On The Level: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Katya Kabanova…

Sometimes you leave a theatre knowing that what you have just witnessed was something special. That was undoubtedly the case with Scottish Opera’s opening night of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova. It’s one of those rare productions where everything comes together to make something magical. The score, the story, the musicians, the singing, the acting (often overlooked in opera), the lighting, the costumes, and the set (& boy, what a set!) were all in complete and wonderful harmony to create a world so enthralling that to witness it felt a privilege.

Does that sound over the top? I urge you to go and see for yourself and tell me I’m wrong – and you should as it’s an experience to be shared as widely as possible. Let me try and break it down further, for my own benefit as much as for yourself. First, the story. Although I write about and review Scottish writing on this site my first loves are the 19th century Russians, and although Janáček is Czech, Katya Kabanova is planted firmly in Mother Russia.

If you know the works of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, (or if you have seen the Woody Allen film Love & Death), you’ll be familiar with the themes of unrequited or thwarted love leading to tragedy, existential crisis, familial machinations (mothers-in-laws often get a bad press) and the fickle and often infuriating nature of man. New industry is often in conflict with the old, and new values also challenge the status quo. Katya Kabanova captures all of this completely. There are even fields of wheat on stage – a recurring and significant image in Russian literature – and like those classic novels Janáček, and Scottish Opera, have created a world in which to immerse yourself.

If I was to say that this is an opera which works on many levels then I mean you to take that metaphorically, but also literally. The set is dominated by a two-way bridge which moves and morphs throughout, not unlike an Escher picture brought to life. If there were ever a theatre adaptation of Iain Banks’ novel The Bridge then they need look no further for inspiration for the centre piece. Reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s drawings for the Nostromo spaceship in the first Alien movie, with the same heft and otherworldliness, it made me think of the theatre of Robert LePage and I can give no higher praise than that.

Beneath the bridge are the marshlands and mud-fields where the hard work is done, assignations are made, and people come to lose themselves while those higher up go busily about their day and are usually too busy to notice what is beneath them. Visually, when put together, it’s an incredible achievement, so much so that at times you could forget that what you are watching is not on a screen but on stage. This is opera as spectacle, but it never threatens to overshadow the characters and performers. Indeed, it seems to bring out the best in them.

Although the leads were superb, especially Laura Wilde as Kátya Kabanová and Patricia Bardon as Kabanicha, this was an ensemble piece as every member of cast played their role, and when married to the music what was created was an all-out assault on the senses in the best possible way. When a particular dramatic event happened near the end there was a collective intake of breath from an audience who were rapt throughout.

All of the above is really just a long and detailed way of saying that this is a production not to miss. It is another example of Scottish Opera being a company to treasure as whether it’s their Opera Highlights show in Victoria Hall in Dunblane (as they are tonight) or something with the scale and ambition of Kátya Kabanová they always deliver. Scottish Opera are at the top of their game right now, and we should be thankful for that.

Thanks to Scottish Opera for the use of these images – Credit James Glossop

Music Matters: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To L-space…

L-space

For the latest podcast Ali spoke to Lily, Gordon and Dickson from L-space who are, as regular readers of SWH! will know, one of our favourite bands. Their album, Kipple Arcadia (on LNFG – see below) was one of the best debuts of recent times and no discerning home should be without it. The talk moves in many directions, including discussions on expectation versus reality, how their sound and songwriting developed, contrapuntal melodies, the thinking behind the themes explored in the music, all things kipple, and what the future may hold, not just for the band but for all of us.

Kipple Arcadia

The sign of a good podcast is that time flies, either when recording or listening, and if this theory holds up then you are in for a treat. There are also fine examples of the music they make with ‘Home Sweet Home’ opening proceedings and the exclusive play of two new tracks, ‘Moving Traffic Overhead’ and ‘Waking Up Bathed In The Light Of Things You Can’t Afford’ bringing things to a fitting conclusion. Quite simply, this is a podcast not to miss.

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:

Our next podcast will be with you very soon as it’s a Glasgow Film Festival special, so don’t go too far…

Sunday Service: A Review Of The Sonnet Youth Showcase At The Tron…

Sunday afternoons – for some of us they’ve never been the same since Archie McPherson, Glen Michael and Palladin hung up their boots. There’s only so much Bargain Hunt, Songs of Praise and old Bond films you can take, and these days there are more stall holders than punters if you fancy a wander round the Barras. Sunday afternoons have become a weekly dead-zone. We need change!

