Friday, December 18, 2009

2009 Review

Reviews of the year and the decade are everywhere – here’s another, my own personal end of year list offering.

It gives a flavour of what I’ve enjoyed musically - live and on record - over the past 12 months, what I’ve read with pleasure, what I’ve watched on TV (not a lot) or on DVD.

I’ve not been to the cinema for six years so no one-two-three choices there and the last time I took a seat in a theatre was over a year ago for a panto, featuring my actor son, Steven Rae (very good he and it was, too.)

So, starting with CDs:

1 - Oh My God Charlie Darwin by The Low Anthem: a mix of mournful folk songs and blood-and-guts stompers.

2 - Yonder is The Clock by The Felice Brothers: inventive tales set to music that is well-crafted and full of life.

3 - Cotton by Sam Baker: lyrically superb and heart-warming from a bomb blast survivor, who is brilliant live.

Commended: Fork In the Road by Neil Young; We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River by Richmond Fontaine; Years of Refusal by Morrissey.


GIGS


1 - Neil Young, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre – followed up Edinburgh master class gig of 2008 with this utterly, spine-tingling set of wondrous rock and tender interludes. Fantastic.

2 – James McMurtry and The Heartless Bastards, Oran Mor, Glasgow - politically-edged songs with an unrivalled rootsy, blues-laden, sidewalk swagger.

3 – Mark E Smith and The Fall, The Ferry, Glasgow – totally mesmerising despite indecipherable lyrics moulded on to relentless, pounding white noise punk.

Commended: The Handsome Family, The Tron, Glasgow; Mark Olson/Gary Louris, Darvel Music Festival; Morrissey, Barrowland, Glasgow.

BOOKS (not necessarily published in 2009):

1 - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

2 - The Terrorists by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall

3 - Swan Peak by James Lee Burke


All good, engrossing, cleverly plotted reads with interesting characters. As the authors named in the first two show, have been delving into Scandinavian cop thrillers – thoroughly recommended.

Commended: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson; When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

DVD

1 - The Wire - astounding and outstanding.

2 - The Sopranos – gripping to the very end.

TV

1 - Thomas The Tank Engine

2 - Peppa Pig

3 - Giggle Bits

Three-year-old son, Adam rules the remote so these are shows I’ve seen most in 2009. Although I have enjoyed Gavin & Stacey, Gary Tank Commander and various BBC4 music documentaries, thanks to iPlayer.

Happy to hear your “best of” while looking forward to what 2010 brings.

Monday, December 07, 2009

CRAZY TITLES

Loaded with the flu so brain cells functioning less than expertly at the moment. But they, the cells, that is, have been thinking about album titles. No idea why.

Maybe it was because I was looking through some “best of” album lists and was slightly tongue-tied by American group Grizzly Bear’s “Veckatimest”, named after a small island in Massachusetts, seemingly. Doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue but it makes sense, unlike the one from a Danish band called MEW, whose work I am not familiar with. Their latest album title is a hoot:
“No more stories are told today I'm sorry they washed away No more stories the world is grey I'm tired let's wash away.” Bonkers.

But not half as crazy a title as that from American singer, Fiona Apple, who has a CD titled: “When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king
What he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight
 And he'll win the whole thing 'fore he enters the ring
 There's no body to batter when your mind is your might
So when you go solo, you hold your own hand
 And remember that depth is the greatest of heights
 And if you know where you stand, then you know where to land
 And if you fall it won't matter, cuz you'll know that you're right.” Touch of the Eric Cantona’s there, no?

There’s probably an explanation but life’s too short and all that and the same goes for “Oh Me Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit” by American singer/songwriter, Devendra Banhart.

I was raised on the simplicity of Led Zeppelin I, II, III and IV but on closer examination my musical youth is dotted with dotty titles such as:

“Weasels Ripped My Flesh” – Frank Zappa
“Swordfishtrombones” – Tom Waits
“Trout Mask Replica” – Captain Beefheart.
“Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy” – The Who
“Brain Salad Surgery” – ELP
“Thick As A Brick” – Jethro Tull.

And the just re-released and wonderful “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” by Spiritualized, is a favourite of mine. If anyone cares to tell me their “weird” favourites that would be fun.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On The Personality Trail

Low, high, low, medium, medium.

What am I talking about? No, not gas oven levels for cooking but personality. Specifically, my personality (no sniggering, please, or snide comments about a personality by-pass, thank you.)

Yes, you might be interested to learn that I’ve been a digital lab rat and completed the BBC’s Big Personality Test https://www.bbc.co.uk/labuk/experiments/personality/

This looks at our “Big Five” traits of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Scientists refer to these as “your unique personality fingerprint.”

