andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

New Album Frenzy at Casa Ardross

Some reviews in for Songs in a Scottish Accent:

‘Everyone should listen to Andrew C Ferguson’s new album. Awesome down to earth Scots tunes. Well worth your time guys.’ Charlotte Halton

‘I can see the Springsteen and Dylan influences in the arrangements but that made it all the more enjoyable for me and the lyrics are real-life and insightful. I particularly liked ‘Never Forget’ which is far bolder than anything I would do.’ Norman Lamont

‘Poetic’ Kelly Brooks

‘Production is excellent… everything crystal clear. Musicianship top notch as well.’ Mark Allan

Ok, ok, so these aren’t ‘official’ like reviews, they’re nice things my mates have said about it. However, they are all talented musicians, so I must be getting something right!

Remember, I will send – or hand – you this album absolutely free, and all you have to do is donate something to a refugee charity (or have it on your conscience). There are suggestions on the album page, or there’s always good old Oxfam.

And, in case one album featuring me isn’t enough for you, another two are due along shortly!

First of all, as Venus Carmichael watchers will know, the first full Venus album is currently in post-production, and we’re racing to get it ready for our album launch on 14th December. The track listing will be:

Icarus Wings

All I Can Think Of Is You

Heartlands

Highway Tonight

Coming Around Again

Katerin

Old School

Spider Arpeggio

Running Song

Rose Tattoo

What’s more, it features the beautiful singing voice of Kelly Brooks on it, rather than mine!

But that’s not all. While recording has started on its sequel, the Isaac Brutal album ‘Dawn of the Trailer Trash,’ featuring my, ahem, multi-instrumental skills, has been ready for some time now, and just needs the cover art nailed down. I can’t wait for this one either, as it features some really strong material in the classic Brutal mould.

Keep the dial here for more news…

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Yesterday’s Kids at PJ Molloy’s: or, Post Punk Suit Shopping with added Shock and Awe

My Saturday afternoon visit to the City of Dunfermline kind of symbolised the yin and yang of my life these days. On the one hand, the ostensible reason for my visit was to buy a new suit for a  job interview I have coming up this week. On the other, the first thing that made me think of going there was word of one of my favourite bands, Shock and Awe, playing as part of a ‘Punked at PJ’s’ event that very afternoon.

Now, I should have started with the properly journalistically ethical disclaimer that I play in another band with, currently, 60% of the Shock and Awe line up. So my chances of giving an unbiased review are about as great as, oh, I don’t know, my wanting to never get a pint bought for me at an Isaac Brutal gig ever again.

But, to be fair, I have loved the uncomplicated approach Shock and Awe take to the business of producing rock n’ roll long before I was in a band with any of them –  ever since I booked them, sound unseen, for my Dylan tribute night a few years back. Then, acting on advice, I put them last on the bill, and they raised the roof. For other reasons my memory of that night is somewhat hazy, but I  do remember a barnstorming ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ in particular.

On Saturday, the boys (pictured below before the gig, lurking with intent near the toilet area) were reliant on their own material, and fine stuff it is too. Mainly written, I understand, by lead singer Murray Ramone, Shock and Awe specialise in the classic three minute punk song, except boiled down a bit. More like two and a half. Or two minutes flat. In fact Murray claimed one of them came in at 90 seconds, and he could be right.

In any event, the sound is very much that of a punk band playing it fast and loud: perhaps even more so on Saturday, since Graham’s saxophone had broken down the night before so it was three guitars, bass and drums all the way. The words on standards like ‘Yesterday’s Kids’ are simple and direct; this approach perhaps reaches its apogee on ‘Everyone is fucked,’ the lyrics of which (dedicated to the President-Elect on Saturday) consist of:

Everyone is fucked

No one fucking cares

Everyone is fucked

No one fucking cares

Everyone is fucked

And no one fucking cares…

Leonard Cohen it ain’t, but it was all pretty rousing, and the smallish crowd (which may have consisted of me, the next band on, and their followers) were very appreciative.

After that, the prospect of post punk suit shopping (by which I mean shopping after hearing some punk rock, rather than ‘post punk,’ since I have no real clue what the hell that means) seemed a bit of a come down. It was only after I got into the changing room to try something on that I realised I was still wearing the PJ Molloy’s gig wristband.

That kind of did it for me. I didn’t buy the suit.

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Brexit, Biscuits and Bigotry – who really won in June.

