There has never been a better time for great live music in Scotland. Here we celebrate a handful of acts who are trying to do something a bit special, whether it’s party hip pop from Young Fathers, cape-sporting funk from Marmaduke Duke, plaintive beauty from De Rosa or the massed joy of The Second Hand Marching Band
Although those in the neighbourhood know that Scottish hip hop has been active for many years now, it’s still the kind of unlikely concept which can make the national media gasp, sit up and scratch their head. Take the good tidings that have accompanied Edinburgh trio Young Fathers as they’ve recently started to make a name for themselves down south. But don’t ask MC and programmer Graham Hastings to explain, because his band aren’t strictly hip hop, by his own definition.
‘The lyrics of hip hop songs are always quite straightforward,’ he says, ‘with the MC saying what he thinks at the time. Whereas we write more in a pop way, where the meaning can be taken in a lot of different ways — we’ve always been a pop band who does hip hop, if you see what I mean’.
Hastings and his fellow Young Fathers Alloysious Massakuoi (who was born in Liberia and moved to Edinburgh when he was four) and Kayus Bankole (a Nigerian who has also lived in Washington, DC) met at the Yard MCs’ under-18 hip hop night Lickshot at the old Bongo Club. ‘The thing about hip hop is that it comes from the underground anyway’, says Hastings, ‘so just because we don’t hear much about it from Scotland, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a good, healthy scene’.
Regardless, the Young Fathers, all 21, veterans of a Scots boy band named 3 Style and signees of Edinburgh label Black Spring, are a good advert for the diversity of musical culture up here. Their debut single ‘Straight Back on It’ is described by Hastings as ‘a party song about going clubbing, but also laughing at posers in the club’, and rings with the metropolitan party style of De La Soul or Outkast.
‘We’ve finished our album’, says Hastings, ‘and it’s called Inconceivable Child … Conceived. It’s a play on the name Young Fathers, but it’s also meant to symbolise something unexpected — like Scottish hip hop making a name for itself far and wide’. (David Pollock)
Young Fathers play the Picture House, Edinburgh, Sat 14 Mar; Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Mar (as support to Yo Majesty!).
Try and find a time when different isn’t good. You’ll be hard pressed, especially in music. Too often our heroes can disappoint by playing safe. One band who have capitalised on their ability to wring as many new things from their sound is Biffy Clyro. In their short career they’ve grown from post-grunge aspirants to prog monsters and power pop metal madrigals while never forgetting the right side of a tune. It stands to reason that when there’s a break from the ‘day job’ it should be to let off steam in another direction. Simon Neil, Biffy’s frontman did just that, teaming up with JP Reid, frontman for much underrated Ayrshire molten rock beasts Sucioperro, and donning his best ‘Victorian explorers’ outfit to create Marmaduke Duke.
‘We were inspired, at least initially, by the story of a friend’s relative who wrote books about a Portuguese Duke,’ explains the affable Reid aka The Dragon. The duo took the notion as a jumping off point to form a band.
It started off just us in the studio together but live we’ve taken it up a notch with two drummers, shared vocals and Si playing keyboards instead of guitar’.
The pair sprinted through a raft of musical shades and tones from electrified disco to rarified prog pomp, sticky funk and stiff, arch rock shapes. This is less a side project, more a whole other trajectory.
The new album Duke Pandemonium is out in April, and is a record of considerable unexpected turns, as much Donna Summer as it is King Crimson. It is actually their second release — 2005’s The Magnificent Duke kicked things off in more rocking style — and is part of a trilogy.
‘We’re finishing things off in 2011 with Death of the Duke which should be an instrumental guitar symphony’.
Burning bright, causing a scene and fleeing the scene? Hardly Victorian manners but then this is hardly predictable stuff. (Mark Robertson)
Marmaduke Duke play the Bongo Club, Edinburgh, Sat 28 Feb; School of Art, Glasgow, Fri 6 Mar.
