Tag Archives: The Pictish Trail

The Pictish Trail – Future Echoes [Lost Map]

Appropriately, by an uncanny streak of chance, Johnny Lynch shares his surname with one of cinema and television’s darkest directors, David Lynch.

What David Lynch brought to the rainy, misty lumber towns of the Pacific Northwest in Twin Peaks, Johnny Lynch brings to the western isles of Scotland, in all their moody glory of pathetic fallacy.

This is Lynch’s third album (Secret Soundz, his first, was split into two volumes) released as The Pictish Trail, a name which evokes the boggy mires of Scotland’s folkloric history, at the same time as hinting of a trail, of some path connecting past and future.

Indeed, the album’s title, Future Echoes, evokes the notion of a constantly haunted temporality, in which the present and future are inhabited with images and echoes and scraps of memories; an idea that trickles through the record as it explores themes of cyclical time, mortality, loss, existential disjuncture and alienation.

’Half Life’, for instance, deals with the shifting of relationships, the preservation of identity against the passing of time; tenderly Lynch sings “we will always decay / our self-effacing lives”, a humble admission of life’s inevitable fading.

The song’s dialectic of mortality/immortality is expressed in the tension between groaning synths, stammering beats, robotic echoes and Lynch’s pure and sonorous voice, which at the climax soars in a kind of sublime expression of human fear: “I’m terrified I’m nothing”.

Still, Future Echoes is certainly not all gloom: it’s perfect, pastoral psych pop with a dash of Scottish melancholy and the ethereality of its rural homeland, the heritage trail that leads through haunted indie rock (Idlewild, Twilight Sad) and straight down to the cacophonous dream pop of The Jesus and Mary Chain (especially on Psychocandy) and Cocteau Twins.

However, unlike some of its musical forebears, Future Echoes is more about glossy production than shoegaze; the vocals here, shining among a web of often complex instrumental arrangements, are clearer even than on Lynch’s previous albums, where the vocals often underwent stronger electronic treatment.

On ‘Until Now’, for instance, the effortless harmonising of Lynch’s vocals, sprinkled with electronic twinkles, juxtaposes nicely with the song’s syncopated guitar strumming and calls to mind Beck (especially the Beck of Sea Change and Morning Phase), the way the honey-smooth vocals lead us through an elaborate latticework of strings, synths and electronic echoes.

Lead single ‘Dead Connection’ is a danceable, funkily upbeat indie track where the mesmerising overlap of distorted and clean vocal deliveries hints at the echoes of the album title, its catchy, percussive-heavy chorus surprisingly reminiscent of noughties electro hits by new wavers CSS.

Its video certainly pays tribute to the neon aesthetics of mid-noughties nu rave, as a shimmering cutout figure of a headphone-wearing Lynch, clad in the kind of gear you would wear to a Klaxons disco, stares in the mirror and walks through endless doorways, picking up phones that creepily connect back only to his own voice – it’s unselfconsciously fun, building up to a mise en abyme of dancing figures which captures playfully the no-less sinister acid-trip distortion of self-alienation.

Other standout tracks include the dark psych rock of ‘Lionhead’ and the surrealist grooves of ‘Easy with Either’ and ‘Rhombus’, which both employ geometric imagery, with “my head’s at 90 degrees” (‘Easy with Easter’) and the tessellating image of the rhombus which becomes almost a figure for the repetitive, enveloping mass of the song itself: “you enter the chorus / you made it before us / we cannot let go / struggling out”, unraveling eventually with the melancholy, cathartic plea, “don’t let go”.

The Pictish Trail’s psych rock legacy is also demonstrable on ‘Who’s Comin’ In?’, which transitions from the quiet, moody and introspective opening to a throbbing, Tame Impala-worthy finale.

Throughout the album, Lynch’s genius lies in his eclecticism: his ability to combine raw emotion with surreal imagery, the timbres and beats of rock and electronica (a winning combination achieved here in a manner not dissimilar to Caribou and Four Tet), the expansive with the minimal.

Penultimate track ‘Strange Sun’ sees a return to folkish routes, with soft vocals and acoustic strums mixed in with ambient nature sounds and lyrics which lead towards the seductive glow of “the strange sun”.

