Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Holocaust Memorial Day

In 1986 I went to Israel to work on a kibbutz. Back in the 1980s it was quite a popular thing to do on your gap year or in my case, a way of passing some time between leaving my job and starting back at college. I worked on kibbutz Messilot near the town of Beit Shean. It was quite a large kibbutz and I spent most of my 10 weeks working in the kitchen and cleaning the dining hall floor. Most of the other volunteers I met were from the UK along with some from Sweden, France, Australia and one guy from Hawaii. The only time religion was ever mentioned was when myself and another lad were in Tel Aviv and we were chatting to a couple of Americans who, when we told them we weren't Jewish, said to us, "What are you doing in Israel if you're not Jewish?" 

One day we were told that the kibbutz had some special visitors coming who we were likely to see in the dining hall. They were holocaust survivors and we were told to be on our best behaviour. I don't think any of us volunteers got to speak to these visitors but I remember walking past the table where they were eating and I saw a tattoo on one of the men's arms - the number he had tattooed onto his arm at whichever camp he had been at.

Just seeing that made it all so much more real. This was just over 40 years after the end of World War II and the holocaust was just something I'd read about or seen stuff about on TV. But here were people who had been through that hell on earth. Here was a living, breathing link back to the 1940s.

After leaving the kibbutz me and a guy I'd met there travelled to Jerusalem and stayed in the Armenian quarter for a few days before heading up to Haifa to get a boat to Greece. While we were in Jerusalem we went to Yad Vashem which is Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. What I remember most about it was that despite all the horrors you saw as you walked round, at the end you were left with a strong message that despite everything the Nazis did to the Jews, they could not kill their spirit and ultimately failed in their despicable 'Final Solution'. 

'Torah', cast bronze sculpture by Marcelle Elfenbein Swergold, Yad Vashem

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Celtic Connections 2015 part 2

A mix of some more of the bands, singers and musicians appearing at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. Eddi Reader has already done her gig but as it's Burns Night on Sunday I thought I'd start with a track from her album "Sings The Songs of Robert Burns". 

Ruth Moody has also been and gone having played as part of the Roaming Roots Revue and played support to Findlay Napier's Very Interesting Persons gig last Saturday. If I'd been more organised I would have included her in the show I recorded last week but better late than never. I've selected her cover of Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark'.

As well as his lunchtime gig on the 25th Ross Ainslie may also be appearing as part of the Treacherous Orchestra who are playing at the Concert Hall on Saturday the 24th. 

Eddi Reader - Jamie Come Try Me
Kris Drever - Patrick Spence
Van Morrison - Moondance
Kathleen MacInnes - Horo Boys
Ruth Moody - Dancing in the Dark
Ross Ainslie - Wedding Waltzes
Daimh - The Gannet
Kate Rusby - Fair weather Friend
Will Pound - Amazing Grace
World Party - Call Me Up
Nils Lofgren (feat. Ringo Starr) - Bein' Angry
Hayseed Dixie - Duelling Banjos

The Will Pound Band playing a track from Will's album "A Cut Above" -

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Celtic Connections 2015 part 1

With the annual Celtic Connections festival in full swing in Glasgow just now I thought I'd record a show featuring some of the bands and singers who are appearing between now and the 1st of Feb. 


Full details at celticconnections.com   Follow the festival on Twitter @ccfest

Fairport Convention - Walk Awhile
Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola - The Fairy Piper
Pauline Alexander - Fields of Gold
Patsy Reid - The River Princes
Dick Gaughan - Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
King Creosote - For One Night Only
Jamie Smith's Mabon - The Joy of Lowenna
The Nordic Fiddler's Bloc - Paella Grande
The Chair - The Hamars O' Syradale
Karine Polwart - Tinsel Show
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors - Shine Like Lightning
Skerryvore - Blown Away
Blazin' Fiddles - Joe Peter's
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman - The Whitby Maid

Friday, 9 January 2015

Off The Beaten Tracks 9 January

First show of the new year includes three tracks by Annie Keating, two of which are from her new album 'Make Believing' which is released on the 12th of January. In the press release it says...

"Co-produced by Annie Keating and long time collaborator, producer and bass player Jason Mercer (Ron Sexsmith, Ani DiFranco, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir), together they’ve captured a warm, cohesive, acoustic sound for the album, and from upbeat feel good opener ‘Coney Island’ onwards, the resulting songs are beautifully crafted and firmly rooted in the great Americana songwriting tradition.

Recorded at Atomic Sound, a beautiful studio housed in a Fire House in Red Hook, Brooklyn, just a few miles from Annie Keating's home, the majority of Make Believing was caught live in one weekend with the band - Trina Hamlin on harmonica, vocals and percussion, Chris Tarrow on guitars and pedal steel, Chris Benelli on drums and Jason Mercer on bass and the occasional banjo lick. Recording of the album was completed, with another short session with special guests the Abrams Brothers adding tasty mandolin, fiddle and acoustic guitar, and Matt Keating, with a few flourishes of organ and piano in just the right spots.

Since being talent spotted by Bob Harris in 2008, Keating has recorded two sessions for his prestigious BBC Radio 2 show, going on to perform at numerous national and international festivals including Take Root (Netherlands), Glasgow Americana Festival, the NJ Folk Festival, NXNE in Canada, NEMO and the Brooklyn Indie Music Fest."

I've also included Annie's cover of Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" from her last album 'For Keeps'.

Listen to the show at http://www.mixcloud.com/cmbertram/off-the-beaten-tracks-9-january/

Playlist :

Davy Graham - Don't Think Twice It's Alright
Annie Keating - I Want To Believe
Robyn Hitchcock - I Often Dream of Trains
John Mellencamp - The End of the World
The Rising Souls - Sail Along The Distance
Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Don't Cry No Tears
Annie Keating - Cowgirl in the Sand
The Willows - Daughter
Oh My Darling - Mister Guy
Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer - Dark Dark Woods
Tom Waits - Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You
Annie Keating - One Good Morning 
KT Tunstall - Gone To The Dogs
Angie Palmer - A Long Way From Paris

Saturday, 3 January 2015

'Not My Father's Son' by Alan Cumming

On the back cover of Alan Cumming's family memoir is a comment by Stephen Fry. He describes the book as “a shattering, compelling and extraordinary story”. It is that and much more. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of physical or emotional abuse, be it in childhood or in later life, will be able to relate to what happened to Alan growing up in the Angus countryside and the effect it has had on him during his adult life. There will undoubtedly be many glowing reviews of this book, and quite rightly so, but this piece of writing is, for me, a form of therapy in my own on-going battle with depression and anxiety.

In his book Alan mentions the therapy he has had over the years. His mental health problems started around the time that his marriage was on the rocks and he realised that some of his wife's behaviour reminded him of how his father had mistreated him in childhood. I could relate to one particular incident. Alan had been doing some gardening and became very uneasy when he became aware of his wife watching him, though from her point of view she was merely standing at a window looking out at him in the garden. This innocent act brought back memories of how his father would stand and watch him doing some task or other. This would usually result in Alan being criticised by his father for not doing the job properly and would be followed by some physical punishment. I thought this was a very good example of how memories from our childhood can come back to haunt us in later life.

I should say at this point that unlike Alan's father, my dad was never violent towards me. I can remember him losing his temper with me on the odd occasion but I don't think he ever hit me. But Alan's recollection did remind me of something that happened one evening when I was doing my school homework. Usually when dad got home from work he would open my bedroom door and say hello to me before going to his bedroom to get changed. But on this occasion he came into my room, stood silently behind me and watched what I was doing.

I was copying some text from a book onto a sheet of paper and became very nervous about dad watching me, so I took extra care and made sure I didn't make any mistakes. After what seemed like several minutes, but was probably less than one minute, he said to me, “Can't you copy more than just one word at a time?” Of course I could, I thought to myself, if you weren't standing there making me feel so nervous. He then left the room and I heaved a sigh of relief.

This may seem like a fairly insignificant incident but for a quiet, introverted sort of a kid like myself, it had an effect on me. It must have done as I can still remember it to this day, some thirty-five years later. Even now I cannot concentrate on doing something if someone is standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. I tense up and am convinced they are going to criticise me.

One sentence in Alan's memoir really jumped out at me: “But the thing about boxes full of denial and unresolved pain and hurt is that eventually... they explode.”

Since my initial breakdown in 2002 I have, on occasion, exploded. My therapist once described me as being like a jack-in-the-box. I have all this pent-up emotion inside me. This isn't just childhood memories but all the bad stuff that has happened to me in my adult life as well. If you don't have an outlet to get rid of these feelings, they just keep building up. Depression is sometimes described as being suppressed anger and there are times I feel so angry about life that it all comes flooding out. Admittedly, alcohol is sometimes the catalyst. It can be the key that opens the jack-in-the-box. And when this happens it is not just me who is affected by it but also those around me, especially my wife who has been through some moments of hell when I do my volcano act and erupt.

Therapy can help, as can medication, but at the end of the day these are just short-term solutions and you have to try and work through your problems yourself. Often this is easier said than done, especially when the cause of your pain is those who you feel should be there to help and support you. I'm not blaming anyone as that doesn't achieve anything. Sometimes people can be unaware that they are hurting you because they are so wrapped up in their own lives and have their own problems to deal with.

I imagine Alan Cumming found it very therapeutic to write his memoir. As he says in his book, there are times when you need to write stuff down. It makes it more real. If you let all the bad memories go round and round in your head or try locking them away in a box inside your head, you just end up feeding the black dog of depression and storing up trouble for the future.

But I did not have the sort of traumatic and violent childhood Alan describes in his book. Without wanting to give too much away about how his story unfolds, Alan and his brother did confront their father later on about the pain and suffering they went through at his hands and it must have been satisfying to have accomplished that as it brought a sense of closure to the events of their miserable childhood.

The title of Alan's book, 'Not My Father's Son', reminded me of something that made my therapist laugh during one of our sessions. We were talking about my relationship with my father and I mentioned a scene in the film 'Frankenstein' which starred Kenneth Branagh as Victor Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the Creation. Frankenstein had been lured to an icy cave by his creation but he meant him no harm, he merely had a question for him -

The Creation asked him, “Who am I?”
And Frankenstein could only reply, “I don't know!”