FACING THE MUSIC
Ruaridh Pringle 2007
With an average age of 22, five piece Lewis band Face the West are becoming increasingly well known throughout the Western Isles for their dynamic blend of virtually everything from rocked-up renditions of traditional tunes, through country, blues and even swing, to contemporary rock and pop.
The band began back in 1998, when keyboard player and vocalist Keith Morrison – then the youngest member – was only 15. Since then they have performed as far away as Ireland, and count supporting Irish superstars Hothouse Flowers amongst their achievements.
Despite a line-up which has since changed several times, due mainly to college and work commitments, the band have earned themselves a loyal and steadily growing fan base.
Their only CD to date, the enthusiastically received Edge of Reason, very quickly sold out its run of 1000 copies. With the master recordings still available and constant requests for more, the band are currently hoping to find a distributor to have the CD re-released.
The evening of Saturday 21st February saw Face the West performing live at the Carinish Inn in North Uist: an event greeted with anticipation by a great many younger islanders, with several buses being organised to bring people to and from the venue.
A clash with a meeting of the popular Uist and Benbecula Accordion and Fiddle Club meant a slightly slow start, but by midnight the hotel’s function room was packed, and enjoying a party atmosphere.
The band’s musicality and commitment immediately impressed.
In rubber-legged Keith Morrison, Face the West have a highly charismatic front-man. Snarling and strutting behind his keyboards, he provides a focus for the band’s energy. Communication on-stage was brilliant. With his regular eye-contact and Jagger-esque mugging, Keith seemed to egg the others on until they were all sparking off each other beautifully.
From West Side in the Isle of Lewis, piper and acoustic guitarist Ross McRae - the only band member not from Stornoway - joined the band only 2 months ago. Electric guitarist Brian Montgomery has been with Face the West an even shorter time: just two weeks.
Despite this, the sound was tight, focussed, and fizzing with energy. This sounded like a band who knew each other inside out. The impression was that they were all having a great time, and as a result, so did everyone else.
The diversity of sources plundered for material was remarkable, and despite much of it being very well worn they avoided sounding clichéd. Even renditions of old chestnuts such as Sweet Home Alabama, Johnny B. Goode, and Bad Moon Rising were cranked out with a passion and a unique edge which could hardly fail to impress.
Particularly memorable was a kind of trance-meets-hard rock-meets Stornoway-Cajun version of Joe Garland’s In the Mood, which originally topped the charts back in the 1940s with Glenn Miller.
A good deal of the band’s character is down to accordionist Innes Scott. The oldest band member at 26, he spent the evening slipping between a feel which was by turns Western Scottish and Cajun, and innumerable points between and beyond.
Rather than providing just another background of percussive wallpapering, 19 year-old drummer “D. C.” McMillan managed to conjure up a constantly shifting landscape of interesting and varied textures, which added much to the band’s impressively big and diverse sound.
Several sets of traditional and traditional-style local tunes got the dance floor packed out, with vigorous and well-played arrangements of marches, Strathspeys, reels and jigs. Most were favourites such as Botachan a’ Mhirein (High Road to Linton) and Crossing the Minch, with a few self-penned tunes holding their heads up too.
The slow tunes impressed as much as the fast ones, particularly a slow waltz led sensitively by Innes on his accordion. Piping standard Highland Cathedral got the epic treatment, fronted by Ross McRae on a surprisingly genuine-sounding set of electric pipes. The band’s conviction ensured it magnificently avoided descending into audio cheese.
The second half saw a more contemporary shift, with numbers by the Killers, Teenage Fan Club and the Saw Doctors interspersed with older standards by the Waterboys and even Status Quo. Though hampered by a very muddy and unflattering PA setup, Keith Morrison’s vocals sometimes amazed – nowhere more obviously so than during a spectacular rendition of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
Jimi Hendrix riffs even made a brief appearance, with some very solid lead guitar work in general by Brian Montgomery, who wrung some nicely raw sounds out of his guitar-amp setup.
The evening ended, fittingly, on quite the most overblown, drawn-out, deliriously self-indulgent rock-and roll denouement I’ve heard for a long time. That they had the brass-neck to do this, let alone pull it off so flamboyantly, says everything about this band.
Been done before? Face the West don’t care: they’ll take it and do it bigger and better, twist it into something New, and make it their own. Not because it’s clever, but because it’s fun. This is a band not pretending to be anything other than itself.
All that was lacking, perhaps, was original songs. For a line-up barely two weeks old, however, Face the West are ludicrously confident, polished and dynamic - and should have no trouble packing the Carinish again on their next trip.
Anyone who wants to be able to say they saw them before they were famous should probably catch them there while they can.