My Adventures with Mogwai
Well, I liked Mogwai since their second single but they were yet another scottish band who I never got to see live either in Aberdeen or when I went to Glasgow, although I did see Stuart once at a Pavement gig but I never spoke to him. But we were at the Intercity Crawl in Glasgow and saw Magoo who were fantastic and then we went to see Formula One. There were only about twenty people there which was a real shame ‘cos they played a really good set but I spotted Stuart Mogwai down at the front. I was thinking about speaking to him and then he started dancing really stupidly and he would run to the front and put his drink on a speaker after every song just so he could applaud them and I thought that was really cool of him not to be all pop starry and disinterested.
So when they’d finished I went up and gave him a fanzine and asked him when Mogwai would play Aberdeen and Stuart said they’d come in March and he was definitely up for it. We then discovered we’d both been to the same Swervedriver gig in Aberdeen years ago and talked about my fab home-made yummy fur t-shirt and Eska. I told Stuart how Chris Eska seemed scared of me and Stuart showed me what I had probably done to Chris’ shy psyche by spinning me around the room shouting “Chris, Chris!” at me, much to Nicolette’s puzzlement. They never did play Aberdeen that tour – Stuart phoned me to apologise (!) and we arranged to do an interview in Manchester instead. So follow me as I follow Mogwai from city to city in my quest to get them to play Aberdeen.
On the Friday, I went to see Mogwai for the first time ever.
I met Carl around four and we went to have a cup of coffee at a nice cafe. I’d been told Mogwai would be arriving around 5 o’clock so we wandered back to the Roadhouse for, well ten to five. I guessed Mogwai had arrived as there was a van parked outside with a picture of Princess Leia in the window…
When we got inside the stage was being set up and Mogwai were skateboarding around the venue. I spotted Stuart just as he spotted me and he came over and remembered my name and everything. They were all very excited because they’d just got the tape of the Kevin Shields remix which they were dying to hear. They were harassing people to put it on but were advised to wait ten minutes until they were allowed to have the PA on. Obviously me and Carl were rather honoured to be able to get such a sneak preview and were soon treated to sounds of a loudness you don’t normally get to experience. Stuart stood in between the speakers to hear it and everyone looked rather pleased. Much waiting around and soundchecking assumed so we sat about and wrote questions. We were also asked to keep an eye on the ceiling as one of the pipes started leaking all over the place – not dangerous at all, oh no…. There were no more leaks though and eventually Stuart came through and led us into the dressing room.
Once the tape is switched off we stay and chat for a wee while longer partly because it’s so comfy on that sofa but we drag ourselves away upon hearing Hirameka Hi-Fi are in the building. We go through to the venue somehow imagining we’d recognise Hirameka but obviously we don’t so I have to go back through and ask Stuart to point them out. I speak to Tom and Matt (of ‘Damn You!’) – “do you smoke?”, they ask, offering cigarettes. And when we say ‘no’, “do you eat Pringles?”, offering said potato product. Of course we eat Pringles…
We sit around for ages and ages – Carl realises he’s not going to have time to go home and get his ticket so I offer him my +1 since Alex can’t make it. I’d forgotten about the Press losing their +1s though and have to do some slight pleading and reasoning with the guest list girl. She relents but is pretty hard on other fanzine people expecting just to be allowed to stay. We go to buy T-shirts but I’m horrified that I only have one choice as the other two T-shirts are frankly rather sexist featuring a naked woman – gah! I wish I’d known so I could have harassed Mogwai about it in the interview. I buy the Miracleman one as does Carl.
I meet lots of Carl’s friends and we all sit at the front of the stage. Aerial M are really wonderful. I loved how the band all watch David Pajo, waiting for the signs of where to go next – it’s obviously his band although they work together really well. I find it a little difficult to concentrate as Stuart Mogwai is standing near the backstage door and waves at me from behind Aerial M so that I laugh and look silly.
Finally it’s time. I wanted to be at the front so that I could watch Mogwai and see how on earth they made the noises they do with their own hands – I wanted to see them do it in front of my eyes, prove they weren’t magicians or pawns in some evil mind game.
