Winkle-pickers

 

As sartorial elegance goes, it isn’t a sight you see every day, but as is my wont of aimlessly ambling around Glasgow in my sensible Doc Martens, I recently found someone wearing a pair of uncomfortable looking, über pointy-toed winkle-pickers, a decadent, downright underground style of shoe so associated with rock ’n’ roll but, in fact, comes from deep Medieval regal origins.

 

It was once called a crakow or poulaine, and indeed hailing from 15th-century Poland. Worn by the upper class, the shoes had stiff exaggerated beaks, and when rendered in silver or another metal (just as in the photo), they were frequently used as a weapon, sort of like the memorable Bond villain in From Russia with Love, Colonel Rosa Klebb, whom 007 quipped at the end, “had her kicks.” 

 

But the dagger-toe shoe became more popular by their British term, winkle-pickers, famously worn by Teddy Boys through the Fifties and Sixties – and just like loveable Rosa, they used them also as lethal weapons in many a seaside Bank Holiday fracas between the tribal warring factions of the Rockers and the Mods of the era – and the seaside was where they picked up their nickname from. 

 

The main characteristic of the shoe as a winkle-picker is the very sharp and long pointed toe. Imagine you are in one of the many British seaside towns in the late 1950s and having a traditional snack there of periwinkles and you are picking the winkle out of its coiled shell with a long sharp pin…and you soon get the point of how they became known as winkle-pickers.

 

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New study material in schools these days is Susan Hill’s wonderfully atmospheric 1983 horror novella, The Woman in Black, very cleverly written in the style of a traditional gothic Christmas ghost story that we’d normally expect from the late Victorian/early Edwardian era.

 

It has since inspired a movie and an ongoing popular stage production with successful long runs in the West End and Broadway. And perhaps inspired by the title, street artist “Klingatron” unveiled a stunning new addition to the Glasgow mural trail – and with it, Scotland’s answer to Banksy also revealed he’s giving up his anonymous street life and now going legit.

 

His real name is James Klinge, and he hails from Shawlands in the Southside of the city, and he’s now specializing in intricate stencil portraits and showcasing in a number of exhibitions around the world.  Among the collection can be found “Study of a Woman in Black”, which is actually a portrait of a friend.  And in collaboration with the Art Pistol gallery, he adapted it to adorn a wall in the city’s Saltmarket.

 

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There’s a widely held belief that Elton John’s 1971 hit “Levon” (and let’s not forget with lyrics by Bernie Taupin) was inspired by the one and only Levon Helm, the legendary linchpin drummer and gravel-throated singer for the Band. But in Susan Black’s biography Elton John in His Own Words, Mr. Crocodile Rock explains all: “It”s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It’s just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can’t because it’s the family ritual.”

 

And this also could be the case for the chess world’s very own “Levon”, Armenia’s Levon Aronian.

 

Here’s a creative force in the game who could well have gotten “bored with blowing up balloons” of playing solid, risk-free chess as he attempted to become an official challenger for the world crown. The affable Armenian had a rough couple of years attempting to and failing, but now he’s back to his brilliant and creative best with a series of big wins in 2017 – and I wouldn’t rule him out achieving the dreams of his nation by going on to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world crown.

 

And it was nice to meet up once again with Lev during my recent sojourn to the US Midwest and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the day job at America’s Foundation for Chess – and for those wanting more of an insight into this true artist of the chessboard, then look no further than the July issue of The New Yorker magazine that can be read by clicking here.

 

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An advertising hoarding for a coming new shop on Glasgow’s bustling Buchanan Street, featuring a pair of knee-length black leather boots, was all it took to transport me back to my youth and the late 1960s, as it immediately brought back vivid memories of the then oft-repeated late night cult action spy series The Avengers – one of my favourite adult shows as a kid.

 

It began life as a tough, no nonsense spy-thriller vehicle for the multi-talented Ian Hendry, with his sidekick being the non-dapper and bowler hat-less Patrick Macnee – but it soon came to incarnate the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when Hendry left after the first season, the show having a very surreal makeover and retooling, as suave and sophisticated John Steed (Macnee) went all Savile Row on us and memorably partnered in turn with Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson, until its demise in 1969 (a victim of poor US ratings).

 

Dapper Steed’s first foxy sidekick, Cathy Gale (Blackman), caused particular excitement with her ‘kinky’ black leather costumes, especially the then-fashionable titular footwear, that lead to the two TV stars in 1964 going on to record a novelty single for Decca, ‘Kinky Boots’, that was not initially a hit, but a 1990 re-release peaked at No.5 on the British singles chart in December of that year.

 

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One of the most famous photographers of all time is/was a little Frenchman who went by the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). HCB was one of the original founders of Magnum Photos, and was a pioneer in the use of the small format of the Leica 35mm camera for reportage, and the first to coin the term “the decisive moment”.

 

He left behind a large legacy of iconic photos, but his most famous, Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare (Paris 1932), was named ‘The Photo of the Century’ by Time magazine and set a record when its print sold at auction in 2011 at Christie’s for $590,455. This fantastic image is more commonly referred to as “the puddle jumper”, and perhaps best exemplifies the decisive moment, as time practically stands still with HCB magically catching his subject just as his heel was about to touch the water.

