Scoville Units Unite

10 Mar

Necromunda Novels

In preparation for the re-launch of Necromunda, I went hunting for a bunch of the associated novels. They were generally available as e-books for £6 each, which was their original cover price! I managed to find a chunk of them from online sellers for £6 or less, ignoring the ones that were silly money – if I enjoy the ones I now have I will go for the electronic versions.


I started with this having trusted an online guide which appeared to show it as novel 1 instead of novel 2 in the series. Not that it makes much difference but as they are slightly related it’s disappointing.

The protagonist is Mad Donna, one of the iconic characters from Necromunda. A former noble, then ganger turned bounty hunter. Her name is a clear nod to the origins of the almost cyberpunk dystopia, a parody of the 80s view of it.

It’s certainly a fun read, but I would hesitate to call it good. The story itself is a decent enough romp, and the narrative structure is very good – each chapter broken into current timeline, flashbacks, dream sequences etc, which both coalesce together well enough. I had been disappointed it didn’t give a great introduction to the world but me mistaking it for novel 1 probably explains that. I think the greatest problem though is the series of unbelievable circumstances where only her superior skills at everything could possibly manage to get out of, and where that’s not the case it’s deus ex machina time. Time and time again. You never really get the feeling that this lone person wandering the underhive is actually gonna be in any danger that will result in capture or close death. This is even lampshaded from time to time talking about the number of times anyone else would have died a hundred times over etc.

I had read it assuming it was from the original release time of mid-90s and tried to read it with that mindset, that it was aimed at teenage boys then and would probably reflect it. Woman running through hive fighting to the death with numerous people, I expected her to be called a bitch every so often etc. I had to check though when towards the end there was a different slur used, which I can’t find on a scan-read through, and it was published in 2005. It was certainly one I wasn’t expecting and one which although teenage boys may have used was pretty unacceptable then and especially so now.


I started this thinking it was the second book in the series. It gave a great introduction to the Hive and seemed connected to the Survival Instinct. I then checked and realised it was the first, d’oh!

Zefer Tyranus is a curator for one of the Noble spire houses, a sort of researcher/librarian and the first few chapters focus on his daily life as well as giving hints as to the underhive. He then descends into the underhive, and there are a series of adventures here. It’s all a bit of a rambling mess though. Maybe it was the big rammy very shortly after passing over from the Spire which soured me. The poorly written connection between all the antagonists and their conspiring. The Goliaths being portrayed as unintelligent is expected, but the gangs leader not knowing the name of a Spire Noble House is a bit out there for pushing that line.

The book is ok, not great, and the end seems rushed. When I checked, it was 251 pages. Exactly the same length as Survival Instinct, and 2 pages short of the next one I have queued up. It definitely felt like it was going at a decent pace to lay out the intricate plot then just finished in whatever way the author could to hit the word count/deadline/whatever.

This was a shame, as the core premise and introductary chapters had the feeling of a Discworld novel, with Zefer as a wizard and the Delaque spies skulking around as the assassin guild.

I was also partially soured on it as these books arrived alongside Christmas gifts etc, once I checked they seemed to match description ok I put them away and only dug them out in February to read. This one had been described as Former Library book. Shows definite wear, and perhaps considerable marking on inside.. It was a library book and had the sheets etc in it stuck to front pages, fair enough. When I got into it I realised 7 pages had horizontal tears in them going almost to the spine. I hadn’t noticed when it arrived so it soured me a but on the experience. Maybe e-books would have been better after all.

So overall my impressions of a couple of books on the background of Necromunda is meh. I have a couple more in the pile, but probably won’t review except to star them on Goodreads, unless they surpass my expectations. I’d say not to bother with them unless you really want to read everything you can about the fluff. Even then electronic is definitely a better route than second hand based on my experience!

12 Jan

2017 In Music

I realised I hadn’t written a look back at the year in music yet, after I did so in 2016.


Gig wise the only bigger gig I got to was The Smith Street Band in Glasgow, which was great, as expected. There was of course the brilliant Book Yer Ane Fest 2017 too. There were a ton of smaller gigs, and unfortunately a bunch I couldn’t get to.

New Releases


Black Volvo ‎– Bad Driving, fast as fuck dutch punk, pure braw
Broken Social Scene ‎– Hug Of Thunder, a surprise release after 7 years of silence from a great band, 2002s You Forgot It In People is still one of my favourite albums.
Fresh ‎– Fresh, London punks who are grand, singer has an utterly beautiful voice.
Great Cynics ‎– Posi, enjoyable, but their previous record is probably better if you were to get only 1.
Hard Girls ‎– Floating Now, good indie album via Specialist Subject.
Idlewild ‎– Hope Is Important, debut album from Idlewild saw a re-release on vinyl.
Idlewild ‎– 100 Broken Windows: re-release of the second album by Idlewild on vinyl. Has my favourite track of theirs on it I Don’t Have The Map. I made Idlewild my next band to try and complete collection of, so now need 4 albums and 2 singles to have their entire catalogue on vinyl.
Alice Marra ‎– Chain Up The Swings, Alice Marra from the Hazey Jones with an album of covers of songs written by her dad Michael Marra.
Onsind ‎– We Wilt, We Bloom, album number 4 from one of the best duos in the UK. Folk punk about poverty and exclusion.
Prophets Of Rage ‎– Prophets Of Rage, supergroup effort by members of Cypress Hill, Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine which unfortunately didn’t manage to escape their musical styles of the last 20+ years, which is good, but didn’t achieve greatness.
Public Enemy ‎– Nothing Is Quick In The Desert, there was also a surprise free album release by Public Enemy. But it’s pretty poor.
Rainer Maria ‎– S/T, if discovering Save Ends wasn’t enough, Rainer Maria also returned with a new album. They also keep doing awesome stuff like putting up live performances online.
The Smith Street Band ‎– More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me, I have no idea how this band stay being consistently great. Saw them in Glasgow live in a tiny venue for the nth time, whilst they were sitting at number 3 in the Australian album charts. One of the most underrated/overlooked bands in the world. Fans of Neils dugs too.
Terrafraid ‎– Contentment, top boys fae Dundee who make you smile whilst singing about things that make you sad.
Throwing Stuff ‎– Fit, Fine & Well, pretty good hardcore album.

