Tag Archives: Journalism

Saving Face: A life without Facebook

On December 28th, 2009, I pre-empted one of my new year’s resolutions and did something remarkable – I ditched my Facebook account.

For most people, this may seem decidedly unremarkable; it’s just a social networking site and you are free to leave any time, right?  Well, no, not really. Not once you are hooked.

Some of my profile pictures were getting ridiculous

I wasn’t just a casual user of the site; I was what could be termed an ‘avid user’.  In other words, I was getting horrendously addicted.  In just over a year I had amassed nearly 400 ‘friends’.  I would think up a status update when I was out and feel the need to write it down so as to not forget.

Then I discovered I could use Facebook on my mobile phone, and my every waking thought only seemed to be real once it appeared on my profile.  If it wasn’t on Facebook, it didn’t exist.

I took great pride in knowing that some of my friends would log on mainly to see my status updates, declaring them the funniest things they had read.  My ego loves a bit of polishing.

What I didn’t realise was that whilst there may have been a core audience of 30 or so people who appreciated my incessant banter, there were many more who blocked my updates or removed me as a friend because of the sheer volume of comments which had no bearing on their lives whatsoever.  So what if Stevie hasn’t been paid this month?  In fact, who the hell is he anyway?

My work in general was being impeded by the frequency with which I was returning to Facebook.  My daily thoughts were also needlessly occupied by it.  The excuse was that, as a journalist and general media type, I needed Facebook.  It was a vital tool in my armoury, I insisted.

During a long walk up the hills on what had been another miserable snow covered day, the peace and tranquillity of the landscape allowed my mind to put 2009 behind me and attempt to find ways to make 2010 the successful year that the previous 365 days had failed to deliver.  I knew Facebook had to go, for the good of my sanity.

Incidentally, the seed had been sown barely two weeks earlier, when a friend accosted me at my part time job (wine shop) asking, “Shouldn’t you be at home updating your Facebook status?”.

Dear Lord, had it really come to this?  I could no longer ignore the fact that more people now found my online omnipresence to be an irritant than a source of entertainment.  As soon as I got off that hill, I was hitting the cancel button.

Upon deciding to undertake this deletion process, the Facebook infected part of my brain started to bite back and immediately identified a total of 9 key areas of concern.  Here, in no particular order, are the problems I faced:

1)What about all the photos I have on the site, as well as great photos of me taken by other people?

2) Will my friends think I have removed them as friends, and how offended will they be?

3) Are there people who I am only in touch with through Facebook and how will I address this?

4) How will I publicise my work if I can’t use the links via the site?

5) Having 400 friends is very useful as a journalist.  How will I cope without these contacts?

6)Work aside, will I miss the social interaction of the site?

7) My work in music journalism relies heavily on the events and invitations through Facebook.  Will I suffer without these and thus be cut out of the loop?

8 ) How will I remember people’s birthdays?

9) What was it that led me to get so addicted in the first place, what need did it satisfy and how will this part of me react?

To deal with the facile ones first, people tend to tell you when their birthday is, so simply writing it in my diary will be enough.

Even unsavoury pictures of me stealing children from playparks made it onto the site

The ‘social side’ was replacing a genuine social life, where people used to leave the house to catch up with friends.  A return to this antiquated way of life will be most welcome.

As for pictures, well I prefer to live in the present and have never been one for pictures.  My mind remembers things for me; often more favourably than the original event, and that is fine by me.

If I am only in touch with someone because of Facebook, chances are they are not very close to me.  With my workload this coming year, my social circle is going to have to contract significantly, not expand, so this is an ideal opportunity.  I certainly didn’t spend £12k getting a journalism MA so I could expand my social circle.

As for the work related elements, such as the contacts, the events and the usefulness of being able to publicise my links through the site, I will have to wait and see how this pans out.  There are ways round these things, but many of them are long-winded and will probably cost me more time whilst being less effective.

Facebook is a very compact and concise site which generally functions very well for people with something to publicise.  My reasoning though, is that Facebook never put any money in my pocket.  I need to impress employers, not my friends and certainly not the distant misanthropes with whom I had the misfortune to attend school.

In general, and especially work-wise, it is far too early to know how my self-imposed removal will work out.  One of the earliest and most alarming outcomes, as well as the most surprising, was the number of close companions who could see no reason for my disappearance other than some catastrophic personal slight.

A fair number of people, including many who really should know better, sent text messages enquiring as to why I had ‘defriended’ them (a delightful new verb).  These, of course, are the ones who actually sent a text.  I can only speculate as to how many have simply taken umbrage in silence.

The final unanswered question brings me neatly to my conclusion: What was it that caused me to get so addicted in the first place?  Well, most likely it is my compulsive need to communicate constantly.  My career choice as journalist/radio presenter/podcaster seems to back up this assertion.

In fact, what is this article if not a replacement form of communication from a man whose life is no longer published via Facebook?

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My top 10 albums of 2009: Part 2 – The top 5

Following on from the previous post, here are the final five selections in my list of the top 10 albums of the last year, in descending order…

5) J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

More west coast americana here, this time from Seattle’s husky voiced Fleet Fox member J (Joshua) Tillman.  Vacilando Territory Blues sees him in typically thoughtful form, with the track ‘James Blues’ an example of his piano and guitar backed husky storytelling style.  ‘First Born’ is another treat on this album, which was one of two released in the last year and which peaked at just #191 in the UK album charts.

This album is patient, delicate and if you loved Bon Iver in 2007 but have been disappointed by his subsequent work, then Tillman’s your man.

4) Micah P Hinson – All Dressed Up and Smelling of Strangers

Hinson’s aching, cracked voice on swooping string backings have long since won me over.  My Fresh Air radio show and associated podcasts almost turned into a one man homage to the Texan with enough angst in his soul to make me cry.  This year though, he decided to release a double CD covers record, which I anticipated and worried about in equal measure.  Covers records are fraught with danger and I can think of very few which are actually any good.  However, in Hinson we trust…

The result was a mixed press, with many of my fellow bloggers panning the record, with his cover of George Harrison’s ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ coming in a for particularly hostile reception.  For me though, Hinson succeeds because he makes the tracks his own, rather than attempting to out-do the original.  He shows respect to the original recordings and selected them because they are songs he loves.  His cover of John Denver’s ‘This old guitar’ is my pick of the lot.  Covers albums will always be divisive and I would rather have seen an album of original Hinson material.  Still though, it is bloody good.

3) The Low Anthem – Oh my God, Charlie Darwin

A fairly new addition to my record collection, ‘Oh my God, Charlie Darwin’ has barely left the CD player since its arrival.  Incidentally, I don’t really like the title track or the album’s centrepiece ‘To Ohio’ (which the band seem to like enough for it to appear twice on the record), but once these two opening tracks are over, the US alt. folk trio’s album comes into its own with the superb Cohen-esque ‘Ticket Taker’.  There are more than a few nods to Tom Waits too, with ‘Home I’ll never be’ giving the writing credit to Tom Waits and Jack Kerouac (him again).

This album harks back to an America of old, but also deals with the contemporary issues to which its title alludes; namely the conflict between Darwinism and religion in modern America.

Having recorded the album in a desolate cabin (Bon who?), the band have recently acquired recording space in an abandoned pasta sauce factory, and regular updates from their new home are posted on their website.

‘Oh my God, Charlie Darwin’ is an album with no spaces in between the sound.  Rich and lush, with layered harmonies and a vast array of instruments, this is an album full of tales and imagery and is one I shall return to time after time.

2) Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More

So, all the bloggers get together to lavish praise on a little known act emerging out of London’s indie folk scene.  Then they become successful and have an advert on the telly with the dulcet tones of Jo Wiley telling everybody to buy it for Christmas.  No we are supposed to shun them yeah, cause they’re not cool anymore yeah, they’ve sold out yeah?  Well, no.

When I first heard ‘Little Lion Man’ in late 2007, I was blown away.  I played it on my radio show just about every week and stated then that if Mumford and Sons could back this up with some other memorable tunes, they would have an album to be reckoned with.  Well, they only went and managed that.  ‘Sigh no more’ is superb from start to finish and has rightly put them in the spotlight alongside fine scene contemporaries Johnny Flynn and Noah and the Whale, along with the somewhat questionable Laura Marling (who I saw put in a rather shockingly dull performance at Edinburgh’s Queens Hall a few months back).

‘Sigh no more’ has more plays on my iTunes than any other record and if their reward for success is a TV advert and more record sales, then I say well done.  More please more please more please…..

1) Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom

To be fair, any Tom Waits release is pretty much guaranteed to be my top album of the year, such is my love of the gravel-voiced man whose career has spanned nearly 40 varied and glorious years.  The only real problem came in 2002, when he released Blood Money and Alice at the same time.  The bugger…

Glitter and Doom is made up of live recordings from his European tour of 2007.  The pain of being too impoverished to see him when he came to Edinburgh will live with me until my dying day.  This album has gone some way to alleviating that pain, but in some ways it has only served to highlight what I missed.

Waits has always been a supreme live performer; part barfly crooner, part balladeer, part stand up comedian.  CD1 contains 17 live tracks spanning his entire career and Tom is on particularly grizzly form, even by his own formidable standards.  The jewel in the crown though is CD2, a staggeringly funny and insightful collection of his chat between songs, edited together and lasting 36 phenomenal, side splitting minutes.

Did you know you can get 14 omelettes from one ostrich egg?  Well, Tom does.  He also claims to have purchased Henry Ford’s last breath from Ebay.

True or not, thank you Mr Waits.  Yet again, you have made my year.

Having just turned 60, Tom Waits sounds as good as ever.


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My top 10 albums of 2009 – No. 10-6

Yes folks, after finally getting some time off from my various jobs, I too have cracked and felt the need to produce a list of my top albums of the last year. 2009 was the year I took my first tentative yet clumsy steps into the world of music journalism, writing for the Scotsman newspaper’s Under the Radar blog, covering unsigned and under-represented bands in Scotland.

Those just missing out on the top 10 include Blue Roses, Monsters of Folk, Bowerbirds and my pal from Glasgow going by the name Beerjacket (Although I doubt I make it into his top 10 either).

Here then, in descending order, are my top ten albums of 2009:

10) Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – White Lunar

This superb 2 CD selection of work from Cave and his partner in crime is comprised mainly of selections from film soundtracks, most notably The Assassination of Jesse James and this year’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. It is a soothing, classically influenced listen and couldn’t be much more different from their previous work on the ear-drum punishing Grinderman.  Cave also released another darkly hysterical book this year, entitled The Death of Bunny Munro and his performance at the Picturehouse in Edinburgh was far and away my gig of the year.  Proof indeed that no matter the genre, Nick Cave is capable of utter genius.

9) Bombay Bicycle Club – I had the blues but I shook them loose

Summer festival favourites Bombay Bicycle Club produced a really fun album that, whilst it is certainly the most mainstream choice in my ten, does not deserve to suffer simply because it became popular.  Far too often people in my line of work turn their backs on a band once everyone else catches on, which seems peculiarly self-defeating if the purpose is to bring bands to a wider audience.  2009 was certainly a great year for these guys and their album managed to be both intelligent and popular.  They deserve credit for both.

8 ) Richmond Fontaine – We used to think the freeway sounded like a river

An excess of Kerouac and Burrows in my 2009 reading list fuelled an interest in US west coast alt. country bands; a genre which is still going strong despite the dominance of New York acts on the international scene.  Portland band Richmond Fontaine’s 9th record sounds as spare as the pacific coast highways but has moments of homage to the Seattle scene which so flourished in the 90s.  It is a classic road album, rich in imagery and full of the kind of storytelling you would expect from lead singer and accomplished novelist Willy Vlautin.  Their best album to date, this is an involving and rewarding experience.

7) Withered Hand – Good News

Dan Willson, the man behind Edinburgh act Withered Hand, has been charming Scottish audiences all year with his shy demeanour and wry, quasi-religious pop songs.  In September he released the highly anticipated ‘Good News’, to an excitable local scene.  He is the classic example of the whole being worth so much more than the individual parts; his voice isn’t great and neither is his guitar playing (Neil from Meursault had to tune his guitar for him at one gig!). However, through a combination of self-effacing charm and lyrics which should be made into a book, Dan has produced a blinding album, aided by the production talents of Kramer, who has previously worked with the likes of Daniel Johnson, Low and Galaxie 500.

What will 2010 bring for Dan Willson?  I think he should write a book of children’s stories.  Very, very dark ones…

6) Small Town Boredom – Notes from the Infirmary

Paisley’s Small Town Boredom are not in the least the type of band you’d let you would play at a gathering of friends and are not the kind of band you’d feel comfortable passing on to a depressed friend, but whilst their music is what some would unfairly dismiss as depressing, I prefer to think of it as contemplative.  The duo have clearly been through some rough times, but ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ finds beauty in adversity and hints towards optimistic times ahead.  The tone is predominantly low key but builds to some pretty extreme crescendos, not least on the album’s standout track ‘World’s Most Unwanted’.  Never likely to break into the mainstream, Small Town Boredom’s aversion to playing life is also unlikely to endear them to potential new fans.  They deserve an audience though and anyone prepared to give ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ a few listens will be richly rewarded.

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In the spotlight – Beerjacket

Becoming a singer/songwriter, on the face of it, seems easy. Get a guitar, learn a few minor chords, let some feelings out.

However, once you have seen it done well, you realise how much talent is actually required. There is no hiding place when you do everything on your own, and there are few in Scotland right now who do it better than Peter Kelly.

Beerjacket, the name of Kelly’s homemade solo project, very nearly disappeared soon after it began. It started in 2004 “as a goodbye to music…a bitter farewell show”, after which he planned to stop for good. Thankfully, enough people liked the show to keep the project alive and, five years on, Beerjacket is still going.

Peter Kelly aka Beerjacket

Peter Kelly aka Beerjacket

Although he plays most of his live shows in Glasgow, Kelly says he can’t claim to be a Glasgow musician as he doesn’t spend much time there. Instead, “Beerjacket happens alone in a toy room in Lanarkshire,” he says.

His most recent album, Animosity, is a return to simplicity after Kelly felt previous work had become overcomplicated. The songs have the classic singer/songwriter appeal: simultaneously sad and uplifting. ‘Violent’ and ‘Drum’ perfectly sum up the honest tone of the album, whilst ‘The Gun’ is moralistic without any accompanying righteousness.

The album attains considerable diversity in its ten tracks too, especially on ‘Evil Air’, which adds colourful bluesy edges thanks to some neat slide guitar work.

The stripped-down, back to basics approach is certainly noticeable; Kelly describes his set-up as “one the most primitive you’re likely to find – acoustic guitar, vocal and foot-stomped tambourine”. The one-to-one feel of this minimal intervention policy gives his lyrics more immediacy.

There is also something hugely appealing about an artist who has decided to go it alone. As Kelly says, “I have opened for many of my heroes like Feist, The National, Kristin Hersh, Rilo Kiley and Arab Strap, released six albums and received airplay all over the world. And all this without a manager, PR, publisher, record label, agent or other band members to thank or blame.”

Kelly is also keen to praise those he has worked with: “I’ve been fortunate in playing with many of my influences. They have all inspired me”. The Second Hand Marching Band opened a show for him recently and also played along on a Beerjacket cover, which pleased Kelly to the extent that he forgot the words to his own song.

If comparisons are to be made, then the most obvious, in terms of style, seems to be Elliott Smith. But the tagline of ‘the new Elliott Smith’ has weighed heavily, usually unhelpfully, on many artists before. Kelly’s work stands alone perfectly well.

In a cluttered genre, Beerjacket has emerged as one of Scotland’s best singer/songwriters. Going it alone is a brave decision, but his work demands recognition. Wherever he goes next, it is sure to be well worth following.

The new Beerjacket album Animosity was released digitally on 8th June on iTunes, eMusic, LaLa and Amazon MP3. A limited edition digipack CD of the album will be in independent record shops soon.

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