You always know you’ve been to a great gig when your ears are still ringing two days later.
The Parlotones are a South African band that creates a real buzz in the bar downstairs; there’s a strong and very diverse fan base tonight, and it’s the first time I’ve seen folk gathering to take photos of the band drinking downstairs. Their music is big and anthemic, capable of bombast and humour at the same time. Lead singer Khan Morbee is a brilliant frontman – charming, handsome, a hint of danger (‘I hope Glasgow doesn’t close down on a Thursday night’, he says, and you know he’s the kind of boy to be misbehaving later) – and they’re tight and together.
Big in-yer-face numbers like ‘Louder than Bombs’ or the brilliant ‘Life Design’ are contrasted with more whimsical stuff like ‘Honey’ or the OTT theatrics of ‘Push Me to the Floor’ or ’I’m Only Human’. They’re also capable of really touching numbers too: ‘I’ll Be There’ is as gorgeous a stadium love song as you’ll find, and ‘Fly to the Moon’ is performed off mic and is stunning. The new album due out will be a must, if only for ‘Sleepwalkers’, a stonking track. Fantastic stuff from a band rock’n’roll enough to be downing whiskies on stage. They have a few sound problems - they miss the first few bars of the opening vocal, ‘Push Me to the Floor’, Morbee breaks a string and it takes several numbers to find a replacement from the support band, and at the end, guitarist Paul Hodgson must have been playing so loud he fucks up his amp, and leaves the stage to the others for a quiet, understated conclusion – but they don’t really get in the way of a great set.
Support is supplied by two Scottish bands. ‘One Last Secret’ are a Kilmarnock outfit. They’re very, very good, especially chunky guitarist Fraser, who also breaks a string and has to borrow Morbee’s guitar. Obviously a night for playing loud and proud. Occasionally, they sound a bit like the White Stripes – listen to the opening of ‘Tonight‘ - but they’re unique enough to be worth a following of their own.
The interestingly named Huevo and the Giant kick off the night. They’ve got real ability too, a band in that poppy-rock West of Scotland indie tradition that should attract a lot of business.
So, all in all, a pretty fine night.
I’ve been staying off politics because I’ve been getting angrier and angrier over the last few months about so many things. However sometimes apoplexy wins out.
The treatment of Yashika Bageerathi – the forcible end of her education, the ripping apart of her family, her deportation in the company of five guards in a half-empty plane paid for by the British taxpayer – is surely one of the most shameful acts of a government that is steeped in a racist anti-immigration policy in order to appeal to the very basest voters, despite the protests of almost 200,000 people. When we vote Yes in September, I truly hope the new Scottish government will invite her and her family here to contribute to a vibrant new country.
In the meantime, an idea for peaceful protest I stuck up on Twitter is gathering a bit of steam. Please consider making this simple gesture as a measure of support for a young woman who has been treated truly appallingly.
One more round of applause for Rally & Broad.
March’s session was really excellent. McGuire, a slam poetry exponent from Glasgow, kicked off proceedings with some whimsical stuff about the cosy joys of bed before whacking the audience round the head with two excoriating LGBT treatises. He describes the first, ‘Homosexuality’, as a ‘really bad sociology essay’, and the second, ‘Glasgow Boys’, unpicks the lives of gay Glaswegian men and the conflict with traditional, Glasgow macho hypocrisy. Both are pretty damned terrific.
Kirstin Innes, of WMP fame, reads two lovely sections from her upcoming novel. In one, a young escort describes her first punt, and she captures the unremarkableness of it all beautifully. The other is a slice of teenage school life, a scary, neddish, hyper-sexualised outsider getting his come-uppance from a rather sorted young woman. Innes has a lovely, delicate, mannered voice and way with words. The novel’s out next year; it’ll be great.
Jenny Lindsay reads her love letter from Julia to Winston, which is a hugely powerful piece, and Rachel McCrum reads the gorgeous title poem from her pamphlet, ‘The Glassblower Dances’. Both are fast becoming two of my favourite Scottish poets of the moment, even if Rachel is Irish.
The final acts are really the icing on the cake. Genesee is a Kenyan-born singer songwriter who is wonderful. She begins with an a capella gospel song that evokes shivers down the spine – here it is from her set at The Glad Café the very next night – that introduces a lovely set, including her own composition ‘Hope’ one of my favourite songs of the year so far.
Final act is South African poet, educator and activist Toni Stuart. Her work is suffused with musicality of tone and rhythm – indeed, many of her poems include song – and she uses them to tell us about aspects of South African life, from the intimacy of eating avocados to huge issues of colonialism. ‘Cello’s Lament’ is particularly pretty, and I’m chuffed when I buy a book bag with an extract handwritten on it, proceeds of which go to a library book buying project for underprivileged schools. I’ll probably do something extremely nerdy with it, like stick it in a frame…
Next month sees me take the stage, along with Amy Shipway (who is dong wonderful things with National Collective). Come along – Rally & Broad really is the coolest night out…
The last time I was at a puppet show, I was about 4. I probably cried then. I did again. Clearly, puppets make me cry.
Obviously, this is a global sensation, and rightly so. The story, of course, is a winner; I read Michael Morpurgo’s source novel almost thirty years ago with a First Year class and they were entranced, especially as it was told from the POV of the horse itself, Joey. Kids and anthropomorphism; killer combination. Generally the acting is spot on – Sion Daniel Young tugs heartstrings as young Albert Narrocott – and the script is more than competent, though sometimes it jars as a little clichéd, slightly pat, especially when Ian Shaw dominates the stage as the horses’ German saviour, Muller, and mangles the delivery a little.
But what makes this play are those damned puppets, the bestest pantomime horses ever. It’s a stunning decision to make the puppeteers completely visible and part of the action and it’s astonishing how quickly you completely ignore their presence and buy in completely to the illusion that these are real horses.
And how real. I’m with my wee sister, who’s a horsey person, and she is amazed at just how accurate every twitch of the ear, every sudden startling, even every breath is. She completely accepts the reality of their pain and suffering and, most importantly, their dignity. It’s that that is the most touching aspect of all, especially, for me, the broken Joey, head bowed, finally defeated at the end, awaiting the gunshot that will put him out of his misery until he hears that owl-hoot whistle from his master that slowly revives his shattered heart.
This is a fantastic family play, but it’s much more that that; it’s a brave theatrical experiment that could so easily have fallen flat and looked naff, but, thanks to the artistic and technical wizardry of Handspring Puppets, is quite the triumph. Loved it. Despite the snotters.
Rally & Broad’s second Glasgow outing is as cool and classy as last month’s, though very different in tone. Rachel McCrum sets us off with an in-yer-face, angry poke in the eye for Russ Meyer’s rampant misogyny that came wrapped up in fluffy notions of fun and winking titles like ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ She’s quite right; the guy was an abominable sleaze merchant, even adjusting for that dubious notion that ‘things were different then’. Yeah. Like Jimmy Savile. Good on you, girl…
First up is Glasgow poet Sam Small, who’s organiser for the very interesting new Inn Deep monthly poetry show. He’s described as a ‘firebrand’, which means he delivers everything at breakneck speed in a very loud voice, whether it’s a brilliantly intricate tale of yawning, scientific research and hard drugs or a well-meaning treatise on victim-blaming in rape that begins startlingly powerfully but ends a wee bit predictably. He’s very talented; I’d just like a bit of space and time now and again to engage and have my own dialogue with this work.
Leo Glaister is a hoot. He inhabits the persona of a geeky scientist involved in shady dimension-hopping research. It’s remarkably unsettling, the audience unsure at first just where this oddball is coming from; but once we’re all going with the flow, it’s packed with jokes and really stunning images. He’s a veteran of the slam circuit, it seems; not surprising at all.
Jenny Lindsay then delivers just the kind of poem Sam Small takes the gentle piss out of in his cheeky but undeniably funny dismemberment of a certain style of poetry reading (‘I’ll repeat this line to make it seem important…’) - and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I really love her writing. It’s largely an extended descriptive piece about an Edinburgh district undergoing gentrification (no, Jenny, I don’t know Edinburgh well enough to spot it) and it’s really beautiful to hear a poet who loves words and the feel they make in the mouth and the sound they make on the ear. “We live where pigeons come to die…” says the narrator’s mother, and I just about fell off my chair at that one.
After the interval, star of the night is Martin O’Connor, who I last saw at WPM on the Water in December. He’s even more impressive this time round. I think he must listen to people more carefully than any other human being on the planet, so perfect is the way he captures accent and idiom. He performs ‘First Lines’ again, and it’s characters are instantly identifiable. He also performs sections of his upcoming one man show, Theology; honestly, go – it’s a must see. If there’s anyone doing anything more interesting with the Scots language just now, I haven’t heard them. Loved it.
Final act of the night is young singer songwriter Becci Wallace. She’s just finished her music degree, apparently, and is putting together an album. She’s terrific. The way she delivers her second number, ‘She’s So…’ is outstanding. What’s so obvious too is how literate her lyrics are; this is a young woman who knows her words and plays with them really intelligently. I’m going to recommend her for Sofar: I think she’d go down a storm.
Just a wee reminder I’ll be performing at the 30th of April Rally & Broad (despite Jenny trying to convince me it’s March I’m pencilled in for); come along. The audience was a bit sparse this time (no Liz Lochead on the bill?) and that’s a shame, because this is a class night. Of course, I’ll be guaranteed to lower that tone…
The National are, let’s face it, the biggest, bestest band on the planet right now. I’ve only seen them once, at the O2 ABC in 2007, just after ‘Boxer’ had been released and ‘Fake Empire’ had become one of my favourite horny songs ever (I mean the horn section, not sex). I’ve got tickets to see them at The Usher Hall in July (so keen, I bought them twice); since ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is probably my favourite album of the last few years, it’s gonna be a gas
In the meantime, this documentary about their 2013 tour will have to do. Made by Matt Berninger’s brother, it’s less of a tour rockumentary than a touching portrait of two brothers’ relationship. Berninger invited brother Tom on tour to make the film, and there’s definitely a sense of the successful big brother giving the stoner wee brother something to do to keep him out of the way of the buses. Nine years younger, Tom is obviously in awe of his focussed, driven sibling’s success, even though he’s a ‘metalhead and thinks indie rock is shit.’
In my lifetime, I’ve met hundreds of wee boys who have been told they are the best, the most talented, the most quick-witted and funny and artistic boys ever (usually while their sisters toil their way unappreciated to success) and their lack of direction and purpose is just down to being misunderstood. I’m no success story, but at least my mum kept my feet on the ground: “well, you could have done better if you’d worked harder,” she said when I told her on the phone that I’d got a 2.2 in my degree. Thing was, she was absolutely right, I was a lazy bastard – I’d spent my final year playing pool and skipped all but a handful of lectures and tutorials – and there was no way she was letting me weave any tales about being an unappreciated genius.
There’s a whiff of that about charming, feckless Tom, who fucks up his simple job as a roadie and gets himself chucked off the tour because he can’t seem to do anything right; but, dammit, he is so likeable you’ll forgive him anything. He is obviously a pretty crap filmmaker if his short low budget slashers are anything to go by and, confronted by a wall of post-its, he’s obviously out of his depth; his sister-in-law is credited with joint editing. But then again, this is a carefully constructed film, and so there are legitimate questions about the extent to which the narrator we see is a construct.
It’s well worth the watch. The band come across as laconic yet purposeful, professional family men indulgent of the boyish camera being poked in their faces but nevertheless having clear expectations (‘I thought this was a film about the band and you were going to ask about me,’ says one of the Dessners, ‘but it seems all you want to do is talk about you and Matt.’). There are no wild revelations - you sense Tom desperately wants the drug-fuelled metal orgy, and it’s a lovely little touch that his big brother gives him a row for partying so hard he’s the one to miss the tour bus – but these excesses probably wouldn’t cut it nowadays for a band that tours as hard as they do. And I doubt the music would be so beautiful if they were stoned most of the time.
The film is followed by two local college bands. Oakland Moor are a Americana tinged outfit who can write a song – their opener is really listenable – though trying to cover the vocal perfection of The Civil Wars is perhaps a bit too exuberantly ambitious. Silver Falls are 80% female and cut from the same folksy cloth, producing some nice harmonies. However, when both bands proudly announce they’re covering songs from ‘The Hunger Games’ soundtrack, you know (a) where they’re coming from culturally and (b) that you’re getting too old.
Wow. That was unbelievably wonderful.
Coriolanus’ isn’t a play I know that well: I think I read it once at university and subjected sixth year pupils to it a couple of times. I’ve never been a fan of the Roman plays and lumped this in with them; but, oh my goodness, is it something else – at least in this guise. What strikes me so much is the similarity between it and the great tragedies: I keep hearing echoes of Macbeth, especially in the scene where Coriolanus reveals his identity to Aufidius, or of King Lear’s rejection by his daughters in Coriolanus’ rejection of Menenius. My pal and I wonder when it was written, where it comes in the chronology, and we reckon it feels so fully formed it must come later; indeed it does. I’d forgotten that it was written in 1608, after the great tragedies. Seems old Will decided to recycle the best bits of his greatest hits.
It is superb. Stripped bare in the tiny Donmar Warehouse, it is staged as minimalist as possible, ladders, chairs and painted boxes on the floor. Tom Hiddleston takes the lead, and he’s a revelation. Once more, that naturalistic speech predominates; he makes Shakespearean language sound the most natural thing in the world to come out of your mouth, and it’s accompanied by the most 21st century looks and gestures, shrugs, ‘whatevers’ and ‘whatyouonabouts’ that bring a lot of laughs of recognition. He is charming, ruthless, sentimental, roaringly heroic, brutal and sexy by turn, and, as the director Josie Rourke says, we absolutely believe him as a young soldier, husband, father and son trying to make his way in the world. His raw energy and brute force dominate the stage, and it’s hardly surprising that Rourke uses that physicality in a female-fan-pleasing shower scene that is a cross between Alien and a Herbal Essences advert, Hiddleston stripped to the waist, washing the blood from his open wounds, a red fountain soaking the stage as he shakes his head.
He emotes very well, appearing to be able to shed a tear on tap or wind himself up to a fury at the stupidity of the common man; never has fascism seemed so attractive. It’s helped, of course, by the venality of the Tribunes, played by Eliot Levy and Helen Schlesinger as a couple of union officials on the make and a mission. Mark Gatiss is an excellent Menenius, all camp knowingness and laser-like insight and while Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Virgilia has little to do, she does it very convincingly; known for her work in Borgen, she says in the pre-show interview how much it echoed with her.
However, pick of the bunch bar Hiddleston is Deborah Findlay as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ devoted mother. She is a little sing-songy in the first act as she happily declares how she’s sacrifice her son for a good name and a medal or two; however, her appeal to Coriolanus’ better nature as he prepares to ravage Rome is gob-smackingly good, wringing the tears from her son and the audience alike. She invests it with as much humanity as I’ve ever seen on stage, and it had me in bits.
So – I’ve found a new favourite play. When I’m asked which my favourite Shakespeares are, I’m now going to say ‘The Big Four, The Tempest and Coriolanus’; and, in some respects, ‘Coriolanus’ is the best of them all. There wasn’t a single moment I didn’t believe, not a single character I didn’t buy. I loved it.
Suzanne Vega has been around for yonks, it seems. There have been times when she’s appeared on my radar with a single or two of real beauty, but generally I’ve found her intensely complex narratives too demanding; hell, my usual preference is for music sung by people from Cape Verde, Portugal, Uzbekistan or half a dozen other places where they don’t speak English, so having to follow a story seems an awful lot of hard work for me.
However, I’m with my pal Jill Brown, a fine upcoming singer-songwriter herself, so I’m absolutely happy to trust her judgment that this will be something I’ll enjoy. And I do. Very much.
It works for three reasons. Vega’s songs are shy and introspective, yet she herself is effortlessly charming, sharing stories of her first Liverpudlian love, showing off the coat she bought at a thrift shop earlier in the day and bantering with the audience about gigging in Tenerife. She is easy in herself, sexy and assured and relaxed from the moment she comes on stage and pops on her top hat for Marlene on the Wall.
