Pyroclastic Fantastic: A Review Of Doug Johnstone’s Fault Lines…

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Let’s lay our cards on the table before we begin – Doug Johnstone is not only one of SWH!’s favourite writers, but among our favourite people, holding the joint record for podcast appearances with the equally loved and admired Louise Welsh. As such, a new novel from the man is a cause for celebration round our way, so we have dug out the bunting out for his latest, Fault Lines, which is finally with us.

To say “finally” is admittedly harsh for such a prolific writer. From 2011-2016 he had written and published a book a year – Smokeheads, Hit & Run, Gone Again, The Dead Beat, The Jump and Crash Land  – a remarkable run of some of the most genuinely thrilling writing of recent times. 2017 was the first year with no Doug Johnstone novel for six, and while it is stretching a point too far to say we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms, he was definitely missed. This is because a large part of the appeal of his writing is that there are many traits of true noir/pulp fiction in his work – quickly devoured leaving a keen desire to read what comes next.

Perhaps partly explaining the gap year, 2017 saw Johnstone change publishers moving to the eclectic and always intriguing Orenda Books, who also publish Michael J. Malone and David F. Ross, a move which made regular readers wonder what the result of this new partnership would be. The short answer is that Fault Lines has enough of the new to make things interesting and distinguish it from what’s gone before, but maintaining Johnstone’s unmistakeable style to keep his fans more than happy. The long answer follows.

Fault Lines is set in an Edinburgh which will be recognisable to those familiar with the geography of the city; the streets the characters walk and the places and pubs they visit, but there is a twist. A tectonic fault has opened up producing volcanic activity in the Firth of Forth, causing regular tremors and making the resulting new land mass, known as The Inch, a scientific as well as a literal hotspot. This is treated lightly, serving as a plot point, but, as with all of Johnstone’s writing, the meaning you decide is down to the reader. You can make up your own metaphors.

Volcanologist Surtsey has regular illicit liaisons with Tom, her lover and boss, at The Inch, believing it to be a safe place for them to meet. As the book opens, her latest trip results in her discovering Tom’s dead body and instead of admitting she found it decides it best to keep their relationship secret to friends, and the police. Secrets as big as Surtsey’s rarely stay such, and when an unidentified caller contacts her claiming to know who she is and what she’s done, her need to see the crime solved is initially more about self-preservation rather than any burning desire for justice, but it proves a strong motivation for her to act.

And then, as regular readers will understand all too well, we are off, with barely time to take a breath until matters are resolved. Using short, sharp sentences, and no unnecessary prose, few can move the action along at the pace Johnstone does once the premise is set – he is the very definition of an unputdownable writer,

While not being up there with the very best of Doug Johnstone – the high marks so far being Gone Again and The Jump which are his most emotive and affective reads – Fault Lines does point to a more thoughtful writer in terms of style and content. Johnstone has always been as interested in the human fragilities and faults which lie behind the crimes, but this seems to increasingly be at the forefront of his thoughts. He does not set out to shock as he did in his earlier work, now it is more psychological than psychotic. With Fault Lines, you’ll be drawn in by the twists and turns, but the questions which stay with you are, “What would you do, and why?”. Be honest, and just hope you are happy with your conclusions.

Fault Lines is published by Orenda Books.

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

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These music roundups often seem to throw up themes which are unintentional, but undeniable all the same. This latest batch of songs, when taken together, engender a reflective and almost melancholic mood, something which probably says more about your reviewer than the music itself. Again there is proof that singer/songwriters are in the ascendency, with a few band contributions to balance things out. But whether it’s folk, pop, indie rock, acoustic or electric, all of the following would be at home on an album called Now That’s What I Call Slightly Pensive Yet Still Sanguine

Zoe Bestel’s album Transcience came out last month on Last Night From Glasgow, and it’s rarely been off the SWH! turntable since. It’s a collection of songs which are aching in their beauty and fragility, yet there is a core strength and assuredness which makes you feel, if just while the record plays, that everything really is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, despite evidence to the contrary.

