Saturday, November 29, 2008


Button number one's portrait of daddy. It is pretty lifelike, apart from the nose ...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top 10 concerts

As promised ...

1 R.E.M. – Green World Tour 24 May 1989, Glasgow Barrowlands
I think I've said everything I need to in this post.

2 Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love Tour 21 June 1988, Villa Park Birmingham
I had finished my first year at university, spent a week or two helping a friend decorate his new flat, which would also be my home for the next three years, and before I headed home for my summer job I took the overnight coach down to Birmingham to see Bruce. As far as I can remember this was my first and last visit to Birmingham. I arrived in Birmingham at about 7am, hung around all day waiting for the concert and then caught the overnight coach back to Edinburgh. Sounds like a lot of effort, but I have to say it was worth every penny and every minute of discomfort on that coach. If I had had any money left I would certainly have stayed for the second concert the day after ...

3 Idlewild – Dingwalls 1998(?), Camden
I could have picked anyone of about five Idlewild gigs, but this one stands out for many reasons ... I went with one of my best friends, who was good friends with their photographer and knew all the band. Afterwards we ended up drinking all the bands booze (well tried to) and for some reason I purloined a t-shirt. I remember trying it on at Waterloo station while we were waiting for one of the very infrequent trains to Clapham Junction at 3am and discovering that it was a small female skinny-fit!

4 U2 – Joshua Tree Tour 30 July 1987, Glasgow S.E.C.C.
17-years-old. First big rock show. Summer between school and university. How could it not be brilliant? (Support was from the Waterboys who were at the apex of their fairly feeble trajectory ... Apologies Sam, but it's true.)

5 Interpol – Turn out the Bright Lights Tour 8 August 2003, Corner Hotel Melbourne
The bass amp was buggered, kept surging in and then dying about five seconds later, and the rest of the sound wasn't a lot better. Even so they were the epitome of cool and played a perfect set that made me believe in the possibilities of a classic two guitars, bass and drums rock band all over again.

6 Blue Aeroplanes – King Tuts 19 October 1990(?), Glasgow
Starting with the sound of 747 taking off played at the original volume, they proceeded to play one of the most inspired sets I have ever seen. In my memory there was about ten of them on stage and, of course, at least seven of them playing guitars – only Wotjek, the drummer and Gerald didn't. If you don't believe me check the list of band members ...

7 Mogwai – The Astoria 25 January 1999, London
All the details escape me totally, but what is still vivid is the sheer concentration and precision with which they created the most amazing, emotional, poignant, revelatory noise. Probably the loudest gig I've ever been to, the alternating feelings of your breath being sucked from your lungs by a monstrous steamroller of sound to the caress of the sublimest, delicate melody will always remain.

8 Belle and Sebastian – Union Chapel 28 July 1997, Islington
And on the guest list no less. I think this might have been one of their first London gigs and, to be honest, they were a complete shambles. All the hippest London kids, with their best 'come-on impress me' pants on and they didn't even seem to know who should be playing which instrument for most of the songs. Unbelievably all the interminable inter-song faffing and shy-weegie-janitor-schtick didn't make a blind bit of difference and every song they played seemed to have been dropped perfectly formed into their laps by fey-indie-pop-genius-angels.

9 Laurie Anderson – Hamer Hall 15 February 2003, Melbourne
Mad bird. Great show.

10 Prolapse – Camden Crawl II 19 September 1996, The Monarch Camden
It is hard to put my finger on what was so magic about Prolapse. Their live show was like watching the most ill-matched couple you can imagine having a massive post-pub domestic on stage, backed by your favourite left-field indie pop band. I could never understand why they weren't on Top of the Pops every week ...

And just outside the the top 10:
Afghan Whigs – 13 February 1994, The Venue Edinburgh
Don't know what happened, but at this point in time I reckon they were pretty much the best live rock band in the world.

My Bloody Valentine – Roller Coaster Tour 25 March 1992, Glasgow S.E.C.C. (with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Blur and Dinosaur Jr)
Same chord. 25 minutes. I thought it was awesome, most people seemed to think the bar was a better option.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Song(s) for Sunday

Who says that Low don't have a sense of humour?

If that is too rowdy for you try this or this. And try this for a couple of live tracks, including one of my all time favourites – Last Snowstorm of the Year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cosmonaut Robbie

You can tell that the author studied Theoretical Physics to doctorate level. But don't let that put you off.

The first section is a beautifully rendered depiction of Scotland in the 1970s, where young Robbie Coyle is just beginning to get to grips with socialism, Top of the Pops, Dr Who, girls and The Meaning of Relativity by Einstein. Terrifically funny and achingly sad by turns, the first section ends with Robbie's first snog in the church hall storeroom.

Part two takes off into a parallel universe; recognisably still Scotland but bizarrely different, an alternative reality in which Robbie is suddenly ten years older and on the short list for a space mission planned to explore an approaching black hole.

The dislocation and night-marish qualities of this section echoed Alasdair Gray's Unthank, and the world Andrew Crumey creates is just as completely realised, deeply detailed and surprisingly tangible as that which Duncan Thaw inhabits.

Then we are back in the present-day and what seems to be normal life. Robbie has vanished from the narrative and it is not until near the end of the book that we discover what has happened to him. There are hints about the middle section and more puzzles to come, leaving the reader to tease out their own interpretation of events. I suspect this may frustrate some readers, but I have a feeling that Sputnik Caledonia will come to be regarded as one of the essentials of Scottish literature.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States

President-elect of the USA: a skinny black man with brains. (See Jonathan Raban's article for the details.) I guess if you are going to break down barriers you might as well tear them all down at once.

There haven't been many occasions in my lifetime that you could say well done the American electorate, but credit where it's due – thank you.

Over the next few months I presume the Republicans will be looking for new leadership and direction, so my modest contribution is some advice for Sarah Palin – before running for elected office again here are some books that might prove useful:

And, before you all write in, I know the Tim Flannery one is the children's version. Other suggestions gratefully received.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Song for Sunday

Looks like it was filmed on CCTV ...

I still feel a bit nervous about the result on Tuesday, and am pretty sure it will be way tighter than the polls are saying, but a bit of Bruce always makes me feel optimistic.