New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

So much great new music, so little time! Over the last few weeks there has been a delightful deluge of damned good tunes in many styles, forms, shapes, and sizes. By the time we hit October you can usually start to tell how a year is going to be judged and 2019, against many odds, is turning out to be a brammer.

This month we have songs from three of the finest albums of the year, one of the most intriguing and important EPs of any year, a new favourite who feels like an old friend, a local-to-SWH! band who may have released one of the best pop songs for ages, an unexpected and fine cover version, and the return of a national treasure with a tune to break your heart. Strap yourself in – it’s going to get emotional…

We have welcomed Broken Chanter to these pages before but make no apologies for doing so once again, especially as the eagerly awaited self-titled album was released last month. It’s quite simply one of the finest collection of songs this year, (or most years), with David McGregor proving that he is a writer of songs which once heard are not easily forgotten. If the name is familiar then that’s because he was integral to Kid Canaveral for many years, but this album takes his music to another level entirely.

If you want a gauge of the standing in which McGregor is held by his peers then you only need to look at those involved with this album. They include Audrey Tait (The Girl Who Cried Wolf, Hector Bizerk), Gav Prentice (ULTRAS), Jill O’Sullivan (Sparrow and the Workshop, bdy_prts, Jill Lorean), Hannah Shepherd (eagleowl, Withered Hand), Emma Kupa (Mammoth Penguins,) & more. But, for all the talent involved this feels like an intensely personal project, songs which are torn from a life lived, and not always easily. At once expansive yet intimate, it’s a record which marries hard-times to hope, and we could all do with some of that. This is ‘Should We Be Dancing’:

Oblivion & Beyond is the new EP from Distant Voices, the musical project created by Vox Liminus, which is an arts and community organisation working with people involved in all parts of the criminal justice system in the Highlands area. Distant Voices sees some of Scotland’s best songwriters collaborating with people who’ve experienced the criminal justice system in one form or another. On Oblivion & Beyond the songs were co-written by musicians Donna Maciocia, Fiskur, Martha Ffion, Raukarna, and Jill Lorean in workshops which took place in communities and prisons.

The tracks, most of which have a tie to Inverness, are about the rather intangible notion of ‘recovery’ and examines just what that means. It’s a record which is as important as it is excellent, which adds to the current discussion about crime and punishment (see also Fergus McNeill’s Pervasive Punishment project), and once again shows how music and art can aid wider discussion and understanding. This is ‘Autopilot’, featuring Jill Lorean & Lee:

Alasdair Roberts has been in a musical vein of form in recent years that few others could boast, with recent releases including What News with Amble Skuse and David McGuinness, his work with Green Ribbons, and with The Furrow Collective. Undoubtedly a proud serial collaborator, his latest release, The Fiery Margin, is a solo affair (albeit made with a one of the finest bands around), and it is arguably his best yet, bringing all his knowledge and understanding of the traditions of folk music to bare on his songs, but lending them a distinctly contemporary feel, something we have come to expect from Roberts. Nobody does it better. This is ‘False Flesh’:

Future Pilot AKA, aka Sushil K Dade, has long been one of the more experimental and interesting musicians around, and a new album from him is always a cause for celebration. So have a shower, and then phone your brother up, as that’s exactly what we have. Like Alasdair Roberts (above), Dade is a man who loves a collaboration, and his latest, Orkestra Digitalis, lets no one down.

Nine years in the making, it’s an album which was not originally destined for wide release, proposed as a one-off edition in the format of a picnic hamper, but luckily it was decided that we all deserved some nourishment. Featuring Emma Pollock, Ron Sexsmith, Robert Wyatt, R.M. Hubbert, Mairi Campbell, and Mulatu Astatke, this is a record which gives up more of its many secrets with each listen, and you’ll want to do so over and over. From it this is ‘The Art Of Good Breathing’:

New favourite band alert!!! Flying Penguins released their latest single ‘Antimony’, from the EP Bodies & Artefacts, and it swiftly became a firm favourite, reminding me of some of SWH!’s best-loved musicians such as King Creosote, Modern Studies, Lomond Campbell, Admiral Fallow, eagleowl – basically those bands who make classy, affecting, and poignant music which puts you in that state of musical melancholia which feels just right.

