writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: September 2015

Big Gold Dream Screening In Fife

Manic Pop Thrills


The film ‘Big Gold Dream’ which documents the Edinburgh post punk scene gets a showing in Fife next Wednesday (30th) at the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy.

Here’s the gist:

“In the late 1970’s, from a tenement flat in Edinburgh, Bob Last and Hilary Morrison operated their record label Fast Product. A predecessor to Rough Trade and Factory Records, Fast Product quickly became the hub for a group of ground-breakingly talented musicians. This documentary is the previously untold story of a post-punk/indie music scene that reverberated from Edinburgh, throughout the UK and beyond.”

Narrated by Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens, the documentary features contributions from the likes of Davy Henderson and Bob Last.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Grant McPhee.

Tickets are £6.50 (£5.50 concessions) from OnFife.

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Music to exceed the speed limit by: a review of Foals, What Went Down

The CD slips innocently into the player as you exit the historic old town. You’re in a good mood – let’s say you’ve had news on a creative project that’s washed your working day away – and after three or four plays, you know this album is what you’re looking for, driving home in the dark.

I buried my heart in a hole in the ground… the opening number, all high-impact guitars and slamming drums, kicks in as you twist the car out of the last roundabout in town, and you’re away, an open road for a couple of miles, building speed, the car and you forgetting yourselves together as the music swells around you, the first number fading down as you slow for the slew of houses and a closed paper mill, then the long stretch uphill, shifting up through the gears, away, free again

I see a fire out by the lake

I see the Reaper sit and wait…

You round a corner and stand on the brakes, because there’s a thing with flashing lights, some sort of agricultural vehicle, crawling ahead of you, but that’s ok, because again the music seems to soundtrack the moment, switching down to ‘Birch Tree,’ the third track, a quieter moment, taking you through the village, the trailer ahead punctuating the night with its yellow beacons, clear for a moment and you take it, dropping the car to second, and Yannis and the car engine roar together as you cane it past the tractor and its trailer, the oncoming headlights closing fast,  then coasting down into the county town

Give me something I haven’t seen

Give me the red light turning green

But there are no lights to turn against you now, just the usual way home, and the longer way with the long straight, and you take the straight, the final coda to track four punching in just as you hit the national speed limit sign, and so on, and so on, the music matching you and the road, mood for mood, moment for moment, Yannis singing, his bearded mouth close to your ear in a way that’s more than a little fresh for a first date, and you forgetting your middle age and your head full of business with the car to yourself and those glimpses of the open road until you find yourself, round about the time Yannis sings

You know that Voodoo that only you do

ain’t made for boys like me

kissing 90 on the accident-blackspot section of dual carriageway, and you change down again, brake sensibly, and observe all operative provisions of the Road Traffic (Scotland) Act like you usually do.

Just in case you think I’ve gone all Jeremy Clarkson on you, this isn’t just to say Foals’ latest album is great driving music. It is, but it’s much more than that: it’s music to listen to, alone on a beach under a dark bruise of sky, in the shade of a thundercloud, indeed, the waves and your footsteps in the sand bleeding in as the music thunders in your ears; or in the solitude of your teenage bedroom, just you and Yannis, away from the bullies and the constant demands; or in the thick of a sweat-flecked crowd, singing along like you’re part of a greater animal as the boys bring these rousing rock anthems home.

In other words, it’s music to live to.






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Richard Thompson – a strictly restricted view

Before I start, I feel it’s important to tell you what drugs I was on when I went to this gig:

4 pm: strong coffee in the agreeable Cafe Blush, Morningside

6.30 pm: pint of Deuchar’s in our even more agreeable Edinburgh local John Leslie, preparatory to popping up to the box office to grab our last minute, restricted view tickets for the gig;

7 – 8.30 pm: third of a bottle of Rioja (admittedly a joven which had barely been kissed by the oak barrel) in the highly recommended Verdo’s.

In other words, not nearly enough to see psychedelic goblins jumping from the guitar strings as Richard Thompson played: on the other hand, probably about the same if not more than most of the rest of the audience. Although there may have been a bit of Warfarin, some Digoxin, and maybe some beta blockers, going round. Without being unkind, it’s an unusual gig these days where I’m bringing the average age down, but I sure was on Saturday night.

I only mention this really because the Queen’s Hall is a funny old place for a rock gig. It’s small enough to be intimate: and yet, somehow, it still has the feel of a dowager aunt that doesn’t quite approve of all this loud stuff and would really rather get back to some chamber music with oh, I don’t know, that lovely Nicola Benedetti playing lead violin.

Of course, bear in mind that your blog had gone on a waiting list, more in hope than expectation, and had got a phone call just that afternoon with the offer of restricted view tickets. I had joked with the others that we would get a really great view of the bass player and nothing else: something which turned out to be uncannily prophetic had we stayed in our seats, as you could only see the right hand side of the stage, and that was assuredly not where Richard T was at any point, having tucked away in the left hand corner. The bass player had a fetching hat that was somewhere between a pork pie and a trilby, but hats aren’t everything, at least not for me.

If you find yourself in the same situation at the QH, the best solution is to get up and go and stand at the rail along on the far left hand side, from where we had a much better – if restricted – view of Richard’s beret, his guitar, and, when they weren’t moving in a total blur, his hands.

Back to the audience, though. It’s probably just as well that they were of the, well, more mature variety, and sat doucely in the stalls throughout the performance: the stage is pretty much at ground level, so wild outbreaks of dancing and rushing the stage to fawn over RT would be pretty difficult to police. And my mate Harky, who works there, and tipped us off about the gig (thanks, Harkster!) is only a wee lad. Even he would struggle to charm a houseful of teenage indie fans back to their seats.

And so to the gig. I’m afraid Richard Thompson is another of those names that I’d always heard of, without really listening to. This immediately puts this review at a disadvantage to one written by a deep-dyed aficionado who has lived, breathed, and indeed worn a similar beret to, your man for the last forty years or so. So don’t expect a detailed analysis of how he played, (as he did (1)) for example, ‘For Shame of Doing Wrong’ differently from when he and Linda were together, or how ‘Meet on the Ledge’ got a different treatment altogether from the Fairports. This won’t be that kind of review.

The advantage, if there is one, is that your blog was coming at the whole Richard Thompson shemozzle entirely fresh, with no preconceptions of what he’d be like, or whether, in fact, the Fairport Convention/Linda and him version of anything was better. I literally had no recollection of hearing a single RT song all the way through before Saturday night: I sometimes wonder just what, and who, I have been listening to through all these years, apart from far too much Dylan back in the day, as I’ve already confessed to.

All I could have told a visiting Martian about Richard Thompson (should said Martian have eschewed the usual opening banter of taking him/her to my leader – now there would be an interesting question) was that he had been something to do with Fairport Convention, he had had a wife called Linda but they had split up at some point I thought; they had kids who were also now musicians in their own right; and he wore quite a cool beret affair in pretty much every image I’d ever seen of him. And that he was somewhere between a cult figure and a Serious Rock God, and was rumoured to play guitar a bit.

A bit. Oh. My. Actual. Dog. Did I say he can play a bit? He nearly made a mere mortal want to give up playing guitar  then and there, except this was so good it almost wasn’t something called guitar playing. It was like a thing you did with a guitar that was above and beyond guitar playing, what another recent review called a ‘mad emotional algorithm’ pouring out of the Stratocaster (he stuck pretty much to the Strat, from my restricted view, guitar fans, although he switched to a Telecaster for the final number in the set proper, ‘If Love Whispers Your Name,’ of which more later). I’m pretty sure that, had I been on something stronger than aforementioned sensible modicums of artisan roast, IPA, and tempranillo/grenache blend, those psychedelic goblins would have been quite clearly in play.

As for the songs, perhaps because he comes from a folk, rather than blues, background, Thompson seems to avoid the trap of defaulting to variations on a 12-bar blues whenever stuck for a tune (step forward, Messrs Dylan, Clapton, Page, Hendrix, and pretty much every other member of the Serious Rock God pantheon, and on down to mere mortals – your blog stands guilty as charged). This had the disadvantage for the first time hearer of there being no standard musical tropes to hang on to, so the more straight-up rockers like ‘Patty Don’t You Put Me Down,’ in the first encore, stood out more than others.

First, though, there was a duet on ‘That’s Enough’ with his support band, the Rails, the band that features James Walbourne and Kami Thompson, his and Linda’s daughter. His duelling solo with Walbourne – no mean guitarist himself – showed why he’d won the Orville H Gibson award in 1991 for best acoustic guitar player.

After that, according to the setlist, he was mixing new material with older favourites. Backed by only the high visibility bass player and one of the sexiest (in every sense, I’m reliably informed) drummer ever, the resulting sound mix was outstanding. It was noteworthy, too that his guitar was enough, even unadorned by multiple effects (take note, indie guitarists who have pedals that make it sound like a Hawker Harrier Jump Jet taking off) – a bit of flanger, maybe, or chorus, thickening the sound a bit, but in general, just a clean cascade of brilliance that you just didn’t want to stop.

Onstage, Thompson was a genial, laconic presence, dealing gently with the random shouts from audience members (those beta blockers had started to kick in nicely, obviously). Highlights for this blog were ‘Sally B’ (which I had mondegreened into ‘Salad Brie’) ‘Broken Doll,’ ‘I’ll Never Give It Up,’ ‘Wall of Death,’ and, finishing the set, ‘If Love Whispers Your Name,’ probably the stand out for me. It has a beautiful, elegaic quality to it: all the elements of a great song were there, with the melody creating the mood for the lyrics – the story of a relationship’s end – and Thompson’s guitar work adding, elaborating, augmenting, and underlining the passion in his vocal.

After that – and a standing ovation from a gobsmacked audience – there was time for not one, but two encores. Again, note for younger bands: if your crowd is still clapping that loud, come out a second time. It makes them feel just that little bit special. And this was that little bit special.

Even without the psychedelic goblins.

(1) tip for reviewers: if you haven’t discovered already, is a fantastic resource, telling you what you listened to the other night at the gig. Indeed, the setlist listing for this gig even has links to all the songs – fantastic!

For Edinburgh RT fans: if you’re reading this before 19th September, and can stand mere mortal guitar playing, your blog is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael’s gig at the White Horse, Canongate, EH8 8AA on Saturday 19th at 8 pm. For more info, slide over to the sister site to this blog,

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