Saturday, May 17, 2014

Save my soul with Rock 'n' Roll - Medals in Irvine (Scotland)

YAY .... finally again a travel issue of the "Save my soul ... " gig series! 

Medals live at the HAC in Irvine. Scotland

There is no way  to describe it nicely, but until May 2014 was a pile of shit. I was sick for solid eight weeks - two of them the knocked out and drugged up type of ill - and that would be usually enough for 3 to 4 average years. On top of the fun there was and is lots of trouble at the work place and a couple of really shattering things happened to people close to me. It was just not a good time.

One morning in late April I found out about what theoretically could have been the cure of all evil: Biffy Clyro would play an acoustic gig at the legendary King Tut's in Glasgow celebrating the (re)launch of XFM Scotland.
THAT was something .... I have been to a lot of Biffy shows from very big to very small venues, but no hometown gig and no acoustic show yet. The only 200 tickets for this event would not go on sale but given away in a couple of competitions which means: MADNESS. My friends and I tried everything possible and impossible to get tickets, but it worked out only for a very very few of us.

On Good Friday - still ticketless - I went to my sister's for Easter when in the early afternoon my cellphone started to dance on the table in some kind of crazy buzz with dozens of messages dropping in all at the same time: Breaking news - Medals, the recent project of Sucioperro's JP Reid, would have their first ever live show supporting Biffy at King Tut's (All about how much I love the Medals debut album "Disguises" can be read here and that I am a massive Sooch fan is no secret either.)
With that having no tickets turned from "really sad" to "complete nightmare". We all now tried even harder to get our hands on those diamond dust like wristbands, but there was simply no way and no luck for pretty much all of us. 2014 felt worse than ever.

The day of the show came and I could do nothing but starring at my phone waiting for the messages and pictures dropping in from the very few lucky ones of my friends who had managed to get in and they did and with them good news:  
Medals would have another gig - the first ever headliner show - on Friday May 9 in Irvine (a small town on the Scottish West Coast).
Logistically that was a challenge but I wanted to hear those songs live since they were released and I was really in the need of a nice gig trip to cheer myself up. Thankfully I have amazing friends and within 48 hrs the whole Irvine thing started to shape up: My friend Claire would give me a lift up North from Manchester. I would get there by train from London, where I was for work anyway that week - and we would be not the only ones traveling. The little hotel next to the venue was booked out in no time and of course lots of the Glasgow area based pals would come around, too. Finally ... good times around the corner!

When May 9 came everything went like planned. The adventure part of the trip started then with passing the "Welcome to Scotland" sign which was btw a first for me. I never made it North of Yorkshire before.
We thought it would be smart to avoid the rush hour around Glasgow and chose the "direct" route to Irvine the TomTom offered and got off the motorway soon after entering Scotland

To call what followed "a scenic drive" is the understatement of the year. Long and - literally - winding roads took us through tiny villages with gaelic names, landscapes shaped by hills in all sizes and forms and over high plateaus with incredible views. While Claire bravely fought the challenging roads I just sat watching and falling mile by mile more in love with the still, mostly humanless land under the rushing, windswept sky. It is like a fairy tale country made mainly to produce rainbows (I have never seen rain and sun at the same time more often than in 24 hrs in Scotland). 
We would have been worried that we were lost because there was really nothing and nobody around us for most of the time except sheep, lots of sheep, but the GPS spot kept getting closer to the target and the encouraging naming of the roads like Ayr or Kilmarnock Road kept us optimistic. Only when between two especially steep hills where the road was barely wide enough for one car (in total - not in each direction) some lambs jumped around in front of the car (all good - nobody got injured) we had a slightly hysterical laughing fit

Around 6 pm we arrived in Irvine and it immediatly made it into the top list of "odd ends of the world where I had a really good time" - together with a very hispanic little town in NoCal, an abandoned steel mill in the Mon Valley (PA) and a small youth center in "Toorkwah" (Tourcoing, France). It's a rough little harbour town that at least on that grey spring day was not exactly pouring the charme of a beach resort, but it had a clean and surprinsingly comfy inn and with the Habour Arts Center a really nice, small concert venue - and that was all we needed.

This Silent Forest
We entered the venue short after doors and there was already a buzz of excitement in the room. Although the capacity of the HAC is only 115 it is seated arena style which means there is basically no bad seat in the house - where ever you sit you are close to the stage and nobody can really block your view. It is quite perfect for a small acoustic show although I am really bad at sitting through a gig and prefer standing.
We took a small round to say hello to our friends which was great fun in itself because we had not seen most of them since the end of the Biffy winter tour and settled in our 2nd row seats on the side for the set of the support band This Silent Forest

I have really no idea what they put in their famous, crystal clear drinking water up there in Scotland to produce so many great bands, but here you got another one. I had not heard of them before, but the more pleasant was the surprise when the music started and some beautiful songs filled the room. I do not like comparing bands and I won't (much) but I think it is safe to say that This Silent Forest dig some nice Twilight Sad (as do I) ... just for a rough direction. I bought the album and like it a lot - definitely worth for you to check out! 

