Friday, April 29, 2005

On This Day In History

The dawn broke peaceful and still, giving no hint or indication of the battling fury that the day would bring. The sun tried valiantly to penetrate the Carolina mist swirling between the tall pine trees, straining to cast its rays on the early morning dew that coated the battleground.

Suddenly in the distance, the opening strains of The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ struck up, quiet and elusive at first but building steadily to a deafening cacophony. The enemy exchanged panic stricken looks and shifted anxiously behind their defences, trigger fingers twitching for action. What form of unholy hell was about to be unleashed?

And then they appeared. Tall, broad and imposing in their uniforms of blood red, striding purposefuly through the mist in an awesome slow motion (a bit like Bruce Willis' astronaut drillers in 'Armageddon'), faces of stony determination, bellies full of fire and pancakes, resolute in their cause, brothers in arms, ready to vanquish or die trying.

For five long hours the battle raged, weapons of steel and wood flashing in the sun as the air filled with the agonising bedlam of groans and cheers; crushing setbacks followed by optimistic ascendancies. The outcome ebbed and flowed continuously, never certain, always in doubt and it was close to sunset by the time the winning putt was holed and our magnificent Myrtle Beach 6 claimed the inaugural MB Cup. That's how I remember it anyway.

What a day. What an absolutely incredible day. Was it really one whole year ago? Two years of bragging rights, a free dinner and a big shiny trophy and tonight we will gather and clash tankards to relive the glorious feats and remind the enemy that there’s still another year of bragging rights left. Drink heartily my lads and feast well and we will meet again next year in the deserts of Arizona to defend our honour, our trophy, our FREEEEEEEEEDOM.

Sing it with me now, "Oh I could hide 'neath the wings..."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Top Ten Albums Part Deux

After much deliberation and knee scraping as a result of scrambling around in a darkened attic looking for environmentally unfriendly vinyl, here are the remaining five records that made it into my top ten greatest albums of all time ever.

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
This was the first record that made me want to pick up a guitar and write songs. It was July 1982 and I’d just left high school to work a summer job at the docks – see, I was already right in the middle of a Springsteen drama. Disappointingly, I wasn’t a New Jersey longshoreman but a lugger of suitcases on and off tourist coaches down south in Felixstowe. Back home in Scotland, a bunch of friends were enjoying the holidays by sitting round gardens, playing guitars, writing songs and recording a bunch of albums that would become the famous Allan Hendry Band anthology.

There are only eight songs on ‘Born To Run’ but each one is an epic story of widescreen proportions driven along at breakneck speed by the thundering E Street Band; ‘Jungleland’ alone is almost ten minutes long. As an 18-year old listening to chrome wheeled, fuel injected stories of graduation dresses lying in rags on the porch as the screen door slams, this was stirring and evocative stuff. In particular, I remember feeling genuine anxiety for the two protagonists in ‘Meeting Across The River’ as they get ready for a night meeting with a man on the other side. “Here stuff this in your pocket, it’ll look like you’re carrying a friend.” Yikes!

A few years later in a thinly veiled swipe at Springsteen’s subject matter, Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout would write, “Some things mean more, much more than cars and girls.” Perhaps, but not many.

John Cougar Mellencamp – The Lonesome Jubilee
There are multiple scenes at the beginning of ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ when James Stewart is searching for ‘the sound’ for his big band; something that’ll match the musical image he’s had in his head for many years. I felt the same when I started singing and playing with Falkirk rock legends The Signals in the mid 1980s but when I heard ‘The Lonesome Jubilee’ for the first time in 1987 I knew I’d found it.

It’s a perfect blend and balance of guitars (both acoustic and electric), mandolins, banjos, accordions, fiddles and simple, straightforward percussion. And the songs are pretty impressive too; ten vivid tales of love and life in small town America delivered by an artist who’s hitting his best stride and on the point of losing the record company enforced ‘Cougar’ persona once and for all.

Few artists are able to combine sharp social commentary and unforgettable melodies in their songwriting but to this day John Mellencamp, along with perhaps Steve Earle, still delivers better than most. Now if he’d only get himself a f#cking passport and play somewhere other than f#cking Indiana, I’d be a much happier bunny.

Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Say what you like about 1990s, post-pub, Friday night, car crash television show ‘The Word’ on Channel 4 but they always had the best bands of the day playing live in the studio. When I saw Oasis play ‘Supersonic’ in March 1994, I thought my tv was going to start bleeding such was the level of attitude and swagger blasting from their guitar amps and Liam Gallagher’s vocal chords.

The beauty of ‘Definitely Maybe’ for me is that it sounds like that the band just turned up at a recording studio for a few nights, plugged in and started thrashing away. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ are EVERYTHING that songs called ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ should be about and sound like. If you don’t want to smash a guitar by the end of these two or ‘Up In The Sky’, there’s something terribly wrong.

