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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Elephant Revival, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow : Celtic Connections, January 25, 2014.

Wrote this review but it wasn't needed. Thought I'd share it anyway. Terrific band,


The clock above the Old Fruitmarket stage always reads 8 o’clock, but it was over two and a half hours later that Elephant Revival stepped up for a timeless and glorious set that took us warmly into the next day.

The multi instrumentalists from Colorado play a swirling array of songs, sing in gorgeous harmony, and fly into fiery outbursts, led by Bridget Law, whose fiddle playing clearly demonstrates her association with The Battlefield Band and intimate musical Taransay connections. There was a heartfelt freedom and heart-warming feel to the instinctive playing of this quintet through flawless guitar, mandolin, fiddle, washboard, saw and more.

Remembering A Beginning from latest album, “These Changing Skies” brought us husky vocals with a slightly gypsy-backing feel for a refined, pleasing air. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Old Rogue River was a percussion-based, spiritual clap along, while Tam Lin Set, from last year’s seven-track mini album, “It’s Alive,” was typical of the spirited and earthy instrumentals that peppered the set list.

And washboard player, Bonnie Paine’s aching, splintered vocals were utterly beguiling, dazzling joyously in the less boisterous songs. This band is set for even bigger stages.

Sunday, October 27, 2013



Intense and brooding, fiery and calm, sparse but warm – the changing moods and tones of the Willard Grant Conspiracy musical catalogue embraces and captures an audience, and so it was at this show in the heart of Glasgow, thousands of miles from Robert Fisher’s High Sierra desert home in California.

Seated with viola player and long-time WGC compadre, David Michael Curry to his left and a film show playing over his right shoulder, Fisher induces rapt attention, either through his deep baritone vocals that fit his gothic-folk approach, earnest guitar strumming or jolly between-songs chat.

Not many artistes could claim to write songs in the stark space of the desert, as he’s done for latest release Ghost Republic on the mighty fine Loose Music label or, by contrast, in a fellow WGC member’s bathroom in the well-heeled Glasgow suburb of Bearsden. The latter occurred in the home of Malcolm Lindsay, who produced and arranged with Fisher the 2008 epic, Pilgrim Road and was, along with sometime WGC guitarist, Paul Tasker, in the audience here to witness their big-bearded chum in excellent heart and form.

Critics and fans viewed 2008’s Pilgrim Road as a ‘real’ follow-up to the miserly and death drenched, black veiled classic, Regard The End of 2003, and from its track list he dug out the splendid The Trials of Harrison Hayes and the menacingly eerie, Ghost of the Girl in the Well: “I'm the ghost of the girl in the well: I was trying to hide when my fingers slipped/In the darkness I cried and I cried/All my tears/Taken by the water.”

The dumb pop – Fisher’s description – of the glorious and swooning Soft Hand, minus the ‘woo-hoo, woo-hoo’ hook of the studio version this time round, is always a delight. With Curry’s viola swirling, creaking, scraping and churning so effectively as a foil to Fisher’s guitar and lyrics, the efforts from Ghost Republic – such as Perry Wallis and Rattle and Hiss – offered insights into the abandoned township at the heart of the album.

Desert scenes, starry skies and collaborative poetry ran on a makeshift screen but watching the musicians was hard to ignore.

WGC, and Robert Fisher, never lose style or composure in their spirited and thoughtful output. Thankfully, they can surprise but never discomfit listeners – their ability to be absorbing and darkly personal is, therefore, always deeply welcome.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013



He may only have been 26 years of age when he died 40 years ago this year, but what a fabulous songbook cosmic cowboy, the man in the nudie suit, Gram Parsons left behind.

The Grievous Angel’s music was celebrated in fine style at a sell-out Glasgow Americana Festival heartfelt tribute night, the final show of the five-day 2013 Festival, too – doing a couple of ‘Grams’ on stage took on a whole new meaning here.

Curated by Kevin Morris, the quiet man behind the Festival for the past seven years and whose Fallen Angels Club’s growing reputation is well-merited, this was a joyous session of songs, some of which have been covered by the biggest names in country music. It was a mighty fine way to spend an evening in a former church in Glasgow’s West End in the company of the converted.

The set list spilled forth with warmth and huge affection by those performing to
be lapped up by fans who have shared Parsons’ music over the years via the International Submarine Band, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and, of course, The Fallen Angels, Emmylou Harris included.

The work of the tortured artiste – whose “Cosmic American Music” mixed soul, country, rock and blues to influence countless bands and singer/songwriters over the past four decades to create what we call alt.country today, or Americana even – was moving, exhilarating and defied the passage of time.

