Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lucky Initiators of Sleep,

I used to believe that the worst things about humans was that they needed to eat and sleep. By now, evolution should have lead to a super breed of anorexic insomniacs who would rule the planet. I haven't been hungry all week and I can't get to sleep - it's horrible, it turns out that I can't control the planet after all. Are these the symptoms of illness or what's causing illness? I've felt rather ropy all week.

I bought a haircut, it's good but it wasn't pleasant for me or the hairdresser. I don't know what I'm meant to ask for and they don't know what they're meant to do. It was very boring, the hairdresser was very thorough. I thought about paying double but I would have looked needlessly extravagant in front of the packed waiting room; a queue we were both responsible. I think I might exceed my yearly haircut quota, I've had two and it's only March.

Someone thought that they were a better musicologist than me today. They told me that I'd be dazzled by the weirdness of some Japanese singer-songwriter, but Akeboshi is perfectly normal and quite alright. That wasn't the way to shock me. It made me think about the weirdest thing in my collection, but I wouldn't dare describe anything as such.

Phill Jupitus departed BBC 6music this morning. Their only renegade DJ has gone and now we will be treated to the type of DJ who care more for their livelihoods than the listeners' pleasure and will rigidly obey Playlist Clerk. I can't say that I blame them but I'd rather hear some decent records. There are few winners in the current ongoing trend of being beaten about the head with familiarity; Playlist Clerk (doesn't have to write out many individual royalty cheques, one lump sum to The Gossip will suffice) and the overplayed artist (obviously after receiving royalties). They're trying to control us and to stamp out diversity, because in the end that will save money. Our only hope is the internet.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Those of the Heavy Heart Brigade,

There’s a lot of big news a’breakin which is why it’s nice to remember the heart-warming moments of the day.

An elderly gentleman berated his wife, “You might have given me better warning, it’s no good telling me after I’ve stepped in it.”

Actually, the Scottish Parliament broke up today ahead of the forthcoming national and local elections. There are so many issues and so many different parties and independent candidates. There’s a local independent councillor running for re-election who I think I’ll be voting for, he has taken a brave stance against the local miscreants guilty of anti-social behaviour and as a result, his house, car and family have been targets of abuse and vandalism.

A local bar is putting forward a candidate, he is campaigning on a single issue, his (and his customers’) desire to revoke the smoking ban. I’m quite ashamed of this, it makes the town seem like it’s living in the Dark Ages.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Assistants to an Odour,

The weekend started with a stand-off, a dispute over a free-kick at football, and ended with a stand-off, an incident which highlights the sectarianism which plagues Scottish society.

I support Celtic; I watch the games and appreciate the football. I don’t have a religion and I don’t foist any political beliefs that I have upon people. But many narrow-minded people in our society can’t accept this, they hate Catholics, they hate Celtic supporters and they let them know. It’s regular for people like me to be called “a fenian”, I don’t know what this is. There’s footballing rivalry and then there is vile sectarian bigoted hatred – this is the sort our family have been treated to for over the last few years by one nimrod and his family (the children all must be under 8 years old but already, their minds are polluted).

The incident in question involves me reversing out of my driveway just as one of them were driving into the street, seeing me halfway out of the drive, they came storming up the street (with little regard to any of the children who usually play on the road) and stopped dead in the middle of the road such that I could not carry on out of the street and given the angle of our driveway and the extent to which I had emerged onto the road, it was impossible for me to go back into the driveway and wait for them to clear. At any stage, they could have parked their car in “their” usual space but they didn’t, they chose a stand-off; a time-consuming, sectarian-motivated, needless stand-off. I decided that if they wanted to waste their time, I would let them watch a 47-point manoeuvre around them.

In between these two stand-offs, I did very little. I went to watch brother’s amateur side play their match. It was played in Springfield, their football pitches are in a far corner in grounds of a NHS mental health unit. It was like watching a game of football on another planet; only 4 spectators, excluding sheep, had bothered to venture in amongst the rolling hills of the North East Fife countryside. Controversy ensued; brother’s side won 3-1 after the other team had conceded 2 penalties and had a man sent off; it seemed out of place amidst the tranquillity and under a glorious sun.

