Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Podcast v broadcast...radio is the sound salvation, radio is cleanin' up the nation...

Podcasting then. The word on everyone's lips...tick is you're dedicated...you may not be an old fashioned girl but you're gonna get....oops! It's a Costello attack! Switch Elvis off, quick!
What was I saying? Oh yes, podcasting. I was astounded to hear that the Daily Telegraph now has a Podcast Editor. There was a discussion on today's Radio Cafe , dealing with the subject that is currently exercising the BBC more than somewhat, and two things emerged for me:
One is the glaring fact that you can't, at the moment, podcast copyright music. This means that, ludicrously, the much-vaunted Chris Moyles podcast is just Moyles and his posse talking, slagging off listeners etc. No music. Does anyone think this is a Good Thing?
You can get non-copyright music podcasts, mostly demos, some of which are not bad at all. However, the big breakthrough for podcasting has to be the day agreements are struck with the moronic, lumbering, self-serving money-grubbing thickos of the record companies so that we can hear artists we know and love...on demand.
Ah yes, that was the second thing that came out of the Radio Cafe item: a definition of a podcast as "radio with a pause button." And suddenly, if you'll pardon the expression, it all clicked. Podcasting. I've been doing it since I was 16. Or listening to podcasts, at least. Ever since my dad gave me his old Grundig reel-to-reel in 1973.
Hmm...those tapes of Paul Gambaccini, John Peel, Johnny Walker and Radio One In Concert. True, the Grundig was just a little bigger than an iPod (size of large suitcase) but there it was - radio I could listen to anytime I wanted. And I didn't have to buy the records. Hey, what's all this home-taping-is-killing-music guff?
(Can I suggest some t-shirts, by the way, reading as follows: DOWNLOADS - killing the music business...SAVING MUSIC!)
Anyway, the point about my old recordings (soon to be replaced by numerous cassettes of radio shows, many of which I still have, Mr Policeman) is that they were interesting, entertaining, fun...but not radio.
Radio cannot be paused. Radio is not for and at your convenience. Radio is what it is, or ought to be: live, fleeting, impermanent, evanescent. Sure, the BBC do Listen Again on the net, streaming not podcasting, and that's fair enough. But the point is The Moment. What you were doing when you heard THAT RECORD, where you were going, who you were with. The straining to take part in that competition, phoning, texting...the sense of momentary community when the presenter says something that's...that's just right. Or all wrong (phone in, sort him out) Or painfully funny. Or painful. Or tells you a story you have to hear to the end, despite having parked up for too long, being behind with the ironing, having to go get the kids from school. Miss, it...well. Nowadays it's not quite gone. But it's gone for The Moment. And so is the invisible community you're listening to it with - the other people, your fellow listeners.
Radio is what I do, mostly. The way I've tried to explain my vision of it is...as telling stories around a campfire. Or you're round at my house, we're having a few drinks, coffee, I'm hauling records old and new out, playing them, telling you about this, that and the other, the movies I've been to see, books I've read. Nonsense. The dogs. The motorbikes. And who's this with the guitar? Hell, Evan Dando...fancy doing a few songs for us? Us. Not just me and my earphones. US!
Yes, later you can download it. Later you can take it out cycling or running or commuting and listen to it. But that's not radio. That's reliving an experience which happened, live, some other time, and was collective. That's playback. You can listen again to The Moment. But you can't be IN it.
As podcasting gets a grip - and it will - the focus on 'traditional' radio will become ever more about the live nature of the beast, the need for community, the sense of life lived in real time having some kind of objective soundtrack. Out there, to be captured, received. Momentarily.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Great Vicious Beasts of Hillswick Prepare to Savage Trespassers And Tear Them Limb from Limb

Err...That's Lulu on the left, and Lucy on the right.Mess with them and they will slobber you to within an inch of your laundry. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Springsteen in a Citroen...

There was a time when...well, when Darkness on the Edge of Town and Tunnel of Love seemed to be the only things between me and oblivion. Born in the USA, too, was an extraordinary soundtrack to one of the most difficult periods of my life, though it was harder to love, in its big-time populism. Then there's Nebraska, it's murky, twilit vignettes of failure, fear and frustration out in the backroads of middle America.
I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band, at St James's Park in Newcastle, 20 years ago. It was overwhelmingly emotional, moving, joyous. No single artist has ever meant so much to me.
And yet... and yet...in my (and his) later years I've kind of lost the unswerving faith I once had in The Boss. So much earnest craft, so little inspiration. Devils and Dust, The Rising - worthy but overworked, so...dull. And the reunited E-Street Band - self-satisfied, indulgent, crass, even , at times...at least on the Live In Somewhere Outrageously Huge DVD I still have.
I bought Tracks, the 1998 four-CD collection of Springsteen outtakes, on a whim, on the rebound from Belle and Sebastian's whimsy and because it was seven quid on eBay. Good grief.
I drove out to Collafirth Hill, the roof of Shetland, to the sound of the second CD, mostly stuff from the Darkness/River/Born in the USA period. And it was shattering to realise how good these discarded songs were. Breathtaking. Bootleg classicslike Roulette, Living on the Edge of the World and Johnny Bye Bye. the original demo of Born in the USA -stark, dark. Stunning to appreciate how much work, how much editing and sifting went into the 'official' Springsteen releases. And so very emotional to be taken back to that time, when there was a spot out near Abram's Bridge....and a darkness on the edge of town.
I've since listened to the entire 66-song package. And while there's some mediocre stuff there, the quality is simply astounding. And to hear these songs for the first time is...rejuvenating. Especially in a week when I'm listening to music for pleasure, and not for business. It's great to rediscover the thrill and the power of it all.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Aberdeen and its myriad delights...a tie in an unexpected location...the end of an era for cyclists...and the truth about the Patio Hotel

Here I am back in grey, misty, cold, wet, blustery and on the
whole rather dreich Shetland, and yesterday saw me driving almost 200 miles in the service of the junior members of the clan.
Saturday morning music club in Lerwick as soon as I got in, then the shopping, then lunch, then back home, then Magnus to the boat so he can attend the glorious institution that is Glasgow University, then home for a couple of glasses of special Chilean anti-oxidant wine, which...as it comes from Chile, is especially good at killing off free radicals (sorry, tasteless medico/political joke).
Anyway, back from Aberdeen (ANOTHER force eight, bow-on-to-the-weather nasty, only an hour late this time), and can you spot the school tie (actually, two tied together) high in this tree in one of Aberdeen's rather nice west-end gardens? What does it signify? Who knows?
I did a lot of walking this trip, and it must be said that Castle Greyskull is a fine city for perambulation: The hills are long and gradual (which makes them bad for cycling) and the compact-and-bijou nature of Aberdeen makes it easy to get from one side to the other; or around it if you prefer. Plus, Aberdeen has rivers, a proper beach (the only real Jersey-boardwalk Atlantic-City-type City in Scotland, not necessarily a good thing) great cafes (try the Baker's Pantry at the bus station or the legendary Inversnecky) and some splendid pubs: my choice would be Under the Hammer, the Prince of Wales, Campbell's out on the edge of Torry if you're feeling adventurous, the Blue Lamp and, much improved since my last visit a couple of years ago, the Moorings down by the docks. The Moorings doesn't look that inviting at first, but it's been thoroughly spruced up, there's some great (and genuine) rock'n'roll memorabilia lurking behind the bar, they do live music, some interesting record nights, have Blaven beer from Skye, and the clientele cheerfully encompasses goths, students, well-heeled businesspersons, sailors and hydrocarbonites of all varieties. It also has the best, most comprehensive juke box I have ever seen. And on a cold winter's Thursday night, it was warm.
I was staying (for the second time) at the Patio Hotel, down at the beach. Aberdeen has disgracefully and controversially foulled its glorious public linksland with monstrosities like Codona's "theme" park (glorified fairground), the adjoining, and truly hideous, Queen's Links leisure complex, and for that matter the Patio itself, which in architectural terms, is of the early Travelodge style. It is not, however, in that price bracket. Oh no. It's an AA 4-star (which refers, basically, to facilities on offer, not quality of service) and even for oiliness-inflated Aberdeen, it's pricy. I was paying a special Beeb rate of £80 a night b&b, for an "ordinary" room; you can pay a lot more for the same thing, and zillions more for an "executive" version. Anyway, the reason people stay there, and the reason it's nearly always full, is the leisure club, Breakers. There's a pool, sauna, steam room, gym..all excellent.
Service is good too, and the rooms - although of odd design in my case, with peculiar windows too high to see out of - comfortable. Good telly provision. Bad points? It beggars belief that anyone in this day and age is charging £15 per 24-hour period for wi-fi access. That's just taking the piss. Hotels of this standard should be providing it free. And the food I had ranged from the overpriced to the horrendous: soup, steak and chips at night in the restaurant was passable, though the house wine was awesomely expensive. But the breakfasts! Boil-in-the-bag kippers (only grilled to superhardness) WITHIN SIGHT of some of the best smokehouses in Scotland! And fish merchants! Stale croissants! Cheese hard through and through (this in a room-service breakfast at a £3.75 surcharge). Cold toast...disgusting.
Best thing about the Patio, better even than the swimming pool, is the presence next door of a giant Tesco. Yes, another besmirchment of the links, but it means you can buy proper food and eat it in your room. And a bottle of very good wine for the price of a glass of house plonk downstairs. It's Holiday Inn Express for me next time. And the public swiming pool.
Finally, I was sad to see that Anderson's, an old-style cycle shop just short of its 70th birthday, has closed to make way for a "bakery and coffee shop". I bought loads of bits there, and (cheaply and second-hand) the old Dutch hub-gear bike I keep in Aberdeen, mainly because there was none of that lycra-clad patronising you get in other, groovier establishments. It was cheaper too.
I'm on holiday this week, and am determined to take up running. Or at the very least, stumbling. Or dog walking at a fast, if you will, lick. This is called djogging. This is thanks to the incredibly helpful attitude of the staff at The Running Shop, who spent half-an-hour assessing my feet, and then supplying some of their sale shoes at a very reasonable price. and with Mellis cheesemongers just up the road, it's not such a bad old place, Aberdeen. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Belle and Sebastian: yours, bewildered of Shetland...

So, Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian came into the Aberdeen studio yesterday for a wee chat, and I must say I was a bit concerned, as B&S are one of those bands I’ve never quite managed to get a handle on. The fact that they come from Glasgow, that Stuart’s lyrics are by turns phenomenally witty and movingly melancholic, indeed the overt Christian faith of their leader…all those things should have made me, if not a convert to the B&S cause, at least interested enough for some committed immersion in the works.
And yet, no. I’ve dipped into the albums from Fold Your Hands…on, and we’ve gone big on the show with Dear Catastrophe Waitress and indeed the new single, Funny Little Frog. Yet there’s always been something slippery and elusive about the band for me. Something which stopped me, well, getting it. I once mused on air that I found B&S “admirable, but hard to love”. And yet for an increasing number of people worldwide, they’re lovable to an extreme, even cultish degree.
I gave myself a crash course in B&S’s early stuff for the occasion of the interview, and pored over the excellent, revelatory Sunday Herald feature by Peter Ross. Stuart, who for years gave no interviews at all, turned out to be dressed in dapper sub-Chaplin fashion, and was open, thoughtful and friendly in a reserved kind of way, if that made sense. He was happy, for instance, to talk about his problems with ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You can hear the interview for a week or so from now via Radio Scotland’s Listen Again facility.
We played the excellent I’m a Cuckoo from DC Waitress, and I confirmed the Thin Lizzy references. Funny Little Frog sounded great, too, and I was looking forward to the sold-out gig that night at Aberdeen’s Music Hall.
Support act was King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson of Fence Records fame, and he was a revelation: a superb, soaring, sweet voice, and accordion-washed songs that caught at the heart. Very impressive. And then on to the main attraction, the hall absolutely rammed (studenty to late 30s, mostly, but with a surprising number of 40-55 year olds), top class sound system, major league light show…and me not knowing what to expect. A stranger at the ball.
It was…odd. I can imagine no other major (they can sell out Hammersmith and the Royal Albert Hall) act stopping a song half way through, having a good-humoured argument about whose fault it was, and then starting it all over again. Or, in a moment which was pure youth club, bringing onstage five err…over excited audience members to clap along during Funny Little Frog. That was almost 10 minutes, in fact, of cringe-inducing miscalculation, and yet immediately afterwards, for almost the first time, the band locked into something approaching a groove and turned into the “Saturday night band” Stuart claimed in the S Herald he wanted them to be.
It all looked very peculiar too. At time there were 12 people on stage, including a string section, with lots of instrument swapping going on, something I’ve always distrusted in a band. The bewildering array of styles and pop culture references made it sometimes feel as if the music was a kind of effect, there to illustrate the lyrics rather than combine with them. And what B&S, perhaps deliberately, do not have on their side is theatre. There is no visceral drama about their performance. It’s enigmatic, weird, adolescent. They hop and grin with daft enthusiasm, where I remember the deadly serious, furious, but still gladioli-ridden humour of the Smiths in their youthful pomp. Yet Stuart Murdoch is 37.
B&S were appealling, yes, and at times transcendent. But more if you knew the songs, if the works were dear to you from the records, and you had the thrill of simply being in the same place as performers you’ve learned to love. As an event in itself, this was not successful evangelism. It was an inclusive act of worship that left me feeling like an outsider. And, oddly, thinking of Franz Ferdinand, of whom I thoroughly disapprove for their magpie tendencies, and how much more satisfying they are as an in-concert proposition, even if you’re not a fan. They have the focus, the stagecraft, and they lack the winning, fey self-consciousness that makes B&S so beloved of those who love them, and so confusing for me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I keep telling myself: the arctic convoys were a lot worse than this...

I struggled off the Hrossey at 9.55 this morning, groggy and swaying, almost three hours late in arriving at Aberdeen.
As nights on the boat go, this was among the worst I've experienced, and easily the roughest aboard a NorthLink ship. Though I shudder to think what it would have been like aboard the St Sunniva or the St Clair, with their old-tech stabilisers. When the captain of the Hrossey switched off her(rather efficient) stabilisers so we could finally enter Aberdeen harbour, the boat rolled with a vengeance. Battering our way south through a force eight south westerly, we had slammed, crunched and nose-dived, but the sideways motion remained bearable. Just.
No seasickness, just an initial quickening of the heartbeat once we were out of Bressay Sound and into the first of the big breakers. Reading HMS Ulysses had probably been a mistake, but at least I was able to tell myself, over and over again: the arctic convoys were worse than this...
Phenergan saved me. Well, Phenergan (freely available at your chemists, but normally prescribed for hay fever) and a small dram of supermarket (I think Sainsbury) Islay Pure Malt. Carried about my person in the hip flask my pal Stewart gave me as a birthday present. Well, that plus one of the Hrossey's excellent steak pies, with tatties, carrots and peas. And an ice cream. Never travel on an empty stomach.
I knew from the forecast it would be a bad trip, but the Captain's announcement on leaving the berth (" we are expecting VERY ROUGH SEAS") and the fact that I had been handed an "Adverse Weather Conditions" leaflet before boarding, sent me to the cafeteria while we were still tied up, and to my cabin the moment we started moving.
And there I stayed, with occasional journeys to the toilet and for bottled water (Phenergan really dehydrates you) for the next 14 and a bit hours. I was thrown sideways into the bedside table a few times, but never completely out of my bunk. Though lying on my side was impossibly rocky.
Normally, the ferry gets into Aberdeen around 7.00 am (a 12-hour trip, unless it's going via Orkney) but Aberdeen Harbour is notoriously impenetrable in certain wind directions, depending on the state of the tide. When you think about it, there's no shelter - it's just a tight river mouth. Diversions to (the much more navigable) Invergordon or Rosyth are a last resort, but things at Aberdeen are getting worse and worse as the river silts up, and it seems very likely that Rosyth will be the mainland jumping-off point for the Northern Isles in the future.
Anyway, today we had to stoat about off Aberdeen for almost three hours, which didn't bother me that much. I just stayed in bed. When I finally reached dry land, I breakfasted at the excellent Baker's Pantry, in the bus station: £3.40 for bacon and egg roll, pot of tea and a fruit scone. That's the other thing about Phenergan - it makes you really hungry.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Dog, beard and peculiar hat

This picture was taken by my dad during his visit to Shetland at New Year - I think this was 2nd January. We were out for a walk on the glorious Ness of Hillswick, looking over to the red cliffs of Eshaness (not the black vocanic ones near the Lighthouse). Good grief, am I really that fat? All right, there's no need for that...dear old Quoyle the labrador is 11 years old and still sprightly. I am a lot older than that and...oh, my aching back. Posted by Picasa

Collapse of stout party...

Phew, wind's getting up again...these gales are getting a bit wearisome.
Amazed to hear about the Stornoway lorry driver who saw a sheep flying past his windscreen...I've never seen that, but it's possible that the native Shetland breed is less aerodynamic than the Hebridean equivalent...I have seen one apparently levitating over a fence.
Funniest thing from the Ananova news website I've seen in years was this, which almost sent me into complete hysterical collapse on air this afternoon:
"A Croatian widow has submitted a pickled cucumber for a place as the world's oldest in the Guinness Book of Records.
Vera Dudas, 73, from Duga Resa, says the cucumber was pickled by her mother-in-law when her late husband was born in 1930.
She has now had the cucumber insured. She says it's her only reminder of her husband Pavao who would have turned 76 this year.
Vera said: "Unfortunately, the cucumber has survived longer than Pavao.
"I remember my entire married life when I look at that cucumber, it was with us everywhere we ever lived and through all our experiences - good and bad."

Well. Quite.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Big south westerly gales do this kind of thing in the Shetland Isles.
All the power went off in Hillswick in the early hours of Wednesday, thanks to winds gusting up to 11 (Nigel Tufnell would have loved it). Last time this happened, a window blew in at The Radiocroft, and almost next door, this trailer fell victim to the breeze on Wednesday. No injuries, thank God.
Yesterday marked the anniversary of the terrible tragedy in Uist, when five members of the same family were killed during a hurricane by wind-driven flooding.
Could the same thing happen in Shetland? Well, probably not. Shetland is nowhere near as low-lying as the Uists and Benbecula, there are few vulnerable causeways linking islands, and vulnerable coastal communities have been heavily protected by armouring, paid for by public money. That includes our own house, which is only a few metres from the sea and has flooded very badly in the past. In Lerwick, there are of course the Lodberries, houses built out into the sea and often incorporating boathouses. Most have always accomodated the ocean, more or less!
We have taken our own extensive anti-flooding measures since renovating our house, but perhaps the key difference between Shetland and the Western Isles is the financial muscle wielded by the local council (thank you, Big Oil), and the will to act on behalf of islanders. I simply cannot imagine anything like the Uist tragedy happening in Shetland. But if it had, I have absolutely no doubt that the council, for all its myriad sins, would have moved heaven and earth to ensure nothing like it ever happened again. And quickly too. It would appear that has not happened in the Western Isles.
The weather is gusty but bearable at the moment, though the forecast is for more gales at the weekend. As I'm booked on the boat to go south on Sunday night, this is not a pleasant prospect. To the Phenergan!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Old pictures...

This is a Wolseley, and it's the car that dominates my memories of childhood. Even though my father tells me it gave him "nothing but trouble", as I suppose you'd kind of expect from a British vehicle this old...cars nowadays may have less character, but my goodness they work.
I can remember long overnight journeys from Glasgow to the south of England, one sister asleep in a carry cot, the other on the rear parcel shelf, me on the floor, on cushions packed either side of the transmission tunnel. Seatbelts? You must be joking...
I had these pictures on 35mm slides (boxes and boxes given to me ages ago by dad) and before Christmas Tesco in Aberdeen, without fuss, transferred 30 or so onto CD and provided two sets of prints for a tenner in total. Not bad, I thought. the pictures themselves were all taken on a Braun Paxette, a lovely wee German camera from the 1950s. I still have one, though the winding mechanism is broken.
The other picture illustrates the defining influences on my childhood, apart from internal combustion engines, that is: Religion, in the form of Bethany Hall in Troon, and its Sunday School, plus music, which was an integral part of life in the Brethren. The picture shows, circa 1962, one of the summer open-air Sunday Schools at Troon prom. I am not the lad in the kilt belting out (probably) Store Your Treasure In The Bank of Heaven. I think that's someone called Alistair MacHaffie.
Ahem: let me see if I can remember the words, though:
Store your treasure in the Bank of Heaven
Where no thief can steal away
There you'll find it safely waiting for you
When you get to heaven (stamp stamp)
One day.
I could go on for hours in similar vein...but I won't. That's enough nostalgia.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Some snaps from last year to this, using my birthday camera

Just a wee collage, showing, variously, the coward's view of Eshaness this morning (9th January, so windy I could hardly stand; force nine gusting more); two shots of sunrise on 1st January, 2006 (around 9.00 am); a boat just along from our house, not mine; a remnant of the MOD presence at Eshaness, taken this morning; Hillswick from the Manse, around 9.00 am, New Year's Day; a corner of the kitchen during my birthday do. My dad.
All taken on the new Samsung PRO815, which is the size and weight of an SLR, but has a built-in (on?) zoom lens of colossal zoomability. It's all-singing, all-dancing, and so far I can make it sort of mumble and shuffle. Advice from Bruce, neighbour and ace landscape photographer, is to wrap it in clingfilm if out in windy, seaspray-laden conditions. Like today. Oops... Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 02, 2006

2006 and all that

30th: Bang crash wallop. Bash Susan's borrowed/rented pick-up into sister's rental Corsa. Not good. Completely fed up and knackered.
31st: I am 50. Surprisingly good. Party starts at 3.00pm and continues for around 12 hours. Great music, food, moderate drinking. Only big disappointment is Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling of 12-year-old Aberlour which tastes like bad schnapps. Millions of great presents and lovely people. It was...emotional.
1st: Glorious, crisp, sunny day. Walks, Busta for fantastic meal courtesy of the lovely Joe and Veronica, Lost in Translation on projection DVD...roads very slippy but no more accidents thank goodness.
2nd: Back to work. Huh! If you can call it work...