Sunday, 29 May 2011

Gig Alert: Album Launch Party

Well I can’t contain myself – less than a week till the album launch!  After a year of agonisingly piecing together ‘Take No Thought For Tomorrow’, the wee bastard is finally ready to be set upon the world.  We’re celebrating with a launch party at Glasgow’s famous Oran Mor – which is apparently the church from Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.  It’s this Saturday – June 4th.  Make sure you get yourself a ticket in advance so you can be 100% guaranteed the rock music mayhem. 

As part of a showcase for the label we’re going to be joined by the other awesome Electric Honey bands - French Wives, Miniature Dinosaurs and Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers. 

Here’s the link for buying tickets – hopefully see you there.



Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Cultural Case for Independence

This article by no means represents the views of White Heath as a whole.  You can probably find the ideas expressed in it articulated by better informed and more eloquent people.  But, bless, it means well.

The news right now is focused strongly on the debate around the economic case for independence, as Alex Salmond begins the long game of political chess with the folk in London.  But whilst the stress builds towards fiscal autonomy and indy-lite, I’d like to set out what I believe to be the core justification for separatism, which is the cultural question of the Scottish dichotomy; more importantly I’m going to argue what this means for us as pop musicians.

Being a small country tacked onto a large one has not created a particularly virile compost for Scotland’s culture to take root.  Always reeling within the shadow of the vague and totalising concept of ‘Britishness’, as well as the nearby power of those many strong identities housed within ‘England’ (thought not, necessarily ‘Englishness’), poor auld Scotland has had a fair hard time coping.  Whilst England’s London builds The Shard and embraces a new, dynamic identity comprised of it’s rainbow multiculturalism and futuristic optimism, Scotland’s Edinburgh continues to wallow in the wet muck of folk music and Burns night.  By the way - did anyone see the editorial in the Scotsman the other day about modern architecture?  Jesus!  You see what I mean?  They'd have us living in huts!  

There’s a simple way of summing this up: it’s the difference between a ‘dynamic’ culture and an ‘essential’ culture.  By always being the little brother in the Union, Scotland has been forced to define itself against ‘Britishness’, with the result that it has to opt out from, and indeed almost be seen to resist, the fast changing and often hugely exciting landscape of contemporary England.  Our imaginations are plagued by the 'Haggis Culture’ which has been developed by our wish to, quite literally, ‘see ourselves as others see us’.  That is, we have been quite happy to encourage the idea that we are the provincial backdrop of the UK: we have embraced debasing ideas as forms of resistance to larger powers in our struggle for identity.  While Britishness and Englishness come to represent the greater conceits of Empire such as civilisation and progress, Scotland has taken up regressive ideas that debase our culture by making it something static and false.  We are the pastoral feminine energy to England’s civilising imperial drive.

This is obviously changing, and Scotland is moving towards a national, cultural and political self-realisation that will culminate in Independence.  These three factors are inseparable.  There is a distinct connection between Dundee allowing the new V&A building and the election of Nationalist politicians.  These are the signs of a country taking itself seriously for the first time.

As Scottish musicians (ie musicians living and working in Scotland) we have a responsibility to aid this changing climate for the better.

We must engage in dynamic ideas of national identity that refute the disgrace of ‘The Scotland Shop’ and ‘Ceildh Culture’.  Any nation defined by it’s past is damned to remain there.  We need to engage with our vibrant tradition of poetry and music through new, modern means: ones which succeed in taking age old ideas into a present context, and so re-invigorate them and bring them to life. 

This is already happening.  We just need to get on board.

James MacMillan is a composer who has brought this new, dynamic Scotland to the attention of the world stage.  By engaging ancient Scottish musical tropes with the language of modernism, he has created a style of music which is as evocative of the sublime as it is the post-modern: you hear peaks of corrie crags alongside the confusion of cities and industry.  Listen to this, one of his earlier pieces:

MacMillan fuses such ideas as Gaelic monody and folk ballad form with exciting new developments within the western classical tradition to create a picture of Scotland that is worthy of a brave new country.  But perhaps the thing that makes MacMillan such an enormous presence is his refusal to limit himself to Scotland.  True, it was ‘The Confession of Isobel Gowdie’ that made his name, but he is a composer that is equally at home in this re-energization of both plainchant and the drum solo:

What a guy.  We can all learn a good deal from his dynamism.  And though, as popular musicians, the luxury of the further reaches of his avant-garde experimentation are perhaps not afforded to us, we can still perhaps take inspiration from the way he has gone about finding his own art somewhere between the essential and the dynamic.

