Song, by Toad

Archive for the Rambling category


I Stand With Sandi Thom (Sort Of)!


Is there anything which holds a mirror to modern society more than the gleeful cackling which accompanies any sort of public meltdown from any sort of celebrity, however minor?

Sandi Thom just posted a tearful, angry rant about Radio 2 not playlisting her new song, and the internet is having a bit of a field day. And for the first time in my life I find myself rather siding with Sandi Thom, actually – words I never thought I would utter.

Now, a bit like bands who post embarrassingly ranty ripostes to bad reviews and then are widely derided for their deluded sense of entitlement, I am not entirely sure I have all that much sympathy with people who put this sort of thing in the public realm. And of course the hundreds and thousands of bands who have only achieved half of what Sandi Thom has will be singularly unimpressed – you put something out there for the public to approve of or otherwise, and you have to face their verdict, that’s just the bargain you make.

But actually, as mockable as it was, what you saw from Sandi in her much-derided ‘Radio 2 didn’t playlist my brilliant song, the bastards’ meltdown is happening inside the little black, bitter, battered souls of every single one of your favourite musicians pretty much all the time.

A friend of mine called Euan Davidson wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian recently about mental illness and how much it impedes creative work, contrary to the popular stereotype of the tortured genius. Alanna McArdle, formerly of Joanna Gruesome, who Euan interviewed extensively for that article, was the subject of another article in the Guardian about the ruinous impact of touring on the wellbeing of people suffering from mental illness.

But one of the things that hasn’t come up too much is the absolute fucking emotional onslaught of actually releasing music at all – of just making any kind of music for public consumption – which must be one of the absolute hardest possible positions for a person with existing difficulties to be in.

I say this as someone lucky enough to have no such problems. In fact, I think I have a stronger sense of emotional equilibrium than almost anyone I have ever met, to the point that I worry from time to time that I might be a bit of a sociopath.

And I tell you what, even for someone like me, with a great upbringing, a happy family, a strong sense of myself, a loving wife and plenty of emotional reserves, this industry is fucking tough.

I am going to repeat that: seriously, it is really, really fucking tough.

And Sandi’s post shows pretty much why: death by the endless cuts of widespread public indifference.

She’s had a few slaggings in the past, based around allegations that her organic, internet-fuelled rise was not in fact innocent, but a well-executed campaign orchestrated by her management or label.

A public slagging, for whatever reason, is pretty tough to take, but much more common and still horrendously hurtful is the fact that most people just don’t give a fuck about something you’ve put your heart and soul into.

We aren’t famous enough to get a slagging from anyone, really, but we still have to face the indifference. Every time you excitedly put a song on the internet and pretty much no-one seems to notice, every time you book a gig you’re thrilled about and hardly anyone comes, every time you send out PR emails and wait forever for responses which aren’t coming, every time you scan the BBC playlists only to realise that basically no-one has played your latest release.

I get so wound up about this that whenever I sit down at my desk to do PR I am pre-emptively angry about the responses I already reckon aren’t coming. I get pissed off about people who listen to broadly the same music as we release basically just ignoring my emails or throwing the CD onto some infinite pile they are never going to actually dig through. It drives me insane, and I get intensely, spitefully angry before it’s even happened.

And I’m not even in a fucking band.

Imagine what it’s like standing up there on stage playing to hardly anyone, particularly in a venue you might have filled in the past. Imagine releasing your new creation, one you’ve slaved away on for months, maybe even years, and the world just collectively shrugs. And if you can’t imagine that, then imagine if you told your friends about it excitedly and they just went ‘oh right, sure’ and carried on with whatever they were doing as if you hadn’t said a word.

They can’t even be bothered insulting you, that’s how fucking worthless all that effort is.

And it’s constant, too. Bandmates not bothering to turn up for practice, labels not answering your emails promptly (one of which I am guilty), promoters not getting back to you, people not coming to the few gigs you do manage to book, no-one liking or sharing your song on social media, gazing forlornly at a dismally low play count on Soundcloud or YouTube… being a musician is just a constant, bruising assault on your sense of self-worth and I am fucking amazed anyone has the courage to stick to it.

Some people are hobbyists, I suppose, and don’t invest as much in it emotionally, and I suppose that might insulate them quite a bit. Maybe.

And some people just can’t really do anything else. A lot of artists are compelled to create. The myth of the tortured artist comes not, I think, from the fact that mental illness or emotional turmoil makes art better, but from the fact that a lot of people struggle to express complex emotions and are often driven to art as their best hope of getting something across about how they are feeling. And sometimes just the simple act of creation itself is enough.

So imagine being in that open or vulnerable state and finally putting something out and then no-one fucking cares. I am honestly amazed there aren’t more breakdowns. Or maybe we just don’t see them.

Now this sounds bleak as fuck doesn’t it, and there are a million tiny triumphs involved in this business too, and that’s what makes it worth doing. Every last bit of praise, exceptional mention on the radio from a presenter you respect, every busy gig surrounded by people who love the music, even just the strength of the friendships you forge from facing this together with your allies – loads of things make it not just worth it, but euphorically, joyously brilliant.