EPs and other stuff

Burnt Tapes ‎– Alterations, pretty good melodic punk.
Forever Unclean ‎– Float, Make That A Take knocked it out of the park with EPs this year, and this was one of them.
Goodbye Blue Monday ‎– The Sickness, The Shame. There are no words good enough to praise this release. Probably EP of the year, and pushing for best release of the year.
Tragical History Tour ‎– Come On Home, Hero, Deeker was too busy putting on loads of shows to put out an album so treated us to two EPs this year. This one is about the fucking trainwreck of Brexit.
Tragical History Tour ‎– Old Words, there’s also a video for this one in which I may, or may not (definitely can) be seen, as well as tons o’ ma music loving’ pals.

As you can see, a substantial amount of releases last year I bought were via Make That a Take and Specialist Subject, so I have got season tickets for both this year.


The fascinating documentary So Which Band Is Your Boyfriend In? was released after their fundraising campaign 3 years ago. It’s well worth the watch, exploring the experience of women in the music scene.

Music I discovered

Pale Angels, grunge band who I caught at a gig in Dundee at the end of 2016 but must have missed off last year.
Save Ends stand out as the band I discovered this year, utterly amazing in every way.
Shit Present, a band I took a chance on with Specialist Subjects moving sale. Featuring the singer who used to be in Great Cynics.
We Grow Beards, digging through old emails I found a reference to these guys from years ago and had forgotten about them. I immediately grabbed a bunch of stuff off bandcamp. Folk punk band doing songs about working class movements, recommend this album.


I’ve found Discogs invaluable in tracking what music I have. I have tried to use it to rate the music I have, as a guide to re-listen to it all, so that I can definitely make an effort to clear out the stuff I don’t like. I’ll definitely do this. Definitely. I managed to listen to all my vinyl albums and have been listening through all my CD albums. So far I’ve submitted almost 200 new releases that weren’t on it. I still have to go through my CD singles, rip them and check they are the correct submissions on the site too. I’m mainly loving this as in the 1990s I uses a spreadsheet of my own which I would print out and take to record fairs etc.

26 Dec

Reread: The Shadow Of The Seer – Winter of the World Part 6

The Singer and the Sea is the sixth and final book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and a semi-stand alone book.

See reviews of

Book 6 is a stand alone book set another unspecified number of years, but thought to be around 1000 in the appendix, before books 5 and 6. Character wise it can be read stand alone but there is so much built on the mythology of previous ones I wouldn’t think it would be a good idea. There is an appearance of some of the Powers from previous books and I suspect some of these characters may have been mentioned in throwaway lines in previous books and then expanded upon here but I don’t know for sure.

It tells the tale of a Seer amongst people in fear of the Ekwesh, although it is on the Western continent (Asia) and the people described as fighting the Ekwesh are clearly part of the Ekwesh in the previous 5 books which were set later. Alya is a young teen in training with his father when their hamlet is attacked by Ekwesh . He uses the power of the mask to transport himself a far distance and ends up near a larger and more defended location. Here he encounters a cruel spiteful boy called Vansha and the daughter of the headman Savi. There then follows an attempt by Vansha on Alyas life leaving him with no feeling in his legs, and an attack on that village. Ilmarinen intervenes and gives Alya superhuman strength. He then departs on a quest to find and save Savi, with Vansha at his side.

Their quest is lumbering, and encounters numerous people all of whom throw barriers in their way. Nightingale is the most ridiculous of these. I started this book in around May and then finished it around Christmas. I found it so difficult to pick up and read and actually enjoy. I don’t know if he ran out of steam, or I expected something different, or if it was the shift to the other continent. The details of the abuse that Savi suffered at the hands of the Ekwesh, shifting to the trials of Alya the superhuman and his band of hanger-ons just wasn’t enjoyable to read.

The world mythology isn’t really advanced much, there’s a lot of focus on a Seer trying to ascend the wall, there’s reference to the winged bird-human disguise that Louhi adopts later in the series. There’s the mask enabling the wearer to transport themselves vast distances, but nothing like the amount you learn later on. I thought it would show some lost knowledge a bit more. In previous books the geography of the world was explored and expanded on and referenced again, here it is written to be thrown away. The fauna doesn’t take as many giant leaps as in the other books even though it was set before so could have had some thought from the mythology of the set-later books, with one deus ex machina exception. The duargar who were only rediscovered in the earlier books, this would have been a good opportunity to find out about them. Perhaps it was they who left the writing encountered in a few places which was indecipherable.

If you have read the previous 5 books then read this one, but other than that I can’t really recommend any reason to give it a go, which is disappointing. I hope the fluff in the now-published role playing book is better than this anyway, as that may add itself to the queue.

04 Dec

Book Yer Ane Fest 2017

I’m sitting recovering from another weekend of Book Yer Ane Fest, which yet again is the best December event to celebrate.

For a variety of reasons I won’t go into I couldn’t get to MotionFest or the first few BYAFs. The last one I missed I was so annoyed about it I deliberately avoided looking at any info about it at all, and then later found out that Beauty School Dropout had reformed to play it! To say I was gutted is an understatement. Luckily I got to see them play again supporting China Drum a couple of years later so that’s all good. To make up for lost time I think I’ve been the first punter through the door the past few years too at BYAF.

Every year the fine fowk at MTAT organise the event and raise money for good causes at the same time. Previously this was for a local water safety charity, and this year it was split between Young Minds, Addaction, Insight Counselling and Royal Life Saving Society. No idea how much was raised this year but it’s normally a four figure sum anyway.

As well as seeing a host of bands I know of and new ones I haven’t heard of there’s then the chance to dig through random distros and see interesting stalls.

Friday was a wee bit more chilled than the rest of the day with a single line up. Deeker opened as THT and then Tim Loud followed. I hadn’t seen him in a while so it was great remembering some of his songs. Question the Mark closed the basement show with one of their three sets of the weekend. Abertay then opened with Thee Rag N Bone Man – a one man band with a fuller sound than some bands. AVAS next, who I always confuse with Avast! and then get sad they are no more. Get It Together hosted a rammy as per usual. Bird Law followed them and were fantastic. I always love BYAF in that there’s gonna be some gem I haven’t heard before who I love. Last year it was Slowlight, this year Bird Law were one of the great new ones. Stonethrower were the last band I saw and it was so long since I had seen them it ended on a high note.

