Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Views from the kayak on a supernaturally still night

I wish to wholeheartedly recommend the Bic Ouassou sit-on-top kayak. So far this year, I have been out on the water more than in the past five years put together. It's stable, safe, robust (rotary-moulded polythene) and above all, easy to use.No faffing about with bad outboards and heavy, leaky boats. And it was cheap too.

Anyway, out tonight from about 21.40 until 22.30, on a night so calm you could see the sandeels' ripples. And so could the tirricks, who came plummeting down like mini-gannets, hitting the water like aerial torpedoes.

St Magnus' Bay was ridiculously still. Sitting in the kayak was like sitting on a rock. And, to quote The Other Bruce (Cockburn) the sun went down, looking like the eye of God.

By the way, these photos were taken on a fairly basic phone, a Samsung Solid. Which I can say without fear of contradiction, is splashproof. Not to say immersion proof.

To the peat hill! To the kayak! Warning - this blog contains shorts and red shoes

On a night like this, one's thoughts in Shetland turn, inevitably (and in our case with considerable guilt) to the peat hill. Three banks cut (not by us - our friend Lornie did the heavy tushker work), half-raised (by us, slowly) and drying out so fast in this weather that nearly everyone else has their peats bagged and home.

It's back-breaking toil, with only a few minutes' winter fuel in every single turf turned. But with the new Haas und Sohn stove, and the price of oil...we're not alone in making a commitment to local carbon fuels this summer. And before you make accusations of profligate carbon abuse, remember this is (in Shetland's case) a local (a mile away) fuel and in almost infinite supply if not extracted commercially.

So to the peat hill. Susan insisted that my shorts-and-red-All-Stars mid-life crisis get-up be recorded. Fashion statements are crucial on the hill. And then she went kayaking...

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Gaslight Anthem, live with Bruce...

This is The Gaslight Anthem's best song, and it has to be said that Bruce adds not very much to it other than his charisma, dodgy backing vocals and a very competent guitar break. Hell, that's enough! In terms of anointing the inheritors, it's surely significant. And thrilling for all concerned. See it here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hot days and nights in Shetland...

Fantastic, almost unprecedented weather in Shetland. Too hot to go out yesterday! Today was the Mavis Grind Foy...where else can you get a seafood platter (skate, smoked mackerel, mussels and fresh salmon) for £4? Mavis Grind is a narrow isthmus where the North Sea meets the Atlantic. From Viking times until the 1950s, it was used as a short cut, with boats being dragged over the land from sea to sea in order to avoid the sometimes ferocious conditions around the northernmost part of North Roe. The pictures include a view over South Whiteness on Shetland's west side, and a shot of the sky taken at 12.45am today from our house.

Yesterday, one of Susan's registrars, a doctor from Barbados, said it was 'too hot' and very like home...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

First book read in 30 years...and a review in The Scotsman

...by Lesley McDowell. I suppose it was inevitable that Serpentine would be coupled with Alan Clements' Rogue Nation (same publisher, both authors working in the Scottish media, although I'm not the zillionaire boss of STV.) Fair points made, I think, though obviously as a writer you don't really want intelligent objectivity, you want TOTAL AND BREATHLESS ENTHUSIASM.
Read the review here:
My favourite extract would have to be:
I never knew Inverness was such a hive of secret government and anti-government activity, where not even retired lesbian agents can enjoy their peaceful Sapphic idyll without being captured or beaten to death by Irish Unionist thugs

Which only goes to show what a sheltered life Ms McDowell has led. It must be said that both Rogue Nation and Serpentine are treated with the same unwillingness to suspend disbelief. Ah well.

