Nevermind

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Hard to imagine it was so long ago, but 25 years ago this week, Nevermind entered the pantheon of the all-time great rock albums, as the unmistakable riff to Nirvana’s seismic debut single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, almost overnight  transformed the band from “grunge” unknowns into one of the biggest rock groups of the era – Nevermind the toll that fame and fortune subsequently contributed to the sad demise of their legendary frontman, Kurt Cobain.

 

And for anyone looking to indulge in the macabre of Kurt – as I regularly discovered during my almost decade-long Seattle sojourn – then the No.27 Metro Bus is but a quick journey from Downtown to Lake Washington Boulevard and the mansion where Cobain lived with Courtney Love and controversially took his own life.  However, this is now a private residence – and the garage-outhouse where the star blew his brains out has long been demolished to avoid ghoul seekers…but it failed.  

 

Cobain’s body was cremated, with his ashes scattered in an undisclosed spot in the Wishkah River near his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.  So in the absence of any other shrine, devoted fans congregate on Nirvana/Cobain anniversary moments at the more permanent Viretta Park, a small patch of grass directly next door to the mansion, and in particular the lone bench there – and today’s photo was one of a series taken in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of his death – where he’s said to have spent time reflecting on his life and music, that has now become a de facto memorial to the grunge icon, where they’ll leave candles and flowers as well as scrawl messages. 

 

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I give you the rarity of one of the few unculled albums belonging to Fran & Anna – the Coatbridge siblings who make The Krankies look good.  They were the very epitome of the kitsch heather-and-haggis approach to Scottish light entertainment that I grew up with, always looking as if they had just stepped off the lid of a nearby shortbread tin.

 

What they lacked in vocal ability (and believe me, it was much) they more than made up for in, well, their plaid sartorial appearance. Loudly dressed in their trademark mini-kilts, bespoke tartan bunnets, and fishnet tights, Fran & Anna were easy targets for mockery. But then again, mockery is what made them.

 

As the Prince Sisters in the 1950s and 60s, they gained a loyal overseas following performing cheesy standards in the music hall and international cruise circuits. It was not until the 70s, and their metamorphosis into Fran & Anna, that they found success. They became household names when Jack McLaughlan, the self-styled Laird O’Coocaddens, made them a regular feature in his STV early 1970s Scottish country dance show Thingummyjig, where he constantly described them with jibes of ”the gruesome twosome” and ”the bags in drag”.

 

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It started with Ann, and then followed Angela, Linda, May, Lorraine, Susan, Erika, Vicky, and Fiona…before it all finally ended with Violet.  No, not the girls that turned me down at my first school disco (although admittedly that list was just as big), I am, of course, talking about the iconic girls that once adorned cans of lager here in Scotland.

 

Launched in 1962, the ‘Lager Lovelies‘ – as the short documentary in the link explains – graced cans of Tennent’s until 1991.  Although I can’t imagine such sexist advertising existing in today’s politically correct environment, three generations of men grew up ogling the girls as they guzzled their cans – and thus began a joke, cracked whenever one of them was spotted in the street: “I had ma hands roond you last night, hen.”

 

They were indeed much loved by drinkers, and classic cans featuring the models these days can change hands among collectors for hundreds of pounds each with the ‘holy grail’ being an unopened can of vintage Ann – but I can tell you you’d stand a better chance of finding the real Holy Grail here in Glasgow before you’d find an unopened 50-year-old can of lager!

 

There can be few people in the city – and throughout Scotland – who haven’t at some point sampled Tennent’s lager, produced in Wellpark Brewery (dating back to 1556), and located in one of the most historic parts of Glasgow, opposite the Necropolis. And as part of the city’s extensive mural offensive, street artist “Smug” was put into action a couple of years ago on the long brewery wall heading down Duke Street to depict some famous Tennent’s ads over the years, which of course had to feature the famous Lager Lovelies. 

