Home Again

‘One is a lonely number…’
not, as you may be thinking, another half-baked philosophical statement from yours truly, but actually the title of the first track on the latest Edwyn Collins album ‘Home Again’. I purchased the aforesaid CD when I was back in the UK in the summer, and… no, lets save it for later. I promise we will return to Edwyn shortly, but let us first catch up on the second part of our summer holiday adventures. After the minor hell of our return journey to the UK we had a week or so more of enjoying the English summer. Prior to the U.S.A trip we had enjoyed some quintessentially English moments, visiting summer fetes, watching cricket on the green, feeding ducks in the mill pond, that sort of thing. As a Scotsman, and coming from a family who have its fair share of intensely patriotic members I do find it strange how I am inexorably drawn to a particular notion, or sense, of ‘Englishness’. I blame this on an inordinate fondness for the Kinks, early Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt and many others who jumped into the spaces created by those very significant footprints. Records on the Harvest label seemed to imbue this character almost naturally. I recall many a chilly northern night spent lying with my head between the speakers (my primitive version of headphones) of my portable stereo listening to ‘Grantchester Meadows’ off ‘Ummagumma’, or ‘Fat Old Sun’ from ‘Atom Heart Mother’, or ‘Whatevershebringswesing’ and immersing myself in the hazy warmth of the sounds emanating from the straining speaker cones…

In the middle distance, the muffled murmuring of the traffic gave way to the sonorous clang of the church bells and the gentle rustling of the leaves in the honey-thick breeze. The world was revolving slowly and lazily in the sticky warmth of this sunny afternoon.
‘More tea, Vicar?’
“Oh, splendid, Miss Jones,a capital idea, I must say. My goodness, your muffins are extraordinary…’
‘Oh Vicar, you are such a card…’
Sorry. Drifting off again. Let me get back on track.

Yes, summer holiday memories. Many of them from this year involve the continually evolving wonder that is our son. Little O attempting to adapt his funky Khmer style of dance to the strains of a brass band performing Abba songs; his joy at visiting a country park …very wide open spaces where he could simply run and run and run with what must have seemed to him as no boundaries; feeding ducks and swans with O doing his ‘one for you, one for me’ routine; a miniature train journey, O and Granddad together – who was most excited by that…? I wonder…; blowing bubbles in the garden, sheer naked enjoyment, O running around and around in circles laughing gleefully; feeding times, characterised by the infinite patience of Nana, with accompaniment from Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy; a visit to Swindon Mela, with so many familiar colours, shapes, sounds, smells and tastes – and time for some more O-type dancing, this time to familiar rhythms…; having the time and space to see the wonderful bond between O and mummy growing every day…
These are just some of the memories I have of this summer, there are many, many others that will come to me in the future, to make the good times better and to help me to smile during the hard times… summers are wonderful, magical things that re-awaken the child within us all, and we should cherish each and every moment of them…

My goodness, that was a bit Sunday Post-ish, wasn’t it? What has happened to my tireless cynicism? I confess I really don’t know, I’m sure it was here a minute ago… I must have temporarily mislaid it…

The other night, performing the increasingly difficult wrestling match that is getting O into his ‘jammies’ at bedtime I got to thinking about how much the vintage cowboy print thereon reminded me of the old Postcard Records label design. Ah, ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’… memories swept into my synapses, of those mysterious cardboard boxes from Fast Distribution that would arrive in Thurso Music Shop on a Saturday afternoon or Monday morning and be eagerly ripped upon to reveal their contents… would the eagerly awaited ‘1 only cat no PC-80-6 Orange Juice ‘Simply Thrilled, Honey’ 7” single’ in its cowboy bedecked sleeve be in there? Yes!! In stock! Mine! Those were exciting times, and many of us (hello Messrs Gavin Duncan and Ian Begg – where are you now?) felt such musical affinity with Orange Juice in particular, as their melodic gifts were really, really strong but tempered with some willfully unkempt, ragged yet glorious performances. I only knew (and if truth be told, still do) three chords, and hadn’t really mastered any of that barré chord stuff, so it was a joy to have it reinforced that traditional skill wasn’t necessarily a prerequisite of making exciting, clamorous, glamorous music. The Fire Engines were another band who shared that rowdy charabanc to pop success, music that sounded all over the place, spiky and fuzzy, but absolutely imbued with a total sense of fun. ‘Candyskin’ comes on like a Scottish Salvation Army playgroup that has had just a wee drop too much acid in their Irn Bru… wonderful stuff which even now brings a smile to my face as I type this.

