Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon Hogmanay birthday, end of the decade lists, 2010 looms

A 'blue moon', technically, is a second full moon occurring within a month of a previous full moon. And there's one today. Which is not only Hogmanay, obviously, but also my 54th birthday.

The lists thing began yesterday with 'my top ten live albums of all time' and then provoked a couple of old pals (Douglas Small and Phil Blakeman) into requiring my top ten ALBUM albums of all time. As by that time it was mid-evening and I was already celebrating my impending birthday, it was an off-the-top-of-the head, three-glasses-of-sweet-sherry attempt, which you can find at the end of this post. I see no reason to retract. I will go along with Phil's list, though (also reproduced), as excellent in every way other than Robin Trower (bad cape) and Anita Baker (one good song.

Anyway, this is just for fun. Enjoy, disagree, fulminate and agitate. And have a good time tonight.

Tom's Top Ten Albums of the (ie,made in this) Decade:

(in no particular order)

The Killers: Hot Fuss
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!
Hello Saferide: More Modern Short Stories From Hello Saferide
Lambchop: Is a Woman
Ryan Adams: Gold
Bob Dylan: Love and Theft
Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
Paolo Nutini: Sunny Side Up
Elvis Perkins: Ash Wednesday
Arcade Fire: Funeral

(lurking: The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America; Moby: Wait for Me; Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (and not 'Back In Black' which is someone else entirely)

Tom's Top Ten Tracks of the Decade

The Killers: All These Things That I've Done
Arcade Fire: No Cars Go
Paolo Nutini: Growing Up Beside You
Idlewild: American English
Elvis Perkins: Ash Wednesday
Elbow: Grounds for Divorce
Bruce Springsteen: Radio Nowhere
Bob Dylan: Mississippi
Hello Saferide: Anna
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: More News From Nowhere

(lurking: Frightened Rabbit's Swim Until You Can't See Land; Ryan Adams' version of Wonderwall; Amy Winehouse: Rehab)

Tom's Plucked from Mid-Air Top Ten Albums of All Time

Darkness on the Edge of Town - Springsteen
Funeral - Arcade Fire
Blue - Joni Mitchell
London Calling - Clash
Humans - Bruce Cockburn
The Las
Steve Earle - Guitar Town
Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece
Live 1966 - Bob Dylan
A Walk Across the Rooftops - Blue Nile

Different tomorrow. Costello first somewhere. Hank Williams Health and Happiness Hour. Waits Asylum Years, etc etc
(on reflection, Spotlight on Al Green would be in there, the Greatest Seduction Album Ever(!) Also Out On the Floor Tonight (Stateside Northern Soul compilation)and that great Atlantic/Stax four album set).

Phil Blakeman's Top Ten (roughly) Albums of All Time

Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan
Rapture - Anita Baker
Into the Music - Van Morrison
Poet 2 - Bobby Womack
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Heartattack & Vine - Tom Waits (if we are not allowing greatest hits) Last Record Album - Little Feat Argus - Wishbone Ash Robin Trower Live Tonight's the Night - Neil Young Average White Band (first album) Royal Scam - Steely Dan 10 Easy Pieces - Jimmy Webb Hats - Blue Nile Every Picture Tells a Story - Rod Stewart

For the moment, that's all folks! But as I say. It may all be different tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The top ten live albums of all they occur to me this minute

Following on from a non-sequitur on yesterday's show, and the news (thanks, Mike Ritchie) that Van Morrison is a father again at the age of 64 (to George Ivan Morrison III, dead spit of his dad, poor wee sod), it occurred to me that the Top Ten Live Albums of All Time might be an interesting notion to, off the top of my head (and revealing a sad nostalgia for the 70s and beyond):

(1) It's Too Late To Stop Now - Van Morrison and the Caledonia Soul Orchestra
(2) Live in Europe - Rory Gallagher
(3) Bootleg Series: Live 1966 - Bob Dylan
(4) Live - Randy Newman
(5) Live 1975-1985 - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
(6) Get Yer Ya-Yas Out - Rolling Stones
(7) Live at Folsom Prison - Johnny Cash
(8) Live at Leeds - The Who
(9) My Feet Are Smiling - Leo Kottke
(10)Before the Flood - Bob Dylan and the Band

....and I have to admit that in my admittedly dodgy opinion, Wings Over America, Bob Dylan At Budokan, the 1964 Dylan Bootleg series live album, and Bruce Cockburn's Slice O'Life are lurking just outside...

Hi-Viz and getting down to broadcasting basics

Strange time of year; strange days. In between Christmas and New Year, loads of people on holiday, loads of people mildly or very drunk, loads of people hungover, shopping, dreaming, playing with new Santa delievered toys.

The Tom Morton Show has always gone for live as opposed to pre-recorded when it comes to the festive season, basically due to a recognition by all concerned,I think, that I'm really, really crap at pre-records. Unless we're talking highly structured, carefully written mega productions like the recent alcohol endeavours. I sometimes think I've developed such a tolerance to adrenalin after the years of live broadcasting that without the mild threat of disaster a live show brings, the tamped-down rush, there isn't the concentration or energy to produce the requisite performance.

So I really don't mind the two hours of live TMS each day, while other presenters are at home or engaged in apres-ski at their Alpine chalets. No, that's not resentment. I hate ski-ing. One agonising weekend in Aviemore was enough.

I suppose this live broadcasting lark is a bit like exercise. Once you're running or cycling or Pilates-ing daily, missing a session leaves you feeling...naggingly incomplete. Two hours of inconsequential nattering between records, waiting for either wit or witlessness to come out of your own mouth, gets to be a habit.

Of course, you can (and regularly should) get over this. That's called a holiday, when you can go through adrenalin detox and the Powers That Produce can try out potential replacement presenters. And there's loads of them about. I used to worry about this - after all, that's the path into Radio Scotland I trod myself - but what's the point? If the worst comes to the worst I can always get on eBay and start flogging all those free CDs I've accrued over the years (only joking! These days, compliance rules mean that surplus CDs aren't even given to charity shops; they're landfilled).

Actually, what I wanted to write about today was Hi-Viz jackets, and the way that, during these strange half-lit, snow-filled days, everything is reduced to the absolute essentials of existence: Get up, check the (cold) weather. Breakfast, do news and web checks, dogs out, dogs in, dress. No-one cares what I look like. Radio Shetland's shut, there's nobody there but the occasional painter. And me in the self-op studio. The only people I'll be speaking to, save family, are listening to the radio. So it's the uber-practical approach. And in Shetland, potentially lifesaving: Old jeans, thick socks, Raichle hiking boots, t-shirt, jumper (hoodie for prime comfort) hat, British Army tank commander gloves, padded Hi-Viz jacket, 20 quid from North Eastern Farmers. Warm and in darkest daylight Shetland, the only thing that prevents a pedestrian being pulped.

Transport? Not the classic Merc, which is rubbish anyway and still in the garage. Not the newish Citroen, which is hopeless in the snow. Got to be the crude-as-a-brick Isuzu pick-up truck, noisier than a cement mixer and almost as fast. Old, rusty but with everything in it working perfectly. That'll do. Overnight bag in case I get really stuck. Food, shovel, de-icer. Into town, 35 miles. Broadcast. Come back.

Broadcast: how does that function? A producer and an engineer are in Aberdeen, connected to the Big Aerial in Glasgow. I have a list of songs, all stored on the mainframe computer, somewhere deep below Wick. A playlist for daytime broadcasting is compiled weekly in Glasgow, although me and the producers can mess with it, to an extent. I'm checking and listening all day for stuff that I can talk about, and more importantly, that the listener might be interested in. Being connected is the thing. All media, old, nearly new: papers, radio, telly, internet. Family stuff, local news, dog behaviour. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it just works. Facebook and Twitter have changed the relationship with the audience over the past year. There are regular listeners, erudite, clever folk with funny tales and suggestions for topics we could discuss. Interactivity? You got it. We need it.

So there we are. Broadcasting a two hour live music show, stripped down to basics. I still love it, of course. In a curious way, especially at this strange time of year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sea level snow at daybreak.

