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

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Looking for something new to listen to? Well, you have happened upon the right place as the latest music roundup has an eclectic mix of tunes from old friends and new. They are all great songs, and while they are distinctly different to each other, there is more than a little reflection, dissafection, introspection, but also stimulation, invigoration, and songs approaching pop-perfection. All this and a whole lot more before we’re done.

There are few things to brighten a dull, dull day like the recent news from Armellodie Records that The Scottish Enlightenment are back with a new album, Potato Flower. One of the first bands to be reviewed on Scots Whay Hae!, they hold a special place in our hearts. After far too long (since 2010’s St Thomas, if memory serves) they return to fill that Scottish Enlightenment shaped hole in all our lives, which are immediately improved because of it.

In their time away it is clear that life is something which happened between records, and Potato Flower reflects on the highs and lows which are ever-present in the every day. Tackling everything from cradle to grave, these are songs which touch upon love, loss, secrets, lies and some unbearable truths. Taken as a whole, Potato Flower is a thing of fragile beauty, with understated melodies to match David Moyes’ often heartbreaking lyrics. If you’re looking for comparisons, in terms of tone at least, I get American Music Club, Red House Painters, Jason Molina, and even the more reflective work of The Cure.

I was, in a fit of exuberance, going to call it my favourite record of the year so far, then I remembered those from Roberts, Skuse & McGuinness, Modern Studies, Zoe Bestel and Kirsty Law (as well as one mentioned below – no spoilers) and realised that 2018 is shaping up to be one hell of a year for Scottish music. For now, let’s just say, “Potato Flowers by The Scottish Enlightenment – every home should have one”. From it, this is ‘Fingers’:

While we’re talking old friends and favourites, Marie Claire Lee has long been one of Scotland’s finest singers, with the excellent The Lotus Project, as part of Paul McGeechan’s collaborative Starless album, or on her own. You could argue that she is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets, but it looks like that is about to change as she returns under the moniker Seil Lien. Her single ‘A Little While More’ has been chosen for No7’s ‘Inspiring Women’ ad campaign, and it’s taken from an EP of the same name. It’s down and dirty swamp rock that’s a little bit Bad Seeds, a little bit White Stripes, and should be on a David Lynch movie soundtrack sometime soon if there’s any sense to the world. It’s also proof, if some were needed, that the first sentence of this paragraph is undoubtedly true. This is ‘A Little While More’:

At SWH! we always try to educate as well as entertain, and did you know that The Men of the Minch are mermaid like creatures that inhabit the stretch of water between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland of Scotland, often luring sailors to their doom? Well, now you do, and it explains the name Man of the Minch which is the alias of singer songwriter Pedro Cameron, formerly the fiddle player in the The Dirty Beggars.

As Man of the Minch, Cameron has released his first EP Helping Hands. It’s a fantastic, and moving, collection of songs about his life, loves, and growing up gay, and is an eclectic mix of traditional, electronica and pop. Featuring some astonishing fiddle playing from Laura Wilkie (Shooglenifty and Bothy Culture), and an appearance from poet Sam Small, it’s a real collaborative work while always remaining personal to Cameron.

He is also involved with Bogh-fhrois (Rainbow), the LGBT + Folk Musicians Project, and I’ll let the man himself explain the aims of the project,

“The project is aimed at LGBT folk musicians in Scotland. The idea at the moment is to gather LGBT folk musicians from all over the country to write, collaborate on and perform songs in the folk tradition, which tell stories about life as a member of the LGBT community – with the ultimate aim being a record release and a series of shows, which help to open up a link between the Scottish folk tradition and 21st century issues and values.” 

If you would like to more about Bogh-fhrois, then you can get in touch with Pedro by emailing manoftheminch@gmail.com and he’ll give you all the relevant info. In the meantime, this is ‘Ordinary’, from Helping Hands:

 

Warren McIntyre is man who lives and breathes music. The host of the monthly Seven Song Clubs at the Tron Theatre, he has worked with too many muscians to mention here, and has welcomed to the stage many, many more. His latest project is fronting Starry Skies, who will be releasing their album Be Kind later this year. 

