Hearts & Minds: A Review Of Beerjacket’s Silver Cords…

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It was an interesting development in Scottish writing that two of the most talked about books from the end of 2018 were published by record labels – Stephen Watt & Friends poetry collection MCSTAPE on Last Night From Glasgow, and Beerjacket’s Silver Cords on Scottish Fiction. There are good and understandable reasons for this. The former contains poems about all manner of music related experiences, many of which were written by some of Scotland’s best known musicians, while Beerjacket’s Silver Cords is not only a book of short stories and lyrics, but also the name of the accompanying CD  – his first collection of new songs for some years. However, you can’t help but wonder if this music/publishing industry crossover is, in some small way, a sign of things to come.

If you have listened to the recent SWH! Podcast interview with Beerjacket (also known as Peter Kelly) then you will know much of this. What you won’t have is a clear idea of just what the book Silver Cords is like. Musicians have tried their hand at fiction before with varying degrees of success. For every Nick Cave’s And The Ass Saw The Angel or Louise Wener’s The Half Life of Stars there’s more than a few which rank (rotten) alongside Bruce Dickinson’s The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace or Morrissey’s List of the Lost. Taking that in to account an understandable question must be, “Is Silver Cords any good?” Well, I’m here to tell you not to worry. The short answer is undoubtedly, “Yes”. The longer answer begins below.

I need to talk first about the structure of the book as it is deliberate and shapes your reading. The forward and afterword (which Peter reads on the podcast) frame the book in terms of themes, ideas, and intent. In them he touches upon the enduring nature of songs, the importance of giving things value, the significance of physical things, and examines why people write or sing their thoughts and dreams and choose to share them. 

Each “chapter” then begins with a song’s lyrics, followed by a page which reflects on that song before the accompanying story. Each section is vital to the whole, with Kelly’s reflections working as philosophical aphorisms and poems that are bridges between song and story. These should not be overlooked as they provide the writer’s insight into what you are reading while allowing you plenty of space for your own. When you add the hand-drawn illustrations, which are also Kelly’s, then it is clear that Silver Cords is not just an exercise in writing fiction, more a labour of love that the author felt he had to get out.

This is clear in the content and themes. Silver Cords is a very personal investigation of modern life which will chime with every reader. Philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, and questions on social and cultural concerns, are all examined, and the stories have characters who are dealing with existential crisis and self-doubt, often brought about by everyday living. Family, work, relationships, technology, individual and social expectations, all of these are touched upon as Kelly explores the concept of ‘happiness’ and what cost is paid in its pursuit.

The relationship between dreams and ‘reality’ also runs throughout, asking questions which are reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem ‘A Dream Within A Dream’. Kelly’s stories also put you in mind of some of the short fiction collections of Helen McClory (Mayhem & Death) and Kirsty Logan (The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales), and the recent poetry of Jenni Fagan (There’s A Witch In The Word Machine), in that they all examine the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious, and where the desire and compulsion for story telling comes from.

For Kelly dreams are the ‘silver cords’ connecting the creative and practical aspects of a person’s psyche, firing the imagination and inspiring an individual to create something from what occurs, whether in song, story, drawing, or poetry, all of which are a feature of this extraordinary book. It’s rare that an artist sets out a thesis on the importance of the creative process as clearly and then sees the resulting vision realised so fully.

The best art makes you understand yourself better through other people’s thoughts, ideas and expression. With Silver Cords Peter Kelly has created a work so unashamedly personal that we should be thankful he has shared it with us. We’re all the better for it.

Silver Cords is published by Scottish Fiction.

You can hear Beerjacket talking to Ali on the SWH! Podcast.

Telling Stories & Singing Songs : The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Beerjacket…

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Picture Credit: Robert Perry

For the first podcast of 2019, Ali caught up with Peter Kelly, better known as singer/songwriter Beerjacket, to talk about Silver Cords (out now on Scottish Fiction) which is not only the name of his latest collection of songs, but also of the accompanying book of short stories, (see below – & there’ll be a review on these pages soon).

