May 112022
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘The Spirit of Banffshire’.

I think it was filmmaker Tom Weir who said that in order to have a future, we also need to have a past. He went on to say that the task of recording the best of Scottish history shouldn’t be made too easy.

After all there were lots of false prophets and folk with political agendas.
But Tom, bless his soul, was only partially correct. The preservation of the best of Scotland can be made really easy.

You just need to throw open the barn doors and invite people to contribute their memories for all to see. And that is exactly what the Banffshire Memories Project has done.

A year or so ago, Andrew Simpson – Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire – sent out a call for stories about historic Banffshire and a shedload of tales flooded his inbox.

Compiled from these stories, in essence this is a book with around one hundred and fifty authors which is a dangerous game if ever there was one. But, unusually for such an ask, the finished product delivers pretty much what it says on the tin.

Compiled especially for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee the book celebrates the history and records the memories of ordinary folk who live and work in what is nowadays termed ‘Historic Banffshire’.

Nowadays in the hands of Moray and Aberdeenshire councils the old county boundaries may have gone, but the memories persist and the spirit of the old county lives on in the hearts of many residents to this day.

Spurred on by editors Andrew Simpson and Eleanor Gillespie, the project has enabled more than a hundred local authors to make it into print; many for the first time ever.

Now at this point I have to declare an interest since the volume includes a couple of my stories. But, in essence, my contribution is just a few paragraphs amongst a mass of tales penned by folk who maybe never imagined such celebrity.

First up is Nan Morrison who recalls watching the 1953 Coronation on a 12-inch black and white television.

“It had a lasting impression on all of us” she writes.

Helen Lyon recalls how Coronation Day in Aberchirder was a public holiday and how folk wrapped up in bonnets and scarves to watch the parade of floats which went around the town.

It was a wet and windy day and she writes that “some of the outdoor events were moved into the Memorial Hall”  and that the schoolchildren got souvenir pencils and mugs.

But its not all about the Coronation. There are memories from wartime and schooldays.

Tarlair art deco swimming pool gets a mention, courtesy of Nan Morrison, and Ann Dean writes about Scalan.

Now, I knew, or thought I knew the history of Scalan. But Ann’s tale is not about the training of priests. It centres around the tale of Sandy Matheson. He worked the place until 1981 and is remembered as perhaps the last Tomintoul link with hand sowing, reaping and stooking.

I could go on. But in the big scheme of things, this is a must have book for anyone even remotely interested in the local history of North East Scotland.

Co-edited with Eleanor Gillespie, Andrew’s book marks the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen with profits being donated to charities associated with those members of the Royal Family who have visited Banffshire over the past seventy years.

Highly recommended. Five stars. Eminently readable.

Fully illustrated (197pp) , The Spirit of Banffshire is available by emailing: Banffshirememories@gmail.com (£12 plus £2.50 p&p)

And from the Banffshire Field Club website @ https://banffshirefieldclub.org.uk/

ISBN: 9781800686670

Apr 142022
 

Mike Shepherd reviews “The Poetry Mannie: The Doric Poetry of Bob Smith, Edited by Duncan Harley.”

The Doric dialect is getting a lot of welcome publicity at the moment, not the least because of the efforts of the Doric Board who have supported the publication of this wonderful book of poems (which is yours for £6.45).

There is something particular to the Doric dialect that lends itself to poetry, even if the roll call for Doric poets is not that long.

Yes, I believe I know what that something could be. Having once been told that English is dismally short of words to express the subtleties of human feeling, and that other languages cope much better by comparison, I reckon this is why we Scots have filled in the gaps with highly-expressive dialect words.

Try, for example, translating the word ‘couthy’ into conventional English using a single sentence. That’s not easy.

And because poetry can be considered a vehicle for expressing the nuances of shared experience, Bob Smith’s Doric poetry certainly does that. To live in North East Scotland is to fully connect with the experience described in the following excerpts:

Saturday Afternoons at Pittodrie watching the League Cup.

A hunner and twenty meenits we did get
Yet naebody cwid fin the bliddy net
A penalty shoot oot wi did hae
Nae goals were scored fae open play

Saturday Nights.

Binge drinking quines – there’s nithing worse
They faa aboot an sweir an curse
Wi hurdies keekin oot their draars
They stumble oot o clubs and bars…

And that peculiar Aberdeen obsession with long-gone shops.

Did ye myn o’ Aberdeen Motors
Faar ye bocht an Austin “Devon”
Div ye myn o’ Isaac Benzie
Faar yer mither wis in heaven…

Or litter.

We hiv a problem in Aiberdeen
Keepin the bliddy pavements clean
Litter strewn fae pillar tae post
Plastic cups an half aeten toast…

To read Bob’s poetry is to laugh out loud, although his more serious poems do tackle subjects such as the bizarre doings of politicians and their chums in this part of the world, or the sublime aspects of nature, place, and landscape as per classical poetry.

Now you will enjoy this book so do buy it. And thanks to Duncan Harley, author of The Little History of Aberdeenshire and other books, for compiling Bob Smith’s engaging poetry.

Enjoy!

Apr 012022
 

By Duncan Harley.

A First World War veteran, Laurence Taylor (1899-1949) arrived back in his native North East in the September of 1918 just a few weeks before the armistice between Germany and the Allies which effectively ended the horrific fighting and the loss of millions of lives across the battlefields of Europe.

After four years of trench warfare, the guns on the Western Front had finally fallen silent.

Wounded by shellfire during an abortive attack on a German redoubt near Ypres, Laurence was hospitalised for several weeks in France before being sent home to his native Fraserburgh where he gradually regained his strength and took stock of his new situation.

Battlefield surgeons had amputated a leg below the knee and shrapnel had severed several fingers on his right hand but, despite these injuries, Laurence was determined to resume his career as an accordionist in a Bothy Band.

