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Discovering your inner Plant, and other musical journeys

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Meredith Belbin. Bit of a rocker, apparently.

Anyone who, like me, has a day job featuring the pleasures of middle management, or even just belongs to an organisation that had cash to splash on an away day in the last thirty years, will have probably heard of the Belbin Team Roles. Invented by the eponymous management theorist, the general sketch is that we all fit into one (or more usually) of nine moulds in terms of our role within a teamwork environment.

This isn’t the same as a set of personality types: instead, it focuses on what our approach to team work is. Grossly oversimplifying, the best type of team contains a spread of people with different attributes: having a whole bunch of, for example, Monitor Evaluators and nothing else in your team, would generally be a Bad Thing.

The nine roles are set out here, if you’re interested. However, the only reason I’ve brought it up is that the Redoubtable Mrs F was asked to complete a Belbin questionnaire recently; it made me look up the old stuff out of curiosity again; and it reminded me that, to my great disappointment, when I did the test about ten years ago, I wasn’t a Plant.

To be honest, I can’t remember what I was; a mixture of things, I think, with a vague tint of vegetation; but what self-styled writer and musician doesn’t want to fit into the definition of a Plant? ‘Tends to be highly creative and good at solving problems in unconventional ways.’ Nope. Not me. Not in a work context, anyways, it seems.

Well, when working on the latest of the tracks – or reworking it, I should say – for my next solo effort, I’d like to think I was a bit bit more of a Plant than, say, a Co-ordinator (‘Needed to focus on the team’s objectives, draw out team members and delegate work appropriately.’)

In fact, a bit more of a Robert Plant.

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Robert Plant. Not big on management theory, apparently.

Now, this is in no way to compare my vocal talents to the Golden-Maned One, currently drawing plaudits for his new album, Carry Fire. I’m no more him than I’m Jimmy Page on guitar. However, having completed the stripped down version of the track in question back in the autumn, as previously blogged about, I had put it aside to see how it developed. And then, quite recently, as I woke up one weekend morning, a melody came to me that fitted not just over the verse, but the chorus as well.

I tried really hard not to make it a flute part. Honestly. It just seemed too … well, too Led Zeppelin-era, really, what with all the lyrics about the Ninth Legion, an acoustic guitar in double-drop D, all that reverb on the singy bits… but try as I might with other synth voicings, I couldn’t make it work any other way.

So I decided to embrace my inner Plant, and hope you can too.  Imagine you can time travel, and transport yourself back to, oh, let’s say, 1973. In Glenrothes, Fife, the 11 year old me is reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth. In Fife, it’s probably raining. Meanwhile, in a sunny late summer field in Sussex, a hirsute young rock god is tuning down both E strings, while a willowy girl in a paisley pattern dress is mucking about on a wind instrument. The bearded one finishes his tuning, cocks an ear, and starts to improvise. Overhead, thunder begins to build a static charge around them, like a psychic crucible.

(The other track I’ve put up with it isn’t quite so epic in scale, but I’m reasonably pleased with it. It just happened to reach the same stage of completion around the same time. Usual rules apply – free to download if you like it, but think of giving something to a refugee charity if you do).























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Mother-in-law jokes and other bus-based beach-bound banter in Valencia


Your man on the bus seemed unpromising at first. In his seventies, and swaddled in one of those indeterminately brown coats favoured by pensioners the world over, he was complaining about the heat to start with. He stood up to open a window, and that got us talking.

I’d said I wouldn’t complain about it being 20 degrees at the end of December, like, ever. He asked me, in Spanish, ‘Are you French?’

To be fair, I often seem to be mistaken for a Frenchman in Spain. Given that they’re no more known than the Spanish for producing over six foot specimens with pale skin, blue eyes and a ginger beard, I can only assume it’s my accent: I explained that, no, I’d learned it at school, but as soon as I learned Spanish, all the French had gone. Desaparecido. Disparu, for that matter.

He confided in me that he spoke five languages: ‘Español, Valenciano, Frances, Claro, y Directo.’ Then, as the bus rattled on, he was full of banter: recommendations for the restaurant to go to when we got to the beach; notes and queries on the English sense of humour; and a story about his Edinburgh-based nephew’s medical career in Edinburgh when I assured him I was no more English than I was French.

He really was the best kind of random bus companion you could encounter: interested, interesting, an inquiring mind full of wisdom and humour. Although I didn’t try out my French on him – as I may have said already, it takes a left turn south of the Pyrenees these days before the end of the first sentence – he was obviously serious about his study of that tongue. And Clear and Direct, for that matter.

In language, he opined, there are often layers of meaning that are hard to appreciate as a non-native speaker. For example, he said, he had asked his French teacher what the difference was in that idiom between horrible and terrible. The Frenchman thought for a moment, and then gave the example of taking your mother in law to the beach with your family.

If your mother-in-law went swimming and was swept out to sea, he said, that would be horrible. On the other hand, if the tide brought her back in again, that would be terrible.

He got off well before the beach, having given me directions to the restaurant, and a recommendation that I try a dish of baby eels there as an aperitivo. He was going to eat, he said, at his wife’s house. Which was also his house. He was gone before he could explain that one more fully.

So, every guide book will tell you one of the places to visit when you’re in Valencia is the beach. And they’re right: I can imagine on a summer’s day the place is rammed with locals, tourists and beach bums alike, each of these tribes vying for supremacy, or at least first dibs on looking cool with a glass of something in hand.

On the other hand, we went on 30th of December, but even then it was pretty busy. So, to add in the boring travel book bit, the bus you get is a 32, and the area you’re heading for is variously called las Arenas, Playa Malvarrosa, or after the fishing village a bit inland, El Cabañal. We followed our new friend’s advice and got off at the first stop as the bus swings left along the sea front. From there, you head onto the front and turn right for a boardwalk cluttered with shops and restaurants, with a massive flagpole along at the far end.

To be honest, we didn’t follow your man’s recommendation of La Pepica – which I’d already read in a guide book was the one to go for. It had obviously benefitted from quite a few recommendations along the way; it was the swankiest of several restaurants who were aspiring to be swanky, and the prices were of commensurate swankiness. This isn’t like the beach front places I mentioned in Malaga: it’s been discovered long ago, so there are menus in English and meeters and greeters trying to grab you in – something that always makes me want to walk on.

That said, the inevitable paella we had in the place we went to was first class – we shared a vegetable one and an arroz a banda, similar to paella with shrimp and squid, preceded by a first course of calamares and salad. Not cheap. However, they have a bit of a captive audience: I set off in the direction of El Cabañal to see if there was something more authentic and inexpensive, but there seemed to just be block after block of flats before you got to anything approaching a village centre. Maybe worth a further explore if you’re feeling adventurous and you’re up for a decent walk.

Despite that, the beach is well worth a visit when you’re in Valencia. The locals still go there too, and it fairly buzzes with life. Even if you don’t get the best mother in law jokes on the way there.

Musical Milestones and the Theory of Everything

Love Me Do.jpg

4th September, 1962 was a busy day for Western pop culture. As day broke and my mother recovered from giving birth to her third child, the Beatles were preparing to fly down from Liverpool to record ‘Love Me Do,’ at Abbey Road studios, that afternoon. It was to be their first single release.

In the interests of precision, this wasn’t the first time they’d recorded this song at Abbey Road, and it wasn’t to be the last: they’d had a go at it in June of that year, with Pete Best on drums. By September, Best was gone and Ringo Starr was in:  but George Martin was dissatisfied with Ringo’s efforts and, a week later, the band reconvened to have another shot with session drummer, Andy White, with Ringo relegated to tambourine. However, the version recorded on my birthday was the one that became the single – at least for the first pressings of it: the story gets complicated after that.

Anyhoo, the point being, things have come a long way for all of us in the last 55+ years. For me, personally, obviously. For the music business and recording methods, almost as much. The Beatles’ first album (which, for completists, featured the Andy White version of ‘Love Me Do’) was recorded, aside from the first two singles and their B sides, in a single day – 11th February 1963.

Capitalising on the success of ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me,’ their second single, the Fab Four went into Abbey Road at 10.00 a.m. and came out at 10.45 p.m., having essentially recorded their live Cavern Club set in the intervening dozen or so hours. As anyone’s who’s tried to record anything in a studio knows, ten tracks in a day is pretty special: as Beatles writer Mark Lewisohn later wrote: “There can scarcely have been 585 more productive minutes in the history of recorded music.”

The point being, with digital editing software now available, any idiot can record music, and any idiot can can take their time. Indeed, you don’t even have to play a single note yourself to do it any more, with the advent of MIDI. I know one very talented musician who does just that.

I don’t use MIDI, and I do try to record all the instruments onto a track in a single take, even if it’s the third or fourth: I kind of feel it keeps me honest. The drums, of course, are digital. And I have to admit the kantele (pictured) on this is stitched together from a couple of goes. (You can read the story of how I built this Finnish folk instrument here).

But, overall, this has taken months and months to record. I’ve put it to one side, come back to it, decided on another instrument, tweaked it, added something else, then decided what to take away – the crucial bit. I hope you like the result.

The lyrics? I guess they’re about the knowledge and wisdom I’m supposed to have acquired since September 1962, and the difference between the two. Or something like that. I don’t know. I just write the stuff.


























Advertising has also come a long way since the days of the real Mad Men in the 1960s. There may be examples below here.

Valencia – Hogmanay Part 2

I’ve quite a bit more to say about Valencia in due course, especially if I’m going to follow through on my threat of writing a travel book about Spain. In the meantime, though, I just wanted to share some thoughts about the fantastic accommodation we had there, as we huddle round the combined effects of the central heating and the oven, slow cooking a beef stew back home.

There are no doubt any number of good places to stay in the city, but there few, I’d wager, can offer as unrivalled a view of the City Square fireworks at New Year or, indeed, those for Las Fallas in March, as Ana’s fifth floor flat in Calle Periodista Azzuti, available through Airbnb. The flat itself is funkily furnished, and offers a good double bedroom and two singles (one slight note of caution: the single beds aren’t huge) with all the usual facilities, including two toilets, one of which also holds a shower. We didn’t use the cooking facilities much – why would you when you can eat out as well as you can in Valencia, frankly – but it’s all there.

Here’s some of the aforesaid funky furnishings:


But the real beauty of the flat is its location: 5 to ten minutes’ walk from the city centre attractions including the Cathedral (they have the Holy Grail, you know? Oh yes, it’s very nice… (c. Monty Python)) and the magnificent Central Market (also pictured). It has a spectacular view across the City Hall over the rooftops by day:

Add the night, however, and even before the fireworks start it’s pretty special:

…and then add fireworks. One word of warning, however: make sure you’re back in the flat well before the festivities start, and the street’s closed off. It took one or other of my language skills or my rough Fife charm to convince the nice policeman that yes, we were staying there and yes, we promised to go straight in and stay there for the duration!





































Adverts below here there be. Said Yoda.




Valencia – Hogmanay Part 1

As I write this, the walls of our airbnb apartment are almost literally shaking from the noise outside – and that’s just the soundcheck! It seemed like a good idea at the time to take a place just off the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where the Valencian New Year celebrations are centred. Later, we’re promised, there will be music, and then we’ll come under heavy bombardment from fireworks. We intend to participate fully. I suspect we won’t have much choice.

In the meantime, and pending some more meaningful reflections on this fantastic city, here are some more photos, taken from yesterday’s trip to the beach, and today’s visits to the Botanic Gardens and the central market.





























Muchos noticias comerciales bajo de aqui. Es la falta de WordPress.






Valencia – first impressions

I’ll blog about this in more detail presently, but in the meantime, here are some bonny pics of the city, the central market, and some top paella made with costillas y setas (pork ribs and mushrooms). Oh, and Hesperides, and, presumably Mrs Hesperides, who have a garden all to themselves…



















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Musical Advent Calendar Day 24: Bruce Springsteen – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town/Mariah Carey – All I want for Christmas

I’m not a great fan of the modern, non-geographical, use – or over-use – of the word ‘journey,’ to describe a period of personal development of some kind. So I’m going to call this month’s musical advent calendar a trip instead.

It’s not been without its dilemmas (and one discovery has been how to spell that word). Each piece of music carries with it some sort of freight: I haven’t consciously tried to be unduly ‘cool’ in my choices, but, for example, there’s not been any Abba, when there clearly could have been.

Beyond that, though, the songs and the act of choosing them have stirred up memories, almost all good, of various things: events and periods in my life I associate them with; gigs I’ve been to; but most of all, the familial and other relationships they evoke.

Frozen Spider’s Web in Fife, earlier this year

I write this morning from our flat in Edinburgh, where we’re spending Christmas with Daughter and Heiress. It’s the first time we’ve done that: and yet, even though we still live full time in Fife, coming here still feels like coming home. Who knows, this could be the start of a new Christmas tradition for us…

…and as daylight slowly breaks over stormy, red-edged skies, I know that the rest of my small but perfectly formed family are gathering together elsewhere. In Canberra, my brother and his wife will be preparing for their two sons coming round, along with my younger nephew’s girlfriend; my sister’s in London with her Son Number 2 and his girlfriend; my older nephew will be with his wife, his own daughter and heiress, and his in-laws near Stirling. And wherever we are, I know two things: we’ll be raising a glass to those missing, and there will be music of some kind going on.

I’ve always considered myself the least musical of my siblings: I mean, they’ve both got Grade 107 or whatever in proper instruments like piano, violin and viola, and sing in choirs. I’ll never be much more than an average guitar player, and my singing’s not really up to much. But music, this month has taught me if I hadn’t known before, is a part of me. It’s been the soundtrack to my happiest moments; it’s kept me going through the most laborious of workaday chores; and in my darkest times, it’s been my salvation.

Grandpa Anderson’s Christmas Rose Pics: Alison Ferguson

So of whatever religion or none, celebrating the winter solstice or the longest summer day south of the Equator, I hope Bruce, Clarence and the rest of the band soundtrack a great day for you all, and thanks for listening!

I could have left it there. But Mariah Carey is a guilty pleasure. Yeah I know it’s cheesy, and she’s a total diva etc etc, but that joy in her voice when she hits the final top note: you can’t tell me that was a chore for her. You can act all cool and say, huffily, ‘well, I was going to give him Springsteen, but Mariah Carey! ‘ sake…’ all you like. I bet you click on the vid when no-one’s watching.

Last chance to donate to the Myanmar Red Cross Appeal




























They’ll be selling you stuff down here. Why not wait and see what’s under the tree for you

Musical Advent Calendar Day 23: Tom Petty – Refugee

A group of children fleeing from Myanmar

I’ve been prattling on about music for 22 days now, and under that pretence trying to get you to donate to a good cause. It’s not really in my nature to preach about this stuff, and I guess if you haven’t donated by now you’re not going to, but here goes anyway (taken from a BBC article):

The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people is said to be the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Risking death by sea or on foot, more than half a million have fled the destruction of their homes and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar (Burma) for neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017.

The United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Myanmar’s military says it is fighting Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya, who numbered around one million in Myanmar at the start of the year, are one of the many ethnic minorities in the country. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state.

They have their own language and culture and say they are descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have been in the region for generations.

But the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census, refusing to recognise them as a people.

It sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Since the 1970s, Rohingya have migrated across the region in significant numbers. Estimates of their numbers are often much higher than official figures.

In the last few years, before the latest crisis, thousands of Rohingya were making perilous journeys out of Myanmar to escape communal violence or alleged abuses by the security forces.

Why are they fleeing?

The latest exodus began on 25 August after Rohingya Arsa militants attacked more than 30 police posts.

Rohingyas arriving in an area known as Cox’s Bazaar – a district in Bangladesh – say they fled after troops, backed by local Buddhist mobs, responded by burning their villages and attacking and killing civilians.

At least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence broke out, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Amnesty International says the Myanmar military also raped and abused Rohingya women and girls.

The government, which puts the number of dead at 400, claims that “clearance operations” against the militants ended on 5 September, but BBC correspondents have seen evidence that they continued after that date.

At least 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine state after August 2017, according to analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch.

The imagery shows many areas where Rohingya villages were reduced to smouldering rubble, while nearby ethnic Rakhine villages were left intact.

Satellite images shows Rohingya village destroyed by fire

What is the scale of the crisis?

The UN says the Rohingya’s situation is the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis”.

Before August, there were already around 307,500 Rohingya refugees living in camps, makeshift settlements and with host communities, according to the UNHCR. A further 655,000 are estimated to have arrived since August.

Most Rohingya refugees reaching Bangladesh – men, women and children with barely any belongings – have sought shelter in these areas, setting up camp wherever possible in the difficult terrain and with little access to aid, safe drinking water, food, shelter or healthcare.

The largest refugee camp is Kutupalong but limited space means spontaneous settlements have sprung up in the surrounding countryside and nearby Balukhali as refugees keep arriving.

While the Kutupalong refugee camp has grown from 13,901 to 22,241 since August, the number living in makeshift or spontaneous settlements outside the camp has climbed from 99,495 to more than 547,000.

Other sites in the region have also expanded – as of mid-October 2017, there were 10 sites occupied by more than 12,000 people.

There are also around 78,634 people staying outside the camps in host communities.

What is being done by the international community?

Image copyright Getty Images

Rohingya woman sits in a tent in a refugee camp near Cox's Bazaar

The need for aid is overwhelming.

  • The whole refugee population – almost one million people – require food aid
  • 18,083 children under five have been treated for severe acute malnutrition
  • 424,100 children under 15 years of age require diphtheria vaccination after outbreak confirmed
  • 37,215 temporary emergency latrines have been built Bangladesh military
  • 500 tonnes of aid has been delivered in five airlifts

There has been widespread condemnation of the Myanmar government’s actions but talk of sanctions has been more muted:

  • The UN Security Council appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed
  • The UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has said an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out
  • The US urged Myanmar’s troops to “respect the rule of law, stop the violence and end the displacement of civilians from all communities”
  • China says the international community “should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development”
  • Bangladesh plans to build more shelters in the Cox’s Bazaar area but also wants to limit their travel to allocated areas
  • Myanmar urged displaced people to find refuge in temporary camps set up in Rakhine state. In November Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, but few details have been released
  • The UK has pledged £59m in aid to support those fleeing to Bangladesh. UK Prime Minister Theresa May also said the military action in Rakhine had to stop. The UK has suspended training courses for the Myanmar military

OK. I think that gives you the idea. I could rant on about organised religion, but really, it’s just another example of man’s inhumanity to man, woman and child. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Cohenite or Brutalist, you can get that, right?

I’ve been promoting the Red Cross Appeal, but if you google ‘Myanmar appeal’ you can get others too.

Here’s a song by the late, great, Tom Petty that kind of fits the theme.



…and as a wee bonus, here’s a Dylan track I’ve not heard for a while – good video too!











































If you haven’t had enough adverts from watching the ones at the start of the Youtube videos, here are some more.

Musical Advent Calendar Day 22: Frank Turner – The Sand in the Gears

Image result for the wasp factory

You heard of bibliomancy, right? Yeah, predicting the future by opening a book – generally the Bible or some other sacred text, Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory, for example. Well, some similar type of magic juju was at work in the choice of today’s track.

There I was last night, consulting the rough list I’d made of possibles, and cycling through a couple of left field ideas I’d had from reading the reviews in the latest Uncut. None of them was really lighting my fire, when, on the Facebook tab, up popped no less a personage than Emma, the lead singer with Isaac Brutal, with Christmas wishes for the band.

This being Brutal, the Yuletide greetings consisted of a link to Frank Turner singing ‘Merry Christmas You Cnuts,’ or something like that. Always good to hear of that particular Anglo-Saxon king. But my act of playing that song, and pausing Jon Langford and Four Lost Souls to hear it, had got the modern equivalent of my spirit guide – Youtube’s algorithms – going. Busily doing something else again on another tab, I became dimly aware that we had moved on from Langford, to an English-accented set of vocals.

And so it was that I came upon Frank Turner’s modern day protest song, ‘The Sand in the Gears,’ and thought, aye, that’ll do just dandy. Brucie is a-coming on Christmas Eve, but until then, the advent calendar’s going to be a tricksy critter!



Stuck for a last minute present? Why not give those guys on the Bangladeshi border a better Christmas by donating to the Red Cross Myanmar Appeal. Your loved one will love you all the more for it. Unless they really wanted socks.























You know the drill by now. Here below adverts there be rearranged into a well known phrase.

Musical Advent Calendar Day 21: Randy Newman – Political Science

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Winterval in Waterford.

As we inch (so it seems this year) ever closer to the Big Day, I keep thinking, I should really start doing something a bit more festive. And I have done – well, sort of. There was the Prince track last Friday to get you gee’d up for your office parties. And … errr … Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ had the word ‘red’ in it, and that’s a Christmas colour?

Anyway, here’s a song I’ve loved for decades about the US blowing up the rest of the world, so suck it up!

Seriously, Randy Newman is an under-appreciated songwriter. I don’t think he minds too much, as he has a side line scoring major Hollywood movies, which presumably keeps the wolf from the door: since you ask, Wikipedia tells me –

“His film scores include Ragtime, Awakenings, The Natural, Leatherheads, Cats Don’t Dance, Meet the Parents, Cold Turkey, and Seabiscuit. He has scored eight DisneyPixar animated films: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Cars, Toy Story 3, Monsters University, and Cars 3, as well as Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and James and the Giant Peach.

Newman has received twenty Academy Award nominations in the Best Original Score and Best Original Song categories and has won twice in the latter category. He has also won three Emmys, six Grammy Awards, and the Governor’s Award from the Recording Academy.[3]”

He wrote this, by the way, in 1972. Thank goodness it’s lost its topicality.

What? Oh really? Still a thing? Sorry, American chums. I know you’re on the side of the angels.


Yeah, I know, I say this every time. But really, these guys the military regime have kicked out of Myanmar who are living in refugee camps could use some help.



































































Adverts below here. Buy stuff before America drops the big one!