serious

Six bands, a scientist, and a philosopher

A couple of weeks ago I went to see Steve Jones speak in New College. He said he hadn't been there in about 40 years - the last time being some student campaign meeting with a much younger Irn Broon starting a barnstorming speech and then having to sit down halfway because he'd started the evening's celebrations a bit early. We've probably all been there, give or take the odd speech. Jones apparently misses lots of things about Edinburgh, but not the weather. He hadn't picked a good week for it, though.

Anyway, it was a very good talk, on the subject of evolution and those who dispute it. In the middle, as an example, he suddenly launched into the issue of FoxP2 and its role in speech, which I'd just been discussing with people a couple of days before. He included I diagram I had been poring over, too. ApparentlyFoxP2 is more active in birds which "talk" or mimic sounds than those that don't. Interesting. He also mentioned plague, and said that its spread in the middle ages was lnked to the use of new saddle technology. Anyone got any comments on that?

I haven't heard much lately about Porton's new plague vaccine. Have any of you?

He also told a story about giving a course on evolution in Botswana. Education is good in Botswana, but acceptance of evolution is low. He asked a student at the end of the course how they reconciled what he'd been saying with literalist beliefs. "Oh, that's easy", came the reply. "We were created. You evolved."

One of the comments from the audience started "I've been teaching evolution in Botswana for 17 years . . ."

Apparently the general view hasn't changed much in that time.

Slightly more recently I was back at the Cab again.

Amplifico, I suppose, shouldn't really be my kind of thing, but something - possibly having a both bass and a keyboard bassline - drove their songs along, making it a bit more driven and a little less polite than the recordings I've heard. It's nice tuneful stuff, though, regardless - slightly jazzy pop music.

Undercut are from Bristol, I think, and a more straightforward guitar band. The bassist has some kind of distort box, so occasionally it would go all weird at the bottom end, which I liked. Again, the recordings are a bit politer than that.

The Crimea I've mentioned before - you can still download their new (second) album from their website in its entirety. As before, it's gentle and wistful guitar-based pop music. With actual songs, as opposed to without. I can't remember the last gig I went to where I bought something by every band on the bill. A good night out, albeit not as cheap as I'd been hoping. Amplifico offering a really good deal on CDs didn't help.

Dan Dennett was speaking on Wednesday last week, and the hall was actually fuller than for Steve Jones. Various people were there - Paul, Abi, Matt, er . . . Sue? . . . Phil, of course, and Ken. No Charlie - I don't think he heard about it in time. I get the impression he's going through busy at the moment, too. It was a fine talk and not exactly what I was expecting, which was good - he decided to go into why free will and determinism are completely compatible. He did make it funnier than that makes it sound. I believe there will be video here at some point. There's one here that he gave last year (and they didn't tell me about) for you to watch if you wish. It's about religion. There's some Chomsky here, Hans Blix here and the astronaut Piers Sellers here.

On Saturday I was back at the Cab for the last of the three-concerts-for-twenty-quid. The first band on were the Mannequins - mostly in uniform of red shirts and black ties, but the singer was wearing a stripy top and jeans. It turned out that he'd been held up by events at Glasgow airport on his way back from Dublin, so he hadn't been able to get home to change. I'd not seen them before, and they weren't bad. They didn't make a terribly strong impression, but I enjoyed their set. May well catch them again sometime. They're an Edinburgh band, by the way - there's definitely at least one other band of that name out there that's not them.

The Rohypsters, I think, like the Cramps. They play a similar almost-rockabilly. I don't know if they share a sense of humour with them too, but they certainly put on a good show.

The headliner was Isa & the Filthy Tongues. I've seen them before - at Goulag Beat a few weeks ago - and I didn't actually recognise them either time. It turns out I've seen them before, but as it was almost twenty years ago I think I can forgive myself the lapse. Apart from the singer (actually called Stacey) they're half of Goodbye Mister Mackenzie - no Rona, no Shirley, and no Big John. Good stuff, though. Metcalfe sang the first couple of songs with Chavis lurking backstage, and then she came out for the rest of the set. They didn't play as many encores as they could have gotten away with, which I think is probably a good thing. I'll probably pay to see them again - especially if I can get Mr B to come along.
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I wonder what FoxP2 looks like in harbour seals? Apparently if you genetically modify mice so that their FoxP2 matches the human one, they babies make different sounds, but the mother doesn't change her response to them.
A good question. I can't immediately see that it's been looked at. Of course, if you know anyone who'd fund such work . . .
I don't think it has; I went to a talk recently by Tecumseh Fitch (a biolinguist based at St Andrews), who talked about Hoover the Harbour seal (and played a very creepy clip of Hoover talking), and he talked about FoxP2 and the various animals in which the genome has been sequenced, but harbour seals weren't among that list. The chap to talk to would probably be Svante Paabo; I think he did the mouse work (he certainly did a talk on it at the biology and language symposium), and seals are much nicer,a nd probably much more fun than seals, so he'd probably be delighted. :-)
Tecumseh Fitch

That's not a real name?

Hoover the Harbour seal

Is that closer to pinning the tail on the donkey, or Muffin the Mule? It doesn't sound legal either way.

The sea squirt's had its genome done, apparently. I hadn't heard, but I can see why you'd want to. Nothing particularly close to seals, though. A shame.
That's not a real name?
His name's actually William Tecumseh Fitch, but he goes by Tecumseh; apparently he was named after a Civil War general. But it does look like a made-up name. In fact, bung an extraneous apostrophe in and you have instant SciFi name!

Is that closer to pinning the tail on the donkey, or Muffin the Mule? It doesn't sound legal either way.

It does sound dodgy, doesn't it?
Isa & Co.
Yeah I saw they were playing but didn't lay my hands on tickets. Reminds me I need to get tickets for Puressence in Sept.


Re: Isa & Co.
Excellent. Me too.

Fancy tea and biscuits sometime before then?