Apr 112019
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The Little History of Aberdeenshire’.

Duncan Harley’s fascinating new book is described as a little history of Aberdeenshire, yet covers a 4,000 year time span from the Neolithic when peasant farmers built the stone circles that dot the countryside through to North Sea oil.

Along the way we read about battles, plagues and the arrival of the modern era when Aberdeenshire finally became accessible to the outside world: turnpikes, canals and railways were built.

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

As with his previous book, The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, Duncan throws in lots of quirky and curious facts to liven up the tale.

Did you know that the bulldozers building the Aberdeen bypass uncovered a whole load of new archaeological finds including ninety Roman bread ovens at Milltimber? That it took years to complete the monument to the battle of Harlaw near Inverurie, because of a reluctance to add the armorial shields representing the highland clans?

The expense involved was considered as ‘paying for the arms of the enemy’ (and this 500 years after the battle took place). The shields were finally added in 2011 for the 600th anniversary.

Or how about this? Stonehaven’s oldest building, the Tollbooth at the harbour, was severely damaged during the Second World War when an anti-shipping mine beached next to it.

These and many more nuggets make Duncan’s book an engrossing read. If you enjoyed Duncan’s first book or you are curious about the history of Aberdeenshire, then this is the book for you.

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Apr 082019
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Rick Redbeard.

The multi-million-pound revamp of Aberdeen’s Music Hall, has breathed new life and opportunity into the historical and iconic city centre entertainment venue.
One of the innovative schemes was to create more usable space for concerts and events within the building and it is in one of these spaces – the Big Sky Studio – that an early evening show is taking place.

The intimate room, with seating for around 50-100 people depending on layout, provided a unique up-close-and-personal opportunity to see former Phantom Band members Rick Redbeard and Duncan Marquiss perform short sets for a bargain ticket price (only £8.00) and at a quite civilised post-work Friday time (6pm start!).

Opening proceedings is Duncan Marquiss. His set consists of effects laden, ambient guitar soundscapes and space age blues instrumentals that lift the listener to transcendent realms of bliss.

Duncan Marquiss.

Hunched over his bank of guitar pedals, Marquiss coaxes beautiful textures from his instrument looping himself, manipulating the sound to create a cascading ocean of sound textures.

Using a slide or an e-bow to great effect, he strays into the world of avant-garde minimalism and experimentation, creating new and interesting sounds, with a screwdriver under the strings on one track, or laying his instrument on the ground and using small sticks to drum on the strings.

It’s a beautiful and satisfying experimental set that has the audience listening in hushed silence before erupting in rapturous applause at the end.

Rick Redbeard, better known to his parents and friends as Rick Anthony, offers a more straightforward but, nonetheless, satisfying set that is steeped in folky acoustic heritage whilst remaining topical and forward thinking.

His acoustic guitar strapped round him like a shield, he offers a satisfying nine song set of beautiful, heartfelt campfire melodies.

His intricate finger picking style is flawless and mesmerising, creating space to allow the songs to breathe and for the listener to fully embrace his well thought out lyricism.

Songs from his two previous solo albums – ‘No Selfish Heart’ from 2013 and ‘Awake Unto’, released in 2016 – are given an airing alongside sneak previews of a track or two from his proposed third album which he hopes to release this year.

Between songs he is friendly and chatty, acknowledging his family sitting a couple of rows from the front and discussing Brexit and the irony of his track ‘The Golden Age’ given the current political situation.

There’s a moment where a new song is stopped as, he says himself, his “brain and hands stopped communicating” and there’s a moment of amusement – and bemusement – when the tannoy announces that the show in the main hall is due to start in 5 minutes.

But moments like these add to the intimacy and personal feel of the performance rather than detract.

One can only hope that the success of this show encourages the Music Hall staff to organise more events of this nature – the early start is an interesting novelty that may encourage people to seek out new and interesting music and sounds whilst enjoying a post-work pint at the end of the week.

Overall, the evening proved to be a success – enjoyable music, an appreciative audience and a wonderful atmosphere. Here’s to the next one!

Big Sky Sessions returns to the Music Hall at 6pm on Friday 19th April with Iona Fyfe, Calum Morton-Teng and Ellen Gira.

Then on Friday 31st May with The Dark Carnival : Unplugged (which also includes a free glass of whisky).

