The War Against Intelligence

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“It’s almost like we have come full circle,” says Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, as he reflects on his band’s 2008 activities, which combine the re-issue of their Chemikal Underground debut from 1997, Mogwai Young Team, with the release of their new album, ‘The Hawk Is Howling,’ which comes out in September.

Both have seen them back in collusion with the Glasgow based label, the former project instigated by them, the latter recorded primarily at their recently upgraded Chem 19 studios in deepest Lanarkshire.

It also makes for an appropriate moment to reflect on the band’s past, their durability and the endless possibilities that their singular path has allowed them to pursue in between their six ‘official’ albums – the remixes, the soundtracks and the general flexibility of use afforded to their largely instrumental music.

In addition, it has provided a platform for some consistently amazing live shows – the prop on which their recorded output has remained consistently viable at a time when many of their nineties’ contemporaries have long since vanished from view.

For a band which has always seemed relentlessly focused on the future and pushing various boundaries, it is, nevertheless, slightly surprising to find Braithwaite embracing the repackaging of their earliest work with such enthusiasm, especially as he admits that ‘Mogwai Young Team’  was possibly the least pleasurable to make of their records.

“I think with that record it was a one-off experience,” he says. It’s generally pretty easy making records – as a band we are really good friends, probably more so now than we were , so it has never really been a problem. But with that record, for various reasons, recording wasn’t a lot of fun.

“I cannot really remember why – probably a mixture of doing it on a budget and having a deadline. Again, I am not sure why – we had already put a compilation of singles that year, so if I had been managing the band I’d have told us to go on holiday for a few months. I think it was self-imposed, there was a lot of attention on Glasgow at that time, and maybe, in hindsight, we just realised it was our moment.”

Now able to ‘separate the music from the experience of recording it,’ he stands up for the songs on the album, many of which have been central to their live shows and the process behind the reissue.

“The original idea was suggested by Paul (Savage), who recorded the album,” he explains.  He didn’t think it was mastered that well, and we thought that if we were going to remaster it would be good to add something to it as well. I’m not very technical, but do know the new one sounds better – a bit bigger.

“That’s why it took a little while, we had to go through a lot of old things – there were a couple of old, unreleased things, some bootlegs, some live recordings. We wanted to find a good live version of Mogwai Fear Satan from around the same time, but discovered that we didn’t manage to play one of those until 2000!”

His wider recollections of the period are ones of the type of music that were driving the band forward as they gained momentum, and their constant surprise at their ever increasing popularity.

“Much of what I remember was just traveling, playing and listening to music.  Although the recording of the album wasn’t particularly fun, the touring and the playing at the festivals for the first time was great. We’d grown up on the Nirvana film ‘The year Punk Broke’ and I remember buying a Best of Black Sabbath cassette at a service station on the M6 and listening to it more or less non-stop for six months – so from where we were standing the album was a great success.

“It made the top 75 and sold 10 000 copies. At that time, we couldn’t get our heads round that, that was the equivalent of filling the SECC or something. It was good for us because it gave us a platform to go on and make more records.”

Another album (‘Come On Die Young’) on Chemikal Underground elevated their status still further, and brought with it the inevitable interest from larger companies, with the band joining PIAS, with the larger recording budgets and longer term security that came with it. Ironically, their a&r man of the time, John Niven, has recently fictionalised his experiences in the nineties’ recording industry in the excellent ‘Kill Your Friends’ – begging the question if any of it was a bit close to home for Mogwai?

“Oh yes,” acknowledges Braithwaite. “There was one particular part, that I dug him up about – where he says that you can convince any indie muppet that you are a great guy by telling them how much you love ‘Marquee Moon.’ He tried that one on us, but I know John loves music and it was probably true, but he probably had a list of ten albums, which he would use depending on what type of person he was trying to impress!”

With the release of ‘Rock Action’ and the launch of their label of the same name, Mogwai secured both their musical legacy and short term financial needs, but the rush to spend the new found cash is one of Braithwaite’s few regrets.

“It was the first time we had money,” he says, “and not just to spend on ourselves but we had money to make records. What we ended up doing, which was a catastrophically stupid thing to do, was spend a fortune making our third album. Even around that time there people around us who kept telling us how big we were going to be – how we would be playing arenas and all that – but I think we were always quite self-contained, we knew our limits. In our heads playing the same places that Sonic Youth play was a massive success.”

Although only seven years ago, it was on the cusp of huge changes in the recording industry and ones which have changed both the band’s expectations and the way in which they run their own label, Rock Action, which has new albums pending from James Orr Complex and Remember Remember.

“I think record labels just now are running scared and they don’t quite know what to do,” he says. “In a weird way, with established bands like us, it seems to be that everyone is making money except the labels. It is usually their own fault. I think smaller labels, like Drag City, are doing things that are more interesting and friendlier to punters”

“Our accountant has asked us why we run a record label in the past. We never set out with any massive goal of making any money, which is good, because we haven’t. Sometimes you get a wee surprise -the last Part Chimp album did really well. We have also had a bit of help: Errors got some money for recording and we got some money from the Music Futures’ Fund.”

The technological changes, both in terms of recording and releasing music, in the years between ‘Mogwai Young Team’ and ‘The Hawk Is Howling’ are manifold, but Braithwaite can still joke at the attempts to prevent advance leaking of the record.

“I think the main difference is that you cannot give all your friends a copy of the album before it comes out any more,” he says, “but it is weird when you think back and consider all the technology stuff, it all seems so quaint, even the having to find a phone box to phone your mum and dad when we first went on tour. It’s bizarre.”

“Having said that, It’s still pretty exciting. Musicians are easily amused though. I still remember when we got he vinyl back for MYT and what a big event for us that was. I’m still amazed that I can take such amazing pleasure from picking things up and looking at them from every angle. Its a real privilege to be in that position.”
Originally in the Herald, 2nd August 2008


The Blue Nile

Paul Buchanan
Paul Buchanan

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

In the world of the Blue Nile, things move in slow motion, and the fact that their work remains a constant source of fascination has often been down to scarcity of recorded output and public profile.

Yet this may be changing, as it is only eight months since they last played, two years since more or less the same line up played at the same venue and a mere four years since the release of their last album, ‘High.’

This relative ubiquity does not, however, produce evidence of productivity. Here, there are only two unrecorded songs – ‘Runaround Girl’ and an incongruous closing cover of ‘Strangers In The Night’ and the majority of the show is simply a band playing brilliantly within its comfort zone.

This means songs that have been embedded in the audience psyche for, in many cases, over twenty years. The opening salvo of , ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops,’ ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Over The Hillside’ is indicative: the songs sound as alien and engaging on first hearing, both timeless and a very much product of their time.

The bass parts and characteristic synthesiser washes were only really acceptable in the eighties, and even the best of the later material, ‘Stay Close’ and ‘She Saw The World’ adhere to a roughly similar template. Throughout, Paul Buchanan’s voice adds deep rooted soul to the machinery which makes such a formula so unique and special.

While it is tempting to posit that they should be challenging themselves and moving in more challenging or contemporaneous directions, it only takes songs like ‘Easter Parade,’ ‘Headlights on the Parade’ and ‘Downtown Lights’ to dismiss such a notion. On this occasion, playing it safe seems exactly the right thing to do.

Originally published in The Herald – here’s visually shaky, but sonically decent footage nicked from You Tube

Hercules and Love Affair

Classic Grand, Glasgow

Andrew Butler has seen his collective drawn from the New York club, art and fashion scenes mushroom in both popularity and acclaim since the release of their debut album in March, yet aside from a few hometown warm-ups, this British tour is their introduction to playing live.

With a four piece rhythm section, 2 brass players and 2 vocalists, it would seem to have all the right ingredients to take the best parts of the album, which is a soaring collision of seventies’ disco, eighties’ electro-pop and early house music, to the stage.
The broad church of the music also makes for a diverse audience, but though the response is enthusiastic, band and crowd never really connect. It may be because of the one missing ingredient, the voice of Antony, which plays a major part on the record. It is setting any singer a demanding task to substitute his voice, but neither Nomi or Kim Ann Foxman are close to filling the void.
As a result of the vocals being (perhaps intentionally) low in the mix, the real anthems, ‘Blind’ and ‘Hercules Theme’ are slightly blunted, and while both vocalists are lively enough, there is a rigidity to the performance that is perhaps as much down to the retiring and slightly functional feel of the rhythm section.
Only the brass players seem to be truly enjoying the experience, and a really great disco outfit would surely be stronger either vocally or rhythmically.
Strangely an encore of soft-rock classic, ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper,’ allows them to loosen up and hint at the possibilities for Hercules and Love Affair as a great live band. Until then, the recorded version is the more convincing.

Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy CliffVintage (as in age, rather than quality) feature on Jimmy Cliff ahead of his Triptych appearance in 2002 – or thereabouts). The forty minute phone call to Jamaica cost a small fortune.

Few music films provide anything more than the most ephemeral of entertainment, yet there are a handful that serve as important pieces of social documentary as well. D.A. Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back,” Don Letts’ “Punk Rock: The Movie” and the early eighties’ hip-hop movie, “Style Wars” all captured a sense of the social and political climate of the time as well a s featuring some great music. 1973’s “The Harder They Come” performed exactly the same function for reggae music, and in doing so brought what had been, until that point an indigenous Jamaican music scene to the attention of the world.

Its star, Jimmy Cliff, makes his first ever visit to Scotland in a musical career that has spanned thirty eight years to introduce and talk about the film as part of the impending Trip Tych festival, and remains enthusiastic about this piece of his past.

“I look back on it and think that it does capture the spirit and feeling of the people in Jamaica at the time,” he says, “and I think that was why it was a success at the time and an important document now. The character I played was kind of a rebel on the wrong side of the law who was seeking independence and freedom, which I think was the same as a lot of the people at the time. The Rastafarian movement had a lot of the same values and was becoming increasingly important, and the music was another fresh and vibrant part of the whole Jamaican culture. So the film, I think covered musical, social, political and cultural matters.”

At the time of its release Cliff had already established himself as a successful international artist and lived in London during the later part of the sixties when he was signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and enjoying his first international hit in Brazil in 1968 with “Wonderful World, Beautiful People.” Even so, he had no idea of the film’s initial impact. Its opening in Kingston attracted 30 000 people trying to get a ticket and a glimpse of its star, while similar events took place around the world.

“I guess when we were making the film, we were aware of the interest in it,” he recalls, “but I thought that a lot of that was down to the fact the character was a kind of historical Jamaican figure and that not many films were made in Jamaica at that time. When it came out it was totally amazing. It did a lot to take the music (the soundtrack includes songs by The Maytals, Desmond Dekker and Scotty as well as Cliff’s title track and one of his most renowned songs, “Many Rivers to Cross”) of Jamaica to the rest of the world, and I remember the opening of the film in London and Hollywood as well. The opening in Notting Hill Gate was mad, but it seemed to attract people from all over, not just the West Indian community and that was a great feeling.”

It could have been the start of a career in acting for Cliff, but a combination of his music career, which was at its peak around this time, and the lack of suitable roles has limited his subsequent output. A concert/ documentary, “Bongo Man” came out in 1980, and Channel 5 viewers may have recently caught sight of the rather inglorious appearance of Cliff with Peter O’Toole and Robin Williams in 1986’s “Club Paradise.” It did, however, re-ignite some interest in Cliff’s music in America.

“I had always loved acting,” he says, “and at school I was probably more interested in acting than I was in music, but I guess it is just the way things work out. I got noticed doing ‘The Harder They Come’ and was offered other roles, but I didn’t think that they were right. They all seemed to be like less interesting versions of the character I had already played.”

Tellingly, Cliff’s increasingly infrequent appearances in Britain (he has not played for nearly ten years) do not mean that he has stopped working. This is the first year that he has not spent the majority of his time on the road, as he has started work on a sequel to “The Harder They Come.” His global appeal is reflected in both his touring venues and the fact that, as well as London, he has lived at various times in Brazil and Senegal, before returning to Jamaica.

“I have tended to go where I have been most excited by the music and there has been a market for what I do,” he says. “Every year I tour in the States for about three months, but I also go regularly to Brazil and Argentina, the Far East and Africa.”

“The period I stayed in Brazil was very exciting because I made a few records that tried to fuse what I do with Brazilian music, and it was much the same when I was in Africa. I was really blown away by the music I was hearing young people in Senegal and Mali make. People like Youssou N’Dour: the whole scene was very young and aspiring and there was a freshness about it. I sang with a lot of these people in clubs, and felt that they were doing similar things for African music that we had been doing for the music of Jamaica twenty years before.”

