Jon Snodgrass/Cory Branan/Roscoe Vacant and the Gantin Screichs – 08/06/12 – The Bay (Glasgow)
With the Olympic torch passing close by the streets are heavy with police motorbikes and riot vans. The pavements are less busy with spectators. It’s getting late, and for many people all they are thinking about is getting home from work. It’s very obvious that the auspicious honour of bearing the torch doesn’t have the same attraction when it slips down streets that aren’t media hot spots. There’s no kids chasing the torch bearer, no pavements full of cheering supporters gurning and waving at the cameras, and instead there’s just small pockets of what I presume are family and friends looking on. No one seems to care that much about it at all.
Meanwhile mere yards away Roscoe Vacant, with three of his four Gantin’ Scriechs, took to the stage in The Bay. The setting isn’t strange, but I’m feeling a bit discombobulated as the band are playing in front of windows where the days fading light is their backdrop. This throws me a little as I’m used to seeing them perform in bars late at nights and in subterranean clubs that have never seen natural light. Yet in some way it felt that the setting was adding a little frisson to proceedings. Maybe a bit of Dylan Thomas as Roscoe and his band were unwittingly standing up to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’.
A modern day poet in his lyrical stance, Roscoe Vacant, is the sharp edge to social commentary, a folk punk with a a fistful of passionate songs to sing in a take no prisoners manner. He’s a mix of Robert Burns, the two Woody’s, Strummer and Guthrie, and the product of a straight talking mining community that has shaped his views on everything that you could care to mention.
If you want a rant about the sectarian divide that blights the west coast of Scotland then he’s the man to give you it. Similarly if you want to address the failings of the unions over the last twenty odd years then he will also happily ring a song out about that to. Some have claimed him to be an acquired taste, but with a bit of effort the rewards to listening to him are untold. With his last album it could comfortably sit between the Pixies and the Pogues and you can’t say that about many people.
Within the confines of the Bay it was refreshing to see the crowd watch the band with an open mind, and to go on and willingly show their appreciation of what they are doing. After the set I was speaking to Roscoe who said that he felt happy with the performance, and from an artist is hyper self critical that was saying something. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a run of gigs where he finds an audience who can tune into what he is doing.
The majority of people there were however attending the show to see Jon Snodgrass, and if I was to hazard a guess as to why then I’d lay money on it being down to the split 10”/Download that he did with Frank Turner. The amount of Turner t-shirts and the regularity that his name trips from peoples lips make it a tad obvious. Regardless of their reasons for making the effort to show up for the gig they were keen to be entertained as when both Jon and Cory wandered through the crowd to take their places behind the microphones the buzz was palpable.
I’d previously heard both while trawling the internet, and kicking about somewhere is a few Drag the River albums, but until now I had seen neither live. My ignorance to what they do on stage actually extended to the point that I was under the impression that they were going to play separate sets, and maybe at some point of the night perform some songs together from their split release from 2009. Instead they simply hung about on stage shoulder to shoulder and comfortably eased into songs as the mood took them. It’s a communal performance with each of them accompanying the other as required. Jon would add some vocals and guitar to one of Cory’s songs and likewise Cory would do the same for Jon.
It’s an approach that could lend itself to being disjointed and problematic, but in this case it flowed rather naturally, and I presume that ease is rooted in the artistic relationship that the two men have. For myself I was more impressed when Cory Branan took the lead, but that’s not to say that Jon Snodgrass is a lesser talent, but more so an expression of my own personal tastes. Both are of course exceptionally talented individuals. It’s just that the gruff tones of Cory’s voice ticks more of the boxes for me.
Musically Jon is an extension of Drag the River minus the vocals of Chad Price. There’s no great leap in a different direction, and instead he’s still meandering down the path without any distractions from forks in the road that are there. Fans of the band would not be disappointed with the performance, and anyone being introduced to what Jon does should have been suitably impressed.
However for me it was Cory who stole the show. He’s the raconteur of the two and comes across like an amalgamation of every blue collar troubadour you could care to name. It’s entirely possible that I’m holding the minority view in my preference for Cory over Jon because as said the crowd was in the main there to see Jon play, but in all honestly there’s a small voice whispering away in my ear that this was only down to the ‘Turner’ influence, and if Jon hadn’t released that split with him then there would have been far fewer people willing to dip their toe in and sample what was on offer. Regardless of that I sincerely hope that they liked what they seen in its totality, and will now use the experience as a catalyst for action and begin to keep an ear out for artists of a similar ilk.
Full kudos has to go to promoter ‘Punk Rock Rammy’ for making this gig a reality. Well played.