I arrive, with my fellow journalist Uriah, at The Basement Coffee House in the comely surroundings of Ayr town on a clement Sunday night in late September, and they turn us loose inside to cover a night of three bands, the exponentially flourishing Culann, the rapidly up-and-coming but long-established Corvus Experiment and the relatively unknown Brothers.
Up a winding staircase into an attic-like room where the stage is situated, it’s quite a small venue for a band like Culann, recently crowned Best Alt. Act of the Year by SAMA, but that’s how we like it and there are some familiar faces in the crowd, including Will & The Wild Horse, (clutching a bottle of bourbon and garbed in a dishevelled hoody) and KA Radio’s Cheryl Scott, as well as the usual mix of groupies, photographers and techs. The bands are intermingled with the fans and as it’s BYOB, everybody sports bottles of whiskey or vodka and cans of beer or cider. Andrew opens his bag and triumphantly produces a crate of Strongbow which we immediately endeavour to make a considerable dent in, and among some shared sips from Wiley’s bourbon and some quick hellos to the guys in Culann and Corvus we’re ready for business!
Brothers take to the stage and they are a two-piece, I quickly ascertain from the crowd that there is no irony in their name, they are indeed two brothers, one on drums and one on guitar and vocals. For a two-piece they pack a punch, as I am about to discover. They hurtle straight in, taking no prisoners, with some very efficient drumming providing a solid vertebral column for the soaring guitar and vocals, the lyrics are sincere and the music is obviously earnest, which is the key to drawing in a listener of course. I’m immediately reminded of Placebo and there is a very modern edge to the tunesmithery of the siblings, obviously heavily inspired by their contemporaries, the indie-rock-and-roll bands of today’s ilk.
There is a lot of sound coming from just two instruments and two players and this is stressed repeatedly throughout my notes on the performance so it must have been my most striking impression at the time, look at The White Stripes, it can be done. After some furiously fast-paced finger-pickin’ on the strings, a swift change of guitars (delivered by a roadie, squatting to the side of the stage) and the frontman launches back into his art with the next song which is appropriately called ‘September’.
Uriah returns from scurrying around the walls and ceilings snapping off photos, and informs me that he interviewed these guys back in his college days when they were called From Now On, first with the finger on the pulse as always Uriah! Brothers are riding the artistic visionary method of the loud-quiet-loud-quiet approach established by such notables as the Pixies and Nirvana and subsequently followed by groups like Kings of Leon and Foo Fighters, and Brothers are championing this method now with remarkable effect. Another guitar-swap with the roadie and Corvus are heard grumbling behind me, jokingly ‘’Why the fuck haven’t we got a roadie?’’.
There are some pretty nifty guitar skills coruscating out of the frontman now and as the tidal wave of sound trembles throughout the foundations of the building more and more people are filing in and the place is filling up nicely, the sound on stage is grunge and heavy rock making aggressive, disturbing love to pop hooks and floating melodies that have currently played out into a raging distortion that crescendos into an almost psychedelic-punk freak-out that spasms and twists back into some harmonious singing and easy-going melody, the guitar is varied-sounding and meshes well with a drummer who is diversely-skilled on the skins.
So whether you’re into punk, grunge, rock, metal or indie, these guys have it all. We catch up with them outside and try to find out their influences, we are met perhaps acerbically with a reply of ‘’Biffy Clyro, Shania Twain, Prince and Beyonce.’’ Good answer, I like it, there are definite shades of Beyonce and Shania Twain in their sound, haha. Brothers are currently touring and their EP ‘September’ featuring the track ‘Garden State’ (influenced by the movie) is available on iTunes and everywhere.
Now, this gonzo-journalist has been following The Corvus Experiment very closely and personally for the past year, as they’ve went from strength to strength, pillar to pillar, platform to platform, building their momentum into a towering tempest of tremendous talent, touting transcendence and integrity, traversing their trail-blazing tapestry of transcortical tunes on regular tour-dates across the rain-beaten Scottish landscape.
There is no reason why this ensemble of gifted musicians shouldn’t break-through very soon, spearheaded by one of the most endowed unsigned musicians I have ever met in person, Hellfire’s own Mr.Will Johnstone. The Corvus conglomerate crawl onto the stage and coagulate into a bristling armoury of guitars and drums. They start off jokingly with some weird rap music before Will’s signature trippy-guitar sound echoes dreamily in and then proceeds to lapse into some wonderfully roaring riffage, so heavy you can taste it in your mouth like the metallic quality to the air before a violent lightning strike! Some epic, progressive instrumentalism from the multi-mentalist Will J, backed by spacey, magnificent, moody bass-playing full of character and style.
Dean’s fingers are working that fretboard like Da Vinci working a blank canvas and Shakes is one of the most extraordinary drummers in the local scene and beyond, and he is providing a speedy, rugged and delightfully destructive backdrop to the two guitarists who are as skilled with their instruments as a Jedi with a lightsaber. Despite problems with the vocals during the first song via a faulty microphone, the music alone is enough to carry the performance, adroitly delivered as it is. The mike is sorted out and BOOM! That intense, breathtaking and idiosyncratic voice of Will’s joins the battle and the whole outfit takes shape into a growling, storming, fire-breathing chimera, looming over the crowd, a musical monster.
Corvus are three individuals that form together to make a formidable beast! The ax-handle totin’ Will Johnstone is the head sorcerer and he is backed by two magicians of musicians in Shakes and Deano – and as I gaze out of the window onto the streetlight-mottled river below I’m overcome by a bizarre sensation of…unbearable beauty, it is instilled by The Corvus’ poignant lyrics and powerful music. The brotherhood of the bass and drums complimenting the stand-alone luminary brilliance of Will perfectly. It is a rushed, but no less spectacular performance.
I mill through the crowd and listen to the comments of the spectators, mostly the drumming is being complimented, and with good reason, Shakes (who is sporting a cool new skinhead and flatcap look) is very impressive behind his kit and at wielding those sticks. The closing song is heavy, melodic and atmospheric, and while we’re on that word it is the word to describe the Corvus sound – atmospheric.
Listening to them is like listening to the heavy-metal movie soundtrack for a space shuttle launch, they take you into the stratosphere until your head is swimming with stars and solar systems. A curious, rattling, Topper Headon-like drum solo jerks me back into the room from orbit and it is followed up nicely with some intensely sick almost Naked City level of heavy psychedelic rock which will blow your ear drums and leave a lasting impression that will linger on, like spots before your eyes from looking too directly into the sun…
A short interlude and after having the privilege of smelling drummer Sean’s pre-show shite in the toilet, haha, I go back upstairs to catch Culann. The band I have now had the benefit of seeing three times, take to the stage with a full-frontal assault, an attack with guitars!
The captivating sound of Culann is created through loud and rocking riffs complimented by gentle, melodious breakdowns, both of which are pleasing on the ear in totally different ways. Their keyboardist is still the most impressive in the business today and I have waxed lyrical about his fabulous skill in previous reviews and with good reason, he blows my mind every time. The place has filled right up with the advent of Culann and their drawing sound will bring the rats to the tune of the piper time and time again. Lead vocalist PJ packs a powerful, penetrating punch in his Panthalassa of a voice which he pours out for the pantheon of Culann supporters around him, like a universal sea surrounding a postulated supercontinent of music-lovers.
There’s a definite punk ethic in a lot of the changes and bridges one Culann song will undergo, keeping it lively and moving, Culann’s music is ever-moving, it doesn’t stand still or on ceremony for one second, the key is perpetual motion, alacrity! The fact that a band this incipiently huge are willing to play balls-out to a fairly small crowd is testament to their integrity.
They are becoming to Scotland what Pearl Jam was to Seattle. But in Culann, we have folksy-roots and rock-hardened-riffs forged in the celtic heat of anthemic tunes and overlayed with rocketing vocals and home-grown lyrics. The keyboard is so impactful it might as well be a set of bagpipes!
This band are the greatest thing to come out of Scotland in the past few years and as they dive into signature song ‘Jerusalem’ (my favourite) PJ puts his heart into his art belting out his lyrics with defiance. The key-changes are so professionally delivered – building, building, building – until you can’t take any more, then RELEASE! Peaking like a good acid trip then bringing you back down gently before, ZANG! A second wave, out of nowhere, reminding you of the potency of this dazzling drug that is Culann’s music.
The crowd interaction is seamless so ‘Taps aff!’ for the next song and the keyboard once again proves its unmistakeable worth by going off on a whimsically Mozart-like solo before reuniting again with the trademark, central, solid sound of the band, the grinding, growling, glorious chorus of hounds that is Culann, this is what makes them so fucking unique and worth seeing every time! Will Johnstone and I stand dumbfounded and bask in the band’s brilliance, they know how to rock heavy loud and smoothly quiet with unequivocal genius and seamless timing.
Culann’s future is off in the snow-capped peaks of musical prominence, especially in this country, so get out and see them wherever they are playing whenever you can. You won’t be disappointed, and if you are, you’re probably more suited to going to a One Direction concert you king-hell-bastard of a monumental fuckwit! Get the fuck outta’ here…
See ya’ in the pit!
Originally published on NHC Music 29th September 2013