.

0/10

JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN – TO BE LOVED

James: She used tae go out wi Elliot Smith. [It was actually Jeff Buckley – easy mistake to make]
Andy: He’s pure deid but.
James: It’s pretty shite that eh?
Andy: It sounds like that lassie fae High Fidelity. She can get five bonus points for being in Rufus Wainwright’s band, but she can get minus three for sounding like that lassie fae High Fidelity.
me: Equals two.
Andy: Aye but ye’ll need tae explain that.

2/10

LYKKE LI – I’M GOOD, I’M GONE

me: Have you heard of Lykke Li?
James: Aye I like her. I’ve seen her name all over the place. She’s touring wi that band that we played wi, Shout Out Louds.
Andy: Sounds like Feist.
James: Aye she is quite feisty but!
All: Hahaha!
James: I seriously didnae mean it like that!
Andy: I quite like it. I’d say a seven.

7/10

IRON & WINE – LOVESONG OF THE BUZZARD

James: I’ve got this album but I’ve no listened to it yet.
Craig: It sounds like Sex and the City!
Andy: It pure does!
James: I could take or leave it.
Andy: It gets a point off for them being in that cheesy film Garden State.
James: I liked that!
Andy: Was a seven, point off for Garden State.
James: So six.

6/10

HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR – YOU BELONG

James: It’s meant tae be quite good this.
[CD fails to play]
Andy: Give it a zero. A big fat zero cos it doesnae work!
James: Gie it a ten!
Andy: Nut! Zero.
[CD eventually plays]
James: Orzel you like it already! Orzel likes Italian disco.
Craig: It sounds like Streets of Rage 2. It’s got a dance soundtrack like this.
Andy: Is that Antony [Hegarty] singing?
James: Naw it cannae be. Pitchfork gave it like 9.8 or something.
Andy: Fuck Pitchfork!
Craig: It sounds like a wild night of sex and cocaine and it’s all gone fucking wrong and they’re fucking each other and there’s coke everywhere and they thought, we’ve got tae do a song!
Andy: Give it two.

2/10

DOES IT OFFEND YOU YEAH? – EPIC LAST SONG

me: Will this offend you, yeah?
James: Yeah I’ve heard that and it’s bollocks. Nearly as bad as the new Fratellis one.
Andy: It sounds like it should be on Skins. It sounds a bit like The Dykeenies.
James: They’re no American enough tae be The Dykeenies! Give it two.
Andy: Dae gie it fuckin two, gie it zero!

0/10

PANIC AT THE DISCO – THINGS HAVE CHANGED

James: They did that Nine in the Afternoon song that was in Heroes. I liked Heroes. I didn’t like the song though.
me: I thought they were an emo band but this isn’t emo at all.
James: It seems like they’re trying to go for the Queen vibe.
Craig: Give it 4.4.
James: One point for trying to sound like Queen, but take it off for sounding like The Feeling!
me: So that’s a healthy zero?
Andy: Aye.
James: Andy, none of your ratings have got anything to do wi the tunes but.

0/10

ELBOW – ONE DAY LIKE THIS

Andy: He cannae sing.
James: He’s a really nice guy but.
Andy: Who cares if he’s a nice guy? He cannae sing!
James: Apparently he was one of the top 20 hottest guys in Glamour magazine.
Andy: He’s a scruffy bum! Is there a B-side? We should review that instead.
Craig: A lot of bands just focus on one part. There’s no chords in there. It’s like a vacuum of noise. You can’t identify the chords or bassline or anything.
James: I wanted tae be nice in these reviews.
Andy: Why kid on that you like something when ye clearly don’t? Give that one.

1/10

The results have been collated and there is a tie for single of the month, but given that Gavin Rossdale’s rating consisted entirely of bonus points for, ahem, being Mr Gwen Stefani, and sounding like The Velvet Underground, it seems fair to hand this month’s accolade to the perfectly feisty Lykke Li.

The Twilight Sad resort to violence

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The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit, Dirty Summer @ Carnegie Hall, 15 May

Twilight Sad @ Carnegie Hall

Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall isn’t your usual gig venue. It’s a provincial theatre with cushioned seating, suited ushers, pinned-up notices of stage times and a drinks ban in the auditorium. It’s a comfortable yet contrary setting, and local trio Dirty Summer (**) don’t do anything to assuage any tension with their relentless noisecore onslaught. Wilfully unconventional, they are fronted by a standing female drummer who is flanked by a synth/harmonica player and a thrashing bassist/lead screamer. It may be sore on the old tympanic membranes, but it’s nothing if not original.

