Sunday, 15 November 2015

40 About the young idea

With my 1978 Xmas money, I bought my first album. 

At the time, I really loved the Cars, who had a number 3 hit with "My Best Friend's Girl".  Off on a spending spree, I gave my brother my money and asked him to buy me their album.  "What if they don't have it, he asked?"  "Just get me that other one our friend has been bringing round.  I quite like that."

Of course, the Cars album was sold out so he came home with my second choice.  It turned out to be the record that ignited my passion for a band that I still love to listen to. 

I was fanatical about the Jam and especially Paul Weller.  I smoked his brand of cigarette (Rothman's Kingsize, seen on the inside sleeve of the album) and avidly read his favourite author at the time (Alan Sillitoe).  I met Sillitoe at a book reading many years later and he laughed when I told him the story of how I came to find him.

Anyone who saw The Jam live will tell you, they were one hell of an outfit. They looked and sounded amazing and made an incredible amount of noise for a three piece.  But, they were more than that. Paul Weller crafted clever, opinionated, melodic songs that made me feel he was singing to me.  Or young people just like me.  As Paul Simon says - "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts". Weller felt like my punk and new wave hero. And not just mine.  Their star rose pretty quickly and they went from the lower reaches to regular chart toppers in only a few years.  Unfortunately for us fans, they didn't shine for very long.  Some of us were left bereft when Weller called it a day in '82.

Going out on a high was always his intention and, much as almost everyone criticised his decision, he's more than proved himself  with a successful career that takes him right up to today.  I believe, my first ever album, All Mod Cons, is some of his very best work.  

If you asked me the best song that's ever been written, I might tell you it's this. 

Earlier this year, I made a trip to London to see the Jam exhibition, About the Young Idea. Curated by Nikki Weller, Paul's sister and with lots of input from fans, it was sensational and took me right back to the late 70s, where it all began.  

I felt lucky.  Then and now.

I wonder if anything would've changed, had my brother brought the Cars album home...

Thursday, 12 November 2015

41 Mine

Released in October '78, this was the very first record I ever bought.  It felt exciting, buying and listening to my own vinyl, after only having access to my parent's stuff.  And what a start to my collection.  The first copies were pressed in pretty purple vinyl too and I was one of the lucky recipients.

We liked coloured vinyl, my big brother and me. Only a year older than me, he started buying records at roughly the same time.  He quickly became an avid collector. I remember Generation X released a single in four different colours and he bought all four. 

And he was fastidious - or disease level as I call it.  Each of the sleeves were packed away and he stored the singles, in alphabetical order of course, labelled and in cardboard sleeves.  He was a draughtsman to trade so I guess he was as careful, neat and tidy in his professional life too.  

We shared a room, with his record player between our beds.  We would spend hours playing our daft version of "name that tune".  With eyes closed (incase the colour of the vinyl gave it away) we'd have to name the song and the artist from the first few bars - you know how it works.  This was one of our favourite things to do.  Mostly, we'd love the record so much, we'd inevitably end up playing the whole song instead of just the intro.  No wonder hours and hours would pass with us doing nothing other than listening, singing and talking about music.  

Funnily enough, I'm still an absolute shark at name that tune games.  I wonder why......

I've never seen ELO live but I've just found out they're touring next year. It would be rude not to, don't you think.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

42 All the young dudes

Tuesday nights were Youth Club nights.  Fun, frolics and half an hour of dancing at the end of the night.  It was pretty much our favourite time of the week.

And ofcourse, there was plenty of posturing.  Trying to look cool and not too excited to see the boy you fancied that week.  If only those boys we were trying to impress had seen us an hour or two earlier. 

With an empty house, a piano and Neil Sedaka's Greatest Hits, my three best friends and I would clatter away at the piano and sing Sedaka's hits at the very top of our voices.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Oh, how I loved him.  And whenever I hear this song, it still makes me smile.  And I still love to sing it loudly.

Now that I'm an adult and work with youth workers, I should probably tell them that trying to do "issue based" stuff in a youth club setting is never going to go down well.  Kids are way too interested in being cool. Wasn't it always thus.  And, as it should be. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

43 Tooth Fairy

In 1975, when I was 9, I had to have  an operation to sort a problem with my teeth.  I remember trying hard to be brave but I was pretty nervous. I was going to be in a ward with private rooms, which I'd never seen before.

