Thursday, October 30, 2008


Eleven quotes from an article in The Observer Music Monthly by Paul Morley and about 'the musician, realist and fantasist Damon Albarn and fellow conspirator, the graphic artist Jamie Hewlett'.

1 how since everything is a reflection of our minds everything can be changed with our minds

2 There were 30 Mali musicians playing very loud music [on the roof of Damon and Jamie's west London studio] and whenever a train came past we all waved. People must have thought, did I actually see that, or have I had a long and tiring day. No one waved back, though.

3 I remember the moment when I became a little bit more political when I spliced on tape some of my Dad's Arabic recordings over the Human League's 'The Lebanon'

4 fifteen lotus maidens in pyramid formation, some doing the splits and spinning plates in front of the all-knowing Buddha

5 Damon arrives carrying coffee and cake for three. 'That's not easy on a bicycle,' he boasts.

6 your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart give yourself to it

7 Opera magazine host an informal discussion, exploring for a classical readership unfamiliar with Albarn's pop music the possibility that Journey to the West might actually not just be hyperbolically called an opera but might actually be an opera.

8 There are in fact three Monkeys in all this – the cuddlier cartoon BBC Monkey, the slightly more sinister rascally Monkey in the Opera and the much more menacing Monkey of the record.

9 Chen Shi-Zheng has taught us about the Buddhist principle that you must not mourn for the past, or worry about the future, or anticipate problems, but live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. That's why we call him Chairman Now.

10 He wonders if perhaps it's from the 1940s, and is therefore a Nazi typewriter. The thought perversely pleases him.

11 Damon dances to his music, unashamedly lost in the thoughts he's having about how three years of thoughts – about the history and future of China, about how to follow up Blur, Gorillaz, his Mali music, his film soundtracks, the decaying London of The Good, the Bad and the Queen, his own perfectionist craving for newness that honours oldness, for strangeness that emphasies romance – have turned into an electric music that is clearly by the musician responsible for the above, and yet by a new kind of musician.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In Another Light

Bollocks. I think I am going to end up buying a book about golf.

I finished In Another Light a couple of weeks ago and for a few days after I was loath to start reading anything new. I wanted to savour the characters and the world that Andrew Greig created, and for them to stay fresh in my mind for as long as possible.

Greig alternates between two story lines – one set in Orkney a few years ago about a middle-aged engineer who is recovering from some sort of brain seizure, while the other delves into his family history and the time his father spent as an obstetrician seventy years earlier in Penang.

I had read that Andrew also survived a serious brain disorder at around the same age, but until today couldn't find much information about what happened. In my lunchbreak, catching-up on a back issue of the Scottish Review of Books I found a review of Andrew's latest novel Romanno Bridge, by Douglas Gifford. It's the sort of review I love because it not only covers the title that is being reviewed, but it also discusses virtually all his other books and unearths clues about how they all came into being. Anyway, well into the review, long after we have finished the discussion of Romanno Bridge, I discovered that:
Around the turn of the century things went terribly wrong. He tells the story in his moving account of recovery, a unique spiritual autobiography-cum-golfing adventure, Preferred Lies (2006) ... He tells how he was saved from death by the guess of a clever neurosurgeon, who realised that a colloid cyst was crushing Greig's brain. A drain which he implanted to take off the fluid killing the writer saved him; nonetheless, throughout Preferred Lies Greig feels the slight bulge in his head as reminder of time and death.
'Autobiography-cum-golfing adventure'! In anyone else's hands it would be too ghastly to contemplate, but now it has gone straight onto my list of essential purchases.

Needless to say In Another Light is a beautiful, fascinating read. The depiction of Penang in 1930 is wonderful, the Scottish sections have glorious descriptions of the human and natural landscapes and above all his characters, the subtleties of their relationships and the ebbs and flows of love and friendship.

Many of the same themes run through his novels Where they Lay Bare and Electric Brae (one of the all-time great Scottish novels and as Douglas Gifford notes '... takes its place in the line of novels that includes Docherty, Lanark, The Bridge, The Crow Road, Looking for the Possible Dance and The Trick is to Keep Breathing, the defining Scottish novels of the last quarter century').

I reckon Greig is one of the finest Scottish novelists ever and it has always puzzled me that his books don't seem to get the recognition they deserve. The reviews are pretty much always excellent, but you would be hard pushed to find his name on the bestseller lists or a major literary award shortlist (although In Another Light did win the 2004 Saltire Book of the Year Award) and most people look blank when I mention his name. Maybe I just need to hang out with golfers a bit more ...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Song for Sunday

Not sure why, and for some reason I feel I shouldn't, but I love this ...

