In collaboration with Captain Toms (local practice room), Kenny’s Music (local instrument shop), The Evening Express (local press), and Enjoy Music Festival Aberdeen, Aberdeen live venue, Krakatoa, put together a battle of the bands format, Eruption 2016. This offered a slot on said Enjoy Music Festival, plus £2,500 cash, for the winner.
There were numerous heats for the competition, but it gradually wound down to the last handful of bands, with the final taking place Friday past (February 10). These, in order of appearance on the night, were rockers, Sonic Bucker; country and western act, The Malpaso Gang; soul/funk/rockers, FaR; and alternative blues band, Full Fat.
The criteria on the night saw judges assess material, performance, technical ability, audience engagement and professionalism, with FaR clinching it. Only two points separated all four bands.
This was an achievement considering they had to draft in guitarist Jake Woodward, 24, from Stirling, for the final. It turns out usual guitarist Liam McLaughlin, 22, from Aberdeen, got the opportunity to play on a UK tour with guitar virtuoso, Sithu Aye.
The band also comprises of vocalist, Fifi Greasley, 24, from Madagascar and Lairg; guitarist Rodaidh Mackay, 26, from the Black Isle; bassist Scott Davie, 24, from Aberdeen; and drummer Liam Beedie, 19, from Johnshaven.
I was fortunate enough to secure an interview with their founding members, Fifi and Rodaidh, and was able to pick their brains regarding what the future holds, plus opinions regarding the Aberdeen music scene and other things more further afield.
First I asked how they felt winning the competition, Fifi telling me, “We are delighted, there were so many talented bands playing. It’s an honour to be considered the winner by the judges”. Then came the unavoidable question regarding the prize money. How are they intending to spend it?
Rodaidh answered this one carefully, emphasising the need, perhaps, not to splurge: “We haven’t decided yet, to be honest. We are wanting to take the time to make sure it is spent the right way. However, we do know we want it to go towards progressing the band”.
What about the other prize in question, the Enjoy Music Festival slot? Will this be their biggest live slot to date? Fifi explained that they “played small slots at festivals before but this will certainly be the biggest and we’re looking forward to it”.
Rodaidh was also very diplomatic when asked who they would’ve loved, other than themselves, to win the competition, “I don’t think we could possibly say for one band. There were honestly so many bands that played that we thought that could have made it all the way through the competition. There were a lot of bands that really blew us away,” he said.
Looking ahead, Rodaidh says the mission statement “is to get our music out there”. He also revealed they’re “writing and building up towards” their first album: “Recently we have been so focused on rehearsing we haven’t had time to write a lot of new material. We have already set some time aside for us to focus on getting back to being more creative”.
If, indeed, the mission is to get our music out there, would that also encompass, potentially, trying to secure a major record label deal? Rodaidh didn’t “think there is any ambition to become signed”. They’d “consider if the right deal was found”.
On the other hand, “The industry has and is continuing to change so much and it has become possible for bands to do it all themselves, now. We have done everything ourselves so far and we take the whole connecting directly to an audience online seriously. It’s about so much more than just the music, now”.
Likewise, with that mission statement in mind, of informing potential listeners what to expect, Fifi was happy to compare FaR’s sound to that of the likes of Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Morcheeba, Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic. “It’s always fun to hear what people say they hear in our music,” she said.
Rodaidh then cited jazz as an influence that might surprise people a little more familiar with the band. Furthermore, he enjoys progressive metal band, Dream Theatre, and “we also take influence from popular music on the radio”. If you can picture the band huddled around said radio, that’s probably because three of them “currently live in the same flat. We’re aiming to have the whole group here together in future”.
We then went from that flat in Aberdeen to Madagasca, where Fifi lived until the age of nine. Are there any influences particular to that part of the world that, otherwise, wouldn’t come out in their sound? While Fifi reasoned she was maybe too young for that to be the case, Rodaidh added that they listen to all sorts, “including music from Madagascar…Her heritage might be a part to the unique quality and tone of her voice”.
It turns out bridging that gap came via, yes, Lairg, but also a college studying music in the Scottish Highlands. This is where Fifi and Rodaidh first met, and actually began as an acoustic duo before putting a band together. The rest of the band fell into place with a move from Inverness down to Aberdeen a few years back.
The guys are obviously driven and keen to succeed, making sizeable sacrifices to better their chances of success. Is there a Plan B, or a day job to fall back upon for each band member? It turns out they’ve already dipped their toes into the likes of sound production and music tuition, Rodaidh hitting the nail on the head with: “To make a living in music these days is pretty multifaceted. You need to be able to do a bit of everything”.
Fifi added, “I think one way or the other we will always continue to play music, as it’s such a fundamental part of who we are”.
A discussion on, with their raised profile, who they’d like to work with, and play alongside, then developed into an impassioned support of what currently now seems a positively buzzing Aberdeen scene, with Rodaidh saying:
“…we would like to continue playing alongside our friends and the bands we have met through the competition. There are some great local talents in Aberdeen and this competition has been proof that the local music scene works”.
That links fairly nicely into the realms of recently closed Aberdeen venue, Downstairs. There was a shared frustration between interviewee, Rodaidh, and interviewer on the lack of protection from councils for music venues, “If you move in next to a music venue you kind of have to know what to expect…I think Downstairs closing was damaging for the scene”.
Another topical issue, that of online exposure weighed against loss of income for bands through free streaming and the like, was also delved into. “The industry is changing so much. Music is essentially worthless,” Rodaidh said bluntly.
He had solutions, though: “I think it’s more important having a fan base, and that means that the more people that get to hear what you have to offer, the better in order to make revenue from other sources, such as merchandise. We are planning on releasing an album but we will be planning to release a lot of free content as well in order to build interest”.
Is the Aberdeen scene, due to the likes of Eruption 2016, on the up; what now seems the aforementioned positively buzzing Aberdeen scene? Yes, according to Fifi, who added, “The semi-final and final were the busiest gigs in the city we’ve had the pleasure to be involved in”.
Both also had something to say, finally now, as to what more bands and venues could do to further boost this:
“Musicians should support live music events that happen in the city,” Fifi said. “In the run up to playing the final, we worked alongside the other bands cross promoting each other through social media to build awareness of each other and for the event. I think this way every band gets something out of it”.
“I think it’s also important for venues to be aware of their own online following and to help promote the shows,” Rodaidh added. “Krakatoa has been great at promoting the event with online posts”.
“Too many promoters at venues think it is enough to just set up a Facebook events page and expect the bands to put in all the work. Especially when more gig goers that want to see new music will be aware of the venue but not the new bands”.
FaR are “writing towards a debut album” and “have enough material” but want only the best tracks making the album. There’s also an “EP due for release in the very near future…it’s in mixing stage”.
You can see the band on Friday, April 21 at Krakatoa, Aberdeen. They’re playing alongside Gypsy Roots, supporting Juicy Juicy Juice.
Photo Credit: Matt Jolly (Matt Jolly Photography)
Words by Andrew Watson