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

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If this summer was defined by great singles from the likes of L-Space, Half-Formed Things, Errant Boy, and Radiophonic Tuckshop, to name just a few, then it looks as if Autumn is going to spoil us with some special albums. With the nights fair drawing in, the music featured this month shares a suitably reflective sensibility as some of our finest songwriters sing their songs accompanied by, and often collaborating with, like-minded musicians – warming hearts, firing minds and nourishing the soul as they do so.

We start with Annie Booth, who may be familiar to you for her work with Mt Doubt (more of whom later). Her solo album, An Unforgiving Light, is released in collaboration with Scottish Fiction and Last Night From Glasgow. It’s a wonderful collections of songs which work on their own but which make much more sense heard together, each feeding into the next. The songs are self-reflective in a manner similar to Elliot Smith and Cat Power, with Booth’s vocals carrying more than a hint of Jenny Lewis and even Beth Gibbons. Mournful, moving and magical, An Unforgiving Light is a record to treasure. This is the first single, ‘Chasm’:

Best Girl Athlete is Katie Buchan, a musician who has been making and releasing great music since her mid-teens (check out 2015’s Carve Every Word as evidence), and who just gets better as time goes by. Her latest release is a self-titled album on Aberdeen’s Fitlike Records, an eclectic collections of songs which showcase Buchan’s vocals – occasionally world-weary yet always heartfelt, as if she just wasn’t made for these times. The music makes great use of sparing yet effective electronica married to acoustic guitar, piano and brass. This mix allows the music to change pace not only across the album, but often within the same song, while that voice always remains at the fore. Perhaps the best example of this is on ‘In Your Head’, but once you’ve listened to that be assured that there are 9 other songs just as good waiting for you:

While we’re talking great albums, one nailed-on to be among the more discerning music lovers best of 2017 lists is Siobhan Wilson’s There Are No Saints. You can read Ali’s full review of the album over at Product Magazine, but we’re not dealing in the past just yet as Siobhan features right here and now on Ewan Cruickshanks’ debut single ‘Dreams’, released on Armellodie. Lo-fi and loving it – the harmonies, guitars and melodies work beautifully together to make the sort of effortless pure-pop records few make anymore. Once heard it will stay in your head for ages – just see if I’m not right:

You’d think this was all carefully planned, but it is by pure coincidence that we move onto further inspired collaboration as Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) teams up with the ethereal Julie Fowlis for ‘Love Is…’ taken from the forthcoming album The Water Of Leith. Blue Rose Code don’t make bad records, and if you haven’t yet fallen for them then you have quite the back catalogue awaiting you. But why not start the affair right here as ‘Love Is…’ shows Wilson’s exemplary songwriting at its very best, and accompanied by not just one of the finest voices around, but other musicians to match. To make music this apparently effortless yet undeniably affecting is something special, and Blue Rose Code are very special indeed:

While we’re breaking your heart, let me introduce you to The Sweetheart Revue, whose debut album The Silence And The Common Sense is out on Fox Star Records. At the top of the page I made rather grand promises for the albums featured in this review, but this one ticks all of those boxes and more. Indie and Americana come together to make music where Camera Obscura meets with, and greets with, Lambchop, and, as with both of those bands, The Sweetheart Revue use melodies and harmonies to enhance Gerard Sampaio’s heart-rending songs. This is a record which promises to become a firm favourite, one  to be pulled out in times of need to help make sense of life and love. Who could ask for more?

The Deportees are another Aberdeen-based band, once more emphasising what many people already know – that the local music scene there continues to thrive. They have a new single out, ‘A Single Truth’, which is taken from their forthcoming album The Birth Of IndustryIt is reminiscent of Scots Whay Hae! favourites Errant Boy, but also the early days of The Waterboys and Hothouse Flowers with shimmering acoustic guitar alongside chiming electric. If you like your rock with roots then The Deportees are all set to be your new favourite band. This is ‘A Single Truth’:

But let’s finish as we started, with talk of Mt Doubt. Their album In Awe Of Nothing is one of the best records of recent years, and every home should have one. Their latest single, ‘Mouthwash’, is a AA-side shared with Scottish Fiction label-mates Acrylic and their song ‘Where I Lie’. It was a close run thing as to who would feature on this review, but any song which begins with the lyric “I feel like I’ve been beaten half to death by Forest Whitaker” cannot go without mention and praise. When you add vocal melodies and a keyboard riff Vince Clarke would die for, then this becomes a track to lift you up and get you going. Just what’s needed after all that introspection:

That’s yer whack for this month, but be here soon for the good music continues…

The Road Less Travelled: A Review Of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Accident On The A35…

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How do you follow a cultural touchstone – something which captures a moment, stands aside from what’s around it, and which moves from the reviews to the news section of the papers? If you’re The Stone Roses, after a seminal debut, you lock yourself away for five years in the studio. If you’re Sam Raimi, you basically remake your breakthrough film, Evil Dead, with a bigger budget and call it Evil Dead II. And if you’re J.D. Salinger, challenged to write a sequel to Catcher In The Rye, you admit defeat.

Graeme Macrae Burnet is faced with following his Man Booker shortlisted His Bloody Project, which, partly due to the fact it was published by Scottish indie publisher Saraband, became arguably one of the most famous contemporary novels in the English-speaking world for a time last year. For many this daunting task would be overwhelming, but Macrae Burnet has tackled this potential problem in style by writing his own sequel, and a fine one at that, but to his debut novel The Disappearance Of Adele Bedeau rather than its more famous successor.

He returns to the French village of Saint-Louis and to his first literary hero, Inspector George Gorski, for The Accident On The A35. If you have read The Disappearance Of Adele Bedeau (and you should) then you’ll find it a pleasure to be back in this world where secrets and lies are par for the course. Fans of His Bloody Project will also find lots to love as there are familiar themes including questions of authorship, betrayal, family, love, death, truth and lies (or rather, what can be said to be true, if anything, and what is false?), and the possibilities of youth versus the reality of adulthood, the latter personified by George Gorski.

Gorski is investigating the titular accident, and is immediately suspicious that things are not as they first appear. As he investigates he has to deal with the troubles of his own life, increasingly finding relationships with the dead to be less complicated than those with the living. His work and home life are unsatisfying, and he is in danger of collapsing under the strain. World weary, yet still feeling keenly, Gorski is an unforgettable creation who deserves to be seen as well as read, and these are books screaming for TV or film adaptation.

Theories of existentialism are undoubtedly a major influence on The Accident On The A35, with Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy and fiction particularly important, (he is, rather cruelly, refered to as “the squat toad of existentialism” at one point). As well as Sartre’s novel The Age Of Reason, which is read by one of the central characters and alluded to more than once, you can also detect the work of Albert Camus, particularly The Stranger, and Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam.

This is most obvious in the character of Raymond Barthelme, a teen who has lost his father, and who, when we meet him, is in a state of what Sartre called “bad faith” – unable to act with free will, instead worrying about social and cultural expectations as to how he ‘should’ act and react. With the potential to become Macrae Burnet’s answer to Camus’ ‘Meursault’ or Trocchi’s ‘Joe’, Raymond’s angst is both existential and teenage, a deadly combination.

The Accident On The A35 is crime fiction, but is about as far from Tartan Noir as it is possible to get. Macrae Burnet has spoken in interviews of his admiration for the work of Belgian novelist Georges Simenon (author of the Maigret novels, but so much more) and I am also reminded of American crime writer Jim Thompson, with whom both share an existential sensibility. If you would like a more contemporary reference, then Alice Thompson’s The Existential Detective is one which, given its title and content, obviously springs to mind.

In ‘Why Write?’, the second chapter of his essay What Is Literature?, Sartre claimed that the relationship between writer and reader is one of mutual commitment stating, “To write is thus both to disclose the world and to offer it as a task to the generosity of the reader.”. The Accident On The A35 makes that relationship clear as the reader is drawn into the world that Macrae Burnet creates and is forced to engage with the philosophical and moral questions posed, and as such recognise themselves in the fictional world. It’s a relationship which is key to all succesful fiction. What The Accident on the A35 undoubtedly shows, especially when taken with his previous work, is a writer engaged with what he does, and committed to how he does it. If His Bloody Project introduced you to Graeme Macrae Burnet then now is the time to cement the relationship as it’s one which promises ever greater rewards.

The Accident on the A35 is published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband.

Screen Break: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Peter Mackie Burns…

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For the latest podcast Ali talks to Peter Mackie Burns (below, right), the director of critically acclaimed new British film Daphne, starring Emily Beecham in the title role, and which has Geraldine James among the support.

The two talk about the film, the collaborative process of building the central peter mackie burnscharacter, the importance of place, the influences on the film, the secret to good casting, Burns’ earlier work, and how he got to this stage in his career. It’s a fascinating insight into the film-making process and much more.

Peter tells you where and when you can see Daphne, which is distributed by Altitude Films and produced by The Bureau, and you can learn all about it, and buy tickets, at Daphne.film. The name of the composer which temporarily slipped Peter’s mind is Sam Beste, and you can listen to the soundtrack by checking out the Spotify playlist.
But before we go any further here’s the trailer for Daphne:

This is the 85th SWH! podcast, so if you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber 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…

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..or on YouTube:

And, as promised on the podcast, here is the short film Happy Birthday To Me which is where Peter and Emily first worked together:

Tune in next time for more of this sort of thing…

*Food For Thought: A Review Of Ron Butlin’s Billionaires’ Banquet…

9781784631000.jpgA new Ron Butlin novel is always eagerly awaited, so his latest, Billionaires’ Banquet, is most welcome. Described on the cover as “An immorality tale for the 21st century”, it sees Edinburgh’s ex-Makar at his most playful and devilish, looking once more at human nature and finding it fatally flawed, but not without hope. You just have to look hard to find it.

