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.

Closing Time: A Review Of Louise Welsh’s No Dominion…

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There are always mixed feelings when a favoured series comes to an end. You want to see how things pan out, but there is also the terrible realisation that these characters you have come to know and care for will no longer be part of your lives. All you can hope for is a fitting conclusion to make that investment worthwhile. Louise Welsh’s ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ has reached its denouement with No Dominion, and while I have been waiting eagerly since 2015’s Death Is A Welcome Guest to find out what had happened to Stevie Flint, Magnus McFall and their new lives in Orkney, it is bittersweet to think that I won’t get to read what happens next. Luckily, Welsh sends them off in fine style.

After escaping the mainland, hopefully leaving the plague known as “the Sweats” behind as well, No Dominion begins seven years after the end of the last novel. Stevie and Magnus are integral parts of a small community on Orkney, a strange mix of adult survivors and local orphans who are attempting to play happy families while all time the sense of impending threat remains. Some of these children are now reaching young adulthood, which brings with it the normal teenage thoughts of familial and social rebellion combined with raging hormones, a dangerous coupling at the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

The Prologue sets out the nature of the community, and introduces a sense of foreboding that a price is about to be paid for what has been told to these children, and, more pointedly, what has been withheld. If knowledge is power, a lack of knowledge can act as an equally powerful incentive to discover your own truth. If we believe John Lydon that “Anger is an energy” then the simmering tension that these teenagers have been harbouring was bound to explode, all it needed was a spark.

When strangers reach the island’s shore they threaten to break this uneasy alliance wide open. Things move up a pace when some of the children are taken off the island and it is up to Stevie and Magnus to find them and bring them back. This leads the two to come into contact with dangerous and desperate characters – men, women and children who are trying to survive by any means necessary in a post-Sweats world. It’s a place where laws and systems, both legal and moral, are no longer what they once were which forces the reader to consider what they would do in such circumstances, and where they would draw their own line.

The idea of democracy is examined. There is a quote from Aristotle’s Politics at the beginning of the book, where the claim is made that “..some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” On Orkney they are trying to maintain something approaching the Athenian model of democracy, with various citizens voted in to fulfill the necessary roles. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, there is a more autocratic form of government in place, but one which those at the top still describe as “democratic”. Other, more feudal, systems are also encountered as Stevie and Magnus’s quest continues. Welsh has admitted that recent world events have had an influence on this third book, and it is interesting to read with that in mind.

Previous influences for the trilogy have included TV shows such as Threads and Day Of The Triffids, and left-field horror films such as The Wicker Man, Children Of The Corn and 28 Days Later. This time round you can detect the influence of Scottish literature – particularly Edwin Muir and Robert Louis Stevenson in terms of place and landscape. There are songs by Robert Burns, and at least one relationship that closely mirrors that between daughter and father Chris and John Guthrie in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. It is tribute to Welsh’s skill and vision that she has managed to weave these and other strands across three novels and have it all come together by the end to become a satisfying whole.

If the first two novels in the ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ were driven by a powerful mixture of fear and hope, what drives No Dominion is love – the love of a parent for a child, but also that between friends and family. It simultaneously makes people weak and strong, and is what makes them break their own rules and act in ways which they wouldn’t have dreamt of previously. It’s perhaps surprising but ultimately heartening that at the end of the ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ Louise Welsh appears to be suggesting that all you need is love. That, and a small firearm handy – just in case.

You can listen to Louise Welsh in conversation with Ali on a recent SWH! Podcast, where they discuss No Dominion and a whole lot more.

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*Wilson Fillip: A Review Of Siobhan Wilson’s There Are No Saints…

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One of the more welcome musical trends of the past couple of years has been the return of the album. Long-playing records where every song works with and enhances the others, rather than just being a collection of vaguely related tracks. Just a few examples are Modern Studies’ ‘Swell To Great’, Ette’s ‘Baby Lemonade’, Louise Bichan’s ‘Out Of My Own Light’, Washington Irving’s ‘August 1914’ and The Great Albatross’s ‘Asleep In The Kaatskills’, and to those you can now add Siobhan Wilson’s ‘There Are No Saints’, an album so personal, poignant and simply beautiful that it’s not just a pleasure to listen to these songs, it feels like a privilege.

