A review of The Winter Tradition as the took to Mad Hatters, Inverness supported by Dougie Scott and Neon Knights on the 9th of February, 2014.
First on stage tonight, one man a wooden tie and a guitar. Dougie Scott is a local singer songwriter although he is currently living through in Aberdeen. He last appeared in these parts at the Clutha benefit gig but this was a slightly longer set tonight. While Dougie has used some wizardry in the past there was none on show tonight, no loops or gizmos, a pleasant set comprising of his own compositions with a couple of covers thrown in.
While Dougie’s influences are fairly diverse – he covered ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ – this isn’t really reflected in his own songs. Writing about the usual suspects (love & loss, break up & make up, the distant crush), there is a reasonable change in pace and melody but for me the delivery lacked a wee bit of any real intensity. We’re really not short of quality singer songwriters (male and female) so it takes courage to step into that arena and time to really develop a unique presence. Dougie will be playing in and around Aberdeen and Dundee in the coming months.
Neon Knights followed former band member Dougie onto the stage. I’m bound to say that I was encouraged by the first song in this evenings set – strong shades of Ani Difranco’s ‘Cradle and All’ in the vocals and general feel – alas it wasn’t sustained. The set featured ‘Down’, the first song they had ever written together as a band and it seems to have established a song-writing template that they don’t stray too far from.
So, an eclectic set of influences are brought to bear in most songs, for example in ‘Guess What’ and new composition ‘Wake Up’. And maybe that’s what I’m having some difficulty with – I’m just not sure if the jazzy discordant flavour appears by accident or design? With that said, it is worth pointing out this is a relatively new Neon line-up.
Ambitious arrangements fall just short, too much doodling lead guitar throughout and the drummer was far too busy at times. I did check out ‘Pictures’ just in case there had been a problem with the monitors but nope – I still felt the drums were too busy. They insist that they are all about having fun but I feel pretty certain that they have serious ambitions.
Neon Knights have all the right ingredients right there – they just need to take a step back and are, I think, a few tweaks away from a really strong set. As one audience member said, they ‘are tenacious with their desire to gig and look delighted to be part of the bill.’ Fine qualities.
And so to tonight’s headline act, The Winter Tradition. If they were disappointed in the small crowd (numbers, not height) then they didn’t show it. I am always impressed by a band that, no matter the circumstances, takes to the stage and give it everything they’ve got. But then I shouldn’t be surprised in that respect with TWT. Last time I talked with them (they played Invergordon Arts Centre in June of last year) they had just taken the decision to commit to full time and were clearly adopting a very professional approach to everything they did. And that shone through this evening.
TWT generate a big sound, there is a lot of technology on stage but it is used to very good effect and the strong lead vocal and harmonies are never lost. These are well-crafted songs with multilayered arrangements featuring riffs and hooks and melodies that demand your full attention. The pace might vary but the intensity seldom drops. Add to that one of my favourite lyrics ‘If we can find dry land, we’ll grow old together’, and you won’t find any complaints from me. The debut album ‘Gradients’ was well received and is still very much in the foreground with favourable reviews appearing regularly.
This tour is intended to promote the launch of the new single ‘Departures’ with Mad Hatters missing the badge of official launch venue by one gig, that honour goes to the next venue Herriot-Watt University. They are covering the miles and working hard, highlights of the tour so far are sell out gigs in London at Upstairs @The Garage and the mighty King Tuts in Glasgow.
As for what’s next? Strong hints of working on a follow up album, the guys are excited and energized by this but insist that they will be taking their time with the new material, quality counts.