We look at Justin Currie, Quick, Rachel Sermanni and more, at Northern Roots 2017.
Awesome. Everything is awesome. Especially in the US of A where if you’re not awesome you are pretty much nothing. Over there I’d be awesome, you’d be awesome, so we would all be awesome. I don’t use awesome, don’t think I ever have, well not since I heard an American utter the phrase ‘That was AWESOME!’ at a theme park in Florida after exiting the Simpsons ride. It almost made me not want to go on it. I mean if that were to be the pinnacle of life’s experiences as I was willing to hold off to find life’s less awesome pleasures. For the time being I’ll stick with pretty damn good, or if the kids aren’t reading, pretty fucking good. That way I can look for things that are better, which I might never find, but at least I’ll not feel that my life is on the downslope. Just a little aside I promise you.
So day two of Northern Roots and the day brought with it a strengthening wind which the side layout counteracted well. Out from the wind I caught the tail end of my first act of the day, AJ Still who was wooing a decent crowd with his warm songwriting. He rounded it off with a cover which in his lead up mentioned that he likes when an act plays a cover as it tells you a lot about them, where they come from. He then played Chas and Dave’s ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’. Joking aside, he played it finely in keeping with the limited part of his set that I saw.
Ready to kick off in the Uisge Barn were Schnarff Schnarff. Where Myles Bonnar leads the band and crowd follow. Prowling, bone shaking and energy sapping, they don’t deliver by half and for an early act on the bill were setting high standards for others to follow. The confines of the barn suit a band like Schnarff Schnarff whose energy creates a cauldron of energy within the walls that is absorbed by the crowd.
Out on the main stage I caught a slice of Noah Noah. Infectious indie pop from this power packed unit of four, with the added delight of having a well placed, and relatively recent addition, of a trumpet. They’ve had a few single releases recently and all stood up well to public scrutiny. They are a very likeable band which with the addition of a touch of horns gives them a distinctive edge. They are another band which is embracing 80s influences proving pop needn’t be a bad word which appeared to pick up in some indie circles.
Skjør (pronounced ‘sure’, (for sure? – Ed)) had set up in the barn and introduced us to their guitar rich, sonicscapes leading us through a solid array of floaty indie sounds. There is a Florence and the Machine influence peppering their set. This is very evident in their single ‘Self Control’ through the vocal of Louise McCraw. A young band who I’m sure we are going to be hearing and seeing a lot more of.
Outside Adam Holmes, and his Embers, subtle songwriting was taking centre stage. It’s accomplished, mature and reflected the change in the weather as gaps in the clouds brought some sunshine. His summery sound lifted the temperatures by a few degrees and dropped the wind by a few knots. Honest, it really did. He also sung about daytime drinking. That always goes down well. Especially at a festival.
Highly thought of Bloodlines were now adding a touch of noise to the Barn. I can’t say that this is a genre that I would give my time over to listening to but it would be wrong to be dismissive without at least lending an ear, one that would take a severe pummelling as I found out. It’s a festival of noise in it’s own right. It’s of an empire toppling magnitude and stands at that place on the volume knob you can’t quite reach. A max plus one. This performances proved that together they are the northern powerhouses.
It was a little more sedate back on the main stage with some laid back blues and funky blues for that matter as blues maestro Andy Gunn brought together a Saturday afternoon of originals and covers. Andy is a class act and has pulled together a fine band to support his talent, except for bass player Archie and his jokes. Two of them no less.
It couldn’t have got much busier in the Bothy for Rachel Sermanni and with deep early tones a hush descended. It is a voice and style which has a natural free form which unconsciously commands silence. It’s tender storytelling and fantastic intersong interplay even if she came a little close to becoming unstuck when a junior member of the audience struck up a rapport as she was about to start ‘Tractor’ which she ultimately had to set aside. It did though add to the magic of the set. With an audience singalong, and whistling, at the end to ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ with this was as enchanting half an hour as you will get in a festival setting. This may be for many the highlight of their festival season. It was pretty damn good.
Stephanie Cheape was a late arrival but was able to be re-slotted, if there is such a word, to this later placement in the Bothy. I was able to catch a bit of her set. Fronting a four piece band there were some country edges to her early set and overall it was a set of strong self-penned songs. Just wish I could have caught a little more.
I had no preconceptions about Wuh Oh, or even if Wuh Oh was a band or what. It turned out that Wuh Oh was a person producing electronic music. There was a bit more to it than that though. Wuh Oh was very much part of the music, or at least part of the performance and it was quite evident that as well as producing the electronics it was also very much part of him. Behind the Wuh Oh facade was a humble and self-effacing musician who, on the face of it, put his music out there as an extension to his own self. The combination of the two was actually quite hypnotic.
Although I couldn’t see Quick on any of the announcements I did spot a band taking a turn in the Bothy and couldn’t hold back my curiosity. They had drawn a sizeable audience and no wonder with their close harmonies as they belted out an acapella song with precision. There was more to them than that and they were a very fortunate find.
When I spoke to Bruce Macgregor in the run up to the festival he was very enthusiastic about a couple of the acts in particular those being Rab Noakes and Justin Currie so following these recommendations it would have been amiss of me not to take them in.
I thought Rab Noakes was ahead of the game but he was giving it a bit of Buddy Holly as a soundcheck. Once up and running Rab gave us a potted history of his career, all fifty years, in song, and he crammed a lot of that in. Taking in a recent throat cancer scare and the consequences of it, that being his need to drink more water he even penned the song ‘Water is my Friend’. Well he did say to his wife ‘At least I’ll get a couple of songs out of it’.
The landmark songs, as Rab refers to them, were there too including “Together Forever’ one of his songs recorded by Lindisfarne. Rab is a great student of the genre and his learning from ‘source’ folk musicians has helped him maintain and shape his craft. “The Handwash Feein’ Mairket’ summed this up perfectly bringing together Scots and Robert Burns with his social conscience in his comparison with the feeing markets of the past and the plight of asylum seekers looking for work. It was an absolute pleasure to spend the time in Rab’s company as part of this audience. A true gent of folk music with a voice that belies his years.
On the main stage Justin Currie arrived on stage in a two piece suit with a bright green shirt under. A touch of showman was evident already. ‘Always The Last To Know’ evoked early Del Amitri memories. He was soon joined by his band ‘The Pallbearers’ and then it started to move. Post Del Amitri I haven’t followed Justin’s career particularly but his material post this period stands on its own. Songs I never knew felt like old friends; very few songwriters can do that. Justin is one of them.
Add that to his big main stage voice and quality musicians and musicianship to back him there was a real richness and depth to each song. All this despite Justin’s evident disagreement with the plunging temperatures. And a yapping dog; but that was all in very good humour. Highlights? There were too many but I’m still playing ‘The Dead Sea’, ‘Hey Polly’, as I type this, and searching out a few others. This was pretty fucking good. So good I left a few minutes before the end. Avoiding life’s downslope I suppose.