It’s an annual pleasure to welcome celebrated Scottish playwright Danny McCahon to our short series of guest contributions to the blog. I would like to thank Danny for his support throughout the year, to wish his expanding family the Happiest of New Years with the hope that going to the football & to gigs become things again in 2021.
When Mal offered me some space on his blog to talk about highlights from 2020 I thought there wasn’t much point as nothing much had happened in 2020. The highlight for me was the birth of my gorgeous granddaughter, Phoebe, but I’ve bored enough people with tales of her magnificence without continuing it on my mate’s site. (bore away Danny, she really is a beautiful, happy baby)
Incidentally, she likes “Oh You Pretty Things” more than she enjoys “Kooks”.
Loosehandlebars, though, has been one of the constants through this year of unpredictability and something that usually brings me new knowledge and a bit of pleasure, so I felt it only right to pay a little back.
Those of us doing our bit for our fellow man have stayed close to home this year and my three selections here are close to my home. The last gig I saw was Earl Slick playing with Glen Matlock at the start of March, the last time I was in a cinema was to see “Tenet” at the start of September and the thing that stands out most from my memory of TV binge-viewing is “Band of Brothers” which just about everybody saw a couple of decades ahead of me. So I am sticking to records here.
I like old things but try to stay current and avoid being caught up in the vortex of nostalgia. Thomas Leer has been an important name in electronic music since way back and, despite the spotlight missing him for a while, the Port Glasgow maestro has never stopped moving forward. He’s avoided that vortex.
That meant the show he played to close a fantastic exhibition celebrating his and his friend Robert Rental’s contributions to UK music was anything but a jukebox of greatest hits. Instead it was an exciting 21st century genre-melding treat. Then in August of the year when nothing happened much of that night’s set appeared on the “Emotional Hardware” album. Here’s track five of six:
Thomas is from the next town to me. Keeping it local, just a few seats along from me at a Celtic home game you are likely to find three of the central characters that form The Bluebells, another lot associated with another time that have kept on keepin’ on. Each has his own current musical projects but when they get together for a Bluebells gigs you are going to hear tunes first aired on their 1984 hit album, “Sisters”.
As the years have rolled on, the album’s reputation has grown and it has become sought after in the vintage vinyl market. The boys in the band, though, had never been totally happy with the album’s mix, the production on some tracks and the running order, so when Scottish label Last Night from Glasgow approached them to re-release the record, they took the opportunity to make it closer to the collection they always wanted it to be.
They added two tracks, replaced two existing tunes with versions produced during sessions with Elvis Costello and swapped the running order of the final two tracks. It’s an album I’ve always liked but hadn’t listed to from start to finish in a long time. My new green vinyl version sounded so fresh and the guys I would have bumped into at Celtic Park during a normal season have told me they are much happier with the mastering this time round.
Here’s a Bluebells song I was enjoying long before I was a father and am now enjoying all over again as a grandfather.
Next up is another Scottish songwriter with a track record. Kev Sherry is best known as the frontman of Glasgow indie band, Attic Lights. And – declaring my very local interest – he has enlisted my son, Roddy, to play drums live and in the studio for a number of side projects in recent years. This year Kev, with a hit graphic novel under his belt, released his first solo album,” Foxy Orthodoxy”, and the reviews have included words like ‘allegorical enchantment’ and ‘poignant lyricism’. Although I don’t disagree with any of that, I don’t think that should overshadow the fact that this is a record full of good pop songs. To me, “Foxy Orthodoxy” follows a Scottish lineage that includes Aztec Camera and Teenage Fanclub while, like those two, totally reflecting the times it was made in.
To promote the album, Kev brought together a young band he’s called Low Fruit, with Ken McCluskey of the aforementioned Bluebells as chief scout, and was ready to hit the road when the pandemic shut the venues, so he had to settle for a series of one-man-and-his guitar live streams.
In a year when we’ve all been looking for things to feel good about, this video brings a smile to my face. Produced by in-demand Scottish keyboardist, guitarist and producer, Kev’s sometimes bandmate Jim Lang, it makes me feel good and I hope it does the same for you.