On Friday 13th March 2020 I reviewed the first live show of a new tour schedule from Dean Owens and The Southerners. This show brought Dean Owens back to his roots at The Leith Dockers club where a sell-out show surrounded him with family and friends and saw Dean possibly at the best I have ever seen him perform live over the years that I have been reviewing him and his music. Sadly, this night was to be the only show in a tour schedule that had to be cancelled due to unfolding events in the world and the last live music performance that I (and everyone else) was to review for far too long a time.
Why do I mention this in a review of these EPs? Well, by this tour, Dean Owens was already expanding his musical landscape and the album Southern Wind had already been released with the title track winning Dean the prestigious UK Song of The Year Award from the UK Americana Music Association in 2019.
Faced with an extended period of not being able to perform live, Dean Owens has been far from idle, and the Desert Trilogy EPs are the end result of one of many projects that are in the creative production line. Perhaps this unseen and forced change of direction has allowed time for the threads of many older projects to be finished off and new musical horizons envisaged.
Moving on musically is always going to be a difficult choice for any songwriter/performer, and Dean Owens could, if he wanted, play safe and write songs about his home town of Leith, Glasgow, his family and friends forever and keep his well-earned “fan-base” happy forever, but that is hardly a route that would meet the needs of someone who is always wanting to explore where his music will take him.
The Desert Trilogy EPs are Dean taking us on a new walk with him, this time not around the streets of Leith and Scotland that he evokes so well in his music, but the dusty paths of the great open spaces of the American Southwest, and in particular the colours and sounds of California, New Mexico and Arizona with an obvious connection to those desert spaces that clearly inspire him as much as his childhood memories of home and Leith. Some people are always reluctant to accept a change of direction from any artist/performer and some simply might not like change, but I would ask them to at least listen to the new music on these EPs. Other people will be like me, curious at least to find out where Dean Owens is taking us now.
I knew before even listening to any of these songs that they would be different in many ways from many other Dean Owens songs, and took the opinion that I was reviewing this 12 song trilogy (4 tracks per EP) of 1 “The Burning Heart”, 2 “Sand and Blood” and 3 “Ghosts” as hearing Dean for the first time. Having said that though, the music may be different, but the core building blocks of everything that has gone before are still here – that ability to paint in words a picture to tell a story full of detail and emotion, very high studio and packaging production values. Also, very importantly, Dean’s ability to know what he wants to achieve in his music, and what musicians and other creative and technical people he needs to surround himself with to achieve his goals.
Intentionally or not, some of these songs just bring to mind pictures of scenes from classic Sergio Leone western films, bars full of people and music contrasting against endless desert paths of scorching daytime heat and freezing cold nights, and this is all captured in the words and rich musical texturing of these songs. This complex layering of music is a combination of many musical and technical talents which, due to the times, was often produced long-distance online, and somehow everything has come together and these songs are a little bit like Dean Owens switching from monochrome to colour, or from mono to stereo sound.
One of the other projects that is in the production pipeline is the “Sinner’s Shrine” album due for release in January 2022, and each of these EPs has a track on it from that forthcoming album. Working with the band members of Calexico on this project is, I hope, going to be an ongoing musical journey for Dean Owens as it is pushing musical boundaries that he clearly wants to explore further in the coming years.
The Dessert Trilogy EPs have been released individually
Friday 5 March Vol 1 The Burning Heart
Friday 7 May Vol 2 Sand and Blood
Fri 3 September Vol 3 Ghosts
All three volumes are now available as a box set.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
Leith-Built Ships Volume 1 - They Once Were Shipbuilders by R. O. Neish published by Whittles Publishing has been in print since 2019, so why am I writing a review of it now? Well the answer to that is that this book is part of a planned 4 volume set that will cover all aspects of Leith-built ships through the years, and as I have volume 2 ready to review too, it seemed only proper that we start at the beginning of this story.
The author, R. O. Neish, is a former Leith shipyards worker, and that insight into not only the technical aspects of how a shipyard works, but also the unique bonding of all the many trades and professions that have to come together to build a ship give this book the feel of something more than just a history book. This author understands shipbuilding but, more than that, understands shipbuilders.
This book, I have to admit, is a bit special to me as I come from Leith, and can testify first hand to the economic devastation caused to Leith by the slow decline and eventual loss of not only the shipbuilding industry, but the many support businesses that depended upon it for economic survival. No matter what anyone might try to tell you, Leith has still never recovered (and probably never will) from the last great Leith shipyard Henry Robb Limited (Robbs) closing in 1983.
This first volume is, however, the beginning of the story of Leith-built ships up until the end of World War 1, and Volume 2 (to be reviewed soon) takes up the story from 1918–1939. Ships have been built in Leith for centuries, but its reliance upon natural tide waters and a problematic sand bank have always caused some problems, and how these obstacles have been overcome is as much of the story here as anything else.
The author wisely does not get too involved in the very early years of Leith and its turbulent history, but it is covered in enough depth to give the reader an insight into this pre-industrial period. What is fascinating though is to read how shipbuilders had to learn to adapt to new skill requirements as the methods of building ships changed. This volume is not only the story, but the evolution of shipbuilding as it moved from wood, iron, wood/iron and finally steel, each new development along the way being required to build the larger and quicker ships demanded by the shipyards’ customers.
This book is written with a light touch, and you can as a reader get involved at whatever level you want to read this book. If a light overall history is all that you want, then you can skip some parts of this story and not lose too much. If specific detail on ships (and often a brief history of them) is what you want, then those facts are here too. There is of course, as the title of the book tells us, a lot of detail on the individual shipyards from mostly the 1800s onwards in this book and background stories to the owners behind these yards. This book is a casual pick up and read book, or a sit down and get engrossed in the details, the choice is yours.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
The Ocean Film Festival returned to the Festival Theatre Edinburgh tonight in a new one-off date slot just after its sister Banff Mountain Film Festival had been screening for the previous two evenings. As usual, a selection of films with running times ranging from 3 to 51 minutes gave the audience a window on the world that few of us experience in person, and it gave us both messages of hope and warnings of dire despair.
As usual for any of my reviews for this film festival, this is more of an overview of the themes and topics introduced in the films rather than a direct review of them as the official website at www.oceanfilmfestival.co.uk gives so much information and many people will have read it already.
The Ocean Film Festival is a reminder to us all that this planet that we all live on, this planet that we and every other living organism on it depends upon for every need, our very existence, is essentially a planet of water. Planet Earth has a surface area that is more than 70% water and over 97% of that water is found in our oceans. In a strange twist of fate though, only around 3% of that water is suitable for us to use for drinking, irrigating crops, and many other uses, the rest is too salty for human (and most other land based mammal life). There are also vast amounts of water in the frozen polar regions of our world and unseen underground.
Clearly, there is an almost unimaginable variety of life that lives in the vast waters that we cannot live in directly, and one message that comes through every Ocean Film Festival is one of warning, that humans must take responsibility for what we do to our oceans as, apart from conservation of the bio-diversity in them, so much of our own food supply and other needs come from the ocean waters. We clearly are not listening to the warning bells ringing loudly in our ears as we continue to pollute the oceans with ever increasing plastic waste, the problem being so bad that estimates are that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than marine life. Some experts think the date is far closer to us than this. Add into the problem industrial pollution, ghost (discarded) fishing nets trapping marine life, our part in global warning, and many other eco-crimes, and we are at the razor edge of an ecological catastrophe on this planet and the “tipping point” of no return is very close; in fact in some parts of the world we are already past that point of no return.
The opening film perfectly illustrates this crisis as we follow a 90 year old Indonesian fisherman who has since the age of 10 years old seen the waters around his village as not only his source of food, but as a friend that he connects to in an almost mystical way. For nearly 20 years now this man’s main catch of the day has not been the once abundant and uncountable fish around the waters of his home village, but the now equally uncountable plastic waste which he now catches and sells to people for recycling.
Aptly, our closing film tonight was also a warning to us of the ecological damage that global-warming is causing in some of the remotest islands in the world, the Kuril Islands between Russia and Japan. Interestingly this film also gives us a glimpse of the enormous destructive power of a volcanic eruption, the unimaginable power to transform a once green and teeming with life island into one covered in volcanic ash and now almost lifeless. Of course in the never ending wonder of life, that volcanic ash will itself plant the seeds for new life some time in the future. The brochure for the Festival does, however, in my view, do great disservice to Russian marine biologist Vladimir by calling him “eccentric”. This is a man who clearly loves these islands, and understands both them and the life upon them in a way that most of us will never do. We need this “eccentric” man’s wisdom and many others like him if we are to have a chance of not falling off the ecological precipice that we are all on at this point in time.
