Thursday, February 28, 2008

At Baldragon Academy

The school soul band rehearse for today's TM show.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In Another Land: the death of Larry Norman

I think it was 1972. Larry Norman arrived in Scotland to play for the first time, at the militantly traditional, eccentrically evangelical Tent Hall in Glasgow's Saltmarket. It was the moment rock'n'roll in all its glamour, hairiness, colour and American vigour, arrived in the midst of Scottish fundamentalism. Nothing would ever be the same again, not least for me.

Larry died, after a long illness, on Sunday. Some of his songs were stark warnings about the imminent rapture - one now-irritating aspect of his theology he shared, alas, with George Bush (not that their politics were even remotely similar. I hope...) - but others stand as rock classics that both affirm and transcend their religious standpoint. And he was a truly mesmeric, sometimes hilarious performer.

Whatever, for many of us, he changed everything.

George Formby and the Arctic Monkeys - a clear line of inheritance

Arrived home to find the copy of George Formby - The Ultimate Collection had arrived. It is part of my continuing obsession with things ukulele-ish, but what a revelation in terms of comic songwriting (few of the songs were actually written by Formby himself). And filth. It seems My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock was the first pop song banned by the BBC.

By the time I reached The Lancashire Toreador, the phrasing, and all that observational comic writing was reminding me heavily of Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. He is a George Formby for the noughties...though come to think of it, fellow Sheffield urchin rockers Little Man Tate are more in the lascivious line going back to good-time George.

Oh, and surely Benny Hill shamelessly ripped off Delivering the Morning Milk for the legendary Ernie...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Malt and Barley Revue goes ukulele crazy !

If you click on the link and have RealAudio, you'll be able to hear one of the songs from the show I'm just putting the finishing touches to, the Malt and Barley Revue. It's a mixture of whisky tasting, concert, celebration of Scotland and alcohol, and a questioning of our relationship with the demon drink. It comes with three free malts per punter and a lot of laughs.

But I have introduced a ukulele into the mix...see what you think here:

Susan's Aunt Ruby was a professional uke player on the White Star liners that sailed out of Glasgow in the 30s...I have her ukulele and it's playable, but needs work. This was played (in 'C') on another 1930s uke I bought off eBay.

More music and full Malt and Barley Revue information here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

End of an era at the Famous Bein Inn

From the Mundell Music website (

The day the music died...............!
Urgent news about The Famous Bein Inn
There will be no more music at The Famous Bein Inn due to a very sudden change of policy........... but don't despair as Mundell Music are continuing at The Glenfarg Hotel.
Please call the Glenfarg Hotel on 01577 830241 to book or use the on-line ticketing

The Beinstock festival, due to start tomorrow (Thursday) with Denny Laine, will continue, though at the Glenfarg Hotel. And David Mundell (with Denny Laine) will be on the TM show tomorrow to talk about the situation.

David sold the Bein Inn a few months ago, to local people who were, ostensibly, keen to keep on with the music and to keep David in place to book bands. They've obviously changed their minds. It's tragic in that the FBI had built up such a reputation amongst musicians and punters, and had such a unique atmosphere. All that memorabilia! The John Martyn Corner! The Big Country and John Jorgensen Suites! Elton John and Bob Dylan having private parking spaces! Superstar gigs to a sell-out audience of 50!

What I think the new owners have failed to realise is that the music side of things was key to the FBI's appeal. They may have resented not being able to get a steak pie when they wanted to, due to all those musos, but I think they'll live to regret this decision.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Loudness wars, digital lies and why Springsteen's 'Magic' is impossible to listen to more than twice

It's modern mastering techniques, apparently. Overall loudness, via compression rules, clipping (distortion) is omnipresent, and music becomes tiring to listen to. This was why I had to stop listening to Springsteen's 'Magic', which has some great songs, but the worst overall sound of any Bruce album. And he has never been produced properly, in my humble opinion. It seems the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Californication' is even worse.
Excellent article here:

Funny, this is EXACTLY what Ivor Tiefenbrun and his cohorts at Linn were saying back in the early 1980s, in defence of vinyl.

Digital has a lot to answer for. I heard some stories the other day of some VERY unlikely people demanding the use of the Pro-Tools (sound recording and editing software) 'Autotune' plug-in for the correction of their woeful vocals on a supposedly 'documentary' live recording. No names, no roots Americana credibility gap...

Also, on the radio we're finding a lot of compilations coming in where remastering has rendered all light and shade into a morass of ferocious, blasting, one dimensional sludge. The engineers can see what was once a tune's peaks and troughs turned into a single 'square wave'. Step forward, you 'Definitive' Motown people...

Back to vinyl!

Monday, February 18, 2008

A news story about the Sullom Voe oil terminal, and, seeing as this is a blog, what I think about it...

I did a bit of work on this last week, and while it was sent out to various news organisations, I can see why it failed to make has a (very) disgruntled ex-employee, pictures taken several months ago, and rather too much balance for its own good. Maybe I should have gone all-out for the 'TOXIC TIME BOMB AT TERMINAL' line.

Still, the central image for me is of an entire sea-loch filled in with old buses, lorries, waste oil, chemicals and all the other shit no-one could be bothered getting rid of properly. Despite what Mr Okill quite understandably didn't see, it DID happen. I've since spoken to a very senior figure who watched those buses buried. And the incidental revelation that there was an oil spill in January into the Sullom Voe drainage system...och well. Yesterday's news, as they say. Until the chickens come home to roost. Or rather, the ducks, swans and otters don't.

A massive, 30-year-old landfill site at the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal in Shetland is under investigation after a former employee accused operators BP of deliberately ignoring 'serious pollution' in an environmentally sensitive watercourse.

In response, a team from SEPA, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, will visit the site this week. Terminal operators BP are set to install a new filtration system to purify groundwater later this year.

Former security guard Scott Shedden, 62, has worked at the terminal, Europe's biggest, since its construction phase in the late 1970s. He believes that photographs taken last autumn show the Burn of Crooksetter, a haven for swans, ducks, otters and rare Shetland sea trout, polluted with run-off water from the waste dump, which ceased to operate in 2002.

The photographs, seen by local SEPA officer Dave Okill, show a white scum and orangey-brown residue in the water. Last Thursday there were still signs of similar staining from one drain where it meets the burn, but the water for the most part looked clean and was healthily populated with waterfowl. Mr Okill was suffiently concerned to order a site visit.

"It's disgusting," said Mr Shedden,. "I took these pictures using an official security camera, and showed them to BP when I worked at the terminal, and they refused to do anything about it. They just said they had plans for the burn. I was there two weeks ago and things were in a similar state.

"What is running into that burn is coming from the thousands of tonnes of waste buried during the construction of the terminal. I personally dumped 55,000 litres of red lead paint there, still on pallets, and I saw two Landrovers bulldozed as well. There was thousands of pounds worth of copper wire, waste oil, vehicles and all kinds of things just covered over and left to rot."

During construction of the terminal, the sea inlet called Orka Voe was partly filled with peat and spoil from the development. The area was also licensed as a dump and according to local folklore, such was the scale of the contract that large numbers of vehicles were buried there rather than being disposed of professsionally. The Burn of Crooksetter was diverted by the work, but it has for many years been one of the jewels in BP's environmentally-sensitive crown, attracting birdwatchers and rare species in equal numbers.

"I've heard all the rumours - that there were 25 Triumph Toledos, accommodation units, fridges, washing machines and whole fleets of buses being buried there," said Mr Okill. "All I can say is that I was on site there from 1975 and never saw anything of the sort. And when the Clair (oil field) pipeline was run through that area, neither surveys nor excavations uncovered anything like that."

Mr Okill added that he and his staff had checked the Burn of Crooksetter on many occasions over the years. "I have never seen anything that would cause me concern." But having seen Mr Shedden's pictures, he said he was "a little concerned about the white substance." Previous samples had suggested that there was no problem in the burn.

"One of the best indicators of environmental contamination are trout. They are very sensitive to any levels of pollution. The fact that there has been a healthy population of Trout in the burn over the years would suggest that there are no long term problems in the area.

"Nevertheless, in the light of these pictures my staff will visit the site at the beginning on next week and carry out an inspection to see if they can find anything out of order or if there is any change in the area, and take samples to check the inputs from these pipes"

Janet Mullins, local spokeswoman for terminal operators BP, said there had been a licensed landfill site operating under SEPA guidleines until 2002. During that period there had been regular inspections by SEPA and no problem had been found. The landfill was no longer in operation. There had been regular inspections of the Burn of Crooksetter.

"These will continue over the operating life of the terminal," she said, "with all results monitored by SEPA." Any response advised by SEPA would be acted on immediately by the terminal operators. It was crucial for this to happen in order to obtain the necessary permissions to operate the site as a whole.

Over the past year, as part of groundwater monitoring, wells had been installed at the landfill to meet new requirements of the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control permit the terminal needs to operate, and which again is controlled by SEPA. "A hydro-geologist was brought in to supervise groundwater monitoring. This feedback has gone to SEPA and the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG)," Ms Mullins said. A new filtration system for groundwater 'leachate' will be installed later this year.

According to Mr Okill, "as for the existing licensed landfill which is in the reclaimed area, they (BP) have a notice of closure which means that they cannot landfill any more waste. We are currently preparing, in conjunction with them, a post-closure monitoring and aftercare plan, which will remain in effect until such time as the site is deemed to present no possible environmental risk; this is of course the same for all landfills."
Mr Okill confirmed that he was in discussion with BP about a spill of crude oil into the terminal's drainage system during January. This - never made public but thought to be substantial - was contained within a small waste water pool. Another very small sheen of oil escaped into the sea recently from a visiting tanker.

In 1983, waste oil was discovered in sediment on the sea bed at Orka Voe, and was blamed on contractors working on the site, although there was no evidence that this had leached out from the landfill.

Mr Shedden, who lives nearby, worked at the terminal for various contractors for almost 30 years, mostly as a painter and shot blaster. Latterly, he worked as a security guard, but lost his job last week after an investigation into alleged misuse of company fuel.He said he was concerned for the wildlife in the burn and in Orka Voe, where the watercourse reaches the sea.

"I'm appalled that BP did nothing about this despite being told about it by me and being given copies of these photographs," he said.
The giant Sullom Voe Oil Terminal processed its first crude oil in 1978, and remains crucial to the the UK's North Sea and now Atlantic undersea oil production. Its environmental reputation has always been exceptionally good.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

'We don't burn our galley in a playpark...' scenes from the One True Up Helly Aa...

It was the Northmavine Up Helly Aa on Friday night, our local viking conflagration. Not on the same scale as the internationally-famed Lerwick festival, but less precious and a lot more (in my opinion) fun. And indeed, the galley is not burned in a playpark, but out there on the water - the only Up Helly Aa where that happens. It was a fine night and congratulations to Guizer Jarl John Scollay and his associates.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why you shouldn't trust a Beatle (or pay money in advance for a Chuck Berry gig)

For reasons entirely professional, I have been listening to old vinyl LPs a lot recently, mostly by the marvellous (and tragic) Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher. Then, this morning, I decided to put on my old Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll! compilation.

Fresh as paint, they sound, all those familiar classics: Sweet Little Sixteen, Maybelline and the astonishing Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. It's hard to believe all this sophistication is so early - as old as me. And that's, well, old. And there's much of it. The man must, by a long way, have more classic songs to his name than anyone else.

Berry was verbally stunning: sly, witty and with a phenomenal, gleeful but mordant grasp of the details of 1950s consumerism; No Money Down isn't just the best car song ever written; it's the best song ever written about capitalism. But only when you listen on a proper hi-fi do you hear the secret of his melodic and rhythmic success: Johnnie Johnson's piano (though Johnson himself was replaced for some tracks by the oddly-named imitator Lafayette Leake. That's where those chords come from, though Johnson was never credited by the notoriously mean'n'nasty Berry. And he is unreliable, too. Beware Berry's propensity for not appearing as advertised. Or playing cursory gigs with pick-up bands. I mean this somebody who actually frightened Keith Richards.

Anyway, that's not my point. It was during Catch Me If You Can that the line "here come ol' flat top, he was groovin' up with me' came hurtling out of the speakers. Wait a minute, I thought, like the sad, anally-retentive person I am, that's from the Beatles' Come Together, first track on Abbey Road. Credited to Lennon-McCartney, but actually written and sung by Lennon.A couple of Google clicks later, and Wikipedia came up with this:

"Come Together" was the subject of a lawsuit brought against Lennon by Chuck Berry's music publisher, Morris Levy, because one line in "Come Together" closely resembled a line of Berry's You Can't Catch Me: (i.e. The Beatles' "Here come ol' flattop, he come groovin' up slowly" vs. Berry's "Here come up flattop, he was groovin' up with me"). After settling out of court, Lennon promised to record other songs owned by Levy, all of which were released on Lennon's 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll.

