Monday, 28 May 2012

Still Summertime in Glasgow

After a winter that lasted 6 months, Glasgow is STILL enjoying summer, which has now officially entered its second week, although there are rumours that tomorrow it will start to get cooler and drizzly for the rest of the week. Tonnes of naked flesh were on display in all parks of the city over the weekend as people stared at disbelief at the "big, round bright thing" in the sky.

Today, Monday, was again a glorious day, although I was at work today, but earlier this morning went for a quick run along the Clydeside, which was mostly spent smiling at the fantastic vista of an early morning clear sky, waters as still as glass and reflections around the PS WaverleyScience Centre and BBC building gave me an excuse to stop to take a few snaps as proof to people in other parts of the world that the west of Scotland is in fact a sun-drenched tropical paradise....for a few days each couple of years.

No camera trickery was used or silly Instagram filters on taking these snaps with my phone.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Play, a Pie and a Pint and Philip Glass

A Play, a Pie and a Pint

It's been a while since I managed to catch one of the lunchtime a Play, a Pie and a Pint shows at Oran Mor at the top of Byres Road, the small matter of work usually being my obstacle. Now that the football season is over though I tried to make an extra effort to grab a pie this week and took in "One Day In Spring", the last in a season of plays they've put on in association with the National Theatre of Scotland inspired by the popular revolts in the Arab world over the past 18 months. It had received rave reviews in The Herald and The Scotsman, a compilation piece of short sketches and ideas by several young Arabic playwrights directed by David Greig. Right from its inception I've liked the variety of stuff on show at a Play, a Pie and a Pint, sometimes its a bit hit or miss, sometimes there's a wee gem or "that guy off the telly" in an intimate venue. The two young actors telling these stories from the Arab world did it with humour, pathos, enthusiasm and energy, despite one of them acting from a wheelchair (which gets to double as a tank) after Seif Abdelfattah broke his ankle in rehearsals. Fellow Egyptian Sara Shaarawi is his partner on stage giving us "18 short lessons in how to run a revolution" and I liked the wee aside that "you'll never get your independence like that" when the Scottish audience gave a quiet and reluctant murmur when asked to participate in their revolt. It is jarring to watch these tales written by and about people involved in the unfolding actions, with vigour and humour and then be faced with gruesome scenes of brutal fighting in Syria in the news a day later.

If you've never tried it, give it a bash next time you are passing through the West End about lunchtime,. They start at 1pm, get in beforehand to pick up your pint (lager, Guinness, glass wine, orange juice, whatever), your pie (or quiche for you veggies, with or without gravy) take a seat and who knows what or who you'll see. Next week it's a play by Ron Butlin whose books Vivaldi and the Number 3 and The Sound of My Voice I've enjoyed. I might try to slope off early from work again next week.
Oran Mor pies don't come with a wee mouse, by the way


Glasgow Royal Concert Hall have been running an ongoing series of concerts loosely under the label of 'Minimal' and this weekend they were marking the 75th birthday of American composer Philip Glass by having the man himself in town to do a variety of performances. The one that I managed to catch was on Friday night where he performed his score to the classic early talkie "Dracula" starring Béla Lugosi. He was on the piano on stage alongside Michael Riesman, on keyboard and conducting and longstanding collaborators, the Kronos Quartet. It is years since I've seen Philip Glass perform, and looking at his recent credits writing film scores seems to have become a large part of it. It was also a treat to see the Kronos Quartet, however it took a wee bit of time for me to adjust my ear to listen to the music. As the film was playing out on the screen above them, the musicians were beavering away below it on stage. The melodrama on screen was absorbing and I guess ultimately, although I had bought a ticket to hear the music, it is written to create and augment the atmosphere of the film. This worked particularly well in the dramatic last 20 minutes. It made me think back to the skill of the musicians in the silent movie days who added their dramatic flourishes to the on screen action, such as my wife's great-auntie Peggy, who did it as her job. Although I met her as an old woman, it is funny to think of her in Philip Glass's place at the piano in the cinemas of Lochgelly instead of a concert hall in Glasgow. Anyway, I enjoyed seeing the film again, enjoyed hearing and seeing the musicians and I think even Philip Glass enjoyed himself as he forced out a smile on his third curtain call. Afterwards I met up with fellow Jags man @NiallKennedy who'd been at the concert too, which was a very civilised way to end the week, before walking through the streets of Glasgow at 11pm, in shirt sleeves, when a week ago I needed gloves and a bunnet. Just in case that is the Scottish summer over already, I've squeezed in 2 barbecues this week already. Perfect!
Great-auntie Peggy

