Saturday, February 2, 2019


If, like me, you find a tot of melancholia is the best pick-me-up on a frosty February morning, you could do a whole lot worse than immersing your ears in this fella. You may know him better as the vocalist and front man of Idlewild, that scottish institution of melodic and intelligent rock, but it is in his other guises I find more pleasure.

Broadly this what I call Glaswegiana (or Weegiana, the derivative), that melting pot of indie-rock and traditional folk, with generous side-orders of country, jazz and classical, anything really, dependent upon who's in town. You can find a fiddle as equally as an electric guitar, an accordion as a synthesiser and bagpipes as a saxophone. Drums, real or electronic, optional but often. Why (Glas)We(e)giana? Well, apart from tripping neatly off the tongue, much of it derives in or around Glasgow, Scotlands 2nd city, itself a melting pot, as the industrial revolution brought in waves of highlanders and irish, anyone dispossessed and looking for gainful, often the detritus of lives lost elsewhere. Whilst the music or musicians might not derive from the city, it is where it coalesces, a sort of hibernian delta triangle. Strong drink has never been far away from the heart of this city, and where there is drink, there is song. So there has always been rich and vibrant musical scene, the city being the breeding ground for bands as diverse as The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Simple Minds and Primal Scream. But it is after hours, after sell-out shows at such iconic venues at Barrowlands and King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut that the seeds of Weegiana tend to be sewn. The yearly Celtic Connections festival, 2 or 3 weeks of gigs and shows across the city, bears ample testament to this. Nominally a "Folk" festival, the list of names appearing shows just how wide a palette this term has become, and there are always specials, one-off commissions and collaborations  that typify my thesis. Here's this years programme. And the sessions, come-all-ye's of whoever has been playing each night, The Festival Club, held nightly at the Art School, from the time of curtain down at all those other venues until the wee hours, exemplify this still further.

But Woomble, more about him. From Irvine, an ancient burgh on the Ayrshire coast, south west of Glasgow, and with a somewhat peripatetic childhood, holidays in his parent's camper van and period of relocation to the states, he ended up in Edinburgh, where the nascent Idlewild came to germination. Hooking up with Colin Newton and Rod Jones, drummer and guitarist respectively, in 1995, the band were initially renowned more for enthusiasm than expertise: one famous early quote had them described as the "sound of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs". However, their gamut morphed relatively swiftly, with the endorsement of influential radio DJ, Steve Lamacq, from mere clatter to a clinging wraparound sound, evocative both of grunge and a powerpoppier sound, not dissimilar to early R.E.M. Indeed, such comparisons, as they lurched into the 2000s, became commonplace, with no diminishment by the comparison. I first came across them about this time, actually as support to R.E.M. in the late summer of 2003, playing at Old Trafford, in Manchester, UK, the home of Lancashire cricket club.

                                                        American English/Idlewild

I liked them, but I liked a whole lot the more folk tinged direction of his debut solo album, entitled the same as the song here featured, in 2006, songs soaked in the spray across windswept jetties of the scottish island, Mull, he had migrated to. In collaboration with others from both folk and rock backgrounds, this epitomised the scottishness my heart adheres to. Then, linking up with Kris Drever, from Lau, folktronica mavericks, and the mercurial John McCusker, fiddler extraordinaire, currently the delight of both the Transatlantic Sessions, another baby of Celtic Connections, and of Mark Knopfler's current band, they set off as a trio, album to follow. Along the way he joined the sprawling collective, Reindeer Section, the ensemble conglomeration of whomsoever Gary Lightbody, of Snow Patrol, could find in Glasgow during those years at the turn of the century: members of Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai and Arab Strap, amongst others.  Marvellous times indeed, encapsulated still further by his curatorship of 'Ballads of the Book', a 2007 album that brings together the cream of then scottish culture, both musically and literary. As well as members of band/individuals as disparate as Teenage Fanclub, King Creosote and the Incredible String Band, premier folkies like Alasdair Roberts and Karine Polwart were present, collaborating with writers such as A.L. Kennedy, Ian Rankin and more. Many names appear time and time again across all of Woomble's involvements, musicians unfettered by their day job, just wanting to play. In 2011, he continued his solo output with 'The Impossible Song and Other Songs', describing the process here.

                                                The Weight of Years/Ballad of the Books

I guess there is less money in such arty fare, and it was to Idlewild Woomble again returned, since which time he has bounced between the two, band and solo, gradually mingling the sources, a fiddle player now part of the live Idlewild experience, and newer Idlewild members appearing simultaneously in his solo band. And the style has narrowed between the two, as more albums appear, band and solo. I saw his solo show perhaps a year or so after "My Secret" , and it was all fiddles and acoustica, a glorious show, yet last year, to commemorate solo album number 4, "The Deluder", it was he and the current Idlewild bassist, Andrew Mitchell/Wasylyk on guitar, playing, largely, a lot of Idlewild songs in an unplugged format. (I picked up the Wasylyk album from the merch desk.....)
Idlewild are on tour this summer. I remain undecided.

Changing the tune a little, in case I find myself accidentally convincing myself I don't like Idlewild, here's Woomble himself, a fine writer, who has penned regular monthly columns for Glasgow's Sunday Herald newspaper, as well as keeping up a blog on his personal website, It's about breakfasts.

Get 'My Secret is My Silence' while you can.

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