Musically, there are similarities with Stina Nordenstam, Emiliana Torrini, early Laura Veirs and late period Kate Bush, but Zoe Bestel is as original as they come, and as comfortable in her music as she is breathing. There is no artifice in evidence, just songs where the key is life. From Transcience, this is ‘Grey Skies’, and it makes all the above points, and more, better than I could ever manage:

Talking of people with the music in them, Carla J. Easton has a new single out – always cause for good cheer. ‘Wanting What I Can’t Have’ is a joint release on LNFG and Olive Grove Records and can be found on CD, (very) limited 7” Picture Disk, and Download, including remixes by SWH! favourites L-Space, Sun Rose, Skinny Dipper and Out Of The Swim, amongst others.

It’s another insightful, glorious, pop song musing on the complex and complicated state of mind that is being in love, following in the fine tradition of The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’, Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Rent’ or One Dove’s ‘White Love’, but in keeping with Easton’s previous solo work, as Ette, and with Teen Canteen. With recent collaborations including people as diverse as Belle & Sebastian and Scottish Opera, Easton is currently one of our most innovative and influential musicians. Talk about pop music? Carla J. Easton should be at the heart of any such conversation:

It’s great to have wotjek the bear back as there are not many bands in recent years who make a noise as joyous as they do. They describe their music as “smart/casual indie pop”, and I’m going to steal that as it sums up their sound perfectly. Previous releases which made their mark were ‘Dead From The Waist Up’, ‘Made Out Of Maps’, and ‘What’s For Ye’. Their latest is ‘Oil & Water’, out on the always reliable Scottish Fiction label. It’s a real leap forward in terms of production and playing, and speaks of a band who are nearing the peak of their powers. If this is a sign of things to come, this could be the Year of the Bear:

There’s something stirring in Perth these days. Perhaps the finest example of this is Elizabeth and her song ‘Beginning’, taken from her EP Blossoms. It’s acoustic, understated, and simply gorgeous, with a vocal which will break your heart. Elizabeth sounds like a young Dolores O’Riordan, Beth Orton or Sarah McLachlan, and that is the finest company to keep. If you like what you hear, I can tell you that the rest of Blossoms is just as strong. No longer someone to watch for in the future, you should sit up and take notice of Elizabeth right now:

Conor Heafey has featured on these pages before, with his excellent EP The Game. He is back with a mini-album, Just One Step Behind and it’s further proof that this is a musician making an indelible mark. Exhibit A is ‘Gone Is The Life’, a wistful and, yes, melancholic tune which puts me in mind of Father John Misty, David Bazan, the mighty Damien Jurado and even, (and I don’t say this lightly), Elliot Smith. Like all of those Heafey manages to squeeze feeling and emotion into his music which can take a few listens to fully comprehend. Have your first listen now, and make it the first of many:

Quiet As A Mouse have been making memorable music for many years, but I feel that they are on the cusp of having a moment if their debut album Is It Funny When It Hurts is anything to go by. The last single ‘Modern Belle’ promised much, and the latest ‘Northern Rain’ is arguably their best yet. It’s a classic example of indie singer/songwriting, reminiscent of some of my all time favourites The Bevis Frond, Franklin Bruno, Robert Wyatt and Vic Chesnutt – the music I listen to when no one else is around. Quiet As A Mouse remind us that often less is more, and ‘Northern Rain’ is a perfect example:

Every now and again we like to catch up with music which has passed us by, and that applies to stock manager and their mini-album blaséIt’s timeless indie-rock, with echoes of American heroes Dinosaur Jr, Afghan Whigs and Buffalo Tom, but there’s also a bit of Stone Roses, Curve and Slowdive in evidence – a fine transatlantic marriage. I’m sure you’ll find your own comparisons, and you can do that by listening to the full album below. That’s what you call value for no money. Trust me, you’ll enjoy this…

