Shake, Rattle & Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Review Of Martin St John’s Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer…

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When I first heard about Martin St John’s Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer: The Tambourine Years 1984 – 1987 I thought it would purely be for the demographic who once owned a pair of leather trousers, consider Forever Changes by Love as one of the greatest albums ever made, and who have a treasured copy of Sonic Flower Groove in their record collection. That would have been fine by me as it’s a demographic to which I, and our kid, are both proud to belong. This was always going to be a book for me and those like me. What’s perhaps more surprising is that it’s a book for you as well.

Martin St John was on tambourine and psychedelic vibes for the newly formed Primal Scream between 1984 and ’87, and the book relates the story of the group way before Andy Weatherall and Screamadelica brought them world-wide success and infamy. In it St John tells the tale of “six Glaswegian garage heads hell-bent on acid, hard kicks and psychedelia”, and does so with such gusto that you cannot be helped but be carried along in his wake.

The hardest thing for any writer is to get their voice across, but Martin St John’s is loud and proud, clear and irrepressible. Words and phrases are CAPPED UNEXPECTEDLY, exclamation marks regularly make their point, and the end result is all the better for it. I can guarantee that most writing class tutors, or editors, would insist such flourishes were removed, and I’m happy to have an argument about the negative results of that another time, but the way this book is written not only fits the writer, it fits the story he has to tell.

Everyone in the book has their own persona. Bobby Gillespie is “Bob G”, the late Robert Young is known as “Dungo” before he swapped one nickname for another and became “Throb”, and Jim Beattie is simply “Beattie”. There are cameos from the likes of “The Brat” and “The Rich Bitch”. It’s also a “Who’s Who” of the indie music scene of the day, full of definite articles – The Pastels, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Shop Assistants, The Soup Dragons…even bloody Bogshed get a mention.

It’s a book that will win you over with St John’s good humour and bonhomie. Even when he has a go at other bands and scenes (no fan of anoraks or Scottish white-boy soul) he does so with the good nature and assuredness of someone who is confident in his own style and tastes. The judgments are black and white. The Cramps are loved, Duran Duran are detested, and there are many such proclamations. The book is laced with references to great music. The Dukes Of Stratosphear, The 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – St John is offering the uninitiated a whole alternative musical education, and it’s one worth taking note of. His ‘Top 20 Turntable Sounds’ from each featured year are worth the price of the book alone.

The title is telling, with “Confessions of…” alluding to the, weirdly popular at the time, Robin Askwith films of the 1970s, and while the humour is nowhere near as broad as that may suggest, it is a peculiarly British story being told. One about pubs used as the unofficial band HQ (The Griffin, Glasgow drink fans), kipping on sofas and in kitchens, and decorating with silver foil. The writer always retains a healthy sense of the absurd, and the psychedelic. If Ken Russell had decided to direct a film with a Glasgow indie band instead of The Who, St John’s book would have made a fine script.

It’s funny how you get a run of books which just work well with each other, and that has been the case in the last month. They have include David Keenan’s post-punk Airdrie novel This Is Memorial Device (& he also features on a recent SWH! podcast), Cosi Fanny Tutti’s Art, Sex, Musicand Sam Knee’s A Scene In Between: Tripping Through The Fashions Of UK Indie Music 1980 – 1988 . Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer brings all of these together. There are references to the art/rock of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, mention of scenesters making the trip from ”scary Airdrie”, and St John appears in Knee’s book on pages 115 & 117 with the band. Proof, as if more were needed, that he knows cos he was there.

Martin St John has written a book which should be read by fans of Primal Scream and those who are interested in the indie music scene of the ’80s, (which appears to be having its moment in the warm glow of the nostalgic sun). It’s as close to a prescribed text as you’ll get. But even if this is not your music – if you have ever been in or near a band you’ll recognise lots of the stories and characters in Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer. It’s the story of the last gang in town who are ready to take on the world which will resonate the most, and how the sniff of potential success sows the first seeds of doubt and disharmony. What you get in spades was what it was like to be there, and how much fun was being had for the most part.  Personally, if I read a more entertaining book this year I will be both surprised and delighted.

Here’s Martin St John talking to The Fountain about the book:

And to take you back, way back, here are the teenage screamers in their leather trewed pomp with our hero in full effect:

You can listen to the Tambourine Man in the flesh reading from Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer at The Carlton Studios on 13th May as part of Psychedelic Festival II.

