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

So much great new music, so little time! Over the last few weeks there has been a delightful deluge of damned good tunes in many styles, forms, shapes, and sizes. By the time we hit October you can usually start to tell how a year is going to be judged and 2019, against many odds, is turning out to be a brammer.

This month we have songs from three of the finest albums of the year, one of the most intriguing and important EPs of any year, a new favourite who feels like an old friend, a local-to-SWH! band who may have released one of the best pop songs for ages, an unexpected and fine cover version, and the return of a national treasure with a tune to break your heart. Strap yourself in – it’s going to get emotional…

We have welcomed Broken Chanter to these pages before but make no apologies for doing so once again, especially as the eagerly awaited self-titled album was released last month. It’s quite simply one of the finest collection of songs this year, (or most years), with David McGregor proving that he is a writer of songs which once heard are not easily forgotten. If the name is familiar then that’s because he was integral to Kid Canaveral for many years, but this album takes his music to another level entirely.

If you want a gauge of the standing in which McGregor is held by his peers then you only need to look at those involved with this album. They include Audrey Tait (The Girl Who Cried Wolf, Hector Bizerk), Gav Prentice (ULTRAS), Jill O’Sullivan (Sparrow and the Workshop, bdy_prts, Jill Lorean), Hannah Shepherd (eagleowl, Withered Hand), Emma Kupa (Mammoth Penguins,) & more. But, for all the talent involved this feels like an intensely personal project, songs which are torn from a life lived, and not always easily. At once expansive yet intimate, it’s a record which marries hard-times to hope, and we could all do with some of that. This is ‘Should We Be Dancing’:

Oblivion & Beyond is the new EP from Distant Voices, the musical project created by Vox Liminis, which is an arts and community organisation working with people involved in all parts of the criminal justice system in the Highlands area. Distant Voices sees some of Scotland’s best songwriters collaborating with people who’ve experienced the criminal justice system in one form or another. On Oblivion & Beyond the songs were co-written by musicians Donna Maciocia, Fiskur, Martha Ffion, Raukarna, and Jill Lorean in workshops which took place in communities and prisons.

The tracks, most of which have a tie to Inverness, are about the rather intangible notion of ‘recovery’ and examines just what that means. It’s a record which is as important as it is excellent, which adds to the current discussion about crime and punishment (see also Fergus McNeill’s Pervasive Punishment project), and once again shows how music and art can aid wider discussion and understanding. This is ‘Autopilot’, featuring Jill Lorean & Lee:

Alasdair Roberts has been in a musical vein of form in recent years that few others could boast, with recent releases including What News with Amble Skuse and David McGuinness, his work with Green Ribbons, and with The Furrow Collective. Undoubtedly a proud serial collaborator, his latest release, The Fiery Margin, is a solo affair (albeit made with a one of the finest bands around), and it is arguably his best yet, bringing all his knowledge and understanding of the traditions of folk music to bare on his songs, but lending them a distinctly contemporary feel, something we have come to expect from Roberts. Nobody does it better. This is ‘False Flesh’:

Future Pilot AKA, aka Sushil K Dade, has long been one of the more experimental and interesting musicians around, and a new album from him is always a cause for celebration. So have a shower, and then phone your brother up, as that’s exactly what we have. Like Alasdair Roberts (above), Dade is a man who loves a collaboration, and his latest, Orkestra Digitalis, lets no one down.

Nine years in the making, it’s an album which was not originally destined for wide release, proposed as a one-off edition in the format of a picnic hamper, but luckily it was decided that we all deserved some nourishment. Featuring Emma Pollock, Ron Sexsmith, Robert Wyatt, R.M. Hubbert, Mairi Campbell, and Mulatu Astatke, this is a record which gives up more of its many secrets with each listen, and you’ll want to do so over and over. From it this is ‘The Art Of Good Breathing’:

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’:

Ian Smith from Last Night From Glasgow got in touch last month to say that Foundlings had a new single coming out and would I like to hear it. Of course the answer was yes, as he knew full well it would be, but he gave me no further clue as to anything else about it. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover an excellent cover of ‘I Love You All’, a track from the Jon Ronson/ Lenny Abrahamson film Frank, inspired by Ronson’s relationship with Frank Sidebottom, and which has Michael Fassbender on vocals.

