writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Mar Adentro

To celebrate our heading off to Spain soon, here’s another bit of translation – my version of the classic poem Mar Adentro, by Ramón Sampedro. The movie’s good stuff, if not necessarily Saturday night viewing. Unless a story of assisted suicide in deepest Galicia is your idea of Saturday night viewing, in which case, go for it.

The original film version of the poem, with subtitles, is on YouTube, so you can compare and contrast the official translation (there’s also a lovely bit of Celtic-stylee soundtrack going on there, and of course it sounds ten times better in Spanish read by Javier Bardem)

I’ve also put this up on the In Translation page.

Mar Adentro (by Ramón Sampedro)

Out at sea,

the sea inside.


And in the weightless depths,

where dreams resolve,

two wills combine

with one wish.


A kiss sets life on fire,

Lightning, then thunder,

and in a metamorphosis,

my body no longer is my body,

like diving to the universe’s core.


A childish embrace,

the purest kiss,

till we see ourselves reduced

to a single desire.


We gaze at each other,

an echo repeating, with no words

‘further inside,’ ‘further inside,’

beyond everything

through our bones and our blood.


But always I wake,

wishing for a state of death

that would mean going on being

with your hair

tangled in my mouth.


Judgement Day Approaches

I’d be rubbish as a real judge. I mean, the width of a defence lawyer’s pinstripe could, in itself, lengthen an accused’s sentence. Or maybe one of those nasal, urban accents that cuts right through you. Ten years for that alone.

Fortunately for the world of jurisprudence, that isn’t about to happen any time soon. However, I am scheduled to make my first appearance as a judge of anything, ever, at tomorrow night’s Scottish Slam Championships. I’m not actually sure I can announce this – I mean, following the slightly scary description in the Peter Ross Scotland on Sunday article of competitors howling at judges, I’m not sure if it’s a bit like being a judge at one of those Sicilian Mafia trials where your identity has to be protected, and you arrive at court flanked by gun-toting, shades-wearing bodyguards (I hope so actually, it sounds kind of cool).

Anyhoo. A pretty stellar line up awaits, so I shall need to sharpen my literary wits and prepare to be dazzled but undazed. If you’re not doing anything else tomorrow night, come along.

By the way competitors:  if you’re thinking bribery and corruption, I’m not really financially motivated. You could try corrupting me, but to be honest, I’m pretty far gone already.

And my bodyguards are highly trained female ninjas. You’ll never see them coming.

Scottish Slam Championships, Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh, 8.00 p.m.

All that Jazz and a Girl Called Vicky: A Review of the Cool Cat Club, Saturday 16th March

Normally gig reviews start with a long story about the bands and who’s in them and what bands they were in before and all that David Copperfield kind of crap. As time is short however this is going to be a bit more impressionistic, and link you to the bands’ sites so you can go and have a listen. And you should go and have a listen to all of them.

I suppose I should have started with a declaration of interest: Mike Melville and Andy Wood, the keepers of the Cool Cat Club, are known to me, in that Mike is a close colleague and Andy has played at the one and only gig I’ve ever (so far) put on. Your only comfort that this isn’t an old pals act is for me to say that, as I type, I am surrounded by guitars, keyboard and recording stuff, leaning in and calling on me to play: so if I hadn’t really, really, liked the gig, this wouldn’t have got written.

First then, the name. The Cool Cat Club has a pleasing alliterative monosyllabism that conjures a picture of leaving a joint in one of the major Western cities at 3 am, perhaps one more bourbon to the wind than was wise, after a night in a club where membership is based on the tilt of one’s trilby, and the jazz is so cool sometimes the saxophone plays all by itself, squeaking and grunting mid-air in unseen hands, while the musicians repair to the bar for a restorative absinthe.

The reality, four indie acts in a somewhat sweaty upstairs venue in Dundee not far off the backside of the Overgate Centre, was different, but no less fine for all that. As the night went on, the place filled to pretty much capacity, creating a truly excellent atmosphere.

Indie gig audiences are often complex, multi-layered affairs, and this one was no exception: at the back, middle agers like your reviewer, with teenage children in tow (or perhaps they were towing us); down the front, a twenty-something crowd, many of whom were increasingly intent on celebrating the birthday of a girl called Vicky.

People were still filing in when the first act, Luna Webster, came on, so she had the unenviable task of engaging an audience distracted by the buying of drinks and meeting of mates, armed only with an acoustic guitar. That she did so is testament to her strong, distinctive singing voice and some really good songwriting. It would sound patronising to mention her age so I won’t, but this is a young, young talent that is well worth watching.

Next up were Randolph’s Leap. I had heard good things about these guys and no –one had been exaggerating. The lyrics are literate, quirky and well-observed, and the sound is … well it’s a Randolph’s Leap kind of a sound. They describe themselves as folk-pop, but if that conjures up some sort of pale Mumford & Sons knock-off be prepared to have your socks knocked off, for this folk band has a brass section and it isn’t afraid to use it.

The line up on the night comprised acoustic guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboards, trombone, trumpet, and drums. The resultant noise was exceedingly pleasant, and what also really worked was their ability on occasion to strip things back to something simpler. Adam, the front man, has an engaging, gangly presence, reminiscent of Andy Murray with added personality.

Highlights included News and another song I didn’t catch the title of but involved weathermen. If Randolph’s Leap aren’t suitably humungous by this time next year, well up the batting order at festival line ups, appearing on Jools Holland  and making plans to break the States, I’ll eat my hat – the leather one. To paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of indie-folk-pop-with-a-brass-section, and its name is Randolph’s Leap.

The confusingly-titled (in that they are not all men, and some were definitely using machines) Man Without Machines were next up, describing themselves on their Facebook site as ‘pacey electro-pop,’ and living up to that promise with some great, driven tunes where the guitars and keyboards that make up their sound meshed perfectly. This was a tight, tight musical unit, and if they suffered slightly for this reviewer in comparison to the bands before and after them, that’s probably more down to personal taste than anything else.

Certainly their lead singer and guitarist came across as engaging, although he perhaps engaged too much with Vicky’s birthday party in his banter for his own sanity. However, it was all good clean fun and nobody lost an eye.

Closing the night in assured fashion was Kid Canaveral. Previous experience of them a couple of years ago had suggested they were pretty great, and this time they were possibly even a little bit greater. This is a band that has so much going for it: catchy melodies, charismatic front man, moody and magnificent female guitarist, and a solid bass and drums unit that ties everything together.

By now the front row of the scrum was getting pretty excitable, but lead singer/guitarist David MacGregor showed his performance chops by keeping them onside, while leading the band into some superb moments. Amidst the barnstorming set there was time for some quieter moments (some of which to me might have called for an acoustic guitar, but that again may come from personal preference) as well as some excellent harmony backing singing from the girls which might well be a growth area for the future.

One tiny discordant note to finish a review of such a great night, but some of us middle-agers up the back would have preferred the DJ to dial down the volume on his between-band interludes (nothing wrong with his musical taste, mind). But I’m reliably informed that may just be our age.

Great night, great acts, and kudos to the sound man for working the desk so that everyone could give of their best. Well done, Mike and Andy, and I hope to tilt my trilby at another visit to the Cool Cat Club soon.


Happy Birthday to Digital Me – and can spambots be called Doris?

Last week I got a reminder from my domain name provider, and was surprised to realise that is a year old. This got me thinking – maybe not as much as another big birthday non-digital me had last year, but still. What was my digital life all about? Had I got past the toddling stage yet, or was I still on the website equivalent of rusks?

Another event which more or less coincided with my first birthday – whether or not coincidentally – was an email, forwarded by my email provider, from an outfit called Media Discovery. They had clients who wanted to advertise on my site, they said. They would pay me money, they said.

At first I ignored it, thinking it was some randomly generated nonsense from some sort of spambot thingie (I’m hazy on all that sort of stuff, but generally picture a spambot as an insectoid lifeform made of diamonds like one of the bad guys in a Hannu Rajaniemi novel). Then I noticed the signature at the bottom. It was from a lady called Doris Fuller.

Now, that may seem like a small thing to you, but it somehow comforted me that I wasn’t dealing with a spambot. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the name Doris Fuller. It’s a very nice name. I have a mental picture of Doris, and it’s a comforting, non-threatening sort of a one. In my mind’s eye she doesn’t look insectoid, or indeed at all scary. Put it this way. Can you picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his Terminator roles saying, ‘I’m looking for Doris Fuller?’ Thought not.

So I wrote back to Doris, setting out my concerns about putting my vulnerable, barely-walking-yet website in the hands of a slavering corporate machine. And she replied right away, explaining patiently that they would either supply a custom made piece of content for a new page on my site, or I could write my own stuff for it, as long as the client’s name was embedded in a link on it. She even supplied an example of one, a car review site, which looked very nice. Very hot red Chevy.

Which probably makes me an idiot for turning Doris’s offer down, and if any of you guys get the same offer, I won’t think any less of you for taking it up. In a way it’s heartening that wee sites like mine are of interest to the niche advertiser. Perhaps you could see it as a democratisation of the advertising industry. It’s just … I don’t know, not exactly the Clash going on Top of the Pops (for those of you old enough to get either of those cultural references) but, in some way, a ceding of a little part of my digital self to someone else?

Anyway, happy birthday to digital me. Some day I’ll work out the best way to sell myself between this site, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. My top number of hits, during last year’s Fringe, was 65. But so far what I have done is have lots of fun. I have written what I liked, and when I liked, and that’s not always something even a part-time writer like me can say. I hope some of that fun has rubbed off on the rest of you.

If you have any comments on what you think so far, feel free to let me know. Meantime, I intend to materialise in the flesh tomorrow night at Literary Death Match, so I hope to see some of you, non-virtually, there. And share a non-virtual glass of rioja.