Review and pictures by Cameron Arndt
Following an initial batch of acoustic shows last year, The Temperance Movement returned for a mini-tour of four acoustic dates in Scotland last week. It was an intriguing proposition, as their back catalogue contains a number of songs which would clearly work well in an acoustic setting. Even more interesting was how they would approach their heavier, fuzzed-up blues rock numbers. Having missed last year’s Glasgow show we took to the road last Friday to catch the band at Fat Sam’s in Dundee.
Or at least, Fat Sam’s was the advertised location. Google reports the venue closed. On arrival it seems that the old Fat Sam’s is now an all-purpose, multi level venue, recently refurbed and containing an 80s disco called Club Tropicana, and a 90s Club, Vogue. The gig takes place in the ‘Vogue’ room – known by the old name of Fat Sam’s for live music events. It’s slightly disconcerting to have large images of Oasis, Blur and various boybands looming from the walls, but it’s a good size of room and the sound is excellent tonight – particularly important for an acoustic show.
After a well-received set from Steve McCrorie, The Temperance Movement pick their way onto stage. It appears a little treacherous – they haven’t just turned up with a couple of acoustic guitars you see. In fact the stage seems full, almost to bursting. The band are arranged in a three level set-up with a full kit for drummer Simon Lea at the back on the right hand side, and a seat for bass player Nick Fyffe on the left. In the centre is a pedal steel guitar, then on the front row, a wide range of guitars and a proper upright piano.
It’s the piano that singer Phil Campbell makes a beeline for to open proceedings with a stirring version of Only Friend. The song’s bluesy stomp has morphed into something more tender. At first, tight backup harmonies from his bandmates are the only accompaniment to Campbell’s sterling vocals and piano playing. Then the band kick in as the third verse begins, with Paul Sayer’s pedal steel adding a cool, countrified edge to the track.
It’s immediately obvious that care and attention has been taken to bring the best out of every song tonight. Though the set isn’t strictly acoustic (electric guitars are allowed at points) they have reworked every track and the stripped back arrangements allow the natural brilliance of the songwriting to shine through.
White Bear has become a soulful piano ballad, backed by some electric slide guitar from Matt White and featuring more locked-In vocal harmonies, chiefly from Sayer and Fyffe who excel in this role all evening. A little later on the band rattle through a couple of out-and-out rockers, Midnight Black and Take It Back, but tonight these simply feature the two guitarists accompanying Campbell (on vocals and storming blues harp) and, with Lea taking a break, percussion is provided by a guitarless Fyffe, clapping from his stool at the back. Acoustic they may be, but none of the energy of these tracks is lost, indeed, if anything, the intimate nature of the show allows the audience to feel even more involved.
Another effect of this type of show is that Phil Campbell’s excellent vocals are put front and centre, and his singing really is sensational. Tonight he gets to display his gravelly, gritty tones at their most expressive. His slight build and spritely Glaswegian chatter between numbers are almost completely at odds with the timeless, deeply soulful quality of his voice. He’s also a livewire performer and seems to spend the entire show straining against the constraints of the format. Far from having any negative effect on proceedings, this apparent internal frustration manifests itself in delightful, spontaneous movements. He flicks his hand or clicks his fingers whenever he has a spare instant on the piano, and when he stands up to sing on second number Get Yourself Free he can’t help but burst into a series of jaggy, impulsive dance moves. It’s incredible, involving, and even a little intimidating to watch. You can tell this man really feels what he’s singing about, feels the music going on around him, and you can’t help but be swept along by his enthusiasm.
Campbell is equally magnetic between songs, reveling in having an actual real-life piano to play – his reward, he says, for all the years of work and toil – while he makes a point of explaining why this tour took place in Scotland – ‘I told these bastards they had to come up here for a change’ – to cheers from the Dundee crowd.
Tracks which were largely acoustic on the band’s two albums are, as expected, fantastic tonight. Smouldering, from their debut, builds to an extended outro featuring an electric guitar solo from Sayer and Lea going a little off-script by battering seven shades out of his drums to the delight and astonishment of his bandmates – Fyffe and White can’t help but grin at each other and, as the song concludes, Campbell introduces their new sticksman, ‘That’s Simon Lea making all the noise back there’ then, with a wry smile, ‘…on one of the few wholly acoustic instruments onstage!’
Campbell’s offhand manner is frequently hilarious and he namechecks the rest of the band, concluding as Sayer returns to the pedal steel with, ‘Paul Sayer on guitar and now that…thing…’
Tonight, one of their most affecting songs, Lovers & Fighters, becomes something very special indeed. Campbell plays the piano smoothly and sings mournfully, as Sayer expertly layers the song with sweet pedal steel licks. It’s devastatingly beautiful.
The band also play a handful of new songs and, going by the few we heard, the third Temperance Movement record will be a belter. Empty Rainbows is an uptempo stomp which sees Campbell playing acoustic guitar, freeing up the other two to play electric. The backing vocals from Sayer and Fyffe are once again exceptional, and the song is instantly catchy. There’s Still Time also sounds like a future classic, with light acoustic verses and a far more crushing chorus while Sayer adds a fantastic solo.
The show climaxes with a trio of emotion-rich tracks from the debut album, Pride – featuring more piano and a great bluesy electric solo from Sayer, the aching Chinese Lanterns – to which Matt White adds slick resonator slide guitar, and the epic Serenity, where White switches to some equally smooth electric slide. They close the set with a rousing cover of Blur’s Tender – Fyffe shooting an ironic look at Damon Albarn’s visage on the wall to his left.
After a short break the band return to the rowdy cheers of the crowd, who know they’re witnessing a unique evening. A two song encore ensues. First up, A Pleasant Peace I Feel from the White Bear record keeps both it’s throbbing bass part and it’s anthemic qualities in stripped back form. Finally the band opt to finish with another new one – a nice touch, showing confidence in their new material. Such confidence is justified as A Deeper Cut is superb, starting quietly and building to an incredible crescendo. Campbell’s promise of a third record and a quick return to play a full electric set is rapturously received, but tonight has been an amazing opportunity to catch the band up close, and get the chance to experience their music in a totally different way.
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The Temperance Movement Set List, Fat Sam’s 17/03/17:
Get Yourself Free
Lovers & Fighters
Time Won’t Leave?
Hope I’m Not Losing My Mind
There’s Still Time
Take It Back
A Pleasant Peace I Feel
A Deeper Cut