Frightened Rabbit @ Carnegie Hall“They made us look like Care Bears,” Frightened Rabbit (****) frontman Scott Hutchison quips after his band have ensconced themselves on stage with opener The Modern Leper. True, Selkirk’s finest do seem a tad cuddly after Dirty Summer, and as if to prove it they launch into Old Old Fashioned and selected others from recent album The Midnight Organ Fight. But Frightened Rabbit also make physical, pained, passionate music, and the highlight of this is undoubtedly new single Fast Blood, in which Hutchison’s ragged voice strains to breaking point, the guitar soars, drums pound, and for four minutes it’s utterly spellbinding.

The gauntlet has been thrown down by their good friends, but The Twilight Sad (****) aren’t fazed one bit. Banter ensues when one fan shouts ‘Mon the Twai!’ and singer James Graham indulges in some ‘An Audience with…’ chat about what they’ve been called by less encouraging punters. When they let the music do the talking it’s as raw and heartbreaking as ever. The only drawback is their understandable eagerness to play so much new material, even if it does augur well for a forthcoming EP. Nerves jangle when a tipsy-looking Graham staggers close to the stage-edge, but he’s in total control, channelling everything into And She Would Darken The Memory, breaking two mic stands in the process and reminding us just how fucking great this band is.

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The Twilight Sad reflect on rave reviews, sell-out shows and egotistical Pumpkins

Back in spring, one album took Scotland entirely by surprise. It began with a resonant guitar, timed to a staccato piano rhythm under a haze of feedback that forebode of things to come. Then a raw west coast voice glides in: “Another hotel, with woollen plans / Romantic gesture, with woollen plans” – lyrics like shards of memory that withhold their full meaning. On cue, a scintillating rush of overdriven guitar blasts in, propelled by pounding drums, before the song ends like a fire fading to embers.

The remainder of Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, the debut album by Kilsyth’s The Twilight Sad, only heightened curiosity in a local band who seemed to come from nowhere with an instant classic. Or so we naively thought. By the summer, The Twilight Sad had already conquered America – or its more cultured regions anyway. Fourteen Autumns received an 8.6/10 rating from taste-maker website Pitchfork and the band toured the Eastern Seaboard extensively, playing to full houses most nights.

With 2007 now drawing to a close and best-of lists being feverishly formulated, we decided to drop in for a chat with singer/songwriter James Graham and guitarist/music man Andy MacFarlane in their broom-cupboard-proportioned dressing room at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, shortly before their final support slot on tour with Idlewild. Luckily they’re expecting us.

Looking back on a successful year, Graham’s still playing catch-up while he takes it all in: “If somebody had said to us a year or two ago that we’d have supported all these bands and played all these places and had all this stuff said about us we’d have said ‘shut up’. It’s been a bit of a blur.” MacFarlane agrees: “There’s not really been any time to think about it ‘cos you’re away and you just keep going.”

As much as he’d like to ignore the influence of the media, Graham admits that the the reviews made a huge difference. “We were on tour with Aereogramme at that point but they couldn’t come across ‘cos of Visa problems so we headlined the first half of the tour and it was alright […] But the Pitchfork review came halfway through the tour and when that happened it was like… [blows air out dramatically]” MacFarlane picks up the thread: “We’d turn up for gigs and it was rammed and we were like ‘fuck, we need to tell them that Aereogramme aren’t coming’ and they always stayed there anyway.”

But the success they initially enjoyed in America didn’t travel with them back to Scotland, at least not overnight. “Every Sunday night for three weeks we played in a place called Piano’s in New York […] and every time we played it was packed,” Graham recalls. “And then we came back [to Glasgow] and we played Sleazy’s or somewhere like that and it was empty. It’s a bit of a comedown you know. But the album came out later over here and every gig we play more and more people come and more and more people are talking about us.”

Another highlight of 2007 arrived when Jimmy Chamberlin of the Smashing Pumpkins asked  The Twilight Sad to support them at the Glasgow leg of their tour in August. But what should have been a memorable occasion didn’t turn out so. “What happened was we got told to be there for four o’clock outside the Academy,” Graham says. “Soundchecks were closed for the Pumpkins and we weren’t allowed in the building at all.”

MacFarlane adds: “They soundchecked from two in the afternoon till half six and the doors opened at seven and we still hadn’t soundchecked. Their egos were fucking ridiculous.” Graham: “We were standing outside with our drum kit and everything next to the queue of fans waiting to go in, waiting for someone to say, ‘you can come in now’. But I actually really enjoyed the gig… Not their’s, I enjoyed mine!”

When the band aren’t taking the indie underground by storm or left hanging on the streets of Glasgow, Graham is kept busy fielding questions on the album’s lyrical content. It ranges from the dark – “These walls are filled with blame” – to the darker – “The kids are on fire in the bedroom.” Is Graham exorcising some personal demons, or is it more figurative than that?