On the whole, the weekend was not good. I blame Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan’s Blues made me depressed and from there, I became bitter at society. There’s enough in society to make me permanently bitter, but I can’t fester every minute of the day. On a more positive note, The Canadian called and I was the one to pick up the telephone.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Society's Last,

Compilations or records by “Various Artists” can be wonderful things and the only place where some quality tunes by known artists can be found; for example, Nature Anthem by Grandaddy can only be heard on the Below the Radio collection or Outside it’s Christmas by My Latest Novel can currently only be heard on a silly Bella Union Christmas minidisc. Aside from the rarities by familiar artists, these collections can also serve as great introductions to other bands; without Rough Trade Indiepop Vol.1, I wouldn’t know that Primal Scream were once good, apparently they entered a sticky patch sometime before 1990 and they’ve just never been able to re-emerge from it and when I feel particularly bored and affluent enough to buy The Wurrrdd magazine, there are often some good things on their “free” CD.

Released on Chemikal Underground Records, Ballads of the Book is one such record that features songs by familiar Scottish artists that won’t be heard anywhere else but it has also prompted me to look out for some of the other lesser known artists featured. The idea behind this collection of songs is that some of Scotland’s best literary writers pen the songs and some of Scotland’s best musical artists create tunes and sing the words. Ashamedly, I’m not familiar with any of the writers except Ian Rankin but on the musical side, there is King Creosote, Idlewild, Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock Malcolm Middleton, Aidan Moffat and James Yorkston amongst others.

The whole thing has low-key, folky feel. It does feel quite sombre at times, but that’s pragmatic Scottish way. One of my favourites on the collection was by De Rosa and Michael Faber, Steam Comes Off Our House. I’m now going to become a De Rosa fan, although they’re not as delicate as My Latest Novel, they seem to have that punch and ability to create auras from which they will punch out of. Another band that is new to me are Foxface; Jenny has the voice of a classic folk singer or choir singer but the capability to speed it up to keep pace with the fast-paced stomp of the drums, banjo and accordion, it’s also complemented by the gruff chanting of the Michael of the band. Their song written with Rody Gorman, Dreamcatcher, can’t fail to have anyone with any aural sense moving.

The Sixth Stone by Aidan Moffat and Ian Rankin remembers the role of Ian Stewart, a man from the Kingdom of Fife who we can blame for being involved in founding the Rolling Stones. I like this song very much. The chorus goes:

All the way from Pittenweem
to the rock 'n' roll dream,
all the way from East Neuk, Fife
to the R&B life

The only thing that ever happened to me in Pittenweem was the infamous car-rolling-down-the-hill incident. I was stood waiting outside the chip shop whilst the others bought chips. They could see me through the window when all of a sudden the woman also waiting outside collapsed. Everyone inside the shop saw me panic; this apparently consisted of me looking up and down the road frantically (I was thinking of where I could run for help). Anyway, inside the shop, they could only see me and not the woman who had feinted and somewhat randomly, they jumped to the conclusion that a parked car had begun rolling down the road unmanned and they all run outside to see. In the end, the woman was revived by her husband, it turned out that they had not eaten or drank all day and she was the first to wilt.

I reviewed Aereogramme’s latest album a while back, I thought it was good musically but the words were a bit lame. On here, Hal Duncan writes the words and those coupled with Aereogramme’s talent for creating a sincerity of ambience with their synthesisers and pianos makes If You Love Me You’d Destroy Me one of the highlights of this collection.

The title, The Rebel On His Own Tonight, already solicits my sympathy. The composition is by Malcolm Middleton, one of the stars of 2007, and the words are by Alan Bissett. It seems like a perfect match; Alan performs a spoken word part over Malcolm’s beats towards the end and it could easily be mistaken for something from the Arab Strap back catalogue.

There are other excellent songs on this rather excellent project. It’s a concept that should be repeated in the future. Scotland should be celebrating this talent on its radio airwaves but currently, Ballads of the Book is all we have.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jesters Given to Spooking Sycophants,

Christmas was a long time ago (and it’s nearly back again). That was when I received a copy of Peter Kay’s autobiography, The Sound of Laughter. I could have been snobbish and left it to gather dust but I read it. I also received two copies of The Naming of the Dead, one in the Rebus series created by Ian Rankin, I plan to read at least one of them, no one has taken the other from me yet.

I used to be a big fan of Peter Kay through Phoenix Nights but the more I saw of him, through recorded stand-up performances shown on television and also on his other comedies, the more tired I became of the jokes. However, this autobiography has rejuvenated my appreciation of Peter Kay’s talents.

Peter recounts his memories of school right through to when he began to become famous by winning some award. He talks about his time at school with the nuns, his forays into higher and further education and his many, many part-time jobs – there’s some comedy gold in all the scrapes that he got into.

The book is not written professionally, it wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s written how Peter would deliver it verbally and because Peter’s voice is already in the heads of the readers, it works. I could imagine him narrating the stories and feelings, with his tones, moods and pace, perfectly. Some of the incidents had me laughing out loud, which is unusual for a book (I can’t remember doing so since I read Confederacy of Dunces ages ago. It’s against the etiquette of reading.). I thought that the catastrophes at work and experiences on stage that were described had to be true because it would be impossible to fabricate any memories quite like these but then I noted that nothing like these ever happened to me in my jobs. There was nearly a fire in the lab last week but that was not funny. There was the time that I got told off for bring too many cups of water to a meeting but that too was not funny and was merely symptomatic of my attitude problems. There was an afternoon when I was ordered to sort a bag of assorted elastic bands into piles of like sized ones but again there was no comic material there. In any case, I laughed whilst reading the book and the afterthoughts were self-induced so Peter Kay can’t really be at fault.

The autobiography does feel incomplete, Peter didn’t really say much about his family and chronologically, the book ends before he tours with The Shirehorses, creates That Peter Kay Thing and conquers the world. I assume Peter will one day write another autobiography, on the basis of this one, it’ll be worth reading. The Sound of Laughter was quick, easy to read and was funny, not much more could be expected from an autobiography from a comedian.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Scribblers of Dreams Upon Apples,

Learning is fun. I enjoy trying to know everything about everything that concerns me, the best way to achieve this is by complete indifference to the things that don’t concern me. I can’t grasp the fact that so many people do so many things half-heartedly.

I may not be interesting to some people but if that was the case, it’s because they are not interested in the things that I’m interested in. A problem would arise if I wasn’t interesting because I wasn’t interested in anything. Too many people remain interested in nothing or they guddle in the river for a short while but never buy a fishing rod. They will be grey forever and people will never identify them with anything, they can end up in a life of crime after bouts of tension, in-fighting and drugs.

There are so many causes to be devoted to: trees, the sky, communism, the sea, cars, recycling, horses, smoking, Bob Dylan, Forfar Athletic, bridges, The Matterhorn, Annie Proulx, tea and castles.

I listened to many talks today, they were by stewdents, experienced academics and industrial chemists, and it was an amusing and relaxing day. I also received news that I had succeeded in passing a test on a subject that I have great difficulty with, the test wouldn’t be hard for someone who understands the field but I don’t. I did devote a relatively great deal of time to forming a half-baked knowledge of the material. It shouldn’t have been enough but it was. The moral of the story is that commitment and effort is the key.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Piners for the Citrus Invigoration,

Perth is a chaotic place to drive around, this is chaos is amplified when using a map that doesn’t feature all of the streets that exist in and around the town’s (they like to call it a city) treacherous one-way system – it sucks things in and spits them spinning out. The magnificent Perth Concert Hall was the destination. The event was an evening with Billy Idlewild.

I think Idlewild are a band that are held dear by an awful lot of people, I adopted them at the time of The Remote Part (the lyrics are just so introspective yet inclusive) but it was clear from the audience at last night’s gig that many appreciate the noisy, early stuff most. The new album, Make Another World, caters for both factions so everyone should be happy.

Having never seen the band live before, the setlist full of the “greatest hits” – mainly the singles – was played brilliantly and sung well. It might have been nice to hear one or two more from the new album but this is possibly an over-critical observation (This review isn’t very good but I don’t feel that I should have to explain who Idlewood are or what songs they sing).

