January 14th saw Òran Mór host the latest Glasgow date of the Mill series of free gigs for the “best of emerging music”. The Glasgow-based three-piece Foxface played a first set slightly scaled down from their recorded material; a large delegation of the compound group Woodenbox with A Fistful of Fivers followed, playing to a well-attended downstairs bar.
In pursuit of a simultaneously elusive but identifiably Scottish character, Foxface’s stage presence was intriguing but distant, with fox masks, costumes and a wide range of instrumentations combining to evade a simple single impression. Folk, indie and echoes of several other genres were represented, with vocals shared between Michael Angus and Jenny Bell. While Angus’ earthy baritone had some of Richard Thompson’s stern power, it rather clumsily stifled Bell’s less distinct soprano.
Their harmonies were blocky and simple, poorly suited to such different voices, which on more disparate paths might complement each other effectively. Banjo and accordion parts from John Ferguson (who, to his credit, was simultaneously playing the drums with his feet) were frustratingly tame; the difficulty of genre splicing seemed to have resulted in disappointing harmonic compromises. To permit divergence from their lowest harmonic common denominator, the styles from which Foxface intend to draw still need to be completely integrated, rather than simply juxtaposed; with all the elements in place Foxface may yet achieve this.
Heartily decked out in checked shirts and beards, Woodenbox accompanied by most of A Fistful of Fivers displayed a far more coherent vision of how this many instruments should be used. Clear, enthusiastic arrangements gave the music a real purpose, and although the harmonic structures of the tunes were clichéd pop or country progressions, the glee with which they were executed was infectious.
A lot of their assertive sound is derived from a solid rhythm section, battering out country and rock beats which relentlessly accumulated momentum while never seeming insensitive to the slow songs or the constant breaks and diminuendos which colour the music. The furious crescendo at the final climax of the performance was their summary: an immense yet familiar demonstration of how much can be done with simplicity and a little care.