Saturday, 19 February 2011

French Wives – Nice N’ Sleazy, Glasgow, 17/03/11

As the fog descends upon a sullen Glasgow twilight, the mood is set for a memorable evening at Sauchiehall St's Nice N' Sleazy where the charismatic quintet French Wives are launching their inaugural EP 'Feel Safe Small'.

At first glance it has to be said that ‘Sleazy’s’ looks anything but; the chic macabre exterior masks what lurks inside, down in the lower echelons where this extravaganza took place.

To my dismay I entered the place to the sound of the dying twangs of the first support act ‘i swim with sharks’, but I was informed in good faith that they had more than adequately piqued the interest of this predominantly ‘hipster-esque’ clan of Glaswegians. Hailing from Leeds, the dynamic three-piece set out at 11am in their “trusty van, Mabel” to show their love for friends French Wives. How admirable.

Follow-up act ‘Pilots’ bore  fleeting resemblances to contemporaries ‘Wild Beast’ and ‘Vampire Weekend’, and held the audience captivated with their jangly hooks and buoyant harmonies. “It’s a shame they’re not from Glasgow,” crooned Caitlin Macmillan, 18, whose enthusiasm for this band was clearly apparent.

After a brief respite, it was the moment for the apex of the night’s musical entertainment to grace the stage, as French Wives assumed their positions behind their instruments, greeted with a barrage of whoops and applause.

They opened with a very obvious crowd pleaser, ‘Big Brave Boy’ which supercharged the crowd into an electrified rousing of the chorus which was sufficiently bellowed back at the band just loud enough for singer Stuart Dougan to crack a smile.

“Thanks for coming to our party” murmured a humble Dougan, putting my mind to rest in regards to the question, “what’s with the multi-coloured ballons scattered everywhere?”

The band put in a stellar performance throughout their time on stage, with a near flawless rendition of ‘Give Him America’, it was evident that it wasn’t just Dougan’s enormous height that was raising the roof. “We love playing at Sleazy’s,” claimed Dougan after the show, “its something special playing to your local crowd”.

As the set came to a close, the inevitable appeal for an encore began to dance about the lips of the thoroughly satisfied throng and once they were appeased, they bestowed French Wives with a revered silence, giving them the respect they unquestionably deserve. The chorus however, triggered an eruption of singing from everyone present, creating a real connection between the crowd and the band, and it was clear that French Wives were having just as much fun as the rest of us.

The performance of last song ‘Halloween’ was one that is bound to stay with the band for a long time and perhaps become a defining moment in their time together. Speaking to Dougan after the show, he said he was “so happy with the reaction for the last song” and that it was “possibly one of the best moments we’ve had as a band”.

Overall the EP launch at Nice N’ Sleazy’s was an absolute triumph for French Wives, helping them cement their signature on the face of Scottish music, especially in Glasgow, where the infallible love for this group is overwhelming. They are currently continuing their UK tour, making 17 stops along the way at places such as Manchester, London and Stornoway.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

あやこ, アヤコ*

Ah, Dunfermline. The consumer market capital of the world. Ahem, ok maybe that’s a bit hard to believe by any stretch of the imagination, but for two creative and ambitious young lads, their world is Dunfermline, and they are already on their way to dominating it with their graphics and web design company, Ayako* graphics.

The ‘lads’ I’m referring to here are graphic design and visual communication graduates Stuart Kirk and Chris Di Placito, whose passion for visual exuberance is evident in the stunning oriental crafts they produce, as well as their natural brains for business, having concocted their venture from the beginning and managed it to what it has become today, all on their own. Both highly commendable students, Stuart won design student of the year 2007 and Chris received a scholarship from a local design agency the same year.

