On Yer Bike #3 – Taking it Easy

The previous time I went out for a proper cycle was a bit of a disaster, with me limping home in lots of pain, wondering if I really had the legs for it. This time I decided that I needed to give myself a bit of an ego stroking (no, that’s not a metaphor) and go for an easier ride at a sensible pace.

My idea was to go along the coast route from Leith to Cramond, then some convoluted route through town back home; it’s fairly flat and the first part of it full of nice things to look at. That was the theory, but as soon as I hit the coast it got very windy, and it turns out that I’m pretty rubbish cycling with the wind blowing in my face. On top of that, as it was a Sunday afternoon it was full of dogs running about and children learning to ride bikes. Whilst I’m confident enough on my bike weaving in and out of the crowds, the truth is that I was less concerned with running over the toes of little Timmy or the paws of Kenny Dugleash (Oi! Don’t groan at my puns) and more concerned that in the act of avoiding them I might end up buckling my wheel on a pot hole.

The ride all the way to Cramond wasn’t as quick as I thought, but it’s a nice little ride. I had a look about and the places to have lunch were totally rammed, so I thought I’d find a supermarket and buy lunch there. The road out of Cramond is quite steep, especially if busy with cars and you have to cycle slowly uphill, and are trying to do it without having to keep taking your foot in and out of the pedal clip.

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I got myself a supermarket meal deal and then looked for somewhere to have lunch, I eventually found the cycle path that took me to Haymarket Yards, where one of the office blocks has a little garden with picnic benches. I was feeling all pleased with myself until I took out my bottle of Coke, which must have been shook up more than I foresaw as it sprayed all over me. Fortunately having lunch in the sun mad everything seem so much better, it even negated the various detours around Haymarket.

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The way home from town is an easy home leg as it’s primarily downhill to Leith, and whilst this cycle was essentially just a glorified jaunt around town, I’m taking it as a victory and a triumphant return to form in my so far underwhelming cycling career.

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Salt of the Earth

One of our Christmas presents this year was a pair of vouchers for The Salt Cave, a sort of therapy type treatment place that uses/mimics the natural effects/benefits of being in a salt cave. It’s an innocuous looking shop front in Meadowbank, which being not so far from my house made me curious each time I passed it. I’ve had sinus problems for over 25 years, have had a couple of operations, and am actually on a course of steroid medication. Not only has my nose not gotten better, but my cycling is still decidedly slow.

They were very nice on the phone and this continued when myself and my wife arrived before the session. We got a potted history salt cave treatment, how they’re extremely popular in places like Germany and Poland, and some info of the proven benefits of the treatment. There was a bowl of boiled sweets on the counter, so I took one thinking that it would prevent my mouth from tasting of salt. Before we went into the room we all put on those plastic shoe covers (to avoid transferring outside dirt into the room) and a hair net (perhaps a tad excessive with my #1 crew cut).

There are 2 salt cave rooms, the one we went into was slightly smaller than my living room, its floor was covered in salt, as were the walls. There were about 8 Ikea chairs (same style as the one in my music room) with accompanying stools, 4 other people were already there when we got in. We were told that we could take our phones in (sound switched off) if we wanted something to read, I didn’t bother, but I saw that everyone else was reading either on a device or a book. I wasn’t sure if this meant that I’d get into it more or if it would be a very long hour.

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The lights were dimmed and some ocean like soundscapes kicked in, and what we were told was salt dust (which they have a machine on site that grinds and purifies) is pumped into the room. It’s a slightly odd sensation and initially I wasn’t too sure what to do, so I lay back, put my feet up and closed my eyes. After about 20 minutes I was able to really relax and actually nodded off for about half an hour. When the lights came back on I wasn’t sure if I felt any different but I did feel incredibly relaxed, which at worst is a worthwhile experience.

OK, full disclosure, this is an addition to the piece. What actually happened is that I’m prone to snoring in my sleep due to my poor breathing, which was one of the reasons this treatment appealed to me. Mrs Dave nudged me a couple of times because I was making too much noise, to me this shows I was at the optimum level of relaxation, to everyone else I was probably that dude that ruined their session!

When we were back in the entrance we were told that we were entitled to a free session, which wasn’t even mentioned in the daily deal gift bought for us. We were also warned that we might need to pee a lot and maybe our nose would stream as our body was flushing out some toxins. My wife actually felt some of these things and was thinking that with maybe another session or two would feel the benefits. I am very bunged up pretty much all the time so I reckon it would take quite a few regular sessions before would feel better. The downside to this is that treatment courses are actually rather expensive, even with the discounts that bulk buys entail they’re out of my price range, especially as I’ve no idea if I’d actually feel better. That being said, I’m looking forward to my next session, and if there was any way of proving that I’d definitely be able to breathe better maybe I’d find that cash from somewhere. Sadly, for the moment, I’ll stick to sounding like Darth Vadar in my sleep.

On Yer Bike #2 – Can’t Teach an Old (Brew)Dog New Tricks

After getting my bike the weather was particularly rubbish and I missed a few weekend’s cycling. My thinking was that I’d build up my hours on the saddle and maybe after a while look at a beginner’s cycle group, or even go for a few rides with friends of mine that cycle.  What actually happened was that the new Brewdog pub on Lothian Road was setting up a leisurely bike club for beer loving folks and it was called the Brewdog Chain Gang.  As a fan of craft beer and cycling, and having a hankering for being in a ‘gang’ with a cool name, I decided that I’d give this a go, surely with some ale loving folks trying out a casual bike ride it might be fun. The first ride would be 32 miles (second furthest I’d ever ridden) but it would be along a very flat route.

When I turned up for the ride, alarm bells started to ring, not only do I have a cheap bike, I wear a patterned skater helmet, have a pair of Aldi cycle trousers, just wore trainers and don’t have cleats, and my cycle top is about 15 years old. I was met with a sea of carbon bikes, nice cycle gear, and everyone cleated to the max.  Some of the people knew each other and the other hellos were basically everyone talking about all the cycling they’d done over the years.  The leader gave us some basic rules of the road and did say that not everyone (i.e. me) was an experienced rider and not to leave anyone behind, so I thought maybe it’d be OK.

We rode out through Hollyrood Park, on to Portobello, it was faster than my usual speed but I was doing OK. At the back of the trail I did strike up conversation with a guy that was telling me he’d on been on a few group rides and came along because he was doing a brewing course and liked the double field of interest. I was thinking that if I keep up with this guy I’ll be OK, I was also able to watch his gears and realised that I was getting it all wrong on my bike (I’m still trying to get out the fixie mind-set). Through Prestonpans my compadre suddenly pulled away from the ride unannounced up a side street, I kept going but was well aware that now I was definitely the slowest one in the group. Through Port Seton and Longniddry I had someone in the group trying to bring me onto his wheel, my legs were on fire and were giving up on me, I finally told him to just go ahead as I pondered whether to turn back or keep going.

As I crawled along the road to Aberlady I decided that unless someone turned up with Armstrong’s EPO or at least Wiggins’ inhaler, there’s no way I’d make it the whole way, so was looking for the next newsagent or garage to buy a fizzy drink and then I’d head home.  At that moment, my new friend from earlier on appeared at my side, turns out he went to a public toilet and spent the next half hour trying to catch up with us. I told him the others were miles ahead and he said that he was in no rush and we’d ride on anyway, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was on the verge of giving up. My legs weren’t happy with me.

After Aberlady on the way to Gullane I was told that there was a shortcut that we could take and hopefully we’d meet up with the others en route.  This went on for at least half an hour and was rather disconcerting as it appeared to be going in the wrong direction.  My still unnamed saviour/tormentor had the patience of a saint, periodically slowing down and waiting me catch up on him. I did tell him that I had bitten off more than I could chew and he was welcome to cycle on ahead, he said it was OK, which made me feel worse, if even because it meant I had to keep trying to go faster than I’d planned.  Eventually after cycling alongside railway tracks we pulled back onto the regular road and at that moment we joined up with the rest of the ride.

My new best friend mysteriously disappeared as someone else joined me at the back of the ride, I tried keeping up with them for a few miles, and someone really tried hard to get me riding on his tail and making a go of it but I was spent and eventually my heart wasn’t in it, so I told them thanks for trying but to go ahead.  I trundled on through Prestonpans and decided that there was no way I was going to go back to Brewdog in town and that I’d just head back to Leith. By this point my bum was almost as sore as my legs so I was periodically riding off the saddle, both to give me arse a rest but also to stretch my legs, as I got to Musselburgh I had to stop.

When I got off my bike I had severe jelly legs, so headed straight into B&M to buy some sugared products.  After wolfing down Lucozade and mint Munchies I then did stretches on the pavement of the High Street in Musselburgh.  Feeling moderately invigorated I got on my bike and set off on the final leg home, as soon as my ass touched the saddle that temporary relief from pain ended abruptly.

Even at Portobello I was tempted to lock up my bike and jump on the bus home, but a deluded sense of achievement (and a passable story to tell) stopped me from doing that.  Sods Law would dictate that the final downhill roll through Craigentinny to Leith is on a road surface that the most diplomatic person out there might describe as bad, and there were a number of rather painful jolts on the final mile or two. As I crawled up the stairs into my house I was asked how the ride was, all I could manage was “I’m very sore, I think I need a hot bath.”

I had a hot bath, I was still sore.

On Yer Bike #1 – from the bike shop – home

I have been a big cycling fan for many, many years, both watching the grand tours and Olympic track meets on TV, as well as having been a cycling commuter for many years.  Since 2012 I have been riding single speed, and since 2015 I flipped that to fixie.  Whilst I ill-advisedly rode that Glasgow to Edinburgh charity ride on this bike, most of my bike envy was towards cool hipster fixies.  That being said, Edinburgh is hardly a practical place to get about without gears, and as time went on I started to consider making the jump to road bike.

Towards the end of my time at The Stand I started looking at road bikes and was very taken by some lovely looking steel Genesis bikes.  At this time I was also considering a career break from PR and communications to take up a considerably less well paid job working with kids.  Those with common sense would have bought the road bike before watching their bank balance diminish, and if I’d have thought of it I’d have done the same.  The next couple of years I’d dive wholeheartedly into the world of bike porn, and by that I mean looking at lovely bikes online rather than folks having sex on or with bikes (dare you to Google it, I’m sure it’s a thing!).  Now that I’m actively looking to get myself a job that pays better I was thinking that one of the first things I’d do is buy a flash new road bike.  On a Christmas night out a friend of mine with a several level of bike fanboyness told me that he had bought a really cheap road bike as an entry into that world and was really getting into his cycling.  This rather inspired me and I thought it made sense that I do something similar, no point splashing the cash if I end up not enjoying road cycling, and my meagre wages could stretch to a beginners’ bike enabling me to get on my bike sooner rather than later.  After looking at pretty much every list of the best cheap bikes 2017/18 I decided to plump for the BTwin Triban 500SE, which Decathlon had on sale.  Whilst I’m sure bike snobs might dismiss it as mass produced pish from the Primark of sports shops, reviews suggested otherwise, and that fact is I’d never actually been on a road bike, so splashing any cash would be a risk purchase.

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I got the tram out to Decathlon at Hermiston Gait to collect the bike, the tyres were quite slick so I made the decision to get a more ‘everyday’ multi surface road tyre fitted thus allowing me to go on cycle tracks with my daughter and not be paranoid about getting a flat tyre.  With said slick tyres around my neck I set off for the first time ever on a road bike.

The riding position felt a tad weird but I soon got into the swing of things, although the brakes were initially awkward, and it’s very wobbly trying to hold the drop bar one handed.  I was flying along the road, although when I got to town I realised that I cycled the whole way without even thinking about changing gears, freewheeling was enough of a novelty.  When I went to try out the gears I realised that I had no idea what I was doing, but the road from town to Leith is downhill, so it’d be an easy ride either way.  With a less robust bike I now have to be even more mindful of potholes and uneven road surfaces, so I opted for Easter Road over Leith Walk, turns out that a driver didn’t notice my lovely new set of wheels and was inches away from christening my new steed with a crash.

I made it home in one piece, very happy with my new bike, and with the Aldi padded cycle trousers I got for the charity ride dug out from the drawer under my bed, I appear to be a dubiously clad middle aged man on a racer. Things can only get better!

Above and Beyond….On the Canal

As someone who has A LOT of customer service experience, from working in shops as a student, to selling mobile phones as a graduate, being assistant manager of a Tower Records, and more recently dealing with the unlikely selection of people that go to The Stand Comedy Club, I know the importance of good customer service, and the difference it makes when someone goes above and beyond.  On this subject, I need to sing the praises of Sean Barry at Bridge 8 Hub.

My mum bought our family a itison voucher for an Akwakat waterbike session for my Christmas; we booked in for the latest day the voucher was valid as we hoped the weather would be better than going in the winter for an outdoor activity.  When we woke up on the day the weather was pretty rubbish and forecast to get worse.  We still jumped on the bus and went out to the other side of Edinburgh for our session, armed with waterproofs, woolly hat and gloves, and many layers, wishing we’d gone the previous weekend when the weather was lovely.

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When we arrived, Sean greeted us and explained that every activity they had was sold out for the day but everyone bar us had phoned and cancelled, we said that we could relate to that but didn’t want to miss out.  Sean then surprised us by saying that he felt bad as the weather was rather rubbish and we wouldn’t get the best enjoyment from the experience, and whilst he’d happily let us do any of the activities they offered that day, we did have the option of being able to reschedule to a later date.  Not only did he go way beyond the limited terms of the deal, he made us all a hot chocolate and gave my daughter a rather tasty looking cookie from the café to have whilst we made up our mind about what to do.

We decided that we would reschedule, and chose a day in early summer, so fingers crossed it’s sunny.  Whilst we’re looking forward to that, we’re likely to do some of the other decently priced activities they have on offer, and pop into the café next time we cycle along the Union Canal.

Sean could’ve have just got out the waterbikes and sent us on our merry way to get cold and wet, and we’d have thought nothing of it.  That he offered us a rescheduled session, with dates until near the end of the year was more than enough, but then to give us free drinks and cookie to cheer us up on a crappy day was a classy touch, and revealed to us what he’s all about.

If you check out the website http://www.bridge8hub.co.uk/ (which I did afterwards) you’ll be doubly impressed by their noble aims to make cool outdoor experiences accessible to those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford them.

Good people doing good things, kudos to them.

Young Fathers Interview: International Bright Young Things

Sometimes a band hits a green patch where each release gets better and better; be it The Beatles in the mid-sixties, Stevie Wonder at the start of the seventies, Prince throughout the eighties, and many would argue that right now Young Fathers are enjoying a similar run of success. From their self produced ‘Tape One’ in 2012, to its current Scottish Album of the Year follow up ‘Tape Two’, and then the 2014 Mercury Music Prize winner ‘Dead’ was the darling of the music press last year. Hot on its heels is ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’, which is a change in direction, with elements of rock, pop, soul, rap, 80s electro and gospel. Simply put, this is your new favourite band bringing you the sound of now. We* caught up with them just before the album release, and as you’ll see, they didn’t disappoint.

It’s interesting that you’ve followed up your biggest success so far, and the expectation that comes with that, with something less obvious and different.

One of the good things about being this kind of group is we can do whatever the f*ck we want, as long as we make it fit with the aesthetic. In fact, that almost is the aesthetic. There are invisible lines that we don’t step over, that change all the time but are relative to our journey but to even define them means examining the process too closely. It’s like trying to catch a dust mote in your eye.

Is a ‘pure’ hip-hop record ever a possibility?

There’s a chance we could still make a clearly defined hip-hop record at some point – it’s in the DNA after all, but it would probably only work if the bigger hip-hop world moves forward a bit, especially when it comes to words. There’s a lot of dumb-ass shit rapped, full of cliche and ugly, bully words. There’s meant to be a swing, a beauty to the lyrics. Even when Wu Tang riffed on torturing people there was a self awareness there, an irony. That seems to have departed.

Stating upfront that you are addressing issues of race is a bold move. Do you hope it’ll provoke open discussions about these issues, or do you worry that liberal white arts/music writers will be too scared to approach the topic for fear of offending someone?

