Thursday 26 July 2012

Olympic Football, Hampden Park

As a fan of Partick Thistle I don't get to make too many trips to Hampden, now that we have been out of Queens Park's league for a few seasons now, so I took the chance to join in the jamboree that is the Olympic Games with my 3 children and went to the Olympic football matches there today. I like the Olympics. The first games that I can remember were Moscow in 1980 with Steve Ovett, Seb Coe, Allan Wells, Daley Thompson and my own personal favourite, Mishka the bear. I've visited cities as a tourist and always made time to see their Olympic stadia; I've walked on the track of the Moscow stadium in a kilt, watched a baseball game at the Montreal stadium, been on the site of the Olympic park in Tokyo, and my all time favourite, Olympia in Greece. Maybe this is why I like the Olympics. It's Greek and I love all things Greek. Travelling alone in Greece one year I got some Dutch tourist to photograph me at the starting line of the ancient stadium in Olympia. So, despite thinking that it is a bit weird still having banners proclaiming London 2012 in a football stadium in Glasgow I eagerly bought tickets for the opening round of the men's Olympic football in Glasgow. As children in the cheap area where we were only page their age in pounds for a ticket, it was a pretty cheap day out too.

The much hyped security check was brief and performed good-naturedly by Strathclyde Police, for whom this is a walk in the park compared to an Old Firm cup final day I presume (although thankfully it'll be a while before we are blighted with one of those again I reckon). By chance I had ended up in a nostalgic corner of Hampden for me, from where I watched Rangers defeat Partick Thistle in a Scottish Cup semi-final. It now turns out they were cheating that day with their financial doping chicanery, depriving my team of a cup final day.

Hampden Park, Glasgow
First up today was Honduras vs Morocco and it was an entertaining game for the neutral observer. Morocco, lead by Houssine Kharja, started better and deserved their lead, a volley from Getafe's Barrada from outside the box. The Moroccan fans were the livelier too, managing to get people going with their drumming. Honduras then scored twice from Jerry Bengsten, first deflecting a Figuera shot home, then from a soft penalty. The Moroccan gamesmanship was becoming a bit annoying at this point. Zakaria Labyad equalised for Morocco with a peach of a chip. Morocco got a man sent off to complete the entertainment for my son (he loves a red card) but there were no more goals.

I was promised on my letter from the Olympics people that there would be a "great variety of food...from filling meals to tasty treats". Eh, no there wasn't. Considering I was locked in the ground for 5 hours to watch two games the options for eating were bloody awful, and the queues ludicrous. Scotch pie, steak pie, chicken curry pie, cheesy bean pie, crisps or Cadbury's chocolate. That was it. Fancy a cool beer to relax in this international sporting gala? Nae chance. Coke, sprite or coffee. Stretching things to describe that as "filling meals to tasty treats".

Next up the much anticipated Spain vs Japan game. My oldest son has a good friend from Japan so was draped in their flag and face painted with the rising sun, my middle son likes football, and likes Spain, so again face painted and Spain strip on, and my daughter (above) was supporting both teams. Spain, I was glad to see were fielding a strong team with David de Gea in goals, Jordi Alba and Juan Mata on show. Whilst the ref seemed to be wearing a Spain strip, they were wearing some horrible Man City coloured effort.
The crowd had filled up now to a respectable 37,000 by the time the game started, with the Japanese fans adding a fair bit of colour and numerous Spain tops being worn by Spaniards and Scots. Despite the chore of a couple of Mexican waves before the match started the crowd were all very jolly, buoyed along by the Japanese drumming section in the opposite corner from me. Spain looked from the outset to be struggling with the expectation on them, whilst the Japanese were attacking entertainingly and took the lead from a corner, turned in by Yuki Otsu. After that Spain struggled with Japan's counter-attacking play and after getting Inigo Martinez sent off for pulling down a free running Kensuke Nagai never looked like equalising. If they were better at finishing or made better choices with their final ball the Japanese could have filled their boots today, and as time went on it was clear that the crowd of neutrals were cheering them on. If Spain want to hold EVERY football trophy in the world game simultaneously they are going to have to pull their finger out. The Japanese had chance after chance to finish the game off and David de Gea had to make more saves than his opposite number.
It was the Japanese fans celebrating today

 Japan 1-0 Spain it finished and I watched two entertaining games of football, my children had a fun day out and I'm looking forward to taking them back to Hampden next May when Partick Thistle come "to bring the Scottish Cup back home to Maryhill."
My boys heading home from Hampden

Thursday 19 July 2012

Music of 2012 so far...

Sadly, at the moment I haven't got any imminent gigs to look forward to in Glasgow. I suppose I might drag myself along the M8 to that wee festival thing they do in Edinburgh if I get the chance, but the next concert that I've got tickets for is Damon Albarn's Africa Express on at The Arches in September, then Animal Collective in November. I've decided to pass on "Jesus Christ Superstar" featuring Chris Moyles at the SECC. So I've been looking back through some music that I've bought this year to pick out some of my favourite things. This is probably going to be a bit random and basically whatever has not yet been put onto the shelf as I've kept it playing since bought.

Tattie Toes - Turnip Famine (Pickled Egg Records)

I'll start by cheating and picking an album which was released in 2011, but I didn't come across them until I saw them supporting RM Hubbert in Stereo at the launch of his own very fine album, Thirteen Lost & Found. Tattie Toes are a four piece Glasgow based band lead by Basque singer Nerea Bello, with a Welsh violinist, a part-time puppeteer as drummer and a Yorkshire-man playing bass, at times with anything he can lay his hands on. They are fantastically boisterous, clever and energetic live and that comes over in the album too.

Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas (Columbia)

Okay, bang up to date now with a 77 year old Canadian. This album only exists because Leonard Cohen's former assistant stole enough money from his account to force him back on the road and the grumbling, stripped back tunes are poetic, humourous stories that reward repeated listening to. My favourite "late night with a glass of malt whisky in my hand" album at the moment.

Django Django - Django Django (Because Music)

Django Django are building a reputation for excellent live performances and when I enjoyed them when I saw them at Stag and Dagger earlier this year. They are a four piece who met at Edinburgh Art School and the echoes of The Beta Band are all over this album, not surprising really as the drummer is the wee brother of The Beta Band's John MacLean. However where the Beta Band produced meandering psychadelic pieces, The Djangos have it stripped down to 3 minutes of dancey, rhythmic pop. They're touring again in October and well worth seeing.

Grimes, Visions (4AD)

The second person on this list from the musical hotbed that is Montreal. Claire Boucher is a solo performer under the monicker Grimes who twiddles knobs, plays synths and sings woozily to make cheery, dancey pop. Love the album and have played it endlessly despite finding her a little trying when seen live earlier this year.

Sun Ra, The Complete Disco 3000 Concert (Art Yard)

Read full review of Disco 3000 (2012 Edition) - SUN RA on ©

It's a new issue of the concert from which the 1978 Disco 300 album came, played in Milan with 4 other musicians, not his full Arkestra. It is jazz/ electronica/improvisation/ disco, etc. Sun Ra either died in 1993 or returned to Saturn, as he would have it, but this is seminal, orignal, unique and a fantastic and bonkers piece of music.

Lata, Starlings (Exotic Pylon Records) - excerpt

This isn't actually out in a physical format until the end of the month but I downloaded it a while ago. Lata is Jacob Burns, one of those people making electronic music in their bedrooms. This is a 44 minute track which is described as "channelling the sentimentality of old Bollywood singers into the resonances of South London by train". I get the rhythmic, echoey thrum of a train that comes and goes through it, though I missed the Bollywood. Builds to a nice bit of drone in the middle before fading away. I find it soothing, everyone else at home moans when it's on. Pah!

Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Columbia Records)

The Boss returns to form with one of his best albums in a while, in no small part due to seemingly being in a happy place stomping around the world with the E-Street Band behind him again. Whether bemoaning bankers' actions, the immigrants' struggles or ironically noting how the common man is dealt with on "We Take Care Of Our Own" it is an album of pleasing, tub-thumping, anthemic yells and growls. Great to see him live in Sunderland earlier this year, hamming it up like a good-un.

Two Wings - Love Springs (Tin Angel)

The vocals here of Finnish multi-instrumentalist, Hanna Tuulikki, can be an acquired taste, but I saw her singing a track on RM Hubbert's 13 Lost & Found and went seeking out her other stuff afterwards. She wrote this album with Ben Reynolds of Trembling Bells and Alasdair Roberts collaborator, and they have now formed this five-piece Glasgow-based band. The range of Hanna's voice is matched by the range of musical influences - soulful, folksy, gospel, psychadelic, jazzy. An album that benefits from repeated listenings, would like to see them live.

