Unknown Pleasures #23: Gordon Munro

Politicians.

Liars, cheats, self-centred blowhards with empty promises and corrupt motives.

Each and every last one of them.

Right?

Well, actually, no.

Not if you have political ambitions in Leith that is.

First off, you have Deidre Brock, the sitting SNP MP for Leith and North Edinburgh and then there’s her closest competitor, Labour’s Gordon Munro.

A long term Councillor for City of Edinburgh Council I had the great pleasure to build on my Dad’s friendship with Gordon when I first met him as a fellow Board Director at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, one of Gordon’s many Council responsibilities (funnily enough that’s where I first met Deidre too).

I was immediately impressed with Gordon’s enthusiasm and contribution – so many of these posts are really statutory and lead to disinterested contributions, if any at all. Not Gordon.

It helps that he is a passionate lover of so many art forms, not least theatre. (Oh, and the mighty Hibees.)

But as time went on I started to stumble upon him all over the shop. In art galleries, at gigs, in the theatre. And then I called on his help to find a new home for Forth Children’s Theatre.

Boom!

He was straight in there, scouring Leith for us, putting forward all sorts of suggestions (including a disused car park under the Banana Flats).

I read some of his work in The Leither. I chatted to him in corridors. I quickly formed a deep respect for a man who wears his heart firmly on his sleeve and makes no compromises with his political beliefs.

To say Gordon is left of centre would be to downplay his passion for the Labour movement. An all-consuming passion that manifests itself in all the values of Labour that I love (although I vote SNP).

This is what politics should be about. A man of the people who cares wholly in his rage against the machine.

I love that about him. I love that about great politicians of any hue (and actually there are a lot of them that aren’t what I painted in my opening paragraph).

But, if you want to see what integrity looks like in flesh and bone, look no further than Gordon Munro.

An actual hero in my book. (And the only other person on earth I know that likes the outstanding Yasmine Hamdan.)

Now read about his heroes.

And, come the revolution. Back Gordon.

My Favourite Author or Book

Victor Serge. I first encountered Serge in 1983 when I bought a battered second hand copy of his ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’ published by Oxford books in 1963. It’s a great read and a fantastic insight into the tumults of the first half of the 20th Century. When the New York Review of Books brought out an edition which included material omitted from the edition I knew I bought it right away. I was not disappointed its still a great read. NYRB have also brought out his notebooks which cover 1936-1947 and his humanity shines through despite recording the murder and deaths of several friends. A threat that he constantly lived under too as Stalin’s GPU kept him under observation. They also publish some of his fiction too. His writing is superb and his volume of poetry ‘ A blaze in the desert’ is worth seeking out . “ All the exiles in the world are at the Greek informer’s café tonight,” is a line from his poem ‘Marseilles’ written in 1941 and a film script in one line. But don’t take my word for it here is what Susan Sontag thinks of Serge : “ Serge is one of the most compelling of twentieth-century ethical and literary heroes”. She’s right.

Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge

The Book I’m reading

As always I have several on the go. ‘Paint Your Town Red – How Preston took back control and your town can too’ by Matthew Brown & Rhian E Jones’ is essential reading. ‘The Divide – A brief guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions’ by Jason Hickel infuriates and illuminates in equal measure.’To Mind your Life- poems for Nurses & Midwives’ is life affirming. ‘ The way to play – coaching hints and technique’ by Inverleith Petanque Club is to hand as I’ve taken up this sport during Covid. ‘ Fixture List season 2021/22 Hibernian FC is essential year round reading for me as a lifelong Hibs supporter.

Paint Your Town Red: How Preston Took Back Control and Your Town Can Too:  Amazon.co.uk: Matt Brown, Rhian Jones: 9781913462192: Books

The book I wished I had written

Is still locked in my head and unlikely to make it out .

The book I couldn’t finish

Funnily enough I had a conversation recently with Ian Rankin where we both said we started but could not finish ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ by Thomas de Quincey. Turgid.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater: And Other Writings (Penguin  Classics): Amazon.co.uk: De Quincey, Thomas, Milligan, Barry:  9780140439014: Books

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg. I know, I know it inspired Stevenson , it’s a classic etc but life gets in the way. Maybe one day.

My favourite film

Too many but if its one only then it has to be ‘Casablanca’.

My favourite Play

It has to be Peter Brooks ‘ Mahabarata’ in Glasgow . 3 nights in a row of the most sublime theatre I’ve ever seen. The whole audience, which included a chunk of Scottish Actors, were on our feet shouting for more.

My favourite podcast

I don’t do podcasts but I do recommend the blog ‘Stand up and Spit’ by the poet Tim Wells. Great stuff and always interesting.

The box set I’m hooked on

‘American Gods’. A great cast and a good realisation of a favourite book.

My favourite TV series

Tiswas. It just broke all the rules and was great fun too. Chris Tarrant , Sally James , Spit the Dog and the Phantom Flan Flinger along with some cool music . What more do you want.

My favourite piece of Music

‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones. Perfection. When Peel left us and Hibs adopted it for a while as our tune part tribute and part due to the boy band look team we had at the time I was chuffed. 

My favourite dance performance

I’ve been lucky enough to see Nureyev, Wayne Sleep, Ballet Rambert, Michael Clarke but it has to be Carlos Acosta with ‘On before’. He has this amazing ability that some football players have of being able to hang in the air. His company will be worth catching when we get the chance to enjoy live performance again.

The last film/music/book that made you cry

Film – Motorcycle Diaries – Walter Salles. I know that’s Guevara’s companion in the last scene watching the plane take off. Alberto Granado at 84 was not allowed in to the USA for the premiere at Sundance despite Robert Redford’s best efforts.

Music- Kathryn Joseph at Pilrig Church Hall. Go see here at Edinburgh Park in August.

Book- Notebooks 1936-1947 Victor Serge. So many deaths.

The lyric I wished I had written

‘Happy Birthday’ – not the Altered Images one. Imagine the royalties (and yes I know there’s a story to this lyric).

The song that saved me

Not a song but a request to dance the Gay Gordon’s at a wedding in 1985. We’ve been together ever since.

The instrument I play

The voice. Badly.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano.

If I could own one painting it would be

‘Nighthawks at the Diner’ – Edward Hopper. I have had a print of this up on the wall since 1983. 

Nighthawks at the Diner | Edward hopper, Edward hopper paintings, Art  institute of chicago

The music that cheers me up

 A whole bunch of 45’s from season 1977/78. Punk Rock shook things up and even Bowie upped his game with ‘Heroes’. We were lucky.

The place I feel happiest

Home with our family our two daughters , son in law and the best thing to happen during lockdown our granddaughter Ada.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Alcohol. It’s got me in and out of trouble. Seen me on my hands and knees outside a nightclub in Tangier. Arrested in Burnley. Stealing a Police hat from the back of a Police car outside a Police station. Chased by a knife wielding pimp in a Miami hotel. And I keep coming back for more.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party. I’ll invite these artists and authors

Dead – David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart , Frida Kahlo, Jesus so the wine would flow , Oscar Wilde.

Alive – Brian Eno, Marianne Faithfull, Annie Lenno , Jan Gehl, the Singh Twins, John Byrne.

And I’ll put on this music

Bessie Smith, Yasmine Hamdan, Calypso Rose, Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter.

(This is fucking mazing by the way. Ed)

If you like this, try these…

Gerry Farrell

Alan McBlane

Felix Mclaughlin

Duncan McKay

Claire Wood.

Morvern Cunningham

Helen Howden

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #22: Gerry Farrell.

If you know Scottish advertising, you know Gerry Farrell. My dear friend of many, many years. Nearly 35 in fact.

It was he who got me poached from Hall Advertising to The fledgling Leith Agency. An unexpected happening, but one that made me think maybe I could do my job after all.

Gerry and I lived through a golden age of advertising that included many shenanigans and totally unacceptable behaviour. For instance, there was a hole in the wall of The Leith Agency that Gerry kicked when I failed to sell a second rate piece of work for him. It was, as I recall, a Lion Rampant singing into a microphone for Tennent’s Live. OK. it wasn’t second rate but it wouldn’t be troubling the jury at D&AD, and that wall will testify to Gerry’s passion for doing it right every time.

Gerry is, under all that loudness, bravado and fiery red-haired temper, a quiet and very, very thoughtful soul. A fly fisherman. You cannae flyfish making a fucking racket, I’ll bet.

The work he has done in Leith’s under-priveleged communities shows his generosity. He is also generous to a fault with his advice, his willingness to encourage young talent and to just make our industry better than it already is.

He’s a great teacher too, and a showman. Oh God, a showman. His pitches have been legendary – up there only in theatre and passion with those of the dearly departed Simon Scott.

And he’s a laugh. A fucking loud, hearty, guttural laugher that invites you to laugh with him. And who could resist? The teller of tales has many that are just wonderful.

As you might expect from Gerry his Unknown Pleasures were created with a great deal of thought and are nothing if not thorough. But also shot through with storytelling genius. Take his opening line for example …

As a little kid and right the way through my plooky adolescence, I spent hours skulking in Morningside Library.” I mean that is just Gerry Farrell to a T. Witty, colloquial but a beautifully turned and welcoming entree for the many corses that follow.

Enjoy this. I sure did.

My favourite author or book

As a little kid and right the way through my plooky adolescence, I spent hours skulking in Morningside Library. Once I’d read the two hundred-odd books in the ‘Fishing’ section, I prowled the fiction shelves, skimming everything with an interesting title or back cover story, zooming in on the dirty bits and filling in the facts of life my mum and dad were too embarrassed to tell me.

As the plooks faded and my ginger hair reached afro proportions, the novelist who came to make the deepest impression on me was John Updike who wrote the ‘Rabbit’ quartet ‘Rabbit Run’, ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit At Rest’, depicting the life journey of Harry Angstrom, a blue-collar anti-hero on the run from the American Dream just as much as he’s inexorably pulled towards it. As Julian Barnes said in the Guardian:

In Rabbit Redux Harry feels he has “come in on the end” of the American dream, “as the world shrank like an apple going bad”; by the start of Rabbit is Rich he feels “the great American ride is ending”; by the end of Rabbit at Rest “the whole free world is wearing out”.

Years later, aged 21, I met him in Rome at a talk he gave and we had a wee blether. I told him how much I’d learned about sex from the way he wrote about it and he reminded me that he had twice won the Bad Sex Award, literature’s equivalent of the Razzies.

When I left home for Italy aged 17, the second novel ‘Rabbit Redux’ was my company on the long train journey from Edinburgh to Perugia. It set the tone for my own glorious liberation from my parents and my exciting and occasionally disastrous experiments with drugs, alcohol and naughty girls. I probably learned more about sex, infidelity, father-son relationships, marriage and death from the pages of that book than I learned from my own experiences in later life. 

It started a love affair between me and American literature and got me reading Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth. All these writers taught me the best lesson I’ve learned: don’t take anything in life too seriously, especially yourself.

Will Atkinson picked out ‘Earthly Powers’ by Anthony Burgess in his Unknown Pleasures. That’s in my Top Ten. I read it in an eight-hour binge in a caravan, finally finishing at 4am in the morning, thrilled and wrung out, unable to get a wink of sleep. 

My favourite Scottish author by some distance is Kate Atkinson and my two favourites of hers are ‘Life After Life’ and ‘When Will There Be Good News’. I feel like I know her because I used to sit opposite her daughter Helen at the Leith Agency. I’d bring in books for her to give to her mum and she’d bring in books her mum recommended to me.

Finally, if anyone wants a red-hot tip for a thriller, let me recommend ‘Rogue Male’ by Geoffrey Household about a man on a mission to kill Hitler. You won’t put it down till the last page.

Life After Life (Todd Family, #1) by Kate Atkinson

The book I’m reading

I’ve just finished ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’ Farrell who lives in Edinburgh. It zeroes in on a single catastrophic domestic event – the death of Shakespeare’s son. There may never be a better, more absorbing book about the death of a child. The prose is luminous, the depth of feeling is bottomless and the ending is miraculous.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell | Book Club | TOAST Magazine

The book I wish I had written

I’m still waiting for that story to appear in my head. Most writers will tell you not to even bother sitting down to write a book unless you have a story you’re bursting to tell. That’s not happened to me yet although I’m permanently gripped by the IRA’s blowing up of Lord Mountbatten. He was an awful man but nobody deserves to die that way. If I was to write anything it would be a fictionalised version of that. The only part of a book I ever wrote that got published was the title of my son-in-law Adam Kay’s first book ‘This Is Going To Hurt’, his diaries from his time as a junior doctor, currently being turned into a BBC drama. If I got a penny for every copy sold I’d have several million pennies. But I’m happy to make do with my honourable mention in the credits.

1979: Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA bomb | Monarchy | The Guardian

The book I couldn’t finish

If a stack of them fell on me, I’d be crushed to death. Most notable was ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov. Just a chore, so I gave up. Life’s too short. ‘Underworld’ by Don Delillo was another one. I bloody hated ‘American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. And I almost gave up on The Thursday Murder Club but I’m glad I persisted. People kept telling me to read ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I eventually slogged through it but I was never gripped.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Will Self | Waterstones
Hear Hear. Utter shite. Ed.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

There are plenty of things I’m more ashamed of than not reading somebody’s book. I do love books and I have a secret fantasy about being locked in a library all night. But nobody should be guilt-tripping themselves for not obeying the Culture Police. There are plenty of great books I haven’t read. In my old age I look forward to sitting down for a month and reading all of Shakespeare’s plays because he really is the best writer (of English) that ever lived. Crying shame if you had him forced down your throat at school and never went back to enjoy him in later life.

My favourite film

‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. One way or another, I’ve been dogged by mental illness in my family all my life and was amazed when my own mental health went off a cliff one day. Jack Nicholson takes Ken Kesey’s novel by the scruff of the neck and gives it a violent shake. My favourite scene is the fishing trip. My favourite bit of dialogue is “What flavour?”…..”Juicy Fruit”. I’m krazy about Kubrick too. Clockwork Orange and The Shining are incredible movies. So powerful I’ve never been able to watch them again.

My favourite play

I rarely visit the theatre but I’m not going to be guilt-tripped about that either. I did love ‘The Bevellers’ by Roddy McMillan which I was taken to as a 13 year-old St Augustine’s RC schoolboy. I remember all the filthy, funny lines like “If he got a hard-on, he’d think it was a fart gone backwards” and “Tell that fireman ma knickers are on fire and he’s the man wi the hose.” I was shocked and delighted in equal measure at the way all my St Augie’s Catholic teachers in the audience fell about when those pearlers got dropped in the salubrious surroundings of the King’s Theatre.

The Bevellers. Citizens Theatre Glasgow. Design by Jason Southgate. |  Design, Settings, Set design

My favourite podcast

Ach, there’s millions but ‘Thirteen Minutes To The Moon’ has been my favourite for a while, especially the second series about the doomed Apollo 13 flight. It still blows my mind to think that there’s more computing power in a bog-standard calculator then than there was in that spacecraft back then. The astronauts and the chain-smoking NASA crew who got them home with old toilet rolls and sticky back plastic are heroes to me.

Podcast About Moon Landing Records Final Episode In Houston – Houston  Public Media

The box set I’m hooked on

Nothing will ever touch The Sopranos. If you argue otherwise I’ll have you chopped into pork parcels and fed to the fishes.

Concrete Shoes - YouTube

My favourite TV series

‘Friends’. It hasn’t aged that well – these days at least one of the pals would have to be gay and they certainly couldn’t all be white. But the casting was inspired and I partly credit its warmth and likeability with helping my four kids become the funny, fearless, big-hearted people they are today. I’ll never forget taking them to a holiday house right on the water on the Cote d’Azur for a fortnight. Remind me never again to rent a holiday home with a telly. I couldn’t get them out in the sunshine for hours every day because they were glued to Aniston and Co. The scene where Joey has to improvise a foreskin out of Spam for a casting session is unforgettable. Oh, and Danny de Vito’s turn as a stripper in police uniform. The other night I watched ‘Friends: The Reunion,’ a silly, moving, funny, big-hearted retrospective bringing the friends back together in front of a live audience. Worth it just for Lady Gaga dropping in to do ‘Smelly Cat’ with Lisa Kudrow and a gospel choir.

My favourite piece of music

Nah. You cannot be serious. I could do a different Desert Island Discs every week. I cried half the day when David Bowie died. I love genres, like Motown and the way that inspired superstars like Beyonce and Amy Winehouse. I love ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ by Ella Fitzgerald. I love country music and I’d love to visit Nashville. (I spent six years singing and playing in an 11-piece bluegrass band called The Downrights, see photo.) Nina Simone still gives me the chills as does Robert Plant. When I was 13, if I couldn’t be a pilot I wanted to be Mick Jagger. The cowbell at the start of Honky Tonk Women might be the quickest cue to get on the dancefloor. Or is it the opening bars of Nutbush City Limits? I love pure, shallow pop music: Denis Denis by Blondie; anything by Chuck Berry; beautiful slow sad songs like Purple Rain, Perfect Day, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay. I think Eminem is an amazing writer. I love every song Jarvis Cocker ever wrote. I never fail to fill up listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and I still get a kick out of a brass band playing the William Tell Overture (I used to play the French horn). But the sad truth is that I’m a show-off. All the songs I love are songs I can learn and perform. My perfect gig would be me on stage, with me in the audience but I’ll settle for karaoke. 