This has been a characteristic of the tradition of 20th century Scottish poetry also.  Folk like MacDiarmid and Morgan are emblems of what we should strive for as artists struggling to reinvent our tradition in a fast changing and falsely homogenous world.  MacDiarmid's idea that the Scots language hid a wild reserve of energy which could be harnessed into a modernizing literary force is a potent one: in his creation of a poetic 'synthetic Scots' he was able to transform the potential of the Scottish dialect to be something as shocking and innovative as the experiments of guys like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  The important thing to learn from this is that when one's cultural heritage is in such dire straits, it is not enough to simply reference and pay homage to tradition: you've gotta smelt down and re-forge it anew. 

As you can see, none of these are new ideas.  It’s all there for you.  It can be done.  We need to find new approaches towards self-representation through bold experimentation.  It’s not enough to just dress up folk music with modern instruments, which will no more cure our condition than the atrocities of bag rock.  It’s happened in other genres.  Let’s make it happen in rock and roll.

The first step to creating an intelligent and fair nation that one can be proud to be a member of, is to lay the cultural groundwork.  Though perhaps this seems to be primarily the job of writers and architects, one should not underestimate the importance of the role of popular musicians.  Ours is an art that can reach into every home and hook the repetitions of every radio device in the land.  With the approach that asserts “I Can” rather than “They Did”, we can start the road to creating something that is totally fucking awesome.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

O Waly, Waly

I was going to just post one of the many great versions of this song, but we were hanging out the other night and got time to record this pretty sweet cover of it.  Despite professing a strong hatred of Scottish folk, this is one of my favourite songs in the world right now - even though it was written in Scotland in the 1600's.  I love it, and am really proud of our specific interpretation of it.  It doesn't go down the lyrical, nostalgic road, and so loses a lot of the stoic poignancy; but I think it gains a lot in the emphasis on the dichotomy between boundless joy and small, ugly pain, that characterises the larger emotions of humanity when they get in relationships.  Here it is:

O Waly, Waly by whiteheathmusic

I originally came to it through Benjamin Britten's arrangement, which creates a sense of complex emotional significance with the smallest of means.  It's the first track on a CD of his that I got a couple of months ago, and I used to obstinately skip it in the belief it was just some standard Amish nonsense.  Check out him and his bf bringing it to life back in the day:

And that's pop music, right there (Britten's far superior version, that is, not ours).  You struggle for so long to write something interesting and beautiful, and then one day you pull the most infectious and incredible music out the end of your arse.  Perhaps the most difficult things to write are tunes like this: songs that manage to be painfully affecting with an effortless smallness.  

Anyway, hope you enjoy our version!  Thanks for checking it out.

Rock and roll indeed.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Story of 7:38am

A new single!  Which was of course always going to be the album’s other lightweight track, ‘7:38am’.  Though a fairly simple idea, this is the second oldest song on the album, and it’s had an interesting history from it's original inception to finally appearing on an big boy record.  Well, I use 'interesting' in the loosest terms's not so much a story as a sequence of very bland and commonplace events.

But before I drag you down our dank and sunless memory lane, take a moment to check out the video that Cosmic Joke made for the single's release.

So - once upon a time...

It was written about eight years ago in the Blairgowrie days of the band, if these were even the ‘days of the band’ at all.  Sean and I were there, complimented by a cellist, guitarist and drummer.  It was written much in the same way as Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ and Queen’s ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’: ie, in five minutes, to order, for a specific need. 

We were about to play what we thought would be our biggest show to date.  It was at a gala in a large park in Dundee.  By this description, our young minds imaginatively conjured up images of a Glastonbury-style festival, complete with a crowd that was chanting our names as we finished a long and triumphant set.  The problem was that we only had like five songs.  So, just before leaving we sat down and wrote ‘7:38am’.  It was, of course, totally rocking, with a big cello riff and really funky kit drums.  Unlike the present version, it’s main body was a jumpy, lively guitar strummed in compound time.  Rock music, man.  666!  YAHH!

Anyway, when we got to the ‘festival’ it turned out to be some fun park with a stage thrown in, the main purpose of which was to give the guys who were running it some work experience.  In the entire expanse of the field there were about 15 families with small children (all easily about twenty metres from the gig), a purple dinosaur, and a balloon salesman.  The guy in charge introduced us as ‘The Mediators’ and then put nothing through the P.A. except Sean’s voice.  It was disaster in the most thorough sense of the word, and to cap it all off we nearly crashed the car on the way back.

