Friday, 3 June 2016

Sing on the Bing

28th May 2016

Recreation Park, Pumpherston

Sing on the Bing (or Bingstock, as it was rather wittily alternatively denoted) was a one-day music festival held in the small West Lothian village of Pumpherston during the last weekend of May 2016, to celebrate the diverse musical talent which had been nurtured by the place and surrounding area over the years. 

A bing, in case you do not know is one of those huge red (or occasionally black) piles of waste from the shale oil industry which were unceremoniously dumped onto the West Lothian landscape like Ayers Rock deliveries by aliens, during the early half of the 20th Century.  For scruffy urchins like myself and my friends who grew up around them, they were godsends.  Marvellous places to play and to scramble up and down.  

There were 27 of the blighters at one time, and few communities within the county did not have at least one towering over them.  Although I am sure a few folks must have viewed them in a rather different light after the Aberfan Disaster of 1967.  Whether this was a factor in their gradual removal – the red shale makes a fine packing for roads, I believe - I do not know.   But, as of today there are but 19 remaining; 23, if you count Addiewell’s Five Sisters as separate bings.

Having been working earlier in the day, it was almost four in the afternoon when I pitched up at the festival site, and was dismayed slightly to be met with the sounds of someone murdering Folsom Prison Blues.   Hardly an auspicious start to my afternoon.  This heinous crime, I discovered, was being perpetrated by a fellow Bathgate-Bairn by the name of LUKE GIBSON – an elfin waif of a lad, who on first sight looked as if he was performing in his school uniform.  He played one more song in his set; one which, as it transpired was actually good – very good in fact.  His voice had that pleasing George Ezra baritone thing going on, and I inwardly apologised to him for my initial impressions and mentally pencilled him in for further investigation. 

Luke Gibson



VOLKA, a fairly inoffensive rock band from Mid Calder, were next up.  “Are ye’s frae Falkirk” enquired one of the audience, who had clearly misheard vocalist Thomas Fraser announcing the band name.  The aforementioned Fraser did his best to rouse the crowd: “Let’s see your hands in the air, Pumpherston!”, but he was backing a loser from the start.  

Because, of course,  the problem was that the locals (who had turned out in impressive numbers it has to be said), clearly viewed the day’s events as primarily an opportunity to drink lots of alcohol out in the sunshine, and to meet up and chat with friends, neighbours and extended family.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but it did mean for much of the day the musicians appearing were regarded as little more than background thrum to be talked over.

Whilst each act brought along a handful of liggers to offer moral and vocal support, the vast majority of the attendees were clearly there for the beer and the opportunity to mingle in the sun.  The most visible exceptions to this state of affairs were the trio of grannies (of varying degrees of mutton-dressed-as-lamb) who danced along front-stage to every act with admirable impartiality.  Although, as the day wore on, their dancing became more erratic as their grasp upon sobriety became progressively more tenuous.  

“Proud Scot, Historian and Pumpherston Stalwart” IAIN McLAFFERTY did at least get a portion of the crowd singing along to his heart-rendingly poignant evocation of childhood lost, “As Deep as the Shale” – the lyrics had been printed in the event programme.  This song was followed up by a delightfully vituperative dig at those American and Japanese multinationals who had briefly pitched up in West Lothian attracted by whopping grants, before upping sticks as soon as the going got tough.   I really enjoyed his performance, and was disappointed when  his short set finished.

Iain McLafferty

Zero Feedback

The contrast between Iain and the next act could not have been more startling, as we were presented with ZERO FEEDBACK, a "hip hop duo from Central Scotland showcasing the lyrical skills of Righteous Fist and Effi-G".  I have to own up to finding this form of music utterly baffling, so cannot really make much of a judgement as to this pair’s quality or otherwise - but they did appear awfy like a parody act at times.  Just in case any of the audience failed to ascertain we were in Rapland, we were treated to a liberal sprinkling of “Fuck” and “Shit” in their opening rendition. But, if they were looking for some shock-value to their profanity, the good folks of Pumpherston proved stubbornly immune to such silliness.  

Next on stage was Edinburgh-based KEITH McDOUGALL who, according to the event programme, was going to “bring his own brand of acoustic knowhow”.  But his knowhow this afternoon was stubbornly un-acoustic.  He opened his set with catchy chugging wah-wah guitar riff set against a backing rhythm tape.  He could clearly play more than a bit, and succeeded in impressing even though he was compelled to battle with a temperamental sound system for much of his performance.

