May 112022
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘The Spirit of Banffshire’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended. Five stars. Eminently readable.

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

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

ISBN: 9781800686670

Apr 142022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Afternoons at Pittodrie watching the League Cup.

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

Saturday Nights.

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

And that peculiar Aberdeen obsession with long-gone shops.

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

Or litter.

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Mar 152022
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 192021
 

Duncan Harley Reviews ‘North East Scotland At War’ 2 by Alan Stewart.

There are plenty of books out there which record the difficult years between the 1938 Chamberlain peace accord and the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Osborne’s ‘Defending Britain’ and Gordon Barclay’s ‘If Hitler Comes’ are the classics.
But this book is slightly different and there is certainly room for further historical accounts of the dark days when Hitler threatened our shores.

A year or so ago I reviewed Alan Stewart’s first book. Titled ‘North East Scotland at War’.

Five years in the making, the publication took a decidedly local slant and launched the reader into the minutiae of the defence of the North East against what was, for a brief few years, perceived as the Nazi threat.

The archaeology of those distant times was laid bare for perhaps the first time in a single local volume and various documents which record those difficult days inhabited the pages. At the time of publication, Alan was already working on Volume Two and that has now been published.
Relentless detail and an eye for wartime links to the North East of Scotland characterise this new book.

Subtitled ‘Events and Facts 1939-1945’, that is exactly what is contained in the text.

When reviewing book one, I glossed over the typos and the difficult grammar in favour of the content. In the big scheme of things, it contained shedloads of information gleaned from years of research and plus many previously unknown or forgotten stories.

Book two, I am happy to say, contains many fewer issues and is certainly worth a read.

Spanning years of research and containing many local wartime stories, Alan Stewart’s new book ‘North East Scotland at War 2’ will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in the history of the North East of Scotland.

Profusely illustrated and replete with a plethora of new information gleaned from both local and national records, this is a local history book which I am pleased to include on my bookshelves.

North East Scotland at War 2 – by Alan Stewart is available from the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen @ £21.99.

Cover image © Alan Stewart

Oct 212021
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

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

First up, however, was local musician Steven Milne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 202021
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

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

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

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

Redfern is a virtuoso guitarist.

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

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

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

It shows authenticity and a love for the genre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 282021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended. Five Stars.

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

Sep 072021
 

By Craig Chisholm.

After a COVID induced hiatus, live music is finally making a return to the Granite City and one of the first major events to happen will be a gig by veteran Scottish indie legends Teenage Fanclub at the city’s iconic Beach Ballroom.

Touring in support of recent acclaimed album ‘Endless Arcade’ – their 12th studio album – the iconic band will undertake an extensive UK & Irish tour that includes dates in Edinburgh, a sold-out Glasgow Barrowlands and, of course, Aberdeen.

The band are no strangers to Aberdeen having played some of the city’s most famous venues including the Lemon Tree, Moshulu, Music Hall & AECC. They actually played the Beach Ballroom in one of their earliest gigs in Aberdeen, supporting Primal Scream way back in 1989.

Teenage Fanclub play the Beach Ballroom on Wed, 15th September. Support provided by Poster Paints’.

Tickets to the Beach Ballroom are available on Ticketmaster now.

Jun 242020
 

Duncan Harley reviews Mike Shepherd’s latest book, ‘The World Makers – Who Gets to the Top and Why’.

At first glance Mike Shepherd’s new book might well appear to be a detailed instruction manual on how to reach beyond the greasy pole and become a super-achiever.

And, there is certainly a glut of content here to sign-post the ambitious.

Tales of Olympians, top scientists, infamous and not so infamous politicians, ground breaking engineers and innovative business leaders – over achievers the lot of them, inhabit the pages.

But, as Mike points out early on in his introduction, the ambitious amongst us will undoubtedly gain insight here but the tales within might actually deter them from ever trying to get there in the first place.

Described as gossipy by the author, this is certainly no dry academic tome and throughout the 300 or so pages of discussion there are dozens of entertaining and often supremely bizarre tales involving the unexpected aspects of human behaviour exhibited by the gifted few.

Mathematician John von Neuman – who worked on the Manhattan Project, could memorise entire telephone directories and seemingly was able to recall any of the entries on request.

Moroccan Emperor Moulay Sharif who fathered some 1,200 children. Heiress Evalyn McLean who took the art of gloating to new levels by parading the Hope Diamond on the collar of her pet pooch.

Henry Morton Stanley who rose from penury to prominence as the man sent by the infamous New York Herald press baron Gordon Bennett Jr to find the missing David Livingstone.

Churchill, who despite episodic attacks of the Black Dog and a fairly mixed early career, rose to some prominence in the 1940’s. And many many more.

A stoic belief in one’s own destiny, an obsession with achievement, intense ambition and on occasion an intense and incorruptible – as in the case of Thomas Plimsoll of Plimsoll Line fame, desire to do good all feature within these pages alongside much discussion regarding the nature of those single-minded achievers.

Throw in a bit of hubris and a measure of narcissism and you get the drift of this book.

Many of the featured hyper-achievers deserve to be celebrated but inevitably many others do not. Florence Nightingale certainly falls into the former category – for her achievements after the Crimean Campaign.

Saparmurat Niyazov – tyrannical dictator of Turkmenistan, resides firmly in the ranks of the latter. But no spoilers here.

At the core of the discussion though is the idea that these big ideas of those few in number super-achievers shape our world and, like it or not, the rest of us have to fit as best we can into the framework they create.

On an optimistic note Mike concludes that the folk at the base of the pyramid can usually rub along just fine with those at the pinnacle but tempers this with the brutal thought that the actions of those achievers, whom he labels world makers, might just be a little extreme.

He may very well be right.

The World Makers by Mike Shepherd is published as a Kindle Book (291pp) and is available from Amazon @ £2.99

Mar 122020
 

Duncan Harley reviews On Your Feet – The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Despite the expansive title, this is really a biopic of Gloria.

Thin character development leaves husband/manager Emilio, played here by George Ioannides, lagging.

Portrayed as caring, charming and occasionally comedic, that’s about all you get of the essence of the man.

Gloria, a splendid Philippa Stefani, and her mum and her gran hold the plot strings and the show is really about the Estefan brand.

Plot-wise, an attempt is made to set the bands rise against a mid-20th century geo-socio-political scene in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. Havana born Gloria’s family flee to Miami following Castro’s takeover.

Dad Jose – Elia Lo Tauro, participates in the disastrous Bay of Pigs CIA inspired invasion of Cuba and is later exposed to a toxic chemical defoliant whilst serving in Vietnam. He gets ill and dies.

A later traffic accident leaves Gloria wheel-chair bound. She miraculously recovers. The band face determined music industry hostility. They overcome this.

In short, the link-story is all about triumph in the face of adversity. But it’s still paper-thin in places and perhaps over-reliant on tear-jerkers.

There are better musicals in the biopic juke-box pack, think Jersey Boys and Beautiful. But of course, none have a back catalogue which crosses over so many musical genres.

Ballad, disco, pop, samba all feature and in both Spanish and English.

Combined with the shows drop dead gorgeous dance numbers and, as a piece of uplifting entertainment, it works. Staging, and lighting and sound – superb. Ensemble/swing/band all good.

In all there are some twenty-one stunningly performed musical numbers. But please can I have some more plot sir?

Entertainment: 3/5
Stars: 3/5

On Your Feet is @ HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 14 March.

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © Aberdeen Performing Arts