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

Best Music of 2016. It’s out now.

Free to a good home.

This is my 10th instalment, having begun the tradition in 2007.  (It’s the best year for donkeys.)

There is a strong electronic (4songs) and hip hop/dance (also 4 songs) element this year.

With fewer female solo artists than I’ve become known for (only 2 in fact).

It opens with Bowie’s closer and closes with Kosmicher Laufer’s opener. (For those not in the know they are a Leith based 1972 East German Olympic Athletics team training regime music spoof, redolent of early Kraftwerk – so what’s not to love.)

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Life on Mars: Revisited by Mick Rock.

This is one of the classic pop videos.  It wasn’t seen much in the 1970’s when Mick Rock recorded it but earlier this year Rock was given access to the master tape as well as 3 other recordings he’d made of it.  The result a new treatment that plays lots of games.  Which do you prefer?

The original

The new mix/edit.

For me the new take is interesting, but feels over fussy.  I vote for the original and best.

The seven day music challenge.

My pal, Peter Flockhart, challenged me to find seven songs that would sum up my musical taste, but I got a little carried away.  Thought you might like to see them all in the one place as we reach day 30.  They are in no particular order and, surprisingly, only one artist appears twice.  Tom Waits.

Day 30

Day 29

Day 28

Day 27

Day 26

Day 25

Day 24

Day 23

Day 22

Day 21

Day 20

Day 19

Day 18

Day 17

Day 16

Day 15

Day 14

Day 13


Day 11

Day 10

Day 9

Day 8

Day 7

Day 6

Day 5

Day 4

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1

Nile Rodgers. The great comeback

Today Nile Rodgers was told he was in full remission from aggressively invasive prostate cancer.

That’s good and let’s face it, any of you 50 odd year old blokes out there will empathise with that.

I am happy for Nile because he made my summer.

Selfish?  Perhaps.  But heartfelt?  Oh yes.

He made my summer because I saw him live on The West Holts Dance Stage closing the first night of my Glastonbury Festival and it was monumental.  (described today in The Telegraph as reaching folklore status.  30,000 at a venue that holds 20,000).

He’s done a lot of festivals and gigs around Britain since, so there’s a good chance you too might have seen his angelically clad 11 strong ensemble.  If you have you will realise, like me, that he is something of a latter-day day musical God.

But that’s just the half of it.

Read this book.

Then you’ll know it all.


Nile Rodgers, Le Freak, is one of the great music memoires.  In that it charts not only a golden era in pop music that he and his bands dominated but it also charts the near destruction of a mega talent addled by drink and drugs.

He was brought up in a fantasy world by junkie parents who frequently abandoned him to a life of substance abuse, starting with glue and ending with shedloads of cocaine and booze.

Which is worse he wonders?  Drink seems to be the conclusion.  Drink is dirtier.

After all is maw and paw were out and out junkies so maybe drugs ain’t so bad.

You’ll have to rise above this and avoid moral high-grounding if you are going to enjoy this read because he likes a toke or two.

B’nard Edwards fell victim, dying of pneumonia in a Tokyo Hotel bed after a gig with Niles.  It was Niles who found him the following morning.   But, B’nard wasn’t the only one.

Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Chic, Sister Sledge (those puritanical christians who couldn’t stand Rodger’s ethic, but took the success anyhow) are all given their moments of glory in this glorious travelogue through the clubs of Manhattan.

It feels like Niles wrote it himself, not by a ghost.  So, it has its technical flaws, but fuck that.

This is a visceral, beautiful, no gorgeous, celebration of hedonism wrapped up in a blanket of talent.

And you know what?

He got away with it.

You want him to get away with it as you struggle through the genuine challenges that he faced as a youngster and the way he THREW himself at the guitar.  In such a way that he became legendary.

He THREW himself at drugs too.  But he also THREW himself at production so that he defined not just an era but a genre and a genre that came back to bite him.

Disco, which he never claimed to own, became such a desultory term that he was, post peak of Chic, a musical outcast.  A joke.

Yet, he was never a disco diva.  He was R and B,  R and R.


With a dance flavour.

The theme to this book is this wonderful song that he wrote and that I have many, many times enjoyed, perhaps  more than I should have,  with my sisters, my wider family, my work colleagues and my fellow festival goers.

I’ve been exhilarated for a reason.

Today he gives us this…

I am so glad this is a celebration and not an obituary.