This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan (Books 2018, 24)

I don’t know where I learned about this. It’s been sitting on my Kindle for a while. I have a feeling that a friend recommended it on Facebook. It’s subtitled “An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978–1986,” which annoys me, but only because of that “An Hallucinated.” Not because it’s a subtitle. I like subtitles.

And this subtitle describes its book extremely well, especially with respect to that incorrectly-articled vision. It’s the fictionalised biography of a band called Memorial Device. Or at least that’s partly what it is. It verges on magic realism at times. It’s presented as a series of interviews and parts written by other contributors (as opposed to the supposed author, “Ross Raymond”). The actual author does a fine job of presenting those different voices and making them sound different. The whole thing reads like an actual music biography where the author has drawn on the experiences of a range of people as well as their own experience.

The hallucinatory part comes from the way some of those people speak, or write. They are variously damaged or otherwise otherworldly, and their mental strangeness comes across well — or is it the world that’s strange?

Airdrie is in the west of Scotland, not far from Glasgow, so it’s very much the same part of the world I grew up in. This feels very realistic: there was a similar swathe of bands inspired by punk and the post-punk/new wave/new romantic scene around Dumbarton and environs. None of the characters were as much larger-than-life as some of them members of Memorial Device — or at least not that I knew — but that’s why this is fictional, I guess.

Not the best thing I’ve read this, year, but not bad.

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan (Books 2018, 24)

Espedair Street by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 14)

This is not a book about an imaginary rock musician: it’s a book about guilt.

Of course, it is about an imaginary rock musician too, but reading it now, for the third or perhaps fourth time, it’s striking to me how totally it’s about guilt. And not very subtly, either. It’s right there at the start of chapter 2:

Guilt. The big G, the Catholic faith’s greatest gift to humankind and its subspecies, psychiatrists . . . well, I guess that’s putting it a little too harshly; I’ve met a lot of Jews and they seem to have just as hard a time of it as we do, and they’ve been around longer

I had forgotten that the character of Daniel Weir (or “Weird”) was brought up as a Catholic. I don’t think any of Banksie’s other characters were. The man himself wasn’t. Not that it makes a lot of difference: his (and our) Scottishness has a lot more impact on his character — and his characters — than any religion his parents may have had.

As always, I had forgotten some key parts, but I remembered more of this than of most. It’s still great.

And I realise that these notes are becoming more about me, and what I remember, than about the books. But that’s fine. It’s my blog, after all, and as much as anything these are for me. They’re just out there in public in case anyone else is interested.

Anyway, if you haven’t read any Banks, then this would be a damn fine place to start. Though it’s interesting to note that — set as it is in the 70s and early 80s — it’s so dated that it feels almost like a period piece. One example: one of the members of the band buys an IBM mainframe and transfers recording-studio tapes to it, so he can play any track at the touch of a button. Something we can do from our pocket computers today.

But there was one point that I thought seemed anachronistic. Maybe not, but aluminium takeaway cartons? Chinese & curries? In 1973? Hmmm. I mean, it is in the foaming metropolis of Paisley, not Balloch. And even we had a Chinese by 1980, 81, or so. Still, I wonder when those things started to become commonplace.

Espedair Street by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 14)

Top-Ten Album Lists

Two album-related memes have been doing the rounds on Facebook lately. Both involve posting cover images of ten favourite albums across ten days. One involves doing so without any comment, but the more interesting one to me involves the poster writing about their thoughts on each album. I was nominated by my friend Peter to join in with the long-form version.

I’m all about owning my own content, as you know, and not having it locked away in Facebook’s walled garden. So my plan is to write about ten albums, but to do so here, on my blog. Links to the posts will automatically be crossposted to Facebook anyway.

I started compiling a list of possibles, and thinking about starting to write posts. First I decided to restrict it one per artist. Otherwise I could just pick five by The Beatles and five by The Clash.

But then I played some albums, and thought some more.