This Sunday, at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, Sonnet Youth were in the house to save the day. It was the last event of their Tron Weekender where they had put on various poetry reading, theatre, spoken word events and more over three days. You could have expected that their Sunday Matinee Showcase could have been an excuse for everyone to relax and recover. Not a bit of it.

For those of you who don’t know, Sonnet Youth events are hosted and curated by Cat Hepburn and Kevin P. Gilday, both accomplished performance and published poets in their own right. They describe what they do as a Spoken Word House Party, but that description only scratches the surface.

Sunday’s Showcase was an exemplary summary of what they do. Sonnet Youth are driven by a love of the performing arts and poetry and a desire to share the best of it with like-minded folk. As well as the usual fine readings from our hosts there was a personal, poignant and often funny performance from the excellent poet Angie Strachan, music from the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter/guitarist Heir Of The Cursed (who is surely destined to be huge) before finishing with comedy from Christopher Macarthur-Boyd – fresh from supporting Jason Manford in Manchester.

If you missed it then you missed out as rarely has two hours passed so fast and entertainingly, particularly in the Twilight Zone of Sunday afternoon. Don’t make the same mistake again as Sonnet Youth have got the creation and curation of their events down to a fine art.

You don’t have to wait long as they have a shows at Drygate in Glasgow on 20th Feb, the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh on 21st Feb, as well as being at Phillies of Shawlands on the 2nd Thursday of every month with Sonnet Youth Scratch which allows established artists to try new material and open mic slots for anyone who wants to perform. Listen up as Sonnet Youth deserve your attention – Scotland’s cultural landscape would be far less interesting if they weren’t around.

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New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

In most cities January is a month where people take things easy, but not in Glasgow where Celtic Connections looms large and there are still loads of other nights out to consider. It’s as if the city says, “New year, is it? Bring it on!”. So last month was packed with great gigs including the launch of Sister John’s new album at SWG3, an Olive Grove Records Showcase, a rare and righteous live sighting of The Sweetheart Revue, Broken Chanter playing with a full band, and all our yesterdays with Goosebumps: Marina Records 25th Anniversary Concert.

But that didn’t stop the new music getting through, and there are some very special treats awaiting you below, including at least two year defining records with which we have fallen head-over-heels in love There’s unforgettable ambient, classic power pop, the return of musical superheroes, the continued form of future superstars, two of the finest singers around, and even more. We are sure you’ll find something to please you. Starting with this…

One of the finest show of this year’s Celtic Connections was Andrew Wasylyk and full band (and what a band!) at Glasgow’s Blue Arrow. They were there to play songs from his latest album The Paralian, which is the result of Wasylyk’s time as an artist-in-residence at Hospitalfield, an arts centre and historic house in Arbroath. What started out as an idea to write music for a restored 19th century harp blossomed into a full set of songs with horns, strings, synthesizers, and piano.

The resulting record is quite astonishing. You could describe it as a concept album, taking it’s influences from the land and the sea (a paralian being someone who lives by the sea). You can certainly hear echoes of the ambient works of, among others, Brian and Roger Eno, Harold Budd, and Robert Wyatt, but The Paralian is very specific to place while feeling timeless. What I can say is that it is one of the finest records I have heard this year, and in many a year, and I can’t see you disagreeing with that conclusion any time soon. From it this is ‘Mariner’s Hymn’:

You wait a while for one beautiful album which makes the world a better place and then two come along at once. Blair Coron’s On The Nature Of Things is not so much a recording, more an artistic declaration of a personal philosophy, a musical thesis on a life lived and lessons learned. That is shown in the care and attention which Coron has given to the presentation and packaging of the album which is an extension of the record itself. Go and order a copy if you want to know what I mean. His heart and soul is in these songs. On The Nature Of Things is incredibly personal, and clearly means the world to him.

I’m delighted to say it also means the world to me, and it will to you. It’s the most intimate and exquisite music. The title track alone, all 20 minutes of it, is just sublime. Music this special doesn’t come along that often, despite the review of The Paralian above. The fact that the first records to feature this month are destined to be personal favourites is not the norm. It just so happens that in January of 2019 two albums have been released which deserve, no demand, your attention and devotion. We are living in special times so grab them while you can. From On The Nature If Things this is ‘Olives & Marzipan’:


Later this month in Glasgow, then Edinburgh and Dundee, The Dark Carnival comes to town. It’s the name of a new show from Vanishing Point and A New International theatre companies, and it promises “A music and theatre spectacle, The Dark Carnival features sixteen performers and musicians. They tell the story of newcomers to the afterlife who discover that death is not actually the end. Incredulous at their continuity, they form their own necropolitan community where every night is party night: songs get sung, love gets made and whisky flows.” Now, that sounds like a SWH! night out. From it this is ‘Necropolitan’, and it is reminiscent of Brecht, Weill, and even the sainted Tiger Lillies. Embrace the dark side and we’ll see you in the cheap seats:

We try to be optimistic on these pages but that’s not always an easy stance to take. A spring in your step and a smile on your face can be hard to maintain in times such as these. Desperate measures are required and it’s the perfect time to send the call out to Bis. Pop music may not be able to save us but it certainly makes things a whole lot better. One of the most influential Scottish bands of the last 30 years, they have a new album, Slight Disconnects, released on Last Night From Glasgow and I can tell you it’s reassuringly braw and brilliant. Throw your hats in the air cos Bis are back. From the album, this is ‘Sound Of A Heartbreak’:

In what seems like no time at all OK Button are already on to their third single. It’s called ‘Flesh & Blood’ and it continues their flawless run of singles. It also helps to build a fuller picture of who they are as a band, and what’s emerging is one who refuse to be ignored, who resolutely tackle the personal and the political in their music, and for whom what they do is integral to who they are. If there is any justice in this world OK Button are going to be huge in 2019. In fact, even though justice may be thin on the ground I would still bet on that happening. Classy and classic from head to toe, but with a sting in the tale, this is ‘Flesh & Blood’:

An interesting development over the last couple of years is record labels collaborating on releases. In Scotland this seems to be driven by our good friends and regulars on these pages Last Night from Glasgow who have been working with other labels to make sure releases happen. Annie Booth’s An Unforgiving Light was on LNFG & Scottish Fiction, and later this year they & Olive Grove Records will release the debut Broken Chanter album (an early version of which I have heard and it’s just phenomenal).

LNFG have now got together with Little Tiger to release Fenella’s album A Gift From Midnight which, although it’s not out till March, you can pre-order here. I was lucky enough to see them as support to the previously mentioned Marina Records 25th Anniversary show at Celtic Connections and it was a great introduction to a band who make music unlike anyone else in Scotland at the moment. What hits you first, and what stays with you, is the voice, but there’s a hell of a lot more going on. This is an artist to get excited about as you can’t be sure just what is going to happen next. But you don’t have to worry about that for now, enjoy the here and now. From the album, this is ‘I Will Not Win’:

I hope you’re in the mood for some classic power pop – the kind that Scottish bands seem to do particularly well. Think Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits, Eugenius, The Pearlfishers, and so on. Attic Lights deserve their place in that pantheon, and the new album, the excellently titled Love In The Time Of Shark Attacks, proves this. It’s a record with so many hooks you could do yourself an injury, with every track pulling its weight to make a memorable whole. If what you are looking for is an album of timeless, classic, pop songs then this is the record for you. From it, this is ‘Come Back To Me’:

I’m going to end with the sublime sound of singer songwriter Cara Rose. The song is ‘In My Head’, recorded live at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and it shows clearly what makes Cara so special. Hers is a voice which is a thing of beauty, an instrument in itself, and having it accompanied simply by piano shows this clearly and to full effect. When you are this good, when you sound this good, that’s all you need. This is a track which you can’t just listen to once – it will stay with you. Try it and see if I’m not right. This is Cara Rose and ‘In My Head’:


That’s all for this month, but if you enjoy these reviews Ali now has a weekly radio show on LP Radio where he plays two hours of the best Scottish music every Monday night. You can find out how to listen here…

The Best Of All Possible Worlds: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Highlights Tour 2019…

SPRING 2019 OPERA HIGHLIGHTS 
Touring to 18 venues across Scotland

Over the last few years Scottish Opera has been taking to the highways and byways of Scotland bringing their Opera Highlights Tour to villages and towns, schools halls, community centres, and local theatres across the country. It’s a deceptively simple premise with four singers and a piano presenting various highlights from a wide range of operas framed around one uniting premise.

This time around Musical Director and pianist Elizabeth Rowe is joined by mezzo-soprano Heather Ireson, soprano Lucy Anderson, baritone Harry Thatcher and tenor Tom Smith.  From Handel’s Rodelinda (1725) to Jonathan Dove’s Flight (1998) and visiting, among others, Mozart, Bizet, Wagner, Handel, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Gershwin & Weill along the way, they present a wide range of styles and themes which give a wonderfully diverse overview of what opera has to offer.

Scots Whay Hae! were at the Cumbernauld Theatre for the latest stop on 2019’s tour. Having seen the last three tours there were no doubts it would be a memorable evening, and that was proved right. The setlist this time around is built on the idea of the picaresque novel. The episodic structure of that format, and it’s often satirical content, is perfect for such a show allowing the leitmotifs of heroes, villains, love, longing and loss to come to the fore, and the cast revel in them.

A particular treat for audiences on such nights is to be so up close and personal with the performers, able to see and appreciate ever smile, smirk, and sideways glance much better than you could ever do in a larger space, which worked particularly well for the more comedic moments. What you also get is the full power of these incredible trained and professional voices. They are impressive enough when on their own, or in duet, but when all four work together, as in the ‘Garden Scene’ from Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, or the opening ‘The Best Of All Possible Worlds’ from Leonard Bernstein’s adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide, then the effect is visceral and wonderful.

Indeed it is ‘Candide’, arguably the quintessential picaresque novella, that seemed to infuse the spirit of the whole evening. Published in 1759, and written to satirise the central optimistic/naive tenet of the 17th century philosopher Leibniz, (paraphrased in the words of Candide’s teacher and mentor ‘Dr Pangloss’ that, “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”), its arguments against such a quixotic attitude are as relevant today as they are in any time of turmoil. With poignant references to the modern world director Sara Brodie makes sure that the spirit of Voltaire runs throughout.

Below are some pictures of the production, as well as the future dates of the tour with links as to where you can buy tickets. Don’t miss out…

With thanks to Scottish Opera for the images – Credit to Sally Jubb

Tour Dates:
Craignish Village Hall, ARDFERN, Tue 12 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Northbay Hall, ISLE OF BARRA, Thu 14 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Liniclate School, BENBECULA, Sat 16 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Tarbert Community Centre, ISLE OF HARRIS, Tue 19 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Community Hall, GAIRLOCH, Thu 21 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Community Hall, ARDROSS, Sat 23 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Volunteer Hall, DUNS, Tue 26 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Blairgowrie Town Hall, BLAIRGOWRIE, Thu 28 Feb BOOK TICKETS

Town Hall, MAYBOLE, Sat 2 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Village Hall, DURNESS, Tue 5 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Deeside Theatre, ABOYNE, Sat 9 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Boat of Garten Community Hall, BOAT OF GARTEN, Thu 7 Mar
BOOK TICKETS

Whiting Bay Village Hall, WHITING BAY, Tue 12 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Victoria Hall, DUNBLANE, Thu 14 Mar BOOK TICKETS

The Wynd Auditorium, PAISLEY, Sat 16 Mar BOOK TICKETS

Paisley Patter: The SAMAs Come To Town…

One of the highlights of last year was the Scottish Alternative Music Awards night at St Luke’s in Glasgow which showcased not only the best of new Scottish music, but also how the SAMAs have grown in stature and ambition. But that was then and this is now and the SAMAs show no sign of letting up. On the 15th & 16th March they are taking over Paisley (in partnership with Renfrewshire Council and Paisley First) with the promise of events, live music, workshops, seminars & spoken word.

On Friday 15th at the Paisley Arts Centre there is a Festival Welcome with writer Chris McQueer and poet Leyla Josephine followed by music from C. Duncan + Special Guests, while over at The Bungalow the Pleasure Heads, CRYSTAL and Sweaty Palms will be taking to the stage.

The Saturday is a full and varied schedule which includes Stuart Braithwaite in conversation, live sets from Megan Airlie & Michael Timmons before the weekend finishes on a high with the inimitable Kathryn Joseph. See the poster above for the full line-up, times and venues.

Here’s what SAMA’s founder Richy Muirhead has to say about the Paisley Takeover, “The festival is jam packed with music events – we’re thrilled to add the likes of CRYSTAL who recently played a sold out King Tuts, Megan Airlie who won Best Acoustic at last year’s awards, author Chris McQueer and lots more! I hope the festival brings a burst of energy to Paisley and excites music fans around the country!

