Get Connected: A Preview Of Celtic Connections 2020…

“January, sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me”, as Pilot sang back in 1974 – a genius lyric which just about says it all. But never fear as, appropriately, it’s music which is going to chase away the new year funk and January blues.

This year we are spoiled with 432 Presents‘ excellent First Footing Showcases, and, from the 16th Jan – 2nd Feb, Celtic Connections, one of the world’s great music festivals, gets underway with another line-up which mixes and matches the local with the global.

This year’s headliners and more well-kent attendees include, among many others, Salsa Celtica, Nitin Sawhney (with the always excellent Cara Rose), Isobel Campbell, Iris Dement, James Grant, Peatbog Faeries, Robyn Hitchcock (with SWH! regular Annie Booth), Kinnaris Quintet, Jarlath Henderson, Boo Hewerdine, and The Felice Brothers.

There are also nights featuring or celebrating musical legends, including The GRIT Orchestra, the Roaming Roots Revue 70th Birthday Tribute to Bruce Springsteen, Transatlantic Sessions, Blue Rose Code Presents This Is Caledonia Soul, TMSA ‘Floo’ers O’ The Fairest’, Breabach @15, as well as many gigs to check out at Glasgow’s more intimate venues such as The Glad Cafe, The Hug & Pint, Broadcast, The Blue Arrow, and Platform.

However, and as ever, we’d like to point you in the direction of other gems to be found at the festival. Some of the names below you may well recognise from our regular music reviews and weekly playlists, and they all are deserving of your attention and attendance. Each one promises an unforgettable night, and what more can you ask for in these early days of 2020?

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! preview, (complete with links to further details + tickets). We like to call it ‘the best of the rest of the fest’…

Fat-Suit: ‘Waifs & Strays’ & special guests

Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 and Carla J. Easton

Glorious Traces: The Music of Others

Bogha-frois: LGBT+ Voices in Folk

From Night ’til Morning – A Last Night From Glasgow Showcase

Beerjacket with Cairn String Quartet and Keeley Forsyth

‘Return To Y’Hup’: The World Of Ivor Cutler

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan and Djana Gabrielle

SHHE and support

365 featuring Aidan O’Rourke & James Robertson

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

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

For the latest music review we’re going to go all the way back to 2019 – remember then? December is usually the month of reflection, end of year lists, “best of” selections and SWH! did not shy away from those, as you may have noticed. However, there was still loads of great new music being released last month (for further evidence check out the New Music Monday playlists), and this, the first post of 2020, celebrates that showcasing the best examples to have reached our ears.

And what a fine selection it is, one which unashamedly features mostly musicians and bands who have featured on these pages before (but not all). What you are about to hear is quality and class from start to finish, or at least we like to think so. See for yourself…

2019 was the 10th anniversary of Scots Whay Hae!, so it is timely that we can celebrate the return of a singer/songwriter who was one of the first we featured on the site. He is Luke Joyce, once of the legendary The Gothenburg Address, but back in 2009/10 he was making music as I Build Collapsible Mountains and it was very, very good indeed. The welcome news is that he is back in the form of Harsh Winters and we are all the better for it.

The new album is The Marriage Of A Killer And A Bird Song and it makes the wait more than worth it. These are timeless songs from a musician to treasure, moving seamlessly from intimate to epic and back again with ease, and with Joyce’s unmistakable vocals at once both brittle and sure. All life is here, and, as with all the best art, these songs will have you reflecting on your own life and times. There is an emotional heart which can catch you unaware, and it stays with you. While we were all talking about the best albums of the year one of them arrived right at the very end and we nearly missed it. Make sure you don’t.

Talking of musicians who it’s great to have back, last month saw a new single release from Xan Tyler on Fox Star Records. If you haven’t heard her before, Tyler is a fabulous singer/songwriter whose music crosses many genres, including folk/ambient/pop/dub/ska, and she has collaborated with some of the very best in all of those and more. ‘Vicky’ the A-side is the name Tyler gives to that voice we all try to suppress – the one which tells us that we are just no good and, worse than that, everyone knows it. It’s a lesson in facing your demons and owning them which will strike a chord with us all if we care to admit it. And we should.

The B-side, ‘Mantra’, is literally the flip side of ‘Vicky’ as Tyler tries to accentuate the positive after hopefully eliminating the negative, urging us to accept the praise and compliments which others pay us, and taken together these songs are a perfect pair. These are clearly intensely personal, but that’s what great music often is – certainly when it makes such a connection and makes you realise that you’re not alone. There’s not much more can you ask from a songwriter than that. This is ‘Vicky’.

