A MEMBER going solo is typically the first sign of creative or personal disharmony within a group en route to their impending split. And yet Phantom Band guitarist Duncan Marquiss, speaking ahead of his debut solo performance at the Eastern Promise live music event at Platform multi-arts centre in Easterhouse, says he’ll be “sad” if he doesn’t see solo or side-project releases from each one of his five band mates in the future. “It seems like a logical thing,” he says, “and I don’t think it necessarily detracts from the band. It strengthens it and helps keep everyone engaged.”
Let’s hope he’s right as the frontman for the Glasgow alt-folk, electronica, heavy metal six-piece, Rick Anthony, already has a solo album, No Selfish Heart, shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year under the pseudonym Rick Redbeard. And Marquiss reports that guitarist Greg Sinclair, keyboardist Andy Wake and drummer Iain Stewart have all shown promising signs of solo pursuits. “There are lots of things creatively that the band in some ways can’t articulate,” he says. “I feel like there are things I’ve heard them do that don’t really come through on Phantom Band records.”
For Marquiss – also a visual artist who this year won the Margaret Tait Award for innovative filmmakers – his first solo performance represents an opportunity to indulge his love of instrumental guitar playing, with nods to cult six-stringers like John Fahey and Derek Bailey and experimental drone musicians such as Tony Conrad.
Marquiss had long dabbled with solo compositions and improvisations, and promised a friend he would put out some recordings on his small indie label. But he had never given serious thought to performing live as a soloist until it came up in conversation with Alun Woodward, the music programmer at Platform and a director of the Phantom Band’s record label, Chemikal Underground. Woodward promptly offered Marquiss a slot at this year’s Eastern Promise.
“At first I thought no,” he says, “but then I thought it would force me to organise myself. Having a deadline always forces me to work, so it’s quite useful.”
Eastern Promise is as good a public forum as any for such a first foray into the unknown – an annual event bringing quality leftfield music to a technically superb but still under-recognised multi-arts facility in an out-of-the-way part of Glasgow. Another strong bill this year elsewhere includes 2012 Scottish Album of the Year Award winners Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat, Optimo Music-endorsed voodoo electro-dance warriors Golden Teacher, Supermoon (aka Neil Pennycook) and an obscure singer and saz player from Tbilisi, Georgia, who performs under the title of Asiq Nargile (aka Nargile Mehtiyeva, more on her in a moment).
They’ll become the latest in a range of eye-catching names to have been attracted to Platform over the years by Woodward. Marquiss was part of a one-off event in January which saw him and Andy Wake team up with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and Martin Bulloch to jam with Hans Joachim Irmler, founder of cult German krautrockers Faust. Irmler subsequently returned to Platform in June to perform alongside another krautrock legend in Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Both shows were something of a coup. “It’s a great venue and I think Alun’s been booking a lot of really interesting acts to play there,” says Marquiss. “To see Jaki Liebezeit from Can play in Easterhouse, that is just exciting in itself. I think Alun’s having a good impact.”
Marquiss won’t be drawn on the details of his solo set, except to say it will probably be electric “because there’s a lot of possibilities with effects… you have a bigger palette”. Large elements of the performance will be improvised – but that isn’t to say the guitarist is brimming with confidence. “No, I’m terrified!” he laughs. “It is quite a daunting prospect. Within the Phantom Band, there’s six of us on stage, loads of people to hide behind and there’s a wall of noise to be immersed in.”
And yet Marquiss is determined there should be an element of risk to the show. “That’s what’s exciting about improvisation,” he says, “the possibility that you might not know yourself what will come out.”
Proving the broad scope of Eastern Promise, the event this year welcomes an artist from way out on the musical and geographical margins in the shape of Mehtiyeva. An Azeri Turk born and raised in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, she plays the lute-like plucked string instrument the saz as an “ashiq”, or traditional Turkic bard dating back to pre-Islamic epic stories. She travels north for her first performance in Scotland as part of a UK tour together with Newcastle avante-garde folk musician Richard Dawson, who also appears at Eastern Promise.
Promoter Stefan Williamson-Fa discovered Mehtiyeva while he was living in Tbilisi researching the musical landscape of the Caucasus as part of the non-profit initiative, the Sayat Nova Project. He helped to translate some words from Mehtiyeva telling the story of her technically mesmerising and emotionally haunting craft.
“We, as Azeri Turks, are deeply connected to our homelands and culture,” says Mehtiyeva. “The poetry I sing is from different ‘destan’ [epics] and from our great poets. Most of my songs are about our homeland but you can also find songs about almost everything; the mountains; our mothers and fathers; love.”
In the past, performances by itinerant ashiqs could last for three to four days, says Mehtiyeva. Her sets certainly won’t last that long, and as a female ashiq, she is representative of a changing face for the craft. “In the past the art of being an ashiq was seen as more appropriate for men rather than women,” she says. “It is still hard for women to perform as an ashiq but now there are lots of female ashiqs.
“Female ashiqs perform really well and do their job very well, sometimes better than men.”
Mehtiyeva was first invited to the UK last year to perform at the Tusk Festival of experimental and world music in Newcastle. She looks forward to her return to the UK to play at Eastern Promise as well as other events around the country. “I was amazed how carefully everyone was listening to every single note I played, I could feel their eyes watching,” she recalls of her first shows in Britain. “The performances also increased the attention and interest in my music back home. I still talk to people at home about how people appreciated our music and culture in the UK. It changed many things in my life in a better direction.” n
Eastern Promise, Platform Glasgow, Easterhouse, Friday-Saturday, 7pm-11pm, £10 day/£15 weekend