James Mackenzie and the Aquascene at The Glen Mhor Hotel, Inverness, 28/3/2015. A review.
James Mackenzie and the Aquascene were sandwiching an Inverness date at The Glen Mhor Hotel between Elgin on the Friday and Aviemore on the Sunday. The setting was in Nico’s bar which was a change from the usual venues that you associate with live music in the city. Tonight’s gig was £7 a head with all proceeds going to Highland Hospice.
First support act was fresh faced youngster Connor Johnston. This was Connor’s first support slot and although a step into the unknown he has had experience of large audience both at Jocktoberfest last year as part of Music Plus and earlier in the week where I caught him sing just the one song, one of his own, at a school concert at Culloden Academy.
Connor leans on the contemporary style of Ed Sheeran adding in a cover of ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and towards the end of his set he also mashes up Sheeran’s ‘Don’t’ with one of his own songs. This style works well for Connor and complements his own songwriting style even if at times he flattens out a little at the lower end of his range. Overall this was a promising set from Connor who we no doubt will be hearing more of in the future.
Next up was the more seasoned Kris Douglas aka Dr Wook. Known to many as the frontman of local band The Whiskys, Kris is forging a solo career too and is picking up a number of high profile slots including that of Ben Ottewell (Gomez) and Mark Morriss (Bluetones) in the coming weeks.
Tonight he opened with ‘Down the Line’ which has an earthy Southern feel which fills the room. This is music from the soul whether it be the more atmospheric ‘Never Behind’ or the more pounding ‘Not For Me’ they all strike a chord with audiences. Not afraid to add in a couple of covers too including his haunting version of New Order’s ‘Love Vigilantes’ and the man he is currently listening to Townes Van Zandt and his ‘No Place To Fall’. Dr Wook melds his influences into a fusion of Americana to great and accessible effect.
Most recently James Mackenzie has been most associated with, and still is, Verona his harder pop rock band. He also pops up now and again with solo slots too playing a lot of the material on show tonight. However, you don’t have to look to far back in time to find the roots of these songs with his band he was re-uniting tonight, The Aquascene.
Tonight they were a four piece with James accompanied by Caroline Truslove on guitar, Martine Scott on cello and keys played by Alasdair Duncan who was joining up on this gig only. This gave a rounded and fleshed out sound in comparison with James’s solo sets. There was subtlety where required and some understated power when needed. Opening with ‘The Journey’ we were taken through the Aquascene repertoire including a couple of the tracks from their soon to be released ‘Winter’ EP.
As much as I enjoyed early songs such as ‘Telescopes’, fan favourites ‘Something I’m Not Telling You’ and, set ender, ‘The Boat Song’ it was the new material that caught the eye. In particular, ‘It’s All Good’ which was a real change in direction for James. The focus here was the vocal. There was no guitar for James to hide behind and although he seemed a little uncomfortable at first without his shield his confidence grew quickly and with the stark instrumental support there was a new focus on just his voice; a focus that it fully deserved. Yes James, you can really sing. Not that anyone had ever doubted you of course.
Overall this was an intimate venue suited for such a night, set up like a listening room with sofas and chairs mainly to the front.However, I couldn’t help but feel that, once again unfortunately, there was too much chatter from up by the bar which at times was distracting even when sat down at the front. That aside this is a viable alternative venue for live music in Inverness and hopefully we will see more nights at Nico’s.