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Apr 172015

Trouble With The Blues is the fourth album from the Gerry Jablonski Band. It’s a classic compendium racing up and down the full spectrum of The Blues, and it’s absolutely cracking. Suzanne Kelly stops listening to it long enough to review.

Trouble With The Blues CoverThe Gerry Jablonski Band has come up with their best album yet, although it’s not as if they’ve released any flawed albums before. Twist of Fate, their last album was rightly well received.

But on Trouble With The Blues, the high production values, writing, playing, solos and vocals have reached new, highly-gelled heights. My first initial reaction is that I must see them do this material live as soon as possible.

The lyrics run from playful, for example in ‘The Curse’, to heartbreakingly raw and painful.

This emotion comes in no small measure from the sad passing of the band’s long-standing percussionist Dave Innes, who tragically passed away one year ago after illness. The last piece, ‘I Confess’ puts me in mind of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy which painfully questions existence; if you hear the song, you’ll perhaps take my meaning.

In ‘I Confess’, the lyrics are initially filled with sorrow:

“I never felt this way before until my friend passed away”

– as direct and crushing as a lyric can get. As it reaches a crescendo, the lyrics increasingly expose more raw pain, self-contempt and anger mirrored in the poignant vocals. All the while the guitar grows correspondingly louder and more insistent.

It’s cathartic for anyone who’s had such a loss; such a person will identify with this song and likewise be moved. It’s incredibly honest, as is ‘Anybody.’

‘Anybody’ is also a mournful, classic blues. Clapton would have been happy to have come up with this song. The instrumentals are minimal, while Jablonski sings

“I’m only human after all.  I’ve been through my changes; don’t know which way to turn.  All my friends are doing fine.  So somebody, could be anybody, take me to the light.”

Jablonski - Credit - Peter Narojczyk (1)People are going to be singing along to this when they hear it live, I guarantee it. The only thing I’d say is that this sweet song is one I could imagine with a gospel choir on the chorus towards the end; i.e. the ‘Under The Bridge’ effect if you will. But other than that suggestion, I’ve no fault to find with this accomplished album.

Jablonski’s voice has never been in better form; the guitar work, and especially the guitar solos have also taken things up a notch. The title track ‘Trouble with the Blues’ has a scorcher of a solo, for instance.

But this album is a group effort, a team production. The entire band shares the song writing credits. There are polished bass lines and funky bass solos: ‘Trouble With The Blues’ has a great solo. Once again Peter Peter Narojczyk’s harmonica work is versatile, polished, expressive; Jerry Portnoy would approve. Lewis Fraser is now on the drums. He’s done a brilliant piece of work on this album. Mr Innes would approve.

I’ve dwelt on two melancholy, soul-baring tracks so far; but ultimately this album is celebratory.  ‘Lady & I’ is upbeat and sassy; ‘The Curse’ is great fun.  Then again so is ‘Fork Fed Dog’ – down, dirty, fun. I can imagine sets opening with this high-voltage track. It’s a tremendous track and I look forward to experiencing it live. ‘Big Bad World’ is a nice sharp bit of social commentary and a good showplace for Narojczyk, with a short but sharp Jablonski solo.

Live dates are indeed coming; for more information on this album and where to catch the Gerry Jablonski band, see the website here: . I also understand that a video is forthcoming, shot at least in part in Aberdeen’s D-Range recording studio.

Jablonski - Credit - Peter Narojczyk (3)There is a great deal of debate in Aberdeen now about what is or is not culture, and what Aberdeen’s greatest cultural assets are. This album is as strong a hint as you can possibly get on that score.

This is not a piece of work to listen to once and forget; it will be going on your iPod and going where you go.

Having seen their Facebook updates during the project, and how happy they were to be at Abbey Road, I must say I’m very happy they’ve come out with such a strong, varied, memorable work. Nice work, gentlemen.

Sep 272013

Aberdeen’s undisputed Ambassadors of Blues Gerry Jablonski and the Electric Band excel themselves with a standard-setting live show and new album ‘Twist of Fate’ that deserves wide acclaim. Suzanne Kelly reviews.

Jablonski Electric Band 1 -  Credit: Julie ThompsonGerry Jablonski and the Electric Band would have been my first port of call musically if I were in charge of Aberdeen’s City of Culture Bid.
This is Aberdeen’s longest serving and most talented blues/rock outfit.
Years of hard work, dedication and progress have turned out a diverse, blues-infused album with an individualistic sound.

Jablonski and the Electric band are the kind of journeymen that make going to see live music the pleasure it should be, a good antidote to manufactured bands and reliance on costume changes for audience captivation.

Several hundred other people agreed with me; a hugely enthusiastic crowd enjoyed the band’s high octane set at the Lemon Tree on Friday 20th September where the new material was given the enthused reception it deserves.

The opening acts were Hell house and The Ruckus which at different points evoked Paul Rogers & Bad Company to AC/DC with a strong finale number ‘Nothing to Lose.’ 

From his acoustic blues days through Cloth Monkey, from the powerful Union Terrace Gardens Jubilee party to the present, Jablonski has grown into a seasoned, entertaining front man. The Lemon Tree saw him and the band giving it their all.  Jablonski started the set on his own with an instrumental which invoked The Rolling Stones ‘Hipshake.’

As the band joined him on ‘Sherry Dee’ I was momentarily distracted by some of the crowd; I wondered why people come to see live music if they’re going to talk (if not shout) above it and spent their night taking selfies. But everyone was soon totally caught up in the set, and wouldn’t have noticed if the place had crumbled around us.

It can be hard to balance real, raw blues against the desire to put out a neat, tight, clean set, but they walk that line. They are clearly tightly rehearsed without losing any of the fresh feel their material demands live.

Jablonski Electric Band 2 -  Credit: Julie ThompsonFor me two of the (many) highlights were the very powerful ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Preacher’, from the new album (then again there was also some delicious slide guitar).  You would be justified in buying the album for ‘Preacher’ alone; a dark, heavy track reminiscent of Clapton/Cream, with a twist.

The lyrics deserve more attention than I’ve been able to give them so far, but the title track ‘Twist of Fate’ a slower, beautiful bit of blues is poignant.

What ‘Twist of Fate’ is about is explained on the album notes:-

“During the recording, our drummer and friend has been battling his illness, hence the title of this album.  Music is a great healer and a magical force, but it should never be above family and friends and those you love.”

The press release promised:

“There is real passion and pain on this album and it takes the band and their electric music to a whole new level.” 

The promise was kept.

Gerry kept referencing the importance of his wife and family to him during the set, and how important the families of the bands are to the whole. This support is clearly crucial, with drummer Dave Innes receiving treatment for cancer. Not that you would have had any clue of this on the night; he was a smiling, powerful force.  It would be remiss not to credit the harmonica work from Peter; a perfect foil for Gerry’s solos.

It was over an hour into the set, and I was wondering how many more songs they would be able to get through without all of them tiring – the drumming was impeccable, the base understated, elegant and reliable – as it’s supposed to be. Jablonski’s vocals are getting better and deeper all the time; but it has always been the amazing fills and solos that I find compelling.

There was some slowed-down traditional blues towards the end, but the way Jablonski plays deserves more attention than it’s had to date. The bass player is not to be overlooked – you can’t do anything like this without a solid bass. The set flew past; the title track from ‘Twist of Fate’ came close to the end. The set’s ended, but things are just beginning for JG and the Electric Band.

‘Twist of Fate’ is available on Fat Hippy Records and at all good record shops.  www.fathippyrecords.couk

More photos of the band from the Lemon Tree by Julie Thompson can be found here:

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Sep 172013

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Gerry Jablonski

Gerry Jablonski and The Electric Band have long been one the most successful acts to come out of Aberdeen.

Their first 2 albums on Fat Hippy Records have sold to classic blues rock fans all over the world and both albums have had to be re-pressed to supply demand for their music!

On the 23rd September Fat Hippy will release their stunning third album Twist Of Fate.

Recorded whilst the band were fighting for their future as drummer Dave Innes (Midge Ure, Marillion, Fish, Bay City Rollers) battles with stomach cancer there is real passion and pain on this album and it takes the band and their electric music to a whole new level.

The band will play Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree on September 20th; other upcoming dates include 21st September at Non-Zeros, Dundee and 27th September in Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms.

