What’s next? Smashed avocado on sourdough in Strattie’s?
What’s next? Smashed avocado on sourdough in Strattie’s?
Here are some pictures of the demolition of the unloved St James Centre at the top of Leith Street. Built the end of the 1960s, it was always more Altamont than Woodstock, nobody seemed to have a good word for it.
Toward the left of this picture was where the HMV Shop was. It was so small it had no staffroom and so staff used to be given an allowance to go out and buy lunch. Even into the 1990s it had the highest takings per square foot of any store in the chain.
The King James hotel seems to be pleading…
I worked in “the Centre” for a couple of years and it was indeed a joyless bunker from the outside. But I once got an almost complete catalogue of Graham Central Station albums from one of the frequent sales of US cut-outs in the aforementioned HMV.
As seen below, there is no restraint in building the new hotel/retail complex which will replace the old centre. It doesn’t look too much like an improvement on the red-headed stepchild it replaces so far.
Here is an artist’s impression of what “Edinburgh St James” should eventually look like, with the new hotel complex on the left, the design of which is reminding people of either an unpeeling orange, an unspooling tape or what dog owners might find in tightly coiled piles on the lawn.
Bob Dylan live 1966
It’s been there since last November, but now is the time for this baby to be moved from the battlefield of “beside the CD player” to the Valhalla of “filed away/never seen again.” Which must mean that I’ve finished listening to it almost every day.
36 CDs covering 23 shows of Bob Dylan’s 1966 world tour might seem excessive and I guess it probably is. If Dylan’s people had stuck to their pricing policy for The Bootleg Series issues, this would have come in about three grand. But this is pointedly not referred to as part of The Bootleg Series and the recordings are also that magical copyright age of 50…so I guess maybe Bob and Jeff generously decided to take only 100 quid for it as a early Christmas 2016 present.
It was a wee bit difficult explaining the necessity of this purchase to my colleagues at the time, but as the lingua franca of that environment was Lego and Star Wars, it shouldn’t have been too surprising…we all know who is right here.
The product is well presented in a nice chunky box, a bit like the Borg’s wheels in Star Trek. Like the Borg, it is futile to resist assimilation – here are four full, professionally recorded, shows from the UK leg of the tour and another nineteen shows which are presented in full or in part from (mostly) soundboard recordings or (a few) audience tapes.
The professional, stereo, recordings are immaculate, the mono soundboards, even when there are incomplete, are nearly as good and the audience tapes are pretty much what you’d expect from 1966 – it is good that they exist, but they can be a hard, if enlightening listen.
Enlightening because, as the audience bootlegs from the 1966 tour have shown, a loud rock band in some of these small theatres sounded terrible, no matter what the expectation of the audiences. Dylan famously was booed and got a lot of bad audience reaction on this tour, but it needs to be remembered that what we have heard over the years (and on this set) are professional recordings and/or soundboards. Even the earliest bootlegs of the Manchester show were from a Columbia professional recording.
So it may be that the audiences of the 1966 shows have been judged harshly for their negative reactions (and as this set shows, there were also positive reactions, the Edinburgh show for one.)
Here’s Bob probably on his way to that show and the same bit of Princes Street fifty years later…the windows at the top right of the Dylan picture are the giveaway.
The sticking point for some buyers, who will be big Dylan fans anyway (a product like this is unlikely to have casual purchasers) is the repetition involved. There are maybe half a dozen variations to the setlist over the 23 shows documented, and certainly the bulk of it is exactly the same setlist every night.
So, what nutter has been listening to this for the last three months?
I’ve rationalised it.
A few years ago, I had a friend who moved house with his family, to the house next door. I thought this was weird, but it was utterly rational; the bloke next door had a conservatory; my friend wanted a conservatory and had worked out it would be cheaper on balance to sell his house and buy his neighbour’s than to build a conservatory.
I loved the logic of this and the parallel to the Dylan set is this; my friend mentioned that although the move was easy, passing stuff over the garden fence, it was weird to look out the windows of the new house and see the same vista, but with a slightly different perspective, as he saw from the old house.
That is what listening to Bob and The Band doing the same setlist over and over again is like; the tiny differences between each night’s vibe become clear (especially on the soundboard recordings, adjusted for room ambience.) Every show is seen through a different “window” and if you have the time and inclination, it is a fascinating thing to do.
This was the front of The Palais at Fountainbridge on Saturday 8th October – the final demolition commenced on Wednesday.
I thought they may have been keeping the front as a feature of whatever is knocked up in that space next, but it would appear not.
Here’s the back view:
I only remember it as a bingo hall and that closed down many years ago, but in its day it was one of Edinburgh’s many dancehalls, where live orchestras would play for dancing. It was the thing for the kids to do.
I wonder how many of my generation of Edinburgh people are here today because of relationships which started in dancehalls like this.
Everybody’s heard about Greyfriars Bobby, the wee dug that visited his dead master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirk churchyard for fourteen years. Walt Disney made a film about it and the wee guy’s got his own statue next to the churchyard, which when I was a teenager used to face the churchyard rather than looking toward Chambers Street as it does now. I think the statue has changed orientation a few times over the years. He’s not actually depicted caked in snot, but the last iteration of the statue was manufactured in such a way that the constant rubbing of his nose by tourists has worn away the finish.
There are a pub and a snack bar nearby which use his name…
And Greyfriars Kirk also commemorates the tale just after you are inside its gates.
Bobby himself would never know this however, as this sign is just before the entrance gates.
The world has clearly gone mad in 2016 (well, actually since the death of David Bowie – was he holding the fabric of the universe together?)
Our lords of mis-rule are liars and fools and there is a depressing tendency toward what is being labelled as “posh” racism.
So it lifted my spirits to see this sign at the Usher Hall as once again Edinburgh waits to welcome artists and visitors from all over the world for the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Fringe Festival
There are certainly maleficent forces adrift over which we have limited control…meanwhile, we can all just be a bit nicer and more respectful to each other. That’s a start.
It was by no means obvious that I would attend this show…a fair bit of thinking was done before a decision was made.
You see, I’d been lucky to see Brian Wilson on five previous occasions, which is something that, in the seventies and eighties would have been fantasy talk. Back in these days, the notion that one would see Brian Wilson at all, much less that one would see him performing with grace and power, was madness.
But it did indeed come to pass that the rehabilitated Mr Wilson became a frequent touring artist and I saw a couple of transcendent shows and a couple that were very good. However, I was positive until a few weeks ago that the last show I saw was indeed going to be the last Brian Wilson show for me…it was a few years ago in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and while the music was fine, we were close enough to the stage to see that Mr Wilson was not. He did not want to be there, he looked frightened and uncomfortable. It became more and more uncomfortable to watch as well.
I figured at the time that, well, there were probably quite a few people whose jobs relied on keeping Brian Wilson on the road at an age when most people are stopping to smell the roses. It left an unpleasant taste so I didn’t go to any subsequent shows or The Beach Boys tour.
But…when an Edinburgh show was announced, I did vacillate…it had been a few years since that unpleasant night in Glasgow, the show was in Edinburgh so I wouldn’t have to travel far…ah what the hell, we better go.
I’d read a couple of reviews in the weeks before the show…they were highly favourable, but as I believe Mr Wilson is in that rarefied orbit where all critics are afraid to say anything negative, I didn’t give them too much credence.
But, in the event, Brian and the band pulled it off. He was present and lucid, if not obviously having a great time and played long, powerful sets, including Pet Sounds from start to finish as the second set – the first set and the encore segue were hits, hits, hits.
With this current band, Brian is getting some help with the “heavy lifting,” as Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin from The Beach Boys are on hand to sing, as well as Al’s son Matt Jardine, who dovetails beautifully with Brian in handing the high parts Brian can’t get anymore. It work tremendously well…one of the high points of the evening was Brian and Matt harmonising on the three word “listen, listen, listen” refrain from Don’t Talk, which has always stood out as recording due to the fact there is no vocal harmony on it. Unique on Pet Sounds and unusual in the canon.
Al Jardine’s voice doesn’t seem to have substantially changed and it was great to hear him on the Pet Sounds songs, as well as Help Me Rhonda and Cottonfields. I’d seen Al with The Beach Boys on a couple of occasions, but I’d never seen Blondie Chaplin…he was a revelation; these days he looks like a cross of Lou Reed and Keith Richards, thin and bescarfed and garlanded with a beautiful old Les Paul and Strat; he has the vibe of a rawk-god sprite in a musical midsummer night’s dream, more like the spirit of musicality caught in a man’s body than an actual man. Who knew the piece Pet Sounds is actually a tambourine solo? Well, it is the way Blondie played it, so beautifully, in his one foray onstage during the Pet Sounds section of the concert…in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tambourine sounding more like a musical instrument of depth and power. Blondie also got to sing Wild Honey, Funky Pretty and Sail On Sailor.
Billy Hinsche was also in the band, on keys and family harmonies, a man who has probably been in The Beach Boys touring bands for longer than some members of The Beach Boys.
So, I’m definitely glad I took the chance and went along to the show. I think everyone there left feeling a bit better about everything, that’s what the music of Brian Wilson does for you. Add some music to your day, as John Cale did in his song from 1974, the best ever Brian Wilson homage.
The pictures at the top and below were taken by Barry McLuskie at the show in Glasgow on 27 May – thank you for letting me use them, Barry.