May 172018
 

Duncan Harley reviews The Kite Runner @ HM Theatre Aberdeen

The brutal rape of young Hassan by sociopath Assef and his cohorts sets the tone of this touring stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel.

And the child-rape is not the only gut-wrenching scene from the book to be splashed all over the stage in front of the theatre audience.

An execution by the Taliban, a bone-crunching beating or two and tales of death by landmine are intermingled with implicit references to paedophile driven child abduction and the stoning of adulterers.

Not that the above events appeared gratuitous. Indeed, they are central to the telling of the tale. It’s just that they are shocking. The rape may well bear allegorical significance in relation to the 1979 Soviet invasion and death by landmine is described as a good way for an Afghan to die.

As for the stoning of adulterers and the abductions, well, these simply add to the overwhelming uneasiness which this production induces. Indeed, at the end one audience member was heard to comment that she was going home to have a few unpleasant dreams.

Is there a point to The Kite Runner? Well, as a tale of betrayal, guilt and eventual redemption the answer is probably a resounding yes. And as a short sharp introduction to a brutally immersive style of theatre, again the answer is probably a yes.

Its not that we actually see the rape or indeed the landmine deaths. But we can almost smell and taste the drama of it all. And that is no easy thing for an audience intent on seeking out an evening of entertainment.

The story, narrated directly to the audience by Amir – an Afghan refugee living in California, concerns the period surrounding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the plot leads us relentlessly through the harshness of the early Taliban period.

Amir’s childhood betrayal of his loyal friend Hassan is central to the plot and his quest for redemption is the final goal.

A simple set comprising bare dusty boards with a backdrop of a giant kite, split in two halves provides stark setting for the action.

Raj Ghatak’s Amir both participates in the drama and leads us through what is in essence the tale as told in the novel, filling in the gaps with lengthy monologues and generally doing a splendid job of compering the unfolding drama taking place all around him on stage.

At times though, he perhaps has far too much to say and perhaps that is the danger when scripting the play of the film of the best-selling novel. Sometimes less is better.

Hassan is played admirably by Jo Ben Ayed and also plays his own son Sorab much later in the performance. At times, and this is no criticism, resembling an organ-grinders monkey he dutifully covers for his friend Amir even unto death at the hands of the Taliban.

All is not angst and wringing of hands however.

There are lighter moments such as the scene where Amir’s dad Baba, Gary Pillai, politely informs Amir and Hashim that in point of fact John Wayne does not speak Farsi and has probably never even been to Iran. Now that is indeed a revelation.

With live music by Hanif Khan, The Kite Runner is directed by Giles Croft. Adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini the production plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 19th 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 032018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Legally Blonde – The Musical @ HM Theatre Aberdeen

There’s a little bit of line-dancing, a couple of very camp cupids and a lot of pink in this musical and I mean a hell of a lot of pink!

In fact there’s enough pink to tempt Barbara Cartland back from the grave.

Indeed honey sweet romance, or at least the very prospect of it, is at the core of this tale of girl meets boy Hairspray styled musical.

Not that Legally Blonde lead Elle Woods in any way resembles the heavy set high-schooled Tracy Turnblad.

But the plot treads that familiar path of redemption in the face of adversity. Except of course that, in lieu of Hairspray’s ‘Corny Collins Show’, Legally Blonde – The Musical relies on the medium of a trad-clad Harvard Law School to get the message over.

And not that Legally Blonde takes itself too seriously. The opening line ‘OMG you guys, enjoy the show!’ pretty much sets the tone.

This is a show to enjoy and not one for deep analyses.

The sexual politics are perhaps somewhat dated and, although the pink-laden message of emancipation is central to the story, there is really nothing new here.

Splendidly camp lines such as “Is he gay or European” and “Depending on the time of day the French go either way” kind of give the game away.

The storyline pretty much follows that of the film of the book. Based on the 2001 movie, the plot convolutes around the downs and ups of Malibu blond Elle Woods who gets dumped by would-be senator boy-friend Sheridan Smith the third.

Smith is off to explore the ivy leagued portals of Harvard Law School. Against all the odds, and in a determined effort to stalk the poor man, Elle worms her way into the hallowed institution and takes up the cudgels of the law.

