Priptona Talks – To Graeme Thomson

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. 

Graeme Thomson

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.  

Graeme continues.

 “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.”

Original Priptona artwork featuring photos by Virginia Turbett that appear in the book.

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.”

Simple Minds at Tavistock Square, London, 1980. Photo curtesy of Virginia Turbett.

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.

St Andrew’s Day – Two Year Anniversary

It’s a Happy St Andrew’s Day from me here in a rather suitably dreich looking Glesga.

Yesterday it had been two years since we moved to Glasgow. There really is no other place in the world I would rather be! Even if the likes of the nurse at the local GP surgery and Vito around the corner at the chippy find this notion of mine hard to comprehend.

Over the past two years, I have had numerous probes into the accent people hear spewing forth from my gob. Most detect the Australian accent but are tentative to pinpoint it outright in case I may be a Kiwi and end up insulted, so the query usually comes with a “Which one? Oz or NZ?” Or, like in Vito’s case, a more general “Where ya fae?”

With Vito I was tempted to be a wee bit cheeky and say “Just aroond the corner.” Or perhaps “Luton. Moved to Glasgow nearly two years ago now.” But of course I knew exactly what he meant by the probing question. Originally. Where are you from? Where does that accent come from?

So I replied “Sydney, originally.” “And you like Glasgow?”, he asks. “I absolutely love it here”, I reply. “Even with all the rain?”, he says, with a rather incredulous look on his face. I just smiled, grabbed my fish supper from the counter and bid him a fond adieu.

Smirking away as I regaled inwardly on the encounter on my short walk back home, it wasn’t entirely lost on me the irony of a man of obvious Italian descent (how many Scotsman do you know called Vito?) asking me why on earth I was an Aussie living in Glasgow.

Another encounter happened last year during a walk to the canal around near Applecross and Speirs Wharf. A man was taking his dog for a walk and he was making his way up from the M8 underpass by Cowcaddens. He was headed for Speirs Wharf but he stopped us to check that he was headed in the right direction. I was with my Other Half and he detected both our accents. A good blether ensued. I won’t share the whole conversation. I can’t remember all of it at any rate. But I remember him being quite stunned that I was here living in Glasgow. He didn’t seemed so shocked by my OH being here. I guess someone from England moving up to Scotland isn’t particularly rare. But with me? Well, he had to have some fun. “You must be on the run, right? You murdered someone back there and that’s why you moved here, right? Good place to hide oot. No wan would suspect a ‘hing.”

Lol. Yeah. Only for the fact my accent gives me away every time.

So, yes. Two years in and there isn’t a day I haven’t loved living here or wished to be somewhere else. This is home. I found my place in the world. At least geographically.

Lastly, and as a side note, there’s a new Wet Leg tune out. I think it might be their best one yet. Interesting video!

Jim Kerr: The Laird – Magazine Interview – 1987 (Publication and exact date unknown)

I’m guessing by the description Adam Sweeting gives of the weather “a summery day” and the talk of Live In The City Of Light having just been released (LitCoL released in May), it must be around June of 1987.

I thought seeing as I’ve been to South Queensferry a few times over the past 12 months, I might as well get the damn article and share it here.

Living Proof – Review – Glasgow Film Theatre – 23/9/2021

I ventured out on Thursday evening to see the second “World Premiere” (Edinburgh actually pipped us to the post the night before) of the documentary Living Proof.

It dealt with looking at Scotland’s growth under Capitalism over the past 150 years, but concentrated on the rate of growth from post-WWII. Also the way Scotland has dealt with its climate, in good and bad, for the past 150 years and the ramifications of tapping into its apparently abundant natural resources – but at what ultimate cost?

The presentation of the film started with a short introduction from the film’s director, Emily Monro, about what the film’s main objective was. 

The film starts with a broad outline and visual run-through of what the film will be exploring in closer detail. A rush through the past 100+ years of Scotland’s environmental history – with a musical backdrop from the wonderful Louise Connell. Louise was there herself to watch the film. She had also been there to see it the previous night in Edinburgh. 

We start with a look at post-war Scotland and the richness of treasures that industrial juggernauts see in it. All for the good on the surface, with the talk of capitalising on those natural resources with hydroelectricity implemented in the Highlands. 

We continue on from there, looking at things from the farming of peat from bogs to coal mining, to North Sea oil drilling and gas harvesting. 

It quickly feels like we are just plundering something that we should have realised much earlier on is only finite! We as humans have somewhat blighted Scotland’s landscape by being swept up into the kind of “corporate greed” model of “improving” our lives. Some things done with the initial view of being better for everyone, for example, the hydroelectric schemes in the Highlands, have actually had negative repercussions. And we can’t escape the fact that the mining industry and the drilling of North Sea oil has had a massive impact environmentally. 

The film also looks into the decline of the shipbuilding industry. The shipbuilding docks try to move themselves forward by becoming the construction areas for the North Sea oil rigs. That was the most eye-opening and jaw-dropping aspect of the film for me. As one of the oil rigs had completed its first part of construction – its base, the foundation platform that will be plunged into the sea bed, just what a feat of engineering that it is. It’s hard to reconcile being marvalled by all that. To see this human constructed metal monolith making its way out of the Clyde firth in outrageously stormy seas to be slowly upended from its side to start being (weather permitting!) slowly, painstakingly, millimetre by millimetre hammered into the sea bed. It was both astonishing and gut-wrenching in equal measure. 

Conoco was the company in question building the massive offshore oil rigs, taking advantage of the docks left empty from the Clyde shipbuilding that went asunder. Watching that footage with a genuine mix of awe and lament. 

The film also takes a look into selling Scotland as an “attractive” prospect for investment and having some American firms come over and set up bases here – like the big Digital Equipment factory in Ayr. I remember as we made our way down the west coast towards Girvan a few months back being struck by how many huge factories there were along that part of the Ayrshire coast between Ayr and Girvan – particularly from Turnburry to Girvan. But then, why should I be surprised? Turnberry just for starters has a Trump stamp all over it!

Towards the end of the film we look at the take up of wind turbines and wind farms. Earlier in the film there is a bit about how ubiquitous and reliant upon metal we are for things. Like, it is in our lives EVERYWHERE. And you can’t help but in the end see the irony of the wind turbines being these monstrous metal contraptions and it all just cycles round. And that was the crux of the film’s point (well it was for me personally, anyway) – how do we get out of this loop? How do we get out of the capitalist “hamster wheel” (for want of better terminology)? Can we actually even do it? Are we too far down the line with things? Are we far too reliant on it all to not see any other way out? How do we really make REAL CHANGE?

The film finished with a Q and A with a panel of guests including the film’s director Emily Monro. One question asked of Emily was how she thought the film would be received by non-Scots? Emily found it not an easy question to respond to, but if I had responded to it (as I will do now) – I think it’s a universal problem and dilemma. Although the things within the film are entirely Scotland based, all the world’s countries are going through these same problems and going through the same questions. For some countries in the world, the crisis is a lot more profound than what Scotland is going through. So I think it can resonate and speak to people whether they live here or not. It really isn’t a thing that affects Scotland exclusively, the broader aspects of the climate crisis. 

It was pieced together so well by Emily and the final beach scene and dialogue ends on a really harrowing, pondering note. And the soundtrack used within it featured music wonderfully chosen. I will link to the tracks used through the film below. 

It was sobering viewing and I’m not sure I have any answers for it myself. Let us see what COP26 brings to us in November. Let’s just see how Glasgow copes with hosting such a summit, for one.

The Alasdair Gray Archive – Off Topic

Lately the blog has been really focussed on Simple Minds and in particular the 40th Anniversary of Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, Rightly so. I do run this blog primarily as a Simple Minds (ie: Jim Kerr ogling) blog, with broader music topics – general album reviews, gigs reviews and interviews, etc.

Anyone who has spent time here in the past – even in the fairly recent past, knows I love art as well – photography, painting, drawing. And I love books too, though I don’t read much these days (more due to suffering narcolepsy when I read and also being a very slow reader. It makes for an awful combination!).

One of the last books I managed to read in its entirety was Lanark by Alasdair Gray. I even went on and bought a Kindle copy of 1982 Janine and still haven’t read it!

I initially caught the Gray bug due to His Kerrness referring to Lanark in an interview he had with Muriel Gray (no relation, as far as I am aware) in 1984. An interview that I only saw for the first time in early 2020. I looked into Alasdair Gray and sought out a copy of Lanark to read. I decided to go “old school” and bought a copy from a seller on eBay. The book made its way to me from the Isle of Lewis – but the way I held it to read it, the adhesive wore away from the spine and the book fell apart. In the end I borrowed a digital copy from the library to finish reading it. I had to keep borrowing it week and week after week.

Needless to say, not only did I fall in love with Lanark, I fell in love with Alasdair too. And not just his writing. Lanark is still the only thing of his I’ve read so far – apart from an open letter he sent to The Scotsman newspaper about how perhaps we are too hasty to tear down, demolish and rebuild, but perhaps there should be more consideration given to restoration. He talked about Sighthill in particular. I can’t help but wonder what he would make of all the redevelopment work that has gone on and continues to go on around Sighthill right now. And even what he’d make of the housing estate that has been given approval to be built upon the old Ruchill Hospital grounds. Right now, when I look out my bedroom and living room windows, I see a living Alasdair Gray painting. That view is going to change in its appearance in years to come.

And so, yes, I love his paintings, murals and illustrations as much as his writing. I particularly love getting out at Hillhead subway station to view the spectacular mural that spans the wall of the subway’s entrance. If you search my blog you’ll find photos and video of the mural at Hillhead. I’ve still yet to go to the Ubiquitous Chip and the last time I was at Oran Mor, I was not even aware of Alasdair, or his amazing work there.

Sadly, Alasdair passed away at the end of 2019, but he has left such an amazing legacy.

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Alasdair Gray Archive, located at The Whisky Bond, just off Possil Road, overlooking the Forth and Clyde canal between Speirs Wharf and Applecross. It really was a wonderful hour I had spent there. I had the space to myself with the curator of the archive, Sorcha, as my personal guide. It is only a small space – not much larger than our living room (if any larger at all) and was arranged to show Alasdair’s office/writing space at one end, his art space at the opposite end of the wall, as well as a display of his bookshelf and illustrations, artworks and prints on the wall opposite.

I was allowed to view certain things and could view the massive “work-in-progress” folio in the top drawer of his artist’s bureau, which was incredible. One hour just was not enough.

I hope to return sometime in the near future to get lost again. I look forward to future “Gray Days”.

You can learn more about the Alasdair Gray Archive by visiting: thealasdairgrayarchive.org

I’m thinking this is a dungeon where all the naughty boys of Glasgow get put.
Below is the layout of archive, showing how Alasdair’s workspaces were laid out in his Hillhead home. Click on the photos to get enlarged viewing options.

Minds Music Monday – Fitba Toons

In light of His Nibs’s post about the bloody fitba on Saturday, I decided this MMM should highlight tracks representing the nations.

And seeing that in said post he declared his love for the English team, then we have both Jerusalem and When Spirits Rise to represent both England and Scotland.

In fact, Scotland play at Hampden Park this afternoon. And that, my friends, is the extent of my knowledge of the (reputed) “beautiful game”.

I had compiled a completely different post and wanted it to be my MMM post, but it is awaiting approval, so it may just be a bonus post later on today, or will be posted some time during the week (fingers crossed). But I promise that the normal Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call track-by-track celebration Minds Music Mondays WILL RETURN next week!

Until then…Yes, Sir – you *can* indeed boogie! (I miss your dad dancing!)

Scenic Scotland

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?

UPDATE: Seeing as you asked, Scott 😁

Always Destined To Be The … Next Big Thing

I posted this onto SMOG earlier this afternoon – but I get the feeling it is going to be somewhat overshadowed by a wonderful post about Jim, which I am sure he will love (who can blame him?). Anyway, I thought I’d also post it here as well. (I haven’t altered the words I posted.)


Back a few years ago, I posted something on the Simple Minds visitor wall. I think it was a review of a gig. It came from an independent fanzine. Jim replied to my post, saying he had fond memories of some of the guys who set up these kind of publications, recalling the names of Johnny Waller and Lindsay Hutton, particularly, on this occasion. Hutton had started a fanzine called “Next Big Thing”.

Well I stumbled on to a copy of Next Big Thing today, and there within the pages was an advert for Empires And Dance, as well as a glowing review of the album by Lindsay himself. (Albeit if he is somewhat disparaging to Roxy Music and Gary Numan in the process. Oops!)

It took me on my own little nostalgia trip. Of a time that I particularly loved being a Simple Minds fan. Thanks for those wee chit-chats, Jim. They’ll always be super special to me. I loved putting on my “researcher’s hat” for that one as when you replied to me you had said “I wonder what happened to Johnny and Lindsay?”, which had me off and searching for you. A time you made me feel both happy and purposeful.

If it doesn’t come out too clear for reading, then here is a transcript of what is written below.

“The danceable solution to teenage revolution? If Roxy were still any cop they’d be making albums like this. I don’t altogether go along with the belief that synthesisers always ruin things. There’s ample proof of the reverse here, but the fact that idiots like gerbil face Numan seem to represent the genre, mean that there is no media indication that there is life after electronics. ‘Empires’ is the 3rd Minds elpee and places them well up the league. Especially tasty are the opener ‘I Travel’ and the Jeepster style backbeat of ‘Celebrate’. If you’ve been put off by the moderne talk of Morley then think again kiddo, because this sound can co-exist with rock ‘n’ roll because it’s performed from the heart. Can you afford not to own a record by a band whose singer drew Noddy on the Berlin Wall in lime green chalk? Good wee group this.”