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MIDGES OF ROCK 2003 - 20 YEARS LATER BUT NO FLEEKIN' BETTER

Midges of Rock Festival 2003, Knock Studios, Point, Isle of Lewis – 6 September 2003.

Cyclefoot/Iain Watson’s Original Zing-Pop/Sheep Purple/Swedish Transvestite/Bod Strummer and the Dun Guireaneros/The Guireans/The Dun Ringles

Rating : minus *******************

Stornoway must have breathed a collective sigh of relief last Saturday when the perpetrators of this year’s Midges of Rock festival decided to forego the sophisticated environs of down the town and play Knock Studios instead.

Townies with long memories might remember the unholy racket that plagued the Keith Street area in the early 80s, when all the island’s major Avante Gaelic Obscurist Folk Rock  (AGOFR) acts used to converge annually and play to a cavernous and empty scout hall.  Tuneless and brainless outfits like Cyclefoot, Zing-Pop and The Guireans, utilising upturned litter bins, disconnected toilet bowls, chanters and broken kids’ acoustic guitars (the guitars, not the kids), entertained their nonexistent audiences with incompetent parochial “adaptations” of popular songs, or with even worse compositions of their own.

Personally I blame them for my later substance abuse issues – I only used to do sgadan sailte on a recreational basis but after a backstage interview with the Guireans in 83 I ended up taking it every day for the next ten years just to function normally.

Twenty years on, in a nostalgia-obsessed climate where the Sex Pistols are on their second reunion tour and even Norman Maclean is said to be reforming, it was sadly predictable that the ageing members of these failed combos would decide to get the show back on the road.

Being the Rock correspondent, I had planned to enjoy the evening hanging out with the happening dudes at Poncho Records and checking out their latest signings Last In Line at Zebo’s cocktail bar. The Midges of Rock was considered less of a gig and more of a conceptual performance art happening type thing due to the anticipated lack of any musical content, so the deal was that our regular fine arts correspondent J*e Elli*t would would cover it. 

Sadly, J*e found himself unexpectedly detained following a fracas over canapés in the Lanntair, when a visiting Ecuadorian mime artiste failed to express adequate respect for the divine status of Eric Clapton.  Our correspondent used his one phone call to suggest rather forcibly that if I didn’t cover for him then I would suffer a fate similar to the unfortunate gentleman on whose account he was helping the wegs with their enquiries.

So this was how I found myself dispatched to darkest Point to take his place, disoriented from the hit of guga fumes I’d had to take downtown to steel myself for the experience.  Although the flyers scattered around the tables of the Crown the previous night gave little clue as to the likely venue, it was easy to follow the moronic “soundcheck” noises coming from a white house up the hill in Knock. (Note – I suspect the legendary AGOFR road crew must have been taught by Mrs Mac*ver in Sandwick school , because evidently none of them can count past “One”).

Disguising myself as a case of Tennent’s Lager, I was able to infiltrate the heavy security around the festival perimeter and get into the main performance area. Opening act Cyclefoot were just about to take the stage, which the set designers had carefully crafted to resemble the front room of an average Point croft house.

The fluctuating collective that was Cyclefoot were famous in the 80s for having even more lineup changes than the Guireans, so that pretty much anybody could get up and use the name with some degree of legitimacy. This evening they were made up from  Lemmy “Roddy Huggan” Kilminister and Fast Wattie, both of whom had been members at some point in the past.

A cult-like audience participation chant of the Cyclefoot Theme led into a new song written by Kilminister. “Ang*s McC*rmack’s Not Dead” is a nu punk companion piece to their Clash-inspired masterpiece “Ang*s McC*rmack’s Dead” from 1982, marred only by the fact that it fails to rhyme “Yachting” with “Rotting” and doesn’t mention the hero’s recent triumph in winning the Plasterfield ward in the Comhairle, nor his Mrs’s renowned weekly newspaper column about a sheep.

Cyclefoot’s triumphant exit was neither triumphant nor an exit, as Fast Wattie remained onstage and turned into Iain Watson, lead singer of Iain Watson’s Original Zing-Pop. Roddy Huggan was substituted by Jason “Not the Same as the cove in the Dun Ringles” Laing, who probably wasn’t even born when Zing-Pop were last heard from. Hired muso Jason was replacing the rest of the “classic” 1982 line-up: Matheson Road Pop Svengali CJ Mitchell, Calum “The Gonze” Morrison and Sandy “ Stumpy” Mackenzie, all of whom had wisely chosen to be elsewhere for the evening. Chicago, in CJ’s case, where his legal team are undoubtedly drawing up a billion dollar lawsuit as we speak.

