Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Glen Campbell: Still within the Sound of his voice

I can’t remember when I first heard Glen Campbell sing. It’d be the early 1970’s and maybe before that. I do remember that my first long playing record purchase was an album entitled ‘By the Time I get to Phoenix’ on the Music for Pleasure label. And so, started a love of Glen’s voice and his song interpretations that lasts through to his death and no doubt beyond. Not long after that first LP I got a copy of another album entitled ‘Wichita Lineman’ again on the Music for Pleasure. Both albums gave me a mix of Glen’s back catalogue, both were compilations headed by huge worldwide hits. 

Not long after that I received a present of Glen’s album ‘Reunion: the songs of Jimmy Webb’ which was and is a wonderful collection of some of Webb’s most introspective songs plus a wonderful song from Webb’s sister Susan the incredible ‘About the Ocean’ and a cover of Lowell George’s ‘Roll Me Easy’. These non-hit songs showed a young teenager music with more shadows that the bright widescreen hits that I was used to from Glen Campbell. His performance on this album is a testament to his interpretive powers. They might be Jimmy Webb songs but after Glen had wrapped his voice around them they became his.

It was this talent for spotting songs and then through his interpretation and recording of them getting inside them and inhabiting them as if they were his life-force that mark Glen Campbell out as one of the greatest popular singers of his time.

An example of that talent with a non-Jimmy Webb song came with his worldwide smash and comeback hit ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, a song by Larry Weiss that Campbell took to and breathed his magic into. I have the original Rhinestone Cowboy album on cassette, now unplayable through constant use over four decades. Another was his last big hit ‘Southern Nights’ an Allen Toussaint song. Like ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Campbell took an already exceptional song and added to it setting the standard by which any other version would be judged.

When he found a song and there are many examples – John Hartford’s ‘Gentle On my Mind’, Randy Newman’s ‘Marie’ or Webb’s ‘The Highwayman’ those songs became his. His voice was remarkable and gave those songs an identity and strength that made those records so compelling.

Many of the songs that Glen Campbell inhabited so well spoke of enduring loneliness and longing with huge cinematic canvasses that touched people the world over. I’m glad I found my way to his music early and that it has endured and enriched for so long. Thanks for the songs Mr Campbell.  

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

I am the audience - Ned Roberts at Leith Depot

It was one of those cold winter nights in early spring that Scotland is famous for with added hail. Wednesday night too. However that really is just an excuse and a lame one at that. But I'll get back to that.

I first heard of Ned Roberts when he was playing support for Anais Mitchell a few years back and he'd impressed me with his songs and his voice. It being the modern age I downloaded an e.p. to my iPod and listened for a while before other more insistent voices and music made my memories of this engaging singer fade.

Fast forward a bit and somewhere I discover that Ned has a new album coming and that he's touring. even better he's playing in Leith!

Now back to that audience. You see Ned was playing Leith Depot on a night organised by local singer songwriter Kat Healy and there was support from a local singer called Purdie. I turn up two songs from the end of Purdie's set. There's not a huge crowd and it's early I say to myself. As the evening continues through Kat's set of finely observed songs of relationships I begin to piece together who the groups of people in the room are. Purdie has a group of friends with her who are thankfully settling in for the night (it's Baltic outside so who could blame them). Over by the bar is a group who are with Kat. So that leaves me and three other people.

The headliner takes to the stage and works his way a mesmerising mix of his old and new songs. He's got a rich voice that works well on his well crafted songs like 'Drifting Down' 'Hazy Days' 'Angel Station' and 'Lights on the River'. There's some nice guitar playing and that rich deep voice works well with the songs that recall Nick Drake, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen and a bit of Dylan (a
fair bit of moothie accompanies the playing and singing).

Of course he's not a household name but you can't help thinking, well I can't help thinking that after playing a full Pleasance Theatre a few years back albeit supporting the more established Anais Mitchell he should be pulling in a few more punters.

