Ta-ra, Chuck

 

That wily, irascible old bugger Chuck Berry has passed away at the ripe old age of 90. His contribution to the music we all love in its myriad forms is incalculable. And as they would say in Corrie, “Ta-ra, Chuck!”

 

Berry was the true sound and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll who put more into his songs than many a Hollywood director has put into film. It’s said that he wrote the soundtrack for American teen rebellion in the mid-to-late 1950s – and indeed, such was his influence, that he even got a nod from the cult movie Back to the Future, as Marty McFly parodied how he got his trademark sound and famous duck walk. 

 

I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry perform in Seattle in 2002 alongside Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard as part of a legends’ farewell tour. He played ‘My Ding A Ling’. I really wish he hadn’t. But he also played ‘Johnny B Goode’ and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, and it was outstanding.  He was 76 then but easily outshone the other two.

 

And amazingly, unlike Motor City, Seattle’s funky and bohemian Capital Hill neighbourhood has a bronze statue of Chuck Berry (in mid duck-walk), created by local artist Daryl Smith, which is one of a group of three he was commissioned to do, the others being Elvis and Jimi Hendrix that I’ve written about in blogs passim.

 

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The lads on manoeuvres at the top of Buchanan Street quickly jump into the armoured car when offered the chance, as the army used one of its vehicles to encourage them to sign on “for a life of adventure.” But there was no fear of them taking the Queen’s shilling, as it were, as they were only playing “a game of sodjers”.

 

Yet I wonder if they realised that nearly 100 years ago, and just a few hundred yards away, another game of sodjers was being played out during an infamous incident in Glasgow’s history? It happened on January 31, 1919 in what became known as ‘The Battle of George Square‘, when the army was called in to deal with 60,000 Red Clydeside workers who had taken to the streets in protest at working conditions in the shipyards, and after they had been read the Riot Act, one of the strike leaders briefly managed to raise The Red Flag of Bolshevism over the city chambers.

 

Fears within Government of a workers’ revolution starting in Glasgow led to Winston Churchill – who had no qualms about using troops in armoured cars to quell strikers  – sending in 10,000 troops, tanks and machine guns to restore order. Yet despite a full battalion of Scottish soldiers billeted nearby at Maryhill barracks, the Minister for War and Air controversially sent in only English troops.

 

Churchill first put the local Maryhill barracks on a lockdown, refused to use any other Scottish regiments or Scottish troops, the fear being in government circles was that fellow Scots, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers’ side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow.

 

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Here in Glasgow, mention “Tron” and it’s not so much the Disney futuristic sci-fi movie starring Jeff Bridges you’ll get for the answer, but one of the city’s oldest and most famous landmarks; a very eclectic place richly steeped – or should that be steepled? – in history.

 

Since a church was first built on the site in 1529, the eye-catching Tron Steeple has marked both Catholic and Protestant churches, a place of execution, a meeting hall, a police station…and, of course, nowadays, the Tron Theatre, one of Glasgow’s best-loved theaters.

 

But the steeple is the only remnants left from a club night of drunken bravado you would have thought had come straight from a Blackadder script.  In 1793, Glasgow’s notorious Hellfire Club more than lived up to its name by setting the Tron building on fire in an effort to see which members could – literally – best stand the heat!  

 

All was destroyed save for the steeple, which was incorporated into a replacement structure by the architects, James and Robert Adam that stands on the corner of Trongate and Chisholm Street, in the Merchant City – and still the basis for the beloved Tron as it exists today.

 

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Standing equally proud as they share the same plinth in Springfield Court, which you’ll find located at the rear entrance (no pun intended) of Princes Square, are a man and a peacock, whose tail feathers lie flat, wrapping around the side of the column both stand upon.

 

The piece, titled “As Proud As….”, is newish to Glasgow. It was erected in 2000 and is one of many new public art installations by local Glasgow sculptor Shona Kinloch that you’ll now find dotted around the city. All her work is figurative (birds, animals, and chunky people) and often come with a hint of humour attached to them.

 

The elusive title stems, of course, from the phrase “as proud as a peacock.” It has been suggested that the small bronze bird mirrors the giant metal peacock that adorns the front of the Princes Square building. Yet here it is the man who stands tall, hands clasped, staring north and very, very naked, who appears to be more of an exhibitionist than the peacock hiding behind him!

 

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In 2014, Sheffield-based photographer and graphic designer Dave Mullen Jr started Geometry Club, a collaborative Instagram project in which people submit images of buildings forming carefully composed triangle shapes. Mullen is now creating an app to simplify the meticulous formatting process, and says the project is “a test of building an audience based on curating the same thing”.

 

The account has attracted more than 25,000 followers and welcomes contributions by professional and amateur photographers. And the first rule of Geometry Club is to make contributions – and here’s one of my contributions, it’s the Wolfson Centre for Bioengineering at Strathclyde University, built 1970-71, and designed by architects Morris & Steedman.

 

It is, of course, a prime leading example of pure Scottish Brutalisim of the era, consisting of 5-storeys of very distinctive full-height ribbed chevron-shaped white reinforced-concrete cladding panels.

 

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I know, just as the chalkboard outside my local social enterprise Milk Café on Victoria Road says, the liberal consensus is that 2016 was an annus horribilis, as Lizzie once famously coined it. Yes, 2016 was a year somehow jinxed by karmic voodoo, despite the contradictory liberal consensus that no supernatural agency must ever be acknowledged, as in Charlie Brooker’s wickedly wonderful Black Mirror

 

But here’s my review of 2016. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Christmas. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.