Meanwhile, I received an email this week from a woman who'd bought the book for her husband who, she said "had not read a book in 30 years." At the end of the first chapter he apparently said "this is hopeful" and proceeded to finish it in double quick time. Result!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Radio comedy...brilliant beyond belief

Heavily edited by a young Chris Morris, BBC Radio Three's Why Bother? interviews between Morris and Peter Cook (as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling) were the last flowering of Cook's immense talent, teased and prodded by the enfant terrible of modern British comedy. Without Morris (and especially the astonishing Blue Jam) no Little Britain, no Day Today, no Alan Partridge, no Office, no Thick of It, and especially no League of bloody Gentlemen. As for Cook, without him there would no modern mediated comedy as we know it.

All the Why Bother? interviews are on YouTube, but check this out to hear Cook's old, lazily massive intellect turning over wonderfully but balefully as Morris tries to throw various spanners in his mental works. Stunning. "Bloody...bloody...bloody eels!"

"She was born with legs only three inches long, but her parents were determined to have film-star-style daughter..."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What dogs and cats write in their diaries...

Sent to the show yesterday by Colin Bell. Absolutely on the money, I think.

Excerpts from a Dog's Diary......

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk Bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from a Cat's Daily Diary...

Day 983 of my captivity...

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.
They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed
hash or some sort of dry nuggets.

Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I
nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt
to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet.
I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly
demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made
condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was
placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I
could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my
confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this
means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my
tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this
again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches.
The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and
seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with
the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My
captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so
he is safe. For now ..

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

The band Drive By Truckers has always kind of passed me by...occasional exposure to singles in the line of work left me without any kind of desire to find out more, despite the fantastic Muscle Shoals family heritage of the band.

Former Trucker Jason Isbell has a new album out, though, with his touring band The 400 Unit, and as it arrived on my desk in a brief interlude between deluges of dodginess, I gave it a listen. Then I played it in the car. Three times.

Recorded at the legendary Fame studios in Isbell's home town, Muscle Shoals Alabama, it's a real country soul/rock beauty. Somewhere along the line starting with Otis Redding, and passing straight through Frankie Miller, Rod Stewart and the Allmans. Great writing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Midsummer: because you're gorgeous...


It's been sitting untouched for three months, but the Suzuki GS1000G (shaft drive: I fear chains)complete with new, self-fitted exhaust system, burst into lumpy life quite the thing this afternoon. In the 1980s, this would have been a great big huge monster of a muscle bike; now it feels, compared the the Triumph Trophy, like a BSA Bantam, with its square-section tyres and see-through chassis. But you can't beat an 80s parallel Japanese four for noise. Nicer than a v-twin any day of the week.

It's been painstakingly restored, the Suzie, with really wide hooligan bars, so I swept down to Brae for the papers feeling like I was on a wee Harley with proper brakes. Shetland is alive with bikes this weekend, as it's the annual Simmer Dim Rally. Lots of waving. The Fellowship of the Road!

It was time to carry out an audit of the Big Red Bathtub and decide what to do with the Triumph 1200. First job was to clean it, and then remove all the duct tape which had been used on the Journey's Blend trip to secure wobbly light lenses and mirrors. Some deft dodging with a screwdriver and everything was solid again. The main theft damage - broken seat lock and smashed side panel - remains. Dave D suggested leaving the taped-up panel as it is, in order to deter would-be thieves. In fact, it loks OK. The seat's another matter. The catch is pop-rivetted on and impossible to replace. Annoying, as the previous owner had the seat recovered.

Sell it? That was my half-intention when I got the thing, once the 1000-miles around Scotland had been completed. But the Trophy is a truly fantastic looking bike, and beneath its dodgy Alfa Romeo respray and broken bodywork it's a really reliable express train, an old school continental cruiser, serviced, with only 29,000 miles on the clock.

But I have a yen for a Moto Guzzi California...

Nope. I'll think about Guzzis another year, if I'm spared. The Triumph is clean, happy and handsome and I'll hit eBay for some bits to fix it up. The Suzuki is too lovely to part with. And now...back to the shed with you both!
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To the book signing! Or perhaps not...

