Thursday, 20 April 2017

Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon and Lloyd Cole's Classic Songbook

Review - A Nostalgic Week of Pop Music in Oran Mor Glasgow

Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon - Oran Mor, 14th April 2017

Lloyd Cole's Classic Songbook (1983 - 1996) - Oran Mor, 11th April 2017

A co-incidental collision of nostalgic pop acts were on show in Oran Mor, Glasgow this week giving completely contrasting performances. As part of a tour promoting a new box set collection (Lloyd Cole in New York, Collected Recordings 1988 - 1996) Lloyd Cole pitched up for three nights in Glasgow. Coming back to the town he first arrived in as a student, and where he formed Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, his only nostalgia for the place was gratitude that the University Cafe still exists. A seated audience and an acoustic set, first hour alone, second hour accompanied by his son on a second acoustic guitar, it was never going to be a riotous affair. At the end of a six month tour, where the box set only materialised in the final weeks, there was a certain weariness about his usual hangdog demeanour. With almost 30 songs in the show, there were always going to be moments when only the superfans were singing along, but his songs were always lyrically interesting and his singing as clear as I remember from my days listening to Rattlesnakes. Only once did he forewarn us that his voice wasn't going to reach its former heights.

With the hits spread out through the evening we got Rattlesnakes and Jennifer She Said in early and later got onto Cut Me Down, Perfect Skin, Brand New Friend and Lost Weekend. The studenty literary references in the songs and tales of one night stands in the songs maybe don't fit so comfortably a man in his 50s singing with backing from his son, but the big songs have stood the test of time. They are his songs, and I would have enjoyed seeing if re-visiting them now brought him back to the younger man that wrote them, what was he thinking/ doing/ dreaming? But there was none of that, the songs were slipped on like a comfortable coat, then discarded onto the floor when finished with a brief "thank you" to the polite applause. His musical inspirations leaked into the guitar outros of some songs with brief chords from Bruce Springsteen, Prince and The Beatles thrown in there somewhere. With aspirations to be a mid-Atlantic Leonard Cohen I like the Americana in many of Lloyd Cole's songs, even if it feels artificial. None of the songs touched me in any emotionally way, but there were plenty to hum along to and tap my feet (clapping along was banned). A droll evening rather than one filled with clownish whimsy.

Clownish whimsy was the tone Charlotte Church and her Late Night Pop Dungeon were aiming at from the off. The venue was packed with a very mixed crowd as she came on stage, like her band, all spangley hot pants, wigs, glitter and foil. Keyboards, drums, guitar, bass and five backing singers made for a cramped stage as she battered through a 90 minute medley of songs. If there was any musical theme it was "anything goes". A song you sort of recognised would suddenly morph into something totally different. A song would start as a disco hit and end as Radiohead's Paranoid Android. Nelly's song Hot In Here, ended as Talking Head's Burning Down The House. We went everywhere, from soul and funk to rock music and Fleetwood Mac. Edwin Starr's "War" had a lively crowd pogoing away. Only nearer the end when she went for more mainstream songs could the crowd manage to start singing along, desperate to join in by that point, then she changed direction again with a melodious rendition of John Williams's theme from ET. Charlotte Church certainly has catholic tastes when it comes to pop music.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Protect and Survive

War. What is it good for?

This is the front page of the UK newspaper The Daily Mirror today. "We're On The Brink Of Nuclear War" cry the headlines, yet only two weeks ago the UN held a week of nuclear ban treaty negotiations. The UK government boycotted the negotiations.

In the 1980s nuclear war felt like a real possibility. People were aware that with a huge arsenal of weapons was held on British soil, much of it 30 miles up the road from my home in Glasgow. No walk in the Scottish Highlands was complete without a couple of low flying RAF jets buzzing past you and when I used to camp in Glen Douglas, near Inverbeg, with my school friends we were aware that there were underground silos at the western end of the glen, never moreso than when a couple of soldiers woke us one night to ask why we were camping here. Scotland was going to be on the front line of any nuclear conflict. Realistically this would mean millions of civilian deaths across the globe and the destruction of our environment.

So people organised against it, let our leaders know that we knew this to be wrong. I spent many a weekend in my teenage years up at Faslane near Helesburgh or over at Holy Loch near Dunoon joining CND protests. Aged 14 I was an organiser in Glasgow West Youth CND, and went as a delegate from CND to the World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow in 1985. There I attended speeches by the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who in the coming years stepped back from the arms race that had been running up until that time and signed several disarmament deals with his US counterpart, Ronald Reagan.

The world breathed a sigh of relief, but the threat never went away. As the nuclear powers around the world, including the UK, refused to completely disarm other countries were keen to develop nuclear weapons themselves. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have joined the UK, Russia, USA, China and France in building up nuclear arsenals. The result is now that more leaders around the world than ever before hold a priaptic finger over the nuclear button. And when those leaders include the delicate egos that are Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un I think nobody is surprised that the Doomsday Clock is now closer to midnight than it has been at any time since the early 1980s. If you have read Eric Schlosser's book Command and Control you will know that good fortune rather than cool heads is the only thing which has avoided nuclear catastrophe over the past 50 years, and the more weapons there are on standby, the risk of an accident increases day by day.

So to reduce the feeling of impending nuclear annihilation I have been getting prepared and flicking through the re-assuring pages of my copy of "Protect and Survive", the British government's pamphlet from 1980 full of handy tips on what to do in event of a nuclear strike. I now feel quite justified in refusing to ever throw anything out. In case you don't still own a copy and the government don't get the chance to quickly re-print it when the big one goes off, I have dashed off copies of the one I have, for your education. I hope that this makes everyone feel much safer.

Alternatively you may want to support those campaigning for nuclear disarmament by either joining, or donating money to Scottish CND or CND UK by following the links. In Scotland the Scottish Green Party and The Scottish National Party support unilateral disarmament for Scotland. I know I would feel much more safe if we did not have a target painted over Glasgow, and imagine what a lead we could take in the world at this time by getting rid of these weapons of mass destruction from our country.

Protect and Survive

Click on images below to expand. Disclaimer - I have no evidence that painting your windows white and hiding under a table will protect your family from a nuclear payload detonated over your city, but good luck with that. For more information you may wish to watch the Raymond Briggs animation "When The Wind Blows".

