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LETTERS TO MORRISSEY

Letters to Morrissey

Although Morrissey is featured prominently in the title of this show by Gary McNair he doesn’t actually feature too strongly throughout which will be a relief to those who view the erstwhile rock icon as a flagrant narcissist who should learn to keep his mouth shut on topics he is ill-advised to comment on.
Of course there is the other train of thought which views him as a spokesman for generations of maladjusted misfits and remembers that he came only second to David Attenborough amongst a poll of the British public when the BBC set out to find the greatest cultural icon roughly ten years ago.
I lie somewhere between the two camps finding Morrissey an extremely talented and observational lyricist and one of our greatest musical heroes but have no inclination to ever meet the man. What is ironic about this however is that I did actually send letters to and receive them from Morrissey many years ago pre-Smiths fame via a correspondence about his –and mine also- beloved New York Dolls.
However I digress, and Gary McNair’s show is less about Morrissey and more about the importance of having something to believe in. Set around the time of the Queen is Dead-1986- and that thundering opening with its pounding drums opens the show proper although I must confess it was cut too short and a slightly less edited version may have had more dynamic impact. Instead McNair has a tale to tell which involves several amusing and touching anecdotes about being an awkward adolescent and finding a place for himself in the world via the music of The Smiths and more importantly in Morrissey’s lyrics which were defiantly about embracing difference and stepping away from the norms.
The show harks back to a time when music was an important ingredient in shaping most young individuals lives and indeed what type of music you listened to was almost tribal. For Mc Nair he found The Smiths music spoke as much to the school racist and thug, close friend Jan ‘The Lesbian’ and even the school counsellor as much as it did to him.
It is an entertaining show though at times it felt as if it were not quite attaining its full potential. As said before it harks back to a time when figures such as Morrissey and before him the likes of Bowie, Dylan and Lennon wielded great power over the youth of their times which musicians nowadays no longer possess and while the show plays on this it never really captures what exactly was so special about these people that allowed them to be elevated so highly. McNair does give a convincingly understated performance however and it is certainly a very pleasant and enjoyable show.
***
Letters to Morrissey is on at Traverse 2 until August 27th. Times vary daily.

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JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

Rain, rain and yet even more rain!
The end of June and it would seem that in Scotland-and other parts of the country- it feels more like winter with wellies, winter jumpers and even the central heating back on. Hurry up summer!
The sun certainly hasn’t shone on our public services such as nurses, fire-fighters and the police this week when an amendment to allow them a much-needed and well deserved pay-rise was denied them. This is despite them having been stretched to their limits recently with terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and being generally short-staffed and grossly underpaid for the work they do.
And just who was it who denied them this long overdue pay-rise?
Step forward the new Tory/DUP alliance that have possibly made their first fatal error in their guise as our hastily assembled new government.
Let us not forget also that the DUP received 1.5 billion pounds as a ‘bribe’ only days before from the Tories as a means of propping up their minority government and backing them in decisions such as these.
Let us also not forget that it was announced that the Queen is also to receive a pay rise from the government in the near future alongside the 365 million pounds to do up her Buckingham Palace residence.
And let us certainly remember that when it was announced in the House Of Commons that Labour had lost their battle to lift the pay cap on these much-needed and sadly depleted public services that the Tory side of the house cheered. They actually cheered.
Theresa May may have claimed when talking to a nurse during her disastrous election campaign that there was ‘no magic money tree’ to shake for anyone who asked but somehow seems to have found said money tree when it is needed to buy her votes in parliament or when one of the richest people in the world needs one of their houses done up. Maybe the magic money tree has its roots somewhere in the North Sea, in the oil we keep being told is virtually worthless!
Five more years of this?
I sincerely hope not!
And still it rained…
Talking of rain it would seem that rainy season aka the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival are on the horizon. Not had much time to check out the programme as yet but will get onto it in the next week. I certainly hope it is more exciting than last year’s offerings which I felt were treading water. So much has happened over the tumultuous last two years- perhaps last year we were too much in the most of it all happening for it to be captured- that there is a wealth of scenarios that can be adapted and turned into effective dramas.
Mind you how you turn the events of recent times into something for the stage when the actuality is pretty fantastical and unbelievable itself is a tall order for any writer. Certainly it is something that is hard to top.
What I would say I already recognise as unmissable are live shows by PJ Harvey, Jarvis Cocker, a David Bowie based play ‘ Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’, a Jock Scot memorial with John Cooper Clarke and a certain Neu Reekie event which set my social media off all day yesterday.
The latter looks like being one of those nights that everyone who is anyone simply has to be at. Ostensibly a celebration of Irvine Welsh and 21 years of Trainspotting it certainly has a very impressive line up: the much-loved and legendary Fire Engines are regrouping for the event, the influential Arthur Baker is appearing and of course there will be Welsh himself.
It is a night that captures what is best about Edinburgh but to me personally it also captures what is worst about it; a willingness to celebrate our city’s great past and importance but at the same time a sense that there is an unwillingness to move on from it and instead content to wallow in past glories thus rendering the current scene dull and uninspired in comparison.
Being out and about on the scene in Edinburgh I see how its inhabitants are set in their ways and only move in their own comfort zones almost fearful of embracing anything new. Its live music scene is quite stagnant at the present time and its club scene is stuck somewhere in a mid-nineties hinterland; unable and unwilling to move on. I personally am always looking for new things to try out but it is hard in a city where the main mindset seems to be living in the past and frantically trying to relive lost youth.
And then there’s the rain…
Seriously though I do feel the dreich weather is in some way responsible for the lack of inspiration in our great cities nightlife as it is for the most part quite uninspiring. Often it doesn’t even inspire or encourage you to leave the house.
The prices in bars, clubs and music venues are extortionate when you get there anyway so it is little wonder that people hark back to the times when a fiver could get you a night out and even a kebab on the way home if you were lucky. The days of going for a night out with no money in your pockets have long gone. Nowadays you need to have plenty money and a certain amount in reserve…just in case.
It never rained in those days either!
Mind you things could always be worse; just imagine that Geri Halliwell had written and recorded a tribute record in your memory as she has done with George Michael. Now that is bad!
Worse than all this rain I’d say!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

