writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Happy New Year to all my readers. Especially the Brazilian ones. There seem to be a lot of Brazilian ones.

Next up, the Surrealist Year Ahead, although at the moment I’m struggling to think of anything much more surreal than this year’s reality….

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


12 things I’ve learned (or relearned) this year

It’s been a bumpy 12 months, both for me personally, for many of my friends and colleagues, and perhaps most of all, for my country of origin. Which is not to say there’s not been a few good bits too.

January: Everything people say to you about losing a parent is true.

Statistically, it’s more than likely that your parents will die before you; all the same, you don’t understand how awful the reality is before it happens. Only other people that have experienced it can really know how you feel; however much all the kind words from everyone are a help. Life is never the same, though.

February: Music is a great healer.

I didn’t really know what to expect of a gig at the 02 Academy, Glasgow, featuring Foals and Cage the Elephant, having never been to the venue, and only had a hurried catch up on the main act. I certainly wasn’t expecting what might well have been The Greatest Gig Ever (although a subsequent outing to Temples in December ran it pretty damn close – see Daughter and Heiress’s Liquid Rooms review).

March: Collaboration really is the best policy.

Although I took a step back from Writers’ Bloc this year, there were still some really exciting and fruitful bits of partnership working, to use the cooncil terminology. Step forward, in no particular order, Gavin Inglis, Kelly Brooks, Halsted Bernard, Harky and Kenny Mackay… I hope to do much more of the same in the coming year, as well as with other long term collaborators like Mark Allan and Lara Matthews.

April: Until they find the lost race of six foot, red-bearded conquistadores, I’m always going to stand out in Spain.

Granada was gorgeous and Malaga, at the end of our Spanish trip this year, a real undiscovered gem of a place – those of you who only experience the airport are missing out on a great, lively place to spend a few days. In between these two cities, we went (at the suggestion of our Spanish cousin, Guillermo) to Ubeda, a smaller town heading up into the sierras and surrounded by olive-clad hills. It was lovely, and well worth a visit, but it was clear they’re not used to Vikings.

May: Exams are just as awful as they always were. Especially Maths.

Daughter & Heiress sat her National 5s in May – that’s O Grades, O Levels, Standard Grades, or something else to the rest of you. Despite being a member of the guinea pig generation for the new exams, she did really well; but although the new curriculum was sold as a clever way to extend the length of time the kids have to take in the Higher course (for non-Scots amongst you, they’re the ones you sit aged 16 or 17 that more or less dictate if you get into University) it looks like they’ll have exactly the same amount of time to struggle through as their parents did.

In other words, a few desultory weeks in June, and then the whole of fifth year when they’re not actually being tested to near-destruction. The difference being D & H is working a lot harder than I ever remember doing.

June: Guitars matter.

My post about the mysterious origins of my semi-acoustic garnered some interesting comments. Mind you, easily the top post in terms of hits I’ve ever done is a review of an acoustic guitar amp, so I’m not sure what that proves.

July: Being a Festival Dad isn’t all bad.

I blogged pretty extensively about our Latitude experience, so I won’t go on about it again; but now, as we approach the longest night of the winter, it’s just a happy blur of sunshine, hot weather, great music, spectacular lightning storms, and polite queues for drinking water. I’m reliably informed we’re going back next year.

August: The Fringe isn’t just for watching.

With one thing and another, I was late booking a couple of slots in the Free Fringe for Tribute to Venus Carmichael; and I confess to being a bit more nervous than usual. This was a good thing, because it made me practice every day for a fortnight. And practice makes much less imperfect.

September: You can breach the EU Working Time Regulations several times over and live to tell the tale.

At the end of a 25 hour shift of work on the administration of the indyref, I lay on the couch at home and watched the results coming in, eating cereal when my body clock didn’t know if it was Tuesday or a biscuit. A strange end to a seismic day.

What made me, as a Scot, proudest, wasn’t the 84% turnout – frankly, what on earth did the other 16% have on that day that was more important? But the fact that, in all the fevered atmosphere, hints, allegations and conspiracy theories, there was not one criticism of the 16 and 17 year olds who, voting for the first time, conducted themselves with every kind of decorum and seriousness at the polls when their elders were, in some cases, doing the opposite.

They and their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts won’t get a vote in May 2015 for the Westminster election. Can anyone explain to me why not?

October: Kinsale is a nice place to visit.

Fly to Cork, take a bus from the airport, and you’re there. Great food, music, Guinness, and craic. Thoroughly recommended.

November: You can totally book the Old Observatory on Calton Hill to stay in.

I know this because my sister did it for a Big Birthday celebration in November and it was absolutely fab. One of the best cityscape views in the world from every window; all mod cons, done tastefully to blend in with the historic building; it’s even well heated, somewhat to our surprise. The room which used to be the observation chamber has the most amazing acoustics of anywhere I’ve ever been. Some day, I’m going to do a gig there.

December: Edinburgh is the place to be for Xmas

We leave tomorrow. Byee!!

Next week, the Surrealist Year Ahead.






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Wine Review: should you gie it Aldi this Xmas?

There are times when I almost feel sorry for snobby French wine producers. There they were one minute, bowling along in their vintage 70’s Citroen DS, undisputed kings of the vinicultural universe. They could make any old crap and if the customer didn’t like it, pah! it was because they didn’t have a good enough palate.

Then, suddenly, there was a screeching of brakes and the Aussies came roaring round the corner in a Ute, showering them in Shiraz and cheap cabernet sauvignon blends. The Spanish were next, clattering past noisily in an oak-lined lorry and mispronouncing grenache as garnacha. Then a huge cloud of dust heralded the arrival of the South Americans, bragging about their phylloxera free ancient vines and  rediscovering Carmenere and Malbec. The French were, quite literally, run off the road.

Worse than that, the punters stopped matching wine with classic French cookery, or whatever was the nearest equivalent in Scunthorpe. Les rosbifs weren’t even eating roast beef any more: instead, they were branching out into Indian, Chinese, Thai, all sorts of cuisine that the vignerons certainly hadn’t had in mind when working up the latest claret. And to cap it all, the power of the supermarkets was such that the sans culottes expected not to have to remortgage their house to get a decent drop to go with the Tuesday night curry.

Sacre Bleu! As the French, almost certainly, never really say.

However, signs are that they’re finally fighting back, and where better to try some of the latest offerings out than Aldi, one of our increasingly-popular discounters. As recommended by Jane MacQuitty in the Times on Saturday, we decided to give a couple of bottles of French red a try. These were: Pinot Noir, Vignobles Roussellet (no vintage specified) £4.39; and Plan de Dieu, Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2012; £6.49.

The food matching wasn’t as hard as it could have been. First night was the Redoubtable Mrs F’s sausage stovies, something of a legend in our household: not exactly the same as cassoulet, maybe, but red meat at least; second night was my Portuguese roast chicken, with potatoes, red onions, garlic, and lashings of lemon in the mix.

The verdict? Fill your boots with both! The pinot noir is one of the easiest drinking wines I’ve ever tasted: on its own, with both dishes, and with the Manchego cheese for afters, it subtly alters its flavours but is never tannic. The Rhone is a bigger, burlier sort of chap, but very drinkable: probably better with a heftier meat dish to be fair.

Now, what wine goes with tonight’s halloumi/prawns/lime juice and chilli combo, I wonder….

vintage citroen



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Cuando el “no” puede incluir al “si:” la esperanza y fe en Escocia

A veces, es difícil creer que hace solo tres meses fue el referéndum. Como las hojas doradas de otoño, las papeletas del voto son colectadas, amontonadas en lugares casí secretos de las autoridades, fondo de muchas teorías de conspiración de los que apoyaban el si.

Poco a poco, otros simbolos del 18 de septiembre se van. El líder independista escoses, Alex Salmond, renunció al próximo dia, aunque se quedó como ministro principal hasta noviembre, cuando la conferencia de su partido, el SNP, ha eligido a otro – su numero dos, Nicola Sturgeon.

En el mismo sentido, las pegatinas desaparecen de las farolas gradualmente, ya que son difícil de quitarlas. En los medios sociales, los que aumentaban a sus fotos un símbolo azul ‘si’ ahora tienen uno que dice ‘45’ en su lugar, significando el porcentaje afirmativo que han votado.

Al mismo tiempo, debe ser fácil – si se vive en Londres, u otras partes del reino unido – creer que la pregunta escosesa tiene una respuesta final. El circo de los medios metropolitanes ha salido. Nuevos temas – la guerra en Irak, el Ebola, el auge popular en el sur para UKIP, el partido contra el EU y los migrantes, dominan ahora las noticias. Con reportajes de las conferencias de los grandes partidos británicos, el arte antiguo de “adivinar el futuro” sobre la elección para Westminster, mayo 2015, ha empezado. Si alguien menciona Escocia, es para vincular los éxitos de UKIP con el referéndum como ejemplos de la perdida de credibilidad de los políticos ‘traditionales.’

Nada más que eso. Escocia está en las noticias del ayer: olvidado, eliminado del panorama de Londres. Pero en Edimburgo, la pregunta persiste: ¿ y ahora, que?

La ultima semana de la campaňa fue dramática, gracias a un sondeo de YouGov que indicaba, por primera vez, en ventaja (51% frente a 49%) el voto a favor de la independencia. Pudo exagerar el efecto de este sondeo, pero no mucho. Con la mirada del mundo sobre el reino unido, hubo un sentido de pánico entre los políticos británicos. El ministro del Tesoro del gobierno conservador, George Osborne, ofreció mas poderes al parlamento Escoses si ganaría el voto no – aunque, como comentaba el periódico madrileño, El Pais, ‘significativamente, de forma genérica, sin ningun detalle.’

Este sentido de pánico parecía compartido por los laboristas, cuando su líder, Ed Miliband, previó guardias a la frontera (¿ y porque no seria guardias fronterizos, como en las fronteras de Francia y Alemania, o Espaňa y Portugal?)

En la ultima semana, la temperatura crecia, cada dia. Los tres lideres de los partidos británicos – Cameron, Clegg, y Miliband – juraron que darían mas poderes a Holyrood (pero todavía sin detalles). Una centena de diputados del partido Labor llegaron a Glasgow para persuadir al pueblo (esta ciudad siendo una de las pocas regiones que votó si el 18 de septiembre). La libra bajó contra el euro y el dólar; el valor de companias escocesas redujo al mismo tiempo. Hubo amenazas de una nueva crisis económica, para todo el reino unido.

En los ultimos días, para mí lo más sorprendente y, al mismo tiempo lo más significante, fue la intervención del ex-primer ministro, Gordon Brown. Se podría decir que opinaba un poco más que los otros políticos de Londres: hay grandes riesgos en la independencia; si el voto es no, va a ser mas ‘devolucion,’ mas poderes para el parlamento en Edimburgo. Pero la manera de sus dichos y la reputación del locutor, comparado con Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, y Alastair Darling, el supuesto ‘lider’ de la campaňa ‘no,’ significaba mucho.

La reputación de Brown – como su carácter – es mucho mas compleja, dependiendo de que parte del país viene.
En Inglaterra, Gales, o Irlanda del Norte, por ejemplo, Brown es reconocido como el primer ministro que no podía hacer nada contra la crisis económica mundial del 2008 – 9; vencido por los conservadores en la elección de 2010, renunció como líder del partido laborista y, para los periodistas de Londres, es un hombre del ayer, sin puesto en su partido, casí olvidado en el mundo nuevo de Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, y Nigel Farage (de UKIP).

En Escocia, es reconocido como hombre con defectos; pero también como hombre de convicciones, un apasionado, que sucedió al liderazgo solo cuando lo decidió Tony Blair que quería pasar el baton – al mismo momento que apareció la crisis. Pero, por sobre todo, es reconocido como un hombre escoses.

Hay una palabra en ingles, un adjectivo, que usaron los periodistas frecuentemente cuando se hablaba de Brown: ‘dour.’ No es una palabra exclusivamente escosesa, pero es un adjectivo conectado al carácter escoses. Puede traducirlo como adusto, austero, o terco, pero también lleva sentidos de ‘duro,’ de ‘serio,’ también. Los Finlandeses tienen una palabra poco similar: ‘sisu’ – determinación, especialmente si no hay esperanza. Según muchos escoseses, Brown tenia cualidades que no tenia su amigo/enemigo Blair. Tiene, en otras palabras, cualidades típicamente escocesas.

Por esa razón, muchos del pueblo escoses confiaron en Gordon Brown, en los últimos días de la campaňa, especialmente cuando sus dichos parecían venir de una posición tan apasionada. Muchos de los votantes – incluso los indecisos – tenían fe en sus promesas, mucho más del conservador, Cameron, por ejemplo, que lloraba públicamente cuando hablaba de la amenaza de la separación (las lagrimas de cocodrilo, para muchos escoseses).

Volvemos a la pregunta. ¿Y ahora, que? Claro que el referéndum esta acabado, con un resultado de 55% frente a 45%. Un concejal laborista me ha dicho recientemente: ‘Han olvidado el ‘45’ que hay un ’55.’ Sonreí pero no respondí: no es correcto para los oficiales opinar sobre muchas cosas, pero podría decir a este comentario: “si, pero sería bueno no olvidar el ‘45’ casi igualmente.”

El circo se ha ido. Las papeletas del voto son enterradas, pero la pregunta vive. En noviembre, los partidos británicos anunciaron un acuerdo global de poderes nuevos para Edimburgo. Gordon Brown anunció que va a jubilarse, satisfecho que las promesas de la semana antes del referéndum serán cumplidas.

Pero, de momento, parece que el pueblo escoses no tiene fe. Según un sondeo reciente de YouGov, el SNP va a ganar la gran mayoria de asientos en Westminster, en mayo 2015. El número de miembros del partido nationalista ha aumentado mucho desde el referéndum.

Parece que los que perdieron en septiembre van a ganar ahora. Parece también que los escoseses van a volver a creer.



Muchas gracias a mi profesora de español, Ana, para toda su paciencia y ayuda.





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The Loneliness of the First Support Act

So, tomorrow,  on what is the ultimate of school nights, Monday, Daughter and Heiress and I are off to another gig (actually, this is the first of two this week for D & H, but she’s got a pal to go with to Bombay Bicycle Club on Thursday, so I’m relegated to the chauffeur role). The main event tomorrow are Temples, a relatively new indie guitar outfit specialising in psychedelic, reverb-heavy sounds of a generally retro nature. We’ve seen them before and they were excellent, in a baking hot tent at Latitude, as previously reviewed as part of that Festival’s day one experience.

I’ve often wondered, though, about support acts; how they get chosen; what it’s like to support better known bands in front of their audience; what the deal is, generally. D & H quickly established the main support was Superfood, and I’ve been doing my homework by listening to their album in advance. Nice stuff it is, too: showing a pedigree that to me includes Blur and Stone Roses, it sounds a bit as if they’re still settling on a style; but then, they’re only about 12, and I’m 107 years old. I look forward to their set, and what they choose out of what I’ve heard so far to play live.

Spare a thought, though, for the first support act, Klaus Johann Grobe. For a start, it was actually quite hard to find out he was part of the package: most of your ticket sites and other bozos promoting the Temples tour don’t exactly go a bundle on telling you Klaus is an, albeit slightly lower-slung, star in the evening’s firmament for you. In fact, it took quite some minutes of browsing (which, as we all know in this goldfish attention span world of t’interweb, is, like, aeons?) to find out that Klaus is, in fact, not one, but two blokes, and not German, but Swiss; one google result describes them as ‘Neo Kraut Romantic duo,’ so that’s them labelled right to a tee, obvs., as the youngsters say.

Listening to Klaus’s Soundcloud page (link above) reveals that ‘Neo Romantic Kraut’ translates into synth-based, quite melodic, stuff, with German lyrics. I liked ‘Nicht Zu Stoppen,’ which I wrongly thought to be ‘don’t you stop:’ I’ve seen too many war movies as a child where the Germans all speak in imperatives. D & H advises it means ‘Unstoppable.’ Their Facebook page starts their longer description with Vielleicht kann man sagen, dass hier Freigeister der Diskotheken melancholische Parolen auf die Tanzfläche schütten. Dunno either: haven’t asked her to translate that yet. Something about a melancholy disco?

Anyway, on their own site, they have a charmingly worded English version of their stagerider, setting out what they need from the sound guy in each venue:

It’s important to be able to add some reverb to Klaus Johann Grobes voices. The more and trashier the better.
A delay, of course, will work as well. The voices however are welcome to sound thin…
(there’s no mention of their backstage rider, so I can’t confirm the brown M & Ms position one way or another).
Here’s the thing now. Doors open tomorrow night at 7. I’m guessing Klaus will get lobbed up first, probably about 7.30, to then clear the way for Superfood and Temples. That’ll make it tricky for us to get fed, watered, and through the Edinburgh traffic to catch their set, but I just somehow feel, having gone to the effort of finding out about them for this post, a sense of kinship with them. They’re strangers in a strange land: German-speaking Neo Romantic Kraut synth-wielding Swiss guys in a roomful of reverb heavy guitar-loving hipsters.
I think they need our love and support. Hang on, guys, with your crazy Moog, bass and drums set-up, we’re coming for you!
To find out how they got on, go to D & H’s blog next weekend: my next post will be the delayed musings on taking a red pen to Robert Louis Stevenson. Which might well also not be till next weekend. I’ve got some reverb-lite guitars to record.
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