The Scottish Opera Interviews #9: Emerging Artist, Arthur Bruce…

For the latest Scottish Opera podcast SWH! spoke to one of the company’s Emerging Artists, Arthur Bruce. The SO Emerging Artist programme is now in its 10th year, and, as Arthur explains, it is hugely important in developing and supporting all areas of opera, helping to ensure the future remains bright.

He also discusses how his interest in opera began, his musical background, the challenges of acting, the productions he has been involved in, and why this programme has been so important to him on a personal level. Arthur is the first performer we have interviewed for these podcasts and this makes for a fascinating insight into the role, both onstage and off.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, 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:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will with you soon.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

Cautionary Tale: A Review Of Vicki Jarrett's Always North…

Sometimes a novel arrives which captures the feeling and spirit of the age perfectly (I believe the Germans have a word for just that). Vicki Jarrett’s Always North is just such a novel. It may have been a long time coming (I first read a short extract in Gutter magazine in 2011) but the timing of its publication is impeccable, as Jarrett looks at concerns and questions about climate change and uses them to examine many other aspects of the modern world.

It could be said to be a book of two halves, pre and post what I’m going to call the ‘terrible event’. In the first the crew of the Polar Horizon, an Arctic commercial vessel made up of sailors, scientists, and corporate types, are ‘mapping’ the area for reasons which are not entirely clear, and not entirely legal. Secrets are kept, and relationships strained, as Jarrett beautifully captures the effect this strange world, and the creatures who live there, have on the visitors, with the tensions created clear from the start.

There is also a polar bear (undoubtedly the literary animal du jour) who, as well as representing the consequences of human intervention on the natural world, works as a cross between the shark in Jaws and Moby Dick, with the allusions clearly deliberate (“Call me Isobel”, is how the central character introduces herself to her shipmates). If I mention other cultural points of reference, such as Alien(s), The Revenant and The Thing, then you’ll begin to get an idea as to the tone of these sections of the book as Jarrett blends multiple genres, touching on thriller, horror, and sci-fi – although the ‘fi’ in the latter is too ‘sci’ for comfort.

The second half is set in a Scotland where jobs are hard to come by, day-to-day living is a challenge, and people often drink to forget – imagine! Isobel has to try to come to terms with what happened on the Polar Horizon, how the world has changed since then, and her part in both. Guilt sits on one shoulder, justification on the other as they battle for her conscience, and it’s a feeling which will be all too familiar to anyone who has one of those.

The atmosphere Jarrett creates throughout is tense and even challenging, but you are not meant to feel comfort while reading Always North – and the sense of unease created is palpable and stays with you once the book ends. I have no doubt I will still be thinking about it for the rest of the year, and beyond.

That is also down to the writing which is impeccable in all aspects. There is a welcome dark humour which runs throughout, and there are images, phrases, characters, and ideas, which are unforgettable. But most impressively there is humanity at its core, as well as a clear understanding of what motivates us, both as individuals and as a species, which helps avoid sweeping statements and generalisations and raises it above most other novels that look to deal with such a serious subject.

Always North is not so much a ‘whodunnit’ as a ‘wedunnit, and it’s time to acknowledge that and take responsibility’, but if that makes it sound like a ‘worthy’ read then I have given you a false impression as it is far from it. Vicki Jarrett has managed to write a novel which clarifies current thoughts and ideas presenting them in a way which express fear, anger, and frustration, but still offers hope, not only in what is written but how it is written. When the truth is being constantly challenged as fabrication then perhaps it is in fiction where answers can be found and serious discussion is to be had.

Vicki Jarrett’s Always North is out now, published by Unsung Stories.

Get Connected: A Preview Of Celtic Connections 2020…

“January, sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me”, as Pilot sang back in 1974 – a genius lyric which just about says it all. But never fear as, appropriately, it’s music which is going to chase away the new year funk and January blues.

This year we are spoiled with 432 Presents‘ excellent First Footing Showcases, and, from the 16th Jan – 2nd Feb, Celtic Connections, one of the world’s great music festivals, gets underway with another line-up which mixes and matches the local with the global.

