Sunday 23 December 2012

Christmas Shows for Children, my children's views

Ugly Duckling at The Arches, Glasgow

Sleeping Beauty at The Citizens, Glasgow

A Christmas Carol, The Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy

At this time of year the theatres all try to draw in the family audiences. In Glasgow that is dominated by the big pantos at The Kings, The Pavilion and nowadays The Clyde Auditorium, The Tron, Cottiers and Oran Mor. Not to mention The Singing Kettle at Braehead Arena or The Nutcracker from Scottish Ballet at The Theatre Royal. As we had done panto the past couple of years and already taken the children to The Nutcracker before, we went to none of the above and STILL found plenty of Christmas family shows on the go.

Here are three reviews by my three children of what they went to see this year.

The Ugly Duckling by The Arches and Catherine Wheels ****

I went to see this with my mummy. I liked the way that they changed the stage around, a big house might become a mole's hole just using some buckets. That was my favourite bit. I liked the people who were dressed up. The man who was the ugly duckling was wearing grey stuff and he took it off and had a big towel underneath and it made him look like he had turned into a swan. None of the other ducks were nice to him, the wee yellow plastic ducks. I think people like me, 4, 5 and 6 year olds would like it. My mummy liked it too.  (Fiona, aged 5)

Sleeping Beauty, The Citizens Theatre ****

This was not so much a panto as a play, an excellent play. The stage set and costumes were magnificent, dark and quite gothic. They made imaginative use of all the other actors on stage. It kept to the Sleeping Beauty story but with some changes which added to it. It was funny at times, serious at times and very well done. I would recommend it for slightly older children, It's not scary but has less interaction than you get at a panto so it might not suit very young children. (James, aged 13)

A Christmas Carol by National Theatre of Scotland at The Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy *****

Everybody knows the story of A Christmas Carol, probably Charles Dickens's most famous story. This show was told by a mixture of actors and puppets, some of which were quite scary, particularly the ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge was mean, grey, wooden and just right. They have obviously put a lot of effort into the stage set, where the ghostly goings on were made spookily realistic. I would recommend it for older children as some bits are quite frightening, although my 5 year old sister was fine with it and enjoyed all the action. (Scott, aged 10)

Saturday 15 December 2012

Slow Club, Oran Mor and Reviews of Other Festive Glasgow Happenings

Glasgow Santa Dash

Partick Thistle Christmas Party

Handel's Messiah, Dunedin Consort

Valtari Mystery Film Experiment

Slow Club, Oran Mor

Time for my kids to dig out the Playmobile Nativity Set, plus their own additions
An old pal has returned to Glasgow for a couple of weeks after meandering around India for the past 18 months. They've been keeping a blog of their exploits, although having to censor it to keep it suitable for a PG audience as a nephew shows it in primary school from time to time. I also suspect collusion with the Indian Tourist Board, by making no mention of hospitalisations with Dengue Fever, etc. Before going back next week he has been craving two things from Scotland - meat (in large quantities) and live music. So the pressure was on to try to take in a couple of gigs whilst he was here. As I was introduced to the likes of Gavin Bryars and Otomo Yoshihide by him, the suitable Glasgow Christmas live music offerings along the lines of Lionel Ritchie and Stooshe has presented slim pickings.

Dunedin Consort's Harpsichord. (Black Keys
were also playing in Glasgow this night) 
I decided not to get him a ticket for The Dunedin Consort doing Handel's Messiah in the main hall at Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Performing the 1742 Dublin Version on authentic instruments was very evocative in the gallery surroundings. The singing was outstanding also, but I did find the seats here a little uncomfortable once I'd been sat there over 2 hours. It left me urging Handel to spice up the story a little, you know, make it a bit more pacy.

I did get tickets for us to see Sigur Ros's "Valtari Mystery Film Experiment" which was shown in various cinemas around the world on its day of release, including the GFT. The films are all available online I think at the band's website. The idea was that the band gave a dozen filmmakers the same budget to do whatever they wanted to do with music from the latest album, Valtari. The end results had the same problem as the album itself when it was released, interesting rather than exciting. Too many times the same music was used, and not enough imagination was deployed. The films which worked best were the choreographed ones with dancers. There was also a strange appearance from actor Aidan Gillen in one, which involved a decomposing fox. One problem I think is that their music is now so widely used in TV that subconsciously we expect soaring nature footage and David Attenburgh's hushed tones. Again I'm afraid I was checking my watch near the end of this.
Getting ready at the start for the Santa Dash
Earlier that day I had run 5km through the streets of Glasgow taking part in the Santa Dash with my 10 year old son. It is a surreal sight, hundreds of people dressed in Santa costumes acting as if this is perfectly normal. I think anything after this was going to seem a bit mundane, so maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind to appreciate the Sigur Ros film makers' visions (or maybe they were all just a wee bit bland).

Partick Thistle players at the children's party
Another Christmas-y event earlier this week was the Partick Thistle children's Christmas Party at Firhill. Ian Maxwell was the genial host and almost all the first team and youth players pitched up, alongside manager Jackie McNamara. They were all very happy to be pestered all night by excited children (and more excited parents), signing calenders and joining in the kids' games. Best of all it didn't knock them off their stride and the players came from behind to beat Raith Rovers today 3-2 and go 2 points clear at the top, with a game in hand. If you haven't been to Firhill in a while, get yourself along. It is great stuff this year. Even David Shrigley has now got himself a season ticket.