This was the first gig (that wasn’t a festival) that I’ve attended where there was crowd-surfing, I must remark that it wasn’t me who was crowd-surfing – I couldn’t take the risk of that one of those uncouth ruffians would create a snag in my Fair Isle sweater. Maybe we can initiate this crowd-surfing malarkey at the next My Latest Novel performance.

The practice of recording footage or taking photos using cell phones was particularly annoying. Seeing the stage is a challenge when there are so many people, it’s made much more difficult when countless selfish people have their arms in the air intermittently whilst trying to capture poor-quality digital keepsakes. The videos or photos will never fully encapsulate the experience and it’s not fair to block the view of or elbow fellow aficionados. Proper gig etiquette should be followed strictly from the minute the people on the door slap on those wristbands.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Indolent Historians of the Age of Charities,

I continue to learn about history in the laziest of ways possible. This time I learned about the Vietnam War by reading If I Should Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien and looking over the helpful notes in the back of the edition that I bought. I managed to glean that it was a mess, there were the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese, the Vietcong, the people, the Buddhists, the Cambodians, the French and of course, the Americans and they all rooted around the jungles and killed in an often indiscriminate fashion, well, the innocent people didn’t and the Buddhists only killed themselves.

The book is chiefly the memoirs of Tim O’Brien, a university graduate who was strongly opposed to the war but, essentially, not strong enough to object to being sent to Vietnam. The memoirs begin in basic training, where he plots to desert the army before deployment, but he doesn’t have the strength to see it through despite having made all the arrangements, before continuing throughout his year of service in Vietnam. He knows his and his country’s intrusion into a conflict in a distant land is wrong so it’s not the case that he wrestles with his conscience throughout the war, what is conveyed most is his sense of frustration that no one else around him seems to have similar objections to the US involvement.

He refers to Alpha Company frequently, but although he is the man who carries the radio for the squad leaders and therefore should be quite central to the group, he never really seems anything but alone in his tales. Firstly, this is most likely be related to the fact that he doesn’t really meet anyone in the company who objects or sees wrong in what they are doing, except his mail correspondent, Eric (a friend from basic training) and secondly, wastage of men in the group is routine and expected, it seems that any relationship or attachment would be futile. O’Brien doesn’t really discuss killing anyone himself and at the end of it all, it doesn’t seem as though he was an effective tool in the war and the question has to be asked: was there any point to Tim’s involvement? This question might well be a scaled down version of the question over the need for USA’s involvement in affairs in a distant nation.

If I Should Die in a Combat Zone is a decent read. Some of the references to classic literature might mean more to a scholar of the subject but overall, the book is one man’s personal memoirs and because it’s a personal account and because O’Brien doesn’t try to pretend that his experience was representative of every soldier, I don’t feel that I can argue with this piece of work.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Motionless Collaborators in the Faltering Quest,

Neon Bible by Arcade Fire received a favourable review from those in The Bellyaches newsroom but one and a half weeks later, I found myself addicted to it. Despite being addicted, I began to question if it was really that good. It was a strange situation, I had to play it but I didn’t think it was that great. I asked myself, “Is this better than Wolves (by My Latest Novel)? The critical point was reached and I took the Neon Bible from the CD player, I put it back in its case, I slipped the cardboard sleeve over the case and put it in the middle of one of the piles. Just to be on the safe side and avoid going back to it, I bought some new things.

As with any set of siblings, there is always a doubt over whether one can be as good as the other: can Gary be as good as Phil Neville and can Natasha be as good as Daniel Bedingfield? I didn’t think there would be much of a doubt over the quality of L’vov Goes to Emandee w/My Unicef Box by Jack Lewis & The Cutoffs given that Jack contributes so much to records that have Jeffrey’s name at the top. I’d like to create a new genre to describe this one; it’s called “ad hoc rock”. This album has a charming chaotic feel; Jack and his collaborators might have poured hours over the songs but they seem to have a spontaneity that other artists would kill for, on repeated listening, I still don’t know where each track will go, it is power pop. Lyrically, the songs are in much the same style as the Jack songs on previous Jeffrey & Jack Lewis album, some of the subjects are a little darker, like The Deer in the Woods, but the words seem to be direct observations (sometimes of imagined situations, no one has shot Neil Young yet, so The Day Neil Young Died might happen a bit differently) so there’s no messing about. The best song title on the album is The One the Drummer Never Liked (The Epic). It’s hard not to like this record.

