Friday, May 27, 2011

Every duck has its day: Glasgow without humans.

Mallard on the banks of the Clyde, right at the walkway/cycle path. It's there every day. This morning, a man on a bike stopped and said to me: 'it's beautiful, isn't it?' Set me up for the whole day.

Weird patch of old cobbles on the lost cycle route between Shields Road Underground and Paisley Road West. Not a place to be after dark.

Architectural model town planning. What exactly was the point of this, with lumps of the  Clyde  Walkway mysteriously closed to pedestrians?

Shields Road Underground Station at its spookiest.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Up on the roof, checking the bitumen...

View from atop The Old Bookshop holiday cottage

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shetland Times review of download-only EP from young Shetland trio Kollifirbolli

This is my review of the new download-only EP by top Shetland trio Kollifirbolli. if you like fiddle music. you'll love this. Available on iTunes for just £3.95:

Kollifirbolli: The Loveliest New Version of a Favourite Style.

Croft Records – digital download only. Available on iTunes

Topsy-turvy. Upside down and round the wrong way. In a state of pleasantly chaotic discombobulation. That's roughly what 'Kollifirbolli' means. And one might accuse the three lasses who make up the band of that name to have gotten things a little mixed up:

I mean, first of all this is an EP (stands for 'Extended Play' by the way; used to refer to quaint things called 'singles' which had two sides and were pressed on black plastic; there was this vibrating needle thing that...oh, never mind). Who issues EPs these days? Answer: all the seriously cool folks who understand that introducing yourself by way of a long, long CD or 'album' (took its name from sheet music, but that's another story) is too time-consuming in this digitised age.

Speaking of digital, what's going on? The Loveliest New Version of a Favourite Style (great title, wonderful cover concept; knitting is the new Playstation – no hacking) is only available as a digital download via iTunes, streamed on Myspace, or maybe on Spotify sometime soon. If you don't know what any of these things are, ask someone wearing a hoodie. Not a hi-viz one.

There's a good reason for all this. The whole auditory escapade is a final year project for commercial music student Karlyn Grains, and it's a fascinating experiment which should give some very interesting indicators for the marketing of specialist music in the digital environment. Is there a local market for music you can only listen to on your phone, computer, iPad or iPod? Of course you could burn it to a CD. But that would be illegal; at least after the first 100 or so...

My own feeling is that issuing this on CD would open up the - fairly conservative, small 'c' - local market and that digital downloads have to be linked to attractive real-world 'souvenirs' – limited edition vinyl pressings, hand-painted covers, bits of Fair Isle knitting, you name it. But all of that is assuming the music is worth listening to in the first place.

Ah yes, the music. Kollifirbolli – Astryd Jamieson (piano, concertina) Kaela Jamieson and Mary Rutherford (fiddles) are young stars of the local scene, and have been for some time. They are, individually, brilliant players. Together though, they possess a carefree magic that has both the casual, intuitive swing and fastidious attention to detail that hallmarks the best of Shetland music. Astryd's piano playing is both rhythmically rock solid and melodically inventive, while the two fiddles intertwine, soar and whisper in ways that can move both your feet and your soul.

The occasional bass and guitar of John o' da Burns add weight and colour, but apparent simplicity is the key to production, if not arrangements. The girls dig deep into the tunes to find some novel approaches and unexpected twists. Above all, the sprightliness, insight and energy cannot be contained. The final three tunes – Joe the Jigger, Snookered and Mary Rutherford's own Mavis's Farewell to Gletness are classy and powerful, but it's the harnessing of technique to emotion, the telling of tuneful stories that really impresses.

Ronnie Jamieson's classic air Aald Noost is wonderfully interpreted. Kaela and Astryd's dad must be proud. As must their mum, Debbie Scott, when Ronnie's Da Day Dawn – tackled with an intensity of purpose and focus which fair takes the breath away – segues into Debbie's own Medoc.

And suddenly I'm back in the pre-digital days, recording a blue-haired Debbie in Kenny Johnson's old shop in Harrison Square, hearing Medoc for the first time as we tried again and again to get a decent sound on a cheap Tascam Portastudio, recording what would be part of the Shetland Calling cassette compilation (The New Sound of Young Shetland). 1988. Twenty-three years ago. Cassettes? Oh, they were...terrible things that kept breaking.

Back to today, or tomorrow. Kollifirbolli's The Loveliest New Version...was recorded by Marvin Smith using state of the art digital thingummybobs, and is now available for you to pluck pristine from the ether, digitally, using the internet equivalent of money. I heartily commend it to you, because no matter how you hear it – on an iPhone or a phonograph, great music is great music. And that's what this is.

Shetland Times, 6 May 2011

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Hound of Hillswick takes the air on a pleasant if chilly evening

Other hounds are available. Actually, other hounds are available here in Greater Hillswick, and a proper Wolfhound/Great Dane cross at that, bouncy and inquisitive and not best friends with Lulu, the ageing and irritable (with other dogs) St Bernard in the picture.

I beat a hasty retreat if I see neighbour Pete and the Other Hound, as last time we met, cordial human greetings were accompanied by Lulu silently grabbing the OH's lower jaw in her considerable mooth and just...hanging on amid the howling. I understand this genetically-imprinted trick is common among dogs with a background in, well, attacking military horses. And St Bernards are supposed to be descended from the war-dogs that accompanied Hannibal's elephants over the Alps. The idea was that the dogs would leap at the jaws of an approaching pony, grab it in their own teeth and haul the horse to the ground headfirst. After that the rider was elephant-stomped.

And what is a Wolfhound/Great Dane cross but a small equine? Anyway, no long term harm was done, everyone's still on speaking terms. Apart the OH and Lulu, of course. But then, one of them thinks the other's a horse...