 

I don’t think there is a photographer since/ever who won’t try in some way or form to recapture that little bit of HCB inspiration when they come across a puddle – and with all that rain hitting Glasgow, when it finally did relent, the destination to head for is Exchange Square, near the rear of the GoMA, as that’s an ideal happy hunting ground to find puddle jumpers!

 

And our little tribute to HCB will be the last blog entry of the summer, as I get ready to pack my bags and head to the decidedly warmer climes of sunny Saint Louis in the American Midwest for practically all of the month of August!

 

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Given the challenging nature of the Scottish weather, it comes as no surprise that there are a whole host of interesting words to name and describe the actions of the elements.  In fact, a recent Scottish Government poll found that the word ‘dreich’ – meaning dull and miserable weather – was the nations favourite word.

 

And while it’s claimed that the Eskimo’s have 50 words for snow, here it’s estimated that there are considerably far more Scottish words for rain.  Dreich tops the list, and other personal favourites include ‘drookit’, ‘bucketing’, ‘hammering’, ‘mizzling’, ‘lashing’ and ’spitting’ to name but a few.

 

But it doesn’t matter what the word you use to describe it, July has been nothing but wet wet wet – though thankfully for everyone concerned, not the Marti Pelow variety! – with just about all the words used throughout the month, as it’s been one of the wettest summers I can recall. 

 

Some would even say it’s been more like the ‘monsoon season’, as the fitting photo from Buchanan Street taken over the July Fair Holiday Weekend would testify to, as all the tourists could be found huddled in the somewhat seasonally overcrowded North Face shop in the elusive search for all things Gore-Tex.

 

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In 1987, Deacon Blue released their iconic debut album, Raintown, that propelled the Glasgow band to international stardom.  And as we celebrate its 30th anniversary, Raintown has stood the test of time by not only being universally regarded as the “perfect pop album”, but the songs it featured continue to litter every Deacon Blue live set.

 

Rarely is Raintown spoken about without the artwork getting a mention: The bleak yet beautiful cover shot captured by Glasgow photographer Oscar Mazaroli (1933-1988), is rightly hailed as a stroke of genius, as it perfectly encapsulates the mood and feel of the album – and Glasgow!

 

This town certainly gets the wet wet wet stuff, even at the start of the Glasgow Fair Fortnight, the Friday in mid-July that’s traditionally the start of the holiday season, as today’s image taken on Buchanan  Street will testify to, as even the pipers resort to craftily attaching an umbrella to their bagpipes in a forlorn effort to stay dry.

 

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Rachel Maclean’s Billy Connolly tribute, entitled “The Big Yin”, is now part of the Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail and can be found in the Gallowgate – and the young Edinburgh creative multi-media artist’s offering is the most outrageously outlandish and striking of the three official portraits commissioned for the comic’s recent 75th birthday. 

 

Her digital print of Connolly in a specially created outfit features references to many of his fabled jokes from throughout his career, such as ‘mini bike parked in bum’ epaulettes, a sporran with an ‘aged’ nose sprouting hair and makeup reflecting his famous ‘pale blue Scotsman’ joke. The crowning piece though, literally, is his tea cosy crown of one of my favourite Connolly stand-up jokes: “Never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”

 

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This is the second of two commemorative Billy Connolly 50ft high murals – based on a series of three portraits by leading Scottish artists to celebrate the Big Yin’s recent 75th birthday – installed by street artist Rogue One, and can be found located on the gable wall in the beer garden of the Glasgow Hootenanny Pub in Dixon Street.

 

It is a reproduction of the Jack Vettriano painting taken from a scene from the comedian’s much-vaunted World Tour of Scotland series for the BBC in 1994, which – for reasons only fathomable to the artist himself – he titled “Dr. Connolly I Presume”, and features a very windswept and somewhat drookit Billy on a storm-lashed coast near John O’Groats at the very tip of mainland Scotland. (And thanks to one blog reader commenting below, there’s also a time-lapse video of this mural being done that you can watch by clicking here.)

 

The portraits, by leading Scottish artists Jack Vettriano, Rachel Maclean and John Byrne, all now hang with pride of place in the People’s Palace, the Big Yin’s favourite Glasgow Museum. The journey of the artists and the comedian, from first sitting to final portrait, was captured recently in a BBC documentary, Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.

 

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Billy Connolly has always stood tall in Scotland – but the Big Yin has just got even bigger.  Bigger by 50ft in height, to be precise, as three new murals recently went up across his home city of Glasgow, and based on official portraits commissioned by BBC Scotland to celebrate the comedian’s 75th birthday.

 

The portraits, by leading Scottish artists Jack Vettriano, Rachel Maclean and John Byrne, all now hang with pride of place in the People’s Palace, the Big Yin’s favourite Glasgow Museum.  Not only that, but the journey of the artists and the comedian, from first sitting to final portrait, was captured in a recent BBC documentary, Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.

 

But there was a further twist to the story for Connolly, when the City Council surprised the comedian by replicating – with the permission of the artists – the portraits on murals erected at Osborne Street, Dixon Street and the Gallowgate.

 

Two of the murals were done by legendary Glasgow street artist, Rogue One; and this is the first, located on Osborne Street – behind the Trongate, and just across from the St. Enoch’s Centre – and based on John Byrne’s portrait “Billy Connolly”.

 

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