How do you approach that? Well, if you’re Foundlings you stay faithful to the original and showcase the song to full effect. If the above paragraph means little to you then press play below. I’m not saying all will become clear, but your life will be notably better. In the name of Frank…

I may have mentioned it before, but Scottish pop music is in fine and rude health, and the final two tracks of this review make that point perfectly. First up are Slouch, a Glasgow band whose single ‘Duplicity’ has had a couple of plays on the SWH! show on LP Radio (news of which soon) and it has been as warmly received as anything played on the show so far. It’s a song which gets its hooks into you early doors and refuses to let go. If John Hughes was still making movies this would be solid soundtrack material, most-likely playing over the closing prom scene as the credits start to roll. ‘Duplicity’ is pure pop and it makes me hugely excited about what Slouch do next. Share the anticip…ation…

When we have our regular end-of-year chats at SWH! (which we record as podcasts – doesn’t everyone?) Bossy Love always receive a mention as one of the best bands around, especially when seen live. By doing what they love to do with no apologies – making R&B inflected pop music which takes their influences and make them all their own – they are a band like no other, and it is little wonder that the devotion they inspire is so strong. Their latest single, ‘Me + U‘, is a winning mixture of strength and vulnerability with Amandah Wilkinson’s unmistakeable vocals never better. Imagine a track Prince wrote for TLC then forgot to send, with all the sadness that entails, and you’ll have some idea as to what you are about to listen to. It’s also the perfect end to this review. This is ‘Me + U’:

That’s all for this month but we’ll be back before you know it with another selection of the best new music around. See you back here soon…

Passion Play: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Tosca…

Every so often you go to an event where the excitement and anticipation among the audience beforehand is palpable, and that was the case at the opening night of Scottish Opera’s Tosca at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal. You could feel it building in the walk up to the doors and by the time the curtain was raised the atmosphere was electric. With such anticipation this Tosca had a lot to live up to but luckily for all of us it managed to and so much more.

The stage in Act One was set in the Roman church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and it reflected the wealth of the church itself – using marble greys, sepia, and burnished gold as its main colour palette, every so often given a splash of colour of white and papal purple by visiting cardinals, priests, choirboys, and cross-bearers, as well as the yellow and red of the Swiss Guard. It was an imposing set, made more atmospheric by the way the stage was lit from the side rather than from above, the long shadows cast adding to the sense of foreboding that something wicked was on its way.

That something wicked came in the form of Baron Scarpia, the Chief of Police who is determined to steal famed singer Tosca from the arms of her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, by any means necessary. Played with a real sense of menace by Roland Wood in the finest tradition of the theatrical villain (and proving the adage that “the devil has all the best tunes”), he and his gang of fascisti followers strode the stage as if they owned it. However, even for them there is increasingly the sense that this tale is not going to end well, something only strengthened by the brief appearance of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini.

By this point we had already witnessed the depth of feeling that Tosca and Cavaradossi have for each other, with Natalya Romaniw and Gwyn Hughes Jones being at times loving, passionate, playful, jealous, and everything in-between as their love is threatened by circumstances as well as Scarpia’s evil intent. As events unfold they reveal just how far they are prepared to go for each other, and what they believe in. These two characters have the most to suffer, and Romaniw in-particular expressed the highs and lows of being in love in a manner which at times was almost unbearably moving. Hers is a Tosca to whom others will aspire.

This is an especially cinematic production, with a distinct style to each act. Act One had the look and feel of Derek Jarman, with religious iconography and sensuality interweaving, and the passion of the artist to the fore. Act Two had more than a hint of Martin Scorsese, with corruption, violence, and betrayal, looked at with an unflinching and often brutal eye. Act Three, with the stage dominated by a huge statue of an angel at Castel Sant’Angelo, was Wim Wenders meets Powell and Pressburger – the perfect setting for the fatal final acts. Whether you know the story of Tosca or not the end still has the power to move and shock, something which is a testament to everyone involved.