Tickets for Iona Fyfe are available here. and for The Dark Carnival : Unplugged, click here.

Apr 022019
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

The Men in Black returned to the Beach Ballroom for another triumphant performance, albeit one with a few teething troubles including a couple of false starts and one song being stopped half way through.

But, as lead singer Baz says apologetically “it’s only music, only a band” before pausing and adding:

“Not just any band – it’s the fucking Stranglers.”

And he’s right, it’s not just any band. It’s a legendary, critically acclaimed, punk band that scaled commercial peaks, influenced everyone from punks to Britpoppers and still sells out venues across the world nearly 50 years into their illustrious career.

And, as it’s only the second date of their 2019 tour, then any teething troubles can be as easily forgiven as the exuberance at seeing such a seminal act in front of a sold-out crowd.

Before the self-proclaimed Men in Black take the stage, however, there’s an opportunity to see another classic rock act ply their wares as Britain’s premier Rhythm & Blues act, the mighty Dr Feelgood, open the night’s proceedings.

It’s a very different Dr Feelgood that started in Canvey Island 1971 and became mainstays of the then burgeoning pub rock scene – long gone are original members Wilko Johnson, The Big Figure, John B Sparks and late, enigmatic frontman Lee Brilleaux.

Instead, present members Kevin Morris, PH Mitchell, Steve Walwyn and Robert Kane have been keeping
the band’s name alive as a going concern for a few decades now. 

Between them, they provide a competent, nostalgic and talented run through of some of the band’s finest moments – ‘Down by The Jetty’, ‘Milk and Alcohol’ and
a cover of ‘Route 66’ being stand out songs of their all too brief set.

The Stranglers themselves have a few line up changes over the years too and the only remaining members from their early years are bassist JJ Brunell and keyboard player Dave Greenfield – although drummer Jet Black is still part of the band when recording in the studio but no longer touring due to ill health.

It’s a typically eclectic set from the band that stretches back to their 70s beginnings right up to their most recent releases.

Chart hits such as ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Always the Sun’ and closer ‘No More Heroes’ are well received by the adoring crowd as are fan favourites such as the pile driving ‘(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)’ which, as always, gets the crowd going wild only three songs in.

Humour is never far from the band – whether it’s JJ’s huge grin throughout the set, or lead singer and guitarist Baz Warne’s between song banter.

But the comedy moment of the night surely belongs to their poor guitar roadie, tonight celebrating his 40th birthday and getting the opportunity to dance topless on stage whilst wearing a tutu. Quite a sight, to say the least.

The Stranglers return to the Granite City in October as primary support to Alice Cooper in an eclectic three band bill that includes the surviving members seminal rockers The MC5, celebrating 50 years and billed on the night as The MC50.

It’s sure to be another unmissable night of live music that, one suspects, won’t feature any false song starts, early tour teething troubles and, most importantly, dancing roadies in skirts! Miss it if you dare.

Mar 282019
 

Duncan Harley reviews ART @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Admirers of the work of Yasmina Reza will not be disappointed by this three-hander comedy.
Despite the unassuming title, ART is a masterful and at times powerful study of prejudice and tolerance among friends.

Using as a focus a completely blank canvas, purchased by Serge for a not insubstantial sum, the dialogue portrays the complex relationships between three friends as they attempt to maintain an equilibrium in the face of the imminent death of their 15-year association.

Battle lines are drawn and the dusty baggage of the past emerges to challenge each in turn to explore what binds us together.

Unequivocally proud of his purchase Serge demands approval of his expensive work of art. Feelings escalate when Marc describes the painting as ‘a piece of white shit tarted-up with a couple of white stripes’. And, when drawn into the fire, the normally compliant Yvan must take a stance. A fist-fight ensues and blood is drawn before, in a splendid scene involving a conciliatory bowl of olives plus a measure of posturing, all becomes well.

This is a fast-paced piece of theatre performed in some twenty short sections over 90 minutes, mainly in dialogue form although at points the actors directly address an audience who very quickly realise that this is not a play about modern art.

Set and lighting are simple and effective. Delivery is crisp and flawless and who would expect anything less from Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson.

Appropriately perhaps there is no interval, after all why would anyone wish to take a break from this unrelenting piece of thought-provoking comedy to partake of an ice-cream or even a glass of the red stuff.

