Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Light and Darkness

In November 1988 I experienced both ends of the musical spectrum on two consecutive nights. I saw acoustic guitar playing, Christian singer/songwriter Ian White in concert at 'the Gate' in Dundee on the Sunday night and followed it up with a trip down to Edinburgh the following day to see Iron Maiden in concert in the Edinburgh Playhouse. Heaven to hell in one simple step, or something like that.

I had a similar experience this weekend, although perhaps the contrast wasn't quite so extreme. On Friday night I went to see 'The Burnsong Song House' show which was part of Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival. On Saturday night I saw 'The Stone Gods', which is the new band featuring three out of the four former members of The Darkness - everyone except Justin Hawkins.

The Burnsong Song House was a bit of a hit and miss affair. The idea behind it is that a group of singer/songwriters from diverse musical backgrounds get together for a week and write songs together. They did this back in November last year and this was the second show where they got together to play the songs they wrote together. The primary reason we went was because my wife (and, indeed, her sister & brother-in-law, who we went with) is a big fan of Roddy Woomble (of Idlewild; pictured), who was one of the musicians taking part. Also In the house were Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub), Ziggy Campbell (of Found), Louise Quinn (of Quinn), Nuala Kennedy (trad Irish folkster), L-Marie (big woman with a big, soulful voice) and Jo Mango (folky type). And they were joined by Midge Ure for the songwriting, but sadly not for the gig.

It was a mostly entertaining evening, but the word that most springs to mind while trying to describe it is ramshackle. There was little organisation in evidence and even less rehearsal. The majority of the performers were playing or reading lyrics from loads of bits of paper rather than knowing their stuff by heart. And they had never really worked out how many of the songs would end and so quite a lot of songs stopped abruptly.

I'm not so sure the mix of styles worked. The songs hadn't been written by the group as a whole, but rather the various musicians had paired off for each of the days and had written things together. Some of these combinations worked well - I liked most of the songs co-written by Roddy Woomble, Norman Blake and Jo Mango. Some of the ones by Loise Quinn were good too. And although completely not my thing, the two collaborations between L-Marie and Nuala Kennedy were good. Unfortunately Ziggy Campbell had a bad influence on many songs. He generally does weirdy electronica music, which doesn't gel well with traditional folk. Also, having been written in a week, many of the songs were kind of forced and not exactly inspired. One was actually a complete rip-off (I assume unintentionally) of 'Living in the Past' by Jethro Tull and they did admit that another song they had written, but not performed, was basically 'Purple Rain' by Prince. I doubt that many of the songs will ever make their way onto proper recordings. But the show was entertaining, or maybe I just don't get out much.

At the other end of the musical spectrum is heavy metal. The Darkness were always a 'rock' band in my opinion, not 'metal', but The Stone Gods have their sights set on metal, I'd say.

I was a quite big fan of The Darkness. Their first album Permission to Land is one of the albums of the decade in my opinion. Their second album was a much weaker affair with as many 'miss' songs on it as 'hits'. I think the things that made The Darkness great were:
  1. Classic rock guitars, well played, great solos.
  2. Good tunes.
  3. A good sense of humour.
  4. Justin Hawkins' completely OTT vocals.
The Stone Gods don't feature all of these factors. Obviously, they don't feature Justin Hawkins anymore and former bass player of the Darkness (second album only), Richie Edwards, who now does the vocals doesn't try to emulate him. The sense of humour also seems to be lacking. Guitarist Dan Hawkins has said in an interview that the tone of the Stone Gods is very different to that of the Darkness as he is in a very different place now. The tone is much darker, more angry, more serious. But the tunes were good and the classic rock guitars were still in evidence.

The set was only about an hour long and featured only new songs. Nothing by the Darkness, and no cover versions (at least, none that I recognised). The overall feel of the music was an amalgam of Bon Scott era AC/DC, early 90s Metallica and Status Quo.

On the basis of this, I will buy an album when it comes out, but I might not bother going to see them live on any future tours. You see, while the music was good, I found the sight of Richie Edwards tramping round the stage with a goofy grin on his face quite off putting. Unfortunately, Richie Edwards is only a wannabe rock star, not the real deal. He was trying far too hard, and failing. Oh, and the only adjective he seems to know begins with a 'f' - it gets a bit wearing after a while: "The f-ing third night of the f-ing tour and we're in f-ing Glasgow..." You get the idea.

Anyway, that's probably most of my quota for gigs gone for this year already. Except Fish at the Liquid Rooms in March... more on that in about 6 weeks.

And here's a clip of The Stone Gods playing the one acoustic track of the evening.

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