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.

Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and Commonwealth Arena

Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, Glasgow
Just a quickie to say that I was at the Scottish National Track Cycling Championships today so that I could have a wee nosey around the new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome which has popped up in the east end of Glasgow opposite Celtic Park. This is part of the infrastructure being built for the Commonwealth Games in 2014. I was really impressed with the whole set up, the building, the neighbouring arena where the Glasgow Rocks basketball team are playing now, the car parking. Even the facilities were decent enough with a wee sports shop, cafe, loads of toilets and wine and beer available from the kiosks if that's what you fancy.
Outside the new "Emirates Arena"
Amazingly enough this is the first ever Scottish Track Championships held under a roof, the old Meadowbank Velodrome being outdoors. This has been a three day event, the morning we went along was really just an excuse to see the track in action but the events that were on were entertaining. There was loads of car parking, though admittedly it was very quiet when we were there, and lots of people were in using the various sport facilities and gyms.

Our seats were near the finish line
"And the winner"
I went wandering about the stadium and when you look down from the top of the slope at the cyclists below you, it is a fair old height. There were a few rubber tyre marks down the slope suggesting that we maybe missed a couple of crashes yesterday. That would have hurt.
I'm standing above the highest point of the slope here, the cyclist is leaning towards horizontal
I also had a quick run about to look into the sports arena part. I understood that it was going to have an indoor athletics track sunken into the floor which could be raised at the press of a button. This made me think of the swimming pool scene in "It's a Wonderful Life". It turns out, when you think about it, only the curved ends of the track need to move up and down (obviously).
Athletics hall
All in all I think it looks fantastic, and when you see it you realise why the Kelvin Hall arena was a bit past it for athletics events. I hope that the people of the east end of Glasgow get every opportunity and encouragement to use these facilities.

Friday, 19 October 2012

James Joyce's Ulysses, Tron Theatre. Glasgow

I thought that James Joyce's book Ulysses was universally known, the archetypal difficult read, a stream of consciousness over 800 pages. Certainly on visiting Dublin you are confronted with a veritable Ulysses industry of guided tours of places mentioned in the pages as Leopold Bloom wanders the streets over the 24 hours of the book. However, I mentioned to a big Irishman I know that I was going to see the play of the book last night, currently on at the Tron Theatre and was met with a blank stare. So I am glad that Andy Arnold decided to do a full production of the stage version penned by Irish writer Dermot Bulger several years ago, to force this unique book back into our consciousness. I've read the book once about 20 years ago and from memory struggled to give my wife an outline of the story before we went to the play, but I was amazed how many of the scenes and even some of the lines ("History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake") came back to me as the story unrolled. I enjoyed the book when I read it. It is surpisingly playful, lewd, imaginative and at times melancholy. Putting the thoughts of the characters down on the page was a new and different idea at the time, but we are now more familiar with it via Kafka, through Jack Kerouac, Bret Easton Ellis to James Kelman, and Will Self's Booker prize nominated book of this year, Umbrella. Usually I like this style of writing, sometimes not. It depends whether the characters have anything interesting or worth hearing going through their mind, doesn't it? I could read Kelman's book happily one after another, and it was Ulysses really that introduced me to this type of writing I suppose. Reading Ulysses I wasn't really aware of the allusions to episodes from the Odysseus, as the Greek hero makes his way home to Penelope and his son Telemachus. I don't think that I knew the Odysseus well enough to get any of that, but now that we've all seen "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" playing the same trick I get it now. Before going to see it last night it was the theme tune of the classy 80s cartoon Ulysses 31 that was on an endless loop in my head, but now that I've seen the play, it is Joyce's version that I'm thinking about now.
I don't know the book well enough to compare book to play, but as a play I think the staging of it captures the feel and atmosphere of the book very well indeed. The stage version makes a good decision playing up the sorrowful thread of Stephen Daedalus, the surrogate son character, haunted by guilt around his mother's death whilst Leopold Bloom stews melacholically over the death of his son Rory as an infant. It moves along with pace, whilst containing many quotations from the book and moving from one episode to another smoothly.

