Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why we should keep faith with The Hold Steady despite two disappointing Scottish appearances...

When I saw the band play The Garage in Glasgow early in the year I thought they were stupendous - better-than-Springsteen wordplay beefed up through ZZ Top and Lizzy riffing. Then, having moved heaven and earth to catch them at both T in the Park and Connect, they managed to turn up late for both, doing a short acoustic set at T and a dishevelled, lackadaisical one at Connect. However, with everything to play for on Jools Holland, they really delivered on Stuck Between Stations, showing the Arctic Monkeys, also on the show, just why a ginormous Billy Gibbons guitar sound hammers Telecaster scratchiness any day of the week.

Will they haul themselves beyond that 'best bar band in the world' tag? Not, in my opinion, if they continue to do 300 gigs a year, mostly in dodgy American roadhouses. In the end, unless a movie soundtrack or something (possibly European success)lifts them up a live league, they're too intelligent to put up with the torpor and tedium of that kind of touring lifestyle. Or the drink will get them.

Meanwhile, we await the next album with considerable interest. There's a new song '212 Margarita' lurking online in various acoustic formats. It's good.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Vi-Pod - no batteries required

As made by TM Show listener Mark Shiner of Selkie Harps in Orkney. Viking pan pipes, apparently. "An unlimited number of tunes can be stored, as long as a brain is attached" says Mark.

Forget DAB, THIS is the future of radio!

This is the Logik Reciva internet wifi radio. It renders DAB utterly obsolete if you have a wireless internet connection. Basically, using a stunningly simple (just like...tuning a radio) interface, or if you prefer, knob, you can haul in every radio station that has an internet presence, INCLUDING 'listen again' wherever it lurks, plus any local or specialist 'opt outs'. You decide - 'genre' or 'location' and the next minute...

Down to around £45. Sounds AND looks good too. And yes, I paid for it myself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The original Radio Scotland - silenced 40 years ago

Inveterate TM show listener Hugh Campbell got in touch today to reminisce about the first broadcast from Wunnerful Radio One, exactly 40 years ago....what, he asked, were you doing when Tony Blackburn spun Flowers in the Rain, way back when? On my way to school, I think, gazing out, as we prepared to turn right into Marr College's driveway, at the space once occupied by the good ship Comet, home until a few months previously, of the pirate station Radio Scotland.

I remember the jingle: "Just off the coast, no far frae Troon, there lies a bonnie wee boat/though it's nothin' much tae look at, it's the proudest ship afloat/it's the home o' Radio Scotland and it's every Scotsman's pride...."(can't remember the next bit, but it ended)"Radio Scotland is playing just for you/so beat the ban and join the clan on station 242." Medium Wave, of course.

I've just discovered this fantastic site, from which the picture above is taken, which has all kinds of pictures of the early DJs like Richard Park, Jimmy Mack and Stuart Henry, a history of the ship and snaps of the amazingly primitive studio. Radio Scotland closed before Radio One came on air, as the new Marine Broadcasting Act came into force and made it....even more illegal!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Franz Ferdinand come to Shetland

Alex Kapranos and the boys finish their Highlands and Islands tour tonight in Shetland, at the 350-capacity community hall over at Weisdale. Actually, as I write they're just going on stage, I think, for their second show of the night. I caught the, uh, matinee, put on specially for under 18s (and a suspiciously large number of 'parents') sneaking in with my daughter, son and their pals.
It was a bit short, actually, the set, maybe 40 minutes max including one encore. And while the crowd loved it, going soberly (no bar) bonkers, I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the murkiness of the sound and what seemed like a fatigued performance. Still, they were there, we were In The Room with Franz, and for one of the biggest bands in the UK to make the effort to come so far north is admirable. I imagine the late show, with added alcohol, will be a more abandoned affair.
Afterwards, the best haddock suppers in northern Europe were obtained. Garlic mayonnaise with chips, too...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Servisair's lack of service

Saturday's flight to Sumburgh from Aberdeen was marred by the utter contempt shown to passengers by the despicable Servisair. But really, this is about British Airways' disdain for its Shetland routes: first they dump the responsibility for operating them onto Loganair, then ground services are hived off to Servisair, whose approach to what is, after all, a lifeline operation frequently involving medical emergencies, new-born children and the elderly is a disgrace.

