PAWS, The Spook School & some drumming adventures too

I first came across PAWS when they were part of the most insane gig I have ever been to.  I couldn’t really make out any of their songs at the time, but I had a quick listen online afterwards and instantly liked what I heard.  Their first album, Cokefloat, put me in mind of Oxford Collapse. I think at the time, I then got distracted remembering how awesome Oxford Collapse had been and went off on a mini-nostalgia trip listening to them and, to be honest, forgot about PAWS. I followed them on Twitter, however, and they seemed like cool, interesting guys. When they announced a new album and a tour including a gig in Stereo, I reckoned it was time to reconnect with them and give them a proper chance.

I listened back to their older stuff and kicked myself for not getting properly into them 2 years ago. They are GOOD. Then I heard the first track of the new album, No Grace and fell in love. They are REALLY GOOD.  Punchy, punky, energetic and danceable.  So I was excited to see them properly.

The day started with some drumming activity.  The place I go for lessons also have a shop, and they were hosting a demo event by Eddy Thrower, drummer with Lower Than Atlantis, among other bands & artists. I had seen him at the Glasgow Drum Show, and had been impressed, so after a fair amount of rushing about, my usual parking-in-Glasgow-City-Centre nightmare and getting rained on, I made it along to see most of his set.


Someone took a video:

Seriously, the guy is so laid back I half expected him to start sipping a cup of tea mid-beat. Check out his cover of Bieber – a lesson for me in fluidity of movement.

Afterwards, he took some questions, then stayed around a bit chatting to everyone.  I spoke to him for a few minutes about learning fundamentals, improvising and how drumming is the best thing ever. “I wish I could play more songs for you but I don’t have any more tracks…I just love playing drums!”


Afterwards, I had my lesson where we worked on some of those fundamentals. I’m sure now, after only a handful of lessons this time round, I’m being pushed beyond anything I learned or was playing back in the day.  The exercises we were working on this week makes previous weeks’ efforts look like baby stuff. I can’t wait to see what I’m doing in a few months time that makes my current paradiddle-diddles around the kit look simple. Love it.


After my lesson and a lot of running around town getting stuff for upcoming holiday and both girls’ birthdays, I headed over to Stereo for the gig. I got there early, as usual, to secure a place near the front.  I really didn’t fancy being in the middle of a (tall) crowd for this one.  I wasn’t that taken with the first support act. It was 1 bloke, who looked like he’d drafted in a reluctant mate to play bass. He spent every song setting up several looped parts as accompaniment. I don’t mind this now and again, it can be really cool if done well and shake things up a bit, but when it happened every single time and took several minutes it got very tedious. Either get some more mates, pre-record it or just play a stripped down version. I was bored.

The second support, on the other hand, were amazing.  The Spook School are a 4-piece of (mostly) young people who all took turns to lead and sing on songs.  They have a strong theme of gender identity running through their music.  At times the lyrics were a bit obvious and simplistic, but I’ll forgive them because they put their all into it, they played really tightly and brought a real spirit of optimism and positivity to a Glasgow that was still mostly reeling from recent political events.

The Spook School

A quick stage turnaround and PAWS came on. They promised to try to cram as many songs into the hour as possible, and they were true to their word. Minimal chat, energy levels high, mood elevated and song after song from all albums, old and new. Having listened to them some more, and armed with earplugs this time, I was able to actually appreciate the songs more than previously.  Although I was regretting even more not listening to them properly these past 2 years, as I wasn’t able to sing along to many of the songs.  Even though I recognised them I don’t have the lyrics pinned down yet. When the crowd participation sing-alongs occurred I just had to grin and dance and enjoy the band soaking up the adoration of the audience and revelling in the moment.


Towards the end, the crowd got predictably rowdy, and at one point I was thrown forward, knocking a monitor towards singer Philip. After the song he reminded everyone that if they wanted to jump around and go crazy, that was fine, but they should also look out for each other.  Later, a mini-stage invasion occurred and once again, after the invaders were ushered off, he asked everyone not to crowd-surf in case someone got hurt.  They might have been rocking their socks off, but they still wanted to make sure everyone, not just the crazy ones, was having a good time.