For now I feel like I'm glad to be part of the small group who came along to see him. I have to say he doesn't disappoint and would say unreservedly that you should seek out his music and certainly his gigs. There's room.




Kat Healy

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Playing Old Games - Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles, Hug and Pint Glasgow

I'd only listened to a couple of songs by Erin Rae McKaskle before going to see her. Those songs 'Playing Old Games' and 'Clean Slate' gave me enough to guess that a full set would be more than rewarding.
Good guess! I lucked out. In the dark and cramped basement of the Hug and Pint Erin Rae's songs shone. She worked her way through a wonderful set of old and new songs. All show a refective thoughtfulness and keen insights into the human longing, frailty, joy and loss.
What made the sound of Erin Rae's high clear voice even more stunning were the harmonies provided by her two bandmates. They echoed old time bluegrass country but were altogether modern and truly sublime.
Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles are playing small venues on this tour, building their audience. Should you join that audience you won't be disappointed.

Leith Depot - the next night.

On my home turf I just could not miss catching Erin Rae again. It was a similar sized venue and size of audience. The set was familiar and again I was struck by the quality of the songwriting and how the themes are well trodden there seems a particular insight that Erin Rae brings to her songs. 'Playing Old Games' remains my favourite but I am liking 'Wild Blue Wind', 'Futile Attempts' and 'Monticello'. Good news too that there is a new album in the offing with a number of new songs being showcased on this UK tour. This is a singer songwriter who is building up a body of work of high quality and is one to watch.

Wild Blue Wind live video

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Promised Land Sound – Sneaky Pete’s 4/02/2017

Nashville’s Promised Land Sound are a band that are hard to describe. Don’t get me wrong they have a ‘sound’ big, compelling, and distinctive. And that’s it – distinctive – I struggle to find them like anything else I’ve listened to.

I’d heard the comparisons to the Byrd’s and Big Star but never really got that despite the soaring harmonies. What good are comparisons anyway when you’re listening to a band as good as Promised Land Sound?

Showcasing songs from their new album ‘For Use and Delight’ they cook up a muscular and sophisticated sound topped with high harmonies and squalling guitars. At times driving and then languid as on ‘She Takes Me There’ the band create their own sound.

The crowd in Edinburgh’s postage stamp sized venue/club Sneaky Pete’s were treated to an evening of melodic effervescent rock from a band that rocks out when it suits and throughout display a range of colour and tone that suggest that there is more to come, much more to come from this young band.

Catch this band if you can, they will repay your attention.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

An Evening with Miss Margo Price

Oran Mor, Glasgow 24 January 2017

It was in either December 2015 or April 2016 that I first became aware of Margo Price the honky tonk country force of nature who is carving out a reputation as one of country music’s best new singer songwriters. I have her fellow contemporary country singer Caitlin Rose to thank for that introduction.

From the get go Margo’s honky tonk voice and songs reminded me of that pioneer woman country singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn. Both her voice and songs link directly back to that straight talking real life subjects and lyrics of Loretta. It is perhaps no surprise that Margo Price finds herself debut album released on Jack White’s Third Man Records – White produced and collaborated with Loretta Lynn on her ‘Van Lear Rose’ comeback in 2004.

Like Loretta the songs come from hard bitten experience and deal with the grittier side of life. This is not a moon in June, hearts and flowers songwriter. These are songs that are inspired by hard times, hard living, and redemption. Above all they are infused with her own life experience which thanks to the sheer quality of her songs connects with audiences because of the honesty of the tales they tell. The music harks back to classic country but serves up a bite often lacking from machine modern country.

I got hold of her album ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ as soon as it came out and it has been on my regular playlist ever since so when I heard she was making her first visit to Scotland to play as part of the annual Celtic Connections Festival getting tickets was a no brainer.

Live Margo Price and her band cook up full tilt honky tonk country rock’n’roll with a panache and warmth that connects straight to the audience.  Opening with ‘How the Mighty Have Fallen’, then taking the show through the many highlights of the album. Stand outs including ‘Hands of Time’, ‘Four Years of Chances’, ‘Weekender’ and ‘Hurtin’ on the Bottle’ adding covers of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ and an inspired workout on Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ Margo showed us all a great time.

She says it took her thirteen years to get to the point of releasing her debut album and on the strength of the new song she featured at Oran Mor ‘You Told me with Your Eyes’ and another new song not performed ‘All American Made’ she’s got more to share with her, rightly, growing audience.
As much as I’m looking forward to future recordings from Margo I can’t wait to catch her live again, real soon.

Find out more about Margo Price 

Listen to her session on KEXP 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Lessons for the SNP - a response

This post is in response to an article in the Daily Record by Gerry Hassan. I've always found Gerry provocative and he was certainly that in his article. I felt there were some holes in his analysis and seek to address his points in this post. Helpfully the original article was structured as 11 points and a summary - I've used his original text as the template for my responses.

1. A week ago, Sturgeon said the election gave her “a clear and unequivocal mandate”. That’s not accurate and sets the wrong tone when the public have just elected a minority SNP administration.
The SNP are the clear winners of the election - in terms of seats won, constituencies won, votes won. The result may be a minority government as the SNP is two seats short of a majority but that may not be what the electorate wished for rather the result that the system of proportional representation produced.

2. There is now an established pattern emerging of SNP over-reach seen in the three peaks of the referendum, the 2015 general election and this year’s elections.

The SNP don’t seem to know how to deal with huge success (last year), slight reverses (this year) and major reverses (referendum). That’s a worrying pattern.
I don't think this evidences a pattern other that differing results to different questions or choices at elections and a referendum. I wouldn't say that's a pattern. Over-reach is not explained - is over-reach something the SNP created and what is it or is it the expectation of a majority which was predicted by pollsters and commentators but never taken for granted by the SNP?

3. The SNP vote rose compared to 2011 in constituencies and fell in regional list percentage-wise. They made great play of winning one million votes – up 156,982 on 2011 – but down from “Peak SNP” last year, from 49.97 per cent to 46.5 per cent with 394,539 less votes.
Last year's Westminster election had a higher turnout, different boundaries, fewer parties and was first-past-the-post. The Scottish Parliament elections were held against the backdrop of that astonishing success for the SNP and relentless opinion polls suggesting another ground breaking performance from the SNP with no close challenger. Despite the 'no-contest' nature of the election and the further collapse of Labour and the LibDems (outside of the LibDems carefully targeted constituency wins) the SNP advanced in terms of constituency seats won and total vote. It is worth noting that fewer parties contested the constituencies which helped the SNP while the regional list contest was more crowded and competitive which worked against the SNP.

4. The SNP won 25.9 per cent of the electorate’s votes, nearly the same share with which David Cameron won in 2015, 24.5 per cent, that led to cries of “Tory dictatorship” from some on the left.
The SNP has been smeared by opponents of turning Scotland into a 'one party state' is this what the 'Tory dictatorship' label alludes to? Also, while I can understand the point Gerry is trying to make about share of the electorate I am unclear what point he is making unless it is to point out the ludicrousness of the 'one-party' gibe. 

5. The response of many Nationalists is that share of the electorate doesn’t matter. Turnout affects legitimacy and strength of mandate. A landslide on 55 per cent compared to 75 per cent is very different. Just as a Scotland of indyref participation levels is different from Scottish Parliament turnouts.
Turnouts for the Scottish parliament elections have always been lower than Westminster - why would this Scottish government be any more or less legitimate than any previous one? Turnout was up on 2011.

