Crime Time: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Writer Douglas Skelton…

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In the latest podcast, Ali and Ian met up with writer Douglas Skelton, initially to talk about his Dominic Queste novels, The Dead Don’t Boogie and Tag – You’re Dead, but the discussion touched upon so much more.

They talk about Douglas’s ‘Davie McCall’ series of novels, his non-fiction, the importance of secondary characters, Glasgow’s fascination with crime, the influencv_bjIISIe of the novels of Ed McBain, Shane, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the greatest TV show of all time (TM) – Hill Street Blues.

As you would expect, if you have read Skelton’s recent work, there are plenty of cultural references and enough “film buffery” to keep everyone happy, or at the very least the people in the room.

Douglas knows of that which he writes as he has done the hard research for real-life crime books such as Glasgow’s Black Heart and Dark Heartand as such the podcast is a must hear for anyone with an interest in crime writing, but will also appeal to a much wider audience, just as Douglas Skelton’s novels do.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes 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:

Our next podcast will be with you soon, so keep ’em peeled…

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

a3916926716_16Every summer needs a great soundtrack, and this year’s starts right here and now. The following review is an eclectic mix which includes the welcome return of the firmest of favourites when it comes to indie-pop, melancholic electronic beauty, harmonies to die for, potential global pop/rock anthems, singer/songwriting at its very finest, and some intriguing spoken word from one of Scotland’s best writers. If you don’t find something for you then you might just be in the wrong place, but trust me…you will.

We are going to start with the welcome return of BMX Bandits with their album Forever. For the last 30 years their music has been, in this ever-changin’ world in which we live in, one of the few things on which you can rely. The BMX Bandits have been responsible for so many great songs and records that some may be in danger of taking them for granted. Let’s not, as this is music which is timeless and to be treasured.

From the opener ‘My Girl Midge’ we are back in Duglas T. Stewart’s world where love is looked at from all angles – on-high, down-low, and everywhere in-between. It’s where hopeless romantics have their hearts mended, broken, and mended once more to a soundtrack with melodies which Bacharach and David would die for, and with Chloe Philip’s vocals and keyboards adding another dimension to make the music even richer. Other highlights are ‘Love Me ‘Til My Heart Stops’, ‘How Not To Care’, a wonderful version of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, and the beautiful ‘That Lonely Feeling’ which you can hear right here and now. Out now, BMX Bandits’ Forever is already one of the albums of the year. Don’t miss out:

The best things in life are worth the wait, and that is certainly true of music from Shards. They are Errant Media‘s Sean Ormsby and Stephen McLaren, (whose ‘We Used To Go Raving’ appeared in February’s round-up). Last year we spoke to them both on the SWH! podcast about the label and their music. Their individual projects are always memorable, but together as Shards they never fail to produce something special. Playing their own brand of ‘melancholitronica’, the latest release is ‘Headland’, and it’s just gorgeous – slowly building from relatively simple electronic loops to become something verging on the elegiac by the time it ends. It’s a song which sends you straight back to the beginning to listen all over again. More of this sort of thing, I say:

We are currently blessed in this country with great singer/songwriters. Rachel Sermanni, Mark W Georgsson, Michael Cassidy, and Conor Heafey to name just a very few. Siobhan Wilson deserves her place at the top of any such list. Her latest single ‘Whatever Helps’ hints at even greater things to come. Reminiscent of some of my favourite singers – Kristen Hersh, Liz Phair, Natalie Merchant, and Louise Quinn – the music is indie-power pop at its finest. While ‘Whatever Helps’ is without question a fantastic track it is only part of the story, as anyone who has seen Wilson play live will attest. If you haven’t then you’ll get the chance when she plays Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Jun 30th, supported by The Great Albatross’s A. Wesley Chung. It will give you proof, if my word isn’t good enough, that Siobhan Wilson is proving to be one of the most interesting musicians around:

Talking of The Great Albatross, sometimes you come across a band and their music reminds you why it is important to always search for something new (which I hope we help you do). You may think you’ve heard it all, but then something will come your way which will unexpectedly and violently remove your hosiery. Such a record is their album Asleep In The Kaatskills. It immediately sounds like a release from one of your favourite bands, then you realise you now have a new one of those. It’s got an Americana feel, as the name suggests, similar to the music of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Richard  Buckner, and even Howe Gelb in places, and you’ll rarely hear me give higher praise than that. I love this record so much it almost hurts me to share it in case it doesn’t mean as much to you. But I have faith:

For all I am a fan of the understated, it’s rare and refreshing to discover a band who are unashamedly grand in their ambitions and sound. Medicine Men are one such band – energetic, angry and in your face, but obviously in love with the music they make. If the world was fair they should be huge as they remain just unusual and experimental enough to make them stand out from the crowd and keep things interesting for everyone. They remind me of Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call era Simple Minds, which is a very good thing in case you were in any doubt. But hear for yourself, and you can catch them live at Glasgow’s Nice N Sleazys on 27th May when they launch their album Into The Light. This is ‘Out Of The Light’:

I mentioned The Miss’s in March’s musical review, but I make no excuses for doing so again. Their album Crash is full of great songs played by people who have put their heart and soul into them. Exhibit B, so to speak, is ‘I Am’, an irresistable piece of music with a strength of message and purpose which is visceral. Surely I’ve made it clear –  Crash is an album you’ll cherish long after other records from 2017 have long since slipped your mind.

Andrew Greig is best known to Scots Whay Hae! as a poet and author, whose novel Fair Helen was one of the best of 2014. He is also involved in making music, and the album Clean By Rain is a musical and spoken word travelogue of Scotland, but is as much a comment on the state of the nation as it is geographical guide. The link below is for the track ‘Shetland – If’, but you really need to listen to the whole thing to get the big picture.

The music is by Brian Michie, and it is reminiscent in places of early Brian Eno and Harold Budd, but with more acoustic instruments and folk, prog, and even easy-listening influences in evidence. Listened to in one sitting, as it should be, Clean By Rain becomes hypnotic and dream-like as Greig weaves his tales of everyday life into this rich and emotive musical backdrop:

Andrew Greig & Brian Michie – Shetland – If

That’s all for now. I told you there would be something for you.

La Isla Bonita: A Review Of The Book Of Iona: An Anthology…*

 

DSC_0432If you didn’t know that Robert Crawford, the editor of The Book Of Iona: An Anthology, was one of the foremost academics in the field of Scottish writing you would soon guess. There is an academic rigour in evidence, married to what feels like a literary obsession, which is admirable and initially perhaps a little daunting. The writing includes poetry, prose, essays and other non-fiction, and stretches from the sixth century to the twenty-first, including works in Latin and Gaelic as well as Scots and English. In my ignorance, I believed an anthology of writing focusing on Iona would be a thin tome, but this is not only a comprehensive collection, but also eclectic and expansive. Crawford has not restricted himself and, as a good editor should, he has been brave and bold in his decisions.

A quick look at the contents pages offers up modern and contemporary writers such as Candia McWilliam, Edwin Morgan, Mick Imlah, David Kinloch, and Meg Bateman, as well as work from Crawford himself. It is in the present day writing that my own highlights from the anthology are to be found. Alice Thompson’s ‘Hologram’ is a slice of magical realism, which, like the anthology, is run through with religion, philosophy, and mysticism. Sara Lodge’s ‘The Grin Without A Cat’ is about obsession and art, and is such a sensual piece of writing as to be tangible. It is possibly the best short story I have read this year.

But the more eye-catching, and dare I say interesting, names whose work appears in The Book Of Iona are those from the past, many of whom are as unexpected as they are exciting. Adomnan was an Abbot of Iona Abbey and is best known as the biographer of St Columbus, the Irish monk who set up a monastery on the island in 563AD, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his work appears. The presence of Scottish literary legends Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Buchanan and James Boswell are arguably even more predictable, but welcome all the same as they include lesser-known work by all.

However, my eye was immediately drawn to writing by William Wordsworth, John Keats, Thomas Pennant, Herman Melville, and even Queen Victoria. Crawford allows us just a glimpse of ‘how others see us’, and this is not only informative for this collection, but is something of which other editors of such anthologies should take note. Writers writing about home are only half the picture. A visitor’s viewpoint is just as valid. Crawford’s own poem ‘Iona’, and the fact it sits across the page from one ascribed to the aforementioned Saint Columba, lends the collection a nice symmetry, bringing together the past and the present as well as the editor and earliest named contributor.

It so happened that while reading The Book Of Iona I began another anthology of Scottish writing, one that is also based on place, Umbrellas Of Edinburgh: Poetry and Prose Inspired by Scotland’s Capital City. While quite individual undertakings, it is informative to consider the two together and what they tell us about a wider national literature. The capital city and one of Scotland’s more remote islands – in these two places extremes meet, and anthologies such as these help give us a clearer and more insightful picture of Scotland than we had previously. The Book Of Iona shows just what an anthology can achieve when approached with an open mind and imagination.

*A version of this review first appeared in Gutter Magazine.

Lying Live & Singing True: A Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Extra – The Launch Of Ten Writers Telling Lies…

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The latest podcast is a sister to our recent interview with Pat & Jim Byrne and Samina Chaudry about Ten Writers Telling Lies. It’s a live recording from the launch of the book at Cottiers Theatre featuring readings from many of the writers as well as music from Jim and Graham Mackintosh. We were going to edit it down but soon realised we couldn’t leave any one or any song out, so this is the full director’s cut.

If you’d like a copy of the book and the accompanying CD you can buy them here.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS. 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 below on SoundCloud

 

If you missed the launch the ‘Ten Writers’ are going to be doing other events throughout the year, the first of which is at Glasgow’s CCA on the 9th May. In the meantime, here are some images from the Cottiers launch…

Our next podcast is shaping up to something special, and will hopefully be with you soon…

Return Of The Craic: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s Tag – You’re Dead…

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Among the more welcome returns in 2017 is that of Glasgow detective Dominic Queste in Douglas Skelton’s new novel, Tag – You’re Dead. If you read last year’s The Dead Don’t Boogie (which was one of our Books Of 2016) you’ll have been looking forward to this since turning the last page. If you didn’t that won’t affect your enjoyment of Tag – You’re Dead which works equally well as a stand-alone thriller. But you should.

That’s not to say that this novel is simply a retelling of the first. Genre fiction has some recognisable tropes which are expected, and which are part of the appeal, but Skelton manages to play with those themes and ideas while at the same time adhering to them. However, where The Dead Don’t Boogie was, at least in terms of plot, a detective and gangster novel, here Skelton introduces no little amount of horror, with a faceless killer on the loose with a taste for mind-games, torture, classical music, and possibly steak pies.

There are clues as to where Skelton is taking a story with the references he uses. In the previous novel they were mainly there to establish the character of Dominic Queste, with plenty of nods to Philip Marlowe and other noir fiction and movies. Those are still present, but the references are widened to include (amongst many others) Halloween, ScreamSilence Of The Lambs and Fallen to prove that Queste is as much pop-culture nerd as he is tough-guy gumshoe – in fact the former has a direct influence on the latter. He is creating his own persona in a manner not too far from The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, except Dominic Queste really commits to the role.

Spotting the cultural references is one of the great pleasures when reading Skelton’s work. You may not get them all, but there is undoubtedly another level of enjoyment when you do, in a similar way as there is with a Brett Easton Ellis novel or Quentin Tarantino’s movies. This is culturally literate writing. The writer is not showing off but having fun, and that translates to the reader. While keeping the tension ramped up there is always something else going on.

Perhaps oddly – and bear with me on this – Tag – You’re Dead also put me in mind of The Guardians Of The Galaxy movies in that you have a wise cracking central character who can’t keep himself from making the smart one-liner even when he is aware it is likely to get him a doing or worse, except I don’t think they ever refer to it as “a doing” in the Marvel Universe.

But, as with that franchise, this second outing sees the support cast come more into their own; the dangerous but oddly adorable Sutherland brothers – (the Hairy Bikers with more violent tendencies – slightly), Father Verne, a modern-day Spencer Tracy in Boy’s Town who is not averse to using his fists to protect his flock, and Ginty, who refuses to be thought of as anyone’s moll, no matter how much Queste may wish it. Add a coterie of police and thieves, all of whom retain their own personalities where they could have become amorphous, and you realise you are in the hands of a writer who understands the genre completely, but understands human nature equally well.

And that’s what makes these novels stand apart – the characterisation. For all the quotes, smart dialogue, references and in-jokes, Skelton has managed to pull of a very difficult feat of giving us depictions of people who could have been two-dimensional stereotypes but who work individually, and are even better as a whole. Despite their flaws and failings, and partly because of them, you care what happens and want to know what happens next.

The Dead Don’t Boogie introduced us to a memorable new star of Scottish crime fiction, but Tag – You’re Dead takes what Douglas Skelton started with that book and dials everything up to 11. Funnier, wittier, darker and more dangerous than its predecessor, it is a novel which dares you to put it down and wins every time.

The Glasgow launch for Tag – You’re Dead is at the Argyle St Waterstones, Thursday night (4th May), 7-8.30pm.

Shake, Rattle & Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Review Of Martin St John’s Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer…

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When I first heard about Martin St John’s Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer: The Tambourine Years 1984 – 1987 I thought it would purely be for the demographic who once owned a pair of leather trousers, consider Forever Changes by Love as one of the greatest albums ever made, and who have a treasured copy of Sonic Flower Groove in their record collection. That would have been fine by me as it’s a demographic to which I, and our kid, are both proud to belong. This was always going to be a book for me and those like me. What’s perhaps more surprising is that it’s a book for you as well.

Martin St John was on tambourine and psychedelic vibes for the newly formed Primal Scream between 1984 and ’87, and the book relates the story of the group way before Andy Weatherall and Screamadelica brought them world-wide success and infamy. In it St John tells the tale of “six Glaswegian garage heads hell-bent on acid, hard kicks and psychedelia”, and does so with such gusto that you cannot be helped but be carried along in his wake.

The hardest thing for any writer is to get their voice across, but Martin St John’s is loud and proud, clear and irrepressible. Words and phrases are CAPPED UNEXPECTEDLY, exclamation marks regularly make their point, and the end result is all the better for it. I can guarantee that most writing class tutors, or editors, would insist such flourishes were removed, and I’m happy to have an argument about the negative results of that another time, but the way this book is written not only fits the writer, it fits the story he has to tell.

Everyone in the book has their own persona. Bobby Gillespie is “Bob G”, the late Robert Young is known as “Dungo” before he swapped one nickname for another and became “Throb”, and Jim Beattie is simply “Beattie”. There are cameos from the likes of “The Brat” and “The Rich Bitch”. It’s also a “Who’s Who” of the indie music scene of the day, full of definite articles – The Pastels, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Shop Assistants, The Soup Dragons…even bloody Bogshed get a mention.

It’s a book that will win you over with St John’s good humour and bonhomie. Even when he has a go at other bands and scenes (no fan of anoraks or Scottish white-boy soul) he does so with the good nature and assuredness of someone who is confident in his own style and tastes. The judgments are black and white. The Cramps are loved, Duran Duran are detested, and there are many such proclamations. The book is laced with references to great music. The Dukes Of Stratosphear, The 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – St John is offering the uninitiated a whole alternative musical education, and it’s one worth taking note of. His ‘Top 20 Turntable Sounds’ from each featured year are worth the price of the book alone.

The title is telling, with “Confessions of…” alluding to the, weirdly popular at the time, Robin Askwith films of the 1970s, and while the humour is nowhere near as broad as that may suggest, it is a peculiarly British story being told. One about pubs used as the unofficial band HQ (The Griffin, Glasgow drink fans), kipping on sofas and in kitchens, and decorating with silver foil. The writer always retains a healthy sense of the absurd, and the psychedelic. If Ken Russell had decided to direct a film with a Glasgow indie band instead of The Who, St John’s book would have made a fine script.

It’s funny how you get a run of books which just work well with each other, and that has been the case in the last month. They have include David Keenan’s post-punk Airdrie novel This Is Memorial Device (& he also features on a recent SWH! podcast), Cosi Fanny Tutti’s Art, Sex, Musicand Sam Knee’s A Scene In Between: Tripping Through The Fashions Of UK Indie Music 1980 – 1988 . Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer brings all of these together. There are references to the art/rock of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, mention of scenesters making the trip from ”scary Airdrie”, and St John appears in Knee’s book on pages 115 & 117 with the band. Proof, as if more were needed, that he knows cos he was there.

Martin St John has written a book which should be read by fans of Primal Scream and those who are interested in the indie music scene of the ’80s, (which appears to be having its moment in the warm glow of the nostalgic sun). It’s as close to a prescribed text as you’ll get. But even if this is not your music – if you have ever been in or near a band you’ll recognise lots of the stories and characters in Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer. It’s the story of the last gang in town who are ready to take on the world which will resonate the most, and how the sniff of potential success sows the first seeds of doubt and disharmony. What you get in spades was what it was like to be there, and how much fun was being had for the most part.  Personally, if I read a more entertaining book this year I will be both surprised and delighted.

Here’s Martin St John talking to The Fountain about the book:

And to take you back, way back, here are the teenage screamers in their leather trewed pomp with our hero in full effect:

You can listen to the Tambourine Man in the flesh reading from Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer at The Carlton Studios on 13th May as part of Psychedelic Festival II.

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The Art Of Deception: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks Ten Writers Telling Lies…

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In the latest podcast Ali talks to Jim and Pat Byrne and Samina Chaudry about Ten Writers Telling Lies,  a music and literary project which has various writers and poets work collected together, as well as having them collaborate with Jim on accompanying songs.

On the podcast you’ll not only hear all about the project, its beginnings and how it has grown, but there are also a couple of examples of Jim’s songs, as well as Samina reading her short story, ‘Taxi’. It’s a fascinating undertaking which deserves to be read and heard by as many people as possible. Continue reading

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

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My, but there’s some classy music being made out there. The world may be falling down around our ears, but it’s got a hell of a soundtrack to accompany it. Who would have thought the end of days could sound this good?

The majority of those who feature in this roundup have appeared before, but we make no excuses for that as they all have excellent new music to share, and we have impeccable taste. Too much? Listen below and say we’re not right…

This Saturday (22nd April) is Record Store Day when you’ll be offered all sorts of collectibles and rarities to prise your hard-earned from your back pocket. It’s going to be an overwhelming choice, so let SWH! help by cutting the glorious wheat from the acres of chaff. This is the day Teen Canteen release their latest EP Sirens on Last Night From Glasgow, and having heard it I can guarantee you it will rank among your favourite records of the year, or your money back*. Continue reading

Future Present Tense: A Review Of Kenneth Steven’s 2020…

2020_cover.jpgLet’s begin at the end. On the final page of Kenneth Steven’s novel 2020 there is a significant Publisher’s Note which states, “Difficult though it may be to believe, the novel was not directly inspired either by the Brexit referendum or by the more recent events in Europe, the USA and around the world.” It is an interesting addendum, and understandable as there is little doubt that many would jump to the conclusion which it refutes. The reason being that Kenneth Steven has written a novel which so fits the here and now that it feels like his 2020 could be just around the corner.

I write this review the day a general election has been called, one which promises further division and increasingly extreme reactions to events and statements as people are preoccupied with individual political issues rather than along party lines, and it needs only a small leap of imagination to think that what transpires in 2020 could become prophetic. Continue reading

Back And Forth: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To David Keenan…

bHQj2XzwFor the latest podcast Ali spoke to writer David Keenan about his novel This Is Memorial Device. Anyone who has read the Scots Whay Hae! review of the book will know how highly we rate it, and it’s fascinating to hear David talk about the influences behind it, why it was always going to be an Airdrie novel, the reasons the book is structured as it is, and so much more.

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The two race through many subjects, including the legacy of post-punk, the importance of the art and music of Scottish small towns and David’s compulsion to write. This includes further novels, his journalism, and non-fiction,  (England’sHidden Reverse  is especially highly recommended) although whether talk of a West Of Scotland take on Lord Of The Rings is serious we’ll leave for you to decide.

We’re calling it one of the most interesting and engaging podcasts yet, but listen for yourselves and see if that’s a bold claim or not. If you aren’t intrigued enough by the end to read This Is Memorial Device then, frankly, we haven’t done our job. Continue reading