Along the way we meet Bruiser the Chihuahua, a lovable hairdresser called Paulette and Elle’s various Harvard classmates.

Cute Chihuahua’s aside, Lucie Jones’s Elle pretty much steals the show although soap veteran Rita Simons’ portrayal of the romantically downtrodden Paulette runs a pretty close second.

Paulette’s ‘Bend and Snap’ slapstick comedy turn with the hunky UPS man is pretty slick although the accompanying line dancing routines seemed somehow superfluous.

Male lead-wise, it’s pretty much a no-contest.

Bill Ward’s Prof Callahan dominates and commands the stage during both the Harvard and the courtroom scenes; that is of course until the courtroom escalates into a hilariously Cabaret themed farce.

The music and the lyrics are well delivered but are maybe not particularly memorable, relying perhaps a ‘tad’ much on OTT costumes and energetic choreography to woo the audience. However there are splendidly classic musical moments to be had. Watch out for Elle’s love-sweet duet with David Barrett’s Emmett.

As an all singing and all dancing musical, Legally Blonde is a whole lot of fun and if last night’s stand-up applause is anything to go by then the show delivers exactly what it says on the tin.

Choreographed and Directed by Anthony Williams. Musical Director James McCullagh, Legally Blonde – The Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 5th 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © Robert Workman

May 032018
 

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Arkells and The Homeless Gospel Choir @ The Garage, 20th April 2018. Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

It’s gig number 2155 for Frank Turner, as announced by the man himself from the stage.

However, for the venue, there’s only one number of gigs that matters tonight – and that’s zero. That’s how many are left at The Garage once Frank exits the stage after his encores.

It came as a shock to many of the Granite City’s gig goers and clubbers when it was announced that the venue was to close early May after 6 years of being one of the mainstays of the Aberdeen live music scene.

However, any notions of this being an evening of mourning are dispelled as soon as the first act takes to the stage in front of a healthy number of fans, despite the 6:30pm stage time.

The Homeless Gospel Choir is the nom de plume of Pittsburgh born folk-punk singer Derek Zanetti.

The punk aspect of his music is influenced by Green Day and the 90s explosion of US day-glo stadium acts rather than the original ’77 spirit of punk however.

By his own description, he’s an ‘overweight rock singer’.

With lyrics revolving around politics, mental health and angst, but delivered with a jokey aside he proves to be a popular draw, particularly to the younger members of the crowd.

Canadians Arkells are a different proposition – the lyrical themes may be similar but live they are much more polished and professional stage performers than Zanetti’s looser style.

Lead singer Max Kerman has the looks, moves and attitude that have been honed to perfection on larger venues in North America rather than the small stage he finds himself on tonight. In fact, the stage isn’t enough for him as it takes him only a few minutes to find himself on the barrier hanging over a willing audience who succumb instantly to his charms.

And the very notion of crowd and audience is blurred completely on a couple of occasions during their 40-minute set.

Only two songs in and he has pulled a young female fan out of the audience to play guitar quite competently alongside the band.

And another fan is hauled onstage for the final song where he sings with the band perfectly.
It’s possibly a bit gimmicky and cliched but it’s also quite touching and endearing and it will have won them new fans tonight and provide unforgettable memories for the young fans that performed with their idols.

Arkells play an energetic and fun set that serves to ramp the crowd up into even more frenzied anticipation for the night’s main act.

Frank Turner is another polished live act. After a couple of thousand gigs in venues of all shapes and sizes, festival stages and stadiums he’s a man with no fears treading the boards and honed the skills to the work the crowd into a frenzy.

Not that the crowd really require worked up – the sold-out venue is boiler room hot with a packed floor full of devoted Turner fans, almost wilting in the heat.

His new album – his eighth – ‘Be More Kind’ might not be released for another couple of weeks but that doesn’t stop four of its cuts getting an airing tonight, all of which go down a storm with the devoted crowd.

The rest of the set spans the full gamut of his career – reaching as far back to 2007’s ‘Sleep is for the Week’ as the track ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ is given as a solo performance by Turner during a 3-song acoustic interlude in the middle of the set.