But that dark side is always there. The grim spectre of indifference, that little voice that stands on a musician’s shoulder nagging them that they might be fucking shit after all and should just give this all up and get a job in Asda.

I am one step removed from all this of course, as it’s not actually my own music the press and general public consistently show what I feel to be too little interest in, but all the tiny instances of disinterest still cut.

And when I see somebody, even somebody like Sandi Thom with whom I really have very little in common, crack like she did I have to confess my first thought is just ‘christ, love, I’m really fucking sorry and I think I kinda know how you feel’.

Despite the fact that I would kill for Radio 2 playlisting to be amongst the problems I have to tackle on a daily basis.


Toad Flake Paint Records Split 12″


As you may know, Song by Toad Records is a super-cool Brooklyn record label these days – well, for the next month or two anyway. We’ll be back to rather-less-cool Edinburgh in the new year. But anyway, for now: HIPSTERS!

Anyhow, I reckoned that one of the best possible ways to commemorate our trip was to record a Split 12″ with local bands while we were out here. My brother works in a recording studio and it seemed like a really good way to get involved with local music.

I have a couple of friends who are really into a lot of bands from around this part of the world. James from Passion Pusher and Tom from Gold Flake Paint have pointed me in the direction of a lot of great bands so I nudged them for a couple of recommendations and we soon came up with far too many bands to fit on one record because, well, whatever anyone tells you, there really is an awful lot of very good music out there.

Tom has his own label called Gold Flake Tapes actually, and we’ve talked in the past of doing jointly-promoted shows under an amalgamated Toad Flake Paint banner so… well, you can see where I’m going with this can’t you. This Split 12″ will be a one-off release on the newly minted Toad Flake Paint Records imprint, one sure to take the world by storm and become the great kingmaker label the world has been waiting for for so long.

Or maybe we’ll just make a record we both really, really like. Maybe just that, actually.

I went to see most of the bands in question during CMJ, which by sheer coincidence happened to take place the very week Mrs. Toad and I first moved over here, and it was a bit nerve-wracking to actually meet them in person.

I have a missing incisor at the moment, and a semi-inebriated, toothless Englishman lumbering up to a band after a show saying ‘hey, that was great, remember we talked about being on a record, well erm, want to be on this record we’re making?’ didn’t strike me as a great strategy for approaching people.

I never really make a good first impression on folk anyway though, and I have learned over the years that just not worrying about that and blundering on anyway in the hopes they’ll realise I’m sincere at some point tends to be the best approach. I’ve tried actually modifying my behaviour and trying to be a bit more subtle, but it tends to just come across as condescending and insincere, so I basically just went for it and hoped for the best.

It seemed to more or less work this time, I think. At least, everyone was really nice, if a bit baffled-looking at first, and a few members of the various bands had time for a bit of a chat and some basic planning.

One of the odder aspects of the process this time around is where it is actually going to be recorded.

See, the place my brother works over here is actually the National Opera Centre in Manhattan. It’s all entirely above board, but basically we are going to be faced with the somewhat bizarre scenario of waiting for all the nice grown up opera people to go home and then sneaking a bunch of pop bands in the back door to use the nice facilities after hours. It really is going to be an odd experience, but a fun one I think.

Because we are cheap bastards and refused to fly our normal photographer Nic Rue out for this one, my brother will do all the recording, I’ll do the photos and the video and then presumably we’ll mix the results between us.

Even though he’s a sound engineer who talked me through all my tentative early attempts at recording, my brother and I have never really worked together apart from an Inspector Tapehead Toad Session many years ago, so that too will be really nice.

Furnsss and Eskimeaux are on board already, and we’re just finalising the last couple of bands, but we’re nearly there and have recording dates down for late November and early December so far, so it’ll be a couple of months before it finally all comes together, but all being well we should leave New York at the end of the year with an amazing new record almost ready to go. Woo hoo!


Aberdeen Is Not As Shit As It Seems To Think It Is

union street from other end

I remember the first time I moved to Scotland and realising just how strong a taboo it was to actually say you were good at anything. That’s not something the English are especially comfortable with either of course, but it does seem that the further North you go the more likely some earth-shattering achievement is to be greeted with a noncommittal shrug and an inquiry as to whether or not you’d like another pint.

It was a bit off-putting at the start, learning to translate the full knowledge that, say, my German language skills were near fluent (which they were at the time) into ‘oh yes, I can speak a wee bit of German but it’s been a while’.

Once you get used to it, though, it’s really quite nice. And occasionally quite funny. If DaVinci were Aberdonian I am pretty sure the most you’d hear of it would be ‘yeh, ah fuck aboot wi paints sometimes when I can be ersed. Pint?’

Aberdeen is known as a bit of a shit-hole actually, but I am pretty sure that the main reason for that is not the town itself, but the fact that every time I go there all my friends apologise quite profusely for the fact that I felt the need to come up to Aberdeen at all.

It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s grey, because of the oil industry there is some of the greatest wealth inequality in the UK, the music scene is shit because no-one fucking bothers… you could paint it in a pretty crappy light I suppose.

