Split Personalities in a Room in Leith


Posted by in August's Magazine

When one thinks of homegrown record labels places like Manchester, Bristol and the funkier parts of London tend to spring to mind. If we are thinking Scotland, it’s more likely to be Glasgow. (I know about Lost Map from the Isle of Eigg, but we’ll keep that to ourselves eh?) In recent times things have somewhat changed as one of the country’s favourite DIY labels, Song, By Toad (or rather label head honcho Matthew Young) has upped sticks and moved back to his original Edinburgh stomping ground here in Leith.

Split 12 inch records are becoming a bit of a calling card for Song, By Toad, where they can both showcase emerging artists, whilst allowing more established artists to try something a little different, often including the name they go by. Split 12” Volume 4 continues that tradition. We’ve got Mersault’s Neil Pennycook under the catchier guise of Supermoon, Ian Turnbull from Broken Records is back again with his side project digitalanalogue, alongside American acts Virgin of the Birds and Viking Moses.

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Whilst continuing a theme, the label’s move to Leith meant all change for the Split 12”s and the Toad Sessions that the label is also known for (do check them out on Youtube), because the living room in their old place in Stockbridge was so integral to the look and sound of both. This is very much a transitional phase for Song, By Toad. Right next to their new gaff is a small warehouse that’s being converted into their very own dedicated recording studio, allowing a much greater degree of flexibility and hopefully enabling them to record even more new albums.

Matthew Young set the scene for the new Split 12” in his own inimitable style, “I basically think Mrs Toad just wants all these musicians and their crap out of her house when she is trying to relax after work, honestly. There’s work to be done before the warehouse is ready to be used though, so we sort of started recording in our new living room anyway. Much to her annoyance.”
The temporary home lent itself well to the feel of this album – big, boomy, echoey – and you can really hear that. There’s a distinct lack of effects used on the recording, instead concentrating on strategically placed microphones to capture the ambience of the room (a technique employed by my old World Circuit engineer Jerry Boys and used for all the Buena Vista Social Club records at Havana’s legendary Egrem Studio). The sound of this record is a delightful blend of bare acoustic music and slow-paced, rumbling drone, both homegrown and atmospheric.

There’s Neil Pennycook’s drone samples and looped violin on the digitalanalogue songs and bowed guitar on Virgin of the Birds, which offset more minimal, acoustic guitar and piano led tunes. In amongst some ace new tunes are two standout covers – Supermoon take on Adam Faucett while Pennycook takes on A Silver Mount Zion’s The Triumph of Our Tired Eyes.

Unlike previous Split recordings this one evolved over a period of time, with Brendon Massei and Virgin of the Birds being recorded earlier in the year and Jon Roonery grabbed when passing through on tour (hopefully their new studio will allow for even more of this).
Digitalanalogue only ended up on the album when Ian Turnbull replied to a tweet I posted saying that they had the other three bands all done but had no idea who the fourth should be. He moved fastest, and bagged the final spot.

All of this is very Song, By Toad, and creates a unique feel for this album, which Matthew Young calls “a one-off, idiosyncratic piece of work with real character that has come together so, so well.” Damn him, I’d like to have come up with a better quote to sum it up!

Also coming up…
Modern Studies Swell to Great
Song, By Toad’s most recent signings are the relatively new Modern Studies, a chamber pop band from Glasgow-via-Yorkshire. Their quietly experimental landscape songs are played on analogue synths, cello, double bass, drums, guitars, a wine glass orchestra and, at the creaking centre of things, a Victorian pedal harmonium. All of this is music to my ears, and when I saw their signing launch promo pic, all resplendent in flower decorated denim cowboy shirts I was sold before I even heard a note.

The band comprises Glasgow songwriter Emily Scott with old pals and collaborators Pete Harvey (King Creosote, The Leg), Joe Smillie (boss of Glasgow’s The Glad Cafe) and Rob St. John.
Recorded at Pete’s rural Perthshire studio – the band shaped a set of Emily’s skeleton songs, drawing influence from the salt and spray of the sea. This ‘communal arts-und-crafts-werk’ resulted in their debut LP Swell to Great (named after a stop on the wheezing old harmonium).

There are some labels you can rely on for the consistent quality of their output, where you can buy unheard with confidence, and Song, By Toad comes under that umbrella.

Info: Split 12” vol.4 is out now and Modern Studies ‘Swell to Great’ is released on August 12, both on Song, By Toad. Modern Studies will play a selection of UK shows through the rest of 2016

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