Nothing can prepare you for Mogwai live. Believe me, I did all the preparing I thought I could (apart from playing Mogwai at top volume with my head against the speakers, but I’ve done similar things in my life). I knew they would surpass any expectations I had, I knew it would change the way I looked at things forever, I knew it would change the way I felt but still… Nothing, nothing nothing on earth can prepare you for ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ live. Nothing. I just could not believe it. Even though I was standing there watching, watching everything they did. They built their mesh of noise, then one by one, they left their guitars and one by one they took up percussion until finally there was only drumming. But you couldn’t see the join, you couldn’t have told when the guitars stopped and the drumming started. Because Mogwai give new meaning to noise, they can make noise with everything. Maybe noise is like colour, like how when you mix exact quantities of red, yellow, blue, you get neutral. And you can’t tell there’s all the colours of the rainbow there, condensed into one colour.
It was one of those gigs where you feel you could stay up forever – what does sleep matter anymore? But you also want to be alone in the dark to hug it all gleefully and revel in the fact that you’ve seen it happen, you were there and you saw it. And as I lay there in the dark I was never more pleased that I’d decided to go to Edinburgh as well.
So, on the Sunday, I took a crammed train to Edinburgh listening to Mogwai and reading Lenin. By the time I got to Edinburgh I had a bad throat and was losing my voice. Elizabeth gave me food and my ticket and we all made our way to the Liquid Room. Pilotcan were playing as we arrived and the place was full so we decided to try and get into the balcony instead of being squashed at the back with no view whatsoever. While we were trying to get ourselves organised (believing, quite wrongly, that the balcony was for guest list only) Stuart appeared out of the door and came over to say hello. I grilled him about the balcony and he found out it was for anyone so I bade farewell and we found ourselves a lovely spot overlooking the stage.
Elizabeth went to get drinks while we watched the boredom that was Pilotcan – they were very uneventful and one of their songs was completely ripping off Mogwai, badly. Elizabeth returned from the bar – a girl had said to her, “What’s the name of this band?”. “Pilotcan”, replied Elizabeth, truthfully. “I know they’re a pile of crap”, answered the girl, “but what are they called?”. As Elizabeth despises Pilotcan she was rather pleased with this misapprehension.
Arab Strap were on next and I confess to being rather disappointed with their performance. When I saw them supporting Gene they were ramshackle, shouty and noisy. This time they played entirely new songs, all of which sounded similar: long intro, Aidan’s mumbling story and then a ten minute instumental ending. We were kind of unimpressed and Aidan’s beard frightened us mightily. The best bit was when they had to restart a song halfway through Aidan’s rambling and he just went, “As I was saying…”, and did it all again.
So, finally Mogwai. When I saw them in Manchester I thought they were perfect, they moved the goalposts so far that most people can’t even see them anymore, let alone aim for them. But in Edinburgh they’d already moved on again – it was like they’d been pretending the other night and now they were going to show us what they were really made of. And I was shocked, ‘cos how can you be better than perfect? But things have to keep changing – perfection’s not some static thing that you can go and look at – Mogwai aren’t a museum.
I suppose it being their ‘home’ crowd might have had something to do with it – maybe they felt they had something to prove, maybe they were raising everyones’s expectations including their own. Whatever it was we were impressed. At one point, during the loud bit in ‘Helicon 1′ I think, Stuart was kneeling on the stage and he just leant back and put his head on the speaker and at that moment I knew that they understand about the noise.
They finished with ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ and I thought it would be less exciting now that the element of surprise was gone until they left the stage and the fireworks went off. Fireworks! It made it okay that it was the end, not just of the gig but of the tour ‘cos fireworks are a good ending to anything – it’s right.
On the way home, everyone seemed kind of speechless. Particularly me since I had almost completely lost my voice – not that I’m trying to draw any analogy.
At the end of March I went to see Tortoise with Elizabeth and Fiona. At the end, we went to look at the merchandise and dribbled over all five exclusive tour releases and the lovely t-shirts. We only had about £15 between us so I bought a 7″ and Elizabeth bought a CD. Next thing you know, Stuart and Dominic pop up. I wave at Stuart and he says ‘hello’ and gives me a big hug. Not a great experience since his duffel coat (a duffel coat! At a gig!) was soaking wet, hopefully from rain. He says, “I’ve got some news that’ll make you happy. We’re playing Aberdeen in August”. Happy? That’s an understatement if ever there was…
They tell me they’ve been in the studio all day recording the next single and then Stuart notices my home-made Mogwai Young Team t-shirt. “Where did you get that?”, he interrogates me. “Did you make it?”. I agree that I did and Stuart turns to Dominic and says, “it’s nice, isn’t it?”. Dominic looks at it for an entire minute and then agrees – hurray. Anyway, that’s about it for the conversation so Stuart turns to the merchandise stall and proceeds to buy everything we couldn’t afford so we run away fast.
At last! It’s the 26th of August!
I had phoned up and got a photo pass so I could take some photos for this website and my fanzines and then I had to just wait for Wednesday. And then, even when it was Wednesday I had to sit and wait until it was about 5 o’clock until it was likely they’d have arrived. As I walked to the Lemon Tree I felt like stopping people and telling them to come and see Mogwai – all these lucky people in Aberdeen could just walk down the road and see Mogwai tonight and they probably didn’t realise it. I managed not to act like a mad person though and made it to the Lemon Tree where I discovered an enormous coach being unloaded by unrecognisable people. I hovered around pathetically and then ventured on to the stage whereupon I recognised Dominic. “I’m here to take photos”, I said and he waved me in.
I picked my way carefully across the stage and spotted Stuart at a table full of people. He said hello and took his feet off the nearest chair so I could sit down. Polite small talk was made until John from the Yummy Fur (as I later discovered it was) wandered over and started asking technical questions about Mogwai’s equipment, pronouncing, “no way!”, after Stuart’s every utterance. Mogwai do strange things with their equipment then, it seems. I think we realised that. Everyone seems bored and Stuart says he hates both board games and card games – that’ll be his 3-second attention span then. I ask if they’ve been shopping yet and everyone pounces on me to ask if I know where record shops are. Of course I do so Stuart and the Yummy Fur with myself leading, make our way to One Up.
As we near the entrance I give directions, “CDs upstairs, vinyl downstairs”. “Downstairs for me!”, shouts everyone and we all race down the stairs. I don’t think One Up will ever know what hit it – everyone rushes instinctively towards the second hand area and then run about showing each other records and talking non-stop until the bloke (the one who always sighs when I buy anything ‘cos he thinks everything I buy is obscure and unfindable) tells us they’re closing in a few minutes. Decisions are promptly made and purchased except for Stuart as they can’t find the video he wants. We wander back to the Lemon Tree happily until John notices we’ve lost Stuart – slight panic ensues until we’re told “he bumped into someone he knows at a bus stop”. As you do.
John invites me to come up with them to the Yummy Fur dressing room so I do. They’ve got their own dressing room which impresses them hugely especially as it’s got a big bell in it and a broken window. I fully intend to go downstairs for Mogwai’s soundcheck but I get offered food and they’re such fun that I stay. John keeps ribbing me about being a Mogwai fan – asking me to name the Mogwai songs we can hear drifting up through the floor.
Stuart wanders in after to find out what the food was like and to borrow the NME. He really wanted to ring the bell though. I watch the Yummy Fur’s soundcheck and by the time that’s over it’s practically time for doors open. Mogwai hang about at the front of the stage to watch the Yummy Fur’s short set due to their lack of bass player. In fact Stuart hangs around for most of the time in between bands too, possibly due to the sounds of Slint.
The venue decides right at the last minute not to let me take photos during Mogwai’s set – I’m completely furious because, if they’d told me earlier, I could have taken photos during the soundcheck. Apparently they’re worried about all the rabid Mogwai fans breaking down the barrier in their haste to clamber onstage and hug the band. This is obviously completely preposterous and indeed the few interested members of the audience seem to have little inclination for anything more than leaning slightly on the barrier. But the security staff are all being a bit fascist. Stuart tells me later that one of them asked him to move away from the entrance to the stage ‘cos no-one was allowed to stand in it. “Aye, the reason you’re keeping it clear is so that I can walk through it as a member of the band”, countered Stuart. Reason means nothing to security though and he insisted on Stuart moving.
So Mogwai take the stage as I sulk back to my friends. They play the most amazing set – I’m completely shocked again. Every time I think I’ve got them sussed they turn up and smash all my expectations into the ground. Sometimes Mogwai sound like a fairground in hell, merry -go-rounds taken over by demons. Other times they sound like candyfloss but nobody’s fooled any more. We know there will be hell to pay if we stop and dream.
Aberdeen talks loudly throughout the quiet bits but looks visibly shaken by the first outburst of noise. Nice move, starting with ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’. Mind you, it makes little difference. People just start headbanging to the loud bits and talking through the quiet bits. “They don’t look very happy, do they?’, mutters David after a couple of songs. As if on cue, Stuart comes to the microphone and asks people to stop talking – he’s sounding a bit stroppy and, as he turns away, he drops his guitar. Cue much cheering from audience – oh dear.
I don’t know if it’s anger but they just get louder and nastier. When the play ‘Xmas Steps’ I find myself creeping nearer the stage and closer to the speakers. I love people’s faces when the riffing comes in and they go, ‘oh, loud bit’, and then the really loud bit comes in. I just drown myself in the noise and let it go right through me. At one point, it hits my spine and it’s as if my entire nervous system gives way. You have to savour these moments. And then to follow this they play ‘Like Herod’ which is just completely spoiling me.
Then it’s all over and no-one seems at all like they’ve just witnessed a unique event in Aberdeen’s history and that they’ve ruined the chance of thousands of Aberdonians ever seeing Mogwai live, thanks to their selfish behaviour. Nicolette and Chris seem to be in first-time Mogwai exhilaration shock so we all stand about grinning a lot.
After a while I retrieve my beer from David and Chris and head upstairs to see what’s happening. “You can’t take that outside”, moans the doorman. “Can I go upstairs?”, I counter and he agrees, still under the impression that I’m the sixth member of the Yummy Fur. As I walk up the stairs, a woman rushes through the door and shouts, “Are you with the band?”. “Yes”, I lie, in believable bored voice and continue upstairs. They’re very worried about rabid Mogwai fans here…
Stuart’s in the Yummy Fur’s dressing room and I sit next to him. He shows me his thumb which he cut during the gig and then starts moaning about how he’d forgotten why they never play places like Aberdeen any more. “You’ll never come back, will you?”, I ask, knowing what the answer will be. “No”, replies Stuart succinctly, laughing at the look on my face. Oh well. Stuart can’t understand why people would spend £7 to see a band they’re not interested in. John agrees saying people should know what to expect with Mogwai but I disagree with this and tell them about the bloke who came up to me and asked, “Is it all instrumentals or do they do any songs with words?”. “Mostly instrumentals”, I tell him and I hear him passing this information on to his friends: “She says they do mostly instrumentals…”. Sigh.
Stuart dominates the conversation in the room – basically he opens his mouth and doesn’t shut it for the next thirty minutes. I have never met anyone with the talking ability of Stuart. Even when no-one’s paying attention, he’ll just take over someone else’s conversation. He is incredibly funny though and a right old gossip too. Don’t ever tell Stuart your secrets. He also admits that his trainers are the worst footwear ever – I thought the man just had no style but he’s actually working on his own style – challenging accepted standards of clothing you can actually wear out of the house, maybe?
Stuart disappears at one point and I don’t really see him again until everyone’s about to get on the bus, off to Glasgow and then to Reading where more lucky people will get to experience the noise and wonder of Mogwai. It’s sad to see them go but at least I got them here in the first place and I’ll see them again even if it’ll never again be in Aberdeen.
Marceline now lives in Glasgow and has seen Mogwai play over a dozen times