The temperature was becoming unbearable when I stepped into the cool basement of The Bay on Saturday afternoon to enjoy the second of two 'Wickerman Warm-Up nights'. The day held great promise, with live music from two in the afternoon right through till midnight, and the line-up was a virtual who’s who of the Glasgow music scene.

The Bay is one of Glasgow’s better music venues. The bar staff and clientele are friendly and welcoming (not to mention extremely knowledgeable when it comes to music), and there is a real city centre vibe without the attendant city centre prices. The walls and table tops are covered with album covers and posters of various rock luminaries. With no raised stage area, there is a real sense of intimacy – one almost feels that one is part of the band – and with large TV screens dotted around the place, one can see the bands effortlessly no matter how busy the place becomes.

First on the bill was Charlie Houston, who performed a series of covers, backing herself on acoustic guitar. Her intense and enjoyable set included a magnificent version of Radiohead’s angst-anthem 'Creep', and her respect for the original version was perfectly balanced with her desire to make the song her own. Charlie is one of a growing group of talented young performers who play regularly at the Bay, and their enthusiasm is infectious. If this group of youngsters represents the future of Glasgow’s music scene, then it’s in good hands.

After Charlie came Kimi, another of the Bay’s youngsters, and, in my opinion, the one to watch. She opened her set with an audacious cover of the Beatles’ 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', and turned the song into a sultry, breathy, Norah Jones-style ballad. Her set was a well thought out balance of covers and original, self-penned material, and one sat comfortably beside the other. Her own songs are mature, melody-driven narratives with complex lead lines and lyrics which set her writing apart from (and, in my opinion, above) the majority of today’s confessional singer-songwriters.

Headlining the acoustic stage at this year’s Wickerman Festival were Mr Kil, who, with only two members available, performed an acoustic set of original material. With Simon and Garfunkel harmonies and 'Rust Never Sleeps'-era Neil Young guitar work, the duo were real crowd-pleasers. The performance seemed natural, and one could be forgiven for thinking that they had always played as a duo – despite the fact that band members were missing, there were no obvious gaps in the musical make-up of the songs.

Kenzie Mack (also known as Fiona MacKenzie) played an accomplished solo set, with a well-balanced mix of covers and original material. Fiona, who played Wickerman as part of Lynass this year, backed herself competently on acoustic guitar, and among her set were Fleetwood Mac’s 'Songbird' and the Cranberries’ 'Zombie'.

Two of the highlights of the day came in the form of songs by Some Boy and the Post-Orgasmic Sunshine Band. They opened with a driving, pounding reggae number with a fabulous lyric lifted from Peter Finch’s famous soliloquy from the cult 1976 movie 'Network' (“I’m a human being, God dammit, and my life has value!”). The band, which featured, among others, two lead vocalists, a saxophone, and a cameo appearance from Andrew Black (from Quirkus) on bass, delivered their original material with confidence bordering on swagger. They are right, however, to be proud of their talents – their material and its execution were faultless, musically reminiscent of Madness but lyrically more urgent and serious.

For their last song, lead singer Alan, in a genuinely touching moment, brought his girlfriend's six-year-old daughter Leila on-stage to help out with drumming duties. Leila, if you are reading this, you have a bright future in the music industry! Even more affecting was the last song itself, 'Young Brother' - a moving rocker detailing the relationship between two brothers, and it is truly magnificent.

As a committed vegetarian, I was prepared not to like Omnivore (based purely on their name!), but I was very pleasantly surprised. As with Mr Kil, the full band was unable to make the gig, leaving guitarists Mark and James to fill the gaps. Starting on a foundation of tape loops and working up to some technically excellent acoustic guitar work, the pair filled the bar with Mogwai-esque soundscapes. This was the first gig that Mark and James had played as a duo, and it did show slightly on the opening number, but they managed to recover extremely well and take the audience on a hypnotic ride through soundtracks for as-yet unmade movies. The guys were kind enough to send me through some of their studio work, and, like their set on Saturday, it contains passages of breath-taking beauty.

I’m always interested to hear something new, and Samba Sene and Diwan provided me with my daily dose of novelty. Their sound, generated by guitars, a mandolin, great percussion from a range of talking drums and an instrument which I had never heard of called a ngoni (it resembles a sitar), was warm, lively, and brought a touch of carnival spirit to proceedings. During the set, I took as much enjoyment from watching the audience as I did from watching the band – it seemed like everyone was dancing, clapping and smiling. Their CD states that the band are influenced by “mbalax, latin… folk…funk, rock and ska,” and while all of these influences are clearly discernible (especially ska – I was continually reminded of the Specials), Samba Sene’s sound is original and unique.

The Rudiments are a five piece band, guitar driven with soaring harmonies. Playing tracks from their album, 'Doctor Bone’s Fried Medicine' (which has some of the best cover art I’ve seen in a long time), the band transport one back to immediate post-'Sergeant Pepper' Beatles. The Rudiments have, in my opinion, obviously listened to and learned from the more urgent moments of 'The White Album', and there is a real George Harrison feeling to the lead guitar work. Technically, the band were extremely competent, with a tremendous rhythm section.

One of my favourite acts on the Glasgow circuit just now is Neil Sturgeon, and I’m pleased to say that he didn’t disappoint with his solo acoustic set. Neil’s song-writing has a real sincere edge to it, and it is abundantly clear that he means what he’s singing about. A mix of original songs and covers, his set included a medley of some of the Who’s best work and an outstanding version of his own song, 'Always in the Now'.

Hailing from the Borders, Nicola Black is heavily involved in the Wickerman Festival. As well as recording solo material (including an excellent album of songs by Hugh McDiarmid), she plays with husband Blackie in Quirkus. Nicola’s strong vocals, reminiscent of Annie Lennox, and her choice of material, again a mix of original songs and covers, was excellent, and her decision to perform an a capella version of one song was brave in the extreme (it paid off, though – the audience were rapt).

Tragic O’Hara is one of the most inventive musicians around at the moment, and he is impossible to pigeonhole. His songs make use of tape loops, hand claps, guitar and a hand-made cigar-box guitar (which gives out a truly incredible, grunge/blues sound), and his voice is massive. Lyrically, his songs are a cross between blues and straight rock, but they are witty and genuine. With an EP coming out in the next few weeks, Tragic’s star is truly in the ascendency – he is a fantastically entertaining artist.

Ex-Picturehouse and Pugwash man Duncan Maitland was on hand to close the evening, and his performance was incredible. Playing tracks from his album, 'Lullabies for the 21st Century', two songs from 'The Wickerman' soundtrack as well as a selection of terrific covers, Duncan eventually closed the night playing a sing-along version of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', completely unplugged on the steps outside the Bay. A great Smiths cover, two Bowie songs and 'Fan Club' from Duncan’s 'Live Alien' EP completed the set. The unplugged nature of the second half of Duncan’s set, coupled with his apparent willingness to play anything the audience wanted, showcased Duncan’s abilities particularly well, and judging by his performance, he had almost as good a time as his audience.

All things considered, the evening offered some of the best live music I’ve seen recently. The guys from the Bay are supporting grassroots musicians by providing a warm and inviting venue, where one can play from within one’s comfort zone and, in many cases, flourish. I have a real twinge of disappointment that the Wickerman warm-ups are now over, but the sheer pleasure of seeing and hearing so many excellent bands more than offsets any melancholy. Now to check for upcoming gigs to see how soon I can see these guys again…















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