I wasn’t going to bother about The Magic Position by Patrick Wolf but I’m glad that, by chance, I gave this a listen. I haven’t paid much attention to the lyrics, it’s another one of these records where I just marvel at the glorious compositions and arrangements of all the different instruments. Patrick has successfully blended the traditional instruments with modern electronic ones to produce something spectacular; moods joyous or dark. Marianne Faithfull appears on one song. The reviews on Amazon are much better than what I can say, I agree with all those that have awarded 5 stars.

It’s a pleasure to be able to listen to and write about A Surprising Return to Form by Art Pedro. It’s released by the Kingdom of Fife’s Fence Records and is possibly only available to buy during March as part of the Picket Fence series. Art Pedro is a man from Leicester who makes records it seems by patching random bits and beats together. With an element of humour and self-awareness, the tracks bounce from happy to sad, the experimentation is playful and the result is a delight. Art Pedro has recorded some videos to accompany some of the songs, they seem to give the songs a sort of resonance, in time hopefully, more videos will be uploaded.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Deterrents of Ninja Dinosaurs,

Praise must be indeed heaped onto those who climbed onto the Scottish Parliament building to unfurl a flag. Climbing is an underrated skill; only this week, Gordon from The Aliens has fallen from a tree and broken his clavicle. Having said that, the ledge the Parliament protesters climbed to does not look a terribly difficult place to reach, they would hardly have to be Bear Grylls-like.

I can’t understand this fuss over renewing those nuclear weapons, specifically the Trident missiles. There’s no point to having weapons of mass destruction – these weapons are used to destroys cities and decimate nations. I can’t envisage “Britain” ever being in a war against another nation ever again. There will always be conflict but it will be against people, whether “Britain” will ever see the need to attack the countries that harbour those people is the question. There’s no doubt that such hugely indiscriminative weapons are completely unjust, however, it’s perhaps worth renewing them - just for a laugh, after all the people (Prime Minister Cameron, Depute Prime Minister Brown, etc) who decide to fire them will be safely tucked away in underground bunkers before they give the order.

In any case, “Britain” now has to renew their nuclear deterrent. If they’d gone about this properly; stayed hushed and decided let our current weapons expire, “Britain” could then have pretended that they still had nuclear missiles, but of course, they’ve let the cat out of the bag with this whole “debate” idea.

The other option would be to carry out a bunch of pre-emptive strikes; “Britain” could obliterate any nation that thought would be likely to cause a bit o’bother in the future, they could do this in the next few weeks (the sooner they get started, the sooner they get finished) and get their money’s worth out of their current stock.

I’m powerless.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Russian Futurists,

From one end of the scale to the other; supposedly, 59427 people attended the football match which pitched Celtic versus Rangers to decide who would win three meaningless points. Rangers defeated Celtic by one goal to zero.

If Celtic had played to their optimum standard, they would have defeated Rangers, Stuart Dougal, the SFA and the government. As it was, Celtic looked tired and with the referee’s performance having been pre-determined weeks ago, they never stood a chance. I didn’t feel let down after the game, it was just one of the dates that have to be fulfilled en route to the championship being awarded. I was still able to feel privileged, because I understood what had happened and was not fazed by it.

On arrival home, the local sectarian bigot chanted, “We are the people.”, in our direction. He is the people indeed – a small town person with a small town mentality - and he will be the death of us all.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Takers of the Posion of our Age,

It's fine to be a supporter of one of the more successful or wealthy football clubs, there's more skill and technique on show at the matches. However, up in Row Z, the game can feel distant and the experience can be impersonal. That's why, despite the lack of true quality on show, I can say that it was a privilege to be one of only 358 people who watched East Fife defeat East Stirlingshire by two goals to zero at Firs Park, Falkirk.

