One Love

 

From one music legend to another, as we neatly segue from recently-departed Chuck Berry to long-gone Bob Marley, who came to fame with a juxtaposing rivalry during the rise of punk in the mid-1970s here in the UK. And Top of the Pops often took on a surreal feeling on a Thursday evening during this period as Marley, with his poetic words and rhythmic melodies, was often pitted against the mayhem, nihilism, and constantly gobbing Sex Pistols.

 

And last week, the reggae legend’s life was set to his own soundtrack, as ‘One Love: The Bob Marley Musical‘, written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, opened to good reviews at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and now looks set for a London West End run and talks of it being turned into a movie.  This is the first musical of Marley’s life and features his greatest songs, including No Woman No Cry, Exodus, One Love, Jamming etc. 

 

The musical tells the story of a man propelled from rising reggae star to global icon, and is mostly set around the time when Marley’s beloved homeland of Jamaica is on the brink of civil war, and he’s called to unite his people as only he can with his music and his message of love and peace – and, as you do, he almost ends up being assassinated in the process!

 

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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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It’s time to raise your glass in honour of World Whisky Day today! Yes, of course, a special day that could only have been created by a Scot – and unlike many Scots who have lost a fortune on the water of life, the Young Scot who was the creator of this day of days recently became a millionaire on the back of his idea.

 

World Whisky Day – or even World Whiskey Day for our grammatically incorrect American cousins – is held on the third Saturday in May, and was established in 2012 by Blair Bowman, now 24, from his bedroom while studying in Barcelona, after he noticed there was a World Gin Day. After searching online, he was surprised to see that there was not an established annual WWD – so he bought the domain name and kickstarted the event by spreading the word via social media.

 

But like the whisky, it soon became a fast-growing global brand, and within twelve months WWD was annually attracting around 250,000 attendees to whisky-themed events in over 40 countries, with 12,000 followers on Twitter. And such was its growth & potential, last year a publishing firm, Edinburgh-based Hot Rum Cow, a drinks magazine, purchased the assets of WWD for an undisclosed fee, that was rumoured to run into six figures.

 

And he’ll need that money to buy one of the special bottles of whisky I saw released for today: the £20,000 exclusive 40-year-old Balvenie, which is sold in a handcrafted box made of 1786 Russian reindeer leather in collaboration with bespoke British shoe maker George Cleverly, that also includes two crystal glasses and a copper dog.

 

That’s just a little too rich for me – but I’ll raise a glass to celebrate today with my favourite tipple of Oban 14-year-old while watching the wonderful little Ken Loach whisky-fuelled movie on Netflix, The Angels’ Share.

 

Happy World Whisk(e)y Day!

 

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Earlier in the year, I went to the ever-popular Hopscotch Spring Beer & Scotch Festival in Fremont, Seattle. My party trick is for them to lay out a selection of single malts and I get to guess which part of Scotland they come from. If I lose, I pay for the shot; if I win, I get it for free!

 

But this year one of the local Washington wine snobs stepped up to the plate for a go, and asked me: “Do they have spittoons?” My poor father would have been spinning in his grave at such a thought, if we hadn’t cremated him. But recovering from the shock, I explained to him: “I’m Scottish. We don’t waste whisky.”

 

And on this auspicious night of nights, when several wee drams are going to be hammered over Hogmanay, very fittingly, my favourite movie shown on the BBC over the festive season was the truly wonderful 1949 Ealing comedy classic, Whisky Galore!  But what many don’t realise about this little gem of a movie, is that it is based on true events.

 

In February 1941, a ship carrying nearly 30,000 cases of whisky destined for Canada was wrecked off the Scottish island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. The islanders began to salvage the bottles from the wreck – and the incident later became the inspiration for Compton Mackenzie’s book and subsequent movie of the same name, Whisky Galore!

 

“Ulsge Beatha”, as they would say in Whisky Galore!

 

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Only through the power of this blog can we go from one legendary Seattle guitar man to another.  It can only be street performer par excellence, Kenny Wayne Gunner. Known by his initials of KWG, he’s regarded as a Seattle treasure, and one of the best blues, rock & jazz performers in town.  He also has the perfect identikit blues hangdog look about him, the sort that comes with most blues performers.

 

KWG always puts everything into his performance, and there’s only one way he plays: standing atop of his amp with his trusty guitar in hand, belting out the blues into the mic. He’s a great act and one of the street characters I’ll miss when I leave Seattle.  

 

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The title is a line from a song you wouldn’t know, by a singer you’ve probably never heard of. The singer who sang, “There’s no fool like an old fool” was Harvey Andrews. He is an English folk singer who never really had a chart hit and is just about as unknown in America as he is anywhere else in the world, and that includes the town where he lives.

