Scots Whay Hae!

Talking About Scottish Culture So You Don't Have To

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From Autumn…


As the nights draw in and the heating comes on, it’s a good time to begin to take stock of the year and how it is shaping up for music. Looking back over SWH!’s musical roundups of 2016 to date there is little doubt that it has been one of the most interesting and varied of recent times, and it  has no intention of stopping now.

So far the most notable rends have been left-field and/or ambient electronica, the reappearance of the singer/songwriter, the more traditional end of the folk spectrum, (great band name, ahoy!), and lashings of wonderful classic and classy pop music. The following roundup suggests that admittedly simplistic breakdown is not too far from the mark. It is also looking like the year the Scottish independent record label roared, (more of which at a later date), and there is further evidence of this in the music that follows.

First up we have the new album from The Furrow Collective, who set the bar high for contemporary trad/folk music, presenting their often dark material with wonderful understated playing and pin-sharp harmonies. The Collective are Rachel Newton, Emily Portman, Lucy Farell, and Alasdair Roberts (a previous podcast guest), and if you have felt in the past that folk music isn’t for you, and I know there are a few of you out there, then this is the record to change that. You want proof? Of course you do, so here they are with ‘Wild Hog In The Woods’ which also has perhaps the best video of the year:

Now, it’s a very welcome return for Mr Eugene Twist, a man who appeared on the SWH! podcast as far back as October 2012 to talk about his album The Boy Who Had Everything which was one of the best of that year. We haven’t heard from him since, but now he’s back and the world is a better place for it. The new single is ‘Savile Row Gigolo’, and it shows that he has not been squandering his talent or his time. It’s a slice of new-wave pop, with bitterest-sweet lyrics to match, reminiscent of Elvis Costello,  Nick Lowe, and Matthew Sweet and with guitar riffs so sharp you could do yourself an injury. Talk about whetting the appetite for more – this is a return of both style and substance:

Those good folk at Last Night From Glasgow continue to release nothing but great music. We’ve already had some of the best of the year from them, including Emme Woods, Stephen Solo, Mark W. Georgsson, and Teen Canteen and it continues with the new single from Be Charlotte. It’s called ‘Machines That Breathe’, and it’s the kind of record that makes you want to dance in the street, or, for the more conservative among you, at least it will put a notable spring in your step. And even if you don’t find yourself arm in arm with a stranger on Sauchiehall Street, ‘Machines That Breathe’ will have you in a better place than you were three minutes earlier:

Rick Redbeard‘s last solo album,  No Selfish Heart, showed off his skill as a songwriter and singer, something which had perhaps been overlooked in his work with The Phantom Band. His second, Awake Unto, came out earlier this year and simply confirmed the promise of the first. He has a new release from it, ‘The Night Is All Ours’ which can’t help but put you in mind of Nick Cave, Richard Hawley, and Leonard Cohen, and suggests that his voice and his music are just getting better. If Be Charlotte makes you want to dance, ‘The Night Is All Ours’ makes you want to sit perfectly still and think of you and yours, of lives lived and lost. It’s a wonderfully evocative record that demands multiple listenings, and which offers more each time. Sheer class:

Faith Elliot was new to Scots Whay Hae! this autumn, and it was love at first listen. The song that had me hooked is ‘Pyrite Ammonite’ and it sent me back to the early records of Jenny Lewis, Liz Phair and Juliana Hatfield, which in turn sent me back to Faith Eliot once more, for more. It’s taken from Insects which is out now on Song by Toad Records, and you can listen to the whole here and start your own relationship. But before you do, here is ‘Pyrite Ammonite’ which sounds as good today as it did on the first listen. This is no fleeting infatuation  – it’s the real thing:

We have already flagged Ette‘s Baby Lemonade album as one of the year’s finest, but to put the tin lid on that claim they are back with a new single and video. It’s called ‘Bonfire’ and it’s another example of a band who are steeped in music and who are determined to bring their influences and their own ideas together to produce something all of their own. If you haven’t heard Baby Lemonade yet then I hope this will persuade you to do so. If it doesn’t, then, in a reverse of the norm; it is you, not me. This is ‘Bonfire’:

