Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Edinburgh Festival 2016 - Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival 2016

I only realised a couple of years ago that the Edinburgh Festival is a whole pile of festivals all happening at the same time. The fringe, the art festival, the book festival, the gardening festival (I made one of those up). The main Edinburgh International Festival has a much more focused and normally highbrow atmosphere. This year the world of alternative popular music has elbowed its way into the International Festival with Mogwai, Young Fathers, Sigur Ros, God Speed You! Black Emperor and Karine Polwart in the programme alongside the likes of the Russian National Orchestra and Scottish Ballet. Several of these concerts it was impossible for me to get to from Glasgow and others were sold out very quickly. I made do with a couple of Edinburgh jaunts to wonder around the galleries, catch some fringe theatre and book readings. There is only so long I can join the Edinburgh festival-going crowd before I want to scream though. There is a particular demographic that fills the city in August, and it feels like a good proportion of them will all trudge to the Henley Regatta and Glyndbourne at other times of the year.

I did make it to two International Festival events at the Usher Hall. A concert by a Swedish Orchestra and one by a Senegalese superstar. 

Hello Edinburgh

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra - Usher Hall

Beethoven Piano concerto No. 1 in C major Op 15
Mahler Symphony No. 9

English conductor Daniel Harding, led the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Usher Hall on Friday night. First up was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1, which was actually the third piano concerto he had written, but the first to be published. Written by the 26 year old Beethoven he performed the piano himself on the first performances of the piece. As you would, he has written the best parts for himself and Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov took this role. His performance was mesmeric, without being overly showy and flamboyant. At times hunched over the keyboard with his face inches from his fingers I fear he has an old age filled with back pain ahead of him if he keeps that up, but his playing was fantastic.

After the interval the orchestra had to pause for a while until someone silenced an electronic alarm (getting a round of applause when they managed). Mahler's 9th Symphony is often described as a contemplation on death and the first movement was indeed very dramatic. I found the rest of the evening rather colourless after that and a bit disjointed. Beautiful crisp playing throughout, particularly the strings, but the music didn't sing out to me.

Summer in Scotland

Youssou N'Dour - Usher Hall

One of the greatest figures in African music, "Senegalese superstar" Youssou N'Dour was in the incongruous setting of the stuffy Usher Hall on Wednesday night. His appearance was like a slash of light and warmth in a cold, wet Scottish summer. His audience were a refreshing change from the majority of Edinburgh crowds that I've been sat amongst this week, with many black and younger people dressed up to the nines mixed up with the usial Edinburgh Festival white, middle class, elderly audience.

I have seen him play once before, but that was 26 years ago now, a brief set in a Wembley concert for Nelson Mandela, so I was greatly looking forward to seeing him here tonight with his band in full flow. The band were impressive, 10 musicians and an acrobatic dancer and two singers backing him. With four of them on percussion rhythm was to the fore.

Youssou N'Dour at the Usher Hall 

Youssou N'Dour himself is a slight figure, out front in his shiny white suit, with a voice that's uniquely his. A few songs in we were given a piece of impromptu Scottish cabaret as ushers tried (ineffectually) to usher an obstreperous man away from the front row, where he had planted himself. They needn't have bothered as Youssou soon had sections of the crowd on their feet and dancing at the front of the stage and in the aisles. He slowed things down for a bit with "7 Seconds" before whipping the crowd up again as the tumbling dancer started jumping over the head of the djembe player, who was now draped in a Senegal flag from the crowd.

A captivating performance. Would love to have seen him in a more relaxed venue. Maybe next time.

Look. Youssou even brightened up the Edinburgh weather 

Edinburgh Festival 2016 - Edinburgh Festival Fringe Theatre

Edinburgh Fringe 2016  - Theatre

I've come all the way to Edinburgh and the first two things that I saw were set in a Glasgow school and a Glasgow night club toilet. Quick reviews of a few of the theatre performances I saw at this years Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Glasgow Girls - Assembly Hall ****

Produced by National Theatre of Scotland Glasgow Girls, by David Greig and Cora Bissett, is based on the story of seven Glasgow school friends from Drumchapel who stood together in 2005 when their classmate and her family, seeking asylum in Scotland, were taken from their home to be forcefully deported. Based upon true events the song-filled play has been touring since 2012 but I have only now caught up with it. It is being shown in the Assembly Hall on the Mound at present, and the hall doesn't do it any great favours - a room filled with multiple restricted views and echoey acoustics, which made some of the speaking a bit difficult to discern.

