Northern Alliance didn’t venture out much, but these are some recollections of the odd occasion that they did.
Homegame Festival – Anstruther
If Carlsberg did music festivals… Homegame 5 was the best ever.
For various crappy reasons, Doug NA and Mrs Doug NA couldn’t make a weekend of it, nevertheless, this was probably the best show of the month, the year, possibly ever. A large attentive crowd in the Hew Scott Hall listened to Doug talk endlessly between songs about jumpers, stalkers and all sorts of other pish. Doug had to cut two songs from his set, cos he was blethering so much. It’s Homegame’s fault for being so friendly. Mrs Doug NA was in attendance, and ended up crying when he played Afloat about their son, a song which seems to have become a firm favourite with punters, and yet which remains unrecorded in enigmatic style. Finishing with Songfortheendoftheset, there were smiles on faces, tears in eyes, and vomit on lips, and that was just cos of the hangovers from Friday’s night’s session in Legends. A quick scoot around seeing some other acts, a fish supper, then a sadly early exit from what is the finest musical event in the calendar. A fine way to end a month of music mayhem. Roll on the festival summer season.
Waterstone’s West End – Edinburgh
Waterstone’s staff are confused. ‘You’re not doing a reading?’ No, I’m just playing some songs.
‘Really?’ Yes. Welcome, one and all to the fantabulous world of The Ossians. Is it a book? Is it a band? Is it an album? Yes, yes and yes. A healthy and vibrant throng saw Doug NA play four Ossians tunes, including a first airing for The Haar, then end with the crowd-pleasing SFTEOTS. Doug NA Jr, namely Aidan, stole the show, invading the stage and shouting into the microphone, then later heckling – “too many songs, Daddy!” I bet Michael Stipe doesn’t have to put up with this shit. Anyway, afterwards, there was that weird thing where people want books signed. What’s that all about? Doug NA managed to overcome his embarrassment by brazenly flogging Ossians CDs at the table, shifting a world record 19 in the process! Cheeky fud. Dinner and booze at Penguin’s expense afterwards helped to dim the memory of Ian Rankin being there, effectively stalking Doug by coming to see him play twice in two nights, and also buying three books and three CDs. What a fucking nice guy.
Cabaret Voltaire – Edinburgh
Jackie Leven is a legend. His fans don’t suffer fools gladly. Into this bear pit strides a nervy Doug NA, support act for the night, to strum away like a muppet to a bunch of, ahem, more mature music fans, in the hope of drumming up some interest in his little thingy called music. Starting on an Ossians tip, he performs the old switcheroo, doing NA tunes like Sore Throats and Tomb of the Eagles and generally creating a small murmur of
respectful applause. Ian Rankin comes along and gives Doug a thumbs up, but really everyone knows he’s here to see his mate Jackie. That’s OK, Jackie turns out to be shit hot and charismatic and talented and all the rest. Doug NA, Craig NA, various mates, Ian Rankin and Jackie Leven all retire to Bannermans round the corner, where the news that Scotland drew with Croatia and England got horsed by France is the football icing on the musical cake of the night. Sort of thing.
13th Note – Glasgow
Fucking rammed. Seriously, loads of people at this. And that was the case even when Doug NA came on first. Organised by the good people at Is This Music?, this was a doozy. Legendary soundman/genius Brendan O’Hare eked the best sounds out of man and guitar, and loads of people actually paid attention. What next? Getting paid for gigs? Oh yeah, Doug got paid for this gig! (Actually, he gets paid for most gigs, but the taxman doesn’t need to know, OK?) Anyway, a strong set of hotchpotch songs from two and a half bands, Afloat and SFTEOTS becoming a solid favourite double-whammy ending of the set, and Doug even threw in a Wilco cover (Shot in the Arm, Wilco nerds) for his mate Clarabelle. Doug then had to bolt for the last train, missing most of Down the Tiny Steps. Shame, likes, they’re really good. He caught Le Reno Amps, who were also cracking, and a lot less mariachi than billed. Doug drank smuggled beer on the train home and dreamed of supporting Deus.
