When I met up with Dave last Saturday evening, we spent some time thinking about the last time we had met up. We weren’t able to put a date or even a year on it, but we reckoned it must have been 2006 or 2007. I had been up in Aberdeen with Alex, probably visiting Grandma McLean, and Dave came to meet us at the Inversnecky Cafe on the Esplanade. Remembering the Inversnecky planed an idea in my head. Instead of having a lazy morning with maybe a bit of shopping the following morning, I got up in reasonable time and went out for a walk instead.
My first stop was a beautiful piece of graffiti I had spotted from my hotel window. It covers the maintenance door of the multi-storey car park on Denburn Road.
I didn’t go down into the harbour, but walked along the A956 and up Beach Boulevard to the Esplanade, where I had a lovely full Scottish breakfast at the Inversnecky and read my book. I noticed the joke on the chalkboard outside (“I bought my wife a new fridge for Christmas. I can’t wait to see her face light up when she opens it”), but I hadn’t realized that the café has become a social media phenomenon as a result.
I walked along the Esplanade for a bit, then cut down past Pittodrie and along Golf Road to the flat where my grandparents Sutherland used to live.
Along School Road, and back to Union Street via King Street. Not a super long walk, but enough to give me a blast of Aberdeen memories. There is something about the granite buildings with their occasional towers and crenellations that make the old town feel slightly out of time. The granite is so solid and constant that old and new buildings look like they are of the same age. This might be what a city would look like if a middle-age fortress mentality had persisted into the twentieth century.
Any band that stays together long enough becomes its own tribute band. The danger of being a tribute band is the audience shows up for just the hits. I saw this when we went to see The Who at the Ziggo Dome a couple of years ago, when they were doing a special “Quadrophenia And More” tour. I love Quadrophenia, but most of the crowd didn’t wake up until the band finished their main set and launched into the “…And More” section. You know, “Who Are You”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, etc.
I got that same feeling at the AECC on Saturday evening seeing Deacon Blue. Although I don’t think their latest album, Believers, is quite so strong, their previous one, A New House, is one of their very best. I like it when bands keep moving forwards. When I see them live, I want to hear their new material as well as the old songs. At the AECC, although the crowd nearly lifted the roof off for songs like “Fergus Sings The Blues” and “Dignity”, for quieter new songs like “Birds” it seemed like everyone decided it was time to talk amongst themselves. The audience was almost as loud as the band. This may have been down to the venue, which is basically a shed. It’s built for cattle markets, not concerts. No cloakroom, no lockers, or anywhere to stash your coat on a freezing Aberdeen evening. The stage looked hastily thrown together, and the sound was loud but thin. Ricky Ross said it was the biggest venue that Deacon Blue were playing on this tour. He wisely stayed quiet about which one was their favourite.
Maybe I was just projecting my own gig fatigue and a sense of dissatisfaction about the venue, but the band looked…tired and bored. Now, I have loved Deacon Blue since Raintown. When The World Knows Your Name was released in my last year at secondary school, and I vividly remember it playing in my head when a couple of friends and I came to Scotland to walk the West Highland Way just after graduation. As a teenage Scot living in the Netherlands, trying to figure out where I belonged, the band struck me in a very emotional place. I should have been much more excited about finally seeing them live, but in the end it felt more like a tick in the box.
One of the problems with seeing concerts in rapid succession is a certain feeling of obligation: I should get in the mood for an upcoming concert by listening to the band’s music. But the timing doesn’t always work out. In the days after the Frightened Rabbit gig earlier in that same week, all I wanted to listen to was more Frightened Rabbit. And on the day of my journey to Aberdeen I found that the only album I’d downloaded on Spotify for offline use was the new We got it from here… by A Tribe Called Quest, and I spent the whole trip listening to that, and loving it more and more on every play.
Although it was Deacon Blue’s concert that drew me to Aberdeen last weekend, it was everything else around the gig that made the trip worthwhile. The train ride up the East Coast in the afternoon was lovely and relaxing (even though Scotrail cancelled the first class service I had booked). In Aberdeen, I met up with Dave(Hi Dave!), whom I haven’t seen for about ten years. We met at the delightful CASC bar and talked for hours, stretching the time up to the point where I had to take a taxi out to the AECC instead of taking a bus or walking. Seeing Dave again, and picking up the friendship like hardly a day had passed, was the highlight of the weekend. (And I’m not just saying that because he’s watching.) After the gig ended, I took a “gig and go” bus back to Union Street, which was positively buzzing with people in a party atmosphere. It was great to see Aberdeen so vibrant. The next day I took a lovely walk, and had another nice train ride down to Dundee, and stayed with Mum & Dad overnight.
So: regrets? No. Would I go and see Deacon Blue again? Maybe, if the venue was right.
