Jan 302015

TV Smith is about to tour Germany with the UK Subs, and looks set to spend most of 2015 on the road as per usual. The recent album ‘I Delete’ contains all the observation on society you’d expect and is doing well. He continues to write his tour diaries; the latest is Book Of The Year, another candid account of a year touring, warts – lots of warts – and all. In between dates, merchandising, and admin, he talks with Suzanne Kelly.

 The Warm Up.

24_Credit Steve White

TV Smith Live – Credit: Steve White.

The Adverts dissembled a mere thirty something years ago, but Tim Smith doesn’t seem to have stopped touring or writing since. Before we speak, I watch a particular video of ‘I Delete’ again that I particularly like. The song speaks to me of our surveillance-happy society, personal memory overload, and the little acknowledged fact that sometimes the camera does lie or can be made to lie.

Smith’s vocals vary from quietly controlled but edgy to powerfully angry. ‘I Delete’ is the title track on the latest album – you can pick it up here as well as the tour diaries.

Around nine years ago he began publishing his tour memoirs; there are five books out now.

Aberdonians may be interested to know the latest one ‘Book of the Year’ closes with his date at the Moorings in December 2013 and his meeting Fred Wilkinson, Hen, Flash, and Flash’s sick parrot. The diary entries provide an insight into a life spent in music with a matter-of-fact humour and plain speaking, direct prose.

It’s perhaps a bit of a paradox, Smith’s music can convey such anger and frustration, yet he keeps his calm and keeps his head in situations that would tax anyone else to breaking point and beyond. For those who don’t know, life on the road for any musician is hardly one glamorous adventure after another.

Smith’s put up with late-cancelled shows, vehicle breakdowns, freezing cold hotels, disappearing sound people, kipping on floors, lack of edible food, lack of inedible food, and on more than one occasion amazing rudeness, daftness, incompetence and/or a mix of all these. If you wonder why he bothers, he’s written five engaging tour diaries that spell it out.

The Main Act

5_Credit_Minna Waring

Credit: Minna Waring

I call Tim; he’s at home after 4 UK dates with a luxurious two days to relax “surrounded by boxes of merchandise” before he joins the UK Subs European tour.

I tell him Fred Wilkinson’s tried to get Atilla the Stockbroker down here; and we both hope Tim can make it back to Aberdeen sometime soon.

He’s friendly and polite – he always seems to be.

I will say he sounds a little tired; he’s for one thing answered pretty much the same questions in interviews for 30+ years.

Added to that, his schedule would make anyone else exhausted.

We briefly talk about the phases the music business goes through, and I suggest that anyone who wants to have a career in music on their own terms is managing their career themselves.

“It’s not that far from the way punk started.” He explains.

“it’s the DIY ethic. Right back when that’s how it was. The original punks are older and smarter now. You did what you wanted to do then; that made it new and special. Gradually that DIY spirit got consumed by the industry – people see how terrible the business is now.”

We fairly naturally move to the subject of the ubiquitious TV talent shows and what that’s doing to new music and the more unusual artist.

“It’s an entertainment industry; it’s not about the music. It’s not like the ‘60s where there was at least the pretence of pushing good music.” 

I ask about this new tour he’s to start with the Subs.

“I’m on a never ending tour,” [ which of course he is now I think about it a bit more]

“Another thing that’s changed – you put a record out, went on tour, did nothing for a bit, then did another album and then the record company put you out again. I do 130 dates a year. The subs tour is a bit different. 5 weeks on the trot. For most of the rest of the year it’s 4 or 5 dates here, a trip to Finland or Switzerland, then back to the UK.”

I’m thinking about his accounts of cars breaking down in the middle of nowhere, of vans laden with gear with flat tires on the way to shows, getting lost on the way to clubs, cancelled trains, planes and automobiles. Then, as often as not, the problems start when he gets to a venue – no PA, missing engineers, strange people, malfunctioning equipment – it’s enough too give anyone nightmares.

‘How do you keep your cool on the road?’ – I genuinely wonder. I think of artists I’d worked with in the past who’d get threatening if their dressing room wasn’t to their liking.

“When you set your mind to do something and it becomes increasingly obvious there will be obstacles.. equinamity takes over and you can either just get on with it, or moan and give up. There is a tendency to start moaning and whinging but then the atmosphere gets even worse. It is hard; it is soul destroying and it is irritating. 

“But you have to try in retrospect to see the funny side. Re-writing what happens later is therapeutic. When the van’s broken down and it’s 25 degrees below zero in Finland and you wonder how you’ll get to the show, it’s not fun at the time. But if you lack confidence in how to achieve what you want to do, you’ll just sit and home and become a bedroom artist.”

3_Credit_Anne Schelhaas-Wöll

Credit: Anne Schelhaas-Wöll

His music has touched on virtually every modern social ill I can think of – Lies (senseless, cruel animal experimentation), March of the Giants (which I always associate with Trump), Straight and Narrow (our ‘justice’ and ‘class’ systems) and so on.

‘I Delete’ speaks to me of our CCTV surveillance society (it’s no secret I don’t think Aberdeen Inspired should track us by our mobile phones, by imagery and know how long we spend in any shop – it’s a blatant infringement of our privacy all in the name of ‘footfall’ and marketing – but is a handy tool for anyone wishing to get our details and routines – but I digress); we are apparently the most spied on nation on earth ever.

I spout a rambling question of sorts at Tim about this new song, about writing, about social commentary.

Somehow he’s made sense of where I was trying to go:

“I’m a bit shy about describing lyrics… if I could tell you where it came from I’d be doing it all the time; it’s kind of a mysterious thing. Every now and then you get a snap of an idea, you grab it roll around with it and see if something comes out if it. It’s as much a mystery to me now as it was when I started in 1975. 

