Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Glasgow ABC - a great venue

I love the ABC as a music venue.  I, perhaps against mainstream opinion, think it's the best music venue in Glasgow.  I actually like the ABC more than the Barrowlands.  I'm heartbroken that it has been damaged in the fire that has affected the Glasgow School of Art.

Looking through this blog I've seen a lot of bands there.

The Butthole Surfers
Modest Mouse with Johnny Marr
Conor Oberst
TV on the radio in 2011 and 2008 and downstairs in ABC2 in 2006
Crystal Castles
The Vaselines
Sonic Youth playing Daydream Nation
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Bonne Prince Billy
Bob Mould
Belle and Sebastian
Supergrass (which I had totally forgotten)
My teenage idol - Jello Biafra

I've seen many other great gigs there too - Ministry, Dag Nasty, Television, Afghan Whigs, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr (who were very loud), sleater kinney and many many more.  The sound was good, the views were great.  When I was younger I even went to the nightclub.  The staff were really nice.

I hope that the venue can be salvaged and that they get it repaired.  Glasgow needs the ABC.  Hell, I even remember seeing all the Police Academy films there with my dad when I was a kid and the first Batman film back in 1989.  The though of the building being damaged in a fire like this is just sickening.

My respect goes to all the firemen trying to put out the fire.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Morrissey, where did it go wrong?

I first became aware of Morrissey when I was about ten.  I saw album covers by the Smiths (specifically Meat is Murder).  I liked the cover of Meat is Murder as it had a man wearing an army helmet which I thought was cool.  At the time I was only starting to listen to music and I liked Metallica and Anthrax.  If I heard the Smiths then I was not immediately stricken.  I remember an aunt asking me if 'I liked that Morrissey' because 'he was miserable'.  Obviously I said no.
I guess I started to like the Smiths a few years later when I heard This Charming Man and How Soon is Now?  The music was good, the lyrics were funny, Morrissey seemed like a troubled young man, a bit of a social reject.  You could feel sorry for Morrissey.  He was misunderstood.

But, around 1992, he started to do odd things with flags.  He seemed to be a bit too keen on sidewalks.  He was disco-phobic.  It got worse.  National Front Disco.  What the fuck? It progressed. More and more stupid comments.  A slightly odd autobiography that should have been edited.  Views that became more jingoistic, more English nationalist, more stuck in the past, more gammon, more racist.

Now he defends the leader of the EDL and comes across as a racist Brexiteer.

The Smiths were good but Morrissey, where did it go wrong?  What scared you?  What changed you?   Why are you afraid of the other?  Are we not all the same?  What would the New York Dolls think?

Morrissey, where did it all go wrong?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Solo - film review

I wasn't expecting too much from Solo. The history of the production of this latest Star Wars film, with the half time substitution of Ron Howard for the original directors would normal indicate a bad film.  So far, initial box office for the film has not been record breaking.  Initial reviews have not been glowing.  It's an amazingly warm weekend in Scotland (and an amazingly wet weekend in England) so people have not been flocking to the cinema.

We decided to see Solo at fairly short notice so we didn't get our fancy IMAX seats.  Instead we just popped into the local cinema.  I just wanted to get through the film but I am pleased to report that it is very entertaining and I will certainly look forward to seeing it again.

We meet a teenage Han Solo on his home planet of Corellia trying to escape from oppression with his girlfriend Qi'ra.  Problems occur and they are separated.  Han has adventures and makes a good friend in Chewbacca before encountering Lando and obtaining a famous space ship.  The film, as one would expect, is full of easter eggs for Star Wars nerds and satisfaction is almost guaranteed.

In Solo the baddies are bad and the goodies are good.  It's fun and a good balance for the darkness of Rogue One or The Last Jedi.  It's written by Lawrence Kasdan who gave us both the Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark so the script is a dream.  I went in with low exceptions and I saw a very enjoyable movie.  Looking forward to the next instalment.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

In on the kill taker by Joe Gross

In on the kill taker by Fugazi is my favourite album. I bought it on cassette on the day of its' release. I can't even imagine the number of times I've listened to it in the quarter of a century since then.  Fugazi were a unique band and this is a great record.

Gross has written about it as part of the long running 33 1/3 series. This volume is thicker than many of the other entries in the series and takes material from new interviews with the band members.  We get insight into the genesis of many of the songs and lyrics and great detail about the recording process. I've heard the Steve Albini demo session but I was unaware of the existence of earlier studio recordings of both Instrument and Rend It.

Reading this book made me want to investigate the online Fugazi live series archive further. I have several shows from the archive but it would be interesting to follow the evolution of a few of these tracks.  The personalities and philosophy of the band members shine through as well. These guys tried to live their lives in an honest way and treat people fairly. There is an interesting anecdote about the difference in opinion on ticket pricing between MacKaye and Jeff Nelson which was one of the many factors that led to the demise of Minor Threat.

