Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Celtic Connections: Mogwai and RM Hubbert

RM Hubbert and Mogwai, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. 28th Jan 2014. Live gig review.

Mogwai have been producing their guitar based, post-rock tunes for almost 20 years now and I've seen them play various venues in that time, including a gap site in Glasgow city centre last year. I hadn't ever really expected to watch them play in the civilised surroundings of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall though. However, there they were last night performing a sell-out show in the 2500 capacity hall as part of the annual Celtic Connections festival.

Despite the longevity of their career, they seem to be going from strength to strength and continue to produce new and interesting music. Perhaps they show that if you keep banging away at something you believe is good, eventually the rest of the world will catch on. Certainly their fabulous, unsettling soundtrack for the French television series The Returned/ Les Revenants has exposed a lot of new people to their music. That album also demonstrated the atmospheric, storytelling quality to some of their instrumental music. Their latest album, Rave Tapes, has given them their first ever entry in the top ten but has all the familiar elements of their quiet/loud music, with explosions of guitar noise mixing with more prominent keyboard sounds. Like a lot of their music, hearing the album is one thing but seeing it played lived is another thing altogether. That was one question I had about the concert tonight. How would their music cope in a big airy room designed for orchestral music rather than the dark, sweaty Barrowlands?

First up to test the acoustics of the building was RM Hubbert, winner of last year's Scottish Album of the Year award for Thirteen Lost & Found. Since then he has released Breaks & Bones filled with his Spanish guitar playing and also more singing from the man himself. I've seen him umpteen times before, but in smaller venues, intimate gigs where he talks away to his audience like a man at confession. He himself admitted to being a wee bit nervous playing on this broad stage, out their alone with his guitar ("I'm shite-ing myself" was the way he put it). However he soon got into his stride. His music carried to the back of the auditorium as well here as it does in smaller clubs, as did his self-deprecating humour. The set was as good as I've seen before, with a broader range of stuff from his three albums to call upon. Although Mogwai were the main draw, it was almost a shame when he announced his last song, with Aidan Moffat coming on to provide the vocals for "Car Song" as his finale.

The concert hall was set up as I've never seen it before. The stalls seating was all taken out at the front half of the ground floor, creating a large standing area, whilst we sat upstairs in the comfy seats. There were also lots of people standing behind the seated areas in the balconies. From the opening chords of Mogwai's set we had suddenly shifted from quiet plucked guitar strings and jokey chat, to full throated electronic guitar noise, an exaggerated example of the quiet/loud dynamic you would expect at a Mogwai gig. Set up as usual with no front man, a crescent around an empty front of stage, they launched into "Heard About You Last Night" from Rave Tapes. The new material worked so well on full volume here, the acoustics of the hall carrying every reverberating sound around the room. "Remurdered" stands out from the new stuff with its hints of techno keyboards building up and becoming more menacing as it goes on. Three tracks from "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will" showed the high quality of their recent output, particularly "Rano Pano". A brief technical hitch brought the "Mexican Grand Prix" to a crashing halt, but a quick joke from Stuart Braithwaite as the marshal and they were off again. Always serious, but never po-faced.

They finished the encore with "Mogwai Fear Satan" which, even though I knew it was coming, made me jump out of my seat when it blasted into raucous life two thirds of the way through.

The volume was still up there with anything I've seen, but I didn't leave the gig with the tinnitus I sometimes have done with their shows. Maybe it was the venue, or my seat upstairs instead of standing in front of the amps, but I enjoyed being able listen to the more subtle bits in there. Also they are a fantastic live act and one I would encourage anyone to try and see.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Bowling Along Around the West End of Glasgow

On jogging around the west end of Glasgow over recent months I am surprised how many wee bowling greens there are dotted about, wee oases of impeccable lawns amid the housing. So to do my long, weekend run, I set myself a challenge. This saves me from getting bored and makes me run that wee bit further if I've got an aim. Starting at Kelvingrove bowling greens, recently renovated as a venue for the Commonwealth Games bowling competition, I planned to run a 10-12 mile loop whilst passing as many bowling greens as I could think of. As someone who has lived in Whiteinch, Maryhill, Knightswood, Woodlands, Hyndland and Partick over the past 40 years I am quite familiar with a lot of the back streets around here so was confident that I knew where plenty were hiding. I'm not talking about the American version of skittles here, but proper lawn bowls, where you roll a lopsided ball towards a smaller jack to see who gets nearest. Every country has its own version of hurling a ball at a target and in Britain bowls has a history going back to the 12th century. The home of "World Bowls" is actually in Edinburgh and it holds a special place in the hearts of many (usually a wee bit older) Scottish people.

Candleriggs in 1760,the bowling
 green lies where City Halls now stand
In Glasgow bowling is first mentioned in 1595 when it was banned on the Sabbath. Public bowling greens were first laid out in Candleriggs in 1695. 

Bowling clubs are the centre point of many people's social life, to play the game or just take advantage of the cheap bars these clubs usually run. Bowls has been played at the Commonwealth Games since the inaugural Empire Games in 1930 (apart from the 1966 games in Jamaica) and has been a source of gold medals for Scotland. Everyone of a certain age can probably name a Scottish champion in the sport, Willie Wood, a glowing example of our nation's sporting prowess, who has competed in numerous Commonwealth Games between 1974 to 2010.

I have played bowls on 3 or 4 of the council run greens in Glasgow over the years, just messing about really. I've even snapped a croquet mallet playing that game on the greens at Kelvingrove. I've also been in other bowling clubs for birthday parties and the like. The council run greens are now free to play on during the sort of May to October season. The Glasgow Life website is quite secretive about which parks have bowling greens and unfortunately is a bit out of date (reporting that the greens will re-open in May 2012). Many of the other clubs have, or at least had, links with employers and factories in Glasgow. My great-grandad could be found often in the Fairfield Bowling Club in Govan, long after leaving the yards and the club still bears this name despite their no longer being a Fairfields shipyard.

Anyway, how many greens do you think I ran past?

Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls, with Glasgow University behind it

So starting at Kelvingrove Park at the end of Kelvin Way we see the most scenic of Glasgow's Commonwealth venues, with the Art Gallery and University in the background presumably featuring prominently in photos and TV pictures from the city during the summer.

St Vincent Bowling Club

It is only a hop, skip and a jump to the next greens that I knew, as I've ran past them many times. Passing the site of Partick Thistle's 1876 home at Overnewton Park, you come down to St Vincent Crescent. What I didn't realise was that there are actually a row of three bowling clubs here, beside one another. So after only a short distance I had my total up to 4. Firstly you come across the St Vincent Bowling Club, who say on their website that the club (originally a bowling and curling club) was founded in 1859.
University of Glasgow Bowling Club
Next door is the University of Glasgow Bowling Club (who knew?), a club open to staff at Glasgow Uni which was founded in 1953, and isn't much of a looker. Next along the street is  what looks like a young upstart with its raffish yacht on the badge, the Corunna Bowling Club, founded according to their sign, in 1961.

Corunna Bowling Club

From here it was up and over Park Circus to the bowling club opposite the Dram pub on Woodlands Road to the Burnbank Bowling Club in its nice looking building (a lot of them go for this look). I like the wrought iron gate on Woodlands road of this one, and founded in 1866, it's another oldie.

Burnbank Bowling Club

I remember that there is a bowling green that you pass when on the bus through Cowcaddens into town, marooned amongst the modern flats, but I thought there would be more to be found by heading westwards from here. So it was straight up and across Byres Road to Dowanside Road and the leafy situation of Willow Bank Bowling Club. It makes a good case for being the oldest bowling club in Glasgow. It can be dated to 1835, although a bowling club of that name can apparently be traced to before this, it was in that year that its rules and constitution were established. Originally on Elmbank Street, then Willowbank Crescent in Woodlands (where Willowbank Primary now stands) it moved to its current location in 1896.

Willow Bank Bowling Club
From here it was a longer stretch up across Great Western Road before I came to the next club I had targeted. Kelvindale Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club isn't the easiest to find, hidden behind a row of houses on Baronald Drive. I only know about it as I stumbled down this way on a jog once trying (unsuccessfully) to find a different way from Cleveden Road through to Maryhill. By now the Glasgow weather was deteriorating and I was seriously thinking of chucking it and heading home, but this is where setting this route for myself encouraged me to stick with it and to keep going.

Kelvindale Bowling Club
Going back up to Cleveden Road I then headed west again along the canal towpath towards Temple. The next club I was aiming at was one which I have been in at a party. It took me about 3 goes to find it that night, and it was the same again today as I got lost in the housing estate that wasn't here when I was at school. In those days the land around here was occupied by the engineering company Barr and Stroud, who manufactured optical equipment. Originally based on Byres Road, they moved into premises in Ashton Lane and came to Anniesland when the company expanded in 1904. When I was young my dad and uncle used to come up here to train at the Barr and Stroud running club. The factory closed its doors here in 1992, but the Barr and Stroud bowling club is still going strong.