“I’m always getting people saying thing to me like ‘that would be a good idea for a song for you.’ But the ones that filter into your brain and spark something off and you get some poetry out of it is a completely different thing than someone demanding to know why ‘I’ve not written something about the aborigines yet’.”

“It’s not my ambition to correct injustice but to write poetry – if I can combine the two, then I’ve done the job.”

It’s not a matter for me of ‘if’ he can do the job of mixing social commentary and poetry – but how often he’s managed to masterfully do so over the decades. Another look at his website and I find the archives offer a list of some of his songs ranked by fans.

‘Immortal Rich’, ‘Gather Your Things And Go’, ‘Generation Y’, ‘Only One Flavour’ – all of this material ‘does the job’ of mixing the issues and concerns of a bewildering world with poetry. I can’t remember which tour diary book (it’ll be the first or the last) this quote is from, but at one point Smith recounts a fan saying to him “You sing about what we’re all thinking.”

All I can say is – absolutely.

It must be these kinds of reactions that makes TV Smith go out year after year on tour. It’s not the food or the hotels. But I ask him about touring all the same.

“You’re a bedroom artist if you don’t get out there. At the end of the day if you see that people have responded to your songs it makes the whole journey worthwhile. If I get to a gig after going through manic situations [and some of them sound very manic indeed] – that’s the fuel that keeps me going. When people go home motivated with their eyes shining you can’t ask for anything else – except maybe heat.”

I mention Fred Wilkinson and that Fred’s keen to try and get both TV Smith and Atilla the Stockbroker back to Aberdeen asap.

“I remember Fred – he gave me two Toxik Ephex CDs after Rebellion last year. Give him my love.”

I will do – Fred will be over the moon.

I mention that when we next get him up here, we’ve got a great place for him to stay near the Moorings; a luxe B&B where he can stay up and drink all night if he so wishes.

“I have stopped the staying with the friends scenario – I’ve stopped it because it becomes a non-stop party. People assume you’re the life and soul but when you’re doing it 130 times a year…”

I’m not surprised. In his diaries he seems to always be hunting out the friend of a friend he’s meant to stay with, finding that he’s got a kids’ bedroom to sleep in and the kids have been sent off elsewhere; dogs and cats barge into what little sleep he gets; and everyone expects that he can wake up, travel for hours, not eat, sound check eventually, play, socialise, merchandise, pack up, and then stay up all night drinking and talking.

One hundred thirty plus nights a year.

Before I let him get back to the mountains of work that undoubtedly await, we discuss a few upcoming festivals, and that TV Smith and the Bored Teenagers will play at Rebellion this year. They’ll do two sets; and TV will quite probably do an acoustic set as well. I’m just hoping that he’ll find time to get back up this way soon.

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Nov 042014

ANL__Aberdeen__October_2014_by By Dod Morrison.

The League has been going for an impressive 34 years now, but despite this they have never played Aberdeen.

It was a sold out show at the Moorings, the best place for punk music in Aberdeen.

The band came on stage and Animal screamed “We are the League!” but nothing happened… Tommy’s guitar was not working!

A couple of minutes later we start again, and the lyrics of this song sums it up:

“You criticise us, you say we’re shit
But we’re up here and we’re doing it
So don’t you criticise the things we do
No fucker pays to go and see you”

and a couple of hundred people had indeed paid to see them.

It was like a sauna in there with people jumping all about from the off. We got 9 songs from the “We Are the League” album, which is in my all-time top ten albums. The band did things differently from other groups, and played the big hitters early, instead of leaving them until the end.

“So what”, their most controversial song back in the day and now covered by the likes of Metallica, was their fourth song in, and “Woman” which all the women love too, was a couple of songs later. They both had the crowd going berserk.

Animal commanded the stage in his usual leathers, complete with menacing look, scowling at the crowd, dropping to his knees and thumping the ground: the crowd loved it. These guys haven’t lost any of their energy over the years. Shady and Tom came to the front during some of the songs, playing guitar and bass like rock stars, meanwhile Nato on drums was banging away like a man possessed.

They were a tight outfit and a great live act. Catch them if you can.

Jan 132014

Julie Thompson continues her series on photographing bands in Aberdeen taking in Malfunction and KWEEF at Downstairs @ The Malt Mill and the Complete Stone Roses supported by Dave Winston Brown at The Lemon Tree. 

malfunction1As I sit here typing these words, Christmas is past and a new year is very imminent (in, oh, 25 minutes in fact). Between these two events I have had 3 successive nights at The Lemon Tree – with a quick dash over to an album launch at Downstairs after the first of them.

The first of the 3 Lemon Tree gigs was Big Country, supported by Dave Sharp (formerly of The Alarm).

As this gig has been reviewed by Suzanne Kelly, I won’t be saying much about it.

George Mackie was the only other tog there, which surprised me. I would have expected maybe at least one of the local newspaper photographers to have been there.

Once the first 3 songs were over, George Mackie suggested we head over to Downstairs @ the Malt Mill, where there was an album launch gig for a local band, Malfunction. It turned out that he was also going to be shooting the next two nights at the Lemon Tree, so this gave me an excellent opportunity to get to know him a bit better and to get our interview done.

KWEEF, the support band, was just finishing their set when we arrived and Downstairs was looking very atmospheric – the smoke machine had been on overtime by the look of it. There was a decent sized crowd there, which was good to see so close after Christmas.

Using KWEEF for a camera settings check, I found a boost on ISO was needed – up to the scary 5000-6400 level. The images would be noisy but if a focus lock was achievable and a lucky light was shining in the right direction then I should hopefully get some reasonable results.

