The free spirit and creative integrity of the singer-songwriter and the cold, calculating exploitative nature of commercial enterprise have never been happy bedfellows. One only has to recall the derision poured upon Jagger and Richards’ decision to allow ‘Start Me Up’ to be used for a Microsoft ad, or what about the blatantly un-revolutionary use of The Beatles ‘Revolution’ on a Nike campaign, or, most shocking of all, the recent appearance of Lulu on the Flora Proactive ads. Good lord is nothing in this world sacred?!?!
These waters are further muddied by the current trend of companies like Starbucks, Coca Cola, and Pepsi seizing the MP3 revolution and diversifying into music downloads. And now, with the launch of Beanscene’s own label, Luna Records, the line between artistic freedom and corporate cock-sucking is getting more and more difficult to discern. Luna artists play live in Beanscenes around the country and, perhaps unsurprisingly, specialise in easy listening acts, unlikely to offend non-music loving clientele. Selfish C*nt, it is safe to say, need not apply.
On one hand it’s a cynical cash-in on the faux-bohemia that is sold along with the lattes in these shops. But on the other it offers the chance for new artists, on this occasion Bishopbriggs songstress Caragh Nugent, to have their material heard by a wider audience. And I have to admit, sitting in the Woodlands branch of the aforementioned caffeine peddlers on the balmy evening of the day that saw Glasgow’s temperatures topping Honolulu’s, it seems like the perfect setting for a bit of acoustic songbird antics.
Reading over my research material before Caragh kicks off, I discover that she plays ‘folk with some serious fucking attitude’. Not being a massive fan of folk of any sort, fucking attitude or not, I settle down to watch with more than a little trepidation. Any fears I may have had of an airy fairy Capercaillie sound-alike are quickly dispelled as she launches into a pretty cover of Cat Stevens’ ‘The Wind’ and thankfully shows her sensibilities lie more on the poppier, soulful side.
The spine tingling melodies of ‘Junkies’ weave their way through the sticky night, her honeylike vocal skipping and jumping its way through the song. A lovely composition that manages to turn the heads of the half-listening casual cappuccino sippers at the other side of the room.
On ‘Bulletproof’ she shows the promise of some concise lyrical skills, with the words seemingly announcing with lonely defiance her intent to follow her own path even if that means missing out on love or risking the alienation of her family. This is a girl who clearly means business.
‘Pink Carnation’ is a delicate little relationship song whose complex melody makes it a little hard to keep track of. But to be fair this could also be down to the whacking and whooshing of the coffeemaker as the hot and bothered barista takes a sizable order from a group of backpackers.
The melody of ‘Mon Petit Ami’ momentarily brings to mind KT Tunstall’s ‘Other Side of the World’ but only briefly as its inventive chord changes and great display of vocal range takes it somewhere completely different. It’s near hymnal ending climaxes on a note that surely must make every dog within a 500 meter radius go nuts.
Things turn all sultry on ‘Precious Things’, a soulful little jazz number that borrows heavily from Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’. Her vocals are hushed and expressive and reminiscent of Nina Simone at her most smouldering. Blissful.
Her lack of match practice shows slightly and sometimes she looks a little lonely and awkward, somewhat dwarfed by the massive Luna Records advertising backdrop. She admits herself that her youth and inexperience is shown in her naive lyrics. Nonetheless, some songs have sophisticated melodies and clever turns of phrase that show the occasional flash of real maturity beyond her years. Like on the closer, ‘Nicholas Hutch’, the nice wordplay about the ‘pouring Glasgow rainshine’ raises a smile with the lobster-tanned audience, most having over indulged in the 30 degree sunshine of the day. The song ends on a lovely little bit of birdsong mimicry that raises an appreciative round applause from the modest crowd.
After her brief set, I manage to steal a few minutes for an interview. Talk turns to the current spate of singer songwriters assaulting the charts – artists like the Buckley-raping aberration that is James Blunt, the not-quite-so-bad Stephen Fretwell and the aforementioned Ms Tunstall, who, it turns out, is an acquaintance.
‘When I first heard her, she was using a ‘bastard pedal’ (vocal effects box of tricks) that totally blew me away and frightened me into trying to write some decent songs. Then, when I listened to the album (Platinum-selling Eye to the Telescope) I was quite I was quite disappointed because it was so slick and produced and had lost a lot of what I liked about her. Obviously, it was created with a mass market in mind and it’s done her very well, what with T in the Park, Glastonbury and everything- I’m slightly jealous!’
She is currently recording her own debut album with Chris Shelswell at his home studio in Glasgow, which should be available in the autumn. ‘We’ve only done a couple of tracks so far but hope to have an EP finished by the end of the summer and the album out in November. I have worked with Chris before on a small art film which was great fun because I had never done anything like that before’.
I ask her what the process was in writing a film score. ‘I had some tracks that didn’t really fit anywhere and when I saw the film they just seemed to fit, it was bizarre how they just fitted and the soundtrack got some attention from (TV and film composer) James Gray’.
I ask her how she feels about being signed to Luna and the current Beanscene tour- ‘It’s great because I can use it as a platform to get comfortable playing in front of people. It’s a real challenge to perform in front of a group of people who haven’t specifically come to listen to music and you really have to work at it to get people to sit up and listen. It’s a bit of an odd situation – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, it just depends on the mood. It was really awkward last week because when I started playing they stood up and left! But in contrast this week there were people sticking their heads round the corner and showing a genuine interest. Another positive aspect is that you can buy Luna releases at Beanscenes across Scotland and also they are playing the tracks on their online radio station. So in that respect it’s quite good and a great way to get exposure.’
So, what’s on the horizon? ‘Well, I’ve got one year left of university (Caragh is doing the Commercial Music course at Paisley), so that’s going to take priority. But with any luck the album should be finished soon and we’ll just be releasing and publicising it. There has already been a lot of feedback from people coming to gigs asking when the records out so I’ll just be building on that and trying to get some radio and television appearances to build it up slowly so that by next summer I can hopefully get some bigger gigs and move it on to the next stage.’
Despite how much Beanscene’s ploy to come across as some cool and hip hub for new talent may grate, I suppose any opportunity for new talent to be heard and get experience working a crowd is good news. And after my evening with Caragh, I find the raging anti-corporate beast in me strangely sedated and replaced by a poncey, chin-stroking, white-chocolate frappuccino-quaffing twat. And that’s a good thing. I think.
You can catch Caragh and other Luna Records artists at Beanscenes across the country until the end of September.
Guest article by Paul B.
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