 

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Hidden down the rambling cobbled mews of Ruthven Lane, just off Byres Road, in Glasgow’s achingly hip West End, The Hanoi Bike Shop is the city’s first and only Vietnamese restaurant – and even were there legions of Vietnamese restaurants on offer across the city, this one is so charming, so cool, so moreish, that I suspect it would still be the best on offer.

 

From the time you wander along the cobbled lane and see the quaint little two-storey former mews house with two ancient, badly beaten-up and buckled bikes lying outside – which has become their trademark, and so beloved and treasured that they get chained to the wall for safety – there is a sense of anticipation.

 

All of which makes for a wonderful occasion – and that’s even before you have ordered any food!  But even better is when you do, as there comes a taste of the fiery food that turns it all into an outstanding and highly recommended dining experience. One not to be missed, if you are looking for good, simple food at a fair price with an unusual decor.

 

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A central feature very popular with tourists and locals alike on trendy Buchanan Street shopping precinct is one of three wonderful 3D Topographical Relief Maps that’s to be found in the city; the other two being located in Cathedral Precinct and at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

 

All three were cast in bronze by sculptor Kathleen Chambers, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. And the Map on Buchanan Street  – erected in 1990, to mark Glasgow’s status as European City of Culture – is not only an impressive work of art in itself but very practical, enabling you to picture the city from above and find your way around. 

 

One design quirk I love about it, whether intended or not, is that when it rains (which in Glasgow it does on a regular basis, as can be witnessed in today’s photo) the River Clyde – “the wonderful Clyde”, as the song would go at school – fills up with water and flows over the edge.

 

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The exquisite tones from Sandy Denny is generally considered to make her the greatest English female folk singer (sadly she died in 1978) but I’ve always had a fondness for the voice of Steeleye Span‘s Maddy Prior, even when I thought Folk was beyond the pale. OK, simultaneously there was also a big teenage thing going on there with Maddy & Me. 

 

And the new summer look from my favourite Glasgow charity shop mannequins took me on yet another  pop trip down memory lane, as they reminded me of dear old Maddy and Steeleye Span with my soft spot for their big 1975 hit ‘All Around My Hat‘. Now it isn’t exactly trad Folk with its big pop production, but it is very Hey Nonny Nonny with its merry, skipping around the maypole vibe that makes you want to sink a pint of cider, grab the nearest rosy-cheeked wench, dance a jig with her and have a roll in the hay afterwards.

 

A few months back, I managed to see Maddy live in concert in Frome, just outside Bath.  She may have aged, but the voice is still as distinctive as ever, not to mention her fondness for merrily dancing around the stage – and she can still belt out ‘All Around My Hat’ as if it were 1975 all over again.  Ah, memories, memories…

 

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Ah, Partick! Famous for its community spirit, although some joker here claims it to be ‘*non-alcoholic’ – as if. But for those not au fait with Partick, that’s the bit of the salubrious West End (running off Byres Road and the Clydeside slipway) that still feels, well, properly Glaswegian: cool café bars, delis and boutiques sitting tooth by rough-shaven jowl with classic boozers, betting shops, greasy spoons and pound stores.

 

It was home to one of the most famous Glaswegians ever.  Billy Connolly spent his childhood reading and dreaming in Partick Library on Dumbarton Road, and talked frequently of the fabled boozers there.  Traditional boozers that ‘serviced’ those – like Billy – who worked in the shipyards.  

 

But the shipyards are long gone now, and the traditional boozers are also going that way with the gentrification of Partick, as it morphs into a hipster overspill for trendy Byres Road.  Yes, Partick is being ‘hipsterized’, and I can physically see it change with each regular visit I make there – and mainly in the venerable old working-class boozers.

 

The latest being the legendary old Partick Tavern on Dumbarton Road, a fabled working-class watering hole, which has been rebranded and relaunched by the owner of the nearby upmarket The Lismore and Oran Mor, more looking for the hipster clientele. Now admittedly the Tavern was well past its sell-by date, and was crying out for major change – hell, what was it with that garish paint job on the outside? – but its new look doesn’t appear to be attracting the true locals in for a friendly afternoon pint.  

 

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There’s nothing like an entertaining Sunday afternoon milling around outside the Buchanan Galleries shopping mall, listening each week to this Bible-thumper giving it the full fire and brimstone treatment as he rails against all those disrespecting the Sabbath by non-stop shopping.  And as he belts it out, he always reminds me of a story from a comedian and another past pastor of this parish.

 

The story comes from the late great Irish comedian Dave Allen about a Protestant preacher similarly working himself up into a fine state as he outlined the horrors of Hell, where, he thundered, there would be ‘WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH’.  Whereupon an old woman down the front interrupts, ‘But what about me? I haven’t got any teeth.’  ‘TEETH,’ replies the pastor, ‘WILL BE PROVIDED.’  Time has conferred the tale upon the late Reverend Ian Paisley, a liberty which nevertheless  emphasizes that there is something inescapably ridiculous as well as threatening about extremism and bigotry.

 

But that nicely segues us to the pastor from the past, the late fundamentalist Scottish preacher Pastor Jack Glass, leader of the Zion Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Glasgow, the man who thought Paisley was a bit too liberal for his liking. He was certainly as loud as Paisley: one less fierce Scottish cleric remarked that an encounter with Jack left him with ‘Protestant tinnitus for at least three days.’  I can certainly testify to this, because during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I witnessed him pavement preaching at an alarmingly high decibel rate from nearby Sauchiehall Street.

 

The Pope, of course, was a top target: Jack was renowned for marching around St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City in 1966 with a placard proclaiming – and only Jack would have had the chutzpah for this – ‘No Popery here!’ Another target with a special place reserved for him in Hell was comedian Billy Connelly, whom he picketed over a period of some 30 years after taking exception to Connelly’s conceit of setting the Last Supper in a Glasgow pub for his early and raw stand-up routine ‘The Crucifixion’

 

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With tongue in cheek, John Cleese once said that Monty Python’s silly walks sketch was only funny because of the ‘brilliance of my performance.’ There was probably a kernel of truth here, as several sketches from the anarchic Pythons were hit-or-miss – and certainly, without the gangling figure of Cleese, this sketch probably wouldn’t have worked. 

 

But who could forget the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, as Cleese ludicrously perambulates to a job in the aforementioned ministry?  And along the way, he also takes the stereotypical bowler-hatted political drone and ruthlessly skewers him: All the self-importance, bureaucratic inefficiency and laughable circuitousness of Whitehall is summed up in one balletic extension of his slender leg.

 

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There’s no denying it: The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet shows were the backdrop to my childhood.  The first I can very dimly remember was the monochrome, primitivist, slightly eerie Supercar (the same age as me, launched  in 1961) with its goofy ensemble of mad professors, all-American heroes and sinister foreign agents. Then there was Fireball XL5.  Then came the great central works of his canon, Stingray, and Thunderbirds before the stranger late-period masterpieces of Joe 90 and Captain Scarlet.

 

Looking fondly back, there was a lot of casual stereotyping going on, particularly of foreign types with no hair or perhaps bad hair, and a tendency with a heat-seeking missile to blow someone’s car off the road. But of all of them, it was the Tracy brothers – Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John – who stood out in my cathode childhood. Every week, some devilish disaster would occur – invariably involving the Hood – and the good ol’ Tracy boys would pilot their awesome Thunderbirds to the scene to save the day.

 

And here is where you have to excuse my childhood indulgences, because for someone of a very young age (not to mention a somewhat vivid imagination), from a certain angle and at a distance, the historic St. George’s-Tron Church, in the heart of Glasgow, would always – and still does to this day – reminded me of Thunderbird 3, the giant orangey-red SSTO (that’s Single Stage to Orbit for those not altogether au fait with all things International Rescue) that hardly anyone liked compared to the other Tracy assets, but I actually had as a toy.

 

FAB, as the boys would say.

 

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