Sunday, October 26, 2003

Juxtaposed With U

Despite Thanksgiving being over, I find myself with many new things to be thankful for.

First off, to the Super Furry Animals. Everybody's favourite wacky Welsh band released one of this year's best albums in the form of Phantom Power (not to be confused with another band's album of the same name) which adds to their already brilliant discography. They also put on one cracker of a show this past Friday. SFA have got the "show" portion down to an art - we're talking a stage full of characters from their latest album (including cartoon ghosts, horses, and smokestacks - complete with working smoke), a full multimedia presentation to accompany the songs, big dance beats to get a groove during the encore, and the obligatory final encore performance of "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" dressed as yetis. And of course the music was outstanding. What more can one ask for at a rock show? Go and see them if you get the chance.

I'm thankful to my buddy Kevin for recommending that I spend some cash on comfy Gore-Tex hiking boots. I followed the advice, and hill-walking is ever so much nicer.

I'm super thankful to my buddy Mike for his much-appreciated package from Toronto, featuring fab compilations of tunes that I hadn't heard before. But most importantly, a Stars concert T! I was representin' the Soft Revolution last night on the streets of Glasgow.

I'm also thankful for Icelandair for the seat sale that made it possible to head over to Reykjavik. In a nutshell - Iceland is a bloody amazing country. But that story is surely worthy of a separate entry? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

It was just one of those things/I needed to do

And that thing was to attend the Athlete concert this past Tuesday night at the tiny stage area of The Garage nightclub (pronounced "Gare-ige" in these parts). With music as catchy as the flu, this band could do no wrong. They had about 500 people singing along with every word, for every song, to the point where it was more group karaoke than a concert. Even the band, who surely must have experienced it before, looked incredulous. Overall a great night, and an amazing chance to see a band in a small venue before they make it huge. They've already booked a return gig in the much larger Carling Academy for January.

In anticipation for our upcoming trip, Fi and I rented 101 Reykjavik, a fab art-house film set in Iceland. It's a heart-warming tale about a young man who falls for his mother's lesbian lover - one for the kids really.

A belated Happy Turkey Day to all my fellow Canadians. It is a real shame the Scots don't celebrate Thanksgiving because it is a great excuse for a good meal, red wine and getting folk together. I called my grandparent's place and managed to speak to many members of my extended family which was nice. It also turns out my brothers both got together in Ottawa for a mini-turkey dinner of their own. To think of them only a few years back fighting tooth-and-nail, but now enjoying a hearty meal together really does bring a smile to my face.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

The Golden Elixir

Heartbreaking news as it turns out that my first Scottish love, the beautiful actress Kelly MacDonald, has gotten married. To the bass player from Travis too, the lucky devil. Perhaps the lovely Kelly is best known as Diane from Trainspotting - ah, how many student housing walls did her poster adorn back in university circa 1996?

Move on we must, but perhaps a pint to dull the pain? Well my friends, luckily Scotland is home to many a delicious beer. Now, like any country it contains your bland, mass produced variety (ahem, Tennents). But Scotland is also home to several unique microbreweries that produce a pint to which they can be proud.

Orkney Brewery is based, unsurprisingly, in the Orkney Islands which are 6 miles off the north coast of mainland Scotland. Orkney Brewery produces a range of beer which is branded using ancient Scottish and Norse imagery - the latter due to the fact that Orkney was ruled by the Norse between the 9th and 13th centuries, and the Orcadians still celebrate their Scandinavian roots. Two of my favourites are Raven Ale which is a rich, dark ale and The Red MacGregor which is a red, malt flavoured beer and named after the famous MacGregor clan (the most famous of whom is Rob Roy).

Caledonia Brewery is based in Edinburgh, and their most recognisable beer is their Caledonian 80/-, a malt-flavoured ale that is fire brewed "using Britain's last remaining direct-fired open coppers". However they brew it, it makes for a tasty pint and is one of the easiest microbrew beers to find on tap. Caledonia Brewery also makes an IPA called Deuchars. Now, as far as IPA goes, my heart will always belong to Keith's. But Deuchars makes a good mistress until I return home to Canada.

Another of my favourites is Arran Blonde, a light beer brewed in one of my favourite places in Scotland, the Isle of Arran. Arran was one of the first islands I visited upon arriving in Scotland, and I still fondly recall the three days spent there. The Arran Brewery Company is one of the more successful local businesses. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting Arran Blonde in the pubs at night after a day of hiking, and was very excited to see that I could pick up bottles back in Glasgow.

The Heather Ale Brewery is based in Strathaven (an hour west of Glasgow) and first came to my attention back in Canada when by brother bought me a special 4-beer sample pack for Christmas. Now that I'm here, I can now come across their range of beer easily at the stores, and in several cosy, smoky pubs that I frequent in the city centre of Glasgow. One of my favourites by this brewery is their flagship beer, Fraoch Heather Ale (where Fraoch is Gaelic for heather). The purple-coloured heather is one of the more recognisable plants of Scotland, and has been used to make ale for four thousand years, and is (according to the back of the Fraoch bottle anyway) "the oldest style of ale still made in the world". Fraoch gives off a heather smell, and has a strong peat taste to it. Highly recommended. The Heather Ale brewery also produces a gooseberry and wheat ale called Grozet (Auld Scots for "Gooseberry") and a Scots Pine ale called Alba (Gaelic for "Scotland").

Finally, there is the Wychwood Brewery which albeit is not Scottish but English (based in Oxforshire). But since I've been drinking it regularly since I've arrived, I'll lump it in with the rest. At it's heart, the company brews a tasty range of beer, but perhaps what really sets it apart is the imagery it uses to promote it. My personal fave is Hobgoblin Extra Strong Ale that not only tastes great, but has a killer label of a devious hobgoblin running through a medieval town. I think it especially appeals to the little boy in me who grew up with fantasy novels and medieval literature. I've also tried Wychwood's Fiddler's Elbow, a refreshing ale.

The next round is mine. Cheers!

Sunday, October 05, 2003

You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave

Week Four living out of a hotel is set to begin in a few hours time, and weekends with the creature comforts of home have never been so precious. That being said, it has been quite an experience working and living with the various consultants who have been brought in from all over the UK for this project. These folk have been working and living hard for many years, and have many incredible stories to tell - all of which go down well with a few pints.

Saw The Thrills play a sold-out show on Friday night at the Carling Academy. I've previously sung their praises, and this show has only (if possible) increased my adoration for this band. They have become a tremendous force live, and the entire 2000+ crowd was singing and dancing along all night to their songs. There really is something about the noise and passion of the Glaswegian music crowd that really adds to the live experience. The bands themselves tend to look like they are having a hell of a good time on stage when they take a Glaswegian stage, and the set is that much better for it.

We went to what was billed as "Britain's Largest" Heilan Coo exhibition this past Saturday at the always lovely Pollok Park. There was a great crowd on hand to witness the proceedings, and I'll freely admit I loved every minute of it. The sheer quantity of the coos, in a myriad of colours with a clamour of mooing, made for a brilliant spectacle. Moreover, Heilan Coos don't get crappy names like Daisy or Bill. The cows winning the awards had names such as Malcolm I of Glengarnock and Eva the Twentieth of Milngavie. I confess I don't remember the proper name of the cow who won "Best Bull", but after taking one look at him he was quickly dubbed Big Bollocks III of Buckfast.

We also went to see the film that has been hyped in the media since it debuted here back during the Edinburgh Film Festival as "the greatest Scottish film since Trainspotting" - Young Adam. Like Trainspotting, it stars the always excellent Ewan McGregor (save for the dire new Star Wars sequels). It is based in Glasgow during the 1950's and was filmed throughout the city so several landmarks were instantly recognisable. The cinematography is excellent as it really captures the grit and roughness of 1950's Glasgow, and perfectly captures the dark tone of the movie. The film is also wonderfully acted and perfectly encapsulates the disturbed life of the protagonist. That all being said, after leaving the cinema I felt similar to how I feel after seeing a classic painting. I appreciate the technical merits involved, and am impressed by the inherit beauty - but at the end of the day do not feel emotionally connected to it. Perhaps it was the atmosphere created by a rainy Sunday afternoon, or the fact that the film had been so hyped that my expectations had already been set. However, I didn't leave with that "wow" feeling I get after seeing other films. Take that for what it is worth.

A little piece of Scottish culture may have died this week. For many years, the Scottish neon orange fizzy drink known as Irn-Bru has been the top selling soft drink in the country. This is unique because Scotland was one of the few countries where the top selling soft drink is something other than the battery acid marketed as Coca-Cola. This has all unfortunately come to an end as the latest sales figures show Coke outsold Irn-Bru in 2002. I don't typically go for soft drinks, but I may just start picking up an Irn-Bru for lunch from time to time just to correct this injustice for 2003.
The Soft Revolution Passes Me By

My greatest fear has come true. When I heard that Broken Social Scene was on the way to Glasgow along with "special guests", but during the time I am to be away, I think my heart already knew the truth. But after a look on the Barfly Club website today, it was confirmed:

SAT 18th Oct (£5)
Broken Social Scene
Freeform club 11pm-3am

Oh Stars, why now? Could you not wait a mere three more days? Two of Toronto's greatest bands, at one of the best clubs in Glasgow, on a Saturday night, for £5, and I can't be there? Oh fate, thou art a cruel creature.