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Monthly Archives: February 2019

Another Eden: What It Takes For Us To Turn Away

I’m not one for writing songs based on current events in general. All the great protest songs have already been written: you could apply any of Dylan’s early classics, or those of his contemporaries, and they’d be just as relevant to today’s events as they were in the Sixties.

Besides, protest, or message songs as I think of the wider class of songs that comment on current affairs, can come across as, well, a bit preachy. And, in general, you’re preaching to the converted: it’s not as if I’m going to come up with a combination of words and melody next week that’s going to stop Donald Trump in his tracks and have him say (or, indeed, tweet) ‘y’know, all this right wing looney tunes stuff I’ve been coming out with all these years? Maybe I was just plain wrong about it,’ and go all Mahatma Ghandi on our collective asses.

All the same, though, sometimes a melody comes along that I feel merits some serious words. Take, for example, the tune I’d woken up with last September, according to the file date, and stumbled through to the keyboard to record. I’d saved the file as ‘semi-operatic’: goodness knows why, given that a) I can’t stand opera and b) anyway, it didn’t really sound even semi-operatic. What I think I had in mind was that it was, well, dramatic in its scope: it wasn’t one of those tunes close to the rock/blues/country tropes I generally fall into. The lyrics, I felt, had to be about something – generally a dangerous feeling in my experience.

Image result for krishnan guru-murthyIt took months for me to come up with even an idea for the lyric, even though I remembered the subject matter well: the story had touched me at the time, when it came on Channel 4 News. I can forgive Channel 4 all the other stupid nonsense it has on its schedules these days because of its news programme: hosted by John Snow, Cathy Newman and Krishnan Guru-Murthy, it consistently knocks the ball out of the park for insightful, heart-on-its-sleeve journalism, in my humble opinion.

The two pieces about the Gardener of Aleppo were a case in point. In the midst of the siege of Aleppo, Guru-Murthy presented a film by Waad Al-Khateab about a man, known as Abu Waad, who stubbornly continued to maintain his garden centre as the hell of the Civil War went on all around him. The film quoted him saying some wise, and wonderful things – I didn’t have to travel far for my lyrics – but there was a cruel twist to the tale.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

By the end of the first film Abu Waad was dead, killed by a barrel bomb. The second film, a year later, followed the fate of his son, Ibrahim, evacuated from Aleppo. Living in another city, his family fractured by the tragedy, he went to school to honour his father’s wishes – and yet still found time to work at another garden centre, keeping his father’s memory alive in a different way.

Do I still feel conflicted about ‘using’ this tragic story as the subject matter of a song? Of course – but this Sunday, I was reading an article about another heroic man connected to the Syrian crisis, a surgeon, David Nott. Volunteering to work in various war zones across the world, he ended up in Syria, desperately trying to save lives against overwhelming odds. It was inspiring, and depressing, in equal measure. Yet even if we’re preaching to the converted, we need to keep talking – and singing – about issues like these.

Below the link to the song, there are the two Youtube videos about the Gardener of Aleppo; I recommend you watch them, as well as reading the article about Nott. Because if we are to build another Eden ever, then we should never turn away from such stories.





















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Albums of 1979: February

Back to my series on albums of 1979, that golden year (for me at least) when I turned 17, could nearly legally drink, could, actually, legally join the army or get married (I’m not actually sure which of these was less infinitesimally likely), and, in February, was undoubtedly shitting bricks about my impending Higher exams.

Fortunately, there was some cracking music to ease the angst.

Skids - Scared To Dance.jpg

Although the month started badly for punk with the death of Sid Vicious, a local Fife band enlivened the charts with their debut studio album, Scared to Dance. I’d be lying if I said I ever owned it, but everyone knew the single from it, ‘Into the Valley.’ Featuring Stuart Adamson’s guitar playing, later to evolve into that distinctive bagpipe sound in Big Country, the song’s lyrics were, according to Richard Jobson, about Scottish youths being recruited into the army.

However, a counter-myth has evolved, according to Wikipedia, that it was about West Fife village High Valleyfield,¬† a place known for its internecine conflicts with neighbouring Torryburn, Rosyth, Oakley and Inverkeithing (interestingly, they don’t mention the most obvious source of inter-tribal conflict, Low Valleyfield). Who knows? Who cares? No one, not even fellow Fifers, could make out the lyrics beyond ‘Into the Valleeeee….’ and ‘Ahoy! Ahoy!’ But then, what more do you need, really?

Actually, apart from Sid’s demise, it was a good month for punk, featuring Live (X Cert) by the Stranglers, the Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle by the Sex Pistols, and Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers.

