Like all careers of note, there’s always a starting point. An apprenticeship of sorts learning the tools of their chosen trade, far away from the bright lights and big bank balances that come later on as a byproduct of fame.
And in the art world, that can mean years developing their craft, one where talent is honed and experimentation undertaken to find out the direction necessary to take to achieve success and gain a foothold in popular culture.
And for the phenomenon that is Banksy, the path taken to the current status quo of almost saturation of his work was one far removed from the political symbolism that speaks to millions across the globe that we see today.
For Banksy, apart from his beginnings of painting the walls of his native Bristol and London, his talent also graced the not so glorious surroundings of a Spanish lap dancing club (and perhaps also brothel) in the middle of nowhere – yet on a site familiar to millions of Britons.
As far a cry as humanly possible from his most recent work, the Brexit mural that appeared in Dover on Saturday morning. Depicting a metal worker who is seen chipping away at a star on the flag – which themselves signify unity – in what is his first artistic commentary concerning the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
The Devon mural coming off the back of Banksy’s ‘The Walled Off Hotel’ venture in March, a dystopian themed hotel which he labelled “a three story cure for fanaticism” – one built metres from the barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.
Again an inherently political motive, it was opened to foster both a better understanding and greater dialogue about the region, symbolic in that the opening was dated to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration which helped to establish Israel.
A region first visited by the artist back in 2005 when he stencilled the Palestinian side of Israel’s West Bank wall to highlight what he viewed as a structure which turned Palestine into “the world’s largest open prison”.
The surprising fact is to be found within an interview originally commissioned by Dazed and Confused magazine some time in early 2000, and one that the magazine chose not to print for fear that they may face prosecution for ‘inciting criminality’. Eventually published by Level Magazine, the article served to inspire a short film about the street artist by Channel 4, entitled ‘Boom and Bust’.
In it Banksy, then described as Bristol’s ‘most maverick painter and decorator’, denotes how he got into stencilling due to the need to get his work completed in the shortest time possible – a necessity he credits to the rise in more people being on the streets as a result of 24 hour supermarkets and “boozers open round the clock”.
The interview also charts how the man – who got into graffiti through designing a flyer – got lost after spray painting the Tate Modern gallery in London and somehow ended up in front of Buckingham Palace (‘the most heavily policed part of Britain) with his full arsenal of spray cans and stencils one night at 4am.
But most interesting is his jaunt abroad to mainland Spain, years before he hit the streets of places like San Francisco, Melbourne and New Orleans to leave his iconic marks on such cities.
After also being flown out to New York to paint the rooms of a hotel, Banksy was invited out by “some gangsters” to decorate what was essentially a strip bar/complex (and perhaps a brothel) on the site of the – wait for it – infamous failed BBC soap opera El Dorado.
The gangsters had bought the complex, known in Spain as ‘La Ciudad de Cine’, and wanted the little established artist to jazz up what was undoubtedly a sterile, colourless former film set. And, gangsters being gangsters, even tried to make Banksy himself pay towards his work.
“True to form they tried to make me pay for it by buying the paint upfront. I’m not a remarkably clever bloke, but I understood the rip-off that was going off, and instead spent the week with this stripper going to work around various different bars. It was interesting”, he says in the interview.
No photographic evidence exists of Banksy’s work there, nor indications of what happened to the strip club he lent his artistic talents too.
The site, in the small town of Coin near Malaga, was last home to a nightclub and restaurant, while the nearby El Dorado film set was bought over by a Spanish production company to film two successive (and highly popular) TV shows.
Bizarrely, a UK born artist who lives in the town of Coin claimed, in an interview with A English speaking local newspaper in 2015, that he himself is the original Banksy and that his ideas were stolen by none other than Damien Hirst.
Michael Shurman also claims to be behind the iconic alien saucers painted in Bristol in 2004. The 55 year old attended Goldsmiths College in London before working with MAD magazine and as an illustrator for the satirical TV programme Spitting Image.
He claims he created the Banksy persona, that it was stolen from him, and then continued by ‘wealthy and powerful members of Britain’s art circle.’ Shurman also claims that he invented the ‘Banksy’ idea while living in Glastonbury.
Conspiracies and smoke and mirrors aside, it’s interesting to note the subtle connection that exists between one of the artist’s earliest ‘paid’ commissions and his most recent work in Devon.
One which, if we take out everything in between, boils down to Banksy (through European freedom of movement legislation) going to another European country to take on an ’employment’ opportunity. The same Banksy who, many years later, comments on an impending political manoeuvre that will see those from Europe who wish to do the same in the UK impeded due to future legislation, thanks to Britain’s exit from the EU.
An exit that, in destroying the European ideal of free movement of people (one set in statute by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993) will set the tone in the coming years concerning our relationship with the continent.
Perhaps then, with Banksy’s potent (political) message as strong as ever, it’s worth remembering how he himself benefited from what Brexit will subsequently hinder.
In October 2016 the question I’d posed myself on return from a 5 year stint living and working in Spain was answered with one listen of the song Ghost Dance by Tijuana Bibles off their EP Ghost/Dance/Movement.
Was there a Glasgow band that i felt could really make waves over in Spain and shake up the scene a bit over there with their music? And for me listening to that track, I felt I found exactly that with the boys from Coatbridge.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of them, in fact a few years earlier they played their first ever show (in Stereo ?) opening for my pals Sonic Hearts Foundation, as memory serves me. And since then I’d heard tracks such as Toledo, Wild River and Crucifixion.
But having been holed up in the north of Spain on a teaching gig from September 2010 until late 2015, my knowledge of what was going on back in the Glasgow music scene was lacking somewhat, a price paid for getting stuck into everything Spanish indie to help me with the language.
As I noted in a review of the EP, it was a sound that transported the boys from the Time Capsule to the True Detective-esque tumbleweed strewn backwaters of Louisiana. A beefy, mature sound catapulted by frontman Tony Costello’s stunning vocal ability and lyrics. A group where similarities could be drawn towards the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and even Arctic Monkeys at their heaviest.