As most of you will know, C. Duncan‘s debut album Architect was nominated for 2015’s Mercury Music Prize, something which can be as much a burden as a boon. But there are no such worries here as Duncan returns with a new album, The Midnight Sun which this listener feels eclipses the first. It’s another collection of electronic dreamscapes which, while they work individually, are even better when together, creating a coherent and affecting whole. I’ve been out and about Glasgow listening to The Midnight Sun since its release and it makes for the perfect urban soundtrack. Walk about your city, or any city, with this on your headphones and see if you don’t view it anew:

And finally, every now and again something reaches our ears which, although not Scottish, is too good not to share with you. This applies to the album Cais by Johnny Fox, the name of a collaborative album by Irish musician Johnny Fox and Brazilian artist Samantha Capatti. Johnny and Samantha, who now live by the beach in Wexford, Ireland, previously spent 18 months living together in a one-room flat in Anhangabau, in the centre of São Paulo.

It was here, 16 stories above the chaos and concrete of South America’s largest city, that the seeds were sewn for this record.   Samantha wrote words and Johnny wrote music (each quite independently of another) and once back in Ireland, work began to combine the two into something to reflect both sides of the same story.

It’s a beautiful and obviously deeply personal record which I have taken to my heart since the first play, and which I’m convinced will touch yours. It’s music made to soundtrack their lives together, to help remember the important things and make those memories more vivid. I feel it’s a privilege just to be allowed to listen:

Talking Books: A Preview Of The Dundee Literary Festival…


One of those questions you are asked to ponder every now and then is, “Who would you invite to your perfect dinner party”. Well, it looks like those organising this year’s Dundee Literary Festival have gone one better and put together a dream festival line-up. Running from today (19th) to Sunday 23rd, it shows off contemporary Scottish literature at its best, but offers much more, including celebrations of some lesser known writers including Shakespeare, H.G. Wells, and Shirley Jackson.

I can’t think of a better conversation I’d like to be part of than one between Liz Lochhead, James Kelman, Don Paterson, Jenni Fagan, and Alan Cumming, but that’s essentially what the Dundee Literary Festival 2016 is offering. However, that’s just the headliners. Like all the best festivals much of the interesting stuff is lower down the bill. The following is a short preview which only scratches the surface of what’s on offer, so, for the full programme, download the brochure here.

Herring Tales: How the Silver Darlings Shaped Human Taste and History with Donald S. Murray tells the fascinating tale of the herring industry which was a major and essential industry in Scotland, and its history tells us much about how modern Scotland was formed, particularly with regard to the north. Comics are as central to Dundee’s mythology as jute, jam and journalism, and there are a few events which celebrate this. But, if I was to pick only one I would go for Comics Masterclass with Ian Kennedy, a man who worked on comics from as early as the 1950s through to a stint on the legendary 2000AD.

Future Scotlands sees writers and cultural commentators Matthew Fitt and Tim Armstrong talking about the future of Scots and Gaelic, both real and imagined. A timely discussion, what with Dylan’s Nobel Prize award, is  Instrumentals with Roddy Woomble accompanied by Andrew Wasylyk. Woomble is still best known as the frontman with Idlewild, and is one of Scotland’s finest lyricists. One of the most interesting panels is Amy Liptrot & Malachy Tallack whose books have two very different but equally fascinating takes on island life.

It wouldn’t be a Scottish literary festival without some crime fiction, and Crime at Teatime: Russel D McLean & Lin Anderson will satisfy those for whom Bloody Scotland is a book festival and not simply a football related expletive. The event with Sue Lawrence + Martin Cathcart Froden looks at historical crime fiction, and is also notable for the former being best know as one of Scotland’s most highly regarded food writers (and winner of MasterChef in 1991, fact fans). I’m sure no-one will mistakenly attend looking for advice on the perfect Arbroath smokie, but, if they hang about for the Q&A, they might just get it.

This is the tenth year of the Dundee Literary Festival, and I think it boasts its best programme yet. For all the information you need, and to keep up with unfolding events, follow the festival on Twitter and on Facebook.