‘Englishness’, ‘Scottishness’… I’m not sure how I got here, but the moving fingers type, and having typed, move on… or rather back, back to Edwyn Collins. He’s grown up now, has Edwyn. Life has dealt him some pretty bad cards in the last couple of years – he’s suffered two strokes, but has fought back and has been on tour, performing again this summer in a few festivals. I finally got round to listening to ‘Home Again’ a few nights ago, and I am so happy to tell you that it is an absolutely magnificent album, his best since ‘Gorgeous George’. He’s still wry, still sonically adventurous, still making records that sound like ‘records’, but his recent brushes with the fragility of existence seem to permeate his music (although amazingly, given some of the lyrics, most of this was written before he suffered his successive strokes) and give it a strikingly unusual cast, that of the man-child facing the enormity of life and the natural and un-natural challenges it throws against us all. The title track is quite simply awesome, a meditation on the redemptive and healing power of music that is almost overwhelmingly emotional in its evocation of that feeling of being truly at ‘home’ that music can bring. The Bearsden Blues, no less. As the late, great, Stuart Henry would have said, ‘I can’t recommend this album highly enough, my friends.’

Oh well, I’m off now to slip into my sandals and fringed buckskin jacket and nip round to Roddy’s house to see if he can show me how to play that augmented 7th chord… you coming? No? OK, catch you later, man…

Next episode – the return to a post-election Phnom Penh and all that entailed.
This episode was brought to you borne on the angel wings of Edwyn Collins ‘Home Again’ on Heavenly Records, remembrances of Postcard Records – the Sound of Young Scotland, ‘ Long Way Down’ on BBC DVD (Ben, it’s the same two guys, McGregor and Boorman, biking from John ‘o’ Groats in Scotland to Capetown, South Africa. Let me know if you want me to get you a copy my friend), and is dedicated to all those who hung around on a Friday, Saturday or Monday in the Music Shop, Thurso, waiting for the boxes of new releases…’there’s only one copy… and it’s mine!!’

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Feelin’ Groovy

Has it really been three months since I last inflicted my meandering musings on an unsuspecting world? ‘Not long enough!’ comes a cry from the back. Excuse me whilst I summarily eject that malevolent thought made manifest and get down to… to what, exactly?
Being the kind of person who is continually plagued by self-doubt, I had pondered for some time on just giving up this blogging malarkey and simply getting on with life in all its myriad forms… you don’t really need my cod philosophical ramblings to enrich your already full and fulfilling lives, do you?
‘Damn right!’
I thought I’d thrown you out… Come here you troublesome id… now, OUT you go!
There now, that’s better. Now where was I …?

Yes. Blogging. On reflection, and being purely selfish here, I think it’s good for me to put this stuff somewhere, so why not out into the eternal ether, to buzz around in a blissful binary state until somebody’s search for ‘Slim Whitman’ or ‘Commé a la Maison’ or ‘Tinariwen’ drags them here….

So how have you all been, my virtual friends? Well, I hope. The familial ‘we’ have also been well (but also unwell), happy (but also unhappy) and generally just stumbling hopefully where possible through the intricate maze of life with occasional diversions onto the rollercoaster and helter skelter to break up the monotony.

Some highlights of the missing months? Holidays!
Yippee! Visits to England, Scotland and the U.S.A. were wonderful. England to see my mum-and-dad-in-laws, Scotland to catch up with my family there, and my first visit to the U.S.A, to attend a celebration event in New Jersey organised by my wife’s family which brought together nearly 100 people from all over the globe whose roots were in a small village in India. It was an astonishing, and for me a humbling, experience to be part of, and accepted into, such a close-knit family gathering. Little O thoroughly enjoyed himself, pottering about in his kilt amongst the adoring Sari-clad women and snacking heartily on the many delights on offer. I wore my white suit (feeling a little more like a Cambodian bridegroom than a Mafioso hitman, I have to say) and made an unexpected and wholly impromptu speech (ten minutes notice – luckily I’ve worked long enough in development now to be able to spout mumbo-jumbo at the drop of a hat) which left nary a dry eye in the house. Personally, I think the exquisitely spicy somosas were to blame for the red-rimmed eyes…!

After three days of being bathed in the warmth of the family, of wonderful experiences shared, entertainment, music and food being enjoyed, and a real sense of generations not only coming together but strengthening their sense of family pride and duty, it was time to decant into the stretch limo (I’m not kidding. You wear a white suit, you gotta have style to match.) and to quaff champagne on the drive into New York City. Brother-in-law Paul and I were inordinately excited by the cultural delicacies on offer during that drive, which mainly consisted of Paul recognizing the locations of multifarious ‘hits’ from ‘The Sopranos’ or my spotting the actual ‘Fountains of Wayne’ store that great little band took their moniker from.