Slow Club
Most successful event of the week was last night's jaunt to Oran Mor to see Slow Club play the first date of their short Christmas tour. The audience and most people on stage were kitted out in comfy jumpers and beards were very much the order of the day too, so it was no surprise to see Aidan Moffat turn up to see them play. Because this Sheffield duo consists of a man and a woman, and she plays the drums occasionally, they are oft compared to The White Stripes. However their musical influences seem to be from all over the place. When alone on stage singing with guitars there were hints of Tammy Wynette and when the band and excellent saxophonist were playing along to the rockier numbers touches of ska were coming in. I do like a band where two sets of drums are being banged. Always makes me think of Adam and the Ants, made my pal think of The Grateful Dead (guess which one of us stayed in Glasgow and which one floats about India). They finished with a festive encore of their own Christmas TV and then a rousing rendition of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". Rebecca Taylor's vocals are spectacular and they put on a great show. Their latest album, Paradise, is available here.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Best music of 2012, my albums of the year. Part 2

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog listing my favourite albums from the first half of 2012. They were, in no particular order...
  • Tattie Toes, Turnip Famine
  • Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas
  • Django Django, Django Django
  • Grimes, Visions
  • Sun Ra, Disco 3000 Concert (re-issue)
  • Lata, Starlings
  • Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
  • Two Wings, Love Springs
  • Hildur Gudnadottir - Leyou Ljosinu
So, six months on, how did the second half of the year measure up? I have to say there was a distinct lack of anything that interesting appearing over the summer. Perhaps the Olympics just blitzed everything else and brought Coldplay and The Who out of retirement to stultify us all. There were some releases that I just found a bit disappointing, such as Baltimore foursome Animal Collective's Centipede Hz. I tried and tried to like this, but the more I listened to it the less enjoyment I got from it. In fact, when they played in Glasgow in November I gave up my tickets as I got a better offer that night (Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells playing in Cottiers). Albums from Grizzly Bear, Tame Impala and The XX left me cold too. Damon Albarn's Africa Express juggernaut rolled into town in a flurry of publicity, but didn't really do a lot to promote the individual artists or shift CDs. The Krar Collective's Ethiopia Super Krar, was the only album I bought on the back of it, a group of musicians formed around the Ethiopian harp (Krar) who spent hours on the night as support to many of the other acts. So in no particular order again, here are some albums which did tickle my fancy in the latter half of 2012. A quick review.

David Byrne and St. Vincent - Love This Giant (4AD)

Youtube link - David Byrne & St. Vincent - 'Who'

Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne needs no introduction, but has been ploughing his own furrow for several years, such as recently wiring up a New York building to play a church organ through it. Multi-instrumentalist St. Vincent (Annie Clark) released the fantastic Strange Mercy last year which I still have on my pile of "still listening to" CDs. Inevitably collaborative albums like Love This Giant can sometimes end up being less than the sum of their parts but the tight brass section on many of these tracks carries along a jolly and good natured album. Still not sure what the prosthetics on her face on the album cover is meant to convey. David Byrne's book "How Music Works" is worth picking up too if you haven't come across it yet.

Karine Polwart, Traces (Hegri)

Singer-songwriter Karine Polwart has been a stalwart of the Scottish folk-music scene for years now and this is a gentle, lyrical, musical album. However the words merit some listening to as well, such as on Cover Your Eyes (above) which was inspired by the excellent documentary film "You've Been Trumped" about Donald Trump's horrendous actions in Aberdeenshire pushing through his golf development despite local opposition. If you haven't managed to see the film, seek it out but be prepared to get angry.


Gaslamp Killer, Breakthrough (Brainfeeder)

Read full review of Breakthrough - The Gaslamp Killer on ©

Gaslamp Killer is the name that producer Willie Bensussen goes under. He has worked on Gonjasufi's A Sufi and a Killer and with fellow Californian, Flying Lotus at Brainfeeder Records, but this is his first solo album as musician. It may come as no surprise given that he looks like one of the Freak Brothers that this album is usually described as psychedelic, but where that usually means meandering navel-gazing dullness this album is positively thrumming along and benefits from repeated listening. Some tracks are a bit hit and miss (eg 'Fuck' is worth skipping once you've heard it a few times), but always multi-layered and the knowingly retro sound works a treat, I had this on in the car for weeks.


Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes (Warp)

Flying Lotus is Steven Ellison and like Gaslamp Killer he is based in LA. As he did in his previous album, Cosmogramma, he has plenty of guest musicians (inc. Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke) but it has a more uniform feel this time. Electronic music but lots of jazz influence on these 18 gentle, wee pieces (well his great-aunt is Alice Coltrane). Perfect evening reading accompaniment, if you are in a lighter, cheerier book.

Goat, World Music (Rocket)

Youtube link - Goat, Goathead

Goat hail from Korpolombolo in northern Sweden, a village which they say has a long history of voodoo worship and I didn't think I'd like an album that gets described as experimental psychedelic prog-rock, but I love this album. It's called World Music presumably because they raided the school music instrument cupboard and use rhythms from around the globe here. They are in danger of giving krautrock a good name.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation Records)

Canadian post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor (or God's Pee as they have it on the spine of their cd) released their first album in a decade this year. Just four tracks, two long, two short are reportedly covering subjects as diverse as the Arab Spring, Serbian war criminals and Quebec student protests but with their droning instrumental crescendoes, it is not entirely clear what point they're making on these topics. Excellent album though.

Okay, bit of a random list of stuff I've enjoyed and listened to again and again this year. If there is anything you think I should have been listening to instead, please let me know!


Tuesday 27 November 2012

Promotion Run - Jog around Partick Thistle's Early Venues

13km running route around the sites of all Partick Thistle's old grounds

As I've occasionally said on here I've been jogging for the past two years, an effort to get fitter and keep the weight down. One challenge I have is avoiding boredom when doing a weekly long run. I've written before about routes around Glasgow I've made up to keep me motivated, eg running around all the Glasgow football venues. As the only race I've got coming up is the 5km Santa Dash on 11th December and I'm running shorter distances over the winter, I decided to think up a new training route, with points of interest along the way to keep me motivated.