In the meantime here is Mr Roddy Woomble:

The Road Less Travelled: A Review Of Kellan MacInnes’ The Making Of Mickey Bell…

mickey-bell Kellan MacInnes’ novel, The Making Of Mickey Bell, is darkly comic tale with a protagonist who deals with triumph and despair and treats those impostors as the same…

Kellan MacInnes’ novel, The Making Of Mickey Bell, is a heart-felt missive to Scottish literature, referencing many of its best writers and poets…

Kellan MacInnes’ novel, The Making Of Mickey Bell, is an experimental work at times reminiscent of Kafka and Kelman…

All three of the above were attempts to begin this review, and all of them give a truth, but not the whole truth. The truth is that Kellan MacInnes’ The Making Of Mickey Bell is possibly the most packed novel you will read this year. It’s bursting with ideas, stylistic flourishes, unusual narrative voices and literary experimentation which makes it stand out in the crowd. There is so much going it threatens to overwhelm at times, but, mainly through Mickey Bell’s constant stravaiging, you are moved on to the next scenario slightly dazed but never confused.

It’s a novel which takes urban realism kicking and screaming into the wilds of Scotland. Imagine the famous scene in Trainspotting where Tommy tries to get Renton, Spud and Sick Boy up a mountain, and instead of them turning tail and heading back to Leith they decide to give it a go. Mickey Bell uses climbing munros as personal therapy,  but his embracing of the country is a strong reminder, as if it were needed, that it’s not so “shite being Scottish” after all.

This is an important point. Trainspotting was published in 1993 and was set in the late 1980s, bang in the middle of a Tory hegemony which Scotland didn’t vote for and was powerless to change. It was a time pre-Devolution and Referendum, and as such it remains the perfect novel for its time and place. The Making Of Mickey Bell, by contrast, is one of the best artistic reactions to post-Referendum Scotland there has been so far. Despite the actions and deeds of many whom Mickey meets, this is a novel which ultimately offers hope for the future, both individually and shared.

The titular Mickey Bell is our guide through the novel, meeting a rogues’ gallery of the good, bad and ugly as he goes about his quest to bag all of Scotland’s munros.  He is living with HIV/AIDS which means not only a regime of regular medication, but having to deal with the “labyrinthine” benefits and welfare systems. It’s little wonder he wants to head for the hills.

The rest of MacInnes’ characters, or “Cast” as he prefers it, are an equally unforgettable and unlikely bunch. There is John Paul O’Malley, a buddhist with serious issues, Zelda, a wicked Queen who is not quite Disney friendly, John-Fraser Smythe, the Secretary of State at the DSS who takes a keen interest in Mickey Bell, and Mr Fuk  Holland 2012 who is heroic in name, deed and nature. Add to them Tyke, Mickey’s loyal collie dug, and a raven called Fithich, as well as the mysterious and eerie Taghan.

Talking animals appear to be a theme in Scottish fiction in 2016 with James Robertson’s articulate toad in To Be Continued and the argumentative alpacas in Kevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant and Forever, but MacInnes takes this even further with the thoughts and musing of ‘The Munros Book’, a talking book in the most literal sense. It’s another example of the surreal touches which are a feature of The Making Of Mickey Bell, making it such a curious read. Throw in Bette Davis and some other well-kent and no sae well kent faces, and you begin to understand how eccentric and off-kilter the book is.

Homage is paid to Scottish literature, and, as well as rejoicing in the shock and awe-naw of Irvine Welsh and John Niven, there are nods towards Edwin Morgan’s concrete poetry, the hard-hitting socio-political commentary of Duncan McLean, the heart and conscience of James Robertson, the offbeat realism and sensuality of Alan Warner, and the poetic feel for the land of Nan Shepherd. I’m sure when you read it (and you really must read it) you’ll find your own touchstones, but the greatest skill MacInnes shows is in knitting all of these influences together to create something brand-new and unique.

The Making Of Mickey Bell is all of the above and I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface in this review. What is most impressive is the desire to do something different. Actually, it’s the desire to do something different and pull it off. Kellan MacInnes has been willing to experiment with form, structure and language and you can’t help but feel he has had a ball doing it. There is a lust for life, and for writing, which runs through the book, and which keeps you turning the page. I would love to know what Mickey Bell does next, but I’m even more keen to read more Kellan MacInnes.

Here is the audio version of this review:

All Whyte On The Night: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Ross & Alasdair Whyte…


In the latest podcast Ali and Ian are joined by musicians Ross and Alasdair Whyte who, under the moniker WHYTE, have collaborated on the excellent album Fairich. What’s it like? It’s brilliant, but for a more considered explanation you’ll have to listen to the podcast, which not only has the word from the horses’ mouths, but also features an exclusive play of two tracks…at least we’re claiming it as such.


For regular listeners Ross will be a familiar voice as he has been a guest previously, appearing alongside Alasdair Roberts live from Braemar. It seems he finds collaborating with Alasdairs fulfilling, and Fairich suggests this is a strategy which works as it is a wonderfully evocative collection of Gaelic traditional songs sung by singer/songwriter Alasdair and backed by Ross’s ambient electronica. The term ‘Gaelictronica’ is mentioned, to a mixed reception, but in this case I think it works as a useful description of the music they have made. The two also discuss how, as well as the what and why, and for anyone interested in the making of music and the nature of collaboration this podcast is a must.

You can find more about WHYTE by following them on Twitter or Facebook, or by visiting their website. If you go to their YouTube channel you’ll get a daily video for 7 days for a different song. Fairich is launched on  21st October at Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse, followed by two other live events in October, at Underdog on 23rd and at An Tobar in Mull on the 28th. You can listen and buy the digital album on Bandcamp, but I would suggest getting your hands on a copy of the CD as it includes some fascinating liner notes about the history of each track.

The first podcast recorded in Scots Whay Hae!’s new gaff, this was a really enjoyable chat and we hope you get as much from it as we did on the day. If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS where there’s a sizeable back catalogue waiting for your pleasure.

You can also download it by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

We will be back soon with another guest or two, but afore ye go here is a trailer for Fairich which gives you a taster of what to expect, followed by one of the featured tracks:


And we’ll be back soon with someone else, for your pleasure…

Short Cuts: A Review of Lara Williams’ Treats…

treats_-270There were some great books published in the summer which deserve your attention but which, due to reasons beyond our control, we didn’t get around to reviewing. One of these is Lara Williams’ short story collection Treats.

For a long time the short story collection was perceived by many readers either as a stop-gap between a writer’s novels, or a cash-in when someone became unexpectedly popular and a publisher wanted to get as much of their material out while the name was on everyone’s lips.

The former group would include collections such as James Kelman’s Not Not While The Giro, A.L. Kennedy’s Indelible Acts and Janice Galloway’s Blood; in the latter – you only have to remember how quickly Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House came out after Trainspotting to suspect there was some validity to that claim. However, I’ve picked all of these examples deliberately as each one sees these writers at their very best, and they should be found on any respectable bookshelf. The idea that the short story is somehow an inferior form of writing is outdated, ridiculous and just plain wrong.

This has been borne out in recent years when some of the most memorable books have included Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales, Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth, and the aforementioned Janice Galloway’s Jellyfisheach of which appeared in the more discerning critics books of the relevant year. Instead of being overlooked, as may previously have been the case, all three were held up as the best in contemporary fiction, and you cannot help but get the feeling that the short story’s time has come again.

Mention must be made of Freight Books, the publisher of Any Other Mouth and Jellyfish, as well as Treats. Their championing and promotion of short fiction is both fervent (as the recent publication of Head Land: 10 Years Of The Edge Hill Short Story Prize proves) and forward thinking as there is a strong and persuasive argument that the short story is the form of fiction which best fits the modern world. Short stories can be read in those stolen moments between all the other demands on our time. No-one is saying that longer fiction is dead – at least no-one with any sense, but the way we read in general has changed. There will always be a need to lose yourself in somebody else’s world for hours and days at a time, but, as with the way many people now listen to music, often a quick emotional and artistic hit can make all the difference to your day.

Treats makes the points I’m trying to more eloquently than I ever could. There are few better examples of the format fitting with subject matter and style. Lara Williams manages to capture the emotion, humour and pathos found in the drama of everday lives in a few pages, reminiscent of A.L. Kennedy’s 1990 debut collection Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains. 

The opening story, ‘It Begins’, looks at post university life and the difference between expectations and reality until one day you have to ask, in the manner of David Byrne, “Well, how did  I get here?”  There is a weary disappointment with the world, not being able to enjoy the moments which should be fun as future failure is predicted and expected. The pace of events in many of the stories is unsettling as it feels as if life is passing these characters by with them often helpless to effect change.

