There are days when the prospects of travelling across London for a gig are wearisome, last night being a case in point. It’s nothing to do with the band, but all to do with having already had a busy couple of days and an earlier meeting , meaning that I haven’t attended to my cooking duties, plus there’s also the vague threat of anarchist action at Trafalgar Square, on the left fringe of where I’m headed. It’s churlish, however, as I well know and as a couple of people are keen to point out, “You’ll enjoy it when you get there.” They are right of course and so I head off, but in this case they are so right that I’m inclined to have those words tattooed backwards across my forehead in case such lethargy ever recurs, that way I can look myself in the mirror and administer a stiff talking to.
There is (of course!) a minor transport niggle to compound matters, which means I hustle up to the Borderline and Treacherous Orchestra are already in full swing. It transpires I haven’t missed much, but it takes all of 30 seconds for any lingering sense of hassle to disappear for good. I’m grinning from ear to ear at the sheer exuberance of what I’m hearing and seeing.
I had wondered at the wisdom of the venue, it is after all fairly compact and the stage isn’t huge. As it transpires they are very effectively shoe horned into position. As I look on, the twin fiddle attack of Innes Watson and Adam Sutherland are to the right, with Martin O’Neill on bodhrán and bassist and keyboard player Duncan Lyall pushed into the corner at the back, although he is conveniently perhaps, therefore, next to drummer Fraser Stone. Occupying the front and centre of the stage are right to left, accordionist John Somerville, Éamonn Coyne, with his tenor banjo and the pipes and whistles of Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie. Flautist Kevin O’Neill is to the left and behind him are guitarists Barry Reid and extra, Chris Waite, on acoustic.
It’s a huge job mixing this lot for a packed venue, but the sound man is doing a terrific job and everything is in its place in the mix. It’s a big sound naturally enough, but one that is filled with subtlety and every little detail is coming across. If it’s tempting to describe them as a musical juggernaut, then they are one that has sleek roadster handling and a luxuriant fit out. They stop and start on a sixpence, change direction at will, but can crunch through the gears to thrilling effect, like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, surging through San Francisco, it’s that exciting. Yet they can also cut to feature one instrument, flute accordion, banjo, or fiddle and once the spotlight is on, you realise just how skilled the playing is.
Whilst the emphasis is on the high octane and surges of crowd pleasing rhythmic pulse that has people clapping along, jigging about and eventually jumping up and down, the music also draws on a rich range of influences and styles. There are moments of pure trance like dance music, albeit with an extra emotional level from the soaring melodies. There are moments of jazzy complexity, tricky time signatures and also chamber string finesse, but they are also funked up, punked up, pumped up and blissed out, sometimes hitting all of these points within the course of one tune. There are several moments where my eyes fill and I feel like I’m going to burst with the sheer pleasure of it all.
They have just finished the new album Grind and anyone who sees them will have the chance to buy it at the shows. In a bold move the first set is packed with new material, with the first three tunes, Long Count segueing into Masters and then Halcyon Daze opening the show. The latter is dramatic but also truly gorgeous and mistily wistful, which makes the following funked-up Look East, from their eponymous debut all the more exhilarating.
The balance is reversed with the second set featuring expansive workings on Superfly, Sea Of Okhotsk and Easter Island, all from that first album. It concludes, however, with the brooding and superb Grind, which prompts thoughts that in a just world, it would be this album that has registered Amazon’s biggest ever advanced orders, rather than the forthcoming opus from the old codgers that it sounds not unlike.
The final act is the crowd pleasing Maverick Angels a truncated part of the Sausages set, cut short by a combination of venue curfew and a little too much socialising in the interval. The place is bouncing and delirious and would probably have stood it all over again had circumstances allowed. I know I would have.
It’s all over, however and the band are quickly mingling with a busy crowd around the CD stall, signings are going on amidst an enthusiastic meet and greet. Old acquaintances are popping up and new fans are making their feelings known. I manage a couple of quick hellos, before heading out, high as I can be with a skip in my stride. There have been some great gigs this year and this was as good as any of them. They have a couple more shows scheduled for Scotland over the coming days, which I’m sure will be rammed, but if the opportunity presents itself to see Treacherous Orchestra presents itself, it should not be missed, they are almost unbelievably good.
Review by: Simon Holland
Click here to Pre-Order a Special Edition (& signed art print)of Grind via their website and receive the album before release: (November 2014, elsewhere February 2015)
07/11 Birnam Arts Centre
09/11 Inverness Ironworks
10/11 Forres Universal Hall
24/01 Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Celtic Connections
Tour Dates (more to come) http://www.treacherousorchestra.com/tour/