Hildur Gudnadottir - Leyou Ljosinu (Allow the Light), (Touch Records)

Read full review of Leyfdu ljosinu - HILDUR Gudnadottir on ©

Iceland produces its own wee musical bubble. I was blown away the first time I that saw someone playing alone with a laptop looping his sounds. Icelandic musician Mugison was that chap. Last week I was a bit bored with tUnE-yArDs efforts at it. It can help a solo musician make rounded music, but I think when there is a whole band behind you it becomes a shackle at times. Remember Remember I saw in Stereo many moons ago as a one man and a laptop act and he has moved forward with that and become a band with my favourite album of last year...Hildur plays this 40 minute piece live with some looping with only her voice and cello, It slowly,flows and builds then fades just when you want it to keep rising and is a lovely way to pass the time. Less is more sometimes.

Well that's my random musings on some stuff I've bought this year. Please let me know if you think I've missed anything.

Thursday 12 July 2012

tUnE-yArDs, Oran Mor

I've always ignored the band 'tUnE-yArDs', mainly because of that annoying way of writing their name. In case that wasn't enough her album is called Whokill, but written as "w h o k i l l". However any band that gets described as "lo-fi, experimental, wonky pop" has surely got to be worth seeing live and that was why I ended up in Oran Mor on Wednesday night, overcoming my typeface prejudices.
Walking to Oran Mor, at the top of Byres Road in Glasgow's west end I had a very west end walk as I passed a member of Hue and Cry out walking his dog and a member of Wet Wet Wet going out for dinner. Finally when I got to the venue I was pleased to see that another Scottish musician, but one with an ear for music, was there to take it in, Alasdair Roberts. I've said it before, but its still true, Glasgow is just a village really.
The support act were 'Muscles of Joy', which was a pleasant surprise as I'd fancied hearing them ever since I saw them described as "avant-garde" and doing "tonal experiments". You can see a pattern here, if you want me to buy a ticket just put "no-one likes us" or "experimental" on the publicity. Five members of the all female seven-piece band took the stage and quietly started rattling their instruments and pinging their triangle. By this stage the venue was already very busy, but they had clearly not come to see or hear this and the back half of the room seemed obstinately oblivious to the fact that there were musicians on stage as they continued to chat their way all over the music. This happens more and more often at gigs nowadays, and at the risk of sounding a bit fuddy-duddy, is it not just downright rude? The musicians who had seemed quite self-conscious as they came on stage, seemed to carry on that way as they chanted back and forth to each other, at no point managing to wrestle the audience's attention away from their conversation, which was a shame as it sounded as if a more quiet, reflective atmosphere would have helped the music. "Don't buy that album" was the summary that my wife gave it, and I suspect that she is right. Muscles of Joy seem to be a work in progress but worth looking out for.

Partick Thistle coloured lighting for Tune-yards
Tune-yards (can I just call them that instead of tUnE-yArDs?) have been touring their album for months now and are a much more slick affair. They are lead by Merrill Garbus who took centre stage alone to an attentive and expectant crowd. Her performance was confident and smooth throughout and although a lot of musicians use foot pedals and computer jiggery-pokery to loop their sound I've not seen anyone doing it as naturally and smoothly as she did. She was soon joined onstage by bass player Nate Brenner and alto and tenor sax players. Despite wonky haircuts and kooky face paints they carried off the floaty, happy, afro-beat sound with each song centred around looped drum beats from Merrill when she wasn't on her electric ukulele. She got a big cheer for re-calling her previous Glasgow gig at the Captain's Rest, but otherwise kept smiling and battering through the songs. Lively and sunny though she was, at the end of the day it was nice but ultimately unfulfilling stuff. The whole look and sound was a pleasant mish-mash of Vampire Weekend's bass lines, Adam Ant's face paint and crossed drumsticks, Bats for Lashes vocal and visual styles and The Wiggles cheery smiley-ness. Biggest cheers from the crowd came for "Bizness" and "Gangsta" and she clearly has a very loyal fan base who held onto her every breath and guffawed at her facial tics, but the music didn't move me. She is clearly great at looping the drumbeats and they are the centre of every song, but now that she tours as a 4-piece band I just felt that a drummer would add a bit more force and drive to the songs, which tended to burble along. The afro-beat sound is appealing, but that looped percussion does not a Tony Allen make. As Samuel Johnson said to Boswell on coming to the Giant's Causeway "Worth seeing, yes, but not worth coming to see."

Monday 9 July 2012

School's Out - Act Like a Tourist

The Scottish schools have been off for the "summer" holidays for a couple of weeks now, and I'm sorry to report that my three children have barely had the merest glimpse of a blue sky, not had their shorts out the drawers and I've still got half a mind to get them to put a vest on in the mornings. So having done the Glasgow indoor things to death we've been venturing a wee bit further afield. I quite like acting like a tourist in my own country, as Burns put it in To a Louse
"O, would some Power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us!"
Don't ask me why I've got this booklet, but I do
I sometimes do it in town when I'm at a loose end, just wander about aimlessly with my camera, ambling up lanes and into galleries, shops, bars or cafes I'd normally ignore, as you would do if you were abroad. Its funny what you can stumble across. So a few Scottish tourist attraction things were on my list to try to get around to seeing. Finally visiting the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo is one on the list, but the weather hasn't really made walking about a Corstorphine hillside seem particularly appealing. However, the wet weather seemed perfect for the Secret Bunker in Fife, and the children had been asking to go to Edinburgh Castle again as we've ignored it for a couple of years now when we've been over that way (the Camera Obscura is the Edinburgh thing that they never seem to get bored with, oddly enough).
Passageway down into the Secret Bunker
Underground BBC studio
As granny lives in Fife we are over there a fair bit, but although we make detours to Kirkcaldy and St Andrews on occasion we have never got around to driving to The Secret Bunker, a few miles in land from Anstruther. It was built in a 40 meter deep hole, using the skills of the local miners (I could tell you how I know that, but someone signed the Official Secrets Act, so I shouldn't). Underneath an innocuous looking farmhouse it was initially a radar station in the post-war years, before being converted to be used as the regional seat of government in the event of a nuclear war. There are two floors of rooms that you can look around, kitted out in all the cutting edge technology of the day,which in fact makes it quite disconcerting, when you see how 'Heath Robinson' the technology looks now, that was being used to monitor nuclear armageddon.
Communication would be vital
after a nuclear attack. (Gulp!)
One interesting bit for me was the BBC broadcasting studio, where the "when you hear the air attack warning, you and your family must take cover" broadcasts familiar from Frankie's Two Tribes would come from. It seems bizarre to look back 30 years now and think that we were seriously being told that in the event of Scotland being hit by dozens of intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles, as long as we made a shelter under the kitchen table and dug holes to crap into, we'd all be fine and that life would get back to normal as soon as the people living in these 2 floors under Fife's fields got things all shipshape for us. The "Protect and Survive" films which are on show here too just look totally bonkers now (or MAD to use the parlance of the time). Just made me think of the old couple in Raymond Briggs's excellent and sobering book, When The Wind Blows.

Dormitory in the bunker

It was worth coming to see the Secret Bunker although its a bit of a trek unless the history of this time resonates with you. It is difficult to get across to children that when I was their age I was going on marches to Faslane regularly as it really seemed that we were preparing to destroy the world in a nuclear war. It just seems bizarre that we are about to spend billions of pounds replacing these illegal weapons and I was glad to see that CND have been given a wee space in the bunker to highlight their work. We finished off in the cafe, which is also underground and captures perfectly the 1950s level of customer service you expect in a Scottish tourist attraction. A nice touch, if entirely unintentional.