Aye well.  It was worth it for the song.  We originally named it ‘Cobwebs’, and it wasn’t till two years or so later that it gained it’s current title.  Sean and I had been fannying about as first year students one night – not doing anything particularly rad, just fannying – and we realised it was morning time already.  Too late to go to bed before we’d have to get up again, we went to record some songs in the laundry room ‘to harness the vibe’.  Yes, we were assholes, but so were you.

Anyway, as it happened the vibe was pretty good: bit of reverb, bit of stone, bit of glass.  Your classic laundry room feel.  The only song we ended up working on was ‘Cobwebs’, and we finished with a version that sounded sleepy and peaceful.  It was just an acoustic guitar fleshed out with lots of vocal harmonies, though with the same rhythm of our original version.  When we finished it the time was…well, I’m sure you can guess where this is going.

When I learnt to play piano we wrote a really nice keys riff that seemed to make a good case for changing it to 4/4, and when the rest of the guys joined us in the year after that this was the version we beefed up to full band proportions.  Check out this video of some pretty lassies having a dance to it.

It was around about this stage that it appeared on our EP ‘The Sea Wall’.  But after playing it at every show for two years, it was beginning to get a bit tired and old: we all knew that it wasn’t the most exiting of all possible arrangements.  When preparing to record ‘Take No Thought For Tomorrow’ we reexamined the fine details of every song, but there was something about ‘7:38am’ that wouldn’t budge.  It was too ingrained in everybody.  We’d played it so often that the muscle memory made us appreciate as something purely mechanical.  After a few abortive attempts at re-arranging it, we ignored the need to do so and gave up.

When we came back to it in the studio, Jim encouraged us to go right back to basics.  We spent a couple of days building it back from the bottom up, starting with a uke lick that Mark had been playing around the original chords.  Arranging in the studio is a god damn luxury: you get a much more objective view on how you want things to sound.  I think it’s because of this that we managed it’s sparse, empty feel, that is so different from what we normally do.

And last night we re-arranged it AGAIN, and it sounds more awesome than ever.  Adz on drums, anyone?  That's how you make rock music.

So – hope you enjoy it!  Ta ra!


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

GG – What The Critics Said

The first single from our album, GG, was released for free a couple of months ago on the internet, and has recently come out as a split single with Woodenbox and a Fistful of Fivers.

Though it may seem a strange choice of song to introduce folk to the album, we saw it as an opportunity to challenge people's expectations and provide a gateway for the mainstream to our unconventional sound.  

The critical reaction was mixed; in case you're interested I've got here a little digest of everything that was said.  Everything, that is, except the one from the Sunday Mail, which managed to appear positive without actually saying anything at all. seemed very excited, and despite some fairly unflattering comparisons (The Kooks and The Big Pink?) they dubbed it “a pretty excellent pop song.”  High regard for Sean’s lovely voice, and the assertion that GG is an excellent, optimistic debut single that outguns anything I hear in the charts right now.”  Big praise, though we were especially relieved to hear that “it’s not a compromised Faustian pact.  Dodged a bullet there.  Anyway - cheers guys.  Very kind.

Less warm was the response from The Edinburgh Reporter who seemed pleasantly surprised, if a little confused: “I was told a year or two back that White Heath…were sort of proggy.  If the new single is anything to go by, it would seem I was lied to.”  Don’t worry pal: the album versions got dragons on it an all.  Anyway, because of this they decided to sit pretty much on the fence, urging people to download it with the idea that “it’s only about two minutes long so if you hate it then you don’t have much to endure.”  Saying this, they did also mention that “GG is fun” and that “it contains synths.”  Well, what more do you people want?

The List took a similar vibe, awarding us three stars and calling it “gently tuneful guitar based indie.”  THE SHAME OF IT.

And then the Bluesbunny came along and blamed it all on Jim.  “A remarkably ordinary song from a remarkably inventive band. Apparently it was produced by some guy who produced Aberfeldy. Or maybe some guy who produced Biffy. Or some guy who thought that aiming a talented band at the stars wasn’t as good an idea as aiming them at the swamp of mediocrity.”  Ouch.  Bluesbunny!  I’m not sure what’s worse: the idea that we’re in a swamp, or that the swamp is so damn awful that he doesn’t believe we could have been dumb enough to dive in of our own volition.  It’s our bloody song!  The gentleman did, however, award us three carrots, so we won’t starve.
But it’s a fine-ass tune: download it here for free.  Next time I will tell you the tale of our new single 7:38am.  It’s totally awesome too.  Till then-