Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pre-dawn Aberdeen, and Out of Doors with a working Berlingo

Off the boat and at the BBC in Aberdeen by 7.05 am. groggily aware that two people seem to be wandering about the car park with microphones. Good grief, it's Ewen and Mark from Out of Doors. Heavens, they actually broadcast the show out...of doors! Next minute I'm sort of on the show, which is news to my synapses. No witty repartee from me at this time in the morning, just some grunting.
Reasonable trip on the Hrossey. James is off to Strathallan School (how the other half live) over Hogmanay for National Youth Orchestra of Scotland rehearsals, then two gigs, one at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, one in Perth. Meanwhile, Susan, Mag and Martha head south tomorrow for our first New Year out of Shetland in 14. years.
Quick trip to the Central Garage in Brae revealed what was wrong with the trusty Berlingo: Not a servo failure in the power steering, but a need for much skooshing of WD40 and a bit of slow-speed twisting of the steering wheel. The rattly diesel supersnail is now working properly. I hope...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Four Scottish albums...and two Australian ones...and thank God Christmas is over

There's turkey in the fridge, still...but it's time to move on!
And to look back. History Day today on BBC Radio Scotland, but also: In the course of transferring most of my 'working' CDs and LPs to The Radiocroft, I had a chance to review some mislaid demos and records I should have made a great deal more of during the year...chief among which is undoubtedly the debut album by 'Mr D' AKA Paul McLinden, the stunning Wings and Wheels. Imagine Teenage Fanclub only more immediately in your face, somehow more throat-grippingly fresh (Paul Quinn had a lot to do with this, actually)and you have it. Expect great things in 2008.
Then there are the strange cases of the disappering albums: both long-time faves Finniston and veteran Dean Owens sort-of released excellent albums and then withdrew them in favour of more organised assaults on the public next year: Look out for them. And for Kevin McDermott's Wise to the Fade,launched in January at Celtic Connections - a real return to form.
Final belated mention to Perry Keyes form Sydney, Australia, the Aussie Springsteen, whose songs about Sydney are best captured on the double-debut Meter, as well as this year's The Last Ghost Train Home. Dare I say it: even better than The Hold Steady!

Monday, December 24, 2007

...have yourself a merry little Christmas...

Just getting ready for the Christmas Eve Tom Morton Show, and looking forward to a two-day break before the programme returns on the 27th. That's BBC Radio Scotland's History Day, and we're going to be working our way through four (and a bit) decades of music, with special guests Donovan, Alan Mair (Beatstalkers and The Only Ones) Justin Currie from Del Amitri and Emma Pollock, formerly of the Delgados.

Meanwhile, we're playing The Killers' Christmas single Don't Shoot Me Santa today, but their video-only song Great Big Sled is even better...and here it is! Have a good one!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The corpse of milk I believe James Joyce said.
What was life like in culinary Scotland before the advent of Ian Mellis? I was reared on Dairylea and later (the height of sophistication) La Vache Qui Rit. But that, on our first French holiday back in 1968 (the guns, the gendarmes, the revolutionaries!) paled into insignificance compared to the unidentified cheese Mum bought in a Lyon market, creamy, mild and runny, covered in toasted grape stones...we ate it in our Sprite Muskateer, gobsmacked. Literally.
Then there was that first French lunch (help yourself soup, Quiche Lorraine AND a main course). After that, there was no way back to Greggs. Well, actually there was, but new horizons also beckoned.
I say this because my beloved producers have sent me a Christmas present from Mellis Cheesemongers of some Durrus (Irish creamy cheese made with raw milk) and Strathdon Blue. Strathdon Blue is reason enough to be proud of living in Scotland. True, the smell, despite extensive packaging, nearly drove our postman, Andrew, to distraction, but, oh, the taste and texture! That plus a small Rioja, and on Christmas Eve Eve, with Magnus safely home, only a Gregg's steak pie could complete the picture. And, funnily enough...well. Somerfield will have to do.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I uploaded this picture during the show using my mobile, as I got a text from 'Tam' querying the 'liveness' of the show, suggesting it was all recorded and that I was actually on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
Which is next week.