This Tosca is a production to get lost in, to be overcome by and surrender to – resistance is futile. Often with longer pieces of theatre you are aware of audience members checking their watches or shifting in their seats. I didn’t witness one example of this on the night as the audience was rapt from beginning to end, completely absorbed by what was unfolding on stage. If that sounds like something you would like to witness for yourself then you can do so in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Edinburgh. If it doesn’t, then go to the top of the page and start reading again. I’m sure you’ll change your mind.

Cosmic Entities: A Review Of Amadeus & The Bard…

In the fourth of our Scottish Opera podcasts we spoke to the Director of Education & Outreach, Jane Davidson who explained the ways SO reach out to all areas of Scotland, and work with all age groups. The latest example of this in practice was Amadeus & the Bard: 18th Century Cosmic Brothers which has just finished a tour some of the High Schools, Academies and museums of Scotland before ending its run in Glasgow.

The final shows were held in Scottish Opera’s Edington Street building, which has a wonderful performance space. The Bard in question is Robert Burns, and he was well represented in body as well as spirit at the performance SWH! attended with at least one fellow national Makar, as well as an actor best known for his portrayal of Burns, in the crowd. They were part of an audience whose aged ranged across the generations, and who were immediately involved with the show, greeted at the door by the players themselves with wonderful musical accompaniment. This, as Burns would have wanted it, was a performance where all were made welcome.

As the title suggests, this was a tale of two geniuses, Burns and Mozart, affectionately referred to as Rabbie and Wolfie. To distinguish them on stage a simple but effective wardrobe technique was applied, with a green coat for Mozart, and a blue one for Burns. The two were compared and contrasted, but it was the similarities of their lives which were the main focus, with Rabbie’s words and Wolfie’s music interweaved throughout.

Born three years apart, both died in their mid-thirties, they achieved fame, if not fortune, for their music (Mozart) and their words (Burns), and are more celebrated today than they had been in their all-too-brief lives. Staged in the convivial setting of Burns’ favourite boozer Poosie Nansie’s, the regulars tell tales of the two men’s lives, loves, and losses – referencing their most famous work as they do so. As matters progress the two stories are brought closer together, until a mash-up of Don Giovanni and ‘Tam O’Shanter’ proves a supernatural and devilish highlight, before a rousing ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ brings matters to a suitable and moving conclusion with the audience joining in.

With their eagerly-awaited production of Puccini’s Tosca beginning this Wednesday, Amadeus & the Bard: 18th Century Cosmic Brothers was a reminder that while Scottish Opera is rightly known for its spectacular, large-scale productions the work they do on a smaller scale, all around the country, should be acknowledged and supported, and on this showing, and the reaction to the current ‘Opera Highlights Tour‘ (SWH! review here), they are rightly receiving both.

West End Girl: Pat’s Guide To Glasgow West End Is 20…

This week sees Glasgow’s OB (Original Blogger) Pat Byrne’s Guide To Glasgow West End celebrate its 20th anniversary. When it comes to supporting the arts & culture in Glasgow few have shown the passion, commitment, and enthusiasm that Pat has and to keep that burning for two decades means that this is a significant, and inspirational, milestone – one which should not go without comment.

The stats (right) speak for themselves, but it is the joy, warmth, and breadth of knowledge that Pat brings to her role as THE premier champion and chronicler of all things West End that makes her stand apart. Her editorial stance is to share, celebrate, and enjoy the things she is passionate about – one which chimes closely with SWH!

Although being a regular reader for years, I only really got to know Pat and her husband Jim when they asked me to get involved with the Ten Writers Telling Lies project, which married short stories and poetry to Jim’s songs. Since then they have become firm friends, and I always know I’m at a good event when I see Pat’s smiling face in the room. I for one will be raising a glass in her honour and I’ll hope you’ll join me. Here’s to many more.