The thing is, I first visited the place back in 1996 or so (I drove a friend up to start their new job and more or less the first thing we saw as we drove out to the complex was a field of sheep – hooray clichés!) Not all that frequently but nevertheless regularly I’ve been going up there for years now and on my latest trip, when once again my pals were apologising for me even having to be there at all, I had to stop them because it occurred to me that actually, I have never had a bad night in Aberdeen.

I mean, I keep going back, don’t I.

Contrary to that other great entirely bullshit Scottish cliché, they are some of the most generous people I know. Alright, there’s dicks everywhere, but Scottish people are generous as fuck and the further away you get from the fucking sphincter-clenchingly prissy middle classes of the Edinburgh New Town, the more people will go miles out of their way to help you out.

And this may seem like a bit of a tangent, but in fact, Rust2Rome has also been, erm, ‘enlightening’ when it comes to this particular part of the world. There are heroic exceptions of course, but the most legendary Rust2Romers seem to almost always be bloody Fifers or people from the North East of Scotland.

I suppose it makes sense. If you’re going to embark on a massive fuckwit escapade through Europe in a shitey car which may or may not start any given time you turn the key you are going to need a certain amount of stoic unflappability, and if that was an Olympic sport, every gold medal winner in history would come from the towns in and around Aberdeen.

They’re fucking mental of course. Just absolute blazing nut-jobs, the lot of them, but in the absolute best possible way. On the latest Rust2Rome one of the cars went on fire twice, and another didn’t start under its own steam for the entire trip and burned fifteen litres of oil. The drivers: Aberdonian (give or take a few miles). The response, a laugh, a shrug, a quick cigarette and get the fuck on with it.

This is a music blog of course, so I suppose I get to something like the point, inasmuch as I have one: what is the problem with the music scene up there? Well actually not all that much at the moment, which is sort of the point of this incredibly long and largely off-topic ramble. The classic criticism of the Aberdeen music scene was described thusly by a friend of mine a few years ago and I’ve run it past a few Aberdonians since, and they seem to generally agree.

Aberdeen is a very long way away from the rest of the country, especially the UK, but even most of the population of Scotland, so consequently no-one tours there. It’s expensive to get to and audiences are small. Because touring bands don’t really come through all that much, the local music audience tend to support their own, and look locally for the best music. The net result of this, however, is that the whole scene becomes very inward-facing so when touring bands do actually bother to visit Aberdeen, no-one goes, and of course that just makes them less likely to return, and the whole cycle become self-reinforcing.

But actually, if you look at what’s coming out of Aberdeen at the moment there is a really good collection of bands, so no matter how shit they keep telling you the place is, something is going very much right up there.

Take angry guitar music, for example. It won’t fill Wembley Stadium, but if you put Depeche Choad, Wendell Borton and Min Diesel together, that would be an excellent bill. Or alternatively, on the slightly more acoustic side, maybe Kitchen Cynics and Best Girl Athlete. Or the woozy electronic dreamscapes of Tryptamines. And that’s before you get into the ‘Aberdonian diaspora’ of the likes of Gerry Loves Records in Edinburgh, and bands like Lush Purr, The Yawns, DTHPDL and presumably countless more.

And to put the weirdness in perspective, Alan from the Kitchen Cynics just disappeared from our house when he came to play down here, wandered off into the haar over Leith Links, walked the town overnight and apparently got the first train back home.

Chemical Callum from Tryptamines is a concert pianist with an arm held together by half a dozen metal plates, who turned up in Edinburgh looking like the Levellers had turned to heroin, and then sat down and played the most beautiful piano to ever come from someone wearing a combat jacket.

Best Girl Athlete is a dad touring the world with his sixteen-year-old daughter during the school holidays.

I think Depeche Choad introduced themselves to me by telling me to fuck off, actually, although it’s all a little hazy. They really are all crazy, but somehow absolutely brilliant at the same time.

Glasgow is a magnet and tends to draw all the bands in Scotland into itself, but if you look at who is actually making the music, music in Scotland is not really all that dominated by the Central Belt at all.

I’d put on an all-dayer of this stuff of course, but the expense of driving six bands on a six-hour round trip would basically kill all hopes of not losing money, and therein lies the other problem: that distance makes it a serious challenge for bands in Aberdeen to get out and about and tour as much as they need to in order to get ‘out there’ to a wider audience.

There’s great stuff happening up there at the moment though, and I fucking love the place and the people. It’s a bit like London in the sense that you just have to develop a total blind-spot for the wankers, but if you do, then you too can develop that perfect tone of voice that lets you say ‘nah, it’s shite’, but secretly mean that a weird part of you loves the place for reasons that you can’t really be bothered to explain.


Willard Grant Conspiracy Mix Terror


(All photos by Nic Rue)

Alright, the word ‘terror’ might be somewhere in between a mild and a total exaggeration, but erm well, ‘moderate anxiety’ doesn’t seem to quite cut it as a headline in these ‘what happened next just broke my heart’ days.

I am not exactly what you would describe as an expert recording engineer. In fact, apart from the fact that I have actually recorded and mixed several things which have been released on a real record label (admittedly, just this one, but hey-ho), I am not really a recording engineer at all. When you’re recording bands who barely have more than a few demos that doesn’t seem to matter as much. That’s not meant to sound disrespectful, but they don’t know what they’re doing, I don’t know what I’m doing, and we all accept this and try and make music as good as we can as best we can. A fair deal.

Of course, in the last few years as I’ve become more experienced and more confident I’ve recorded some rather more established bands, and in almost every case mixed those recordings as well, which is a different kettle of fish altogether. You are expected to be a professional, at least to an extent. Initially it was just Toad Sessions, but recently it’s been for record releases with relatively well-established musicians that I know and admire. David Thomas Broughton was probably the first real example of that, on the third Split 12″. Jonnie Common and Sparrow & the Workshop were there or thereabouts too, albeit mitigated by the fact that we were already friends, which makes everything less scary.


Even more recently – i.e. last week – I invited the Willard Grant Conspiracy into our warehouse in Leith to record for our fifth Split 12″ (the fourth isn’t out yet, I know, but it is recorded and mixed so keep an eye out). Nothing is absolutely cast in stone just yet, but it looks like they will be joined on the record by Micah P. Hinson, the Kitchen Cynics and Tissø Lake, which is fantastic. Kitchen Cynics and Tissø Lake might be slightly more recent discoveries, but I’ve loved both Micah and the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s music for years, and I suppose that could be a terrifying thing for someone as inexperienced and inexpert as I am when it comes to audio engineering.

Fortunately, though, for some reason that sort of thing doesn’t really worry me. I don’t get flustered by meeting people whose stuff I really admire, which is something I am pretty grateful for, particularly given the industry I work in. There is definitely a worry about the basic mismatch in expertise with the Willard Grant Conspiracy particularly given that David, who played viola on these songs, actually recorded and mixed their (brilliant) last album himself, but well, why worry about that. It’ll be a learning experience, and they are really nice guys and I am pretty certain that they’ll be happy to extend me the patience to arrive at decent mixes in my own time.

In fact, sometimes it’s actually easier to mix for people who seriously know what they are doing. I remember doing Jonnie Common’s stuff for the last Split 12″ and thinking what a fastidious little fucker he is with his own recordings, and how painstakingly well-crafted his music is, and it made me very nervous. And in fact he did come back with all sorts of mixing notes. The difference, of course, was that precisely because he does know exactly what he’s doing, those notes were clear, precise, and once I had gone through them all they gave him exactly the mixes he wanted. So a lot of notes, fair enough, but only one iteration on the mixes was needed, which was brilliant.

So no, what gives me the anxiety is not actually any of this kind of stuff. I am relaxed about this sort of thing and the Willard Grant Conspiracy are decent guys, so no real stress there.


The worry is actually much more practical than that: it sounds so very good already, I get the feeling that 95% of the things I ‘might’ do whilst mixing it can only make it worse instead of better. The setup was Robert on vocals and acoustic guitar, with Jonah and Dave on cello and viola respectively. They play with a lot of empty space, and music that sparse gives me the jitters because it just feels more sensitive than a three piece rock band.

When all that’s happening in a song is a deep, sonorous bow of the cello then that sound has to be absolutely right or it will be really painfully obvious. And when the sound of everything is all basically spot on already it takes a very subtle and discreet touch to really make it ‘sing’ (sorry), and the risk of clumsily announcing your own amateurishness, particularly by overdoing it, is rather nerve-wracking.

When I first started to mix stuff I remember talking to my little brother about it, who is a professional sound engineer, albeit in a rather different field. I said that I had no idea what I was doing and would have no idea if I had done it right, and his response was pretty awesome. Basically he said that I listened to loads of music and therefore if I liked the results and thought they sounded good then they were right, end of conversation. You love this stuff, and if it sounds right to you, then that’s as right as it has to sound.

Obviously I go back and forth with the bands on any mixes I do, and will accept any and all feedback, but that bit of encouragement still sticks with me. Don’t worry, it’s music. If it sounds about right then by definition it is right.

So as long as I remember not to try and do too much and to let the actual playing and the sound of the room speak for themselves, I am hoping should be more or less okay. But it’s still really intimidating sitting there with these gorgeous, minimalist recordings, worried that every last tiny little thing you do to them will stand out like a sore thumb.

But, as I told myself when I started to learn to drive, there are plenty of way dumber people out there than me who can do this stuff, so fuck it, if they can do it so can I!



XFM’s ‘Radio X’ Rebrand Makes Me Fucking Ashamed

menz God if I ever I felt like bellowing NOT ALL MEN into the skies, without a hint of irony, it is now. It’s like listening to Hamface Cameron giving a speech and thinking to yourself ‘I really hope the next time I meet someone who is unemployed or even slightly foreign they realise I fucking despise this clown’.

There are, admittedly, very very few disadvantages to being a middle class, cis-gendered, heterosexual white male, but here is one I can suggest. If you are not a middle class, white, etc etc etc, then who ‘speaks for your people’?

Most of the time when I see someone being held up as a shining example of modern feminism, or as a towering cultural force in the black community, or an important voice in the battle for transgender rights they seem to be pretty awesome. Intelligent, courageous, articulate… you know, the kind of things which should get someone held up as an example or an inspiration.

The kind of twat who tends to stick their head above the parapet and speak for ‘my people’ seems to be almost uniformly awful.

What am I talking about? Well apparently XFM is rebranding as Radio X, “the first truly male-focused, fully national music and entertainment brand for 25-44 year olds”. Yes, seriously, that is an actual quote from parent company Global.

“Great Britain needs great banter and I can’t wait to be back on air five days a week” – Johnny Vaughan

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Nothing could really make that sound any worse, could it? I mean, for fuck’s sake, if you were to distill what makes middle class Britain utterly fucking hateful I think you would end up with something somewhere in between the two sentences above. All printed across a big picture of Johnny Vaughan, probably. Or Chris Moyles, who they’ve also recruited.

But actually, it gets worse:

“The new national station promises to be home of “the world’s freshest rock and guitar-based music playing the biggest songs from these genres”. Regulars on the playlist will include Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Maccabees, Radiohead, Nirvana, The Smiths, Royal Blood, Kasabian, Catfish & The Bottlemen and Kings of Leon.”

It’s Thom Yorke and Kurt Cobain I feel most sorry for. Well, and John Kennedy.

But truly, short of making me listen to the skittering of an army of hungry spiders as they tracked me down and devoured me one tiny nibble at a time, I can’t think of anything which would be more guaranteed to make my ears fucking bleed than listening to this station. Perhaps one of Yvette Cooper’s campaign speeches. Or maybe anything George Osbourne has ever said.

I think I’d even rather listen to my wife whisper over and over again in my ear for all eternity that she was leaving me for Ashley Cole by whom she was five months pregnant.

This is basically the Jeremy Clarkson of radio stations, isn’t it. It’s as if they asked what we all hated about him so much, distilled it down to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Kings of Leon, and decided to broadcast it twenty-four hours a day like the paralysing venom of those wasps who devour you from the inside out. David Cameron keeps fucking talking and because of the effect that Johnny Vaughan introducing Florence and the Machine has had on my central nervous system I can neither change the channel, cut off my own ears or even summon the energy to bite down on my emergency Ian Duncan Smith cyanide capsule and just end it fucking all.

And almost as bad as this stuff actually existing in the first place, is who they seem to think wants it. Wait a moment, I am middle class. I am white. I like mostly guitar music. I am heterosexual. In fact I am sooo very heterosexual that I like football and fast cars and can’t fucking dance. Hang on, are they targeting this banal, smug garbage at me? If I was any sort of minority whatsoever I would be right on the phone to… well, someone anyway, but who ‘speaks for my people’? This lot, apparently.


When even the well-educated, white, middle class, cis-gendered, heterosexual etc etc etc… men are toe-curlingly embarrassed at people thinking they need more shit dedicated just to them, and that this is the kind of dismal, vacuous shit that we want, then maybe we have gone far enough down this particular cultural cul-de-sac and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to consider one or two other options.

Y’know, just p’raps.

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Back to, Erm, ‘Normal’ Then


Hello folks, well I am back in my office now and, well, as ready for business as I ever am.

As you can imagine, Rust2Rome was absolutely incredible. I am not going to go on about it too much, as I already covered it plenty on my Tumblr site so if you are interested here are all the posts tagged with R2R so you can see what we got up to (in reverse chronological order of course).

Anyhow, back to business. We have a gig coming up on Saturday with the awesome Songdog, Aberdonian prodigy Best Girl Athlete and Edinburgh’s Grayson King. It’s a fiver in, and will be fucking ace.

I have packed away our camping stuff for a little while, and Bette is quietly resting. She hit the 280,000 mile mark on the way back from Paris, and I reckon with Rust2Romania and a wee trip to Norway in the Autumn she might just hit 300,000 this year, which will be cause for celebration indeed. Tough old bird that she is.

One of my favourite aspects of Rust2Rome was the way every so often someone would have a wee peak under the bonnet to confirm that actually, no, she really did just have a 2L, four cylinder Volvo engine under there. There were no mods and there was no V8.  Snigger. She’s just driven by a fucking lunatic that’s all.

Anyhow, as I prepare to commence the serious business of record labelry once more, here are a couple of highlights from the mixtapes I made to go away with. Fucking TUNES!



Rust2Rome T-Shirts – The Crapper the Car the Greater the Glory


First off, sorry to the music people, but this post has absolutely nothing to do with music. Secondly, sorry to the Rust2Rome people for making you come to a site which is all about music you probably hate just to buy a t-shirt, but I wasn’t sure where else was best to put this.

But in short: I have made some Rust2Rome t-shirts (navy with white print) and hoodies (blue with *kinda* silver print) with a scribble of the Black Pearl and the motto “The Crapper the Car the Greater the Glory”, which you can buy below if you fancy.

I’ll be back on Rust2Rome again this year, in Bette once more, doing the Swiss Alps route and then again on the veterans Rust2Romania trip as well, and Mrs. Toad in all her glorious indifference will be with me on the second one. I’ll be coming to the leaving parties too, so I’ve broken these down into two categories: I can post you the shirts out, or if you’d rather save the postage I can just bring them to the leaving parties and hand them over – just let me know in the Paypal comments when you complete the transaction – there is an option to send a message to the seller.

I am sorry the buttons look such a fucking mess, but Paypal embed codes and this site seem to absolutely hate one another.

Anyhow, if you want me to just hand-deliver them, use the Paypal buttons below:





And if you’d rather I just posted it out to you, then use these ones:





And here are a few pics:


I Think I’m Starting to Suffer From Fucking Stockholm Syndrome

pimms It’s funny how these things go in circles. I am not actually all that English. I have dual nationality (my father is Canadian) and was raised in Austria and Singapore. My mum’s family are all English, but I have lived there for no more than about seven years of my adult life, and a lot of that was in London, which doesn’t especially feel part of England really.

I’ve always embraced a lot of the English sides to my heritage – football, music, stuff like that – but I grew up in a time when the Falklands war, bacon-faced football hooligans and Maggie Thatcher also represented England and given that Canada is about as politically innocuous as anywhere in the world (although don’t look too closely at the current government when you say that) and that Vienna was my home at the time, I never thought of myself as particularly English when I was growing up. In fact I was actively fucking embarrassed by the English people at my school who kept going on about baked beans and god knows what and even singing Rule Britannia at times to express just how wonderful things were back in Blighty. We lived in fucking Vienna, for fuck’s sake, how can you possibly pine for fucking Nottingham or wherever the fuck it was when you live in Vienna?

The only thing which really ‘turned me English’, funnily enough, was moving to Scotland. I don’t know where I got my accent from, but I suspect it was the BBC World Service. In our last couple of years at school a lot of the kids rather inexplicably affected American accents and that irritated me so much I very determinedly turned away from it, and I think the only real alternative influence I had back then was probably listening to the football on the World Service. That’s a guess, but it sounds plausible.

Anyhow, when I moved to Glasgow to study at age eighteen I was introduced to the ‘English Cunt’ school of Scottish hospitality. Partly, I suppose, because I was well into my football but also just because that’s how it seemed to work in Glasgow, I was just English. For the first little while I would answer that hyper-aggressive ‘hoi you – are you fucking English?’ question with a factual response. ‘No not really. I’ve never really lived there and I’m half Canadian, but I was actually raised in Austria’.

That wasn’t the point of the question, of course. It was just good old-fashioned Scottish racism. And don’t give me that shit about ‘prejudice + power’ and being a Western white man I can’t possibly be the victim of racism, because when you sound like I do and you’re in a pub in a ropey part of Glasgow watching an English football match on the telly surrounded by people pricking their ears up at your accent you’d be straining credulity to suggest that I was the one with the power in that particular situation. It wasn’t especially bad most of the time, but there were definitely times when it was very oppressive and some where it was actually pretty fucking scary.

And as I assume a lot of people who have been mocked, attacked or just generally singled out for something they can’t really change will tell you, it makes you jumpy about everyone, even in a small way, but it also has a habit of cementing your relationship with whatever it is you’re being singled out for. English? Fucking English? Yes, fuck you I’m English, what are you, fucking Sherlock fucking Holmes. Getting constant hassle for being English made me defiantly embrace my English side, even though it was never something I really identified with before.

Anyone who listens to the podcasts regularly will know I still hold onto a couple of the sillier stereotypes I ended up embracing during that time, but that’s kind of what it does, I guess. You either start apologising for something you can’t do a fucking thing about – and being abused for being English when you aren’t really English is downright confusing – or you tell people to fuck off and refuse to apologise. You embrace their stereotype as a way of telling them that you will not be fucking ashamed of it.

Now I am not claiming to be a serious victim of persecution here, or that I suffered especially. One or two rather hairy moments aside, the whole thing was at its worst just really annoying. The only reason I even bring it up is that having been sort of forced into Englishness by the Scottish, I rather oddly feel like I am now being rather forced into Scottishness by the English.

I mean, I’ve lived here far longer now than I have anywhere else, I’ve made my home here, married a Scottish woman and contributed far more to Scottish cultural life, and have in turn been more enriched by it, than I have anywhere else. But I am still pretty clearly not Scottish.

But listening to the increasingly venomous anti-Scottish rhetoric coming from the UK establishment, which flickered into life during the referendum but has become something of a blaze since it became clear that No prevailing during the referendum didn’t exactly constitute a pledge of obedience, I find myself with that same old feeling of ‘fuck you, we’ll vote for who we fucking well please, thank you’. ‘We’. It’s a different issue this time, and of course #notallglaswegians and #notallenglishmen etc etc but I think my reaction is the same thing deep down.

I voted Yes in the independence referendum, as you probably know, but I find it depressingly revealing, if hardly a massive shock, that the Westminster establishment were desperate for Scotland to remain part of the Union, but equally horrified at the idea that we have any say in how that union is actually run. How is the SNP being a partner to a minority Labour government any more devoid of legitimacy than the countless fucking Tory governments who decimated the North of England and fucked up the lives of people who never voted for them, or the Tories propped up by the Ulster Unionists way back when, or anyone else having a party involved in government that they didn’t vote for – like the Lib Dems in the last government. Or like, say, the Tories, who run the UK despite having about as much credibility across Scotland as the Monster Raving fucking Loony Party?

And the question I am asking is not about whether the SNP are good, bad or indifferent, it is simply about watching the two major British political parties telling all of Scotland that their entirely free and fair democratic choices are somehow worthless, illegitimate or seen in some way as dangerous or devious. I know this is just political posturing by the Tories to reclaim the UKIP vote, or Labour to woo the centrist and business vote by asserting their neoliberal credentials, but the net result is the two main parties telling a whole country to basically fuck off.

And suddenly with all this hostility towards the democratic will of the same people whose democratic will gave them what they said they fucking wanted back in September – in which case aren’t we supposed to all be one big happy family these days – I find myself developing this really weird sense of defiant Scottish identity. As anyone who read my post about why I was voting Yes will know, patriotism is not something I respect very much. You can love the place you live or were raised or whatever, and I do both, but go much further than that and you are in the territory of reverse racism – thinking that where you just happened to be born makes you in some way special.  Or of what Doug Stanhope characterised as taking credit for a bunch of things which had nothing to do with you. Or as a friend of mine said, claiming some sort of weird ownership of a portion of land which existed for millennia before you and will exist for millennia more after you are gone, and which in any case is inhabited by millions of other people with just as little right to claim it as you, and who may think of it entirely differently.

But the worse the screeching from the press and the mainstream politicians (and, god forbid, the fucking comments sections of the national newspapers) gets, the more I find myself referring to Scotland as ‘we’. It is our democratic choice, not yours, and if you didn’t want us to have a fucking vote in your fucking country you should have encouraged us to fuck the fuck off when you had the chance.

Mind you I bet if I go to watch the footie in Glasgow again anytime soon I’ll probably still get called an English cunt.


Nic Rue’s Cyanotypes and the Napier Photo Collective

Moth Cyanotypes from nic rue on Vimeo.

You all know Nic Rue, right? She’s the awesome photographer who does a lot of our Toad Session photography and all the photos for the Split 12″ series (123) we’ve been releasing over the last couple of years. Well she’s coming to the end of her degree course and has been doing some absolutely gorgeous work with cyanotypes, which you can see in the video above.

Moths fulfil a similar pollenation role in nature as bees and butterflies, and they are apparently as endangered as both of those as well at the moment, and for much the same reasons. I have to confess I had no idea that this was the case, but raising that awareness is one of the central points of Nic’s project.

The group she’s part of – the Napier Photo Collective – are currently raising a very modest sum of money to help them exhibit at the Free Range Gallery down in London. You know, the usual stuff like renting materials needed for the exhibition, transport and accommodation costs. All the crap which makes it so expensive for our bands to travel to London to play, basically.

You can contribute to this by going to their Indiegogo page and chipping in, and I hope you will because, well… nice people doing good things.

Napier Collective @ Free Range 2015: IndieGogo Campaign Video from Jo McClure on Vimeo.


Thicke, Gaye, Apple, Darwin… I Don’t Think Many People Understand How Creativity Actually Works

copy After the Robin Thicke and Marvin Gaye court case was settled this week it reminded me of something which has niggled away at me since my days as a design engineer, and that is that I don’t think the general public seem to really understand how innovation and creativity actually work.

Thicke and Pharrell lost the case, effectively having to cough up half the profits generated by their adorable rape song, for the crime of ripping off Marvin Gaye. It didn’t directly copy, apparently, but it had ‘the same feel’, and that was enough for them to be adjudged as having exploited Gaye’s creativity unfairly. And as I understand it Pharrell and Thicke were the ones who pre-emptively sued the Gaye family too, so it’s hard to have a shred of sympathy for them, but the verdict still doesn’t sit well with me.

Put as simply and briefly as possible, innovation is copying. The two are pretty much the same thing.

Not only are copying and innovation the same thing, but they are a crucial part of what makes humans humans. The ability to imitate the success of others and to pass that on to other people is the foundation of our entire culture and every advance in technology or knowledge in our history. The tiny incremental changes some people make in passing things on are ‘innovation’, and they are important, but inseparable from the importance of copying and imitation.

In fact, the definition of innovation used, until very recently, to be more along the lines of ‘making a small change to an existing idea’, instead of now, where it seems to be almost synonymous with invention.

I remember this very clearly from my product design career. In the field of technological innovation the myth of The Lone Inventor has a powerful hold, and I think the same myth distorts people’s understanding of the arts too. There was also this weird inability to see past the almost entirely fictitious Eureka Moment, generally achieved by a solitary person whilst in the bath thinking of something totally different, where they would solve the whole problem in a moment of clarity and change the world forever.

That image is total and utter bollocks. It’s like we’ve all collectively forgotten the cliché about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Sometimes clichés exist for a reason.

You look at the greatest creative minds of our time, like Charles Darwin or Mozart. Even Mozart borrowed (or indeed just plain stole) elements of melody for The Magic Flute and presumably all sorts of other stuff, and the discovery of evolution with natural selection was made so inevitable by the progress of global scientific thought which preceded it that it was actually discovered by at least two people at the same time. Probably more, if we’re being honest.

The Lone Inventor pretty much doesn’t exist. The Eureka Moment pretty much doesn’t exist. All of human creativity, innovation and progress is overwhelmingly down to people copying from one another, making tiny changes, and those changes which are most beneficial surviving to be copied by the next bunch of copiers. Had Mozart never existed we would still have had incredible symphonies. Had Einstein never existed we would still have discovered relativity – it’s the very banality of the creative process which makes it so robust. A log becomes a wheel, which becomes a wheelbarrow, becomes a cart, becomes a carriage, becomes a car, becomes a flying Delorean.

“Although the impact of creative ideas and products can sometimes be profound, the mechanisms through which an innovation comes about can be very ordinary.” – Robert Weisberg, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. The quote is taken from this really interesting essay on the nature of creativity.

The technology industry is totally obsessed with capturing patents, to the extent that they celebrate and reward the patenting of pretty much anything no matter how pointless or whether or not it results in a useful device or product, to the extent that they will trumpet the number of patents they hold above any mention of actually creating something useful.

In fact, far from signifying any kind of creativity, patents are generally just used as a commercial tool to hobble the competition and as such are basically there to hinder creativity and progress rather than encourage it. And to make matters worse, patents are frequently awarded for things which are complete and utter bollocks. Things which are way too obvious, way too broad or vague, or are just plain common sense or common knowledge are awarded patents all the time.

It was a fucking minefield, honestly, and when I think about the amount of time I have personally wasted trying to think of needlessly circuitous ways to circumvent stupid patents, or just to be absolutely certain that something was miles away from a particular patent, well beyond the realms of common sense, out of fear of lawsuits, it makes me want to smash my head against my desk. It was anti-innovation, and the creative industries are in danger of being sucked into this particular quicksand too, if we aren’t careful.

Art is based upon imitation. Pretty much everyone learns by imitating their heroes, and if they don’t directly learn that way then they’ll get round to it at some point. We have established forms of poetry to which people choose to conform, Western music uses all the same basic building blocks, and some of our most respected artistic output and beloved cultural achievements are in the sphere of folk culture, which is pretty much defined by liberal copying, plus mistakes and fucking about. That’s what makes it good, what makes it fun, and that is where its richness comes from.

Some of our most respected musicians’ creative contributions were pretty minimal, if you look at it. Billie Holiday is a legend, but all she did was take the voice she was born with, hone it, and use it incredibly well singing other people’s songs again and again – existing material. And she is revered. And I can’t think of anyone who would argue with her right to be so.

John Louis from Debt Records and Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six has written a really nice post about how impossible it is to disentangle your influences from what you yourself create, as well as the near-impossibility of creating anything genuinely new within the relatively narrow confines of Western pop music, which is incredibly rigidly defined in scope and structure.

We’ve been here before of course, with the hand-wringing over mash-ups and samples, and there is a very real problem behind the idea of unfettered freedom of copying, imitating and repurposing. If some unknown musician writes a great riff or a great chorus which a commercial juggernaut like, say, Beyoncé or Chris Martin happens to hear in a pub and they then steal that riff, they could make millions off it without ever having to acknowledge the contribution of the person they are nicking it from.

You could argue, and I think it’s a dodgy argument but not entirely without merit, that if that unknown artist can ride the coat-tails of the success of the people nicking their riff or their melody then they might be adequately recompensed by an entirely free market – after all, without the marketing machine and resources of the Coldploncé machine that riff itself didn’t have nearly as much commercial value anyway. I appreciate that argument, but I don’t buy it entirely.

But we have to remember that protection is supposed to encourage creativity and innovation to flourish. And if it is to do this we need to understand how this stuff works. We need to copy and we need to imitate, not because sometimes it’s okay or sometimes it’s unavoidable, but because it is at the absolute core of the concept of creativity. Copying and sharing are the mechanisms by which innovation works, and participation is the engine which drives them.

We may well need legal protection for original thought in order to keep people participating, in order to keep the engine of creativity running, but if we try to do it by destroying the mechanisms which that engine is powering then our efforts will be entirely self-defeating.

I dread to think of musicians deliberately hobbling their own work out of fear it might sound a bit too much like this, that or the other and that they might therefore get sued. And then getting sued anyway because someone they’d never heard of wrote something similar back in 1964, died ten years ago, and now Universal own the rights. It works like that in technology development and it is a complete waste of time, energy, resources and ideas. And we all know who would dominate in that kind of landscape, don’t we: the fucks with the meanest lawyers and the deepest pockets.

If we don’t step back from this completely misguided fairytale of artists creating entirely original work in a complete fucking vacuum then we run the very real risk of severely paralysing the creative process across our entire musical culture.

Still, it was nice to see that smug prick Robin Thicke finally getting telt, wasn’t it.