By Cameron Arndt, pics by CA
I’d been aware of Red Pine Timber Co for some time. I’d watched them from afar, as it were, regarding the burgeoning reputation of the Perth Country/Rock collective from the Ivory Tower (eh…. sort of…) of Glasgow as they released their first album a few years back, played at numerous festivals and released videos which were as strong aesthetically as the songs were thematically and melodically. By misfortune or happenstance I never managed to catch the band live, however, until their all-too-brief set at King Tut’s in Glasgow in late 2017.
The band had merely half an hour onstage – barely making it through five songs in the allotted time – but I was instantly swept up by the massive sound the group produced, and the vital energy and enthusiasm with which they performed. Along with making a tongue-in-cheek pitch to join the band myself (it just looks so damn fun to be a part of!) I resolved to catch a full show as soon as possible.
While I’m still waiting on the call to join up, the opportunity to see the band again arrived promptly with the cracking prospect of a headlining show at Perth Concert Hall. This is, I think, the third year in a row the band have performed at the prestigious venue at Christmastime – they released an excellent DVD which documents their first such gig in 2015 – and a holiday road trip to take in the band in a large hometown venue seemed like a great plan.
So it was that we headed up the road to Perth in snowy conditions on the 28th of December. There’s a relaxed, convivial atmosphere in the lobby of the finely appointed modern concert venue when we arrive shortly after doors open. Band members mill about chatting to fans and friends, everyone seems to be enjoying a night out in that glorious period between Christmas and New Year where you’re not quite sure what day it is, and have no real need to care!
Though the hall is just starting to fill up another local act, The Revivals, put in a spirited opening set of bluesy rock and roll. With touches of The Black Crowes about their sound they’re a well matched support act for night.
When Red Pine arrive a short time later it’s typically casual. They’re led onstage without fanfare by frontman Gavin Munro, who steps up to the mic and chats happily for a moment while the rest of the 9 piece line up get themselves ready. Munro thanks everyone for attending (it’s much busier now, with the main tier of seating almost full and the standing area steadily crowding, though folks do take some coaxing before moving right to the front midway through) and introduces the opener, If You Want To which is also destined to be the first track on the group’s imminent second album.
The track starts small with a spiky guitar intro provided by Dave MacFarlane, but it’s not long before the full power of the Red Pine sound is unleashed as the three piece brass section swells – saxophone and trumpet players are tonight added to the solitary trombonist who played at King Tut’s – adding extra spice on top of the three guitars and buttoned down bass & drums. Meanwhile the duo of Munro and co-lead singer Katie Whittaker combine to create an evocative, classically country vocal sound.
It’s immediately energising, but also merely the beginning, the band lead straight on into the new album’s first single Hollow Tree – starts quiet, then goes LARGE – and from then on it’s a stirring, euphoric odyssey as the group barrel through tracks from both albums, along with a few surprising – and delightful – covers.
The overall country/rock template is kept fresh by constant variations in the format – the ever impressive Chris Small switches from trombone to harmonica to bolster the thick bluesy groove of The Way It Was while MacFarlane sets the guitar aside often to add soulful violin, notably in the laid back country of Barstool, which is also garnished by some great slide guitar from Michael McNab. Backing vocals from Small & MacFarlane add to the two leads to create some sensational harmonies and Munro’s heartfelt vocal performance is one of many highlights of the night.
Amongst all the toing and froing, Munro is the ringmaster and guiding light. He’s an oasis of relaxed charisma in the middle of the stage, delivering gritty, uncomplicated vocals from beneath a Red Pine baseball cap (and later a more ostentatious but no less fitting cowboy hat) with a sincerity that belies his offhand comments that some of the more serious lyrics and outlandish stories are ‘entirely fictional.’ They are fictionalised, no doubt, but there’s an authenticity about the tales he spins that implies he’s seen more than he perhaps lets on.
He also happily cedes the spotlight to Whittaker throughout, taking a breather as she brilliantly delivers the delicate, affecting and emotional Tracks In The Snow – Small is now playing acoustic guitar as he joins in with perfectly pitched supplementary vocals which take the track to another level.
What strikes you, no matter what configuration they play in, is the rapport within the band. There’s an obvious, easy, almost familial bond between the players. There are plenty of nods, winks and smiles back and forth and everyone knows exactly what everyone else is doing, even though the performance appears glorious, freewheeling and spontaneous to the observer.
In particular Small and saxophonist Neil Ewan clearly have a ball playing together, the interplay between the two brass instruments is superb and Ewan proves his sax was the vital link we didn’t know we were missing at Tut’s with cool solos on tracks like Put Down The Bottle.
A cover of Bowie’s Sorrow is well received, but a real bonus for me is a terrific take on Tom Waits’ gruff and groovy Jockey Full Of Bourbon. It’s maybe an unfamiliar track to many in the crowd, but at this point the entire concert hall is so wrapped up in the electricity of the show it hardly matters. Then again, perhaps I’m doing the people of Perth a disservice. Red Pine are hardly the only act in town after all, there’s a great little scene going in the city, headlined by the successful Southern Fried Festival in the summer and exemplified by the parade of wonderfully varied artists we witnessed at the afterparty in the nearby Green Room bar.
Anyway, back to the show which begins to ride to an exhilarating close, with a brief pause for introspection on the lovely Dark Clouds – which sees all the mobile members of the band line up at the front of the stage in a winningly cheesy classic move – before the set concludes with the sweeping, catchy For The Angels and hearty audience singalong with All I Need’s A Little Time.
An encore is required, and an encore is delivered. Red Pine have saved what’s sure to be an instant favourite on the new record for last, the big country blues of Look At The Moonlight. It stomps, it stirs, harmonica whirls, the drums are battered and everyone joins in on the infectious whoops and hollers. The instrumental segments where the entire band seem to bounce about the stage like musical pin balls are a riot.
With the new album out imminently and tour dates in the offing now’s a good time to get yourself onto Red Pine’s Facebook and Twitter – then make sure you catch them live. It’s a helluva show!
Sorry For The Good Times is released 26th January 2018.