Alexander Selkirk aka Robinson Crusoe
Of note on the way there we passed through Lower Largo, on the north side of the Firth of Forth. I had totally forgotten that Daniel Defoe's character Robinson Crusoe was based on a real life character, Alexander Selkirk, born in 1676 in this part of Fife.
View of Edinburgh from the castle (on a summer's day)
Glum Americans enjoying
the weather at Edinburgh Castle
Today I continued the "let's go to another place's indoor attractions" theme with a jaunt to Edinburgh. Again, with no agenda it was nice to just wander aimlessly with my 3 children, who had specifically requested a visit to the castle. Every time I go to Edinburgh I am reminded what a complete tourist magnet the whole place is, with tourists asking tourists for directions every place you go. I tried to think what I'd make of the castle if I had come a few thousand miles to see it and I have to say I think I'd be pretty disappointed by Edinburgh Castle. It looks great on the photos from down at Princes Street, but there is less to it the closer you get. Historic Scotland don't make you feel that you are walking around a medieval castle - the "Great Hall" is pretty barren, the palace chambers likewise functionally empty. The crown jewels and Stone of Destiny are nice to see, but the buildings feel like the are mainly offices for army regiments. There are more statues and displays of bloody Earl Haig than of any kings and queens, and rooms of regimental history, almost no castle history. There were loads of soggy tourists up there today, mostly looking pretty glum I have to say in the rain. What kind of fool has to buy a poncho though because they came to Scotland in summer without some waterproofs? Dozens of them apparently, that's who.
My daughter looking for starfish and whelks in the rock pools beside Mons Meg
Give your children nightmares
at The Museum of Childhood
After some lunch we meandered down the Royal Mile as the other place on my kids' agenda was Our Dynamic Earth, a walk which I've done umpteen times, but today stumbled across a couple of museums I've managed to completely blank until now. The Camera Obscura at the top of the Royal Mile is good fun, but we'd done that fairly recently so I was allowed to walk past. The Museum of Childhood is always worth shambling into for a bit of shelter (mainly because it is free) but it is looking a bit rough around the edges, and the stuff in the cases like junk rather than the stuff to bring back happy memories.

Museum of Edinburgh
More interesting further down were 2 that I hadn't been in before, The People's Story Museum in the old Canongate Tolbooth building beside Canongate Kirk, and the Museum of Edinburgh across the road from it. Both are run by the city council and free to get into. The Museum of Edinburgh was a lot of fun as it was completely random stuff in there from Covenanters to Greyfriars Bobby, silversmiths work to chamberpots. My children enjoyed exploring the labyrinthine old building which is much bigger than it looks from outside. My favourite exhibit was a piece of oatcake once belonging to Robert Burns's wife, proudly preserved in a frame, a perfect wee object.
Jean Armour's famous oatmeal cake
We briefly popped into Canongate Kirk, not to see the place Zara Philips was married last year, but to follow the waymarkers to Adam Smith's grave, you know, the Wealth of Nations chap. The odd metal plates laid out through the graveyard to lead you to his grave make for a fine game.
Follow the signs...(the thistle was just lying there, it wasnae me)
Finally on to Our Dynamic Earth, which again it has been years since we've visited. Last time I think they were too young to get it. Under a big tent-like thing at Holyrood Park you are sat through various son et lumiere efforts telling you about the Earth's history. My 5 year old was non-plussed, my 12 year old felt a bit big for "we're all going in a time machine now" ("no we're not, its a lift"). However my 10 year old seems to be the target audience as he absolutely loved it all, especially the big lump of REAL ice they have in one room telling you about the Arctic environment. There are 3D cinema experiences and and a show on the roof of the dome in an annoying American accent telling you about the weather on "Neptoon" and the other planets. All very good and well, but give me a bit of framed oatcake in a dusty glass case over this any day of the week.
The Scottish Parliament building viewed from Our Dynamic Earth

Monday 2 July 2012

Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen by David Stubbs

Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get StockhausenFear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen by David Stubbs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but the proof-reader was asleep I think when he nodded it through, which is a wee bit frustrating getting pulled up by strange punctuation and split sentences.
He acknowledges at the outset that the book doesn't purport to be a comprehensive catalogue of modern/ experimental music. The chapter on early 20th century modern classical music got me tracking down some music I hadn't come across before, eg Xenakis, but the later chapters used far weaker examples, going on a bit about some fairly run of the mill music whilst overlooking some more obvious examples. There was an interesting discussion on how the visual arts achieved success by putting a price on things, which musicians find harder to do. This also is discussed later on in the hypocrisy tied up in the corporate sponsorship of the arts. The conclusion briefly mentions the strong position of women in modern electronic music and brief mention is given to some Japanese musicians, two areas which could have been explored more at the expense of other stuff.

At the end of the day I prefer it when there is overlap and cross-pollenation in the arts and people aren't pigeon-holed as a 'type'. I can only illustrate that by saying that whilst writing this I am listening to Max Richter's "infra", which I first heard as incidental music at the theatre last week, the National Theatre of Scotland doing Macbeth, and the cd cover is a picture by Julian Opie, as it was initially commisioned for a ballet he was involved in. It works for me.

Max Richter, infra

View all my reviews