I was lucky enough to see Fugazi on this tour and two more times and also to see the Evens once. I'm lucky to have experienced so much amazing music in the last 4 decades, Fugazi were massive and a major success on their own terms.

If you are already a fan of the band this book is worth a read. If you haven't heard Fugazi this record is where to start.

Belle and Sebastian at the SWG3 Galvanisers Yard

The SWG3 complex is expanding.  Tucked away in a former industrial site behind the Yorkhill Hospital campus the complex has now taken over an old yard that is perfect for outside concerts.  Charitably it backs onto student flats which allows them to watch acts like Belle and Sebastian or LCD Soundsystem for free.  I've only been to inside shows to see Shellac, Godflesh and Loop so an outdoor show was a new experience for me today.

We arrived to find that most of the street outside the venue had been closed off for the show and a herd of Portaloos had been planted outside the yard.  There is also a larger indoor venue on the site that can host bigger shows that the small upstairs room.  A couple of food vans and a beer tent helped turn the outdoor area into a festival site.

We tried some food from the burger van.  The burger was better than the hotdog.  The first support band sounded a bit Morrissey-Like and the second group were more in the CHVRCHES pattern.  It was a pleasant May evening which is unusual in Glasgow.

B&S opened with Dog on Wheels and dribbled a few classics throughout the set. We were beautiful, She's Losing It, The Wrong Girl, Get me away from here I'm dying.  All West End Glasgow anthems.  There were newer songs that I am less familiar with that were pleasant.  As always, Boy with the Arab Strap was an anthem and the stage filled with dancing fans.  My partner had only ever seen B&S in a small venue before and she enjoyed the stadium show.

Belle and Sebastian accept all shapes and sizes.  They aim to entertain.  They want us to learn their new songs and they are happy to bring out the classics.  They don't have the live power of their local contemporaries like Mogwai but that's not really the point.  That's not what they want to do.

It's nice to see a Glasgow band on a sunny day in Glasgow.  Ned free.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Neil Young

Like many things Neil Young gets better with age and in many ways we do not appreciate him enough.  I've seen him play live twice I think, once in 1995 at the Reading festival with Pearl Jam and a second time, a year or so later, at the SECC.  As always, my memory of these things is a bit fuzzy.  The Reading Festival show is particularly hazy due to blood loss after breaking my nose and immature scepticism related to my adolescent dislike of Pearl Jam.  I have subsequently forgiven Pearl Jam a bit.

Young has made a lot of music in the last 50 or so years.  He's played with lots of bands and released a lot of albums.  He's also recorded many albums that have not seen the light of day.  Some of these albums only seem to be appearing now, often decades after they were created.

I find that there are Neil Young songs I am familiar with and amazing Neil Young songs that I have never heard or live interpretations of standards that bend exciting new shapes into my ears.  Often, when I have listened to Young I haven't really focused on the lyrics.  This is embarrassing when you think of a song like Ohio.  I've been listening to Ohio for more than 20 years, and while I know it's about the Kent State massacre it seems like I'm hearing the words for the first time.

His words are like stealth bombers, sneaking in with the fury of his music.  He can rearrange his songs and play them live in twisted new shapes.  The version of Tonight's The Night on the Bluenote Cafe set is stunning.

I listened to Chrome Dreams II for the first time last night.  It's a diverse set which pulls together songs from different periods in his career and finally gave a studio release to Ordinary People that was being played live 20 years earlier.  Ordinary People is a great song but it is typical of Young to leave good tracks sitting on the shelf for decades.  In terms of output and reinterpretation he is almost on a level with Dylan.

The original Chrome Dreams remains officially unreleased.

I have tended to focus on the 'classics' in his catalogue but I realise that this approach perhaps overlooks some of his better songs.  Young has followed his own path with his career and released the music he felt was right at the time.  He spent much of the eighties in a very public feud with his record label and I wonder what would have happened if he was given creative control back then.  We may have been given many of these great songs earlier if he had been allowed to do what he wanted.

The world is different now.  Music is no longer controlled by record conglomerates and the internet has levelled the playing field.  Websites like Bandcamp let musicians present as much music to the public as they choose, whenever they want.  Young may have had a very different career if this technology had existed in the eighties and he is embracing this now with the Neil Young archives.

The online archives probably represent a good opportunity for fans to truly explore the 70 or so releases he has put out since the sixties.  There is certainly a lot to explore.

Young has followed his own path for decades.  He has kept moving, innovating and evolving.  He has inspired other interesting artists such as Sonic Youth.  He is an acquired taste but certainly worth exploration.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War - film review

Popped into the cinema after work yesterday to catch this film.  I know I was a bit late but it was worth it.  I'm assuming most people will have seen it buy now so this will be a bit spoiler-y so stop reading now if you haven't seen it.