The second reason it works is that voice of hers. It isn’t a huge voice by any means; it’s intimate and understated, but tonally rich and always bang on tuneful. Whether she’s doing soft and gentle (‘Small Blue Thing‘ is, really, a goosebump gorgeous standout single song performance) or rocking it on the seductive ‘I Never Wear White’ (‘I never wear white / white is for virgins / children in summer… My colour is black…), she’s always absolutely convincing and engaging.
Lastly, it works because of her guitarist, Gerry Leonard. It’s just her and her guitar and Leonard switching between acoustic and electric. His electric guitar work is fabulous. He’s worked with just about everyone, and the ambiance he creates by looping provides a perfect backdrop for Vega’s ethereal quality. He also hits those strings cleaner and crisper than many I’ve heard during some beautiful solos; it’s just the sort of sound I love.
The hits come thick and fast to remind us just how recognisable her music is – Tom’s Diner (a sexy, sweaty, hypnotic delivery here), Left of Centre, Luka , Caramel – along with tracks from her new album, the tarot-inspired ‘Tales from the Realms of the Queen of Pentangles’, a concept which allows her to give her story-telling penchant free rein on the likes of ‘The Fool’s Complaint’ or ‘Jacob and the Angel’. All in all, it’s a fine gig, and I’d certainly see her again.
We only catch a couple of songs from support act Samantha Crain from Oklahoma; what we do hear is lovely. Worth a download at least. Check her out.
So, the coolest literary salon on the planet, Rally & Broad, comes to Glasgow. Excellent.
Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum have been running Rally & Broad for a couple of years now from their home in Edinburgh. It’s been making waves, regularly appearing in the press as the place to be. It’s building an unstoppable momentum, it seems, with a flurry of complementary events keeping the poets busy almost 24/7; it’s only a few days since an Edinburgh installment, after all.
Word has got around, it seems, and a good crowd turns out for Kirsty Logan, Declan Welsh and the ever wonderful Makar Liz Lochead. Lindsay and McCrum are gorgeous and charming and both are really terrific poets. McCrum’s ‘Bird Man’ reimagines the legend of Elpenor, that daft, hungover lad who broke his neck falling off the roof of Circe’s house and who nagged Ulysses in Hades to give him a proper burial, and it’s a poignant tale of loss and regret. Lindsay’s ‘I promise I will not fall in love with you’ is magnificent writing. She spins the story of a manipulative late night text from a new boyfriend into a meditation on the process of love in the 21st century juxtaposed with the mores of 50 years ago. The playfulness and lack of commitment we bring to our relationships leads to , ultimately, emptiness, but it’s her description of the norms of my childhood that she nails so startlingly. People dated, married, filled their lives with babies almost as a default, often resulting in misery, and in her portrayal of a woman wrecked by depression and feelings of self-worthlessness and frustration that only another baby might even hope to solve, she transports me immediately back to my childhood, and the black dog that haunted my own mother. It really is fabulous writing, especially as Lindsay’s too young to know all that.
Kirsty Logan is as perchink as ever; her first collection, “The Rental Heart” (a lovely wee story she impressed me with at WPM5) is out next month. She reads three short pieces – she is well known for flash fiction – and it’s as prettily crafted as always. Declan Welsh is a young singer / songwriter from East Kilbride. He’s of the witty, cynical working-class tradition and his songs are about instantly recognisable lives of the young, including the excellent ‘Common People’-like ‘She’s From Bearsden‘. Good stuff.
The inimitable Liz Lochead rounds off the evening. She’s really at the top of her game nowadays; as a celebration of Burns, she reads ‘To A Mouse’, and then spins off into her own epic consideration of Burns as a poet and a man, all inspired by finding a live mouse in a wok or under the bed, like a wee bit of living oose. She revisits her classic ‘Life of Mrs Reilly’, the poignant monologue of a typical working class woman and her typical working class marriage, a mixture of joy and unfulfillment just like any other. She celebrates the Scottish aunty and finishes off with ‘Old Vinyl’, in which she nostalgically celebrates my record collection’s power to tell the narrative of existence. Such good fun.
So – a big thumbs up for the first Glesca Rally & Broad; the franchise is growing, and so it should. It’s on for the next six months; they’ve kindly given me a slot on the 30th of April, so come along if you need a bit of Glasgow dirty realist miserablism to counteract the influence of the lighter nights coming in. I’m looking forward to it already…