Paint It Black: A Review Of Helen Taylor’s The Backstreets Of Purgatory…

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I recently attended the Glasgow launch of Helen Taylor’s debut novel The Backstreets Of 39330800_598687323859088_5110516692849524736_nPurgatory. It was a fascinating and refreshingly different approach to a book event. Instead of the usual chat with chair/readings/Q&A format Taylor replaced the former with a talk on the life and work of the infamous Italian painter Caravaggio (along with an old-school approach to slideshows – see right) to a packed Byres Road Waterstones.

This decision was not as left-field as it may sound as Caravaggio not only plays a major part in the plot of The Backstreets Of Purgatory, but also the structure, with chapters being named after the artist’s paintings (a selection of which are at the bottom of this review). But the important question is, “Is the book any good?”. The short answer is “Very”. The long answer begins now.

I had no knowledge of The Backstreets Of Purgatory before its launch, and only a little more than that afterwards as Taylor avoided spoilers even after her reading. The back cover proclaimed it as “Caravaggio In Glasgow, A Tale of Art, Insanity And Irn-Bru”. While pithy, that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Struggling Glaswegian artist Finn Garvie dreams of being the city’s answer to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, but spends most of his time contemplating work rather than creating it, occasionally caricaturing patrons of the local Bingo. His long-suffering girlfriend, Lizzi, senses he views their relationship in a similarly lackadaisical fashion. This is in part due to Finn discovering a new muse in the shape of au pair Kassia, who, to his chagrin, doesn’t want to know.

Finn’s world is complicated further by the appearance of the man himself, Caravaggio. It is said you should never meet your heroes, and this proves to be the case for Finn as the man is even more feckless than he is, eschewing any form of hygiene, preferring to get drunk and abuse people, and regaling his new companion with bon mots such as, “My feet are as blistered as a syphilitic cock” as they make their way around Glasgow’s West End.

Although this sounds fantastical, and comical, which it is, there are serious themes examined in Taylor’s novel. Addiction, mental health, self-harm, paedophilia, abuse of power, the destructive nature of obsession, and much more. This is never more clearly represented than with the character of Tuesday, a drug addict who has been abused from a young age, and who holds on to the hope that her life can be rescued by someone who helped ruin it. Make no mistake, this is a novel which explores the human condition with a forensic eye. It is also beautifully written. The rhythm of the language and prose is at times poetic, and this is clearly a writer who takes what she does very seriously.

The Backstreets Of Purgatory touches upon many themes which pertain to Scottish literature. The psychological vs the supernatural has a long tradition from James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to James Robertson’s The Testament of Gideon Mack and John Burnside’s The Devil’s Footprints, but Taylor’s novel also displays the Glaswegian grit of James Kelman, Archie Hind and Jeff Torrington, and could easily be placed alongside the best of the Chemical Generation of Irvine Welsh, Laura Hird, Alan Warner, and particularly Duncan McLean.

Certainly Finn Garvie is a recognisable Scottish anti-hero. In The Scottish Novel Since the Seventies (which I highly recommend) Gavin Wallace writes, “In English novels, the deranged, desperate, the neurotic and the variously addicted might provide the odd deviant diversion to emphasise the reassuring normality of everyone else. In Scottish novels, they are narrators and protagonists, rarely, if ever, fully in control of their existences, and morbidly aware of the fact”. This applies to nearly every character in The Backstreets Of Purgatory. but it is distinct and original and proves Helen Taylor to be an exciting new voice. She has written a Scottish novel of significance and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Backstreets Of Purgatory is published on Unbound.

 

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

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This is proving to be a summer of love with a soundtrack to match. With incredible albums already from SWH! favourites Modern Studies, The Scottish Enlightenment, Tracyanne & Danny, Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert, and Kathryn Joseph (more of which below), and the promise of releases from The Gracious Losers, The Starry Skies, L-Space, and Carla J. Easton this long hot summer is shaping up to be a memorable one in terms of Scottish music. You want proof? Keep on reading and be convinced.

I first heard Lynnie Carson at one of Warren McIntyre’s Seven Song Clubs which are held at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre every month. It was a solo set and I was immediately blown away. Her voice has a warmth which is rare and welcome, and this is to the fore on her latest single ‘Love Is’, which she recorded with her band, the excellently monikered Hawking Gimmicks, made up of some fantastic musicians as was shown with their set at the recent Seven Song Club Weekender where they were a highlight. If you get the chance to see Lynnie, either on her own or with the band, don’t miss it as this is someone with music in her very bones, and the love she has for what she does is infectious. This is ‘Love Is’:

Continuing the theme of love, (and great singers), Josephine Sillars & The Manic Pixie Dreams have their new single ‘Is It Love’ out on Undercurrent Records. It opens with very cool strings and percussion, not dissimilar to Roxy Music’s classic ‘Dance Away’, before Sillar’s vocals arrive to break your heart as she questions all she has been told about love and finds the answers wanting. Uplifting pop with a dark underbelly, it’s a cracking song which promises great things. The launch of the single is at Broadcast in Glasgow tonight (18/08) supported by Freakwave and the fabulous Caitlin Buchanan, and all profits from the show are going to Glasgow Rapecrisis. Even if you can’t make it you can go to their JustGiving page and make a welcome donation to this vital cause. This is ‘Is It Love?:

Holy Smokes Records has long been one of those labels whose releases have a guaranteed mark of quality. Their latest arrives in the form of Awkward Family Portraits‘ single ‘Baby Blue’, featuring the considerable talents of Cara Rose.  It’s another winning slice of rock ‘n’ roll like they just don’t make any more, complete with brushes on the drums, bottleneck, double bass, and a suitably twangy guitar solo. The appearance of Rose is inspired as she lifts the record to new heights with her unmistakable vocals. You can hear that I’m right for yourself at Glasgow’s Mono on September the 14th where the band will be supported by label mates The Shivering Sheiks. See you there, but in the meantime this is ‘Baby Blue’:

Now it’s time to bring the funk and there are few who do this as well as James Brown Is Annie, adding to life’s rich tapestry in their own inimitable way. At times like these we often need lifting, and they are a band who do just that. Their latest single, ‘Five Up High’, is out now sounding like a cross between The Average White Band and The Fun Loving Criminals, and it’s as much fun as that sounds and more. James Brown Is Annie have made a long, hot summer even hotter. Cracking video as well. This is ‘Five Up High’:

One of the joys of doing these reviews is discovering a band new to SWH! who blow us away on the first listen. That was the case with Glasgow’s Verse Metrics and their single ‘The Nightmares Leave Us All Inoperational’, which takes its influences, (I can hear Death Cab For Cutie, Band Of Horses and even a little Wild Beasts, others have mentioned Interpol, Manchester Orchestra and Frightened Rabbit) and moulds them into something new and fresh. Indie rock is a genre of music where it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd, but Verse Metrics do just that by being more experimental than most bands, as well as tackling serious subjects in their lyrics, and in singer Robert Dick they have a frontman with a voice which is rather special. This is ‘The Nightmares Leave Us All Inoperational’:

Adding to the feeling that this is a summer to love is the fact that Nicola Meighan‘s fantastic Friday night radio show on Radio Scotland has returned. If you haven’t yet listened do yourself a favour, and remember it’s on iPlayer waiting for you during the week. On it Nicola plays a heady mix of classics and new music, and you’re more than likely to come across something which is new to you. Exhibit A – in July she played Kapil Seshasayee‘s ‘The Agitprop’ from his forthcoming album A Sacred Bore. It sounds like Pre-Millennium Tension era Tricky meets early Human League, with Seshasayee’s soulful vocals to the fore, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting songs of the year so far. I can’t wait to hear the rest and what he does next. From A Sacred Bore, this is ‘The Agitprop’:

I wrote this review last as I want to get it right. It’s important to me. It’s never easy to follow-up a success, and that’s what Kathryn Joseph was faced with after her SAY Award winning record bones you have thrown me and blood I’ve spilled. It was a record which shook Scottish music and to say it mattered to many is an understatement. Of course she’s been busy, among other things collaborating with R.M. Hubbert and working on the excellent Out Lines album Conflatsbut her next solo record has been eagerly awaited.

That wait is over as From When I Wake The Want Is is now with us, and it’s been well worth it. Joseph’s music achieves the perfect balance between fragility and strength, and it makes the listener reflect on their own, and that is a rare achievement. There’s emotional truth and honesty, and a depth of feeling, which provokes a reaction that is visceral, and almost physical. It’s similar to the reaction I have reading Jenni Fagan‘s poetry, or Anneliese Mackintosh‘s stories. Kathryn Joseph is one of those musicians who comes along all too rarely and she should be celebrated and she should be cherished. From the album this is the title track, ‘From When I Wake The Want Is’:

That’s yer whack for this month. But come back soon for more of the best in new music…

 

American Horror Story: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Andy Davidson…

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For the latest podcast Ali met up with the American novelist Andy Davidson before his event at The Edinburgh International Book Festival. In an ironically dreich Charlotte Square the two discuss Andy’s terrific debut novel In The Valley Of The Sun which is among the best of the year so far.

DhhU22jWAAAKJSQPublished on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books,  In The Valley Of The Sun is set in the small towns of the Texas desert. We’re calling it a vampire thriller unlike any other, but, as you’ll hear, that’s not necessarily how Andy sees it.

If you want a point of reference think Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film Near Dark, or even Jim Jarmusch’s 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive, among many other cinematic and literary influences. Dripping with blood, sweat and tears, it is as shocking as it is compelling, and in Travis Stickwell Davidson has created an anti-hero for the ages. If you are a fan of horror and/or crime fiction then you don’t want to miss out on this one.

The podcast is a fascinating chat about those influences and the writer’s aims and ideas, genre fiction vs literary fiction, horror writers and films, the importance of character, and why, in terms of writing, there really is no place like home. For anyone with an interest in writing, or reading, it’s a must listen.

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, 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:

And, as we always say, we’ll be back soon with someone completely different…

The Write Stuff: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 (+1) Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival…

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From the 11th – 27th August in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens (and George Street) once again becomes the place for book lovers to meet, greet, and be merry as the Edinburgh International Book Festival takes up its annual residence. It’s always an oasis of calm and conversation in a city gone daft, and it is one of SWH!’s favourite places to be.