Yesterday, the departure screens never showed the gate number for the BA 8772 flight, and only asking around eventually indicated where we were to queue. For an hour, as just one hapless check-in person (the other, apparently, had failed to turn up for work) tried to check in passengers for both the Shetland and Orkney flights. Ten minutes before departure, I was still waiting to get through security.

A Servisair supervisor, who could have helped ease the situation, did nothing but flaunt her walkie-talkie, patronise passengers and boss her minions about. If I didn;t HAVE to fly next time I travel south, I'd make a commitment here and now to travel only by boat (as long as NorthLink have fixed that electrical problem, the one that left the Hrossey drifting powerless of Sumburgh Head the other night).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wireless in the Seaforth

I'm in the Seaforth Hotel in Ullapool, which is, I think, the hub of activity in this most beautiful of west coast villages. From morning to, well, early morning, it hums...and for that matter, shouts and thumps. Last night I caught the Stornoway band Our Lunar Activities here, who were LOUD. It's the weekend of the Loopallu festival (the TM show comes live from the Arch Inn at 2.00pm) and everything is well and truly jumping. The Seaforth is not just a rock venue though - it does great seafood AND (thank goodness) it opens early for breakfast and efficient, functioning wireless broadband internet. Otherwise, I would have had trouble filing my copy for this week's Sunday Herald Diary.

Note to all hotel owners: Free or really, really cheap wireless internet is no longer an option. It's an ABSOLUTE ESSENTIAL. You can't have guests wandering around like lost souls looking for wifi hotspots. I don't care if you think you're bohemian and quaint and your poached eggs are to die for. I NEED WIRELESS!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aberdeen en route to...

Really straightforward and completely trouble-free trip to Aberdeen this morning, despite late-night trip to Pacific Quay to find out that the Trainline ticket machine was STILL not prepared to give up my tickets (probably some security measure in the runup to the PM's official opening of PQ today). I have to admit that the building looks impressive at night, though apparently all the lights go out automatically if no-one's actually in a working area. Good (but spooky) environmental thinking. And also green is the computer printing - set up so that everything automatically prints on both sides of the paper. It took me ages to realise this was happening, by which time I'd printed everything three times.

Off to Ullapool after the show for an outside broadcast from the Loopallu festival, featuring Mark Radcliffe's band The Family Mahone...get to stay tonight in one of the great small hotels, The Ceilidh Place, which has, if I remember rightly, an 'honesty bar'. Oh dear...

Incidentally, I paid £26 a night for a room in Glasgow which provided unlimited free broadband and a private bathroom, kitchen facilities, tea and coffee, TV, phone but no breakfast. That has to be the bargain of this or possibly last century.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Snaffle Bit

A fairly large amount of last night was spent in the first bar I ever really drank in, the Snaffle Bit in Sauchiehall Street. The Celtic match was watched, Guinness (normal temperature) was drunk, and fractured memories erupted of 1978 lunchtimes spent playing dominoes with the other members of staff at Project Scotland, The Voice of Scottish Construction. Lunch was three pints of beer and two double cheeseburgers in those days. Good grief.

Dinner in my favourite Glasgow Indian restaurant, Sibbo's Delhi Dabba, was excellent as ever. And the cycle back to Maryhill in the rain was....exciting.

Now it's PQ for the final time this week, an encounter with the legendary Bill Drummond about the planned No Music Day, and after the show, a whisky tasting of cheap drams (£3500 a bottle, apparently). I may just inhale.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cafe society

Ah, the luxury of the internet cafe...or a well run-one, like Sip'n'Surf in Glasgow's Great Western Road. New computers, all the papers,good latte, fine croissants and reasonable rates for printing stuff out.

I know I could just go to Pacific Quay and do all my necessary preparation for the show, but the fact is I like hanging about the west end of a morning. It's the country hick in me - I like to wallow in what the city has to offer! Once Govan turns into the 'media quarter' it is much-mooted to become, perhaps I'll be able to wander from bookshop to capuccino emporium wearing a cycle jacket and carrying a laptop, without well, fear.

But alas, not yet.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pacific Quay, here goes!

In Glasgow after accompanying Magnus on his first motorised foray onto motorways....and he did well, though my nerves were somewhat shredded at his cavalier attitude towards lane discipline on Dundee's myriad roundabouts. Horrendous delays at the first roundabout coming into Dundee from Aberdeen...and the really odd thing was this: about 75 per cent of the cars queuing on the inside lane were driven by women. There could be various reasons for this: maybe more women commute into Dundee; perhaps women tend to be satisfied with waiting in the inside lane and don't impatiently swerve into the outside to gain some distance; or maybe they read and understood the roadworks sign which clearly stated that the outside lane was closed ahead...

Anyway, I picked up the folding bike at Magnus's flat and zoomed (10 minutes from Maryhill) to Govan and the BBC's new Crystal Palace, which has its official opening bash this week. I won't be there as I have to go to Ullapool for the Loopallu festival. The picture, by the way, was taken by old pal Stewart Cunningham. When you hear the show today, that's where it will be coming from. Or at least, when I speak. The music's still played in from Aberdeen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Edwyn's return

Edwyn Collin's new CD Home Again is album of the week over at the Tom Morton Show, and excellent it is too. Recorded before Edwyn's two brain haemorrhages, his recovery has enabled him to finish and mix the record, and it contains some of his best solo work, I think.

My old friend and colleague Paul Tucker has made a wee documentary about Edwyn's recovery which goes out on BBC2 Scotland tomorrow night. I've just watched a DVD and found it profoundly moving and uplifting.

And to highlight the return of Mr Collins (who once gave me the most ferociously good-natured roasting I've ever experienced, over an Orange Juice review way back in the mid-80s), here's a wee YouTube tribute from a guy who sounds alarmingly like the great man, but isn't.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chicken Town

Dropped in on the E4+1 edition of The Sopranos tonight, and was completely swept up and away, despite my best attempts to abandon the telly and make tea.

How frigidly cool is the music? leaving aside the Alabama (A) 3's fabulous theme, so much of it reverberates still from past series - Nils Lofgren's Black Books took on a whole new life.

But to hear John Cooper Clarke's Chicken Town...good grief. I remember him at the Apollo supporting....was it a double bill with The Void Oids and the Police, or The Cramps and Elvis Costello?

And here we are...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pictures from Connect

So, this is/was Connect on the Saturday...featuring Dave and Lucy, Rilo Kiley, some mud, a little sunshine and me with The Hold Steady...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Silverwinging it

It's 25 years old, my wee Honda Silverwing, but it performed perfectly on the run from Clydebank to Aberdeen yesterday. Well, apart from the broken speedo cable, meaning that I had to guess my velocity from the movement of other traffic (I tried to keep somewhere between buses and Renault Clios).

But the rain stayed off, and so I arrived at Peggy Scott's wonderful cafe, just by Finavon, in one long V-twin bounce from the central belt, ready to eat my own bodyweight in cake. Which I did. Twice.

The joy of motorcycling comes from combinations of opposites: the proximity of death, and a feeling of absolute control. Constant vulnerability and a sense of being untouchable. Being absolutely in your environment (the smell of garlic as you race past the polytunnels near Liff, the tang of the sea, cut grass)and the power to overcome it. Unlike an acoustic motorbike, or pushbike, where it's all physical struggle (uphill) and reward (down).

Back in Shetland, and off the boat at 7.00am, biking's bad side hit me full force: in the northern isles, it's almost winter. Hands go numb, legs ache, lips dry, toes disappear. OPD (Other People's Driving) is, as usual in Shetland, appalling, with the usual quota of hungover verge-huggers. The brutal north westerly wind threatens to tear off my helmet. God help the little clutch of touring pushbikers who came off the ferry with me. They had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. Well, they ken noo.

Home, toast, coffee and two hours of thawing out. Where's the car? Oh no, it's at the airport!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Connected, disConnected, kebabed and generally thinking about the good and bad aspects of the Connect Festival

Just wondering if the colossal amount of doner kebab Just consumed is going to kill me. (Not to self: double dose of pravastatin, atenelol and aspirin tonight)

Seemingly endless bus trip back from Inveraray (why go via Dalmally and Tyndrum? What was wrong with the Rest and Be Thankful as on the way up from Glasgow?) featuring two accidents (not to us) and a diversion via Dumbarton. But at least the driver dropped me off at The Botanic Gardens.

Incidentally, there was a splendid piece by Ian Jack in today's Guardian about Stefan King's plans to rebuild the old Botanic Gardens station. All the westenders protesting against the project should read it forthwith.

Right, so Connect: DF Concerts' 'boutique' festival at Inveraray, aimed at the thinking, drinking, older punter with cash to spend on massages and malts. A staggeringly good musical lineup (if you share my tastes), generally, though with some anomalies: why the dance tent? Few among the target audience care to shove their head inside one of those tarted-up Vauxhall Novas you hear blasting their windscreens out at traffic lights, and then bang their bonces violently against the dashboard - my interpretation of modern dance music; but then, I still find myself referring to 'discos'. And why Inveraray? Culzean was already (I imagine) booked up for Retrofest, but there are other castles nearer Glasgow. Castles less prone to wetness and with fewer big nasty trees.

(Note: my years in Shetland have left me with a dislike of trees when experienced en masse. in the isles, they're considered sinister, and probably a sign of trowie activity)

Still, the publicity was great, the press office helpful, and there were so many great bands playing, I decided to hop aboard the Citylink bus for a day's Connecting. And I was glad I did. I had a really great time, mainly because of the company (thanks, Dave and Lucy!) and the fact that, for the first time in years, I could have a wee festival drink. Also, the imbibing was civilised and excellent: The Loch Fyne Whisky Bar and the Ale Tent both offered magnificent, and cheap, pints and drams, albeit in plastic. And no need for tokens! The food, too was pretty good, though the HIE 'Highland food' tent was on the small side.

But the mud was awful, the weather patchily murky, and the distances having to be covered on foot seemed massive. The weather militated against some of the music, too: Vashti Bunyan was way out of context amid the drizzle, though it was delightful to see her. Emma Pollock, kicking things off at the 'Guitars and Other Machines' stage was terrific, benefitting from a sound mix which was consistently, throughout the day, far, far better than the so-called 'main' Oyster stage. The Hold Steady, on the Oyster stage, were a terrible disappointment - sloppy, hurried, full of mistakes and with a dreadful, murky sound. But they're huge favourite of mine and maybe I was expecting too much.

Back at the 'Guitars' field, Rilo Kiley were spellbindingly, jaw-droppingly magnificent. Jenny Lewis was dressed, it seemed, as a Playboy Bunny, minus ears. They were like a bitter and twisted Fleetwood Mac, circa Rumours, only with real lyrical depth, and it should be said, filth. Just wonderful. And next week's Tom Morton Show album of the week, if you're interested.

Apart from that, Bat for Lashes was an almost exact cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, Teenage Fanclub sounded exactly like Teenage Fanclub, and I had to go on what seemed like a 15-mile hike to catch the bus back to Glasgow. Glad that I wasn't camping (lots of complaints about the conditions, toilets etc) but sorry to miss the Sunday line-up, which is even better than today's.

So, in conclusion: Let's 'fess up, Geoff and DF: this is a carbon copy Belladrum, only nearer Glasgow. You've used your muscle to get one of the best lineups of bands I've ever seen advertised, but the mistakes made all seem to involve thinking you could just scale down T in the Park and add a few bells and whistles. Belladrum, remember, was a tiny event, the vision of one man, Joe Gibbs, in his own (large)garden, and it's grown organically (thanks, largely to Robert Hicks)over several years to its current, very comfortable, very sorted size. Trying to start at the size Belladrum is now was understandable (hey, after all, you're in the business of making money)but I think you have to learn how to do this kind of festival in a quite different way from T. This isn't shrink-to-fit. It's nurture and grow.

Having said that, and despite everything, I had a ball, obviously.

Thanks to Patrick Vickery for the interesting news that Belladrum's rocktastic Italian Garden was very nearly sold, a few years ago, as a site for organic gardening...