Now, two years later, it already seems like a lifetime. When we went to see Culann that night, Will Johnstone and I, I had never even heard of them, let alone heard them, who’d have thought, two years later, they’d have gained such a prodigious following of fans, gigged at such prestigious venues as King Tut’s, won SAMA awards and played to thousands at Celtic’s football stadium before a match! Well, I thought, as soon as I heard them, and they have, and they are here tonight, in the humble surroundings of Broadcast, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, ready to rock the fucking joint down once more.
Once more, before, I’m told, they take a slight break to write, and rest, and recuperate, before a return to gigging in spring next year, with an appropriately vernal new offering, like spring rejuvenated it will be an invigorating new side to Culann for the fans. How do I know this? Because I recognised a sharpness in Culann’s sound that night, a tight, increasingly-experienced and blossoming talent just waiting to unfold… hidden there, I hear it, in the polished edge to their recent, familiar stuff, and resplendent in their new material, it’s subtle, like the zephyr, but it’s there…I sense great things await us from Culann, once again, and probably many times more.
When I arrived at Broadcast I said my hellos to PJ and Sean Kelly and the lads, and was unreasonably early, so I lost myself in whiskey’s golden hue until the bands started about 7.45pm. The place was fairly bustling and alive, and the floor was packed enough downstairs for a comely and intimate but crowded gig, this is Culann’s second sell-out gig at this venue and I was at the first one too, and lucky enough to have been around the past couple of years for the band’s steady, but inexorable climb upwards, witnessing it unfold from the bleachers. It’s my fourth time seeing them, but rather than being desensitised to their set, they switched gears on me that night and took me completely by surprise…
I spoke to PJ before the first band went on; about overpriced tickets of mainstream bands like Foo Fighters and Fleetwood Mac, about ‘vintage’ Culann tees, about Fat Mike kicking that guy in the face, and most importantly about playing Celtic Park, which was a massive buzz for the boys of the banner. Playing at the Celtic vs Red Bull Salzburg game in front of thousands and thousands of fans, just before kickoff, must have been a very surreal and exciting experience, but one deserved of such a talented band – their music should be heard by many more than what could fill that stadium, as they never disappoint, on record and certainly not live! Though PJ remains humble about the experience, saying ‘It’ll probably be the biggest crowd we ever get to play to…’ Personally, I suspect Culann will reach dizzier heights than that yet…
PJ went off to do his pre-show warm ups, or whatever it is musicians do before they go on stage, a variety of things from what I understand – and I took up place at the bar. Opting to take a backseat and observe like a real writer tonight, no matter how much Culann’s music will tear at me with the urge to get down the front and mosh, I intended to resist, and simply survey. I seem to have drank myself sober over the week’s proceedings anyway, so it’s nice to take a back seat for a change while the other fans have the fun at the front, and the service in Broadcast is generally good, with very reasonably priced drinks, so I’m kept well lubricated, as any journalist should be.
Drummer, Sean Kelly, is at the bar, switching from beer to Red Bull to keep it together for the gig, and gathering the vigour for the tempest of energy he will unleash on the drums later, he goes off to eat his pre-show burger and my photographer hasn’t turned up because he is still in the huff from me tattooing ‘love’ and ‘hate’ on his knuckles while he slept (it was only henna ink, comes off in a couple of weeks!), but some amazing footage of the gig was captured by Andy Mills Photography & Media and he has kindly supplied some from his own archive for NHC, so check out and like his page as you can see he is very good at what he does https://www.facebook.com/AndyMillsMedia
Braving it alone is giving me time to drink into the bar’s bourbon supply, and drink in the surroundings, Culann’s diversity in their music draws a mixed-bag-of-a-crowd, from old and young, punk to ned and everything in between. Everyone quietens down as a lone figure takes to the stage clutching a guitar and the lights dim…
WHEN I WAS YOUNG
A sensuous, floating, ethereal, but great and mellifluous voice full of golden charm and Scottish rootsiness emanates from the stage, accompanied by the delicate plucking of the strings. The vibrating riffs are hammering, yet soft at the same time. Sibilating right through you, the singer is not afraid to let his voice out and it fills the room with its resonance – cleverly, during all this, the band are filing on stage and donning their instruments around him as he warms the crowd up with his reverberating voice and guitar. When they kick in, they sort of remind me of a Scottish Jimmy Eat World in many ways, and seemingly multi-instrumental as the singer swaps his guitar for some keys as the band create a nice, heavy Placebo effect to the sound.
The frontman informs us that they have only been a band for a couple of months – which is impressive, as they manage almost with veteran ability to cover up a gap as a string breaks or something, seamlessly telling jokes to smooth over the slightest of delays. They get back on it without much ceremony and suddenly speed up into a cycle of grinding pop-power riffs, with some serious punk-style to the guitar work. It’s hard to believe that a four piece band that have been together so little time could sound so progressive already! Despite their shaky start they recovered phenomenally well, and started to get everyone moving, they reminded me a bit of Unwritten Law, and Unsung Zeros, and there was some stand-out tracks in the set I’d like to hear again.
Overall, thoroughly impressed by When I Was Young, and looking forward to more from them in the future. Check out their Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/When-I-was-Young/794561557269428?fref=ts.
Back at the bar, I ran into a couple of old friends and it turns out they knew Culann too and the band were at their wedding, what a small world eh! We all arm ourselves with drink from the makeshift but reasonably well-stocked temporary bar at the back, and edge forward a bit for the next band, a four piece band called…
…Fast-paced pop-punk, with punchy power-hooks to start off splendidly, and good, whining punk vocals with a heavy-rock backdrop. They announce their album ‘Before The Encore’ is available for download and state that the album is eighteen months old, and as they are a bit fed-up playing the songs on it they were going to play some new stuff – which suited everyone fine, in fact, I prefer the sound of the new stuff to the first one they played anyway. I start to realise now, as I pay more attention, something pretty fucking good is going on up there, I especially notice the talent of the bassist, who is not a kick-in-the-arse of doing some Les Claypool shit on that stage! Making the guitar seem like a six string with dexterous fingers…slappin’, tappin’ whammy bar bends.
They smash in now overwhelmingly good, with a rhapsody of rocking, rollicking, roaring riffage! A song that wouldn’t be out of place high up in the indie charts for its instantly likeable sound, it’s a hit – a nice number, putting the roll in the rock with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones-esque basslines, strummed with fingers of alacrity.
Every time the band start a new song, I’m drawn in immediately by the intros, this is a great sign as it makes you pay attention to the song straight away. As the band find their swing I’m finding their music as invigorating as the wedges of lime I’m sucking the booze out of at the bottom of my whiskey glasses.
I love it when a band throw in a good cover, and this time they do it with effortless aplomb, tricking us by making some joke about doing a cover of Soulwax or something, then they unexpectedly launch into something REM-ish, that I mistake for Blondie at first, but then the tune finds itself and I suddenly realise what I’m listening to! It’s ‘Psycho Killer’ by Talking Heads! And what a fucking cracking version they deliver as well! The singer sounds even better with the David Byrne overtones to his vocals. And then they mix it up again, infusing a heavy, driving White Stripes riff into the song, it’s ‘The Hardest Button to Button’, and then I realise excitedly they’re doing a rock covers medley, the best kind of cover there is – lots of covers in one, and harder obviously, to pull off than your average carbon copy cover, and they pull it off with perfection. They blend a few more into the mixture, which I don’t remember or didn’t know, and then they close it off nicely again, diving headfirst back into ‘Psycho Killer’ for a final verse.
The band say the bassist Kenny is a nuclear physicist who likes smashing particles together, well tonight he’s smashing riffs together like a sculptor in the grips of an acid frenzy. The band are keeping the crowd on their toes as their next song has a sort of sinister reggae/ska feel to it, and kicks in all new-wave, smattered with heady, heavy, poppy and punky rock music.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ripley and would encourage anyone to see them…check out their page here and give it a like https://www.facebook.com/RipleyUk/info?tab=page_info and as they depart I feel a tingle, as Culann are due to ‘up the banner’!
Sweet reverie – as the sound of Culann wells up from the depths and out of the stage. Such well-structured and easy-listening yet fucking banging music that they manage to paradoxically align masterfully. As usual, their sound is always changing, always rising, always peaking, White Rabbit style in its grace, the sound of Culann – never losing your attention with its twists and torques. Such soaring powerful vocals and soundscapes, conjuring up acid-fletched visuals of rolling peaks and valleys of purple Scottish moors, the boys from Irvine know how to create atmosphere in their music, and that’s very, very important. Culann smash it out of the ballpark (the football ground even) as soon as they erupt in front of you, then you know it’s on. Taking you hurling with them through growling guitar gauntlets, provided by Greg Irish and singer PJ, and a deftly-played bass in the hands of Calum Davis, bouncing, bruising, Black Sabbath-like basslines to beatify the bellowing vocals that belie the breast from whence they came, all this to the thunderous percussion of Sean’s relentless and tireless, expert drumming.
Ross McCluskie is one of my favourite keyboardists on the scene today, he is a real Lord of the Keys whom I always look forward to seeing play. He is, to me, Scotland’s answer to Rick Wright, and he does that bold statement justice, when the boys have a bit of a technical difficulty with the mikes and he plays a wonderful waltzing piano solo, which leads into the band jamming together, and in an eerily Floydian stance they start playing the most hauntingly beautiful, psychedelic, progressive and original live instrumental music I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s just improvisation as well! Can’t help but wonder what they’d come up with if they experimented with some LSD and wrote their Sgt.Pepper’s, haha, judging by that performance, something very unique indeed. But moving swiftly on…
Every time I hear Culann their sound gets tighter and tighter and keeps on improving, bit by bit, it surprises me every time. Their songs flow together greatly with concept-album-dexterity. Culann are not ones, once they get going, musically, to rest on their laurels. All the members are skilled no-end at their instruments, faultless and highly talented. One minute, they’ll be full on rocking the fuck out, verging on heavy metal, then other times they’ll take you through melodious meandering mindscapes. Grand, sweeping and enthralling keyboard solos and gloriously grungy guitars that can knock the shit out of any other band on the Scottish alternative rock scene.
No matter what you’re into; metal, grunge, punk, pop, rock, prog, psychedelia, folk, celtic… Culann can deliver. They mix it up constantly, keeping any audience entertained no matter how many times you see them, and when they finally throw in my favourite song of theirs, ‘Jerusalem’, the crowd blows a fuse, and it is perfection. ‘Jerusalem’ is a galvanising, anthem of a live song, and to hear it delivered in such deafeningly close quarters is wonderfully overwhelming, so I stand back and bask in its warmth and the warmth of my somethingth whiskey of the night, and the band play out, another successful gig under their belt, seemingly effortlessly.
The band gained another new fan that night as my girlfriend came over after her work and popped her Culann cherry, falling in love with their sound as I thought she might. How could you not, with such energetic and electrifying eclecticism as this? Another truly amazing gig, from a band that just get better and better in my book… thank you guys.
Look out for news of Culann’s upcoming new releases in 2015 through NHC and through the band’s pages and their twitter etc. links at the bottom as always. And keep your eyes decorticated for a small, intimate Culann tour starting March – grab your tickets quickly, as they sell out fast, and so they should, as more and more people realise, that Culann are Scotland’s best kept secret, our hidden weapon against the X-Factor muppets and dross that mucks up the scene. Culann are pure and driven – like the finest Colombian snow – and with the same intoxicating effect.
Please check out pages below, as well as the links under that for previous Gonzo Division Culann reviews/interviews and videos.
Seeya’ in the pit, up the banner!
PJ Kelly ~ Vocs and guitar
Sean Kelly ~ Drums
Greg Irish ~ Guitar
Ross McCluskie ~ Keys
Calum Davis ~ Bass
Originally published on NHC Music 02/12/2014