There’s a lot of great events to choose from, so 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 (with a bonus extra because you’re special).

67dac432Robin Robertson, Sat 11 Aug 12:00 – 13:00 – The Spiegeltent
A renowned poet whose work often hauntingly evokes the lives of Scottish outsiders, Robin Robertson strikes out with a breathtaking new project, The Long Take. In this verse novel, Walker is a war veteran from Nova Scotia who sets out for Los Angeles in 1948. Robertson’s book demonstrates the origins of ‘noir’, presented here with period filmic and musical accompaniment.

And you can read the SWH! review of The Long Take here.

UnknownGraeme Macrae Burnet, Sat 11 Aug 19:15 – 20:15 – Spark Theatre on George Street
The Scot who came to international attention when His Bloody Project was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Graeme Macrae Burnet has followed up that astonishing success with an elegant and evocative thriller The Accident on the A35. Set in a sleepy town in southern France, it’s a sophisticated mystery that evokes Maigret, Camus and perhaps a whiff of James Hogg. Chaired by Jane Fowler.

Here’s Graeme on the SWH! podcast talking about The Accident on the A35 and much more, and you can still read the SWH! review:

Unknown-1Spark, Sex and Shopping, Mon 13 Aug 13:30 – 14:30 – Baillie Gifford Main Theatre
‘I sensed romance, sex,’ Muriel Spark said in her autobiography, recalling her teacher Miss Christina Kay. Shopping, too, was another lifelong preoccupation; her novels are replete with memorable scenes when characters shop and…shoplift. Louise Welsh and Zoë Strachan, who have written the introductions to Aiding & Abetting and Memento Mori, consider the importance of such essential – and pleasurable – activities in Spark’s life and work. Chaired by Alan Taylor.

Part of the Muriel Spark 100 series of events

Here’s Dr Colin McIlroy on the SWH! podcast talking about Muriel Spark #100 and the NLS’s Muriel Spark Exhibition:

67dac432-1Sasha Dugdale & Jenni Fagan, Mon 13 Aug 20:30 – 21:30 – Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre
‘This is not narrative, this is time boiling over’, explains one reviewer of Sasha Dugdale’s poetry. It’s a style put to brilliant use in Dugdale’s new collection, Joy. It’s also an apt description of the Truth Poem Jenni Fagan wrote while in America for our 2017 Outriders project. Today, Fagan brings us her new collection The Witch in the Word Machine, an exploration of words as spells, incantations, curse and solace. These viscerally performative poets come together to present their work.

“This is a must-attend event. Jenni Fagan is one of the finest and most interesting writers around and any chance to hear her, and her work, should be grabbed with all available hands.” – Ali B, SWH!.

67dac432-1Stuart David & Teresa Solana, Wed 15 Aug 20:30 – 21:30 Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre
Co-founder of Belle & Sebastian, Stuart David revisits Peacock Johnson, a character he created who then appeared in an Ian Rankin novel. In Peacock’s Alibi, our hero has an idea that may make him rich even if the enterprise is dodgy. Staying on the comic side of crime writing, he’s joined today by Teresa Solana whose The First Prehistoric Serial Killer and Other Stories delivers a wittily gruesome set of short tales.

And you can read the SWH! review of Peacock’s Alibi here.

UnknownRon Butlin & Alan Spence, Thu 16 Aug 15:45 – 16:45 – Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre
Two heavyweight figures of Scottish literature are here to look afresh at their early works. Considered ahead of its time in 1987, Ron Butlin’s The Sound of My Voice has since been mightily hailed Unknown-1by Irvine Welsh while finding an adoring audience across Europe. A decade earlier, Alan Spence brought Glasgow to vivid life in a short story collection, Its Colours They Are Fine. Chaired by BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor.

And you can read SWH!’s appraisal of The Sound Of My Voice here.

Unknown-2Vic Galloway, Thu 16 Aug 20:45 – 21:45 – Spark Theatre on George Street
Rip it Up tells the story of Scottish pop music from the 1950s to now, taking in Lonnie Donegan, Simple Minds, Cocteau Twins and Franz Ferdinand. BBC Radio broadcaster, journalist, author and all-round music devotee (as well as musician) Vic Galloway shares his material in the enthusiastic and informed manner which has beguiled listeners for many years, and considers whether musically we’ve punched well above our weight.

Part of the Music Matters series of events.

And you can read SWH!’s review of Rip it Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop here.

67dac432-2Peter Ross & Tania Skarynkina, Sun 19 Aug 15:30 – 16:30 – Writers’ Retreat
One’s a leading Scottish journalist, the other an acclaimed Belarusian poet, but Peter Ross’s and Tanya Skarynkina’s essays feel equally relevant to the English-language reader post-Brexit. The Passion of Harry Bingo collects Ross’s quirky interviews with unusual British characters, while A Large Czeslaw Milosz with a Dash of Elvis Presley (translated by Jim Dingley) presents Skarynkina’s oblique cameos of life on the Polish-Belarusian frontier.