It wasn’t just bog-standard indie rock. It was layered, textured and at times dark as hell. Gasoline stained, full throttle tales of desert sacrifice cloaked in dirty leather and smelling of cheap liquor. And I loved it. And after having developed a decent knowledge of the music scene and tastes of the Spanish music loving public over there, to me it was a band who had real potential to do something over there and break into a market few groups dared enter.
Cut to less than a year later and here I was, on a plane over to Barcelona with the band as they embarked on their first ever Spanish tour, one put together after receiving a healthy dose of radio play by esteemed channel Radio 3, support from well known presenter Virginia Diaz and an interview in Spain’s top music site/mag, Mondo Sonoro to boot (see below).
I spent the time on the plane at 30 000 ft trying to acclimatise myself to the reality that – with their guitars and pedal boards in the hold – this was actually happening, that the boys and their manager Allan had put their faith in me to set this up. To book the shows (and support acts), drive the car and accommodation. And maybe the odd bit of translating where need be.
5 dates spread across 8 nights and 4 cities across a large portion of the country in cities such as San Sebastian and Oviedo in the north alongside Madrid and Valencia. Or in driving speak, 2000 km.
Our first stop on landing and just about squeezing all the gear into the van, which turned out to be a large motor, was San Sebastian, a drive which turned out to be a lot longer than expected on the drive through Catalonia and the regions of Aragon and Navarre.
An unscheduled overnight stop in Huesca treated us to majestic morning views over the surrounding mountains and lakes which felt more Swiss alpine lodge than Benidorm high rise hotel view most of us were used to as kids. That alongside passing sights such as the incredible and peculiar looking Monsterrat mountain range outside of Barcelona too.
The first show was as part of the launch party for the ‘hidden stage’ of the well known Kutxa Kultur Festibala music festival in San Sebastian in the Basque country, sandwiched between the French border 25km to the east and Bilbao 100 km to the west. The sixth edition of the festival, this year it was presented in the new location of the San Sebastian Hippodrome, and featured a bill with the likes of The Drums, Divine Comedy, Floating Points, The Hives and East Kilbride’s own The Jesus and Mary Chain as headliners.
And not a better place to kick off the tour, in the actual crypt of a former convent – gloriously renamed ‘Convent Garden’ – a stone’s throw from one of the finest city beaches in Europe, La Concha. A beach where Queen Isabella II was sent to by her medic to bathe at in 1845 to soothe her skin problems. Fit for a queen with scabs and fit for the Bibles.
Sharing the bill with the boys was Lukiek, the new outfit from Josu Ximun of Spanish indie band Belako (who are coming to Glasgow in December), a band who have gained massive popularity in the last few years in Spain – even opening the Heineken stage at this year’s Primavera Sound in Barcelona – with the prize of Best Emerging Artist at the Spanish Independent Music Awards catapulting them onto the biggest of stages in their homeland.
As venue’s go it had a real Oran Mor feel to it, a place I caught the Bibles in when they launched their last EP, with even confession booths for those ready to share their sins at the back of the venue. And show-wise, they really brought their A game, with the gathered crowd – who picked up tickets free in the local FNAC store – properly buying into their meaty and potent rock and roll exhibition.
So loud in fact was it that the folk upstairs in the still existing church part of the complex called the police to complain about the noise levels; levels which has surpassed the agreed limit for shows on their decibel meter. Some way to make your Spanish bow! Doing so did knock Lukiek’s time slot on the head a little to their frustrations with the venue, but none of which got away from the fact that the Bibles had arrived and in style to Spain, and had won over new fans at first blood.
I half wished I could have bottled up the feeling in my bones when the boys struck the first chords of ‘Apogee’ as they started their set. As I watched from the merch stand at the back of the room I wondered if I really was watching the Bibles in Spain playing to a Spanish crowd. And thinking that something I’d long dreamed of making happening was unfolding right in front of me. I could have shed a daft tear right there and then. And to think I had 4 more nights like this.
The gig also served to ease in guitarist Rory Boyle, of Glasgow band Dead Coyotes, into proceedings. Rory was on the tour filling in for guitarist James Brannigan who couldn’t make the tour due to illness. Shoes that Rory grew into and filled more than admirably over the course of the week.
With Josu and the Lukiek boys a new friendship was born our of mutual respect for each others music and a whole lot of whisky, beers and local tipple Kalimotxo (red wine and coke), and we celebrated the night out on the tiles in San Sebastian where we attended a Nice & Sleazy’s like dive bar and then a local neighbourhood’s street party – complete with an accordion super group singing, as Lukiek themselves do, in Basque as opposed to Spanish.
A late night that for a few of us turned into the next day, those of us that managed to lift our heads off the pillow took a wander along the 2 mile beach and into the narrow, bar choked streets of the old town to sample some local Pintxos and neck down a few hair of the dogs (or in drummer Mikey’s case, make a beeline for San Juan de Gaztelugatxe which doubles as Dragonstone in Game of Thrones), before stumbling upon a Hitchcock retrospective at the Museo San Telmo.
One that you’d think would manifest a million fold the hangover fear of someone the wrong side of 30, I couldn’t believe our luck in encountering the biggest ever Spanish exhibition into the director’s work, one which paid homage to Hitchcock’s visit to the city in 1958 for the world premiere of Vertigo at the iconic – and still so – San Sebastian Film Festival.
Mind’s suitably frazzled thanks to ‘Psycho’ loops in an actual tiled bathroom and Rear Window voyeuristic set pieces a well earned rest shifted the boys back into top gear for show number 2 at the festival proper, with a standard Spanish set time of 2 am to deal with.
That meant a midnight dinner on arrival at the festival that offered us a chance to rub shoulders with the other talent there such as Depedro, an acclaimed Spanish singer/songwriter who tours and plays with Tex-Mex indie rock band Calexico. A man who we found out was also, like the Bibles, familiar with playing a gig up Sauchiehall St, as he did in January as part of Celtic Connections.
The damp weather meant the ‘hidden’ stage was transferred from the outdoor stables area to a section underneath the main stand of the Hippodrome, not far from the main access point out into the main stage area, a move that worked heavily in the boys’ favour. Not for shelter but for the sheer unique ‘guerrilla’ feel to it, with the Bibles and Lukiek playing on flat concrete under the imposing green painted supports of the stand.
