Mapping out the future
MOST bands give away their style as soon as they give
themselves a name. If their moniker starts with the
word ‘The’, for example, it’s a safe
bet they’re a bunch of zeitgeist-chasing garage
rockers. Perhaps they’re a solo artist heading
out under their given name, in which case wistful, heartfelt
singer-songwriterly action can’t be far from the
Not so Edinburgh’s Aberfeldy, though. North of
Coldstream, of course, we understand that they’re
named after a perfectly picturesque but otherwise nondescript
Perthshire town, but what does that tell us? Maybe that
they’re a bunch of bearded, middle-aged folk musicians
setting the standard for accordion soloists everywhere.
But how would that tally with the fact that they’ve
recently signed a recording deal with Geoff Travis’s
highly fashionable Rough Trade Records? And are the
first Scots to do so since Belle & Sebastian?
The band’s singer, songwriter, guitarist and architect-in-chief,
Riley Briggs, seems in no doubt as to the significance
of the name, however. "I think I regret it more
than anything else at the moment," he says. "When
we initially spoke to Rough Trade, the first thing Geoff
said was, ‘So what about the name? Are you attached
to it, at all?’ And we stupidly went, ‘Well,
all our pals in Edinburgh know who we are, so let’s
stick with it.’
"It actually came from a conversation I had with
Jim Sutherland, our producer, because our first gig
was coming up and we had to think of a name. He said
I should name the band after somewhere great I went
on holiday, and I remembered going to my granddad’s
caravan in Aberfeldy with my parents. I liked that at
the time, in a Mull Historical Society sort of way.
"In the end," says Briggs, "you can have
a really good name and a really s*** band, and hopefully
we’re the opposite. After all, people must have
laughed their heads off at the Beatles - ‘what,
like the insect?’ - and at least when we speak
to people from Germany or America, they’ve never
heard of the place. It’s only Scots that dislike
it as a band name."
The band themselves are irresistible, an effortlessly
light and catchy mixture of pop hooks and expansive
country spirit. To sum them up - either live or on the
debut album released this month, Young Forever - is
hard, because only snippets of their influences are
recognisable. But to say that they sound a little like
Belle & Sebastian with Briggs’ pastoral Neil
Young-style falsetto coming through in the mix would
not be shooting too far wide of the post.
THE GENESIS OF the band lies within the vibrant, but
hitherto unheralded in comparison to the west coast,
Edinburgh music scene. Briggs initially started out
demo-ing the songs alongside Sutherland at a studio
upstairs from the old Bongo Club on New Street, with
soon-to-be rhythm section Ian Stoddart and Ken McIntosh
coming in to help out. Stoddart was previously in the
short-lived Win alongside Davie Henderson - of Fire
Engines and Nectarine No.9 fame - while McIntosh played
in a ska band on the circuit.
He was also playing acoustic gigs on his own at the
city’s renowned folk pub, the Royal Oak, where
he met violinist Sarah McFadyen. Briggs describes her
then as "a rising star on the Edinburgh folk scene"
through collaborations with groups like Harum Scarum,
and says their meeting was the best thing to come from
his time on the open mic circuit.
Finally, deciding the band needed two female singers,
they recruited Ruth Barrie, a documentary filmmaker
McFadyen knew from Edinburgh College of Art. At the
time, Barrie was working in the cafe at the Bongo Club,
where Briggs just happened to hear her sing with a group
of African performers who were over for the Festival.
The invite was in the post soon after.
Their source material was a collection of songs which
Briggs had written over the previous years.
A significant inspiration for Briggs’ stockpile
of gorgeous ballads and sweethearted summer soundtracks
was distinctly personal. "I had just come out of
a long relationship," he says, "and found
myself living on my own for the first time in ages.
Or rather, with a couple, which perhaps wasn’t
the best thing. So I sat in the bedroom the whole time.
I’d been to France and come back skint with loads
of wine, so I sat drinking that and writing. There you
go, if I had lots of money and no wine, this album would
never have been. So it’s your typical heartbreak
Was it? Because all the songs are rather upbeat and
romantic. "Yes, they are," he agrees. "But
that’s because I was single again and meeting
new people, and... I dunno, you write a girl a song
and you think they’ll be impressed. Plus it was
almost like... like exorcising... God, that sounds much
too pretentious. I’ll just say that writing songs
for girls doesn’t work. But it’s a change
from pyramids and spacemen."
A similarly individual tale accompanied the making of
the album, which was all recorded using just one microphone.
Briggs claims they only decided this halfway through,
after recording five or six songs, loving the results
and the fact they could listen to the finished effort
straight away, and deciding to press on.
"Of course, the rest of it was a nightmare. I wanted
it to sound lo-fi, but Jim’s a stickler, so we
had to make no noise at the start, and then things like
the keyboards were so tricky. When we got to 12 songs
it was such a relief... we’ll probably start the
next album the same way, but I don’t think we’ll
paint ourselves into a corner with such dogma in future."
Still, it was this thinking which led to such marvellous
moments as the one during ‘Heliopolis By Night’,
where both girls sing with fingers pinching their nose
in the absence of studio effects - their favourite live
moment, according to Briggs.
The one-mic method also lessens the impact of those
Belle & Sebastian comparisons. Like their Glaswegian
labelmates, Aberfeldy have one man’s vision behind
the songwriting, honey-sweet female backing vocals,
and all manner of instruments - violins, keyboards,
xylophone - adding to a palette that may well be described
as beautifully, heart-snugglingly twee. Briggs doesn’t
"I don’t think we sound anything like them,"
he says, "and to be honest the only thing I’d
heard was the song that sounds like the Eurotrash theme
[‘Legalman’] until we went to Rough Trade
and got some of their CDs for free. I think they’re
a lot more referential, although not in a pastiche sort
"Any comparisons are probably just because we have
the same record collections, which is the same one that
every indie band has - Nick Drake, Neil Young. We all
sit there saying, ‘I want to make a record that
sounds like After the Gold Rush’."
Quite possibly, in years to come, people will also say
they want to make a record that sounds like Young Forever
- and tourists will come to the town of Aberfeldy for
an entirely new reason.
Aberfeldy play Nice ’n’ Sleazy’s,
Glasgow, Saturday, 7.30pm. The album Young Forever is
out now on Rough Trade
Scotland on Sunday
Sun 5 Sep 2004
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