Well, that was just about the best display of stagecraft I’ve ever seen. Vintage Trouble are a blues band from Hollywood who really belong to Glasgow (their forthcoming DVD is of their last visit here), and they treat a passionate crowd to a show that is nothing short of legendary.
The band consists of Nalle Colt on guitar, Richard Danielson on drums and Rick Barrio Dill on bass providing the drive for Ty Taylor, a voice who is simply one of the best I’ve ever heard and a charisma that could light the Christmas tree in George Square. Within six minutes the audience have been whipped up into a frenzy and – and this is really cool – have basically joined the band as one of the musical instruments. There’s no awkward “well it’s time for you all to sing along” moment; from the first moment, Taylor is conducting us, having us bellow and hoot and whisper and yell as an integral part of the band’s arrangements. Twice, he goes walkabout deep, deep into the audience, and the band signs off as the audience chants a refrain and they hurdle the barrier and head for the merch table, where they no doubt press the flesh for ages. I’ve never, ever felt so involved in a gig in my life.
They are the essence of cool (Danielson resembles a saloon bartender from 1870, while Dill and Colt look like very expensive Amish hitmen; Taylor goes for the tight tartan suit and cravat) and they seem to enjoy each other’s musical company enormously. It’s rip snorting stuff; tracks from their first album like the fantastic “Nancy Lee” or “Blues Hand Me Down” are belters for singing along to, though there’s no hope in hell of getting near some of the notes Taylor does. Technically, he’s as good as Joe Tex (they do a storming version of “Show Me“) or James Brown or Robert Cray, and only needs a bit of life’s grit to propel him to that kind of superstardom. “Run Outta You” is as soulful as anything you could find in the charts in the sixties, while the acoustic “Not All Right By Me” is the sweetest of sixties protest songs. They go back way further, though, and new stuff like “Before the Teardrops” and the new single “Pelvis Pusher” are obvious paeans to 1950s rock’n'roll.
Look, based as it is in an aesthetic that harks back to the soundtrack of 50 years ago, this isn’t, essentially, my kind of music; but I don’t really give a fuck, because they do what they do better than anyone I’ve ever heard, they’re musically right on the button, they’re inventive as well as being retrospective and, at the end of they day, they make damned sure I have a ball. And for all those reasons, that means there’s plenty of room in my musical world for a whole lot more of their irrepressible groove.
I had a good morning the other day doing in-service with English teachers from South Ayrshire on Persuasive Writing at Nat 4, 5 and Higher. It was organised by my friend Sally Law, PT English at Marr College, who has used some of the resources I wrote for Education Scotland last year and which can be found at http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/resources/nq/e/englishpersuasivewriting/introduction.asp
Much like my Creative Writing materials published two or three years ago, the basic premise is that pupils need to engage regularly with reading that is designed to persuade them, and then regularly undertake writing tasks that allow them the opportunity to persuade others in a variety of contexts. English teachers always – always – tell pupils they should be reading a quality newspaper regularly. That’s good advice which very few pupils take up, and I suspect it’s because (a) they have no incentive to and (b) don’t know what to do with it when they do. Just reading an article doesn’t seem to have any explicit relevance to them; so, it’s important we do something with it that makes sense to them.
In the materials, there are sheets to support regular blogging and tweeting, two social networking contexts pupils will be well acquainted with. It’s very easy to set up a class blog or Twitter account, even given the ICT restrictions common in schools, but these can also easily be done with a pen and paper “Blog Wall” or “Tweet Space”.
So the groups started off with two articles I downloaded on topical issues. In half an hour, they read them, briefly thought about tone and editorial position, identified their own reaction and then constructed a 140 character tweet in response to what they’d read. I think this sort of quick reading and evaluating holistically is something pupils rarely do: for many of them, reading a non-fiction article is only ever about an agonising search for rhetorical questions or identifying good link phrases to answer some questions on it that are, at the end of the day, pretty random. The teachers seem to get stuck into it, and I manage to get three tweets out of six groups (you lot in the other groups, I’m still waiting! Remember – @raymondsoltyek). All in all, it’s an exercise that works really well, and many of them say they’ll be using the activity with their classes.