Here’s Peter Ross on the SWH! podcast talking about The Passion of Harry Bingo, and you can still read the SWH! review:

67dac432-3Stuart Cosgrove, Wed 22 Aug 20:45 – 21:45 Spark Theatre on George Street
BAFTA-winning broadcaster and journalist Stuart Cosgrove presents the second instalment of his award-winning Soul Trilogy, this time focusing in on 1968. At that time, a deeply divided Memphis was identified as a soul town but was soon to be forever linked with the assassination of Martin Luther King. Against that backdrop, Cosgrove looks at the fate of Stax Records which lost its most revered artist, Otis Redding, at the end of the preceding year. Chaired by Phil Harding.

And you can read SWH!’s review of Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul here.

67dac432Camilla Grudova & Helen McClory, Fri 24 Aug 18:30 – 19:30 – Writers’ Retreat
Camilla Grudova’s latest work, The Doll’s Alphabet, is a collection of surreal, dystopian horror stories linked by a grimy, squalid atmosphere and a sense of the familiar being distorted. In Mayhem & Death Helen McClory returns, delving deeper into mythical yet recognisable stories woven from dark and light, human fear and fortune. For fans of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. Chaired by Sasha de Buyl.

Here’s Helen McClory on the SWH! podcast talking about Mayhem & Death and her life as a writer, and you can still read the SWH! review:

Unknown-2Bonus Track: Andy Davidson & Ahmed Saadawi, Mon 13 Aug 19:00 – 20:00 Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre
Frankenstein in Baghdad, set in the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Iraq, is Ahmed Saadawi’s third novel, winning the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. In the Valley of the Sun is Andy Davidson’s first, and has Travis Stillwell wandering the back roads of Texas searching out women to feed on. Two centuries after Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, the authors each offer a modern take on her fascinating and enduring tale, which they discuss today.

“Published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books, Andy Davidson’s In The Valley Of The Sun is one of the best novels of the year. Set in the small towns of the Texas desert, it’s a vampire thriller unlike any other. If you want a point of reference think Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film Near Dark, or even Jim Jarmusch’s 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Dripping with blood, sweat and tears, it is as shocking as it is compelling, and in Travis Stickwell Davidson has created an anti-hero for the ages. If you are a fan of horror and/or crime fiction then you don’t want to miss out on this one.”
– Ali B, SWH!

You can vote for In the Valley of the Sun in the First Book Award.

You can peruse the full programme here, and follow the festival on Twitter & Facebook as well as YouTube & Instagram.

You can still read Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks Of The Fringe.

Black Magic: A Review Of Robin Robertson’s The Long Take…

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There are regularly heated discussions about the worth of prizes in art and culture. Recently announced, the Scottish Album of the Year longlist provoked debate about the worthiness not only of those on the list, but of the nature of the award itself as a very long, (and very strong), list of eligible albums was whittled down further to twenty by a chosen group of critics, journos, and others (of which I should declare that SWH! was one).

The arguments for are that the chosen records and musicians will benefit from the publicity, reach a greater audience as a result, and showcase the strength of Scottish music at the moment. Among the arguments against is that all such awards reduce art and culture to a competition, one which pits artists against each other, and which, at least according to one well-known and respected musician, can lead to anxiety and stress amongst those who find their music being judged in this way.

Arguably the daddy of all such awards is the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Graeme Macrae Burnett, speaking on the SWH! podcast, spoke candidly about what making the 2016 shortlist, (and even just making the longlist), did for his novel His Bloody Project and his career as a writer. Whatever your views on these awards they are not going to stop any time soon, and what is to be hoped is that they allow people to discover artists, musicians and writers they may otherwise have overlooked.

For instance, I imagine that few people would have found their way to a book which is an exploration of noir, particularly with reference to American cities – one which is set in mid-20th century, written as narrative poetry, with photography, diary entries, italicised flashbacks, notes, and end credits, and which has been written by a Perthshire poet.

All of the above applies to Robin Robertson’s The Long Take which has made it onto this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist (and which has already won the The Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018). It is one of the most intriguing and involving books I have read for some time, and to say there is a lot going on is an understatement of seismic proportions.

Long form narratives written in verse are not new. From the ancient Greeks and Romans, through Dante & Lord Byron, to Vikram Seth and many more, there have been writers who choose to tell their tales in this form. In this writer’s opinion the greatest example is Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – quite simply one of the best books ever written. The form encourages a different way of reading, with each line standing alone waiting to be looked at individually as well as a part of the whole.

It is the story of Walker, an ex-soldier and D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, suffering flashbacks to the terrors of that life. These are graphic and affecting, posing questions about how we treat those who make it back to “normal” life from time spent at war and in conflict which are as relevant today as they were after World War II.

With overwhelming feelings of guilt weighing him down, Walker feels he can’t return to his Nova Scotia home, choosing to lose himself in ever-developing and expanding urban settings. The conflict and comparison between living in the city and a more pastoral life is a constant, with Walker noticing how nature fights to find a place and survive in and around a metropolis.

As Walker travels from New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco looking for work and some inner peace, Robertson uses his story to explore the dark-side of the American dream, and where the ideas which fueled noir are to be found. There is an overwhelming sense of all-consuming paranoia from a nation divided (with Senator Joe McCarthy key to the national mood), the divisions often occurring along social and racial lines.