From a previous visit here, I knew I could get an almost drummers-eye view of the band so I decided to see how it looked from there with a fisheye lens. I think foggy might be the best way to describe it – so much so, the other side of the small stage was impossible to see.

However, it’s not often you can get close enough to the drummer for photos so I stuck around waiting for the end of the last number and a flourish from the drummer.

After a short hiatus, it was the turn of Malfunction, who were there to promote their new album.

I have to say, crowd watching is always fun at punk gigs, which is handy when you have tricky shooting conditions – you can, for example, crowd watch when waiting for the smoke to clear or even see possibly shots building up; crowd interaction with the band is often interesting.

A flashgun would maybe have made the shoot easier but, as I’d not originally planned on going to Downstairs and couldn’t use one at The Lemon Tree, I had not brought one with me.

KWEEFSome planning and patience (and a certain amount of luck) was needed for photographing the band – mostly waiting for one of the lights to swing around for illumination and hoping it coincided with a good shot and a lull in smoke output. Now I have some experience of them, a challenge like this is always good fun – it keeps you on your toes.

Malfunction will be one of 32 bands playing for the chance of a record deal at the Battle of the Bands, organised by Fat Hippy Records.

The first elimination heats kick off from the 10th January at Downstairs. The Facebook link above gives a list of the bands (4 per heat) and dates they’re playing so why not go along to provide some support.

On chatting with George Mackie I discover he has been photographing live music for some 3 and a half years now – starting with a standard DSLR & kit lens and on camera flash.

Not knowing any different at the time he took his photos in fully automatic mode. His first foray into the live music world was at a UK Subs gig in Drummonds, on a night when Dod Morrison & Andy Thorne, both established music togs, were there to shoot.

The reason he began shooting gigs? Well, I’ll let him tell you in his own words:

“There was a lack of reporting online of smaller gigs in Aberdeen that I’d attended and it annoyed me a bit. Some shows were just great but only attended by thirty people and my friends all said they didn’t know it was on blah blah, just one excuse after another. That, and reading then Explodes (now New York Johnny) lengthy write ups on his My Space page of gigs he’d attended made me wonder if we could create something ourselves; like a paper fanzine of old, but online.

“Godzilla Blues is another person who can put his learned thoughts into words and give you a detailed account of a show. Both these people are experienced musos who write as it was, not as `all the roses are blooming` type reporters.”

george_mackie_TV_SmithThis is what led to the formation of Flares n Seagulls – described as An alternative music magazine for the Kingdom of Aberdonia – where George shoots (sometimes doubling up as reviewer) the images to go with the reviewers words.

I asked him what he found the most difficult in live music photography. Frustration, mostly, when he doesn’t nail the shots he was wanting at a gig.

He’s very self critical and as a big fan of live music feels the need to justify his place in the pit by getting that 9/10 shot he was after.

One of the things he finds most challenging is when a band or artist looks disinterested:

‘Trust me, if you look disinterested on stage then it will show in the photographs. Make an effort, look good, and do those songs you practice justice. You get one chance to capture (or lose) that audience so don’t bore us with endless `banter` but lose yourself in the music, whether it be pin drop silence and an acoustic guitar or a 100 mph amp busting set. I know what set of images I’d rather look at.’

One of his early gig shoots (with aforementioned kit camera/lens & flash) was remembered when I asked about one of his more exciting shoots:

Cancer Bats and Vera Cruz at Drummonds. I’ve never seen the place rammed like it was that night and the bands and crowd were intense to the max. Loved it.”

I’ll continue with this interesting interview next time, but for now we go back to The Lemon Tree.

Dave Winston Brown was providing support on my second evening there – local lad, with a pleasant and very gravelly voice, also plays with a local band called The Smokin’ Bugler Band. I was actually quite impressed with his performance – an acoustic set which closed with a cover of the T-Rex classic, Get It On.

By this time the place was packed to the brim with Stone Roses fans, some brandishing rubber bats – no, I don’t know why, either.

Complete Stone Roses soon had the place bouncing. There is something about the Stone Roses – they have passionate fans and looking into the crowd you could see they knew all the words and were singing along.

The lighting was tricky at the start – red lighting is hard to photograph as it washes out a lot of the detail and makes the photos look mushy. This can be fixed for some images – to a certain extent – in processing.

completeSR1One of the reasons I shoot RAW files is for that added flexibility during processing. It’s not ideal though and can make for some time consuming sessions at the computer.
Quite often the only option is conversion to black & white but many people prefer colour images. It’s a fine balance to find.

One thing that is not commonly known is that photographers will spend more time working on the photos than actually taking them – a lot more time.

One 3 song shoot (anywhere from 10-25 minutes) of an active band can leave me with some 200 or more photos to pick through.

With experience, the numbers taken do decrease and the hit rate increases. Indeed I have noticed that happening – at the start, my trigger-happy self would come home with 500 or more photos per band (most of them rubbish). It can take hours to go through them all, remove the chaff and pick out the best ones. Then you add on processing time for those you finally pick out.

When our time in the pit was over, it was time to grab a drink, relax a bit and watch the rest of the show – at The Lemon Tree we hang out by the security guy at the pit entrance, where there is usually some space.

It’s not the best place for a good view of the band but you can crowd watch and – something that I think is no bad thing – become familiar to (and with) the security people at a venue. It’s just good manners after all.

Sadly, the enjoyable evening came to an abrupt end. I noticed the security man, stationed at the other end of the pit, move forward and leap over the pit wall into the crowd. He had spotted that someone was down – a woman appeared to have collapsed or fallen and was not getting up again.

CompleteSR4Up on the stage, the lead singer noticed the activity and stopped the band playing, calling for the house light to come up.
After it became apparent this was not going to be a short hiatus, the band said they were leaving the stage, as this had to take priority – full marks to them. 

