Monday, September 30, 2002


Tom Waits. This is a bit of an unfocused memory, really - it's about depression, and the way some things just speak to it. I guess I was aware of Tom Waits before I ever heard him sing; he's that kind of musician. I do remember hearing an excerpt from Swordfishtrombones when it first came out, which would have been 1983, and doing what I guess most people do on first hearing that voice: wondering whether it was being played at the wrong speed. But something stuck with me. And then over the years, I would hear an occasional song which intrigued me, or which stood out lyrically or musically, or often, both; and as often as not, it would turn out to be a Tom Waits song: Nanci Griffith's 'San Diego Serenade'; Mary Chapin Carpenter's 'Downtown Train'; Rod Stewart's odd version of 'Tom Traubert's Blues'; Shawn Colvin's 'Heart of Saturday Night'; and then there was Holly Cole's album of gorgeous jazz versions. And so, I loved these dark, brooding songs of love and loss long before I ever heard the originals.

So I bought some Tom Waits, and I played them until I knew them, and then I played them some more - I defy anyone not to be heartbroken by 'Martha', or 'Ruby's Arms' or simply overpowered by 'Kentucky Avenue'. I played this music at odd times - when I felt like it, I supposed; and then one day realised that it was a simple and effective indicator of whether I was feeling depressed - I would reach for my copy of 'Asylum Years' without thinking. Which leaves me with a dilemma - I love these songs, and what they say, but they reinforce my depressions. I don't play them as much, these days - but when I do, I choose to because I'm feeling good, and able to cope with them. And nothing can or will change my opinion of him as an artist - he's a unique and powerful voice, and an original songwriter. He's also an acquired taste, but one worth the effort.

Thursday, September 26, 2002


Paul Simon. Why I love drums: Me and my trusty Philips transistor radio were inseparable in the late seventies - it came with me to football matches, it sat on the desk and blared things at me while I did my homework, it would have come to school with me if it could, and it lay under the covers with me at night time, and let me hear all sorts of things. I kind of feel too young for having memories of listening to Radio Luxembourg in the night, but I did for a while, and through the static and flutter one night, I heard an incredible drum track. It may even have been introduced as an incredible drum track, but I certainly noticed it. It sounded like nothing I'd ever heard on a pop record before, all slippery rhythms and sliding hi-hat, and I loved it before I even heard the voice that went with it. '50 ways to leave your lover', it was; and while I enjoyed the wordplay, I remembered that tricky introduction. It gave me a focus on the drum track which I have still - often, when hearing new piece of music, I search for the drummer and listen to what's going on there first. It's probably why I've never really enjoyed very much 'dance' music - the melody and lyrics have to be something exceptional to make up for the inevitable 4/4 crash.

Many years later, Zoë and I saw Paul Simon at Wembley Arena - it was a fantastic evening, save for the fact that the stage was about half a mile away, and the sound came at you from in front and shortly afterwards, behind. And, yes, Paul Gadd was there, and they played '50 ways', and I was transported back to Radio Luxembourg, and my faithful 'tranny'. I wonder what ever happened to it...


Rolling Stones. My Stones memory is not what you might expect. Not the music - although, of course, there are plenty of memories of the band who are older than me in individual songs: 'Satisfaction' in the gym at the exchange school in Germany; trying (and failing) to play 'Angie' on the guitar; 'Miss You' in the Drama Theatre at school; 'Emotional Rescue' in the car on the way to Edinburgh for the first time - but that's not what I remember.

What I remember is standing on Leith Street in 1982. Lunchtime in the Potterrow refectory; I've wandered upstairs - probably in search of someone who wasn't there, and the TV is on in the corner. The news peters out, and 'Reporting Scotland' takes its place. The lead item is the startling fact that the Rolling Stones are set to play three low-key concerts in Scotland - Aberdeen Capitol, Dundee Caird Hall and Edinburgh Playhouse. These are the kind of venues - probably the actual venues - they last played in about 1964, and although it must have been a slow news day, it's hardly surprising that it's at the top of the agenda. Tickets had already gone on sale, apparently, and I noted this fact as I turned to go back downstairs and resume my search. About half an hour later, something clicks in my brain. It would actually be something to go and see the Stones in a small(ish) theatre; after all, they won't be around for ever, and even if I'm not such a fan, it is the kind of thing I could tell the grandchildren about. So I walk down to the West End - no particular sense of urgency, for some reason - and join the back of what is now a long queue, stretching up Leith Street from the Playhouse doors. And we stand and wait, and stand and wait. After about an hour, it is clear that this queue is not going anywhere, and one or two people start to drift away. Not long afterwards there is some kind of official announcement, and the queue dissolves. Ah, well. I've still never seen them live, and I still don't own any Stones music, but it seems there's no hurry...

Still, that would have been something, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, September 25, 2002


Dire Straits. What happened to us? Did we all have a collective seizure? For a while there, just about the time I moved to Inverness in 1985, it seemed that every third album sold in the UK was a Dire Straits recording. I mean, it was perfectly respectable music and all, even a few tunes which I might remember with fondness were it not for the over-familiarity which can kill all but the most perfect pieces of music. Just for the record, I don't own a Dire Straits CD, which probably disbars me from turning 40.

But I did own some Dire Straits vinyl. What I remember is the advertising in 'Sounds' - "Anyone can get into Dire Straits", next to a line drawing of a burning aircraft. Mmm, tasteful, I probably didn't think. Then without warning, 'Sultans of Swing' was everywhere. And, damn it, it's good. Catchy; interesting lyrics, the kind of thing I might be persuaded to buy. So, of course I do - I pick the album up one day in The Other Record Shop of blessed memory, and stare at it for several minutes, in that way I do. Well, I'm sure it'll be fine; and I buy it, and it is fine. And before I know it, it's April 1979, and I'm studying for my Highers - sitting at home all day, surrounded by books and notepads (jotters!) and snackfoods. 'Dire Straits' becomes my regulator - If I put it on and start to work on something, by the time it needs to be turned over (don't worry, kids - your parents will explain) it's time for a break anyway; by the time we get to 'Wild West End', I need to stop and change the subject. 'Wild West End' is, naturally, my favourite memory of the album... But really - 25 million people own 'Brothers in Arms'? Is that really necessary?

Madness. Around the time that I was a chronically insecure teenager, my only refuge was the Longacre Players. The slightly-more-grown-up version of Aberdeen Childrens Theatre, we met on Wednesday evenings instead of Saturday mornings, and we did proper theatre - I'm not sure if the story of how we put on Hamlet will appear here or not, but we did, and it wasn't half bad, he said modestly. Being theatrical types, we were natural show-offs, and because we were putting on a musical - 'Fiddler on the Roof, if memory serves - there was a piano in the rehearsal room. One or two of our number were properly musical, and able to bang out not just well-known tunes, but also current and even new songs - I remember being impressed at hearing 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' on that piano.

Upstairs at no.31 King Street is, therefore, where I first heard Madness. Not on the radio, or on someone's tape recording (this was before Walkmen, folks), but bashed out on the upright piano, either by Alec Innes or Rannoch Donald. Upon enquiring, I discover that it's called 'The Prince', and it's the next big thing. Which it was, really. But this sets me thinking. In 1979, I was listening to Madness and The Specials, to Joni Mitchell and Dire Straits (which reminds me...), to Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, to Ian Dury and The Police, to Tubeway Army and Ultravox, to Thin Lizzy and UFO, to - you get the idea. I find myself wondering whether there is too much music for me to take in today, but it was ever thus. Perhaps my life has simply become more full of other things - I no longer have the time to investigate all the new stuff, when I know I'm never going to get through all the Haydn symphonies... How soon can I retire?

Tuesday, September 24, 2002


And so, naturally, to Modest Mussorgsky. ELP led me to 'Pictures from an Exhibition,' I did the rest. This was my first ever live piece of classical music. Well, I say that - there must have been other items on the programme that night, but I don't remember any of them. Perhaps my father would remember - he took me to the Music Hall in Aberdeen - my parents were regular attenders (and, as far as I know, still are) at the (R)SNO's concert seasons; I must have used my mother's ticket that night. I presume that they were under Sir Alexander Gibson, but I really only remember the music - the familiar 'Promenade'; the scuttling chickens; the Great Gates of Kiev... I wonder now why I didn't start going more often - that single concert made a strong impression on me. Maybe it just wasn't 'cool' enough; maybe I was too much into too many other things. I missed a lot, though.

(Of course, now I've written this, I remember being taken to see Hephzibah Menuhin at an age when I was still learning piano; so around 10 or 11. The chief memory of that evening, of course, is that I was asked to present Miss Menuhin with her bouquet at the end ('oh, look, there's a presentable child in the front row. Ask him') and my piano teacher, who was also in the audience, didn't recognise me. Just call me Zelig.)

Monday, September 23, 2002


Emerson Lake & Palmer. Much derided, both at the time and, even more, since - and not without reason (if you want a good laugh, try searching for the lyrics of Pete Sinfield), they were nevertheless as important to me and my musical education as anything I heard in the mid-Seventies.

It was a music class, I recall - I think the teacher's name was McPherson, but I might be wrong. At any rate, he decided to try and impress us with some modern music, and thought that comparing and contrasting the Ravel orchestration with ELP's version of 'Pictures at an Exhibition' would at least penetrate our disinterested teenage brains. Well, it worked with me. I'll come back to Mussorgsky in a minute, but the version I rushed out to buy was ELP. Now, say what you like about the pretentiousness or otherwise of what they were about, but these guys were (and still are) proper musicians, with real musical ideas, and they opened my mind to so much which I would otherwise have scorned. I retain, for instance, a fondness for the Ginastera Piano Concerto - a tortuous piece of music - thanks to Keith Emerson's 'Toccata', and I would never have explored Aaron Copland otherwise. When 'Works, vol. 1' came out, I snapped it up, and loved it in all its variety, getting to know Emerson's Piano Concerto, and considering it the equal of any I'd heard before then. Which, of course, was hardly any - I didn't know any concerto the way I knew this one. Many, many years later, I decided to dig it out and listen again, confident that my teenage enthusiasm would prove to have been misplaced. But it's actually a fine piece of work, if a little derivative in places - it certainly stands up to the passage of time in a way that a lot of those lyrics didn't. All together now:
Every day a little sadder,
A little madder,
Someone get me a ladder...

Friday, September 20, 2002


Mary Chapin Carpenter - having randomised these entries, these two go together, as do the next two. Just the way the cards fall. So, Mary Chapin. I don't honestly remember how I first heard her, or of her - on a compilation CD, I shouldn't wonder, but I remember learning to play her songs on the guitar. This must be 1995 or so - the internet is still pretty heavily text based, and one of the things I quickly discover is OLGA - now a shadow of its former self, but then a cornucopia of resources for the amateur guitarist. I find all sorts of things I'd love to learn, and then I find all the songs from 'Come On, Come On' - these, for some reason, are the ones I find most comfortable to learn. I must sound pretty odd, belting out 'He thinks he'll keep her', but I persevere, and I come to truly appreciate these songs as little gems of the songwriter's craft - there's nothing like learning to play a song to help you appreciate its inner beauty.
Watty inserts another small explanation:

I'm not really going to town on the hyperlinks here - I'd rather that if you like the sound of any of this stuff, you seek it out for yourself - my links shoud give a clue, though...

Watty starts to worry slightly:

I'm not catching up at all here - I'll just have to move my birthday back...


Nanci Griffith. This is really about Perth. Perth Library, to be precise. When I think of our time in Perth, I don't remember much music at all, for some reason - we bought our first CD player when we lived there, so there must have been a bit; and there are, as we shall see, memories associated with the vast amount of driving I did while I lived there, but Perth itself...

Perth Library had a small selection of recordings which you could borrow - pretty much all on cassette tape, and I would scour the collection for something new and interesting, and generally fail to find it. But when it did come up trumps, it was always with an absolute gem. I had heard Miz Griffith's version of 'From a Distance', a song which can make the teeth curl in the wrong hands - she carried it off beautifully, and I had wondered whether any more of her work would be worth investigation. Perth Library had a copy of 'One Fair Summer Evening', and I took it home, not really sure what to expect. Just the songs alone would be enough to make this a glorious collection, but it comes with Nanci's peerless storytelling. Every song tells a story, and every introduction comes with a little piece of Texas magic. I was hooked, and another whole avenue of music suddenly opened up to me. When I think of Nanci I remember seeing her at the Albert Hall - hers is very definitely a live experience - but when I think of Perth, I remember discovering Nanci Griffith.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Watty has a thought:

It occurs to me that my non-UK readers really aren't going to get Ian Dury. You'll have to trust me on that one...

Ian Dury (preferably with Blockheads). A true original, a one-off, and if this were a list of my musical heroes, then a much longer entry. But memories...

