Friday, September 29, 2017

The Beatcroft Social, weekend of 30 September 2017: Spanish Dancers and Modern Ways of Letting Go

It's been a foul couple of days of weather since I got back from Glasgow - meaning I had to cancel a proposed trip to Unst to film an STV news story. It's all very well showing Shetland in bad weather, but impossible, really, if you can't keep the camera steady and your voice disappears in a buffeting of wind.

So instead, it's check the central heating oil, make sure the wifi's working and play some music...
Spanish Dancer - Patti Scialfa
I'm Moving On - Taste
Heart On My Sleeve - Gallagher And Lyle
House Of A Thousand Guitars - Willie Nile
Coney Island Rain - The Legendary Hearts
Arms of Mary - Sutherland Brothers & Quiver
Fool To Cry -  The Rolling Stones
Life Will Never Be the Same Again - Black Doves
Let Me Rock - Flamin' Groovies
Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty
Long As I Can See the Light - Janiva Magness
Mary's Prayer - Danny Wilson
A Modern Way Of Letting Go - Idlewild
Year of the Cat -  Al Stewart
Day I Die - The National
Powderfinger - Neil Young
Something to Change - Paul Brady
Everybody's Talkin' - Iggy Pop
I Wanna Be Your Dog - The Stooges
Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes - Kevin Ayers

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Ballad of Jeremy and Piers

They lived at Yew Tree Manor
An aristocratic name
So the Yew Tree Guesthouse
It became

David and Naomi 
Jeremy and Piers
Did bed and breakfast
For years and years

Bohemian and radical:
Naomi rode a scooter
And used old Guardians
As draft excluders

Piers became an expert
In meteorology
But the world of politics 
Called him and Jeremy

In the Labour Party
Jeremy had sympathy
For his brother, his friend Tariq
And other members of the IMG

That’s the International Marxist Group
By the way
Jeremy was never a member
Or so they say

Jeremy became an MP
For North Islington in London
Waitroses. Marxists.
There are both in abundance

Piers bet against
The Met Office. His predictions
Were sometimes accurate
Sometimes fiction

Skipping ahead: Now
Jeremy’s Labour leader
“Theresa May?” He snorts
“I will defeat her.” 

Climate change, meanwhile
Piers denies
All contra-indications
Are mistakes or lies

They were brought up believing
Evidence and proof
Are always deceiving 

So Piers and Jeremy
Still battle the class enemy
One predicts the weather

One predicts the future
One loves beards
And that would be Jeremy
Not Piers

Copyright Tom Morton 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Flybe versus Loganair: Turkish Delight, artisan gin, craft beer and a fight for monopoly

It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating," said the Queen presently. "What would you like best to eat?"
"Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty," said Edmund.

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. 

I hitched a ride on Jadis’s sled and gobbled up the Turkish Delight. Or to be precise, drank the (got to be Gordon’s) Gin and Fever Tree tonic (a sky-high £6.30, though I had my choice of ‘artisan’ gins and ‘craft’ beers for similar money).

And of course I wasn’t travelling on a sled hauled by bedazzled white reindeer through the snowy wastes of Narnia, but aboard a Flybe/Eastern Airways Embraer 170 jet from Sumburgh in the Zetlandic Archipelago to Glasgow in Greater Scotia. Which took 52 minutes and cost £134 return - though only because the atrocious Flyby website fooled me into paying for ‘my choice of seat’. That’s with my Shetland resident’s Air Discount Scheme reduction of around a third.

Five minutes before we whooshed into the - for once - clear and calm Shetlandic skies, a turboprop, 50-seater Saab 2000 used by Loganair had taken off, also bound for Glasgow. It would take marginally longer, cost pretty much the same, and was more than half empty with maybe 20 passengers. The rather lovely Embraer 170 (two cabin crew, brand new leather upholstery) can take 76, and had 14 customers aboard. As I walked across the tarmac, I chatted to a fellow jetsetter, who grumbled that he would personally have much rather gone with Loganair, but hadn’t been given a choice by his company. 

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “Two half empty flights to the same place at the same time. I give Flybe six months,” he said. “And they’re dearer - because they charge for baggage.”

