Carry On in the Central Belt

“Listen, listen. Ooh – aah – titter ye not. Ooh no missus… Settle down now, settle down,” as Frankie Howerd might have said.

First of all, my apologies, for the cheeky title to this blog – well, we all need to promote ourselves a little.

Second, some explanations, for those not born in the UK and for younger readers. Frankie Howerd was a very funny comedian who appeared in some of the many Carry On films produced from the late 1950s through to the late 1970s. Carry On films were known for their cheeky and vulgar humour – a bit like the heading on this blog.

That said, I am not a big fan of Carry On films but find Frankie Howerd very funny. I particularly enjoyed the BBC television series Up Pompeii!, first broadcast in 1970, in which Howerd played the lead character, a Roman slave. Various aspects of the programme would not pass the political correctness test now, but Howerd’s performances, and the way he talked to the audience in the studio and at home, are a masterclass.

There are many examples of the programme online, probably from someone’s home video recordings, this is Nymphia featuring another Carry On regular, Barbara Windsor (no relation to Her Majesty The Queen)…

Anyway, rather like Frankie Howerd, I digress. I am, in fact, writing about the Central Belt of Scotland, the country’s area of greatest population which includes its two largest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

If you picture a map of Scotland, and think of it as a body, the central belt would be where the waist is, albeit that the body has short legs. Err, like me.

Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I visited Edinburgh in both 2015 and 2016 (my blogs “Reflections on Edinburgh…” and “Auld Reekie”) and Glasgow in April this year (my blog “Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow”).

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View of Edinburgh from the roof of the Camera Obscura building (image: Graham Brown)

In May it was the turn of Edinburgh, again. We stayed in the same conveniently-placed hotel, next to the transport interchange between trams, buses and trains at Haymarket, albeit now changed from a Tune Hotel (in which you paid for all extras) to the Haymarket Hub Hotel (in which everything is included). Visiting Edinburgh two months later in the year than our 2016 visit it was noticeable how busy the city was with tourists – and how expensive our hotel was as a result.

I feel going back to a city for a second visit relaxes the mind – there is not the urgency to get around all the essentials, rather Kathie and I could concentrate on whatever took our fancy.

So it was that on our first full day we made a late start, after a late evening/early morning at a friend’s house, and wandered from the hotel along the nearby Dalry Road to visit the series of charity shops on either side. Prices, not surprisingly, were higher than in Orkney’s charity shops but we found a few bargains including a CD of Hanna-Barbera cartoon music – ever since we got home I have been annoying Kathie, and our dog Roscoe, with the theme tune to Top Cat, less than a minute long, brilliant, concise writing, snappily arranged and played…

On another day we took time for a relaxed stroll in the sunshine through Princes Street Gardens, running alongside but below Edinburgh’s principal shopping street and with great views of Edinburgh Castle.

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Scottish American Memorial in Princes Street Gardens (image: Graham Brown)

We enjoyed the sculptures on display, and were particularly impressed with the Scottish American Memorial, given by Scottish-Americans – I know there are many of you out there – to honour Scots who served in the Great War, or First World War as we now know it. We thought Roscoe would have appreciated the shepherd on the frieze with his Border collie. The memorial was designed by R. Tait McKenzie and erected in 1927.

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Kathie Touin poses with Wojtek and his polished nose (image: Graham Brown)

But I think everyone’s favourite sculpture is Wojtek the bear, by Alan Heriot (2015). Wojtek was adopted by Polish troops in the Second World War, served alongside them, and enjoyed beer and cigarettes. After the war he was retired to Edinburgh Zoo. Like many tourists, we posed with Wojtek and noticed they had rubbed his nose to a bright shine.

The Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens was cordoned off for restoration but, my goodness, we could tell by peeking through the hoardings that it will be spectacular and colourful when it is unveiled. Produced in France, it was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1862 in London, bought by gunmaker Daniel Ross for £2,000, transported in 122 pieces and placed in the gardens in 1872.

Just along Princes Street from the gardens is Edinburgh Waverley station. We walked through there one evening and caught a glimpse of something very special. So, after some online checking about the next appearance, we returned at nine the next morning – an early start for us on holiday.

The excitement for us, and others, mounted as we stood on the platform, there was even a policeman on duty to ensure good order, and then, yes, here she comes…

The steam locomotive Flying Scotsman, one of the most famous in the world, arrived, looking resplendent. She was in Edinburgh to haul a series of excursions across the Forth Rail Bridge.

