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

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2017 has produced great music of all shapes, sizes and sounds, but the singer/songwriter has had a particularly fine year. Albums by Mark W Georgsson, Siobhan Wilson, Annie Booth, Stephen McLaren, and Blue Rose Code (ne: Ross Wilson) have proved to be among the better records of the year, and the recent Autumnal releases have continued this trend. So much so that this latest review is a bit of a singer/songwriter special, with a couple of bands sneaking in at the end for balance.

Glasgow is the latest album from Findlay Napier, whose work I hope is familiar to most readers, but if it isn’t then Glasgow is the perfect place to start. Known as one of the finest folk writers and musicians around, this is a record which seems more personal than previous work, and is all the more powerful for it. It’s a place where folk meets indie in a mood of celebration and reflection, and aside from his original compositions there are covers of two Glaswegian classics  – Hamish Imlach’s ‘Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice’, and The Blue Nile’s ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’. It’s as if someone had told him what I want for Christmas.

With references to the Necropolis, shipbuilding, The Locarno, ‘Wire Burners’, and even a paen to The Blue Lagoon, this is a love-letter to Glasgow to rival Raintown, The Great Eastern, Tigermilk and the aforementioned A Walk Across The Rooftops, putting it in the finest company possible. Beautifully sung and played, (and produced by the god-like Boo Hewerdine), Glasgow already sounds like it’s been a favourite record for years. Here’s Findlay with ‘Young Goths In The Necropolis’, in session for Year One Music:

One of the best things about getting music sent to SWH! (and we appreciate everyone who does) is discovering someone new to us who makes our world a better place. Step forward Barbe Rousse with his song ‘Elephants Don’t Suddenly Disappear’, taken from his album Misc. Muses. It’s an uplifting piece of pop music which demands repeat playing, with a video to match (especially if you’re a “fan” of the elephant). It also features an unexpected guitar solo – not the only one to appear in this roundup. If you’re feeling blue then this is bound to bring joy, like sunshine on a rainy day. So that’s what Zoe was on about:

In September SWH! went through to Leith Depot for the launch of Stephen McLaren’s excellent album We Used To Go Raving. As well as the mighty Errant Boy opening, Stephen was supported by Brave Little Note who was just sensational. The alter-ego of multi-instrumentalist and singer Jack Irvine, the music is enthralling and unforgettable. Luckily for us all there is a new track posted on her Soundcloud page, ‘Only Constant’ which bears the label”(Rough Mix)” but which is too good not to mention here, and which will give you a taste of what Brave Little Note is all about. Comparisons will rightly be made to St Vincent and Feist, not least by me just there, but I’m also reminded of Jens Lekman and Joan As Policewoman. However, have a listen for yourself and come up with your own points of references. We can’t do all the work for you:

Greg C. Clark released his latest album What Everone Wants (further Glasgow nostalgia ahoy!) back in January, but it only came to SWH!’s attention when we heard the remix of the track ‘Birdsoaring’. Album duly bought and listened to, I can tell you it’s a really strong selection of classic new wave songs which touch on Lloyd Cole, the popper side of The Cure, and “Bens” Lee, Kweller and Folds Five. I was going to post the remix of ‘Birdsoaring’, but decided to go with the original album version:

Jaz Coleman, bless him, once sang that he was “Living in the eighties” which, to be fair, he was at the time. However, there is no doubt that the ’80s are having their nostalgic moment once more as books, film, TV and music wear the influences from that decade proudly on their sleeves. From La La Land and IT, through the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, Hadley Freeman’s retrospective Life Moves Pretty Fast, and Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s comic book series Paper Girls – at times it feels like I’ve been cryogenically frozen for the last 30 years, and that’s before we talk about the music of The 1975.

But, on the whole, I’m all for it and surfing the ’80s wave like few others is Glasgwegian Michael Oakley, with his new single ‘Turn Back Time’ taken from the EP California. So ’80s it’ll remove your socks, pierce your ear and put highlights in your hair before you know it. It’s also reminiscent of Boy Meets Girl’s ‘Waiting For A Star to Fall‘ which, we can all admit, is one of the greatest records ever made. Mylo knew it, and so do you. Anyway, strap on your Ray Bans and enjoy:

Jumpers For Goalposts have just released their eponymous debut EP on the fabulous Fox Star Records, (who are also responsible for the recent release by The Sweetheart Revue which featured in last month’s roundup). Their sound is reminiscent of Del Amitri and Hothouse Flowers, marrying Celtic rock/folk and Americana to great effect. The first track is ‘The Boxer Benny Lynch‘, a fantastic tribute to arguably Glasgow’s greatest ever sportsman, but I’m going to post ‘Per Lachaise’ as it’s my favourite of the EP’s three tracks. A beautiful song about life, love and art, it promises great things for their future. Watch this space:

Straight out of Ru’glen, Harry and the Hendersons have been rightly lauded and talked about for some time, and this month saw the release of their highly anticipated debut album Method of the Matchstick Men. If Michael Oakley takes you back to the ’80s, then Harry and the Hendersons set their time machine to a decade earlier making epic, classic, rock music reminiscent of early Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds and even a hint of Creedence. The Dude would approve. But there are also echoes of ’70s English folk rock bands such as The Trees and Spirogyra. It’s an album to get lost in – turn on, tune in, drop out. This is the title track:

We are going to end where we began, in Glasgow’s Necropolis, the setting for the video for Tenement and Temple’s single ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow.‘ They are Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, and they continue to make beautiful music together, just as they have since their days in Thrum. In this reviewer’s opinion, Monica is quite simply the finest singer around, and every home should own her solo records Ten Sorrowful Mysteries and Return of the Sacred Heart (produced by one J. Smillie). ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow is further evidence of this, and it is launched at The Tron Theatre in Glasgow on the 24th November in collaboration with the aforementioned Fox Star Records. I could tell you how beautiful it is, probably using words like “ethereal”, “dreamlike” and maybe even “hypnagogic” if I’ve had a glass of wine or two, but instead you can listen for yourself right here and now:

The next music review will be our Tracks Of The Year for 2017, for which there is going to be stiff competition…

There’s A Riot Going On: A Review Of Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul…

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One of the most eagerly anticipated books of 2017, at least round our way, is Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul. It follows on from Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul which was one of SWH!’s  Books of the Year for 2015 and which Stuart spoke about in depth when he was a guest on the SWH! podcast. Both books are part of his ‘Sixties Soul Trilogy’ (Harlem 69 is due in 2018) which takes the music of those cities as a starting point to further explore arguably the most explosive and important years of 1960s America.

Memphis 68 is defined by two deaths; Otis Redding’s in December of 1967 and Martin Luther King Jr’s in April ’68. The book begins with a city in mourning for its favourite son. For many music fans, this was the day the music died, with Redding’s demise in a plane-crash as shocking and untimely as that of Buddy Holly in similar circumstances in 1959. As with the earlier incident, it is easy to overlook the other individuals who also lost their lives, but Cosgrove makes sure they are not forgotten, reminding readers that while Redding may have been Stax Records’ shining star, he was a member of a large musical family whose loss was great and deeply felt.

As well as the fluctuating fortunes of Stax, there are many other strands to Memphis 68 which Cosgrove weaves together with the confidence of a writer who knows his subject inside out. One of these is the strike of black sanitary public works employees, a protest which brought Martin Luther King Jr to the city. If Redding’s death shook Memphis and music, the shooting of Dr King on April 4th shook the world. Cosgrove takes time and care to contextualise his death, looking at the weeks and days before and after, but also adding a historical and cultural overview.

Redding and King aside, the characters we are introduced to are varied and remarkable. Some of them are well-known, such as gospel superstar Mahalia Jackson – in town to promote her “glori-fried” chicken franchise, a young Black Panther named Samuel L. Jackson, the mercurial Booker T. Jones, the unpredictable Wilson Pickett, an insecure Dusty Springfield who would record her greatest record in the city, and guitar legend Albert King with his famous ‘Flying V’.

But it is the lesser known who make this story so compelling. The inspirational Juanita Miller, the tragic story of Larry Payne, the intimidating Dino ‘Boom Boom’ Woodward (with “fists that hung heavy like swollen fruit”), and Olympic sprint hopeful Bill Hurd. They all make have their parts to play as the year’s events unfold. Then there is the strange story of Agent 500.

Agent 500 is the name given to Marell McCollough, a government spook who has a central role in the historic events of the 4th April, and he is just one example of the US authorities fear of the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, which Martin Luther King Jr was obviously central to. It’s fascinating to realise how keenly this sense of ‘Big Brother is watching you’ was felt in the wider culture of the US at the time. This was reflected in TV and movies, but also in the music with a range of songs referencing the FBI, double agents, and a fascination with spies all becoming hits in the ’60s.

