Smoke and Dreams Playback and Q&A
The Admiral Bar, Glasgow – Monday 24th September 2018
This was only the second time I’d been to an event like this. A playback of an album and then discussion by the songwriters about the inspiration, mechanisms of writing and finally the making of the album. Add a large dose of band history and context into the mix and it was a tantalising first listen to the tracks from the new album, Smoke and Dreams by Hipsway. All this with the able assistance of DJ for the evening, Bobby Bluebell on the decks to set the tone pre-Q&A. A special mention also to venue manager, Dave Ross, who made sure everyone was comfortably accommodated on this special night.
Many of the audience were ‘Pledgers’ whose support had brought us to the stage in the first place and the appreciation shown by Pim and Skin was full and heartfelt.
These are, initially, tentative affairs for both the band and the audience. Very few people in the room will have experienced this type of launch presentation (it was even a first for Pim and Skin!).
With few of the usual reference points as the room filled up, it was left to master of ceremonies, the inimitable Billy Sloan, sitting alongside Pim Jones and Grahame Skinner, to kick start the event and put everyone at ease as he quipped, “The 3rd Hipsway album was a long time in the making, something like 29 years. Almost makes the Blue Nile seem fast!” To which Skin quickly retorted, “To be fair, it only took 12 days to make the record.”
Skin expanded on that, acknowledging Billy’s opening comment, by talking about what Pim and he have been up to in the intervening years. Not surprisingly, there was no suggestion that there had been any acrimony or ‘musical differences’ in the lead up to the band splitting after the 2nd album. And, again unsurprisingly, a breakdown in the relationship with their record company at the time was cited as the reason for the parting of the ways for Hipsway as a unit. To be more precise, they continued to, surreptitiously, play together minus a couple of band members, under a new name (‘Burn This’ which evolved into Witness) to avoid any interference from their, now, previous record company. Makes you wonder if there’s a unpublished album hidden in a vault somewhere entitled ‘Cloak and Dagger’. The fact that the band (admittedly) didn’t realise that they were being profligate with their OWN money in those heady, early days may have contributed a little to the disputes with the record company!
The new incarnation, Burn This, described by Pim as ‘Chili Peppers with a dash of Led Zep’ didn’t have the legs to survive so they decided to call it a day. The ever self-deprecating Skin reckoned the real reason for the split was because Pim ‘thought he (Skin) was shite’. Pim’s (more believable) explanation was that 9 years living out of each other’s pockets, drinking and hard-rocking was quite enough and following their own projects was probably what saved them from complete, point of no return, burn-out.
The discussion moved on to the music industry in the present day and it became clear that both songwriters were adamant that with Smoke and Dreams they would retain complete control of their musical and creative output. Using the vehicle of PledgeMusic (a now familiar online direct-to-fan music platform) gave them that 100% control and direct engagement with the Hipsway fans. Both of these aims would not have been possible, even 10 years ago.
The evening was, inevitably, infused with nostalgic references to the likes of nights spent in the Rock Garden in the 80s where close and lasting friendships were formed. But this new album is about more than looking back and assessing the impact of those early days of success. There is also a generous sprinkling of angst, frustration and some measured views on the world we currently find ourselves living in, all of which are knitted together by a characteristically sumptuous musical backdrop. The musicianship and production belies the fact that the album was created over an unbelievably short, 12 days, recording slot!
Always a good sign for me, as the room listen to the album, track by track, was the fact that I changed my mind, several times, about which song was ‘the single’. The band have opted for Saturday Night (Down In the Garden) as the first track to be lifted as a single and who am I to argue. It’s bristling with Glasgow references and musical aplomb.
There are obvious influences at play across the whole album and that’s not something that Pim and Skin shy away from. Those inspirations, as listed by the guys, went from Isaac Hayes and Steely Dan to David Bowie and Donnie Osmond! Although they weren’t mentioned this evening, I personally sensed that they had also channeled Dan Hartman and Boz Scaggs!
The ‘structured’ part of the evening was rounded off with an unhurried acoustic set of some old favourites. Listening to it felt like being a fly on the wall as two mates jammed together, meandering and finding spontaneous and delightfully nuanced twists to familiar melodies. The chemistry between the two music makers has not diminished one iota over those 29 years since their last album launch!
I won’t do a track by track critique here. Suffice to say, fans are in for a treat and anyone who is planning to purchase the album and would like to give it a review, drop me a DM (Twitter – @intocreative) and we’ll feature it on the Into Music section of intocreative.co.uk
All that is left to say is that if all launch events were powered by as much goodwill and affection as we witnessed on Monday night, The Admiral Bar would save a fortune on electricity.
Pre-order the Smoke and Dreams album HERE!