Daughter and Heiress’s latest thoughts on post-Brexit Britain

Heather Ferguson Scot Blog

Article 50 is yet to be triggered (if ever) but that doesn’t mean that June’s referendum has not already changed the country. We have already been told we will soon have to pay more for our KitKats and fish fingers but there have already been darker consequences. Hate crime rose in its wake with the National Police Chief’s Council indicating a fifty-seven percent rise in attacks in the days following the referendum. Immigrants who had lived comfortably here for years soon found themselves bearing the brunt of not only verbal abuse but physical in attacks in some cases. An anti-immigrant rhetoric soon showed its ugly head. The Britain that celebrated its multiculturalism and welcomed immigrants didn’t seem like the same place anymore.

Immigration was a major topic in the Brexit debate and the issue seemed to drive many ‘Leave’ voters to vote the way they did. However, following the referendum…

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Songs in a Scottish Accent 6: Never Forget Who We Are (Slight Return)

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And so, at long last, my solo album/vanity project, Songs in a Scottish Accent, is finished. The box of newly-printed CDs arrived yesterday, and test plays on the home and car audio confirmed that, yes, it’s me groaning out of the speakers.

Go to my page on the album now, and you’ll see that it’s free in return for a contribution to a refugee charity. Not that I’m going to check up on you, of course: stop me and get one next time you see me at a gig or wherever, or write to me and I’ll post it to you; after that, it’s on your head which charity you give to, and how much.

On the page itself, I go into why it’s Songs in a Scottish Accent. Why a refugee charity though?

That explanation’s bound up with the creation of the track I’m putting up below, ‘Never Forget.’ I’d been aware, as most people must be by now, of the spiralling refugee crisis in North Africa and Southern Europe for some time now. However, as I said in a previous post about this track, the trigger for me writing the poem was the sight of English football fans rampaging through a French town, attacking locals and being generally racist and unpleasant.

The poem’s not meant to be just about that, however – nor is it meant to express a view on the post-Brexit domestic political questions we’re wrestling with in the good ol’ U of K: to be clear, the line about living in the early days of a better nation isn’t meant to express a view for or against an outcome of a second Scottish independence referendum, if we get to that. The ‘we’ of the title, and constant refrain of the poem, can be taken to mean any part of, or the whole of, what generally gets called ‘the West.’

In other words, the poem was meant to reflect my feelings about the whole way in which the West has responded, post 9/11, to Islamic fundamentalism by means which, to me, cut away any supposed moral high ground we might lay claim to. Things like the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay; the ‘special rendition’ missions to render terrorist suspects, not to the law’s due process, but to illegal torture methods; more recently, the frankly incredible way Muslim women wearing burkinis were treated this summer on French beaches.

Those might be described as state-sanctioned: but let’s not kid ourselves. The rise in hate crimes since the Brexit result, to give just one example, shows how people – ordinary people, who could live just down the road – give the lie to any complacency that we in the West are in some way more ‘civilised’ than the terrorist nutters who seek to attack us. Tied in with that now seems to be a general climate of fear of ‘the other,’ whether it be our peace-loving neighbours of a different faith than ours, immigrant workers, or even the refugees currently overwhelming aid agencies in southern Europe.

So what did I do? I wrote a poem. Well, that’ll show them!

Perhaps more constructively, I would like to see the fruits of my artistic labours go towards something positive. I’m very, very, fortunate to live in a rich country, with a well-paid, secure job, with family and friends safe and well. Just a few hours in a plane away, on the other side of the continent I still call mine, hundreds of thousands of people – ordinary people, who could live just down the road, but were unlucky enough to live instead in countries ravaged by war – are risking their lives crossing the sea to the dubious safety of ill-prepared refugee camps, relying on the kindness of strangers.

So, if you lay your hands on my CD, enjoy the words and music, but in return, drop some money into a tin either in reality or online, and help these guys out.

 

(Incidentally, in the previous post I had set the words to a Mogwai track. Someone commented on Facebook that I should do my own music to accompany it, and I have. Thanks, Janet!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Songs in a Scottish Accent 5: A Hidden Advantage of Analog

Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album, Nebraska, still divides opinion amongst his fans. Burned out by the long creative and recording process it took to produce his masterpiece, The River, and its accompanying tour schedule, Springsteen headed home with what was then a modern bit of tech in the form of a 4-track portastudio (1). He recorded most of the tracks that became Nebraska in a single all nighter: conceived of as a demo tape for the E Street Band, he then caught up on some sleep and went fishing.

Here’s where myth and fact start to merge. The master tape from those original sessions, in cassette form, then sat in Springsteen’s denim jacket pocket for some months, and, at some stage, may or may not have dropped in the river when he went out fishing with his boom box and it tipped out of the boat. Either way, it eventually found its way back to civilisation and Sprngsteen, after trying and failing to recapture the original spirit of the recording with the E Street Band, issued the album from a much rejigged and enhanced version of the original pondweed-encrusted cassette.

Or so the story goes. My own story, about the track below, is a bit more prosaic.

I released the original ‘Scotland as an XBox Game’ on Soundcloud some time ago, but it wasn’t till I performed it one night live to a backing track with harmonica, that my friend and long time creative collaborator Gavin Inglis came up with the idea of an 8 bit remix of it. (2) I sent him the original tracks: he did an outstanding remix, but, being Gav, just wanted to tweak it one last time. Eventually, I arranged a time to go over to his flat and stand over him while he perfected it to his own exacting standards. Then he exported it to an mp3, copied it to a memory stick I’d brought for the very purpose, and I headed off into the night, happy as Larry.

Here comes the really prosaic bit. A short time later, before I’d copied the mp3 anywhere else, I realised I needed a memory stick for a work presentation I was preparing at home. That was the one nearest to hand: I knew it had my only copy of the mp3 on it, but I wouldn’t, I reasoned, be so irredeemably stupid as to lose it.

I wasn’t that irredeemably stupid. What I did do was tuck the memory stick into my shirt pocket at the end of the working day and set off for home, reasoning I wouldn’t be so irredeemably stupid as to forget about it and put the shirt in the wash without taking the memory stick out first.

Yup. As some of you will have seen from Facebook or Twitter, I was that irredeemably stupid. Cue more demands on the Gavster’s precious time, one more tweak from him, and, at long last, voila! Scotland as an XBox Game (8 bit remix).

As a story, it lacks the romance of the Springsteen one: no fishing trip, just two trips through the fast coloureds wash was all it took to kill the memory stick and its precious cargo. The key thing to note here, really, is this hidden advantage of analog, although to be fair I wouldn’t have fancied submitting the Boss’s precious master tape to the tender mercies of the Tricity Bendix 1000 spin cycle either.

Anyway, here it is. I love it because it’s nothing like anything I would have come up with myself. With or without a fishing trip.

(1) He also took his engineer home with him, which is less romantic than the idea of him doing it all by himself, but then, he was a major recording star by that stage. Wouldn’t you?

(2) I had no idea either. Gav sold it to me on the basis that it would be ‘lots of bleeping noises.’ I trusted him implicitly, and so should you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reinventing Edinburgh – a short review

A couple of days in Edinburgh earlier this week gave us a different perspective on a city we know so well, mainly, but not just, because we were staying in an unfamiliar part of town.

Fountainbridge has traditionally not been the most scenic part of town. Originally an industrial area built around the end of the Union Canal, which was the unloading point for goods shipped from the west coast via the Forth-Clyde Canal, it was for many years dominated by the former Uniroyal factory and a massive brewery. With all of that cleared away, there’s now major redevelopment going on which will, eventually, see this whole area come up in the world.

In the meantime, there are the green shoots of gentrification. We stayed in the excellent Brooks Hotel, partly on price, but mainly because it was a short distance from Daughter and Heiress’s new gaff in the Napier University student accommodation at Bainfield. The Tripadvisor reviews for Brooks were pretty uniformly positive, with only a few grumbles about the ‘compactness’ of the rooms. Well, if you’re looking for a hotel room to have vast, rolling acres of carpet between you and the en suite, with herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain, this one probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re happy with a neat wee place with contemporary decor, polite and helpful staff, and a cosy lounge with a fire and an honesty bar, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Less recommended is Loudon’s Cafe and Bakery, which we went to for breakfast with D & H the first morning. You can’t fault the presentation of the food (see pic below) or the pleasantness of the staff. However, I thought my tastes were pretty cosmopolitan till I experienced chilli powder in the Eggs Royale. I mean, come on, guys! Chilli for breakfast? Call me suburban. OK, so I am suburban. And my suburban sensibilities were also kind of knocked back by the £42 bill for what was a modest breakfast for three. Far better value to head up Viewforth to Bruntsfield, where perhaps the proliferation of coffee shops has kept the price down.

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I would, however, recommend the Fountain, just across the road from the new cinema complex. You can tell it’s a gastropub because it has that poncy habit of not adding the pound sign on the menu. So pate and oatcakes (v. good) might be, oh, 7 1/2. Or £7.50 to us Fifers. The beer wasn’t the best pint of IPA I’ve had, but it was definitely a cut above your usual pub grub, and a nice atmosphere.

Sadly I have to report a diminution in quality of Filmhouse audiences however. Traditionally the patrons of this long-established arthouse mecca were impeccably behaved. However, there to see the really quite funny in an undemanding way (unlike the other harrowing works of artistry on offer in the rest of the FH programme) Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I am disappointed to say the whole lot of them yakked right through the Pearl and Dean and trailer offerings, with one couple even daring to keep talking WHEN THE FILM HAD STARTED. Fortunately, they were shushed Quite Severely by the Edinburgh matron in front of them. However, the bad behaviour didn’t stop there, as many people left as soon as the credits started rolling, instead of sitting respectfully on to see who the Key Grip had been. O tempora, o mores

In general I was really impressed with the way Fountainbridge is coming on. The bit at the end of the canal, with its grafted on restaurants and bars, is starting to look less incongruous as the surrounding area comes up in the world. Mind you, the whole of Edinburgh seems to be on the march at the moment: the sounds of construction were with us wherever we went in the rest of the city, too. There was a slightly surreal visit to the universally-loathed St James centre, a Sixties-built mall of near-legendary ugliness which is now ghostly quiet, the retailers all having been moved out apart from the anchor, John Lewis. Quite spooky.

There’s a reason for all this construction, of course. With the dip in fortunes of oil-dependent Aberdeen, the capital’s become the major economic powerhouse in Scotland, and is set to exceed Glasgow population-wise in the next few years. The City Region Deal currently under negotiation should unlock the infrastructure needed to drive all this development forward. I hope it can all be done sympathetically. I’m very far from being a dyed in the wool Cockburn Association old crusty, but Edinburgh is a special place, and the planners need to balance the demands of the developers against preserving that special character.

Good luck with that. We suburbanites will be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Bands and Badly-Judged Bandanas: Reflections on Lost in Music

I read Giles Smith’s Lost in Music recently: got it second hand in Leith Walk’s excellent music and bookshop, Elvis Shakespeare. A  journalist of some repute as well as, apparently, ghost writer for Tom Jones and Rod Stewart, Smith is the same age as me, so part of the appeal of his book was the bit about growing up and having your formative experiences in pop music filtered through that particular time period. Like me, he had older siblings,  whose record collections allowed access to a slightly more sophisticated set of tastes than, say, T Rex.

I also enjoyed his often extremely funny tales of first bands and the travails of wanting to be a pop star, only to find you and your best mates have neither the connections nor, necessarily, the talent to make it. Of course, part of the charm of the book is it’s related with typical British self-deprecation: Smith did, briefly, nearly make it with a band called Cleaners from Venus, being signed to RCA’s German division. (If you think that name’s dodgy, try those of Smith’s previous bands: Pony, and Orphans of Babylon).

Unfortunately for Smith, what should have been a triumphant promotional tour of Germany was slightly marred by the lead singer and leading light’s philosophical aversion to touring, leading to a tour with no lead singer. For an excellent  – and, looking back now, poignant – review of the book, go to John Peel’s piece in the Independent.

Anyways. It got me thinking about my own early forays into the world of music, all those years ago. I came late to guitar playing, after discouraging parent-inspired forays into violin and piano. At about sixteen, I first started painfully acquiring the muscle memory to play basic chords on my brother’s nylon-string guitar: this led to a birthday present of a Kiso-Suzuki J200 copy. I embarked on mastering this, fired by the conviction that I could be the Next Big Thing in Rock. Specifically, I saw myself becoming the New Dylan – this was the early Eighties, bear in mind, when the Old Dylan was finding Jesus and tearing up his back catalogue.

At about the age of nineteen, I responded to an advert in a music shop in Edinburgh, and the Rob Long Band was formed. The band, at least in that incarnation, consisted of just me and the eponymous Rob,who was, I think, the same age, possessed of a red Stratocaster, (before Tony Blair made such an instrument terminally uncool) and of immeasurably greater guitar-playing experience and ability than me. Rehearsing solidly in Rob’s student flat above the Southsider, we quickly assembled a set of what might now be described as ‘classic rock.’ I sang, played harmonica and rhythm guitar; Rob did all the clever guitar bits.

We did ‘Shakin’ All Over,’ because Rob could do the riff. I can’t remember if we did ‘Message in a Bottle,’ live, but he could do the riff for that, too. He really was a pretty good guitar player, looking back. There was one original song in the set, a jointly-penned effort with a twelve-bar blues structure. The lyrics were something about Maggie Thatcher and nuclear war, which back then was about as original as using a twelve-bar blues structure for the music.

Our first – and in many ways best – gig was in the University Union in Chambers Street. All our friends came along to cheer: the folk in the flat below Rob’s, who had had to endure the solid rehearsals, came along to boo. I dedicated ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ to them: not a Judas moment, exactly, but it did shut them up for the full five minutes it took for all four verses plus verse-long harmonica solo. I also encountered my first example of the live-performance brain freeze known as Temporary Fretboard Amnesia, making a complete bourach of my one guitar solo (Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here.’)

In retrospect, we must have been pretty awful. Rob could have been Eric Bloody Clapton for all it mattered: my guitar playing was basic to say the least, and I had home-schooled myself in the Dylan/Mark Knopfler nasal whine, to the extent that it was pretty much croak-perfect. But our friends were kind, and most of them weren’t in bands so maybe didn’t know any better, so the long march to musical stardom wasn’t stopped in its tracks then and there.

For our second, and, in many ways, worst gig, Rob enlisted a bass player pal, one Andy Robb. I think we had one rehearsal with him before unleashing ourselves on the unsuspecting punters in Sneaky Pete’s in the Cowgate. However, one rehearsal was quite obviously going to be enough for Andy, who was one of that breed of musician you meet from time to time in bands: the self-proclaimed virtuoso. Andy played double bass in the Uni orchestra, didn’t you know, so he was basically doing us (or, at least Rob) a Massive Favour by slumming it in the Rob Long Band.

Encouraged by the band’s two-gig longevity, I splashed out on some performance gear. This took the form of a bandana (I know, but I repeat, this was the early Eighties) which was white, but with a Japanese – style rising sun in the middle. With this and (if I remember right) a grandad shirt with vertical stripes, I was good to go stage-gear wise, I felt.

Needless to say the gig didn’t live up to the lead singer’s outfit. Most of the punters moved away to the other bar as soon as we got started; Andy chose to tell me half way through that I wasn’t playing in time with him (it couldn’t have been, of course, that he wasn’t playing in time with me). There were no encores.

After we finished, a girl I vaguely knew came up to me.

‘What’s that on your head?’

‘It’s a bandana. It’s got the Rising Sun on it.’

‘Oh, right. I thought it was a bandage and you’d cut yourself.’

That summed it up, really. There was no third gig. I stayed friendly with Rob, but I suppose we both realised we needed something more than a virtuoso bass player to get us to the next level.

After that, my musical career kind of went on the back burner. I rehearsed with another band at Uni, but the other guitarist was too spaced out for us ever to get a gig organised. After I started work there was a disastrous solo gig in the Lundin Links Hotel when the receptionist, as part of the deal that got me the gig in the first place, got to play her own set first, which basically consisted of my set list, for reasons which I have never quite managed to work out.

There were the rehearsals with a couple of blokes in Dundee who mainly wanted to play Whitesnake covers. There were the couple of rehearsals with a friend of a friend, also in Dundee, which came to an end when he brought in another self-proclaimed virtuoso, a guitarist, who calmly announced that neither I nor Barry, the friend of a friend, were good enough guitarists to make it as a duo (Barry, when I last heard, is still playing and still gigging. I do hope the self-proclaimed virtuoso isn’t in the band).

Then, other than solo home noodling, nothing for years. I threw my creative energies into writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, with mixed success. It wasn’t until 2008, when I formed Tribute to Venus Carmichael with Kelly as a musical interlude in the Free Fringe spoken word gigs I did that year, that the fire was lit under my musical muse again. Another key collaboration was at the Book Festival Unbound gig in 2010, when I did a spoken word and music number with Kelly, Charlotte Halton on sax, and one Mark Allan, my future Isaac Brutal band leader, on the other guitar.

What would the nineteen year old me make of how things have turned out? He’d probably be pretty disappointed my main source of income isn’t as the new Dylan, if not exactly surprised. (He’d be secretly impressed, I reckon, I married a beautiful woman and have stayed married to her.) Would he settle for being in two bands with fantastic people, with songwriting duties in both? An album from each as well as a self-produced solo album coming out in the next few months, not to mention the novel?

No idea. The nineteen year old me was terribly ambitious about his creative endeavours.

Would he want me to write a song titled Fuck Off Andy Robb?

Yes. Yes, I think he would.

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Incidentally, if any of you have war stories of disastrous band relationships or gigs, feel free to contribute – I might write a song based on them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Songs in a Scottish Accent 4: the wrong kind of cricket

If you think of yourself as ‘alternative’ in any sort of way, there are sometimes moments when you realise just how far you’ve swum against the current and out of the mainstream. On such moment happened to me recently, when two art teachers, one of them wearing a maroon pork pie hat, called me ‘weird’ to my face. Here’s how it happened…

Some songs come to me with just the basic tune on acoustic guitar and keyboard. Others, usually late at night when I’m about to fall asleep and then forget them, are fully orchestrated – sometimes quite literally. Most are somewhere in the middle, and it’s a case of knowing what to put in and leave out instrumentally. Usually leave out, to be honest.

As soon as I had the basic riff and lyrical idea for ‘Prophets on Instagram,’ though, I knew the type of vibe I wanted on the track. And that included crickets. It was to be a bluesy, doomy kind of stomp, and the background noise of the Gryllidae family was part of that. Lanois used them on Dylan’s ‘Man in the Long Black Coat,’ on the album they did down in New Orleans (1), ‘Oh Mercy.’ Lucinda Williams, too, had them on some of the tracks on ‘Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.’ Probably partly through the movies, there’s a specific sound of crickets that conjures up a Southern Gothic night of humid, portent-filled dread for me. And I thought I had a means of getting it.

My go-to place for sound effects is Freesound, but I always prefer, if I can, to create noises of my own and load them up there for others to use. It’s a great sharing community, of the kind that the Net used to excel at. Whilst the Scottish Lowlands aren’t really natural habitat for crickets (or indeed cricket) I had, on recent visits to Pets At Home on our friendly neighbourhood retail park, heard them singing. We were there to restock the Redoubtable Mrs F’s aquarium (there’s a separate post to come some time on the tale of more-than-a-bit pregnant female guppy) but, on hearing the crickets, I conceived Plan A, which was to record them in situ.

Needless to say, next time I was there with my trusty Zoom H4n, not a chirrup was to be heard. While the RMF went to have her water tested (the aquarium’s that is, not hers) I went to look at the crickets. The crickets looked out at me, from their little plastic boxes containing little cardboard crenellations. I had come to understand on previous visits that nobody actually kept crickets as pets. Oh no: instead, people that keep reptiles as pets need them as a live feed for their little darlings. I was about to head up towards the fish again when I caught sight of the ‘reduced to clear’ section of cricket world, and wished I hadn’t.

It would appear that reptiles aren’t over fussy about just how live their food is: for a bargain price, the reptile lovers could take home a boxful of half dead, clinically dead, and dying crickets, grasshoppers, locusts and the like. Like all convenience foods, it seems, crickets and the rest have a shelf life. They waved their mandibles and antennae at me, pathetically, and I felt a twinge of sympathy for the wee critters. I mean, it’s not much of a choice, is it, getting snapped up by some bearded gecko or left to peg out under the unforgiving striplights of a retail shed?

Which partially explains why I ended up buying a full price box of brown crickets. ‘Oh,’ said the tall girl behind the till, ‘What is it you’ve got?’ Meaning of course, which reptile was awaiting a live dinner, its basilisk eyerevolving slowly in anticipation?

‘Err, nothing,’ I felt compelled to say, before launching into a probably over-detailed explanation of why I needed them. Just outside the store, we met two of the RMF’s work colleagues, the aforementioned art teachers. Again the explanation; this time, the reaction I described at the start. I considered a cheap rejoinder about the hat, but resisted.

Back home, the presence of a boxful of rustling insectoid life was considered less than welcome, really on any of our parts. The crickets went into the conservatory while I did a bit of reasearch. This revealed:

  1. Crickets can be fed on most vegetables, including parsley;
  2. They have an adult life span of a few weeks, so even without the intervention of the Lizard People, it wasn’t like they were a pet for life;
  3. Brown crickets are especially favoured amongst the keepers of reptiles, as they make virtually no sound.

Yup. Guess which kind I’d bought.

As an aside, it was amazing how much information on crickets in fact came from sites dedicated to reptile aficionados. Apparently, depending on how many scaly things you keep, you might need entire roomfuls of crickets just to maintain a food supply for them. Hence the desire for quiet ones. It seemed to me a bit ironic that the main sites I was consulting to keep my crickets alive, were in fact dedicated to seeing they were funnelled towards certain death. It gave me another twinge of fellow feeling for the little chaps.

However, after a day or so of watching mounds of home-grown parsley disappear in the box, and not a single sound beyond that infernal scrabbling, I decided enough was enough. It was time for my brown crickets to roam free across the Fife countryside, taking their chances in the local ecosystem – and, I hoped, not mucking it up in the process.

Walking nonchalantly out of the house and past the window of my ever-vigilant neighbours, I took the crickets to the closed off road at the side of our housing estate and had a quick glance left and right to ensure no dog walkers were about.

I looked down at the little fellers, crowded now at the front of their box. They stared back at me, mutely. I appreciated that I was probably sending them to certain death – Scotland in May is probably not within their recommended temperature range – and yet, somehow, I felt I was doing the best I could for them. In fact, I felt like some kind-hearted First World War general about to send his brave boys over the top, knowing that the German machine guns were, as likely as not, still operational.

As such, I felt some sort of pep talk was necessary. ‘Well, boys,’ I said, in a non-gender specific way, ‘I’ve done what I can for you. It’s down to you, now.’

Predictably, the crickets said nothing in reply as they scrambled into the undergrowth.

So there you are. Cricket, the sport: absolutely marvellous. Only game worth a tinker’s curse, imho. Crickets, the insect: best sampled via Freesound.

 

 

 

(1) I feel compelled to tell one of my favourite Dylan stories, which concerns that particular song.

Interviewer:’When you say in the lyric, “people don’t live or die, people just float,” what did you have in mind?’

Dylan: ‘I needed something to rhyme with “coat.”‘

silent-brown-crickets-pre-packed-tub-extra-large-832-pekm218x164ekm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Songs in a Scottish Accent 3: the Thing with Final Versions

So. If you’ve been following the story so far (and there’s really no reason for me to suppose you have been, tbh) I posted a wee while ago about this solo album/vanity project of mine, ‘Songs in a Scottish Accent.’ In putting up a demo version of one of my songs, ‘Forecast to Freeze,’ I wrote that the thing with demo versions was that, sometimes, you’re just so damned enamoured of the thing you rush it out warts and all, desperate for the world to hear your genius musicality. Prefaced, of course, with a remark along the lines of, ‘It’s a bit rough, but I think you’ll get the idea…’

Now, as I approach the stage where, for the sake of my sanity apart from anything more worthy, I need to finish this thing, I realise that there comes a stage where you can’t call it a demo any more. It’s the final version. And while it may not be over till the generously proportioned woman who’s entirely comfortable with her body image sings, once you send that track off to the guy that presses the CDs and he’s nailed it down with his tungsten carbide drill or whatever (I’m hazy on the tech, here, you’ll appreciate) it really is the final, final version. At least for that CD.

But, I realise as I follow down the various options (always so many options!) for mixing the tracks for ‘Songs…’ you can never, really, truly say a version’s a definitive version. Take ‘Scotland as an XBox Game,’ for example. I thought I’d finished with that sucker, right after I put the track on my taster EP, ‘Autumn Fruit.’ (which you can totally have for free, post free, anywhere in the world, in exchange for occasional mailing to an email of your choice). No need to meddle with that for the full album, I thought. And then I decided to stick a harmonica solo on the end of it. Why? Why not?

Meantime, of course, my good mate and musical mentor Gavin Inglis had taken it away and made an 8 bit remix of it, just because he fancied it. More of that version soon, as soon in fact as Gav decides he’s got the final, final, final version.

In the meantime, here are three final(ish) versions of songs that are going on the album:

I shoved up a version of ‘Forecast to Freeze’ before. However, partly because I realised the key was actually wrong for my voice – y’know, that little thing that proper singers get all prissy about – and partly because, as my good mate and band leader Mark Allan has included it in the setlist for Isaac Brutal and the Brutalists, I wanted to do something definably different from the band’s rendition of it – I rerecorded it, in D instead of C this time, with a good few changes to the instrumentation. Not absolutely sure about the percussion yet! POSTSCRIPT: Yeah, the percussion didn’t really work – the version below’s the final version, with just the shaker thing.

