I’ve always loved these words of George Bernard Shaw. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” The 21st Jun this year was Summer solstice. It also happened to be the date that 50000 fans descended upon Leicester’s Victoria Park to watch local band Kasabian. It was a massive homecoming gig to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Most people know Summer solstice as the longest day of the year. “Solstice” literally means stopping, or standing still of the sun. The point in time when the sun is at it’s highest point. And so Saturday proved in more than just in regards to the big ball of fire in the sky. The occasion was as an appropriate reminder that although time can occasionally appear to stand still, the world keeps turning and in doing so changes. Much like people. We are constantly changing and growing, as we embrace new challenges in our lives. Chapters in our lives come to an end, and as quickly, new ones begin. That great big circle of life continues.
Last month, I’d been one of the lucky punters that managed to get a ticket to see Prince perform at Glasgow’s Hydro. What a venue, what an artist and what a performance! In the run up to the gig, I was touched by some of the comments made by Prince in defence of his no photos and no video veto across the entire tour. “Come along and enjoy the show. How can you truly enjoy the show and be in the moment if you are recording or taking pictures on your phone.” Those may not have been his exact words, but it’s what I heard. Around then, it struck me that it had been two years since I wrote my first music related article on my website. An article which proved to mark the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It was a piece about a metaphysical diner created by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans. A piece that would earn me the role of Tim’s very first writer in residence at Kendal Calling festival later that year. And, a piece that opened the door to many wonderful experiences and opportunities, of which I grabbed as many as I possibly could. Band interviews, free entry to gigs, exclusive single reviews, advice and opportunities from fellow poets, singer songwriters and bands. Pretty much a dream come true really. During those two years I’ve released my first book of poetry too. I also set myself the target of writing my first novel. Good times!
It might have easily been 10PM at Victoria Park Leicester on Summer Solstice, when my wife Karen said to me “Why have you still got your sunglasses on?” Hidden in that comment (unlike the usual hammer like bluntness of my dearly beloved) during the longest day of 2014 was a conundrum, perhaps one, only I would see. I thought, maybe, just maybe, there’s more to this solstice malarky than meets the eye!
In 1989, as a starry eyed 17 year old, I set foot in Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom for my very first gig. For me it was The Four of Us (Irish indie rockers) and GUN (Scottish rock band and future local legends) supporting headliners Roachford, hot on the heels of Cuddly Toy’s success. Everyone I know that loves their music treasures the memory of their first gig like parents treasure a child’s first steps. As you steadily enter the world of music and gigs, never really knowing the highs and lows they hold for you.
Back at Vick-eh Park Leicester during Summer Solstice, as Kasabian triumphantly left the stage and the fan led chorus’s of Lost Souls Forever (La, la la, la la la la la, laaaaaa) faded into the night, I realised I’m celebrating my very own milestone. Yes, the 25th anniversary of my first ever gig. A quarter of a century old love affair with live music. Who else is in this boat? That’s longer than married life, longer than most friendships have lasted, longer than the kids have been around, and most certainly longer than the time spent in a single job. Longer than any period lived in a single location, longer than even the most beloved item of clothing has lasted definitely longer than any single hair do has lasted! A few other things have changed as well. The one that trouble found has turned peacemaker, the over indulger has become sensible and responsible, the crowd surfer has turned dad dancer. No longer at the front swigging enthusiastically from the lead singers offered 1.5l bottle of JD. Gone are the days of not remembering the details of a gig and thinking that made it even more special. Chest bumping, mosh pitting, mud bathing, friend losing and much much more are all in the past. But happy to have experienced all of it, happy to be able to look back and happier still to move forward. Hundreds of gigs have come and gone, some more memorable than others. And of course we have our favourites. But the most important thing of all is that the love of music remains.
So, it is with a nod and a cheeky wee wink, that, to those who uphold the time-aged traditions of rock n roll, I salute you. To previous, current and the next generations of music makers and gig goers I say simply this
“Enjoy YOUR solstice…for when you’ve experienced your highest point in the Sky sun, (or daughter) you will know when the time is right to stand still and when the time is right to move on.
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Embrace’s first gig back in nearly eight years took place on Wednesday night.
As they took to the stage, arms aloft, lead singer Danny McNamara told the crowd
“First gig back in nearly eight years, where do we want to go first? We want to go to fucking Glasgow don’t we.”
And then, (not that the King Tut’s crowd needed any more encouragement) the roar inside Scotland’s finest small venue would have easily filled places 5 times the size.
They were off and running as new track Protection opened proceedings.
It’s dark mysterious beginning, rather in keeping with the mood of new single Refugees, gave way to Blue Monday esque drum machine beats being dropped on the crowd. A new direction for the band known for their anthemic sing along tunes? Perhaps only time would tell.
Second new track In the End is more up beat and reminiscent of the Embrace everyone remembers. As it closes, just in case any of the crowd were wondering, Danny chipped in,
“It’s fucking good to be back.”
Comeback single Refugees with Richard McNamara on lead vocals was given its first live treatment and received a tremendous King Tuts reaction, before red glow sticks ( a neat little touch the band had added to great effect, building atmosphere at one of their now infamous ‘secret’ gigs) were introduced for another new, slower number, again well received.
In traditional King Tuts style, the small space directly in front of the stage was packed full of the Glasgow faithful, known for their banter and ability to let the band in attendance know exactly what they are thinking.
As the opening chords of Ashes sprung to life, the low black walls and ceilings might have been mistaken for sweating themselves.
By this point, it was clear the band were not only relaxing into the task at hand but also starting to realise just how much they had missed the feeling they were so clearly enjoying.
Veciferous Scottish chants of “T in the Park” “Come on” “ya Beauty” amongst others were met with equal response from the band who were all well and truly strapped into the emotional roller coaster they’d been missing for so many years.
As the tempo shifted from song to song, each member of the band had on show, emotional displays ranging from sheer exuberance to that of thoughtfulness and contemplation.
Before ‘Gravity’, Danny caressed the microphone and closed his eyes briefly in a moment where a picture said more than a thousand words could. Likewise were the glances of sibling re-assurance that he frequently shared with brother Richard.
For a band who’ve been away so long, it was alway going to be an emotional return..particularly in a city world famous for the emotion and passion they put into everything they do.
The band showed there’s a new direction.. It’s not a million miles out of kilter from that which everyone previously knew but clearly they have been inspired to add enough of a smattering of experimentation combined with raw emotions to cement the new sound.
Set closer “Thief” Summed the night up nicely.
With its haunting intro, before the tempo was upped and some hefty reverberation on the keys gave way to crashing huge beats… Then another final twist of sheering, sawing guitar and the sudden closing thuds of the drum machine left the Glasgow crowd shouting for more.
Eight years out has revitalised the band, who appeared invigorated and inspired. What we have is a darker sound, but Embrace are emphatically Back!
Oh… They still have a sense of humour though.
“It’s like riding a bike” Danny told the crowd as they came back for an encore.
“What shall we play” he asked
The reaction was unanimous as King Tuts burst into its own chorus of Come Back to What you Know.
“Ah” he said “we’ve not rehearsed that, “We may fuck it up”
They didn’t, they rocked it, and as everyone left King Tuts, it was more than the odours of Glasgow sweat and beer that lingered…
Glasgow reeked of an emotional, triumphant return. A comeback? Yes, but to much more than what they or we knew.
A poem dedicated to the people whose lives without which, we wouldnt be the people we are today. A tribute to loved ones who, although are no longer with us, taught us and live on through us. A celebration of life.
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As part of this years Celtic Connections, Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall played host to a concert for Alliance this evening.
Some of Scotland’s finest musicians, both young and a little less young had come out to support a number of charities including Age Scotland, Sense Scotland, Carers Trust, Quarriers and Unity.
A celebration of all caring in Scotland, it was all about Letters life and Love.
Host for the evening Cathy McDonald spoke of how humbled she had been whilst reading some of the stories that carers from across Scotland had shared. And although the night was a celebration, bringing together some fine musical talent, it was evident to see just how much the cause meant to everyone. And of course, what would a concert celebrating caring be without carers.
In numbers, carers from Ayrshire, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Skye, Shetland and Orkney but to name a few places from across Scotland came and made their presence felt. After all, this concert was for them.
The music started with Little Fire. Hailing from Ayrshire, his acoustic melodies were just the ticket to kick start the night. Keep an eye out for his debut album later this year. Such a packed line up meant only time for two or three songs for each act and next up was the hypnotic voice of the mesmerisingly talented Siobhan Wilson. Simply put, her first track The Terrible Woman was acoustic bliss.
The guys from Kassidy followed, a sound, which rightly or wrongly reminded me of The Beach Boys meets kings of Leon with John McEnroe on bass. (Check them out, you might see what I mean) Their guitar sound and energetic drumming provided a really good groove. They gave way to Horse MacDonald, who started by sharing a story about caring that was very close to her heart. She told of the gift she had given to her own mother when she was dying… then duly shred the song “Carefully” with the audience. A very emotional rendition reminded everyone just why they were there.
Scottish favourites Hue and Cry then took to the stage and closed the first half of the evening performing Labour of love, Violently and the song they encouraged us all to make the opening song of the 2014 Commonwealth Games… Mother Glasgow.
Following the interval, Joe Nisbet Jr kicked things off with a few songs from his new album that took 4 days to record but he reckoned had been 30 years in the making. His blend of easy bluesy sound and sing along toe tapping had everyone back into the swing of things.
Next, Emma Pollack performed three numbers with the Cairn string Quartet including Don’t make me wait.
Tommy Reilly started off by fooling the light technicians by taking his seat at the piano for his opener, Out There Somewhere. Just Woken up on acoustic guitar was next. A super cool sound from a super cool guy.
Admiral Fallow then shared a couple of songs about friends, family, self evaluation – real life really, including Beatle in the Box.
And so Eddi Reader took to the stage, donning apparel we have come to know and associate with her so well. As had many before her on this beautiful evening she shared a few stories of caring, of ownership and of the love that makes the Scots such magnificent people. She closed with a fantastic rendition of Mona Lisa, delivered in the true style of that cigarette yielding Scottish Auntie that everyone knows and loves so well.
Finally, the whole gang of artist were then reunited on stage for one last song. And, as if anyone needed any reminding what the evening was all about, the closing number summed it all up perfectly. Lean on Me!
And who better than Tommy Whitlelaw, the man who organised the evenings event, to give the closing words.
Asked to be introduced simply as carer and son, Tommy told the audience his mothers life had been a love story.
And that the night had felt like a love story too.
I doubt anyone in the audience would disagree!
Eight years after their last material, Embrace announced the details of the long awaited follow up album today.
And for dedicated fans, that’s been a very long 8 year wait indeed.
Over the last year, the band have emerged onto social media, making plans to release new material well known. But the questions on everyone’s lips have been the same for months now… What’s it going to sound like and more importantly when are we going to hear it?
In true Embrace style, those last few months have been the worst for most fans. At times, the waiting has felt like it would never end. Oh sure, for the lucky few able to secure entry to one of the secret gigs, it’s been heavenly! For the remainder of the loyal fans that have had to wait that little longer, after watching, listening, grappling for any little morsel of information, the reward came today.
And with news of an EP, album and mini tour, the question on everyone’s lips tonight may well be.. Was it worth the wait?
The single is called Refugees, released on 17 Feb.
What’s it sound like?
A classic Embrace piano intro is quickly accompanied by a drum beat emanating the urgency of a panic attacked racing heart.
Then it happens. The melodic opening vocals are that of Richard McNamara, which may come as a pretty big surprise to most Embrace fans.
It works though, his vocals adding not only surprise but plentiful amounts of intrigue and intensity.
We were promised something darker and Refugees does not fail to deliver.
Still very apparent is that Embrace sound everyone knows so well.
It builds like you’d expect an Embrace track to build, it delivers on the big sing along chorus and allows the tempo to drop again just when you don’t want it to… with a few keyboard shifts thrown in for good measure, the great Embrace story book has just booted down the door that opens the next chapter..
And just as the listener is shaking their head thinking ‘oh yes, tune’, up pops Danny McNamara to add a few vocals of his own, before, all too soon, it’s all over.
So… is it worth the wait?
Oh my good lord, you better believe it.
This is top drawer, Welcome back lads!
Watch the video to Refugees here.
Single, album and tour details here