Thursday, 30 April 2015

Scottish summer festivals 2015

 - Party at the Palace, Linlithgow -  8th to 9th August. Headliners - Travis, Nile Rodgers, Julie Fowlis, Justin Currie, The Feeling, 

- The Stopover Festival, Rothiemurchus Cairngorms (NEW) - 31st July and 1st August.  Headlined by Mumford & Sons and their new album. Also with Primal Scream, The Maccabees, Ben Howard, Lianne La Havas and Honeyblood will also be performing at the 25,000-ticket event.

Boswell Book Festival -  the World's Only Festival of Biography and Memoir. May 10th at Dumfries house  Ayrshire. Jung Chang, author of international bestseller Wild Swans (yet to be published in China) will talk about her remarkable life, family and works. Plus many more authors.
'Moa ordered the flowers pulled up from the ground; Empress Cixi wore them in her hair.'

- Mugstock Festival (new), at Mugdock country park north of Milngavie - 7th to 9th August.  Orkestra del Sol, Preston Reid, Siohban Wilson.

- Pittenweem Arts festival, 1st to 19th August.


Other festivals include  -  Belladrum Tartan heart festival 6th - 8th August west of Inverness.  Kaiser Chiefs, Manic Street Preacher, Proclaimers.

 Wickerman in Ayrshire with the Waterboys. Sadly no Rockness in 2015. 

T In The Park, the biggest weekend Scottish summer festival, has now moved to a new site at Strathallan Castle, while there are problems with ospreys nests.


Poet Robert Fergusson

Robert Burns wrote of Robert Fergusson - 'My elder brother in misfortune, By far my elder brother in the muse.'

When Burns first arrived in Edinburgh in 1787, after two days pony ride, he went to find Fergusson's grave in the Canongate graveyard and he found there was no grave for his poetic mentor and so he paid what money he had to lay a commemorative stone of his own design on his grave.  When Burns first read Fergusson’s poems in the Scots dialect, he realised that he too might write in this way.

In a recent TV documentary author Andrew O'Hagan said that - ' without Burns we might never have known about Robert Fergusson and without Fergusson there might never have been our national bard Robert Burns.'

Unlike Burns, Fergusson was well connected and highly educated.  Fergusson was tutored at home and at fourteen he gained a bursary to a Dundee Grammar school. After which Fergusson attended St Andrews university to study Maths and Philosophy. Scotland believed in offering all a good education as a route out of poverty and so boys could read and interpret the Bible.

When he returned to Edinburgh, at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment, he worked as a legal copyist and he was part of the literary circle in Edinburgh called the Cape Club.  He began to write poems about the Edinburgh people and he wrote some poems in the Scottish dialect.  He had poems published in Walter Ruddiman's Weekly Review. His masterpiece is a poem entitled Auld Reekie.

He had his one poetry book published in 1773. Then his poems stopped and after he had a fall he was committed. Shortly after he died at the young age of 24.   

Fergusson is one of 16 poets depicted on the Scott Monument and he appears beside Robert Burns.  Several of Burn's work has traces of the impact of Fergusson's work - 'Leith Races' was a model for Burn's 'Holy Fair'; 'On Seeing a Butterfly' has similarities to 'To a Mouse'. 

Clare Maguire

I saw a fun very young singer songwriter Clare Maguire supporting the pop duo Hurts at the Oran Mor in 2011. She was wearing quite an outlandish scarlett outfit and head dress and sang with a big voice. She is now being touted as the new Adele. In a recent article in the Sunday Times magazine, Clare says she was unhappy with the ‘image’ the Label gave her  - of an emo power ballad singer - now she sings her own style of soul, pop and funk and has her own brand of indie style.  

My 2011 blog -

So many young singers can get Label attention and then nothing happens. Interesting to hear she now at 27 gaining attention at Burberry Fashion shows no less, via Christopher Bailey who likes to showcase new musical talent.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Record Store Day

Support Record store day 18th April - wonderful one off specials and vinyls and more! Seasick Steve at Love Music record store Glasgow.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Shires Oran Mor

The Shires entertained us with big-hearted memorable songs and warm smiles!
I first noticed The Shires single on radio Scotland a few months ago, for its strong melody and vocals and upbeat vibes.
 After only a few shows things have taken off for the pair and they were signed to Decca Records in 2014 and to Universal Music Nashville, The Shires are singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes.

The audience were all ages here tonight in the busy hot venue. They started their set tonight with the energetic fun of their debut single 'Nashville Grey Skies'. They followed their upbeat opening tunes - Ben took the tempo down on piano with some touching country ballads  - 'Think I'm Falling in love with you', 'Statements' (their next single), 'Let Me Be The One' and Made in England.’.

After which they took the energy up with several country rock pleasers and their single 'Friday Night' had the packed audience singing along. For their last song 'Tonight' – ‘Your mine I'm Yours’, they divided us into two sections to sing the two parts and they were thrilled on their return on stage for their encore to be greeted with the audience singing the song back for them!    

For the encore they sang 'When It's Real Love' the first song Ben played for Crissie and a popular cover of the Bee Gees love song 'Islands in the Stream'. 

