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…

..SoundCloud

..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.

Fringe Benefits: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 Picks Of The Edinburgh Fringe…

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August means Edinburgh, and there is so much on offer that it can be tough to separate the wheat from the cultural chaff. You can peruse the full programme here, but to give you some guidance here are Scots Whay Hae!’s pick of the Fringe. There’s comedy, theatre, music and more – hopefully, something for everyone.

2017MOREMOI_T4Alan Bissett – (More) Moira Monologues –  Scottish Storytelling Centre
After two sold-out Edinburgh Fringe runs, straight-talking single mum Moira Bell returns in a new instalment of Alan Bissett’s much-loved one-woman show. Moira’s a gran now, but still telling hilarious home-truths about dating, her estranged sister, cleaning posh folk’s hooses, the return of her ex Billy, and Brexit.

UnknownGary McNair – Letters To Morrisey – Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) ​
It’s 1997. You’re 11. You’re sad, lonely and scared of doing anything that would get you singled out by the hopeless, angry people in your hometown. One day you see a man on telly. He’s mumbling, yet electrifying. He sings: ‘I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does’. You become obsessed with him. You write to him. A lot. It’s 2017. You find those letters and ask yourself: ‘Has the world changed, or have I changed?’. Gary McNair returns after his award-winning sell-out show A Gambler’s Guide to Dyingwww.madeinscotlandshowcase.com

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Irvine Welsh & Dean Cavanagh – Performers – Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
Making its debut in Edinburgh, Performers is a black comedy from Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh. The longtime collaborators have turned their attention to 1960s swinging London and the making of the film Performance, a violent and trippy cult film that starred Mick Jagger and James Fox. The play revolves around two gangsters auditioning for roles and how far they will go to impress. Sexuality, identity, memory and Francis Bacon are examined as the pair try to make sense of the situation they have found themselves in. In 1960s swinging London, naked ambition trumps everything.

Stellar Quines – The Last Queen Of Scotlandlqos-poster-620x680 – Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)
1972, Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Ugandan-Asians under a 90-day deadline. From Uganda to Dundee, a woman grows up knowing nothing about her homeland, haunted by Amin’s impact on her destiny. Returning to Uganda years later she confronts his ghost. This is one story from a community in exile that sheds light on a unique period of untold history. Performed to a live soundtrack (Patricia Panther, Glasgow Girls) through the street sounds of Dundonian dialect as a homage to Jaimini’s city: the ‘D’. Part of madeinscotlandshowcase.com.

Phil Kay – Euphoric2017PHILKAY_BCL – Heroes @ Monkey Barrel(Venue 515)
A comedian like no other. There’s so much humour in the hour it’s hard to breathe. This original comedy genius is like a Choose Your Adventure. The free-forming journey that is utterly unforgettable! Still one of the best and most unpredictable performers around. Every show different from the last.

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David Kay – Solo Show – The Stand Comedy Club (Venue 5)
David Kay is one of the hidden gems of the Scottish comedy circuit, as seen on Comedy Central’s The Alternative Comedy Experience and heard as Modrin McDonald 21st Century Wizard on BBC Radio 4. Quirky, surreal, impressive, surprising and awesome… ‘Kay arrives looking as though he should be in an art school indie band yet talking as if he’s a senior citizen’ (Scotsman). ‘Reminiscent of the deadpan American surrealist Stephen Wright… wonderfully improbable…’ (Scotland on Sunday).

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WHYTE – Fairich Live –  Scottish Storytelling Centre(Venue 30)
Fairich: Live is an immersive audio-visual experience by Gaelic electronica duo WHYTE. Their album Fairich, released in October 2016, contains new arrangements of rarely-heard 17th- and 18th-century Gaelic songs, as well as original compositions and has drawn comparisons with the likes of Sigur Rós and Martyn Bennett. Ross, originally from Aberdeen, is a composer, sound artist, and co-director of the interdisciplinary group Orphaned Limbs Collective. Alasdair, from the Inner Hebridean island of Mull, is a Mòd gold medallist and has recorded with the likes of Niteworks and Struileag: Shore to Shore. A Made in Scotland Showcase: madeinscotlandshowcase.com

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Modern Studies and Lomond Campbell With the Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra – Sounding – Stockbridge Church(Venue 317)
Two of Scotland’s most critically acclaimed new acts present their unique brand of pastoral and lyrical pop, enhanced by intricate arrangements for the renowned Pumpkinseeds strings, brass and voices, in a spectacle of contemporary indie talent. After the success of Swell to Great – Modern Studies will debut songs from their ambitious sophomore LP (due 2018). Lomond Campbell’s album Black River Promise will be presented in its sublime entirety. www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com

Umbral Productions – Don’t Cry For Me Kenny Dalglish2017DONTCRY_3T – theSpace @ Surgeons Hall(Venue 53)
Danny McLure goes to Argentina to support Scotland in his country’s 1978 World Cup campaign, but then finds himself at war with the people he has fallen in love with. Set against the emotional backdrop of fierce rivalries on the pitch and on the battlefield, Don’t Cry For Me Kenny Dalglish is an intense one-man show that follows Danny’s journey from a 1970s Glasgow adolescence of music and football to coming face-to-face with Argentina – the warmth and passion of its people and the brutality of its dictatorship.

