Hunted By A Freak Noise: Mogwai War Stories Feat. The Band, Mr A Moffat, Bloc Party & More
, September 16th, 2010 06:39
In the first of a new series we discuss the gigs that have impacted upon us most. This month celebrating the release of superb live album Special Moves, we look at Mogwai... Listen to Mogwai! A selection made by The Quietus
Stuart Leslie Braithwaite of rock band Mogwai
June 14, 1997, The Garage
It was the last night of our first ever headline UK tour. We'd released a few singles that people seemed to like and we had planned to make our first album once the tour was finished. The tour had gone really well and we’d got on famously well with the other bands, Navigator, Arab Strap and Macrocosmica. Perhaps we’d been getting on a little too famously as our burgeoning friendship with Arab Strap was being conducted mainly over a drink or two and we got on so famously with Brendan the singer in Macrocosmica that we asked him to join the band. For the record Brendan is a fucking hilarious dude and an amazing musician. He was also an arch hedonist and we were more than eager to follow suit.
At one point we bought a best of Black Sabbath tape at a service station.
“Satan laughing spreads his wings."
We'd been degenerating as the weeks went by and things had started to get a wee bit Lord Of The Flies. A mixture of youthful exuberance, cheap pharmaceuticals and copious amounts of alcohol had done something strange to our minds. There had been a lot more people at the shows and people seemed pretty into our new epics 'Mogwai Fear Satan' and 'Like Herod'. In our minds we’d become some bizarre cross breed somewhere between The Butthole Surfers and Led Zepplin. How I wish that really was the case.
When we got to London we were already wasted and gave a lusty boo to Buckingham Palace as we drove past. I should also mention at this juncture that our tour manager Jaffa was also totally nuts by this point. Traditionally the tour manager is the guy who tries to stop things getting too “piggy and conch”.
The gig itself is a bit of a blur. I recall us doing a lot of poppers onstage. I remember Arab Strap pouring a pint of Guinness into an amp that they thought was broken (a later inquest would show it was actually just a fuse gone in the plug). I recall our Chemikal Underground label bosses being onstage and pretty into the general mêlée. I recall us playing new song 'Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home' and a certain band member playing the wrong chords and shrugging as he seemed to think/know that it didn’t matter. That same individual slept in a sandpit behind the venue that night. I think Brendan got naked at some point and we destroyed most of our gear and handed it out to the crowd.
Aidan Moffat, songwriter & man of letters
Hello The Quietus,
To be perfectly honest with you, any stories I may have had regarding my innumerable adventures both with and in front of Mogwai have long since been lost in the haze of good times, except for one or two incidents that are far too personal to advertise online and would probably result in a wholly justified punch to the mouth.
One thing I can recommend though – or at least I certainly would have about fourteen years ago – is standing down the front and taking a foolishly deep inhalation of amyl nitrite just before the loud bits kick in. It's not so easy now as they're much better at hiding their cues from the audience – they seem to have developed a form of musical ESP over the years – but back then all you had to do was watch their feet with your thumb over the top of the bottle... and BANG!... pink cheeks all round.
I think I've just inadvertently given you the few sentences you were after. Feel free to use this email as your piece.
John Doran of The Quietus
June 14, 1997, The Garage, London
I remember when I first met Stuart Braithwaite he told me ruefully that Mogwai, on that night, mistakenly thought they were the Butthole Surfers crossed with Led Zep; and that loads of people still mystifyingly told him that it had been an amazing gig and in which case, the audience must have been more fucked than the band.
Well, it probably was amazing. Possibly even the best gig I've ever been to. I just wasn't conscious for it. And yes, I was pretty fucked.
I heard 'New Paths To Helicon' on John Peel (he played it at the wrong speed in case you're wondering... which for once didn't matter so much) and decided that Mogwai were one of the most exciting new guitar bands that I'd heard since first clapping eyes on Shellac in New York a few years previously.
It was the night before my 26th birthday and a bunch of terrible bastards had come down from along the length of the M62 corridor to make my life miserable with a giant bag of cheap drugs. The Garage was packed full of drunk misfits. There was one pretty girl there but when I explained that she'd confused coffee table chill-out favourites Morcheeba for Mogwai, she beat a hasty retreat.