Next up we give you ‘Sweet Downfall‘ from Nicol & Elliot, released on the excellent Electric Honey Music (which actually came out before December but which is too good not to include here). There’s something about Americana/country music which seems to suit a duo. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Mandolin Orange, The Handsome Family, Shovels & Rope, our very own Paterson/Myles, and Nicol & Elliott are yet further proof of this.

‘Sweet Downfall’ is a reminder that often less is more, with a subtle production used to showcase the song rather than overpower it. There is a purity in the harmonies of these two voices which can’t fail to move even the hardest of hearts, and Andrew Nicol’s guitar marries to Rachel Elliott’s fiddle equally well. With new music coming very soon, the future looks bright for Nicol & Elliott.

There are certain musicians who release great music on such a regular basis that it can be easy to take them for granted. Exhibit A (for this month) – Malcolm Middleton who has never made a record I didn’t want to own. Just in the last few years he has given us Electric Blue (as Human Don’t Be Angry), Summer of ’13, the essential Bananas, Scaffolding/Have Fun Mister and now the latest Human Don’t Be Angry release, Guitar Variations which, as the title suggests, is all about the guitar.

However, it’s a very Middleton take which touches on different styles and approaches to the instrument, too many to mention here (although I will say fans of Vini Reilly will not be disappointed). It sounds like the soundtrack to the best road trip you’ve yet to take. “What does that even mean?”, I can imagine you cry. Let me give you a big hint – from it this is ‘Bum A Ride’:

One of SWH!’s live highlights of last year was Fat-Suit in Braemar. This is a band who defy easy definition which is one of the reasons to love them. I could try, (I have tried – see last November’s review) and if I did I would be bound once again to use terms such as jazz/folk/ fusion but also virtuoso/instrumental/exceptional as they are all of those things and more.

The highest level of musicianship is married to a sheer joy of playing, and playing together, a feeling which is palpable and rather moving. When Celtic Connections released tickets for this year’s festival theirs was the first ticket bought, and if you get the chance to see them live I urge you to take it. This is just a small but beautiful example of what they do – one which I had to share with you as it’s among the best things I have heard in many years, never mind the last. From their stunning current album Waifs & Strays this is ‘Countryside Quiet’.

Lavinia Blackwall‘s music seems to come from a different time and place, and at this time and place that makes it all the better. Her previous singles, ‘Waiting For Tomorrow’ and ‘Troublemakers’ suggested that in terms of songwriting and singing Blackwall is at the top of her game, and the latest, ‘Keep Warm‘ (once again backed by the always excellent Stilton), only strengthens that feeling.

More laid back and reflective than the previous solo releases, the music and the melodies draw you in, but it is Blackwall’s voice, one which is both soulful and doleful, which keeps you coming back again and again. Her album promises to be something rather special. In the meantime, this is ‘Keep Warm’.

A sign of a great song is that it offers up more with each play, and those are the songs which St Martiins make. ‘My Girl‘ and ‘Saw The Moon‘ were two of the best songs of the year, but you could argue that ‘Melvin‘ is even better. The great thing is we don’t have to choose. To quote Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, “Nobody got a gun to your head”!

St Martiins are one of those bands whose each new release is eagerly anticipated and grows their reputation. There is an emotional honesty, and a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability, that is incredibly human and which few manage to put into song as they do.  I adore St Martiins, and so do you – you just may not know it yet. If you don’t, ‘Melvin’ is the perfect place to begin.

In terms of music, if admittedly little else, last year was quite a year – let’s hope 2020 manages to keep up. We’ll keep you posted…

Scots Whay Hae!’s Alternative Hogmanay Night In, 2019…

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.

