Tonight we saw half of Chasing Owls play at Sneaky Pete’s, alongside Thomas J. Speight and his band, and The Blind Dog. Whilst I’ve seen the former play a few times before in and out of Sneaky’s, the Blind Dog were new to me and Thomas Speight was quite a find, too.
Chasing Owls are one of my favourite bands in Edinburgh. I’ve seen them live many times, sometimes by accident, and every time I’ve seen them play it’s been worth it. So of course, when I heard about their new EP I hit play.
A little while ago I reviewed a couple of tracks released as tasters for The Stormy Seas’new album Of Rust And Lost, released on their own label Shipping Forecast. Now I’ve been listening to that album for about a week now (I’d say 6 or 7 listens through), and I think my opinion is pretty well good enough to eat. It’s one of the best folk albums of 2011.
I’ll provide some context; all week Edinburgh has been putting on a last flourish before the winter winds return and teach the Fresher’s students the meaning of cold. My friend Tess takes better photos than I do, and you can look at them on her blog. My morning walk to campus along the hunched spine of the Meadows has been beautiful; the trees are bronze and crimson, the yellow leaves pile up in great heaps at the side of the path and it’s still warm enough to go out without a coat on. Of Rust And Loss has provided a soundtrack to this autumnal glory.
Amongst the eleven tracks on Of Rust, not a single one is a dud. Eleven tracks of idiosyncratic, powerful, heartfelt folk, with intelligent lyrics and brilliant melodies. I’ve already written about Morbid Desires and Tall Ships In May so I won’t mention them again, but the opener, Are You My Maker, is great.
Apple Tree is a guitar-driven, pensive anchor before the lovely Slow Dance. Souls, Souls Part 2 and Souls Part 3 (dispersed about the album) show off the band’s range, carving out new styles with each track. The final track, Middle Man, is awesome – a masterclass in the well-aimed drop.
I like folk, and nearly all of my favourite Scottish bands are folk-orientated. But the thing they have in common (I’m thinking Chasing Owls, Matt Norris & The Moon, The Wee Rogue, and Randolph’s Leap here), apart from irresistible accents, is that they’re reinventing the genre in their own little niches.
That’s part of why Stornoway,Villagers, Laura Marling, Mumford and Noah & The Whale et al have taken off so well; by creating new music out of old bones. The Stormy Seas typify this canon for me.
So to recap: Of Rust and Loss is one the best albums so far this year, Stormy Seas are among the best folk/pop/rock acts in the country and we should all have a listen.
Back to the first person; I saw three great bands at Sneaky Pete’s on Saturday night. Matt Norris & The Moon, whose music I have listened to but not heard live, are fantastic. They close with what was until now, my favourite song (of theirs), First Light of Day, but every one preceding that was a certified belter.
I haven’t heard of Bearbones before, but the frontman’s easy chatter with the audience as well as their excellent, excellent set wins me over. The lead singer has the room in the palm of his hand. Songs about islands, songs about old men who visit coffee houses, songs about all sorts. Really nice songs; there’s a video I can’t embed here.
And Chasing Owls! My third time seeing them, they still nail a breathtakingly good gig. I had to watch all the videos I recorded from that session at the drummer’s house again. There are two or three new tracks that the crowd love – but the tracks from the EP released in March We Began also go down a toffee treat. Nobody in Edinburgh can match them for a live performance.
Here’s a band I’ve been listening to all day today, Matt Norris & The Moon. They’re a five-piece folk outfit who supported Chasing Owls at their EP launch a couple of weeks ago, and they’re pretty darn good.
Their sound is influenced by the current folk revival, underpinned by lovely harmonies and energised guitar melodies. Their songs are infused – no, drenched in – optimistically driven lyrics and snowflake-chic backing vocals, giving each track a fantastic timeless quality; it’s not anchored to the folk-lite “Mumford thing” or tethered through opposition of nu-folk to the mast of Laura Marling. Either way, that’s enough words because I’ve just this minute worked out how to embed SoundCloud players (I kind of thought I wasn’t allowed to put other people’s ones in. If I was right the first time and I’ve just breached copyright, then please tell me) in the blog.
From now on, I’ll try and let the music speak for itself a little more.
It’s eight o’clock and we are in the effortlessly cool Roxy Art House; an old cloud-grey church sat on the corner of Drummond St, just off Pleasance; inside, exposed wiring and peeling paint is lit by soft lullaby lamps and sprigs of christmas-fairy lights. The crowd is so packed into the basement-venue room that the temperature has risen a few degrees, but we have bottles of Corona beer and the fresh nighttime rain to cool us down.
An auburn-haired woman is standing on the stage with only her guitar for company; a sweet, powerful voice not unlike Annie Lennox, Nerina Pallot or a more conventional Laura Marling is floating above the crowd who are totally enraptured. Even in a room as small and as intimate as this there’s not a sound except for Lois Wilson‘s gorgeous lyrics, so quiet I’m suddenly very conscious of my mobile being turned on; it’s like the song is a ball of twine she’s unravelling at a beautifully unpredictable, addictively listenable pace. When she sings her songs -cute simple names like Adam, Love You Yet and Sweetheart perfectly match the simplistic, crystalline harmony her music produces – the audience is completley captured in collective adoration; the value of this she hasn’t quite gauged yet because you can tell she is still childishly nervous when she misses a chord or hits the wrong note. These sound waves are raw, uncut audio narcotics mainlining right into my ears – and then her set is done, and she just climbs straight off the stage, her guitar propped in a corner, takes her drink off a friend and goes back to being one of the crowd.
In the ten minutes before the next band is due on we take advantage of the new movement and find a channel through bodies to the front, so close to the stage that when the night is over I go home with a setlist. Next is Dan Lyth and his band, who come on stage and like artisans of sound, steer the audience into the path of their music, herding us from one subgenre to the next. These are not bands, these are not singer/songwriters, these are shepherds, curators of audio, and we are mere visitors sampling the aural exhibit. The audience is not held enraptured as before but this is a different kind of spell – Dan Lyth, the frontman who performs as if possessed by the acoustic-gods (Cat Stevens, with a healthy dose of The Invisible or James Yuill) he so fervently worships, sways and rocks his head whilst he sings – indeed not singing but allowing himself to be consumed by song.
And finally, the excellent Chasing Owls come on, who we are excited to see because I found them; we have ownership over them. The crowd this time is both transfixed and reverent; the lead singer holds them in the moment like a hellfire preacher predicting apocalypse in the street. The band project their songs like laser beams into the darkness beyond the stage and when the twin vocals of the keyboardist and the frontman harmonise, the beams cross and stars collide…
Rating: Lois Wilson DDDD, Dan Lyth DDDD, Chasing Owls DDDDD