writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Deconstructing the Commander: or, the Isaac Brutal Way with a Cohen Cover

So I’ve been reading a bit about the latest Bob Dylan reissue juggernaut: previously-unreleased material from the vaults, covering Dylan’s astonishing mid-Sixties period when, in just fourteen months, he produced Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, three of his best (if not in fact his best, to many) albums, all in between touring, baiting journalists, and upsetting a lot of folkies. And they say amphetamine’s all bad. (It is, kids. Seriously. Drugs are bad. You shouldn’t do drugs).

For a mere $600, you can get one of a limited run of 5000 of the Collector’s  (they had the taste not to call it the Obsessive’s) Edition featuring 379 tracks across 18 CDs, which Uncut points out actually takes longer to listen to than Dylan spent recording the whole of Bringing It All Back Home.

Mid-range Dylan nut? Ask your long-suffering girlfriend for the £105, 6CD, Deluxe Edition, containing only 122 tracks, with lots of outtakes, ‘hilarious studio chat,’ and the like, for Christmas. It might be your last Christmas together.

Or, finally, you can shell fourteen quid for 2 CDs, The Best of the Cutting Edge.

Or, even more finally, I’ve got a better idea: spend the money on new bands, and tune in to Ralph’s Radio Show on Monday nights, as, on our recent trip to that esteemed source of fine music to promote the Cohen gig, I noted that he’d got The Best Of… so I’m trusting Ralph to sift through the 36 tracks to come up with any hitherto undiscovered Holy Grails of His Bobness.

Of course, I understand why Dylan fans (of whom I still consider myself a fellow traveller) might want to do it. Maybe not so much for the 20 takes of Like A Rolling Stone, when they eventually settled on Take 4: but when there’s the chance that there might be an undiscovered treasure like ‘Blind Willie McTell,’ you could put up with a lot of one-verse jams and polka-style takes of ‘Queen Jane Approximately.’ I just made that last one up, by the way, but thinking about it, it sounds pretty good.

(‘Blind Willie McTell,’ for the uninitiated, is one of Dylan’s finest moments, recorded in 1984 for the otherwise undistinguished Infidels and left off it inexplicably: a single take of Dylan on piano and Mark Knopfler on 12-string acoustic, utterly beautiful in its simplicity, and only released after the old curmudgeon got fed up of it being bootlegged relentlessly by fans who recognised its true worth.)

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about different versions of songs a lot recently, as we rehearse for A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen, tomorrow night (Friday). I’m performing with the acoustic, provisional wing of Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express: me and Mr Brutal himself on guitar, Graham on mandolin, and Graham’s lad Calum on cajon.

When I first mooted our participation in the gig to Mark, he agreed, after a slight pause, but made it clear that I was leading on this one. I came to the realisation that this included not just singing lead, but choosing the songs – something I was semi-qualified to do, at best, given my ownership of only two Cohen albums. However, there had always been a couple of songs on those that I had mentally marked down as possible covers, in the (as I then thought) unlikely event I’d be doing Leonard Cohen covers any time soon. Then I got in tow with avowed Cohen-ite Norman Lamont, and the idea of the gig began to take shape (we did toy with a Bobster, Lenny and Paul Simon night, but decided something called Cohen Zimmerman Simon might be misinterpreted, and anyway, it sounded too much like a firm of New York attorneys for comfort).

To me, cover versions fall roughly into three categories. Firstly, the tribute band version, where the whole idea is to reproduce the original as faithfully as possible, often in exchange for largish amounts of cash in provincial halls up and down the country: not a genre to be sneered at completely, given the difficulty of pulling off that facsimile sound.

Secondly, there’s what I might call the faithful-as-possible version, where the cover sticks to the ethos of the original, but instead of having the Royal Philarmonic, a Welsh male voice choir and Sly and Robbie for a rhythm section, your man has a battered acoustic guitar and a mate who plays spoons to reproduce it.

Lastly, there’s the cover version that sets off in a new direction altogether, again sometimes for reasons of necessity.