The crowd aren’t here out of curiosity – this is a crowd of devoted fanatics of all ages here to see their hero. They know every word and sing along to every song, fully immersed in his performance.

It’s an unusual sight and sound to see 700 people hollering ‘There is no God so clap your hands together’ – they might not engage in worshipping a holy deity but, then again, there’s maybe no need to tonight whilst they worship at the altar of Frank Turner.

So, gig number 2155 for Frank Turner, and it’s a roaring success for him with a sweaty, joyous crowd fully immersed in his 100 minutes on stage.

But, by the time the clock reaches 2155, The Garage is emptying slowly as the night concludes and live music at yet another Aberdeen venue ends for the final time.

Turner would not have reached that amount of live performances if not for venues such The Garage.

So it not only leaves a gap in the Aberdeen scene, but in the UK scene as a whole. If venues keep on closing where will the next Frank Turner learn their trade and spread their message?

Apr 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fittie Fittie Bang Bang @ HM Theatre Aberdeen.

Broad Street may not quite be on a par with Broadway, but if this year’s Aberdeen Student Charities Campaign production of the brand new musical Fittie Fittie Bang Bang is anything to go by, then theatre-wise at least, the Granite City is well on the way to becoming the Manhattan of the north.

Previous productions have included titles such as ‘An American in Powis’, ‘A Midstocket Night’s Scream’ and of course last year’s musical extravaganza ‘Michty Mia!’.

However, this year’s production of ‘Fittie Fittie Bang Bang’ must surely take the biscuit.

Bond writer Ian Fleming was a keen follower of motor racing and the original Chitty tale evolved from stories involving a series of monstrous aero-engined cars funded by the richly eccentric ‘Bentley Boy’ speed-king Count Louis Zborowski in those far off roaring twenties.

In the subsequent Hollywood production, the Chitty story involved one of Zborowski’s racing cars being rescued from the scrapyard by a gang of cheerily red-faced middle-class school-children.

Fast forward to this week’s student production of Fittie Fittie Bang Bang and a dastardly plot involving the consignment of Aberdeen’s old folk to the scrapyard takes to the HMT stage.

With electoral fraud firmly to the fore, Trump look-alike Lord Provost Dean Fine plans to revive the ailing fortunes of the Granite City using a series of sinister measures intended to clear the streets of the elderly inhabitants of the city.

A suitably evil ‘Grunny Catcher’, ably played by Callum Anderson, is set loose and before long the city’s OAP’s begin to disappear. Provost Fine, played by Reece James Duncan, announces plans to build a border wall around Torry while in far off Fittie the search begins for the missing old folk of Aberdeen.

Enter Bradley Phillips as Dick Van Dyce, Becky Hossick as Provost’s daughter Effie Fine and Victoria Barvinko as the Provost’s trophy wife Nadine Fine.

Will the red-haired Lord Provost succeed in his dastardly scheme? Or can Dick and his merry gang rescue the imprisoned OAP’s from a fate worse than death in Aberdeen’s Marischal College Premier Retirement Home.

Add in a flying fish-van plus some splendid musical numbers and, judging by last nights full-house, last years total of £92k raised for local charities looks likely to be well on the way to being exceeded.

A 5 Star must see!

Musical direction is by Matthew Rose with choreography by Sophie Hamilton Pike and stage management by Graeme Shepherd.

The musical, Fittie Fittie Bang Bang plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 21 April 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © HMT Aberdeen

Apr 132018
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

Three of the UK’s most highly tipped bands brought their unique talents to the Granite City as Manchester’s Cabbage, She Drew the Gun from Wirral, and Glasgow’s own Rascalton performed rapturous and well received sets to an appreciative crowd at The Tunnels.
Opening tonight’s triple bill were Rascalton.

The young Glaswegian’s performed a short, punky set that drew heavily from classic punk bands such as The Clash or the Sex Pistols but a post-Libertines indie aesthetic also shone through.

The band are no strangers to Aberdeen having played The Tunnels before – previously playing there as support to Baby Strange – as well as playing a headlining set at Café Drummond just before Christmas.

Frontman Jack Wyles is engrossing – his chiselled features hidden behind an unkempt mop of hair, whilst the way he attacks his guitar makes him look not unlike Wilko Johnson in his prime.

He has angelic features but a devil’s stare that makes his barked vocals and the bands shouty choruses compelling to listen to and hard to forget.

The band are back North in June to support Idles at The Tunnels.

It is highly recommended that if you’re going to that then make sure you’re there early to see them.

She Drew the Gun are a different proposition. No less intense, but in a quieter, subtler way.

Singer and guitarist Louis Roach performs a mix of poetry and psych-pop that has brought her and her band Radio airplay – championed by no less than Steve Lamaq on Radio 6 – and accolades such as winner of the Emerging Talent Competition that saw play the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury on 2016.

Roach is front and centre on stage, glad in a blue, sparkly hoodie with the hood drawn up which gives her an aura of mystery that suits the music perfectly.

She is a compelling, virtuoso guitar player – picked solos break through the dreamy, fuzzy riffs that anchor the music whilst she half whispers, half sings the lyrics. The music is dark and swampy reminiscent of classic PJ Harvey.

There’s only one slip in an otherwise flawless set as Roach forgets the lyrics to ‘Poem’ half way through. But she recovers well, acknowledges the mistake and wins the audience on side at that moment.

Headliners Cabbage are on a roll just now.

New album ‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’ has been released to critical acclaim and has made it to number 21 in the BBC Album Charts as well as no.1 on the Official Cassette Charts.

Live in concert, they are fantastic – energetic and exuberant, never staying still as they blast through their own unique post-punk sound.

Frontmen Joe Martin and Lee Broadbent control proceedings from the front of the stage with different styles – Martin is icily cool and more detached whilst Broadbent is more manic and deranged looking.

Their song titles are compelling and confounding in equal measurers – ‘Arms of Pleonexia’, ‘Molotov Alcopop’, ‘Postmodernist Caligula’ and ‘Uber Capitalist Death Trade’. Those alone will have you reaching for the dictionary.
Beneath the sometimes-perplexing titles, there’s political discourse and juvenile humour in equal measure in their lyrics – ‘Dinner Lady’ might sing about having a ‘w**k in the quiche’ but is also a comment on the class divide, in this case in a private school.

Closer ‘Necroflat In the Palace’ has the chorus that will be ringing in their ears as they head home – ‘I was born in the NHS, I wanna die in the NHS’. There’s no encore as the sweat drenched band collapse off stage after their exhilarating set, a gesture of punk defiance against pop crowd pleasing acts.

Three bands then and all, to quote the title of Cabbage’s collection of EPs, ‘Young, Dumb and Full of…’. Maybe not so dumb though and if they are full of anything it’s life, exuberance and lots of promise.

Apr 052018
 

Craig Chisholm looks ahead to this summer’s ‘Enjoy’ music festival.

After last year’s successful festival that saw storming sets from Primal Scream, Chase & Status, The Little Kicks and many more, Enjoy Music returns to Hazlehead Park in June with a stellar line of dance and rock acts on the bill.

Now expanded to a two day festival, the fourth Enjoy boasts some of the biggest names in music – from Glastonbury headliners to Britpop legends.

Held over the weekend of Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd June, Aberdeen’s biggest outdoor music festival will see bands such as Starsailor, Cast, Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 and Welsh rappers Goldie Lookin’ Chain perform alongside DJ set from Faithless, Basement Jaxx, Sigma and James Zebeila.

Bluetones frontman Mark Morris and Dodgy singer Nigel Clark will also be attendance to provide crowd pleasing acoustic sets chock full of their Britpop classics.

Festival boss Russell Aitchison said:

“We’re delighted to have added these amazing acts, to make this our biggest line up ever. There’s a real range of music on offer over the weekend with something to suit all tastes.”

Marketing Director Mark Lenthall added:

“We’re here to give the North East a large-scale music festival we can all be proud of, and 2018 is shaping up to be just that. Tickets are selling fast and I am sure music lovers will want to be part of the Aberdeen’s biggest event this summer” 

But if you’re planning to attend then be quick – 2nd release tickets have already sold out and the third release of tickets in mid-March are already selling fast!

Tickets can be purchased at:

Apr 022018
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

Stiff Little Fingers yearly St Patricks gigs at The Barrowlands in Glasgow are stuff of legend.

For 27 years they’ve played the iconic venue on the fabled night of Irish celebrations that has become a pilgrimage for their fans.

For fans in the North East, however, the Irish punk legends trip to the Granite City, around the same time of the year, has also become a regular pilgrimage as a sell out crowd tonight can testify.

This might have been the smallest of the three venues the band are playing in Scotland this tour but that didn’t stop them from giving a memorable show that pleased the energetic and loyal crowd.

Before the influential Irish punk legends hit the stage another bunch of influential punks step up to warm the crowd up.

Ruts DC have a long, and sometimes complicated, history that stretches back to the original punk days of 1977. But their music is more varied and eclectic than straight ahead rock with a strong reggae influence shining through in songs such as the mighty ‘Jah War’.

They run though a strong set of a dozen songs with punk classics ‘Babylon’s Burning’, ‘In a Rut’ and ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’ all going down a storm with the attentive crowd.

Headliners Stiff Little Fingers last couple of shows in Aberdeen have been at a different venue – The Garage – but they are no strangers to the Lemon Tree having played here numerous times to sell out crowds.

It’s a partisan audience that greet them as they walk out to the regular intro tape of ‘Go For It’. The crowd are a sea of SLF t-shirts and hoodies – and anyone not wearing one could have bought from the dozen or so on sale at their merchandise stall.

Singer and guitarist Jake Burns tells the crowd that this is going to be a set that explores more of the deep cuts from SLF’s ‘forgotten’ albums but that doesn’t stop them singing and pogoing along to tracks that cover all eras of the bands four decade career.

However, it’s the bands first three albums that made up the bulk of the set – ‘Tin Soldiers’, ‘Nobody’s Hero’, ‘Roots, Radicals, Rockers & Reggae’, ‘Safe as Houses’ and ‘Barbed Wire Love’ from that era are all given a blast.

As with Ruts DC, reggae is also an influence on the band and there’s a nod to that with cover versions of Bob Marley and the Wailer’s ‘Johnny Was’ and ‘Doesn’t Make it Alright’ by The Specials.

Completing the night with a finale of ‘Alternate Ulster’ the band walk off to triumphant applause from an adoring crowd that will already be planning to see them again next year, whatever the venue.

Mar 202018
 

Piratefest 2018 @ The Garage, Aberdeen. Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

Lead singer Captain Yarrface (possibly not his real name) is front and centre on stage

In the myriad world of Heavy Metal sub-genres it might come as a surprise to learn that not only is Pirate Metal ‘a thing’ but that it can also sell out a venue in Aberdeen on an otherwise normal Tuesday night in February.

The Piratefest 2018 tour didn’t, unfortunately, sail into town on a Spanish galleon but rolled in on tour buses carrying three of the premier bands on the scene.

Scottish band Alestorm arrived in the company of San Diego’s The Dread Crew of Oddwood and, from the fishing village of Ocracoke, North Carolina, Rumahoy.

Rumahoy open Pireatefest with a short, but energetic and thrashy, set that includes songs such as ‘AHOY!’, ‘Hoffman The Pirate King’, and ‘The Triumph of Piracy’.

They’ve taken the theme to its extreme in not only song titles but in their look.

Dressed head to toe in pirate clothes is striking enough but the black masks that cover their faces make them even more scary and intimidating.

Lead singer Captain Yarrface (possibly not his real name) is front and centre on stage – a giant of a man, as tall as he is wide, as much NFL Line-backer as he is Caribbean Pirate or rock singer.

They are by far the heaviest of the three bands with a sound that owes much more to Slayer or Pantera than it does to the more traditional pirate sea shanties.

The next band on stage are a slightly less intimidating but no less intense proposition.

The Dread Crew of Odd Wood play – no surprise here – pirate themed heavy rock but, this time, on acoustic instruments. A style they refer to as ‘mahogany metal’.

Using accordions, stand-up bass, mandolins and bouzouki their music is a combination of folk music, traditional Celtic jigs and, of course, Heavy Metal.

Again, they are dressed for the part – looking like buccaneers that have just raided a port in the West Indies rather than a modern rock band.

Again, the songs are nautically themed with titles such as ‘Dead Man’s Medley’ and ‘When I Sail’d’.

