Saturday 18 June 2016

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016. Moon Dogs.

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016. Moon Dogs.

The annual Edinburgh International Film Festival is in full swing just now, celebrating its 70th edition. I have never before been to see anything at it, but had the chance this year to head along the M8 from Glasgow to attend the premiere of Moon Dogs, a Celtic road movie set between Shetland and Glasgow. 

I had a couple of family members involved in the film and also two of my wee nieces were meant to be in it as extras, bopping about at a club, so I have known about this film for a while. With a couple of my aunties and cousins we trundled east on Friday night to see if Keira and Issy's dancing made the final cut. 

I don't know anything about film-making but hearing second hand the lengths people have to go to, to secure funding and bring an idea to the screen it makes you wonder why people bother even trying. Beyond the world of superhero blockbusters it seems to be a very hand-to-mouth existence. Any screenings of films which involve a Q&A with the director or cast that I have been to, such as the Graeme Obree documentary film Battle Mountain, Sunset Song directed by Terence Davies and a recent award-winning Scottish film starring Kate Dickie and George MacKay, For Those In Peril, the same message is heard. We struggled to get funding, we had to cut these corners to stick to budget, we are now struggling to get any distribution, to make back any of the money put into it. Directors, writers, producers often appear to have to do much work unpaid in order get the film completed.

Moon Dogs is the first feature film from director Philip John who hails from Wales and has worked on Being Human, Downtown Abbey and Outlander for TV. In the film, after his girlfriend leaves Shetland for university in Glasgow, Michael (Jack Parry-Jones) and his step-brother Thor (Christy O'Donnell - who you may recognise as a handsome young busker from Buchanan Street) embark on a road-trip to the big city, aided and abetted by Caitlin (charismatic Irish singer and actress Tara Lee) who they meet on the way. The other major cast member is the Scottish scenery. From grey skies over Shetland and Orkney, through the green Highlands to Stirling and Glasgow (where I got to play "spot the location"). The three young lead actors, from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, are always entertaining whilst on screen and the different personalities of the characters create friction along the way. Naive young Michael gets all the best lines, whilst my teenage sons were rooting for Caitlin and your heart goes out to Thor's emo-introspection. You want to give him a big hug. 

Cast, crew and musician Anton Newcombe at the Moon Dogs premiere, Edinburgh
Music is an important part of the story and it was imaginative to avoid the easy heedrum-hodrum Scottish music option and choose American experimental/ psychedelic/ rock/ innovative musician Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre) to provide the soundtrack. Working on his first movie score he seems to have really thrown himself into it and his music was present during filming, as he explained at the screening, and is completely interwoven into the plot. I could happily sit and watch it with my eyes closed, but then I would miss the Scottish scenery. 

Other well-kent Scottish faces appear in the film (such as Denis Lawson and Tam Dean Burn, all eyebrows and attitude) and the step-parents (is that a word?) played by Jamie Sives and Claire Cage are warnly played. However the young leads in the film are the stars, full of personality and strong character. Gently rebelling. 

It was a really enjoyable night out in Edinburgh, lovely to hear from the cast and crew at the end and I can only wish the film well, as it makes Scotland look lovely. And yes, my nieces smiling faces did make it onto the screen, the true stars of the whole production, obviously.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Belle and Sebastian at 20. Glasgow University Union, Glasgow

Belle and Sebastian, gig review. Glasgow University Union, Glasgow. 15 June 2015

"Belle and Sebastian were the product of botched capitalism. It would be nice to say they were the children of socialism, but it would be a fib."

Marking their 20th year as a band Belle and Sebastian are soon to play a couple of nights in London's Albert Hall. Before heading off for that they played three consecutive nights in the more intimate/ hot and sweaty setting of the Glasgow University Union debating chamber. Nominally this was part of the Westend Festival, which has been going for almost the same amount of time. Whilst the festival seems to be running out of steam a bit these days, retreading the same events year after year and being unable to fund their popular parade, Belle and Sebastian seem to be going from strength to strength. Touring with their latest album last year, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, took them to bigger venues than they have ever played before, such as their recent Glasgow gig at the SSE Hydro. However they have always been at their best in less formal, more intimate occasions, whether at events like the Save The Children fundraiser that they helped organise last year or in their earlier gigs in the QMU and Maryhill Central Halls.

GUU bar for the gig 
The GUU is a lovely old building, but when I was at university it was also home to some lovely, old fashioned, reactionary students. I was always carrying a wee QMU diary in my student days at Glasgow Uni but tonight, I suspect like much of the band, enjoyed being able to take a short walk from my home to the venue. They were clearly at ease here, standing on stage a wee stroll from where most of their songs were written and early recordings made. Has there ever been a more westend band than Belle and Sebastian? So connected to this local area are they that the local tourist authority has been publicising a Belle and Sebastian walking tour around these nearby streets.

Always slightly dorky (like their audience) they have always just been themselves, and found success that way. Over the three nights the setlists lent heavily on the earlier albums and they played 43 different tracks over the three nights. On stage for almost two hours on the Wednesday night that I saw them, they ticked off so many of my old favourites that it felt greedy wishing I'd heard Fox In The Snow or If You're Feeling Sinister the night before, or Like Dylan In The Movies or The Boy Done Wrong Again on the Monday night. However starting with The Stars of Track and Field they
had me on side from the beginning. "You only did it so that you could wear, your terry underwear" - one of my favourite lyrics in their whole lyrically pleasing back catalogue.

Belle and Sebastian at the GUU
Other stand out tracks included a feisty rendition of Electronic Renaissance and, from The Life Pursuit, Another Sunny Day (mainly for the line "We're playing for our lives, the referee gives us fuck all"). During The Boy With The Arab Strap a group of fans brought up on stage to dance appeared to be on the verge of collapse in their over-exuberance. It did leave me wondering what the collective noun for their devoted fans is? An embrace of fans? A flounce of Belle and Sebastian fans? I don't know.

Stuart Murdoch invites the crowd to come up and dance
Getting hotter, sweatier and better as the show went on we were treated to Monica Queen joining them on stage to reprise her vocals from the excellent Lazy Line Painter Jane. One solitary track from their recent album popped up in the encore before we were sent home with I'm a Cuckoo ringing in our ears. A belter of a performance, a lovely warm and fuzzy evening and miles better to see them like this than in the cavernous Hydro. Haste ye back. 

Belle and Sebastian Live review gig review Glasgow GUU

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Malcolm Middleton. Ladyhawke. Channeling '80s Synth-pop

Live Review - Malcolm Middleton. Glasgow Art School. 27 May 2016

Now 10 years after Arab Strap played their retirement gig at the Glasgow ABC, Falkirk's pop-miserablist Malcolm Middleton is touring to promote his 9th solo album, Summer of '13. A perky album of synth-pop flecked tunes, a bright album looking for a sunny Scottish summer to accompany some barbecues up and down the country.

Malcolm Middleton's Summer of '13
Ably accompanied live by Suse Bear of Tuff Love and by cheap date Johnny Lynch (he also provided the solo support act as Pictish Trail) Middleton was entertaining as usual. The new stuff held up well, but as he played old and new songs you realise what an impressive back catalogue of fabulous sing-along tunes he has now amassed. Fuck It, I Love You, Red Travelling Socks, A Brighter Beat, Blue Plastic Bags and We're All Going To Die were all performed. Each one a lovely wee nugget of observational poetry. Despite the new songs fitting him well, the best was saved for the end with the encore of solo, acoustic songs really standing out. A fantastic song writer on fine form. With Aidan Moffat among the crowd tonight there are hints that a reunion is on the cards. 

Ladyhawke. Live gig review. King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Glasgow. 14th June 2016

New Zealander, Pip Brown (Ladyhawke), has just released her third solo album Wild Things, a return to the synth-pop influenced sounds of her first album. She squeezed into a sweaty and sold out King Tut's Wah Wah Hut last night touring with it. She battered through 90 minutes of music, preferring to sing rather than chat. She gave stripped down versions of many old songs, sounding for a long period like a '90s indie-rock cover band. For me she was at her best when the new songs were given a good, proper synth-pop going over. Stand out track A Love Song deserves a wider audience, and was lapped up by an enthusiastic crowd. She gives the impression that there's a budding heavy metal lead singer hiding behind a shy pop veneer. Live she comes across as neither fish nor fowl. Go on, relax and enjoy your inner '80s synth-pop persona. 

Ladyhawke at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Adam Ant vs Coldplay

I am not a big fan of Coldplay, but for some unfathomable reason my teenage son has taken a shine to them. So when he found out that they were playing in Glasgow he was keen for us to go along to see them. When I was his age I was dancing around my living room to the music of Stuart Goddard, better known as Adam Ant. As luck would have it both acts were playing in Glasgow within a few days of each other meaning we could both get to see our teenage idols this week. So a quick live review of Coldplay at Hampden and Adam Ant at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

Adam Ant. Kings of the Wild Frontier Tour. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. June 2016

Adam Ant was one of the first "pop stars" that I got really into when I was younger. My big cousins were a couple of years older than my brother and me. They would make us tapes of their favourite music and although we were never convinced by the early stuff from The Smiths that we were presented with, Madness and Adam Ant were two that got us hooked.