That’s it for now, but y’all come back real soon…

Passion Plays: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Sunday Series – Rachmaninov’s Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini…

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Yesterday (Sunday 6th May) saw the last in the current run of Scottish Opera‘s Sunday Series: Opera In Concert, and, as with the previous concerts of the 2017/18 season, it came from Russia. This time around it was a double bill of Rachmaninov’s one-act operas, Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini, and what a way to finish what has been a breathtaking season. As with the recently reviewed Eugene Onegin, these operas were packed full of passion, with familiar themes of love, regret, the vibrancy of youth, the cruel passing of time, but now there was added murder, betrayal, sizzling affairs, sibling rivalry, damnation, and a journey into hell. It’s what Sunday’s are all about.

The parallels between these two operas and Eugene Onegin are marked, with Aleko being based upon another, lesser known, Pushkin poem, The Gypsies (which some consider an influence on Carmen), while Francesca Da Rimini (given its Scottish premiere here) has a libretto from Tchaikovsky’s brother, the brilliantly monikered ‘Modest’. The former opera is about the traveller, Aleko, who falls in love with the gypsy woman, Zemfira. As her love for him fades she gives her heart to another, younger, suitor, and when Aleko finds out… Well, let’s just say things don’t end well.

Francesca Da Rimini is the story of Paolo and Francesca who are discovered in the Second Circle of Hell by the ghost of Virgil and Dante himself, yet another adaptation of that poet’s famous text, The Divine Comedy. At their request, Paolo and Francesca go on to tell the two of how they came to be there, which is played out in flashback. Warmonger Lanciotto suspects that his wife, Francesca, loves his younger brother, Paolo. When he next goes to battle he leaves the two together with the fear that they will prove him right. When he returns he catches the two lovers and… Well, let’s just say things don’t end well.

Scottish Opera’s Sunday Series are an opportunity for the music to take centre stage, stripped down to having the orchestra front and centre, with the chorus in the dress circle, and the possibility of the cast popping up anywhere in the theatre when not on stage. This allows the audience to fully appreciate the immense talents of all of those involved. If you’ve never attended opera, then these concerts are the perfect place for you to test the waters. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

You can now download the brochure for Season 2018/19, which promises Puccini, Mascagni and Britten for the next Opera In Concert series, as well as the many other delights on offer – too many to mention here, so make sure you take a look for yourself. Suffice to say, they will need to do well to match the magic and wonder of 17/18’s Russian winter which will live long in the memory. Scottish Opera’s recent record suggests they will do just that.

You can follow Scottish Opera on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for all the latest footage, and music, visit their YouTube page and Spotify.

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Listen Closely: Ron Butlin’s The Sound Of My Voice (Revisited)…

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Back in 2011 I wrote a post for the much missed Dear Scotland website on Ron Butlin’s 1987 novel The Sound Of My Voice as part of the monthly Indelible Ink column. In it I made the claim that it was “The Greatest Scottish Novel You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of”. A new edition is being published by Polygon, and I thought this was the perfect time to revisit it to see if that assertion still stood strong.

I should lay my cards on the table before we start. The Sound Of My Voice is one of those cultural touchstones which have become part of my identity. As with the music of The Blue Nile, the writing of James Kelman, the films of Bill Forsyth, and everything that John Byrne has ever done, it is something I evangelise about, attempting conversions whenever possible. These are important relationships and returning to them after time away brings the possibility of disappointment and disillusion if you find they no longer affect you as they once did. It’s a risky business.

Widely ignored on its original publication, The Sound Of My Voice began to gain cult status in no small part to its championing by Irvine Welsh in an article called ‘Great Scot’ for New York’s Village Voice Magazine’s Literary Supplement,which is reprinted in this edition as the ‘Foreward’. Welsh finishes the piece by saying, “I anticipate that The Sound Of My Voice will receive the recognition it deserves as a major novel of its time and type.” It would be heartening to think that Welsh’s prediction will come to pass, but I think there is still some way to go.

