East Coast Crime Writers versus West Coast Crime Writers – the Re-match

East Coast Crime Writers versus West Coast Crime Writers – the Re-match

Friday 26 June 2015

Waterstone’s, George Street, Edinburgh


Tonight’s battle is taking place in George Street’s Waterstone’s bookstore.  After navigating the totally confusing new one way (for parts of the way) system in George Street we manage to get parked nearby and arrive about 10 minutes before the start.  Wine is being partaken by authors and audience members alike and we appear to be waiting for one of the Glasgow authors (Matt Bendoris) who arrives with a box of newly published books in a box tucked under his arm.


Craig Robertson is referee/chair/points awarder tonight, ably assisted by Dom Hastings, the festival manager of Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s international crime writing festival based in Stirling, which takes place this year between 11th and 13th  September.  As Craig tells us, it’s Assault n Battery versus Assualt n Sauce, and is the return leg from a match up which took place last year (which the West Coast won).


On the home team tonight is captain Doug Johnstone, whose new book The Jump will be published in August; Neil Broadfoot, author of Falling Fast and The Storm; and T F (Frank) Muir, whose books, including the latest The Meating Room are set in and around St Andrews.  The Glasgow team is captain Caro Ramsay, whose latest book The Tears of Angels was published in May this year; Douglas Skelton who writes fiction and non-fiction about Glasgow’s dark side, including his latest fiction Devil’s Knock; and Matt Bendoris, whose new book DM for Murder was hot off the press on Friday – he’s especially proud of the cover.

The first point of debate is about whether there’s a difference in backdrop when you write about Edinburgh or Glasgow.  Caro thinks that Glasgow bears its ugliness on the outside whereas Edinburgh hides its ugliness.  East’s Doug agrees, saying that exactly what you say when you get off in the train in Queen Street Station – “this is hideous! “  Douglas retorts with, “no Doug, that’s what we say when you get off the train!”  And so the tone of the evening is set…

West’s Matt points out that the tram works were “lovely” – and Craig promptly awards 20 points to the West, just for the traffic in Edinburgh.  Caro says that’s one thing about Glasgow, it’s easy to get in and out of, with the M8 running right through the middle of it. Doug points out that if you have to drive through Edinburgh, no wonder you want to kill someone!

Craig brings Frank into the discussion, saying that all cities have a dark history but that it takes an excellent author to do that to somewhere like St Andrews.  Frank confirms that there has only been one murder in the town in the last 20 years.


Discussions move onto humour – is Glasgow funnier than Edinburgh.  Everyone seems to think so.  Caro surmises that perhaps they have to have a better sense of humour because they live there.  Doug points out that the humour gets driven out of Edinburgh by the festival and the traffic, whilst Neil counteracts that by saying that Edinburgh humour is there, it’s just more observational, dire and deadpan.  After a few more retorts, they all agree that they all hate Aberdeen, and Craig wonders if we can get a hold of Stuart MacBride for a response to that one.

Doug wonders whether everyone moves the police around, do they visit other areas and Craig asks what everyone has done now that there is a single police force in Scotland.  The discussion turns to the inequalities in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Doug thinks that there are more extremes in Edinburgh.  There is the banking side and the rich folk but then there’s also Craigmillar. Glasgow, to him, seems more level, more of the same class, but Edinburgh has more disparity, which makes for good contrasts.  Frank agrees that St Andrews also has its poorer parts and then the students which can always result in a few tensions.  Douglas wants to know that if they know that “Craig Millar” is responsible for a lot of crime in Edinburgh, why don’t they just go and arrest him (points to the West for that one).


At this point we find out that one of the audience has been tweeting Ian Rankin during the discussion to see if he’s up for popping into the discussion.  He, however, says his dinner’s on the table so he can’t.  Doug points out that, surely, coming from Edinburgh, Ian will “have had his tea”.

Craig asks at which event you have more fun – a Glasgow funeral or an Edinburgh wedding.  Matt says definitely Glasgow funeral – the last one he went to had a lock in (after of course, lots of respect being paid etc etc).  Doug says that the East Coast have a terrible time at all social events.

How do our authors link to a sense of place?  Neil says you need to write other places your books go to as a visitor.  Doug says he always checks stuff, as it makes a massive difference to those who are reading it.  Caro’s latest book is set on Loch Lomond and she has made up an island, but made it fit with the privately owned ones which are there.  Matt says he concentrates more on dialogue and characters because he can’t compete with others in writing about Glasgow – he prefers to meet people before he creates character and dialogue.  Frank adds that having that sense of place is crucial and that his main character works out of a police station in St Andrews which has now closed down and been moved to another part of town – he’s reluctant to move though and is sticking with the old station.

A discussion ensues about who has moved the mortuary in Glasgow to the new South Glasgow University Hospital – some, like Craig, have moved it, but others like Alex Gray, have left it where it was.  The panel also agree that it’s fine for them to slag off their own cities but woe betide anyone else who tries it.


Craig then awards 20 points to the East team because of Doug scoring the winning goal the previous week in the football match where the Scottish Crime Writers took on the Italian Crime Writers and won 2-1.  (Doug is still basking in the glory as I heard him talking to the other authors about the game before the start).

The panel discuss William McIlvanney and agree that he led the way for crime writers in Scotland.  Matt adds that when you read someone who is really good, there’s no way you can try and copy that, so each author has developed their own style.  Doug says that McIlvanney was a naturally poetic writer and he gave voice to the underworld of Scotland.

We then find out that Ian Rankin had been watching the event on Periscope earlier and the point where Doug was talking about his house being burgled and a suspect being charged with burglary.  Mr Rankin had tweeted our audience member to say that Doug should know better – burglary is not a term in Scottish Law.

Dom handed the final scores over to Craig who announces that he came last with minus 40 points, the “guy behind Dom” got minus 10; Dom got 20.  However, the points that mattered (and there was a trophy for this – a very small one, “in case the East Coast won it” says Caro) was 465 to the East, and 467 to the West.  So a very closely fought contest, which according to Craig was supposed to be won by the East.  Really entertaining evening.


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Cordon – Episodes 1 and 2

Cordon Episodes 1 and 2


After the ridiculous that was Salamander, I was unsure about the merits of another Belgian drama in the Saturday 9pm slot on BBC4.  While there has been some magnificence at this time, there have also been a few that haven’t exactly been up to scratch.

This sounds like it has potential though.  Cordon’s 10 episodes centre around a deadly virus brought to the historical city of Antwerp, the most populous city in Belgium and is produced by Eyeworks and the VTM and is from the mind of writer Carl Joos.

We start with two men at the Port breaking into a container under darkness where they let out a man hiding at the back of it.  The men hug.

Then we meet couple Lex and Jana.  Lex is a riot police instructor while Jana is an IT expert at F-Tran, who works in a data recovery job, where her office has its own private lift due to the nature of the often secret data they are recovering. Jana is due to move in with Lex but changes her mind at the last minute.  Your day is going to get worse Lex.

Teacher Katja is taking the children she teaches on a trip to the National Institute for Infectious Diseases (NIIDA).  This seems an odd place to be taking children, particularly at the age they are at.  Anyone would think that would end in disaster….  As one of the children says early on “why didn’t we go to the zoo?”  Yes, exactly.


Sixteen year old Ineke works at her parents’ supermarket.  She returned from a holiday in Spain pregnant and despite her parents’ protestations, want to keep the baby.   She decides that she is going to go to Spain and raise the child there with its father, Xavi.  He should be able to devote some time to the child now that he has retired from Barcelona.  (Football joke there for those who didn’t understand it).  Her mother catches her leaving and takes her suitcase off her, but she leaves anyway.


As the children’s tour guide at the NIIDA tells Katja that there is to be a safety drill and they will have to leave, an alarm goes off.  When they leave the building, Katje bumps into the man who had been in the container at the beginning.  As they get back on their bus, someone comes on from the NIIDA and tells them they have to go back into the Institute.  And they are not to touch each other.

Still the characters come and we visit Magdalena high school where the headmaster is speaking to 3 pupils who seem to have been bullying the small ginger fat kid. The ginger kid, Tyl, had punched one of the bullies in the face.  Tyl is to stay behind for detention.

Two doctors at the Institute appear to have contracted some sort of disease and are in quarantine within the building.

Lex sends his colleague Jokke to pick up the man who had been in the container, Anwar, after one of the quarantined doctors had been giving him his inoculations after arriving in the country.  Jokke is told that Anwar might be infectious.

The characters continue to come thick and fast as Ineke visits her wheelchair bound Aunt Micheline, who gives her a wad of notes, seemingly helping her to get to Spain.  Then we are off to the local newspaper where journalist Gryspeerts has had an email about the schoolchildren being taken back off the bus.  His boss doesn’t think there is anything in it and tells him to focus on the obituary he is writing.

Jokke arrives at the house where Anwar is supposed to be with several of his colleagues.  Anwar is an illegal immigrant from Afghanistan.  To protect themselves from any infection, they have their helmets on with the visor down.  The well-known way to avoid catching diseases.  They take Anwar and everyone else in the house (quite a few) to the NIIDA.

Dr Cannaerts, the head doctor at the NIIDA has discovered that the infection is not airborne, but is transmitted by body fluids, such as sweat, blood etc.


Lex phones Jana and tells her that people are worried about the disease and as she lives close to the NIIDA, tells her that she should go to his house.  She agrees.


The police next go and pick up a man who had delivered rats to the NIIDA and he tells them he hasn’t come into contact with anyone else so they take him away.  But this is the husband of Aunt Micheline (although he calls her “Ratty”) and she wheels through after he has been taken away.

Anwar is deteriorating badly and manages to cough all over a nurse, covering her in blood.  She is quickly put into quarantine as his body is convulsing.

Jokke is told that he can’t leave the Institute as he may have been exposed to the disease.  He phones Lex accusing him of knowing this would happen and calls him “bastard” several times.

Minister of Public Health Sabine Lommers decides that they need to set up a cordon around the area where the infection is for 48 hours and the police quickly put it in place and use megaphones and loud speakers to explain to the public and tells them to stay two arm lengths away from each other.


Everyone seems to have forgotten about Tyl who seems to have been left alone inside the school.

Lena doesn’t make it across the cordon before it is in place and heads to her office.  Outside the private lift she meets Sam, a cleaner for the building and Lena’s boss arrives and agrees to let him come to her office as it is a safe place for him to sleep.

One of the schoolchildren is missing at the NIIDA and teacher Katja is on the lookout for her.  You really would have thought that there would be strict protocols about movements in the building by now.  While she searches, she comes across the dead bodies of the two doctors who had initially come into contact with Anwar.  Dr Cannaerts appears and asks her not to say anything as he doesn’t want panic.  Jokke finds the missing kid.

Ineke runs into her friend Melissa who says that she can stay at her place.  It turns out that Melissa’s place is a penthouse flat that she and two male friends have moved into, as it is empty.  With her friends getting drunk and kissing, Ineke decides this isn’t where she should be and heads back to the supermarket.

As all the people at the NIIDA continue to just walk around the building to their heart’s content, the cousin of Anwar is screaming at Jokke after the infected man has died, and blaming him for it.  He claims he was fine until he came to the Institute.

Tyl finds a woman who is a cleaner at the school who is saying that her husband had been fixing a drinks machine at the Institute and he now isn’t well.


Lex and Minister Lommers give a press conference with Dr Cannaerts via computer.  They give the assurances you would expect, trying not to worry anyone, but Gryspeerts asks what would happen if someone escaped the cordon, and would Lex shoot them?  They avoid the question despite much pressing.


As news breaks that the cordon will be in place for another 72 hours, tensions are running high.

Jokke decides he is getting out of the NIIDA and discovers that overnight containers have been piled up round the cordon so nobody can get through.  The fact that he left and was allowed to leave the Institute seemed bad enough.  He returns.



Two women seem to have got past the containers and are at the edge of the cordon.  Lex doesn’t buy their story that they had been on the other side and were just taking photographs.  As they protest, he shoots his gun in the air and sends them back into the cordoned area.

One of Anwar’s family now seems to have contracted the virus and one of the children seems to be also showing the symptoms.

Tyl goes to speak to the cleaning woman at school.  She says her husband is dead and also looks far from well.  Almost zombiesque.  She touches Tyl’s face and he legs it.  Run fatboy run!

Not exactly a new idea having a story around the outbreak of a virus, but it’s being done pretty well and it’s nice to see some of the beautiful city of Antwerp (although they haven’t shown much of it yet).


  • Why on earth does nobody seem to have the requisite equipment to wear to deal with infected patients?
  • Especially at the National Institute for Infectious diseases.
  • The only people who seem to have any kind of suit which might offer some protection seem to work in the data recovery office??
  • I’m sure if my primary school colleagues and I had visited an infectious diseases place at that age, every single one of us would have caught something. Although I nearly came home with a penguin from the zoo once.
  • Why are people being allowed to leave the NIIDA?
  • Must be hard for Max’s team to have much faith in him when their leader managed to shoot the figure of the mother with child during their training exercise.
  • With the kid at school getting bullied being ginger, small and fat, I assume that Magdalena High School must be somewhere in Scotland.
  • One of the kids that bullied Tyl was fairly giving himself a good work out as he stood with the others, feeling his package for some time.
  • Is this a world record for the number of characters in an opening episode of a series?
  • Aunt Ratty is bound to be infected surely?
  • Is Gryspeerts putting off writing the obituary because it is a relative who has died? Or does he just think he is better than that?
  • Nice to see that Lex, the policeman in charge of containing the disease told his girlfriend to go to his house because her flat was near the outbreak. Nice and responsible there then.
  • Was quite a surprise to hear Gryspeerts saying to his boss under his breath “fuck you very much” in English.
  • Bit strange to have a foreign drama where there has been no sign of lovemaking or nudity in the opening two episodes. Definitely not Cordon Blue…..
  • Tyl’s diet at the school after getting all the chocolate out of the vending machine means he may die of a chocolate overdose, never mind anything else.
  • The doctors spoke in English as they conversed online. Is there any foreign drama that doesn’t include some English?
  • Interesting that the head doctor at the NIIDA rubbed all over his face with his gloves on in exasperation at unfolding events. You’d think he would know better.
  • Is Tony going to try something with Lena in the office?
  • Nice touch that the rest of Belgium seemed to be joking on twitter that Antwerp should have been cordoned off for years.
  • It seems that Flemish for “fuck you” is “fuck you”.
  • It took me until near the end where I’d seen Jana’s workmate Tony before. He plays Ian Beale in Eastenders.
  • If anyone near me sneezes today, I’m running.
  • The lack of professionalism from everybody in it in relation to the disease is very off-putting, but it’s still better than James Corden.
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Debut Writers, Edinburgh 23 June 2015

Debut Writers

Blackwells Edinburgh, 23rd June 2015


This event was to highlight three writers whose first books had just been published and subjects up for discussion included what different books smell like, to defacing library copies of their novels (I’m naming no names for this second topic!)