An ambulance was summoned – it was very quick to arrive – but in the meantime a first-aider from the audience came forward to help and security cleared the immediate area.

It appeared that she may have banged her head when she fell, so she was taken off to the ambulance and, I assume, onward to the hospital to be checked over.

I can’t fault the reaction of the band, The Lemon Tree staff, the first-aider and the ambulance service in their response to this. Well done everyone.

The last of the three Lemon Tree events of the weekend was for Terry McDermott & The Bonfires. You can read about this, along with the second instalment of the George Mackie interview, next time.

Earlier, I totalled up the number of gigs I’ve attended and photographed since mid September. It came to 34 – all on top of my day job. I guess that explains why I was pretty knackered most of the last 3 months. Now I’m on my way up the learning curve I think I can slow down a bit. So far, January is shaping up to be a fairly quiet month, as far as gigs go.

Happy New Year to you all – I hope your 2014 is full of joy and excitement. Oh and feel free to come and say hello if you see me at a gig one day – I don’t bite, honest.

 More photos:

Complete Stone Roses
Dave Winston Brown

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Jan 022014

Local Punk stalwart Fred Wilkinson of Toxik Ephex opened for Tim aka TV Smith at the Moorings on 21 December; anyone for hundreds of miles around – literally – who truly loved punk was there. Suzanne Kelly reviews.

tvsmith4There are some people for whom The Adverts’ contribution to punk starts and ends with Gary Gilmore’s Eyes; they are the equivalent of the adult who never grows out of eating fish fingers and has no idea a whole world of culinary delights are out there.

Such people are either to be pitied, or frogmarched if not pogo’d to a TV Smith performance.

A few years (decades?) back I had the privilege of seeing Smith perform fairly frequently in London.

It is amazing how little he’s changed physically (the hair is now short, and he remains wiry in the extreme), or sadly how little the need for his music has changed.

Lyrically, I can’t think of any similar punk solo artist who is so consistently, elegantly sticking a metaphorical pin into society’s ills. The melodies are haunting, elegantly simple, and no small part of the reason people remember the words and their messages so accurately.

‘Lies’ is easily one of the most powerful and musically engaging anti animal experimentation works anyone’s ever written.

It appears  on a compilation, ‘Artists for Animals’ and even with contributions from Madness, Captain Sensible and Chumbawamba, it was the most memorable track on the album.  Its opening lines sum up the animal experimentation industry sharply and succinctly:-

So you say we’ll live longer
With a cure for cancer, with a cure for heart attack
Science saves!, Science conquers!
And we get new toothpaste, and we get a new floor wax
You lied to me, lied to me, lied to me
I fell for it, cause I wanted it, I wanted it easy


Before the show I have a chance to speak to Tim; he’s relaxed and smiling as he’s getting ready in a Moorings back room.

tvsmith1He has four books out now which are on sale tonight (Volume Five will be out this year and Aberdeen will be in it!); there are a few t-shirts left and a host of CDs – unreleased material, live shows, studio work. We briefly talk about how merchandising is a necessity for every act on the road today. Petrol, hotels and food are not getting any cheaper, and with music being openly pirated/stolen, sales of goods to the fans keep acts on the road.  He’s done an incredible 122 shows in 2013; tonight will be his last before 2014.

“If I didn’t love doing it, I wouldn’t be doing it” he confirms.

We talk about the rigours of touring, and how it’s taken its toll on many different acts (he’s now frequently touring as an opening act to the UK Subs; the Vibrators mainly used to take that spot).

Touring has taken its toll on many bands; Knox for instance doesn’t tour with The Vibrators at present. But Smith seems to thrive on tour.

“I don’t use a set list” Smith says as I try to get an idea of what he’ll be doing tonight, “I try to react to what the audience wants.”  We chat for a while longer, and I thank him for his time, telling him he’ll probably want some time to get ready.  He laughs and says “I’m going to have a beer.”

Smith and Fred Wilkinson talk for a while at the bar; they’ve not met before, but have more than a few things in common – subject matter, punk longevity, writing/singing/playing. When Fred comes on, Smith listens attentively.

What can I say about Fred Wilkinson?

A fortnight ago, a Press & Journal reviewer gave his boss’ wife’s restaurant at the Trump golf course a score of 6 out of 6.  I’ll bet the reviewer would not have dared to do otherwise.

_87A8517Thankfully no such pressures exist at Aberdeen Voice, where Fred is editor and a founder. That Wilkinson’s performance was worth a 6 out of 6 rating on the P&J scale is due not to Fred’s editorship of the Voice, but is rather due to 30+ years of writing and performing brought to bear tonight.

He sings and plays bouzouki with material covering industrial injury (“cotton dust has got my lungs”), coal mining (“I miss the noise, I miss the boys, I miss the collier’s ways”). The backing band includes musicians who have been in and out of long-running local punk act, Toxik Ephex.

Tonight’s set is significantly more restrained an outing than the recent Toxik Ephex Malt Mill appearance with Dod Copland (and half the audience) on vocals.

That outing was chaotic, frenetic with band members and audience members changing roles and places with some speed.

Some random guy played guitar while Dod Copland left for a cigarette. Pink feather dusters were waved in the air, a nod to the bizarre arrest of Copland this past summer.

The police lay siege to his flat for hours on the apparent eyewitness claim a man was inside with a gun.  The police eventually realised the home was empty, trashed it in a search for guns, and took Copland into custody (they deny it was an arrest) days later in a dawn raid at his girlfriend’s flat.

During his hours in custody, they apparently tried to get him to say his feather duster could have been mistaken for a gun. Of course it could have.  There’s no shortage of material for punk songwriters in Aberdeen.

_87A8523Meanwhile, back at the Moorings, Fred Wilkinson introduces and his newly brought together backing band for the last few songs, and their set goes down well.