It was clearly going to be a challenge to get the book into a 2 hour piece of theatre, but they do phenomenally well cramming as many episodes and scenes from the book onto the stage. The action all takes place on one beautiful set of an Edwardian office/ home/ bar, with Molly's big brass bed centre stage. The 8 actors are back and forward as different characters which can be a bit jumbled and confusing at times, but I liked the loose, jumbled, swarming nature as the paths of characters cross and collide throughout the day. Jean-Paul Van Cauwelaert as Leopold Bloom is impeccably played and full of pathos, whilst Muirean Kelly’s unfaithful Molly Bloom holds the attention completely when she is on stage, particularly in the final piece as she contemplates her life and their relationship.

I've plucked the book off my shelf now, blown off the dust and am looking forward to reading it again with fresh insight. Funny thing is I just finished reading Murakami's 1Q84 which clocks in at 426,000 whereas Ulysses is a tiddler at only 265,000.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Famous George Square Statues To Be, What Famous Statues?

Plans to redevelop George Square have caused controversy.

Do you even know what is there just now?

I was interested to read all the debate in the Herald newspaper letters pages after it was announced last week that the "famous statues" from George Square are being "temporarily" removed for renovation ahead of a planned revamp of the square. Again on Radio Scotland news today they spoke above the removal of the "famous statues". It has not yet been decided whether the square should be a site for events and meetings, a place of cafes and entertainment or a grassy area to meet up in. That all depends on who comes up with the best plans from the forthcoming tendering process. One thing is clear however, something has got to change. I went along today to George Square with a more critical eye than usual after reading these reports. Over the years I've sat on the benches having a Greggs sandwich, I've attended a demonstrations, concerts and a speech by Nelson Mandela, I've started races from the square and fed the pigeons but never really stood back and looked at it, the way you would on arriving in a city's main square overseas on holiday. Even looking at the red tarmac on a crisp autumnal morning like today through rose-tinted spectacles you'd have to acknowledge that it's a bit shabby.

George Square, Glasgow. Today.
There are two questions that the debate in the newspapers has been asking.
  1. Should the statues stay or go?
  2. What should the future George Square be like?
I quite liked the suggestion that the statues should be moved to more relevant locations about the city and not just kept in place for the sake of nostalgia. Also it is easily forgotten that the statues of the square and Glasgow in general have been moved around like chess pieces since the day the first one was erected. For example the statue of David Livingstone in Cathedral Square was moved there in 1959 from George Square. There are twelve statues in George Square. Seriously, how many of them can you remember? Off the top of your head how many of them do you know the subject and their relevance to Glasgow? Stop and think about it just now before you read on. In the meantime here is a photo of me aged about 8 months old enjoying the good olde days in George Square when there were more grassy bits to lounge about on. This was me on a summer's day when an Indian sailor on leave in the city thought my wee family looked sweet and took a photo of us and posted it back to my hippy parents. Strange, but true.

George Square, summer 1971
Before going for a look at them I was able to name from memory three of the statues; Robert Peel, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott in the middle. I think I'll give myself a half point for remembering the cenotaph structure also. Co-incidentally somebody last week bought me a wee gift from a Brighton bookshop for £1, a lovely book called 'Public Sculpture of Glasgow' by Ray McKenzie. So I decided to go and see which statues the council is planning to remove and see what I could find out about them from my new book. Funnily enough I pitched up on the day that some lorries arrived to start putting up the neon statues of the Christmas decorations, seeing as it is now the 8th of October.

Christmas decorations arriving in front of the Cenotaph at George Square today

1. The Cenotaph

There are no plans to remove or renovate the cenotaph. Reading my new book I see that the site for this caused some controversy at the time of its construction as it was felt it blocked the view of and from the City Chambers. However, built in 1924 to a design by Glasgow architect John James Burnet it was felt to be "hallowed ground" as the site where soldiers were recruited and from where they departed to the war and where they took the salute on their return home. It is worth noting that statues in other locations around the square were moved around in 1924 to accommodate it, namely those of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Gladstone. Looking at it today its effect as a statue is pretty diminished by the fact that it now appears to be surrounded in Leylandii and shrubbery which obscures a lot of it. Also the front of it is fenced off stopping you from having a proper look at it. If it is to be a permanent feature of the square it surely has to be made a feature of the square, rather than camouflaged as it is at present.
Lions of the cenotaph emerging from a forest

2. Sir Walter Scott

 Although the Scott Monument on Edinburgh's Princes Street is more well known, it came 10 years after the world's first public monument to the internationally famous author of Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and Waverly. Scott died in 1832 and 6 years later this statue by John Greenshields on a column by David Rhind was erected in the centre of the square. Although it is fare to say that he has almost no specific connection to Glasgow, he was and is one of the world's most widely read authors and an inspiration for many. He is maybe blamed a wee bit these days with playing a big part in inventing the shortbread tin, tartan tourist-stereotype of Scotland, but nobody would argue that Scott is a Scot of renown. The 'monument committee' was formed less than a month after his death to create a "means of inspiring others to emulate that great and glorious man". The Glasgow Herald in 1838 noted that the column was "too long for its girth, and more like a good walking stick than anything else". I'd have to agree - you can't see the statue from anywhere in George Square really, can you? From as early as 1924 it has been suggested that it be shifted to a site more appropriate to its scale, and that it raises Scott too high above Robert Burns's lowly statue in an inappropriate manner. There is a myth that the sculptor, Greenshields, flung himself to his death from the top on realising the plaid was over the wrong shoulder. This isn't true as Greenshields designed it then died two years before its completion by John Ritchie. Also Scott is meant to have his plaid over the right shoulder to show he's a native of the Borders, rather than a Highlandman.
Scott's statue. Too tall?

3. Sir John Moore

If you had to guess which statue is the oldest in George Square take 3 points if you said Sir John Moore, who was the first person immortalised as a statue in George Square. He was a Glaswegian, born in the Trongate who served with the Duke of Hamilton in America and also fought in the Mediterranean, the West Indies, Ireland, Egypt and Holland. He earned a reputation for training infantrymen and fought Napolean in the peninsular war, where he defeated the French army in the Battle of Corunna, but died of his wounds. Unveiled 10 years later in 1819 this bronze statue was made by John Flaxman. The statue was cast from bronze salvaged from cannon "captured or surplus at the end of the Napoleonic Wars".  The locals didn't like their green, where they hung their washing, becoming a space for public monuments so it was often vandalised and attempts apparently made to topple it in its early days. Originally he held a sword in his left hand, which is missing now.

4. James Watt

The next statute to be put up in George Square was that of the inventor and engineer James Watt. Born in Greenock he is most famed as the designer of an efficient steam engine which revolutionised industry and remembered in the unit of mechanical and electrical power. He also worked on designing the Forth and Clyde Canal. The statue by Francis Leggatt Chantrey has him seated 'in a contemplative mood, with compasses in the right hand and a scroll lying on the knee, on which is described the model of a steam engine'. Four other versions of this statue were made in marble by Chantrey, one of which was once in Westminister Abbey and now sits in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University. Nobody surely would argue with James Watt's relevance to Glasgow and importance on the world stage.
James Watt 'in a contemplative mood'