We then take a look at Numeracy in English. The Using Numbers to Persuade resource looks at what, to me, is key when considering how we integrate Numeracy into the English curriculum: that is, the interaction between numbers and words, and how we use language to express numbers for different purposes. Basically, it’s based on the premise that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Pupils trawl the internet for stats to support their arguments, never really questioning how those stats are presented to them or what the agenda behind that presentation might be. Do they consider the difference between a statement that says that “barely half agree with X” and “a clear majority agree with X”, when the figure in both cases might be 51%? Can they interpret the difference in tone wrought by phrases such as “as much as a third”, “hardly a third”, “fully 30%” or “only 3 in ten”? I think this is where some really productive work can be done.
So the final task of the first session is to write press releases from different pressure groups on statistics issued to them. This, of course, allows us to investigate the whole notion of press releases and pressure groups, what they do and how they try to persuade us. Using the same statistics, they must argue that immigration controls should be eased or tightened up, they must argue prison sentences should be more lenient or more harsh, they must argue that clean air legislation isn’t doing enough or is moving too fast. It’s a difficult exercise that they find really challenging, but it can easily be adapted for less able groups. And the beauty of it is that, in a time of 24 hour news, it’s a real world exercise; a friend of mine from Glasgow Writers’ Group writes freelance, and she regularly has to come up with an article on something she knows nothing about in a matter of hours.
After a break, the groups look at three further resources, examining their use in providing formative feedback to exemplar essays in three areas: global structure, sectional structure and close structure. The resources on global structure are, I feel, the best in the package. Taking the lead from group discussion skills teaching, it looks at the Proposing – Refuting cycle as a means of structuring argument.
I think we sometimes pay too much attention to giving pupils rules and roles in group discussion, as if stipulating that everyone must take a turn or that Craig is the Chairperson and Jamie the Reporter somehow ensures that the pupils will then know how to discuss. Of course they absolutely don’t. What is necessary is that they acquire a metacognition of the behaviours exhibited in a discussion: that is, they are able to differentiate between those interventions where they propose an idea, where they question an idea, where they refute an idea. When they understand these behaviours, we can then help them build up a repertoire of language that enables them to engage in these behaviours; they know what to say when they build on a point, and how that differs from the language they would use to refute that point.
An analysis of a fantastic Naomi Klein article, “Looting with the lights on”, exemplifies the cycle used in writing. For those of you who don’t know Klein’s work, her breakthrough book, “No Logo”, is perfect to get young people furious about the way they are manipulated by the market and how their self-image is defined by advertising and branding. It’s brilliant. And if you want to read an excoriating analysis of capitalism’s use of war and disaster to extend its tentacles into every human being’s way of life, read “The Shock Doctrine”.
But of course, writing need not follow the cycle slavishly. The key here is that we build a sense of coherence in the pupils’ writing. I remember, to my shame, relying on a “make three points for, one point against” structure to teach persuasive writing. All that does is produce bitty, disconnected writing that is superficial and trite. Here, pupils are encouraged to think about the structural flow of an essay. Having made a point, what do they want to do next? Support it with further explanation? Build on it by introducing other ideas, facts or statistics? Question it by posing some problem scenario? Or refute it by making a convincing case for its inapplicability in certain situations? And if they refute the point, what then are they going to re-propose in its place? What happens is they begin to think about the progression of ideas throughout their writing, ensuring that there is cognitive linkage rather than just a surface level technical linkage. I think it’s extraordinarily powerful.
