All posts by John Robertson

Second Life, Kathy Muir’s Message from America

The video for Troubled Town, a track from Kathy Muir’s third album was released at the tail end of last month. A song about her current home town in the United States and the City she was brought up in, Edinburgh, it serves as a pleasantly soulful introduction to the artist for those who may not be familiar with her work. The piano only accompaniment complements her voice perfectly as she delivers an ultimately optimistic outlook on life.

It’s a theme that runs throughout the album the track was lifted from, Second Life. Released in September of last year it’s well worth catching up with now. Trying to slot this collection of songs in to any particular genre is difficult. What’s served up is an interesting cocktail of pop, folk, jazz and more.  Placing the title track at the end is a real sign of Muir’s confidence in the album as a whole as she invites the listener to go on a complete musical journey with her.

There are highs here, lyrically and musically. Opener, Lucky One, drips with sarcasm,  sugar coated with a soaring melody. What follows is a mature collection of songs offering more than enough variation to keep the listener interested.  One of the folksier tracks here, Like Warriors, has Muir recalling her upbringing in Edinburgh. The images conjured up of childhood seen from an adult perspective are a delight. Anybody who was brought up in Oxgangs during the sixties or seventies will surely have the accompanying video playing on repeat for hours.

Final track, Second Life, brings things neatly to a satisfying conclusion. There are constant references throughout the album to childhood, instilled values of decency and compassion and faith in the future. Aye, life may be tough at times but the human spirit will prevail. In these increasingly uncertain times it’s a comforting vision to share.

For more information on Kathy Muir visit her website.

Remembering John Martyn

At the end of this month it will be eight years since John Martyn, one of Scotland’s most prolific musicians died. Despite producing several highly acclaimed albums and gaining the respect of his peers he never came close to gaining the commercial success his talents deserved, possibly because he was one of the great musical non-conformists.  As a guitarist his innovative and unique style was peerless.  His voice was a thing of beauty,  his slightly slurred delivery adding yet another layer of magic . As a songwriter his craftsmanship was impeccable.  When these three elements combined during a performance the synergy was astonishing. Songs such as Sweet Little Mystery,  Solid Air, Small Hours  and so many more are all capable of  taking the listener on an emotional journey that they will never want to end.

John Martyn was born in Surrey in 1948 as Iain McGeachy.  His childhood was spent in Glasgow where he had moved to as a young child with his father after his parents divorced. He cut his teeth as a guitarist and singer playing in various folk clubs around Glasgow before following the well-worn path from Scotland to London. After changing his name to John Martyn, he began to attract attention playing at venues such as the Les Cousins basement folk club. In October 1967 Island records released his debut album, London Conversations. It was a solid start to a recording career that would produce over 20 studio and live albums. December 1968 saw the release of The Tumbler, a second album of folk songs but this time with a slightly heavier jazz element.

In 1969 he headed for Woodstock having been hired to act as a backing guitarist on his new wife Beverley Kutner’s album. He wasn’t to remain in the background long and after pushing himself forward on the back of several songs he had written the married couple became a musical duo. The result was the 1970 LP, Stormbringer. They would make two records together before he resumed his solo career and the rest of the 1970’s was to see Martyn produce some of his most consistent work. The highlight of the decade, and possibly his whole career,  was  1973’s Solid Air. Ostensibly a folk record it was a genre defying masterpiece, one of those albums that will constantly be rediscovered by following generations.

He ended the decade with perhaps his most emotional album of all, Grace and Danger. A response to the break-up of his marriage to Beverley its release was delayed for a year by Island supremo Chris Blackwell.  A friend to both husband and wife, he initially declared it far too disturbing. He had a point, it made Dylan’s reaction to his divorce, Blood on the Tracks, seem almost joyful by comparison. The album took its title from a manager’s description of Martyn’s character, a comment that Martyn himself conceded was fair.  When thinking back on John Martyn’s career his dark side really can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.  Drug abuse and long term alcoholism cast a shadow over his life and the problems that inevitably causes, both physically and mentally were not to pass Martyn by.  Allegations of domestic abuse certainly sit at odds with the hauntingly beautiful love songs he produced. . As outsiders most of us really only have the music to base our judgement on and as with many great artists we must accept that he was no saint.  Just how big a sinner he was is still open to conjecture though.

The eighties and nineties were to see Martyn continuing to push the boundaries.  Whether it was on genre crossing albums, soundtracks or live performances he continued to do the unexpected.  It’s a track that those who have already achieved considerable commercial success can follow virtually risk free, the financial cushion that huge sales bring acting as a safety net.  For an artist like John Martyn, who had never really hit the big time, it was a path fraught with danger but nonetheless a path he continued to tread.

The new millennium saw Martyn continuing to record and perform whilst continuing to surprise.  In 2001 he teamed up with dance artist Sister Bliss to record a cover of The Beloved’s Deliver Me, a venture that saw him hit the singles charts.

In 2003, whilst living in Kilkenny, Ireland, John Martyn had his right leg amputated following major problems caused by a baker’s cyst yet he still continued to perform whilst sat in a wheelchair.  Weight issues caused by his immobility dogged his final years yet his black humour still shone through, frequently referring to himself as a one legged sumo wrestler to his audience.

John Martyn passed away on the 29th of January 2009 due to respiratory failure. His legacy and influence on those who have followed him simply cannot be overestimated.  Those who worked with him described him as being both a brilliant musical comrade and a difficult one.  We can all only be thankful that his apparent unwillingness to compromise has left us with such a rich and diverse library of music to enjoy, full of moments of genuine beauty.

John Martyn September 1948 – January 2009.


When Debbie did Gallus, Blondie at the Glasgow Apollo.

Whilst there have been several fine musical Hogmanay performances at towns and cities throughout Scotland over the years perhaps the most memorable of them all was delivered by a five piece band of mod styled punks from New York.

In 1979 Blondie were at the peak of their popularity. The success of their 1978 breakthrough album, Parallel Lines had set them on course for a period of domination in the singles charts, the band scoring five number ones. Produced by Mike Chapman, Parallel Lines saw the group moving from their rawer new wave roots to deliver a more pop orientated sound. Enter any bar with a juke box during that period and it was inevitable that Debbie Harry’s voice would be featured more than most.

Their 1979 album Eat to the Beat, whilst not spawning as many hit singles, could arguably be described as their finest. Just as the Clash were doing  that year with London Calling, Blondie cast aside any New Wave constraints and tackled several different musical genres. Funk, disco and reggae tracks sat comfortably alongside the more familiar pop punk songs.  Blondie weren’t just at the peak of their popularity,  musically they were at the top of their game.

Nowadays it’s Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny that is the must watch Hogmanay programme for music lovers. In the seventies The Old Grey Whistle Test provided the musical backdrop to many a music fans New Year gatherings. Marking the end of the seventies and the start of the eighties was going to take something special. Blondie at the Glasgow Apollo  were to prove pretty much perfect.

Looking back from this multi-channel digital age it can be hard to comprehend just how the presence of TV cameras could add so much to the anticipation and sense of occasion surrounding the next nights gig. The UK still only had three TV channels, twenty four hour coverage was rare with broadcasting usually ending shortly after midnight. Even breakfast television was three years away. Live broadcasts of any kind were rare. One straddling the outgoing and incoming decades was a true novelty.

The importance of the Glasgow Apollo in making this gig something special really can’t be over stated. When reminiscing about long gone venues it’s tempting to paint too rosy a picture. The Apollo was a bit rough around the edges. The famously high stage should have acted as a barrier between the fans and the bands that played there and the ‘enthusiastic’ bouncers crowd control ran the risk of putting a dampener on things. Only none of this mattered, there truly was something magical about the place. The atmosphere inside was often intense, particularly if it was a sell out.  As the band prepared to take to the stage the Apollo crowd was even more cranked up than usual. The group opened with Denis, a guaranteed crowd pleaser.  The twenty one songs that followed kept things at full speed throughout the entire evening. Anybody who had watched a gig from the balcony at the Apollo will remember how it felt when the whole structure started bouncing. There were some in the crowd that night who genuinely worried it was actually going to come crashing down. Live television coverage began eight songs in with Dreaming and ended with a bagpipe enhanced Sunday Girl. A further two songs, also  broadcast on Radio One, completed the set.

Speaking about the gig in 2011 Debbie Harry recalled that every song that night was met with the same enthusiastic response from the Glasgow crowd. It really can’t be claimed that one gig is greater than any other,  we can all have several ‘best ever’ gigs depending on our mood.  However as memories of New Years Eve past go,  1979 at the Apollo is still worth raising a glass to.

Blondie at the BBC, released in 2010, contains the entire concert on CD and the  portion that was televised on DVD.

A Very Merry Christmas from The Barley Boat

As the preparations for Christmas go in to last minute overdrive those of us yet to finish or even start their festive shopping may be tempted to call for a halt to the madness. With so many people on a mission to shop themselves to death whilst a cheesy pop soundtrack plays in the background the urge to yell “Humbug” and call for the whole thing to be banned can be overwhelming. And for nearly four hundred years in Scotland it was banned. Following the reformation and a couple of Acts of Parliament the celebration of Christmas was frowned upon. Aye, the Act was repealed in 1712 but it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas day finally became a public holiday. Even then our participation was a wee bit half hearted. Newspapers were still printed, many businesses still opened and if it fell on a Saturday then, up until 1976, football matches still went ahead. In that year if you didn’t fancy sitting down to a plate of turkey and all the trimmings then you could have taken in Clydebank v St Mirren or Alloa v Cowdenbeath. Admittedly they weren’t exactly glamour ties but for some it was the more traditional option. Quite why we took so long to join the rest of the world in the annual lunacy is a mystery. Perhaps some of it was our desire to be different from our neighbours. Slade and Wizard is it? We’ll not be having any of that jollity, dig out the Leonard Cohen records.
Celebrate it we do though, and not instead of but as well as what was our more traditional celebration, Hogmanay. What used to be a manic one night bash is now a whole week of revelry. If nothing else it demonstrates our collective stamina to the rest of the world.
I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and say a big thank you for taking the time to come here and take a look around. It’s still early days but visitor numbers so far have been encouraging. For those of you who have completed all your preparations and wrapped all your presents enjoy a relaxing Christmas Eve with a few well-earned drinks. And for those who are still trying to buy that perfect present for everyone, don’t panic. Remember that your local all night garage will be selling car shampoo and sponges right up until Santa’s scheduled delivery time.
Merry Christmas to you all.

Dancing on Tables new EP, Don’t Stop.

Young Dunfermline five piece Dancing on Tables released their new EP, Don’t Stop, earlier this month, marking the occasion with a launch night at Electric Circus in Edinburgh. It’s still early days for this band but if you are looking for some sparkly indie pop to keep you in the festive party mood then you should check these four tracks out.
Things get off to a lively start with the catchy title track. The song fairly gallops along with the chorus perfect for a live show singalong. It does what all good three minute pop songs should do,  leaves you wanting more. Next tune, Street of Sounds serves up more of the bands undeniably infectious sound. The third track, Ono, is something of a surprise as things are slowed down considerably, violin and acoustic guitar providing the backing to possibly the strongest vocal performances on the EP. It works remarkably well and provides the perfect counterbalance to the bands more typical style which is reprised in the closing song, Waiting on Saturday. There’s still a long way to go for this Fife quintet but they are certainly heading in the right direction.
Dancing on Tables will be starting 2017 with a gig at PJ Molloys in their hometown on the 7th January. It would defintely be worth making the effort to attend and hear these tracks live.

You can download Don’t Stop here.

Catching up with Hugh Kelly at The Double.


Hugh Kelly’s new single, The Double, was released on the 17th of November. We may have come slightly late to the party here, don’t you make the same mistake. Those of you are familiar with Mr Kelly will know to expect bluesy soulful vocals delivered at high intensity. The added ingredient here is an extra injection of pop sensibility compared to his previously released tracks. However it’s still all about that wonderful warm voice. The backing is fairly minimal but what there is does a good job of helping the song become planted inside your head.  There really is no messing about here, an instrumental intro is ditched as the vocal kicks in instantly and we are off on a three minute journey that flows along nicely and will leave you wanting to start it all over again.

Hugh Kelly has been gigging heavily throughout this year. Combine that work ethic with the potential on show here and if there is any justice we will be seeing him  going on to bigger things.

The Double can be purchased HERE.

Please take the time to visit Hugh Kelly’s website. 

A Couple of Christmas gifts from Laurie Cameron.


As the annual party season begins to gather momentum the usual musical suspects are making their annual appearance.  We all know which songs are going to be enticing us into an orgy of drink fuelled out of tune singalongs and bad Dad dancing.  Tunes by Slade,  Wizard, The Pogues and even Shaking Steven will be embraced like old friends.  And there is nothing wrong with that, it’s all good raucous fun and an excellent opportunity to share some cheese filled moments with friends and family.

When you want your Christmas soundtrack to reflect the quiet contemplation of years gone past though then you have to dig a little deeper. Thankfully you don’t have to look much further than Scotland’s own Laurie Cameron who has gifted us a couple of rather wonderful alternative takes on the festive season.

