Scots Whay Hae!

Talking About Scottish Culture So You Don't Have To

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:

Another early contender for album of the year, never mind the summer, was Errant Boy’s A Wayward Mirror. We talked to Sean and Stephen from their record company Errant Media back in April on the SWH! podcast, just before A Wayward Mirror was released, and there was that understandable sense of excitement and apprehension as to how the album would fare.  They need not have worried as it is a standout,  made with the care and craft which only comes from those steeped in music and determined to share their vision. There will be further mention of such people below, but Errant Media are a great example of the current DIY aesthetic which is not only helping the Scottish music scene survive, but thrive. From A Wayward Mirror, this is ‘Decades’:

I don’t think there has been a debut album more anticipated in the last few years than Teen Canteen’s Say It With A Kiss. I first saw them play back in 2012, and their defiantly personal brand of pop was impossible to resist. Four years later and time has not withered their effect one iota. You might imagine that making a record over a lengthy period could cause some of the spark which fired the original music to diminish (I’m looking at you, Stone Roses), but these songs are as fresh as the summer sun, and as equally nourishing. Love, life, family and friendship are the themes running through Say It With A Kiss, with the songs, perhaps unexpectedly, reminding me of early Bruce Springsteen in their attitude, pop prowess and joie de vivre. See if I’m not wrong. This is ‘How We Met’:

While we’re talking classic pop, David McKellar, who goes under the moniker McKellar, rounded the summer off perfectly with a new single, ‘Just A Man’ and an appropriate video to boot. I am a massive fan of a quality singer/songwriter, with shelves of albums from the likes of Aimee Mann, Neil Finn, Boo Hewerdine, Josh Rouse, Ron Sexsmith, etc; and these are the folk that ‘Just A Man’ puts me in mind of. A panacea for all that ails you, if this fails to raise your spirits I would seek medical help immediately, cos yer no well. Just what the doctor ordered:

A band who always surprise and delight are Thirty Three Connection, and they’re back with a new single ‘In The Rain’. As with all their music, it’s a song which reveals something new with each listen, but this is a step up in terms of production and playing from what went before. Previous releases have hinted that there were great things to come from Thirty Three Connection. Well, ‘In The Rain’ is that great thing – a slice of power-pop which never goes quite where you expect it to. At just under 6 minutes, it’s the sort of epic song that too few even attempt these days, never mind pull off. So impressive. This is ‘In The Rain’:

However, the album which has had the most attention round our way is Modern Studies Swell To Great, which, through judicious single releases throughout the year, had been well-trailed – increasing our expectations every time. Sure, we’ve mentioned it before, and no doubt we will again before the year is through, but now you can hear the whole it all makes perfect sense. Every song works on its own, but together they take on new meaning and strength. Swell To Great sounds like nothing else you’ll hear this year, but yet feels awfully familiar – as if you’ve been listening to it all your life.

That’s because its influences are impeccable, like the record collection you wish you had. The result is a beautifully crafted record by musicians who not only know how to play but how to play together. I don’t think I can praise this record further without it getting embarrassing for everyone involved, so, although you should take my word for it, here’s the most compelling evidence yet. This is ‘Swimming’:

Finally, we don’t like to look back too much without also looking forward, and perhaps the most welcome return of the year is from (I Build) Collapsible Mountains. When Scots Whay Hae! began reviewing new music, (in 2010, I think) the discovery of their debut album, A Month Of Lost Memories, was one of the main reasons for continuing. I fell in love with it and wanted to spread the word, and not just by drunkenly ranting at parties as had been the case pre-SWH!.

Now known as Collapsible Mountains, Luke Joyce (for it is he) is back with Sophie Adams joining him, and together they have made a wonderful new record, A Fire Will Start. As the years have passed Joyce’s rasping vocals have deepened to the stage that at times it sounds like you could be in danger of starting a fire just listening to him. Adams’ is the perfect partner in that their voices in harmony match the understated and sparse beauty of the music. Think of the collaboration between Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, but with the threat of violence removed, and you have some idea of what’s occurring, but that doesn’t really do it justice so best make your own mind up. This is ‘A Fire Will Start’:

Listening to Collapsible Mountains got us thinking about the amount of great music that we have reviewed since 2010. It has been life-affirming and inspirational as week by week, month on month, and year by year Scots Whay Hae! discovered new music which we felt compelled to share. The unifying factor among all of our featured acts in this roundup, and all the others over the years, is that everyone involved does what they do for the love of music; both the artists and their record companies, such as, among many others, Song, By Toad Records, Errant Media and Last Night From Glasgow. Spread the word and support your local musicians. We’d miss them like crazy if they weren’t there…

Transatlantic Session: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Kevin Brown About Songs For Scotland 2…

cwkyjtixzem1xxdiss76For our latest podcast we go transatlantic with Ali talking to Kevin Brown, producer and the driving force behind, Songs For Scotland 2. Even if you’re aware of the original Bella CaledoniaSongs For Scotland you’ll find the story behind the sequel fascinating. Kevin’s passion for the project is infectious and inspiring, and you’ll also want to know what role Alasdair Gray has to play and all about The Alasdair Gray Scholarship Trust.

You can find out how to lend your support to Songs For Scotland 2 at Indiegogo, where, among other great items on offer, you can purchase one of three original Alasdair Gray prints, or all three should  you feel so inclined (although, hurry as they are going fast).

As Kevin explains, there’s a lot going on and you can keep up to date by following on Facebook and Twitter. For even more info, there is also this article from The National which is all about the project and why they support it, as well as Kevin’s own Bella Caledonia article on ‘The Possible Worlds of Alasdair Gray’.

But, without further ado, here is the podcast in all its forms. Make sure and stay with us right to the end as there is an exclusive play of one of the central songs from Songs For Scotland 2  just for you. Cos we’re like that…

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’ll be back soon, but before you go here’s an extra treat.  On the podcast Kevin talks about an Oran Mor night to celebrate Songs For Scotland 2 this November. Tickets are not yet on sale, but we will let you know when they are. To give you a taste of what to expect, here’s a film from the Oran Mor concert for the original Songs For Scotland from 2014, when a cracking time was had by all. To miss such an event once is unfortunate, to miss it twice would be downright careless, so we’ll see you at the bar:

‘Culture can and should be at the forefront in the drive for positive political change.’ – Alasdair Gray

Dance Macabre: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s The Dead Don’t Boogie…

DDB_CoverLast year we recorded a podcast with Graeme Macrae Burnet and Graham Lironi, both of whom had written novels which could be described as crime fiction, but which were vastly different from one another, or anything else published last year. During the discussion both spoke about the problems they had with their work being labelled as in any way ‘genre’.

If this subject interests you, you can still listen to the full podcast here,  but the short version is this; on the one hand, if you can be categorised as a genre writer it will arguably help booksellers to market you, and perhaps gets your books into the hands of those who otherwise may not have read them. On the other hand, you risk assumptions being made about your writing which are unfair,  or just plain wrong, and which may put off another group of readers. Although you would hope the quality of work would speak for itself, there are prejudices at play, married to the economics and practicalities of selling books, which can be hugely frustrating for writers.

Saraband Books have embraced this apparent dichotomy with their ‘crime/thriller’ offshoot, Contraband. They are the publishers of both Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project and Lironi’s Oh, Marina Girl, accepting both novels for what they are; brilliantly written, beautifully crafted, and original. Other authors published by Contraband include Neil Broadfoot, Matt Bendoris, and Shelley Day, and it is clear that what they have managed, in a relatively short time, is to become known as a place to find offbeat, interesting and quality fiction no matter how you label it. The fact that His Bloody Project has made the Man Booker Prize longlist this year suggests that how we categorise genre and literary fiction can, should, and perhaps is changing. The only question that should matter is, ‘Is the writing good?’, and this is what Contraband puts first.

The latest example of this is Douglas Skelton’s The Dead Don’t Boogie. That title may put you in mind of the 1982 Steve Martin movie Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and it’s not a bad place to start as, as with Martin and his director Carl Reiner, Skelton is aware of genre conventions and subverts them, while also celebrating them. For anyone who has ever revelled in the hardboiled books of Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett or Jim Thomson, the language and the attitude of Skelton’s protagonist Dominic Queste will be familiar, even if the setting is unexpected.

That setting is the west of Scotland, concentrating on Glasgow, but even here Queste’s out of time and place character doesn’t seem that odd. It’s a part of the world which has a long association and even obsession with American culture, be it ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, soul music, country and western, or crime, so having a self-styled gumshoe working a beat from Dumbarton Road to Dennistoun and back is not that far-fetched. Alan Grant’s 1989 graphic novel The Bogie Man did a similar thing by having a noir mystery fronted by a character who thought he was Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, but set in late ’80s Glasgow. Dominic Queste doesn’t think he is Sam Spade, but he would like to be.

This allows Skelton to show an excellent line in one-liners and droll dialogue. You may think that a character who uses lines like, “a candyman from the smoke” and “I get cranky when I don’t get my coffee” would begin to grate, but that’s the joke, and everyone is in on it, including Queste. There is always the sense that, while all sorts of madness unfolds around him, Queste’s ‘role-playing’ is a front to help make him make sense of it all as well as disarm those he has dealings with. The real hard men and dangerous characters are other people. Deep down, despite the act, he is more of a lover than a fighter, and he has the patter to prove it. Or at least he thinks he has. Skelton also has a great ear for everyday language, but is able to enhance it to produce dialogue which is how the people his characters are based upon wish they spoke, rather than how they actually do. Add in characters, such as “Ritt Bobak”, (one of the best names since Glaswegian dance act “M’boza  Ritchie” appeared on Top of The Pops), and you begin to get an idea as to the playful tone which runs throughout the novel. Dominic Queste knows he risks appearing ridiculous, but uses this to his advantage, as does Skelton who has great fun with the character and the language.

The only time the writing falters is when certain references are spelled out, something which disrupts the flow and temporarily knocks the reader out of the story.  It’s a small point, and doesn’t happen often, but when it does it breaks whatever the literary equivalent of ‘the fourth wall’ is, and in a book such as this, where the pace is relentless, that is more noticeable. It’s a fine line when you riff on popular culture as Skelton has Queste do, and most of the time he is successful.  But, as with any form of comedy, the times when you need to explain are when the desired impact is lost.

However, nothing can stop matters for long as the plot rattles along at break-neck speed – literally for some. Skelton’s humour shouldn’t hide the fact that this is dark material, and The Dead Don’t Boogie revels in almost cartoon levels of violence. One particular scene in Victoria Park is reminiscent of Tarantino or John Woo, and the book’s body count is one to make even the Partick police raise an eyebrow.

With Dominic Queste, Douglas Skelton has created a character you want more of, in a similar manner to Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane. The next book in the series, Tag – You’re Dead is previewed as a tantalising prologue, and this is good news for as soon as you finish The Dead Don’t Boogie you are ready for more. This is modern pulp fiction at its best. It’s fast-paced and flippant, and with all the clichés any reader would come to expect; tough guy priests, reformed hard men, dames in distress, but brought bang up to date in place and time. The fact it succeeds is a testament to Douglas Skelton’s understanding of noir fiction, and it’s another example which proves that Scottish crime writing is as diverse and as any other area of literature. Here’s hoping Dominic Queste continues to boogie for some time yet.

Douglas Skelton will be appearing at Waterstones on Argyle Street in Glasgow to launch The Dead Don’t Boogie this Thursday, 8th Sept, 19.00 – 20.30.

All Mod Cons: A Review of David F. Ross’ The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas…

vespas-full-front-copy-275x423Two of the West of Scotland’s major obsessions are music and crime, so it’s a smart move on the part of David F. Ross to write about both in his second novel The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas. Any one who has been involved in or around the music business will know it’s also fairly apt.

The Miraculous Vespas are an up and coming band led by the charismatic and unstable Max Mojo, known to his parents as Dale Wishart, who puts together a disparate bunch of misfits who bring their idiosyncratic personalities to a group determined to make it big, by fair means, but more often by foul.

Their rise (& fall) is set against the backdrop of localised criminal activity which is controlled and fought over by a small number of families all after the lion’s share of ever decreasing spoils. Imagine the Cosa Nostra on the Costa del Clyde and you have some idea as to what these families aspire to.

A lot of the comedy in Ross’ novel comes from the distance between the fantasy and the reality of crime in 1980s Scotland. Opening up video stores rather than casinos, sporting nicknames such as ‘Flatpack’ Frankie and Wullie ‘The Painter’, rather than ‘Lucky Luciano’ or ‘Spats’. Ross never shies away from the fact that threats and violence are never far away, and he is not glorifying such behaviour. Rather he is trying to give a realistic portrayal of a time and place, and the lengths some people would, and will, go to to make a living, often using methods which are not strictly legal. The thought that this may involve homo-erotic initiation ceremonies only adds to the overall sense that the serious and the absurd are never far from each other.  Continue reading

Caw Canny: A Review Of James Yorkston’s Three Craws…

418DU4pdayL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_The Scottish traditional children’s song ‘Three Craws’ is a classic example of folk tradition being run through with dark themes. If you are unfamiliar with the fate of the birds then, depending on the version, one “canne find its maw”, one “fell and broke its jaw”, and the other “couldnae ca’ at a'”. Disney, it is not. However, nothing which befell those famed corbies matches the fates of the ‘three craws’ in James Yorkston’s novel of that name. If it’s a children’s lullaby you’re after, look away now.

Equal parts pitch-black comedy and tragedy, Yorkston’s Three Craws concentrates on the intertwining lives of Johnny, Stevie and Mikey. The first two are close childhood friends – bonded by the bad times more than the good. Johnny is returning home after trying and failing to make it in London as an artist. Home is Strathhillock in Fife, where Stevie, himself only recently returned due to the death of his aunt and uncle, has promised to give him a room should he want to visit. This is all the encouragement Johnny needs to leave a life of out-of date sandwiches and less than welcoming boozers behind.  Continue reading

Edinburgh Book Festival 2016: The SWH! One-A-Day Guide…

Main brochure cover imageFor many people, today’s the day that Edinburgh’s Festivities really kick in with the first day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

For 16 days Charlotte Square Gardens becomes an oasis of relative sanity and calm in a city gone pleasingly potty.

This year’s programme is as rich and diverse as ever. However, there is often the problem as to who to see on any given day, especially as, at this late stage, many of the ‘headline’ events are sold out.

If you aren’t one of those organised people who book their festivals with military precision, or if you happen to find yourself in Edinburgh with time on your hands, then the Scots Whay Hae! one-a-day guide is just for you with a suggestion for each day of the festival (tickets still available at the time of writing).

13th – Edward Ross

Comic book artist, writer and illustrator, Edward Ross has created something special in his fantastic voyage through cinema. Filmish looks at the ideas behind famous movies; at big issues such as censorship and at great directors like Hitchcock and Tarantino. The book takes the form of a graphic novel, taking a visual approach to serious filmic challenges like time, propaganda and different ways of looking.  Continue reading

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