Crissie looked the part with her golden locks and she sang with pure country tones and strong harmonies that added that extra sparkle. Ben is a touching, smooth musician and songwriter who made it all feel effortless. This duo has songs people remember. The Shires are the first ever UK country act to be signed to a major Nashville label. Their debut album Brave in 2015 made the UK top ten.   

*This was a two for the price of one event and the show was started by another fun country duo on guitars - two entertaining Americans John and Jacob, who had the crowd cheering and dancing along. They played with pumping guitars, some well chosen covers and their own songs. They are hit-making Nashvillle songwriters and their new singles have attracted Radio 2 airplay. Worth watching out for these guys too!

There appears to be a resurgence in interest in country music today. It has shaken off its over-produced days and gone back to basics with more authentic, striped back arrangements. My favourite country musician is Jerry Douglas, who is such an expressive and dynamic player of the resonator guitar and he plays at Celtic Connections here every January. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Ladies of Laurel Canyon

There was a new freedom for women, the women were being reborn in the 60s and 70s.  (In the UK education for women began in the late 19th century and from 1892 Scottish universities admitted women students when St Andrews pioneered with an arts degree. ) Then came the introduction of the The Pill - first approved in 1960 in the US - brought tremendous gains for women’s freedoms and led them to feel they could achieve outside the home.

In an excellent Vanity Fear article in March 2015 with quotes from many of the players of Laurel Canyon, it was interesting to read that the women were the heart of this new movement in music in California. The core players were Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass Elliott, when musicians descended on their homes. Joni lived at first in a street called Lookout Mountain.

Other women of the new movement  were - Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Michelle Phillips, Maria Maldaur, Carole King, Emmylou Harris. According to Michelle Phillips said that ‘The women actually held that whole scene up there together. The Troubadour venue was also a main place to hang out.

The most talented musician of them all was Joni Mitchell. David Crosby discovered her singing in Florida and brought her back to California – he writes that she was not only the best songwriter of them all, but also the best musician.

Joni Mitchell & David Crosby

The California sound blended together a mix of folk and psychedelic rock.  – of blues, rock n roll, Latin, country, psychedelia, bluegrass, folk – and the forerunner of today's Americana sound. 'The vibe of that music, the way it makes you feel when you’re driving in a car – it’s a landscape. ‘ Adam Levine of Maroon 5.
At this time the draft for the Vietnam war sent many Americans up to Canada and brought the Canadians down to the US – such as Neil Young and Joni.
The Mamas and the Papas
The big guns were the two talent scouts from New York  David Geffen and Robert Elliot who were also young and hungry for the new scene here. Within a few years they started Geffen-Roberts management and made 3m a year. Geffen began his record label Asylum Records. Robert managed Neil, CSN, Joni.  

 When two guys (Glen Frey and Don Henley) were asked to be Linda Ronstadt’s backing singers on tour, they were busy watching, learning and taking notes of the big guys Crosby Stills and Nash (CSN), Poco and others bands developing the four part harmony country rock. They became The Eagles and were ultimately bigger than anyone.
‘We watched what they did right and what they did wrong.’ The Eagles were also about both the music and the business.

In the end movements shine only for a short time and the magic of the hillside canyon was changed  eventually.
First of all by drugs – while pot and psychedelia had fuelled creativity but when they turned to cocaine and heroin, everything changed.

According to Phillips the summers of free love came to an sudden end with the Manson murders in '69 – and after that everything changed. ‘The nail in the coffin of the freewheelin, let’s get high, everybody's welcome – I never invited anybody over to my house again after that.’
Carole King
New artists today influenced by and following on from these sounds – singer songwriter Laura Marling, LA band Haim, Dawes, Wilco, Mumford, the Avett Brothers  and others.
Crosby, Stills & Nash

Scenes aren’t meant to last. They sparkle with activity, flourish then burn out. The California music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s fell apart because of drugs, money, success. Altamont, money, drugs, burnout and new musical trends.’ Vanity Fair. April 1015.
Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Finlay MacDonald

Recently Scottish musician and composer Phil Cunningham presented a fascinating 2 part TV program on the Pipes called 'Pipe Dreams'. He travelled to hear pipes and pipers play worldwide - from Ireland to India. – to inspire his new composition for the pipes. 

In January I attended the brilliant opening concert of Celtic Connections 2015 - the orchestral debut of Scottish piper Martyn Bennett’s last album GRIT. The range of dynamics , tones, energy, emotions, fun – play the tune on the chanter!

I wrote in my review of the music - This album offers a musical journey - producing pounding bass rhythms, hesitant strings, gradual and also unexpected crescendos, brass epic grandeur, haunting Gaelic voices, thematic stirring pipes and also humour. The Grit album is about pushing the boundaries and limitations.

Liam O’Flynn of the Irish folk band Planxty, who plays the uilleann pipes, spoke of the importance of valuing traditions, ‘ To find a secure place to be part of a tradition. Hard won thing to be part of a tradition and its important to be aware of that.’

The uilleann pipes, have a lovely colour and emotion
In the 50s there were only abut 100 players and today there are over 6,000 players of the uilleann pipes worldwide. 

At a Canadian pipe school the children were told, ‘We hope you have fun and work hard – fun and work - .work WINS, fun never wins!  Excellent instruction!