The Rulers of The Root. This Sugar Tit Life

amended_front_edessaThe debut album from Glasgow’s The Rulers of The Root was an excellent disc which saw the band roaming around territory populated by the likes of Ian Dury, Captain Beefheart and Nick Cave although they played as if they were a bunch of Martians who had learned their licks via satellite transmission in between watching reruns of Taggart. Some songs were couched in a surreal simulacrum of Americana music with odd snippets of Glaswegiana thrown in, the Broomielaw and The Scotia Bar featuring in Rose of Jericho for example. The follow up album, This Sugar Tit Life, presses on in this direction although it’s a much more focussed album with the majority of the songs rooted in bluesy rock or neon lit late night wierdness with some sixties garage band snottiness thrown in for good measure.

Patrick Gillies, their gravel throated singer and late blooming songwriter, remains at the helm of the ship. His flights of fancy, lyrical conundrums and plain old absurdity command attention throughout while as a singer he is much more in command here – growling, lascivious, lashing the words for all they are worth. Meanwhile his colleague, guitarist John Palmer, paints the songs with splashes of colour with corkscrewed blues, growling rock’n’roll and reverbed twang guitar dashing throughout the album while the rhythm section of Chris Quinn and Stewart Moffat ably adapt to the myriad of forms the songs take on.

At their simplest the band come across as an excellent tight knit combo as on the boogie of Cain Made This Town which belts along as if it just skipped out of Memphis while the title song is a hard stomping blues number with Gillies sounding like Beefheart roaring out on Hard Working Man from the movie Blue Collar. Give The Dog a Bone is a Bo Diddley buzz cut of a song with the guitars slashing and burning across a ferocious beat while Yoker Tam is powered by a taut and driving bass and drums which are almost Krautrock in their precision with a glistening guitar sheen running throughout it.

However, it’s when Gillies lets fly his imagination when the band really take off. Govanhill Lullaby kicks off with a Morricone like spaghetti western sweep as he gathers up the media painted detritus of this much-maligned neighbourhood and spews it out in a Technicolor dream with regular keyboard player Alan French adding some excellent garage band Farfisa stabs. Meanwhile The Lubyanka Blues is an Aesop fable from hell with the band coming across like The Band fronted by Screaming Jay Hawkins. On several of the songs the band slow down and slither through a twilight zone as if they were in a David Lynch soundtrack. The Gap creeps along with a louche touch of evil and Night of the Hunter has some Dr. John voodoo hoodoo about it but the best effort here is the magnificent Face of an Angel. Think of the magnificently stained noirish quality of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and transport it to Glasgow and you are halfway there. Here Gillies inhabits perfectly a loathsome character who is perversely attractive, narcissistic to the extreme and who, “Feeds amphetamine to his pigeons/yes he’s guilty of that deed/but the doos are his religion and they seem to like their seed.” Just awesome.

The album is released today with a launch gig at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe. Tickets here.


Best of 2014


There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.

The Rulers Of The Root/Kings Of Cheeze. Glad Cafe, Glasgow. Saturday 22nd November.

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Trilogies are all the rage these days, a bit of a nasty hobbit I think but here’s Blabber’n’Smoke jumping on the three piece bandwagon with our third post on The Rulers Of The Root within the last fortnight. This flurry of activity was occasioned by the release of the band’s debut album, Porky Dreams which was given an official launch at the Southside’s Glad Cafe on Saturday. A packed venue saw the cafe’s staff running around looking for extra seating and a bit of a log jam at the bar, the only standing space available. Either the Rulers have a hell of a lot of family and friends or that the lure of picking up the album for a cut price one night only deal was too tempting an offer to refuse.

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Fired up by the very enthusiastic crowd the band turned in a stellar set with the majority of the songs plucked from the album while others hinted at a fine follow up. Singer Patrick Gillies was on great form with his bagful of props put to good use as he careened through the rousing I’m Spartacus and bellowed mightily on the piratical Rose Of Jericho. With Mick Murphy and Chris Quinn anchoring the sound guitarist John Palmer slashed and burned throughout, his guitar razor sharp with some fantastic Wilco Johnson like fury on I’m Spartacus. Cat Fur was a highlight with its Beefheart growling while I’ll Be Your Doctor If You’ll Be My Nurse came across like some bawdy lovechild of Boris Pickett and Ian Dury. As befits a special gig some guests were invited up to join in the musical mayhem with Palmer’s wife, Fiona, playing ukulele on the slinky voodoo of Colon Man while their daughter, Lucy, added some haunting harmonies to the cowboy lope along of Charlie. Veteran Southside keyboard player, Alan French (AKA the Great White Shark according to Gillies), was also on hand to add his expertise to Charlie and the Bossa Nova groove of Sinaloa. Despite the oven like heat album favourites such as White On Rice, Maillot Jeune and Murdoch Browns were despatched with a degree of fury as the band all but melted on stage. The queue at the end of the show at the merch table was testament to the audience enjoyment.

If you weren’t there then you can get a hold of the album from The New Hellfire Club in The Hidden Lane and Love Music.

We should mention the opening act, Edinburgh’s Kings Of Cheeze, an act new to me. Semi acoustic, they put on an energetic set that veered from Lena Lovitsch like vocals from singer Trish Murry to a kind of mutated Ry Cooder meets Pere Ubu contortions with guitarist Dave Gray moaning and whistling as he jerked out some fine jazzy guitar runs. An infectious bunch they were jumping up and down in their seats as they played and are well worth further investigation.

The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams

The Rulers Of the Root are a four man band with deep roots in music and sound. Two of the band have a fine pedigree in the local music scene stretching back to the eighties and three of them work as sound engineers offering others the benefit of their ears and expertise. Fate, work and family tossed them together on the same shore some years ago and it transpired that one of them was an aspiring wordsmith while another was itching to get back to the front line. And so it was that The Rulers Of The Root came about as singer and lyricist Patrick Gillies shared his jottings with workmate, John Palmer. Palmer, a guitarist of note, saw some promise in Gillies’ offbeat thoughts and together they set about setting them to music. Another co-worker, Chris Quinn was recruited for his sonic expertise and drumming skills while Palmer reached out to an old bass playing pal resulting in the laid back Mick Murphy squaring the circle as it were.

All of this was a few years ago and it’s only now that the band unveil their debut album, Porky Dreams. Three years in gestation, nurtured and formed in their womb like HQ, Porky Dreams more than delivers on the promise that those fortunate enough to have seen the band live in their rare forays out have glimpsed. It’s not as raucous as their live set, the clowning and costumes are absent but at the root of it all Porky Dreams is a fine, absurdist document, couched in a weird west of Scotland vision of Americana. At times it’s almost as if that cartoon character, Lobey Dosser, had sprung to life and played at Govan’s version of the Opry especially on the Hazlewood drawl of Millport Cowboy and the parched slide guitar infused Neilston Blues.
There’s a wider canvas however throughout the album as the band canter through a variety of styles with Gillies’ rough hewn vocals and lyrics that draw from writers such as Conrad and Joyce as much as they do from the likes of Captain Beefheart, Ian Dury and Tom Waits drawing it all together. Whether he’s delivering a devastating portrait of a sailor’s life on Rose Of Jericho or launching into the Beefheart like flood of words, each one savoured for its sound as well as its meaning on Cat Fur, he commands attention. On paper “Rough skag a dull dick/ Saints bones, their tongues flick/ back street, a finger poke/ I’m not Rococco, I’m only Baroque” might make sense to some, on record it’s just brilliant.

While there are numerous references to local locales (the sailor in Rose Of Jericho drinks in the Scotia Bar before ambling down to the Broomielaw) the band steer clear of any kailyard romanticism and like a seaman they visit various ports with Tom Waits’ like bucket blues on Colon Man, Tropicana on Sinaloa, jazz noir on the Rupert baiting Murdoch Browns, Blockheads’ funk and thrust on I’m Spartacus, Dr. John voodoo on La Rue and dank and dark wailings on Elephant In The Room, a song Palmer says was influenced by Kevin Ayers’ cavernous Song From The Bottom Of A Well. It all coalesces in the title song which belts along with Palmer’s murderous slide guitar and a killer beat as Gillies prowls and growls. Like the Captain and the Gun Club thrown into a blender and cut to pieces it swings with a vengeance.

The band launch Porky Dreams at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Saturday 22nd Novenber.

Rulers Of The Root Facebook

Video can’t be shared here but click on it to see the hoodoo voodoo who do crew.

The Rulers Of The Root – Maillot Jaune from Clyde Jones on Vimeo.

The Rulers Of The Root

Debut albums are generally the domain of youth, pimpled adolescents unleashing pent up formative years of angst, doubt, unrequited love perhaps. So it’s strangely comforting to find that Glasgow band, The Rulers Of the Root, are, if not grizzled, at least able to recall when pubs were shut on Sundays and buying music meant a trip into town on a weekend. Their album, Porky Dreams, is released officially next Saturday with a launch gig at The Glad Cafe on the south side. It’s a tremendous album that showcases singer Patrick Gillies‘ excellent wordplay, a slightly absurdist take on life that comes across at times as stream of consciousness, at other times emulating the likes of Ian Dury with a fine feel for the shape and sound of language. Delivered with gusto in a manner reminiscent of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits or Nick Cave the words are well matched by the band’s well-drilled and finely honed music. While they visit several styles on the album there’s a precision to the playing that has come from extensive rehearsals and a long history of listening to tight units such as The Blockheads and The Magic Band. Guitarist John Palmer and bassist Mick Murphy have a lifetime of playing in bands behind them while drummer Chris Quinn has a similar if less lengthy pedigree. With three of the band working in sound engineering there’s ears aplenty to fine tune the music and the end result is Porky Dreams, years in the making perhaps but with a spring in its step as well as its tail.

With the album pressed and plans well afoot for the launch Blabber’n’Smoke met up with three of the band and we started off by asking how they got together and past glories.

John: Three of us work together while Mick is an old friend of mine through my wife. He knew her brother, Malcolm Duffin, a drummer. Mick played in Glasgow bands in the eighties and for the past few years he’s been playing in Clash tribute bands. I played in several bands in the eighties.

Chris: I played in a few bands in the eighties but I’ve always been on the other side of the fence as a sound engineer. It’s a refreshing change to be on this side for a change.

Patrick: I’ve got no musical history. At the risk of boring you, about ten years ago, Nancy, my wife, bought me a guitar because I’d been wanting to play one for years. Like any teenager I could play Sunshine Of Your Love on one string but I started buying songbooks by the likes of Ray Davies and such and tried to play them in my ham-fisted way. Anyway, I eventually started writing songs and played them to John who thought they were quite promising. They were really like dead bodies these songs but John did his Dr. Frankenstein on them, revived them, put some glitter on them. After that, it was like a leaking tap. I just kept on writing songs to the point where we’ve got about 30. We put 15 songs on the album because I’m so old I was terrified I’d die before I’d get a record out. So it’s 15 songs but only 55 minutes so they’re not huge songs. The central core I suppose is country, a weird juxtaposition, a beginning and an end, some Blockheads type stuff.

Is it mainly songs from your live set?

Patrick: Yeah but we revived an old song called Elephant In The Room, which was one of the first songs I wrote, John did a really good job with it, it’s basically a country song but we’ve turned it into a Kevin Ayers type extravaganza.

John: Yeah, it’s quite dark, I was inspired by Ayer’s Song From The Bottom Of A Well which was one of my favourites when I was about 14. I love the guitar playing on it, that crazy, cranking guitar, just hitting it really. It’s an experiment I suppose but it came out quite well.

You say that a basic influence is country but while Charlie certainly fits that bill there’s some funk, Latin American grooves and noirish jazz on the album.

John: Yeah, every song’s been through about half a dozen different stages until we find a style that fits the song. We all listen to so much, we’ve been buying and listening to music from everywhere for a long time. It was quite funny when Chris was mastering the album and was trying to figure out which tags to put the songs under, we wanted to tick all of them.

Patrick: Yes, Loudon Wainwright maintains that his career was set back when someone said he was country and western so all his album were filed under that beside the likes of Sydney Divine.

The lyrics are quite striking, where do they come from?

Patrick: It never really follows a format I’m afraid. For example with Porky Dreams I came up with the name of the song (after some intense dreams one night) and just Googled American idioms and threaded them all together to make some sort of sense and to fit the sound of the G to G minor groove. Murdoch Browns also came with the sound of the original riff. It changed a bit over time and was written at the time News International was in the news a lot, I think it started from that phrase ‘Chipping Norton Set’. Elephant in the Room had a completely different tune originally but was written first and then the music came later. With Rose of Jericho I just wanted to write a story, a bit like Richard Thomson’s love story 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Millport Cowboy was written after a visit to Millport …and it was full of Cowboys!! Neilston was written after a rail journey to Neilston in the rain and I wanted to convey a bit of that repetitive rail sound. Music and words came together. I’m sorry I can’t come up with a consistent formula! Charlie was about a friend of mine who fell out of a fourth floor tenement window and about my dad who was in Normandy. I wanted to write a traditional country song in A. I suppose words and music came together.
I’ve got good musicians and good sound engineers here. I write the songs and then take them to John and he does the rest and then the song will have three or four incarnations with the band before it finally pops up. Some of them are really close to the original, for others it’s been a really long process.

