TO THE AVERAGE LIVE MUSIC ENTHUSIAST or avid Aberdeen pub crawler, the prospect of seeing and hearing a band in Slains Castle is a puzzling concept- a stage on a mezzanine floor, one metre below audience level with a coliseum like 360 degree arena views. How would it sound? Would I get a good view? The answers: great and yes – from any angle. Having only seen acoustic sets performed in this unique environment, I was curious to see how a full back line would lend itself to the acoustics of such an amazing performing space. When I arrived, the place was jam-packed with lively punters, all vying for space at the balustrade as well as jockeying for drinks at the bar, which still afforded a good view as well as a good earful of local and touring talent.
The first act to catch my ear was Kevin Douglas, a local solo singer-songwriter, treating the crowd to his own blend of laid back acoustic cover versions ranging from The Doors to the Foo Fighters. Kevin managed to hold his own despite the exuberance of the surging crowd. He engaged them in folksy banter and didn’t seem intimidated by the audience looming above. Kevin regretted not playing any of his own material but, being a perfectionist, he’s saving those special numbers until he has them just right. He’s one of the few brave people to work on their music full time and I look forward to what he has to offer.
[Click here to listen to listen to our post gig natter]
Picnic Basket Nosedive, a lively four-piece who took the high roads and low roads from Loch Lomond, nose-dove into the arena in a riot of colour with a lead singer-cum-guitarist-cum-Korgtinkler; bass player/backing singer; lead guitarist and drummer. This band had me hooked at the name and then consolidated that curiousity with the liveliness of their performance. They seemed to relish the special atmosphere at Slains and used the floor space to their advantage, with all three guitarists whirling, jumping and stomping like petulant toddlers in mid tantrum.
The full band sound was impressive from any angle, all instruments being heard with a clarity and resonance only to be found in a converted church building. The songs were fun, self-deprecating and popular with the swelling numbers of punters. A particular favourite of mine was “Tip the Binman”, a clarion call to provide additional earnings for the drummer, whose day job is advertised in the title. They also resurrected Gina G in playing “Just a Little Bit”, sending everyone ecstatic at the catchy keyboard riff as well as reassuring them that this was a better version than the original. Their sense of enjoyment filtered outwards and upwards, shaking up the crowd ready for the next act.
[Click here to see what we got up to after the show]
Portsmouth punk rockers, The Bottom Line, burst onto the stage and at first seemed more introspective than the previous band. However, they put 100% into their music, stunning Slains with their hard hitting transatlantic sound. For a three-piece, they were very well rounded, tight in their changes of pace and extremely adept at stop-start song breaks, no mean feat on a stage with no monitor amps. The guitarist’s artistic and catchy riffery provided a melodic overlay to the pumping rhythm section and this got the crowd jumping as well as singing along.
The strong vocals shone through and they were as good as any modern punk band I’ve heard on either side of the Big Pond.
A keen touring band, the guys love straying from their home town and reveled in the atmosphere of a good Aberdeen audience in a special venue. They hope to take their punchy tunes across the Channel with a European tour in the near future but we’ll see them again in Aberdeen in April for sure.
[Click here to find out a bit more about the guys including names, dates and testicular volume]
Headliners, Crooked Little Vein, spunky punksmiths from Aberdeen, rounded off the night with the most energetic display of musicianship I’ve seen since Green Day played on a red-hot tin stage in bare feet.
The female lead vocalist climbed, swayed, crouched, leaped and perched her way through the set while hitting notes that would put a mezzo-soprano to shame.
The guitarist, resplendent in denim hot pants played (almost literally) blistering solos and surging chunky chords while providing a great view for the audience to the rear. The drummer, a thin white duke, beat out a solid backing while the bass player managed to weave and dance between his band-mates on the front line.
None of their onstage antics detracted anything from the songs, which were well executed, catchy and anthemic. They offered a big sound from a band clearly very comfortable with each other as well as their material and instruments. Audience interaction was a must and the lead singer managed to achieve this despite the height difference and the shortcomings of the microphone lead. Still, she managed to leave the enclave and find fans willing to dance, flirt or even sing.
Crooked Little Vein believe the secret to a good act is knowing their material, enthusiasm and connecting with the crowd. They did this and so much more, showing the surrounding crowd at Slains how a real band should be: in sight, in sound and in soul.
[Click here for an exclusive catch up, including some choice language which may offend some listeners as well as excite others]
A big thank you to Tom Shipp of Aberdeen Bands for his support and advice.
All text, photographs and audio by Dave Phillips, Esq.
Dave is an Earth-based writer, jinglesmith and entertainer currently existing in Aberdeen, Scotland.