And all the attention fell, of course, on poor old George Harrison's appropriation of The Chiffons' He's So Fine for My Sweet Lord...

Those Beatles, eh? Never trusted them...But then, the sequel comes with poor old Johnnie Johnson's legal case against Berry for unpaid royalties on all the songs he co-wrote. Dismissed in 2000 because too much time had passed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The slow, ugly death of DAB, dodgy design, and how I became a radio transmitter as well as broadcaster

Digital Audio Broadcasting - DAB - is dead technology, and the first nail in its blond-wood coffin was not the statement yesterday by the beleaguered head of commercial broadcaster GCAP (closing two digital 'stations' and selling its stake in one of the main DAB broadcasting thingies), and not even David Hepworth's article in last month's Word Magazine

It was those boxes. And they were/are interesting boxes, those Pure Evoke (what a STUPID name) DAB radios. In retrospect they had/have 'future demise' written all over them.

And friends, I bought one. Well, I bought one as a present for a family member who lives in one of the isolated urban pockets of DAB reception. Only after I bought it did I discover it was, of all things, MONO (at a time when you could buy a stereo FM radio with built in CD for approximately five old pennies. And that you needed to buy a matching extension box to turn it into something that looked like one of those Russian hi-fis you used to get from Woolworths. And that it sounded like a crystal set anyway. Sure, an LCD display told you what station you were listening to. But car radios had been doing that for years.

Because whoever designed those Pure Boke radios had a brainwave: It's new and unfriendly tech, he (definitely a he) thought. Let's clad it in...wood! And brushed aluminium, sort of 1940's/50s,like in that Terry Gilliam film, Brazil. Ignoring the fact that the post-modern, valve-driven society in Brazil is both decaying and hugely threatening. This was something that looked like a radio in the same way the warning signs for roadside GATSO speed cameras show a symbol of an ancient plate camera with a bellows. It apologised for what it was.

It was big, and clumsy, too, though you could get Walkman-style versions at enormous cost (now much cheaper, but not 99p, like FM personals). And besides, all UK digital stations were available through your digital telly.

Then bingo, we all (or most of us) got broadband, wireless broadband. Recognise that wee word? 'Wireless'? Sound familiar?) Now we can listen to every conceivable radio station while we're working (headphones, sir, headphones). Meanwhile people like Logik (who make DAB receivers as well, not necessarily out of wood) start bringing out the Reciva, which is admittedly a bit like a DAB receiver, in that it's mono and not portable, but brings all the stations on the internet (and that's ZILLIONS more than DAB) into your kitchen, bedroom or living room, using wi-fi. It looks not like a twee imitation of a Garrison Keillor radio romance 'wireless', but a piece of uncompromisingly scientific equipment. It looks like a wave generator from a lab, or a defibrillator, or a Geiger counter. It's deliberately intimidating. At a pinch, it looks as if it might save your life. Or ruin it. And look at the name: 'Logik Reciva' - ugly, technical, modernist, nerdy - as compared to 'Pure Evoke' - nostalgic, backward looking, essentially fascistic.

At first, my Logik was annoyingly prone to cutting out. We live in a big old house with thick walls, and our wi-fi router wasn't powerful enough. So I decided to search for some kind of booster. Suddenly, on eBay, I glimpsed the possibility of becoming an (unlicensed) radio transmitter. You can get wi-fi boosters with a range of 10 kilometres! Holy Pirate Radio! A Belkin for £30 plugged into a wall socket and gave us complete household coverage, plus the garden and a neighbouring field. Now we are wi-fi'd to the max. DAB? you must be joking. Not that we could ever get DAB within three hundred miles of where I type.

And I've sold, so far, three Logik Recivas (what a stupid name). People visit, I demonstrate what it can do (here's East Village Radio in New York City, here's EVERY HEAVY METAL STATION IN THE WORLD!) they order one. For £38.50. And I'm not even on commission.

DAB? DOA, I'm afraid. And that's without even talking about cars.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Carr's Cheese Melts - the crack cocaine of savoury biscuitry

One packet is open, the other is sealed. I am securely supplied for at least the next week, assuming I behave in a moderate and controlled fashion. With Carr's Cheese melts, this is not easy. They are the most ferociously addictive savoury biscuits I have ever encountered.