Strongroom – London
Like Jon Bon Jovi, with a loaded six-string on his back, Doug was wanted dead or alive in the big smoke. Or something. Actually, he just got the train from Edinburgh, met his new editor at Penguin (nice, Canadian, quiet), went to a Nathan Barley-esque private members club, got drunk, met his editor for lunch next day, soundchecked then got drunk again. Bobbing for Apples, Shank You Very Much and especially an insanely talented Freddie Keen were annoyingly good supports, then Doug NA braved the London hubbub to bash out every loud song he knew, including airings for newish tunes I Used To Drum In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band and Question Mark, as well as a couple of Ossians “classics” (St Andrew’s Day and My Evil Twin) and those two new unattributed songs, Afloat and Songfortheendoftheset. More drinking till 2am, then the usual ridiculous minicab negotiations, then sleep in a tiny shoebox in Arsenal. London’s great.
Henry’s – Edinburgh
Someone forgot to turn the heating on. Freezing his nuts off, Doug NA soundchecked then hung around upstairs, waiting to see if any of his mates turned up. A few did – you know who you are, and you were most welcome. Little Pebble opened proceedings impeccably, playing Korg keyboard with his feet – sweet. Jo Foster turned up with a sore throat and didn’t play, instead a couple of fun flakes did a turn, one of whom (Withered Hand?) was fantastic, and did a song about wanking. Battling through the Chinese food fumes from the restaurant upstairs, Doug NA rejigged the set a little, forgot some words, and played Patron Saint of Sore Throats for Jo Foster. Take that for an appropriately titled song. Not the biggest turnout in the world, but highly appreciative, and very beautiful, both physically and psychically. Little Pebble had free badges – now there’s a good idea.
Aye Write Festival – Glasgow
No music, but Doug NA, author Toby Litt and Idlewild’s Roddy
Woomble talked bollocks for an hour about books and music. Inadvertently, all three managed to slag each other off on stage, yet wound up remaining firm friends. Toby and Doug agreed to disagree about whether famous bands are interesting, and Toby went on to get steaming in Glasgow on his own, while Doug had to go home and clear his house to sell it the next day. Roddy was nowhere to be seen. More rock ‘n’ roll things to do, probably. Either that, or he went to work on his Sunday Herald column. A cerebral yet scintillatingly visceral show. Probably.
Stereo – Glasgow
Malcolm Middleton, curse his evil ginger hair, announced last minute a free album launch party across town, instantly decimating the potential crowd for this Fence-friendly event. But Doug NA, alongside the mighty Red Well, the funky Down the Tiny Steps and the poptastic Kid Canaveral soldiered on, all four delivering exemplary sets from a scarily high stage. With just an acoustic guitar for company, Doug crossed the beams, playing Ossians songs for the first time, some old NA classics and a couple of new songs which currently belong to no one but him. He also attempted a couple of songs from The Hand of God, the electronica album. Good luck with that, acoustic boy.
Reception was friendly and frisky. Three Ossians songs got a first ever airing, and proved fiddly to the max, and a brand new song, Song For The End Of The Set, was given a run out, unsurprisingly, at the end of the set. Small but perfectly formed triumph for all four bands, let’s agree on that.
Cabaret Voltaire – Edinburgh
Doug NA turned 37 on this day. Did he let it get him down? Did he fuck as likes – age is just a number, people. Instead, he and his five cohorts kicked out the jams as never before, frightening animals and small children in the process. An extremely busy venue initially scared the bejesus out of the band, unaccustomed as they are to public appearances in
front of sizeable crowds. After splendid turns from Rich Amino (and illustrious Aminettes), Candythief and The Red Well, it was our turn, and did we bottle it? No, we rocked da house, muthafucka, as homies never say. Fuelled by free booze and birthday vibes, the sixsome rattled out a short, sharp shock of a set as if they’d been doing it for years, reinventing songs like Preston Falls and Let’s Form a Union from lo-fi shuffles to full-on sinister behemoths. Someone shouted out ‘Freebird’ at one point, a hilarious reference to the amount of unabashed guitar mangling going on. Guitars
were shamelessly played above the twelfth fret. Strings were bent to breaking point. Beer was spilled regretfully. It was all good. Apart from the spilt beer, that is. Finishing with a sweatily beaming version of Tomb of the Eagles, helped out by Candythief on vox and percussion, the band swaggered off to hug each other and drink heavily for the remainder of the evening. Carlsberg don’t do gigs, but if they did…
13th Note – Glasgow
Well, what to say? After minimal rehearsing, the much-trumpeted six-piece Northern Alliance took to the stage (except there isn’t a stage at the Note, just a corner of the room to lurk in) and did their thing. Fence devotees were grinning and picking their chins off the floor at the triple-guitar onslaught as Jim, Dave and John from The Red Well turned NA from a mincing punch-shy flyweight to a Tyson-esque scrapping, ear-gnashing contender. With guitar solos flying about like bats in the proverbial belfy, and amps turned up to 11 in the Spinal Tap style, it was a messy but triumphant set, featuring the heavier end of the repertoire from Earthquake Zone to Shock of the New and beyond. Craig was pissed,
Doug rambled inanely in between grinning like a tube and strutting around as if he was in a rock band, and Viv hid behind a pillar, fearful of the racket we made. One of Belle and Sebastian bought a CD, apparently, yer man from 1990s was there and nodding his head appreciatively, and Brendan doing the sound was most effusive. Great stuff. The Red Well headlined and showed what an accomplished and rehearsed rock band can do, and Candythief added a fiddle player to the mix, as well as some Red Wellers, to make for a perfect mix of bands, sounds and vibes.
