andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: October 2016

Songs in a Scottish Accent 6: Never Forget Who We Are (Slight Return)

o43tfmw

And so, at long last, my solo album/vanity project, Songs in a Scottish Accent, is finished. The box of newly-printed CDs arrived yesterday, and test plays on the home and car audio confirmed that, yes, it’s me groaning out of the speakers.

Go to my page on the album now, and you’ll see that it’s free in return for a contribution to a refugee charity. Not that I’m going to check up on you, of course: stop me and get one next time you see me at a gig or wherever, or write to me and I’ll post it to you; after that, it’s on your head which charity you give to, and how much.

On the page itself, I go into why it’s Songs in a Scottish Accent. Why a refugee charity though?

That explanation’s bound up with the creation of the track I’m putting up below, ‘Never Forget.’ I’d been aware, as most people must be by now, of the spiralling refugee crisis in North Africa and Southern Europe for some time now. However, as I said in a previous post about this track, the trigger for me writing the poem was the sight of English football fans rampaging through a French town, attacking locals and being generally racist and unpleasant.

The poem’s not meant to be just about that, however – nor is it meant to express a view on the post-Brexit domestic political questions we’re wrestling with in the good ol’ U of K: to be clear, the line about living in the early days of a better nation isn’t meant to express a view for or against an outcome of a second Scottish independence referendum, if we get to that. The ‘we’ of the title, and constant refrain of the poem, can be taken to mean any part of, or the whole of, what generally gets called ‘the West.’

In other words, the poem was meant to reflect my feelings about the whole way in which the West has responded, post 9/11, to Islamic fundamentalism by means which, to me, cut away any supposed moral high ground we might lay claim to. Things like the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay; the ‘special rendition’ missions to render terrorist suspects, not to the law’s due process, but to illegal torture methods; more recently, the frankly incredible way Muslim women wearing burkinis were treated this summer on French beaches.

Those might be described as state-sanctioned: but let’s not kid ourselves. The rise in hate crimes since the Brexit result, to give just one example, shows how people – ordinary people, who could live just down the road – give the lie to any complacency that we in the West are in some way more ‘civilised’ than the terrorist nutters who seek to attack us. Tied in with that now seems to be a general climate of fear of ‘the other,’ whether it be our peace-loving neighbours of a different faith than ours, immigrant workers, or even the refugees currently overwhelming aid agencies in southern Europe.

So what did I do? I wrote a poem. Well, that’ll show them!

Perhaps more constructively, I would like to see the fruits of my artistic labours go towards something positive. I’m very, very, fortunate to live in a rich country, with a well-paid, secure job, with family and friends safe and well. Just a few hours in a plane away, on the other side of the continent I still call mine, hundreds of thousands of people – ordinary people, who could live just down the road, but were unlucky enough to live instead in countries ravaged by war – are risking their lives crossing the sea to the dubious safety of ill-prepared refugee camps, relying on the kindness of strangers.

So, if you lay your hands on my CD, enjoy the words and music, but in return, drop some money into a tin either in reality or online, and help these guys out.

 

(Incidentally, in the previous post I had set the words to a Mogwai track. Someone commented on Facebook that I should do my own music to accompany it, and I have. Thanks, Janet!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything below this is WordPress advertising. Never forget that either.

Advertisements

Songs in a Scottish Accent 5: A Hidden Advantage of Analog

Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album, Nebraska, still divides opinion amongst his fans. Burned out by the long creative and recording process it took to produce his masterpiece, The River, and its accompanying tour schedule, Springsteen headed home with what was then a modern bit of tech in the form of a 4-track portastudio (1). He recorded most of the tracks that became Nebraska in a single all nighter: conceived of as a demo tape for the E Street Band, he then caught up on some sleep and went fishing.

Here’s where myth and fact start to merge. The master tape from those original sessions, in cassette form, then sat in Springsteen’s denim jacket pocket for some months, and, at some stage, may or may not have dropped in the river when he went out fishing with his boom box and it tipped out of the boat. Either way, it eventually found its way back to civilisation and Sprngsteen, after trying and failing to recapture the original spirit of the recording with the E Street Band, issued the album from a much rejigged and enhanced version of the original pondweed-encrusted cassette.

Or so the story goes. My own story, about the track below, is a bit more prosaic.