What is it that makes those who love The Sound Of My Voice, love it so much? –  (And it’s not just Irvine and I, other cheerleaders include fellow writers Ian Rankin and James Robertson, and it featured on The List’s list of 100 Best Scottish Books Of All Time in 2005) – It is such a complex and rich novel that I think there are as many answers to that question as there are readers.

In ‘Great Scot’ Welsh picks up on a social and political commentary, which he reads as a damning indictment of Thatcherism and the empty promise of consumerism and the capitalist system, something which Butlin says, in his ‘Afterword’, “..had never occurred to me, but I saw made complete sense”. This uncovering of different layers is testament to the novel’s richness but also relatability.

Having a second-person narrative gives the reader a ‘point-of-view’ which puts them directly in the narrator Morris Magellan’s mind allowing for multiple readings. Everyone will find something which will speak directly to them and what it means to you will depend on time, place, personal experience, beleifs, and everything else you bring to the transaction. Politics on your mind? Social commentary? There’s plenty of both to ruminate on as well as the nature of addiction, individual responsibility, morality, reason vs passion – all of these are addressed, and a whole lot more.

Time and place were no doubt reasons that the role of women in the book was more to the fore for me this time around. Magellan’s horrific treatment of Sandra, the young woman he molests on the night he hears about his father’s death, remains one of the most arresting and shocking openings of any novel, but the importance of his mother’s death when Magellan is young, and which affects all his future relationships, and his wife Mary, whose forgiveness, love and pity destroys Magellan as much as the drink does, or so he believes, both took on greater significance. Then there is his behaviour towards Katherine and Carol, two women who work in his office. Magellan makes obvious and awful attempts to seduce them, taking advantage of his seniority, escalating from inappropriate banter to assault, and which he once again manages to justify to himself.

There are strong parallels with existential writers, such as Camus, Trocchi, and Kelman, but also Kafka, which emerge. On previous readings I thought of Magellan’s unravelling as primarily a result of his alcoholism, but now I can see that his underlying mental state is caused by his life as a whole, the “roles” he plays as son, husband, father, manager/boss, etc, and the expectations associated. He believes that if he plays these convincingly enough then no-one will discover that his true identity is defined by fear, anxiety, self-loathing, self-delusion and “..the fear of immortality in the pause between drinks”.

The Sound Of My Voice is as astonishing an undertaking to me today as it was when I first read it in the late ’90s.  It is artistic, insightful, philosophical, psychological, even spiritual, and I could go on and on. But, above all, it is human and it is compassionate. At its core is a kindness and an attempt at understanding the worst of times with the belief that only then can we appreciate the best of times. Few writers have the ability, and, indeed, the desire to examine and understand what it means to do more than simply exist as Ron Butlin does, and this is evident in his poetry and other writing, particularly 2014’s novel Ghost Moon. 

The Sound Of My Voice remains “The Greatest Scottish Novel You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of”, but now you have and I hope I have convinced you that it is essential reading. Returning to it after seven years only confirms my feelings that, after all the Scottish novels I’ve reviewed on these pages and elsewhere, if I had only one to recommend to you The Sound Of My Voice is it.

The Sound Of My Voice is published on the Polygon imprint of Birlinn Ltd.

We recorded a SWH! podcast with Ron Butlin in 2014 where he spoke about The Sound Of My Voice, and much, much more:

Here’s a trailer for the latest edition:

And a fabulous Spotify playlist of all the music featured in the book:

Love & Regret: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Eugene Onegin…

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I have written a few reviews of Scottish Opera productions, and they are more often than not along the lines of “I may not know a lot about opera, but here’s what I liked”. With their latest opera, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene OneginI at least can claim to know the source material, Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 ‘verse novel’ of the same name, which is arguably (and I will argue it) one of the greatest treatise on the nature of love ever written.