In fact, they are beyond savoury. They are beyond cheesiness. They are, allegedly, sprinkled with 'dried cheese'. I do not believe this. I think they have been impregnated with a chemically enhanced essence of extra mature Cheddar and possibly some kind of opiate. There's an acrid, bitter tang to them that crinkles the nasal passages and fuses perfectly with the stunning texture (thin, crunchy, but with an almost TUC wafer-like shortbreadiness). They are an acquired taste - the Marmite of biscuits - and once consumed, there is no way back, save through extensive therapy. Probably involving the horrors of Ryvita.

Eating Cheese Melts naked (the biscuit, not you; or me) does not adequately communicate their dangerous brilliance. It is as an adjunct to particular varieties of cheese that their cunning qualities take hold. In particular, Cambozola and very strong Cheddar. Anything with a nasty bacterial whiff, such as Stilton, Brie de Pays, Camembert or Danish Blue, counteracts the powerful attack of the Melt itself. Though Roquefort, oddly, works very well. Butter is simply...inadequate. This biscuit begs for the corpse of milk.

Cheese Melts disappeared from the Shetland Islands three weeks ago, provoking frenzied shelf-scouring my myself. They have now returned. I note that Somerfields have a note attached to the shelf upon which they sit, claiming that they represent 'Scottish tastes'. I fear this is true. High-fat, High-salt, encouraging the addition of even higher fat, higher salt substances. Nurse, the statins!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How they spell 'bucket' at the Brae Co-op

As they say in the posher parts of Dundee, 'Oor Wullie needs a cushion, else he'll get piles fae sitting on yon bouquet...'

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bus and bike to Banff and back

Left Glasgow at 8.30 this morning on a Megabus packed with unhappy people. Well, they looked unhappy. Read most of James Lee Burke's Pegasus Descending, picked up in a charity shop and a recent addition to his fantastic Dave Robicheaux series, set in Louisiana. The Mississippi delta made a nice contrast to the windy, chilly but essentially non-snowy Scottish landscape.

Funny thing about buses and trains in the UK, how people choose to travel on public transport and so obviously hate the fact that other people are THERE, with them. So everyone takes a double seat to themselves and builds a wall of luggage to try and prevent anyone sitting next to them. When I boarded, I could see the absolute panic on every face at the thought that this large person, clutching two bags and a crash helmet, might sit next to them. And then, weirdly, once we set off, nobody but me (and the guy next to me) put on our seat belts, despite this now being a legal obligation. Until the driver started insisting.

At least my Megabus seatbelt worked. The one on the 305 service to Banff (Portsoy, actually; I needed that alliterative 'b') and beyond, didn't. Hell's teeth, that's a tedious run, corkscrewing through every Aberdeenshire community with more than two houses. Anyway, got to Portsoy eventually on my latest eBay adventure, there to meet Dave and the bike I'd bought, site unseen (see below).

It's a terrifying moment, when you cast eyes on the object which looked so attractive online. No problem this time, though. The BMW is an absolute cracker. Dave was philosophical, but admitted being disappointed with the price the bike fetched. A result of the time of year and distance from main markets, I think.

I was worried about the ride back to Aberdeen, about 60 miles, but the ice and snow of yesterday had disappeared. It was very cold and windy, though, and the road between Banff and Aberdeen was slimy and treacherous, frequently fouled with farm waste. No place for a motorbike, really, but I made it back to Aberdeen OK. The BMW (oh, luxury) has heated grips on the handlebars, so that was a real help. And I had my longjohns.

Boat tomorrow night after a long trip away. Still, saw Magnus in Glasgow, saw round a water treatment plant, touched base with The Producers and generally got a lot done without buying A SINGLE THING in Primark. Be good to be back in Shetland, though. Once I've worked out how to tell Susan about the bike...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Let it (not) snow...

But it is. Heavily and, I hope, temporarily in Aberdeen. Tonight I'm getting the Megabus down to Glasgow to see Magnus and some movies. Why not the train, you may well ask? Well, because the only way I can get back to Aberdeen on Sunday in time to catch the infamous 305 bus service to Banff is by bus. Trains on Sunday are ultra presbyterian things, it seems, ruled by Sabbatarian timetablers. Why do I need to go Banff? Ah well, the thing is (sorry Susan) there's a BMW R1100R there needing brought back to Shetland...

My main hope is that the snow has melted by Sunday. Or was never there.