I released the original ‘Scotland as an XBox Game’ on Soundcloud some time ago, but it wasn’t till I performed it one night live to a backing track with harmonica, that my friend and long time creative collaborator Gavin Inglis came up with the idea of an 8 bit remix of it. (2) I sent him the original tracks: he did an outstanding remix, but, being Gav, just wanted to tweak it one last time. Eventually, I arranged a time to go over to his flat and stand over him while he perfected it to his own exacting standards. Then he exported it to an mp3, copied it to a memory stick I’d brought for the very purpose, and I headed off into the night, happy as Larry.

Here comes the really prosaic bit. A short time later, before I’d copied the mp3 anywhere else, I realised I needed a memory stick for a work presentation I was preparing at home. That was the one nearest to hand: I knew it had my only copy of the mp3 on it, but I wouldn’t, I reasoned, be so irredeemably stupid as to lose it.

I wasn’t that irredeemably stupid. What I did do was tuck the memory stick into my shirt pocket at the end of the working day and set off for home, reasoning I wouldn’t be so irredeemably stupid as to forget about it and put the shirt in the wash without taking the memory stick out first.

Yup. As some of you will have seen from Facebook or Twitter, I was that irredeemably stupid. Cue more demands on the Gavster’s precious time, one more tweak from him, and, at long last, voila! Scotland as an XBox Game (8 bit remix).

As a story, it lacks the romance of the Springsteen one: no fishing trip, just two trips through the fast coloureds wash was all it took to kill the memory stick and its precious cargo. The key thing to note here, really, is this hidden advantage of analog, although to be fair I wouldn’t have fancied submitting the Boss’s precious master tape to the tender mercies of the Tricity Bendix 1000 spin cycle either.

Anyway, here it is. I love it because it’s nothing like anything I would have come up with myself. With or without a fishing trip.

(1) He also took his engineer home with him, which is less romantic than the idea of him doing it all by himself, but then, he was a major recording star by that stage. Wouldn’t you?

(2) I had no idea either. Gav sold it to me on the basis that it would be ‘lots of bleeping noises.’ I trusted him implicitly, and so should you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything below this is just WordPress making bleeping noises.

Reinventing Edinburgh – a short review

A couple of days in Edinburgh earlier this week gave us a different perspective on a city we know so well, mainly, but not just, because we were staying in an unfamiliar part of town.

Fountainbridge has traditionally not been the most scenic part of town. Originally an industrial area built around the end of the Union Canal, which was the unloading point for goods shipped from the west coast via the Forth-Clyde Canal, it was for many years dominated by the former Uniroyal factory and a massive brewery. With all of that cleared away, there’s now major redevelopment going on which will, eventually, see this whole area come up in the world.

In the meantime, there are the green shoots of gentrification. We stayed in the excellent Brooks Hotel, partly on price, but mainly because it was a short distance from Daughter and Heiress’s new gaff in the Napier University student accommodation at Bainfield. The Tripadvisor reviews for Brooks were pretty uniformly positive, with only a few grumbles about the ‘compactness’ of the rooms. Well, if you’re looking for a hotel room to have vast, rolling acres of carpet between you and the en suite, with herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain, this one probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re happy with a neat wee place with contemporary decor, polite and helpful staff, and a cosy lounge with a fire and an honesty bar, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Less recommended is Loudon’s Cafe and Bakery, which we went to for breakfast with D & H the first morning. You can’t fault the presentation of the food (see pic below) or the pleasantness of the staff. However, I thought my tastes were pretty cosmopolitan till I experienced chilli powder in the Eggs Royale. I mean, come on, guys! Chilli for breakfast? Call me suburban. OK, so I am suburban. And my suburban sensibilities were also kind of knocked back by the £42 bill for what was a modest breakfast for three. Far better value to head up Viewforth to Bruntsfield, where perhaps the proliferation of coffee shops has kept the price down.

photo0254

I would, however, recommend the Fountain, just across the road from the new cinema complex. You can tell it’s a gastropub because it has that poncy habit of not adding the pound sign on the menu. So pate and oatcakes (v. good) might be, oh, 7 1/2. Or £7.50 to us Fifers. The beer wasn’t the best pint of IPA I’ve had, but it was definitely a cut above your usual pub grub, and a nice atmosphere.