Solstice sky

About ten to nine this morning, on the shortest day of the year. Hard to believe. The summer solstice seems like yesterday, with its full-on broadcasting frenzy from dawn until midnight, parties on the pier, music, dancing and pies.
Anyway, here we are at midwinter and the weather is really lovely - mild and clear. Yesterday was cloudless, though today I think we may see some bluster and bludgeoning from the skies later. For the moment, it's discomfitingly pleasant. 'We'll pay for it' somebody said to me at the shop this morning, making me smile and recall the poem by Alistair Reid.
I have a show today and on Monday, then no broadcasting on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. I can't get used to the idea of leaving Shetland on the 28th for New Year.I'm sure it'll be great, but it seems somehow against nature.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Have yourself a kitschy little Christmas...

Thanks to the wonderful Ship of Fools website, here are two of the most appallingly kitsch Christmas presents known to man or God, for the religious or cynical person in your life:
I can't help feeling that the St Sebastian pin cushion (buy here)is actually a rather clever joke...but I fear the Christ on a Bike motorcycling Jesus - one of a series of 'contemporary'Christs showing Him skateboarding, surfing, rodeo riding(!), etc - is aimed fairly and squarely at the heartlands of fundamentalist it here if you must.
I'll always remember being in Athens, Georgia many years ago, crashing at a student residence where the (eternally pished) residents were in the habit of ordering religious paraphenalia from evangelical TV stations. The Last Supper plastic tablecloth and the cure-all handkerchief were particular favourites.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Santa's Somerfield Beer Grotto

This is what greets you when you first enter the Somerfield supermarket in Lerwick. No wonder Rudolph's got a red nose.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

One of the best rock'n'roll documentaries ever made

Tom Petty's songs always take me by surprise. One minute, I'm listening to something like Refugee or The Waiting, sincerely believing that these are among the finest slices of melodic rock ever recorded, the next I'm swept off my feet by the likes of Reverend and the Makers, Fionn Regan or another of new kids in town. Or I fall at the feet of Teenage Fanclub, and forget that the Heartbreakers had taken Byrdsian harmonies and crunchy guitar jangle to a whole new level long before our loveable Glaswegians came on the scene.

Buy a Heartbreakers career retrospective CD and what will amaze is not just the brilliance, but the consistency. The standard of songwriting, coupled with great playing from a superb band, makes you wonder why Petty, despite his success, has never been rated as a rock god along with the likes of Springsteen. My take? The songs are more considered. And it's on the Beatles side of the Stones/Moptops divide. It's pop. Also the boy looks too much like a girl for the comfort of heavy duty America.

Runnin' Down a Dream tells the Heartbreakers' story in fantastic detail and at considerable (nearly four hours) length. Even if you're not a committed fan, though, this just rushes by. Brilliantly directed by none other than Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show and much else) this seems to me better than Scorsese's music documentaries, perhaps because everyone involved is so (apparently) open and direct. And it's a great story: A band, a proper band, together, mostly, for 30-odd years. Great humour, immense success, terrible tragedy. Fascinating, articulate characters. Plus there's been access to home movies and personal archives that just takes you straight to the heart of the band's origins in Gainesville, Florida.
But Bogdanovich's insight makes this much more than a fanfest. This is the story of not just one band, but of rock'n'roll as a band endeavour. It has innocence, immediate and massive success, betrayal, corruption, drugs galore, death, sex (but a curious discretion too in that area) and a fascinating glimpse of what true commitment to music really means. What impresses, and at times horrifies, is Petty's formidable determination and drive. Not to say ruthlessness. He takes on everyone - record companies, producers, drummers (sacking Stan Lynch after 20 years)and in one unbelievable scene, two dodgy A&R men who want Roger McGuinn to record a 'commercial' song.
This is a film I'd show to anyone who wanted to know what it means to be in a band, and especially to be the leader of a band. By the end, Petty's looking like an older southern gent, his girlish good looks faded and wrinkled. But the power of the band and his songs, as illustrated in a triumphant return to Gainesville for a gig, remains undimmed.
Runnin' Down a Dream comes in the form of four discs, two with the documentary, one with the full Gainesville concert, and a CD with some interesting tunes from the film. A great Christmas present. And the best thing Mr Bogdanovich has done since...his stint on The Sopranos.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stormy dawn over Hillswick Ness

After a bizarrely lengthy but refreshing 11-hour sleep, this was the scene at about 7.50 am today, Thursday, looking south west out of St Magnus' Bay along the Ness of Hillswick. It's a low-res 'phone snap.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mick's going round the world...

Mick McMillan is a primary teacher from Cardenden, currently motorcycling round the world on an old BMW R65 (which he's had for 23 years, apparently). I think he's in Kuala Lumpur at the moment....wish him a merry Christmas and enjoy his adventures at his blog:

The Martial Arts - free download of album!

It's the way of the downloads of albums. And this one's a cracker, a former Tom Morton Show album of the week, and yours for nothing! This is an email I've just received from the band:

Glasgow band THE MARTIAL ARTS have decided to give away their critically acclaimed album 'YOUR SINCLAIR' as a free download from the front page of their myspace website, as a Christmas present to any one who fancies a listen. The address is:

The band, who are signed to Groover Recordings in Sweden, have had success in Scandinavia and almost exclusively great reviews, yet remain unsigned back home in the UK. The band produce melodic guitar pop, in places reminiscent of power pop acts like The dB's and Big Star, Indie pop like Hefner, The Wedding Present and The Yummy Fur and Elephant 6 bands like Of Montreal and The Apples In Stereo. 'Your Sinclair' is no badly recorded demo album - it was produced by Ronald Bood (Shout Out Louds). The band intend to make the album available for free until December 25th - CD copies remaining available to buy via links provided on their myspace - and hope the album can be heard by as many as possible.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Slime, 20-inch wheels, oil, filters, old Volvos and very sore fingers

I have, from the age of 12, removed and replaced hundreds of bicycle tyres in the course of The Perpetual Battle against Punctures. NEVER, have I suffered such finger-licking pain and frustration as I did last night, as I fitted new (Slime Smartubes) puncture-proof inner tubes (and Slime tyre liners; I WILL NOT puncture on the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath and fall off EVER AGAIN) to the 20-inch wheels on my new (nearly the same as the old one, which I gave to a family member) Downtube VIIIFS folding bike.
The Chinese Kenda tyres seemed to have beaded edges made of titanium. I broke two tyre levers, bent three spoons, couldn't get the tyres off, then did, then couldn't get them back on the rims. I was weeping with rage. In the end a Swiss Army Knife (don't ask) saved the day.
The Downtube (see previous posts for pictures and details of the orange one) now has new MKS alloy pedals and only needs a proper Brooks leather saddle to be the serious 'transitional tourer' I intend it to be. Next year, Santiago de Compostela! And the bus back. Or maybe I should get a donkey...
Today, I found myself struggling mightily with more old technology, namely, the 1992 Volvo Torslanda estate I bought recently for £390. Oil and filter change in freezing conditions. Draining the oil was easy (why do I have three incomplete socket sets? Where did they come from? Why does ONLY ONE socket ever fit the nut in question?)but getting the old filter off was hellish. ALWAYS, with cartridge filters, DESPITE having the right removal tool, it comes down to punching a screwdriver through the casing, getting covered in old oil, and skinning your knuckles on the engine as you scrabble to twirl the sucker off.

As you may have guessed, I love all this stuff...

Friday, December 07, 2007

After dinner, The Grill...

Home after getting up at the godless post-party hour of 7.00am to catch a very bumpy aeroplane ride north...I'm sorry Pam (see comments to previous post) was disappointed at the sedate nature of the Aberdeen BBC Musical Output Association's Christmas frolicking...after dinner, a few of us went on to The Grill in Union Street (a pub, not a restaurant) which possesses what is probably the most magnificent ceiling of any howff in the UK. It also has a superb array of malt whiskies, to which we attempted to do get trays of whiskies named 'A Tour of the Highlands' and whatnot. There's a menu as thick as an encyclopedia, containing only whiskies. What can I say? I can tell you that Bruichladdich Infinity is probably the most horrible whisky I have ever tasted, certainly at 4 quid a dram...and that you can see Matt and Jenny in the picture...but after a while I was quite unable to discern the differences between Glengarioch and Old Pulteney, which is shameful, really.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Aberdeen Christmas party

Fraser's company picnic...

This was sent in by Fraser, from the USA, in response to my request for tales of company nights out...he writes...
For the last company picnic, management decided that, due to liability issues, we could have alcohol, but only one (1) drink per person. I was fired for ordering the cups.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Radiocroft today

Big wind on the way.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Phew! Recovering from the 200-mile, 19-hour Saturday, little local difficulties, and watching the Labour Party implode

Good grief. Saturdays are always fairly full-on in our house, but yesterday was a humdinger. Up at eight to take Martha and James into Lerwick (37 miles) for their orchestral music club (and James's double bass lesson) after a week which had already seen me in the Proud Community of Coalfishreek an unprecedented three times (twice for Martha to perform with the fiddle group New Tradition.
Coffee, scone and croissant at The Peerie Shop Cafe, as usual, then some shopping among the bourgeois delights of Lerwick (Hand-Smoked Fish Co and Blydoit Fish, Scoop Wholefoods) then back to pick up Martha at noon. A swift jaunt to the Co-op where I meet Joe Rocks of Busta House Hotel, who wants me to do a whisky tasting/dinner in January. Happy to agree, then off to get James from his bass lesson. Lunch. We settle on Lerwick's excellent Turkish takeaway, the Turkish Delight, and scarf our various kebabs on the waterfront, next to the stunning new museum (outside dock area pictured), the Guggenheim of the North Sea. That's James and the Giant Doner in the 'phone snap. 'What will we do' asks James, 'when they build the new cinema and music venue here?' Because we're sitting on the site of the proposed edifice called Mareel, pinnacle of ambition for many in the artistic community. It will contain, so they say, a cinema, live music venues, recording studios, offices and much more.
I shrug. The likelihood of Mareel ever coming to fruition in its planned form is receding fast; the local arts agency seems hellbent on destroying its own credibility, and a gutless council is continuing on a spendthrift, crowd-pleasing course which involves keeping open the sadly redundant one-pupil secondary school in Skerries AND building a new high school in Lerwick. Even with the oil revenues, money doesn't grow on trees. And there are very few trees in Shetland.
Martha is playing with New Tradition at the museum, so James and I leave her to it. She will be transported home by neighbours Kenneth and Valerie, whose daughters also play in the group.
So we zip back to Hillswick. James is partying tonight in Mossbank, about 17 miles away, and just before driving him there, I notice that my BBC keys are missing. The Beeb has just introduced stringent new security measures, and these keys not only give me access to the studios in Lerwick and Aberdeen, they have a coding device attached to let me use BBC webmail. I decide they must be at the Lerwick studios (I was there on Friday night) and reluctantly decide to go back to Lerwick to fetch them.
I take the £390 Volvo Torslanda to see if it breaks. The route to Mossbank goes past the giant Sullom Voe oil terminal, biggest in Europe, and source of Shetland's comparitive wealth (great roads, schools, sports centres, swimming pools and so-called Magniejobs that couldn't exist anywhere else on the planet). It's a clear, still, night with that slow swell indicating big trouble out in the Atlantic. We'll get it soon enough. Probably when I'm on the boat south on Wednesday night.
So, back to Lerwick. You use a code to get into the self-operated Studio Seven, which is where I think I've left the keys, but they're not there. Oh well. It's hysteria or acceptance. I go for acceptance. Back home,again, the Volvo lumbering along reassuringly. Rear wheel drive and its consequent tight turning circle, is a delight. It doesn't break.
Home, Martha gets back, tea (Susan, surgery in the morning, on call and studying all day has made Nigella Lawson-designed goujons of sole) and a reflection that this lemon sole is the last we'll ever have from fisherman neighbour Ewen, who has sold his boat and retired. That fish was a result of his final trip. Some work on the novel (hitting 58,000 words), and then it's that uneasy period of dozing until 1.30 am, when I have to leave to pick up James at Mossbank.
Three am, and I'm home, finally, after a slithery nightmare in black ice and frost. Lulu the dog is sick and clamouring to be let out, so I sip camomile tea while she wanders the back garden. It's icy, a clear sky revealing Orion's Belt suspended right over the Hillswick Ness.
Two hundred miles and 19 hours. On the off chance, I check the jacket I had on two days ago. And there are the keys. So I will not be sent to BBC Presenters' Detention Camp. At least, not yet.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party leadership in Scotland is in utter disarray. I may have had a hard day, but not as bad as Wendy Alexander's.And hopefully my week ahead will be better than the one she's facing.