My favourite dance performance

I’m just not into it. I love watching African tribal dances and Mick Jagger prancing and poncing about on stage. Couples who can jive make me jealous. But ballet? Puts me to sleep. I’m a dance Philistine.

The last film/music/book that made me cry

Sophie’s Choice and the Killing Fields unlocked my tear ducts. But honestly, I laugh more than I cry.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover

The song that saved me

I used to play hymns in my local church group and although I don’t have a strong Catholic faith any more, I’ve always found ‘Amazing Grace’ one of those songs that gets me reaching for my best and bravest voice. It’s a song about being saved despite your wretchedness and that’s a compassionate and helpful way to find comfort when you’re going through a tough time. The other one is a song called ‘Pilgrim’. Steve Earle wrote it in a hurry. He had been asked to say something at a friend’s funeral but his mind went blank so he came up with this beautiful song instead and sang it at the service. It’s a very beautiful song to sing at funerals and it has a chorus that suddenly starts everyone singing along, despite the lump in their throats.

The instrument I play

I have two guitars. A beat up old Yamaha semi-acoustic which I practise on at home and a gorgeous, sunburst Godin 5thAvenue Kingpin (see attached photo) which is my ‘show-pony’ geetar, the one I go on stage with. It has a gorgeous, vintage ‘50s tone so it sounds as good as it looks. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

My son Olly is a genius on the piano and his playing leaves me stone-cold jealous. He can play anything after one hearing and if need be he can take it up or down a semitone in an instant without breaking sweat. He plays regularly for a ska band called Bombskare (but we never talk about that in an airport). I’d also love to be able to play blues harmonica. You can wrench more raw emotion out of that tiny piece of tin than even the sweetest Stradivarius.

If I could own one painting it would be

Anything by Monet, if I had the monet.

What Are Claude Monet's Best Paintings? Five Curators Weigh In – ARTnews.com

The music that cheers me up

Phil Collins. Only joking. Ry Cooder, Bop Till You Drop. Never gets old.

The place I feel happiest

In a boat flyfishing for trout on a Scottish loch. If I had to pick, I’d go for a week’s stay in the Victorian Boathouse on Coldingham Loch.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Karaoke, singing ‘Mack The Knife’.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

I’ve thought about this a lot but the honest truth is if I was having the ultimate dinner party I’d be treating my best mates and my family at Langan’s Brasserie in London. I’d have their spinach soufflé with hot anchovy sauce, to this day the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. If you forced me to invite famous people, they’d mostly be dead ones because that would give the occasion added piquancy. I’d have Claude Monet, Bill Nighy, Billy Connolly, Shakespeare, Meryl Streep, Winston Churchill (seated next to Gandhi who he was very rude about), Charles Dickens and Jennifer Aniston (seated next to Jack Nicholson who would try and fail to get off with her). Bowie, Prince, Jeff Lynne, Amy Winehouse and George Harrison would be in the same room, doing requests.

And I’ll put on this music

It would be live music, played by the house band above, doing requests all night, shouted out by me and my dinner guests.

If you like this here’s some more…

Alan McBlane

Felix Mclaughlin

Duncan McKay

Claire Wood.

Morvern Cunningham

Helen Howden

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #21: Alan McBlane

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose family.

Well, I got lucky because Alan is my brother in law and I count him among my best friends.

He lives in England, he supports a shite football team and he’s clean living and thoughtful.

So, why do I like him so much?

I’d say many of my longest and most enjoyable deep into the night chats over the last 20 years have been with Alan, once we’ve dispensed with our wives.

Music leads the conversation, followed by sport.

We both golf badly and we both cycle. We both just love sport full stop.

But we also like contemporary literature, the movies and good TV.

So many great nights have been spent in Alan’s company, and great experiences too, on golf courses, bikes, boats, footpaths, pubs, restaurants but, most of all, gigs.

We went to Glastonbury together in 2015 or so and we had tickets for the big one in 2020. Covid Glasto. The 50th.

But we got to keep them for 2021, and now for 2022. It will be epic by then of course, no longer for his 60th, but it will be for mine.

I look forward to that very, very much but in the meantime you’ll just have to content yourself with his cultural highlights. Thanks Alan. Thanks Bro.

This is an impossible task. Ask me the same questions tomorrow and I’ll probably give you a whole different set of answers .. except for favourite dance performance.

My favourite author or book

I’ve always enjoyed exploring Scottish fiction so Ian Banks or Ian Rankin would be up there, and some quality American storytelling (which often comes on recommendation from Mark). I’ve never read enough John Updike – and should – but if there’s one author it would probably be Cormac McCarthy, and the Border trilogy. 

Currently Reading: All the Pretty Horses | Invisible Children

The book I’m reading

I had my usual burst of reading after Christmas and worked my way through Shuggie Bain and two of the Kate Atkinson Inspector Brodie tales. I wanted something different after that and I’m slowly working my way through Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Mountains of the Mind’.

Shuggie Bain: Winner of the Booker Prize 2020: Amazon.co.uk: Stuart,  Douglas: 9781529019278: Books

The book I wish I had written

Nothing specific, but I’d love to have put together a collection of short stories. Check out ‘Children of Albion Rovers’ sometime.

Children of Albion Rovers by Kevin Williamson

The book I couldn’t finish

Updike, the Rabbit trilogy. I stupidly bought the big version with all of the books compiled together and the smallest type known to man. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Haven’t read or can’t remember reading? That’s too long a list…

My favourite film

This is a bit like asking for your favourite song. It changes all the time, so it could be ‘Three Billboards..” or anything in that ilk, or it could be a Tarantino choice, maybe ‘Django Unchained’ but one film that always makes me laugh is Mel Brookes’ ‘Young Frankenstein’, a classic of its kind. “Hump, what hump?”

My favourite play

Not my specialist field, and when we’re in Edinburgh at Festival time we tend to go to see more comedy than anything else, but I really enjoyed ‘The Incident Room’, which is all about the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper.

My favourite podcast

Probably the ‘Desert Island Discs’ archive on BBC Sounds, but I don’t know if that counts as a podcast. I don’t listen to many but enjoyed the first two series of ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’.

The box set I’m hooked on

‘The Bridge’! How did I miss this first time around? Easily the best crime thriller of its kind, the storyline is so well put together and the characters are amazing. Lockdown was also put to good use by watching every episode of ‘Schitt’s Creek’.

My favourite TV series

Nothing in particular at the moment, but looking forward to a new series of ‘Peaky Blinders’, although I hope they make this the last before it gets too far out there. Trying to follow the first series of ‘Killing Eve’ is a good example of why you should quit when you’re ahead.

My favourite piece of music

An impossible question. What day is it, what mood are you in? I’d find it easier to answer the best live performance I’ve ever seen. (Prince – twice – if you’re interested.)

My favourite dance performance

Mark trying to get into Tom’s white jeans.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Driving alone and listening to ‘The Dark Island’ when we were putting together the music for my Dad’s funeral.

The lyric I wish I’d written

A Beatles lyric, maybe “Though I know I’ll never lose affection / For people and things that went before / I know I’ll often stop and think about them / In my life I love you more” (In My Life). A close second would be a line or two from Buddy Miller’s ‘Don’t Tell Me’.

The song that saved me

I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m still listening.

The instrument I play

I took piano lessons when I was young but then they clashed with Wednesday nights at Tynecastle and I gave up. Right now the instrument I regularly hold, but can’t really play, is the guitar.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The guitar. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing musicians and watching them pick up a guitar and produce something of beauty with such ease is something I’ve always wished I could do.

If I could own one painting it would be

Anything by Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko. There’s 2 opposites for you!

Jackson Pollock - “Poured” works | Britannica

The music that cheers me up

I have a Tuesday Morning playlist that was set up for my Tuesday morning class while they waited on Zoom for the session to start that always cheers me up, but if there’s one song that stands out it would be George Harrison ‘What Is Life’.

The place I feel happiest

Zermatt on that first day of skiing, just before you push off for the first run. A quick nip from the hip flask usually sets it up nicely.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Classic rock. There’s no thinking going on, just raw noise and aggression.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

I’d want to laugh, so probably Billy Connolly, Sir Alex Ferguson and my first boss, Bruce Findlay. I think we’d all have enough in common to talk about.

And I’ll put on this music

I wouldn’t. I don’t want to miss anything.

If you like this here’s some more…

Felix Mclaughlin

Duncan McKay

Claire Wood.

Morvern Cunningham

Helen Howden

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #20: Felix McLaughlin

Felix comes from a long line of McLaughlin brothers. Four men so very different you’d be surprised they were even related. But each is a star in their own right. And their beloved Mum, Prue, well, she’s a one off.

Felix is the performer of the bunch. The natural showman. As you can see from the picture above, which I took about 12 years ago at the after show party for FCT’s Ya Beauty, he’s larger than life.

He’s enthusiastic, knowledgeable and great fun to be around. But his music quiz performance, in last year’s extended lockdown series, was only passable.

Felix and I know each other largely through the august body that is Forth Children’s Theatre where Felix made his name before going off to Wales to tread the boards there and meet his delightful wife, Louise.

But now he’s back to Scotland, living in Fife. I’m looking forward, very much, to meeting with Felix and his brothers at the annual Edinburgh Festival politics day, where they cram in as many left wing performances as is possible in one day.,

Thanks for your fantastic, not unsurprisingly eclectic selections Felix. Enjoy everyone.

My favourite author or book. 

Never been a big reader to be honest, particularly of fiction.  I have perhaps read more in the last 10 years or so, but I’ve always revelled in autobiographies – some favourites were Rikki Fulton, Danny Baker’s trilogy, Mo Mowlam and Peter Ustinov.  Not read Obama’s yet, so that is on the list.

How Barack Obama's Book Sales Stack Up Against Other Big Memoirs

The book I’m reading. 

A Kindle freebie called The Escape by CL Taylor – the kind of trash that sends me to sleep.

The book I wish I had written. 

Argos catalogue – the book of dreams.

Argos catalogue: After 48 years and 1bn copies, time's up for the  'laminated book of dreams' | UK News | Sky News

The book I couldn’t finish. 

Lovely Bones. Dull.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read. 

It’s a cliche, but all the classics – Dickens, Hardy etc.  Never been one for fantasy, so won’t ever attempt Harry Potter or Tolkein, my suspension of disbelief only goes so far!

My favourite film. 

Movies I could watch again and again include One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Sleuth (obviously the Olivier/Caine original), West Side Story and The Odd Couple. 

My favourite play. 

This has been mentioned before in this series, but I saw Ulster American with Mark G a couple of years back at the Traverse, which was amazing.  We spoke to one of the actors (Darrell D’Silva) outside afterwards and his wise-cracking American accent from the stage then morphed into thick Rotherham!  John Byrne’s The Slab Boys at The Lyceum circa 1988 made a huge impression on me.  I used to go to all the previews back then at Lyceum, great atmosphere in there.  Seen many great musicals – Green Day’s American Idiot once in Cardiff and once at the Playhouse in Edinburgh, Blood Brothers, special mention for B2’s production of Rent and FCT doing Jesus Christ Superstar in the Fringe a few years back (and being well oiled helped with my accompanying every word from the audience!). 

My favourite podcast.  

Adam Buxton is always good with a nice interviewing manner and interesting people.  His recent chat with McCartney was miles better than Idris Elba’s bum lick on BBC.  Richard Herring’s LHSTP is very silly, but still makes me smile.  The BBC Sounds series Tunnel 29 is an extraordinary tale of escaping under the Berlin Wall, gripping and well worth seeking out.

The box set I’m hooked on. 

Enjoyed Zerozerozero a lot – atmospheric, dark, crazy and great acting.  I was late to the party with Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow but binged right through, very clever.  I love Derry Girls on All4 and Detectorists has also been a lockdown binge. 

My favourite TV series. 

GBH with Michael Palin and Robert Lindsay at the top of their game, very much of its time but still relevant.  I always return to Have I Got News For You and anything with Alan Partridge.

My favourite piece of music. 

Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien.  My Dad had a cassette of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic and he played it ad nauseam in the car when us four boys were younger.  For me it is hugely evocative, stirring, dramatic and beautifully performed.  My younger brother bought me a vinyl copy for Christmas a couple of years ago, which is exquisite.

My favourite dance performance. 

Not a medium I rush to go and watch, to my shame, as I know I should, however my cousin Lulu Johnston created and performed a one woman Fringe show in 1994, which was a double bill called “Beastie” and “Gemma & Mrs Kemper”.  It was on at St Cuthbert’s By The Castle and I always remember in the 2nd half, she got herself into a dolls house and danced with it on for over 20 minutes…amazing.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry.

12 Years a Slave.  Astonishing.

The lyric I wish I’d written. 

Well it’s a toss up between Newport’s finest Goldie Lookin Chain’s “Your mothers got a penis” with some memorable lines:

She walks around proud, with a short dress on
Which sometimes exposes the tip of her dong.
Often it’s dripping, sometimes it’s dry
No matter when I see her there’s a tear in my eye

or from Iggy’s Lust for Life – “Well, that’s like hypnotizing chickens”.  Love that line.

The song that saved me. 

To be used seamlessly in three different scenarios – loud in car on a long journey, background chill at home, or thumping out from a PA as the sun comes up, it has to be Primal Scream with Come Together. 

The instrument I play. 

When much younger, I learned trumpet, tenor horn, drums and piano.  Don’t play any of them now, sad to say.

The instrument I wish I’d learned.

Guitar, definitely.

If I could own one painting it would be. 

Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross.  There was a small print copy on the wall in my granny’s house and I used to stare at it just to try and work it out, it fascinates me.  Even better, the original is housed in Scotland, so my ownership wouldn’t involve any Brexit red tape cos it’s in Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow!

Work in focus: 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' by Salvador Dalí | Event  | Royal Academy of Arts

The music that cheers me up.

Elvis, no contest.

The place I feel happiest. 

6-9pm on a Friday, taking ages to make a curry in my kitchen, random hoppy ales in fridge, music loud, chatting rubbish with wifey.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure. 

YouTube.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors.

Adolf Hitler, Elvis, Shakespeare, Bowie, Clare Grogan, Bjork, Joe Strummer, Daniel Day Lewis and Chic Murray. 

And I’ll put on this music.

Late 60s early 70s easy listening (Bacharach, Tony Christie, Dionne Warwick) interspersed with Chic greatest hits cos we’ll need to dance between courses, then lots of shouty Simple Minds, Big Country or Proclaimers when everyone is lashed up.

If you like this here’s some more…

Duncan McKay

Claire Wood.

Morvern Cunningham

Helen Howden

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #16: Helen Howden

Ah, Helen Howden. My friend and neighbour. Sometimes a droothy one.

Helen is to the legal world as Caitlin Moran is to journalism.

Sharp witted, a bit anti-establishment, argumentative, funny, well read, opinionated, bolshy.

Just great really.

Sarcasm is a weapon sharpened in her holster.

But, woah, I am painting a picture of a difficult woman when, in fact, the opposite is true.

Helen is a warm, affectionate friend that would never, ever say no to a cry for help. (I’ve already run up several thousand pounds worth of free legal advice.)

She’s uncommonly sharp, uncommonly insightful and uncommonly great company to be with.

However, legal minded or otherwise, she clearly cannot read a brief because this, dear reader, is called Unknown Pleasures and Helen has renamed it.

So Helen.

So I’m not changing it.

Uncommon Pleasures

An indulgence by Helen Howden with prompting by Mark Gorman

Favourite book or author

Start with the question that is impossible to answer. Books have been with me for as long as I can remember and there have been particular favourites over the years – Enid Blyton’s Noddy books, the Faraway Tree, the Secret Seven (far better than the Famous Five); Judy Blume; Joan Lingard (oh my goodness – Across the Barricades – just brilliant); KM Peyton’s quartet of novels about the virtuoso pianist Patrick Pennington (my first bad boy crush); Robertson Davies; etc.  I don’t usually keep books now after reading them but there are some which will always have space on my shelf: Little Grey Men by BB; Reach for the Sky (the story of Douglas Bader); Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; The House by the Dvina by Eugenie Fraser; and the Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom.

Secret Seven Adventure: Book 2: Amazon.co.uk: Blyton, Enid, Wane, Esther:  Books
I’m so with you on this one Helen.

The book I’m reading

As if there would just be one! I have struggled to read during lockdown, it’s just not been the comfort to me I wish it had been.  However I’ve still got a few on the go including The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (on loan from Mark Gorman) and Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: 9780345804341 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

The book I wish I’d written

Frankly, I wish I’d written any book – the novel inside of me is so well hidden I don’t think it will ever come out.

To fund my retirement – the Harry Potter books. 

The book I couldn’t finish

I used to plough through books regardless but have now given myself permission not to finish.  Most recent book cast aside was Booker prize winning, Shuggie Bain.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart | Waterstones

The book I’m ashamed I’ve not read

I really have no shame.  

I do wish though that I could get through War and Peace.  I’ve been challenged twice by our son who even pointed out that reading a chapter a day would mean I’d finish it in a year.  I’m halfway through but really do not care what happens to any one of the characters.

My favourite film

Legally Blonde.

My favourite play

Plays are a category like books – I’ve loved the theatre for year and was lucky to be in Glasgow when the Citizen’s Theatre was at its height under the artistic direction of Robert David MacDonald, Philip Prowse and Giles Havergal. (there is a rather colourful painting of them by Adrian Wiszniewski which really ought not to be in the Portrait Gallery rather than in storage).  Tickets were £1 (free for preview night) and I frequently saw plays several times during their run.  The Tron in Glasgow was also a favourite haunt during the late 1980s when the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson (then known as Bing Hitler) and Victor and Barry held court in the bar.  

If I had to pick a favourite, then it would be Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (or maybe Hedda Gabler) or it would be Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard (or maybe Uncle Vanya).  

My favourite podcast

I’m currently listening to my first podcasts (very adopter), a series called Presidential recorded by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.  Each episode is devoted to one US president and looks at how they have shaped what has come to be the modern presidential office (pre-Trump).  I like how, in trying to get a picture of these man, she asks her contributors what a blind date with them would be like.

The box set I’m hooked on

The West Wing – we invested in the discs years ago and they are almost worn out.

Favourite TV series

The West Wing.

Favourite piece of music

Mozart’s Requiem

Favourite dance performance

The first dance at my wedding – an awkward shuffle around the floor to Elvis crooning “Can’t help falling in love with you”.

Last film/music/book that made me cry

Always on My Mind sung by Willie Nelson.  

The lyric I wish I’d written

I think Elton John’s Candle in the Wind.  

The song that saved me

There isn’t one.  

The instrument I play

I don’t.  I did once upon a time play the piano, flute and saxophone.  I doubt I could now.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

I did want to learn the clarinet, but my mother persuaded me to go for the flute.

If I could own one painting it would be

Vermeer’s The Milkmaid – the light is exquisite, and she is quite lost in her work.  I have the Playmobil set – it’s a poor substitute.

Milkmaid acc. Johannes Vermeer Painting by Jan Teunissen

The music that cheers me up

Van Morrison’s Bright Side of the Road – from the very first toot.

The place I feel happiest

With my people (Pat, Alexander and Ike).

But ideally I would be in Cullen.  It’s where I’d love to live – beside the sea and an amazing ice cream shop.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

(Sniffing new books.)

Dutch interior paintings from the 16/17th centuries – especially church interiors (which all have at least one dog – trust me, I’ve seen a lot of those paintings).

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors 

Grayson Perry (and Philippa) – his laugh is just brilliant, Dolly Parton (because who doesn’t love Dolly), Alan Bennett, Graham Norton (will make my drinking speed seem slow), Evelyn Waugh (I know that might involve a bit of a séance), Sheila Hancock, and Sally Unwin (@PintSizedFarmer). 

And I’ll put on this music

I’m at the age when music during meals needs to be soft otherwise I won’t be able to follow the conversation!

If you enjoyed this there are another 15 to enjoy.

Mino Russo

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #15: Mino Russo

Mino and I go back a fair bit.

Our obvious crossover point is music. To say Mino’s knowledge of music is encyclopaedic would be to diminish his remarkable talent for the subject. He has smashed so many of the music quizzes I’ve presented over the years that I’ve asked him to collaborate with me this year rather than win. Again!

But he’s also a top bloke (another cyclist too).

I’ve been involved in hiring him (and recommending him) more than once in a business development agency role, another, this time professional, talent that has few peers.

And he’s funny and engaging and full of stories – including his own lifeline.

He’s proud of his Italian roots and I think that shows up in his enthusiastic temperament that gets folk going, creates a drive and energy behind what he does and gets things done.

We need more Minos. But for now you’ll just have to content yourself with his fascinating cultural fix.

My favourite author or book

Michael Dibdin for his Aurelio Zen mysteries, set in Italy. Returning to Scotland after a few years living in Milan, I discovered these books – he just seemed to nail Italian characters, one after the other, dialling up all the traits that I instantly recognised, with a little black humour thrown in. The series also used societal events taking place in Italy as a backdrop, from Tangentopli and Berlusconi – it’s all there. 

The book I’m reading

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown. So many books written about them, but none like this. Coming at it in so many new ways and angles. Their chance meetings, the coincidences, conflicting accounts of the same incident, tangents, personal anecdotes, the sad tale of Jimmy Nicol who was a Beatle for 2 weeks in Australia while Ringo was ill. Insights on Yoko Ono as a child Shirley Temple impersonator. So much to enjoy.

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time: Winner of the Baillie Gifford  Prize: Amazon.co.uk: Brown, Craig: 9780008340001: Books
I’ve read this too (Ed) and can confirm that it’s brilliant.

The book I wish I had written

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. He sells his jazz bar in 1982 to focus not only on his writing but, began running and kept going. Marathons, triathlons and more. Very, very cool.

The book I couldn’t finish

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – have tried 3 or 4 times on different holidays. Will try again.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I will one day, but as yet, I’ve not read anything by Alasdair Gray.

My favourite film

Broadway Danny Rose. Woody Allen plays a neurotic (of course) New York theatrical agent who gets caught up in a love triangle with his Italian American lounge singer, a lover and the mob. Worth it just to see Pee Wee the singing budgie.

My favourite play

Glengarry Glen Ross – not seen this on stage (yet), but the film adaptation counts. Ruthless, immoral, dishonest and desperate salesmen all vying for pole position as they try to fob off second-rate real estate to gullible buyers. Disgusting, horrible but very watchable.  

My favourite podcast

Word in Your Ear with David Hepworth and Mark Ellen. These two have provided very useful cultural pointers through the decades from Smash Hits to Word Magazine to this excellent podcast that has got even better during lockdown.

Word In Your Ear Podcast | Free Listening on Podbean App

The box set I’m hooked on

Shtisel – on Netflix. It’s about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family living in Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are not the everyday characters that we see in TV dramas but, depicted as ordinary people, you soon caught up with very familiar family themes, the ups and downs, aches and pains. 

My favourite TV series

Curb Your Enthusiasm – even the first few notes of the opening credits fill me with joy. From the episode 1 of Season 1 to the last. Never a dip in quality. 

My favourite piece of music

Beyond the Missouri Sky by Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny. Recommended by a great friend of mine as the best music often is.

My favourite dance performance

In 2009, Michael Clark brought a new show to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time in over twenty years. The performance was set to the music of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie. The standout was Heroes. The 1977 video of the song was used in such a clever way. Wherever he looked, the dancers would move there to meet his gaze. When Bowie looked ahead – the dancers were in front. When he slowly alters his position to look left, the dancers moved to the left. They wore the same tight leather jacket that he was wearing in the video. It was surprisingly moving. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Sonho Meu by Maria Bethania always get me going. So sad and moving. A song about deep longing and homesickness. 

The lyric I wish I’d written

‘You can’t hide from yourself, everywhere you go there you are’ by Teddy Pendergrass. So obvious and true.

The song that saved me

I wouldn’t say that Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie saved me, but I think this was the first ‘serious’ single that I bought with my own money after seeing the video on Top of the Pops. Strange to think that nearly a decade earlier, the magic moment for many people was Starman on the same show.

The instrument I play

I play a little guitar and sometimes bass with a group of equally untalented individuals.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano – if I’d had lessons, practiced 8 hours a day for 4 years I would have been absolutely brilliant.

If I could own one painting it would be

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli – might as well aim high.

The Birth of Venus - Wikipedia

The music that cheers me up

Whenever I need a little pick me up, Spread Love by Al Hudson & The Soul Partners. Turns rain to sunshine every time.

The place I feel happiest

Sitting under a tree in the shade.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Coronation Street. Sorry.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Boy George, Malcolm Gladwell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Larry David & Deborah Meaden.

And I’ll put on this music

Moon Safari by Air. Just joking. I think I’ll put on Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands.

Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands |  Various Artists | Ostinato Records

Here’s the 14 others in the series so far. Dip in, enjoy and share them

Rebecca Shannon

Phil Adams

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #13: Phil Adams

Phil and I go back a fair bit to our days at The Leith Agency where we overlapped as Account Directors, although we are both now Planners. (Him for many years, me for just one.)


I have to say I look up to Phil in professional terms as a planner of considerable heft and great thinking.

You can follow him on both LinkedIn and Medium where he often posts inspiring and beautifully crafted, simple explanations of a subject that we love. Sadly, it’s often shrouded in black art (usually to hide the indifference of the proponent’s abilities) but is, at its core, simply the distillation of evidence and research into insight in simple terms. Good planning should inspire creative teams to do great work, even if the commissioner is looking for something less than that, which sadly they often are.

What has, I believe, further connected us is our love of all things cultural and our tastes overlap considerably as his culture fix demonstrates. John Irving, and Cormac McCarthy. Tarantino and Wes Anderson. What I love (which I devoured in about three days after reading this when he sent me it last month). And Salvador Dali whose museum we have both visited.

Oh, and the wicked, but sublime, Ulster American.

Phil is also a quiet, gentle soul imbued with genuine kindness – I bet he gets great kudos from his girls (three I think).

He’s one of the ad industry’s good guys and, like me, is also an ex Chair of the IPA in Scotland, an honour that I know he enjoyed as much as I did.

Go Phil.

My favourite author or book

Bookshelves don’t lie. It’s clear that the authors I return to are modern, North American and male. I’ve read all of Chuck Palahniuk, all of Douglas Coupland, all of John Irving, most of Cormac McCarthy, most of Bret Easton Ellis, a lot of Elmore Leonard, and several James Ellroy. I read a lot of female authors too, but evidently with less dedication.

It’s crazy to pick one book, but I’m going with A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. It’s epic. It’s a tragedy. It’s satire. A couple of reviews described it as Dickensian in terms of ambition and social insight. There are brilliant characters that stay just on the right side of larger than life. 

I read that Wolfe’s main insight from researching and writing The Right Stuff was that the primary motivation influencing male behaviour is a quest for status. And he used that observation as the basis of his subsequent fiction writing. You can see it in The Bonfire of The Vanities and it’s there in spades in A Man in Full.

A man in composite: Who inspired Charlie Croker's resume? - Atlanta Magazine

The book I’m reading

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan, who is modern, Scottish and female.

I’ve read so much non-fiction of late that it’s a joy to be reading any novel again. But so far (I’m about a quarter of the way through), The Sunlight Pilgrims is not just any novel. There are interesting characters being tested by challenging circumstances, namely an impending second ice age in Scotland caused by climate breakdown.

The book I wish I had written

This is the one question I’m allowing myself not to answer. I haven’t ever felt like this about a book.

The book I couldn’t finish

I know it’s in vogue at the moment, but I haven’t learned how to not finish a book. That said, and despite him being modern, American and male, Don DeLillo’s Underworld was an arduous slog. Like climbing at high altitude – lots of effort to make little progress, with frequent rests required.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

There are hundreds, thousands of books I should have read. But I don’t feel any shame in that.

My favourite film

Probably Pulp Fiction if I base my answer on how often I’ve watched it. Most films, I find, do not reward repeat viewing. But Pulp Fiction keeps on giving in many ways – characterisation, dialogue, monologues, messing around with structure, brilliant set pieces, and the Christopher Walken/Captain Koons cameo.

Based on the frequency metric, other candidates would be Man On Fire, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Shawshank Redemption, Grand Budapest Hotel and (another guilty pleasure) A Knight’s Tale.

My favourite play

I like subversive theatre. And, in a non-pandemic August, Edinburgh is soaked to the skin by a monsoon of subversive and experimental theatre that plays with form and space and genre. I’ve often wondered whether it’s true that you can smell the oxygen in the Amazon rain forest. I do know that in Edinburgh in August you can smell the creativity. Its heady scent is everywhere.

It’s impossible to pick a favourite from these unrestrained, intimate shows crammed into those tiny, incongruous Edinburgh Fringe spaces.

Two plays that were performed in a more conventional space (The Traverse) have stayed with me. Namely, Grounded starring Lucy Ellinson in 2013, and Ulster American in 2018.

Black comedy Ulster American back in Edinburgh by popular demand | The  National

My favourite podcast

What I Love. It’s beautiful. Theatre director Ian Rickson has conversations with artists on stage in theatres that are empty because of Covid-19. They talk about three things that each guest loves – a song, a film, a piece of writing – and in so doing they reveal themselves. I wrote about the many ways in which it is near perfect for the Formats Unpacked newsletter.

Also, the Jonny Wilkinson episode of The High Performance Podcast. It’s not what you’d expect. It’s about self-awareness more than sport. He talks about the profound difference between a mindset of control and a mindset of exploration. And his definition of confidence – being excited by the unknown – has stayed with me.

The box set I’m hooked on

Most recently, the gloriously funny French show, Call My Agent. Set in a Paris performing artist agency, each episode includes a cameo appearance by a famous film star. The dialogue is great, there are occasional moments of slapstick genius, and the character development over the four seasons so far is gripping.

My desert island box set would be Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, or both if I were allowed.

Call My Agent! (TV Series 2015–2020) - IMDb

My favourite TV series

I don’t watch telly. Not watching telly is how I free up time for doing extracurricular things. I don’t consider it a sacrifice.

I used to enjoy The X Factor when my daughters were the right age and all living at home. It is brilliant television, brilliant storytelling disguised as a reality TV show. It employs all the elements of the hero/heroine’s journey, multiplied by the number of contestants.

My favourite piece of music

Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. The whole album please. Such apparently effortless eclecticism. They were so much more than a rock band.

(Your wish is my command Phil)

My favourite dance performance

Dance was never really my thing. By which I mean that I decided it wasn’t my thing without ever giving it a chance to be my thing. It was the worst kind of pig-headed ignorance.

Luckily for me, joining the board of Puppet Animation Scotland in 2015 introduced me to the world of visual theatre. Since then, I’ve seen many shows involving dance and physical theatre, mainly at our annual manipulate festivals. The artistry and technical excellence of the performers, seen live and close-up, is a marvel. I’m not going to pick one.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

I think it might have been the scene in I, Daniel Blake when single mum Katie is so desperately hungry that she eats the tin of beans in the foodbank. The very idea that something like that can happen in a supposedly advanced society. Injustice meted out to a character you care about is a good formula for a tearjerker.

The lyric I wish I’d written

She no longer needs you.

Oof. 

She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time

And doesn’t feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

For No One is my favourite Beatles song, which is obviously saying something. The stark, cruel beauty; the brutal economy; the non-negotiable finality of those lyrics. Written when McCartney was 24. Genius.

The song that saved me

I haven’t been saved by a song. But I do have a song that I listened to a lot at the time that I needed saving. First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes. The video is based on a powerfully simple idea. We see people’s reactions as they listen to the song through headphones. The song may not have saved me, but if you read the YouTube comments it looks like it has saved plenty of others.

The instrument I play

Sadly, I don’t. File under regrets.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano.

If I could own one painting it would be

The Palace of the Air by Salvador Dali. This is a huge and hugely ambitious piece of surrealism that covers the entire ceiling of the Wind Palace section of the Dali museum in Figueres. It really does have to be seen to be believed. It’s immense and jam-packed with details that reward prolonged viewing until your neck starts to ache. It shows Dali and his muse ascending to a version of heaven, and the way he plays with perspective draws the viewer in so that you feel levitated, ascending with them. As well as the painting, I wouldn’t mind owning a space that would do it justice.

Palace of the Wind (Salvador Dali) | This art work is locate… | Flickr

The music that cheers me up

The answer to this is a genre. Two Tone. A dancefloor filler by The Specials or Madness, maybe Night Boat to Cairo if I had to choose one. It’s not just about the infectious beat or the playful delivery, it’s a form of time travel back to my mid-teens when we were all gloriously irresponsible.

The place I feel happiest

Aside from being with certain people, it’s participation in creative acts that makes me happiest. It’s why I worked in advertising, it’s why I make documentary films, it’s why I write for pleasure, it’s why I’m on the boards of two arts organisations, it’s why I enjoy gardening.

The happiness of creating comes from the process more than the end product. The journey rather than the destination. So, I don’t really associate happiness with a particular place. A place for comfort? Yes. A place for stillness, spirituality and inner peace? Yes. Happiness, not so much.

That’s maybe ducking the question. So, in a cultural context, I’d say one of the smaller festivals. The Do Lectures on a farm outside Cardigan. Festival No 6 in Portmeirion. Or The Byline Festival in Sussex. Intense stimulation surrounded by my kind of people.

Home - Festival Number 6

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

AC/DC

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Keith Richards, Sarah Silverman, Michael Palin, Molly Crabapple.

And I’ll put on this music

One of my eldest daughter’s Spotify playlists. She has excellent taste, and we have a symbiotic musical relationship whereby she uses my premium account and I get a superb curation service, better than any algorithm.

If you liked this there are many more to read now.

Wendy West

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #12: Wendy West

Ah, Wendy. Wendy West.

What can I say about Wendy that won’t incur the Wrath of Khan.

You see, Wendy and I have an honest and frank relationship with one another.

Quite often she says Tomato, I say Potato.

But a healthy difference of opinion is a good thing. Right?

She often calls me “grippy” (adjective, grip·pi·er, grip·pi·est. Chiefly Scot. stingy; avaricious.) which I take as a term of endearment, but I fear my optimism is misplaced on that front.

She was referring to my handling of the financial management of Forth Children’s Theatre. Not to my speed of approach to the bar. Or perhaps she wasn’t?

But, the truth of the matter, regardless of our robust discussions that frequent our times together, is that she is an amazing human being, with an amazing family who I know just as well, and love just as much, as I do her.

We met at Forth Children’s Theatre.

She a parent, me the Chair.

I quickly spotted her potential for our board and managed to talk her into joining us and to exercise magnificent governance onto our historically fairly relaxed committee proceedings.

Her energy, enthusiasm, insight and good humour, laced with brilliant attention to detail, were to prove transformational for an organisation that always meant well but occasionally fell a little short on the difficult stuff.

But it’s beyond the boardroom table that Wendy and I grew our friendship. Rumbustious, hilarious and brilliantly honest.

She’s an amazing dancer, as I was to find out when Jeana and I joined her in a tap dancing class where she, the Margot Fonteyn of the room, contrasted amusingly with my Peter Boyle (The Monster in Young Frankenstein).

Anyone who knows Wendy knows she is a magnanimous supporter of the arts, and has recently worked with the excellent Lung Ha Theatre company. She is married to a Professor of Piping. THE Professor of Piping and her son and daughter have both inherited awesome musical and theatrical talents from her and Gary.

She’s just a really good egg, all round.

I’ve missed her during lockdown.

So, without further ado.

Wendy’s stuff.

My favourite author or book

The book that made a huge impact on me is The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. The story of a contemporary Scottish minister who doubts the existence of God. Really thought provoking and truly beautiful writing.  It actually stopped me reading for a while because I just couldn’t quite get into another book for quite some time afterwards.

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
I can testify to the excellence of this book. Ed.

The book I’m reading

Girl, Women, Other by Bernardine Evaristo I started it a while ago and put it down, this has reminded me to pick it up again!

The book I wish I had written

Winnie the Pooh – it has given pleasure to so many generations and it is timeless.

The book I couldn’t finish

I always thought I had to really finish a book – once you start and all that. Then one day, when I was really plodding through a book I had the sudden realisation that I could just close it and put it down. I did that and nothing terrible happened! Since then, I have become much more discerning. I couldn’t tell you what that book was – it was tosh, so I put it down!

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Well the fact that I have watched more of the classics as TV costume dramas rather than indulge myself in the words on the page doesn’t make me ashamed so much as determined to put right. I have a fine collection sitting in the bookcase waiting for just the right time.

My favourite film

Isn’t everyone’s The Sound of Music? Well, maybe not, but this is certainly a firm old favourite that never fails to endear! That aside though, I love so many films but to pick one, I would have to go for Cinema Paradiso as being a long standing favourite (director’s cut that is). The warmth, the angst and the beautiful scenery all set to Ennio Morricone’s simply sublime musical score. The beautiful friendship between Toto and Alfredo is heart warming right until the end. The Cinema Paradiso is the beating heart of the community – how nice! 

Cinema Paradiso Official 25th Anniversary trailer from Arrow Films - YouTube

My favourite play

This is hard, but I would have to go for Brian Cox and Bill Patterson in The Royal Lyceum Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It made such a lasting impression on me – I couldn’t quite believe how thoroughly compelling it could be watching two guys waiting around and nothing much happening. It was both funny and really quite serious in equal measure. Strange how things just strike a chord and claim a wee piece of your heart.

Waiting for Godot, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh | The Arts Desk

My favourite podcast

I like the Guardian Today in Focus – after Mark recommended it, but have also enjoyed listening to Brene Brown, Unlocking Us – she has really interesting guests including Barack himself, but lots of others too.

The box set I’m hooked on

The box set that is a winner for me is The Handmaid’s Tale, so compelling and terrifying. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, the series travels through the horrors of the dystopian society of Gilead and plays out struggles of power and oppression. A bizarre survival of the fittest that sees misogyny played out in its truest form but also in the shape of women against women. Hard to watch and recently compared by some to the America that Trump was striving for?

My favourite TV series

Ooooh, I love Killing Eve – Villanelle is brilliant! I really enjoyed Italy Unpacked – Italian chef Georgio Locatelli and English art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon, a programme exploring Italy’s art, culture and cuisine. Just beautiful to sit and watch on a Friday evening after rehearsals with glass of red in hand! It makes me want to go there, it makes me realise I know nothing! 

I also enjoy the drama of Line of Duty, but I think the last series I watched that really hooked me was Greyzone, a Swedish/Danish thriller that was just so compelling. It is essentially about the events leading up to a terror attack and is tense stuff, in fact, it is ‘hold your breath’ tense stuff at times. Great strong female lead in Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as a gutsy and smart Danish engineer. Complex emotions though – clever how you end up liking the perpetrator… I do love watching tv in a foreign language with English subtitles – I rather fancy I’m getting the hang of a new language by the end of things…. alas, never quite happens!

A psychopath with a wardrobe to die for: Killing Eve's Villanelle is the  fashion influencer of now

My favourite piece of music

I am not sure I have one single piece of music. It’s very mood driven for me, although I never tire of Keengalee by The Chair – a cheery go to piece of music particularly on car journeys that I just never want to end – once more, once more!

My favourite dance performance

Ghost Dances choreographed by Christopher Bruce for Rambert. I saw it in the early 80s and was mesmerised. I saw the revival a few years ago and it mesmerised me again! Haunting and hopeful all at one time. The dance shows courage and determination in the face of oppression and although it represents the horrors of the Pinochet coup, it is sadly sorelevant today. I love how dance allows you to create your own meaning because you interpret the movement without the presence of any words to channel your reactions and emotions. Danced to traditional folk music, this piece never fails to move me. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Lion

The lyric I wish I’d written

Ok, so swithered over admitting this… I realise I don’t really properly listen to lyrics…(I hear Mark scoff very loudly.  (No, not at all , neither do I.  Ed.)  In my defence, I tend to listen to the music and my mind wanders and I get a bit lost in my imagination…. So I don’t really have any that I could say I wish I’d written…confession over!

The song that saved me

Don’t think I have one…

The instrument I play

Well, being surrounded by awfully talented folk, I keep my minimal achievements with playing the clarsach quiet! Taken up as an adult, I enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the dancing strings – very hard to make a horrible noise unless it is terribly badly out of tune. These days, I enjoy doing a little accompaniment to traditional tunes in the parlour with a friendly nod on when to change chords! No public performances for sure!

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The piano. I also pictured myself dancing about playing the fiddle, but that didn’t quite transpire. Huge sighs of relief all round I am sure!

If I could own one painting it would be

Joan Eardley’s work. I love the Glasgow tenement children chalk drawings with their grubby wee faces, and her wild seascapes she painted whilst she lived in Catterline, Aberdeenshire. This self-portrait is just beautiful.

The music that cheers me up

Anything I can move to – The Penguin Café Orchestra, Abba. Duncan Chisholm on the fiddle for more reflective moods – he plays a mean slow air. Trad music and should also say, but actually mean it … I do love the stirring sound of a pipe band. Ok, so quite eclectic!

The place I feel happiest

I am happiest when the car is pointing north – I love getting to Ullapool and waiting on the ferry to the Isle of Lewis. Beautiful, remote, with big skies, huge oceans and great friends with whisky…

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Musical theatre! Not that I feel guilty about liking it, but some people sniff at it! Come from Away is my very favourite for the moment, it is mood lifting, energy boosting and just a very human story. Properly funny lyrics and great music too! I get emotional at the thought of the sheer unquestioning kindness demonstrated by the Newfoundlanders – this is a tale of gratitude, friendship and humanity.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Norman MacCaig – so I can hear him recite his poetry

Billy Connolly 

Whoopi Goldberg

Emma Thompson

Barack and Michelle Obama

Margaret Atwood

And I’ll put on this music

Hugh Laurie in the background playing the piano and singing then the Penguin Cafe Orchestra for dessert

If you liked this there are many more to read now.

Will Atkinson

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #11. Will Atkinson.

Will, or Gramps as we now know him, has been a friend for quarter of a century.We first met at Hall Advertising where, instead of working, Will went our for long liquid lunches, and I got jealous.

You see, Will was a star copywriter and I was a jumped up greasy-haired fanboy with a lot to learn, but a willingness to do so.

Subbuteo nearly cost both of us our jobs as we did constant battle on the creative floor for what was affectionately known as The Linpak Cup (a polystyrene trophy of zero value or consequence).

Will was better in the morning.

I usually took revenge after lunch.

Will worked with Nige Sutton. Fuck me, they were an intoxicating (intoxicated more like. Ed) and an unlikely duo, but they were awesomely talented and taught me an awful lot as I lugged fridge freezers into Rob Wilson’s basement and they looked on.

Our love of football extended to Hibernian FC and our office bromance gradually filtered out into weekend boozing, bookending the weekly disappointments of another Easter Road humiliation, although we did witness Frank Sauzee, Stevie Archibald and Russell Latapy in green and white; not to mention Gazza, Laudrup and Larsson. Heady days.

Over the years though our relationship has grown and now stretches to a shared love of politics, music, theatre, contemporary fiction and, yes, a beer or two.

Will also shares with me the luck of the Irish. We both have wives that love us no matter our faults.

And I’ve been lucky enough to get to know his three wonderful kids, one of whom, his son Mark, is now the bestodian of the Gramps moniker for Will.

Congratulations Mark.

So here we are. The inimitable Will Atkinson.

My favourite author or book

It’s weird isn’t it, your favourite book isn’t always by your favourite author. Well mine isn’t. So to the book – Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess. The first line alone is acclaimed as one of the best ever written – “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” This leads you straight into a wonderful voyage of fictional biography that crosses oceans and decades, with every sentence and paragraph as powerful as the first.

So to the authors. No, Burgess isn’t among them. But there is Kate Atkinson, John Irving, John Gierach, William Boyd, James Lee Burke, John Le Carre and Patti Smith. Recent discoveries include Colson Whitehead, Sebastian Barry and Attica Locke. To name any one as my favourite would be a complete impossibility.

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
(This is the copy I have. I too loved it.)

The book I’m reading

Mr Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe. His books are on the face of it quite comedic, but beneath the humour often lies some very dark observations – about human nature and the society we pretend to aspire to be part of, Middle England with its examination of Brexit for example. 

But whatever I’m reading I always have a John Gierach volume close to hand. He writes essays on fly fishing that are about so much more than (as he puts it) standing in the middle of a river waving a stick.

The book I wish I had written

Either A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. If you put a howitzer to my head Life After Life would just nick it. It’s a piece of high wire writing with a construction that few other writers would be able to maintain.

(This is the copy I have. I too loved it.)

The book I couldn’t finish

Like many readers I feel incredibly guilty about not finishing books, but then I mostly can’t remember the ones I put down early, so there’s probably a moral in there somewhere.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Moby Dick – true of a lot of people I suspect.

My favourite film

I think one way to make a long list shorter is to include only those films you re-watch time and again. No Country for Old Men is brilliant, and also one of the few films that actually stand comparison with the book they came from. I love the magic realism of Beasts of the Southern Wilds. The Godfather Trilogy and Apocalypse Now always accompany me on long plane journeys. American Honey is one of those great films where nothing much happens but loads does really. Ditto the Straight Story about an old man crossing America on a lawnmower. But probably my favourite film of all time (this week anyway) is Bugsy Malone – joyous.

My favourite play

When I was at school I was a member of the Young Lyceum or whatever it was called then. Back then I was seriously into anything by Harold Pinter. These days I rarely go to the theatre, which is a shame because I love it as I love all live performance. Favourite play? The Importance of Being Earnest. (Note to self – when the theatres open again, go more often.)

My favourite podcast

I don’t listen to many to be honest. A couple of advertising based ones – Stuff from the Loft and Ben Kay’s one. However, recently I’ve been following Jeremy Paxman’s The Lock-In – chats with people you’d never normally hear. Paxman is his usual contrary self. It would be an experience meeting him, but I’d probably run a mile in fear.

The box set I’m hooked on

I’m not really. But for the sake of punning into the question, Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing.

My favourite TV series

Ever? Wow. For my sins I’m quite involved in the world of politics -so Yes Minster and The Thick of It are good, sharp takes on how silly it can all become. Fleabag and Killing Eve obviously. University Challenge – another Paxman outing. Sorry, I don’t know.

Killing Eve Is the Most Fashionable Show on TV | Vogue

My favourite piece of music

One of the good things about getting older is you collect more and more stuff from more and more places – well I do anyway. It’s like curating your own cultural archive, infinite in its vastness. Musically it’s taken me from an early obsession with blues and folk into reggae and country and African Funk/beats and Malian divas and sweaty rhythm & blues and…and…and…and…the rabbit holes are deep and endless.

You get to add new stuff (eagerly awaiting new St Vincent album) and stumble across dusty but still perfect artefacts (over lockdown rediscovered the amazing Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band.)

Taking the question literally as a ‘piece’ of music as supposed to a ‘song’ I could plump for something like So What by Miles Davis, King of Snake by Underworld. Or Peace Piece by John McLaughlin. But the one piece I go back to is the mind-boggling reach for the heavens that is Dark Star by the Grateful Dead from the Live Dead album – all 23 minutes and 18 glorious seconds of it.

My favourite dance performance

When I was a student at Stirling Uni in 1974 I was transfixed by the Ballet Rambert doing open rehearsals in the coffee area of the Macrobert Centre. A male and a female dancer improvised together to Tommy by the Who, I was totally lost in the moment. Then the moment eluded me until years later I started to go regularly to the ballet. Highlights have been the Rambert again, Nederlands Dance Theatre, anything devised by Michael Bourne and our own Scottish Ballet. Favourite? I’m terrible at remembering titles so I’ll cop out with Bourne’s Swan Lake.

Also, my favourite too. Seen them several times and adore them.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

I’m not a great one for weeping over films, books, music but one song did help me through a period when my best mate was dying of cancer. Sailing Round the Room by Emmylou Harris is an uplifting affirmation of death that kind of reflects what I think happens after you die – not a smidgen of Christianity to be found. While we’re on the subject the same artist’s Boulder to Birmingham is one of the best songs about loss ever.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Like a bird on the wire 

Like a drunk in some midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free

By Leonard Cohen of course. I want the whole song to be read as a poem at my funeral.

The song that saved me

Again, not sure a song has ever actually saved me but in another dark time I listened a lot to Speed of the Sound of Loneliness  written by John Prine. It’s been covered by loads of people but my favourite is the Alabama 3 version where they changed the lyrics to the first person. Gives the song another whole new emphasis.

Come home late, come home early
Come home big when I’m feelin’ small
Come home straight, come home fucked-up 
Sometimes I don’t come home at all

What in the world has come over me?
What in heaven’s name have I done?
I’ve broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
I’m out there running just to be on the run

The Rolling Stone’s Moonlight Mile would come a close second.

The instrument I play

Believe it or not I tried to learn the French Horn at school. Got as far as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

I can strum a guitar but really wish I could play properly.

If I could own one painting it would be

It would either be a Caravaggio – maybe this one:

Or a Joan Miro, maybe this one:

If I couldn’t have both I’d settle for the Miro.

The music that cheers me up

Music always cheers me up. At the moment it’s At Home (Live in Marciac) – Roberto Fonseca & Fatoumata Diawara.

The place I feel happiest

I’m lucky to have travelled a bit – rainforests really raise my spirits. But then so does being in a special spot in rural Languedoc-Roussillon. Or on a river with a fly rod, or a boat on a loch teeming with broonies. But actually where I am truly at my happiest (apart from with my family) is with friends. I am blessed to have met many people I have truly grown to like and count as good friends. Yep, that’s when I’m smiling, with them.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Hot Chocolate playing at the Usher Hall.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

I’d need a big table: Hunter S Thomson, Keith Richards, Lee Miller, Kate Atkinson, Cerys Mathews, Kevin Bridges, Yoko Ono, Bjork, John Gierach, Jeremy Paxman, Michael Palin, Caravaggio, Boy George.

And I’ll put on this music

The Best of John Renbourn. Hunter would hate it.

If you liked this there are many more to read now.

Jon Stevenson

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #10: Jon Stevenson

Jon was my first boss back in 1985 at Hall Advertising. He hired a hot new secretary soon after, that I quickly winched and later married.

He, and his wife Chris, had a daughter, Ria, who we thought had such a cool name that we unashamedly nicked it for our daughter Amanda.

(Only joking, she’s also called Ria.)

But that master/servant relationship that began in the pre-internet days soon became a peer-to-peer and extremely good mates relationship, and it thrives to this day.

We even live quite close (only a few miles as the crow swims) he in Aberdour, I in South Queensferry.

We have both run Festivals.

His, The Aberdour Festival, has put him on first name terms with King Creosote (which I think is cool). Mine, the spectacularly unspectacular and now defunct Queensferry Arts Festival.

By the way King Creosote’s first name isn’t King, it’s Kenny.

One of the things that has cemented our relationship is our love of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, whom we both saw, with Chris and my, not his, Ria at Glastonbury in 2011 (amongst other occasions).

The other is beer and food and wine and that.

And good advertising.

And good books.

Jon is cool but he doesn’t think so and you couldn’t tell it from the preposterously ham-fisted portrait he ‘knocked up’ in 30 seconds when I asked him to. Not for him a trip to Patrick Lichfield’s, oh no, he, like me, is a bit of a basher and what will do, will do.

I made it monochrome which spares some of the abject amateurism of it.

Anyway, Jon, you have great taste and I’m delighted to share your Unknown Pleasures with my readers.

My favourite author or book

Where do you start? When I was young, I read to impress – Iris Murdoch, Anthony Powell, CP Snow, JP Donleavy (although I really did like him). I then went through a phase of reading books in rotation – one to improve me, one to learn something technical, usually something to do with the Apollo space missions, and one to read without thinking. 

I’m much less rigorous now and over the years I’ve read everything by Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Christopher Brookmyre, David Lodge, Tom Sharpe, Iain Banks (but not Iain M. Banks) – even Jilly Cooper. At the moment I do like Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Coe, Ian McEwen and William Boyd. And Ian Rankin. 

I’ve just finished Barack Obama’s book which was uplifting and dispiriting in equal measure. How do we get from such a patently intelligent and humane man to Donald Trump in such a short space of time? Jon Sopel’s latest book Unpresidented is an entertaining romp through the last US election campaign.

I can say, as anyone that has ever worked with me will testify, I have yet to read any of the airport books like “How to be a winning manager by the time you get off the plane”

A Promised Land: Amazon.co.uk: Barack Obama: 9780241491515: Books

The book I’m reading

One Long and Beautiful Summer by Duncan Hamilton – a paean to county cricket as it used to be before the gel-haired marketing know-it-alls took over and turned cricket into a game for people with the attention span of a particularly dim goldfish.

The book I wish I had written

No real desire to write a book, not even the one that’s apparently inside me.

The book I couldn’t finish

Quite a lot but Lincoln in the Bardo was definitely one I couldn’t get into.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Can’t think of any particular one, although I would like to have appreciated Dickens more instead of rejecting him because he was a set text at O-Level.

My favourite film

Toss-up between Apollo 13 and Local Hero.

Apollo 13 | DVD | Free shipping over £20 | HMV Store

My favourite play

I’ve seen a lot of stuff at the Traverse and it’s difficult to pick any one as a favourite but I did enjoy Under Milk Wood by the Aberdour Players in our local village hall. The writing is brilliant, and it prompted me to get the BBC Richard Burton narration as an audiobook. Which is probably better than The Aberdour Players’ version.

Richard Burton reads Under Milk Wood (plus bonus poetry) - Alto: ALN1502 -  2 CDs | Presto Classical

My favourite podcast

Like Stephen Dunn I thought 13 Minutes to the Moon was outstanding.

The box set I’m hooked on

When does a TV series become a box set? I can’t cope with TV binges so still watch one at a time. 

My favourite TV series

At the moment it’s Unforgotten

Watch Unforgotten, Season 1 | Prime Video

My favourite piece of music

Pretty much anything from my Jolly-Jon singalongaplaylist

My favourite dance performance

Every time I’ve seen NDT it’s been stunning, but I go to dance performances with Mrs S on the basis that if I have to sit through a dance show, she has to go for a curry afterwards…so the last dance performance she went to was with Mark Gorman as she doesn’t really like curry…. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Oh What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma at my mother’s funeral. Although it was absolutely pissing down, so there was some laughter through the tears.

The lyric I wish I’d written

The Christmas one Hugh Grant’s father wrote in About A Boy that allowed Hugh to live quite happily without having to work.

The song that saved me

Not sure I’ve ever needed saving but California Girls by the Beach Boys reminds me of being a hormonal 13 year old, getting interested in girls and thinking the Californian ones sounded exciting – if only I had known what to do if I met one.

The instrument I play

I’ve tried and failed several – but one day I’m going to master the guitar and be transformed into the acoustic Bob Dylan

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Piano or clarinet

If I could own one painting it would be

Probably something by David Hockney

portrait of an artist: David Hockney's painting, which was auctioned for  $90.3 mn, was initially sold for $18,000 - The Economic Times

The music that cheers me up

Bean Fields by the Penguin Café Orchestra. With thanks to Mr Gorman who introduced me to the delights of the PCO. 

He’s also tried to introduce me to Nick Cave but I’d rather poke my eyes out with a burning stick, thank you very much. 

The place I feel happiest

Achiltibuie – thanks to Jim Downie. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Death in Paradise

Death in Paradise (TV Series 2011– ) - IMDb

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

David Mitchell (the comedian, not the author), Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep, David Attenborough and Danny Boyle

And I’ll put on this music

My Jolly-Jon mix tape obvs.

If you liked this you might like to read the others in this series.

Ricky Bentley

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasure # 9: Ricky Bentley

It was never going to be brief.

It was never going to be orthodox.

I’ve known Ricky since I was little. Little in advertising years that is.

Ricky is a colleague of mine at Whitespace. The agency where I now work but which I helped establish in 1997 (I think.)

He joined the company soon after as an artworker ( a great one at that) and remains there to this day.

Ricky is a philosopher, of that there can be no doubt.

A man that is comfortable in his own skin. Happy to zag against the world, rage against the machine, bring his own world view to anyone willing to listen.

He’s a polymath. A musician, a massive enthusiast (one of the reasons I love him so much) a historian, a film maker, a writer, a runner, an all round top bloke.

And his cultural interests are nothing like any others you will read in my series. You’ll see that his aesthetic is caught in a cross between B movie Americana, and its musical cousins and deep philosophical discourse. It’s brilliant.

I mean, his dinner party guest list says it all: John Gray, Diogenes, Jim Goad, Marquis de Sade, Robert Burns, Scheherazade, Betty Page, Salma Hayek, Mairi Kidd and Aphrodite. (When Diogenes hits on Aphrodite sparks will fly. The Marquis looking on inquisitively.)

I do hope you will enjoy Ricky’s take on culture, life and the world as we don’t know it. I sure did.

Unknown Pleasures

Hey! I was so chuffed to be asked by Mark if’n I’d be interested in contributing to his blog in the form of an Unknown pleasures piece – and so here it is. Let’s just dive right in . . .

My favourite author or book

She by H Rider Haggard an incredible work, a rip roaring adventure so good I read it over two days (it would have been one had I not started it late in the evening) – OK it has courted controversy with it’s themes of Imperialism, race and evolution, female authority and sexuality – feminists both praising and criticising it – but putting all that aside – I just love this book and have nothing more to add than that.

If I could add one other book as an also ran You Can’t Win by Jack Black . . . no, not the Thomas Jacob Black the Californian Actor but rather the autobiographer who spent life as a hobo in depression era USA – discover a world of yeggs, gay cats, bindle stiff conventions and rod riding outlaws – so good, this is the book that most influenced William Burroughs and as the linear notes read from a ‘forgotten era of American history lodged somewhere between the Wild west and the birth of the Metropolis.

H. Rider Haggard. She. | H rider haggard, Paperback writer, Pulp fiction  book

The book I’m reading

Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War a compendium of second world war experiences of woman of war torn Russia gathered and relayed by the author. I’ve been reading this book for some time, in-fact just over a year – I drop in and out of it whilst reading other books in between. Nothing prepares you for these stories and this is a work that shouldn’t be approached lightly – it should be read by everyone that thinks war is an option – It’s a deserved winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature but sadly serves to remind me that the human race has an unwavering propensity to record history and fail to absorb consequence. Progress you say? Read, absorb learn and act.

The book I wish I had written

I just wish I could get ‘any of the many’ unwritten books that are filling the Inside of my head completed and onto the printed page. It’s always the plan for another day.

The book I couldn’t finish

A pet hate of mine is to NOT finish reading a book therefore it makes me all the more selective of those that I invest in. However, there is one fiction publisher I tend to take a chance on and blind buy because even if the content ‘just ain’t no good’ like many of the characters within the books – the book cover art is ‘pulp’ superb and I do love them. So I forked out my usual four bucks on the budget find Hard Case Crime’s 140th book – ‘The Triumph of the Spider Monkey’ by Joyce Carol Oates –representing the ‘Mind of a Maniac’ or not . . .  it’s SHIT! . . . and sits half read on the shelf and I probably won’t return to it no matter how great ‘Time’ magazine tells me she is as a writer. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I feel no shame, more so regrets that I haven’t read some books – but the book I’d reply in answer to this has to be ‘One thousand and one nights’ the framing device featuring Scheherazade for the compilation of tales alone makes me regret not having read this . . . so much so, I’m off to order a Folio edition English translation of the book right now.

One Thousand and One Nights: Amazon.co.uk: Al-Shaykh, Hanan: 9781408827765:  Books

My favourite film

I have a real challenge between two movies that I absolutely love and consider both to be exceptional – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre the first based on the Stugatsky Brothers Roadside Picnic book and the latter on German Anarchist B. Travens Treasure of the Sierra Madre (both books of which having read them, also deserve a place in my favrit books and authors list). 

Although these movies appear miles apart in theme and content (one a 1940’s Mexican adventure the other a 1970’s Soviet Sci-fi movie) they are so similar in so many ways. In both movies two men set out on a quest to feed their hearts desire with the help of an experienced guide and we discover as viewers that perhaps the journey offers the true riches to our life.

If I was forced to choose between them, today I’d choose the 1948 Treasure of the Sierra Madre . . . watch out for the in-joke by director John Huston playing the rich American when Humphrey Bogart’s down on his luck character ‘Dobbs’ street begs from him three times – and on the third occasion Huston says: ‘that’s the third time you’ve begged from me today, when are you gonna stand on your own two feet?’ the reference being – Bogie bought the rights to the book and screenplay and saved it until after WWII when he could request John Huston direct the movie after returning from military service. Humphrey Bogart hoping this would follow the success that had made him a star with their two post war collaborations The Maltese Falcon and Across the Pacific.

Stalker – Senses of Cinema

My favourite play

Sophocles Oedipus – what a play! And from around 500BC – the plot involves a plague ravaging the land and the king doesn’t know what to do about it (hey wait a minute that sounds familiar), anyways – opening with a prophecy delivered by a consulted Oracle on what to do, Oedipus is informed he will shed the blood of his father and mate with his mother . . . and the biggest hook in theatre is delivered . . .  you just gotta find out what’s to come.  

My favourite podcast

There are too many to mention but on this occassion I’m only gonna mention one: Tyler Mahan Coe’s Cocaine and Rhinestones – you think Rock and Roll or Hollywood has all the stories? Just take a trip down Country music histories colourful country road – from the poverty stricken get go in 1500’s Britain and the birth of murder ballads to the rags to riches world born in the Appalachian mountains to torture, extortion, rape, murder, gay shaming, suicide, prison life, girl power, love all over country USA – nobody can beat country for tales of sex and drugs and guitar twang! An oldie but a goodie – listen here.

7 podcasts to keep music lovers in touch

The box set I’m hooked on

I ain’t no Box set ‘doer’ especially of the recent TV types, but I do have loads o’ box sets piled high in my collection of ‘old school’ – DVD’s an’ Blu-ray discs, including Universals Film Noir (regularly revisited), a couple of Arrow’s Gailocompilations (Oh my! those Italian’s made murder look so stylish in the 60’s ands 70’s) and lot’s of Euro and Japanese cinema box sets. But the box set that is most compelling is the astounding and award winning unforgettable WWII documentary series World at War This is a serious historical and emotional journey and even today, should be on the school carriculum. Super high rating of 9.2 on IMDB says it all and if and when you are lucky it’s sometimes available on Amazon Prime here https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-World-at-War/dp/B0197L5MSM

My favourite TV series

Champion the Wonder Horse – From the opening title song to the overall goodness in every story – ‘Champion’ can’t be beat. A boy, a dog and a wild horse doing more for his community than any official – the mantra by which I live.

Watch The Adventures of Champion, The Wonder Horse | Prime Video

My favourite piece of music

Pink Floyds Dark side of the moon. It’s still as incredible today as it ever was – a timeless piece. 

As a kid in high school myself and some friends would camp out in our back gardens, go strawberry raiding around the neighbourhood in the middle of the night, return to the tent and gorge ourselves whilst listening to Darkside and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album on C60 cassette and we’d dream of being ‘Rock stars’. 

Dave Gilmour’s guitar solo’s on Time and Mick Ronson’s on Moonage Dream were the songs that turned me into a guitar performer. My sister found a cheap Strat copy in a Dunfermline shop window, recognising the shape from my Floyd poster and persuaded my mum to buy it for me. One of the gang purchased a drum kit – thought he was Keith Moon and another a bass guitar and much to the displeasure of the neighbourhood ‘Thundermaster’ were born. Back to DSoM tho – I’ve loved every track on this piece more than the others at one time or another but top choice now would be – Us and Them it’s so on the ball.

The toughest thing about this question was discarding Amazing GraceVaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending and Artie Shaw’s rendition of Cole Porter’s Beguin the Beguine all of which could easily have made the favourite spot.

My favourite dance performance

Anything by Rita Hayworth does the trick, so here’s a wee compilation of Rita in mash-up with the Bee Gees.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Just listened to it again today – see The song that saved me two questions below.

The lyric I wish I’d written

And I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in but I’m still on my feet
And I’m still . . . willin’

Hats off to Lowell George and Little Feet.

The song that saved me

Dick Gaughan Sail On . . . makes me greet every time.  

The instrument I play

I’ve never considered myself an instrument player per se – especially when I listen to all of my guitar influences who CAN play, but I do like to strap on the guitar and do the occasional live trash performance in a junkyard entertainment style or operhaps now – just give me a cowboy guitar, a horse and I’ll save the gal.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The Guitar

If I could own one painting it would be

If it had been a work of art I think I would have selected Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina marble sculpture – it would look great sitting in the centre of my lawn. When I first saw this in the Borghese Gallery I was in awe – the detail of Hadeshand impressing Persephones thigh alone is enough to cement any sculptures reputation for eternity – and that’s before viewing the rest of the piece as a group. Wonderful.

Rape of Proserpina

If it has to be a painting tho the choice is beyond reduction but for this I’ll choose one of the many that I can happily view on a daily basis without tiring of and something that reminds me of just how joyful art can be . . . I love the art of Glenn Barr and his When Betty Rubble Went Bad is great even tho it perpetuates the ‘male gaze’ theory in art . . . but hey we’re getting into Feminist TheorySigmund Freud and Jean Paul Sartre territory here and and that’s not what this shiz is about (or is it?).

When Betty Rubble Went Bad | Adam Gorightly's Untamed Dimensions

On an aside, if anyone fancies putting a wee heist team together and doing one on Tate Britain I would hang the Victorian romantic work Deer and Deerhounds in a Mountain Torrent the 1833 work by Sir Edwin Landseer above the fireplace in my villain’s lair. 

The music that cheers me up

Western swing, Bob Wills, Moon Mullican, Spade Cooley et al and especially songs featuring the fantastic vocal of Tommy Duncan. His 1952 hit Relax and Take it easy a particular favrit . . .  Honourable mention to every album that the Dwarves have ever recorded tho.

The place I feel happiest

I’m with John Muir on this one and ‘None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.’ Just set me loose in a forest, on a mountain or wild environment and I’m happy. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Collecting Jungle Girl comics from the 40’s and 50’s and boy, oh boy there are hundreds of them – featuring such illustrated beauties as Jann of the Jungle, Lorna the Jungle Queen, Rulah – Jungle Goddess, Sheena, Princess Vishnu, Gwenna, Tiger Girl to name but a few and illustrated by such legendary artists as Will Eisner and Frank Frazetta.

Mind you I also can’t pass a ‘Good Girl art’ illustrated book and have built a fair collection of these featuring artist like Margaret Brundage, Allen Anderson, Matt Baker, Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood and plenty more.

Jungle girl: Amazon.co.uk: CHO, FRANCK: 9791094169469: Books

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

John Gray, Diogenes, Jim Goad, Marquis de Sade, Robert Burns, Scheherazade, Betty Page, Salma Hayek, Mairi Kidd and Aphrodite.

And I’ll put on this music

The Muses would control the entertainment and have it performed live and maybe later the nusic app would randomly select and it’d look something like this . . . 

If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:

Jeana Gorman

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #8: Jeana Gorman

When I first met my wife it would be fair to say that our cultural influences were not exactly close.

The day we saw “Strictly Ballroom” at The Odeon (sighs at the loss of that great auditorium) she asked me what I thought of it. I was ambivalent.

“What, does it not have fucking subtitles?” she cried in dismay.

And her love of poor quality movies has yet to desert her. Indeed her 5.6 sweetspot on IMDB still fills me with gloom.

But our cultural planets have gradually aligned and we enjoy nothing more than visits to The Traverse, The Lyceum, The Cameo and The Filmhouse, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Modern Art Gallery.

We’ve done the Venice Biennale together. Going specifically for that reason, and especially to see the almost life changing Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable that overshadowed the biennale itself.

And then there is Italy full stop. Our favourite place.

During Edinburgh Festival month I still steal a march, but for my 30-40 shows she puts up a spirited 20 -30 and we take in theatre, dance drama, music and even some food. Not much, but some.

Imagine my surprise, as a lifelong Stranglers fan, when she announced, maybe ten years ago, that Golden Brown was her favourite song, the one she wants played at her funeral.

Jeana is my cultural partner of choice and we spend many, many hours in establishments of cultural wonder.

She’s also, much more than me, a creator: – her Alzheimers blanket, that she knitted for my Mum, had to be seen to be believed.

So here she is, cultural nirvana, Jeana Gorman style.

My favourite author or book

I’m not the biggest reader and tend to read when I’m on holiday.   My initial thought was Margaret Attwood.    However, I don’t think you can beat John Irvine.   I read A Prayer for Owen Meanie, an absolutely wonderful book.    First book I’ve ever read where I was dreading the ending as I didn’t want the book to end.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The book I’m reading

I have a stack of books to read at the moment.   However, I spend more time looking at knitting websites getting pattern ideas and tips for baby items.   

The book I wish I had written

I’ve never really wanted to write a book, at one point I did think there was a gap for a useful gardening book explaining the basics to novices and children.   That has been filled now as there are so many websites and apps, and no one seems to want to pick a book up. 

The book I couldn’t finish

Somehow, I managed to trudge my way through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.   It was instantly forgettable and have since made the decision to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

My knowledge of history is non-existent.   I’ve often thought I should read more about it.  I’ve bought a few books but I still haven’t taken the time to pick them up.  

My favourite film

That’s a hard one.   I love films and I love going to the pictures.   Seeing a film on the big screen and immersing yourself in it.   No distractions.    I’m not big on seeing films repeatedly, once I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it.  A film I have seen on numerous occasions however is The Shining.  It took about 5 goes to see it straight through and have seen it many times since.   It never gets old.

The Shining is the most horrifying quarantine movie

My favourite play

There are so many to choose from, I really enjoyed the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart by David Greig, The Incident Room by New Diorama Theatre at The 2019 Fringe and Richard Gadd’s Monkey See, Monkey Do where I was actually the first person to get up on my feet to give him a standing ovation.     

For sheer enjoyment though I’m going to choose Sweeney Todd for this, I’ve seen so many different productions of this musical and it never disappoints.   I particularly enjoyed Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball’s production at The Adelphi Theatre in London.  

My favourite podcast

It’s not just a Podcast but I do like Desert Island Discs.   

The box set I’m hooked on

Mark and I are currently loving Gormorrah.   It’s a brilliant series about the Italian drug gangs in Naples.   Very brutal but somehow you come to love the characters.    I normally binge watch box sets but this one is being eked out. (You wrote eeked out before I sub edited it.  Eeked, though seemed appropriate. Ed.).

My favourite TV series

Grey’s Anatomy.   What’s not to love?  It started when I borrowed the box set from my sister-in-law and watched every episode with my daughter, Amy, over a 3 week period.   I see the new series is about to be screened – can’t wait.

My favourite piece of music

Golden Brown by The Stranglers.  I just love everything about it.   It’s a beautiful piece of music.  I recently heard an instrumental version by Zephyr Quartet and I loved that too. 

My favourite dance performance

In 1989, at the Edinburgh International Festival, Mark and I went to the Kings Theatre to see Johann Kresnik’s and Gottfried Helnwein’s ‘Macbeth,’  performed by the Bremer Theater from Bremen.  We were in the Gods, I was terrified of heights.    When we first sat down I thought I can’t be here, the performance started and I was transfixed.  Nothing has beaten that. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Gus Harrower recorded a version of Secret Love by Doris Day, my mother-in-law’s favourite song, for her funeral.   The first time I heard it the tears flowed.   Marley and Me it gets me every time – it was on TV the other week.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Our Children from Ragtime a beautiful song about children. 

How they play,
Finding treasure in the sand.
They’re forever hand in hand,
Our children.How they laugh,
She has never laughed like this.Every waking moment, bliss.Our children.See them running down the beach.
Children run so fast…Toward the future…From the past.How they dance,
Unembarrassed and alone.Hearing music of their own, Our children.One so fair,And the other, lithe and dark.Solemn joy and sudden spark,
Our children.
See them running down the beach.
Children run so fast
Toward the future
From the past.
There they stand,
Making footprints in the sand,
And forever, hand in hand,
Our children.
Two small lives,
Silhouetted by the blue,
One like me
And one like you.
Our children.

Our children.

The song that saved me

The Blue Nile, A Walk Across the Rooftops, in 1991, and Sinead O’Connor’s Earth Mother in 1994 certainly kept me company when I would be up through the night feeding Amy, Tom and Ria.

The instrument I play

Knitting needles.  I learnt to knit when I was 10.   Stopped when I had children as I just didn’t have the time.  Started again when I was 50 when my great nephew was due.  I always have something on the go.   It’s a good way to watch TV and achieve something at the same time. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Definitely singing.  I am in no way musical, if anyone would like a big challenge and would like to teach me, please contact me.

If I could own one painting it would be

I would have a statue.  Either Michelangelo’s David or the Little Dancer – Aged 14 by Degas.   I would have to work out how to preserve them, but they’d make for very interesting pieces in the back garden.   

Degas exhibited only one sculpture in his lifetime; now 70 have gone on  view - Los Angeles Times

The music that cheers me up

Scott Walker always cheers me up, he’s so over the top.   Marc Almond, in particular, Tainted Love and OMD’s Enola Gay.   

The place I feel happiest

In my garden.   There’s no better way to get some fresh air and exercise.   Sitting having a coffee and watching the plants change and grow throughout the seasons is such a pleasure.   

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

I love watching a completely rubbish TV series.  My daughters and I have discovered a rating of 5.6 on IMDB is perfect.   Sometimes you just need to let a programme wash over you.  You know it’s rubbish but you can’t stop watching.   Some I’ve particularly enjoyed are Riverdale, Once Upon a Time, Married At First Sight AustraliaNew Amsterdam and How to Get Away With Murder

Married At First Sight Australia: What Happened To The Couples From Season  Six? | Grazia

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Audrey Hepburn , Jordan Samuels (Skincare), Daniel Levy, Bob Mortimer and Tim Minchim.

And I’ll put on this music

I would ask my guests for some contributions in advance and make a playlist up for the evening.  

If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:

Lisl MacDonald

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #7: Lisl MacDonald

You might have been beginning to think that my Unknown Pleasures series was simply an old boys club of dusty memories. But you’d be wrong. It’s just that the female contributors I’ve invited to this have been, shall we just say, tardy, in their responses.

But I’m delighted to bring you the first of these, that of Lisl MacDonald.

Lisl’s quite a new pal actually. We came together through the Marketing Society and she was my choice to replace me as Chair of The Nods when I had to step down due to a conflict of interest when I joined Whitespace.

Our friendship has grown through marketing and music, but I’ve also been very aware of her vast appetite for everything cultural and I feel we are in for the long haul as we both near our later years. That’s if she stays in Scotland, because she has many interests in Asia and is more often than not found there.

Lisl has impeccable musical taste but her many performances in my lockdown music quiz ranged from inept to innocuous. But her humour and acerbic wit made her a welcome competitor. (I use the word competitor in the loosest possible term, I mean Brora Rangers are “competitors” in the Scottish Cup but they’ll never actually win any matches.)

Anyway, here’s the views of the lass fae Rothesay. I have to say, it is exquisitely composed (although she couldn’t spell cornet).

My favourite author or book

If I can redefine this as “books I have read more than twice”, then Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Lanark by Alasdair Gray. These three books impart really important lessons about life, love, sex, war, racism, inequality, creativity, courage, and many more things besides. As they are so well written, you enjoy them first as a great read then realise afterwards that they were instructive.

The book I’m reading

I’ve just started Kitchenly 434, the new Alan Warner. Only on page 10 but looking very good so far!

The book I wish I had written

Candide, by Voltaire. Smart, tragic, hilarious, genius.

Candide eBook: Voltaire, by, Fleming, William: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

The book I couldn’t finish

Never managed to get far with Ulysses, James Joyce. I’ve tried three or four times then stopped, put the book down and gone and done something interesting instead.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith. Read bits of it. 

My favourite film

Pi

It was Aronofsky’s debut in 1998 when he had no budget and loads of ideas. Firstly, it has one of the best soundtracks you’ve never heard and includes  Aphex Twin, Autechre, Roni Size, and  Clint Mansell. So it sounds great. Secondly, it is filmed on high-contrast black and white reversal film. So it looks great. Finally, it’s about a mad number theorist trying to find connection and order in the world through mathematics. So it’s a crazy but satisfying journey. It feels even more relevant today and I would love to see it on the stage. 

Pi: 15th Anniversary | Alternative Poster | Movie posters design, Pi art,  Art contest

My favourite play

Is it a cliché to say King Lear? We studied it at school and I’ve seen it staged in so many places, so many ways. It’s a credit to the creativity of all the artists involved in theatre around the world that you can take one old text and keep bring it to life in new ways which keep it relevant and feel fresh.

My favourite podcast

I have two. Trashy Divorces, which combines social history with trashy gossip of the highest order. And Backlisted, which has brilliant hosts, fabulous guests, and always costs me a fortune as I buy the books they discuss and refer to. It’s a real book lovers thrill.

The box set I’m hooked on

Currently the French spy series The Bureau. It’s making me suspicious of everyone’s motives…why are you asking me these questions Mark?

My favourite TV series

I’ve been all about RuPauls Drag Race for quite a long time now. The camp, bitchy, positive, supportive, colourful JOY of it.

RuPaul's Drag Race' reveals season 12's new queens

My favourite piece of music

John Tavener’s, The Lamb. Unaccompanied voices. Written as a lullaby for his nephew and inspired by William Blake. Exquisite.

My favourite dance performance

The Rite of Spring, a Pina Bausch work. Can’t remember where we saw it but my husband and I still talk about it. Closely followed by whatever Benjamin Millepied is doing, we’ve seen his work a couple of times in Paris and its always engrossing.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

It was a few nights ago. I have chronic insomnia and often listen to music while I should be sleeping. A relaxing mix was on random play, and Max Richter’s Maria The Poet (1913) came on. The tears flowed. 

Music truly is a drug. Beware of the set and setting in which it is consumed! This composition usually makes me feel hopeful. At 3am, with the rain pattering the window, and after a day of hearing news of corrupt Westminster politicians, attacks on women being normalised , genocide, climate disaster…well, I crumbled. 

It was cathartic though.

The lyric I wish I’d written

They were written by T Rapp but made famous by This Mortal Coil. They contain all the wisdom of the ages:

The jeweller has a shop on the corner of the boulevard.

In the night, in small spectacles, he polishes old coins.

He uses spit and cloths and ashes.

He makes them shine with ashes.

The coins are often very old by the time they reach the jeweller.

With his hand and ashes he will do the best he can.

He knows that he can only shine them, cannot repair the scratches.

He knows that even new coins have scars so he just smiles.

In the darkest of the night. Both his hands will blister badly.

They will often open painfully and the blood flows from his hands.

He works to take from black coin faces, the thumb prints from so many ages.

He wishes he could cure the scars.

When he forgets he sometimes cries. 

He knows the use of ashes. 

He worships God with ashes.

The song that saved me

Slippery People, Talking Heads. It whispered to a young lassie on the Isle of Bute that it was OK to be a bit crazy. Preferable, even. Its my hymn, my anthem, my rallying cry.

The instrument I play

I’ve always read music as my family are all musical. So it went: recorder, violin, oboe, cornet. I violated the violin with scratching bows, obliterated the oboe with shrill reeds, but really enjoyed playing cornet in a swing band. Haven’t picked one up for decades though. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Piano. It’s on the list to learn.

If I could own one painting it would be

Woman With a Book, Picasso. It’s a reasonable likeness! I love that it is both vivid and still. It shows me that reading is an act of quiet solitude which can also be subversive, erotic and exciting. Mostly, I just like looking at it and it never bores me. And isn’t that the real criteria for putting something constantly in your line of sight?

Woman With Book 1932 By Pablo Picasso Art Reproduction from Wanford

The music that cheers me up

Honestly,? Music that takes me back to a happy time works. So Gil Scott Heron, Prince, The Pixies,and some old scool house, techno and hip hop gets me up off my chair, and feeling that same vibe from back in the day. If only my body felt the same…

The place I feel happiest

Anywhere I am by or on the sea. I grew up on the Isle of Bute, scuba dive and am a qualified yacht skipper. Sailing connects us as humans with all those communities of old who found ways to build boats, navigate, and handle the sea in all its moods. And its environmentally friendly. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

The podcast Dear Joan and Jericha. Outrageous. 

Dear Joan & Jericha: a VERY revealing conversation about their podcasting  journey | by Acast: For The Stories. | Acast | Medium
I mean, this should be banned it’s so subversive Ed. (I love it)

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

David Byrne (my muse), Voltaire, Robert Burns, Maya Angelou, Kim Gordon, Ian Dury,  Alan Cumming, Michele Obama. 

And I’ll put on this music

Ron Carter, Stockholm Volume 1.

Ron Carter Foursight Stockholm Vol. 1 [CD] - IN+OUT Records GmbH

If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:

Murray Calder

David Reid

David Greig

Gus Harrower

Stephen Dunn

Mark Gorman

Unknown Pleasures #6: David Reid

David Reid 1 SA : David Reid – Because Brands Matter Picture by Stewart Attwood All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2018. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission. No Syndication Permitted.

Ahhhh. David Reid. My longtime compatriot and co-founder of 1576 Advertising Limited where we did seriously great work and had seriously good fun.

David was never shy of a lig. Most famously perhaps in his Schlitz days when he got all pissed up with Lisa Bonet and Johnny Rotten.

My favourite memory is around his kitchen table, planning 1576 when his Dad (Normski) uttered the ludicrous conclusion on reading my business plan “You’re not seriously considering going into business with this wanker are you David?’ He was. He did. We rocked. Normski later redacted.

David and I regularly attend PrimaveraSound in Barcelona.

I regularly embarrass him with my lack of finesse as he peacocks to my tramping.

We are pretty much chalk and cheese, but we love one another nevertheless.

Here’s his shizazzle.

My favourite author or book

I always look forward to a Robert Harris novel coming out. He rarely misses the beat. Other authors I like are George Orwell, Graham Macrae Burnet, Ernest Hemmingway, Aldous Huxley, Donna Tartt, Ray Bradbury and William Boyd. 

His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme  Macrae Burnet

The book I’m reading

I’ve got a few on the go at the moment but the one you need to know about first is definitely the weirdest – We All Hear Stories in The Dark by Robert Shearman. Nothing quite like this trio of books has ever been attempted before. The premise is that stories always change their meaning dependent upon the order in which you read them and as you work your way through the peculiar tunnels of the 101 short stories he has written, the odds against anyone else ever treading the same path as you become exponentially unlikely. In essence, every reader’s journey through the book will be entirely unique and you will be the only person who ever reads your version of the collection. I’m also reading the classic book about positivity – Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman as well as the fantastic Mayflies by Scots author Andrew O’Hagen.

The book I wish I had written

If I’d written a set of books about a Boy Wizard I’d like to think I’d have spent my earnings wisely. As well as very unwisely. 

The book I couldn’t finish

I’m not a quitter – I never start a book without completing it. My patience was really tried recently however with a collection of EM Forster short stories. They were crashingly dull. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I’ve never read Catch 22 by Joseph Heller or Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. That’s a pretty poor show, I know.

My favourite film

This is such a hard question because different films equate to different moods and times. I could easily make a case for Jaws, The Third Man, Duel, Once Upon A Time In America, Pan’s Labyrinth, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Blade Runner. I’m going to go with Sleuth. The original film made by Joseph Mankiewicz in 1972. I was lucky enough to enjoy a drink with Michael Caine, one of the only two actors within the film, back in 1997 and he confirmed it was one of his most joyous acting experiences.  

Sleuth (1972 film) - Wikipedia

My favourite play

The Royal Lyceum Theatre’s production of A View From The Bridge by Arthur Miller. It was absolutely outstanding. 

My favourite podcast

The Spectator has some excellent podcasts. Coffee House Shots provides really incisive political analysis. At the other end of the spectrum, but no less important – Scarves Around The Funnel is a podcast for fans (like me) of Heart of Midlothian FC. They were also Sir Walter Scott’s team y’know. 

The box set I’m hooked on

I’m on a box-set break at the moment – but the original Russian version of To The Lake is exceptional. 

My favourite TV series

I used to love watching University Challenge, but I’ve completely lost interest in it now for some reason.  I like watching documentaries on art, literature and music – usually on Sky Arts. In terms of making a conscious decision to sit down and watch something regularly – that would nearly always be for unbridled escapism. Real mainstream stuff like Strictly, GBBO, Top Gear, Antique’s Road Show, Fake or Fortune and Poirot would fall into that category. 

BBC One - Strictly Come Dancing

My favourite piece of music

La Wally from the opera by the same name by Catalani. In 2018, I went to Vienna with my daughter to see it being performed.

My favourite dance performance

I can still vividly remember seeing Michael Clark and his company performing at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988. Supported on stage throughout by The Fall, I am Curious Orange was a bizarre mash-up that featured dancing phone boxes, an enormous Big Mac, a gay Old Film football match and several risqué costumes by Leigh Bowery. It was glorious.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

It doesn’t happen very often. I may have had something in my eye at the end of A Star is Born.

The lyric I wish I’d written

From Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
And the palace in the sun

On the shore lay Montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls, he often wandered
With the secrets of the world

And his subjects gathered ’round him
Like the leaves around a tree
In their clothes of many colours
For the angry gods to see

The song that saved me

Being saved sounds a bit dramatic – but I remember the moment I heard New Rose by The Damned and being really excited about its rawness and energy. I had just turned 13 at the time and, up until then, wasn’t really into music. Punk and New Wave changed all that. Forever.

The Damned - New Rose

The instrument I play

I can’t play anything. I was in a post punk band from 1979 – 1983 and I had to sing because I couldn’t play anything. I couldn’t sing either – but I was quite happy taking centre stage. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

The electric guitar, although I have never even tried. 

If I could own one painting it would be

Generally I am more drawn towards modern art, but the two paintings I’m struggling to decide between are The Balconyby Edouard Manet and Nichols Canyon by David Hockney. I’m going to go with Manet. 

1868-1869 – Edouard Manet, Le balcon (The Balcony) | Fashion History  Timeline

The music that cheers me up

Unquestionably Reggae. I love the classic Jamaican stuff by Toots & The Maytals, Lee Perry, Culture and of course Bob Marley. On balance however, I prefer the more political English reggae of the 1970’s – Misty in Roots, Steel Pulse and Mikey Dread. 

The place I feel happiest

My perfect day would be art gallery / pub / football match / restaurant / show or gig. 

My true happy place is also where I have had some of my saddest moments – Tynecastle Park. 

Fan behaviour "beggars belief" says Hearts owner Ann Budge as section of  Tynecastle is closed | HeraldScotland

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Pretending to work, but actually reading The Spectator. 

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Very difficult, but here goes: 

Jah Wobble

Pablo Picasso

Oscar Wilde

Marilyn Monroe

Agatha Christie 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Oscar Wilde's Arrest and Conviction: He Discovered His Wit Had Limits | Time

And I’ll put on this music

It would have to be instrumental so everyone could listen to what everyone else was saying. Jazz from the Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rawlins era. 

Unknown Pleasures #5. Gus Harrower

I’ve known Gus since he was ten.

He stood atop a rostrum and uttered these words.

In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Brodview
Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York, and it seemed for
Some years thereafter that all the family’s days would be
Warm and fair.The skies were blue and hazy,
Rarely a storm. Barely a chill…

Our love affair had begun.

I know of no-one I have seen perform more often. In theatre and in bands and as a solo singer songwriter.

(Probably photographed him more often than my children too, TBH.)

He performed these two immense songs for my mum’s funeral.

Listen and weep. I did. (Just click on the pic. It’ll take you to Soundcloud.)

It’s his songwriting and vocal performance that hits the heights for me.

And clearly his academic advisors agree, as he is in the latter stages of a Master’s Degree in music (or something).

Lazily compared, by lesser critics than I, to Elton John (the specs and the height I guess) I prefer Billy Joel as a comparison.

But could Billy Joel do Jesus Christ in JCS? (I cried again)

Could Billy Joel hit the heights needed to carry off Bring Him Home as Jean Valjean? I think not. (And again I wept.)

Ladies and gentlemen (and those that go by any other description) please enjoy Gus’s cultural influences.

My favourite author or book

The book that my mind goes to if I’m ever asked this question is ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini. At this point I must’ve read it 3 or 4 times and it still gets me every time. It has a lovely father-son relationship story, but also emphasises themes of guilt and friendship. 

The book I’m reading

I’m currently reading ‘How to Write One Song’ by Jeff Tweedy which was kindly gifted to me by Mark Gorman. A brilliant insight into the motives of songwriting and the philosophy of the creative process.

The book I wish I had written

The Bible. 

The book I couldn’t finish

I never was able to finish the last Harry Potter books and as someone who lived as a young person in the 2000/10’s I think that’s poor show.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

Like Mark, I’ve never gone for the classics, but I’ve always wanted to read the philosophical works of Plato and Aristotle. My Master’s degree often touches on philosophy so would probably stand me in better stead if I gave them a read. On a simpler note though, The Hobbit.

My favourite film

Interstellar. Absolutely love anything Nolan does, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Tenet.

Interstellar (@Interstellar) | Twitter

My favourite play

Will have to swap out play for musical and I think for me it has to be Les Mis every time. Having seen it on stage countless times and been lucky enough to perform in it, I hope I never tire of it.

My favourite podcast

Has to be Sodajerker on Songwriting. They have talked to everyone under the sun and they manage to veer away from the shitty chat show questions to focus on the mechanics and process of songwriting. 

Sodajerker On Songwriting (podcast) - Sodajerker | Listen Notes
Gus and I share a love of this wonderful podcast. Call yourself a music lover? Get wired in. https://www.sodajerker.com/podcast/

The box set I’m hooked on

Still needing to finish off The Sopranos but I have been binging that of late. I’m excited and intrigued by the prequel movie that’s coming out this year starring James Gandolfini’s son. 

My favourite TV series

This is possibly the hardest question on here. Chernobyl, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Ozark, The Thick of It, True Detective to name but a few. 

My favourite piece of music

I think at the moment it’s Racing in The Street’ by Bruce Springsteen. I could listen to the outro on an endless loop for the rest of my life. 

My favourite dance performance

Mark Gorman at Forth Children’s Theatre after show party for Jesus Christ Superstar. A truly spellbinding and magical performance, those white jeans made him look like an elegant swan.

The last film/music/book that made me cry

The last few episodes of Schitts Creek were tear jerkers. Another excellent TV show. 

The lyric I wish I’d written

I would like to think and hope that any lyrics I want to write have already been written by myself. And if any lyrics in well-known songs had been written by me well no one would hear them. However, “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.” That’s a pretty iconic line. 

Bruce Springsteen Born To Run German 7" vinyl single (7 inch record)  (385443)

The song that saved me

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever needed saved, but Bon Iver’s music always can pull me out of a rut; creative or otherwise. 

The instrument I play

Piano and a spot of guitar. 

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Drums. Or how to actually play the guitar well. 

If I could own one painting it would be

These questions are clearly meant for someone more cultured than me. Eh, The Mona Lisa because it’s worth an absolute mint?!

Christie's Offers a Chance to Witness the 'Mona Lisa's Restoration – Robb  Report

The music that cheers me up

Anything pop from the 80’s. 

The place I feel happiest

Anywhere on stage with my band. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

I will get sucked into a YouTube hole watching Made in Chelsea and TOWIE videos. I have no idea why, but the people are weirdly intriguing, and the videos are more digestible in short form. I’ve never watched the shows on TV.

The Only Way Is Essex 2021 start date as Series 28 arrives on ITVBe |  Reality TV | TellyMix

 

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

I don’t read enough to invite authors so I’m going to invite musicians and general famous people. And this is a question I do ponder often. 

  1. Jesus Christ
  2. The Prophet Mohammed
  3. Hitler
  4. Prince
  5. Bruce Springsteen
  6. Justin Currie
  7. Bob Mortimer

I wouldn’t want to be the person doing the seating plan for that one. 

Vertical Painting - Mohammed The Prophet Of Islam by Vintage Images | Cute  cartoon wallpapers, Cartoon wallpaper, Islamic art

And I’ll put on this music

Probably some easy dinner jazz. With a few of my own numbers mixed in there.

Unknown Pleasures #4: David Greig

It’s a real honour to have David contribute to my blog.

David is Scotland’s greatest living playwright (and dramaturg).

You’ll know him perhaps as Artistic Director of The Lyceum where he has written business-changing productions such as The Suppliant Women (an adaptation of Aeschylus’ classic and a personal favourite of mine. It truly was an epic and very moving, very feminist experience, so much so that I saw it three times), Touching the Void, Solaris and Local Hero.

He also wrote two more of my all time favourite plays; The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart and Dunsinane.

As if that isn’t enough, how about Lanark, Midsummer, Yellow Moon (I saw a lovely student production of this in a freezing cold Bedlam Theatre) and Europe, the show that initially made his name.

Perhaps his biggest commercial success has been his much lauded West End production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

He’s a great voice in the Independence debate. And he’s a runner.

I mean £ for £ he’s one of Scotland’s greatest creative talents with no discernible style. Look at his full list of productions on Wikipedia and you won’t say “Oh that’s a Davy Greig” because his output is so creatively diverse.

And when you read this you won’t be disappointed because he doesn’t just tell us what he likes he tells us why and shines really interesting insight onto all of his taste.

There’s a pretty shocking revelation in it too about his recent health that knocked me off my feet but I’ll let you read about it for yourself.

Thanks David. I am not worthy to be sharing this but I am very grateful.

THE SRB INTERVIEW: David Greig – Scottish Review of Books

My favourite author or book

PG Wodehouse is the writer to whom I return and return. 

The book I’m reading

The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy by Matthew Wright, a two volume account of all that we know of the lost plays and authors of ancient Greek Tragedy. For example Euripides wrote over 100 plays and we only have 17 of them. And there were dozens of known, celebrated authors apart from the big three of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus. This magisterial book collects everything we know about the lost work. 

The book I wish I had written

This is an odd concept for me. I feel like if I wish I’d written a book then I would have written it. When I like a book, it’s in great part because I could never have written it. I suppose I will answer this by saying the form in which I feel least skilled is poetry, and I wish I could write it as well as the poets I admire whether that be Sappho or Alice Oswald, Don Paterson or Kathleen Jamie, Betjeman or Brecht. A book of really good poetry is the book I wish I had written.

The book I couldn’t finish

There are many but Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is probably the one which comes to mind. I found it fascinating, funny, engaging… but it’s also huge. It’s just too much. Too much. One day I’ll go back to it.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I’m not a great reader of contemporary novels. It’s not deliberate. I find my time is filled up with plays, films, poetry, twitter, and I read a lot of non-fiction.  When I get a chance at a novel I tend to pick a classic. I rarely get round to a new novel. I’m rather ashamed of this, in general, and specifically I would say Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. They seem like a deep and powerful exploration of women’s lives and friendships that could absorb me for a good while… so why haven’t I dived in yet! 

Twelve-Year-Old Sofia Abramsky-Sze Reviews Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan  Novels

My favourite film

Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taiko Waititi

My favourite play

This is a very difficult one for me. Theatre and plays are my life. You’ve asked me four questions about books but only one on plays! And I have to choose only one.  And it’s unclear whether it’s a performance of a play, or a script? So many flaws in this question! Nevertheless, them’s the rules, I suppose. In that case I will choose The Present by Andrew Upton adapted from Chekhov’s play Platonov. I saw it on Broadway directed by John Crowley with Cate Blanchett playing the lead, Anna Petrovna, who is turning 40 and bored of life, and staging a party. The play revolves around the eponymous Platonov with whom she is in love, as are most of the women in the play, and who has never been able to commit to her or admit his true feelings. Out of this simple country house palaver Chekhov weaves a desperate aching gouging out of the male heart, of love, of despair, and of the comedy of our own foolishness in the face of our desire. The original play is long. The magnificent Australian dramatist Andrew Upton did a version which adapts the play to 1980’s Russia and puts it in a simple contemporary English idiom which lets the play breathe beautifully.

John Crowley’s production was absolutely beautiful, delicate and detailed naturalism.

Cate Blanchett was incandescent.

When the lights came down I was in tears and couldn’t move for a full ten minutes. 

Cate Blanchett's Star Power Lifts 'The Present' on Broadway - The New York  Times

My favourite podcast

There are so many, I like Talking Politics with David Runciman, I like The Archers podcast Dum Ti Dum, I like Blocked and Reported but recently I’ve been obsessed with QAnonAnonymous, a long running investigative series which follows the QAnon conspiracy theory. I picked up on it about a year ago, just after lockdown, and it became a bible for understanding the craziness which then beset America. It’s still the best primer I know for the American right.

The box set I’m hooked on

Do we do box sets anymore? I have a full collection of Muppet Show videos, I adore them, and when I saw that Disney Plus had them I began revisiting them on streaming. I can never get enough of them. Check out the episode from the first series with Kris Kristofferson singing Help Me Make It Through The Night with Miss Piggy.

Why are Kermit and Miss Piggy making headlines - The Economic Times

My favourite TV series

Upright by Tim Minchin.

My favourite piece of music

Ay ay ay! Four questions about books but one about music!! It’s like the theatre question all over again. At least you get eight in desert island discs.

Since I was fifteen my Desert Island Disc, that I would save from the waves, has been the cover version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ by Paul Quinn and Edwyn Collins from 1984.

I had to search for this (Ed), not on Spotify

My favourite dance performance

I was lucky enough to see ‘I Am Curious Orange’ by Michael Clarke with live music by The Fall at The Royal Opera House. It was glorious. The re-staging of the Battle of the Boyne by bum baring boy dancers in Rangers and Celtic shirts as Mark E Smith scowled and stomped across the stage… 

The Story of Michael Clark's Game-Changing I Am Curious, Orange Performance  | AnOther

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Peanut Butter Falcon, a rather beautiful movie from 2019 by Tyler Nillson and Michael Shwartz in which Zack Gottsagen plays a Down Syndrome man who escapes from a home to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler, and hooks up with a down and out fisherman on the run played by Shia La Beouf. 

The film, like Hunt for The Wilderpeople & Upright, explores my favourite movie trope where a gruff emotionally closed person carrying grief is paired with a vulnerable emotionally open person and they are cast loose in the wilderness.

These stories always make me cry.

I should write one one day.

The lyric I wish I’d written

So so so many from so so so many songs but I think, in the end, I have to defer to Bob Dylan who has come up with so many, so consistently extraordinary lyrics.

Probably my favourite is…

‘Oh the streets of Rome are filled with rubble

Ancient footsteps everywhere

You can almost think you’re seeing double

On a cold dark night on the Spanish Stair.

Got to hurry on back to my hotel room

Where I got me a date with a pretty little girl from Greece.

She promised she’d be there with me

When I paint my masterpiece.

Oh the hours we’d spend, inside the Coliseum

Dodging lions and wasting time

Oh those mighty kings of the jungle

I can hardly stand to see ‘em

It sure has been a long hard climb.

Train wheels running through the back of my memory

When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese

Someday, everything’s gonna sound like a raphsody

When I paint my masterpiece.

From ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ by Bob Dylan

It catches so beautifully the sense of playfulness and connection I felt, as a young artist, that the best is yet to come, that the great work is just around the corner.

The song that saved me

Dream Operator by The Talking Heads from True Stories.

I had a stroke last summer. I think running a theatre in a pandemic just got to me and my brain popped. Anyway, I’m fortunate it was a minor stroke and I was able to recover from the major physical effects quite quickly. But the mental effects were hard. I have found being an artist deprived of my medium, a theatre maker deprived of an audience, very hard on the soul. The wounds to The Lyceum of redundancy and closure have sometimes felt unbearable. 

I am a runner, I like the trails and hills, and I was worried that the stroke would take that away from me. Fortunately I’ve been able to get myself together and, although a bit slower, I’m back running in the hills now.

Spring is here and the other day I was running in some back country. I was cresting a hill, the sun was out, and I saw a glorious Scottish landscape of loch and mountain laid out before me and this song came on.

It spoke directly to me, as songs sometimes do. 

It was clearly a song in which an old artist remembers themselves being young and hoping one day to make art. The old artist says to the young one… ‘don’t worry, I’m here from the future to tell you, you become an artist in the end.’

In one line David Byrne sings…

‘Every dream tells it all, and this is your story, you dreamed me a heart, you’re the dream operator.’

That reminded me that the heart of an artist is a child.

And that an artist is just that, ‘a dream operator’ and that’s also as good a definition of an artistic director as I’ve ever heard.

I found myself crying as I ran.

The song released the responsibility and grief of the pandemic and returned me to the child artist who just wants to celebrate, understand and dream the world.

File:Talking Heads - True Stories.svg - Wikimedia Commons

The instrument I play

I play the guitar well enough to strum along to things, and I have an extensive collection of guitars, ukuleles and banjos which I enjoy playing. The stroke rather fucked up my left hand fingering so I’m even worse than I used to be. I’m no musician.

Recently I have started taking singing lessons. I am greatly enjoying discovering my voice as an instrument.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

As a kid I learned Cello. I loved the sound of it, the feel of it. I still love Cello music. Jaqueline Du Pre doing Bach is some of my favourite music ever. I wish I’d kept it up.

If I could own one painting it would be

One of Rothko’s Red and Black paintings.

Mark Rothko | Untitled (Black and Orange on Red) (1962) | Artsy

The music that cheers me up

Ah, there IS another music question. Phew!

I am always cheered up by ‘Got Soul’ by Valerie June and I challenge you not to be as well.

The place I feel happiest

My family’s cottage on Rannoch Moor.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

I genuinely don’t believe in guilt over pleasure.

I like reading massive volumes of history – Anthony Beevor, Robert Caro, etc… Sometimes that feels like an old white man thing to be doing. It’s not that I don’t seek out diversity in history, I do. But I’m a bit Alan Partridge about military history. So maybe that?

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

I don’t like dinner parties. I really enjoy one on one encounters best. I would invite Lee Miller to dinner. If she was unavailable, I would invite Aeschylus.

AESCHYLUS - WHO WAS AESCHYLUS? TRAGEDIES,PLAYS,FACTS,DEATH

And I’ll put on this music

Lee Miller I would play Beyonce’s Lemonade. I think she’d like that. Aeschylus would be fascinated by Hip Hop – he was a composer as well as a poet and he wrote in rhythmic speech – so I’d play him some of the best Hip Hop I know from Public Enemy, to Dr Dre to Drake to Kanye.

Unknown Pleasures #3: Murray Calder (RIP)

I knew, when I asked Murray to write this for me, that he was dying. But I knew he’d relish it. I knew that he would entertain us and shed light on his most treasured cultural memories.

It’s perhaps significant that the book he had just completed in the last weeks of his life was about stoic philosophy. Because he was stoic and witty to the end.

We weren’t big mates or anything. But I admired his great strategic mind and his love for African music, something we shared.

He will be greatly missed by his family and many great friends.

God bless Murray.

Here is something my good friend Pauline Platt sent me when my Mum passed away that may bring comfort to his family.

What is dying?

The ship sails and I stand watching till he fades on the horizon and something at my side says “He is gone”.

Gone where?

Gone from my sight, that is all: he is just as large as when I saw him.

The diminshed size and total loss of sight is in me, not in him and just at the moment when someone at my side says “He is gone” there are others who are watching him coming and other voices take up a glad shout, “There he comes””.

And that is dying.

He struggled to compose emails to me as we messaged each other “It’s the cancer Mark”, he told me when I said to him that one of his emails had “…hit the scrambler”.

You can see it in some of his final tweets.

Now we are left with these reflections after his short life.

Murray and I share a distinction. Both of us are ex-chairs of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in Scotland (the IPA). I think he was the first ‘media man’ to hold the position. I was the first idiot.

Those of you who know him, know he’s no longer working, but he is a source of great inspiration to us all. That’s because he has terminal cancer and, rather than getting all sorry for himself, he’s doing stuff like this.

He’s being positive. He’s living the life he has left.

Captain Murray. We salute you sir.

My favourite author or book

Iain M. Banks (or Iain Banks if you’re more of a fan of his literary fiction) has long been my favourite author. He switches seamlessly between literary and science fiction and this Culture Universe is, to me at least, one of the most beautifully realised pieces of world-building in science fiction. And probably the best example of “fully-automated luxury communism” in literature. So many future-scapes are written as dystopian that it’s a real tonic to read about a universe which spells out such a vividly realised utpopian vision.

Not only that, his sense of playfulness and humour shines through in both the names and the dialogue of the “Minds”, the AI’s who run the whole shebang. I’m very sad every time I’m reminded there will never be another new Culture novel. RIP Iain. 

The book I’m reading

I have just finished Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” after reading a lot of Stoic Philosophy with which It showed a lot of similarities.

The book I wish I had written

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

The book I couldn’t finish

Too many to name. Life’s too short to waste on books you’re not enjoying. 

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

None. Life’s also far too short to be ashamed about not reading a book. 

My favourite film

Bladerunner. Brilliant set-design, great performances, a stunning soundtrack. It’s perfect. 

Blade Runner' future is now and you are old - CNN

My favourite play

I can’t even remember the last time I saw a play so I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this question.

My favourite podcast

I’m not really a podcast listener, but I’m a great admirer of what Giles Edwards and team have achieved with the isolaTED talks series. Some fantastic talks from impressive people in aid of an important and worthwhile cause.

The box set I’m hooked on

Last thing I was hooked on was zerozerozero on Sky. Mexican drug cartel ultraviolence, Italian mafia codes of honour and American avarice all rolled into one. Highly entertaining 

ZeroZeroZero (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

My favourite TV series

Antiques Roadshow is a Sunday evening staple in our house. Of course you’d never sell it. 

My favourite piece of music

As Long as I Have You by Garnett Mimms. A stomping piece of Northern Soul which we chose as first dance at our wedding after being introduced to it by Gideon, the guy behind Block 9 at Glastonbury who’s a friend of Emma (my now wife’s) best pal from school. 

My favourite dance performance

Ashley Page’s The Pump Room performed by Scottish Ballet to an Aphex Twin remix of Nine Inch Nails. Most unexpected. 

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

I’m not sure I’d stop if I started, so I’ve not cried for a while now.

The lyric I wish I’d written

I’ll leave it to the professionals.

The song that saved me

See My Favourite Piece of Music

The instrument I play

I don’t play any musical instrument but I do play other people’s records occasionally. Does DJing count?

Murray’s in-home Captain DJ booth. Complete with Lichtenstein backdrop.

The instrument I wish I’d learned

I wish I’d started DJing earlier

If I could own one painting it would be

Not a painting but a print, specifically, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai. As a (very) amateur printer myself, I’m fascinated by the technique involved in creating these incredible woodblock prints.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa - Wikipedia

The music that cheers me up

I’m a funk fan. Anything with a driving baseline

The place I feel happiest

Behind the decks. I was fortunate to hold a brief residency at the SubClub in Glasgow in the mid 2,000’s and warming up for Hardfloor to an over-capacity crowd from that booth is one of my happiest memories. 

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

LIfe’s too short to feel guilt about the pleasures you take. 

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

David Byrne, Brian Eno, Olivery Bondzio, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, Hilary Mantell, Margaret Atwood

And I’ll put on this music

Mostly African recently, although, not necessarily Afrobeat. I’m a huge fan of the Analog Africa label and have been slowly completing my collection of their compilations. 

Unknown Pleasures #2: Stephen Dunn

Contact — Stephen Wilson Dunn

I’ve known Stephen for the best part of a decade now. He’s a phenomenon. A proper philanthropist who has, in his retirement from the energy industry where he made an impact at the very highest level, continued that impact, particularly in theatre and at Hibernian FC where he is a hands-on and much loved board director.

He’s a photographer, and an exceptionally good one at that, having undertaken study at degree level. But he’s intuitively great.

It’s in theatre that I know him best and his recent creation of the Stephen Dunn Theatre Fund is helping in many ways, most recently with the fabulous new podcast series presented by Nicola Roy called The Cultural Coven. You’ll find it on Spotify and Apple.

Here’s his beautifully curated and eclectic Unknown Pleasures.

My favourite author or book

I love a laugh, so it must be Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall.  It is a book I can read again, and again, and always laugh out loud.  I loved Milligan and his viewpoint on all life.  His letters, particularly to HMRC, met in-kind by a very funny tax inspector, brighten up any day and are a template on how to deal with officialdom and jobsworths.  However, it his beautifully observed, and no doubt greatly exaggerated, commentary on army life, the war and particularly the characters he encountered is a book I would take to that desert island if I were ever asked.  

Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (film) - Alchetron, the free social  encyclopedia

The book I’m reading

Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia is my current read, primarily for my Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.  It is a book worth reading in its own right however as it looks at nostalgia, from its historic position as a disease, cured in some armies by shooting, to the reasons we feel a longing for times and places from the past.  Being of Russian birth there is a brilliant analysis of their psyche and approach to life, and of their former citizens! 

The book I wish I had written

“From the Earth to the Moon” Jules Verne.  Foresight or what!

The book I couldn’t finish

Loads of those.  Mostly science fiction literature. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick is one I gave up on in the early 1970s, only to love Blade Runner the film.  Who knew!

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.  My English teacher at school was a great inspiration and she gave us the option to read either the Thucydides or An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley.  I chose the latter and that started my love of theatre. Miss Merson wanted the former as she felt I would become a more rounded person.  I was ashamed to let her down.

My favourite film

An impossible question. Depends on mood, genre and what is happening in the world.  Recently I watched and loved Apollo 11, more a documentary but great, nevertheless.  A bit of film noir such as Double Indemnity and of course a bit of To Catch a Thief, just to see the South of France!

My favourite play

Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller at the Young Vic was probably the best I have seen in recent years although Angels in America, Tony Kushner at The National Theatre was also up there.

Theater: 'Angels in America' Punches Through the Roof Again

My favourite podcast

15 Minutes to the Moon. Theme here!

The box set I’m hooked on

Don’t do box sets.  Although have recently found Netflix but tried to avoid binges.

My favourite TV series

The Sweeney, followed by The Avengers followed by Rising Damp.

My favourite piece of music

Alone Again Naturally, Gilbert O’Sullivan.  Loved it when it first came out and love it today.

Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O'Sullivan on Amazon Music - Amazon.co.uk

My favourite dance performance

No great on dance. Went to a ballet once and thought it was noisy!

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Fences. August Wilson play turned into a film directed and starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

The lyric I wish I’d written

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Don McLean, Vincent

The song that saved me

Not needed so far.  However, Stay With Me, The Faces would feature!

The instrument I play

A Leica MP film camera.

Leica MP // Leica M-System // Photography - Leica Camera AG

The instrument I wish I’d learned

A triangle.

If I could own one painting it would be

Ophelia, Sir John Everett Millais.  Pre Electricity Council meetings at Millbank I would sit and stare at it! Was offended when they loaned it to Russia and complained to one of the curators.  It was mine you see!

Ophelia', Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, 1851–2 | Tate

The music that cheers me up

The Faces.

The place I feel happiest

In a theatre, preferably the Lyceum, although The National in London is a space I love and of course Easter Road.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Being able to go to the smoke at the drop of the hat to “do” theatre.  

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Spike Milligan, Jack Lemmon, Billie Holliday, W. Eugene Smith, Bing Crosby and Stephen Fry.   

And I’ll put on this music

So What, Miles Davis

Unknown Pleasures #1: Mark Gorman

I love the, always insightful and thoughtful, celebrity column each Saturday in the Times called ‘My Culture Fix’ and realise I will never be asked to write it (because I’m not a celebrity), so I thought I’d do it myself and then invite some friends to do their own.

So, this is #1 in an occasional series.

Here’s my starter.  It took me ages.  

(If you’d like to contribute please let me know and I’ll send you the form.)

My favourite author or book

Few authors have fault-free cannons of work.  Favourites like Ian McEwan, John Irving and Margaret Atwood all suffer from weak spots, Donna Tartt, less so. But I’ll go for the two books that punched me in the chest most vividly in recent year, The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Both deal with aspects of systemic racism in America that makes you wonder why, in 2020, there should have still been a need for #BlackLivesMatter.  But it seems racism is not just systemic but endemic too. Maybe books this brilliant can make a dent.

The book I’m reading

Barack Obama’s fine memoir, A Promised Land.  Big and beautiful.  (Like him).  And the latest of my book club’s choices (it’s my work’s diversity and inclusion group so we only read books by authors of colour).  The current read is a brilliant page-turner.  The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.

HBO Brit Bennett The Vanishing Half 7-Figure Deal; 17 Bidders – Deadline

The book I wish I had written

“How I won a million dollars” by Mark A Gorman.

The book I couldn’t finish

There’s plenty.  I’m not too squeamish about that.  But Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is some pile of drudging poopery.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

I’ve never really taken to ‘the classics’.  My reading starts mid 1930’s (Lawrence, FSF, Camus, Kafka, Huxley) so I’m fairly ashamed that, when I describe writing as Dickensian, my experience of his work is from TV, the stage or through the eyes of writers like Michel Faber.

My favourite film

That changes.  I recently re-watched what I thought was my favourite, Magnolia by PT Anderson, and the edge was off it.  The Shining and Apocalypse Now often sit front of mind for this question, when asked, but actually I’m going to stick with Paul Thomas Anderson and say ‘his body of work’.

My favourite play

The Royal Lyceum Theatre’s production of Berthold Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle 

My favourite podcast

For about two years now podcasts have become my biggest indulgence in my own time, not all are cultural of course.  In fact, they’re mainly political, news and history.  But a few cultural gems have slipped in there.  It’s hard to do well.  But Homecoming (both series) is fantastic theatre of the mind, as is Passenger List but the most gruesome and funniest (even if unintentionally) is a New York take on Sweeney Todd called the Horrors of Dolores Roach.  Delicious.

The box set I’m hooked on

Gomorrah is ridiculously callous in its brutality but gloriously so.  The fact it’s in Italian masks what I’m pretty sure are at least two central performances of dubious merit.  My wife and I were feeling decidedly guilty that we feel invested in the character Ciro, despite the fact that he’s a cold-blooded murdering bastard. 

Gomorra: La serie (TV Series 2014– ) - IMDb

My favourite TV series

You can’t beat getting your scoresheet out with University Challenge on the screen.  Jools, when he doesn’t talk, has been a staple for many years, but the programme that got me hook, line and sinker during lockdown was Junior Bake Off with the wonderful Harry Hill presenting.

My favourite piece of music

Well, I definitely want Into My Arms by Nick Cave played at my funeral but the two records that I simply never tire of are Reproduction and Travelogue by The Human League.  It’s pretty incredible to think how they knocked this up at the time they did.  Extraordinary technique, tunes and oddly brilliant lyrics.  The real deal.

The Human League – Reproduction (Vinyl) - Discogs

My favourite dance performance

I was blown away by Peacock (choreographed by Yang Liping) in the 2019 Edinburgh Festival.  But every time I see NDT I have a similar WTF reaction.  Done really well, with great music, contemporary dance is my favourite artform. We are blessed in Edinburgh to see this sort of stuff for under £20 every year.  Nowhere else on earth would you get that sort of value.

The Last film/music/book that made me cry

Gus Harrower recorded a version of Secret Love by Doris Day, my Mum’s favourite song, for her funeral recently and it was electrifying and hugely emotional for me.  And then, just last night, we watched an Australian movie about a terminally ill teenager called Babyteeth.  That hit the spot too.

The lyric I wish I’d written

From Grinderman (Nick Cave) from Palaces of Montezuma… The spinal cord of JFK
Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee I give to you.”

The song that saved me

I’m glad to say that I don’t feel I’ve ever needed ‘saved’ but should I find myself in that situation it’s not hard to imagine that it would be Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World.

The instrument I play

Haha.  Play? The ukulele and the drums, but over my life I have become able to get tunes out of the larynx, oboes, clarinets, synthesisers and guitars.  None with distinction. 

A Guide to Ukulele Strings: How to Choose Ukulele Strings - 2021 -  MasterClass

The instrument I wish I’d learned

Unquestionably, the piano.

If I could own one painting it would be

Three Oncologists, by Ken Currie, that hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  It terrifies me but absorbs me.  I never tire of it.

Three Oncologists by Ken Currie art print

The music that cheers me up

I’d have to say, in general terms, soul music.  From the early 70’s when the real masters were at their peak: Curtis, Stevie, Isaac, Marvin, Bobby Womack, Bill Withers, Aretha, Nina.  For these legends, first names suffice.

The place I feel happiest

It’s a straight toss up between opening night at The Lyceum in Edinburgh, with my wife, and Glastonbury.  But for the sheer awesomeness of it the big G gets my vote.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure

Reading on the bog.  I have James Robertson’s 365 Stories on the go upstairs and a wonderful book about famous letters downstairs.

I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors

Billy Connolly, Salvador Dali, David Byrne, Viv Albertine, Grace Jones (for the clothes and the fighting) and Donna Tartt.  

And I’ll put on this music

Oh, Jazz.  Things like GoGo Penguin, Moses Boyd, Kamasi Washington and some AfroBeat, led by Fela Kuti.