Published: 21/02/2013 17:03 - Updated: 22/02/2013 15:13

Mad Hatters' four-decker band feast

Written byby Margaret Chrystall

ONE night of music in Mad Hatters – all that ear-feasting in one Saturday night.

Served up was one super-sized non-hooved burger of bands which have never seemed more like three delicious layers of the beefiest protein.

All topped by the right royal calorie-laden whipped-up funk of the Earls of Caithness.

Cleavers and PAWS provided two slabs of bloody-from-the-kill guerrilla rock, occasionally masquerading as punk skaterboy alternative indieness, including a sauce of psychotic screaming from Cleavers’ Dan Crombie.

It was touching the way Dan kept mantraing "Are you all right, Kev?" to his bassist between songs, showing the possibly unexpected caring, sharing side of the Elgin blitzkriegmeisters.

But live, the colour drains a little bit from the detail of the recorded version of, say, Brian Johnson’s Hat and you’re left with challenging noise levels and the barely-concealed aggression and the nihilism of Dan’s shouted negative slogans between songs.

Slogans rain down, such as "F**k Your Life!" and Life Is Sh*t (also the name of their wondrous EP, surely the musical interpretation of a happy long-eared dog with head out car window being blasted in the snout by 80mph wind resistance).

Cleavers is a glorious experience live. Dan bouncing manically around letting blackness pour out of his mouth, and coat the venue in confusion ("But he seemed such a polite boy before..."), drummer Craig aka Rhythm Panther and Kev aka Tiger Blood rocking the whole thing back onto the earth’s axis ... and then away again.

There are songs too, of course.

Artwork by Cleavers' Dan Crombie aka Wolf Mask from his 'zine.
Artwork by Cleavers' Dan Crombie aka Wolf Mask from his 'zine.

Partner that set with PAWS alone, though and the whole place would probably have combusted.

Luckily some wise man – realising the universe-shattering consequences of putting the two together – slipped The Oxides in between. The sun came out. Birds began to sing again.

Inbetween the two edgier bands, The Oxides were cast as the tasty filling.


And the crowd visibly enjoyed chowing down on the contrasting flavour of gritty, bad-for-you-but-chews-well satisfaction of The Oxides. Totally tight, no-fuss rock with a side order of pop catchiness coming up.

As the meat in the sandwich of the night, you couldn’t help scoring them high for efficiently holding the whole thing together, but slightly wobbly on the punchy raw heart that frontman Jake Bolt usually delivers.

Now that there are four – with the addition of guitarist Paul Elliott – the sound is fuller and Jake has more time to flex his frontman muscles. There has obviously also been time to start tinkering with songs – though not sure if the new start to Wake Me Up In Summertime is better than before, or just different.

And if there was one thing you might want to whisper in their ears (possibly bassist Archie’s just to see him do that smile that flits over his face apparently for no reason while he plays), it might be, ‘Don’t finesse the Oxideness out of your rehearsed-to-perfection formula’.

PAWS too hit the ground running, their set just as full-on and punchy.

After every few numbers, drummer Josh paused to get his breath back after his Olympian feats of speed and pounding effort behind the kit.

Some of the band’s song lyrics would equally work to the sound of a string quartet (such as Catherine 1956: the final line quoting her customised to "... get out of Inverness cos there’s nothing for you here").

But in some songs, the sensitive, emotions-laid-open, raw and painful experiences of the words really rock to the pounding power of the three-piece’s thrust.

Never has revenge been a dish served colder than in Homecoming where the bullies of old are told: "So thanks for the years of endless bullying/ I’ve turned my woes into sing alongs/How many of your dreams have come true?/ I’ve turned my dreams into sing alongs".

But it was swiftly followed by Sore Tummy, which is one of those euphoric songs that have you shaking your head from side to side in seconds. Then there was what Phillip described as "a jaunty little number", Excuses – he wasn’t wrong.

Many of the songs from the set are on the band’s debut album Cokefloat.

But the new ones hint at an equaly enticing future vision.

PAWS setlist
PAWS setlist

Phillip went off to get his notebook – "I screwed it up last night" he said, before revealing that had been the first time it was with an earwormy chorus and repeated line that sounded like "I don’t want to be alone in my heart".

Immediately it was over, a one-minute speedy blast changed the mood again into finisher Poor Old Christopher Robin.

The set was food for thought, during the long gap while funk specialists Earls Of Caithness got on with the complicated business of soundchecking two guitars, two voices, one bass, drums and two saxophones (aka The Harald Horns).

And as the words of an early number went, with the funk "you gotta get up to get down".

Luckily, Mad Hatters was in a surprisingly funky frame of mind with the floor soon jigging away for the first set which closed with a guest slot from Emma Mitchell singing former James Brown Is Annie number Milena Velba (after the busty Czech model).

Easy on the ear, appealing to your dancing bones and ruthlessly tuneful, the Earls Of Caithness crowned an appetising night of music like the icing on the cake.

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