A fine balancing act had been taking place all day between eating oily cannabis resin, snorting speed, inhaling poppers and drinking srong lager. This was all fine until the speed stopped working at some point during Mogwai's first few songs. I was awoken rudely by a cleaner afterwards and still to this day, I have people telling me about how exciting it was, if sometimes neglecting to mention how good it was.
May 18, 2003, Masque, Liverpool
By 2003, I was fully aware of how good Mogwai were live and was delighted to be following them round the UK on some of their fan club dates warming up for the release of Happy Songs For Happy People. Back in the Cradle Of Civilization, I was watching them up Bold Street, Liverpool, not a million miles from my teenage stamping grounds near the old Probe Records and Planet X club. The Masque is probably smaller than the Garage and it was a rare chance to see a band that were now a machine drilled combat unit in an intimate setting.
Just as I'd got a in position for maximum sonic destruction a dapper and gregarious Scouser started yapping to me during the build of 'Like Herod' but instead of getting annoyed with him I let him continue chunnering and waited for the innevitable onslaught. When the chord kicked in he dropped his drink and slumped into me, squealing in my ear: "Fuckin' hell la - I've shat me keks!"
Ben Myers, author
I met Mogwai after an early gig. A short while later and it's June 1998 and they have recently released a cover of Black Sabbath's 'Sweet Leaf' that has soared into the pop charts at #60 when some bright spark at Melody Maker has the idea of matching our favourite Kappa-wearing (then) quartet with the song's creator, Mr. John Osbourne of Aston. And so starts a chaotic day together at Ozzfest as 'punters'. It begins with burgers and hangovers at Euston station, takes in a slew of nu metal crud, then peaks with a shared bottle of poppers as Stuart, Dominic and myself weave our way through the mud for a midnight audience with Ozzy ("My dog's called Mogwai"), who upon meeting us trips over, only to be saved by a quick-thinking Dominic, who somehow grabs the creator of heavy metal by his sagging posterior. It ends - as all good nights out should - with a lowly schlep along a dual carriageway verge somewhere outside of Milton Keynes. A few bonding conversations about black metal and Nick Drake leads to further gigs, interviews and scrapes over the coming years with the post-rock legends (spliffs in Edinburgh, Guinness in Dublin, tinnitus in London), but really it is Ozzy Osbourne's arse that looms large in my mind whenever I listen to one of the greatest bands of this era.
Christina McDermott of The Quietus and The Guardian
May, 2003 - Maida Vale Studios, Peel Session
It's May 2003, and I've somehow managed to wrangle my way into a Mogwai Peel Session which is being recorded at Maida Vale studios. It's a late, boozy night, mainly because Celtic are playing in the European Cup and the band refuse to start playing until they find out whether they've won the match or not (they didn't). By the time they start playing, I've had a fair bit to drink and my head is buried in a huge mist of emotional flotsam and jetsam. At first, I think I can ride the wave of it and get away dry eyed and relatively unscathed, until they play 'Helicon One'. And then I start to cry. Indeed, I don't just cry, I bawl my eyes out. It's like everything I've been shoving down suddenly decides to expel itself through my eyes at that moment, live on radio. Spotting the fact that I might be having a bit of a crisis (and that the sounds of it might actually be being transmitted on Radio One), a kindly producer rushed over to me, shoved a can of Red Stripe in my hand, and practically forced it down my throat so that I'd shut the hell up. And it worked too. I've heard the session since, and whilst you can hear me whooping at the end, you can't hear my girlish weeping. Thank Christ for radio producers bearing booze eh?
Rob Strong of Brightlight, a Mogwai site
January 14, 2006 - ICA, London
I don't know whether they're still together, but at one time Martin O'Neill's daughter had a boyfriend who was a big Mogwai fan. O'Neill was, at this time, in between jobs at Celtic and Aston Villa, and he was at this show, with his daughter and her boyfriend. They were stood towards the back of the ICA live room, which isn't a huge space. Having seen many people experience the same at previous Mogwai shows, my friend and I were pleased to notice that the explosion of noise in the middle of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' took him somewhat by surprise and forced him back a couple of steps. He was an absolute gent after the show, standing to chat with a number of people about both Mogwai and football.
