One of the many beautiful things about acoustic shows is that they require very little in the way of setting up; sort the PA, plug in and go. This is just as well as I was running late from work and didn’t get to Cerberus until well after 7pm, with doors opening at half past. Luckily, MTAT is a slick team of crack professionals and Jonny Domino was on point to have everything good to go. I bumped into he, the Ghost Mice ensemble and the esteemed Turtle Lamone on the hunt for chips and noodles as I dragged my carcass up towards the bar.
The place was pretty busy by the time that Nyla kicked things off just before 8 o’clock. Armed with only a ukulele for protection, Nyla played a witty set of charmingly simple folk songs laced with politics, dealt with in a (mostly) sarcastic manner, covered a certain Glasgow hardcore band and set the “anti-folk” tone for the evening. As Pet Piranha mentioned in his blog, the Juno soundtrack could be accused of bringing Kimya Dawson-esque songwriting into the mainstream and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine Nyla’s songs sitting comfortably alongside them.
Broken Stories were up next and absolutely killed it. The two piece have only been together for six months but their confidence not only in their performances but in their songs has definitely grown. Kevin Thomson is a great songwriter and an outstanding vocalist, trading melodies with Gillian’s razor-sharp yet sometimes sombre violin. Playing all of the songs from their very well received EP and a couple of new songs, Broken Stories ripped through their set and had everyone clapping and stomping along. Falling somewhere in the middle ground between the likes of Chuck Ragan, Flogging Molly and perhaps some more classic rock songwriting influences (Thin Lizzy pops to mind), Broken Stories take the often formulaic approach to acoustic punk and lace it with speed, dynamics and unquestionable passion. A very impressive performance all round.
Our good friend Turtle Lamone plugged in his piano and was next to take to the floor. Raph is one of the good souls of punk rock and he’s been on the road for the last couple of weeks, dragging his piano around the UK playing pubs, clubs and house shows all around the country and promoting the new “Unlikely Friends” EP. Although the EP features full band on songs tracks, Raph was playing solo on the tour and definitely appears to have grown more comfortable with the role of lone performer. Raph has a natural charm and this is reflected in his disarmingly honest song-craft; minor chords, haunting melodies and conversational lyricism dealing with the everyday problems and attitudes that we all face. I sit cross-legged right at the front watching Raph and was delighted when he covered Descendents, as was everyone else in attendance. I’d recommend getting your hands on the EP, the same with everyone else for that matter.
The force of nature that is Billy Liar was up next and he was in full-blast fired-up Billy mode, which is perhaps one of my favourite sides of the boy. There are few solo performers who can captivate the attention of a noisy pub full of punks and metalheads, but Billy Liar is most certainly one of them. He’ll also let you know how obnoxious you are being if you’re doing your best to shout over the performers to the detriment of everyone else who is trying to pay attention.
Talking of obnoxiousness; there was a kid on the MTAT facebook page asking what we meant by “suggested donation”. I duly explained that we aimed to be inclusive and that we weren’t going to deny anybody who wanted to come to the show the opportunity to do so if they couldn’t afford it. It’s something many people have done before and it has always worked a charm. People who know what the DIY scene is all about will (mostly) always appreciate the effort that goes into putting these things together and are more than happy to put a couple of bucks into the pint glass. Anyways, the guy then asked “what if I choose to pay nothing?”. I again explained that that’s cool, but if he spent the rest of the night buying drinks at the bar, then that made him a bit suspicious and a bit of a dick. As it turns out, one dude came to the door and when I asked him if he’d like to make a donation, he said “nah, I’ve only got £20 booze money”. Well, that’s not too cool and it’s even more irritating when you spend that £20 being a loud-ass goof when people are trying to play. Just saying, ken?
All of this would be academic, however, if it weren’t for the music itself. Billy has grown from being a scruffy punk kid into one of the most powerful singer/songwriters that Scotland has produced in years. I know these words sound hyperbolic, but I believe them to be true as I’ve witnessed this evolution with my own eyes. From earlier works like “It Starts Here” with all their fist-pumping, adrenaline-charged chant along hooks to the more reflective, introspective and melancholic cuts from the “Ghosts Of Punk Rock” EP, Billy’s musical palette has expanded considerably, most notably on his upcoming countrified single. Whilst comfortable on huge festival stages, I think Billy is at his most acidic when faced with a rammed pub of rowdy punks, which is exactly what Monday night was and he delivered yet again, in spades.
If the rowdiness of the evening grew as it progressed (possibly in direct proportion to the amount of booze consumed by so many people in such a small space), then things really peaked with the appearance of Ghost Mice. Newly expanded to a three-piece to include guitar, fiddle and mandolin, the band have been on the road for nine weeks and have toured the length and breadth of Europe. Showing the sort of intimate musical understanding that comes only from a long time spent together on the road, Ghost Mice played songs stretching across the entirety of their sizeable discography. It was great to hear some of the songs from “All We Got Is Each Other” LP, having recently been gripped by Chris Clavin’s “Free Pizza For Life” book. The book and the LP are complimentary of one another, are highly moving and come highly recommended.
Of all the bands that we’ve put on across the years, it’s perhaps somewhat fitting that Ghost Mice were the first acoustic show to attract the attention of the constabulary. The sight of two of Tayside’s finest entering a small pub of punks singing along on a Monday night wasn’t exactly the image that we were expecting, but there is definitely something amusing about having noise complaints about an acoustic band. Regardless, once they had paid us their first visit, Ghost Mice battled on by simply unplugging their instruments and playing 100% acoustic or “the way we were born to do it”, as Chris put. As curfew crept up and the police approached for their second visit of the evening, Ghost Mice wrapped things up the only way they could; by jamming “Up The Punx” full blast.
A quality show all in, so thank you very much to everyone who came out and made it one of the wilder Monday night acoustic shows that we’ve had for some time. Huge thanks also to everyone for playing and being so engaging throughout. It’s very heartening to have such a diverse bill be so well received and afforded the same levels of respect by a rowdy crowd, some folks’ banter notwithstanding! I’ll have some more videos from the show on Cowpunk TV over the next couple of weeks. I’ve got quite the backlog so I’d probably best get the finger out.