The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


June 2004

Live & Loud

The nation’s stage schools spew out their finest products every year for 25 000 people (average height 4 feet) to perform a kind of stadium karaoke show at our national football stadium. It is kind of fun, if you try not to spend too much time analysing the music – in this context, Sugababes are pop genius. The rest is somewhere between tragic and hysterical. Here’s the review from The Herald. Thirty “acts” in six hours in 300 words – managed to erase Peter Andre from both memory and review.

Live and Loud
Hampden Park, Glasgow.

One of the inherent problems a festival that is so tightly aligned to one genre of music has, is that its quality control is very much in the hands of the producers in the field.

Live and Loud is therefore suffering from the chronic lack of imagination of the reality TV producers and music industry executives who dictate the market.

Hastily assembled karaoke is a recurring theme. Worst offenders are the five piece, V, whose version of the Jackson Five’s ‘Can You Feel It?’ is so anaemic it makes Michelle McManus‘ run through of ‘On The Radio’ and Girls Aloud‘s attempt at ‘Jump (For My Love)�’ appear brilliant by comparison.

Sam and Mark attempt ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ as if the original was by Wet Wet Wet, and are positively upstaged by Megan Love, the 13 year old winner of the festival’s karaoke competition. Blue illicit the second highest scream count (after Busted) but appear to relinquishing their pole position in a fickle market place.

Equally unappealing are the insipid melodies of Deepest Blue and the utter desperation of Angel City‘s ‘Touch Me,’ but the nadir comes in the form of Pete Waterman’s latest invention, Pop!. Think of The Reynolds Girls with two added blokes. Appalling.

If this is painting a depressing picture of the current pop scene, then there are a few moments that offer some respite. Emma Bunton, Mark Owen, Sugababes and Girls Aloud are almost veterans, but they have redeeming qualities and the odd great pop song. The latter’s ‘Sound of the Underground’ is the best pop song of the day.

Add to that Jamelia (who has the best voice) and the attempts of McFly and Busted to match pop with punk energy (albeit with decidedly mixed results) and there is enough to sustain interest, but the otherwise excellent event, like the pop charts it closely mirrors, needs an influx of genuinely exciting new acts to avoid extinction.



Nina Nastasia
The Arches, Glasgow.

Imperious and impressive, Nina Nastasia’s first set reinvigorates some of the best selections from her three albums, which sometimes under-represent the quality of the songwriting.

The most striking aspect is the richness of the playing, notably of drummer, Jim White, which reinforces the juxtaposition between the darkness of the majority of Nastasia’s lyrics and the politeness of the occasion.

It is the songs from her recently re-issued, and bona fide classic debut, “Dogs,” which remain the most impressive. “Stormy Weather” is beautiful: a bleak torch song, complete with a haunting chorus. “Oblivion” is cut from the same cloth and similarly excellent.

Although her more recent work has tended to shift away from conventional song structures, it is “Regrets” from last year’s “Run To Ruin” that brings her closest to mainstream female singer-songwriter, sounding like a collision of something from Joni Mitchell’s “Chalk Mark In a Rainstorm” with one of Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads.”

In some respects, the seventeen songs that follow the interval – complete with the advertised “rare guests” – Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Sayan Bapa from the Tuvan band Huun Huur Tu – dilute rather than prolong the pleasure.

There are still some great moments: “I Say That I Will Go” and “Oh My Stars” are augmented beautifully by some Tuvan throat singing.“ “Underground,” “The Long Walk” and “Too Much In Between” further highlight the durability of “Dogs” but the music appears to become more claustrophobic and weighty as the evening progresses.

This is partly a result of Nastasia’s lack of engagement with the audience, an abundance of songs that sound like a good idea rather than a finished work, and most tellingly, the sheer density and quantity of the content.

Nina Nastasia is unquestionably a unique talent (only Kate Bush and Victoria Williams are relevant reference points) capable of producing many sublime moments over the course of a show, but, on this occasion, a little less would have gone a lot further.


School’s Out featuring Belle and Sebastian and friends
Botanic Gardens, Glasgow.

Half way through Belle and Sebastian’s performance it is hard not to be struck by how old fashioned an event this is. It is about as far removed from a typical, early 21st century rock show as it is possible to get.

Yet neither is it a marginal, art performance by a cult band, as there are well in excess of ten thousand people in and around the park. Indeed, the event is in some respects defined by its G12 postcode. It is a civilised and beautiful thing, based around a strong sense of community between the headliners, their friends (who make up the majority of the support acts) and their audience.

It appears like a throw back to a more naive time: rooted in civic pride (at one point Stuart Murdoch asks for, and gets, a round of applause for the city council) and a loose juxtaposition of socialist principles and having a good time, which actually works.

If the support acts only occasionally distract the crowd, then at least the improving Camera Obscura sound appropriately summery and the Trashcan Sinatras (playing a surprisingly downbeat selection) are as melodically true as ever.

In keeping with the event, Belle and Sebastian’s set begins with an announcement about a lost child, but the music is relaxed and with one or two exceptions (a forgotten lyric on “The Model” and technical problems on “Stay Loose”) tight.

Highlights are “Wrapped Up In Books” (“well worth the 20% we had to give to the Shadows,” deadpans Murdoch), “Judy and the Dream of Horses” and a sharp “Jonathan David.”

Belle and Sebastian have probably played better shows, but the music is only one part of what makes this a great event. By challenging the conventions of the stale, corporate live music circuit, and going backward to go forwards, they are guaranteeing their own durability. Cultural commissioners, please take note.


Here are some links to some recent reviews – firstly, Graham Coxon at King Tut’s in Glasgow on 26th May here and secondly, the collision of Edwyn Collins and The Alexander Brothers in a tent, somewhere in Ayr as part of the Burns an’ a’ that festival on 4th June can be found here.

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