Having provided rich, formative feedback on the exemplar essays through the prism of the particular skills they examined, teachers then shared their feedback with each other. A couple observed that their feedback was very different but agreed this was a good thing. Rather than holistic – and probably sometimes quite anodyne – comments at the end of essays that amount to little more than ‘improve your structure’, the teachers found they were giving detailed and specific guidance: “This section might be improved by using an anecdote to illustrate your point”. It seemed to be a success.
Sally has offered to coordinate some feedback on the materials as the year progresses; that will be really interesting, and give me a real flavour of any tangible improvements that arise as a result of using these materials as they are meant to be used. In the meantime, if you’d like me to do a similar session for your school or authority, by all means e-mail me at email@example.com . Interestingly, a Geography teacher, Kenny (who was a former Educational Studies student of mine and who admits to kicking my shins at 5-a-side football) also comes along, and says he found a lot of it very relevant for the upper stages of Social Subjects. I’d love to investigate that, so by all means if you think persuasive techniques would help you deliver certain aspects of your SS courses, get in touch. Interdisciplinarity in action!
Wow. That was loud.
I love Star Trek. I especially adore Jean Luc Picard, surely the most complete poet warrior ever to grace our screens. I could watch him all day and forgive TNG for Ryker and Troi and Worf and pain-in-the-ass Geordie and anodyne android Data. He was far, far better than James T. Kirk. And that James T. Kirk was far, far better than this James T. Kirk.
I’m getting grumpy about characters and plots these days. Chris Pine, while occasionally catching us off guard for a moment when he gets William Shatner just right (“Bones, will you get that off my face…”), comes across as just too callow and unthinking. The old Kirk, for all his hormonal imbalances, had the capacity to stop, to think, to take a deep breath and actually outwit his opponents; Pine simply bulldozers his way through problems. It’s tempting to think of it as an age thing, to see Pine as a more youthful version: but Shatner was 35 when he first took the Kirk role; Pine is now 33, and so should, therefore, have some of those high school jock tendencies knocked off him a bit. If you could forget the original, Pine does a good job; but the problem is, you can’t forget the original.
And I know there has been a new timeline created for this series, but the Federation now has sinister fascist overtones the orignal rarely expressed; Gene Roddenberry’s conception, brilliantly realised in TNG, was of a utopia without money, without class; reward was achieved through self-actualization and achievement, through being the best one could be. Now, with its shining Canary Wharf skyscrapers and military-minded plutocrats and its grey uniforms, one can’t help feeling that Earth is on the knife edge of totalitarianism, which makes Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan a pretty sympathetic villain.
And of course the plot is daft, with holes you could pilot a starship through. Just how did it happen that the nasty Admiral had in his possession exactly the same number of torpedoes that Khan needed to hide his crew in, and how did it come to pass that they were the very same ones installed on the Enterprise? If the Admiral’s plan was to start a war with the Klingons, why did Khan assist by fleeing to Chronos? How come Kirk’s short-range communicator made calling from Chronos all the way to Scott in a sleazy bar back on Earth seem as simple as calling 118118 on your mobile? And how come this whole plot feels like watching the inanities of “Skyfall” all over again?
But, do you know, I didn’t exactly hate it. Space looks beautiful, even in 3D, and the Enterprise is as stunning as ever (though I wish they had resisted the temptation to make this ship look several centuries ahead of the original). And the characters are fine generally, especially Zachary Quinto as Spock and Cumberbatch, though Simon Pegg – who I think is a genius – mugs awfully as Scott and Alice Eve has a long way to go to prove she’s not just eye candy who looks stunning in a three second flash of her underwear. It’s also undeniably exciting, the final sequence as the Enterprise drops like a stone through the atmosphere quite genuinely thrilling.
Overall, though, this was a disappointment, and I think its because it’s yet another ‘threat to Earth’ scenario. At the end, Kirk is handed his five-year mission orders, and hopefully we’ll now move onward and outward, with the Enterprise facing hostile alien life forms out on the edge of knowledge and reason. Those were the very best of the original and the TNG series, and I hope the next film captures that ethic.