5 and 6. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Victoria and Albert
Although they stand  as a pair at the western end of George Square at present, these equestrian statutes have moved about a bit. Queen Victoria's was made first and stood in St Vincent Place from 1854 before arriving in George Square in 1866. So it's a youthful Queen Victoria sitting side-saddle on her horse with an imperial sceptre in her hand. She does look a bit like a queenly chess piece with that crown on her head. The friezes around the base depict her visit to Glasgow in 1849. Sealed within a cavity in the plinth is also a time capsule, a bottle containing documents from the visit and newspapers of the day. Both statues were done by Carlo Marochetti, whose famous statue of the Duke of Wellington outside the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow is now an iconic image of the city, as it is usually permanently adorned with a traffic cone. Wellington's statue was already on display in Glasgow and several contemporary articles on the new Queen Victoria statue compared it unfavourably with what had gone before, saying she looked too small and insufficiently imposing.
Prince Albert's statue was unveiled in 1866, five years after his death, and at that time Queen Victoria's statue was moved to bring the pair to George Square, positioning them east and west of Sir Walter Scott at the centre. At this time the city council's investigations found that they in fact owned the square and not the local residents who thought until that time that they did and had objected to the imposition of all this statuary. So the council took the opportunity to re-develop it and laid it out in 1866 pretty much as it still is to this day.
From their position in 1866 their majesties trotted westwards a few yards 58 years later when the cenotaph was built. Albert also has a bottle of contemporary memorabilia hermetically sealed within the base of his statue which depicts Education, Industry, Agriculture, Commerce and the Fine Arts on the friezes of the base. Although it was proposed by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson that a statue be erected in Kelvingrove Park to commemorate Albert after his death in a building 'similar to the Temple of Theseus in Athens', once Queen Victoria was consulted she suggested an equestrian statue by Marochetti and that was the end of that. Although it may be regarded as rather uninspiring to modern tastes, Victoria seems to have liked it and had a replica placed in Windsor Park.

7. James Oswald

The son of a wealthy landowner and merchant, James Oswald of Auchincruive was a liberal politician twice elected as an MP for Glasgow. Erected in 1856 in Sandyford Place this statue was moved to George Square in 1875. Why? By then Robert Peel, his political opponent, had a statue in the more prestigious square and Oswald's family and supporters petitioned the council to get him upgraded. Again it is by Carlo Marochetti, but was unusual in representing him in contemporary clothing. Apparently it was known for decades as "the man with the hat" and children would while away the hours in the days before they had Playstations trying to throw stones into his hat. I like the story that Neil Munro invited Joseph Conrad to try to get a stone into the hat whilst they were dining in a nearby hotel to become "an honorary Glaswegian". After a few goes he succeeded and they returned to their dinner.

8. Sir Robert Peel

Sculpted by John Mossman this statue of Sir Robert Peel was erected in George Square in 1859. This is one of the ones which has always made me go "Eh?". Like most people I know him as an English politician responsible for establishing the Police force in London, "the Peelers" or "Bobbies" as nobody now calls them. Born near Bury he became leader of the Conservative Party, Home Secretary and was twice Prime Minister. It seems that shortly after his death a statue was proposed to acknowledge that he had "conferred great benefit on his country". The choice of a local artist for a large public commission in Glasgow was a first at the time and it was Mossman's first statue in bronze.

9. Field Marshal Lord Clyde

Born Colin McLiver in Glasgow in 1792 and educated at the High School of Glasgow he joined the army aged 15, serving under John Moore in the Peninsular War (see no.3 above). He had risen to the rank of Field Marshall by the time of the Crimean War and commanded the "Thin Red Line" of the Black Watch at the Battle of Balaclava. By 1857 he was Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army during the Mutiny. 'Old Careful' may not have had the greatest nickname in the world, but he was popular with Queen Victoria and made Lord Clyde in 1858. The statue, by John Henry Foley of London, has him with pith helmet, telescope in left hand resting on a palm tree fresh from his exploits in India. It required a slight reshuffling of statues in the square with John Moore nudging up a bit. This lead to an outcry in the letters page of the Glasgow Herald. Does that sound familiar?

10. Thomas Graham

Back to the sciences now for the next statue to arrive in George Square. William Brodie's statue to Thomas Graham sits in the south east corner. Born in Glasgow, he studied Chemistry in Edinburgh before teaching in Glasgow (where David Livingstone was his student). He then moved to the Chair of Chemistry at University College, London where he carried on his researches, the best known being "Graham's Law" on the diffusion of gases. He is seated in contemplation as is James Watt at the other southern corner and Lord Kelvin in Kelvingrove Park. Presumably men of science sit and ponder a lot whilst soldiers stand and thrust.