Firs Park still feels otherworldly and the staff in the kiosk still add milk and sugar to the hot drinks so the punters don't have to (I thoroughly appreciate this). The pitch was rubbish and the players tried to kick the ball as far as they could, there was no emphasis on passing, but it was entertaining nonetheless. East Fife's best players were Elliot Smith and Kevin McBride, the two full-backs who didn't let The Shire wingers get the better of them, Craig O'Reilly, the striker who relieved pressure from his team and scored the clinching goal, and goalkeeper Dodds who made some great save. The promotion race is still truly alive.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Groupies Clamouring for the Vitreous Icon,

A lot of good stuff hit the record store shelves this week, which meant that I had to be choosy when I sprinted excitedly from my office to the high street on Monday’s lunch break to buy Neon Bible. One of the best aspects of lishening to radio online, to a station like KEXP, is that I can tune in and hear things before everyone else in “Britain” and then appear all-knowing. I had heard many of the new Arcade Fire songs before the release of the album and I just couldn’t wait to buy the new album.

I picked up on Arcade Fire from the most unlikely of sources – Soccer AM. I think they played the single Laika before most radio stations in “Britain”. An appearance on Soccer AM has become something of a negative connotation for bands amongst musicologists, I think this is rightly so. Funeral was a mainstay in my CD player in 2005, it has so many positive attributes: the instrumentation, imagery, power, only one annoying track, my favourite track never became a single (In the Backseat) and it did spawn singles that I never tired of hearing. Now, Arcade Fire are big, it’s seen as cool to like them; usually there’s no point in going along with the crowd – that only leads to Mika’s bank balance rising unnecessarily – but in this case, I’ve got to go along with the crowd and try to claim that I liked them first.

Neon Bible is good. Black Mirror is a colossus; the orchestra seems big and frightening. Keep the Car Running sounds a bit like Surfin’ Bird at the chorus. The title track is a forewarning of something, it’d make a tremendous discussion for an English lesson (I loved English, I only realised this when it was too late). The masterpiece in this collection is Intervention, it’s powerful and empowering, and it makes me understand why some people might go to church. The turnaround in Black Wave / Bad Vibrations is hard-hitting, hope turns to despair in an instant. It usually doesn’t matter what happens in an album after the half-way point if the first songs have been great and that’s usually when I bore of eulogising in my reviews. Oceans of Noise does not offer much at first, but it’s worth persevering with because the strings and brass at the end are nice. The Well and The Lighthouse is again good, it has one of those slow-down-then-speed-up moments, and those hardly ever fail to work. (Antichrist Television Blues) must be the one that sounds like Bruce Springsteen (whoever he is). Apparently, there are many things that Win Butler does not want to see at his Windowsill; there’s a cat that I have to scare away from my windowsill. No Cars Go is the other beauty in this marvellous collection. My Body is a Cage is tagged on at the end and it doesn’t really fit the rest of the ethos that I’ve created in my brain for this album. It’s a bit sad to end on that dour note. This album also comes with a needless cardboard sleeve over the CD jewel case.

On the packaging front, Make Another World by Billy Idlewild comes in a new-fangled CD jewel case that has an annoying button that has to be pressed to open the case and another in the centre of the case that has to be pressed to release the disc. I think this is another good album, whilst Neon Bible was energising in a despite-the-tragedy way, this is energising in an angry way. Although I started liking Idlewild after The Remote Part, I like this new album despite the fact that probably resembles the louder stuff of the early years more closely. In fact, it’s probably a decent mix of both. Roddy Woomble has always been one of the best lyricists, so with this constant, the quality of the records it really depends on the tunes. No new ground is broken; it’s just a great record from a great group. Mick Cooke also plays trumpet and French horn somewhere on this album.

As I gradually enter dufferdom, I’ve began to like strange things like Bob Dylan records on the radio and begin to hate some of these new young bands. A few months ago, Will Oldham was just the bloke out of the Jeffrey & Jack Lewis song to me but I heard I See a Darkness played on BBC 6music’s marvellous Gideon Coe show and I had to buy the album of the same name. It’s dufferdom wist of the highest calibre.

