Nanci, Don & Charlie

In less than a fortnight in the summer three people whose music was – and is – very important to me passed away.

They were Nanci, Don and Charlie. Their names written together like that suggest a folk trio though I don’t think they ever worked together. But between them they crossed musical boundaries of folk, rock, country, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, standards, blues, rockabilly, rhythm & blues and big band.

One of them, a solo artist, wrote some of the most affecting songs I know. Another, part of a duo with his brother, influenced so many of the world’s biggest performers with his singing and harmonies. The third laid down the rhythm for what could be the world’s biggest rock band, while playing jazz in his spare time.

You may have worked out who we are talking about: Nanci Griffith, who died on 13 August aged 68; Don Everly, who died on 21 August aged 84; and Charlie Watts, who died on 24 August aged 80.

They were all artists I was privileged to see in concert – ten, three and one time respectively – all in London except the last time I saw Nanci, when I was briefly introduced to her, in San Diego, California.

The death of well-known individuals brings out a range of reactions in those left behind from indifference to disbelief. Sometimes, when an older entertainer dies, I have to admit that I thought they had died some years before. But not these ones – their loss is keenly felt.

When I lived in London I kept a note in my Filofax – remember those? – of the shows and concerts I attended. This is how I know I saw Nanci ten times and, as it happens, the musical Les Miserables nine times (plus, much later, a tenth time, an excellent amateur production of Les Mis in Orkney). I was obviously a big fan of both.

Listening to the public reaction on radio programmes reflecting on Nanci’s legacy – in particular the excellent Another Country With Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland – it was notable how personally invested people were in her music and upset to lose her, even though she had not been active musically in recent years due, I think, to ill health.

Many people contacted the presenters with stories of how much one or another of Nanci’s songs meant to them, and lots of the correspondents mentioned the wonderful personal and family stories she would tell in concert as she introduced her songs.

Listening again to her material, for example There’s A Light Beyond These Words (Mary Margaret) or Love At The Five And Dime, I was surprised how emotional I became.

Nanci could also be political, not in-your-face but in a more subtle way. It’s A Hard Life Wherever You Go is a thoughtful take on being an American in the late 20th century. While writing this blog I came across a specially-made video for the song which I had never seen before.

At one of the first concerts I attended I was sat close enough to the stage to notice that Nanci was wearing an LBJ badge to remember President Lyndon B Johnson. LBJ and Nanci were both proud Texans but nevertheless the badge surprised me given Johnson’s involvement with Vietnam. But afterwards I did some reading and discovered he pushed through civil rights legislation in the US against great opposition.

The music of Nanci is also the reason I met my wife, Kathie Touin. It’s a long story which I will try to summarise…

Back in the 1990s, before internet access became mainstream, emails made an appearance in my office. I somehow learned of a Nanci Griffith fans email group called the NanciNet and subscribed. And, no, it was not strictly relevant to my work.

When Nanci played at the Barbican in 1998 a get-together was arranged for members of the NanciNet who were attending the concert. We met in one of the restaurants. And that is where fate took a hand. I went with my then girlfriend and my parents, who were visiting me, and as there were four of us we had to join a less crowded table where two folk were sat. These turned out to be a female Nanci fan visiting from the United States and a guy from Belgium.

To cut a long story short, we all became friends, and the Belgian guy and myself visited the American in San Diego – this is where I briefly met Nanci (and Rodney Crowell). Later I made a return visit to the States by which time the American lived near Seattle, Washington and there I met her daughter’s piano teacher – Kathie. A year later we were married.

Nanci’s songs sit somewhere between country, folk and rockabilly, she was hard to define. As well as writing brilliant songs of her own she had a knack of choosing other people’s songs to record and perform which she made her own – From A Distance (written by Julie Gold) would be the best known example, others include Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness (John Prine) and Boots Of Spanish Leather (Bob Dylan).

She also had excellent musicians to play with her touring band. Some, such as the late singer-songwriter Frank Christian, were very talented performers in their own right. And others making guest appearances with her on stage included The Crickets, Odetta and Ralph McTell.