Just, please, no bloody Q.
Unfortunately, they suffer from an occasional problem at King Tut’s: the curse of the partisan crowd. Main support act Youth and the Young, a sort of ceilidh band with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder who play music that’s a cross between The Lumineers and Big Country, have brought a fairly sizeable support from their Edinburgh home. They’re a very, very crowd pleasing band, full of noise and charisma and energy, and they corral half the audience into something like a mental Strip the Willow for their penultimate number. They’re definitely Scottish folk for an independence age. Good stuff.
Annoyingly, most of that audience then disappears when Revere take the stage, and that’s a pity because, as good as Youth and the Young are, the step up in class and professionalism is immediately palpable. Revere are a band deserving of a bigger stage (they need one for their electronic gizmos) and certainly a bigger audience. Right from the start, that huge anthemic sound kicks you in the gut; big melodies, big riffs and lots and lots of sheer invention. Lead singer Stephen Ellis is the perfect front man with a great voice and a huge personality, and the whole band is so tight and together it’s scarey.
They hit the big anthems from their last album, “Hey! Selim”, pick of the bunch being “Throwing Stones“ and “We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow“, Ellis coming down into the audience to lead the singalong, just about throttling Youth and the Young’s lead singer in the process. But even better is the stuff from their new album, due for release in September. “I Won’t Blame You” is typical of their epic style (and there are some stunning remixes available for free download from their site), and “Keep This Channel Open” is a fantastic first single. They finish with “Maybe We Should Step Outside”, which for half of the song is acoustic and reflective but, of course, ends with an absolutely bonkers mega-coda that sounds like an orchestrated battlefield.
Unfortunately, the audience by this stage is too sparse and too insipid to merit an encore, however much the half-dozen fans like myself down the front try to whip up some enthusiasm. Afterwards, I explain to Ellis that that’s Edinburgh punters for you: they always leave before the end of the party, and take all the wine with them. A pity, because they missed a group of musicians capable of real greatness who may just be my new favourite band from England.
A little bit of Chekhov (I’m not going to do the “nuclear wessels” joke again), reimagined by John Donnelly and staged by Headlong Theatre / Nuffield and directed by Blanche McIntyre. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it, frankly.
I like it. I do. It has some laugh out loud moments, and the cast is slick and, on the whole, convincing. There are a couple of standout performances too. I particularly liked Jenny Rainsford in the relatively minor role of Masha, a fucked up dypsomaniac who is in love with the wrong man and who marries a different wrong man and who spends the entire play in a boozy dwam of spite; even as they take their curtain call, Rainsford looks pissed and furious. Pearl Chanda appropriately lacks gravitas as the young and flighty Nina, but, after being shat upon from a great height by the odious Trigorin (Gyuri Sarossy) falls apart to Kostya in a final scene of real pathos. Abigail Cruttenden is waspish as Arkadina, meaning the best performances of the night, for me, all come from women, other than one memorable soliloquy from Trigoron about the trials of being a writer (“You think this is easy?”). The set is sparse and worked well by the cast, Donnelly’s rewriting is economical and punchy and the plot is never obtuse. But…
It does retain that big Russian melodramatic feel with lots and lots of talking and talking and yada yada yada. Consequently, I feel a bit weary at those times I’m meant to engage myself emotionally and I can’t help feeling distant from characters I want to feel more for. And of course, it’s an ensemble piece: I suppose we are meant to see Kostya as the centre of it all, yet it is Nina who is the seagull and Trigorin and Arkadina who are the catalysts for all that happens, and then Masha’s love for Kostya drives the subplot of her disastrous marriage to Medvedenko, and there’s the doctor’s affair with the estate manager’s wife going on and… and by the time Kostya shoots himself, quite frankly, I don’t really care. My patience has already been stretched by all these callow young and youngish things going on and on about theatre and new theatre and the torture and joy of writing when they’re not having pointless arguments about horses, and everyone at the drop of a hat is a failed writer or a successful writer or wants to be a writer or knows a writer or has shagged or is shagging a writer and is being miserable about it. Gimme peace, being a writer is neither that important nor that glamorous. The characters have all the sincerity and zeal of the best East European Anti-Bourgeois Revolutionary Theatre, and it’s just so bloody, bloody tiresome.
