Last Friday (5 June) saw the release of a 4 track EP featuring the likes of bis and Mt Doubt. This is a taster for the upcoming double album from Last Night From Glasgow – Isolation Sessions.
In advance of the release of this hotly anticipated double vinyl release, Louder Than War has spoken with a number of the people who have made this happen. Label boss Ian Smith and photographer Brian Sweeney. Also six bands who feature on the album: Bis, Broken Chanter, Cloth, Lola in Slacks, Mt Doubt, Slime City.
Last Night From Glasgow: Isolation Sessions
Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, Last Night From Glasgow is a label which is going from strength to strength. Already with two of my personal favourite albums of the year so far, The Close Lobsters and Starless, the label has a bulging release schedule and a seemingly unending supply of plans and off-shoots to keep the membership happy.
Ian Smith is a man who is passionate about music. But his passion is especially about the label and the bands who appear on it. He is also, as a result, an exceedingly busy man, so it was generous of him to take some time out to answer a few questions for LTW.
LTW: You’ve been busy during lockdown using your time to fantastic effect. Members of LNFG have been inundated with constant messages of good news from you. Can you summarise a few of the things you are most excited about?
Ian Smith: Well as I write this, I have just taken delivery of our most recent re-press, Sister John’s Returned From Sea. Tonight (23 May) – that night that should have been our birthday party – we will be hosting a listening event for the album. Returned From Sea was always – for me anyway – our “coming of age” album. I think personally speaking it was the most complete and grown up thing we had done. I love that record. So I love being able to reinvest in it.
I’m hugely excited about the Isolation Sessions, and also our other new releases from Mt. Doubt, Slow Weather and Mark W. Georgsson. I am also massively eager to bring out more Hive Vinyl. We have 4 more records lined up this year, and then there’s the little matter of our re-release of The Bluebells Seminal debut album “Sisters”. As you say, we have a lot on!
You must be delighted about the ongoing growth and success of the label and its increasing number of offshoots. Could you have imagined where you’d be now when you first started the label?
Everyone dreams about what is possible. Certainly, we are further on than I thought we might be. Arguably we aren’t quite where I dreamt we might be. What is encouraging is our rate and consistency of growth. It appears that our quality control is actually getting better the more we do. It also seems that the busier we are the better we are. We are undoubtedly a bit of an enigma. Hey, if we keep making the right people happy and keep pissing the right people off then I will remain satisfied.
Undoubtedly, the whole COVID-19 crisis will have an effect on life in general post-lockdown. But specifically in relation to the independent music scene – bands, venues, and labels alike. How do you view the future?
I think labels will need to rethink their modus operandi. I hope some promoters take a long hard look at themselves. If they survive. This lockdown has shown artists just how important the release and sale side of things is. Without live shows to bolster the income, maybe they will take a look at how they are monetised and what needs to change.
Conversely, I sincerely hope it spells the end of venues robbing bands of a decent fee, whilst raking in buckets of beer money. We won’t be making a public song and dance about this but when we fully distribute the monies from the Isolation Sessions, it will be the ethical partner venues we had to abandon that will benefit. If you run a pay to play scheme or promote ticket splits, then you can expect to get nothing from us. Exploiting others for your own gain is never a good look and I hope many artists have had a chance to reflect upon this and realise just how little they need those £40 support slots on wet Wednesday nights.
LNFG, I think, does well because of the community we have built and the community we work hard to develop. I hope it’s obvious to all that we take nothing for granted and cherish every penny we earn. I hope our supporters feel part of the team and enjoy the sense of ownership we have tried to cultivate.
The Isolation Sessions
The Isolation Sessions is one of the projects Ian mentioned he is excited about. Since I first saw this being mooted as an idea, the project has grown arms and legs. The double album is now to be preceded by an EP in June. All proceeds from the sales of the album will be donated to independent partner stores and venues affiliated with the label.