This makes it the perfect story for opera, something which Tchaikovsky clearly understood. He was nicknamed ‘the little Pushkin’ as a child by his governess, so it is perhaps unsurprising that he felt an affinity with this Russian writer in particular, but, with its themes of love, regret, vanity, obsession, selfishness, the passing of time and youth, duty, ennui, and passion vs convention, it is perhaps more suitable for realists rather than romantics

From the beginning it is clear that this is going to be a spectacular evening. As the curtain rose the stage looked like a painting – wonderfully lit, with a subtle palate of muted colours giving the sense of a room which has seen better days – a faded grandeur. It’s an epic and striking opening which is confirmed with the titular Onegin’s entrance on horseback, a very real and beautiful animal whose performance will live long in the memory (and meant at least one cast member will have excellent roses this year).

The costume and scenery are reminiscent of the BBC’s recent adaptation of War & Peace, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of early 19th century Russia which will be familiar to those who have read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev, or have seen Woody Allen’s spoof of their literature, Love & Death.

Key to this is the use of light, and shadow, which helps change the tone and atmosphere. The opening of huge windows lets in the light of the day which subtly changes depending on the hour, candlelight adds ambience to a darkened room, long shadows are cast around the stage marking the passing of time as well as adding to an individual’s character. In the background, a moving tableau of the ‘chorus’ can be seen intermittently as workers, party-goers, diners, and gossiping hordes – ominous, living, shadows.

This being Tchaikovsky, ballet is as integral to the performance as the libretto, and it includes formal and classical forms as well as more contemporary and sensual dances as a worker presents the last wheat sheaf of the harvest, or when two lovers break into the house for a midnight assignation. These interludes between the singing only add to the atmosphere and texture of what unfolds on stage.

None of this would mean much if the performances didn’t match the setting. The central characters of Samuel Dale Johnson as Onegin and Natalya Romaniw as Tatyana, while more than ably supported by the rest of the cast, are superb as the would-be-lovers who both have to go through striking changes of character and sensibilities. The former moves from an arrogant, patronising, peacocking and proud young man whose very nature means he brings about tragedy, to a more understated and self-reflective gentle man who realises too late all that he has lost.

Tatyana has to come to terms not only with unrequited love, but the humiliation which accompanies the patronising lecture on morals she receives from the object of her desire. It is difficult to imagine many things worse. When they meet later in life, while she still has strong feelings for Onegin, despite it all, she now has other things to consider – the freedom and the primary concerns of youth superceded if not forgotten. Mention must also be made of Rosy Sanders as Old Tatyana who is a mute constant, observing these key events in her life from the sidelines. It is a performance of great subtlety and feeling which helps connect the audience with the production.

Eugene Onegin is a story as old as love itself, and is as heartbreaking on stage as it is on the page. Scottish Opera have taken one of Tchaikovsky’s great works and given it the respectful treatment it deserves. If you get the chance to see this production I urge you to do so. It’s quite breathtaking in scope and scale, performed with great style and verve, and is a testament to the talents of everyone involved. I don’t know much about opera, but I know what I like, and I loved Eugene Onegin.

Eugene Onegin is at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow from 29th April – 5th May before it moves to Aberdeen (10th – 12th May), Inverness (15th – 19th May), Edinburgh (23rd – 31st May) before heading to Belfast in June (28 – 30th).

Here’s a slideshow with images from the production:

 

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Scots Whay Hae! Presents… Hugh Kearns’ & ‘Festival Tent’.

30706199_2184127485206054_1007621799099413800_n.jpgThe west coast of Scotland has always had a close and often adoring relationship with Americana culture, particularly the imagery and music of classic rock ‘n’ roll and country and western. From Roy Rodgers and Trigger staying at Glasgow’s Central Hotel and the legend of Elvis landing at Prestwick Airport, through legendary nights at The Grand Ole Opry, Rock Garden and Blackfriars, and with generations dressed in clothes from Flip, the fascination with these two strands of US culture endure, with arguably no one capturing the love affair better than John Byrne with his classic TV shows Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin’ Heart.

