Meet Tom Jones and Bono’s new favourite band

ballroom3

By Michael MacLeod

FEW bands can claim to have picked up celebrity fans like U2’s Bono or Welsh crooner Tom Jones in the short space of a year.

But Friendly Fires will cap off the year of their lives by seeing in the bells on stage Edinburgh’s Hogmanay concert on Wednesday.

The hotly-tipped St Albans indie three-piece have vowed to stretch the 2009 celebrations out over “three wild nights of pubbing and clubbing” across the capital.

Singer Ed Macfarlane said: “We’ve got our first week off for over a year so we’re going to milk every second of it.

“Edinburgh is a beautiful city and we’re still stunned to be asked to play at the foot of the most famous castle on the planet.

“The worst thing about New Year’s day is waking up with a hangover, so we plan to not sleep for three wild nights of pubbing and clubbing.”

After a summer packed full of appearances at festivals including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, the band’s debut album rocketed into the top-40.

An appearance on Jools Holland’s show then spawned a steady stream of famous fans, including Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, who asked the band to support them on their UK tour.

And DJ Edith Bowman proclaimed Macfarlane’s dancing as “the funkiest and sexiest I’ve ever seen.”

But it wasn’t until the legendary Tom Jones approached the frontman to complement his bands’ music – and his moves – that he was truly star struck.

Ed said: “Tom Jones came up to me and asked to join the band because I’d stolen his dance moves.

“I said, ‘Well if you can’t beat them, join them,’ and he said ‘Don’t mind if I do!’

“I was amazed but he said he liked us so we gave him an album – it’s funny to think Tom Jones might have listened to your album.”

The Welsh crooner isn’t the only living legend to embrace the group’s danceable-yet-ambient sound, as U2 frontman Bono also approached the band after a recent gig.

Ed said: “We got to play some massive venues supporting Interpol, and after playing the Dublin RDS we saw Bono backstage.

“We were like f***ing hell this is amazing, it’s Bono – and then he came up to us for a chat.

“He just started talking about us being from St Albans and it turns out he’s also played a gig in this tiny venue called the Horn.

“Stuff like that just makes you realise all the hard work can get you places.”

Friendly Fires are due to be first band to play Princes Street’s iconic Ross Bandstand in 2009, after Paulo Nutini and Groove Armada.

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Drugged-up killer’s “foolish” hospital toilet escape bid

By Michael MacLeod

A CONVICTED killer who was hospitalised after a drugs overdose tried to escape from police through a toilet ceiling.

With culpable homicide and attempted murder charges to his name, Paul Newman, 45, was branded a “very great danger to the public” by a judge.

But he was released on licence after serving seven years of a ten year sentence and tried to run away from cops while in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in October.

His supervising hospital police only caught him when he sent an extractor fan crashing to the floor as he tried to sneek out of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, causing £1,000 of damage.

The dad of two was sentenced to 14 months at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday for attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

Newman was jailed for four years as a 20-year-old for the killing of an 88-year-old woman who died of a heart attack after he snatched her handbag in the street.

The callous heroin addict’s four-page list of convictions also includes an assault on a 92-year-old woman for just £10.

And he was sentenced to a decade behind bars for a knifepoint raid at a nursing home to feed his drug craving.

Armed with a knife, masked Newman forced a nurse and two care staff to take him to a drug cupboard where he stole drugs and syringes.

After serving seven years of that sentence at Saughton prison, Newman was freed in the summer under a supervised release order.

But on October 14 police found him in his Craigmillar home suffering from a drug overdose, and accompanied him in an ambulance to the ERI.

He was kept in overnight under the watch of police officers, who told him his licence had been revoked and he was now in their custody.

Fiscal depute Aidan Higgins told the court: “He asked police if that meant he was going back to Saughton.

“While waiting for medication he asked to go to the toilet.

“Police felt it was safe that they could wait outside, as there was only one door, which didn’t lock, and no windows in the toilet room.

“However the officers heard crashing noises so went in and found he had removed four ceiling panels and had climbed into the ceiling cavity.”

His escape bid was thwarted by a cop grabbing his leg and pulling him to the floor.

As they handcuffed him, Newman wimpered: “I had to give it a dash.”

His solicitor Fiona McDonald said he admitted his effort to escape was “foolish.”

She said: “In the cold light of day he accepts it was a foolish thing to do.

“It was a brief attempt to escape what was inevitabley going to happen.”

Near miss for pregnant mum in pensioner’s fatal crash

By Cara Sulieman

AN ELDERLY driver has died after suffering a heart attack at the wheel, sending his car ploughing into a tree.