So, a worthy and worthwhile play, but at the end of the day, as much as I’m glad I saw it and as much as I admire it – it leaves me a little colder than it should. Russian drama aint really for me, it seems.
Okay, LOTS AND LOTS OF SPOILER ALERTS here, because I’m going to give this one a doing, despite actually, well, between you and me… quite enjoying it.
It’s a movie that’s kind of crept under the radar, what with big blockbuster sci-fis like the new Star Trek and Iron Man getting all the attention. It’s also a quiet sci-fi, attempting something more cerebral, despite starring Tom Cruise as Jack, a repairman left behind on Earth with his partner Victoria (a gorgeously porcelain blank Andrea Riseborough) to fix drones protecting sea-sucking machines that provide power to a human population forced to flee the planet after an alien invasion.
The world created is fantastic, an absolutely believable wasteland of silt deposited over skyscraper cities after the aliens destroyed the Moon, letting mammoth tidal waves and earthquakes do the dirty work for them. Visually, it is stunning. Technically, too, it’s excellent: the technology is utterly believable, with nothing pushing the bounds of credulity too far. Jack’s aircraft – a cross between a helicopter and a dragonfly – is one of those “I want one of those” movie gadgets, and the drones are chunky, threatening little monsters that might well become the sort of thing the US military deploys against Afghan tents next.
Cruise is fine too. If you can forget (a) just how ugly he was in his spotty, dribbling earlier days (“The Outsiders”, “Legend”) and (b) that he hangs about with dodgy cults, he’s actually a fine sci-fi action movie stalwart. He was, of course, excellent in “Minority Report”, and I liked his everyday Joe in “War of the Worlds”, when he got to be a bumbler rather than a hero. He delivers everything he has to here, both physically and emotionally, with some genuinely exciting, heart-stopping moments; however, there isn’t much of a spark between him and the excellent Riseborough or the woefully passive eye-candy of Olga Kurylenko, and that takes a bit of the heart out of it.
Plot wise, it follows the age old sci-fi habit of stealing as much as it can from other films from the genre. The world created is reminiscent of “Planet of the Apes” or “Legend”, the set up reminiscent of “Silent Running” or “Wall-E”, the ending a blatant larceny from “Independence Day” (there you are, you know the big mother ship blows the fuck up at the end). There are lots of other echoes: “Logan’s Run”, “Zardoz”, “Moon”, “The Time Machine”… I stopped name checking after a while.
But the holes, the holes… stop reading now if you want to see it with an unjaded eye.
Of course, it’s a paranoid conspiracy thriller, and all is not as it seems. The “aliens” are actually the remnants of human civilisation, while the “humans” are actually an alien machine that travels the galaxy sucking planets dry of their resources (“Independence Day” again, “V”… arrgh!) that has cloned Jack and Victoria as soldiers to invade the planet. A few things began to jangle with me. If an alien culture is so technologically advanced it can destroy a Moon – and the shattered orb in the sky is really effectively done – and have a capability to hunt humans with drones, then why do they need flesh and blood troops? Why go to all that effort to clone thousands – tens of thousands – when they could surely easily crush such a puny species?
Perhaps this is their plan – save resources by turning alien species on themselves. But if so, then why is the interior of the mother ship set up with banks and banks of pods for humans (“The Matrix”… stop me, stop me!)? Are all alien species in the galaxy human sized, human shaped? Hardly seems likely.
