Declan Welsh, Scottish indie agitator, is in his stride at the Waiting Room on a rainy Tuesday evening. He’s chatting about his mate, Gary, who passed away a couple of years ago on his 22nd birthday. Declan tells us how Gary was the nicest, most caring and humble man you’d ever be likely to meet. On returning from his own gigs supporting The Last Shadow Puppets (Gary was the frontman of an up and coming act, The Lapelles), Gary was only interested in finding out how Declan’s tour of the North of Scotland had gone. Not an overtly political guy, Gary still had compassion in bucketloads according to Declan. For Declan, who merges the personal with the political so astutely throughout this gig, true socialism is organised compassion. He plays a song, Times, about Gary in celebration of who he was.
Sonic Breakfast is reminded that we saw one of those Lapelles support slots. Nobody could have predicted that just months later, Gary would no longer be charting a path to the pyramid. I reviewed the De Montfort Hall show for the Leicester Mercury but my words about The Lapelles got cut in the final edit. I check back over my notes on the bus ride back home from Declan’s set. They don’t reveal much aside from The Lapelles are from Glasgow; they’re kind of what you’d expect from a LSP support; there’s something about belt and braces, sixties jangle, skinny boys with guitars and pop sensibility. I do remember being quite enamoured with their set though.
It pays to see the support act. If I’m not otherwise engaged I will always make the point of doing so. Tonight’s support is Natalie Shay and I feel for her. Her crowd consists of me, two relations and polite members of Declan’s band. Despite the low turnout and to her credit, Natalie (and bandmate Joey), still go for it like they’re playing Wembley. They both play acoustic guitars; Natalie doing the rhythm bits and Joey the lead.
Natalie Shay is nearly but not quite an anagram of Shania Twain – and it’s that sort of polished, glossy country-pop that the hair-flicking and head-tossing Natalie seems to specialise in. Made for Radio 2, the growing careers of the likes of Catherine McGrath must give encouragement to this 20 year old from North London. There are strains of Joni Mitchell when Natalie veers into folkier territory. Ultimately though, tonight I want my music to snarl and this is too polite.
On the surface, Declan Welsh and The Decadent West are indie fodder. They’re clearly aficionados of white-boy indie guitar music. This is an act that has consumed the back catalogues of the Arctic Monkeys, Suede and Franz Ferdinand for influence. In their heavier, more spoken-word moments, some of Declan’s tunes give an appreciative nod towards The Hold Steady and the literate storytelling of Craig Finn.
What sets Declan apart though from some standard indie landfill is his political rage. In ‘Different Strokes’ he intelligently rants about the occupation of Palestine having seen at first hand the devastation caused. He brings things back to a personal level by playing tunes about Kurt Vonnegut, provincial nightclubs and heartfelt break-ups. Jumping straight back on the soapbox, he rightly calls out Rory Stewart’s voting record (“Fuck Rory Stewart”) before launching into the set highlight (for me at least). ‘Do what you want’ swaggers with indie-funk as it rallies for tolerant thinking about sexuality. “The stench of Section 28 is just another reason why we should never forgive the Tories” says Declan. (Or words to that effect – I confess I struggle to fully work out his thick, Glaswegian accent at times).
The personal again comes to the fore for the encore. Declan’s fine band step to one side allowing him to play a solo version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’. It’s a quality moment and I warm to this lad even more.