Sadly I have to report a diminution in quality of Filmhouse audiences however. Traditionally the patrons of this long-established arthouse mecca were impeccably behaved. However, there to see the really quite funny in an undemanding way (unlike the other harrowing works of artistry on offer in the rest of the FH programme) Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I am disappointed to say the whole lot of them yakked right through the Pearl and Dean and trailer offerings, with one couple even daring to keep talking WHEN THE FILM HAD STARTED. Fortunately, they were shushed Quite Severely by the Edinburgh matron in front of them. However, the bad behaviour didn’t stop there, as many people left as soon as the credits started rolling, instead of sitting respectfully on to see who the Key Grip had been. O tempora, o mores

In general I was really impressed with the way Fountainbridge is coming on. The bit at the end of the canal, with its grafted on restaurants and bars, is starting to look less incongruous as the surrounding area comes up in the world. Mind you, the whole of Edinburgh seems to be on the march at the moment: the sounds of construction were with us wherever we went in the rest of the city, too. There was a slightly surreal visit to the universally-loathed St James centre, a Sixties-built mall of near-legendary ugliness which is now ghostly quiet, the retailers all having been moved out apart from the anchor, John Lewis. Quite spooky.

There’s a reason for all this construction, of course. With the dip in fortunes of oil-dependent Aberdeen, the capital’s become the major economic powerhouse in Scotland, and is set to exceed Glasgow population-wise in the next few years. The City Region Deal currently under negotiation should unlock the infrastructure needed to drive all this development forward. I hope it can all be done sympathetically. I’m very far from being a dyed in the wool Cockburn Association old crusty, but Edinburgh is a special place, and the planners need to balance the demands of the developers against preserving that special character.

Good luck with that. We suburbanites will be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything below this is led by WordPress. Which isn’t bad, just an economic imperative and all that.

 

 

 

First Bands and Badly-Judged Bandanas: Reflections on Lost in Music

I read Giles Smith’s Lost in Music recently: got it second hand in Leith Walk’s excellent music and bookshop, Elvis Shakespeare. A  journalist of some repute as well as, apparently, ghost writer for Tom Jones and Rod Stewart, Smith is the same age as me, so part of the appeal of his book was the bit about growing up and having your formative experiences in pop music filtered through that particular time period. Like me, he had older siblings,  whose record collections allowed access to a slightly more sophisticated set of tastes than, say, T Rex.

I also enjoyed his often extremely funny tales of first bands and the travails of wanting to be a pop star, only to find you and your best mates have neither the connections nor, necessarily, the talent to make it. Of course, part of the charm of the book is it’s related with typical British self-deprecation: Smith did, briefly, nearly make it with a band called Cleaners from Venus, being signed to RCA’s German division. (If you think that name’s dodgy, try those of Smith’s previous bands: Pony, and Orphans of Babylon).

Unfortunately for Smith, what should have been a triumphant promotional tour of Germany was slightly marred by the lead singer and leading light’s philosophical aversion to touring, leading to a tour with no lead singer. For an excellent  – and, looking back now, poignant – review of the book, go to John Peel’s piece in the Independent.

Anyways. It got me thinking about my own early forays into the world of music, all those years ago. I came late to guitar playing, after discouraging parent-inspired forays into violin and piano. At about sixteen, I first started painfully acquiring the muscle memory to play basic chords on my brother’s nylon-string guitar: this led to a birthday present of a Kiso-Suzuki J200 copy. I embarked on mastering this, fired by the conviction that I could be the Next Big Thing in Rock. Specifically, I saw myself becoming the New Dylan – this was the early Eighties, bear in mind, when the Old Dylan was finding Jesus and tearing up his back catalogue.

At about the age of nineteen, I responded to an advert in a music shop in Edinburgh, and the Rob Long Band was formed. The band, at least in that incarnation, consisted of just me and the eponymous Rob,who was, I think, the same age, possessed of a red Stratocaster, (before Tony Blair made such an instrument terminally uncool) and of immeasurably greater guitar-playing experience and ability than me. Rehearsing solidly in Rob’s student flat above the Southsider, we quickly assembled a set of what might now be described as ‘classic rock.’ I sang, played harmonica and rhythm guitar; Rob did all the clever guitar bits.

We did ‘Shakin’ All Over,’ because Rob could do the riff. I can’t remember if we did ‘Message in a Bottle,’ live, but he could do the riff for that, too. He really was a pretty good guitar player, looking back. There was one original song in the set, a jointly-penned effort with a twelve-bar blues structure. The lyrics were something about Maggie Thatcher and nuclear war, which back then was about as original as using a twelve-bar blues structure for the music.