I've been trying to avoid dating things too much, principally for reasons of not having the hours required to research them - it should generally be reasonably clear when things happened. But this - this was 1978. So I was 16, and just at that perfect age for clever, witty songs which weren't afraid to swear. Quite a lot. At that time, music TV in the UK was pretty much restricted to Top of the Pops, that venerable institution, filled only with singles which had gone up the charts that week, and were tasteful enough to be put before the nation in the early evening; and The Old Grey Whistle Test (which deserves a memory of its own, really) late at night. And then, slowly but surely, some other things began to appear. 'So it Goes', 'The Oxford Road Show', one or two others, including a BBC series whose name escapes me for present, but which delivered a live performance into our living rooms at teatime on a Saturday. One weekend, I flick over to see who's on, and it's Ian. My mother comes into the room, intent on whatever it is mothers do when they're really checking up on their teenage children, and is met with 'Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll' and 'There ain't half been some clever bastards'. "Charming," I hear from behind, as the door is closed. With impeccable timing, the Blockheads launch into 'Plaistow Patricia'. I'm certain I really did hear this on the BBC at teatime on a Saturday - of course, it might have been bowdlerised, but this is Ian Dury we're talking about. The shame is, that he was the kind of bloke to have utterly charmed people like my parents. I resolve not to automatically dislike whatever my children find entertaining when they're sixteen.

Oh, and if anyone knows where I can get hold of the South Bank Show edition, with the coruscating 'Fuck off Noddy' in it, please let me know...

Tuesday, September 17, 2002


Magazine. Oh, this is an oddity. I had a punk phase (well, OK, a wannabe punk phase), and there will be evidence in the shape of the Buzzcocks along in a while, and then I had a New Wave phase, which lasted a bit longer, and was a bit more serious, and involved buying things like Magazine singles, and then I had a particularly ill-judged rock phase (yes, some gruesome evidence to follow...) during which, all traces of my past were obliterated or at least left in Aberdeen while I moved to Edinburgh. Fortunately, it didn't last long, and it was a combination of the sainted John Peel and a Magazine song which opened my eyes.

I have no idea now why Andrew, Graeme and I were driving (in Graeme's famous Escort) through bits of Morningside, listening to John Peel, but we were. On comes 'Shot by Both Sides' - again, I have no idea why; perhaps it was a personal message. Something in me aches with a painful nostalgia for the last of my schooldays - all of three years before - and the excitement of those times when everything seemed possible, and probably was. I quietly resolve not to be so blinkered in my musical tastes. Slowly, but surely, it works...

Godspeed You Black Emperor! I'm not even sure that people like me are allowed to like this kind of thing: anarchist free-form 'noise terror' groups from Canada really shouldn't be my cup of tea at all - but here it is, and while it may provoke a rather mundane memory, it might equally provoke someone to go and check it out...

Oh, and it's not 'noise terror' at all - like a lot of 'modern' classical music, it just takes a lot of listening to - you need to concentrate and think about what you're hearing. Eventually, it all falls into place. Well, it did for me - one night, driving to Leeds in dreadful weather, I had 'Raise yr skinny fists like antennas to heaven' on to keep me awake and alert - I slowly recognised that I was being taken over by a strange and surreal soundscape. I felt almost as if I was inhabiting the music, rather than listening to it. I listened to the whole, sprawling, thing twice through,and nearly forgot to stop for petrol, so possessed was I. The nights are drawing in again, it may be time to break this out again.

Monday, September 16, 2002


Pink Floyd. You know, all in all, Hazlehead Academy wasn't such a bad place. We all have to go to school somewhere, after all. We didn't have common rooms, we had Year Areas, but they are much the same the world over - a place to hang out at break times and form cliques and gangs; a place to swap music. Swapping music was big then - battered old cassette tapes doing the rounds, with all sorts of things on them. The 'Dark Side of the Moon' tape was mine; the 'Wish you were Here' may have been Scott Murray's (although he might deny it now). It's hard to explain just what it was that spoke to us so strongly - what did we know about 'hanging on in quiet desperation'? I remember spending an entire Sunday afternoon trying to transcribe the lyrics to 'Wish...' by ear - going over and over the same snippets trying to work out just what was being said, driving the household up the wall. There were endless debates about the sound effects; what did they mean, what were they made of; what were the spoken extracts? It was claimed that some fathers swiped their sons' copies to show off their new stereo systems to the neighbours ('you should hear the stereo separation on this...'); and there were the endless rumours.

Animals had been something of a disappointment (although I retain a sneaking regard for it as a much more concise picture of the times than so much 'political' stuff of the time), and the next one had taken - believe it or not - two whole years to make. The excitement was staggeringly disproportionate to the actual event. For weeks, there had been talk of triple albums, of orchestral works, of the band having split and only Roger Waters being left (closer to the truth than we realised), and everyone agog at there actually being a single, and the British public actually buying it in vast numbers. And when it was finally delivered, via a trip into town after school, so I could buy it on the release date, it actually did live up to the hype. Well, it did if you were the right age. I have listened to 'The Wall' recently, and parts of it stand up pretty well, while some of it is overblown hysteria; but it was exactly what I wanted at the time. It also contained several parts which I managed to learn to play on my guitar; anybody want to hear the arpeggio from 'Is there anybody out there?'?

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Watty suddenly remembers:

In the midst of all this excitement, I have this other writing to do. I don't know, life would be so much easier if I didn't have a life...


Capercaillie / Runrig. Not strictly cheating, these two are two sides of the same coin. I imagine that, had I stayed in Scotland all those years ago, I might have found both of these a little too much; a little too Scottish, which is an odd thing to say, but I think I had to be away from things for a while to appreciate them. So what have we here? Two Scottish bands, who treat the Gaelic language as an easy and natural medium for songwriting. The approaches are quite different - Runrig are a pretty traditional rock band, with an occasional tinge of 'Big Country', while Capercaillie are much more of a logical evolution of the traditional highland sound. Both are recommended listening, but that's not why I'm here.

They both make me think of Scotland, of home, and Capercaillie in particular make me think of friends I really ought to spend more time with. Several years ago now, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days working in Scotland; I could meet and stay with my dear friends Andrew and Mairi, and I could spend a day showing one of our brand managers around some of my old haunts. Andrew and Mairi were, naturally, extremely hospitable, and over dinner played me 'To the Moon'. Although we were chatting, and catching up, and generally having a splendid time, I managed to hear enough of it to realise that I would really like to own it - it seemed emblematic of Scotland, and the things that I had missed. The next day, I picked Anna up from Edinburgh airport, and dragged her round Edinburgh for a bit. I'm certain we didn't get as much work as we might have done, because I was too busy showing off all my favourite bits. We stopped at the Gyle centre to do a store audit, and I dived into a record shop and bought my own copy of 'To the Moon.' It made a stirring and entirely appropriate companion for our little jaunt up the east coast; I've never enjoyed a day out like that as I did that day - Anna was a good friend, and an excellent travelling companion, and the soundtrack fitted the scenery perfectly. Whenever I hear it now, I'm transported back to that day; good company and good music - you can't beat it.

Watty exults:

Well, maybe not exults, but...
The story is done. At least, the first version of it is done - I am determined to see this project through now; people have been so kind and encouraging that I feel I should carry on working on it. There are several things to be done: rewriting the opening chapter, for instance, it's full of infelicities and doesn't really sit with the style of the rest of it (which is fair enough - I didn't know it was going to be a 35.000 word novella when I started); I know there are some minor plot holes which will need filling, and at least one extraneous red herring which is just a distraction. Also, I have this idea that it mght be readable for someone who has never heard of Mornington Crescent, so there will need to be some explanatory stuff blended in subtly early on. It has also occurred to me that I have never described any of my characters, so that people with their own opinion of what Tilly looks like might have been surprised by the short hair and the fact that she was significantly shorter than me in the last chapter. Then I really need to para break the speech, since it's quite difficult to read at the moment; proof read it, and probably rewrite other chunks which I rushed or didn't think through properly. But I really want to do this, even if it takes as long again to complete. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to have completed this large piece of prose - around 120 pages of standard sized paperback, I reckon - not bad for a beginner...

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

365 days ago...

I was sitting right here, where I'm sitting now. I don't remember if there had been any support calls during lunchtime, but I was whiling away the end of the lunch hour browsing around various sites. I dropped in on Popbitch, as it is always good for a laugh, and I vaguely know a couple of people who post on there. There was a picture of one of the World Trade Centre towers with a hole in it, headlined 'Who would do this?' I almost dismissed it as a Photoshopped hoax, but just in case, called across the room to see if anyone had any news services open. The BBC were, as they tend to be, being careful about checking facts, and had only a couple of lines in the ticker about an 'incident'. We found a report on CNN complete with the picture I had just seen, and there was a debate about what kind of aircraft it was, and how such an accident could happen. The longer I looked, I gradually realised that the scale was all wrong - this was a large aircraft. I kept trying to work out just how wide the towers were, and what size of impact could make such a large hole. I was in the middle of recounting the tale of the B-17 (I think) which impacted the Empire State at the end of the war, when I refreshed the Popbitch page, and saw the first report of another impact. I shouted out "someone switch on the television, I think this is no accident"

There was a small television set in the meeting room across the corridor; the room which we knocked down earlier this year, and there was the BBC, showing clearly the two towers, both in flames. Still something wouldn't quite sink in. Then the first video image of the second impact appeared:
, as I remember it, with no warning - just what appeared at first to be another view of the same scene and a sudden, sickening realisation of just what we were seeing. Then reality just suspended itself for a while. I came back to my desk - there's only so many times you can watch people die - and with each refresh of the screen, the rumours got more and more outlandish; dozens of hijacked aircraft; several in Europe; a bomb in Washington; a plane crash in Washington; they've hit the Pentagon...

The whole thing rapidly overtook any conceivable rumour. One of my colleagues came back from the TV room, visibly shaken: "One of the towers has just collapsed" I nodded, unable to even process the sentence. There seemed to be no urgency to go in there and see for myself. Instead, I found some sort of calm detachment from things, trying to carry on working while in truth continually refreshing the messageboard - a lot of the posters on there work in the media, and they were posting whatever feeds they were getting, without any moderation - there was a lot of noise, but there was also a picture visible through it - that there were only 4 aircraft, that they were all accounted for in one way or another, and that nothing would quite ever be as it was before. I did eventually make myself go and watch the images: there was clearly going to be no way of escaping them, in any case, and I gradually came to accept that what I was seeing was real. People were really dying, right there in front of me, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do aout it.

About 4:30, I gave up the pretence, and went home to hug my children. Zoë had just picked them up from Nursery, and her car had pulled in in front of mine. "Tell me you've seen the news," I gasped as I jumped out of the car. She nodded, much to my relief - I hadn't considered until that moment that I might have to tell anyone about it. We briefly debated what and how to tell the boys, but in the end, the TV went on, and we all watched together. Cameron was not yet 4, and he couldn't really grasp what had happened. "Was it an accident, Daddy?" "Yes" "Will it be alright again?" How do you answer that - I had no precedent for this; no-one had. We packed them off to bed as soon as we could, and in between watching the pictures numbly, discussed how we were supposed to bring children up when this kind of thing can happen. But a year later, we're still here, we're still bringing them up as best we can, and I'm still sitting here, typing into this machine. Just as I was 365 days ago, at almost exactly this time...

Tuesday, September 10, 2002


John Lennon. I'm not going to link anything here - if you can't find Lennon material online, you're really not trying.

I've done a fictionalised version of this already, but it will bear a little repetition. One early December morning in 1980, I awake as usual in my spartan room in Cowan House (You'll notice, if you follow the link, that it's recently been demolished. I managed not to shed a tear...) I turn on the radio, and am surprised to hear two Lennon tracks in a row, followed by the kind of silence which tells you everything you need to know. The subsequent news bulletin is still a little sketchy in the details, but there's no doubt about what has happened. It's the first time I have been affected so strongly by something since I left home; indeed, it's probably the first time I have been affected so powerfully by anything. I can't claim that he was one of my heroes, or that I had any particular link to him or his music, but this was a seismic event nevertheless. The conversation and the news bulletins were dominated by it for what seemed like weks afterwards - probably only a few days, in reality, and the music charts were full of Lennon for months.
And that's what I really remember, I suppose - that Christmas period full of 'Imagine' and 'Happy Xmas, War is Over'; Bryan Ferry crooning 'Jealous Guy' and those wire rimmed glasses staring out from every record shopfront. I suppose that in some strange way, the 8th of December 1980 marked an end to my innocence - it's glib to say that nothing was the same again, but nothing really was, after that.


Van Morrison. It took a long time, appreciating Van. I remember little bits and pieces over the years, but I didn't get it at all. I remember Graeme and I in Phoenix Records in Edinburgh, me looking at all the nasty, hairy rock albums, he emerging triumphant with 'Inarticulate Speech of the Heart'. I didn't get it. Graeme lent me 'Veedon Fleece' so that I could let my future mother-in-law hear 'Streets of Arklow (she came from Arklow), I didn't get it. Over the years, I heard other songs and snippets, I didn't get it. One year, I bought Zoë 'Have I told you Lately' for Valentine's Day - who says I'm not romantic? I listened to the B side, Coney Island', and I started to get it. I bought, or was given, the first Best Of... album, and he started to work his magic.

And then, one glorious late summer day, I'm driving through the borders on my way to Jedburgh. I was on a 3 day trip, doing some research for work, visiting a number of smaller supermarkets and so on. The previous day, I had been back in Perth and had spent the evening in Edinburgh, which put me in a wonderful mood anyway; I had bought A Night in San Francisco to give me something new to listen to on the way home, and it was helping to speed the journey along. Then, somewhere between Dalkeith and Jedburgh, I hear the piano introduction to 'In The Garden'.; I'm instantly humming along, then singing the bits I know. There's a bit of Sam Cooke in there, and a wonderful folk song called 'Allegheny', and then we're back into the coda - full speed ahead now, Van and I roaring at the top of our voices: "No method, no guru, no teacher.." Oh, now I get it....

Monday, September 09, 2002

Watty does the maths:

30 more working days to my birthday (I'm really not going to get these done during the weekends - I tried, but...); 36 more memories to fit in. Better double some up, then:


Deep Purple: Burn. (I told you these were random). A quick memory, this. This was the first 'serious' album I owned, in 1974. I didn't really know much about them, except that they were de rigeur among the boys in my year, and I really ought to fit in. It wasn't quite what I expected - I didn't know about them having replaced lead singers; it would be another year or so before I was reading the weekly music press - but it made an immediate impact; loud and seemingly designed to irritate one's parents, it was also perfect for those air guitar moments (ah, the innocence of youth...). One Sunday afternoon, I put it on to accompany my homework, and my father, passing the door, commented "Fascinatin' Rhythm". And, do you know, he was right...


Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1. I could expound on other bits of Prokofiev (I still can't believe he wasn't in my Desert Island Discs from a few months back...), but this is responsible for a lot of things.

My father (there he is again) had - probably still has - a recording of this by David Oistrakh. One day, he was listening to it while my sister and I (probably just me, in truth) zoomed annoyingly around, pretending to play the violin in an exaggerated and, well, annoying fashion. Dad was patient, but said something to the effect that one day, we would understand. The implication that I didn't understand prompted me, some time later, to try. I taped the whole LP - the other side was the Cinderella Suite - and listened to it from time to time.

Then I got a summer job, driving a delivery van for a firm specialising in underwater surveying (they appear to be called Fugro-UDI these days) and I spent several summers hurtling aroung Aberdeen with various bits of high tech equipment rattling around in the back of my van. After a few weeks of listening to the somewhat substandard radio, my coworker and I rigged up a tape player, and I stuffed the Prokofiev in. Admittedly, I couldn't actually hear the quieter passages, but those I could hear began to make sense to me - I started picking out themes, understanding structures, appreciating developments, and so on. I came to know it quite well - except for the quiet bits - and can, to this day, be heard whistling bits of it in unguarded moments. It was my first real experience of getting to know a classcal piece properly, and it changed the way I listen to music. And every time I hear it, it's July 1982 and I'm speeding down the hill to Bristow Helicopters' goods in, hoping I haven't missed the flight.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Watty's feeling good about himself:

Hey, what's not to like? I'm one chapter away from finishing my story (of course, it's really only the first draft, but anyway...) and I more or less wrote the ending in my head as I fell asleep last night; Cameron's first day at school was a big success - it's much more of a rite of passage for his parents than for him: he trotted off unconcerned; we're going to the Prom tonight, courtesy of the BBC; and I heard form Janet. She's still talking to me, at least - I may have to give her a ring to chat about the old days. So, things are good. And I get to ramble about Joni...


Joni Mitchell. Several of these memories will turn out to be more than one memory stitched together, especially this one. Let's see: I remember...

  • Second year drama with Mr. Dunbar - "I'm going to play you some Joni Mitchell; I don't think you're ready for her yet, but this is Big Yellow Taxi. We're going to do some movement to it..."
  • Airyhall Library introduced a record borrowing service: 'let's see, I know something about Joni Mitchell, maybe I'll try this live album (Shadows and Light). I fall hopelessly in love...
  • Doing homework to Ladies of the Canyon
  • Edinburgh - Wild Things Run Free.. - Chinese Café still haunts me, and I still have not heard a better version of Unchained Melody
  • The first time I heard Court and Spark, in a flat in Edinburgh
  • The first time I really listened to Hejira
  • Yonge St in Toronto - at last, the full length version of Shadows and Light on CD - buying it there seemed so appropriate, like coming home...
  • Graeme going to see her live in 1983 (or '84) - it's OK, I thought, I'll see her next time. I'm still waiting.
In so many ways, Joni has been the soundtrack to times in my life which didn't seem important at the time, but which turn out to be critical moments in retrospect - I was listening to Dog eat Dog in Inverness at the time when I was trying to decide about whether I should go for a job which required me to move to Perth, I was listening to Mingus on a weekend alone, as I started to properly get to grips with the depression. And there's always the clarinet solo in For Free.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Watty feels he ought to explain:

These are in no particular order - in fact, I've randomised them a little to avoid having several similar entries in a row; also, the 'countdown' is not indicative or status...


Marillion. The first of the Edinburgh memories - it'll be interesting to see if they are more numerous than the four years would warrant. The Chambers Street Union was - apparently it's empty now - a labyrinthine place, with the main bar two floors below ground level. Thanks to Edinburgh's interesting topography, of course, there was a door in the bar which opened onto the Cowgate at the back. Sometime in late 1982 or early 1983, I was asked if I wanted a ticket to see this new band who 'sound a bit like Genesis' at Chambers Street. I'm pretty sure that I had vaguely heard of them, but the 'Genesis' thing put me off, and I declined. Eventually, of course, I was persuaded ('they're not that much like Genesis, honest') to go, and I think it was partly the curiosity value which persuaded me: how did they intend to put a band on in there?

The answer proved to be 'move some tables and chairs out of the way, and let them play'. The band gathered in a corner; the audience gathered around the bar, some people continued to play pool at the tables in the back, out of sight of the band, and this enormous, face-painted frontman strode in from the front door and launched into 'Garden Party'. This will be Fish, then, I mused. Stupid name. Gradually, however, Fish and his companions won me over: here was a band on the brink of breaking through, doing a gig probably set up by a friend of a friend for a favour in a cramped basement to an audience of about 50, and they gave it their all. The full theatrical experience, the best sound they could muster, and several encores - I think they played 'Supper's Ready' at one point, but I forgave them. Six months later, they're in the charts, on 'Top of the Pops', and selling out good sized venues. It's really my only 'before they were famous' story, and I mostly remember it for the sheer oddness of the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002


Gerard Hoffnung. This, like some of the other things on the list, is my father's fault. He had the books, which must be early editions, since they are hardbacks. I spent many happy evenings perusing Hoffnung's wonderful cartoons, and many of the things I know about classical music come, in some way or other, from them. He is also the originator of the bricklayer story, which I have heard attributed to dozens of different people - it's available on one of the BBC recordings in its original form - Hoffnung playing it straight while the audience goes into convulsions. (Even on the link I posted, it's treated as an urban legend, while at the same time being credited to Hoffnung)

Recommended for anyone who thinks that classical music is stuffy and lacking in humour.

I'll start at the beginning, with the Beatles - Michelle. An odd choice, you might think, but it's the first piece of popular music I'm conscious of knowing. It wasn't a new song at the time - this must have been about 1968 - but there was a girl in my infants class called Michelle, and we all sang it. It's probably also the first piece of French I ever knew, although I can't reconcile this to the holidays we had in Brittany, when I certainly picked up enough to go across the road and buy the bread every day.

It certainly predates the second Beatles song I was aware of - Yellow Submarine: we all went mad for Yellow Submarine when it came out - my friend Guy had the Dinky toy, I was green. Where are you now, Guy? Where are the rest of them - Garry and Glenn, Debra, Mrs Hutchinson - I should look on Friends Reunited, shouldn't I? Engayne Infant School, Upminster - it feels like another world now.
Watty continues to have an idea:

OK, I've started the process - 32 musical memories of one kind or another - I've left 8 spare because I'm bound to have forgotten things along the way. There's nothing particularly outrageous on the list so far, but you never know - it's about particular memories, rather than my favourite things, so there will be some extremely odd stuff in there. Those who thought they knew me, prepare to be surprised...

Watty has an idea:

Sort-of inspired by this, (one of those things you find when idly following links - you can get there from here, but you have to know where to click...) I thought about doing something about marking my impending 40-ness. Perhaps with 40 little bits of writing, or something. Then I heard Danny Baker (again) this morning, giving away classic LPs (not giving away as such - you ring up and say "I'll have Nick Drake's Bryter Layter, thanks" and that's it. You are immortalised for ever alongside your favourite album. And you get your name on the BBC London website, or something.

Anyway. He played a few bars of 'Reel around the Fountain', and I thought 'that's it! 40 musical moments from my life. Short, succinct - I can probably rattle 3 or 4 off in a day if I'm falling behind, and I might even finish it. Now, all I have to do is choose 40 of them. Be right back...

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Watty says:

So, I updated this last night - or at least, I tried to, but Blogger was broken, and my not-very-interesting post about why I haven't been posting went the way of all mortal flesh. Ah, well.

Further to the Proms stuff below, I submitted the review to the BBC Proms website, and they awrded me 'Review of the week', which is very satisfying, and means that Zoë and I will be sitting down at Friday's prom, courtesy of the BBC. I really ought to try and get some more writing published. Strike that; I really ought to try and get some more writing done.

I had this vague thought about doing a little bit more of the Old Folks story, but I really ought to finish the other one first... It's not writer's block, it really isn't - I am just so tired in the evenings at the moment. I wrote a paragraph or so last week, and it was pure, unadulterated, rubbish. Pah. And there's so much work to get through at the moment... Oh, well. At least I managed to post something in here...