The two talk about the project from its early days through to completion, how the stories images-1work with the songs, the reason Peter chooses to work under a pseudonym, the complex nature of the creative process, and why Beerjacket is now back after some time away.

They also discuss how essential it is to give art value, the cultural weight of physical things, the complex relationship between dreams and reality, just how important collaboration is, the enduring power of songs, and a whole lot more.

An absolute pleasure to take part in, it’s a conversation which will appeal to anyone interested in the artistic process, whether that’s making music, writing, or any other form.

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:

A great way to kick off the new year, we hope you agree, and there will be plenty more podcast guests to keep you educated, informed, and hopefully entertained as 2019 unfolds. See you back here very soon…

Scots Whay Hae!’s Alternative Hogmanay Night In, 2018…


Once again Montgomery Scott raises a glass to see out the old year and ring in the new and that means it’s time for Scots Whay Hae!’s annual selection of New Year’s Eve treats. It’s an alternative to the Hogmanay telly, so if there’s little you fancy on the box there might be something here to your liking.

There’s been a lot of programmes looking at the life and times of Billy Connolly recently, so it seems apt to post a link to what is, in my opinion, the funniest hour of TV that there has ever been. It’s the legendary An Audience With Billy Connolly:

One of our podcast guests of 2018 was filmmaker May Miles Thomas whose film Voyageuse was one of the best of the year – rightly winning awards and critical acclaim. Here’s the trailer, along with a link to where you can watch the full film:

Voyaguese – Full Movie

This year we lost the great Tom Leonard, a poet who changed the perception of Glasgwegian literature, and who was part of a generation of writers who shaped modern Scotland. Here is some rare footage of the man himself reading at the CCA, then known as the Third Eye Centre, in 1976. Rest in peace:

2018 was the year of Muriel Spark 100 with 12 months of events celebrating the centenary of her birth, as well as the republishing of all her novels by Birlinn. One of the most entertaining is Spark’s comic take on the Watergate Scandal, The Abbess of Crewe, which was later made into the film Nasty Habits, starring Glenda Jackson. Sounds unlikely? Here’s the trailer:

A slice of SWH! podcast gold now as we go way back to 2013 and our interview with the writer James Robertson. He was principally there to talk about his novel concerning the Lockerbie disaster The Professor Of Truth but ended up discussing a whole lot more:

A superior alternative to that there Hootenanny is surely Roddy Hart‘s Best of 2018 which will act as the perfect soundtrack to your evening, sans excess boogie-woogie piano:

Roddy Hart’s Best Of 2018

But if that’s not enough for you, here’s more music to ease you into 2019 from bands who are set fair to have a cracking 2019. First off are OK Button, who made quite a splash in late 2018. Here they are with their recent single ‘Beds’:

Perhaps the album we are most excited about is from Half Formed Things which is on its way in the new year. Why are we so excited? Because they make music like this:

Cloth are another band who came to everyone’s attention in 2018 with their releases on Last Night From Glasgow receiving praise far and wide. This is ‘Old Bear’ taken from their BBC Music Introducing Session in November, and it highlights what a fine live band they are as well as on record. Expect an album soon:

And finally, this year Ali was asked on to Sunny Govan Radio by Disco Dale to take part in his ‘Well Kent Faces’ show, where he had to nominate three songs which reminded him of Glasgow in some way. If you missed it I won’t tell you what they were yet as it will be available online in the new year, but here’s one he definitely missed:

And that was 2018. We’ve no idea how 2019 is going to pan out (who could?), but whatever happens we’ll be there reviewing, commenting, and in conversation with some of those who are going to shape it.

From everyone involved with Scots Whay Hae!, Happy New Year and we’ll see you on the other side…

Not Waving But Drowning: A Review Of Christina Neuwirth’s Amphibian…

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The workplace has long been a rich source of material for writers. A publishing house in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington, the bus depot in James Kelman’s The Busconductor Hines, a Post Office in Charles Bukowski’s novel of the same name, or even George Orwell’s Animal Farm – they are all used to reflect the society and politics of the time.  However, the everyday drudgery of modern office life is rarely portrayed in literature, perhaps for the very reason that it is seen as a place where the dramatic is often hard to find.