SWH! were lucky enough to have had a preview of Be Kind, and a it’s a record packed with pop songs in the classic tradition – music to uplift while making you think, and with more than a hint of ‘60s psychedelia sprinkled throughout. We’re surely well overdue another summer of love and Starry Skies could provide the perfect soundtrack. The single ‘Starry Skies’ is released on 27th July:

New to SWH! – the music of Peter Cat, and if it’s the same for you you’re in for a treat. Making irreverent and smart pop music in the mold of Neil Hannon, Jarvis Cocker, Luke Haines, with a sprinkling of Scott Walker, Cat casts a wry eye over the world and is then moved to make music to match. Regular readers will also be reminded of the work of Eugene Twist, and even Franz Ferdinand. With a riff running through it that could have come from The Sweet, and that Noel Gallagher is almost bound to steal, the single ‘Hand Through Hair‘ is a delight from start to finish. Let’s hope there is plenty more to come from Peter Cat as on this evidence it’s going to be quite the ride:

I mentioned at the top of the page that there was another contender in this month’s roundup for album of the year, and that is Aidan Moffat & R.M. Hubbert’s Here Lies The BodyAs you would expect, theirs is a marriage heaven-sent with Moffat’s mournful vocals backed by the always astonishing virtuoso guitar of Hubbert. Put simply, Here Lies The Body sees two of the finest musicians at work today at the very top of their game, pushing each other to new heights. It may just be the best thing either have been involved in.

The album also features Rachel Grimes on piano, John Burgess on saxophone and clarinet, and, regular on these pages, Siobhan Wilson who plays cello but also sings – her lilting vocals softening Moffat’s gruff delivery to great effect. This is never shown more clearly than on the single ‘Cockcrow’, which you can marvel at yourself right now:

And finally… Let’s end as we began, with a band signed to Armellodie Records. This time it’s Cuddly Shark and their latest single ‘La Barba‘. Reminiscent of SWH! favourites Dumb Instrument, and the legendary Ween, it’s a cracking song which clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously. With horns, Spanish guitar, and a smattering of castanets, it’s an uplifting, and surprisingly faithful, slice of Latin influenced pop which is just perfect as you make your way through the streets of your town. Perhaps the most joyous and infectious song of the summer, ‘La Barba’ will make your day:

That’s all folks, I’m off to grab a fancy beer and a tequila…

The Vital Spark: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Celebrates The Life & Work Of Muriel Spark…

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In the latest podcast we look at the life and work of Muriel Spark with our guest Dr Colin McIlroy who is the Muriel Spark Project Curator at the National Library of Scotland, and who was instrumental in their recent The International Style of Muriel Spark Exhibition.

This year is the centenary of the birth of Spark, and the exhibition was just part of DSC_0789the #MurielSpark100 celebrations which are ongoing throughout 2018. Colin tells us all about the exhibition, before he and Ali talk about the novels, Spark’s unconventional life, her other writing, and so much more.

If you are a newcomer to Muriel Spark, or think that she begins and ends with The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, this is the perfect podcast to persuade you to investigate further. Even if you are already a fan you’re bound to find something new to interest you.

If you want to keep up to date with all the events which are part of the Muriel Spark centenary celebrations then go to the Muriel Spark 100 website which has all the details you need, as well as how you can get involved. You can also keep in touch with them on Twitter and Facebook.

As mentioned on the podcast, all 22 of Muriel Spark’s novels are being published by Polygon Books, with new introductions by some of Scotland’s best-known writers, from Allan Massie (The Comforters) to Jackie Kay (The Finishing School). You can also find Alan Taylor’s Appointment In Arezzo which we also discuss.

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 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:

We’ll be back with you before you know it…

*The picture Ali is holding is part of Glasgow artist Colin Johnston’s series of Scottish writers meet Aladdin Sane, (also including Scott, Stevenson and Burns – below) and they can be bought exclusively from The Braemar Gallery.

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Fantastic Voyage: A Review Of Mandy Haggith’s The Walrus Mutterer…

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Perhaps more than any other medium fiction is able to transport you to other times and places – placing you in the company of strangers but making you feel you belong. A consummate example of this is Mandy Haggith‘s latest novel The Walrus Mutterer. Set in 320 BC, during the Iron Age, it follow the trials and tribulations of Rian, a young woman learning her skills as a healer, as well as helping with communal duties, before she is suddenly and unexpectedly sold into slavery. What follows is a depiction of the harsh reality of slavery added to the dangers of life at sea, and often more so in strange lands. The hunt is on for the mythical Walrus Mutterer as Rian struggles to comprehend her new life, and how to survive.

Haggith grabs the reader right from the start. Within pages you are with Rian watching an unusual parade of passengers depart a recently arrived trading boat. The author wastes no time in introducing characters who are immediately captivating – the drunken foster-father Drost, Ussa – a cruel and intimidating female trader, and Gruach and Fraoch who are described as “the dragon man and the dwarf” respectively. And then there is the slim, curious, and clearly out-of-place Pytheas, a wealthy Greek traveller and writer who Ussa says is “Part child and part god and part, I don’t know what”. It’s a cast who you can picture quite clearly in your mind, and once the players are introduced the action begins, in this case with such pace it takes your breath away.

Rian’s future seems fairly set out, living and working in her community, but that all changes as she is lost to Ussa in a game of chance played with Drost. In slavery Rian is treated more like cattle than a human – poked, prodded, and eventually branded, as her new owner tries to decide her worth. Her change in status sees her viewed differently by all, either overtly or less obviously. She finds some comfort and understanding as others on board try to teach her the best way use her talents to persevere and survive. But it is the change in Pytheas that Rian finds most disturbing, although at first she can’t put her finger on why. All she knows is that this man who she once thought she may come to love now disturbs and even disgusts her, a feeling which will prove horribly prescient.

It’s a novel dominated and defined by woman. As well as Rian, whose trials and tribulations are almost biblical in their extremes, there is Ussa who proves to be as bitter and twisted as any of the men, the aforementioned Fraoch whose understanding and support prove invaluable to Rian when she needs it most, the predatory and jealous Maadu whose favours come and go depending on which way the wind blows, and the mysterious and mystical Shadow who provides shelter from the storm. The men pale in comparison, with the exception of the charismatic and poetic Manigan, and singing sailor Toma, whose songs awake something primal within Rian.

The Walrus Mutterer is as much about the present day as it is about the past, commenting on gender, eco-concerns, the environment, and the importance of respect for and understanding of the natural world. It is also about community and the power of folklore, ritual, and song. The language and imagery are rich, poetic, visceral, and often moving. If you enjoy discovering new worlds then this one is as strange and beautiful as anything science-fiction or fantasy has to offer. It is Book One of the Stone Stories Trilogy, and Book Two can’t come quickly enough. Mandy Haggith has created a world which, despite the struggles and strife of everyday Iron Age life, you’ll be keen to return to.

The Walrus Mutterer is published by Saraband Books.

Back To The Old School: A Review Of J.V. Baptie’s The Forgotten…

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1977. The year the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks, Elvis died, Star Wars broke box-office records, Bowie told us “We could be heroes”, and Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish moved across the border from Celtic to Liverpool – momentous events one and all. The way history remembers it, it was a time when real change was in the air, and for many it was the year which saw the beginning of the end of the ’70s and where the sparks which would culturally ignite the 1980s can be found.

1977 is also the year in which J.V. Baptie’s latest novel The Forgotten is set, and there is also that sense of change in the air as newly promoted Detective Sergeant Helen Carter struggles to be accepted by her colleagues in the Edinburgh CID. Helen has a family background in the police, her father being a retired Inspector, but this fact hinders her rather than helps. Those she works with accuse her of having an easy ride, yet her father is against her choice of career as well. Her older, alcoholic, partner Ted also disapproves, looking for alternative work opportunities for her behind her back, and believing that her leaving this life behind will make things all right between them, instead of taking a good look at himself. As she works on a multiple murder enquiry, she is hindered by prejudice and preconception at every turn. Continue reading

Translated Accounts: A Review Of Alison Moore’s Missing…

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In our recent podcast with Helen McClory the subject of literary fiction, and what makes it so special, arose. You can still hear the full discussion by listening here, but a brief summary of the conclusion of the conversation is that it is in literary fiction where the human condition is best explored, and more fully understood, with a depth and resonance which is almost impossible in other art forms where such exploration is more fleeting. You may disagree with that assertion, but when it works at its best literature inspects shared human experience and gives us a better understanding of what that means.

Alison Moore’s latest novel Missing fulfils the above criteria, and proves to be an iron fist in a velvet glove. Told in an apparently straightforward and deceptively modest manner, the emotional punch it delivers is all the more significant because of it. The best writers never allow style to overcome substance. Even those who experiment with the form, such as Joyce with Ulysses, or Gray with Lanark, are looking at what it means to be human, to live. Jessie Noon is living her late 40s in the Scottish Borders with her cat, dog, a large collection of books, and possibly a ghost. But Jessie is haunted more by her past rather than what resides in the spare room, and her inability to come to terms with that past is apparently preventing her from moving forward. However, Moore understands that life is rarely that straightforward. Continue reading

Pyroclastic Fantastic: A Review Of Doug Johnstone’s Fault Lines…

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Let’s lay our cards on the table before we begin – Doug Johnstone is not only one of SWH!’s favourite writers, but among our favourite people, holding the joint record for podcast appearances with the equally loved and admired Louise Welsh. As such, a new novel from the man is a cause for celebration round our way, so we have dug out the bunting out for his latest, Fault Lines, which is finally with us.

To say “finally” is admittedly harsh for such a prolific writer. From 2011-2016 he had written and published a book a year – Smokeheads, Hit & Run, Gone Again, The Dead Beat, The Jump and Crash Land  – a remarkable run of some of the most genuinely thrilling writing of recent times. 2017 was the first year with no Doug Johnstone novel for six, and while it is stretching a point too far to say we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms, he was definitely missed. This is because a large part of the appeal of his writing is that there are many traits of true noir/pulp fiction in his work – quickly devoured leaving a keen desire to read what comes next. Continue reading

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

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These music roundups often seem to throw up themes which are unintentional, but undeniable all the same. This latest batch of songs, when taken together, engender a reflective and almost melancholic mood, something which probably says more about your reviewer than the music itself. Again there is proof that singer/songwriters are in the ascendency, with a few band contributions to balance things out. But whether it’s folk, pop, indie rock, acoustic or electric, all of the following would be at home on an album called Now That’s What I Call Slightly Pensive Yet Still Sanguine

Zoe Bestel’s album Transcience came out last month on Last Night From Glasgow, and it’s rarely been off the SWH! turntable since. It’s a collection of songs which are aching in their beauty and fragility, yet there is a core strength and assuredness which makes you feel, if just while the record plays, that everything really is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, despite evidence to the contrary.

Musically, there are similarities with Stina Nordenstam, Emiliana Torrini, early Laura Veirs and late period Kate Bush, but Zoe Bestel is as original as they come, and as comfortable in her music as she is breathing. There is no artifice in evidence, just songs where the key is life. From Transcience, this is ‘Grey Skies’, and it makes all the above points, and more, better than I could ever manage:

Continue reading

Passion Plays: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Sunday Series – Rachmaninov’s Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini…

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Yesterday (Sunday 6th May) saw the last in the current run of Scottish Opera‘s Sunday Series: Opera In Concert, and, as with the previous concerts of the 2017/18 season, it came from Russia. This time around it was a double bill of Rachmaninov’s one-act operas, Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini, and what a way to finish what has been a breathtaking season. As with the recently reviewed Eugene Onegin, these operas were packed full of passion, with familiar themes of love, regret, the vibrancy of youth, the cruel passing of time, but now there was added murder, betrayal, sizzling affairs, sibling rivalry, damnation, and a journey into hell. It’s what Sunday’s are all about.

The parallels between these two operas and Eugene Onegin are marked, with Aleko being based upon another, lesser known, Pushkin poem, The Gypsies (which some consider an influence on Carmen), while Francesca Da Rimini (given its Scottish premiere here) has a libretto from Tchaikovsky’s brother, the brilliantly monikered ‘Modest’. The former opera is about the traveller, Aleko, who falls in love with the gypsy woman, Zemfira. As her love for him fades she gives her heart to another, younger, suitor, and when Aleko finds out… Well, let’s just say things don’t end well.  Continue reading

Listen Closely: Ron Butlin’s The Sound Of My Voice (Revisited)…

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Back in 2011 I wrote a post for the much missed Dear Scotland website on Ron Butlin’s 1987 novel The Sound Of My Voice as part of the monthly Indelible Ink column. In it I made the claim that it was “The Greatest Scottish Novel You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of”. A new edition is being published by Polygon, and I thought this was the perfect time to revisit it to see if that assertion still stood strong.

I should lay my cards on the table before we start. The Sound Of My Voice is one of those cultural touchstones which have become part of my identity. As with the music of The Blue Nile, the writing of James Kelman, the films of Bill Forsyth, and everything that John Byrne has ever done, it is something I evangelise about, attempting conversions whenever possible. These are important relationships and returning to them after time away brings the possibility of disappointment and disillusion if you find they no longer affect you as they once did. It’s a risky business.  Continue reading

Love & Regret: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Eugene Onegin…

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I have written a few reviews of Scottish Opera productions, and they are more often than not along the lines of “I may not know a lot about opera, but here’s what I liked”. With their latest opera, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene OneginI at least can claim to know the source material, Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 ‘verse novel’ of the same name, which is arguably (and I will argue it) one of the greatest treatise on the nature of love ever written.

This makes it the perfect story for opera, something which Tchaikovsky clearly understood. He was nicknamed ‘the little Pushkin’ as a child by his governess, so it is perhaps unsurprising that he felt an affinity with this Russian writer in particular, but, with its themes of love, regret, vanity, obsession, selfishness, the passing of time and youth, duty, ennui, and passion vs convention, it is perhaps more suitable for realists rather than romantics.  Continue reading