John: Some of the songs on the album were recorded years ago, really just as quick demos so we’ve had to go back to them and repair things, modify them and such. Patrick’s singing has changed since we started recording

Patrick: What he means is its improved a lot. We even had a soviet era, songs about the KGB; I was reading a lot of Solzhenitsyn at the time.

John: Yeah, we had a Ukrainian friend come into do a voice over on that. It comes across like a Zappa thing but what she’s reciting is a recipe for chicken soup! She was really good at it and we said you’ve done this before, turns out she records the voice messages for Ukrainian passenger ships, the evacuation instructions and such.

Unfortunately, there’s no Ukrainian chicken soup on the album, perhaps the next one. In the meantime Porky Dreams is a sublime trip into Patrick Gillies’ fevered imagination, an imagination that comes to life on stage where he adopts an almost atavistic persona and again one is led back to mesmerising performers such as Dury and Beefheart as Gillies grimaces and gestures utilising props at times and inhabiting the songs as one possessed. Meanwhile Palmer, a superb guitarist, in fact one of Glasgow’s most guarded secrets, lets rip with style, panache and a deep love and knowledge of rock riffdom.

Blabber’n’Smoke will have a review of the album in the next few days and the launch is at The Glad Cafe on Saturday 22nd November where they will be supported by Edinburgh’s Kings Of Cheeze, details here.

The Rulers of The Root. Glad Cafe. Sunday 27th April

Blabber’n’Smoke had first caught sight of this grizzled bunch a week or so ago when they played a few songs at the Southside Sessions, battling a noisy crowd and a wonky PA system. Even so their weird take on Beefheartian delta Dadaism was somewhat intriguing so the promise of their own gig some days later was a no brainer, we had to investigate.

The Rulers of the Root are a four man band who don’t have any product to push, no discs, no mp3s, no tee-shirts or even fridge magnets (so far), just four guys who have got together to play some music and fortunately they seem keen to do this in front of other folk. While Beefheart may be an influence there are shades of Tom Waits, The Meters, Alex Harvey, The Blockheads and David Lynch to be heard while their absurdist sense of humour recalls the pop Dadaism of the Bonzo Dog Band along with a whiff of the late and lamented Chou Pahrot. Opening with the word salad lyrics of Cat Fur, a junkyard blues maelstrom that was the most Van Vliet influenced song of the night it was clear that they are a diamond in the rough with the raucous vocals battling with some ferocious guitar. Rose Of Jericho was a sea shanty as sung by sailors on mescaline while The Doctor tangoed like a mutant Tom Waits with some salacious wordplay. Millport Cowboy was a gnarly ode to the pseudo gunslingers who invade that Isle for their Tombstone festival while White on Rice invoked a reverb soaked trip into David Lynch country and western territory. It should be noted here that singer Patrick Gillies had a bag of props which the band temporarily tolerated before tossing aside leaving him to populate the songs with an array of headgear to fit the moment. Pirates, cowboys and gladiators ruled the roost depending on the song being played.

With the rhythm section ( Mick Murphy, bass and Chris Quinn, percussion) as tight as the proverbial duck and Gillies in full “method” mode this was already a sight to see and hear but the cream on the top was the guitar playing from John Palmer, a veteran of the Glasgow music scene. Able to crank out the chunky Feelgoods’ I Can Tell (their one cover of the night) and then come across all Marc Ribot on the more Waitsian numbers he was outstanding throughout the night. And while their distorted Magic Band angularisms might be their calling card The Rulers visited Ry Cooder territory on Sinaloa before adopting a Clash attack on Murdoch Browns, a song that attacked the hypocrisy of that media magnate. Ian Dury’s music hall mirth was invoked on Spartacus with Gillies totally in character with his Roman helmet and sword a swinging while the Tour de France got a good trouncing on the final song Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) with the audience thrown suitable headgear to get in the moment. With Dury and the Blockheads again channelled it was funky as hell and topped the show without any performance enhancing drugs in sight.
You can catch the band on their Facebook page and see them in action below. Blabber’n’Smoke hopes to talk to them soon in order to inquire into this weird mutant sound in the South Side.