Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mela, Bad Manners and Macbeth

I've got a bit carried away with buying tickets again. I see something coming up that I fancy, go buy the tickets, then realise its a week when I've a dozen other things on that I'm meant to be doing. Still it means that in the space of a few days I've had the chance to see Alan Cumming perform a solo version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Buster Bloodvessel stomp his stuff into the wee small hours and visited the Glasgow Mela festival.

The Glasgow Mela has been going for a good few years now, and recently has dovetailed with the West End Festival since it relocated to Kelvingrove Park. Saturday this year was a bit of a washout, but when the sun appeared on Sunday I headed down to wander about the various stages, stalls and eateries. The only disappointment is that the queues for food were prohibitively long - they're missing a trick there.









Anyway the stages offered the usual varied stuff from Scottish country dancing (see picture) to magicians, drummers, acrobats and singers. Too many of the people running stalls and the entertainers look like wannabe hippies who've enjoyed a gap year in India and come back as experts (I know many people with a love of India, but they wouldn't come home to Glasgow, wear a bindi and run a stall selling henna tattoos). Curiously the busiest stalls away from food always seem to be those selling material by the yard. It was nice to see it very busy though and there is definitely a much more multi-cultural crowd than all the usual West End types that turn out for all the various festivals, so that can't be a bad thing.

The night before I visited the Mela it had been my pleasure to revisit my student days and skank the night away on The Ferry. I don't think it's the greatest venue in the world, stuck under the Kingston Bridge in a bit of no-man's land with no bars or houses or life nearby, but I like going there for nostalgia sake as I can well remember crossing from Yoker to Renfrew on it in its previous life as the Renfrew Ferry, and years earlier my great auntie was a clippie on the ferry. This was to be the fourth time I've seen Bad Manners, and it was as much fun as the first time.

Buster Bloodvessel 2012 edition
In the early 80's they were phenomenally successful with hit after hit after hit and it's safe to say that they haven't moved on much from that time, touring on and off with a changing roster of musicians. The first time I saw them live was in the QM at university, a curious night when I'd also hoped to see The Fall, but a fight between the 2 bands before they came on involving knifes and police lead to The Fall storming off leaving the stage for Buster and his band. Another occaision that I saw them, in Level 8 at Strathclyde Uni I seriously thought I would be killed, as with a night of solid dancing my legs were like jelly when Buster, at that time up at his top weight, threw a surfboard onto the crowd and leapt on. I had visions of my ignominious demise, squashed under a fat man on a surfboard in a student disco, but I survived and was back seeing him again for the first time in a few years. To be perfectly frank I've aged better than most of his audience. As Buster has shed a bit of weight in recent years his audience seem to be gaining it, whilst losing their hair as a kind of aging tribute act. He didn't come on stage until 11.30pm and before that the crowd were already dancing away to all the support acts: a Jam tribute act, Esperanza Ska (a reliable 9 piece Glasgow ska outfit) and Max Splodge who finished with his "Two Pint of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please". He had already given us his punk reditions of "Nelly the Elephant" and "Two Little Boys" which were a joy to behold.

video

Buster finally came on and I just couldn't stop myself and bounded forward to get involved in 90 minutes of ankle-crushing, unarmed combat that is skanking. I'm pretty certain he did the same set I've seen three times before, with an encore of Lip Up Fatty and the Can Can. He may not be as mobile now as he once was (except for his tongue) but he puts on a good show and is playing with an excellent brass section just now. I left The Ferry after 1am feeling like I'd had a fantastic workout, totally forgetting quite how sweaty a ska gig can be. In the past 6 months I've seen The Specials, The Selecter and now Bad Manners. I think I'll give it a rest from the Dance Craze mob for a bit now, especially as Madness have blown any credibility they had left by performing on top of Buckingham Palace for the Queen.
Bad Manners at The Ferry, Glasgow
Jaggy Macb

When I bought tickets for macb I was expecting a performance by Partick Thistle's mascot, the big cheery bumble bee thing found on our sponsor's flavoured water, but NO. It turns out it was the other macb, William Shakespeare's Macbeth, performed by Alan Cumming for National Theatre of Scotland at the Tramway, and co-directed by John Tiffany (director of The Bacchae, Black Watch and recently winner of a Tony award for Once). I liked The Bacchae , which NTS did in 2007, also directed by John Tiffany, but apart from that and the fact that Alan Cumming flashes his arse in both plays, they have little else in common. Alan Cumming has come a long way from being half of 'Victor and Barry' and Take the High Road's first murder victim. Via Nightcrawler in the X-Men 2, the baddie in Spy Kids 2 to a Tony Award winning performance in Cabaret. In this production of Macbeth he plays all the parts from the play in an mesmerising and exhausting 2 hour performance, with fleeting appearances by two other characters, a female psychiatrist and male nurse.

Macbeth
The setting is a modern day secure psychiatric ward, spectacularly created with high green-tiled walls by Merle Hensel with security cameras and screens adding to the feeling that the patient being admitted has committed a terrible crime. The atmosphere of tension is aided by the musical soundscapes of Max Richter used throughout, which I ordered on my way home (I think its from Infra). Alan Cumming flits between all of the characters convincingly and clearly, flits between man and woman, sanity and madness and with the vicious murder of MacDuff's wife and children maybe gives you a window onto the back story of the character in front of you. It was quite hypnotic and the whole audience was spellbound throughout, and rose to give him a well deserved ovation at the end. It is a great story, a great play, and a great production with a great piece of acting at the heart of it all. I hope that it does well in New York where it heads next after its run at the Tramway. If you get the chance to see it I would heartily recommend that you don't miss the chance. One thing the New Yorkers miss out on when they see him there in these big performances is not having the Alan Cumming memories of having seen him doing Victor and Barry's Tron pantos. Ah, those were the days.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Bruce Springsteen, Stadium of Light , Sunderland. June 2012

I've had a long held affinity for the music of Bruce Springsteen and respect for the man himself. Although it's easy to write it off as part of his image, he still thinks about and writes about 'the man on the street'. His latest album, Wrecking Ball, is his best for a couple of decades in most people's opinion, filled with songs about immigrant workers, 'robber barons', bankers and the title track itself is a poetic paean to the hopes, dreams and memories that people associate with sport, in this case the demolition of the Giants Stadium in New Jersey where "all our little victories and glories, have turned into parking lots". There are some people who spend a lot of their time following Brucie live, and there were plenty of middle aged men in Sunderland's Stadium of Light last night proudly wearing their campaign t-shirts to prove their loyalty. There was also a lot of young people there too, and with fashion having come full circle, many of them looked unintentionally the double of Courtney Cox in the Dancing in the Dark video from 1984.

I came to Bruce Springsteen via my mum's Born in the USA album, then worked backwards collecting everything else he had done, preferring the stripped back, small town tales of thwarted dreams. My vinyl collection, including my Pink Cadillac picture disc, is gathering dust in the garage.


The first time that I saw Springsteen live was in 1993, on the Human Touch/ Lucky Town tour. Despite expecting a mega-performance I was really disappointed. He had split from the E-Street band and the backing band seemed like disparate session musicians, he seemed to be going through the motions and even stopped halfway through to do a song live for Top Of The Pops, making me in the audience feel like an extra in a promotional event. After that I drifted away from Brucie and stopped buying everything he produced. He seemed to 'find his muse' again with the 'Ghost of Tom Joad' and the 'Seeger Sessions' albums. Now with the Wrecking Ball album and the E-Street Band back together his music seems more heartfelt again, and his energy and enthusiasm for playing it shines through.

His UK dates unfortunately didn't include any Scottish venues, so on a Thursday morning we trekked down to Sunderland to see them play. All week the forecasters predicted torrential rain and on the road down it duly arrived, making us cancel plans to have a wee wander on Hadrian's Wall on the way there. We sat in The Town Wall pub in Newcastle watching the water cascade down the streets and onto the heads of a few miserable looking Japanese tourists. The middle aged men with stars and stripes bandannas on were already milling about the station as we headed off to Sunderland. Bizarrely I ended up standing alongside David Milliband at the Metro station platform, who is the MP for South Shields and seemed less awkward in the flesh than he does on TV, just a big drip really.

