Thursday 31 May 2012

*New Scottish Portrait Gallery

I visited the recently refurbished Scottish Portrait Gallery a month back and left somewhat disappointed. It is housed in an imposing sandstone building that sits on the corner of Queen street and down from George Street.The gallery owns 3,000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 prints and drawings and 38,000 historic and modern photographs.

I can’t help but wonder that it’s location amidst the Hanoverian Edinburgh new town has affected the choice over whose portrait is considered important enough to be displayed in the new collection – rather than be stashed in it’s rather full basement. I wasn’t sure what I had expected after reading the hype but certainly a gallery proud of Scottish heritage and reflecting both Scottish traditions and Scottish contemporary artists with the main focus on portraiture. However many of the inclusions appear obscure.   

I went with my two older children and they were not impressed either. They thought the boring dark images of past kings and queen, who all look the same strangely, held no interest for them. My son was puzzled by the inclusion of a whole section of shiny and not very good photos of Asian families which he said seemed rather incongruous.  

The photographic images that stood out were - Mark Neville - Port Glasgow Town Hall Christmas Party 2004; Oscar Marzoroli - The Castlemilk Lads 1963, an iconic image by an Italian photographer; A Photo of Bob Dylan in Princes Street; the portrait of Robert Burns and of Mary Queen of Scots on the third floor.

The gallery celebrates many respected photographers, which is fine, but there lacks an emphasis on portraiture. Many of the most significant Scottish writers, poets, artists, and musicians appeared to be missing and the displays seemed ill thought out. I was puzzled by some of the inclusions as to why they were considered portraits at all.
Scottish Writers, Poets, Artists and Politicians Not on Display -  Liz Lochead (Scottish Makar), Carol Ann Duffy, Hamish Henderson, Norman McCaig, Sorely MacLean, Iain Crichton Smith, Jim Kelman, Alex Salmond, Gordon Brown...
Today I read an article in the Scotsman (below ) and agreed with so much of it. (Extract below) Lesley Riddoch points out that the Portrait gallery appears to focus on the Upper Classes and in this sense does not represent the inclusive forward thinking Scotland of today. 

THE National Portrait Gallery lacks images of Scots the general public would recognise or could name, writes Lesley Riddoch, May 2012
Is the Scottish Portrait Gallery capturing the zeitgeist of modern Scotland? Is it meant to?
Reaction to the gallery’s renovation has been overwhelmingly positive since it reopened at Christmas. There’s no question the building’s interior looks splendid – but what about the contents? I found myself mightily disappointed by the relative absence of modern Scots on display and slightly bored by the much larger areas given over to “imperial history.” Hey ho, I thought. That’s just me. 
But then last week, the genial giant and subversive sculptor George Wyllie died and I found myself thinking about his curious absence from our National Portrait Gallery. George was universally popular. With the Straw Locomotive, 80-foot Paper Boat, giant nappy pin outside the Glasgow Maternity Hospital and Walking Clock outside the bus station, George fused everyday life, industrial heritage and Glasgow humour together like a master welder.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Loss of Robin Gibb

The Enduring Songs of the Bee Gees

For a while ‘disco’ went out of fashion and so did the Bee Gees songs. They drew a lot of attention for their songs for the cult movie Saturday Night Fever in 1977 (Night Fever, More Than A Woman, Jive Talking, You Should be Dancing) and also for the movie Staying Alive in 1983.

But the caricature of Travolta in his white suit, while successful did little for the Bee Gees image, as Disco fever became passé with the advent of punk.
And so the Bee Gees began writing songs for other artists – the incredible ‘Islands in the Stream’ was covered by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers. Yet check the BeeGees own version which I much prefer.

I first heard the Bee Gees songs when Massachusetts, How Deep is Your Love, Gotta Get a Message To You were played at the end of Disco dance nights and I thought the close harmonies and powerful emotions of the songs really stood out.

If you check their back catalogue they have written so many unforgettable songs. Recently on YouTube I discovered some amazing clips from a concert the Bee Gees did in Las Vegas in 1997.  

Just two weeks back I found this song they wrote for Celine Dion ‘Immortality’, yet again I thought wow. 

They always knew the heart of the song, and they never over sang or over played their songs. Robin Gibb sang  Massachusetts and he had an awesome falsetto voice. He was such a great and unassuming talent.

(Robin's twin Maurice died in 2003. Robin is survived by older brother Barry Gibb.)

The Bee Gees have sold in excess of 200 million records worldwide. At least 2,500 artists have recorded their songs. Their most popular composition is "How Deep Is Your Love", with 400 versions by other artists in existence.
Among the artists who have covered their songs are Ardijah, Michael Bolton, Boyzone, Eric Clapton, Billy Corgan, Destiny's Child, Faith No More, Feist, The Flaming Lips, Al Green, Jinusean, Elton John, Tom Jones, Janis Joplin, Lulu, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone, Percy Sledge, Robert Smith, Take That, and John Frusciante. The band's music has also been sampled by dozens of hip hop artists.

Celine Dion ‘Immortality’

Friday 25 May 2012

*Great Scottish Bands

For such a small country Scotland has had an amazing number of very creative artists and scientists. People in countries like Japan think a lot of our indie music.  Here are some great Scottish bands in no particular order. These bands are still out there touring the world.

Biffy Clyro -

Primal Scream  -

Belle and Sebastian   -

Simple Minds -

Travis -

Deacon Blue -

Del Amitri -

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band -

Runrig -

King Creosote -

Frightened Rabbit -

Franz Ferdinand -

Battlefield band -

Mogwai  -

Sunday 20 May 2012

Fyfe Dangerfield

Admiral Fallow Photos King Tuts

I took photos of this up and coming Scottish band Admiral Fallow at King Tuts Glasgow - and I noticed how much fun they were having on stage. Oddly.  I was checking through my images of new Scottish musicians and posted this blog last night  - and low and behold they are releasing their second album "Tree Bursts In Snow" Monday 21st and getting good reviews. I'm getting psychic now!?  
Admiral Fallow formed in 2007 and is led by singer song-writer Louis Abbott and based in Glasgow. They write and perform folk/ pop. Their first album “Boots Met My Face” was released in the UK and worldwide in 2011. Their song "Squealing Pigs" was  used on NBC's Chuck, featured in a commercial and was performed live on BBC television's Hogmanay Live 2011.In July 2009 the band headlined the Sunday night T Break stage at T in the Park. They have also played at the Wee Chill, Rockness, Loopallu Festival and Insider festivals. The band has supported many artists - including Guillemots, King Creosote, the Futureheads, Paolo Nutini, Frightened Rabbit, Belle and Sebastian, The Low Anthem. In 2011 the band played a UK headline tour and also attended Austin, Texas for SxSW 2011. Shows followed in New York. UK summer 2011 festivals included Glastonbury, Latitude, Cambridge Folk Festival, Green Man, End of The Road. They co-headlined the HMV Next Big Thing Festival 2012 and are touring for their next album release 21 May 2012 of Tree Bursts In Snow. The band members are -. Louis Abbott, Kevin Brolly, Philip Hauge, Sarah Hayes, Joe Rattray. 

Wednesday 16 May 2012

*Where are the Troubadours?

Singer songwriter legend John Martyn, famous for 'May You Never'
'The highlight of my career? That's easy, Elvis recording one of my songs.' Bob Dylan. 

Our most loved singer song writers become like our best friends. 

In ages past there were Troubadours who toured their songs. It used to be (not so long ago too) that young artists would get out and perform on the circuit of live folk clubs, uni refectories and local bars in the UK and Europe and elsewhere. It used to be not so long ago that creativity was alive and well in the world of music. Back then it was all more organic rather than a production line. Musicians then played 'residencies' where they might hone their song craftsmanship through the varied experience of playing to a live audience. In the 50s singers toured with the Big bands and money was made through the Publishers Sheet music.

Since the advent of recorded music the Studio (and therefore Radio too) has taken precedence in music. Recorded music has led to a break down of boundaries of place and time and has also brought about vast changes to our tastes. The drums of Africa have mixed with the European folk tunes, the sitar with pop, the jazz clarinet with the violin solo, the rock of The Who with modern electronica.The advent of the iPod broadened our taste yet again with thousands of instant tracks. Of course 'quantity is the opposite of 'quality.'
There are problems now over who should define or select the great from the average. Who are the 'experts' in music anymore? There are the taste makers the Labels, the music reviewers and music websites. It used to be that the Royal Court would decide which artists to commission - who decides today?       

