Archive for the 'Troika' Category

A Promising Future Behind Me at Foundations Festival 2018

Troika – Odin Nightclub, 25/05/00

troika setlist - OdinIt seems that my brother has been cleaning out the loft to make way for what will be, I would imagine, a lot of stuff as recently the family has discovered little girl number two will be appearing later in the year, to give my niece Charlotte a little sister.

In the midst of all this cleaning, there was a small amount of discovering and a rapid-fire stream of photographs texted to me earlier this evening. Photographs of pre-Y2K Miltons waiting in line at festival signing tents, photos of cassette tapes of live concerts taped off the BBC, photos of badges, and, the photo you see with your own eyes now – a photo of the setlist for Troika’s very first show at Odin Nightclub in Coatbridge in May 2000.

Now, this will mean very little to anyone except the 100 or so people in the world that remember that Troika existed, but wow, that was exciting to see.

My memory of that particular show is hazy to say the least. If we performed the way we would do in every other show we pre-13th Note, we would have been just on the right side of a hair’s breadth from falling apart. Not in the manner of Neil Young / Crazy Horse – but in a “we really should have practiced a little more” sense.

The setlist is an eye-opener, to say the least. Beginning the show with Self-Denial (one of mine) – I suspect someone’s ego was needing stroked. From memory it was a frenetic and messy, jangly thing starting with an A barre at the 5th fret but with the e and b strings open for optimum jangle. There were 7th chords in there too if I remember – my first use of them. Took me years to work out how to make that work and not sound like a mistake. I’m pretty sure we dumped it eventually.

Fable, I have absolutely no memory of except to say I’m sure I hated it but when we dumped it, I started to really enjoy it. Contrarian bellend.

Dolphin tells its own story. My first ever song (if you don’t count my pre-teen “I lived in Spay-hay-haaaayn / It’s a very nice place to beeeee” nonsense. A lyrical prodigy, I was not) and written, as all first ever songs should be, about a girl. Well, technically about a girl’s pendant on that same girl’s necklace.

Now, before I took songwriting classes, and certainly before I taught songwriting classes, I had this odd notion that a lyric can only, possibly, be good, if it contains as complicated language as one can create. This must surely be a great song. As I often teach, now, there is a world of difference between the simplest lyrics (often the most powerful ones), “She loves you, Yeah Yeah Yeah”; and… well… songs that contain, oh I don’t know, pompous lyrical gymnastics about sea mammals navigating by “echolocationary sense”. It was a terrible song, saved only by a decent, if a little Britpoppy, melody. I think we all came to hate it with some degree of passion.

Come to think of it, Dolphin pre-dated Troika, back in the days when we were known as “Metronomic” – and were anything but. Before we were lucky enough to find Andy Bonar and we became Troika, we had frontman, a lad from my school. He hated Dolphin with a fury unmatched. I suspect it lasted so long just to spite him. Mind you, he turned out, literally, to be a pedophile and is to be found, I would imagine somewhere in the depths of Barlinnie Prison just outside Glasgow, as it goes. That’s a whole other story.

Winter Hair is next, it seems, and was one of Andy’s. Probably my least favourite of Troika’s songs – though it’s a beautiful one. To this day, I don’t really know what to do with it. It was a lovely song marred by uninspiring lead guitar. It’s one of only 2 songs here that ended up on our e.p. / album.

The other, is Insane – written by Iain Murnin with some lyrical allusion to Sylvia Plath. Yup, that’s where we were in our early 20s emotional development. It’s, conversely, one of my favourite troika songs, and oddly enough for the same reason that Winter Hair was my least – I had no idea what to do with it, and so it changed almost every time we played it.

Boy Upwards was a song of Andy’s pre-cooked from before Troika and as we were 1 song short of our set time, he filled in. I was positive this was a cover, but having googled it, it seems not: An Andy Bonar original. My only memory of this was coming out to the front of stage to watch Andy play and being filled with a sense of pride.