It is more than an album though; it is a permanent record that will remain as a document of these strange times. In addition to the songs – all are covers recorded during lockdown by LNFG artists of other LNFG artists songs – there has been a concurrent photography project. Photographer, Brian Sweeney, has been taking socially distanced photographs of LNFG members and bands. Some of the bands involved, along with Brian, were kind enough to answer a few questions about the songs they chose and around their individual experiences of the whole lockdown situation.
Thanks to Manda from bis, David from Broken Chanter, Paul from Cloth, Louise from Lola in Slacks, Leo from Mt Doubt and Michael from Slime City for taking part.
Why did you pick the song you’ve covered?
Mt Doubt on Sister John’s Nothing Else: It was an easy choice really; great song, strong melody, interesting lyrics. I hope I did it some semblance of justice. I also reckon Sister John and I probably pay many of our inspiration-debts in similar places, so it was a very natural fit, glove-like.
bis on Slime City’s Dial Up Internet: Slime City are certainly one of my favourite bands on LNFG and are good friends. We were big fans of We Are The Physics (their previous band that all 3 Michaels were in plus 1 more) but Slime City are something else.
I thoroughly enjoy going to see them whenever I can as not only are they talented and interesting to watch, but (singer) Michael can get the whole room laughing with his banter which is quite a rarity at gigs. Dial Up Internet’s an excellent song but perhaps not my favourite song of theirs. I think Glasgow is a Shitehole is but I didn’t think that would suit the promotion of this good-deed LP very well :)
The Absurdity of 2020
Slime City on bis Kandy Pop: I think it was inevitable we’d do a bis song for this – we’ve been friends with them for years. They actually got our old band our first ever gig in London, so we figured we owed them by torturing their banger. We saw them do it live on TOTP when we were young so it’s always stuck with us as being a brilliant classic record and, with our own vocal affection for that TV show, it seemed like exactly the right song to do.
When we were asked by LNFG to do a song for the Isolation Sessions, we figured it would just be a wee playlist on SoundCloud, but it really has transformed into something much bigger. In comparison to all the amazing recordings on there, us trying to make ourselves laugh by adding a death metal growl into a song called Kandy Pop maybe just highlights the absolute absurdity of 2020.
Cloth on Annie Booth’s Magic 8: We’ve shared a stage with Annie a number of times and have always been captivated by her song writing. Magic 8 is one of our favourite songs of hers, lyrically and musically. The original has quite a sparse arrangement, so it suited being reimagined as an isolated, home-made recording, and it also gave us an opportunity to try some different things out. We ended up stripping it back even more in the end.
An Enjoyable Distraction
Broken Chanter on Annie Booth’s Still: I chose Still because I love that whole EP. It’s beautiful. And the arrangement of that particular song struck a chord with my interpretation of what we’d been asked to do. The opening line is an instruction. Annie’s voice and playing is so beautiful on it that I was a touch apprehensive tackling it, but I felt I should fling myself outside my comfort zone. I’m a terrible pianist, so I fannied about with some synthesisers and voila! The Isolation LP was a much needed, and enjoyable, distraction.
Lola in Slacks on Broken Chanter’s Don’t Move to Denmark: I really love the ‘Broken Chanter’ album and this is my favourite track on it. It’s beautiful, with a perfect balance of yearning and denial both musically and lyrically, which is a perfect fit for ‘Lola in Slacks’. I don’t know David personally, which was a good thing for this particular task. It’s quite nerve racking to imagine the original songwriter listening to your cover version and maybe having one of those ‘Look what they’ve done to my song, ma!’ reactions.
It was such a new experience for us all to record our parts in isolation and independently from one another. This song will remind me of lockdown 2020 forevermore. I must visit Denmark as a result when this is all over. Kind of got to now. ‘Thank you, David’, for the loan of your bittersweet beauty of a song.
You have your own single Caravans on a Hill recently released – how has the lockdown impacted on the way you would normally promote your music?
Mt Doubt: There have been ups and downs. It’s been a bit disheartening being unable to get out and play in front of live audiences; multiple shows and festivals had to be cancelled or postponed which has stalled things a bit. Finding a positive slant, it’s elbowed me more and more into the virtual ‘realm’. I’ve been doing live-streamed performances every Thursday (Facebook, 20:05) and they’ve been really fun, for me if no-one else!