The week before, Derek Parlane, one of Rangers Football Club's star players, had broken his collarbone.  The nurse couldn't possibly have known I loved him! As she settled me into my room, she asked "Do you know Derek Parlane, the Rangers player?"  Excitedly, I said "Yes, he's my favourite footballer"  "Oh, well you'll be chuffed to know he was the last person to stay in this room, he left yesterday."

And I immediately felt better.  Derek Parlane had become my guardian angel - my tooth fairy.  The operation was a success and I was home a week later, with my ears pierced as a treat for being a very good girl.

This ofcourse had nothing to do with my life in music - or did it?  When I started thinking about my track for today,  as soon as I looked up the video on YouTube, Parlane sprung to my mind.  When I checked it out, the dates match.  The song was released at the end of September and Parlane and I were in hospital in November.   Spooky!

The universe, or perhaps the tooth fairy, is trying to tell me something.  I just don't know what yet.  

They do look rather alike though.....

Sunday, 8 November 2015

44. Let's hear it for the boys

I may have been only 7, but I think Donny and the Osmonds sparked my love of boy bands.  Way back in 1972.

I was on the fast train to swoonsville, via a row of perfect white teeth and jumpsuits and an emotional rendition of Puppy Love.

Gosh, I loved him.  We all did.  But, isn't that the point...?

45. Saturday night's for dancing.

It's Saturday - an excuse for dancing, as if I needed one.

My mum and dad's chums all had kids roughly the same age so many weekends were spent in someone's bedroom, jacked up on fizzy pop and sweeties, playing all kinds of daft games, while the adults partied in the lounge (or living room as we called it then.)

I liked it best when the party was in our house. My dad would wheel the telly into our room and our entertainment was complete. Ofcourse, I always had one ear on what was happening amongst the adults. As the music and voices got louder, I would be intoxicated by the sounds from the main event.

My love of the heady mix of music and dancing was born on these nights. And these are two of the very best from the party playlist.  It would appear I'm fond of a bit of male falsetto.

46. Growing up with U2

I first saw U2 34 years ago, in October 1981. I was 16 and it was one of my first live music experiences.  I was there with my gig buddies - my big brother and two others. It was in a small venue in Glasgow called Tiffany's ballroom.

All four of us were buzzing on the way home. We knew we'd seen something very special. What we didn't realise at the time was that Bono et al. would grow up to be the best band in the world. And not for nothing.  With great recorded output and a live show that I'd describe as peerless, they deserve to be at the very top of the musical tree.

They're back in Glasgow, as part of their 5 or 6 yearly world tour and for the first time in over 30 years, I missed the rush for tickets.   My chums don't come around that often and I feel sad that I won't see them.  Genuinely sad.  It's hard to explain,  but we've grown together, U2 and me.  Our journey has been different, but probably also very similar in large parts. And we've got history.  Over 30 years of history. 

Ofcourse, now I can experience them whenever I want, thanks to the miracle of the internet.  I've always believed Bono and U2 are way ahead of the curve, merging music and technology in really innovative ways.  But all the while, staying true to their roots as a first class rock band.  Their current outing is called the Experience World Tour.  Ofcourse it is....  And even although I missed out on a ticket, I can still be part of the experience.  Say what you want about them giving their last album away for free.  I thought it was a masterstroke and very much in keeping with who they are.  Generous, talented and innovative.  

Few bands divide opinion like U2 and it seems to be pretty unfashionable to love them. But a squillion people can't be wrong. And I've never cared much for fashion anyway.

All hail King Bono and his band of brothers.

47. Now I understand

Hands up if you know all of the words to American Pie? That'll be half of everybody who's 50, or thereabouts. As a 7 year old, I had no idea what 'drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry' meant, but I happily belted it out anyway.

From 1971, this album was a big favourite in our house.
But this is the song I really loved. And still do. Thoughtful, tuneful and sung quite beautifully live.

Van Gogh's work looks really interesting up close. There are a few in Kelvingrove Art Gallery, near where I live in Glasgow. Aren't we lucky, those who can experience this for free.

The older I get, the more interested I become in artists' views of the world.

Soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.
Now I understand....

48. A ride home with gentleman Jim

When I was a wee girl, my Granda had a Reliant Regal. It was the three wheeled predecessor to the Reliant Robin, made famous by Rodney and Del Boy Trotter, with a moulded fiberglass seat in the back. My Granda put cushions in for our comfort, but, pre seat belts and individual seats, it was a fun, white knuckle ride home.

It also had an 8 track cassette player and nothing but a Jim Reeves cassette. Just as well my big brother and me absolutely loved Jim Reeves.