Written by Yasmina Reza and Directed by Ellie Jones, ART plays at His Majesty’s Aberdeen until Saturday 30th March.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5

Feb 272019
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘Calendar Girls, the Musical’ at His Majesty’s  Theatre, Aberdeen.

All they ever really wanted to do was raise some cash to buy a settee for the local cancer ward but when word got out that Rylstone & District Women’s Institute were planning a Pirelli style Christmas calendar, things soon spiralled out of control.

It’s a well-worn tale. A bevy of rural friends decide to publish a fund-raiser for cancer support following a death.

John has died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and wife Angela’s pals at the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute set about creating a calendar as something for her to focus on during this most difficult time.

However, instead of the familiar Women’s Institute images of sheep infested landscapes, ecclesiastical spires and cricketed village greens, they decide to bare all.

The 1998 launch of the raunchy publication attracted widespread press coverage and very soon the print run reached into the tens of thousands. A book and a film followed along with international fame. Described as a group of ordinary ladies who achieved something extraordinary, the originators were initially awarded the dubious accolade ‘Oldie Exposure of the Year’.

In the fullness of time however, the semi-naked ladies were appearing at media-inspired events up and down the country including an appearance London Fashion Week and on a Thames TV cookery programme where they were requested to bake a dish of invitingly innuendo laden Spotted Dick.

There are few extant nipples within this musical interpretation of the tale but there is plenty of humour embedded in this take on the Yorkshire events which launch the grieving ladies of Knapely onto the international stage.

All in all, this is a commendable comedy musical classic. England’s Green and Pleasant Land does feature here and there, but the essence of this play within a musical is a powerful exploration of the various stages of grief, from denial to acceptance and moving on.

Little specks of Alan Bennet – If Jesus had maybe had kids then maybe the bible would be quite different – shine through in this Barlow and Firth creation and even Larkin’s This Be The Verse gets a look in with a resounding:

‘They fuck you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to but they do.’

Songs, and there are some 20 of them, include Spring Fete, Mrs Conventional, What Age Expects and the quite poignant Kilimanjaro. Then there is Ruth’s splendidly revealing love song My Russian Friend And I.

Calendar Girls is no Full Monty.

For starters the brashness is largely absent and the bare-all scenes are all done in the best possible taste. Be sure to take along a man-size pack of tissues though. If only to soak up the inevitable tears of both laughter and sadness.

Cast on Press Night: Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sarah Crowe, Karen Dunbar, Pauline Daniels, Rebecca Storm, Denise Welch, Richard Anthony-Lloyd, Isobel Caswell, Danny Howker and Phil Corbitt – all good.
Stars: 4/5

Directed by Matt Ryan with Comedy Staging by Jos Houben, Calendar Girls the Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 2 March.

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

Jan 242019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fiddler on the Roof @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Fiddler on the Roof plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 26 January

Anti-Jewish pogroms in the not-so-far-off days of the Russian Empire were quite common and reached new heights during the period 1903 to 1906 when a series of state-sponsored ‘demonstrations’ affected many settlements in the Ukraine and in Bessarabia. Thousands of Jews were reportedly killed and many more thousands displaced as a wave of violence backed up by harsh laws targeted Russian Jews.

Tsar Nicholas II was not known for his tolerance of either dissidents or minority groups and in the political turbulence of the times the Jews made for a convenient scapegoat.

Married to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria he was referred to by Trotsky as having been “more awful than all of the tyrants of ancient and modern history”. Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Magazine was more succinct when, during a state visit to Balmoral it reported that:

“When the Tsar is at home, we do not hesitate to call him a tyrant. Then in heaven’s name, why – when he visits his grandmother-in -law, should we play the hypocrite and fete he whom we at other times curse.”

The cruelty of the pogrom is one of the central themes of Fiddler on the Roof. Adapted from the Sholem Aleichem short stories about Tevye the Dairyman, Fiddler is set in the fictional town of Anatevka at the high-point of the early 20th century Tsarist inspired anti-Jewish demonstrations.

Alongside struggling with his shrewish wife, Tevye – played by Kevin Haggart – struggles with his deeply held belief that tradition should triumph over sentimentality. Faced with the spectre of five daughters who pretty much refuse to embrace arranged marriage and the spectre of a rising anti-Jewish normality he gradually has to adapt to the inevitable erosion of religious and cultural traditions in a changing world.