I didn’t buy the new record by Richard “Swifto” Swift but it might be worth a go nor did I buy Ballads of the Book but I definitely will. It is the result of a collaboration between Scottish writers and musicians, the tracks are all available to listen to online; it’s a fine, fine collection.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Dilatory Lavishers of Praise,

Apparently I won some tickets to a gig. I did put my name forward but of whether there was an actual competition, I’m unsure. However I did expect to win.

The gig was My Latest Novel being supported by Duglas T. Stewart and Saint Jude’s Infirmary at the Bongo Club, Embra. It was part of a series of acoustic music events to promote a new lager. As much as I love Saint Jude’s Infirmary, I timed arrival such that we would arrive in time for My Latest Novel and we did.

The band were excellent during their short set, I knew this would be the case. It could be argued that they took a short while to settle in but perhaps it was I that was struggling to settle in. It was meant to be an acoustic gig, it wasn’t, however, the Bongo Club was set up with tables and chairs back from the stage and a wide gap between the band and the audience for a cameraman to scuttle back and forth recording the gig. It made the atmosphere a little weird. There was a broken guitar string and also the some of the silly sound level problems too. The conditions weren’t ideal.

As always, I gazed on in awe at how they achieved their wonderful compositions. Two new songs featured. I can’t remember their names but they were excellent and one of them might even rival The Reputation of Ross Francis as a new show-stopper.

It was short, it was about some new lager, but we received more than we had paid for.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Selfless Woebegone Autonomists,

After Into the Woods, I was eager to buy A Brighter Beat by Malcolm Middleton, I knew I would not be disappointed.

Arab Strap were a fantastic band but they did the right thing and disbanded before any decline. They had an image of being miserable and dour, that’s what is to be gained from being accurate and true to life. I never found their records to be depressing, and in their press work, they gave some of the funniest interviews that I’ve ever heard. Adjectives are all subjective.

The Twilight Sad will plug some of the gap that Arab Strap left behind but gladly, we still have new solo work to enjoy. A Brighter Beat has a brighter beat, the lyrics might still be construed as miserable, but only by those who live in a sugar-coated, false world (You are the generation who bought more shoes and you get what you deserve), and I identify with many of the lines because I don’t.

The album begins with the fast-paced and factual We’re all Going to die. It could easily have been We’re all Gonna die - some lazier artists would have. The consideration of mortality is always endearing and refreshing. If Malcolm could take one possession when oblivion comes calling, it’d have to be his duvet; I’d take my radiator – temperature decreases by around 1o degrees C after an increase of 100m in altitude, ergo heaven will be cold.

The backing vocals are very important in this record, as they were in Into the Woods, so credit must also be given to Jenny Reeve and Nicola MacLeod. They’re in nearly every song, sometimes prominently like in Fight Like the Night, or just subtly, like in the title track. The title track and lead single is a cracker, even if it was an instrumental, it could easily be identified as Scottish.

I don’t swear, I can cope with swearing, I don’t have a problem but I won’t publish the title of Track 5 in The Bellyaches. I’d advise Malcolm to bin his cell phone. The moods; reminiscing, desperation, longing, wonder, torment are all reflected brilliantly in the music.

The piano and organ-driven Stay Close Sit Tight is a favourite of mine because of it’s likeness to the frog thing from Rupert and the lyrics, “Don’t call me because I won’t pick up the phone” is what I would say or “Don’t invite me, I’m safer where I am”, I’ll only go on and make some ridiculous blunder.

Although it’s possible to say that some songs sound like other artists, this album will always retain its own identity because of Malcolm Middleton’s distinctive accent and lyrics. Having said that, I’m not sure if Somebody Loves You is a cover of an Elliot Smith song or not. It’s one of a pair of quiet acoustic guitar numbers in the second half of the album that I, at first, did not take to. Although most of the album has sad overtures in the lyrics, the music still leaves the tracks feeling reasonably uplifting but in these two tracks, the music is sparse and the songs then feel a bit too broody. But (and “but” should only be used to begin sentences in exceptional circumstances) this was only a minor and temporary trough in my enjoyment of this record because I now like these tracks and in any case they were followed by a wonderful Mercury Rev-esque composition, Up Late at Night Again, during which I can imagine perfectly Jonathan Donahue singing the lines of the chorus, “Don’t ever want to say goodbye, if I go first and tell you what it’s like”.