See, I knew right up front that it was going to be almost entirely a white-guy fest. I wanted to approach it honestly, and not try to appear to be anything I’m not, so that’s how it would have to be. It would be reflecting my life as a music fan. As it stands the long list has one woman and no non-white people.

But as I played those albums — albums I love — and as I thought about them, I realised two things:

  1. I know these albums too well. I’m not bored of them, but they can drift past without me really being aware of them, through overfamiliarity.
  2. This won’t be very interesting, and certainly won’t have any surprises for anyone who knows me.

So I’ve come to a decision, I think: I’m going to do it slightly differently. I’m going to write about ten albums that I like now. Ones that I’ve discovered in the last few years, maybe, or that I’ve known for a while but have listened to a lot more in recent years.

I’m not entirely sure what that list is going to look like. I only have two, maybe three definites on it at the moment, and it’s going to take a while to construct it. But I think it could be a much more interesting list — certainly for me — when it’s done.

And I’ll do a post with a rundown of what the original list would have been, just for completeness.

So watch out for those in the next few days.

Top-Ten Album Lists

Lana, What?

Turns out Lana Del Rey was… mistaken? about Radiohead having brought a lawsuit against her. After me leaping to her defence. I’m very disappointed.

Amanda Petrusich, writing in The New Yorker, tells us:

Eventually, Warner/Chappell*, Radiohead’s publisher at the time of the song’s release, refuted her claim: “It’s clear that the verses of ‘Get Free’ use musical elements found in the verses of ‘Creep’ and we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favor of all writers of ‘Creep,’ ” the company said in a statement. “To set the record straight, no lawsuit has been issued and Radiohead have not said they ‘will only accept 100%’ of the publishing of ‘Get Free.’ ”

Which seems fairly clear. Read the whole article, though. It’s interesting.

Lana, What?

Crazy Copyright Claim

Gotta say I hope Radiohead (or their lawyers) lose this case:

Pop star Lana Del Rey says she’s being sued by Radiohead for copying their breakthrough single, ‘Creep.’

I’m not a fan of Lana Del Rey, but I just listened to her song, ‘Get Free,’ and the only similarity is the chord progression in the first verse. You can’t claim copyright in a chord progression. Or if you can, you shouldn’t be able to.

If the chords and the melody were the same, they’d have a point, but even then apparently they want 100% of the publishing royalties; don’t the words count? Del Rey has offered them 40%, and I think that’s way too much.

I’m amused that the album containing the song gets its title from a doubtless much better one by the same name: Lust for Life. There’s no copyright in titles, of course.

Link

Not the Nails I’m Looking For

I got an email from Songkick about a forthcoming gig in Camden by Nails.

You’ll recall, being the avid reader of this blog that you are, that a while ago — OK, six years ago — I wrote about a great song called ’88 Lines About 44 Women’ by a band called The Nails. I know nothing else by them, but the idea of seeing that song live in a tiny basement club is pretty cool.

But I had my suspicions. Especially when the first comment on the Songkick page was all about how it was the loudest gig they’d ever been at. Clicked through to the band’s page, played the video there, and it was immediately obvious that the hardcore band Nails are not indie/new wave/whatever band The Nails.

Just goes to show the difference a definite article can make. Nails sound pretty good, but I don’t think I’ll be going.

Status

You Choose

Funny where thoughts of current affairs take you.

All the fawning (and, to be fair, condemnatory and neutral) coverage of Trump’s bombardment of a Syrian air base in response to Assad’s gas attack have stated the quantity and type of munition that was used: “59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles.”

Those of us who lived under the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the 80s will remember that missile. It was the one stationed at Greenham Common, which of course was the subject of much protest, mainly from the Women’s Peace Camp.

The Greenham camp was primarily part of the anti-nuclear movement, as the missiles stationed there carried nuclear warheads. Obviously the ones the US launched a couple of nights ago didn’t, but what the whole thing did was remind me of a song from that time: “Tomahawk Cruise,” by TV Smith‘s Explorers.

I recall hearing that song in my Dad’s car1 back when it came out. It’s possible that I only heard it that one time, but it has stuck in my mind all these years, just waiting to be shaken loose.

On listening to it on Apple Music I’m pleased to find the chorus is almost exactly as I remembered. The rest of the lyrics are more oblique than I’d have expected. It was an anti-nuclear song, but less obviously than I’d have thought.

It’s very 80s, as you might expect (it was released in 1980), but there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. Inevitably it’s to be found on YouTube and Spotify.

Not sure whether this counts as nostalgia, in terms of my post the other day, but I don’t really care. What definitely isn’t, though, is the album I’m listening to as I type: The Chiswick Story by Various Artists2 (most of whom I haven’t heard) is a potted history of the label. Lots of good stuff on there.


  1. Bit weird, as he never listened to Radio 1, and there’s no way it would’ve been on Radio 2. I guess maybe I was waiting in the car while my parents shopped. []
  2. It was suggested because that’s the label “Tomahawk Cruise” was on. []
You Choose

Punk and Hugo

I hadn’t come across Garageland London before, though I approve of the name.1 They came across my radar the other day with a piece called Cease and Desist: An open letter to Brewdog from PUNK, which says:

It has recently been brought to our attention that you are claiming legal ownership of the word ‘punk’ and are sending threatening legal notices to those you feel are infringing on that ownership by using that word.

I hadn’t heard this about Brewdog. If it’s true, they’re being beyond ridiculous (or possibly winding people up). I’ve got a lot of time for a Scottish company making craft beer, even if it’s only OK (and too damn strong most of the time: I like a beer you can drink a few of without falling over). But like the Garageland people, I thought their “Equity for Punks investment portfolio did raise some eyebrows.”

The open letter ends:

Definitions of punk are varied and debates over those definitions have been going on since before you were born. However, one thing punk is not is a bully! That goes against everything punk stands for. If you continue in this vein your punk credentials will be revoked and you will be called upon to cease and desist.

Kind regards and a middle finger salute

and is then signed by hundreds of bands. So many that I can’t really believe the website got agreement from all of them. But I heartily endorse the message.

In other good news, the Hugo Awards nominations were announced, and it looks like a great list, and also like the Puppies have been almost totally wiped out this year. Yay fandom!

I also note that one of the novel nominees is the very Too Like the Lightning that I was writing about the other day. Hugo nominated, and you still can’t buy it in Britain. Come on publishers!

Also: WordPress tells me that this is my 600th post on here. Not that many for the time the site’s been going for, but a milestone — or at least a round number — nonetheless.


  1. It’s named after a Clash song, as if you didn’t know. []
Also on:
Punk and Hugo

Garden and Barbican

Spent most of today in the garden, making a start on clearing it up for the summer. Not exactly gardening, as such. More gathering sticks and leaves, and putting them into brown bins for collection. Nice day for it, though.

Then this evening to the Barbican, for the New York Philharmonic doing a couple of pieces by John Adams, as part of the “John Adams at 70” series. Oh, and in the middle they had a cello concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Who was the cellist? Nobody special. Just Yo-Yo Ma.

It was clearly a virtuoso performance, but I didn’t enjoy the Salonen nearly as much as I did the two Adams pieces. Especially the second, “Harmonielehre.” Among other things, it’s good to see something orchestral where the percussionists have some serious work to do.

Not that we could see the percussionists, mostly. We were effectively in the front row. Which is to say, it was row D, but row C was right up against the front of the stage, and not being used because the stage had been extended into rows A and B. That orchestra is big. The downside of having such close seats is that you can only see the first few rows of the orchestra: the string sections, basically.

The big upside of the position, of course, is that you get such a close view and intimate sense of the performance. It’s almost like you’re inside the music at times.

Meanwhile British politics has gone even crazier, with Michael Howard crawling out of the woodwork to threaten war with Spain.1 But that’s a discussion for another time.


  1. To be fair to Howard, that’s not at all what he said. Just that May should be as steadfast with Spain as Thatcher was with Argentina. But “war” is of course how the papers are hyping it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gibraltarians (96% remain) now wanted to become part of Spain. []
Garden and Barbican