Merry Christmas from Scotland (Lulled wi’ a stiff drink), originally released in 2012, is just over five minutes of reflective, clever lyrics accompanied by downbeat but pleasurable melodies. Cameron’s voice lifts the whole thing, her delivery ensuring we have something much more than mere seasonal melancholy here. When the festive blues kick in then it’s nice to know you are not alone, Laurie Cameron’s voice ensures you won’t be.

Her 2011 cover of Darlene Love’s Christmas standard Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) takes the original, slows it down and will break your heart if it catches you unaware. Many would consider it sacrilege to suggest that this Perth girl’s version surpasses the original. In capturing the tale of genuine yearning for a Christmas past that the lyrics suggest she may well have done just that.

Download Merry Christmas From Scotland HERE

More info at

Vida – Masquerade, a brand new EP from Alloa band Vida.


Let’s face it, standing out from the crowd is not easy for a new guitar based Indie band. With talent, attitude and graft it’s not impossible though as Alloa band Vida have shown with the release of their new three track EP, Masquerade.

The Nineties influence is obvious here.  They come nowhere near falling in to the trap of mere pastiche though that can trip some new bands up.  There’s a swagger about this band as you would expect but there is also a freshness to their sound as well as darker elements at work making these three tracks a more than satisfying listen. As the singer requests a drugged up milk shake in opener Moloko Vellocet you’re left wondering what the narrator will be doing post song.

When I Call is probably the most accessible track here and the one most likely to have you hooked instantly.  It’s a wonderfully catchy piece, sure to have the crowd singing along when played live. The final track, Masquerade, is one that may need a couple of plays.  It will definitely reward the listener though and is a real sign of much more to come from these guys.  Joining a new band near the start of their journey is always an exciting prospect.  Vida may well be worth hitching a ride with.

The band launch the EP properly at King Tut’s, Glasgow on 5th November. It should be a memorable evening.

Download Masquerade Here.

Watch Video for ‘When I Call’ Here.


The Day the Banshees Split in Aberdeen

What a Line-Up

It’s almost inevitable that bands will eventually split up. However it would be hard to top the break-up of Siouxsie and the Banshees for sheer drama as it played out over a crazy day in Aberdeen.

The 7th of September 1979 would have been a momentous day for the band anyway. Their second album, Join Hands, was released that day to positive reviews. The day was to down in the bands history as memorable for rather less positive reasons though. The group, singer Siouxsie Sioux, bassist Steve Severin, guitarist John Mckay and drummer Kenny Morris had embarked on a tour to promote the album. There had already been a simmering tension between Siuoxsie and Severin on one side and Mckay and Morris on the other. It was to all boil over during a somewhat bad tempered record signing session in The Other Record shop on Aberdeen’s Union Street. (This was back in the days when record shops were a familiar sight on the High Street.)

Polydor had only sent a paltry amount of albums to the shop resulting in the bands management selling the shop owner a couple of hundred promo copies  to satisfy demand. Much to the shop owners dismay Mckay and Morris decided to hand out copies for free. Mckay also removed their own album from the shops turntable and replaced it with the Slits album. This lead to verbal and physical exchanges between the various band members and ended with Mckay and Morris storming out of the shop.

With a gig to be played at The Capitol you would expect that peace talks back at the bands hotel would have calmed things down. After all, as the saying goes, the show must go on. It didn’t turn out that way. The rebel pairs backstage passes were found wrapped round their pillows, their room unoccupied.

Apparently they had jumped in a cab and asked to be taken out of town. That turned out to be a few miles down the coast to Stonehaven where they hopped on to a train south, their Banshee careers abandoned in the Granite City.

Opening that night was Edinburgh band The Scars. They were followed onstage by The Cure who were asked to play a longer than usual set as the promoters tried to locate the long gone insurgents. As The Cure left the stage it was obvious that the Banshees could not perform.  An announcement was made over the public address system offering the crowd their money back.. The story could have ended there but Siouxsie Sioux stepped out of the back stage shadows to address the crowd. Her anger was clear as she embarked on a ferocious attack on her  former band mates.

“Two original members of the band are here tonight. Two art college students fucked off out of it. All I can say is we will be back here with some friends who have got some roots. If you’ve got one per cent of the aggression we feel towards them if you ever see them you have my blessings to beat the shit out of them.”

It must have been an electric moment for the crowd. There was more to come. The Cure returned to the stage to play a few more songs before announcing that they had a couple of special guests coming on. To tremendous cheers Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin reappeared with Siouxsie again taking to the mic  to condemn the deserters.

“I hope you realise these guys know nothing about the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’ It’ll probably be all the better for that. John and Kenny were doing it for the money and you can’t do a good ‘Lord’s Prayer’ with that attitude. We will be back!”

And that’s how the night ended,  with a rendition of the closing track from their new album. There are lots of things I love about this story. I love that rather than being the end of the band it acted as a catalyst to greater things. Ex Slits drummer Budgie was soon recruited with Robert Smith helping out on guitar on tour dates. The record shop rebellion sounds almost comical now, particularly McKay’s ditching of the Banshees own album for The Slits. It’s hard not to smile at the thought of two musicians jumping in to an Aberdeen taxi and asking to be taken out of town. And I love that despite participating in a part of musical history and witnessing a one off Cure/Banshees supergroup performance the canny Aberdonians still queued up at the end for a refund.

Dundee, The Sex Pistols and the Filth and the Fury.

The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols


On the 12th of October 1976 the Sex Pistols played their only Scottish gig in Dundee as a young punk band intent on shaking up the establishment. They were to return to Scotland during the 1996 Filthy Lucre tour but it could be argued that by then they had effectively become their own tribute band. Their connection with Dundee is also notable however for two dates that they didn’t play in the city later in 1976.

It’s only too easy to believe that it’s forty years since Punk music started to move out of its London strongholds to take over the whole country given how much the social and cultural landscape has changed. In 1976 Dixon of Dock Green with its homespun wisdom had only just ended its long run. The Black and White Minstrel Show was seen as acceptable wholesome family fun and the F word had only been heard twice on National TV, both times on obscure late night arts programmes.

The Sex Pistols played at the Dundee College of Technology’s Union, more commonly known as the Bowling Alley by the locals. The band, still including original bass player and songwriter Glenn Matlock played that night to a mixed crowd. You might imagine a hall full of punks but outside of London the punk scene was very small. Most provincial crowds had  a majority of  curious long haired music fans, perfect for the young John Lydon to noise up.

On the 8th of October EMI had signed the Pistols and their first single, Anarchy in the UK was released on the 26th of November. Malcolm McLaren had put together a punk rock package tour to promote the record during which it was planned to play a second gig in Dundee, this time at the Caird Hall. The tour proved to be somewhat shambolic, a TV appearance on a tea time television show sparking a wave of outrage that was to see many of the gigs cancelled. The Dundee date was to be one of them but rather curiously we seem to have two dates for the gig that never was.

On the 1st of December the Sex Pistols appeared on Thames Television’s Today programme, a tea time show hosted by Bill Grundy. By the end of the live broadcast the use of the word fuck on national TV had doubled. The fallout from the show was to effectively end Grundy’s career and punk rock and the Sex Pistol’s in particular were to be on the receiving end of a media and political backlash. During the show Grundy had goaded both the band and their followers, the Bromley Contingent including Siuoxsie Sioux into bad language. It was an invitation they weren’t going to turn down. Despite the fact it was a show only being seen in London it caused outrage nationwide. The Daily Mirror couldn’t resist stoking the fire and their Filth and Fury headline has gone down in punk folklore.

Daily Mirror Outrage
Daily Mirror Outrage

The story in Dundee goes that the band were due to play at the Caird Hall that same night and that they had cancelled the gig in order to appear on TV. There are easily obtained facsimile posters for sale that seem to confirm that this was indeed the case.   Evidence elsewhere suggests otherwise though.

The New Musical Express had published the tour dates for the Anarchy in the UK tour on the 27th of November and it showed the Dundee gig as being due on the 16th of December. The Pistols had been rehearsing for these dates when the last minute call to replace label mates Queen, who had to cancel due to illness, on the Tonight Show came. The Anarchy Tour was originally to have seen the Ramones accompany the Sex Pistols as they travelled the UK but the American bands management pulled them out due to what they saw as rushed planning by Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren. It’s possible that the gig organisers had been giving a provisional date leading to the famous 1st of December Dundee posters being printed. The actual line up for the tour ended up as The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash and the Heartbreakers from the States.

As it was no further gig was to take place in Dundee. The high heid yins on the City Council decided that Punk should be effectively banned. It was a situation repeated all over the UK. At least though the former patrons of Dundee’s Bowling Alley have the satisfaction of knowing that the band did take to the stage there once giving them a small place in the history of a band that will continue to be talked about for decades to come.