2019 saw the launch of BBC Scotland which, despite some initial concerns, became home to some terrific original programming as well as becoming the place to find Scottish film and drama which wouldn’t be shown elsewhere. An example of this is Prophecy, a film about the life and work of artist Peter Howson. You can watch the whole thing here, but to tempt you, here’s the trailer:

One of the best dramas of the year was undoubtedly Guilt, written by Neil Forsyth (of Bob Servant fame) and starring Jamie Sives and Mark Bonnar. It was the first drama commissioned by BBC Scotland and it sets the standard very high. You can find all four episodes here but below is the trailer to give you a taste:

Celtic Connections is almost with us again, and there’ll be a full SWH! preview in the new year, but one of the highlights of 2019’s was undoubtedly the Marina Records Showcase celebrating 25 years of the label, and which saw James Kirk, Malcolm Ross, The Pearlfishers, Cowboy Mouth, The Secret Goldfish, Jazzateers, The Kingfishers, The Bathers, Sugartown, Colin Steele, The Magic Circles, Starless and more share the stage. A highlight was Chris Thomson fronting the house band to give us the old Friends Again classic ‘State of Art’. This is the original:

Our collaboration with Scottish Opera was a highlight of 2019, one which will continue into the new year. You can listen to the SO podcasts to date here, and you can peruse the current programme here, but this is the trailer for their incredible production of Tosca:

Another highlight of our 2019 was getting to do the SWH! Radio Show on the sadly missed LP Radio, a station created by Lorenzo Pacitti which burned brightly for too short a time. We hope that the show will find a new home in the new year, but here’s an old one from 15th July to bring back musical memories of a glorious summer:

While we’re talking about radio, this was the year where there seemed a real renaissance in local radio, with Cam/Glen and Cumbernauld FM n-particular building on the great work done by Sunny Govan among others. In early December Ali joined Cumbernauld FM’s Mark & Gary on their Postcards From The Underground show to talk about their choice of albums of the year:

While we’re talking music, we always like to offer you an alternative Hootenanny so here’s five of the best tracks of 2019 which are perfect for starting the New Year in style. First of, ‘Car Crash Carnivore’ from HYYTS:

2019 was a year of great pop music, and one of the very best songs came from Anna Sweeney in the shape of ‘Way Back When’:

Emme Woods had another cracking year and proved, as if she needed to, that she is one of the very best musicians both recorded and live. To make that point better than mere words could, this is the standout ‘it’s ma party’:

One of the best new bands to emerge in the year were Lemon Drink who you just have to see play whenever possible. This is their debut single ‘A Song For You’ which shows you why you’re going to love them, if you don’t already:

Released in the dying days of the year, this is DENI and the excellent ‘I Don’t Know How To Feel’, which promises great things from them in 2020:

And finally, some classic hogmanay telly from over 40 years ago. This is from Scotch and Wry, and features a young David Hayman:

And that was 2019 for you. We’ve no idea how 2020 is going to pan out (who could?) or who is going to feature, but whatever happens we’ll be there reviewing, commenting, and in conversation with some of those who help to shape it.

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

That Was The Year That Was: The Best Of 2019, The Radio Show – Music (Part 2)…

For the second part of our roundup of the Best Music of 2019 Ali joined Mark McNally and Gary Bannatyne on the Postcards From The Underground radio show to talk about their favourite albums and play tracks from them. It’s a great selection of songs which makes clear what a fantastic year it has been for Scottish music.

If you missed it you can listen back to the show by clicking below, with the tracklisting underneath. See what you make of their choices and have a wee rant and rave about what’s missing, but hopefully you’ll find plenty to love.

You can still hear Part 1 of the Best Music of 2019 on the recent SWH! podcast where Mark, Gary and Ali discuss their year in music (skilfully avoiding album chat, just) talking tracks, gigs, and other memorable moments. If you are still not yet sated and satisfied there are archives of the SWH! LP Radio show, as well as previous New Music Monday Playlists.

You can listen to Mark & Gary every Sunday night between 8-10pm on Cumbernauld FM and catch up with all the shows on Mixcloud. It’s not to be missed, and it has been an absolute pleasure getting to know them over the year, and chatting about the best music of 2019. It’s a conversation which I’m sure will continue in 2020.

That Was The Year That Was: The Best Of 2019 Podcasts –Music (Part 1)…

For this year’s Best Music of 2019 podcast Ali spoke to Mark McNally and Gary Bannatyne from Cumbernauld FM’s Postcards From The Underground radio show. The two are among the finest champions of Scottish music and beyond, playing old songs and new, and having regular live sessions and guests. 

As well as hearing all about the Postcards From The Underground show, the three discuss their favourite tracks and gigs of the year, and try to avoid talking about their favourite albums of the year as Ali will be joining the chaps on their show on Sunday 8th December (8-10pm) to do just that, so do listen in to see what they pick over at

You can read all about, and listen to, SWH!’s pick of the Best Songs of the year here, and our Best Books and Best Films of 2019 podcasts will be with you shortly. But before you think about any of that here is the SWH! Best Music of 2019 podcast, and see if you can spot Ali’s quite deliberate mistake in the first 5 minutes.

