The Quay Sessions are a novel idea – live performances recorded in front of an audience at BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay in Glasgow. Originally established in 2015 as a platform for upcoming Scottish bands, The Quay Sessions are now broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland weekly on Thursdays, and feature bands from all over the world.
I first heard about these sessions when my parents saw Irish singer-songwriter Duke Special there in December 2016 (yes, I have accepted that they will always be cooler than me). When I saw that Dan Croll, one of my favourite singer-songwriters, was performing there a couple of days before the start of his latest tour, I knew this was my chance to get in on the action.
After missing out on the original ballot for tickets, I managed to snap up a couple through a competition on Dan Croll’s Facebook page. This turned out to be in my favour, as being on the ‘guest list’ meant that I had a prime front-row seat.
The acts perform in the foyer of BBC Pacific Quay in front of the backdrop of the river Clyde, which was looking especially lovely on this warm summer’s night. These performances had all the intimacy of an ordinary gig – apart from the ever-present television cameras.
The sessions are hosted by the charismatic Roddy Hart, who introduced the acts and riled up the audience (but not too much – this is the BBC, remember). Since this was being performed for the radio, it was quite odd that the presenter often redid his lines if he messed them up, knowing they would be edited out later. It was almost educational to see first-hand how the broadcast was put together, from the vocals to the cameras and sound. At one point I even had a cameraman sitting almost on my feet in order to get the perfect shot.
The Quay Sessions always feature a pair of acts, and up first were Madison Violet, a Canadian singer-songwriter duo. Despite not having heard of them until I looked them up on Twitter before the show, I was instantly captivated by these ladies’ husky country-style vocals. This was the perfect setting for their melancholy songs about love and heartbreak, accompanied by a range of guitars (one of which was held together with duct tape), and even a fiddle.
The two played a mix of old and new songs, as well as a cover of Nazareth’s Love Hurts as an homage to Scotland. Their names – Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac – show their Scottish roots, and it seemed appropriate that they were almost coming home to give us such a wonderful performance.
After about an hour’s set, there was a short break before Dan Croll came on with his band. Promoting his new pop album Emerging Adulthood coming out in July, he focused on his new songs, occasionally throwing in a track from his critically-acclaimed debut album Sweet Disarray.
This performance had a bigger sound than the intimate vocals of Madison Violet, and the audience really engaged with it, whooping and clapping (when directed by Roddy Hart, of course). Even though it was a slimmed-down set, it made me even more excited for Dan’s Glasgow gig at Stereo that I would be seeing later that week.
Halfway through each of the act’s sets Roddy Hart gave them a brief interview. Despite this break in format from a usual gig, it was interesting to hear a little more about each of the artists and what they were up to. The presenter had easy banter with Madison Violet and Dan Croll, with Dan joking that he had been pronouncing Pacific Quay as Pacific ‘Kway’ for most of the day.
This gig was unlike any other I had been to before. Despite the formality of a filmed broadcast, it had such a chilled atmosphere, with the audience coming and going to the bar, and each of the acts watching the other’s performance at the back. People had come from all over the UK – from Shetland to Cornwall – to experience the magic of this performance. And who can blame them? A free gig every week at the BBC – who can argue with that?
Listen to the full radio show here.