Saturday was a bit disjointed, and although I understand why there was a split over multiple venues, on Friday it worked well with no overlaps. When the biggest downer from a fest is that there was too much on so you missed some then that’s a great negative to have though. Unfortunately when having to choose between Please, Believe and Elk Gang, I saw Elk Gang last year and can’t even remember last time I saw Please, Believe. Lost Love were great, and it was weird seeing a band who had travelled so far be on so early, but Tongue Trap who followed them were the other new-find of the weekend. That I’ve spent most of the year listening to mostly Rainer Maria and Save Ends probably tells you why I loved these 2 new-to-me bands. Cherym who followed were great as were Coral Springs. Throwing Stuff were a good hardcore band and I think the poor staff in Hideout were regretting their shift. PMX were tremendous as usual, but now the two shows in Abertay were getting out of sync so I was having to cut off one band to see the other. If anyone was trying to also fit in going to the other venue it must have been frustrating to see 1 set every hour. Carson Wells were as good as ever, and a reminder that there’s a bunch of bands I basically see at Fest and never any other time. I was getting pretty tired by this point so held out for as much of Murderburgers as I could before I caught all the Kaddish set. Kaddish, as they do every year blew away every other band no matter how big or small.

By Sunday I was pretty knackered. The day started with the Curator podcast interviewing the MTAT crew, followed by the blues of Holy Snakes powered by DoubleDenim and then Gone Wishing to make everyone full of festive cheer. I got to Abertay in time for VFLambda. Andy Thomas Dust Heart was as good as ever, then Veto were so so good. I recognised one of the songs but can’t track down where I heard it from, I thought it was the Dammit Presents compilation but must be some other random place. Billy Liar was as polished as he ever is. Slowlight were next and having been the highlight of last year they didn’t disappoint. They have recorded an album which they are trying to find money to press and having bought a zine and got a copy of their album can confirm it’s gid.

Goodbye Blue Monday are a band who’s previous 2 shows I missed, but loved the record they put out. They started with a talk by Jo from the Samaritans about the work they do before playing the EP and some other songs. Highly recommend checking them out. Totally not a metal band Fat Goth followed with Fritz looking like a king-sized Kenny. Unfortunately catching the end of them then meant I missed some of the THT full band. I had gotten confused seeing Kev from Broken Stories with gear earlier thinking I’d missed them on the schedule but he was playing in THT. So I was relieved I hadn’t missed them but sad when I realised I wasn’t seeing them at all. Pretty knackered at this point I knew I wouldn’t last til Terrafraid and Kimberley Steaks so called it a night/weekend.

Now I’m working through a pile of the records and trying to recover from a physically draining weekend. I always find myself both emotionally recharged in some ways but drained in others after BYAF too. So much going on, I don’t know how the small group of fowk organising it cope for the 3 days in Dundee and 2 days either side in Edinburgh and Glasgow. But given how great the weekend of music always is and how full of long-term friends, new friends and friends you haven’t made yet I hope it keeps happening.

15 Aug

Change the Record

Given I have finally started making a go of sorting my music collection out I was thinking about why I like vinyl so much. This may be appear disjointed a bit as no matter how I try to construct it, going forward in time, backwards or listing format by format it is all so interconnected that something feels out of place, or tries to reference something before or after it. For that I do apologise in advance.

The 80s

Growing up in the 80s I remember my parents and most people whose home I visited having this kind of stereo set up.

Normally a single unit, or with a turntable on it. Analogue dials, the ability to play records, cassette tapes or tune into the AM or FM radio. Your TV station had 4 channels (that alone probably ages me well). Your remote control was asking my sisters or I to change it. We’d press down one channel and that would pop out the button for the previous one. VHS and Betamax weren’t a thing yet. People bought different weekly magazines with TV listings as there was no red button to check. Teletext and Ceefax were the closest thing you had to the internet we know now. And no one had cable (Telewest etc), or Satellite TV yet (neither Sky, BSB nor BSkyB). You hooked up your home computer – Speccy, Commodore or Amstrad up through an RF cable to probably a 14″ portable TV. Or maybe even a Master System later on. I also remember an aunt having a small 10-12″ Black and White telly as their bedroom telly.

I say all this just to put in context that looking back 30 years it really was a different way we interacted with entertainment.

And that stereo set up, next to or under it were little storage boxes for cassettes and underneath was normally a row of records. These would no doubt follow a sort of bell curve with the bulk being from when your parents were teenagers->having first job and then tailing off to having the occasional new one there. Probably some 45s kicking about too. Usually with some terrible one hit wonder (I seem to remember Joe Dolce Shaddap You Face being in my parents collection).

Later I remember CDs coming along, and the one uncle who had a substantial collection of them also having LaserDiscs in his cool home set up. A whole wall of separate media items, amps, tuners, players of various sorts and catalogued videos and the like.

I seem to have memories of owning a really small portable radio with a CD player on top, and it being rubbish. A portable cassette player and then later the awful portable CD players.

The 90s

At college I managed to get a hi-fi system with separate components.

This kind of thing. Amp, graphic equalizer, Radio, Tape deck and turntable with big powerful speakers, I bought a CD player to go alongside it. This was the ideal set up. At the time the shops were full of single plastic shelled units – if your CD player broke, then good luck you had to go out and replace everything. My current set up uses still uses that same graphic equalizer. I set it up with my TV on a desk with speakers either side. My PC next and the stereo on a unit alongside. With Playstation etc plugged into TV. I also had the Playstation and PC hooked up to go through the stereo. Every Sunday afternoon I would tear down the stereo, clean it all and reassemble taking care to untangle the cable mess that had inevitably appeared.

My music collection was growing with both CDs and records, the occasional tape if it was the only thing I could find a particular album or single on.

We had heard of this new thing called MP3. This was great. WAV files were huge and my hard drives were 4.3GB then 20GB. You had to rip a CD as WAV, which would normally rip at 1 or 2X speed. Then you had to drop the individual file into another program which converted to MP3. You chose 64bit or maybe 128, but never higher as the files were too big. Later you may buy some CD-Rs at about a pound each, and a failure rate of about 1 in 5. You’d then burn about 10 albums as MP3s to a CD at 4x speed. I say this in so much detail so you can put in context downloading an album off a site like bandcamp today where you select the format and download it faster than it took to eject and insert the CD-R.