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, with Spotify, 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:

You can catch up with all the previous PFTU shows on MixCloud here.


The Tracks Of My Year: SWH!’s 10 Best Songs Of 2019…

2019 was another year of exceptional albums, from such as Sister John, Andrew Wasylyk, Blair Coron, A Mote Of Dust, Tenement & Temple, James Yorkston, Richard Luke, Half Formed Things, Broken Chanter, Awkward Family Portraits, Dumb Instrument, Cloth, Harry Harris, Bis, Anna Meredith, and too many others to mention them all here.

Ali will be talking albums when he is a guest on Cumbernauld FM‘s Postcards From The Underground radio show on Sunday 8th December (8-10pm) discussing his pick of the year with hosts Mark and Gary (who will in turn appear on the Best Music of 2019 podcast to talk about their musical year, and which will be available this weekend).

However, traditionally on the pages of SWH! we like to concentrate on individual tracks whether from singles, EPs, albums, soundtracks, or anywhere else. So, without further ado, here is our choice of the ten best songs reviewed on these pages over the last 12 months. Think of it as a mix-tape of the soundtrack to our year, and if you like what you hear you should investigate further by clicking on those hyperlinks.

That’s enough preamble – here’s the countdown, listed in order of their date of release, and what we thought about them at the time with a few relevant updates…

Sister John – I’m The One

We are going to kick off with 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!:

Lola In Slacks – Postscript In Blue 

Lola In Slacks and single ‘Postscript In Blue‘ oozes class from start to finish. You would expect no less from a band whose members include Lou Reid, Brian McFie, Lesley McLaren, Davy Irwin and Fiona Shannon, some of who have been heard with the likes of The Big Dish, Altered Images, Craig Armstrong, Mull Historical Society, The Bluebells, and more. Only an elite few can boast such a CV.

From the off it is clear that Lola In Slacks are a band who are the perfect sum of those impressive parts. Everyone plays their role to perfection, making music which is out of time yet utterly of the here and now. Lou Reid’s smoky vocals are to the fore, reminiscent of European Torch singers Francoise Hardy, Marianne Faithful and, more recently, Camille, and also of North Americans Julie London, Neko Case and Laura Veirs. The voice is perfectly matched by the playing, which is quite exquisite. McLaren’s drumming in particular is an understated thing of beauty. Listen for yourself, then go back, play it again, and listen once more. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship:

James Yorkston – My Mouth Ain’t No Bible

A new James Yorkston record is always reason for cheer, and his latest long player, The Route To The Harmonium, has been on close to constant rotation on the SWH! turntable since it appeared last month. Yorkston is one of those artists who is unmistakable and unshakeable. He plows his own furrow with a clear idea as to what he wants to create. And what he creates is always essential, and often mesmeric.

He seems to tap into something undeniably Scottish and literary, as much influenced by poetry and fiction as music, with a desire to tell stories in a tradition which follows on from the ballads and spoken word. From The Route To The Harmonium this is ‘My Mouth Ain’t No Bible’, with James coming over like an East Neuk Preacher Man – where fire and brimstone meets fear and loathing. Funny, angry, wry, and possibly rye, it could just be James Yorkston’s defining moment – except his whole career is littered with those.

Natalie Pryce – Martin Amis

It’s the warmest of welcomes back to these pages to the enigmatic and remarkable Natalie Pryce, a band who dance to their own tune, but who forcibly drag you with them on to the dance floor. I do like a band who unsettle you – I’m thinking of the likes of Captain Beefheart, the Cardiacs, Ministry, the Bad Seeds, Sons & Daughters – all of whom carry with them the threat of threats as yet unnamed, as do Natalie Pryce.

This track is ‘Martin Amis‘, and there is wailing saxophone, understated drums and bass, and whispered vocals which suggest pain and pleasure in equal measure. So hip it hurts, this improves with every play, and gets to the dark heart of its subject in four minutes far better than any biography could ever do:

Annie Booth – Magic 8

Annie Booth‘s debut album An Unforgiving Light(a joint release on two of Scotland’s most discerning record labels – Last Night From Glasgow and Scottish Fiction) is one of the most talked about in recent years – literally. More than any other I can think of, perhaps with the exception of LNFG label mates Sister John, it was the record that people discussed most often at gigs and get togethers, often in hushed and awed tones. Her latest EP Spectral (another LNFG/SF collaboration – &, by the way, more of this sort of thing can only be a good thing) shows clearly that Booth is a rare talent indeed.

