I’ve stopped blogging reviews of gigs I go to – so much effort – but in the spirit of reminding myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve done so that I can remind myself in the nursing home where I was in my youth (!), here’s what I’ve been up to so far this year.
Prides, Liquid Room, 7/2/15: Prides were one of my favourite discoveries in 2014. Once more, their slick electro-pop is brilliant. Big, big anthems and a heaving, appreciative crowd. A great night out!
‘Love is Strange’ , GFT, 15/2/15: Yes it’s a bit contrived, idealistic and features unnecessary skateboarding – but ‘Love is Strange’ is quite beautiful. The quiet dignity and unshakability of the love between Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) is poignant and uplifting. Their tragedy is ordinary and hateful and heart-breaking. Loved it.
Rally & Broad, Stereo, 22/2/15: Excellent stuff curated by Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum. Top marks go to Harry Stiles for redefining Scots language, Rose Ruane for redefining everything, Genessee for the most beautiful cover of ‘Teardrops’ I’ve ever heard and The Jellyman’s Daughter for some of the best harmonies since The Civil Wars.
Twelve Angry Men, 28/2/15: Some hammy moments and some dodgy American accents, but still a wonderfully plotted classic of 1950s liberal drama. Tom Conti plays Tom Conti really well.
Coves, Nice-n-Sleazy, 8/3/15: mmm… took a chance, let down immensely. The band is okay, the lead singer is okay – but the mix doesn’t work. Soft pop vocals are lost in a grunge backdrop – I’m always suspicious of a girl in an LBD fronting a double denim clad band. We bail early…
Graham Fulton Book Launch, 14/3/15: yet more fantastic stuff from one of my favourite poets; ye cannae get enough of Graham Fulton. Check out Photographing Ghosts – it’s brilliant!
Glasgow Orchestral Society, 23/3/15, Royal Conservatoire: lovely programme including Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. A stunning young conductor and violin soloist playing with a damned fine amateur orchestra, including my pal Lynsey.
Sofar Edinburgh, 1/4/15: Lovely living-room gig from contemporary trad group Dowally and singer-songwriter Annie Booth. Star of the show though is the wistful and sweet Bec Sandridge; see her here.
Vintage Trouble, O2 ABC, 3/4/15: Ty Taylor is phenomenal, easily the most charismatic lead singer I’ve seen. Sexy, witty, full-on fun. Great as the rest of the band is, I can see him ploughing a lone furrow soon; it would be a shame, but this guy’s too big for anybody.
Nadine Shah, King Tut’s, 14/4/15: gig of the year so far. Shah is fabulous; her 2014 single ‘Stealing Cars’ is a thing of real beauty, and she herself oozes charm and cheekiness. Spent so much time chatting to her I forgot to get her to sign my LP; an absolute delight and a lovely, generous lass.
The Districts, King Tut’s, 30/4/15: Good head down boogie in the style of Boy & Bear. An excellent, energetic band. Their encore, ‘Young Blood’ is a 9 minute epic.
And then seven new Munros, with many more to come. At least all this walking is keeping my alcohol consumption well under control..
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…
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…
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…
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…
A fab, vibrant wee event to celebrate the launch of National Collective Glasgow.
All the acts listed above gave their time and their talent free in order to entertain a crowd of around 200, who had a whale of a time. Shambles Miller started proceedings off with that wry style of his, including “Rapture” a song that is gorgeous in its sadness while being about a guy intent on getting his leg over the girl of his dreams as the Apocalypse approaches. Leo Condie then blew Mono away with his repertoire of Brel and Brecht songs. I love Brel, and Leo’s barnstorming, acrobatic, bonkers ‘Amsterdam’ was just brilliant – and I got to take part too!
A couple of surprise guests turned up too. Biggest cheer of the night went to Liz Lochead for a bravura performance of Corbie’s speech from ‘Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off”. Lochead has been turning out fantastic live performances for decades, and it was a real privilege to have the Scots Makar’s presence. Eleanor Morton did a set too, and while she had to compete with a noisy bar area that wouldn’t shut up (come on guys, bit of respect for the artist there…) she was just great. She has that awkward geekiness of the socially inept down to a tee, and her two musical numbers were hilarious. What sounded like a teenager’s angst-laden You Tube cry to the world was turned on its head beautifully with a simple “I call that song ‘PacMan'” at the end. Her ‘I’m Really Good at Clubbing’ was a riot, a beautifully paced evisceration of the desperation we all feel when we don’t quite fit in when we really, really want to. She was a star.
I know of at least two people who came along skeptics and went away converts to the cause. If every one in the audience goes out into the big wide world and convinces just three others, and they each then convert three more – well, 2014 might just be one of the best years ever.
A really fascinating evening organised and hosted for the SWC by the elegant Chiew-Siah Tei, Diverse Voices brought together writers and artists from Polish, Indian, Mexican Spanish, Nigerian, Chinese Malaysian, Scots and Japanese backgrounds. Diverse it most certainly was. Biographies of all the readers can be found at the SWC blog, along with a brief report from Chair of the SWC Douglas Thompson, who is working tirelessly to develop the organisation and deserves much praise.