I will enjoy listening back to my many Nanci Griffith albums. We will miss her.

My Filofax records are clearly not infallible because they show two Everly Brothers concerts but I know for sure I saw them twice before I met Kathie. One of the shows had a stand-up comedian as the support act, which struck me as strange. Their band included legendary pedal-steel player Buddy Emmons, the great British guitarist Albert Lee and keyboard player Pete Wingfield.

Do you remember Pete Wingfield’s only hit single? If you do, you are older than you are letting on. It was Eighteen With A Bullet (1975) but, to be fair, he did much else in his career, including writing To Be Or Not To Be with Mel Brooks!

I know I saw the Everly Brothers twice in London because I remember on the other occasion the keyboard player was Ian McLagan, formerly of The Small Faces and The Faces.

Later Kathie and I saw the brothers perform, in Oxford in 2005, possibly the last time they toured in the UK? I remember that Sir Tim Rice was sat a few rows behind us, which gives you an in idea of how well thought of they were. Phil Everly died in 2014.

It should also be noted that though many Everly hits were written by others – notably Felice and Boudleaux Bryant – Don Everly also wrote some wonderful songs, for example the huge hit Cathy’s Clown and the beautifully sad So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad).

And the third member of my trio, Charlie Watts. We all know, or feel we know, The Rolling Stones though Charlie Watts was the most private member of the band. I saw them in concert at the old Wembley Stadium in 1999.

He was a great drummer, not the big flashy drum kit for Charlie, but he was a vital part of the Stones’ sound and I’m not sure how they will manage without him (though early reports are encouraging).

Here’s an expert, drummer Stewart Copeland, explaining Charlie’s technique in an interview for The Guardian: “Technically, what it is, is that he leads with his right foot on the kick drum, which pushes the band forward. Meanwhile his left hand on the snare, the backbeat, is a little relaxed, a little lazy – and that combination of propulsion and relaxation is the technical definition of what he’s doing. But you can try it yourself, all you want, and it ain’t going to sound like Charlie.”

Perhaps that is the way to describe Nanci and Don, as well as Charlie. You can try it yourself, all you want, but they were unique and cannot be copied.

But we can treasure the music they left behind.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Stewart Copeland and Max Weinberg on Charlie Watts in The Guardian:

Another Country With Ricky Ross…

And from Wikipedia…

A late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house

FTFS cover_3000
Facing The Falling Sky album cover (image: Kathie Touin)

So, here we are, my first blog for nearly six months. Any excuse? Not really.

Not only that but my headline is stolen – it’s all in a good cause, though.

On 1 November Kathie Touin (that is Mrs Brown) released a new album of her wonderful songs, Facing The Falling Sky. And it is a super creative collection.

As the person who looks after Kathie’s publicity I am supposed to come up with snappy phrases to promote her work but I cannot beat this quote…

DJ Steve Conway says: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.” Thank you Steve.

Steve is a great supporter of Kathie’s music. He presents a show on Ireland’s called the A-Z Of Great Tracks and, to date, six of Kathie’s songs have featured – most recently her single, Waiting For The Silence…

Previously Steve was a DJ on Radio Caroline and was one of the crew rescued by RAF helicopter in November 1991 when the station’s radio ship, Ross Revenge, drifted onto the Goodwin Sands. His book ShipRocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline is highly recommended.

It is great for Kathie to get such positive feedback for the album after all the work she has put into it. She wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, did technical wizardry in her own Starling Recording Studio that goes way above my head, mixed and produced the album – oh, and created the artwork.

We held a launch for the album at Orkney Brewery which is situated, conveniently, just beyond the end of the track to our house. In fact, you can see the brewery from our dining room window.

No jokes please – we did manage to organise a launch in a brewery. We invited friends and Kathie, in her Eeyore mode, thought perhaps 10 people might come. In the event there were nearly 60 folk there and the warmth and support feeding back to Kathie meant so much to her.

I was the MC, introducing some tracks played from the CD and some songs played live by Kathie – as well as quizzing Kathie about the songs and the album. Kathie had a string trio join her for one song, Between Heaven And The Sky – thank you Linda Hamilton, cello, and Elizabeth Sullivan and Lesley Macleod, violins, it was beautiful.

cottage close up2
Publicity shot for Facing The Falling Sky (image: Kathie Touin)

Kathie was interviewed by BBC Radio Orkney for their daily breakfast news programme. You can hear this on Kathie’s SoundCloud feed…

She also featured in our weekly newspaper, The Orcadian, and the online Orkney News reported from the launch.

How would I describe the album? Well, herein lies a problem. These days, of course, music is distributed digitally for download and streaming as well as in physical form (CD in the case of this album). And the digital sites like to have the music put into categories.

Here, I admit, Kathie struggles and her publicity person (me) is not much help either. It is not folk, though I see on Google that is how Kathie is labelled. It is not progressive. It is not electronic. But it does have elements of all three, and more. The closest we have come is folktronic, or folktronica. Answers on a postcard please!

The digital world is a two-edged sword for artists. Potentially it gets the music to anyone, anywhere in the world thanks to Kathie’s website and to digital distribution (Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music, Amazon Music and so on).

But the downside is the income, or should I say lack of it, particularly for streams. A single stream on Spotify, to give two examples from Kathie’s previous albums, could pay you $0.00030394 or perhaps $0.00235781. I don’t know why the figures vary, both were songs written and performed by Kathie. Either way, she is not going to get rich that way.

Recently a track from Kathie’s piano music album Soliloquy Deluxe – Valses Poeticos by Granados – was streamed 133 times on Google Music Store resulting in a total payment of $0.68815381. Hey-ho.

Anyway, back to the new album, Facing The Falling Sky. It has received airplay on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Caroline, Vectis Radio, Deal Radio, Biggles FM and Glastonbury FM and, who knows, elsewhere in the UK and beyond?

I had hoped for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music but despite sending eight copies to various people we have not achieved that particular breakthrough. Who knows whether anyone there ever got to listen to the album from the hundreds they must receive each week?

Whatever, I think the album is fantastic and well worthy of UK-wide, indeed, worldwide, airplay. To repeat Steve Conway’s quote once more: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.”

Here is some more feedback Kathie has received…

“I’ve listened to it several times and each time find something else I like… Your vocals are great, a lovely sound, smooth and warm.”

“Really enjoying your CD. How catchy some of the tunes are – Waiting For The Silence is a real ear-worm!”

“Just the answer to the dreich winter weather bringing into your home a warmth and seasonal feel.”

“Such a good album packed full of great tracks.”

So there.

Poster for Kathie Touin’s new album (image: Kathie Touin)

You can buy the album from Kathie’s website – the CD comes with an attractive lyrics booklet – or from shops in Orkney including The Old Library and The Reel in Kirkwall, the Waterfront Gallery and JB Rosey in Stromness, and Castaway Crafts in Dounby.

If you are into downloads or streaming Facing The Falling Sky is on all the regular outlets including Apple Music, Google Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and CD Baby (Kathie’s digital distributor).

Go on, give it a listen. You could even email 6 Music and request a play!

Graham Brown

To find out more

Kathie’s website –

Kathie’s blog –

Steve Conway on Twitter – –

Radio Caroline –

Orkney Brewery –

Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow

In late April I made my first proper visit to Glasgow for many years. When I say proper I do not mean previous visits were improper, they were just very short.

I paid a brief visit with my parents as a teenager, and two brief day trips for work when I was at the BBC.

And I have changed planes at Glasgow Airport on several occasions but that does not count – airports are strange islands of people, baggage, cafés, bars, security checks and duty free shops which are pretty much the same wherever you go in the world.

