Enjoy this while you can

Leonard Cohen’s sublime Hallelujah was never better interpreted than by Jeff Buckley before his untimely death.

This is it live and it is near perfect.

Now for the bad news.

The winner of X factor is singing it as the “winner’s song” and will therefore be the Christmas number one.

Anyway the lyrics are fantastically anti-Christmas (and it seems to me aetheistic) so we have the last laugh…

I heard there was a secret chord
that david played and it pleased the lord
but you don’t really care for music, do you
well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall and the major lift
the baffled king composing hallelujah


well your faith was strong but you needed proof
you saw her bathing on the roof
her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
she tied you to her kitchen chair
she broke your throne and she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah


baby i’ve been here before
i’ve seen this room and i’ve walked this floor
i used to live alone before i knew you
i’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
but love is not a victory march
it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah


well there was a time when you let me know
what’s really going on below
but now you never show that to me do you
but remember when i moved in you
and the holy dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was hallelujah

well, maybe there’s a god above
but all i’ve ever learned from love
was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
it’s not a cry that you hear at night
it’s not somebody who’s seen the light
it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah


The best of 2008


It’s that time of year again. The wrap. After a great deal of deliberation I have arrived at my Albums of the year and my best of 2008 CD.

You’ll not be surprised to see my usual heavy inclusion of female singer songwriters, although in percentage terms they are rather lower than usual – only about 25%. There’s more Rock ‘n ‘roll than previous years. Don’t know why. Just a good year for rock I suppose.

In no particular order my albums of the year were.

Dig Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Reviewed here. A total classic that is full of cracking and totally unique songs. I absolutely adore this record.


Third by Portishead. Ten years in gestation it was worth every second of the wait. Eerie, disconcerting. Unique. I reviewed it here.


22 Dreams by Paul Weller. I’m not a fan usually, but this record is wonderful. Reviewed here.


The Very Best of Ethiopiques by various artists. What a wonderful discovery. In a classic year for world music, in particular african stuff this blew me away as I explained here.


Welcome to Mali by Amadou and Mariam. Just in. Just Wonderful. This Malian couple make stunning fresh pop music. Not had time to review it yet.


The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow. Deserved winners of The Mercury Prize. This album came from nowhere and was a hot contender for my album of the year. I reviewed it here.


Only by the Night by Kings of Leon. They just keep getting better. This is a fine record with great grinding melodies.


Stay Positive by The Hold Steady. What a wonderful, opoetic record. The other big contender for album of the year. Reviewed here.


Glasvegas by Glasvegas. Yikes. Scotland’s best this year. Huge sound great lyrics and Geraldine is a gem of a song. Reviewed here.


A Piece of What You Need by Teddy Thomson. This is a great underground folky, rocky album by the son of Richard and Linda Thomson that has been on heavy rotation this year. I suspect Jeana would have it as her album of the year. Very good. Reviewed here.


Juno Soundtrack by Various Artists. One of the movies of the year and a cracking soundtrack to go with it. Another one that received heavy rotation in the spring and summer. Reviewed here.


Aman Iwan by Tinariwen. Last but certainly not least it was actually released in 2007 but it only came to my attention this year. The third of my much loved African albums on the list. Reviewed here.


I have to say in conclusion that Dig Lazarus Dig!!! wins my overall album of the year.

And so, to my best of the year CD…

As usual, if you want a copy you need only ask.

Probably the hardest decision of all was to leave off One day Like This by Elbow in favour of Starlings, but my rules only allow one song per artist.

Overall I thought 2008 was a vintage year and I think this might be my best ‘best of’ yet…

Here’s how it pans out.

1. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
2. That’s not my name by The Ting Tings
3. Cler Achel by Tinariwen
4. The Rip by Portishead
5. Come On Over (Turn Me On) by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
6. Have You Made Up Your Mind by Paul Weller
7. Freeway by Aimee Mann
8. Family Tree by TV On The Radio
9. Lights Out by Santogold
10. In My Arms by Teddy Thompson
11. You Cheated Me by Martha Wainwright
12. Geraldine by Glasvegas
13. Starlings by Elbow
14. Daydreamer by Adele
15. The Age Of The Understatement by The Last Shadow Puppets
16. Crawl by Kings Of Leon
17. Lord, I’m Discouraged by The Hold Steady
18. 5 Years Time by Noah And The Whale
19. Sabali by Amadou and Mariam

So good was this year’s stock that I’m strongly considering a ‘B sides best of”.

What do you think?

The aforementioned One Day Like This would feature, as would a couple of tracks from the Very Best Of Ethiopiques, and a great Karine Polwart song called Sorry are among the contenders…

No one will ever forgive us, by The National Theatre of Scotland at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh



Here’s a one.

I have to declare two interests from the outset.

I am a Catholic.

My cousin (Susan Vidler) is in this play.

So I’m biased.

Paul Higgins, may be the most remarkable new stage-writing talent since Gregory Burke.  It really is written brilliantly, flowing along at 100 miles an hour packed with hilarious one liners, and I believe it’s autobiographical. (Actually it’s very unfair of me to heap this comparative praise on Paul Higgins given my lack of comparative insight; but if he isn’t the best then Scottish Theatre is absolutely booming.)

I urge you to see this play before it is too late. (It was pretty much sold out on a dreich Tuesday in late November.)

It’s a fantastic smorgasbord of Scottishness. As the nation of doom we like to dwell on the dark side and this does it magnificently. I honestly have never encountered a script, in film or on stage, that leaps like Bambi on steroids, between bleak nihilism and outrageous humour, line by line, quite as well as this.

It is remarkable.

The main theme centres on belief 9or lack of it). I suppose the key character in the five person cast is the youngest son who has opted out of the seminary (or is that safe haven?) that he has studied at for seven years because he has become atheistic. Is there a God? Is there a Catholic God (OMG)? Is there a point? Why should I coexist with you? Have I a future?

But, at the gleaming, glowing, pulsating, dangerous centre of it all is the horrific patriarch, Gary Lewis. What a performance. The drunk, child-beating, wife-hating (but actually not particularly misogynistic) husband engulfs the stage with his presence.

It is massive.

The audience howled with tears and laughter and, for me, it was another triumphant National Theatre of Scotland performance. I’ve seen three this year in three different theatres.

They all demonstrated our brilliance.

Hunger, by Steve McQueen



The H block in Belfast’s Maze Prison.

This film captures the development and escalation of protest by the ‘political’ prisoners held here as things moved through ‘The ‘Blanket protest’ onto ‘The Dirty Protest” and finally to ‘The Hunger Strikes’ that claimed Bobby Sands and eight of his compatriot’s lives.

As the end credits of the film show, the enemy, in the form of Margaret Thatcher was ‘not for turning’ and did not grant political status to these men that she considered no more than murderers. They did, however, lead to many concessions – bit by bit.

This astounding movie falls into three very clear sections; the gut wrenching blanket and dirty protest; a long and deeply personal conversation (in one 20 minute take) between Sands and his priest where Sands is asked to justify and then walk away from the impending hunger strike; and finally Sands’ ordeal itself.

Each section has a different pace and personality. Each is desperate in its own way.

This film pulls few punches. The stench of shit is almost palpable in the opening act and the way in which Michael Fassbender brings Sands’ death to the screen is almost unbearable.

But the real triumph of the film is that it takes no political sides and makes no judgements but does not sit on the fence. How? Because it invokes the viewer to do that themselves. Sands is neither a figure to pity or to vilify. It really is quite remarkable that the artist Steve McQueen can achieve this so consistently.

And this is art with a capital A. Every scene is stunningly rendered. The pace, at times snail-like, allows you to consider in real detail the situation these men found themselves in (or created however you want to look at it).

Fassbender’s performance is miraculous.

McQueen though, is the star of the show. One scene in particular when the men slop out by pouring their night’s urine under the doors of the corridor simultaneously is quite beautiful, as is the Hirst-like art that some of them create from their faeces (that’s what makes up the poster image).

Film of the year. No contest.

Incidentally we saw it in the DCA’s Cinema 2. What a cracking screen.

(As we scoffed coffee and fudge doughnuts. How’s that for irony?)

Engraulis encrasicolus

I’ve been away. In Perthshire. On holiday. Hence the neglect to my blog.

But I’m back and I’m gonna start with a rant.

The letter below, that I wrote to Baxters, should be self explanatory…


The Managing Director
Baxters Food Group
(Retail Division)
IV32 7LD

Dear Sir/Madam

I enclose a package of what your delicatessen in the Baxters Food Store in Blackford laughably describes as edible.

Were I in need of a quantity of rubber fish (perhaps to use as a prop in a Pantomime or even, more grandly, a movie) I’d have found the £2.70 I spent in Blackford a very worthwhile and economic investment. After all, to fashion such life-like facsimiles of the common or garden Anchovy fillet (Engraulis encrasicolus) would be no mean feat for such a price (no doubt the Chinese would have to be enlisted for their outstanding skills in mass producing machine-tooled ephemera).

Were I in need of a full colonic cleansing treatment I may have eschewed the four market leaders shown below and opted instead to actually consume these anchovyesque ‘things’ that you sold me.

As it happens my suspicions, which were aroused at point of sale, that this produce would be unfit for human consumption were sadly proven to be justified. They were raised upon observing your super-inefficient sales lady dousing the aforementioned Anchovy-like, gut churning, rubbery specimens in the ancient oil in which they lay, in a vain effort to breathe elasticity into their tired and dehydrated bodies.

Because, on opening the packing a few hours later her elaborate deception unravelled quicker than you can say ‘Salmonella’.

To say these anchovies were past their best would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. These anchovies are so ‘past their best’ that I suspect they may have been caught by a trawler thrashing around in the wake of the Titanic. I may even go further than that and suggest they are the discovered remains of an orgiastic party held by Nefertiti.

Sir; because I have enclosed these vile beasts you will be able to see for yourself what these monsters of the deep could have done to me and my young family before you decide how best to unbesmirch the previously pristine reputation of the Baxters Food Group.

Yours faithfully

Mark Gorman


Yesterday I received a very straightforward letter in response to my own, bereft of humour, enclosing a £10 voucher and an apology.  Ok, fair enough, they took it on the chin, but I’d have liked a bit of repartee (and a hamper).

Hunger by Steve McQueen

You’ll have to wait for a full review of this miraculous movie.  Actually, it’s not a movie it is a work of art.  It is one of the most incredible experiences you will ever have in a cinema and I’ll tell you why later.

But one thing I’d say.  Leave the popcorn for Absence of Solace or whatever it’s called.

Sam Taylor Wood

In a totally unilluminating South Bank Show I was nevertheless enthused by Sam Taylor Wood’s work.

It is on the money.

This is quite beautiful, and it’s only one of many balletic pieces. Nonetheless some twat on the South Bank Show pointed out that the shadow of her arm didn’t cover the chair.

I guess he thought it was a real insight, actually he came across like a real American… er… wank.

Her response was good.

“Yes, I know, it’s deliberate.”


You might think this is boring;

I saw it at The Tate Modern in London (I think) and, for me, this is modern day classicism.

It’s really, sorry I’ll say it again, beautiful.

John Sargeant

Believe me, I don’t care who wins Strictly cum dancing.

But I do find the continuing voting in of John Sargeant wonderful, especially as Len, keeps getting incensed about it.

Come on Britian.  Keep it up.

But AA Gill is paid to say what I just did in a more entertaining way.

And so, he did.


“The tingles”


For those of you that know my father you will know that he used this expression a lot when describing events and moments that hit the spot and created a real emotional resonance. Today I had “the tingles” as we completed our second rehearsal for the FCT 30th Anniversary Show.

We’d learned the words and melody of “With This Life of Mine” from the Matchgirls on Friday night and today we blocked and rehearsed the movement (really exciting stuff from Jill) and brought the whole thing together.

It was really quite superb, particularly with singing coach, Joyce’s, interpretation and rigour, and her addition of harmonies

Then a new dimension was introduced.

Liam Sinclair, one of the directors, made us think about the point of it and where it fitted into FCT’s huge canon of work. The 20 minutes he took at the end of the rehearsal turned something that was great into something that is, and will be, utterly compelling, truly moving and peerless.

The way he did it left me breathless.

Be warned. There will be tears. (Especially from my sister Jane.).

The totenkopf

According to Wikipedia, skulls and bones were long used to mark the entrances to Spanish cemeteries (campo santo). The practice, dating back many centuries, led to the symbol eventually becoming associated with the concept of death – not a big leap there, it has to be said. And Skull and crossbones are used and have been used by many military organisations over the years (most popularly to denote Pirate ships, in the style of Long John Silver – the Jolly Roger).

However, I watched a programme on TV the other night about Nazism and the SS in which I was knocked sideways upon spotting this image of SS chiefs having fun in down time at Auchwitz.


I have commented before on the hideous atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Second World War and received a barrage of abuse from the Holocaust deniers, most notably on this post which has taken on a bit of a life of its own.

I honestly hadn’t noticed before that this was a part of the SS uniform with its own name – The Totenkopf, and it has been widely used elsewhere in military insignia

However, the context of its use among the killing factories of Auschwitz and the symbolism of the skull and cross bones in this context was, for me, a very powerful symbol of the Natzi’s complete and utter disregard for life. I wonder if any of them felt any sense of the appropriateness of the symbolism (it’s so tempting to say irony, only it’s not ironic) that stared out at their victims, just above their murderers’ eyes, as they faced the short walk to their death?

Incidentally, I am reading quite an interesting book on the psychology and mechanisms of decision making by two esteemed academics from the University of Chicago, called Nudge. It is allegedly taking political decision-making by storm.


In one section the authors use the rise of Nazism to dramatise their thinking – they refer to the findings of another academic, Asch, who studied how Nazism had been possible. His theory demonstrates how easy it is for a bandwagon effect to occur and so-called “pluralistic Ignorance” to set in. He argues that people do things not because they like or subscribe to a practice but because they think that most other people like it and the natural response is to conform.

It’s not “following orders” which was the staple SS defence in the post war trials, but a subconscious need to conform. “If Herr Schnitzel is murdering innocent Jews then it must be OK and I’ll do it too.”


The Killers – Human (lyrics)

This song is doing my nut in. The main reason it annoys me, apart from its heavy airplay on every station – even on Steve Wright’s Love Songs for god’s sake, is its premise.

That premise is that the band are caught in some sort of existential identity crisis.

the chorus is clearly a desperate plea to some form of higher authority, a god perhaps…

“Are we human, or are we hamsters?”

Well Brandon, I think I can help you out there. Give me a call sometime and I’ll talk you through it.

The whole silly nonsense puts me in mind of these classic TV spots for Maxell.

Out of the mire

In a remarkably poor end of season programme this band stood out like an oasis in the desert.

Indeed the interviewee that followed their first spot, Ray Davies, was transfixed and proclaimed them a cross between Blondie and Led Zepellin. The truth is they are a hybrid of LA and Cambodia. I don’t know how they’ve passed my by so far because they rock man.

They are Dengue Fever.

It looks like this is their signature song and was, in fact, the one that moved Ray Davies so much…

Actually, I think they’re a sort of modern day Cramps but from a different swamp.

Jools sadly primed the Hootenany, a show much compromised by his insidious limelight-seeking last year, by promising heaps of Jools stuff, like Ruby Turner. Worrabore.


Well, 20 plus years later, I’m back on the stage with FCT for their thirtieth anniversary show next April. First rehearsal tonight and I was given a pretty safe solo part. There are some astounding talents in the show. Some of the male leads have incredible voices. Just as well as this is the first song I have to learn. It’s going to be a major challenge but I’m looking forward to it.

We’ve all agreed that I should seek sponsorship from Imodium.

A grand day out

On Wednesday I was fortunate enough to be invited to The Radio Forth Awards. A cross between The Brits and Big Hearted Scotland it was a right good laugh. The Assembly Rooms in George Street was bulging as we enjoyed a great lunch. Back in the day my dad actually won one of these awards for his community contribution while working with FCT.

After lunch the ‘public’ were invited into the venue and populated the balcony.

On stage we were treated to a host of great acts (and James Blunt).

Jack Robertson, a 13 year old lad from Liberton High who has a burning ambition to be on the X Factor and genuinely has talent, was first up. Followed by a tired looking Jason Donovan. The aforementioned James Blunt (OMG he must be the poshest man in Britain) did three songs including the inevitable rendering of “You’re Beautiful”.

However, one of the big highlights was Aleisha Dixon who sang her new song, The Boy Done nothing.

Next up, Leon Jackson; great singer but zero personality. Craig Hill did quite a good comedy spot, which surprised me before we had a short set from Sharleen Spiterri that was great

The show closers were Stereophonics whose acoustic performance of Dakota was really good.

Dave Trott

Dave Trott is a very, very wonderful creative with a very wonderful blog.

This item particularly impressed me and is the sort of mantra this generation of youngsters could do well by if they used it as a guide to life.


a bit late in the day…

…but I never saw this at the time. I found it while researching my Napier project and it’s wonderful. Basically it’s a brilliant Apple Mac ad hijacked by Obama. Perfect targeting for a certain demograph and what a great way to sell yourself. Not sure if it’s a viral or a real ad, but judging from the lack of an “I’m Barack Obama and I approved this message” ending I suspect that sadly it is the former.

Whatever, it’s great.

Back in the day

In the 1980’s Tennent’s Gold Bier was a client of mine and I had the dubious pleasure of presenting this script, alongside Gerry Farrell, at an office in London’s Regent Street. We thought we might get fired but unbelievably the client went for it. Now that was a result. And the sign of a great client, willing to take risks.

You know you’ve made it when your ad makes Carrot’s Commercial Breakdown…

Good drivers will love this ad…

I’m indebted to a great advertising website for revealing this ad to me. Scamp is written by a creative guy at BBH and it’s festooned with advertising creativity, with some crossover to my own ramblings. I know little of the background to this ad but it appears to have been a little controversial.

Anyway, once you’ve had a look I’ll tell you what I think…

It’s verging on genius I’d say. A brilliant observation about non-observation. Although the strategy is to raise people’s awareness of cyclists whilst driving I’m more inclined to think it’s just a general ad about being a better all round driver. The number of idiots that can’t see past the car in front bemuses me and this takes one right back to one’s driving lessons where it was drummed into me to look way ahead, as far as you can see in fact, and be ready to take evasive action should incidents present themselves.

A brilliant ad, it really is.

And its predecessor is equally brilliant.

Carol ann duffy poem

I saw this article in the Times today.  It’s a remarkable photo and a remarkable poem.  Carol Ann Duffy was asked to select a photograph from The Barbican’s War show of photos by Robert Capa, and write a poem to capture the ‘capture’.

I love the way the poem interprets the photo in paradox.  It counterpoints the face value interpretation(s) that one might reach with the harsh reality that this is a man captured at his moment of death.

I like the way that it disses the youth culture of today, a culture that is not encouraged to stop and reflect, merely to observe, glance, half consider, dismiss.


Recent reading. Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen


No way will this win the Booker. I can vouch for that because it was written several years ago, but really the reason it won’t win is because it is trash.

But a little bit of trash didn’t hurt anyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this rather long but eternally amusing pulp fiction novel.

I read it as a follow up to Chuck Palanhiuk’s grisly, Haunted, and was warned that it outsicked Palanhuik. (it didn’t; not by a long way.)


But the truth is, neither can hold a candle to Katherine Dunn’s beautiful sickfest, and, in my experience the best sicko book of all time, Geek Love.


Geek Love is a masterpiece of sickness, but actually it has a beautiful core to it that neither Palanhuik or Hassian can remotely approach.

However, if you wanna read a right good, and a fun piece of trash about American politics read Sick Puppy.

Alternatively step up a gear and read Primary Colors by Anonymous.


The Lives of others (das Leben der anderen)


We finally watched this important movie last night.

It centres on the conscience of Stassi spy (Ulrich Muhe) who realises that the people he is entrapping may actually have a point. Less the tart with a heart but certainly the spy who came in from the cold.

It is a wonderfully engaging and extraordinarily intelligent movie with brilliantly restrained performances from the entire ensemble cast, although Muhe is the real star.

The world’s greatest critical movie melting pot, imdb, gives it an 8.5 rating and rates it the number 53 movie of all time. That might make it Germany’s best, although I think there are some contenders, such as The Tin Drum and Fitzcaraldo for starters.

However, there is a reason for the huge rating.

It is sensational.

Grace jones

I asked my daughter how old she thought Grace Jones was during her recent Jools performance. (The silver knickers showing was a touch OTT.)

“35 to 45?” She guessed.

She’s 60. And remarkable.

Now have a look at why she is so remarkable.

Indian pakistani border ceremony

Sanjeev Bhaskar is fronting a very good series on BBC just now giving his perspective on India, from the point of view of a very British Indian returning to his ancestral home. Last night he took in a fabulous ceremony on the Indian/Pakistani border that had me in stitches.

Here’s a bit of it, as previously picked up by Michael Palin.

It’s a treat.

Good car day

Amy got her first car today.

Do you think she’s pleased?


The great thing is that she’s been working for two years and saving up for a car and she was able to pay for it herself.

I was dead impressed with that.