I wondered why these guys aren’t a huge band. They seemed so chuffed to be headlining Stereo, but Stereo is a pretty small venue. They are so good, they have interesting lyrics, complicated rhythms and manage to convey emotion and feeling into rock/punk/whatever music that has elements that are thoughtful and considered on record but can be ramped up and bring the roof down when played live. They give me that conflicted feeling – they deserve to be huge, but I’m also glad I get to see them up close in a small, sweaty club.

In their usual no-nonsense approach to life, they didn’t bother with the ritual of going off stage and back on for an encore, they played straight through, finished on a high and left.  We were all pumped, sweaty and in my case bruised. But it was awesome.

PAWS givin’ it laldy

I stopped by the merch stand, picked up a t-shirt and headed outside. I had that disconcerting feeling of coming out of a gig not much past 10pm in June, and it still being light outside. I felt energised and wanted to go on and do something else, but I had attended the gig on my own so was kinda stuck. I hung around for a bit in case I recognised anyone or there was a general sense of going on somewhere after, but the crowd dispersed, there was no sign of the band so I headed home. I’m mostly ok with going to gigs on my own, but sometimes it actually sucks. Anyway, half an hour later I was in my house having tea and toast. I’m so rock n roll it hurts.








Thoughts on the EU referendum

I’m sorry, I tried to keep quiet about this, but I woke up this morning realising that the referendum was mere days away, and was filled with an absolute dread for the outcome.  I was going to do a quick Facebook post stating my voting intention and some reasons behind it, but I found myself getting deeper into it, the post became too lengthy and so I transferred it over here.

I thought I was undecided. It seems about 80% of the British population is undecided. It’s not like me not to have an opinion on something like this.  Then I realised I was just struggling to reconcile my Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum with a leaning towards an Remain vote for the EU referendum. Why vote FOR one form of separatism, but AGAINST another?  What it came down to, what tipped the balance for me in the IndyRef, was the desire to preserve Scotland’s social ideology. English politics is becoming more divisive, elitist and right-wing at an alarming rate.  In 2014 I felt the best way to maintain Scotland’s long -standing culture of social justice and progressive policies was to vote for Independence.  Now, in 2016, I believe the best way to do it is to vote to remain in the EU.  The only way to halt the destructive forces of the Tories, UKIP and the like is to stay in the EU, work together with our European neighbours to temper their right-wing agendas.

I lived in Sweden for a year. I decided to take a year off between school and university.  I had visited Sweden with the Guides a couple of years previously, so I took off there for a year, living and working in a community for people with various learning and physical disabilities.  I didn’t think anything of it. I could have gone to France, as I had been learning French at school. I could have gone anywhere in Europe.  In theory, I could have gone anywhere in the world, but I was 18, not exactly street-smart and the cuisine in most non-European countries wouldn’t agree with my (anaphylactic) allergies to nuts, egg and soya. The point it, I felt that the whole continent was open to me and I had the opportunity to explore it and make it my home for as long as I wanted to.  When I came back and started university, I found lots of our European neighbours were doing the same in the UK.  I want those same opportunities and freedoms to be taken for granted by my children.  I want them to feel part of a European family, where they are welcomed, learn the language, understand the culture and are fascinated by the differences but eventually come to realise that we have enough of a shared history and culture to essentially be the same extended family.  In this corner of Scotland, you can find evidence of both Roman and Viking settlements. We are made by Europeans and of Europeans. Our language is a wonderful amalgam of that of the various peoples that have invaded, settled and become us.  We can’t extract ourselves from that heritage.

I have only ever travelled and holidayed in Europe. I have a 5 (now 3) year plan to go further afield and I hope that happens, but in thinking about it, I plotted out all the places I’d been.

(I’ve been to more places in Britain, but only plotted places I’ve lived)

I have benefited hugely from being able to travel freely in Europe, and I hope to take my daughters around the continent when they are older.  To me, it would be strange and unnatural to have restrictions on this.  Leave voters would argue that we would have some arrangement, that we would be able to go wherever we wanted (but of course we would have to restrict those nasty immigrants from coming here) but we just don’t know that. And in any case, why should we? We may be an island, with a physical barrier to the rest of Europe, but the rest is artificial

Most of the discourse has been around the economic impact. You know what? I don’t give a shit about the economic impact.  I don’t care if it costs my me or my family £SomeMadeUpNumber to remain / leave. The numbers are being plucked out of thin air, economists are terrible at predictions, and the EU is about more than economics. It’s about resolving never to go to war with one another again. It’s about recognising the mistakes of our past and a determination never to repeat them. It’s about the world getting smaller and the belief that we are all stronger if we work together. It is about much more than economics, it is about ideology, cooperation and peace.