Last Night From Glasgow
Tell us about how you got involved with Last Night From Glasgow?
Mt Doubt: I’d known Ian for a few years and he’d always been forthcoming with his compliments and support for my music which was very kind. When the opportunity arose to work together it made perfect sense, and I’m really excited for this new chapter of Doubt! Obviously LNFG is a fantastic model for record labels around the world so I’m excited to be part of it.
bis: Ian has been a big fan and follower of Bis for many years. He suggested to us about us working with LNFG a number of times, but it was only ever taken seriously in recent years. To be honest I hadn’t even heard of LNFG so it was an interesting meeting to discover the ethics and ideas behind the label and plan how a relationship could work.
Lola in Slacks: We actually just got involved with LNFG around 1 month before lockdown. We had a meeting with the LNFG posse in Mono Café Bar and they invited us onto the Hive part of the label to release our debut album. It’s such a great label with the best ethos imaginable in an industry that’s become really tricky to manoeuvre for Independent artists, so we were absolutely delighted. We were booked into the studio for early April to record the album, but the necessity of lockdown arrived and put a spanner in the works where that was concerned. Delays are a part of daily life for everyone at the moment though, and I’m a great believer in things happening at the right time for the right reasons.
How are you surviving the lockdown?
bis: The 3 of us have 8 kids and 3 businesses between us so it’s been quite challenging and draining. There are good days and bad days and I certainly miss ’normal’ life. I don’t think the economy will ever be the same again so it’s a nervous time, especially as I’m someone who likes certainty and plans.
Set us back 14 Years
Slime City: For us, it’s been quite difficult. I’ve seen a lot of people shouting about doing quarantine albums and all that but, for a good long time, I don’t think any of us had any motivation to do anything creative at all, just crippled by the anxiety of everything. Can’t even get creative with toast.
Some of us are still working full time, and the fact we can’t all be in the same room to bounce ideas off each other really hinders getting anything done. We’re not the most prolific band at the best of times, so this has probably set us back about fourteen years.
Cloth: We’re doing OK. We were supposed to be touring our album in May, so it was disappointing not being able to play all the shows we had booked. They’ll be rescheduled for some point in the future though so it’s not so bad. We’ve begun work on our second album which is really exciting and a great focus to have while in lockdown.
Broken Chanter: It’s been ups and downs. I’ve been struggling with it the past couple of weeks. Hit a bit of a mental low. I’ve been doing socially distant/responsible loops on my bike. Trying to tire/tyre myself to beyond the point of anxiety. I’ve recorded one EP of ambient music for Bandcamp’s ‘no-fees’ Friday already, and will be doing one for each of the forthcoming NFFs, just to try and make sure that I’m trying to write even when I’m feeling incapable, like at the moment.
Surreal and Farcical
This isn’t an inspiring time for me. I don’t want this to influence my song writing. I don’t want to relive this in any way once it’s over, beyond an inquiry holding those responsible for the huge and unnecessary loss of life in the UK to account. Hopefully it does inspire us as a society to examine how we’ve been going about things for a while now. The unrestrained capitalism under which we’re all suffering is a monster.
Things are taking a more surreal and farcical turn every day. The UK Health Secretary has just manically laughed his way through a television interview about the failure to have a track and trace system ready on time as UK’s unenviable world-beating death toll continues to grow, as I write this. You can “legitimately” “test your eyesight” by taking your motor out for a spin. More than ever, I am relieved that Health is Devolved. Solidarity with all of those in England being put in harm’s way.
Lola in Slacks: The Isolation Sessions project really helped maintain some creativity through the initial weeks. It was lovely to hear the other unmastered tracks from the LNFG artists as they arrived. Label artistic director, Friar Brian Sweeney, popped round and took photos of us hanging out of our windows or hanging out in our closes too, which was fun. Human contact in any form is important when we feel isolated. It created a real sense of community for the artists and members of the label.
I’ve devoured lots of isolation-themed documentaries, films and books, which has sparked creative bursts here and there. The Maysles Brothers’ 1975 documentary Grey Gardens being the most heartbreakingly glorious.