Assembly Hall on The Mound, Edinburgh
The story is probably very familiar to most people now and is told with energy and enthusiasm. I am not a great fan of musicals I must admit, so would generally rather be shown things than told them through song. However when Terry Neason takes centre stage as Noreen, one of the women who organised look-outs for Home Office vans doing dawn raids, the whole story suddenly feels more real and visceral, largely due to her acting abilities and phenomenal voice.

First General Assembly, Edinburgh
 "Did he just say that the cheesemakers shall inherit the Earth?"
 An uplifting piece of theatre, which passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours, still reaching a wide audience as it tours again. Later this month it will be returning to Glasgow at the Citizens Theatre.

Expensive Shit - Traverse Theatre *****

Written and directed by Glasgow based Adura OnashileExpensive Shit at the Traverse Theatre takes place in the women's toilet of a nightclub. If it hadn't already happened recently in the real world, you would think that the idea of having men getting kicks from staring through two-way mirrors into this private place was an over the top theatrical device. The Shimmy Club in Glasgow was shut down in 2013 after men were found to be paying to leer from behind the glass at women using their toilets. In the play we, the audience, sit in their place, voyeurs to a place people feel they can relax and be themselves.

If you have ever felt uncomfortable with unpaid, often African, toilet attendants in night clubs handing you paper towels, a skoosh of deoderant or a lollipop for tips, then you will recognise Tolu as that character. Nigerian toilet attendant Tolu, (Sabina Cameron) works in the toilet of a Glasgow nightclub, talking to the women and gets paid extra to encourage them to linger at the mirrors or leave the cubicle doors open. The story flits back and forwards between the present and the past where she lived at Fela Kuti's Kalkuta commune, hoping for a better life dancing at his  Afrika Shrine club.

Fela Kuti was an inspirational and controversial figure, married to umpteen of his dancers and singers.  The title of the play, an elegant word play for their stories, takes its name from a Fela Kuti album, an Afrobeat classic. The ideals of the commune, the freedom the women hoped to gain by coming to it, is questioned when the women have to face the reality of what they are being asked to do. The four Nigerian women rehearse, talk and argue in the sanctuary of the women's toilets there.

It is an arresting play, with excellent performances from Sabina Coleman in the lead role, Teri Ann Bobb Baxter, Jamie Marie Leary and Diana Yekinni. Their dance moves are slick and their arguments swing back and forth like the cubicle doors. The audience here in Edinburgh was very white and middle aged, complicit maybe in looking at the African woman in the corner of the room, but perhaps not noticing her.

Diary of a Madman - Traverse Theatre **

Gogol's novella, Dairy of a Madman, is transferred to modern Scotland by writer Al Smith and Gate Theatre. In the original a lowly civil servant driven mad by his unrequited love, eventually believes himself to be able to understand the language of dogs and that he is the next King of Spain. He gives a proper, early description of delusions and symptoms we would now recognise as schizophrenia. (Everyone knows that Gerry Britton, former Partick Thistle player and manager, now in charge of youth development, ins thee true King of Spain). I am a big fan of Russian literature and have been to visit Gogol's house in St Petersburg. So I was looking forward to this re-imagining of the story.

Visiting Gogol in St Petersburg
Instead of Arksenty Poprishchin we have actor Liam Brennan playing Pop Sheerin, a painter maintaining the family tradition, painting and repainting the Forth Rail Bridge. The first half hour is witty and quips pass back and forth between father, daughter Sophie and her mouthy pal. The arrival of English chemical engineer Matt White (boom, boom) as Pop's apprentice lays the foundation for Pop's future redundancy, at work and at home. Matt's burgeoning romance with Sophie upsets Pop's ideas of manliness. As he descends into madness the plot takes a strange turn, with wrong-headed ideas about Scottish nationalism and history shoehorned in. Pop Sheerin becomes increasingly unhinged in a cartoonish fashion, dressing as Mel Gibson's Braveheart to stand against the foreign, globalisation pressures of new-fangled American paint, Qatari share ownership and English nobility.

The portrayal of mental illness in the style of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, the women's roles ("kingmakers" through sex with men or as passive wife, who inexplicably doesn't phone a CPN) and the ideas of manliness all felt clich├ęd, old fashioned and the political jibes were ill-informed. Matt's put down, that the Forth Rail Bridge is "no more Scottish than I am" because it's constituent parts come from elsewhere is so upside down and flawed as to be offensive. I'm quite embarrassed that this play is going on to be performed in England and give people the daft impression that people in Scotland think like the characters here. Surely it's widely accepted that once you're here, you're here and you are part of the country, whether you are a bridge or a dinner lady? Anyway, now I'm nit-picking. It started well, then went off in several strange directions.

