Gig Review: De Rosa with Clockwork & Sarah Jane Thomson at Royal Hotel, Portree – 27th March 2009

I noticed, looking at the bill for Lanarkshire prog-rockers De Rosa‘s show in Portree last week, that I went to school with everyone except the band themselves. Currently on an outreach tour in some of the more remote reaches of Scotland (with gigs in Fort William, Mull, and Aberdeen), De Rosa have been playing in town halls and makeshift venues all over the country. It just so happened that our paths crossed in my old hometown on the Isle of Skye, so I headed down to check it out.

Loitering at the venue (a hotel bar, following a last-minute change) during sound-checks, I cornered guitarist Chris Connick in the bar for a chat, following up on Andrew Lindsay’s previous interview with him. Talkative, engaging, and intelligent, Connick is a musician who loves the craft. But more than that, he just seems genuinely to love music.

Asked how he felt playing out in the sticks, Connick was positive: “It’s really good… it’s nice to see how people are doing it differently… You have to kind of gauge the audience before you pick a set: like, should we play the folkier stuff, or should we play the more rocky shit?” When I asked if it was nice to get out of Glasgow, he hesitated for a moment, picking his words: “I think Glasgow gets very saturated… but I’m looking forward to the home gigs we’ve got coming up. But I love playing away, because your pals can’t see you making mistakes.”

De Rosa’s second album, Prevention, came out last month to a warm critical reception, and I wanted to know what influenced the album as it ended up: “Martin [Henry, vocalist] wrote the songs basically on an acoustic guitar as folk songs… it certainly seems the natural way, for Martin to bring a song, and for us to then develop it further. I don’t think there was any kind of general influence… it’s certainly not a concept.”

Connick seemed optimistic about the future: the band are working with a South African film-maker, Laura McCulloch, on music videos for Prevention, and planning a mini-EP release later this year, featuring songs cut from the album and studio diaries from the recording the process. Full text of the interview will follow.

Next up, I hassled Clockwork for an interview. I’ve been friends with the guys for years, and I was interested to see how they felt about their first show. The first impression I got was that Clockwork are a band uncomfortable with being labelled. In Jo’s words, their influences are “as wide-ranging as anything from Bach and Beethoven to Queens of the Stone Age and Killswitch Engage”. When asked how they felt about the state of British music, Ghalebi commented that “the radio stations seem to have adopted this ‘new music is king’ attitude, and they’re forgetting everything that has gone before.” As above, full text of the interview will follow.

The festivities kicked off with local singer-songwriter Sarah Thomson. A surprisingly strong voice and some pleasantly melodic guitar-work seemed slightly muffled by nerves, but she held it together admirably to deliver a very enjoyable set.

As Clockwork came onstage, you got the impression that most of the (regrettably small) crowd had come to see them. Karp’s Americana drawl and Ghalebi’s classic rock riffs guided them through a tight, well-drilled mix of covers and carefully-arranged, lyrically-mature originals. Culminating in a no-holds-barred rendition of Blur’s ‘Song 2′ that gave bassist Lucas Yeats the chance to shine, this was a technically competent and hugely enjoyable set, and impressively professional for a first performance. Stereokill later learned that angry German drummer Kai Bonk even managed to destroy at least one cymbal during the set, so you can’t doubt their enthusiasm.

De Rosa mounted the stage with a minimum of ceremony, and launched straight into an enchanting set. Even for a newcomer to the band’s sound, I found it hard not to be carried away by the pure force of musical personality. The band seem completely effortless, so at ease are they onstage. Vocalist Martin Henry sings with real flair, and it’s fascinating to note the subtle stylistic differences between Mend and Prevention-era material. De Rosa’s set was uniquely well-balanced, and there’s no denying that their progressive, melodic sound is incredibly compelling, but in a way they were let down by the audience. It was a small local crowd who had turned out to see local bands, and you got the sense that they weren’t being given a fair trial. It’s very much to their credit that they didn’t let that deter them from delivering a great show.

The Highlands are hit and miss when it comes to music. ItsOn development manager Alex Macleod told Stereokill that his organisation is out to combat “cultural deprivation” in the Highlands, and they’re doing it by bringing great bands from the cities to the villages, and putting local musicians right up there with them. It was just disappointing that more people didn’t turn out to come along to a night of quality live music from some fantastic artists.

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