For a great overview of the previous 20 years I recommend reading this interview Pat gave to Ian Marland for Glasgow WE recently – Guiding Star

And here is the podcast with Pat, Jim, and Samina Chaudry which Ali recorded in 2017 where they talk all about Ten Writers Telling Lies.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #6: Staff Director, Roxana Haines

Roxana Haines. © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

For the sixth in our series of podcasts in conjunction with Scottish Opera Ali spoke to Staff Director, Roxana Haines. It’s a fascinating and informative discussion with someone whose job brings her into contact and collaboration with most areas of the company.

Roxana explains her professional journey, her training in theatre and how that translates to the specific demands of opera, her role in terms of productions and the challenges that different ones bring – with particular reference to the current ‘Opera Highlights Tour‘ and the opera for young children ‘Fox-tot!‘ – and a lot more.

Through it all her enthusiasm and love for what she does shines through, and we hope you enjoy listening to the conversation as much as we did recording it.

Roxana with the cast of Fox-tot!

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 in November.
In the meantime you can find all The Scottish Opera Podcasts in one handy place.

The Alternative View: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Richy Muirhead…

For the latest podcast Ali caught up with Richy Muirhead, the founder and creative director of the Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMAs) which is celebrating its 10th year. It’s a timely conversation as this year’s nominees have just been announced, and Richy reveals who they are and what awards they are up for.

What follows is a fascinating chat which covers the origins and history of the SAMAs, an explanation of the criteria, the categories, this year’s nominees, notable previous winners, building partnerships, the importance of the live show (this year on October 25th, St Luke’s, Glasgow), and lots more.

There are also 5 tracks from some of last year’s winners, including Declan West and the Decadent West (Rock/Alternative), Lylo (Live Act), The Dunts (Newcomer), Solareye (Hip Hop), and Megan Airlie (Acoustic). Ali also offers the point of view from a SAMAs nominator, so hopefully you’ll end up with a better understanding not only of how the awards work, but also the aims and ideology behind them.

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 podcast will be with you very soon, but in the meantime you can also check out our series of Scottish Opera Podcasts.

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

They say the best things in life are worth waiting for and, although this review is a tad tardy, we hope you’ll find plenty to please you. It’s been a great summer of music and what you are about to hear shows that quality was maintained right up until the turning of the leaves.

There’s the long-awaited return of an old favourite, two great EPs for the price of one, a couple of bands releasing their best songs to date, brand new artists to us, well-kent friends in new guises, and even more ranging across a number of genres and styles. While there may not be something for absolutely everyone, we can guarantee there’s something for you…

Beginning with Dumb Instrument and their new album Doubt – and I think we’ve proved our point already. Dumb Instrument may be best known for their 2014 track ‘Suffering From Scottishness’, an alternative national anthem which seemed to capture a time, a place, and the feelings of many. Just this year it was appropriated by recent podcast guest Kevin P. Gilday as the title of his Edinburgh Fringe show. When you take into consideration other fan favourites such as ‘Jaffa Baws’, ‘Buckfast vs. Hash (The Battle Continues)…’, and ‘Missing Grannies, you’ll begin to realise that this is a Scottish band who are determined to define what that means on their own terms.

But even if you only know them from that one song then you know enough to recognise the poignant, tongue-in-cheek, and often laugh-out-loud lyrics which make them stand apart. The songs on Doubt strengthen that reputation and make clear that this is a band like no other. There is a strong whiff of nostalgia on tracks such as ‘High Jumper’, ‘That Stupid Wee Lassie From Elderslie’, ‘Venus In A Cardigan’ and ‘Drunk In The Playground’, but they never stray into the territory of the maudlin or mawkish. Rather Dumb Instrument play with the past, and the Scottish tendency to mythologise it. It’s what they do best, and it’s great to have them back. No ifs, buts, or doubts. This is ‘High Jumper’:

As regular readers will know, our admiration for Olive Grove Records knows no bounds. The simple reason is that they only release music of the highest quality. The artists they have worked with have impeccable musical credentials making their back catalogue a thing of beauty, and Olive Grove something of a national treasure. To that we can now add The Archipelago EPs 1&2 – Vol 1 from Jared Celosse and Vol 2 from Chrissy Barnacle (with further volumes to follow).

