By: Bruce Cowie
Photos: Bruce Cowie
A Mote of Dust | website | facebook | twitter |
Support: Finn LeMarinel | website
The Hug & Pint, Glasgow | January 31, 2016
You all remember Aereogramme, don’t you? Tragically under-appreciated indie/post-rock squad, came out of Glasgow a couple of years after Mogwai? Released a few albums of darkly beautiful songs featuring the fine, fine voice and bleak lyrics of Mr. Craig B (which you should immediately go and buy, if you don’t have them already. Really, you should).
Well, I never got to see Aereogramme, something which I will regret forever.
But now, after a stint with the lovely Unwinding Hours, our Craig’s back with his new solo(-ish) project, A Mote of Dust, and he has promised to play a selection of old songs. Aereogramme songs. And that, Dear Reader, excites me greatly. Not, you understand, that I want to dismiss his new material (which is everything I would have hoped for) but the chance to see these songs performed live by the man who made them is something I thought I’d never get.
So, through the vegan friendly bar/restaurant area, smelling enticingly Asian, and down to the tiny gig room. Sold out, apparently, and the nice young man at the door does indeed turn some folks away. It doesn’t take long to start filling up, even before the support band appears. Well, I say ‘band’…
Finn LeMarinel is a slight, and slightly bearded, chap in a cable knit jumper and sensible shoes. He sits and sings and plays acoustic guitar. Sometimes it seems like he’s hardly playing it at all, barely brushing the strings, scratching them with his fingernails, sounds so faint they’re almost not there. But pay attention, just listen, and you’ll be rewarded. I can’t say that he’s the greatest guitar player in the world, but he does weird and beautiful things with his fingers and it’s lovely. His voice is wispy, even fragile, and at first you’d think that his songs were pretty and sweet, but they’re not. He sings, it seems, about relationships. Uneasy or damaged or twisted relationships with his relatives, his ex, strangers on buses. How much of his lyrics are autobiographical is not for me to say, but I imagine it’s hard to write those words without having been there first. Still, between songs Finn is cheerful and chatty. He’s just a really nice guy. He invites local lass Chrissy Barnacle up on stage to share the final song and forgets the name of the band he’s supporting. Great stuff.
Amazingly, the crowd of around 100 has been almost silent throughout, a rare thing these days. Let’s hope it lasts…
Craig B isn’t as tall as I was expecting. I’ve seen him before and he always looked bigger. Not that that’s significant in any way, I was just rambling. It’s an age thing.
As is only proper, A Mote of Dust (Mr. B and pianist Graeme Smillie) open with songs from their recent album (which you should buy. Have I said that already?) Cracks in the Mirror, Eve and the particularly fine The Circus are a match for anything Craig’s given us in the past, more Aereogramme than Unwinding Hours, perhaps, and are entirely gorgeous. It’s his voice, see. Warm and rich and soulful. Intimate, somehow. He sings with his eyes closed, brow furrowed, mostly, like it’s hurting. And maybe it is. Like Finn before him, his songs are darker than they first appear, and we have to assume that his own history is in there somewhere. But I’m not here to analyse, I’m here for the music.
He tells us that they’re going to play some old songs next, as the new album is only half an hour long and they need to fill the set with something. Barriers is first, one of my personal Aereogramme favourites, stripped of everything except acoustic guitar, piano and voice, and it’s perfect. If you’re familiar with the series of acoustic tour EPs that Aereogamme released a while back, you’ll know. Yeah, like that.
My pal Kapil nearly burst when Craig dedicates the next song, Nightmares, to ‘the guy who kept asking for it on-line, can’t remember his name…’, because Kapil was that guy. He did a little jumpy thing and said ‘That’s MINE!’. Cute, really.
A nod towards the Unwinding Hours years next with Solstice, in which Graeme’s piano does most of the work, and Craig picks up his Telecaster for the one and only time of the evening, playing a single, long, trembling note. It’s very subtle, and I’m not sure if the folks at the back will even notice it, but I do and it’s lovely. ( I have to speak up here for Graeme – his piano playing is spare and unobtrusive, never overwhelming, but it complements Craig’s guitar and voice perfectly. Thanks, Graeme, you’re awesome.)
New songs, old songs, each as fine as the next. Wolves in the Valley, Yield, the glorious I Don’t need Your Love, the quality never falters. The old songs stand out only through familiarity. At one point, Craig claims to be more nervous tonight than at any other time during the tour. Home show pressure? Maybe. It occurs to me that there is nowhere to hide when you play songs like this – stripped down, acoustic songs. You can’t blame the drummer if you fuck up, you can’t cover any deficiencies with volume or distract the audience with pyros and dancing girls. That in itself would terrify me. But despite the odd trembling hand, A Mote of Dust are flawless. IMHO, anyway.
We have a brief ‘let’s pretend we went off and stood in the back room for two minutes’ interlude before the ‘encore’, while Craig praises small venues, their importance to live music, now and in the future. (And he’s dead right. I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I’d much rather stand in a tiny sweatbox with 100 other people, so close to the band that I can indeed see the guitarist’s trembling fingers, than be lost amongst 10000 others in an echoey barn fitted out with giant screens.) He’s also continually surprised and impressed by the attentive and respectful silence of the audience which, to be fair, is no more than his music deserves.
And then it’s my turn to do the jumpy, fist-pumpy thing as he asks the audience what we want to hear next. I call out ‘Play Black Path!’, and they do. It’s odd, he says, that it’s not a song they thought about when preparing the tour, but they get asked for it everywhere they go. Personally, it’s my favourite ever Aereogramme song, and it seems that many people agree. And quite right, too.
One last song – Yes, dedicated to ‘that guy over there who shouted out for it’ – and we’re done. It’s been nothing short of sublime, songs I’ve waited years to see played live. If there’s any justice, we’ll be back sometime soon calling out for the likes of Circus and Wolves as loudly as for any of the old songs. And Craig B will still be one of the best singer/songwriters out there. Anywhere.