‘Live Forever’ is probably the most memorable hit from the album but ‘Supersonic’ is still by far and away my favourite Oasis song. The drums begin on their own, immediately raising your excitement level at what’s to come followed by some agonizing scratching on the guitar strings making you feel like you’re chewing tin foil. And when the riff kicks in you’re swept away in a soaring, malevolent, dirty, rock ‘n’ roll tsunami.

Oasis have had many highs and lows since 1994 - personally, I think “Don’t Look Back In Anger’ is an absolute shocker. In a recent television interview Noel Gallagher said that he’s constantly asked by fans as to how the new album is coming along and when it will be released. When he tells them that it’s sounding good, the follow up question is ALWAYS, “Yeah, but is it as good as ‘Definitely Maybe’?”

Maria McKee – Maria McKee
The year is 1989 and I’m spending most of it working just off the northern coast of the Scottish mainland on the Orkney Islands where unfortunately its still 1969. Ike & Tina’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’ is the number one floor filler at both Kirkwall nightclubs (seriously, there were two) so one Friday night, in an effort to see if the rest of the civilized world still existed, I eluded the cheery villagers and their flaming torches and hopped the ferry for a weekend of culture and what not in Aberdeen. No, really.

Before being recaptured and dragged back to the islands for the annual Wicker Man festival, I managed to fit in a bit of shopping and picked up this wonderful album almost by chance. I’d heard of Maria McKee from her days with LA rockers Lone Justice but nothing prepared me for the quality and depth of the songs on this album.

From the bright and breezy opening guitar strings on ‘I’ve Forgotten What It Was In You’ (a Signals classic) to the heartbreaking closing plea of ‘Has He Got A Friend For Me’ her voice traverses the full gamut of emotions. Rarely does an artist portray such ballsy attitude one moment and aching vulnerability the next.

Sadly, Maria hasn’t quite matched the heights of this album since (a tough assignment in anyone’s book) but I noticed she released a new album last week called ‘Peddlin’ Dreams’ which is being touted as a “return to her organic roots”. Which reminds me, I haven’t been to Orkney in a while.

Roddy Frame – Surf
The only Scot in the top ten, Roddy Frame is one of the few artists who’s work I’d buy unconditionally, every time, without hesitation. Through six albums with original band Aztec Camera in the early 80s and two solo efforts, Roddy Frame has never written a bad song; period. His lyrics can be a bit impenetrable at times but the melodies are timeless and his virtuoso guitar playing is unlike any other.

‘Surf’ was released in 2002 and all eleven songs are simply his voice and an acoustic guitar. Never was the ‘less is more’ theory so brilliantly demonstrated. And as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Close But No Cigar
And finally, listed below are the contenders who got very careful consideration for inclusion in the top ten but who had to remain firmly in their seats grinning inanely and applauding politely whilst someone else’s name was read out.

The Signals – Days To Come
Barenaked Ladies – Stunt
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Big Country – The Crossing
Jeff Buckley - Grace
Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Shawn Colvin – Cover Girl
Crowded House - Woodface
Deacon Blue – Raintown
Del Amitri – Waking Hours
The Signals – Familiar Scenes
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Hootie & The Blowfish – Cracked Rear View
Michael Jackson – Off The Wall
Pink Floyd – The Wall
The Pretenders – Pretenders
Eddi Reader – Angels & Electricity
REM – Green
Simply Red - Stars
Status Quo – Live At The Apollo, Glasgow
Wings – Band On The Run
The Signals – Live At Grangemouth Town Hall Arena Stadium

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Top Ten Albums Part 1

In a shameless attempt to write about something because I can’t think of anything else to write about, (and as a follow on to the recent Channel 4 programme “The 100 Greatest Albums”) here are the first five albums that made it into my all time, top ten greatest albums of all time… ever! Part 2 will follow once I’ve scoured the attic for my old vinyl* LP* records*.

The Police – Outlandos D’Amour
One cold winter’s Sunday night in 1978, after having polished off a lovely dinner of mince and potatoes (smothered in salad cream*) followed by jelly and ice cream (raspberry ripple, I think), I was listening to the Annie Nightingale show on BBC Radio 1. She started gushing about a great new song by a band called The Police and when she eventually got round to playing ‘Roxanne’, I was hooked for life. It was unlike anything else I heard on the radio (or ‘wireless’) at that time and when I finally got hold of this debut album I think I must have played it every day for the next five years.

From the thunderous opening salvo of drums* on ‘Next To You’ to the closing rambling reggae rant of ‘Masoko Tanga’ this album is ten peerless examples of class pop music at it’s best. Even the token Andy Summers contribution ‘Be My Girl’ is pretty decent. Their first and still, by far, their best.

