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…
“There’s happy,” says Raghu Dixit. “Then happier. Then happiest. Drunk on happy. Puking on happy. We don’t do sad songs.”
And he’s right. I first saw The Raghu Dixit Project at WOMAD in 2012 (the now famous proposal set!) and grinned from ear to ear for hours afterwards, so I wasn’t going to miss them up close here in Glasgow, and I find myself suffering from the same facial deformity again. I can’t remember as much sheer good will at a gig before, and it’s great; they are certainly easily in my top ten live bands.
Partly, that’s because Dixit won’t shut up. He’s a natural storyteller, comedian and all round charming gossipy gasbag. He interacts with the audience constantly and never once loses that beaming smile of his. And the songs are happy: he has a way of turning 500 year old obscure philosophical poems from Bangalore into a crazy dance-fest, and he has a beautiful voice, rich with that Indian sensuousness. He has the audience singing along to ‘Lokada Kaalaji‘ (haven’t a clue what I’m singing, but I’m up for a go…) and, of course, the totally infectious ‘I’m in Mumbai (Waiting for a Miracle)’, which gets the biggest cheer of the night. The title track from his new album (housed in a cool tin!),’ Jag Changa’, is hip-swinging too.
“Yaadon Ki Kyari” is a beautiful paean from his five-year-old self to his adoring parents (he tells lovely stories about growing up). Softer numbers like ‘Sajana’ and ‘No-one will ever love you like I do’ slow the pace only momentarily and pretty soon we’re all pogoing to ‘Mysore Se Ayi‘, dedicated to the beautiful girls of the city of palaces.
I wish I had a setlist so I could link to all the individual songs for you. The new album is lovely, but it’s very different from this performance, suffering from the big production values of the complete orchestra and over-dubbing; they are a much, much more exciting, visceral proposition live. If you can, see them. And, for goodness’ sake, smile.
So – long time no blog, and I suppose seeing Mayra Andrade again is the best reason to get back into it. She’s at Celtic Connections to support Spanish singer Buika – more of that later – and she’s promoting her new album, ‘Lovely Difficult’. She has a new band and a new sound – occasionally, she sounds as if she’s going in the direction of the soft jazz of Nora Jones or Melody Gardot. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, except Andrade is so blooming wonderful, Nora Jones and Melody Gardot should be moving in her direction.
She also has a new band, a more recognisable combo of electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. I suspect they’re all still settling in; they sound great, but it kind of lacks the inventiveness and the ease she established with her previous band, led by Zé Luís do Nascimento. I’m sure it’s a matter of time, and they’ll fit like favourite slippers soon.
“Lovely Difficult” is in many ways a big departure. Sure, there are tracks that maintain that luscious Latin beat that permeated her previous albums – “Ilha de Santiago” is a great little calypso - but there’s that tendency to the slicker jazz that is epitomised by “We Used to Call It Love”, her first track in English (apart for a cover of “Michelle” on the Studio 105 live album). I’m not sure I like it all that much, to be honest, but it gets a great delivery here for three reasons. First, she gives herself space to improvise, something she always does wonderfully. Secondly, she’s nervous about singing it for the first time in front of an English-speaking audience and completely blanks the words, and, embarrassed and blushing, she has to get the road manager to fetch the lyrics, which endears her to the audience; “Don’t tell my mum,” she pleads with us all. Lastly, she shyly asks us at the end if we could understand the story of the song – a lover leaving for another – and says there are times in your life when it’s perhaps better to forget what has happened and move on; “So this is why I forget the words’, she says, with a sweep of her arm, and everyone wonders who would be so stupid as to dump her, for heaven’s sake.
She throws in a few oldies – ‘Tunuca’ and ‘Dimokransa’ hit the spot – and dedicates ” Meu Farol” (“My Beacon”) to her mother. She manages to get a typically uptight GRCH audience singing along to the chorus of “Rosa” and grunting a simian chant on the typically Cape Verdean “Téra Lonji”, and squeezes a standing ovation from them at the end of the set.
As always, she’s a life affirming experience, but it’s not the perfection of her gigs at Ronnie Scott’s or the Casino de Paris. Even so, 8/10 of Mayra Andrade is as good as a lottery win. Swoon? I did, I tell you. I surely did.
Main act Buika is a Spanish singer of African parents. She has a wonderful voice and an investment in her songs that has her hands fluttering across her breast with emotion. She comes from a flamenco and Moorish coplas tradition with distinct sub-Saharan aesthetics in there too. I have to say, it’s just a little overwrought for me, a sense I’ve always had that distinguishes coplas and flamenco from fado. She hints at a life philosophy that is embedded in hardship and pain and improvises startlingly, clearly riffing off of the emotion she feels. It’s admirable and heartfelt; however, it doesn’t speak so much to me, and, as my sister is very unwell, we bail early. We’re sitting at the front, and Buika gives is a huge smile and a lovely goodbye, for which we are very grateful; our apologies…
Nice to see WPM back after a long hiatus as a part of the celebrations for Book Week in Scotland; nice too to see it come to Greenock to celebrate the newly minted Beacon Arts Centre, a lovely facility by the water with stunning views and a great wee theatre. It’s going to liven up the arts in Inverclyde, and the healthy audience suggests it’ll be well used.
The Clutha disaster hangs heavy, though. It’s just been announced that one of the probable victims is John McGarrigle, a Glasgow poet. I don’t think I ever met John, but the Clutha was a favourite meeting point for many of the poets I know like Jim Ferguson and Graeme Fulton, and he was a popular figure among them. Hostess Kirstin Innes and short story writer Alan Wilson read two of his poems, and superstar Tom Leonard reminisces about him. All of the acts pay their respects in poignant and sensitive ways, just as it should be. I read at the Clutha a few times years ago; it has always been a haven for radical writing and music, and I sincerely hope it rises again.
First on the bill is Rachel McCrum, Jenny Lindsay’s Rally & road partner. She has a gorgeous voice, honeyed with Northern Irish. Her poem about learning to sail with her father is lovely. Herald big-hitter Neil Mackay reads from his new novel, ‘All The Little Guns Go Bang Bang Bang’, interestingly about two 11 year old ‘hitmen’ in Northern Ireland. Martin O’Connor‘s writing for theatre and drama projects is terrific, playing and expanding and exploding not just Glasgow vernacular but the very essence of what it is to be Weegie, including a terrific Glasgow singalong party (‘Gie’s a song, Eddie…’) and the fractured prose of a union meeting. Excellent.
Adam Stafford wowed me at WPM 2 a few years back. I really like the way he builds his music live through looped guitars and beatboxing; it’s a fascinating process, and he has a lovely voice over the top of all that. He has trouble with his loop pedals tonight, and unfortunately has to abandon his set after a couple of numbers go awry. No shame there – he gives us enough to emphasise what a talent he is.
The night finishes off with ex-Delgado Emma Pollock. She’s lovely, has one of the sweetest voices you could ever hope to hear and is a real superstar of the indie folk rock scene in Scotland. Just her voice and an acoustic guitar, her four numbers are a delight, and she ends with the hit Paper and Glue. A real touch of class on the water.
But the star of the show for me is the venerable Tom Leonard. I haven’t seen him for years and years, and I am absolutely and childishly thrilled that he remembers me. He’s quite open about having been on the wagon for ten years or so, so I hope he doesn’t mind me telling a wee story about him. When I was Principal Teacher at Linwood High School, I asked him to do a reading for our kids and, of course, he generously agreed. I picked him up from the station and he looked just a bit ragged. He’d been round at Eddie Morgan’s house the night before, he said, and they’d stayed up late sorting out the world, telling stories about mutual friends and had, he admitted, more than a few wee golden sweeties. As a result, I suspect the last thing his head wanted to do was to spend the morning with a bunch of weans. So in he comes, gets himself seated – and he absolutely blows the kids away. They loved him, his humour, his charm, his downright humanity. He and Morgan were gold dust when it came to engaging pupils with poetry and with their heritage. The man’s a legend.
So he dips into his encyclopaedic knowledge to tell stories of poets from Inverclyde, reminisces about his friendship with W.S.Graham, reads a touching poem he wrote for his son’s wedding, lambasts the establishment with ‘Being a Human Being‘ and just about has me falling off the chair at the beauty of ‘June the Second‘, one of those tiny jewels of a poem, like Morgan’s ‘Strawberries’, that captures an infinitesimally small and specific moment of love that, because of its impossible humanity, seems utterly universal. So short, so brief, so seemingly uncrafted, it is one of my favourite poems.
So a good night; well done to Inverclyde Libraries for tempting WPM out of semi-retirement to come doon the watter. In the past, I always fancied reading at WPM, but was never invited. Dammit – it’s a class act.
PS – Rachel McCrum says that Rally & Broad is coming to Glasgow for a short residency at the Tron. I’ve never been to one of their events, but by all accounts they’re fantastic, so make sure you get tickets…
I never really connected with Editors until their latest album, “The Weight of Your Love”. It’s an album that’s had mixed reviews, largely because of the production which takes a swing away from indie rock values into more a by-the-numbers anthemic, stadium-friendly ethic. I like it, I have to say. Lyrically, it’s pretty shocking at times; “Two Hearted Spider” might as well have been called ‘The Beast with Two Backs’, for god’s sake, and ‘Bird of Prey’ is largely meaningless. But that last track indicates the strength of the record: while it may be a semantic mess, it is really quite a gorgeous sound.
I’m with a pal who was into their older stuff, and I have to say that’s where the strength lies. It’s actually surprising how little of “The Weight of Your Love” they do play – the big singalongs of ‘Honesty‘, ‘Sugar’ and ‘Nothing’ for instance, and one of my favourites, the funky ‘Formaldehyde‘, as well as those bloody spiders – despite this being the album tour.
And I kind of get the feeling that the fans in the audience aren’t all that disappointed, and are quite happy with a setlist that is actually pretty retrospective. Despite the fact that I don’t know much of this, it does seem much more direct, more grungy, more honest than the newer material. ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool‘ really kicks on, and ‘Munich‘ gets the crowd revved up. They finish with a metaphorically and literally blinding ‘Papillon‘, a kind of Sisters of Mercy meets Depeche Mode moment that works well.
So – next stop is to track down all the old stuff. This was a good, good gig, but I’ll enjoy it even more when I see them again and can connect with the stuff that really sets the blood pumping.
Just one down note: my pal and I go for something to eat before the show and apparently miss – dammit – the wonderful British Sea Power. A band that strong deserves to be co-billed, and if they had been, we’d have happily gone hungry.