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In the spotlight: Thomas Western

Some acts toil for years to make their mark. Others never manage to succeed no matter how hard they try. To their eternal frustration, it has taken singer-songwriterThomas Western less than a month to become the talk of the town.

Having moved from Derbyshire to Edinburgh for a spot of postgraduate study and musical adventure, Western’s first month was a whirlwind of activity. He got his first local radio appearance, had his EP in several shops, featured on some prominent blogs and managed to become ‘musician in residence’ at the capital’s much loved Bowery venue.

Not all of this was part of a master plan, as Western happily admits. On his serendipitous Bowery meeting after a Jesus H Foxx gig, he says: “I met Ruth who runs the place, and half-jokingly asked if I could play every week. She said yes”.

As part of the link-up, Western will also produce an album – another unique offshoot of the collaboration between performer and venue. “The plan is for me to write three songs each week to play, then to record and release them as an album at the end of it all”, he enthuses.

After starting out as a drummer, Western has moved on to solo work, although he admits he was “too scared for a long time”. But he says that this also acts as a spur: “In playing by myself I am totally accountable to myself and if the music isn’t good enough, then it is my responsibility to work harder at it”.

Western’s musical style is, at times, similar to the 1960s California folk scene epitomised by Tim Buckley – his vocal style is also not dissimilar, singing in octaves other artists would never dare attempt.

Citing his influences as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Will Oldham and Jeff Buckley, it’s easy to see where the inspiration has come from in tracks like ‘Plough’ and ‘Your Front Door’, the latter featuring on Western’s wonderfully homemade and packaged EP ‘Quite Early One Morning’. There is also something charming and old fashioned about finding a CD in a shop which appears to be made from paper and UHU glue, potentially falling apart at any moment.

Western plans to release a solo album in addition to his Bowery sessions album. Beyond that, he doesn’t rule out playing as part of a band again. “There is a joy to playing with other people that is lacking from solo performance, so I would really love to get an ensemble together at some point,” he says. “It is dependent on meeting the right people though.”

Given how much Thomas Western has achieved in the short time he has lived in Scotland, by this time next year he could be running the country, although surely he’s too honest for that.

Words: Stevie Kearney

Thomas Western’s EP is available from emusic and iTunes, as well as Avalanche in Edinburgh. His Bowery album will be released later this year and his first full solo album is due to be recorded in early 2010.

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In the spotlight: The Colourful Band

Another of my pieces produced for the Scotsman.com’s Under The Radar site, this time on Edinburgh’s The Colourful Band.

Albums centred on a particular city can be tricky – they tend to exclude those unfamiliar with the locale in question.

But spread the scope of your songwriting across a few well known places and throw in some themes which will resonate with anyone and you have the potential for broader success.

Colourful EP

The Colourful EP

Step forward Ian McKelvie, a West coaster who moved East, spent a thoroughly miserable time in Fife and then settled happily in Edinburgh. He is the singer and songwriter behind The Colourful Band. And it is the historic capital city of our proud wee nation where the majority of the songs on The Colourful EP are based.

Although the band formed just a year ago, all three members have been friends for over a decade. The aim, according to McKelvie, is “really about trying to make a record with a little help from my friends”.

The EP, released earlier this year, features upbeat tales about life on ‘Easter Road’, late night festival shenanigans and reflections from abroad, including ‘Leavin’ New York’, which evokes the familiar feeling of being a stranger in a big city. Much of the writing comes from McKelvie’s ability to use travel and times of solitude as a departure point for inspiration and creativity.

“After graduating, I led a fairly solitary life for the best part of a year in a one horse town in Fife, living on my own and doing a job I wasn’t enjoying,” McKelvie recalls. “So the loneliness and isolation were kept out with the cold by playing and singing.”

After a chance encounter at an open mic night in Edinburgh’s Whistlebinkies, McKelvie was invited to play a venue in New York by an audience member who happened to own a bar in the Big Apple. “I never played his bar but I did play the open mic night at CBGB’s,” he says. “Standing on the corner of 113th and Broadway gave me the inspiration for the song ‘Leavin’ New York’. When I got back to Edinburgh I wrote the words down as soon as I got home.”

The sound of The Colourful Band is heavily influenced by folk music and a sense of place. “Folk songs tend to be written about people or places,” McKelvie notes. “So that’s why I often use my surroundings to inspire me, and sometimes it is cities, sometimes just situations. At the time of writing most of the songs for what would become The Colourful EP I was listening to a lot of folk music, and living in Edinburgh.”

With soothing, folky finger-picking, upbeat riffs and McKelvie’s voice as soft and comforting as velvet underwear, The Colourful Band have charm in abundance. For those of us stuck at home in these financially dark times, McKelvie’s music can do our travelling for us, whilst providing a timely reminder of why home is so special after all.

 

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In the Spotlight: My Tiny Robots

The latest in my series of profiles of Unsigned Scottish bands, as featured on The Scotsman’s Under the Radar blog.

Some bands appear to do everything right but, when the proverbial push comes to shove, fail to light up the stage. Thankfully, Edinburgh trio My Tiny Robots [MTR] are not one of these bands.

mytinyrobots

The Robots in the studio

Comprised of frontman Dylan Childs and multi-instrumentalists Ryan Marinello (also of Occasional Flickers fame) and Russell Williams, MTR illuminate the ear-canals with a forever sought but rarely captured trait: charisma.

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