 

I picked up an album of his years ago in Bath and liked it. He has a song called 25 Years on the Road, where he sings about spending your whole life “looking for that mother lode.” At first he’s expecting to have his big hit in a year or two… “because that’s what happens as a rule.” Then it become five years. Eventually he realises he’s never going to have it, but he’s still on the road singing. “And there’s no fool like an old fool,” the song ends.

 

The reason for bringing all this old foolishness up in the blog, is that today is my birthday and I’m an even older old fool than usual – 53 times, to be precise. And old Harvey nailed the ageing process brilliantly when he came out of retirement recently for a special charity concert in Portishead, under the banner Glad To Be Grey – a dig here at Tom Robinson’ seminal 1978 gay-anthem, Glad To Be Gay – and billed as “A celebration of maturity, with songs, stories, humour (and the occasional rant)”.

 

Old guys rule, says Harvey. I wish I could believe him, but right now I’m not feeling ‘hip’ anymore, more like hip replacement.

 

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Tourists can be mistaken for not knowing its real name, but I would imagine most Seattleites, who’ve lived here all their life, and perhaps for eons have crossed it every day, wouldn’t be able to tell you the real name of the “Aurora” Bridge. It probably takes a smart-alec interloper, such as myself, to tell you that its real name is the George Washington Memorial Bridge.

 

But certain things stick, and the Aurora Bridge got its common moniker because it carries Aurora Avenue (Highway 99) across the ship canal from Queen Anne Hill to Fremont. The state officially dedicated the bridge on February 22, 1932 – George Washington’s 200th birthday – and the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

 

But whether Aurora or George Washington Memorial, it has a somewhat dubious last destination scene for the depressed by being the Northwest’s most notorious suicide site for over 80 years. It’s famously where many have ended it all with a 164-foot leap as they bid adieu to this cruel world. All of which is a great irony (and I don’t mean the steel girders), because I have always felt that the real beauty of this cantilever bridge is to be found from the stunning views underneath looking up, where all the artistic and architectural detail can be found.

 

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The sport of polo conjures up a nostalgic image of British empire, with crisply dressed young men galloping around a green and pleasant field, bashing a ball about for several chukkers to polite applause and the vast consumption of champagne. Hardcourt Bike Polo, the increasingly popular urban offspring of the royals’ favourite sport, is a little different.

 

City dwellers have swapped thoroughbred horses for steeds of steel and grassy plains for tarmac courts. Strangely, bike polo previously experienced a golden age around a century ago, with a version played on grass featuring in the 1908 London Olympics. The traditional version is still played, but its newer, hardcourt game was more or less created here in Seattle in 2000.

 

This rugged pursuit for the hoi polloi (or should that be hoi polo?) has proved popular with many leagues now spread across North America, with the Seattle team of The Guardians, having a good record in the North American Championship, winning twice (2009 & 2011) and thrice runners-up. Seattle also won the World Championship title in 2009. One of the most active venues in Seattle can be found off Broadway, at Cal Anderson Park.

 

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Ever since I described Leroy Menswear as a “pimps’ emporium” in a previous blog entry Dedicated Follower of Fashion, several readers have asked for a shot of the legend himself, namely the one and only, Mr Leroy Shumate.  

 

Leroy, who has owned the store on Pike Street since 1980, is definitely your go-to man in Seattle if your  sartorial cravings include items such as a 12-button bright purple suit, oversized rhinestone cuff links, bright-green leather shoes, knee-high yellow silk socks, bowler hats, leather suits and ankle-length fake fur coats.

 

Pimps were indeed his main clientele in the days when prostitutes lined Pike Street from the market all the way to Interstate 5. But now, “most of them are in jail. It’s a lost art,” he lamented during an interview a couple of years back. The pimps maybe long gone, but Leroy is still very much in business – and most days, he can be seen modelling one of his dapper outfit as he holds up his shop.

 
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Here in Seattle, summer isn’t such an exact science. It’s more like a beam of sunlight that escapes briefly through the haze to remind us what’s up above all those stratus clouds. Summer officially starts June 20; and the most obvious sign its here in Seattle is kids ready to run into the cooling water spray of the Seattle Center’s International Fountain.

 

Under the watchful eye of the futuristic Space Needle, how can kids resist the lure of a spaceship sculpture that vibrates and whose fountains shoot water, while at the same time all being synchronized to a symphony soundtrack?

 

Other signs that summer is here in Seattle – apart from the sight of naked cyclists in Fremont, where when the bikes stop, not everything else does – is an instant slump in Vitamin D sales, Birkenstock sandals being worn without socks, and your Gore-Tex jacket (the official dress of Seattle) reduced to staying in the closet for more than a week.

 

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