PS: Gregor Philp, who plays guitar with Deacon Blue, looks quite disturbingly like Nigel Eccles, CEO of FanDuel. At least from a distance. It was quite distracting. Every time I’d look over to stage right, I’d wonder where Nigel had picked up those licks, and whether the board knew he was moonlighting at the weekends. Go on, tell me I’m wrong.
Funny story about my memory: after seeing The Joy Formidable in May I had a drink with my colleague Mike, and we talked about music and concerts. Turns out he loves Frightened Rabbit, too! We said how much we would love to see them live some time. Except I did see them in the Kleine Zaal of Paradiso in 2012, and had forgotten about the gig entirely. If I dig far enough I can come up with the vague recollection that they didn’t have any merch on sale, and that I was disappointed by that fact. But apart from that? Nothing.
This lapse doesn’t bother me because it’s a symptom of the inevitable slide into old age and where did I put my teeth. It’s more that if I don’t remember the experience of seeing my favourite bands live, what is the point of going in the first place?
Of course, I don’t remember every single meal I have eaten or every walk I have taken, either, and that doesn’t mean those things were useless. Taking the time to feed one’s soul is important as a regular activity even when it doesn’t turn out to be a life-changing experience.
This gap in my memory makes an interesting contrast with the well-formed memories I have of concerts that I have written about here on my blog. Back in 2012 I may have held their set list in memory long enough to write it down, but without any more context, it faded very quickly. In the last couple of years I have got in the habit of taking pictures at gigs and writing about them. Even if the pictures are blurry and the words are minimal, the practice of spending time thinking about what I am going to say and what photographs I will choose to represent it, fixes the event more firmly in my memory. (Which is actually the whole point of this blog nowadays anyway. The strapline I maintained until recently was “I’m doing this for me, not you.” I used to write things in the hope they would get read; now I write to remember.)
To be honest, sometimes this feels like a burden. Every gig has a certain amount of overhead and homework to do after I come home. Also, I think I’ve overdosed on concerts this year. Large arena gigs in particular are starting to feel like work rather than an exciting evening out.
So there were a number of factors that made me less enthusiastic that I could have been going to Tolhuistuin last Monday evening. Gig fatigue, general day-to-day tiredness (it’s winter) and work exhaustion, embarrassment over having forgotten their last gig, and a feeling that I didn’t like their new album Painting of a Panic Attack as much as their earlier efforts.
Spoiler: it all worked out fine, and I had a great time.
Paradiso Noord, aka Tolhuistuin is actually really easy to get to from here. It’s on the right (North) side of the IJ, and the car parking for the A’DAM Tower is plentiful and close by. If I was less lazy (or maybe if I had finished work earlier), I would have cycled, but there you go. I didn’t get there in time to see all of PAWS’ opening set, but they have never really been my taste anyway. (Sorry guys.)
Frightened Rabbit opened with “Get Out”, which I think is still my favourite track from Painting of a Panic Attack. (Haunting video.). There was a knot of folk right in front of the stage who were very excited and adoring, and kept clamoring for particular songs. Scott Hutchison appreciated the excitement, but he was a bit put off by the interruptions. “We’re not your wedding band!” he declared. This didn’t stop the fans from passing him a birthday card they wanted him to sign after the gig, and from placing down a line of shots on the stage in front of him just as the band were playing “I Wish I Was Sober”. “I’ve no idea what’s in this,” Scott said, shrugging it off. (He did bravely down one later in the gig, though.) I think it was “Head Rolls Off” they wanted him to play, because when the band played it they all went a bit wild. It has a line that resonates very strongly with me, too: “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.”
The rest of the set was fantastic, too, with a mix of slower numbers and foot-stompers like “Nothing Like You” and “The Loneliness and the Scream”. I really should stick to small venues. There is nothing like being so close to the stage.
Before the gig I had checked out the merch stand, as I always do. Aside from the lovely T-shirts and posters, they also had a one-of-a-kind item on the table. A used drum head, signed by the whole band, and illustrated by Scott. It was being auctoned off for charity, with proceeds going to the Scottish Refugee Council. There was a bid sheet next to it, and no-one had made an offer on it yet. “Hmm,” I thought to myself.
Throughout the evening I loved watching Grant Hutchison on the drums. He keeps up a fantastic rhythm on the pedals, which was something I always struggled with when I was still playing. (It’s being close to the stage at a gig that makes me miss having a kit.) When the gig was over I moseyed over to the merch table again, and was surprised to see that still no-one had bid on the drum head. I asked how the auction worked: put your name, phone number, and a bid down, and the highest bid gets it. The woman behind the table said that they’d probably finish it up in about ten or fifteen minutes. What else could I do? I bought the T-shirt and poster I wanted, counted how much cash I had left (€40), and wrote it down. Fifteen minutes later, as they were packing up the merch stand, I was the only one who had bid, so I got it. I’m delighted to have got a unique souvenir, and to have given some money to a great charity.
I think it’s fair to say that this gig won’t slip from my memory like the last one did.