So with Partick Thistle still on track for promotion at the end of the season I have come up with a wee route steeped in the history of Glasgow's second oldest senior football club (Queen's Park were founded in 1867). To come up with my route I looked at Niall Kennedy's "Partick Thistle - The Early Years" website and the book "Partick Thistle Football Club 1876 - 2002 The Official History" by Robert Reid and others. Its a great book, particularly as my face is in the crowd photo on the cover.
Before heading out I looked out a suitably old Thistle top to go running in, but couldn't bring myself to wear Stephane Bonnes's signed one that I've got. Although it is sort of the 1905 colours, I settled for an old red and yellow hooped one -  which we should get back to ASAP (although it only started in the 30's it just seems better than what we are wearing at present). More astute observers may have noticed that Partick Thistle don't live in Partick now. Firhill Stadium in Maryhill has been the home of Partick Thistle since 1909. Dumbarton Harp were the first team to score here on 18th September of that year, although Thistle came back to win that match 3-1. So where in Partick did they start?

Partick 1820. The future sites of  the Muir Park ground at the top left and the site of the Meadowside ground can be seen on this map
Partick was still a small village outside of Glasgow city in the early 19th century known for its mills. Less than 2000 people lived here in 1832. Industrialisation meant that the population quickly rose, particularly with the arrival of shipbuilding along the north bank of the Clyde from Scotstoun, through Whiteinch and Partick. By 1872 the population of Partick had reached 17,000 bringing more buildings (Partick Burgh Halls were built in 1872) and several football teams. There is some disagreement about where Partick Thistle played their earliest games. Some people suggest it was in a public park now built over with Kelvingrove Art Gallery. However Niall Kennedy gives a good argument for placing the earliest recorded games for Partick Thistle from 1876 about 100 yards further southeast in Overnewton Park. This ground was also used then by Partick Violet, Partick Ramblers football teams and for cricket. So this seemed as good a place as any to start my run. The most likely spot for this old ground is at Overnewton Square, just south of Dumbarton Road, diagonally opposite the Islay Inn. There is now a wee swingpark here amidst a modern housing development. I watched Rangers beat Leeds in Europe in a friend's flat in Overnewton Square a few years ago, unaware of the historic setting.

Overnewton Square. Home of Partick Thistle from 1872-1880?
In 1880 the population of Partick was now 27,000. People like my great-great-great grandmother had come from Ross and Cromarty and were living here now. Partick Thistle joined the SFA and moved into their own private ground 2 miles further west. This was at Jordanvale Park in Whiteinch, at the junction of what is now Edzell Street and Dumbarton Road, where St Paul's church now stands.
St Paul's on the site of Jordanvale Park (1880 - 1883)
The next wee bit of this run was basically loops along Dumbarton Road and South Street between Partick Cross and Whiteinch. This Jordanvale Park site I quite liked re-visiting as I used to stay on Dumbarton Road about 50 yards from here, in a tenement that no longer stands, until I was 5 years old.
I quite like the fact that the word "Street" has fallen off this road sign
After 3 years of problems with this ground Thistle moved to Muir Park, at the bottom of what is now Gardner Street. However in 1883 there was no housing here and the land was being used as a strawberry field apparently, beneath a private zoo housed on the slope above. The pitch created was adjacent to Partick Bowling Club and the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, next to Partick Burgh Halls. Now there's not much to see here, just the typical tenement buildings that were being built 3 months after Thistle moved out in 1885. They played their last game against Partick FC at this ground and when that team was wound up that year, Partick Thistle moved to their ground at Inchview. I'm sure there must have been conspiracy theorists of the day raising an eyebrow at that one.
Muir Park was behind Partick Bowling Club (1883-1885)
So as I've decided to run around these grounds in chronological order, like some confused Victorian season ticket holder trying to follow his team, it is 1 mile back along Dumbarton Road to Whiteinch again. This time I end up 50 yards east of my old home as the site of Inchview now lies under the buildings of the north entrance to the Clyde Tunnel.
Inchview, home to Partick Thistle from 1885-1897
So, as a child I played just about on this spot, out in our back court for 5 years, Partick Thistle played here for 12 years. Whereas I moved to Maryhill in 1976, Thistle's next move was back to Partick, or Meadowside to be precise.

Stone on the new pedestrian walkway to Glasgow Harbour commemorates Thistle's Meadowside ground
Now I headed back to Partick, as Thistle did in 1897, an area which now had a population of 50,000 people. The Scottish Sport described it thus "The Partick Thistle, urged no doubts by the encroachments of the avaricious building fiend, have decided to remove to larger fields and pastures more central" - it could have been written by James Traynor, couldn't it? 6000 people attended the opening match here in 1897, a friendly won by Rangers. Thistle were now in a new, custom built ground, on a piece of land on the north bank of the Clyde, just west of the mouth of the Kelvin. Unsubstantiated tales report that 2 rowing boats were employed during games to retrieve any balls hoofed into the Clyde. In 1905 there were 16,000 people here to watch Thistle beat Hibs 4-2, a record for the ground. (Please see this update for a correction here)
Meadowside site for Partick Thistle from 1897-1908, from road bridge over the lower Kelvin
In 1908 the club had to move on, as the land was to become Henderson's shipyard. This piece of land between the new transport museum and the Glasgow Harbour flats is at present empty, awaiting development. The last remaining building that stands of the Henderson Shipyard marks the site I imagine the ground occupied. Leaving here to head up Byres Road I passed over the new walkway which marks historic events of the Meadowside area, including the arrival of Partick Thistle. For Thistle a nomadic year was passed, with home games at Ibrox, Shawfield, Parkhead and Hampden. After 32 years in Partick and Whiteinch a move to Maryhill was considered.
A piece of land was found in Maryhill, beside the canal on Firhill Road.  A playing surface was levelled and a stand for 1,600 people built. Partick Thistle were now a Maryhill club, so that's where I'm off to next. Running it in this order was a daft idea in retrospect, as it meant finishing this 13km route by climbing up the hill that is Fergus Drive to get to Maryhill Road, then down the appropriately named Stair Street (basically two flights of stairs).