Barr and Stroud Bowling Club
Carrying on down Fulton Street I came past Netherton Community Centre, where my primary seven class walked to our swimming lessons. Here I came to my first council run bowling green since the first one at Kelvingrove Park. Sadly Temple Bowls looks in a sorry state and I am not even sure that it is still used (again, as I said the Glasgow Life website doesn't list its greens, does this mean that some are closing?) Maybe it is just looking this way in the middle of winter and next summer a pristine, flat lawn will be apparent. It made me curious to see in what state I'd find the one I used to mess about on in Knightswood Park during the school summer holidays. So I decided to carry on a bit further than planned and go visit it.

Before that I ran through what used to be Knightswood bus depot, but is now a housing development. In Knightswood Secondary School during PE we would sometimes be put on a "cross country run" which meant running along Anniesland Road to the cross, then along Great Western Road to Knightswood Cross and then down Knightswood Road, back to the school. Once the teachers had stopped tagging along a huge corner could be cut off of the route by juking through the bus depot along this road. Today it brought me out on Anniesland Road opposite Yarrow Recreation Bowling Club. Again I can only presume this was one time associated with Yarrows shipyard. When I ran past on a Saturday morning, although we are in the middle of winter it had obviously been a busy night at the bowling club as the empties were being chucked out from the bar.

Yarrow Recreation Bowling Club
So it was head down into the wind and rain which was falling again to get to Knightswood bowling greens. We stayed opposite Knightswood Park for about 8 years and in school summer holidays you could go play golf or the nearby pitch and putt, go on the boats in the pond, play football on the red blaise pitches, bowls or tennis. I was glad to see that most of this was still on offer, although the football pitches are in a bit of a state just now. The bowling greens looked in good nick though.

Knightswood Bowling Greens
It was time to try to meander back to the beginning again, but first I remembered one more set of council run bowling greens opposite Knightswood shopping centre. Danes Drive bowling greens definitely look as if they are no more, and are now a wee park for residents of the Kingsway high flats to walk their dogs by the look of it.
Danes Drive Bowls

So along Danes Drive and then down to Dumbarton Road to Victoria Park bowling club (again I've been at a birthday party in this one). Nice wrought iron gate again, proclaiming the club's foundation in 1903.

Victoria Park Bowling Club
From here it was into Victoria park proper to the council greens there. (I can see why Daft Limmy is so upset about the state of the paintwork on the fences of the park, oh yes.) Victoria Park is a lovely proper old park with a duck pond, bowling greens, putting, basketball courts(?), lovely floral displays and, of course, some fossilised 330 million year old tree stumps viewable in summer at the Fossil Grove. Sadly the crazy golf is no longer a going concern, but you can still clamber about its crumbling course.
Victoria Park, Glasgow
So from here over Crow Road to Jordanhill Bowling Club (founded in 1899), squeezed in between Broomhill Primary School and the nearby allotments.
Jordanhill Bowling Club
The rain was torrential now and the thought of playing any outdoor sport in this country on a day like today seemed unrealistic (although St Mirren vs Partick Thistle did go ahead later on at 3pm). I was for wrapping things up, but had three more clubs to pass before getting back to Kelvingrove Park. Going through Hyndland train station and onto Queensborough Gardens I found Hyndland Bowling Club, founded 1904.

Hyndland Bowling Club

I suspect Partickhill Bowling and Tennis Club share the same painter as Hyndland, as their club houses look a surprisingly similar shade of green. This club is situated on Partickhill Road, at the top of the hill off of Gardner Street. It was established in 1905, twenty years after Patrick Thistle had vacated their home at Muir Park at the bottom of the hill as the land was sold for housing development.
Partickhill Bowling and Tennis Club
I took the easy option for my tired legs by going down Gardner Street to Partick Bowling Green beside the West of Scotland Cricket Club, founded in 1845.

Partick Bowling Green, Fortrose Street
So from here it is just a short trot along Dumbarton Road, back to the start at Kelvingrove Park. There are over 100 bowling clubs registered in Glasgow. In my 19km/12 miles (a bit further than I planned to go) I managed to pass 18 bowling greens. I am sure that there are several greens which I have overlooked, or to which I could have detoured towards, but to be honest I could hardly see through my rain speckled spectacles and by the end of this was looking for a nice warm bath. I guess this is why bowls is only played in the summer...although now that I think about it, there is that big Whiteinch Indoor Bowls Centre down on South Street.

Damn, I missed one.