Jared Celosse has appeared on these pages before with his beautifully understated melancholic songs, and his EP shows what many of us have known for some time – that he is one of the finest songwriters around. When you marry these songs to increasingly interesting and intricate production and instrumentation, as happens on Archipelago Vol 1, it makes that point better than ever. From it this is ‘Wave’:

Chrissy Barnacle is another singular talent who once heard is never forgotten. She rightly has garnered a reputation as an artist who holds audiences in the palm of her hand with vivd and personal stories told through song, accompanied suitably by her physical yet intricate style of playing guitar. Great live performers can be difficult to capture on record but Archipelago Vol 2 shows exactly what makes Chrissy Barnacle so special. Her music is an attempt to reconcile conflicting feelings of hope and despair and few do so in such a magical and memorable manner. This is ‘Witches’:

Dundonian duo ST.MARTiiNS have been making classy and canorous pop for a number of years and a new release from them is always a reason for cheer. Their most recent single ‘My Girl‘ is, to these ears, their best yet capturing the essence of their music which has always married melancholy to melody. It has the feel of reverie – with Katy Lynch’s effortless and understated vocals perfectly capturing and enhancing the mood. The song is a celebration of friendship, but there’s also an underlying sadness that such friendships are increasingly rare as time passes. Or maybe I’m just feeling wistful. That’s how good ST.MARTiiNS are – able to effect your mood in just two minutes. Now that’s what I call music… This is ‘My Girl’:

But just when you thought our golden summer of pop was over, CAFOLLA turns up to postpone any thoughts of hibernation or slumber with the single 1985, rightly identifying it as a year when many things began to head south. It’s a belter of a track, like being slapped around the head with a Cameo album. There may be some poetic licence involved lyrically (my milk was snatched many years before) but you get the point clearly, and when it is made in such a catchy and infectious manner then who cares? CAFOLLA offer us a ‘Sign Of The Times’ for our times, and if we ever needed someone to bring the funk it’s now. Send the children and pets from the room, turn on, tune in, and dance as if no one is watching:

Beginning life as the outlet for the music of Ryan Buchanan, Ryan & The Limbs are a breath of fresh air to the Scottish music scene. Having witnessed them live as well as listening regularly to their self-titled EP I can promise you they offer something new, yet reassuringly familiar. Musically they are differently diverse with the influence of indie, jazz, rock, and even classical in evidence, all coming together to make a memorable whole.

Let’s take the song ‘Axis and Atlas’ (below) as a prime example. There’s guitar reminiscent of Vini Reilly one moment, Jonny Greenwood the next, there’s the most wonderful rhythm section featuring drumming to die for, and the vocals are understated and mournful in the manner of Mark Eitzel or Elliot Smith. One of the best things about writing these reviews is discovering a new favourite band, and Ryan & The Limbs are the latest to join that club. You’re welcome.

One of the most creatively active groups around are L-Space, not only releasing new music under that name regularly (and you can hear the latest example in next month’s review), but also involving themselves in other projects. Gordon Johnstone has recently made Habitus One as Emi James, Stephen Solo’s third album was released earlier this year, and now bassist Dickson Telfer is involved with a new band, Vulture Party. Remember when Duran Duran split into Arcadia, Power Station and The Devils…actually, probably best not.

But everything the members of L-Space touch at the moment is proving to be memorable, and long may this golden streak of creativity continue. Certainly Vulture Party are well-worth your attention based on the release of their single ‘New Humans’. It’s an atmospheric song which is reminiscent of the great dark-pop bands of the ’80s – early Human League, All About Eve, The Psychedelic Furs, even touching goth with echoes of Bauhaus. Downbeat and dark, and with an excellent, and suitably eerie, video from Adam Stafford, you have a feeling that Vulture Party are one to watch. This is ‘New Humans’.