I read about writers and producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
They wrote - HoundDog, Stand By Me and many other great rock and roll hits. Yet how many have heard of these incredibly gifted artists? I don't understand the system at all and I am not an Elvis fan for a start - give me the singer songwriter any time. Apparently Elvis added the line to HoundDog 'Aint' nothing but a rabbit and he ain't no friend of mine.'
For me the voice of the writer of the song simply has more to say to me.

Quote from Mike Stoller, 'Beyond the brilliance of his mind and the mastery of his story telling, Jerry had in abundance two beautiful qualities that guaranteed his immortality. Jerry had spirit and Jerry had soul. '
'He could sing - and man, he sang as midnight. By the way he interpreted lyrics, we were sure he'd grown up in the same ghetto as us,' Quote vocalist Carl Gardener. 

It is only through knowing the 'knowledge' of the 'old' that the young can build something great. There are still some great Troubadours here in Scotland, who have great individual strength of character and something that matters to say in their voice, music and songs - Dick Gaughan, Michael Marra, Rab Noakes.... I'm just not sure where the young Troubadours are though?   

Folk Songs and Pop Tunes, ballads are ?

Folk songs may not grab you first time- but they get under your skin in a more subtle way and you never tire of them - unlike the simple pop tune. 

I'm always rather puzzled by the loosely defined definitions regarding songs or tunes between the genres. A song sung by a folk balladeer is a 'folk song' wheras a song sung by a pop star is a 'pop ballad.'
Folk singers and Dylan wrote and sang highly memorable 'folk ballads'. Some pop singers sing formulaic and forgettable 'ballads'. What is the difference though, after all I hear some dull folk songs as well as dull pop songs?  
The dictionary defines the Ballad as -  a narrative song with a recurrent refrain; a slow sentimental song, especially a pop song.
The folk song as - a song that has been handed down the generations; a modern song that reflects the folk idiom.

I was sitting at Prestwick airport and heard this truly awful whiny song. I asked my son who it was, he said that ridiculous Justin Beiber. I said that he reminded me of 'Donny Osmond' in the 70s and his soppy ballad 'They Call this Puppy Love'!   

Well that's the difference to me between the folk ballad and the 'soppy pop ballad'? That song by Beiber is a soppy shallow empty pop Ballad. By comparison Someone Like You by Adele is heart wrenching with it's honesty of emotion.    

Awful ballads? An example might be James Blunt's cheesy ballad song 'You Are Beautiful.'  It is so hackneyed and has those over-used tired old clichés and song formulas. My ears would feel ill on hearing this song and need to listen to some Dylan to feel better! 
Westlife ballads use those predictable key changes when the boys manage to rise up off their tall stools..... oh dear...

The soppy pop ballad is written to a formula and lacks emotional realness or any credibility. To me the difference is 'substance' and having something to say. Those unforgettable folk ballads offer new insights with imaginative and creative melodies and words. It is also in the music production.  
And sometimes 'cheesy' can be good too! 

The Best Songs
Occasionally a song comes along that transcend the personal as it has a universal emotion we can all recognise an share in. 
Good Examples - Let It Be, Imagine, Stand By Me, Here Comes The Sun, Case of You, Something, Islands in the Stream, Reason to Believe, Sound of Silence,

The Ballad of Hollis Brown 

Best Folk Songs
Westlin Winds
Outlaws and Dreamers
Both Sides the Tweed
Girl From the North Country
Vision of Joanna,
Who knows Where the Time Goes
The Blacksmith
Are you Going To Scarborough Fair 

Tuesday 15 May 2012


In Dylan I hear the train tracks
In his imagination he did ride those boxcars.
As his songs and words that take us to other countries
As vivid landscapes, new horizons fly past,
Strange countries peopled with characters we don't forget,
And visions that make it all sustainable... 

His Highway Blues -
'The one with the moustache says please.
The countess who pretends to care for him,
We see the empty cage not the road,
My conscience explodes! ' 

Sunday 13 May 2012

*Lana Del Rey's next single "National Anthem"

"National Anthem" written by Del Rey and The Nexus has been confirmed in May 2012 as Lana Del Rey's fourth single from her number one selling album "Born To Die" and will be released on July 9, 2012.  Del Rey filmed the official music video for the song in May 2012.
I noticed when Born To Die was released in January that the song National Anthem picked up good comments as being a favourite on blogs, youtube and elsewhere.  DIY Blog likened the song ‘National Anthem’ to the band All Saints and sees the song as a potential chart hit. Quote:” As a pop song, capable of breaking into the charts - and this is the context we should be putting Del Rey in… it’s a potential no.1 hit.” 
Quote Kicksnare blog – ‘Leak after demo after leak has hit the net. The latest ‘National Anthem’ is the first track to really catch me since ‘Video Games’….. Her beautiful and unique voice sometimes doesn’t seem to fit the tempo of her music, but ‘National Anthem’ is brilliant… Miss Del Rey, you have finally done it, I am under your spell.’
National Anthem VIDEO -
The music video for the song premiered on June 27, 2012 and depicts Del Rey as Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Onassis and A$AP Rocky as John F. Kennedy. Del Rey cited the video as "definitely the most beautiful thing" she's ever done. As of June 29, 2012, it has received over one and a half million views.

"Born To Die" is the major-label debut by American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey and was released on January 30, 2012 through Interscope Records and Stranger Records. Del Rey's first single from the album, “Video Games” received huge interest on Youtube, now with over 40m hits, and brought about the singer's popularity. Born to Die reached No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart and became one the fastest-selling albums of the year selling 116,745 copies, the biggest first-week sales of 2012.

Thursday 3 May 2012

*Head and Heart

Head and Heart were fun to shoot at the beautiful Oran Mor auditorium. They were supporting The Low Anthem last year.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

*Dick Gaughan Interview with Phil Cunningham

This photo of Gaughan was taken at Milngavie Folk Club in 2011
Dick Gaughan Interview with Phil Cunningham Radio Scotland March 2012
Dick chose five songs that have influenced him –
(1) Big Bill Broonzy – Glory of Love
(2) The Shadows – Apache
(3) The Beatles – Love Me Do
(4)  Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues
(5)  Davy Graham – 67

Gaughan talked about his musical influences. His chat is often profound, sometimes humorous and always entertaining.
He said that The Shadows were the first eclectic guitar group and that back then we were discovering all these new sounds for the first time. Before that nearly every American singer  seemed to be called ‘Frankie’ and sang songs about what it was like ‘to be a young lad at summer camp!’   
Gaughan said that ‘Love Me Do’ from the Beatles was another defining song.

He became obsessed with songs - he was like a magpie and studied songs at the National Library. In 1979 the Thatcher government made him first think about ‘why’ he was singing the songs and he became a political artist then. He said that Traditional music is about fair play, the totality of life and about the community.
Nowadays the barrage of media attempts to put forwards ‘one’ message he claimed and he likes to be part of what he calls the ‘awkward squad’ who are the grain of sand in the ointment and have other ways of looking at reality - and try to at least think about it!
He spoke about Dylan’s beautifully crafted songs that punched out images such as ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Gaughan played with Aly Bain’s Boys of the Lough and a punk band called Five Hand Reel. Like many others on the folkscene back then he developed a drink problem and then he had a breakdown. He had to clean up and dry up.
Lastly he talked about Davy Graham’s guitar which was tuned differently. His musical ideas were unbelievably creative - he was predictably unpredictable!  Hearing Graham's guitar it becomes clear where Gaughan had learned his distinctive playing style from. His list of favourite song choices is interesting too and shows the breadth of his roots in both traditions and more contemporary musical styles. 

Gaughan is best known for singing the songs Both Sides the Tweed and Westlin’ Winds. 
Some very few artists have the ability to transport and transcend the moment, and Dick does so with forceful guitar playing and classic traditional songs with a strong message and a deep expressive, growling voice.  He draws from both Irish and Scottish folk traditions. I first heard Gaughan play in the 70s in Edinburgh when I was dating a folk guitarist who raved about how incredible and very distinctive his playing was. Many years later (after being in America for nearly ten years and having three children) I heard Dick again at Milngavie Folk club in 2007, and this was an intimate gig where his chat between songs was worth going for alone. In his own so distinctive style, Gaughan hammers and speaks with his acoustic guitar. He performs traditional folk tunes, Robert Burns, favourite cover songs and his own songs.
He doesn't play the predictable smoothed-over sugar box 'tartan shortbread' songs - and he may not be to everyone's taste. Gaughan is plain spoken and holds firmly held beliefs on the rights of everyman and at one time he took past folk stories and songs from the library archives and put new melodies to them. You come away from his gigs questioning but ultimately renewed in the faith of our shared humanity. Dick Gaughan is a Scottish living legend, and he usually performs every January at 'Celtic Connections' Glasgow.