The background to this is an abuse of power and civic corruption leading to the collapse of the inner cities, and how the built-in obsolescence of capitalism leads to intrinsic transience. The description of Los Angeles as, “like a fridge or car now, it’s built to break, so it’s temporary” is telling. If that sounds familiar then that is a safe supposition as The Long Take feels as much a commentary on America today as that of the ’40s and ’50s, as well as how major cities continue to be where the extremes of wealth and poverty meet.

While it is written as noir, it is more of an examination into the genre itself with references to the infamous Black Dahlia murder case, and the mention of many examples of film noir such as Kiss Me Deadly, D.O.ANight And The City, Rope, and Raw Deal. The soundtrack to noir, jazz, also features, and the unexpected rhythms of that music can be detected in Robertson’s poetry – similar in tone if not in style to the beat writing of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

The rhythm of the language is precise, even when it feels relaxed or natural. For those who are familiar with noir there are fabulous nods to its more recognisable tropes, “private eyes, the gun in the desk drawer, bottle in the filing cabinet, the body on the bed…”, but Robertson isn’t dealing in stereotypes, he’s investigating how they came to be, and in doing so asks why this is a mythology which endures.

The Long Take is packed with ideas, imagination and vivid imagery. It shows and tells, but also keeps secrets in a narrative which offers up more than it may appear to at first. I’ve read it twice now, but could do so another ten times and I’m sure I would discover something new on each occasion. Even the dedications at the beginning tell you something about what to expect – to Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod, singer-songwriter Jason Molina, and the writer and cultural historian Jean Stein. If you are familiar with any of their work you will detect their influence on the pages which follow.

It may not win The Man Booker (Scottish writers tend not to, with James Kelman’s controversial success in 1994 being the only one to date) but I guarantee you that The Long Take is unlike anything else you will read this year, and it certainly deserves to reach the widest readership possible. Fiction as art? The Long Take is this year’s model.

Robin Robertson will be at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The Long Take is out now, published by Picador Poetry.

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

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For many of us August means Edinburgh and its attendant festivals. As ever, the Fringe in particular has so much on offer that it can be tough to see past the big names, sort through the plethora of posters, and separate the wheat from the cultural chaff. To help you do so here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten picks of the Fringe. There’s comedy, poetry, theatre, music and more – hopefully, something for everyone.

2018THISSCR_T4This Script and Other Drafts (Jenny Lindsay), Aug 13-14, 21-22 – Scottish Storytelling Centre
At a time of schisms within feminism, ongoing revelations of #MeToo, endless discussions about womanhood, and sirens being the soundtrack to our newsfeeds, Jenny Lindsay found herself getting a bit angry in 2017… Putting that anger to work she wrote a series of univocal poems, invented a superhero on her period, explored the rifts within feminism, set up a date with capitalism and penned some poems based on comments on PornHub videos. Amongst other drafts… Come join an award-winning poet for an evening exploring sex, gender and feminism. Can she rewrite this script? Can you?

2018EPTFRIN_BMOReading the Streets: An Old Town Poetry Tour, Aug 4-27 – Scottish Poetry Library
Weaving through courtyards, kirkyards and vennels, hear poems about Edinburgh past and present written by residents, tourists and those who visited only in imagination, including Robert Burns, Victor Hugo and the great Anon. The city has inspired tragic ballads and heartfelt love-songs, poems celebrating its dramatic beauty and poems attacking its grey narrow-mindedness. Ken Cockburn has led poetry walks on the Royal Mile since 2007.

2018BLUEROS_QHBlue Rose Code Presents: This Is Caledonian Soul, Aug 14 – The Queen’s Hall
What is Caledonian Soul? Ross Wilson (aka Blue Rose Code) will attempt to answer this question with the help of a 14-piece band and some well-known musical friends. Latest album The Water Of Leith won The Skinny magazine readers’ Album of The Year poll, and both album and live appearances have garnered plaudits from both audiences and critics for Wilson’s intelligent, passionate and lyrical mix of folk, jazz and… Caledonian Soul. ‘Imagine John Martyn meets a young Van Morrison shipwrecked with a crate of Chet Baker records’ (Time Out). www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com

2018ASHLEYS_LHAshley Storrie – Adulting, 2-26 (free & non-ticketed) – Laughing Horse @TheCountingHouse
Scotland’s favourite funny girl and viral internet sensation Ashley Storrie returns to Edinburgh with a brand-new show about not growing up. With the world most likely ending quite soon, Ashley believes we should all have a laugh and be a bit more honest particularly about the myth of “adulthood”… nobody really grows up, we’re just great at pretending! ‘A total revelation’ (Dawn French). ‘With funny witty one-liners which are as hilarious as they are true’ (TheWeeReview.com). ‘Breakout star of the Scottish comedy scene’ (Skinny).

2018TRAINSP_BDWTrainspotting Live, Aug 3-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-27 – Venue 150 at EICC
Acclaimed immersive adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s classic, staged in a unique tunnel beneath Edinburgh’s streets. The audience are literally part of the action, including the notorious ‘worst toilet in Scotland’ scene. Direct from a global tour, this is a ticket to ride you won’t soon forget. Sold out Fringe 2015, 2016 and 2017 – so book early! Choose life. ‘A big fat hit, just don’t sit near the toilet!’ (NME). ‘Must see for fans of the novel and film alike’ **** (Telegraph). ‘Best way to experience Trainspotting. I was shocked and I wrote the f*cking thing!’ (Irvine Welsh).