Anyway this is now familiar territory for anyone who makes their way regularly to Firhill and I finally reached our current home, where we've been for 93 years.
Firhill Stadium, Maryhill. Home to Partick Thistle since 1909
Anyway, if you've followed me until now, make your own way home. I apologise for any glaring errors and hope that at least if you don't fancy taking a run around this daft route (which turned out to be a bit longer than I imagined) then can I suggest at least you take a wee walk along these parts. I ran home along the canal but took ages as I was hypnotised watching a cormorant coming up with fish after fish after fish. You never saw that when I lived opposite the canal in the early 80's!
Cormorant fishing in the Forth and Clyde Canal (or 'Nolly' to most people)
If you care to take a wee walk down memory lane along this route, here it is on MapMyRun.

(April 2013, additional information on this subject was added here)

Friday 23 November 2012

Eclectic Glasgow Entertainments #26

Reviewing some Glasgow theatre offerings, poetry and music from this week

Alasdair Gray gave an interesting interview in The Observer at the weekend, talking of his feeling of running out of time to do all the things he has wanted. He seems more productive than ever at present with his decoration of the Oran Mor interior, a new collection of his short stories released this week and his tiled wall at Hillhead subway station unveiled recently. He is often described as a polymath; playwright, author, artist and activist. He grew up in an environment in Glasgow where artists could meet up, share ideas and try them out. One place you see young artists mixing with old hands and getting to try stuff out is at Oran Mor's A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

One person who I've seen giving a reading alongside Alasdair Gray recently is Alan Bissett, a man with many strings to his bow. He is an author, performer, has written plays for Oran Mor's A Play, a Pie and a Pint and is active in the 'Yes' campaign for independence. He has admitted light-heartedly on Twitter to being exhausted by his role in the independence campaign but he brought plenty of energy to his one man show "The Red Hourglass", which reached The Arches last week. Originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer he played the parts of several spiders being observed in a St Andrews research facility. The parts were individually well written and performed, but the pieces struggled to hang together to make a coherent point, despite the final summing up by the research scientist. He has often collaborated with others through Oran Mor and seems not to be lacking in confidence or ambition. The artistic community of Scotland isn't enormous though, and contributes so much to defining us, entertaining us, making us think. Like your corner shop, unless you use it you will wake up one day and find that it has gone and all you have left is that huge, bland multinational brand you've got to drive to. I guess that is the point I'm trying to make in blogging all these events, trying to help people see what things are going on.

This week a A Play, a Pie and a Pint has a class act in town with Bill Paterson as writer and performer in Astonishing Archie. I think I'm right in saying it is based on the bones of a 30 minute piece he wrote as a radio play a few years ago to perform with Stanley Baxter. Sadly Richard Wilson had to withdraw from this performance for health reasons. He is ably replaced by Kenny Ireland, who recently directed The Cone Gatherers which I saw in September at the Theatre Royal. Sharon Small of Inspector Lynley Mysteries fame and the voice of Alex Norton also feature. The star qualities of Bill Paterson has drawn a larger than usual gaggle of Kelvinside ladies and gentlemen to Oran Mor and the place was packed when I went there on Tuesday, and I can confidently say that I was about 30 years younger than most of the other spectators. Two brothers born either side of the war view the world (and music) differently and fight it out over their pal Archie's farewell funeral music - Sinatra or Elvis. Bill Paterson's Allan and the script are warm and witty. A tale of sibling rivalry fought out through the medium of musical tastes, it is brought together nicely by Sharon Small's Church of Scotland minister. It's good, gentle fun and I could see it working well on BBC Scotland as a 60 minute play, early evening on Hogmanay before Only an Excuse.

Tam Dean Burn
Cross pollination was in evidence again down at SWG3, in the Jim Lambie built "poetry club". On Thursday night monthly Edinburgh arts project "Neu! Reekie!" visited Glasgow for its second outing here, its 26th edition in total. This Edinburgh scheme describes itself as an 'anti-cabaret' and keeps itself so under the radar that this is the first time I've come across it (which maybe just shows how Glasgow-centric I am). Whoever put this evening together chose well. First up Kevin Williamson (Rebel Inc founder) and Michael Pederson introduced Tam Dean Burn performing a Bertold Brecht poem on New York boom and bust, today on Thanksgiving Day. All very cool to a soundtrack by JD Twitch, a Gershwin Dub.

Graeme Ronald, in solo Remember Remember guise did his ephemeral, wistful stuff in a beautiful 30 minute set (I could happily have had the same again). He's a multi-instrumentalist who started off doing his stuff as a soloist, looping and repeating sounds as diverse as guitar chords and bubble wrap pops to make atmospheric, melodic tunes. Playing electric guitar with interference from an iPod tonight was a new one for me. If you haven't picked up their album (as a band) The Quickening, go get it now.

Next up was the ever entertaining Liz Lochhead, who changed her readings to follow the vibe of the evening, reading "Ira and George" (Gershwin). It was also nice to hear her powerful poem "Listen" again, the voice of a kid at a Children's Panel. She is a great advert for poetry as an aural rather than a written form and a great reader. Her corbie (crow) says 100 times what Ted Hughes's manages in its opening speech from her play Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off.

Liz Lochhead
Scottish BAFTA winner and now Oscar long-list nominated animator Will Anderson then introduced his film "The Making of Longbird", a graduation project from Edinburgh College of Art which was a highlight of the evening. Look out for the Longbird, funny, clever. Very entertaining. Low Miffs front man, Leo Condi and a three piece band finished off an eclectic evening with some songs by Bertold Brecht and Jacques Brel and we finally got to see the Flying Scotsman sculpture/ smoke machine high up on the wall in action. Bit jealous of Edinburgh getting these Neu! Reekie! evenings on a monthly basis and I'll look out for the next Glasgow one now.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Sonica, Glasgow 2012

Review of events I've been to this week in Sonica 2012, Glasgow

The inaugural Sonica festival is running in Glasgow from 8th-18th of November across various venues, produced by Cryptic. Subtitled "sonic art for the visually minded" it tries to provide an opportunity to showcase work from Glasgow and across the world which doesn't normally fit easily onto a gallery wall. Now, I have always had a leaning towards music which resembles vacuum cleaners in dust cans falling down a lift shaft, so I was hoping to find lots to intrigue and entertain me in Sonica.

The programme is imaginative and varied. Some of it is aimed specifically at children (such as Sonic Dreams). Others have a seemingly childish simplicity that would appeal to anyone, such as Kathy Hinde's kinetic sculpture, Piano Migrations, in the foyer of the Scottish Music Centre. It is a hypnotic sight as wee birds projected onto the strings of an up-ended piano cause motors to twitch and pluck the strings as the birds tweet about its workings, like a John Cage work brought to life.

Piano Migrations
Over at the Traway a more dramatic kinetic sculpture is on show from Korean artist Mookyoung Shin. Our Contemporaries is in a darkened room where dozens of perspex hands rest on desks. As each hand is illuminated in turn the impatient fingers drum on the desk with a repetitive tapping. It is a sight worth seeing, but hearing it is part of the whole dreamy atmosphere too that slowly builds. I was there with my kids, who felt it was like the drumming that The Master used in hypnotising the human race in an episode of Doctor Who. Very impressive in scale and execution.

Our Contemporaries
More was on show over at the CCA. Luke Fowler worked with Jean-Luc Guionnet's to produce his film All Divided Selves about RD Laing and is a current Turner Prize nominee. I won't be able to see the film they've made together for Sonica, which is on this Friday night. However I was able to go and see Pilgrimage from Scattered Points, about Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra on at the CCA throughout the festival. The "musicians" and composers on film are all so very earnest and sincere in their enterprises, whether dropping marbles onto a drum skin, scraping rocks across the floor or in the final sequence debating whether their self-expression in this music is enough to express their political ideas of the world. I like their earnestness.
Extended Play
Upstairs at the CCA is the fantastically atmospheric and thought provoking Extended Play by Janeck Schaefer. Three groups of old-fashioned record players in a darkened room with red spotlights play separately the violin, cello and piano parts of a piece of music taken from a Polish folk song. As you walk around them you cause the record players to slow and stop, constantly changing the music. The blurb describes it as "a triptych for the child survivors of war and conflict" and started from the idea of 'Jodoform', music played by the BBC during WW2 to pass messages to the Polish Underground. It does make you ponder as you wander, reflect, think about the effect you have on the room. I liked it a lot.

Along the corridor from it is another outing for Aidan Moffat and FOUND's "sound installation" #UNRAVEL, more stripped down than when I last saw it at Glasgow International 2012, but the idea is the same. You pick singles from someone's collection and unpick the story of their life from the monologues they trigger off. With the headphones on this time, rather than standing back in awe at the mechanical instruments as I did last time, I was more able to take in the stories being told.

Remember Me by Claudia Molitor is being performed in the lovely setting of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Scotland Street School Museum. We are gathered outside the room and lead in to find her dressed like one of the Greek priestesses who light the Olympic flame watching a projected film to the sounds of water falling and discordant strings. Then we are taken next door and about 20 of us watched her performance around an old white writing desk. She talks of the imagined phone call between the female operatic heroines Dido and Eurydice and "their good friend Cinderella" whilst taking objects from the drawers and projecting films onto it and herself. It made me think back to the fun I had as a child rummaging in the jam-packed drawers of my granny's old "bureau" which was full of the most random stuff. We were dismissed one by one at the end by words whispered privately in our ear by the elfin performer. "Remember me?", I think I will. Bonkers, but good bonkers. I headed over to the Tramway hoping for more of the same.
I made a quick dash over to the Tramway to see Bluebeard, again based upon opera, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, but described as "state of the art opera for the digital age", produced and performed by the "33 1/3 collective", a collaboration of Dutch artists. The story of Bartok's opera has Bluebeard's new wife insisting he opens the seven castle doors, revealing various dark secrets. In this staging bizarre and spectacular images are projected onto a large cube in the centre of a darkened hall whilst music and singing/ chanting rings out. Some images and sounds are startling, like the coins spinning onto the floor as the treasure room is opened, whilst in others the artists come onstage to interact with them, such as apparently sweeping corpses onto a stretcher. I have never seen anything like this before. Absolutely stunning, although the visuals overwhelmed the music a bit.

Between shows at the Tramway I played with Tim Cooper's Dora, a computer programme set up in the foyer where your typed in thoughts are translated into electronic music, of sorts.

Tales of Magical Realism - Part 2 (and my allocated number)
The best show of the night for me I'd saved until last. "Tales of Magical Realism - Part 2" by Sven Werner. Part 1 was apparently done at Cryptic Nights, the previous incarnation of this festival and both are based on his film Oculista and featuring musician Graeme Miller. The description in the programme didn't give many clues to what was in store for us. Initially our group were led outside and up a fire exit at the back of the building to enter a hall where three musicians were playing at the far end, whilst a ballerina performed in the middle of the hall. It takes a while to realise the dancer is bound by a line of twine to a weight on a pulley. We are measured and given a raffle ticket on arrival, and every 5 minutes the doors at the far end opened, a bell rings and three of our ticket numbers are called forward. After an eye examination akin to Deckard's V-K test and a serenade in German, the three are lead away to another room. Meanwhile the musicians and ballerina start up again as we shuffle about in the room, keeping out of her way. Down a corridor we enter another room of the installation, where music and spoken word through headphones we are given tell us a mysterious story. We are guided to look through an array of Heath Robinson contraptions, sort of zoetrope machines. The last stage of the story entails a one in three chance of you ending up on a penny farthing to power a dynamo to illuminate the end of the story. The whole thing was a joy, a vaudevillian version of Blade Runner, re-imagined by a Victorian Tom Waits. The surreal nature of it all was added to by the fact that I knew the guy on guitar, having worked with him about 15 years ago. Very strange.
Overall Sonica was full to bursting with the type of music, performance and sonic arts that I absolutely love. The reduced prices for advanced booking and 3 for 2 offers meant I was able to see loads of stuff in the festival and I hope to find it returning next year.

Monday 12 November 2012

What's on in Glasgow this week?

A quick review of current exhibitions at GoMA, Tramway, The Modern Institute and The Glasgow Print Studio

I'm off work for a few days, and with the kids all still at school am being self-indulgent and swanning around Glasgow during the day. Sometimes I think you forget to check all the things which are going on in your own city. You just take them for granted.

On show at GoMA just now
I've avoided GoMA for a while, because it was always the same stuff on display that I'd seen before, but when I went in to have a look around recently it had all been changed. With the help of The Common Guild and The Art Fund the museum has acquired a lot of new works and has them all on show. There are videos, photography, paintings, sculpture and ceramics spread throughout the building and although not all of it is to my taste, there is a lot of good stuff there. At present the gallery justifies the word "modern" in it's title.

The Tramway is another place I don't go to that often, but I made a rare expedition to the southside to see what was happening there this week. The draw for me was to have a nosey at The Glad Cafe, a new cafe and venue on Pollokshaws Road which has opened. It has hosted a great selection of musicians and talks since it opened and I think if it was nearer my house I'd be a regular by now. I think it is in an ex-snooker hall and has been nicely set up. On their website they speak positively of being at "the heart of Scotland's most ethnically diverse community" and I hope they are taking steps to engage all of that diverse community as on the day I visited it was a wholly white, middle-class looking crowd that was there. The food was tasty, the ambience laid back and the forthcoming events intriguing, so good luck to them.

Richard Hughes "Community fun day"
The Tramway has a great selection of stuff on just now. The current Sonica festival has a lot on the go here (more on that another day). The main hall has an exhibition of work by Richard Hughes entitled "Where It All Happened Once", familiar objects recreated in phenomenal detail in resin and fibreglass amongst other things. Familiar objects range from discarded cardboard boxes and sleeping bags to a community centre dropped on its side. It is at times familiar and also very surreal. Even things like the drainpipes on the gallery walls, which look mundane at first glance, spell out words when viewed at a certain angle. It's a lot of fun.

"Sleeping Rust" by Richard Hughes
Upstairs at the Tramway there is the Koestler Exhibition, a great exhibition of prisoners' artwork curated by David Shrigley.

All of these exhibitions I've mentioned above are free to visit. So too are The Modern Institute and the Glasgow Print Studio where I went next. The Print Studio at the Trongate has an exhibition upstairs called "Academians II" featuring the work of John Byrne, Norman Ackroyd, Philip Reeves and Chris Orr. My favourite works where by the latter, whose stuff I don't really know. I particularly liked Nagasaki Mon Amour.
Nagasaki Mon Amour by Chris Orr
The Modern Institute is just around the corner, hiding on Osbourne Street. I always forget about it, but whenever I go it always has really imaginative, bizarre or interesting exhibitions. In the main space just now are new works by Glasgow based artist Cathy Wilkes, who represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale in 2005 and was a Turner Prize nominee in 2008. It is slightly creepy wandering between her strange mannequins and the various other objects strewn about the gallery. I found it hard to work out what the context was which made it a bit eerie, but I kept thinking that they looked like Glasgow children from a Joan Eardley painting.

Cathy Wilkes at The Modern Institute

Upstairs there are a selection of ceramics by Japanese artist Shio Kusaka, arranged on a plain table. I didn't really know what to make of this. Empty vessels? Nice jugs? You decide.

A lot of these exhibitions don't have much longer to run, except for Richard Hughes stuff, so if any of that grabs your fancy, get yourself along.

Saturday 10 November 2012

George Wyllie vs Rembrandt, Aidan Moffat vs Wagner

George Wyllie vs Rembrandt, Aidan Moffat vs Wagner

Review of George Wyllie Retrospective Exhibition, Rembrandt and the Passion, Aidan Moffat at Cottiers, Wagner- Tristan and Isolde Act 2 BBCSSO

There were two opportunities this week for me to compare internationally acclaimed masters in their field against uniquely Scottish national treasures in the same disciplines.

I often forget about the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University but the posters advertising their Rembrandt exhibition, "Rembrandt and the Passion", brought me along this week. I'm no religious authority but that is the second Passion themed thing I've seen this winter, and even I know this would chime better at Easter.

Last time I was in here there were clearly a few leaks in the roof and the layout was looking a bit tired, but I was delighted to see that it has all been renovated and re-hung. All of my favourite paintings are still there and JD Ferguson's Les Eus, Joan Eardley's paintings and their unique array of Whistler's are all allowed to shine. If you've not been in a while, go and stick your head through Paolozzi's doors and have a look. The temporary exhibition upstairs is built around the gallery's "Entombment Sketch" by Rembrandt, a wee picture I'm familiar with as it has hung in the Gallery forever. However it does merit the extra attention it gets in this exhibition, hung alongside some of his other paintings (including his "Entombment of Christ" painting on loan from Munich), etchings and works of other artists of the Passion story. It is all very interesting, but £5 entry was a bit steep considering it is usually free to see it on its own.

George Wyllie scul?tures

In the main hall at the Mitchell Library just now is a retrospective of the work of George Wyllie, who died earlier this year aged 90. If you don't think you know his stuff then think back to the huge 'paper boat' floated down the Clyde or the straw locomotive that was hung from the Finnieston crane in 1987 and then burnt (a model of it and a box of the ashes are on show here). He is a David Shrigley, with a blowtorch. 

Model for The Straw Locomotive

At present there is a large question mark hanging from the Finnieston crane in tribute to the man, who described himself as a "Scul?tor". His work was often playful and fun, but usually had a political edge or carried a message about Glasgow's declining industrial hinterlands. His family have brought together a great selection of his work from early paintings to major sculptures for this exhibition, titled "In Pursuit of the Question Mark".
I've always liked his stuff and his "Just In Case" giant nappy pin sculpture that sits at the former site of Rottenrow Maternity Hospital always raises a smile in me when I pass it. Hopefully this exhibition will inspire someone to fix the clocks in his running man sculpture outside Buchanan Bus Station. I'll definitely be back to see this exhibition again, which is free and on until February 2013 and I'll bring my kids, who will love it.
Saying that, however, on balance I'd give this one 2-3 to Rembrandt. Despite Wyllie having the home advantage, the big man from the Netherlands just wins here thanks to his superior technique.

This week I also had the chance to compare and contrast the music of Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells in Cottiers on Wednesday night with that of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the City Halls on Thursday. This really was a Champions League clash of techniques, the Scottish underdogs playing their homely tunes against Teutonic efficiency, complex chromaticism and one of the finest orchestras in the country.

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat
Rick Redbeard, lead singer of The Phantom Band in folkish guise, strumming his acoustic guitar opened and has a solo album out next year. Next up was Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells, who won the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year award in June for "Everything’s Getting Older", a mixture of spoken word pieces, alcohol sodden songs and a quintessentially Scottish glumness. I last saw them perform songs from the album at a gig in Paisley and now about 18 months later it was nice to see how the live arrangements have evolved. Bill was at piano, with a trumpeter up front and Aidan on drums, vocals and bits and bobs. The 10 minutes on the album from "The Copper Top" through to the brutish "Glasgow Jubilee" are some of my favourite minutes of music and it was good to hear those tracks again. He promised a cover version tonight and although he seemed sorely tempted by an audience request for Chas ‘n’ Dave’s "Ain’t No Pleasing You" he settled for Black Heart by girl group Stooshe instead. If you follow Aidan’s drunken MTV music reviews on twitter you’ll know that this type of pop trash is what he loves at 4am. There were also outings for some tracks that they thought "too cheery" to make the album. He is always an entertaining performer and I think I’d enjoy hearing him read a shopping list over Bill Wells’s mournful piano and the muted trumpet, but the wee tales he tells of mundane ordinariness are great.

AL Kennedy and bluebottle address those who arrived early
By contrast the following night I was out to see Act 2 of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, a concert performance over three evenings of the opera, being performed by the BBCSSO. First on stage was author AL Kennedy. I like her Scottish dourness, love her books and she gave an interesting talk, bizarrely interrupted by a persistent bluebottle that landed on her mic and politely listened to the last 5 minutes. I really wonder what the Radio 3 audience would have made of her stopping mid-sentence to utter such things as "Go away, I don’t want to kill you". Presumably they were able to edit these bits out. I had enjoyed the first Act a few weeks ago and it had ended on a cliff hanger. The music and orchestra were fantastic, I particularly liked the bit where Tristan and Isolde meet to the crashing music of a thunderstorm rather than to sounds suggesting joyful love lies ahead. As before, it takes a strong voice to carry out to the audience with the orchestra right at your back rather than in the pit, and there were some cast changes from Act 1 which made for an odd continuity. Nina Stemme's Isolde was released from the Sinex she had to resort to a couple of times on the last outing and was strong and impressive. Her new Brangane, Jane Irwin, had a fantastic voice and presence. Our new Tristan, Robert Dean Smith, however was a shadow of the Tristan from Act 1. Not only did he dress more prissily than everyone else, in his tails and white bow tie, he sang more prissily too, not having the volume to carry his words over the orchestra. So he made an unconvincing subject for Isolde's passion. Peter Rose entered as King Mark towards the end and his booming baritone was full of pathos. Because they are singing, not acting, we were left with a cliff hanger again as Tristan sings "On guard, Melot" and the act ends (you don't get to see him throw aside his sword and allow Melot to severely wound him). So I'm looking forward to Act 3, and as each act lasts 75-90 minutes I can see why it merits this type of treatment, and again focusing on the music of Wagner is enjoyable. However the next act is in April, which does seem a wee bit far away.

So I'd give this one as a surprise victory for the plucky Scottish underdogs who took full advantage of playing in front of a home crowd. The German played a solid game, but couldn't deliver that knockout blow. Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells 3-1 Wagner.

This was all a convoluted metaphor to allow me to shoehorn in a mention of Scotland's football match of the week. No, not Celtic's impressive 2-1 victory over Barcelona, but Partick Thistle's storming dismantling of their main promotion rivals, Dunfermline, this afternoon. 5-1 it ended and Dunfermline were lucky that was all we scored. It was a great game, a great crowd of over 5200 and a wee suspicion is circulating around Firhill that we are looking bloody good this year. Next home game is in 2 weeks, vs Livingston on the 24th November. If you haven't seen them this year, drag yourself along.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Julian Cope, Copendium Book Launch. Mono, Glasgow 6.11.2012

Julian Cope, Copendium and GNOD live.

I wasn't sure what to expect at this event in Mono, Glasgow, ostensibly a book launch for Julian Cope's latest tome, Copendium. Like many people my age I first became aware of Julian Cope with his performances on Top of the Pops in his post-Teardrop Explodes days, twisting around the mic stand singing "World Shut Your Mouth". Since then he has developed a name for himself as a musicologist and chronicler of the forgotten backwaters of rock music. His previous books are pretty unique, such as the detailed cataloguing of the world of German psychedelic rock (Krautrocksampler) and Japanese experimental rock (Japanrocksampler which has over 300 pages of fascinating, detailed stuff in it). Although reading these you tend to feel he has OCD tendencies in his cataloguing, it was through the latter book that I first came across weird Japanese stuff like Acid Mothers Temple who were playing again in Glasgow only recently.

This latest book tries to, as he said in his introduction, "catalogue the underground". By this he means a history of underground music rather than subway trains.
Julian Cope at Mono
First on stage was Cope himself, wearing his trademark military cap and leather waistcoat. He talked about his other Faber books in the pipeline, a novel ('131' set in Sardinia during Italia '90) and a non-fiction book, Lives of the Prophets, about Jesus, Mohammad, Odin, etc. You know, the usual topics for a post-punk musician to tackle.

The Copendium book isn't as archival as it sounds and he says a lot of it describes contemporary musicians from the last 10 years, and writing it entailed investigative travels to Armenia amongst other places. It starts in the fifties and works through the decades from there. The eighties have a place in his mind as the worst decade for music (when he was performing at his peak).

Most mainstream musicians were suitably dismissed during his interview ("wankers and dickheads") and Eric Clapton in particular ("racist cunt"). He spoke of his love of contemporary rock'n'roll underground music and to make the point introduced "intuitive non-career movers", GNOD. The Salford four-piece shambled onstage to give us their echoey chanting and screeching over a squelchy backing track and stomping bass and drums which built and built into a perfect 40 minute, droning recipe for tinnitus. Absolutely fantastic stuff. Below is 90 seconds of their set which was one continuous piece along these lines.

After Mr Cope broke off from chatting to everyone outside during his fag break he introduced various YouTube videos of The Pretty Things making his point. Then we had a video he made whilst busking around historical UK sites (such as Highgate cemetery and Eddie Cochrane's grave) as the band Black Sheep and anecdotes of inspirational musicians (John Cale).

After that he retired to the shop to sign his book, a hefty brick of a thing, but I'd been persuaded that I needed it in my life. He was as nice a guy as you could meet. As I politely quipped about his Japanrocksampler book he gave me 10 minutes of chat about how it came together whilst the growing queue behind us politely drummed their fingers on their books.

I don't always agree with Julian Cope's musical tastes and he can be incredibly sincere at times and in love with paganism, but he was an entertaining curator of a fine evening and I agree whole-heartedly with his manifesto on the merits of underground music. Looking forward to reading his book.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Demons, Birds, Sisters and Passion

Demons at Oran Mor, Ugo Rondinone at The Common Guild, Guid Sisters at the Kings and Arvo Part's Passio at Kelvingrove

I'm a big fan of Dave McLellan's Play, a Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor and do try to get along whenever I'm at a lunchtime loose end. The £10 is on the steep side, but you do get a pint or a glass of wine, a steak pie and as much gravy as your plate can take, plus I suppose you save another 50p if you pick up a free Evening Times there, as they are one of the sponsors. The main attraction however is seeing a complete variety of performances, plays, styles, actors and writing from old pros to new young writers. This week was a companion piece to the 250th play, Jean-Jaque Rousseau Show, which was written by a group of writers, a piece of musical/ comedy/ cabaret. The team involved felt they had more that they wanted to say which lead to "Demons", again 5 actors singing, rotating through various musical instruments and sketches in a political cabaret. The peg it is hung upon is the quote from Owen Jones's book, Chavs,  "Demonization is the ideological backbone of an unequal society." In a variety of sketches they illustrate the point that the poor are being made the scapegoat for the bourgeoisie, as explained by Marx and Engels as the (Groucho) Marx brothers. It finishes with John McGrath's song from the Wildcat days ‘Get them out, make them work, They don’t own us, whatever they say." It all needs saying, but it is hard not to be a wee bit saddened by the fact that political theatre has had to dust off the old songs a quarter of a century after they were written. At least there seems a group of young actors and writers looking to do this stuff.
Ugo Rondinone, 'primitive'
On Friday evening we  swung by The Common Guild up on Park Circus to see their current exhibition, an installation of little bronze sculptures of birds, scattered throughout the building by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone.
They are all individuals, but simply made and quite comical. As you carefully step through them it's hard not to think of the malevolence in Hitchcock's film, The Birds, rather than the benign wee innocent faces of Anthony Gormley's terracotta figures in 'Field'. It is a lot of fun, and our three kids loved it. 

Saturday night was meant to be me watching rubbish on TV and getting an early night as my children don't get the concept of clocks go back an hour (as I expected Sunday breakfast started at 5am). Meanwhile my wife and her mum went to the Kings Theatre to see The Guid Sisters starring Karen Dunbar, a Scots version of the French Québécois play, Les Belles-soeurs by Michael Tremblay. They'd been looking forward to it for a while and it had great reviews (Herald****, Scotsman****, Guardian*****, The Observer****) so I was surprised when they came home at the back of 9pm. My initial fear was that they'd been driven home by all the people roaming the streets of Glasgow that night dressed as zombies or schoolgirls,. However the truth of the matter was that they'd walked out at the interval. Sadly they did not enjoy it at all, finding it almost impossible to hear what was being said in a jumble of mixed up accents by the numerous characters talking and shouting over each other. What they could make out they found couthie and stilted. In the past year they've seen and enjoyed plays in similar Scottish scenarios (Men Should Weep and The Steamie for example) but this must have been a trial for them to have actually left. You have been warned!

Sunday night I went to the second half of the Arvo Pärt weekend, a further episode in the ongoing series of concerts in Glasgow under the "Minimal" banner. Whereas some of the others in the series are more commonly labelled as minimalists (Steve Reich, Philip Glass) Pärt's piece tonight is minimalist in the way that Gregorian chants are stark and minimalist. It is a choral telling by the Estonian composer of St John's Passion, sung in the Latin, accompanied by an oboe, cello, violin, bassoon and tonight by the organ in Kelvingrove Art Galleries. Maybe not everyone's idea of a great night out, but in the beautiful setting of the main hall of Kelvingrove Art Gallery with its echoey acoustics and grand surroundings it was fantastic. The choir was great and a joy every time they had a piece to sing, the baritone of Jesus and Pilate's higher tones were sung from up on the balcony alongside the organist, adding to the drama, the organ only really coming in as accompaniment to their voices. Really enjoyed this, brilliant performance, brilliant setting.