JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just An Observation
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So that was 2016 (almost) then!
Certainly a year to remember from its shock opening with David Bowie’s death in early January right up until its troubled closing days. Shock followed shock as each month progressed and benign concerns became very real and troubling realities on both sides of the Atlantic and at times it seemed as if we had all stepped into some parallel universe.
As already mentioned David Bowie set the tone in the early stages only two days after releasing one of the best albums of his long and illustrious career. When the news arrived early in the morning it was hard to take in and there was a sense we had lost a colour or some other vital element; so ingrained in our culture is he.
His was just the first in a long line of celebrity deaths- which it turns out despite what many feel is no greater than usual- and among other notable losses were Prince, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Pete Burns, Caroline Aherne, Victoria Wood, Leonard Cohen and just when it felt as if the Reaper was easing up for the Christmas break the shocking news that George Michael had died came through swiftly followed by that of Carrie Fisher’s death and the very next day that of her mother Debbie Reynolds.
Aside from celebrity deaths there was the small matter of Brexit wherein a referendum about leaving the EU that no-one was really paying attention to or overly concerned about turned in a result which seemed to shock just about everyone. Not least those who had campaigned for it.
What the future holds on this matter is far from clear but it is certain it doesn’t herald a new age that I am overly keen to live in. A new age where xenophobia, bigotry, division and out-and-out racism all have a place is a scary world indeed.
Meanwhile across in America a man with a bad hairpiece and orange colouring who mocked the disabled, insulted women, incited racial and religious hatred and basically lied about everything he talked about was somehow elected President in a campaign which if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes and heard with my own ears I would not have actually believed.
Meanwhile atrocities in Syria and Palestine continued to haunt our consciences and give the right wing media something to rally against fuelling hatred and division.
Post Truth became buzz words and a phrase to bandy about but in reality were just a term for lies!
In fact there is little I can add to the year’s events as they have all been dissected and discussed even if they have not been properly absorbed yet. I would like to think 2017 will be better but more likely we will still be reeling from the repercussions of 2016. Possibly for several years yet.
On a positive note however there has been some great music released this year including brilliant final albums from David Bowie and Leonard Cohen:-Blackstar and You Want It Darker respectively- as well as fine offerings from PJ Harvey, Christine and The Queens, Anonhi, Nick Cave and Iggy Pop who along with Keith Richards is last man standing of one particular rock and roll school. No-one ever saw that coming certainly not back in the seventies when both sailed as close to the wind as is possible.
Can’t say it has been a particularly stunning year for cinema however or television for that matter. However The Fall, Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty all managed to hold an audience in their thrall and were a welcome back to more traditional times, pre-Netflix, where tension is ratcheted up by the week.
So 2016 it’s been an interesting and turbulent year but here’s hoping it has prepared us for whatever 2017 has to throw at us. I hope at least now we will be more ready and aware. A little bit less complacent too!

THE FILTHY TONGUES/BOOTS FOR DANCING

The Filthy Tongues / Boots For Dancing
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Edinburgh receives a bad rep in terms of live music these days which is due to lack of decent venues, council noise restrictions and apathy on behalf of the punters rather than a shortage of any decent music. This gig however brought the cognoscenti of the Edinburgh scene into the spotlight- as much as a spotlight as is possible in the impossibly dark Liquid Rooms- and anyone who has ever been anyone was in attendance for this gig pairing local legends Boots for Dancing and the newly vitalised Filthy Tongues together in an immaculate pairing.
Unfortunately I missed the opening band Birdhead which is unfortunate as I have been meaning to catch them for some time now.
However from the moment Boots for Dancing hit the stage I was completely captivated. A tight as a gnat’s twat rhythm section in Russell Burn and Colin Whitson perfectly complemented the sublime guitar work of Mike Barclay and ‘Dancing’ Dave Carson’s front-man duties. A too short but perfect set consisting of a mere five songs : Parachute, Hesitate, Ride On, Midnight Moses and Oh Bop/ Boots. It was almost over too soon but still it perfectly whetted appetites for The Filthy Tongues.
A stunning new album to promote- ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ which if you haven’t heard yet then I strongly urge you to do so- the band opened with a storming instrumental that was a statement of intent; this band is on fire and you are about to be scorched in their flames!
Drawing heavily on the new album including the title track, ‘Long Time Dead’ and an emotional ‘Holy Brothers’ their set also included a brooding and menacing version of The Stooges’ ‘Sick of You’ The Mackenzie’s ‘The Rattler’ a rousing and arousing ‘Amsterdam’ and perennial crowd favourite ‘Goodwill City’.
Musically the set was faultless with frontman Martin Metcalfe, bassist Finn Wilson and Derek Kelly providing the core nucleus alongside three other musicians drafted in providing seasoning and colour. Metcalfe in particular proved he is as strong a performer as he ever was and his voice is in finer form than ever.
Definitely a gig highlight of this year- and music has been excellent in this turbulent and tumultuous year of loss and frightening change- it saw an audience united in the fact they were seeing something really rather special.
Goodwill City indeed!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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As 2016 draws towards its final months it would be unwise to assume that the tumultuous, sad and turbulent happenings of this ever eventful year are quite over. If anything this past year has taught us to expect the unexpected and never underestimate anyone or anything.
A year ago the thought that Donald Trump would be President Elect of the United States would have met with a scornful and disdainful scoff followed by a sarcy ‘As if’ then a dismissive laugh. However as 2017 looms ahead of us and Trump’s entry into the White House a scary eventuality it seems the punch line to what initially felt like a joke has delivered instead a knock out blow.
Mind you things aren’t faring much better this side of the Atlantic with the promise of our most right wing government in living memory and while at least the Americans voted for their absurdist President Elect-therefore having no-one to blame but themselves- us Brits have somehow managed to wangle ourselves a Prime Minister no-one actually voted for. Not even her own party!
It would seem that Theresa May –the name itself reeks of indecision- has earned herself the most important job in the country simply as no-one else was prepared to take it, or at least put up a fight for it.
Let us not even think about the disaster of Brexit and what lies ahead following the shock result in June which saw a rise in blatant xenophobia and discrimination which can only get worse.
How and when did things get this bad?
Meanwhile a whole load of people are getting their tartan bum-flaps in a twist over Joe Corre-the son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood- burning £5million worth of punk memorabilia as a reaction to punk becoming part of the establishment. I am not entirely sure what his protest is however as the minute The Sex Pistols signed a deal with EMI- and later very briefly A&M- then punk had become part of the establishment.
McLaren had always had his eye on mainstream success anyway seeing the Pistols as some sort of boyband-let us not forget that Midge Ure, at the time singer with boyband Slik, was his original choice for a lead singer- so for his son to complain about the life of privilege his heritage afforded him seems more than a little whiny especially with those people punk originally appealed to, such as the disaffected and impoverished, have probably never felt as disaffected and abandoned as they do by the recent shift to the far right in Britain and America.
Perhaps the money could have been used to help those people and donated to charity or at least a good cause. Then again by Corre’s thinking even charities are part of the establishment and filled with the establishment elites that rankle him so. The establishment elites who are the only ones who can realistically afford his over priced knickers from his underwear brand Agent Provocateur!
It has been a year of sad loss as well. Starting with David Bowie-didn’t everything though- at the year’s beginning, the reaper has since swung his scythe far and wide taking in the likes of Alan Rickman, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen, Pete Burns, Caroline Aherne and Victoria Wood to name but a few. With so many important and influential figures passing away in such a short time it really has felt like the passing of an era, the end of one particular golden age.
I suppose at least we still have the music to carry us through and this weekend sees a couple of very worthwhile gigs in the capital.
Friday night sees the wonderful The Trama Dolls support The Valves at the Wee Red Bar at 7pm for an evening unparalleled entertainment which should kick the festive month into gear with a riot of sound and an explosion of glamour.
Saturday sees The Filthy Tongues show at the Liquid Rooms and their album Jacob’s Ladder can hold its head high among the very best of the year- and it has been an exceptionally good year for music if nothing else- supported by the brilliant Boots For Dancing and Birdhead.