Anyway, that’s not the biggest problem. Nagging away is that this has sneaky undercurrents of a propaganda movie. Just as I despised “Eli’s Book” because it was so obviously an Evangelical response to the nihilism of the far superior “The Road”, I just can’t divorce this from the elephant in the room: Scientology. This is a space opera, and it’s impossible to watch this, with plot lines filled with deeply repressed memory playing such a prominent role and Earth being a Battlefield (God, Travolta with a big head and dreadlocks!) that you just know there are subtle interpretations going on here. Or maybe I’m paranoid. That’s what you get when you show me paranoia for two hours.
But even that isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the ending, which is the most dishonest and maudlin cop-out in the history of cinema since the execrable ending of what was otherwise a perfectly good movie, “AI”. There, the makers lost their nerve and had sweet little robot boy reunited with his mother for a day; here, the implication is that girls always need a hero and, as long as it looks and sounds and smells like Tom Cruise, it really doesn’t matter if it’s the original who died 70 years earlier or number 49 that blew up in the spaceship or number 52 that wanders the desert looking for redemption. The look on Olga Kurylenko’s face at the end as yet another version of her husband – but it’s NOT your husband, you dizzy besom!!!! – is almost as vomit inducing as Cruise’s leer as he intones the lines “I am Jack Harper” and no doubt thinks “And the hottie’s mine, all mine”. It really is utterly excremental, and while the possibility of doing something totally, honestly dystopian fritters away with the ridiculously easy destruction of the mother ship, this capitulation to the happy clappy middle-of-the road audience who can’t cope emotionally with anything nasty happening to the all American good guys is wholly inexcusable.
So, a movie that offers much, delivers bangs for bucks for long periods and then throws all its credibility away for one disgraceful moment of narrative cowardice. A real pity.
Many thanks to Layla Blackwell, an old friend of the Glasgow Writers’ Group, for asking me to do a wee interview for her new project, The Writers’ Circle Scotland. Layla is one of those young writers today who works tirelessly to build support networks for new writers, and the Circle – which meets Friday evenings in Operetta in Glasgow – looks like an interesting new venture. If you’d like more information, you can find them on Meetup here:
Here’s the link to my interview:
Martha Tilston is a charming, lovely young woman with a beautiful smile and a rich, pure voice. Down in Manchester for a couple of days on external examining duties, I decided to get out of my hotel (pub quiz night for the travelling salesmen, apparently…) and catch a gig. Despite the long drive to Biddulph (pretty country lanes, lots of rhododendrons, big fuck off houses…) I’m glad I chose this one.
I downloaded her latest album, Machines of Love and Grace, in preparation for this. It’s a lovely, hippy folky album with a political edge; what surprised me is that Tilston’s voice is even better live. Accompanied by the excellent Matt Edge, there’s not a single bum note in two sets lasting a couple of hours. Her politics are clearest in “Wall Street” that, despite a fairly limited lyric, feels as if it’s straight out of the Sixties protest movement, with a great hook. Better yet is “More”, telling the story of how Tilston refused advertising agencies’ temptations in order to keep her credibility to herself as much as to anyone else, while “Silent Women” is an eloquent answer to those who would prefer the little women to be seen and not heard.
Some of the less overly political pieces are lovely. She begins with “Night Rambling”, which is really spine-tinglingly gorgeous. Lovely too is “Survival Guide”, the only song I’ve ever heard that included references to narwhals but offers a poignant message to her children.