The current Scottish music scene, and Glasgow’s in particular, suggests this rockabilly romance shows no sign of slowing down any time soon, and Holy Smokes Records are central to the best of what is going on. Recent releases have included excellent albums and EPs from The Strange Blue Dreams, Les Johnson & Me, Awkward Family Portraits and Harry And The Hendersons, each one worthy of your attention.

Their latest release is Hugh Kearns‘ EP Inside Looking Out, and it’s an honour to be31171548_2187194204899382_152399541691859763_n able to premiere it here at Scots Whay Hae!. There’s country, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and blues in evidence, at times reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Richard Buckner, at others going further back to Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, Kearns’ (right) music is rooted in a tradition which is immediately recognisable yet he makes everything sound brand new.

The tracks include ‘Inside Looking Out’, ‘Cargo Run Blues’, and the brilliantly titled ‘Trusty Buck Arlington’s Lone Start Review’. But, exclusively for readers of SWH!, this is ‘Festival Tent’:

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The Quines Of Crime: A Review Of Claire MacLeary’s Burnout…

 

DSC_0778.jpgWhen writing in any genre, new writers in particular have a balance to try to get right. They want toCP_cover introduce something fresh while still making the writing recognisable to regular readers who expect certain tropes and conceits from their fiction. If you can get the balance right then there is every chance you have a successful novel on your hands.

One of the finest crime fiction debuts of recent years was Claire MacLeary’s Cross Purpose (right). Published in 2017 on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books, it introduced two new crime fighters in the unfamiliar form of Maggie Laird and “Big” Wilma Harcus, an odd couple in a fine and long tradition from Holmes and Watson to the vast majority of recent TV detectives (Morse/Lewis, Scott/Bailey, Creek/Magellen and Hayes/Addison being just a few personal favourites).

However, having two middle-aged woman as your main protagonists is still rare enough to be noteworthy and celebrated in itself. Have them investigating crimes in and around Aberdeen, a region also underrepresented in Scottish writing, and you have situations, people, and places, rarely seen which makes the novel immediately interesting before you begin. When you add to that premise page-turning action, an ear for everyday speech which avoids cliché and the sensational, and a pleasingly dark sense of humour, it was clear that this was a writer you wanted to hear from again.

The good news is Maggie and Wilma are back in Burnout, but before going on to look at that book it is interesting to note that this was always going to be the case. In the short biography before Cross Purpose begins, it states that it will be “..followed by a sequel, Burnout.” At the end of Burnout the premise for “Harcus & Laird’s next case…” is set out. This is not only a sign of how highly MacLeary’s publishers regard her, but is a lesson for others as allowing a writer the space to create stories and character arks which will develop over the space of more than a single book makes for more interesting stories, and it is more likely that a writer will develop a following as the series unfolds. Of course, presumably for financial reasons, it appears to happen less these days, but it seems this need not be the case, with another recent example being Charles E. McGarry’s Leo Moran mysteries.

Such continuity is clear from the beginning of Burnout, where the consequences of Maggie and Wilma’s previous investigations are still unfolding, strained relationships are struggling to heal, and others continue to develop. They are finding new cases to take on, such as that of the enigmatic Sheena Struthers who is insistent, despite a distinct lack of evidence, that her husband is trying to kill her. But what is made evident is that there is not a clear and clean beginning, middle and end to criminal cases. There are causes and reasons beforehand, and often messy outcomes to follow. Sometimes there is no desired conclusion at all. This results in guilt, self-doubt, accusations and recriminations for those involved. It’s complicated, just like life.