Billy Joel – The Stranger
I think I also bought this record in 1978 but I know for a fact that I bought it on a Saturday because afterwards I went to the York Café in Falkirk High Street to pour over the lyrics-covered inner sleeve and have a celebratory plate of their unfeasibly large and greasy chips*.

‘Just The Way You Are’ was the big soppy radio hit at the time and drew unfair comparisons to Barry Manilow but the overall mood of the record is probably closer in style to Bruce Springsteen. The stories contained within ‘Moving Out’ and ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’ would paint vivid pictures to me of how New York should look and feel and matched up perfectly with reality some twenty or so years later when I finally visited the city.

Few songwriters write melodies as memorable as Billy Joel and ‘She’s Always A Woman’ is almost perfection… oh, and its one of the three songs I can play on the piano.

Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swinging Lovers
During my late teens, I remember coming across my Dad’s Frank Sinatra albums in an old wire record rack and peering at them with a curious mix of interest and disdain… like the way I look at broccoli*. This, surely, was music that I would not understand or enjoy but as soon as I tentatively placed the record on my turntable* and cranked up the music centre* the attraction was instant. Perhaps it was the semi-familiar melodies or the inventive lyrics but I found I could learn these songs with ease.

I eventually bought ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’ in a second hand record store in Glasgow* during my first and final year at university and the album does exactly what it says on the tin. Every song here quite literally swings, from Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ (still the greatest karaoke song to perform ever) to Gershwin’s ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’. Even ‘Old Devil Moon’, so often a slow, bluesy burner gets the lighter-than-air Nelson Riddle touch on its arrangement.

Guys, if you’re looking for a seductive soundtrack to play after she’s “just popped up for a quick, late night coffee” then this is it… as long as you’re both over forty, enjoy long walks in the rain and the occasional set or two of badminton.

Carole King - Tapestry
I considered many female singer songwriters* for this top ten list but Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ soared high above them all as an easy pick. By the time she released this album in 1971 Carole King was already a successful, if slightly obscure writer of songs for other artists including The Monkees ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’, The Shirelles ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ and Aretha Franklin’s ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’.

That latter track is included on ‘Tapestry’ along with classics ‘It’s Too Late’, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ and the heart wrenching ‘So Far Away’ but in truth, every track on this album is a stand out. I’d love to say I discovered this record at an early age but it was fully 25 years after it was released when I finally picked up a copy. Not a month’s gone by since though when I haven’t played it.

Guys, if you’re looking for another seductive soundtrack to play after she’s “just popped up to see your giant new plasma screen” then this is definitely, DEFINITELY it.

U2 – The Joshua Tree
The day I bought this album in 1987 I went for a job interview with a finance company called North West Securities. The interview was short (don’t think I even removed my snorkel parka jacket*) as I feverishly clutched the plastic bag containing the record and barely registered what was being asked of or said to me. After rushing home and playing it over and over again that evening, I swore I’d finally ditch the rollercoaster world of high finance and go traveling across America spreading the gift of song wherever I could. Sixteen short years later, I did just that and this album was a must-have soundtrack as I drove from Florida to California.

As good as this album is it doesn’t come close to doing justice to the songs once you’ve heard them played live. Get your hands on a copy of the 1989 documentary ‘Rattle & Hum’ and I defy your spine not to tingle during the helicopter shot of Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona as the opening strains of ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ reach a crescendo.

By the by, I’ve got a spare ticket to see U2 play at Hampden Park in Glasgow on June 21st this year. Anyone interested?

*Glossary of Terms
For anyone under thirty, here’s some further explanation of words and phrases with which you may not be familiar.
Record – Crazy as it may seem, before the charts were made up of songs ‘downloaded’ from that internet thingy, human beings had to physically leave their homes and go to a store which sold music recordings as in, "I'd like to purchase a record please."
Vinyl – A hard waxy compound on to which music recordings were etched to make records. Usually circular in shape and black in colour.
LP – Short for ‘Long Playing’ i.e. a record made up of several songs that played for a longer duration than a ‘single’ which contained only a single song not counting the b-side which was the opposite of the a-side. Clear?
Salad Cream - Similar to mayonnaise only edible.
Drums – Not an electronically produced beat but a musical instrument that requires to be struck in order to emit a sound. No, really.
Chips – Like French/freedom fries, NOT crisps!
Brocolli – Small, bonsai type vegetable created by Satan.
Turntable – A flat, circular receptacle which, with the help of electricity and a fancy needle arrangement, spun round to play vinyl records.
Music Centre - The greatest invention of the late 70s; an electrical miracle which contained a radio AND a turntable (see above) for playing records AND a cassette player for playing cassettes*.
Cassette – A format of music recording where the music was recorded on to a little brown tape like the ones they used on ‘Mission Impossible’*.
Mission Impossible - Greatest television show of the late 60s/early 70s.
Glasgow – City in Scotland that’s home to the greatest football team in the world, Glasgow (gettit?) Celtic.
Singer Songwriter – Someone who writes AND performs their own songs. Imagine that.
Snorkel Parka Jacket – Trendiest fashion statement of 1987… and all of the previous ten or so years.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Rangers 1, Celtic 2...