The title is a way for everyone in the media to be able to talk about skin colour and all the things that come from that, because it’s really all about privilege and class and skin colour is just a distraction invented by psychotic idiots who seek to control others and even if there’s a kind of unspoken, wider understanding that this is the case, because we all have different experiences of it there’s no unity in response. Scotland has hardly any black people but, for instance, if the SNP had won last September, then they proposed much more immigration. Then the idea that Scotland is somehow a more tolerant place than the rest of the UK would really have been put to the test.

Do you feel that your non-traditional UK heritage helps with the usual false modesty, and enables you to aim for worldwide success?

That’s about right. We’re proud of what we are and don’t need to be part of a local scene in that way – it doesn’t define us. It’s a small step away from that kind of pride to being proud of your country, whatever it does and being proud of being white, whatever that means and being proud when your country wins at sport and just a short step from there, at war. We have family, friends, our own country we create, that shifts around. It’s not just musical freedom – it’s the whole thing, of being in a group.

Have you considered working with anyone from beyond these shores? Someone like Nigerian afrobeat legend Tony Allen would seem like a perfect collaborator, or at the other end of the spectrum maybe an album with Rick Rubin. Do such opportunities seem like a reality for you these days?

Both those ideas would be fun. We were talking about Rick Rubin the other day, wondering if he still makes his own beats. In fact, we have been collaborating more this year, for the first time. In S Africa with several SA artists and by coincidence, with some singers and a rapper from Durban, also from SA when they visited Edinburgh earlier this year. Both tracks are waiting for a mix. We’ve also kind of collaborated with Tricky, by accident and recorded with Massive in Bristol in January. We’re getting a little more open minded about that kind of thing!

You could’ve had your pick of any choir (arguably in the world), but you’ve gone for our very own local Leith Congregational Choir, is it these little things that’ll keep you grounded?

The Leith Congregational Choir themselves help keep us grounded! Or at least, the female members who don’t take no shit from no one. We’re proud of the choir and it’s great that the world knows they exist as they were pretty hidden before.

-The album ‘White Men are Black Men Too’ is out now on Big Dada.
-Interview: Dave McGuire

*This feature was written for Leither Magazine prior to album release, hopefully to be published in next issue.

Album Review: Africa Express Presents…Terry Riley’s in C Mali

Whilst Africa Express Presents…Terry Riley’s in C Mali was released on CD back in November, it gets its CD release at the end of January, so fans of the black plastic will point out that rather than belated, this review is actually rather timely!

The original album recording of ‘In C’ by Terry Riley and Center of Creative and Performing Arts was released in 1968 (although this marks the 50th anniversary of it being written), and consists of 53 short, numbered musical phrases, lasting from half a beat to 32 beats;  where each phrase could be repeated an arbitrary number of times, and each musician had control over the phrase they played.  Over the years there have been many recordings of In C, in all manner of styles, instrumentation, etc. but In C Mali is the first ever African interpretation of this iconic contemporary classical piece.

This new version was recorded in Mali under the conductor André de Ridder, with musicians including up and comers Adama Koita, Bijou, Cheick Diallo, alongside Africa Express stalwarts Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, Jeff Wootton and Nick Zinner.  Whilst one might imagine that contemporary classical music and traditional African instrumentation are unlikely bedfellows, this very much embodies the spirit of Africa Express.  This version stays true to the spirit of the original, rather than follow it to the letter; rote repetition is alien to Malian musicians, so this sees a combination of patterns with solos over the top.  The album works fantastically well, with the multi layered patterns, grooves and solos working well, giving it a breadth and depth that one might not associate with minimalism.

Whilst Terry Riley’s audience is predominantly white, middle aged, middle class, Western, well-educated, avant-garde, and so on, to have young rising stars of Malian music paint the picture with a whole new colour palette is very exciting. Also, to have this modernist music played by traditional instruments from an entirely different culture, brings new life to it, and may even bring it bang up to date.

I found this to be a fully immersive experience, one that merits a comfy chair, a decent hi-fi and your undivided attention, or better still a pair of headphones in a dark room.  It would probably also be great to see it performed live at a club in Bamako, or even to have it played through a killer sound-system at a great little club in the UK.  Seriously though, get a copy and lose yourself in it.

Check out the online interactive video HERE