GHCover.jpgAt the other end of the rock spectrum, George Harrison released George Harrison on February 20th. A gentle acoustic rock record¬† reflecting Harrison’s domestic contentment, it did moderately good business for him, reaching 14 in the US chart and going gold there. It was even critically acclaimed, although a brief listen to ‘Here Comes the Moon’ didn’t, for me, exactly set the heather alight.

However, given that the Quiet One set up Handmade Films shortly after this and financed Life of Brian for the Pythons by mortgaging his house, we should be eternally grateful that some, at least, of the album-buying public’s dollars were going on soft folk-pop-rock (or however you want to categorise it) instead of punk.

Besides, anyone who can write ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ will always be all right with me.


Image result for cheap trick at budokan

Almost finally, another album I never owned, but the single of which seemed to be on every radio that year: Cheap Trick at Budokan. The single, being ‘I Want You To Want Me,’ was, cynically, the typical kind of thing lovelorn teenagers of the time wanted to sing along to, although not generally accompanied by 12,000 screaming Japanese fans.

Interesting factoid about the album: it was one of the first coloured albums to be released as opposed to singles or EPs, on what was described as ‘kamikaze yellow’ vinyl. Not sure how politically correct that was even in 1979.

Anyway, although I had mates that were into them, I never even listened to the album, so far as I can remember. But that annoying earworm of a single….


…and finally, since an instrumental I’ve been working on recently has been compared to Tangerine Dream, a band I’ve definitely heard of, but never knowingly listened to before now, it behoves me to mention they released Force Majeure in the same month. I’m listening to it for the first time as I type this, and it isn’t half bad. So here it is.



















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Walking in the Wild West End – of Edinburgh

There are many things which have taken on the nature of Edinburgh traditions. Jenner’s (well, until it closed). The Sixties concrete excresence that is the St James Centre (or was, until it was demolished). Moaning about the cost of the trams (until they finally got built and everyone got bored with the public inquiry, apart of course for the lawyers creaming hefty fees from it).

What else? A cup of tea and a proper scone in Morningside? What about a Wild West film set in Morningside?

Yes indeedy folks, this li’l ol’ slice of the Wild West is in Springvalley Gardens Lane, Morningside, just a short step from that scone. Originally created in the 90s to help market a shop selling American-style furniture, it remains, slowly wasting in the desert air of south-eastern Scotland, increasingly hemmed in by a car workshop. You may be seeing some more of this place in the coming months.

Anyhoo, after lunch at Maison Bleu Le Bistrot (which is slowly becoming a pre-match tradition) I met my fellow fan outside Valvona and Crolla’s on Elm Row (an Italian deli very definitely something of an Edinburgh tradition, if one more commonly associated with a day out for the scone-eating ladies of Morningside) before progressing to that hallowed shrine of football, Easter Road Stadium.

Going to see Hibs once a year with my pal, the super-talented writer Kirsti Wishart, is becoming traditional, too. I’ve supported Hibs since I was a kid, but hadn’t been to see them for decades until Kirsti asked me to take her last year. It really does feel like you’re part of something, walking to the ground with all the fellow faithful and installing yourself in the Famous Five Stand.

If you don’t know your history, the team had a brief period of supremacy in the early 1950s with a forward line of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. In the early 1970s, when I was of an impressionable age, they had an even briefer period of sort-of supremacy, managed by said Eddie Turnbull, with a forward line of Edwards, Cropley, Gordon, O’Rourke and Duncan. Sadly, I could recite the entire first XI of that time, but I’ll spare you.

I’d love to say it was a classic Cup game to see, but Hibs, managerless last weekend, struggled along in second gear without ever seriously looking like losing to the lower-division Raith Rovers. It ended 3-1 Hibs, with the pick of the goals being from the no.7, Horgan, who also supplied a brilliant chipped pass for the third. There are some good players in there: let’s hope the new manager brings out the best in them.

Walking out of the ground, we encountered one of the best guitar players I know, the selfsame Kenny Mackay. It’s kind of appropriate that the two other people I knew in the crowd were creative types: you have to be something of a poet and dreamer to follow this team. Even more appropriately for an Edinburgh side, the current no. 16 shirt is worn by one Lewis Stevenson – not, so far as I know, any relative of RLS!

Then home, via a pint of something called Barista (coffee flavoured stout – who knew?) at another venerable institution, Joseph Pearce’s on Elm Row, that I’d never been in before.

The bus journey even gave me a chance to attempt a different take on the Scott Monument from the top deck of a no.16: unfortunately, the bus in front didn’t quite line up the way I wanted it to, but next time!

So there you go. Edinburgh: a place where new traditions happen every day.