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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In the hip eighties, Pat Benatar said love is a battlefield. And back in the mid-16th century,  it was not love but a giant family feud that transcended into a battlefield with one of the more unusual contests in Scottish history took place, the Battle of Langside, in the south side of Glasgow, which today would have social services becoming heavily involved, as a woman fought her half-brother who was defending the rights of her infant son.  (Be warned: There now comes a Neil Oliver-like history lesson  for the benefit of our American cousins who read the blog….)

 

In 1566, Mary, Queen of Scots marries Lord Darnley and proclaims that she will respect and be tolerant of the new protestantism that was sweeping the country, even although she was a more devout Catholic than the Pope. Needless to say, John Knox and his merry band of Reformers was anything but impressed by her promises.  The following year, Mary gives birth to a baby boy, the future James VI (who would also go on to become James I of England on the death of Queen Elizabeth I), and sends him to Stirling Castle for his safety fearing the Protestant Scottish lords under the influence of Knox, will not want the boy raised a Catholic.

 

Lord Darnley is subsequently murdered and the Protestant lords accuse the Earl of Bothwell of the crime.  Raising their suspicions is the fact that Mary quickly marries Bothwell and both are now hunted by the nobles; and Mary is then  captured and imprisoned in Lochleven Castle. She is forced to abdicate her throne and her son, now being raised by Protestant lords, is crowned King James VI of Scotland. But in 1568, Mary escapes and raises a force of 6,000 men to win back her crown. Her half-brother, the Regent Moray, is running Scotland while he raises his nephew, and her son, James VI who is too young to perform his duties as king.  The future course of James VI’s life now depends on the outcome of a meeting at Langside between his estranged mother and his uncle.

 

After an unsuccessful calvary charge and then finding themselves outflanked, Mary’s subsequent retreat becomes a rout, and before the full-time whistle gets blown, she somewhat hastily flees south to England for safety.   A bad move, because she was almost immediate caught and had to place herself at the mercy of her Protestant cousin, Elizabeth I, who imprisoned her for 18 years until before finally being persuaded to execute her by beheading in 1587, the fear being that if she remained alive, she could lay a claim to childless Elizabeth’s crown.

 

And the landmark that commemorate this historic major family squabble, a squabble that reaffirmed a change of religious faith in Scotland – and as a byproduct, ultimately led to the beginning of the formation of the Union of Gt. Britain, as James VI of Scotland also became James I of England following the death of Elizabeth, and he set in motion uniting the crowns of England and Scotland – can be found next to Queen’s Park, the scene of the battle.

 

And here’s where you find out just who knows their local and Scottish history.  

 

Queen’s Park was laid out to the design of Sir Joseph Paxton, architect of London’s famous Crystal Palace, and was opened in September of 1862, the year of Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee.  But the park was dedicated to the memory of Rome-backed Mary, Queen of Scots and not Defender of the Faith Queen Victoria, a very common misconception by many given the proximity to Victoria Road and the fact that the park was created during her reign.  

 

And despite the surrounding area being called ‘Battlefield’, many are actually quite ignorant of how important the area is to Scottish and British history, as few such as this intrepid photographer are willing to chance life and limb by trying to cross over a very busy traffic roundabout that’s built around the Battle of Langside monument.  I’m not saying it’s dangerous trying to get over to it, but I think you would probably have been safer off being there on the field of battle on 13th May back in 1568.

 

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When I lived in America, at this time of the year Washington Irving’s 1820 story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was always a big Halloween favourite. But if you read it, you’ll discover that its eerily similar to Scottish bard Robert Burns’ wonderful, epic poem Tam O’Shanter, written about a couple of decades or so earlier. 

 

In it, Burns paints a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scots town of Ayr in the late 18th century – and indeed, as this recent photo when I was in Ayr shows, there’s an old established pub in the town dating from 1749 that was named after the Tam O’Shanter legend from hometown hero Burns.

 

Burns’ poem detailed the Halloween adventures of the lovable, drunk rogue. On his way home, Tam hallucinates and – taking a shortcut home across a graveyard (always a bad sign) – sees creatures of the night, including dancing skeletons, even Satan himself. Tam’s ride home was a lonely one, in the forbidding Ayrshire countryside in Scotland, on his trusty mare, Meg. The poem even involves a chase in which Tam barely escapes from a legion of pursuing witches.

 

It all seems somewhat familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, doesn’t it? The truth is that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows a tradition from the era of folk tales and poems involving a supernatural wild chase, and many writers would weave successful plot lines from other works into their own – and Burns’ Tam O’Shanter proved to be extremely popular, so Irving would have been heavily influenced by it.