‘Actually, at first we thought there was less of a sense of place on this record,’ says Martin Henry, breaking out into a smile, ‘but then … out it came.’ He’s smiling because as he looks down at the artwork for De Rosa’s excellent new album Prevention, it’s hard to imagine anything more defined by place. The cover is an original painting of the band by the legendary Glaswegian artist Alasdair Gray, whose novel Lanark inspired songs on their debut Mend and reappears in the ‘daylight, daylight’ refrain on this one. The reverse of the cover is a 1936 map of Lanarkshire, which includes Tinto Hill, the subject of the final song. The printed lyrics give the game away even more. ‘It’s my Clyde,’ sings Henry on ‘Stillness’, one of several standout tracks that explore the mysterious pull of home and the urge to escape it. He explains: ‘A Love Economy’ [the opening song] was the start of the thinking … it’s a break-up song I wrote the day after moving away from Glasgow, back to the East End of Lanarkshire. It’s so run down there. This was an attempt to be idealistic about it, attempting to get to the light but falling backwards into the darkness.’
From an average songwriter this might sound like alarming concept-album vagueness, but here it makes sense. Prevention is a coherent, lyrically powerful statement, which reeks from beginning to end of that attempt to reach for the light. Several reoccurring dark subjects leak between the songs, building a picture of a man asking himself difficult but universal questions: Where do I belong? Where am I going? Why am I bothering going there? And that makes it accessible to those who don’t know the place that inspired the album. ‘Still the night is coming in my blinds’, repeats Henry on ‘Nocturne for an Absentee’, over haunting bleeps and nightmarish, other-worldly beats. You can feel the terror, but his demons are good news for listeners. Out of the scattered darkness of Glasgow and Lanarkshire, De Rosa have stitched together a meaningful brightness. And in their new part-folk, part-electronic delivery they have re-invented their sound too. Some bands are crushed by the challenges of that difficult second album. Prevention is the sound of a band who have skipped two and three and gone straight to album four – more mature, more distinctive, and a lot more vital to the landscape. (Rodge Glass)
DeRosa launch Prevention in a venue TBC, Glasgow, Sat 21 Mar; Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, Sat 28 Mar.
The Second Hand Marching Band
Fairytale welder-come-stripper flick Flashdance is responsible for many things, all of them marvellous: cheese-ball airborne romance Top Gun; the enduring prevalence of legwarmers; the caterwauling strains of ‘What A Feeling’ in karaoke bars the world over; and now this – ‘A Dance to Half Death’ – the ace title track from the debut EP from dulcet pop infantry The Second Hand Marching Band.
A swooning, multitudinous indie-folk troupe that amassed via MySpace and word of mouth, the SHMB counts members of Dananananaykroyd and Eagleowl among its 20-odd strong legion – a number that’s soon to be further augmented by Teenage Fanclub/ Macrocosmica saviour Brendan O’ Hare. They released their inaugural grab-bag of thrills on estimable Wishaw imprint Chaffinch (Lucky Luke, King Creosote) last month.
With affiliates hailing from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Ayr, Fife, Cumbernauld, Airdrie, and Canada – and an instrumental arsenal including violins, melodicas, ukuleles, flutes, guitars, saxophones, marching drums and accordions – the SHMB’s euphoric acoustic anthems boast duly variegated reference points: Glasgow post-rock, folk traditions, Tchaikovsky, school bands, La Blogotheque. ‘Oh yeah, and the title track was inspired by the start of Flashdance,’ adds chief songwriter Peter Liddle. ‘But only a wee bit!’ He laughs, abashed.
So what next for the Second Hand Marching Band? ‘Well, we have a lot of new songs – I’d like to record something new,’ he muses. ‘Hopefully I’ll buy some nicer microphones and spend much, much longer on the singing parts next time.’
Such is the magnitude of the SHMB that they’re often pressed to rehearse in car parks or fields: any live surprises in the pipeline? ‘Well, we’ve been threatening to do some outdoor gigs soon, but we really need to get organising,’ ushers Liddle. ‘Some of the band are quite apprehensive about being arrested for playing outside, but I’m pretty sure any police in the area would be charmed into submission …’ (Nicola Meighan)
The Second Hand Marching Band play the Flying Duck, Glasgow, Thu 12 Mar.