It has been hard to escape the awful events in Manchester this week and certainly my thoughts have never been far from the victims or their distraught families. For myself it has even had a personal slant as it is the sort of gig close family members of mine living in the area would be likely attend and very probably at the very same venue; they were actually going to a Take That gig there scheduled for this very evening.
My personal upset however dissipates with what the people of Manchester must be feeling at the moment and it would appear the city is remaining strong and pulling together in the spirit of the northerners they are, even if things will never be the same again for so many of them.
It certainly has raised so many questions as to what sort of world we are living in where a family event such as this becomes the target of a terror attack. Of course the media and social media have been ablaze with accusations, conspiracy theories and theorising all of which offers reasons-or lack of them- but nothing is really any clearer other than the fact that the world at the moment is in total freefall.
Naming the individual offender offers some form of clarity as to who is behind it but it also affords them their place in history, and this is probably made clear to the perpetrators during their radicalisation, but it is the instilled hatred and anger which really motivates them.
However this works both ways and I caught Piers Morgan-he of the noble hacking of a dead girl’s phone and arbiter of taste on ‘talent’ shows- trying to instil some of those feelings as a reaction mere hours after the news broke and emotions were still of a raw, confused and sensitive nature. This does not help at all.
I sometimes think I am going to wake up one morning soon and find the tumultuous events of the last couple of years have all been a bad dream. Certainly things have gone so far off track that the twenty first century is already beginning to shape up very differently to the twentieth which in turn took a very different perspective to the three centuries before it where there was little change in social norms.
However I don’t see progress, only regression and a step back. Sure technology is moving forward at a pace it is hard to keep up with but as humans we are struggling to move forward at a comparable pace.
Watching Donald Trump this week meet the Pope and later at a Nato meeting literally and unabashedly push his way past the Montenegro President to position himself stage front and centre indicates a total lack of respect and basic courtesy which just indicates how unsuitable he is for such a role. He doesn’t even try to hide his arrogance and disdain for anyone else and unfortunately with each passing day he remains in office it normalises this atrocious behaviour as others see it as a gateway to success.
Here we have Theresa May-Tresemme- who doesn’t even feel she has to explain herself to the public or anyone other than a few handpicked journalists in an election campaign to re-instate her as Prime Minister; a role she schemed her way into in the first place.
Mind you it would appear that her strategy is failing somewhat and what little she does reveal shows her as a complete incompetent. Strong and Stable U-Turns really don’t cut it. I also find her claiming Monday’s tragedy by declaring a ‘critical’ security risk and placing armed soldiers at train stations around the country a little suspect. Considering in her role as Home Secretary it was her who made such drastic cuts to the police force in the guise of austerity it feels a little like a strategy rather than a concern. She does have form after all.
I also keep being told the Tories are on the rise in Scotland which is definitely an interesting concept. Led by the ebullient bulldog chewing a wasp Ruth Davidson, who resembles nothing more than a one woman rugby-scrum who seems to be a distant relation to President Trumpton in the pushy stakes, claiming a victory even though her support even if it does increase as much as she claims is a mere drop in the ocean compared to support for the SNP. It is this kind of delusional arrogance which is so dangerous.
Anyway it looks as if summer has actually arrived here and one thing we deserve and need at the moment is a little sunshine. Tonight also sees the Countess of Fife- Fay Fife’s insurgent country based side-project- return to the Leith Depot at benefit gig for refugees along with a stellar supporting cast so this should be well worth checking out. Enjoy the sunshine!
Top photo of Fay Fife by Liz Tainsh ©

JUST AN OBSERVATION

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!

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.

MY LEONARD COHEN

My Leonard Cohen
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My Leonard Cohen is exactly what it says in its title; a collection of Cohen favourites delivered in interesting new musical settings. Much as I love the stripped back simplicity of Cohen’s original versions it would be pointless to try to replicate the hushed intimacy of his recordings as much as it would have been pointless for Jimi Hendrix to cover Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ with acoustic guitars and harmonicas.
Different interpretations are necessary otherwise the whole project could descend very quickly into cheap karaoke or more correctly, considering the price of a Fringe ticket these days, expensive karaoke.
To this end Stewart D’Arrietta and his band provide drastically different re-imaginings of some of the great man’s greatest songs. Gruffer and more impassioned than Cohen’s languid deep tones D’Arrietta’s vocals , at times reminiscent of Joe Cocker, are well suited to the more expansive arrangements.
Starting with an upbeat Everybody Knows followed in swift succession by Famous Blue Raincoat, Tower of Song, Bird on a Wire- prefaced with a touching acknowledgment to the song’s subject matter and muse of several Cohen songs Marianne Ihlen who passed away only last week- Suzanne, Dance me to the End of Love, Chelsea Hotel No.2 which regurgitated the old tale of the infamous blowjob as performed by Janis Joplin before an up beat and sing-along to one of Cohen’s greatest songs- probably my personal favourite- and yet another inspired by Ilhen , So Long Marianne which actually made me want to ‘Laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again’.
For me this was the highlight and anything after was never going to live up to this but Ain’t No Cure for Love made a valiant attempt as did everything else that followed.
One thing that became clear to anyone who hadn’t already realised was that Cohen was and remains one of the greatest lyricists in modern music but also that his songs which seem to be quite simple actually are big enough to take on bigger arrangements with added parts for emphasis without losing any of their simplicity.
Although this show is in no way groundbreaking it is still thoroughly impressive. Great performances and great songs and of course that version of So Long Marianne!
****
My Leonard Cohen is on at Assembly Hall at 18.15 until August 28th (not 16th)

CONFESSIONS OF A RED HEADED COFFEE SHOP GIRL

Confessions of a Red Headed Coffee Shop Girl
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Back at The Gilded Balloon again after last year’s successful run of the show- I unfortunately missed it due to time constraints so was glad to hear it was back in an updated version this year- is Confessions of a Red Headed Coffee Shop Girl written and directed by Rebecca Perry.
However unfortunately my enthusiasm was dampened within the first five minutes when I realised that the show was going to be on the ‘zany’ side. This is just personal taste but it is a form of theatre which palls very quickly for me and no amount of enthusiasm emanating from the stage ever manages to grip me quite as much as maybe it should.
This is not to decry the production outright though as Perry is obviously an extremely talented young lady who puts her all into her performance and the musical numbers are all brilliantly executed and stunningly delivered. However these stray into musical theatre territory and again this is something I am not to partial to although versions of Joni Mitchell’s ‘California’ –adapted as Caledonia for a Scottish theme- and Judy’s ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ were faultless.
The storyline revolves around the recently graduated anthropology student Joanie Little leaving her dead-end job at a coffee shop intending to follow her dreams by travelling to Tanzania to work with her anthropological heroine Jane Goodall at her renowned institute. The adventures which follow are all delivered at a quite relentless pace which allow little time for contemplation but are all well crafted.
Obviously a lot of work has gone into this show and Perry is an accomplished performer but the show just didn’t gel with me and often it lapsed into Gang Show Territory although no-one can deny Perry’s determined enthusiasm but I would prefer to see her in something a little less forced and frantic.
***
Adventures of a Red Headed Coffee Shop Girl is showing at The Gilded Balloon Aug 3-29 ( not 10th , 17th 20th) at 16.15