Your Cheapest Whisky and Soda, Please, to Treat the Sunburn

Over in Glasgow, there’s something strange in the air. On the edges of George Square where there are little island patches of grass, people are stretching themselves out. The more belligerent males have gone taps aff. Also, my eyes hurt. It’s summer. Summer has actually come to Scotland. That’s never a sure thing. It’s twenty something degrees in Glasgow and I am at risk of combusting if I don’t stick to the shade.

In the summer of Scotland, heat is never guaranteed, but the light does last deep into the night, as a way to make up for the long nights for the rest of the year, I suppose. People wait a long time for their sun here. They crave it. Me, I’m not for the summer. My corpse-pallor skintone doesn’t do much with a tan. But for everyone else in this end of the world, you notice how a little bit of sun completely changes the personalities of strangers. They are suddenly happy, giddy with excitement and foolishness, reverting to some half-remembered childhood ideal of summer holidays by the sand and sea. All most people in Scotland really want to be happy is to be warm sometimes, I guess.

I walk through the late evening sunlight down beautifully broad and long-stretching Sauchiehall Street to get to The Garage. The Garage doesn’t look like it was ever a place to fix your motor. It looks like a nightclub built of stairs and stairs and promises, leading past an extraordinary number of surly bouncers for a midweek gig, especially when they’ve been made to put on the glare at a crowd that has come to hear the Beths, one of the best-behaved bands I’ve ever seen. I haven’t been in a nightclub this millenium. Frankly, I don’t think I could handle the weight of noise and sexual desperation you always find in nightclubs. Luckily, it’s a gig venue at the moment, a big empty room that presumably on Friday night will be used for dancing and other sweaty pagan rites, but right now the space nicely holds the soothing hubbub of the waiting crowd.

I ask for a whisky and soda from the bar guy, who seems to be thinking of taking his natural indifference to punters and becoming a bouncer. I get one single melted ice cube in a bourbon and soda. A Jack Daniels, to be precise. Sweet sticky Jack stands comfortably in a nightclub venue. Although it has never been my booze of choice, Mister Daniels turns out to work good enough for me when dumped into soda water. Anyway, you can ask for whisky all you like here at the Garage, but Jack is all you are gonna get, because Jack is all they’ve got. I’m not that fussed. It’s booze and soda. I must have become simple in my old age.

As you know, the ancient motto here is ‘We’ll Sit Anywhere.’ I don’t know the Latin for it, but you can bet it sounds fucking classy. I find a flight of stairs up to the nightclub balcony and balancing my Jack and soda on top of the short banister, pick myself a likely looking step to hunch on where I can see the stage.

The Beths are a band who have come all the way from New Zealand to play here in the Garage. Although they are all grown-up shithot musicians, there is a look about the group that somehow reminds you of a nervous school band. Three fourths of the band are wearing the official Beths uniform – shorts, let down only by the Beth man with the seventies serial killer haircut. Is New Zealand warm? Are some New Zealanders the result of what happens if you give Scottish people more sun throughout the year?

The Beths open with ‘Future Me Hates Me’, punchy and neat. The set’s got the wistful earnestness of ‘Expert in a Dying Field, and ‘Silence is Golden’- a song about not being able to stand sounds that runs along like it’s going to explode. ‘I’m Not Getting Excited’ was the first Beths song I ever noticed, and live at the Garage it still conducts all the same fizzing, fidgeting nervous energy.

I think the band might have brought their own mixer, because I’m used to the congealed mess of live vocals at gigs, and after a track and half of working against the sound of the room, the bright ring of the Beths pierces through all clear. Their lyrics are often anxious, but I can’t hear lyrics properly anyway, and although the main Beth lady, Beth the First, combines a note of wavering uncertainty into the sweet of her voice, the combined sound of the band is so naturally gleaming that thinking about the lyrics too much feels like worrying underneath a long warm afternoon.

Sometimes the man Beths all sing the harmonies in support of Beth the First. They sing and play with clean, perfect energy. The Beths aren’t cool. They’re better than that. They play bright and unpretentious as sunlight, and that should make you feel better about your day. Beth the First does some chat about how they always worry about touring the cold of Scotland, and someone in the audience kindly reassures them and lets the Kiwis know that much to everybody’s surprise here in Glesga, It’s Fuckin Warm Now.

All together, the band are awkwardly adorable. The drummerman Beth is just so happy to be there and wobbles his head from side to side as he drums. The Beths even do a bit where they introduce each other at the end, and there’s something about it that is so clean-cut and polite. I’d feel bad swearing in front of them. When they play ‘Head in the Clouds’ a momentary lack of booze in my system makes me lightheaded, and I start thinking that the Beths feel like all the best New Zealand bands, because they sing to the mountains, they sing to the seas and to the bright skies, with vistas of joy shooting right out through the clouds of despair.

At the start of the gig only maybe the front eighth of the full room moves, but that slowly spreads, the feeling of warmth and contentment, that feeling on your skin of being in just the right spot for a moment. Beth the First gives us the slow, sparse ‘You Are a Beam of Light’ after the encore, then all the Beths return to give a last ray with the sparkling upbeat sulk of ‘Uptown Girl’. But before you know it, the gig is done, the Beths are off to Dublin, and the bar is closed, all over too fucking soon, like a Scottish summer. You have got to get your sun wherever you can.

Total Number of Bourbon Sodas: Five. Not nearly enough when I’m trying to stay properly hydrated in this strange heat, but the bar closes absurdly early and tries to convince me to drink plain water, which is just fucking crazy talk.
Hangover: More sun damage than liver damage.

The Beths:
I’m Not Getting Excited

Silence is Golden

-Larry Dives

back in that hole

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