I'm not sure about local book signings. On the one hand, you get a chance to meet fine folk who like you. Or the idea of you. Or the idea of your book. On the other hand, nobody may turn up. Or even worse, you can have competitive book signings with other authors, at festivals, where you're constantly assessing whether their queue is bigger than your queue...or worrying about the facft they have a queue and you don't...

My two hours at The Shetland Times was pleasant, as various folk I know and don't know bought books and chatted. Interestingly for the theme of Serpentine, it was Armed Foces Day, and a military band was marching outside, providing a suitably brassy soundtrack to Murricane and Flaws' torrid adventures.

But not everyone wants a signed book, and not everyone who wants one wants to actually meet the author. I had a pile of advance requests to sign, and a number of my friends locally had already bought the book and had no desire to see me deface it. They just wanted to read it.

Linda Glanville was in the Peerie shop Cafe, and had bought a copy of Serpentine when it first came out. No signature necessary. She's one of the biggest crime thriller aficianada I've ever met, and to whom I will be forever grateful for, a few years ago, lending me copies of the then-rare Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Beck books. Not only did she enjoy Serpentine, she was even able to read the violent bits she normally avoids in other such tomes. "Except the bit about the seagulls."

Yes, that seagull bit is a tad...extreme. But then, I told her, if she thinks that's bad, she should try The Ossians by Doug Johnstone. It's a seagull slasher novel! Or crusher...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A whole lot more pictures from the Great whisky Blending Trip

All three of the participants (Rob, Ken and me) have been working furiously on the text for a planned book about the trip. Have to say that so far I think it's absolutely hilarious. Working title is Journey's Blend: Towards A New Theory Of Motorcycling, Malt Whisky, Scotland And Everything

There's a Flickr set of photos here, should you wish to investigate further the mysteries of Ken's moustache and other matters.

For the man who doesn't have to try...too hard

Truly wonderful Radio Four documentary today on the legendary, subterranean-voiced Bill Mitchell, the voiceover artist behind Denim aftershave, and (after Orson Welles pulled out) Carlsberg. Also a great picture of bohemian Soho in the 60s. You've got seven days to listen to it here. Probably.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bitter wind and bluster on the air

I've known for several months that a major on-air discussion about the proposed Viking Energy windfarm project in Shetland was likely to take place on the BBC local radio station, Radio Shetland, and that I'd be hosting it. So I've been extremely careful to avoid making any public comment on the issue. Feelings have been running high. As, until a week on Monday, you can hear for yourself.

The anti-windfarm group Sustainable Shetland has mounted a high profile campaign against the project. There have been accusations of bullying tactics by both sides, and some regrettably vituperative comments have been made, orally and in the press. Friends have fallen out, families have been split. So this was going to be no ordinary 'Speakeasy'.

For one thing, it was going to be two hours long, and broadcast in summer, after Radio Shetland's 'late' programmes had stopped for the season.

I was happy to host the programme, though there are issues with the format of Speakeasy which are problematic: No live calls are put through on air; people call in their comments or questions, or email and they are usually anonymous on air, although names are normally given at initial contact. There is, as always, a risk of systematic, pre-planned lobbying, and it's probable this happened on Monday night.

Anyway. By the time we went on air at 6.10pm, we had been deluged with calls and emails, the vast majority opposing the development. SS have delivered an anti-wind farm petition with 3000 signatures, and are extremely well organised. They were represented in the Lerwick studio by Billy Fox and Kevin Learmonth; on the other side of the table were councillors, charitable trustees, and directors of Viking Energy Alan Wishart and Bill Manson. MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott also contributed live via ISDN line and by phone.

The major issues are these:

1: Conflict of interest. The council is the planning authority but has a half-share in the development. Shetland's oil funds, administered by the Charitable Trust, are being ploughed into the project. Bill, Alan and other councillors are accused of being hopelessly compromised in their decision making.