Highlights for me included Martin Stepek’s insights into his Scottish-Polish family, intriguing because they seem to have ended up in the UK after the War not by having come westward, like my father, but having taken the epic long way round, eastwards through Asia. Beautiful young Mexican poet Juana Adcock’s poetry melds English and Spanish together in a way that she describes as ‘Spanglish’ but is nowhere near as clumsy as that tourist pejorative suggests; she makes the two languages sounds as if they should be married. In addition, she generously reads the work of a young Mexican fiction writer she is translating. Eunice Buchanan’s Scots poetry can be whimsical and light, but ‘Esk’ is something of an epic; she has a lovely, lovely voice. Ryotaro Hoshino reads the original work and his translations of Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s short prose. To be honest, his Japanese was beautiful enough to listen to on its own; just soaking up the sound of a language you don’t understand is a privilege in itself. There was so much else to enjoy, such as the handsome Ogba Uweru’s charming comic poetry or Leela Soma’s passionate account of child exploitation in India.
For myself, I had been thinking about reading something lyrical set in Poland in 1921, or something meaningful about my identity as a Polish Scot, but Martin beat me to it so I just decided to stand there and swear a lot and talk about sex; it’s in my nature, I suppose. ‘XPet’ is a reworking of a scene from an abandoned novel from some time ago that I’m trying to shape into a short story. I’ve been struggling with it, but edited it down by a third for this reading and I think I may have cracked it. The pace feels right, a lot of dead wood that referred to events in the novel was excised, the emphasis shifted and it ended up working very well as a performance reading. I have no idea if it’s publishable (far too many ‘fucks’, of all descriptions) but I think I may have discovered a new party piece that might be worth investing time into learning by heart and rehearsing. And I can always try it in ‘Front and Centre’, a wee Canadian magazine that seems to like my worst excesses…
An event I hope can be repeated, it’s well worth checking out if you see it on again.
Had a great night at a burlesque version of Marta Adamowicz’s A Little Bit of Theatre tonight. Top wordsmith was my pal Alex Cox, who’s becoming a regular with his in-yer-face and laugh-out-loud monologues. He really is becoming a brilliant literary voice; highly productive and benefitting from his involvement in theatre workshops, he’s at the top of his performing game. A real stand out – as is, apparently, Ronald Reagan’s penis.
For myself, I read “Business”. It’s from Occasional Demons, and is a darkly comic Poe-inspired tale of antiques and murder. There are two versions of it: in the collection, it’s unpunctuated, and needs to be a helter-skelter rant of wild paranoia. However, it was previously published in Something Wicked, an anthology of Scottish crime fiction, and the editors had wanted a punctuated version. It’s that I do tonight, and it really helps hold the pace, allowing me to play the jokes a bit more. Love it when an audience laughs nervously as the narrator goes to fetch a hammer…
The burlesque is huge fun. Lily Minogue does a fantastic Priscilla, Queen of the Desert act, including a rip-snorting mime of Fascinating Aida’s scandalous song “Dogging“. Star of the naughty bits, though, is Raven Rose, a deliciously lovely young woman who is well on the way to perfecting the art with real charm and wit and grace. Very sweet and very sexy.
No chance following that…
Thanks to Marta Adamovicz for giving me a second spot at A Little Bit of Theatre this afternoon. Fellow performers included Glasgow Writers’ Group pals Emma Briant and Mary Dowds, two young women who have very distinctive voices and oodles of talent, along with comedian John Sheppard and poet / rappers Bram Gieben and Leon Deeside.
As it’s Easter, I decided to read something a little more redemptive than usual, so went for an oldie, “Teuchter Dancing when the Lights Go Out”. It was the default performance piece when “Occasional Demons” came out and I was whisked about all over the world to do readings; well, Inverness and Ullapool, anyway.
I’m not happy with my reading, though. It’s a piece that relies on pace, and I didn’t get it right. I was up on stage a couple of acts early after a rejig in the running order, so hadn’t quite composed myself: but the couple of stumbles and misreadings were my fault. Still, I think I managed to get the timing of the key moments just about right, and the joke about a marriage proposal got the biggest laugh of the afternoon…
… until Caroline McKenzie took the stage. Her recounting of her night-time reflections on the relationship between the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and the Acme corporation was the highlight of the set. Perfectly nuanced, beautifully paced and very, very funny, McKenzie should have an awfy bright future ahead of her. Great stuff.
Was at a lovely book launch last night for J. David Simons’ third novel, “An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful”. Set in Scotland and Japan, Simons describes it as a story about political and personal denial.
I really like David’s writing: it is elegant and beautifully crafted, and he has a distinctive voice redolent with lovely rhythms. Think about the all the information and connotation packed into the first sentence of the first chapter:“‘Your favourite season is the one you are born into,’ Edward’s mother, a bitter child of winter, used to tell him.
I could spend half an hour analysing that sentence with a class full of teenagers. What made Edward’s mother ‘bitter’? What kind of person was she? Why “used to tell him”? What has happened to her? How do we imagine Edward feeling about that? Is he a child of winter? How do we know? What would be the effect of a winter mother on a summer child? A spring child? What does it mean to have a favourite season? Do we know any fortune-telling idioms or sayings similar to this? “Monday’s child is fair of face…” – why do we believe these sayings?
And that’s just one sentence. David is such a nice guy and such an accomplished writer, I’m very much looking forward to reading “An Exquisite Sense…”; I’m battering through Hilary Mantel’s wonderful “Wolf Hall” to get to it as soon as I possible can…