Everything feels very vivid during isolation, from birdsong and beautiful blossoming flowers to the horrendous magnitude of death and inequality. Being creative amidst that chaos is easier some days than others.
Albert Camus “The Plague” 1947: “They knew now that if there is one thing one can always yearn for, and sometimes attain, it is human love”
The Future for Independent Music?
How do you view the future for independent artists and venues in Scotland post COVID 19?
Slime City: It’s a worry, and not just for Scotland. The fact that venues might not properly reopen until 2021, and even then it may take even longer to resemble what they used to, is just something that’ll really floor a lot of us. The rehearsal rooms we practice in have closed down permanently during this, so we have no idea what the logistics of actually rehearsing again will be. Continuing to support independent venues and artists with campaigns like Isolation Sessions is crucial. But we all realise there’s so much at stake here – music was already a commodity that was distinctly undervalued.
But music’s malleable. How it’s performed, how it adapts, how it transcends limitations. I have absolutely no doubt artists and their supporters will find ways to connect with audiences – you’re already seeing it with online festivals and streamed performances curated by venues and publications. Coming to terms with how bleak it could be – it might never be the same rowdy, sweating venues it used to be, but maybe using alternate methods will be refined in ways that right now might not make immediate sense to us. Instead of spilling someone’s drink in a crowd, you’ll do it in VR and then have to click ‘yes’ to accept your head being kicked in. Regardless, it’ll be the delivery method that adapts. Independent music and the artists that create it will just continue to evolve like they’ve always had to.
Invigorated Appetite for gigs?
Cloth: Well everything seems a bit up in the air at the moment for venues as they’ve lost almost all of their income due to the pandemic. Projects like The Isolation Sessions, and the Save Our Venues campaign are doing a great job of raising funds to help keep local venues and record shops afloat. But it is a worry that we could potentially lose some beloved establishments, which would have a knock-on effect for the artists in Scotland who cherish and rely upon these spaces. Hopefully, they can weather the storm until the point where we’re allowed live performance events again as we would imagine there will be an invigorated appetite for gigs when this is all over.
Broken Chanter: I honestly don’t know, and it’s extremely concerning. I just hope that enough folk in Scotland realise what’s at stake for the independent venues that they frequent and do everything possible to keep them open. As for artists, I guess there’s going to be a lot of home-recorded stuff for a while? More streaming of performances?
No-one I know, musician or venue owner/booker, is going to put people’s health in jeopardy for the sake of a gig.
A Sound Bunch
Folk have been really good to me. They’ve bought the merch they would have at gigs that were cancelled, and they’ve bought the lockdown ambient EP that I released. That support and the accompanying messages have really meant an awful lot. What a sound bunch.
Lola in Slacks: I really hope that Independent venues and artists will come out the other side of this intact. I think the only thing we can do is support them through the crisis, in any small way we can. Obviously, the Isolation Sessions album/project was set up for this reason, to support local Independent music venues and record stores. I miss my local Glad Café so much. Looking forward to going to a gig and enjoying a pre-show jackfruit curry with a pint of Blue Moon on the other side of this.
What are your plans post COVID-19?
Mt Doubt: I want to play live shows, hug my distant loved-ones, go to the sea, climb a mountain. Go to the cinema, go to the pub with my dad to watch the football. Go out for a nice meal or ten. That’s really it!
Bis: We have another album being worked on already. There’s several (many!) song ideas floating around between us so once we get our personal stuff sorted better, I’m sure we’ll get stuck back into it again. I like looking to the future and this will help. Steven has a cool new studio at his home now but don’t think it caters for the 2-metre rule sadly.
Slime City: I think it’s necessary we all start to hold accountable the official representatives who’ve intensified and fumbled this crisis but, apart from that, maybe go and see some bands, put out some records, and remember how to talk to each other in person.
Cloth: Hopefully, when it’s permitted, we’ll be able to play the shows we had planned for our tour. We were really looking forward to touring the UK and playing in some cities we’ve not yet been to as a band, so we’ll be trying to make that happen (we just want to play live again!). We plan to release our second record next year so we’ll be writing and recording for much of the next 12 months and will hopefully be able to get back into the studio for some things when the lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Broken Chanter: I will be outwith my flat for all of the hours that I am conscious. And also, hopefully rescheduling the two tour’s worth of dates that have been cancelled. But mainly the former, at first.
Thanks to all for their openness and honesty.
The full list of contributing bands and artists is:
Mt Doubt, Cloth, Lola in Slacks, Broken Chanter, Sister John, The Gracious Losers, Lemon Drink, Nicol & Elliot, Andre Salvador & Von Kings, Annie Booth, Zoe Bestel, bis, L-Space, Life Model, Medicine Men, Deer Leader, Close Lobsters, Slime City, The Muldoons, Foundlings, Carla J Easton, Vulture Party, Martial Arts.
Long-time associate of Ian Smith, Brian Sweeney, who has been with the label from the off, has been clocking up the miles creating a photographic document of the times. He took some time out from his travels to answer a few questions.
How did the idea for taking the photos first come about?
Brian Sweeney: Basically, me and Ian have been talking for some time about a project involving the members. As lockdown approached, I took the idea to Ian and he backed me straight way. I contacted the AOP and they said that as I was documenting a community during COVID 19,then travel was acceptable. We were on it on day 1, and the situation was ideal (well logistically anyway) as people were all at home.
It was based on old “ windae hinging shots”…..woman hanging out of tenement windows, basically the twitter of its time. And photographer Bill Owens’ odyssey across the mid-west last century, which I was always fascinated with. What made the project appealing to was that there was a big cross section of, for want of a better word “class”. I think people from all walks of life is better. Yet there was one thing that bound everyone together and that was supporting grassroots musicians and of course a love of music.
There was also the aspect of all the gigs that would be cancelled, so essentially a sociable community was put in lockdown. I thought it would be a good way for folk to put names to the faces in the gallery. Maybe spark up new conversations when everything comes back to normal.
How many pictures have you now taken? What were the biggest challenges that faced you?
Brian: I’m not really a problem person, there’s always a way to work out something. Logistically it was chaos, as I’m not that clerically inclined, lots of sheets of paper, with names numbers etc. It’s up to about 120. So having 120 different people messaging you at different times was a bit time consuming. But good fun.
A lot of miles driven, but I’m no stranger to that. But I suppose the biggest niggle was working out where I could piss! A lot of public toilets and petrol stations toilets were shut, no pubs or cafes open-end sometimes I’d be out from 8am till 10 at night. I obviously couldn’t enter people’s houses. In an unnamed coastal town I had to go in the bushes, the police pulled up to talk to a few kids who were cycling by. I had to hide in the bushes for 10 minutes till they left.
Do you have any favourite pictures or stories from the project?
Brian: It’s just been a joy meeting everyone, getting to talk. I’ve not met a lot of the members, so that’s been brilliant. New friends, different points of views, all the things we took for granted before. Everyone has been amazing. I’ve had wine, beers, duck, records, eggs, butteries, and most importantly support. It really has been an amazing journey.
One of my highlights was shooting a tortoise. I haven’t seen a tortoise since Blue Peter, never mind shot one.
What are the future plans for the pictures? Do you plan some sort of exhibition post lockdown?
Brian: Hopefully we do an exhibition somewhere with some bands playing and plenty of booze. Maybe a book – probably dictated by the community opinions, who knows. I just want to go to the pub again or go see a band.
Thanks to Brian for his time. And for all the wonderful pictures he has taken and shared with the Last Night From Glasgow community
A variety of packages for the Isolation Sessions album are available – check here for the details.
There are also a variety of Last Night From Glasgow membership options to suit every pocket. Take some time to investigate all the off-shoots too. From the classic re-release of The Bluebells – Sisters on Past Night From Glasgow through to Komponist and Hive.
At the time of writing there were fewer than 10 copies of the double album left for pre-order. The first payments have been handed over to some of the recipients.
Credit for all the black and white photographs: Brian Sweeney