Looking back on his career, Cliff is reluctant to pick out particular highlights, preferring to talk of the diversity of places, people and situations that he has encountered in the period.

“I’m at a stage now when I am never going to be able or want to do anything else apart from my music,” he says, “but when I look back on it I have enjoyed all the periods of my career for different reasons. The early period in Jamaica was a bit of a hardship, but the experience of recording for the first time and being paid a shilling for the song was something that I really appreciated. Then, coming to Britain was another challenge, because I was touring with British musicians that didn’t really know ska or rocksteady music and had to adapt to a whole new musical culture.

“The period around the film and going back to Jamaica when I had several big hits was great, but over the years perhaps the strong impact I have had in Africa is the most rewarding thing.”

With “The Harder They Come” the sequel ready to begin filming later this year, he hopes that it will have the same “grittiness” of the original and will have a similar impact on his own musical activities. It would be another remarkable twist in a pioneering life.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Carling Academy, Glasgow
These days Nick Cave cuts a less terrifying, though no less imposing and compelling figure than at the outset of his career.
By the end of the show, with his suit shed for a t-shirt (hardly surprising given the ridiculous temperature in the venue) and engaging in banter with audience members, he is more endearing than abrasive, with only occasional reminders of a more out-there past.
He recalls being urinated on from the balcony at his first appearance in Glasgow and wheels out sufficient highlights from his darker pages (‘Deanna,’ ‘Hard On For Love’ and ‘Tupelo’) to keep long-term fans amused, though, as is usually the case with Cave shows, the focus is on his most recent album.
‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!’ is a curious combination of some of his best lyrics and least remarkable tunes, but for the most part it works well in a live context: the call and response of ‘We Call Upon the Author’ and the hypnotic riff of ‘More News From Nowhere’ are the best of the eight songs on display.
In the all things to all people, crowd-pleasing nature of the show, there is also a selection of trademark ballads, notably ‘Ship Song’ and ‘Into My Arms,’ with Cave swapping from guitar to piano, but never losing his ability to hold his rapt and devoted audience.
He remains on a unique musical path, and while there are disappointments along the way (fortunately the mid-life crisis of Grinderman is shelved until later in the year), the end result of a Bad Seeds’ show is always the same – it is exhilarating and rumbustious, even if it lacks the cantankerousness of his past.

Billy Bragg

Here’s a feature on Billy Bragg that appeared in The Herald (though not on their website)

Although six years have passed since Billy Bragg’s last album, ‘England, Half English’  and twenty-five since he launched his solo career, his presence has never been greater, nor more necessary, than in the the current decade.

Bragg has matured as both a writer and musician from the man for all causes of the eighties, where along with the likes of The Style Council and the Redskins he formed part of the rock vanguard against Thatcherism and its many bi-products.  These days he makes for a fascinating, occasionally contradictory, mix of activist and musician.

The latter has returned to the fore with the recent release of his eleventh album, ‘Mr.Love and Justice,’ but Bragg has not been taking a sabbatical in his Dorset home in the intervening years.  Besides the continuing interest in his back catalogue, he has rarely been out of the media, developing his ideas on Englishness, publishing his book ‘The Progressive Patriot’ two years ago and appearing regularly as a commentator on issues of race and nationality.

He has also worked tirelessly for his Jail Guitar Doors project, set up to help prisoners use music as a means of getting their lives back on track and become a regular fixture, in elder statesman mode, at music award ceremonies, most recently singing with Kate Nash at the NME Awards.

For all his non-musical activity, one senses that Bragg is happy to be back on the musical campaign trail, and pleased to shift the emphasis from global issues to personal ones. Although the songs have been accumulated over a number of years, ‘Mr. Love & Justice’ and its accompanying live shows are evidence that, against the odds, Bragg remains musically relevant.

“Some of the songs, like ‘I Keep Faith’ have been around for a while,” he explains. “I was certainly singing it during the 2005 election campaign, though a fair number of them were written when we were in the studio last year.”