It’s rare to discover a band who feel like you’ve been listening to them for years when you haven’t, but that’s how I feel about Flying Penguins – as if they were the soundtrack to a better time, and the memory of that has just come back to me. I’m sure there is a word for that feeling, but before we all rush to find out just what that is – sit back, relax, and enjoy ‘Antimony’:

Ian Smith from Last Night From Glasgow got in touch last month to say that Foundlings had a new single coming out and would I like to hear it. Of course the answer was yes, as he knew full well it would be, but he gave me no further clue as to anything else about it. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover an excellent cover of ‘I Love You All’, a track from the Jon Ronson/ Lenny Abrahamson film Frank, inspired by Ronson’s relationship with Frank Sidebottom, and which has Michael Fassbender on vocals.

How do you approach that? Well, if you’re Foundlings you stay faithful to the original and showcase the song to full effect. If the above paragraph means little to you then press play below. I’m not saying all will become clear, but your life will be notably better. In the name of Frank…

I may have mentioned it before, but Scottish pop music is in fine and rude health, and the final two tracks of this review make that point perfectly. First up are Slouch, a Glasgow band whose single ‘Duplicity’ has had a couple of plays on the SWH! show on LP Radio (news of which soon) and it has been as warmly received as anything played on the show so far. It’s a song which gets its hooks into you early doors and refuses to let go. If John Hughes was still making movies this would be solid soundtrack material, most-likely playing over the closing prom scene as the credits start to roll. ‘Duplicity’ is pure pop and it makes me hugely excited about what Slouch do next. Share the anticip…ation…

When we have our regular end-of-year chats at SWH! (which we record as podcasts – doesn’t everyone?) Bossy Love always receive a mention as one of the best bands around, especially when seen live. By doing what they love to do with no apologies – making R&B inflected pop music which takes their influences and make them all their own – they are a band like no other, and it is little wonder that the devotion they inspire is so strong. Their latest single, ‘Me + U‘, is a winning mixture of strength and vulnerability with Amandah Wilkinson’s unmistakeable vocals never better. Imagine a track Prince wrote for TLC then forgot to send, with all the sadness that entails, and you’ll have some idea as to what you are about to listen to. It’s also the perfect end to this review. This is ‘Me + U’:

That’s all for this month but we’ll be back before you know it with another selection of the best new music around. See you back here soon…

Passion Play: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Tosca…

Every so often you go to an event where the excitement and anticipation among the audience beforehand is palpable, and that was the case at the opening night of Scottish Opera’s Tosca at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal. You could feel it building in the walk up to the doors and by the time the curtain was raised the atmosphere was electric. With such anticipation this Tosca had a lot to live up to but luckily for all of us it managed to and so much more.

The stage in Act One was set in the Roman church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and it reflected the wealth of the church itself – using marble greys, sepia, and burnished gold as its main colour palette, every so often given a splash of colour of white and papal purple by visiting cardinals, priests, choirboys, and cross-bearers, as well as the yellow and red of the Swiss Guard. It was an imposing set, made more atmospheric by the way the stage was lit from the side rather than from above, the long shadows cast adding to the sense of foreboding that something wicked was on its way.

That something wicked came in the form of Baron Scarpia, the Chief of Police who is determined to steal famed singer Tosca from the arms of her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, by any means necessary. Played with a real sense of menace by Roland Wood in the finest tradition of the theatrical villain (and proving the adage that “the devil has all the best tunes”), he and his gang of fascisti followers strode the stage as if they owned it. However, even for them there is increasingly the sense that this tale is not going to end well, something only strengthened by the brief appearance of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini.

By this point we had already witnessed the depth of feeling that Tosca and Cavaradossi have for each other, with Natalya Romaniw and Gwyn Hughes Jones being at times loving, passionate, playful, jealous, and everything in-between as their love is threatened by circumstances as well as Scarpia’s evil intent. As events unfold they reveal just how far they are prepared to go for each other, and what they believe in. These two characters have the most to suffer, and Romaniw in-particular expressed the highs and lows of being in love in a manner which at times was almost unbearably moving. Hers is a Tosca to whom others will aspire.

This is an especially cinematic production, with a distinct style to each act. Act One had the look and feel of Derek Jarman, with religious iconography and sensuality interweaving, and the passion of the artist to the fore. Act Two had more than a hint of Martin Scorsese, with corruption, violence, and betrayal, looked at with an unflinching and often brutal eye. Act Three, with the stage dominated by a huge statue of an angel at Castel Sant’Angelo, was Wim Wenders meets Powell and Pressburger – the perfect setting for the fatal final acts. Whether you know the story of Tosca or not the end still has the power to move and shock, something which is a testament to everyone involved.

This Tosca is a production to get lost in, to be overcome by and surrender to – resistance is futile. Often with longer pieces of theatre you are aware of audience members checking their watches or shifting in their seats. I didn’t witness one example of this on the night as the audience was rapt from beginning to end, completely absorbed by what was unfolding on stage. If that sounds like something you would like to witness for yourself then you can do so in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Edinburgh. If it doesn’t, then go to the top of the page and start reading again. I’m sure you’ll change your mind.

Cosmic Entities: A Review Of Amadeus & The Bard…

In the fourth of our Scottish Opera podcasts we spoke to the Director of Education & Outreach, Jane Davidson who explained the ways SO reach out to all areas of Scotland, and work with all age groups. The latest example of this in practice was Amadeus & the Bard: 18th Century Cosmic Brothers which has just finished a tour some of the High Schools, Academies and museums of Scotland before ending its run in Glasgow.

The final shows were held in Scottish Opera’s Edington Street building, which has a wonderful performance space. The Bard in question is Robert Burns, and he was well represented in body as well as spirit at the performance SWH! attended with at least one fellow national Makar, as well as an actor best known for his portrayal of Burns, in the crowd. They were part of an audience whose aged ranged across the generations, and who were immediately involved with the show, greeted at the door by the players themselves with wonderful musical accompaniment. This, as Burns would have wanted it, was a performance where all were made welcome.

As the title suggests, this was a tale of two geniuses, Burns and Mozart, affectionately referred to as Rabbie and Wolfie. To distinguish them on stage a simple but effective wardrobe technique was applied, with a green coat for Mozart, and a blue one for Burns. The two were compared and contrasted, but it was the similarities of their lives which were the main focus, with Rabbie’s words and Wolfie’s music interweaved throughout.

Born three years apart, both died in their mid-thirties, they achieved fame, if not fortune, for their music (Mozart) and their words (Burns), and are more celebrated today than they had been in their all-too-brief lives. Staged in the convivial setting of Burns’ favourite boozer Poosie Nansie’s, the regulars tell tales of the two men’s lives, loves, and losses – referencing their most famous work as they do so. As matters progress the two stories are brought closer together, until a mash-up of Don Giovanni and ‘Tam O’Shanter’ proves a supernatural and devilish highlight, before a rousing ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ brings matters to a suitable and moving conclusion with the audience joining in.

With their eagerly-awaited production of Puccini’s Tosca beginning this Wednesday, Amadeus & the Bard: 18th Century Cosmic Brothers was a reminder that while Scottish Opera is rightly known for its spectacular, large-scale productions the work they do on a smaller scale, all around the country, should be acknowledged and supported, and on this showing, and the reaction to the current ‘Opera Highlights Tour‘ (SWH! review here), they are rightly receiving both.

West End Girl: Pat’s Guide To Glasgow West End Is 20…

This week sees Glasgow’s OB (Original Blogger) Pat Byrne’s Guide To Glasgow West End celebrate its 20th anniversary. When it comes to supporting the arts & culture in Glasgow few have shown the passion, commitment, and enthusiasm that Pat has and to keep that burning for two decades means that this is a significant, and inspirational, milestone – one which should not go without comment.

The stats (right) speak for themselves, but it is the joy, warmth, and breadth of knowledge that Pat brings to her role as THE premier champion and chronicler of all things West End that makes her stand apart. Her editorial stance is to share, celebrate, and enjoy the things she is passionate about – one which chimes closely with SWH!

Although being a regular reader for years, I only really got to know Pat and her husband Jim when they asked me to get involved with the Ten Writers Telling Lies project, which married short stories and poetry to Jim’s songs. Since then they have become firm friends, and I always know I’m at a good event when I see Pat’s smiling face in the room. I for one will be raising a glass in her honour and I’ll hope you’ll join me. Here’s to many more.

For a great overview of the previous 20 years I recommend reading this interview Pat gave to Ian Marland for Glasgow WE recently – Guiding Star

And here is the podcast with Pat, Jim, and Samina Chaudry which Ali recorded in 2017 where they talk all about Ten Writers Telling Lies.

His Bloody Valentine: A Review Of Alan Parks’ February’s Son…

The Glasgow crime novel has a rich, varied and celebrated tradition. Many would cite William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw as the first true classic of the genre, but before that you have to consider the phenomenal success and notoriety of No Mean City, Herbert Kingsley Long and Alexander McArthur’s 1935 novel which did more than any other to shape and colour the notion, for a generation of readers, of the city as a place where razor gangs ruled. However, even before that classic novels such as Walter Scott’s Rob Roy and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner had scenes set in the city which suggest that of all Scottish towns and cities Glasgow had long held a reputation as a dark and dangerous place where dirty deeds are done dirt cheap.

Recent notable writers to have enhanced this literary legacy include Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Douglas Skelton, Craig Russell, Liam McIlvanney, and many more – so many that you may think that there was little new to tell, or ways to tell it. Enter Alan Parks. With his previous novel Bloody January he introduced us to Detective Harry McCoy and a coterie of characters who made an immediate impact. His second, February’s Son, proves that was no fluke and strongly suggests that this is a series set to run and run.

Set in the early 1970s, Parks has managed, in the space of just two books, to create a world which avoids wallowing in nostalgia, instead using the past as a setting for crimes and events which remain relevant today. This is achieved by populating them with individuals who avoid well-trodden stereotypes while being immediately recognisable. For Parks, it’s never as simple as having white hats versus black, there is moral ambiguity throughout, and it is testimony to his skill that we forgive, or at least excuse, some truly appalling behaviour.

February’s Son begins almost immediately after Bloody January, with McCoy returning to work only after consultation with the police psychiatrist after his near-death escape on a Glasgow rooftop. With only the merest sympathy on show from his colleagues he is thrown into another case where the lines between the law and criminality quickly become blurred, and the past threatens not only to haunt him, but destroy him one way or another. Harry McCoy is a character who is good at his job not despite everything thrown at him, but because of it.

Be under no illusion, for many of the characters in February’s Son life is nasty, brutish and often short, or at least some combination of the three. This is a world where extremes meet and McCoy thrives as a detective in no small part because he understands both worlds in which he resides. His paternal relationship with his superior Murray is balanced by his “friendship” with rising gangster Stevie Cooper – the latter forged in a particularly unforgiving and brutal childhood. Imagine Trainspotting’s Renton had joined the police and Francis Begbie had risen to run a local firm and you have some idea as to the nature of their relationship, the complexity of which is at the heart of this story in-particular.

February’s Son is full of contradiction, confrontation, deception and deceit, yet retains a humanity which is perhaps unexpected and difficult to define. It all comes down to the characters, and the justification for their actions. Parks asks us to consider the statement (often ascribed to Machiavelli) that “the ends justify the means”, and in the majority of McCoy’s cases the ends are so shocking and horrific that almost any means seem justified, or at least they are to those involved. Perhaps the greatest feat the writer achieves is to carry us along with these arguments, until, as with McCoy, we revaluate not only what has happened, but our reaction to it. There’s a level of reader complicity which is rare, and potentially troubling for some. When posed with the question, “what would I do?” the answer could be unexpected.

In the last few years we have reviewed many novels on these pages sold under the banner of crime. Sometimes it appears a banner of convenience, but Alan Parks is writing unashamedly in the genre along the lines of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Anne Cleeves and Christopher Brookmyre, and that is the company in which he belongs. However there is also a link to the British pulp fiction of the ’60s and ’70s – often sold as cheap paperbacks with the promise of sex, drugs and violence between racy and sensationalist covers. When you consider those touchstones and references, and most importantly the writing itself, it becomes clear that Alan Parks is writing crime fiction which is both familiar yet unexpected – simultaneously incorporating the old, new, borrowed, and black and blue. Roll on March.

Both Bloody January and February’s Son are published by Canongate.

Ali will be in conversation with Alan Parks as part of the Imprint Festival at Kilmarnock’s Dick Institute on 10-10-2019. Details and tickets are here…

The Scottish Opera Interviews #6: Staff Director, Roxana Haines

Roxana Haines. © Julie Broadfoot –

For the sixth in our series of podcasts in conjunction with Scottish Opera Ali spoke to Staff Director, Roxana Haines. It’s a fascinating and informative discussion with someone whose job brings her into contact and collaboration with most areas of the company.

Roxana explains her professional journey, her training in theatre and how that translates to the specific demands of opera, her role in terms of productions and the challenges that different ones bring – with particular reference to the current ‘Opera Highlights Tour‘ and the opera for young children ‘Fox-tot!‘ – and a lot more.

Through it all her enthusiasm and love for what she does shines through, and we hope you enjoy listening to the conversation as much as we did recording it.

Roxana with the cast of Fox-tot!

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast 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:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will with you in November.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

The Alternative View: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Richy Muirhead…

For the latest podcast Ali caught up with Richy Muirhead, the founder and creative director of the Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMAs) which is celebrating its 10th year. It’s a timely conversation as this year’s nominees have just been announced, and Richy reveals who they are and what awards they are up for.

What follows is a fascinating chat which covers the origins and history of the SAMAs, an explanation of the criteria, the categories, this year’s nominees, notable previous winners, building partnerships, the importance of the live show (this year on October 25th, St Luke’s, Glasgow), and lots more.

There are also 5 tracks from some of last year’s winners, including Declan West and the Decadent West (Rock/Alternative), Lylo (Live Act), The Dunts (Newcomer), Solareye (Hip Hop), and Megan Airlie (Acoustic). Ali also offers the point of view from a SAMAs nominator, so hopefully you’ll end up with a better understanding not only of how the awards work, but also the aims and ideology behind them.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast 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:

The next podcast will be with you very soon, but in the meantime you can also check out our series of Scottish Opera Podcasts.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #5: Head of Props, Marian Colquhoun

For the fifth in our series of podcasts with members of Scottish Opera we spoke to Marian Colquhoun, the Head of Props. If you have ever been to a Scottish Opera performance, no matter the scale of the production, you’ll know what an integral, important, and creative part the props department have to play.

Marian discusses her approach to the role, the collaboration with other departments, the joy in creating memorable moments, the demands of different productions, the practicalities and problem solving involved, and the culture of prop making in Scotland and beyond. It’s a fascinating insight into an area of the arts that is rarely discussed but which is crucial to opera, theatre, film, and beyond.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of Scots Whay Hae! podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). 

You can also download the podcast 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:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will be out in late October.

In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

They say the best things in life are worth waiting for and, although this review is a tad tardy, we hope you’ll find plenty to please you. It’s been a great summer of music and what you are about to hear shows that quality was maintained right up until the turning of the leaves.

There’s the long-awaited return of an old favourite, two great EPs for the price of one, a couple of bands releasing their best songs to date, brand new artists to us, well-kent friends in new guises, and even more ranging across a number of genres and styles. While there may not be something for absolutely everyone, we can guarantee there’s something for you…

Beginning with Dumb Instrument and their new album Doubt – and I think we’ve proved our point already. Dumb Instrument may be best known for their 2014 track ‘Suffering From Scottishness’, an alternative national anthem which seemed to capture a time, a place, and the feelings of many. Just this year it was appropriated by recent podcast guest Kevin P. Gilday as the title of his Edinburgh Fringe show. When you take into consideration other fan favourites such as ‘Jaffa Baws’, ‘Buckfast vs. Hash (The Battle Continues)…’, and ‘Missing Grannies, you’ll begin to realise that this is a Scottish band who are determined to define what that means on their own terms.

But even if you only know them from that one song then you know enough to recognise the poignant, tongue-in-cheek, and often laugh-out-loud lyrics which make them stand apart. The songs on Doubt strengthen that reputation and make clear that this is a band like no other. There is a strong whiff of nostalgia on tracks such as ‘High Jumper’, ‘That Stupid Wee Lassie From Elderslie’, ‘Venus In A Cardigan’ and ‘Drunk In The Playground’, but they never stray into the territory of the maudlin or mawkish. Rather Dumb Instrument play with the past, and the Scottish tendency to mythologise it. It’s what they do best, and it’s great to have them back. No ifs, buts, or doubts. This is ‘High Jumper’:

As regular readers will know, our admiration for Olive Grove Records knows no bounds. The simple reason is that they only release music of the highest quality. The artists they have worked with have impeccable musical credentials making their back catalogue a thing of beauty, and Olive Grove something of a national treasure. To that we can now add The Archipelago EPs 1&2 – Vol 1 from Jared Celosse and Vol 2 from Chrissy Barnacle (with further volumes to follow).

