Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pre-dawn Aberdeen, and Out of Doors with a working Berlingo

Off the boat and at the BBC in Aberdeen by 7.05 am. groggily aware that two people seem to be wandering about the car park with microphones. Good grief, it's Ewen and Mark from Out of Doors. Heavens, they actually broadcast the show out...of doors! Next minute I'm sort of on the show, which is news to my synapses. No witty repartee from me at this time in the morning, just some grunting.
Reasonable trip on the Hrossey. James is off to Strathallan School (how the other half live) over Hogmanay for National Youth Orchestra of Scotland rehearsals, then two gigs, one at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, one in Perth. Meanwhile, Susan, Mag and Martha head south tomorrow for our first New Year out of Shetland in 14. years.
Quick trip to the Central Garage in Brae revealed what was wrong with the trusty Berlingo: Not a servo failure in the power steering, but a need for much skooshing of WD40 and a bit of slow-speed twisting of the steering wheel. The rattly diesel supersnail is now working properly. I hope...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Four Scottish albums...and two Australian ones...and thank God Christmas is over

There's turkey in the fridge, still...but it's time to move on!
And to look back. History Day today on BBC Radio Scotland, but also: In the course of transferring most of my 'working' CDs and LPs to The Radiocroft, I had a chance to review some mislaid demos and records I should have made a great deal more of during the year...chief among which is undoubtedly the debut album by 'Mr D' AKA Paul McLinden, the stunning Wings and Wheels. Imagine Teenage Fanclub only more immediately in your face, somehow more throat-grippingly fresh (Paul Quinn had a lot to do with this, actually)and you have it. Expect great things in 2008.
Then there are the strange cases of the disappering albums: both long-time faves Finniston and veteran Dean Owens sort-of released excellent albums and then withdrew them in favour of more organised assaults on the public next year: Look out for them. And for Kevin McDermott's Wise to the Fade,launched in January at Celtic Connections - a real return to form.
Final belated mention to Perry Keyes form Sydney, Australia, the Aussie Springsteen, whose songs about Sydney are best captured on the double-debut Meter, as well as this year's The Last Ghost Train Home. Dare I say it: even better than The Hold Steady!

Monday, December 24, 2007

...have yourself a merry little Christmas...

Just getting ready for the Christmas Eve Tom Morton Show, and looking forward to a two-day break before the programme returns on the 27th. That's BBC Radio Scotland's History Day, and we're going to be working our way through four (and a bit) decades of music, with special guests Donovan, Alan Mair (Beatstalkers and The Only Ones) Justin Currie from Del Amitri and Emma Pollock, formerly of the Delgados.

Meanwhile, we're playing The Killers' Christmas single Don't Shoot Me Santa today, but their video-only song Great Big Sled is even better...and here it is! Have a good one!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The corpse of milk

....as I believe James Joyce said.
What was life like in culinary Scotland before the advent of Ian Mellis? I was reared on Dairylea and later (the height of sophistication) La Vache Qui Rit. But that, on our first French holiday back in 1968 (the guns, the gendarmes, the revolutionaries!) paled into insignificance compared to the unidentified cheese Mum bought in a Lyon market, creamy, mild and runny, covered in toasted grape stones...we ate it in our Sprite Muskateer, gobsmacked. Literally.
Then there was that first French lunch (help yourself soup, Quiche Lorraine AND a main course). After that, there was no way back to Greggs. Well, actually there was, but new horizons also beckoned.
I say this because my beloved producers have sent me a Christmas present from Mellis Cheesemongers of some Durrus (Irish creamy cheese made with raw milk) and Strathdon Blue. Strathdon Blue is reason enough to be proud of living in Scotland. True, the smell, despite extensive packaging, nearly drove our postman, Andrew, to distraction, but, oh, the taste and texture! That plus a small Rioja, and on Christmas Eve Eve, with Magnus safely home, only a Gregg's steak pie could complete the picture. And, funnily enough...well. Somerfield will have to do.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Proof



I uploaded this picture during the show using my mobile, as I got a text from 'Tam' querying the 'liveness' of the show, suggesting it was all recorded and that I was actually on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
Which is next week.

Solstice sky


About ten to nine this morning, on the shortest day of the year. Hard to believe. The summer solstice seems like yesterday, with its full-on broadcasting frenzy from dawn until midnight, parties on the pier, music, dancing and pies.
Anyway, here we are at midwinter and the weather is really lovely - mild and clear. Yesterday was cloudless, though today I think we may see some bluster and bludgeoning from the skies later. For the moment, it's discomfitingly pleasant. 'We'll pay for it' somebody said to me at the shop this morning, making me smile and recall the poem by Alistair Reid.
I have a show today and on Monday, then no broadcasting on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. I can't get used to the idea of leaving Shetland on the 28th for New Year.I'm sure it'll be great, but it seems somehow against nature.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Have yourself a kitschy little Christmas...




Thanks to the wonderful Ship of Fools website, here are two of the most appallingly kitsch Christmas presents known to man or God, for the religious or cynical person in your life:
I can't help feeling that the St Sebastian pin cushion (buy here)is actually a rather clever joke...but I fear the Christ on a Bike motorcycling Jesus - one of a series of 'contemporary'Christs showing Him skateboarding, surfing, rodeo riding(!), etc - is aimed fairly and squarely at the heartlands of fundamentalist America...buy it here if you must.
I'll always remember being in Athens, Georgia many years ago, crashing at a student residence where the (eternally pished) residents were in the habit of ordering religious paraphenalia from evangelical TV stations. The Last Supper plastic tablecloth and the cure-all handkerchief were particular favourites.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Santa's Somerfield Beer Grotto


This is what greets you when you first enter the Somerfield supermarket in Lerwick. No wonder Rudolph's got a red nose.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

One of the best rock'n'roll documentaries ever made

Tom Petty's songs always take me by surprise. One minute, I'm listening to something like Refugee or The Waiting, sincerely believing that these are among the finest slices of melodic rock ever recorded, the next I'm swept off my feet by the likes of Reverend and the Makers, Fionn Regan or another of new kids in town. Or I fall at the feet of Teenage Fanclub, and forget that the Heartbreakers had taken Byrdsian harmonies and crunchy guitar jangle to a whole new level long before our loveable Glaswegians came on the scene.

Buy a Heartbreakers career retrospective CD and what will amaze is not just the brilliance, but the consistency. The standard of songwriting, coupled with great playing from a superb band, makes you wonder why Petty, despite his success, has never been rated as a rock god along with the likes of Springsteen. My take? The songs are more considered. And it's on the Beatles side of the Stones/Moptops divide. It's pop. Also the boy looks too much like a girl for the comfort of heavy duty America.

Runnin' Down a Dream tells the Heartbreakers' story in fantastic detail and at considerable (nearly four hours) length. Even if you're not a committed fan, though, this just rushes by. Brilliantly directed by none other than Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show and much else) this seems to me better than Scorsese's music documentaries, perhaps because everyone involved is so (apparently) open and direct. And it's a great story: A band, a proper band, together, mostly, for 30-odd years. Great humour, immense success, terrible tragedy. Fascinating, articulate characters. Plus there's been access to home movies and personal archives that just takes you straight to the heart of the band's origins in Gainesville, Florida.
But Bogdanovich's insight makes this much more than a fanfest. This is the story of not just one band, but of rock'n'roll as a band endeavour. It has innocence, immediate and massive success, betrayal, corruption, drugs galore, death, sex (but a curious discretion too in that area) and a fascinating glimpse of what true commitment to music really means. What impresses, and at times horrifies, is Petty's formidable determination and drive. Not to say ruthlessness. He takes on everyone - record companies, producers, drummers (sacking Stan Lynch after 20 years)and in one unbelievable scene, two dodgy A&R men who want Roger McGuinn to record a 'commercial' song.
This is a film I'd show to anyone who wanted to know what it means to be in a band, and especially to be the leader of a band. By the end, Petty's looking like an older southern gent, his girlish good looks faded and wrinkled. But the power of the band and his songs, as illustrated in a triumphant return to Gainesville for a gig, remains undimmed.
Runnin' Down a Dream comes in the form of four discs, two with the documentary, one with the full Gainesville concert, and a CD with some interesting tunes from the film. A great Christmas present. And the best thing Mr Bogdanovich has done since...his stint on The Sopranos.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stormy dawn over Hillswick Ness


After a bizarrely lengthy but refreshing 11-hour sleep, this was the scene at about 7.50 am today, Thursday, looking south west out of St Magnus' Bay along the Ness of Hillswick. It's a low-res 'phone snap.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mick's going round the world...

Mick McMillan is a primary teacher from Cardenden, currently motorcycling round the world on an old BMW R65 (which he's had for 23 years, apparently). I think he's in Kuala Lumpur at the moment....wish him a merry Christmas and enjoy his adventures at his blog:
http://mickrtw.blogspot.com/

The Martial Arts - free download of album!