In a sense, the album feels like an odyssey of sorts, moving through its existential dilemmas and reflections on life and death, passing through the sun and into the closure of ‘After Life’, going out with a bang with the track’s funky beat, twisting bass and accented handclaps.

The song’s insistence on “never coming back” and the closure implied by the “after life” by no means detract from the album’s recapitulating impulse: this is an expansive, atmospheric journey, both energetic and melancholy, jarring and hypnotic – a trail of musical and narrative exploration that begs to be taken again and again.

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Words: Maria Sledmere

XpoNorth Showcases, Inverness, 9/6/16

The showcases for day two start once again in the Ironworks and this time the free drinks are coupled with music; firstly The Pictish Trail and as Johnny Lynch enters the stage air boxing you know you’re in for a treat.

This is first time I’ve managed to witness Johnny Lynch playing in a non solo capacity, tonight he’s joined by Tuff Love’s Suse Bear on synth and bass duties and it adds a real lift in Lynch’s musician offerings.

Gone is the 30-second song hilarity, but the same mid song banter keeps things light hearted amidst the uplifting but full on dream-ridden tracks that are delivered.

There’s a new album on the horizon and you get the impression this could be something really special with a full band behind it.

By the time tonight’s special guest, Rachel Sermanni, is introduced the networking event has become just that, and it’s difficult to hear most of Sermanni’s delicate, hypnotic and dreamy laments.

Sermanni nonetheless is an impressive artist, and while this isn’t the perfect setting we know all too well what she’s capable of.

Forever is a band that we thought had gone, well forever, and despite being booked on a few festival lineups I was still unconvinced as their online presence was still nil, but turns out they’re back and with a rather new direction.

The now trio have switched up to an enjoyably glitchy electronic sound, which flows nicely, however one thing is a constant and it’s something I’m still on the fence with and that’s the vocal

Thing is though, it’s one thing that is going to win or lose Forever fans, there’s no doubting the twitchy accented delivery is unique, but as I said of them in their previous incarnation, there’s a real touch of Marmite about it; I can’t decide where I love it or hate it, guess I’m waiting for new recorded material then…

The biggest clash of the showcases comes next and I find myself in a mad dash, attempting to visit three venues in 30 minutes to hopefully catch 15-minute bursts of three artists.

The first of these acts is also my first visit to cocktail bar come temporary acoustic venue Scotch and Rye for beautifully intricacies of Chrissy Barnacle.

Sadly most of Barnacle’s delightfully intricate guitars, Joanna Newsome touching extravagances and generally hilarious mid song banter is lost in the cacophony of the noisy cocktail bar, which seems to have become the go to venue for those not interested in the live music on offer.

Over at the Market Bar is a different matter, as everyone is crammed in to the tiny space solely to hear the music as Mt. Doubt delivers a set that’s warm and captivating, while also managing to grasp the hugeness of The National’s live set and somehow squeeze it in a cosy living room; these guys seem to be doing everything right just now and this set only cements that notion further.

Sadly my mad dash mission fails slightly as when I arrive at Hootenanny’s The Youth and Young have nearly finished.

It’s a slower number that the band haves chosen to close their generally rambunctious set, however this short glimpse they manage to maintain that high octane energy that their set has become renowned for; these guys are one of the best folk rock acts in Scotland right now and their live show is one of the main aspects in that.

Following this I decide to give Scotch and Rye another go, sadly this proves a larger futile trip as Laurence Made Me Cry suffers the same fate Chrissy Barnacle and no doubt everyone else in this venue had before her.

I do manage to squeeze close enough to the front to hear a little bit of her set over the mire and what I get a hint of Jo Whitby’s hypnotising array of soothing electronics and smooth, enchanting vocals, well worth seeing at a venue where you don’t have to make a concerted effort to hear her.

Following this I was initially torn on whether to catch Breakfast Muff or not having seen them a couple of times in the past week, however a combination of the drink taking effect and just the fact that they are bloody brilliant makes up my mind and they don’t let down pulling out what might just be the set of the weekend.

