writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hunting the Axolotl

As previously promised, the translation of the Cortazar short story is now up on a new page, ‘In Translation.’ Thanks to all who helped with the translation, both Ana, my wonderful teacher, and the members of Writers’ Bloc who then worked on the finer points of the English version I’d produced – especially Mark Harding, Andrew Wilson and Bram Gieben.


Literary Death Match Edinburgh

You may all have got my invite on Facebook, but here’s details of the gig on the 12th. I’m looking forward to this, although I’m slightly more keyed up than I usually would be (normally I’m only ‘judged’ in the sense of someone buttonholing me after a gig, and normally they don’t do that if they thought I sucked). I don’t know if anyone normally thinks of themselves as a ‘stalwart.’

Literary Death Match Edinburgh – Voodoo Rooms, 12th March

In our first UK show since our game-changing TV pilot shoot, Literary Death Match returns to brilliant Edinburgh (and more specifically: Voodoo Rooms) for a lights-out night of never-ending wonderment that will life-change, titillate, entrance and edumucate. Click above to get discount advance tickets and guarantee your 12th will be spectacular. We cannae wait! 

The night will feature four writers reading their own love/anti-love stories for seven minutes or less, judged by three all-star judges. Two finalists will be chosen to compete in the Literary Death Match finale, a vaguely-literary game that will steal your affection. 

PLUS! If we can figure out how to work a projector, we’ll show the first-ever footage from LDM TV: The Pilot — which will make your brain/heart explode in the best possible way. 

Click here to tell us you’re coming on Facebook!

Literary Merit: Kirsty Logan, spoken word supremo and literary editor of The List magazine
Performance: Doug Johnstone, journalist and author of the all-new Gone Again (and four other novels)
Intangibles: Susan Morrison, stand-up comedian extraordinaire! 

* Zoe Venditozzi, author of the debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here
* R A Martens, spoken word rising star beloved for her weird/absurd short stories
* Andrew Ferguson, stalwart of the Writers’ Bloc spoken word group
* George Anderson, a spoken word must-see lauded for his mixture of prose and poetry

Hosted by LDM creator Adrian Todd Zuniga. Produced by Vikki Reilly

Where: Voodoo Rooms19a West Register Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AA (map)
When: Doors at 7pm, Show at 8:05 (sharp); afterdrinks after. 
Cost: £5 preorder; £8 on the door.  

Follow LDM on Twitter and/or Facebook now!

Coming Soon

I plan to do a progress report every now and again – partly it’s just a note to self to keep me on the same set of tracks for more than one minute. So, in no particular order, this is what you’ll be hearing from me about in the next few months:

Venus Carmichael – plans are being finalised for the CD, and plans for a much bigger album in due course. Given Kelly’s impending parenthood, the latter won’t happen in a hurry, but the 5 track sampler is still sounding good a couple of months on, so we just need to sort things like cover design and so on. More on this soon.

Stories – yes, there are a couple of these bubbling under, one for the Caledonia Dreamin’ anthology I mentioned previously, the other moving further in the direction of music and spoken word…

Nick Cave – just over two years ago, I curated a Dylan tribute night, with 8 separate acts all in one crammed gig at the Voodoo Rooms. I’m now letting myself be talked into doing a similar thing for Nick Cave: working title – Cry of the Cave People. I’ll be putting the word out soon for bands and – potentially – some spoken word if it can be fused with some musical ideas, but be warned – there will be only four slots for bands, and one of those is taken already… I have learned some things from Dylan Uncovered …

…oh, and the translation of Cortazar’s Axolotl will be up this week!

John, Leonard Cohen and me: a review of Old Ideas

I don’t blame my old school friend John Wylie for much. In fact, the only thing is my hitherto troubled relationship with Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

John was a skinny guy with lank hair. Sarcasm was his only shield against the school bullies. Pretty good shield it was too – you got the feeling the bullies left John well alone on the basis that he’d only stand up after they’d beaten him and say, ‘Call that a kicking? Radge Tambo did miles better last week and that was with him wearing slippers, and his better hand tied behind his back. You need to think about a career change.’

John and I went about in our latter years at high school along with a third pal, Donald Allan, and a more world-weary trio of seventeen-year-olds you couldn’t hope to meet. Donald impressed me for life by writing a story in Fifth Year that referenced blues men like Big Bill Broonzy. I had never heard of any of them, but I just knew I should have by that stage in my musical education. I think Blind Lemon Jefferson was in there too.

Anyway. Back to John, and Leonard. Here was the thing. Every time we hung out at John’s house, sitting about like world-weary seventeen-year-olds do, he’d put on Leonard Cohen, and we’d slag him off. ‘We’re seventeen-year-old boys with precious little experience of girls,’ we’d say. ‘Isn’t that depressing enough without this guy moaning on about some girl that gives you tea and oranges and then lets you sleep with her?’

John would join in the slagging, so I was never sure whether he actually liked Leonard, or if he just put him on the turntable (remember them?) as a rich vein of material for our ironic essays. He was just so sarcastic, so passive, so cool in an uncool kind of way, you couldn’t tell. I think now that John really liked Leonard Cohen, but that’s now, when I’m way past seventeen.

So, these many years since, I had set my face against liking Leonard. (As an aside, it might’ve been the same if John had passionately taken his side. My lifelong meh-ness to Bowie stems from my best pal at school’s having every one of his albums; similarly, I owe other friends a huge debt for going on about Genesis so much I never ever listened to them. The adolescent mind’s wiring on musical taste is a complex thing, indeed.)

Two things in recent years set me on the road to recovery from my Cohen-blindness. One was seeing a show about Tom Jones (now on his own road to recovery as a serious musician from the knicker-throwing decades) in which he sang Tower of Song; the other was a concert on t.v. late one night by the man himself.

A rapid re-assessment took place from a semi-prone position on the couch. Leonard was charming, and funny. He wore a sharp suit, and performed his songs of wit and subtlety with a supple, talented band. He wore a hat I could aspire to.

My recovery was completed when I bought his latest studio album, Old Ideas. (Ok, so it came out a year ago, but I never promised this would be an up to the minute kind of thing, did I?) Don’t be put off by possibly the most unappealing album title ever – this is a gem. If I have a negative thought about it at all, perhaps the beat lopes a little too much for my taste, the arrangements are a tad too spare; but then any guitar player probably always feels their instrument would give things a bit more bite.

Cohen’s voice is cello-like at times, at times the barest whisper: the lyrics are always the compelling thing however. Musically it draws from the usual deep wells of Americana, although there is predominantly a gospel feel to many of the songs. A good example of this is Darkness, with lovely Hammond organ scribblings and heavenly backing vocals: the Dylanesque lyric pierces through the middle of it all.

To this ear, Banjo, a slide guitar twelve-bar blues, also has a hint of His Bobness about it, although there is a chicken and egg issue there – should I be thinking now of recent Dylan songs as being Cohenesque? It’s a death-inflected reflection on a ‘broken banjo bobbin’ on the dark infested sea.’

Amen, for me, probably takes the cake for the best lyric: ‘tell me again when the victims are singing, and the laws of remorse are restored.’ Laws of remorse – did he just say that? Woaaaahh. More fine stuff in Crazy to Love You, about how the singer ‘had to go crazy,’ to love the woman ‘who was never the one.’ Cohen’s nylon-string acoustic plunkings are all the words need.

Going Home has had other reviewers reaching for their interpretative hyperboles. Neil McCormick in his Telegraph review has it as a meditation on the acceptance of death, while Joe Levy in Rolling Stone thinks the narrator is God himself. Certainly, the lyrics are compelling: ‘I love to speak with Leonard,’ Cohen breathes, ‘he’s a sportsman and a shepherd, he’s a lazy bastard living in a suit…’ Leonard, the narrator tells us, is nothing more than a ‘brief elaboration of a tune.’ My own reading of it is less portentous, maybe: for me this is Cohen the man casting off his stage persona, and going home at the end of a gig, or indeed a tour. But only Leonard – and possibly God – really knows.

More possible meanings in Show me the Place, another gospel-tinged song, with gorgeous cello over understated piano backing. The words could imply a religious conversion, or a sado-masochistic relationship. It is a strength of the songwriting that either could be right, and yet in the forest of alternative meanings, the light of Cohen’s wry sincerity shines through.


Mud Morganfield at St Andrews Town Hall, Sunday 3rd February 2013

The juxtaposition was too good to miss: son (if not the seventh son) of the greatest Chicago bluesman ever, and the Town Hall’s demure, yet petite grandeur: dripping with Masonic curlicues from its roof beams, like a municipal Rosslyn carved in wood instead of stone.

Not that Mud Morganfield seemed to mind. A giant vision in a bright red suit among his monochrome band, at one point he broke off from a mumbled soliloquy about how much he liked the ladies to disappear briefly backstage, before re-emerging with a bunch of red roses, which he proceeded to go down and distribute amongst the ladies (some of whom were very definitely of uncertain age). His charisma filled the hall, and quite possibly much of the surrounding residential area.

His band may have been clad in shades of grey, but the noise they produced – even allowing for the hall’s suburban sound system – was very definitely the blues. Special mention goes to Wes Weston on harp and Ian Jennings on a turbo-powered double bass. Inevitably it was his father’s work that was most recognisable, among them Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want to Make Love to You, and as a blistering encore, the irrepressible Mannish Boy.

If you were there and that last one didn’t make you want to move your feet, have yourself checked immediately by a qualified medical professional  for vital signs.