On the first day of the first term in my first year teaching at UWS I walked into an old Porta-Cabin on the grounds of the now-defunct Craigie Campus in Ayr. My undeniable sweet tooth for the 1960’s glass and wood box that was the main building did not extend to the unpleasant, by turns Arctic / Equatorial temperatures and interiors of the Cabin that served as the main rehearsal space for performance students. Hand built by the doughty Messrs Allan Dumbreck and Jim Prime the facility had served its purpose well (and would in fact go on to do so for a few years to come) but was creaking a bit. I imagined families of foxes lurking underneath the floorboards.
Waiting for me in various stages of recline in the corridors were the class of 2006, some with a clear and worryingly Metal aura, others straight out of an H&M catalogue, still others who had the quirkiness you always hope for in good measure and all of them with more than a faint whiff of one-week-in-Halls and the (probably literal) Aftershock of Freshers Week. Over the course of 12 weeks we conducted an experiment fairly standard in Higher Music Education i.e. make a reasonably informed guess who might be interesting / controversial / difficult / challenging to put together in groups, set them to work then stand back and watch as these relative strangers write, rehearse and play together. It can be wonderful and it can be scary and this particular year was no exception. Looking over my written feedback I relive the stories of bands who hurtled towards the finish line flush with the zing of creative zest (I hereby copyright that last slogan), others who toiled and fought and struggled and probably – strike that, definitely – never wanted to see each other again at the end of the experience. What I don’t see is much mention of three of the most interesting musicians of that year, Adam Ross, Gareth Perrie and Ashley Little. There were many real talents in that year, among them Erin Hogg (please make new music Erin), Dave Nelson who went on to MD Paolo Nutini’s amazing band, a fabulously intense Frenchman named Guillaume Rousere (now tour managing The Irrepressibles) and songwriting entrepreneur par excellence Dougie Greig. All of these crop up in my contemporary notes but the other three might have just dropped out of my consciousness altogether had they not persisted developing new music, working hard and walking their own quirky path towards something that wasn’t the group grope.
When Adam Ross opened for BMX Bandits at The Classic Grand, Glasgow in 2010, the same year he graduated, I was dumbstruck by his ability to meld comedy, absurdity and intense feeling in a half-hour and in front of a come-on-then-impress-me audience. The Jonathan Richman Of Nairn cajoled and joked and sang his way round the hearts of everybody in the room in the company of his band, now named Randolph’s Leap who also included the amazing Akira and Gareth Perrie among other Commercial Music alumni. I own a numbered Super Dooper edition of Battleships and Kettle Chips (Adam and Co received a complimentary shipment of Kettle Chips from the company after they heard about the release – true story) which includes a Frisbee and which I expect to contribute heartily to my pension when I sell it at Christies around 2030. Gareth has gone on to join (insert word seminal here) BMX Bandits, appearing with the group at Primavera Sound 2011 and he is a big presence on the soon-to-be-released BMX Bandits In Space (Elefant). Both came to Gran’s House Studio, Lamington to perform in 2011 when sessions commenced for Take Me Home, Ashley Little’s debut EP out June 2012 produced by me in association with the fabulous Mr Paul McGeechan and the excellent Mr Keith Bird.
Ashley does have quirkiness in good measure, almost all of it a joy to behold. I made a very poor fist of scolding her after one show during which she announced to the audience that she was ‘a bit rubbish’, concluding that actually she may have been ‘a bit rubbish’ that particular night and that in any case the audience would be so charmed by her beautiful songs that they might not have noticed a. or b. For one born in Dumfries, Scotland in the late 1980’s there is something of New York, New York in the early 1960’s about her music and I’m reminded sometimes of the quote on the sleeve of Laura Nyro’s masterpiece Gonna Take A Miracle:
Nights in New York street angels running down steps into the echoes of the train station to sing…
Maybe you’ll hear some of those Brill Building echoes when Ashley completes an album and songs like Nothing You Can Do About It, Tell Me It’s Not True and Still, There’s Always Hope channel The Shangri Las, Phil Spector and the movie Grease for 2012, 13, 14 or whenever it’s ready, hopefully on thick vinyl and with a beautiful laminated cardboard sleeve. Okay, so that’s the New York 1960 talking but you know what I mean; simply put she is the kind of songwriter whose music ultimately demands the right kind of frame. For now listen to my Class Of 2006, Ashley Little with Adam Ross (Boneshaker drums) and Gareth Perrie (Rhodes and backing vocals) on A Passing Fix with a little film by Ashley and her pal Kathryn MacDonald that seems to encapsulate the sweet oddness at the heart of the song.