Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On Scottish Independence...

With only one day to go to the referendum on Scottish independence there is very little new that can be said, but since I haven’t blogged about it before I thought I’d chime in with my two cents. As a republican, an anti-monarchist and anti-imperialist I am firmly in favour of Scottish independence. There has been a lot of utter rubbish printed and blogged about the issue and for many what I’m going to say will fall into that category. Unionists would have you believe that Scottish desires for independence is little more that flag waving nationalism – the Unionists say this, of course, while waving their little Union Flags about. If the Yes side is all about flag waving and nationalism then the No campaign is just as guilty. One wants to preserve a nation and the other wants to create one. The entire No campaign has be a first class example of the power of propaganda and Machiavellian schemes by politicians and business people. Business people should have no say in the matter but it’s symptomatic of the capitalist nature of our society. If you think Nineteen Eighty-Four is just a book, think again. The manipulation of the mainstream media in Britain by the powerful No campaign has been utterly terrifying and the way the Yes campaign has managed to keep up is rather admirable.  The lead of the no campaign is not related to a genuine desire by the Scottish people to remain part of the United Kingdom, rather it is a reflection of the climate of fear created by the No campaign. They prattle on about the dire consequences of what will happen if Scotland leaves the Union, they shift the focus onto economics and away from a people’s right to self-determination. They speak of England and Scotland being part of a brotherhood, a union but do not mention the imperialism that caused the subjugation of the Scottish people. 

It’s not all about economics, it’s about ending imperialism. Independence for Scotland would see the beginning of the end for the remaining Empire. It could lead to Wales and Northern Ireland questioning their situation; it could finally see an end to centuries of empire mentality. It would be fantastic for Scotland and also fantastic for the people of England who would get a government more focussed on English matters rather than trying to manage its foreign assets. The Scottish Unionists show us the results of centuries of Anglicisation. Like the Romans would try to Romanise its empire and like the Russians former policy of Russification, Scottish Unionism shows the success of the desire to obliterate the culture of the Scots. The rest of the No voters have been filled up with fear, made to believe that they can’t go it alone. If a yes vote occurs, it will be a victory against oppression, against fear, against capitalism and against imperialism. If a no vote occurs, it will be a victory for propaganda, fear mongering and the interests of the wealthy. Scotland will not win anything through a no vote- but they will be made to believe that they have…  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Album Review: Phil McClean: Heresy (2014)

So this is a somewhat unique review for me as I know the artist very well. We’ve been close friends since about the age of 15; he’s to be one of the best men at my wedding and his better half will be one of Giolacha’s bride’s maids. We’ve also recorded a significant amount of music together, some of which has been reworked for this album. I still hope that we’ll record again one day and still hope for that ever elusive live performance which seems to have slipped from our grasp again this year because of various other commitments. But, who knows what the future will bring? How, then, can I remain impartial? Well, I can’t, but I’ll be as honest as I can and do my usual track by track review.
Heresy is a concept album about a young priest who is stranded in the desert surrounded by his own hallucinations and supernatural forces who taunt him throughout. A lost love Selena, slowly emerges into the story for the thrilling and unexpected conclusion. I’ll leave it at that. If you want to know more, listen to the album and read the story on Phil’s website, here

1. Empty Quarter Pt. I (Run ‘al Khali)
The album opens with this evocative instrumental piece which stands out because of the use of a duduk which brings images of the Middle-East to mind. The track, to my ears, sounded influence by the Passion of the Christ soundtrack and also by the 300 soundtrack. Like all good concept albums the track also introduces to some of the melodies that will tie the album together making it more than just a collection of songs.

2. Hand of God.
‘Hand of God’ brings in elements of hard rock to the sound but keeps the Arabian feel. A strong point of Phil’s writing techniques is the effortless in which he transitions from verse to bridge to chorus and back again. Nothing is forced.  The layering of the vocals is also particularly satisfying and adds to the overall flow of the song.

3. Empty Quarter Pt. II (Pray for Rain)
‘Pray for Rain’ reintroduces the melodies heard at the start of the album and takes them a step further. For me, this is the highlight track of the album which a chorus that is instantly catchy and I find myself constantly clicking back to this track to hear it again. The guitar solo is perfectly executed and makes this stand out above the rest (which are all excellent in their own right).

4. We Ride by Night.
This track goes back to when myself and Phil last recorded together. We were putting together ideas some years ago for a new album (it would have been our sixth) which would have had a humorous title track ‘Jack Duckworth Falling Down the Stairs.’ However, life happened and it never came to fruition.  This song is a reworking of a demo from this album. It’s also the most surreal track on the album (something which really appeals to me) and in the story this track is accompanied by the image of transvestites erotically dancing for a priest. I really hope to be cast in the music video. 

5. At the End of the World.
This is another reworking of a song that was on one of our albums. Originally a two-part song, it’s now been reworked and expanded with amazingly produced layered vocals. The background riff which runs throughout really captures the growing madness of the priest in the story.

6. Selena’s Theme.
The finale of the album is a slow burner. At first I was dismayed that the album was going to end on a low point, but how wrong I was. A criticism I have given in many other album reviews is the desire by some artists to end on a quiet note. This album does not do that. The song builds and builds to a emotional crescendo…with a twist! The building nature of the song creates a sound that can only be described as epic.

Overall the album is a well-balanced production with a good mix of instrumental pieces, hard rock and ballad pieces. No song disappoints. The story is very much based on the Temptation of Jesus found in the gospels and this creates a story that we might all be familiar with but one we can all relate to, and this is the strength of this story. A metaphor could be created to the temptations we have in our own lives and to which most of us give in to. We all have our own personal demons, our regrets and little do we find the solitude to contemplate these. 

Phil also avoids many of the pitfalls of producing a concept album. He chooses quality over quantity. Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ set the gold standard for concept albums and also led many to think that concept albums have to be long – they don’t! The idea of a concept album is to tell a story. Whether that takes 6 or 16 songs to tell is another matter. 

So, to end, I have been there since Phil first recorded anything at all. I still have that poor first recording that we did together somewhere on a CD. Over the years Phil has transformed from an amateur learner to a fully-fledged professional and from a co-writer to one of my favourite artists. And like all my favourite artists, I cannot wait for the next album!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Friday Funny Video #64...

Busy busy busy...

So, August was a wash out in terms of blogging. At the end of the month we celebrated my mother's 50th birthday so we were tied up getting ready for all that. We had a surprise party for her and had surprise guests from England over so a lot of planning was involved. I've also been preparing some job applications so I've been chained to my desk.

Hopefully September will leave a bit more spare time. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shout out...

Anyone who is even a casual reader of this blog would have been familiar with the blogger name Mad Mac. Well, he's now blogging under his own name, Phil McClean. His is a music dedicated blog to his own musical experiments and there are some really great songs on there. I got the privilege of hearing a new piece in his house this morning which is part of a concept album that he is putting together. You can read about it over at 'The Real Phil McClean'. His latest piece, not uploaded to the blog yet, is a brilliant and atmospheric instrumental with a duduk, a traditional Armenian wind instrument. Considering he's only been playing the duduk for 24 hours it's damn'd think he'd been playing it for years. I seriously recommend heading over to his blog and checking it'd be missing out not to.