Back to me and a song that later became known as (I Know) Only What I Don’t Know but at that time was called “Camera Track”. It sounded like early Idlewild on the worst day of their lives and is almost shamelessly a pastiche of every affectation that band had – even down to the title. I have a demo recording of Camera Track and can’t bare to listen to it. Mind you, the e.p. recording is also pretty unbearable with the clarity of distance that time gives us.

And then there’s September Forever – Murnin’s set closer and my favourite early Troika song. All noise, feedback, distortion and screaming through microphonic pick-ups from my old red Jim Deacon Strat copy. That guitar was my first, but an absolute travesty. Still, those microphonic pick-ups through a Big Muff were brutal.

And that was that. The evening came to an end, and we began our 4 year experiment in underachievement but it was so much fun at the beginning.

I will say this though – and I’m sure I’ll come back to this over the next months if I keep up the planned account of writing and recording some new music for a couple of different projects – I wish I knew then many of the things I know now. From musicianship to songwriting to the business of music – time teaches.

Though, time is no excuse whatsoever for the worryingly unironic use of comic sans.

Troika – Catkin

catkinThe too many fireworks record label existed for a whole year before anyone, even I, took any notice of it. It began as a name; something to use to release the Missing Passport e.p. And once we had done that, it was shelved. The seed was planted though and a year later, I resurrected the label as my own business and so that occasional hungry drain of my savings was born. In early 2000s Scotland, many small CDr labels were springing up and I must confess, at the time, I had some snobbery towards it. I wanted to do something that felt like a “real” label – whatever that meant. It didn’t take long for the expensive idea of split 7” singles to come to me and hey, the “dialogues” 7” singles club was born.

I will admit to Troika being the first band considered for a Dialogue largely because I wanted my own music on vinyl. It seems strange now as they were short-lived but the accompanying band was a clear choice. Troika had played several shows with a band called Trundle Wheel and I loved them.

Troika chose one of Iain’s songs, Catkin, to feature. Initially we’d considered Andy’s Chinese Pirate but somehow Catkin seemed to fit better with Trundle Wheel’s track. Catkin was fairly heavy by troika’s standards and had a crunchy riff overlaid with Andy’s brighter, chiming melody.

Troika – The Missing Passport

After losing my old blog at the beginning of the year, it’s been fun thinking of things I could write about that didn’t just rehash all the old stuff. A conversation about my, oft-forgotten, solo music gave me the idea to blog about my music to date.

troikaIt all starts in a Superdrug. A small Superdrug health and beauty store on a street corner in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire. My first job and an opportunity to earn money to buy records. Little did I know, when I started there, that I would meet a guy a year older than me that would become my best friend for several years and my closest musical ally.

It didn’t start out so brightly, of course. Iain and I bonded quickly over Radiohead, Idlewild, Mogwai, Britpop, and music in general; but we found it difficult to start a band. Oh, we found our drummer ok – Paul was dating Iain’s sister; but to find a singer was a more harrowing experience. We eventually found a dapper young man with a 12-string acoustic guitar named Andy. We rehearsed together on halloween 1999 and Troika was born.

After a year of writing songs and playing shows, we booked some time with the, always excellent, Andy Miller at Chemikal Underground’s Chem19 studio and recorded the first 3 songs that would become The Missing Passport E.P. which we released in early 2001 as the first too many fireworks release. Over the next couple of years we would go back in and out of Chem19 recording a couple of songs here, a couple of songs there.

The plan was always to build our debut album but sadly Iain left the band in 2004 and Troika limped on for a while before entering what bands now call an “indefinite hiatus”. I think, to this day, we haven’t officially “split up”.

In 2010, when I was planning the relaunch of too many fireworks, I found the old recordings of the unreleased stuff and when placed together with the original missing passport e.p. it tied together fairly well. The “album” was never going to blow the gates of the music world open for us but it’s a great listen.

