Saturday, 24 December 2011

Tracer Trails At Christmas - An End of Term Report For The Best DIY Promoters in Scotland

When the third edition of the Retreat! Festival was awarded a Bank of
Scotland Herald Angel award in 2010, it was vindication for a network
of independent music promoters who had grown out of what we now must
call a post-Fence Collective climate. Chief of these was Tracer Trails,
a solo operation run by one Emily Roff, who for the last half-decade
has effectively changed the live musical landscape in Edinburgh, and,
with like-minded partners in tow, looks set to do something similar in
Glasgow.

This year alone, Tracer Trails has put on twenty-one shows featuring a
total of seventy artists playing in a variety of carefully chosen
venues that have included church halls, working mens clubs and
community centres. Tracer Trails also ran two festivals, the fourth
Retreat! In Edinburgh, and the new Music Is The Music Language weekend
in Glasgow. As if this wasn't enough, Roff initiated the Archive Trails
project, in which Alasdair Roberts, Aileen Campbell and Drew Wright,
aka Wounded Knee, toured new material developed out of a residency at
Edinburgh University's School of Scottish Studies.

This weekend's Tracer Trails enabled James Yorkston's Christmas
Jamboree show found Roff getting back to her unplugged roots with a
bill that also featured The Pictish Trail and Lisa O'Neill. Tonight's
official Christmas party, however, shows just how adventurous Tracer
Trails has become since the now 24-year old Roff watched the Fence
community bloom at close quarters while a teenager growing up in Fife.

The final Tracer Trails show of what Roff calls a “super busy year”
will be headlined by the ubiquitous Bill Wells' National Jazz Trio of
Scotland, with support by Wells' collaboration with Stefan Schneider of
German electronicists To Rococo Rot as well as a solo set from Belle
and Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” says Roff. “I'm a massive fan of
Bill's music, have been for ages, but this is will be the first time
he's played one of my shows, and there'll be cameos from members of
Findo Gask (RIP), Nalle and Teenage Fanclub too.”

Founded in a spirit of community inspired by Beat Happening vocalist
and founder of the International Pop Underground festival Calvin
Johnson, early Tracer Trails bills featured the likes of Alasdair
Roberts, Rob St John, Withered Hand and Eagleowl long before most were
championed elsewhere. This year alone, however, has seen Roff put more
left-field fare, including former This Heat drummer Charles Hayward,
lo-fi Japanese duo Tenniscoats, avant-primitive all-female septet
Muscles of Joy, and, in a double bill with the free saxophone and drum
duo of Mick Flower and Bjork drummer Chris Corsano, Niger-based guitar
band, Group Inerane.

Roff sees the broadening of Tracer Trails' programme as “natural and
inevitable. My tastes have changed a lot since I was eighteen. It's
actually taken a while for the Tracer Trails programme to catch up with
those changes, but I'm very happy with the shows I've been involved
with over the past twelve months. I have more time to dedicate to
promotion these days, and I'm getting better at it, for sure. I'm
learning. I'm pleased that I'm better able to do justice to the artists
I work with, because I think they're wonderful and should be heard far
and wide.”

The last year has seen other changes in the Tracer Trails camp. A shift
of operations from Edinburgh to Glasgow, small amounts of public
funding and more collaborations with other independent promoters have
all contributed to increased activity.

“When I moved to Glasgow I was adamant that I wouldn't be putting on
any more gigs.,” Roff says. “I didn't think Glasgow would have room for
Tracer Trails! I moved here for domestic reasons, but then I met a lot
of people putting things on I would've loved to do in Edinburgh, and
suddenly there was a huge temptation to collaborate and participate
again.”

As for the future, the Tracer Trails' small is beautiful aesthetic
looks set to continue.

“I think things will change quite a bit in 2012,” Roff muses. I like to
switch it up. There could be fewer gigs, but several structured
projects and special events. A couple of festivals, perhaps. I'm also
hoping to work more closely next year with one of my favourite spaces
in Glasgow. I've always enjoyed using lots of different venues for my
shows, but these days somehow I'm itching to programme according to the
needs and limitations of a building. Space,” she says, quoting Sun Ra,
“is the place!”

Tracer Trails Christmas Party featuring The National Jazz Trio of
Scotland, Pianotapes and Stevie Jackson, tonight, Old St Paul's Church,
Edinburgh
www.tracertrails.co.uk

The Herald, December 21st 2011

ends

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