I was in attendance at the One Up part of the event to see Seas, Starry, Forest Fires (acoustic), The Shores and Duke. Unfortunately I was limited to these four bands as I had arrangements in the evening, which was a shame because from what I saw it was a great showcase of local music. I cannot really comment on the event as a whole, as there were various other venues with bands on throughout the day, but I can categorically state my regret that I was unable to see more on the day. The event was full of great local bands, across 5 venues.
I would like to give a shout out to the venue as well. There is something different about gigs in One Up which I really like. It is a romantic notion, that of watching music in a great music shop. Moreover, the act of being at a gig, listening to live bands while you browse the music on offer is inspiring. I picked up Ghosts of the Great Highway by Sun Kil Moon, Summerteeth by Wilco, From a Basement on a Hill by Elliott Smith, Vaya by At the Drive In and Disintegration by The Cure (no idea how I didn’t already own this one). I was shopping for a perfect assortment of new music, with the backrub of a selection of live music. I cannot think of many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.
I arrived just as Seas, Starry were kicking into their set. Seas, Starry are a 5-piece band specialising in ambient, instrumental jams. This is the third time I have seen them live, and I consider them an ever improving outfit. They have not been on the go terribly long, so it is not surprising to hear such improvements in their sound, particularly as they are playing a shoegazey brand of rock, which always impresses me in its complexity. It may sound simple, and often the songs are based around a central hook, or at least consistent in their tempo, but if you listen closely to the three lead guitarists (who each utilise their own armies of pedals) you will notice that there's a rich complexity, set out in layers. Seriously though, their pedal boards are the size of Inverurie. I play in a very “techy” sort of punk band, who are often acknowledged for the complexity and difficulty of the music we play, and yet I would find this sort of music far more difficult to write and perform as the arrangements are well crafted and involve subtlety (which I lack). I enjoyed Seas, Starry so much so that I had lunch with them, which was nice. At times the songs can go on a bit longer than is to my taste, but they are consistently interesting to watch. When they get going into the louder, heavier sections of their tracks they can fairly tear the roof off.
Next up was Forest Fires. Rather, two members of Forest Fires. I had heard good things about the band, and I understand they are accumulating a decent following, so I was disappointed that I was not going to see the full band. Nevertheless, an acoustic set is often the best way to really judge the song-writing merits of a band. It seemed the organisers were beginning to sweat when – a couple of minutes before they were due to start – the act had not arrived at the venue. While there were not any great delays to them actually starting, I find this kind of tardiness quite annoying, particularly for an event that has to run to a tight schedule. If you had seen them though, you would have forgiven them. They had a gig the previous night and had clearly indulged in some late night frivolities afterwards. A wee bit rough, I think? The music was pretty innocuous, and I have a feeling it was not the performance of their lives. Clearly, they have a repertoire of good pop songs, and I am sure in context with the whole band (a 6 piece, I believe) they would have been more enjoyable. There was just something about this performance that failed to get me animated. I think the guitar they were using could have used a new set of strings, or even a set-up, as it sounded fairly dull. However, this may have been down to the method in which it was amplified (with a microphone pointed at the sound hole). The singer even played a few songs from a previous band, and I enjoyed these songs more. He has a good voice, with a decent range. His delivery is of a similar ilk to that of Jeff Buckley, but obviously I cannot compare the two. While I did not particularly enjoy this act on the day, I would be very keen to see them in a full band context. They do have that relaxed swarthiness about them, which you would commonly attribute to a commercially successful band, and I would not be surprised if they did become popular among a wider audience.
The third act was Peterhead three piece The Shores. I did not catch the beginning of their set as I had to nip out quickly (to have lunch and talk music with Seas, Starry. I was very, very hungry), but I garnered a fair amount from what I did see. Clearly a very young group, they were still blessed with all the enthusiasm and energy of musicians in their late teens. I do not mean for that to sound disparaging, as they were competent at their instruments and tight as a band. I felt they were a little “middle of the road” indie, like so many bands, but I can see them building on what they have and writing some great indie hits. It is perhaps unfair for me to call them “middle of the road” as that is how I describe almost every toney, jaggy guitar-laden indie-rock band. It is not the type of music I enjoy, so I do not wish to criticise The Shores, as I daresay they are well respected and well-liked by plenty of people. They were certainly entertaining to watch and accrued a decent sized audience.
The last band I saw was Duke, another young 3 piece from Aberdeen. I remember seeing them in The Tunnels roughly a year ago (supporting Johnny Foreigner, perchance) and being incredibly impressed by their musicianship and their songs. They are even better now. You know when you see a young, talented band and you think: “goddamn these guys” and you almost feel that you do not want to enjoy them as they are annoyingly good for such young dudes? Duke are one of these bands! I have been working on repairing this chip on my shoulder for some time so that I can cast aside this jaded disposition, and I have to hand it to these guys: they have something going on. Well thoughtout rock songs, which never follow a completely conventional course, in favour of a more convoluted conduit to their conclusions (apologies for that sentence). Something about their erratic, often “start-stoppy” jams really resonated with me. I would reason that it is a crime against journalism to compare a young Scottish rock band to a Biffy Clyro from a few years back, but I honestly think this is a fair comparison. Even their guitar sound was very much like a Biffy circa 2006 and I do not think it is a coincidence that the guitarist plays a Fender Stratocaster for that reason. Comparisons aside, Duke are a band that I think will do just fine and carve their own path, regardless of who they remind me of. They have great songs and are as tight as a chickens ass when they play them. Backed hard.
You can check out their new video here:
It is a bit silly, in my opinion, but they deserve the exposure.
I caught up with one of the organisers, Andy Kite, after Duke had finished. I think the event was also his brainchild, but cannot say that with complete confidence and do not want to offend anyone else. I also do not have any direct quotes – I am quite new to this writing thing – but can assure you that APA plan on doing something next year - again, to pleasantly coincide with Fresher’s Week. I truly hope that next year it will be even bigger (and that I don’t have a ceilidh to attend!).