Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scots Wahey!

As far as I’m aware I’m pretty much Scots on both sides, ancestor-wise, with some suspected German thrown in with some distant relations and if you delve back far enough the ‘son’ bit at the end of my surname suggests something Danish, maybe brought over during a Viking invasion. But without either documented (and both families are pretty well covered post-landfall in New Zealand), then Scotland’s my default ‘ancestral home’. Nice culturally, not so great for international Rugby tournaments.

I am observing St Andrew’s Day, a concession I make partly for the above, and partly in defiance at the enduring saturation coverage St Patrick’s Day gets – a festival of a figure of the church perpetually observed by all-day drinking and questionable boasts about one’s ancestry. I’m no hypocrite, so that’s not for me thanks. I am a little sad the holiday isn’t observed as greatly over here or outside Scotland – it’s not as though both countries haven’t had similar stories to tell over the years with internal warfare, repeat invasions, clearances and extreme disenfranchisement leading to great diasporae and desperate journeys abroad to new opportunities, diving families utterly (it's only been in the last fifteen years my Dad has reconnected with relatives in Aberdeen). I do wonder whether culturally the Irish have it over the Scots in the US, and like Halloween we here in the Antipodes defer to the big countries in these observances. The other influence may be the most telling of them all; early last century St Patrick’s Day was made an official public holiday in Ireland, while as recently as the turn of this century my dour brethren back ‘home’ voted to acknowledge their day, but not as a holiday as that would necessitate the removal of an existing day off in its place. Something about national stereotypes plays in my mind here…

Anyway, there was a brief flowering of Scots identity in the Nineties with a spate of celebrated movies based on Scottish stories old and new. Braveheart kicked things off, and Trainspotting brought modern Scotland to the big screen, followed by Rob Roy, Plunkett and Maclean and lesser projects which inspired author Irvine Welsh to lament the trend and dub the movement “Jocksploitation.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly comics got a look in as well, when in the pages of the Judge Dredd Megazine new script droid Jim Alexander created his own spin on Mega City One's lawman with Judge Ed MacBrayne in Calhab Justice, a tongue-in-cheek exploration of Scottish identity in a future Caledonia that has become a dumping ground for nuclear waste, its best and brightest lawmen are snapped up by Brit-Cit, and the remaining population have reverted to savage clan-based feuding, while behind the scenes a civil war with CalHab's southern neighbours is formenting. The series is not fondly remembered, and Dredd's 'father' and fellow Scot John Wagner has elected to ignore the whole thing, as did latter writer (and fellow Scot ) Gordon Rennie. Well I liked it - not all of it, but there was a lot more to the story than the wayward tale it wove in its short life. They were fractious times for the Megazine though, and though a trade is still nowhere to be seen, I have the feeling a more flattering collection might change a few minds.

For what it's worth, here's my interpretation from a while's back. Now I'm off fer a wee dram.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Prologue to History

Shortly after completing the main run of Talkin' Eds I began looking around my music collection for a follow-up. I was looking for something different this time - something... alternative?

In the end there were about three or four contenders - some local, some from overseas, and of the three Manic Street Preachers made the final cut. Job half done, I set about planning my journey through their discography - and that's where I came unstuck.

Unlike Iron Maiden, I don't have a long history with the Manics. And unlike the Chills I don't have what you could call a local affinity with them - I've never even been to Wales. Or outside London, for that matter. As a band they are still something of an unknown to me, although I first started properly listening to them around fifteen years ago (ouch). They struck me then as they still do now as a little difficult, particularly their early material. Serious - earnestly political lyrics, soaked in intellectual references that are far beyond my pretty mundane arts degree background, and to top it off, blatantly from a different background. They may be my age, but their political and cultural references are in many ways quite a different beast, and so attempting an objective overview of their material output - especially when there are some formidable and scholarly versions of this online elsewhere, seemed like a hiding to nothing.

And yet, at the final hurdle I took a step back and thought about my place as a listener, of the challenge to hear the meaning behind the music, and my reaction to the big events of their long history (the band is 21 years old now.) No matter how much of a challenge it might set, the history of the Manic takes in a lot of my interests over the same time - literature, history, UK culture, popular culture. Taken as a reactionary journal, how hard could it be?

I'm going to find out, anyway. The Manic Street Preachers released their second singles collection earlier this month, signalling an intended hiatus - perhaps a retirement of the group. Right now seems as good a time as any to begin their story (and mine) from the start.