Celtic Connections: Olive Grove Records Showcase

by Vonny Moyes

It’s January, and for the good people of Glesga, that means the return of Celtic Connections; a miss-not in the musical calendar. Tucked in the midst of this festival of aural pleasure, perhaps no night was more anticipated by the indie-savvy than the Olive Grove Records Showcase in the belly of the Oran Mor, featuring a belting line-up from Randolph’s Leap, The Moth in the Mirror, Jo Mango, State Broadcasters, Woodenbox and dewy label babies, Call to Mind.

Openers Randolph’s Leap jump-start proceedings, delivering 10,000 volts of folk-pop optimism to the sizeable crowd. Their set meanders through the joys of insomnia, psychic powers, tree-lust and kitchen-sink existentialism. Frontman Adam Ross’s canny rhyming couplets and quirky vocals are underpinned by an eight-strong army dispensing graceful, feel-good arrangements, whilst wiring the rhythm section directly to your toes.

It’d be all-to-easy to lump them in with Belle and Sebastian, though there’s more depth to this happy rabble. They’ve got soul. This is a band with huge personality—the early stage time is a pity.

Gelid pop quartet Call to Mind are next up, and quickly dial the night back to the land of shoegazey introspection. Harking from the far north, it’s seems more than a little coincidental that there’s an almost Viking-like stoicism to their presence. Frontman Martin Ross evades our gaze, ensuring stage tetris sees his piano perpendicular to the curious crowd. Ross’s biting falsetto cuts through soaring melodies and icy harmonies, achingly reminiscent of icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros. The songs are immersive, twinkly and tinctured with bold crescendos and elongated refrains, akin to Explosions in the Sky.

There’s a palpable nervousness to the performance, though flashes of genuine splendor catch you so often, the first-day jitters are easily forgiven.

Jo Mango and her band are next up, and are quickly cast ethereal calm across the room; a sort of nagging déjà vu that you once tumbled down a rabbit hole into a previous show (or did you?). They musical infantry assemble, side-by-side, facing out, armed with an arsenal of weird and wonderful noise-makers, before taking us in hand, to gentle, folksy delight. The warmth and clarity of Jo’s honeyed vocals skirt impishly over glockenspiels, harmoniums, harps and harmonies. The off-the-wall songs burst with musical craftsmanship. Steeped in poignancy, they feel almost lullaby-like, so much so the set feels sadly fleeting.

Playing their first full-band gig in a year are The State Broadcasters, Glasgow’s answer to transcendent Americana; moments in, it’s clearly been worth the wait. Their sound veers deftly from hushed introspection to folky anthemic sweeps, played on keys, cello, double bass, guitar and trombone. It’s orchestral without feeling crowded or showy. Atmospheric yet poppy, without ever seeming fey. Graeme Black leads the way vocally, with haunting harmonies from harpist Gillian Fleetwood and pianist Pete MacDonald. The songs tastefully pay homage to bygone heroes, whilst remaining unmistakably fresh.

Frighteningly accomplished musicians, there’s more than one Arcade Fire style switcheroo, which only adds to the eloquent performance.The Broadcasters harness that indescribable dynamism that makes great live music unmissable.

Following on was the much awaited return of indie fantasy-band, The Moth in the Mirror, making their first appearance after a lengthy two-year hiatus. Hipster apostles will be sure to identify the patchwork of Admiral Fallow/Frightened Rabbit/Arab Strap parts assembled here. Stacey Sievewright takes the helm, navigating the boys through a set of ferociously sad songs, delivering an able vocal performance, though the solemnity of the music seems to imbue itself in the band-members; it feels as if they’re holding back. The songs are troubled soliloquies delivered in equal parts hushed pleas and dogged-yet-tuneful screams, over scrabbling guitars, ghostly melodies and the fervour of a perfectly-synchronized double percussion section. They explore a capacious gap in jagged indiedom; a space where nervous energy would set them alight, but for some reason, the spark is missing, it limps along and not feeling quite the sum of it’s clearly talented parts.

Alt-folk rockers Woodenbox are last to the altar, somewhat diminished in number for the evening, but definitely not in sound. These are performers, in the truest sense. The driving beat of their opener infects the crowd, causing a ripple of tapping toes, fervent clapping and unabashed dancing. The funky folk numbers are delivered in surgically precise clacks and thrums, yet there’s a tangible wildness to them; a sense of something brewing underneath.

As frontman Ali Downer laments their final song, a full-blown stage invasion is encouraged and immediately ensues, with the Olive Grove family interwoven with punters, holding hands and pulling more shapes than Pan’s People on acid, it’s clear the night has been a triumph. They may be small, but the folks at Olive Grove have expertly divined the likability that elevates their signings above the usual indie-scene fare. There’s something special happening here.

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