There’s a melancholic and haunting quality in her vocals which, on the evidence I have seen, can silence any room, but it is in the songs themselves where the real magic is to be found. All four tracks on Spectral are memorable, but ‘Mirage’ and the single ‘Magic 8’ are two of the best of the year. I’ve been trying for a while to think who Annie Booth reminds me of (cos that’s the sort of thing reviewers do) and have realised that, among others, it’s Aimee Mann, especially in terms of marrying the songs to the way they are delivered. There’s an integrity to her music which demands your attention. During one of those gig conversations, as mentioned above, someone whose opinion I rate highly called her “the best singer/songwriter in Scotland at the moment”. Listen to Spectral and I think you’ll find it hard to disagree. From it, this is ‘Magic 8’:

Half Formed Things – The Apostate

Half Formed Things album To Live In The Flicker opens and closes with the peal of church bells, and the songs in-between each tell their own tales, like chapters in a book, not unlike Tindersticks, or, and I don’t say this lightly, The Blue Nile – with each song working individually but coming together to create an even greater whole. Other influences I detect are David Sylvian, Kate Bush, and late-period Talk Talk, with a similar sense of space being evoked. That suggests ambience, yet the music is always insistent – it will not be ignored. There’s a sense of momentum to the album – like glimpsing scenes from a moving train, you’re not quite sure what you’ve just witnessed.

That’s what the first listen to Live In The Flicker is like, you know you’ll have to listen again, and again, to try and understand fully. From the opening ‘Flicker’ to the closing ‘The Calm’ you are taken to another place by a soundtrack which makes your head swim – with instruments being used for different purposes – drums and cymbals take the lead, piano riffs keep the rhythm, and harmonies (oh, the harmonies!) becoming an instrument all of their own.

So make room in your lives for Half Formed Things’ Live In The Flicker as it may just be your new favourite album – or maybe, for you, just a very good one. Ultimately you decide, I can only guide. You certainly won’t hear another album like it until they make their next one. Scottish Album of the Year? Half Formed Things may just have made an album for the ages. This is the live version on ‘The Apostate’.

Broken Chanter – Wholesale

An now – a track from an album which was one of the most eagerly awaited of the year, and a video featuring friend of SWH! and Olive Grove Records hi-heed-yin, Lloyd Meredith, tied to a pole in the middle of nowhere. The artist is Broken Chanter and the track is ‘Wholesale’, and if it’s an indicator of the quality of the rest of the album (*Spoiler Alert – it was) then we are all in for a treat.

As anyone who has been to a Broken Chanter live show knows ‘Wholesale’ has quickly become a highlight of the set, and rightly so as it is Celtic pop at its finest, with David MacGregor’s world weary vocals (for Broken Chanter is he) beautifully offset by heavenly harmonies and a band playing at the peak of their powers. They include Audrey Tait, Jill Sullivan, Gav Prentice, Hannah Shepherd, Kim Carnie, and Emma Kupa – just about the most super-group you could imagine. If the summer starts with Half Formed Things and Live In The Flicker it could be rounded off nicely by the Broken Chanter album. Phew, what a scorcher! In the meantime, enjoy ‘Wholesale’, video and all:

Anna Sweeney – Way Back When

Those of you who know me well will know that there are few things I treasure more in life than a great pop song, and that’s just what you are about to hear. It is Anna Sweeney‘s latest single ‘Way Back When’ and it is one of those tracks which could come to define a summer – revelling in nostalgia for better, simpler, days in a manner similar to classics of the genre such as ‘The Boys Of Summer’ or ‘Summertime’ (or ‘Summertime’) the slick pop production carrying more than a hint of melancholy.

It’s where the Jackson 5 meets Haim and they both ‘Want You Back’. Play it once, play it again – play it all summer long – ‘Way Back When’ is a song which once it has its hooks in you will not let go. Sit back, relax, and surrender.

Flying Penguins – Antimony

New favourite band alert!!! Flying Penguins released their latest single ‘Antimony’, from the EP Bodies & Artefacts, and it swiftly became a firm favourite, reminding me of some of SWH!’s best-loved musicians such as King Creosote, Modern Studies, Lomond Campbell, Admiral Fallow, eagleowl – basically those bands who make classy, affecting, and poignant music which puts you in that state of musical melancholia which feels just right.

It’s rare to discover a band who feel like you’ve been listening to them for years when you haven’t, but that’s how I feel about Flying Penguins – as if they were the soundtrack to a better time, and the memory of that has just come back to me. I’m sure there is a word for that feeling, but before we all rush to find out just what that is – sit back, relax, and enjoy ‘Antimony’:

Zoe Graham – Gradual Move

New music from Zoe Graham is always met with great cheer round here. A musician who first came to our attention with the excellent Hacket & Knackered EP, she soon became a must-see live act any time she was on tour. Recently named the Best Acoustic Act at this year’s SAMAs, Graham is one of the most assured, individual and interesting artists around, with a musical style which is all her own, blending melancholy vocals with a distinctive guitar style and understated electronica.

Her latest single, ‘Gradual Move’, continues to move Graham further away from her acoustic roots towards writing increasingly complex yet carefully crafted songs which remain intensely personal. It suggests Zoe Graham is about to take things to another level and we will all be the beneficiaries of that. It just could be that 2020 is her year.

A fine selection, we hope you agree. In all honesty it could have been twice the length and more. You’ll be able to listen to our podcast That Was The Year That Was: It’s The Best Of 2019 Podcasts – (Music)… this coming weekend, and don’t forget to tune in to the Postcards From The Underground on Sunday 8th to hear what SWH!’s favourite albums of 2019 are.

We’ll be back soon with more reviews of the best new music around…

Tokyo Storm Warning: A Review Of Scottish Opera's Iris…

Scottish Opera’s Opera In Concert series is a musical highlight of any year, and their latest production at Glasgow’s City Halls was Mascagni’s Iris. These concerts are in many ways opera in the raw with the orchestra and chorus, conducted by Music Director Stuart Stratford, taking centre stage. This is an all too rare chance for the audience to see the dynamic of the orchestra in full effect, and it’s as fascinating as it is awesome.

It’s also a chance to witness the power and control of opera singers up close and personal, with the cast at the front of the stage, either sitting or standing, with literally no place to hide. As much as you may love the full theatre Scottish Opera experience, with the lavish sets, lighting, props, etc, there is something pure and immediate about seeing opera presented in such a straightforward way. You can concentrate intently on the music, and the plot. Which brings me to the heartbreaking tale of ‘Iris’ herself.

Set in Japan in the Edo period, Iris is a dark and disturbing tale which proves to have parallels with high-profile recent events. The titular character is tricked and kidnapped from the family home, where she lives a peaceful life with her blind father, and taken to a geisha house of ill-repute in the city. It is made abundantly clear that Iris is little more than a child, still playing with dolls and entranced by puppet shows, and while her story is shocking, as it should be, it doesn’t take much to bring to mind recent stories of child slavery, sex trafficking, and more examples of such exploitation in evidence today.

Across the board Iris’s innocence is lost at the hands of men, with even her father turning against her, but while it can feel at times as if she is being punished for simply being a woman you are left in no doubt as to where the blames lies. Masculinity has rarely been so obviously toxic, and the theme of the abuse of power runs throughout. If this sounds unremittingly bleak (it is opera after all, where happy endings are rare to say the least) it is saved by the humanity of Iris’s story, and the thought that this is theatre, and as with the puppet play which took place on stage, it is there to make us think as well as feel, and in this Iris ticks all the boxes.

Mention must be made of the music as well which marries east and west traditions in often subtle ways. Japan has long been used as a backdrop in opera, with Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly perhaps the most well-known. In Iris instruments are adapted to put you in mind of the traditional sounds of Japan, with the playing of the double bass particularly effective – a sort of ‘Kubo & the Four Strings’.

Iris is one of most powerful and moving operas I have seen, a real tour-de-force from everyone involved. Rarely staged today, this was another example of Scottish Opera resurrecting a lost classic and making it vital and relevant for a modern audience. It was directed by Scottish Opera’s Staff Director Roxana Haines and you can hear Roxana talking all about her life, work, and her role in the company on the Scots Whay Hae! podcast from earlier this year, which you’ll find here – The Scottish Opera Interviews #6: Staff Director, Roxana Haines.

You can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

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

As we begin to move towards the end of the year many minds start to turn to Best of the Year lists and countdowns. However there is still great new music being made and released right here, right now, and the latest review looks back at best from the last month to prove just that.