Woken for some reason at 5.00 am to find snow falling in shovelfuls. It was, thankfully, a shower, not a Narnian Event. The roads have, as usual in Shetland, been cleared and gritted. Scandinavian welfare state, you see. Still, should be an interesting trip into Lerwick.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Robert Stewart's CCTV birdboxes in Shetland

These magically quirky CCTV birdboxes are sculptures built by the Glasgow-based architectural model maker Robert Stewart. They were part of Susan's Christmas (after much heart-stopping trepidation on my part, she loved them)and are now installed inside and outside our house. You can buy them from Glasgow's superb Recoat Gallery in North Woodside Road. Many thanks to Amy for getting them here in time for Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tom's Christmas guide to Shetland pick-up truck culture (keeping the TM Show on air over the festivities)

Merry Christmas! Here's my Christmas Eve guide to the wondrous vehicle that gets me in and out to Lerwick when more sophisticated 4WDs slide, slither and slump. Remember, the TM Show is live on BBC Radio Scotland throughout Christmas and New Year, with the exception of Christmas Day itself.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hey, fancy a wee train trip in the snow?

This is just 10 glorious minutes of the train journey through the mountains between Bergen and Oslo in Norway, shot from the front of the engine. In the snow. Believe it or not, Norwegian broadcaster NRK will let you download, free, the entire seven hours in HD...if you have a spare 22gb. Emerging from those tunnels is like...happiness.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ferry in the snow, and the Invisible Source of All British Wealth

To Lerwick, early, on relatively clear roads, thanks to absolutely superb gritting and ploughing. And the fact that nothing like as much snow fell as expected. I'd arranged to collect Magnus from the ferry at the relatively civilised time of 9.00am, though it usually gets in at 7.30. Not today. Horrendous weather south of Orkney meant she didn't dock there until 2.00am, though time was made up in the (quite) calm seas between here and Kirkwall; she got into Lerwick around 8.00am. All times are approximate due to Magnus being sound asleep/oversleeping. Hence me waiting in the terminal buildng drinking lousy machine coffee.

It's now a gloriously sunny day, though we await further snow with interest. The second picture shows (though you have to look very, very carefully) the source of all the UK's oil wealth, the Sullom Voe oil and gas terminal. Due next year to see massive new investment from Total in a gas-fired power station. Couple that with the proposed new wind and wave farms, and Shetland could become Britain's oil, gas and electricity powerhouse. Shetland is also very pleasing aesthetically, as you can probably gather. Though being a tourist over the next few years could be tricky, as all hotels are likely to be full of Frenchmen in boiler suits.

You can see how much of a visual impact the terminal has...though I should point out that at this time of year, it gets dark at it's even less visible!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brutal weather settling in for the weekend

Very cold, windy and sideways snow that (so far) isn't staying put. Forecast for tonight and tomorrow much worse, which is a pity because Mag's on the boat tonight. Stove lit, generator filled with petrol, Citroen abandoned in favour of Isuzu double-cab 2.8-litre turbo diesel 4WD pickup. Economical? No, but it'll go up The Clavie in 5th gear...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lerwick and Hillswick by day, Voxter by night

I'm afraid my night-time mobile phone snap doesn't communicate the full, overwhelming impact of those Christmas lights. And this in a community so dark-ridden at this time of year that valiant battles against the night result in probably the most spectacular household lighting in Europe.

The other pictures show a salvaged anchor up at Bruce Wilcock's smithy in my home village of Hillswick (he makes new versions of that, full size, if you're interested) and a couple of hyper-trawlers in Lerwick with just a few of the boxes needed to hold their catch. These boats are so powerful and their catching capacity so massive they fill their annual quotas very quickly; they're at sea only for part of the year and still make very large amounts of cash indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paolo Nutini and The Vipers cover Arcade Fire

backstage in Paris. I'm sure you'll agree it's rather good! The limited edition vinyl box set of Sunny Side Up is still available (1000 copies only) and is a dead cert for collectability, particularly if you don't play it! But that would be a shame, as the vinyl mastering is a bit of a revelation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A measured, liberal, pacifist response...

...from Mr Cockburn. Those Canadians!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas cards, political iconography, flags, history and hyper-realist art: be very careful

Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, wishes us a very merry Christmas with his official card, seen here. It's a painting by Gerard Burns called 'A New Journey'. I'm afraid it sent me off on a disturbing trip through Google Images. Hyper-realist art, flags, and young girls with blond hair? Some images cannot be redeemed from past associations.

Sunday Herald Diary/Tom Morton's Week (13th December)

Unsubbed copy for those unable/unwilling to access the print version, which comes with pictures. Though I believe you can subscribe to a full digital edition online at

December Sunday Herald Diary 13th December


At this time of year, the Greater Zetlandics, in which I live and breathe and have my tattie soup, are darker than the heart of a senior Royal Bank of Scotland executive. There are brief blinks of -often beautiful - light. giving rise to what the locals call 'lightsomeness'. Flickers of happiness in the murk of midwinter.
But seasonal affective disorder takes its toll on many, and today I, feeling the need for some ultra violet stimulation, go looking for the SAD lamp I was sure lurked somewhere in our old house's ample innards. Aha! Here's one, I think, rummaging amid abandoned computers, some mummified sheep, whales' jawbones and piles of dead mobile phones. Sure enough, plugging in and switching on the four-tube Phillips apparatus produces a blinding purplish light that, after several minutes, seems to be improving my mood. At least, my vision is suffused with a pulsing, hazy opacity and the surrounding darkness appears to be receding. I am conscious of a strange prickly sensation on my beardless patches, however.
At this point, my wife bursts in and switches the thing off, informing me that this is NOT an SAD-alleviating lamp, but an abandoned acne-curing skin-sizzler once used by one of my departed-for-Scotland sons. I had been at risk of (1) blinding myself and (2)crispy beard syndrome. Not to mention blazing eyebrows. I stagger outside into the howling morning darkness, let the cooling hurricanes waft around my visaqe, and wait for something approximating proper vision to return. Then I check on the sea.
This is not difficult, as our house adjoins the foamy deep. In fact, sometimes, our house is actually in it. Back in the late 1970s, three feet of the North Atlantic invaded the kitchen, and while rock armouring, a sea wall and other measures have since been put in place, it always pays to check the ocean's mood before assuming that the day, and the house, will be entirely free of salt water. The kayaks are always kept accessible.
As for what global warming will do, we can only await developments. The house has been in its present position, perched on a spit of shingle between two beaches, for over 300 years; some of its timber window frames, as the double glazing man discovered, made of old ships' spars. But what's 300 years these days?
Over in Copenhagen, they're having a summit on the climate. Something Must Be Done. Its is, self-proclaimedly, 'the most important conference the world has ever held.' Park that Range Rover! Buy a bicycle. Meanwhile, all our ground floor electrical sockets are four feet off the ground, just in case the arctic ice cap melts suddenly. Better safe than unable to watch the X Factor. Or order a 'Go Mouse' online, one of the hottest Christmas presents this year, allegedly. Worldwide controversy has broken out over one that is meant to sing 'Jingle Bells' at the touch of its furry little foot, but instead appears to be proclaiming 'paedophiles! paedophiles'. It makes an appearance on BBC Radio Four. Something to do with a Chinese accent speeded up, apparently. Now the whole lot risk being dumped into the sea, there to add to the vast quantities of pollution currently strangling the prawns. I expect to see a bedraggled Go Mouse washed into our kitchen in a couple of years...


Tiger Woods' sponsorship deals are now not so much ebbing away as plunging down the Reichhenbach Falls like a misjudged Moriarty jet ski record breaking attempt. To quote the great Howard Jones: Tiger, you can look at the menu, but you don't have order the entire a la carte selection. A traffic accident has morphed into a hasty exit from his own house, pursued by Elin Nordengren Woods, a vengeful viking supermodel chucking mobile phones and whirling an iron. Add to that mounting evidence of drink, drugs plus a trashed vestibule. Then you have Jesper Pernavik suggesting, helpfully, on the Golf Channel that the aggrieved wife's choice of club was ill-advised. Something with a bit more clout might have been better. Suddenly, more and more women are coming out of the woodwork, the cocktail bars, the strip clubs and porn movie shoots to claim that they, too, have (insert golfing double entendre here) with Mr Woods. Let's just say playing away from home.
It's now very difficult to see how Tiger can ever excel at this most psychological of games again, unless he wears incredibly efficient earplugs to prevent him hearing the, ahem, pithy comments of both galleries and partners, just at the crucial moment of addressing the ball. (Hey Tiger! you and your wife going clubbing later? If you're taking the car, better use a driver, etc etc. I'm keeping it clean, obviously.)
David Letterman,whose hands are not exactly clean when it comes to dodgy
behaviour on the romantic front, broadcast a 'Top Ten Ways for Tiger to Improve His Image' list, the best of which was probably 'Release list of women he hasn’t slept with', but it was the 79-year-old Clint Eastwood who quipped, off the cuff,
'I have great respect for him as a golfer, especially now - that I realise he wasn't thinking about golf when he was out there playing.' So that's the secret! Right. I'm off to the driving range to think about sex all the time. Mind you, it's never helped in the past. Fore!


Back in the eye of the storm - Lerwick Town Hall, where all kinds of hellery was expected to break loose at the meeting of Shetland Islands Council. It's probably too complicated to explain for non-islanders, but here's the executive summary: New chief executive Dave Clark gets up the noses of various councillors. The council gets up its own nose, and various of its other orifices, in a series of bizarre decisions costing millions of pounds that leave the local populace wondering what on earth is going on. There are accusations of drinking, shouting, insults, swearing; sex rears its head, then discreetly nips out for a cigar; the police are called, the police go away, The Assistant Chief Executive is told his job has been deleted, he takes three months off work, the Audit Commission are called in, make aghast noises, go away. So does a very unhappy man from ACAS, called into mediate the unbiddable. Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and his Lib Dem colleague Alistair Carmichael wade in on the Assistant Chief Executive's behalf. Councillors proceed to get lawyered up, ready for what is hinted could be punitive claims for compensation from Mr Clark, who's fed up being badmouthed from Muckle Flugga to Fitful Head. Today, it's all meant to come to a head, with six councillors calling for the chief exec's bonce in a bucket, or his ritual dunking in the harbour until he cries for mercy.
Instead, the assistant chief executive, Willie Shannon, gets offered his job back. A new, £100,000-a-year Extra Additional Assistant Chief executive post is created to Mr Clark's specifications, no-one gets decapitated or defenestrated, and phew, it's Christmas. Ho ho ho. It'll be Up Helly Aa soon, a festival which Mr Clark apparently asked to take part in. He was quietly told that so many of the satirical skits being prepared by guizers involved him as a character it might be difficult to tell the reality from the fictional. And then someone thought, but what if we had the REAL chief executive playing himself? Like Boris Johnson in East Enders? Developments are awaited.


The fragrant Roseanna Cunningham, that groovy goddess among grumpynats, is now Minister for Crufts and Tweed, and thus finds herself in Inverness for the launch of predecessor Mike Russell's Tweedy Crufters Bill. Doubtless she will be explaining to the many tweedy (and non tweedy) crofters gathered in Dolphinsludge, Queen of the Highland Fleshpots, that all that stuff she told Gamekeeper's And Poachers Weekly about not wearing tweed was woven by the evil gorehounds of the press into something much less wearable than it actually was. Loving the Lidl look, Roseanna.
Meanwhile, Mr Russell himself, no longer Minister for Crufts, but Education And Everything Else, pops up, confusingly still representing Culture, External Affairs and The Constitution, as writer of the foreword to a truly excellent book by Professor Alastair Dawson, called So Foul and Fair a Day: A History of Scotland's Weather and Climate. A great Christmas present, this book not only spells out, entertainingly, how weather works, but traces Scotland's history in terms of the weather and how it has affected various events. From the Goniel Blast of 1794 to the legendary flying pig of Orkney (1934; it belonged to Peter Johnson of Gaitnip Farm, East Mainland, and travelled 50 yards through the air), it's a bracing but very pleasant breeze of a book. The copy I have is shockingly bound, however. Tug the pages a bit before you buy it.


Much musing about the decision by Annunziata Rees-Mogg, prospective Tory candidate for posh-shire, to change her political name to Nancy. Nancy Mogg? It sounds like a cartoon cat. The shortening or familiarising of nomenclature can be a thorny subject. My wife, Susan is called Sue by many, and always, within five minutes of meeting, by those from south of the border. She hates it. I have been Tom since I went to university, and abaonded the 'Tommy' I had been since birth (named for my grandfather. Until my own sons, the Morton male line had been George/Thomas/George/Thomas unto time immemorial).
Media lawyer and man-aboot-Glesca Austin Lafferty tells me that his name is actually shortened from Augustine. Why not go for Augie, I tell him, in that Noo Yawk style? too late, it seems, but at one point, for meeja pruposes, he was Gus. Like Tom, it's a one-syllable winner, but alas theere are loads fo Gusses and many more Toms, including, oddly, on in Australia, who's a broadcaster, journalist and author. Confusion can reign across library sheklves, and once did for me at a reading in Lossiemouth. it was at this point that I nearly changed my name to 'Thom' but realised everyone would think I had developed a lisp. Meanwhile, what I want to know is: where have all the Sengas gone?

I was very sorry to hear about the tragedy that befell German tiger-tamer Christian Walliser, who was mauled by his three Bengal tigers during a performance in Hamburg. Surely, though calling the evening The Dinner Circus was tempting fate just a tad?

In: Alistair Darling's eyebrows (still blacker than the Ace of Spades)
Out: Alistair Darling's hair (receding like the tide on a Hebridean beach)
Shake it All About: The economy. A big enough shoogle and something's bound to happen.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Extraordinarily beautiful weather in Shetland today

These were all taken on a Nokia 5800 phone on the drive into Lerwick. the first picture is Johnnie Mann's Loch in Northmavine, a place I once stopped next to at night for a sleep, until I woke up remembering the horrifying ghost story associated with it (headless horseman). No sign of the fellow.

Anyway, the further south I got this morning, the more fog began to gather, until the Tingwall Valley (which contains an airport) was covered in a layer of sunlit mist. Lovely. But a bad sign for the Steve Earle gig tonight at Clickimin, which had to be cancelled due to freezing fog in Inverness.

Frosty dawn over the backyard, after a beautiful starlit night

...and curiously, I heard this lovely song by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn just as I sat down at my computer after a walk in the utterly still, starlit Shetland night. Don't think I've ever seen Orion so clearly outlined. But no aurora! The sun is too cool for Da Merrie Dancers to make their appearance. Mair sunspots!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Effortless on-stage tuning of a 12-string guitar disguised by great tale about Bob Dylan.

Leo Kottke is a genius. I bought the album My Feet Are Smiling in 1974 on the basis of a review in the NME and a poster I saw in the SRC building at Glasgow University, advertising one of his gigs. The poster showed him juggling oranges. I knew nothing about him, but I was obsessed with the acoustic guitar. I can still just about play All Through The Night in open G using a slide, as a result...

I remembered him this week because he was a major influence on wunderkind Newton Faulkner, whose first album Hand Built By Robots is thoroughly recommended. Parental record collections have a lot to answer for.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tom Morton's Week - in The Sunday Herald today (6 December)

Impossible to find via the Herald website, the paper. Loads of good stuff in there. But if you want to read the unsubbed column, it's here. And here.



It’s St Andrew’s Day, and what better time to debate Scotland’s history. As opposed to ‘Scotland’s History’, the BBC series that is fast becoming the barber’s chair into which the forces of heavy-duty historical education wish to bind Mr Neil Oliver, a male model. There to saw off his lank, if heavily conditioned locks with a rusty claymore.

The spat between Mr Oliver and, in particular, Professor Tom Devine over their individual physical attributes has afforded hours of pleasure to those of us more accustomed to discussing history without reference to the Atkins Diet and Mr Vidal Sassoon’s various products. The Great Devine, a man blessed with verbosity so uninterruptible I once heard Garrison Keillor reduced to monosyllables on live radio, has attacked Mr Oliver’s Braveheartian style. Mr Oliver has commented on the gravitas-laden Devine’s ‘substantial’ appearance. Alas, though, we were not afforded the chance to compare and contrast their two carefully calibrated ‘looks’ on the BBC’s St Andrew’s Night Debate. Mr Oliver was in evidence, The Great Professor nowhere to be seen. He claimed to have been ‘blackballed’ by the BBC.

Not the case, I am assured. It was purely due to a production error involving swopped photographs of Professor Greatness and the actor Brian Cox, who did appear on the programme, wrapped all in jute and with a most unconvincing Broughty Ferry accent. Mr Cox, set to appear in the upcoming multi million pound feature film ‘My History – The Devine Story’ has been auditioning (along with Tom Cruise, Ewen McGregor, Gerard Butler and Zac Ephron) for the part of the Prof in said biopic, and was booked due to understandable visual confusion by a media underling. The actor’s decision to take Robert De Niro’s Raging Bull approach to impersonating the Prof seems to be paying off. More pies! Meanwhile, attempts to persuade Mr Oliver to shave his head for Children in Need failed miserably, after he claimed that, were this to happen, ‘all his strength would desert him.’ There appears to be a precedent for this. In history. Or mythology. Or something. What’s the difference?


Full moon. Scary stuff abounds. Such as the prospect of environmental minister Roseanna Cunningham (inspiration for that peculiar lyric by the great band Toto ‘all I want to do in the middle of the evening is hold you tight’) dressed head to toe in Harris Tweed, rampaging on horseback through the fields of Perthshire, whip in hand, bellowing ‘mair foxes!’

This is not, you will be relieved to know, one of Tavish Scott’s mid-debate fantasies, but perhaps the greatest inner fear of Ms Cunningham herself. In an interview with that mass circulation organ, SGAM, The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association Magazine, the Perth MSP said: “The danger is it (tweed) gets wrapped up in a very 19th-century Victorian gentleman’s view of rural Scotland.

“I see people who have no major connection with the country wearing the costume, and that I shy away from.” (note reference to horsewomanship) “I hate seeing that. The reason people wear tweed is because it’s hard-wearing and it identifies, but not so they can stand around and look scenic for tourists. Tweed was appropriate for ghillies and gamekeepers, she said, but not for her: “If I were to dress like that I would be in danger of becoming a laughing stock, as many people do.” Surely not, Rosie? And you in that Primark top, too!

This has, inevitably, provoked fulmination from the Harris Tweed industry, who point out that their hand-made local product has become the choice of top designers worldwide. I can only say that, as someone allergic to horses, I have recently acquired a Harris Tweed waistcoat and cap, though I couldn’t afford a jacket and had to buy a Yorkshire tweed version. I’m going for the John Bonham (while still alive) rock drummer look. Waistcoats disguise a multitude of overindulgences.

Meanwhile, you may be aware that former Labour Party tactical nuclear missile Brian Wilson is now an eminent figure in the world of Harris Tweed. Prompting the joke from a columnist on this very publication: Why do Brian Wilson’s tweed jackets not fit properly? Because he’s got a chip on both shoulders.’


My all-female production team refuse to sanction an on-air discussion about record players, turntables, CD players and streaming audio, as ‘it’s a man thing.’ Huh. Then, in the privacy of my own living room, my much-esteemed wife demands that my much-loved pile of Linn, NAD and KEF hi-fi equipment is ‘made less intrusive.’ In high dudgeon, I remove it all, setting it up in the shed (it’s a large and weatherproof shed. Or, if you prefer, small house). Along with the, ahem, other two sound systems, recording and broadcasting gear, bicycles, disassembled Suzuki GS1000G, photography equipment and life size portrait of Roseanna Cunningham.

It has just been announced, first that Eaglesham hi-fi manufacturer Linn is to abandon making CD players, in favour of boxes that’ll play music from computer files. Linn will, however, continue to make the machine that started it all for them, the Sondek. A record player. A thing that plays vinyl LPs. Remember them? It seems more and more are discovering their superior sound. Not, however, Technics, who have just revealed that production of their legendary 1200/1210 turntable (beloved of DJs and hip-hop scratchers the world over) is to end.

During my days as a salesperson for Russ Andrews HiFi’s deceased Glasgow branch, Maeto Musik, Linn’s founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun was forever in the shop, fulminating, as was his Malcolm Tuckerish wont, about everything from CDs (‘the pits’ was the motto on one Linn t-shirt) to middle eastern politics, Jaguars, German cars and the utter rubbishness of all sound equipment not made in Glasgow. Including, it should be said, Technics record decks. This is the man who once, during a meal at a Mexican restaurant, sliced apart the in-house speaker wires when the owner refused to switch it off. As my producers say, maybe it’s a man thing.


Shane McGowan of the Pogues may be a sorrowful figure to some – a semi-functioning alcoholic, with rotting teeth, unfocussed eyes and, when he can actually move of his own volition, stumbling gait – but he is also one of the greatest lyricists in modern music. And a survivor.

One of the earliest Sex Pistols superfans (there’s a picture of him having part of his ear bitten off at a Pistols gig) he is now set to follow in the celebrity footsteps of Johnny Rotten Lydon by taking part in a reality TV show. To be broadcast on RTE1 on Monday, 'Victoria and Shane Grow Their Own' follows the adventures of McGowan and girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke when they try living in eco-friendly fashion, growing their own vegetables and rearing their own animals.

All, you will be unsurprised to know, does not go according to plan. Clarke is no gardener and McGowan does not fancy himself as a horny-handed tiller of the soil. 'Victoria and Shane Grow Their Own' is due to be broadcast on RTÉ One on December 8th. The concept has not found favour with some dyed-in-the-wool Pogues fans, who see Clarke as taking advantage of Westminster School educated McGowan. Still, surely that fresh air will be good for them both.


It’s Shetland Times day. The last saturation-coverage newspaper in Scotland, possibly the world, publishes this morning, and throughout the islands, everything stops for perusal of the hatches, matches, and dispatches, the for-sale classified (‘one wedding dress, never used; sheepdog, good with children’ ran one I remember).

After a year, I can buy a Times (and hereabouts, there is only one ‘Times’) locally, as our township has its shop back. Community owned, too, after a buy-out, refurbishment (almost entirely by voluntary labour) and much commitment by all of us actually use the thing, rather than travelling the 35 miles to our nearest supermarket.

And what’s in ‘da pepper’? Favourite chorus from notoriously cynical Shetlanders is ‘dere’s naethin in it’, but that has certainly not been true over the past year, which has seen the near-meltdown of the local council in a welter of police complaints, personal accusations and shouting; a furious local row about a planned windfarm, and even the statement by a sheriff last week that Shetland had the highest rate of heroin abuse in Scotland.

All this has happened on the watch of editor Paul Riddell, formerly at The Scotsman and prone to what some may call eccentricities in his editorial style, including a recent leader entirely in loftily-quoted Latin. Lately, contributors to the paper’s letters page have found their missives going unpublished. However, the Times’s on-line rival The Shetland News, has been airing them. Last week, this provoked Mr Riddell himself (at a reputed 50 grand a year, the best paid local editor in Scotland) to contribute to the News’s letters page: a savage attack on one climate change doubter whose letter had failed to reach The Shetland Times’s high standards of objectivity, and adherence to the views of Mr Riddell. Oh, the joys of island media life!


It’s The Thick Of It Day. Malcolm Tucker is in meltdown, and yet Peter Capaldi’s character remains the best hope for a Labour victory at the next election. But it’s not over. As he said himself last episode: “I used to be the f***ing pharoah, but now I am f***ing floundering in a f***ing Nile of shit. But I am gonna fashion a paddle out of that shit.” And, as everyone knows, Curly Wurlys should be the size of a small ladder.

IN: Gary: Tank Commander: best Scottish comedy series since Still Game

OUT: Happy Hollidays, worst Scottish comedy series since The Dawn of Time (but that was on Grampian)

(Don’t) SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT: Neil Oliver’s hair.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Check out Gary: Tank Commander...honest, it's a genuinely funny Scottish comedy series

'a camp cross between Black Watch and The Broons'

Saturday, November 28, 2009

After a shopless year, Hillswick's community store is open!

Hillswick's local shop has been shut for a year, and its absence has been absolutely awful for our remote wee island community. No access to bread, milk, coffee and all the other things you always forget to buy either in Lerwick (35 miles) or Brae (10 miles). No Shetland Times on a Friday morning. No diesel, petrol or last-minute bottle of Buckfast/claret/champagne. The Post Office, once open every day at the shop, is down to two useless (for me) afternoons a week at the community hall. It's hope that the Powers That Post will see sense and give us back our eBay outlet.

Because this week the shop reopened, and this time it's a community-owned enterprise. The building was bought by local development organisation the Northmavine Community Development Company, and nearly all the renovation work (roofing, flooring, shopfitting, external concreting) has been done by local volunteers. Three jobs have been created and inside it's a beautifully fresh, clean and cheerful delight.

I've been in twice so far, and on both occasions got involved in the kind of local chit-chat visits to 'da shop' have always involved. Now what we have to do is make sure the shop is a continuing success, which means using it. Or losing it. It does, after all, belong to all of us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More than 'Once': The Swell Season's Low Rising

Glen Hansard from The Frames and Marketa Irglova, as featured in the movie Once (Falling Slowly) now called The Swell Season and on their second album (Strict Joy. This track is on the Word free CD (December)and is the best thing there (though Pugwash's Nice to be Nice is...really nice. Got to love Glen's somewhat, ahem, worn Takamine guitar

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Two from the archives...

I'd promised an old friend, Brian McGlynn, that I'd find a couple of pictures taken back in the days when I thought I was a bit of rock'n'roll photographer..1983 or thereabouts.

Both show manifestations of the band Woza, originally formed by Brian and Ricky Ross as a full-tilt attempt at rock'n'roll success. One of them said to the other (who knows which to whom, but I'd surmise Ricky to Brian)'You be Billy McKenzie, I'll be Alan Rankine'.

The initial lineup featured the Duffin brothers - Graeme, Stuart and Malcolm (guitar, bass and drums), all shown in the, ahem, posed picture - but did not last long. Graeme went on to fame and fortune with Wet Wet Wet and now runs the Foundry Music Labs recording and production studio. His daughter Esther O'Connor is a singer-songwriter. Stuart is now an acclained painter and printmaker. Malcolm, tragically, was killed in a motorcycle accident in the late 80s.

The live shot was taken at a lunchtime gig - I think Woza's first - at Queen's College in Glasgow. By this time it was Ricky on keyboards, Brian on guitar and vocals, plus a rhythm section. That's Ewen Vernal, later of Deacon Blue, on bass.

Ricky left to pursue his own path with Dr Love, and later, of course, Deacon Blue. Brian had further versions of Woza, one featuring backing singers Kathleen Higgins and Lorraine McIntosh. Lorraine, of course joined DB and later married Ricky. Brian has released solo albums since, is still performing and is a successful business development consultant based in Glasgow.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

After a very early rise (hence bags under eyes, really) a walk in the cool grey air of Lerwick, before the show

I got one of those wee Flip video cameras, and this is my first, very rough, attempt at video blogging. This is the walk from the Victoria Pier in Lerwick, Shetland, to the BBC Radio Shetland studio whence the TM show emanates...any variation between this and my 'official' BBC picture is a compliance matter and has been referred to the proper authorities...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Talent will out: Sunday Post column on the Jedward phenomenon

In My View, Sunday Post, 8 November

Talent, said the writer Stephen King, is a blunt knife that has to be delivered with enormous force. Success, said force having been delivered, may or may not follow. Very good books, even books discounted to within a millimetre of break-even, can fail miserably to be snatched from those supermarket shelves.
Pop music is a whole different kilo of sprouts, however. Enormous force and vast quantities of cash are routinely used to market, to flog mercilessly, the mindlessly moronic and the half-baked to the momentarily interested. Here today, gone later today: that's pop. It always was this way, and always will be. It's part of the disposable pleasure of the thing. Pop exists as a bubble of memories, a tiny, glistening container of stuff we might otherwise not be able to access. In that way it's like smell. Whenever I catch the heady whiff of embrocation, my entire, brief and hugely unsuccessful rugby career flashes before me. Whenever I hear Sir Paul McCartney's stupidest ditty, The Frog Chorus, a whole chapter of my life (I call it the Summerston interlude) opens up in all its grisly and glorious detail. And as for Zager and Evan's In the year 2525, Mud's Tiger Feet and Lulu's Boom Bang-a-Bang, the pictures they come with are best left undisturbed in the dim and dusty corner of my memory banks.
It's got power, pop music, no matter how tawdry it is. As Noel Coward said "it's extraordinary how potent cheap music is." And let's face, it, you don't, you won't ever, get cheaper than Jedward.
There's something hauntingly terrible about the two shock-headed Oor Wullies, two out of tune warblers who couldn't guddle a fish if they were starving to death and who'd probably get piles if they tried to sit on a bucket. In case you've ,missed them, they're the twins everyone loves to hate off the X Factor. Which I understand is some kind of television talent contest, an Opportunity Knocks without Hughie Green, but with extra knocks and bigger opportunities. My entire family is addicted to it. I have caught dribbles of it, forced to watch, horrified, often during mealtimes, while my children shout insults at the screen.
Some folks are apparently horrified by the X Factor factor in creating superstars from very base materials indeed. One Gordon Sumner, AKA Sting, a 'proper' musician who goes for the lute over the loot (except when he's reforming the band he hates so much, megastar pop-rock trio The Police) is appalled. 'I'm appalled' he says, perhaps because Jedward have ripped off his trademark hairstyle. The one he had when he actually had hair. His point is that musicians like he and his law-enforcing cohorts had to 'pay their dues' by travelling the country in a Transit van and playing horrid toilet-like clubs from Thanet to Thurso, until they were magically transformed into stars by dint of sheer hard work. Meanwhile, the likes of the tiny terrible twins pop up on a dodgy talent show and are suddenly stars, courtesy of the programme's judge, jury, executioner, producer and general big shot, Simon Cowell.
But so what? There has always been quality in pop, and there has always been rubbish. For every Phantom Band or Trembling Bells, for every Frightened Rabbit or Harlands (four excellent, musicianly Scottish bands hailing from Selkirk to Wick) there is always going to be a karaoke quine or loon somewhere who can just about belt out a passable Little Boots or Pixie Lott impersonation, and has the looks to jump right out of the telly at your wallet. And maybe their tune, put together by the kind of music factory currently best represented by Xenomania and once by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, will end up lodging itself in your brain, danced to at your wedding, or being on in the background when you propose to your prospective partner. While the Sigur Ros albums you love most remain on the back burner of your brain.
I was brought up on a diet of Wishbone Ash and Rory Gallagher, on Yes and Genesis, Cream and Hendrix. I was a guitar solo snob. And yet now I find myself secretly humming along to a Take That or Lady Gaga tune. As for the Sugababes, I won't hear a word against them.
Jedward you may be able to take or leave. Personally, I'd rather leave them, but beware. The announcement that your first grandchild has just been born may come while a clip of them is playing on The One Show. Meaning that for decades to come you will think of them with nothing but fondness. You have been warned.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Wigwam bonfire with branches

This is the Brae bonfire, all set for 5th November: gunpowder, treason, plot etc. The usual stuff.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Of sauce and sausages

Sunday mornings, the frying pans come out (cast iron, cleaned only in hot water, no detergent) and it's time for The Full Zetlandic. Or The Partial, as I have seen gargantuan Shetland morning repasts which include fried smoked salmon and fried beans, plus of course the fried bannock, sassermeat (saucermeat) black pudding, bacon, eggs and indeed anything else cookable that happens to be in the vicinity. Including lamb's liver, which is, I have to say, delicious. But not with salmon.

Anyway, we have a thing about sausages and bacon in this house. We are purists, but not in any TV chefbastard kind of way. We only like cheap industrial sausages, particularly Richmond's Irish recipe. We hate pretentious sausages, particularly those 'Finest' brands you get, which are always full of sour gristle and take far too long to cook. And when it comes to bacon, none of your dry-cured nonsense. Streaky, unsmoked and cheap is best, fried to crunchy hardness.

But - and it's a big 'but' - the accompaniments have to be right. No pickles, mustards or chutneys. HP Original from a glass bottle (recently re-introduced metal cap is tremendously satisfying in use) and Heinz Tomato from anything (doesn't seem to be affected by plastic).

Of such simple things is the perfect All Saints Day constructed...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The ferry from Shetland arriving in Aberdeen in, ahem, not-very-calm weather...

...thing is, these boats can handle worse weather than shown here. But the cars and passengers tend to go flying about the place.... hence the fact that the southbound ferry is, as I write, still in port, waiting for the winds to subside. The northbound boat is, however, as far as I know, at sea...

Here in Hillswick, the wind is very bad indeed. Dave Wheeler, Fair isle's ace weatherman is saying 75 mph gusts and we're a good 70-80 miles north. No night to be on the briny. Thanks to Dave at Shetlink for this.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Thick of It returns...

Hard to believe Capaldi was once in Glasgow band The Dreamboys, along with one Craig Ferguson...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Peat: between eight and 10 liftings by a human between hill and hearth

It takes eight physical human liftings for a single peat to leave the ground and reach fire or stove. That's not carbon burning there; it's human energy. It's time.

Casting, raising, turning, bagging, lifting bag to the roadside, lifting bag onto trailer/pickup truck/pony/passing human, lifting bag off the aforementioned following the trip home, and finally lifting said sod into the house and placing it on the flame. It could be nine or ten, actually. Some insist on turning the peats twice on the hill (part of the drying process) and others will bring the peats inside in a kishie or bucket, to rest by the fire until needed. It's complex.

We're crap at peats. We actually pay to have the banks cut, but then we do all the other stuff. The house is heated by oil, but there's a solid fuel stove in the kitchen (which is where I live and breathe and have my being, basically) and lighting it in winter reduces the oil bill dramatically. So there's an incentive to sort out our peat situation. Alas, peat turning, raising, bagging etc is unpleasant in the extreme. In fact, casting - the bit we pay someone else to do - is the only enjoyable part, in my opinion. With so much else to do, peats get left. Until far too late in the year.

And so it was that today, as dusk fell, I was dragging bags to the roadside for collection sometime this week, if I can borrow a trailer or a van. It's sore work. It's dirty. I can think of a million things I'd be better doing. In fact, this is supposed to be a holiday. I'd be far better off broadcasting, getting paid and paying someone else to get the peats home.

Or buying a wind generator and some storage heaters.

The moving story of Killian Mansfield - and some good music too

Being Scottish, you have to fight past the slight whiff of tooth-grinding sentimentality. Well, I did. But it's more than worth it, just for Dr John doing Scratch My Back.

Killian Mansfield was a 15-year-old ukulele player, dying from a rare form of cancer, who determined to record an album with 'famous people'. It helped, I suppose, that he lived in Woodstock. Still, the result is more than moving. It's very good. And the 'famous people' are quality: The aforementioned Mac Rebennack, Kate Pierson from the B-52s, Levon Helm, Todd Rundgren and John Sebastian.

Read the story here.

Stream the album here.

Contribute to the foundation here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rodents in the First Class Lounge and other railway tales...

The Virgin First Class Lounge at Euston station is really rather swish, though the access provided to Scotrail customers travelling on the Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow kind of sets the weary and worn nature of the Scotrail rolling stock in context. Free, proper coffee and soft drinks, biscuits, nuts, alcohol, comfortable seats, computers, showers. All the things you don't get on the train. Except for the cheap alcohol, funnily enough.

Oh, and rodents. Susan saw a long tail disappearing and swears she heard squeaking. A box of poison was clearly on display. And according to one of the staff, they are aware 'they have a problem'. Rats or mice? The jury's out. But it's a decaying sixties station and...

Anyway, the lounge closes at 11.00pm, as does the (very expensive - £8 a bag) left luggage store. So we had the rather grim experience of waiting for Scotrail (23.50 departure) to allow us aboard the train. Not until half an hour before sailing.

The northbound train was A LOT more pleasant than the southbound. Better lounges, with 'the only real leather sofs on any British train', better availability of drinks, and a breakfast delivered on trays with teapots, not a paper bag with crappy cardboard cups. You get a £2.50 voucher for drinks, too.One typically trainish toilet per coach, no showers and really cramped sleeping accommodation. No power points worked, no wi-fi, same as the way down.

BUT, even travelling first class, which means you don't have to share a cabin with a stranger, you can get a reasonable deal on tickets and you save a night's accommodation. And, whisper it, there's something romantically daft about a sleeper train. Oh, the joy of watching the dawn break over...Motherwell. Though the run from London to Fort William is a long-term ambition...

Boat tonight and home tomorrow, all being well. NO MORE SHOPPING!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sunset at the Louvre

Well, that's basically it for Paris, and the three-day break has just been great. Metro was easy, bike tour fab (like, totally awesome in guidespeak - all Fat Tire guides appear to be Americans in Paris) Food up to expectations. Cataclysmically expensive, but I suppose that's just the way of things. Bring on the Scottish euro! Or British...

Great discoveries? The Caroussel mall under the Louvre, utterly devoid of signposts and possibly the most impressive shopping centre in the universe. Great food court, too, where you can eat good French food relatively cheaply (glass of wine, 2 euros). Gobelins is a good place to stay, handy for walking into the Latin Quarter (Rue de Mouffetard is pure Alan Furst)Jardin des Plantes and reasonable Metro connections. Hotel was friendly and generally very good (Eurostar deal). Oh, and the Paul caravan next to the Louvre is great for Tuilleries picnic stuff. Cesar pizza place on Boulevard St Marcel is very good, as is Le Petit Bar.

Paris is the star. You can just walk around and look at...stuff. But for me, after two visits in two days, the Musee d'Orsay was just...extraordinary. Seeing in the flesh those Gauguins, Renoirs, Van Goghs, Sisleys, Seurats, Monets, Toulouse-Lautrecs, Degas and Cezannes rendered me almost insensible. And all this in an old railway station! If you go, though, don't start humming Don Maclean's 'Starry Starry Night' to yourself. You won't be able to stop.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fat Tire Bike Tours.... opposed to fat spare tire on bike tour. Recommended. They're at 11.00am and 3.00pm, meet at south pillar of the Eiffel Tower.

Coming down the Eiffel tower stairs: not recommended if you suffer from vertigo

Arrived in London after a disappointingly 70s and rather grimy trip on the First Scotrail sleeper ('I'm sorry - we've only got on cafetiere and it's in use'). The rolling stock is a disgrace, though the staff did their best. Still, Once at St Pancras, everything became really easy. Loads of interesting cafes for breakfast (try Paul or Le Pain Quotidien, both French)and then Susan and Martha went off with Susan's sister Jane for a frenzied morning's shopping. I wandered about the British Library and the three wonderful squares on the way to the British Museum (Russell, Tavistock and Bloomsbury) checked out some vintage camera shops and dozed on park benches.

The Eurostar was easy, fast, reliable and comfortable. Swoosh, we're in Paris, two and a half hours. Easy taxi ride to the hotel, Le Grand Hotel Des Gobelins in the 13th Arrondisement. Very good. Metro to the Eiffel Tower, vertigo, great Italian food and a view of the tower from the window. Not bad.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Night in the strange lost boulevards of the West End

Out for a wee cycle in the dry stillness of an autumn Saturday night, in the hinterlands of the West End; this is where Kirklee interfaces with Dowanhill, where Maryhill parallels North Kelvinside, and the grand, deserted boulevards sweep across the Kelvin on mighty, magically lit bridges.

Like any city, Glasgow's posh parts are seconds away from the unequivocally dodgy. The deserted car park of the Maryhill Tesco has a substantial team of loud and screechy youngsters kicking bins and shouting in the shadows. But then, next to Kelvinside Academy I glimpse a couple posing in grand drawing rooms for formal photographs: engagement? Departure? I'll never know.

The last time I cycled in Glasgow after dark, just for the hell of it (as opposed to making more or less inebriated journeys back from pub to pit) was, I think, in 1983. A Falcon racing bike, Christmas night, woozy with wine and far from home, for some reason in Paisley Road West, counting Christmas trees in tenement windows. My earliest memory is in the glorious Greek Thomson sweep of Cessnock's Walmer Crescent. In maybe 1959, my dad worked in a dental practice there, and we lived in a cold flat with somebody else's cat. My first memory is of what happens when you try to embrace a cuddly puss and it objects, jaggedly.

2009, and back to Magnus's flat, past lurching parties both beginning and ending, piggybacking kids ('Hoy, cyclist! Save the world! Nae motors!') Always aware of the great, black depths of the Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove, falling away on my left left or right. A dangerous and frightening place once night has fallen. But the lights of Queen Margaret Drive (Full Bhuna! Bagels! Bike Love!) loom, with the promise of Irn Bru and Dairy Milk.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Autumn in Glasgow's west end - a mere 36 years after that first walk in Kelvingrove Park, first year at university

Classic autumn day in the wild west end of Glasgow. On the way back from PQ through the park (aboard the trusty folding bike)I saw a fox and a squirrel next to the Kelvin. Tales of the Riverbank!

It's 36 years since I first came to live in Glasgow, as a 17 year old student of English Literature. The smell of west Glasgow at this time of year (rotting foliage and a distant whiff of curry, basically) always whisks me back to 1973, when the ability to use a typewriter was considered dangerously technical. The Hot Spot, the Green Gate, the legendary Shish Mahal, the Koh-i=Noor (fell into the Kelvin), the Shenaz, the Taj Mahal...and that was about that. And there were NO joggers!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The strange euphoria of railway stations...

A strange, calm sense of wellbeing comes over me in railway stations. If, that is, I'm in plenty of time for whatever train I'm supposed to be catching. It's even better if I'm not actually catching a train at all. Not that I make a habit of just loitering on railway concourses. Stations are good places to meet, as tonight when I had to rendezvous with a producer so we could do some interviews for the Drinking For Scotland series.

But Costa in Glasgow's Queen Street Station remains one of the great locations for just...sitting and watching the world go by. No need to read a paper. You're waiting. So is everybody else. You're invisible. And so much going on. The young, cutting-edge trendy, enormously in lust couple canoodling, him in a Dizzee Rascal baseball cap, her in a hijab; the strange number of old men in cowboy hats; the furtive men systematically checking the public telephones for change. Greetings, meetings, farewells.

The odd calmness I feel comes from childhood, I think. Trains meant movement, travel, Grannies' houses, Largs, holidays, trips. Other Places. Other people. I loved trains, always, and I still do. Late trains, busy trains. Waiting for trains. Waiting near trains. They trigger something deep, pleasurable, the best bits of the past. Those great red pneumatic buffers at Central come to mind. No train ever touched them. How I longed for one to just...brush against them, gently. Just to see if they worked.

Anyway, Ian arrives, and we're off to Springburn to interview some of Glasgow's truly impressive paramedics. Next week I'm off to Paris with Susan and Martha. By train. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

To the Wigtown Book Festival, and then back to Glasgow via The Queen's Way...

It was too much, the overnight boat trip from Shetland, followed by a thrash down the road to Glasgow, doing the show, and then another drive down to Wigtown, for the annual book festival. I should probably have had a quiet night in then, but a gathering of whisky writers forced me to partake of...Freixenet Cava, red wine and yes, whisky. Or to be precise, a Charles Maclean guided tasking of Irish whiskeys, which was a revelation. Redbreast! Never has Paddy's tasted so awful.

Then it was off to the lovely Glenturk Farm Cottages, a converted steading which gave me some ideas for our own unused (except for motorbike storage) barns back home. That's a picture of the lounge/kitchen area. To sleep.

Saturday. Bacon rolls, loads of coffee, then telly. Recuperation of a sort. Wigtown was jumping, when I finally tore myself away from The Hairy Bakers and ambled through the heavy showers to encounter Scotland's Booktown in full festive fig. I took in a session with Alan Grant, writer of Batman, Judge Dredd and much else, and met up with Broons supremo Dave Donaldson, who was due to host a Broons event next day. We went to the 'Author's Retreat' and availed ourselves of the fantastic lobster buffet for which this festival has become famous. Yum!

A bit of preparation for my own gig, and then off to the Bladnoch Distillery for the launch of Raymond Armstrong's 8-year-old whisky. It's a cracker, a really distinctive lowland malt, fresh and zingy. Ulster/Scots folk band featuring a Lambeg drum performed, a first for me. Time for the 'Tom Morton's Drinking for Scotland' show.

I had major problems sorting out any kind of sound with the in-house PA system, and eventually, despite the size of the hall and a fairly large audience, had to go for a totally acoustic performance. One or two people at the back had difficulty hearing me speak (apologies), but the singing came over, I think, pretty well. We're too used to amplification, I think. The drinks (Irn Bru, Buckfast, Scotsmac and the Bladnoch 8) were meant to take us on a trip through Scotland's various libations, ending with the glories of the local spirit. The poems and songs seemed to go down pretty well. I'm hoping to record the whole show on video and have it online sometime next month. Maybe.

Sold a heap of books, which was great. Lovely audience, and splendid to meet so many enthusiastic Radio Scotland listeners. But knackered, so a comparatively early and moderate night. Not for me the Buckfast cocktails! I did find out, however, to my complete surprise, and Dave's, that I was meant to host Mr Donaldson's Broons show next day. OK, no problem.

Sunday morning, and publisher Neil Wilson, also staying at Glenturk, cooks a massive breakfast. Black Pudding. Restraint must be exercised. The Glenturk cottages were built following the farm's entire stock of cattle having to be destroyed following the foot and mouth epidemic. This must have been a bitter blow as Glenturk is legendary for the quality of its cattle, wining multiple awards at the Royal Highland Show. Fortunately, they're back in the kye business, and winning awards again.

Lunch at the Ploughman's in Wigtown (very good - and they're sponsoring the Broons gig) and Dave and I lay down some ground rules for the show. Then, armed with a life-size cut-out of Maw Broon, we spend an hour chatting about Dudley D Watkins, RD Low and Dave's own career (writing the Broons since 1962. Spot Brian Keenan in the signing tent. Then it's off to Glasgow up the Queen's Way from Newton Stewart to New Galloway and Ayr. It's an absolutely beautiful drive.

Wigtown is a great festival and this year went, I think really well. Many thanks to all involved for their sterling efforts!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Cheesetown, winter clamping down, and another trip south...

Cold, cold, cold in Shetland with an icy north westerly bringing in the Greenlandic North Atlantic's a time for staying in a sorting things out for the dark nights, snatching the fading daylight hours fior roof repairs and house-painting.

Instead, I'm on the boat tonight and heading south. Wigtown Book Festival appearance (Tom Morton's Drinking for Scotland) on Saturday night. It's the same show, basically, as at Belladrum,lacking Martha and James but with added whisky, tonic wine and, well, Scotsmac and Irn Bru. Interactivity run riot. I'll probably record it over the winter and put a video online, and that'll be that. I'm getting too old for restringing guitars!

Still, not too old for what promises to be an exciting 2010. I'm working with Stephen and Jim from FairPley Ltd (They ran the Co-op Verb Garden at last year's Bella) on a huge project which will involve much travelling and fundraising. A dark secret at the moment but will reveal what's planned ASAP.

Meanwhile, Brian Knox kicked off an entertaining thread on today's TM Show with his comments about Kirkliston:

Tom, I heard you mention Kirkliston. I was born in Kirkliston a long while back.
Kirkliston is also known as Cheesetown. I don't think it's used so much now but in my youth it was common.Anyone who was born within the village boundaries was a cheesetonian.
It's alleged the village got the name Cheesetown from the workers building the Forth Railway Bridge who lodged in Kirkliston.
When they opened their sandwiches at work it was cheese everyday.It would be the same type of cheese as well.
I enjoy your programme.
Brian Knox.

We talked extreme cheese (Devil's Suppository, anyone?) and local names for local places.
Some great texts:
Dear Tom.Have you heard of Crook of Devon twinned with the thief of Bagdad.great nightlife. Ian Robertson. crook of devon

Lossiemouth people used to be called cod heads , brian, cod head

I've heard people from Galashiels are called pailmerks - what's that about? Pauline from Duns
Kinucker or kilconqher for the out of towners which is any body not from the kingdom Mk

And as for the Pailmerks conundrum, it is answered by Jason from the Borders:

Tom, It springs from Galashiels being the last town in the Borders to get indoor plumbing - consequently they kept to their previous habits of night time use of a pail/bucket - which might leave a mark (or merk) on the floor - a bucket mark - or if you prefer a "pailmerk"
Jason in the Borders

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Herald Diary 27 September...if you can't buy the print version...

Tom Morton's Week (Sunday Herald, 27 September) (but this isn't available there)


We are awash with rhubarb and ginger jam, which I made yesterday in a fit of autumnal domesticity. I also made a rhubarb crumble so large it could alleviate the Texan constipation problem, which is allegedly as large as most Texans. How are they off for rhubarb in Dallas? Loads of its verbal namesake in Bournemouth, as former Glesca cooncillor, and once lecturer at Gilmorehill Dr Vince Cable ( that name sounds like it should belong to an actor, possibly from something like...The Wire) sends panic rippling through the beards and sandals of the assembled Libocrats.
A tax on rich people's houses, eh? Catchy. Goodness, that reminds of something, let me see if I can remember...yes, I have it! It was called, eh, socialism. Something Dr Hawser was not unacquainted with in his bell-bottomed Caledonian days, when he was contributing to a book called The Red Paper on Scotland, edited by a raging lefty called...Gordon Brown.
Next minute Dr Strand is glooming and dooming in Bournemouth about Scotland declaring itself in the huff, should the Tories win the next election (fat chance, eh?). This process would be known technically as Decameronisation, which is, alas, nothing to do with Giovanni Boccaccio.
I spy my wife sneaking out the door with clanking shopping bags. We have too much rhubarb jam, she tells me, and it must be distributed to the needy. I'm wondering if she's going to offer it to patients she diagnoses as suffering from that medical condition known as bungedupness, but it's just been revealed that doctors never, ever get their diagnoses right. It says it on the telly so it must be true. Never mind, I have sneaked several gallons of jam into a back cupboard and will sell it on the internet as a cure for gallstones. If I say that on the internet it will become true. This is a rule.


