writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Otto’s Biography

Why Otto’s Biography? Good question. I’ve been wrangling a lot of new material over the last 6 months or so: some that I thought worth rescuing from the vaults; but mostly stuff I’ve written over the past year. At the same time, I’ve been having lots of fun collaborating with various musical friends on covers as well as some original material.

How does all that coalesce into an album? I’ve still not made my final selections for what now has a working title of Friends and other Heroes. In the meantime, these four songs seem to fit together. They’re autobiographical, except where they aren’t. By which I mean, they’re not so achingly autobiographical that you’ll not identify with the protagonist.

The Songs and (a bit of) their story

1. The Silence In Between

The only thing I want to say about this song is that it isn’t quite the conventional love song it sounds like – at least not for me: it can be for you! When I wrote it I had in mind someone who’s very close to me, a family member. Because we’ve known each other so long, there’s sometimes no need for words. I’ve already blogged about the guitar work on it recently.

2. Fingers and Thumbs

This is maybe the most oblique set of lyrics in the EP: think that old Scottish theme of duality; Jekyll and Hyde, Deacon Brodie, but perhaps with both halves not being black and white. I’ll say no more than that.

3. The Stand.

I had a lot of fun doing the original guitar track on the Sniper edition Telecaster, and then when I found the drums on Mixcraft – called, incidentally, Native American – things started to take shape. Previous to that, on acoustic guitar,  it had been like some sort of folky drinking song: the feel I had in mind eventually was more in the Richard Thompson arena (now there’s a good name for a sports stadium!) Mr Brutal himself, Mark Allan, added the excellent bass line.


4. Otto’s Song

Finally, a song to the little guy in the picture: a message to my younger self, I suppose. The photo fell into my hands late last year: it shows me on the beach at Rothesay, where our family were on holiday. We’d either met this other family who we were friendly with there on purpose or by accident: I don’t know which. Either way, it’s the mid-Sixties, I’m guessing I’m about 3 or 4, and my brother’s larking about with me.

At the time I got the picture, I was going through a hard time for various reasons, and I thought, what message would I send to my younger self? More than that, what would I promise him for his own far future? And in so doing, I made a promise to myself for my own near future I’m still working on.

These songs are on the gentler, more acoustic end of my output. I hope you like them: they’re free to download. If you do listen to or download, them, though, perhaps you could drop some cash into the next refugee charity collecting tin for me? Fife Migrants Forum, for example, does a lot of good work close to me.

Thanks for reading – and, I hope, listening. It means a lot to me.

My mother, centre of the picture, with our family friends


Serving the Song: or, Noodling the Knopfler Way

guitar magazine april issueI bought a guitar porn magazine the other day (be still, gentle reader, I just mean a guitar magazine, called, with devastating originality, Guitar Magazine). The visual image that drew me to it was Fender’s new Acoustasonic, but at £1,799 it’s unlikely to be troubling my bank balance any time soon.

Like the other industry I mentioned, the world of guitars and guitar people has its own annual convention where you can interact with the models of your choice and, no doubt, see performances: but the other thing that drew me to the front cover was the ’50 + Pro Tips from the biggest names in guitar featuring Gilmour, Vai, Beck and more…’

Many of these were entirely sound and sensible, without being particularly ground breaking. However, the one that struck a chord (doh! unintentional pun, honest!) was Vince Gill, sometime guitarist with the Eagles, who said: ‘the real purpose behind the guitar playing on a lot of those classic records was to serve the song. It wasn’t just somebody out there blowing a bunch of riffs over some changes. All the guitar parts were beautifully thought out, very well composed and unbelievably memorable.’

Well said, sir – which leads me to my unexpected  purchase the other day, and its unintended consequences. I’ve blogged before about the relative merits of The Stratocaster and Telecaster models of guitars, and how, for various reasons, my heart lies with the Tele.

However, when the Redoubtable Mrs F drew my attention to a Rockburn Strat copy going for 30 quid in a charity shop in town, I had to have a look. And there she was, languishing in the window, with the handwritten caption of ‘£30 worth £100;’ the hundred being a mite ambitious for a Rockburn, according to my post-purchase internet research.

However, she was definitely worth the 30 if she played at all. It was always going to be a brief relationship: my original idea was to stick it on a Facebook group for 50 quid, giving the proceeds to charity; but she’s now going to Jefffest007 – le concert dans le jardin in July, where she’ll be raffled off to a bunch of folk with more guitars than sense in aid of Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

Back home after work, I plugged her in and gave her a try. She sounded pretty much like a Strat, and the action was good.

Here’s the thing. If you look closely at both guitars, even those of you who don’t play will see differences. They have different pickups – the means by which the sound of the string resonating against the wood is picked up by the electrics for further amplification. The Tele has two knobs, the Strat three. If you lay hands on them and fiddle about with the selector switches, you’ll see that the Tele has three switch positions, while the Strat has five. In many ways, these differences are a result of the Strat being developed 4 years after the Tele. It’s a bit more of a sophisticated design, to be fair.

Does any of this matter? I hear you ask, stretching and yawning. To an extent, no: in the end of the day, all both sets of electrics are doing is producing a signal, which can then be manipulated in any number of ways by amplifiers and pedals. With the right pedal, you could make either of them sound like a Hawker Harrier jump jet taking off if you really want.

But. Played unadorned and with minimal amplification, they do sound different. I’ll not drone on about the different settings and tones, because if you’re a player you probably know all of that already, and if you’re not, it’s frankly probably not that interesting. However, the one setting which is of interest here is on the Strat, and it’s the second switch position from top.

I had this song, you see – ‘the Silence In Between,’ which I’d written early last year, and I was pretty keen on. However, when I shared it (amongst others) with a couple of close confederates, it wasn’t the one they picked out. I kind of knew why: it’s at heart a country song, and my original demo just had my voice and some fingerpicked acoustic guitar. It needed something else.

In an ideal world, what it needed was some understated pedal steel guitar – preferably by someone who could really play pedal steel guitar, rather than me just giving it a bit of a go – but in the absence of either, the song sat at the back of the queue for some time. I wasn’t serving it properly.

Then, the night I acquired the Rockburn, I had some free time to play it, and hit on the idea of some gentle noodling on it being the answer to the song’s problems. If you’re not familiar with the instrument, you’ll still, I think recognise its tone in the second-from-top switch position: it’s a particularly sweet, sound, which you can probably hear in all sorts of artists’ work, but which I associate most with early Dire Straits records.

Mark Knopfler isn’t quite the megastar he was these days, and is reportedly all the happier for it. However, I still maintain some of his best songwriting is on Dire Straits’ first album, where he played, almost exclusively, a Fender Strat, without much in the way of effects pedals or anything else. And I’d say one hell of a lot of his solos were on that second position from top setting. (He was subsequently to get his own guitar designed for him that was a hybrid of Strat and Les Paul. But that’s another story).

Now, I wouldn’t for a single second compare my noodling on this to one of the best guitarists in the world’s playing, but, in spirit at least, it’s meant to evoke the same feel to the track. And to serve the song, which, let’s just say, is meaningful to me at least.

Enjoy – and don’t be shy of adding your feedback. This may well not be the final version. Particularly if I can lay hands on that pedal steel player.












Albums of 1979: March

Less Than 100 Days To Go Until The General Election - Post ...March was month of strange portents. In the north-east of England, the middle of the month saw unprecedented blizzard conditions, with 50cm of snow falling on Newcastle.

Politically, however, the United Kingdom’s history was turned on its head by the outcome of a referendum, and a motion of no confidence in the Government forcing an election.

The referendum, on 1st March, 1979, was for Scottish devolution. The Scottish people voted by a majority of 77,437 for the proposals for a Scottish Parliament: however, the legislation provided for devolution only if 40% of all Scottish voters were in favour. With a turnout of 64%, only 32.9% were in favour, and Scotland would wait another 20 years for any form of meaningful self-government.

Suitably enraged, the SNP joined with the Liberals and the Conservatives in a motion of no confidence against James Callaghan’s Labour Government. The subsequent election in May brought Margaret Thatcher to power.

Crisis? What Crisis? (Callaghan apparently never really said that, but like all such political stories, it seemed believable enough to enough people for that not to matter).

So, with all that going on, what music was being released this month 40 years ago?

Supertramp - Breakfast in America.jpgMy first selection from the month’s releases didn’t reference any of that, or indeed the previous year’s so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ in the UK. This may be because Supertramp had decamped to the sunnier climes of California in 1977. ‘Breakfast in America,’ whilst not the outright satire of US culture that some supposed, dealt with American themes, and included four US Billboard hit singles.

Whilst I remember ‘Goodbye Stranger,’ the one that really stuck in my head – and got a lot of airplay amongst some of my friends – was ‘The Logical Song,’ which was annoyingly hooky. I’m pleased to learn from Wikipedia that it did, at least, win the Ivor Novello Award, both for lyrics and music, apparently.



Next up, a band I always liked whenever I heard a track of theirs, but never actually bought an album of (there’s a few of these).

Squeezing out sparks cover.jpg

Graham Parker and the Rumour released Squeezing Out Sparks this month: according to many critics, one of his best. You’d describe it as new wave, I guess: interestingly, while the Clash were looking to expand their sound, Parker was looking for a tougher, leaner sound on this album, with the outcome that Parker’s rhythm and blues session musicians all went to record on London Calling.

Standout tracks include ‘Discovering Japan,’ and ‘Protection,’ and, for me, ‘You Can’t Be Too Strong,’ even with its controversial subject matter.


Also this month in music: Elvis Costello gets in a fight with one of Stephen Stills’ touring entourage in a Holiday Inn in Columbus, Ohio. Costello’s disparaging remarks about America are rewarded with a punch. Kate Bush starts what will be her only tour for 35 years; Rod Stewart marries Alana Hamilton (was that number 2, or 3? Who knows); James Brown performs at the Grand Ole Opry; Ozzy Osbourne is fired by Black Sabbath.

Live at the Witch Trials.jpgMy final album selection is another band I should have listened to much more than I have: the Fall’s debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, was recorded in a day and mixed the day after. Undoubtedly influential on a thousand bedroom solace-seeking outsiders who would go on to form their own shoegaze bands, the album has been described as ‘an album of staggeringly rich, mature music, inner questioning hand in hand with rock and roll at its fiercest, its finest, its most honest, rock and roll at its naked, most stimulating prime.’

So there.





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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