Each performer clearly revered Parson’s songs and delivered versions that would make for an unforgettable album or DVD.

From Irishman, Ben Glover with his gorgeous and passionate Hickory Wind to Canadian duo, Madison Violet’s In My Hour Of Darkness, host-for-the-evening, Roddy Hart’s steely version of Sin City or the wonderfully laconic, James Grant whose Dead Flowers was riveting before he encouraged us to sing the chorus of You Don’t Miss The Water, but only if we stayed in tune.

The Parsonage Choir, named after the man himself, excelled in their cover of She with voices soaring, their pleasure from being involved so heartwarming to see. Return of the Grievous Angel was, not unexpectedly, the perfect finale with all the acts involved in the show on stage, except the choir.

As big fan, the one and only, Keith Richards once said: “Gram was everything you wanted in a singer and a songwriter….. and he could make the chicks cry.”

No-one was in tears but song after song on a memorable night reminded us of a wonderful talent for lyrics and melodies that continue to bring so much pleasure so long after his death.

• The performers were: Roddy Hart, Madison Violet, Ben Glover, James Grant, My Darling Clementine, The City Sinners, The Parsonage Choir.

Friday, August 17, 2012


The great races, triumphs, losses, medal winning scenes, opening and closing ceremonies helped make the Olympic Games in London so watchable. The BBC images were fantastic.

But I was determined to do a lot of listening, too, to the commentaries from the various venues and the more I did that, the more I was struck by their knowledge, understanding, insight, passion – and compassion. Particularly, in sports I barely watch such as basketball, show jumping, cycling, volleyball, gymnastics and table tennis where the commentary teams, whose names I don’t know, proved to be everything the so-called “experts” from my usual diet of televised football aren’t. That is to say, they were informative, interesting, amusing, genuinely involved and concerned for what was going on. They told me, unlike the puerile football pundits of this world, things I didn’t know, not repeating those actions I could see for myself.

Clearly, these unsung talents plan in depth for what they have to do, what they need to convey. Certainly, some carry the expertise from participating in certain sports so their observations and points of view have well-honed gravitas. But many will have done their homework and research, and it was evident.

In mainline sports such as tennis, John McEnroe deserves similar praise whereas the flagship football shows such as Match of the Day on BBC do not as this is a programme filled with asinine twaddle from a bunch of conceited dullards. (My views on the lamentable Lawrenson and shoddy Shearer are no secret. These two are among the worst.)

Equally, in PR terms, the best practitioners carry out proper research before going into a pitch or before offering advice of any kind to potential clients. The groundwork is vital. The homework essential. The concerted effort to stack up knowledge and relevant information that underpins any strategies is crucial. We study so we know what we are talking about. If we know hee-haw about jam making or re-usable food containers, then we find out what we can, and consult experts.

How else can a consultant or adviser operate properly? Minus a rock solid base of relevant information, we have empty words. How can one talk with any authority and hope to be as helpful as possible if the basic background preparations have been skimmed over or ignored? But, thankfully, most PRs I know are faultless in this regard, and I wouldn’t have expected anything else.

Clients entrust PR outfits with a great deal and pay for a good service to boot. That’s why research and analysis in the first instance pay dividends – it means a PR can go into any situation buoyed by information that can assist clients while not giving themselves, the PR that is, a showing up through a dismal lack of preparation.

Like the excellent commentators during the Olympics any success relies on the spadework at the beginning. Talk is cheap – real meaning needs a bit of effort.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sounds of 2012 So Far

Some tracks that have hit the spot for me this year - hope anyone tuning in finds something to enjoy, too.

As always, any suggestions for new sounds most welcome – and I'd be happy to hear any thoughts on this selection.


Thursday, December 29, 2011


It’s okay to cheat on my own blog, yes?

It’s end of year review time. I have to say I love the music-related “best ofs” that appear on so many outlets, off and online.

So – and here’s the cheating part – my top ten CDs of the year include two I don’t have in my collection but whose tracks I’ve listened to a lot thanks to the Internet. The “cheating” selections are Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me” and the Israel Nash Gripka offering “Barn Doors And Concrete Floors.”

Each of these albums is rewarding and hugely satisfying.

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven

Richmond Fontaine – The High Country

Israel Nash Gripka – Barn Doors And Concrete Floors

Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

Bubbling under Wilco with “The Whole Love,” Jonathan Wilson’s “Gentle Spirit” and, surprised myself with this one, the Elbow offering “Build A Rocket Boys.”

No cheating, however, when it comes to my top gigs of 2011 as I did attend them all, enjoying the glorious music while enduring the crowd talkers, grotty loos, venues where starting times are state secrets, and the antiseptic air of the all-seated, posh places.

If all these acts had been playing a second night, I’d have gone again, happily.


Gillian Welch/David Rawlings, The Armadillo
“Each and every one of their 22 songs was a highly polished, meaningful gem, delivered with poise, passion and delicious contentment.”

Israel Nash Gripka, Stereo
“A sweaty, barnstorming gig, bang on the money if you like roots rock hewn from musical goldmines where The Stones, Son Volt, Ryan Adams and even Crosby Stills and Nash have dug successfully.”

Band of Heathens, Classic Grand
“…utterly compelling as the Texans played song after song in an unfussy, but gripping manner.”

John Grant, St Andrew in the Square
“…an emotional, heart-warming performance with shards of black humour slicing through his sadness.”

Phosphorescent, Stereo
“ a band that blends the robust and the tender, and makes its audience smile all the way through, a real trick of the trade.”
David Olney/Sergio Webb, Laurie’s Bar
“…a magic gig that lasted over two hours. Another two would have had us equally entranced.”

Richmond Fontaine, Stereo
Gleefully and mercilessly intent on setting song moods to manic mode in many cases, RF retain an endearing ability to be rockers, hushed raconteurs and first-class Americana roots’ exponents.

Steve Earle, The Academy
“Leaving an Earle gig is always a bit of a wrench…never do you come away other than satisfied – and gratified that you get a masterclass each time.”

Giant Sand, 02 ABC2
“A shortage of great tracks is not a problem for dust-blown Gelb who can deliver them in any manner he chooses..”

Wilco, The Royal Concert Hall
“….truly on fire offering up a joyous mixture of wailing wig outs and dreamy, heartfelt mellowness.”

All live review snippets penned by me and available in full on the excellent americana-uk website.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Simpsons, Primal Scream and Theresa May

Do any of you remember the scene in The Simpsons where Bart is trying to train – hugely unsuccessfully – his dog, Santa’s Little Helper?

We see inside the pooch’s brain via screen bubbles and what man’s best friend is seeing or thinking is something like: “Blah, blah, good dog. Blah, blah, sit…..” Well, I confess, that’s the effect the political party conferences have on me.

The platform speakers’ speeches may well have been buffed and tweaked, re-worked and sleeked-up but the oily polemic has little or no impact on me. And when the leaders receive their so-contrived and well-rehearsed ovations I shake my head and cringe.

These are embarrassing occasions. As bad as Dad dancers at weddings. Earnest delegates nod sagely, some just nod off, others gravely take notes and try to ignore the TV cameras as they pan around the hall while upfront, centre stage, their leader is rattling on about this policy or that while sticking the knife into their opponents’ ideas. A real turn-off.

However, I actually tuned in by accident to Home Secretary, Theresa May’s speech. I was at the gym on the cross-trainer and had forgotten my iPod with the new Wilco and Laura Marling CDs on it, so stuck the headphones into the BBC channel as Coronation Street, speedway racing and some teen-angst drama were on the other screens, plus poor rap stars on MTV.

But I was in for a shock because it was so bad it was actually funny. The content, at times, was absurd, infantile. “The only cause of a crime is a criminal,” said May. No, really? Rain can you make you wet, you might want to know.

Then on human rights she said an illegal immigrant avoided deportation because of a pet cat. It made me mull over what headlines the tabloids would conjure up for that revelation but I’ll keep them to myself. Later it was revealed to be a totally inaccurate tale so that made Ms May’s oh-so-earnest delivery and assertion that she was “not making this up” an even bigger hoot. This was live telly at its most hilarious, if unintentionally.

As she shuffled off to the Primal Scream track “Rocks” she was about to get Bobby Gillespie and his merry band annoyed. They were none too chuffed with her song choice. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/oct/05/primal-scream-theresa-may-rocks?newsfeed=true

So what is the point of these political conferences, all of them, other than a jamboree for drinkies and a catch-up with chums you don’t see from one year to another? Surely, no-one is deluded by these stage-managed pantomimes or convinced that those reading from their tele-prompters have an ounce of sincerity other than to please and appeal to the party faithful attending?

Maybe the political commentators – and I am not one, I admit – would dismiss me as a lightweight in these matters and fair enough. But that doesn’t change my view that such gatherings – good as they might be for the local economy of wherever they are held – are no more than contrived, set-piece events where a lot of hot air is about all that’s delivered.