2018WHATGIR_N5What Girls Are Made Of, Aug 3-5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26 – Traverse Theatre
In 1992 a schoolgirl from Fife was catapulted to a rock star life in an indie band. Touring with Radiohead, partying with Blur, she was living the dream. Until she wasn’t. Based on her teenage diaries, this is the true story of Cora Bissett’s rollercoaster journey from the girl she was to the woman she wanted to be. Performing with a live band, directed by Orla O’Loughlin, Cora celebrates life’s euphoric highs and epic shitstorms, asking what wisdom we should pass to the next generation and which glorious mistakes we should let them make. www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com

2018SCOTLAO_BBDScotlands Fest 2018 Aug 20-24 – Quaker Meeting House
What was it like to paint Muriel Spark’s portrait? What is the connection between computer code, myth and magic? How do we grow a better Scotland? Does politics matter? All this and more at ScotlandsFest sessions with writers, artists and thinkers, where you are also invited to have your say. Enjoy 15 varied afternoon sessions of stimulating conversation, readings and debate covering issues from identity and belonging to football and Scottish Orientalism. Mounted by Luath Press, publisher of two Saltire Award-winning books in 2017. For details of what’s on each day of the show, please visit www.luath.co.uk/scotlandsfest-2018.

2018NEHHMAD_7XNEHH, Made in Scotland and Meursault Present… Crow Hill, Aug 15 & 16 – Summerhall
Meursault presents Crow Hill, a series of urban horror story vignettes, set in the titular, fictional, Scottish town. A project comprising of a studio album, a feature film and a graphic novel, Meursault will be performing Crow Hill in its entirety, accompanied by projections, dancers and actors. The band will be supported by Carla J. Easton on 15 August and Adam Stafford on 16 August. www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com

2018AYEELVI_BDHAye, Elvis by Morna Young, Aug 2-8, 10-19, 21-26 – Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre
‘Yer a wifie. Dressed as Elvis. In Aberdeen!’ Joyce Falconer (River City) stars in this A Play, A Pie and A Pint smash hit, directed by Ken Alexander. Joan is an Elvis impersonator with big dreams. With the regional heat of Ultimate Elvis approaching, Joan knows there’s work to do. But Joan has The King inside – and The King always wins. Will she find her way to Graceland, to love and riches? Aye, Elvis is a story about escapism, identity and a Doric Elvis.

2018RACHMAN_GKRachmaninov Vespers, Aug 18 & 19 – Greyfriars Kirk & Canongate Kirk
The highly acclaimed Rock Festival Choir (Alnwick’s a cappella Chamber Choir) under its director Peter Brown come to the Fringe for the first time to sing Rachmaninoff’s wonderfully rich All-Night Vigil (more commonly known as the Vespers) in the fantastic acoustic of two of Edinburgh’s oldest kirks – Greyfriars and Canongate. At the end of a hectic day at the festival, Rachmaninov is a perfect way to reflect and unwind.

As you can see, a few of the above are part of the Made In Scotland Showcase 2018, and here is a trailer of all the shows they are involved with this year:

You can peruse the full programme here. Enjoy your Fringe.

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

Fine & Dandy: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Visits Aberdeen…

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Charley, Jon, Shane, Ali, & a hawk

After our recent Dundee podcast Ali moves up the coast to Aberdeen to talk to Charley Buchan from Fitlike Records (as recently featured on Radio 4’s Notes From A Musical Island), writer Shane Strachan, and arts blogger Jon Reid, otherwise known as Mood Of Collapse,

The three talk about the changes in, and challenges for, Aberdeen’s arts and cultural community, the influence of the city’s educational and civic insitutions, the importance of spaces and places, graduate and talent drain, what inspires them to do what they do, and their hope for what happens next. It’s an impassioned and inspiring chat about the past, present and future for the arts in Aberdeen.

During the hour there are mentions for Nuart Aberdeen, Gray’s School Of ArtJamie Dyer, 10Ft Tall Theatre, Painted Doors, Fat Hippy Records, Kathryn Joseph, Aberdeen Art Gallery, University of Aberdeen’s Creative Writing MLitt, the SAY Award long-listed Best Girl Athlete, Peacock Visual Arts, The Lemon Tree, The Blue Lamp, Iona Fyfe, and many more. Thanks to artist Mary Butterworth for putting up with us and taking the picture at the top of the page, and to Charley for being the perfect host.

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 soon with a very exciting guest, so keep ’em peeled…

Cheers For A Clown: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Pagliacci…

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5232Every now and then, and not very often, a piece of theatre comes along which blows you away. My own favourites include The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter,  Robert Lepage’s Elsinore (his take on Hamlet), and David Greig’s adaption of Lanark: A Life In Three ActsTo those I can now happily add Scottish Opera’s production of Pagliacci.

Staged in a circus tent in a sports field in Paisley, it was the sort of magical evening which will live forever in the memory, and by the smiles on the faces of those around me I would say that feeling was shared.

