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Dance To The Beat Of My Drum

Last Saturday The Edinburgh Samba School had their autumn busk on the city’s Grassmarket; the weather was relatively nice, the crowds were decent, and the band sounded good. Sorry if you were hoping that the title was in reference to the track by Nicola Roberts (the undisputed queen of Girls Aloud – none of yer Cheryl Tweedy rubbish for me) but it’s about my return to being a musician, and joining a samba group.

I played in the school band many moons ago, and even had a brief flirtation with an accordion band when doing my O-Level on the instrument, but although I’ve messed about on instruments for years I’ve never been part of a band, and I have always hankered for some of that.  Mrs Dave did a Taiko Drumming beginners course but the follow on lessons didn’t work logistically, and my best man Al is also in a drumming group, so whenever I saw the Edinburgh Samba School playing in town I’d wonder if I’d be any good at it.

This autumn was when I decided to make some changes in my life, and getting myself a hobby was a big thing, both to have something to do in my spare time, and also to meet new people.  I googled drumming groups and found that the samba school were due to start a beginners course this autumn (and very good value for money) so I put my name down for it.

On the first lesson I picked the Surdo, which are the big bass drums that you see usually at the back of a parade as I assumed that they’d be the easiest (and they were) as I’d have been gutted if I paid my cash, went along, and was crap at it.  Most of the class had never drummed before, but the cool thing is that the school bring along someone for each drum that knows what they are doing so you have someone to watch doing it right.  Straight from the off it sounded good, and it sounded really powerful; we started with Samba Reggae (appropriate as I was a reggae buyer for Tower Records back in the day). My part was simple, but it was great fun, and I was hooked instantly.

Normally I’d be a right swat for something like this as I love discovering new music, and I am a world music fella after all, but I’ve been very busy with the new job.  I don’t remember the names of any of the tunes, and what tune has what pattern, although as soon as I hear the pattern I know what to do. This made the prospect of doing a live busk in front of real people slightly more nerve wracking, but we had a run through of everything last Tuesday and it went well, especially as I didn’t even notice that I had picked up the biggest surdo instead of the medium sized one I’d used previously, so I had to learn some new parts for the gig.

As expected, we didn’t remember all the tunes, but we were given a quick reminder when we met up.  It was an unexpectedly nice day, Grassmarket busy with rugby fans, and we pretty much all kept it together, a few rogue beats here and there, but to my ears it sounded good.  I was slightly distracted by the fact that my beaters were much thinner than previous weeks (these things make a difference), but to watch my little girl dance to the band, and members of the public get into it, was great.  I’m still not great at drumming and dancing at the same time (and only just found out that some folks wear pads underneath their trousers so that dancing doesn’t hurt when the drums bang against your legs).

My final lesson in the beginners course is tonight, but I’ve already been asking about the next lot of classes, and am looking at what drums are needed more for the main band, with a view to becoming part of that. Expect more Brazilian music posts as I learn more about it, but to have a new musical passion is very exciting for me, and in the words of Andy our teacher “drumming is awesome”.

Stanley Odd - A Thing Brand New - Cover

Album Review: Stanley Odd ‘A Thing Brand New’

This is very much the golden era of Scottish hip-hop, Hector Bizerk nominated for a Scottish Album of the Year award this year, as were Young Fathers who also recently scooped the Mercury Music Prize (as legitimate a critical nod you can get in the UK). Another SAY Award nominee (albeit last year) is back with their new album, and Stanley Odd’s ‘A Thing Brand New’ looks set to make a similar impact.

The group’s third album sees MC Solareye further emerge as a lyrical force to be reckoned with. The track ‘Marriage Counselling’ from their previous album was a Yes campaign stalwart, and for a lyricist so heavily involved in that, to be recording an album without knowing the outcome must have been a strange proposition, but album closer ‘Son, I Voted Yes’ is perhaps even more poignant with the eventual outcome may very well remain more relevant than the politicians making the policies that prompted the track in the first place.

Stanley Odd’s sound is tight and funky, managing to be both international (particularly American) but with a distinctly Scottish accent, in every sense of the word. Solareye is an MC lacking ego and pretension but confident and bold, a strut without a swagger if you will.  Where some rappers might boast about their prowess and riches, ‘To Be This Good Takes Stages’ tells of Stanley Odd’s struggle to get the recognition they feel they deserve.

A Thing Brand New is musically varied, with some lively movers like ‘Knock Knock’ and ‘Get Back in the Basement’ and brooding, moving tracks like ‘Draw Yir Own Conclusions’ but it’s the political tracks that stand out the most to me, ‘The Walking Dead’ isn’t a paean to the zombie drama, but commentary on colonialism through Thatcherism assessing where we’re at today in a way you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere on music. Solareye has a knack for nailing a subject in a way that political and academic experts fail to engage the public.

This is another cracking album from a group very much on the ascendency, allow them to make your mind dance.

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Album Review: Jonnie Common ‘Trapped In Amber’

I was looking forward to the new Jonnie Common album, i’ve seen him before and much enjoyed his distinctive brand of quirky electronic poptastic pomp, that’s both clever and funny.  Whilst all of that is reason enough to check out ‘Trapped In Amber‘ the fact is that this release sees Jonnie fully spread his wings and has produced an evolved body of work that holds together as an album rather than a collection of catchy tunes.

As someone who’s both been on and put people on numerous guest lists, I had a cheeky grin at the album opener, and my liking for it has increased with every listen over the past week.

There’s heartfelt lyrics, emotional depth, swooping flights of fancy, but also a funny answerphone message, a made up language, and some quirky, yet catchy electronica.  It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and it’ll make you grin with a smile that’s wry.

If pop music was a box of chocolates, Trapped in Amber would be a box of Milk Tray but every so often you’d find a surprise choc filled with space dust.

For his most instantly accessible tracks, Jonnie Common’s new album is a a grower, and with each listen you’ll reap the rewards.

The Times They Are A Changing

There seem to be particular times of the year where people set themselves targets for various life changes, be that move into the new house for Christmas, get fit for summer, new year new job, and of course the usual ill-fated new year resolutions. For the past few years I’ve been working in comedy, and in comedy it’s the Fringe we use as a marker for how things are progressing.

Whilst 2014 was the most successful Fringe in The Stand’s history (we shifted a lot more tickets than ever before, and had a loads of good press as well) BUT Mrs Dave insisted that it be my last ever Fringe as 4 years of my working round the clock and her being a single parent for the summer was more than enough, and it’s her busiest time of the year too.  After I had a few decent nights sleep at the end of August I started looking for a new job, although I didn’t expect to make such a big change.

I’ve been working PR in music and the arts for 12 years, including a long and successful stint at World Circuit Records in London, which saw me work with great acts, go on some fantastic trips, and even win a few Grammies. When the time came to find a job in Edinburgh, The Stand was what popped up first, a couple of months before the Fringe and I’d never even been to a Fringe show.  Since then we’ve the 3 most successful Fringes in the company’s history, so I reckoned it was a good point to look for something new.

For as long I can remember, the only things I’ve ever really wanted to do was to work in the arts (especially music) and work with kids. At every juncture in my working life, when a change was a coming I’d always wonder about doing primary school teaching, or working in a nursery, but I couldn’t afford to not get paid for at least a year to go to uni, so it never happened. This time round I heard that there was a job going at my daughter’s after-school club that would pay me, give me training in working with kids, and leave me 4 half days a week to do other work.

I’m still doing part time at The Stand for a little bit, but I am now able to look at doing some exciting new arts promo projects, which in this digital age frees me up to do all manner of stuff for people based pretty much anywhere in the world.  As for working with the kids, I’ve done 3 days so far and I already have loads of ideas as to how we can make the place even better, and the cool thing is that they seem like the kind of folks that’ll give me that opportunity. Let’s hope I’m as good at it as I think I am!

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SAY Album Review #20 – Biffy Clyro ‘Opposites’

Biffy Clyro are the biggest band in the SAY Awards short list, and the bookies favourite from the start. I’ve always seen them and thought it great that Scotland has a proper big group that’s rock, and whilst i dismissed them as sweaty rock nonsense that i’d have liked as a teenager, i was curious to finally give them a proper listen.

