Remember that Doug Johnstone? Yes you do, the one that wrote the whisky and violence novel Smokeheads (see For Peat’s Sake: Doug Johnstone’s ‘Smokeheads’…). Remember I said he was also in the band Northern Alliance, who someone once claimed were like Arab Strap crossed with Sparklehorse? How good does that sound? Well, to add yet another string to an already busy bow he’s only gone and released his debut solo EP Keep It Afloat.
What’s it like? Well it’s a keenly personal collection of songs which touch on parenthood, relationships, homesickness and the way that failure can be a positive thing in the longrun (It’s all about character as George C Scott tells Paul Newman in The Hustler). Keep it Afloat also has what I now realise are Johnstone regulars. There’s blood, drugs, rock n’ roll and, yes, a car crash, with which the man seems to have a borderlline obsession. After listening to the EP a few times now I realise it couldn’t have been written by anyone else. See what you think:
Keep it Afloat is an adult collection of pop songs, and that’s a good thing because Doug is an adult, and so am I if I really concentrate. In other areas of music it is perfectly acceptable to grow old and write and sing about the changes that accompany life. Think Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield in soul, Billie Holiday in jazz, Richard Thompson in folk, and almost everyone in country music. But there’s something about rock and pop in particular that seems to demand that its protagonists remain in a perpetual state of youth. I give you Messrs Pop, Jagger, Jackson and Stewart. It doesn’t mean I fall out of love with their records, but it’s not exactly dignified behaviour. There is something pathetic about, say, pretending to still be Mr Rock n’ roll when you ask the police to get the neighbourhood pub to keep the noise down (I’m looking right at you Gillespie). The best music has an element of truth in it, that’s what lends it emotion. Keep it Afloat has an honesty that few of Johnstone’s contemporaries would dare, and it still has you on your feet by the end.
If you’d like to get your hands on a copy then visit dougjohnstone.bandcamp.com. It’s only £2 for the download and £3 for a lovely hard copy.
He’s also undertaken a short tour if you fancy a night oot with some good music:
7th May Ullapool Book Festival
13-19th Jun Westfest, Dundee
26th Aug Edinburgh International Book Festival
7&8th Oct Portobello Book Festival