Just an Observation

It feels this morning as if spring has truly arrived after winter made a late comeback earlier in the week with icy winds, sleet, snow and general misery. It is Scotland however so make the most of it whilst it lasts as who knows what lies around the corner in April. At least with the clocks going forward one thing that is guaranteed is lighter nights and longer days.
This week the news has been focussed on the terrible situation in London and the attacks in Westminster. Horrific times and the loss of four lives is such a tragic waste however what has shocked me most in the aftermath is the reaction on Social Media with many using this tragedy to spout bile, hatred and misconceptions not only about the attacks but also about the political ramifications.
This is not the time for such debates and cheap mudslinging never solves anything and although many of us are on completely different political sides and have different beliefs it is most certainly not the right time to be turning the unnecessary loss of life into some slanging match while trying to prove a point. Ultimately the only point that needs made is that there has been an unnecessary loss of life and how can we help in preventing it from happening again.
Elsewhere the Indy2 debate rages on with a groundswell of support in Scotland where hopefully the inevitable and sadly predictable appearance of Gordon Brown-why does he even bother after his failure to deliver on his ‘promises’ the last time?- can’t stop it. Certainly Theresa May is doing her damnedest to block it but this may be a miscalculation on her part; one of several it would seem.
Again however it is social media and the constant barrage of posts about the referendum- before it has even been officially announced- which is irritating me somewhat. Yes, I am aware it is important but the constant didactic tone of so many people eating up my timelines becomes tiresome to say the least. Does anyone actually believe they are changing anyone else’s opinion with their constant posts on Facebook? If so they are delusional.
Surely a more effective means of having a positive effect- whatever way you intend on voting- is to actually communicate with people face to face and preferably with those who don’t already share the same views already. That might make more of a difference.
Out at the cinema Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart is worth catching if only for her stand out performance showcasing her immense talents as an actress. A full review can be found here.
Today also sees the release of the first Jesus and Mary Chain album ‘Damage and Joy’ in quite a few years and although I was quite a fan back in the day I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed by this latest offering with its lame, predictable lyrics and lack of musical inventiveness. Much more impressed by the new Gorillaz single Saturnz Barz also out today and the series of tracks from their upcoming album streaming on Youtube.
I must confess I am genuinely excited by the return of Line of Duty for its 4th series on BBC1 this Sunday at 9pm. Seriously one of the best British dramas in years I am hoping that its shift from BBC2 to BBC1 and from a weekday night to a family friendly ratings winner Sunday 9pm slot will not dilute what has always been a programme of detailed intensity and integrity. The loss of two of its most compelling characters –Lindsay Denton and Matthew ‘The Caddy’ Cotton- will hopefully not have an adverse effect either although in its favour Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar are still on board so I think we are guaranteed another full on intense ride with enough distractions and plot twists to keep us enthralled. Definitely one to watch!


Personal Shopper

Kriten Stewart gives an outstanding performance in this understated film directed by Oliver Assaya. That is not to say that the film is not flawed in certain respects- in fact the central premise of s supernatural ghost story is unconvincing and the potentially the film’s weakest link- but Stewart’s all engrossing habitation of her character Maureen is never anything less than compelling.
Maureen works as a personal shopper for a celebrity named Kyra- it is never clear exactly what she is famous for- and harbours frustration and resentment at her role as she feels it is unsatisfactory; although it pays well it prevents her from doing what she really wants. A major reason for her staying in this job however is the fact it is based in Paris which is where her twin brother recently died and she believes that by staying there he will try and contact her from the afterlife in a pact they made before his death.
This all becomes secondary however when her life takes an unexpected turn when she becomes a central figure in her boss’s brutal murder and when she becomes embroiled in text message game of cat and mouse with what initially seems like an insignificant character.
The film maintains an underground art-house feel to it although it is similar to this year’s Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’ in that at its conclusion it raises more questions than it answers and this is a relief as the tired formula of a conclusive ending- as demanded by most mainstream films- was always something I found frustrating and a little predictable. By not providing any finite answers Assaya allows the characters and their situations to linger in your mind and imagination some time after the film’s credits have rolled.
As stated before this film is really a tour de force for Stewart and her performance but it is still an intriguing work which captures the uncertainty and stifling nature of its central character’s life. If the ghost story part is unconvincing it is probably just that ghost stories in general are.


T2 Trainspotting
Admittedly I was initially nonplussed by the original Trainspotting feature due to being more impressed by the novel and preferring subsequent stage productions- particularly those at the Edinburgh Fringe over the last two years- but time has mellowed my original weary scepticism and I now wholly appreciate that it is a landmark film of its time; those are the very qualities which clouded my first impressions incidentally.
Anyway who could resist a film which boosted the careers of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed bringing them to the attention and subsequent prominence to a whole new generation?
This sequel, re-introducing the original characters from Irvine Welsh’s book, therefore has a lot to live up to and this is it does to some extent although it offers nothing new nor any clear insights into what returning to your past actually means.
Re-assembling the original cast of Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Bremner and Robert Carlyle as well as the superfluous addition of Kelly Mac Donald – whose scene is so incongruous it feels as if it is there simply for the sake of giving her a scene. Helmed once again by Danny Boyle this gives the film some additional kudos and a sense of the past merging with the present. However I felt now, as I did with the original production, that Ewan Mc Gregor is all out to sea with his performance and once again is the film’s weakest link.
However both Ewen Bremner as Spud and Robert Carlyle as Begbie are excellent in their roles and Jonny Lee Miller always has his charisma to help him through but the real star of the film is Edinburgh itself.
Never has the city looked so appealing on-screen and even in the more desperate scenes when the city’s underside is used to show its deprivation. It also helps having local characters such as Bradley Welsh in the role of a sauna owner cum gangster type and Garry Fraser as second unit director as well as a host of Edinburgh faces as extras giving the whole thing a local flavour. Even the much maligned trams make what must be their film debut.
The plot, for what it matters, revolves around Mark Renton’s ( Mc Gregor) return to Edinburgh and the people he ripped off for thousands twenty years before. The following action revolves around him setting up another scam and being pursued by an unforgiving Begbie who let’s say hasn’t let twenty years mellow his anger or his thirst for vengeance.
To anyone nostalgic for the thrills the original film provided at a time when ‘Cool Brittania’ ruled our pop culture and Trainspotting flew the Scottish flag high and proud then I would wholeheartedly recommend this film as it will awaken the lost youth of those days. On its own merits though T2 Trainspotting can hold its head high although the remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life at the films dénouement is unnecessary; some things should be left as they are and need neither remixed nor a sequel!
One thing that irked me however was if the film is set twenty years on from the original film which was set in the mid eighties why was there such a proliferation of smart phones which were nowhere near as ubiquitous around 2005-2006 as they are in this film. Just a minor detail but a detail nonetheless!


Just an Observation
Well after a benign first three weeks- discounting the ongoing mystery which still surrounds the death of George Michael- 2017 has really stepped up a notch since Donald Trump’s inauguration last Friday. With women, the LGBT community, the environmentalists, Mexicans and so many others -I could continue on and on- already aggrieved by his actions in the first week of this controversial and much maligned Presidency it looks as of there are stormy and uncharted waters ahead. Petulant Trump would be a more fitting moniker for the man who behaves like a three year old toddler any time he doesn’t get his way.
It would seem unless you are white, male and born of privilege there is not much room for you in Trump’s vision of what will make America great again.
Certainly I can’t see how inciting racial hatred, gender divides and generally pissing off the American public alongside the rest of the world is going to result in a stable term in office but after the strange turn of events of 2016 who can really predict what lies ahead in the future?
One thing that has become clear, outright lying is now acceptable only it is now referred to as ‘alternative facts’.
Keep up people!
Not that things are much better this side of the Atlantic with Brexit still top of the agenda and no-one still sure what it actually means or even what it will mean.
Theresa May is meeting with Trump this weekend and early indications are that she is likely to engage with him in some form of trade deal: after much kowtowing, grovelling and being generally obsequious of course. Not because it is good for the country but because it is one of the few options she has left.
The fact that the British Prime Minister is even willing to engage in any deal with someone who mocks the disabled, has no respect for women and is openly racist simple fills me with dread and indicates how far removed from myself and my circle of friends this government is. It puts me in mind of the Spitting Image scenes lampooning the ‘special relationship’ between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; only a hundred times worse and actually for real!
Here in Scotland the talk is of another Independence Referendum and whilst I am bored witless with the never-ending cycle of referendums and elections- I feel I have voted more in the last three years than in the previous ten- it would appear that with Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will then it is the only option to protect our own interests and beliefs.
Talking of La La Land- which it feels we are living in with every unfolding news item- can somebody actually explain to me the appeal of that film as I must admit to being so disappointed with it? I find it impossible to fathom why it has been so heavily nominated at the Oscars, not that I put my trust in award ceremonies anyway.
Even though I am quite a fan of Ryan Gosling I actually found his performance rather lacklustre and neither he nor Emma Stone could dance or sing. Certainly not to the standard required to lift such a mundane and boring storyline out of the quagmire of almost average. No No Land was my first post screening impression!
Much more looking forward to the T2 Trainspotting sequel out this weekend and it will be interesting to see how Danny Boyle approaches Irvine Welsh’s characters twenty years on from when we last encountered them. It will also be interesting to see the efforts of several people I know from Edinburgh who were involved in the production thus lending it some local colour and talent rather than simply an outsider perspective as often happens in these situations.
There are some good gigs coming up in the next few weeks, including The Nightingales return at Leith Depot(Feb 16th) and The Pet Shop Boys(22nd) at The Usher Hall. The former was one of my highlights of 2016 and if you haven’t got a ticket yet then I suggest you do as they are selling fast and the venue is not the biggest; hot sweaty and intimate. In fact think very, very hot!
Mind you it may be an idea not to make too many long-term plans with Petulant Trump and Theresa May (or may not) at the helm. Who knows where we will actually be this time next month.


Just An Observation
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
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
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.