Almost all lyrics for troika were written by Andy and each writer; Andy, Iain and I, would each take turns to bring the initial song to the band that we’d then all work on.

Are We… is Troika’s pop song, with a really positive feeling to it – it brings a smile to my face whenever I listen. I remember Andy borrowed a line from John Cale for the song “fear is a man’s best friend” and as soon as Paul misheard it as “beer is a man’s best friend” that’s all I’ve ever been able to hear. You’re welcome.

Winter Hair is probably my least favourite troika track and not because of Andy’s beautiful song that he brought, almost fully formed, to the band; but because I just hate my guitar part. It’s so clear I didn’t really know much about recording at all. The guitar sounds weedy and the solo is cliche. Of course, all that said – it’s a lovely “Andy” song.

Rip Up The Last Words was the first that I brought to the band for recording; if we ignore the abysmal “Dolphin” (shoehorning the lyrics “Following your echo-locationary sense” into a lyric shows how hard I was trying to sound sophisticated in my first song). Thankfully no recordings of Dolphin exist. …Last Words was originally called “Uninstall AOL for fuck sake” after I spent a year working for the ISP. The song is pretty dark and follows a melancholy post-rock riff through to an extended scream-y ending. I suspect I was trying very hard to be Aereogramme at that time.

Are We Swimming (codeine effect remix) was my first attempt at remixing and I’m really proud of it. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing but Paul McGazz from My Legendary Girlfriend helped me out. I have a vague memory of Andy and I driving over to his place and recording it in Cubase. It’s a standard post-rock-y remix with a slowed down version of the Are We… riff, some delayed guitar and some piano – which I’ve always misremembered being played by me but thinking about it now, I think it was played by Andy.

Insane is one of my favourite songs that troika ever wrote though I have to admit I hated it at the time. Looking back it just felt out of place but listening now, it’s just beautiful. It’s an Iain song, and I think that’s his backing vocal along with Andy, whose falsetto is particularly lovely. I might be wrong, and I’m sure Iain will correct me but I think he wrote the lyrics to this one.

Between the Cracks in the Piano was my big success. If you don’t count “obsolete” (whose recording was sadly lost after the band split up) this was the one big post-rock song the band wrote and recorded and it was mine. I don’t even really remember how it came about but I’m so proud of it. Andy played this scratchy violin on the part and it sounds almost like an ethnic asian instrument. I played slide guitar for reasons I still don’t quite understand to this day.

(I Know) Only What I Don’t Know is punky and a clear pastiche of Idlewild, from the intro guitar riff, the pause after the bridge and even down to the title. That said, if you can listen past that – and over the years I’ve found that difficult – it’s a pretty great little new-wave song. Andy did a great job with the lyric and the vocal and I love the drums on this song.

Chinese Pirate was one of my favourites to play live. It was initially due to be our contribution to the first too many fireworks’ dialogue 7” single series but eventually it seemed Catkin would be a better choice. This song is pure Andy. It’s got this 80s new-wave thing going on and the duelling guitars in stereo was a great idea – those end of chorus “daaam daaam daaam” bits could have been tighter though, eh guys?

Don’t Try to Wave is just gorgeous. Listening back to it, the verses have this foreboding feeling of hopelessness but the chorus, with its ebow swoops and the hollered line “it’s not over yet” has always left me with a little hope. This was a bow song. I think I played the verse with a cello bow and a lot of reverb and switched to the ebow for the chorus. I also did my first bit of singing in the bridge. I’m not so sure that was a good idea in retrospect – though while listening to it this morning, it’s not half as bad as I remember.

Finally, we recorded The Slamming at Gav Thomson’s flat in Maryhill. Gav was the bass player for Flying Matchstick Men and filled in for Iain after he left. We were asked to contribute to the second in a series of “The Littlest Album” – an album of 1 minute songs released on 7” single format. I don’t remember much about that night apart from it being the first time my Yamaha VSS-30 appeared on record – and the first time my KAOSS Pad did too.