11. Robert Burns

Scotland's national bard should need no introduction. If religious sculptures are excluded, the only people with more statues to them around the world than Robert Burns are Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus. However it was 1877 before George Square was graced with one, 81 years after his death. He is represented by George Edwin Ewing and Francis Leslie here as a 'superior Scottish peasant' with his 'broad Kilmarnock bonnet' crushed under his right elbow and a 'wee crimson tipped flower' in his left hand whilst in 'an easy and graceful attitude of poetic contemplation'. There are panels from three of his poems on the pedestal. Unlike any of the other statues here, Burns's unique popularity meant that it was funded in a quite different way, with subscriptions from around 40,000 people of a shilling each to reach the required fund of around £2000. A local artist was given the task of creating the work of a figure who had by this time achieved mythical status and he based it largely upon Alexander Nasmyth's famous oil painting. A crowd of over 30,000 people were in George Square on the date of the bard's birthday in 1877 to witness the unveiling.
Robert Burns displaying his easy and
 graceful attitude of poetic contemplation,
despite the 'bird lime'

12. Thomas Campbell

The poet, political commentator and historian Thomas Campbell was born in Glasgow in 1777 and although maybe less known now, was Glasgow's most popular poet of his day. In later years he became involved in founding the University of London and he is buried Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. His statue was proposed because it was felt to be an important omission in the city that needed rectifying, and Mossman's statue was erected in the year of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

13. William Gladstone

Liverpool born politician, William Gladstone, was Prime Minister of Britain four times. He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in 1879, and like Robert Peel before him, he was also Lord Rector of Glasgow University. It is the robes of Glasgow University that he is depicted in by William Hamo Thornycroft in this sculpture which was unveiled in 1902. After his death in 1898 several British cities swiftly responded by commissioning sculptures of Gladstone. In this one the sculptor has apparently tactfully made it appear he has his index finger tucked between the pages of his book, to disguise the disfigured remains of his finger which resulted from a shooting accident. One of the panel reliefs on the side of the pedestal has him addressing parliament, the other has him 'engaged in his favourite recreation of tree felling'. That's the way to be remembered, eh? It was originally placed opposite the doors of the City Chambers and moved to its current location to accommodate the cenotaph.

So, what next?

The point is fairly self-evident once you actually look at them, that the current collection of statues reflects the fashions and tastes of the time they were commissioned. There is no overall plan and the square was adjusted and tweeked as required. It looks rather like a collection of Victorian graveyard statuary really. So I am now, on reflection, happy to accept that the lay out of the George Square is not set in stone and could be radically improved. The problem is that nobody trusts the City Council to do it properly. The roads at either end could easily be blocked off to make it more pedestrianised, the parking around the sides of the square could also be covered over to expand its width to make a grander public space.
The statues could be better accommodated elsewhere. Create a poets corner in Queens Park with Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Thomas Campbell. Move the scientists alongside Glasgow University in Kelvingrove Park with Lord Kelvin. Queen Victoria to Victoria Park or a promenade of politicians in Glasgow Green?
So what to put in their place? A "jet d'eau" was a feature of the square before Sir Walter took its place, but the council don't have a great reputation for maintaining fountains as the on/off nature of the one in Kelvingrove attests, although the Dalton Fountain in Glasgow Green seems to be still working since its renovation. What about jets of water as they have in the courtyard of Somerset House in London? This seems ever popular and feature annually as big pictures, with children running through them, in newspapers to let you know whenever a hot day has occured. Any plan will inevitably have a source of income built into it these days I fear, so there won't just be green spaces planted for people to picnic in, so any catering facilities or bars need to be decent and to be maintained rather than a selection of caravans like you get at the Christmas fair in George Square.
What about commissioning new public art in the city which continually produces outstanding Turner Prize-winning artists, but has very little of their stuff on public display? You could move the "La Pasionaria" statue up from the Clydeside to stand alongside the cenotaph to commemorate the Glaswegian volunteers who joined the anti-Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. A statue of John MacLean could commemorate the Red Clydesiders, or something to mark the site in George Square where strikers raised a red flag in 1919, believing revolution was imminent, before the soldiers arrived from outside the city as the government feared they couldn't trust the local regiments?
Here are three examples of public sculpture from the streets of Glasgow showing what can happen.
Donald Dewar on Buchanan Street by Kenny MacKay
Broken specks and the look of a tired administrator was
probably not what they had in mind to inspire others