Lamb’s House – Leith
An odd one this, but a good one, ultimately. Doug NA spent an evening furiously swapping his musical and literary hats, by reading from and talking about his debut novel Tombstoning, and also getting his acoustic guitar out and bashing out a set of NA tunes for a small but appreciative audience. Also blethering about books were the excellent authors Alison Miller and Alan Bissett. The lack of a bar was no deterrent to our brave Doug and his band of booze bandits, who nipped to the pub around the road and smuggled their pints out. Smart. The set was similar to the acoustic Homegame ones, except Preston Falls got a first acoustic outing, and Clocks got dug out the bag again. Doug took a vote at the end, and the crowd preferred to hear him covering King Creosote than Wilco, so that’s
what he did. Ho hum.
The Erskine Hall – Anstruther
For the second weekend running, Doug NA braved the angry Fence throngs without the help of his bandmates, this time amiably strumming his way through, mostly alone, on his acoustic. An upbeat selection of contemporary classics was dispatched between nervy slugs of Becks, with three new songs, including ‘Afloat’, aired for the first time, which
left not a dry eye in the house. Possibly. The inimitable King Creosote and Vic Galloway joined in for a frankly ridiculous version of ‘Musakal Lives’, Kenny also lending a hand on closer ‘Tomb of the Eagles’. Buoyed by booze and sea air, Doug prattled on between songs, discussing Bono, banana loaf and bandmates. Undeterred by the early hour and crippling hangovers, the impeccably turned out crowd replied with enthusiastic clapping, much to everyone’s surprise and pleasure. The rest of the weekend was taken up with beer, sunshine and incredibly good music. Very nice.
The Museum Room – Anstruther
A solo show, only not quite. As part of Fence’s illustrious Homegame IV festival, Doug from NA did a joint set with the annoyingly talented Candythief. We say joint set, but it was all Northern Alliance tunes, so hardly a democratic alliance. ‘Band of Hope’ was played live for the first time ever, and went rather well, as did the rest, Candythief
lending impeccable vocals and considered acoustic guitar as and when needed. A dreamteam Fence supergroup was formed later when none other than King Creosote joined our plucky pair for a rattle through his ‘Musakal Lives’ and our own ‘Tomb of the Eagles’. Kenny seemed to handle our massacring of his classic well (‘Blimey, that’s fast’), and Channel Four filmed it all for posterity. Apparently they were filming all KC’s movements over the weekend, so expect to see the footage on a cutting room floor near you soon. Also, Doug’s two-year-old son got to see Daddy play for the first time, and behaved perfectly to begin with, before deciding to shout a lot and run away half way through. Tough crowd.
The Village – Leith, Edinburgh
Doug from the band decided it was time to blow money on a new acoustic guitar, and promptly showed it off at this low-key solo outing. Also, rather amazingly, he decided to play standing up for the first time in the band’s history.
Shocking, I know. A shortish set contained two new songs, ‘Question Mark’ and ‘I Used to Drum in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ which seemed to go down pretty well. They may or may not end up on future records. Banter was bantered, beer was drunk in reasonable moderation and a cover of King Creosote’s ‘Musakal Lives’ was dispatched. Also doing a fantastic turn the same night was a relaxed solo Red Well, a finger-picking Iona Marshall, a growly Jym Ponter and the reliably excellent Little Pebble. Nice.
Strongrooms – Shoreditch, London
Nursing terrible hangovers, our daft duo weren’t cheered by an array of fantastic bands playing before them, including Candythief rocking her ass off and a sublime set of musical genius from The Bicycle Thieves. Nevertheless they rose to the occasion, helped out once more by the stupidly talented Candythief on vocals and shaky percussion. Same set as the previous night, this time played well, especially a thrashy take on KC’s Musakal Lives and the stadium rock (kind of) closer Tomb of the Eagles. Much drinking and back-slapping followed, as the band decided they were finally getting the hang of playing live. Then they promptly slunk back into hibernation.
Biddles – Hackney, London
This first leg of a big smoke double-header saw the two NA likely lads in a loose mood (i.e. steaming) after a day of travel drinking and no food. The inimitable Candythief once more sat in for Viv as the band shuffled and fumbled their way through a mammoth 12-song set which could best be described as “relaxed”, with Tides getting a first live outing. Went down a treat with the Hackney massive, though, although Craig can’t remember any of it. Ho hum. Best treated as a warm up for the next night.
Avalanche Records – Cockburn Street, Edinburgh
Just one man and his electric guitar fighting the injustice of the world. Not really. Doug’s first ever solo show as one-third of the band went off relatively hitch free. A small but bargain-hungry audience lapped up a tiny handful of songs from the new record, including the now-obligatory closer “Tomb of the Eagles’. Doug also whistled for a bit at the end of ‘Clocks’. Barbarossa turned in a sublime mini-set beforehand, just to make our man more nervous. Nice. Got paid in beer, which was nice.
The Ship Tavern – Anstruther
Part of the Halloween Sunday Social. With just one rehearsal under her belt, the rather talented Candythief sat in for Viv, and sang everything note perfect, showing up the other two duffers in the band no end. With hangovers a plenty, the NA blew away the cobwebs, kind of, with a typically robust short set, spilling pints and playing many wrong notes in the process. “Tomb of the Eagles” fast becoming an end-of-set anthem of sorts. Great wee sets from loads of other Fence acts, too many to mention, but you know who they were. BBC’s The Culture Show were in attendance filming, for what that’s worth. Also, Dundee Utd beat Rangers 2-1 on the telly during the NA set.
The Village – Leith, Edinburgh
Viv had an emergency call-off and Doug’s voice was knackered with the cold, but despite a squad ravaged by injuries and suspensions, a fine night was had in Little Pebble’s excellent Fence Village. It was the line-up they swore would never happen – two blokes with guitars – but a lively drum machine, some new tunes and an enthusiastic crowd helped pull it out the bag. Excellent turns also done by Little Pebble, Barbarossa, Pictish Trail, Candythief and Player Piano.
The Old Bank House, Anstruther
As part of the Fence Collective’s Homegame III. The first live outing for our drum machine, which had been a mainstay of studio life, and seemed to enjoy getting out the house, despite making one song sound like Oasis. Also playing the same venue that day were the illustrious likes of UNPOC, The Red Well, Adem, MC Quake and Gummi Bako and a bunch of other fine bands.
As part of the Merchant City Festival. We did a cover of KC’s Musakal Lives, except with different chords, instruments, tempo, words and stuff, which seemed to go down like a lead balloon, except with the man himself. Also playing were the excellent Reporter, Pinky McClure & John Wills, Pictish Trail and a surprise set from a very tired King Creosote.
New Town Hall, Pittenweem
As part of the Pittenweem Arts Festival. Only two thirds of the band showed up, the other third busy honeymooning, while a brave Pictish Trail stepped into the breach and hamfisted his way through some guitar parts. A solo Doug tried to splice Ally’s Tartan Army with Jamelia’s ‘Thank You’, with limited success. Also playing were some fine acts such as Candythief, The Red Well, Lone Pigeon, James Yorkston, King Creosote and the Fence Collective (and some others we’ve forgotten, sorry).
The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh College of Art
As part of the Tigerfest festival. Our first ever gig, where we first unleashed our mighty cover of Ally’s Tartan Army. The Pictish Trail and King Creosote played as well, showing us how it was done. But they were there to help us pop our live cherry, which was the important thing. You always remember the first time.