Loganair Saab aircraft at Kirkwall Airport preparing for departure to Glasgow (image: Graham Brown)

My first impression of the trip was to be impressed at Kirkwall Airport with the recently changed livery on Loganair’s Saab airliners. For many years Loganair planes travelling between Orkney and mainland Scotland have flown under Flybe colours as part of a franchise agreement. But now the planes have a distinctive white and tartan scheme, emphasising it is Scotland’s airline.

Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I stayed in Glasgow at a Premier Inn (speaking of places which are the same wherever you go) but it was conveniently placed and our room had a splendid view of the River Clyde.

The hotel was built as part of the redevelopment of the former shipbuilding area of the Clyde, and we learned something of this when we visited another of the new buildings, the Riverside Museum, a 15-minute walk from our hotel.

The museum has a fascinating collection of classic cars, old buses, trams and trolley buses, railway locomotives and a huge collection of detailed model ships. At one time thousands of the ships sailing around the world were built in Glasgow, as were many of the steam locomotives running on tracks across the world.

The author and a Hillman Imp (image: Graham Brown)

I had my picture taken with one of the first Hillman Imp cars produced at Linwood, Scotland. I learnt to drive in a Hillman Imp, well, two actually, as both the driving school and my mother had blue examples.

Moored outside the museum and also open to the public is the 19th century Clyde-built sailing ship Glenlee. After a long career sailing the world’s oceans as a cargo ship she became a training vessel for the Spanish navy. Now she is back home and beautifully restored, though I imagine the restoration work never stops.

I would recommend the Riverside Museum as a great day out, even if you are not particularly into vintage transport.

Our hotel was next to BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay headquarters, opened in 2007. My previous visits to the BBC in Glasgow were to the old premises in Queen Margaret Drive so when two former colleagues offered to show us around we jumped at the chance.

The author outside BBC Pacific Quay (image: Graham Brown)

Although having something of a box appearance from the outside, once inside the layout is innovative and the atmosphere pleasant. We managed to peek at the sets for the TV comedy Mrs Brown’s Boys and at the live BBC Radio Scotland phone-in with Kaye Adams.

Along the river next to the BBC is the Glasgow Science Centre. This was noisy, because of the large number of schoolchildren visiting, but there are some clever hands-on exhibits – try visiting in the afternoon when it is quieter. The IMAX cinema and planetarium were fun as well.

One evening we travelled with a friend by train from Glasgow Central Station, with its wonderful wood architecture, to the neighbouring town of Paisley for the Paisley Beer Festival, held in the magnificent town hall. I have not been to a beer festival for years (honest) but soon got the idea.

At the entrance you get a souvenir beer glass. You then take this to one of the volunteer bar staff and choose a beer, then another, and another… you get the idea.

The breweries participating, each offering a number of brews, were arranged alphabetically along the long bars, which took up two large rooms. We were pleased to see Orkney’s two brewers – Orkney Brewery and Swannay Brewery – both represented. My favourite beer of the five or six I sampled was Nene Valley’s Egyptian Cream.

For our final day in Glasgow we visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. If you were to visit just one place in Glasgow I would suggest this should be it – and it is free.

Spitfire inside the Kelvingrove (image: Graham Brown)

The 1901 red sandstone building itself is impressive, even before you enter. Once inside it has a fabulous eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture and objects. My favourites include a Spitfire aircraft hung from the ceiling, The Floating Heads by Sophie Cave (also hanging from the ceiling), Mary Pownall’s startling sculpture The Harpy Celaeno (1902), and paintings by the French Impressionists and the Glasgow Boys.

We paused at lunchtime to listen to the daily recital on the museum’s magnificent pipe organ – what a treat.

Mary Pownall’s The Harpy Celaeno (1902) at the Kelvingrove (image: Graham Brown)

Unfortunately we missed Salvador Dali’s famous painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross, normally on display at the Kelvingrove, which was away at another exhibition. But, never mind, it will be a good excuse to go back another time to see it.

Earlier in our stay we spent an afternoon visiting Glasgow’s city centre shopping area, mainly because Kathie needed to visit the Marks & Spencer lingerie department (we do not have M&S in Orkney). While Kathie was doing that I called into WH Smith – their shops look tired and old-fashioned these days – and TK Maxx, where I bought some colourful socks and a brown leather belt.

I also bought a Glasgow Evening Times from a vendor outside M&S, I believe in supporting local and regional newspapers, now very much under threat. And, sadly, I noticed several homeless people in the doorways of shops.

Throughout the trip I made good use of my new over-60 bus pass, so there are some benefits to getting older, but I did not need it on the evening we went to the SSE Hydro, just a short walk across the Clyde from our hotel via the Bell’s Bridge.

Our view of Noel Gallagher at the SSE Arena (image: Graham Brown)

This was, in fact, the original point of our Glasgow trip, Kathie booked tickets to see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds in concert. It was my first arena gig in many years and I was struck by people’s behaviour during the headline act – using phones, constantly going out to the bars for drinks – and by the deluge of plastic glasses left behind at the end.

But the music was LOUD and good, the band excellent, and the big-screen projection, showing the musicians on stage but frequently overlaid with stylish animation, was impressive. I even recognised some of the songs.

We certainly packed a lot into our four-night stay in Glasgow and, better still, came away with a long list of things to do next time. This month we are making a return trip to Edinburgh – more of that in a future blog.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Loganair –

Riverside Museum –

Wikipedia: Hillman Imp –

Tours of BBC Pacific Quay –

BBC Radio Scotland –

Wikipedia: Kaye Adams –

Glasgow Science Centre –

Paisley Beer Festival –

Kelvingrove –

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds –

Looking from a different perspective

A good perspective: view from our house on 5 November 2013
A good perspective: view from our house on 5 November 2013

I grew up in England. It probably doesn’t matter too much exactly where but it was on the borders of East Anglia and the East Midlands, near Peterborough. I grew up English, with an English view of the world.

In 1986 I moved to London and, a few years later, got divorced. These two events definitely widened my world view. My ideas were further challenged when I married Kathie Touin, a United States citizen in 2003.

But in 2010 my whole perspective started to really change when Kathie and I moved to Orkney. For those who do not know, the Orkney islands are a group of about 70 islands off the north coast of Scotland.

When I announced to my work colleagues in London that we were moving to Orkney I got some interesting reactions.

Many people were honest enough to ask where Orkney was, often mistakenly believing it to be part of the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. It reminded me of the crisis that led to the 1982 Falklands War when many English people discovered the Falklands were not vaguely somewhere in Scotland but, in fact, in the South Atlantic.

Some work chums clearly imagined – wrongly – that Orkney was made up of small crofts, with a population of regular church-goers speaking Gaelic.

My favourite two reactions were, “Will you have electricity?” and “Wow, New Zealand!” To be fair to the person who said the latter, they probably mis-heard “Auckland” for “Orkney”.

Now Kathie and I have been in Orkney for three-and-a-half years I realise that my perspective has changed significantly.

The south, to me, once meant the south of England, an area along the south coast and coming a little way inland. Now the south can be anywhere in the UK, except Shetland. For those not familiar with Shetland, that is the last group of islands heading north before you leave the UK – the ones that often appear in a box on a map, or not at all.

The North-East used to mean Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough (home of Guy Bailey, former US Ambassador of the People’s Republic of Teesside – you can look him up on Twitter). Now when I refer to the North-East I usually mean Aberdeen.

The East Coast was once to me the coastline around East Anglia, or I might have thought of an area further north, perhaps the coast of East Yorkshire. But now if someone says the East Coast I am likely to think of somewhere in Scotland such as St Andrews or Dundee, or possibly just across the border in Berwick.

The words national and nationwide now potentially lead to confusion for me. If I heard either on a radio news bulletin when I was living in England I would think of the UK as a whole. Now I have to stop myself – what station am I listening to? Is it BBC Radio Scotland? In which case national or nationwide will mean Scotland. Is it a UK-wide channel? In which case, we are talking about all of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

And there’s another confusing word, though it sounds straightforward enough – mainland. Here in Orkney there are two distinct uses of the word. We might be referring to the mainland of Scotland, ie the part of Scotland that is joined on to England, from where we fly or take the ferry to reach Orkney.

But that is not the word’s most common use here. Mainland is the name of the largest island in Orkney and if someone in Orkney says Mainland that is probably what they are referring to.

Kathie and I live in Mainland Orkney, to be precise in what is known as West Mainland.

There is potential confusion as well between the collective noun for Shetland and Orkney and that for the more northerly of the Orkney islands. But with care this can be avoided.

Shetland and Orkney are the Northern Isles – they will frequently be referred to as such in UK-wide BBC Weather forecasts, and elsewhere.

And North Isles is the correct term for Orkney’s more northerly islands such as North Ronaldsay and Westray.

There’s a Paul McCartney song called Flaming Pie, the title track of an excellent album, which includes the lyric:

I took my brains out and stretched ’em on the rack

“Now I’m not so sure I’m gonna get ’em back.”

It’s a bit like that for me. My brains have been stretched, I have a different perspective on the world and the old perspective won’t be coming back.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Wikipedia: Orkney

Visit Orkney

Guy Bailey on Twitter

Across the Border: Broadcasting in an independent Scotland


BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow. (photo: Stewart Priest)
BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow (photo: Stewart Priest)

The devil is in the detail. What a great expression. And like many old sayings it carries great truth.

Here in Scotland we are moving towards our vote on whether to become an independent country. The referendum will be held on Thursday 18 September, 2014. I think the vote will be against independence but we shall see – much can and will happen over the next 15 months.

Many want Scotland to be independent come what may and they will not change their view before the referendum. Others believe Scotland should remain an integral part of the UK and, again, will not change their view.

But in between are the “don’t know” or “undecided” folk who will vote largely, I think, on economic issues. They will make a calculation about how independence will affect them and their families as the debate unfolds and as those devilish details are teased out.

The uncertainty of going into an independent future may make many undecided voters stick with the UK. What about public services, will there be sufficient money for them? How strong will Scotland’s economy be in the big wide world? What about the SNP proposal to keep sterling – how will that work? Will Scotland be accepted into the EU, with or without the Euro?

People will probably be less concerned about services such as health and education which have been run by Scottish governments since devolution re-established the Scottish Parliament in 1999 – provided, that is, they calculate that there will be enough money to fund them.

But there is a tricky area of services which currently operate across the border between England and Scotland. Railways is one example – how would that work? Would English-operated trains be expected to stop at the border. How far would ScotRail trains be allowed to operate into England?

And what about the military? Would a Scottish army, navy and air force be anything more than a token defence?

Personally I’m particularly concerned about broadcasting. For all its faults, we in the UK currently benefit from the BBC, an operation that is surely unequalled anywhere in the world.

For £145.50 a year (per household) we get a wonderful range of TV and radio stations – and online content – that provides something, in fact, lots of things, for everyone.

But what kind of public service broadcasting might we see in an independent Scotland? 

In August 2012 Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond outlined his ideas. The Guardian reported that he wants a new public service broadcaster, built on the assets and staff of BBC Scotland and funded mainly by licence fee payers. But he refused to rule out the prospect of the network carrying advertising alongside its public funding.

For me one of the joys of living in the UK is publicly-funded broadcasting which I am able to enjoy without advertising interrupting the flow of dramas, documentaries and sporting events. Do we really want to throw that away?

In mid-2011 there were 2.37 million households in Scotland (source: General Register Office for Scotland). Let’s be generous and assume every one of those households has a colour TV Licence. That will give a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation an income – without advertising – of less than £345m a year.

So, what can you get for £345m a year? I expect the BBC to publish its 2012/13 annual report and accounts later this month but the 2011/12 figures will give us a pretty good idea.

And it doesn’t make good reading for those who favour a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation.

To run BBC Two cost £416.6m in content – £537.1m by the time you have added in distribution and infrastructure/support – so there’s the budget gone straight away before you’ve got one TV channel, albeit a very good one, on the air. For the record, to run BBC One costs £1,041.1m in content which is approximately three times the projected income. Anyone fancy a three times increase in the Licence Fee?

The good news is that radio is cheaper. BBC Radio Scotland and the Gaelic service BBC Radio nan Gaidheal cost, including add-ons, £38.1m a year.

But the combined costs of BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live comes to £348.8m a year – roughly equivalent to our projected income for a Scottish public service broadcaster.

Many people in Scotland, most even, will not want to sacrifice all these services in return for a single under-funded new TV channel to run alongside BBC Radio Scotland.

And don’t expect the majority of TV Licence Fee payers in England to happily pay for existing BBC services to be broadcast for free in an independent Scotland.

Yes, the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation could buy in some of the popular programmes such as EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing and David Attenborough documentaries – but this will quickly eat into the small budget.

And will we manage without BBC Radio 4 altogether? Or Radio 2?

Alex Salmond is right when he identifies the fact that “we do not have an English-language public service broadcasting channel of our own” in Scotland. But I don’t think his latest ideas are the right way to go about getting one.

To find out more

Guardian: Alex Salmond outlines plans to replace BBC Scotland –

Guardian: Scottish referendum: BBC Scotland to invest £5m in extra programming –

BBC Annual Report 2012 –

TV Licensing –

Hello Cruel World

Have you ever heard these songs? On A Bus To St Cloud? The Secret Of Life? Eddie’s First Wife? Independence Day? Ghost? If you haven’t, I would recommend searching them out.

You might know some of the songs as performed by others but there is one great songwriter behind all of them – Gretchen Peters. And her new album Hello Cruel World is out in January 2012. Personally, I can hardly wait.

You can get a taste of the album here in the video for The Matador. It’s a fantastic song, with a beautiful arrangement and thoughtful words. And the video complements the song rather than detract from it:


Perhaps Gretchen Peters’ best-known and most-loved song, to date, is On A Bus To St Cloud. I first knew the song, before I knew its writer, in a super version by Trisha Yearwood.

The song soars, and for me has a gothic quality to it. Look at this lyric:

“In a church in downtown New Orleans
I got down on my knees and prayed
And I wept in the arms of Jesus
For the choice you made”

Or this:

“And you chase me like a shadow
And you haunt me like a ghost
And I hate you some, and I love you some
But I miss you most…”

Here’s Trisha Yearwood’s version:


So, thank you Gretchen Peters for these great songs. And here’s to Hello Cruel World to kick-start 2012:


I wish you all love and peace for Christmas and for 2012,

To find out more

Gretchen Peters’ website, where her blog gives more insights into the songs on her new album:

Gretchen Peters performs On A Bus To St Cloud on BBC Radio Scotland:

Gretchen Peters is a funny Tweeter too…

More about Herbert Siguenza, the man in The Matador video:

Where is the Super Station in Orkney?

Grandma's old valve radio

Here in Orkney we’re well served by local media considering we only have a population of about 20,000.

We have a fine newspaper, The Orcadian, packed full of local news, information and advertising. There is also an award-winning colour monthly magazine featuring local folk, Living Orkney. And the monthly Orkney Advertiser, a free publication of useful classified advertising.

Add to that a number of smaller publications, newsletters and websites such as All About Orkney.

But in this blog I want to write about our local radio and, in particular, ask some questions about our community radio station the Super Station and how it compares to BBC Radio Orkney.

First I should tell you about Radio Orkney. It operates as an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland – and a damn fine services it provides as well.

Every weekday morning at 7.30am we get Around Orkney, 30-minutes of vital news, weather and information. At 12.54pm there is a six-minute bulletin of local news and weather.

Then every Friday at 6.10pm we have the Radio Orkney request show, a glorious 50 minutes of everything from Daniel O’Donnell to heavy metal, as well as local music. Thanks to my wife Kathie I’ve had my birthday request on here twice – last year it was Esther & Abi Ofarim’s Cinderella Rockefella and on Friday it was Captain Beaky.

In addition, in the winter months, there are programmes from Monday to Thursday at 6.10pm covering folk music, traditional music, local history, the arts, language, farming and more.

In between times Radio Orkney posts lots of information on its Facebook page. So, all round, an excellent service.

As I said, we also have the Super Station which began broadcasting in 2004, and then full-time from 2005.

Originally, anoraks amongst us remember, they used studios on the radio ship MV Communicator, which had previously been the home of the popular Eighties offshore radio station Laser 558.

But the Super Station moved to land-based studios and sadly the MV Communicator was scrapped in St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney.

Remains of the MV Communicator being scrapped in Orkney

But where is the Super Station now? The address on their website is The Old Hospital, East Road, Kirkwall but you would hardly know it from listening to the broadcasts.

I’m sure the presenters work very hard but the station sound is not Orkney – you could be listening to a top 40 radio station anywhere in the UK. A friend of mine described the station as “broadcasting from Essex”. I’m not sure if he really meant that, but it does sometimes sound like that.

The advertisements are mostly for local businesses – and it is good to hear them – but the ads also sound as if they were produced in England somewhere.

Last Friday morning Orkney was facing the aftermath of a big storm – one wind gust was recorded at 138mph the night before, property had been damaged, roads blocked. Blizzards were forecast, there was travel disruption, all the schools were closed and many homes were left without power.

In addition, BBC Radio Orkney was off-air due to a transmitter problem and relaying all its information via Facebook.

So where was the Super Station in all this?

I listened until just after 9.30am and there was some travel news, though it was not comprehensive and seemed incidental to the music. And where is this place Sharpinsay that was referred to? Could that be Shapinsay?

Critically I did not hear one single mention of schools closures or homes without power. Come on – that’s not good enough.

I appreciate Super Station does not have the journalism resources of Radio Orkney but for a community station not to mention that all the schools are closed?

The problem, it seems to me, is in at least three parts.

First, limited resources. The Super Station serves a small population and so will have limited income, particularly in the current financial climate. This might explain why the station now claims to serve Caithness as well as Orkney, further diluting its local focus.

Second, BBC Radio Orkney. The presence of a licence fee-funded news operation in the islands makes it hard-going for any rival station.

Third, where are the roots? I have only lived in Orkney since April 2010 but I’ve never seen a Super Station presence at any event or noticed them in the local press. The presenters’ profiles on the station website make no reference to Orkney, good or bad.

This is a shame because reading back over the station’s licence application to broadcast it promised a breakfast programme with 45% speech, a broad music policy to include local and Celtic music, news programmes at 1pm and 6pm, and regular studio guests.

Now it is pretty well non-stop top 40 music – nothing local, no specialist music – with no news programmes, very little local news and no studio guests. Many of the programmes outside peak times sound voice-tracked, ie the presenters have pre-recorded their links and are not actually in the studio.

Incidentally, the Super Station application to broadcast also suggested a relay transmitter to improve reception in Stromness as well as a wish to have further relays for the northern isles of Orkney.

The solution? Well, I’m not a businessman, nor have I ever run a radio station. But I have followed the radio industry with interest over the years and I am an avid radio listener.

The Super Station needs to find its roots. It needs to concentrate on Orkney.

It needs a studio and office that is a hub for the local community. It needs local folk going on-air to talk about their lives, projects and charity work. It needs local folk presenting at least some of the programmes.

It needs to broadcast from local events. It needs a much bigger spread of music, both to celebrate the fantastic musicians of Orkney but also to cater for a wider range of tastes. It needs live music sessions on its programmes.

And all of this is going to need volunteers. A community radio station in a small community like Orkney cannot be run like a commercial radio station in a big city.

How about it Super Station?

To find out more

To get an idea of how other community stations operate as part of their communities, take a look at the websites for Cuillin FM in Skye or Biggles FM in Bedfordshire, England:

Here is the Super Station website, its application to broadcast, and the BBC Radio Orkney Facebook page: