Ever since the Sensational Alex Harvey Band took over the Glasgow Apollo for three now-legendary gigs in December 1975 – urging fans to “wish the stewards a happy Christmas, don’t pish in the water supply and have a stoating New Year” – there has existed a healthy tradition of festive rock’n’roll shindigs in the city for culture vultures who don’t fancy the panto.
You can always set your watches by December tour dates from the likes of Jools Holland and Status Quo but there is also plenty of scope for homegrown hoedowns this year with Teenage Fanclub, Deacon Blue and The Fratellis all squeezing in one night at the city’s beloved Barrowland ballroom among a brace of other dates.
However, these established names are left wheezing to catch up with two Glasgow bands – both more recent products of the city’s thriving grassroots live scene, yet musically distinct – who will embark on consecutive Christmas mini-residencies of three sold out shows at Barrowland. From 13 December, Twin Atlantic will cap a watershed year with a three-night stand in their favourite venue, before handing the baton to Frightened Rabbit who may well be relieved to round off a relatively rollercoaster year intact.
Both acts are prime examples of the hearty, emotional sonic fare which Glasgow is famed for producing, and are already no strangers to the iconic ballroom in the city’s East End. Frightened Rabbit first headlined Barrowland in December 2010; Twin Atlantic hit that same landmark five months later, though still a couple of years before the rest of the country cottoned on to their commercial rock sound.
Until this year, Twin Atlantic had been perennially dogged by comparisons with Biffy Clyro, against whom they were always going to come off second best. With the release of their third full-length album, GLA, they are now sounding like a group with real prospects and somewhat liberated from traditional rock notions of what constitutes progress.
Like Biffy, Twin Atlantic have worked their way up through the ranks with conventional hard graft, beginning their journey in the late 2000s on King Tut’s Recordings, the label run by the legendary Glasgow venue where many bands first get their foot on the monitor. By the time they released the “people-pleasing” 2014 album The Great Divide, they were firmly in Radio 1 territory, as much pop as rock and still exhibiting clear ambitions about their upward trajectory.
The commercial success of their singles Heart and Soul and Brothers and Sisters propelled them to headline slots at the Hydro in May 2015 and the second stage at T in the Park a couple of months later. But where next when you have headlined the biggest venue in your hometown? (Hampden Park, of course, but that’s a whole other ballgame, as it were)
They could have simply returned to the city’s biggest venue but instead they have let heart overrule head and plumped for Barrowland, a venue they have already sold out on five previous occasions, a decision which says something about their relaxed attitude to their new album.
GLA was written in Glasgow, named after the city’s airport code and recorded there around Christmas last year, when they could have jetted off to foreign climes, in accordance with the up-and-coming bands manual.
“You leave to escape home but talk about it 90 per cent of the time you are away,” frontman Sam McTrusty has noted. “Then sitting in your house, working on a track, there was a dawning realisation it was all about being where we are from.”
The group have never sounded so unfettered as they do on this healthily diverse rock collection. Ironically it is when they sound least like Biffy Clyro that they most resemble them for confidence and commercial appeal without resorting to bland radio rock fodder.
Like Twin Atlantic, Frightened Rabbit have long been able to count on home support, since first emerging over a decade ago on a gentle wave of folk-flavoured indie bands, including fellow Barrowland stalwarts Twilight Sad and Admiral Fallow.
FRabbit, to use the fan shorthand, started out as a solo project for Scott Hutchison, who freely admitted it was all about him and (usually) his romantic travails, but swiftly added brother Grant and other members to the ranks. While still mainly a vehicle for his songwriting, they are now so established as a band that Hutchison has, in recent years, embarked on a new solo project Owl John.
The group’s fifth album, Painting of a Panic Attack, was released earlier this year and, in contrast to the more celebratory GLA, has sprung from a certain homesickness, following Hutchison’s move to Los Angeles in 2014, while the rest of the band remain based over here. It’s a sentiment celebrated in Scottish pop song from Caledonia to Killermont Street but Hutchison’s concerns are of a darker hue. On the track I Wish I Was Sober he feels for the lack of supportive friends around him to hold him up when he is tired and emotional.
That apprehension came home to roost in the summer when the singer posted some worrying “what’s the point of it all?” tweets urging fans not to buy his records and describing Frightened Rabbit as “me boring people with lies and making creative currency out of other people’s hurt”.
Thanks to this unfortunate confluence of alcohol, depression and social media, Hutchison’s trademark miserabilism became self-indulgence, but it is mercifully tempered with self-awareness – only a few months earlier, Frightened Rabbit had played a couple of secret gigs as The Footshooters. It is also part of what makes them a sympathetic band, and gives their anthemic music an extra layer of emotional resonance. Expect to find the fans at Barrowland simultaneously beating their chest and punching the air like true contrary Scots.
And, in a to-be-continued postcript, the home invasion doesn’t end there. Former FRabbit and Twin Atlantic support act Fatherson come snapping at their heels, marking their biggest hometown show to date with a Barrowland headline on the eve of Christmas Eve. And so this festive rite-of-passage endures.
*Twin Atlantic play Barrowland, Glasgow, 13-15 December, followed by Frightened Rabbit, 16-18 December and Fatherson, 23 December