‘Forest Fire,’ on the other hand, will be new to you. In contrast to ‘Forecast…’ which I’ve said before sprang, fully formed, from my waking musical interlude, with Springsteen on the main channel as I scribbled the lyrics down over breakfast, ‘Forest Fire’ was a total pain in the backside to write, execute and record from start to finish. Partly, of course, this was because I decided it was a piano-led song, which meant, as a non-piano player, trying to be as painstaking as possible with the accompaniment before recording the vocals. The latter then took multiple different takes on three different occasions before I was satisfied.  Which is, like, a lot for me. The low strings, (a setting on the Korg X5D called X Strings, for those interested) to be fair, only took half an hour.

So why all the trouble? Well, the lyrics may be pretty opaque to everyone else, but I know what they mean! I hope they come to mean something to you as well, of course, even if it’s something completely different to their original intent. In fact, especially so.

The third song/spoken word piece, ‘Credo (I Want to Believe).’ is in a lighter mode after all the introspection of the last two. It’s basically my philosophy of life set to a soundtrack which is the illegitimate offspring of those two fine Nineties bands, Kula Shaker and Stone Roses. With probably a bit more of the former in the bone structure. I had a lot of fun recording it.

So, enjoy! And don’t hold me to these being the final versions…

Although, given time constraints, they probably are.

POSTSCRIPT: they are now! I don’t have room or inclination on Soundcloud to host every version, so these are the final album versions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Send In The Clowns: Jason Isbell Review

Some friends, loyal colleagues and family have been nice enough to ask me in the last fortnight what I’m ‘doing’ at the Fringe this year. To which I’ve replied: nothing. Nada. Not a single thing. Zilcho.

And, relaxing with a couple of bandmates and a pint of the amber nectar in the White Horse as other people’s friends, loyal colleagues and family were shovelled in and out of the back room which, on 1st October, will be Tribute to Venus Carmichael’s for the whole evening, I felt incredibly okay with that.

Anyway, enough about me. Imagine instead that you’re rising new country/rock musician Jason Isbell, booked into the Liquid Rooms for two nights running in the middle of August. You step out for a pre-gig bit of fresh air, and you’re engulfed in the madness that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: acres of railings plastered with posters of desperately gurning stand-ups; thronging crowds of confused Japanese tourists, fire-eaters and shouty posh boys with fliers; and the steady grind of gridlocked traffic, all trying to get somewhere, anywhere, where there isn’t a tour bus parked in the way. It must have been a relief for the poor chap to dive into the sweaty fug of the Liquid Rooms, and his own gig.

A genial onstage presence, Isbell had a nice line in amused bemusement at the carnivalesque maelstrom he had found himself in. ‘This is muiscal improv,’ he announced, prior to launching into another well-rehearsed number with his small but tight band (drums, bass, second guitar and keys/accordion). ‘Actually, there’s a reason why most musical improv’s free.’

I had first encountered Isbell through Jools Holland’s Later… and liked him enough to look him up on Youtube. For those of you, like me, raised to associate country with rhinestones, cheesy grins and a particular type of fake sincerity, his music’s nothing like that: though the melodies clearly owe a debt to the country tradition, the storytelling and songcraft in numbers like ‘Cover Me Up,’ and ’24 Frames’ remind me of Springsteen at his best, but without the bombast. Switching between Les Paul and acoustic for some numbers, Isbell showed he was no mere strummer, with both he and the other guitarist using slide on occasion as an extra texture.

In terms of material, fortunately for me he drew heavily on his last two albums, ‘South Eastern,’ and ‘Something More Than Free,’ with highlights the two songs, mentioned in the last paragraph, plus ‘Stockholm,’ ‘Flying Over Water,’ and ‘If It Takes A Lifetime.’ An encore of ‘Elephant’ and ‘Super 8,’ went down a storm with the enthusiastic, crowded-to-the rafters audience, who were noticeably singing along to the more recent songs. From the look of the crowd – twenty-somethings and up – Isbell has a growing fan base, and if he can keep playing killer gigs like this, it’s only going to get bigger.

It was no mean feet to fill the Liquid Rooms to the brim – twice – with all the other competing attractions, but he and his Alabama bandmates were definitely who everyone there wanted to see. ‘You be careful,’ he admonished us, sending us into a night full of Fringe tomfoolery.

Quite right Jason. There’s a whole lot of real clowns out there.