And finally, Man of the Minch, aka Pedro Cameron, who recently released two singles simultaneously, ‘Undertow’ (below) and ‘Better Off Alone‘. When taken together they make the best music he has made so far, and that is saying something when you consider his album Helping Hands was one of the best of 2017. ‘Better Off Alone’ is indie-folk at its finest – a barnstorming track with melodies, hooks, and riffs all combining and building to a quite stunning crescendo. This is music to keep you warm as the nights draw in.

‘Undertow’ shows the other side of Man of the Minch – the one which doesn’t just break your heart, but rips it out before handing it to you with a sincere apology. There are few musicians who manage to convey the highs and lows of relationships as Man of the Minch can, and there are even fewer who can move me as this Man and his songs. I think this is just gorgeous, and the perfect place to end this review. This is ‘Undertow’:

There goes the summer! But before you know it there’ll be another review along soon.

While you wait, remember that SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Tuesday nights, 7-9pm, where you can hear Ali play 2 hours of the best Scottish music around.

You can catch up with the previous shows, along with all the other fantastic LP Radio shows, by following the relevant links in the sidebar.

SWH! Is 10…

Today (25/08/2019) marks the 10th anniversary of Scots Whay Hae!, making it the perfect time to thank all those who have supported and helped along the way.

So – with a sharp intake of breath – thanks to every writer, poet, and publisher, who has shared their words, wit and wisdom with us. The same goes to all the bands, musicians, record labels and promoters who have sent us music and songs to listen to and review. Similarly, those artists, filmmakers, theatre companies, comedians, and festivals, who have invited us to view their previews and shows. We know your art and work is something which is vital and central to who you are and we appreciate you choosing to share it with us. It’s a privilege to be able to write, review, discuss, and celebrate it, and it’s a responsibility that SWH! takes seriously.

Huge thanks to all our podcast guests, some of whom you can see in the pictures at the top of the page (as well as some ever-evolving facial hair). The first was recorded in July 2011 and we are at 122 and counting. Number 123 is with American writer Elle Nash and will be with you soon.

If you have missed any you can find them here – SWH! Podcasts.
When taken together we like to think they are an informative and entertaining record of a contemporary Scottish culture which is thrilling, thriving, and diverse.

Ian Gregson

Special thanks must go to our sound guru Ian Gregson (right), without whom there would only be silence, and Sarah Jane Gregson for her undying support and advice. Also to our regular end of year reviewers Chris Ward, Vikki Reilly, and Wesley Shearer, and our resident ‘Dr Books’ Ronnie Young, all of whose expertise has been essential.

We are grateful to, and thankful for, our various partners over the years, including Dear Scotland, ASLS, Scottish Opera, LP Radio, and Braemar Gallery. If I have forgotten to mention others then please remind me and I will add them to this list, with sincere apologies for a memory failing.

Also kudos to the bloggers, podcasters, critics, journalists, broadcasters, and other cultural contributors, who have inspired and supported SWH! over the years. It means more than you could possible know and I hope that you feel the support and appreciation is mutual.

But most of all thanks to you, Dear Reader and Listener, as it would be fairly pointless doing this without you (although we probably still would). We value and treasure each and every one of you.

Before moving on, it’s worthwhile reflecting on the very first post which set out the aims and ideas behind Scots Whay Hae!’s inception. It’s encouraging to find that it is as relevant now as it was a decade ago, and hasn’t really changed at any time. Here it is in full so you can decide for yourself. In the meantime, ‘Cheers!’ & here’s to 10 more…

Why Hae?

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This is a little mission statement as to the reason for creating this website. Contemporary writing and commentary that deals with Scottish art and culture often obsess over questions of inclusion and exclusion, questions that usually arise from the thorny issue of nation. This blog aims to, if not ignore such questions, demote them to the sidelines as all aspects of art and culture are discussed and dissected.