6. Scotland’s democratic revolution is diminishing. The referendum had an 85 per cent turnout, last year 71 per cent and now 55.6 per cent – 5.2 per cent up on 2011.
That small increase from five years ago is an echo from the referendum explosion, with participation down 1.344million from September 2014 and 631,312 from last year.
This is a moot point. The referendum was a one off in a way - many people voted in that election who haven't habitually voted in elections at any level. The tribal nature of party electoral politics and scientific methods of targeted campaigning may have both turned off and not reached voters. Also the relentlessly strong position of the SNP in opinion polls will have driven down turnout - 'why bother voting, they're going to win anyway'. 

7. The SNP are the most national party of Scotland, much more so than Labour or the Tories at their peak. Yet, slowly the SNP are becoming more West of Scotland, with all but one of the party’s 11 constituency gains being in the west.
To some extent I can't argue with this other than to say that the SNP won more in the West of Scotland because Labour had held on there in 2011 and collapsed there in 2015. The SNP does have lessons to learn from the constituency losses in Edinburgh Western, North East Fife, and Aberdeenshire West and the closeness of the vote in places such as Ayr and Edinburgh South and Edinburgh Central. Success in just two of these seats would have won that majority (though an SNP victory in Ayr may have cost the SNP a list seat in the South of Scotland regional vote).
8. The SNP are still the dominant party in their old areas but while they look impregnable in the west, they are still not as popular as Labour were at their peak – the highest SNP Glasgow vote being Nicola Sturgeon’s 61 per cent, whereas in 1997 Labour won 73 per cent and 71 per cent in Shettleston and Springburn.
Comparing Scottish Parliament results with Westminster again which is not a good thing. Besides is it a 'good' thing to emulate Labour by winning votes shares of 71-73% of the vote in a multi-party democracy?

9. After nine years, where do new ideas come from and how do the party avoid policy exhaustion? One problem is the lack of an SNP-orientated, independence-supporting think tank. If the SNP can renew in office and win a future referendum,they have to be open to fresh thinking.
Absolutely, there is a lack of an SNP inclined think tank. That has been the case for decades but is it a bad thing? Is one needed and given its size and depth of experience in its ranks and amongst its supporters is there a way of creating policy forums? The SNP does have its underused National Assembly which until devolution used to discuss and formulate policy on broad issues often calling in experts from outside. Perhaps a combination of internal policy forums around the existing structure of the National Assembly allied with consultative outward facing initiatives could harness fresh policy ideas without the need for a 'think-tank' as such which often comes with its own baggage and agenda.
10. Pluralism. The SNP have a self-discipline that aided them on the way up. They now have to relax a bit, let go a little and allow a culture of debate and dissent, particularly in the party and independence community.
Agree. The SNP conference debates on NATO membership, fracking and land reform show that the SNP can have these debates with its members and through these engage and respond to campaigns outwith the party.

11. Independence is the subject of a forthcoming campaign but where is the work on a new independence package? Where even is the party’s post-mortem on losing the 2014 vote?
There can be no second referendum without a completely revised offer on the currency, Bank of England and Treasury, economics and public spending, along with Europe. What are the party waiting for?
As the SNP is playing a longer game there should be room to consider the views of those who reluctantly voted 'no'. It would be too easy to say the party fully understands all the reasons - it needs to listen. Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear that is a central part of this summers independence campaign. She sees it as important to reach out to those who had enough doubt to vote 'no' in 2014. One could ask where the wider Yes post-mortem is and what its conclusions were. My view is that any post-mortem by the Yes campaign has been limited to the remaining local groups and did not go beyond the self congratulatory and in some cases demonisation of those who voted 'no'. Yes Scotland shut up shop immediately the campaign was over. Possibly an astute move in that it avoided splits and recriminations but on the other hand it may have also avoided rational analysis of the reasons the 'No' campaign won.

The SNP have been at the helm of three great waves of political success – the referendum (despite losing), the 2015 election and the 2016 Scottish elections.

They have much to be proud of in each. Yet, there has also been in each, post-vote, an unwillingness to confront home truths.

The worst of these was the referendum aftermath – with Alex Salmond, in particular, coming over as a poor loser who felt his rightful triumph was snatched from him.
This analysis does not ring true to me. My feeling way that Alex handled it well and that his resignation was the right response, was not bitter (it could have been) and allowed the SNP to regroup under Nicola Sturgeon. That has proven extremely successful. Contrast that, if you will, with the collapse of the Quebecois movement after their last referendum where they came much closer to winning that the Yes campaign did. In Quebec the aftermath was divided and bitter whereas the aftermath in Scotland was positive and saw the growth of the independence supporting parties.

In 2015, there was too much loose talk that the SNP’s 56 MPs spoke for Scotland.
The SNP did win the vast majority of seats - no other party has ever won as many and as such could be said to be speaking for Scotland. The SNP MPs have certainly made much more of an impact on Westminster politics that Labour's 50 MPs did after 1987. The SNP MPs have provided consistent and credible opposition to the UK Tory government.

Some in the party will say what does this matter? We are the winners. However, the SNP don’t speak for most Scots. They have to understand this if they want to govern effectively, remain popular – and win a future referendum.
If the SNP does not speak for Scotland then who does? An argument can always be made with electoral systems in a multi party set up that more people voted for you than voted against. The fact is, though, that the SNP have in the Westminster election won the vast majority of constituency seats and likewise they won the vast majority of of constituency seats in the Scottish Parliament elections. 
In terms of the next independence referendum the SNP leadership know that they need to win it so are playing a long game, seeking to fully understand the concerns of those who did not put their cross in the Yes box on 18th September 2014. Through that understanding and that examination they will be seeking to build a platform for independence that achieves the winning position and one that learns from both the success and the failures of the past referendum. 

I'd like to thank Gerry for provoking me to respond to his article and think about the points he raised. I'd also like to thank Simon Barrow for challenging me to provide my response following my 'more holes than a moth eaten jumper' post on Facebook. The jumper may be slightly less moth eaten than when I made the comment!

Rob Munn
Rob has been an active SNP member since 1986 and is a long time local organiser in Leith and North Edinburgh. He was part of the grassroots Yes Edinburgh North & Leith group.  

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Rob Munn for Edinburgh Northern & Leith

I'm seeking selection as the SNP candidate for Edinburgh Northern & Leith for next years Scottish Parliament elections. Below is my pitch for the candidature. I'm the experienced candidate rooted in this constituency.

Rob Munn - seeking your support

I want your support to be the SNP candidate for Edinburgh Northern & Leith in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

I want to win this constituency - it’s where I live, and where I'm bringing up my family. Edinburgh Northern & Leith's issues are my issues. I am rooted in this constituency and have strong links with a host of local community groups who I've supported and been involved with over many years.
I am an experienced candidate and campaigner with a reputation for standing up for the community and getting things done.

As an elected councillor in Leith for twelve years I have valuable experience of representing the people and communities in this constituency between the years 1996-2003 & 2007-2012. During that time I championed the local community and influenced council policy. As convener of the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership I was involved and strongly supportive of bringing in participatory budgeting to decisions on local grant funding - allowing local people a say and a vote on local spending.

I believe in action and not just words. That's why I ran anti poll tax information stalls here twenty five years ago; that's why I took the lead in opposing the unpopular and unsustainable Biomass energy plant in Leith Docks just a few years ago; that's why I played a leading role in the campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum locally - just as I'd done in the campaign to win our Scottish Parliament in 1997. Leading from the front and leading by example.

I have a track record of standing up for what I believe in; of representing people and communities to the best of my ability and of making a difference. 

I want to represent Edinburgh Northern & Leith and with your support I can win this selection and importantly win this constituency for the SNP. Let's win and move forward to independence.
This is the only selection that I'm contesting. Vote Rob Munn number 1

Thank you,

Rob Munn