With tours of Poland, Germany and Czech Republic already booked for 2013 and 2014 to launch the album and interest from the USA growing every day you should probably catch this band whilst you can!  More info:

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Apr 172015

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Look Again (1)Apologies for the late running of this service. However, I’ve been busy getting Tullos Hill petition signatures, and writing my presentation to the city’s Petitions Committee for this coming Tuesday.

Fortunately, the brand new album from the Gerry Jablonski Band arrived to give me some new listening pleasure while I was reliving all the fun of the 2012 Tullos Hill issues.

For some reason, the blues seem particularly appropriate to some of our city’s latest comings and goings.

The city council will no doubt be thrilled that over 250 city residents on the electoral register signed the Tullos Hill petition.

They’ve signed up to get the city to stop killing the deer (at least for now – there may be very few left), and to get full disclosure of the hundreds of thousands of pounds which Aileen Malone’s ‘free’ scheme to plant trees cost us.

The signatories also request that the city seek indemnity from Scottish Natural Heritage – you may remember they made Aberdeen give them £43,800 for the last failed tree planting. This was blamed on deer browsing and on weeds.

The blame couldn’t have been related to the fact the hill’s so rocky it is unlikely any trees will withstand any high wind (in a government soil report which every supporter of killing your deer knew about). At least as my photo shows, they’ve done a bang-up job taking care of the weeds on the hill. The city’s rangers are very proud as to how much gorse they’ve been manly enough to cut and put in a wood chipper.

They’ve made it so you can see around a corner on a path they’ve widened. Result! Maybe not a great result for the wildlife, insects and birds that live in the gorse, but it kept the boys happy, and that’s what counts.

More on the Petition later – but a huge thank you from the Stop The Tullos Hill Deer Campaign to every single person who signed, shared and helped with this petition. That extends to all the people whose signatures weren’t eligible. ACC discounted hundreds of signatures. The city said some people weren’t on the electoral register (I hope everyone is registered to vote and are paying their taxes, just like our local rich do).

Also disregarded were people who live in the shire, who clearly shouldn’t be allowed to have any opinions on the city’s doings. A mere 400+ people want the city to stop this cull, the Scottish SPCA ‘said killing deer to plant trees which could be planted anywhere at all was ‘abhorrent and absurd.’

Animal welfare organisations offered to help advise on how you can have trees and deer without blasting the creatures, but that’s not much good for councillors after the hunting community’s votes. In 2012 objection to killing 36 deer was put down to emotionalism, sentimentality and other fully unacceptable traits; not to the fact the trees aren’t likely to grow.

Still, when the gamekeepers’ association also says the SNH culls are draconian, I guess that means they’re just being emotional, sentimental fools, too.

Look Again (5)

Look Again! Bruce and the Seagulls

I’m sure the petition committee members will welcome a speech from Old Susannah with unbridled joy.

I hope they remember that I may be making the presentation, but it’s the thousands of people who signed the initial petition and the 400+ people who they are answerable to. Those were the thousands of people written off in an official report as being ‘a vociferous but vocal minority.’

Old Susannah will report back well before the upcoming elections to let you know how the 5 labour, 5 SNP, LibDem, Conservative and Independent on the committee vote on the three petition proposals before them. I’m just trying to keep ‘the vociferous minority’ informed, and the objecting community councils.

As a reminder, the last time we had elections an anti-deer cull independent Andy Finlayson was voted in, defeating pro-cull, legwarmer-wearing Lib Dem Kate Dean. The LibDems saw a marked change of fortune in the Deen.

I’d hate to want our elected officials to feel hot under the collar though, or think they have some duty to listen to what the people are telling them, when non-binding, controversial guidelines from the SNH are at stake. I wonder what we’re in store for this time at the ballot box?

Mind you, I’ve not heard or seen much about the upcoming elections. There were one or television programmes which might have been debates. I just wasn’t sure if these were either beauty pageants or episodes of University Challenge. Aside from one or two newspaper articles and the occasional good-humoured post on Facebook, you’d barely know an election was looming.

Congratulations to all the parties which are keeping the electioneering so factual, dignified and honest.

I will vote, mostly because a bunch of tiresome old women back in Edwardian times made voting into a big deal. Hopefully some smart man can help me decide what party to pick, and how to mark those complicated ballot papers.

The question is how to select just one candidate from the honest, trustworthy, charismatic steadfast field? Should I vote for the people who want to kick non UK borns like me out; should I vote for the ones who want the UK to keep chipping in a little for the privilege of having Trident? Or perhaps I’ll just vote for the ones who promise to tax the rich and sell me a council house on the cheap.

Because I value safety and world peace, I’ll probably vote for a candidate who favours Trident. Trident is how the Americans keep us safe. Their missiles are right here (that makes me feel safer already).

If the US decides to push the button, then they can pretty much destroy all of Europe and make it uninhabitable for hundreds of years at least. And because we want to do our bit, the UK pays for it. After all, it’s not like we’d do anything else with a few spare billion pounds is it?

Look Again (6)

Look Again! “they may take our lives but they will never take our TOGAS”

I also value candidates who are honest rather than opportunist, and who stick to their word and their convictions no matter what, so I may go LibDem.

Aileen Malone must have known how many deer would be slaughtered for her precious trees, and how much money would be used; but good on ‘er; she stuck to her guns. Then there’s that nice Mr Clegg; he stuck to his word about tuition fees, didn’t he?

Or perhaps I’m remembering that wrong. Then again, some of the women candidates have really nice shoes. Happy voting everyone!

Unhappily, all the fun of campaigning is soon enough finished, and then we will forget all about politics again for another 5 years or so. What we really want is bread and circuses (or TV and fast food) to distract us from boring things like nuclear weaponry, torture, armed police, food banks and tax avoiders,( isn’t that right Sir Ian)?

Therefore it’s time for some cheery definitions based around recent doings in the Deen.

Look Again: (Modern Scottish compound noun) A vibrant and dynamic, forward looking (and forward looking again) visual arts festival.

Edinburgh is gearing up for another year of its Fringe, International Film, and Book festivals. Tens of thousands from around the world will enjoy over a thousand events. They will take to streets with scarcely any crowd barriers or teams of police and security guards; and somehow it still works out.

Dundee residents will quickly forget that their V&A project was millions over budget (although some of you in government knew, didn’t you?) and add another arts venue will join Dundee’s contemporary arts centre, The Discovery and The Unicorn (Dundee for some reason wants visitors enjoying themselves on its river, not just cargo ships). Aberdeen however excels at something – and that is one-upmanship.

A long time ago, art was a means of inspiring thoughts, evoking memories and feeings, stoking aspirations, and stimulating creativity. Thank goodness we’ve modernised. Our Look Again festival has reminded everyone what an art festival is really about. We had ‘top’ artists dressing up our boring, easily ignored giant sculptures of heroic figures.

Who’d have ever noticed Robert the Bruce if we hadn’t put cheeky seagull and pigeon figures on him?

Who’d have noticed a statue of some guy named William Wallace if we didn’t put some kind of dayglow toga on it?

And how else to show the kids that we’re cool and down with them other than by putting a set of giant Dr Dre’s on Robert Burns?

An outdoor arts festival is all about showing off, vibrant colours, and artwork that needs explanation and makes us ask questions like ‘why is Robert Burns holding a giant knitted ball that’s supposed to be Mercury with a big red dot on it?’ It’s about showing how clever artists are – but not so clever that every last man, woman and child can’t figure out what the artwork is supposed to mean when told.

Art festivals are whimsical, fun, vibrant, dynamic (and probably well connected). It doesn’t really matter if a person who’s painted human figures can’t do so – we can just write that off as them being an artist that is expressionist. Most of all, art festivals need to generate controversy – but not anything too bold or risqué – particularly if public money is involved.

Look Again (2)

Look Again! Public Art.

Aren’t we all wonderful? Isn’t everything bright and shiny? It was a wonderful fun festival for all the family, which avoided anything that was garish, cheap, tinny, dumbed-down, poorly-executed, forced, or which required any form of imaginative or intellectual input from the viewer.

I am sure parts of the festival were not quite as interesting as these wonderful statues, but the statues are what so subtly whispered ‘pssst have a look’ and which caught the public’s imagination.

That the public’s imagination had to be cudgelled and frogmarched around by pre-briefed, script-adhering clipboard bearers (who didn’t know how much we spent on the dressed up statues) is neither here nor there. We’ve showed our big sisters Glasgow and Edinburgh that we’re cool, we are artistic, we do festivals and we rock. Result!

