Live Review: Sound Lab presents MacGillivray + Pefkin

Sound Lab presents MacGillivray + Pefkin
MacGillivray and Pefkin
City Halls, Recital Room, RRP £6, 30th September 2015

It’s a real shame that Sound Lab is coming to an end after years of providing some of the strangest experimental noises in Glasgow, including –maybe because it was niche enough already – never being scared to chuck some poetry in there too. It will be missed.

There’s two Gutter reviewers at this gig. We’ve arrived together, one half cut, and the other dying of the flu, and we’re trying together to recreate the experience for you now. Support has come from Pefkin (Gayle Brogan); and the field recordings of Ayrshire beaches combined with looped guitars and ethereal vocals have settled us in nicely.

Enter MacGillivray. Poet, musician, folk-lorist, performance artist? We’re not sure. Something between Captain Beefheart, Kate Bush, and Hart Crane –MacGillivray tells the audience that a recent review described her, less flatteringly, as a B-side Enya. The set is a combination of poetry, song, and storytelling, with electric guitar and heavily distorted auto-harp. The content is a combination of Gaelic bardism, beat poetry and westerns. It’s inauthentic. But it’s excitingly inauthentic. MacGillivray picks up and puts down identities as it suits her exploring and melding together traditions; moving from neon, piss-soaked cities, to the Western Isles, to the Wild West un-self-consciously. These false identities are all performed with the utmost genuineness. There’s nothing mocking in her delivery or writing, just a real respect for tradition, and a feeling that it’s up for grabs. I am sure there are people who’d take against this magpie approach. But it’s also thrilling, ideal for anyone who’s heard one po-faced poem about St Kilda too many.

Either my Lemsip has run out, or somewhere amid the stormy of instrumentation, a psychedelic séance commences. Young Robert McGee, tomahawked, scalped and bleeding to death in the desert sands of Santa Fe in 1864 cries out his ‘true’ story in Scots, English, Latin, French and Orcadian – or more specifically, his scalplock does. Animating MacGillivray’s debut poetry collection Last Wolf of Scotland, this performance is a wild and howling affair, combining horror folk as ‘true as your great grandmother’ with peyote-based ‘hallucinations in a near-death cinema’. Think Wickerman’s end parade relocated to the desert plains and rescored by William Burroughs, Hugh MacDairmid and Hélène Cixous, (head-spinning fever probably helps). Off the page, the work’s gleefully obtuse verbal kleptomania revels in its excess. There are po-mo recasts a plenty: Buffalo Bill tours Scotland and wolf hunters stalk the back streets of Vegas, early press hysteria merges into oral legend, obscure dialect and cinematic cut-up lyricism. I may only snatch the odd line from the emotional blasts of lo-fi strumming, but the richness could be savoured, extending out to timeless stories or contracting into a flash of sensual detail. The past returns spewing cinematic dreams, colonial settler mythology and trippy occult mysticism from its comet trails, an electrifying L’écriture Feminine, incandescent and staggering –comprehensible may not be the point. Explosion may be a more accurate scale. What just happened?

While such wild experimental reinvention may not be to everyone’s tastes, MacGillivray is one of the few artists truly pushing the immediacy and urgency of spoken word and sound performance, and she can sniff out the wild spaces that lie beyond. With a new book, The Nine of Diamonds: Surroial Mordantless, out on Bloodaxe later this year, how a true original like her will be packaged on the page should be interesting to watch.

The night ends appropriately enough with Gutter’s two fearless reviewers pushing a shopping trolley full of Macgillivray’s instruments through the doors of The Laurieston, just in time for a lock in.