Sunday, December 28, 2014

Leftovers - a post-Christmas poem for Rug and Dexter


Last of the turkey - the 29th of December
Roasted, sandwiched, utterly dismembered
Stock into soup, unknown leftover veg
Boiled and blended. Now I pledge
Henceforth, no fowl will be consumed
No chicken, duck or pheasant will be doomed
To a culinary fate
No bird will grace my plate
Fly, fly away sweet goose and grouse
Go far away from our unfeathered house
Vegetarians we shall become, and stay
At least until the dawn of New Year’s Day
For then we must, unless we die
Partake of butcher’s shop steak pie
Which, while it contains some form of meat
Does not have wings that flap or beat.
As for the dogs, Rug was outdone by Dexter
He stole her turkey skin, which vexed her
And come New Year, he’ll lick the ashets bare
And leave poor Rug to stand and glumly stare
At glistening foil, her slobber all a-dangle
Her jowls a-quiver, her sensitivities mangled
By the presence of this hyperactive beast
This devil dog, this appetite unleashed
Competing with her over every scrap
Disturbing every well-earned 12-hour nap
With pawings, nips and barks and growls galore
Which penetrate the deepest St Bernard snores
Until she’s forced to rise to her full height
And clench her massive jaws with all her might
On Dexter’s tiny head
He would be dead
If she had any teeth - but only gums
Close on his canine cranium
So he’ll survive into another year
He’ll cause no end of trouble too, I fear
In 2015. There is no doubt of that

Especially when he meets our brand-new cat...

Friday, December 12, 2014

New poem: The Generator's Song. Walking the Doggerel book available now

Walking the Doggerel: Unreasonable Rhymes by Tom Morton. Available here:

The Generator’s song

Mr Soichiro Honda, I salute you
Not for your Goldwings and Blackbirds
Your Deauvilles and Dominators
Varaderos and Nighthawks
Much as I have loved them, 
Bought, sold traded in
Fallen off and fallen in love
With Fireblades and Valkyries
Transalps and Africa Twins

It’s numbers, letters for me now
Not CX500s or NS400s
Or where it all started
A CD175, black and silver
Those elipses, those pudgy curves...
An HRX 476 is what I keep
A gentleman’s lawnmower
Reliable, instantly woken
From its season's sleep

But now, at the heart
Of our bleak winter 
Another machine stands silent
Ready to provide salvation
Heat, light and television
Internet and radio
Connected, primed, 
Its tank is full
When crisis hits
It starts with just a single pull

EC2000! In hurricane and gale
You should know, Soichiro-san 
It cannot fail.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Weather Bomb Disposal Team: new poem. And order the collection Walking the Doggerel for Christmas

Walking the Doggerel: Unreasonable Verse by Tom Morton. Available now here

The Weather Bomb Disposal Team

Apparently, this one is black
TV presenters
Are putting on anoraks
Unchained from their workstations
Actually going outside
It’s really quite windy
Down there on the Clyde
Which, it seems, runs from Glasgow
Right down to the sea
(I’d never guessed
That’s how rivers can be)
But anyway, here we are
In Largs, Ardrossan or Ayr
- It’s really quite easy 
To get a crew there -
The waves are quite wavy
And splishing and splashing
But in breathable Goretex 
Everyone looks quite dashing

Look, there’s a café - 
They’re shutting up shop in despair!
They’re out on the terrace, 
They're stacking the chairs!
If things get much worse
Says the owner, looking grim
We might even have to
Start carrying them in
And there’s a couple of greyhounds
Out there on the prom
Doing their business
With great natural aplomb
They’re both squatting calmly
Looking like kangaroos
Their owner’s got plastic bags
He’s going to pick up the poo!
What a great TV moment
What grace under pressure
It’s at times like these
We take humanity’s measure!

Quick! Point that camera and shoot
Make sure the memory card’s loaded
The weather bomb’s here, and thank God

It’s exploded!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stormwatching, Northmavine, Shetland, 10 December

The Dore Holm



The Mari Dawn, hauling creels, Ura Firth. Weather? What weather?


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Ballad of Tunnock & Lees - excerpt from Walking the Doggerel, available now for a fiver!

New collection of song lyrics and poems from The Malt and Barley Revue, The Fairly Good Show, My Bad Gospel and Scar Quilse's Referendum Songbook. A fiver or so in paperback.

The Ballad of Mr Tunnock and Mr Lee

I’ve lost faith in beer and wine
No nicotine for quite some time
Facebook and Twitter - just boring me
All I want is Tunnocks and Lees
When life seems hard, when things get squalid
Just give me sugar and cocoa solids
The products I know will scratch that itch
They come from Uddingston, they come from Coatbridge

Mr Tunnock, Mr Lee
The pleasure you have given me
I gave you my molars and my wealth
But I would sacrifice my health
Mr Tunnock, Mr Lee

You will always be in my dreams
Teacakes, Snowballs, Wafer Creams
Some swear by Cadbury, by Frys or Mars
No Quaker could create the Macaroon Bar

Sometimes sugar just will not suffice
There are other passports to paradise
You must taste and try before you die
The products of Mr Whyte and Mr Mackay

But tastes expand, you crave variety
Then Elgin City is the place to be
116 years of whisky for sale

At Mr Gordon’s and Mr Macphail’s

Thursday, December 04, 2014

New Scottish drink-drive limit: how not to fall foul

Rules for drinking and driving. Just the one. Just the one rule, that is:

 If you’re driving, do not drink anything alcoholic. At all.

Some doctors of my acquaintance used to talk about ‘New Zealand rules’  - which, incidentally, I’ve never been able to track down - guidelines allegedly aimed at rural doctors who faced constant sobriety while socialising due to public transport being unavailable. The deal was that it takes approximately one hour to metabolise one unit of alcohol. So you gauge your drinking over an evening to leave you under the driving limit by the time you get in the car.

This is bullshit. Here are a couple of reasons. 