‘Both Boys’ beautifully clarifies the perverse psychology behind the nature of attraction, forcing readers to think about why they have formed the relationships they have – an uncomfortable exercise but unavoidable. That’s what these stories do so well. They make you reflect on your own life with honesty. The best writing involves a pact between reader and writer, and when the writing offers such insight you have to respond in kind, otherwise what’s the point? You can’t help but have an intimate relationship with Treats, and it’s not always a comfortable one, but you get out what you are prepared to put in.

‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ (one of many musical references) is a tragedy which is all too believable, and reminds us, in a world where choice is supposedly endless, what can occur when ‘to choose’ actually means something. There are attempts to self-improve, to be better, faster, stronger (‘Safe Spaces’) but reality keeps intervening. For instance, you may have an idealistic idea as to the life of a writer, but have a read of ‘Sundaes At The Tipping Yard’ and you get a version which not only rings true, but which manages to move the character from having reasons to want to do it (in the form of a Creative Writing MA) to her needing to do it; something which you only fully realise has taken place at the very end.

The opening three sentences of ‘Taxidermy’ could constitute a full story in the length of a tweet, but Williams uses them to grab your attention before expanding into a short treatise on what we place importance on; how we judge ourselves and others, and how we are judged. The pressures of the modern world are a constant throughout, and just because we may view them rationally as superficial, it doesn’t make them any the less powerful or palpable. There is also, in ‘Penguins’ and ‘A Single Lady’s Manual For Parent/Teacher Evening’, the sense that life is moving pretty fast, but, as a flip side to Ferris Bueller’s advice, stopping to look around once in a while doesn’t mean you allay the danger of missing it, but rather that you can’t ignore it, and that reality can be terrifying.

Love and relationships are transient, and are often to be endured. If there is a better description of how moving on from a painful break-up feels than the opening of ‘Tributaries’, “As the tears and Tanqueray passed, the listens to Blood On The Tracks less frequent…”, then I’ve yet to read it – although, in my case it was Macallan and Oh Mercy. It’s a personal favourite, highlighting Williams’ sense of humour, which is so dry at times that you may need another gin after all. It’s the prefect finale to Treats as it leaves you wanting more, and promises great things from Lara Williams.

I realise that the above may have painted Treats as a miserable, misanthropic text, but it really isn’t, or at least only in the the way that The Smiths’ ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ or Pulp’s ‘Common People’ is. Like those songs, Williams’ displays brevity, wit, and a desire to find something romantic in life, even though it may not be conventional, or exactly because it is unconventional. One of the reasons for reviewing Treats months after I first read it is that it hasn’t left me, and I have returned to my favourite stories again and again much as I do with certain tracks on a cherished album. There is something in them that makes me want to remember previous times, places and people. Like perfect pop songs in literary form, this is storytelling at its finest.

Here is the audio version of this review:

New Musical Success: Summer Special…

a0705982930_10Phew, what a scorcher! Not the weather, obviously, but this summer was a season featuring some fine music of varied shapes and hues. Great pop music lead the way, as it should during these months, but the left-field, the quirky, and just plain classy were also in evidence. Great summers have great soundtracks, and this made 2016 unforgettable.

Aside from those you’re about to hear there has been memorable music, as  previously mentioned, from Ette, Starless, The Royal Male, and the Duke, Detroit, and there were also excellent albums by Teenage Fanclub, The Pictish Trail, Kid Canaveral and King Creosote (and what a night round at Jools’ place that line-up would make), as well as the beautiful Lost Songs Of St Kilda  – but the following are the musicians and songs which have soundtracked and summed up our summer of 2016.

Actually, the first album I’m going to mention came out in March, but didn’t reach Scots Whay Hae! until July. Lizabett Russo is an artist who it is almost impossible to pin down, and those are the people who are the most interesting. At times there is the pared down fragility of Kathryn Joseph, at others the vibrant Eastern European folk similar to that of Lorraine & the Borderlands, but then Russo will lead you down somewhere completely unexpected with dark jazz-tinged ballads which bring to mind the Tindersticks, Nick Cave or later PJ Harvey. The album is called The Burning Mountain, and each one of its 14 tracks is a treasure. If you’re like me then one listen will not be enough, and you’ll go back ago the beginning straight away. This is the title track:

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