As we approach the final month of the year I think that we are all now prepared for whatever is thrown at us. If nothing else that should be the great lesson learnt from 2016!
Photo of The Trama Dolls courtesy of Gavin Fraser.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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So 2016 really is the year that just keeps on taking!
Yet another legendary individual in the ever mutating form of Pete Burns was the latest victim in this the year of the reaper. Although considering Burns was hardly likely to be in the best of health after 300 cosmetic surgery procedures, something borne out by the most recent pictures of him looking bloated and dishevelled, there seemed something defiantly indestructible about him. However a massive cardiac arrest last Sunday resulted in his death at the premature age of 57, the same age as that of other eighties enigma, Prince, a mere six months ago.
Whilst Burns has nothing like the musical legacy nor the huge influence of Prince he was an influential and always interesting character on the musical and cultural landscape which sits at odds with today’s bland on bland pop confections with their carefully scripted and inoffensive sound-bites and stylist created looks.
Burns was a one-off and pioneering influence in the gender fluidity stakes long before Boy George and the other Blitz Kids emerged on the scene. Certainly I preferred his musical direction in Nightmares in Wax- ‘Black Leather’ was a perennial going out favourite in my younger years- to that of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman produced era.
There is however no denying the genius of ‘You Spin Me Right Round (Like a Record) the record which will always define Burns however as it was perfectly positioned in the mid-eighties capturing that era perfectly; it had the attitude of glam, punk and post punk but also the elements of pop blandness and manufacture which were about to engulf the music industry as personalities were replaced by brands.
Burns never matched this success again and descended into an addiction to cosmetic surgery procedures and appearing on reality TV shows as some sort of cartoon, caustic Cruella DeVille character; always watch-able if seldom likeable. Definitely a one-off individual the world is one more pioneering freak down and a less colourful place for it.
Scarier than Pete Burns and Halloween itself is just how Americanized Halloween has become.
Once a favourite of mine, Halloween has become a fancy dress party which has recycled the same punch-line one time too often and become a bore. I have noticed a grumbling about this on my social media sites with many bemoaning the loss of the traditional Scottish turnip lantern- the tumshie- with the more American pumpkin. It also used to be a much more local affair but now every bar, club and venue, not to mention bland TV Show, has its Halloween themed event.
It does prepare us for Christmas however and with the shops already full of lights, trees and ‘suggested’ presents it makes me realise how unprepared I am yet again for something that only happened five minutes ago! I am also assuming The Dome in George Street already have their decorations up outside!
With The American elections only a few weeks away and for anyone, like myself, who is still baffled by the inexorable rise of Trump I suggest- insist is perhaps a little too strong a word- you watch the Adam Curtis documentary HyperNormalisation on BBC iPlayer.
Looking at the fake and corrupt world the politicians and those in power have created for us to live in it becomes clear how someone like Trump can become a likely candidate for the White House as the lies peddled by various governments to fulfil their own agendas is quite frightening. What is even more frightening is how the public have swallowed those lies and gone along with them. The power axis has shifted however and now it is spiralling out of control hence the rise of the likes of Trump.
Looking forward to the PJ Harvey gig in Glasgow this coming week and although I was initially pretty unimpressed by her latest album ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ it has over time revealed itself to be a strong work which ranks alongside Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ and Anohni’s ‘Hopelessness’ and ‘Ash and Ice’ by The Kills as one of 2016’s finest. Really, really looking forward to this one!
Tonight however sees the final explosive episode of the excellent ‘The Fall’ where the final outcome of the chilling dance between Paul Spector and Stella Gibson is still unclear as both have some pretty nifty and calculate footwork at their disposal. Forget Halloween nothing beats Jamie Dornan’s icy performance in the chills factor for out-and-out scariness!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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Having had a few weeks off writing this column and watching as the world slips further and further into chaos, hatred and meaningless mayhem without comment it is now time to step into the breech once more and ponder as to how we have arrived at such a tortuous and desperate state.
Personally my theory that the fabric of the universe was torn with David Bowie’s passing in January- it still feels as if we have lost some crucial element, almost like there is a colour missing-makes as much sense as anything that has happened since: Brexit, an unelected Prime Minister, not even voted for by her own party, a rise in hate crimes and the horrifying rise of Donald Trump across the Atlantic.
