Gig: Oxjam Music Festival (various venues, Ashton Lane, Glasgow, 26/10/08)

I spent six hours of yesterday’s Oxfam organized Oxjam Music Festival spending a semi-nomadic existence, flitting from bar to bar and trying to catch as many of the sixty or so acts on offer as I could. What I did see was a mere fraction – it couldn’t have been anything else. The general standard was very high – even those acts I didn’t particularly care for had some kind of personal twist on the kind of music they were playing. What was notably absent were any bands who could be pinned down as obvious acolytes of more well-known groups.

Eclecticism and individuality have always been the Glasgow music scene’s strongest suits. In Manchester, for example, if you saw an up-and-coming band in the late eighties, there was a high probability that they would fit neatly into the dance-rock baggy scene. Five years later, it was all trad-rock Oasis clones. It’s never been like that here. Granted, the city lacks the cosmopolitan nature of London, and Latin, hip-hop and R ‘n’ B don’t have anything like the same influence that they do there. Glasgow music is rooted in Celtic folk, country and American rock. But always with a twist.

El Dog‘s emotional soft-rock isn’t really my thing. The two singers had a strong sense of harmony, though, and the songs were short and flab-free. I enjoyed them far more than I thought I would. Tiny Montgomery were in some ways the opposite. Taking a jazzy, acoustic funk backdrop and adding a singer straight out of nu white soul central casting promised more than it delivered. Think early Massive Attack or Zero Seven, but with more soul and less hip-hop. It had its moments, particularly the bass groove to set closer “Throw Yourself Down”, but the music somehow lacked focus. Having said that, they seem to me to have a lot of potential.

A lot of the best acts had a definite country influence, but not always in an obvious way. Rags and Feathers – with a guitar / bass / autoharp line-up – looked like a 21st century take on the Carter Family, but had more in common with the Handsome Family. Country-ish, sure, but with a knowing, dark humour. Le Reno Amps‘ cowpunk with harmonies was also a lot of fun. Just two of them, trading vocals like the Everly Brothers, and guitar licks like Hendrix, they were both goofy and visceral.

The best two acts, for me, both played at the cavernous Loft – “like playing at gig at Wetherspoon’s” one remarked, quite accurately. Withered Hand lined up guitar and vocals, banjo, cello and drums. It looked odd, but sounded rich and full. There was a touch of Levellers about them, but the comparison that came to my mind was a kind of hillbilly Flaming Lips – or Flaming Hicks, if you will. They were damn good.

Meursault introduced something I’ve never seen before. The percussion was provided by a guy sat astride a big hi-fi speaker and playing it like the bongos. It sounded ace – big, cracking, bassy beats. When he wasn’t involved, he spent his time eating jam tarts and carrots. They too had a banjo and also a ukulele, but the main focus was on the singer/guitarist. Fast, strident and loud acoustic punk, but with much more subtlety than that description suggests. It was exciting, uplifting music. My only criticism would be that the supporting trio were a little underused – a couple of songs they were sat doing nothing (or eating jam tarts and carrots). Definitely the musical highlight for me.

There were other acts I saw snatches of – but not enough to give a fair assessment of. I only saw one song by trio Sparrow and the Workshop, but was very impressed by the singer. She has the same kind of smoky quality to her voice as Cat Power, but with about ten times the lung capacity!

I don’t know how much was raised. Entry to everything was free, but there was a small army of volunteers with collecting tins. “Make Music, Make Money, Fight Poverty” was the slogan. The first part was passed with flying colours – hopefully the second part too. The third – not so easy.

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