First things first


ON PAPER there isn't much to distinguish Spiral, BBC4's new cop drama, from any other on TV. Its opening shot, as moody as dawn over Vegas in CSI, sees the discovery of a badly beaten body in a skip. A young female detective is handed the investigation by a handsome superior. She has to cope with insubordinate subordinates, a grisly post mortem and a trail through the underbelly of a city, where the lifestyle of the victim suggests that far from being a bookish student, she may have been a prostitute with a client list which includes powerful society figures ... including the rich businessman friend of our female cop's boss.

So far, so Prime Suspect. Except this isn't a star vehicle for Helen Mirren, Tamzin Outhwaite, Sarah Lancashire or any of the people from Cold Feet, but an eight-part subtitled French thriller set in Paris.

It is on Sunday nights at 9pm (repeated Wednesdays at 10:30pm), usually a time when our main channels serve up a lumbering whodunit, Midsomer Murders or an Agatha Christie retread, where huge budgets disappear on lavish period details and a cast drawn from the great and the good of British TV, who might as well wink at the audience as they chew the scenery.

Spiral - Engrenages in France - stars Caroline Proust, Grgory Fitoussi and Philippe Duclos. It's spare and underplayed. Chop editing stops well short of flashy but lets you know this is a post- NYPD Blue world. Locations are grubby and naturalistic and plot teasers hint that there is much more to come. What sort of job is the hard as nails female prosecutor being offered? How is the disgruntled junior cop's cocaine habit going to undermine matters? Does the investigating judge have another agenda?

Intrigued yet? Bodyswerve John Nettles, Martin Shaw et al and try a crime thriller with va va voom.


A CHEERFUL gathering at Edinburgh's Coda Music last week launched It's Not the Time You Have ..., a compilation of recollections about the late piper, fiddler, composer and manic mixer Martyn Bennett. The book is a lively, if inevitably poignant, insight into his no-holds-barred approach to music and to life in general.

Bennett died in January last year, aged just 33, following a long and valiant battle with cancer, but the emphasis of both book and gathering was on the slight, dreadlocked figure's larger-than-life-presence and indelible impact on those who knew and worked with him.

Compiled by his mother, the folklorist, singer and author Margaret Bennett, It's Not The Time You Have ... contains fond and often funny reminiscences from acquaintances, ranging from former piping teachers to Gaelic scholar John MacInnes and the traveller singer Sheila Stewart - who was among the traditional singers given an astonishing and uncompromisingly electronic setting in Grit, Bennett's final tour de force. All royalties go to the Bethseda Hospice on the Isle of Lewis, of which Martyn, as a cancer sufferer himself, was a supporter.

It includes the tale of how Martyn went busking in Edinburgh, dressed in full Highland rig-out, but didn't earn too much, so reverted to jeans and T-shirt plus a sign, "Saving up to buy kilt", and found he raked in much more cash. There's also an intriguing account of the working relationship between mother and son when he recorded her Gaelic song repertoire for the beautiful Glen Lyon CD. At the launch, glasses were raised to the much-missed mercurial genius, while Margaret recounted some less printable anecdotes. And that title? It comes from Martyn's own creative philosophy: "It's not about how much time you have, it's what you do with the time that matters." Few could have done more.


THE demise of painting is greatly exaggerated. It died when 19th-century French artist Paul Delaroche stared in horror at the first daguerrotype: "From today, painting is dead," he proclaimed.

It died again when Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal at a salon in New York in 1917, when Jackson Pollock dripped, when Damien Hirst cut a cow in half. Our own Adrian Wiszniewski took a pop at it in 1999. "Painting is dead," he said, shortly after staging an exhibition entitled On The Death of Painting: A Celebration. Although, it should be said that most of the works in it were, well, paintings.

Now, conceptual artists Maris (the Glasgow-based husband-and-wife team prefer to be known interchangeably as "Maris" though it has been rumoured that their friends call them Alexander and Sue) are nailing on the coffin lid. They think it's all over. Painting is deader than Monty Python's parrot.

How do they know? They read Jacques Derrida's seminal art theory text, The Truth in Painting and burned it (an understandable action, as art students everywhere will testify). They also burned an unread copy of the same text, turned the ashes of both into pigment and made two sets of 13 paintings with it (the read book producing lighter pigment than the unread).

"Stop painting now!" they exhort, as The Truth in Painting And Other Propositions is exhibited in Scotland for the first time (at the Heart Gallery in Edinburgh from tomorrow until 2 July). "Painting is dead and buried - we should dry our eyes and remain respectfully silent before the pure grey frieze of its tomb." They even travelled to Paris to give one of the paintings to Derrida before he died. They thought he would like the irony.

So that's settled then. Marked bins will be placed in well-known beauty spots for the anonymous disposal of paintbrushes. And somewhere, in a darkened basement well away from prying eyes, a rebel is reaching for his palette ...