In between these two film “bookends”, we have stories of connecting special marine inhabitants with humans around the coast of Ireland, an epic kayaking adventure, an almost insane non engine powered boat race to the arctic, and more, with all of it presented with outstanding film photography.
A few thoughts to end this review not covered in the films, but still relevant to them. As humans we may not be able to live in the salt waters of this planet’s oceans, but we are still with over 60% of our bodies made up of water, very much evolutionary products of the life-giving waters of this planet. All of these films also share one common theme, and that is the connectivity that the people who made them feel with not only the ocean waters, but something unseen and far larger out there when they are alone with nature. I do believe that planet earth is connected as one living organism in ways that we will never truly comprehend and perhaps is even sentient in a way that is just impossible for us to understand. Somehow though, at some special moments, we can for a very short time be part of that larger picture.
One parting thought. We live on a planet that has enclosed all life here in a protective atmosphere for billions of years as we speed through space. No new water has been created inside this protective sphere since it was formed, yet the human population has grown from estimates of less than 400 million people in the year 1100 to almost 8 billion a thousand years later (almost no time in the life-cycle of a planet). Somehow this world has managed to support us and all other life here for all this time, but without our help now, without our intervention, without humanity changing not only its ways but how it inter-acts with the oceans of this world, that is all in danger of coming to an end in far too many parts of this world.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
Banff Mountain Film Festival 2021/22 tour made a welcome return to The Festival Theatre Edinburgh this evening, and as always the quality of photography and film-making was impressive. This is a two day event and today was the Yellow film programme (the Green one is tomorrow).
As always, the event is through film a series of windows looking out to the wondrous and magical big world that is out there and was, for me, a much needed one as too many of us have had our horizons restricted with ongoing world events of late.
I am not going to do an individual review of each film here as so much information is available direct from the Banff website at www.banff-uk.com, but I am going to try and cover some of the highs and lows in general that these films shared with us as their audience.
Banff Mountain Film Festival is first and foremost exactly that, a film festival, and what we are viewing on either the Yellow or Green programmes are the films that were selected from 377 submissions. It is also important to note that none of these in-theatre screenings have been seen in the digital-only screenings that Banff has also been running since 2020.
As always, we have a selection of short and longer films with running times ranging from 4 to 45 minutes, and as always with any film, much of the work is in the editing that we never see. It would be interesting to know just how much filming and editing time went into some of these films, particularly the shorts.
What is it that makes people do what they do, makes them step outside of their comfort zone, and often put their own self at personal risk (potentially even death)? These are questions that perhaps only they can answer as we follow them across mountain ranges of deserts and ice, along the razors edges of mountains and through treacherous waters in difficult to access rivers. Some people do it to challenge their own body and mind to achieve what even they consider to be impossible, others seem driven by the thrills of travel and adventure, others perhaps do not even know why they do it at all, they just do it.
This year’s films certainly for me raised a few questions, and the increasing changes to sensitive environments brought about by man’s presence as we build dams to divert and block rivers is one of them. Having in the west destroyed so many of our own natural resources under the mask of progress whilst selfishly enjoying a lifestyle that many can only dream about, that all too often is achieved from this destruction, we are perhaps not the best commentators for this planet. Another main reason for the damage to the ecology of some of the areas in some of these films is their destruction for the natural and mineral resources that they hold, and once again, we are all too often the consumers of the end products of this environmental catastrophe.
Our film-makers, whatever their motivations, always manage to make an interesting film, and I always try to remember just how fortunate they are to still have the wonders of nature out there to film in, but also the opportunity to do so as sometimes the demands on financial and logistical resources to make some of these adventures must be considerable. Behind every person on film, there must often also be a supportive network of people unseen in the background that give them the freedom to explore and enjoy the amazing world that they show us all is out there.
This year though, there was in these films a clear message that we sadly live in a world that is not only unjust in its sharing of natural resources and wealth to people, but also a world that is fractured with political, military and large business conflicts over resources, money and power. As a result, some areas of the world are simply not that safe to travel in and sometimes careful negotiations and payments for safe passage are required. Travel, explore, enjoy, but sometimes, in sensitive areas of the world, with care for the safety of not only yourself, but those around you, seen and unseen on film.
Unusually, this year’s scheduling has put both the Banff Mountain and its sister Ocean Film Festival close together with the latter also screening at Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Friday 3rd September.