Neu! Reekie! in New York City

Literary troublemakers Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie! took a trip to New York City, with King Creosote, Withered Hand and friends in tow. Here's Pedersen's account of the whisky-soaked trip...

Feature by Michael Pedersen | 12 May 2014

Neu! Reekie arrive in New York City. Our itinerary-cum-raison d'être: unshackle two shows in the same venue (Friday and Sunday); engage with local artists; kick-up dust with the Scottish diaspora; run a whisky-based cultural salon; meet and confabulate with an NYC big cultural bigwig; sample the local cocktails and culinary delights (huv tae eh?); and don’t get arrested (seriously, don’t get arrested).

The Team
King Creosote, Withered Hand, Carla Easton (of TeenCanteen), Lomond Campbell (aka Ziggy from FOUND), Gustaf Heden, HEIDEMANN, Michael Pedersen, Kevin Williamson and Emer Martin.

Home to our two shows
We are inducted into the Sidewalk Café in the East Village. (NB my word processor – unconsensually – just tried to change Sidewalk to pavement – despotic enforcement of UK terminology; clandestine hat tip). This is the old battleship (anchored-in) of our good friend Lach. Although now a resident in Edinburgh, this New Yorker used to run riot with his new-wave AntiFolk crusade all over NYC; and has showcased and inspired everyone from The Moldy Peaches to Beck, Daniel Johnston and Suzanne Vega. Suffice to say, it's still pulsing on and his name continues to draw kudos when dropped.

On Friday (21 March), the troupe romp to stage at 22:00 with a stripped back poetry, full throttle music show. A single poem from myself, co-chief Kevin Williamson and Emer Martin (an Irish poet and novelist currently based in Silicon Valley, CA, whom KW and Irvine Welsh met at the San Francisco Literary Fair back in yonder year) laid the racy foundations for the musical entourage to spill to the forefront.

First-up is young Carla Easton of TeenCanteen – playing her first ever solo set outside of the band. It's delicately handled with gossamer grace and just the right amount of nerves to charm the audience whilst keeping them enthralled. Ziggy fae FOUND or Lomond Campbell – as happens to be his titular banner when appearing Napoleon Solo – saunters up next. In fact he actually crosses over with young Easton as they jointly deliver a Christmas song originally scribed for the Christmas Songwriters Club the year before. That's right NYC, Scotland re-celebrates Christmas in March – especially when out in Manhattan on a Friday night with one too many Mimosas down the gullet. Left alone, our Lomond smoothly and smoulderingly croons his way through a flock of sharp, witty, sordid and tragic songs that spawn from and celebrate the 'Aidan Moffat School of Gritty Songwriting' – as the man himself puts it. 

Next up is Withered Hand fresh from five or six gigs at SXSW and a gig the night before in Brooklyn; for the first time this trip (I think) he’s up there alone as the band watch on from the rafters – jovially heckling. Despite noting: "I have never been as tired on-stage in my life as I was that night. I don't recall much of what happened," he burst out with his usual lustre and a harvested a fat batch of fresh fans – a testament to why the new album is collecting shiny plaudits like wish pennies in a fountain. We’re not in the least surprised to see his arrival in the Official Top 100 Album Charts. Just saying likes!

Topping off the bill, is King Creosote who steps out of the shadows – having been part of the Withered Hand band for the past couple of weeks – and quickly reminds us why he's crowned with that old fashioned royal nounary. Engaging the audience with mid-song one liners and singing in that well-glistening voice, which shoots like toy spears into a soft chest, big KC wooed like a true lyrical heartbreaker. 

Sunday's show (23rd March) saw elongated sets from the likes of Williamson and myself, whilst Emer Martin cracked out a hilarious narrative about a border crossing featuring a drunk eleven year old from her third novel Baby Zero – this topped off the literary circus. Always an enamouring conquest, we all sold a good few books ensuing the reading – with post-show transactions being many a writer’s bread and butter these days, it was a good start. 

A far more confident and garrulous young Easton then takes back the reins; and our Lomond hits another homer; the difference, however, with this show is the departure of KC and the Withered H. Our first new addition to the line-up is Swedish nomad Gustaf Heden who rocks-up fresh from the airport, and straight from the Nordic Motherland. Gustaf has spent a while in Scotland heading-up Spectorbullets alongside a few others music makers including Russell Burn of Fire Engines and Win fame. Solo on the bass and opening with a unique rendition / version of the late Paul Reekie's song, Lovers, the young Swede quickly wins the time and temperament of the Neu! Reekie! house.