The trio’s instruments swapping high-energy riot pop is a joy to behold, and new track, sporting the repeated line of “you’re not a feminist”, stands out as a future mainstay in a set that’s just bags of punk tinged fun.

Upstairs at Madhatters and Halfrican keep that same high-octane punk touching energy running as their reverby pop ticks all the right, riotous boxes for this time of the evening.

Halfrican is fun, addictive and make you want to fucking move; they’ve been promising bigger things for some time now, hopefully that elusive album will appear soon.

Popping downstairs for The Van T’s and I’m greeted by a mobbed venue, so there’s absolutely no chance of the seeing the four-piece surf rockers, but they are rightfully the reason why this place is so packed as they quash the venue’s questionable sound to irrelevance with their fuzzy guitar sound that oozes as much rock ‘n’ roll attitude as it does pop chops; we can’t recommend these guys highly enough.

Back over at the Ironworks I find myself bewildered that the bar staff have deemed tins not allowed and decant their cans of Red Stripe into a plastic cup. I. Only. Bought. It. So. I. Could. Have. A. Can… Raging.

Still, that coupled with a rather underwhelming set from reformed 90s Glasgow guitar pop act Astrid are soon forgotten amidst a night crammed with some brilliant acts and plenty of great people.

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Words: Iain Dawson

Celtic Connections: James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail, Withered Hand at Mitchell Library, 28/1/16

Tonight’s Celtic Connections show sees three excellent Scottish songwriters – James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail aka Johnny Lynch and Withered Hand aka Dan Wilson – come together in harmony.

Rather than play their sets one after the other, the three songwriters sit onstage together, adding extra instrumentation to one another’s songs and bantering away amiably.

There’s an immense amount of pleasure to be had in their easy camaraderie and the contrasting styles onstage: Yorkston is the most talkative; technically gifted and more traditional in his approach to folk music, weaving tales of shipwrecks and lighthouses over adeptly fingerpicked guitar, Lynch is warm and avuncular and the most left-field leaping off into abstract folktronica, while Wilson is appealingly clumsy, fidgeting awkwardly but professing that he is having a great time.

The set meanders all over the place as the trio take turns to take the lead, but this is all part of the charm.

Yorkston’s ‘Shipwreckers’ is a dark ballad written during a stay in Cork, but the seriousness is undercut by a comedic riff from Lynch about meeting Cliff Richard on a train that almost reduces Yorkston to tears of laughter, while Wilson’s ‘California’ is a strange tale of cough syrup abuse with a catchy Teenage Fanclub-esque guitar figure

‘Believe Me I Know’ was Lynch’s contribution to Jo Mango’s recent collaboration EP, a rumination on the environmental impact of a life on the road from the ex-Fence records boss, who has since relocated to Eigg.

Amidst these reflections on the more challenging aspects of human nature, there’s plenty of fun though.

It might not all be “constant bangers” as Lynch jokingly suggests, but there’s plenty to like in his experimental folktronica, Yorkston’s ambitious harmonies and Wilson’s “religious song about masturbating on a futon”.

Such is their amity that Lynch feels comfortable dropping a verse from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air into Yorkston’s ‘The Lighthouse’, while in the second half of the set Wilson is cajoled into doing the robot.

Describing one track as being inspired by the movie Fargo, you’re never quite sure to what extent, Lynch, the joker, is taking the piss, but just when you think the whole thing might deteriorate into silliness he busts out a stirring solo cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ that beautifully captures the romantic sentiment of the original.

Three original characters, one perfect venue and a spirit of good natured collaboration; Celtic Connections carries on being full of treasures.

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Words: Max Sefton

Fields of Green Song Writers Circle with Rachel Sermanni, Jo Mango, The Pictish Trail, RM Hubbert, Louis Abbott at Platform, 21/1/16

Easterhouse has a reputation as being a grim place, dogged by urban deprivation and lacking culture, however on Friday night within the stark modern walls of Platform five vibrant Scottish talents bathe this part of the city in the brilliant light of musical wonder.

“The Fields of Green” is a collaboration of folk musicians brought together by Jo Mango as part of Creative Carbon Scotland’s study of the carbon footprint of touring musicians and music festivals.

The result is a five track EP, Wrack Lines, released on the Olive Grove, in which Louis Abbott, Rachel Sermanni, RM Hubbert and The Pictish Trail have all written a track with Mango exploring the subject of touring, music and the environment.

The gig kicks off with Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott playing an acoustic version of ‘Building as Foreign’ from the bands recent Tiny Rewards album.

Beautifully picked out on guitar and sung in his usual rich Scottish tone it sets the packed and attentive audience up for what clearly is to be a special night.

After or before each track the artist explains the meaning of the song and a bit about how it was written.

Abbott discloses that the track paid homage to ‘Subbuteo’, from debut album Boots Met My Face, a song about childhood and returning home.

RM Hubbert keeps the intimate feeling going with a rendition of the darkly melancholy ‘Bolt’, from his Breaks and Bones album.

An incredibly gifted guitarist he strums and drums on his classically strung flamenco instrument producing a flawless depth, which encapsulates the room.

Next up is The Pictish Trail; my first time seeing him, this is a guy you want at your parties!

Hugely engaging with a hefty sprinkling of talent thrown in for good measure, he keeps the audience on their toes with quick witted one liners and stories of life on the island of Eigg.

None of this detracts from the quality of his song writing and he introduces himself with the delicate ‘Lighthouse’ in which he quietly picks and strums his way to a wonderful crescendo of an ending.

Jo Mango, who has been compeering the show, then delights us with a new song ‘Pale Fire’, which as she explains is the colour of the flames when you burn your poetry.

Backing her charmingly innocent voice with piano she reaches for quivering falsettos leaving the audience in a stunned pin dropping silence.

Last and certainly not least, the as usual barefooted, Rachel Sermanni delights all with ‘Ferryman’, from her 2015 release Tied To The Moon. Perpetually, enigmatic she beautifully strums a mandolin that is almost lost in the background of the haunting melody of her voice.

Mango then combines in turn with the other artists to perform the tracks from the Wrack Lines EP (£5 to buy with all profits to Creative Carbon Scotland).

Each song is brilliantly composed and in the tradition of folk music telling a story, be it about touring as a musician or damage to the environment.

With Abbott on guitar and Mango on piano ‘Loneliness and Rhythm’ uses off rhythm time signatures to convey the off kilter nature of touring.

Hubbert is accompanied Mango’s faultless vocal with slow broken guitar, which he stalls to dramatic effect before picking and drumming his way along on ‘Sustain’.

The Pictish Trail then has the room in raptures of laughter with ‘Believe Me, I Know’ with lyrics telling of hitching lifts in the back of a car to get to gigs before playing to paltry audiences and earning only enough for the petrol money home.

The serious moral being is it worth the damage to the environment to allow a few fans to hear your art?

Mango then sings ‘The Sky Exploded’, wondrous and tender with a soft repeating riff, the narrative is to do your own small things to be better every day despite the major catastrophes happening around us.

The highlight of the EP and the night follows, with Sermanni and Mango deliciously entwining their vocals with achingly gorgeous whimsy on ‘Bitter Fruit’; two exceptional Scottish talents combining to remind us of the rich vein of form modern Scottish folk can mine from.

After a short break the evening gallops on with the audience drinking in another round of individual songs from the artists; each one a highlight in its own right to dedicate more words to them would stretch this review to bursting point!

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Words: Peter Dorrington

Detour and DICE presents Admiral Fallow, The Pictish Trail, Forever, Supermoon at The Hug and Pint, 29/7/15

First admission for this review is that I shouldn’t really be here; I’m suffering from a pretty nasty throat infection that has me struggling to swallow anything, but that doesn’t stop me giving a few of The Hug and Pint’s lovely selection of beers a go; bad idea it turns out.

Anyway the reason I struggled down this evening is that Detour, along with London based forward thinking ticket company DICE, are putting on yet another gig with a difference; this time that difference being the line up is completely secret.

Well a few people knew, including myself, which is again part of the reason why I made the effort, but in hindsight a look at the Detour Twitter feed seems it wasn’t that difficult to figure out, although bumping into Tom from GoldFlakePaint, who ran a competition where the person who guessed closest to the actual line up won tickets, reveals that no one guessed a single act correctly.

Secret line up, it’s been done before, what’s special about that? What’s special is the sheer pull that Detour seems to have, the show sold out well in advance with the appeal of seeing acts out of their natural habitat and indeed most aren’t let down.

Tonight’s headliners, Admiral Fallow, are more accustomed to playing venues the size of the Barras these days than tiny basements, and the Pint’s basement is tinier than most; that’s not to say they’re out of place, Louis Abbott and co. worked their way up through smaller venues to where they are now, indeed I recall seeing him somewhat bizarrely opening a show featuring Holy Mountain and the now defunct Glasgow hardcore act Prolife in Variety’s cramped bar space some years ago.

First up tonight though is Supermoon and I was particularly excited to see Neil Pennycook under his new alias, indeed he addresses this early in the set quipping “I used to play in a band called Meursault… Who I killed,” before launching into a stripped back version of the ethereal yet powerful sound he has become renowned for.

Meursault was always a powerhouse prospect live with Pennycook’s strong, distinctive, clean vocal and clever emotive lyrics always hanging over woozy soundscapes, Supermoon isn’t much different, so there’s no need to worry on that count.

The only thing to worry about is sound problems in the venue as after a couple of ear splitting booms the mic stops working, but Pennycook is a seasoned enough performer to keep everyone entertained with some bad jokes, while is the issue gets resolved.

There’s still that dry humour hanging around his lyrics too and this flows into his banter as he invites Liam Chapman (“who you might recognise from… every other band in Scotland”) on stage to take on drum duties, before the show almost evolves into a full on comedy set with Pennycook’s mock bullying of the ever-likeable drummer.

The addition of percussion to the set only goes to enhance an already stellar performance; this act may have changed in name but the quality is definitely still there in abundance.

Next act, Forever are somewhat of a wildcard, but apparently Detour’s David Weaver has been banging on about then for some time now, and indeed from this outing musically they show plenty of promise.

Clicking percussion and a rather minimalist sound that’s topped of with sunny riffs, give an impression of dream pop with the sun shining on it (daydream pop if you will), however the vocals seem somewhat of acquired taste.

There’s a weird eccentricity about the almost spoken word vocals that are delivered with a touch of manic joy, but could easily have Forever forever in the Marmite camp.

The Pictish Trail follow upstairs and surrounded by an array of electronic equipment Johnny Lynch seems filled with crazy delight as he delivers a thoroughly engrossing set, which begins on soothing beats and twinkles with mumbled heartfelt loveliness and casually progresses into chaos.

Whether delivering adorable ballads of over charming lo-fi soundscapes or shouting “yeeeeah” and “oh shit” over brash dirty electro beats his set never gives and is relentlessly entertaining.

“I don’t have any songs to go with that” he quips during the latter track, before launching into a hilarious rap bit as the set continues with much bravado and constant ridiculousness.

Then we move into the 30-second song section of the set, which sees the harsh nonsense of ‘Sweating Battery Acid’ played twice and the “longest 30 second of your life” ‘Birds’ finishing the set before Lynch introduces tonight’s headliners with the line “downstairs Admiral Fallow are going to strip naked and reveal their admirable phallus’.”

By the time Admiral Fallow do take the stage I’m struggling somewhat, those couple of beers have taken full effect on my throat and I’m really feeling the heat in the packed sweaty basement, still I manage to hang around for the first few songs of what appears an assured and confident set from a band that I admittedly haven’t really given much time to since their 2010 debut Boots Met My Face eventually lifted them to the masses.

From what I manage to stay for they project an assured impression crammed onto the tiny stage, and even off to the side of it, sounding as tight and big as I remember them from years previous.

I even get a wee feeling of reminiscence as Abbott announces they’re going to play and old one before ‘Squealing Pigs’ engages the audience with as much sing-along glory as it had in venues like this five years ago; doubt you’ll get many opportunities to see it in one again.

I sadly can’t make it to the end and have to leave before my throat totally shuts up and leaves the night in tragedy, but from what I see it’s another extremely successful evening from one of Scotland’s most cherished promotion duos.

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Words: Iain Dawson