“Most of them tend to lean towards songs of the heart than songs of the barricades,” he adds of their gestation. “I’d spent a lot of time on researching, writing and then traveling around talking about ‘The Progressive Patriot’ and the issues that I began exploring with ‘England, Half English’ so it seemed right to take a step back from politics to the personal.”

Another aspect of the album which appears to be a nod towards a more intimate past is the packaging of the CD with a bonus disc of solo versions of the songs. While Bragg’s band, The Blokes, are often criticised for their stodginess and conventionality, he claims that there is nothing to read into the move, other than it was a diversion to assist with the marketing of the record.

“Record labels are always looking for something extra to help them sell it,” he laughs.  “Originally, the idea was to film me recording the songs, and the solo recordings kind of grew out of that. I’d always envisaged, and wanted it to be a band album, but some people prefer one, some the other – it’s a fierce topic of debate as to which is the better disc on my website forum at the moment.”

With tours of both the USA and Australia already under his belt in 2008 and a lengthy British haul underway, Bragg’s career has co-incided with the overhaul of the live music industry into a multinational concern of sponsored festivals and branded venues, something that he appears resigned, rather than opposed to:
“Live music has certainly changed, but I don’t think it is all bad,” he says. “The spit and sawdust type places are gradually disappearing – the Barrowland is one of the few really old style venues left that feels like it hasn’t changed since the fifties – but there is still a huge enthusiasm for live music and great bands . I played at the Big Day Out festival in Australia in January and Rage Against the Machine were top of the bill, and it was amazing to watch.”

Bragg seems happier to talk about the present than the past, and cautions against being caught in the belief that things in his chosen profession were better ‘back then.’

“I think that while it is good to look back fondly,” he says, “It is always dangerous to fall into the trap of thinking that things aren’t as good as they used to be. It’s not like it was in 1968, or 1977 or whenever. I worry that I bore the tits off young people by going on about The Clash, but I think their music is as vital now as it was at the time, and if it still inspires people then great.”

While still respectful his own heroes and contemporaries (Bragg first made music in the punk band, Riff Raff in 1977), he now finds himself in the slightly strange situation of being  a role model for a new generation of artists.

“I’ve been releasing records for 25 years and there are still a lot of new people getting into my music,” he claims.  “When I played at the NME Awards earlier this year there were bands coming up to me, shaking my hand and saying that saying that their Dads had turned them on to my music. That’s great.”

“I’ve also been lucky enough to have people like Jamie T cover my songs, and do 5 shows with Hard Fi who invited me to support them. And then I have done duets this year with Kate Nash, so it is good to be playing to younger audiences and reach new people, not just preaching to the converted.”

If not musically, then politically, it could be argue that Bragg has spent much of the last few years doing exactly that, though, again, he is keen to put some distance between himself and the more traditional elements of the left with which he may have been mistakenly aligned in the past.

“The book started as an investigation into my past,” he says. “When it came out,I was still criticised by people who said I shouldn’t talk about these issues of race and nationality, even though they knew that I was no racist. There are still those on the left who  still want to talk about class, but that doesn’t resonate any more. We’ve got to get on with some sort of inclusive and progressive idea of what it is to be English.”

“I always said with the book that Englishness should be about place rather than race, and about where you are at rather than where you are from. I wanted to examine where I was from and my own background. I was born in Barking and, like a lot of people, my family ended up there through a mixture of migration and economic necessity. One of my great grandfathers was from Italy, the other from Essex. The other factor in wanting to do it was because of the success of the BNP in and around Barking – I wanted to know why that had happened, to provide a platform to talk about them and start a debate on the issues.”

With both his music and writing, Bragg has managed to position himself at the centre of the debate – looking backwards to drive himself forwards, doing so with a commitment and dignity befitting a man who has recently entered his sixth decade.


Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow

There is much to admire about a band as unlikely as Foals, and their elevation to ‘next big thing’ status remains, simultaneously, a delight and a head scratcher.

While others may trawl similar musical territory for inspiration, none of them manage to turn raw materials that extend from Krautrock to post-punk via. hardcore, into something both memorable and adored by 16 year olds. The relative youth of band and audience can obscure a complexity and intelligence in the music, which sounds like Big Flame as produced by Xenomania.