George Wylie's"Maternity", on the site of the former Rottenrow
 Maternity Hospital. It seems to capture the humour of the
city and the nostalgia for the site perfectly

King William III (King Billy), used to sit at Glasgow Cross. Built in 1734, the city's oldest sculpture, and with a bizarre articulated tail which sways in the wind. Possibly his role as a focal point for certain groups meansthat he is kept discretely in gardens near Cathedral Square, rather than a more prominent position. 
Whatever the outcome of the deliberations on George Square it MUST remain a public square where people have rallied, danced, met and played for generations.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Shonen Knife and BMX Bandits, Oran Mor

Shonen Knife, BMX Bandits, cool poster.
A quick check to see what was on in Glasgow tonight to entertain me on my birthday found that it either Chris Isaak at the Royal Concert Hall, Disney on Ice at Braehead or Shonen Knife at Oran Mor. So with that to choose from it was up the top of Byres Road to see Osaka's best all-girl punk/rock/ pop band. Small Gang did a brave performance to an empty room with that ever popular 7pm stage time. For a change they got on with it and didn't just "harumph" for 45 minutes. The three piece from London I think between them maybe have some Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, Bloc Party and Nirvana records in their cupboards. They sounded more original and were at their best when singing over more drone-y guitars and had some solid drumming throughout.

Next up, Bellshill's finest (if we ignore the Soup Dragons, the Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub and most of Mogwai) BMX Bandits. Duglas T Stewart is still there up in front, with a line-up which has ebbed and flowed over the years. I think that last time I saw him perform it was after the River Detectives at a freebie thing in Kelvingrove Park a decade or two ago. However 20 years ago they toured with Shonen Knife, making tonight a kind of reunion gig. Noted as the band Oasis were supporting when they first toured the UK, they also famously had Kurt Cobain as a fan apparently. Whilst Kurt and Oasis are long gone, BMX Bandits still trundle on with their pleasant indie pop they've been doing since 1985. They opened with Serious Drugs and then carried on with their songs which could all be imagined with wee tweety cartoon birds circling the stage whilst Duglas or Rachel Allison sung. Nice, but he is not quite the 60s French teenage chanteur he imagines. I liked his Big Bird t-shirt but is it an anti-Romney dig, or just him showing how 'kooky' he is?

BMX Bandits
Anyway by the end of their set there were a few people smiling and swaying along merrily at the front. I'm just a bit too cynical to believe that someone can be jolly like that without being either a weirdo or a fraud.
Japan has a unique skill of producing smiley, plastic pop with enthusiasm and sincerity. As soon as Shonen Knife come on stage you know it is going to be good. With two smiling, head banging guitarists in pink and orange A-line dresses out front of stage and the similarly attired drummer behind them Shonen Knife are a fantastic live act. The sometime Ramones cover band are in the UK promoting their 19th or 20th album, Pop Tune, which as the name suggests has some brighter, cheery pop on it than some of their more rock efforts. From the new album they played the cover track and Osaka Rock City with as much bounce and head banging as the rest of the set. Giggling like schoolgirls after slipping and falling over in the opening number, it was a sure footed performance after that, highlighting the fact that they've been playing for years now in one form or another. Everyone on stage was nice enough to give it big "I love being in Glasgow, I love Glasgow bands", which always goes down well, but the audience were eating out of their hands from the off.
Shonen Knife
For a birthday night out they were perfect, bouncy fun, even if their chat hints at weird shadows on their psyche - "I am very ashamed, to sing about love, so I prefer to sing a song about a Rubber Band, a very useful item, to wrap up potato chips or bag of cookies"

Good honest cookies, not in the least bit affected kookiness. Loved it