 

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No, nothing to do with comedy: It’s National Poetry Day, held ever year on the first Thursday of October. And no doubt everyone will be celebrating today by reciting their favourite poems by heart, whether that be from Robert Burns, John Betjeman, Walt Whitman, William Blake via a lot of Shakespeare.

 

My contribution is today’s photo of the statue in Glasgow’s George Square of Robert Burns, where he has an ongoing battle for respect from the seagulls. Burns, regarded as the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’, is Scotland’s most famous poet, her undisputed national bard. He may have been born in rural poverty in Alloway, the son of a tenant farmer; but he was also a true son of the Scottish Enlightenment – intelligent, articulate, well read and educated.

 

Everyone will have heard or sung his most universally known New Year anthem, Auld lang syne. But it’s no wonder he had a reputation as a ladies man (and several of them, at that), with his most famous verses being his love songs, such as Ae fond kiss and O my luve is like a red red rose. And there’s none better reciting his work today than Glaswegian chanteuse Eddi Reader – and here she is singing My Love is Like a Red Red Rose.

 

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Over seventy-five years after The Grapes of Wrath was published, its themes – corporate greed, homelessness, joblessness – are back with a vengeance. And the gulf between the rich and poor in Britain is officially at its widest now since Victorian times. We have foodbanks and destitution – an utter disgrace from a government with no humanity or moral decency.

 

And there’s worse to come, with George Osborne announcing recently in his Budget that there would be ‘further reductions’ coming for those at the vulnerable end of society. I have always thought that the financial crisis of 2008 and the austerity measures that came with it was just a big conspiracy for the rich and powerful to convince the general public that cuts had to be made. ‘I’m sorry we have to let you go – it’s because of the crisis’ was probably said more times than you can think.

 

Many proud people have been cornered by events way beyond their control; perhaps just like in today’s photo, as the broken man clings on to his radio and bag, trying to shelter from the driving rain on Argyll Street. And the irony of his resting place wasn’t entirely lost on me, sitting directly under a sign stating ‘further reductions’. Some would also say that even the mannequins, dressed in their designer threads, sunglasses and bling accessories, are disapprovingly looking on at the presence of the poor homeless guy, and probably wondering why – unlike capitalist playground London – there is no anti-homeless spikes in operation.

 

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Well, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut to give it its full moniker – but everyone knows it best simply as King Tut’s. And this year, it celebrates its 25th anniversary. But what makes such an unassuming, fairly average, and often cramped and sweaty basement pub in Glasgow’s St. Vincent Street such a firm favourite with a generation of fans, artists and the music press alike?

 

King Tut’s opened in February 1990 with the name borrowed from a New York club; and this intimate music space quickly become a hub for emerging artists who could showcase their talent seven nights a week. And playing this legendary gig venue has become something of a rock and roll rite of passage for many bands on the up – most famously, when a then little-known Manchester outfit turned up uninvited and bagged a last-minute spot on the bill on an evening in May 1993.

 

They were Oasis, and they played in front of a crowd of less than 100. But fortunately for the oft-feuding Gallagher siblings, making up the numbers that night was record producer and promoter Alan McGee, who quickly spotted their raw talent and immediately signed them there and then to a record deal. The rest, as they say, being history.

 

It also played host to Radiohead, Blur, Travis, Pulp and The Verve before they reached their heights of music superstardom. It was also the venue for first Scottish gigs for Beck, Crowded House and The Strokes. The Manic Street Preachers dedicated a song to King Tut’s during their headline set at the nearby T in the Park in 1999 for being “the first venue to treat us properly and give us hot food on tour.”

 

My own personal favourite was when the late, great Joe Strummer played here in 1999. It was one of those magical nights that has become synonymous with Tut’s. I could never have imagined standing at the side of the stage, watching just a few feet away one of my musical heroes play all the legendary and iconic Clash songs.

 

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When the Central Station Railway Bridge was built it created a tunnel where it crossed Argyle Street and unwittingly brought into being one of the most famous meeting places in Glasgow. It became a rendezvous for the Highlanders who had flooded into the city looking for work and would shelter here from the inclement climate, so like their own homeland – and it became known by the highly evocative nickname of the ‘Hielanman’s [Highland man’s] Umbrella’, a derogatory term that stuck.