Showing admirable restraint in terms of production, it’s an album that allows Wilson’s songs and vocals to be at the fore. The short opening title track sets the tone. It’s a simple yet intricate mix of piano and multiple harmonies which is over far too soon, but as it then moves into ‘Whatever Helps’, one of the best singles of the year so far, you soon forget that. ‘Whatever Helps’ has echoes of American songwriters of the ‘90s, such as Kristin Hersh, Aimee Mann and, particularly the god-like Liz Phair. The low-key grunge guitar and Wilson’s voice work together effortlessly to tell the tale of someone who is having difficulty moving on, and finding that the songs they listen to and books they read offer cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless. It’s all part of the process.

‘Dear God’ is a plea for a sign that there is someone there to listen, understand and forgive, even when the evidence is slim. Faith in the future can be as ephemeral as that in a higher presence, which makes the album’s title even more apt. ‘Paris Est Blanche’ is the first of two songs sung in French which retain that simple production, and, perhaps inevitably, reminds me of ‘Le Fil’ by Camille and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘5.55’.

‘Disaster and Grace’ is devastating, with Wilson accompanied by piano which then makes way for strings and harmonies, before the singer lets her voice truly soar for the first time. Understated yet epic – it’s a song of memory, longing and loss that tells you enough to understand but with the knowledge that there is more left unsaid. ‘J’attendrai’ (‘I’ll Wait’) proves once more that Wilson is as equally comfortable singing in French as she is in English, but also that you don’t need to understand what is being said to comprehend the sentiment.

‘Incarnation’ again highlights the important decisions made when it comes to the production. The low-growling guitar is used to indicate the emotional shift rather than Wilson’s vocals, which other records would have done. She keeps her poise and control but you are left in no doubt as to the strength of feeling underlying the lyrics. ‘Make You Mine’ sees Wilson make a promise to herself and her potential dance partner, but unsure as to how to make good on that promise, and ‘Dark Matter’ is about the realisation that some things will remain unknowable about a lover. You may never find out all the “what’s” and “why’s”, no matter how much you may wish it to be otherwise, and acceptance of this is essential.

‘Dystopian Bach’ is an instrumental which starts with discord but ends in telling clarity, mimicking the moment when the mind moves from being almost overwhelmed with thoughts fighting to be heard, and then becomes quiet and clear once more. As well as being a summary of the album as a whole, or at least the central theme of moving on from heartbreak, it hints at interesting musical directions for the future. The album closes with ‘It Must Have Been The Moon’ which has the singer realising that there may be other factors involved in falling in love, and that something things are bigger than we often comprehend as we concentrate on our own lives. It’s the perfect end to a perfect album.

The albums I return to most often are those that empathise with and often intensify the emotions and sentiments that are central to ‘There Are No Saints’. They are filled with memories of something loved and lost, and which may never be found again, but where there is ultimately hope. The Blue Nile, side two of Bob Dylan’s ‘Oh Mercy’, Frank Sinatra’s In ‘The Wee Small Hours’, Elliot Smith’s ‘XO’, Liz Phair’s ‘Exile In Guyville’ Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘The Boatman’s Call’, and many more – all records not to be taken lightly, and with which ‘There Are No Saints’ shares DNA.

But what makes the album stand apart is Wilson’s voice. It is an instrument all of its own – pure, cool and elegant, but which manages to convey more emotion in a phrase than most singers will ever manage. ‘There Are No Saints’ is clearly an album Siobhan Wilson had to make for herself. But, in doing so, she has written a record to remind us all that we are never truly alone, and that there is always someone who understands. The very definition of a must hear record.

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*A version of this article first appeared over at Product Magazine, the place for all your cultural information and needs…

 

The Hills Are Alive: Hit The North For Gigs At The Gallery…

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Want to see some of your favourite musicians in one of the most beautiful locations in Scotland? I know I do, and now we both can as The Braemar Gallery will be host to a series of gigs in the second half of 2017. After the success of the appearance of WHYTE, other musicians have decided that the idea of playing intimate gigs against the backdrop of Royal Deeside is too good an opportunity to pass up.

They begin with Mark W. Georgsson and Barrie-James on the 26th July. Mark has featured in a few of SWH!’s musical roundups, and Barrie-James O’Neill will be known to many as the one-time singer of Kassidy. Together they promise to kick off the Gigs in the Gallery in style. As a taste, here’s Mark with ‘A Banjo Lament’:

Next, on August 2nd, Louise Bichan and Conor Hearn are in town. Conor is perhaps best know as one-third of Maryland based TriHearn, a trio which also includes his siblings Caitlin and Brendan, and it’s a real treat to have him playing some Scottish shows. Louise’s Out Of My Own Light album is one of the best of the last 12 months, and was rightly long-listed for this year’s SAY Award. Here is just a sample of the beautiful music you can expect:

On September 11th, US indie musician and comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis will appear with The Burning Hell. This is a rare chance to see a genuine musical pioneer who has influenced some of the your favourite musicians, you just may not realise it. A modern day Jonathan Richman, Lewis is one not to miss. Here he is with ‘Broken, Broken, Broken, Heart’:

Scottish musicians Salt House will be in the house on October 26th with their fantastic brand of alt-folk music. This promises to be the perfect mix of music and venue, as their sound is a blend of contemporary and traditional, much like the Braemar Gallery itself. Here they are with ‘The Road Not Taken’:

Lizabett Russo is another who has featured on the pages of SWH! before, with her album The Burning Mountain featuring in the best of 2016 music roundup. She’ll be appearing with one of Scotland’s greatest guitarists, and best-kept musical secrets, Graeme Stephen on 24th November. This will prove to be a night to remember, so get in early for tickets. To whet your appetite, here’s the title track of ‘The Burning Mountain’:

Finally for 2017, at least at the time of writing, Alasdair Roberts returns to Braemar on December 1st for a gallery gig. He was there in the summer of 2015 in collaboration with Ross Whyte for The New Approaches To Traditional Music project. A musician who is much in demand, it’s always a treat to see and hear Alasdair play. Here he is with ‘Pangs’, from his 2017 album of the same name:

I hope you agree that these are events which are well worth the extra effort to get to, and I hope to see a few of you there.

For further information you can follow Braemar Gallery on Facebook and Twitter, and can reserve tickets by emailing info @braemargallery.co.uk

If you can’t make any of them this time around then dinnae fash – there are due to be further Gigs in the Gallery in 2018.

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Going Underground: A Review Of Michael J Malone’s Dog Fight…

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Glasgow and violence – writers have played no small part in making sure the two are seen as closely related. The 1935 novel No Mean City is perhaps the most infamous text, with its focus on the razor gangs of the Gorbals, but you’ll also find plenty of blood, sweat and tear-ups in the work of  writers as diverse as Alexander Trocchi, Frank Kuppner, William McIlvanney, Louise Welsh and Denise Mina, and it’s a list which just goes on. In fact, it is not that easy to think of a Glasgow set novel which doesn’t reference the city’s reputation for being dark and dangerous in some form, and it has become increasingly difficult to find a writer with something new to say.

Michael J Malone’s latest novel, Dog Fight, does just that. Set against the backdrop of illegal underground fights, it is not simply about skelpings and square-go’s – cries of pain and the crack of bones, although there is enough of that to satisfy the most bloody-thirsty of readers. It also examines the reasons that men (and in this case it is men) are drawn to such a world – those on both sides of the ropes. Poverty, blackmail, threats of, and actual, violence are all understandable motivations to fight, but Malone also discusses mental-illness, self-punishment and the complexity of family ties. You may think that this is going to be a book where the good-guys wear white hats and the villains black, but there’s nothing as obvious as that. Motivations are complex, just as they are in real life, and outcomes are never certain. Malone may describe the extreme side of life, but the reasons people find themselves there will be familiar to many. Continue reading

Three Is The Magic Number: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Louise Welsh…

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The latest podcast is an interview with one of our favourite guests, the writer Louise Welsh. Previously she has been on to talk not only about her earlier fiction, but also the joys of reading Robert Louis Stevenson, and all thing Empire Cafe. Her latest novel, No Dominion, is the final part in her Plague Times Trilogy which began back in 2014 (not, as Ali suggests, five years ago) with A Lovely Way To Burn, and continued in 2015 with Death Is A Welcome Guest.

The conversation focuses on the central themes in the trilogy, which include family, Louise_400x400morality, society, and what could happen in the face of a global pandemic threat. Just the usual. Louise also reveals the influences on each book, including the Scottish literary connections in part three, and admits that recent political events, at home and abroad, had some bearing of the final draft No Dominion. There is also talk of ghost stories and opera. What more do you want from a podcast? Continue reading