We'd sit in the back, sliding from side to side with sheer glee, shouting "Bimbo granda, play Bimbo" "Bimbo granda, please, please, please!"

This is one of my favourite songs. Ever.

And ofcourse, gentleman Jim had the voice of an angel.  If someone sang this to me, I'm pretty sure I'd fall in love with him on the spot.

49. When I'm weary

Some of my earliest musical memories were made sitting at the foot of my mum and dad's radiogram, leafing through and playing their records. Little did I know how well they were teaching me and how much they would influence my future listening habits.
I loved the Simon and Garfunkel Greatest Hits album, always smiling because Paul Simon, with his long hair, reminded me of my dad. Pretty much every song is a classic and I can't listen to them without remembering him. We played this beautiful, haunting song at his funeral and it was a very moving and fitting tribute.
It did and still does, comfort me greatly.

50. Making me dance, sing and everything

I'm sure others will share this experience.  It feels like Rod Stewart is such a big part of my consciousness, whenever I hear his music, scores of memories come flooding back. I've no doubt, growing up in a musical household has been a defining feature in who I've become.  But more of that over the next 50 days.

Sounding as fresh now as it did in the early 70s, this is a masterpiece. And, oh my giddy aunt, Rod Stewart is cool as hell.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

My Life in Music

On December 21st 2015, I'll celebrate my 50th birthday.  One of my chums had the terrific idea of posting her top 50 songs, one each day, as she counted down to her 50th birthday earlier this year.  
I could never choose a top 50.  I think I'd even struggle to choose a top squillion.  But it is a great idea.  So I'm taking the opportunity to chart my life so far - a blistering soundtrack that instantly connects me to a life well lived, filled with happy, happy memories.

I'll be making 50 posts between now and then.  Sometimes just one song.  Sometimes an A side and a B side.  Sometimes a few tracks from an album.  Sometimes an artist.  Sometimes a genre.  But every time, something that's a significant  part of my life in music. 

I hope you tune in and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The world needs Christian Grey.

As I booked my ticket to see Fifty Shades of Grey, I was very much looking forward to my date with Christian Grey.  I had been left disappointed by our first encounter and was eager to find out if our second meeting would be an improvement.  I had reason to believe this would be the case.    

I was late to the Fifty Shades party, having bought the book and its two sequels long enough after they had become a sensation to expect a cracker of a read. Finding the idea interesting, I was eager to immerse myself in a story that I expected to be emotionally charged, erotic and pretty gripping.  In my head, I was already conjuring the developing relationship between the troubled man and the sexually naive young woman and looked forward to how it would play out in word form. Unfortunately, the books disappointed.  So much so, that I gave up part way through the second novel.   For me, a good book will put flesh on the bones of the characters I am imagining, helping me develop the story in my head.  Sometimes a story will follow a familiar path, but when it doesn't, it can be even more exciting.  I tried really hard with Fifty Shades, I wanted to finish the story completely and find out what happened.  I wanted their love for each other to overcome their difficulties but I was prepared to reach the climax of their journey and for that not to happen.  I was interested, I bought into their story.   I just couldn't connect with the way the characters were written.  

So I was delighted to hear about Fifty Shades, the movie.  This would give me another chance to see Christian and Anastasia's relationship unfold.  This time, hopefully, in a way that I could connect with. I love movies.  I love visual art.   When they announced the director, I was very excited.    

In 2004, I travelled to London, specifically to visit the National Portrait Gallery to see a brand new installation by one of the bright young Brit Artists - Sam Taylor Wood. Her commission was to produce a portrait of David Beckham, her work was a stroke of artistic genius.

How do you produce an interesting portrait of the most photographed man in the world? What could she show us that we haven't already seen?  

Taylor Wood explains:

"Making a portrait of a much-photographed man like David Beckham was a challenge. I wanted to create a direct, closely observed study. Filming while he was asleep produces a different view from the many familiar, public images".

What she produced was a 1 hour 7 minute long continuous loop of David Beckham asleep in an hotel room, after a football training session.  Her idea wasn't new. In 1963, the innovative, avant-garde artist, Andy Warhol,  had filmed his then lover, John Giorno,  in a 5 hour long film called Sleep.  I haven't seen Warhol's Sleep, so it would be unfair to comment.  However, David Beckham asleep is compelling, intimate, simple and quite beautiful.  What Taylor Wood did was show us an image of Beckham that we had never seen.  She celebrated his beauty and gave us access to, what felt like, Beckham in private.  Have a peek here

I was pretty sure that Sam Taylor Wood's Christian Grey would also be compelling and visually stunning.  But I wondered how she would handle the extremely sensitive nature of the portrayal of the relationship between dominant and submissive sexual partners.  And would she extend her intimate, simple and beautiful eye to the erotic - sprinkling it with her artistic fairy dust?