...says it all really.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Thank F#ck For The Music

This week, I have been mostly stripping wallpaper.

I’ve been staying with my sister Rona and her family down near Oxford to help decorate her new house and it’s been hard f#cking physical work; the hardest f#cking physical work I’ve done since… well… ever.

Rona is very on-the-ball and organised and presented me with a detailed work schedule for the week when I arrived on Monday. What she neglected to mention however was the fact that woodchip wallpaper sealed tight with industrial strength paint is a right b#stard to try and strip off.

From the get-go (as my American friends would say in that quaint, invent-our-own-language type of way), it was clear that this was going to be monotonous work. And monotony can be a dangerous thing when working with sharp bladed tools since it sends your vocabulary to the f#cking gutter and gives you too much f#cking time to think and dwell on subversive questions and issues.

- Why the f#ck did I agree to do this?
- When’s lunch?
- If I finish this room in two days, do I get Wednesday off?
- What do you mean there’s no f#cking nap times?
- What the f#ck was that popping sound in my back?
- Why can’t I feel my legs?
- When’s lunch?

However, my sanity (and Rona’s continuing good health) has been saved by a ghetto blaster and a stack of quality CDs to help pass the hours safely and without unnecessary bloodshed.

We were inspired to plunder the depths of our respective music collections by a four-hour programme on Channel 4 on Sunday night entitled “The 100 Greatest Albums”. The list was compiled by viewers votes which would suggest a free reign to nominate any album at all but it turned out that viewers were voting from 125 albums already short-listed by a panel of music “experts”.

No matter. The programme was entertaining and prompted lively debate during the week about which of the 100 albums were already in our collections and which would make it to our own personal top tens.

So over the next few days I’ll reveal which stunning examples of musical genius made into my top ten. Meantime, here’s the top ten as voted by Channel 4 viewers and the full 100 can be found at
1. RADIOHEAD - OK Computer
2. U2 - The Joshua Tree
3. NIRVANA - Nevermind
5. PINK FLOYD - Dark Side of the Moon
6. OASIS - Definitely Maybe
7. THE BEATLES - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
8. MADONNA - Like a Prayer
9. GUNS N' ROSES - Appetite For Destruction
10. THE BEATLES - Revolver

Incidentally, Rona and I have had Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ with us every day at the house renovation but are too frightened to play it in case we end up cowered in a corner, shaking and weeping uncontrollably and emitting excess drool. It is one scary record and on a par with the song I invented on Monday before the appearance of the ghetto blaster… “just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping, just keep stripping…"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Website Disaster Averted

Panic and uncertainty swept through the internet community earlier today when popular website went tits up for a while, or ‘offline’ for the more technically minded among you. Staff at the neilwritestheworld helpline struggled to cope with the volume of calls as quite literally hundreds of thousands of desperate and fear stricken readers and subscribers tried to register their shock and awe.

It was worrying for a while there, certainly,” said Concerned of Edinburgh who didn’t want to be named due to his other, less appropriate internet activities. “I was very sceptical when the help line staff said that everything was being done to rectify matters. But then the nice-sounding wee lassie said ‘Don’t worry Mr A. Dougal, I’ll personally see to your interactive needs’, so I knew everything was going to be just peachy.”

Callers from as far away as Texas, America relayed similar stories of waking to find a severed online lifeline. “‘Sup dude?” asked a Ms K Jarrett sleepily when she finally got through on the helpline. “I had like a whole thirty minute unit pencilled in today for reading my favourite website. And now it’s like turned my entire day upside down on its head, so to speak, if you will. I’m going back to bed. Later dude.”

Ned Suderlang, neilwritestheworld CEO and President assured the worldwide audience that the problem was merely a glitch. “Our techy boffins have underlined that our site has had a 99.5% ‘up time’, whatever the hell that means, over the past twelve months. We don’t operate a blame culture here at neilwritestheworld but it was definitely the fault of those web host hacker hooligan types, no question. Heads will roll.”

Suderlang went on to say that the helpline will be closed tomorrow for “staff training” so if some similar event occurs then it will be somebody else’s fault, obviously.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gone to England...

...back next weekend.


Friday, April 15, 2005

The Signals are BACK!... sort of

At a press conference held early this morning, executives at unveiled their exciting new partnership with international, face-melting rock legends The Signals. Often thought to have disappeared during the 90s in a hazy haze of scandal and rehab, The Signals have, in fact, being living quiet, suburban lives under the Rock Preservation Protection Programme. So why the reappearance now under the white heat of rock’s spotlight?

Since The Signals took time off to pursue… ahem… recreational pursuits, music has died a death,” explained Ned Suderlang, neilwritestheworld CEO and President for life, “not counting Oasis and Radiohead, of course… oh, and that new U2 record is pretty good… and I really like Keane and Snow Patrol… and you just HAVE to get hold of the new Embrace cd… and then there’s the recent gems from Green Day, Maroon 5, Feeder, Alicia Keyes, Damien Rice, The Zutons… but APART from all these great new acts, music has died a death since The Signals disappeared. So it’s… eh… great to have them back.”

During a three-year period of unparalleled creativity towards the end of the 1980s, The Signals released two albums of breathtaking audacity; the critically acclaimed debut “Familiar Scenes” (“It’s the best thing my son’s ever recorded” said Rita Campbell in 1985) and the much copied, multi platinum follow up “Days To Come”.

However, previously unreleased recordings have been unearthed by the boffins in the neilwritestheworld R&D department and a re-mastered, special edition collection of twenty of their greatest songs is now available through

The band themselves did not attend the Edinburgh press conference but in a live, satellite link to his home on the west coast, drummer ‘Handsome’ Doug Grant said, “We’re f’n over the moon like about this new venture with I huvnae actually spoke wae any of they other f#ckers in aboot ten years but I’m sure they’d agree that this is no just a f’n cynical attempt to make money on some kinda f’n nostalgia trip. We’re doing it for the kids, the fans who’s f’n stuck wae us throughout. It’s aw aboot the fans, ken?”

Preliminary artwork for the new album was revealed at the press conference and uses Alex Burt’s classic shot from 1984. When asked about the scurrilous rumour that he had to stand on a box during this photo shoot, bass player Donald Campbell’s answer was inaudible despite this interviewer bending over considerably to try and catch the wee shortarse’s reply.

The Very Best of The Signals is ONLY available through (and ebay eventually) and in a bold marketing move, executives are asking fans to e-mail their orders directly to where they can then negotiate a very reasonable price (including postage and packing) directly with the band. In the words of ‘Handsome’ Doug, “It’s aw aboot the fans, ken?”

Track List

1. Better Than You
2. I Never Knew
3. Give Me The Word
4. Here To Stay
5. Days To Come
6. Ballroom Of Romance
7. Running Through The Shadows
8. Restless Sleep
9. Cold Light Of Day
10. Release A Heart
11. The Promise Of Love
12. Every Day (Live)
13. Ten Cents A Dance (Live)
14. Crazy (Live)
15. We’ve Got The Will But Its Hard To Find The Way (Live)
16. Not Such A Lonely Place (Live)
17. Never Stop Loving You
18. To Hurt Somebody
19. Don’t Want You Back Here No More
20. It Feels Like The First Time Again

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Another neilwritestheblog EXCLUSIVE!!!

After the runaway success (see below) of the neilwritestheworld line of sports-casual and leisurewear (in association with Danny from “The Kids From Fame”), the boffins in the neilwritestheworld R&D department are rumoured to have come up with another sure fire winner. Full details will be released at a press conference on Friday but a note found on the desk of Ned Suderlang, President and CEO, is alleged to have stated,

If any of they bastards from the media call, just say we’re all very excited about our sure fire winner that the R&D boffins come up with have.”

Other sources within the global conglomerate were unable to comment due to mouths full of pizza but speculation within the industry has ranged wildly from Starbucks takeover bids to Pizza Hut takeover bids. Rest assured, all of us at will be up early on Friday at the crack of ten to bring you the news as it happens or as told to us by someone more informed.

For the young...

On the catwalks of Paris, Milan and Polmont, the young and the beautiful can't get enough of Neil draped across their chests.

"It just makes Burberry seem SO last year!"

...the even younger...

A young person of teenage years looking overjoyed at her association with the neilwritestheworld brand.

"I just think they're, like, just the most totally cool clothes EVER. All my friends are wearing them and they'll just, like, never go out of style. I'm, like, SO happy I chose neilwritestheworld gear."

...and everyone's best friend!

Even the furrier members of the family can enjoy neilwritestheworld merchandise.

"Woof! Sausages!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Oh Clive...

TV football commentators in the UK usually fall into one of two categories; God awful, xenophobic idiots or God awful, xeneophobic idiots with a lot of statistics. Bucking the trend and best of the bunch though is ITV’s Clive Tyldesley who enhanced his standing further with this gem during tonight’s Champions League quarter-final match between Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

There’s quite an interesting story actually as to why he (Munich full back Bixente Lizarazu) wears number 69 on his back… (pause while audience intakes breath sharply) it was the year he was born… (pause for audience to exhale in relief) not as interestng as you thought, eh?” Classic.

Monday, April 11, 2005

(Very Short) Tartan Shorts 9

Child quote of the week: After overhearing her parents discuss the death of John Paul II, my four-year old pal Megan enquired, “Was that the Popepourii?”

Birthday of the week: My good friend Gordon MacKinnon is 39 years old today and will no doubt be celebrating quietly with the family by taking a stroll through the grounds of his vast country estate. Although an avid Rangers fan, Gordon is a really nice guy and a much valued member of the victorious Myrtle Beach Ryder Cup winning side of 2004. With only 374 days to go until the next Ryder Cup in Arizona, Gordon has already impressed his captain with recent visits to the driving range. Have a good one pal and see you soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Weekend Sporting Round Up

Phew! What a weekend for sport, or ‘sports’ if you’re in the States. (But why do you say ‘math’ and not ‘maths’?) It was Scottish Cup semi-final weekend but a disappointing one for the Edinburgh teams as both Hibs and Hearts lost their respective matches two goals to one to Dundee United and Celtic.. eh.. respectively.

Down south in Engerland, Manchester United suffered a shock defeat away to Norwich and in Spain, Real Madrid closed the gap on Barcelona to six points at the top of La Liga by beating them 4-2 in the game of the year. Olé!

On Saturday the 158th running of the Grand National, the world’s greatest steeplechase ended with some horse I’d never heard of and didn’t bet on, winning by fourteen lengths. (I’d put my entire life savings on a horse called Just In Debt, appropriately enough.) And this evening, some guy called Tiger Woods, another winner I didn’t bet on, won the US Masters at Augusta.

But the big sporting news story of the weekend happened at the event I attended on Saturday afternoon in my old home town of Falkirk. The local professional football team, Falkirk Football Club, was playing against Ross County at their new and imaginatively named stadium, The Falkirk Stad.... I’m sure one day it’ll take its full name of ‘The Falkirk Stadium’ but it’s only half-finished with two out of four proposed grandstands complete.

Victory against Ross County would clinch the First Division league title and promotion to the elite Scottish Premier League so there was a sizeable crowd seated in the stad when the game kicked off at 3.00pm. Battling a swirling wind, freezing temperatures and limited ability, both teams struggled to create many clear cut chances. Indeed, until Falkirk scored in the 67th minute, the only incident of note was the guy seated three rows in front of me who attempted to start up a rendition of that much loved Falkirk anthem, “You Are My Falkirk” (to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine"), in a key that was several octaves higher than is usually recommended or deemed healthy. By the time he got to the third line, “you make me happy”, it was clear to all in the vicinity that shattered glassware or a nasty embolism may soon follow. So it was something of a relief when he decided to cut the line short before “happy” in a series of coughs and splutters. I’m looking forward to seeing him at the open mic night next week though.

Falkirk held their lead until the final whistle and scenes of contented relief rather than mass hysteria spread round the stad as the fans looked forward to entertaining the likes of big guns Rangers and Celtic next season. After a short interlude to give the players and coaches time to pull on their tacky ‘Champions’ t-shirts (I can’t tell you how much I despise that practice in any and every sport) the entire staff returned to the field for a fitting lap of honour… well, half a lap really.

Documenting the woes and adversities suffered by Falkirk F.C. over the years would take a blog that tested the limits of most web servers and I really take my (much needed wooly) hat off to the loyal fans who’ve supported their local team through thick and thin. Mainly thin. It takes a special kind of dedication and devotion to keep turning up every week, more in hope than in certainty, and they truly deserve the adventure of big games and exciting football that’s to come next season. Now if they could all just bring along a fold down chair each to help with the stad…

Oh, and finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that young Dr. Russell Thompson went one ahead in our series of titanic golf matches at Lenzie this morning with an impressive and deserved victory on the final hole. He was never down in the match and showed nerves of steel (to go with his existing metallic cahones) to hold on to his lead at the end. But in truth I am feeling remiss so I don’t think I’ll bother mentioning it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

"Two, Two... One, Two"

On Monday I played five-a-side football for the first time in four months and wrecked my left knee.

On Tuesday I deleted “play for Celtic” from my ideal occupations list.

So on Wednesday I turned to the second great love of my life.......... pizza... no, I mean music.

