Review: Missing and Migration Stories at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Originally published by Buzz Magazine 28th February 2012

When the Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopened in December it seemed to have shifted focus. From simply displaying evocations of people, the gallery has been rebranded to offer ‘A Portrait of a Nation’. This was coined in April 2009 when the gallery closed for a refit, but since then the SNP have gained overall control of parliament and we find ourselves hurtling towards a referendum on independence. An auspicious idea then, if the exploration of Scottish national identity hadn’t already been the portfolio of most major artistic heavyweights in the country. It does seem curious that a portrait gallery would display large landscape prints in its photography gallery, and the policy has mixed success with current temporary installations Missing and Migration Stories. Continue reading

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Review: Aberfeldy at Nobles Bar

Originally published by Buzz magazine 13th March 2012

“You’re probably wondering where the girls are,” Riley Briggs tells a packed crowd at Nobles bar in the heart of Leith. “Well, we actually found out that they were ninja assassins from the future and had to get rid of them. It turns out every prominent Scottish indie band has been infiltrated.”

Aberfeldy are ten this year. They have had a chequered past; numerous members left – including Briggs’ ex girlfriend Ruth Barrie – and they were dropped unceremoniously by record label Rough Trade in 2006. Whether this statement by Briggs can be taken to mean that there is another impending personnel change in this cheery Edinburgh band remains to be seen.

Billed as ‘Just the boys’ and tonight down from their usual six to a female-free four, the band use the opportunity to try out some new material. In any case, the tiny stage at Nobles, framed by stained glass windows, would struggle to fit anyone else on it. The small venue, coupled with free entry and the fact that the band go on an hour late, gives the whole thing a chilled out, informal feel.

But there’s nothing remotely amateur about the depleted Aberfeldy by the time they launch into the brilliant A Friend Like You to open the set. Gone are the cutesy keyboards and cajun-folk fiddle; as a twin guitar four-piece, the stripped back sound reveals true rock credentials. Putting bittersweet lyrics with upbeat pop is Aberfeldy’s speciality, but in this rawer form songs like Summer’s Gone and Come on Claire lose any sense of whimsy and have a harder emotional impact; brought to the foreground are the impeccable, close harmonies and the tight, skilful rhythm section. Ken McIntosh in particular, on this display, must rank as one of the better bassists in the country. If this more direct sound is a product of the circumstances then their next album producer should take note – Aberfeldy can rock.

After a short break the band come back on to play a second set of cover versions
including a Roxy Music track, much to the delight of the drunken Leith crowd. Given the opportunity, even those who criticise Aberfeldy for being ‘too cheery’ should check them out as their experimental four-piece – because when their ninja assassins are absent, they pack more of a punch.