Archive for August, 2009

Jesus’ Hands

Every August the city I have come to call home witnesses a transformation.  The Festival brings throngs of tourists who congest the pavements and slow the locals down as they try to get from A to B whilst muttering sounds of discontent at the inconvenience.  What do Edinburgh’s residents make of those who pack out the various events on offer?  What do they make of us, our great city and our culture?  What are they looking for as they roam our streets?  Do they find it?

The Festival brings a great buzz with it.  Back in 2003 we took a week off work to simply be tourists on our own streets.  It was great – to slow down, to savour the sights, sounds, smells and tastes…

The Festival is floods our city with streams of creativity because it brings so many people who are seeking to express something or make a connection whether through stand up comedy, theatre, music, performance or literature.  To create something and to share that with an audience is to embark upon an inherently risky venture.  It reveals vulnerability, but, just maybe it will resonate and create a moment of definition.

Today I strolled along to The National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street to see a free exhibition of Scottish artists called Rough Cut Nation.  Amidst the street art, graffiti, scribbles and paintings, a face looked out at me from a wall – huge, unassuming in it’s hooded top and, yet, strangely familiar.  A bunch of adjectives framed the upper border and a selection of ordinary and extraordinary faces and images peered through the streaks of running paint that bled down the walls. 

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The figure had huge hands stretched out which were punctured, enabling me to peer right through to the life and movement and bustle and flow of people in the adjoining installations. 

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The photo’s snapped on my Blackberry don’t do it justice, so I’d recommend that if you’re in Edinburgh that you take the chance to get along between now and the 30th of August. 

The image reminded me of lyrics penned by one of my favourite singer songwriters.  The last time I saw the original line up of American Music Club play in a sweaty King Tuts in Glasgow, they finished the set with this song.  Mark Eitzel was lost in the music and delivery, rolling his head around, eyes shut, letting the distance he was creating between his vocal chords and the mic add to the intensity and earnestness of this hopeless song…

“Looking for love in all the wrong places –
The sidewalks and the sky.
Looking for something that no one can give me
And no one can help me buy.

Oh brother, oh sister.
Don’t you see a crack form in the dam?
For a loser, no one can touch him,
He’s out slipping through Jesus’ hands”.

From “Jesus’ Hands” by American Music Club.
 

The Bells

“Dad, I broke my promise to you,
if you’re wondering where I’ve been.
I thought I knew what I was doing,
But I was wrong again.
I understand, Son.
I understand, Son.
I understand”.

From “The Bells” by Pedro The Lion.

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My good friend, Andrew, from calamateur tweeted about this refreshingly insightful and honest interview with the wonderful David Bazan that appeared recently in Paste magazine. 

It’s rare for an artist to wrestle so publicly with his inconsistencies, doubts and hopes.  It’s rarer still for a journalist to keep pressing the nub of an issue which has inspired their art when the issue at heart is so personal and not one that shifts magazine sales by and large…go read this link.

Fireworks

“Welcome into my sweet confusion
And tell me stories of strength in your life.
I am weak,
Yet you claim I am searching.
Quite what for I have yet to work out.”

From “Fireworks” by Aereogramme.

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I spent a pleasant, car free, day ambling in the city I have come to call home.  On my strolling I clocked the above sticker on a  lamp-post.  It caught my attention.  Simple – a pearl of wisdom and a webpage address where more life lessons can be found.

Sometimes we just need to hear truth or to receive direction or insrtruction in a new way – in a language we can understand.

Unknown Caller.

“Restart and reboot yourself .
You’re free to go.
Ho, ho.
Shout for joy if you get the chance.
Password, you, enter here, right now.

Ho, ho.
You know your name, so punch it in.
Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak.
Shush now.
Ho, ho.
Then don’t move or say a thing”.

From “Unknown Caller” by U2.

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There can’t be much of a bigger contrast between the last two gigs I have seen and, yet, both were brilliant.  Prior to last night, the most recent gig I had been to was Neil Halstead at Captain’s rest in Glasgow.  It was one of those particularly intimate gigs as Neil strummed an acoustic guitar and played his brilliant, stripped back, ballads to a basement full of about 20 people all attentive to his every mumble.

I’ve been to literally hundreds of gigs over the years – a majority of them with my long serving gig-going bro’.  Much as we love live music, I don’t often get all that excited before hand. In fact, the Neil Halstead gig mentioned earlier was one of those few recent gigs where I have genuinely been excited.

In stark contrast we were in a crowd of 59,000 who packed out Hampden last night to witness the latest U2 extravaganza.  Whilst any indie loving tike such as I ought to be referencing bands like The XX or some other noteworthy young upstarts, the truth is U2’s catalogue has been a constant presence in most of my coming of age and growing up. 