First, the notion of ‘a unit’ when you’re drinking delicious craft beers of anything between 5 and  10 per cent alcohol, or malt whiskies ranging from 40 to 57.9 per cent. How do you assess the number of units, especially when you’re being served varying quantities? One small (330ml) bottle of Duvel Golden Ale, 8.5 per cent, contains 2.81 units. But the delivery mechanism (fizzy, delicious, and it’s beer, award-winning ‘World’s best’ beer) means three will put you on your back and deliver the worst hangover in the world, too. Believe me, I know. Not for nothing is it called The Devil. Made by Monks, too, Belgian ones. They’re experts in brewing. And in demonology.

Second, people, and drinking conditions, vary. Different body weights, different degrees of liver capacity/damage, different amounts/types of food consumed, even different times of day - all can change the way alcohol works on your system. I haven’t drunk at lunchtime for years - until a rural Shetland occasion a few months ago when I had a single, small glass of wine with a salad, leaving me well within driving limits but almost comatose.

Third, alcohol is not some magic potion that makes you a better driver. Why imagine that it is? Unless you seriously can’t do without it, in which case you have a problem. Nor, for that matter, does it make you a better conversationalist, or even more relaxed and more adept at social interraction. You don’t need a ‘digestif’ to make that meal go down. Lacking one glass of red wine is not going to mean you will have a heart attack. Take a soluble aspirin instead. Yum!

If you work for Network Rail, you're subject to random breath tests at all times. The limit for all employees is not 80 mg, not 50, but 29 mg per 100 millilitres of blood. In Northern Ireland, legislation is pending to bring in a 50 mg limit, like Scotland, but in addition just 20 mg, which basically means nothing, for the recently qualified (up to two years) and professionals such as lorry or taxi drivers. 

I think that lower limit sends a more precise and better message: 

Do not drink and drive. At all.

One more thing. “I think I’ll leave the car.” Fair enough. You have that great sense of relief that you can now get absolutely guttered without worrying about anything but the taxi fare home and remembering where you parked. When you come back to get the car next...when?

Because a full-on binge (and this is Scotland, come on, that’s what we do. We like our moods to be well and truly altered) will not leave you with the ability to count up your units. ‘Proper’, especially wedding, party or seasonal drinking, will leave you over the limit the next day. Definitely. It’s not even a question of when, next day, your blood alcohol dips below the legal limit. It’s when you’re sober, as opposed to thinking you’re sober.

My informal  rule, and take it from One Who Binges, or at least Has Frequently Binged? 

Heavy drinking session, leave a 24 hour gap before driving. Or broadcasting. Or operating a chainsaw.

I mean, this isn’t for a laugh. This isn’t waking up on the couch at noon, gazing out the open door to the car, sitting in the street with the engine running and the driver’s door open, wondering ruefully how on earth you got home.  This isn’t even about health. It’s about not killing yourself and, more important, not killing other people.

So if you’re going to drink, take it seriously. I like that Innes and Gunn advert - ‘make it Innes and None’ . Brave of them. Though not a problem for me, as I’ve always found their beers, far, far too sweet. And strong.

To be honest, I’d much rather have a Duvel...

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Win a pair of badges! Tom's very hard, very unofficial, mostly Scottish Christmas rock'n'roll quiz.

These are Morton Through Midnight badges, but they are UNOFFICIAL, and COMPLETELY UNRELATED to the almost quite good radio programme hosted by yours truly on BBC Radio Scotland (10.00pm-1.00am, Friday through Sunday).

And so is this little quiz. For reasons related to BBC rules and regulations, I'm doing all this myself for a bit of a laugh. Neither the BBC nor Demus Productions, who make Morton Through Midnight, have anything to do with it, OK? 

So. I have 20 pairs of badges (paid for them myself) and will send one pair to each person who successfully attains 50 per cent or more. That's 26 points AT LEAST! Please use the comments facility on the blog to provide your answers, or message me through Facebook if that's easier . Please do NOT email the show or use the Morton Through Midnight FB page!

I've tried to make these questions difficult to answer via Google, but indefatigable internet searching will probably reap dividends eventually. Alas.

Answers and winners (plus their scores!) will be posted here, once all the badges have gone. Or when we all get bored. If anyone enters...


(1) He's a Scottish guitarist who has played with Clapton, Van Morrison, Robert Palmer,  Alannah Myles, Sting, Paul McCartney, Neneh Cherry & Bonnie Tyler. Name him, his first band and the lead singer. (3 points)

(2) July 18 1970. Who headlined which festival, where? (3 points)

(3) Born in Dornoch, July 1949. Who? (1 point)

(4) Give the three previous names of a famous Glasgow city centre  nightclub and venue, now part of an arts centre. (3 points)

(5) Which Scottish band is thought to have inspired the entire genre of symphonic keyboard-led prog rock during one London residency? Name the keyboard player? (2 points)

(6) Skye-based salmon processing company. Name it and its (former) rock'n'roll connection (2 points)

(7) John Lennon crashed his car while holidaying in the Highlands in 1969, injuring himself and his passengers. Name ALL the passengers, the hospital they were taken to and the make of car he was driving (5 points)

(8) "Old Clothes do not make a tortured artist" - sleevenote on which album? (1 Point)

(9) In April 1969, The Who performed the live version of their rock opera Tommy for the first time (possibly in Europe, certainly in Scotland) where? Please be specific about the geographical location and the name of the venue (2 points)

(10) He once lived in Moscow. (1 point)

(11) What is Eric Clapton's main hobby? He has what named after him, and what is it called? (3 points)

(12) Hard rock band from Strathaven The Almighty used to be called what? (1 point)

(13) Sydney Devine recorded most of his early albums in a multi-purpose hotel/recording studio in Lanarkshire. Name the village (1 point)

(14) Headlined the Shetland Folk Festival in April 1988. Who was he? Who duetted with him at the Garrison Theatre show? Who was one of the (very hungover) support acts? (3 points)