Clip from RocKwiz. Still the best show on Australian TV. Easily.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My iPod loves the Pixies

It really does. Which is fine if you have the headphones in, not so good on the loudspeakers at work.

Especially as it has also decided that the Pixies should be played twice as loud as anything else in my music collection. Anyone who knows the intro to I'm Amazed will understand ...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Song for Sunday

And after last week's post we had to have a tribute to the mighty Blue Aeroplanes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

De Niro's Game

Living in the Christian half of Beirut during the civil war, Bassam is a young man who has grown-up with random violence, adjusting to the loss of family and friends and developing a cynical, hard-boiled outlook on life.

Unlike his friend George, Bassam avoids the militias and as he gradually becomes more alone, losing the last of his family and girlfriend, he makes plans to get of the country. Eventually a combination of small-time crimes and smuggling gives him enough funds to get himself onto a cargo ship heading for Marseille.

Just before his departure Bassam comes dangerously close to losing everything when he is picked up by the militia and accused of killing an old man. Inexplicably he is released and on the day that he is due to leave George picks him up and drives him to a deserted construction site. George seems to understand that Bassam is leaving and their waning friendship is over. He has orders to arrest him again, but first he wants a confessor for the terrible things he has seen and done. Initially it is unclear what transpires at his final meeting with George, but by the end of the book we understand.

Some of the descriptions of Beirut and the surrounding Lebanese countryside are oddly delicate amongst the brutal violence and the writing strikes a satisfying balance between the thriller elements and something more literary and intelligent. When Bassam reaches Paris and needs a book to read in his cheap hotel it is no surprise that the concierge digs out a copy of The Outsider for him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Song for Sunday

R.E.M. Glasgow Barrowlands May 24, 1989. Think I still have the ticket somewhere. They played this song, almost exactly as it's done here. Still gives me goosebumps ...

reach out for me/and hold me tight/hold that memory ...
I was studying at Edinburgh University and the concert was days before our end of second year exams. Did we think twice? No chance. They were also playing in Edinburgh, but I am pretty sure it was at the Usher Hall, so there was never really any doubt that we would be going through to Glasgow ...

5am wake-up a few months before to get near the front of the queue at Ripping (Rip-off) Records on South Bridge. Sold-out that day ...

Support was the Blue Aeroplanes, who played like they knew this was there one big shot at stardom. Then R.E.M. came on. And it is still the best gig I have ever seen (I will post the full top ten sometime soon). Michael Stipe had the black eye make-up same as here, but he also had the word CAT written on his forehead. We found out later that he had been sick as a dog last time they played in Glasgow ...

This song was one of my favourites from the album and it was absolutely amazing live. I remember reading an interview with Michael Stipe around this time and, if I remember correctly, he noted that it was the pivotal song on Green, a way into the album and a key to unlock the all the other songs. Sounds like something we would have discussed endlessly on the trip over in our late-teenage earnestness ...

Last encore was a beautiful rendition of Perfect Circle, which Mr Stipe claimed was only the 36th time they had played that song live. Bet that didn't happen in Edinburgh ...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Where do typesetters go on holiday?

Gill Sands!

The always interesting Strange Maps reprises the story of one of my all time favourite hoaxes accompanied by a scan of the original map.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

I wasn't sure about this novel when I started reading, but it had been on my to-read pile for over a year and I needed something that would contrast the bleakness of Riddley Walker. Not that this was the gentle rural tale I was half-expecting.

The sense of place and atmosphere is beautifully conjured, the story is compelling and the period detail is superbly woven in ... But for me it still seemed too slight, the characters not fully rounded and their actions too opaque for me to believe in them. There are moments when it all jelled perfectly (like the passages about Jean's dad), but for the most part there just seemed to be too much of the story missing, just out of reach; as if some crucial parts had been scattered by the torrid winds blasting across the Mallee.

Riddley Walker

'Intensely ponderable.' So says one of the review quotes on the back cover. That's for sure.

Narrated by Riddley in an imagined dialect, set in a post-nuclear holocaust distant future, it demands full concentration and rewards it with a stunning evocation of a world returned to the dark ages. The language is amazing and I constantly found myself re-reading paragraphs, puzzling out the meanings and turning over the implications. It isn't like Trainspotting where your brain suddenly clicks into the dialect and you suddenly know exactly what Renton is talking about, but Riddley's voice still works its way into your head and you begin to piece together the meanings and build up a picture of the myths and history.

I have always been fascinated by books set in post-apocalyptic futures (something to do with growing up at the height of the Cold War) and this is one the best. Other favourites would include The Road, The Drowned World and In the Country of Last Things.