writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: November 2014

RIP Philip Hughes

I’d planned to do a blog about cricket in the next week or two. In line with the quirky nature of this page, it was going to be a story about how difficult it was to finally take my cricket whites to the charity shop, some twenty years after I used them regularly, and probably ten or so years since I last played any sort of competitive match.

I was then going to riff on my dreadful involuntary cowardice in the face of an oncoming cricket ball; my legendarily bad fielding for Largo CC; and how I came to acquire my cricketing nickname, ‘Scud.’

However, in the wake of Philip Hughes’s sad death after being felled by a bouncer during a Sheffield Shield match on Tuesday, all of that seems a bit inappropriate, really. So instead, all I want to say is how much I feel for Phil Hughes’s family, friends and team-mates right now, as well as for the bowler, Sean Abbott.

Cricket is a strange game: seen by outsiders as a dull, slow contest in which nothing much happens, those who’ve played it regularly, even at club level, as I did, know it involves a potentially lethal missile even in the hands of lesser cricketers. I didn’t play in the 1st XI game at Largo where a visiting batsman top edged a pull shot off one of our medium-fast bowlers straight into his face, losing an eye in the process; but I know how deeply it affected everyone that was involved.

I hope that time heals this for all who knew Phil Hughes personally.



Rock n’ roll on a school night: Luna Webster, Wozniak and Tuff Love at the Cool Cat Club, Thursday 20th November

I love the Cool Cat Club. I actually love the fact that the name conjures up an image – late Thirties or early Fifties New York, or perhaps Paris; dames in slinky dresses and fedora-clad lounge lizards, louchely lapping up the sharp-suited saxophone – led sounds of a trio called, let’s see, Toots McCrory and the Blue Notes, band members and audience all with a back story darker than each other – that bears no resemblance at all to the reality.

The truth – a black cavern of a place in Dundee called Beat Generator Live! (don’t forget that exclamation mark!) where indie bands of various stripes ply their sometimes sweaty trade, is no less enjoyable, and thanks to the Scottish Government’s ban on smoking, probably quite a bit healthier.

Unfortunately, whether it was because it was a school night, or because there were other gigs coming up this weekend, the audience was sparse, consisting of 15 or so aficionados, mainly male, mainly, like your reviewer, at or approaching their middle years, nursing something non-alcoholic and dotted strategically about the standing area without a single fedora in sight.

This might have made things awkward for Luna Webster, but if so, she didn’t show it. Instead, she thanked us rather sweetly for turning up to see her as the opening act – although actually, no one turned up any later to see the others. Webster is probably at the stage where she’s starting to tire of the adjective ‘precocious,’ but her songwriting skills are, quite honestly, extraordinary for someone who, as she pointed out, still can’t drink anything stronger than Coke on stage.

luna_201114_161(with thanks to manicpopthrills for the photos)

With song titles like Diamonds + Psychiatrists, it’s clear our girl isn’t aiming for the bland platitudes of the mainstream lyrically. Clever, funny wordsmithery and with a charming line in patter in between songs, it would be hard not to like her; what impressed me even more than last time she was at the Cool Cat Club was her singing. She delivers some devastating material with conviction and perfect phrasing. She should be so much better known; if she’s not knocking the socks off Festival crowds at places like Latitude in a year, I’ll eat my fedora.

The next act, Wozniak, were old enough to drink, but still had a female lead – in the sense that she sang the one piece with lyrics, and did all the intervening intros. A four-piece guitars/bass/drums combo from Edinburgh with the mission statement of ‘working hard to cause terminal tinnitus,’ the only well-known band I can think of they’re like would be Mogwai, but with guitar effects replacing synths.

A question that bothered me briefly half way through their set: do indie bands have such outdated concepts as ‘lead’ and ‘rhythm’ guitarists, or have these terms gone the way of Eddie Van Halen? With the sound being so heavily guitar-driven, the main difference here seemed to be that, while the distaff side contented herself with one Mustang, the big chap switched between two guitars and had a pedal board that covered the equivalent area of several football pitches. Maybe that says more about boys and their toys and cultural gender differences (trust me, I’m only jealous) than who was lead and who was rhythm, but the combination produced a very pleasing effect.


Maybe it’s just this reviewer’s particular tastes, but my only criticism of the band would be that lack of lyrics: I found myself hoping there would be some sort of dark poetry shouted over the twisting, tortured guitar signal to give an added layer to the whole effect. I presume it’s a positive choice on their part: if not, chaps, apply here, because I’ve plenty of the stuff round the back.

Having said all that, this blog put its money in its pocket and bought the EP, so that should tell you something.

And so, through a non-alcoholic haze, to the final band, Tuff Love. Striking another blow for rock n’ roll gender equality, this consisted of two girls on guitar and bass and a male drummer. I say ‘girls,’ and appreciate that says more about your reviewer than anything else, along the lines of you know you’re getting on when your indie bands start looking younger etc… that said, they are a young outfit, and as such are hotly tipped to progress through the ranks, having garnered positive noises from the Guardian amongst others, and had airplay on Radio 6Music. They’re signed to Scottish indie label Lost Map Records, and plan a new EP in February next year.


Their sound has been described as C86 fuzz pop, or surf pop (those labels again!) but basically consists of your relatively melodic pop-rock played fast through a Telecaster with fuzz box, bass and drums coffee machine. It’s the kind of thing that will hit the mark with a broader audience than was at the Club on Thursday night, and they will improve, too. Like the other acts, Suse and Julie were charming and self-deprecating in between songs, and deserve to reach a wider audience.

Which brings me to my final plea. Students of Dundee, where were you on Thursday night? Andy and Mike put on these gigs at considerable financial risk and no little effort; the University Quarter (such as it is) is just round the corner, and you’re not telling me you’ve blown your student loan already on gigs and downloads? (If you are, you’re a legend, but still). Don’t leave the next Cool Cat Club to us middle aged blokes: for a mere seven quid (prices may vary according to product) you can come in, choose from an admittedly limited range of beverages, and listen to some quality entertainment. What’s not to like?

Really, honestly guys. Performers are vampires, and feed off your energy (trust me, I know). This was a good gig. With a hundred more and drunker people in the door, it would have been a great gig.

Bring your fedora.

If you see an advert under this, I didn’t put it there, and I can’t see it, so I’ve no idea if it’s any good or not.

Pixel people

Forthcoming Abstractions

Now that Stevenson Unbound is finally done and dusted, I plan to do a couple of pieces for this blog. First of all, a bit of chat around the preparations for the gig – I really began to think someone up there didn’t want the show to happen, to the extent I had a word with Louis one day I was in the car… provisional title Taking a Red Pen to RLS.

Tomorrow night, I slope, in a louche kind of manner, to the Cool Cat Club, to hear Luna Webster, Wozniak and Tuff Love make interesting noises, so that might lead to a review.

And the recent consignment of my cricket gear to the charity shop is slated to produce a piece called Farewell to a Flanneled Fool.

But wait! What’s this? Another cassette tape has mysteriously appeared at Kelly’s house? Featuring loads of previously-unheard Venus Carmichael songs? Keep the dial here…

Stevenson Unbound Update

The sound effects are – nearly – in the can. My faithful sound engineer, Harky, has scared up a P.A. system that’s going to give us full throttle.

The preparations for this show have been an interesting process. However, I feel I can now relax – a bit – and knuckle down to the small matter of rehearsing the reading of RLS’s great works.

Two things to update you on, though – I’ve changed the running order, so I’ll be doing Thrawn Janet first, followed by Markheim.

The other piece of news is really good news – for the final, climactic piece in the third segment, Hyde’s Last Words, I’ll be joined by my favourite axe man, Kenny Mackay. Kenny’s played on this piece before – last November, in fact – so you can look forward to some guitar-shaped fireworks when he and I play out the final sequence.

Buckle up, this is going to be quite a trip!

Facebook event here

11 Reasons why you should go to Stevenson Unbound

1. It’s in the back room of an Edinburgh pub, centrally located, with good transport links and disabled access. There will be lashings of lemonade readily available, as well as something stronger (in fact, you’re encouraged to drink more, because that way I get my deposit back).

2. It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s 164th birthday – sort of. RLS Day is on Thursday 13th, but it’s chock full of events already (some, or all of which you should really go to see!) but I’ve moved this event to Saturday 15th, when you might not be at work.

3. It’s in the afternoon – 2 till 5 – so if it’s a rubbish day weather wise and you just want a quiet night in, you still can do that.

4. It features readings of Thrawn Janet and Markheim, two of RLS’s best supernatural short stories. He wrote a whole load of other stuff beyond Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped, and these two chillers are up there with any of them.

5. This isn’t just any old pub. This is the White Horse, 266 Canongate, which is the kind of place RLS himself might well have frequented in his velvet-jacketed yoof. The back room is regularly used for Free Fringe events and is a great wee performance space.

6. The combination of RLS’s words, the low light, and stereo sound effects throughout will make this event something special. It’s the culmination of two years or so of my experimenting with music and sound in my spoken word shows, and with the help of my esteemed sound engineer, Harky, it’ll be unlike anything else you’ve been to.

7. Halstead Bernard is taking part. Need I say more?

8. The payment is an honesty bucket system – suggested payment if you’re fully waged is a fiver, but if you’re unwaged, or a student, or just staying for one segment, less is fine.

9. It’s in three parts. There will be decent breaks between the three for you to get a drink, come late, or leave early. Although I’m hoping you’ll stay for the whole thing, obvs.

10. I have a fuzz box (technically, a squarer pedal, assembled by the Redoubtable Mrs F, which is one of the reasons she became Mrs F) and, in the last segment, I’m gonna use it.

11. It’s on November 15th. Come on, what else are you going to do on the afternoon of November 15th – your Christmas shopping? I don’t think so!