Hopefully I have now contextualised the different formats I grew up with enough to debate the merits of each of them alongside my memories and interactions with them. I have experienced all of them on great and terrible set ups.


Cassettes had always been a bit rubbish. The memories of tapes being chewed up or the tape becoming dirty. The switching of sides, fast forwarding and the click at the end. The occasionally badly designed album where about half a side was wasted so you had to sit for ages skipping to the end to swap. The jamming mechanisms. The only merit I ever saw was the use for saving programs from the C64 and Speccy. I think my strongest memory of a tape is Dek sitting with some cover tape from a Speccy mag and fast-forwarding through a stereo to a program that was the fifth one on it of 7. The learned audio cues and wasted mental energy we must have had. As well as the time spent! Having to spend 10minutes loading a game, losing and then reloading again. The utility of the format was clearly great but the single way to interact with it makes it feel awkward.

No matter what set up I heard cassettes through, from car stereos, to home stereos, portable players or whatever the sound quality was always terrible. As it leads into the next section, the artwork was almost universally awful, small reproductions of the larger versions used in other formats. Normally the folds at the corners and the thicker plastic there interfered with reading tracklists and so on. Not a great experience.


Trawling Grouchos and Record Fairs, as well as the occasional trip through to a store in Cockburn Street in Edinburgh which stocked hip hop imports was how I acquired records. I used to go through all of Grouchos vinyl about once every six months. Ah those mornings with no classes at College were great. This was in the Overgate Store era (roughly bottom of escalator near loos in current building?). So a bit less stock than they currently have. Vinyl was how you found DJ promos of hip hop singles or older punk records which weren’t really around. Basically anything pre-90s that hadn’t been popular enough to be reissued on CD at the time or possibly even still has not been.

I always loved the massive artwork and huge liner notes normally with the full lyrics. How else do you learn the real lyrics to songs pre-internet? I remember picking up Rap Is Really Changing by Mucho Macho which I had never heard of, as it was 50p or a pound and just had an awesome graffiti piece on the front. It’s actually pretty good and I’m glad I took that chance on it.

At the time, records were becoming scarcer. People were ditching collections after upgrading to CDs. High Street shops were shrinking space or removing it altogether. I remember Virgin having a wall of it. It dwindling down to 2 metres of storage and then up to 4 before I left. All of it by then singles, with the very occasional album. The 7″ was reduced to a part of a 3 disc set alongside 2 CD singles in an effort to mask the dying singles market. Bands would occasionally have 7s on their stalls when touring but barely ever 12s. Why hump around boxes of them in the back of the van when you can store 5 times as many CDs in the same space?

Even at the time I found this disappointing. I don’t think it was even because of memories of records as a kid. I think I had two 7″ flexi discs, one from the He-Man fan club. It was because a format I had grown to love was seemingly going away. I had heard lot’s of people complain about the quality of the format, how CD was better because it was digital. I don’t know what they were talking about. Vinyl played on a bad stereo sounded bad. Uncared for vinyl sounds bad with scratching, popping and hissing. Skipping tracks or being stuck on a track even. But vinyl on a good stereo sounded better than CDs on a bad stereo. I rarely noticed the difference between the two on my good set up.

There was just something about playing vinyl though. I have heard people describe it as like a Japanese Tea Ceremony. You take that giant piece of artwork and remove a record from it. Remove the inner sleeve and spin via the edges to locate the correct side. Place on the turntable and grab a cleaning cloth to wipe it. Place the needle at exactly the spot on exactly the track you want to listen to and sit back to hear it. Once it finishes you pick up the record and flip to the other side and repeat. Just the way you interact with it feels like a level above the crudeness of a cassette where you press a button and the reel moves, with all you see changing is the spool rotating.

This physical interaction with the medium, directly at the location where sound is stored on it is what allowed the birth of hip hop. The fascinating documentary Hip-Hop Evolution has some of the pioneers demonstrating how the created the sounds and techniques which enabled hip hop to be created. It would not have been possible if CD or cassettes were the only formats available.


As someone who grew up as a teenager in the 90s, CDs should really have been my bag. I should be writing this about how great they are and it sucks that digital audio is replacing them.

But CDs were kind of similar to cassettes, in that your immediate impression when picking it up and looking at it is the artwork is a miniaturised version of the proper artwork which was on the record. I think the main saving grace of a CD album was the booklet was usually thick with loads of photos and the lyrics included etc. The disc itself always looked great, if bland. This modern piece of technology which is smooth on each side, at first glance appears an upgrade on a record with its physical grooves you can see with the naked eye instead of a microscope.

The CD single is what generally clued you in to the flimsiness of the CD. Generally being in a very thin, easy to break plastic case, with a thin booklet with tiny writing on the spine, or in a flimsy cardboard sleeve. It definitely appeared to be a cheap downgrade on the 7″.

When I first bought CD singles, it was things like Busta Rhymes – It’s A Party which was 99p and contained 6 tracks. Just a couple of years later, the CD single was £2.99 or even £3.99 and had 3 tracks. Maybe a video of the single if you were lucky. That would generally need you to install some horrible software like RealPlayer or Quicktime though. This, amazingly led to a drop in single sales, so you now got CD1 and CD2, each containing the title track and 2 B-sides, remixes, live tracks or other album tracks. So now you could be paying £8 for 5 tracks when three years earlier you paid £1 for 6. This might highlight one of the overlasting negative impressions of the CD single. Not of the format itself, but of the marketing and promotion of the format.

The Album? Instead of the 8 or £9 I had seen when I started buying music, it was £15 or £16. For people interested in pop music they would be getting the 2 songs good enough to be singles and 8-10 filler tracks. The industry, understandably started to die. Why? The musos cried! It must be online piracy. No other possible explanation for it. The ability to download a single track over the course of an hour was the only reason people could have stopped buying the product we are trying to sell.

There was a bonus to the ability to rip CDs to MP3s at now quicker speed. People would do so then sell their albums on the day of release for £5-6. You could quickly build a larger collection of nearly new items.

During this period CD promo singles were a thing. Normally in weird or different packaging, sometimes with different tracks to the released versions. I collected loads of these for 50p-£1. There are a couple of artists – like Fun Lovin Criminals, where I had pretty much all their singles on vinyl, CD and as a promo of some form.

But there were a number of problems with CDs. The first was that yes, when you get a brand new one and play it it could sound great. But over time, dirt, scratches etc would accumulate and the disc would be trashed. There is another similar issue which I thankfully haven’t encountered called CD Rot. This is where a chemical reaction inside the disc caused the data layer to deteriorate and become unreadable. The promise of the perfect medium to replace the poor vinyl had not been realised.

There was another more serious problem though and is the one which led to the misconception of CDs being a superior format full stop. When records were being mastered for being released on vinyl the audio experts involved would place the tracks in a particular order due to the closer tracks as you got to the centre of the record. No such care was taken with CDs. As the data was all 1s and 0s it was irrelevent. This on the face of it seems great as the artist can present their work in whatever way they intended. But albums would be mastered without taking that care, and then pressed onto vinyl. Leading to horrible audio quality on the vinyl release. So someone comparing the two would, unsurprisingly, wrongly conclude that CD sounded better.

The audio engineers took advantage of another feature too. Those all in one plastic units which I disliked. They generally came with giant subwoofers as part of the speakers because for pop and dance music it would be cool to play the music as loud and with as much bass as possible. This led to what became known as the loudness wars. The illustration on the article shows it perfectly. Originally a track had the volume changing as the song continued. Due to digitally remastering it it’s essentially a block of noise. The sound quality was awful.

The record execs looked at the plummeting sales and again realised the only possible reason was piracy. Not the shit product they were presenting to the public.

Digital music

Seeing their falling sales, and trying and failing to stop online piracy the music industry for on board. Firstly with things like iTunes. The ability to download AAC files which at the time only played on Apple devices didn’t really appeal. Eventually the iPod became to dominate the market, beating superior products like the superior iRiver which could play MP3s or the even better iAudio which could also play FLAC.

Skipping over needless boring details, eventually we got to today where bandcamp provides you with a range of formats and you can throw up a track for free or provide a download with your CD too.

This in itself was a gamechanger. If you bought vinyl you were stuck with a physical medium. With a CD you could also rip to an audio file to archive, back up or play on another device.

The ability to include download codes with physical releases changed things again. My bandcamp collection is almost 200 releases. Some I have bought online, some were free and others came with physical releases. No more did you have to sit down and decided to buy a release on a format and pick CD so you could have digitial audio too. Vinyl started to have a resurgence. This has pros and cons. One of the cons is the backlog at the small number of manufacturing plants. Some bands resorted to releasing cassette versions of their material rather than wait months in an order queue to have it pressed. The tape comes with a download code.

There’s also what I normally call the Phoebe Potential issue. This is from an episode of Friends where Phoebe becomes upset that trees are being chipped so aren’t fulfilling their Christmas Tree Potential. People are buying records and never playing them – just downloading the music or displaying the artwork. Now admittedly I do that with the very small number of casette releases I have bought in recent years but that is because it means I no longer need that tape deck component and wouldn’t enjoy listening through it anyway.

I’m currently archiving all my CDs as MP3s. I can’t be bothered with the extra space needed for FLAC or similar formats. But the MP3s are 320kbs VBR rather than the poor quality 128 ones I used to have. After that the majority of the CDs can be packed away in boxes in a cupboard. Their small storage size helps with that.

As for my vinyl. Although it’s possible to set up equipment to record as MP3s, I haven’t decided to do that yet, although I may. That would also give me the excuse to put it away in a cupboard. Given the vast majority of recent releases aren’t boring black vinyl but bright and colourful and as I described how I enjoy the physical interaction with the medium, I don’t really want to do that. Instead they are on display, in a series of cabinets underneath my stereo. Just as they were in every house I visited as I grew up.

27 Jun

Reread: The Singer and the Sea – Winter of the World Part 5

The Singer and the Sea is the fifth book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the second part of a 2 book arc.

See reviews of

Book 5 is a sequel to Castle in the Wind, set a few years later. Olvar and Gille have moved south to Saldenborg. You hear snippets of what Kunrad has been doing in cleaning up the salt marshes.

A trading ship arrives in town, setting the flavour of the story. By warning them of corsairs as they come in, Gille is rewarded with a kantel, a type of musical instrument, which he can tell has power. A hidden sheet within reveals the secret of making suitable strings for it rather than the rubbish ones it has been equipped with. It turns out to have been manufactured by the legendary Vayde.

Having been annoyed at the local merchants and the guildmasters and the like, they try to secure funds to run a trading expedition to the south. Gille is still his old womanising self, and is distracted by a mysterious woman on the beach. She turns out to be a minor power – Saithana. She assists him to find some sunken gold which wins him a bet to get support for their expedition.

Some goods-laden tradeships head south and encounter a small boat lost at sea with a number of dead and one barely living person in it. With some of the northerners speaking a similar dialect they manage to communicate enough to find out his story. This starts off the main adventure. The boat was carrying refugees fleeing the from the Ekwesh in the west.

Having had books focusing on metalworking, this is an interesting turn to have details of seafaring spread throughout. They sail west and encounter a group of westerners as well as marauding followers of the Ice. Gille has further encounters with a number of the powers, including Niarad and Ilmarinen who discusses having living as Vayde.

This book has far less about smithing in it, and a lot more theology and worldbuilding. It fleshes out some of the history discussed later chronologically in the first three books. I would probably have to re-read those again to catch all the references. One is mention of Vayde having perished in the saltmarshes – when Elof finds his corpse millenia later.

I find it hard to judge this book: as a novel it isn’t that great, as a fantasy novel it’s decent, as a part of the series fleshing out the world it’s good, but compared to the rest of the books I have re-read so far it falls short for enjoyability. It was read in small bursts over the course of 2 months, whilst I rarely found a reason to read something else ahead of the first book in the series which may illustrate how much it falls short.

27 May

Thinking the Unthinkable

For the first time in my life I am considering giving a vote to the Labour Party.

If you don’t understand the reason this is unthinkable then you have probably never discussed politics with me. Ever.