Now, folk will usually assert that there is no such thing as a left-handed accordion player. But that is not strictly the case.

Given the right circumstances and a bit of determination, it is perfectly possible to play the accordion upside down. And that is exactly what Laurence trained himself to do.

Over the course of several months, he not only regained his mobility but re-learned his accordion skills using an inverted keyboard specially designed for him by a local blacksmith.

Over the course of several decades Laurence and The Big Accordion Band toured the UK and even made it as far as New York on one occasion becoming what was probably the very first transatlantic bothy ballad band.

Towards the end of his life, the lad from Fraserburgh was interviewed for the local paper and asked about the reason for his success.

“It was all down to grit and determination” he said.

“And I would do it all again if I had to. Mind you the left-handed keyboard has taken its toll on my remaining fingers and you can’t really toe tap effectively with just the one leg in case you fall over.”

Asked about the future he stated that he was still good enough to play the bass side but not the treble side but he was still working on a solution.

The years took their toll however and the man who took the bothy ballads of the North East to America eventually ended up on the streets.

Fame and hangers on had taken their toll and drink had gotten a hold of him. The Big Accordion Band had long since broken up and by September 1947, the Fraserburgh accordionist was reduced to playing for drams in the bars and the strip clubs of rural Aberdeenshire.

Laurence Taylor became ill on stage half way through an open-mike performance at McGinty’s Bar near Cullen in 1949 and died aged fifty in a Fraserburgh nursing home after a short illness. His ashes were scattered at sea.

His legacy lives on however. Not least as the first left-handed accordionist to introduce down-town New York to the bothy ballads of the North East.

(Additional reporting by April McGinty)

Mar 152022
 

Craig Chisholm reviews ‘Nouvelle Vague’ – Lemon Tree, 4th March 2022.

The girl singer covering a rock song in more downbeat, acoustic or similar fashion has become a tired trope over the last few years in the pop landscape.

From Birdy releasing a whole album of whispery covers to the Hawaiian singer Malia J sound-tracking the trailer to Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, the style has become mainstream, familiar and, unfortunately, a bit stale.

However, one band are the original and the best in the genre and bring more to re-interpreted cover versions than a lot of others – a swipe of Parisian cool, a knowledge that they were the original trendsetters and a simple, joyous fun to their live show.

Starting off with both singers deep in the Lemon Tree audience, lit only by a single torch directed from the stage, the band start the show in atmospheric fashion with New Romantic electro classic ‘Fade to Grey’, originally by Visage.

What follows is a peerless 90-minute show that takes in an inspired selection of songs by acts as diverse as Yazoo (‘Don’t Go’), The Cramps (‘Human Fly’), XTC (‘Making Plans for Nigel’) and The Clash (‘Guns of Brixton’) among others.

At their best, Nouvelle Vague subverts and twist the original narratives of the songs and add new meaning and added depth to them.
The masculine toxicity lampooned in Dead Kennedys punk classic ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ is retooled for the modern era and raises issues of consent when sang by a woman. Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ allows us to see the other perspective of a break down in a relationship, far removed from the original male narrator’s perspective. 

It’s moments like those that make you stop and think, to re-analyse the song and the song writer – what is the meaning of Generation X’s ‘Dancing with Myself’ when sang by a woman? What does a female perspective bring to The Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’?

All valid questions and the punters will all have their own opinions or ideas if they stopped to consider the song in question. However, it’s also a Friday and time to unwind – and The Specials ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ is an appropriate choice, with its tales of drunken abandon and living for the moment.

The range of musical styles in their interpretations also adds to the occasion – whilst they are steeped in the Nouvelle Vague’s original Bossa Nova style, they’re not scared to let go with wild disco abandon or an introspective acoustic led style.

Entertainment is ultimately the name of the game and theatrical flourishes such as synchronised movement by the singers, a toast with a glass of wine before ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ and a spirited kazoo solo during ‘Human Fly’ make a good show.

The band close their set with Modern English’s ‘I Melt Into You’, an appropriate and timely song with current events in Ukraine, which was written originally under the fear of nuclear war and depicting a couple making love as the bomb drops.

But such weighty topics are no excuse to not party and have a good time – and Nouvelle Vague easily provide that and leave a Friday night crowd in Aberdeen more than happy to carry on socialising into Saturday morning.

Setlist:
Fade to Grey (Visage cover)
Blue Monday (New Order cover)
Dancing With Myself (Generation X cover)
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) (Buzzcocks cover)
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC cover)
Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys cover)
Teenage Kicks (The Undertones cover)
Human Fly (The Cramps cover)
All My Colours (Zimbo) (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)
The Guns of Brixton (The Clash cover)
Enola Gay (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark cover)
Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads cover)
Just Can’t Get Enough (Depeche Mode cover)
Heaven (The Psychedelic Furs cover)
Bela Lugosi’s Dead (Bauhaus cover)
Friday Night, Saturday Morning (The Specials cover)
Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)

Encore:
Don’t Go (Yazoo cover)
In a Manner of Speaking (Tuxedomoon cover)
I Melt With You (Modern English cover)

Mar 152022
 
New 3 screen cinema boasts ‘Costing the Earth’ Fest over March Weekend. With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.
 

A trio of critically acclaimed films are to unspool on the big screen at Montrose’s new community run £3.5m cinema later this weekend, as the town boasts its first ever film festival with live Q&As.

The festival kicks off with a tenth anniversary screening of the multi-award-winning documentary ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ on Friday March 18.

Aberdeenshire residents who stood up to Donald Trump’s bullying over his luxury golf resort plans will join director Anthony Baxter (pictured) for audience questions after the film.
 
Also at the ‘Costing the Earth’ screening will be Aberdeenshire Councillor Martin Ford – the politician whose casting vote derailed Mr Trump’s golf resort the first time around – and artist David McCue whose paintings of key characters caught up in the drama, won praise from around the world.
 