The final song in the bog-standard edition of the album, Superhero Songwriter, is another endearing song, modest Malcolm goes on one more self-deprecating trip where he has a pop at all these middle-of-the-road gimps who write benign, soulless lyrics to make themselves radio playlist friendly. This song shows the Cape twerp how to write songs about writing songs and has monumental brass. Indeed, I failed to mention before now that Belle & Sebastian fans can play “Spot Trumpeter Mick” throughout this album; he’s the one with the red-hooped woolly jumper and bobble hat combo and the milk bottle bottom spectacles.

The bonus tracks in the Special Edition are actually better than the two songs that I once thought were iffy, so it’s probably worth spending the extra pound or two. One of the bonus tracks uses the word “smurf” as a verb, there are 71 entries for “smurf” in the Urban Dictionary and some of those on the first page are unpleasant. The second bonus track ties in well with the title track because in it “his fridge is so bare” and in A Brighter Beat he has a “fridge full of beer”, thus it’s quite clear that there are no loose ends after 52 minutes, unless still grumbling about the questionable need for a cardboard sleeve over the CD jewel case – it’s a bit wasteful.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Thwarted Believers in the Whale,

I can conclusively say that Dundee is a pit. I’ve always had many reasons to dislike it; I based my decision not to study at its yooni on the basis that its campus had too many shadows and its stewdent population had too many goths, there are many rough areas in the city, The View are from Dundee and currently, we have a major case of anti-social behaviour in our street which has a strong Dundonian connection, but I’ve always thought the city was okay for shopping.

I started the day by arriving at work very early, just after the doors were unlocked. Strange things go on outwith 9 to 5. One of the others who share the office was doing one of her strange webchats that involve shouting. The “technical staff” at work can be unpredictable, I’ve had run-ins with a few of them by now, currently, and I’m rather bemused by the cleaners. They seem to have disowned my bin ever since I improvised with a Tescos carrier bag when the bin liner was full, annoyingly, they move things and absurdly, remove protective packaging from scientific equipment. Today, it was the turn of a green envelope, which was in my notoriously awkward-to-open drawer of the filing cabinet, to be placed on my desk without reason, it might have been someone else, perhaps it was a prop in the web broadcast; after all, it is a lovely envelope, I only kept it because it is green.

Anyway, circumstances dictated that I my experimental work was finished by lunchtime. Nothing has come of my big blunder yet, but I know there are consequences. I could have continued working up in the office but it was a bit disruptive today and there was a horrible smell in the building. I am hopeless at identifying smells, it was hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide or ammonia, maybe it was throughout the building, or maybe it just accompanied me, which would be worrying. I decided to spend an hour or so in Dundee.

Had I had a passenger with me, I could have told my anecdote about the village of St Michaels as I passed through: once upon a time, I was visiting Dundee, I passed through St Michaels innocuously on the way there but home from Dundee, in St Michaels, I missed the junction that I should have taken, so I did an about turn in a hotel car park and continued back to the junction and subsequently home. Around an hour, after I arrived home, the police arrived at the door. My vehicle had been reported to them for “loitering suspiciously” at two separate times that day in the village. I explained what I had done that day, the police apologised and left. I would always advise never to go somewhere and come home by the same route.

Dundee never had anything to buy and every shop played Mika. Although Fopp was a haven, The Trials of Van Occupanther by Midlake was on; whilst perusing the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums, I noticed, in a heart-warming moment, that there was also a compartment on their shelves for Broomheads Jacket. I left the shopping centres, suitably bustled, barged, nudged and clipped by oddballs who didn’t apologise, without purchasing anything. I stopped in at Marks & Spencers for a sandwich, I love sandwiches. The Dundee outlet was full of people who think they are better than everyone else, more so than any other branch that I’ve been in, and the service was terrible. The till attendant, Rose-Marie, held everyone up by hobnobbing with her snooty friends who were ahead in the queue. I ought to see that Rose-Marie is sacked but it appears that Rose-Marie is well-liked by her co-workers. I left Dundee pledging to myself avoid it as much as is possible from here on in.

Today's photo features the Firth of Forth, it's more pleasant.

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