Review: Ones to Watch - Glasgow Stairway Club

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ALTHOUGH it didn’t pretend to be a definitive showcase of the very best young bands in Scotland, this weekender from local promoters RCMS featured enough of the country’s brightest rising stars to be worthy of its name.

Spread over Saturday and Sunday night in the relatively new Stairway club, next to Central Station’s Union Street entrance (a rough and ready black box in the basement with a nice wrought-iron, semi-circular staircase leading down to it, hence the name), the audiences appeared to fluctuate depending on how many friends each of the 16 bands could wrangle into the venue.

In that respect, at least, the weekend’s most successful act was over by the time Saturday’s bill was barely halfway through. After a handful of relatively unheralded outfits, including Tijuana Bibles and the Vespas, had softened up the early evening crowd, the venue filled for Holy Esque, probably the most hotly hyped band in Glasgow right now.

That enthusiasm’s just about deserved, although perhaps wild euphoria hasn’t yet been earned. These lads are like a clean-cut Glasvegas (little surprise, given that their demo producer pulled the same trick for the elder band a few years back and now works as their sound man), and they run a fine line in crashing distorted guitar and pained, yearning vocals in the manner of Echo and the Bunnymen. Who knows what that name’s all about, though.

Thinner crowds welcomed UKReign (whose time is surely now, at least if the threatened revival of sturdy, tail-end-of-Britpop-circa-1997 artisanry really is imminent) and robust indie-rock headliners Strawberry Ocean Sea.

However, the day’s real highlight was Jack Townes, the Ramones-ragged rock ‘n’ roll revivalists whose archly stroppy demeanour softened even as the crowd moved forward and showed their enthusiasm. Already signed to Columbia Records, the next February package tour we might expect to see them on is the NME Awards gig.

True local causes célèbres were thinner on the ground amidst Sunday’s line-up, but that left more room for genuine surprise packages.

The evening’s highlights weren’t so much praiseworthy because they were especially boundary-breaking, but most came with a polished style and a crowd-pleasing way about them, and none seemed more than a big-budget production job away from populist success and the mid-reaches of festival stages.

For example, Roman Road – a Bearsden sextet containing two sets of siblings – swung between glossy commercial anthems in the style of The Feeling and rootsy country hoedowns, their delicate, fiddle-led ballad The Way You Were proving a particularly unlikely tribute to “the late, great Whitney Houston”.

Maniacs For Love, on the other hand, hopefully operate with tongue lodged in cheek at least some of the time, being a gang of deft pub-rock operators whose shtick extends to vocalist Joe Bole actually yelling “gee-tar!” before a particularly funksome breakdown.

Stirling’s Miniature Dinosaurs – imagine a lively electro-pop outfit fronted by a young Bowie – and Edinburgh’s reliable Bwani Junction finished the weekend, and what had been a snapshot of the local live scene whose intentions were as sound as its smart choice of bands.

Rating: ***