Topping off Sunday's bill is HEIDEMANN – who uses a bass guitar, a couple of fancy looking computer gadgets (Ziggy informs me this is an Akai Mac sampler), synth and some mildly erotic panting to create a looping whirlwind of vocals and melody that blasts everybody upright; like a choice shot of favoured liquor just before tipping point. 

A paragoning write-up for that for those from this very biased source!

Let me season in that both shows are packed out – for a few reasons: Lach's praise-singing from our side of the pond; some of the acts enjoying Stateside recognition (King Creosote and Withered Hand that is); the incorporation of local acts with local fanbases; and (most importantly) the good people of Neu! Reekie! rallying all their fond friends to amble along, employing bold and brazen recommendations. The number of gadgies that namechecked a Scottish regular who had implored them along and lauded the night was quite astounding. 

All over Manhattan, denizens witnessed a fully kilted K.Williamson. The MET, Strawberry Fields, Central Park peripheries, thrift shops = FULL KILT. Anyone who knows KW will be keenly aware of his penchant for oor Rabbie B (he's had a hit Festival show Robert Burns: Not In My Name and has taken to performing renditions of Tam O'Shanter off by heart with full band and dancer). From hundreds of feet away in Central Park Kevin remarked that a statute bore the hunched shoulders and bad posture of a Scot. He made a b-line for him and smack bang wallop, there's myself and KW with Robert Burns. The man is a homing beacon for all that’s Burnsian; it’s an odd and befuddling super power but he’s stuck with it.

This may sound like an oxymoron but on the Saturday we did invite local artists, writers, musicians and socialites along to our shared East Village apartment. The intention was to share whisky, trade stories and spark the fires of cultural synergy. I’d say that happened.

Richard Hell is crowned as the godfather of punk; or at least the innovator of punk and fashion. Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids made some pretty seminal waves on the punk scene. RH was also a member of The Neon Boys, Television and The Heartbreakers.

He’d been over in Glasgow a few years back visiting and reading at Jim Lambie’s custom built Poetry Club – where Neu! Reekie! have a bit of an anchor. The Voidoids are considered to have pioneered the punk look and studded appearance which became commonplace around the time of the Sex Pistols. Anyhow, I tracked the chap down on our first night there and blagged us some guest list spots at his book launch at The Strand.

Next up, Richard came round to the apartment on Sunday afternoon for a private whisky tasting and a blether. Particular highlights were him noting he’d save his last nip for the September Referendum polls to toast to Scotland moving forward; and big KW ardently recounting how he caused a riot at the Thurso Sea Scouts by slipping on Blank Generation and pogo-ing through the room.

The interview very nearly got off to a bad start when Carla asked "Do you mind if I start filming this?" and Richard replied, "You teach what at a University?" We pursued in softer tones. Let me also add, for 64, Richard Hell is looking superlatively sharp. 

This will not be further elaborated on.

Friday 21 March: Wake up early with Michael and Carla standing eerily at the bottom of my bed. Split from the gang to go record shopping in Brooklyn. Gig that evening in Sidewalk Café.  It was busy but mostly I just remember being happy to see the entire Withered Hand band including King Creosote… the evening dissolved in to revelry. Still awake at 10am listening to girl bands. 

Saturday 22 March: Hazy start. A couple of Bloody Marys clear the fog. We drink some cask strength whisky with people who came to the gig the night before. 

Sunday 23 March: Richard Hell comes round to the flat to sample the Neu! Reekie! single cask whisky. He’s interested in the whisky, the independence debate and Kevin’s Thurso punk past. The evening sees another gig at Sidewalk Café.  

Monday 24 March: Go to one of Emer’s pal’s apartment for a cuppa. She’s an author called Catherine Texier and I realise I’m allergic to her cat as I flick through her highly erotic books. 

Thursday 20 March: Kevin and I head out to the Beauty Bar at 1am and sit under long defunct hair dryers drinking vodka. He talks of independence. It is a beginning.

Friday 21 March: Much mayhem in the Village. A small rampage. Keep collecting random new best friends. End up back home with the DJ from CakeWalk, thought he was gay. He wasn’t.  

Saturday 22 March: Wake up at noon with the realization that we scheduled a whisky tasting at 4pm. Try to postpone. But a painter and a psychoanalyst for transgender children arrive right on the dot.  

Sunday 23 March: Kevin asks Richard Hell, “I’m going to end with a serious journalistic question. What do you think of Michael’s hair?” Whatever came next was no compliment.

Monday 24 March: The gang cab it to the airport. I feel bereft, abandoned. However, I launched a book, didn’t lose my phone, didn’t lose my wallet, didn’t get a tattoo, and didn’t kill anyone. It is an ending.