What really bothers me about this whole affair is that we are only having the bloody referendum in the first place because David Cameron wanted to appease the Eurosceptics in his own party.* Because Cameron couldn’t get his act together and unite his party, or adequately deal with the threat from UKIP, he took the easy way out and “let the people decide”. Except the people can’t decide. The people have no idea, and don’t trust any of the information being put out by either side. And now the Leave campaign have been given their biggest platform ever to peddle their anti-immigration, frankly outright racist messages.

Thanks, Dave.

So I am fearful of the outcome. I am worried that the UK will vote to leave the EU and cast us into unknown territory, destabilising Europe and giving a huge boost to the far-right, UKIP et al. I am worried that if Scotland (and other nations within the UK) vote in the majority to remain, it will have a destabilising effect on the UK. I may have voted for independence, but I’m also ok with being British, and don’t relish the idea of untold years more of uncertainty and constitutional wrangling. Well, the politics nerd in me will enjoy it to an extent, but only if we could fit the whole debate and outcome into a very short space of time. If we could bring in Kirsty Wark, debate it in a day and move on with our lives… But that’s never going to happen, it would be years more of Boris, Gove and Farage. Eww.

That’s why I am not one of the many undecided. I am firmly Remain. And I am not going to sleep well on Thursday night.

P.S. Because I can already anticipate some of the comments – I will offer my usual disclaimer. I am not attempting a thorough analysis of the whole affair. I’m not trying to start a debate, or contribute to a debate.  I am merely outlining some of my thoughts on the issue. And these are only today’s thoughts. A whole lot has been written about the referendum, most of it by people better informed then me. If you are still undecided, go and read some proper commentators from both sides, then make up your mind. I just had to get this off my chest.

*This is a good article explaining how we came to have a referendum in the first place. 



Go Set a Watchman

I know, I know, late to the party. There have probably been hundreds of articles written about Harper Lee’s 2015-released novel.  I haven’t read them. Also, this won’t be an article or a review. In the same saw that I don’t write gig reviews, I write about my experiences of the events. I recently read Watchman and the whole affair made me think a lot, so I am going to try to coalesce these thoughts here.  I don’t think I’ve written a blog piece about a book before but I seem to be on a roll with blogging just now and it will make a change from writing about indie rock bands. Although if you are interested I am writing this listening to new Paws and Twin Atlantic and feeling very excited for the state of Scottish rock right now.  But I digress..

When I first heard the news that there was to be a new novel from the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, I was at first amazed, and then intrigued.  Harper Lee famously only wrote that one novel so there was bound to be a story behind this latest release.  There were news reports of people flocking to pre-order it.  Much as I was keen to find out more, I wasn’t so eager as to queue up in Waterstone’s. I read a little about the background to the new work. It was variously described as a sequel and a prequel. Hmmm. Then I read about how Lee was in failing health and the book was based on original draft manuscripts that someone had decided to release after all these years. Hmmmm. It sounded decidedly dodgy. But then I am a natural cynic. Was it dodgy or was it all part of the publicity? Was Lee re-evaluating her life’s work while she still had the chance? Or was she being manipulated for financial gain? I wasn’t sure. I let it sit for a while. Then curiosity got the better of me and I bought the book. But I still couldn’t quite bring myself to read it.

To Kill A Mockingbird is obviously a classic and regularly features in lists of favourite or influential books.  I read it at school. I can’t actually remember if it was on our curriculum or if I read it myself during a phase of reading similar genre books.  I remember racing through a trilogy on a similar theme, and read countless others dealing with the same themes or historical period of Mockingbird.  Those books were instrumental in me embarking on the path I have taken in life.  As a teenager, they taught me that inequality and injustice have been present throughout history, and still prevail in many places today.  They taught me that in order for us all to be truly free, all of our neighbours must be free.  They taught me about the notion of intersectionality many years before I knew the term or understood what it meant.  I went on to study Politics, then a did a Masters in Human Rights and have since worked in supported employment for people with learning disabilities, advocacy for young people with disabilities and/or mental health difficulties and now in a university disability service, ensuring equality of access to education for all. I can trace the foundations for my belief in this kind of work to novels like To Kill A Mockingbird.