And the reality of every day life is something else MacLeary understands well. Relationships with family, friends and partners are all central to Maggie and Wilma’s world, often causing them to look upon their investigations in different lights as the personal and professional feed into each other, each seeing parallels from their own lives in those of others. They come into contact with domestic and sexual abuse, institutional and everyday sexism, and general hypocrisy and deceit, but the strong and enduring support for, and from, both women is something they, in turn, try to offer their clients. It is tempting to see Burnout as a book of its time, when the question of gender equality in all areas has rarely been as prominent, but actually it’s more that the times are chiming with MacLeary’s writing as these stories are all too recognisable and enduring.

This is a writer who has a clear vision of who her characters are and what drives them – their hopes, fears, insecurities and weaknesses, but also their strengths. As you would expect, there is violence, fear, and loathing, in evidence, but it is often hidden behind closed doors, and is all the more insidious for it. Burnout is a psychological thriller rather than one which deals in shock and “Argh!”, avoiding the graphic and gruesome depictions which other writers often rely on, and this makes it a more interesting read than you may expect. Warm, witty, thoughtful, and thrilling, Burnout leaves you with the feeling that Claire MacLeary is only just getting started.

Burnout is out now, published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

Stinking Thinking: A Review Of Martin Geraghty’s A Mind Polluted…

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There are often claims that ambition and risk are increasingly resisted and discouraged in contemporary fiction – sure things are what booksellers are after leading to books being published which are easy to market and sell. While I’m sure there is evidence to back this up, I would suggest Scottish writing has rarely been as healthy in terms of different voices and visions, and this is cause for celebration.

In the last couple of years, on these pages, we have reviewed novels as diverse and challenging as David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device, M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of WritersOlga Wojtas’ Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden SamovarPolly Clark’s LarchfieldHelen McClory’s Flesh Of The PeachEver Dundas’ GoblinCharlie Laidlaw’s The Things We Learn When We’re DeadKenneth Steven’s 2020, David F. Ross’ The Man Who Loved IslandsKevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant & Forever, and many moreAll of them are distinctive and diverse, and add fresh and invigorating perspectives to the Scottish cultural conversation. Or, to put it another way, and in the words of Chic – “These are the good times”. Continue reading

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

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Most of our music reviews are a mixed bag when it comes to style and content, but the one you are about to experience definitely has a theme. It features great singers and great songs – deceptively simple yet they are all the more powerful for the manner they are produced and presented. This is music which stays with you longer after the last note sounds. Put simply, all of the people you are about to hear – they mean it, man.

Stay on till the end for a bonus track which is a fitting conclusion to this review. It’s not just thrown together, you know…

Alasdair Roberts has featured on these pages many times before, either for one of his many solo projects or in collaboration with others, such as with Ross Whyte, and The Furrow Collective. The latest of the latter sees him alongside composer Amble Skuse and Concerto Caledonia head-honcho David McGuinness for the album What News which the three played in full at the launch at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe. Roberts is known for staying faithful to the folk traditions, but this latest record, with McGuinness’s wonderful piano and Skuse’s understated electronica, breathes new life into old songs.

To my untutored ear, there is something about the loops of all three which works together beautifully – the structure and format of the ballads enhanced and developed by the new accompaniment, and lending the stories themselves extra strength and vigour. Whatever the reason, the result is a quite remarkable record – one of the best of the year, and one of the best of Roberts’ career to date. I urge you to seek it out, and if you get the chance to see them live then make sure you book your seats in good time. To give you a taste as to what to expect, this is ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’:

Continue reading

The McClory Variations: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Helen McClory…

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For the latest podcast Ali met up with Helen McClory (below) at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery to talk about her life as a writer to date – and a very interesting story it proved to be.

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From studying literature and creative writing in St Andrews, Sydney and Glasgow, to winning awards for her debut short story collection On The Edges Of Vision, walking Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s dog, the difficult publication of her novel Flesh Of The Peach, writing about Jeff Goldblum, to her latest collection of short fiction Mayhem & Death, it is a fascinating tale, and one which will be of interest to anyone who loves reading and writing.

If you haven’t yet read Helen McClory, this is the podcast to persuade you to do just that, and you can find out more about her latest publications at 404 Ink. Continue reading