In the book Cosgrove includes a letter written to King, supposedly concocted on the order of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, which is quite astonishing, and which shows the fear and paranoia which was prevalent. It is in this sort of detail that Memphis 68 excels and that the bigger picture emerges. Cosgrove looks at individual lives but he also links events to the Paris riots of that same year, the Mexico Olympics, the emerging American black cinema, as well as the musical developments in Memphis and beyond.

If you read Detroit 67 you’ll have been as eager as I was for Memphis 68 to continue the story. If you haven’t and are not sure if Memphis 68 is for you I’m going to suggest something simple. Visit a bookshop and pick it up, then read the first three pages. You’ll know by then if you want to read on as this is a book which grabs you from the off. The constant throughout the book is the music, in which Cosgrove is immersed, and he writes about it with a passion and fire which is infectious. In those opening pages there are mentions of Rufus Thomas, BB King, Carla Thomas, Bobby Womack, Elvis Presley and many more promising a must read for anyone with an interest in popular music and culture.

Here are three of the most important tracks referenced in Memphis 68:

Johnnie Taylor – Who’s Making Love?

Sam & Dave – I Thank You

Isaac Hayes – By The Time I Get To Phoenix

If the death of Otis Redding had changed Stax Records for ever then the emergence of Isaac Hayes, and especially his ‘Black Moses’ persona, by the end of ’68 would change the music and cultural landscape yet again, and take it as far away from the romantic pop and soul of Motown, (which was the focus of, and soundtrack to, Detroit 67), as could be imagined, and this feel of a story unfolding and developing is key.

If Detroit 67 was the first part of a three-act play, then Memphis 68 fulfills the role of the second act, where things get worse before they can get better, setting the scene perfectly for the denouement. Yet again music would come to reflect the times, and in bringing the two together Stuart Cosgrove paints a vivid picture of people and place. There are few writers who so clearly and powerfully evince the relationship between popular culture and politics as he is doing with these books. Harlem 69 can’t come quickly enough.

Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul is published by Polygon Books.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?: A Review of Lesley Glaister’s The Squeeze…

DSC_0565Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Portrait Of A Lady, Oscar And Lucinda, Bonjour Tristesse – the best novels concerned with the complexity of relationships are those which refuse to bow to sentiment, and often are more concerned with puncturing the idea or ideal of love and romance than living up to it. Lesley Glaister’s latest novel The Squeeze takes this approach with honesty and searing insight and in doing so examines the effect of those opposing forces of passion and reason, the desires that drive us to get together and the justifications made for staying together. The Squeeze could be considered an anti-romantic novel, and that’s what makes it compelling.

It certainly doesn’t pull its punches when detailing what humans are capable of. Mostly set in Edinburgh, 1989-92, it opens with a short chapter from ‘Alis’ (the chapters are named after the characters who narrate them). It’s half a page which nonetheless sets the tone for what is to follow as it posits the dangers of dreaming when set against the harsh reality of some people’s lives.

Alis and her friend Marta are from post-Ceausescu Romania where crime and poverty come together to make desperate people do desperate things. The two teenagers are trafficked from their home to work in one of Edinburgh’s euphemistically names ‘massage parlours’. Their story is terrifying and all too believable as subsequent men promise them not even the world, just the possibility of taking them out of their current situation, if only for a short while, only to deliver them into a living hell. Held as prisoners with only their captors and customers as contact, the two’s friendship and the hope of home is the only thing that they can cling to.

The other strand in the novel focuses on the life and loves of Mats, a Norwegian who has come to Scotland’s capital for work reasons, something which has put a strain on his marriage to Nina, although he is slow to realise it. Their relationship is one which seems potentially perfect to Mats bar the lack of children, a situation he is keen to put right. This belief is the first time we sense that when it comes to self-deception Mats is a master.

Barely a year later Mats and Nina are divorced and he has remarried to Vivienne – his desire to be a father a not inconsiderable factor. Vivienne’s chapters are in the form of audio recordings which she does as therapy, something she has undertaken as she feels from early on in their marriage that things are not as they should be. Mats has, apparently happily, made a home together not just with her but also her son Artie, determined to create the perfect family which eluded him previously. Both Mats and Vivienne believe they have roles to fulfil, roles which society expects, even if they are not sure how to do so or fully understand why.