That there is much more to Fred’s music than classic punk is displayed tonight in material clearly influenced by traditional Scottish music, rock and dare I say it – country.

Smith comes on.  A couple, probably in their 30s, are singing every line; we are singing together before I know it.

We are all happy when Smith plays the first few chords of ‘March of the Giants’ (one of Smith’s most recognised and acclaimed songs) and at least half the crowd is singing along on the chorus (“It’s not art, it’s not science, it’s the march of the giants”).

The couple have driven up from Manchester today.

“We come to see TV every time he plays in the UK” they tell me.

I soon can’t help but call out for two of my favourite songs like the rest of the audience is doing, ‘Lies’ and ‘Straight and Narrow’.  The Manchester set particularly approve of this last choice, and start shouting for it as well.

“I haven’t played this for a while” Smith says.

It’s a short, sad story of the difficulty if not impossibility of coming back from a criminal record, and how people can be forced into crime in certain circumstances.

I was thinking about this piece with its reference to ‘3 months of Sundays’ as a reference to a prison sentence in light of the ‘Affluenza’ defence shockingly and successfully used by a rich American man recently who struck and killed someone with his car.

The defence had argued that the accused believed his family’s wealth and position cushioned him from being responsible for his actions.  How true that proved.  And I’m happy that the couple, clearly younger than Smith or than me, know every line.  (Here are the lyrics, which are well worth reading )


Smith’s playing sounds just as rousing, heartfelt and true as it ever has.

Smith’s playing sounds just as rousing, heartfelt and true as it ever has.

The voice is the same; it has anger and appeals; it is a call for people to get involved in what’s going on all around us and do something positive about it.

His music and lyrics have influenced more activism than he may suspect.  This is not music to be complacent by.

I think of Donald Trump, and can’t help but wish TV Smith would pen something about the goings-on at Menie; it seems a natural for Smith’s talents.

‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ comes towards the end of the evening; even those who weren’t as familiar with the solo material as they are to The Adverts are singing along.

For some reason a human pyramid appears at the front of the stage, and sways drunkenly for a few minutes before its inevitable collapse in a heap of legs.

“I’ve not had a human pyramid before” Smith says; he’s amused.  The Moorings have managed to entertain the entertainer.

More drinks are had; more CDs and books are sold.  While I am no autograph hound, I do like to collect books signed by their authors; and the opportunity is seized.

He’ll be back before long, and we’re looking forward to it; I do think the Manchester contingent will be back, too.

This evening’s been another memorable one for the Moorings; Hen, Flash and Fudge continue to come up with amazing acts.  We’ll just have to see what’s next, but do come see Smith when he’s here next – particularly in a town like Aberdeen, his music strikes chords and hits nerves.

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Nov 012013

On Friday 7 June 2013, Grampian Police surrounded an empty flat on a curious tip-off that someone with a gun was inside. The owner George Copland was arrested elsewhere on Sunday 9 June. The police spent days tearing his place and his possessions to pieces, leaving an impassable mess behind them. Released without charge, he has had absolutely no help with clean-up and no apology.

Having visited the property at the end of October, contacted the police and Aberdeen City Council, Suzanne Kelly reports.

George Copland's property thoroughly searched and left in a heap.

George Coplands property thoroughly searched and left in a heap. This scene is repeated throughout the house.

George Copland is not well; this is no surprise. He was unjustly, as it transpires, arrested after Grampian Police dramatically lay siege to his empty flat, cordoned it off for days while conducting a destructive search that yielded no evidence of gun crime or any other crime.

He was arrested on the following Sunday even though there was no evidence of any crime, held for some 12 hours, and released without charge.

He is also without explanation, apology, any form of clean-up and any compensation.

Freedom of Information requests have been lodged for details of the arrest, siege and search. The police have not given any comment on the situation.

Normally if someone is the subject of a destructive, intensive, intrusive search and no wrongdoing is discovered, they are entitled to compensation and to having the property restored to its former condition.

And what a condition the flat is in.  George gave me a tour – as far as was possible.  I was not able to fit into parts of the premises for all of the possessions, many broken, strewn throughout.

It seems items were removed from the loft, examined, and left.  Items such as CDs lie around an emptied CD rack, many broken. George enjoys playing with remote control toys; some of which are – or rather were – worth a fair amount of money.

“See this car; it was in perfectly good shape,” he tells me, holding a large, clearly intricate radio-controlled car; its front wheels are missing and it seems to have been crushed.

“They must have stood on it to break it.”

“I’ve had to see my doctor; this is really too much.”

George continues;

“I tried to send photographs of the damage to WPC Niki Trower (an officer who seems to be involved with the case), but she says she can’t access the photos I’ve emailed for security reasons.”

Another broken RC toyI trust WPC Trower will look at these photos. This is how a man with mental health issues has had his flat left for four months after a raid which arguably should never have happened.

When I visit the house, it is clear that anyone claiming a gunman was inside must have gone up close to the windows: what made the witness or witnesses make such a claim? What led them to look into the windows?

The house is attached to another house, but its windows are not exactly on the beaten path.

The part of the house which is visible from a distance over a grassy area near Provost Rust Drive does not even have any windows.  The window near one of the two doors to the flat only has small windows, and unless someone specifically went to the back of the house and peered in, there is no way they would see anything there.

Then we come to the other door. The main entrance to the flat is down a short path, and past the other attached house. Unless someone were coming to visit the other house and continued on to George Copland’s front door and peered in the windows, they would not readily see anyone.

No one would have any business going down this path unless they were visiting the neighbour or George; if visiting the neighbour, what would have made them continue past the door of their destination and look into George’s windows?

