Ben Watt and Bernard Butler. Danger: Genius at work!


Last night something unquestionably serendipitous happened to me and my wife.  We were staying in Newcastle where I was working.  Leaving the excellent Sleeperz hotel at 6.30 to wander about the Toon the astoundingly friendly and helpful new guy on the front desk enquired as to our evening’s plans.

“None really, just going to wander.” I replied “But I’m going to pay a visit to the Free Trade Inn  and possibly The Cluny.”

“Excellent choices my friend, let me look and see what’s on at The Cluny.” replied Dean (for that was, no is, his name.)

“Hmmm, it’s their folk rock night.”

“Hmmm.” I replied. “Who’s on?”

“Some guy called Ben Watt.”

“Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl?”  I gasped.

“Yeah that’s what it says.”

“Who’s the support.”

“Someone called Bernard Butler.”

“Bernard Butler of Suede?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

So, off we went.  “It’ll be sold out.” I speculated to Jeana “But if we can get in do you want to see them?”

“Why not?” She replied.

Fast forward an hour.  Not only to be we grab two of the few remaining tickets (twice we’d been told it was sold out) but we also get the best seats in what is a very good house.  On the balcony barely 20 feet from stage.

As it turns out Bernard Butler isn’t supporting Ben Watt, they are playing together, mostly his beautiful new album, Hedra, but four old Cherry Red songs (including the gorgeous Some Things Don’t Matter, that was surely an early precursor for Everything But The Girl material).

This is remarkable.  Not only do the pair have 12 UK top ten hits between them and probably more in album hits but Ben Watt is a celebrated Club DJ too.  And here they are in Cluny 2 on a Wednesday night in Newcastle and we have tickets.  I have been a fan of Ben (and Tracey and Bernard) since my university days 34 years ago but have never seen any of them live.  In that time Ben has nearly died, become a father and released his second solo album 31 years after his debut.  It was a wait worth enduing because it is wonderful.

Stripped down to just him and Butler on electric guitar and the occasional Wurlitzer the atmosphere is respectful.  The sound is killer.  Maybe the best I have ever heard at a gig.  Every word perfectly enunciated, every finger pick heard, every click of the guitar pedals audible too which gives us a real sense of the artistry at work here.

Putting to one side Ben Watt’s excellent musicianship you just have to bow your head in awe of the craft that Bernard Butler displays with a Gibson in his hands.

16 songs and a decent dollop of insightful singer songwriter chat later we are at an end.

“That’s all I’ve got.” says Watt modestly.

That’s all we needed.

Absolute 5 star.  Nailed on.

As we walked back to the hotel on Newcastle’s glorious quayside a young man in red jogs past us.  Turning and waving, he shouts  “Did you enjoy the Free Trade Inn?”

It was Dean.

“Yeah, but we saw Ben Watt.   Ben Fucking Watt.”  I yelled as he disappeared into the distance.

Then we had Souvlaki.  The night was complete.


If you’ve never seen a youth theatre warm up this might just blow your mind
April 13, 2014, 8:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Forth Children’s theatre do Si Si Si.

The kelpies. World class hits Scotland.
April 10, 2014, 11:55 am
Filed under: creativity | Tags: , , ,

If ever we doubt, as a nation, that we have the wherewithal to create things of truly outstanding greatness these days think again.  View this stunning film of a truly miraculous creation at The Helix by the side of the M9 in Falkirk.

Quite, quite remarkable.  Congratulations to all involved.

This is just getting ridiculous
April 8, 2014, 11:55 am
Filed under: independence, Scotland, Scottish Independence debate

Lord Robertson has gone mad.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.49.14

Scottish or British? How it feels.


In the truly excellent Unstated:  Writers on Scottish Independence Janice Galloway makes an interesting contribution in response to the Guardian’s asking her how it felt to be Scottish and British.  Interestingly the challenge proved too emotional for her and she sidestepped this issue choosing to focus only on her feelings about the British side of the equation.

But it got me thinking and I share my thoughts here.

As an advocate of Scottish self-determination you’d perhaps think I’d choose to diss the whole notion of Britishness, but you’d be wrong.  I’ve been brought up British.  I’ve been taught that to call yourself Scottish on official forms is not right.  We are British first, Scottish second.  Right?

Technically, I guess that’s true but I think you could, even in the current Union, argue the opposite.

Britishness and Scottishness can, and do, sit happily together, or at least they have for the 50 or so years that I’ve had to deal with this sometimes schizophrenic sense of nationality.

Let me take an easy example to demonstrate.  At the Olympics I’m 100% British.  On the football field 100% Scottish.

In every sporting conflict I adopt an ‘Anyone but England’ stance (I know, sorry, I just can’t help it – I’m Scottish you see) but not in Cricket.  That’s because the England cricket team is really British; Scots and Welshmen from time to time feature in their ranks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as annoyed as most Scots when Andy Murray is referred to as British and it really irritates me when BBC commentators refer to England when they mean Britain; foreigners, particularly Americans, are prone to this deeply annoying faux pas.

Andy Murray Survey 1

But that’s all a shallow argument and is hardly a reason to promulgate a breaking up of this oft-glorious Union (or perhaps that should be past- rather than oft-).

I like many aspects of Britishness.  I like the fact that it is a country with many distinctive micro-cultures, accents, dialects, climates, terraines.  I have holidayed many, many times in many different parts of Britain and had a diversity of great experiences.

I like London.  From a cultural perspective it’s, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, the most diverse and interesting city I have ever visited.  I like Londoners too.  I just don’t like what London has become in relation to the British economy.  I don’t like what it has done to British politics, with its huge population and its honeypot attraction to wealthy Home Counties residents who made their money there before colonising the surrounding countryside.

I don’t like that, aside from the Inner City it has turned vast swathes of the South blue in hue, to the extent that London can’t overcome conservative dictats.  For God’s sake, Clegg sounds more Tory than the Tories.

Blair completely upended Labour to try to out Tory the Tories.

It’s become a Cuckoo in Great Britain’s nest.  Gobbling up the lion’s share of the food so that the regional chicks have to scrabble for scraps and become the runts.

I don’t even fundamentally oppose Conservatism.  The Scottish Tories will be a necessary agent provocateur in an independent nation, checking the excesses of Scottish Labour and, in Ruth Davidson, they have an articulate and reasoned leader.

I like Wimbledon, I like roast beef, I like the seaside.  I like the BBC (OK that comes with massive caveats) and I like the British press (that’s a generalisation because some of it I abhor, but fundamentally it’s a good, balanced organ). So these bastions of Britishness, not Englishness, are good.

But I like being Scottish more.

It means more to me, it has fewer ‘yes buts’ attached to it.

Whilst Edinburgh (pound for pound, dollar for dollar the most culturally diverse city in the world for four weeks of the year) is undoubtedly a rich capital it does not divide the country like London does.  Glasgow and Aberdeen, and the rising voice of Dundee, sets Edinburgh straight on that one.

Even with an independent parliament in place Edinburgh will be kept in check.

I like the fact that Scotland has a richness and diversity of cultures within striking distance of one another.  Life in Perth is very unlike life in Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Glasgow and yet it’s barely more than an hour away from each of them.

I like the fact that when you tell people you are Scottish it nearly always elicits a positive response.  Sure, the London Cabbie response to our funny money might be an exception to the rule.

I like the fact that we are so very pro-European, perhaps thanks to the Auld Alliance, in stark contrast to the way that Farage’s Britain with its ‘bloody foreigners’ auto response is not.

I like that we are a country that leans left, but won’t become raging communists given the chance.

And I like our weather, or at least the dramatic range of it.  Four seasons in one day can be an enthralling thing.  Four seasons in one hour, even more so.  Where else can you get that?

So, come September 19th when we sit round the table, like grown ups, dividing the spoils, planning our new constitution with all that Better Together negative balderdash just an amusing historical footnote it will be with fondness that I reflect on the fact I’m finally truly Scottish nee British.



Why Hibs fans need to wake up and smell the coffee
April 7, 2014, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,


So, Heart of Midlothian were relegated to the Championship on Saturday.  I’m sure Leigh Griffiths wet his pants in delight.  And I’m certain that many of my fellow Hibs fans will have done the same.

The delight of schadenfreude will be overwhelming amongst certain Easter Road faithful, but not this one. (Although I have to caveat that comment by saying I have been a lifelong Hibs fan, but hardly one you could describe as ‘committed’.  Consistent, yes, committed, hardly.)

But that doesn’t take away my right of opinion in the sorry tale that is the unravelling of Heart of Midlothian by a buffoon from the Baltics.

Sure, we have reason to ‘hate’ our closest rivals, after all Hearts have pumped us again and again in the last few years (actually not just then, the Robertson years were pretty painful too.)  That goes with the territory of city football rivalry, and is the same the  world over, from Milan to Manchester.

But losing Hearts from the top division not only robs Hibs of a priceless rivalry but also of gate receipts and, actually, more importantly, a sense of being.  We simply cannot get as het up about a rivalry with Dundee Utd, Partick Thistle, even Aberdeen.

In a report in the press this weekend I read of the complete and utter lack of atmosphere that has overwhelmed Celtic Park since their ticket to league glory was guaranteed the second Rangers left the league.  (Actually my experience of Celtic Park was pretty much like that even when Rangers WERE in the league.)

Celtic fans just find the whole thing BORING.  And school kid tickets are being given away free in increasing numbers as full paid ticket buyers desert Parkhead.

Aidan Smith writes a very good piece about the demise of Heart of Midlothian FC in today’s Scotsman.  It’s well timed as today Hearts’ potential funders Bryan Jackson and Trevor Birch are  to meet with the administrators of UBIG and Ukio Bankas.  So, not only have Hearts been relegated but there’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll be liquidated too.

Cue further hilarity amongst The Cabbage’s hardcore support.

But be careful what you wish for.  We’ll be saying bye bye to local derbies for at least three more years (pre-supposing that Butcher manages to keep Hibs away from the drop this year mind you.  And that ain’t a given.  Is it?)

Following Scottish football is bad enough, but to now have lost the 8 most meaningful games in a season, arguably 16 as Hibs/Rangers and Celtic/Hearts matches were pretty passionate affairs too, is simply disastrous.

Sorry Jam Tarts (and die hard Hibby, Jambo haters) but as far as I’m concerned we can’t live with you, we can’t live without you.




True Detective greatness.
April 3, 2014, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


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