I think Taylor Wood did an admirable job.  The movie and the characters felt awkward at first and I wondered if that was by accident or by design.  So much was riding on this onscreen portrayal.  The world was watching - figuratively and literally.

What I saw on screen was two people falling in love and the constant struggle between them to understand what they both needed.  They are fully aware of their differences and the difficulties that continuing with their relationship would ensue, but they are incapable of leaving each other alone.  Christian is used to getting his own way and yet, with Anastasia, he makes what, for him, are monumental compromises.  He is a dominant sexual partner and has very definite ideas about what sex means.  But on learning she is a virgin, he makes sure her first full sexual experience is passionate, tender and gentle.  Like all women dream it will be.   I found this scene tasteful and rather moving.  Without doubt, his world of bondage, domination and sado-masochism is shocking to Anastasia but he guides her by the hand, little by little and, in his business like fashion, makes sure she is protected by contract and never has to do anything she hasn't first agreed to.   

Ofcourse, everyone was waiting with baited breath on the BDSM scenes.  As I had hoped, I thought they looked simple and beautiful, but much less shocking than I remember from the book.   What happened at this point made me sit up in my seat.  The audience, 99% women, reacted with huge peals of laughter. That wasn't what I expected.  All at once, the whole cinema seemed to be filled with an air of discomfort.  It reminded me of the way my daughter laughed when she was was in a situation where she didn't know what to do.  Nervous laughter.   

Perhaps we've expected too much from Fifty Shades.   

Sometimes books and movies not only tell stories, but champion causes.  They can give those involved a platform to express the political, social and cultural views they believe to be important.  Sometimes they can even be a force for good.   Sometimes.   However, I believe it doesn't have to be the job of the movie industry to challenge. Principally, their job is to entertain and Fifty Shades has certainly entertained me.   

Perhaps we've also been quick to judge. There are those who believe this story has glamorised exploitative, controlling relationships.  I believe abusive, controlling relationships are unhealthy and wouldn't want anyone I cared for to be part of one.  However,  two people in love, trying to come to terms with the challenges of being part of a different world and taking tentative, consenting, scary steps into the unknown - some of that unknown being sexual practices we may find distasteful - is a whole world away from abuse and control.  I think what's actually going on in Fifty Shades has perhaps been hijacked by those who seek to paint the relationship between Christian and Anastasia as abusive, simply because it's highly charged, challenging and teeters on the edge of what the majority find acceptable.  If you're not sure what I mean, check out the final scene in the movie and then tell me who is in charge. 

Perhaps those uncomfortable, giggling women in the cinema are the most interesting of all.  Enjoying erotica in the comfort of your own bedroom is one thing.  It would appear that enjoying erotica in public is quite something else.   Christian Grey was ready for us, but were we ready for him?  I think society in general and women in particular have a way to go before there is a collective understanding that having consensual sex, however you choose to have it, is surely OK.

Of course, relationships, sex and consent are much more complicated than one character in a movie, but we need Christian Grey.  We need characters who get under our skin, who challenge our notions of what we believe to be acceptable and who give us the motivation to think about stuff.    
Christian Grey could never have satisfied everyone.  Surely his only job was to satisfy the woman he loved.   And, from where I was sitting, he certainly tried hard to do just that. 

Now I'll have to read to the end, to find out what happens.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Theory of Everything

Today is Professor Stephen Hawking's 73rd birthday.  Stephen Hawking is a great man, a man famous the world over, a man who has outlived his Motor Neurone Disease prognosis by almost 50 years and who has devoted that time to scientific endeavour. That's the man we know.

This week I went to the movies to see The Theory of Everything - based on Jane Hawking's book of their life together.  It's already my favourite film of 2015.  Famous for quintessentially British films that satisfy a global audience, Working Title have done a splendid job with the story and have created something quite beautiful.  The cinematography, by Benoît Delhomme is terrific, making the stunning backdrop of Cambridge and the University, wonderful supporting characters.  And it's much easier to notice a bad score than a good one, but Jóhann Jóhannsson has also done an admirable job. The music is quiet, emotional and rousing in all the right places and is a perfect accompaniment to the action.

All three are cleverly woven to allow the main characters, Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking,  to shine like stars and shine they do.  Brightly circling each other from their first meeting, they bring the screen alive.  Charming and geeky, Hawking's first encounter with Jane at a university gathering in 1963 sees them talking all night about equations.  He excitedly tells her he believes there is one simple, elegant but elusive equation that explains everything in the universe and when she asks "what's the equation?" he replies "I'm not quite sure but I intend to find out".  The one equation that mattered that evening is Jane's phone number, which she gives him at the end of the evening.

Their next significant meeting sees them at the end of year University ball.  By the end of the night, scientist had fallen in love with artist as they danced under the stars.

Taken by his Professor to the lab where the ground work was done on splitting the atom, he immediately feels at home and sets to work, trying to find the equation that will prove the simple theory of everything.  It seems his life is mapped out in the stars.

A clumsy fall, hospital tests, a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease and a life expectancy of two years suddenly turn his world upside down.   With his own mortality staring him in the face, he realises the subject for his research will be time.  He sets to work on his equation.  Telling him she loves him and that they should be married and spend whatever time he has left, together, he tells Jane she has "leapt to a false conclusion".   To Jane, it's the only conclusion that makes sense. 

Somewhat underplayed in the movie, it's easy to underestimate what Stephen Hawking did in his field.  He turned the science behind black holes and our understanding of time, on its head.  

Redmayne, who is already tipped for an Oscar nomination, portrays Hawking's illness and deterioration brilliantly.  It's easy to forget it's real. The suffering, determination and brutality of Motor Neurone Disease are real and Hawking has experienced every last scene.  

All the while Jane loves him anyway.  She loves who he is, who he is becoming and who he will be. 

The years pass quickly, three children are born, significant others are added to the equation, their marriage breaks down and yet, the Hawkings always work it out.  

Hawking believes that quantum physics and the physics of relativity don't understand each other because they don't speak the same language.  His lifelong search for the simple, elegant equation is about seeking to understand and be understood.   

I believe he's found an answer.  It may not be the answer he's been looking for, but in the most fascinating and beautiful journey, Stephen and Jane Hawking have proved the theory of everything is simply and elegantly, love. 

I'm reminded of the magnificent movie Interstellar, which also shared themes of space, time, science and relationships, with love at its heart.   Sometimes the truth can be as magical and groundbreaking as fiction.  The Theory of Everything is a triumph. 

Happy, happy birthday Professor Hawking.  And thank you for the theory of everything.

Friday, 2 January 2015

A loving heart can handle the world

It's 2015 and, just like the start of 2014 and 2013, I've promised myself I will try and write, rather than just think. I spend plenty of time in my head, processing things I've read, seen or discussed and trying to make sense of it all. So, I'm going to start 2015 as I hope to continue, by writing stuff down and sharing it. For the last year, I've been keeping an online photo journal, which has been a really nice experience.  It's lovely to look back on and has hopefully given me the discipline I need to blog more often. 

It's at   

In November of last year, I spent a wonderful three weeks with my daughter, visiting relatives in Adelaide, South Australia.  On our way home to Glasgow, we stopped in Dubai for a few days.  I can't remember the last time I was so interested in somewhere - it was so different from anywhere I'd ever been and I was fascinated.  Fascinated by the architecture, the size of the place, how people behaved and how beautiful and interesting it all was.  
Following a visit to the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, we visited a traditional soukh, where I happened upon a few lovely little galleries.  I was drawn to the Islamic art and to one artist in particular.  The Iraqi artist and calligrapher, Wissam Shawkat, had much of his work exhibited.  It was wonderful to look at and I found myself reading about him and his influences. He has produced a beautiful series, Letters of Love, where he explored words about love and loving feelings - all created in his refined, contemporary calligraphic style. I bought a few pieces - of which the above picture is one.  

He has read and interpreted words of love from many other sources, including Khalil Gibran and Beethoven - whose words are the title of my post. It seems Beethoven was as talented a composer of words as he was of music.  We are all influenced by the outside and how we interpret it becomes part of our story.  And if we share that story with others, it becomes our contribution to the world of art.  

Art makes me stop and look.  And the looking turns into thinking.  I find it a multi-layered experience and one which I treasure.  Art helps me to make sense of the world and my world within it.  And for that I am truly thankful.  I look forward to many more journeys into the world of art this year. 

A loving heart can handle the world - thank you Wissam Shawkat and thank you Beethoven for your inspiration.  This will be one of my mantras for 2015.

all you need is love