The event was also taking place in Independent Bookshop Week.

Our three debut writers were (in sitting order):

Katarina Bivald from Sweden whose first book The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was published in her home country in the autumn of 2013.  Since then, it has been sold to 21 countries and has just come out in the UK.  Katarina grew up working part-time in a bookshop.  Her first novel is about a woman called Sara who has a pen friend – Amy Harris – who lives in Broken Wheel in Iowa, USA.  Sara arranges to go and visit her older friend but by the time she arrives in the sleepy town Amy has passed away.  The story is about what Sara does to repay the kindness of the residents of Broken Wheel, which is to open a bookshop.

Lucy Ribchester is a dance and fiction writer based in Edinburgh. She studied English in St Andrews and then Shakespearean Studies at Kings College, London and Shakespeare’s Globe. She has also been a party organizer at a boutique cinema in London, worked for Al Jazeera TV, wrote freelance in Spain and co-ordinated the National Trust for Scotland’s annual cruises. In 2013, she won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and now works as a freelance dance journalist and adult education tutor. Her book The Hourglass Factory is set in 1912 and is about a female reporter called Frankie who has been commissioned to write about a suffragette and trapeze artist by the name of Ebony Diamond. Ebony goes missing and Frankie investigates her disappearance.

Angela Jackson is a Scottish based author who combines writing with jazz singing. She won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award in 2013 with her debut novel The Emergence of Judy Taylor. She occasionally performs as a jazz singer at the Jazz Bar in Chambers Street, Edinburgh and works as a psychology and education coach and lecturer.  Angela’s book is about a married woman who decides to leave behind her marriage and home in Manchester and head for Edinburgh in a bid to shake up her life.


All three authors are invited to read extracts from their books and it’s clear from the readings that all three books are very different, but all equally engaging.  The first question from our enthusiastic host (apologies for not catching her name!) is about how you get a vivid sense of place from each book.  Angela says that she has written about somewhere she knows – at the time that she was writing this book she was living in the North of England and was really homesick, so visiting Judy and allowing herself to walk round the streets of Edinburgh again was her way of coping with that.  Katarina says that she has never been to Iowa, and at the time when she was writing her book, she hadn’t even been to the States.  Her comment that Iowa “has quite a lot of pigs and it’s just there” brought laughter from the audience.  Lucy said that she had written about something and somewhere that she is passionate about – Edwardian theatre.  She was inspired by the names of some London streets and architecturally some of the buildings that were there in 1912 survived the Blitz and are still there.  She decided where on Bond Street she wanted to place the corset shop she writes about and that she particularly liked the name Duck Lane which she has also used in her book.

Asked about whether there are any inaccuracies in their books, Lucy says her father checks any inaccuracies which readers have highlighted – for example, whether people used the term “Miss” at that time (they did).  Angela said there was a spelling error in a place name in her book originally and Katarina said that her book had only been out for 5 days in English, so she hadn’t heard anything yet.

The host asked “why become a writer?”  Angela said that she had wanted to write when she was a child and when she won a short story competition she decided to give it a go.  Lucy agreed that it was something she had always wanted to do but that what she wanted to write about had changed. Whilst she was still keen to try her hand at screen writing at some point, she really likes crime fiction and decided to write about what she liked.  Katarina added that writing is “almost as good as reading” and when asked whether she prefers books or people she says it’s definitely books.  Katarina’s fabulous sense of humour once again shines through when she justifies her choice by saying that true life is dull and that “God has a lousy sense of plot development”.

So just how long did it take everyone to write their books.  Katarina says it took her 3 years, and her drafts were rejected loads of times by publishers.  She also tells us that in her first version Amy was alive when Sara gets to Broken Wheel, and that it was Katarina’s sister who told her that she had to kill Amy off in order to make the book more interesting.  “I still miss her”, Katarina sighs – we assume she is talking about Amy, and not that she killed off her sister for making that suggestion…

Lucy says The Hourglass Factory started off as a play, and it took around 2 years to complete it as a book and get it published.  Again she went through lots of redrafts.  Angela took 3 years, but was really lucky as a friend of a friend who was an agent put her manuscript on the desk of another agent.  She was originally going to write a film, but pretty quickly changed to writing a novel.  She is now doing a Masters in Film and TV.  She also told us that when she was at school, she wrote a story and her headmistress gave her 10p for it – so she knew there was money to be made.

The best pieces of advice each has received – Angela name drops Fay Wheldon, who told her before she had a publisher to enjoy that period, where she had the freedom to write what she liked and when she liked.  For Lucy it was the “write every day” advice, although she says that she maybe doesn’t manage that every day but recognises the benefit of sticking to a project and seeing it through to the end.  For Katarina, she says it was her sister telling her to kill off Amy (!) or perhaps from her publisher who told her to remember that she writes in Swedish, stick to a few central characters and most importantly, “don’t write about what you know, write about what you don’t want others to know about you.”

What about worst piece of advice – the authors found this one a bit more difficult, but Lucy said someone had said to her that she should always write long hand and not use a computer because you don’t have the same connection to what you are writing (perhaps not bad advice as such, but more of a preference as opposed to the way you should or shouldn’t do something); Angela said that she hadn’t really had any bad advice, but that one of her aunties thought she was “showing off a bit” by writing a novel, whilst another auntie “knew someone who had read the book.”  Praise indeed.  For Katarina she said she had had comments about writing a novel in Swedish which was not a crime novel!

All three admitted that they have reflected people they know as characters in their book, but they were all pretty cagey about which characters they were (except for Katarina who said “a Swedish girl who loves books more than people?  Of course, I haven’t written about someone I know….”)

There was an interesting discussion about how they chose the names for their characters.  Angela said she collects them from all over the place, including a latest one from a service station.  Lucy had a big name change to make right at the last minute, to the point that she had to find another name with the same number of letters in it because the novel had already been typeset.  Katarina’s main character Sara, was actually called Mary and she was advised to change it.

What about e-books and self-publication – what did the authors, who had all been “traditionally published” think about that?  Lucy said she didn’t have the confidence to self-publish and wanted the additional support that a publisher would bring.  Angela said there was a lot to be said for self- publishing but she hadn’t needed to think about that for this book. Katarina told us that no, she hadn’t thought about it either as she has a huge thing for the smell of books.  She tells us that each genre of book and whether they are hardback or paperback gives them all a different smell.  She also tells us that when she got the first copy of her book, she looked round the room to make sure no-one was watching, then opened her book up and inhaled the smell of her very own book!  (I did smell her book after the event, but am clearly not trained in the different smells properly).


The conversation moves onto signing books and various tales are told about each author offering to autograph books and getting knocked back, sneaking into bookshops and signing copies of their books – and indeed one, who shall remain nameless, who admitted to writing a message in her book which was part of a library collection!

The discussion was opened up for questions from the audience:

  • All are working on the “difficult second novel” and are at different stages. Angela is finding it quite difficult because there’s a certain pressure on now – her book is about infidelity in all its forms; Lucy has a week to go to meet her deadine for the second book (her contract means she had to write a second book within a year of the first one) which is about a decoder from Betchley Park and is set in the 1940s; Katarina has just finished hers which is about a single mum and is set back in Sweden.
  • Angela deviated from where she thought her story was going to go – she said that Judy seemed to just do what she wanted; Lucy didn’t deviate at all, as she starts with the ending and works back from there; Katarina said that she had an idea of the ending, but that she had been too nice to her characters in previous versions and so had had to change what happened to them throughout the book.
  • What keeps the authors going through what seems to be really long writing periods – for Angela it’s the characters and being able to go and visit them (and Edinburgh) of an evening; for Lucy it’s the love of the period and going back to the manuscript to layer on details once you have the plot and the characters down on paper; Katarina said she didn’t know it would take as long.
  • Lucy and Angela seemed to be horrified at the thought of going back and reading their books once they had been published, because they would want to change things.

This was a really interesting evening, given that I wasn’t really aware of any of these authors or their books before going along to the event.  All three authors were funny and engaging and I enjoyed spending time in their company.

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Ewan McGregor in Edinburgh, 21 June 2015

Ewan McGregor: In Person

Sunday 21 June, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


This event was part of the Edinburgh Film Festival.  With his new film Last Days In The Desert due to be premiered later this evening, this was a chance for the audience to listen to Ewan McGregor talk about this film, his favourite directors, fellow actors and his difficulties in speaking with a French accent.

Everyone has probably seen a Ewan McGregor film.  From Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, to Brassed Off and Little Voice.  From Moulin Rouge and Black Hawk Down, to The Island and Amelia.  From The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Ghost Writer, to Star Wars and Son of a Gun.  You certainly can’t claim that he has been typecast in his fifty plus films and he is the most successful Scottish actor since Sean Connery.


There hadn’t been much publicity that it was to be hosted by Edith Bowman, and it became clear that there were plenty of Morningside ladies in attendance when it was announced and there was an audible “ooooooh” from the audience.   Ewan came onto the stage to rapturous applause from a packed out Lyceum Theatre.  He instantly put everyone at ease by saying how scary he had found it, hanging around backstage, waiting to come out, but with no lines to say.

As was to be expected, lots of audience members were keen to take photos of the star.  He dealt with that brilliantly by asking politely for people not to take photos during the event, and promised to pose for a photo shoot at the end.

Last Days In The Desert is directed by Rodrigo Garcia (who is in the audience today) and Ewan tells us about the beginning of the film which starts with a man (who turns out to be Jesus) walking through the desert. He eventually meets another man coming the other way – and so begins the fight for the souls of a nomad and his family.  Ewan is playing Jesus and Satan and explains how he suggested using Nash Edgerton (who has worked as Ewan’s stunt double on a number of other movies) as the person to play off him as they filmed scenes where conversations had to take place between the two main characters.

Nash is keen to go into directing but has been doing some small parts in other films (such as the getaway driver in one of McGregor’s films released earlier this year Son Of A Gun, which I have reviewed elsewhere on this site) to learn more about the acting side.  Ewan was particularly complimentary of the way in which Nash had played a long scene between the Devil and Jesus, where he delivered the lines of Jesus in exactly the same rhythm that Ewan had done.  Ewan was reflective of the fact that no-one would ever see Nash’s performance, but that that was the way he liked it.

Edith managed to embarrass them both by asking how he liked playing with himself.  Ewan was very amused by this.

Another film in which Ewan is appearing is the remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – he is playing the candlestick Lumiere and has the audience in stitches regaling tales of the difficulty he had in mastering the French accent – when he tried to roll his “R” it came out Mexican – and his wife is French!  Much hilarity ensues as he tells us about the terrifying experience of going into the recording studio to record the song Be Our Guest, and how they were all really concerned about his accent. It’s a fantastic cast, including Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts and Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth.


Edith moves the conversation onto the directors that Ewan has worked with and Ewan agrees that the collaborative process with directors is really important.  He thinks that sometimes planning something to the finest detail before acting it out is not particularly satisfying – he thinks that during rehearsals you can often find not just the character by the scene as well.

He talks about working with Danny Boyle and his team on Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.  His identify for years was that he was Danny Boyle’s team’s actor and that relationship set the bar very high.  It’s something that Ewan still looks for, that connection with and trust in a director.

Every film has a unique world and vision and you pick that up from the directors, and other actors, Ewan says.  He talked about working with Roman Polanski on Ghost Writer, who is “all over your performance”.  He micro manages you and nit-picks, but that’s because he has an absolute picture of what he wants – he even organised books in a library that would be out of focus in the background, but he would know they were in a different order than what he wanted.  Ewan said it was a tough process, but he learned to love working with him.

We then moved on to talk about Salmon Fishing In The Yemen and how much fun that was – primarily down to his co-star Emily Blunt who makes Ewan laugh.  A lot.  He also talks about working on Young Adam an independent film directed by David MacKenzie.  One of his friends had texted him after seeing it, saying “Bleak is the new black.”


Next we find out that we owe it all to Uncle Denis – that’s Denis Lawson, who has been in many films and TV series including the original Star Wars trilogy (as Wedge Antilles), Local Hero and the BBC’s Bleak House and Holby City.  Ewan tells us he was brought up in Crieff and there was “nobody like my Uncle Denis there!”  Back to him later.

At school, Ewan starred in the Sheriff of Nottingham – telling us the only reason he was chosen to play the lead role was because he was the only child at school who could say “Sheriff of Nottingham”.  He was also really musical at school, and still plays the French horn, which he picked up again quite recently.  He talks about still being terrified of getting up in front of people to perform, telling us about a time when he was due to play Iago in Othello, just off Covent Garden, and was grey and numb with fear.  Three hours later, he felt like he could take on the world.  He told us about how his Mum had told him that he could leave school in 5th year, and how he got his ear pierced the next day and a job with the Perth Repertory Theatre the following week.  His first role was as an extra in A Passage To India and over the next six months he worked as part of the stage crew, learning about the discipline of backstage and picking up small extra parts as and when.

Edith steers Ewan onto talking about some of the actresses he has worked with and suggests that she read out 6 names and he gives the first word that comes into his head.  She starts with Meryl Streep – the answer starts “gobsmacking”.  He then explains that when you play opposite her you find yourself wondering what she must think of what you are doing.  She is always working away during scenes and you never really see her between takes, no two takes are the same with her.  Ewan remarks that that was more than one word so Edith decides just to give him one more name – Jane Horricks.  He says he loves her – he worked with her on Tales from the Crypt where they played two zombies before working on Little Voice.  She is funny with an amazing voice.

Then, with a deft change of subject Billy Connolly would have been proud of, Ewan tells us he’s just remembered the story he was going to share with us about Uncle Denis.  He had offered to Ewan with the speeches he was going to use as his audition pieces for trying to get into the Adam Smith Institute in Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh’s film course.  Uncle Denis reminded him of when he had been involved in an altercation in Glasgow – the first time Ewan had ever been punched in the face and something that he was quite upset about but hid through bravado at the time – and asked him what he would say to the guy that had punched him now.  He encouraged him to swear at him and then to go straight into the speech he was going to use.  Ewan said that that was he came to understand the connection between emotion and the words you are saying, and it was all down to Uncle Denis.