It's the way of the world....free downloads of albums. And this one's a cracker, a former Tom Morton Show album of the week, and yours for nothing! This is an email I've just received from the band:

Glasgow band THE MARTIAL ARTS have decided to give away their critically acclaimed album 'YOUR SINCLAIR' as a free download from the front page of their myspace website, as a Christmas present to any one who fancies a listen. The address is:
http://www.myspace.com/themartialarts


The band, who are signed to Groover Recordings in Sweden, have had success in Scandinavia and almost exclusively great reviews, yet remain unsigned back home in the UK. The band produce melodic guitar pop, in places reminiscent of power pop acts like The dB's and Big Star, Indie pop like Hefner, The Wedding Present and The Yummy Fur and Elephant 6 bands like Of Montreal and The Apples In Stereo. 'Your Sinclair' is no badly recorded demo album - it was produced by Ronald Bood (Shout Out Louds). The band intend to make the album available for free until December 25th - CD copies remaining available to buy via links provided on their myspace - and hope the album can be heard by as many as possible.


Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Slime, 20-inch wheels, oil, filters, old Volvos and very sore fingers

I have, from the age of 12, removed and replaced hundreds of bicycle tyres in the course of The Perpetual Battle against Punctures. NEVER, have I suffered such finger-licking pain and frustration as I did last night, as I fitted new (Slime Smartubes) puncture-proof inner tubes (and Slime tyre liners; I WILL NOT puncture on the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath and fall off EVER AGAIN) to the 20-inch wheels on my new (nearly the same as the old one, which I gave to a family member) Downtube VIIIFS folding bike.
The Chinese Kenda tyres seemed to have beaded edges made of titanium. I broke two tyre levers, bent three spoons, couldn't get the tyres off, then did, then couldn't get them back on the rims. I was weeping with rage. In the end a Swiss Army Knife (don't ask) saved the day.
The Downtube (see previous posts for pictures and details of the orange one) now has new MKS alloy pedals and only needs a proper Brooks leather saddle to be the serious 'transitional tourer' I intend it to be. Next year, Santiago de Compostela! And the bus back. Or maybe I should get a donkey...
Today, I found myself struggling mightily with more old technology, namely, the 1992 Volvo Torslanda estate I bought recently for £390. Oil and filter change in freezing conditions. Draining the oil was easy (why do I have three incomplete socket sets? Where did they come from? Why does ONLY ONE socket ever fit the nut in question?)but getting the old filter off was hellish. ALWAYS, with cartridge filters, DESPITE having the right removal tool, it comes down to punching a screwdriver through the casing, getting covered in old oil, and skinning your knuckles on the engine as you scrabble to twirl the sucker off.

As you may have guessed, I love all this stuff...

Friday, December 07, 2007

After dinner, The Grill...



Home after getting up at the godless post-party hour of 7.00am to catch a very bumpy aeroplane ride north...I'm sorry Pam (see comments to previous post) was disappointed at the sedate nature of the Aberdeen BBC Musical Output Association's Christmas frolicking...after dinner, a few of us went on to The Grill in Union Street (a pub, not a restaurant) which possesses what is probably the most magnificent ceiling of any howff in the UK. It also has a superb array of malt whiskies, to which we attempted to do justice...you get trays of whiskies named 'A Tour of the Highlands' and whatnot. There's a menu as thick as an encyclopedia, containing only whiskies. What can I say? I can tell you that Bruichladdich Infinity is probably the most horrible whisky I have ever tasted, certainly at 4 quid a dram...and that you can see Matt and Jenny in the picture...but after a while I was quite unable to discern the differences between Glengarioch and Old Pulteney, which is shameful, really.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Aberdeen Christmas party

Fraser's company picnic...

This was sent in by Fraser, from the USA, in response to my request for tales of company nights out...he writes...
For the last company picnic, management decided that, due to liability issues, we could have alcohol, but only one (1) drink per person. I was fired for ordering the cups.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Phew! Recovering from the 200-mile, 19-hour Saturday, little local difficulties, and watching the Labour Party implode


Good grief. Saturdays are always fairly full-on in our house, but yesterday was a humdinger. Up at eight to take Martha and James into Lerwick (37 miles) for their orchestral music club (and James's double bass lesson) after a week which had already seen me in the Proud Community of Coalfishreek an unprecedented three times (twice for Martha to perform with the fiddle group New Tradition.
Coffee, scone and croissant at The Peerie Shop Cafe, as usual, then some shopping among the bourgeois delights of Lerwick (Hand-Smoked Fish Co and Blydoit Fish, Scoop Wholefoods) then back to pick up Martha at noon. A swift jaunt to the Co-op where I meet Joe Rocks of Busta House Hotel, who wants me to do a whisky tasting/dinner in January. Happy to agree, then off to get James from his bass lesson. Lunch. We settle on Lerwick's excellent Turkish takeaway, the Turkish Delight, and scarf our various kebabs on the waterfront, next to the stunning new museum (outside dock area pictured), the Guggenheim of the North Sea. That's James and the Giant Doner in the 'phone snap. 'What will we do' asks James, 'when they build the new cinema and music venue here?' Because we're sitting on the site of the proposed edifice called Mareel, pinnacle of ambition for many in the artistic community. It will contain, so they say, a cinema, live music venues, recording studios, offices and much more.
I shrug. The likelihood of Mareel ever coming to fruition in its planned form is receding fast; the local arts agency seems hellbent on destroying its own credibility, and a gutless council is continuing on a spendthrift, crowd-pleasing course which involves keeping open the sadly redundant one-pupil secondary school in Skerries AND building a new high school in Lerwick. Even with the oil revenues, money doesn't grow on trees. And there are very few trees in Shetland.
Martha is playing with New Tradition at the museum, so James and I leave her to it. She will be transported home by neighbours Kenneth and Valerie, whose daughters also play in the group.
So we zip back to Hillswick. James is partying tonight in Mossbank, about 17 miles away, and just before driving him there, I notice that my BBC keys are missing. The Beeb has just introduced stringent new security measures, and these keys not only give me access to the studios in Lerwick and Aberdeen, they have a coding device attached to let me use BBC webmail. I decide they must be at the Lerwick studios (I was there on Friday night) and reluctantly decide to go back to Lerwick to fetch them.
I take the £390 Volvo Torslanda to see if it breaks. The route to Mossbank goes past the giant Sullom Voe oil terminal, biggest in Europe, and source of Shetland's comparitive wealth (great roads, schools, sports centres, swimming pools and so-called Magniejobs that couldn't exist anywhere else on the planet). It's a clear, still, night with that slow swell indicating big trouble out in the Atlantic. We'll get it soon enough. Probably when I'm on the boat south on Wednesday night.
So, back to Lerwick. You use a code to get into the self-operated Studio Seven, which is where I think I've left the keys, but they're not there. Oh well. It's hysteria or acceptance. I go for acceptance. Back home,again, the Volvo lumbering along reassuringly. Rear wheel drive and its consequent tight turning circle, is a delight. It doesn't break.
Home, Martha gets back, tea (Susan, surgery in the morning, on call and studying all day has made Nigella Lawson-designed goujons of sole) and a reflection that this lemon sole is the last we'll ever have from fisherman neighbour Ewen, who has sold his boat and retired. That fish was a result of his final trip. Some work on the novel (hitting 58,000 words), and then it's that uneasy period of dozing until 1.30 am, when I have to leave to pick up James at Mossbank.
Three am, and I'm home, finally, after a slithery nightmare in black ice and frost. Lulu the dog is sick and clamouring to be let out, so I sip camomile tea while she wanders the back garden. It's icy, a clear sky revealing Orion's Belt suspended right over the Hillswick Ness.
Two hundred miles and 19 hours. On the off chance, I check the jacket I had on two days ago. And there are the keys. So I will not be sent to BBC Presenters' Detention Camp. At least, not yet.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party leadership in Scotland is in utter disarray. I may have had a hard day, but not as bad as Wendy Alexander's.And hopefully my week ahead will be better than the one she's facing.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hillswick Ness on a very dreich day (let's geocache!)



Got kids who would rather sit in front of a computer screen playing Guild Wars than go for a bracing stroll through bog and down marshland? Want to inspire in them an appreciation of the great outdoors, while catering for their gadget freakery? or for that matter, your own?

I have the solution. It is called Geocaching, and involves a combination of the internet, portable GPS satnav units, stout footwear, long walks and treasure hunting. Essentially, it IS a treasure hunt, using GPS. Boxes (hundreds in Scotland) are hidden. You have to find them, secretly. You can take one of the small 'treasures' contained therein, but you should exchange it for one of your own, and note your discovery both online, at the Geocaching site, and by recording your visit, usually in a notebook in the cache.

I look after two local caches (you find your nearest caches on the Geocaching site by typing in your locality postccode - ZE2 or Shetland will reveal Cairn No More and, now the UK's most northerly Geocache, Another Fine Ness. Sorry about the puns.

This morning I loaded up the Magellan GPS (£40 off eBay) and took a strenuous 45-minute hike out on the Hillswick Ness to make sure all was well with Another Fine Ness for winter. It's there and it's dry and clean, with a brand new notebook for St Andrew's Day. Congrats to 'Jersey Royals' for travelling from the UK's most southerly geocache (and an offshore islet,no less, near Jersey) to the most northerly. Hope you got the easterly and the westerly as well.

The pictures show the location of the cache, with stunning views out to the cathedral-like stacks called The Drongs, and what is either a sheep fank or a Pictish cairn. Or both. It was a dull, wet and windy day. I was grateful for my wonderful Raichle boots.

Christmas is coming...but do you have the bottle for it?


This was forwarded to me by Fraser, one of the show's American listeners. As I said yesterday on air, this wonderful tree would not survive 30 seconds in a house incorporating a St Bernard's tail.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

(Sort of) prank call par excellence (thanks Chris)

Posted by Chris Dooks to my Facebook Funwall....not a video, but a clip from a radio programme in Ireland. The girl 'phoning is apparently eight years old...

Dawn over Shetland

My first attempt at mobile phone blogging. This was the view from my bedroom window at 7.50 am today.

Monday, November 26, 2007

One of the oddest music videos ever made

And, this freezing cold Monday night, which band should that pianist have been playing in?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Spirit of Adventure - TV series online!

Thanks to the fine Scotland on TV website, you can now watch the first episode of the Spirit of Adventure TV series (Orkney, Highland Park, Scapa and much more) by going to the Experience home page at the SoTV website.

Home after Children in Need, No Music Day, the Great Volvo Adventure and more...


Discombobulated is not the word. Actually, discombobulated is rarely a word worth using as it's so difficult to spell. Anyway, I'm disorientated (some say disoriented, but that's WRONG)dizzy and unsteady on my feet, not because of drink (don't jump to conclusions) but last night's boat trip north from Aberdeen.
It was a corker. Severe gale nine, and a northerly, which meant the good shop-shaped-ship Hrossey was slamming most of the way. 'Slamming' being a technical term not denoting poptastic approval, as in 'hey, that band were slammin', man', but meaning the boat was rearing up out of the water as it hit the massive oncoming waves and then dropped, flat-bottomed, into the water with a resounding bang.
Phenergan elixir meant I was dozy, but the movement was so marked it was impossible to sleep for long. Anyway, I'm home, and with the Volvo Torslanda too! Here's a picture of the mighty £390 car by my old mate Stewart Cunningham, nicked from his blog, which is well worth checking out, along with a snap of Boo Hewerdine (formerly of The Bible, and currently Eddi Reader's guitarist and songwriting cohort). Boo played at Bar Brel in Glasgow on Wednesday night, which was also No Music Day. Guess I betrayed its spirit, though having done a totally music-free two hour show in the afternoon, I think I deserved a break. Boo seemed to want to display his inner busker at the gig - too much singing along and cajon-bashing by enthusiastic friends for my liking. A shame, because he's an astonishingly gifted songwriter and singer.
On Saturday night I saw The Poems, featuring Karine Polwart's wee sister and an astonishingly well preserved Robert Hodgens (aka Bobby Bluebell) at the new and excellent Stereo venue in Renfield Lane. An odd business, what with mayhem outside in the aftermath of Scotland's defeat by Italy. There are some fantastic songs in the set but a degree of discomfort with the live environment. New single I Am A Believer is great.
CIN went well, I think - check out the pictures on Jeff Zycinski's blog, and the No Music Day show rocketed along. Big thanks to Colin Somerville for epic sidekick services. And a million thanks to the many people who texted, emailed and phoned, many (the majority, just) saying how much they'd appreciated the absence of music, but were looking forward to having it back.
And now it is.
As for the Volvo, it's always with trepidation that you buy something motorised on eBay and then face the drive to the Shetland boat. The Mighty Torslanda, last of the great Volvos, gave no hint of trouble as it made stately progress up the M90. It's odd sitting inside - it's an older generation of car, small doors, small windows, a sense of seriously protective bodywork, old-fashioned suspension, rear-wheel drive. Yep, tank is the operative word...AND discombobulation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The shirt off Amy Winehouse's back


Here we have the Scotland shirt worn by Amy W at her Barrowlands gig in Glasgow last Saturday, caught by regular listener Brian when she threw it into the audience and(it's a kids size, XXL) now the proud posession of his wee daughter. Signed, too!

Here's the email Brian sent to the show:

I went to see Amy at the Barrowlands on Saturday. Great show and a storming atmosphere post Hampden etc. But on the subject of e-Bay… Just before the encore Amy came on with a Scotland jersey, Winehouse, No 7, said sorry about the football then tied it up and gave it to one of the backing singers who flung it into the crowd…..right to me! It would have landed on my head if I hadn’t grabbed it, then hid it quickly from the descending hordes who scrabbled about at my feet while I looked elsewhere.
It got a lot of attention post gig, and I’ve had many people saying that I should put it on e-bay, but I can’t do that. Doesn’t seem right really, like selling a present. He wee yin was wearing it yesterday afternoon, fits her better than me anyway, but it’s a top souvenir, and Amy signed it too, with a x. She’s clearly still stuck on Blake though, wouldn’t stop talking about him in Pentonville Prison. Asked us to send him roses.
Great talent Amy, hope she has better times ahead. She was clean and sober on Saturday unlike much of the audience…

Monday, November 19, 2007

After THAT weekend...

Seven pubs, we tried to get into on Saturday night, in order to watch the football in, like, a communally cultural context. No chance. Not in the vicinity of Byres Road Bohemia, anyway. So it was a quiet pint in the Lismore and a wander back to Havelock Street as the game ended, updated by bulletins from the crowds crushed in doorways from Dumbarton Road upwards.
Next day, the newspapers were, to we veterans of 1978 and worse, wearily predictable: we wus robbed, the referee's a right pasta, the boys can hold their heads up high. Another glorious failure. But hey, we've learned how to hope hopelessly and lose wonderfully: on to the next. Or, as the flag-bedraped chap on the Underground said, 'We're gonnie win the World Cup!' Of course we are.
Grangemouth last night, which is like the set of BladeRunner, with a squeakily new ASDA, then back to Glasgow in the newly-acquired Volvo, which is going well so far. If only the heated seats worked...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Children in Need

The special Children in Need Radio Cafe/Tom Morton Show came live from the Beeb's brand spanking new HQ at Pacific Quay, Glasgow, and I think it all came together in the end, despite some scary moments. Guests included Wet Wet Wet (Marti's star power REALLY came over) The Proclaimers, Runrig, Michelle McManus, Dropkick, Jackie Bird, Chick Young, Brian Taylor, and many more. Big thanks to all who took part and the production teams from both the RC and my own show who made it possible. Oh, and to the live audience, who put up with a strange bleeping noise from the doors and some very uncomfortable seats. Thanks to Billy for the salmon!

To hear the show, use the Listen Again facility on the BBC website.

I'm off now to buy a very old Volvo Estate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fred, hating The Beatles and the late flight south...

To the Radiocroft this morning, earlier than usual, to take part in a discussion on the Fred Maculay (and Co) show about why The Beatles were/are rubbish. This featured a brief snatch of the Tom Morton Two song Learning to Hate The Beatles which you can download for free HERE.
Hamish from the NME seemed like a nice chap, and according to him, I sounded like Bruce Springsteen. That's good enough for me ('Springsteenian' - NME). Others have compared me to Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor. Well, one or other.
It's a day of glorious crisp, winter sunshine in Shetland (have a look at the Lunna House webcam if you don't believe me).I've been out for a run on the bike and blown away any residual cobwebs, and now I'm getting ready for more than a week away from home. It's Children in Need on Friday, followed by No Music Day next Wednesday, and in between there are people to see and, err...an old Volvo 240 Torslanda estate to pick up. And hopefully, drive back to Shetland. With the help of a ferry, obviously.
I'm getting the late flight tonight, and finally managed to get a bed for the night in Aberdeen - the city is often full midweek, and very expensive. Then it's off to Glasgow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Christmas is coming, and the books are going fast...

Joe at the Hillswick Post Office is getting used to my almost daily visits with books to send all over the world...but stocks are diminishing fast. Thank goodness! This business of being a literary entrepreneur takes up a lot of time and energy. Not to mention money...