This jerky, rhythmic and intense recipe could produce cold and unappealing results, but it does not account for their ability to come up with memorable lines – both musically and lyrically – that make so many of the songs on their debut album, Antidotes, a triumph. ‘The French Open’ and current single, ‘Cassius,’ are cases in point: accessible enough to just about appease Bloc Party or even Placebo fans, while still satisfying those who crave something more artful. The sheer energy of the relatively brief performance is equally endearing, and there is none of the stand-off cool that frequently translates as tedium.

Nevertheless, Foals’ ascent may be down to their conformity with other aspects of the currently depressingly homogeneous British “indie” scene: they are, after all, blokes with guitars and good haircuts, and their music, seems almost entirely bereft of any non-Caucasian influences.

Though they have hit on a relatively unique sound and made a vibrant, refreshing album it is proper to question how much further it can be stretched given its limited sources.

While well ahead of their contemporaries at this stage, the real challenge might be keeping up with themselves and fending off the challenges to their creativity in the wake of inevitable commercial success.

Aidan Moffat


“It’s weird doing interviews again,” laughs Aidan Moffat. “I kind of swore when Arab Strap split up that I was never doing it again, but it’s alright – it’s actually easier to do without Malcolm! There’s no arguing, but it’s odd having to just talk about myself.”

Moffat is back – both from a brief sojourn in West Kilbride (where he bought a house, but returned to Glasgow within weeks) and from a period of relative invisibility – and talking about himself and his new record, ‘I Can Hear Your Heart.’

It is a collection of spoken word snippets, poems, songs and short stories juxtaposed with samples of threatening sounding lounge music that somehow makes for a coherent, engaging and funny whole. Despite the context, it is not easy listening, but seems to complete a circle that goes back to the earliest Arab Strap releases.

It was December 2006 when Arab Strap called it a day when a batch of touring concluded with a celebratory show at the ABC in Glasgow and a few Japanese shows. The compilation, ‘Ten Years of Tears’ made for a fitting bookend and the Glasgow finale seemed like a band achieving that rare level of self-awareness in knowing when and where to stop.

“The thing about that gig,” he explains, “I discovered afterwards, was that a lot of people travelled to it. There were people from Japan, even someone from Australia, and also from around the U.K., people knew it was Glasgow, the last show in Britain and it was going to be the best one.”

“It did occur to us in the dressing room ‘where were these people six months ago?’ But it was a great gig, it just seems that you earn your respect when you split up. I think with the next band, I’ll just make one record and then split up!”

Though his former Arab Strap partner, Malcolm Middleton, enjoyed prominence and acclaim shortly thereafter with his third solo album, ‘A Brighter Beat,’ Moffat seemed to be lying low, with only occasional sightings.

Even so, his last year has been more low profile than inactive. January saw the release of his third instrumental album as L.Pierre and his new band, Aidan Moffat and the Best Ofs, performed live for the first time. He also appeared with Ian Rankin on the ‘Ballad of the Books’ album, but, in the immediate aftermath of the band’s split, he admits to doubts about his future direction.

“I’d saved money for that purpose – so that I could take some time off and see what I was going to do. I got a wee bit of money from signing a publishing deal with Domino, but career-wise, I did go through a period when I was quite confused. I’m glad I waited – I think if I had done this album two months after Arab Strap split up, I don’t think people would have cared, but there was a point last year, when everyone I knew in a band was doing really well and I was sitting on my arse. It was my own decision, but you start to get really bored.”

Indeed, boredom appears to have been something of creative spur, at least during the period in his early and mid twenties when the majority of the tales recounted on the album took place.

“Really, it was less to do with age and more to do with being in a band. For much of the time, you have nothing to do. For the first few years of Arab Strap we were broke, but once you have a bit of money, like we did after we signed to a major, you start to make it more seriously.”

“Even then, there are periods when you are at a loose end. So you go to the pub. The weekends don’t exist when you are in a band, you can do what you like.”

If the narratives that make up ‘I Can Hear Your Heart” originated in this period, it is one that Moffat will simultaneously claim that he has grown out of, though he can still connect with and laugh at his (sometimes thinly disguised) former self.

“I suppose, in a way, the album has taken years,” he says. “There were things that I had written specifically that weren’t supposed to be songs and I wasn’t ever quite sure what to do with them. When I went back to read them, it was like going back to reading an old diary. Basically, it was me being a bit of a prick when I was young.”