I decided to re-read Mockingbird first.  After that I still couldn’t decide about Watchman. I didn’t want it to spoil Mockingbird for me. I got distracted reading a trilogy of Scottish books that my mum lent me, then decided to go for it.

Well, what did I think? Actually, I’m not entirely sure. I finished it last night. If it were a stand-alone novel, it wouldn’t be much good. However, I can’t imagine anyone reading it in isolation. So it only makes sense to judge it alongside Mockingbird. I know common consensus now is that it was a first draft of Mockingbird, but as it is set 20 years after the events of Mockingbird, it is natural to approach it as a sequel. Of sorts. It isn’t really a coherent novel. Well I thought it started off that way, but then literally lost the plot later on.

I liked the characterisation of Scout, now referred to primarily as Jean Louise. One of the reasons I love Mockingbird is how much I relate to Scout. I thought that when I read it as a teenager, and now I can also relate very much to an adult Jean Louise.  Scout / Jean Louise is the kind of female character I wish I saw more often. It’s all very well having “stong female” types but they tend to become one-dimensional in the writer’s attempts to continually prove their “strong” credentials. They lack personality, flaws and normality. Scout is a tom-boy who likes adventures, Jean Louise will stand up for herself in a world that values demure women, but we also see her vulnerable, occasionally feminine and self-doubting side too. The description of her train ride home is well written, you get the sense of who she is as a person, and it very much correlates with the Scout of 20 years previously.  My only gripe is that we never find out what Scout (I’m sorry, I can’t call her Jean Louise, she will always be Scout) is doing in New York. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think it ever says what she studied or what she is doing for a living there.  These are quite significant elements of a person’s life, especially when she has her internal debate about whether she can make a life for herself in Maycomb.  At one point she is told her talents would be required, but I’m none the wiser as to what these are, at least in a professional sense.

Unfortunately the novel looses its way somewhat in the middle.  It becomes disjointed, with large swathes of dialogue tenuously linked together.  The dialogue is lengthy, referencing Supreme Court decisions and local government functions that I had to go and google to make sense of. The dialogue often errs towards preaching, with extended passages espousing a character’s point of view on various topics, which become too long-winded and would have benefited from some serious editing.

Saying that, the language and characterisation is remarkably modern, considering it was written at the same time as, or prior to, Mockingbird. This is partly due to the point of view focussing on an adult Jean Louise, rather than 6 year old Scout, so there is less of the child-like vernacular. But even when the flow is messy, the brilliant writing of Harper Lee still shines through.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the ending. I’m not too bothered about spoilers, seeing as it has been out for a year now and a synopsis can be easily found on Wikipedia. It all centres round Scout coming to a realisation about her worldview, in relation to her father’s. I didn’t buy it. She’s 26 years old, has been living away from home through college and then work for, what 8 years? If she was 16 at the time it may have made more sense, but everything we have learned about Scout tells us that she would have soaked up everything that college and New York had to offer, and would have conversed and debated and argued with a multitude of people from all walks of life along the way.  I just didn’t believe that she made it that far in life without that “shocking” revelation dawning on her.

So on the whole I’m glad I read it. There are some great passages and it was somehow nice to find out how Scout turned out. Part of me wants another sequel set in another 20 years, to see where she goes next. It reaffirmed my love for Mockingbird and the character of Scout. There were also some good sections in the too-lengthy dialogue exchanges about civil rights and freedoms which are worth reading and reminding ourselves about, particularly relevant for current discourse on immigration and religious tolerance in America (and elsewhere) today. It didn’t spoil Mockingbird for me, I view Watchman as kind of a set of extra notes on Mockingbird, which enhance my understanding of it and accompany it nicely.  I will definitely return to re-read Mockingbird again at some point, I can’t see myself re-reading Watchman, but I’m glad I gave it a shot.