I muttered my support for his point of view, failing to point out that in fact the Embraer has big enough overhead lockers to accommodate proper, free, small-suitcase hand luggage, unlike Loganair’s compact and bijoux Saab 340s and their one bigger 2000. But the terrible truth is, I just wanted to go on a jet. In 39 years of travelling to and from Shetland, it had been nothing but propellers for me, from Viscounts and HS748 ‘Budgies’ through the horrendous Shorts 360 ‘Flying Skips’ and the made-in-Scotland Jetstreams. Plus the occasional Fokker Friendship and even a Twin Otter or two.

So I booked Flybe, not Loganair. The two airlines (Flybe backed by the muscle of Eastern) have been competing on the Scottish island routes since 1 September, after Loganair, who for a decade operated the services under the Flybe flag, decided they would take the job on themselves. Provoking Flybe to go into full commercial air war mode and provide alternative services, in Shetland’s case by using the aforementioned luxury jet (just one, which has to buzz about from Sumburgh to the various Scottish airports in a frenzy of fumes.  Three Aberdeen flights and one each to Edinburgh and Glasgow). Prices fell and were duly matched, almost pound for pound. Advertising campaigns were launched, including what I’d guess is the biggest-value single advert in the history of  The Shetland Times (a full four-page Flybe wraparound). There was a starry-eyed sensation among some Shetlanders that they had never had it so good, and among others that we were entering a mad race to monopoly which could see Loganair forced out of business. 

Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one's mouth full, but he soon forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive.

My sympathies were with wee, tartan-clad, Scottish-owned Loganair. To quote Neil Riddell at The Shetland News - "Loganair employs 40 staff locally and also provides a host of services essential to maintaining island life, including newspaper and Royal Mail deliveries, transporting pharmaceutical and medical supplies and NHS patient travel." Though all of that would presumably transfer to the victor should the current air war end in oblivion for Loganair. Unlikely? Well, it’s worth looking at Eastern Airways' and Flybe's history in achieving monopoly in services to local communities at the other end of the UK. A company called Air SouthWest took Flybe to the Office of Fair Trading, alleging 'predatory' pricing on key routes to and from south-west England. Air SouthWest was eventually taken over by Eastern and closed. Plymouth Airport then had to shut too. There's a disturbing legal assessment of what Flybe did here:

It would be daft to lionise Loganair, however. No-one really knows what led up to their decision to pull out of the Flybe franchise deal, and sheer greed may, as usual, have played a considerable part. Listen, they even gave me a free plastic luggage tag. And they have this 'code sharing' deal which means you can book a route straight through involving British Airways. The wee plaid Paisley buddies are putting a brave face on things for the moment, claiming a year-on-year rise in passenger numbers since the start of September. Flybe is more cautious, stating that it is ‘generally pleased’ with how things were going. You can read both sides of the ‘we’re winning’ story at The Shetland News, here: . There have been problems in both camps with delays; The Embraer is not quite as wind-friendly as the venerable Saabs, and Loganair have long been cursed with ‘tech’ issues on what is an ageing fleet.

As for me, I have not, like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, been seduced into the Flybe camp for ever. I do worry that their tactics represent monopoly-seeking capitalism, red in tooth and  claw, and are either purely gestural or a serious attempt to stretch Loganair’s finances until they snap.

But on the other hand, as we smoothly and almost silently skooshed through the skies towards Glasgow, as I sipped my G and T and the sun streamed into the almost-deserted cabin, I thought: 

Do they serve Turkish Delight on board? I'll ask on the way back home.

At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking, for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more.

(All quotes in italics from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Beatcroft Social, Saturday 16 September 2017. For Hugh Docherty; remembering Colin and Pearl

Och, it's seven or so years since that picture was taken, at a lay-by on the A77, just before the Kilmarnock turn-off. Hugh had met me and Rob Allanson (we were on borrowed Triumph Street Triples; I nearly totalled mine at the Bushmills Distillery, but that's another story) near Carrbridge and accompanied us south. We were heading for Wigtown, but everything went a bit pear-shaped near Stirling, with Rob zooming off by accident towards Edinburgh, and the weather turning frightful. Hugh had been planning to come to Wigtown with us (Rob and me were heading off to Ireland afterwards) but went off to his hometown of Kilmarnock instead. This is where we said goodbye.