The River. Fog on the Wear
Sunderland itself looks like its best days are behind it, a visit to the local museum catalogued all the local industries which don't exist anymore, including one display titled "Who were the miners?". I hadn't realised they were extinct! England feels very much like a foreign country just now. We were in a Sunderland pub but couldn't bring ourselves to eat as we would get a St George's flag with our table number on it. I think if they actually DO win Euro 2012 England as a nation may spontaneously combust with excitement (if the rain lets up).


By the time we walked over the Wear the rain had changed to drizzle and fog, and it never got beyond that so we avoided the promised downpour. Anyway I can tick The Stadium of Light now off my list of football grounds to visit. I like that, as next time I see them on TV I can understand the context within the town around the ground and the scale of it. Still on my 'to see' list of footie teams though.
"It's rainin' but there ain't a cloud in the sky. Must of been a tear from your eye"
With no messing about with support acts he came on stage at 7.10pm with 14 musicians in support including the surviving members of the E-Street band.
They started with Badlands, one of my old favourites, then straight into We Take Care of Our Own and Wrecking Ball, two of my current favourites. That was the pattern for the rest of the gig. Bang, bang, bang. One song after another from a phenomenal back catalogue and lots from the current album. Bruce holds all the attention stomping about the runways at front of stage, back and forward, extricating himself from the hands of those in the front rows. He is a true pro. When he was doing an earnest bit of balladeering in centre stage, to Spirit In The Night I think, and the crowd "whoop" as the cameraman whose pictures are up on the big screens, pulls away from a girl up on someone's shoulders just as she goes to whip off her t-shirt, "There's some things you can't compete with" he acknowledges as he lets the earnest mood pass. (Turns out she had a stars and stripes bikini top on she was dead keen to show off). Death to my Hometown, a funked up versions of Johnny 99 and finally hearing The River live were highlights for me, as were the 5 piece brass section, and the violin and accordion playing from Soozie Tyrell and Charles Giordano deserve special mention.

Bruce always treads a fine line, objecting to unfairness and injustice, but apolitically and avoiding preaching, which is a shame to be honest. The Steve Earle concerts I've been to end up like rallies with this speechifying and the crowd lap it up. Bruce I think fears that's not what they come for whereas I think he's wrong - that's part of his appeal. If they didn't come for it then I think it would do some people good to have some politics shoved down their throats, to avoid us all becoming spineless David Millibands. Some drunken Geordie lass kept grabbing my arm to say 'D'you know he's a Socialist?' Although I fear she may be overstating it a little, it certainly was a reason why she was here. I think the current economic woes needs people to support those affected, but also to kick out those who brought us here rather than let neo-liberalism take the high ground and tell us its their way or the highway.

They played for over 3 hours and it flew past, the band were tight and impressive, he lead from the front throughout, no long instrumentals to go off for a lie down like Gary Glitter did when I saw him (that was a good few years ago, before that thing he did). He played all the big numbers with gusto, a crowd-pleasing performance. I would have preferred seeing him in Glasgow. Not only would getting home have been easier than the 90 minute wait at the Metro station and the 3 hour drive next day, but the crowd always seem more engaged and knowledgeable in my parochial opinion. There was raucous crowd singing round about us, but mainly with Scottish accents. Also I'd love to see Brucie ease off on the subtlety and give the people the characters in his songs are crushed by, both barrels when he's talking, as when he does it gets attention. First and foremost though he's a helluva songwriter,  musician and performer. Special mention must go to Jake Clemons on saxophone. He has particularly big shoes to fill, but as the nephew of Clarence Clemons I am sure that he is aware of that more than anyone. The on screen and musical tributes to "the Big Man" were nice, but sadly completely over the heads of some of those I was standing near. So next time Brucie - play Glasgow.

The morning afterwards we headed home, successfully dodging the Olympic torch route. Newcastle I'm guessing is hosting some Olympic football as they, like Glasgow, have been blessed with a set of rings, which I spotted next morning when I was out for a wee run trying out some of the Great North Run route, which will be the reason for my next trip to Newcastle.
My next dose of Springsteen will be at the Edinburgh Festival, as now that I'm home I've just ordered a ticket for self-confessed Brucie groupie Sarfraz Manzoor's show 'The Boss Rules'.

Good luck to those in Manchester if the rain we drove through on the way home is on its way to you tonight. We arrived home to a Glasgow thunderstorm in which lightening hit a tree outside our son's school and we had water "racing in the streets" so maybe Glasgow doesn't make the perfect venue after all.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Betting On The Muse by Charles Bukowski

Betting on the Muse: Poems and StoriesBetting on the Muse: Poems and Stories by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've read any Bukowski before you'll know the story of his life, lived out in all his writings, from drunken, gambling, addled, street fighter in and out of jail, in and out of bed with various women to drunken, addled, middle age where the eventual success of his writing bought him a less hand-to-mouth existence, but essentially his passions remained the same. This 400 page book of poetry and short stories was published post-humously but doesn't at all feel like is the leftovers being churned out to earn a buck. The poems, in free verse with a good ear for vocabulary and line length are loosely chronologically arranged ending on his musings on imminent death. I loved a couple grumbling about losing poems he'd almost completed on his computer "it's like reeling in/ a fish/ and then it/ escapes the hook/ just as you reach/ for it." You can picture him there with a beer beside him banging away at his Mac at 3am and cursing at it. Many of the poems are seemingly quickly written and I think should be read in the same manner as he was a prolific writer, as if you are in a conversation alongside him on a bar stool. Often you'll finish it and forget it, but a line or an image here and there will come back to you.

The short stories I liked, snapshots of the underbelly of his Los Angeles largely and tales from its racetracks and bars, and the stories and poems being jumbled up together works well. If you've read his novels the same semi-autobiographical character is here throughout. If you enjoy spending a bit of time in his company fine, if you don't, then don't bother with this.

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Diabetes Week

There are quite a lot of Something Days about these...eh, days. Various organisations jockeying for public attention, sympathy and/or money. This week (I kid you not) we have World Blood Donor Day, National Bug Busting Day (UK) and National Flip-Flop Day (UK). Also ongoing at present we have National Smile Month, Aromatherapy Awareness Week, Cervical Screening Awareness Week and Men's Health Week (to which end I am running the Glasgow Men's Health 10K this Sunday, whilst wearing flip flops, smiling, busting bugs with aromatherapy and giving blood - one of these facts may be true). 
Fighting for attention amongst all of this is Diabetes Week.The motto of Diabetes Week this year, organised by the charity Diabetes UK, is "to make a connection". I may have this wrong, but as well as trying to raise awareness of diabetes itself the motto is there to highlight one of the roles of Diabetes UK, offering advice, support, connections for diabetics. To that end they hope to raise £200,000 this week to support their Careline which provides practical information and emotional support to people with diabetes and their friends and families. There are also the connections between individuals, between diabetics, with healthcare staff, between friends, families, etc. Well, there you go, "make a connnection". Diabetes UK is an organisation that I have a lot of time for as they are active campaigners for the healthcare needs of diabetics and major funders and catalysts for diabetes research in the UK. So rather than wear jeans to work on Friday I plan to make my contribution by connecting (see what I did there) to the internet and trying to make sure that you are aware of the Diabetes week (and that you don't waste your time on Aromatherapy Awareness).