At a time which should be happy for both, what unfolds is a sense of disappointment and anxiety, and simmering tension because of it. The Squeeze doesn’t avoid the clichés which surround relationships, it’s more that Glaister plays with, and unpicks, them.  Mats wants to be the breadwinner and protector, Vivienne the good mother and wife. All the while there are the often brutal ‘Marta’ chapters which put their problems into stark perspective as she is used and physically abused by men who neither know nor care who she is. Her life is about survival, and that is not guaranteed.

When Marta, Mats and Vivienne’s worlds collide it is down to yet more deceit, lies and guilt, primarily on Mats part as he seeks redemption and the chance to do the right thing, although  arguably for the wrong reasons. Glaister asks questions about why people act as they do – what are the justifications, and can any act be considered purely unselfish? Once again, dreams of a happy life are cruelly glimpsed before being destroyed by reality and all too human failings. The final part of The Squeeze jumps forward to 2005 and without giving anything away it’s fair to say that the intervening 13 years have been filled with a mixture of some love but a lot of regret as the central characters come to realise that actions have consequences which can last a lifetime.

With The Squeeze Lesley Glaister proves she has an understanding of human frailty and weakness which is forensic, and it is rare to read about relationships with such honesty and insight. It would have been easy, and perhaps understandable, to make these characters reprehensible or caricatures, but they are heartbreakingly human with all the ego, anxiety, faults and frailties that entails.  You’ll recognise aspects of yourself in this novel, and if you don’t you might want to reconsider as it may just be you’re only deceiving yourself.

The Squeeze is published by Salt Publishing

Happy Accidents: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talk To Graeme Macrae Burnet…

DSC_0540.JPGOn the latest podcast Ali speaks to writer, and returning guest, Graeme Macrae Burnet. The primary reason was to discuss his latest novel, The Accident On The A35, but the conversation turns to the work of George Simenon, existential fiction, home-town chauvinism, the importance of character, the formative nature of teenage years, the writer/publisher relationship, different approaches to writing, and a whole lot more.

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Graeme also looks back on life since his second novel, His Bloody Project, was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and all that has entailed. As mentioned, Graeme was on the podcast back in December 2015 with fellow Saraband/Contraband author, Graham Lironi.

On it he spoke about His Bloody Project, which had only just been published, and it’s fascinating to hear what has happened to writer and novel since then. We’re calling the latest podcast a must-listen for anyone with an interest in books, writers, and writing, and we wouldn’t lie about something like that.

This is SWH! podcast number 86, 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…

..SoundCloud

 

..or on YouTube:

To whet you’re apetite, we may have some live music next time round – but, then again, we may not. Tune in to find out…

Whisky Words: A Review Of Iain Hector Ross’s The Whisky Dictionary…

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If you believe the supermarkets, it’s already time to be thinking about Christmas. While this is clearly nonsense there is no harm in giving you a heads up about a book which is made for gifting to those for whom a well-chosen bottle has previously been the only sensible choice.

Iain Hector Ross’s The Whisky Dictionary is the perfect gift for anyone who enjoys a dram or two. Whisky has the reputation of being the drink of choice of the obsessive, (despite a strong challenge from gin and beer in recent years). As with vinyl or first edition collectors, whisky enthusiasts are often willing to spend more than they can afford on a rare item, and they have a language all of their own to talk about it. A group of whisky fanatics will evangelise into the wee small hours about peat, sherry casks and single malts – or at least until the bottle runs out.

Ross knows that of which he writes, and his dictionary informs, educates and thoroughly entertains as he explains both the science and the mythology of Scotland’s national drink. He also demonstrates what a rich language has grown around whisky, its production, and its consumption. If you want to know the difference between a ‘swig’ and a ‘swirl’, ‘heart’ and ‘head’, ‘glug’ and ‘glamp’ or a ‘sook’ and a ‘sowp’, the answers are here for you.

You will also find out where the terms ‘monkey shoulder’, ‘Devil’s cut’ and ‘quaich’ come from, and so much more. So, if you are partial to a wee ‘glammie’, have found yourself ‘frisky’, or have perhaps even been ‘mortal-fou’, (although hopefully never ‘bitch-fou’), or know someone who this applies to, then The Whisky Dictionary is just perfect. Slàinte.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Ben Averis, who has previously worked with publishers Sandstone Press on The Rainforests of Britain and Ireland: A Travellers Guide by Clifton Bain.

The Whisky Dictionary is published by Sandstone Press.

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’:

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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. Continue reading

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:

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*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. Continue reading

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’:

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