So, if you fancy giving a copy of Spirit of Adventure as a present this Christmas, best move fast, and click on the links for The Bookcroft. Remember, it's £9.99 INCLUDING postage within the UK for a SIGNED copy. DEDICATIONS to anyone you like are no problem - just specify when ordering.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Pretty Things

Excellent piece in Mojo Magazine about The Pretty Things, which sent me hunting through YouTube for footage....two classics here from circa 1965, one from Swedish TV ('Popside') the other from a Dutch pop festival. All together: 'the pretty girls...they are like a melody! The Pretty Things, they are a Beat Sound!"

Friday, November 09, 2007

Roastie toastie peat-fired Radiocroft



In response to listener Billy Long from Dalry, whose house is in a smoke-free zone and who has therefore not seen a solid fuel fire for 18 years he says, here's the Radiocroft today with the pot-bellied stove on. Welcome to the BBC's (and possibly the world's) only peat-fired radio programme!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Slightly windy

A lot of talking about the weather on the show today...you can hear it in its two-hour entirety using the BBC's Listen Again service...or just bits of it.
Many, many texts and emails...why was Troon 'like Boston'? Was there really a five metre swell on the Pentland Firth? (It's five to seven metres in the open sea, they say...all ferries to and from Shetland, and all planes, are currently off.)
Loved this poem, which came in anonymously:

A N.wind fairly fankles quines'tresses,
Causin'mony emotional stresses.
But fit sair gars'em greet-'S horizontal caul'sleet.
Scotia's wither jist isna for Jessies!


Not sure if 'Jessie' is politically correct, but when it comes to the weather...

Meanwhile, as I write this, there's a weird suction effect within the house which means all the water in both toilets has been sucked out, and the cat flap is perpetually open as if there were wind blowing from the inside of the house out...I believe the wind creates a vacuum, which is why, in tornadoes, houses can implode.

Despite the forecasts, conditions have worsened as the night has gone on. It's about as bad as I can remember it, with that weird low vibration you get during big gusts (anything up to 100 mph) when the house seems to thrum and hum, you can feel strange eddies in the room, and you sense the change of pressure deep in your chest. It reminds of the night the wind scoured (most of ) Shetland clean of the oil spilt by the tanker Braer, as I sat drinking and yarning in a cottage in Skeld...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Big bands, wee ( or just odd) gigs...and Fife, Kingdom of Rock!

This all stated with an emailfrom Sandy and Fiona Forbes, who comprise the moving force behind the excellent Kirkcaldy Acoustic Music Club.

Recalling the importance of the 1960s Island compilation album You Can All Join In (we had a 'sampler LP' thread running on the show last week) Sandy mentioned the stellar lineup of bands that appeared during the 60s at, of all places, the YMCA in Kirkcaldy:

I mentioned some bands including John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Peter Green was part of the line-up that played and also Mick Taylor who was with the Stones for a while.

Other great bands were Dean Ford and the Gaylords who became the Marmalade, The Pathfinders, The Writing on the Wall, The Chris McLure Section, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Rosetta Stone, East of Eden, Tear Gas with Zal Cleminson, The Stoics with Frankie Miller, The Groundhogs, Earth who became Black Sabbath, The Bay City Rollers and probably my favourite Rory Gallagher with Taste.

The Tremolos even tried a change of image and came as the “new heavy” Tremolos and we also had a band that didn’t seem to fit the “heavy rock” era in any way whatsoever, the Third Ear Band

Nazareth played their debut gig at Kirkcaldy YMCA having changed their name from, I think, The Shadettes. Days afterwards Nazareth shot into the singles chart.

Fiona recalled Robert Plant and the Band of Joy and remembers listening to the radio with Jimmy Young interviewing a lady caller who went on to say her son played in a band. “Oh yes, what’s the band’s name” says Jimmy. “Robert Plant and the Band of Joy” says the caller. At which Fiona’s ears pricked up because they had just played Kirkcaldy YMCA a few weeks before. We often wonder if Jimmy Young made the connection to Led Zepp.


Well, reading this out yesterday on the show opened the floodgates. Not only did Fife appear to have been the epicentre of Scottish rock'n'roll activity throughout the 60s and 70s, but there were som eextraordinary memories of incongruous band/venue matches.

Brian Johnstone mentioned that
I can vividly remember seeing The Clash and Richard Hell and the Voidoids at the Kinema in Dunfermline back in the 70s - I can still feel the globules of spit seeping down my neck!


But it was Brian Petrie who pointed me in the direction of the extraordinary kinemagigz website, a detailed history of the Kinema venue in Dunfermline (still functioning as Velocity) and the 10,000 odd gigs that have taken place there, including such luminaries as Jethro Tull and Cream. What on earth was it about Fife?

Thanks to everyone else who sent in their memories....there are some more still coming in!
--

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Check these out

...first, the band from Shetland attracting heavy duty interest from record companies, lawyers and music biz types from a' the airts. This is their first video, shot by my old pal Dave Hammond. Black Bic Biro, then - whaddaya think?
http://burntcandle.co.uk/VideoJukebox/VJB8/
...and another wee word about my Logik Reciva wi-fi radio: the whole experience of using it is I think akin to what radio must have been like in the early days of clothes line aerials dragging in Hilversum and Luxembourg and the American Forces Network to valve sets assembled from kits. You have to position the Logik somewhere it can pick up the wi-fi signal, and somewhere social. It's not a bedroom radio, it needs to be a place you can hear it while you're doing what you do...well, it needs, in my case, to be in the kitchen. Because that's what live radio is: a soundtrack to activity, and why podcasts are basically the sonic equivalent of write-in factsheets or cassette tapes of favourite shows.
Anyway, you find a place where it works, and then you start searching for stations (only five presets: way too few). You do it by genre or location, which means your longing for Zimbabwean township jive or the real Radio Norwich can be satisfied wherever you are (in the kitchen, in my case). It picks up anything registered with the Reciva system, and that obviously opens up the slightly (sometimes very) esoteric world of internet-only radio stations. And there are tens of thousands out there, many you just stumble across because of their interesting or evocative names.
My favourite so far (chosen because if it's called East Village Radio it has to be cool), and the one that had me writing down snatches of song lyrics all day in a desperate effort to identify tracks (especially on Lexi's soul and funk programme How Urban Radio Saved My Life), is East Village Radio from New York City. It's already somewhat famous for the show Mark Ronson hosts on a Thursday, Authentic S**t, but it has everything musical and odd you could ask for, from 1920s jazz on scratchy 78s to psychedelia, electronic bleeps, fractured dance and bizarre, disturbed country. And that's just a fraction of what's on offer. All from a tiny storefront in the heart of NYC. And no ads.
It reminded me of the way Shetlanders Tom Anderson (born and raised just up the road, who built, and installed some of the first radios in the isles) and Peerie Willie Johnson spent hours tuned to the AFN signal from Schenectady, New York, before World War Two, listening to the likes of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, learning and adapting that transatlantic music to their own Shetland styles.
Now here I am, scribbling down Nothing But a Heartache and Giving Up Food for Funk, when a simple look at the EVR website would have given me the names I was looking for (The Flirtations and the JBs. Great, unfussy website too. It's easier for me. I don't have to go outside and wrestle with a 30-foot aerial in high winds.
Obviously you (and I) should be listening to BBC Radio Scotland, particularly weekdays between two and four. But if it wasn't for Mr J Zycinski, head of Radio Scotland, I wouldn't have bought the Logik anyway. So it's really his fault...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why the final Sopranos episode is a work of sustained genius (especially the last three minutes) and a weird Highland musical coincidence...

...and if you haven't seen it, and DON'T want to have your perceptions of what happens conditioned, possibly wrongly don't watch this YouTube video. Before dismissing this explanation as the fevered imaginings of geeky obsessives such as myself, remember (1) David Chase wrote and directed the final show himself; (2) The works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell loom large in both the Sopranos and (3)Northern Exposure, the true ancestor of the Sopranos and the series Chase cut his teeth on. Look for the number three...
HOWEVER...
It may well be rubbish - remember one of the black guys who tried to whack Tony at his mother's behest was actually killed. The 'trucker' may be more relevent for the three tubs of cream on his saucer, and the 'Nikki Leotardo' in the credits is actually Phil's daughter or grandaughter.

My take on it? I agree with the commentators who see the recurring number three and the continual opening of the restaurant door as intimations of threat - we feel that tension - and maybe there are illustrations of past attempts on Tony's life. But the cutting to black (and Bobby and Tony's previous conversation about that)is not necessarily about Tony's actual death, but about the continuing threat of death he, and indeed his entire family, face all the time, and will face in the future.

Without us watching.

The weird Highland coincidence: Last night, as Tony was choosing Journey's Don't Stop Believing over Little Feat's All That You Dream on E4 (and hey, those titles are significant, surely?) Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett from Little Feat were on stage at the Strathpeffar Spa Pavilion. Really.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Terrible pet incidents on the radio

A million thanks to the many people who texted, phoned and emailed their tales of terrible domestic pet damage to the show on Friday. There were so many crackers - the dog that ate the central locking key fob for a hire car, costing the owner (of the dog) £85; the rabbit that ate the spines of Agatha Christie books; and Jo McCutcheon's horrendous tale of her dog's consumption of two boxes of chocolates (complete with ribbon) and the consequent and copious vomiting of dog and owners in front of astonished New Year guests. Followed by the nonchalant micturation on the mess by a visiting Alsatian.
Lovely stuff!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Strange dishes served up in restaurants

On the show today we were talking about odd dishes served up in the name of haute cuisine...I particularly enjoyed this email from Kathleen in Boston:

Hi Tom,
Love the show!
The most bizarre thing I've eaten in a restaurant was in Paris...the restaurant on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. They served a salad there with tongue in it. Not that the tongue was uncommon, but someone had gone to the trouble of heating the tongue . so that when it arrived on the cold salad it smelled and felt like it had just come out of the cow's mouth.
ACK!
Thanks for asking...have a fantastic day and greetings from Red Sox Country (metro Boston)

Kathleen

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Look what the cat dragged in...


Amazing response on the show today to the question: What has your cat dragged in through the catflap?

This was provoked by one of our two, Hamish or Neville, depositing the head of a crow in the middle of the kitchen floor this morning. Not, not the head of a cow. That would plainly be ridiculous.

Favourite 'presents' provided to listeners included an entire, hot roast chicken, a shaving brush and 'toilet requisites', another cat, bats, seagulls, a barbecued sausage, ells, flounders, mice, rabbits and a completely lively hare, which proceeded to rampage around the living room walls, six feet off the floor, pursued by a dog while the cat slept.

My friend Stewart Cunningham reported that he had once owned a cat that left the heads of birds in his shoes, there were the two crows who entered somebody's house at Halloween (spooky!)and my favourite, a dog who brought home not a piece of Lorne sausage, not a whole Lorne sausage, but an entire 'bar' of Lorne sausagemeat, the yard-long side of Lorne from which sausages are sliced. Mind you, that dog came from Kilmarnock.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Some nostalgically embarrassing memories of Radio Solway, back to the Travelodge, and Idlewild in Aberdeen

It was the Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) and his excellent blog about the King Creosote Bombshell tour that alerted me to something I should have noticed many years ago: that in all Travelodges, when you first enter your bathroom, one little sliver of soap is balanced atop two plastic glasses. Just like home! Sigh!

Meanwhile, here's a tantalising glimpse of a page from a 1989 magazine produced by the late lamented BBC Radio Solway, back in the days when BBC local radio included all kinds of Scottish locations. (And who knows? Maybe we're heading back in that direction, only with digital knobs on.) I found a big bundle of said publication in the self-operated studio the BBC still has in Stranraer, a real step back in time, and possessing a filing cabinet full of, well, memories. Those haircuts! Gary, those glasses! I think you may recognise some familiar faces in those blurred black and white pictures...on the other hand...oh, and there's more, and more embarrassing where those came from...
Finally, this was the scene in Aberdeen on Friday when Idlewild played an acoustic set for the show and for an assemblage of around 30 listeners. It was great. Catch it on BBC Radio Scotland's Listen Again player.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kurosawa and Coppola sell their spirits

Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola advertise Suntory whisky, on the set of Kagemusha....the ad was directed by Kurosawa.

Many years afterwards, of course, Coppola's daughter directs Lost in Translation, the story of an American actor in Japan, advertising Suntory Whisky.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time slips away waiting for the post while St Bernards ruin furniture and another trip south beckons

Wednesday, and the post is still not back to normal, which means that for bizarre technological reasons I can't access my BBC email (I need a replacement electronic code-token-thingy, which has to be posted to my home address from London).
I really value our local postal service here in Shetland - especially over the past few weeks when I've been posting copies of Spirit of Adventure here, there and everywhere using our local PO. Same price to Plymouth as to Lerwick. And of course, the daily arrival of Andrew (or Peter at the moment) with letters and parcels is a rural highlight. Ebay has taken the place of the 'club book' for many Shetland folk - Andrew The Post told me that up to 70 per cent of his mailbag some days can be eBay related.
Anyway. It would be a tragedy for Shetland and other island communities if the postal service gave way to rampant courier company dominance...having said that, James ordered a new soundcard for his computer in the midst of the strike and it was couriered here within two days, at no extra charge. A loss leader, methinks. Once Royal Mail is broken up and sold off, and probably before, it's inevitable that some sort of distance and remoteness surcharge kicks in. Then life hereabouts will become even more marginal.
There are many good things about living in Shetland, though, and one of them is Burrastow House, in the far west side of the Shetland Mainland. That was Susan's surprise birthday destination on Saturday, and with James and Martha we had a fine time as the only residents - delicious food, roaring fires, four poster beds and the sense that we were in a whole different country. Possibly Belgium, as that's where owner Pierre hails from. And whence he's heading this weekend, as he's closing Burrastow now until April next year.
Meanwhile, we were thrown into an agony of indecision this week when the owner of one of the late Lucy's puppies asked if we could possibly offer a home to said adolescent St Bernard. We are still pondering the possibility. If it wasn't for the arrival of Hamish and Neville the cats...who were at the vet yesterday having their male appendages removed. They seem none the worse. Maybe we should stick with Lulu, Quoyle and the feline mouse-killers, and count our blessings. Adolescent male St Bernards, bigger and bouncier than their female counterparts, can be, errr...somewhat bouncy. Lulu has just managed to dig (she likes to dig) a hole in our relatively new leather sofa. Maybe she's preparing to bury the cats in there...

Anyway, I'm off to Aberdeen tomorrow night to prepare for the show's Idlewild special on Friday, when the band play for the first hour to a small audience at the BBC Aberdeen toast-perfumed bistro. Should be good!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The perfect bacon roll


Sent in to the show by listener David (I Presume) Livingstone. Check that domed roll! West of Scotland industrial baking at its best! Don't know if Hellman's Mayonnaise is really a proper substitute for brown sauce, though.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On the way to Roer Water


Having been bitten by the mountain bike bug, I decided to see what Northmavine had to offer in the way of MTB potential, starting with a track I'd walked several times, the looping, diving and alarmingly rough access route to the reservoir called Roer (Red) Water.

You reach this by driving half way up the access road to the old NATO early warning base at Collafirth Hill, which is where you normally park if you're going to climb Ronas Hill, Shetland's highest. The differences between this kind of mountain biking and the forest trails at Kirroughtree were startling and obvious: no trees, so you have stunning views visible almost all the time.

It's a VERY rough track, rocky and with numerous large, black pools that look bottomless. There are a couple of times you have to ford the Collafirth Burn and various sections simply have to be walked. Still, there's sufficient fast descents and jumps to make it great fun. Tiring, though, especially for one as old and overweight as me: It's a good hour-long round trip to the reservoir itself.

I've posted requests on the Northmavine and Shetlink forums (fora) for info on other local MTB routes. Some great suggestions from Shetlink, including the Culswick Broch road over on the west side and the road to Uyea a bit north of here. Me, I'm just daydreaming of turning the croft into a mountain biking centre, with hire facilities, some fun mini-routes and more...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Books, biking and beautiful autumn Scotland


The Seven Stanes network of Forestry Commission mountain biking sites includes Kirroughtree, right next to where I was staying for the Wigtown book festival. Never having tried off-road biking on one of the purpose built trails, I was keen to have a go. So I hired a bike at the excellent Breakpad shop (just 12 quid for three hours) and set off on the network of blue (intermediate) trails. It was absolutely fantastic - hard but thrilling on the single track descents. And only one mild spill. I could get addicted to it. Oh, and there's a truly fabulous cafe at Kirroughtree too, though I think it's seasonal.

Wigtown is a brilliant book festival, excellent in breadth and depth of programme, really well organised, with a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere. And there are, of course, the bookshops in Scotland's booktown. Next year is the tenth anniversary of the festival and BBC Radio Scotland will be there in strength. I'm already looking forward to it.


My three days in Galloway were hallmarked by splendid weather, and I was lucky enough to be staying at a really nice country house hotel, the Kirroughtree. This was the view from my window.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Stranraer-Wigtown-Newton Stewart

Stayed at a place called the Kirroughtree House Hotel, just outside Newton Stewart, last night, which is dead posh - many thanks to the Wigtown bookfest folk for sorting that out! Wigtown this morning to seek out Fin McCreath, festival supremo, and check out the faxing and email situations before heading off to Stranraer, which possesses one of the BBC's tiny 'remote studios'.

Like the one in Oban, this is one smells funny, is redolent of Cold War bunker technology and is little more than a room with a microphone (though this has an old tape machine, a fax machine (disconnected)and a filing cabinet which has in it...(can't help it, I'm hopelessly nosy) good grief! A pile of magazines dated 1990 advertising what was once BBC Radio Solway...with pictures of the staff, including a truly ASTONISHING shot of BBC Radio Scotland's own Gary Robertson, wearing Timmy Mallett glasses and a very 1970s haircut.

In the public interest, this will definitely appear on a future blog.

Off now to explore Stranraer's cafe society. Today's show will feature (I hope) an interview with Michael Gray, author of a new book about the bluesman Blind Willie McTell. Both of us are appearing at the Wigtown book festival tonight, at the Bladnoch Distillery.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The length and breadth of Scotland

So, flew down from Shetland on Monday night, then out to Glenfarclas on Tuesday morning, back to Aberdeen for the show and urgent meetings re pizza and biscuit supply, and an overnight out at the airport (The Speedbird Inn may be an accommodation machine, but at least it works: free wireless internet, flat screen tellies, powershowers, decent beds, restaurant open until 10.00pm).

Today, Wednesday, I just had time to look for a 50th birthday present for Susan (hmmm....nothing to say on that front, except she doesn't look a day over 35)have a DREADFUL breakfast at Costa and then head back to the studios,wherein I type. At 4.00pm it's off to Inverness to address the Highland Businesswomen's Club on the subject of 'whisky and women'. Thursday morning I'll be hotfooting it to Glasgow to do the show from Pacific Quay, then onwards to Wigtown, glorious and wonderful Scottish Booktown. Friday the show comes from the BBC studio in Stranraer, and will feature Michael Gray, who has written a book about the great bluesman Blind Willie McTell. then on Friday night at Bladnoch Distillery, I'm reading, singing and tasting whisky as part of the Wigtown Booktown Festival. Saturday in Glasgow and then Aberdeen on Sunday and home due to an aeroplane, I hope. If you're in any of these vicinities and are (a)a Highland businesswoman or (b) near Wigtown, it'd be good to see you.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Low golden light

Stunning early autumn weather today in Aberdeenshire and Morayshire. That amazing low yellow light you get in Scotland at this time of year. And the leaves just turning.

I left Aberdeen at about 7.30 am, heading for Glenfarclas Distillery near Balindalloch. It would have been a wonderful drive, had it not been for the tractors, elderly folk in Rovers doing 25 in a 60 limit, and overloaded trucks.

The smell as you enter Dufftown begins with warehouse whisky, the evaporating 'Angel's Share'. But in this, the epicentre of Scottish distilling, you can smell every part of the process - mashing, brewing, even the feinty whiff of hot stills. People who live here must have a 'resting' blood alcohol level much higher than normal.

Glenfarclas was a remarkable experience, with my first warehouse tasting (mostly nosing, unfortunately. I knew I shouldn't have driven) for 15 years. What I'm most impressed with, and always have been about Glenfarclas, is the simple and straightforward approach to making whisky. There's no pretence here, no faffing about, and it was refreshing to hear chairman John LS Grant (Glenfarclas is and always has been family owned) be so scathing about artificial finishing of whiskies, and some of the ridiculous descriptions people come up with of tastes and aromas.

The new Glenfarclas 'Family Casks' range is a triumphantly simple idea: Only Glenfarclas have casks of whisky in storage from 43 consecutive years. So if you have a birthday coming up...like, say, I do...52 in December...what have we here? A 1955 cask-strength Glenfarclas for, oh, a mere £750? Very nice. If only!

Back in Aberdeen now, and it has remained a stunning, golden day. As the light dims, the sunset is just the colour of whisky.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why we should keep faith with The Hold Steady despite two disappointing Scottish appearances...



When I saw the band play The Garage in Glasgow early in the year I thought they were stupendous - better-than-Springsteen wordplay beefed up through ZZ Top and Lizzy riffing. Then, having moved heaven and earth to catch them at both T in the Park and Connect, they managed to turn up late for both, doing a short acoustic set at T and a dishevelled, lackadaisical one at Connect. However, with everything to play for on Jools Holland, they really delivered on Stuck Between Stations, showing the Arctic Monkeys, also on the show, just why a ginormous Billy Gibbons guitar sound hammers Telecaster scratchiness any day of the week.

Will they haul themselves beyond that 'best bar band in the world' tag? Not, in my opinion, if they continue to do 300 gigs a year, mostly in dodgy American roadhouses. In the end, unless a movie soundtrack or something (possibly European success)lifts them up a live league, they're too intelligent to put up with the torpor and tedium of that kind of touring lifestyle. Or the drink will get them.

Meanwhile, we await the next album with considerable interest. There's a new song '212 Margarita' lurking online in various acoustic formats. It's good.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Vi-Pod - no batteries required


As made by TM Show listener Mark Shiner of Selkie Harps in Orkney. Viking pan pipes, apparently. "An unlimited number of tunes can be stored, as long as a brain is attached" says Mark.

Forget DAB, THIS is the future of radio!



This is the Logik Reciva internet wifi radio. It renders DAB utterly obsolete if you have a wireless internet connection. Basically, using a stunningly simple (just like...tuning a radio) interface, or if you prefer, knob, you can haul in every radio station that has an internet presence, INCLUDING 'listen again' wherever it lurks, plus any local or specialist 'opt outs'. You decide - 'genre' or 'location' and the next minute...

Down to around £45. Sounds AND looks good too. And yes, I paid for it myself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The original Radio Scotland - silenced 40 years ago


Inveterate TM show listener Hugh Campbell got in touch today to reminisce about the first broadcast from Wunnerful Radio One, exactly 40 years ago....what, he asked, were you doing when Tony Blackburn spun Flowers in the Rain, way back when? On my way to school, I think, gazing out, as we prepared to turn right into Marr College's driveway, at the space once occupied by the good ship Comet, home until a few months previously, of the pirate station Radio Scotland.

I remember the jingle: "Just off the coast, no far frae Troon, there lies a bonnie wee boat/though it's nothin' much tae look at, it's the proudest ship afloat/it's the home o' Radio Scotland and it's every Scotsman's pride...."(can't remember the next bit, but it ended)"Radio Scotland is playing just for you/so beat the ban and join the clan on station 242." Medium Wave, of course.

I've just discovered this fantastic site, from which the picture above is taken, which has all kinds of pictures of the early DJs like Richard Park, Jimmy Mack and Stuart Henry, a history of the ship and snaps of the amazingly primitive studio. Radio Scotland closed before Radio One came on air, as the new Marine Broadcasting Act came into force and made it....even more illegal!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Franz Ferdinand come to Shetland

Alex Kapranos and the boys finish their Highlands and Islands tour tonight in Shetland, at the 350-capacity community hall over at Weisdale. Actually, as I write they're just going on stage, I think, for their second show of the night. I caught the, uh, matinee, put on specially for under 18s (and a suspiciously large number of 'parents') sneaking in with my daughter, son and their pals.
It was a bit short, actually, the set, maybe 40 minutes max including one encore. And while the crowd loved it, going soberly (no bar) bonkers, I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the murkiness of the sound and what seemed like a fatigued performance. Still, they were there, we were In The Room with Franz, and for one of the biggest bands in the UK to make the effort to come so far north is admirable. I imagine the late show, with added alcohol, will be a more abandoned affair.
Afterwards, the best haddock suppers in northern Europe were obtained. Garlic mayonnaise with chips, too...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Servisair's lack of service

Saturday's flight to Sumburgh from Aberdeen was marred by the utter contempt shown to passengers by the despicable Servisair. But really, this is about British Airways' disdain for its Shetland routes: first they dump the responsibility for operating them onto Loganair, then ground services are hived off to Servisair, whose approach to what is, after all, a lifeline operation frequently involving medical emergencies, new-born children and the elderly is a disgrace.

Yesterday, the departure screens never showed the gate number for the BA 8772 flight, and only asking around eventually indicated where we were to queue. For an hour, as just one hapless check-in person (the other, apparently, had failed to turn up for work) tried to check in passengers for both the Shetland and Orkney flights. Ten minutes before departure, I was still waiting to get through security.

A Servisair supervisor, who could have helped ease the situation, did nothing but flaunt her walkie-talkie, patronise passengers and boss her minions about. If I didn;t HAVE to fly next time I travel south, I'd make a commitment here and now to travel only by boat (as long as NorthLink have fixed that electrical problem, the one that left the Hrossey drifting powerless of Sumburgh Head the other night).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wireless in the Seaforth

I'm in the Seaforth Hotel in Ullapool, which is, I think, the hub of activity in this most beautiful of west coast villages. From morning to, well, early morning, it hums...and for that matter, shouts and thumps. Last night I caught the Stornoway band Our Lunar Activities here, who were LOUD. It's the weekend of the Loopallu festival (the TM show comes live from the Arch Inn at 2.00pm) and everything is well and truly jumping. The Seaforth is not just a rock venue though - it does great seafood AND (thank goodness) it opens early for breakfast and efficient, functioning wireless broadband internet. Otherwise, I would have had trouble filing my copy for this week's Sunday Herald Diary.