Infinity War is the 19th Marvel Cinematic Universe film and it helps to have seen several, if not all, of the previous films to fully understand and appreciate this film.  It's an epic, both in length and in
the scope of the story.  The action spreads from Waverly Station in Edinburgh to Africa, New York and then across the universe.  Almost every MCU movie character appears (although there was no real sign of the Netflix characters).

The big bad is Thanos, a character familiar to comic book readers.  I've never been a massive fan of the big purple troll.  He's a genocidal necrophiliac.  By this I mean that he is in love with a physical representation of death (at least in the comics).  He is not a corpse fiddler to the best of my knowledge.  In the film, he wants to improve the universe by killing half the population of reality to reduce overcrowding.  He is logical, in a warped way.

To help commit his crazy crime he needs to track down the Infinity Stones, seeded throughout previous Marvel films to complete the Infinity Gauntlet, as featured in the comics when I was a kid.  Thanks needs to kill a lot of people to have the opportunity to kill more people.  The assorted Marvel heroes do their best to stop him.

Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) features in a prominent role as the only intelligent superhero who actually knows what is going on.  He is supported by occasionally useful idiots, Tony Stark, Spiderman, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy.  Apart from Strange, the other heroes are brave but fairly stupid.  There are funny moments and laugh out loud moments.

The space action is slightly more fun that the moody Captain America led Earth action.  All the heroes on Earth are more serious and intense and a lot of them are wearing black.  It was nice to see Wakanda and the supporting cast from the recent Black Panther film in prominent roles.

The film was actually slightly less apocalyptic that I expected.  I sort of expected that everyone would be wiped out although that would be an end to the franchise.  I'm looking forward to Avengers 4 which I think will be out next year, as well as the intercurrent Ant Man 2 and Captain Marvel films.

I want to watch this again when I get a chance.  It's better than Avengers 2 and it may even be better than Civil War.  Currently, I think the best Marvel film so far has been Dr Strange but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Narconomics: How To Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright

I enjoy popular economics books and economics is one of many things that I wish I had a greater understanding of.  Much of economics is witchcraft and pretension papering over bullshit but it is useful to use different models to try to understand the world.  As part of my holiday week reading I decided to delve into the economics of drug dealing.

Wainwright is a British editor for the Economist and he writes well.  He decided to study the economics of the narcotics industry and he follows the journey of illegal drugs from farming to end user.  I've read a lot of this before in books like Freakonomics or the Undercover Economist but Wainwright does add some additional colour and detail to the scenarios.

Of particular interest to modern readers are sections on the use of legal highs in New Zealand, the legalisation of cannabis in Colorado and the impact of internet retailers (on the dark web) on the distribution and sale of drugs in the modern world.

The extent of the black economy and the massive potential gains in tax suggest that legalisation of narcotics may be a good way forward although the damage done by these substances cannot be underestimated.  It is also important to note that there is no such thing as 'fair trade' cocaine.  People who buy and use cocaine are partially paying for murder.

Legalisation, taxation and careful regulation are surely the way forward.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Stiffed by James Morrow

James Morrow is a retired consultant neurologist from Northern Ireland.  He did outstanding work in the field of epilepsy, particularly in his work looking at the effects of anti-epileptic drugs on pregnant women and their children.  He had to take early retirement when he developed autoimmune encephalitis and he wrote about his experience of this in Practical Neurology, a British neurology journal, a few years ago.

He has kept busy during his retirement and he has written a book, Stiffed, about the pharmaceutical industry and the various challenges it faces.  The book is a comedy crime novel in the vein of Chris Brookmyre and has a few unexpected twists and turns.

There is a palpable sense of reality to the book as Dr Morrow borrows details from his extensive medical career and work with the pharmaceutical industry.  I don't want to spoil things but there were a couple of sightly unexpected twists in the tale.

The text of the kindle edition could do with some additional proof reading but it's a good read.  I'd read another book by him.  Best novel by an eminent neurologist that I've read for some time.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Panacea by F Paul Wilson

I'm doing some holiday reading this week and another book that I've enjoyed is Panacea by F Paul Wilson.  I've written an appreciation of the work of F Paul Wilson before.  He's an American doctor who writes fairly intelligent supernatural thrillers, most famously the Repairman Jack series.  Panacea  is the first book in the ICE sequence and unfortunately it's not available for Kindle in the UK so I had to pick up an imported American paperback copy from Amazon.

The book is about a forensic pathologist who has a sick daughter and is asked to track down a mystical panacea that can cure any illness.  She is hired by a terminally ill billionaire and she is accompanied by a very capable bodyguard.  There are a lot of echoes of Repairman Jack but that's not a bad thing.  The medical bits, both scientific and ethical, are done well and I'm looking forward to reading the next book (hopefully in paperback or on the Kindle).