For those whose reading habits include philosophy as well as literature this novel is a joy from start to finish as Butlin name checks, among others, Seneca, Plato, Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell. His central character is also called Hume, a philosophy student who uses what he learns to make points and win arguments. Those named provide aphorisms to help him through his early life, but this is not a modern take on Sophie’s World; quite the opposite as no lessons are learned despite Hume’s education, or if they are they’re soon forgotten.

Butlin is constantly making comparisons between the ideal and reality and finds that philosophical theories and concepts unfailingly fall down when real people are introduced. Characters in the book may have high opinions of themselves and profess strong moral values, but when feelings such as desire, jealousy, greed and vanity appear they are found wanting. Aren’t we all?

The section where Hume sees his first beggar on Edinburgh’s streets is telling. There always has to be a first and the unasked question is when did society decide that such a situation was OK? There is a collective social culpability, but what does that mean for the individual? Hume’s ‘natural benevolence’ leads him to offer “support and comfort”, while all the while he is weighing up the best course of action, the one which will have the most positive outcome.

It is reminiscent of a similar scene in Robin Jenkins’ The Changeling, where Charles Forbes, who would also describe himself as ‘benevolent’, comes across a man begging in Glasgow, and how best to deal with him becomes a “complicated business” for Charles, whereas his fellow teacher, Todd, “just drops two pence” into the man’s cup. The question posed is what the man prefers, money or sympathy.

Both scenes ask us to consider the nature of morality. Is the end result more or less important than the original intention, in this case money over sympathy, or is there something important about empathy and at least an attempt at understanding? Somewhere along the line Hume chooses the former over the latter, and that comes to define his future.

As well as Hume, Billionaires’ Banquet introduces us to St Francis, the Cat, and DD (which had originally stood for Darling Diana but comes to mean Diana the Damned). We initially meet them all at a building called Barclay Towers, which itself comes to represent the change in fortunes of its inhabitants. Butlin rarely names people and places lightly – there is more often than not a meaning there. That’s one of the admirable things about Ron Butlin’s writing, you get as much out of it as you are willing to put in as it works on different levels.

Events take place in Edinburgh in 1985 and 2005. It would have been nice to know more about what happened to these characters in the intervening years, but Butlin is asking the reader to fill in the gaps for themselves and leaves enough clues as to what has occurred. Without giving any spoilers, the change in everyone’s circumstances and world-view is marked and eudaimonia is in short supply.

Billionaires’ Banquet does not quite carry the emotional heft of Butlin’s best writing, such as The Sound Of My Voice or Ghost Moon, but it still packs a punch. I’ve tried to pinpoint why his fiction in particular strikes such a chord with me and have come to the conclusion that he doesn’t just write books I want to read, but books that I wish I had written. He puts into words thoughts and beliefs with a clarity which is rare, and then challenges you to think for yourself, philosophically speaking.

*A version of this review first appeared in the ASLS’s The Bottle Imp

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

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This has been a summer of unexpected treats and great new music from the well-kent and the brand new. What you are about to listen to shows this off to full effect, but then we would say that. Suffice to say that it is all killer, no filler, and this list could have been twice the length it is. However, we prefer to keep things short and sweet.

To kick us off, it’s our album of the month, and one of the best of the year. It’s Sister John’s Returned From Sea, and it’s a delight from start to finish – a proper album where each track feeds into and enhances the rest. Comparisons can be made with the albums of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, but I was also put in mind of Conor Oberst, Micah P Hinson and even Joan Baez. If the music which has become know as Americana is your sort of thing then Sister John are the band for you. But you don’t need to take my word for it as they are undergoing a short tour, with The Braemar Gallery gig promising to be extra special, so get tickets while you can. In the meantime, this is ‘He Came Down’:

As regular readers will know, we are huge fans of Errant Boy who always seem to make the music we need to hear just when we need to hear it. They are back with arguably their best single yet, ‘Means’. It’s a treat and a treasure for indie kids of all ages, bringing to mind Josef K, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Go-Betweens, but with Sean Ormsby’s unmistakable vocals to make it unmistakably Errant. It’s a song to fall in love with and to – simply thrilling, honey. This is ‘Means’:

While we’re talking about falling in love, few bands have captured our hearts as easily as L-space. Their ethereal electronica takes its time to unfold and reveal all its treasures, offering up something new with each listen.This has never been demonstrated better than on their latest release ‘Aloe’. There is undoubtedly a hint of Julee Cruise’s ‘Falling’ but contrasted with a grittier feel as the song progresses. If Twin Peaks had been set on the east coast of Scotland this is the theme tune it would have had:

There are few things better than the joy of the new, and Out Of The Swim are new to SWH!. I could have picked other tracks to feature, so go listen to their Soundcloud page for more, but I’ve gone for ‘The Change’. If you know the work David Sylvian did with Mark Isham and David Torn then you’ll have an idea as to what you are about to hear. If you don’t, you should. ‘The Change’ is not only unlike anything you’ve heard this year, it’s more then likely better than anything you’ve heard this year. I’d put money on it:

Robin Guthrie‘s credentials are impeccable, as any fule kno. As well as his work with the legendary Cocteau Twins, alongside Simon Raymonde and Liz Frazer, he has also worked with Harold Budd, John Foxx (Underpass!) and Siobhan de Mare as part of Violet Indiana as well as regularly making beautiful soundscapes all on his own. He has recently lent his magic touch to Canadian/Russian duo Ummagma, remixing their track ‘Lama’, and what magic it is. If you like his previous work then this is right up your street. It’s dreamy in oh so many ways, and makes you eager for further collaboration. While we wait for that, this is ‘Lama’:

All things Edinburgh loomed large last month, and highlights of the festivities included Lomond Campbell and Modern Studies at the beautiful Stockbridge Church, with the Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra, as part of the Sounding series of multimedia shows. We bow to no-one in our admiration for Modern Studies and Mr Campbell, both of whose albums were among our best albums of 2016 and which continue to get regular rotation to this day.

Howeverm, in the unlikely event you aren’t yet convinced then the perfect place to start is the release of the 7″ single, released on Triassic Trusk, which has Campbell covering Modern Studies’ ‘Father Is A Craftsman’ on the A-side, and Modern Studies returning the compliment with their version of Campbell’s ‘Every Florist In Every Town’ on side AA. Both songs are just beautiful, as you would expect, as everyone involved bring the best out of each other and the songs:

The music has been mostly mellow and contemplative this month, which may be a sign of the times. But to shake you from your slumbers let us introduce The Rah’s and their single ‘The Time Is Now’. It’s reminiscent of SWH! favourites Mummy Short Arms,  but also Queens Of The Stone Age and Foo Fighters. It’s an instant earworm if ever you heard one, guaranteed to get your body parts moving. Clap your hands, stamp your feet:

There goes the summer, but have no fear – September has already offered up some great music for your consideration, but you’ll have to be patient to hear who makes the final cut. In the meantime, why not go to the top of the page and start again…

Reporting Scotland: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Peter Ross…

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On the latest podcast, Ali spoke to journalist Peter Ross about the follow-up to his 2014 book, Daunderlust: Dispatches From Unreported Scotland, (which Peter spoke to us about in a previous podcastThe Passion Of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches From Unreported Scotland. Peter goes into some of those dispatches in detail as the two discuss how Scottish football may be a microcosm of Scottish life, the importance of tradition, post-referendum Scotland, how he was accepted in so many diverse places – from grouse shoot to sex shop, and so much more. Even then they only touch upon a handful of the stories told, so if you want to know the rest you’re going to have to read the book, the SWH! review of which you can read here.

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Peter is one of Scotland’s finest writers and his type of reportage journalism is increasingly rare. The essays in The Passion Of Harry Bingo are a reminder that, to paraphrase James Kelman, “the drama of ordinary people’s every day lives” will always be compelling and will tell readers more about their country, their neighbours and themselves than fiction could ever manage.

This is the 84th SWH! podcast, so if you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber 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…

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..or on YouTube:

If our plans come together we’re going to have a couple of rather interesting podcasts coming soon, so keep your ear to the ground…

Divine Intervention: A Review Of Charlie Laidlaw’s The Things We Learn When We’re Dead…

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I’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of crime fiction lately most of which is written using short, punchy prose which drives events along – the literary version of the Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s instructions to his songwriters, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”. It’s a style which suits the substance, but, and this may just be me, as I began reading Charlie Laidlaw’s The Things We Learn When We’re Dead I found I needed a period of readjustment in terms of pace. There was some initial impatience as to who people were and what drove them. If you ever find this happening then this may work for you as well. Pour yourself a drink, find the most comfortable chair in the house, take a deep breath, and relax.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead turned out to be the perfect novel with which to take this approach as it is a pleasure to spend time in the possible worlds Laidlaw creates. It is book which marries real life and fantasy in a manner not dissimilar to Iain Banks’ The Bridge and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark with the story split between Earthly memories and another place, one which may, or may not, be a figment of the central character’s imagination or psyche. In Laidlaw’s novel, HVN is a place just above Earth – a damaged spaceship where Edinburgh lawyer Lorna Love finds herself after her untimely and ambiguous death. As with The Bridge’s Alexander Lennox and Lanark’s Duncan Thaw, Lorna is trying to make sense of her life in what could be a dreamland, although one initially less dystopian than theirs. She has been chosen by God for reasons she has yet to understand, and which he will not divulge. In HVN God is not only male, but an ageing hippy who, while he captains the ship, may not be as in charge as he believes.