Tickets are on sale now from £7 – £12 from Eventbrite UK, SAMA’s Website:http://officialsama.co.ukand Paisley Arts Centre 0300 300 1210

For more information about the festival and SAMA’s visit: http://officialsama.co.uk @officialSAMA

Here’s footage from the Awards night at St Luke’s to give you just a taste of what the SAMAs are all about:

Thank You For The Music: An Appreciation Of Marina Records…

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Tonight at Celtic Connections there is a timely celebration of Marina Records, a label responsible for some of my favourite albums over the years. Theirs is an interesting story. An indie-label founded by Stefan Kassel and Frank Lähnemann in 1993 in Hamburg, Marina Records became the home of some of the classiest Scottish pop music around. If ever a label should be celebrated for their auspicious work in promoting Scottish music and supporting musicians it is Marina, and this is the opportunity to do just that.

The Mitchell Theatre gig is part of the label’s 25th birthday festivities – which included the bumper anniversary compilation Goosebumps – and sees the appearance of many Marina artists, including James Kirk, Malcolm Ross, Duglas T. Stewart, The Pearlfishers, Cowboy Mouth, The Secret Goldfish, Jazzateers, The Kingfishers, The Bathers, Sugartown, Colin Steele, The Magic Circles and Starless. That is undoubtedly musical bang for your buck. Continue reading

Beat The January Rhythm & Blues: A Preview Of Celtic Connections 2019…

“January, month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month…”, to quote the French writer Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (currently appearing at a cinema near you). This may be a touch dramatic, but you know what she’s getting at. For me, a year doesn’t get going properly til Celtic Connections begins. A festival that never fails to deliver, and which continues to grow in terms of number of gigs, breadth of music, and stature.

This year’s headliners and more well-kent attendees include Blue Rose Code, Judy Collins, Mariza, Sharon Shannon, Mull Historical Society, Rachel Sermanni & Jarlath Henderson, Seth Lakeman, and Karine Polwart, Kris Drever & Scottish Chamber Orchestra. There are also nights featuring or celebrating musical legends, including Ronnie Spector & The RonettesVan Morrison, John Martyn, Loudon Wainwright III, and, covering many of your favourite songs, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook.

However, and as ever, we’d like to point you in the direction of lesser known gems which can be found at the festival. Some of the names below you may recognise from our regular music reviews, and they all are deserving of your attention. Each one promises an unforgettable night, and what more can you ask for in these early days of 2019?

You can peruse the full programme at your leisure at Celtic Connections, and receive all the up-to-date news by following the festival on Twitter, and Facebook.  But before you rush away here is the Scots Whay Hae! guide, (complete with links to further details + tickets). We’re calling it ‘the best of the rest of the fest’…

GOOSEBUMPS: 25 Years of Marina Records (Krach Auf Wiedersehen!) and Fenella

A Wesley Chung and Caitlin Buchanan

Last Night From Glasgow: The Gracious Losers and L-space (acoustic)

The Sweetheart Revue and Headcloud

Zoe Graham and John Edge & The Kings of Nowhere

Withered Hand

Broken Chanter and Jill O’Sullivan

Henry & Fleetwood

Carla J. Easton and Mark McGowan

Andrew Wasylyk and support

Olive Grove Records Showcase: Chrissy Barnacle, Pocket Knife, Moonsoup, Circle Meets Dot and Jared Celosse

Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert with Marry Waterson & Emily Barker

Hope to see you at at least one of the above…

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. Continue reading

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

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While putting together the SWH! Tracks Of The Year Spotify playlist for 2018 it became clear that it had been a hell of a year for music with each month bringing new and exciting tunes. It might be a new year but the great music keeps coming and the first review of 2019 more than makes that point.

It sees the return of some SWH! favourites as well as others new to these pages. There’s Americana, rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelic pop, indie-folk, lo-fi funk, beautiful balladry, and more. No matter what your taste we are sure you’ll find something which suits you. Celebrate good times, come on!

We are going to kick off with the return of Sister John. Their debut release Returned From Sea was one of the finest albums of 2017, introducing a band who arrived fully-formed and who have music in their very souls.  Their latest album, also called Sister John, is released on the 25th January on Last Night From Glasgow, but from it the song ‘I’m The One’ is out now and it’s a doozy. There’s a distinct CBGB’s/Bowery vibe going on – imagine The Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock & Roll’ sung by a chilled-out Patti Smith and you’ll have some idea. With understated rhythm and twangy guitar backing Amanda McKeown’s soulful vocals it’s a lesson that when it comes to music to move you less is almost always more. The accompanying video is a thing of joy as well. This is ‘I’m The One’ – Let’s dance!:

Continue reading