Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shooting off sooth again after a great week

Fantastic week with Sandy and Elaine here for a wee break before they head off to Malawi to work at the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic for six months.

Managed to get (supervised by Elaine) the clay pigeon launcher assembled and then it was an all-male trip to some deserted croftland to shoot those nasty clay suckers out of the sky. Fortunately Sandy knew a bit about shooting and was able to instruct us all in the basics: such as, standing so you don't get blown over backwards by the kick of an over-and-under 12-gauge.

Great meal at Busta on Tuesday, and Sandy and I cracked open my new bottle of 22-year old Clynelish, which will be the subject of a separate post over on Nippy Sweeties, in due course.

Now it's time to sleep, or try to. It's always a problem when there's the prospect of a 5.30am rise to catch the early flight to Aberdeen. Necessary as tomorrow we have The Proclaimers live in session on the show, in front of a highly select audience of listeners. Then it's off to Glasgow to tidy Magnus's flat after its major summer renovations, and before he and his pals return to 'study' or whatever it is they do at universities nowadays. I'm catching the boat back north on Sunday, hopefully with a Honda Silverwing motorcycle, but I'm keen to catch most of Saturday at the Connect Festival in Inveraray if I can. A lot will depend on the weather, but after The Hold Steady's disappointing latecomer set at T in the Park, it would be good to see them in full flight.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cycling in Shetland and insuring a 19-year-old

Three days in a row (seeing as Magnus, in his new post-driving test state of grace, has taken possession of the Berlingo) I have been cycling, which has been both very enjoyable and face-searingly sore.

It's the wind, you see. Even when it's calm in Shetland, it's windy. Our neighbour Bruce, no mean racing cyclist back in the day, describes meeting an experienced velocipedalist in tears on the Hillswick road, basically pedalling furiously against a headwind to stand still. Yesterday, three of us decided to cycle to Drew and Vivienne's barbecue/spit roast, a distance of about six miles. It was delightful on the way there, the wind at our backs, spinning along beside Ronas Voe like we were Tour De France riders pumped full of EPO and steroids. On the way back, though, it was a different story. You know the kind of wind that makes your teeth sore, and your hair ache?

Mind you, I felt less pain than I might have, having consumed two glasses of Rioja and some fantastic food. And while I would never drive in such a condition, I did feel able to wobble along on two wheels, being punished by the breeze for my indulgence.

And I felt a lot less pain than I did just a few minutes ago.

I was trying to get a quote for Magnus to drive an R-reg Audi A3 he's being lent for six months. A year's insurance, I was informed, was going to cost £2653.

I'm just going to tell him that he'll have to get on his bike.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dr Livingstone's excellent guide to turning your old LP tracks into MP3s

This was sent to the TM Show by listener DAVID LIVINGSTONE, after I mentioned on air the sudden popularity in dedicated 'USB turntables' for recording old vinyl albums onto your computer. This is how to do it for free, (almost) if you already have a record player. Cheers David! Pesonally, I use a SoundLab DLP32S deck with Stanton cartridge through a NAD amp and into a Philips CD-R recorder. Bang the CD onto iTunes and Bob Dylan's yer uncle!

Recording albums & stuff - D.I.Y

No need to buy a USB turntable if you already have a reasonable one in a
stereo separates system.

As you can't plug in a turntable into your PC directly, since the
cartridge normally only outputs a few mV (millivolts) which is not
enough to record from, it so needs to be amplified.

So to get a stronger signal, take a tap off the tape output phono leads
from the amp (or at the input to the cassette deck end) using phono
T-pieces (see pic attached) and then direct this to the line input of
your sound card in the PC, via standard phono leads. You can buy them up
to 10m in length on eBay.

The input socket on the sound card is probably a mini jack, so you'll
probably have to find a suitable - stereo phono to stereo mini jack
adapter - from Maplins, eBay, etc, etc. see below

Then using software like Audiograbber (free and a good MP3 ripper too),
Audacity or Goldwave, you can 'record' from the PC's line in source, and
tweak the levels (in the sound card's audio control panel or the Windows
mixer one) to get a reasonable sound level.

Of course, if you are recording an album from vinyl, it will be in real
time - ie the length of the record. And the WAV files are huge -
obviously getting on for a full 700 Mb (~70 mins) though, so plenty
memory helps.

Further refinements with software like Groovemechanic can clean up the
recording if you want, before splitting it up to MP3's.

A handy benefit of doing it this way, you can select the required source
on your amplifier - from the tuner, video, mic, auxiliary or other tape
deck, even minidisc, etc, etc as your input source and it works the same
way (ie it's the signal that would be recorded by the cassette machine)
and will be available as the Line In at the computer.

The Audiograbber programme is great - you can set it up to record from
the line in source with it's built in timer - as I've done on numerous
occasions with these Radio2 concerts on Saturday nights.

Just set a bit of an overlap, to start before and finish after the
concert - and it'll even shut down the PC on completing. So after a pint
out, you can come home to a file all ready to be burned onto CD.

Though doh, I've sometimes forgot to change the preset station on the
tuner to Radio 2, and so recorded 1 hour of Robbie Shepherd or similar
from Radio Scotland .....
(Tom says: "Thus educating yourself, David, in the excellence of Mr Shepherd's oeuvre")

Also, you can record from the BBC streaming 'Play it Again' facility,
with this software, things er--r like your programme, by changing and
setting your sound card to record from the 'Stereo Mix' source.

But the quality isn't the best especially at busy times with internet
congestion, etc. and you are always be best to record direct via the
radio tuner.

I don't know about the legality about all of this, but it's all for
personal use and as usual there is a whole industry and underground with
some very smart people out there ....... so destroy these electrons if
you chose to accept your mission. If I end up in the clink, you are an

phono to mini jack Adapter
(well recommended and cheap eBay seller)

Audiograbber - free and basically a MP3 ripper

(the real geeks don't use MP3 files, but FLAC, .ogg files etc, etc )

Goldwave audio file editor

but Audacity is a good free source equivalent

And a very good plugin for Winamp, Windows media player, etc to improve
the sound of MP3s on PC's is DFX Audio Enhancer

Hope this hasn't done your head in!

Good luck.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Leaving Aberdeen in the broad daylight...

....which is a reference to a song, in case you were wondering. Anyway, I am, later on today, by steamer, and touch wood, the forecast is pretty good for the crossing to Shetland via Orkney (not that I'm getting off at Kirkwall, but with a bit of luck it'll be a nice sunset over Scapa Flow).
It's gloriously hot in Aberdeen at the moment, with people disporting themselves in that very Scottish way, in ill-advised semmets and peculiar bustiers. And that's just the men. Let's hope the weather extends to the northern isles and lasts the weekend. Or even beyond!
Experienced one of Aberdeen's treasures last night - the Meze House cafe in Rose Street. Probably the best humous in the UK, followed by superb kofta kebabs with enormous quantities of rice and salad. It's a bit of legend in the north east, and if you're into Turkish cooking, you must try it. It's unlicensed and cheap. You can bring a bottle but they do charge hefty corkage, and I have a (possibly unfounded) theory that alcohol is looked upon with mild disapproval by the proprietor. Who's called Mohammed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bringing whisky to book

It's a bizarre business, flogging a book you've published yourself. The act of paying for your own work to be printed is called, in some circumstances, vanity publishing, but private or self-publishing has a distinguised heritage in the annals of literature.

Not that Spirit of Adventure (15th anniversary edition)is exactly literature, or even close. It's a form of extreme journalism, undertaken when I was young, energetic and apparently impervious to alcohol, rain and motorcycles. And a journalist. It is, however, even though I say so myself, quite funny and reasonably informative.

Anyway, it's selling quite well on both Amazon and the North Atlantic Media site. The point being that it was published, in the end, as a form of calling card (printing books these days has never been cheaper), in order to kick-start once again my career as a whisky writer.

And it appears to have worked, too. I'm now whisky correspondent and columnist for The Scots Magazine, contributor to Scottish Life and various other publications, and I've had some free whisky sent to me. Well, two bottles. I've got invites to speak (and conduct tastings) at the Shetland Wordplay Festival, the Dufftown Whisky Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival and the Highland Businesswomen's Club. My nose is getting redder and redder.

Two really odd and awkward things have happened, though: First I've become less and less patient with the monolithic money-mongering of the whisky industry, which seems to become more and more manipulative and cynical by the day (hey, let's change the bottle shape and charge the bastards more for our luxury brand! Let's issue a 15, 16, 17 and 18 year old at ever-increasing cost! Matured in old Heinz Baked Beans tins!); and I'm pissed off at all these befuddled male mutterings about taste. Admit it, guys, you drink this stuff because it's alcoholic, first and foremost. That's the reason for its existence.

And it's the alcoholic nature of whisky that is causing me problems at the moment: I really don't want to consume befuddling spirits in large quantities. I can't get any work done if I do. So for me, like many a pro blender, so I believe, it's sniffing only for the moment, other than on special occasions.

Anyway, or the price of a good dram in a nice hotel, or a cheap bottle of supermarket blend, you can acquire Spirit of Adventure. It lasts longer than even the most gentlemanly of measures, and is guaranteed to increase in value. Maybe.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Bannock, boat and back in Aberdeen

In the Beans coffee bar and an interminable wait for a large latte. Still, at least I get my half hour free internet fix, and a means of uploading some pictures from the Big Bannock on Saturday in North Roe. Actually, I'm not making a fuss about the delay in caffeine dealing, as the sole barista is a very pleasant Polish guy who's been left to do absolutely everything on his own, and is plainly trying his very best. Every so often he goes into the back kitchen and screams, loudly, which is slightly worrying.

ANYWAY, I couldn't participate in the full epic glory of da Bannock, but did have one of the best Shetland lunches ever: how about this for six quid? Freshly made fish soup, four massive, barbecued (perfectly) scallops, a great lump of chargrilled salmon, and a home-made bannock with mutton. Fantastic.

Also superb was the general conceit of the day: Space, the final frontier. All Bannockites were dressed in full cosmic costume, from Ming the Merciless to Obi Wan. There were, as you can see, extraordinary vehicles. And the bannock itself (marshmallow and Sweetheart Stout flavoured) was made. A good time was had by all. I missed, alas, the Merry Tiller Grand Sprix (Spree) but doubtless video will surface on YouTube soon. Meanwhile, I have the t-shirt and the current DVD, which rivals Citizen Kane in artistic accomplishment. It's called Northmavine Vice, and I heartily recommend it. Better than anything by Ken Russell, that's for durn tootin.

Coffee has arrived. Show starts again today after a four week break, and I think it's going to be great! See you on the airwaves! or, if you prefer, hear.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Music for Malawi Night - in aid of the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic

Here are a couple of pictures, by my old pal Stewart Cunningham, from last Friday's Music for Malawi night at the Hilton Grosvenor in Glasgow. The Billy Riordan Clinic on the shores of Lake Malawi is an intensely worthy cause that deserves all our support, and the night was organised by Doctors Sandy and Elaine Nelson, from Glasgow, who are spending six months as volunteers. Find out more here.

The singer with the beard is Kitterdy, aka Dave Nelson, who has a new CD coming out shortly that I wish to commend heartily.

The other picture is something of a curiosity: that's me on the right, and on the left is the exceedingly well-preserved Graeme Duffin, famed guitar player of, among others, Wet Wet Wet. Holding the LP is Murray Nelson, who, in the night's charity auction, was successful in bidding a whopping £100 for it. Out of the Harbour was recorded by Graeme and me in 1979, and was a surprise item (notably to me, as I was the auctioneer)unveiled from a plastic bag and described only as "a very rare and valuable record". Hmmm...
Other musicians on the record, fact fans, are Derek Clark on drums (where are you Derek?) the Rev David MacLachlan on bass (now not only a high profile Kirk minister but extremely well known as an anti-nuclear-weapons campaigner)and Norrie Craig on keyboards. Haven't heard from Norrie for ages. The album sleeve was designed by Graeme's brother Stuart and the record was made at the old Kirkland Park Hotel in Strathaven, which had a function suite that doubled as a 16-track studio. It was where Sydney Devine recorded most of his material, and was owned by a guy called Bill Garden (!). Produced and engineered by the redoubtable Andy ('those speakers are out of phase')Kidd, who later went on to become embroiled in the continuing saga of The Lowden Guitar Company/Avalon Guitars, which it is probably wise for me not to mention further.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dawkins on dowsing

There is something very bracing, especially for a Christian Brethren-raised boy like me, about Richard Dawkins' rampant rationalism. He has, it must be said, toned down his natural tendency towards contemptuous dismissal for his new Channel Four series Enemies of Reason. If you want to experience vintage, full-on Dawkins, though, there's always YouTube.

I'm not sure that he's right to categorise dowsing as 'spiritual' though. I was speaking to a civil engineer recently who regularly employs a dowser to find drains on buildinbg sites. He told me that the person he uses has a 100 per cent success rate. And I've spoken to dowsers who see their abilities as some kind of refined physical sensitivity. Also, the 'double blind' test in the programme did not really allow for classic dowsing, which involves the feet passing over the sought-for watercourse.

Jings, now I'm feeling a bit thirsty.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Friday night is Music for Malawi night

Just a reminder that if you happen to be in Glasgow on Friday night, are at a loose end and wish to Do Some Good (while, simultaneously and at the same time, having quite an entertaining time) why not come to this:

Music for Malawi

Friday 10th August at 8 pm. Entry five quid.

Hilton Grosvenor

Corner of Byres Road and Great Western Road


Funky fundraising for The Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic at Cape McClear in Malawi. Two young Glasgow doctors, Sandy and Elaine Nelson, are going to work there for six months.

Music from Kitterdy and Tom Morton. Comedy from Sandy Nelson. A remarkable array of raffle prizes and auction thingies.

Auction, raffle and good time guaranteed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ashes to ashes...turtles to turtles...

I absolutely love this has a kind of desperately naff, but enormously deep emotional resonance...

Basically, your current wife flogs the urn in which you've been secretly keeping your first wife's ashes...complete with said ashes. Of course, she didn't realise...or did she?

I can see this as a Tod Solondz movie.

Van dies - thanks Lamont!

I'm grateful to my old pal and former colleague Lamont Howie for this splendid advert from his local paper down in the wilds of Stoke.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Just 500 signed copies available now!

I picked up the new edition of Spirit of Adventure from Shetland Litho the other day, only to find that the agreed 1000 copies had become 500...which means that this is truly a limited edition. And it means it's easier to sign each and every one!

There will be another reprint as soon as managing director Brian comes back from his holidays, but for now, the book is available on a first come, first served basis, at £9.99 post free in the UK. I'm really pleased with the quality of the book, and especially with the new cover, which was designed (though as in-house Shetland Litho designer, he didn't want a credit) by my old colleague Melvyn Leask.

You can order the book online at The Bookcroft, using credit cards or Paypal, it will be available in a limited number of bookshops. or indeed, using pigeons, owls or other forms of avian transportation, direct your cash to me at North Atlantic Media Ltd, The Mediacroft, Gateside, Hillswick, Shetland ZE2 9RL.

Oh, and if you don't know what on earth Spirit of Adventure is all about, it's the 1992 tale of my journey around Scotland's distilleries aboard a truly disreputable motorcycle, in the days before radio. Find out more here.