This year’s headliners and more well-kent attendees include, among many others, Salsa Celtica, Nitin Sawhney (with the always excellent Cara Rose), Isobel Campbell, Iris Dement, James Grant, Peatbog Faeries, Robyn Hitchcock (with SWH! regular Annie Booth), Kinnaris Quintet, Jarlath Henderson, Boo Hewerdine, and The Felice Brothers.

There are also nights featuring or celebrating musical legends, including The GRIT Orchestra, the Roaming Roots Revue 70th Birthday Tribute to Bruce Springsteen, Transatlantic Sessions, Blue Rose Code Presents This Is Caledonia Soul, TMSA ‘Floo’ers O’ The Fairest’, Breabach @15, as well as many gigs to check out at Glasgow’s more intimate venues such as The Glad Cafe, The Hug & Pint, Broadcast, The Blue Arrow, and Platform.

However, and as ever, we’d like to point you in the direction of other gems to be found at the festival. Some of the names below you may well recognise from our regular music reviews and weekly playlists, and they all are deserving of your attention and attendance. Each one promises an unforgettable night, and what more can you ask for in these early days of 2020?

You can peruse the full programme at your leisure at Celtic Connections, and receive all the up-to-date news by following the festival on Twitter, and Facebook.  But before you rush away here is the Scots Whay Hae! preview, (complete with links to further details + tickets). We like to call it ‘the best of the rest of the fest’…

Fat-Suit: ‘Waifs & Strays’ & special guests

Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 and Carla J. Easton

Glorious Traces: The Music of Others

Bogha-frois: LGBT+ Voices in Folk

From Night ’til Morning – A Last Night From Glasgow Showcase

Beerjacket with Cairn String Quartet and Keeley Forsyth

‘Return To Y’Hup’: The World Of Ivor Cutler

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan and Djana Gabrielle

SHHE and support

365 featuring Aidan O’Rourke & James Robertson

Hope to see you at at least one of the above…

A Town Called Malice: A Review Of Stephen Watt's Fairy Rock…

Arguably Scotland’s two greatest literary exports are poetry and crime so it makes sense for someone to combine the two. For anyone familiar with Scottish poetry over the last decade it will come as little surprise that the writer to do so would be Stephen Watt.

This is a poet who has turned his considerable talents to writing about football (he is Dumbarton FC’s poet-in-residence) music (the collection MCSTAPE was ‘released’ on the record label Last Night From Glasgow – right), and all other aspects of life (see collections Spit and Optograms) winning many prizes and plaudits while doing so. Scottish poetry is vibrant and vital at the moment, and Stephen Watt is at the heart of it.

But for all his variety of interests, themes and subjects writing a ‘crime novel in verse’ was still going to be a demanding challenge. We take our crime fiction seriously in this country and any hint that Watt was simply ticking a box or visiting a genre would soon be called out as such. Any doubters need not have worried. The resulting publication is Fairy Rock and boy does it leave an impression – once read, never forgotten.

Watt takes many of the characters, tropes, and stereotypes of Clydeside crime in particular and plays with them, while always remaining respectful. The result is a deadly-serious crime novel written by someone with a deep knowledge and love of the subject, as well as of the place and the people who feature. It just wouldn’t work otherwise. This is poetry red in tooth and claw. From the arresting opening, (and I use that word advisedly – your heart rate will increase from the get-go) you become aware that you are entering a world where bad things happen whether people deserve it or not.

Of course this is a land of cops v robbers, but also one of criminal dynasties, gangland grudges, sectarian disharmony, inventive torture, as well as sex and drugs and well-fired rolls. Set mainly in and around Glasgow’s east end, Watt intertwines the lives of his central characters as they try and survive beyond their youth and into what promises to be the unwelcome arms of adulthood. The pace of Watt’s poetry suits the subject matter as scenes unfold with little or no fuss, his command of the form meaning he can convey meaning and emotion in only a few words or lines.

It’s interesting, and notable, how little this part of Glasgow has moved on in literature, or film and TV. While the west, and the rest, of the city’s image has changed enough for it to be regularly named among the best places to visit by some of the more influential websites and magazines, the dark mythology of Glasgow’s east end endures. Fairy Rock is set on the streets where Peter Manuel and Bible John walked and stalked in the ’50s & ’60s, where criminal godfathers still make their homes, where The Digger is sold in numbers, and the mythology of razor gangs, the Tongs, the Toi, and the Billy Boys, first took hold. From H. Kingsley Long’s legendary 1935 novel No Mean City to Liam McIlvanney’s The Quaker (which won last year’s McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year), it is a place which cannot shake this particular legacy.

But it was another book of poetry that I kept thinking of while reading Fairy Rock. In 1874 Scottish poet James Thomson published his poem ‘The City Of Dreadful Night’, and its title, and relentlessly bleak and unforgiving tone, is one which has echoes here. Watt’s Glasgow, like Thomson’s London, is one where the harsh reality of the urban landscape is reflected in the lives of those who reside there – a dark psychogeographic journey of the soul where people and place are not easily separated. Even when you think you’re out, it pulls you back in.

Like Thomson, it is Watt’s eloquence and love of language which raises Fairy Rock from being inordinately grim, gritty, and gratuitous, with hope found in the words on the page – in the poetry itself – at times offering glimpses of beauty in even the darkest corners. The violence is visceral and shocking, as it should be – this is not a book to pull its punches, and acts as a reminder of the hardships visited on the lives of others. Watt is depicting the reality behind the fictionalisation of crime while using it to make social commentary, forcing readers to confront the ugliest of truths, and also asking questions about the genre itself. Do not make the mistake of dismissing Fairy Rock as a one-off rarity or novelty – it could just be the best crime novel you read this year.

Fairy Rock is published by Red Squirrel Press.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

For the latest music review we’re going to go all the way back to 2019 – remember then? December is usually the month of reflection, end of year lists, “best of” selections and SWH! did not shy away from those, as you may have noticed. However, there was still loads of great new music being released last month (for further evidence check out the New Music Monday playlists), and this, the first post of 2020, celebrates that showcasing the best examples to have reached our ears.

And what a fine selection it is, one which unashamedly features mostly musicians and bands who have featured on these pages before (but not all). What you are about to hear is quality and class from start to finish, or at least we like to think so. See for yourself…

2019 was the 10th anniversary of Scots Whay Hae!, so it is timely that we can celebrate the return of a singer/songwriter who was one of the first we featured on the site. He is Luke Joyce, once of the legendary The Gothenburg Address, but back in 2009/10 he was making music as I Build Collapsible Mountains and it was very, very good indeed. The welcome news is that he is back in the form of Harsh Winters and we are all the better for it.

The new album is The Marriage Of A Killer And A Bird Song and it makes the wait more than worth it. These are timeless songs from a musician to treasure, moving seamlessly from intimate to epic and back again with ease, and with Joyce’s unmistakable vocals at once both brittle and sure. All life is here, and, as with all the best art, these songs will have you reflecting on your own life and times. There is an emotional heart which can catch you unaware, and it stays with you. While we were all talking about the best albums of the year one of them arrived right at the very end and we nearly missed it. Make sure you don’t.

Talking of musicians who it’s great to have back, last month saw a new single release from Xan Tyler on Fox Star Records. If you haven’t heard her before, Tyler is a fabulous singer/songwriter whose music crosses many genres, including folk/ambient/pop/dub/ska, and she has collaborated with some of the very best in all of those and more. ‘Vicky’ the A-side is the name Tyler gives to that voice we all try to suppress – the one which tells us that we are just no good and, worse than that, everyone knows it. It’s a lesson in facing your demons and owning them which will strike a chord with us all if we care to admit it. And we should.

The B-side, ‘Mantra’, is literally the flip side of ‘Vicky’ as Tyler tries to accentuate the positive after hopefully eliminating the negative, urging us to accept the praise and compliments which others pay us, and taken together these songs are a perfect pair. These are clearly intensely personal, but that’s what great music often is – certainly when it makes such a connection and makes you realise that you’re not alone. There’s not much more can you ask from a songwriter than that. This is ‘Vicky’.

Next up we give you ‘Sweet Downfall‘ from Nicol & Elliot, released on the excellent Electric Honey Music (which actually came out before December but which is too good not to include here). There’s something about Americana/country music which seems to suit a duo. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Mandolin Orange, The Handsome Family, Shovels & Rope, our very own Paterson/Myles, and Nicol & Elliott are yet further proof of this.

‘Sweet Downfall’ is a reminder that often less is more, with a subtle production used to showcase the song rather than overpower it. There is a purity in the harmonies of these two voices which can’t fail to move even the hardest of hearts, and Andrew Nicol’s guitar marries to Rachel Elliott’s fiddle equally well. With new music coming very soon, the future looks bright for Nicol & Elliott.

There are certain musicians who release great music on such a regular basis that it can be easy to take them for granted. Exhibit A (for this month) – Malcolm Middleton who has never made a record I didn’t want to own. Just in the last few years he has given us Electric Blue (as Human Don’t Be Angry), Summer of ’13, the essential Bananas, Scaffolding/Have Fun Mister and now the latest Human Don’t Be Angry release, Guitar Variations which, as the title suggests, is all about the guitar.

However, it’s a very Middleton take which touches on different styles and approaches to the instrument, too many to mention here (although I will say fans of Vini Reilly will not be disappointed). It sounds like the soundtrack to the best road trip you’ve yet to take. “What does that even mean?”, I can imagine you cry. Let me give you a big hint – from it this is ‘Bum A Ride’:

One of SWH!’s live highlights of last year was Fat-Suit in Braemar. This is a band who defy easy definition which is one of the reasons to love them. I could try, (I have tried – see last November’s review) and if I did I would be bound once again to use terms such as jazz/folk/ fusion but also virtuoso/instrumental/exceptional as they are all of those things and more.

The highest level of musicianship is married to a sheer joy of playing, and playing together, a feeling which is palpable and rather moving. When Celtic Connections released tickets for this year’s festival theirs was the first ticket bought, and if you get the chance to see them live I urge you to take it. This is just a small but beautiful example of what they do – one which I had to share with you as it’s among the best things I have heard in many years, never mind the last. From their stunning current album Waifs & Strays this is ‘Countryside Quiet’.

Lavinia Blackwall‘s music seems to come from a different time and place, and at this time and place that makes it all the better. Her previous singles, ‘Waiting For Tomorrow’ and ‘Troublemakers’ suggested that in terms of songwriting and singing Blackwall is at the top of her game, and the latest, ‘Keep Warm‘ (once again backed by the always excellent Stilton), only strengthens that feeling.

More laid back and reflective than the previous solo releases, the music and the melodies draw you in, but it is Blackwall’s voice, one which is both soulful and doleful, which keeps you coming back again and again. Her album promises to be something rather special. In the meantime, this is ‘Keep Warm’.

A sign of a great song is that it offers up more with each play, and those are the songs which St Martiins make. ‘My Girl‘ and ‘Saw The Moon‘ were two of the best songs of the year, but you could argue that ‘Melvin‘ is even better. The great thing is we don’t have to choose. To quote Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, “Nobody got a gun to your head”!

St Martiins are one of those bands whose each new release is eagerly anticipated and grows their reputation. There is an emotional honesty, and a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability, that is incredibly human and which few manage to put into song as they do.  I adore St Martiins, and so do you – you just may not know it yet. If you don’t, ‘Melvin’ is the perfect place to begin.

In terms of music, if admittedly little else, last year was quite a year – let’s hope 2020 manages to keep up. We’ll keep you posted…

Scots Whay Hae!’s Alternative Hogmanay Night In, 2019…

Once again Montgomery Scott raises a glass to see out the old year and ring in the new and that means it’s time for Scots Whay Hae!’s annual selection of New Year’s Eve treats. It’s an alternative to the Hogmanay telly, so if there’s little you fancy on the box there might be something here to your liking.

2019 saw the launch of BBC Scotland which, despite some initial concerns, became home to some terrific original programming as well as becoming the place to find Scottish film and drama which wouldn’t be shown elsewhere. An example of this is Prophecy, a film about the life and work of artist Peter Howson. You can watch the whole thing here, but to tempt you, here’s the trailer:

One of the best dramas of the year was undoubtedly Guilt, written by Neil Forsyth (of Bob Servant fame) and starring Jamie Sives and Mark Bonnar. It was the first drama commissioned by BBC Scotland and it sets the standard very high. You can find all four episodes here but below is the trailer to give you a taste:

Celtic Connections is almost with us again, and there’ll be a full SWH! preview in the new year, but one of the highlights of 2019’s was undoubtedly the Marina Records Showcase celebrating 25 years of the label, and which saw James Kirk, Malcolm Ross, The Pearlfishers, Cowboy Mouth, The Secret Goldfish, Jazzateers, The Kingfishers, The Bathers, Sugartown, Colin Steele, The Magic Circles, Starless and more share the stage. A highlight was Chris Thomson fronting the house band to give us the old Friends Again classic ‘State of Art’. This is the original:

Our collaboration with Scottish Opera was a highlight of 2019, one which will continue into the new year. You can listen to the SO podcasts to date here, and you can peruse the current programme here, but this is the trailer for their incredible production of Tosca:

Another highlight of our 2019 was getting to do the SWH! Radio Show on the sadly missed LP Radio, a station created by Lorenzo Pacitti which burned brightly for too short a time. We hope that the show will find a new home in the new year, but here’s an old one from 15th July to bring back musical memories of a glorious summer:

While we’re talking about radio, this was the year where there seemed a real renaissance in local radio, with Cam/Glen and Cumbernauld FM n-particular building on the great work done by Sunny Govan among others. In early December Ali joined Cumbernauld FM’s Mark & Gary on their Postcards From The Underground show to talk about their choice of albums of the year:

While we’re talking music, we always like to offer you an alternative Hootenanny so here’s five of the best tracks of 2019 which are perfect for starting the New Year in style. First of, ‘Car Crash Carnivore’ from HYYTS:

2019 was a year of great pop music, and one of the very best songs came from Anna Sweeney in the shape of ‘Way Back When’:

Emme Woods had another cracking year and proved, as if she needed to, that she is one of the very best musicians both recorded and live. To make that point better than mere words could, this is the standout ‘it’s ma party’:

One of the best new bands to emerge in the year were Lemon Drink who you just have to see play whenever possible. This is their debut single ‘A Song For You’ which shows you why you’re going to love them, if you don’t already:

Released in the dying days of the year, this is DENI and the excellent ‘I Don’t Know How To Feel’, which promises great things from them in 2020:

And finally, some classic hogmanay telly from over 40 years ago. This is from Scotch and Wry, and features a young David Hayman:

And that was 2019 for you. We’ve no idea how 2020 is going to pan out (who could?) or who is going to feature, but whatever happens we’ll be there reviewing, commenting, and in conversation with some of those who help to shape it.

From everyone involved with Scots Whay Hae!, Happy New Year and we’ll see you on the other side…

Alasdair Gray (1934 – 2019)

You will read, today and in the coming days, many warm testimonies and tributes to Alasdair Gray after his sad passing this morning (29/12/19), and from people who knew him far better than I did. However, I feel I have to say something about a man who not only helped to define Scotland’s sense of self, but who changed the literary landscape alongside his friends and contemporaries, who include (among others) Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhhead, James Kelman, Agnes Owens, and Aonghas MacNeacail.

To have such a group of writers and poets emerge at the same time is incredibly rare and special, and the fact that they were all still in contact and collaborating in later life speaks volumes for the strength of their ties and shared values. With Owens and Leonard also passing away in recent years it is surely time to reassess and laud their contribution to the national cultural conversation, artistically and otherwise. As such this is as much a celebration as eulogy.

One of those shared values was the belief that art and literature are for all, not only to be enjoyed by those who could afford to buy it, or to study it. Gray’s love of and support for public libraries was vehement (he discussed it on the SWH! podcast which you can listen to in full below), and more than most artists he made his work genuinely public – the murals in Glasgow’s Oran Mor and Hillhead Subway station being just two fantastic examples. He didn’t seek praise for this, he believed it was fundamental to any civilised society. For Gray art and literature are not hobbies, pastimes or diversions, they are central to the human experience and our general well-being, and as such support for them is essential.