Adam and the Ants 
My cousin was right in to Adam and the Ants, with posters of Adam Ant all over his bedroom walls, usually stripped to the waist, or dressed in armour. Despite the lewd nature of the lyrics in many of his songs, his biggest fans were teenagers who enjoyed the fun, the swagger, the dressing up and the silly dance moves in the videos. Any sauciness in his image and the words of his songs went completely over my head. It just looked like really good fun.

After the band's first album Dirk Wears White Socks failed to make any impact, they were dropped by their label and their then manager, Malcolm McLaren, persuaded a couple of band members to leave Adam and the Ants and join him in creating Bow Wow Wow. Undeterred, Mr Ant ploughed on and re-formed his band, with Marco Pirroni on guitar and two drummers driving the new distinctive style forwards. Kings of the Wild Frontier was their breakthrough album and that is being played in full on this tour. The title track reached number 1 in January 1981 and Dog Eat Dog and Antmusic were also hits from this album. I knew every track on this album word for word, as my cousin's recording of it was played endlessly by me and my brother. Unlike a CD or download you couldn't just skip a track so hearing it played in full for me tonight was a great throwback to the days when the whole organisation and sequence in an album mattered as much as the big hits.

Adam Ant. Kings of the Wild Frontier Tour
He arrived on stage with flouncy shirt, Hussars' jacket and pirate hat as you would hope. There were plenty in the audience trying a similar look, including the Apache war paint stripe across the face. What may have looked groovy in the mind's eye was not always successful in the flesh I am afraid to say. Mixed results - we'll leave it at that. On stage Adam was looking well, in front of a bass player and two guitarists (including Will Crewdson who currently plays with The Selecter) and, of course, two drummers. From the Kings of the Wild Frontier material Los Rancheros and Killer in the Home stood out. Once that was out of the way. He relaxed into the evening giving us another hour of all the  old hits plus notable B-sides to the 7 inch singles that I used to own; Beat My Guest (Stand and Deliver), Christian D'Or (Prince Charming) and Press Darlings (Dog Eat Dog). Vive Le Rock is another favourite that was played with gusto.

Adam Ant, Glasgow 2016
Like Bruce Springsteen a couple of days earlier, I was disappointed he played a cover version in the encore (T Rex's Get It On) when it was his stuff that I was wanting to hear. The whole encore was played more rock music stylee than post-punk Antmusic style, which I could take or leave, but that's me just being picky.

He is an unpredictable character, but tonight had plenty of energy, loads of charisma and had the crowd on their feet from the first minute, despite it being in the rather staid surroundings of the Glasgow Concert Hall.

Coldplay. A Head Full Of Dreams Tour. Hampden Stadium. Glasgow. June 2016

I will confess from the outset that coming to see Coldplay perform a stadium concert was never going to be my idea of a great night out. My son however loves their music. When I was 14 years old I was starting to buy some singles myself. I could listen to my mum's Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and The Specials albums or all of my dad's Tamla Motown stuff. My musical tastes today are still coloured by exposure to this stuff I suppose. My son isn't a fan of the post-rock and experimental stuff that I usually play at home (mainly to wind him up). Using Spotify and Youtube his tastes have lean towards listening to sweeping movie soundtrack scores and lots of Coldplay. This music for him is a kind or aural wallpaper, bubbling away in the background whilst he does other things. He was dead keen to see them perform in the flesh which is why we ended up in Hampden. The recent warm sunny weather was meant to change with thunderstorms and downpours predicted, which would have been entertaining, but the forecasts were wrong and we were treated to another warm, summery night.

Coldplay at Hampden Stadium, June 2016

Coldplay at Hampden Stadium, June 2016
When I was at university Coldplay had released the Parachutes album, which I liked, but it is the last piece of music by them that I have bought. Ever since then they seem to have brought out different versions of that same album, tweeked each time to make it more and more suited to playing in bigger venues. They now have a mighty back catalogue of anthemic hits with "Woo-hoo-woo" choruses and vapid ballads to fill a two-hour stadium set.

Coldplay at Hampden Stadium, June 2016
They are well practised at this now and do put on a helluva entertaining show. From the start they fired off the pyrotechnics and confetti canons. Everyone in the stadium was given illuminated wrist-bands to pulse away with appropriate colours for each song. Chris Martin admitted a few songs in that we were missing a lot of the lighting show they had rigged up, as we remained in the Scottish summer sunshine until near the end. We had balloons, fireworks, lasers and the whole crowd on the pitch and in the stands around Hampden were clearly buoyed by it all presenting an impressive singalong to every track. 

Wee stage amongst the crowd, Coldplay at Hampden Stadium, June 2016
Despite the huge crowd Chris Martin is a dab hand at making it feel intimate, with wee mentions to King Tut's, a tear wiped away from his eye as the crowd out-sing him on Fix You and he works with the boundful energy of a big puppy between stages in the stadium. Tributes were paid to Muhammad Ali with a short video of the great man as we came into the song Everglow and later we were given Heroes in tribute to David Bowie. As they neared the end they took it down a level on a wee stage at the back of the stadium, finishing See You Soon with a chorus of The Proclaimers 500 Miles, which seemed a bit ill-conceived as he gave us the first ever rendition of that song which nobody could sing along to. Finishing off on the main stage again he sent everyone home happy with rousing renditions of A Sky Full Of Stars and Up & Up.

They do put on a very well produced and entertaining show, which the crowd lapped up. However hearing it live I found the music as vapid as it is in recordings. It is the first concert that I have been to when the artist thanks the audience for sticking with them "and putting up with all the shit that comes with being a Coldplay fan". He wants to be our friend, a big smiley, happy puppy. I prefer my rock stars to be daft or rebellious, unpredictable and inventive. I have always been more of a cat person than a dog person. My son disagrees. He thought it was the best thing he had ever seen, and who can argue with a satisfied customer.

Coldplay at Hampden Stadium, June 2016

Coldplay at Hampden Stadium, June 2016. The end
live review 
live review, Glasgow, Coldplay, Hampden Stadium, June 2016. Adam Ant Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Thursday 2 June 2016

Bruce Springsteen - The River Tour. Hampden Park, Glasgow. June 2016

Live Review: Bruce Springsteen - The River Tour. Hampden Park, Glasgow. June 2016

As a long time fan of Bruce Springsteen I would enjoy seeing him perform two hours of Christmas Carols but The River, his double album released 35 years ago, contains some of my all-time favourite songs. So I was delighted to find him bringing his "The River" tour to Glasgow. When the tour started in America, on stage Springsteen and the E Street Band worked their way sequentially through the twenty tracks of the album but, as is his wont, the performances are evolving and changing every night.

In Glasgow, as he came onto the Hampden stage at 6.45pm under a glorious sunny sky, he opened with the song I had been singing all day in anticipation of the concert, "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" (from 2002 album The Rising). Right from the off he was down at the front, working the crowd and soon dragged a 10 year old fan up onto the stage to sing along with him. She gave a spectacularly self-confident rendition of the song before giving him a hug and getting back down into the crowd.

Keeping the upbeat mood he went into "Spirit In The Night" from the 1973 album Greetings From Ashbury Park, NJ, but which I first knew as the B-side to a 7 inch version of Born To Run that I have. This single was one of many that I bought from a rack in the newsagent across the road from my granny's house. These were old cast-offs from jukeboxes with the large hole in the middle, but often strange double-A side combinations. Like many people I worked my way backwards through Springsteen's catalogue, as I was only 2 years old when he released this album. My mother had bought Born In The USA when it was released in 1985, which were the first Springsteen songs that I heard. Touring the UK in 1985 he gave a donation to help the striking miners that year, which further endeared him to me. At that time I was making my first trips to record shops and started picking up second hand copies of his earlier albums.


In these days of Amazon and music downloads, record shops are few and far between. In the 1980s there were plenty of places to browse through racks and shelves of records, not just my granny's newsagent. I would spend many a Saturday starting at Dumbarton Road and working my way up to Great Western Road with a couple of friends, looking into umpteen record shops on the way. The first stop when I got off the number 9 bus in Partick was West End Records on Dumbarton Road. They also had a branch in Clydebank Shopping Centre and sold a lot of record company excess stock, often unfortunately with a punch hole clipped in the corner of the cover.

West End Records, Dumbarton Road Glasgow, not long before the whole block was demolished
After taking ownership of my mum's copy of Born In The USA it was in this shop that I picked up Springsteen's breakthrough album Born To Run from 1975, and later on progressed to The River. The River had come out in 1980 and was made by an artist caught between moody, downbeat storytelling songs and bright, rosy fist-pumping anthems. I didn't own many gatefold double albums then and spent many hours poring over the lyrics on the songs on it. The track The River was my favourite, but as a teenager I struggled to see why Mary and the singer in the song were so pessimistic and down about her getting pregnant and married at 19 years of age. 19, that was ancient! However, the image of this disillusioned pair dreamily thinking back to their teenage days of canoodling down by the river, wondering "Is a dream a lie that don't come true, or is it something worse?" appealed to me.

Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt
sing Two Hearts in Glasgow
In Hampden, four songs in we finally got to some songs from The River, the opening three tracks including Steve Van Zandt and Bruce duetting on Two Hearts. Drifting off of the setlist to take requests from the audience we got a storming performance of Rosalita and then Sandy from the 1973 album The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. This album of rambling storytelling songs I picked up in Realistic Records on Dowanhill Street. This second hand record shop opposite the Dowanhill Bar was where I found various gems over the years, including Big Country's The Crossing in all three sleeve colour variations and Eurythmics debut album In The Garden. Unless you got hold of the Guiness Book of Hit Singles it was harder to work out what albums and singles an artist actually had in the pre-internet age, so rummaging through record shops often turned up surprisng things.

Some of the Springsteen singles I've accumulated
In later years my amble northwards would divert from here to Music Mania at the bottom of Byres Road. Run by a Canadian with a dodgy moustache I picked up some complete rubbish like Bangs and Crashes by Go West. Then you could visit Woolworths if you were after chart singles, later Stephen Pastels record shop upstairs in John Smith's bookshop where Starbucks is now, before going into Echo nearer the top of Byres Road for more obscure stuff. The grumpy brothers that owned the shop (and also ran it as Listen in a previous incarnation) would always be happy to help. A wander up to Lost In Music in Ruthven Lane was good for older 7 inch singles and that is where I found Springsteen's My Hometown/ Santa Claus is Coming To Town classic disc.

Sad wee farewell letter from Lost In Music in Ruthven Lane
After three more tracks from The River, and an audience member's sign request for Lonesome Day, from the The Rising album, the music took a darker turn. Starting with Death To My Hometown from 2014's Wrecking Ball album before American Skin (41 Shots) and Murder Incorporated. These are two of my favourite Springsteen songs, American Skin in particular was a thrill to hear. Both are critical of gun violence in America, the former written in response to the police shooting in New York of an unarmed black man in 1999, killed when officers fired 41 shots at him. Murder Incorporated is about the normalisation of gun violence in society. Both songs are sadly more relevant to major problems in American society now, than even when they were written.

Taking requests from the audience we moved through I'm Goin' Down from Born In The USA to the excellent Johnny 99 from 1982 album Nebraska (one of my favourite albums) this time sung with a lively country and western twang. Despite the persisting bright sunshine we were into the more gloomy tracks from The River that I enjoy, with the title track and then Point Blank.
Late evening sunshine in Hampden Stadium, Glasgow
Other highlights for me in the main set were Because the Night, written by Springsteen in 1978 with Patti Smith and released by her as a single that year, Thunder Road from Born To Run and Badlands from 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town.

A vigorous encore of barnstormers such as Born In The USA, Born To Run and the sad/happy Glory Days got the 55,000 crowd singing along to every song before a couple more audience members were plucked from the crowd to join him on stage in the Courtney Cox role for Dancing In The Dark, before Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, which has now become a tribute to the absent Clarence Clements at Bruce Springsteen concerts.

As he did last time in Glasgow, he finished with The Isley Brothers song Shout, which got the crowd jumping and singing along, but I would have much rather had any one of a dozen Bruce Springsteen songs to send us home that we hadn't yet heard, rather than a song more associated with the teenage Lulu. Looking at the website, Bruce Springsteen has played this song 84 times in concerts. Which two bands do you think have performed it live more times than he has? (answers at the bottom of this page, Lulu not included as we are talking about the internet era here).

As the band left the stage we were sent home with a solo acoustic rendition from Springsteen of This Hard Land, taken from the Tracks album of unreleased tracks.

This was one of his best performances that I have seen, 34 songs in three and a half hours of non-stop music, holding a stadium crowd in the palm of his hand as usual. He is in no way running out of energy as the years go on, although with plans for a solo studio album next, this may be the last time for a while that he tours with the E Street Band. Tonight he ticked off about twenty of my favourite tracks, many of which I'd never seen live before, but as that still leaves me plenty more to try and catch next time he is in town.

There's plenty more music where that came from...
Q - Bruce Springsteen has performed "Shout" live in concert 84 times over the years according to Which artists have sung it live more often?

A - Bon Jovi have sung it 214 times, and Green Day 221 times...apparently.

live review Bruce Springsteen Glasgow concert Hampden