I am only a foreigner here (until UKIP kicks me out in a fortnight); but in my country and in my own meagre study of art history and creating art, I had some old-fashioned ideas. These included showing respect and dignity towards the artwork created by others, be they alive or dead.

I’m sure the Wallace statue’s sculptor would have been delighted to see his masterwork turned into a figure of forced, weak laughter and whimsy.

For some reason the Gordon Highlander monument at Castlegate escaped the modernising treatment. I don’t’ know why that should have been, but surely it wasn’t because the curators of this splendid festival knew that decking this monument to a recently-closed regiment of heroes might not have kept the gullible public on side.

Maybe they’ll put paper hats on their heads and make them hold fish and chips next year; we’ll see. The absence of any material on the day to give history of the original sculptors or their subjects was a good move too; why burden people with stuffy detail when you can show them the arse of a pigeon with the saying ‘Fit Like’ on it?

The sordid subject of money should never be brought up when the arts are involved, but each ‘top’ artist who got to show their skills by decorating these statues was given a fixed budget, amount unknown. Suggestions I’ve had saying that some of these wanted to do their bit as cheaply as possible to keep profit margins up are of course just unkind.

That Aberdeen City found money in its arts budget will be huge comfort to those who missed out on any arts awards at the last round.

Equally pleased will be the photographers whose work has over time been ‘borrowed’ by the city for print and internet publication – without a cent ever being paid to the artists involved, and in many cases without even bothering to contact the artists, for whom the honour of having their work associated with ACC should be reward enough.

Let’s see what we get next year; let’s see which artists are consulted and invited. For I may well be wrong, but this festival might possibly have been the work of the usual suspects. The usual suspects have worked long and hard to make this city’s publically-funded arts scene what it is today. Perhaps they should rest from their intensive labours, and let someone else get involved.


Our local graffiti artists have outdone themselves this time; they have managed to capture the whimsical, irreverent humour of the Look Again festival and combine it with political commentary! Result! The manifestation of this appeared on political party offices in Rosemount.

Persons or persons unknown decided to do away with the boring intellectual debate side of campaigning, and took the time and trouble to paint a swastika on some of our city’s office fronts. This rather charming motif shows a certain amount of historical knowledge, so hat’s off to the bright spark behind this little episode.

Mona Lisas

Not one, but two Mona Lisas – demonstrating Aberdeen’s rich Cultural heritage

Some might think this is a mindless, crude, insensitive, illogical, brutish, violent act of a coward too afraid to put their feelings into words or to do anything positive with the options at their disposal, but that’s just nit-picking. Yes, this was the act of a young folk hero or heroine, who deserves all of our thanks for their charming display.

Then again some graffiti artists are young people who, spoiled for all the exciting things they can do in this town want to paint. Don’t they know how many different shops we’ve got?

Every part of this teen-friendly town is filled with exciting free drop in centres open hours that suit teens where they can relax, play pool, use computers, do music, dance or sit around.

It must be like paradise for them, however much or little money they have at their disposal.

We clearly cannot allow graffiti as practiced by kids today; an arts festivals like Look Again and the really happening Aberdeen Youth Festival be quite enough artistic outlets for them indeed.

If we allowed young people to for instance have a graffiti wall that might lead to all forms of self-expression.

That kind of thing might lead to disrespect for our built heritage, art that was not State-approved, and all sorts of other unacceptable, non-conservative activity. It would be awful if unartistic crude adornments added to our city’s monuments and buildings; this must not be allowed. Unless it’s paid ‘top’ artists who are doing it.

I think that’s all the art I can stand for, particularly as I stood for hours trying to get into the Art Gallery’s last open night for some years. A massive 300 strong crowd was allowed inside this time!

That’s about as many they fit into The Lemon Tree (which may be just a wee bit smaller). A woman in a wheelchair waited in this queue without complaint. After all, a 300 max was for our safety, don’t you know.

The first evening event I went to at the gallery was on the theme of World War I; it was safe to say that more than 300 people were inside, and somehow no horrendous accidents occurred. But our safety mandarins got wind of how popular this was, and decided it was a job for a few crowd barriers and sensible attendance rules.

It’s amazing how our subtle safety mandarins know how to add just that bit more fun, excitement and buzz to our city’s events. What was about the most artistic thing I’ve seen this past month? Two Mona Lisas (pictured above), queuing up to get in the Gallery on its last night until in a year or so it reopens – minus its marble staircase and with a shoebox type addition on the roof. Art is amazing.

Next week – Safety, elections, NHS Grampian, and a roundup of what the city’s great and good have been up to.

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Nov 012013

Julie Thompson shares her experience as a fledgling music photographer, and a few of her pictures taken at The Old Granite Whistle Test at HMV between August and October 2013.

Leanne Smith at HMV - Pic by Julie Thompson

Leanne Smith performs for The Old Granite Whistle Test at HMV – Pic by Julie Thompson

Here’s a little quiz for you. What do Gerry Jablonski, Craig John Davidson, Amy Sawers, The Lorelei and Little Kicks have in common?

If you answered ‘Fat Hippy Records’, then you’d be right. But were you also aware that they, and several of their Fat Hippy siblings, have also played free gigs in HMV on Thursday nights for the last few months?

Let me present The Old Granite Whistle Test:

“The Old Granite Whistle Test is a weekly event at HMV in Aberdeen. It occurs weekly on a Thursday evening at 6:00. The band night was initially set up by HMV as a platform for new rising local acts to get some publicity, but quickly became a partnership between Captain Toms/Fat Hippy Records and HMV Aberdeen. As of the present moment, Steven Spencer and Tom Simmonds are dual organisers of the weekly event.”

The Old Granite Whistle Test sessions began on 1st August 2013 and were kicked off by Daniel Mutch, a young acoustic singer/songwriter.  The second week showcased Craig John Davidson, whom I have since had the privilege of seeing play, when he supported The Lorelei at Meldrum Town Hall.

Sadly, I was unaware of these sessions until the third one, when The Lorelei came down to entertain us.

Robbie Flanagan at HMV - Pic by Julie Thompson

Despite complaints from a neighbouring vendor that they were too loud (just how is that possible?) they did their thing with that exuberant joy for their music which they seem to have, whenever I see them play; and, as a bonus, they got complimentary juices from the Juice Bar.

First Leanne Smith, a bonny girl with a sweet smile and voice to match, and then Amy Sawers, amazing voice, entertained us on the following Thursday evenings, bringing August to a close.

September’s line-up began with Robbie Flanagan and his guitar, and the following week, the twin rappers SHY & DRS, accompanied by Dave Brown on guitar.

Shy and DRS at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonThey also filled Sandi Thom’s vocals on their Top 40 hit, The Love Is Gone.

The non-acoustic part of their set was sadly cut short due to technical problems.

The third session, featuring Uniform, had a delayed start as their frontman was caught in traffic.

Unfortunately, I only caught the very start of their set as I had an appointment elsewhere.

The fourth week was a blast, with Gerry Jablonski and the Electric Band bouncing around HMV, fresh from their new album launch at The Lemon Tree; which was, incidentally, my first official music shoot, providing images for the Aberdeen Voice.

The Little Kicks at HMV - Pic by Julie Thompson

What an excellent way to wind up September.

October opened with The Little Kicks, well, half of them, who are always a favourite. As they were playing later that evening at another venue, the drummer and bass player were not performing, although I did spot them lurking in the crowd.

I first encountered, and shot, this band at the Brewdog AGM in August. I was attending that event to provide images for an Aberdeen Voice article.

In fact they were, along with The Xcerts, the first live music I’d shot, apart from at the Belladrum Festival a couple of weeks earlier. Confession time: it gave me such a buzz that I wanted to do more.

Cara Mitchell at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonCara Mitchell played the second session of October. It was the first time I’d had the pleasure of hearing her.

The third week was supposed to be the Polish band, CETI, fresh from their Lemon Tree album launch.

However, due to illness they were replaced at short notice by Jon Davie.

I’d come across this singer/guitarist before when he played a solo acoustic set at The Lemon Tree.

He’s the frontman for GutterGodz, who I went down to Stonehaven Town Hall on Oct 25th to shoot, along with Deadfire and The Ruckus.

Colin Clyne at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonColin Clyne, back home from a long stint in California, played the fourth week.

He has a good voice, which he accompanies with his guitar and mouth organ.

Having built up a following in the United States, he is hoping to repeat his success back home.

Over the weeks, I’ve chatted with Captain Tom of Fat Hippy Records about these sessions.

I put a few questions to him:

Q:  Who came up with the idea of The Old Granite Whistle Test, and the name?

A:  It was Steve Spencer, who works at HMV, who came up with the name and made the effort to get everyone involved.

Q:  Has it been easy to persuade the acts to play?

A: Very. No one has needed to be persuaded, I think just about everyone we asked said yes, if they were available, and many more have asked to play.

Q:  Have the bands enjoyed the experience?

A: I believe so. Some nights have been busier than others, but I think most relished the opportunity to play HMV for the first time.

Q: So, was it a frustrating or fun experience for you?

A: A bit of both, I suppose, if I’m honest. It’s great to be involved in an exciting new outlet for Aberdeen’s burgeoning and talented live music scene, but it can be a frustrating business when bands cancel at short notice or there’s a lack of support for really talented artists. But that’s the same for all gigs everywhere.

Q:  Are there any amusing anecdotes you can relate?

A: Well, there have been a few interesting moments along the way. Without being specific I’ll confess that most of them involve the weekly running of the gauntlet with traffic wardens, to get parked anywhere near HMV to unload the PA. They’re very good at their job, so they are.

Q: Have HMV enjoyed giving up a bit of their floor space and time, do you think?

A: I think so. I get the impression they have probably wanted to do something like this with local music for some time, and it’s just taken a while for the opportunity to arise.

Q: Will you be doing more next year?

A: I hope so. This first 3 month stint from August to October was in some ways an experiment to see how it went, and what sort of response it got. So we’ll sit down with the powers that be at HMV over the next few weeks and see how we all feel it’s gone. Hopefully everyone’s happy and we can find a way to do another 3 month stint in early 2014.

Jon Davie of Guttergodz at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonSuburban Saints will complete the October line-up on the 31st, and, indeed, bring The Old Granite Whistle Test to a close for 2013. Whether it returns next year remains to be seen, but for me it has been a great way to see some of our local talent in action.

If The Old Granite Whistle Test returns next year, I shall certainly be there.

You’ve heard a little bit in this article about how and when I got started photographing live music.

In future weeks I plan on catching up with some of the local music photographers for a chat, to find out how they got started, their best and worst experiences, and maybe even garner some tips.

Click here to view more HMV Photos.

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Jun 052015

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryTally ho! There are many vibrant, dynamic, connected smart successful goings-on as summertime draws near to the Granite City. I had a tasty affordable dinner at Amarone; it may be a chain, but its mozzarella is second to none.

On Sunday I attended my first BrewDog Home Brewers’ tasting session – a dozen or so home brewers met up to taste a wide range of homemade craft beers of all sorts; some were amazing; some a bit challenging. The BrewDog AGM is this coming Saturday; as is the Taste of Grampian, both of which seem to be bigger and better every year.

A wide variety of events are around the corner; the Gray’s School of Art Degree show opens on the 19th June.  The word is that this year will be particularly impressive.

The Moorings, Tunnels, Drummonds and Lemon Tree have lots of great bands coming up (Gerry Jablonski Band plays the Moorings the 4th; which is the place to head after the BrewDog AGM). Black Grape plays on the 5th of July. Old Susannah remembers the last time she saw this band in London. By the end of the night the entire venue became one big backstage after show party. Bez danced up to me, and I asked him how he was doing. “WIDE” was the reply.

More on Black Grape soon. With all this going on, I hope the city has seen fit to order more crowd barriers and hire a few thousand security guards. Can’t be too careful.

Great news! ‘Tally ho!’ might once again be the cry heard in the countryside if the newly re-elected Conservatives get their way. David Cameron’s got his priorities right, and his head is well screwed on his shoulders as it ever was post-election. Now that our banks are no longer in crisis (financial banks, not food banks that is), and the NHS is safe, it’s time to worry about the issues that really matter to us all. Like chasing and killing foxes.

After all, ripping these vermin to shreds is traditional, and isn’t that what the Conservatives are all about – ripping things to shreds – sorry, I meant to say traditions? I for one am happy we’ve had such a fair and proper election, and I’m happy to trust Westminster to keep giving us the kind of government we deserved and voted in.

Here we are, we’ve never had it so good, and yet there are one or two people out there who seem to want to stir up trouble and find fault. Some people think that some multinationals are happy to poison us all to make a profit. Others aren’t sure the police are always completely fair, believe it or not.

Still other worrywarts have it in their heads that the banks have behaved dishonestly and that we’ll be bailing them out again before long. I say to them, get out into the countryside; go on a good British fox hunt, and soon you’ll forget all these minor paranoid unsubstantiated fears.

For such sceptical souls, perhaps a few definitions may help them become as trusting, uncritical and accepting as I am.

Fact-finding mission: (Modern English noun) – to seek verification or otherwise for data.

Pity the poor misunderstood Metro reader who wrote into the paper’s advice team, which answered him on 28 May. If you read his heart-breaking letter in the feature entitled ‘How can I trust my girlfriend’ you’ll see that some hussy or other has her hooks in this poor trusting man. The poor guy went on a little fact-finding mission in the noble cause of trying to find out whether or not his girlfriend was trustworthy.

He decided to test her honour by snooping into her phone and her emails. ‘Fair enough’ I can practically hear you say. It turns out that the woman in question hadn’t told him she had in the past been married and was now divorced! What a breach of trust! I hope he’s given her the boot.

As ever, clues to the relationship’s doom were in the man’s letter. He described the woman as ‘smart, funny, independent, sexy and extremely successful.’ Smart is never an attractive quality in a woman; funny is best left to blokes, and as to independence – well, that’s simply not done. If she was sexy, then she might well have looked at other men before this prince arrived on the scene, and going through her correspondence seems a reasonable way to check how honest she is.

If she was successful, then she must have had a rich boyfriend or husband along the way, kind of like the way it’s done here in Aberdeen by our prettier faces. If you love someone, set them free. If you really love someone, bug their phone, put a keystroke counter on their laptop, and go through their messages when you can. Relationships are built on trust after all.

Take for instance the trust between the electorate and the government.

The government shows us how much it trusts us, and we should show some respect in return. Sure they may want to impose some random named guardian to interface and interact with your child whether or not you are a good or bad parent. They may be using undercover spies to infiltrate legal protest groups, and even to stir up trouble in those groups which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The government may be spying – sorry, I meant to say ‘fact-finding’ on all of our emails, phonecalls and naughty Instagram photos. They may want to train your children from birth to be answerable to a ‘named person’ (more on that in a separate article) who’ll have input into your family life. It’s not that they don’t trust us. It’s certainly not that they want the private sector making huge profits from outsourced spying and other services after making deals with lobbyists.

Why are they treating us like potential if not actual criminals? It’s because they care.

‘Taking the Mickey’/ ‘Taking the Michael’ / ‘Taking the Carmichael’: (Modern English and Scottish slang phrases) To make fun of, to insult someone’s intelligence by tricking them; to mock.

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” Albert Einstein said (I got this from the internet, so it’s true). I don’t know who Einstein may have had in mind when he came up with that little gem, but it could well have been newly-re-elected Orkney & Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael.

Some people feel Carmichael may have been taking the mickey at election time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you hadn’t heard, there was this little matter of a wee practical joke he played. Carmichael accidently leaked a fake memo purporting to concern Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador. Someone told me this was some kind of a French Letter. In this document, it seemed Sturgeon would have preferred Cameron as PM over Milliband (Milliband was apparently someone else running for office.

Like you, I never heard of him before, either). If anything Charm-Michael was doing Sturgeon a favour by trying to make her look even more popular. After all, Cameron was the people’s choice.

Some people have no sense of humour however; and headlines like ‘Alistair Carmichael facing sleaze probe over memo leak’ seem to imply there was something wrong with what he did.

Thankfully, this august politician has lots of allies. The people who voted him in are happy to stand by him; many of them with pitchforks, torches. If you don’t believe he’s got lots of support left after his beau jest cost the taxpayer some £1,400,000, don’t take my word for it: Alistair Carmichael says so himself, and that’s good enough for me

Sadly there are some people who just won’t take their better’s word, and need a bit of hand holding and reassurance when they feel they’ve been slightly misused, tricked, cheated, conned and defrauded. To allay fears, nothing works quite so well as a testimonial.