And now we have to say goodbye to Hugh forever. He was an extraordinary character, absolute stalwart supporter of the Tom Morton afternoon and evening shows on Radio Scotland, organiser of FOTTOMERS (Friends of the Tom Morton Evening Radio Show). I talk a bit about him on this week's Beatcroft but there was so much more to say: his tales of offshore engineering, his musical adventures, motorcycling and stewarding at East Fortune, the cars, the crack, the characters. Those fantastic tales of derring-do in Volvo P1800s and Ford Mustangs. Incredible antics on helicopters over the North Sea. What happened at the Isle of Man. The guitars, the gigs.

Hugh was kind, wild, thoughtful, generous, extreme, cautious, careful, completely over the top. There were shows he single-handedly rescued from tedium. Entertainment was his middle name. I twice nearly bought a bike from him, latterly a Honda Hornet which was all set to go on the boat north until there was a serious problem loading it onto a trailer at Hugh's home. In retrospect, I wondered whether it was the first sign of the illness that would lead to where we are now. Once, he nearly bought a bike from me. He frequently tried to interest me in buying one of his campervans.

I'll miss him. His zest for life, his taste in music, his spirit of adventure. I've been trying to find pictures of the FOTTOMERS Malt and Barley Revue gig at Eurocentral, but perhaps this one sums up the spirit of the man. Much missed. Ride on.

This week's Beatcroft Social playlist - Spotify playlist is further down

Call Mother a Lonely Field - Jackie Leven
Don't Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll - Long John Baldry
Ancient Jules - Steve Gunn
Heavy Heartless - Neon Waltz
Laundromat - Rory Gallagher
Motorcycle Emptiness - Manic Street Preachers
Walkin' My Cat Named Dog - Norma Tanega
People Get Ready - The Chambers Brothers
I Just Don't Have The Time - Randall Bramblett
Theme For An Imaginary Western - Jack Bruce
Avenging Annie - Andy Pratt
Indianapolis - The Bottle Rockets
Back In The Night - Dr. Feelgood
Ain't Wastin' Time No More - The Allman Brothers Band
This Ain't New York - Mercy John
Travelling Riverside Blues -  Led Zeppelin
Come On In My Kitchen - Robert Johnson
Divine Intervention - Matthew Sweet
God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind) - Etta James
Wandering Boy - Randy Newman
Excuse Me Mister - John Martyn
Diamonds On the Inside - Ben Harper
Whenever You're On My Mind - Marshall Crenshaw
Vagabond Moon - Willie Nile
Turtleneck - The National
Into My Arms - Shelby Lynne

Red Right Hand -  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Beatcroft Social, 9 September: Remembering Walter Becker via Steely Dan's earliest days, celebrating the rhythm guitar and more...

Steely Dan were always for the more cerebral among us, which kinda left me behind with my Uriah Heep,  Steeleye Span (easy ordering mistake to make, maw) and Led Zep albums. The truth is, I always loved the very early stuff, from hearing 'Dallas' (still very difficult to find on CD and vinyl) the first single, on a Probe Records sampler which I still have. Don't get me wrong, I later grew to love Donald Fagen's voice, but David Palmer on 'Dallas' and 'Dirty Work' is fantastic. He went on to co-write with Carole King after Fagen's voice 'grew strong enough' for live work. And he's still around.

Becker of course, departed the planet this week. While I've always found some of the Dan's work cold and, with its self-conscious virtuosity, alienating, I loved chunks of it and I will always remember a first family trip to Florida when we hired a massive SUV and headed from Miami to Orlando, a CD of Steely Dan's Greatest Hits providing the perfect accompaniment to freeway driving.

Meanwhile, this week has seen Shetland beginning the withering into winter with the first equinoctial gales. As you can see below, I did manage a splendid trip out on the electric bike, the ideal mode of travel for gentlemen of a certain age. Though it's coming up for end-of-motorbike season, which means there could be an MZ or BMW GS going cheap. Keeping an eye out anyway.

This week's playlist follows. 'Dallas' isn't on Spotify.

Dallas - Steely Dan
Biloxi - Hiss Golden Messenger
Biloxi - Ian Matthews
Biloxi Parish - The Gaslight Anthem
Never Been a Captain - The Barr Brothers
Jersey Girl - Hell Blues Choir
Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles - Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Help You Ann - Lyres
Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window - Wilko Johnson
Midnight Train - David Rawlings
Johannesburg - Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
Sabrina - The Stray Birds
Beautiful Scars - Blackie & The Rodeo Kings
If You Want Blood (You've Got It) - AC/DC
Crossroads - Gurf Morlix
The Hook - Stephen Malkmus
A Life Of Illusion - Joe Walsh
Dirty Work - Steely Dan
Time to Pretend - MGMT
Iron Sky - Paolo Nutini
Survival Car - Fountains Of Wayne
Who's Got A Match? - Biffy Clyro
Hedy Lamarr - Findlay Napier
Standing Over Elvis - Paul Brand
Rescue - The Legendary Hearts
Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson
Living For The City - Stevie Wonder

There She Goes, My Beautiful World - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Not run-of-the-mill: A wee electrobike jaunt to Eshaness and secret Tangwick

A bright, beautiful, slightly windy day and so it was off on the hill-smoothing, gust-busting electrobike up to Eshaness, where I was distracted by the usual dreadlocked ponies. With the lighthouse and cliffs looking a tad too tourist-tastic I diverted down the Tangwick road...
Get lost. I know you have no carrots

...There to see, as I had done many times previously, the tiny sign 'to watermill'. I'd always thought it signified the usual clutter of stones along a burn where grain had been milled in the past on quernstones, but feeling more curious than usual, I trundled along the track until a  line of posts led into what seemed like remotest bog...

Walk from here. Bike is great - limited to 15.5 mph on batteries but freewheeled to 36 mph going downhill
....then there appeared two carefully-constructed wooden walkways and a bridge, plus a stone, turf-roofed building. There was the sound of rushing water. After yesterday's torrential downpour, no surprise. A notice explained that, a decade previously, with grant aid from some of the usual suspects (who had money for this sort of thing, back then) the Hillswick and Eshaness Area Regeneration and Development Association had restored (and essentially reconstructed) the watermill to full functionality.
The daily grind
                                ...though the millstones weren't actually going round and round,  because the horizontal mill wheel was jammed, either deliberately or through rustiness. Was I tempted to crawl in there and see if I could get it (and the stones) turning? Momentarily. The sensation passed.
If only I'd had some WD40...
.and so it was back on the bike for the return trip. Alas, the Braewick Café was shut, but Martha had left some of her excellent espresso chocolate cupcakes in the fridge at home. Of which, relatively guilt-free, I duly partook.

View from Braewick towards the Drongs

Friday, September 01, 2017

The Beatcroft Social - Shawn, Mark, Angela and Neil - Special Shetland Visitors' Edition

It's been quite a week - Shawn and Mark from Virginia, Neil from Crieff and Angela from Auchtermuchty came to visit - long-term friends of the various TM radio shows, and I thought it'd be good to get some song choices from them for the show. Actually, Mark and Shawn put together their own celebratory show for the visit which you can find on last week's posting here - every song themed to 'radio'.
Oh, and I can't resist pointing out to the powers that think they know about promotion that Angela, Mark and Shawn have all considered moving to Shetland - and only because they discovered the place through the radio shows and the Promote Shetland webcams.

 Shawn, as you will hear, chose several songs, which is fine, and I think you'll enjoy this "visitors' selection", along with my own. I can't get Richard Thompson's 'Guns Are The Tongues' out of my head at the moment'. And the new David Rawlings album, Poor David's Almanack, is marvellous.
Just a quick word for two of the 'Fottomers' team who haven't been well recently - the founder of it all, Hugh Docherty, and Edward Johnson-Ott over in Indianapolis. Thinking about them. And in a week when most media attention has been on the awful flooding in Texas and now Louisiana, the last track - Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood - is also a call to remember the thousands who have died and the hundreds of thousands affected by terrible flooding in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.