Last Dream (On Earth) - Assembly Hall ****

Taking my kids to see Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin and rocket designer Sergei Korolev are two heroes of mine, which has led me to drag my kids to see the Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow to pose under Yuri Gagarin, and drive to London to see an exhibition on the Cosmonauts. In this theatrical piece in Edinburgh Yuri sits on the launch pad, expecting death, but hoping to orbit the Earth. Our attention shifts to an African who has traveled with smugglers across the Sahara and stands on a beach in Morocco about to launch towards Europe.

These are the starting points for this performance/ sound installation designed by Kai Fischer and the National Theatre of Scotland. The five performers and musicians on stage are lined up in a row facing the audience, and we all don headphones to hear their amplified utterances, mixed with radio static and sound effects. Silences are exaggerated in this environment, as we fall below the waves of the Mediterranean or enter radio silence on the dark side of the Earth. The performers hold our gaze at the front, with excellent performances from Edward Nkom, Kimisha Lewis, Michelle Cornelius, and musicians Tyler Collins and Gameli Tordzro. The parallels are clear as we flit back and forth between those about to embark in a toy dinghy and our Cosmonaut about to launch into the darkness of space. The crackled back and forth between Vostok-1 and mission control contrast with the refugees' attempts to make re-assuring mobile phone calls home. The real transcripts used of Yuri Gagarin's communications with mission control are phenomenal. He is the epitome of calmness, reporting "mood buoyant" and "Let's go!" as the launch arrives. Both of our travellers are brave/ foolish pioneers. We only know that one of the trips will definitely end in glory.

Call Mr Robeson - Spotlites ***

Actor, singer, lawyer, campaigner Paul Robeson is the inspiration for Tayo Aluko's one man performance (with piano accompaniment), telling the story of the great man's life. Paul Robeson's booming bass voice was a familiar sound in my childhood home from an old album that my mother often played, a mixture of his singing, reading poetry or Othello's speeches from Shakespeare. He famously attended the Glasgow May Day parade in 1960, and in the play his dealings with striking Welsh miners featured prominently in the play.  

I knew a bit about the life of Paul Robeson, but learned a lot more, particularly about the extent of the hostility he faced from the American state. The tireless efforts made to deprive him of his passport, of his ability to work, even of his health, was remarkable. Tayo Aluko doesn't have the bone rattling quality to his voice that Robeson did (who does?) but his singing earned applause throughout and evoked the music that Robeson used to such powerful effect protesting against the injustice that he saw. Back home to dig out my mum's old Paul Robeson album that I've got in a box somewhere.

Milk - Traverse Theatre *****

Orla O'Loughlin of the Traverse Theatre Company directs Ross Dunsmore's first full length play, Milk. A trio of couples riff on a theme of nourishment and sustinence. Steph and Ash aged 14 (Helen Mallon and Cristian Ortega), their teacher Danny Doig and his wife Nicole (Ryan Fletcher and Melody Grove) and elderly couple May and Cyril (played by Tam Dean Burn and Ann Louise Ross). Steph's body image fixation and self-confidence issues lead her to chase after her teacher. His pregnant wife feels crushed by her inability to breastfeed when the baby comes. The old couple play the most touching scenes, with their electricity cut off, ex-soldier Cyril is too fearful of the outside world to go out and buy food. Although all the ideas don't always gel, I found the later scenes incredibly moving. It made me think back to people I know who struggled to breastfeed and were given increasingly unhelpful advice from people who should have known better. I'll admit that I was a wee bit weepy in the final scene. It brought back a moment I'd completely forgotten, the most supportive thing I ever heard for a stressed parent. Dashing around a supermarket with a screaming baby when an old man leans over and instead of moaning, says "that's the most beautiful sound in the world, the cry of a baby". Try it next time you see someone looking stressed.

Anyway, really enjoyed the play. Nicely paced direction kept things flowing along. I finished up at the Traverse and ran across to Nandos for some grub. (It only got about 10 mentions).

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Edinburgh Festival 2016 - Edinburgh International Book Festival

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2016

Edinburgh Book Festival now runs for two weeks each August in Charlotte Square, and get 220,000 visitors in that time. Their bookshop is always worth a visit as it tends to be a bit different from the usual set up, and if you aren't coming to the ticketed events, the Square still makes a good place to eat your picnic on a sunny day during the festival. I saw three events during the festival this year (for £39 in total, before you buy the books). Here are some quick reviews of a couple of book festival events that I went to.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Alice Oswald ***

I enjoyed Alice Oswald's previous book, Memorial, an unusual invocation of Homer's Iliad. It starts with a list of the 200 soldiers who die during the Iliad, then recounts describes their fates, from Protesilaus to Hector. She read from her new collection Falling Awake, which features poems reflecting her education as a classicist to her observations on the minutiae of nature from her work as a gardener. For Alice Oswald poetry is a serious business and her reading was earnest and full of portent. The rhythms of her poems were clear in the rhythms of her reading, and death was an ever present part of life. She then revealed that she does have a lighter side, which her editor kept out of the latest book, reading Living Under the Digestive System. I hope that this brighter aspect of her poetry gets room to breathe in the future

James Kelman  *****

A full house awaited James Kelman, including Liz Lochead, Tam Dean Burn and other well kent faces, as he read from his exceptional new novel Dirt Road. He gave us a passage from early in the book, that told of 16 year old Murdo and his dad settling into a cheap motel for the night on their travels to meet American relatives, a break from their travails in Scotland. They are both recently bereaved and alone, after the death of Murdo's mother and sister. As Murdo heads out to the local shop to seek breakfast for them both he comes across Queen Mozee-ay, her music and the music of the south that will drive him and the story onwards. Like Alice Oswald it was good to hear the rhythm of Kelman's reading, the rhythm of the music that Murdo has a drive to make. There are clear echoes of Kelman himself in Murdo, the artist as a young man. I hadn't realised that as a 17 year old Kelman traveled with his family to America as they planned to emigrate there. Immigration/emigration and the mixed up origins of America and American music, from the Gaels to Mexicans feature as a background to the personal journey Murdo and his dad make in the book.

I have seen Kelman talk many times before and every time he gently shares his knowledge with the audience, on subjects as diverse as the Clearances, Russian literature, the co-operative movement, the Newport Folk Festival or the history of the Gaelic language. Whether you notice it or not you will always come away from one of his books or his talks having learnt an awful lot of stuff, mostly about people.

He also revealed a lot about his writing technique here, and talked about scenes he had written then cut out of the final book - a "director's cut" of a James Kelman book would clearly be a fascinating read. I hadn't noticed the name of the elderly Creole singer, Queen Monzee-ay, hints at her Menzies hinterland and in the book various tiers of Scottish immigration to America are apparent. When asked about his ending for this book he said that "the best type of ending takes me by surprise", then when he looks back at it there is not any alternative ending. It just fits.

Wi' the Haill Voice *****

As well as being renowned for his own works as a poet, Edwin Morgan was also a translator of the works of Mayakovsky, Racine and Pablo Neruda among others. Soviet poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky is a controversial and complicated figure. He lived through the Russian Revolution and worked as a playwright, poet, artist, propagandist and was a prominent Futurist. He committed suicide in 1930 aged 36. His poem "Talking With The Taxman About Poetry" gave its title of Billy Bragg's third album. I have read some of his works before, but like many poems in translation, you are never sure how much of the original sense and feeling you are getting reading it in English. The book I have has the Russian version on the page opposite the translation, and it was clear that there were rhythms and shapes, repeating sounds that you could see in the Russian, that weren't happening on the other side of the page that I could read. Edwin Morgan felt the power of the poems evaded him, translating them into English, so for his translation he brought them into the Scots language.

Try these couple of lines as an example and I think you can see that this was a good decision. In English the lines are rendered as...
Pineapple, pheasant's breast, 
stuff till you vomit, for that is your last feast
or as Edwin Morgan has it in his Scots translation...
Stick in, douce folk.-Pineaipple, feesant's breist: 
stuff till ye boke, for thon is your last feast.
Already you can hear the sounds and anger missing from the first version, and to me this feels more like an angry Russian revolutionary's voice. To celebrate the re-printing of Morgan's poems we had Tam Dean Burn and the improvisational musicians of Ferlie Leed (double bass, harp, electric guitar and keyboards) taking us through a selection or poems from the book. With an energy and enthusiasm they brought the words off of the page to be looked at in a new way. If this had been a standard poetry reading, somebody standing up and reading from the page, this would have had niche appeal to these fluent in Scots. I had read through the poems in the days before attending this, using the glossary in the book to get the sense of the poem then reading through the sounds and feelings on the page. As Edwin Morgan is no longer with us to read his own words, this performance was a great way to give them a novel force. Tam Dean Burn definitely read them wi' his haill voice, and with all of his body. I am very sure Edwin Morgan would have whole-heartedly approved.

Tam Dean Burn gie'ing it laldy

Edwin Morgan's beautiful book, now re-issued by Carcanet is well worth getting. I managed to find another piece of Edwin Morgan's poetry on show at the Edinburgh Festival. I made my first visit to the Scottish Poetry Library, just off the Royal Mile. They have a small exhibition of concrete poetry, including some of Edwin Morgan's concrete poems, alongside those of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Vaclav Havel. There's a nice wee shop and, of course, their lending library for all your poetry needs.

Scottish Poetry Library, just off the Royal Mile

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