Meanwhile the pound is at its lowest level in living memory- I purchased something online recently and the cost was almost the same in pounds as it was in dollars and was aware there was a time this would have been unimaginable- and the cost of basic living about to rise inexorably. Somehow the government insists nothing major has changed while the media focus on Tesco unable to stock Marmite due to a fall out with Unilever and the arrival of fourteen children from Calais and whether they are actually children at all whips up more frenzied xenophobia
However it turns out that racism was not the main cause for the Brexit vote after all but the austerity measures the Tories –along with the Lib-Dems it must be said- imposed on the nation for five gruelling years harbouring resentment deep in the under-classes whose only means of protest was voting against the establishment imposing them. Well done David Cameron if anyone ever made a pig’s ear-why do pigs always come into it when discussing Cameron- out of being a Prime Minister then it was you.
Meanwhile Theresa May shakes her head and says no more money for the NHS and meets with little opposition or argument.
However what is happening here is nothing compared to the rise of The Trump in America. Unfortunately like Boris Johnson and Brexit before him I have a sincerely bad feeling about this one. The only thing I can say about this Presidential campaign is that it resembles a hate campaign more than a political one. Hillary Clinton would normally not be anyone’s choice as President- in many ways she is as loathsome as Trump- but in this election she is definitely the preferred winner. The whole thing has descended into cheap mudslinging barely worthy of the playground while common courtesies and good manners have been abandoned wholesale.
How did things get this bad?
Meanwhile the dark nights continue to get darker as does BBC2’s excellent crime thriller The Fall with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan.
Constantly understated and underplayed the tension builds weekly until as viewers we become absorbed in the chilling two-step the lead characters are dancing around each other. Often it feels as if little has happened at the end of an episode until the complexities hit home and you realise how sinuous and compelling the writing and acting both are. Last night Dornan’s character, Paul Spector, basically handed his defence team his get out of jail card whilst still not revealing whether he is faking the amnesia at the core of his defence. By far and away the best thing on TV at the moment- not particularly hard to be honest- The Fall is a lesson in how it should be done.
Certainly the lack of any decent TV has necessitated mpre nights out and tonight is no exception as The Fini Tribe unveil new material at the Neu Reekie Sullivan’s Ascent show in Leith St. Andrew’s Church tonight. This is a fine way to kick off any weekend.
There are also the upcoming PJ Harvey and Primal Scream gigs which promise to give a usually barren and dark filled November some much needed colour and light.
Something else which certainly needs some light shed on it is the reason Inverleith House, deep in the heart of the Botanic Gardens, is being forced to close as an art gallery.
I have been going here for decades and seen many impressive exhibitions including a recent retrospective pop art guru Richard Hamilton. As much a feature of any visit as looking at foliage, plants or flowers to lose this would be a major blow for both the gardens and the art community. I am unclear what will arise in its stead but the last thing needed is yet another café or bric a brac shop. I am doing something I normally never do but adding a link to a petition against its closure that I would kindly ask you to peruse and sign if you agree.
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/prevent-the-closure-of-inverleith-house-edinburgh-as-a-public-art-space
Thank you!

ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING

One More Time With Feeling- Nick Cave
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‘You’re a cold mist rolling off the sea’ is just one poignant line in ‘Jesus Alone’, the new single by Nick Cave, a song in which heartache drips from every word and sorrow permeates every musical nuance to create an intense work of tragic beauty which leaves his contemporaries floundering at the starting line. It is also however how this Andrew Dominik film, capturing Cave as he records and prepares his new album ‘The Skeleton Tree’,makes us feel as a distinct chill permeates proceedings and envelopes you throughout following the death of his fifteen year old son Arthur last year in tragic circumstances.
It is impossible to separate this film and accompanying album from the context of Cave’s personal grief as it seems to be some part of his artistic grieving process and in complete contrast to his previous film, 20,000 Days On Earth, which was essentially a contrived vanity project as it captures him unguarded and raw; deep in tumult and trying to make sense of the chaos constantly in his head.
