LAST year’s Ironworks winter showcase drew a map for the year to come, featuring many of the up and coming bands and musicians who made 2012.
So just before the year ended, this year’s batch of 16 on the bill over both nights was required viewing for anyone with a hunger to know the contours of 2013’s likely local soundscape.
There were some intriguing propositions.
We got the Ironworks debuts of Woodentooth and Furry Vengeance - both featuring Inverness veterans of many earlier bands. They couldn’t have sounded more different.
There should have been the chance to hear two more from the burgeoning harvest of female singer songwriters with Josephine Sillars and Ailsa Jean Lyall Matthews, but sadly, Ailsa wasn’t well enough to kick off the second night, replaced by City In Surveillance.
And as ever with the showcases, there was the genre needle veering wildly from the world-infused acoustic mellowness of four-strong female line-up Dorec-a-Belle to the full-on gravel metal rage of Fallen Riot.
The only way to cope with so much music coming at you, is to take every artist on their merits and prepare to fall in love.
Most of the time, to be honest, it was hard not to just stand with your mouth open in sheer admiration as the different talents and identities just kept on coming.
But there were a few conclusions as the music finally began to fade in the 48 hours after it all.
Confident frontpersons and practised patter don’t necessarily a brilliant band make. But neither does being so intent on your music that you never announce a song title, look up from the instruments or give the slightest clue that you’ve noticed the audience is there at all.
As Toby Michaels sang “Rock n roll ain’t nothing without soul”. And sometimes better than just being relaxed and easy with a crowd is being real and taking the chance to do something original/crazy/risky just to see what happens.
With the Ironworks showcases signature now superfast changeovers from one stage to the other, my advice to acts is have someone out in the crowd who can let you know after the first song from a punter's point of view whether we can even hear what you’re singing, so problems can be sorted instantly. It might be a technical problem ... or it might just be you!
After a 16-act onslaught on your senses, it's hard to pick out the bands and musicians who are going to do big things in 2013. At this point it could be all of those seen throughout the two nights. I hope so. They were a well-picked bunch and each one had a magic spark of something much, much bigger.
The fun continues for everyone who can get along to follow their progress, support them and - as X Factorspeak would have us say - follow their journey.
Go to a gig, buy a CD to help fund their progress, like their Facebook page, make them feel loved and listen to their music. We're lucky to have them. And let's not forget all the backroom boys and girls all across the area who help make music happen too.
Anyway, here goes …
JOSEPHINE SILLARS made a highly watchable start to the night, her voice sounding at home with her songs which are both quirky and highly-listenable. It was 17 Hours with its end of the world scenario where the geeks conquer that made the first impact. Middle Class Pretenders was more reflective, but with next song The Day That I Woke Up, Josephine laughed: “Someone on Facebook said they liked that song and I haven’t played it since the summer, so I practised it. But they’re not coming now, so obviously they didn’t like it that much!” But including songs such as Three Years Past and Hurricane in the set – which both featured on her CD - is a smart way to give anyone intrigued by what they’ve heard the chance to take the sounds home with them. Josephine was the first of many acts over the two days to bring along either CDs to sell or as giveaways.
NICKY MURRAY seemed totally absorbed by his own music and his guitar, showing off a husky voice which sounded as if it had been living a lot longer and harder than the singer himself. Trees with its “blowing away, blowing away” wail was haunting and his very individual cover version of John Martyn's Solid Air written for Nick Drake stuck in the memory. Both highspots made you long to see Nicky in a more intimate setting.
THE CAROUSELS from Keith were one of the most intriguing acts of the showcases for me. Their sound incorporated country (the impression no doubt aided by the pedal steel) yet also had the harmonies and energy of early 60s bands like the Beatles. And with a fiddle. Before the set there was an overlong sound check in comparison with other acts, but still the whole first song went by without being able to hear the pedal steel/slide, which sprung to life in second number Mayflower. Maybe it was nerves, but the group didn’t perform or relax into the amazing sounds they were producing until close to final number Slow Wheels Turning – just one occasion throughout the 16 sets when 30 minutes just wasn’t enough.
WOODENTOOTH Woodentooth’s sound bore the evidence of the DNA singer Rory Baldwin and guitarist Peter Nairne have carried through from days as the core of Lymerick Smith and Ball Deep. But with the new rhythm section, Derek Urquhart and Simon Wort, there was a new “no messing” charge to the set which included my personal favourite, updated song Daylight.
QUESTIONS OF MOSCOW Maybe the miracle is that they exist at all with a membership that goes from Stranraer to Inverness and Lanark inbetween. But the rockers had the gift of bringing a party feel to the venue with a set that included singalong melodies like Wolf, a happy birthday dedication and a warning not to buy the band’s “resident mascot” drink.
CLEAVERS Within a couple of songs, you can see why some people love and some people loathe the noisefest, arty devil may careness of the three-piece. They’re fast, loud and leak adrenaline into the air like petrol fumes. Tiger Blood for me was the gem of the set. And Danny high-kicked, seemed surprised his guitar had stayed in tune for two thirds of the set and revealed that “Inverness has been very, very, very good to us” in an amazing year. Is there any more full-on way to start your performance than Brian Johnson’s Hat?