Finally, and this is no spoiler, the reality of pogrom rears its ugly head and the tight-knit villagers are forced to leave Anatevka for an uncertain future.

Alongside the piety and the angst there is some comedy

With a simple but effective set, and yes there is indeed a rooftop fiddler, some fifty or so players tread the boards as Kevin’s Tevye breaks open that fourth-wall to do battle with his principles and speak directly with both God and the theatre audience.

Essentially the mainstay of the whole show, Tevye has the unenviable task of marrying off his five daughters none of whom seems likely to listen to a blind word he says.

With iconic numbers such as Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man and the poignant Tevye/Golde bedroom duet Do You Love Me, Fiddler seamlessly blends sadness, joy and the sufferings of humanity into a memorable musical mix of hope and despair.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Alongside the piety and the angst there is some comedy. For starters there are immortal lines such as ‘If you want hair, you should marry a monkey’ and Ryan Bruce’s Rabbi has a humorous but irreverent take on the Tsar. For my money however the aptly-named Bottle Dancers take the high-road humour-wise.

Worthy of panto, the famous five – Tony Barron, Ian Baxter, Chris Cormack, Adam Huckle and Kaz Robertson – take bottle dancing to an entirely new and athletic level which has to be seen to believed

Cons, and there very few, include a couple of minor prop failures on first night plus maybe a need for a sterner and less apologetic policeman. Pros, and there are many, include fabulous choreography, splendid period costumes and a musical performance which might leave many professionals on the back-foot.

And of course, this Phoenix Theatre production of that ever-so-Jewish tragedy takes place during the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day (Sunday 27 January).

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Liz Milne and Clare Haggart, Fiddler on the Roof plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 26 January

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

Dec 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘And I Am You’ – the new novel by Judy Mackie.

Layla is a splendidly timeless song penned by Eric Clapton and co-songwriter Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos fame.

Inspired by an Arabian love story – Layla and Majnun – Clapton’s song made 27 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and won a Grammy in 1993.

Clapton was of course in love with Patti Boyd – the wife of his friend George Harrison.

Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry for a few years and Layla – the song not the lady – would become ranked amongst the greatest rock songs of all time.

They all remained friends. In fact, Harrison attended the Clapton and Boyd wedding and gave his blessing to the unlikely pair.

Lyrics include the immortal lines:

‘Let’s make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.’

And now, some decades after the release of Clapton’s Layla, North-east author Judy Mackie, inspired perhaps by the lyrics, has penned a novel deeply rooted in those far-off but timeless events.

In this exquisitely penned Gothic tale a lonely lady, recently abandoned by a long-time lover, examines her life and finds herself in another person’s body.

Judy is of course well known for her stewardship and editing of Leopard Magazine and her love for all things North-east comes through strongly in this, her dark debut novel. And I Am You is set variously along the North Sea coastline with locations as diverse as Cruden Bay, the massive blowhole of the Bullers of Buchan and the tarry-sheds of Fittie.

Betrayed and abandoned by her husband and with a career in the doldrums thirty-eight-year-old academic Layla Sutherland longs to escape her shattered existence while half a world away, Australian journalist Stevie Nightingale is desperate to shed her identity.

A ground-breaking procedure developed by an Edinburgh neurosurgeon, Professor Blunstone, offers both Layla and Stevie salvation in the form of not just an identity swap, but a full-blown body swap.

The eccentric professor has discovered a previously unknown portion of the brain which, when transplanted, offers the subject the possibility of switching bodies whilst retaining consciousness within the new host.

His discovery of the ‘Me Gland’ throws up both moral and ethical dilemmas but, in the true traditions of eccentric scientist tales, nothing can halt the pursuit of knowledge and once the taboo of using humans for experimental purposes is broken, there is ultimately no easy way back from the unspeakable brink.

“He’s not mad and he’s not evil,” says Judy,

“he thinks he’s furthering human knowledge.”

And I Am You, aside from being set in Bram Stoker territory, has all the elements of a contemporary Gothic thriller. A vast baronial mansion occupied by an obsessed researcher hides a secret hospital wing within sound of the Buchan coastline while two damsels in distress agree to help him crack the age-old secret of the seat of consciousness.

What could possibly go wrong and what might be the ultimate cost of tampering with our sense of self?

As medical ethics go out the window, Layla finds herself inhabiting Stevie’s body while retaining her own identity. Likewise, Stevie inhabits Layla’s body. At first all seems smooth and, alongside a practical exploration of the reality of the situation, elements of conflict creep in.

Layla for example meets up with errant spouse Calum, but in the body of the blonde-haired Stevie. Things, to say the least, become complicated.

Will Buller the dog sort out who is who? What will the subjects experience when, or perhaps if, the body-swap is reversed? Who, or what, is the mysterious stalker?

Blunstone makes clear early on that:

“Quite clearly, body swapping is not for everyone. But for those of a certain mindset the opportunity to occupy someone else’s body is surely the most profound experience a human being could have.”

As I raced towards the final pages of Judy’s novel, I began to wonder if the eccentric professor’s premise that body swapping is not for everyone might be slightly off the mark. After all, who amongst us hasn’t imagined what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes?

And I Am You – by Judy Mackie (289pp) is available for download from Amazon Kindle at £4.99

Dec 172018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen. 

The traditional folk tale of how the beautiful Snow White survived the evil queen’s murderous attention has been told in many versions over the centuries.

Countries across the globe from Albania to Malaya hold versions of the tale deeply rooted in popular culture.

In an Indian take on the story, the magic mirror is portrayed as a talking parrot and an Albanian version has Snow White’s jealous sisters portrayed as a murderous duo intent on her untimely demise.

The Brothers Grimm are often credited with having collected the definitive version of the story. Featuring seven unnamed dwarfs, a glass coffin and an insanely jealous stepmother they published several versions of the tale over the period 1812-1854.

In 1937 the tale was subjected to Disneyfication and, despite Disney having trademarked the name “Snow White” in 2013, the films and the literature continue to follow the snowy-white road.

Ever popular as a pantomime theme the likes of Dawn French, Wendi Peters and even Strictly Star Brendan Cole have played starring roles over the years.

As Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs comes to His Majesty’s for a five-week run, the incumbents of the leading roles are Lee Mead as Prince Harry, Jenna Innes as Snow White, Juliet Cadzow as the evil Queen Lucretia plus of course Jordan Young as Muddles and Alan McHugh as Nurse Nellie MacDuff. Yes, that’s right – Nurse Nellie MacDuff.

Both the Grimm Brothers and Walt would have been surprised at Nurse Nellie’s staring role but, it’s all in the best possible taste; well almost.

As Alan McHugh’s take on the traditional tale rattles on through endless costume changes – Nellie appears variously dressed as a billiard table, a Heinz Beans advert, a BBQ and wait for it, a fat lady in a tiny bikini; the wonder of panto is exposed to the theatre audience in more ways than one in this production

Inuendo, double entendre, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and fast paced comedy sketches flow thick and fast as the story of the princess who was far too pretty to live unfolds.

There are no glass coffins in this version of the tale and, if Alan McHugh’s take on the story is to be believed in its entirety, the magnificent seven are named as Snoozy, Fearty, Dafty, Gaffer, Cheery, Snotty and Dreichy.

As is usual in the HMT Panto various celeb’s get to take it on the chin.

Amongst this year’s targets are Donald Trump and Theresa May with the addition of a gag or two about the AWPR, Brexit and of course Holby City – erstwhile home of Lofty AKA Ben “Lofty” Chiltern.

As panto’s go this year’s APA offering certainly delivers a good few belly laughs.

The story bears at least a resemblance to the original tale and the delivery of the traditional fast-paced monologues is, as always, second to none. However, there is a certain flatness and lack of energy about the production.

Perhaps this will pick up during the coming weeks. Additionally, Prince Harry – although pitch perfect in dialogue – appeared to be singing ever so slightly under par.

All in all, though, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a cracking piece of entertainment and should appeal to folk of all ages.

Plus of course, this year some seventy-four towns and villages throughout the North-east, including both Inverurie and Fochabers but somewhat surprisingly not Maggieknockater, get a special mention amongst the gags.

Now that must be something of a record.

Stars: 3.5/5

Directed by Tony Cownie and written by Alan McHugh, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 6 January 2019

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

Nov 272018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula’ by Mike Shepherd.

The Whitby Dracula connection is well established and has been extensively written about. Bram Stoker’s life and times have also been well documented. But until now, the story of how Stoker came to pen possibly the most talked about gothic novel in history whilst on vacation in and around Cruden Bay has been largely unknown.

Outwardly of course, Cruden Bay is just one of many coastal villages which dot the Aberdeenshire coastline. Claims to fame include a connection with Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, who took off from the local sands on an epic flight over the North Sea to Stavanger in the July of 1914.

Then there is the story of the Cruden Bay golf hotel where, for a few years at least, the rich and the famous came to relax and take in the sea air along the links.

Think Jeremiah Coleman of mustard fame and the families associated with Swan Vestas, Horlicks and Bovril.

There were vague tales about how Bram Stoker and his family had spent a few holidays in the area and the local hotel could point to an entry in the guest book written by Stoker and promising to come again.

But, until now, no one had really taken time to research the story and until now, no one had drawn together the multitude of recollections and solid clues which make up the story of how Dracula came to be written in a largely unknown coastal village on the North Sea coastline.

With an introduction by Dacre Stoker, Mike’s new book is brim full of bite-size facts and with a cover based on an original circa 1897 Dracula edition this is clearly a book to get your teeth into. Well, that’s the vampire puns dealt with so onto the content.

Penned in plain language and meticulously researched, When Brave Men Shudder makes for a fascinating read.

Not only has Mike tracked down the various visits, there were thirteen at least, which Stoker made to the area; but he has traced the links between the man’s writings and the local community at Cruden Bay.

Local lore and superstition backed by an interest in the writings of Emily Gerard – who explored long-held Pagan beliefs flimsily shrouded by a ‘surface varnish of Christianity’ in Transylvania – must, says Mike, have excited Bram enormously.

Mike continues:

“In contrast to the peasants of Transylvania, the residents of Port Errol didn’t believe in vampires and had probably never seen a bulb of cultivated garlic. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two widely separated cultures were evident.”

Stoker of course stumbled upon Cruden Bay, then known as Port Errol, completely by chance. Seemingly he had heard that the Aberdeenshire air was “very bracing” and in a quote from the man’s diaries Mike relates that when he first saw the place, he had fallen in love with it.

“Astonishing as it might seem” writes Mike,

“this little-known Aberdeenshire fishing village with a population of 500 was about to change his life forever.”

Many of the landscape features which to this day inhabit the area would have been completely familiar to the Dracula author and Mike’s local knowledge, he lives in Cruden Bay, and careful research has identified landmarks which appear in Bram Stoker’s writings.

Sand Craig, an offshore rock, features in an early short story and the Scaurs – a jagged outcrop – seems to have fascinated the Gothic author.

Stoker apparently stared at the Scaurs for hours on end and may have explicitly referred to them in the Dracula tale:

“it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death … “

When Brave Men Shudder is full of such references neatly linking Stoker’s Cruden Bay experience to passages in his writing.

Of course, it wasn’t all about the writing. Bram and his wife Florence formed sound links within the local community. Indeed, it seems that the locals took to him.

Long after his death one resident was recorded as saying that:

“Bram had a fine sense of humour always joking about something.”

While another recalled that:

“he became a familiar figure with his stout walking stick as he strolled along the sands and the cliffs.”

In essence, this new take on Bram Stoker is both surprising and occasionally scary. Scary because the portrait painted of the man who penned Dracula is that of a family man on a mission to explore that dark side of humanity which most only dream about.

Although the villagers portray him as a genial gent with a sturdy walking stick, his wife and child often became fearful of his moods and occasional outbursts. Perhaps a lifetime spent amongst actors had enabled him to immerse himself in his stories to the detriment of those closest to him.

As for surprises, it seems that Bram wrote extensively in the Doric, was married to a lady who had previously had a fairly serious relationship with Oscar Wilde and never really made much money from that book which, to this day, remains both a Hollywood staple and an international best seller. Who would have thought!

Stars: 5/5

When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula is By Mike Shepherd and is published in paperback (244pp) by Wild Wolf Publishing @ £12.99

Oct 212018
 

Duncan Harley shares his experience of the recently opened ‘Carron To Mumbai’ Restaurant in Stonehaven.  

Scotland’s love affair with Indian food knows few bounds. As a Glasgow student many years ago, I variously got to grips with endlessly bland lamb-bhuna styled carry outs following a good few pints of lager.
Various mediocre meals were served up as authentic Indian sub-continent cuisine and we accepted them as the norm.