Monday, 21 May 2012

Shabazz Palaces, Glasgow, May 2012

I've never really made the effort to find out about hip hop, finding it all a bit homgeneous. However when Public Enemy were in Glasgow last year doing their "Fear of a Black Planet " tour I did go to see them as it is one of the few hip hop albums I've ever bought. They impressed me with their whole show - their political chat between songs, their live musicians and their choroegraphy.
I ended up at the Shabazz Palaces gig in the Art School in Glasgow on a Sunday night because basically I'd go to see anyone play live, but also because of Frankie Boyle and my brother in law. If you follow @FrankieBoyle on twitter you'll know that as well as being a comic-book geek, he likes his hip hop, and has instigated "hip hop Thursdays". When he was singing the praises of Shabazz Palaces, my brother in law, who does know his way around this music, recommended them to me as one of the best albums of last year. So I bought "Black Up" with its nice velour sleeve and have really enjoyed it. Really they are quite genre-defying and a lot of their sound is closer to jazz, with a lot of African beats in there too over a throbbing bass. And lo, a couple of weeks later these mysterious Seattle musicians are playing in Glasgow.

Before they were up Hector Bizerk were on, a Glaswegian MC (Louie) with Audrey on real drums. He's also picked up a guitarist along the way for playing some summer festivals, his mate tells me, and when he and Jen - the keyboard/ percussion/ small wooden frog player join them on stage they make quite an efficient band. Let It Go was a stand-out song. They've their own Scottish twist on hip hop lyrics, such as "it'll be like the Battle of Culloden" or rhyming Robert Mugabe with smell of scampi". I struggle with the West of Scotland white guys doing all the ghetto hand gestures and posturing though. See what you think.

So Shabazz Palaces walk on to a Sudanese track, and that Afro-centric background ran through the whole show (my new best pal, they're a chatty bunch these hip hop audiences, identified the track for me as his dad is Sudanese).
Shabazz Palaces at The Art School, Glasgow
They are a Seattle duo -  Ishmael Butler, who in previous incarnations has been Palaceer Lazaro, aka Butterfly of jazz-rap group Digable Planets and Tenai 'Baba' Maraire. They perform at times tightly and with choreographed dance moves reminiscent of Public Enemy, and at other times much more freely and feeling improvised, particularly in the long encore. Rhythms are not just from electronic beatboxes and a Roland Octapad, but from gourds, djembe drums and a kalimba thumb piano thing. There is a political edge to all this to. On the song "Swerve..." he chants "Black is you, black is me, black is us, black is free" whilst they both raise a black power salute which seemed timely with John Carlos, one of the athletes that did this in the 1968 Olympics, on a speaking tour in the UK just now.

They seemed to have managed to attract a few chin-stroking nosey people like me alongside some young kids with baseball caps on backwards, and played a 90 minute show. Though serious and concentrating throughout they seemed to enjoy themselves too and left after their extended encore with big, hearty smiles. Me too.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Stag and Dagger, Glasgow 2012

Stag & Dagger is one of those "festivals" like the Camden Crawl, where you get a wristband and wander between venues trying to get in to see the bands you fancy, whilst expecting to end up in the quiet pub venue with a succession of the "next big indie guitar bands" on stage. This is the fourth annual outing of this Glasgow version, but the first time that I'd bought a ticket. The main attraction for me was for the chance to see Django Django, the four-piece band from Edinburgh. Drummer/ producer David Maclean is brother of the Beta Band keyboard player and the similarities in sound are clear on Django Django's debut album, which is a good thing.

When I bought the ticket, I'd presumed it was an all day thing, and I'd be seeing dozens of bands, but although there were plenty of bands on across the seven venues, mostly they were all in the evening starting at similar times. Also a wee bit disappointing was that Death Grips were on the original line-up but had cancelled and Swedish popsters Niki and the Dove that I'd fancied seeing, had also cried off at the last minute due to illness. Anyway the later than expected start meant that I had the chance to take my daughter to yet another soft-play area birthday party on Saturday, and whilst she was there to soundly thrash my 10 and 12 year olds at ten-pin bowling (I honestly thought they were too far ahead of me to be caught when I got my first strikes with my last 2 balls - I deny the "competitive dad" charge levelled against me).