FALLEN RIOT With their heavy, heavy instrumental start, Fallen Riot brought back echoes of former Inverness band Shutter, but by song 2, the metalcore five-piece had added in vocals and we were firmly in death metal growling and moshing territory. After kindly offering to share some phlegm from his cold, singer Nick Laidlaw confessed: “This song is going to kill me, it’s called Weather The Storm!”. And though the scream-growl sounded fine, the clean vocals maybe just didn’t have the power a healthy Nick Laidlaw might normally have had. Despite compromised vocals (I'm blaming the phlegm) it was a truly exhilarating soundstorm of a set.
THE OXIDES have added Paul Elliot (formerly Boosts, The Now, currently Outsiders) on guitar and the four-piece’s set bounced along more fiercely as a result, starting off with Her Methadrone, going on to In One Ear And Out The Other, Wake Me Up In Summertime and ending with Going Overboard. Frontman Jake Bolt had the set by the neck. But what with bassist Archie telling a cracker of a joke - that’s Christmas cracker - about French cheese and Jake responding to the cry “I want to have your babies!” with “Thanks very much, though I think that’s incest!”, it was a lighthearted feel to a deadly serious performance putting down a marker. Oxide explosions could happen in 2013.
CITY IN SURVEILLANCE substituting for unwell Ailsa Jean Lyall Matthews, stuck a firework up the night’s behind and by The Dirt guitarist Mickeyy had already left the stage to return soon after with another smart guitar. Rhys Torrance is a frontman who gets you thinking about everyone from Tom Jones to Kyle Falconer, but on the night proved hard to hear (could have been mike issues that popped up later during Last Summer Effect).
FURRY VENGEANCE gave the second Ironworks debut of the two nights with a set that couldn’t have had a more different start and finish. Ryan Golder came on first to sing a solo acoustic version of his gem of a song Forever Criminal before the band proper got underway with an entertaining rock set including plausible-sounding songs, high on melody. Romantic Call My Name was dedicated to recently-engaged booker Steve Robertson and Samantha Begg, while big finisher I Can’t See got an even more extended than usual medley of goodies including (deep breath) No Woman No Cry, I Get Knocked Down, I Am The One And Only, Nirvana, Spice Girls, Travis Lady GaGa, Barbie Girl, A-Ha, Inspector Gadget’s theme and Ryan rapping Eminem for a high-spirited finale.
THE LOST are a young real rock band that - once they relaxed a bit – after first number White Lies seemed to be having a ball. Follow-up Riding Out The Storm gave the chance to notice the rare sight of not one but two left-handers (on guitar and bass) in the same line-up. Addicted was another strong song that was followed by the revelation it was inspired by one of the band throwing up and a half-asleep singer Daniel King deciding the solution was to spray aftershave on it. In Live Free, the last song of the set, the chugging guitars and strong vocals rounded off an impressive appearance.
TOBY MICHAELS ROLLING DAMNED shrank to one as illness had kept bassist Steve Robertson from the gig, so Toby performed solo and though it wasn’t the craziest performance he’s ever given (there’s just so much to live up to!) the roll-call of delights included a singalong Bat Out Of Hell cover, an emotion-packed Save Me and A Little Bit Of What You Fancy including a free Hound Dog. Vintage Michaels.
DOREC A BELLE with cellist Imke Henderson in Germany, it was a trio – possibly making up for it with amazing glittery tops. Singer and guitarist Maryann Frew apologised after quiet stunner Listen: “I hope we’re not blinding you with our sequins.” No, just the fab music. A calypso feel added a twist to Maryann’s dad’s song Don’t Give Up. But the crowd found it hard to listen (maybe hyped up by the heavy rockers just before) and beautiful song Taken suffered under the murmur. It wasn’t until the “really upbeat” I Wanna Die popped up that the line-up got the attention back that they deserved with the understated but always gold instrumentation of the accordion and Bev Fraser’s sax and flute. Accordionist Liza Mulholland revealed that unlike the closing song title If I Could, she plans on not iffing but going for it in 2013. Fans of their rootsy/folk style should help make it the band's year too.
CAPITALS have Dingwall and Inverness roots and the now-Edinburgh band plans to bring out an album this year.Can't wait after a set which frontman Angus Carbarns revealed was the best he'd enjoyed in ages. And with their angsty, truculent songs about envy, hatred and despising – among other things – there’s a real taking-no-prisoners edge to the Capitals' electro dream. Angus is an arresting frontman and the almost two-year gap since they’d played here, he told us, (last time saw them in Mad Hatters didn't seem that long ago, but that's time for you ...), just emphasising how far their sound has moved forward. Jealousy was one of the highlights, All These Years sunk an addictive little whistle-like scream effect from Keir MacCulloch aka Araya’s keyboard into your inner ear and “scenester a**eholes” have never had a bigger ticking off than they get in Running.
LAST SUMMER EFFECT are harder to define than almost any other band across the showcase nights, but when they start a set, they hit hard and the attack is mercilessly co-ordinated. Brand New Day just backs it up, frontman Chris Smith constantly on the crowd to respond, getting us to clap or even headbang and being rewarded with the love. Right back at us: “I want to take you all home!” he grinned, before coming up with the quote of both nights. “For last gig of the year, it has been monumental!” Right back at LSE.
TEAM KAPOWSKI brought the truly epic gigs to en end with a set so frothy and fun that it should have come with its own random life-size cardboard cutouts and crackers. But, oh yes, it did. The three-piece - drummer David Hamilton, singer Blair Stewart and guitarist Andy McMaster - add a heavy electro musical charge to Blair’s witty raps for hip hop lite as in The Art Of Seduction, 8 Bit War Games and Don't Fight It.