Straight to it then as I’ve already spoken about the venue and no sense repeating myself. Once again this looks less arse than normal. That’s down to having pictures by an actual photographer! My partner in crime for these pieces is Mr Ade Young of Adrian Young Photography. They originally lived here
Steve, Cammy and Mo
First up of were Roads to Damascus who had 4 things up against them to begin with. First off, they were all a bit knackered for a very rock and roll reason. A Marillion concert in Edinburgh meant they didn’t get home until half 4 the night, well morning, before. Second they are from Forres (and Keith) so couldn’t really bring along a cheering section. Third, there was a bit of a mic problem at the start so there was an abort and do-over while that was fixed. And fourth….it was a bit dead.
Not for long though. If you play it, they will come. Over the course of their set a decent crowd gathered to enjoy the show. And it is a show. Tech issues, tiredness and a busted foot were forgotten as front man Steve started rocking the now working mic. He’s a front man who KNOWS he’s a front man, very energetic and all over the place. A bit like a caged tiger due to the size of the venue. Vocally he’s a bit like the front man from the Crash Test Dummies but an octave higher. Still deep, but that guy is really deep. I mean more tone really. It was a striped down version of the band for this show, so bass, drums and possibly an extra guitar were produced by a wee box. The important people were there though (only kidding, the rest of the band). In addition to singing Steve we have Mo “on the Hammond” Hammond on keyboards, amazingly fitting name. And plural, there’s a stack going on. If you are familiar with the synth and organ sound of Tangerine Dream from the 80’s then you know the kind of thing she’s bringing to the band. If you aren’t then go and watch Near Dark. And on guitar and pushing the buttons for the absent ones Cammy. You know the intro to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”? Or “In Time” by Robbi Robb that plays in the future in Bill and Ted? That kind of guitar. Absolutely wailing it too. He and Johnny Gash could have a guitar off like Steve Vai and The Karate Kid do at the end of Crossroads and it would be quite the epic battle. All together they produce a proper late 80’s proggy rock sound that wouldn’t have gone wrong on some of the horror soundtracks of the era. And I loved the hell out of it. I’m well aware that kind of thing isn’t everyone’s bag, but if it’s yours then get along next time they’re playing in Inverness. I’ll probably be sat next to you. Might be a while though as Mo tells me that Steve has cracked a bone in his heel. His antics on the night probably didn’t help that!
Emma Mitchell doing what she does wonderfully
The rest of the night has acts that were a bit closer in genre wise, and geographically too. Second up was Emma Mitchell. Now in my head I think I just instantly lump anyone who plays a guitar and sings in to folk. I did that with Emma. She isn’t. You could probably take her songs and vocals, put some less good music behind it and throw it in to the top 40 without anyone noticing too much. But music wise she’s pure acoustic rock. So a solo acoustic pop rock artist then. And a damned fine one to boot. Emma represents an artist who knows both of her instruments intimately and is well aware of exactly where her limits are with both. I can’t recall any finger plucking twiddly bits in her playing, but she was up and down the frets chord wise with some very interesting arrangements. And that voice…. Seriously, where most acts have the odd stumble is vocally. People try and singing slightly outside of their range or don’t get how difficult the quieter bits are. Emma knows. She’ll skate right up to the edge of where her voice can go and no further, and she has quite a range. Whether it’s high, low, quite or VERY powerful there wasn’t a bum moment. And I believe that’s with a bit of a cold. Well to be fair she did fuck up once. But she stopped, said she’d fucked up, got a cheer and fired back in to it. And she does a little bit of something I tend to enjoy, gives a background for her songs. Actually it’s generally a setting. “For this song picture that you’re on an enjoyable fancy train journey” “picture you’re on the beach”. Nice touch. She’s an artist who knows what she’s doing and is comfortable doing it. I know for a fact that she made a couple of new fans this evening, and….well we’ll get to something else in a bit.
Secret Weapon Retro Stevie Smith and Mr Dougie Burns (clearly enjoying himself)
Because third up it was time for Dougie Burns (you need to set up a fan page!). Switch from acoustic pop rock to acoustic blues rock. And he was living the blues lifestyle for this one, drugs and alcohol. Yup, mixing his benadryl with some Guiness as he was a bit choked up. Can’t say I noticed during the set though. One thing I and a few of the musicians DID notice was the wee pint holder attachment on the mic stand though, brilliant idea that. Dougie has a number of things going for him. First off, as I said with Emma I like a wee story setting songs up. Dougie gives you a proper bit of background for each tune and gets a bit of craic as required. He plays a powerful blues rock guitar, a lot of the time what I call in my head travelling blues. Think of the rhythm of a train steaming along, that stuff. He also has a powerful bluesy voice. And his songs have a fair bit of craic to them. They sound good AND they’re entertaining to boot, something that makes a change from a lot of the “look how serious we are, listen to the lyrics” acts that you get. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Luckily the crowd had filled up a bit earlier and were still around as participation is required, well asked for, on the chorus’ of a couple of tunes. I’ve seen him a few times and on signature, yes I’m sticking with that mate, tune California Cadillac everyone is encouraged to join in on the chorus. This was the LOUDEST I’ve heard a crowd sing along. As I’d hoped he did have his secret weapon along, Retro Stevie Smith on the harp (mouth organ for non blues folks). The weapon was only deployed towards the end to up the blues level but he was in fine form. I enjoyed the hell out of everyone (don’t I always? Think I may be an easy audience) but Dougie’s set was the best craic of the night.
Lucy and Adrian, just below shot Adrian’s funky trousers. Not pictured = hat.
And finally, All Hat No Cat. Actually no hat at all so Adrian renamed them All Snot No Cat. Yes the lergy was all over the place. Actual folk here. In fact not even your modern folk music that there’s lots of, proper old school folk music. A bit political at times, light hearted at others. And a bit of background before and a story during as well. To my mind Adrian looks like an encyclopedia picture of a folk artist. He’s on the guitar and singing, joined by Lucy playing some very lovely flute which you don’t get a whole lot of really. I mean in general, there’s loads in the act. I think on every track but one. She was given a break for one tune where Adrian used a loop peddle to play guitar along with himself, and sing along with himself, while also whipping out a harp (think it might just be mouth organ for folk actually). If I hadn’t seen Esperi at the weekend I’d say it was the best use of looping I’d seen all year. And for a couple of the tracks they actually got quite rocky. So All Hat No Cat gives you quite a varied experience, more traditional sounding songs along side more contemporary type stuff, some craic and some semi-serious stuff, a wee story to set things up and a flute. Nice.
So gauntlets have been thrown. Battle has been done. Clap-o-meter has to seal the fate of the combatants. Putting that aside for a second, if I had to actually judge tonights competition I’d be stuffed. Everyone was genuinely excellent and no two acts could be directly compared to each other fairly as they all brought something a little bit different. The standard was exceptionally high. Little bits and bobs of issues, and a damned virus, aside it was pretty flawless musically. Thankfully it’s not up to me, it’s up to the noise. And the clear winner….didn’t happen. First round there was .1 of a….whatever the meter registers between all 4 acts. So a stand off between Dougie and Emma then. Round two, things got louder….for both of them and it was a tie again. Ruh oh. Round 3….same again. Until, finally, Emma squeaked just ahead. And I can’t argue with that at all. From my point of view Roads had the best guitar playing, Emma had the best voice, Dougie had the best craic and All Hat No Cat had the most interesting arrangement moment. But while this is a bit of fun when you get down to it, and that’s how everyone is treating it (Emma’s loudest cheerer may have been Dougie) not everyone can go to the final.
As it stands the final is now The Ragazzi and Emma Mitchell. Two down, two to go. Already I have NO idea who’s going to win it. Keep an eye out for a preview piece for part 3 in the next couple of days, and get your arse down to the Eagle if you aren’t already as you’re missing out on some FANTASTIC music. For free. And the booze is cheap.