Isaac Brutal’s contribution on Friday will probably be somewhere between two and three on that spectrum. Both songs, ‘Amen,’ and ‘Going Home,’ feature on Cohen’s second from latest album, Old Ideas. Both of them, it’s fair to say, appealed to me more for their clever, mordant wordplay than the music, as so much of Lenny’s work does: I mean, who can resist a lyric like ‘Tell me again when the angels are singing/and the laws of Remorse are restored’? Not me.

On the CD, though, the two songs lope along gently, some sort of electric piano providing the main backing to ‘Going Home,’ and a plonking banjo in the case of ‘Amen.’ Even if it were my way, it’s not the Isaac Brutal way to lope along, so it was clear something had to be done.

I arrived at our first rehearsal with fairly firm ideas of how to give ‘Amen’ a bit of pep. Underneath the plonking, the basic chord structure of the song had a Spanish feel – stuck into A minor, the verse resolved with an E – and, with the addition of extra guitar, mandolin and cajon, it began to take shape quite quickly. Once the basic rhthym was established, it was a case of deciding how many ‘amens’ we put in where, and in what manner. For some odd reason the four amen version Lenny uses didn’t work for me, but three did. Except where it’s six… you’ll get the gist tomorrow night if you’re coming.

‘Going Home’ was more problematic. For starters, it had obviously been composed on keyboard, so the chords looked, to say the least, unpromising for a guitar-based version (I used to faithfully listen to the record and work out the chords for myself, but I’ve got lazy over the last few years and relied on the internet, with its variable versions in terms of playability: A/C, anyone?)

Secondly, Leonard, consummate poet that he is, had thrown in two verses of different lengths, and counterintuitive chord changes. Our first rehearsal session spend a long time plodding through that, trying to make it sound something like acceptable. The pace was deadly though. Eventually, I struck up the opening chords at a jaunty angle, Calum came in right on top of it on the cajon, and it started to work for us. Still tricksy, though.

I’ll not lie: I’m slightly more keyed up about this gig than usual. It’s a long time since I fronted a band in this way, and singing and playing at the same time isn’t as easy as all these singy-and-playey types make it look. It’s the first time the four of us have played together as a unit. However, we’re going to give it a hell of a go. Even without the Divine Webb sisters. Or a Welsh male voice choir, for that matter.

With Mark and Graham backing me, who needs them?












Anything below this is advertising wibble from WordPress. Don’t let it discombobulate you.





Songwriters on Songwriting: Calum Carlyle

Next in our series on songwriters is another participant in A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen on 20th November, Calum Carlyle. Calum is from Orkney originally, but is now based in Edinburgh. At the bottom of the post, you can listen to Calum’s excellent take on Cohen’s ‘On That Day.’ In the meantime, here are his answers:

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

A bit of both and beyond! I usually write a lot of songs in one go, so
it helps me to stay creative if i try different methods, so a lot of
my songs I will write on different instruments, maybe start with a
bass line, or even a chord sequence on a melodica. If I am
collaborating with someone, they may have written lyrics already, so
that’s an exercise too, writing a song around an existing lyrical

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a
favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different
songs, do they produce different results?

Yeah, they produce different results. As I said, I will often start
with a different instrument than last time, it can be interesting
writing a song with just the words and melody, or another thing I
really enjoy is setting down a bass part first, and then building the
song up on top of that.

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching
something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the
song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to
you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

Jack London once said “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go
after it with a club”. Basically, if you don’t sit down and write a
song, you won’t get any songs written. And the more you do it, the
better you get at it, as well.

For the last few years I’ve been participating in the FAWM and 50/90
songwriting challenges, basically it’s a thriving online songwriting
community, collaborating and sharing their songs during specific
months of the year. The aim is to get a load of songs written in a set
time, and I’ve found it makes me very productive as a songwriter. I’ve
got a lot of good songs out of it that I probably wouldn’t have
written otherwise.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious
to most of your fans.

Hendrix? or Grand Funk, Mountain, The Doors, Grateful Dead… maybe
those last two are more obvious. I like a lot of music though. I’m not
sure myself how much I’m influenced by this or that artist though.

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice
in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn

I sometimes write songs with difficult to reach notes, just to make
sure I can still get those notes! Occasionally I write for someone
else, particularly if I know it will definitely be someone else
singing. To be honest though I think plenty of singers could sing my
stuff and it’d sound great, even if their voice was totally different.
I’d love to hear more people doing my songs actually. Darren
Thornberry once did a lovely version of one of my songs at the
Listening Room open mic, and it was an ear opener to hear someone else
play the song for a change!

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing
them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Pretty much they stay as they are, but yes I’ll revise them if it’s
warranted. One or two of them have gained an additional instrumental
section, or in one case the entire music (but not the lyrics) for the
middle eight changed. One time I forgot the final verse of a song and
had to write another one. I’ve never remembered the original third
verse, but I’m sure the new verse is actually better anyway.

Sometimes the songs just revise themselves gradually. It’s always
worth recording a song shortly after writing it (as well as during
writing) because if you’re still playing that song in later years,
you’ll be quite surprised at how it’s developed since you wrote it.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

There are plenty! Let’s say Captain Beefheart (complex songs!), George
Harrison (underrated, i’d say) and i’ll say Jimi Hendrix too. He was a
pioneer in using the studio as a part of the songwriting process.

Apart from hearing Calum live at the Cohen gig, you can listen to his excellent solo material (I especially enjoyed Our Scotland) but he’s also part of an interesting cross-genre collaboration, the Urban Folk Crowd.

For those of you visiting the site for the first time, Andrew Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and one seventh (or occasionally a bigger fraction) of Isaac Brutal, an acoustic(ish) configuration of which will be bringing their own take on Lenny’s songwriting genius on 20th November.











Below this line here be dragons. Or possibly adverts put there by WordPress

10 Reasons to see Wildflowers this Friday

  1. They’re playing Electric Circus, in Market Street, which is one of the best wee Edinburgh venues. It’s even right next Waverley, so if you’re from the boondocks like us you can catch a late one home.
  2. They’re supporting the Keston Cobblers Club, who sound interesting, as the name suggests – kind of nu-folk with a bit of electronics thrown in. But Wildflowers are worth the admission money (only ten of your English pounds) alone.
  3. Their new album, On the Inside is terrific. I meant to do a longer review, but in the interests of getting this preview done, there’s not a single weak track on it. Favourites for me at the moment include ‘Where the Flowers Don’t Grow,’ from the original EP, and the closer, ‘Skyscrapers,’ a stirring anthem I can imagine singing along to when they headline Glasto. And quite possibly before that too.
  4. Musically, they’re pretty much exactly how I want a band to sound. Specifically:
  5. Great songwriting – melodic, strong lyrics, telling a story. They reference Fleetwood Mac and the L.A. Canyons singer-songwriter community of the Seventies – y’know, where Venus Carmichael comes from?
  6. Lead singer Siddy Bennet’s vocals.
  7. Her sister Kit Bennet’s backing vocals, keyboards, accordion, and just about everything else.
  8. The guitarist guy’s understated but effective use of both acoustics and electrics – nothing flashy, but he knows how to play. Plus, I’m not, but if you’re that way inclined, he has a kind of Johnny Depp thing going on with the hat and beard.
  9. These guys should be far better known than they are. I saw them first supporting Tom Odell in Leeds, and they stole the show for me (although he was pretty good too – Daughter and Heiress’s choice, of course).
  10. I can’t go. I’ll be in Madrid, sipping a cold beer in the Plaza Mayor. So you have to.

On The Inside

Songwriters on Songwriting: Fiona J Thom

Not before time, I redress the gender balance, albeit slightly, in my series on songwriters, with Fiona J Thom. Fiona describes herself thusly:

Fiona J Thom is an Edinburgh based singer- songwriter. She has provided backing vocals and second guitar to local bands and fronted her own bands over a 15 year period. Song writing is her main strength and love and has earned her the respect of her peers. The kind of music – Original songs in a variety of styles tinged with folk, country, jazz, rock and some with a more syncopated Latin feel -always with attention to lyrical detail, wit and melody. Current band is called Ms Fi & the Lost Head Band.

In 2014 she added her talents to the theatre production 1933: Ein Nacht im Kabarett written and directed by Susanna Mulvihill with support from Tightlaced Theatre. For this piece she collaborated with Susanna and local singer, poet and actor Beverley Wright on the cabaret songs. Currently she is studying music at college with a view to improving her theory and guitar playing. [N.B. any time I’ve seen her live, her guitar playing looks pretty damn fine already I may say].

She adds: “I don’t follow any current trends in my songs but they are shaped by my life and times.”

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

A bit of both usually. It depends, often a bit of melody will come which suggests a mood and some lyrics. Once the idea is there the next bit is fine tuning the lyrics, adding verses. Occasionally I write lyrics first then come up with a tune.

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

Usually a guitar, whichever one is at hand. Sometimes I am nowhere near an instrument – in the car, walking, in bed and I just have to keep humming it till I can remember it. I sometimes sing into my phone. I often forget about these nascent tunes and stumble across them much later with no idea how they got there.

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

It is difficult to put a finger on it. There is definitely a zone and it can be frustrating if you are interrupted on the cusp of discovery or recognition. I think it is a bit like catching a wave for a surfer. I usually find there is an initial spark then crafting follows. I think many poets have said the same thing. Some songs are written in a matter of minutes, others take years to finally gel.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

I listen to a wide range of music I am sure it must reflect on what I do. I do like a bit of rock so maybe Queen. I grew up listening to their music. They were so good they put me off becoming a musician.

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I have written for a theatre/cabaret piece in what I hope approximates1930s style. It was great fun. I collaborated with Susanna Mulvihill and Beverley Wright. The cast seemed quite happy with the results. There was a parody torch song I was particularly pleased with but I could not include it in my set as it was specific to that production and sung from Hitler’s point of view…

I would like to write for other people again.

Mostly I just write whatever comes: some are easier than others for me to sing.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Words change here or there (usually just synonyms) depending on how they scan and what I remember. Some do get reworked, I can think of one I changed so it was less like the song that inspired it. I am open to suggestion; I don’t always follow it, but I am open.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Richard Thompson

Bob Dylan

Norman Lamont

There are loads of great songs out there.

Fiona can be found at her own site, and is appearing at A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen, on Friday 20th November 2015 at the Village, 16 South Fort Street, Leith.

For those of you who don’t know him, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and a much smaller fraction of Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express. An acoustic offshoot of the latter will also be tipping their hat to Leonard on 20th November.


Fiona Jane Thom








WordPress might start advertising below this point. Just so you know.

Looking for Leonard

So, as those of you who’ve already been bombed by my ultra-efficient (or not) publicity machine so far will know, I’m co-hosting a Leonard Cohen tribute night with the uber-talented Mr Norman Lamont, singer-songwriter of this parish (and NOTHING to do with Conservative economic policies in the 1980s – that’s the other one, that doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘Lamont’ the proper i.e. Scottish way).

Why Lenny? A previous post describes my long avoidance of his brilliance for the flimsiest of reasons, and my conversion at the hands of his utterly excellent 2012 album, ‘Old Ideas.’ Plus it means working with Norman, as well as a new venture for Isaac Brutal – an acoustic set! I’m really looking forward to working on the two songs we’ve gone for, both off ‘Old Ideas’ – ‘Going Home,’ and ‘Amen.’

Anyway, here’s the spiel:

Leonard Cohen, musician and sage, composer of ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘Suzanne’, ‘First We Take Manhattan’ and of course the ubiquitous ‘Hallelujah’, turned 80 in September.

Join us for a belated birthday celebration by Edinburgh’s singer-songwriter coven. The event is organised by songwriter Norman Lamont (following his two previous ‘Tip of the Hat’ events) and writer and musician Andrew C Ferguson, promoter of successful Dylan and Nick Cave events.

Expect a roster of some of the most talented local bands and songwriters, with their own take on Leonard’s mighty songbook, including Norman himself, Graeme Mearns, Ross Neilson and a host of others.

The gig is free but a collection will be taken for refugee charities and Scottish foodbanks.

A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen, Friday 20th November, The Village, 16 South Fort Street, EH6 4DN 7.30 – 11.00 p.m.








The stuff below here belongs to WordPress. And all property is theft, especially in the digital age…

You’ll Be Hearing From Me (Again)

So I have two bits of news. Firstly, my novel of lawyers behaving very badly indeed, which may or may not now be called Buddha Belly, is to be published by Thunderpoint. I received the preliminary edits back from Seonaid yesterday, none of which look too scary. I’m actually looking forward to nailing down the final version.

What’s it about? Property lawyer Simon English has been detailed to look after a client, Jimmy Ahmed, during a night on the town. All seems to have gone well until he wakes up hungover, with a blurred memory of the night before, and Jimmy dead, naked, and in the bath. With his toe stuck up the tap.

To solve the mystery of what happened that night, he has to work with Karen Clamp, a conspiracy theorist from a run-down Edinburgh scheme, who has her own reasons for solving the mystery; cope with his senior partner, aka The Rottweiler; decide which authorities you call, exactly, when your client’s dead with his toe stuck up the tap, and whether you can trust them when you arrive. It’s full of sex, swearing, and Sir Walter Scott references, and I reckon you’ll love it.

I had a foretaste of the kind of star author treatment I can expect (the book’s due out next year some time) last Thursday, when I went to the lovely Suzanne D’Corsay‘s launch of The Bonnie Road, from the same publisher, at Waterstone’s, St Andrews (hence the earlier post about driving home far too fast to the music of Foals, in case you hadn’t worked out the location.) Suzanne and her family, as well as Seonaid, made me feel very welcome: her book is an intriguing tale of witchcraft in late Seventies St Andrews, and I can’t wait to read it.

The second bit of news is, at least for me, just as exciting: meet the new keyboard/harmonica player for the legendary Isaac Brutal band! I’ve known Mark and Kenny, in particular, for a few years now, and collaborated with them on a few music and spoken word projects, but it feels like the next level altogether to be asked to join the band … incidentally, Tribute to Venus Carmichael fans, don’t worry – you’ll be hearing more from her too, soon I hope.

In many ways, it feels like full circle for me. I played in bands at university (not very successful ones, mind) and it was partly an accident of geography – not much in the way of a music scene in central Fife, I’m afraid – that cut me off from doing anything more ambitious than living room guitar for many years, and shoved me sideways towards writing. It was only through the spoken word scene that I began to reconnect with music again, first through the Venus Carmichael project with Kelly, and then other stuff with Mark, Kenny and others. I’m gutted to be missing their next gig by being in Spain – more details soon – but, in the meantime, have dialled in my first stab at a keyboard track for their forthcoming album. The rough mixes are sounding good…

Next up, news of a forthcoming Leonard Cohen tribute night, which will feature Isaac Brutal Acoustic.






Anything below this is probably a WordPress advert. Anything above this isn’t.

Big Gold Dream Screening In Fife

Originally posted on Manic Pop Thrills:


The film ‘Big Gold Dream’ which documents the Edinburgh post punk scene gets a showing in Fife next Wednesday (30th) at the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy.

Here’s the gist:

“In the late 1970’s, from a tenement flat in Edinburgh, Bob Last and Hilary Morrison operated their record label Fast Product. A predecessor to Rough Trade and Factory Records, Fast Product quickly became the hub for a group of ground-breakingly talented musicians. This documentary is the previously untold story of a post-punk/indie music scene that reverberated from Edinburgh, throughout the UK and beyond.”

Narrated by Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens, the documentary features contributions from the likes of Davy Henderson and Bob Last.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Grant McPhee.

Tickets are £6.50 (£5.50 concessions) from OnFife.

View original

Music to exceed the speed limit by: a review of Foals, What Went Down

The CD slips innocently into the player as you exit the historic old town. You’re in a good mood – let’s say you’ve had news on a creative project that’s washed your working day away – and after three or four plays, you know this album is what you’re looking for, driving home in the dark.

I buried my heart in a hole in the ground… the opening number, all high-impact guitars and slamming drums, kicks in as you twist the car out of the last roundabout in town, and you’re away, an open road for a couple of miles, building speed, the car and you forgetting yourselves together as the music swells around you, the first number fading down as you slow for the slew of houses and a closed paper mill, then the long stretch uphill, shifting up through the gears, away, free again

I see a fire out by the lake

I see the Reaper sit and wait…

You round a corner and stand on the brakes, because there’s a thing with flashing lights, some sort of agricultural vehicle, crawling ahead of you, but that’s ok, because again the music seems to soundtrack the moment, switching down to ‘Birch Tree,’ the third track, a quieter moment, taking you through the village, the trailer ahead punctuating the night with its yellow beacons, clear for a moment and you take it, dropping the car to second, and Yannis and the car engine roar together as you cane it past the tractor and its trailer, the oncoming headlights closing fast,  then coasting down into the county town

Give me something I haven’t seen

Give me the red light turning green

But there are no lights to turn against you now, just the usual way home, and the longer way with the long straight, and you take the straight, the final coda to track four punching in just as you hit the national speed limit sign, and so on, and so on, the music matching you and the road, mood for mood, moment for moment, Yannis singing, his bearded mouth close to your ear in a way that’s more than a little fresh for a first date, and you forgetting your middle age and your head full of business with the car to yourself and those glimpses of the open road until you find yourself, round about the time Yannis sings

You know that Voodoo that only you do

ain’t made for boys like me

kissing 90 on the accident-blackspot section of dual carriageway, and you change down again, brake sensibly, and observe all operative provisions of the Road Traffic (Scotland) Act like you usually do.

Just in case you think I’ve gone all Jeremy Clarkson on you, this isn’t just to say Foals’ latest album is great driving music. It is, but it’s much more than that: it’s music to listen to, alone on a beach under a dark bruise of sky, in the shade of a thundercloud, indeed, the waves and your footsteps in the sand bleeding in as the music thunders in your ears; or in the solitude of your teenage bedroom, just you and Yannis, away from the bullies and the constant demands; or in the thick of a sweat-flecked crowd, singing along like you’re part of a greater animal as the boys bring these rousing rock anthems home.

In other words, it’s music to live to.






Anything below here’s advertising wibble from WordPress. It’s up to you if you read it.


Richard Thompson – a strictly restricted view

Before I start, I feel it’s important to tell you what drugs I was on when I went to this gig:

4 pm: strong coffee in the agreeable Cafe Blush, Morningside

6.30 pm: pint of Deuchar’s in our even more agreeable Edinburgh local John Leslie, preparatory to popping up to the box office to grab our last minute, restricted view tickets for the gig;

7 – 8.30 pm: third of a bottle of Rioja (admittedly a joven which had barely been kissed by the oak barrel) in the highly recommended Verdo’s.

In other words, not nearly enough to see psychedelic goblins jumping from the guitar strings as Richard Thompson played: on the other hand, probably about the same if not more than most of the rest of the audience. Although there may have been a bit of Warfarin, some Digoxin, and maybe some beta blockers, going round. Without being unkind, it’s an unusual gig these days where I’m bringing the average age down, but I sure was on Saturday night.

I only mention this really because the Queen’s Hall is a funny old place for a rock gig. It’s small enough to be intimate: and yet, somehow, it still has the feel of a dowager aunt that doesn’t quite approve of all this loud stuff and would really rather get back to some chamber music with oh, I don’t know, that lovely Nicola Benedetti playing lead violin.

Of course, bear in mind that your blog had gone on a waiting list, more in hope than expectation, and had got a phone call just that afternoon with the offer of restricted view tickets. I had joked with the others that we would get a really great view of the bass player and nothing else: something which turned out to be uncannily prophetic had we stayed in our seats, as you could only see the right hand side of the stage, and that was assuredly not where Richard T was at any point, having tucked away in the left hand corner. The bass player had a fetching hat that was somewhere between a pork pie and a trilby, but hats aren’t everything, at least not for me.

If you find yourself in the same situation at the QH, the best solution is to get up and go and stand at the rail along on the far left hand side, from where we had a much better – if restricted – view of Richard’s beret, his guitar, and, when they weren’t moving in a total blur, his hands.

Back to the audience, though. It’s probably just as well that they were of the, well, more mature variety, and sat doucely in the stalls throughout the performance: the stage is pretty much at ground level, so wild outbreaks of dancing and rushing the stage to fawn over RT would be pretty difficult to police. And my mate Harky, who works there, and tipped us off about the gig (thanks, Harkster!) is only a wee lad. Even he would struggle to charm a houseful of teenage indie fans back to their seats.

And so to the gig. I’m afraid Richard Thompson is another of those names that I’d always heard of, without really listening to. This immediately puts this review at a disadvantage to one written by a deep-dyed aficionado who has lived, breathed, and indeed worn a similar beret to, your man for the last forty years or so. So don’t expect a detailed analysis of how he played, (as he did (1)) for example, ‘For Shame of Doing Wrong’ differently from when he and Linda were together, or how ‘Meet on the Ledge’ got a different treatment altogether from the Fairports. This won’t be that kind of review.

The advantage, if there is one, is that your blog was coming at the whole Richard Thompson shemozzle entirely fresh, with no preconceptions of what he’d be like, or whether, in fact, the Fairport Convention/Linda and him version of anything was better. I literally had no recollection of hearing a single RT song all the way through before Saturday night: I sometimes wonder just what, and who, I have been listening to through all these years, apart from far too much Dylan back in the day, as I’ve already confessed to.

All I could have told a visiting Martian about Richard Thompson (should said Martian have eschewed the usual opening banter of taking him/her to my leader – now there would be an interesting question) was that he had been something to do with Fairport Convention, he had had a wife called Linda but they had split up at some point I thought; they had kids who were also now musicians in their own right; and he wore quite a cool beret affair in pretty much every image I’d ever seen of him. And that he was somewhere between a cult figure and a Serious Rock God, and was rumoured to play guitar a bit.

A bit. Oh. My. Actual. Dog. Did I say he can play a bit? He nearly made a mere mortal want to give up playing guitar  then and there, except this was so good it almost wasn’t something called guitar playing. It was like a thing you did with a guitar that was above and beyond guitar playing, what another recent review called a ‘mad emotional algorithm’ pouring out of the Stratocaster (he stuck pretty much to the Strat, from my restricted view, guitar fans, although he switched to a Telecaster for the final number in the set proper, ‘If Love Whispers Your Name,’ of which more later). I’m pretty sure that, had I been on something stronger than aforementioned sensible modicums of artisan roast, IPA, and tempranillo/grenache blend, those psychedelic goblins would have been quite clearly in play.

As for the songs, perhaps because he comes from a folk, rather than blues, background, Thompson seems to avoid the trap of defaulting to variations on a 12-bar blues whenever stuck for a tune (step forward, Messrs Dylan, Clapton, Page, Hendrix, and pretty much every other member of the Serious Rock God pantheon, and on down to mere mortals – your blog stands guilty as charged). This had the disadvantage for the first time hearer of there being no standard musical tropes to hang on to, so the more straight-up rockers like ‘Patty Don’t You Put Me Down,’ in the first encore, stood out more than others.

First, though, there was a duet on ‘That’s Enough’ with his support band, the Rails, the band that features James Walbourne and Kami Thompson, his and Linda’s daughter. His duelling solo with Walbourne – no mean guitarist himself – showed why he’d won the Orville H Gibson award in 1991 for best acoustic guitar player.

After that, according to the setlist, he was mixing new material with older favourites. Backed by only the high visibility bass player and one of the sexiest (in every sense, I’m reliably informed) drummer ever, the resulting sound mix was outstanding. It was noteworthy, too that his guitar was enough, even unadorned by multiple effects (take note, indie guitarists who have pedals that make it sound like a Hawker Harrier Jump Jet taking off) – a bit of flanger, maybe, or chorus, thickening the sound a bit, but in general, just a clean cascade of brilliance that you just didn’t want to stop.

Onstage, Thompson was a genial, laconic presence, dealing gently with the random shouts from audience members (those beta blockers had started to kick in nicely, obviously). Highlights for this blog were ‘Sally B’ (which I had mondegreened into ‘Salad Brie’) ‘Broken Doll,’ ‘I’ll Never Give It Up,’ ‘Wall of Death,’ and, finishing the set, ‘If Love Whispers Your Name,’ probably the stand out for me. It has a beautiful, elegaic quality to it: all the elements of a great song were there, with the melody creating the mood for the lyrics – the story of a relationship’s end – and Thompson’s guitar work adding, elaborating, augmenting, and underlining the passion in his vocal.

After that – and a standing ovation from a gobsmacked audience – there was time for not one, but two encores. Again, note for younger bands: if your crowd is still clapping that loud, come out a second time. It makes them feel just that little bit special. And this was that little bit special.

Even without the psychedelic goblins.

(1) tip for reviewers: if you haven’t discovered already, is a fantastic resource, telling you what you listened to the other night at the gig. Indeed, the setlist listing for this gig even has links to all the songs – fantastic!

For Edinburgh RT fans: if you’re reading this before 19th September, and can stand mere mortal guitar playing, your blog is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael’s gig at the White Horse, Canongate, EH8 8AA on Saturday 19th at 8 pm. For more info, slide over to the sister site to this blog,

Here endeth my advert. Anything below this line is WordPress’s work.











Andrew C Ferguson’s Virtual Fringe: Leaving the Party Early

I had my bout of post-Fringe tristesse early this year, on Tuesday night. As has often been the case, it was exiting a show in the Jura Unbound series at the Book Festival, in the late evening, and walking along a deserted Melville Street to where I’d left the car, preparing for the 50 minute or so drive home.

It wasn’t that the performance – Illicit Ink’s show, featuring the excellent Halsted Bernard – had brought me down any. Nor was it the fact that, instead of being part of the performance (as I have been at Unbound before, both with the self-same Illicit Ink and Writers’ Bloc) I was an audience member. In fact, quite the opposite: it has been a pleasure this year to sit back and watch my friends perform the hell out of stuff, when all I had to do was sit and watch.

It was the sense I had of leaving the party early: it was a school night; I was driving back over for non Fringe-related matters the next night; those were the main two excuses. But to be honest, I’ve had the same emotion after performing at the Spiegelbar too. Part of it, I think, is just how lonely that west side of the New Town is at that time, even during the Festival: you go in less than five minutes from the creatively spinning carousel that is the Book Festival at night to a place of solitude and parked cars, gearing up for the long drive back to central Fife.

I think it’s the feeling that, no matter how long you stayed up and how many shows you went to – or were a part of – you would always still be leaving the party early. There have been exceptions, of course. Like the year I was staying at Gavin Inglis’s flat, your man being something of a night owl at the best of times. I never knew a breakfast of Eggs Benedict could actually literally bring you back from the dead, but I found that out the next morning. Or it could’ve been the triple strength Americano. But my money’s on the Hollandaise sauce.

Anyways, mustn’t grumble. This year, as regular readers will know, your blog has been doing up a flat in Blackford, and two shows at Summerhall have been followed by a pleasant stroll down the hill to bed, instead of picking up speed past the Cramond Brig (or Miller and Carter Steakhouse, as it now is) feeling like I’m going in the wrong direction.

Plus I have musical plans for the rest of the year, lots of them. First up is the Venus Carmichael gig on 19th September, which I’ll start promoting next week when all this Fringe hoo-ha dies down. I had come hotfoot from a rehearsal with Kelly for that, via South Queensferry (see below). But there’s more, much more, so stay tuned!

Photo0023 Photo0025







Anything below this must be advertising WordPress advertising. Do you really need it? Really?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers