We’re having a bit of a train timetable crisis in Scotland at the moment with services running on sparse timetables. Around a week before this gig I looked at the train timetable to see when the last train from Waverley station back to Queen Street would be. The last service last night was at 10.15pm – too early for it to be practical for me to get, let alone even go to the gig at all, in all honesty. A stay overnight was out of the question. Too short notice which meant it would be too pricey and I really shouldn’t have to be spending the night in Edinburgh – not coming from Glasgow! (I’d travel a similar distance from Luton to see shows and gigs in London and NEVER stayed in London.)
I thought a coach too and back was going to incur a similar cost as the coach to Edinburgh airport, but of course the companies have to stick on a 60% markup on fares to take you to/from an airport – happens the world over. I was pleasantly surprised that a coach to Edinburgh was only £3.60 each way so I decided the coach would do it. There were coaches leaving every 30 minutes from around 9.30pm so I knew I wouldn’t get stranded.
I caught the coach at 4.15pm and arrived at Princes Street at around 5.30pm. It was a smooth journey. There was one rather worrying element early on. There was a stop just outside greater Glasgow where the M8 and M73 converge near Bargeddie and the driver seemed not to be able to take the coach out of the lower curb resting position – as if the hydraulics to lift the suspension back up had jammed. My heart began to sink. Although I had allowed for some time in case of jams or suchlike, I didn’t take into account time for a total coach breakdown! After a few minutes the hydraulics on the coach seemed to work again and we were off. Apart from that scare, the journey went without a hitch.
I had time to meander to the venue. I had 90 minutes to get there. I arrived there just after 6pm and just had a wander about the area. I had sod-all money and had hardly anything to eat, just enough to keep me going. I was quite thirsty but didn’t want to spend out on a drink so I bought myself an apple which was crisp and juicy enough to act as both thirst-quencher and stomach-filler. It had been in the chiller and was quite cold so it was very refreshing. I sat in a nearby park, enjoying the sun and watching the goings on around the park whilst eating the apple.
Doors opened to the venue at 7pm and I joined a small queue that was forming a few minutes before the hour. We were promptly let in. I spent a penny in the gender neutral(!) loos (which does feel a bit strange when you’re walking into the space and men are there washing their hands), then took my seat.
I was glad to have arrived as promptly as I had done as Webb’s support act, Ashley Campbell (Glen Campbell’s daughter, no less) started her support set right on 7.30pm. I really enjoyed her set a lot. I will freely admit my prejudice to country music but I was so moved by her performance. She has a very sweet voice and she’s a very natural and modest performer. Her accompaniment was a man named Thor Jensen who has his own album out. He had great harmonies with Ashley and they performed really well together. The lyrics to the songs she performed were just lovely and I cried several times, esp. at the end when she performed a song called Remembering about her dad and about how the Altheimers ravaged his ability to remember things. It was really poignant and beautiful. In the footage below, Ashley and Thor perform Tom Waits’ Long Way Home. I think I can say I had an epiphany and am now a fan of Ashley Campbell after last night.
Jimmy Webb arrived on the stage at 8.30pm to a very warm round of applause. It was a crowd of country music fans, as well as Jimmy Webb fans. A thoroughly appreciative crowd and Webb certainly did not disappoint, leading straight off with a rendition of Galveston.
It was quite a 50/50 split between music performance and conversation piece. Webb is quite the story-teller and has many tales to tell. He talked about his upbringing (some of which I captured on film) in Oklahoma (and like a few other people I know who grew up or lived in Oklahoma) which he compounded the general consensus about Oklahoma is the roads out of there! Lol. He talked about his early success, Grammy award nominations and wins, working with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and, of course, Glen Campbell. He had quite a few political views too, which he didn’t shy away from discussing. He talked about how Wichita Lineman came about, a spontaneous meeting with Louis Armstrong, Kenye West knicking a song of his to put down Taylor Swift (Jimmy was NOT happy about that!). He cracked a lot of jokes. There was quite a lot of humour and in between a fantastic repertoire of songs.
It’s quite the catalogue and he only performed a small selection of them. He’s an accomplished pianist. Is he a great singer? Well, no – by his own admission. He is a songwriter and he’s 75 (looking good for it though, it has to be said). It was a thoroughly entertaining evening.
About two thirds of the way through the show, during a quiet lull in the show, someone called out ‘P.F. Sloan, Jimmy!’ Webb’s retort, ‘Hang on a minute. I’m thinking.’ Then another person calls out. ‘Okay. I heard you the first time. Give me a minute. Let me figure something out here.’ After a few minutes talking about how the song came about, he then went into it as requested. Whoever that person was that called out the request, kudos to you because it became the highlight of the show for me.
I had to check the time now and then. As it drew closer to 10.30 I started to become mindful of how much time I’d need to get back to the Royal Mile and to the coach station for home. I had booked the 11.30pm coach back. Just after 10.40pm I decided to make my move. Webb just started with MacArthur Park and as reluctant as I was to leave before the end of the show, I knew I had to leave now. I spent another penny and off I went.
I had a mile long walk to go, alone, in a quieter area of Edinburgh and I was BRICKING IT! I contemplated grabbing a bus to get me back to Princes Street but I thought by the time I wanted for one to come by, etc, etc, I was best off just to keep pushing on. I get to Waverley station and have to go down that bloody staircase. Down, down, down. Then I cut through Waverley station itself and then get to the escalators taking you out the the other side to see that the ones higher up the staircase aren’t working. Oh, great! It’s 11.23 by the time I get to Princes Street and I still have about a quarter of a mile to go to get to the bus station. When I finally get to the bus station, my coach is right at the end of the bays! I can barely walk anymore. I get to the coaches’ step at 11.27! I’m then grappling with my phone to find my ticket to show to the driver. I take a seat at 11.29 – feeling as if I’ve just run a marathon – but I made it! Thirsty as hell and no drink at all but I made the coach and I was heading home. I had money left for a taxi back home from Buchanan bus station. It was all good.
I went looking through some of the local papers I have access to online and this one for Tuesday’s gig at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena inside the Nottingham Post was succinctly full of praise.
The UK leg of the arena tour comes to an end tonight in Liverpool – followed then by just a single Dublin gig (I had booked to return to see them in Dublin – should have been flying over there today but decided to knock it on the head and wait for Paris), with the band then touring mainland Europe with arena shows until the end of May.
A couple of weeks downtime then. A run of festival dates then kick in for the guys begin in June, starting in Oslo at the OverOslo Festival on June 10th and 11th. They return to the UK a week later to headline an evening at the Nocturne Festival at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire on June 18th. They remain busy in Europe through the course of the summer and return to the UK with four shows bringing the tour to its close in Belfast Custom House on August 9th, Audley End House in Saffron Walden, Essex on August 11th and finally a double header at Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh for the Summer Sessions Festival in August 12th and 13th. The final show being a benefit concert for UNICEF for Children in Ukraine, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of New Gold Dream with the album being performed in its entirety.
I have Paris on May 6th, Blenheim Palace in June 18th and the two Edinburgh gigs left to come – and that will bring me up to a total of 31 gigs (counting Copenhagen as TWO gigs) in the past seven years. That ain’t a bad run! Considering in four of those seven years they either did very limited touring, or no touring at all, I’m pretty happy with that statistic.
The next lot of gigs to come are spaced out nicely and won’t impede upon my study too much, so it’s all good.
For the gigs I went to, I had a ball. They were amazing! And I wish I could have gone to others but it wasn’t possible this time. I am excited for the ones to come.
For those going to Liverpool tonight, I hope you all have the best time.
The day that many a Simple Minds fan has been anticipating is upon us. Today sees the release of a new book, Themes For Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds by renowned music biographer, Graeme Thomson.
Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Graeme for the blog, asking him about his career in writing and in particular the aspect of music journalism his writing centres around.
I started by asking Graeme what made him decide on a career in music journalism.
“I’m not sure it was a decision, really. And I’m still not entirely sure it is what I do, I suppose, but I guess it is.
“I always wanted to write and I’ve always loved music. I’ve always listened very intently and very closely to the music I love. I’ve always been quite interested in the people who make the music that I love. So, I guess between those two things, the love of writing and the love for music, that has led me in that direction.”
The passion for writing and music has seen Graeme Thomson release several highly acclaimed music themed biographies, most recent among them, Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn and Cowboy Song: The Authorised Biography of Phil Lynott. Thomson has also produced books on George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Kate Bush, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello.
With a long, well established background on music biographies I was curious as to what attracted Graeme to the Simple Minds story.
“It goes back to my record collection. In many ways these were among the first records that I really loved. When I was 11 or 12 years old, in 1984 and 1985 when I first got into the band. And then you go backwards and discover the records they’d made previously. That was the first time I had really done that with a band. Really immersed myself in the albums and the whole catalogue. Simple Minds are among my oldest and deepest loves and that has never really wavered over the years. There have been periods in my life where I haven’t really listened to them as much.
“Also I feel, and I don’t know if you agree, but I felt they were badly underrepresented in literary circles. There hasn’t been a lot. Certainly within the last 20 to 30 years, there hasn’t been anything. And that ties in with the fact that they are underappreciated as well. Because they never split up and they kept going, it becomes a much messier story to tell and less easy to pin down then a band like, say, Joy Division, where you’ve got a very stark beginning and end and you can kind of make sense of it.
“So, first there was the pleasure. You want to write about music that you love and I wanted to do that. I wanted to shine a light on stuff that I felt hadn’t been overwritten about. Some albums now have been written about so much you feel there’s not an awful lot new to say about them and I didn’t feel that was the case with these records. It was then just the question of getting all the pieces in place. To make it work in the way that I wanted to make it work.”
I asked Graeme if writing had appealed to him from an early age.
“Absolutely. Reading and writing, from as long as I can remember. It has always been a part of my life. So, it was something without ever articulating it or intellectualising it that has always been there.”
Having asked Graeme who are or were the influences on his writing career I was pleased to get the initial response of, “that’s a very good question”. It’s always great for the renowned amateur to fire off a good question to the professional. It makes one feel as though maybe there is something in the existence of this blog to look positively upon.
“I’m not really sure that I can pin them down. I grew up as a music fan as a teenager in the 1980s and the writing of Melody Maker in particular in that period was very vivid and kind of adversarial as well, which I don’t think I am as a writer. It was kind of picking sides and I think as a teenager you quite like that.
“In terms of reading fiction and non-music based writing, there’s so many people I admire that it would be hard to pick any out specifically.”
“Do you have any Scottish writers, per se, that would be particular favourites?”
“Yeah. I think that movement … I mean, I studied English Literature at Glasgow in the early 1990s and it was quite a potent time then, I think. So, people like James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Jeff Torrington, Tom Leonard, Anges Owen… that kind of school of Scottish/Glaswegian writing, I was very attracted to and found very influential. I still do and I think that sense of that vernacular voice and that language that is rooted in the cultural experience of where people come from, how they think, and how their culture looks to them I think is still probably an influence.
“Funnily enough in the Simple Minds book it felt important for me to root the band in their own cultural background to get a sense of actually where they came from and where that music comes from. So those writers, those Scottish writers were quite important to me when I was younger.”
My curiosity was piqued, being the Alasdair Gray fan that I am. Thinking of the time and place in which Graeme would be during his days at university – Glasgow in the early 1990s, and knowing that Alasdair Gray would be quite the figure around campus at that time, it begged the question of whether Graeme ever had the chance of meeting Gray.
“No, but I had a very awkward phone conversation with him once. I was due to interview him for a journal. This would have been in the early 2000s and I had phoned him. He either hadn’t been told or he had changed his mind and … he let me know that quite abruptly! He said ‘I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it’ and put the phone down on me.
“I met James Kelman a few times. He was friends with some of my lecturers at university and he used to drink in The Halt Bar on Woodlands Rd in Glasgow (and he’d frequent The Scotia also) and there was a sense of being around that culture in the 90s which was actually quite inspiring looking back.”
Getting back to the book itself, and more specifically the choice of Graeme bringing out a book on the Simple Minds story, and with my own dalliances in writing about music, I was curious to know how a writer gets themselves motivated to write upon subject matter that may not necessarily appeal to them. I asked Graeme how he went about that.
“There’s a few books I’ve written where I’d say I wasn’t a huge fan of the music. I liked it, but I was more interested in the personalities perhaps, or the story, or the narrative. Whereas in this case [the Themes For Great Cities book] it was very much music driven I would say.
“I have picked all my own subject matter with my books. I wouldn’t write about anyone or any group at that length if I didn’t feel there was some substance or something within the music that I kind of responded to. Like with someone like Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy. They weren’t a band that was hugely represented in my record collection but I still like them and I like certain songs and I felt there was something there.
“In smaller features as a journalist where you do get commissions where you need to write stories about things that you aren’t really that interested in on the surface you just have to make yourself interested in it as a fan. As a music fan. I think you could find something in most things.”
“Is it down to research? That within the research of a topic it opens up doors of interest?”
“I think so. And, you know, people are fascinating. I always try and remember … or not forget, rather, at the back of my mind that these are human beings making stuff for a reason. It’s usually not completely commercially driven and it’s not cynical. It’s people who are trying to say something through the medium of music and there’d be a reason for that. And they’ll be going through a time in their life, for whatever reason, whatever is happening in their life that will be contextualising that as well. It would be hard not to make that interesting and that’s the job. That’s the job. To find something interesting in the music and the context of when it was made and communicate that to the reader.
“I write for certain people and I don’t write in a pop context and so perhaps I don’t feel qualified to write about certain things in that respect. I generally write about music I’m drawn to.
“I do turn things down occasionally when it feels I’ve got nothing to say about it. Also if I feel I’ve written too much. I wrote a book about Kate Bush and I am very grateful. It’s led to huge amounts of extra work and commissions on very interesting things but you get to a point where you’ve said all there is to say, from my perspective, about a particular artist. So you kind of stop because it gets a bit tiring, for me and then for the reader as well.”
More on Themes For Great Cities itself, I was curious to know when the idea for the book was first in Graeme’s thoughts. Interviews he had conducted with Jim and Charlie in 2012 prior to the 5×5 Live tour feature in the pages towards the end of the book so I asked if it had been those interviews with Jim and Charlie that had planted the idea for the book.
“No, that wasn’t. That was just a piece that I had pitched to The Guardian. It was a couple of years later. It’s taken a while. I remember I spoke to Ian Grenfell, Simple Minds’ manager, and I had explained to him what I wanted to do. By that point I had interviewed Jim and Charlie a few times, probably three or four times, and had written about them.
“We met at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in 2015. We met with a view to talking about doing a book and everyone was quite keen. Then various things happened. There was talk about Jim writing his own memoir. Then his father passed away. So it got held up and in the meantime I wrote another book about John Martyn.
“These things find their time. We revisited it all in 2019. I got back in touch with Ian and said, you know, ‘where are we with this?’ So at that point I spoke to my agent and my publisher about it and at that point it got going, at the end of 2019. The interviews were conducted in 2020.”
“So, all pre-Covid?”
“Just! God, yeah…just. I remember meeting Bruce Findlay at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and it wasn’t really pre-Covid. It was right at the beginning of Covid. And we all knew things were going to get worse. Bruce had a terrible cough. Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band was with him and he wasn’t feeling great, so we just sneaked under the radar for that. Mick MacNeil I met up with in the summer just as some of the restrictions were lifted slightly. Other interviews were conducted on the phone. It was tricky.
“It was always the idea that it was my book and I was going to write what I wanted to write and that they were going to contribute, which I thought was very considerate of them. It was good of them to offer their time on that basis.”
“And very good that it happened?”
“Well, I think Ian Grenfell certainly saw from very early on the benefits of revisiting this period again and writing about it in, hopefully, an intelligent and exciting critical way. He saw there was a benefit to that for the band and the brand of Simple Minds, I suppose you could say.
“Ian’s been a great supporter of the book. I’m very grateful to him for that because he kind of opened doors up. And because everyone is still on reasonable terms, we managed to get hold of everyone who was important to that story.”
The next question was one I grappled with asking Graeme, but I was curious to get his feeling on it. So I asked if he was disappointed with Brian McGee’s decision not to be quoted in the book, having been interviewed for it. And also whether it resulted in any rewriting?
“To answer the second part, no. It didn’t involve any rewriting because the interview was conducted before I was getting into the nuts and bolts of writing the book.
“Yeah, I was disappointed. I don’t want to put any words into Brian’s mouth or to speak for him. He was always very amenable. I enjoyed meeting him very much and he had a lot of very interesting things to say. I wouldn’t want to speculate on why he ultimately didn’t want to be quoted in the book. But he’s there, he’s a living presence in the book, I hope. I really wanted to honour his contribution to the band, as I did with all the original members.”
I interject, “Well, you did do that.”
“I hope so. Yeah. I mean… it’s difficult. You’re telling the story of five people and you’re trying to be true to all of their experiences, many of which are kind of conflicting, or their memories are or whatever. Not everyone sees things the same way so you’re trying to be fair to that while also telling the wider story. I just hope he [Brian] feels that I pulled that off for him. But as to why he didn’t want to contribute in the end, that is a question you’d have to ask Brian himself.”
As a fervent fan of the band that I am, there was only really one thing in the book that I learned that knocked me for six, to the point where it made me question the very name of this blog and the moniker that I had chosen to use for my art. Without wanting to give too much away, there is a revelation about the name ‘Pripton Weird’ that, well, made me question stuff.
With that in mind, I asked Graeme was there anything in writing the book that surprised him most?
“Do you mean things I found out about the band or just things about the process of doing it?”
My amatuer and gallus response to that rebound question was … “either one?”, with a chuckle, which Graeme reciprocated.
“Well, one of the things I like about the book is that it’s kind of…well, not scrapbook style, but I like the fact that there are bits in there that take you out of the narrative. There are bits by Bobby Gillespie, James Dean Bradfield and Ian Cook…”
I interject once again, “What I classified as the ‘bridge chapters’ in my review?”
“Bridge chapters. Well, that’s a really nice way of putting it, yeah. And, like an email from Jim or the interview with Malcolm Garrett, which I think sits quite nicely within the linear narrative. I haven’t really done that before and I like that. I like the fact that it broke things up and that it sheds a different shade of light on what’s happening. Things like with Malcolm Garrett’s interview is it retrospectively tells you things that you’ve already read about and I quite like the way that worked.
“In terms of the band, I just really loved… I loved the way they worked. I love the fact that the first album really is songs written by Jim and Charlie together in that very traditional style. And then they had the courage to dump that. I thought that was quite unusual for a band to go, actually, we’re not going to do that, we’re going to let everybody into the process. Which, if you know bands and you know frontmen and guitar players, they’re pretty possessive of their territory, and their songwriting credits and all the rest of it. So to open that up and go we need to be more interesting and need more influences, I thought that was quite courageous, artistically.
“Then the way they worked. This idea of Jim… I loved this image of Jim just prowling around all day every day, soaking up this music, listening to it. Him just chiselling away at it, trying to find a shape. Or sometimes not trying to find a shape but just kind of leaving it as a little abstract miniature art piece or something.
“So the more I found out about that process, the more I loved it, really. And to find how heavily invested all five of them were in that. That sort of obsessive pursuit for something. I liked that.”
I responded to these words from Graeme by reiterating what I had said in my review, telling him how I felt that he had captured that wonderfully well and how much I felt as though I was right there in the studio with them, at Rockfield, watching all that work go on.
“Well, that’s lovely because, you know, so did I. That’s the thing. You put yourself into it. It’s funny that you were talking earlier about fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction can be really very personal and I always find that these books are very personal to me. They’re not just writing about stuff that happened to other people. I feel very there and very present and I’m trying to say something about me as well as them. So it’s nice to feel you felt you were there because that’s how I feel. That I’m right in the middle of it and I’m trying very hard to communicate what it feels like to me to be writing about this stuff, and how important it is for me, I think, about how people can make art in that environment. It is a weird time travel, personality shift… whatever you want to call it. You do get right into the thick of it. Those bits were really important to me. Those parts in the earlier chapters where you’re really trying to communicate how this band worked.”
In response to that I say that short of having a TARDIS, the book is the next best thing.
“Well, it’s lovely. And it was lovely to get feedback from people like Bruce Findlay and Billy Sloan and people who were actually there saying this is how it really felt, that you really captured the sense of what it was like at the time. And that is massively gratifying because you are taking a punt to a certain extent. You’re trusting your guts and your instincts because I wasn’t there and I was a very wee boy at the time, so you’re kind of trusting your instincts that you’re getting this stuff right. It feels right but you’re just hoping that it is right.”
Going back to the broader subject of music in general I was intrigued to find out how Graeme finds new music. And so I asked him what ways he chooses to discover new music.
“Well, my kids are good! My kids are 16, 17 and 21and they have very wide ranging tastes so I do listen to what they’re listening to. If they have things that they think I might like then I’ll listen to them.
“I get sent a lot of stuff. I get sent a lot of emails and new albums and pre-releases, so I do try and make time to listen to things that I feel I might enjoy. I don’t think I’m as good as I could be when I listen to things outside of my comfort zone, perhaps. I could be better at that.
“And just reading. There’s still a lot of really good stuff out there. I write a lot for Uncut and Uncut always has a picture of the kind of ‘heritage’ rock star on the cover but actually inside there’s a lot about a lot of new music. And the other music mags like Mojo, Record Collector… they’re all the same. They do cover an awful lot of new music although they are orientated towards a kind of nostalgia, I suppose, in some ways. So reading them.
“So those are a few ways; I get sent stuff, I pick up stuff from people around me and I’ll just read as much as I can.”
“Is there anyone around currently that you particularly like?”
“I love Phoebe Bridges. I think she’s fantastic. Joan Shelley who’s been around for a few years now. Modern Nature I think are a really interesting band. I’m always bumping into new stuff that I think is worth checking out. Others I’d mention would be The Weather Station, Katherine Priddy, Arooj Afrab, Blue Rose Code, Karine Polwart and Young Fathers.”
I asked this next question from more of a personal angle if I am honest. I asked Graeme if he had any advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career in writing and in particular music journalism.
“I don’t know. It’s a very different landscape than it was when I started out. I’m primarily a print writer and I don’t know how long that’s a sustainable avenue for people to get into as writers. I don’t know if I would have the first idea now if I was coming into writing about music where to start. I’m not ducking the question but I really don’t feel qualified to answer it because it’s a very precarious business now and I would probably hesitate to recognise it.
“It’s still a worthy endeavour and if you love writing and you love music then it’s something you’ll do and I guess you’ll probably find your path. And I’d like to think that if you’re good enough you’ll definitely have somewhere to get published and that people will read and enjoy your work. But I wouldn’t know where to begin with that.”
With my time chatting to Graeme coming to an end and in light of his success as a writer, gaining copious plaudits for his most recent book written prior to the Simple Minds story, one on John Matyn, my final question to him was this.
“It is said that those in the arts are usually doing something that they perhaps didn’t initially want to pursue – musicians rather be actors and vice versa, actors wanting to be film directors, and so on. Have you ever felt you were a frustrated musician or perhaps a visual artist, say?”
“Definitely not a visual artist, no! What did I get, now? I think I got a G in my GCSE art. I’m not a visual artist in any way, shape or form. But I do play music and I’ve played in bands and I’ve written songs. I’m not frustrated at all because I get a lot out of doing it on a personal level. I suppose if I had my time again and I was 17 and 18, when we were in a band that was potentially quite good and we maybe could have pushed a little harder to do something with that at the time. But it’s not a regret or a frustration at all. I mean still I love playing music and just doing stuff myself with that. But it’s certainly not an ambition I have for a profession or anything like that.”
My sincere thanks to Graeme for his time (and patience!) for this interview. You can find out more about Graeme’s work on his website – graemethomson.net – which includes a list of his published works.
Themes For Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds by Graeme Thomson, published by Constable is on general release today, January 27th, 2022. Available at all good booksellers, including Hachette.
I had shelved going to this Stag & Dagger event for quite a while. Once Warm Digits had announced a gig in Glasgow, I felt there was little need for me to see them a few days before in Edinburgh. They weren’t headlining the show which made me aware their set would be short, so I had settled on just seeing them in Glasgow and then seeing them in their home city of Newcastle. To have them play in Glasgow would be the ideal.
Sadly the gig had to be cancelled a couple of weeks back so that meant putting the Stag & Dagger back on the gig list. I had planned to go alone. I had booked a place to stay overnight, then decided that seemed an unnecessary expence – Edinburgh isn’t THAT far from Glasgow, FFS! So I cancelled the night away.
Late last week I got a promotional email from ScotRail detailing a ‘BOGOF’ travel deal. Between Sunday and Thursday for the next two weeks, one adult could travel for free across the whole ScotRail network with one full ticket paying companion. With that I asked the OH if she wanted to accompany me to Edinburgh seeing as her travel would be free (you know these Cancerians – they never say no to a bargain, or a freebie. Lol).
When it came to the Stag & Dagger, my only intent was to see Warm Digits. I’d have perhaps liked to have seen Billy Nomates, but there weren’t any other acts playing I was that familiar with. To see Steve and Andy was all that I was worried about.
The day started well. The train travel was smooth. No worries getting the train at Queen Street. We arrived from Ashfield on platform 3, and the Edinburgh express was there ready to depart a few minutes later on platform 4.
We did a bit of wandering, not too much sightseeing. With Covid and lockdowns, our exploration of the rest of Scotland has been quite limited. The only time we’ve been to Edinburgh together so far was to spend a couple of hours at Portobello Beach. We just went straight to the beach and didn’t go into the city itself. So it was a bit of mindfuck,when the OH reminded me that it was her first visit to Edinburgh – the city itself – the Royal Mile – in 20 years.
After a bit of a wander about aimlessly, we went and had a bite to eat. I coaxed her into the Cafe Andaluz we had passed by.
We were back out by 4pm and the light had faded to deep dusk. It’s Sunday, 4pm, the light is fading, I’m not wanting to walk too far and the boys aren’t on until 7.30pm – what are we gonna do?!
Wander some more! We went down to Cowgate so I could see where the venue was, and exchange my ticket for my wristband. We went down to Grassmarket and wandered about there for a while. I didn’t want to abandon my OH to wander the streets of Edinburgh alone for three hours, but I didn’t want to move far from Cowgate. She’s not a drinker and at this point in time she’s still not wanting to be indoors in more confined spaces for longer than is necessary so just whiling away some time having a drink in a bar wasn’t on the cards. I was feeling bad for even suggesting she accompany me at this point in the afternoon.
By 6pm my feet are feeling weary and I want to sit down a while so my legs aren’t aching TF by the time Warm Digits’ set starts. Me and the OH depart company.
I catch up with first Steve and then Andy in the venue around 6.30pm. Both of them welcoming me like they’re seeing an old friend. These guys are far too lovely to me! There wasn’t too much of a chance to chat as the act performing before them got under way. Bit hard to have a convo in the middle of a gig. Perhaps a chance to chat later?
The act before them, Pet Shimmers, finished their set at 7.15, giving Steve and Andy just about 10 minutes (once Pet Shimmers had removed their kit) to set up. I was getting flustered just watching them! Such a tight schedule to set up, perform your set, then get all your equipment back off the stage ready for the next band to do it all.
Technical issues started. Gremlins had been let loose. The bass feed wasn’t coming through the channel it needed, so they had to do a rework, and then Steve’s laptop – where the graphics are, so well as that bass feed was kept dying. Trying to get that all sorted meant their set started late, and there was no time to run over so their set was cut short.
They played Feel The Panic, End Times, One Track Groove (Living Stereo) and Growth Of Raindrops.
It was LOUD. I stood to the right of the stage, so I was right in front of the amp stack on the right side of the stage. I ended up with tinnitus in my right ear. For a while there I was worried lasting damage had been done. I’m still not sure whether lasting damage hasn’t been done. Since then things have not sounded quite right…
Yeah, incredibly loud and very distorted. But Pet Shimmers were sounding distorted too and that was at the very back of the venue. A shame. And not down to them that they were sounding like that.
A good catch up afterwards. A bit more of a chance to talk and blether on. Both parties were apologetic for varying reasons. I felt for them so much. Esp. Steve – his frustration and disappointment with the technical issues growing ever visible on his face. But they could at least play something and didn’t have to leave the stage not being able to play anything.
Steve very kindly offered me one of their newly added lines of merchandise – a Warm Digits t-shirt, which I will wear with absolute pride as, if not just Glasgow’s biggest Warm Digits fan, then perhaps even Scotland’s…maybe even the UK’s?! Lol. I don’t know. But I know I love these guys and I can’t wait to see them again next month at The Cluny in Newcastle. It’s all set to go! I have my ticket. And I have my travel and accommodation already sorted. I am really, really looking forward to it!
An arduous journey home followed. A depressed OH (not very happy with hours of hanging about Edinburgh in the dark with nowt to do), a wrong route back to Waverley station, a slow “all stops” train back to Glasgow. No trains running on the Anniesland line at that time on Sunday evening. A bus to Milton that didn’t arrive when it was scheduled to, then a cab home from the city and in the door at 11.30pm.
And knackered after my version of a dance at a gig and nearly 15km of walking. But to see them for just that short space of time made it all worthwhile.
ROLL ON NEWCASTLE!
I just took a few quick snaps on the night. No other footage. But here is a live version of One Track Groove they recorded many a year ago for you to enjoy.
Beauty and the Beast was fab. As was the Sunday birthday lunch. Weather was iffy but…meh. It’s Scotland. What are ya gonna do?
Yesterday was the belated added bonus of my Warm Digits boys being on the radio doing a live session on BBC Radio 6 Music on Marc Riley’s show.
They played The View From Nowhere, Feel The Panic and Replication. Replication sounded particularly fantastic. It is clearly going to be a live favourite for me. I remember particularly enjoying that when seeing them support Polica back in Feb. 2020 at St Lukes.
Just before the show was under way, I had an email from Eventim, the ticket agent I bought my tickets for their upcoming Glasgow gig with. The email was informing me that their Glasgow gig is cancelled. Oh, damn!
And yes, it is true. Sadly it is cancelled. But I will get to see them in Edinburgh at the Stag and Dagger in just under two weeks time, so that’s some compensation. Might have to see if I can get to Manchester as well. I have a ticket for their gig at The Cluny in Newcastle, but that’s near Christmas. But I’ll hope that the weather and travel is okay and that I can actually get there too. The Cluny is a fab venue.
In the meantime, here’s a link to BBC Sounds and the Marc Riley show from last night. He played a great blend of music. I recommend listening to the whole show. It was very entertaining.
Oh, at long last! After nine months in the tightest restrictions in all of the UK, Glasgow came out of Level 3 lockdown last Saturday, June 5th. I was happy to let a few days pass by at least until we tried to get out and see anything. Just bide time a little longer.
We hired a car from Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening for a 24 hour period. I was hoping for a splendid west coast sunset followed by a day in the east but…mother nature had other plans! Although conditions were dry on Tuesday night, it was quite overcast so the glorious sunset I was hoping to see wasn’t really going to happen.
A change of plan. We broke up what was the rest of the plan into two parts – which was probably a good thing in hindsight as it would have been a bit of a stretch to have tried to cram it all in on one day.
On Tuesday night we went to Falkirk to the wheel and to the Kelpies. The Falkirk Wheel really is an engineering marvel! And that part of the country is just beautiful! It was a stunning thing to behold – all of it! The wheel itself, the scenery around it. Just beautiful! And even more glorious to behold as the sun is setting. I wanted to try and get to the Kelpies at sunset so we could see them lit up. But we are so close to summer solstice and the days are ssooo long at this time of year that true nightfall doesn’t happen until after 11pm. The Kelpies were lit up but it was still a bit too bright to truly experience seeing them in the dark. They are incredible also. And the park around them is gorgeous.
Wednesday the weather was going to be dreich in Glasgow but the east promised to be brighter. So over to South Queensferry and to Portobello Beach near Edinburgh. We travelled north and crossed the Clackmannanshire bridge over the Forth and then headed south skirting near Dunfermline before crossing the Forth Road Bridge and stopping at a charging station for car electric car charging. Great views back over to the north of both the road bridge and the rail bridge from a little observation point at the charging station. Took a stroll into the town while the car charged up. Walked past a hoose. Took some snaps. Watched trains go over the rail bridge. Grappled over which of the million ice cream parlours there were in the town which to buy from (you must have been spoiled for choice when you wanted an ice cream when you lived there, Jim! Lol) – then decided on none in the end. Bought sandwiches and carrot cake slices and went back to the viewing point and ate while taking in the view back from there.
Car charged up and onto Portobello Beach. Tried to work out which groyn – and YES, those things are called “groyns”….those wooden things that look like broken piers – the Minds were stood at for their early Zoom photoshoot. Asked the OH to take a photo of me by the one I thought it was. Inadvertently looked as despondent as Jim did in said shoot. Lol
The Edinburgh bypass by that time in the afternoon was a joy [sarcasm] and the only real crappy point to a really lovely day, The sunshine was on Leith as we left and it got increasingly dreich as we headed back west. By the time we got to Glasgow though it wasn’t as gloomy as it had looked when we had set out.
A lovely day.
All that remains is to ask – who did it better? Looking despondent – me or him?
You can’t escape it. The thing that hits you when your first hear this song is Charlie’s pedal affected riff that makes it sound for all the world like a cow has entered the recording studio to add a repetitive “mooooo” to the music. It’s a bit of an “in joke” in amongst the Simple Minds fanbase, but we love it all the same! Oh, and…the backbeat. The “holy backbeat”. The drumming is awesome!
There isn’t a lot of information on the song on Dream Giver, which means it remains one of Simple Minds’ most elusive songs. I mean…what the heck is it about actually? The lyrics are Jim at his most ambiguous.
“He wants the world screams everything” – men are petulant and demanding? “She’s a country feel for life” – women are mysterious and a frontier to be explored and possibly tamed? “Follows in love, love brings the fall” – it’ll only end in tears? Love makes fools of us all?
I guess this is a prime example of what I was talking about in last week’s MMM about songs not really having to be about anything at all.
I have long talked about two lines in the song being the most either enigmatic, or the most poignant.
The first of the two is the line, “first tear forms in the right eye / this is the eye that’s crying first” – it is SUCH an ambiguous, perplexing line. It’s always induced a head scratch and a pondering in me. I have never been conscious of my tears falling at different points from different eyes. I find it such a strange and curious notion.
When I was reading the Alasdair Gray novel, Lanark, last year, I happened upon a passage of the book which read as follows…
“I must be a very cold selfish kind of person. If Mum died I honestly don’t think I’d feel much about it. I can’t think of anyone, Dad, Ruth, Robert Coulter, whose death would much upset or change me. Yet when reading a poem by Poe last week, Thou wast that all to me, love, for which my soul did pine, etc., I felt a very poignant strong sense of loss and wept six tears, four with the left eye, two with the right. Mum isn’t going to die of course but this coldness of mine is a bit alarming.”
Gray would have probably written those words in the late nineteen seventies, if not earlier. He had been writing the novel since he was 20 years old. Lanark was first published in February, 1981. Had Jim actually read a copy upon release? I know he likes to devour his books and seemingly during that early period, Charlie was an even more voracious reader than Jim. Did those words in the book spark something within Jim and result in that line in the song?
If you remember from last week and the excerpts from interviews I shared when posting about In Trance As Mission, Jim said that inspiration came from all kinds of places.
“More and more ‘image’ is important for bands now,” Kerr enthuses, “as opposed to the sound of jumping up and down. You can be inspired by various actors, playwrights, books, documentaries and magazines – the whole thing. It’s just opened up and inspiration now is coming from everywhere, as opposed to what was rock standards.” (Jim talking with Ian Cranna for New Sounds New Styles magazine printed in the December 1981 issue.)
The other line is one I find quite downcast and melancholy from Jim, on the surface, but it ends up shining and giving hope like many of the lines he has written does. “When the other side of midnight calls / remind me I’m glad to be here.”
I can interpret it either one of two ways, dependent upon my mood. The melancholic way – “another day is gone and I need a reminder that I am here and life is meant to be enjoyed”. Or the uplifting way “after midnight, it’s a new day. Give me that kick that it’s great to be alive”. There’s an element of doubt in it, “REMIND me I’m glad to be here”. If you are to derive true positivity from it, you shouldn’t need a REMINDER of being “glad to be here”, should you? But then I guess it begs the question, what is “here”? Here in this moment? Here on earth? Here, existing? Here, with you?
Yes, I do over-analyse as you can see. But it’s about learning. Getting to the heart and meaning of the song – if there is indeed meant to be one.
There is also a bone of contention I have with some of the words printed for the lyrics. I am sure that during the second verse that he doesn’t merely repeat the same line over again but splits it up accordingly “breath is in, breath is out / I’m not saying anything, I’ve said too much – breath is in, breath is out / I’m not seeing anything, I’ve seen too much.” That’s certainly how I hear it on the studio version anyway.
Now let’s talk about sparsity. I love the space that Jim’s obfuscatory lyrics give to the music of the songs. But also, especially for this song, the words almost act as another instrument. His voice and his words. He has said numerous times that he’s not a musician – because he doesn’t play an instrument. But you use your voice, Jim! THAT is your instrument and back in the early days of Simple Minds more so, and particularly during this period, coinciding with your words, you really DID use it that way. The nuances, the way you used your voice to manipulate the delivery of words. Your accent coming through some, the protracted delivery of others. All of that is using your voice as an instrument. Okay, it’s not opera. You’re no Pavarotti. But for me, 70 Cities is a prime example of your voice needing to be there. I love the song so much but I don’t listen to the instrumental version of Sound In 70 Cities because….it feels like nothing without your voice and words in it. Something is lost on Sound In 70 Cities without Jim there. I don’t think it was ever meant to be heard just as an instrumental anyway. It’s a “filler” for the Sister Feelings Call album. Rather crazy that at the end of so much creativity during those sessions that the release of two albums means the second ends up with not enough time filled on it!
Speaking of sparsity… It has hardly appeared on the setlist through the years. It was there for a time on the final leg of the Sons And Fascination tour as well as the early leg of the New Gold Dream tour of 1982, but after that, not a zip. Not until 30 years elapses and they’re on the 5×5 Live tour. It’s a mainstay for the sets on that tour, with just the odd omission here and there when the setlist is reduced for festival slots and suchlike. But then nothing again since 2012.
It is an absolute marathon of a song to perform live vocally though. You have the ability to overdub and merge vocal parts in the studio so the way the vocal parts are layered in the studio is incredibly hard for Jim to replicate live. Live versions required vocal backing harmonies from other band members (namely Forbes and MacNeil in the early runs, then Grimes and Gillespie latterly, I am guessing) to not make it such a vocal slog for Jim. Even with that help, it’s a rather tricky affair.
Getting into the bootlegs as I have done recently I was in raptures hearing live versions of 70 Cities from the 1982 gigs. Firstly from Tiffany’s in Glasgow on July 14th (performed TWICE in one night – the second being even more lively than the first, which you wouldn’t expect at a gig – as a result the second is favoured by me over the first), then at the Hacienda in Manchester a few days later. There is also one from when they played Coasters in Edinburgh in September ‘82 available to hear on YT, and finally one from Toronto in November of ‘82 – which is probably my favourite along with the second of the two performances at Tiffany’s.
Of the modern versions, there’s a cracking one from Cologne in 2012. And I can’t talk of the modern day ones without mentioning the version on the 5×5 Live album – Jim audibly expressing his love for his home away from home, Sicily, rolling off a bunch of town names in his most poetic of “Glasgow Italiano” accents. It’s hard not to smile listening to it, swept up in the sheer joy in his voice. As much as I enjoy that version, Cologne wins out because there is great video footage that accompanies it and Jim is AS HOT AS FUCKING FUCK on that tour. Jesus! I’ll regret not being this kind of SM fan at that point every day of my life. The memories other fans have. And the stories they have of meeting him and him just…going for a drink with them or just…hanging around for a bit. Not just rushing off. It sounded amazing. IN MY DREAMS!
Of course I am amazed and happy with all that I have experienced – but I’ll always dream of more. I’ll always want more! I can’t help it.
You’ll find links to all the versions mentioned below – with my two favourites viewable within the post.
The poster arrived today. It looks REAL good! I want it on the wall already but the current frames I have, it won’t fit in properly. I’ll lose detail, I think. It seems wider than the frame so I’d lose detail on Jim and/or Brian if I framed it in one of my current frames. Damn it! I thought I’d be getting it up on the wall in a day or two!