At one point he gives possibly the most concise description of loss I have ever heard when he compares it to being like an elastic band which stretches and allows you to move a forward a certain distance only to suddenly pull you right back to the centre of the heartache forcing you to try to move forward all over again.
I can’t imagine anyone seeing this film would not be aware of the tragedy that lies at its core and in the scenes his wife, former model Susie Bick, and Arthur’s twin brother Earl appear it becomes clear that is this is very much a family pulling together to try to deal with a situation no family should ever have to go through. A scene where Susie holds a painting the five year old Arthur had done of the very place he died ten years later is not only heartbreaking but also eerily prescient.
The music is, of course, stunning. I doubt if a record has ever been recorded with its audience knowing so much about the tragic circumstances which surround its genesis. Certainly Cave, looking like a ‘ragged monument’, has confronted his situation head on and this lies in line with the uncompromising stance of his whole career only this time it comes from emotions and situations he no longer has any handle on.
A totally compelling, riveting and emotionally raw film ‘One More Time with Feeling’ deals with emotions we will all have to deal with or have already dealt with at some point in our lives and captures that disconnected, dislocated feeling true sorrow generates. It is a film which will certainly stay with you for sometime after as anyone ever affected by loss can truly relate to its central theme.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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So the last weekend of the Fringe/Festival is upon us already!
Somehow it feels like it is already over and for me personally I don’t feel that this year it ever really got started.
No doubt at sometime over the next few weeks some ‘official’ will use the media to report that it has been the busiest and most successful one yet when in fact this is so far from the truth. Granted more money may have changed hands- have you noticed the price of tickets for most shows? – But in most other ways this year’s Fringe has been far from successful.
The streets are as annoyingly busy as ever-perhaps even more so- and the traffic is so slow it is hard to differentiate between driving and being parked but there has still been nowhere as near as many people around the venues or even in them as there usually are. Mind you when shows are £10 upwards on average, a pint of lager is over a fiver and six pound is the going rate for a bacon roll-re-named pulled pork and served by a bearded hipster in denim tights (that’s just the girls by the way) so that makes it a bargain obviously- or even more for a burger then it is an expensive night out even if you are doing it on the cheap.
Of course the weather has not helped matters either. The Fringe in sunshine is a totally different beast to the Fringe in perpetual grey, drizzle, rain and wind and unfortunately this year these are what we have had for the most part. Getting wet queuing for shows then drinking warm beer in cold outdoor venues is not my idea of a good night out. Obviously the weather cannot be helped but it really does alter the whole experience.
What about the shows then?
The Fringe is supposed to be at the cutting edge of new talent with innovation and experimental ideas offering an insight into the next big happening thing. Or so we are led to believe.
However I have not seen much evidence of anything groundbreaking or innovative this year and several shows were ones I missed last year due to a busy schedule so were returning productions, admittedly with a tweak here and there, so hardly cutting edge.
Perhaps the fact that 2016 has been such a pivotal year in cultural change –the deaths of Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali amongst others then there is the little matter of Brexit here and the rise of Trump across the Atlantic- means that real life has afforded us more incredible drama than anything the theatre could produce and as such has been rendered almost redundant. Life no longer simply imitates art it would seem it now dictates it.
Also things have moved at such a swift pace this last eight months that capturing anything topical has proved harder than usual. Who needs to go to the Fringe for thought-provoking drama when the news requires you to suspend your belief almost on a daily basis?
As for the shows which have stood out for me and worth catching over this last weekend, well there is Trainspotting at Assembly, The Club at The Gilded Balloon, Boris:World King at The Pleasance Growing Pains and Cut at Underbelly all on until Monday whilst Anohni’s one off live performance of one of the year’s best albums, Hopelessness, at the Playhouse ranks as one of the best and most modern live music shows I have seen in years and possibly the most memorable show of the last month.
So this time next week the streets will be clear, the traffic returned to normal and as habit dictates the sun will probably have returned. There will of course still be plenty to complain about though as Parliament returns soon with our new unelected Prime Minister and whatever schemes she has cooked up for us over her summer vacation. I imagine soon we will be wishing the Fringe back to at least distract us from how bad things are likely to get!