With the return of old friends and the arrival of new, it’s a heady mix which does tend to reflect the diversity and trends of the year as a whole. There’s plenty of contemplation, meditation, and good vibrations in evidence, with artists often looking back to move forward. There’s also exciting and experimental electronica, classic pop tunes, old school indie with a twist, and the continuing rebirth of the cool, all courtesy of some of the best musicians, singers, and songwriters around. Musically speaking we are living in good times. Read on and I’ll prove it to you…

New music from Zoe Graham is always met with great cheer round here. A musician who first came to our attention with the excellent Hacket & Knackered EP, she soon became one of those live acts who you go out of your way to see whenever the opportunity arises. Recently named the Best Acoustic Act at this year’s SAMAs, Graham is among the most assured, individual and interesting artists around, with a musical style which is all her own, blending melancholy vocals with her distinctive guitar style and understated electronica.

Her latest single, ‘Gradual Move’, continues to move further away from her acoustic roots towards writing increasingly complex yet carefully crated songs. It suggests Zoe Graham is about to take things to another level and we will all be the beneficiaries of that. It just could be that 2020 is her year.

And while we’re talking welcome returns, Anna Meredith is back. An enigmatic, experimental, and extraordinary musician, she had quite a 2019, not only releasing her latest album FIBS but also her score for the celebrated film Eighth Grade, and the digital album Song for the M8, two tracks from which were used on the Oscar winning movie, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. To paraphrase Mugatu in Zoolander, “She’s so hot right now!”.

But for all Meredith’s marvellous collaborative work, it is her own music which most interests me, and FIBS proves that feeling to be the right one with songs which work their way into your subconscious and set up camp there. While there are influences on show to be noted and admired, it’s fair to say that no-one sounds quite like Anna Meredith and that’s what makes her so very special. From FIBS this is ‘Inhale Exhale’.

Quiche have featured on our pages before, and there are very good reasons for that. They are a band who are hard to pin down, but that’s why you’re reading this so here goes. We called their last single ‘Grey Matter’, ” a mod-inflected psychedelic song reminiscent of The Kinks or The Zombies”, because it was. Their latest single, ‘Silhouette’, is something quite different, yet still recognisably made by the same band.

If ‘Grey Matter’ was steeped in the ’60s, this begins like a ’70s or ’80s rock ‘n’ soul ballad which could have been written by 10cc, Christopher Cross, or Paisley’s very own Gerry Rafferty, before building to a climax more reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr or The Afghan Whigs. However, rest assured, Quiche are a band who are much more than their record collection. They are making psychedelic rock music, which has a fine yet often overlooked tradition, with style and substance. If you think they’re not for you, then think again. This is ‘Silhouette’.

It’s quite common to see bands who amaze live but can’t quite transfer that magic to the recording studio, and I’m honest enough to admit I had that concern with Fat-Suit, a band so accomplished that they have to be seen to be believed. I need not have worried as Waifs & Strays, their latest album, captures what makes them so special and more.

Another band who refuse to make life simple for reviewers by being easy to pigeon hole, they incorporate jazz/funk/folk/fusion, and I’ve never written that combination of genres on these pages before. The following track, ‘Mombasa’, shows their virtuosity and vitality off to full effect and proves that Fat-Suit are musicians at the very top of their game, revelling in playing as much for themselves and each other as for anyone else. Thankfully we all get to reap the rewards.

The Girl Who Cried Wolf are one of the best things to come out of 2019, creating classic pop songs with a real edge. Their previous singles, ‘Way Back Down’ and ‘Second Best’ introduced us to the dynamic duo, singer/songwriter Lauren Gilmour and drummer Audrey Tait (who had a hell of a year, also playing with Broken Chanter and St. Andrew’s Fall, two more of 2019’s outstanding bands).

The latest release, ‘Oops’, builds on that promise and suggests that they are only getting warmed up. Tait and Gilmour are also music producers and it shows – the production on the track as tight as an Audrey Tait drum, with not a note wasted or out of place. There are hooks so sharp you could do yourself an injury, understated synths and keys, drums which work both as lead and rhythm, all backing Lauren’s smooth and soulful vocals. On paper it shouldn’t really work. In reality it’s fantastic. Take a listen and take notice of The Girl Who Cried Wolf.