Keith McDougall (and friend)

Andrew Aidie or Rab Armit

Andrew Aidie and Rab Armit

Rather intriguingly the next act, ANDREW AIDIE AND RAB ARMIT had (or at least someone had) created some faintly Latin-looking gibberish as the band’s bio bit in the programme.  This immediately endeared them to me. Unfortunately this was as interesting as the combo got; their stock in trade apparently being rendering jaunty classics (Blue Bayou, Peaceful Easy Feeling and the like) as funereal-paced dirges.  But they appeared to enliven not only The Three Grandmas, but a fair number of others as well, so clearly they were pushing someone’s buttons.  

ROUTE 66 specialised in, as one could probably guess from their moniker, Southern States blues-based rock, and did so rather pleasingly.  “We’ve got 45 years of song-writing, to cram into 35 minutes” snarled singer Callum Chapman before they started up, as if miffed they had not been allocated at least a three-hour slot in the running order.

Callum Chapman of Route 66

Duncan Mulholland of Route 66

Route 66

Route 66

Clearly these were a trio of grizzled individuals who had paid their dues some time back.  Chapman’s gargling-with-broken-bottles growl suited their dirty blues perfectly; with my only complaint being that the band’s democratic approach to divvying up the singing duties did not really work.  For whilst the other two guys made up a rather fine rhythm section, neither could sing for toffee.

The next two bands (both of whom had been instrumental in getting Bingstock off the ground, I believe) EASTER IN PANAMA and DUKLA SLAM were clearly cut from the same cloth:  collections of middle-aged geezers enjoying their respective Indian Summers.  I am guessing both were, in their time, briefly moderately-sized fish in the tiny pond that is/was Central Scotland’s Indie-scene. 

Easter in Panama

Dukla Slam

"That's the Beer Tent over there"

Despite their respective pomps being a good decade apart, they sounded remarkably similar – at least to my unfamiliar ears.  Proficient musicians all, Easter in Panama were I felt were perhaps slightly the more effective.  But it was telling that the last two songs in their set (one a challenging and experimental piece featuring vocalist Joe Campbell bellowing down a megaphone, followed up with the pleasingly catchy Adventure) were equally met with polite applause from those individuals still engaging, however tangentially, with the entertainment being served up.

For, by this point in the evening, three factors had combined to decimate the attendance at the event.  Perhaps understandably all those families with young children had already toddled off home to get the little 'uns fed, watered and off to an early bed.  7:45 PM had then heralded another exodus, as the footie-addicts drifted off to enjoy their Champions League fix.  And then to further weed out the non-committed, the temperature plummeted as the sun slowly dipped behind the trees surrounding Recreation Park.  With the result the headline act THE BARRELS ended up playing in decidedly un-spring like temperatures to just a couple of hundred souls ; the “Graveyard shift”, as front-man Michael Campbell put it with good grace and humour.     

Which was a pity really, as from the opening chords of their opening number it was apparent there was a level of subtle complexity to their compositions sadly missing from most of the previous acts.  Each of the songs in the band’s short set sounded both fresh and yet somehow familiar – No Aggro in particular stood out.  Even with a stand-in guitarist, the band’s quality shone through.   In, Michael Campbell, we were treated to one of the few performers this afternoon who could actually sing with a rare degree of both tone and vocal range.  And the handsome bugger also possessed levels of self-confidence, talent and charisma in sufficient quantities to make an old goat like me feel ever so slightly jealous.  Life is just so unfair.

Goodness - he even succeeded in casually tossing off a respectable Beatles’ cover whilst bassist Joe Murty was on a pilgrimage to the beer tent. 

A memorable performance to close off what I am sure the organisers would have deemed a very successful day – but The Barrels really deserved a far bigger audience.

The Barrels Setlist

The Dove
Days Gone By
Me and My Shadow
No Aggro
I Feel Alive
Order in the Chaos

Michael Campbell - The Barrels

You gotta concentrate when you are the new boy.

Joe Murty - The Barrels

Dayle Robertson - The Barrels

The Barrels at Sing on the Bing - May 2016

 Sing on the Bing - May 2016

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