George tells me:

 “I had aeroplanes hanging up in the bathroom; they were taken down and thrown in the bath”

Everywhere is the sight of broken toys and goods, some smashed, some clearly deliberately dissembled – while police apparently looked for an invisible gunman with non-existent guns.

Famously (as reported in The Sun), the police apparently  tried to suggest to Copland and get him to agree that a remote control and a feather duster could have been taken for weapons. Who was meant to be brandishing the imaginary weapon or even the feather duster is still a mystery, as we know as the police knew when they arrested Copland the flat they surrounded for 8 hours was empty.

George Copland door.George does not have a copy of the police report yet, but the police are, perhaps unsurprisingly, adamant that the siege was justified and the witnesses were trustworthy.

Aberdeen Voice will report further on the details when they are released.

Turning again to the main entrance door – it had been broken in, and is now bolted into place, unusable. If there were a problem such as a fire (not inconceivable, given the state of the place) there is only one exit now where there would have been two.

The windows are too high to be utilised for the purpose of fire escape.

The Council have been approached about their failure to mend this door; apparently it takes weeks and hundreds of pounds to get a specialist door like this replaced.

This raises some interesting questions about procurement, keeping spares around, and how we wound up with such an expensive item with such a long lead time on the City’s budget. Let’s hope no other vulnerable people need a replacement door in a hurry.

In terms of expense, the siege and search will have cost the taxpayer a considerable sum.

Surely the responsibility for having misjudged the situation so badly sits squarely with the police, and restitution, if not apology, are long overdue.

There seems to be nothing the Council can do about the mess and destruction; this indeed should be resolved by Police Scotland immediately.

George Copland in flat 2 picToo much time has gone by; too much stress has been caused.

The Police will be put on notice that a formal complaint and legal action will be started if there is no positive development forthcoming.

One anonymous donor has come forward; others who wish to support any legal action are welcome to contact Aberdeen Voice for details.

Some politicians have been trying to help, and it is appreciated, but so far, nothing has changed for George, except that the strain is causing his health to deteriorate.

If we don’t live in a police state, let’s prove that now, and get Copland the help, flat clean-up and restitution he is clearly due:  NOW.

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Oct 292013

The city was shocked in the summer when it emerged that a police incident, reported as a stand-off between police and an alleged armed individual in an Aberdeen house, turned out to be a hoax. The reverberations are still being felt but questions remain unanswered.

The history

7 June 2013 – armed police surround an empty property, on reports that a gunman is inside.  The flat was empty.

9 June 2013 – George Copland, occupier of the council flat at the centre of the siege is arrested in the early hours at his girlfriend’s flat.  After 12-13 hours in custody, he is released.

27 October 2013 – Suzanne Kelly updates Aberdeen Voice readers on what appears to unfinished business and an injustice which continues to affect an innocent citizen.

homeMr Copland’s flat was all but destroyed as the police tore the property apart in the search for the weapon allegedly brandished in the empty flat. They came up with a feather duster, a broken remote control toy and a legal air gun, but nothing illegal.
Mr Copland alleges he was prevented from taking necessary medicine while in custody, and further alleges that the police told him the name of one of the so-called witnesses.

You may think that in the ensuing months he would have been compensated, as is expected when police searches are found to be wrong and cause an innocent party to suffer loss. You may also have thought that a police apology would be in order, since no-one can quite explain why he was arrested days after the siege took place.

You may also think that Aberdeen City Council, aware of a national news story centred on a flat they owned and managed, would have ensured that the occupant was looked after.

Apology and repairs?

Aberdeen Voice can confirm that there has been no compensation, no apology and not even a proper front door replacement to date.

There have been renewed calls by Aberdeen Voice for the police and the Council’s Housing and Environment section to explain the delays in righting the wrongs. The police have now been asked to release the arrest record and provide explanations as to how they managed the situation.

Questions for the police include:-

* Did they disclose the name of a witness to Copland?

* Why did they arrest him in the first place?

* If they suspected there was a weapon, why did they wait days before making an arrest?

* What is the background of the witnesses? Do they have any prior police records?  What do their statements say? How could they have seen anyone in an empty flat?

* Knowing of Copland’s health issues, are they adding unnecessarily to the stress they have caused by holding back on compensation and an apology?

The Council has been asked to explain why it takes four months to replace what they must have known to be a battered–in door in a vulnerable person’s home. In response to requests made by politicians, they claim they only knew on 21 September that a door would need to be ordered.

Whilst it may be a security door that is required, it beggars belief that a council can have such an appalling procurement system. What if someone even more vulnerable than George Copland didn’t have a secure front door all this time?

Aberdeen Voice will bring you answers as soon as it gets further information, but getting anything released has proven difficult. Whilst we cannot dispute that the siege was carried out to protect the public, no-one is protecting Copland, who was entirely innocent. Could any of our institutions be trying to cover their tracks?


There has been one bright spot. Glasgow musician Deek Allan of Oi Polloi heard about the situation, and held a benefit gig for Copland. The band, its friends and relatives sent approximately £370, which was greatly appreciated.

Copland’s situation

In the meantime George Copland, who already faces ongoing challenges with his health, is feeling helpless and defeated. He can’t face starting the massive clean-up that should be done on his flat, which arguably should be paid for by the police.

He is reluctant to go out; he feels his neighbours are assuming he must have done something wrong to have been treated this way without compensation or apology.

He told Voice:

This is a nightmare.  The whole thing has put me back [he has had some very troubling thoughts since the siege and the arrest]. I can’t face going out much. It’s too much”

Aberdeen Voice will redouble its efforts to get to the truth, and to get compensation. A follow-up will appear within a week. Thanks are due to the politicians who are trying to help behind the scenes, but this is a situation that needs immediate resolution.

It happened to be Copland who was unjustly accused, arrested and whose home and contents were violated. Who will it be next time if we don’t find out the whole truth and learn lessons now?

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Aug 192013

A benefit concert has been arranged in aid of George ‘Dod’ Copland whose Aberdeen home was at the centre of a dramatic armed siege on June 7. With thanks to Ruaridh McAilein.

The concert featuring Oi Polloi, Billy Liar, The Bucky Skanks and T34 takes place at Audio, 14 Midland Street, Glasgow this Friday, Aug 23.

As reported in a previous Aberdeen Voice article, much of Mr Copland’s property was damaged or destroyed as police forced entry to search his unoccupied house following what was later reported to be a hoax call.

Mr Copland is still seeking an apology and compensation from the police.

Ruaridh McAilein, lead singer of popular punk band Oi Polloi told Aberdeen Voice.

“Dod has clearly been the victim of a significant injustice here. It’s extremely disturbing to think that something like this can happen in the first place but the fact that he has still not been compensated for either the damage to his property or to his reputation – not to mention the adverse effect that this must have had on his health – simply beggars belief.

“We’ve known Dod for the best part of thirty years now and can vouch for how willing he has always been to put himself out to help other people in need both through his community work and also in his personal life – and we also know how much pleasure he has brought to others over the years through his musical endeavours with Toxik Ephex – so the least we can do is to attempt in some small way to return the favour now that he finds himself in these straits after being treated in this quite frankly disgraceful way by the police.

“It’s a sad indictment on the state of affairs in Aberdeen that the authorities appear to have done very little to put right this clear wrong and that it is left up to other ordinary people like ourselves to help someone in this situation.

“On the positive side, when we first suggested the idea of a benefit concert for Dod it was greeted very enthusiastically indeed by the many people in Edinburgh and Glasgow who have come to know Dod through his musical performances with Toxik Ephex.

“He has a lot of friends all over Scotland, and there will be plenty of us coming together in Glasgow on Friday night to not only raise some much needed cash to help Dod repair some of the damage to his house but also to enjoy a night of excellent music and partying of the kind that Dod himself has so often provided for us over the years.

“We are hoping to not only collect a decent sum for Dod but also to show him that he’s not alone in facing what’s happened and that he is held in considerable affection by a lot of people throughout the country who have come to know him through his music.

“We also hope that further publicising what exactly happened to Dod will help keep the pressure on the authorities to apologise and properly compensate him.

“We’d encourage as many people as possible to come along for a night of great live music and to support the cause of a person who has spent so much of his own time over the years helping and entertaining others.”

Bands: Oi Polloi, Billy Liar, The Bucky Skanks, T34

Venue: Audio, 14 Midland Street, Glasgow
Friday Aug 23, 8pm
£6 on the door

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Jun 212013

Suzanne Kelly met with George Copland, the resident of an Aberdeen house which was the scene of an armed police siege – when no one was in it – who was arrested and held for approximately 13 hours.

The 7th June siege, called a ‘blunder’ in mainstream media, was a massive police operation launched on the say-so of an anonymous tipster.
A 29 year-old-man, was subsequently detained for questioning on suspicion of wasting police time the same day of the siege.
Why then, was George Copland arrested and his property searched, on account of a hoax, days later?

Copland’s arrest and subsequent treatment unfolded like this:

Copland was arrested at his girlfriend’s home in the early hours of Sunday 9th June.   Police apparently shouted ‘Jo – we need to see you and make sure you are all right’ before breaking in.

It must be borne in mind that at this point in time, it was known to the police and the public that the siege was a hoax.  His own home was trashed by police looking for weaponry; his possessions broken and scattered.

Upon his arrest, Copland informed police he needed medication, and despite being told a doctor was coming, no one ever saw him.

He was told ‘specialists’ wanted to question him about a suspicious item found at his home (which Copland demonstrated to be no more than a broken remote controlled toy ) and was questioned repeatedly about a fluffy dusting brush – the police insinuated during questioning that these could be seen as ‘weapons;’

Copland feels police were trying to get him to say these items may have resembled guns/weapons.

There is apparently an acknowledgement that he was not in his home at the time of the siege.

No lawyer was present at this questioning. Police, with no warrant, wished to search his girlfriend’s flat.  He was held for approximately 13 hours.

There is no talk of compensation for the destruction; there is no apology.   There is no proper explanation as to how someone could be arrested for a hoax perpetrated on their home when they were not in it.

In an extraordinary move, police tell Copland the name of the person arrested for placing the hoax call.  This information still has not been released to the media.

Copland tells Aberdeen Voice:

 “I will be talking to a lawyer about this incident.  I want an acknowledgement this arrest and my treatment were totally wrong and unacceptable.  I want my flat put right, and I want compensation for the destruction of my property – but also for the damage to my reputation.  People are giving me a wide berth after the siege and my arrest.”

Copland openly tells Aberdeen Voice he has had problems in the past and is known to the police.  He has been treated for mental health issues in the past, which may be related to his Crohn’s disease, a debilitating digestive condition.
His mental state improved after surgery for his medical condition.

That the police knew of his issues but did not either allow him his medication or send for a doctor as promised is another unacceptable dimension of this case.

If Copland had a past record with the police, it is nothing compared to the record of the person police named to Copland as the alleged hoax caller, who has serious charges and convictions against his name.

Aberdeen Voice have sent police a contact form from the Police Scotland website, and have sent them questions concerning this story for comment.  Their response will be published once received.

This may be a UK first – arresting the owner of a property where a hoax was perpetrated which caused the police to launch a massive armed response.  An innocent man was subjected to a police ordeal, loss of reputation, property damage, medical neglect, potential violation of rights – all for an incident that never was.

No one is suggesting that the police should not respond to genuine threats – but did the police behave correctly at the 7th June siege or when arresting George Copland?  It hardly seems so.

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May 172013

Steven Severin, a founder member of the legendary band Siouxsie and the Banshees, returns to Aberdeen for a rare LIVE performance at Peacock Visual Arts on Saturday, 1st June.

Following on from his 50 date Vampyr world tour throughout 2012, Steven Severin returns for 9 select UK shows, giving audiences a rare opportunity to hear his electronic score for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

This score was first premiered in a series of performances at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009 and is the fourth in his ongoing film accompaniment series – Music For Silents.

In live performance, this acclaimed solo artist and founder member of Siouxsie and the Banshees, presents a mesmerising synthesis of sound and image, heightening appreciation of the surreal and enigmatic nature of the original work.

During their reign, Siouxsie and the Banshees established themselves as one of the foremost groups of alternative artists and the only survivors of the London punk scene to evolve, innovate and succeed until their final demise in 2002.

Severin has since committed himself, almost exclusively, to scoring for film and TV and, since 2008, has been performing live electronic accompaniment to silent films.   In doing so, he has successfully startled audiences which have now come to expect the unexpected from a man who has crossed paths with such diverse luminaries as John Cale, Alan Moore, Lydia Lunch, Marc Almond, Merc Cunningham, Robert Smith and the Tiger Lillies.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Robert Weine’s unsettling tale of fear and obsession, finds its aural counterpart in Severin’s suitably textured score – a synthesised, highly atmospheric soundscape drawing the viewer rhythmically into the dreamlike imagery on screen.

In the film, which is often cited as one of the most influential films of the silent era, Werner Krauss plays the title character – a sinister hypnotist who travels the carnival circuit displaying a somnambulist named Cesare, played by Conrad Veidt.

In one tiny German town, a series of murders coincides with Caligari’s visit and when the best friend of hero Francis (Friedrich Feher) is killed, the deed appears to be the conclusion of a romantic rivalry over the hand of the lovely Jane (Lil Dagover.)

Francis suspects Caligari but he is ignored by the police and, investigating on his own, he seemingly discovers that Caligari has been ordering the somnambulist to commit the murders.  But the story eventually takes a more surprising direction.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, remains to this day an important part of the history of German cinema as it was one of the very first horror films and its expressionist style was essential to the development of film noir.

Severin is appearing at Peacock Visual at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday 1st June, 2013.

Tickets, which cost £10 each, are available from Peacock Visual Arts and can be booked by calling 01224 639539.

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May 012013

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

From The Jam is Bruce Foxton, original bass player from The Jam, Russell Hastings and Mark Brzezicki.  From the Jam gained an immediate reputation for the kind of incendiary ‘live’ performances that sealed the reputation of The Jam.  Tickets for the Lemon Tree on 5 May are £20.

Reconciled in 2010 following family bereavements, Paul Weller’s single Fast Car/Slow Traffic from ‘Wake Up The Nation’ , also featured Bruce on bass.

There were also incredible scenes when Bruce recently appeared ‘live’ alongside Paul – for the first time in 28 years – to perform The Jam classics The Eton Rifles and The Butterfly Collector as well as Fast Car/Slow Traffic at the second of Weller’s five night residency at the Albert Hall.

Subsequently, the two worked together on the sleeve notes of the 30th Anniversary release of Sound Affects by The Jam.

Bruce has a new album out, ‘Back in the Room’.  PAUL WELER now appears as one of two Very Special Guests on this new album, along with Stax and Blues Brothers legend, STEVE CROPPER. The album contains a total of 12 tracks, all written by Bruce Foxton and From The Jam vocalist/guitarist, Russell Hastings.

The Jam had amazing chart success with 18 singles and 7 albums to make the top 40 in the United Kingdom from their debut in 1977 to their break up in 1982. Their last 5 albums were all top ten hits and their last 8 singles made it into the top 10. ’Just Who Is the 5 O’Clock Hero?’ made the charts at no. 8 as an import and remains one of the the best-selling import singles of all time in the UK.

The Band:

BRUCE FOXTON is a part of the English Rock and Roll establishment. A musician (born 1/9/1955 Woking, Surrey) who is most commonly recognised as the bass player in legendary The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers.

In The Jam, he and drummer Rick Buckler were the driving force, power and rhythm section behind singer, guitarist, and songwriter Paul Weller. Bruce’s versatility is evident, taking lead vocals on David Watts (The Kinks) and News Of The World,which was one from his own catalogue of compositions. Foxton’s most notable work was Smithers-Jones, featuring bass/guitar/drums for the B-side of When You’re Young’ and later reworked with strings for the Setting Sons  LP.

After The Jam split in ’82, Foxton pursued a solo career. He had a hit with the single Freak and collaborated with other musicians, until he got the call from Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns, staying with SLF for fifteen years, recording four albums, namely, Flags and Emblems, Get a Life, Tinderbox and Guitar and Drum.

In 1994, Rick and Bruce collaborated on Our Story, a biography of their eventful and cherished years in The Jam. Bruce toured with Bruce Watson, Mark Brzezicki (Big Country) and Simon Townshend (The Who) in 2006 as The Casbah Club supporting The Who in the U.K and Europe promoting their new album Venustraphobia.

RUSSELL HASTINGS (born 6th July 1965,Sussex England) worked with Rick Buckler since November 2005. A musician/vocalist in his own right Russell has shocked audiences nationwide this year with his authentic and passionate interpretation in performance (vocals and guitar) of The Jam’s back catalogue.

Russell grew up on The Jam and this is evident in his attention to every detail, from the Rickenbacker to the Marshall 4×4 everything as it was and should be. Energy, pride, execution and dynamic delivery remain his hallmarks as he continues to collaborate with Bruce as From The Jam..