Note to all hotel owners: Free or really, really cheap wireless internet is no longer an option. It's an ABSOLUTE ESSENTIAL. You can't have guests wandering around like lost souls looking for wifi hotspots. I don't care if you think you're bohemian and quaint and your poached eggs are to die for. I NEED WIRELESS!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aberdeen en route to...

Really straightforward and completely trouble-free trip to Aberdeen this morning, despite late-night trip to Pacific Quay to find out that the Trainline ticket machine was STILL not prepared to give up my tickets (probably some security measure in the runup to the PM's official opening of PQ today). I have to admit that the building looks impressive at night, though apparently all the lights go out automatically if no-one's actually in a working area. Good (but spooky) environmental thinking. And also green is the computer printing - set up so that everything automatically prints on both sides of the paper. It took me ages to realise this was happening, by which time I'd printed everything three times.

Off to Ullapool after the show for an outside broadcast from the Loopallu festival, featuring Mark Radcliffe's band The Family Mahone...get to stay tonight in one of the great small hotels, The Ceilidh Place, which has, if I remember rightly, an 'honesty bar'. Oh dear...

Incidentally, I paid £26 a night for a room in Glasgow which provided unlimited free broadband and a private bathroom, kitchen facilities, tea and coffee, TV, phone but no breakfast. That has to be the bargain of this or possibly last century.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Snaffle Bit

A fairly large amount of last night was spent in the first bar I ever really drank in, the Snaffle Bit in Sauchiehall Street. The Celtic match was watched, Guinness (normal temperature) was drunk, and fractured memories erupted of 1978 lunchtimes spent playing dominoes with the other members of staff at Project Scotland, The Voice of Scottish Construction. Lunch was three pints of beer and two double cheeseburgers in those days. Good grief.

Dinner in my favourite Glasgow Indian restaurant, Sibbo's Delhi Dabba, was excellent as ever. And the cycle back to Maryhill in the rain was....exciting.

Now it's PQ for the final time this week, an encounter with the legendary Bill Drummond about the planned No Music Day, and after the show, a whisky tasting of cheap drams (£3500 a bottle, apparently). I may just inhale.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cafe society

Ah, the luxury of the internet cafe...or a well run-one, like Sip'n'Surf in Glasgow's Great Western Road. New computers, all the papers,good latte, fine croissants and reasonable rates for printing stuff out.

I know I could just go to Pacific Quay and do all my necessary preparation for the show, but the fact is I like hanging about the west end of a morning. It's the country hick in me - I like to wallow in what the city has to offer! Once Govan turns into the 'media quarter' it is much-mooted to become, perhaps I'll be able to wander from bookshop to capuccino emporium wearing a cycle jacket and carrying a laptop, without well, fear.

But alas, not yet.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pacific Quay, here goes!


In Glasgow after accompanying Magnus on his first motorised foray onto motorways....and he did well, though my nerves were somewhat shredded at his cavalier attitude towards lane discipline on Dundee's myriad roundabouts. Horrendous delays at the first roundabout coming into Dundee from Aberdeen...and the really odd thing was this: about 75 per cent of the cars queuing on the inside lane were driven by women. There could be various reasons for this: maybe more women commute into Dundee; perhaps women tend to be satisfied with waiting in the inside lane and don't impatiently swerve into the outside to gain some distance; or maybe they read and understood the roadworks sign which clearly stated that the outside lane was closed ahead...

Anyway, I picked up the folding bike at Magnus's flat and zoomed (10 minutes from Maryhill) to Govan and the BBC's new Crystal Palace, which has its official opening bash this week. I won't be there as I have to go to Ullapool for the Loopallu festival. The picture, by the way, was taken by old pal Stewart Cunningham. When you hear the show today, that's where it will be coming from. Or at least, when I speak. The music's still played in from Aberdeen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Edwyn's return

Edwyn Collin's new CD Home Again is album of the week over at the Tom Morton Show, and excellent it is too. Recorded before Edwyn's two brain haemorrhages, his recovery has enabled him to finish and mix the record, and it contains some of his best solo work, I think.

My old friend and colleague Paul Tucker has made a wee documentary about Edwyn's recovery which goes out on BBC2 Scotland tomorrow night. I've just watched a DVD and found it profoundly moving and uplifting.

And to highlight the return of Mr Collins (who once gave me the most ferociously good-natured roasting I've ever experienced, over an Orange Juice review way back in the mid-80s), here's a wee YouTube tribute from a guy who sounds alarmingly like the great man, but isn't.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chicken Town

Dropped in on the E4+1 edition of The Sopranos tonight, and was completely swept up and away, despite my best attempts to abandon the telly and make tea.

How frigidly cool is the music? leaving aside the Alabama (A) 3's fabulous theme, so much of it reverberates still from past series - Nils Lofgren's Black Books took on a whole new life.

But to hear John Cooper Clarke's Chicken Town...good grief. I remember him at the Apollo supporting....was it a double bill with The Void Oids and the Police, or The Cramps and Elvis Costello?

And here we are...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pictures from Connect







So, this is/was Connect on the Saturday...featuring Dave and Lucy, Rilo Kiley, some mud, a little sunshine and me with The Hold Steady...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Silverwinging it


It's 25 years old, my wee Honda Silverwing, but it performed perfectly on the run from Clydebank to Aberdeen yesterday. Well, apart from the broken speedo cable, meaning that I had to guess my velocity from the movement of other traffic (I tried to keep somewhere between buses and Renault Clios).

But the rain stayed off, and so I arrived at Peggy Scott's wonderful cafe, just by Finavon, in one long V-twin bounce from the central belt, ready to eat my own bodyweight in cake. Which I did. Twice.

The joy of motorcycling comes from combinations of opposites: the proximity of death, and a feeling of absolute control. Constant vulnerability and a sense of being untouchable. Being absolutely in your environment (the smell of garlic as you race past the polytunnels near Liff, the tang of the sea, cut grass)and the power to overcome it. Unlike an acoustic motorbike, or pushbike, where it's all physical struggle (uphill) and reward (down).

Back in Shetland, and off the boat at 7.00am, biking's bad side hit me full force: in the northern isles, it's almost winter. Hands go numb, legs ache, lips dry, toes disappear. OPD (Other People's Driving) is, as usual in Shetland, appalling, with the usual quota of hungover verge-huggers. The brutal north westerly wind threatens to tear off my helmet. God help the little clutch of touring pushbikers who came off the ferry with me. They had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. Well, they ken noo.

Home, toast, coffee and two hours of thawing out. Where's the car? Oh no, it's at the airport!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Connected, disConnected, kebabed and generally thinking about the good and bad aspects of the Connect Festival

Phew!
Just wondering if the colossal amount of doner kebab Just consumed is going to kill me. (Not to self: double dose of pravastatin, atenelol and aspirin tonight)

Seemingly endless bus trip back from Inveraray (why go via Dalmally and Tyndrum? What was wrong with the Rest and Be Thankful as on the way up from Glasgow?) featuring two accidents (not to us) and a diversion via Dumbarton. But at least the driver dropped me off at The Botanic Gardens.

Incidentally, there was a splendid piece by Ian Jack in today's Guardian about Stefan King's plans to rebuild the old Botanic Gardens station. All the westenders protesting against the project should read it forthwith.

Right, so Connect: DF Concerts' 'boutique' festival at Inveraray, aimed at the thinking, drinking, older punter with cash to spend on massages and malts. A staggeringly good musical lineup (if you share my tastes), generally, though with some anomalies: why the dance tent? Few among the target audience care to shove their head inside one of those tarted-up Vauxhall Novas you hear blasting their windscreens out at traffic lights, and then bang their bonces violently against the dashboard - my interpretation of modern dance music; but then, I still find myself referring to 'discos'. And why Inveraray? Culzean was already (I imagine) booked up for Retrofest, but there are other castles nearer Glasgow. Castles less prone to wetness and with fewer big nasty trees.

(Note: my years in Shetland have left me with a dislike of trees when experienced en masse. in the isles, they're considered sinister, and probably a sign of trowie activity)

Still, the publicity was great, the press office helpful, and there were so many great bands playing, I decided to hop aboard the Citylink bus for a day's Connecting. And I was glad I did. I had a really great time, mainly because of the company (thanks, Dave and Lucy!) and the fact that, for the first time in years, I could have a wee festival drink. Also, the imbibing was civilised and excellent: The Loch Fyne Whisky Bar and the Ale Tent both offered magnificent, and cheap, pints and drams, albeit in plastic. And no need for tokens! The food, too was pretty good, though the HIE 'Highland food' tent was on the small side.

But the mud was awful, the weather patchily murky, and the distances having to be covered on foot seemed massive. The weather militated against some of the music, too: Vashti Bunyan was way out of context amid the drizzle, though it was delightful to see her. Emma Pollock, kicking things off at the 'Guitars and Other Machines' stage was terrific, benefitting from a sound mix which was consistently, throughout the day, far, far better than the so-called 'main' Oyster stage. The Hold Steady, on the Oyster stage, were a terrible disappointment - sloppy, hurried, full of mistakes and with a dreadful, murky sound. But they're huge favourite of mine and maybe I was expecting too much.

Back at the 'Guitars' field, Rilo Kiley were spellbindingly, jaw-droppingly magnificent. Jenny Lewis was dressed, it seemed, as a Playboy Bunny, minus ears. They were like a bitter and twisted Fleetwood Mac, circa Rumours, only with real lyrical depth, and it should be said, filth. Just wonderful. And next week's Tom Morton Show album of the week, if you're interested.

Apart from that, Bat for Lashes was an almost exact cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, Teenage Fanclub sounded exactly like Teenage Fanclub, and I had to go on what seemed like a 15-mile hike to catch the bus back to Glasgow. Glad that I wasn't camping (lots of complaints about the conditions, toilets etc) but sorry to miss the Sunday line-up, which is even better than today's.

So, in conclusion: Let's 'fess up, Geoff and DF: this is a carbon copy Belladrum, only nearer Glasgow. You've used your muscle to get one of the best lineups of bands I've ever seen advertised, but the mistakes made all seem to involve thinking you could just scale down T in the Park and add a few bells and whistles. Belladrum, remember, was a tiny event, the vision of one man, Joe Gibbs, in his own (large)garden, and it's grown organically (thanks, largely to Robert Hicks)over several years to its current, very comfortable, very sorted size. Trying to start at the size Belladrum is now was understandable (hey, after all, you're in the business of making money)but I think you have to learn how to do this kind of festival in a quite different way from T. This isn't shrink-to-fit. It's nurture and grow.

Having said that, and despite everything, I had a ball, obviously.

Thanks to Patrick Vickery for the interesting news that Belladrum's rocktastic Italian Garden was very nearly sold, a few years ago, as a site for organic gardening...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shooting off sooth again after a great week

Fantastic week with Sandy and Elaine here for a wee break before they head off to Malawi to work at the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic for six months.

Managed to get (supervised by Elaine) the clay pigeon launcher assembled and then it was an all-male trip to some deserted croftland to shoot those nasty clay suckers out of the sky. Fortunately Sandy knew a bit about shooting and was able to instruct us all in the basics: such as, standing so you don't get blown over backwards by the kick of an over-and-under 12-gauge.

Great meal at Busta on Tuesday, and Sandy and I cracked open my new bottle of 22-year old Clynelish, which will be the subject of a separate post over on Nippy Sweeties, in due course.

Now it's time to sleep, or try to. It's always a problem when there's the prospect of a 5.30am rise to catch the early flight to Aberdeen. Necessary as tomorrow we have The Proclaimers live in session on the show, in front of a highly select audience of listeners. Then it's off to Glasgow to tidy Magnus's flat after its major summer renovations, and before he and his pals return to 'study' or whatever it is they do at universities nowadays. I'm catching the boat back north on Sunday, hopefully with a Honda Silverwing motorcycle, but I'm keen to catch most of Saturday at the Connect Festival in Inveraray if I can. A lot will depend on the weather, but after The Hold Steady's disappointing latecomer set at T in the Park, it would be good to see them in full flight.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cycling in Shetland and insuring a 19-year-old

Three days in a row (seeing as Magnus, in his new post-driving test state of grace, has taken possession of the Berlingo) I have been cycling, which has been both very enjoyable and face-searingly sore.

It's the wind, you see. Even when it's calm in Shetland, it's windy. Our neighbour Bruce, no mean racing cyclist back in the day, describes meeting an experienced velocipedalist in tears on the Hillswick road, basically pedalling furiously against a headwind to stand still. Yesterday, three of us decided to cycle to Drew and Vivienne's barbecue/spit roast, a distance of about six miles. It was delightful on the way there, the wind at our backs, spinning along beside Ronas Voe like we were Tour De France riders pumped full of EPO and steroids. On the way back, though, it was a different story. You know the kind of wind that makes your teeth sore, and your hair ache?

Mind you, I felt less pain than I might have, having consumed two glasses of Rioja and some fantastic food. And while I would never drive in such a condition, I did feel able to wobble along on two wheels, being punished by the breeze for my indulgence.

And I felt a lot less pain than I did just a few minutes ago.

I was trying to get a quote for Magnus to drive an R-reg Audi A3 he's being lent for six months. A year's insurance, I was informed, was going to cost £2653.

I'm just going to tell him that he'll have to get on his bike.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dr Livingstone's excellent guide to turning your old LP tracks into MP3s

This was sent to the TM Show by listener DAVID LIVINGSTONE, after I mentioned on air the sudden popularity in dedicated 'USB turntables' for recording old vinyl albums onto your computer. This is how to do it for free, (almost) if you already have a record player. Cheers David! Pesonally, I use a SoundLab DLP32S deck with Stanton cartridge through a NAD amp and into a Philips CD-R recorder. Bang the CD onto iTunes and Bob Dylan's yer uncle!

Recording albums & stuff - D.I.Y
--------------------------------------

No need to buy a USB turntable if you already have a reasonable one in a
stereo separates system.

As you can't plug in a turntable into your PC directly, since the
cartridge normally only outputs a few mV (millivolts) which is not
enough to record from, it so needs to be amplified.

So to get a stronger signal, take a tap off the tape output phono leads
from the amp (or at the input to the cassette deck end) using phono
T-pieces (see pic attached) and then direct this to the line input of
your sound card in the PC, via standard phono leads. You can buy them up
to 10m in length on eBay.

The input socket on the sound card is probably a mini jack, so you'll
probably have to find a suitable - stereo phono to stereo mini jack
adapter - from Maplins, eBay, etc, etc. see below


Then using software like Audiograbber (free and a good MP3 ripper too),
Audacity or Goldwave, you can 'record' from the PC's line in source, and
tweak the levels (in the sound card's audio control panel or the Windows
mixer one) to get a reasonable sound level.


Of course, if you are recording an album from vinyl, it will be in real
time - ie the length of the record. And the WAV files are huge -
obviously getting on for a full 700 Mb (~70 mins) though, so plenty
memory helps.


Further refinements with software like Groovemechanic can clean up the
recording if you want, before splitting it up to MP3's.


A handy benefit of doing it this way, you can select the required source
on your amplifier - from the tuner, video, mic, auxiliary or other tape
deck, even minidisc, etc, etc as your input source and it works the same
way (ie it's the signal that would be recorded by the cassette machine)
and will be available as the Line In at the computer.


The Audiograbber programme is great - you can set it up to record from
the line in source with it's built in timer - as I've done on numerous
occasions with these Radio2 concerts on Saturday nights.


Just set a bit of an overlap, to start before and finish after the
concert - and it'll even shut down the PC on completing. So after a pint
out, you can come home to a file all ready to be burned onto CD.

Though doh, I've sometimes forgot to change the preset station on the
tuner to Radio 2, and so recorded 1 hour of Robbie Shepherd or similar
from Radio Scotland .....
(Tom says: "Thus educating yourself, David, in the excellence of Mr Shepherd's oeuvre")

Also, you can record from the BBC streaming 'Play it Again' facility,
with this software, things er--r like your programme, by changing and
setting your sound card to record from the 'Stereo Mix' source.

But the quality isn't the best especially at busy times with internet
congestion, etc. and you are always be best to record direct via the
radio tuner.


I don't know about the legality about all of this, but it's all for
personal use and as usual there is a whole industry and underground with
some very smart people out there ....... so destroy these electrons if
you chose to accept your mission. If I end up in the clink, you are an
accomplice.






phono to mini jack Adapter
http://snipurl.com/1o7ck
(well recommended and cheap eBay seller)


Audiograbber - free and basically a MP3 ripper
http://www.audiograbber.com-us.net/

(the real geeks don't use MP3 files, but FLAC, .ogg files etc, etc )


Goldwave audio file editor
http://www.goldwave.com/

but Audacity is a good free source equivalent
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/


And a very good plugin for Winamp, Windows media player, etc to improve
the sound of MP3s on PC's is DFX Audio Enhancer

http://www.fxsound.com/


Hope this hasn't done your head in!


Good luck.