A late eighties jangly update on The Byrds with some REM thrown in, Summerhill were formed from the ashes of Snakes Of Shake, a Glasgow band who thrived locally along with peers such as Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. A favourite of the weeklies (NME, Sounds and such) Summerhill released an album on Demon Records which was well received before the band were swallowed up and then spat out by Polydor, victims of major label whims, with the band soon parting ways.
A CD reissue of their first album, Lowdown (now expanded), has led to the four band members reforming after 29 years apart for a brief tour which kicked off in Glasgow. On Lowdown the band (Seori Burnett -vocals/guitar, Neil Scott-guitar Keith Gilles -bass and Iain Sheddon- drums) were accompanied on pedal steel by BJ Cole and tonight Cole’s parts were played by Iain Sloan of The Wynntown Marshals. This allowed the band plenty of scope to recreate their heyday as they played just about the whole of Lowdown in its original running order.
Rosebud therefore opened proceedings with the band obviously well rehearsed, slipping into the fine harmonies and Rickenbacker jangles of the original with ease while the pedal steel added just the right amount of “cosmic country” to the proceedings reminding one of bands like Poco and the NRPS. I’ll Keep You In Mind had a fine whiff of Gene Clark’s folk baroque leanings while Lately turned down the dials slightly for Burnett’s acoustic guitar to lead in this yearning ballad. The churning guitars and pummelling drums intro to Knew I Would Return signalled a magnificent rendition of a song that stood out on the original album and tonight it was fully fleshed out, an excellent rush of west coast harmony rock with just a hint of early REM in there and an excuse for Neil Scott to flail away.
Burnett addressed the issue of whether Summerhill were actually a country band as he led the band into Hold Back The Heartache, the one song they did that actually fitted into that category and evidence perhaps that Burnett was listening to Gram Parsons back then. But for the most part it was the chiming and jangled guitar fuelled rhapsodies that fuelled the night. Arabesque guitar swirls, soaring harmonies, glorious melodies and a solid rhythm section drove songs such as I Want You and Ask Her Why while the lilting Golden Sunshine was lit up with some fine guitar effects. At times the band stretched out, Gilles’ bass underpinning Scott’s work on either Rickenbacker or Gibson guitar with the sound levels approaching blitzkrieg notice. This was exhilarating and the band excelled on their closing song, River Blue, which swelled into a magical mesh of guitars thrashing away. Summerhill might not have the floppy hair and bad boy pouts of their old publicity pics but for a band that’s only just got back together they were immense and it’s a crying shame that they are not as well known as some of their contemporaries.
Support on the night was billed as The Snakes Of Shake but this was somewhat of an indulgence on the part of Seori Burnett as a scratch band consisting of him, his brother and son along with Jason McSwan (who was instrumental in the Summerhill reunion) ran through a short set of their songs. However, it was a fine blast from the past for several in the audience with Burnett reminding us that Southern Cross was once awarded the then coveted accolade of NME single of the week.
Opening the show was Glasgow singer songwriter Mick Hargan who literally brought the stage down (almost, as he was singing a lighting gantry toppled over). He’s a gnarly singer songwriter with a soft interior and a strong voice. With song topics ranging from Pina Colada to Govan psychopaths, he impressed most on Ultraviolet which was interspersed with snippets of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire.