writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Under the Covers: What to do with Dylan and Isbell

When I started off playing guitar, all I did was cover versions. Then I started writing my own songs, and thought I didn’t want to do anyone else’s.

Both daft positions, of course: why would you not want to cover a song that means something to you? On the other hand, why would you think you could do better than the original?

There’s the thing, though. You can love a song, and its creator, to bits. You can think the instrumentation on it, the production values, everything about it are perfect the way they are. But if you fancy yourself as a bit of a musician, or even if you don’t (step forward, all you denizens of karaoke bars) your desire to produce your own version of it is directly related to how much you like the original!

Isaac Brutal. A collaborator

But how to cover it? Well, of course there are the physical and other limitations that most of us labour under – it’s not like most of us can call up the E Street Band, or the Tom Pettyless Heartbreakers, to give us a bit of a leg up in the studio. You can only work with what you’ve got. But limitations are only a funnel for creativity, after all – so what floats your boat? A reggae version of ‘War Pig’? ‘Ace of Spades’ reimagined as a piano ballad?

As part of my musical experimentation, I’ve been trying out a couple of covers recently. The first of them, Jason Isbell’s ‘Speed Trap Town,’ has been sitting about for a bit: I’d intended for one of my collaborators to put a bit of electric slide on it, but in the end he thought it wouldn’t add anything. Actually, since I last put this track up on Soundcloud, I’ve subtracted, mainly, rather than adding (apart from a bit of cello at one part) by taking out some of the atmospheric radio chatter. It’s such a great lyric, I wanted to be sure whatever I did was to serve the song.

This is by far the more ‘conventional’ cover: I even went on YouTube to check out what chords Isbell was using, and discovered a new way to play a G! But that lyric, though. If you did as spoken word, it would be a piece of flash fiction, and I intend to use it as an example in a wee chat on storytelling in songwriting I’m doing in a couple of months: starting with what Robert McKee would call ‘the inciting incident,’ the woman in the car park handing the narrator flowers, it goes on to tell the story of the narrator and his father, now lying in a hospital bed in a coma. Not all is as it seems, as a plot twist reveals towards the end of the song. It’s quite simply brilliant.

‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ on the other hand, needed different treatment. A classic song from Highway 61 Revisited, it is, in its original form, a very simple structure musically: basically a three chord trick. It’s probably one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar, being from what’s probably my favourite Dylan album of all.

That being the case, I approached a cover of it with some trepidation. You could do it a number of ways, and I still think Isaac Brutal should do a country version: however, doing it largely on my own (although Mr Brutal himself contributed some guitar) I decided to ramp up the Gothic.

One of the reasons I rank this as one of Dylan’s best is that, in the throes of his drug-fuelled surrealist period, here’s a song that actually perfectly conveys a single story, that of a stranger in a strange land, prey to drugs, hungry women, official corruption, and worse. The opening line, according to some, was thrown out by Dylan’s friend Bobby Neuwirth as a challenge: ‘write a song with that!’ To which Dylan reportedly replied: ‘Sure. Hold my beer…’

Whether that’s true or not, it’s again, a great scene-setting opening line: When you’re lost in the rain, in Juarez, and it’s Easter time too… who among us hasn’t been there, figuratively, at least?

Anyhoo. When I got under the bonnet of the song, I more or less thought, what would Nick Cave do? Well, throw a couple of minor chords in, for a start…

Feel free to comment, and let me know what you think!



30 Years A Lawyer

To the Assembly Rooms, an historic pile on Edinburgh’s George Street, for the Law Society of Scotland Annual Dinner a couple of Fridays ago. If it sounds like I do this all the time, don’t be fooled: in the 32 years since I was admitted (a verb which almost seems to beg for the adverb grudgingly) to the Roll of Scottish Solicitors, this is the first time I’ve had an invite to this annual free feed.

I still don’t quite know why I got this time – maybe getting to the second edition of Common Good Law has persuaded someone I have persistence, if nothing else – but I’m in distinguished company: from Lady Hale, the top judge in the whole of the UK, Senators of the College of Justice, Government Ministers and celebrity lawyers like Aamer Anwar, down to just plain senior partners of the biggest firms and sector leaders in their field.

But this post isn’t all about me, or my place in the glittering firmament of the profession that’s been my working life all that time. Except to say, despite a lifetime of wanting to be something cooler, like, the next Robert Louis Hemingway or Bruce Dylansteen, in the past few years I’ve come to appreciate being a Scots lawyer, at least as a day job. It’s a good profession, full of sound, sensible types who quietly underpin some of the biggest things that happen in our society, without ever getting the credit for any of it (but generally getting the blame when it all goes a bit Pete Tong).

This being on International Women’s Day, the focus was, rightly, on the distaff side of the profession, and our President, Alison Atack, mentioned one stat which stuck in my mind: in 1988, when I had been a fully fledged lawyer for a year, out of 8,023 solicitors in Scotland, 26% were female. Last year, that number had risen to 11,699, and the percentage had also risen, to 53%.

That’s a remarkable turnaround. More so when you consider this: I was at university from 1980 till 1985, and, so far as I can remember, the gender balance in the class was roughly 50/50. However, I was speaking to a colleague at another legal event last week who had started her studies in 1975, and her recollection was that, at that time, only a third of the students were female.

She, like me, went to Edinburgh, by the way, and her memory of the bulk of those male contemporaries was that they came from Edinburgh, lived at home, and expected their Mum to wash their socks. It’s probably also fair to say that many of them had attended Edinburgh’s merchant schools of Heriot’s, Stewart’s Melville, etc.

Whether or not there was also a move in the socio-economic backgrounds of students at that time, the changing gender proportions tend to indicate that my generation of female lawyers were the first to start the ball rolling towards equality of numbers. That’s not the whole story, of course: there are still gaps in terms of pay, and senior positions in firms, between men and women.

Still. 53%.

Does it matter that women now outnumber men in the profession, 53/47? Is that difference statistically significant, or does it reflect a greater number of female lawyers working part time, balancing primary carer duties with their professional responsibilities? I suspect so. But it’s still a remarkable turnaround in my lifetime of lawyering.

If I am permitted to enter one plea for my gender, guilty as it may be of many things, it would be this. Of all the parents of my age that I know, it’s the ones with boys that seemed to have the worries about academic achievement. The ones with girls almost never had to encourage their daughters to work hard, study long, and aim for those A grades.

The consequence is that the law classes – and the other ‘hard’ subjects like medicine – are filling up with more females than males. On the basis that neither gender has the monopoly on brains, perhaps the time is coming when it’s the boys that need a helping hand at a certain point in the maturing process.

And speaking of maturing, here’s a pic of me at the Dinner with two of my best buddies, Al and Alan. Back in the Nineties we all lawyered in one place: and in amongst all the mischief we got up to, there was some pretty damn fine lawyering went on, if I may say so.

But there was a lot of mischief!

Image may contain: 4 people, including Alastair Mckie and Andrew C Ferguson, people smiling, indoor



I’m reading, I’m listening, I’m watching… more random reviews of stuff

I’m reading…

Well, I’ve read already – Bad Science, by the splendidly grumpy Ben Goldacre. A doctor who, at some point quite early in his career (he’s still only a relatively young 44, going by his Wikipedia bio) decided that he was going to take on the entire nutrition, diet, pharmaceutical and media industries himself, to uncover just how much bullshit is pumped out in the name of a headline or a quick buck, this is his first book (first published 2008).

It starts with easy targets, like the ‘detox foot spa,’ and then, in a brilliant progression, brings you quite effortlessly up to speed with the principle of proper evidence based research. And I say this as one of those arts and humanities types he rails against, my greatest ‘proper’ science achievement being Higher Biology in, er, 1979. Mind you, I did get an A in it. Just saying.




I’m listening…

Two recent acquisitions have broadened my musical horizons a tad –

Neko Case’s latest album, Hell-On, is a little hard to describe. It’s kind of singer-songwriting, but far more sophisticated than your average strummer. I’m not absolutely sure how much I like it yet, but it’s one of those albums that I think will repay quite a lot of listening.





Wave Pictures have been around for a bit too, without troubling my sound production devices up to now. However, a glowing review in Uncut led me to have a few listens to their latest album, Look Inside Your Heart, which the band themselves describe as including ‘a love song intended for the young Elvis Presley to cover in an alternate universe, a love song in the laid back style of early 70s Grateful Dead, a beatnik prose poem, Exile on Main Street era Rolling Stones with Tom Verlaine on Lead Vocals, Highway 61 Revisited era Bob Dylan with Nigel Blackwell from Half Man Half Biscuit on lead vocals, and Astral Weeks era Van Morrision as re-recorded by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.’

Musically literate, then, with the Dylan dial turned well up, they seem from their previous releases to be a quixotic bunch who one day will produce something of such brilliance the whole world tunes in. This isn’t quite it, but it’s pretty good.

I’m watching…

Mar de plástico - Serie 2015 - SensaCine.comMar de Plastico (Sea of Plastic). The fictional southern Spanish town of Campoamargo (literally ‘Bitterfield’) is surrounded by a plastic sea, being the greenhouses that support the large scale production of year-round fruit and veg, part of the region’s so-called ‘agricultural miracle.’

Some miracles come at a price however, and the cuenta for this one include deep-lying environmental issues, Morrocan and North African workers forced to live in shanty towns, and, as a hot summer unfolds, a powder keg of tensions between swastika-tattooed locals, the immigrant workers, a gypsy community and the Guardia Civil, the most feared division of the Spanish cops.

Enter the appropriately-named Héctor, an veteran of the Afghanistan war (Guardia Civil having close links to the military) as the new sheriff in town. Unfortunately for him, before he’s even got time to pin his tin star on the mayoress’s daughter is murdered, exsanguinated, and her blood used to irrigate the greenhouses. Everything points to Juan Rueda, the local farmer made good. But everything is not as it seems…

As the summer heat begins to take hold, suspects multiply like flies round a rotting corpse. Could it be Agneska, Rueda’s Russian trophy wife? Kaled, the victim’s secret lover? Lucas, her official lover? Amancio, the town drunk and tapas bar owner? Pilar, the leading female neo-nazi? We’re at Episode 11 and still none the wiser.

Meantime, the heat builds and men and women smoulder. Héctor smoulders. Marta, his dead best friend’s widow he swore to protect, smoulders. Lola, the gitana-turned-Guardia Civil smoulders, especially when Héctor’s around, smouldering. Everyone swears like a trooper, even (or especially) the non-troopers. Crikey! Is it something in the water?

Really, if you’ve got Netflix, you should watch this.

…and finally…

Some Youtube links for you to follow up the aforementioned Neko Case and Wave Pictures, as well as Hannah Aldridge, another recent find, who’s playing Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms next month.




Another Eden: What It Takes For Us To Turn Away

I’m not one for writing songs based on current events in general. All the great protest songs have already been written: you could apply any of Dylan’s early classics, or those of his contemporaries, and they’d be just as relevant to today’s events as they were in the Sixties.

Besides, protest, or message songs as I think of the wider class of songs that comment on current affairs, can come across as, well, a bit preachy. And, in general, you’re preaching to the converted: it’s not as if I’m going to come up with a combination of words and melody next week that’s going to stop Donald Trump in his tracks and have him say (or, indeed, tweet) ‘y’know, all this right wing looney tunes stuff I’ve been coming out with all these years? Maybe I was just plain wrong about it,’ and go all Mahatma Ghandi on our collective asses.

All the same, though, sometimes a melody comes along that I feel merits some serious words. Take, for example, the tune I’d woken up with last September, according to the file date, and stumbled through to the keyboard to record. I’d saved the file as ‘semi-operatic’: goodness knows why, given that a) I can’t stand opera and b) anyway, it didn’t really sound even semi-operatic. What I think I had in mind was that it was, well, dramatic in its scope: it wasn’t one of those tunes close to the rock/blues/country tropes I generally fall into. The lyrics, I felt, had to be about something – generally a dangerous feeling in my experience.

Image result for krishnan guru-murthyIt took months for me to come up with even an idea for the lyric, even though I remembered the subject matter well: the story had touched me at the time, when it came on Channel 4 News. I can forgive Channel 4 all the other stupid nonsense it has on its schedules these days because of its news programme: hosted by John Snow, Cathy Newman and Krishnan Guru-Murthy, it consistently knocks the ball out of the park for insightful, heart-on-its-sleeve journalism, in my humble opinion.

The two pieces about the Gardener of Aleppo were a case in point. In the midst of the siege of Aleppo, Guru-Murthy presented a film by Waad Al-Khateab about a man, known as Abu Waad, who stubbornly continued to maintain his garden centre as the hell of the Civil War went on all around him. The film quoted him saying some wise, and wonderful things – I didn’t have to travel far for my lyrics – but there was a cruel twist to the tale.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

By the end of the first film Abu Waad was dead, killed by a barrel bomb. The second film, a year later, followed the fate of his son, Ibrahim, evacuated from Aleppo. Living in another city, his family fractured by the tragedy, he went to school to honour his father’s wishes – and yet still found time to work at another garden centre, keeping his father’s memory alive in a different way.

Do I still feel conflicted about ‘using’ this tragic story as the subject matter of a song? Of course – but this Sunday, I was reading an article about another heroic man connected to the Syrian crisis, a surgeon, David Nott. Volunteering to work in various war zones across the world, he ended up in Syria, desperately trying to save lives against overwhelming odds. It was inspiring, and depressing, in equal measure. Yet even if we’re preaching to the converted, we need to keep talking – and singing – about issues like these.

Below the link to the song, there are the two Youtube videos about the Gardener of Aleppo; I recommend you watch them, as well as reading the article about Nott. Because if we are to build another Eden ever, then we should never turn away from such stories.





















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Albums of 1979: February

Back to my series on albums of 1979, that golden year (for me at least) when I turned 17, could nearly legally drink, could, actually, legally join the army or get married (I’m not actually sure which of these was less infinitesimally likely), and, in February, was undoubtedly shitting bricks about my impending Higher exams.

Fortunately, there was some cracking music to ease the angst.

Skids - Scared To Dance.jpg

Although the month started badly for punk with the death of Sid Vicious, a local Fife band enlivened the charts with their debut studio album, Scared to Dance. I’d be lying if I said I ever owned it, but everyone knew the single from it, ‘Into the Valley.’ Featuring Stuart Adamson’s guitar playing, later to evolve into that distinctive bagpipe sound in Big Country, the song’s lyrics were, according to Richard Jobson, about Scottish youths being recruited into the army.

However, a counter-myth has evolved, according to Wikipedia, that it was about West Fife village High Valleyfield,  a place known for its internecine conflicts with neighbouring Torryburn, Rosyth, Oakley and Inverkeithing (interestingly, they don’t mention the most obvious source of inter-tribal conflict, Low Valleyfield). Who knows? Who cares? No one, not even fellow Fifers, could make out the lyrics beyond ‘Into the Valleeeee….’ and ‘Ahoy! Ahoy!’ But then, what more do you need, really?

Actually, apart from Sid’s demise, it was a good month for punk, featuring Live (X Cert) by the Stranglers, the Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle by the Sex Pistols, and Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers.

GHCover.jpgAt the other end of the rock spectrum, George Harrison released George Harrison on February 20th. A gentle acoustic rock record  reflecting Harrison’s domestic contentment, it did moderately good business for him, reaching 14 in the US chart and going gold there. It was even critically acclaimed, although a brief listen to ‘Here Comes the Moon’ didn’t, for me, exactly set the heather alight.

However, given that the Quiet One set up Handmade Films shortly after this and financed Life of Brian for the Pythons by mortgaging his house, we should be eternally grateful that some, at least, of the album-buying public’s dollars were going on soft folk-pop-rock (or however you want to categorise it) instead of punk.

Besides, anyone who can write ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ will always be all right with me.


Image result for cheap trick at budokan

Almost finally, another album I never owned, but the single of which seemed to be on every radio that year: Cheap Trick at Budokan. The single, being ‘I Want You To Want Me,’ was, cynically, the typical kind of thing lovelorn teenagers of the time wanted to sing along to, although not generally accompanied by 12,000 screaming Japanese fans.

Interesting factoid about the album: it was one of the first coloured albums to be released as opposed to singles or EPs, on what was described as ‘kamikaze yellow’ vinyl. Not sure how politically correct that was even in 1979.

Anyway, although I had mates that were into them, I never even listened to the album, so far as I can remember. But that annoying earworm of a single….


…and finally, since an instrumental I’ve been working on recently has been compared to Tangerine Dream, a band I’ve definitely heard of, but never knowingly listened to before now, it behoves me to mention they released Force Majeure in the same month. I’m listening to it for the first time as I type this, and it isn’t half bad. So here it is.



















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Walking in the Wild West End – of Edinburgh

There are many things which have taken on the nature of Edinburgh traditions. Jenner’s (well, until it closed). The Sixties concrete excresence that is the St James Centre (or was, until it was demolished). Moaning about the cost of the trams (until they finally got built and everyone got bored with the public inquiry, apart of course for the lawyers creaming hefty fees from it).

What else? A cup of tea and a proper scone in Morningside? What about a Wild West film set in Morningside?

Yes indeedy folks, this li’l ol’ slice of the Wild West is in Springvalley Gardens Lane, Morningside, just a short step from that scone. Originally created in the 90s to help market a shop selling American-style furniture, it remains, slowly wasting in the desert air of south-eastern Scotland, increasingly hemmed in by a car workshop. You may be seeing some more of this place in the coming months.

Anyhoo, after lunch at Maison Bleu Le Bistrot (which is slowly becoming a pre-match tradition) I met my fellow fan outside Valvona and Crolla’s on Elm Row (an Italian deli very definitely something of an Edinburgh tradition, if one more commonly associated with a day out for the scone-eating ladies of Morningside) before progressing to that hallowed shrine of football, Easter Road Stadium.

Going to see Hibs once a year with my pal, the super-talented writer Kirsti Wishart, is becoming traditional, too. I’ve supported Hibs since I was a kid, but hadn’t been to see them for decades until Kirsti asked me to take her last year. It really does feel like you’re part of something, walking to the ground with all the fellow faithful and installing yourself in the Famous Five Stand.

If you don’t know your history, the team had a brief period of supremacy in the early 1950s with a forward line of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. In the early 1970s, when I was of an impressionable age, they had an even briefer period of sort-of supremacy, managed by said Eddie Turnbull, with a forward line of Edwards, Cropley, Gordon, O’Rourke and Duncan. Sadly, I could recite the entire first XI of that time, but I’ll spare you.

I’d love to say it was a classic Cup game to see, but Hibs, managerless last weekend, struggled along in second gear without ever seriously looking like losing to the lower-division Raith Rovers. It ended 3-1 Hibs, with the pick of the goals being from the no.7, Horgan, who also supplied a brilliant chipped pass for the third. There are some good players in there: let’s hope the new manager brings out the best in them.

Walking out of the ground, we encountered one of the best guitar players I know, the selfsame Kenny Mackay. It’s kind of appropriate that the two other people I knew in the crowd were creative types: you have to be something of a poet and dreamer to follow this team. Even more appropriately for an Edinburgh side, the current no. 16 shirt is worn by one Lewis Stevenson – not, so far as I know, any relative of RLS!

Then home, via a pint of something called Barista (coffee flavoured stout – who knew?) at another venerable institution, Joseph Pearce’s on Elm Row, that I’d never been in before.

The bus journey even gave me a chance to attempt a different take on the Scott Monument from the top deck of a no.16: unfortunately, the bus in front didn’t quite line up the way I wanted it to, but next time!

So there you go. Edinburgh: a place where new traditions happen every day.

(Not Quite) All About the Bass: A Sonic Journey into the Nether Regions


Image result for bass

Not that kind, obvs!

I’ve been thinking a lot about drums and bass recently. Almost always the last thing I put in any track I’m creating, they should, of course, be pretty much the first thing. I mean, the rhythm section, right?

There’s a very good series on BBC4 just finished called ‘Guitar, Drum and Bass’ which covers all three instrumental elements of most popular music setups: you can catch it on iPlayer if you’ve missed it.

In it, Tina Weymouth (bass) Stewart Copeland (drums) and Lenny Kaye (guitar) trace their instruments’ history, from early blues and jazz right through to the present. They’re all good, but my favourite was Tina, who as Talking Heads’ bassist has probably had a few musical styles thrown at her over the decades!

I’m not quite sure why bass has been so neglected in my music making. I suppose we all have slightly different hearing ranges, and it may be that mine is tipped towards the treble end. In any event, the Tina Weymouth episode inspired me to experimentation on a track I’d had half-done for some time. In particular, a section on 90s DJs, and their search for ever more profound bass sounds got me twiddling about with the available knobs on my music editing software (of which, as I’d just shelled for the Pro Edition of Mixcraft 9, there are several).

Firstly, I used the Korg synth to record a really basic bass part, as low as I could go on the keyboard. Then, using Mixcraft, I duplicated it, then dropped the second track an octave – or twelve semitones, something I should have known without looking up. That sounded … interesting: basically, I now had a bass part that would have my left hand hanging off the end of the keyboard for most of the notes. And then I thought, how low can you go?

Third track, another octave down. You could still hear it, but it was WAYYY low, growling away to itself. I imagined swimming ever lower and lower, down into the sonic nether regions, beyond the range of the human ear where Beelzebub and his minions lurked, sending messages to the unwary through the sub-bass demonosphere.

Pleased with myself, I got as far as finalising the track with all three octaves of bass on it, growling away underneath the song. I was going to put it up on Soundcloud.

Then next day I decided it didn’t work, cut the two lower tracks and stuck it up with the ‘normal’ bass. Hey ho. Perhaps one day I’ll dive towards the nether regions once more, torch in hand, but not on this song!

(The track itself, by the way, is one of a number of contenders for my next album, Otto’s Biography. It’s not in yet, so any feedback gratefully accepted)



















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In search of the perfect Haggis wine: the never ending quest

Tonight is Burns night, when Scots and Scotophiles – or even just Burnsophiles – celebrate the poet’s birthday by eating something very specific: a haggis.

The excuse for this is that the dude wrote a poem about it, extolling its virtues over all that fancy foreign muck. It’s also, of course, an excellent excuse (as if we Scots, according to stereotype, needed one) for a piss up, generally featuring lashings of that other Scottish staple, whisky.

Well, I’ve got some conflicted views about Burns, and whisky for that matter. Probably a case of overexposure to both at a relatively young age. However, I’ve got real unconditional love for haggis: and I’ve always been on the look out for the perfect red wine (which, by the way, Rabbie was just as keen on as uisge beatha, as they say in the Gaelic) to accompany our national dish.

This isn’t completely straightforward. Haggis, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, is a combination of various of the, er, lesser eaten bits of a sheep, spices, suet, and oatmeal – not something that finds its equivalent in many wine making countries. However, that doesn’t stop me pursuing this quest relentlessly, and tonight will be no exception:

Image result for sainsbury's zweigelt wine

First up, a Sainsbury’s Austrian wine we opened on Tuesday and have had vacuvin’d since: part of their Taste the Difference range, this Zweigelt wine has a quid off at the moment, which brings it down to £8.

Like many people, I was put off Austrian wine by the diethylene glycol scandal in the 80s, when several of their producers were caught adding what amounted to antifreeze to their wines – I can’t remember why, now. However, be put off no more: this is a belter!

We first came across the Zweigelt grape in neighbouring Hungary, a couple of years ago, on a fantastic wine-tasting trip my sister inveigled us into. It’s a really good combination of fruit and heft, and you should totally give it a try.

However, there’s only half a bottle of that left. What else should be put up against the aforesaid haggis, served in our house with tatties (Charlottes in our case, although it should probably be some floury Ayrshires traditionally) and carrots (as opposed to the more conventional turnips, or swede).

Discovering Zweigelt in Hungary


…and up against it is…

(drum roll)



Yes, that’s right, ladies n’ gennlemen, the tried and trusted Campo Viejo brand of Rioja, this time a 2013 Reserva going for the same as the Zweigelt – £8 on offer at Sainsbury’s.

There are a couple of reasons why we’ve gone for this one: a) it’s on offer at the moment, so it’s worth testing out to see if it’s still drinking well, or if it’s on offer because it’s starting to lose its legs a bit and they’re keen to get it off their shelves (non-expert tip: a Reserva of this age should still have a bit of fruit left in it as well as a good whack of oak. Smell the cork, and if it smells of anything other than cork or wine, treat with extreme suspicion); and b) we’ve found in the past that Rioja is a good foil to the fatty, spicy, but still meaty flavour of haggis, and can even cope with the sweetness of carrots in the mix. They do, after all, have their own version of black pudding – morcilla – in Spain.

And the winner? You’ll have to wait till tomorrow, obviously – I’m too busy drinking it to blog about it on a Friday night! What kind of saddo do you take me for???




P.S.: and, after thorough research, the winner is… the Rioja. Not convinced it’s the greatest of its kind – that will be put to the test tonight, when I try it with something it’s more suited to – but the oak gave it the structure to stand up to the haggis better. Mind you, after the main course, the Zweigelt was very agreeable drinking on its own…



Still Behind That Curve: The £150 Laptop

HP Stream 11-r050sa 11.6" Laptop - BlueHP Laptop: CRUCIAL UPDATES MISSING

Me: I’m busy with this cat meme on Twitter at the moment, okay?

HP Laptop: No, I’m not letting you do anything else until you click on this message about CRUCIAL UPDATES

Me (sighing): Yeah, ’cause it’s not like you’ve not told me I can’t get these updates, like, 5 million times?

HP Laptop: Maybe the updates would include software to deal with sarcasm and exaggeration?

Me (clicking on the thing): You seem to be dealing with these okay at the moment.


Me (closing dialogue box): Now who’s exaggerating? Now f***k off.

Laptop (in a hurt tone): Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

My occasional series about the cheapest laptop in the shop. Not an advert for HP as such, but an advert for sometimes, just sometimes, how buying the cheapest thing isn’t a false economy. Until it breaks and it is, of course.

It looks like it’s nearly three years since I posted about the acquisition of this little beauty: isn’t she lovely? And, guess what, she’s still trucking! I suppose it shouldn’t be amazing that a piece of technology should still be working after two years and nine months, but it feels that way…
























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Albums of 1979: January

1979 Ford LTD Sedan related infomation,specifications ...Why 1979? Because it was forty years ago. And because, scarily, that was the year I became 17, and therefore marks the time when music really took on a whole new significance for me.

1979. Back when cars were proper cars and, er, women were gratuitously used as bonnet ornaments. Great hair though.

That perfect storm of toxic hormonal poisoning (or being a teenager, as it’s generally known) the onset of life-changing exams, and reaching an age when it was legal to do various things (or, in the case of alcohol, close enough for jazz, in Scotland at least) meant that music took on DEEP SIGNIFICANCE for me and my mates.

Of course, I could have chosen 1976, with punk’s first wave; or 1977, when some truly great albums came out, or indeed 1978, when I became 16. However, I’ve only just caught up with the concept, which I’ve frankly stolen from fellow blogger Vinyl Connection, who did something similar for 1968 last year.

Plus if I’d done it earlier I might have had to ‘fess up to something truly musically awful being the music I fell in love to (or, in the grown up world, had a serious infatuation, or bad case of the hots, to). I’ll spare the unwitting (and, in some cases, unknowing) recipients of said feelings the embarassment of naming them: they did nothing wrong, after all. Even the ones that crushed me by wanting to just be friends…

A word on the 1979 teenage, Scottish schoolkid musical landscape: music came out of radios via either the generalist Radio 1 (if you were pretending to be cool, the John Peel show was sacred territory) or by means of television shows, principally the generalist Top of the Pops. Albums – or LPs – were generally bought on vinyl, but often lent to mates to allow reproduction on long-dead tech called ‘C90 cassettes.’ Remember HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC – AND IT’S ILLEGAL? That was a successful campaign, right enough. They should try it with free downloads and streaming.

I don’t remember people making up mixtapes back then: the idea was you taped the whole album (or LP: the names were mainly interchangeable at that point) in its original sequence. So you could listen to it, in its original sequence. Because that was how the musical gods who had made it intended. Which could be a bit of a bugger for any albums over 45 minutes long, because you couldn’t squeeze all the tracks onto one side.

Technology problems aside, 1979’s teenage musical landscape was a multi-layered, nuanced affair – at least if you were still at school or university. It was tribal beyond belief: were you a punk, a metal head, a folkie (not many of those in late 70s Glenrothes, let me tell you!) or, perhaps, just a Serious Rock muso? My friends and I probably pretended to the latter, although none of us had any problem in adopting the new wave acts that had grown out of punk – step forward The Clash, Costello, Blondie, Boomtown Rats, and so on.

ABBA - WikipediaNo one was allowed to like Abba. At least officially. So I bought all their albums unofficially and hid them when my cooler friends came round.

Abba looking windswept and interesting somewhere in 1979. From Bjorn’s (or is it Benny’s: I could never tell them apart even when only one of them had a beard) fetching jumper, probably Canada.

For me, it was always Anna-Frid. Since you ask.

So. Enough context already. It was also, I think, the year I first picked up a guitar in any sort of earnest, inspired by Dylan. However, although a much-derided live album of his will crop up in April, I don’t intend to bore on about him all year, don’t worry. Instead, let’s have a look at some other people’s albums in January, and then next month, February, and so on (at least, that’s the plan: I haven’t even researched this enough to be sure there were albums of merit in every month of that year, but given the year it was, I’m pretty confident it is, and if not, hell, I’ll make some shit up).

So, without further ado, ladies n’ gennlemen:


…and we’re off to a rippingly good start. Declan McManus’s third album, the second with the Attractions, and stuffed full of those early-period Costello lyrics: ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ and ‘Oliver’s Army,’ were the singles, although I always had a soft spot for ‘Green Shirt,’ which seemed to have just a bit more emotion in it. Plus that great line about fingerprints on his imagination.

Nick Lowe produced, and Costello’s version of his ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding’ (later to be murdered by Curtis Stigers) featured on the US import. Initial pressings included a live single, featuring three of his best: ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ ‘Alison,’ and ‘Watching the Detectives.’

Meanwhile, in another planet altogether, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had written and produced

SIster Sledge We Are Family 1979.jpgWE ARE FAMILY, by Sister Sledge. Not content with the success of Chic, the boys served up some dance floor fillers for the sisters: the title track, obviously, plus three other hits: ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer,’ ‘Thinking of You,’ and the one you’ll probably remember, ‘Lost in Music.’

Nile Rodgers was quoted later as saying that, of the various he and the rest of the Chic Organisation produced for themselves and others, “pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.”

Yes indeedy people, disco was still alive and well in 1979. In fact, on 6th January, American Bandstand featured the first known performance of the Village People’s ‘YMCA dance.’

Chertakemehome.jpgThose are probably the two most long-lasting albums of January. However, you also had TAKE ME HOME, Cher’s attempt at the disco genre (okay, I mentioned it mainly for the bonkers cover, but laugh all you like, it went gold in the States);

Joe Jackson released LOOK SHARP, Joejacksonlooksharp.jpgwith his classic ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him,’ as well as a rather more understated album cover: taken by Brian Griffin in five minutes on London’s South Bank, when he spotted a shaft of light and asked Jackson to stand in it. Despite being rated by Rolling Stone at number 22 of 100 great album covers of all time. Good to see, by the way, that Jackson’s got a new album coming out, 40 years on.

Defleppardep.pngWhat else? Def Leppard issued their debut EP, confusingly titled THE DEF LEPPARD EP. In line with the punk DIY ethos if not the music, the first 100 copies featured lyric sheets that singer Joe Elliot had phtocopied at work during his lunch break: he and his Mum did the gluing of the 1,000 sleeves.

Those first 1,000 copies, by the way, have a red label and were issued by the band’s own wonderfully named company, Bludgeon-Riffola.


Zappa sleep dirt.jpg

Others included Herbie Hancock’s FEETS, DON’T FAIL ME NOW; The Scorpions’ LOVEDRIVE; and John Denver’s self-titled album.

Oh, and Frank Zappa issued SLEEP DIRT, and then everyone in his world sued eveyone else. The excellently named Chad Wackerman did drum overdubs on the CD reissue: an example of nominative determinism if ever there was one.

I’d love to tell you I bought all of these albums at the time, just to show what a musical polymath I am. I think I had an illegal cassette of Armed Forces. What can I say? I was busy studying for my Highers, not to mention coping with those hormones.

Next month, February. See the pattern there?

















Adverts there be down here. Things have moved on a bit from 1979.