Testimonial: (English noun) A statement given in support of a cause or person by someone with gravitas.

Carmichael indeed has his friends, and none perhaps better than Lib Dem Sir Malcolm Bruce.

Rushing to the aid of besieged Carmichael, Sir Malcolm said:-

“Politicians regularly tell lies and Parliament would “empty” if they were punished for it a Liberal Democrat politician had admitted.

Sir Malcolm Bruce, who stood down as an MP at the election, was asked on BBC Radio 4 whether lying was widespread in public life.

“No, well, yes. Lots of people have told lies and you know perfectly well that to be true,” he responded.

“If you are suggesting every MP who has never quite told the truth or even told a brazen lie, including cabinet ministers, including prime ministers, [should be removed] we would clear out the House of Commons very fast, I would suggest,” he added.

Sir Malcolm was defending his colleague, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, who admitted that he had ordered the leak of a document after saying he had nothing to do with it.

I’m sure that should be enough to silence even the staunchest Carmichael critic. To summarise Sir Malcolm’s position, Lots of people lie and that’s perfectly true. Old Susannah started to think about this in light of the shocking revelation that there are liars in the House of Commons. I started to wonder… if Bruce is in the House, and he’s telling me truthfully that the house is full of liars, and that’s the truth, then is he lying about that or telling the truth.

Several bottles of BrewDog’s Vote Sepp later (itself named after the trustworthy fearless FIFA leader Mr Blatter), I found myself no wiser than before.

Bruce’s position that lies shouldn’t be punished (Certainly the Conservatives go along with this longstanding LibDem position too) is something we should all go along with. If MPs who lied were punished, Bruce says the House of Commons would soon be empty. Where on earth would we be then?

I was going to get on to another trust-related definition in reply to a fan’s comment on a recent column. I intended to talk about the Wood Family Trust’s Wood Family Foundation taking £10 million of the £50 million it has sensibly sitting around to build a parking lot.

I was going to explain that by avoiding several million pounds a year, the prudent billionaire out there can save a ton of cash, and then decide how the government that should have had the cash to do with as it saw fit will instead be tugging the collective forelock when given a gift which represents a small portion of the tax avoided, and wax lyrical about the generosity of the gift. But coupled with grappling with Sir Malcolm Bruce’s logic, I started to feel a bit light headed.

Perhaps we’ll go there another time.

On those rare occasions on which I find myself a bit wary of whom or what I should put my trust in, or perplexed by the logic of my betters like Carmichael and Bruce, I like to relax with television shows like Britain’s Got Talent. You can’t beat it or its contestants for good old-fashioned genuine honest talent, can you? If it turns out that the most talented person to be found in the whole of the Kingdom happens to be a dog trainer, fair enough.

What could be more entertaining than watching an animal that’s been trained to walk along a tightrope with strings digging into the pads of its paws?

At least we know we have a real, honest-to goodness, gimmick and trickery free winner. If the dog we thought we were watching refused to do the tightrope trick (I feel sorry for the poor trainer), then it’s fair enough to use a stunt double for the dog, even if that little fact was kept a bit quiet. Nothing dishonest about that, is there? Woof woof.

Remember, that rabbit that was tortured to death on Danish radio (to prove how hypocritical people are who eat meat but don’t like animal cruelty – a great lesson) was a gentle, trusting creature until its last educational minutes.

Next week: an overdue look at the property portfolio of our city council, the council that can’t manage to house everyone, but which has over 1400 properties of various kinds. And definitions to include Paradox, Hoist by their own petard, and libel.

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Sep 052014

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryTally ho! It’s all happening in the Deen and Shire. The Fyvie Festival was last weekend, offering a nice day out including the chance to look at the priceless Tiffany window in Fyvie Kirk. Celebrate Aberdeen took place, rain and shine, across the city. Acts such as Youse Dancin’, The Black Gold Bandits, Iron Broo and The Gerry Jablonski Band entertained the soggy crowds.

Anthony Baxter’s film will open in cinemas across Scotland on Friday the 5th. Alex Salmond has been invited to the premier in Aberdeen with a Q&A session and panel.

He’s also been invited to visit the Menie Estate residents; it’s a shame he’s been too busy to visit his constituents there, but give him another few years to fit it in, and I’m sure he will. No word on whether Sarah Malone of Trump will attend.
This week I had planned to write about the menace the city is bravely tackling. Drunk Driving? The few slightly tipsy people occasionally seen in the city centre on weekend nights? Fuel or food poverty?

No, the problem we have all been afraid to face is finally in the spotlight: the sandwich board. These dangerous, frightening health menaces lurk outside sandwich shops (appropriately enough), restaurants, pubs and more: it’s a wonder anyone’s still alive.

The council is taking decisive action against these horrendous trip hazards, you’ll be delighted to know. Of course, the sign draws attention to itself (that’s its purpose you see), and you’d have to be as drunk as an ex-councillor not to see the signs.

A hardened cynic might ask the city why it’s going after sandwich board signs, given that one or two other cities round the world somehow manage to co-exist with these signs. I propose we sent our officers and provosts off on a round-the-world fact-finding mission; they are good at that sort of thing.

I suppose that since the city has smoothed every square inch of pavement and street that it is responsible for, it’s now time to turn its attention to the scourge of society, the sandwich board. I for one feel safer knowing that something will be done about the sandwich board plague. Chalk up another one for ACC; the writing’s on the wall for signs.

However, there is something nearly as important as the city’s challenge to the sign menace. This isn’t an Aberdeen or even a Scottish story, so we really should pay it no attention at all. However, I thought looking at the story of little Ashya King and how the police and Southampton Hospital had nobly gone to his rescue would be of interest this week.

A brain tumour landed this child in Southampton General Hospital; which would not fund a particular treatment his parents decided they wanted to try. It could prove life-saving. The hospital were certainly not able to guarantee that the treatment they offered would be the best or the only option.

The parents did their own research (kind of like those meddling parents who invented Lorenzo’s Oil when their child was ill ), and wanted their son to be treated at a clinic abroad, which said they would do the treatment now and worry about payment later (which in itself is rather a strange concept, almost as if treatment and medicine should be available to those who need it regardless of money concerns.I wonder if this might catch on in the UK?).

The parents had a crazy idea, and decided to get their son treated at this clinic, and moved to take Ashya there.

Well, Southampton General Hospital reacted in the only manner open to it: they instantly moved to take Ashya into custody, issued press releases saying that Ashya was in grave danger, called in the police and demanded Ashya’s return so they could get custody of him and continue to deny him the desired treatment.  Sounds perfectly reasonable and measured to me.

Obviously the hospital and its staff know best, just like they do up and down the UK. There might not be a specific law that says you have to keep your child in a hospital which refuses to pay for a treatment which might well help him. However, the police were only too happy to go on a Spanish vacation – sorry – suffer the hardship of going to Spain — to have the sick child put in isolation and his parents locked up, unable to visit.

(You might think that the Spanish police assisted by the dashing, intelligent, sensitive UK police force would be sufficient to stop two distraught parents from absconding from a hospital visit to their cancer-stricken son, but you would of course be wrong).

For some reason (perhaps the outcry of one or two people in the UK) the parents have been released from custody, an extradition order to the UK has been lifted, and if the hospital agrees, he may get treatment after all. We’ll see what happens next in due course; perhaps some related definitions will shed some light on the goings-on to date.

Neglect: (English Noun) to treat an individual or an animal in such a way their needs are not met; to ignore, fail to assist.

Of course, hospitals will only ever care about the patient’s welfare. Money, targets, shutting up whistle blowers and defending lawsuits never enter into it. If Southampton moved to take a boy with cancer away from his parents, it was only for his own health and happiness. I’m sure it consulted its best child psychologists in advance, and confirmed that no mental or emotional harm would come from their actions.

That’s why hospitals call the police on anyone who would disobey them, and that’s why the police and hospitals turn involved families into criminals – all for the patient’s welfare.

Southampton accused the parents of ‘suspected neglect’ for taking their son to get treated.

It may seem strange that in one part of the UK suspected neglect of one child results in police jetting off to Spain, and in another part of the UK like Rotherham it results in 1400 or more young people being sexually abused and absolutely nothing being done about it despite people coming forward, abuse accusations being swept under the carpet and victims discredited, but there you go. I guess you have to expect these minor regional variations in policing.