But it is as one of Scotland’s greatest writers that he is best known, and, as often happens when someone writes a much-loved and acclaimed classic, (as Gray unarguably did with Lanark), their other work can get overlooked. As well as his novels, which include his own favourite 1982, Janine, Something Leather, Poor Things, A History Maker and Old Men In Love, he was a master of the short story, with the collection Every Short Story 1951 – 2012 being an essential publication.

Then there are his often overlooked collections of poetry, the plays, the non-fiction, just a few of which are Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, The Book Of Prefaces, A Life In Pictures, and Of Me & Others: An Autobiography, and his translations. And that’s before you consider his work as an artist and illustrator for others. Alasdair Gray didn’t just tell us that art was essential – through his life and work he showed us it was.

But it is his warmth and kindness which will stay with me – an example of how we should treat others. During my time as one of his secretaries he often had me reply to emails asking him for a review, a piece of work, or a possible appearance by saying that, while he was flattered to be asked, they should perhaps consider another. He would then suggest artists, writers, and friends who he thought would be perfect for whatever they were asking, and who would better benefit from it.

I often got the feeling that he was almost embarrassed by his relative fame in comparison to some of his contemporaries, and wanted to use it to promote those he admired and loved. A telling example of this can be found in his ‘Postscript’ to Agnes Owens’ Gentlemen of the West which is fulsome in its praise, but which was typical of the man.

He also had a wicked sense of humour. My first day of working with him I arrived at his flat for 9am, nervous of course, and he answered the door in vest and pants, one sock on, one off – and a bowl of porridge in hand. He never did that again and I’m sure it was some sort of test to see if I was thrown by such ‘eccentricity’ (he was fully aware of his public image, and played with it). In truth, he was hard working and thorough – a working day often split into a morning of writing, and an afternoon of painting (or vice-versa), and then the evenings off. He seemed to take to heart Thomas Edison’s proclamation that, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” No matter the numbers, there was undeniable genius.

My most treasured memory of Alasdair Gray would be one sunny Saturday morning in 2013 when, instead of editing Of Me & Others as planned, he asked if I would like to hear something else he was working on. We sat in his kitchen and for an hour or so he read from hand-written manuscripts which turned out to be the beginning of his translation of ‘Dante’s Divine Trilogy’ (the first two parts, Hell & Purgatory, have now been published by Canongate). It was a mesmeric, and increasingly excitable, performance which seemed to roll away the years, and which almost had me in tears when I thought of how lucky I was to be there.

Some say, ‘Never meet your heroes, they’re sure to disappoint you’ – well I was lucky enough to meet one of mine and on a personal level he didn’t let me down once. But collectively Alasdair Gray has left us a legacy and a vision which should neither be forgotten or ignored. He famously asked us to “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation“, a quote from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee which is engraved in the Scottish Parliament building. Alasdair Gray made this, and us, a better nation, and we should all be thankful for that.

Here is an interview which Alasdair Gray gave to SWH! after the publication of Of Me & Others in 2014…

That Was The Year That Was: The Best Of 2019 Podcasts – Films…

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from Wesley, Chris, Ali, Ian & all at SWH!

For the last of our Best of 2019 podcasts Ali is joined once more by annual regulars Wesley Shearer and Chris Ward, with SWH! sound guru Ian Gregson also in the house (which turned out to be lucky for all).

This time around they are looking at the best films of the year, and Ali’s role becomes more host rather than participant as his own movie going has been admittedly lacking this year.

Luckily the others more than make up for it as the talk turns to the best Scottish films of 2019, personal favourites, trends and themes, who had a good year, and whose was not so good, and each pick their best film of the decade. Listen in and see if you agree. (*Spoiler – it’s not Avengers: Endgame).

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, 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:

Once you have enjoyed this podcast you can still listen to our Best of 2019 – Music and our Best of 2019 – Books. They’re rather good, even if we do say so…

That Was The Year That Was: The Best Of 2019 Podcasts – Books…

For our Best Books of 2019 podcast Ali was once again joined by Publishing Scotland’s Vikki Reilly to have a chat about their year in books.

As well as discussing in detail their personal favourites they look at the writers who have left their mark, awards and award winners, festivals old and new, the healthy state of Scottish poetry, the continuing prosperity of crime fiction, what’s happening in the publishing world, the prevailing trends and themes of 2019, what to look forward to in 2020, and a whole lot more. Although they don’t quite manage to cover everything they give it a right good go and we hope you’ll find something to pique your interest.

This is always one of the most pleasant podcasts to record as the two geek out on their love of books. It’s also the perfect companion piece to our earlier post The Good Word: SWH!’s 10 Best Books Of 2019… where you’ll be able to link to reviews of many of the books and writers that Vikki and Ali discuss.

And don’t forget to check out the Books from Scotland website for more of the best of Scottish books (the latest issue has lots of suggestions for Christmas).

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, with Spotify, 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:

You can listen to our Best Music of 2019 podcast here, and the Best Films of 2019 will be with you soon…

The Good Word: SWH!’s 10 Best Books Of 2019…

I know there are plenty of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists around this time competing for your time and attention, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selection is one for the more discerning book lover with something for everyone. It’s a good old-fashioned Top Ten which has short stories, sci-fi, historical fiction, crime, non-fiction, noir, comedy, and tragedy. There’s even some music to soundtrack your reading!

These are the publications which stood out against the stiffest competition. They will transport you back to the past and into the future, visiting, among many other Scottish stop offs, Paisley, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen as well as Belfast, London, Italy and the USA along the way. Taken as a whole they show the artistic diversity and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today and are proof that Scottish writing is in the finest fettle. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:

Beerjacket – Silver Cords

For Beerjacket (Peter Kelly) dreams are the ‘silver cords’ connecting the creative and practical aspects of a person’s psyche, firing the imagination and inspiring an individual to create something from what occurs, whether in song, story, drawing, or poetry, all of which are a feature of this extraordinary book. It’s rare that an artist sets out a thesis on the importance of the creative process as clearly and then sees the resulting vision realised so fully. The best art makes you understand yourself better through other people’s thoughts, ideas and expression. With Silver Cords Peter Kelly has created a work so unashamedly personal that we should be thankful he has shared it with us. We’re all the better for it.

Silver Cords is published by Scottish Fiction.

David Keenan – For The Good Times

For all the artistry For The Good Times wouldn’t work without the characters being believable, especially when they are thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Keenan shows he has a keen ear for how people speak, but to do so in an accent other than your own throws in another ball to keep in the air. He also understands how people act in their different groups, and how they think and act when they are alone.

But more than anything else there is a truth at the novel’s core. Every sentence – every word – is there for a reason. Clearly written from the heart it will force you to reflect on the people and places which made you, for better and for worse. For David Keenan it is another magnificent, and memorable, achievement and cements his growing reputation as one of the finest writers around.

For The Good Times is published by Faber & Faber Books

Alan Trotter – Muscle

I often write notes as I read through a book which I’m going to review and the final one I had for Muscle simply said, “Begin Again”, and that’s exactly what I did. The second time around I read deeper and got more than I had the first time, and different than I got the first time. You’ll get back from Muscle as much as you are willing to put in, but effort on your part is required and so it should be. Alan Trotter has written a novel for people who are in love with fiction, who are in love with reading, and if that applies to you then you are in for a rare treat.

Muscle is published by Faber & Faber Books

David F. Ross – Welcome To The Heady Heights

As evocative of the ’70s as Alvin Stardust riding a Chopper, Welcome To The Heady Heights is where those well-known Williams, Connolly and McIlvanney, meet. Ross uses Glasgow’s infamous No Mean City reputation as the backdrop to a story which lifts the lid on the worlds of showbuisness and politics and finds what lies beneath rotten. It’s one of the most thoroughly and unapologetically enjoyable novels you’ll read this year – riotous, courageous, and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s also gritty, gallus and Glaswegian to its core – with Welcome To The Heady Heights David F. Ross has given us a novel to revel in.

Welcome To The Heady Heights is published by Orenda Books.

Claire MacLeary – Runaway

What is often asked when you review a novel in a running series is, “Do you need to have read the earlier books?”. With Runaway the answer is two-fold – “No you don’t”, but also, “You should anyway”. Runaway stands on its own as a great crime novel, but I’ll bet that once you have made Maggie and Wilma’s acquaintance you’ll want to get to know more. In just three novels they have become two of Scottish fiction’s most engaging characters, who, as suggested earlier in this review, you’ll want to spend more time with. I can’t wait to find out what they, and Claire MacLeary, do next.

Runaway is published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

Ewan Morrison – Nina X

With Nina X (as with Close Your Eyes, to which ‘Nina’ makes a great companion piece) Ewan Morrison challenges readers to think about what writing is for, believing that an engaged writer has a responsibility to address difficult issues. Some may regard him as a professional contrarian, using his mastery of the written word and ability to understand all sides of an argument to push people’s buttons for his own pleasure, but that would be to underestimate him as a writer, and a thinker. Rather he challenges prevailing cultural trends and beliefs, no matter who holds them. If you have a sacred cow to hand you might want to secure it as Morrison takes great delight in running them through, which makes him one of the exhilarating and exacting writers around.

Nina X is published by Fleet.

Karen Campbell – The Sound of the Hours

Campbell uses the central relationship (between local girl Vita & ‘Buffalo Soldier’ Frank) to examine wider concerns. She looks at how carrying fundamental positions and prejudices, whether religious, political, or ideological, can tear families, and nations, apart – themes that have rarely been more expedient than they are today. She also considers the role of women in times of war, and how that alters family dynamics and relationships.

The Sound of the Hours is a novel to get lost in – one that transports you to another time and place, and you cannot help but become involved and emotionally invested with the lives of those who live there. It’s also a timely reminder that any discussion about the best contemporary Scottish novelists should include Karen Campbell.

The Sound of the Hours is published by Bloomsbury.

Jemma Neville – Constitution Street

Constitution Street is a book for our times, a socio-political work with humanity at its heart, and a timely reminder that there is more that unites than divides us. It’s a call to care, for ourselves and others, and where better to start than at your own front door. It’s a fascinating and intrinsically human approach to examining the practical applications and implications of social contracts in modern society. It learns from the past, examines the present, and looks to the future, offering the hope that by better understanding each other we will come to better know ourselves. How many books have you read lately which offer that?

Constitution Street: finding hope in an age of anxiety is published by 404 Ink

Catherine Czerkawska – A Proper Person To Be Detained

A Proper Person To Be Detained examines poverty, immigration, mental health, racism, and misogyny, all of which were inherent in everyday life in the late 19th/early 20th century, and unarguably still are today. As you read on you can sense your own anger growing with that of the writer as ever more hardships, tragedies, and injustices are visited upon her ancestors and those like them. Starting with the personal Catherine Czerkawska has written a powerful historical novel, arguably her most memorable to date. By looking at the past with an eye to the present she makes you realise that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

A Proper Person To Be Detained is published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

M.J. Nicholls – Scotland Before The Bomb

Scotland Before The Bomb is that rarest of literary beasts – a satirical, witty, and considered comic novel which is deadly serious at its core. Coming near the end of a varied and vibrant year for Scottish writing, Nicholls has delivered one of the very best examples of just why this is. While you’ll find your own touchstones it’s unlike any other novel you’ll have read before unless you have read M.J. Nicholls. And if you haven’t you absolutely should. He could just be your new favourite writer – you just don’t know it yet.

Scotland Before The Bomb is published by Sagging Meniscus Press

Just missing out on the top ten are Mandy Haggith’s The Amber Seeker, Douglas Skelton’s Thunder Bay, Doug Johnstone’s Breakers, Ross Sayer’s Sonny & Me, Helen Fitzgerald’s Worst Case Scenario, Alan Parks’ February’s Son, and David Cameron’s Prendergast’s Fall, but you should still click on those names, read their reviews and seek them out all the same.

Our review of the year in books podcast with Vikki Reilly will be with you very shortly…