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The Art Of Deception: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks Ten Writers Telling Lies…

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In the latest podcast Ali talks to Jim and Pat Byrne and Samina Chaudry about Ten Writers Telling Lies,  a music and literary project which has various writers and poets work collected together, as well as having them collaborate with Jim on accompanying songs.

On the podcast you’ll not only hear all about the project, its beginnings and how it has grown, but there are also a couple of examples of Jim’s songs, as well as Samina reading her short story, ‘Taxi’. It’s a fascinating undertaking which deserves to be read and heard by as many people as possible.

Other writers involved include Pat herself, Stephanie Brown, James Carson, James Connarty, previous podcast guest Pauline Lynch, Calum Maclean, Gillian Margaret Mayes, Michael Norton and Stephen Watt, and there’s a heartfelt foreword from Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan. It’s a collection of different voices, styles and narratives which come together to make an even greater whole.

Mention must also be made of artisit Pam McDonald whose work gives the book such a strong visual identity, which you can sees for yourself in the YouTube version below. This is a project which caught our imagination as soon as we heard about it, and I hope that after listening to the podcast you’ll be equally intrigued.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS. You can also download it 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…

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..or on YouTube:

Here’s one of the featured songs, a collaboration between Jim and Samina called ‘Oh, My Beautiful You’. It’s at the end of the podcast, but you can hear it in all its glory below:

The official launch of Ten Writers Telling Lies is on Thursday night at Cottiers’ Theatre in Glasgow, and although the stories and songs work beautifully in book/cd format, what a treat to be able to hear them in a live setting:

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And to give you a further taste of what to expect on the night of the launch, here’s a short trailer:

SWH! will be at Cottiers on the night so if you see us there come and say hello…

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

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My, but there’s some classy music being made out there. The world may be falling down around our ears, but it’s got a hell of a soundtrack to accompany it. Who would have thought the end of days could sound this good?

The majority of those who feature in this roundup have appeared before, but we make no excuses for that as they all have excellent new music to share, and we have impeccable taste. Too much? Listen below and say we’re not right…

This Saturday (22nd April) is Record Store Day when you’ll be offered all sorts of collectibles and rarities to prise your hard-earned from your back pocket. It’s going to be an overwhelming choice, so let SWH! help by cutting the glorious wheat from the acres of chaff. This is the day Teen Canteen release their latest EP Sirens on Last Night From Glasgow, and having heard it I can guarantee you it will rank among your favourite records of the year, or your money back*.

It builds on the brilliance of their debut album, Say It All With A Kiss, to take the music to another level. From Sirens this is ‘Millions’, and it’s reminiscent of so many records while being unmistakably Teen Canteen. It’s classic pop made by people who understand intrinsically what that entails, and which manages to lift you up while at the same time breaking your heart. A shock of hair and a trip into space? This is what it sounds like:

It seems a long time coming, but the mighty WHITE‘s debut album One Night Stand Forever is out on 21st April, and it’s destined to become a great Scottish pop record to stand alongside classic albums such as Can’t Stand The Rezillos, New Gold Dream and Franz Ferdinand – one packed full of singles and songs which you just can’t get out of your head. Filthy, funny, furious, and quite possibly dangerous to know, if there’s a riot going on WHITE are just the band to get wired in. From the album this is the title track:

Another band making great singles are wojtek the bear. They last featured on these pages with ‘Dead From The Waist Up’ and their latest is further evidence that they are a band with whom you should be acquainted. Where others would turn everything up to 11 they understand that less is usually more, and allow the melodies, the harmonies and the heart in their music to shine. A fine live act to boot, wojtek the bear look to be in it for the long haul making music which sounds like them, and only them. This is ‘Trivial Pursuit’:

We have long been fans of The Strange Blue Dreams at SWH!, so new music from them is always greeted with an array of whoops, cheers and hollers. Previously on these pages we have said, “Taking ’50s influences and rockabilly stylings and adding a dash of country, (and even some southern gothic), to proceedings, they are one of the tightest and most captivating bands around. Exuding effortless cool, and knowingly noir – if you get the chance to see them live you really must.” Their new EP Towards The Warm Place shows that those claims were well warranted and deserved. If you need further convincing, here is one of the tracks from the EP, ‘In My Nature’:

Are you a Looper? If you are you’re amongst friends here, and the band of the very same name are back with ‘Farfisa Song’ which is taken from their new album Offgrid:Offline, released on 12th May. You know what Looper do – create lo-fi electronic magic which appears effortless, timeless and which is oddly reassuring. The world is a better place with Looper around, and it seems we need them now more than ever. No pressure…

You can still hear our podcast with Karn and Stuart from 2015, but before you go there listen to ‘Farfisa Song’, and pay special attention to the video. It sees the introduction of Mustard & Ketchup, a couple of badgers surely destined for great things, and who are the creation of master animator Iain Gardner – he’ll go far that boy:

The indie singer/songwriter market is a crowded one where it is tough to stand out and be heard. In recent times those who have done so include Mark W. Georgsson and Michael Cassidy, and to those you can add the name of Conor Heafey. He manages to pull off that difficult trick of making an instantly recognisable style sound brand-new and fresh. To these ears, it reminds me of some of my favourite North Americans such as Matthew Sweet, Ron Sexsmith and Richard Buckner. He even made me think of The Wondermints for the first time in years, for which I am very grateful. This is the title track to his forthcoming EP The Game, out on May 1st. It’s got the feel of an instant classic, a welcome and deserved addition to the soundtrack of the summer.

We’ll finish as we started with glorious electronic pop music from the label known as LNFG, whose run of releasing great records shows no sign of ending any time soon (tune in next time for further proof). The song is from BooHooHoo who now come with their own guarantee of quality. This includes live performances and if you get the chance to see them you simply must or you’re a fool to yourself.

The latest single is ‘Fire’ which sounds like a young Depeche Mode, Ari Up and Peter Hook were sent to the present day to play for our pleasure. That’s the Dr Who episode you want to see. BooHooHoo are making strong claims to be your favourite band, you may just not be aware of that yet. Listen to ‘Fire’ and accept the inevitable. Resistance is futile, if I may mix my sci-fi references:

That’s all for now, but the spots for the next review are filling up already so if you have some new music you think would interest us, send it our way to scotswhayhae@gmail.com and we’ll give it a spin…

*Claim made late in the evening, possibly with drink taken, and not legally binding.

Future Present Tense: A Review Of Kenneth Steven’s 2020…

2020_cover.jpgLet’s begin at the end. On the final page of Kenneth Steven’s novel 2020 there is a significant Publisher’s Note which states, “Difficult though it may be to believe, the novel was not directly inspired either by the Brexit referendum or by the more recent events in Europe, the USA and around the world.” It is an interesting addendum, and understandable as there is little doubt that many would jump to the conclusion which it refutes. The reason being that Kenneth Steven has written a novel which so fits the here and now that it feels like his 2020 could be just around the corner.

I write this review the day a general election has been called, one which promises further division and increasingly extreme reactions to events and statements as people are preoccupied with individual political issues rather than along party lines, and it needs only a small leap of imagination to think that what transpires in 2020 could become prophetic.

In 2020, Britain is divided along lines where traditional politics are no longer fit for purpose. The novel centres around a terrible event which is used by some to ignite simmering tensions in parts of the country which are all too recognisable, and the rise of an individual who comes to represent a place and a group of people who think themselves ignored. It put me in mind of Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta and Louise Welsh’s current ‘Plague Times’ Trilogy. They all deal with events whose cause is not clear in terms of the details, but which is in turn used for political, and at times personal, gain, and the human cost be damned.

Steven’s novel is less extreme in terms of plot and point of view than those other books, but that only increases its power and effect, and its potential prescience. This is accentuated by the style and structure. Steven uses a series of talking heads – interviews with people who have been directly affected by, or have some link to, the events and the people who are under investigation. The short sharp sentences of everyday speech give what unfolds a directness which carries with it real emotion. There are simple words and phrases which are repeated throughout, such as “fighting”, “political correctness”, “law” and “justice”, which become loaded terms when given context by an individual, their meaning changing on a voice-by-voice basis.

Steven’s decision to structure the novel as he does is clever and challenging. He manages to make each voice recognisable, individual and, most importantly, believable. It means, you are faced with such an array of viewpoints that your own will be challenged and you are left to examine your preconceptions which inevitably come into play. It also means that trying to get to the ‘truth’ of the events, should such a thing exist, means looking past the prejudices and pride of those speaking and attempting to separate them from what is really being professed. However, Steven never allows you to lose sight of the bigger picture even though the focus shifts continuously.