“The songs are all about where I’m from, people I know, things that have happened to me, things that have happened to other people,” Graham says. “I kinda look at them like folk songs ‘cos I stay in a small village and you hear stories. The album’s completely personal but I never give out what it’s about because I like people to make their own decisions.”

And is there an undertone of adolescent anxiety to it, as many have suggested?

“I’ve read that a lot, like people saying it’s about being young and I hadn’t really thought about it to be honest,” Graham says. “I’ve read things saying I must have a troubled background. And I’ve got nothing wrong at home or anything like that, it’s just that sometimes I focus in on the bad things ‘cos it’s a way of getting something out.”

The music is equally challenging. It generally flows between two levels – acoustically plaintive accordion-led folk and ear-splitting waves of guitar drone – but amounts to much more than its constituent elements. MacFarlane elaborates: “There was no plan to say ‘oh we need to sound like that’. We just started doing it seriously and the sound came out the way it did. Obviously what you listen to influences it a bit but it’s not like you think ‘let’s make this a wee bit shoegaze-y’. I don’t like getting put into genres  because it’s like a category.”

As for the future, Graham and MacFarlane stress that the last thing they want to do is just rehash the triumphs of Fourteen Autumns on the follow-up album, which they plan to begin writing in the new year when the touring finally subsides.

MacFarlane: “We’re never gonna stick with the same sound ‘cos that would just get boring. We want to develop and develop and eventually just get completely our own sound. Folk that play the same stuff all the time are shit… Apart from The Ramones.”

Graham: “He’s backtracking!”

MacFarlane, laughing: “Wait a minute, I was just talking a big heap of shite there!”

 A version of this article originally appeared in The Skinny magazine.

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Idlewild + The Twilight Sad, Queen’s Hall, 3 Nov

Gigs at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh are usually seated, with the audience in rows of chairs within spitting distance (though they never do) of the performers, or in the original church pews around the outer flanks and up on the balcony. The venue is tailor-made for accomplished recitals of mature music, often playing host to singer-songwriters, chamber orchestras and jazzmen. So what to expect from Idlewild, once Scotland’s brashest, most kinetic live band, and their heirs-apparent The Twilight Sad?

For a start, the central seating has disappeared, and the audience – of an age span from teens to thirty-somethings reflecting Idlewild’s longevity – congregate at the stage-front in true rock show etiquette. Perhaps because many haven’t been exposed to The Twilight Sad’s music (yet), they offer a luke-warm but open-minded welcome to the support, who perform a five-song, half-hour slot with genuine passion and amps cranked to maximum gain.

Live, the Glasgow quartet like to deviate from debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, and singer James begins by delivering a biting a cappella intro to Cold Days From the Birdhouse. In a mate-y gesture, the Idlewild guitarists  join them to further test the foundations of the historic hall with a relentless torrent of reverb. It’s a suitably exhilarating show from arguably Scotland’s most exciting band, but I can’t help thinking that their reluctance to enlist added live musicianship comes at a cost, especially on That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy, which lacked that mournful accordion. But you really can’t  complain about songs with lines like “The kids are on fire in the bedroom / The cunt sits at his desk / And he’s plotting away”, which will prove to be an unlikely singalong chorus later, after one or two alcoholic beverages.

With the PA system duly warmed up, Idlewild arrive like conquering heroes to a faithful home crowd. This is a night where Roddy Woomble and band forget their plus-30, mortgage-paying adulthood and play like they’re 18 again. There’s no writhing on the floor as was Woomble’s habit of old, but there is much thrashing around and rock-star posturing, which stirs the wilder fans into a genuine moshpit for most of the gig. Favourites like When I Argue I See Shapes and Everybody Says That You’re So Fragile can’t fail to hit the mark, and the reverential audience even applauds the inevitable Warnings/Promises-era lame ducks – though these are few in a 90-minute career retrospective.

It’s all going so well; and then the unthinkable happens. The band stop playing and a female steward appears on stage to inform us of the fire alarm that has been ringing, drowned out by the music, and everyone troops outside dejectedly. Thankfully though, the fire brigade arrive promptly, do their ticky-box thing, and everyone crams back in, some racing for better positions.

If anything, this unplanned interval only inflames the atmosphere, and the tightly-packed throng at the front bounce en masse with fists in the air to tracks like Roseability and a cover of The Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated. It’s an unprecedented sight in the former church, and even Woomble looks happily dumbstruck. Stoppage time cannot be added due to licensing law so the band, now joined by members of The Twilight Sad, wrap things up by eleven thirty as required. But the sweat-soaked fans still leave satisfied, and the Queen’s Hall creaks a sigh of relief as the ungodly hordes depart.

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