Now That's What I Call Live Music 2018!

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It's the end of yet another year and the T.V. schedules, newspapers and magazines are full of list-based programmes and articles full of the goings on from the last 12 months.  My favourite is the acerbic and hilarious Screenwipe, which is unfortunately not making an appearance this year, due to its creator Charlie Brooker being tied up with his phenomenally popular but nightmare inducing tv series 'Black Mirror'.

We're not taking a breather at Small City, Big Personality though, as I look back at another great Perthshire year for live music.  It was really tricky narrowing it down to just five gigs as there really has been so much going on this year.  I've seen great performances from homegrown talent like Ross and Ali and local heroes, The Kalaharis. This year's Southern Fried Festival saw the return of the amazing Steve Earle, this time backed by The Dukes.  I also discovered a fantastic music venue called Backstage at The Green Hotel in Kinross, where I've seen truly world-class acts like Arizona guitarist Carvin Jones, and former Icicle Works frontman Ian McNabb.  The fact that these are just some of my honourable mentions should give you some idea of the breadth and quality of live music that was on offer this year around Perthshire.  Here are my top five:

5- Belle and Sebastian- Perth Concert Hall

When I heard Belle and Sebastian’s first EP, as an opinionated teenager, I dismissed it as sounding too much like Love’s ‘Forever Changes’. I was similarly sniffy about subsequent releases declaring them as too "fey and fragile".  Never mind that the albums I was listening to around this time, like Suede, Edwynn Collins and Lambchop, were hardly the most macho sounds to ever a grace a CD player.  I couldn’t be reasoned with though.  I knew I was right, and besides, I was too cool for school (although my mum did still insist I attend).

Belle and Sebastian Review- Stuart MurdochIn subsequent years my attitude softened, and I relented and eventually ended up owning two or three of their albums.  I particularly enjoyed 2006’s ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ but it’s fair to say that I’m really only a casual Belle and Sebastian fan.  Seeing them live at last years TRNSMT festival didn’t really change that, but I think that may have more to do with me just getting too old and grouchy for music festivals!

However, when I saw them earlier this year at Perth Concert Hall I think the penny finally dropped and I had a whale of a time.  They were a surprisingly muscular live proposition and their setlist was a carefully selected balance between new and old material.  The dancier tracks from later albums worked particularly well but it was a great rendition of 'The Cuckoo' that really won me over. You’ve got to love a song that name-checks Thin Lizzy, The Sunday Gang and musically pays homage to Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively Fourth Street’! 

4- Bobby Cochran- Backstage at The Green Hotel

By the time I saw Bobby Cochran live, I had been meaning to check out a gig at Backstage at the Green Hotel for ages.  I was gutted when legendary guitarist Albert Lee sold out before I could buy tickets, and I was working when Gary Tallent took time off his day job as the bassist in the E-Street Band to play a show there.

bobby cochran and meSo, when I finally did get there, it has been a long time coming.  I’d just got back from a weekend away in Liverpool and the memorabilia and signed pictures on the wall at Backstage really gave The Cavern a run for its money.  I’d brought my friend Callum along. As we took our seats we saw a framed patch of carpet with text underneath explaining that it had been stood on by musical luminaries such as Robert Plant, Albert Lee, Mick Fleetwood and Peter Frampton.  It was flanked on one side by a P-Bass scratch guard signed by Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones and a drum skin signed by Bee Bevan of ELO and Black Sabbath on the other.  Backstage really is the place to be for people who dig good music! 

The gig itself was loud and exhilarating.  Bobby Cochran played a mixture of his famous uncle Eddie's hits, some rockers from his time in Steppenwolf, as well as some covers that showed off his chops and his great taste in music.  My favourite was a beautifully jazzy rendition of Willie Nelson’s ‘Nightlife’ with a suitably plaintive vocal.

Despite his boundless musical ability, Bobby's main draw is his joie de vivre.  His positivity is so infectious, he’s just loving life and music, and why not?  “I wish all of you could get applause when you’re at work. It really is awesome”.  He was exceedingly generous with his time too, regaling Calum and I with amazing rock n' roll tales that certainly opened our eyes!

3- The Rude Boys- Craigie Hill Festival

My anticipation levels for this year’s Craigie Hill festival were pretty high, as last year’s event was one of my highlights of the summer.  The weather in Perth was glorious and there was just a great fun vibe to the proceedings.  Matters were also helped by a terrific line-up and the presence of Ruby, the beautiful Volkswagen Campervan bar (read more about her here), who served up a signature cocktail dubbed “Buckie Braes” to the eager sun-kissed crowd.

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town- With PaulineThis year was even better thanks to the long overdue reunion of Perth's ska-tastic rude boys. Everyone was on their feet as Stewart Campbell-Clark and The Rude Boys took to the stage.  They proved insanely popular and before long people were skanking like it was 1986.  The Rude Boys polished off old classics like 'Explain' and, perhaps their best-known, song 'Uruguay'.  The exemplary brass section really earned their pay packets on a heroic sounding offbeat version of the Hawai 5-0 theme tune.  Sparky showed off his vocal chops on Louise Armstrong's 'We Have All The Time In The World" and there weren't many people standing still for a special version of Toots and the Maytals 'Monkey Man'.

2- Tony Christie- Birnam Arts

Tony Christie Review- Looking SharpIt was actually my girlfriend Jo that wanted to go and see Tony Christie at The Birnam Arts Centre. We both love the venue and her uncle is a bit of a Christie fanatic and over the years she's developed a bit of a soft spot for his music. I was initially a bit sceptical as I'm really only familiar with '(Is This The Way To) Amarillo', a catchy song with a hilarious video (I love the bit where Ronnie Corbett falls off the treadmill) but I didn't know anything else about him.

Turns out that there is much more to Mr Christie than just 'Amarillo'. He's also a talented songwriter in his own right (in fact one of his first composition was co-written with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame) and he counts snake-hipped pop god Jarvis Cocker and guitarist Richard Hawley among his fans. The former wrote the top-ten hit 'Walk Like A Panther' for him and the later produced one of Christies greatest albums, 2008's 'Made in Sheffield'.

Tony Christie oozed self-confidence as he strutted out on to the stage in a beautifully tailored pale blue suit and launched into a set that, quite frankly, blew me away.  I wasn't really prepared for how great a showman and what an accomplished vocalist he is.  

It was a great evening and while I sat in the passenger seat of the car on the way back to Perth I'd already added a bunch of Tony Christie albums to my basket on Amazon prime. 

1- Graham Nash- Birnam Arts- Southern Fried

Mr Nash strode out onto the stage and in a rich voice declared "I'm in love with Perth". He picked up his guitar, and with his current trio launched into a song about his old trio Crosby, Stills & Nash entitled "Wasted On The Way".  I was immediately amazed at how great a sound just three guys could make.  The harmonies, even when compared to CSN, were impeccable and I loved how Shane Fontayne managed to play the pedal steel part on his electric guitar.

"Is anybody a Hollies fan?" Nash asked, and the spirited whoops and cheers let him know that was a pretty silly question so he just let loose with "Bus Stop", one of the bands early hits.  The audience were lapping it up, particularly Todd's amazing keyboard part.  Next up we got a duo of songs with King in the title.  The experimental "King Midas In Reverse" which Nash wrote for The Hollies, followed by "I Used To Be A King" which was inspired by his separation from songwriter Joni Mitchell.  The later is from Nash's criminally overlooked solo debut "Songs For Beginners".  It is an amazingly strong set of songs and it was well represented as Nash played five songs from it.

GRAHAM NASH REVIEW- ONSTAGEGraham's latest album, 2016's "This Path Tonight" provided one of the nights highlights, the beautiful acoustic track "Myself At Last".  It's a tender song about losing and finding yourself, and it featured one of Nash's best vocals of the evening, along with a beautifully precise harmonica solo that puts the playing of guys like Dylan and Neil Young to shame.  The first half closed with a story about the time David Crosby took Nash on what he thought was going to a pleasant afternoon sail but ended up being a 9-week voyage.  Whilst onboard, Nash caught sight of an enormous blue whale and the song "To The Last Whale" was born.  

The second half of the show really brought the hits.  We got a short Hollies medley comprising "Carousel" and "Carrie Ann", and even a great arrangement of The Beatles "A Day in the Life".  It was heartening to see that Nash's songwriting muscles are still strong and his recent songs stood shoulder to shoulder with the golden oldies.  "Missippi Burning" is based on the true story of three college students who were murdered in the early ’60s down South when they went to try and help black people be able to vote.  There was a real fire in Nash's belly as he railed against injustice and it's good to see that he hadn't lost his sixties idealism.

Nash didn't shortchange The Southern Fried audience, playing a generous encore that included the trio sharing one mic for the beautiful three-part harmonies on an acoustic version of Buddy Holly's "Everday" that had a definite Everly Brother's vibe.  They closed the show with a sing-a-long version of "Teach your Children" that really charmed the audience.  


Well, that's a wrap folks!  Join me in 2019, which is already looking set to be another great year for Perthshire music.  We've got the usual great festivals to look forward, including Southern Fried, Craigie Hill and Solas, plus the mighty Average White Band pick up the pieces with what promises to be a memorable show at Perth Concert Hall.  Happy New Year!

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