She finishes off with two “fan fiction” paeans to first Joni Mitchell (“Butterflies”) and then, sultrily and sexily, Leonard Cohen (“Old Tom Cat”). Throughout and chatting to her afterwards, she’s warm and sweet and generous with her time, despite being exhausted from a long day’s mothering. She tells me of supporting at the Old Fruitmarket and the difficulties caused by 400 drunk and partisan Roddy Frame fans who she eventually herds like cats into singing like angels, and thanks me for loving vinyl as she signs my LP: her voice sounds much lovelier spinning on my turntable than it does in download. I especially like the opening track, “Stags Bellow“, which she doesn’t perform; if autumn mist makes a sound, it sounds like this. Definitely worth seeing again…
Support is provided by Clair Brennan, a feisty slip of a girl with an interesting voice and delivery. I don’t know if it’s the darkness hinted at in her soul or the way she looks at the audience askance at times, but I get a couple of millisecond flashbacks to Jake Thackray, that oddball folk singer of the 1960s who scared the bejasus out of me then but who I am now coming round to thinking was some kind of genius. Its no compliment to a young woman, though, and so I hope she’ll forgive me given I bought her CD.
What a lovely concert this was.
I saw Claudia Aurora at WOMAD last year, and she impressed me a lot, so I decided to drive through to Dunfermline to see her again. Well worth the trip. The Carnegie Hall is a pretty little theatre in the old municipal manner, but unfortunately word hasn’t got out that a fantastic fadista is in town and there are only around 30 in the audience. Having said that, Dunfermline doesn’t seem to be the liveliest place on the planet: wandering the streets, I wondered if an evil overload had the inhabitants under curfew…
Still, the audience is warm and receptive. Aurora repeats much of her WOMAD set, and the black and red costume, the side table lit by a red lamp, the wine bottle and glass, all attempt to recreate the fado bar aesthetic. She herself is lovely: warm, charming, sexy and, of course, with a gorgeously rich voice – the venerable and friendly gentleman behind me is most impressed by her middle register, he says.
The most successful numbers from her first album - the fado-walz “Silencio“, the beautifully upbeat “Mariquinha” and, my favourite, the flamenco/fado epic tale of impossible love “Cigana” – are delivered impeccably. She also introduces me to fado/bossa nova with “Formiga Bossa Nova” which likens humans to worker ants. “Povo que lavas no rio” is about the poverty and famine of 19th century Portugal and is really beautiful. She sings some new songs she’s working on for her second album too, and an absolute stand out is one about a mother pining for her emigree son (how very Highland Clearance) called “Lua” that is gob smacking, with a haunting vocal and a spine-tingling cello solo from the excellent Kate Short. The CD will be worth it just for that show stopper.
The rest of the band, too, are wonderful, including Javier Moreno on acoustic guitar, Andres Garcia on a teeny weeny 12-string guitar apparently called a viola braguesa, and Jon Short on double-bass. The guitarists are especially great: after the interval, they come on stage for a duet that has the “crowd” cheering, Garcia’s fingers moving at pretty much superhuman speed.
They come down into the auditorium for an acoustic encore of “Primavera” that is gently haunting, even allowing little Alexander – a toddler belonging to a young Portuguese mother in the front row – to join in the act.
A great night. Dunfermline missed a trick on it.
Was absolutely delighted to get word that the Association for Scottish Literary Studies has accepted a short story from me for inclusion in New Writing Scotland for the second year running.
Last year, “Spree Killer” was written very quickly, seeming to come to me ready-made. I liked it a lot, and felt I got the voice pretty much nailed, though at the time I didn’t know if a Texan malcontent was quite right for the anthology. This year’s story, “Lizard Isle”, is very much the antithesis to that: a gentle, upbeat , light-touch fantasy, it has a central character very different from my usual angsty misanthropes. It’s also very different in its origins and gestation, having been kicking about for years, and has been through revision after revision until I eventually lost patience with it and thought I’d try it somewhere. Glad I did; obviously, I got something right about it, and my thanks go again to Zoe Strachan and Carl McDougall for picking it up.
When I was much younger and in the flush of my early “success”, New Writing Scotland seemed so difficult to break in to for me; I think I tried four years in a row without a sniff at getting in. Now that I’ve managed twice in two years, I’ll take it as a sign that my writing is maturing with age, and I’m finally getting back on track.