After a short retreat outside into the daylight and world of phone signal and Internet coverage, I moved back into the candlelit seclusion of The Caves. Well I say seclusion that is of course from the outside world not from the 300 or so souls who had packed it out for The Stagger Rats. The onlookers included Kyle Falconer from The View, to the delight of one group of giggling girls in particular, those girls aside though no one else gave him a second glance as their attention was firmly on the Edinburgh five piece on stage.
The Stagger Rats were a vibrant bundle of energy In their thirty minute mid afternoon slot. The band who are signed to Budapest-based record label WP Ents will release their Owen Morris (Oasis, The Verve) produced debut album on the 26th of November. Guitarist and lead vocalist on the majority of songs Daniel Paylor swiped a bit of his slicked back hair that had fallen out of place back behind his ear and announced “Hello we’re The Stagger Rats and were gonna play now”. It was a direct and to the point introduction, much like the band’s music. Opening with Maybe When I Get A Bit Older it’s easy to understand the comparisons to The Coral and The View (more in Callum Easter’s vocals), and fans of those bands will definitely find something to fall in love with in The Stagger Rats sound.
One of the bands newer compositions to get an airing was the bubblegum titled love song Hubba Bubba Baby which got an enthusiastic reaction from the busy crowd in The Caves. My personal highlight of the set was penultimate track Sleeping Off Ecstasy which Daniel introduced by saying “this is the new single and it’s available for download and all that shite”. It was slightly more relaxed and subdued than the rest of the bands material and it really gave Paylor’s voice a chance to shine on lines such as “all your candles of mercy, why don’t you blow them all out”. With a “we’ve been The Stagger Rats and this is called Fuzzy Fuzzy“ the band brought their incredibly well received eight song set to a close. Leaving the stage to a warm round of applause from a very appreciative audience there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll definitely be hearing a lot more about The Stagger Rats in the coming months.
After a quick trip to the bar to refuel with another nice cold pint of Tennent’s it was time for Anderson, McGinty, Webster, Ward and Fisher (AMWWF for short) to take to the stage. The collective are notoriously hard to get together in one place at any given time and Sunday was no different as they explained that Billy Fisher was “somewhere in Paris”. Never letting the absence of a band member get in the way of playing a gig they announced that we would be seeing “a simplified set without Billy”. That simplified set still contained, guitars, a banjo, mandolin, kazoo, harmonica and a double bass wrapped around the three distinctly different vocal styles of Stevie Anderson, Gavin McGinty and Dave Webster.
Their blend of folk/rock acoustic song writing got an excellent response from the crowd, especially McGinty’s rolling r’s and hollering on Boo Hoo. For me however standout track of the set was Pigeon Song as it allowed their voices to harmonise brilliantly, with Webster taking the lead vocal for shouts of “you will find your way”. The collective are seen as somewhat of a super group in their native Dundee thanks to their previous involvement in The Law, Luva Anna and The Lost Todorovs. On today’s performance it won’t be long until the rest of Scotland starts to follow the Dundonians lead and take AMWWF into their hearts.
To be honest the main reason I stayed in The Caves all afternoon was because I was worried about having one of those nightmare SXSW or Camden Crawl type scenarios where you leave a venue and can’t get back in for the band you wanted to see due to a big massive fuck off queue. The band in question that I couldn’t live with missing was Meursault, and recently having sold out The Queens Hall in Edinburgh I assumed a gig in a smaller venue like The Caves would be absolutely heaving. It was however shockingly under attended; no matter though it was those who weren’t there that missed out on what was certainly my set of the day.
Just after five lead singer Neil Pennycook started to methodically piece together the stage setup, firstly by carefully placing a Meursault signature “Ha fuckin Ha” tote bag underneath his Casio to make the most understated yet brilliant banner. The bands massive electric piano then barely made it through the small side door and onto the stage before being followed by assorted electric guitars and a standard bass guitar rather than the cello which often accompanies them. Having recently returned from a European tour, and with an hour long set time to play with I would think it is safe to say it was a well rehearsed set that Meursault unleashed on the Haddow Fest crowd.
After a short departure Neil returned solo with an electric guitar and a bottle of Bud in hand. The presence of the Budweiser was all the more fitting as the set started with a new song that included the lyric “If all that is left is sad songs and American beer” and contained much foot stamping before the refrain of “We have seen it all before”. It was a beautiful solo performance and yet another excellent piece of song writing to add to Pennycook’s rapidly growing collection.
The rest of the band then joined Neil on stage for Newboy which sounded like it had been slightly reworked from its early days of a first play at the Flittin single launch at The Haven Cafe. Carrying on in the vein of Dull Spark from latest album Something For The Weakened the rip roaring thump of Fib got the crowds feet moving as Neil spat out his matter of fact delivery of the line “It’s the same fucking question, so it’s the same fucking answer” ahead of repeated chants of “I am only a musician, I am only a musician”. Three songs into the set and not one song had been played which features on any of the bands albums or EP’s which highlighted the creative purple patch Neil Pennycook is obviously enjoying at present.
The fact that no older songs had received an airing was about to change however as our ears were engulfed by a new heavier up-tempo almost Alt-country version of one of my personal favourite Meaursault songs The Dirt And The Roots from debut album “Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues”. Every time I see Meursault live I seem to find myself with a big childlike grin on my face several times during any given set, it’s that feeling of fuck me this is good, really fucking good. No other band in the world right now has that effect on me as consistently as Meursault.
The “mile fucking wide” Hole and defiant throb of Flittin then kicked off a run of songs from “Something For The Weakened”. Dearly Distracted provided one of those wide beaming smile/shake of the head moments as Neil belted out the lines “so long dearly distracted, you painted yourself into the canvas, to be hung against the wall, staring out into the world, and this light that you had know, well it’s a stranger to you now” before the three and a half odd minute Pink Floyd-esque band driven jam kicked in.
Live favourite Dull Spark then sprung into life complete with a new mid section that slowed down and meandered a little before kicking back in at breakneck speed. Taking the well deserved applause from the crowd Neil took a minute to address us saying “We’re Meursault and we’re from Edinburgh“, before introducing the band which comprised of Lorcon on piano, Sam on drums and Ben on bass. A shout from a female member of the audience of “What’s your name?” was met with a “my names Neil” to which she replied “No your bands name?”, Neil laughed and smiled saying “Alright I was getting to that, we’re called Meursault“. So it looks like the band got at least one new fan out of the gig, even if it was a slightly hard of hearing one.
Like many of the songs played Settling was also treated to a slightly different reworking in parts, but never fear fans of shouting Ha Fucking Ha the opportunity most certainly still remained to do so. The riveting hour long set (well done organisers) drew to a close with a nice little surprise of a medley of William Henry Miller (both Pt 1 and Pt2) from the Nothing Broke EP. Pt2 swung into Pt1 with William Henry Miller being buried face down and 40ft below, before book ending itself by sliding seamlessly back into Pt2. With a “Thank you very much, enjoy the rest of your Haddow Fest“ Neil and Meursault disappeared out through the tiny stage door. Not to pontificate too much more on it but I really do believe they are a special band and Neil Pennycook is an exceptional songwriter with a voice so cutting, sincere and powerful that it rivals, if not bests any of his contemporaries or his own musical heroes for that matter.
Unfortunately due to a prior engagement made some 6 or so months previous with Hamilton Leithauser and The Walkmen back in Glasgow that was indeed where my Haddow Fest 2012 came to an end. Even if I didn’t have to run to the train station I still don’t think I would have had time to take The Three Sisters up on their offer of 50% off burgers for Haddow Fest goers due to the strength of the festivals line-up. If I had been able to stick around there would have been definite clashes, I’d already missed Katie Sutherland and Miaoux Miaoux and later on it would have been a tough call between Washington Irving and Three Blind Wolves in The Caves and festival co organisers The 10:04’s and The Cribs at the HMV Picturehouse.
I read an interview with Stevie Bolton from The 10:04’s prior to the festival in which he stated “we’re not putting on bands dependent on how many tickets they can shift, they’re playing on the merits of their own music and that’s the way it should be”. As long as Haddow Fest continues to be organised with this ethos in mind it will definitely flourish and grow bigger and stronger year on year. Hears to a (even if cut short) great day of live music, roll on next year!!!!!
If you missed it you can read part one of my review at the link below