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Wooden Shjips/Trembling Bells – Stereo, Glasgow

Trembling Bells

Trembling Bells

Our resident obesrver of the odd Vespertine checks out two of the more eclectic acts on the scene. And finds them so-so.

The last time ELM saw Trembling Bells they were certainly memorable; the revie which appeared on these hallowed pages mentioned ”… folk rock, early music, folk-psychadelia and in particular the very British whimsy of The Incredible String Band, Kevin Ayres and the left of centre musings of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band…”. Tonight they have a slightly different mission: play tracks from their new album and fit in with tonight’s muscular headliners.

Trembling Bells

Trembling Bells

So for the most part we lose the acoustic folk, madrigals and ballads which were so charming and gain a veritable cornucopia of English music from 1968 – 1972: Bowie, Mott, touches of Pentangle and even a smattering of Glam. The delivery is more polished, the band tighter, the sound is heavier and louder and yet much of the charm is gone.

A lot of that can presumably be put down to their new role;  assuming that this is due to the venue, equipment, crowd and nature of the headliners. It is tough to be a support band and do yourselves justice. Do Trembling Bells manage to do that tonight? Possibly not, but they gave it a damn good shot and anyone interested enough to dig out their albums will get the bigger picture.

Wooden Shjips

Wooden Shjips

Wooden Shjips do one thing. It is the thing that an expectant and full venue is waiting for. It is a thing rarely seen or heard these days. They drone. They take a riff or chord and they go with it. A lot. Main man Ripley Johnson deliberately sought out musicians with no previous experience in bands and therefore no preconceived notions. The result is a stripped down sound but one with power.

A typical song will see Johnson play a riff….band join in….song stays in same riff for 5-8 minutes. The vocals are buried in layers of reverb and unintelligible, presumably on purpose.

It recalls a few long-forgotten by most but fondly remembered by some acts – we have not seen or heard the like since Loop (another hip reference eh? Just google them kids). Aptly, Spacemen 3 floats around as a comparison before the show but this is not strictly accurate as they lack the tunes, and the variety in delivery of Rugby’s finest purveyors of psychedelic drone-rock. Suicide are a more valid comparison perhaps, or The Black Angels. This is minimalism – one chord. Think The Stooges stuck in A minor.

Wooden Shjips

Wooden Shjips

At first it is monumental; one gets very close to being lured into the centre of the riff as its repetitive drone starts to lull you into surrendering. For the first few songs the crowd seems lost in the huge sound. But after around 30 minutes the spell was broken and the realisation dawns that this was going to be it for another 45 minutes. At this point you realise you have  completed the journey, so to speak – heard it, dived headfirst into it, understood and now have no real need to keep going.

So….bad? No, far from it. But fairly simple to grasp and not a band who seem to offer enough to really justify a gig stretching over an hour. It doesn’t take off and ultimately the superficially hypnotic spell they cast is too shallow and not powerful enough to encourage complete sensory deprivation and psychic surrender. They are a decent enough band who need a few more killer tunes and some variety as their drones cannot conquer the audience on its own.


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