Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Pictish Trail and Monoganon--A great night out!

I can’t remember the last time I saw a major pop or rock act perform live. Over the past few years I have been going to small venues and discovering original new music by bands and solo artists who take no heed to what is presently trendy or fashionable—they just do their own thing, and they are all the more refreshing for it.

The Leisure Society
A few years ago I was looking up cover versions of Gary Numan songs and found a folk version of “Cars” by The Leisure Society. Believing a good folk version of the famous electronic hit couldn’t be done, I played the performance on YouTube and was left feeling astonished. I then checked out their own material, including the heart rending “Last of the Melting Snow” and the catchy “Save It for Someone Who Cares” and I was hooked.

Sweet Baboo

It was while I was seeing The Leisure Society at Clitheroe’s The Grand venue that I discovered Sweet Baboo, one of the support acts that evening. Real name Steven Black, he performed his original compositions “The Day I Lost My Voice” and the ballad “Motorhome” and the spell was cast. I bought his album Ships that night. I went to watch Sweet Baboo perform his own set in a cafe in Manchester some months later and then again at a pub where the support act was The Pictish Trail.
The latter is the stage name for Johnny Lynch, a self-proclaimed recluse from the Isle of Eigg, off Scotland. Instead of doing a set as the support act before Baboo came on, the pair performed the whole evening together, alternating one another’s songs. A review of the evening by one scribe on the internet hailed it the best concert he’d been to all year, and that included a gig at the O2 arena in London by U2!!
Last week, I watched The Pictish Trail on his own tour, playing a delightfully cosy venue in Hebden Bridge to promote his new album Future Echoes. But before the delights of Mr Lynch and his band, we were treated to what has to be the most bizarre act I have ever seen.
Known as Monoganon, this thirty-something young man emerged from the stage door. Dressed in a peculiar homemade outfit (black leggings, a hoodie with white ‘wings’ joining his sleeves to his body, and a face mask), he switched on a laptop and fired up his LCD screen at the front of the stage. As ethereal electronic music filled the small hall, the strange entity picked up a microphone and performed a monologue about time, aliens, DNA and the like, and then the singing began. The screen displayed a hodgepodge of home movies while the gentle voice sang serenely. Monoganon was walking about the audience as the presentation went on, so I didn’t realise he was actually singing live until he came fully into view. I thought we were being played a CD of his album and he was simply mooching about while it progressed! As one song ended, another immediately began. “There aren’t that many gaps for applause in this,” he said, “but I will leave a couple near the end.” I wondered whether anyone would clap once the presentation was over.
Just as I was beginning to get weary of the videos, half way through a song, Monoganon produced a jewellery box and explained that he was interested in photography. He opened the box and invited members of the audience to get a photo to keep. When the box reached me, I assumed there would be some advertising or a web address on the back of the picture—but no, it was just a photograph of a cottage in some wilderness place.
The singing resumed and he made his way over to where I was sitting. He put the jewellery box on the floor and opened another compartment, from which he took an elaborate wire amulet. He looked to my friend and me and invited, “Will one of you help me put this on? It’s my medal for finishing the performance.” My mate was reluctant, so I leaned forward and placed the amulet around his neck. When the song ended he thanked the audience and received an enthusiastic round of applause. I think, like me, most were wondering what it was they’d just experienced. But, like me, they knew they’d enjoyed it.
And then came the main act—The Pictish Trail. I had really enjoyed his debut album SecretSoundz Volumes 1 and 2 (Volume 2 is by far the best). There was such an eclectic mix of acoustic guitars, gentle ballads, accordion, and Nineties style dance rhythms, and it was captivating. I don’t normally like those thumping synthesiser dance tracks, but because Johnny’s voice is so soothing and melodic, the paradox works. I’d never heard anything like it. So when I knew he had made a new album called Future Echoes, I wasted no time pre-ordering it.
The opening track, “Far Gone (Don’tLeave)” is based on the movie and TV series Fargo. He captures the essence of those stories in the lyrics so well, and the bleakness of that snow covered town is reflected in the music. My favourite song, though, is “Dead Connections”, which is partly inspired by the passing of his mother. Death and decay are subtly hinted at throughout the album, but not so as to depress the listener. Quite the opposite, in fact. Much of the record is uplifting.

Pre-ordered CD with personal note from Johnny Lynch
The songs were reproduced live admirably, with Johnny on acoustic guitar and vocal duties. Monoganon took to the stage, sans face mask to man the sound effects and provide backing vocals, while the lead electric guitarist and drummer gave it all they’d got. The young woman on bass was fascinating to watch (aren’t all bassists fascinating to watch?) as she expertly and seemingly effortlessly cut the grooves.
Pictish himself wore a colourful shroud over the top of his casual clothes—his jeans still visible underneath, and his baseball hat completely at odds with the image of an enigmatic soothsayer. And we got our money’s worth too, as the whole album was played, and a few older tracks were thrown in for good measure (although not the ones I was hoping for. Hey-ho).

The Pictish Trail
After the show, I made for the merchandise desk and I shook hands with Johnny. He remembered me from a previous gig, which was nice. I asked Monoganon if he would sign my photograph. He was so flabbergasted, he had to get Johnny to break open a pack of felt tip pens. I asked him if the songs he’d played were available on CD. He told me they were available to download from his Bandcamp page. But I wanted a CD, so he showed me the only CD he had left, that of his previous release Family. It came with a self-made fanzine. I bought them for a tenner. Again, he seemed rather taken by my enthusiasm and threw in an LP vinyl record of Family as well. That was very kind of him.
From the Merchandise desk
The following day I read the fanzine. It had two well written essays in it, one about what makes a true family and one about how we might be defined by the material things we purchase. He also explains that ‘Monoganon’ is a word he invented based on the real scientific word for a twelve sided genetic cell and the Buddhist meditation chant ‘Om’. Everything about him is nourishing. The CD isn’t too bad either. Good for times of solitude or a long and secluded drive.

So, I love my music ‘finds’. The Leisure Society are so talented and clever, Sweet Baboo is articulate and sharp, yet tugs at the heart strings, and Monoganon is completely original.
And The Pictish Trail? His song “Dead Connections” is on constant auto-repeat in my head.