Rough Cut Robin Productions – Robert Burns: Rough Cut2017ROBERTB_AAR –  Scottish Storytelling Centre(Venue 30)
Meet the real edgy Bard. In crisis and contradiction but at full creative stretch. Rough Cut brings you Burns in the raw for the 21st century. Based on Donald Smith’s controversial novel Between Ourselves, it focuses on the pivotal crisis of Burns’s life and career – his stay in Edinburgh. Recreating his lost (or unwritten) diaries, we meet Edinburgh, high and low through Burns’s eyes – encountering the familiar and unexpected. It’s the man behind the myth, but one who wears many masks.

As you can see, and by pure coincidence, quite a few of the above are part of the Made In Scotland Showcase 2017, and here is a trailer of the shows they are involved with:

Enjoy your Fringe.

Coming soon, the Scots Whay Hae! picks of this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival…

This Woman’s Work: A Review Of Triona Scully’s Nailing Jess

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There are not many things better than a book which completely subverts expectations and takes you places unexpected. Few have done so with as much vigour and brio as Triona Scully’s novel Nailing Jess. Knowing nothing about it beforehand, I had guessed from the cover and the promise of “The Most Shocking Book You’ll Read This Year” that this was going to be crime fiction with more than a dash of slash. What I got was something far more interesting than that, and one of the more thought-provoking books you’ll read this year.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers as I think it’s a book which benefits more than most from knowing as little as possible before reading. So if you want to know nothing more – look away now and come back once you have finished to see if you agree. For everyone else…

If you love your crime/thriller fiction, then there is plenty here for you. Influences such as Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre and Lynda La Plante are in evidence, but also Irvine Welsh. The central character of D.C.I. Jayne Wayne shares much with one of his more memorable creations, Filth‘s D.S. Bruce Robertson. Both have lost sight of what made them join the Force in the first place, and it takes a series of terrible events and the re-emergence of a long forgotten conscience to offer them a shot at redemption. So far – so what’s new? But some of you may have noted that in a shared fictional world, Jayne Wayne would have been Bruce Robertson’s boss. In Wayne’s world, that’s the way it should be.

Jayne Wayne is described in her most recent report as, “..a relic. She is a product of a different time with ingrained sexist views. She shows no willingness to change and no real insight into the fact that her opinions are offensive and outdated.” Into her world comes Detective Inspector Ben Campbell, who is brought in to help investigate the latest death in the small town of Withering where a spectacularly sadistic serial killer is at large. Their relationship is strained from the start. It’s not just that Campbell is young and ambitious, he is a man – and for Wayne that immediately makes his opinions second-rate at best.

Nailing Jess takes a none-more patriarchal world and makes it matriarchal. This is not just relating to the police-force, but all of history, society, religion and all other philosophies. This means language, social expectations, cultural indicators – everything which you expect to be gendered, is subverted. This takes a while to get used to, which tells not only how thoroughly Scully has committed to her central premise, but how we as readers are used to the language and signifiers of our cultural norms.

Going back to Lynda La Plante, Jayne Tennison in Prime Suspect stood out because it was so unusual to have a female in charge. Scully examines all the reasons for this, and throws them in your face. This is not a novel about gender equality or neutrality, at least not in the world Scully has created. Instead she ramps up the sexism, bigotry and misandry to 11 while all the time making what occurs quite believable (the police and thieves in Nailing Jess are more Sweeney and Life On Mars than Law & Order), and in doing so she highlights just how ludicrous those attitudes are, but also how deeply ingrained.

Gender role reversal is not new in fiction, although it is more often found in science fiction which is telling in itself. Scully takes a far more recognisable world and this makes her points more forcefully than may otherwise have been the case. But what is most impressive is the thoroughness that Scully has taken in creating this world. Names, actions, beliefs and even items of clothing are carefully considered and renamed to fit. It is not always entirely successful. Changing the gender of ‘real’ popular singers and other famous names takes the reader too far out of the fictional world that Scully has worked so hard to create, but such things are minor quibbles.

In fact Scully’s command of the language is the most impressive aspect of the novel. If you put Nailing Jess down for any length of time it takes a while to get back into it which is both fascinating and disturbing. You have to readjust your thinking with each reading. One of the things I want from a writer is for them to deal with big ideas, and Triona Scully has done that without losing the plot of a turn-the-page thriller which is gloriously filthy and laugh-out-loud funny, and which definitely delivers on the promise of that cover strapline. It may just well be “The Most Shocking Book You’ll Read This Year”, but maybe not for the reasons you initially suspect.

Nailing Jess is published by Cranachan Books, who you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.