The day I took a flask of coffee on the train (aka The Low Anthem @ Stereo, Glasgow)

All week I had been trying to convince myself that it would be a good idea to stay home on Friday night.  I was meeting a friend in Glasgow on Saturday to go and see The Low Anthem and it seemed that my money and liver would be better saved for that, as well as the 8.57 train that morning.  This effort was going quite successfully until around 5.45 on Friday evening when I opened a can of Innis & Gunn. There is something about drinking alcohol in your own living room that makes you long to go to the bar, particularly beer though not so much wine, which is sometimes quite literally a house drink.

Some time after eight o’clock I walked into Aulay’s Bar, though not until after I had taken a series of precautionary measures to make the morning easier for myself.  I packed a bag with a change of clothes and the necessary travel toiletries; two notebooks and a pen; the tickets for the gig on Saturday night and a phone charger. I prepared the coffee machine so that it would be ready to make enough coffee to fill the silver flask I had bought earlier in the week and I set aside two crispy rolls and four slices of square sausage, having purchased a second roll as a diversionary method to prevent me from picking up a sticky bun, which was 20p more expensive and presumably even worse for the body than two more square sausages.

As well as all that I also set thirteen alarms on my phone to go off at various intervals between 7am and, in the worst case scenario, 8.36.  It turns out, however, that alarms are only really effective if you are willing to listen to them and no matter how often or loudly they sound it is still your responsibility to get yourself out of bed.  This is particularly trying when you have been drinking beer and Jameson until midnight, and although I woke up when the first alarm triggered at seven o’clock I wasn’t able to get myself out of bed until 7.50.  An hour and seven minutes would surely be enough time to get ready and onto the train.

At 8.56 I was next in line at the ticket office window to collect the tickets I had reserved nigh upon six weeks earlier.  I felt an adrenaline surge through my body, the like of which I usually feel when I am readying myself to talk to a girl: a kind of terror, but tinged with excitement.  This is living life on the edge, I thought.  I began to consider how I might spend the next three hours of the morning if the train departed without me and I had to wait for the next one.  I decided that I would probably go back to bed. It didn’t come to that, though, and having received my tickets I strided onto the train, and as the doors closed behind me it was in motion before I had reached my seat.

When we were younger it always seemed that a train journey was a sort of picnic on wheels.  I can remember newspapers strewn across the table, there would be coffee cups and probably some kind of fizzy drink, sandwiches and sweets, maybe a packet of pork pies.  The train was much more of a fun adventure than taking the car or the bus, where I would often vomit due to travel sickness. As an adult it seems the reverse is true and I am occasionally feeling ill on the train, though this usually self-inflicted.

The memory of those picnics on wheels was on my mind when I reached into my backpack for my flask of coffee and two rolls.  I wondered if back in my days of blissful youth I was the shy eater I have become in public. As I took a bite of the first roll I was aware of bread crumbling onto the table around me and I could imagine some of the passengers nearby staring at me and chuckling to themselves at the sight of flour flailing onto my greying stubble.  If this was so terrible I could only dread the fate that would befall me once I reached the tomato ketchup.

In the late afternoon of a warm spring Saturday I met with the girl with pink hair, who on this occasion had managed to match the deep purple of her lipstick and nails to the colour of her Dark Fruits cider in a fashion similar to the way that my pocket square and tie and socks almost match.  We took advantage of the radiant sunshine and indulged in some al fresco adult beverages. The corner of Hope Street basked in the reflective rays which bounced off the passing traffic and the windows of buildings like a boomerang and it lasted long into the evening. The streets were bustling with energy and in the distance the sound of a lone piper bellowed.  It wasn’t immediately clear to us where the music was coming from, as the powerful glare of the sun obscured everything more than five feet away from our table. Soon we deduced from the swarm of smartly dressed people walking across the road to the Radisson Blu that the bagpiper was positioned outside the hotel and we suspected that they were going to an event which people who were dressed like we were and in the condition we were in would not be welcomed.