Whilst many music critics have been quick to liken this phase of U2’s career to the time of the “Pop” album – a period where their latest release has failed to generate the level of record sales usually associated with the biggest band in the world, last night’s set included recitals from the “War”, “Unforgettable Fire”, “Joshua Tree”, “Achtung Baby”, “All You Can’t Leave Behind”, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” and “No Line On The Horizon” eras.  Songs transport me to places, remind me of faces and incidents.

The stage structure was phenomenal.  We were about 4 or 5 metres from the walkway surrounding the stage with a perfect view of Edge and the rest of the group. The 360 degree screens gave a brilliant view of the evening’s proceedings.  It was a far cry from having been at the SECC in 1987 at the Joshua Tree tour, before contact lenses, when I barely saw a thing as we were so far from the stage stuck behind a huge abyss of vacant floor space which surrounded the sound desk. 

Last night may have been less spiritual than being feet from the band at the 2001 Elevation Tour in Manchester when the music came back to life after a decade of relying on huge information overload through the likes of Zoo TV and the lemon.  It was a far better experience than Hampden in 2005.

The set opened with “Breathe” and the tracks from the new album actually stood up well live, although finishing with “Moment Of Surrender” seemed a bit of a strange choice.  The stand out track for me from the new material was “Unknown Caller.”  The crowd really seemed to come alive for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Vertigo”, “One” and “With Or Without You”.  “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was still used to relevant political effect to highlight the plight in Tehran.  Sadly, the sound system seemed to die during “Walk On” which was being used to raise awareness of the life and present situation affecting Aung San Suu Kyi – rumours that the Burmese had something to do with sabotaging the sound-desk last night are yet to be confirmed.  Desmond Tutu’s address was riveting.  After all these years, the band are still trying to use their position to expose situations and to try to galvanise change.  Many call it naive, but would I have ever joined the likes of Amnesty or Greenpeace had I not devoured the liner notes of the Joshua Tree 22 years ago?

It may not be cool to like U2, but I can’t ever imagine not turning out for one of their tours and I can’t imagine not being affected by it.

Prisoner

“I am not a prisoner.
I’m not a prisoner, but I’m in prison.”
From “Prisoner” by Low.

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The plight of Burmese Pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is well documented.  Please take a couple of minutes to check this link.

Peace.

Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

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Records spin in revolutions and have soundtracked them.  Music has the power to affect our emotions.  Words have the power to connect with us and change our world-view.  Songs can mark occasions or point in time.

It gladens my heart that there are artists out there wrestling with the reality of their own experience of the human condition – trying to find their way through this maze of life.  People who write honest music that is often raw, emotional and stripped of the gloss of much over-produced, glossy and empty pop music. People who don’t take their position lightly.

I received the following email this week.

“Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

‘i am the only one that got through
the others died where ever they fell
it was an ambush
they came up from all sides
give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
i’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
i’ve seen hell upon this earth
the next will be chemical but they will never learn’
http://download.waste.uk.com to download the song

Recently the last remaining UK veteran of the 1st world war Harry Patch died at the age of 111.
I had heard a very emotional interview with him a few years ago on the Today program on Radio4.
The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me.
It became the inspiration for a song that we happened to record a few weeks before his death.
It was done live in an abbey. The strings were arranged by Jonny.
I very much hope the song does justice to his memory as the last survivor.

It would be very easy for our generation to forget the true horror of war, without the likes of Harry to remind us.
I hope we do not forget.

As Harry himself said
“Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims”.

Recently the Today program played the song for the first time and now it is available to download from our website.

Please go to

The proceeds of this song will go to the British Legion.

To peace and understanding.

Thom.”

Japanese To English

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Is it just me or do certain phrases in conversation lead us to make connections with songs?

Someone was describing a difficult situation to me this week.  During our conversation they said the relationship they were describing was like two people conversing where one is English and one is Japanese.  I think the gist of what they were trying to convey to me was that the individuals in the relationship could talk in the same language, but one of them was not speaking in their native tongue.  The phrase made me think of a song instantly.  I turned to the lyrics after our conversation and it made a lot of sense…

“I went as far as losing sleep.
I went as far as messing up my life.
Unloving still strikes me different.
A million miles away from home
And fifteen from a payphone.

Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.

You’re ten years older.
We translate Japanese to English
And English to Japanese.

It’s not that simple.
This dictionary
Never has a word
For the way I’m feeling.
And it’s not that plain for me
Of a different God and moral.
What if I
Laid my head down on your stomach?
Or put my mouth to your hand?
I cannot translate
Japanese to English
Or English to Japanese.

What I had to say is unsaid.
What I had to do is undone.
And if it was done,
I’m sure it would have killed our hour
In the sun.

Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Above the water, the awful grey.
Our current from Japan
Didn’t sweep away.”

From “Japanese To English” by Red House Painters.


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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