writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Musical Advent Calendar Day 12: Foals – Late Night

I’ve rhapsodized about the Foals album this next track comes from, What Went Down, before. So I won’t again.

I was going to use the official video, but frankly it was quite strong meat for our younger readers – so instead, here’s a version that gives you Spanish subtitles too, as well as a different mix from the album: Quédate conmigo!


Instead of office Xmas cards this year, I’m donating money to the Red Cross Myanmar Appeal – you might want to do the same…















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Musical Advent Calendar Day 11: Jason Isbell – Cover Me Up

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Isbell with his wife and bandmate, Amanda Shires


As I progress through this near-month of musical moments, I suspect some of you must be thinking, has he got a plan? Some  grand, overarching concept which leads the listener from the start of the month through genres, styles and artistes towards a unifying theory of Great Music?

I know I am. Thinking that, I mean. Which I suspect means, I don’t have a plan as such. I mean, I did, a couple of days in, start a list of Stuff I Must Put In, but, frankly, I’m treating that now as guidance only. As soon as I think of one artist or song, it leads me on to another. It’s a kind of word association exercise with guitar riffs just as liable to inspire the next leap as words.

So, for example, the next artist to feature, Jason Isbell, could have been triggered musically by yesterday’s choice, the country punk band I’m in, Isaac Brutal. It could equally have come to mind because I saw Isbell with my bandleader Mark Allan, and former Brutalist and long-term collaborator Kenny Mackay, last year. He played Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms, and I suspect we were really lucky to see him, at the top of his game, in such a small venue.

Alternatively it may have been Youtube’s insatiable list of suggestions when I logged back on it leading me to this video and me thinking, yeah, we’ve got to have The Isbellator in! I’ve no idea  if he’s called the Isbellator by anyone. Even Amanda Shires. But there’s always a first time for everything.

Anyways, this track is one of my favourites of his. A simple riff, a fine lyric about shutting out the winter and staying with your significant other. Works for me.

If you’ve been following this musical journey so far, you know what comes next – the hard sell for the Red Cross Myanmar Appeal. Well, as hard sell as I get.


















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Musical Advent Calendar Day 10: Issac Brutal – Light in the Darkness

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Brutalism in full flow. Pic: Kenny Mackay

I have had so much fun with Mr Brutal and our bandmates this year. I don’t think Mark had any idea, twelve months ago, that he’d now have not one, but two albums to launch.

But he does – The Falcon has Landed, produced by his long-term sideman Graham Crawford, and Prostitutes, Junkies and Bums, produced by yours truly. Here’s the cover artwork:


I am absolutely delighted that some of my own songs have made it onto both albums, especially when our awesome lead singer, Emma, sings them instead of me! The track I’ve chosen, Light in the Darkness, whilst on the acoustic album with my production credit, also bears the mark of Graham’s skills in the studio, as half of it was recorded on his side of the Forth. I think probably my favourite of Mark’s songs, it’s one of the more reflective country moments of our country punk canon. The link takes you to the Bandcamp page:


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As ever at this point, I’m going to direct you to my favoured charity this year: the Red Cross Appeal for Myanmar. Just ask yourself: what would Isaac Brutal do?















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Musical Advent Calendar Day 9: King Creosote – Pauper’s Dough

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Today’s advent calendar door opens on a musician we might be going to see tonight – I had no idea, when I started this thing, that I’d be saying that quite so often this month!

King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, has a pretty cool idea when it comes to hometown gigs. Every night from 1st until 23rd December, he’s going to be playing at the East Neuk Hotel in Crail. If you’d gone on 1st December, you’d have got in for one of your English pounds. The gig on the 2nd would’ve cost two: by this Sunday, it’ll be a tenner. On the 23rd, it’ll be the full £23 – but, in fairness, by then it’ll be a full band set, whereas at the start of the run it was ‘just’ Kenny solo. Not quite sure how many musicians we’ll get 9 days in, but I’m sure it’ll be pretty damned fine whatever.

The whole concept is to do with the magical number 23 – it’s 23 years since Kenny assumed the nom de plume (or is that de guerre) King Creosote; an album from 2003 will feature strongly, etc, etc. All part of the mythology.

When I say might, by the way, that doesn’t express ambivalence on our part: it’s just the website doesn’t seem to be working. We’ll probably just make the 40 minute or so car journey along the East Neuk to see if there are tickets on the door. If not, there’s always the famous Anstruther Fish Bar.

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Crail Harbour

The track I’ve chosen, Pauper’s Dough, comes with a story. It’s part of the soundtrack to a BBC film made for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, From Scotland With Love. Comprised of archive footage of various Scottish scenes from bygone eras, King Creosote’s soundtrack captures what the Guardian, in its review, called at the time ‘clearly a labour of love … you can hear the emotion in the accordions, guitars, cellos and heartfelt lyrics.’

Of course, the Games wasn’t the only event that happened in Scotland in 2014. Interestingly, the song had originated as being a very personal one about a situation Kenny found himself in at the time, and the line about rising from the gutter you’re in was about his own self-transformation.

With passions rising in the approach to September’s vote on independence that year, Kenny very sensibly steered clear of overtly political lyrics in the rewrite (the BBC probably wouldn’t have used them, apart from anything else). All the same, I defy anyone who calls themselves Scottish not to feel some sort of stirring when you listen to the rising swell of strings, drums and voices in the chorus, and that’s very definitely no matter which way you voted.

If you’re not Scottish, of course, you can only use your imagination, but you know what I mean. And we can all identify, I think, with the quote from an interview with Kenny from the time, featured in this Youtube video: ‘imagine us now, with someone in 100 years looking back, on us sitting here, and trying to work out what was all going on…’ Now, as much as in 2014.




Yep it’s that pesky charity thing again – if you want, here’s a link to the Red Cross Appeal for the refugees from the Myanmar crisis. These guys could use some help.
















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Musical Advent Calendar Day 8: Leonard Cohen – Tower of Song

Appropriate as it is to follow yesterday’s artist, Norman Lamont, with Leonard Cohen (I’m still hopeful Norman will organise another Tip of the Hat to Leonard night) I’m not going to put up ‘Hallelujah.’ Apart from anything else, you’ll probably hear one version or another in the next few weeks as a ‘Christmas’ song.

To lay bare the sheer size of my musical ignorance, the first time I heard ‘Tower of Song’ it was a cover by Tom Jones, I thought it was a Dylan track I hadn’t heard! I know. However, since then, I have seen the Light of Leonard, and if not a dedicated Cohen-ite, I am at least an occasional worshipper.

I’m sure Leonard is smiling wryly to himself up in that Tower of Song.


If you’ve visited before this week, you’ll know what’s coming – a plea to your better nature to donate to the Myanmar Red Cross Appeal.























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Musical Advent Calendar Day 7: Norman Lamont – Not About to Fly

Portrait of Norman Lamont

For no better reason than I was in his good company last night, today’s choice is a pal of mine, the unfeasibly talented Norman Lamont. I left with a coveted review copy of his new long player, to be released in March, but meantime, here’s one of my existing favourites, from his 2014 album, All The Time In Heaven. Several things I love about this song:

  •  the gentle humour of the lyrics, telling a story of magic and childhood dreams from Ayrshire (Fife’s west coast cousin);
  • the music. The first time I saw Norman and his band perform, at 2011’s Dylan Uncovered, I thought, that’s it! That’s the mix of acoustic and electric that I hear in my head when I’m making up songs. Norman’s range is wide, from solo acoustic through various mixes of instrumentation to ambient music, but that core sound he has is right up my alley;
  • the video’s location, that well-known Edinburgh establishment the Captain’s Bar. Back when I was a student it was fabled for its early-morning opening hours, designed to catch posties and other workers coming off the night shift. Nowadays, it’s an excellent live music bar, focusing on folk and other acoustic music mainly.




Norman is playing a gig in aid of foodbanks on Friday 15th December at the Village, Leith – you might want to go along. Also, on the charitable front, there’s the Red Cross appeal for the Myanmar refugees.

Musical Advent Calendar Day 6: Nick Cave – I Call Upon the Author

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What could evoke the spirit of Christmas more?

To be honest, it could’ve been any one of a number of Nick Cave songs, because, having come to him late, I just love his work! My esteemed eldest nephew Dave introduced me to him a few years ago, and we saw him at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange.

Dave, very thoughtfully, had burned a load of Cave albums to CD for me so that I could catch up in advance. To be honest, these generally left me a bit underwhelmed, initially: I got the whole rock poet thing, but the production of most of them seemed slow and sparse. It was only a couple of them, including 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! that really whetted my appetite.

Then we went to see him, and it all fell into place. Partly it was the fact that, live, they rocked up the album versions, and the Bad Seeds are an awesome live band; but it was also about the front man. The Corn Exchange is a big old barn of a place as the name suggests, but the legendary Cave charisma filled it, and quite possibly the car park beyond to boot. He is an incredible performer.

More Cave will follow before Christmas is out, I promise you that.

Looking for the author to explain? I can’t do that, but I would like to suggest you contribute to Red Cross Myanmar Appeal if you can. These guys are struggling.












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Musical Advent Calendar Day 5: Ashes to Ashes – or, Grousebeating to Bowie

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I always had a somewhat complicated relationship with David Bowie, and I blame my childhood best mate Nick Clarke, who was such a fan he put me off him. I suspect I did the same for him with Dylan.

However, it wasn’t all Nick’s fault: I’ve always at heart been a bit of a meat n’ potatoes rock bloke, although I do like a meaningful lyric, as you may have noticed. Bowie was always a bit too arty for my taste, a bit too experimental. However, I’ve chosen this track partly to honour the Thin White Duke, and partly to recall a memory it triggers.

August, 1980. I was about to turn 18, and go into first year at Uni. First, though, there was a late summer job to be had grousebeating in Aberdeenshire. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, let me outline the task in hand.

Red Grouse, or to get the species right, Lagopus lagopus scoticus, are a game bird popular amongst the huntin’ and shootin’ fraternity in the Highlands. The big estates manage populations of them to provide ‘sport’ for the toffs who like to pop at them from gun butts on remote Highland hillsides. The grouse live amongst the heather on the hill, and if left to themselves would probably scuttle about in there eating their mainly vegetarian diet as happy as Larry. They’re dumpy wee things that aren’t the best at flying, to say the least.

Which is where the beaters come in. I and my fellow students performed that function, at least back then. You were furnished with a big stick with a fertiliser sack on it, and directed to walk in a line, waving your stick in such a way that the stiff plastic snapped and scared up the grouse who, gamely, attempted to fly away from the strange noises and scruffy students in the direction of the gun butts.

It’s fair to say that, radical republican firebrand that I was, the concept of yomping through three-foot high heather up a hill just so that a bunch of posh English twats could blast some defenceless creatures out of the sky did give me some ethical dilemmas (as did the spelling of that word, by the way). It’s probably just as well Braveheart hadn’t come out by then, as I might have been tempted to inspire my fellow students into a short re-enactment of the battle of Bannockburn. Given that we were always downhill from the toffs, they were the ones with the guns, and we were armed only with fertiliser sacks tied to sticks, it would have been a pretty short and inaccurate re-enactment.

Whatever, the pay was good, there was a great camaraderie amongst us casual labour, and the gamekeeper’s wife cooked us hare stew – you even got, with your evening meal, a can of McEwan’s Export! Some of the guys couldn’t hack the physicality of the job and left, but most of us stayed just about the full four weeks, until, three days before the end, we were told by the gamekeeper we were going back out in the pissing rain for an afternoon shift when he’d told us earlier we wouldn’t have to.

‘Right then, we’re on strike,’ we said.

‘Right then, you’re fired,’ said the gamekeeper. An early experience of unsuccessful labour relations. Needless to say, grousebeaters weren’t unionised. We were taken off the hill and put on the next train south: to be fair, they were very civilised about it all.

What has all this got to do with Ashes to Ashes? Just that it had been released as a single that August, and was an immediate hit – Bowie, emerging from his Berlin period, had decided to write a more commercial record. Part of its success was the video, ground-breaking for the time: but that odd guitar synth figure that runs through it stood out just as much for me. I never knew it was guitar synth until I looked up Wikipedia just now, by the way.

That and the lyrics, of course.

If you’ve got some to spare this month, you might want to spare it on the Red Cross Myanmar Appeal.





























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Andy’s Seasonal Sluggers 2017

Confession time first. I’d love to tell you this blog is the result of tireless research: slurping and spitting through hundreds of hopefuls, until finally, finally, boiling everything down to four recommendations. But I’d be lying: we have a marvellous little woman to do all that bit for us.

Step forward Jane MacQuitty, wine writer for the Times. We found some years ago that, aside from a few faults (overuse of the adjective ‘burly’ to describe any red wine of heft; suspiciously keen on ‘new wave’ Spanish, especially riojas, which we’ve found means the wine’s not kissed the oak for nearly long enough) she is a damned good spotter of a decent wine at a decent price.

So, let’s raise a glass to Jane, and long may her liver hold out. In terms of which glass to raise:

Let’s start with a white: Wm Morrison Special Selection Godello, £8 or currently £6 each if you buy 2, has a label that looks like this –

– but if you’re a traditionalist when it comes to wine labels, don’t let that put you off! From north west Spain, it’s a bit like an Aussie sauvignon blanc, with lots of tropical fruit oomph. And Obama was snapped drinking Godello last year, so drink it if only to remember a time when we had an American Pres worth looking up to.

Reds are more our thing though. Aldi has the best of them: first up is 2016 Exquisite Collection Pinot Noir, Wairarapa – everything you’d want in a NZ Pinot Noir, to my way of thinking, at least at that kind of price. Astringent raspberry and all that. Great with lamb chops, and I’d imagine it would slip down well with roast chicken, or even turkey!

Exquisite New Zealand Pinot Noir

Great stuff. The winner for sheer heft though is 2016 Cairanne, Domaine de la Belle Estelle, Rhone – Aldi 7.99  – another MacQuitty find. This not a wine to take lightly: it’s 14.5%, a big beast of a thing that shoulders its way down your throat. But oh, it’s quality! Any of the extended Wright family reading this: this is what you’ll be downing at the forthcoming Diamond Wedding beano in a couple of weekends’ time. The Godello’s the white.


Last but not necessarily least 2015 Animus Douro, Vicente Faria Aldi £4.99  – cheap, and very cheerful. We’ve struggled to find good Portugese reds in the past – they’ve always promised much, but failed to deliver – but this is really good glugging stuff. Best thing for a fiver I know of in any of the supermarkets at the moment. Give it a go.

Animus Douro DOC

…and that’s it, really. The daily musical advent calendar thing is kind of taking up my blogging time at the moment, so I hope this gives you the essentials. Drink up!













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Musical Advent Calendar Day 4: Mogwai

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Man, I love this track. It’s quite simple, really, if you were to look at its basic chord progressions. But, for me at least, it’s like a mini-symphony, the way the boys pull the different elements together. And of course, it reminds me of the first season of Les Revenants, that wonderfully weird French (or is that just wonderfully French) zombie series.

I think that’s all I have to say about this one. Oh, did I mention to the uninitiated Mogwai are Scottish? Scottish music to a French tv programme. Vive La Vielle Alliance …


Feeling charitable? You could donate to the Red Cross campaign helping the persecuted Roingya Muslims living in camps at the Bangladeshi border.



















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