Ewan talked about knowing when it’s time to take some time off – he can feel it in his work, so after 3 films and a play last year, he was happy to do some ordinary stuff with the kids such as the school run; and to muck around with cars and motorbikes.  No further bike trips are planned at the moment, but he would like to do something in South America one day.

Edith then had a quick fire round of questions, when went as follows:

  • Bikes or cars (bikes)
  • United States or Scotland (Scotland. Although he had to say that really)
  • What’s your ringtone (it’s an old phone)
  • Favourite takeaway (white pudding supper – which prompted a discussion about whether he should open a chain of white pudding supper shops in LA)
  • Favourite cartoon character (Pluto)
  • Karaoke song (Angels – which he murdered in Glasgow because there was a middle 8 he didn’t know about)
  • Cats or dogs (dogs – he’s never had a cat so he doesn’t know them)
  • Favourite sound (the soft whispering of his wife – with her French accent!)

The event was then opened up to the audience for questions, which went along the following lines:

Most challenging role – Ewan said he didn’t like roles to feel “challenging” when he was playing them.  He did say it was more difficult to play someone who had lived, but those types of roles were so satisfying, when you got things like the cadence of their voices right.

Asked about how he had gone about interpreting Jesus for his new film, Ewan said that he was a scary character to play because he is so important to very many people.  He didn’t know where to start and he’s not good at research.  He thought about the story of the film and thought he could relate to a man, who is frustrated because he doesn’t feel he’s getting the answers he needs.  But it’s not really until you start the scenes that you start to find the character and develop him.

What’s Ewan’s advice for aspiring actors?  Work in whichever way you can – you can make a movie on your phone these days, and should watch great actors and great movies.

A lady in the audience asked on her behalf of her young niece, “how would you mark yourself out of 10 as an actor?” – Ewan reckons he’s an 8½.

What does he think about the new Star Wars film?  He is looking forward to seeing it and the trailer looks like it’s been nailed.  He did have a slight complaint about the hilt on the lightsaber – if you fight properly you don’t need one apparently.

He was also asked about Trainspotting Part 2.  This was something that he was asked in a number of interviews he did over the weekend and was the lead line in a lot of the newspaper reports.  He said that his fall out with Danny Boyle was water under the bridge now and that he missed working with him.  He had never seen a script but he knew he would now be up for it.

What music did he like when he was growing up and what does he listen to now?  To laughter from the audience he says he had “teuchter” tastes when he was growing up – he was neither Mod nor Punk and listed to Big Country and U2.  But he was really into music when he was at school so his musical taste is broad and includes classical music.  He thinks about this a bit more, and wonders about whether it has anything to with the rhythm of the music and how he also needs to feel the rhythm in a scene when acting too.  In terms of music he listens to now, he (and Edith) recommended Blue Rose Code and their album The Ballad of Peckham Rye.

Asked about Moulin Rouge, Ewan talked about how the set became like a real place.  However, they finished shooting on the Friday and Star Wars Episode 2 was due to start filming in the same studio on the Monday so the set was broken up over the weekend and was gone completely when they went in the following week.

Ewan also received a gift from an Italian fan in the audience – someone who he recognised from following him on Instagram.

When choosing which films to do, he says that sometimes he decides when looking at the script, sometimes it’s because another actor has asked him to play alongside them (which he says is really nice).  He says you need to be able to see yourself as that character, but that he feels very lucky because he doesn’t feel he’s ever done something because he had to do it.

One of the most interesting answers came from the question “is there a character that you wished you had been able to play”.  Ewan tells us about a script that Peter Capaldi had written called The Jacobite’s Slipper, a brilliant British comedy, featuring a Scottish actor in the 1930s.  The plot sounded amazing but unfortunately it never got financed and now he feels he would be too old to play the lead character.

He starts preparing for his next film in Pittsburgh in July and starts shooting in September.

Sounds like he’s not intending to relax any time soon!

He also managed to do a Mick Jagger impersonation, and this was probably a better example of a French accent than the one he was trying to do for us earlier.  I have to say I was surprised how amusing a man he seemed to be.  Although I haven’t really followed his career forensically, I certainly hadn’t appreciated that he was funny.

And that was it; over too soon, I could have listened to his tales for hours.  The audience was treated, as promised, to a photo shoot at the end where he threw a few poses in and did a few mimes just for good measure.


All in all, a highly entertaining afternoon, with a highly entertaining, really nice bloke and a host who knew how to keep the conversation flowing – not that she had difficulty in keeping him talking.

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Scotland Writers v Italy Writers

Scotland Writers v Italy Writers, Ainslie Park, Edinburgh, Saturday 21 June 2015


I’ve been to a myriad of football games this season.  From youth, to amateur, junior, all the Scottish professional leagues, English Premiership, Scottish Women’s Premier League, Internationals and I’m sure some others.  This is a new one on me though.  Scotland Writers FC against Italy Writers FC.  I suppose you could say these are prose.

With my friends and work colleagues amazed that I am still managing to drag out games every weekend when they were sure the season finished weeks ago, I managed to get wind of this through social media.

It seems that many countries have started up a writers’ team and the Scots were formed in 2012 by Allan Wilson, Doug Johnstone and Mark Buckland. Their first game was in December of that year when they managed to beat the much more experienced auld enemy 4-2. (They did lose 5-0 in England in the return game). They’ve already had away fixtures in Austria, Sweden and also to today’s opponents. Having lost heavily in Italy and Sweden, a commendable win in Austria still suggests that trawling the top leagues for anyone who might have written an autobiography might be an idea.

The most shameful result so far though must be actually managing to let England win a game on penalties after a 2-2 draw in September 2014.

Two further defeats against the Scottish Sports Journalists and earlier this month, in a charity match against Maggies Centre, means that it could be a tough afternoon for the home side.

As we approach the 3pm kick off, it seems that the ‘crowd’ will be made up of the two of us, and a couple of wives and children of the players. I think we had a maximum of 10 in attendance at the most at any one time. Clearly it is true what they say about more fans coming out to watch a winning team.

Things look even more worrying as the teams warm up as the Scots do their own thing, including some who seem to think lying down on the pitch is the way forward. The Italians have organised drills, doing everything in unison. They all look tanned and fit. The glare from the Scots peely wally legs may reflect off the sun into the eyes of the azzurri.


One of the highlights of the warm up comes when Peter Mackay is helping goalkeeper Danny Scott warm up by throwing the ball up for him to catch. The first throw goes well over his head onto the top of the net.

The home side does have a secret weapon though. Former Hibs, Partick Thistle, Airdrie, Clydebank, Stranraer and Albion Rovers defender David Farrell will line up in the heart of the rearguard. Before anyone cries foul, David writes a popular blog and is writing a book about his life in football. He is also 45.

The camaraderie is clear between the two sides as they get the referee to take pictures of the teams, and then take pictures of each other. Captains Doug Johnstone and Francesco Trento shake hands and the Scots kick off.


Chapter 1

Scotland come out of the blocks quickly and a lovely back heel by Chris Newton almost creates something before a long ball forward by Gianluca Lombardi catches out the Scots’ defence and sees Francesco Trento scampering clear. Scott is well positioned though to save the Italian’s shot.

Another through ball in the third minute sees Trento running on goal again, but Scott is out quickly to smother at his feet. The keeper looks to have taken a bit of a knock, but is thankfully ok to continue.


The “secret weapon” isn’t so fortunate though. With just 5 minutes gone, David Farrell pulls up and has to come off. Adrian Searle comes on to take his place. As Farrell limps off, his wife and kids arrive at the ground.

When Doug Johnstone gets the ball straight in the mouth in 8 minutes, it looks like there will be a few in pain in the morning. And not just from the hangovers.

Trento looks dangerous again in the 12th minute, latching onto another Lombardi pass, but he can only hit the side netting from a tight angle.


When Peter Mackay receives the ball about 22 yards out in 17 minutes, there doesn’t look to be much danger, but he quickly sidesteps a defender and then fires at goal. Steffano Lazzarini gets a touch to it and it comes back off the bar. As the ball bounces down inside the six yard box, Allan Wilson is first to react and pokes the ball into the net to give the Scots the lead.


The Italians are looking to get back into the game and a quick break in 19 minutes sees Emiliano Sbaraglia sprinting down the left. His cross is just too far in front of Trento and the chance is gone.

Simon Weir is playing the Colin Hendry role in the centre of the Scots defence. Although with slightly more choice language. He is telling his team mates at the moment to “hit them hard!”

Claudio Menni sprints onto a through ball in the 22nd minute, but he is offside and the Scots can breathe again.

Johnstone hits a free kick towards goal from 30 yards in 24 minutes, but his shot drifts wide.


Jamie Crawford wins Scotland a corner, which is taken by Johnstone in the 26th minute, and Jonathan Whitelaw wins the header, but it’s wide.

Weir is still encouraging the rest, this time with “let’s get another one and kill the game off”.

In 27 minutes, Mackay wins the ball well in midfield and plays it to Ciaran Mackie, whose shot is deflected wide for another fruitless corner.

The away side still looks dangerous and Scott does well to come out and claim Marco Berini’s chip to the back post in 29 minutes.

Just past the half hour, the Scots let the ball bounce from a long clearance and Lombardi takes possession and plays it forward to Carlo Grande whose flashing shot is just wide of the upright.

With 33 minutes gone, a ball into the Italian box falls to the feet of Mackie, he shoots at goal and there’s a good reaction save by Lazzarini. Newton latches onto the rebound, but skews his shot wide.

Good interplay between Scottish forwards Wilson and Mackie ends with the latter striking his shot just over the bar in 34 minutes.

The Italians win a corner in 35 minutes, but Scott comes out and claims it.

A free kick for Italy on the edge of the box in 37 minutes looks dangerous and Lombardi lifts it over the wall, but Scott is there with a spectacular dive and catch. One for the cameras maybe, but he read it well.


Newton takes control of a loose ball in 39 minutes and quickly shoots, but the people in the dug outs are in more danger than the net, with his shot going out for a throw.

A fantastic run from Mackay in 40 minutes from his own half sees him drift past multiple Italian players before his shot is saved by Lazzarini.


A minute later, another chance for the Scots, but Crawford can only hit the side net from a tight angle.

Mackie then becomes the second Scottish player to get the ball in the face and there hopefully isn’t going to be any publicity shots of authors coming up soon.

With a minute to half time, more good build up play by Scotland ends with Newton shooting at goal, but the keeper has it well covered.

Right on half time, the Scots claim a handball in the box, but the ref waves away the appeals. As Lazzarini has an extended shout at his team mates in his native language, Weir states that “it’s like Montalbano live!”


The players congregate around the dugouts following the referee’s half time whistle to plan tactics for the second half. Or to catch their breath.

An entertaining first half which has been played in a great spirit, although it is clear both sides are very keen to win.

Italy bring on Carlo Grande Jr and Emiliano Orsini for the start of the half, with the Scots bringing on Neil Williamson and Mark Buckland. Substitutions are fluid though, with players going on and off in the second half, so those going off have a good chance of returning.

Chapter 2


Scotland look for another fast start and Mackie and Wilson link up again to set up Johnstone, but he misses the target.

The Italians are getting upset with some of the offside decisions. With no linesmen in place, the referee is pretty much guessing most of the time. In some instances, they may have a case.

With 56 minutes gone, Trento hits a dipping volley which goes just over the bar.

Newton has a go from a free kick in 58 minutes, but Lazzarini is there to save.

In 61 minutes, a fast break from Scotland sees Mackie and Newton work the ball to Johnstone on the corner of the box and with his wrong foot, he curls the ball over the keeper and into the top corner to give the Scots a two goal lead. A cracking goal from the Scottish captain.


It only takes Italy 3 minutes to reduce the deficit. Some sloppy play in defence culminates in Trento robbing Whitelaw in the box and dispatching the ball quickly into the net. A real shame for the Scottish left back, who has had a great game so far.


As further subs come and go, the Italians are pushing for an equaliser. Trento shoots from distance in 67 minutes trying to catch out Scott, but he saves comfortably.

A minute later there’s a stramash in the Scotland box, but Williamson gets it away.


In 73 minutes, a ball into the Scotland box is beautifully controlled by Trento, but his shot is too close to Scott.

Karyn Dougan comes on for Scotland and suddenly, the Scots have the better looking team. It’s a well-timed substitution, as legs are starting to tire and Karyn is showing great energy, putting pressure on the Italians.


Some great build up play by the Italians on 76 minutes between Walter Lazzarin, Trento and half time substitute Grande Jr ends with Emiliano Sbaraglia shooting just wide.

The first yellow card of the afternoon arrives for Wilson after he protested a little too strongly at having a foul awarded against him. With the match being between writers, someone had to go in the book.


More silky play by Italy in 79 minutes ends with Trento setting up Grande Jr, but Scott is there to save again.

The Italians are really piling on the pressure now and some quick passing releases Grande Jr in the box, but a great tackle by Wilson halts his progress. Unfortunately, Wilson lands on top of the young Italian and Weir and Trento carry him off.


With 5 minutes left, Italy win a corner, but it comes to nothing.

In 86 minutes, Trento steps away from Weir in the box after receiving the ball from Walter Lazzarin, but Scott saves his effort again.

It’s good to see the Grande Jr return to the play.

Italy are doing all the pressing now and the Scots are getting nervous. As Scotland have the ball in the centre circle, “into the corner with it” is heard.


In 88 minutes Trento has a headed chance, but it goes wide, before Marco Bernini gets to the goal line and cuts it back to Trento, but this time it’s over the bar.

As the clock reaches 90 minutes, a great turn by Lombardi looks to be about to cause Scotland trouble, but Weir saves the day with a great tackle.

The referee’s final whistle is treated like Scotland have just won the World Cup by the players on the pitch.



A great afternoon of entertainment which really deserved a much bigger attendance. Some excellent performances from some, but nobody was a failure on either side.

Difficult to pick out a man of the match with so many good performances, but Walter Lazzarin , Trento and Lombardi in particular look as though they could have played professionally at some point. For the Scots, Mackay and Scott were probably best. Special mention must go to Johnstone for a goal unlikely to be bettered in any writers game. It’s the first time I’ve seen him without his guitar, which may have impeded him somewhat. Weir, who seemed to take it most seriously of all, was inspiring at the back. Also to Farrell, who didn’t put a foot wrong in his 5 minutes on the pitch.

Apologies if any of the players’ names are wrong. I did get them from the Scottish Writers! (Now updated following corrections on the Italian team)

Catch up with Scottish Writers FC at:




Full Time: Scotland Writers 2 Italy Writers 1

Admission: Free.