(15) Jackson Browne, Glasgow Apollo December 1976. Who was the support act? Who played guitar with both Browne and the support? What specific, highly technical act did Browne carry out during the gig? (3 points)

(16) During his cameo in The Sopranos, what did David Lee Roth say he could once write off against tax? (1 point)

(17) He co-wrote one of Iggy Pop's most famous songs and played with Bowie. Who is he, and which Edinburgh prog rock band did he emerge from? (2 points)

(18) In 1983, Brian May of Queen produced an album for which Scottish band? What was the album title? (2 points)

(19) Which instrument does which legendary guitarist play on Cliff Richard's Time Drags By? (2 points)

(20) Name the venue and the town described by Melody Maker in 1972 as "The last bastion of Teddy Boy violence".  In a review of which band? Stiff package tour played there too in 1978. Full lineup and name of backing band, please! Also - how did they travel? (10 points, one for each correct answer).



Good luck...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Burger van (no burger). Great Co-op Deals on wine and whisky

I've taken to making raids on Lerwick (the big toon, 11,000 people, 40 miles away, has a Tesco) accompanied by Dexter the Devil Dog, which isn't really a problem. It hones your reaction times and driving skills. Veering in front of (and then away from) massive pipeline lorries at 80 mph with a Staffordshire/Collie cross dancing on your lap keeps you sharp.

There is a small but committed I-would-rather-die-than-shop-at-Tesco section of the Shetland populace. I am not among them. There is nowhere else you  can get Beurre D'Issigny, for a start. The other supermarket, the Co-op, has better meat, wine and cheese and so any trip to the toon is a two-checkout affair. The Lerwick Co-op (they have smaller shops in Brae and also in the South Mainland) used to have a not great but incredibly cheap café, but they have closed that and, foolishly (many Co-op management and strategic decisions are foolish, as you may have noticed in the media) replaced it with a clothes chop called Peacocks. I have never seen anyone buy anything there. Ever.

Just quickly, let me say that last week I bought a bottle of Aberlour 10-year-old Speyside single malt for £20 in the Co-op,  the best of all the cheap over production malts that pop up in supermarkets (Glen Moray, which is awful, Pulteney, which can be good but not in the expressions you find at those prices, and Jura, which is almost characterless). The Aberlour 10-year-old is a fine, heavily sherried malt, with all sorts of stewed tea and Christmas cake action going on. Sometimes you'll find the occasional bottle of cask strength Aberlour A'Bunadh knocking about around £40. if so, buy one. It's the same as the cheapo 10 only much more so. Add water or your teeth will dissolve.

Also, they have the excellent 2011 Chateau Vieux Manoir Claret in stock. The price is around £7 and it's worth double that. I was advised to try it by an independent wine dealer who reckoned it was the best value supermarket wine in the country.

But it's to Tesco for bulk shopping, dog food (Harringtons) and because, with the dog in attendance, I can get lunch in the car park from the JK Mainland burger van. No burger for me, just the (carefully and freshly made) bacon, cheese and mushroom baguette. With chips. Delicious!

Shared with Dex the Dug of course. Stops him trying to clamber into my lap while I'm driving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

William Gibson's The Peripheral and the debt to Iain M Banks. And a detour via Jeremy Duns and Chris Morgan Jones

I absolutely loved William Gibson’s so-called ‘Blue Ant’ trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History) and have had his latest novel, The Peripheral, on Kindle pre-order for weeks. I came to it fresh from a long thrillerbinge on first Chris Morgan Jones’s Ben Webster books (Agent of Deceit and The Jackal’s Share) and then Jeremy Duns’ Paul Dark trilogy.

Chris Morgan Jones’s writing is terrific - and his take on the spy/private eye novel is strikingly new: Drawing on his own background, his hero is essentially someone who carries out due diligence checks on companies and individuals, on behalf of other companies and individuals. Russia and Iran provide the nastiness in the two (so far) Webster books, which are revelatory on the often violent and sordid world of international business. Extremely cool, with a sense of the threat, bullying  and viciousness lying behind those glossy corporate adverts you see on telly.

Jeremy Duns couldn’t be more different, and yet the Paul Dark books (Free Agent, Song of Treason, The Moscow Option) are also a breath of fresh air. Based on rigorous research and actual events ranging from World War Two to 1969, they’re crazed, tongue-in-cheek first person romps full of cars, bad sex, daft twists, ultraviolence and Bulldog Drummond-like feats of athleticism. James Bond in other words, the difference being that Dark is a Russian agent embedded in the British Secret Service. 

Initially a wee bit alienating and difficult to take with the seriousness Fleming, even at his most arch, demands, you find yourself swept along and always keen for the appendix in each book revealing the detailed historical facts that fuelled the fiction. Though by the middle of the Moscow Option, I’d kind of had enough. You could see those Åland Islands approaching 700 miles off...

Between Song of Treason and  The Moscow Option The Peripheral popped up on the Kindle, and I threw myself into it with enthusiasm. And found myself struggling in a future rural dirt-poor America portrayed in Gibson’s trademark style: You have to work at his worlds, the unfamiliar tech, the unnamed wars and disasters and political machinations that have brought these characters to their grisly pass. And then we’re 70 years in the future, and there’s some sort of gaming  connection. Suddenly it’s a time travel and drone/android/human identity book. And a love story.

The Blue Ant trilogy worked so beautifully because the strange tech was only half unfamiliar, and most of it on the verge of hitting the edges of the midstream. And the use of Gibson’s own favourite objects, ones actually available ( Buzz Rickson jackets, VW Phaetons, 3D projections, remote airships) or from history (coding machines, watches, heavy denim) left you tingling with an almost physical desire to possess some of them. (There’s even a special William Gibson edition Buzz Rickson flying jacket if you’ve got a spare £500. Nylon, of course).

The problem with The Peripheral is that the tech, indeed the central concept of ‘The Peripheral’ (an advanced humanoid inhabited at a distance by a ‘real person’) is very familiar, but from other books. Notably Iain M Banks, to whose work The Peripheral owes a very considerable  debt. Almost all Banks’s Culture novels feature the human soul/drone habitation issue, usually tackled with great wit,  and sarky Scottish charm. The odd (and I think successful) Banks combination of SF and ‘literature’ (no ‘M’ in the authorial byline) Transition is even nearer in tone and has ‘time’ travel involved too.

And I have to say that Banks, even over the course of some very long books indeed, is generally very consistent  when it comes to his internal SF logic, avoiding paradox and making the science appear plausible. Something Gibson loses his grip on in The Peripheral. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but the central notion of ‘the stub’ - a kind of fork in the road, leading to a dead end in time and history - is completely undermined by the motivations of  one of the central ‘future’ characters. And that swarm tech is just a bit too convenient at times.

There’s lots to enjoy, some great fight scenes, a strong (typical Gibson) central female and an interesting satire on poverty-into-wealth via technology. But the ending is eye-poppingly daft and afterwards, I was left wondering why one of all those editors, writers and readers credited in the appendix with helping didn’t just say: Hey, Wullie! Scrap it. This stuff’s been done before, and better.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ebb tidal text sculptures...three gone, three left!

Night swimmers: 'Far from harm, locked in each others' arms. Night swimmers in a dream of the sea'
This all happened as a result of kayaking  and beachcombing over the summer in Shetland's St Magnus Bay.

Our house sits on the shoreline, and pottering around in boats and canoes is a big part of our summer life, as well as walking our dodgy dogs along the beach. Scranning (local word) for anything the sea may deliver is an isles pastime I've loved since coming here, and of course with the kayak you can scran on otherwise inaccessible beaches.

I began retrieving interesting pieces of wood (some very large lumps, too, which are being dried for future use) and then sea glass, marine plastics and other detritus. You tend to find smoothed and polished bits of broken bottle and ceramic in pockets, near where it was originally dumped, and Hillswick, our village, is particularly good for that, as the oldest pub in Shetland used to be sited there (the building, The Booth, still is). Presumably a lot of old bottles used to be disposed of in an environmentally unfriendly fashion!
Watering: 'The shattered desert tree is not dead. It waits only for its moment'

Anyway I started messing about with bits of sea-delivered stuff, along with little slivers of text, all sea and island related. I like the idea of combining poetry, haiku, opaque sentences, in something visual, and for that matter physical. Something with a specific, intended meaning. I used pastel and acrylic paint, ink and watercolour to modify some of the found objects. And it's nice to do something that isn't just battering on a word processor, or talking into a camera or microphone. Call it a hobby!

We have thousands of old Ballachulish and Welsh slates in the garden left over from restoring the house, and I came up with the notion of creating wall hangings, using thick copper wire as both a method of mounting the plaques, and as something kind of warm and physically attractive in its own right. I made half a dozen or so pieces, carefully cleaning sterilising all the wood and organic material (microwave), and sealing the finished items with aerosol watercolour fixative. All the pieces were signed 'Ebb', dated and a single square from a 1948 Ordnance Survey Map of Shetland incorporated in each.

Months passed. I lost confidence and interest. Too busy, for one thing. And then this past weekend we had a 'Bake It For The Beatson' do and the local village hall, and, encouraged by our friend Gill, I took some of the Ebb 'tidal text sculptures' along. Hey presto, (some) people liked them (particularly children, who I think fancied having a go at making them), and three now have new homes. Money actually changed hands!
Seachange: 'The sea changes all, but in the end will itself remain unaltered'

They're just a wee bit of a spare time activity, some are better than others, and you may think they're just the usual ham-fisted amateur dabbling by people who hang about seashores. But anyway, here are the ones that have gone. There's three more for sale over on Etsy, with all profits going to the Beatson Cancer Charity, the clinic in Glasgow to which we owe so much.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nerina Pallot, Bob Lefsetz, 'the Troubadour' and whether musicians actually deserve to get paid at all

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side...

Hunter S Thompson

Nerina Pallot is a talented, fascinating and highly articulate musician, and during an interview and session she did for my radio show, she revealed that she's a big fan of the streaming service Spotify, as am I.

This is very unusual for a so-called 'professional' musician, most of whom complain bitterly about how little cash they make from the service. The American  commentator Bob Lefsetz is, however, blunt: Streaming is the future, the ownership model of music is over, CDs are almost dead, vinyl is a nostalgic souvenir, and it's the selfish big-business interests clinging on within the record industry who are stopping the Netflix model of TV and movies taking over music. If you're a musician complaining, it's because you're not good enough. End of. Face the future and get on with it.

I wouldn't go that far. Nerina talked about the concept of the 'troubadour', the 12th and 13th Century travelling musicians who had no regular income and were dependent on the generosity of common people for food and hospitality, or on rich patrons for protection and sustenance. Many, however, chose to remain independent as the very concept of 'troubadour' was about being able to criticise the status quo and the powers that be. She points out that making money from recorded music is an idea barely 60 years old, that playing live and sharing your songs is a mission, a vocation; that if you're serious you would do it whether you got paid or not. And again, if you're good, people will pay to see you or buy a souvenir or two. A T shirt. A badge. A signature on a sleeve. A meal and a bed for the night. And if you have to do that only at weekends, because you've a job and a family - well. Lucky you.

Nerina has various strings to her bow. She plays live, she has had a few major record deals (all rejected by her on grounds of interference with her own vision) but a serious publishing deal has I think sustained her, with songs being recorded and performed by all kinds of people, including X Factor competitors (Diana Vickers, Joe McEldery) and major artists like Kylie Minogue. She's also married to top producer and songwriter Andy Chatterly, which can't be harmful. And she pushes at the envelope, this year (2014) recording and releasing in downloadable and 'solid' media an 'EP' every month (funny how we still use those outdated vinyl-era terms). She has tackled the year like a troubadour, she has a smallish fan base that supports her, those pop royalities come in, and yeah, she gets some cassh from Spotify and YouTube as well. She's her own little industry. But she is under no illusion that music owes her a living. Maybe you need a day job to allow you to keep playing and writing, she says.

Fact is, Spotify or YouTube - streaming - is now how most major consumers of music first listen to tunes. Either for free or on subscription. They may download albums if they're serious fans of a particular artists, or even buy specially packaged vinyl or a CD as a keepsake. But nearly all of us are listening digitally now, on phones or computers or on our Internet connected TVs. And it's a fact that much less money is being made by artists, because there is less money to be made.

The 70s, with their vast advances, ludicrous self indulgence, swimming pool Bentleys and rock star mansions, are gone. Yes, you can still be successful, yes, major pop stars can emerge and become millionaires, but the deals nowadays are '360', taking in everything from merchandise and sync to live gigs and online advertising. The idea of an industry which sustains everyone from small-scale niche artists to major pop stars is over. I've lost count of the number of 'professional' musicians whose 'full time status' is actually that of house husband/wife, with the family bills being met by a partner possessing a 'proper' job.

Bottom line, and this is where all those college courses on 'commercial music' need to be much more hard-edged and economically realistic, is that the vast majority of musicians in future, ones who in the past may have been  lower division full-timers, will be hobbyists or semi-pro. College courses, like instrument shops, feed fantasies and some of those dreamers need to be shaken awake.

Talent is not enough to put food on the table and pay a mortgage; even a small and devoted following may not be adequate. Maybe you'll have to teach, drive a taxi, clean,  keep house, be a postman or woman, a waiter or waitress, a cook, bottle washer or for that matter shop owner, or business executive. You could enter the X Factor and go from a decent, normal talented person with a dream to some hard-nosed, caked-on-make-up cartoon, putty in the hands of truly horrible svengali-figures or brutal businesses, kicked aside when your moment is up. Because in the end, showbiz sucks.

Not everyone can be a Nerina Pallot. Not everyone is that talented, that secure financially, that fiercely self assured and intellectually committed (she gave up music at one point to do an English degree). But in the degree of control she exercises over her own work, her acceptance of economic and artistic realities, she may be a useful example to younger artists.

If you love music, you'll write and play and keep on writing and playing, no matter what.  You'll stay true to your vision, compromise occasionally, make mistakes and fail. Sometimes you'll succeed, but maybe not for long. But you'll keep going. Because it's more than what you do, or what you fantasise about. It's who you really are.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Ayr of nostalgia: guitars, coffee, scones and the glamour of the big toon

 This is the full (expanded) version of my piece on Ayr, first published in The Scottish Review.

Ayr was the glamorous Big Town for me growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s.
I was reared in Troon, just along the coast, with its green-domed Deathstar of a school, its harbour, shipbreaking yard, Ballast Bank, beaches and strange, aerial-heavy wee ship lurking off the coast, apparently housing something called Radio Scotland (“so beat the ban/and join the clan/on Station 242”). Troon was equipped with an electrical shop which sold records (Fairbairns), and later the wild and crazy hippy hotbed called Speed Records - logo: a mushroom. There was McGuigan’s for books, a Menzies, the shell of the closed George Cinema and an unheated seawater swimming pool.
Getting out of Troon was of paramount importance.
So we would cycle to Prestwick Airport and beyond, or sometimes be driven in my mum’s Morris Minor to the sprawl of Ayr, which had a really massive Odeon picture house, site of my first exposure to the cinematic arts in the form of Gerry Anderson’s ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’. There was the Record and Card Centre, a viciously unfriendly musical instrument shop in Sandgate called Thomson’s, and the forbidden neon threat of Bobby Jones’s dancehall, its massive sign promising hell and damnation to wee gospel hall boys like me.
Ayr was the scene of so many crucial, growing-up moments: The first kiss (post- debate dance, Mainholm Academy). First guitar (bought at long-lost Cuthbertson’s). Not being allowed to attend Rory Gallagher’s Caledonian Hotel gig. Hearing that Jimi Hendrix had died. Buying Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’. My first performing gig (Victoria Hall, now Riverside Evangelical Church). First long-distance cycle (to the Heads of Ayr).
What, and where, did we eat? My mum liked The Coffee Club, which had a branch in Kilmarnock, but my favourite for family outings, anywhere, Ayr, Kilmarnock or the vast smoke-blackened megacity of Glasgow, was a Stakis steakhouse.
Two courses or three. Prawn cocktail. Mixed grill. Black Forest gateau. Coffee with cream that you poured carefully over a teaspoon so it floated.
This week, we’re back for a family wedding, and we’ve rented a flat on the seafront, where I can contentedly sit with a pair of binoculars and my laptop, watching ships and identifying them on AIS. I’ve been helping my dad clear out his loft and garage, which has meant two visits to the Heathfield Recycling Centre, where presumably the world’s supply of Soylent Green is made from the county’s rubbish. And I’ve wandered around Ayr like a hungry phantom.
Ayr Town Centre. Legendarily photographed by a press snapper on the occasion of the famous racing driver’s tragic death, when a picture editor shouted ‘get me a shot of Ayrton Senna’. It’s in a bit of state, with mouldering malls leading off the High Street, and one airy, pristine one near the station full of the usual suspects - Debenhams, H&M, Primark. Marks and Spencer is still down by the Auld Brig, but rumour is they want to move out of town - to Heathfield, in fact, where there’s a retail park, a Comet and a B&Q, full of shiny, pre-recycling electrical equipment.
That would devastate the already ravaged ancient end of High Street, which is awash with charity shops, barbers, pound emporia and the other short-term renters of long-empty property. Attempts are being made to renew and refurbish the area, which is home to some of Ayr’s oldest and loveliest buildings. Lurking in an alley near the Anchor Bar is the lovely, 16th Century and fully-restored Loudon Hall, and further down towards the river mouth you can find the dangerously teetering remains of Cromwell’s Citadel wall. What’s left of it encircles the upmarket Fort area of the town, where gracious sandstone terraces and large villas gaze not out to sea (too plebeian), but onto serene parkland. There you will find the remains of St John’s Tower, where in 1315, just after Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce arrived to check out the charity shops. Other visitors included John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots. Doubtless they were well fed and watered.
Finding somewhere to eat and drink in today’s Ayr is not a problem. There are dozens of pubs and coffee shops, of varying style and quality. Alas, bad cappuccino has become the curse of Scottish communities, often accompanied by something even more distressing, the microwaved stale scone. Over- sensitive to the risks, in unfamiliar establishments I now question thoroughly before consumption: do you grind your own beans? Who roasts them? Do your lattes come with two shots or a measly one? And crucially: when were your scones baked? This almost caused my ejection from the excellent Pandora’s in Sandgate. Eyes glinting, the uniformed waitress informed me that ALL scones were fresh THAT MORNING, and I could have a choice of treacle, cheese, plain or fruit, with butter or jam. In the panelled back room, I settled down with the Herald of Glasgow, Scotland to read about unilateral declarations of independence. Crumbs.
Later, I head for the station and on the way pop into Big Sparra Records, which combines second-hand rock and folk rarities (Amon Duul II, £70? Anne Briggs’ first LP, so sought-after it’s unpriced?) with, of all things, a Post Office branch. Vinyl delivery. Nearby is a music shop, successor to Cuthbertson’s and Thomson’s, called Ayr Guitar. I pass the Gaiety Theatre, which I performed in earlier in the year with a real guitar and is a jewel in the old town’s somewhat tarnished crown.
Train to Glasgow, a business meeting, and then back, for a late-night perambulation through virtually empty streets to the flat. I pass the thatched kitsch of the Tam O’ Shanter Inn, from which the strains of a band wrestling heavily with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ emanate. I wonder what Robert would have made of it?
At the flat, I can see Arran twinkling in the distance, and, if I look right, Troon. Time for a snack. I have one carry-out treacle scone left, slightly stale. I stick it in the microwave. Tomorrow, it’s back to the recycling centre. There are plenty of memories still to dispose of.


Subsequent to my various caffeine-fuelled manoeuvres between the Ayr and the Doon, I have discovered the delights of Su Casa, a bean-roasting and flat-white serving establishment in the Lorne Arcade. The rosewater, rhubarb and cardamom cake sounds appalling, but is magnificent.
And Su Casa is expanding, deep into the oldest part of Ayr's centre. The Artisan Lounge opened recently in an Old Bridge Road basement. A 'bistro-deli' may sound worrying, and there is a risk of acoustic crooning. But as tiny sign that bohemia may be blooming among the Semi-Chems and moneylenders, it's heartening.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Referendum Songbook, final post. Wednesday: Classic Car (The Always Look Underneath Song)

This is the final song (number 17) in the Referendum Songbook which you can find in full if you're a glutton for punishment at

It's by Scar Quilse, that renegade relation of mine, and will be his last posting. It finds him in reflective mood, I suppose. 

This is my own final post of the referendum campaign. I think I've said all I need to say. I don't believe many, at this stage, are still undecided, but to sum up my thoughts: 

I'm Scottish, British, European, and a proud resident of and enthusiast for Shetland. I believe in democracy for the whole of the UK, in justice for everyone from Unst to the Scilly Isles. I'm in favour of local empowerment in a Federal UK, and I'll be voting for a Labour Government at the next election, which is the country's main hope of that being delivered. I believe the Yes campaign has been based, noisily and committedly, on romance, deception and delusion. I believe Scottish nationalism has no moral content, and has hijacked its social justice agenda in a naked attempt at achieving power. I detest the way this campaign has divided the population of Scotland, and how the Yes campaign has descended into mobbing, flailing and aggression. 

I believe that independence would be a disaster for Scotland's NHS, for its economy, for its relationships with the rest of the world, for its soul.

I'm travelling for most of the 17th and 18th, so I won't be responding to comments on this blog. I have already voted 'no' by post. I urge you, if haven't already, to vote 'no'. For the sake of Scotland and the UK

Finally, to those of you who have threatened, insulted, demanded an end to my broadcasting career, promised that I would be deported or silenced in a 'new Scotland', abused my family and worse....what can I say?

 I'll buy you a pint sometime.

Classic Car (The Always Look Underneath Song)

Always wanted an S type Jaguar
It’s wasn’t the old man’s favourite car
That was a Cortina 1600E to tell the truth
Olympic Gold, with Rostyle wheels and a black vinyl roof
But we travelled in old VX490s, Vivas
Drove to the Gospel Hall, we true believers
Where the preachers said the devil was a trickster
Who seduced us with Vauxhalls, with Crestas and Victors

A classic car
memory and pride
More than just a ride
A classic car
It’s the life you never had
Better than  your dad’s
A classic car

I bought a Wolseley, expecting it to smell
Like  I was 10, in a taxi to a Largs  hotel
But it reeked of damp and mildew, of fibreglass and rust
On the A80 in Moodiesburn, it finally bit the dust
You can’t go back, you can’t return
To when it didn’t matter how much fuel you burned
When smoking was good for your health
And you could let the babies sleep upon the parcel shelf

You can’t go back, maybe remembering is sweet
But history is what we learn so we don’t have to repeat
Build a useless border, sing some songs and raise a flag
Then from some wide-boy dealer, you buy a bodged-up deathtrap Jag
It looked great in the showroom, it filled your heart with pride
All your limousine ambitions that could not be denied
The deal is done, the trouble starts, you’re in a world of pain
And you realise that you can’t go back, you can’t go back home again

Copyright Scar Quilse 2014. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Referendum Songbook, final week. Tuesday: Scottish Forever (The Disagreement Song)

I’m a Tunnocks Teacake, you’re salt and sauce
You like cowping your caber, I couldn’t give a toss
I’m in favour of the great salt and vinegar snog
You prefer to cuddle up with a Caramel Log

We share a love of the great Vindaloo
And a nan bread each, never one between two
I’m Lagavulin or Ardbeg, you’re Glenlivet or Grants
I wear breeks, you like a kilt with stout underpants

And we’ll be Scottish forever
Agreeing never
No matter where we go
Yes or No

I’ll have Loch Lomond, you can have Loch Ness
We’ll share the monster and the wallabies, that’s probably best
Tennents or McEwens, Belhaven or Deuchars
I’ll have porridge with salt, you can have yours with sugar

I’ll just say this, we disagree
It’s Yes for you and No for me
But that’s all right, I have no doubt
I’ll be fine once the stitches get taken out

I’m for pan fried scallops, you’re into Scampi Fries
I prefer the real thing, you prefer the lies
I’m not saying I’m right, I’m not saying you’re wrong

Actually, I am. I’ve been right all along

Words and music copyright Scar Quilse 2014. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Referendum Songbook, final week - a song a day. Monday: Snake Handlers in Kirkintilloch (The Act of Faith Song)

Inspired by this video of a poor deluded soul in the USA whose act of faith led to death at the hands of a rattlesnake.

My daughter's gone to live in Milton Keynes
She says she knows what independence will mean
My son's in Wick, he says the country's a mess
But if it makes things worse he'll still vote yes

I've been feeling depressed for the last two years
It's like the 18th century is still happening here
Fighting over the fate of this wee nation
Like trans versus consubstantiation

Now there's a new church down the street from me
They say they worship a God who wants Scotland free
And to prove that God doesn't make mistakes
They like to sing happy songs and play with poisonous snakes

Snake handlers in Kirkintilloch
They believe in God and border controls
Snake handlers in Kirkintilloch
Where a bite from a Copperhead can save your soul

I saw a Black Mamba and a coastal Taipan
The preacher had one of each in either hand
He shouted I believe in everything Nicola said
Then the Mamba bit him and he dropped down dead

I bought a house on the River Tweed
It's got everything I could possibly need
The border runs right across the living room floor
My own United Kingdom when I shut the door

And if they insist on a wall and some razor wire
Between the television and the electric fire
I'll tell them exactly where they can go
I had my own referendum and I voted no

But now there are Snake handlers in Selkirk
They believe in God and border controls
Snake handlers in Selkirk
They say a bite from a Copperhead will save your soul

But they'll secretly admit they're going to vote No

Copyright Scar Quilse, words and music, 2014. All rights reserved

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Dundee Vegetarian (for Mike Ritchie)

I quite like fish, maybe you’re surprised
As long as I don’t have to look them in the eye
The thought of dead cow makes me hae a fit
Unless they’re ground up into tiny wee bits

Don’t think if I see a tree I hug it
I’m very partial to a chicken nugget
But no if it’s got feathers and a squawking beak
The very idea makes my knees go weak

I don’t eat red meat
But mince and tatties just cannae be beat
I’m no a contrarian
Just A Dundee vegetarian

I make exception for pies or pehs
I could eat an ingin in every single day
But what’s inside can be a mystery
As long as it comes with brown gravy

You say I’m a hypocrite, I don’t care 
I’m from Dundee things are different there
I like the animals in the Camperdown zoo
But I don't like the taste of a Whitfield Coo

I don’t eat red meat
But mince and tatties just cannae be beat
I’m no a contrarian
Just A Dundee vegetarian

Copyright Tom Morton 2014. All rights reserved

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Referendum Songbook #14. Stay together (The Treachery Song)

Don't call me  a traitor
Because I love both north and south
You should do some thinking, son
Before you open your mouth

 I believe in democracy
That doesn't stop where you draw a line
In justice on the Forth, the Clyde
The Mersey, and the Tyne If we stay together
We can keep each other strong
So let's stand together
That's where we belong

 I never liked to gamble
Because I've seen what it can do
I believe in right and wrong
And I think that you do too

 In the times we're living in today
You can't hide behind a wall
A flag will never be enough
This world is much too small

Words and music copyright Scar Quilse 2014. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Fundamentalism, doubt and compromise. Voting 'No' and afterwards

This is an edited version of my editorial in this month's Shetland Life magazine, which was published on Friday

I’m a doubting fundamentalist at heart, a binary kind of person. For me, and for preference, there’s right and wrong, black and white, no shades of grey and no compromise. 

Except, of course, when you wonder if you might, just might, be mistaken. 

It’s the way I was brought up and as they say, while you can take the boy out of the gospel hall, you can’t take the gospel hall out of the man. Even, or especially, when they’re members of the Humanist Society of Scotland. Commitment and doubt: the twin engines of progress.

You may have noticed. My editorials in Shetland Life and Spaekalation columns in The Shetland Times have not been noted for their calm objectivity and forgiving even-handedness. Enemies have been made. Former friends erect conversational shutters. Councillors ignore me in coffee queues. Minds, notably my own, have changed. But I should say that for someone who was handing out hellfire and damnation tracts aged seven, and canvassing for God on doorsteps at 11, disagreement, confrontation and even verbal abuse are not unfamiliar. 

This is what I do. This is who I am.

 When it comes to Scottish independence, I’ve made no secret of my allegiance to the ‘No’ cause. And I’ve never doubted that I was right. I believe in democracy, not in artificial borders. I believe that nationalism is, if not always a moral evil, only of any ethical value if a people are being repressed or exploited. The more extreme Yessists may argue exactly that about Scots, but they are, like all nationalists, simply fuelling what is the romantic, emotional,  core of their faith. And it is a faith. A faith that Scotland and Scots are different and better. Than the evil English.

All kinds of pseudo-factual arguments have been hauled in to try and buttress what often seems like kneejerk nationalist bigotry. The soothing myth of ‘Civic Nationalism’. The daft notion that once you’re in Carlisle, people are suddenly nastier and more essentially Tory. There are the economic falsehoods about how Scotland would demand a currency union, that oil will last, cheaply, forever without causing any environmental damage, that you can attract multinationals to Scotland with a low-tax regime and not only will they play nice, but we won’t end up like terribly diminished Ireland.  Believe in me, says the sneering, bullying Alex Salmond. Because I am right. Welcome to a micro-world run by that new fiscal and legal partnership, Salmond, Murdoch and Soutar.

Except Salmond isn’t right. Except a separate Scotland is not going to benefit the poor and the vulnerable, could destroy pensions and our health and social services, and all for the sake of that Braveheartian emotional tug. I don’t want that. I will vote ’No’. I have fought against separatism in every decent, legal, honest, verbal, musical and humorous way I can. I believe that 18 September will see a vote against cheap secessionist theology and for all that is good in the United Kingdom. 


But, what if? What if by some mischance there is a tiny majority for ‘Yes’? Will I argue for a re-run ? Will I shout ‘foul’? Will I gather up my goods, chattels , dogs, bikes and guitars and move to, say, Keswick (officially, nicest place in Britain to live, and just over the barbed wire)? Well, no. I will, in effect, compromise.

This is my home. Shetland, especially Northmavine is my home. Scotland is my home. So I will stay and battle for the values that I hold dear within the communities that I hold dear.  I won’t demand a reunion with Norway. I won’t campaign for  ‘Forvikisation’  of Shetland. I will abide by the vote and get on with things, holding to the fundamentals of what I believe: social justice, removing the causes of poverty, standing up for the rights of the exploited. The glory of bicycles, motorbikes, renewable energy and loud guitars. Vinyl records and free digital downloads. Kayaks and clean seas. Tattie soup and reestit mutton.  And a free, self-governing, people’s republic of Northmavine.

Well, maybe just the tattie soup, then. You can’t be a fundamentalist about everything. Except bannocks. There’s only one correct way to make a bannock.

Fortunately, the Yessists will not, I believe, win the day. But any ‘No’ victory will leave a large number of disappointed, perhaps infuriated ‘Yes’ voters. What will they do? Are they, those fundamentalist believers, prepared to compromise, accept the result, put their misguided vision of the future behind them, and move on within a democratic Britain? 

I doubt it.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Chronicles of Rug (and Dexter) Pts 2 &3

Being the intimate confessional diaries of twa broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland's Morton Through Midnight...
Life. life is good. life is great, Life is fantastic. Brilliant wonderful and terrific. where’s the ball? the black ball, the black solid rubber ball? Under the couch? brilliant, let me just snuffle about a bit down there. I can smell…I can smell something good down here. What is it? My nasal passages aren’t as developed as that suppurating old bitch they call Rug, but I can smell something…now wait a minute. I know what this is. But the last time it was different, the last time it was kind of…cold and hard. Basically the same though. This is…furrier. Kind of white stuff around it, but there’s…I know! Last time they said it was called a Brussel sprout! Never had it before but it was absolutely delicious! Almost as good as those potato stalks  I dug up from the garden. They were totally brilliant and delicious. And gave me this fuzzy feeling, as if I was going to fall over. And falling over is brilliant. Brilliantly brilliant. Wow, I heard those humans talking about red balls, green Brussel sprouts, cabbages, purple, blue, whatever. Colours, they say, colours but I only see in black and white. And that’s brilliant! Morality, choices, one thing or the rather. Politics! Numbers, Binary choices!
Tell you what’s even better than Brussel sprouts, and I have to admit that one under the sofa was a wee bit squelchy. Carrots. I’ve got this black rubber things, they push a carrot inside it and I have to get the carrot out. How stunning is that. Brilliant brilliant brilliant brilliant brilliant! Now I’ve go to find that Swiss dog, the big Swiss, the St Bernard Dog, Rug, snooty, thinks I’m stupid. Thinks I just want to have sex with her and that I’m stupid because I had my testicles cut off by Victoria the Vet. But she’s wrong. They are invisible testicles. How good  is that? That’s brilliant!

Bonsoir, messieurs et mesdames It is, I Rug, as my cruel and monosyllabic owners have named me. Last week you heard from that miserable little parasite Dexter, who now appears to have established himself as a permanent fixture in the household. Tiens. And, also, pah! I am desolated. 

However, I have taken some comfort and cheer from the hyperactive mongrel’s embarrassment over one area in which my superiority remains unchallenged. And that is weatherproofing. In point of fact, I do not have to bear the embarrassment of wearing a human-made coat, being in full possession of - if I may say so - a magnificent pelt, proof against all forms of dampness, rain, snow and ice. Although I draw the line at seawater. My cousins in the Newfoundland family love to swim, and indeed, sport disgustingly webbed feet. But they were bred to rescue hapless mariners and retrieve fishing nets, whereas me and mine were always called to higher things, such as the saving of life, and causing pedestrians to fall over through sheer affectionate leaning.

I do not feel the cold, Dexter, on the other paw, with barely any covering on his back and none on his disgustingly pink belly, shivers uncontrollably given even the slightest precipitation or drizzle. this led to the ultimate embarrassment, I am said to say, this morning when he disgraced himself on the hall carpet after refusing to brave the mild breeze and light rain in the garden. I took great pleasure in begging to be allowed out and performed more than adequately, if I may say so, in a discreet, previously harvested  part of the vegetable patch. Dexter was banished to his crate, which gave me both great emotional pleasure and my ears a rest from his continual attempts to encourage play through his confounded nipping.

Really, what did they expect from a random mongrel? Breeding is so important. Meanwhile, I could not hide my amusement at the sight of the mutt being clad in a hastily adapted, cut and sewn child’s neoprene wetsuit. Alas, this provoked an outpouring of dribble  from moi which somehow attached itself to a visiting Church of Scotland minister’s best Armani jeans, and I was unfairly banished to the washhouse. Life is so unjust. Sacre Bleu. Salut maintenant.