May 21, 2003 - BBC Maida Vale live set for John Peel
From the review I wrote at the time: When we arrived, Mogwai and their crew were watching the Celtic vs Porto UEFA Cup Final in a lounge outside the studio. Later, as they were about to start 'Stop Coming To My House', John accidentally wrapped his guitar lead around a bottle of champagne (bought in anticipation of a positive outcome to the football match earlier, and opened when it became clear that wasn't going to happen) on the floor in front of Stuart, which proceeded to empty its contents over a couple of Stuart's pedals. much giggling amongst the audience and hasty mopping-up ensued. The final flourish was a fantastic 'Helicon 1'. Stuart took the opportunity of Dominic's opening section to nip to the loo, before returning and sitting down with the bass.
April 17, 1999 - Paradiso, Amsterdam
My first overseas Mogwai show. Drove from Birmingham with friends. Solidly great show. In the early hours of the following morning, on the motorway in Belgium, a car came past us at high speed, clipped the central reservation, skidded and rolled across the road in front of us, missing our car by inches. Thankfully everyone was ok, but the gig was somewhat overshadowed.
April 24, 1999 - Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands
Mogwai were surprise guests on the second stage. The friends I'd driven to Amsterdam with the previous week didn't come to Bowlie and were somewhat pissed off when they found out about the special guests. Dominic was sporting a fine set of lengthy sideburns and his usual massively baggy trousers. I can still remember the collective intake of breath from the audience as Mogwai started into Joy Division's '24 Hours'.
Charlie Ivens of The Quietus and The Fly
October, 2003 - Astoria, London
I went to see Mogwai when they were touring their (career-best, as far as I’m concerned) Happy Songs For Happy People album. Two punishingly loud hours later, I was wholeheartedly and wholesouledly overwhelmed, not least on account of their final touch. At their set’s end, squalling feedback poured from their crazy-high speaker stacks, the walls vibrated, and the audience concluded as one that there was absolutely nothing the band could do to enlouden the room any further. But the ‘Gwai boys disagreed. They calmly walked to the front of the stage, and, one by one, turned each of their monitors so it faced away from the stage and towards the audience. A small act of defiance, but a funny one as well, and even if we didn’t feel the difference, we appreciated the gesture.
Tommy Udo of The Quietus and Classic Rock
July 10, 1999 - T In The Park, Balado Fife
Basically the band spent the run-up to their set spray painting Blur: Shite all over the site. Blur were headlining and while probably fully aware who was behind said grafitti campaign, actually wanted to catch someboidy in the act with a view to paying some security guards to reprimand them (allegedly). NME snapper Roger Sergeant spotted the cunt from Shed 7 wandering around backstage, grabbed a can of spray-paint and asked him to pose beside some fresh tags that one S Braithewaite (allegedly) had just left on the wall. Naturally the guy would have sucked leper cock to get any press at that point and so stood brandishing the can. When the pictures appeared in the following week's paper, much hilarity ensued between Blur's management and Shed 7's. It may even have ended what was left of their career.
Mark Bowen of Wichita
April 30, 2006, Coachella, Indio CA, USA
A long day in the sun of amazing music and cocktails was starting to take its toll and the pale Wichita posse was feeling the pace a little. We headed over to the second stage as the sun went down and if I recall even availed ourselves of a little sit on the polo field grass. The next hour is burned forever on my memory. That night it seemed like Mogwai had finally found a venue big enough to accommodate their sound. In front of rows of palm trees they played under the biggest sky I'd ever seen and the sound seemed to go on forever and ever and ever into the dark night. I have witnessed their soundman Michael "it wasnae me" Brennan Jr send crowds running from the volume he wrests from the PA many times with several bands but on this night he too seemed to sense that something special was in the air and despite the fact that the show was outdoors brought forward a noise that enveloped anyone in a forty yard radius. 'Mogwai Fear Satan' was positively dangerous. My Bloody Valentine changed my life. I love noise/volume. That night though Mogwai took things to a whole other level with the ultimate show in the ultimate setting. If they're ever playing in a desert near you, dont miss it.
James Graham of The Twilight Sad
I've been to that many Mogwai shows I've lost count, but we were lucky enough to be the support for the 3 night residency in Williamsburg when Special Moves was recorded. Those three shows were pretty special because of the size of the venue and the sheer volume which was created by 5 weegies. We were worried that you would hear us from the ambient mic in the crowd being our drunken selves when John was mixing the album and they would regret ever taking us on tour but I was later told by them it was due to our patter and drunken antics that they asked us on tour in the first place and nothing to do with our musical abilities. Since befriending them I have been the source of much amusement to them as they have nicknamed me McMorrisey/Jozza and even got Mike Joyce to phone me and tell me that The Smiths were reforming without Morrisey for Coachella and they wanted me to sing with them. It's their sense of humour and musical output/live performances that makes them one of my favourite bands and Special Moves is dead good. They're still dicks like.
