February has been a pretty decent month for me on the ol’ arts front. I broke my gigging duck for the year (48 days in – a new record), sales saw a whole THREE films at the Glasgow Film Festival and rid my to-read pile of another four books.
I also made a tentative return to formal reviewing, diagnosis with two pieces published this month – as well as my monthly new music column, and an opinion piece about anxiety and benefit reforms for inews that I’m pretty proud of. Don’t think it’s put me off the whole micro-reviews thing, though. I’m having way too much fun.
T2: Trainspotting (2017): While parts of Danny Boyle’s sequel to his 1996 adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel were hilarious (a scene set in what, for politeness’ sake, I will describe as the sort of club that wouldn’t want me as a member in particular), I left feeling desperately sad – in much the same way and for many of the same reasons as I did after seeing La La Land. I’ve written about this in a bit more depth if you’re not sure what I mean. I’m not convinced the film stands alone or what appeal to anybody who isn’t ageing into adulthood at the same rate or a few years behind the original, but because I just rewatched Trainspotting the week before every nostalgic beat hit me in the right spot. ****
Handsome Devil (2016): The Glasgow Film Festival programmers told us in their introduction they didn’t think they’d be able to find something suitably heart-warming, feelgood and escapist with which to open this year’s festival – until they caught this Irish coming-of-age story at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Think The History Boys on a lower budget with a bigger heart – and Sherlock’s Andrew Scott putting in a bravura performance. ****
Elle (2016): Not that heart-warming and feelgood was an abiding theme throughout the festival, no. Screening on Jehane’s birthday, the UK premiere of French psychological thriller Elle was – weird as shit? Isabelle Huppert is jaw-dropping as a rape survivor who is as far from the traditional “good victim” narrative as it’s possible to be, and it’s magnificent to see – but this is a film that takes a decided turn for the nasty, and is incredibly uncomfortable viewing. **
Lost In France (2016): Irish director Niall McCann’s exploration of friendship, nostalgia and 1990s Glasgow indie music would have got five stars from me for The Arts Desk with or without the special performance at the end featuring the likes of Alex Kapranos, Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert. It’ll make Glaswegians fall in love with their city just a little bit harder, while everybody else will love Chemikal Underground boss Stewart Henderson’s take on the past and future of independent music. *****
Santa Clarita Diet (2017, Netflix): Who would have thought that, between Nathan Fillion and Timothy Olyphant, it would be the creepy dealer from Go that grew up hot? Other than everybody who watched Justified? Inappropriate musings aside, Stringer and I loved binging his and Drew Barrymore’s suburban rom-zom-com over the course of a week this month – although, had we thought about it more, we probably wouldn’t have done so over dinner. ****
Terry Pratchett, Back in Black (2017, BBC Two): A fitting eulogy for my favourite author, who died in 2015; not least because it made heavy use of his own words read in character by the actor Paul Kaye. No dry eyes in this house by the end, let me tell you. ****
The Menzingers, After the Party: As a friend put it on Twitter a couple of weeks back – I can’t stop listening to this album even though I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not actually very good. PA punks age out of their edge and it’s a little sad, a little dreamy, a little dance-in-the-basement-y. Coolness is overrated. ***
Ala.Ni, You & I: An album I was sent last year, but didn’t actually get around to listening to until the singer popped up on the WNYC Soundcheck podcast. I wish I could do justice to her smoky jazz-soul vocal, so striking it needs the bare minimum of instrumental augmentation, with my words – oh, just take a listen below to hear what I mean. ****
Sarah Maria Griffin, Spare and Found Parts (2016): TFW one of your favourite contemporary voices takes on one of your least favourite genres – fantasy. It’s a slow burn, this, but Griffin’s strange and magical dystopia will ultimately win you over and have you rushing through its pages by the end. ****
Brooke Magnanti, The Turning Tide (2016): I heard my first excerpt of Magnati’s debut thriller when Stringer hosted her at last year’s Aye Write festival and the finished work didn’t disappoint. It’s a fairly convoluted plot, overseen by a too-clever-by-half protagonist I found difficult to warm to, but it’s competently done and a gripping read. ***
Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala (2013): The most striking thing about the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate is just how bloody normal she is. While Yousafzai’s achievements – and, of course, her near-fatal shooting by the Taliban – take up much of her autobiography, it is her depictions of a happy family life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley that are the most charming parts of the book. ****
Laura Jane Grace, Tranny (2016): I finished the month with another autobiography: this time the provocatively-titled one by one of my favourite musicians. Co-author Dan Ozzi skilfully weaves contemporary diary entries into the wider narrative, which provide gut-wrenching insight into Grace’s pre-transition years as well as putting some of my favourite songs into devastating context. *****
Tegan and Sara, O2 ABC, Glasgow, 17th February: My first gig of the year, and four stars from me for The Herald. And no, they didn’t do “Everything Is Awesome”.
Campfires in Winter album launch, Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, 24th February: In which Croy’s finest finally unleashed their debut album onto the world, and I got to pull Book Group’s Christmas cracker.
Song, By Toad Granfalloon, Summerhall, Edinburgh, 25th February: In which I went All That Way, as we used to say when I worked for a certain city centre retailer, for Meursault’s album launch and then left to get the train home before they even made it on. Rocky Lorelei made was an already excellent day as my new favourite band though, while Siobhan Wilson (above) was as devastatingly captivating as ever.
- my Weakerthans-inspired Virtute the Cat tattoo (by Misha Connell at Lucky Cat, Glasgow);
- Crazy Ex Girlfriend on Netflix;
- Tarte’s Lights, Camera, Lashes mascara – I have no idea what the “4 in 1” refers to, but any mascara that won’t shift even during one of my workouts has clearly got something right;
- the V Gd Fun Club cards/stationery subscription box by Veronica Dearly, particularly February’s “self love” theme (and my new You’re Doing a Great Job pen);
- Team Lollipop Bath Bomb’s record-busting escape from Escape Rooms Scotland’s Zombie Quarantine game on Jehane’s birthday;
- revisiting old haunts with Kaite, and enjoying the cocktails just as much;
- a lovely piece by my Arts Desk colleague Jasper Rees on the kindness of strangers, and a very special memorial bench.
How did your February treat you?