From humble beginnings, this canny little endeavour has blossomed into one of the most revered businesses of its nature, with regular clients from Dundee hailing them as “innovative and free-thinking”, delivering them “artwork to be proud of”. The duo have also done a bit of fishing further afield, trading artwork with fellow designers Cornish Knockers from Cornwall, and the extremely talented and respected Johanna Basford, whose intricate designs have been an inspiration to the boys.  They have not had a single unsatisfied customer to date, and that is no mean feat for a two year old company in such a competitive market. Among those appeased clientele is Craig Pounder from Scotstrings who merits Ayako* for being “energetic… creative… professional… from concept to completion, these guys were a pleasure to work with”.

Ayako* has a beautiful array of Eastern inspired merchandise; from t-shirts to postcards to prints, all dusted with the Ayako* charm of being quirky and whimsical, with an air of purity that makes the pieces so attractive. They also have a collection of characters including ‘samurai kid’ and ‘ayakogirl’, whom you can have emblazoned onto just about anything you like, giving things a nice personal touch.

These gung-ho entrepreneurs are far from reaching their zenith with Ayako* graphics, it’s only a matter of time before ‘samurai kid’ becomes a household brand.

Ayako* graphics merchandise can be purchased from

keep the home fires burning! - French Wives interview.

When five friends from Glasgow University decided to merge their eloquent musical talents to create what is now undeniably an unstoppable force of the Glasgow music scene, I can say with some degree of confidence that none of them ever suspected it would be the overwhelming success it has already become.

Over the short few years the band has been together they have graced the stages of numerous music festivals such as T in the Park and the Loopallu festival, as well as several rambunctious gatherings around the country, creating an exciting buzz about the place that manages to infect the very walls that surround them.

The French Wives are rapidly becoming one of my (many) guilty pleasures and, I am pleased to say, one of which I am legally able to share with you here. Listen to ‘Covered in Grace’ from the brand new EP here, and take a gander at the interview below – keep the home fires burning!

First of all, congratulations on getting signed to Red Hat Records. I see good things coming from this partnership, how did it come to transpire?

Thanks very much! Red Hat Records is a brand new label which is being run by three guys, one of which is our singer Stuart. It’s not a label set up to release only French Wives records, but it made the most sense that their first release was one of ours as they were looking to get started and we were looking to put a record out in the same timeframe.

How useful have your friendships with Vic Galloway and Three Blind Wolves been?

They’ve been great on both a personal and professional level. Vic has been a great servant to new Scottish music and I have no doubts that even though he’s not doing the introducing in Scotland show any more he will still continue to passionately promote Scottish music. In Ally McRae Radio 1 have a very worthy replacement as well. The Wolves are great guys and a great band as well. Obviously Ross was really well established already when we started out, so it was great to do some shows with them to get our name out there a bit. Their manager, Jamie Webster, has been extremely helpful to us since the beginning and we’ll always be really grateful to him for that.

Could you tell us a bit about yourselves? Where are you all from and how did you meet?

We’re kind of from all over the place. Although we’re based in Glasgow, Stuart is the only Glaswegian, and even then are you really a Glaswegian if you come from Milngavie? I’m from Irvine in Ayrshire, Jonny’s from Stranraer, Siobhan is from a tiny place called Killin and Chris might be the poshest Dundonian I’ve ever met. I’ve always wanted in an interview to say a strange way for how we met (because the story is standard and boring and I’m already rambling) so I’m going to say that we’re all half siblings.

Just a couple of years ago, if someone asked 'who are the French Wives?' people would've said 'you should probably ask the French husbands', now you're finding yourself being described as a "steamroller" of the Glasgow music scene, and "one of the most exciting bands in Scotland". Has the exposure brought about any significant changes in your personal lives?

Haha, we wish! On the very rare occasion where someone recognises and speaks to us that isn’t already someone we know I think we’re often a lot more excited about it than they are.

How do you manage to juggle studying at uni and your commitments to the band?

I think juggling is the correct term for it. We all took university seriously and we didn’t want to ever drop out to focus on the band because we wanted not only to get our degrees, and we were never presented with any real reason to do so. If we had I’m not sure whether we’d be much further forward than we are now. If Johnny Big Dick from Big Dick records had come in for us when we were students then we may have considered it, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s perhaps better that that didn’t happen, because now we can be in a band and be all erudite and graduatey at the same time. But yeah, I haven’t answered this question, have I? We basically fitted in the band as much as we could around uni. Quite often they overlapped, particularly for Jonny around finals time, but we just made do and worked as hard as we could.

What is the thought process you go through when you're writing songs?

I think it’s different each time. I’m always really interested by how others write songs, because I’m not sure if we do it the best way or not! Basically I’ll normally come up with a musical idea, we’ll fight about it for a while, then Stuart will add the lyrics and there’s a song!

I was intrigued by the story behind 'Hyndland Weather Bear' and even went onto google street view to see for myself (rainy day?), do you have any other songs with a quirky wee backstory? 

None quite as quirky as that, but Stuart always has an interesting idea or story behind most of his lyrics, I think.

What's your favourite song of your own, and why?

This changes all the time for all of us. The funniest is certainly a song that lasted maybe for our first 2 gigs called The Jealousy Corps. It’s ridiculous. Thankfully the only recording is a shoddy live one and the only person that has it is Stuart. Long may that continue, it’s not fit for public consumption.

What do you do to help get the creative juices flowing?

When I deliberately sit down to write a song, which is rare compared to spur of the moment things I trick my brain into thinking of something, convince myself I can’t do it so that my brain wants to defy itself. It’s hard to explain!

Apart from the obvious launch of your brand new EP 'Feel Safe Small', do you have any other monumental projects coming up? T in the Park, for example? (said with crossed fingers...)

There’s a UK tour to promote the release of the EP, which does kick off with the launch. Following that we will hopefully play at quite a few festivals, if they’ll have us! After that there are plans for a single release in the autumn as well as starting work on an album, but that will be a long process.

Frightened Rabbit said of their TITP set last year that it 'sent tingles up their spines' and it was 'a weekend [they] will never forget'. Have you played any gigs that you thought were really special?

Our first single launch was probably the gig that’s been closest to that for us. It was back in October 2009 and it was held in the tiny Research Club at Glasgow Uni, which is now sadly departed. It was the first time we’d ever heard anyone singing our songs back at us, and it was a pretty special moment for us as a band. It felt like a bit of a turning point from a serious hobby to something that we could spend our lives doing.

While researching French Wives on the internet, I frequently come across a 1970's porno of the same name and wondered if that was possibly the inspiration behind the band's name. Were your maws in it? (sorry, couldn't resist :))

It’s pure coincidence, we discovered the film after we had the name. I’ve not seen it, though (not through lack of trying).

I've heard you being likened to Belle and Sebastian and Arcade Fire in the past, both exemplary bands in my opinion. How do you take these comparisons?

When they’re meant in a complimentary way it’s great. Although we don’t really feel like we sound like them they’re great bands, so to be compared to them is great. However, people often use them as a kind of negative stereotype, which I’ve often found weird, because as I said I don’t think we sound much like them. Maybe we do and we’re too close to the songs to notice.

What advice would you give to any up and coming musicians?

I’d probably feel pretty unworthy to give out any advice, as I think we’re at most up and coming musicians as well. We’ve not really been round the block enough to know the ins and outs of everything as much as others, but if people want to really have a go at being in a band I think it’s just a matter of working as hard as possible. Not just on songs and live sound, but on every aspect.

Lastly, what are each of your favourite records?

Chris’s is Entertainment by Gang of Four, Stuart’s is Funeral by Arcade Fire, Mines at the moment is Thriller by Michael Jackson, although that changes all the time. At the time of writing, Siobhan and Jonny have dishonourably failed to let me know what their favourites are (however I believe Siobhan has the legitimate excuse of being in the Middle East). Therefore I shall choose their favourites for them. Siobhan’s is the iconic 7 by S Club 7 and Jonny’s is the legendary live album Rolf Harris Sings at the Down Under Club, by none other than Rolf Harris.