We started with a drink at the Arches where we had the pleasure of watching the Hibs vs Hearts Scottish Cup Final on the TV, which looked a very one-sided affair. Seems a shame that Hibs weren't able to raise their game, and they look like they could have been good for a few points if they'd landed in the First Division next season instead of Dunfermline. Dinner at Red Onion on West Campbell Street was a wee bit spoiled by finding a dead beetle at the bottom of the salad of the starter, which would tend to suggest it hadn't been cleaned or stored properly. The food was nice though and the staff handled it all very well by not charging us for any of the food or drink we'd had. We didn't have the brass neck to say "in that case, two large brandies please, and can we see the dessert menu after all?" Coffee and pudding along the road at Sarti's was a good idea.

Miaoux Miaoux
Anyway, our musical entertainment of the evening got off to a good start with Miaoux Miaoux at Stereo, Glasgow based producer of electronic soundscapes. He plays electronic beats whilst distorting and looping his guitar sounds to impressive effect. It was interesting seeing him so soon after I'd seen Grimes. They do similar things, twiddling knobs of electronic boxes, but he does it with humour and a smile, she did it as if she was doing a really big favour for her audience. I like Stereo as a bar/cafe/venue and when we arrived there my wife said "how long before we bump into Aidan Moffat?" who is usually visible at these things. 5 minutes was the answer as it turned out, I'm feeling like his stalker these days.

As it was really Django Django we were after we just settled ourselves in the ABC for the rest of the evening. We arrived in time to see The Phantom Band who describe themselves as a "rock band from Glasgowish". Their album The Wants I find reminiscent of Goodbye Mr MacKenzie and seeing them live didn't disavow me of that opinion, which is no bad thing as Good Deeds and Dirty Rags was one of my all time favourite albums, until someone stole it from know who you are.

Phantom Band

We then popped through into ABC2 and saw The New Picadillys a rock'n'roll band that would do a good turn at a party or wedding I imagine and do a mean Ramones cover. Anyway they made a pleasant little sorbet to cleanse the palate between courses.
New Picadillys
Django Django were up on stage next and battered through their eclectic set with gusto, even getting their coconut shells out as I'd hoped. Their a very tight live act, hearty percussion is always something I like and at times it was 2 drumming or one drummer and three on keyboards. Worth seeing if you have the chance. We were a wee bit distracted towards the end as we'd been following the Champions League final on twitter latterly and were watching the last 5 minutes and the penalties on SkyGo on my phone - I have to say that is a helluva impressive app, just a shame about the result. John Terry - what a knob that man is.

Django Django
We wandered homewards via The Captain's (the word 'Rest' seems to have been forgotten now). I always like coming here to see music as when we lived across the road from it years ago it was just an old boozers. We'd hoped to catch Discopolis but things were running a bit late here so we settled for a bit of Hidden Masters instead before heading for the inevitable doner kebab. First I've had from Barbecue King for a few years, I like what they're doing with the flatbread but their doner meat is a bit bland.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Cobbler

If you are not in Glasgow at present, you may be unaware that global warming has caused the west of Scotland to have the micro-climate of a wet winter weekend in 365 days per year now. I had a few days off work last week and wet to the top of The Cobbler. Normally as it is the middle of May, I'd now be boring you with endless photos of the glorious view from up there, but as the temperature barley got above 5 degrees, there was snow on the top and most of the walk was done in a fine drizzle, only a brief lifting of the cloud once we were at the top gave us a peak at the surrounding countryside. I was feeling a bit brave at the top and clambered through the hole in the rock at the summit to try to get up top. I was of course forgetting that my hands were bloody freezing at this point, the rockface wet and cold and I came to understand that I am no longer 17 years old, the age I think I was last time I tried to dance about on top of the summit. Don't think I'll bother doing that again.

It was the first time that my dad had been up The Cobbler, which he enjoyed, but tell him he'll need to do it again when there are thousands of people milling about on a sunny weekend day and you can see for miles. Tell him...
Ben Arthur, The Cobbler from the path up

Nearer the summit of The Cobbler

Snow on Ben Ime from the top of The Cobbler

Loch Long from The Cobbler

The summit at The Cobbler, Ben Arthur

Summit of The Cobbler

The hole in the rock at the summit you clamber
through to get up on top from behind

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Burns and Grimes

I'm on holiday from work this week, and in a single-handed effort to relaunch the Scottish economy I'm doing what Visit Scotland has suggested and having a "staycation". The fact that the kids are still at school this week, so I can't go away anywhere is purely coincidental.

To start my week off I'd been looking forward to seeing Canadian "coffee table goth" Claire Boucher, who performs as Grimes, at the Berkeley Suite on Monday night. She was sat in Black Sparrow next door to the venue having a drink before the gig, a nice wee bar if you're in that neck of the woods. That turned out to be about the last time I managed to see her that night. Her album for 4AD, Visions, is fantastic. If you haven't yet had a listen to it, go check it out. Electronica with girly, falsetto vocals channelling Prince and Kraftwerk - its better than I'm making it sound.

Grimes as spotted in the Berkeley Suite
Partick train station
I haven't been to a gig here before, I'm sure it works well as a nightclub, but it was the wrong venue for this type of show. The low roof, and a fan base of men and woman who could play in basketball teams meant that only the from 4 or 5 people would have had a view of her. (What I could see is captured above on the photo). One person noodling over their keyboards and laptops can struggle to make a visual impact, but she decided not to struggle, moaned about her equipment all being new, and grumbled between every song to her sound engineer. At one point she said (I think to him as she was kind of ignoring us) "I was thinking I should try some new stuff because I need to make my set longer", giving me the feeling that I'd paid to watch a rehearsal. She was on stage for 45 minutes, no encore and after a quick pint in the Baby Grand I was still back at Partick train station in time to catch Newsnight, if I felt so inclined. Anyway as @AidanJohnMoffat put it
08/05/2012 01:04 I saw a gig tonight and it was pretty rubbish. Wrong venue + amateur approach = massive disappointment. Oh well, the album's still amazing.
Spooky skies over Fenwick Moor

Tuesday was to be a day spent holidaying in Ayrshire. As the kids were off school for an in-service day, we took them down to Heads of Ayr Farm Park, which has a curious collection of typical Ayrshire farm animals such as meerkats, lemurs, wallabies and Ralph the camel. Although it looked like a typical Scottish spring day as we passed the windfarm at Whitelee, it was actually a glorious sunny day in Ayrshire.
On the way to Heads of Ayr Farm Park, with beautiful views to Ailsa Craig we drove up (or down) the Electric Brae. I am not greatly convinced by this great Scottish optical illusion. Is it just me, or are we all afraid to say that it's a bit crap?
Anyway I can heartily recommend Heads of Ayr Farm Park if you wish to entertain children, with animals, indoor play areas, huge sandpits, climbing frames, a wee tubing slope, trampolines and those big bouncy cushion pillow things they never had when I was wee.

One of those big bouncy things. Look! Sunshine!

Brig O' Doon
We then headed about 3 miles up the road to see the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which I'd never managed to visit since it opened a couple of years ago. It's nice and has some interesting artefacts and interactive displays that were (unusually in my experience) all working, but I'm not convinced it brings an awful lot to what was there already. My kids summarised it as "a bit dark", but the gardens round about are nice if you like that kind of thing, and I guess there is somewhere for coach trips to be fed now.
Inside the Burns Monument

I like climbing up inside the old Burns Monument, walking across the Brig O' Doon trying to remember bits of Tam O' Shanter whilst re-enacting the horse bounding over the bridge as the witches grab her tail and "left poor Maggie scarce a stump". Then on via the Auld Alloway Kirk where the witches and auld Nick were dancing, to Burns Cottage, his childhood home.

The temporary exhibition in the museum of new paintings by Adrian Wiszniewski was good, but some of the other sculptures in the park are a bit more uneven in their quality. I quite liked the mouse, but he didn't seem very sleekit or timorous. Anyway, it was a nice day out down in Ayrshire. Last time I was there was to watch a midweek 0-0 draw for Partick Thistle at Somerset Park on a dreich November night. Today was a much more pleasant affair.

Monday, 7 May 2012

330 Million Years of Entertainment

That's what I sought out this weekend - 330 million years worth of culture, sport and entertainment and, do you know what? I found it.

Scotland getting beaten by Wales at Rugby 7s
It started on Saturday in Scotstoun Stadium with the Rugby 7s. Scotstoun Stadium has changed a fair bit since I lived in Knightswood when it was a grassy bit of ground with a changing room, overlooked by a railway track. When my son's school class had been dispatched to Glasgow Airport by the city council to welcome the teams to the city he had a great time there and managed to get 21 illegible autographs of Fijian and Kenyan sports stars. So he was keen to see them playing and I was keen to have a nosey around the future home of Firhill's departing tennants, the Glasgow Warriors rugby team. Funnily enough the rugger playing schools of Glasgow hadn't sent children to Glasgow Airport to welcome the teams, but they appeared to have pitched up in numbers with their families at Scotstoun. It was all very jolly and nice. Lots of jolly nice people in fancy dress, but I've never liked rugby and a few hours of this event did nothing to change my opinion. The 7s game is meant to be faster and higher scoring, but so is basketball, and when I've been to see Glasgow Rocks, the score ticks by, but I don't have enough invested in it to care that much. I can watch any old football game and withing 5 minutes I'll have plumped for a team and got into it. Rugby never does that for me. Anyway, my impression was that AUstralia, Fiji and New Zealand seemed too far ahead of anyone else to make it that competitive and Scotland were vaguely disinteresed or rubbish (I don't know enough about rugby to tell).

The 17th hole at the crazy golf
One good thing about being down at that part of Glasgow is that Victoria Park is nearby, which I've always loved visiting. It is a shame that the crazy golf is now a shabby pile of rotting concrete that seem to function as an al fresco drinking venue going by the amount of bottles and cans left lying about. Thankfully the Fossil Grove is still there, and although it hasn't really been updated since I used to come here as a 5 year old. I guess there is only so much updating you can do with the 330 million year old fossilised remains of a forest that was in Glasgow even before a Labour-controlled council, if it's possible to imagine that far back.
The building housing the Fossil Grove

It is open between 10 am and 4pm every day until September, so go along if you've not been for a while. It's a lovely place, if a wee bit shabby and neglected at the moment. 
Fossilised tree stumps

The domestic football season also drew to a close today in the SFL with Partick Thistle playing against Hamilton.  I decided that my season finished 7 days earlier so didn't go, but it sounded like a great game, another decent performance, but another 2 points dropped. Roll on next season.

Went to see Marley at the Grosvenor Cinema on Saturday night. My mum was briefly an usherette here in the sixties, before Mr King brought in his leather seats and bar. (Is it just me, or is it not a bit weird to decide to sit at the back of a cinema on an old cusion and blanket, on a wee leather sofa some other couple were on half an hour ago?) The film is a documentary of his life, and as it has been made with the assistance of his family can't help but being a wee bit of a hagiography, but some of the cinematography in Jamaica was glorious and the music is fantastic. Afterwards I realised that I don't have any Bob Marley on my phone (just some Damian Marley) so I put that right when I came home. It was funny that I'd just read Gil Scott-Heron's memoir of his tour with Stevie Wonder, and in that he comes across Marley a couple of times, and as Marley takes unwell with cancer this is the whole reason Gil Scott-Heron carries on touring with Stevie Wonder.

 In the gods at the Theatre Royal
If you like an opera with a few big numbers, a melodramatic story, beautiful stage sets, a fantastic orchestra, murder, assassination and suicide then you should make an effort to go see Scottish Opera doing Tosca, which is on at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow just now. I've seen this production before, relocated to 1940s Rome under Fascist rule, but I can't remember it being this good. I thought that the orchestra played beautifully, it was well acted and sung and Robert Poulton as the scheming baddie, Scarpia, stole the show. We had great seats up in the gods despite the frizzy-haired, rather self-centred woman in front of me being perched forwards all the way through the last 2 acts when she moved to the the empty seat I was enjoying in front of me.

I am looking forward to hearing Dexys new album, and tried and failed to get tickets for their gig in Cottiers last night, a Big Issue seller and me hanging about at the door asking for any spare tickets (nae chance, apparently). I was able to hear them doing some old song called "Come On Eileen", muffled and from outside, but still sounded good to me.

Right. Off to bring myself back up to date tonight at Grimes at the Berkely Suite, not a venue I've been to before in its current incarnation. I bet there is some frizzy-haired 6 foot tall woman stuck right in front of me waving her hands in the air all night.

Friday, 4 May 2012

A Life Too Short: The Story of Robert EnkeA Life Too Short: The Story of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a big follower of German football, so I first heard about goalkeeper Robert Enke when I read news of his suicide. This biography had been in the planning before the truth of his underlying depression became apparent with that tragic moment. I thought the tone of this book was fantastically well pitched as a very informative tale of the effects of depression on one individual and his family. But he was also a remarkable footballer and his life and career are also recounted here too. It is interesting to see the stresses and scrutiny footballers are put under from the point of view of the player for a change. It is amazing how many names in modern football crossed paths with Robert Enke, from Mourinho to Pierre van Hooijdonk to Howard Webb. I never knew about his time with Barcelona or the German national side either. This is a book which will appeal to people interested in football, but also maybe lets people who wouldn't normally read about the illness of depression to understand it better, which has got to be a good thing.

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