It’s a sleepy Thursday afternoon, and I roll out of bed at approximately 1330 hours and on to Facebook to discover that not only is the University holding an open day, but Pronto Mama, Fatherson and Washington Irving are playing a free afternoon show in Qudos in roughly an hour. Being a generally good citizen, loyal QMUite and fan of at least one of these bands I promptly proceed to the shower and onwards to what looks to be a promising afternoon.
I arrive late, but not too late to catch the first act, Pronto Mama, in action. The room is sparsely populated, but the band are excellent. They masterfully blend solid, heavy indie rock with glitchy rhythms and fairly mad progressive passages that become near jazz-like in places, if still dominated by guitar. Their banter may be slightly directionless and circular but their music certainly isn’t; a really refreshing blend of rhythms and textures and definitely something to keep an eye on in future.
They clear the stage to make way for Fatherson, and the first sight to catch the eye is that of a cello being set up onstage alongside the more traditional combination of guitars, bass, drums and synth. The set opens with a fat bass drone that builds up into the first of many soaring, triumphant sound pieces. Theirs is a slightly more straightforward brand of alternative rock than that of Pronto Mama, but their energy is great and they build some impressive crescendos, their bass player looking positively joyful at the thunder his distortion brings. More importantly, the cello does not play the one bit part (a la Twin Atlantic) that might be expected. It makes a welcome textural addition to upbeat and heavy songs as well as the slower ones, although the cellist’s backing vocals are sadly inaudible. The songs are well articulated and go down well with those punters in attendance, although the room is still near empty.
The third and final act is Washington Irving. Until fairly recently the band were characterised by their celtic brand of folk pop, embellished with the fine flute playing of Roslyn Potter. Having now parted ways with the flautist however, I’m interested to see how their sound has evolved, and to hear new material. To begin with, the result appears mixed. The folk feel is certainly still there, but some of the instrumental passages on the older songs feel empty without those soaring flute melodies. However, a couple of songs into the set sees them find their stride, and a darker and heavier side to the group begins to unfold. Unsurprisingly, it is the newest material that works best with the new line-up, and breathless, moody passages balance well with powerful, chant-like celtic choruses on which frontman Joe Black’s voice is often joined by the rest of the band. In places, distortion adds a gritty but beautiful extra texture; in others, a couple of deft, folky lead guitar arpeggios make a welcome throwback to the days of yore. By the end of the set, the band have well and truly won the audience over. The room is now shockingly empty, but those remaining work hard to let the band know they are appreciated. Their forthcoming album will tell for sure how well their new sound has been established, but this appears to be a taste of great things to come from Washington Irving.
As for the open day – was anybody convinced to come to Glasgow University by this gig? Who knows, but if prospective students were in attendance then they were certainly treated to an excellent slice of current Glasgow music for no money at all – and who can argue with that?