Jared Celosse has appeared on these pages before with his beautifully understated melancholic songs, and his EP shows what many of us have known for some time – that he is one of the finest songwriters around. When you marry these songs to increasingly interesting and intricate production and instrumentation, as happens on Archipelago Vol 1, it makes that point better than ever. From it this is ‘Wave’:

Chrissy Barnacle is another singular talent who once heard is never forgotten. She rightly has garnered a reputation as an artist who holds audiences in the palm of her hand with vivd and personal stories told through song, accompanied suitably by her physical yet intricate style of playing guitar. Great live performers can be difficult to capture on record but Archipelago Vol 2 shows exactly what makes Chrissy Barnacle so special. Her music is an attempt to reconcile conflicting feelings of hope and despair and few do so in such a magical and memorable manner. This is ‘Witches’:

Dundonian duo ST.MARTiiNS have been making classy and canorous pop for a number of years and a new release from them is always a reason for cheer. Their most recent single ‘My Girl‘ is, to these ears, their best yet capturing the essence of their music which has always married melancholy to melody. It has the feel of reverie – with Katy Lynch’s effortless and understated vocals perfectly capturing and enhancing the mood. The song is a celebration of friendship, but there’s also an underlying sadness that such friendships are increasingly rare as time passes. Or maybe I’m just feeling wistful. That’s how good ST.MARTiiNS are – able to effect your mood in just two minutes. Now that’s what I call music… This is ‘My Girl’:

But just when you thought our golden summer of pop was over, CAFOLLA turns up to postpone any thoughts of hibernation or slumber with the single 1985, rightly identifying it as a year when many things began to head south. It’s a belter of a track, like being slapped around the head with a Cameo album. There may be some poetic licence involved lyrically (my milk was snatched many years before) but you get the point clearly, and when it is made in such a catchy and infectious manner then who cares? CAFOLLA offer us a ‘Sign Of The Times’ for our times, and if we ever needed someone to bring the funk it’s now. Send the children and pets from the room, turn on, tune in, and dance as if no one is watching:

Beginning life as the outlet for the music of Ryan Buchanan, Ryan & The Limbs are a breath of fresh air to the Scottish music scene. Having witnessed them live as well as listening regularly to their self-titled EP I can promise you they offer something new, yet reassuringly familiar. Musically they are differently diverse with the influence of indie, jazz, rock, and even classical in evidence, all coming together to make a memorable whole.

Let’s take the song ‘Axis and Atlas’ (below) as a prime example. There’s guitar reminiscent of Vini Reilly one moment, Jonny Greenwood the next, there’s the most wonderful rhythm section featuring drumming to die for, and the vocals are understated and mournful in the manner of Mark Eitzel or Elliot Smith. One of the best things about writing these reviews is discovering a new favourite band, and Ryan & The Limbs are the latest to join that club. You’re welcome.

One of the most creatively active groups around are L-Space, not only releasing new music under that name regularly (and you can hear the latest example in next month’s review), but also involving themselves in other projects. Gordon Johnstone has recently made Habitus One as Emi James, Stephen Solo’s third album was released earlier this year, and now bassist Dickson Telfer is involved with a new band, Vulture Party. Remember when Duran Duran split into Arcadia, Power Station and The Devils…actually, probably best not.

But everything the members of L-Space touch at the moment is proving to be memorable, and long may this golden streak of creativity continue. Certainly Vulture Party are well-worth your attention based on the release of their single ‘New Humans’. It’s an atmospheric song which is reminiscent of the great dark-pop bands of the ’80s – early Human League, All About Eve, The Psychedelic Furs, even touching goth with echoes of Bauhaus. Downbeat and dark, and with an excellent, and suitably eerie, video from Adam Stafford, you have a feeling that Vulture Party are one to watch. This is ‘New Humans’.

And finally, Man of the Minch, aka Pedro Cameron, who recently released two singles simultaneously, ‘Undertow’ (below) and ‘Better Off Alone‘. When taken together they make the best music he has made so far, and that is saying something when you consider his album Helping Hands was one of the best of 2017. ‘Better Off Alone’ is indie-folk at its finest – a barnstorming track with melodies, hooks, and riffs all combining and building to a quite stunning crescendo. This is music to keep you warm as the nights draw in.

‘Undertow’ shows the other side of Man of the Minch – the one which doesn’t just break your heart, but rips it out before handing it to you with a sincere apology. There are few musicians who manage to convey the highs and lows of relationships as Man of the Minch can, and there are even fewer who can move me as this Man and his songs. I think this is just gorgeous, and the perfect place to end this review. This is ‘Undertow’:

There goes the summer! But before you know it there’ll be another review along soon.

While you wait, remember that SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Tuesday nights, 7-9pm, where you can hear Ali play 2 hours of the best Scottish music around.

You can catch up with the previous shows, along with all the other fantastic LP Radio shows, by following the relevant links in the sidebar.

Remembrance Of Things Past – Part 1: A Review Of Charlie Laidlaw’s The Space Between Time…

There are notable examples of films with the same theme being released roughly at the same time. Two Robin Hood movies appeared in 1991 (Kevin Costner’s Prince of Thieves & the lesser-known Robin Hood, with Patrick Bergen in the lead role), two asteroid disaster movies opened within a month of each other in 1998 (Deep Impact & Armageddon), and within months of each other in 1998 -’99 there were two excellent adaptations of Chloderos Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Valmont & Dangerous Liaisons), and that’s without even mentioning the volcano film-fad of 1997.

It’s perhaps more rare in literature, but it so happens that there were two Scottish novels published this summer which take the unreliable narration of memory and individual responsibility as two of their central themes. One is a novel from David Cameron (no, not that one) called Prendergast’s Fall (Into Books) which will be reviewed on these pages in the near future, but first I want to discuss Charlie Laidlaw’s latest novel The Space Between Time (Accent Press Ltd).

One of the reasons for the existence of Scots Whay Hae! is to bring to your attention artists, musicians, and writers who deserve to be better known but who are finding it increasingly difficult to be heard. One of those is undoubtedly Charlie Laidlaw, whose novel The Things We Learn When We’re Dead was one of the most interesting and inventive of recent years, and about which SWH! said “ will have you reflecting on your own past, present and possible future”.

The Space Between Time has similar concerns. It looks back at the life and times of Emma Maria Rossini, a girl who, to the outside world, seems to have it all. Her father is an A-List film star, hanging and working out with the likes of Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock, and featuring in the list of ‘The World’s Top 20 Sexiest Men, although “only number 18” as his beleaguered wife comments. It’s a small moment but one which indicates how Emma’s mother struggles to cope with her husband’s level of fame. This feeling translates to their daughter who sees it as the central reason that family life has come to be unfulfilled and often unhappy.

As her adult life progresses, fairly unspectacularly, Emma continues to be tied to the past, changing her name and hiding her identity from others in an attempt to be judged on her own merits. But those ties bind fast and she never manages to escape fully. Most of us have moments in our life that come to be seen as defining, but can they be trusted? Are they pure memory, learned stories told to us repeatedly over the years, or, perhaps most likely, a mixture of both?

Emma remembers a traumatic trip to the cinema that comes to define the distance between her life with her mother and that of her often absent father, both physically and emotionally. Add to that a family picture which, on reflection, disproves the saying that “the camera never lies”, and other childhood reminiscences which are less than reliable, and it becomes clear that Emma’s past does not necessarily reflect the narrative created.

Her mother’s tragic death offers another puzzle where all may not be as it seems. Questions are not only asked about individual motives, but how feelings of responsibility, guilt, and grief in others are linked to those – the version of a story you choose to believe often being as selfish as it is prudent. Laidlaw once again asks readers to consider just how reliable their own memories are and should other possible narratives be considered. There is even the suggestion that our lives are little more than a collection of stories which we either choose to believe or dismiss.

However, The Space Between Time offers hope for the future no matter the tricks and tribulations of the past. As Emma begins to understand more about her family history she begins to learn more about herself. Pictures, events, and remembrances are reappraised and a different story emerges, one which will have the reader returning to the book’s earlier sections to see if they could have read them differently.

It’s a novel which also examines the nature of fame, atheism, philosophy and science (Emma’s grandfather’s theorem on the nature and substance of the universe brings him his own version of fame in later life, something she draws comfort from). It’s a lot to take on, and some strands are less successful than others, but what holds everything together is the strength of the central characters. Despite their differences you have empathy with Emma, both her parents, and her grandfather, which is some achievement when you take into account how divided they appear, and how Emma’s perception of them changes.

With The Space Between Time Charlie Laidlaw has proven once again he is a writer of whom to take note. He writes literary fiction that is serious in its intention, yet has a humanity, a knowing sense of humour, and a warm heart that makes you feel as well as think, and there’s little more you can ask from any novel.

Charlie Laidlaw’s The Space Between Time is published by Accent Press Ltd.