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Counterflows 2017 - Festival review.

Counterflows Festival. Glasgow. April 2017

Over several years now Counterflows has established itself as a regular event on a crowded calendar of music and performance in Glasgow. Showcasing experimental, marginal and DIY music from all around the world the number of performances this year which were sold out in advance shows that there is a healthy audience for this music in the city. In part that is due to the efforts of curators Alasdair Campbell and Fielding Hope and the many other people involved in organising the weekend, whose obvious enthusiasm for what they are doing holds the whole thing together. 

This year, for their sixth edition, the music was as varied and eclectic as the venues used to host the events. Over four days we visited Glasgow University Chapel, The Centre for Contemporary Arts, The Glad Cafe,  Garnethill Multicultural Community Centre, Glasgow School of Art, Langside Halls and Queens Park Bowling Club. That's before we even get to a performance at the Laurieston Arches, just across from where my great-grandparents lived in the Gorbals. Going between places of learning, community halls and contemporary art spaces is a good metaphor for the success of the festival, where performers are always part of the audience. Sociable, entertaining and always an education.

Day 1 - Thursday 6th April 2017

University of Glasgow chapel
The opening concert of the festival this year was in the old chapel of Glasgow University. The high space here was filled with birdsong as the five performers of Pancrace Project started their performance. Using everything from the church organ, to Uillian pipes, "piano paysage" (the belly of a piano) and Hurgy toys (which looked like hurdy gurdys) the spectacle was as integral as the sound created. It was nice to hear the organ given a good work out, as sometimes I have attended contemporary music concerts involving a church organ, where the aim seems to be to get as little sound out of it as possible when really what everyone wants to hear is Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. 

Pancrace Project
Their performance may have benefited from some trimming, but in part this was my impatience to get to the second performer of the night, Japanese composer and percussionist Midori Takada. She held us spell-bound from the moment she entered the hall, proceeding up the chancel of the chapel accompanied by her chimes as she stalked through a passage of cymbals. Whether giving an extended solo on the gong, playing marimba or on the drums her performance was hypnotic and utterly captivating. With echoes of the music of Steve Reich often in my mind, her performance itself was really like nothing I had seen before. Unique.

Day 2 Friday 7th April

Carnatic music is a form of Indian classical music from Southern India. Usually accompanied by the drone of a tambura the music goes back hundreds of years and is associated with Hindu worship. Last year the festival ended with the Carnatic Music Ensemble and this year there is a deeper exploration of this form of music. This included traditional musicians working alone and with contemporary artists to produce new music. Mark Fell's electronic piece at the CCA based on the rhythms of Carnatic music was enjoyable but the best parts of the performance were when the Indian musicians were playing their own combination of improvised and composed music, accompanied by the rhythmic drumming of Mysore Vadirajmore on his mridangam.

A Carnatic Paradigm
A short walk round to Garnethill followed, always nice to come back here for the cheap bar prices, where Sue Tompkins was first on the stage which faces the wall of Chinese dragon heads high on the wall opposite.

Garnethill Multicultural Community Centre
A visual and sound artist she merges borders between concrete poetry, visual and performance arts. Flicking through the pages of a magazine she emits phrases and snatches of song in a rhythmic manner whilst bouncing about on stage. The nearest thing to it I have seen is Dutch performance artist Jaap Blonk. I enjoyed seeing him perform whilst my kids nervously snorted in derision and that was the kind of mixed reactions the audience gave Sue Tompkins.

American musician and composer Ashley Paul is the featured artist of this year's festival and her first performance of the weekend was phenomenally good. Accompanied by Stevie Jones and an ensemble of musicians of percussion, keyboard, double bass, tuba, saxophone and clarinet it felt improvised but looked tightly composed. A remarkably impressive collective effort. Her floaty singing and energetic musicianship on saxophone and electric guitar was engrossing and reminded me of Julia Holter's performances but with more jazz, more texture and energy. I look forwards to seeing more performances by her over the coming days.

Ashley Paul Ensemble

Day 3 Saturday 8th April

There were many events over and above those which I am writing about here, late into the evenings and on Saturday afternoon, but sadly I was not able to see everything. As I was working at Firhill on Saturday I was not able to see Takahiro Kawaguchi and Utah Kawasaki or attend several of the talks and films on show that afternoon. However as compensation I did get to see Partick Thistle reach the top six of the Scottish Premiership for the first time in a few decades so, swings and roundabouts.

Glasgow Art School
I was able to get to Glasgow School of Art to see the "anti-performance" by Farmers Manual, an electronic and visual arts group from Vienna. This is very much my cup of tea, three guys messing around on laptops and a room filled with pings, buzzes and drones. How much is live and how much is just pre-loaded in their laptops is very much up for debate, like any club DJ nowadays, either labouring away mixing or alternatively twiddling the screen brightness control on his laptop whilst the music plays on.

Glorias Navales performing
Away from the Art School and back to the faded comfort of the Garnethill Community Centre for a quite different performance. Glorias Navales gave a beautifully unpolished performance, a group of Chilean musicians that had the whole room tapping their feet along to the tunes. Their name suggesting the Chilean anniversary of a glorious naval victories, with imagery projected behind them of Chilean ships, Chinese Socialist Realism and Pinochet's coup recalled Chile's turbulent history. With one of the musicians sporting a t-shirt with Victor Jara's face across the front, a folk singer tortured and killed by the Chilean junta, I was taken back to my childhood. My parents had friends who, as Communists, had been forced to flee Chile after the coup and had come to live in Glasgow. I had totally forgotten that I have held onto the small Chilean flag I had been given by them, but I've dug it out now after speaking to one of the musicians about his hero, Victor Jara. My parents used to often play an album of Jara's songs by a group called Inti-Illimani, who lived in exile in Germany as they were touring Europe at the time of the coup, when their music became banned. A warm and intriguing performance by Glorias Navales.

Les Filles de Illighadad
Moving across the globe the next stop-off was Niger. Les Filles de Illighadad are from the Alabak region where they sing and play their Tuareg music. Starting with the melancholic sounding voices of Fatou Seidi Ghalia and Alamnou Akrouni accompanied by tende drum and the wonder that is a gourd water drum, weaving complicated rhythms. For the the second half they donned electric guitars for a more familiar, dreamy Tuareg sound, the music being shaken up by being performed by scarf wearing women, smiling, laughing and enjoying their performance.

Day 4 Sunday 9th April

In Langside Hall in the late afternoon Svitlana Nianio from Ukraine was performing. Svitlana Nianio and her band played twinkly synths accompanied by the percussive sounds of an electric guitar, constrained at times by having a polythene bag weaved under the strings. Above this Svitlana's haunting vocals rose, making each song sound like a dark, cautionary nursery rhyme. Not many smiles were cracked on stage, their music-making a very serious business. Or maybe that was because she had to play in the chill of an April afternoon in Glasgow, in a council hall where the heating system wasn't working.

Mark Vernon in Queens Park Bowling Club
Up and over Queens Park to the next venue, Queens Park Bowling Club. I accidentally indulged in some orienteering as I headed in error to the council bowling greens in the park, before I found my way to the venue. Glasgow's Mark Vernon opened with a perfectly incongruous deck of cables, laptop and cassette players beneath the names of decades of bowling champions. His mixing of field recordings and found sounds from old tapes bought in a Portuguese market was delightful start to the evening.

Ashley Paul was back on stage, this time with German based electronic artist Rashad Becker. From Ashley Paul's squealing sax and bowed and bashed electric guitar, to Rashad's thrumming, dystonic sounds it was an energetic and woozy sonic sparring session.

Langside Hall
Hoping that some heating had been located, we returned to Langside Halls to be sent home warm by the uplifting music of Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force. A collaboration between German dub-techno musician Mark Ernestus and a group of Senegalese musicians, they had the hall bouncing from the start. No band this weekend made a more chic entrance on stage, as the musicians came on one at a time, many wearing big shades in the dark hall. Once all six musicians (four of them on percussion) were on stage, singer Mbene Diatta Seck and dancer Fatou Wore Mboup took centre stage and got everyone dancing. Their acrobatic dancer on stage and dancing into the audience was a real crowd-pleaser.

Another exhausting and entertaining four day weekend from the Counterflows organisers Yet again they managed to bring enthralling and disparate musicians from all corners of the globe to Scotland. They seem to be growing the audience, with bigger halls used and many gigs sold out. If you haven't attended any of the shows over recent years, I would heartily recommend looking out for the 2018 version.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Bluebeard's Castle / The 8th Door. Scottish Opera

Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle and The 8th Door by Lliam Paterson.

Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal Glasgow. March 2017. Review

From Scottish Opera website, click here for more info
Scottish Opera combine Bartok's one act opera, Bluebeard's Castle with a new piece composed by Lliam Paterson, The 8th Door. Both are produced by Glasgow theatre company Vanishing Point, who were behind National Theatre of Scotland's The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler among many other shows. 

The version of Bluebeard's Castle which I know is from a children's book of "Villains In Myth and Legend" that I used to read regularly. It told the story of Bluebeard's new wife who was forbidden from looking behind a locked door in the castle. When she could not resist she found the floor covered in blood and in a corner the bodies of Bluebeard's previous wives. Bartok's version has the newly wed couple arrive at the castle of the title. Judith asks for all the seven locked doors to be flung open to let in light. Bluebeard refuses; some things should be kept private. If she wants the secrets from the past uncovered, she will need to accept the consequences.

The 8th Door is what we are presented with first, a newly produced piece from Lliam Paterson and Matthew Lenton. The six singers are in the orchestra pit, with two actors on stage, seated with their backs to the audience facing cameras which project their faces onto a large screen (Robert Jack and Gresa Pallaska). The pair on stage act out the rise and fall of a relationship, whilst the words of Hungarian poets, in English translations from Edwin Morgan, then as things progress, more often in the original Hungarian. The actors do very well to hold our attention with their everyday misunderstandings and lack of closeness, but there isn't much meat to it. The singing and music follows their mood through harmony and more dystonic turns. It's dramatic and tense, but I would have liked to concentrate on the poetry, or the singing...or the music, or the acting. My focus flitted from one to the other.

As an average, modern couple failing to connect, beyond the Hungarian verse and some musical nods to Bartok, their connection to the mass murderer and polygamist of the second half was maybe a bit loose. Bluebeard's Castle had been rendered as a mundane apartment for bass-baritone Robert Haywood and mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill to wander into. The seven locked and barred doors that Judith demands opened are oddly all metaphorical, and they reveal on stage for each one is done with varying degrees of success. The first door, which reveals a torture chamber, rather dully turns out to be Windows as Bluebeard's laptop screen glows red. Has he been watching snuff videos? The words and music are so incredibly tense and dramatic that the setting and scenery was rather disappointing at times. The lack of castle and lack of doors could have worked fine with more bravado, but felt oddly flat. The orchestra played beautifully, at times the brass coming from up in the theatre boxes, bringing a lot of tension to the story and the singing was perfect, particularly that of Karen Cargill.

Tense and intriguing, just not as grisly as I was expecting from my days reading the story of Bluebeard as a 9 year old. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Beat and The Selecter. ABC Glasgow, March 2017

The Beat and The Selecter . Co-headline tour 2017. 

ABC, Glasgow. 31.March 2017. Live review. 

The Selecter, fronted by the stylish Pauline Black I last saw play a couple of years ago in Oran Mor and The Beat with Ranking Roger, were in Glasgow 3 years ago at the ABC 2. Tonight playing a joint headline tour they have managed to sell out the bigger hall at the ABC on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street for a night of nostalgic 2-Tone ska. Originally a 6 date tour it has now grown arms and legs, including a return to Glasgow in November 2017, after the first dates sold out so quickly. I was surprised to see how easily they filled this place, the crowd ranging from 50 year old overweight men with shaved heads, to girls night out crowds and hipsters adorned with ginger beards and pork pie hats. 2-Tone was always a broad church.

First on stage for us in Glasgow on Friday night were The Beat. The indefatigable Ranking Roger runs the show, but accompanied on stage in recent years by his son, Ranking Junior (or Matthew Murphy). Ranking Junior's rapid MC rhyming style appeared on the Ordinary Boys song "Boys Will Be Boys" (1 min 50 secs in on this video) and he gives some of the Beat songs a bit of a shake up with this. But only a wee shake up, as there are so many tunes you want to hear entirely as they should be. It is also so refreshing to hear songs with a bit of a political bite to them, such a big part of the 2-Tone scene. When did music start living in this apolitical bubble that makes songs like "Stand Down Margaret" sound alien? The Beat are still writing new songs and fitted a couple seamlessly into the set without dropping the energy levels. There is no sign they are coming to a Ranking Full Stop (see what I did there?)
The Selecter, Glasgow March 2017
Each night they will swap over who plays first and second. Playing first The Beat had to step aside when it looked like they could happily carry on. The Selecter swept on stage next, with rude girl Pauline Black and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson looking as stylish as ever. They have a fantastic back catalogue of songs and this is a bigger band playing with them than I have seen for a while. Despite that a couple of my favourite Hammond organ and guitar riffs from the recordings were a bit subdued tonight, and the two sax players could have done with their volume being up a bit. That aside they had the hall bouncing when blasting out Three Minute Hero, Missing Words and On My Radio. Again politics is never far below the surface with The Selecter, was references to police shootings and Brexit thrown in amongst the dance tunes. 

The night came to an end with a nostalgic nod to the finale of the 2-Tone tour, with members of The Beat joining The Selecter on stage for a rendition of Prince Buster's Madness

Friday, 31 March 2017

BBC 6 Music Festival - Friday Night, Barrowlands, Glasgow

BBC 6 Music Festival. Barrowlands, Glasgow. March 24th 2017

Sleaford Mods, Warpaint, Ride, The Jesus and Mary Chain. Live review. 

The BBC 6 Music Festival is not a festival that many people have got marked out on their calendar to look out for. Like Radio 1's Big Weekend it gets bands publicity and provides the BBC with hours of material to screen across their digital services. If it lands in your town you get the chance to join in the fun. Moving from city to city each year it also provides publicity for a local music scene and gives you the chance to see a pile of bands in a single evening. Living in Glasgow you always feel that you are in a city with a varied and vibrant music scene, so it gives you a satisfied feeling to hear a week of interviews on the radio telling you that you were right. However, like any other arts scene, without support Glasgow musicians cannot thrive and in an age where it is increasingly impossible to earn a living from recorded music, Glasgow city needs to remember to nurture its live music venues and performers.

BBC Radio 6 Music Festival 2017, Glasgow

Like most people I was unable to get tickets for Depeche Mode at the Barrowlands, so I settled for the Barrowlands on a Friday night instead. First up were Nottingham's own Sleaford Mods. First time I saw them in Glasgow was in the attic space at The Old Hairdresser's, supported by Hector Bizerk they were by far the more hectoring act that night. Spitting out his angry complaints against the world to a room of a dozen people in was very entertaining but hard to see that there would be any mileage in it. A few years on and despite being first on stage tonight at 5.30pm on a Friday night, an almost full hall of people had made the effort to get down early to catch them. Jason Williamson still shouts and spits his wry, abrasive lyrics over minimalist looping beats in the style of a cheap Casio organ from Andrew Fearn. Continuing to plough their own furrow, they are now promoting their seventh album, English Tapas to bigger and bigger audiences. Good luck to them, still entertaining, still humorous and still angry.
Sleaford Mods at BBC Radio 6 Music Festival
A hard act to follow, Warpaint were a bit of a wet blanket after such a lively opener. The Los Angeles four piece play a spangly, floaty indie rock, which never quite manages to rock, despite the best efforts of spirited drummer Stella Mozgawa. Whenever a band spends their whole set telling the sound tech people to adjust the sound of that mic or this guitar up and down, endlessly, you know they are trying to avoid taking responsibility for sounding a bit flat. Also they adopted the demeanour of four people determinedly trying not to enjoy themselves. Maybe playing their own concerts they kick back a bit more and relax, but I can't really remember any of their songs which all washed over me. 
Ride on the other hand blew me away. I remember their t-shirts more than I remember their music from the shoegazing end of the 1990s. They kicked off with two songs from their soon to be released new album, Weather Diaries before going through a back catalogue of songs that transported me to Level 8 at Strathclyde Uni. "Leave Them All Behind" was a stand out performance, heading in Mogwai's post-rock direction. Could easily have had more of Ride, whose music had so much more to it heard live. 
Ride at Glasgow Barrowlands
Another blast from the past that this Glasgow audience of mainly 40-50 year olds had come to see was a re-union of The Jesus and Mary Chain. East Kilbride brothers Jim and William Reid were fighting on stage with each other when Liam and Noel Gallagher were still in primary school. After several years apart they have managed to get together to record a new album, Damage and Joy and were on stage here for an hour without coming to blows. Their set covered everything from Psychocandy to new material, all delivered in a suitably disdainful manner. Not exactly setting the heather alight, but definitely enough to give you a warm glow, like a hamburger from the Barrowlands food counter. Satisfying.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A Play, A Pie and A Pint. - Jocky Wilson Said.

Jocky Wilson Said. Oran Mor, Glasgow. March 2017

Jocky Wilson Said by Jane Livingstone and Jonathon Cairney. Theatre review.

When Dexy's Midnight Runners appeared on Top of the Pops in 1982 playing their version of the Van Morrison song "Jackie Wilson Said" instead of a picture of soul legend Jackie Wilson, behind them on stage was a large picture of Fife's own world darts champion, Jocky Wilson. This is often cited as a famous television mistake, but the truth is more mundane and it was actually done on purpose as a joke, with Jocky Wilson a very well-kent face at the time. Now he is maybe more well known for that incident than for his darts playing. 

He looked an unlikely sporting champion, which was a big reason that people warmed to him. Short, overweight, toothless, and smoking and drinking between throws, he had the appearance of the archetypal bloke from the pub darts team who goes on to be champion of the world. He did that twice, in 1982 and 1989, in the days before there were two rival darts championships.

Jocky Wilson
This week's play at Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint series, twists the Dexy's song title to present a monologue with Grant O'Rourke as Jocky Wilson. It is based on an episode in his life in the days before he was world champion and finds him stranded in the Nevada desert, 180 mile (get it?) from a competition in Las Vegas he should be at. Trying to hitch a lift he chats to "Spike", a roadside cactus and brings out fascinating stories from his early life that were all new to me. With a glass half full attitude he looks back to his early days in an orphanage with his brother, his previous work including days in the Seafield Colliery and his time spent in Kirkcaldy's Lister Bar, where he first took up darts. His arguments with darts officials, temporary ban for punching one of them, and the grief his Argentinian wife Malvina got at the time of the Falklands War also add to his colourful past which I knew nothing about. 

