‘People sometimes ask me why we’re not more famous than we are,’ says Gordon. He’s headlining the mainstage at Indietracks 2008. The sun is setting behind him and everyone is topped up with local ciders and ales after a long day of indie twee people being lovely to each other. ‘And I always tell them I wouldn’t want to be. ‘Cos if we were, we wouldn’t get to play gigs like this.’
Some bands are a secret that you want to keep in your pocket. You try to hide them away, because sometimes all they have to do to disappoint you is be liked by someone else.
I’ve seen a lot of appalling bands. There are few things worse than those first seconds when a support act starts to play, and you realise you are going to be subjected to aural torment for a minimum of thirty minutes while waiting for someone you actually want to hear to come on.
But sometimes bands surprise you. You judge the book by it’s cover, or the second support band by the first support band who lowered your expectations so far, you’d decided you’d be better off hanging yourself than making it to the main act. An example – I have no idea who My Latest Novel’s first support act were at one of their Christmas King Tut’s gigs a few years ago, but by the time the second support act came on, I was really wishing I had stayed downstairs for a few more drinks. But then they started playing... and in a few bars of music, Three Blind Wolves became one of my favourite Scottish bands ever.
It’s so strange – that intangible quality that makes one band so forgettable and another so compelling. I went to the Carefully Planned All-Dayer at Mello Mello yesterday in Liverpool. Never has an event been more poorly named. There seemed to be very little planning having gone into it, but The Second Hand Marching Band were playing, and they are also up there as one of my favourite Scottish bands ever (it’s quite a long list). It’s easy to see why they’re so good – there’s like 15 of them, and they play ALL of the instruments, and they’ve got this lovely shambolic sound and loads of stage presence. You’d have to be a bit dim to not realise they’re excellent.
But later another band plays. I don’t even know what they’re called and it would probably be a bit mean to name them even if I did. A bunch of hipster boys, each ticking a different silly glasses/facial hair/skinny trouser box, who sounded exactly like they looked they’d sound. There’s nothing bad about it. There’s nothing new or interesting going on. We float back to our seats at the other side of the venue to talk about whether or not burritos are made of donkeys.
And then the next band come on. There’d been a kid in a purple onesie wandering around all day, with a couple of mates. And when I say ‘kid’, I mean an actual kid. I’m not great at guessing ages, but I’d say Purple Onesie was maybe 13 at most. He was really small, quite serious looking, with his bottle of Curiosity Cola in his hand as he hung out with (presumably) his Dad and watched the other bands. His bandmates were a bit older, by which I mean 16 tops. They have two drummers, one of whom is set up in front of the stage, in the audience. I later learn that the band is actually the project of the 16 year old singer, Kiran Leonard, and these other guys, they’re essentially his backing band, helping him out. Kiran has complete control of the stage, occasionally giving orders to the other members who obediently obey.
I realise I’ve made several points about their age, and actually, I probably shouldn’t have pressed the matter quite so much, because while seeing a group of really talented, really young musicians is always impressive, that’s not what was most interesting about these guys. It was the way they commanded the attention of the audience. Okay, so it’s getting late and there aren’t that many people there anymore, but those who are, they don’t take their eyes off these kids. Two members of Kiran’s band start dancing down the front, and get the small crowd to get down on the floor with them, leading everyone in a weird sort of worship of themselves.
And it all comes back to that intangible thing that makes a band good. It’s sort of a mix of being familiar yet original, I think. Being able to recognise something you’ve heard before in them, yet at the same time, hear something new. Kiran’s got that thing going on. The same thing that made everyone sit up and listen when Conor Oberst started making music. A comparison that I suspect Kiran is going to have to endure endlessly, but surely not one to turn your nose up at.
I remember reading that Stuart Murdoch wanted Belle and Sebastian to be as famous as ABBA. And that freaked me out. I guess you forget that most bands don’t want to be a secret. They want everyone to hear them and like them. There’s the divide between the band and the audience. You want them to be yours, not just everyone else’s, because then they might not be special anymore.
Kiran and his band are obviously destined to be special, and definitely not a secret for very long. You can listen to his Bowler Hat Soup ep here, where he asks you not to judge him too harshly because of the production. Which you won’t. ‘Cos you’ll be too busy wondering how the hell anyone is this talented or interesting, especially after only 16 years of existence. I’ve got a good ten years on him, and I’m trying to catch him up.
The last two bands to play are Married to the Sea and Vasco Da Gama, who couldn’t really be more different from each other but both have the special something that makes you pay attention. I’ve seen MttS a million times and I spend almost every day in the same room as Greg and Simon, so it’s impressive that they still command my attention after all that... And they’re in a silly mood, which is my favourite mood, and it makes them all the more fun for it.
I’ve heard Vasco through a brick wall lots of times since they practice next door to my studio but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them play properly so it was cool to hear what they sound like without muffling. Their set is really tight, I guess all that practice must pay off, and they have loads of energy and enthusiasm. Their drummer tells us he’s glad he’s come out ‘cos he was feeling melancholy earlier, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about feeling down so gleefully. They’re also the most excited people in the world about playing at the Prince 10 Bands 10 Minutes at The Kazimier this Saturday. Which you should probably go to if you can.
I think I’ve just figured out how bands end up famous. We’re all just really shit at keeping secrets, right? I didn’t mean to tell anyone any of that. But I couldn’t help myself. I guess I need to get some bigger pockets to hide all the good bands in.