Drinking is also a common lyrical theme through night with the Dread Crew’s contribution called ‘Raise Your Pints’.

And pints are raised for what is, by far, the most popular band of the evening – Perth’s very own Alestorm.

I’m not sure if the River Tay was ever a hotbed of swashbuckling and pillaging but even if not, Alestorm will make you believe it was.

The band romp through a mesmerising 18 song that never lets up in energy and enthusiasm.

The crowd go wild for them – from opener ‘Keelhauld’ to final encore, the dubiously titled ‘Fucked With an Anchor’ there’s a steady stream of crowd surfers being (keel-?) hauled over the barrier.

Many of them have dressed for the occasion too.

Who ever sells pirate clothing and paraphernalia in the Granite City must have a seen a jump in sales lately, judging by the number of pirate hats on show in the audience.

Alestorm themselves aren’t dressed as pirates – instead there’s a mix and match of styles on show with lead singer Christopher Bowes an arresting sight in Alestorm-branded kilt, baseball cap and a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘I Got Lost in The Gay Dolphin’.

Strangest of all is his instrument of choice – the much-maligned keytar, a keyboard that’s played like a guitar and more associated with 80s soft rock bands than on the high seas.

Visuals aside, the band, lyrically at least, don’t stray far from pirate theme’s – ‘No Grave but the Sea’, ‘Nancy the Tavern Wench’, ‘Pegleg Potion’, ‘Shipwrecked’ and the magnificently named ‘Captain Morgan’s Revenge’ (a song that ticks both pirate and alcohol themes) are given an airing tonight.

Pirate Metal may not be to everyone’s tastes but it’s a triumph tonight as the sold-out crowd testify – it’s safe to say that inhibitions were lost, drinks were raised, and a good time was had by all that attended.

Mar 022018
 

Morrissey at Aberdeen BGHE Arena, 16 February 2018. Review and pictures by Craig Chisholm.

It may be hard to believe but the Aberdeen Exhibition Centre has actually a place in rock n’ roll folklore for both Morrissey and David Bowie fans.

It was here, over 20 years ago that the ex-Smiths frontman was due to support the late Thin White Duke on tour but, mysteriously, walked out mere minutes before he was due on stage leaving his band, Bowie and his fans in the lurch.

As to the whys and whats of this action we might never know but here, over two decades later, amends are finally made to fans as he eventually makes the AECC stage in triumphant, if not also intriguing, fashion.

There’s no chance of support bands doing a runner on this occasion as there isn’t one. Instead the 3000 strong crowd are treated to a half hour video of Morrisey’s favourite bands and old film footage.

In between the Morrissey favourites such as the New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Ramones and 60s girl groups is footage of Russian, faux-lesbian, Eurovision winners Tatu performing The Smiths classic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ on Top of The Tops. This is the sort of intriguing but contrary thing that his fans have come to expect of Morrissey over the years.

At the end of the video, at exactly 9pm, Morrissey and band walk onto the stage. Opening with a cover version of Elvis Presley’s ‘You’ll be Gone’ they then proceed to power through a 22 song set that lasts nearly 2 hours.

The stage is lit by lights in the shape of shields as the backdrop displays footage of recurring Morrisey themes – 60s B&W groups, old film stars, an erotic pulp fiction novel, a bullfighter during, obviously, ‘The Bullfighter Dies’, and footage of police brutality during ‘Who Will Protect Us From The Police?’ .

He delights his long time fans by playing a couple of tracks by his former band The Smiths – ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ is played early on, as is ‘How Soon Is Now?’.

But that’s all – five songs into the set and he has already abandoned any attempt at crowd pleasing and living off nostalgia.

Instead, latest album ‘Low In High School’ makes up the bulk of the show with no less than nine of its twelve tracks given an airing. Three of these tracks – ‘Israel’, ‘I Bury The Living’ and ‘The Girl From Tel Aviv’ are being performed for their first time ever to a live audience.

In another contrary Morrissey move he plays a cover version of The Pretenders’ ‘Back In The Chain Gang’.

The crowd are noticeably more subdued during some of the deeper cuts from ‘Low In High School’ but this gives everyone a chance to listen to Morrissey and to appreciate his voice – it has matured into a warm and luxurious sound, somewhat underrated in the pantheon of great rock vocalists.

Also, it’s a chance to listen to his band – tight and musically together throughout the set. Clad in white t-shirts that with ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ emblazoned on them, it’s the sort of message that Morrissey revels in and pretty much defines his entire ethos.

More than an hour and a half after starting, the main set ends with the band walking off stage in a haze of smoke to rapturous applause.

They return for a triumphant encore of Morrissey solo classics ‘Everyday is like Sunday’ and ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’.

Overall, it’s an intriguing set that should have left the real fans happy. The lack of Smiths classics and early Morrissey singles may not have pleased the more casual fans but, ultimately, it’s never been his style to play to the crowd and take the easy option.

Dec 082017
 

By Fred Wilkinson.

“Aaaah Grasshopper, you still have much to learn … you must first try to listen … and feeeel!”

Once upon a time there was a young man who fancied himself as the rebranded Anarcho Dennis The Menace.

Unfortunately, he did not have the means to put enough calories into his person in order to avoid being laughed and sneered at by the bespectacled Walter and his crew of ‘softies’.

So he developed a defiant, unflinching pose in order to look hard.

He got a punk band together and generally scared the crap out of folk … his relatives mostly,

Then he got a wee job doing sound for a band called Mabel Meldrums Ceilidh Band.

Working alongside his chum, and punk band colleague Frank Benzie, nephew of Mabels’ guitarist and vocalist, Ian F Benzie, the young man in question came to know and refer to the Benzies as ‘Frunk an’ Unc’ – which neither ever objected to.

But their influence on the stoic, stripey one was not only significant, but equal and opposite!

This brought about much confusion. Whilst Frunk would lead young Dennisesque astray, and goad him into strange and perilous situations, Unc would be much more a source of a calm and enlightenment – particularly with regard to the realm of music. 

Words of wisdom were dispensed freely:

“If the music is ‘at loud ye canna hear yersel think, then how d’ye ken yer actually listenin tae music?”

“The words ‘I love you’ should be spoken close up, and whispered ….. if ye scream them oot til there’s snotters comin oot yer mou’, yer likely tae get a blind date wi fower or six coppers wi big sticks in the back o’ a van”

“It’s nae jist the notes min, it’s the space in atween”

And ither such hippy stuff and fluff.

However, it sunk in eventually, to the point that young hardened cynic began to appreciate the understated and the subtle alongside the “in yer face wi a big slab ya ****” aspects of music and art.

But then, not long after, Ian F Benzie, along with Mabels’ bassist/banjo plucker Buzzby McMillan parted company with Sandie Wyles (fiddle/mando/vocs), Andrew MacDonald (keys/concertina/caller) and Ian Wilson (Bodhran/ percussion/whistle), and went on to form the notorious Old Blind Dogs.

Sandie continued playing with a new Mabel Meldrums line up with a very different approach and sound.

As for that defiant, unflinching, skinny, stoic, cynical, spikey, stripey, cartoon character wannabe, tribute act? Well that was me (still is I suppose) …. your Aberdeen Voice editor.

Which brings me to the purpose of this one off spontaneous and unusual Aberdeen Voice article.

In the last few hours, I discovered a forgotten, presumed lost (or borrowed and not returned) cassette tape which was recorded by myself and Frunkie B from the mixing desk we were charged with the task of operating … or at least, preventing teuchters from plonking/spilling their beer, or stubbing their fags out on.

And so, 30 odd years later, I decided, if I had gone to sleep when I should have … like about an hour before I found that ‘lost’ tape … it might become ‘lost’ again ….. maybe forever!

And so, instead, I lashed a load of wires and boxes together, and now have a digital copy of the whole gig, which I hope to share soon.

However, I felt, when listening to one particular track, which was not part of the band’s set, but performed ‘off the cuff’ while some technical problem was resolved, that there was a wee bit of magic which transcended the background noise and the tape hiss.

Therefore, I felt compelled to ‘splice’ it out, and with the bare minimum of processing, offer it here without any further delay. 

Westlin Winds by Ian F Benzie. Live at Premnay Hall, 86/7 … as part of Mabel Meldrums’ (ceilidh band) show.