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Flying Scotsman in Edinburgh Waverley station (image: Graham Brown)

 

Kathie and I were thrilled – yes, we both were. Kathie had not seen the Flying Scotsman in steam before, if at all, and I had to cast my mind back to remember when I had last seen this venerable locomotive, built in 1923, running.

I think it was about 1968 when I went with my father to watch the locomotive run along the main railway line south of Peterborough. It occurred to me that the Flying Scotsman was about 45 years old then, but now has more than doubled in aged to 95 – a sign of my age!

My late father, Clive Brown, always took a great interest in railways. His father, my grandfather, worked for LNER, the company which operated the Flying Scotsman before the railways were nationalised in 1948.

I remember also that my father rode on the footplate of the Flying Scotsman and wrote an article about his experience when the locomotive was visiting the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough. There is a framed photo of my father and the driver standing in front of the loco here in my office.

Other outings during our Edinburgh trip included…

the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden – we only got part way round, so will need to return on another visit, but we did walk through all of the glasshouses;

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John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (image: National Galleries Scotland)

the Scottish National Gallery, a return visit, where my favourite paintings were John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, Thomas Warrender’s Still-Life (a curious mix of ancient objects in an apparently modern setting) and, new to public display, Valentin Serov’s Alexandrvitch, Tsar of All the Russias;

the Mexican food store Lupe Pintos, in Leven Street, a must for Kathie to get her Mexican cooking supplies (they also have a shop in Great Western Road, Glasgow);

and Camera Obscura, a fun half-day for children of all ages. It is in a narrow building with steep stairs over several levels so it is not for all. But there are super views of the city from the roof terrace, the wonders of the Camera Obscura itself, and then a series of fun, interactive (two words that would normally put me off) illusions as you walk back down through the various floors.

Naturally we ate out at several restaurants, I would say my favourite for food, atmosphere and decor was Viva Mexico in Edinburgh’s Old Town, where we have eaten before. It might look busy from the outside but there is a cosy basement so do check if there is a table. If you have only ever visited Mexican chain restaurants in the UK (they were once fashionable in London) you should try an authentic experience.

However, the original reason we were in Edinburgh at this particular time was for music. We booked the trip in order to see the wonderful Gretchen Peters again, then discovered that during the same short visit we could also see the musical Wicked and the phenomenal guitarist Nils Lofgren.

Nils was brilliant, performing a show at the Queen’s Hall as part of a tour to mark his 50 years on the road. What a great guitarist he is and, though this can be overlooked, an expressive singer and handy songwriter. For those who do not know Nils’ work, he has spent many years playing in bands for the likes of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. He appeared with multi-instrumentalist Greg Varlotta, who was fabulous.

We saw Wicked many years ago when we lived in London though for some reason – my tired and stressed life in London, perhaps? – I did not have a great recall of the show. But I know Kathie, like her Mom, is a big fan of The Wizard Of Oz, so when I discovered the back-story Wicked would be playing in Edinburgh at the Playhouse Theatre I jumped at the chance to book tickets.

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Leaving Edinburgh Playhouse after Wicked (image: Graham Brown)

It was an impressive production, great movement and costumes (we were only sat a few rows from the front), and the two women taking the lead roles – Amy Ross and Helen Woolf – were fabulous singers with great presence. As Kathie said, they had some really big numbers to nail, and they did. It was super as well to hear a live band coming from the orchestra pit. And the Playhouse is a superbly ornate theatre, originally a cinema modelled on the Roxy Cinema in New York.

And our final Edinburgh show was due to be Gretchen Peters, touring the UK with her keyboard player (and husband and all-round good egg) Barry Walsh to mark the release of her new album. She brought a band with her, and support artist and accompanying singer Kim Richey.

Unfortunately I saw none of this – on the night of the concert at the Queen’s Hall I was sick in my hotel room, and very fed up. If I’m honest, I am still not over this disappointment but I try to remember what my mother (and probably yours) would say on occasions like this….

“Worse things happen at sea…”

“There are many people in the world worse off than you…”

And so on. And she would be right. So I must get over it.

Having met Gretchen and Barry on previous tours I did drop them a line on social media to say I could not attend and it was very sweet of both of them, and Kim, to send me get well messages at what would be a busy time for them. Thank you all.

Gretchen’s new album, Dancing With The Beast, produced by Doug Lancio, Gretchen and Barry, is the follow-up to the 2015 Blackbirds. Gretchen’s songs tackle some difficult themes such as the state of the so-called United States, abuse, the ageing process and loss – “50 minutes of exquisite-sounding emotional devastation, depression, murder and heartbreak” according to The Tennessean – but there is compassion and hope in there too.

