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!