JP Reid
Then it was finally 9 pm. The sold out venue was packed with smiling people waiting for Medals as basically everybody collectively held their breath for a little moment when Simon Neil entered the room to take his reserved seat in the top right corner. Nobody of us was really surprised about him showing up, but since the overlap between Medals / Sucioperro and Biffy fans is easily 90% it certainly added to the already high happiness and excitement level.
A moment later the lights went out and all eyes were back focussed on the stage welcoming the band. I love small gigs 
with an audience that is really into it - it just creates a very special atmosphere

The Medals show itself then was a case of pure beauty. One hour of amazing music - song by song. While the recordings of the King Tut's show were already fantastic (give it a listen here) it was soon very clear that having the monkey of the very first show off the back and finally playing for their own audience was a really good thing. The songs from "Disguises" sounded tighter and more powerful than for the first gig. I personally found the difference most significant for "Stand Back, It's a Miracle" that definitely had a way more confident feel to it. 

The set list - Pic by Medals
Before finishing up the set with "Sit Back Down, Judas" and my favourite song "Tastes Like Glass" (How always my songs are the set closers? Am I not traumatized enough yet by "Mountains" breaking my heart again and again? ;) ) we could benefit from the fact that we had John backed up by a combination of former and recent Sucioperro members (plus the wonderful Marianne Fraser). They took together a little trip down the Sucioperro back catalogue memory lane with playing a heart shattering version of "Hands" (picture dozens of people blinking because there was suddenly "something" in their eyes), "Reflexes Of The Dead" and the sing along classic "Conception Territory"

We also got a totally jamming version of Marmaduke Duke's "Silhouettes". And then (actually before "Silhouettes") there was ... "Kid Gloves"

I love that song so much and especially the acoustic version. To be very honest ... I had until this show was in the planning never thought I get a real chance to hear it ever live and acoustic, but there it was and it was stunning

It was a very special moment on so many levels. I sat there drumming on my knees with Gus, singing along the lyrics I'd still know if you'd wake me straight out of a REM sleep phase. In front of me I had this really special and absolutely amazing band performing while I was looking over to the opposite side of the venue straight into the face of a smiling friend singing along as lyrics proof as me. One row below another friend his eyes fixed to the stage barely blinking to not miss a precious second. A few steps further in the round another lovely friend laughing at my "dancing in the seat" approach, more familiar faces just a few seats down the row and even more friends directly to my left and right and front. And finally not to forget - the Captain (my personal nickname for Si) in his dark corner on the highest rank. 
Right there in Irvine, Scotland, roughly 1,400 km from home, surrounded by fantastic people I would not even know if it wasn't for the music, it was one of those priceless magic moments in time you can't stop from passing by although you want to so badly but keep them in your heart where nobody can ever take them away from you again.

Sadly - and  that was probably the biggest bummer of the night - there was a hard stop at 10 pm. The audience burst into cheers and did not move hoping for an encore but the band was given only one hour and that was over. I just can say that I hope, no ... strongly believe that this was just the first of many shows. I for myself am totally ready to do it all again as soon as possible. 

The moment the light went on is also the moment for a honourable mention of Simon Neil's impressing patience. When it was clear Medals would not return about 100 people stopped simultaneously pretending Si was not there and slight madness ensued. He made his way only very slowly down the steps while taking pictures, chatting with fans, hugging people and looking at a significant number of Biffy tats. He could have easily just said "Not today - this is my private time" and left, but he didn't. 

After the show it was party time - congratulating Medals to the absolutely brilliant show, catching up with friends, drinks, putting faces to what had been just online nicknames before, chatting to new people, watching friends playing football with some oranges (don't ask ;) ), discussing tattoos with the barkeeper and more drinks. So. Much. Fun. 

The next morning we had to leave the inn at about 10 am and decided to make the short drive to Ayr for a walk at the beach and lunch.
I always was and always will be a seaside person. The salt in the air and the chance to rest my eyes on an empty horizon is extremely relaxing to me. That morning we were lucky enough to catch an hour of absolutely stunning spring weather and I just lay down on top of the wall above the beach for a while watching the sky and the sea.
Scents are some of the strongest memory triggers you can find and the beach in Ayr smelled in the same way of the sea and the wind as the North Sea beaches of my childhood holidays. It smelled like my sister, my dad and me stomping in wellies through the wet sand looking for the best spot to fly the kyte. It's been over 20 years since he's gone and I still miss him very much. I likely will always do. 

When the sun started to hide behind the clouds we went inside for a final round of chats and a really nice lunch before hitting the road down South again ...

And with that weekend 2014 officially has stopped sucking ;)

Thanks a lot to John, Mike, Dave, Gus & Marianne for the music, the warm welcome & the hugs. Thanks to Si for the quick chat and for pulling funny faces with me. Much, much thanks to Claire for driving and being an excellent travel pal. Thanks to Dave (the other one) for the laughs (always) and the lunch (greetings to the chef - best bacon outside the US and as a part time Pennsylvanian I am very picky with bacon). Thanks to all my lovely Biffy/Medals/Sooch pals - so good to see you and I cannot wait to rock the shit out of T IN THE PARK with most of you! Thanks to all the new people I had lovely, fun chats with through the night - you made Scotland looking really good to a newbie. And finally big thanks to the Freckfest team for organizing the show - all of them are doing this as volunteers!  

Also thanks to the greater powers for NOT winning King Tut's tickets. This was so much better!