Another author I was reminded of was Douglas Adams as Laidlaw has the same attention to detail mixed with absurdity, particularly in his depiction of life aboard HVN. This is a ship where everyone is famous, or rather is someone famous depending on who they choose to look like. Lorna has to adapt to life aboard this celestial vessel of multiple Sean Connerys, Kate Winslets, Hugh Grants and a rather insistent Bill Clinton. It’s a place where, as many would wish heaven to be, your every whim is catered for, in this case by a faceless yet comforting presence named Trinity. It’s the sort of place where you can find out ‘Ten Things You May Or May Not Know About Hamsters’ to help pass eternity and be glad of it.

As Lorna’s memories begin to return we spend less time in HVN and more back on Earth, although the former is there to help her better understand the latter, providing her with exact replicas of the places she knew from her childhood and later life – places with significant meaning. As Lorna begins to reflect on her life she finds love and regret are to the fore. Questions are posed about what drives an individual to act as they do – is it nature, nurture or, is it, in this specific case, somehow part of God’s greater plan? If it’s the latter then he keeps that plan well hidden, not least from Lorna herself.

It’s less a case of Lorna regretting nothing, as we are often told should be the case, more that the wish to have done differently is overwhelming. Chances not taken, decisions made for the wrong reasons, things never said, and words which can never be taken back – these all cross Lorna’s mind as she tries to make sense of her old-life and how, and why, it has brought her to God’s attention. It also asks the reader some interesting and potentially uncomfortable questions. Would you do it all again if you could? If we’re honest with ourselves there are surely at least some things we would do differently given a second chance.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a delightful novel, one which touches upon philosophy and metaphysics as well as sociopolitical considerations, but never beats you around the head with any of them. This is partly down to Laidlaw’s gentle yet insistent sense of humour, which means that the serious points he makes catch you unaware and are all the more powerful for it. Just as Lorna Love has to face up to accepting the reasons for acting as she did were less noble, benevolent and altruistic than she may have believed at the time, it will have you reflecting on your own past, present and possible future. It may not change your life, but it might make you think twice, and you can’t ask much more from a novel than that.

The Road Less Travelled: A Review Of Peter Ross’s The Passion Of Harry Bingo…

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What a difference three years makes. Peter Ross’s previous book, Daundlerust: Dispatches From Unreported Scotland was published in the Spring of 2014, a time when, in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum in September, there was a widespread sense of optimism for the future among those who saw Scottish independence as the opportunity of a lifetime, and who tended to be more vocal about it than those who did not. There was something stirring in Scotland and the stories in Daunderlust, although gathered over the years, reflected this feeling. Most of them told of people thriving and surviving, often against the odds. It celebrated individual and collective lives as the smaller yet still vital part of a larger whole. If you thought you knew what it meant to be Scottish then Peter Ross made you think again.

Cut to 2017 and the country and the people have been through a lot. It’s been emotional. The Referendum divided the nation, often friends and family, and those scars still cut deep. It’s an interesting and apposite time for Ross’s follow-up to Daunderlust, The Passion Of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches From Unreported Scotland, to arrive. It’s a more measured book, perhaps as a result of this change in the Scottish psyche. The opening chapter, ‘After The Referendum’, would suggest this is on Ross’s mind. It’s a look back at the day and the aftermath of the result and it sets the tone for the book, but only in that it accepts the importance of the vote and all that went with it, digests and attempts to comprehend what it meant and means, then moves on. And so should we, for the moment.

As with Daunderlust, The Passion Of Harry Bingo celebrates survivors. Those who keep their traditions and passions alive. The title track, so to speak, is a great example of this as Ross gets to know the titular Harry Bingo, Partick Thistle’s oldest, and perhaps greatest, supporter. Ross want to understand the nature of the fan, particularly the football fan, so he spends time with Harry and others to try to uncover why support for their team is not just an important thing in their life, but perhaps the defining one. In doing so Ross travels home and away, but it is in the stops he makes along the way where the really interesting stories are to be found, and that goes for the book as a whole.

Ross has always been allowed entry to places and events where others would be refused. That’s because people trust him, both those he interviews and his readers, and he never abuses that trust or takes it for granted. His innate curiosity draws him to unexpected places and people, and which more often than not finds him out of his comfort zone, something he clearly revels in. You can tell that in his writing which reflects the content perfectly. Ross loves language and how it is used, both that of the people he speaks to, and how his own appears on the page. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote a piece on ‘The World Crazy Golf Championship’ just so he could use the sentence, “They have, all the time, windmills on their mind.”.

Other chapters look at ‘A Grouse Shoot’, ‘The Drag Queen Ball’, ‘The Sex Shop’, ‘Barrowlands’, ‘A Car-Boot Sale’, ‘The Wall Of Death’ and introduces us to ‘The Burryman’, ‘Herring Queens’ ‘The Biscuiteers’ and ‘The Clavie King’. He even spends ‘A Night With The Naked Rambler’. You may know a little, or even a lot, about some of those subjects, but I’ll guarantee you don’t know it all.

Some chapters leave more of a lasting impression than others. They are the ones which lend the book if not exactly a melancholy tone, then certainly a pensive one. There is the sadness and loss in ‘The Storm’ where Ross recounts the terrible human cost of the storm of January 2005 to the Hebridean islands, The Uists, and how such events and the memories of them are arguably more keenly felt in a small community than elsewhere. Small town life is celebrated, but with a tinge of sadness, ‘In Praise Of Small Towns’ – those places where a lot of the older customs and beliefs of Scotland are maintained, but in increasingly difficult circumstances as money goes to, and remains in, the cities, and local industries continue to suffer.

Then there are those urban areas which are similarly afflicted. ‘Nihil Sine Labore’ celebrates the Glasgow burghs of Govan and Scotstoun while accepting that both are still reeling from the closure of shipyards which had previously offered guaranteed employment to their citizens. There is never a sense that this is poverty porn – more an observance of a glorious past married to a defiant present and an uncertain future. ‘The Band Who Gave Glasgow Hope’ looks at the aftermath of the Clutha Vaults Bar disaster through the forbearance of Esparanza, the band on stage when the fateful helicopter crash happened. By focusing on individual experiences Ross manages to say more than any straightforward reportage could manage, looking beyond clichés and stereotypes where others use them too readily to score easy points.

The final chapter, ‘After Angelika’, is one of the oldest stories in the collection, dating back to 2007, and Ross admits in his ‘Introduction’ that it is one which is important to him. It looks at the aftermath of the 2006 murder of Polish student Angelika Kluk in Glasgow’s Anderston and the effect it had on a community. It’s a moving piece of writing, dealing with a terrible and complex subject with great delicacy yet managing to capture the enduring spirit, obvious sadness, and the positive aspect of a shared faith which were all in evidence as people tried to make sense and move on. Faith, hope and understanding. These are the common threads which run through The Passion Of Harry Bingo.

Talking of which, let’s go back to the very beginning. In ‘After The Referendum’ the pain and sense of betrayal felt by those who voted Yes is palpable even from a three-year distance. However, Ross ends the chapter positively, comparing the energy and enthusiasm for the vote on both sides with the apparent apathy in Scotland towards the Scottish Devolution Referendum of 1979 and suggesting that such social and political engagement can only be positive. It is edifying that he finds hope in the darkest of days, yet unsurprising to those who know his work. Peter Ross revels in the complexities of individual stories but also in the shared experience, believing that while we may do great things on our own, we could do even greater things if we only understood each other better, and reading his stories it is impossible to disagree.

The Passion Of Harry Bingo is out now, published by Sandstone Press.

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

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The new music which made its way our way over the last month is as eclectic and unpredictable as the summer itself. There’s classic pop, alt rock, new wave, old faves, and some very welcome “new to SWH!” bands as well. It all adds up to a rather exciting soundtrack, one which will work especially well for those of you tramping up and down the streets of Edinburgh as many do this time of year. If that applies to you then SWH!’s Pick of The Fringe and Pick of The Book Festival may be of interest.

But no matter where you find yourself we hope you enjoy what you’re about to hear. Make sure you stay with it to the bottom of the page for not only one of the best songs of the summer, but a video which is a work of art in its own right.

We begin with Radiophonic Tuckshop, who are perhaps best described as an indie-pop supergroup with members whose roll call of bands includes Ette, The Martial Arts, The Owsley Sunshine, The Fast Camels and more. Their EP Running Commentary is out on Last Night From Glasgow. The title track shows that these are musicians steeped in the history of pop – opening with power chords which immediately give the listener context bringing to mind everyone from The Kinks to The Cars. The song moves on to channel Beatles and Beach Boys, but also classic Stiff Records artists such as Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Elvis Costello. Radiophonic Tuckshop take all of their influences to make music which simultaneously sounds classic yet utterly contemporary. This is ‘Running Commentary’:

It’s a long-awaited and very welcome return to Miss The Occupier, one of the better things in life. Their new single ‘Thanks A Million’  sees them in a more reflective mood with Roz Baynham’s vocals never more affecting while the rest of the band slowly build the music beneath to bring things to a suitably dramatic conclusion. The title track to an EP of the same name, ‘Thanks A Million’ confirms that Miss The Occupier are back and better than ever:

There’s nothing quite like a great pop song to make all right with the world, and that’s just what Bdy_Prts have released in the shape of ‘Rooftops’. If you don’t know,  Bdy_Prts are Jill O’Sullivan from the much missed Sparrow & The Workshop, and Strike The Colours’ (& indie collaborator extraordinaire) Jenny Reeve, so their musical pedigree is impeccable. If Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis had produced Kate Bush then the result would be something like this, and who wouldn’t want to hear that? Well you can, here and now:

 

In recent years rock music has often been derided or, even worse, ignored, perhaps because it all too regularly deals in clichés and clunky lyrics. Step forward Terrestria to save the day with their latest single ‘Things You’ll Never Know’. You’ll detect ’90s Radiohead, but they also had me dusting off albums by The Gin Blossoms, Nada Surf and Weezer. That may make you think they are a band playing in the past, but such classy and classic music is eternal, there just hasn’t been much of it around for a while (with obvious exceptions such as the mighty Dialects). More of this sort of thing:

Turbulent times call for angry responses, and that’s exactly what Blood Language promise with their forthcoming album Voices. They are Ben Chatwin and Euan Alexander Millar-McMeeken, perhaps best known as Talvihorros and as one-half of Graveyard Tapes respectively. Voices is their debut album and combines the song writing of Millar-McMeeken with Chatwin’s production, and, if the first two tracks (‘Wires’ & ‘Springshots’, below) are anything to go by it will be a fascinating, intricate, experimental, dark slice of electronic pop.

Already mentioned above, those good, good people from Last Night From Glasgow continue to suggest they are incapable of releasing anything less than stunning records. Exhibit LNFGd8 is ‘Smirk’ from Sun Rose, who feature members of that fine electro-pop band Nevada Base. ‘Smirk’ takes you back – way back, to resurrect memories of when indie music crossed over with dance to create club anthems the like of you had never heard before. It’s reminiscent of the best of The Shamen, The Beloved and Leftfield but with a healthy dose of funk thrown in for good measure. If ever we needed another summer of love it’s now, and Sun Rose could just be the band to spark it.

Campfires In Winter‘s album Ischaemia is not just one of the albums of this year, but of recent years. It’s one of those rare records that gets better and offers up something new with each listen, and if you don’t yet own a copy do yourself a favour and you can thank me later. If you’re still unconvinced they have released another track ‘Greeted By The Storm’, which makes the case with more eloquence than I could ever muster.

However, the story does not end there as the accompanying video is one of the best I have seen. With the demise of music TV, videos have arguably lost the importance that they once had but this is a film which stands on its own as a work of art. Reminiscent of the work of Anton Corbjin, it’s a glorious celebration of lives lived away from the mainstream, and the passion and commitment of those who reside there. It’s a while since a piece of music has matched the imagery as well as this. Watch it, greet – then repeat:

That’s all for now, folks. Be back soon…

Write On: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival…

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From the 12th – 28th August in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens once more becomes the place for book lovers to meet, greet, and be merry as this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival takes up its annual residence. It’s an oasis of calm and conversation in a city gone daft, and it is one of SWH!’s favourite places to be. With that and much more in mind, and to help you find something just for you, here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks of what to see at this year’s book festival.

We have tried to avoid the already sold-out and high-profile to give you an alternative and achievable schedule.

FICTION’S MASTER CRAFTSMAN: James Kelman
– Fri 18 Aug 1:30pm – 2:30pm
UnknownHaving said we have tried to avoid big names, the first pick is one of Scottish literature’s living legends. James Kelman is in town to talk primarily about his latest collection of short stories That Was A Shiver, and Other Stories. There is a body of thought, to which I belong, which believes that while Kelman is one of our great novelists he is an even better short story writer – a master of the art. It is a form which suits not only his style but also the content. What is unarguable is that this is a rare chance to listen to a true artist read and discuss his work. Astonishingly tickets still available at the time of writing, but I would get in there quickly to avoid disappointment.

IN PRAISE OF NASTY WOMEN: Nadine Aisha Jassat, Joelle Owusu & Laura Waddell
– Sat 19 Aug 4:30pm – 5:30pm
41aALgYb8hLIf you don’t know about 404 Ink’s Nasty Women then I’m going to presume prison or coma, and either way I’m glad you’re back with us. It’s possibly the most talked about book of the year and remains one of the most important. Three of the contributing essayists appear at Charlotte Square to discuss the book, their part in it, and no doubt the reception it has received.

You can listen to the audio version of the SWH! review of Nasty Women below:

 

POST-PUNK’S NOT DEAD: David Keenan & David F Ross
–  Sat 19 Aug 8:30pm – 9:30pm
3af9fde0This meeting of the two Davids promises to be one of the most entertaining and interesting events of this year’s festival as they talk about the relationship between music, memory and place. David Keenan’s paean to post-punk and Airdrie, This Is Memorial Device, is one of the books of the year, and you can read the SWH! review as well as listening to the man himself talk about it on the podcast:

You can vote for This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan in the First Book Award.

David-RossDavid F. Ross completed his Ayrshire based ‘Disco Days’ trilogy (following The Last Days Of Disco & The Rise And Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas)  with the best of the three novels, The Man Who Loved Islands, the SWH! review of which you can still read, and David was another guest on the podcast last year (listen below):

If you’ve ever been in, near or just loved a band then this event is for you.

 

FACING DOWN THE MAFIA: John Gordon Sinclair
– Sat 19 Aug 7:15pm – 8:15pm
3af9fde0-1While to many he will be forever a teenage Gregory looking for his girl (although, to SWH!, also Frank McClusky in Your Cheatin’ Heart) John Gordon Sinclair has been building a career as a writer of crime fiction. His latest novel is Walk In Silence, which again features the memorable character of lawyer Kiera Lynch, will be the main topic under discussion but to get an idea of what his writing is like you can read the SWH! review of his previous novel, Blood Whispers, here.

UP IN ARMS: Laura Hird and Gordon Pentland
– Tue 22 Aug 4:30pm – 5:30pm
3af9fde0-2Laura Hird and Gordon Pentland are among the 15 fiction writers and 15 historians who have collaborated on Protest: Stories of Resistance to produce new narratives about key moments of British protest. The Radical War of 1820 and the march from Glasgow to Falkirk to take the Carron ironworks, plus the fate of Andrew Hardie, John Baird and the little-known character Andrew White are all featured. It’s a rare opportunity to hear Laura Hird, one of the lesser known writers of the ‘Chemical generation’ who also included Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh and Gordon Legge. You can read the Indelible Ink review of Laura’s brilliant Born Free here.

INCREDIBLE STRING BANDS: Andrew Greig & Mike Heron
– Fri 18 Aug 7:15pm – 8:15pm
583668658Another recent SWH! podcast guest (which you can hear below), writer and musician Andrew Greig is appearing with Mike Heron, one of the founding member of the Incredible String Band. They have become one of the most influential bands of the current folk music scene. The band were born when Heron was training to be an accountant. When he first heard them, Andrew Greig immediately formed a band in their image. You Know What You Could Be, a dual memoir – of a band hitting the big time and of an inspired teenage fan – should strike a chord with everyone:

 

CRIME ACROSS A COLD-BLOODED CONTINENT: Martin Holmén and Michael J Malone – Sun 13 Aug 8:30pm – 9:30pm
3af9fde0-3More crime in the Square as Swedish Martin Holmén and Scotland’s Michael J Malone meet up to talk about the continuing success and popularity of crime fiction, particularly in Northern Europe. The former’s Down for the Count is a no-holds barred Swedish thriller about a former boxer hell-bent on vengeance having just been released from jail, while the latter’s Dog Fight has been dubbed as Glasgow’s Fight Club, and you can hear the audio version of the SWH! review below. There’s plenty of crime fiction discussed at the festival, but this looks like being one of the more interesting:

 

FRAMING THE ARTS DEBATE: Alexander Moffat & Alan Riach
– Fri 25 Aug 4:30pm – 5:30pm
I3af9fde0-4nfluential artist and teacher Alexander Moffat’s paintings of poets and writers are an important part of modern Scottish culture; Saltire Society convener and poet Alan Riach is a similarly respected cultural commentator. Ideal collaborators therefore on Arts and the Nation, which will be out on paperback in September, and which argues passionately that the arts should be at the heart of an independent Scotland. It’s difficult to think of many better to present this argument and to lead the conversation.

EVERYTHING TO EXCESS: Ron Butlin & Preti Taneja
– Mon 21 Aug 2:30pm – 3:30pm
3af9fde0-5Ron Butlin is appearing at four separate events at the last count during this year’s festival, and each one will be worth attending. But if you can choose only one we suggest his joint appearance with Preti Taneja whose Indian set We That Are Young is described as a latter-day King Lear, “steeped in jealousy and rage”. Ron will be talking about his latest novel Billionaires’ Banquet, and you can read Ali’s review over at The Bottle Imp. Before you do, you might like to lay back and listen to Ron in conversation on the SWH! podcast:

MUSIC IN THE IMAGINATION: The Unthanks
– Fri 25 Aug 9:45pm – 10:45pm
3af9fde0Although the concentration is on books, there is always music in the air somewhere and one of the musical highlights this year will be the appearance of The Unthanks. Rachel and Becky Unthank, with producer and pianist Adrian McNally, have re-interpreted the little-known music and poems of Molly Drake, mother of posthumously-celebrated singer-songwriter Nick Drake. The Unthanks will discuss their project and the interplay between music and words. The album is Diversions Vol. 4 – The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake and from it here is ‘How Wild The Wind Blows’:

You can peruse the full programme here, and follow the festival on Twitter & Facebook as well as YouTube & Instagram.

See you in the Gardens…

You can still read Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks Of The Fringe.