It seems odd nowadays, but if the consistency varied from one restaurant to another, we moaned.

A McDonald’s style mindset prevailed and the security of a cloak of blandness took precedence.

Thankfully the days of Indian food by numbers are fast ending and the recently opened Carron To Mumbai at Stonehaven is a stunning example of the new enlightenment in Indian cuisine.

I first became aware of the Carron Restaurant a good few years ago. Family visits for birthdays and get-togethers led me there and the place simply blew me away. The food was one thing, but the Art-Deco setting was quite another. Combine the two and, well you get the drift.

Situated on a tranquil back street in Stonehaven, the Carron building has over the decades become an iconic part of the Stonehaven experience.

Originally opened in 1937, the Listed Grade B Carron Restaurant once formed part of the towns Northern Co-operative Society buildings. The Tea Rooms closed in 1968 and subsequently the restaurant area was used as a supermarket store. 

The adjoining buildings continued trading as a supermarket until the late 20th century and in around 1999 the building was placed on the open market.

Purchased by a caring local business-man, the premises underwent an extensive but sensitive restoration which, at a cost of somewhere near a million pounds, incorporated many the original art-deco fittings and returned the building to near original condition.

The interior was accurately restored using old photographs and original circa 1935 architect plans.

Replica bow-backed dining chairs were installed and the original, somewhat risqué, Picasso styled glass mirror was re-installed and insured for £150,000.

Re-opened as a welcoming restaurant the building continued to attract diners until March 2017 when it suddenly closed. And now in a fresh re-incarnation, the Carron has been re-born as ‘The Carron To Mumbai’.

Following months of hard work, the Carron building has had yet another sympathetic makeover which, alongside freshening-up the original historic interior, has added what proprietor Syed Abdul Hamid – better known locally as Raj, terms a dining experience second to none.

“I had my eye on the Carron building for several years.” says Raj, who has lived with his family in Stonehaven for fifteen years.

When it became vacant, he immediately expressed interest and after extensive consultation with planners and locals alike he embarked on a journey to re-open the restaurant as a celebration of both Indian and European Art-Deco heritage.

“Art-Deco” he explains, is not just a European architectural style.

“In India there are many fine examples of Art-Deco buildings and Mumbai alone has many fine examples. Just Google it and you will find out more.”

“So why Carron To Mumbai” I asked?

“I decided to take account of what local people wanted.” says Raj,

“Clearly the name Carron is important to Stonehaven folk so I decided to retain the name and call the new restaurant Carron To Mumbai.”

So, part Scottish and part Indian in origin, the building has feet in two camps and that, perhaps is the key to this new and exciting dining experience.

On entering from Cameron Street, the diner is shown to a seat in a replica colonial railway-themed wine bar before entering the Mumbai-themed main restaurant via a quite splendid corridor re-created as an Orient-Express railway dining-car.

Surreal? Yes. Inspired? Also, a big yes!

“Cooking is an art.” says Raj, and he is right.

In many ways Carron To Mumbai resembles an art installation.

Dressed to kill, the main restaurant interior reeks of 1930’s opulence. The original interior has had a gentle makeover. The Picasso mirror still dominates one wall and the magnificent bow-fronted window dominates another.

Facing out to the Carron Water, Raj likens this view to the view over his native Bangladesh.

“It is a country of water.” he says and the view reflects this as does the menu.

Described by Raj as traditional Indian food but with a twist, the main courses are available in many variations. Each dish can be served with a wide selection of fish, meat and vegetable mains. And each incorporates locally sourced produce including herbs grown in the restaurant’s own herb garden.

As Raj explains:

“We don’t buy in anything which is ready made and we absolutely don’t use artificial colourings. Everything is made here, in house, from locally sourced ingredients.”

Monk fish, scallops and sea bass inhabit the menu alongside venison, salmon and duck while more familiar Indian dishes incorporate lamb, chicken and vegetables. Portions are generous but, according to Raj most plates return to the kitchen empty.

Will we visit again? Of course, and Janice is of the same opinion. Where else, after all, can you relax in a colonial railway-station bar over a cocktail before taking a luxury train to an Art-Deco restaurant overlooking the historic Carron Water?

The Carron To Mumbai is at 20 Cameron Street Stonehaven
And on the web @: https://www.carrontomumbaistonehaven.co.uk/

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire – due out in March 2019

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