Metal and Boxing.

First click this link and listen to the song.  If you can’t stand it and switch off after a few seconds, then I wrote this post for you.  If you loved it and headbanged round your room, read on anyway.

The band is The Dillinger Escape Plan, the song Panasonic Youth, and it’s metal.  In fact it’s about as nasty as metal gets, sometimes almost wilfully unlistenable. The changes in time signature and tempo as well as tonality are confusing and make it almost impossible to just relax and enjoy it.  And the vocalist sounds like an ogre who’s lost his temper.

However, if you give it a chance and just roll with the awful racket that it initially seems to be, some snippets of beauty begin to appear, like bright little flowers growing on a bombsite.  Then listen again – those harmonies are not as random as they first seemed.  There are ideas here that have been used by acknowledged masters of music: Bela Bartock, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa.  And there is structure – thematic development in an almost classical style, and all perfectly performed.  Once you get to know it, it’s as fine a song as any you’ll hear from a rock band.

What I’m saying is that it takes more effort and commitment to find the enjoyment in music like this, but don’t feel I’m judging you if didn’t like it.  I have no right to feel superior, mainly because I don’t like boxing.

I’m sure that if I took the time and trouble to study it, boxing has as much subtlety, finesse, technique and tactical mindplay as any other sport.  Boxers are athletes, and the strongest combatant doesn’t automatically win, yet I have never enjoyed it.  At its heart, boxing is two men (usually), each trying to hit the other hard enough to knock him down or make him lose consciousness.  It seems barbaric and anachronistic in modern society.  I have never managed to see past the brutality of it and find the elegance and beauty that undoubtedly lies behind it.

If lots of people view more extreme or difficult styles of music the same way, seeing only the brutality and not the underlying beauty, who am I to judge?

There is a more general point to be made about genres and personal taste.  I continually judge books by their covers, movies by their posters, music by the look of the artistes.  This seems shallow, but there is no time to read every book, watch every movie and listen to every album, so we have to make quick choices.

If I see a band comprising four pretty teenage boys who look as though they spend more time with a stylist than with their vocal coach, I probably won’t take the trouble to listen to the music.  If a new book appears on the horror shelf and it’s called Dead Sexy and has a picture of a blood-stained apple on the cover, I won’t read it.  I’m sure I’m missing out on some great stuff, but I know I’m saving a lot of time that might have been wasted on things I won’t enjoy.

So you’re allowed to see only the ugliness in my tastes in music, film and fiction – I don’t mind.  I have to respect your choices and your taste, so long as you don’t make me watch a boxing match.

Links, publications etc.

I thought I should list the places where you can read my fiction or watch me play, so here’s a little list of links.  Simply googling my name would probably bring them all up, and more.


My story Filmland was published in the Horrorzine, and reprinted in their best of anthology, A Feast of Frights.  It will also appear in the forthcoming best of best of anthology, featuring the highlights from their first four books.

A wee Christmas story of mine was in the Christmas 2011Estronomicon, the ezine from Screaming Dreams Press.

My poem The Parting was selected for a National Galleries of Scotland print collection, but I don’t know which one – I’ve never actually seen the book.

My story A Glimpse of the Future is in the July 2013 issue of Lovecraft eZine, and you can hear read aloud in the issue 25 podcast.

Filmland is due to be podcast soon by the excellent Tales to Terrify.

Eastern Promise was published in the July 2013 issue of Crowded magazine

There is some music-related stuff and videos mainly of me playing guitar on my YouTube channel.  I appear on some other people’s videos as well if you search for me.

I am a member and regular book reviewer for the British Fantasy Society and member of the Glasgow Science fiction Writers’ Circle

The Book – a Luxury of the Future

It was the wood-burning stove in my living room that got me thinking about this.  It’s a small black cast iron box with a glass front and you burn logs in it.  People ooh and ah when they see it, and think of it as an extravagance on my part.  It’s true that it’s not necessary – I’ve got central heating – but it’s really nice on those cold winter nights to see the flames dance, smell the woodsmoke and feel the heat.


Yet, not long ago, everyone had either open fires or stoves – my Granny had a range in her Glasgow council flat in the 1950s.  Central heating is better: cleaner, less hassle and warmer.  The fire, once  essential, has become a luxury for the privileged.


Electric light is great – we can work and play and read into the night and it’s so easy to switch on and off.  So why is it that everyone I visit these days has candles lit?  Candles don’t replace the light bulbs – they’re only there for atmosphere.  Again, a once-essential item has become a luxury.


There are several more examples: riding horses, travelling by ship, even having a bath are less convenient than the modern equivalents – cars, showers and aeroplanes.  But people love them, and they’re seen as demonstrations of wealth.


The ultimate in poshness these days is probably sitting in a cast iron bath by candlelight in front of a roaring fire, having just come from a day’s riding and about to pack for your ocean cruise.  Yet all of these things are all from the past.


The next thing that may be relegated to the same status of luxury item for the wealthy might be the book.  I have lots of books in my house – three big bookcases just in the living room and a few more dotted round the house, and although I’ve read most of them I mainly like them for some more subtle reason.  There is something comforting in being surrounded by things that have value and nobility.  Individual books might not survive the centuries but the work will; my life seems transient by comparison.  It adds to the atmosphere of my old Victorian house – that too will still be here when I’m dust.


But the quickest and easiest way to read a book now is on a Kindle or similar device.  My pal might tell me in the pub that the new book by Blah DeBlahblah is brilliant and I can be reading it that night on the way home on the train if it takes my fancy.  People like such simplicity and convenience, so I see a future in which the ebook is the norm, and a bookcase is less a repository for knowledge and more a display of social standing.


And I’m ambivalent about the whole idea – who’s to say whether it’s a good thing for books to be cheaper and easier to get in a virtual form? – surely it’s the words that are important and not the medium.  Yet my emotional attachment to bound pages remains.