Friday, September 12, 2014

I think journalism may be dying but it may also be coming back to life

As a child I wanted to be a writer.  I wanted to write comic books and science fiction novels.  Later on, I wanted to be a journalist, telling the truth on behalf of the people.  I wanted to fight censorship and do good stuff for people.  I wanted to catch all those lying politicians and shine a bright light on their bad deeds.

Hopelessly naive.

I used to respect the media.  I would read 2 or 3 newspapers a day.  I saw the BBC as a bastion of truth, noble, erect and trustworthy, standing tall against injustice, serving our proud British nation and   helping out oppressed people around the world.  I bought every single bit of the beautiful lie.

The old newspapers were always partial, depending on the whims of Lord Beaverbrook or whoever held the purse strings.  Over time, watching the Murdoch empire and the Daily Record, I realised that newsprint was often grubby.  The hands of tabloid journalists are often stained red with the ink of their gutter journalism.  No matter how hard they scrubbed, sometimes that spot of ink would inconveniently stay there as they were made to account for their writings years later.  Sales have fallen and the stature of British print journalism has diminished.

I still held the BBC in high regard.  Friends from other countries tell me that they have never trusted the BBC, that they call the BBC the British Brainwashing Corporation. That's pretty sad.  It is now clear that the BBC are partial, especially in the recent debate surrounding the Scottish independence referendum.  The BBC seems to be actively campaigning against Scottish independence.  One suspects that this may be to protect 10% of licence fee income.  It does feel like a step away from impartial comment.

The BBC has also been damaged by the horrific realisation that prominent members of the on-screen BBC staff were apparently rather unpleasant in real life.  These nasty realities seem to have been common knowledge around the BBC.  Nothing was done.  A strong institutional reputation was tarnished.

So the media of my childhood has betrayed me.  Betrayal is perhaps not the correct way to frame the situation.  It is perhaps fairer to say that I have come to see the media in it's true light.  My expectations of the BBC and Fleet Street were higher than they could reach.  It's not the fault of the media, it was my youthful innocence that was to blame.

In the future I guess the media will be different.  The bell has been tolling for newspapers for a while.  Print newspapers may not exist in 20 years time.  I think we will continue to have good quality written journalism on websites.  There will be a lot of dross out there but there will be some pearls too.  Unfortunately there is no editor online and you can always find some evidence to back up your maddest prejudices.  You must become an editor and you must filter things carefully and avoid becoming a member of the 'tin foil hat' brigade.

The decline of old media will hopefully lead to a maturation of the reader and the development of critical skills.  Hopefully with time we will begin to evaluate things and make our own decisions.  Sadly, the world is full of conspiracy nuts with poor filters.  We may need to rely on our paternalistic media overlords for some time.

That should be OK as long as they don't try to tell us how to vote........


Sunday, September 07, 2014

some music by the band I used to play bass for

After posting a bunch of old demo recordings of my own I had a chat with one of my friends from my old band Punani and he said it would be cool to upload some of our old music to bandcamp.  I've spent the evening uploading it and you should be able to stream it on the widget on this page.

I never really had a massive contribution to Punani.  I wrote all my baselines and I provided 'constructive criticism' to the songwriters but I only ever saw myself as the bass player in this band.  Having said that I sadly have to claim responsibility for the terrible band name.

So I played in this band between the ages of 19 and 22 from 1997 to 2000.  I was writing my own songs and playing with my own (slightly less motivated) band at the same time.  Punani was a bit like playing football on a Sunday for me.  Pointless fun.  Many good times were had.

Give it a listen.  Sorry for all the offensive bits.

Old music that was lying about

So on Friday I randomly went to see the Pet Shops Boys at short notice.  It was a really good gig and it sparked a memory of an old recording that I had made with a friend of dodgy covers on a 4 track.  We had recorded 'always on my mind', 'it's a sin', 'never ever' by all saints and 'circle in the sand' by Belinda Carlisle.  We might have done another Belinda Carlisle track.  We did all of that in one afternoon using an early play station as a drum machine.

I'm not sure what happened to that tape.  I wish I had it.  I went looking for it and I failed to find it.  What I did find was a collection of slightly less cheery songs from 1999 when I was pretending to be Lou Reed.  They are all pretty shit but Bandcamp didm't exist back then and it does now so I had a 'what the fuck' moment and stuck them all up (well 6 of them anyway).

Now this music is not very good and it is not well played but I wrote it and spent time with it so why not just let it exist somewhere other than a rotting CD in a pile.  It was mainly written after the accidental death of a friend at a young age and the words are mainly about coming to terms with grief and death.  Cheery stuff.  Very angry.

All of that was about 15 or 16 years ago.  I really wanted to be a rock star until I was 21.  The only real problem was a lack of ability or good looks.  Most of these songs were played in a full band format with a few friends but we never got our shit together enough to properly record any of it.  There are probably some 2 track rehearsal tapes somewhere but I doubt I could ever be bothered to find them.

Additionally there is another track recorded for a laugh in 2007.  It sounds a bit better because a friend played some guitar on it and we used a computer.  We were listening to a lot of Violent Femmes stuff at the time so we just ran with it.

Other than this I have some recordings from a band called Punani that I played bass for.  I'm not going to put any of that on here as it's not all mine.  It's not fair to put anything that would embarrass other people out in the public domain.

The first band that I was in had a hundred names but was mainly called the Divers.  I have a large box of tapes but none of it was recorded properly (well maybe one song on an 8 track and a Nirvana cover for a tribute tape).  I would put that up if it was in a decent format and I could find it but I can't.

Anyway, this stuff is now in public.  The 1999 stuff is sad and angry and a bit rubbish.  The 2007 song is sad in a different way and a bit rubbish.

It exists.  That is all.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bad stuff can happen at any time

We often think we are bulletproof.  We think that bad stuff can happen to us.  We live comfortable lives in nice places.  Nobody shoots at us.  Most of the time we are safe.  We are still relatively young.  Plenty of time to just keep your head down and work.  Save money for the future.  Live for the future.

It sounds nice, doesn't it.

It's not always true.  August has in many ways been a month of bad stuff.  None of it, I hasten to add, has affected me personally, directly.  I've personally not had anything bad happen to me although some things have brought life into a greater clarity.

So this month one of my colleagues, who is a couple of years younger than me (early-mid-thirties) has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She has two young daughters, her parents live on the other side of the world, her husband hasn't got a job right now.  It's not the worst possible scenario medically but it's not good.  The future is uncertain.  She's so young.  Her family is younger.

Earlier in the week I had attended the funeral of the mother of a close friend.  She was relatively young but she had lived a good, complete life.  She met 3 of her grandchildren and had many good things in life.  Her children and her husband were with her as she died at home.  That was good.

In addition to these two stories I was also saddened to hear of the death of the teenage son of two very nice colleagues.  The poor bloke, who I had met once, had been ill for some time.  Expected but still unspeakably sad.

This might all sound like a torrent of misery but it shouldn't be.  I guess the point of this bit of writing is to say that you should live for just now.  Live your life as fully as you can all the time.  Plan for the future but do not bet your life on the future.  Life is short and transient so it is important to have as good a time as possible while you are alive.  Take sensible chances and if you are in a situation you don't want to be in, change it.

I'm a lucky bloke.  I've got a great life.  I'm well paid, I enjoy my job (sort of), I have a decent flat and I get to do what I want to do most of the time.  I realise a lot of people are not as lucky as I am.  Sometimes it's good to just sit back and think about how good things are.

So, carpe diem everyone.  Just be nice to everyone else while you do it,

Saturday, May 24, 2014

living in a science fiction present

My grandfather didn't have a television until 1980.  My father grew up in a house without electricity, heated by coal fires, in a remote costal area in Scotland.  They lived 200 metres from the sea and they saw seals every day.  They didn't always see other people on a daily basis.  A lot of time was spent reading books or out living a rural life.  And shooting stuff.

My grandfather died in 1987/1988.  I don't think he ever saw a computer (although I'm not entirely sure).  He was born in a croft in 1903.  I'm writing this on a fancy laptop.  I'm streaming music onto my iPad beside me.  Technology like this only existed on Star Trek and in the science fiction novels and comics my father read.

My grandfather left the UK twice (as far as I know).  In the late '70s/early '80s my parents brought him to Lanzarote and Malta with us for family holidays.  Until then he had never been in a plane.  He did live in London where he worked as a servant in the 1920's and 30's so I guess it is possible that he may have travelled abroad at that time.  I don't know and I guess I never will.

As a kid I never imagined that I would at some point own something like an iPad or a smartphone.  I could could conceptualise a mobile phone as I had seen walkie talkies.  Early chunky mobile phones were available in the '80s but only for the very rich.

Possibly the most amazing thing now is the internet.  Vast amounts of knowledge, science, music, media and art are available free, instantly at the touch of a button.  I did my first degree before scientific papers existed as PDFs.  I had not used the internet or sent an email before I went to university.  I spent years looking for books, comics and music.  Now it's all there.

Our ability to communicate has improved too.  I play scrabble and chat with someone in Hong Kong every day.  I know and care about someone in Hong Kong.  As a child in the West of Scotland I would never have imagined such a thing.  I dreamt of America in movies and comic books and later in records.  I was lucky enough to visit Europe and I knew about World War 2.  Beyond that I knew that other cultures existed but I didn't really believe that I would ever interact with these distant places in any meaningful way.

When I was a kid for a while I wanted to be a spaceman.  When I was very young I wanted to be a soldier but thankfully I got over that idea very early.  Most of the time I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write comics and novels.  As a teenager I wanted to be a rock star or a journalist.  I had a vague childhood idea of being a scientist but only in a sort of very vague science fiction/spaceman way.

I never thought I would be a doctor.  Doctors were the people my mother worked for, a class apart. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty years later, here I am.  How the fuck did this happen?

I sit in a posh flat in Glasgow living in a science fiction present, parts of which echo the William Gibson books I read when I was 10.  Parts of this are so much better than I ever thought would be possible.  When I watch the television news and hear borderline racist, anti-immigration political beasts from UKIP talk, I hear echoes of Mosely and Enoch Powell and it's all gone a bit dystopian.

What would my grandad think if he was alive today?  His generation fought the nazi's and gave us the Scotland we have today.

Neutral Milk Hotel - Live at the Glasgow Barrowlands

I've been neglecting this blog again.  Lots of work stuff has been keeping me busy recently.  However Neutral Milk Hotel at the Barrowlands has to be one of the most anticipated gigs I've been to in ages.

I'm not exactly a Neutral Milk novice, having seen Jeff Mangum play at the ATP festival but this is the first time that I've seen him play with the band that created his legend.  The tickets sold out within seconds and the Barras was packed with lucky fans.

Support was supplied by Francis McKee of the Vaselines who played a selection of new material before battering out 'Jesus doesn't want me for a sunbeam' with Eugene Kelly.

The main event kicked off at 915 with Mangum taking the stage alone and starting 'the king of carrot flowers' before being joined by the rest of the band.  They assaulted the songs with a loose punky fury that was a good bit louder than the recorded versions from 'in the aeroplane over the sea'.  'Holland, 1945' was deployed as a quick follow up.

The band played material from all of their recorded output.  This wasn't a strict reading of the classic album.  I've been listening to NMH for many years and they played a couple of songs that I'm not too familiar with.

The rough setlist was -

The crowd seemed to really enjoy the show although there was a clear rush for the toilet/bar during less familiar songs.  It was a great night of psychedelic punk noise and I'm glad I was there.  I may have preferred the Mangum solo readings at ATP but this was very very good. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Barbed Wire Kisses - The Jesus and Mary Chain story by Zoe Howe

I picked this book up in Monorail Records on Monday. I read it within 12 hours. It was great.

I grew up in East Kilbride in the 70s, 80s and early 90s and the Mary Chain just always seemed very big to me. I remember the summers in East Kilbride when I was at primary school in the eighties. I remember it being sunny and green. I remember playing in the parks and the bushes. It as pretty good in many ways.

As I grew older the problems with East Kilbride became more apparent to me. It was full of neds, it was a small town; a bit narrow minded and boring. I got out and moved on but the town is still with me.

The Mary Chain evolved in East Kilbride and soundtracked some of those eighties summers. They made music about underpasses and parks and rain and magic mushrooms. Music that resonates around the South Lanarkshire town.  Barbed Wire Kisses by Zoe Howe captures East Kilbride well. Parts of the book are laugh out loud. The Mary Chain were often cast as arch miserabilists but they come across as funny guys here.

Jim and William Reid conceptualised the band in a shared council house bedroom in the town. I've been in those houses. I've seen those walls. They emerged fully formed and made some bloody brilliant music.

I really enjoyed this book and I would encourage you to check it out. I was a bit let down by the unedited splurge of the Morrissey book and I got much more from this book.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The League TV series

Netflix is letting me watch loads of random TV programmes and films.  The quality is variable.  There are a few gems.

The League is pretty enjoyable.  It's a dark comedy based about a group of friends who have a fantasy football league.  Most of the humour comes from the insults that the friends throw at each other while competing in the league.

It's pretty offensive stuff but it's good for a laugh if you're not faint hearted. Again, I'm very glad that I have netflix.

Saturday, February 01, 2014


I regularly reflect on what a lucky bastard I am.  I spent the last week teaching a full year group of medical students about my speciality interest.  I had a great time.  Teaching is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a doctor.

Part of what you want to do is stop the students falling asleep.  A lot of medicine is boring.  It's difficult to just absorb a stream of facts.  It's also difficult to filter the massive amount of information that we deal with.  Hundreds of pages of medical data are published every day and the vast majority of it is bullshit.  You want the students to walk away with knowledge of the important stuff that will save a life and help patients get better.  You want the important stuff to stick.

By teaching, you learn.  I've learned some neuroanatomy myself this week and I've come to realise that my understanding of at least one condition was wrong.  I don't know if this is because I was taught badly myself 16 or 17 years ago or if I just misunderstood a concept.  The important thing is that I have corrected my knowledge now.

We were trying to make things fun for the students so we set up a text number on a mobile phone to let them ask us questions as well as a twitter account.  We got a lot of useful texts as well as a few abusive ones.  I used the twitter account to promote YouTube videos of examination skills, patient experiences and other useful websites.  If the students are interested they will check it out.

I'm a bit of an extrovert so I enjoy public speaking.  My problem is, that as a Glasweigan, I tend to swear or say inappropriate things.  The students did seem to like this.  I didn't say anything that was too out of order, especially when I compare myself to a surgical colleague who started to talk about shagging goats.

We got some decent feedback and hopefully it was a success.  With luck the students will pass their exams and some of them may even develop a greater interest in neurology as time goes on.  I have to get back to regular doctoring this week but I'm already looking forward to my next bit of teaching.

Mogwai live at the Glasgow Royal Concert hall

I'm not sure how many times I've seen Mogwai now.  The first time I saw them play was in Martin's bedroom at one of their early band practices.  After that maybe at the Key Youth centre in East Kilbride and at the Cathouse in Glasgow.  I have watched them grow over the past 18 years.

This weeks show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall was brilliant.  A great live sound, a great light show.  They are on a high just now, on the back of Rave Tapes, which is a fucking good album.  They are tight live.  See them if you can.

Every time I see them now I can't believe how good they are.

RM Hubbert was damn good as a support too.

Thursday, January 02, 2014


A new year. In August I'll have been working as a doctor for 10 years. I started medical school 14 years ago. Time flies.  Ten years as a doctor and I'm still a trainee. 

In the past year I've finished a doctoral degree and been appointed to an academic training job at a decent University. I've been to a couple of excellent music festivals run by ATP and I've seen some great club gigs in Glasgow. I've been a bit lax about writing in the blog sadly. I've read a few good books, I've listened to a few good records and I've read some decent comics.  I've spent time with my family which is important.

I've met a few of my heroes. Most of them didn't disappoint me. 

I've discovered Netflix. I've managed to get the Internet in my flat. I've been lucky enough to afford an iPad and a MacBook.  I'm a lucky bastard and I live in a world that my grandfather could not have imagined.  I was looking at my grandparents wedding photograph today, from London in the 1930s. They lived through two world wars and saw stuff I can't imagine. The progression of time is quite a thing really.

I watched a film that had an emotional impact on me last month. Blackfish. It was a documentary about killer whales in captivity. It's heartbreaking, see it if you can. Whales are amazing. I'm reading a book about whales at the moment. Apparently the first footage of sperm whales underwater was only shot in 1984 nearly two decades after we walked on the moon. Man has a lot to learn and needs to respect the planet.

Enough rambling bullshit. I hope anyone who takes the time to read this blog has a great year.