Christina Neuwirth understands this and subverts it brilliantly with her novella Amphibian. It is the perfect parable for our times, with themes of corporate control, individual apathy and uncertainty, and a general dissatisfaction with modern living, told with wry humour and a gentle surrealism that doesn’t intrude but only enhances the story.  Not so much magical realism, more a commentary on capitalism in a modernist style. If Kafka had worked for an Edinburgh finance company this is the book he would have written. Continue reading

That Was The Year That Was: It’s The Best Of 2018 Podcasts – Part 1 (Books)…

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For our Review of the year in Scottish writing and all things bookish Ali was once again joined by Booky Vikki herself, Publishing Scotland’s Vikki Reilly, to discuss their favourite books of the year and the state of Scottish writing and publishing. While doing so they try to identify the themes and trends of the last 12 months, look into what’s coming in the new year, forget the names of things (mostly Ali, to be fair), talk music, “Mayhem”, and explain why 2018 belonged to Muriel. It was quite the year and hopefully we go some way to summing it up and rounding it off for you.

The podcast is the perfect companion piece to our earlier post ‘The Good Word: Scots Whay Hae!’s 10 Best Books Of 2018 (+1)…’ (see right), where you’ll be able to link to reviews of many of the books and writers that Vikki and Ali discuss. There’s a lot of love for writers and publishers alike, and although we didn’t manage to cover it all, we hope you’ll find something to pique your interest. Continue reading

The Good Word: Scots Whay Hae!’s 10 Best Books Of 2018 (+1)…

DSC_0809 2.jpgI know you’re bombarded with ‘Books Of The Year’ lists around this time, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selection is one for the more discerning book lover. It’s a good old-fashioned Top-Ten, but, as with Nigel Tufnel’s amp, this one goes to 11. Which is one better…

These are the publications which stood out against the stiffest competition in 2018, consisting of four new novels, three short fiction collections, the conclusion of a soul music and civil rights trilogy, a book of spell poetry, a history of Scottish pop, plus our bonus entry – a re-issue of a modern Scottish classic.

They will transport you to Harlem, Lewis, Bangour, and post-war America, with detours to Orkney, the Scottish Borders, Edinburgh, Paris, Moscow past and present, and through the looking-glass, along the way. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the artistic diversity and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today and proof that Scottish writing is in fine fettle indeed. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:

Olga Wotjas – Miss Blaine’s Prefect And The Golden Samovar

37795464Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is a crime novel for those people who think they don’t like crime novels. It is also a novel of manners, a comedy, a romance, (although not necessarily a romantic-comedy), and a work of science fiction. With so many influences at work, and genres juggled, it really shouldn’t work but it never falls down and Olga Wojtas should be praised for pulling such a feat off. I’m pretty sure I won’t read anything like it this year, unless it is ‘Miss Blaine’s Prefect’s’ next mission impossible, and I’m hoping that we won’t have to wait too long for that.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect And The Golden Samovar is published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books Continue reading

Three Is The Magic Number: A Review Of Stuart Cosgrove’s Harlem ’69: The Future Of Soul…

 

46523465_252474145447194_8238799154168463360_n.jpgAll good things must come to an end, and this is sadly true for Stuart Cosgrove’s epic and engaging soul and civil rights trilogy. What began with Detroit ’67: The Year That Changed Soul, and moved to Memphis ’68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul, ends with Harlem ’69: The Future Of Soul, and while it is a crying shame that, for the moment at least, we won’t find out more of what happens next (although, as suggested in the title, Cosgrove does touch upon the future), as James Brown knew, when you depart the stage do it in style and leave them wanting more. Cosgrove is leaving us in the finest style, job done.

Anyone who has read the previous books will know what to expect in terms of form. Cosgrove takes us through the year of 1969 chronologically, month by month, and looks at events which may have begun in Harlem but which had ramifications way beyond the neighbourhood boundaries. His cast of characters are a Venn diagram of the well-known, the lesser-known, the expected, and the unexpected. For every Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Gil Scott-Heron, and Donny Hathaway, there’s someone such as Fat Jack Taylor, Betty Mabry, Arthur Conley, and Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams) whose stories are vital – indeed they, and others like them, are the spine of Harlem ’69. Continue reading

Tales Of The Unexpected: A Review Of Andrew Crumey’s The Great Chain of Unbeing…

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When is a book of short stories not a book of short stories? When it is written by Andrew Crumey. As those who have read his previous work, (which includes Sputnik Caledonia, Pfitz, and The Secret Knowledge), will know he is a writer who appears to derive great delight in the undertaking of writing and the possibilities it offers, and also in playing with the expectations of readers. He unashamedly embraces ideas and examines them with a forensic, yet playful, eye. This has never been shown to better effect than with his latest book The Great Chain Of Unbeing  – a collection of stories which are bound intrinsically, yet almost imperceptibly, by interrelated situations and characters. Just who, how, why, where and when – these are all for you to uncover and unpick.

It begins at the ‘Unbeginning’ and ends with an ‘Unending’. Between the two are the stories which make ‘The Great Chain Of Unbeing’, a title which hints at the connections which run through these tales, and which asks questions about what we can claim as real. “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”. Crumey tackles that question, but not head on – more a tackle from the side. These connections are not linear, they are a network with strands leading you in unexpected directions. Continue reading

Stranger Hings: A Review Of Chris McQueer’s HWFG…

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As Harper Lee, The Stone Roses, or Sam Raimi will tell you (and that’s a dinner-party I’d like to attend), it’s not easy following up a cultural touchstone. When your debut strikes a chord with a wider public and becomes higher profile than anyone expected then there’s bound to be added pressure to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Chris McQueer’s short story collection Hings was just such a debut, one which found its way into the hands of people who don’t normally bother with literary fiction.

As with lain Banks’ The Wasp FactoryIrvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, and Alan Bissett’s Boyracers, Hings is a book with a reputation which spread in no small part by word of mouth, praised and quoted in the workplace and passed around the playground. It received mainly glowing reviews on sites such as this one, and in print, but so do many other books which don’t manage to achieve the profile Hings did.

In the age of social media such a reach can be more readily measured, with people posting pictures holding their copy on a variety of social media, often accompanied by messages professing that it’s the first book they’ve read in ages, a claim also made for those mentioned above. It feels as if Chris McQueer is reaching an audience outside of the usual Scottish literary scene in a manner not witnessed since Allan Wilson’s Wasted In Love received similar attention in 2011. But now we get to find out if McQueer can follow Hings. That’s the question which inevitably arises with the publication of his latest collection, HWFG. Continue reading

Man Of Letters: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Chris McQueer…

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For SWH! podcast 101 Ali speaks to the writer Chris McQueer about his latest collection of short stories, HWFG. If you haven’t heard of or read Chris’ work, where have you been? His previous book Hings took the world of Scottish writing by storm announcing a fresh and exciting new voice. HWFG, (Here We Fucking Go, if you haven’t worked it out yet,), sees him build on the success of Hings introducing readers to new characters as well as bringing back firm fan favourites.

It was fascinating to hear what inspired Chris to write, his influences, the difficulty in HWFG-coverfollowing a hit, the highs and lows of being reviewed, the importance of writing not only what but who you know, the crucial relationship between writer and editor, how vital a great cover is (see right), and his plans to branch out from writing fiction. He also kindly reads ‘Brexit’, one of his new stories, which gives the uninitiated a great introduction to Chris McQueer and his work.

For those of a sensitive nature, I should say, the podcast contains the sort of language you might expect when discussing a collection with the full name Here We Fucking Go, for once fully earning the ‘Explicit’ tag iTunes often gives us, seemingly randomly. Continue reading