Why exclude Labour before?

Growing up, my local council was Labour run, then later run by them and the Liberal Democrats, then later still propped up by the Tories too. During that period Labour closed my school whilst I was at it.

They say merged. When you transfer the pupils and staff from one building to another one and rename it, you have closed one school and renamed another. The school they tried to move us to? Kirkton – now Baldragon. Kirkton was closer to my house than Rockwell. If I wanted to go to Kirkton I would have went there in the first place.

I chose instead to go to College. We now had a Labour government at Westminster. Labour removed the grant and brought in student loans. Then they introduced tuition fees.

So leaving aside the rest of their awful policies during this period and after, every step of my education the Labour Party shat on me. This was when their election tagline was Education, Education, Education.

I had been indifferent to them before but grew to loathe the snivelling right-wing Tory shitebags who had taken over the Labour Party.

That they had purged left elements from their party and ditched Social Democracy just compounded this.

From the excellent Political Compass you can see the ideological shift of the UK parties over recent times. Even from this overview you can see previously you had a liberal left, liberal right, authoritarian right party making up the three main parties. The shift towards neoliberalism resulted in 3 authoritarian right wing parties. This is not healthy for a democracy.

Labour were notorious for corruption and nepotism throughout councils but the election victory of Thatcher’s ideological heir Tony Blair in 1997 in a landslide caused another shift. Previously the chameleonic shysters who would join the Tories to get involved in politics for a job started to shift to Labour too. Their MPs started to be a group of people who had previously been employed as lawyers or MP researchers rather than a more representative milieu. A new job path opened up -> university to study politics, MP research assistant, MP. You get a bunch of party hacks elected with no experience of the real world living in a tiny party bubble.

Why consider Labour now?

Previously I had written off Labour as the left forces within it had been expelled or marginalised. The implosion left space for other socialist groups to grow. And they did for a time. Unfortunately the moving of the centre from the centre to the far right has made it much more difficult for progressives.

I had written them off as right-wing neo-liberal warmongers, absolute enemies of the working class, with a minority of left voices within it. As I came to accept that this has changed, that some aspects of their leadership and certainly huge numbers of their membership had returned to the left, I had to re-evaluate my view of them. I am not, and have never been tribalist, or politically sectarian. I always attempt to take a nuanced position based on considering and understanding as much as I can about something. When the Labour right tried repeatedly to stab Corbyn in the back, including during his acceptance speech as leader, I dismissed the necessity of this re-evaluation. This was based on the assumption that he would not stay long and would be ousted soon, allowing Labour to stay where they were and not shift politically.

So what actually changed?

Previously you would see polls showing massive support for renationalising the railways and opposing privatising Royal Mail and it would be written off. The Momentum group gaining support behind Corbyn has helped push these ideas back into the mainstream. When these stats are discussed at least it’s in the context of and why isn’t in transitioning to support for Corbyn in the actual press.

The abandonment of the left ground by Labour left a vaccuum which was for a time occupied by other socialist groups, in Scotland by posturing of the SNP and in other areas with immiseration and reaction. In former Labour heartlands in the North of England support started to drift towards fascists like BNP and later to UKIP. The shambles of Brexit has led to UKIPs support collapse, and unsurprisingly moved towards to Tories instead.

Scottish Labour are utterly terrible. Kezia Dugdale is the worst leader they have had in a while. And in the past few years that has included Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy and Iain Gray. Their politics have consisted of constantly talking about independence and condemning everyone else for being obsessed with the issue. I can’t find the exact numbers, but one vote which sums them up was on apprenticeships. The SNP wanted to create X new apprentices. Labour wanted to create X + Y apprentices. Labour MPSs then voted against the creation of X new apprentices as it wasn’t enough. How utterly pathetic. They can’t even be reformists properly.

The Blair years have left them decimated as their membership plummeted. The last figures I saw showed they had less members in total than the Trade Unionist group of the SNP.

In this election, they appear to be standing a Corbyn supporter in my ward. I don’t know much about his politics, but given the previous candidates in this ward were Jim McGovern and Ernie Ross, anything is frankly an improvement.

In short, as much as I dislike various positions taken by Labour in general and Scottish Labour in particular, Corbyn staying on as leader after this election with increased support and/or seats would strengthen all left forces in these islands, not just the left of the Labour party. Magical Christmas land would obviously be the right wing elements (sorry centre-left I keep forgetting their own definition, contrary to their real position) finally fucking the fuck off to either obscurity, their corporate paymasters or the type of right wing Hayekian parties their politics belong in.

What about the alternatives

In the last election for this constituency I spoiled my ballot and had been preparing to do the same again this time. Given the arguments I outlined above I had to re-evaluate.

No other left candidates

At previous elections I have had the option to vote for Scottish Socialist Party and TUSC (2010 and election excitement). Before I could vote there were also Scottish Socialist Alliance and Communist candidates.

Looking at the history of the seat, before the SNP won it, it was always held by Labour. Before it’s creation there was a 2seat constituency of Dundee. Which is weird to look at. It was held by Labour and before that in the 30s it was held by a Liberal and a Unionist (racist anti-catholic bigots who later formed the Tory party in Scotland). What is very weird is an election in 1868. Dundee elected 2 Liberals. They had a choice of 4 Liberals. Makes you wonder when you see some parties talk about Scotland being a 1 party state because they lost to the SNP…


You’re having a laugh aren’t you? I think the only possibility of me ever voting for them is if there are 2 candidates standing and the other is a fascist. Even then I would probably have to consider whether a vote is better than spoiling the ballot.

Similar to the LibDems, they also change their candidates more frequently than May changes her position on issues, or indeed, their candidates when they find out who said a particular quote.

This time round their candidate is from that well known area of Dundee: East Craigs Edinburgh. So a carpet bagger then. You’d think they’d stand one of their new councillors from Dundee and then have a council by-election should they succeed. Or at least have picked one of their candidates who stood at the council election.

They also seem to have a fundamental problem with honesty. I have queried but have had no response on the origin and design of this graph-shaped-object. I say that as it is clearly not a graph. The axes have no relation to the figures being used. This is generally a strategy by the Lib Dems to try and claim they can win when they then end up in 4th/5th place.

I also queried where the figures originated to break down in this bizarre graphic. The figures are Scotland wide, not broken down to this constituency. I’m pretty sceptical of a growth from 14.9% to 33% for the Tories in Scotland at the general election. This would be their highest vote share at a general election in Scotland since 1970 (or 1974 depending on rounding of that poll) which certainly seems fanciful. The poll data I could find only broke down what % of the people intending to vote for a party had voted for them at 2 previous elections and the last 2 referenda. Without breaking down and weighting this stuff properly you can’t tell how representative a sample this actually is.

1997 was the last time they reached 10% in Dundee West, so although they are likely to gain more than 2015s 8.6% they have zero chance of winning here. I think the likelihood of them reaching 33% is pretty close to zero too.

Although to be fair, you’d think I would want to vote for them. My mum was awarded Severe Disability Living Allowance for life in the early 90s. She spent years being seriously ill and was disabled. Thanks to David pig fucker Camerons government however she is miraculously no longer disabled. Cunts. Utter cunts.


There is an independent standing: Sean Dobson. I am generally pretty wary of independent candidates. This one appears to be a Brexiter. Standing to make sure Brexit happens. So essentially someone who supports Brexit but can’t find a place in UKIP, which sets up all sorts of flags.

Liberal Democrats

Aside from them essentially being opportunistic Tories willing to sell out their principles for a slim glimpse of power, they’re generally pretty terrible. It’s also strange how their most well known, and arguably most popular member is never put forward for the seat. It’s not helped by them changing their candidate every time there is an election.

I generally also refer to them as the Liberal Democrats as there are plenty of examples of them being neither. Given they are currently led by someone who doesn’t think he should have to answer about his position on homosexuality and abortion you can see the are struggling with the first of those. I mean even if he opposes them both surely both the Liberal and liberal position is to say you oppose it but don’t care if others do it and won’t vote for restrictions in those areas.


I’m not a fan of the SNP and although they clearly have some social democratic policies and are socially liberal on a number of issues, they are on economic policies trying not to rock the boat at all. Wary of in any way getting criticised from the right.

In recent years I was happy to see them replace Labour in a number of places as, like the argument for being happy about Corbyn, it pushed the political discourse to the left.

I do think they have sabotaged their flagship policy of independence somewhat. The Yes campaign gained so much ground and worked as well as it did because it was a broad based campaign comprising of numerous organisations and groups. After the defeat the SNP hoovered up huge numbers of activists from that movement. This may be great for the SNP in the short term but is extremely damaging for any future independence campaign. It will be completely dominated by the SNP and SNP members. The Yes campaign was able to argue that it wasn’t about supporting or opposing the SNP, but now that won’t be the case. Not that you can really blame the SNP for this, what are they gonna do – refuse membership to large numbers of applicants? But they don’t seem to be addressing this issue at all.

In the last parliamentary term the SNP have of course provided the best opposition to the Tory government. This is generally due to their discipline combined with the Parliamentary Labour Party spending most of their time stabbing Corbyn in the back. But it is their discipline which is one of the main factors driving me away from them. Corbyn was rightly criticised for the three line whip over Brexit, which I think was definitely a mistake. The SNP though essentially have a 3 line whip on every issue. As much as I dislike the Blairites in the Labour Party, at least members of that party are capable of having a debate about issues. The SNP 2015 conference passed a motion stating no MPs shall

publicly criticise a group decision, policy or another member of the group

Which is pretty anti-democratic. Alongside that, the biggest criticism of the political system by those alienated from it is that they are all the same meaning that some suited Barrister could be a member of the Tories, Lib Dems or Labour spouting the same position and you may not be able to tell which party they are a member of. That criticism won’t be abated by having a bunch of MPs in one party who are all the same. If my SNP MP was swapped with any other would it make a difference? They will still vote exactly the same on every issue and never make any criticism, however mild of their parties position on anything no matter how important or not.

Speaking of democracy, they produced a White Paper for the independence referendum which stated a load of things they could do after independence. Some of the things included hold a constitutional convention. Abandoning this idea is a mistake on 2 levels. Firstly it would allow the discussion to develop and throw up arguments all the time to take on counter ideas of Federalism and Home Rule. Secondly it would move the discussion on constitutional issues outside of the tedious realm of parliament and into the hands of the people. Both allowing people to take part in this discussion and also neutering the Unionists ability to criticise the SNP for bogging down Holyrood in discussion on the constitution.

Arguments for voting a different way

What if it lets the Tories in?

I am not convinced that the Tories can win Dundee West. The only thing even close to suggesting that is that they claim to have 33% Scotland wide, a claim I consider fanciful.

What about independence? The Labour manifesto opposes it

This is generally from a line of reasoning that then concludes so vote SNP. In 2016 the SNP stood on a manifesto with criteria laid out to justify pursuing a future independence referendum. The Tories also said that pro-Independence MSPs making a majority of the seats in Holyrood would be a mandate. The SNP won that election and alongside the Greens make up a majority of the seats. Brexit happened so the criteria has been met and the mandate is therefore there already for an independence referendum. You have to ignore that fact to even consider the need to win a new mandate as justification.

If we do that, in 2017 council elections took place. The councils have no relevance to independence at all. The Conservatives, at this time in Goverment, and before U-Turning to call this General Election declared that in Scotland it was an election about having a referendum in Scotland. Their election leaflets only mentioned independence, and nothing else to do with any area any council has any influence at all in. The SNP won that election. So even on that shaky ground declared by the Conservatives, the SNP then won a mandate a second time.

So what is the criteria this time? In 2015 the SNP won 56 seats, after securing 50% of the votes – 1,454,436 in total.

So for them to have a mandate this time (the third) do they need to win exactly that amount or greater in all three?

What if they dropped from 56 to 55 – no mandate?
From 50% to 49.9% of the vote – no mandate?
From 1,454,436 to 1,454,435 votes – no mandate?
What if they go from 56 seats to 55 but get an extra 100,000 votes – no mandate?

I’m not prepared to hold my nose and vote SNP at every election in perpetuity on such shaky shit arguments. If you are gonna claim that there are a set of additional milestones for the SNP to reach for there to be a mandate on a future referendum, then lay them out. That goes for those for and against independence who claim there is no mandate.

What about Trident?

The fight against the obscene, illegal to use, and completely immoral Trident system is best won at Holyrood. Corbyn himself opposes Trident renewal but the Tory shitbags in the PLP support it. Voting against more anti-Trident MPs in Labour will result in more pro-Trident Tories getting in. The influence of the SNP on the matter is sadly completely irrelevant at Westminster currently. The best outcomes I can see are a Labour majority or a Labour minority supported by the SNP. In that case, the issue can be part of their negotiations. If you are in a constituency held right now by the SNP and where the Labour candidate is on the right wing of the party and supports the renewal of Trident then that is a different situation from the one I am facing.


Given the balance of arguments for and against the variety of options I think the best option in Dundee West is to vote Labour at this election. A sentence I never thought I would write, and wasn’t prepared to write even 2 years ago. That doesn’t mean that you should come to the same conclusion in whatever constituency you are in in Scotland. If you are in East Renfrewshire and had Blair McDougall as your candidate, or Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) I would not advocate you vote for Labour. But then, I’m not advocating a vote for any other party in general in any other seat either.

But more importantly I think people should take the same approach I did – sit down to consider your personal beliefs and values, look at the candidates that are standing in your seat. Then work out who is the best person to advocate progressive values. In some seats you will have the opportunity to vote for a Socialist candidate. In others the best may be a Social Democrat, or a Green. In others there may be a sitting Conservative, or the threat of a surge by a UKIP or far right candidate, there a vote for someone like a Liberal etc may be the best way to fend them off.

A discussion on the merits of voting can be for another day, I just think that going to the voting booth is a hard-fought for right which we should all use, even if it’s to spoil the ballot. I certainly don’t think that’s the extent of what peoples political activity or engagement with candidates or elected representatives should be. Go out, try to remove this evil and corrupt government, and try to get as many left, socialist, socialist democratic and progressive voices in parliament in the process.

I am also open to being convinced of a different position for this constituency at this election. The election is in 12 days. No doubt this will prompt some discussion with my friends.

02 May

Reread: The Castle of the Winds – Winter of the World Part 4

The Castle of the Winds is the fourth book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the first part of a 2 book arc.

See reviews of

After a short break I picked up again re-reading the Winter of the World series. Book 4 (and 5 and i think 6 too) is a prequel to the original trilogy. Returning after a 10 year break Rohan returns to the world just a few generations after Vayde had arrived in the West.

This books protagonists are Kunrad, a mastersmith and his two apprentices Olvar and Gille. The two apprentices really just play a minor support role throughout the book which is unfortunate given than book 5 follows their adventures a few years later (spoiler, they don’t die in this one).

Kunrad is an interesting character and the entire book is about his growth and change. Unfortunately the balance is a bit skewed into discussing him, leaving everyone else as barely fleshed out at all.

The book starts in Athalby, in the north east and shows the mastersmith working on a piece of armour with the help of his two apprentices. The town and area are gradually explored as well as the forthcoming fair. Merthian, a southern Lord arrives at this fair, becomes obsessed with the armour being made by Kunrad and robs him of it. Kunrad chases after them, first going north to the ice and then south.

The chase is interesting, showing the politics of the time as they come upon towns robbed by Merthian too and try to get aid. Eventually ending up in the marshlands having been captured by corsairs. This is where there is a lull in the book. They are imprisoned and forced to smith (sounds familiar from previous books). Then using their skill manage to escape. Whilst still fleeing they encounter a party on the road comprising of Princess Alais Kermorvan and her guards. They help fend off the pursuing corsairs. They carry on together to the nearest Lords castle (the castle in the winds) and Kunrad is again, captured and being told he has to smith for his captor. The recycling of plot lines from previous books and even chapters does not work for me.

To leave out further spoilers Alais is from the family of royalty from Kerys we encountered in the earlier trilogy although I can’t remember if the characters from this book were named in that trilogy – given Kunrad starts work on the Great Causeway it’s possible they were but the significance was not known at the time.

One section I found amusing was that towards their last scenes in the book the Princess Alais just wants to go home to the house she grew up in which had a lemon tree in the garden. Given this came out 2 years after A Game of Thrones and the Appendix also describes the world as these realms of Ice and fire this has to be a deliberate nod?

17 Mar

Once In A Lifetime

Over the past week there has been a great uptick in the number of people complaining about something being “once in a lifetime”. This has confused me as I thought I understood what that phrase meant.

The root of the issue is that during the run up to #indyref, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond described the referendum as once in a lifetime/generation. Their upset is that this means it should only happen once in a lifetime/generation.

I have always understood the meaning to be:

A once-in-a-lifetime experience or opportunity is very special because you will probably only have it once:
A tour of Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

see also:

(of a chance or experience) unlikely to occur more than once in a person’s life.
‘being part of the Commonwealth Games has been a once in a lifetime experience’

These sources both explain it as something likely to happen once in your lifetime. This article about Haleys Comet quotes an astronomer saying that seeing it is a once in a lifetime event.
No doubt the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party will be campaigning for the comet not to return should some of their membership have been born before 1986 and still be alive in 2061. Which, given the average age of their membership is highly likely to be most of them. Or the majority. Or the largest grouping. All numerical descriptions they also have problems with.

14 Mar

Save Ends

I bought a collection of music from the label Black Numbers as part of the ACLU fundraiser. Working through the music and hearing some awesome stuff including Fucko, I then hit Save Ends – Hug Your Friends.

The contrasting dual vocals immediately reminded me of Rainer Maria. One of my favourite bands, who I first heard weeks before they split.

I grabbed their other EPs and tried to find their album Warm Hearts, Cold Hands. Discogs was a bust, all the sellers were in the US so charging a fortune for postage. I hunted around and couldn’t find any distros etc having it. Eventually a copy was spied on eBay for cheapness in the UK.

I had listened to the EPs, but decided to hold off on the album until it arrived, which was pretty damn difficult.

Punkorama 30 starts with a cool riff repeated and a decent instrumental section.

Cause we have got all these good friends
We lead fortunate lives
Wouldn’t change what I’ve got

And that’s how the album carries on with every track being a banger.

I knew nothing about the band until I heard the EP, on a search I found this interview with their guitarist which mentions their origin – they all played Dungeons and Dragons together.

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