Grant O'Rourke, who acts in TV series Outlander, makes a good Jocky Wilson, and also does decent impersonations of other characters, including a haughty Eric Bristow. Some of the best lines are direct lifts from Jocky Wilson's autobiography, such as
"I can manage just about anything with my gums. I can chew a steak provided it's well done. I can even eat apples. Great Yarmouth rock and nuts are the only things that defeat me"
The play gives you a rounded picture of Scotland's first ever darts world champion, without the later downward arc his life took. A man fondly remembered by many, and in his home town also with a wee display in his honour in Kirkcaldy Galleries

Monday, 20 March 2017

American post-Trump Comedy? Glasgow International Comedy Festival

Glasgow International Comedy Festival Review

Greg Proops, Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow. March 15 2017
Rich Hall, Garage, Glasgow. March 18 2017.

Glasgow International Comedy Festival rumbles along again. There is never any feeling of a "festival" going on with venues and acts scattered across the city, there is no hub or buzz about it. The Aye Write book festival is on at the same time, but centred at the Mitchell Library, when you are there you feel there is something happening. Despite that the comedy festival brings an impressive line up of acts each year, if you can stumble upon them. With the incomprehensible mess that is American President Trump, I decided to seek out a couple of American comedians to see if they could find humour in their situation. 

Greg Proops came to the attention of British audiences as a regular guest on the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway? My kids know him as their least liked character in the whole Star Wars saga, Fode, a two-headed Troig ("I don't care what universe you're from, that's gotta hurt.") He now regularly records a popular podcast, which he recorded on the second of his two nights at Cottiers Theatre. His show was a game of two halves. The first half he appeared rather deflated, rattled off a few jokes about his previous times in Scotland. From brutal haircuts, mocking our tablet and Irn Bru, and the idea of having a whisky and cola, to the pointlessness of a Ferris wheel in George Square. But his concentration wandered; some stories were forgotten and punchlines were told back to front. The second half he came out with more energy, either because he started by ranting about the America's moronic president, or because he had a vodka and ice at hand. His exuberant faith in the abilities of Hillary Clinton, may have raised a few sceptical eyebrows, but it was women in general who he felt should be running the world. I'm not sure that out-of-towners get that saying Nicola Sturgeon seems to be doing a good job will cause most audiences to immediately split down the middle.

Rich Hall made a similar comment vaguely supportive of Nicola Sturgeon's competency, and similarly got as many boos as cheers. I think it is a topic that requires a more nuanced approach to carry the whole audience with you. He gave us an hour of gags and stories, before coming back on stage with his band to give us a musical second half. His tales of his previous dealings in Scotland seemed a bit warmer and a bit more up to date, his anger at Donald Trump and his electorate a bit more visceral and a bit less despondent. As he said, the problem doing comedy about Trump is that three days later, his actions in the real world will be madder than any comedic invention. For his musical entertainment he battered out a series of songs about audience members he had been dealing with in the first half, quickly rattling off rhymes with their jobs and even a cheery ditty about Larkhall. He clearly has spent far too much time in small towns around Scotland as he managed to work Glenrothes, Hawick and Eccclefechan into his songs. His world-weary face brightened up when people requested a rendition of his Border Collie Song that he had created whilst filming a BBC4 documentary on country music, that had been on TV the night before (still available on BBC iPlayer until end of April).

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Bombs Over Glasgow On The Night Of The Clydebank Blitz

I recently read a book about Scottish war artists. Although there wasn't a picture of it, the book mentioned a painting called "Bomb Crater, Knightswood" by Ian Fleming, painted after the Clydebank blitz. I spent my teenage years in Knightswood in Glasgow and although I knew that huge parts of Clydebank had been flattened during the war, I really had no idea which areas of Glasgow had been bombed. So I decided to have a look about for any remaining signs of war damage.

Clydebank Blitz

Over two nights on the 13th and 14th of March 1941, Clydebank suffered intense attack from the Luftwaffe as they tried to destroy shipbuilding and industrial targets in the town. Afterwards only seven of the 12,000 houses in the town were left undamaged, with 4,000 completely destroyed and a similar number severely damaged. Remarkably the industrial sites survived relatively unscathed and were soon able to return to full production. However the number of people made homeless who had to move away and the civilian casualties caused long-lasting hardship to the residents of the town. On those two nights numerous targets in nearby Glasgow were also bombed, with a greater loss of life but spread across a wider area. According to official figures (which some feel may be an underestimate) the two nights of bombing led to the deaths of 528 people in Clydebank and a further 650 in Glasgow.

The main targets in Clydebank were the Singer Sewing Machine factory, which had switched to munitions production during the war, John Brown's Shipyard and Beardmore's engine works. My great-uncle Andy worked in John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank. Travelling daily from his home in the Gorbals, he was 14 years old when he started working in the yards as a "bilge boy" on the construction of HMS Hood. This work involved holding a candle, and going down with a bucket to the lowest parts of the ship to collect dropped rivets and tools. Work in the shipyards paid much better than many other industries and he was paid 30 shillings for this. At the time of the Russian revolution he remembered tossing his bunnet into the air when he and other workers celebrated the news from Moscow (he remembered it because he lost his bunnet that day). On the day of the armistice in 1918 everyone was sent home from the shipyard at 11am, except the gatekeepers. Oblivious to all of this, as he was working deep in the lowest parts of the ships, he emerged later to find the shipyard like a ghost town, and had to walk home to the Gorbals, as there were no buses then running. He later became an engineer and for two years during the depression of the 1930s was entirely unable to find any work. As war approached, shipbuilding picked up again and he was back to work in John Brown's. He was still working when I joined a march through Glasgow, in my pram, to support him and his co-workers in the UCS work-in in the early 1970s, and he retired when the work-in ended in victory.

He was working nightshift in John Brown's Shipyard on the night of the blitz, spending most of the time in underground shelters. He found it difficult to comprehend the total devastation he witnessed walking home towards Glasgow through the rubble that first morning after the bombing. I was only a child when he told me these stories, but the memories of the Clydebank blitz never left him.

Records of bombs landing on Jellicoe Street north of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Dalmuir  opposite the engine works
The highest density of bombing on those nights was over Clydebank. The map above shows the bombs that landed around Jellicoe Street in Clydebank. One family in this street suffered particularly when 14 members of the Rocks family, at number 78, died in the bombing.

Just before 9pm on the 13th of March the first German aircraft were spotted coming up the Clyde. The first wave usually dropped incendiary bombs to start fires and guide subsequent planes carrying bombs with move explosive power. Early in the first night of bombing in Clydebank the incendiary bombs ignited the timber store at Singers factory and Yoker distillery began burning furiously. By the next morning it was as if the whole town was on fire. My wife's grandad was a coalminer in Fife and he remembers looking west from Lochgelly that evening and knowing something awful was happening, as he could see the horizon glowing.

Photograph taken from Great Western Road/ The Boulevard on the night of 13th March 1941 with Clydebank ablaze. The Singer tower can be seen in the centre of the picture

Glasgow during the Clydebank Blitz - 13th March 1941

An Anderson shelter on display at the People's Palace, Glasgow. In wartime it would have been covered in earth.
Glasgow had always been identified as vulnerable to German attack, and with its high concentration of heavy industry was expected to be a target. Anderson shelters could be built in gardens in leafy Knightswood and Mosspark (and many were still standing as garden sheds when I was a kid), but the densely populated, tightly packed tenements in the city meant that bombs landing here could cause many casualties. Communal shelters were built in some streets and back courts. Other tenements had to make do with "strutted close-mouths", wooden beams put up to try to make a safe area from potential collapse of the building above. This was in the days before closes had doors, leaving residents huddling together through the night, exposed to the elements in event of an air raid (a concern that was raised in Parliament at the time).

Ian Fleming. Shelters in a tenement lane, Glasgow
As well as the shipyards of Clydebank, other targets that the Germans had identified were the oil depot at Old Kilpatrick, the many shipyards in Glasgow, industries in Parkhead and Springburn, Port Dundas power station and, as you can see in the German reconnaissance photograph below, Dawsholm gas works, and rubber and chemical factories along the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal. It was realised that a bomb damaging the canal could cause extensive flooding and several emergency "Stop Locks" were built. These could be closed to reduce this risk in the event of damage to the canal. The remnants of one of these can still be seen at the Stockingfield Junction, above Lochburn Road.

Emergency Stop Lock on the Forth and Clyde Canal
German Luftwaffe reconnaissance photograph over Wyndford and Maryhill, with potential bombing targets highlighted
Reports of incendiary devices landing on Clydebank started to arrive around 9pm on the 13th of March 1941. Bombs were soon reported falling on Drumchapel and High Knightswood just north of Great Western Road. This has often led to the suggestion that many German pilots were mistaking the long, wide Great Western Road, glinting in the moonlight, for the River Clyde or the Forth and Clyde Canal, and were dropping their bombs on these residential areas in error, missing the industrial targets to the south.

Shortly after the first bombs fell on Clydebank a "parachute landmine" exploded in the playground at Bankhead School in Knightswood. The school was used as an ARP station, home to the Auxilliary Fire Service and a first aid post. Parachute mines were designed to explode upon landing, spreading the force of their blast wider than bombs that buried themselves in the ground and they caused much of the damage across Glasgow that night. Thirty nine people were killed by this explosion at Bankhead School, including two "boy messengers". Bankhead Primary School was re-opened after the war. When her family were moved to Drumchapel from the Gorbals in the late 1950s, my mum spent her primary 6 and primary 7 years at Bankhead Primary.

Bankhead School before the war
Wartime painting by Ian Fleming. "Bomb Crater, Knightswood" with the typical housing of this area visible in the background
Memorial in Bankhead Primary School to those who died there that night
The German airmen recorded anti-aircraft fire started at 9.35pm. Anti-aircraft guns were located up and down the Clyde coast, in Glasgow at Kings Park and Carmunnock on the southside, at Station Road in Bearsden and out near Khyber Pass in what is now Mugdock Park. You can still see the structures where these guns stood in Mugdock Park, and look down towards the Clyde. My granny spent her army years during the war working in an anti-aircraft gun unit at Portishead near Bristol and told me what her days there were like. As well as concentrating on targeting the enemy aircraft, the gunners were themselves a target. When she wasn't on duty, my granny can recall sleeping in the nearby Nissen hut with dirt and shrapnel, thrown up by German bombs, peppering the roof through the night.

Anti-aircraft gun emplacement above Glasgow in Mugdock Park
Anti-aircraft gun operation room in Mugdock Par,k which received information and passed targeting details to the gunners. Officers and women from the ATS (like my granny) worked in these bunkers, as women were not allowed to actually fire the guns
One of four gun emplacement, surrounded by ammunition stores, above the River Clyde in Mugdock Park
By 11pm extra fire engines were being called in to Clydebank to deal with the fires now blazing there from Kirkintilloch, Motherwell, Helensburgh and Coatbridge. Before midnight in Glasgow, bombs had also landed in Govan and at the junction of Radnor Street and Argyle Street. The St Enoch Free Church building that stood at the gushet where Old Dumbarton Road and Argyle Street meet later had to be pulled down due to the bomb damage. For many years this became the site of a BP garage stood there, before recently giving way to a block of student flats.

Former site of the St Enoch's United Free Church, at the corner of Old Dumbarton Road and Argyle Street in Glasgow
Two mines had landed in Kelvingrove Park. One of them landed on Kelvin Way near the bridge over the River Kelvin, damaging the statues there (a plaque records the subsequent repairs) and also blew out windows at Glasgow University and Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The statues at the northern end of the bridge were damaged, allegorical sculptures which represent Peace and War, Philosophy and Inspiration. The exploding landmine blew these sculptures into the River Kelvin where they lay until 1949. It wasn't until a hot spell in 1995 made the river levels in the Kelvin fall very low that a passerby spotted a missing arm from one of the sculptures, that had lay in the water for over 50 years. This newspaper report confirms that satisfied with the earlier 1951 repair, the city council did not plan to re-attach the original arm.
Statues on Kelvin Way which were damaged by a German bomb. These figures represent "Peace" and "War"
Statues on Kelvin Way which were damaged by a German bomb. These figures represent "Philosophy" and "Inspiration". Many windows in Glasgow University, visible in the distance here, were smashed by the explosion
Plaque marking the repair to these statues in 1951
At 11.30pm a landmine and five bombs landed in Partick on Sandy Road, Hayburn Street, Dumbarton Road and on Peel Street, where the most extensive damage occurred. On Peel Street the tenements on the western side of the street opposite the West of Scotland Cricket Club were destroyed. When the buildings collapsed here 50 people lost their lives and survivors were being pulled from the rubble for days. In several other spots nearby modern flats standing amongst the old tenements show where bomb damaged buildings had to be pulled down.

Few old tenements still stand down the west side of Peel Street, most were destroyed by bombs in 1941
Just before midnight a parachute mine lands on offices at Yarrow's shipyard in Yoker, collapsing an underground shelter below. 200 men are trapped inside and 67 of them die. Many tenements in the neighbouring streets of Scotstoun and Yoker were also being hit around this time. A mine landed on shelters between Earl Street and Dumbarton Roan, killing 66 people. In Hyndland a bomb landed at Queensborough Gardens and mines fell on Dudley Drive, Airlie Street and Turnberry Road. On Dudley Drive numbers 8, 10 and 12 collapsed and across the road numbers 7 and 9 later had to be demolished. 36 people died here and 21 were injured. You can see the difference where the gaps on Dudley Drive were filled after the war with red sandstone tenements. 

8-12 Dudley Drive, 36 people died when a landmine landed on the tenement here, rebuilt in the 1950s
7 and 9 Dudley Drive, demolished due to bomb damage and later re-built
On the southside of Glasgow bombs and mines landed in Chapel Lane in the Gorbals, the Co-op warehouse on Morrison Street and nearby on McLure and McIntosh's knitwear factory on Florence Street (known after its owners, as the "Twomax").

On Govan Road, where a petrol station now sits in a gap site near to the Clyde Tunnel roundabout, three tenements were destroyed by a parachute bomb aimed at Stephens Linthouse shipyard across the road. 69 people died in this attack.

Petrol station on Govan Road at site of bombing which destroyed three tenements
Bomb disposal officers successfully defuse an unexploded land mine which fell on Glasgow
The destructive power that these parachute mines had was made clear when one landed between a tram and the tenements on Nelson Street, at the junction with Centre Street in Tradeston. 110 people died from this blast (pictured below) including three French sailors on the other side of the Clyde, on the Broomielaw. Eleven of those that died were on the tram from which twenty people were rescued, remarkable given the damage that occurred here which you can see in the picture below. Many more people were injured in the collapsed buildings surrounding this, or trapped in underground shelters. This was the worst loss of life in any single incident during a bombing raid on Scotland during the war.

A parachute mine lands between a tram and the adjacent tenements on Nelson Street, Glasgow
Junction of Centre Street and Nelson Street today. The destruction started by the Luftwaffe in 1941 was completed by Glasgow City town planners in the 1960s with this formerly bustling area being a jumble of run down warehouses to this day 
A parachute mine lands on Queen Margaret Road at the junction with Queen Margaret Drive and Wilton Street. The BBC building across the River Kelvin was thought to be the intended target. If you look at the red sandstone tenements here, just west of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's "Sixty Steps", you can see that the mine caused the complete destruction of the last block in the road, which was rebuilt in the 1950s. Damage from the mine can be seen still on the nearby bridge over the Kelvin. A second mine which fell on 84 Kelvin Drive, at Clouston Street (at that time The Aberholme Hotel), crashed through the roof with its parachute still attached, but did not explode.

Tenements on Queen Margaret Road, the original tenement in the foreground and the later replacement in the distance of the tenement destroyed by German bombing
Queen Margaret Bridge shows signs of damage from the landmine which destroyed the tenement building across the road
Shortly after the bombing stopped in Clydebank, the last bomb of the night fell on Glenburn Street in Maryhill at 5.35am. Those buildings in Clydebank which had not collapsed with the intense bombing there during the night, all seemed to be on fire as day dawned. 

The Polish destroyer ORP Piorun (meaning Thunderbolt) was in John Brown's Shipyard for repairs on the night of the German bombing of the town. During the raid the commander of the ship, Eugeniusz Plawski, got his men to direct fire from the ships guns towards the German aircraft overhead. It is believed that this may have steered some planes away from dropping their bombs over the yards. For their bravery there is a memorial to the Polish crew of the ship in Clydebank's Solidarity Plaza. Eight weeks after that night during the Clydebank Blitz the ORP Piorun was among the ships hunting the Bismarck, and the first to spot her. Until support arrived, the captain had his ship charge at the Bismarck alone sending radio messages to make sure that she knew it was a Polish ship was attacking them.
Solidarity Plaza in Clydebank, dedicated to the sailors of O.R.P. Piorun, "defenders of Clydebank".

The Second Night - 14th March 1941

With rescues still ongoing among the rubble in Clydebank and Glasgow, when darkness fell the following night the air raid sirens sounded again. The first bomb of the night fell just before 9pm, again north of Great Western Road in Drumchapel destroying the post office. Soon afterwards bombs were falling again on Clydebank and in Drumchapel, near the train station. 

Ian Fleming . Blitz Maryhill, Kilmun Street
Just before midnight two mines fell on Maryhill. The first exploded in a field by Duncruin Street and the second on the tenements of Kilmun Street. Kilmun Street runs off Maryhill Road, just behind St Mary's Primary School. The collapse of the buildings here led to the deaths of 83 people. Rescuers coming to the area reported that Maryhill Road was increasingly covered in broken glass the nearer they got to the site. The local school was the designated first aid post in the area, but was also damaged by the blast, with many windows broken. Whilst rescues carried on through the night in the rubble, as seen in Ian Fleming's painting below, many survivors were gathered together down at the tram depot on Celtic Street.

Ian Fleming. Rescue Party, Kilmun Street 1942
Kilmun Street in Maryhill lies empty today
Street sign at Cumlodden Drive/ Kilmun Street junction
Elsewhere on the Clydeside that night ships were damaged by bombs falling on Dalmuir Basin, Princes Dock in Glasgow and at Denny's Shipyard in Dumbarton. A mine also exploded in the Clyde at the mouth of the River Cart, beaching a tug. The Old Kilpatrick oil tanks, which were still ablaze from the previous night's attack, were bombed again. Two mines landed on the Clydebridge Iron Works in Cambuslang, but didn't explode. Other bombs caused minor damage at Sheildhall Power Station and at Sheildhall Wharf and Stephen's Shipyard.

Firdon Crescent next to Drumchapel train station was hit, bombs landed in Knghtswood at the junction between Waldemar Road and Chaplet Avenue, on Alderman Road and on Lincoln Avenue at the junction with Archerhill Road (I lived in the high flats here for 10 years, oblivious to this fact). Six people were killed in Knightswood that night and six houses destroyed. Great Western Road was closed at Drumry when a bomb left a huge crater in the road here.

In Bridgeton a parachute mine destroyed a tenement on Allan Street. This started a fire at the nearby methylated spirit works and 600 people here lost their homes. Other planes appeared to be dumping their bombs before returning to Germany or had been completely disorientated in their targetting, as this night bombs also fell in Drymen, Blanefield, Fintry, Neilston and Barrhead. 27 bombs fell on Erskine Hospital, home to disabled veterans of the first World War, presumably intended for the nearby munitions works in Bishopton. Four bombs fell on the Isle of Bute in the hills behind Rothesay, and one "fell three miles west of Sannox Bay on the Isle of Arran".

At 6.15am the all clear was sounded in Clydebank, a town which over two days had been flattened.

Edward Ardizzone. Bombed Out (Glasgow) 1941
The civilian population of Glasgow and Clydebank were the ones that suffered during the German bombing attacks on the Clydeside. The shipyards and many other industries in the city suffered relatively little damage from bombing. Terror and demoralisation of civilian populations by bombing has been argued as part of the justification of such attacks as much as any military advantage gained, or shock and awe, to use the modern vernacular.

Walls marked by shrapnel at the former bath house in Clydebank

Other bombing raids

The first attack on Glasgow was in July 1940, and the last air-raid was in March 1943. The worst bombing was the nights which I have described above, but further major bombing raids occurred in Glasgow and Clydebank in April and May 1941. The raids in May again led to extensive bombing in Glasgow, but the main target was Greenock. Despite the shipyards and Beardmore diesel works there being the target, again it was the civilian population that bore the brunt of the attack. On the night of May 6th 1941 in Greenock 10,000 homes were damaged, 280 people killed and 1200 injured.

Rescuers among the rubble of a Glasgow tenement destroyed by German bombing
Another incidents of note in Glasgow during the war was the sinking of HMS Sussex, bombed whilst in Yorkhill Quay for repairs. In September 1940, a bomb struck her fuel tanks and the ship caught fire and was sunk, later to be salvaged and repaired. Also in 1940 Merkland Street subway station (now called Partick Station) was hit by a bomb and closed for several months. Apparently if you know where to look in the tunnel between Partick and Govan stations you can see the repairs that had to be carried out.

Deanston Drive in Shawlands was struck by bombs in an attack later in the war, putting pay to the mischievous rumour in Glasgow at the time that Hitler's mother must have come from Shawlands, as it always seemed to be missed during bombing raids. There is apparently shrapnel damage visible in some of the tenement walls near here.

Queens Park UP Church, Glasgow
Queens Park UP Church on Langside Avenue, one of the most impressive buildings designed by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in March 1943, and the ruins flattened.

In the Barrowlands area, a bomb destroyed the tenement at the junction of Kent Street and London Road where Rossi's Cafe once stood.

In the city centre bombs landed in September 1940, destroying buildings just north of the City Chambers on Martha Street and North Frederick Street. Also the two modern buildings at the end of Ingram Street at the junction with Queen Street were replacements for bomb damaged buildings, the one at the corner south of Ingram Street destroyed by a bomb, and the building across the road damaged by the same explosion.

Queen Street at Ingram Street
There are maps in the Mitchell Library which record many of the bombs which landed on Glasgow, but nobody has pulled this information all together for the city in an online map, the way people have done for Clydebank or London. The maps record bombs which landed between 1940 and 1943 in Dalmarnock, Shettleston, Bridgeton, Calton, Garngad, Hutcesontown, Tradeston and Plantation. Destroyed houses are noted on Boyd Street, Govanhill, Crow Road, Anniesland and either side of Victoria Park in Scotstoun on Eastcote Avenue and Lime Street.

Old houses on the left, new on the right, replacing bomb damaged houses on Crow Road
Further west on the map the areas coloured in as war damage become more extensive. From isolated detonations in Maryhill and Kelvindale, to more widespread damage in Knightswood, Drumchapel, Drumry, Garscadden and Yoker. In areas with sparser housing the casualties were fewer, but wherever a parachute mine landed on an area of more densely populated tenements, a single blast caused significant deaths. 

Map of Glasgow war damage, Mitchell Library

As contemporary newspaper reports were so heavily censored they do not contain a useful record of the hardships faced by cities targeted by bombers. Looking back at newspapers of the time they talk vaguely about "a Clydeside town" being bombed, or talking about heroic rescues from the rubble, avoiding any details which may have proved useful to the enemy. From the start it was clear that the attacks on 13th and 14th of March were being called a "blitz", as can be seen in this article below from the Daily Record, on March 27th 1941. The article here about the "Clyde Air Raid Distress Fund" mentions that a German bomb fragment was reported to have had the word "Dollan" on it (aimed at the prominent Lord Provost of the city, Patrick Dollan.) In response an RAF Sergeant advised the Record that he had carved "Let Glasgow Flourish" on a bomb he had since dropped on a German town. Tit-for-tat that continued through the war, and does rather omit the "by the preaching of the word" second half of St Mungo's quote that makes up the city motto.

Daily Record 27 March 1941 alludes to the bombing of Glasgow and Clydebank
As the number of people still living who were alive in Glasgow during World War Two becomes smaller each year, these events fade from living memory. It is therefore important to hear their stories in order to learn from the events of the past. 

Much of the info from this blog came from the following sources...