The £10 ticket price includes a drink with the director and other guests in the cinema’s new community room – from 6.45pm, with the film starting at 7.30pm.
 
On Saturday March 19 the event, which is part of Scotland’s climate festival, continues with a special screening of BAFTA winning Bill Forsyth’s iconic Local Hero’ in Montrose at 7.30pm.
 
The film, which stars the legendary actor Burt Lancaster, is about an American oil company representative sent to the fictional village of Ferness on the west coast of Scotland to purchase the town and surrounding property for his company.  A Q&A following the film, will also include special guests.
 
Finally, on Sunday March 20 at 3.30pm, ‘A Dangerous Game’ will screen – the 2014 follow up to You’ve Been Trumped.  Residents from Aberdeenshire will again join for a Q&A following the screening, with the £10 ticket price also including tea and cake.
 
Filmmaker and Montrose Playhouse Patron Anthony Baxter added:
 
“It’s wonderful for Montrose to be hosting our first ever film festival.  And it’s an honour to be welcoming residents of the Menie Estate who stood up to Trump to our town – 10 years after the release of You’ve Been Trumped.
 
“All of these films, in their own way, highlight the cost to the planet, if we allow money and power to override environmental concerns.”
 
Tickets can be booked online for all the screenings at this link.
Dec 192021
 

In her tenth annual Christmas Satire Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne ‘Old Susannah’ Kelly revisits the events of the past year and revisits last year’s satire, ‘A Night At Storybook Glen’. 

In that tale last year we learned how Angus performed on his first shift at the night security guard at Storybook Glen. Tonight we join Angus at his new job.

Angus straightened his tie, gave his lapels a pull to straighten his jacket and stepped off the No. 19 Hydrogen bus onto Union Street. Then he promptly slipped on the permanent temporary wooden decking, cracking his head on the wooden parklet (in other words a bench with a planter container filled with vandalised plants, fast-food wrappers and cigarette butts).

“Oh! ma heid!” he muttered, getting up and staggering towards the Souless bar, where he intended to have a quick weak beer before his 9pm shift at The Aberdeen Museum & Art Gallery would start.

Celebrating his new job since leaving Storybook Glen seemed a good idea.

“What’ll it be?” shouted the bar person over the heads of the noisy shouting/hugging throng.

“Ah’ll jist hae a Nanny State Shandy, mak it a half,” he smiled.

Just then a round-faced ginger-haired man in foggy spectacles popped his head around the bar.

“Oh no, my old pal Angus here wants something a wee bit stronger, don’t you pal? I hear you’re that new night security guard at the Musuem; you’ll be wantin tae stay awake.

“Here, have one of my Torry snowballs,” he said, pushing a glass to Angus.

Angus cocked his head to one side, and looked at the drink a bit dubiously.

He suddenly remembered the last time he’d had one of Pablo’s cocktails was last year at Storybook Glen’s drinks marquee, where he wasn’t sure whether half the things he’d seen that night were real or not.

He hadn’t been able to sleep properly for days afterwards, and found himself talking as long and as nonsensically as any ACC councillor.

“Pablo, ta aa the same, but Ah’m startin’ ma new job i noo, an’ need tae look sharp. By the wye, how did ye ken Ah’m on nights i noo?”

“Both the Night Time Economy Manger an’ the Alternate Night Time Economy Managers told me. Now just get that down yer neck an’ you’ll have a crackin’ time at the museum.”

Thinking both ‘fit’s an ‘Alternative Night Time Economy Manager’ and ‘Ach why nae?’ Angus downed the drink, thanked Pablo, and went on his merry way.

Who knows? Who cares? It’s a free dinner at the Marcliffe.

The snowy streets were dark, and here and there a fallen over pensioner, woman in high heels or people with mobility issues moaned for help as they slipped, slid and fell on the wooden pavements.

‘Anither normal night in the Deen’ Angus thought, watching brawling men spilling out of a pub swinging at each other and shouting.

Before long, turning down the beautifully illuminated street sign that read ‘elmo tree’ hanging over Belmont Street (one of twelve English-made signs a snip at £400k the lot), Angus found himself approaching the front of the Art Gallery.

He could see the curator standing just inside the doorway.

“It’s 2 minutes and 17 seconds to nine – I hope you’re going to be more punctual tomorrow night Angus!” the curator impatiently simmered, tapping at his watch.

“Angus, I think you met Tom, Dick and Harry; they’ll take it from here. I’m off to the award ceremony.”

“Thank you sir,” said Angus

“Err, which award ceremony is that?”

The curator gave a sign and an eyeroll, answering:

“Who knows? Who cares? It’s a free dinner at the Marcliffe.” And off he went.

Angus said ‘hullo’ to the three guards who stood before him. He had met them on his interview.

Angus heard a ‘SPLAT’ and the whole museum suddenly got eerily darker

They were all retired, but like so many people these days, chose to work minimum wages for the fun and excitement of it rather than enjoying their retirement.

Tom spoke first.

“Fine seein’ ye Angus; welcome. Ah ken ye’ve got yer flashlicht, an’ ere’s the keys.”

Dick chimed in:

“An’ ye’ll be needin this instruction manual; tells ye aa ye need tae ken aboot workin here at nicht. Can get a bittie spooky, ken – “ he broke off.

“But ach, ye’ll be jis’ fine.”

Finally Harry spoke, thrusting a bag at Angus, saying:

“Ye’ll hae a gran’ time Angus, jist dinna mind ony noises ye hear or onythin’ funny ye think ye micht be gan on. Sometimes the lichts play funny tricks.

“An’ if yer feelin’ i cauld, jist hae some o’ this BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin or Sink the Bismarck – we thocht ye micht like a wee gift fae us on yer first day.”

They toured the museum, now devoid of the last of its visitors. Tracey Emin’s artwork, basically a neon sign,made entirely by others based on a scrawled few words of hers through neon light which reflected strangely on a nearby copy of Michelangelo’s David, a statue of Robert the Bruce, and a few paintings.

‘Fit is it wi’ Aiberdeen thinkin neon signs should be elevated tae expensive artwork an’ road signs?’ Angus thought.

For a fleeting moment the light almost made it seem as if the statues could talk – and wanted to. He shook his head and the effect was gone.

The four men meandered through the museum’s many rooms and floors, they passed priceless artworks by Scottish masters, portraits, battle scenes.

They stood under the great glass oculus window when Angus heard a ‘SPLAT’ and the whole museum suddenly got eerily darker as the light seemed to lower.

The three other security guards laughed.

“Aye, ye looked spooked already pal; that’s jist a seagull splattering the windae wi’ sh*te.” Tom laughed.

Dick said:

“Aye, it came as a huge surprise tae the architects that seagulls sh*te near the sea. Fa wid hae thocht?”

“Didnae stop them gettin’ plenty o’ awards though – fer gettin’ rid o’ the auld marble stairs veneer, an putting a pottycabin on the roof. The original architects are nae thrilled at aa” added Harry.

Tom broke across him:

“Ya mean the original architects widna be thrilled.”

“At’s fit Ah’m sayin’,” Harry answered.

Angus thought the three exchanged a quick glance, but then they ushered him onward.

Peering at the Inventory, Angus thumbed through

They were now in the basement, or ‘Subterranean Treasure Hub No 19’ as a sign read. Huge mountainous shelves were piled high with items the museum had collected.

There were old sewing pattern books, pieces of granite, an old A-Z, unsold copies of the Evening Express from 1973, some old glass jars and more. Angus couldn’t help wonder why anyone in their right mind would keep this junk.

Almost as if sensing Angus’ misgivings about the quality of these items, Tom volunteered:

“Tae some fowk thon auld boots wi’ hols in em, auld used tin cans an’ the like are jist rubbish.”

‘Too right’ thought Angus.

“But,” continued Tom, “we ken they’re valuable, cause the city accepted thon donations an’ officially logged them here in this invinterry.”

They had gone through a door labelled ‘SECURITY’ and Tom pointed to a printed document marked ‘Inventory’. This was a few hundred pages in size.

Peering at the Inventory, Angus thumbed through it read a few lines as the other three men stepped into an ante room marked ‘NO ENTRY NOT EVEN YOU – KEN!’

“Afore we leave ye tae it, we’re, errr… jist gan tae git a few things we … err … left ahind, like ma piece box an ma shoppin’ fae Poondland.

“Noo, Angus, ye lisnin? – ye can ging onywye ye like in i museum, but nae past ess door.

“Nivver! – nae metter fitivver happens! Ye hear ma?”

Angus just shrugged, and left them to it. As he heard banging, and scraping noises from that room, he thumbed through the inventory:

ABDMS095514 Gilda Le Fevre Label, 1920-1980
ABDMS095515 Jane Doe’s Thimble, 1920-1940
ABDMS095516 Jane Doe’s broken Thimble, 1886
ABDMS095517 Pattern for Six-Section Hat, 1936-1980
ABDMS095518 Pattern for Six-Section Hat, 1936-1980
ABDMS095519 Oval Hat Pattern, 1936-1980
ABDMS095520 Jane Doe’s Brim Pattern, 1936-1980
ABDMS095521 Jane Doe Sewing, 1990
ABDMS095522 Photograph of Gilda LeFevre, 1990
ABDMS095523 Photograph of Jane Doe, 1936-1980
ABDMS095524 Photograph of Gilda LeFevre and Employees, 1990
ABDMS095525 Photograph of Gilda LeFevre and Employees, 1990
ABDMS095526 Photograph of Pantomime, 1944
ABDMS095527 Photograph of Pantomime, 1944
ABDMS095589 Results Past, 2017
ABDMS095590 Comment No 20.
ABDMS095591 Comment No 15.
ABDMS095592 Comment No 16.
ABDMS095562 Valuable Gift, 2011
ABDMS095533 Income Tax Record, 1944-1945
DISAGBS000057
DISAGBS000058
DISAGBS000059
DISAGBS000060
DISAGBS000061
DISAGBS000062
DISAGBS000063

“Fit’s a hat maker’s broken thimble daein in a museum?” He asked

“Nae idea, but ye can be sure it’s worth a fair few bob.” Tom shouted back

“Fits somebody’s auld tax record daein’ here?”

“Nae idea.” answered Dick

“Fit’s ess aboot? – items ca’d ‘Comment 20’ an’ hunners o’ blank lines?”

“Dinnae fash yersel loon, the important museum curator staff an’ cooncil will understan’ aa thon technical stuff.”

“Hey – how come there’s aa this stuff marked ‘missin’?” Angus asked.

Tom, Dick and Harry had stepped out of the back room.

Each now had on a huge backpack. Tom had a suitcase on wheels.

Dick had a big cardboard box with what looked like a gold frame sticking out of the top of it, and Harry had a big sack.

“Angus, jist bide here, watch i telly, hae a drink an’ a nap, and we’ll see ye aboot 9 the morn’s mornin. Dinna worry aboot onythin’ an’ pey nae heed tae ony noises ye think ye micht be hearin’.” Tom said

“Aye, an’ read thon instruction manual if onythin’ … errr …  unusual pops up. See ye the morn.” said Dick.

“An’ mind fit Ah tellt ye. BIDE OOT O’ ESS ROOM…. Guid Nicht!” said Harry, shutting the door to the forbidden room.

The three turned to leave when with a clatter a selection of silver spoons fell out of Dick’s coat’s sleeve. Scooping them up Angus said:

“Hemen, hing on, looks like ye drapped summin. Ah think ah got ’em aa. See yiz the morn …  an’ thanks for the drink an’ yer help.”

The three men traded furtive looks and off they went out the security guard entrance. For some reason they turned off the light outside of the exit door, and the street outside was in darkness.

Angus watched as they pulled on their covid masks (‘for safety no doubt’ Angus thought), and drew their hats and scarves over their faces, their uniforms covered by their long dark coats. They threw their bags and boxes into the back of the van. Jumping in, they sped off into the night.

“Hey, ye’ve nae switched yer heidlights on”- Angus called after them, but they had sped out of sight.

Angus sat down and opened the bag he’d been left; pulling out a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin he thought ‘At least this will be a bit more normal than Storybook Glen was’.

He thumbed through the inventory half-interested by the repeated words ‘missing’, ‘damaged’, ‘stolen’. On the desk he saw an old Press & Journal; its headlines read ‘Wood to save Torry by turning it into an industrial zone – Hoorah!’ and ‘Exclusive whitewash of oor role in Trump Menie development’.

Folding the paper up into a pillow, he put his head down and soon was fast asleep.

# # #

Angus slowly woke from a dream

He thought he heard voices.

Grabbing his flashlight and having a quick swig from his hip flask, followed by more fortified beer, he stealthily made his way to where the sound was coming from.

Approaching the centre of the building, he stopped to listen; he heard men and women chattering, the pop of a champagne cork, and glasses clinking.

Angus stood out of sight around a corner. The lights were on, and a few dozen well-dressed men and women were milling around the entrance foyer.

“.. so we donated 400 grubby auld cigarette cards, an’ got a 10k tax break; it wis hilarious!”

“I ken, right?,” said a woman’s voice “We donated some auld bits o’ stationery we were gan tae fling oot – seriously, an auld eraser, some index tabs. Chucked in a cigarette lighter or twa, and ken? We didnae hae tae pey tax fer a year. I’m affa gled ye suggested it; thanks again!”

Laughter ensued. Glasses clinked.

“Fit a crackin’ award ceremony; wis richt fine hearin’ Stew tell mair o’ his hilarious jokes doon the Marcliffe. Cooncil pickin’ up the tab Ah’d expect, aye?”

Angus kept hidden out of sight; he realised that these people were some of the town’s great and the good – and a few councillors.

“Hey, div ye still hae thon siller punch bowl roon at yer place? Ah widna mind a shottie o’ it in a couple o wikks fer the big ONE Christmas perty, if ye can spare it?”

Angus stayed out of sight and caught snippets of further conversations.

“Looks a richt sotter, dis it nae? Lik tuppence o’ mix. A metal box on tap o’ a MacKenzie mesterpiece? Nae cohesive use o’ materials, nae relation tae the existing proportions or aesthetic. It wis bound tae win awards. Did ye ken MacKenzie’d daen the Waldorf?

“D’ye think they’d let some hacks come alang an’ stick a metal box on tap o’ the Waldorf?”

Further laughter followed; Angus heard more glasses clinking.

“Fa’s carin’ fit it looks like?” a woman’s voice could be heard asking,

“The point is it wis a much-needed consultation an’ construction job – an’ fit’s mair vibrant an’ dynamic than a few extra crisp Jane Austen’s in your wikkly brownie?”

“The £36 mil wis weel spent – Ah mean, it’s nae like ony o’ us or we’re faimilies will hae tae pey for it.”

“A shame it didna help like we thocht it wid though … tae push the £180 million revamp o’ thon gerdens, Ah mean that wis the original plan, wis it nae?”

“Ach weel, at least the gerdens are aa dug up noo; thon space-hoggin, unprofitable trees awa – well maist o’ them, an’ thankfully some shops are gan in. Mair consultation, mair construction, an’ … errr …. some mair goodies up for grabs an’ aa.”

“Mind, ‘at was richt sleekit o’ ye tae announce with nae prior warning that the gallery wid fa’ tae bits if it didna get a new roof an’ a new a’thin else. Weel done.”

“Aye, an’ thon lottery ticket sellin’ racket wis genius an’ aa.”

“Foo lang dis onybody think ess new buildin’ work will stan’ up? That windae better be water ticht, an’ let’s hope that despite fit it looks like, that box winna ivver cause ony funny stresses or load issues ower time.”

“But twa years owerdue – how’d ye sell ‘at tae the public again?”

“Get this.” A short balding man said.

“We got the P&J tae say – an’ Ah hae tae laugh – we were ower spent an’ owerdue because ‘We had to get it right!’”

The room erupted in laughter.

Just then the doors burst open and three people, looking a bit the worse for wear staggered in, arms over each others’ shoulders, singing.

“Here’s oor Wullie!” one of the revellers shouted.

“Aye, an’ the Alternative Night Time Manager sure seems tae hae livened him an’ Al up a bit, aye?

Angus guessed it must still be snowing, as the newly-arrived trio were covered in white powder. The conversations continued.

“So fylst the average mannie in the street says ‘oh fit a bonny buildin! ‘it’s won an award’ or ‘we get tae see a heap o’ local artwork’ an’ aa that crap, we get some tax write affs for donating tat, a wee thank you fae the commissioning an’ construction folk, AND…”

The voice paused for a moment

“An’ aa the priceless airtwork, siller an’ nick-nacks ye could ivver want or need tae decorate wi’, or use tae pad up yer retirement fund.”

An anxious woman’s voice was heard next

“But will fowk nae twig that it’s aa o’ us fa’s donating absolute rubbish? Will they nae catch on that the good stuff’s naewye tae be found?”

The man who’d just spoken answered her,

“Nah, nah, dinna worry yersel; hae anither scoof o’ bubbly. Aa the donations are anonymous – unless somebody’s gan for a big publicity stunt; an’ naebody’ll ivver ken fa donated aa thon auld muck.

“Efter aa, thon auld bits o’ auld crap, unsellt papers, broken thimbles an’ fit hiv ye, are of course – should onybody ask – IMPORTANT PIECES O’ OOR HERITAGE.

“Onybody says stuff’s gan missing? Weel: fa’s gan tae clipe? Certainly nae oor local papers – by the wye, gled tae see yiz aa here the nicht an’ hope yer likin’ yer Marischal Square offices. We were happy tae help ye get thon rent breaks an’ perks; fit’s a few mill between chums? The morn, Ah’ve some mair stories for ye tae rin, but the nicht’s a social occasion. Here’s tae us!”

“HERE’S TAE US!!” the room answered back.

As Angus slowly crept away he heard a voice:

“Love how the granite an’ marble looks in yer gerden; lucky for yersel it’s aff limits an’ yer nae subject tae ess right tae roam stuff like the rest o’ us, as befits a mannie in yer position….”

“Ye’ll be in the hoose o’ heroes afore lang; oor very ain king o hydrogen…”

“…chose affa weel indeed… nah, nae The Shamen – drug references, ye ken? The beer brewing fowk – nah, too critical o’ Donald an’ made a few ither controversial missteps as weel …. St Machar the founder? Nah, nae famous enough. If we’d brocht up Glover fowk micht start askin’ aboot eez hoose an’ its contents…. nae punk musicians obviously – that would hae a toxic effect… an’ certainly nae St Fittick…”

Angus decided not to tangle with this crew and silently backed away into the darkness of the museum.
Reaching his guard room again, he tried to make sense of what he’d just overheard. ‘Far’s tha instruction manual?’ he muttered, and finding it started to read.

Rules:
1. Ye see nithin, ye ken nithin
2. If summin’s wrang an’ ye want to report it tae the line manager, dinna!. Mind, ye’ve got a job an’ jobs are hard tae come by. The cooncil’s the biggest employer roon here.
3. If ye feel ye need tae report summin an’ canna trust yer line manager, jist tell the local papers. They’ll keep a lid on it for us. Better still, see Rule 1.
4. If ye can follae Rule 1, we’ll be sure ye get a nice pat on the heid fer daein fit yer tellt, ken fit ah mean?

However, the various drinks he’d had this evening were starting to make him feel woozy, so he reached for another one, and had a few swigs from a few bottles.

He was putting his head down as the loud voices seemed to go away.

He thought he heard the museum’s door shut, and soon it fell silent.

Angus went back to sleep, the words ‘hoose o’ heroes’ echoing in his mind.

Alas, Angus had only started this security job before the museum refit! The B.R. Premier Oil Lamp (now missing) was actually a magic lamp. When it had been in the museum, at midnight it’s magic brought ALL of the collection to life, kind of like that Ben Stiller series of films.

This included the (now missing) painting of the Gods on Olympus, 1798 by William Williams, including the (missing) Apollo and Daphne, also by Williams.

The architect who so carefully planned the Art Gallery, Mr Mackenzie, once roamed the halls when they were under construction shouting and screaming about his jewel being cannibalised and desecrated to the other gallery inhabitants when the magic lamp brought him to life; but he is heard no more.

The (missing) portrait of Sir Thomas More [sic] by Francesco Bartolozzi RA, After Hans Holbein, came to life and spoke with eloquent logic.

Back then the (now missing) Scottish Maid by an unknown master sat down to enjoy a (now missing) Still Life With Candlestick & Bread by Oskar Kokoschka with the handsome (now missing) James, Fifth Earl of Fife by Alexander Brodie.

Highland Cattle came out of (now missing) paintings and huge, beautiful artworks were filled with life.

During the day, some of that magic could be seen by visiting school children, some of whom might once have been inspired to make similar work. Some of these pieces could have provided historical information to artists, researchers and family historians. And heck, some people might just have enjoyed looking at these now missing windows on another world and time.

nasty glass-box architecture rose

But today no one will see their beauty or magic again: save the people who know where these and 1,577 items are that belonged to Aberdonians.

While this is a satire with no relation to anyone living or dead, should anyone in possession of stolen valuable, irreplaceable art taken from the public ever read these lines, may they encounter the karma they have earned.

As to those who were paid to protect the art that belongs to all of us, but whether by ignorance, negligence or deliberate acts stole, turned a blind eye or otherwise allowed this betrayal of trust, may such judases eventually get their karmic rewards too.

Anyone who knows where any of the missing 1,577 items are but who is keeping quiet is an accessory after the fact to theft. Time to unburden yourselves and fess up.

In Angus’ dreams hundreds of valuable portraits disappeared out of the museum into nowhere. Bits of old papers, bus tickets, broken biros were put in gilt frames in place of the fine art and hung on the gallery walls. And he dreamed people were in awe of the elevated rubbish because they were told it was art.

He dreamed that the things of real value in his beloved city were being stolen, bulldozed, built over, sold cheaply and cheap, nasty glass-box architecture rose over what was once a collection of historic, unique buildings.

He dreamed the land once loved by heroes and literal saints was now governed by incompetents, venal, greedy self-serving sneaks, egotistical ward- and attention-seeking narcissists and sex offenders.

He dreamed that the historic was written off as old-fashioned and the cheap, profiteering projects destroying the greenbelt and its wildlife, as well as the once-unique city scape, were hailed in a bought-and-paid for biased press as ‘vibrant’ ‘dynamic’ and ‘job-creating’.

He dreamed that same press had abandoned any pretence of journalistic independence, integrity and impartiality by taking millions from the taxpayer and were happy to mislead the public when it suited them if there was money in it.

Then Angus saw it was morning and that he wasn’t dreaming.