Soon, through the late July summer’s haze and the tinted glass of the limo, I glimpsed for the first time the distinctive skyline of Manhattan. It was one of those magical moments when I actually saw something that as a small child in far away Northern Scotland I could only have dreamed about, and strangely yet appropriately enough the words that crowded my brain were remembered from those long gone days, the immortal lines allegedly uttered by a quintessential son of New York,
‘Yonda lies da castle of my faddah….’
Thank you, Tony Curtis…

New York City was three days of full-on New Yorking – sightseeing, eating, more sightseeing, more eating… edited highlights would have to include the following… O in Central Park, swinging happily against a backdrop of dazzling skyscrapers; a horse drawn carriage ride around the park – thank you, Charlie Brown; breakfast at the Empire State deli, feeling slightly vertiginous gazing up at the sight of King Kong’s last stand; a moment of sadness in the doorway of the Dakota Building, on the spot where Lennon died; a touch of cynicism at the Strawberry Fields memorial – the world is full of bloody hippies now; the Hotel Pennsylvania with its ‘Shining’ like corridors and reverse Tardis rooms; Madison Square Gardens – I don’t see no flowers here!; open top bussing around downtown Manhattan with a selection of outrageously stereotypical tour guides; a nighttime jaunt across the river to Brooklyn, soaring through the mist over the Brooklyn bridge on the top deck of the bus, then gazing at a hazy Manhattan from across the river… magical; the neon overkill of Times Square; ferry cross the Hudson – sailing around Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as O marveled at the helicopters buzzing like prehistoric dragonflies all around us; dinner in the diner – nothing could be finer… except maybe the ENORMOUS sandwiches of the Carnegie Deli; O’s burgeoning interest in all things wheeled, primarily taxi cabs and fire engines… Broom! Broom!; the MOMA… O gazing enraptured at a huge picture of Dali, and him being very excited both by the Jackson Pollock’s on view and the acoustic possibilities of screaming in the gallery; Schwarz’s Toystore, and O listening intently to a story from a man dressed as a toy soldier who namechecked ‘In-a-Gadda-da-Vida’; a brief but amusing audience with the legendary Bleeker Bob in his record store in Greenwich Village; hot dogs with everything in the Village; seeing Radio City Music Hall (at last!), Electric Lady studios, Joey Ramone Street and other equally iconic places…. there was so much more, we did so much in three days that looking back now I am amazed at the stamina we had!

… and so it was time to return to England, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Well, actually it was time to spend the night sleeping on the stickily uncomfortable floor of JFK airport, courtesy of Delta airlines. A variety of excuses for a no-flight scenario were provided after we had been decanted from our settled positions on the aeroplane to spend several hours hectoring a lone Delta rep who appeared to know less about the situation than either we or the scary LED screen beside him did. Basically, a combination of no-show co-pilot and inclement weather were blamed for our predicament, an ATC decision, which, we were informed, meant Delta were not obliged to provide us with either accommodation or food. Even as Delta rep informed us to be patient, that he fully expected the flight to reboard soon, the screen beside him broadcast the news of its cancellation. Tempers were frayed, all the stores in the airport were closed, Delta rep reassured us however that vending machines were available. Great. You can buy an I-Pod and docking system from a vending machine in JFK, but try as you might you cannot buy a bottle of water or anything remotely edible, unless of course, you are a goat… I snuck back onto the plane to steal blankets and pillows from business class, resisting the easy temptation to slip onto the open flight deck and fly the plane to Cuba, and we settled (!) down for the night. After a deeply surreal and uncomfortable night on the floor we eventually got back onboard the next morning. We joked with the cabin staff about the pilot situation. Oh dear. No joke. We may have got back on board, but we were going nowhere until a co-pilot showed up. Several hours later one did, we finally took off and actually had a reasonably pleasant flight through the attentive ministrations of the cabin crew, who obviously thought that giving us copious amounts of ‘ sedation’ was the way to win back our hearts. Thank you, cabin crew, screw you, Delta Airlines.

I’ve blathered enough for the moment, tune in next time for the unbelievable excitement that will comprise…

English Village Fetes!
Bubbles!
A Grand Day Out!
Swindon Mela!
Return to Post-Election Phnom Penh!!

Can you bear to wait…..????

Musically, I’m currently grooving (am I allowed to at my age?) to The Black Keys, 22-20’s, Ry Cooder ‘I , Flathead’ (genius!!), Richmond Fontaine EP, Fleet Foxes, Midlake and wishing I had some Robert Gordon and Link Wray with me. Reading Michael Palin ‘New Europe’ and watching ‘Long Way Down’ and Sigur Ros on DVD. But you don’t really need (or want) to know that, do you?