Way back in the glorious decades of the 80s and 90s, I was a singer in a band. As far as I know I’m still in the same band because I didn’t resign and I wasn’t sacked – we just sort of stopped playing. The band was called The Signals and in our day we thought we were the dog’s bollocks, mainly because we were. Nobody in the greater metropolitan area of Falkirkshire could play loud, pub rock’n roll like we could, delivered, as it was, with a hint of folk, a dusting of country and just the merest hint of pop. We wrote our own songs, we covered other people’s songs and we copied other people’s songs and called them our own.

There’s just nothing in the world to beat driving round the country in a rented van, lugging equipment into scary looking bars and starting to play your music wondering whether the reception’s going to be favourable or downright ugly. Most of the time it was the former and the drive home would be elated and fuelled with hoarse laughter and beer.

It’s a long time since I’ve had that buzz so this week I got in touch with my musician cousin Franc (which is short for something French and exotic) and we decided to go and play at an open mic night in Glasgow.

Open mic nights are what music is all about; you just never know what’s going to be served up in the name of musical entertainment. They’re usually hosted by an enthusiastic and dedicated (and extremely caffeinated) musician who’s only reward for all the hard work and hassle is to play a couple of songs at the start of the evening to get the showcase started. And they’re attended by an eclectic gathering desperate to make the leap from superstar in their own bedroom to real, live performer.

I’m always thrown by the unexpected songs people will deliver. Last night, a thin, gaunt, long-haired guy, no older than 21 or 22, strode to the stage resplendent in a Ché Guevara t-shirt. Franc and I exchanged glances thinking perhaps we’d hear Nirvana or Radiohead and almost fell off our seats when he launched into Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy”. Infused by the warm applause, he then announced he was going to play a couple of his own songs both of which sounded remarkably like Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy”. But it didn’t matter because they were well sung and exuberantly played on the guitar and he seemed to float back to his seat when he’d finished.

Even when the musicianship isn’t out of the top drawer, the entertainment quotient remains high. I once saw a Glasgow punter stagger up to take his slot, grab a guitar that he clearly couldn’t play and launch into a drunken, dramatic poem that he’d written thirty years previously. Eyes tight shut throughout, he ended the speech with a dramatic Springsteen punch in the air and strode off purposefully as if he had a limo waiting, engine running at the back door. Brilliant!

Last night Franc and I were a bit rusty but it didn’t matter and we didn’t care. Beginning with Paul McCartney’s “Every Night”, I managed to turn Franc white with shock (“scared him shitless” is the more appropriate phrase I think) when I launched into an unscheduled, deafening harmony towards the end. He reciprocated in the next number, Crowded House’s “Better Be Home Soon”, by choking off a high note that was clearly out of reach and just when we were hitting our stride with “It’s Only Natural”, another Crowded House song, he broke a string during the final, face-melting solo. No matter. People clapped, people smiled and we had a great time. And next week we’ll be back and we'll be the dog’s bollocks.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tartan Shorts 8

Film of the week: “About Schmidt” I missed this film when it was first released and wasn’t expecting much when I stumbled across it on tv the other night but I loved it.

Jack Nicholson (never better) plays Warren Schmidt, a widower who’s recently retired from the financial services game and is wondering what to do with the rest of his life. (I wondered why I liked it so much.) It’s sad, funny and packed with quirky details and is all the better for the fact that it’s told at a lethargically slow pace. And then I discovered it was made by “Sideways” director Alexander Payne so no surprise that the quality was excellent.

News story of the week: What a week for news. A royal wedding, a new tax year, a general election announced in the UK and the Pope Idol auditions about to begin in Rome… talking of which, The Washington Post reported yesterday, in all seriousness, that “gamblers can back Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Italy at odds of 11 to 4 to be the next Pope or they can take their chances on Father Dougal McGuire of Craggy Island, Ireland at 1,000 to 1”. Eat your hearts out Woodward and Bernstein.

However, the headline that really caught my eye though was

“Murderer Husband Released After Wife Turns Up Alive”

She Xianglin, a former security guard in China, spent 11 years in jail for ‘killing’ his wife after she went missing in 1994. He was sentenced to death twice in the intervening years and claimed torture was used to extract a confession. In the understatement of the year Mr Xianglin said about his wife, “She broke my heart and ruined my life.” No kidding.

Album of the week: Finally got hold of a copy of “Out Of Nothing” by Embrace (cheers Andy) and it’s magnificent. I reckon it’s their best ever (and that’s saying something) full of soaring melodies and inventive songwriting. Buy it today… or burn a copy like I did.

Birthday of the week: My charming, smart, funny, future sister-in-law Kathryn is thirty-something today and will no doubt be celebrating with a cocktail or six together with a manicure and pedi. Have a great day and, of course, live long and prosper.

Monday, April 04, 2005

7½ Mile

When I came back from the States a couple of weeks ago I flew with BA. It was terrible. He kept shouting, “You crazy foo’. I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!”

Okay, so I didn’t fly with Mr. T and I didn’t make up that joke. But that joke has just been voted the world’s funniest in a Virgin Radio competition and earned the listener who submitted it £25,000. Less funny is the fact that scores of comedians, professional and otherwise, have since claimed that they were first to think of it. If this was America, law suits would be piling up to settle the matter but in that typically British way, the aggrieved parties have just ‘fired off furious letters’. Now that’s funny.

I was reminded of this story yesterday when I rewrote my ‘to do’ list and added ‘finally download digital photos from past two years’ to my long catalogue of outstanding tasks. Among the many poorly lit photos of my finger covering the lens I came across this gem of my two young nephews Tommy & Fraser engaged in a gripping conversation about cuisine, culture, fashion and life in the 21st century.

Tommy: “Here Fraser, try some of this.”

Fraser: “Whatchu talkin’ about foo’? Canchu see I got ma best white gangsta jacket on here.”

Tommy: “But my Daddy made it. It’s his slant on an old Sicilian pasta dish made with only the best regional herbs and sun dried tomatoes.”

Fraser: “Don’tchu mean tomaytoes?”

Tommy: “Fraz baby, it all sounds like ‘goo gaa blah blah’ to these old dudes anyway. Just chill.”

Fraser: “CHILL? D’you just tell me t’chill? I AM chilled. I’m fricking arctic dude. Cool as a long green vegetable and frosty as a snowman. And right now I’m late for the rappin’ contest so… later dude.

Tommy (sighs): “Ah, kids today. No respect.”

Saturday, April 02, 2005

To Do Or Not To Do

Ah, the weekend. A time to relax, sleep in, watch sport, get some fresh air and perhaps grab a few beers down the pub supplemented by a couple of kebabs on the way home… one for me, one for my shirt. Before you know it, it’ll be Monday morning again and time to think of other things to do to fill the ‘working’ week.

One of the problems of being career challenged/“taking time off for me”/unemployed is that if you’re not careful or organised, time can slip away quickly, wasted and unused. It’s essential then to have a plan, a detailed design for life to enable you to find the right balance between selfless charity work, leisure time and long, hot baths.

The first thing I did on returning to Scotland a week ago was spend a whole evening compiling a comprehensive ‘to do’ list to ensure my days pass productively. As you can see below, I’ve set myself some pretty stretching goals and will be striving tirelessly over the coming weeks to ensure all tasks are completed and ticked off accordingly.

- Get haircut a
- Visit dentist
- Buy dental floss. a
- Visit Starbucks. a
- Vow never to go back to Starbucks in UK. a
- Visit Starbucks. a
- Do washing up (weekly). a
- Read operating manual for Dyson vacuum thingy.
- Play golf a
- Record scores on golf analysis spreadsheet. a
- Clean golf clubs. a
- Line up golf clubs up in perfect row by size to dry. a
- Wash and iron golfing attire. a
- Write about golf on weblog. a
- Enjoy spring weather by doing gardening.
- Go out cycling.
- Re-organise CD collection by genre and year of release. a
- Re-alpabetise CD collection. a
- Consider travelling again to escape crappy Scottish weather. a
- Write book about round-the-world trip.
- Write sample chapter for round-the-world book.
- Write chapter outline for round-the-world book.
- Write synopsis for round-the-world book.
- Find title for round-the-world book.
- Consider book-writing software.
- Research voice activated book-writing software. a
- Build website for summer golf outing.
- Ask brother to build website for summer golf outing. a
- Catch up on “ER” a
- Watch golf on Sky Sports. a
- Watch “Friends” omnibus every day at 5.00pm. a
- Catch up on “Desperate Housewives”
- Catch up on “24”
- Catch up on “Star Trek Enterprise”
- Try not to watch too much television.
- Consider computer dating.
- Consider computer chess. a
- Pay off existing credit cards.
- Consider getting new interest-free credit cards. a
- Contact Job Centre to obtain more free handouts from government.
- Phone everyone I know and get invited over for dinner/free lunches etc.
- Consider getting a job. a
- Have a lie down to recover from all the job/money concerns. a
- Decide whether to attend U2 gig in July or sell tickets for exorbitant amount on Ebay.
- Write new songs.
- Locate guitar in attic. a
- Learn how to tune guitar.
- Get band back together.
- Get record contract.
- Fight with bass player about excessive volume.
- Pursue solo career as result of musical differences.
- Rewrite ‘to do’ list for tomorrow.

Anyway, the golf’s coming on Sky Sports and I still haven’t had my Saturday bath yet. Where on earth does the time go?