James Fisher, 72, skidded across the busy city road, clipping another car carrying a pregnant woman.

The driver’s BMW then mounted the pavement and collided into a tree in Edinburgh.

Mr Fisher was travelling down a small side street when he took unwell at the wheel and careered across the busy Oxgangs Road just before 12.30pm on Monday.

Witnesses told police that they saw the 72-year-old slumped at the wheel as the car made its way down the road.

The fire service had to cut the him out of his car where he was unconscious but still breathing.

Mr Fisher – from the Colinton area of the city – was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where he later died.

It isn’t yet known whether he died of the heart attack or the injuries from the crash.

A pregnant woman was travelling in a Volkswagen car which spun on the icy road after being struck by the wayward BMW.

She was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary with a man and two-year-old boy but none of them had any injuries.

Local residents were shocked at the accident which closed the road for more than two hours to clear the debris.

A worker at Oxgangs Library, across the road from the smash, had noticed the emergency services on her way to work but didn’t realise what had happened at first.

She said: “By the time I got to work the police and ambulance had been there for a while.

“The road was blocked off just past the library with cars having to turn round and go back.

“It’s such a terrible thing to happen, really bad luck for the poor man.”

Mystery over death of German politician’s son

01 stephan biskyBy Karrie Gillett

THE son of a prominent German politician who was studying in Scotland was found dead in his flat on Christmas Eve.

Stephan Bisky, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, is the son of Lothar Bisky – the joint leader of the country’s  socialist Left Party.

The 23-year-old student had moved to Edinburgh to take up a research position with the university’s school of informatics.

Yesterday, police confirmed that they had been called to attend at the student’s flat in the city centre on December 24.

But there was still mystery surrounding the death of Mr Bisky who lived alone in the shadow of the university.

A Lothian and Borders police spokesman said: “We can confirm that we were called to Windmill Place, Edinburgh, at around 1.05pm on December 24, following the discovery of a 23-year-old man’s body in a flat there.

“There are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, and a report has been sent to the procurator fiscal.”

It is not clear how long the student had been dead and the results of a post-mortem examination have not yet been released.

Last night, neighbours at the Berlin-born student’s flat in Windmill Place were shocked to hear of his death.

One neighbour spoke of how Mr Bisky – who lists “fast, noisy breaks” as his favourite music on a social networking site – was always spotted with earphones as he came and went from the flat.

Jilly Armitage, 30, said: “We’re all wondering how long he was in there because the police asked us on Christmas Eve and didn’t seem to know themselves.

“He stayed on his own and was a very friendly, if quiet, chap.

“He seemed to love dance and house music – you would hear it coming from upstairs and he always had his headphones on.

“It must be awful for his family if they were expecting him home for Christmas. It is very, very sad.”

The 23-year-old moved to Scotland after graduating from New Zealand’s Otago University with a first class honours degree in neuroscience.

He was a member of the Edinburgh University’s institute for adaptive and neural computation – which studies brain processes and artificial learning systems.

Yesterday, there was no one available at Edinburgh University or the German Embassy in London for comment.

Ram-raiders set sights on designer handbags

Ram Raid

By Karrie Gillett

DESIGNER handbags worth more than £10,000 have been stolen during an early morning ram-raid.

The luxury bags were taken from the Mulberry store in Edinburgh’s trendy Multrees Walk after a 4X4 vehicle smashed through the glass front.

The black Daihatsu was spotted reversing into the shop before thieves snatched eight of the exclusive handbags worth between £1,200 and £1,500 each.

It is likely the expensive items – a must-have accessory for A-listers such as Kate Moss and Sienna Miller – will now be offered for sale at a knockdown price by the thieves.

The raiders also damaged the front windows of designer eyewear specialist Oscar and Fitch – situated across from the Mulberry store.

The stylish glasses store was targeted in the 5am raid – with the shop front smashed as the car reversed through the display windows.

The 4X4 vehicle was last seen on James Craig Walk heading left on to Princes Street.

Mulberry is next door to plush department store Harvey Nichols and it is the second time the upmarket accessories shop has been hit by ram-raiders.

In September, fashion-conscious thieves made off with up to £30,000 worth of designer handbags after a small black car reversed through the shop window.

The raid four months ago happened on the closing night of the Edinburgh Festival and the shop was completely ransacked.

On Tuesday morning, Lothian and Borders Police cordoned off the precinct – home to other upmarket stores such as Calvin Klein and Louis Vuitton.

A spokesman said it was important that anyone being offered cheap designer labels should be vigilant.

He said: “Anyone who thinks they may have been offered any of these stolen items should report it to the police immediately.

“We would also appeal for anyone who saw the black car driving at speed in the area around Multrees Walk at 4.50am on Tuesday to get in touch.”

Last night, Mulberry declined to comment on the incident but the store was due to reopen today for business on Wednesday.

ENDS

Fat pooch Alfie gets Christmas ban

Alfie fat dog

By Karrie Gillett

ALFIE the dog has been banned from Christmas – because he is too FAT.

The German Shepherd will miss out on all his favourite treats this year after being put on a strict diet in a bid to shed more than three stone.

The podgy pooch tips the scales at nine stone after gorging on biscuits, cheese and family leftovers on a daily basis.
Alfie fat dog

But now owner Helen Smith has banned him from having any treats this year as he flies the flab for Scotland in a pet’s fit club contest.

Helen said: “Last year Alfie polished off his Christmas dinner as well as all our leftovers. He ate turkey with all the trimmings, he loved the trifle and he even got stuck into some Christmas pudding.

“But we’re taking his weight-loss programme very seriously and there will be absolutely no treats for this year.”

The seven-year-old mutt has lost a whole stone since being picked for the fitness regime run by animal charity PDSA.

But he still has a long way to go in reaching his target weight of around six stone and his owner insists Christmas is a crucial time.

Helen, 51, will be spending the holidays with her husband James and four children – who will be bringing their own pets.

Helen explained: “The main goal for us at the minute is Alfie’s weight loss but we’re going to have a full house at Christmas with the children, six dogs and four cats.

“It’s going to be a nightmare because Alfie’s a cheeky little monkey and steals food from the other dogs’ bowls. I’m going to have to stand guard and make sure he doesn’t get up to his old tricks.”

The Smiths rescued Alfie three years ago when he was a bag of bones and Helen insists she just wanted to fatten him up.

She said: “The main reason he is overweight is because I just found it so difficult to say no.

“He stands there in the kitchen staring at me when I am making food, he’s intimidating and I just feed him the scraps.”

It was a routine visit to the vet that spurred Helen on to confronting Alfie’s rocketing weight.

She said: “My daughter was with me at the time and she saw a poster for the PDSA fit club contest.

“She told me Alfie should enter because he is fat and now here he is as the only Scottish animal in the finals.”

Vets at the PDSA have put eight of the UK’s fattest pets on a 100-day diet and the champion will win a pet-friendly holiday.

And Helen is hoping Alfie will be the biggest loser and shift the excess inches.

She said: “ I know Alfie is fat and we are all trying really hard to help him get down to his six stone target.

“We’re all taking him for walks and avoiding those puppy dog eyes of his when the biscuits are out.

“The vet told me I can give him a wee taste of Christmas by rubbing some turkey in my hands and letting him lick them. It seems unfair but that’s the only way he’s going to get back on track.”

No-show White Christmas

By Karrie Gillett

BOOKMAKERS were snowed under this year by punters gambling on a white Christmas.

A surge of bets on snow falling on Christmas Day saw odds slashed to 2-1 with one bookie even paying out ten days before the big day.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power decided to cough up more than £100,000 to punters backing a Christmas snowfall after the record low temperatures in December.

But on December 25 not a solitary flake of snow appeared in Scotland.

Spokesman Ken Robertson said there had been 4,950 wagers placed on a white Christmas in cities across the UK and Ireland – the highest number ever.

He said: “With unseasonably low temperatures throughout December, Paddy Power were forced to slash the odds on snow to fall on Christmas Day from 6/1 to 4/1 earlier in this month and then again to 2/1.

“We’ve been paying out from December 14 regardless of whether it snows or not.

“We may be left with slush on our face if the snow doesn’t arrive but we’re happy to take our chances.”

And one lucky Scottish punter placed a £75 bet on Christmas snow back in November – when the odds were still at 5-2.

The Glasgow man will now collect a £300 fortune even though the country goes without one snowflake.

Bookmaker William Hill slashed their odds of snowfall in Scotland down to 2-1 – and if it had snowed they could have been forced to pay out more than £1 million.

Rupert Adams, spokesman for William Hill, described how the Met Office needed to confirm that a single flake of snow fell on Edinburgh Castle at any point on December 25.

He said: “Betting on a white Christmas has really captured the imagination of the public this year.

“This has been our busiest ever Christmas run and there is a lot of money in the book.

“We’ve taken bets in about 15 cities across the UK and there’s a chance we could pay out about £1 million if all bets come in.”

And in Scotland, Mr Adams revealed the biggest gamble was placed in snow-prone Aberdeen – with one cocky punter placing a £3,000-bet on snow.