Pagliacci is arguably the classic tragicomedy, one which is often referenced in popular culture – the Seinfeld episode ‘The Opera’, The Simpsons, Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, and the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ song ‘Tears Of A Clown’ being just a few examples – so even if you don’t know the story you are likely aware of the iconography. Scottish Opera set the tone for the evening by having dressing-up boxes, fun-fair games, a Punch & Judy show, and even a donkey, for people to interact with before the performance began. With the orchestra dressed in their civvies, and people in fancy dress and face-paint, this was the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable.

Audience interaction continued as the opera began. The staging took place in different parts of the tent, and the audience had to move around so as to follow the action. It soon became clear that we were not alone as singers piped up in different places. It was quite disconcerting to be beside a stranger who would suddenly sing instructions and commentary. This was the chorus, made up from a mix of professionals and community performers, and it is a credit to those involved in teaching and conducting them that they were indistinguishable from each other. They worked as our guides as well as describing and commenting on what unfolds. It worked a treat enhancing the feeling that the audience was intrinsically involved.

The main cast were superb across the board, although special mention must be made of Ronald Samm as Canio/Pagliaccio and Anna Patalong as Nedda/Columbina who did a lot of the dramatic heavy lifting as the estranged husband and wife. When the communal celebration of the circus arriving in town gave way to the tumultuous lives of the central players the mood changed. It’s difficult to convey tragedy in such an upbeat setting, but everyone was gripped by their tale – one which touched up most of the deadly sins.

As you’ll see from the images below, the costumes, staging, and makeup were all fantastic – in fact, just take it from me, this was a faultless production which had that indefinable something which raised it to the extraordinary. Now, having sung Pagliacci’s praises, I have to inform you that the rest of the run has already sold out! However, it is well worth checking for any returns. Hopefully it will be reprised at some point as this was too good not to be seen more widely. Certainly this communal approach, the importance of involving local people and performers and taking the show on the road, is one which should not be overlooked. The comedy may be finished, but no one will forget this Pagliacci any time soon.

Here are some images, with thanks to Scottish Opera:

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This Is The Story: A Review Of Vic Galloway’s Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop…

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Currently running at The National Museum of Scotland is Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop exhibition, on till the 25th November this year. It’s an admirably exhaustive celebration of Scottish pop from the ’50s till the present day. With a wide range of exhibits, memorabilia and video footage, I highly recommend anyone with an interest attend, but make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in. There are also related events throughout its run, including Key Note Sessions, Film Showings, Free Fringe Music, some Late-Night’s at the museum, as well as various playlists put together by the great and the good for your pleasure.

To accompany the exhibition Vic Galloway has written a book of the same name, and there is surely no one better placed to do so. It would have been easy to put together a “Scottish Pop by numbers” publication that does little more than name names and places, but Galloway is too steeped in the music – too much of a fan – to do that. This is his world and he wants to share it with you.

The book is an unashamed celebration of the music which has provided the soundtrack to much of our lives, one which is packed full of incidents and anecdotes, and even if you know some of the story I guarantee you won’t know it all. It was the earlier years of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, which was mostly new to me, and it was fascinating to learn more about Lonnie Donnegan, Frankie Miller, Stone The Crows, and the early careers of Alex Harvey and Rab Noakes, as well as hearing about The Beatstalkers, The McKinleys and The Sutherland Brothers for the first time.

As the story unfolds it becomes increasingly complex, with more bands, records and genres to consider, but Galloway manages to make connections which maintain a coherent narrative. Imagine an extensive family tree of Scottish music and you have some idea as to how that works, with branches shooting off in unexpected directions. One of the joys of Rip It Up is that it makes you reflect upon records and bands you haven’t considered for some time. I dug out my copy of Bronski Beat’s Age Of Consent (one of the most important records of the ’80s) for the first time in decades, and there were plenty more trips down memory lane.

But, despite what you may expect, this is no mere exercise in nostalgia. Galloway’s fluid approach – in part chronological, part thematic – means we are getting snapshots of careers, genres, movements and moments. As a result there is no issue with Silk, Nazareth and Barbara Dickson, or later The Blue Nile, Finitribe and Marillion, appearing in the same chapters. It never feels like a history lesson, more a conversation with a fellow fan who just happens to know the stories behind the music. Anyone who listens to Galloway on the radio will understand as that is at the heart of his inimitable style. He is your Uncle Vic who has the record collection you wish you had.

There is an attention to detail which lends the book authority. Midge Ure is not just from Glasgow, but from Cambuslang (and as a proud Camby man that made me very happy), and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie (formerly Teenage Dog Orgy!) are originally from Bathgate, not Edinburgh locals as many assume. These may seem like minor details but they not only show that Galloway has taken his undertaking seriously, but reiterate that much of Scotland’s pop music comes from this country’s small towns and suburbs, not necessarily the cities. Bellshill, East Kilbride and the East Neuk of Fife may be widely-known as musical hotspots, but Galloway makes sure that places as well as people get their due, and that, importantly, is as it should be.

While you may already know at least some of the music and musicians, perhaps the two most interesting chapters are ‘Chapter Three: Treasure’ and ‘Chapter Seven: In A Big Country’ which look at the record labels, shops and venues which were, and still are, a vital part of the support network which allows Scottish music to flourish. The latter two are where our first impressions are often formed, while the former are arguably the heart of Scottish pop – the place where most artists receive their first release.

Of course the well-known labels are discussed, such as Fast Product, Postcard, Creation, Creeping Bent, Chemical Underground, Soma and Fence. But there is also mention of the lesser know organisations, and Galloway brings things right up to date with some of SWH!’s favourites such as Song By Toad, Olive Grove Records, Last Night From Glasgow, Scottish Fiction, and Triassic Tusk, again pointing to the comprehensive and extensive nature of the book. Deep and wide and tall, as Roddy Frame might put it.

Rip It Up is more thorough and exhaustive than we have any right to expect from a book released to accompany an exhibition, and it more than stands on its own right and merits. Of course there are bands and musicians missing, (“Wot, no Heavy Pettin’?”, fans of hair metal may cry), but you can’t include everyone and Galloway admits as much in his introduction. While he can’t hide his obvious love for punk and indie music he remains non-judgmental throughout, and readers can pick the musicians and genres they are less familiar with and explore further for themselves.

Where the book works best is as an extensive overall look at something close to our hearts and always on our minds. This review could have been a book in itself as every page of Rip It Up has information I want to discuss and share with you. This is partly because it’s a subject I love deeply, partly because Galloway’s passion is infectious, but mainly because it’s a fascinating story well written, and what more could you want from any book? Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop – every home should have one.

Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop is published by National Museums of Scotland.

The BBC programme of the same name is currently on iPlayer.

Great Scott!: A Review Of Allan Massie’s The Ragged Lion…

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The first book of Allan Massie’s I read was his historical novel Augustus (I think in the late ’80s) and it made a deep impression on me. I hadn’t been a huge fan of historical fiction up to that point, preferring the modern and contemporary even then. Written in the form of a memoir by the titular Roman emperor in old age, what was so impressive was how Massie managed to get into the character and make the reader believe that this was his life, at least from his point of view.

It’s a style which served Massie well in 1991’s Tiberius, the second of his “Memoirs of the Emperor” novels, and it is one he similarly applies in The Ragged Lion, his 1994 novel about the life of Walter Scott which has just been republished by Polygon Books. For those who are fans of Scott’s fiction it is essential, but, as with the Roman Trilogy, it is also a great read for those interested in the history of the time as it looks at the people, places, events and attitudes through the prism of arguably the most famous Scottish writer, and, certainly at the time, the most celebrated.

There has been a renaissance of interest in Scott recently, both abroad and at home, with his novels, and his often overlooked poetry, being reassessed, and this new edition of Massie’s novel feels timely. He is as thorough in researching the detail of Scott’s life as readers’ of his other historical fiction would expect, but where the story comes to life is in the voice which, while not Scott’s certainly reads like it.

As the name suggests, The Ragged Lion is far from being a hagiography. Massie’s Scott displays the pride, ego and financial naivety you would expect from the man who built a home such as Abbotsford, but also insecurity and jealousy at the success of others. However, there is never any doubt that Massie is on the great man’s side. Throughout he details the writing – both poetry and the novels – taking us through Scott’s favourites, and why. As such it also works as a guide to Scott’s work in that it points a reader in the direction as to where best to start, and what to leave to completists.

As well as examining the life of one of Europe’s most successful and influential writers, The Ragged Lion also gives perspective and insight into the history of the time, including King George IV’s infamous visit to Edinburgh which Scott had such a big hand in organising. We also get an insight into Scott’s contemporaries, from Austen to Wordsworth. His relationship with the latter could be described as complicated, as could the one with his near neighbour, the Ettrick Shepherd James Hogg whose own brother worked for Scott.

But the most memorable literary love-in, if our narrator is to be considered a reliable one, was between Scott and Lord Byron who were involved in what can only be described as a life-long bromance. Having said that, you can’t shake the feeling that Scott’s admiration for Byron’s poetry and appearance were not reciprocated with the same strength of feeling.

Other notable figures of the time to feature are Robert Burns, Adam Ferguson, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel, and Francis Jeffrey, as well as Scott’s close friends and family. These include John Gibson Lockhart whose own biography of Scott, his father-in-law, is widely respected and would undoubtedly be an influence on, and source for, Massie. But it should never be forgotten that The Ragged Lion is a novel, and comparing the two asks many questions about literary and historical fiction versus biographical “fact”.

Clearly a fan himself, Massie suggests that reading Scott will well reward the “intelligent reader”. Since you have chosen to read Scots Whay Hae! that surely includes you, and if you haven’t read any Walter Scott yet, or not for some time, I would recommend The Ragged Lion to put the books and the writer into clearer perspective. Sir Walter was not just a Great Scot(t), but one of the greatest, and his legacy and literature should not be forgotten. Luckily it looks like that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

The Ragged Lion is published by Polygon Books, who you can follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Here’s the SWH! video podcast all about Walter Scott which was filmed at Abbotsford, and the University of Glasgow, with Ali, Dr Ronnie Young and special guest Professor Douglas Gifford: