END OF NEIL-MY GAMES.

END OF NEIL-MY GAMES.

Ever since the late-seventies, Scotland has produced some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands in British music. Scottish bands have lead the way. Other bands have followed in their path. It’s no exaggeration to say Scottish bands have been trailblazers, producing music that’s innovative and ahead of the musical curve. This stared with Postcard Records, who introduced the world to the Sound of Young Scotland and groups like Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Josef K and The Go-Betweens to the world. Little did we realise that that was just the start of an outpouring of creativity.

Scottish bands were about to provide the soundtrack to much of the eighties and nineties. Next up were the Associates, Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Hipsway, The Big Dish and Deacon Blue. That’s not forgetting Belle and Sebastien, The Bathers, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Edwyn Collins, Texas and Joe McAlinden. Never mind Manchester, Liverpool or London, Scotland were the Kings of indie rock and where every A&R rep headed in search of the latest indie rock sensation. That’s still the case.

Just now, the Scottish music industry is the strongest it’s been for many a long year. This was apparent when the long-list for the SAYA was announced. Scottish artists are producing indie rock, folk, pop, R&B and hip hop. There’s no let up in the outpouring of creativity that began over thirty-five years ago. Indeed, you only need look at some of Scotland’s best unsigned bands. Shooting Stansfield, The Hold Ghosts and End Of Neil.

End Of Neil is a hugely talented singer-songwriter I discovered recently. When I first heard End Of Neil’s music, I got in touch with Neil Stewart, the man behind End Of Neil, and asked him to tell me about his career so far. Unlike other artists, Neil provided a short, ego-free CV. Straight away, I liked Neil Stewart. Here, was a really talented, singer-songwriter, who despite his obvious talent, remained humble. He helps other bands, is supportive of his local music scene and is “part a strong community of songwriters.” Neil Stewart, I realized is an anomaly in modern music, an ego-free musician. 

Based in Stirling, Scotland, End Of Neil is the alter-ego of Neil Stewart. End Of Neil was founded in 2008, and since then, has been honing their unique sound. Best described as a combination of acoustic and folk, it’s won over audiences throughout Scotland, and more recently, much further afield.

Most of End Of Neil’s music is written by Neil Stewart. He’s just the latest in a new generation of Scottish singer-songwriters. Neil’s been influenced by John Martin, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Neil Young. It’s not just folk music that influences End Of Neil. Not at all. Neil says anyone “with a guitar and sense of feeling” influences him. Interestingly, this includes Nirvana. These influences are reflected in End Of Neil’s music, which has been honed through constantly touring.

After founding End Of Neil, Neil played mostly Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh. His idea was, to refine his music through playing live. This is the old-fashioned way. Through playing live, an artist refines his sound and songs. Short cuts aren’t for End Of Neil. He’s too talented to resort to TV talent shows. After all, Neil can write his own songs and play an instrument. Having played mostly in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, End Of Neil started playing further afield and opening for some big names.

No longer was End Of Neil playing much further afield. Audiences at concerts and festivals were won over by End Of Neil. So too, were The Vaselines, Ken Stringfellow and Rachel Sermanni, who End Of Neil supported. This summer, End Of Neil will be supporting Simon Townsend, the brother of Who guitarist, Pete Townsend. Whilst constantly touring, End Of Neil has released two E.P.s.

It was back in September 2012, that End Of Neil’s recording career began. Escape At The Zoo and 62 were the debut tracks from an undoubtably talented artist. Best described as joyous and celebrating being young and free, Escape At The Zoo features intelligent lyrics, thought provoking lyrics, about whether human instinct can be repressed by work, social pressures and norms. 62 is an atmospheric song, one that paints pictures in your mind, while Neil’s voice is needy and emotive. Just a month after End Of Neil’s debut, came their first album.

September was released by End Of Neil in October 2012. This was End Of Neil’s debut E.P. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Both Escape At The Zoo and 62 featured on September. The other three tracks were of a similar quality. End Of Neil brought Forget The Afternoon, Save My Soul and Knights In Armour to life. Neil’s lyrics are a cut above what we’ve come to expect from modern singer-songwriters. Just like the seventies singer-songwriters who’ve influenced End Of Neil, Neil delivers his songs with passion and emotion. He’s like a master storyteller, his songs painting pictures, asking question, probing and provoking your emotions. For a debut E.P. September was the perfect way to begin End Of Neil’s recording career. Just seven months later, came the followup, My Games.

Released in April 2013, My Games was End Of Neil’s sophomore E.P. It featured six new tracks from End Of Neil. It built on September, which had been the starting point for his recording career. The songs are even better, tighter and slicker. This is the case from the opening track, Fangs.

Opening My Games was Fangs. Just acoustic guitars create a wistful backdrop for Neil’s vocal. When his vocal enters, Neil sings about a girl who claimed to have been bitten by a vampire. She was fooling no-one, it was a love-bite. Now: “she got her Fangs into me” Neil sings. “Now he feels nothing.” Filled with hurt, he sing about how he feels nothing when he plays. Accompanying him, are Beach Boys’ style harmonies, as Neil delivers a rueful vocal full of regret.

Accompanied by acoustic guitars and percussion, Neil’s vocal on I Miss You is full of hurt and heartbreak. Harmonies sweep in. They reflect the loneliness and sadness he feel, as he doubt he’ll “see you again.” Beautiful, heartfelt and soulful, musical genres seamlessly become one on I Miss You.

Just percussion, acoustic guitar and drums set the scene for Mauchline Belles. Soon, Neil begins to paint pictures with his poetic lyrics. Listening to the lyrics, I wonder if Neil was influenced by Robert Burns, given their poetic quality and subject matter.  It’s a song about obsession and infatuation. A clue is the lyric: “I followed her and fancied her, haunted by the songs she sang” He dreams of marrying her and can picture the scene. Meanwhile, handclaps, harmonies and guitar accompany Neil on this hook-laden fusion of folk and Americana.  

Mighty Song has country sound, when guitars, handclaps and percussion. A dramatic burst of acoustic guitar is Neil’s signal to deliver an emotive, impassioned vocal. Cooing, sweeping harmonies accompany him, while guitars add to the drama and drive the arrangement along. When Neil’s vocal drops out his band take centre-stage. They kick-loose, drums pounding and guitars searing, as they demonstrate a rockier sound. Then Neil delivers the rest of the lyrics to this Mighty Song, with a combination of power and passion.

Neil’s vocal is emotive and heartfelt as Nectar unfolds. Accompanied by the rhythm section, percussion and harmonica, folk, Americana and country combines. Powerful and filed with frustration, Neil sings of the forbidden fruit, which will remain out reach for the character in the song.

Closing My Games is The Ocean Is My Guide, a song that’s the equivalent to Luke Rhinehart’s novel The Dice Man. It’s definitely a case of saving the best till last. Just acoustic guitars and drums section drive the dramatic arrangement along. Having set the scene, Neil delivers the unforgettable line, “I hope you had a nice weekend, it’s about to end, I’m about to leave you.” His delivery is matter of fact. There’s no explanation, just The Ocean Is My Guide and that Neil a free spirit, intends to sail away.

Although My Games is only End Of Neil’s second E.P, you wouldn’t know that. He’s a hugely talented singer-songwriter, one with no rough edges. They’ve long been smoothed away. So, the five years spent constantly touring has paid off for End Of Neil. During that time, End Of Neil’s sound and songs have been honed. Indeed, it was four years before End Of Neil released their debut E.P. That was a good idea. 

Too often, bands are in a hurry to release their debut album. They release it before they’re ready. This can cost them in the long run. After all, an inferior debut album is like a noose round a band’s neck. It’s the elephant in the room. Realizing this, End Of Neil waited until he’d honed his sound and songs. Four years after their first gig, End Of Neil released September. It was well received. Critics realised what End Of Neil’s ever-growing fan-base knew, that End Of Neil has a big future ahead of them. 

Then when My Games was released, it surpassed September. My Games features six songs where folk, acoustic, Americana, country and indie rock combine. Everything from John Martyn, Jackson Browne, Nick Drake, James Taylor and Neil Young. To that I’d add Scottish singer-songwriters like Rick Redbeard, Karine Polwart, Karine Polwart and Astrid. Then there’s the Beach Boys harmonies. They too, are a favorite of many a Scottish band, including Teenage Fanclub, Trashcan Sinatras and the BMX Bandits. Mostly, End Of Neil is following in the tradition of seventies singer-songwriters. He’s a troubled troubadour with stories to tell. These stories are compelling and enthralling. You’re introduced to a diverse cast of characters. Many of them are complicated. Some of them are troubled. All of them are intriguing. In many ways, that makes it a very Scottish album. After all, we Scots are complicated, troubled and intriguing. We certainly have stories to tell. End Of Neil certainly has many more stories to tell. Indeed, End Of Neil is currently recording his debut album. While we await the next chapter of End Of Neil’s story to unfold, we can enjoy My Games, six songs from the pen of Stirling’s troubled troubadour Neil Stewart. Standout Tracks: Fangs, Mauchline Belles, Mighty Song and The Ocean Is My Guide.

END OF NEIL-MY GAMES.

2 Comments

  1. Derek,

    I just wanted to take the time to publicly thank you for this comprehensive, patient review of my work. The ‘My Games,’ EP was lovingly created in October/November 2012, during a very chilly, autumnal time, yielding all these images of gothic noir, shivering men and rain-blasted fields. I brought together songs that did not make it onto ‘September’, as well as the gritty, raw acoustic sounds of crunching strings and rice shakers. It is a collection I felt very secure about, and the songs I love singing live and they still allow me to change them, and fill them with added pizzaz and soul. However, to expect that this record would get such a profound listen and review, song by song even, was more than I was expecting and this adds real weight and value to my work. Thanks for taking the time, and hopefully my future work will give you the same pleasure!

    Best,

    Neil

    • Hi Neil,

      Thanks very much for your kind comments. I’m so pleased you enjoyed my review of My Games. I’m looking forward to the release of your debut album.

      Before I wrote my review, I listened to everything I could find that you’d recorded. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in your music. This allowed me to know your music inside out. Then I felt qualified to write my review, which was in-depth. All my reviews are in-depth, that’s how reviews used to be. It’s also the way I approached Philly Re-Grooved 3, Tom Moulton’s latest compilation of remixes, which I wrote the sleeve-notes too. As you say, I was struck by the gothic nature of some of the songs, Mauchline Belles, in particular. Having past through Mauchline so many times, I could picture the lyrics unfolding. That’s the power of music, that it paints pictures.
      It’s music with an autumnal sound.

      I always enjoy reviewing music by Scottish artists and bands. Just now, Scottish music has so many talented artists, both signed and unsigned. So, it’s alway a pleasure to review artists by my fellow countrymen and women. If you know of any artists who are releasing E.Ps or albums, feel free to put them in touch with me. Please keep in touch and I’ll look forward to reviewing it. Good luck for the future.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek.

Leave a Reply to dereksmusicblog Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: