Saturday, 14 October, 2023 in Music

Into Live Music Review: We Could Send Letters

Concert: We Could Send Letters 
Venue: Strathaven Hotel
Date: 29 September 2023

It has been four very eventful years since the debut FRETS show – Lloyd Cole, at the start of October 2019. From that auspicious start, and despite the chaotic interruption of Covid, FRETS has gone from strength to strength. The cream of Scottish indie pop and a plethora of similarly eclectic artists have gravitated towards the Strathaven Hotel, creating indelible memories for those lucky to be in attendance. However, two recent shows, over the weekend of September 29th/30th, are up there to rival those that have gone before.

The Friday event could well be described as “a happening”, featuring a mix of spoken word, literature, interviews and music from a mix of artists who documented a scene both then and now, expertly hosted by the BBC Radio Scotland presenter Nicola Meighan

First up was a discussion on fanzine culture with a panel consisting of Robert Hodgens (Ten Commandments), Alastair McKay (Alternatives to Valium) and Jordi (Fruitier Than Thou). This was both consistently funny and informative in equal measures. Stories ranged from writing phantom concert reviews for laughs, starting a fanzine to get into gigs for free, writing to musicians and getting surprising responses to simply following a passion for great music and exploring ways to make art. Never a “job” but the musical paths explored were evidently rewarding, fun and done with great ardour. 

A quick break and a new panel featuring The Bluebells’ Ken and David McCluskey and Campbell Owens (Aztec Camera/ Bluebells) was equally as endearing. The dial was moved with Nicola Meighan probing on the emergence of punk into the satellite towns around Glasgow and the growing buds of music scenes outside/inside the city. Naturally, the two collide (as covered excellently in the Hungry Beat book) and the tales told set up a picture of the cross pollination of the time. Of course, there was no Spotify, no digital downloads, no MTV so referencing the music weeklies, checking out the local record stores and seeing what the cool kids were buying (T.Rex, obviously) was all important. 

In short, these two sets of interviews/conversations were exceptional and really provided insight to what was, and still is, a sonic journey for those on the panel. That wondrous odyssey continues with great innovation from Jordi who has self-made a run of music-based fridge magnets, mini fanzines and trading cards which are by any measure, super cool. 

If that wasn’t enough, there was also a musical set by The Bluebells with the aforementioned band members joined by Frets guru Douglas MacIntyre. The five piece played a fantastic set which went down a storm with the sold out crowd. The band played six songs straight off the bat from their new album The Bluebells in the 21st Century which some might say was a gamble. In truth, it wasn’t. The majority of the crowd knew the songs by now and they fit seamlessly into the set alongside the older tracks. Orienteering seems to get better with each airing, while the subtleties of the melodic vocals, interspersed with the rhythm section and the twang of MacIntyre’s Gretsch White Falcon were a match made in heaven. 

Elsewhere, the band rocked out on Red Guitars and the latest single, Anyone Could Be a Buzzcock which was all the more relevant after the earlier conversations on the emergence of punk. Another moment was the book-ending last track of the night, a cover of Hot Love by T.Rex, a glammed up, scuzzy belter which had at least a couple of folk in the audience grooving (ahem)!

The Saturday show, by all accounts was as good if not better with the focus on SANDFEST, the festival set up by Douglas MacIntyre and Katy Lironi in conjunction with Down’s Syndrome Scotland which has been going strong since 2007. Music by The Bluebells, the New Sandford All Stars, Choir 21 and Matilda to another sold out crowd helped raise a few thousand pounds for the charity. Well done to all who were in attendance, the organisers, bands and artists! 

To donate to Down’s Syndrome Scotland or to find out more, visit their website here

John Welsh







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