2020 may not be a response to any one particular event, vote or election, but it certainly reflects aspects of modern Britain both in the specifics and in a more general manner. Political fiction of this kind has been all too rare in recent times, which is odd considering the raw material available. There have been the odd exceptions such as Craig A. Smith’s The Mile, and Philip Miller’s latest All The Galaxies, but 2020 could not be more appropriate and necessary. An honest and at times horrific view of the state of the nation, but run through with humanity and ultimately hope, Kenneth Steven has written a parable for our times, and one which we would do well to take note of.

Back And Forth: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To David Keenan…

bHQj2XzwFor the latest podcast Ali spoke to writer David Keenan about his novel This Is Memorial Device. Anyone who has read the Scots Whay Hae! review of the book will know how highly we rate it, and it’s fascinating to hear David talk about the influences behind it, why it was always going to be an Airdrie novel, the reasons the book is structured as it is, and so much more.

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The two race through many subjects, including the legacy of post-punk, the importance of the art and music of Scottish small towns and David’s compulsion to write. This includes further novels, his journalism, and non-fiction,  (England’sHidden Reverse  is especially highly recommended) although whether talk of a West Of Scotland take on Lord Of The Rings is serious we’ll leave for you to decide.

We’re calling it one of the most interesting and engaging podcasts yet, but listen for yourselves and see if that’s a bold claim or not. If you aren’t intrigued enough by the end to read This Is Memorial Device then, frankly, we haven’t done our job.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to the SWH! podcast you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS. You can also download it 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…

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..or on YouTube:

Our next podcast will be with you very soon, so keep ’em peeled…

Take The High Road: A Preview Of Ashley Cook’s Step We Gaily, On We Go Exhibition…

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If you’re thinking about where to go and what to see this Easter weekend then the place to be is The Braemar Gallery for Ashley Cook‘s exhibition Step We Gaily, On We Go which has its opening from 2.30pm on Saturday 15th April and which runs to the 29th May.

For this exhibition, Ashley has taken some of Scotland’s best known and loved imagery and given it a modern makeover with a very personal twist, and where better to exhibit such work than the place many consider to be the heart of Scotland, both geographically and historically.

A gathering place for Kings and Queens from the 11th century to this day, Braemar is also the area Lord Byron holidayed as a child(e), where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, and where the legend who was Tom Weir could be found stravaiging the landscape in his bobble hat.

Ashley’s work looks to the past to suggest a better future, and with a style, substance and sense of humour which is distinctly her own. I could say more, but as pictures paint thousands of words it would be better to show rather than tell. These are just a small selection as to the work on show:

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If you mention Scots Whay Hae! when you visit The Braemar Gallery you’re guaranteed a warm welcome, a firm handshake, and a discussion on the life and work of Brian Eno. It’s a fine place to spend your time, but then we would say that. And if you wonder where the hell Braemar is and how you get there, here you go…

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Breaking Glass: A Review Of Nasty Women…

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404 Ink’s collection of essays, Nasty Women, is unlike any other you’ll read this year, and probably for the foreseeable future. That in itself is a reason for its existence and its importance. Collecting accounts from various contributors, it comments not only on “what it is to be a woman in the 21st century”, but, when taken as whole, it asks any reader to consider their own attitudes and beliefs on a range of subjects, both specific and general. It’s also a reminder that the written word is the most nuanced, complex and complete way to tell stories and relay truths.

The importance of Punk is visited throughout. The ideas and ideals of the movement – (which have always been more important than the music itself) often mask a reality where individual and collective sexist and often abusive behaviour betray those professed principles. This is nothing new, and I recommend Cosey Fanni Tutti’s biography Art Sex Music and particularly Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys as evidence of this. In the latter Albertine describes how she and her fellow Slits were patronised and attacked, from inside as well as out. What they refused to be was ignored.

In Nasty Women, Ren Aldridge’s ”Touch Me Again And I Will Fucking Kill You”: Cultural Resistance To Gendered Violence In The Punk Rock Community.’ sets out a similar scenario in an unforgettable manner. It is one of the most exacting pieces I have read in a long time, challenging the notion of self-image versus an individual’s actions. If you have ever considered yourself a “good person” as part of your identity, Aldridge makes you confront the truth, how you actually treat other people rather than any superficial ipseity. Aldridge identifies something which is rarely broached – sexism and gendered violence within liberal groups and societies, and the self-delusion which allows them to endure. Labels do not guarantee commensurate actions, and it is the latter which define us most.

Kirsty Diaz’s chapter ‘Why I’m No Longer A Punk Rock “Cool Girl”‘ looks at how there are roles being played in Punk as with anywhere else. Her description as to what is expected of ‘Cool Girls’, (a notion she borrows from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl) says that she must, “..like real music. Good music […] She doesn’t listen to pop music […] She can hang out with your musician mates and hold her own in a conversation, but she won’t point out the ways in which even punk rock, this glorious utopia, has the capacity to oppress. And, much like the original concept, she’s not real.”. Such fantasy figures are all too identifiable in modern culture (the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a similar creation), and they prevent individual recognition in favour of a fantastical type.

Using the above definition, perhaps the ultimate ‘cool girl’ was Courtney Love, at least before she was labelled in the media as anything ranging from succubus to murderer. Becca Inglis’ ‘Love In The Time Of Melancholia’ looks at Love’s life and public image, and how someone who means so much to the writer and many others has been publicly hounded and ridiculed. Perhaps the most telling accusation, or at least the one which seems most common, is that Kurt Cobain wrote most of her best songs and music. This is a familiar claim – see Carly Simon & James Taylor, or Justine Frischmann & Damon Albarn. Not only are the women not allowed to be viewed as artists in their own right, their position as a role model is lessened, something which can only have detrimental results culturally.

The idea that there are roles set out for women that society expects them to fulfil, and if they don’t they risk being ostracised, is revisited throughout Nasty Women. Laura Waddell’s insightful ‘Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls And Working Class Art’ looks at the inherent restraints to learning and employment in the arts for the working class in a capitalist economic system, a situation which is only getting worse as arts funding is cut alongside that for tertiary education. Nothing restricts individuals more than lack of opportunity, and economic restraints are the most effective means of this. As Waddell surmises, the result is that whole sections of society risk being silenced and sidelined further than they already are. If there are no stories being told about your immediate society then where does inspiration and understanding come from for future generations?

The link between the psychological and the physical is another recurring theme in Nasty Women. Jen McGregor’s ‘Lament: Living With The Consequences Of Contraception’ is a superb piece of writing which looks at how society’s expectations rarely allow for individual choices, and how that can have repercussions which are tangibly dangerous. It’s also about abuse, but not in the manner you may initially believe. Chitra Ramaswamy’s ‘Afterbirth’ looks at pregnancy as a physical and psychological state of being. This is a subject which bizarrely still carries more than a hint of being taboo, and is a primary example of a story rarely told but relevant to all.

Nadine Aisha Jassat’s ‘On Naming’ deals with something equally essential, the importance of an individual’s name to their identity, both self and for others. Taking the care to learn how another person’s name is pronounced may seem to some unimportant, but there are few things more important. It’s about respect, recognition, and acknowledging that the other person is an equal. Refusing to do so does just the opposite. Language defines who and what we are, and how we use it and how it is used against us is of huge import. It gets to the heart of how people view and respect one another, and Jassat’s chapter is another example of a piece of writing which makes you look at yourself anew.

The spectre of Donald Trump hangs over the book, as his description of Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman” in their final presidential debate was partly an ‘inspiration’. It’s still astonishing and utterly depressing that such utterances seemed to boost his popularity rather than destroy it. Just imagine he had been caught boasting about how he grabs men “by the cock” and consider if he would now be in charge of nuclear codes.  Somehow I doubt it. The rise of Trump is examined by Elise Hines in ‘Adventures Of A Half-Black Yank In America’, where she bemoans the role of some women voters in his election, as well as depicting the institutional, and often unthinkingly casual, racism which still exists in the US, and elsewhere, today.

I have only just touched upon the tales told in this book so for goodness sake get a copy for yourself to get the bigger picture. It looks closely at identity, race, gender, immigration, class, sexual violence, pregnancy, contraception, family, and so much more – all of which we need a greater understanding of and essays such as these can only aid that understanding. Those who would claim that Nasty Women is anything other than essential reading simply haven’t read it. The stories are extraordinary in a manner which is two-fold – in their honesty and their rarity. These are voices which are seldom heard in the mainstream, despite what some may claim. It’s a book which refuses to deal in binary opposites, offering no simple answers for the simple reason there are none. It promotes constant questioning of ourselves and of others. That’s the only way to understand each other better. That’s the truth.

The Ties That Bind: A Review Of Ajay Close’s The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth

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It’s a fear of many children that they are going to grow up to be “just like your mother/father”. This is often stated as a simple comment from people who likely mean it as a compliment, albeit one with a touch of mischief, but it strikes at the core of something vital in us all. Even if there is admiration and love, the fear is not that we are like our parents on some superficial level, but that we are doomed to share their failings and destined to repeat their mistakes. It’s a fear which says more about the child than parent, but which is passed down seemingly in perpetuity from father to son, from mother to daughter.

Ajay Close’s latest novel The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth deals with this fear in a manner which is as understandable and believable as it is heartrending. The mother and daughter at the centre of the novel are Lilias and Freya. Freya is trying to get pregnant with her husband Frankie, and we follow them through increasingly desperate visits to “The Everyday Miracle Clinic” and increasingly infuriating conversations with their friends Kenny & Ruth who have a child they call “The Afterthought”, and who thoughtlessly advise that “Kids are tougher than you think”. Meanwhile Freya and Frankie try every trick in every book, and sex has becomes the means to a very specific end.

Close takes this scenario and uses it to examine the social and psychological expectations which have come to bear on Freya in particular, but not in isolation. She thinks not only about her own desire to be a mother, but what pressure is brought to bear by Frankie’s desire to be a father. She is worried that they are doing this for superficial reasons – as a safety measure in case they become bored of each other, to halt the loss of friends as they in turn have their own children, to avoid the stigma of being childless. These are thoughts and conversations that many people have, but too few have written about.

Add to this Freya’s difficult and complex relationship with Lilias who had Freya when she was young and single, and who has raised her with at times barely concealed resentment, at least that’s how Freya feels it. She also feels the terrible irony of being a less than wanted child when there is nothing she wants more for herself, albeit with constant doubts, and is aware that the two may not be unrelated. There are more secrets and lies in this family than in most, and Freya’s quest to discover the identity of her father only adds to the unease between the two. There is love between daughter and mother, but there is little doubt as to who Lilias puts first. Or, is this just another aspect of the role she has decided to play, or which she had thrust upon her?

By jumping in time between chapters from present day to Lilias’ youth, (or Lili, as she was then known), Close allows comparisons between what Freya believes to be the case, what Lilias has allowed her to believe, and the truth. It is difficult to associate the young Lili with the imposing matriarch Freya knows, but we see that she has been as shaped and affected by the social expectations of that time as those Freya has to deal with. The idea of a permissive society as the ’60s move into the ’70s and what it promised is shown to be as thin a construct as any ideas of what is sold as the perfect lifestyle today.

That’s what The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth does so well – it depicts how quickly hopes and dreams can be dashed and destroyed, but that people can cope by adapting, adjusting and a refusal to give in. It’s both heartbreaking and uplifting because it shows not only what the human spirit has to endure, but what it can endure and still continue. Close is writing about the drama of people’s everyday lives, and does so with an insight which is rare and keenly felt.

The writing is memorable, and at times diplays a sensuality in the descriptions which will bring you to tears. The prologue would stand on its own as a short story, and the scene where Lili is helping with the birth of piglets will stay with you for some time. Close also looks at fears about our own bodies, how they can fail us and how that can make us feel less than whole, no matter what others may say. It is a novel about what it means to be a daughter and a mother, but also an individual forced into the company of others and the multiple roles which we are conditioned to play to try and make such relationships work.

It is through Freya’s relationships that the story is played out. Close presents her characters as almost caricatures initially; the self-obsessed ageing actress who puts her own vanity and ego ahead of her daughter, the literally ‘horny-handed’ son of the soil, the TV personality who dons ever tighter trousers and flirts with ever younger researchers in a bid to stave off the inevitable. But as the book progresses each of these masks are stripped away to reveal vulnerable, confused and frightened people who are all making mistakes and trying to live with the consequences.

If you haven’t read Ajay Close before then The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth is a fine place to start. If you want to read further may I suggest Forspokenone of the most overlooked novels of the 1990s. Both books show a writer who understands the human condition in the raw, and recognises that suffering and sadness unite us, even if it does not seem that way at the time. While writing a thoroughly modern novel Ajay Close has told a story which is eternal yet rarely addressed. Once more, with feeling.