 

Highlanders would also meet at the Umbrella between church services, for example walking down from St. Columba’s Gaelic Church of Scotland to the Hielanman’s, and there swopping gossip and news from the homelands and of urban events. As well as its Sabbath function, the Umbrella was also used as a weekend evening meeting place between the sexes, and doubtless many a troth was plighted beneath its girders, as couples ‘walked out’ together – the old phrase showing the traditional link between courtship and walking.

 

This is a marvellous piece of Victorian engineering, in riveted cast iron and glass – and it’s not that long ago that it was fully refurbished. And from street level, it highlights the station’s historic “ridge and furrow” design glass roof, the world’s largest, with 48,000 panes making up 2.2 square miles of glass.

 

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“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Has any debut album ever marked its territory with a greater opening gambit than that? Yes, it could only be Patti Smith, and how could I resist not going along to watch her recently when she came to town?  She had the Glasgow crowd – and probably every other crowd for that matter – at “Jesus”.

 

Horses turns 40 this year, and in its honour Smith is in the middle of a string of live performances, from Field Day to Glastonbury, Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo to Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall – a run of venues, grand, intimate, stately, that in its diversity encapsulates her particular role – an artist who is able to simultaneously hold both the Ordre des Artes et des Lettres from the French ministry of culture and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

In 1967 Smith’s life changed when she relocated to New York City, and becoming romantically involved with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she would later lived with at the infamous Chelsea hotel. In the years that followed she became an integral part of the downtown Manhattan scene that circled around Max’s Kansas City and CBGB and included Television, the Ramones and Blondie.

 

But it was that debut release of Horses in 1975 that positioned Smith as “punk’s poet laureate”.  She has described the album, with its distinctive portrait by Mapplethorpe, as “my aural sword sheathed with Robert’s image”. She chose her outfit carefully: a shirt she bought at the Salvation Army on the Bowery; the monogram on the breast pocket reminded her of a Brassai shot of Jean Genet. She wore it with her black jacket, a horse pin that Allen Lanier had given to her and her favourite ribbon.  Its release and her looks established Smith as an artist who believed she was serving something greater than herself.

 

Nevertheless, everything following the main set was an anti-climax. It’s impossible to top the tumultuous psychodrama of Land and the comedown of Elegie – that was touchingly dedicated to fallen comrades such as Smith’s late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5. But isn’t that fitting? Horses was arguably her one-shot flash of musical genius.

 

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, hailed by many as one of the famous of all the Victorian children’s novels. Lewis Carroll’s follow-up, Alice Through the Looking Glass, was just as popular  – and in a way, much like Alice, modern architecture around Glasgow allows us to go ‘through the looking glass’ back to Victorian times, as many of the buildings from this period reflect favourably in the reflections, whether by design or accident.

 

Two centuries of architecture meld together in this ethereal visage: A late 20th century office building, as St Stephens House reflects in full the image of the very Victorian Renfield St Stephen’s Church, built in 1852, that’s directly across the road on Bath Street. The property has a very striking glass façade to distinguish it from the surrounding buildings. Local occupiers include AXA Sun Life, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Strathclyde Police.

 

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The previous blog, Looking up to the Gods, only gave us a partial steeple image of one of my favourite – for many reasons – Glasgow churches. So here’s the full, unadulterated 21mm Super-Angulon view of Renfield St. Stephens Church in Bath Street.  And from it, you can see why we need a wide-angle lens, as it has the tallest spire in the city centre; and although situated near the bottom of Blythswood Hill, its slender tower can be viewed for a great distance.

 

The church was designed in the Tractarian Gothic style – the first of its kind in Glasgow – by English architect, J.T. Emmett and was completed in 1852. It has many niches on the various sides containing statues of saints, indicating that it was not originally built as a John Knox puritan-styled Presbyterian place of worship. Indeed, it was originally to be one of the new-breed Victorian ’Independent Chapels’ – and it wasn’t always know as St. Stephen’s.

 

Until recent times, the church was known as St. Matthew’s – Blythswood Church of Scotland. It was closed in the late 1960s, threatened with demolition to make way for a motorway that controversially cut through the city, but saved by a last-minute reprieve to be extended and renovated. When it re-opened with its new name in September 1970, the church retained a small chapel dedicated to its previous patron, St. Matthew.

 

One of the reasons for it being one of my favourite churches is the recent disaster backstory to it, as much of it was destroyed on December 26th, 1998 when the steeple came collapsing down in a storm and crashed through to the crypt. I’m an atheist myself, but for those more ecumenically minded, December 26th is, ahem, St. Stephen’s day. Divine intervention or what? £3 million and 3 years later, it re-opened again.

 

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