But let’s look at the august, professional men and women who run things at Southampton General Hospital, and why they have the right to accuse the King parents of neglect.

In 2010 a boy named Matthew Kenway, of Fareham, Hampshire, died at Southampton General Hospital ; he was going to have a routine kidney operation. No one checked his heart was still working; they didn’t hook up a heart monitor. Eventually they realised there was a problem, and still there seems to have been a delay in getting him help. A fatal delay, but it could have happened to anyone really. So, no negligence there then.

With the tiny amount of things that go wrong in the medical profession, and with the support and encouragement given to whistle-blowers (on the rare occasion they are needed), you wouldn’t think there would be such a thing as a website called – yet somehow there is. According to it:

“The family’s solicitor Patricia Wakeford, of Blake Lapthorn, said: “Evidence heard at the inquest raised grave concerns about the quality of care that Matthew received and the processes that were in place at Southampton General Hospital at the time of Matthew’s death. Shortly after 3am, the oxygen monitor probe appeared not to be recording his oxygen levels. The nurse initially thought the machine might be faulty, but it transpired that Matthew’s heart had stopped.

“Eventually, a cardiac arrest call was put out and the arrest team then attempted, for 40 minutes until 4.20am, to resuscitate Matthew but they were unsuccessful and he died. During the course of the two-day inquest, a series of key findings emerged suggesting there were serious shortcomings in the care Matthew received. At post-mortem it emerged that the stent placed in the left kidney was not in the correct place.

These are just the sort of people you want wresting legal control of your son away from you.

I guess anyone can make a mistake. Except Southampton General. This might not be neglect, but there was a wee matter of apparent experimenting on patients. Southampton seems to have been involved in a trial of a new antibiotic made by Bayer; it must have been very exciting for the patients who got this drug.

Doubtless they were all made perfectly aware of the risks of this trial taking place in the hallowed surgical wards of Southampton; to do otherwise might have looked like neglect. Alas, one website isn’t that happy about it:

“This information [about the experimental drug] was not revealed to the hospitals before up to 650 people had undergone surgery, violating their human rights. The trials resulted in nearly half of the people at one test centre in Southampton developing potentially life-threatening infections. At least one patient died, and another developed an infection so severe that his relatives were initially told he would not survive. Nearly half the patients at Southampton Hospitals Trust developed post-operative wound infections requiring emergency therapy. Infection and mortality rates at the five other trial sites were never revealed on grounds of “confidentiality”

“Stephen Karran, a retired consultant surgeon from Southhampton, was concerned about the trial. He pointed out the flaw in the earliest possible stage, and contacted the press after the trial went ahead unaltered anyway. Bayer has confirmed that it knew of absorption problems with the drug before the study began. However, they still used the dangerous drug for two years, are still keeping trial results secret, and have not paid compensation to the relatives of patients injured or killed in the course of its unapproved trials.”

It might have been Bayer’s drug trial, but Southampton Hospitals Trust ran with it. I’d not want to be thought cynical, but often these drug trials involve a wee bit of money going to the institutions involved. The mega international pharmaceutical sector is every bit as benevolent as you would think.

I’m sure Southampton will be happy to explain more about people being experimented on, how informed consent was obtained, when they stopped the trials and how many people were at risk – oh, and how much money they got for this and other experimentations. Keeping people from risk and preventing neglect: that’s what Southampton is all about, as the King family will tell you.

It will be interesting to see what evidence there is that taking the little boy to be treated at a different hospital is tantamount to neglect.

If this ever reaches a courtroom, I hope no serpentine defence lawyer will ask the hospital any questions about neglect past and present. After all, the hospital wasn’t to know the boy was gone for 6 hours, despite his supposedly needing constant care and attention. You and I are of course laypeople, but to some that 6 hour gap in a young child’s cancer nursing might seem ever so slightly neglectful on the part of Southampton.

Communication Breakdown: (English compound noun) A deterioration or cessation of dialogue (also an excellent Led Zeppelin song)

According to the BBC:

“Dr Michael Marsh, medical director at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said he regretted that their communication and relationship with the King family had ‘broken down’.”

The hospital was great at communicating. They communicated to the police and other authorities that they wanted custody of this boy, that he was possibly neglected, and that he was at great risk because a battery in a feeding tube system might die.

What a pity then that their paid in-house media people never noticed the video which spread like c-difficile across facebook showing a happy Ashya and his parents abroad, with no feeding or other problems. They would of course have backed off.

Old Susannah was trying to find out a few things about this feeding tube at the centre of the hospital’s attempt to get custody of the boy: what kind of battery did it have, how often did it need to be replaced, were the parents aware the battery had to be changed, did they try to call or text the parents to tell them about the battery?

Obviously they did all that and didn’t just run to the media and the police, complaining that communication had broken down. I will be very reassured to know how much effort the hospital made to tell the family about the feeding system when they had left.

I also was going ask other questions (What did the hospital think Ashya would be going through stress wise because of the hospital and police actions and how would that affect his emotions and health? Why was there a 6 hour gap between anyone visiting this ill child before they realised he was gone? – and a few other minor points).

Alas! There is indeed a communication breakdown. The hospital’s media team has failed to answer its phone on any of the many times I phone it. I left 3 messages on 2nd September with my email and my mobile number. Yes, a communication breakdown is a serious problem.It’s very good of Southampton to regret having one.

Obviously they don’t regret criminialising a family, adding to their anxiety, having people arrested, refusing to fund treatment, and trying to take custody of someone’s sick child. If they did, they’d have apologised for it. They are sorry however for the communication breakdown. Old Susannah can almost hear that familiar refrain so often given to the media: “we don’t discuss individual cases.”

Except when it suits them.

They told the world the age, sex, condition name of Ashya; they shared his and his parents’ images. It will be a breeze for them to prove in court that they only breached the data protection act after taking every other step possible. The phone log of their calls to the Kings will be a very reassuring document indeed.

Heroic: (English adjective) Having qualities of braveness, courage fearlessness and strength.

In this whole saga, the shining heroic actions of a few people show through. Not only was Southampton brave enough to issue press releases claiming the child was in grave danger and take custody away from the parents to the state, the police showed heroism as well.

They bravely lept to conclusions; they bravely got on a plane to Spain, they courageously raided Ashya’s grandmother’s house for a much-needed intensive search. A Belfast Telegraph article reports:

“Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead said last night: “We have been told by medical experts that the battery life on the machine that administers his food is now likely to have expired. We don’t know whether the King family have any spares, the knowledge or any way of recharging the battery. If they don’t without properly administered food, Ashya’s condition will deteriorate very quickly. With each hour that passes our concern for him grows.””

If I didn’t know better, I’d start to wonder if the UK’s police have a shoot/arrest/taser/search/criminalise first and don’t ask questions later approach.

How come the hospital couldn’t tell the police whether or not the family knew how to work the apparatus? When it was shown that the boy was fine and happy wasn’t that the end of it? Thank goodness other such breaches in the Inspector Morse-like investigation techniques of the police are once in a lifetime.

Old Susannah also guesses that, like the hospital, no one at the police was quite heroic enough to call the family or leave them a message about the battery; doubtless we’ll find out what they did about the battery in due course. It would be cynical to suggest this was all a witch hunt. Much better it turned out the way it did. Let this be a lesson to other parents (or to people in the past who have tried to interfere with hospitals, like these people ).

Mrs King, the grandmother had this to say after her flat was searched (perhaps they would have found the family hiding in the chiller cabinet or under a bed?):

“They (the authorities) are the ones who are cruel because they have taken poor little Ashya who is dying of a brain tumour and they won’t let the parents, my son and daughter-in-law, they won’t let them see him at all.

“It’s terrible, it is so cruel it is unbelievable.”

She added:

“To try and make out that he has been neglected… Why haven’t we got any human rights? They keep on, the EU, about human rights. Where are our human rights? We have got none.”

Before ending this definition of heroics, the police and hospital might well have got away with it, if it weren’t for some meddling kids. Naveed King, elder brother to Ashya has been spending his time campaigning, raising awareness, looking after his other siblings, dealing with the media, raising funds, posting updates on Facebook and other such activities.

Surely he should have been doing his homework instead or playing video games? The other King children held fast as well. Let’s see whether there isn’t some bureauocrat out there ready to criticise Naveed’s impertinence. We can’t have young people running around criticising authorities and sticking up for their families now, can we?

Next week: don’t expect answers from Souuthampton, but I’ll keep asking.

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Apr 182014

Old Susannah gets to grips with letting go of a great local talent, and the latest government wheezes, locally and nationally.

DictionaryAnother eventful week passes in the Granite City, bringing good news and some sad. Children have done arts and crafts in Union Terrace Gardens, organised by Aberdeen Inspired. This is despite the city’s officer Gordon McIntosh insisting the balustrades will fall down any day, and the gardens aren’t safe to use.

Inspired even managed to hold their events without scores of crowd barriers or 7’ tall security guards. Rumours are that Gordon may be about to make some dynamic changes of one sort or another.

The campaign to save Bon Accord Baths is gaining more momentum; some £5 million pounds is needed. However, in a city with our level of wealth we should be able to do this. In fact, Aberdonians apparently have more disposable income than almost anyone else in the UK. 

We still need food banks, mind. In the UK, over one million people rely on food banks, but they’re probably just benefit scroungers and immigrants (remind me to look up the amount of this year’s UK defence budget again).

Surprisingly some good news comes from the city council, where funds from outdated, surplus accounts were given to local causes such as the Cyreneans. It’s not a huge amount of money, but after the Kate Dean/Kevin Stewart council’s assault on our charities and good causes, this is quite a turnaround.

I learned how to make pasta at an amazingly fun course at Nick Nairn’s school. You may remember the then city council almost didn’t give Nick Nairn an alcohol license. The licensing board were probably afraid that people would sign up for courses (costing upwards of £40), learn what wines go with what foods, have a glass of red or white, and then go wilding into the night, committing crimes.

Thankfully, it seems no one from the cooking school to date has gone on a crime spree, and clearly the city has the city’s serious drink culture under complete control.

Spring has arrived! Result! The signs are everywhere: the theft of cars and licence plates continues, the gramps are being set alight once more and travellers are moving from public space to public space, leaving debris behind them, presumably as a token of the esteem they hold us in. The council say the police should act; the police seem to be implementing a reverse discrimination favouring the travellers.

And I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you and I will be paying for the necessary clean-ups. A dead dog and £22,000 worth of waste was left near the beach by the travellers, and history looks set to repeat itself just a little further north.

If you want to live as you please, it would be nice to do so respecting the rights of the rest of us to live as we please – well in some idealised fantasy version of reality anyway. While some of us are trying to preserve and enjoy what’s left of our open spaces, other people seem to think we don’t care about mounds of trash or the very real prospect of stepping in human waste or over dead dogs. Thanks.

The UK’s police were trying to deny there is a quota system

To the people who’ll tell me not all travellers are alike, I agree. However, these past 10 years I’ve not seen a single travellers’ site in Aberdeen left in good condition when travellers travel.

And down the road in Ross-shire, it’s now 20 birds of prey that have been poisoned. So that’s good news for the shooting estates catering to people who like to blast birds from the sky with guns. Fledgling game birds are bred in captivity like ill-used hens, and thrown out without a clue, to be blasted. The sporting life indeed; no wonder billionaires and famous TV stars like Trump are into this kind of pursuit.

So how do our police perform when it comes to saving our wildlife, stopping car thefts and stopping people trashing our green spaces (when they know exactly who’s doing it)?

Aberdeen got a mention in the Sunday papers; its police seem to like arresting children, and are very fond of random spot searches. A child of two was apparently charged with property damage. I’m sure they understood their rights and I’m sure the parents were the police’s first port of call. Police Scotland are also fond of telling people who own cars and houses to hide their goods or it’s their fault if they’re robbed.

The UK’s police were trying to deny there is a quota system in place for arrest and searches. Unfortunately, the truth leaked out, and there are indeed quota systems.

Justice may be blind, but she’s counting. It’s nearly one year since the police blew the budget (or so it looked) raiding the empty flat of George Copeland. Things may have been quiet on this story in the news, but I can promise you, the fight for a rational explanation and disclosure of information are ongoing. Who knows – there may eventually be some justice for George. Watch this space.

Other than that, I’ve had some fun (Malmaison, Temple Aesthetics, BrewDog of course and the Tunnels – Palma Violets were spectacular). But this week David Innes, drummer with the Gerry Jablonski band, passed away. A service is being held the morning of Friday 18 April, and later that night a concert takes place at The Forum.

We were privileged. I’ll remember the last times I saw him, including the Moorings in early March, the Jubilee party in Union Terrace Gardens where they entertained thousands, and the Lemon Tree when the latest Gerry Jablonski & the Electric Band album was launched.

There are performers 20 years younger who don’t have his enthusiasm, energy and stamina. There are performers 20 years older than he was who would have loved to have his talent and range. If Aberdeen is a city of culture (outside of bureaucrat speak), it is because of artists like David Innes. Condolences to his friends and family.

Life Expectancy Letters: (Mod. Eng. ConDem phrase) – letters to be sent to OAPs, telling them when they will likely pass away.

Well there is a new government initiative we can all be happy with; they are going to send everyone a letter, telling them when to expect to die. I can’t see any flaws in this cunning plan.

Then again, with Alzheimer’s setting in early in some cases, and looking set to be an epidemic in the near future, I’m sure all the guardians and children of those afflicted with forms of senile dementia will be very happy to get letters to advise when mother and father are expected to die.

I’m certain too that this is not some ploy to scare the elderly into saving well into later life. After all, you want to live in comfort with as few trips to the food bank as you can manage until you die at precisely 9 September in 2027, don’t you? Letting you know when you’re likely to die will just make you take better care of your health, and your money.

And of course should you fall sick or need residential care, then the government will take your savings off of you to pay for such care.

Of course most of us who work have been paying tax throughout our working life in the belief this would go to giving us good care when we’re older. Just don’t bank on it. I’m glad there’s no chance of another pension mis-selling scheme like we saw a few decades ago. No-one would take advantage of the elderly and sell them financial products they didn’t need, would they?

Pensions minister Steve Webb said that under new government guidance, experts could assess approximate life expectancy by looking at factors such as smoking, eating habits and socio-economic background.”

 As far as socio-economic background is concerned, I wonder if those living on the food banks will have the same life expectancy as those at the merchant banks

I’m sure this scheme to write to everyone with an expected death date is not geared to frighten us into getting into private pension schemes. That would only benefit bankers and financial institutions, and our government wouldn’t show the financial sector any special treatment, would it?

I talked to an older citizens who was still of working age recently; they had decided to skive off work for a few months, and used a slipped disc as their flimsy excuse to get on the dole. I’m happy to say we made it as hard for this scrounger as we could; it was 6 weeks before they got any financial help, despite having worked all their life. Dipping into their savings to pay bills, they eventually bled the taxpayer for £78 per week.

Now if they knew what their death date was, they might have been convinced to save a bit harder, work more hours, and have more savings to burn through at the first sign of illness. This guy was not good at financial planning, either. All of his money was earned and taxed in the UK, and he didn’t shelter any of it offshore. Well, if you don’t save as much as you can, it’s simple. Just don’t fall ill or die.

Old Susannah is interested to see what factors are taken into consideration. I’m sure the ConDems won’t want to upset anyone by letting on that the air is now killing more people than ever before.

Perhaps this is such a good idea we should take it further, and make dying by the projected death date mandatory? I’d be surprised if some ConDem somewhere isn’t contemplating it.

Dune Management: (Modern Eng. compound noun) To preserve a natural area by changing it beyond recognition.

It would seem the Donald Trump school of sand dune management’s principles are taking off a treat.

the-end-of-the-road-for-trump-suzanne-kelly-by-collapsed-section-of-course-photo-by-rob-avA Cornwall-based council decided that they would ‘stabilise’ their own sandy beach by planting conifers on the beach. Somehow, this has displeased residents and visitors, who wanted to see beach at the beach, and not dying, dried out half dead trees that were never going to grow in the first place.

Of course the marram grass, gorse and trees Trump has planted has totally stabilised ‘The Great Dunes of Scotland’ as Trump Golf seems to call Balmedie Beach.

The dunes are so great I think travelling spice and silk merchants will be crossing them by camel to stay at the opulent MacLeod House.

Anyway, Trump saved our dunes for us, and that’s why there is no sand blowing around the greens or any other problems there.

My photo above shows just how stable the course is.

 Next week:  A Trump update and more definitions

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Mar 282014

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryApologies for the late running of this service; a fortnight ago I got tonsillitis, which I found over-rated.  Had to spend a week in bed (without any BrewDog at all – it was awful);  I’d been struck down just after another marvellous Moorings music moment with Kirk Brandon and Dave Sharp.

Thankfully I was back on my feet in time for the Aberdeen Jazz festival.  I caught both Gerry Jablonski sets, the first being in the Tunnels.  The Tunnels are surprisingly dark for some reason, and the atmosphere was very intimate – I felt as if I were in a New Orleans nightclub at midnight.

Jablonski was on great form, and an hour later, the band were doing another set on the Green, which for some reason was lighter as well as nicely crowded, considering half the city had driven to Glasgow for the football. 

Those who spent the afternoon on the Green had a choice selection of music, but the Jablonski band pretty much stole the day (and best wishes to the drummer, who wasn’t well enough to perform, and many thanks to the excellent stand in, DW).

Later that night the Joe Louis Walker Band was at the Blue Lamp; it was a rare treat to see blues done with such regal authority.  I couldn’t figure out why no merchandise was on offer, but I’ll soon remedy that with a trip to itunes.  Finally, this past Saturday I went with Julie to see Deborah Bonham at the Green Hotel in Mundell Music’s magical Backstage Bar.  Another intimate show, and a rare evening.  More on that elsewhere.

I also took in the Great Tapestry of Scotland currently on show at the Art Gallery; it is a phenomenal labour of love, and there are opportunities to add your own stitches to one of the panels. This massive series of beautifully stitched tapestries commemorates the good, the bad and the ugly moments in Scottish history; a section dedicated to those accused of witchcraft and executed really does show Scotland warts and all.

Then there was Sunday’s victory parade; congratulations to AFC on its well-deserved victory (as opposed to Arsenal’s wholly undeserved dissection at Chelsea’s hands, only made possible by ref. Marriner, who has basically admitted now that he didn’t have a clue what he was doing.  Perhaps he’ll be applying for the newly-vacated Chief Executive of Aberdeen post, except for his admission he made a mistake.

Defence spending is still a worry though. We’ve not got much of a nuclear deterrent for one thing

But the real reason I’ve not had a chance to write was that I’ve been very busy with my financial advisors. Since the Tories announced they’ll turn our massive budget deficit into a small surplus in record time, I’m wondering what to do with my new found wealth. We’ll all be a penny better off when  buying pints of beer, and can put even more money into tax-free savings.

Since we’ve all been able to save tonnes of money these past years, I thought I better get some financial advice on what to do with this massive cash windfall heading my way. Perhaps we’ve raised so much money between the bedroom tax and ATOS getting lazy ill people to work that the budget deficit will just go away.

They’ve managed to find some money in the treasury:-

£140m extra for flood defence repairs and maintenance

£200m made available to fix potholes

I think it’s a great idea that the Government will start thinking about potential floods; what a disaster flooding would be. I wonder where they got this flood defence idea from? If I can dredge up any facts on this flood defence budget, that will be more dredging than the ConDems ever did. Dredging rivers was deemed too expensive to do by some beancounter somewhere, and funding was cut. Nice to know we saved some money for a few years without any comeback.

As to the £200m for pothole repair, Result!

Only a spoilsport would point out that Which Magazine estimates the cost of fixing Scotland’s roads would be £12.93 billion. Old Susannah is not much of a mathematician, but what if we took some defence funds and fixed up some of our own wee social and infrastructure problems, and then got on with bombing the middle east for democratic reasons with the leftover money? Just a thought.

Defence spending is still a worry though. We’ve not got much of a nuclear deterrent for one thing, and unless you can blow up the planet a good few dozen times, no one takes you seriously anymore. The cuts have hit the neediest defence contractors to a serious degree; I’ll see if I can find a way for concerned citizens to donate to the military.

Of course there might not be cash in our armed forces for things like proper gear for people on the front lines in our little police actions around the world, but someone somewhere is making some money. Here are the grim facts:-

“Last month defence secretary Philip Hammond claimed to have balanced the budget for defence equipment over the ten years to 2022, outlining plans to spend almost £160 billion on new vehicles and kit [sad to say, but £160 billion just ain’t what it used to be – Susannah].

“The programme includes £35.8billion for submarines, including a replacement for the Trident nuclear system; £18.5billion on warplanes and drones; and £17.4billion for surface ships, including new aircraft carriers.

“Another £8 billion has been left unallocated to cover the risks of cost overruns. The programme meant that “for the first time in a generation the Armed Forces will have a sustainable equipment plan,” Mr Hammond said.” [hard to believe there could be cost overruns in the military – OS] for third-of-defence-budget

Again, I’m no mathematician (so I may apply for a job in government’s budget office), but £35.8 billion would buy quite a few Granite Webs at £140 million each.  It might even be enough to keep Valerie Watts looking suitably sun kissed for a year. And with that, it’s time for a few definitions, and a fitting send off for Watts-going-on.

Grit and Dynamism: (English Phrase used to describe the departing Watts) 1.  Grit – sandy, irritating substance.  2.  Dynamism – .

Alas, farewell, cheerio, bye-bye Valerie Watts. Was it our failure to win you a second City of Culture nomination that drove you from the Granite City? Was it hard to keep your natural tan going in our climate? Alas, we may never know.

The SNP are for some reason blaming their political opponents. Kevin Stewart said:-

“Mrs Watts came to Aberdeen with vision, dynamism and real grit and her resignation is a great loss to our city. I am sure that Mrs Watts will give her reasons for leaving, but I am sure that the dysfunctional behaviour of the Labour-led administration has played a part in her decision to go. ”

I’m sure it’s nothing to do with her handling of local issues from  killing our deer on Tullos Hill  or objecting to SNP’s Salmond showing up at Bramble Brae primary school during a by election. He was only there of course because of Piper Alpha, and nothing to do with publicity – at least I think the press release said something like that. Why is she leaving? So far she’s not saying.

A touching SNP letter appears in the 27/3 Press & Journal.  The tears are streaming down my face as I read it:

“Valerie Watts came to Aberdeen City Council with a formidable record and she leaves with the utmost respect of colleagues and citizens alike.  I will miss the competence and drive of Mrs Watts at the helm of the council.  She has left some very big shoes to fill.” – Christian Allard, SNP MSP for North East Scotland

She may be leaving big shoes behind. Somewhere, perhaps in a cupboard she’s left behind a 3,000 strong petition begging the city not to kill the deer; she certainly didn’t bother to refer to it when writing a letter of 8 July 2011 about objections to the scheme.

“The objections that have been received by Aberdeen City  Council regarding this project since January 2011 to 28 June 2011 total 244 letter or emails from 197 individuals/organisations. This includes letters/emails form 3 Community  Councils (Cove & Altens, Kincorth & Leggart, and Bridge of Don”

You might have thought handing in a petition to Aileen ‘HoMalone’ on national television would have counted as objections, but not if you’re Watts.

More on the lady in a separate article. I hope she doesn’t let the revolving doors of Marischal hit her on the way out.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman: (Proper Eng. noun) Scottish government entity charged with overseeing complaints against Scottish local authorities and other duties.

You will be happy to know that, Aberdeen city still excels in some areas. In a 3 September 2013 letter to outgoing Valerie Watts, the SPSO ranks Aberdeen City Council the worst in Scotland for the number of complaints received in 2012/13 about its housing services, second in Scotland about how its planning services function, and third in Scotland for Social work complaints.

We also come 5th in Scotland for Educational complaints and 7th for Environmental complaints. Considering that George Copeland has for instance waited over 8 months to get a working front door fitted to his flat after the police broke it in while looking for a non-existent gunman, I can’t see why anyone’s unhappy with Aberdeen’s Housing bods.

As to the Environment, where else in the country will you find streets like ours for cleanliness, or more concern shown for the welfare of wildlife and the environment. You will be pleased that Aberdeen had the same ranking for complaints for housing, planning and social work in 2011/12.

Yes, we can be proud of excelling at something.

But that’s enough definitions on the sad occasion of Watts returning to Derry. From what I’ve read, she’ll be helping to increase passenger numbers at the airport, which has not noticed any increase in passengers from its gaining the City of Culture title. You could almost think this ‘Culture’ accolade was a hollow, expensive vanity award with little saving benefits. But surely not.

Next week:  more definitions.

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