Aidan Moffat

They say that honesty is what makes a good musician, and story-tellers for that matter. It is also often the quality that is most at risk of falling away when careers progress, iconography develops and personal stock becomes an issue. It’s a good job our Aidan isn’t’ee into any of that shit. The Glaswegian was a very welcome headline act (in place of the withdrawn Kimya Dawson) at last Sunday’s instalment of the Illuminations series, and a seated audience at Bush Hall revelled in observing him devour a six-pack of Grolsch in front of a microphone, speaking, singing, shouting and whispering the words that came.

In truth Aidan fits into the title act role seamlessly, with a unique set of what is largely spoken word material (with musical accompaniment via an autoharp) that he has built up over the years. He tells me after the show, ‘a lot of the songs from the set were exclusively live and have never been recorded. I really enjoy having a set of songs and poems that are only ever heard live, and I’ve been working away at that set for a couple of years now.’

“I bought a 4-bedroom house in Ayrshire for the same price as the 1-bedroom flat I had in Glasgow, near the coast in a quiet wee village. I lasted three months.”

As ever, his words veer between uncomfortable and humourous. There is his characteristic obsession with sex, lust and danger that slowly pin pricks against what repressive inclinations tonight’s audience may have brought along with them, seeking flesh and the chance to draw some kind of emotional blood from his spectators.

The influence this has live is somewhat greater, as the audience surrenders the power to distract themselves or just stop listening as they might at home. This forcefully drags us down a meandering path that is tirelessly austere at times and joyful at others. It ultimately takes us somewhere we cannot place between cold and nihilistic to a unique and hardened kind of romance, only found between the street lamps of Britain’s meaner towns and cities.

But Moffat himself would be, I believe, the first to point to the redeeming qualities of the life and times he sings of. ‘Glasgow is very much a part of what I do. I don’t expect I could or would write the way I do without the city – on an artistic level, I find it very inspirational, and on a practical level it has everything I need. Its nightlife, its streets, pubs, drugs etc.’ He recalls once trying to move away from the artistic heart-ground of his work, ‘I bought a 4-bedroom house in Ayrshire for the same price as the 1-bedroom flat I had in Glasgow, near the coast in a quiet wee village. I lasted three months.’

Arab Strap 1

The approach that Moffat takes to all of his material is as much about a forceful and explicit exposure to those most outrageous and honest human experiences, as it is about the intricacies of balance. ‘I don’t think either (comedy or discomfort) takes precedence no, it’s all about balance. I do like to challenge a little sometimes, and it’s certainly great to make people laugh, but I hope the lasting memory is something more emotional. What writers and songwriters try to do is articulate their experience into little nuggets, and if you write about yourself then you’re probably writing about everyone.’

There is an ongoing tale of the modern condition alive in his words, both in its ire and vulgarity, warmth and compassion. And I think that’s what keeps him going today. ‘I do wonder sometimes what would have happened if Arab Strap had done really well and made a shit-load of money – I don’t think I’d still be making records, to be honest. Who wants to hear someone singing about how brilliant their life is? I’m comfortable on the fringes.’ And there are clearly more than a few embers left in him yet, ‘I won’t be doing another set like this for at least a couple of years, I’ve got plans to move onto until about 2017.’

There is naturally some room left in the show for some Arab Strap, namely ‘Blood‘ and ‘I Would’ve Liked Me A Lot Last Night’. ‘I only do those two myself, I haven’t tried any others because it would be a waste of time without Malcolm.’ He explains, ‘I’ve always liked the words to Blood and it’s only got two chords. But aye, they fit the set well, and I can still sing them with feeling – especially Last Night because it’s all about a horrific hangover, and they get much worse when you reach 40.’