Our first – and in many ways best – gig was in the University Union in Chambers Street. All our friends came along to cheer: the folk in the flat below Rob’s, who had had to endure the solid rehearsals, came along to boo. I dedicated ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ to them: not a Judas moment, exactly, but it did shut them up for the full five minutes it took for all four verses plus verse-long harmonica solo. I also encountered my first example of the live-performance brain freeze known as Temporary Fretboard Amnesia, making a complete bourach of my one guitar solo (Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here.’)

In retrospect, we must have been pretty awful. Rob could have been Eric Bloody Clapton for all it mattered: my guitar playing was basic to say the least, and I had home-schooled myself in the Dylan/Mark Knopfler nasal whine, to the extent that it was pretty much croak-perfect. But our friends were kind, and most of them weren’t in bands so maybe didn’t know any better, so the long march to musical stardom wasn’t stopped in its tracks then and there.

For our second, and, in many ways, worst gig, Rob enlisted a bass player pal, one Andy Robb. I think we had one rehearsal with him before unleashing ourselves on the unsuspecting punters in Sneaky Pete’s in the Cowgate. However, one rehearsal was quite obviously going to be enough for Andy, who was one of that breed of musician you meet from time to time in bands: the self-proclaimed virtuoso. Andy played double bass in the Uni orchestra, didn’t you know, so he was basically doing us (or, at least Rob) a Massive Favour by slumming it in the Rob Long Band.

Encouraged by the band’s two-gig longevity, I splashed out on some performance gear. This took the form of a bandana (I know, but I repeat, this was the early Eighties) which was white, but with a Japanese – style rising sun in the middle. With this and (if I remember right) a grandad shirt with vertical stripes, I was good to go stage-gear wise, I felt.

Needless to say the gig didn’t live up to the lead singer’s outfit. Most of the punters moved away to the other bar as soon as we got started; Andy chose to tell me half way through that I wasn’t playing in time with him (it couldn’t have been, of course, that he wasn’t playing in time with me). There were no encores.

After we finished, a girl I vaguely knew came up to me.

‘What’s that on your head?’

‘It’s a bandana. It’s got the Rising Sun on it.’

‘Oh, right. I thought it was a bandage and you’d cut yourself.’

That summed it up, really. There was no third gig. I stayed friendly with Rob, but I suppose we both realised we needed something more than a virtuoso bass player to get us to the next level.

After that, my musical career kind of went on the back burner. I rehearsed with another band at Uni, but the other guitarist was too spaced out for us ever to get a gig organised. After I started work there was a disastrous solo gig in the Lundin Links Hotel when the receptionist, as part of the deal that got me the gig in the first place, got to play her own set first, which basically consisted of my set list, for reasons which I have never quite managed to work out.

There were the rehearsals with a couple of blokes in Dundee who mainly wanted to play Whitesnake covers. There were the couple of rehearsals with a friend of a friend, also in Dundee, which came to an end when he brought in another self-proclaimed virtuoso, a guitarist, who calmly announced that neither I nor Barry, the friend of a friend, were good enough guitarists to make it as a duo (Barry, when I last heard, is still playing and still gigging. I do hope the self-proclaimed virtuoso isn’t in the band).

Then, other than solo home noodling, nothing for years. I threw my creative energies into writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, with mixed success. It wasn’t until 2008, when I formed Tribute to Venus Carmichael with Kelly as a musical interlude in the Free Fringe spoken word gigs I did that year, that the fire was lit under my musical muse again. Another key collaboration was at the Book Festival Unbound gig in 2010, when I did a spoken word and music number with Kelly, Charlotte Halton on sax, and one Mark Allan, my future Isaac Brutal band leader, on the other guitar.

What would the nineteen year old me make of how things have turned out? He’d probably be pretty disappointed my main source of income isn’t as the new Dylan, if not exactly surprised. (He’d be secretly impressed, I reckon, I married a beautiful woman and have stayed married to her.) Would he settle for being in two bands with fantastic people, with songwriting duties in both? An album from each as well as a self-produced solo album coming out in the next few months, not to mention the novel?

No idea. The nineteen year old me was terribly ambitious about his creative endeavours.

Would he want me to write a song titled Fuck Off Andy Robb?

Yes. Yes, I think he would.

Image result for mark knopfler

Incidentally, if any of you have war stories of disastrous band relationships or gigs, feel free to contribute – I might write a song based on them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything below here is advertising put here by WordPress. Or possibly Andy Robb.