Despite their grandiose prog leanings, the original Zing-Pop lineup had no real instruments and couldn’t play what they did have – a pathetic assemblage of waste paper bins, ukeleles and toy keyboards. Consequently it was fairly easy for Wattie and Jason to improve on the 1982 sound, to the extent that 2003 version of  “Riders of Rohan” ended up sounding like a Nirvana song. Apart from all that sh*te about hobbits, that is. Rapturous applause from the feeble minded audience greeted the end of Zing-Pop’s one-song set, as an elated Wattie and Jason exited the stage. Let’s hope it’s another 21 years before we see them again.

Next up were hard rock legends Sheep Purple, with a set based on their Sunday Air Travel concept EP “Black Flight”. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the vocalist of Zing-Pop, Sheep Purple’s Iain “Gillan”  screeched his way through “Black Flight” (‘Black Flight/Black Flight/Sunday Flying’s/Not Right… Black Flight it’s a - short step from Rome…’) backed by Jason “Blackmore” and Dead “Glover” on guitar and bass respectively. The Sheeps were clearly a little under-rehearsed. This became apparent initially when “Gillan” decided mid-song to compensate for the absence of a Jon Lord figure by playing a Hammond organ solo. Grabbing a nearby Casio keyboard and selecting what sounded like the “bagpipe” setting, “Gillan” pounded out a tuneless cacophony that would have been at home late at night on Radio 3. Worse was to come, as the Sheeps spent the next 10 minutes trying to remember the words of their next song “(Cheap) Flight In Time” and then gave up and went off.

It’s a MOR tradition to have a token “proper” band, and in 1983 the festival was graced by the presence of serious Stranglers-influenced post punks Swedish TV. As they couldn’t make the 2003 event due to having split up 18 years ago, the organisers booked tribute outfit Swedish Transvestite instead. Swedish Transvestite consisted of Roddy Huggan and … er… Roddy Huggan. Huggan did play drums for Swedish TV briefly, late in their career. So this was sort of like Jason Bonham going on the road as Lead Airship.

Evidently Swedish TV original members John “Pluckan” Murray and AJ “Duisg” Kennedy received complimentary tickets but had to stay home to check their lottery numbers or something. Rod “Prof” Macrae, who had the more legitimate excuse of living 4000 miles away, didn’t turn up either.

 Not The Prof - Swedish Transvestite attempt "Again" from 1982's "A Lump of Rock"

Nevertheless, Roddy put on his best Prof voice and ran through acoustic versions of “Again” (from 1982’s “A Lump of Rock”) and the lesser known “Hans”, to wild cheers from an audience long starved of songs about having bits of their brains hung out to dry.

After Swedish Transvestite’s acoustic interlude, it was time for Avante-Gaelic Clash tribute supergroup Bod Strummer & the Dun Guireaneros to take the stage. Formed last Christmas as a Guireans/Dun Ringles one-off collaboration to record an EP commemorating the recent deaths of Joe Strummer and Lynyrd Skynyrd(!?), the Dun Guireaneros clearly never expected to have to get together and play again.

The line up was distressingly similar to that of Sheep Purple, depleted as it was by the absence of cadaverous thespian guitarist Roddy “Mick Bones” Morrison and musically competent keyboardist Robin “Topper” Watson. Eschewing the “complicated” songs from their “Sandimathesonista” EP, such as “White Marag” and “Rock the Ceards-baaah”, they elected to stick to the noddy numbers. The opener “I Fought The Maws/I Fought The Lord” went down a storm, but things began to unravel on “Should I Stay or Coinneach Gobha (Straight To Dell)”, when in a burst of Sheep-Purple like ineptitude, they forgot the words on the second verse. While each verse of the EP version  celebrates a different Stornoway “character”, the Dun Guireaneros only managed to cover Coinneach Gobha himself and half of Diggum Da, and came to an abrupt halt long before reaching Ch*rsty Al*ne.

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