It was all quite painless really - an online survey with loads and loads of questions to answer as honestly and openly as possible. If you want to duck some of them you can – I went the whole hog although the education questions do not reflect the Scottish system I passed through.

Others could be considered a bit too intrusive, too, but people can decide whether or not to respond to those.

The test, the testers suggest, is designed to answer the question: do our personalities shape our lives, or do our lives shape our personalities?

My results revealed the following:

Openness - low, 3 out of 5. (Thought I would score higher.)

Conscientiousness - high, 4.2 out of 5. (I am certainly that.)

Extroversion - low, 2.8 out of 5. (Yep, sounds about right.)

Agreeableness - medium, 3.4 out of 5. (Again, thought I’d rate higher.)

Neuroticism – medium, 3 out of 5. (Should I be worried?)

I also scored 6.2 out of 7 on life satisfaction; 4.4 out of 5 on relationships; 5 out of 5 on job satisfaction; 82.5 out of 100 on health: just why the “out of” figures change is beyond me.

I’ll not delve any further into details but if you fancy taking the test, you might find it as intriguing as I did. Some feedback was spot-on and I agreed with, some I doubted such as the “openness” trait result, which irritated/surprised me somewhat.

But I guess we all have views on ourselves, how we are with others, how we want others to see us, how we work, rest and play. Don’t we?

It’s been far from a life-changing moment for me - I don’t think that’s the purpose – but nevertheless a worthwhile exercise, a bit of fun one could say.

It would be interesting to hear what others think once they’ve completed the test.

* The results of the Big Personality Test will be presented in a special series of BBC One’s Child of Our Time, which will go out in Spring/Summer 2010.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NEEDLED

Swine flu immunisation programmes are a headline hogger at the moment.

But it’s the news bulletins on this issue I’d like to comment on. Please be assured this is not a flippant blog on a serious health matter.

Essentially, the information being provided is balanced and helpful - but why do TV news programme have to show close-up images of patients being injected?

For needle phobics - or wimps, if you prefer like me - it’s just too graphic. It’s why any TV medical dramas or fly-on-the-wall documentaries are a no-watch area for me. Now it’s perfectly understandable why Casualty and ER-type TV soaps or medical-themed films include people being jabbed. That’s fine, because I can elect not to watch.

But TV news catches me on the hop when there are items about drug deaths, flu jags and now swine flu. Of course, words and images need to be matched up on telly, but we know what sticking a needle in someone’s arm is like, don’t we?

If someone choked to death on a peanut, would we have to be shown a peanut? Come to think of it, one tabloid newspaper did such a thing on one occasion.

Newsreaders, when introducing some items, frequently say: “The following report contains some flash photography.” So maybe, for the benefit of faint hearts like me, there could also be a warning, when necessary: “The following report has graphic scenes of people being injected with a hypodermic syringe.”

I have a deep-seated fear of needles and I just have to live with it. It presents problems such as preventing me from being a blood donor, though curiously I used to be one in my late teens and early 20s.

It’s doubtful that news presentation of vaccinations etc will change so my eyes will have to stay shut - or I’ll just look away quickly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

TAKE YOUR TIME

TIME is a four-letter word.

There’s not enough of it in the day, we observe often, unless you’re a Dr Who-like Time Lord.

But I noticed a recent and interesting survey -http://www.indesit.co.uk/indesit/2/prime_tina/index.html - saying that the average Scot would like an extra 104 minutes a day to find time for family, friends and fitness.

One Hundred and Four Minutes - that’s longer than a football match, about three CDs worth, a normal telephone call between my wife and her sister, or five episodes of The Simpsons, roughly.

In Glasgow, according to the survey, we would like an extra 95 minutes every day while our good neighbours along the M8 in Edinburgh would welcome an additional 113.

Because of increasing work and business commitments, free time is crucial so what do you think you would do with that “extra” time each day if you had it?

Sleep would be the quick answer in our household given our darling, three-year-old son, Adam’s unpredictability when it comes to going to bed and sleeping through. If that were resolved, the mythical “extra” time would be great for my wife, Maggie and I to unwind, watch a DVD film (I think I remember them) or laze around and chat.

At weekends, the “extra” time could be spent with Adam as he explores his world, creating games and lots of happiness, as well as fitting in visits to or from friends.

Selfishly, I would try to listen to more music, live or recorded - at the moment there are four unopened CDs on my desk, one has been there for over a month. Reading more would be great, too. Mastering social media more quickly and confidently would also be high on my agenda.

The survey is a clever way for Indesit to plug its “time-saving” products with an actor from Coronation Street at the helm and, as a PR chap, I applaud the company and its brains behind this project.

Finally, I don’t like to think I’m wasting precious minutes writing on this topic. So, if anyone reading this has the spare time - I know, what’s that? - I’d be interested to learn how others might use any “extra” time in their day-to-day lives.

Friday, November 06, 2009

TOP TRACKS

THREE additions to my record collection this year are in the running for the Uncut music magazine’s Album of the Year 2009 award. These are:

The Low Anthem – Oh My God Charlie Darwin
Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life.

I enjoyed the first of this trio the most and am looking forward to their Celtic Connections’ gig in Glasgow in January. So I hope they win the title as I feel the album is an intriguing mix of styles – from a Tom Waits’ cover, torched tonsils and all, to the Arcade Fire to any delicate, lo-fi, close harmony trio you can think of. Not sure who will win.

Predicting a winner is difficult especially when I’ve not heard all the albums fully. For the judges, too, it’s a real challenge. Being on such a judging panel would be a dream gig for me.

One thing for certain, the final decision definitely won’t please everyone. Disagreement is part of the fun of such lists and contests.

Singer/songwriter, Ricky Ross cheekily wrote on a recent blog: “It is only the sad, old or young male that does lists…..” Obviously, I don’t share his view but, graciously, he permitted me, as a fellow Dundee United Arab, to reply: “As for lists – I am a sucker, always have been. They are fun, provocative in a non-combat way.”

Don’t know when the Uncut results are coming out but I’ll wait until they are revealed – and then I’ll do my own “best of” list for 2009, to amuse myself if no-one else.

On the other hand, any feedback - plus your own “best ofs” - would be welcome and most interesting in due course.

The other five contenders for Uncut’s award are:

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Kings of Leon – Only By The Night

Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

www.uncut.co.uk has more.

Monday, November 02, 2009

No Reply

I have been quite taken aback recently about the attitude of some businesses to the prospect of potential new work. It astonishes me how sloppy some are when new opportunities arise.

I have been looking to discuss the staging of a charity event on behalf of one of my clients with companies offering that expertise. Responding to messages in email and voicemail format, clearly, doesn't seem to be a priority for a few companies.

Several have yet to respond to my inquiries, lodged two weeks ago. If they are too busy, I’m pleased for them, but I’m busy, too, and I’ve been making return calls to prospective new clients. I’m delighted they are considering using my services.

A courtesy call or an email to say ‘we can't take on new work’ is preferable to a stony silence any day.

Basically, it's a form of the rudeness in my book.

Can businesses afford to ignore potential new income? I very much doubt it.

To those who have replied to my specific inquiry, I thank you.

And I WILL be in touch.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Booking Time To Read

I am a great admirer of people who have time to read books for a second time or even more. This has come to mind as my wife, Maggie is undertaking a creative writing course and her reading list includes many titles she has read previously.

As a slow, very slow reader, I have rarely re-read a book with a few exceptions: “Kidnapped”; “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Shakey,” the Neil Young biography spring to mind.

I do love books but bedtime reading is hopeless as I get through a few pages before falling asleep. So, the next day when I pick up a book again, I have to go back over the pages I read. I can’t skip over passages or words as I hate to think of an author slaving away with text and plots for me to pay them less than full attention.

On holiday, Maggie - somehow despite the demands of our lively three-year-old son, Adam - managed three books during the 12-day break. I think I read about three chapters, if that.

So while Maggie rattles through books, there is always a healthy pile on the bedside table for me to tackle. Just started a Val McDermid thriller - so might have it finished before bonfire night.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mike Ritchie Media - Comes A Time: Eye opener

Mike Ritchie Media - Comes A Time: Eye opener

Eye opener

I do listen to a lot of music from a range of styles. Lately, for example, I’ve been playing Spiritualized, Sam Baker, Richmond Fontaine, Eilen Jewell - excellent live, incidentally - and Ian McNabb with my usual favourites, Neil Young, Tom Waits and Morrissey, as well as The Smiths. A class selection.

But, somehow or other, there is a band I’ve not been involved with though selected tracks over the years have intrigued and pleased me. Indeed, my middle son, Martin, included them in a compilation CD a few years back. And I have no idea how I have become interested again of late.

This has happened quite a few times in my music listening lifetime – Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, John Prine and even, it must be said, Dylan as plenty of chums were major followers while I played catch-up.

And so it is now with Eels.

Yes, “Novocaine for the Soul” has been on the turntable many times over the years but I’ve not bought a single Eels” CD ever. Spotify has been filling in the gaps, admirably and enjoyably.

So, do I go for a compilation or work through the back catalogue? Any advice anyone? I note a new release is due in the New Year, but I want to make that my latest, not the first. Thank you for suggestions.

Friday, October 09, 2009

STAYING CLEAR

INTERESTING, but baffling nonetheless, are comments from a senior Glasgow cop saying that “older” folk should head down into Glasgow city centre at weekends to make it seem safer, or reduce safety concerns.

I can’t see how my sensible attitude to drinking and behaviour in public is going to dissuade dozens of yahoos and others, unwilling to curtail and unable to control their booze intake or even handle it, to tone down, quit being bolshie or aggressive and behave differently, I really can’t.

(And, you there, yes the girl whose clothes are barely visible, stop pewking in your pals’ handbag. That would go down a treat, wouldn’t it? Unheard, ignored, or possibly just an opening for some inebriate or drug-fuelled individual to inquire as to whether or not I would want my face re-arranged, more likely.

Big crowds of young people, elated that it’s the weekend, are entitled to be boisterous – I was, too, at their age. It’s part of growing up, an important part.

But, there are limits and boundaries that so many seem to overstep. Foul-mouthed, vulgar, bad-mannered attitudes certainly don’t make me want to share my social time in that sort of atmosphere.

Really, what difference would my appearance, or my friends of a similar vintage, really make to the rowdiness, the drunken-ness and the sheer unpleasantness of it all?

Last Saturday evening, I had A PINT in a city centre bar, a very busy city centre bar populated by drinkers over the age of 25 in the main. There was a lively bustle, but no threatening behaviour. That was in major contrast to what I saw on the short walk to Central Station.

The drunks were all, I’m convinced, under the age of 25 – and lot looked barely out of school, many were young women. There were arguments, one scuffle and a general air of menace. It was only 5.30 p.m.

I am perfectly willing to accept and believe that the majority of the weekend revellers are well-behaved, out to have fun and not to cause any trouble whatsoever. In fact, I’m convinced most go out for a laugh with their mates, no more, no less.

I’m no prude, far from it, nor am I a killjoy. But, Glasgow City Centre will stay a no-go area for me most weekends. I’m sorry, it’s just not for me. When we venture into town for a meal, we’ll jump a cab straight to the door, and take a cab back home.

While I am one of the “older” people the police chief refers to in the newspaper article, I’m sorry but I don’t see how I can help raise the tone of the city centre by my calm presence. I’m sure many others feel the same.

The story I refer to is at: www.heraldscotland.com:80/news/home-news/police-chief-urges-older-people-to-return-to-city-centre-at-weekends

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Listing still

I am a sucker for lists so Uncut magazine's latest, "150 Albums of the Decade" is good fun to digest.

Forty-two of my purchases in that period are included in the magazine's collection, more than 42 probably aren't, but that doesn't matter. These are not serious, definitive lists in any sense. They are good for discussions, arguments and overall a chance to talk nonsense about music in general.

Artistes I really like, such as Jim White, Morrissey, Steve Earle don't rate a mention but that doesn't make me want to vent a fury against the magazine in any way or cancel my subscription. After all, critical reviews rarely put me off an album, although when Ryan Adams released "Rock n' Roll," the critics did unanimously give it a pasting, I ignored the warnings and the CD was truly awful and has been played only once in this household.

Looking over the Uncut list over my porridge and toast in the morning has been enjoyable. As the year/decade end approaches, I'm looking forward to more lists, musically.

www.uncut.co.uk

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Uncut's Album of the Year Award

As a subscriber to the Uncut music magazine, I was more than interested to read over its Album of the Year “long list.” Such lists always give people, like me, a chance to cast a critical eye over the choices and also to reflect on my purchases over the same period.

Four CDs I have bought are on the Uncut selection here: The Duke And The King with “Nothing Gold Can Stay”; The Low Anthem – “Oh My God Charlie Darwin”; Wilco – “Wilco (The Album)”; Bob Dylan – “Together Through Life.”

Of that quartet, I put The Low Anthem at the top of my list.

Some others nominated by Uncut I have sampled on various sites without wanting to add to my collection. There are CDs listed I have not listened to but I’ve just caught up with White Denim’s “Fits” and it’s a ragged, daft collection of tracks.

I’m surprised The Felice Brothers’ “Yonder Is The Clock” or Sam Baker’s “Cotton” have not made it on to the magazine’s list. Both yield moments of great music, lyrically as well as melodically. Both would have been worthy winners.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, and with no knowledge of the Uncut judges’ tastes or musical preferences, I’ll predict that either The Duke and The King, or The Low Anthem or Grizzly Bear’s “Veckatimest” will win outright with White Denim an outside bet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Age issue

Plenty of media coverage about age issues at the moment, have you noticed?

Retirement at 65 is not OK for many 65-year-olds, the BBC wants to hire an “older” female newsreader, which is surely in breach of equality legislation, and Man Utd’s Ryan Giggs is being widely praised for still being brilliant at his stage in his career.

I am firmly in the “what’s age got to do with it?” camp. I am not defending me, or may age group, far from it.

Fair enough, I will not ever be pulling on the boots for Scotland at Hampden or be short-listed for a young journalist of the year award, but that’s fine and perfectly understandable. I was never short-listed for a young hack’s title in my journalistic youth and that was fine.

But, as a young man starting off my career in local newspapers and then progressing to the nationals, the “old guys” - the professionals - were endlessly supportive, helpful, critical and gruffly caring. Of that, there can be no doubt.

Today, being my age - 56 since you all ask - isn’t a barrier to anything, although ticking the final box in surveys that ask your age always slightly un-nerves me.

I became a dad again three years ago, I still go to a gym three or four times a week for a vigorous work-out, I play tennis as often as I can, I still have all my own teeth, knees, hips etc. I believe I am young at heart, with a big heart.

Of course, when I turned 40 and 50 I did that reflective bit but my life is good, the people in it are just wonderful and I think getting hung up on age can be a bit of waste of time.

I set up my own business just over 12 years ago so new learning has been part of my growing up in another different way.

I was asked by a chum, who is a year or two younger me, a few years ago when I would give up going to live music. No plans for that, I told him as I still love going to gigs with my older brother who is 62 and my grown-up sons, aged 30 and 27.

On that note, Neil Young, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen played gigs in Edinburgh last year and each was memorable, absolutely brilliant. No problems with their ages, I suggest.

Workwise, I reckon I bring experience, maturity and a healthy dose of reality to my clients through my PR business. I feel sorry for people facing the job chop at 65, especially those who are in good health, have plenty to offer, are enthusiastic and fit for it. I reckon I’m not alone with these views.

I like to think I’m grown up, not old.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Landmarks

This, my second blog, has been written on the day I attended a social media event in Glasgow city centre. It was interesting and certainly opened my eyes to all sorts of communications’ possibilities. I had been aware of most of them but a closer look is essential, clearly.

Clearly, keeping a blog alive and up to date is important, so no pressure. Since my first effort earlier this week, I have been pleased with the positive feedback but now I must master ways of extending the network of people able to read it. Not going for mass circulation or anything like that but sharing a few random thoughts is a pleasing idea, although I suppose that’s for others to judge.

The appearance of my blog also comes during a landmark period for the Ritchie household. My darling wife, Maggie has become a student again as she’s started a part-time Creative Writing course at Glasgow University. It’s something she’s long considered so I really hope she’ll enjoy the experience and, of course, write that best seller.

And our three-year-old son, Adam has completed his first two weeks at nursery, which, apart from natural separation anxieties, he seems to be enjoying. With Mummy at Uni, it means I’ve been flying solo when it comes to his teatime, bath-time and bedtime activities this week - and it’s been fun with hardly any “where’s Mummy?” questions.

Highlight? This definitely came on Wednesday evening when I went to the kitchen to make our pasta pesto, leaving him in the sitting room in the company of ‘Fireman Sam” on DVD. Adam suddenly appeared at the kitchen door to tell me he was “missing me” although I’d only been away from him less than a minute. Huge hugs followed. A happy note to end on, I think you’ll agree.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Food For Thought

This is my first blog submission so it seems natural to start on a subject I enjoy - food.

Having just returned from a family break in Majorca, I am astonished at the great value lunches we enjoyed there. Not only great value but also very satisfying.

Paella, followed by fresh fish (whole sea bass, one day) then a pudding, a bottle of wine and a litre and a half bottle of still water cost NINE Euros per head, yes, equivalent to £9 each. You can't buy a bottle of wine in a restaurant here for nine quid, can you? Bottles of water are pricey here, too.

The food was always served piping hot, our three-year-old son was welcomed with open arms and departed licking a free ice cream most days. Not surprisingly, the family-run restaurant was always busy with local residents, in particular. Prices went up at the weekend, but that's understandable. One Sunday lunch table was set for 50 folk.

It makes me think that bit harder about going out for a meal here in Glasgow, where there are some excellent restaurants but they come at a price. There are also some less good establishments with charges they don't merit.

So, it will be sometime before we venture out to eat in the city - the pleasant dining hangover from Majorca hasn't worn off yet.