Opposites is a mammoth, beast of an album, and for stars of the download generation, a bold decision to release a double album. Harking back to the classic rock era of sprawling epics, and stadium filling, hook laden anthems.  The title Opposites is clearly to show both sides of the band, they hard rockers and the more sensitive, contemplative side; to me this didn’t quite work.

Whilst there are indeed some pretty decent tunes on the album, I’d have made it a 10-12 track single album and ditched all the so-so tunes.  Clearly that’s the opposite of the band’s thinking as I’ve just seen that they’re planning to release an B-sides and off cuts from this record later in the year. The problem with Opposites is that so much of it is OK middle of the road tunes, that are probably fine if they come on the radio whilst driving, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to listen to them, at least I wouldn’t.

Of course the irony is that whilst an album of the year nomination has lead me to check them out, I’m now thinking about checking out their first album to see if that sheds any light onto why they’re so popular.

Soundbite: sometimes less is more

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SAY Awards Review #19 – The Pastels ‘Slow Summits’

The Pastels are legendary figures on the Scottish indie scene, and have been evolving, experimenting, and developing their sound over various incarnations and collaborations over the past three decades.  In the last 10 years or so The Pastels have been involved in diverse musical pursuits, including a well regarded film soundtrack The Last Great Wilderness, some theatre pieces and a collaboration with Japan’s Two Sunsets.  You can detect all of these influences and more in ‘Slow Summits’.

I’ll admit to not having listened to anything by The Pastels since my youth, and had assumed that ‘Slow Summits’ would the indie shambles of old, but things have changed with time.  The album is an untouchable blend of autumn instrumentals, pop songs, slow motion build ups and suddenly optimistic melody lines. This is very much an album rather than a collection of songs, it’s a cohesive piece of work to be listened to in its entirety, and whilst most listeners will have their own highlights I’d say it’s definitely the sum of its parts.

The Pastels are a class act, and this album shows a group quietly confident in who they are, and fully at ease with what they’ve become.  Get yourself some closed cup headphones and a cuppa, not only will you benefit from immersing yourself in the glistening shimmer from the gorgeous pop, touching lyrics about friendship and the joys of wandering the streets at night, the subtle instrumental touches that reveal themselves with each new listen, to think how long they’ve been doing it, this is quite a remarkable album.  This is another SAY Awards discovery for me, and another revelation, and for that alone, job done.

Soundbite: majestic indie-pop legends find beauty in what’s around them.

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SAY Awards #18 – Boards Of Canada ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’

Electronic retro experimentalists Boards of Canada have been a fixture on the left-field music scene since the mid nineties (although home recordings date back further) and ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ was their first album after an 8 year gap.  This musical look back to the future BoC style came after a much hyped and innovative alternate reality game and an online search for various codes, and the prize at the end of that search was the new release from the hugely influential brotherly duo.

Much has been written over the years about Boards of Canada, that they got their name from the nature-inspired documentaries produced by the National Film Board of Canada, their fondness of analogue electronic instruments, multi layered distorted samples, mixing vignettes and full length tracks, and subliminal messaging.

Tomorrow’s Harvest sounds to me like a long lost soundtrack to a cult 1970s sci-fi TV series that was way ahead of its time, hence disappearing from memory.  Whilst certainly tinged with nostalgia, there is an edge, with darker undercurrents and in the case of this album hinting at impending doom (as is the way with the genre).  As with the vast expanse that is space, there’s plenty of openness, mixed with soaring and melodic sweeps, leaving the listener with a glimmer of hope at the end.

That Boards of Canada have garnered such mainstream appeal and acclaim is quite amazing, as there’s is far from commercial music.  I love this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine that it’s to everyone’s taste.  Maybe it’s just a by-product of the modern listening experience, but for me I don’t know if I could just sit and listen to the album on a regular basis, for me it’s the perfect soundtrack to something else, although when I listened on the bike in the gym I became so immersed in it that I forgot how long I’d planned to be on the bike and lasted it’s entirety.  It’s tough when an act has such a distinctive style and sound that the impact and quality is maintained over the years, but BoC have done that with aplomb.

Soundbite: The Orb meets Blake’s 7 (at last, it’s taken many years of writing about music to finally get the chance to used that phrase).