That, coupled with the 2am slot (which actually clashed with The Mary Chain) felt like an aligning of the planets, with the gig itself a full throttle collision course between a band with ‘ganas’ (desire) to puncture ears and throats and a boozed-up crowd baying for sharp teethed rock and roll.
Rarely have I ever can I remember being so swept up by a band and crowd at a gig (and I was sober as designated driver), with the setting playing perfect to a raw, gritty sound that bounced off the concrete and attracted folk in their droves looking to lose their shit, thanks to rip roaring versions of 6-12, Ominous, Pariah and a barnstorming cover of Pixies’ ‘Cactus’. Like a skeletal Barras in this small under-stand space in northern Spain, beers were flying, fists were pumping the air and bottles of rum being poured down necks by frontman Tony, whose vocal sounded like it was fed through a grinder to add to the raw feel of the whole shebang.
If the first night’s gig was a fist banged on a Spanish table, this was a bulldozer to a building. The Lukiek boys, after playing their own set prior to the Bibles, were front and centre loving every minute of the tunes they had only heard for the first time the night previously in the crypt.
And as the clock ticked away into the night we made our way back into town to rest up for an early rise for the drive to Oviedo, a drive to the capital of the region of Asturias past Bilbao and through Santander and the region of Cantabria.
With heavy hearts we said our goodbyes to San Sebastian and its stunning architecture, beach and food as we headed west out of the Basque Country through deep green mountainous forests alongside the sparkling waters of the Cantabrian sea, home to places like Laredo and the remarkable 30 beach town of Llanes – a favourite with Madrid locals escaping the city, as we moved from the region of Cantabria into Asturias, a place I called home for five years.
With every kilometre of coast line along the North the views and weather felt more Scottish by the second, a world away from the postcard Spanish typical tourist friendly sights of bullrings, Sangria and apartment blocks. This was the real Spain now.
The place of the Battle of Covadonga and heartland of King Pelayo, founder of the Kingdom of Asturias in 718 and lighter of the touch paper that became the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors that ended in 1492 with the fall of the last Islamic state in Granada.
The gig in Oviedo was part of the city’s yearly San Mateo fiestas; a two week annual city celebration (like the Glasgow Fair or Edinburgh Fringe mixed with Glastonbury) choc full of gigs, theatre performances and film screenings, and one that brings in hundreds of thousands of people from all over the region and further afield.
This year on music alone the local council spent 1.25 million euros attracting the biggest names in Spanish acts and other international groups like Coatbridge’s finest Tijuana Bibles, who were headlining the ‘rock’ stage in the Plaza de Feijoo square as invited guests on the first Saturday night of the festival. What more could you ask for?
The only potential spanner in the works for a thoroughly successful show involved keeping the boys from overdoing it on the typical Asturian tipple of ‘sidra’ (cider), which, to the unbaptised, can blow your nut off such is its strength.
Following a centuries old tradition and by far the most popular drink in the region, Asturian natural cider is made by fermenting apples pressed using a process called ‘mayar’ after summer for a period of around 5 months with the resultant liquid bottled in characteristic green bottles.
It is then poured from a height into a glass to allow the beverage to be oxygenated and therefore take on the characteristics of a fizzy drink, one which is then drank straight away (usually a glass three fingers full). One that, given its freshness, can really oil up your gears, especially if mixed in with beers or spirits.
Luckily the hearty local food on offer on the famed ‘Cider Boulevard’ of Calle Gascona, a stone’s throw from the rock stage, kept the boys on a firm footing, with some cracking octopus cooked in olive oil and paprika, squid, mince dipped in cave matured Cabrales blue cheese and last but not least the famous Cachopo – breaded veal fillets with ham and cheese – enough to have us with our boots well and truly filled prior to another late 12.30 am Spanish stage time.
In a change from the previous night’s guerrilla gig setting, the Plaza de Feijoo square is an enclave with a stage tucked in against the historical surroundings of Oviedo University’s Psychology faculty building, the Archaeological Museum of Asturias and the marvellous 16th century Santa María Real de la Corte baroque church.
The setting made for an interesting sound check experience, with the band told that under no circumstances could noise be made before mass finished at 8pm. From one church experience to another, at least this time there wasn’t a decibel reader in sight.
Supporting the band were a handful of local rock outfits who were competing in a battle of the bands type competition to win a recording contract, with each night s special invited national or international guest on headline duties.
And the Bibles did not disappoint, looking as comfortable on the grand stage in front of somewhere in the region of between 600 – 900 people as they had done the night previously under the horse track stand. Frontman Tony’s vocals soared across the square bringing in people from streets around while Rory, Mikey and bass player Danny careered through the set which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a major festival stage back home in the UK.
Sounding both polished in size and scope while bursting with raw grit and drive against a 6 metre v 3 backdrop of the bands logo, it was little wonder the notoriously hard to please Oviedo folk in attendance were in raptures as the Bibles brought a slice of pure unadulterated rock and roll to a little known historical part of Spain. Another mega success.
One celebrated by hitting the town to take in all the chiringuito ‘popup’ bars set up in every nook and cranny in the old town to serve what felt like a million young folk out on the randan. A sight that really put the feelers on the guys as they soaked up the post gig high in an area the size of the Merchant City that had a population of young, good looking drunk Spanish folk in it that could fill to bursting about 5 Buchanan Streets, and that’s a conservative estimate.
One that deserves to be experienced once in a lifetime and makes Madrid and Oviedo seem like sleepy Highland towns by comparison.
A day off the next day afforded the boys the luxury of going full at it after three gigs in three nights, but we were up and ready to go the next day to appreciate the invite from Spanish second tier side Real Oviedo to visit their stadium to take in a league game against Cadiz.
A team who were once La Liga mainstayers, they have slowly but surely clawed their way back up the leagues after financial problems say them relegated to the fourth tier of Spanish football. Terrible for a team that call home a stadium that’s fit to host a Champions League final. Oviedo ran out 1-0 winners in a game bereft of any decent football, with the fans the real stars of the 90 minutes thanks to their non stop chanting and support for the home side.
A quieter night in Oviedo, with the rain making attendance at the outdoor concerts and pubs scarce, helped us ease into the drive through the mountains and up onto the Spanish plain as we headed for the Spanish capital for the upcoming show a day later at Costello Club.
A night in Madrid gave us the chance to soak up the buzz and atmosphere of the city, one that mirrored a Saturday night in Glasgow, even on a Monday night. A quick look at the main square and a wander into the Mercado de San Miguel led us to La Latina and a few wee beers – or cañas – before we headed up to Malasaña and hit the capital’s most iconic bar, La Via Lactea.
An old glory of the Madrid nightlife scene, one of the few remaining bars of La Movida counter-cultural period in the 80’s that ran through the city in the early post-Franco days, one that spoke of innovation, liberation that broke from the shackles of tradition imposed in the dictatorship. Its written on the walls of the place and I was glad to step inside with the boys for the first time to soak it up.
I’ve been in Madrid about a hundred times before but I’d never been in, partly because at the weekends there’s always a big queue waiting to cross the door. Thankfully, being a Monday night, it wasn’t as stoud as normal. Not that I remember much after the first (massive) rum and coke went down the throat.
Alcohol aside, what I cant forget to mention is how crucial a place El Tigre played for us during our stay in Madrid, on Calle Hortaleza along from our hostel in Chueca in terms of filling our bellies. Proper tapas that doesn’t cost you a penny when you buy a beer, so it goes without saying we spent more time in there than outside on the street in the city. A must visit if you are in Madrid.
The gig the next night was in the Costello Club, a cool wee venue a stones throw from Gran Via metro station down a wee side street. Like a mini, fancier Cavern Club, its curved brick ceiling had the feel of a classy wartime Anderson shelter with a bar built into it, and the perfect location for the boys to make their Madrid bow. And not just for the fact that the venue shared a name with both singer Tony and bass player Danny’s last name. Written in the stars perhaps.
Support on the night was from local lads The Ramblings, who were causing a bit a stir on the scene after winning a local radio competition that came with it a ticket to perform at Sziget Festival in Budapest – where they tell me they managed to sneak into Mac De Marco’s dressing room and share some booze with him.
Their singer had went a bit OTT at a recent festival in Madrid and broke his leg jumping off the stage (apparently he forgot how high up it was), so opted for a chair to sit on while playing and singing for the most part – or just hop around on one leg. Going one better than Dave Grohl.
A decent wee crowd there meant a good up for it feel washed over the place as the Bibles carried on the momentum from The Ramblings support slot, Tony again on top form that helped transform the air inside the warlike shelter space into one of aggression and purpose – they weren’t here just to get pissed and see the sights. New fans were there for the taking (see review below).
And like Lukiek did in San Sebastian, the boys from The Ramblings really took to the Bibles as they powered through tunes like Crucifixion, Leather and Wild River. A rare sight it was to see your man, the Ramblings singer, working up a sweat bouncing about on one leg with his crutch in the air. The raw, pounding locomotive that was the Bibles had transformed the wee man into some sort of deranged Long John Silver in search of loot. And fair play to him and his pals. And also the lassie from Kilwinning who showed up as well, the niece of Sammy from Crash Club.
As in awe I was of the Bibles once again taking the bull by the horns so to speak on gig number 4, I could sum up the rest of the gathered crowds welcome reaction to the show via the abuse I got off a few lassies there during the set when, I started, as per usual, arguing with my brother. Well, more like telling him where to go after he arrived late to the show.
Maybe the one and only time I’ll put on a gig in Madrid and he can’t make the start of it. The lassies that involved in the gig that they weren’t wanting a pair of daft Scottish guys shouting at each other block their enjoyment, telling me to politely ‘Shut the f*ck up’ while I’m at it. That was me told.
The only other (minor) hiccup of the night having to drive across the city after the show to return a borrowed bass amp to the lockup of The Ramblings boys and while there somehow reversing into massive skip, denting the back of the car in the process – lesser said about that the better.
A return to El Tigre (where else) to celebrate the show for a few beers and some scran after sorted us out before we set our minds on the last stop of the tour, a leisurely 3 and a bit hour drive down to Valencia – a city I’d only visited once before some 13 years ago.
And as we rolled up in the car into the city centre, I cursed myself many a time for having left it so long, as we drove past the Torres de Serranos gate and up the Carrer De La Pau street towards the unbelievable sight of the Torre de Santa Catalina and El Micalet (the cathedral tower), something I honestly will never forget, as we parked right underneath the cathedral.
It was almost too much food for the eyes set against the blue afternoon sky, so thank god we dipped into a bog standard underground carpark to give us some respite from the sheer beauty of the place. And queue the heat as we stepped out the motor, 29 bloddy degrees. Summer had truly returned as we made our way up back out onto street in search of our Airbnb.
I used to teach a Valencian girl English in Glasgow either at the Mitchell Library or at her place on Victoria Road, Rosa, an art critic for one of Valencia’s biggest newspapers. I couldn’t help but think of how she managed to justify an existence in Govanhill having left what for me was the most beautiful place I’d ever set foot in. Talk about extremes.
She’d put me in touch with an artist who she’d became pals with after reviewing an exhibition of his work. And going down that road instead of going into a hostel meant we came up trumps, with Jorge’s place slap bang in the centre of the old town in a traditional old building, filled to the brim with his own eclectic, surreal Dali-esque art work. A reward for the endless climb on the staircase that felt like an Everest summit attempt carrying all the guitars and gear.
Unlike in Madrid we were a little stuck for time so we made a direct beeline for the real beating heart of the whole city, the mammoth Mercat Central. Being siesta time, the market hall itself was shut, but we found a wee stall outside that rustled up some traditional paella in small, hearty dishes with a beer for a fiver, with the guy behind the stall scraping every last bit of rice out the pan to serve us up some traditional Valencian paella with rabbit, chicken, butter beans, tomatoes and flavoured with saffron, paprika and rosemary. As unreal as it sounds. Delicious.
I even felt like offering the guy to wash his massive pan I was so grateful for what I’d just wolfed down my throat, and in what surroundings too. I made a point of trying to go back inside before we left Valencia.
From there it was soundcheck time, and we made the short walk with the gear round to the Loco Club venue, one I’d heard great things about from people both back in Glasgow and in Spain. My pal Blair manages The Wellgreen, a band from Clydebank who have been making in-roads in Spain ever since they released an LP with Pretty Olivia Records. He told me the venue was a total gem to play at, which the boys had done last year while on tour in the country with Spanish boys Star Trip.
And a gem it sure was, a smaller King Tuts with a massive bar, DJ booth and semi circle shaped stage, with the walls full of cool gig artwork of previous bands who had visited – the biggest poster reserved for a certain Teenage Fanclub, we were in good company.
I’d been recommended a local band to support, Doctor Lobo, a band who sat at a distance musically from the Bibles with a soaring melodic and broody output (exemplified by tunes such as ‘Laura’) but nonetheless made for a great band and show, and the boys themselves seemed genuinely honoured to be able to open up in their hometown for a visiting British band. Guess it doesn’t happen that often.
Unlike back in Glasgow, Valencia crowds are tough to tap into, and if they don’t know you, they are less willing to take a punt on an overseas band, and more so midweek with folk working. Even with a local support to boot. But the boys soldiered through and showed their professionals in spades with another sterling performance to see our time in Spain out in the best and most fitting way possible (see photos below).
A show that was especially good in the eyes of the gathered local press and photographers in attendance as we found out to our advantage the next day. Credit also to Doctor Lobo who warmed up the crowd perfectly and served the Bibles up to really go at it with the same energy witnessed from day 1 over on the Spanish main.
And with a few more shirts sold, nice word exchanged and promises of bigger and better returns made with fans and fellow musicians alike the boys packed up their gear for the last time on the final day of the cross country adventure that was their first ever Spanish tour. One toasted too with a few beers in the iconic Romanesque surroundings of an outdoor terrace of a cafe on the Plaza de La Virgen in the old town, at midnight still in tshirts, overlooking the Cathedral of Santa Maria , the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados and the imposing Turia fountain depicting Neptune and 8 naked women – an allegoric representation of Valencia’s Turia river and its 8 irrigation channels.
The next morning brought with it some time to have a wander around the old town, paying firstly a visit to the top of Torres de Serranos gate to get a sense of the city – interestingly the birthplace of Spain’s equivalent of ‘I’m on another planet’ (Estoy en la luna de Valencia) which derives from folk who were locked outside the city walls at night and had to sleep under the light of the moon as opposed to under their own roof.
From their we made it into the Mercat Central as planned, and were suitably dumbstruck by the sheer buzz and size of it. Somehow over 300 different commercial dealers squeeze into over 1200 stands under an iron roof that spans over 8000 square metres. It seemed everyone in the city was here for their messages, be it for fish, fruit, spices or meat. I couldn’t leave without picking up some traditional local tinned pimenton paprika to take back with me.
And with that the clock struck for us to get our backsides in gear for the drive up the coast to Barcelona, where the adventure all began and where our flight back to Prestwick marked the end of the tour. Not before a nostalgic drive by Benicassim, scene of plenty of unforgettable festival moments over the years in the sweltering summer heat of the campsite and festival arena, before being brought back down to earth with a bang with the extortionate tolls.
The whole tour felt all over as quickly as it started as we sat on the plane home digesting the places we’d visited, the people we’d meet, the food we’d consumed and the booze we had drank, moments which formed the backdrop to the shows the boys played and really, without a shadow of a doubt, rocked, just as I knew they would.
And i thought back to the moment I listened to Ghost Dance for the first time, and the first time I spoke to Tony on messenger and told him that Spain was there’s for the taking and the first time I heard them play the Bibles on Radio 3, Spain’s biggest and best radio station. And I wondered how I’d managed to put it all together and how it ran near perfect, and how proud I was of the boys for buying into it and just tearing it apart, with myself and them on the same wavelength in thinking that, such was the week and a bit we’d had, it was time to start thinking about the follow up trip.
Scotland’s post-rock titans have drank plentifully from the fountain of musical longevity and output as they continue to churn out slabs of cacophonous minimalism.
Music of the kind of supreme quality that could only bear their name, almost 20 years after the release of debut studio album ‘Mogwai Young Team’.
And the band – fuelled as Stuart Braithwaite says out of “a fear of regular employment” – aren’t one to rest on their laurels, with this past year to date seeing them play ‘Atomic’ score shows to audiences across the UK, Europe, Japan and most recently in January in North America.
This, as well as offering up a collaborative soundtrack in 2016 for climate change film ‘Before The Flood’ with three Oscar winners in the form of Trent Reznor, his longtime collaborator Atticus Ross and Argentine film composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
And with the promise of a new album on the cards – recorded late last year at Tarbox Road Studios in Upstate New York (where, incidentally, 1999’s Come On Die Young was recorded) – it will no doubt serve as a perfect way to whet the appetite prior to their end of year mega-show at The Hydro in December.
Few bands would have the balls to announce a gig almost 11 months in advance. But Mogwai do. Especially a gig of such scale, where, after June 2015’s 2 night assault on the senses at The Barrowlands as part of their 20th anniversary shows, they are going for the Glasgow jugular.
A gig which, if there ever was one, could be baptised with the term ‘Ned Free Zone’, and one which will no doubt represent the ultimate test of the venue’s sound levels potential.
Rarely, if ever, has a band and venue such a Cinderella glass slipper perfect fit as this one does, and it definitely tops the bill of gigs to go see in the city this year.
And with previous concerts offering support in the form of acts such as Sacred Paws (signed to their own Rock Action label), Loop, Prolapse, Pye Corner Audio, The Vaselines, Forest Swords, there’s extra reason to be excited. Indeed, already mooted as possible support have been the likes of Man of Moon and The Twilight Sad for The Hydro.
If you haven’t already, you can get your ticket here:
Actually, West Princes have been on our radar for the best part of 2016 thanks to a handful of great live performances in both Glasgow and Edinburgh throughout the year alongside gigs at festivals such as Electric Fields and Stag and Dagger to boot.
The Glasgow fourpiece – named after the Woodlands street flat they lived in while at the Art School – launched their debut single ‘Wet Bark Is A Slug’ on the Voidoid Archive label (brainchild of artist Jim Lambie) last week, celebrating the release with a short 2 date UK tour of both their native city and London, the first of which was a stellar performance at a packed out The Poetry Club in Finnieston alongside party starters Pleasure Bent.
With a distinct 70s folky vibe full of breezy, playful guitar lines and luscious harmonies, the ‘Wet Bark Is A Slug’ video features the song against the work of Estonian animator Priit Parn’s 1984 film Time Out, resulting in a delightfully charming and captivating marriage of imagery and sound.
The Paul Simon/Vampire Weekend’s ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ vibe is one that will be broadcast to audiences Scotland wide thanks to it being chosen as ‘Single Of The Week’ on BBC Scotland’s The Janice Forsyth Show, and we hope it serves as a platform for greater things in 2017 for the West Princes guys.
Check out the video here.
The man described as the “closest living equivalent to James Brown” by Pitchfork released 3rd album ‘Changes’ back in April, with its title taken from Bradley’s majestic, heart-wrenching cover of the Black Sabbath classic. The whole album is drenched in retro-soul sounds, peppered with post-funk grooves and hip hop elements, forming the perfect background to Bradley’s signature garble. This, for me, a particular highlight of many to be found in the soul star’s best release to date.
Massive Attack feat Tricky – Take It There
Forming part of the band’s Ritual Spirit EP release in January this year, Take It There featured the long awaited return of Adrain ‘Tricky’ Thaws – his first appearance on a Massive Attack record since 1994’s Protection. An intoxicating, trip hop waltz that reaffirms the assertion that Massive Attack are the masters of their own creation.
Minor Victories – A Hundred Ropes
A refreshing addition to the ‘supergroup’ tag, Minor Victories, comprising Rachel Goswell from Slowdive, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, Justin Lockey from Editors and James Lockey of Hand Held Cine Club. Their self titled, 10 track debut release arrived in June to much critical acclaim, and the organic, lush synth-pop orchestral sound of first track ‘A Hundred Ropes’ made for a surprising and thoroughly welcome addition to this year’s music scene.
Van Ts – Blood Orange
Glasgow’s premier surf rock exporters The Van Ts – based around twin sisters Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson – have taken the city, and Scotland, by storm in 2016, thanks to their energetic shows, surefire swagger and most importantly, scuzzy, scorching musical output. None more so evident with the chaotic, raw beauty of ‘Blood Orange’, taken from July EP ‘A Coming of Age’. Ones to watch for sure in 2017.
Mitski – How Deep Is Your Love (cover)
2016 has without doubt been the year of Mitski, with her Puberty 2 album appearing in the top 10 of album lists both in the UK and the US. Her fourth release is more a personal statement than album proper, with the Brooklyn singer-songwriter addressing her own views of the world with vigorous lyricism washed over with folk-punk, emo, and even 60s pop hooks. A live favourite, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ takes Calvin Harris’s original and adds a velvety, rich layer with teeth.
Deutsche Ashram – Little Matter (extended version)
Perhaps the best find of 2016, Ajay Saggar’s (King Champion Sounds/The Bent Moustache) new project – a two piece with singer Merinde Verbeek…, released LP ‘Deeper and Deeper’ in November this year. Full of transfixing waves of shoegazey post-punk vibes that cut deep on first listen, Verbeek’s vocals and Saggar’s industrial soundscapes marry perfectly to deliver dark swathes of experiemental dream pop of the highest quality.
Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”
Stark and stirring, Bon Iver returned to our ears with perhaps his most powerful and eclectic music to date in the form of 3rd LP ’22, A Million’. Rich in experimental textures that speak of optimism and melancholy in equal measure, 33 “GOD” features samples from the likes of Paolo Nutini, The Browns, Sharon Van Etten and Lonnie Holley, and perfectly encapsulates Iver’s hard to pin down ragged soundscapes – the likes of which only Bon Iver could create.
White – Step Up
If there’s a party going on in Glasgow, White will either have started it or will appear at some point in the night, such is the presence they have carved out for themselves in the city. Sharp dressers and even sharper musicians, their infectious, frenetic disco pop takes distinct elements of LCD Soundsystem, Prince and Franz Ferdinand and wraps it up in a shimmering cloak of attitude. The aggressive, pulsating Step Up – from recent EP ‘Cuts That Don’t Bleed’ marks a exception to the rule, and in doing so showcases the band’s talent for experimentation and desire to chart their own course.
Ulrika Spacek – Beta Male
A standout of British experimental band Ulrika Spacek’s debut LP, ‘The Album Paranoia’ – released in February this year, was for me the song of 2016. Labelled by DIY as “the soundtrack to a trip through space-time”, the band’s sound is an abrasive mix of distortion, repetition and fuzz that made their debut release nothing short of remarkable – as evidenced by the epic, 6+ minutes of ‘Beta Male’.
Anohni – Drone Bomb Me
Sung from the point of view of a cilivian, the second single o Anohni’s ‘Hopelessness’ release is an intimate portrayal of the faceless nature of drone warfare, against synth beats provided by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Seductive and sublime in equal measure, the subversive quality of the release marked a level of beauty few, if any other artist captured this year.
On March 25th this year The Rolling Stones played a ‘historic’ concert in Havana, Cuba, to more than 400 000 people. Many reported the concert as a date that would go down in history, as Mick Jagger’s men became the first rock and roll band to play a free outdoor concert on such a scale in the city.
Such was the hype for the occasion, Barack Obama’s visit to Havana earlier the same week – the first by a serving US president in 88 years – was billed as merely a ‘warm up act’to the Stone’s show.
But through all the razzmatazz and Jagger hip shaking, it wasn’t that historic. Just ask Manic Street Preachers. They beat The Stones to the punch by a mere 15 years, becoming the first major Western rock act to perform in the city since the Cuba revolution in 1959 and the first Western music act in 22 years to perform in Havana. And not only that, the recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro was in the audience.
The date was Saturday 17th February 2001 in Havana’s Carlos Marx theatre. The platform from where the Manic’s gave their concert the very one that Fidel Castro gave countless speeches from against what he called ‘Yankee imperialism’ in his time as Cuban leader.
The timing couldn’t have been better, coming not long after a ban on Western music was lifted, and Castro’s scheduled attendance at the gig was seen by Cuban commentators as way for him to show the world that his country, Cuba, was changing.
It was billed as win-win for both, a convenient promotional campaign against an honest political commitment on the part of the Manic Street Preachers.
At the end of 1999 the government started a campaign of cultural promotion, with literature, plastics and music included in new ‘university for everyone’ projects, alongside transmissions on state TV of English, literature and history classes.
This sparked appearances by Fidel at cultural inaugurations and events, appearances which were deemed surprising considering Castro spent years distancing himself from Cuban cultural life.
The Manics gig is heralded as the second step in a process of using music as a beacon of the visible change being engineered by Castro, as two months earlier on the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s death on 8th December 2000, he unveiled a bronze statue in a Havana park of the Beatles singer/guitarist.
At the ceremony for Lennon’s statue, Castro told reporters, “I share his dreams completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality.”
El mandatario, quien se mantuvo durante años bastante apartado de la vida cultural cubana, ha asistido en los últimos meses a casi todas las inauguraciones y clausuras de distintos eventos y a espectáculos.
And with respect to the Manic Street Preachers gig, Castro himself wasn’t an all too passive observer, with the then 74 year old standing to applaud the Manic’s song Baby Elian – named after the Cuban child at the centre of a custody dispute with US based relatives and one which regards the US as ‘the devil’s playground.’
It was a concert that literally shook the theatre, with the seats vibrating every time drummer Sean Moore hit his kit. So loud in fact, that some older members of the government were seen with their hands covering their ears.
Backed by a 8m x 13m Cuban flag backdrop – one which Nicky Wire confirmed was used as a ‘gesture of solidarity’, the 5000 strong throng of Cuban youths in attendance, alongside Castro, were treated to an hour of music as the Manics powered through songs off their sixth album, Know Your Enemy.
The concert, unlike that of The Stones, was not a free event. Instead, tickets were distributed out by the Cuban Music Institute and Cultural Ministry to students of music schools, pre-university students and invited guests – dubbed ‘well mannered’ guests by observers. The cost for each ticket was 25 centivos – approximately 17 pence.
It took a while for the crowd to get into the music, but, as those in attendance suggested, the sheer volume of noise created by the Manics won them over. Although the main mood of the night was one of curiosity rather than hysteria, with the loudest cheer of the evening reserved for Castro’s entrance.
“That the president of the island comes to this concert is truly a revolution,” said Gil Pla, a singer with local rock group Joker, who was at the concert. “For a long time, we were catalogued as anti-socials, but this shows that now we are OK, they have realized that rock is culture too.”
Castro chatted with the band before their performance, where it is reported Nicky Wire, fearing for Fidel’s hearing, told him: “It might be a bit loud tonight,” to which Castro replied: “Will it be as loud as war?”While singer James Dean Bradfield explained via a translator that he was nervous as Castro was mentioned in the song Let Robeson Sing (‘Went to Cuba to meet Castro, never got past sleepy Moscow’).
Fidel stayed for the whole concert, sitting next to his Minister for Culture Abel Prieto – a man who, in times of rock and roll subversion as the authorities considered it diversionary and a bad influence on young people declared his love of the Beatles.
It was subsequently reported how one of those responsible for bringing the Manics to the country noted his surprise at how much Castro actually knew about the work of the Welsh band. All the more remarkable considering Fidel’s previous observations that Western rock music was a threat to the socialist system and the incarnation of ‘decadent values’ of the West.
The gig was made possible thanks to the intervention of MP Peter Hain, a Manics fan who first met the band during the campaign for a Welsh assembly and who used his contacts to convince the Cubans of their left-wing credentials.
The day after the show, the Manics appeared on the front page of the Communist Party daily paper Granma, as they toured various points of interest on the island as if visiting dignitaries participating in an official state visit
Prior to the Manic’s show, the last Western band to play in Havana was back in 1979, when Billy Joel and Kris Kristofferson defied the cultural embargo of Cuba to play.
1 – Elton John turned up at a party once steamboats in Blairdardie
Yip, one of the biggest selling music artists in the world was once managed by a Glaswegian called John Reid. And when visiting the city at the height of his fame in the late 1970s, the author of mega-hits such as ‘Rocket Man’ turned up at a party put on by pals of Reid at the high flats in Keal Crescent in Blairdardie with a carryout. Wonder if he was still standing after that night.
2 – A band called Pink Floyd once supported a guy called Jimi Hendrix
Yip, this actually happened, at a show in Green’s Playhouse on Renfield St in 1967. With Syd Barret still in the band, Pink Floyd didn’t exactly endear themselves to the Glasgow public, being bottled off after they chose not to play their ‘hits’ such as See Emily Play. Hendrix also had the curtain pulled down on him midway through his set, after the management didn’t take well to his sexually suggestive guitar movements.
3 – Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand used to deliver curries for Mother India in his Fiat Panda.
Yip, the Franz Ferdinand front-man was the man who was sent out with your hot curry back in the days before he hit the big time alongside Bob, Nick and Paul with their debut 2004 album release. And not just any curry. Perhaps the best in the city in the form of Mother India in Glasgow’s west end. The ‘Take Me Out’ singer must have loved a take-out himself.
4. Neil Young once busked outside Central Station
Yip, and if you didn’t know this one, then you must have been living on the moon. Before his show with Crazy Horse in 1976 at the city’s Apollo Theatre, a local camera crew were assigned to film some “funky shit footage” (Young’s words) of him and the band in Glasgow. It was Young’s idea to head down to Central station with his banjo and harmonica to play some music and see if anyone recognised him – in between asking people where the Bank of Scotland was. This, not long after one of either him or his band set fire to the paper table decorations at the Albany Hotel, nearly burning the whole thing down.
5. Courtney Love demanded a bath at a party in West Princes St
Yip, another party, this time not far from the city centre. After the former wife of Kurt Cobain played a gig in the city in the early 1990s with her band Hole, she turned up at a party in Eugene Kelly of The Vaseline’s gaff, and promptly told everyone there that she wanted a bath. Probably from all the pints that were lobbed in her direction.
6. The ‘Jimmy’ from Amy Macdonald’s ‘This Is The Life’ is actually called Graeme.
OK so not the biggest of scoops, but one nonetheless. The title song off Macdonald’s 2007 debut album sees her sing a line about someone “waiting outside Jimmy’s front door”, and just in-case you are in Asda and hear the tune on the instore radio and you think, “Who is this Jimmy guy she is bangin on about”, well, now you know. Presumably, this was written in respect of the aftermath of a mad party somewhere, knowing ‘Jimmy’ as I do. Anyway, he used to play drums in The Apple Scruffs, so any excuse to stick one of their songs on the blog.
7. Bobby Gillespie’s step mum owns a dog grooming shop
Clutching at straws a bit here, but important to know some might find it. The shop is called, wait for it, ‘Grooming Marvellous’ and is situated on Cathcart Road in the south side of the city. Rock and roll indeed. No doubt there’s a few poodles that call in at the shop with hair like he had back in the day when he played drums for TJMC.
8. There’s an Arctic Monkeys guitar pedal at the bottom of The Clyde
The first gig of their first ever UK tour in March 2004 saw the Sheffield band play at Glasgow’s Barfly venue on the Broomielaw, remember that? Playing with them was a band called Raising Kane, and a series of disagreements between the two resulted in both bands launching each other’s guitar pedals into the adjacent Clyde river. The next day they played in Carlisle, and, off the back off their first ever Radio 1 play, the gig sold out. The rest, as we know, is history.
9. Oasis once supported the Verve at the Cathouse
Yip, of all places you could have seen these two bands in Glasgow, the Cathouse would probably come up last on your list. The alternative music club on Union St played host to two iconic groups of British music in December 1993, when Oasis supported the Verve on their UK tour prior to the release of their debut album, A Storm in Heaven. Apparently only a few folk turned up to see Oasis, and most of them thought they were pretty average. Funny how things change. Oasis released a live version of ‘I Am The Walrus’ from the show, as a B-side to Cigarettes & Alcohol the next year.
At last night’s Scottish Alternative Music Awards at The Garage in Glasgow, in between sterling sets by The Van Ts, Shogun and Baby Strange, the real highlight of the night were Stillhound.
The Edinburgh based ambient pop trio – made up of Fergus Cook, Laurie Corlett-Donald and Dave Lloyd – produced a set of lush synth pop hooks and organic electronica that had those in attendance in raptures, as they showcased songs off debut album Bury Everything (released via Lost Oscillation Records on 23rd September).
Featuring Cat Myres of Honeyblood fame on writing credits, Bury Everything offers up an irresistible slice of genre-defying soundscapes, fusing entrancing guitar progressions, fragile, dreamy vocals and samples.
With a sound that recalls NZCA Lines and M83, alongside hints of 2 Door Cinema Club at their best, the promise of the release of two singles off the album in October will no doubt see their stock rise even further.
Nostalgia is an often criticized beast that pulls at the heart strings of music lovers, with bands that had long since broken up ready to forget their differences in the name of a new album, tour and deeper pockets.
And with scientific studies showing a direct link between music and brain stimulation – including how we recall memories – we never tire of taking a glimpse back over the past few years to reminisce about the music that struck a special chord, by bands that have since disappeared.
Here’s a list of 4 Glasgow bands that are gone, but definetly not forgotten: The Apple Scruffs
Formed in 2005, the punk-rock four piece from Glasgow garnered a wide, loyal following in Glasgow thanks to their raw, energetic rock ‘n’ roll and memorably frenetic live performances that, more than any other Glasgow band to date, have fully characterised the passion of youth. Influenced by the likes of The Smiths, The Clash and The Libertines, the band played wisely to their strengths in the form of frontman Jonny Skinner’s majestic song writing.
Paper Planes/Astral Planes
Regarded in their heyday as ‘Glasgow’s best kept secret’, Paper Planes were a band that really were destined for bigger things. Opening for The Pigeon Detectives at The Carling Academy in only their fourth show, the band revolved around New Jersey native Jennifer Paley’s stunning vocals (and looks) and guitarist Christopher Haddow’s reverb-heavy licks. With a surf-pop, trashy rock ‘n’ roll sound it was a band that were cooler than every Julian Casablancas leather jacket sown together.
Sonic Hearts Foundation
Widescreen cinematic shoe-gazers Sonic Hearts Foundation only called it a day last year but the void is still present. After building up a formidable reputation in Glasgow thanks to support slots with the likes of The Duke Spirit and The Telescopes, the band achieved near mythical status in 2011 thanks to a legendary rooftop show outside the Barrowlands after a Pete Doherty gig. With an intoxicating sound that mixed alternative post-rock, electronic and even Krautrock influences, the band’s live gigs were as much visual, projection fuelled feasts as they were showcases of their own maverick, captivating originality.
Another band that, live, were equal to the more established bands from which they themselves drew influences, such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Heartbeat’s shoe-gaze, anthemic wall of sound had your ears ringing for days after their shows. Backed by singer Steve Allen’s primal, emotional lyrics and Matt Hardie’s pulsating drumming, they are another Glasgow band solely missed from the venues around the city they called home, as their fantastic ‘We Make Jesus Cry (Death By Misadventure)’ illustrates – a song that, on a personal level, finds itself in my top 20 favourites of any band, ever.
Glasgow based four-piece Catholic Action are no strangers to the art of eclectic creation, with March’s L.U.V. single release seeing their stock rise exponentially thanks to their signature brand of stylish indie art rock.
Having supported the likes of FFS, Swim Deep, and more recently, Teenage Fanclub, the band are kicking off an 8 date UK tour (see below) in London tomorrow night in support of their new AA release ‘Rita Ora’/Breakfast – out on 7″ and digital format on September 23 via Luv Luv Luv Records.
And in Chris McCrory (also of Casual Sex), we may have a new pretender to Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand’s throne as the most talented frontman that Scotland has produced in recent years.
Thu September 22 2016 – LONDON Old Blue Last
Fri September 23 2016 – LEEDS Belgrave Music Hall
Sat September 24 2016 – MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Sun September 25 2016 – GLASGOW King Tuts
Wed September 28 2016 – ABERDEEN Tunnels
Thu September 29 2016 – INVERNESS Mad Hatters
Fri September 30 2016 – DUNDEE Buskers
Sat October 01 2016 – EDINBURGH Mash House