2: The environmental and aesthetic impact of the development: It is huge - 150 turbines, each 145 metres tall. That's right. Metres. Roads will be built, quarries dug, power sub-stations constructed. Vast amounts of peat will be shifted, thus, SS argue, fatally compromising the so-called carbon benefit of the project.

3: The financial issues: How much will it cost and will Shetland as a community benefit, or lose out? The council and Charitable Trust has a bad record of investment in other supposedly profitable projects.

The main problem with the programme, as far as I was concerned, was reflecting the huge number of public contributions, which came in throughout the show. I believe the overall make-up was accurately provided, though it was impossible to read out everything, and most emails were very lengthy. The impact on Shetland's landscape was a recurring theme. Though outweighed by opposition, there were some significant arguments for the project going ahead.

The in-studio confrontations were sometimes fraught. It was clear that while the councillors were used to forthright opposition and were prepared to deal with it, the two SS campaigners did not take kindly to having their positions challenged publicly, either by the councillors (Alan was on particularly sarcastic form)or,in a devil's advocate fashion, by me. Billy Fox grew particularly agitated after I cut short his quoting at length from a document, and I was accused of not allowing him to speak. I then made it clear that all participants should feel free to speak, and that they did not need to be asked by me. But the mood was clouded.

We had one 'vox pop' insert from the streets of Lerwick and four other, balanced sets of interviews from around the isles. By the end, I felt most of the issues had been raised and the faults in arguments on both sides exposed. I don't think the studio guests parted on particularly friendly terms, but hey, that's showbiz.

Since the broadcast, there have been, I think, four complaints to BBC Radio Shetland about the debate, all centring on the way it was conducted by me, all alleging bias against SS. I do not know who these complaints came from. All but one are highly personal and very bitter. Commensurate, I fear, with the tone of many anti-windfarm letters to the local paper.

I remain unwilling to take any public position on the wind farm issue. There are good arguments on both sides. Monday's programme was an attempt to highlight those arguments. And you can judge for yourself (until next Monday) whether they were made, and made well and fairly, here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Viking Energy debate - live tonight on BBC Radio Shetland

Ahem...It’s the biggest issue facing Shetland, and tonight, for two hours, live, the main players for and against Viking Energy are available to you for questions and comment.

A special two hour Speakeasy on BBC Radio Shetland tonight from 10 past six, hosted by me, Tom Morton. Viking Energy – yes or no? Phone your thoughts to 01595 694747 or email radio.shetland@bbc.co.uk

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trembling Bells - resistance is futile!

This track by Glasgow (and environs) band/collective Trembling Bells is on the Uncut free CD this month, which features acts signed to Damon Albarn's boutique label Honest John's Records. It has taken over my life. Lavinia Blackwall has a unique voice, one that combines trained operatic range with effortless folk intonation and occasional rock raunch. 'Goathland' sounds like Sandy Denny channeling the ISB's Robin Williamson (or vice versa.Alex Neilson's songs (he's a drummer who has worked with likes of Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts)can occasionally annoy, but this one just haunts me. The new album is called Carbeth, a place which has always fascinated me. This is what their Myspace site says:

Trembling Bells are Alex Neilson's song-based group who seek to reanimate the psychic landscapes of Great Britain and relocate them to some vague, mythic land where basic human crises are encountered and conquered via a love for canonical rock, traditional folk and Earlie Musik

Other members include Lavinia Blackwall (vocals, keyboard, guitar), Ben Reynolds (guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Simon Shaw (bass, vocals):

Lavinia Blackwall has played previously with Alex in Directing Hand and is a member of the The Pedulums.

Not to everyone's taste, perhaps...seeing as I've just been instructed to turn this down so the women in the household can watch Britain's Next Top Model...anyway...I think they could be a Scottish Arcade Fire if they wanted to. Which I surmise they don't.

Excellent review for Serpentine in The Shetland Times

Many thanks to Shetland Times reporter Laura Friedlander for a lengthy and enthusiastic review which reflects almost exactly my wife's opinion of the book. Can't, alas, find it online so you'll have to trust my ability to extract the most flattering bits!