The song Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea will become a firm fan favourite, like Five Minutes on her Hello Cruel World album. In fact, here is Gretchen singing the song at the end of the Queen’s Hall concert (dammit)…

I’m no critic and I’m not good at describing the music I like in words. Really, you need to buy Dancing With The Beast, and Blackbirds, and, while you are about it, the previous album Hello Cruel World. There is also an excellent double album, The Essential Gretchen Peters. I could go on…

Graham Brown

To find out more

Wikipedia: Frankie Howerd – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankie_Howerd

Wikipedia: Up Pompeii! – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_Pompeii!

My blog: Reflections on Edinburgh – and back to a busy Orkney – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/reflections-on-edinburgh-and-back-to-a-busy-orkney/

My blog: Auld Reekie – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/auld-reekie/

My blog: Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/brief-impressions-of-a-trip-to-glasgow/

Wikipedia: Hanna-Barbera – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanna-Barbera

Wikipedia: Scottish American Memorial – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_American_Memorial

Wikipedia: Flying Scotsman – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LNER_Class_A3_4472_Flying_Scotsman

Royal Botanic Garden – http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/home

National Galleries Scotland – https://www.nationalgalleries.org/

Lupe Pintos – http://www.lupepintos.com/

Camera Obscura – https://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/

Viva Mexico – http://www.viva-mexico.co.uk/

Nils Lofgren – http://www.nilslofgren.com/

Wicked – http://www.wickedthemusical.co.uk/

Edinburgh Playhouse – https://www.playhousetheatre.com/

Gretchen Peters – http://www.gretchenpeters.com/

Gretchen’s videos – https://www.youtube.com/user/gretchenpeters/videos

Back to vinyl? You’ll have to speak up, I got beans in my ears…

If you are a music listener you have probably noticed the “back to vinyl” trend of recent years. Fans of vinyl, or records as we once called them, say the sound quality is better than on a CD and the artwork is better realised on a larger platform.

However, despite having a large and still growing music collection, I think I will pass. Yes, I agree if an album has impressive artwork it does look better in the larger format.

But my experience is coloured by having to listen to too many scratched records in the past, and having to return to the shop faulty LPs which stick or jump. I am not about to return down that road. I was a late adopter for CDs but having made the change some years ago I am sticking with it (you can tell I am too old for the download generation).

Actually, I am not convinced by the argument that vinyl sounds better than CD – even assuming you have a scratch-free record. Yes, early CDs were thin sounding. This was not helped by the Eighties fashion for early digital recording and thin-sounding synthesisers.

But try listening to the re-mastered albums by The Beatles, released in 2009. The detail and depth is fantastic.

Or try any decently-recorded modern CD. Among my favourites are Gretchen Peters’ albums Hello Cruel World and Blackbirds – superb songs, beautifully played and sung, but recorded with care. I have said it before and I will say it again, if you do not know Gretchen’s music do yourself and favour and find some.

But back to vinyl. I am not going back in the physical sense, but I am open to a saunter down memory lane to the first records I purchased.

I believe my first single was She Loves You by The Beatles. I can vaguely recall that I had been given a record token, it would probably have been for my sixth birthday, and I went to the record shop with my mother and asked for The Beatles record. I was asked if I wanted their new one or their previous one and I plumped for She Loves You.

Looking at the chronology for The Beatles singles the new one which I rejected was I Want To Hold Your Hand, which had been released at the end of November 1963.

There were other records in the house when I was a child, some of which must have been bought for me by my parents or relatives. I seem to recall we had a single of The Thunderbirds TV series theme tune which, had I still got it, would probably have a reasonable financial value.

And among my parents’ records was an EP… ah, do I need to explain what an EP is to those who barely remember vinyl records? EP was an abbreviation for Extended Play. They were the same size as singles (seven inches) and also played at 45 rpm but, typically, they had two tracks on each side (achieved with finer grooves in the manufacture). LPs. you might remember, played at 33 rpm, and your record player allowed you to adjust to the required speed manually.

Anyway, my parents had an EP which I think had cover versions of current hit songs. One of these which sticks in my mind, or should I say ears, was called Beans In My Ears. No, honestly, it was. Various folk seem to have recorded the song, including Lonnie Donegan.

