By Steve McGillivray
October 1, 2011
If there’s one thing I like it’s a good gig in a crumby venue. You can keep your arena’s and flash auditoriums – I like my venues on the other side of shabby. The place I’m heading for tonight fits the bill nicely. Henry’s may sit in the financial district of Edinburgh, but there’s nothing flash about it. After driving around for ten minutes to find a space, I reacquainted myself with the venue and found it to be as I remembered. Spartan. I treat myself to the customary soft drink and grab a seat near the sound desk. No sound guy tonight I see. It’s a sound girl. There are about four people in the bar so far, although to be fair I am reasonably early. I also suspect a few of them may be in one of the bands. Time will tell.
A few minutes and some good ska via the PA later, the first act of the night is ready to go. Thankfully the venue has filled up a little for Fuzzystar, or in this case, Andy from the band Fuzzystar who is playing an acoustic set. He takes to the small stage looking like a wild Scotsman with his shock of curly hair and impressive beard but it’s a front. The first song is a really nice, delicate number about sticklebricks of all things. Lego gets a mention, but only as a vehicle to show how sticklebricks are superior. He has a great voice and strums a mean guitar, even if he jokingly asks if we want it a “bit more Snow Patrol”. There are some missteps such as forgotten lyrics, laughing mid song and messing up the guitar, but they are so minor they barely rate a mention. If anything they add to the charm of a warm and engaging set. I only mention them because Andy is very self-effacing and apologetic about them afterwards. Just made me like him even more that he felt the need to apologise for being great!
Easter, the middle band of the evening hail from Manchester and stroll onto stage looking like Arctic Monkeys clones. Well not really. They’re young, fresh faced and have foppish hair cuts and hip clothes. Middle aged jealousy is an ugly thing I suppose. There’s a really good indie rock feel to this four piece. There’s a hint of Malkmus on the guitars and the instrumental sections these guys are laying down are great. There’s a real surprise when the singer lets the vocals go. His voice sounds like it should be fronting a metal band. It’s throaty and deep but works really well with this band, giving it a nice contrast. The melodies are great, there are some innovative guitar moves (laying it on the ground and beating it) and there’s lots of tweaking of pedals and wringing all manner of sound from the guitars. It’s great indie rock, with a nice edge and some delicate touches thrown in. Another very good set, albeit a big contrast to the opening act. Two out of two winners so far. Time for more juice and a chat with the organiser, Matthew of Song, by Toad Records. This guy knows his music and before we can get very many words in, band three are taking to the stage.
I was right about the people in the venue when I arrived – two of them are in John Knox Sex Club. I spot them as they head up onto stage. The music is pretty sparse and atmospheric from the off. The lead singer has a wonderful voice and it has to be said that sound girl has done a fantastic job. The venue might look bad, but the sound quality is excellent and that really is the most important thing. As I write this the singer has wandered from the stage and is now standing a few feet from the audience, giving it his all. Now and then he turns and faces the stage. It’s quirky, but I like it. The opening song is epic, literally, lasting around 15 minutes. A feature of the band seems to be big musical build ups but they don’t half deliver on them.
The addition of a violin to the more traditional indie rock instruments adds tons of atmosphere to the band. One minute they’re laying on some distortion to the guitar and then out of the haze comes the violin. Stirring stuff. As the band approach the climax of their set the singer asks sound girl how long they have left. “Enough for two songs” comes the answer. With a little smile the singer retorts “It’s a really long song”. Sure enough it is a long song. It’s very high tempo at the beginning, but it drops off leaving only a guitar later on. The singer is in his element. He’s back on the floor right beside the audience and as I write he’s started pointing at everyone individually before walking over and hugging them, all the while singing his song. I feel pretty safe from this outpouring of emotion, as I’m near the back of the venue but as he’s hugging someone he points at me, hands them the mic (the band are still playing at this point) and wanders over to me to give me a big hug. Superb. Hugging done, he wanders back onto the stage and climbs atop the bass drum where he proceeds to jump around. Sadly it does end but I really feel like I’ve witnessed something very special. Think Admiral Fallow but with more energy, spark and an edge and you’re close to what John Knox Sex Club sound like. They have to be seen to be believed though. What a phenomenal live show.
I finish my drink, say my goodbyes and literally bounce off into the night, I’m so energised by the gig tonight . All three acts were really good and very different, making for an interesting and engaging mix. No matter what Andy from Fuzzystar says, he was great. Easter were a band I’d like to hear more of as well, delivering a brand of fuzz drenched indie rock to which I am very partial and John Knox Sex club lived up to their tag of ‘Best Live band in Scotland’, given to them by members of Sparrow and the Workshop. On tonight’s showing you’ll hear no argument from me.