Angus decided he’d had enough. He picked a few causes to fight, some wrongs to try to right, and he set off to lobby, to investigate and to run for office.

He might not succeed, but he was going to try.

# # #

Follow up on the 2018 Christmas Satire ‘The Snowman’

The above video Aberdeen Voice satire covered some of the awful events of 2019 worldwide. There are at least two happy endings – the Russian caging of beluga whales is over, and the cages destroyed: public pressure did this.

And happily Donald J Trump is out of office and in court – many courts – and may soon be convicted of crimes.

Here’s to a little people power: just what Aberdeen needs. Elections are in May. You can still register to run.

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Oct 212021
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Sunderland art-rockers, Field Music, returned to Aberdeen after a 9 year hiatus to play to a receptive crowd at The Tunnels on Carnegie Brae. Having released their 8th studio album – Flat White Moon – last April the band would have been relieved to finally get the show on the road in support of it, with this date being the opening night of a full UK tour.

First up, however, was local musician Steven Milne.

The Little Kicks frontman was drafted in early that afternoon after original support act – Galaxians – were unable to perform.

Milne is at pains to point out this is his first live appearance in 19 months. Coupled with the late call up, it could have proved to be a recipe for disaster.

However, he is nothing but naturally talented and that talent shone through in his solo performance.

Sitting behind a keyboard, he was captivating and engrossing as he ran through a set of Little Kicks tracks and a cover version of The Blue Nile’s ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’.
And it’s a credit to his song writing skills that his own material more than held its own even beside the sublime Blue Nile track.

A new Little Kicks album is due for April and should be on everyone’s shopping lists.

Brothers Peter and David Brewis have released 8 albums in the last 16 years under the moniker Field Music and tonight’s gig showcases songs across that time span.

Swapping roles between vocals / guitar and drums, there’s a real chemistry and understanding between the two siblings.

The music, the humour – it’s all interchangeable and on the same level between and during tracks. They’re the anti-Gallagher’s in that respect – brothers in music with no friction or individual ambition tearing them apart.

But that’s where the comparison begins and ends – the Brewis brother’s music isn’t steeped in conservative, classic rock, like Noel and Liam are, but in art-rock futurism and forward thinking of bands such as Talking Heads or Scritti Politti.

The set itself leans heavily on the recently released ‘Flat White Moon’ but there’s a dive into their back catalogue, with tracks such as ‘A House is not a Home’ and ‘(I Keep Thinking) About a New Thing’ given an airing.

Personal highlight for this correspondent was ‘Disappointed’, a near perfect pop tune steeped in a light funk backbeat.

The late, great musical genius Prince once tweeted their track ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’ without comment to his millions of followers – and that says a lot.

If anyone could recognise good music, you’d expect it from someone like him.

And the crowd recognise it tonight – it’s a magnificent set that has them clapping enthusiastically and begging for more.

After a good few years without a visit North to the Granite City, it was a joy to see them here again – hopefully they return sooner than later.

Oct 202021
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Just over three decades ago, The Quireboys released their debut album ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’.

Tonight, they revisited their commercial high point with a date at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen.

First however, the crowd are entertained by up-and-coming slide guitarist Troy Redfern, backed with drummer Finn McAuley and bassist Keira Kenworthy.

Redfern is a virtuoso guitarist.

His guitar fireworks are astonishing to watch, his fingers running up and down the fretboard fluidly and gracefully.

But it’s not just a show in histrionics and shredding, it’s raw, gritty, heartfelt blues filled with emotion and belief.

Watching him, you know that he believes in the music he is singing, that he feels it – and that’s important.

It shows authenticity and a love for the genre.

For him to light up the guitar, he needs a strong groove and foundation to sit upon and his rhythm section are more than up to the job – they provide a solid, thunderous backbone to Redfern’s solos and slide guitar masterclass.

Closing his half hour set with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s classic ‘Voodoo Chile’ you can see he’s made some new fans in the audience, many of whom are queued up minutes later to meet him and purchase his music.

“It’s 7 O’clock and time for a party” as their song goes – well, it’s not, it’s 9 o’clock when they hit the stage, but the party is most definitely on.

It’s been over 31 years now since their debut album ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’ was released.

It was halcyon times for the band back then – the album hit no.2 in the charts, singles went Top 40. There were support slots with the likes of Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones, on the bill of the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, appearances on Top of The Pops and huge headline tours of the UK, Europe and beyond.

But time moves on and tastes change – at the height of grunge in the early 90s, the band parted ways and went on an extended hiatus for a few years.

But The Quireboys are nothing but tenacious and not ones to shy away from a challenge.

Certain musical styles never go away either – and in the case of their bluesy, classic rock it’s a style that will always have its fans.

And the fans are out tonight as they revisit their debut, changing the running order to bring new focus on old songs and remind everyone why they had so much success with it.

The singles are all greeted with cheers – ‘7 O’Clock’, ‘Hey You’ and ‘There She Goes Again’ working the crowd on the frenzy and getting them dancing.

And there’s moments of poignancy and reflection such as the emotional ballad ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’.

‘Whipping Boy’ is a particular highlight – low down and dirty slow blues, underpinned with some bass that reverberates through your soul.

The band seem to be enjoying it – lead singer Spike seems particularly happy to be on stage again after Covid’s shutdown of live music.

Between songs he’s humorous and friendly, speaking directly to members of the crowd, always with a twinkle in his eye.

He also seems to be slightly lubricated; shall we say – despite his quips about having not drank for 10 years.

But it’s Friday night and most of the crowd are on the same level as him and it endears him to them even more.

Once a song starts, however, he is back to being the professional showman and singer. Every song is nailed perfectly, not a note dropped or lyric forgotten. And his voice, that raspy, 20 fags a day sound is spot on.

Despite tonight being a celebration of the past, it also points that there’s a strong future for the band – their unique take on that classic Stones or Faces sound, rooted in the blues, R&B and Country will always have listeners. And with over a dozen albums behind them and the potential for a dozen more, so will The Quireboys.

Oct 062021
 

By Craig Chisholm.

True North continued to cement its reputation as one of Aberdeen’s musical highlights of the year with another excellent event that showcased an eclectic and varied bill of excellent music.

After taking a brief hiatus from crowds last year – the event was online instead – it was encouraging to see people back in the Music Hall, Lemon Tree and numerous smaller venues and enjoying live music once more.

The number of events is slightly stripped back this with less late-night shows and no shows at The Tivoli Theatre but what was missing in quantity was more than made up in quality.

The Lemon Tree is the venue for the opening Thursday night event – a triple bill featuring Lavender Lane, Edinburgh’s Swim School and the indie pop of headliners Peaness. Providing the perfect start to usher in the weekend.

Friday night provides an even more varied bill. Opening musical proceedings is Aberdonian Katie Mackie.

Sat behind a keyboard she provides a short set of soaring baroque, chamber-pop that features a cover of Steely Dan’s ‘Dirty Work’.

Scottish / Kenyan multi-instrumentalist and poet Beldina Odenyo performs under the moniker Heir of the Cursed. Tonight, she plucks on heavily reverbed guitar and her operatic, hypnotic voice is soothing, expansive, and ethereal.

Despite a light-hearted between song gripe about the cost of salad in Aberdeen, her set is calm and transgressive, taking the crowd to a higher spiritual and musical space.

Singer-songwriter Ayanna Witter-Johnson is another rare talent.

Opening – rather boldly – with a dance, she picks up the more familiar cello for the remainder of her set.

Using a loop pedal she sounds like an entire band as opposed to one woman and an instrument.

Despite an unexpected power cut, Witter-Johnson delivers a strong, inspiring set that uplifts the audience.

Saturday night is the first of the Music Hall gigs.

Opening act Rachel Sermanni plays an intimate, minimalistic set. She somehow manages to make the cavernous Music Hall seem small and cosy, drawing the crowd into her private space.

A unique Scottish talent, she returns to The Lemon Tree in December.

Headliner John Grant is magnificent.
He cuts quite an imposing figure on stage – a large, hirsute bear of a man – but his voice is soothing but powerful.

Alternating between piano led torch songs and disco influenced bangers, he runs through a 100-minute set of dark humour, heartfelt confessionals, and unbridled joy. A stunning performance well deserving of the standing ovation at the end.

For those still looking to party into the night then the Lemon Tree is the place to be. Local rapper Ransom FA headlines an evening of beats, breaks and raps with support from DJ Home Alone, Bemz and Sean Focus.

Sunday night at True North is the traditional tribute night, curated and performed by a star performer.

This year, the performer is the talented Grammy Winner Corinne Bailey-Rae, and the subject of the tribute is the mercurial Stevie Wonder.

Looking radiant in a sparkly gold sequined dress, Bailey-Rae is every inch the superstar.

But this is not about her tonight, and she happily gives over the spotlight to guest vocalists such as Paix, Angus Munro, Jalen N’Gona and Little Acres.

And each more than hold their own and breathe new life in the songs of Stevie Wonder. The hits are all there – ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ and ‘Don’t You Worry About Thing’ by Bailey-Rae are particular highlights – but there’s also plenty of deep cuts, forgotten classics and album tracks to keep the die hard Wonder fans happy.

The night – and the weekend – is brought down with a rousing, run through of Wonder’s classic ‘Superstition’ that has the crowd on their feet, hungry for more and ecstatic at the collective feeling of joy.

Yet again, True North has proved to be a success and a jewel in the crown of the Aberdeen Music Scene.

With next to no concerts in the last 18 months, it’s been a cathartic and joyful event, a light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel and credit is due to the organisers, the venues, and the performers for pulling it all together in such a short, potentially unpredictable time.

Here’s to True North 2022, long may it continue!

Sep 282021
 

Duncan Harley reviews Slains Castle’s Secret History, a new publication by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.

Slains Castle on the very edge of the Buchan coastline is a widely misunderstood edifice and a confusion of associations with Dracula do little to explain the history of the place.
This new book by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker is a gamechanger.

Readers of Mike’s previous books and followers of Dacre Stoker’s work – which includes Dracul, a Dracula prequel written in collaboration with J.D. Barker of Fourth Monkey fame – will already be aware of the Cruden Bay Dracula links.

But few however, will be aware of the true history of that Slains Castle we all love to associate with the Gothic Horror genre.

An extraordinary set of stories lie within these pages. Churchill visited as did Johnson and Boswell. The cutting off of the heads of dead Danes, an epic story of religious strife and a shambolic plan to surrender Scotland to the Spanish Crown inhabit this book. And the ‘tussle’ for the souls of the living takes centre stage.

There are tales of a French conspiracy to Anglicise Scotland and the role of the Earl of Errol in shaping Scotland’s future is explored in major detail. But no spoilers here.

This is in essence a history of Scotland as told through the lens of Slains. The castle itself dips in and out of the tale, and it’s only on page 197 that we get to the essence of the Dracula connection.

I would have preferred an earlier link if truth be told. And this perhaps suggests that the authors were conflicted in purpose. In part diary, there is however much to recommend in this book.

Spanning from 1164 to the present day, this take on the untold history of Slains is an important addition to the history, and the mythology, of North East Scotland.

With a foreword by Alan Hay – archivist of Clan Hay – Slains Castle’s Secret History, is published in paperback by Wild Wolf Publishing on 20th September and, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a book to get your teeth into.

Highly recommended. Five Stars.

Slains Castle’s Secret History by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.
ISBN: 979-8469387046