“I thought it would be good to write from the point of a young man who thinks he is smart, the cock o’ the north. Obviously, the guy in the story is me, and by the end of it, I haven’t learned anything! I’d like to think I am different now, of course, but it is only with retrospect that you can joke about yourself. Everyone goes through that phase, and it is a great phase to go through – you can tell I had a great time.”

Though he talks of this part of his life ending in the period when he met his girlfriend, turned thirty and the band split, the most interesting aspects of the record are the way in which, lyrically and in terms of production, it harks back to the earliest Arab Strap records. This was something that concerned Moffat as it came together:

“What worried me the most was that in some ways it is a step back,” he says, “and I thought that people would think it was just an album of moaning from that whinging old beardy guy from Glasgow who is obsessed by sex.”

“Exactly the opposite seems to have happened, people seem to say that it is what I do best. Which is odd as well, because nobody was interested in Arab Strap! Suddenly we’re quite revered in all these posh papers, but if all these people had bothered to buy the records or go to the gigs at the time. . .”

The sound of ‘I Can Hear Your Heart’ also reflects a change in the process of Moffat’s record making – the outcome being a record that sounds like it could either have taken years to make, or been recorded in one drunken late night session. The truth is somewhat more prosaic.

“It was a mixture of both techniques,” he claims. “ I had always wanted it to have a lot of cheesy sounding, lounge samples, and I did collect them and plan it over a long period. On the other hand, a lot of the vocals were done in one or two days, and I think that’s what gives it the coherence.”

“Normally, I wouldn’t even dream of drinking in the studio, but this time we would go to the pub and decide that maybe it was for the best, as I needed to relax – I was reading them too quickly. A few of them were recorded under the influence, but the last track, ‘Hilary and Back’ – I had to be very sober for that one!  It does have that sort of rambling effect – but it has been planned over a long period and I’ve been chipping away it for years.”

The nature of the record has also presented Moffat with a problem in an age of digital downloads – paying 79p for one minute poem hardly sits comfortably with the current record industry model for delivering music. It is something Moffat and his label, Chemikal Underground have worked hard to circumnavigate:

“I know – it doesn’t really work,” he laughs. “but we had always wanted to do something special with the packaging of this record, but not purely to sell it. It is going to come in one of these book style packages and there’s a five-track bonus CD, a bonus short story and a glossary of Scots’ words. It’s a brilliant package and I hope it is the sort of thing that will be desirable to people who want the album. You have to do that these days – a standard ten track CD in a jewel case isn’t enough anymore.”

Indeed – beyond the album release, Moffat intends to play a small number of live shows and finish work on the first Aidan Moffat and The Best Of’s album. He won’t be invisible in 2008.

I Can Hear Your Heart is released on Chemikal Underground on 11th February

Laura Marling

Oran Mor, Glasgow
For such an assured songwriter, this show marks a very tentative step on the road to an almost assured stardom.

At eighteen and with considerable financial backing behind her talents, it would surely be possible to present the show in a less controlled environment. Here, the tickets have been distributed to fans only online, resulting in an adulatory, if undersold venue. By the end of the ten songs, Marling admits that “you made it too easy for us.”

Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the way she handles the circumstances. The mood is homely and understated, the band’s admirable restraint belying the fact they have only recently been aquainted with the songs. Marling projects an air of confidenced, without ever being complacent or arrogant.

The use of fiddle and harmonium to augment her acoustic guitar produces a warmth in songs that are often bleak, frequently portraying messed up male characters in a manner that suggests experience beyond her years. Indeed, the songs frequently start with only Marling’s voice and guitar, building into a fuller sound. Though there is little in the way of killer hooks, the melodies of the best songs – ‘Night Terror’ and ‘My Manic and I’ are nevertheless insidious.

Skipping the soul pastiches of Duffy and Adele and opting for a more subtle approach than K.T. Tunstall and her many less convincing clones, Marling seems musically more in synch with American songwriters despite the English references in her lyrics. The early, folkier work of Shawn Colvin and Natalie Merchant springs to mind, and while this is not necessarily a blueprint for instant commercial return, it does hint at a durability and longevity. In time, she will hopefully become less cautious with her live presentation.

Edited version appeared in The Herald

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