It’s always a pleasure to discover new bands and songs. It’s one of the main reasons for writing these reviews in the first place! New to SWH! are Etape whose single ‘Human Touch’ found its way into our home and hearts. It’s where guitar-led indie meets electronica, putting me in mind of a lo-fi Hot Chip, Foals or alt-J with a simple yet insistent riff building to a crescendo of drums, guitar and vocals. Recently to be found supporting SWH! favourites HYYTS and Brighton’s Ralph TV, Etape may just be getting started but you can’t help but feel that they are one to watch in the coming year. Keep ’em peeled. This is ‘Human Touch’

We are going to end this review with two of the finest singers at work at the moment. The first is Kohla, whose latest single ‘Gorgeous’ has the feel of Zero 7, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba, early Goldfrapp, Lamb – in fact many of yours and my favourite records from the late ’90s/early ’00s, but with a production, sound and attitude which makes it feel utterly of the here and now.

But what really sets this apart from the trip-hop crowd is Kohla’s voice which is melodious, moody and magnificent. ‘Gorgeous’ deserves to be heard as far and wide as possible as it will noticeably make your day better, and possibly make you better as it’s a song to help cure what ails you. Do yourself and others a favour – listen closely, and pass it on…

If you have been a regular gig-goer in Scotland over the past few years you may well have been lucky enough to have seen, heard, and marvelled at the singer/songwriter known as Kitti. A jazz chanteuse in the torch tradition of Billie Holliday, Sara Vaughan and Dinah Washington, she has a voice that speaks of an old soul, someone who lives and breathes the music she sings.

Her new single ‘Chasing The Crowd’ shows what she does to full effect, with tasteful yet essential R&B backing allowing that voice to be front and centre. Glasgow in particular has long had a vibrant and thriving jazz scene, but it’s having a particular moment right now and Kitti takes her rightful place at the very centre of it.

That’s all for now. We hope you’ve discovered something to your taste.

Our annual Tracks Of My Year list will be with you soon with SWH!’s best songs of 2019, but in the meantime you can catch up with the back catalogue of our SWH! Radio New Music Monday Playlists here, and there’s a new one to enjoy each week.

New Musical Success Special: SWH! Premieres Blue Tiles’ ‘Never Stand A Chance Alone With You’…

Scots Whay Hae! has a long and loving history with Edinburgh record label Errant Media and their twin driving forces Sean Ormsby and Stephen McLaren. It’s one which goes back to the days of Permawhale Records when Sean was part of Night Noise Team, and Stephen was in the band Collar Up, and it was sealed when the two appeared on the SWH! podcast where they set out the ideas and inspirations behind Errant Media.

Since then the label has become home for their recorded output, producing a small but perfectly formed back catalogue which includes releases from Errant Boy, Locked Hands, Stephen McClaren’s solo work, and Sean and Stephen together as Blue Tiles, an electronic duo who used to be known as Shards and whose music I loved from first listen.

Blue Tiles have an album out, the unusual but aptly named Melancholitronica, and you can hear the latest release from it right here and now as Scots Whay Hae! has the exclusive first play of ‘Never Stand A Chance Alone With You’.

Haunting yet urgent electronica matches the mournful vocals and thoughtful lyrics. Like the very best pop music it hooks you in with its melodies, and then breaks your heart without you realising it. It is sharp, sensual, and soulful, made by two musicians who understand each other perfectly. Put all of that together and it makes for the perfect introduction to the album, and what Blue Tiles do. Listen now and see that I’m right…

Ten years in the making – as long as SWH! has been in existence – with the release of Melancholitronica it feels like a great lost album of the last decade is finally with us just as it comes to a close. I am here to tell you it’s been well worth the wait.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #8: Music Librarian, Gordon Grant…

Gordon Grant in Scottish Opera’s Music Library

For the latest in our series of podcasts in conjunction with Scottish Opera SWH! spoke to Gordon Grant, the company’s Music Librarian. What unfolds is a fascinating insight into a role which few consider when they think of opera but which, as you will hear, is a vital one.

Crucially involved in productions from the very beginning to the final curtain fall, Gordon explains what the role entails, how he came to it, the importance of close collaboration, and what are the challenges and constrictions when it comes to the musical score. 

As well as being SO’s librarian Gordon is also in charge of their supertitles, the written translations and text which have become an important part of opera and he explains the technicalities faced. Overall it’s an engrossing conversation which looks in detail at an individual role but which will give you a greater insight into Scottish Opera as a whole.

These podcasts attempt to give greater understanding into the workings of Scottish Opera and the different roles of those involved, lending a rare and engaging appreciation of Scotland’s largest national arts company.

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, with Spotify, 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:

The next Scottish Opera Interview will with you soon.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.