Gordon Moakes of Bloc Party and Young Legionnaire
January, 2006, ICA, London
First time I heard 'Glasgow Mega-Snake'. That's the hugest, most powerful pop song they've ever written. Watching Dominic at that show made me think I should own a Rickenbacker bass. I bought a sky blue one and played it for about two months but in the end I decided it wasn't for me so I sold it to Good Books. Wonder if they still have it? Are they even still going?
May 15, 2003, Zodiac, Oxford
I took a bunch of friends to see what I maintain is one of the best live bands in the world. They thought it was a bit loud. 'Ratts Of The Capital' was unrelentingly massive. It was like a black slab of riff, so sweet and dark. Great venue to watch them in.
Bedford Esquires, May 1997 This was the first time me and my friend John went to watch Mogwai. We stood at the front, peering at the pedals. Brendan Fraser was still in the band. I seem to remember he did something with a snare drum taped to the stage. They played 'Superheroes Of BMX'. Ace. Bob Tilton were supposed to play, but didn't appear.
Maida Vale studios MV3, October 2001 This was up close and personal, a live session we got to watch for the Peel show. They played 'Nick Drake' which is this subtle, tiny lament of a song, and something of a treat. Being in the same room as Mogwai and John Peel made me a bit wobbly at the knees. They signed my copy of 'New Paths To Helicon', including Barry, who also put 'I didnae play on this'.
Kettering Arena with Manic Street Preachers, September 1998 The biggest room I ever saw Mogwai in: but I thought it was the perfect size for the hugeness of their sound. Nobody was more excited than me to see Mogwai open for the Manics. Watching their fans' hearts jump out their chests and looking very miserable when THAT bit kicks in during 'Like Herod' was very satisfying. They played five songs, including a good ten minutes of feedback. Inspirational.
Brixton Academy, 2001 I don't remember a great deal of this show. I think Part Chimp opened. The one thing I remember was how on the nail the lighting director was, going from near to dark to a total assault of white light right on the money during 'Like Herod'. That's still ingrained on my retinas I think.
Shepherd's Bush Empire, April 2001 We were in the first or second balcony. That night they played the best version of '2 Rights Make 1 Wrong' I ever heard, with a brass section. Magical.
Luke Turner of the Quietus
June 9, 1997 - Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich
Like my Quietus co-pilot John, I probably missed the best Mogwai gig I could have ever been to. It was June 9th, 1997 (oddly enough, a week before John's misadventure at The Garage), and the band were due to play the Norwich Arts Centre, a Medieval church in the city in which I was then living. Unfortunately, I was living there as a student, which meant I had a naturally rather thirsty exuberance. I regret this, and weep tears of admonishment every day, not least because it meant that myself and my friend became so overcome by red wine and various fumes that we failed to make it down in time for the gig. Needless to say, the talk afterwards was one of a revalatory experience - I recall people even quoting that "music is bigger than words and louder than pictures" sample off Young Team and passing it off as their own comment on the gig. Since then, I've made sure I damn well go and see Mogwai whenever I possibly can. As such - and due to their suiting aforementioned thirsty exuberance in quite a profound way - there's no one Mogwai gig that stands out above all others. There's the Glastonbury where they played after Mercury Rev as sun glistened off mud that folded like sand on a vast beach. Or the Reading a year or so later where Stuart Braithwaite announced that "this will be our last song" to much consternation as the band still had at least 45 minutes of stage time remaining. Cue the quiet refrain that would explode into a lengthy and early rendition of My Father Father King, in the process flattening the Festival PA. Or the Royal Albert Hall sat next to some Glaswegians who'd come down on the bus, were leaving the next morning, and were necking enough pills to make sure they wouldn't fall asleep and miss it. I remember at this seated gig battering my thighs so hard they were black and blue for weeks. There are others that, unfortunately, seem to have slipped my mind. Mogwai live in my recollection of the past 13 years are more a collection of snapshots, blasts of racket, fixers of time and place - which is exactly what gig memories should be.