“You’ll have to speak up I got beans in my ears
Beans in my ears, beans in my ears
You’ll have to speak up I got beans in my ears…”

But, strangely, I did not seem to buy or request any more of my own “pop” singles until 1967 when I bought or was given Daydream Believer by The Monkees and then 1968 when I got The Monkees’ next single Valleri and Lazy Sunday by The Small Faces. I cannot recall why there was a gap in my single-buying, nor what prompted me to start again.

I must say though I had good taste. Lazy Sunday is a wonderful single, a clever song, well produced, which does not sound old even in 2016. And The Monkees music has stood the test of time far better than might have been imagined at the time when they were struggling to break away from being a pretend band in a silly (albeit great fun) TV series.

There were other singles bought at a later date – Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, for example. My copy had Maggie May as the B-side, the original A-side being Reason To Believe before DJs flipped it over. What do record companies know?

I also remember buying Wizzard singles – the band’s singer and composer Roy Wood is a much under-rated figure in British music – and David Bowie singles.

Gradually albums, or LPs, became the focus of my record buying. The first serious as opposed to novelty album I bought was A Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse by The Faces (released November 1971), and the second was The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by David Bowie (released June 1972). Curiously, both these albums bear long titles that are usually shortened in everyday use.

Blowing my own trumpet, again – though it is not an instrument I ever played – I think both of these albums have stood the test of time well, Ziggy in particular as we all know. But A Nod’s As Good As A Wink features an energetic band, Rod at his best before he went all mid-Atlantic, and three of the album’s nine songs, among my favourites, sung by the much-missed Ronnie Lane.

When I married Kathie Touin and she moved from the United States to our small flat in West London I had to make some space for her possessions. As it was, she had to leave many of them in the USA. So it was that most of my LPs went to the Oxfam charity music shop at Ealing Broadway. A friend pointed out that some had a financial value but I did not have the time or inclination to sell them myself and I knew that the Oxfam shop – because it specialised in music – would get a decent price for items of value.

I did keep some records. I think I have those early singles by The Small Faces and The Monkees though I cannot see them right now. They could be buried in the back of my office cupboard (make a note, Darling: future project – sort out office cupboard). But I definitely kept about 40 records that currently reside upstairs in Kathie’s studio control room, mostly, I think, records I did not have on CD, or that I knew I would not easily replace, or that had exceptional artwork.

They include The Faces’ Ooh La La, which had a front cover picture of a man in a top hat which you could animate by hand, the Captain Beaky album (now virtually unobtainable) and a 12-inch single I Spy For The DTI, recorded to promote the offshore radio station Laser 558. I no longer play them but I do look through them now and again.

Earlier this year after my father died I had to clear my parents’ house and decide what to do with their music collection. I kept a number of CDs but, realising that it is impossible to keep everything, donated the other CDs along with the records to local charity shops.

However, for sentimental reasons I did keep one record, an EP as it happens, called Christmas At Home With Nina And Frederik. The tracks include Little Donkey, a sweet Christmas song which I remember fondly from childhood, and Mary’s Boy Child. The latter was a hit song when my mother Mary was expecting me in 1957 and led an aunt to correctly predict I would be a boy.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Gretchen Peters website http://www.gretchenpeters.com/

Wikipedia: The Beatles discography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles_discography

Wikipedia: Beans In My Ears https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beans_in_My_Ears

Wikipedia: Lazy Sunday by The Small Faces https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lazy_Sunday_(Small_Faces_song)

Wikipedia: The Monkees discography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monkees_discography

Wikipedia: Maggie May https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maggie_May

Guardian article celebrating Roy Wood https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/nov/08/roy-wood-wizzard-the-move-glam-rock-pop-genius

Wikipedia: Ziggy Stardust… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Ziggy_Stardust_and_the_Spiders_from_Mars

Wikipedia: A Nod’s As Good As A Wink… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nod_Is_As_Good_As_a_Wink…_to_a_Blind_Horse

Wikipedia: Ooh La La by The Faces https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ooh_La_La_(Faces_album)

Offshore Echos on Laser 558 http://www.offshoreechos.com/Laser/Laser%20story%20menu.htm

Wikipedia: Nina & Frederik https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nina_%26_Frederik

Reflections on Edinburgh – and back to a busy Orkney

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know I am a big admirer of Gretchen Peters’ music. So much so, that my wife Kathie Touin and I travelled 200 miles to Edinburgh to see her in concert at Easter.

Well, it was everything I hoped it would be, and much more. Gretchen’s songs, we already knew, are beautiful, inspirational and challenging. We found the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh to be a lovely venue – it was built in 1823 as Hope Park Chapel – and congratulations go to the sound guys for a superb job. Gretchen’s voice live was perhaps even better than on her recordings.

She had a small but superb band – husband Barry Walsh on piano and accordion, bass player Conor McCreanor and Christine Bougie, playing the unusual combination of lead guitar, lap steel and drums.

The concert was moving and thought-provoking and, yes, I cried a little.

An added bonus was meeting Gretchen and Barry in the foyer at their post-concert signing session. Touring must be a tiring business but they were open and gracious – and I was thrilled when I told Gretchen we had travelled from Orkney and she replied: “Are you my Twitter friend?”

I’ve said this before and I will probably say it again – if you do not know Gretchen Peters’ music, do seek some out – for example, her most recent albums Blackbirds and Hello Cruel World.

Here is the title track of Blackbirds, and an acoustic version of Five Minutes from Hello Cruel World…

Kathie and I throughly enjoyed our four-and-a-half days in Edinburgh. Previously I had only visited briefly as a young teenager and Kathie not at all – though we have driven many times around the Edinburgh ring road, across the Forth Road Bridge and once to Leith to see the Royal Yacht Britannia.

View from Edinburgh Castle (image: Graham Brown)
View from Edinburgh Castle (image: Graham Brown)

We explored the shops on Princes Street and the old buildings along the Royal Mile. We spent half-a-day admiring the paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland, appreciated the beauty of St Giles Cathedral, and spent a day at Edinburgh Castle – a beautiful sunny day, and the views of the city from the castle were stunning.

Kathie Touin says hello to Greyfriars Bobby (image: Graham Brown)
Kathie Touin says hello to Greyfriars Bobby (image: Graham Brown)

On the last day we went to the Scottish Parliament and, just across the road, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Her Majesty The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. And, of course, we could not leave without saying hello to Greyfriars Bobby and leaving a stick from Roscoe on Bobby’s graveyard memorial stone.

We found Edinburgh’s buses and the new trams gave us prompt and easy transport options around the city.

Viva Mexico restaurant, Edinburgh (image: Graham Brown)
Viva Mexico restaurant, Edinburgh (image: Graham Brown)

All of the restaurants we visited were good, but I would particularly recommend Viva Mexico (Kathie, being from California with its strong Mexican influence, is particular about her Mexican food and loved this place) and a Nepalese establishment called Khukuri.

We stayed at the Tune Hotel, conveniently situated opposite a tram and bus interchange, and Haymarket railway station. It is run on the principle of a budget airline, you pay for a room and then pay extra for what you need, eg TV and towels. The staff were friendly and, instead of coffee and tea in the room, which never tastes great, we were able to buy decent hot drinks from reception whenever we wanted.

Since returning from Edinburgh I have been busy as you can tell – I really should have written this blog sooner – working at the RSPB office, volunteering for the RSPB, volunteering with the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project, starting this year’s gardening, and going places.

Scanning my diary, I see that, among other events, I have twice been to Bag The Bruck (annual sessions to collect bruck, ie rubbish, from beaches), I went to the recording of BBC Radio Orkney’s General Election hustings programme (fascinating and lively), and Kathie and I went to St Magnus Kirk, Birsay for the annual St Magnus Day service. This is significant for us because St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney and, by complete accident, we moved here on St Magnus Day in 2010.

RSPB events since Easter have included a fascinating talk about RSPB Forsinard Flows – just across the Pentland Firth from Orkney – a screening of some superb films of Orkney wildlife, shot by Raymond Besant, a cold but worthwhile morning viewing hen harriers and other raptors, and a sunny day on Hoy when Kathie and I went to watch the white-tailed eagles’ nest and talk to visitors.

These magnificent birds, also known as sea eagles, have an eight-foot wingspan and it is the first time they have attempted to breed in Orkney since 1873. Watching one of the pair lazily drift down to the nest with prey – possibly a hare – was a privilege.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Some of my photographs of Edinburgh, and Orkney, on my Instagram: https://instagram.com/grahambrownorkney/

Gretchen Peters: http://www.gretchenpeters.com/

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen%27s_Hall,_Edinburgh

National Galleries Scotland: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/

St Giles Cathedral: http://www.stgilescathedral.org.uk/

Scottish Parliament: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/

Palace of Holyroodhouse: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/palace-of-holyroodhouse

RSPB Orkney on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RspbOrkney

My favourite painting in the National Gallery of Scotland: Travelling Musicians (image: Graham Brown)
My favourite painting in the National Gallery of Scotland: Travelling Musicians (image: Graham Brown)

Sorry I can’t be in London, or Belfast… but I can be in Edinburgh

Kimmie Rhodes (photo by Christopher Durst)
Kimmie Rhodes (photo by Christopher Durst)

Two of my favourite singer-songwriters are touring the UK now. The good news is that I can get to see one but, sadly, not the other.

I have mentioned in many blogs and countless Tweets how much I love living in Orkney, a part of the world frequently described as being “remote”.

But for those of us who live here it is the rest of the world that is remote, not ourselves. Remember, for the Vikings the Orkney Islands were at a crossroads between Scandinavia, Shetland, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

But one disadvantage of being here is not being able to get easily to see favourite bands and singers on concert tours. To be honest, since we came here there have not been too many times when I felt the urge to head south – with the grand exception of the trip my wife Kathie Touin and I made to London to see Kate Bush last year. What a fantastic concert that was.

But shortly we are off again, this time to see Gretchen Peters at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. I don’t want to be rude to you, or to Gretchen, but I imagine many of you have never heard of her. Let me tell you, if you don’t already know, she is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the early 21st century. So there.

Blackbirds, latest album by Gretchen Peters (photo by Gina Binkley)
Blackbirds, latest album by Gretchen Peters (photo by Gina Binkley)

Gretchen, an American, wrote a number of big country hits in the past, such as Independence Day (recorded by Martina McBride) and On A Bus To St Cloud (Trisha Yearwood). But don’t let the c-word, country, put you off – as I know it will for some.

She is now perhaps better categorised as an Americana artist, or better still, not categorised at all. And Gretchen is writing songs, and releasing albums, of amazing depth.

The sharp-eyed of you will notice that I have written about Gretchen’s music before but I am not making any excuses for that.

I would strongly recommend any of her output, but in particular her latest album Blackbirds – lots on the theme of death and old age to be found within – and her previous release, Hello Cruel World.

I could pick many examples but how about this lyric from The Cure For The Pain, from Blackbirds? This is not exactly mainstream Nashville:

“It’s not like you think it’s gonna be
Not like the movies that you see
Ain’t no soaring violins
Just machines and medicines”

But her songs are not just bleak, they are honest and life-affirming as well.

Here are two of Gretchen Peters’ songs. First, from Hello Cruel World, is Idlewild (the former name for JFK Airport). This reminds me of travelling in the back of the car as a child. But it says so much more, about families, about the USA…

And, from Blackbirds, this is Pretty Things, unusually for Gretchen she co-wrote this, with Ben Glover…

Here is the EPK, that’s electronic press kit for older readers, for the album Blackbirds in which Gretchen explains more…

I’m certainly looking forward to the concert in Edinburgh (and a chance for Kathie and I to explore the city).

Also touring in the UK is Kimmie Rhodes, also American, she is part of the thriving music scene in Austin, Texas – somewhere I would love to visit one day. She even made an album with Willie Nelson. Need I say more.

Her current tour takes in dates in England and Ireland, but not Scotland, or Wales for that matter. I wrote on Twitter that I have fond memories of Kimmie’s regular visits to the Weaver’s in London in the Nineties. It was a great music venue. She kindly wrote back to say she will be in London at the Old Queens Head on April 1. I had to explain I am not in London anymore.

Time and money prevents me from catching Kimmie this time but I hope to see her again on a future tour. Perhaps we can persuade her to come to Orkney?

Meanwhile there are many albums available, including the Covers album (some unusual songs covered here) and Kimmie’s latest, Cowgirl Boudoir, released a few days ago and hopefully landing on my doormat any day now.

For now here is Kimmie Rhodes at the recent C2C Festival in London, a beautiful performance of Love And Happiness, from her album Love Me Like A Song, a song she wrote with – and originally recorded with – Emmylou Harris…

Here is what Emmylou says about Kimmie: “Kimmie has the voice of a beautiful child coming from an old soul. She touches us where the better angels of our nature dwell, and I believe we need that now more than ever. If you haven’t before, do yourself a favour and bring her into your listening life.”

Thank you Gretchen and Kimmie for the great music. If you get a chance to see them live, buy a CD, get a download, please do so.

Graham Brown

To find out more

http://www.gretchenpeters.com/

http://kimmierhodes.com/

My previous blog on Gretchen Peters –https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/gretchen-peters/

And Gretchen is in this one about Rosanne Cash –https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/rosannecash/