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My mind was blown on a trip inside the AI Song Contest – a global competition, created in the image of Eurovision, to choose the best song created in collaboration with artificial intelligence. From neural net-generated punk to Nepali grindcore, emo K-pop, a Swedish folk lament for a dead dog written by a fake news machine and an electronic dance song created by a computer fed 17 years of trance music, I for one bow down to our new robo-songwriting overlords.
I took a trip to outer space – well, Sutherland – for National Geographic to visit the site of what may soon become Scotland and Europe's first continental spaceport, and meet the so-called "space crofters" of Melness. There are huge environmental, scientific and legal challenges yet to be overcome towards this project reaching fruition, but I couldn't help but root for the locals who are working to see it happen – Sutherland clearly needs the boost (no pun intended) that it will bring. A beautiful corner of Scotland well worth a visit whether for rocket-spotting or not.
As an adolescent boy just getting into the burgeoning world of video gaming, I was exactly the target audience for GamesMaster when it hit British TV screens in 1992, and it became a fixture of Tuesday night after-school viewing. It wasn't until I began researching the show's origin story for this article that I came to fully appreciate what an impact it had on me as a kid – nor how much of its, shall we say, irreverent humour was lost on a pre-teen boy. Dominik Diamond and Jane Hewland were a total joy to chat to, and every bit as funny and entertaining and original as GamesMaster was itself.
Halfpipe heroes: the untold story of Britain's first ever halfpipe snowboard competition, The Scotland on Sunday March 2021
I had a blast diving into the maverick, anarchic, hilarious and surprisingly untold story of Britain's first ever halfpipe snowboard competition at Cairngorm, Scotland in 1991. A story from when snowboarding was still a countercultural phenomenon on the fringes of snowsport, with chaotic, DIY roots in the skate and surf scenes. A hand-carved halfpipe, guys boarding in dressing gowns (another with a colander duct-taped to his head), wild parties, a champion who went on Blue Peter then later became a professional magician. This story had everything.
The rebel photographer who shot life behind the Berlin Wall, Harald Hauswald interview for Huck October 2020
During the ’70s and ’80s, Harald Hauswald shot from the hip, secretly documenting life in East Germany behind the Berlin Wall – and making powerful enemies in the process. Illegally smuggled out of the GDR and published in West German magazines and newspapers, his photographs helped to bring down the Berlin Wall and topple the hated Stasi secret police. It was an utter privilege to meet Harald in Berlin in the summer of 2019 and hear his life story – he's one of my all-time heroes, and his photographs in many ways have helped shape my entire love of the city of Berlin.
Every year, Time Out survey thousands of people around the globe to discover the world’s coolest neighbourhoods. Last year the good citizens of Glasgow selected humble, working-class East End district Dennistoun. I don't know that I've ever seen such debate sparked by an article I've written, spreading like wildfire across social media into national newspapers and even TV news. Did we help a genuinely great neighbourhood find its feet again amid the turmoil of Covid-19, or did we enable the dark forces of gentrification? The former, I think, although the debate was an important one to be had.
I've had the privilege of interviewing Peter Keup several times now, and every time he always leaves me with more questions. The former ballroom dancer who was caught trying to escape the GDR as a young man, interrogated, tortured, imprisoned then later ransomed to the West German government, has been through so much in his life – and that was even before he later learned that his older brother had spied on his family for the Stasi. In this incredibly candid piece, he opens up about the psychological toll of being betrayed by a family member – and how it changed his life for the better.
The incredible story of 'Khochu Peremen' – the more than 30 year old Soviet-era rock song which has become an anti-government anthem in Belarus – as told through the voices of young protestors and a close friend of the song's Russian author, the late Viktor Tsoi. I love telling inspiring stories like this at the nexus of culture, history, politics and social activism. I'm very grateful to, not to mention admiring of, the three Belarusians who contributed, in spite of the very real risk of speaking out against a violent and vengeful government. I hope they see the changes they're fighting for.
As part of a campaign sponsored by VISA, I spoke to owners of three small, independent shops around the UK about how they were coping with the shock of being forced to close for a long period by coronavirus – and how they were preparing for reopening as lockdown lifted. I was really inspired by the resourcefulness each business had shown to keep trading in spite of everything, not to mention their optimism that they would find new ways of operating amid the 'new normal'. It was great to to be able to spotlight Glasgow Scandi design store HOOS in particular – one of my favourite local shops.
#Shure24 interviews with Miink, Frank Lobo and Skinny Pelembe for Shure's #LOUDER magazine, March 2020
I spent an inspiring few days in London in late 2019, travelling around meeting three rising young musicians – Miink, Frank Lobo and Skinny Pelembe – selected as part of top music tech brand Shure's #Shure24 scheme platforming exciting new talent. The interviews were published in the #Shure24 Takeover edition of Shure’s #LOUDER magazine, which won Best Special Topic Issue at 2020 Content Marketing Institute Awards.
I flew a short hop up to the isle of North Uist to spend a couple of days on land and sea with employees of the Scottish Salmon Company, learning all about the story of the Native Hebridean – a species of fish indigenous to the peaty brown waters of the Outer Hebridean island, sold exclusively through Waitrose supermarkets. Snuck in a beautiful winter's early morning sunrise on the deserted beach at Traigh-stir, one of the north-western most points of the British isles.
In parallel with my article for TIME Magazine about welcome money and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I also researched and presented my first ever radio documentary on the same subject, for BBC Radio 4. Having very little previous experience in radio, it was a steep learning-curve but absolutely worthwhile and I'm extremely proud of the finished product, which received great feedback from commissioners and was selected for Radio 4's Pick of the Week, as well as made into a podcast as part of R4's Seriously...
In my proudest moment yet as a journalist – not to mention the culmination of the biggest project I've ever undertaken – I had a cover feature in the international edition of TIME magazine, connected to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (to be precise, it was a shared cover – with your actual Mikhail Gorbachev). I met and interviewed 10 former East Germans about what they bought with their 100DM "begrüßungsgeld" or "welcome money" from the West German government on arrival in the free world, giving unique perspective on one of the most iconic events of the 21st century.
All bands on deck! At the very last minute I managed to slip aboard the Norwegian Pearl and set sail on Belle & Sebastian's Boaty Weekender – a floating festival, featuring one of my favourite bands of all time and a selection of their favourite bands and friends. We sailed to Cagliari and back on flat Mediterranean seas, and were treated to some unforgettable performances. And we saw dolphins. And flamingos. And there was a 24-hour free buffet. My job is horrible sometimes, truly horrible.
Did I ever imagine that my job would somehow lead to me modelling sportswear for a day? Undoubtedly not. But such was part of my brief for a job for Guardian Labs, sponsored by New Balance, all about running the urban peaks in Glasgow. In which I give a brief overview of the best and worst (rain, it's always raining) of running in the Dear Green Place. And in which I pose ridiculously in some admittedly pretty natty threads and trainers.