SCOTLAND: 1 Danny Scott, 15 Jonathan Whitelaw, 18 David Farrell, 2 Roland Gulliver, 7 Doug Johnstone, 10 Peter Mackay, 8 Chris Newton, 4 Jamie Crawford, 11 Allan Wilson, 9 Ciaran Mackie, 5 Simon Weir, 3 Karyn Dougan, 14 Neil Williamson, 6 Adrian Searle, 16 Mark Buckland.

ITALY: 1 Steffano Lazzarini, 25 Marco Cassardo, 6 Giampaolo Simi, 4 Marco Mathieu, 18 Marco Bernini, 10 Gianluca Lombardi, 7 Carlo Grande, 22 Claudio Menni, 23 Emiliano Sbaraglia, 3 Walter Lazzarin, 19 Francesco Trento, 13 Carlo Grande Jr, 28 Emiliano Orsini.

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Chameleons Vox at Audio, Glasgow, 7 June 2015


The Chameleons were one of the first bands I liked when I reached an age that I was starting to develop some music taste.  I was too young for a lot of the punk music which greeted the end of the 70s, but was old enough to have become fond of bands like The Jam and Echo and the Bunnymen.

I probably wasn’t on board with The Chameleons from the start, but this was more due to a lack of knowledge of the band, rather than anything else.  In fact, I probably did the whole thing in reverse, as I’m pretty sure that the third studio album Strange Times, was the first one I bought.  This turned out to be the last  before the sudden death of the band’s manager Tony Fletcher, which led to The Chameleons disbanding.

Being a relative latecomer to the boys from Middleton, I’d managed to completely miss out on seeing the band live, which was always a sore point.  Particularly after hearing the first two albums, Script of the Bridge and What Does Anything Mean Basically?  Why had they not been huge?  Always on the outside of the Manchester scene that saw lesser bands get a lot more fame.

It also wasn’t easy hearing about what became of the members of the band, living in the East of Scotland in the days before the internet.

I therefore missed out on The Sun and the Moon with Chameleons singer and bassist Mark Burgess and Chameleons drummer John Lever, along with guitarists Andy Clegg (who had played keyboards with The Chameleons) and Andy Whitaker, releasing a 1988 album before splitting up.  Then Mark Burgess & the Sons of God, which included guitarist Yves Altana, and their 1993 release. The duo of Burgess and Altana released the Paradyning album a year later.

I was lucky enough to see Mark Burgess perform with Yves Altana as Invincible in Glasgow in 1999, and they were very good.  But it wasn’t the songs I knew and loved.  (Although I do like Invincible very much).  They, of course, split up in early 2000.

The Chameleons Guitarists Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding formed The Reegs, who released two albums, Return of the Sea Monkeys (1991) and Rock the Magic Rock (1993).

Then came the news I thought would never happen.  The Chameleons were reforming to play a gig at Manchester Academy in June 2000.  Those who were there that night will I’m sure never forget it.  The original band back together in a packed out venue playing the songs that all there loved.  I’d never heard them live before and I couldn’t have been happier.  They were all I’d imagined and more.  Seeing a bloke hug one if the giant speakers as they played summed it up.

I managed to see them again in Glasgow on the back of a tour to celebrate the success of the band’s return and the reformed band released two further studio albums.  Strip in 2002 featured older material reworked into acoustic versions and then in 2001, Why Call It Anything was the first new material from the band since 1986.

Sadly, an acrimonious split mean the band had gone again in early 2003.

I lost track again and missed out on the next two Burgess/Altana vehicles, Bird and Black Swan Lane.

Mark Burgess and John Lever reconvened under the name Chameleons Vox, playing The Chameleons songs, but the drummer departed.

It’s been well reported about the animosity between the band members elsewhere, so I won’t go into that, but it seems that Reg, Dave and John aren’t happy that Mark is playing these songs with non-Chameleons.  I have great affection for all the band members, but I still love hearing The Chameleons songs live, and this is the only show in town, with the original voice singing on them.

I had my first experience of Chameleons Vox in Glasgow in May 2014.  A very busy and very hot Stereo on the infamous Sauchiehall Street.  The band now contained Burgess, Chris Oliver and Neil Dwerryhouse on guitars and Yves Altana on drums.  The tour was playing the first Chameleons album, Script of the Bridge in full.  It was scary to realise that it was 32 years since it was released.

I was sufficiently blown away at the standard of the newcomers and the sound to head down to Manchester in December where on consecutive nights, they would play the second and third albums in full.  A great weekend was had by all.

So, with Mark announcing that this would be the last time that the band would tour, the gig in Glasgow was a must do.  I’d love to have got to others, but circumstances wouldn’t allow.

A different venue this time, with Audio having the honour of hosting.  Another underground, compact, warm place.  (actually under one of the arches of Central Station).  The advertised support band hasn’t materialised, with the band due on at 9, so a quick pint in the Wetherspoons on the corner, where the Chameleons t-shirts are abundant.


We see Chris Oliver get something out of the minibus outside and enter to see the place is mobbed 15 minutes before they are due on stage and still people stumble into the dark from the windy street outside.

At 9 on the dot the glorious sweeping sounds of Silence, Sea and Sky welcome the band on stage and a smiling Mark says “Good evening Glesga!” in his best Scottish accent.    They immediately launch into Swamp Thing and the smiling faces sing along.  The storm has indeed come, outside anyway, but inside the sound is glorious.


In an ideal world, many would wish to see the original members all up on stage, but that would be doing a disservice to Neil, Chris, Yves and of course Mark.  It sounds fantastic and the band have clearly spent a lot of time rehearsing the songs.

The imposing sound of A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days is next up, always sounding as if it should be in a film.  It’s a very atmospheric song and it’s no different here.  This is followed by Here Today, the second song tonight from The Chameleons debut album and sounding as fresh as ever.


The first airing of the evening of a song from the second album comes from Perfume Garden, with the mass of bodies I’m sure feeling the appropriateness of the line “all across the town and across the street, you could feel the heat”. With the temperature set to Dante in the venue, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was being felt across the whole of Strathclyde.

We stay with the second album for Intrigue in Tangiers.  A sad song which essentially tells the listener to make the most of life when young.  Burgess reportedly says that the lyrics came from visits to a home for retired servicemen, where he’d visit his grandfather. A former seaman there would sit in his chair, getting stoned and watching TV. He’d call them “funny cigarettes” and talk of places he’d visited, like Tangier.


Still on What Does Anything Mean Basically? One Flesh is the next song.  A very emotional song which was never one of my favourites, but it still sounds good.

It’s back to the first album for As High As You Can Go, which is possibly the first song by The Chameleons that I ever heard.  I recall that my sister had the single of this.  A song that tells the tale of compromising your principles for fame and fortune.  One of my favourites and it sounds great.


The glorious Caution is next to be welcomed into our ears.  Lyrically, it’s a sad tale, but it brings a warmth to the heart.  It’s a beautifully constructed song, and it still sounds fresh, despite featuring on the third Chameleons album in 1986.

We are then transported back to the first LP again, with Monkeyland.  It sounds like a statement on the difficulties of dealing with record companies in the early days.  “Is there anyone there?” asks Burgess’ pleading lyric.  By the whole crowd singing back every word, it’s clear there is.


Back to the 3rd album for Soul in Isolation.  It’s a slight disappointment that the drums at the start of the song are cut short, a change from when it was performed in December, but it is another song which highlights the genius of songwriting that was in the band.  Burgess says that the lyrics were inspired by one of his favourite books ‘Star Rover’ by Jack London.

Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In), the only song that was released as a single from the second album appears next.  It’s The Chameleons political song of the time and still holds up today and it would be easy to say, is equally relevant.  Given the Vox treatment, it sounds as powerful as it did back in the day.


The set closes with the seminal Second Skin.  A big fan favourite and a singalong anthem.  Mark tells the crowd that “Norwich have been best at this so far” and challenges the crowd to better them.  It certainly sounded loud where I was stood, lending my voice to all the others.  It’s amazing to think that a song of such magnitude was on the very first album released by The Chameleons.

The band leave the stage, but don’t keep us waiting long before returning to rapturous applause.  Looking Inwardly is first up, from The Chameleons second album.  A reflective song with a killer riff.

Still on the same album, we then hear Return of the Roughnecks, another song about the political climate of the time.  An urgent beat which pushes the song into your consciousness.


The mellow View From A Hill ends the encore.  The closest The Chameleons ever got to a psychedelic song, about the feeling of being on drugs.

Off stage they go with the crowd quickly shouting hopefully for more and showing no signs of departing.  Unexpectedly, they do return for a second encore.  And what an encore it is.

Nostalgia, which never appeared initially on an album but started to be added in updated versions, has always been a crowd favourite.  Chris gets a row for playing the beginning to Don’t Fall by mistake, but he is soon halted.  On record or cd, I often think Nostalgia is one of the songs that sounds a bit more dated, but it holds up extremely well live.  I am always impressed by the bands ability not to speed the song up when played live, which it would be very easy to do.  “Tomorrow, remember yesterday” will be something everyone at the gig will be trying to do.

First single and another which was originally not an album track In Shreds is next to be played. An angry song, which grabs you by the throat with its crashing drums and melodic guitar, and of course, by Mark’s lyrics. I adore this song.


The second encore ends with the magnificent Don’t Fall. A song which seems to tell the tale of a bad trip (that’s drugs, not holiday). Another favourite of the crowd and I think we all know this is going to be the last song. Particularly when Mark jumps into the crowd with his bass to play the end of it.

And then they were gone. Possibly the last time these songs would be performed in Scotland.

Although Audio was a small venue (the gig had originally been booked for the larger Classic Grand) the sound and atmosphere were excellent. There’s something special about the crowd at these gigs.

I can’t state enough how well these songs are played by people who were not in the original band. Hearing each song live is like reacquainting yourself with an old friend. It would be hard to argue that Mark Burgess has the greatest singing voice of all time, but it fits absolutely perfectly with the music. And it doesn’t seem to have deteriorated over time.

It’s likely that any future gigs might involve travelling to Manchester.  I hope that I get the chance to do that for many more years.  After all, we are all Chameleons.

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The Parlotones in Glasgow, 22 March 2015

The Parlotones, Classic Grand, Glasgow, 22 March 2015


I somehow managed to miss the Parlotones’ last visit to Scotland. A gig in April 2014 completely passed me by, so it’s two and a half years since I’ve seen South Africa’s finest.

Multi-platinum sellers in their home country, the band moved to the United States in 2012, but are still including tours to most parts of the world and tonight is the last night of their UK tour.

The Parlotones consist of Kahn Morbee – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, Neil Pauw – drums and percussion, and Brothers Glen Hodgson – bass guitar, piano, backing vocals and Paul Hodgson – lead guitar, keyboard.

They released their latest studio album, Stand Like Giants last year, which follows Episoda,in 2003, Radiocontrolledrobot (2005), A World Next Door to Yours (2007), Stardust Galaxies (2009), Eavesdropping on the Songs of Whales (Acoustic) (2011) and Journey Through the Shadows (May, 8th 2012).  They have also released two live albums.

They are heavily involved in charity work including Earth Hour, Nelson Mandela’s 46664 and the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK.  They’ve even brought out their own wines, three different ones named after songs of theirs, although I’m not sure “Giant Mistake” was the wisest choice.

A train through to Glasgow and my first visit to the Classic Grand (although I will be back in June to see Chameleons Vox).  We arrive to hear the final song of first support band One Last Secret.  The Kilmarnock band certainly seemed to have good energy, but I didn’t really have time to make any judgements.

Next up is South African Jason Serrao, who seems to be a cross between Chico and Peter Andre.  His muscles seem to be enough for some of the women in the audience, but it really wasn’t for me.  Pleasing the many South Africans in the audience with a song about Johannesburg, he also played versions of Wonderwall, Falling to Pieces, Hallelujah and Take Me Home, Country Roads (yes really).  He seemed to be a friend of the Parlotones, which may explain something.  He was certainly confident and was highlighting his merchandise for sale (including sunglasses).  He often resembled one of those terrible DJs you find in bad nightclubs who feel the need to speak mid song, even if just to say “come on” or “oh yeah”.


It’s a nice venue, although quite oddly shaped.  Although there is a good crowd in, there seemed to be several vantage points where a more packed out event would still be ok.

It’s just after 9 when the headliners take to the stage and they launch straight into the upbeat We Call This Dancing.  “Dance” and “Dancing” appear in many of their songs, and it is the most South African sounding word they sing.

The band seem to be having initial difficulties in what they can and can’t hear on stage, but it doesn’t impact on what is emanating from the stage.  While the set is peppered with songs from their latest release (four of them) it’s mainly the tried and trusted crowd favourites, although Heartbreak Horizon from the forthcoming album Antiques and Artifacts also gets an outing.  After 12 years alongside record/management label, Sovereign Entertainment, The Parlotones officially announced their departure from the record label on 10 July 2014, so it will be a new label releasing this.


While my issues with their lyrics at times, as I highlighted in my review of them in 2012, are still there, they do have incredibly catchy songs and they are on good form, although perhaps a little less exuberant than when I have seen them in the past.  This is possibly due to it being their last night of the tour.

There certainly a lot of friendliness in the room, which has been a feature of seeing them before.  I expect this is due to the number of South Africans in attendance.  It’s almost like a get together specifically for them with the percentage of Springboks in the crowd.  There’s lots of hugging going on which doesn’t just seem to be alcohol induced.


An excellent acoustic version of Fly To The Moon where Khan and Glen stood away from microphones and only had an acoustic guitar and a drum box? to accompany them, was ruined a little by people who didn’t seem to have the ability to know the difference between inside and outside voices.


Khan appears to mess up the lyrics a bit during Push Me To The Floor, which seems to amuse the others on stage, but this is one of the live highlights, along with Shake It Up, Colourful and Overexposed.  While several of the slower songs were performed excellently, gig goers’ inability to be quiet for a couple of minutes always spoils them a bit.

Another great live performance by the band and they were onstage for just over 90 minutes. I’d almost forgotten about Chico Time by the end.


A venue I was impressed with on my first visit, although tempered somewhat by the ignorant bar staff.



We Call This Dancing

Shake It Up



Giant Mistake

Stars Fall Down


Rock Paper Scissors

Lazy Sunny Day

I’ll Be There

Fly To The Moon

Heartbreak Horizon


Remember When



I’m Only Human

Should We Fight Back

Push Me To The Floor

Life Design

Baby Be Mine

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