What can one say about the year 2021? Not a lot. It started out quite abysmally and it took quite a few months before things slowly started to feel like they were getting better. We deluded ourselves we were getting on top of Covid. The vaccine roll out happened and the FM (First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon) seemed pretty driven to get the Scottish population fully vaccinated as quickly as possible. Even now, statistically, compared to the rest of the UK, Scotland has the highest rate of vaccinated residents in the UK (I believe). As good as those stats are – a new variant has come along and now there is a new “evil” word joining Covid – Omicron! Covid cases are on the rise once more and there is a drive for booster vaccines to be given to as much of the population as possible in the quickest time.
This year I have been to as many gigs as I got to go to in 2020 before the Covid shit hit the fan – ie: not many at all. A couple of gigs I had chosen not to go to due to my own concerns still. Two gigs at Barrowland Ballroom I didn’t attend were John Grant and Manic Street Preachers. My list of gigs I went to is: Scritti Politti, Field Music (they were also one of my 2020 gigs), and Warm Digits (also on my 2020 list). I should have been going to one final gig this evening – to see Memes at McChuills. I had already decided I wasn’t going to attend it. I had taken enough risk seeing Thursday night’s Warm Digits gig. The good news is that in light of the Omicron variant and new restrictions coming into place, Memes have rescheduled their gig to April 1st next year.
The Warm Digits gig I have been concerned about for weeks. After the previous gig of going to the Stag and Dagger in Edinburgh to see them, and the disappointment of them having to cancel their Glasgow gig – and not being able to go to their gig in Manchester, it was all hinging on Newcastle. It had been a long while since I saw them play a full set and I really, really NEEDED to see a full set!
But with everything that hit with Omicron, I had my doubts about if I should go? Everything else I had put in place, determined to get there. I had purchased return train tickets straight after the Edinburgh Stag and Dagger and booked a room at a hotel nearest the venue.
Other things were also playing on my mind. I actually thought the Covid things would be the thing of lesser concern. Vaccines were happening. Precautions were in place. I was worried weather would be a factor and had there been snowfall then that could stuff up the running of train services, etc, etc. Then about a week or so before the gig, this Omicron variant was spreading like nobody’s business around the world and I started to freak out. Esp. once Boris started talking about potentially going into lockdown again! I started to have my doubts that I would even be allowed to travel. And what happens if I end up going to England – will they let me back into Scotland on Friday?
On Thursday morning I received a letter from SAAS about my application of my part-time fee grant. I was awarded the grant! Yay! But because this was my first time applying for the grant, I wasn’t sure how to interpret the letter other than I had been granted partial funding because the award was only for so much of the fee. So that left me believing I would somehow have to stump up the rest. I wanted clarity on this though and contacted the OU. They said I needed to specifically speak to the Scotland region of the OU, as they directly handle the fees and grant awards for Scottish OU students. During busy times though when you call the OU in Scotland number and the lines are busy, the calls are filtered through to the main OU phone lines in England. My call got filtered through to England twice. The second time, the adviser on the line said he’d put in a callback request for me so someone from OU in Scotland would call me back. Great. That was all good. But equally I am leaving for Newcastle with this worry that I am going to have to find 40% of the fee for the course! It was casting serious doubt on whether I could go ahead with my study.
I packed a bag. Had a shower and got ready to head off to Newcastle.
All the travel was running smoothly. Train into the city from Ashfield was on time. Arrived at Queen Street in good time for the connecting Edinburgh express train. Arrived at Edinburgh just after 2pm and the connecting train that was heading to London was already there on the platform. Found my carriage and seat and got comfy. About 40 minutes later we stop at Berwick-upon-Tweed, which looks like an absolutely STUNNING place, and is somewhere I’d definitely like to go and check out in the future.
Just after we pull out of Berwick, I get my callback from Ou in Scotland. I explained that I received the award letter in the post earlier that morning and had said I had been awarded so much – a partial award and wanted to check what I needed to do to pay the rest of the fee. The person on the phone asked me to clarify the award amount I was given, which I told them. “That is the maximum award they have given you. The university pays the rest. You have nothing to pay.” I don’t think I have ever been so relieved or felt so thankful for a phone call in a long while. I was like “Oh, my God! That’s incredible! I am so, so relieved. This is fantastic! Thank you so, so much!” I was on a cloud! So buoyed by that news. And just…so relieved and able to relax.
It was pretty dark by the time I arrived in Newcastle. The sun had set and there was minimal twilight left. I decided to get a taxi to the Premier Inn I was staying at. Taxis were straight outside the exit from the station so I grabbed one and arrived at the Premier Inn several minutes later.
Had a quick drink and a snack and after about an hour, I decided to head to The Cluny. I could see on Google Maps it was a really short walk to there from the Premier Inn. Less than half a mile. But it isn’t a busy part of the city and I was a little worried about the walk. But I knew that it would hardly be a taxi driver’s worth to come and collect me from the Premier Inn to drive me, quite literally, down the road and around the corner. So I walked it. But OMG, I was freaking out doing it! But I made it there safely (obviously!) but there was NO WAY I was going to take that walk back to the hotel after the gig. One, I knew by then my legs will have given out on me, and two, by 11.15pm, those streets will be even MORE terrifying.
When I get to The Cluny, I familiarise myself with the place again and go to the back of the pub and upstairs to the quiet “lounging” area. I take a seat on the sofa and have been there all of a few minutes when I hear music start up and realise it’s Andy and Steve going through their soundcheck. Not only that, I can hear that they are rehearsing their Christmas song – Good Enough For You This Christmas. From the time of Edinburgh I had been saying “The Cluny is a Christmas gig. You HAVE to do the Christmas song! You just have to!”
I got up off the sofa and snuck in through the doors of the auditorium in front of me. I stood towards the back, enjoying my little exclusive preview. Andy looked up at one point and I waved like a loon at him, grinning away that they were rehearsing the song.
Steve was to the side of the stage and couldn’t quite see me from where I was standing, so when the song ended I shouted “YaaaaaaY!!!!” and that was Steve alerted to my presence and, bless him, he smiled and said “you made it! Excellent!”
Not only are Warm Digits bloody amazing musically – but Steve and Andy are just such lovely, lovely guys. They always make me feel welcome and they never make me feel a pest for wanting to hang out with them. They are just so, so fab. Speaking of FAB! We had a bite to eat together before the gig. Andy and I are very much “team Get Back”, the both of us waxing lyrical about what we thought of it and how great it was and how we’re both well up for completely ODing on the notion that Peter Jackson says he will eventually release all 60 HOURS of the footage!
To the crux of the matter – the gig itself. There were two support acts. But with first support had to pull out of the gig unfortunately. That left Dextro as the sole support act. I really enjoyed his set. There’s quite a kind of “trance” vibe going on with his music. I find it hard to get into music with a lot of space like that and not much of a “groove” as such – more loops and repetition at a standing venue. I feel like it is more a style of music that needs to be enjoyed sitting down. As much as I was enjoying his set, after a while it started to play havoc with me and I feared I was about to have a vasovagal attack so I left the auditorium and went and sat on one of the sofas back out through the far doors. Just to give myself 5-10 minutes to compose myself and get my breathing under control. I was doing deep breathing inside to try and ward off the feeling but I was starting to feel like I better go and sit down for a few minutes while I was able to.
I went back and was able to enjoy the final 10 minutes of his set without the fear of keeling over.
Again, I will say that I enjoyed his set, but I would need to be at a seated venue to enjoy his set fully. I would see him again. I had checked out his music on Spotify before the gig and I liked what I was hearing and was interested in seeing him.
Hear more from Dextro by checking out his bandcamp page – https://dextro.bandcamp.com
As for Warm Digits? FANTASTIC! They sounded great from the off. The Cluny’s acoustics are fabulous and they get great sound guys in, I think. The levels were perfect. Nothing was too loud or distorted – so very different to how Edinburgh was. Crowd wise, despite Steve and Andy’s concerns there might only be a very small crowd, there was about (conservatively) 50 people in, which obviously doesn’t sound much – but given all other factors, it was pretty darn good. And everyone there was really into it and having a great time. It was great to see people enjoying themselves. And it was great for Andy and Steve too because of course they get to bounce off the reaction and appreciation from the crowd and it circles round. It was a lovefest in that room!
And it was just so great to hear a full set! To have things like Frames And Cages, Fools Tomorrow and False Positive (which now seems a wonderfully prescient title for that track!) on the setlist, as well as Flight Of Ideas stalwarts Feel The Panic and The View From Nowhere playing. Replication had been played a few times as well over the past 18 months but Thursday night allowed a great showcase of tracks from Flight Of Ideas. But there was a great mix of older tracks in the set too, End Times was sounding the best I’d ever heard it and Rumble And The Tremor was bloody fab too. Then quite the oldie, playing Connected Coast from their Interchange album.
After the world’s shortest “end” of the gig was the encore with the much enjoyed (by me especially) Good Enough For You This Christmas and then a finish with the fabulous title track from Wireless World.
The best. Just the best! Everything I was anticipating this gig to be. Nothing disappointed. The guys played great, the sound was fab. Everything was on the mark. And I was buzzing. And I wasn’t the only one.
It’s still not been the easiest of years this 2021, but at least live…musically, for me it has ended on a real high.
Thanks once again to Andy and to Steve for not only being my favourite band in the entire universe (along with Simple Minds) but for also being such wonderful men and being ever so great to your number one fan – in Glasgow, at least. I really hope to see you guys out there on the road again next year.