 

In many ways, David Attenborough on TV brought us the perfect visual metaphor for 2016: Planet Earth II’s plucky iguana running past a cavalcade of vicious snakes. Well, we made it.  And now there’s a rush to get it over with, a quick rendition of Auld Lang Syne, new calendar, fresh start – but don’t go wishfully thinking that 2017 will be any better, as we only have 23 more sleeps before Donald Trump gets his tiny little fingers on the nuclear codes….

 

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No matter how upbeat Slade and Wizzard catchily sang in my youth, apparently the best Christmas songs are the sad ones: “Fairytale Of New York”, “It’s A Big Country”, “Blue Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, which for my money is probably the best actual Christmas song of all, and from one of my favourite movies.

 

The lyrics were written by Hugh Martin and the music by Ralph Blane. It was unveiled in 1944 for Judy Garland’s classic film Meet Me In St Louis. There, Garland sings it to comfort her young sister, who’s upset at the news that the family is in the process of moving to New York.

 

And the lyrics have changed through the years. The film’s director, Vincente Minnelli, thought it was too sad and persuaded Martin to change “it may be your last” to “let your heart be light”. When Frank Sinatra came to record a version on an album called A Jolly Christmas he asked him to change it again. This time “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough”.

 

In later life Martin, who was a Seventh Day Adventist, re-wrote his song as “Have Yourself A Blessed Little Christmas” and performed it as “we will all be together, if the Lord allows”, a form of words he claimed were in the original but were swapped for “if the fates allow” to make the song less religious.

 

The reason I bring all this up is that this week – with nothing much else on TV – I caught Larry Lamb and the cast of Gavin and Stacey doing it at the end of a repeated Christmas special. I think “if the fates allow” is actually the best line in the whole song. And as we re-group for Christmas 2016 to reflect on what’s been a veritable annus horribillis, who’s here, who’s not and what’s changed, that’s the line that really tugs at the heart strings.

 

If the fates allow, have yourself a merry little Christmas.

 

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At this time of year, there’s a lot of talk about Christmas movies and which ones are the best and which are the worst. And the debate I overheard between these hard-core Shawlands pub punters outside on a smoking break, reverberated between White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (including Scrooge and Scrooged), It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Snowman and Love Actually. 

 

But one movie that wouldn’t necessarily come up for discussion here in the UK is a sweet little holiday gem I discovered during my extended stay in the US: A Christmas Story. In a word, irresistible. Probably the best movie about Christmas ever — and not only that but possibly the best movie about childhood ever. Captures everything wonderful and stupid about being a kid at Christmas time; and is funny as hell with it.

 

But for those this side of the Pond who perhaps have never seen this little holiday gem (I can’t ever remember it being shown in the UK), someone has generously uploaded it to Dailymotion for everyone to watch.  So sit back with a glass or two of mulled wine, relax, click here and just forget about the annus horribillis that was 2016 by getting into the spirit of A Christmas Story…. 

 

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It is to our collective shame that in recent years the number of men and women who are street homeless in the city – every city – has increased. Sleeping rough can be a dangerous and traumatising experience. Many people who sleep rough suffer from multiple health conditions, such as mental health problems and physical illnesses.

 

Each December 1st, from the warmth and comfort of our own homes, we open the first door to our advent calendars.  But here in Glasgow, December 1 saw the opening of a very important door for those less fortunate than ourselves, with it being the doors to the Christmas sanctuary of the Winter Night Shelter run by the Glasgow City Mission.

 

The charity say that they are preparing for what they expect to be their busiest ever year this Christmas, as they’ve seen an “unquestionable marked increase in the visibility of street homelessness” in the last year and they expect to exceed the record 605 people that used the service last winter. And last year, the Glasgow Rangers Charity Foundation raised enough funds with a sleep out at Ibrox Stadium that helped the shelter stay open for an extra month. And recently, the Rangers Charity Foundation repeated their sleep out fundraiser to continue supporting the shelter.

 

It’s not easy being homeless at Christmas, as the poor unfortunate in today’s photo could probably testify to.  On the opening day of the House of Fraser’s Nutcracker brand-sponsored Christmas window display, he stoically sat head bowed as hundreds crammed into Glasgow’s premier department store.  But he was only there for about an hour before security moved him on, as they didn’t want any riffraff spoiling the image of their Christmas window display.

 

So much for the spirit of Christmas then!

 

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It outraged many on its release in 1971 with scenes filled with extreme violence, shocking murders and the first known occurrence on film of telephone sex. But, more than four decades on, Get Carter still remains, for me anyway, the greatest British movie of all time – and for those reading this across the Pond, please don’t mistake it for the film of the same name that was re-made in the U.S., a pathetic shambles that starred Sylvester Stallone.

 

The original was based on Ted Lewis’s classic canonical crime novel Jack Returns Home, and this cult British gangster movie charts the story of Jack Carter, played by Michael Caine (in arguably his finest acting role), a London enforcer in a well-cut suit who travels to the north-east for his brother’s funeral following his suspicious death.

 

It caused a sensation when it was released not only because of its violence but its images of Britt Ekland, wearing black lingerie and indulging in telephone sex with Carter and of Caine appearing naked in a shoot-out that put a whole new twist into being “held up” by a double-barrelled shotgun.

 

As Carter, Caine delivered some of the most memorable lines in film history – but alas, not “Carter is Terug!”, as the wonderful find recently of the Dutch movie poster would have it  – including the often quoted “You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape. With me, it’s a full-time job. So behave yourself” in the superb scene where he slapped around Coronation Street’s mild-mannered shopkeeper, Alf Roberts. 

 

But for Mike Hodges’ movie adaptation of it, the director decided to move the setting of Lewis’ story from Scunthorpe to Newcastle, and the film makes much of the city’s decaying industrial landscape, and also all the swirling corruption scandal unfolding at the time around former city Labour leader T. Dan Smith and architect John Poulson.

 

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