After some time the door staff at the Sir John Moore bar changed and the new man who was tasked with shepherding stray drinkers away from the benches on the pavement and to the tables under the canopy resembled a less animated version of Peter Griffin.  He seemed to carry a great authority in his role, despite not wearing a tie, and proved effective at rounding up any rogue street dwellers. The girl with pink hair and I liked to imagine that as the bouncer assertively told people they had to drink by the tables he had the same brilliant and unusual cartoon thoughts his television lookalike has.  I lost any kind of admiration I could have for him, however, when I noticed that beneath the enormous belly which loomed over the waistband of his black trousers the way the moon sits over the horizon he was wearing a brown belt, which betrayed his black shoes and caused me great distress to see.

The failure to co-ordinate fashion was probably more disturbing to me than bearing witness to a man in the bathroom who placed his hands under the tap for a brief splash of water and then spent around twelve seconds drying them.  Though this is undoubtedly better than the creatures who walk straight out of the toilet without so much as looking at the soap, but it feels like it is all for show. I shared this concern when I returned to the table, where we also discussed the attributes of sheep and whether it is more favourable for the male to have a large body or a large penis, whether horses are like humans and sometimes have days where they turn up for a race and can’t be bothered with it, the lyrics of the Smiths song ‘Ask’ and arrived upon the belief that telling a person that “I’ve found God” would be the best excuse for getting out of just about any scenario without having to offer further explanation, be it ending a relationship, leaving a job or calling in sick.  It occurred to me that this phrase could also work the other way and be a fruitful line to use to attract women and I have resolved to utilise it at the next opportunity.

Excuse me, I assume that you ordinarily wouldn’t even look at a guy like me, let alone engage in a physical relationship, but I have recently found God and he has spoken to me and told me that we are meant to have sex with one another many times.”

“Well, okay, if God said it…”

It isn’t always the case that you can pinpoint the exact moment when a night began to deteriorate like the time the Knopfler brothers formed a band and you found yourself in Dire Straits, but the decision to fill half of a glass with rose wine and the other half with Dark Fruits cider was clearly the catastrophic, albeit quite delicious, milestone in this particular episode.  We did this in order to help the girl with pink hair finish off a vicious bottle of wine so we could move on to Solid Rock, where I remember they played a Guns N Roses song but not much else. The fruit cocktail went straight to my head and I immediately went from feeling barely tipsy on hipster craft beers to full on drunk as a monkey, though the giddy kind of drunk.

The Low Anthem were playing not far up the road, and by the time we arrived in Stereo they had already started their set.  While they are a musically gifted act and can create some quite beautiful sounds, this was a terrible gig which featured their recent arduous album The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea in its entirety, as well as a tiring monologue about fish and the ocean.  When they played my favourite song, Apothecary Love, they forgot the lyrics halfway through and gave up, by which point I was wishing I had followed the girl with the pink hair’s lead and left. I stayed until the end, though, and no measure of Jack Daniels and coke could have made it bearable.

It couldn’t have been much later than ten o’clock when the concert finished and I retired to the bar of the Travelodge I was staying in. Seated there were two individuals, an older gentleman from West Yorkshire and a younger woman, probably around my age or younger, from Manchester, and we talked and drank into the morning hours.  I attempted to engage in some banter with the young barmaid and after some time she told me that she remembered me from a previous stay. “You’re very inquisitive,” she said after another meaningless drunken remark.  I gained some quiet satisfaction from the fact that this attractive barmaid could remember me when she wasn’t at all familiar to me, and I drank Guinness and Jameson and woke up at seven o’clock in the morning, fully clothed and on top of my unruffled bed.

I managed to make the 12.20 train home in plenty of time, though when I took an empty and unmarked table seat next to a reserved seat I was asked by the young woman who had seemingly purchased it if I would mind moving to the backwards facing seat as she becomes dizzy if she is seated in the direction of travel.  She was quite beautiful and asked politely and with an exotic accent and so I found it difficult to refuse and we swapped seats. I put my earphones in and listened to a Spotify playlist marked 13th May 2017 and I opened a can of beer whilst I began to write a blog post on the weekend’s events.  Every so often I would glance at the beautiful stranger opposite me and wonder how I could talk to her.  Her fingernails were painted a bright pink, which didn’t seem to match anything else on her person, and she frequently took photographs out of the window.  I was nearing the conclusion of my blog and the last of the beer and I decided that I would speak to her when the train reached Taynuilt, because that way if I fucked it up there would only be around twenty minutes of awkwardness to suffer.  When the train crawled into the village I closed the lid of my Chromebook and considered what I might say to her. She was busily texting or swiping through social media and I didn’t have the courage to interrupt her, so I sat anxiously sipping at my Innis & Gunn and questioning whether it would seem unusual to this young woman if I sat opposite her for almost three hours without saying a word and suddenly wanted to start a conversation.  I imagined that it would and I felt the same terror and excitement I had experienced the previous day. When the train reached Connel and she began taking photographs again I used the only opening line that came to my mind.

Are you some kind of traveller?”  I asked, inspired by the sight of her rucksack and by the fact that she was taking pictures and seemed quite foreign.

She explained that she wasn’t a traveller but was a Cypriot studying marine biology in Glasgow and was on her way to Oban for a week of work experience at SAMS.  We had a fine conversation, during which I learned more about mussels, seaweed and starfish than I could ever possibly have known. She told me where she was staying and asked me how to find it.  I told her that it was a straightforward walk and that I would take her there, As we were walking through town I pointed out some local points of interest and told her how to reach various amenities.  I thought that it might be amusing to draw her attention to McCaig’s Tower and tell her the story of its construction, only I suggested that John McCaig was a keen enthusiast of alien life form and erected the structure as a means of attracting spacecraft on the day that aliens decide to visit Earth.  She didn’t seem to be captivated by that story and by the time we reached her accommodation on the esplanade I had lost any courage I had to ask her if she would join me for a drink later in the evening. I had a feeling that not even God would tell me that would be a good idea.

The night we couldn’t stop talking at the gig (aka The Low Anthem @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh)


“Hey, I know we see each other all the time and we’re always talking, but how do you fancy getting together on Saturday night to talk about the old school days?”

“Sounds great.  Want me to come round to your place?”

“Nah, X-Factor is on on Saturday night and I like to be able to hear all the acts.  If I record it we could maybe go out to a bar?”

“Hmm pubs can get pretty loud sometimes.  We might not be able to hear each other over the sound of other conversations.”

“Aye, you’re right,  People can be so obnoxious!”

“Maybe we could go to a restaurant, get a wee bite to eat?”

“Eating out in Edinburgh can be quite expensive man.  Besides, most of the good spots will be full.  I doubt we’d even get a table in Wings at seven o’clock.”

“Here, this could be a shout.  There’s a band playing at Electric Circus on Saturday.  The Low Anthem.  They sound like they could be an acoustic group, quiet enough for us to talk over.”

“Good call.  And Electric Circus…seems like they’d be expecting us to behave like badly trained monkeys.”

“Probably.  Though you don’t think that other people might think that we’re worse than Donald Trump if we’re talking over a bunch of quiet songs they like?”

“Who goes to a gig to listen to the music anyway?  Ha ha ha.”

“lol.  True.”

“I’ll bet Electric Circus is one of those great places that puts two straws in your Jack Daniels and coke.”


“Oh, let’s hope so.  I love those bars!  I don’t even need one straw, let alone two.  But I just like that they are there, getting in the way of my nose.”

“Totally worth paying £4.20 for.”

“I can’t wait.  Saturday night it is then.”

“Real shame about Leonard Cohen, eh?”

“Who?”

The Low Anthem @ The Venue at Oran Mor, Glasgow

One imagines that if there is music to greet you at the gates of Heaven, that music would be played by The Low Anthem.  The Rhode Island five-piece always provide the most sumptuous medley of softly-plucked guitar strings, fragile flute and vocals so hushes at times that they could easily have been from a ghost.

Taking residence this time in the basement Venue at Oran Mor instead of their more recent haunt upstairs (Ben Knox Miller raised some chuckles when he noted that they unloaded their gear upstairs out of habit only to be find “some fucking wedding band had set up) it took some time for the band’s acoustics to settle into the intimate setting, with the rockier sounds of their more recent album, Smart Flesh, becoming lost.  Boeing 737 sounded particularly messy.

But when they found their rhythm, generally when they played songs from What The Crow Brings and Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and when the three of them were huddled together like apparitions at the front of the stage, their sound was encapsulated in its most haunting and harmonic form.  Songs such as Ticket Taker, To Ohio, This God Damn House and To The Ghosts Who Write History Books simply trembled in the delicacy of the playing.

A mesmerising cover of the signature Leonard Cohen song Bird on the Wire was a beautiful and fitting way to end a night which started out slowly, but was even slower by the death.