Headlined "adventure story will be summer's top read in the genre", I suppose (for future publication on the cover of any reprint) I'd add:

Meticulous research proves its worth...the book is excellent in its attention to detail and meticulous research...

I found the very fast pace of the book challenging, but it made me re-read passages to make sure I had not missed out. I would even go so far as to say it is a book perhaps worth reading twice as rather like a painting, more details come out on second examination. It is not the sort of book you can read last thing at night and it certainly won't lull you to sleep through boredom, because the book is a page-turner, no doubt about that. It could give you nightmares.

Hold on tight for a real rollercoaster read...this is real boy's own stuff. If you want to read a really macho adventure story, then this might just be this summer's top read in the genre.

I'll be signing copies of the book (and hopefully people will be buying them)between noon and 2.00pm on Saturday 20th June at The Shetland Times Bookshop in Commercial Street, Lerwick.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Getting it right first time, and heading for home

I'm in the Mcdonalds at Kirriemuir, heading north on the A90 to get the boat home tonight. And it's done! The Journey's Blend blend is complete, expertly put together by Edrington's head of all things blendiferous, John Ramsay, at the Glenturret distillery just outside Crieff. Also the site of the Famous Grouse Experience, hence the giant...bird thing.

It was absolutely brilliant watching John at work - using five whiskies collected on the trip - Highland Park, Kilchoman, Glengarioch, Bladnoch (most northerly, westerly, easterly and southerly, respectively) plus Glenturret itself, which is almost at the dead centre of Scotland. The exact proportions must remain a secret, but John, using his decades of experience, came up with a formula based on an exacting tasting of each whisky. I'll describe the process in more detail later. suffice to say that we did three variant blends, but the first was best. Brilliant, in fact.

Afterwards we repaired to the absolutely superb Barley Bree in Muthill for dinner - best of the trip, and one of the best I've ever had in Scotland). This morning, Rob Draper from Singlemalt TV carried out his final interviews (look out for two programmes on the trip soon) and we parted, Rob and his son Paul so impressed with the Barley Bree they're staying on, Ken and Rob Allanson heading for Cambridgeshire. Next year, America. Apparently.

The book, the magazine article, the TV show and much else to follow. I'm back on the radio tomorrow, all being well.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Pictures from the big bike trip

A few snapshots: The Kilchoman cross on Islay, and the very first cask of Kilchoman whisky - now, at more than three years old, legally Scotch whisky. The bikes, first at 6.15am waiting for the ferry from Port Askaig to Kennacraig, and then including a yellow interloper, Dave's Triumph Sprint, outside Bladnoch Distillery at Wigtown.

Finally, that's an incredibly rare, restored BSA Gold Star racer, used at Daytona in the 1950s, and on display at the Scottish Classic Motorcycle Show, which I was delighted to declare open today.

Islay, Wigtown, McDonalds...

In the Broxden McDonalds outside Perth. First internet for three days. That's 620 miles, and now heading (alone - others had a long lie) for Glen Garioch at Oldmeldrum. Big Red Bathtub behaving very well.

I left the - truly excellent - Bladnoch Inn at 7.00am as I was booked to open the Scottish Classic Motorcycle show in Fenwick. Made it up the lovely New Galloway road in an hour and a half. Then thrashed it north in dry but dull weather because I knew there was free wi-fi at McDs...how sad is that?

The other bikes are doing well, but poor Ken Hamilton on the Enfield is having to put up with serious discomfort and lack of speed. The (2009, unit construction) Enfield looks lovely, though. Rob on the Triumph has all the benefits of classic design and modern tech.