Formula One is in disarray once more. Honestly, if it's not dodgy sex games involving spanking, everybody getting really, really annoyed about their tyres, or Jensen Button allegedly having such tiny hands some photographs of him steering utilise a 'hand double' (and what kind of name is Jensen Button, anyway? It's as if your dad called you Ferrari Pandy, instead of plain old Andy), it's Nelson Riddle crashing his Renault deliberately.
Sorry, Piquet Junior. Nelson has turned Mosley's Evidence, so he gets away without even a smack. And after all, it was his life at risk in that hefty colllision with the concrete. The Renault officials responsible for ordering him to crash have already walked, so all that remains is for Bernie Ecclescake and co to warmly congratulate the company on their strategic thinking. No, they don't do that, but the mild whisk with a warmed set of birch twigs they do get seems, to any neutral observer, laughable. Call that a sport?
Formula One is a bad, boring, ludicrously expensive joke, wholly compromised by peculiar leadership and venal practitioners. And the reverberations reach right down through almost all motor sport. If you want to see pure, motorised racing, so dangerous it can never be televised, so frequently fatal even mentioning it in some quarters is frowned upon, investigate the twilit world of the Irish motorcycle road races. This is competition virtually devoid of financial reward. The North West 200 in Portrush, Portsewtart and Coleraine, dangerous enough with its street furniture and white lines, is the least of it. On closed farm roads throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic, during the summer, bikes ridden by amateurs slither and howl at speeds of over 150mph, and crashing is never, ever deliberate, strategic or usually, anything but fatal. It puts the antics of millionaire cheats like Piquet in some kind of context.


Tonight sees another edition of Jonathan Meades' Off Kilter series broadcast on BBC 4, in which the acerbic aesthete, cultural critic and wearer of lumpy suits takes on Scotland, whence his maternal grandparents came, prior to their sudden appearance in whatever southern branch of Bohemia Mr Meades stems from.
I like Meades. His glum, St Bernard's face and poor-man's-Anthony-Burgess locution is a refreshing antidote to the other approved practitioners of television documetary - Griff Rhys-Jones, Paul Merton, Neil Oliver (Get your hair cut! Wear a net! Stop shouting!) and Lord William of Connolly. Meat has already cut a leisurely swathe through Aberdeen and Lewis (Rust Island) in this series, so to see him taking on the likes of Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Methil, Kirkcaldy and other communities known only to him through the football pools was always going to be bracing. The selection of 'Jakey drinks' was illuminating, though it's Scotsmac, not Lanliq that was made at the old Viking cinema in largs by James Wham, a former war hero who was involved in the raid mythologised in The Guns of Navarone. There were some great moments of scathing commentary - Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Hearts dismissed as 'excuses for hatred' - but Mr Meat (a Maed, by the way, in Shetland is a navigation cairn used by fishermen to guide their way home) is best over 30, not 60 minutes. I was looking forward to his celebration of Grangemouth's greatness, as it matches my own fascination with the place, where my good friend Lindsay Hutton lives and breathes and provides the world with the best online rock'n'roll blog there has ever been or will be, the legendary Next Big Thing. Scouringly abrasive, grumpy and perceptive, romantic and bitter, Lindsay is a kind of Ramones-loving, Cramps-worshipping Jonathan Meades of Scotland. Pity they never met. Pity I fell asleep for the last bit of the programme.


I have recently acquired the DVD of In The Loop, Armando Ianucci's (with help from 'swearing consultant' Ian Martin) excoriating take on Anglo-American political relations. The extras are, unusually for a DVD, absolutely superb, including a stunning encounter between The Crossest Man In Scotland (spin doctor Jamie, played by Paul Higgins) and Gina McKie, Most Beautiful Woman Ever In the History of Tyneside. There's also an interview with Ms McKie (I'm not ashamed to swoon) and Chris Addison, in which Gina (I can call you Gina, can't I?) quietly bemoans the fact that she did not get to go America with the rest of the cast, instead filming her ostensibly New York-set scenes in Glasgow. I thought I recognised Lally's Palais, masquerading as the UN.
Anyway, In The Loop, with its squirmingly embarrassing scenes where the pathetic Brits desperately try to arrange meetings with senior American politicans, was inevitably brought to mind by the antics of the Downing Street press corps last night at the real UN, as they attempted to engineer a meeting between Once-Red Gordon Brown and Smokin' Barack Obama, in the face of apparent US indifference. Obama was up for meeting the Chinese, Japanese and Russian Premiers, but not the Democratically Elected King of Kirkcaldy. Presumably he doesn't want to waste his handshakes when Cameronisation is imminent. In the end, Gordon and Barack bumped into each other in a kitchen, where our PM was presumably 'accidentally' hanging around, checking the quality of the bean sprouts.
As for Colonel Gadaafi-Bono's sopeech, what a corker! Who killed JFK, Swine Flu an example of biological warfare...did Dan Brown write it?


And now, to more important things: Peter Andre, sometime pop star (for about three minutes or less) and erstwhile partner of forward-biased glamour novelist Jordan, has been mobbed during a series of appearances at...supermarkets. It's wonderful to see someone begin the long road back to true stardom. Reduced to signing albums at branches of ASDA, the coverage of his break up with Katie Jordan-Price has fuelled what appears to be mass public interest. Four thousand turned up in Bolton to swoon, including one lass who had been in hospital with pneumonia for six weeks, but queued for six hours as inmmediatel tcured, six times over! This is sinister, as you can see from the appearance of the number 666! What's that tattooed on Peter's forehead?
There's a great (and possibly apocryphal) tale about the hyper intellectual Peter, that he read somewhere about how good bananas were for you, and began a six-week banana-only diet. He allegedly managed only a few days before being rushed to hospital, suffering from potassium poisoning. But he's all right now. And doubtless preparing for the reconciliation duet single with Jordan which will be released, oh around Christmas, coupled with a joint guest appearance (possibly with weans) on either the X- Factor or Strictly Come Dancing.


Vegetarian alert: risk of offence coming up! Hell's teeth, I hate hens. We have several of the filthy beasts, which are far better wrapped in polythene and chilled or frozen from the supermarket. Alive, they have feathers and defaecate absolutely everywhere. Only geese are worse, the filthiest birds in the universe. At least the French have worked out someyhing to do with their livers
Chickens are also very difficult to kill. I once shot a particularly vicious cockerel (the postman eventually refused to deliver to our house, as his trousers were being regularly ripped) seven times with a 12-bore, and it failed to expire. You could see through it in several places, but it was still running about and squawking in a belligerent, cocky fashion. And don't believe all that stuff about grabbing them and wringing their necks. During the summer, my son and his wife were visiting from Northern Ireland with their dog Cuillin, who is from Derry and was a trifle confrontational. Cuillin, no more than a puppy, pounced on a half-grown cockerel and took several lumps out of it. I gave the damaged bird's neck a severe twisting and chucked it over the sea wall to be eaten by passing bonxies, otters and other forms of nature, red in tooth and claw. A week later, with a somewhat extended neck, the bird was back. Now it's hale, hearty (if somewhat giraffe-like in appearance) and an Incredible Hulk among fowl. Cuillin, meanwhile, having had his genitals removed, is living a peaceful life in Tyrone.

In: Chas

Out: Dave

Shake it all about: The decision by Dave Peacock to stop touring with this long-term partner Chas Hodges means that the long-standing rock'n'roll urban myth has come sadly true: it goes like this. There's a notice outside a venue saying 'TONIGHT: Chas and Dave (not original Dave)'. Chas Hodges has announced that all outstanding dates will be played by Chas 'and his band'.