I've had Type 1 diabetes since I was a first year student at Uni, which was 24 years ago, when I was 17 years old. The first inkling I had that this would have knock-on effects for me was whilst I was in hospital being stabilised and received my provisional driving license in the post, which had to be sent back to DVLA with my new medical details. In those days blood glucose testing was a new-fangled thing for those capable enough, the rest did urine tests for sugar. You put the blood on the strip, timed it for a minute, then wiped the blood off the strip, then waited another minute (2 minutes if it was over 15mmol or something) and then checked if the colours were nearer the 7-10mmol range or the 10-13 colours. Then you got your syringe (plastic and disposable as we'd just got beyond sterilising glass syringes) and drew up your short-acting, then long-acting insulin from separate vials, then injected, as near as possible to 30 minutes before meals twice a day. All that drawing up from syringes really meant retreating to a cubicle in the toilet when eating out. Hypos (or low blood sugars) were a bit more vague than nowadays - try getting the blood right (you needed a good, big drop), the wiping and the timing right, and then the colour checking with a low sugar. Not always easy. Carbohydrate counting was done as "exchanges", then that went out of fashion, then it has come back in again and we are all counting and weighing food again.

Thinking back now it is amazing how many of the wee changes and improvements are taken for granted, and these all came about by engineers and scientists paid to do the research and the work. I was in a lecture theatre in Toronto (it is a long story) in the summer of 2002 when the early results of the DCCT study were announced proving the theory that better blood sugar control for diabetics leads to fewer long-term complications in Type 1 diabetics. Then the UKPDS study a few years later pushed this idea further forward for Type 2 diabetics. Big research undertakings, expensive and necessary work, which (do you see where I'm going with this?) costs money. Nowadays my blood glucose meter gives an accurate result in 5 seconds from a teeny-tiny smirr of blood, my insulin injection pen is slipped out and used easily in public (though I still prefer to make a big scene about it to try to start up a conversation about diabetes with any random stranger). Also I do love it when a bouncer at a gig or club decides that I can't take that pen thing in, that's always a good excuse to rant. The human analogue insulins don't have the troublesome side effects of the bovine and porcine insulins for many people and have more varied time profiles to help fine tune your control. Again, all the product of research. As a student Diabetes UK gave me sponsorship money as a diabetic studying "life sciences" and with their help I have had the chance to get involved in some of the ongoing research into various aspects of diabetes care and treatment. They have always been easy to get in touch with and a good source of information on anything vaguely diabetes related.
Diabetes UK's idea, not mine!
I recently started running after a few years of making excuses when it came to exercise. Initially this gave me a few new challenges regarding blood glucose control and insulin doses, but as Danny McGrain, Gary Mabbutt and Steve Redgrave seemed to manage with diabetes I thought I could do it. So after successfully managing a few 10km races last year I've applied to run the Great North Run half marathon this year and I'll be getting sponsored to raise money for Diabetes UK. Unfortunately they've sent through my kit. Not satisfied with just sending a running vest, they've sent an outfit. Thanks for that Diabetes UK. Anyway, they haven't manage to put me off so I'll still do it.

Online I've usually gone under the name "Paul4Jags", which seemed to work as a Partick Thistle supporter ("The Jags") who happens to do several insulin jags per day.

So anyone feeling like sponsoring me to run around the streets of Newcastle dressed like a smurf whose been electrocuted please click here, Paul4Jags Just Giving Page, and THANK YOU!

PS. I ran a personal best in a 10K with 42 min 39 sec in the Mens Health 10K race at the end of Diabetes Week. At the end when I was openly checking my glucose a fellow diabetic who noticed asked if he could check his sugar level as his machine wasn't working. Delighted to help and there are always unpredictable benefits of being open about  these things. I forgot to ask him his time. Doh!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Glasgow School of Art Degree Show 2012

If Monday is my day off work I like to avoid being at a loose end and doing any work related activity so try to run about and fill my day with any old tosh, so that's what I've done today, and there is still Euro 2012 games to come later - perfect.
River Kelvin, Glasgow
Collected along the riverside


The West End Festival is still on in this part of Glasgow so over the weekend we went for a burger, listened to some music and had a look around the stalls at the Friends of the River Kelvin Summer Gala. You know it is a "West End" festival when there are haloumi burgers on offer alongside the meat and my "Still Hate Thatcher" top got 4 or 5 "Hey, I like the t-shirt" comments. My favourite stall was the one by a guy who had been collecting rubbish that he'd found washed up along the banks of the river. I think initially he'd started off trying to help the efforts to clean up the riverside, but got a bit addicted to the junk collecting part of it. Anyway he has spent 8 years gathering a fine collection of clay pipes, golf balls, knife handles and apparently once came across a grenade.



Over the weekend the annual Glasgow School of Art Degree Show opened, and runs until June 16th. Other art school degree shows are available. The ongoing building work means that the Art School is scattered across various sites at present, so I got on my bike this Monday to try to take as much of it in as I could. I always enjoy seeing this when I get the chance, not really trying to spot the next Turner Prize winner, but more to wander around the buildings and say "You spent four years here and that's what you came up with?". To be honest the show this year seemed to have a bit more substance than it sometimes can, particularly some fine photography, sculpture, embroidered pieces and the Environmental Art pieces. John Lennon, Kurt Cobain - okay, maybe a bit less original. I liked the sculptures of feathers in Rosemary Shepley's stuff, and I knew that they were odd, but didn't realise that the new roadsigns that had appeared around Byres Road were actually the work of one of the students, Jo Gallagher, asking the question "but is it art?"
"Removed, reduced, repainted, replaced" - Jo Gallagher

Some plaster casts of fruit and a shower head
Hopped back on the bike, ignored the rain (although I did wish I'd brought gloves, bit nippy for June) and headed for The Glue Factory being used to house the Master of Fine Art works. Frustratingly too many of these involved video installations, which seemed to have a tendency to crash and display a 6 foot high computer error message (or was this what they'd spent their time producing?). Nosing around the disused industrial space here was as interesting as much of the work on display. Claire Moore's Russian themed paintings I liked, Erik Osberg's video was distracting enough as he chased himself about, but beyond that there wasn't much that grabbed me. The polythene wrapped works below reminded me of Karla Black's stuff which is still on show in GoMA just now.
Three pieces on display at the MFA show at the Glue Factory
Onwards to the Skypark building down on Finnieston Street where the Jewellery, Textiles, Interior Design and Product Design departments are displaying their wares. I'm afraid what I can remember most from here was the view out of the windows over to the Hydro Arena slowly taking shape beside the SECC. With a name like that it is going to look very silly when people find out that it is named after a sponsor and no swimming pool or flumes are planned.
Hydro Arena
My plan from there had been to get a wee vegan lunch and organic beer down at the excellent bar "The 78" but I was thwarted as they don't open until 12.30pm, so carrying on along Argyle Street I went into the Italian exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery, "The Essence of Beauty: 500 years of Italian Art". It is not my favourite type of painting, overly religious for my taste. Also the exhibition basically displays Glasgow's civic collection of Italian paintings, ceramics and sculpture arranged chronologically but instead of it all being free at Kelvingrove and the Burrell Museums, you are charged £5. Unless you really like this stuff, I wouldn't bother. Before I left I ran upstairs to have another look at Richard Wright's works on paper again, and whilst up there Alison Watt's painting,
 
Phantom, by Alison Watt

Phantom caught my eye as several of the students whose work I'd seen earlier today have obviously been influenced by her work, but her skill just glows out from the canvas.

As I was now getting hungry it was an excuse to revisit A Play, A Pie and A Pint who are starting their season of "Sol Classic Cuts", classic plays adapted to the 45 minute lunchtime format that works so well for producing new drama at Oran Mor. This week it was Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, adapted by Sandy Nelson. I liked the symmetry of this being on as my children had seen the modern version of Eliza Doolittle performing with the Olympic Torch in George Square on Saturday. I've never been a fan of musicals, so haven't ever made it all the way through 'My Fair Lady' and neither have I seen Shaw's play that is to blame for its existence so the plot was all new to me. The typical tweeks to the story worked well, playing it with the actors' Scottish accents, as Higgins gets Eliza to enunciate "the whale in Crail has a very large tail". The central themes of class division and social mobility are sadly as relevant today as they were 100 years ago when the play was written. Anyway, if you plan to go, get there early to chose your seat as today was as busy as I've seen the place in a while.

At this point my plan had been to sit down to Ukraine vs Sweden, but as my son is in the school production of "The Wizard of Oz" this week, it seems that I DO get to watch a musical today. Oh, joy.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Andrew Bird vs Olympic Torch

After debating what to do on a Friday night in Glasgow I plumped for the Andrew Bird gig at the Old Fruitmarket. Momus appearing at the CCA also appealed to me, but I had seen Andrew Bird a few years ago at the short lived "Indian Summer" festival in Victoria Park and have been buying his music ever since, so was keen to see him performing from the excellent new album, Break It Yourself. There were plenty of other options too - the Olympic Torch evening party in George Square or even the first matches of Euro2012. I decided there'd be plenty of football to see over the next couple of weeks, and sent my children along to George Square with granny and grandad.

My son had got tickets for the Coca-Cola/ Panasonic/ Samsung/ Bank of Scotland Olympic Torch evening show in George Square. However I thought I'd take in Andrew Bird rather than Eliza Doolittle, Emili Sande, generalfiasco and "Bigg Taj" welcoming in that ancient symbol of the Olympic Games as the torch arrives in Glasgow on its way around the country. Luckily the Glasgow weather didn't manage to extinguish the flame and stayed dry. My 12 year old's summary of the George Square show - "the choice of food was pretty rubbish, Emili Sande's first two songs were rubbish but her next two were actually really good, the Provost was boring but it was great when the torch arrived and it was right beside us." They also brought home a fine collection of the sponsors tat. As the Olympic relay was devised in Nazi Germany for the 1936 Olympics and their torch made by the Krupp armaments company, I guess it is vaguely appropriate that the symbolism is now subservient to the corporate sponsors.

Topically enough the Olympic Flame is meant to symbolise the fire that Prometheus stole from the Greek gods to give to man. I had seen the film of that name the other night, and have to say that it felt like I sat through a 2 hour version of the trailer (which is infuriatingly full of terrible spoilers), the whole film a trailer for the next film of what is obviously planned as an ongoing franchise of a money-making machine. All the loose ends just cry out "Now come and see the prequel-sequel". Frustrating. It is best if viewed as a brand new sci-fi film, and just enjoyed as such as there are some good set pieces and Noomi Rapace is always watchable.

Famous whistling musicians

  1. Roger Whittaker
  2. Bryan Ferry in Jealous Guy
  3. Otis Redding in Dock of the Bay
  4. Andrew Bird
  5. ....eh, that's about it

Andrew Bird is a multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter-type who plays the violin beautifully, whilst singing, whistling and clapping along. Although one woman in the audience had brought her knitting along with her it wasn't all beard-strokers and was a pretty mixed crowd. His opening instrumental piece showed his virtuoso violin playing, and unique style. Whilst plucking and playing he can make it sound like a ukulele, a balalaika or bouzouki and Celtic or Cajun by turns. His trademark rotating gramophone speakers give a thrummimg background to some pieces whilst distracting me by narrowly avoiding smacking the head of a toy monkey each spin. Bird himself looks like David Tennant and Jeremey Hardy's missing sibling and his modest and quiet style means that songs often quietly fade away. Most of the set was from his current album but some old pieces are played with gumption such as "Effigy" and "Tables & Chairs". He tackled the fact he put his self-confessed "noisiest" song "Eyeoneye" in the middle, rather than at the end by following it up with a quirky rendition of Kermit the frog's "It Ain't Easy Being Green". His best section was when he played some "old style" stuff and Handsome Family songs around one microphone with fellow band members accompanying on acoustic guitar. This was well received, Glasgow audiences revealing their barely concealed affection for bluegrass and C&W music, and as a result he played again like this for one encore, which brought the audience to their feet and they demanded a further encore. The band deserve a mention too, excellent guitar and bass playing and a drummer appropriately looking like a Southern gas-pump attendant who should be spitting tobacco into his scraggy beard.


As everyone else at home had seen the Olympic Torch by now (my three children in George Square last night, and my wife when she was stuck in traffic coming home last night as the road was closed for it passing by her) I felt obliged to get up early this Saturday morning as it was again passing 100 yards from my front door. It is easy to be cynical in these days with so much corporate hustling of these events but I've always liked the Olympics and am looking forward to it this summer. I've got my tickets for the Mens football at Hampden and think Japan vs Spain will be a decent spectacle as Spain usually take it seriously and my kids will have their Japan strips on and flags out. I was strategically positioned at the car park above Waitrose at the top of Byres Road as I'd been warned that if you await the torch roadside it does rather whizz past you.
That was a good tip from my neighbour who'd stood on Byres Road last night to watch it on its first pass and I was able to take in the sponsors cavalcade before the torch arrived, and the torchbearer changeover took place just below me. Whilst she was waiting for it to arrive it was nice to see the next runner so clearly excited, as spectators took turns to get their photo taken with her and her torch.

Torchbearer handover on Byres Road
and onward with the Olympic Torch

There are more of my snaps of this momentous occasion here :- My Flickr feed

Monday, 4 June 2012

Recycle your local church

A couple of weeks ago I managed to get to see another Play, a Pie and a Pint performance at Oran Mor, a fine example of a church, formerly Kelvinside Parish Church, which has been turned to another use. So successful has this arrangement been that only this week David MacLennan won the inaugural Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS). Although I'd like to, I think I'll be struggling to see this week's  Play, a Pie and a Pint offering, a new play by Peter MacDougall.

Another nearby church is also up and running again as a theatre space after recent renovations. It was about 8 years ago that I saw campaigning comedian Mark Thomas in Cottiers Theatre, getting quite merry and excited about performing there because he liked the idea of taking over church buildings for new (non-religious) uses. The Four Acres Trust people who bought Downahill Church in 1984 and started the process of converting it into an arts venue, whilst preserving the decor within the church of Daniel Cottier, do seem to be quite earnest in their efforts to save it for art's sake. With the annual jamboree that is the West End Festival in full swing again this month they have for the second year put on the perfect season of performances for the performance space, with The Chamber Project, daily performances of a varied programme of chamber music. I looked it up to check, but chamber music is music written for a small group of instruments, such as could fit in small room, private salon or palace chamber. Last year I saw a couple of the performances that they put on, Daniel's Beard, sort of Cottier's house chamber ensemble were the ones that stick in my memory, mainly as the musicians seemed very relaxed, chatty and engaging.

Just pop it in the freezer, et voila! A jubilee

Today I hadn't planned a bit of classical music after my tea, but enjoying a few days off work because of the Queen's jamboree (that's what it's called, right?) I've been doing Bank Holiday type things. Yesterday I took the kids an overlong run on their bikes to Clydebank, today they wanted to see Men In Black 3, which was pretty much as you would expect it to be, good fun but you'll not be rushing off to buy the DVD to re-watch it. On getting home we checked out what we could see in the West End Festival, and as the Cottiers Chamber Project offers free entry for under 16s we plumped for that.

Solway Trio in Cottiers

Today's offering was four pieces performed by the Solway Trio on flute, viola and harp. That combination of instruments conjured up something folky to my mind, but apparently Debussy first thought of putting them together. All I know of Debussy really is a line in a Pet Shop Boys song so this'd be something new. The first piece was by Richard Rodney Bennett, which was pleasant enough and quite cinematic. The next was by Toru Takemitsu, inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson and was calm and quiet, and to be honest a wee bit dull. The biggest disappointment for me was the piece by Sally Beamish, Between Earth and Sea as in my unknowing head a harp, flute and viola (or fiddle) playing something which is based on a Gaelic song I thought would be a bit upbeat and heedrum hodrum, but the title should have given me the clue that it is based on a Gaelic keen, or mourning song, so again a subdued, quiet piece. Finally Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola and harp, which in Debussy's own words is "melancholy". This piece was head and shoulders above the others, rhythmic, pacey, the melody ebbing and flowing from the flute to the viola, which I liked very much. This was the least melancholic piece of the evening and a good way to end.

Now. Next I need to decide what to do in Glasgow this Friday. Andrew Bird at the Fruitmarket, Momus at CCA, watch an olympic torch arrive or the opening games of Euro 2012? Oh, or Kes is on at the Grosvenor, be nice to see that on the big screen.