Kilchoman on Islay was very interesting, and Bladnoch fantastic...never had a tasting session like that before. Just the most easterly distillery left now, and the actual blending. Must go. This is a fast food place, after all. Got some great pix and will blog later if there's wi-fi at the b&b.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

On the road - Glencoe in unaccustomed sunshine

It's 100 miles exactly from Glasgow to Fort Bill. I'd done 105 by the time I'd found my b&b, tucked away behind the town. I set out from Glasgow under grey skies, but by the time I hit Tyndrum (my usual pilgrimage to the Green Welly Stop) the sun was out. Fort William is HOT, and Glencoe, which I'm used to seeing in winter, under thundery, emotional clouds or in slashing rain, was baking hot. Loads of camper vans and would-be Jeremy Clarksons in SLK Roadsters.

The old Triumph behaved immaculately, displaying just how 1200cc can overtake...almost anything, anywhere, if you can cope with the fear. Heard from Ron et al, safely at Glenmorangie and heading off for Lochaber. I believe they have a satnav, so they might have better luck finding the b&b...tomorrow, it's a belt down through Oban to Kennacraig, and Islay.

Meanwhile, I'm sipping IPA in the sun...

Serpentine is out now! And I'm off on the Journey's Blend jaunt

My new thriller Serpentine is officially published today...find out more and follow the links to buy a copy at the Serpentine Blog.

And today I head off to meet up with the other guys involved in the Journey's Blend charity whisky motorbike jaunt. Fort William tonight, Islay tomorrow, Bladnoch on Saturday, Glengarioch on Sunday, Crieff Monday. If you're in the vicinity, keep an eye out for a big, battered old Triumph Trophy 1200 (red) which sounds like a diesel truck. Also a brand new Triumph Bonneville and an Enfield 500. Plus TV crew.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Hell's teeth, now we're jailing Canadians for being singer-songwriters!

I can hardly believe this, but it appears the excellent Allison Crowe and her bandmates were jailed and deported for being...Canadian! What's going on? Allison's own story follows:

Allison Crowe and her Canadian bandmates, (guitarist Billie Woods and percussionist Laurent Boucher, reunited with their British-passport-carrying bassist Dave Baird), have now performed two sensational concerts in Germany - in the cities of Aachen and Munich. Following a national holiday weekend the tour carries on now to Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague and Vienna.

In the UK, where the Canadian musicians were barred from entry last month, national debate over new anti-terrorist/illegal immigration laws that target artists and academics visiting from non-EU countries continues to build. Concern is reflected in coverage from the northern tip of the British Isles, via such journals as The Northern Times and The Aberdeen Press & Journal, to the southern region, and such London-based newspapers as The Telegraph and The Observer/Guardian.

In a motion in Parliament that has gained cross-party support, Scottish National Party MSP Rob Gibson condemns the physical treatment of Crowe and her bandmates, and calls on the Home Office to rethink its approach “before it harms cultural links to Scotland and the wider UK”. Gibson's motion “asserts that visitors to Scotland during the Year of Homecoming deserve a civilised and warm welcome.”

The Scotsman reports that “John Thurso, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, added: 'The rule itself is an affront to the great British tradition of welcoming overseas artists and another example of this government's unyielding zeal for mindless regulation.” Thurso told Scotland's national newspaper: "Security is important, but throwing international performers into a lock-up and being rude to them should be no part of it."

On the English front, the issue was among the most discussed in this weekend's Observer/Guardian newspaper, in the wake of Henry Porter's column titled “Britain is not radical enough. That is why we're in trouble”, in which Porter says:

“We fondly think of ourselves as hospitable and open to new influences. But on the evidence of new laws that ban artists, musicians and academics from visiting Britain without certificates of sponsorship, we are not. When a Newfoundland-based singer Allison Crowe and two of her band members, Billie Woods and Laurent Boucher, arrived at Gatwick to tour Britain they were arrested, held in cells, photographed and fingerprinted and had their passports stamped 'Barred from Entry' before being returned to Canada. This shocking and disgraceful treatment - designed to exclude illegal immigrants and terrorists - seems fundamentally unBritish. The English National Opera and Southbank have both had problems bringing in foreign performers because of the stringent requirement for non-EU citizens to provide biometrics and photographs and submit to controls over their day-to-day activity while here.

