ring out for Briggs' new band
ABOUT ten years ago, a shaggy
young rock’n’roller named Riley Briggs and
I were married in a touching, if slightly bewildering,
ceremony at a gig in the old 13th Note premises on Glassford
Street, Glasgow. Presiding over the not-entirely official,
legal or even coherent splicing of two complete strangers
was the veteran eccentric Californian producer and performer,
Kim Fowley, whose shows had a habit of wandering off
into enforced audience participation.
I was the unwitting "volunteer," a reluctant
bride - and according to the words of Fowley’s
improvised wedding march, Briggs’ "crabmeat
woman." Shortly - well, immediately - after our
sham nuptials, my new husband and I parted, presumably
never to cross paths again. Briggs, it transpires, spent
years playing in indie bands in Edinburgh, before forming
a prog-rock band who revelled in the snappy moniker,
Firestone - The Legend Of The Hawk.
"Our entire set was a rock opera," says Briggs.
"We spent a bit too much time in the practice room
thinking up daft concepts for the band rather than getting
out and playing."
Firestone split up three days after releasing their
only single - a single which was to resurface in a radically
reworked format in Briggs’ next band (and the
reason for our first contact since the "wedding"),
the tenderly celebrated Aberfeldy. Prog rock odyssey
Heliopolis By Night was transformed into an indie pop
take on the Carpenters’ Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary
Craft and became one of two singles this year which
alerted the wider listening public to the folksy charms
"It was originally part of a concept album about
alien abduction and the pyramids of Egypt," explains
Briggs, without a trace of embarrassment. "It was
a bit like that film Stargate. We were all reading Erich
Von Daniken and Graham Hancock books at the time."
Mercifully, Aberfeldy are the polar opposite of Firestone,
but the dozen songs on their beguiling debut album,
Young Forever, have their roots in the Firestone endgame.
"The band split up about the same time as I split
up with my partner and I was a bit miserable about everything
- music, life, love," he says. "I locked myself
in my bedroom with red wine and no telly and wrote most
of the songs on the album." Armed with this bedsit
set, Briggs spent a couple of years gigging solo at
acoustic nights in Edinburgh, where he first met fiddle
player Sarah McFadyen.
"I was spectacularly poor and needed the money,
but I got pretty sick of playing on my own really quickly,"
he says. "I much prefer being in a band and letting
other people do some of the work, although I still tend
to be the one bossing everyone around and claiming all
the ideas for myself."
McFadyen, whose background is in folk music, came on
board, joining drummer Ian Stoddart and bassist Ken
McIntosh in Briggs’ burgeoning ensemble. Pianist/vocalist
Ruth Barrie was recruited to flesh out the boy/girl
harmonies which are something of an Aberfeldy signature.
"It’s the first time I’ve been in a
band with girls and it’s nice," says Briggs.
"If it was a couple of guys with guitars, it would
be a bit more ordinary. Sarah and Ruth make it really
special, the way they work together and do harmony glockenspiel
The other key influence on the genesis of the Aberfeldy
sound is the idiosyncratic way they recorded their album.
Producer Jim Sutherland offered the band free recording
time in a tiny studio above Edinburgh’s Bongo
Club and created the album’s lo-fi intimacy by
gathering the band around one solitary microphone. "We
basically worked the songs out in the studio with Jim
standing over us," Briggs says. "The three
singers and my guitar were right up at the mike. We
plugged the bass straight into the desk and stuck the
drummer in the corner with bits of cardboard on the
drums and Jim would move us an inch this way and that.
It was incredibly hard because we had to play the whole
song together without a mistake about ten times and
then edit together the best takes." Although this
sounds like a deliberately perverse way of working,
Briggs and Sutherland had already attempted, then rejected,
the full pop production on some of Briggs’ songs.
"There was too much choice basically," he
says. "And we found that the little demos we’d
made with just me and a couple of other people singing
right into the mike and Jim at the back playing finger-cymbals
had a nice quality, so we tried to expand that.
"We recorded keyboards using cheesy old 70s organs
that don’t stay in tune bought at car boot sales
for £7. And Ken makes these little amps out of
shortbread tins using bits of radio and TVs, so we used
them. It’s all very simple, stripped back, no
effects pedals - and I’m a big fan of mucking
about with synthesizers, effects pedals and making strange
space rock music!"
The band held on to their recording for months, but
gradually the sweetness and simplicity of the music
began to strike a chord, and the respected Rough Trade
label offered to release the album. Now, good things
The whimsical, syncopated Summer’s Gone is to
be plucked from the album for use in an Argentinean
beer ad. Furthermore, a low-key Celtic Connections appearance
at the start of the year led to what will be their biggest
gig to date - supporting Blondie and the Scissor Sisters
in Princes Street Gardens on Hogmanay.
"I do feel slightly weird about doing a gig that
size in Edinburgh," says Briggs. "At first
we thought we should try to play to the crowd, do some
Harry Lauder or something like that, but we’ve
come out thinking we should just represent ourselves
in a professional manner.
"I never imagined I’d sell more than 50 records
with any band I was in," he continues. "I’m
really surprised at how well our band’s doing.
One minute you’re struggling and then the next
it feels like you’re coasting. People are urging
us to be good. I don’t know what that switch is
Maybe it’s time for me to start claiming alimony...
Aberfeldy play the Liquid Room, Edinburgh with Fire
Engines and Sons and Daughters tomorrow; Princes Street
Gardens, Edinburgh with Blondie and Scissor Sisters
on Friday; and King Tut’s, Glasgow with David
Kitt on 21 January.
Wednesday, 29th December 2004
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