Is this Britain? If so, the rational half of our brain has been overwhelmed by 'suspicion and parochialism', in the words of the staunchly sensible Manifesto Club, which has started a petition against the laws brought in by immigration minister Phil Woolas.”

The Visiting Artists and Academics Petition ~ found @ http://www.petitiononline.com/MCvisit/petition.html ~ was launched earlier this year by the UK civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club, with the endorsement of: renowned sculptor Antony Gormley; director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne; the artistic director of the Royal National Theatre Nicholas Hytner and dozens more concerned artists and educators.

Allison Crowe and her Canadian bandmates are simply among the most recent visitors to learn about the new rules. Others include Russian pianist, Grigory Sokolov, the world's greatest living classical pianist in the view of many critics, whose concerts have been cancelled after 18 years of him performing in the UK. Canadian journalist Leah McLaren recounts a 30 hour detention and deportation ordeal in her Globe and Mail column of May 16, 2009: 'CRUEL BRITANNIA: God may save the Queen, but what about the rest of us?'

Our approach to music is very much grassroots, community-oriented. We've learned that many people in this segment of the UK's cultural industries were neither consulted nor informed of the "Certificate of Sponsorship" laws. Of those that were, there's a range of opinion.

If there is any silver lining to our experience, it's the hope that we can, in some small measure, contribute to there being greater awareness, even reform, and, at least, some greater measure of reason and good judgement applied in the application of any rules.

Canada, it's clear, is not immune to today's culture of fear and aggression which envelopes “security” issues. Nor is our American neighbour. Allison Crowe and her fellow musicians are not terrorists nor are they illegal immigrants. They love people, and make music for them. From hereon, reports will be, once again, about rock and roll – circling back to the wisdom of George Harrison: “I don't like to be political. I like to be polite.”

The Amateur Ambulanceman

.and all kudos to the GENUINE paramedics, for whom no praise is too great...a wee ditty from Blind Boy Flugga. Based on real events. Allegedly.


There’s a blue light in my brain
There’s a siren in my mind
You may think that I’m strange
Making these noises all the time
Try to understand
I’m an ambulanceman

I have practised my first aid
On my sister’s Sindy dolls
They were in a dreadful state
But I attended to them all
Amputated hands
I’m an ambulanceman

I’m an ambulanceman
I’m concerned about your health
I’ve got an old Transit van
I converted it myself
I won’t leave you for dead
I’m an ambulanceman inside my head

I lurk in laybys listening for emergency calls
And practice artifical respiration
I use my inner arm and sometimes I use my wrist
Though I dislike the taste of perspiration

I have some old syringes
I have boiled them in a pot
And if you get some twinges
I’ll inject you in a shot
With some Canestan
I’m an ambulanceman


Monday, June 01, 2009

A glorious week

Some great weather hallmarked the visit to Shetland of my eldest son Sandy and his wife Elaine (and their husky-labrador cross Cuillin, who has an affection for hens) and later in the week Magnus and Laura. All this and James's 18th birthday too.

Friday saw a lot of messing about on the water, mostly to enjoyable effect. The dinghy Cryptonomicon, however, proved somewhat unequal to the task of carting folk about; I'd forgotten how inherently unstable sailing dinghies are. And when the much-vaunted British Seagull 40-Plus motor failed, it proved impossible to get the boat back onto her mooring, paddling against a strong wind. So it was out of the water, onto the trailer and, I fear, into the classified ads with her. A bigger, more stable boat is needed.

The kayak was a success, however, and is more than capable of holding man AND dog, as you can see. Later that night was the Crofter's Ball, which saw an epic performance of Johnny B Goode by Sandy, Martha, James and myself. If only I could play that intro properly...

I'm off on the boat tonight to pick up the motorbike and begin the Journey's Blend trip on Thursday. I'm somewhat nervous, but looking forward to it.