I cannot deny that I am Scots, writing in Scotland, and will concentrate (although not exclusively) on Scottish writers, poets, music, films, TV, art, comedy etc, but ‘where and when’ is of far less importance to me than ‘what and why’. Discussions can be had elsewhere as to what is or is not Scots and often they become a barrier to the enjoyment of that which is under discussion.

And that is what this blog is really for, to celebrate, debate and enjoy art in its widest sense. To deal with the art itself, and allow discussion and comment that looks at the old and new anew. To not take too seriously something which I take very seriously indeed. We have an ongoing relationship with our respective cultures throughout our lives and it is important to remember the relationship as it was when first consummated. The joy, wonder and the reason we fell in love in with bands, films, poems and books. Like all relationships it changes, becomes more ‘serious’ as time goes by, and although I cannot pretend that a wary, weary and cynical side will be suppressed fully, (nor would I wish it so – where is the fun in that?) I want to focus on my belief that art in all its forms can give us a reason for living better lives.

The first post proper are thoughts on John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti. What struck me is the way that Byrne created a thoroughly Scottish drama, one that wears its roots and knowledge easily, giving reference to outside cultural influence without apology, and does so with a light touch and a self-mocking sense of humour.

It is in this spirit that I write this blog. Of course this may change at any time, but until it does please excuse the indulgence and read on…

Alistair Braidwood 25/08/2009.

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

Summer 2019 continues to provide a memorable soundtrack with something for everyone’s taste, and this month’s review makes that point categorical and concisely – well, fairly concisely.

It’s a pleasing balance of old friends and new, with an album for the ages, the latest in a run of great singles, potential pop greatness, roots revival from the very best, indie with a twist, and some of the most atmospheric ambience of recent times. When brought together you have a selection of songs for most occasions.

Let’s begin. Tenement and Temple have featured on these pages before, but it would be remiss not to mention that their self-titled album is now with us as it is a thing of rare beauty – a perfect balance of strength and fragility. For those unaware Tenement and Temple are Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, who you may know from Thrum, Monica’s solo work, and numerous collaborations with others, including currently as members of The Gracious Losers.

But it is when together that their music is taken to another level, with Smillie’s understated yet insistent guitar underpinning Queen’s unmistakable vocals. What makes this such a special recording is that it’s an album which is clearly made for and about each other. When you look back at their musical careers you can see that’s what they have always done. Thrum buzzed with the fire of youth, a band discovering their sound and themselves, full of energy and enthusiasm. Now they are making music which makes perfect sense for them in the here and now.

Tenement & Temple the album is reflective, thoughtful, soulful and sublime and could only have been made by Tenement & Temple the duo. It is the perfect example of people working together to make something greater and more meaningful than they could ever do alone, and there is a lesson there for all of us. In a world going crazy Tenement & Temple offer peace, love and understanding, and we could all do with some more of that in our lives. From the album, this is ‘Loving Arms’.

‘a long wait for bad news’ is the latest single released by wojtek the bear and proves that, without fuss or furore, they have become one of those rare bands who have found their own sound and style, and combine them to give us great songs both musically and lyrically, each feeding into the other. I don’t say that lightly, so let’s look at the evidence. ‘dead from the waist up’, ‘oil & water’, ‘trivial pursuit’, ‘tonic youth’, and now ‘a long wait for bad news’ – that’s a hell of a run of form – one that anyone would, and should, be proud of. wojtek the bear are in it for the long haul. This is ‘a long wait for bad news’.

Sometimes a song finds it’s way to SWH! and blows us out of the water. That’s what happened with Galileo’s Fan and the title track of their forthcoming album I Won’t Be Found. It’s new music with an old soul – a song which lulls you into a false sense of perception, at once epic yet understated, with the vocals and music working together to offer a dreamy sound not unlike SWH! favourites L-Space and OK Button. It promises great things from Galileo’s Fan and I’m already eager to hear what they offer next. Play it once, play it again, and I’ll guarantee you’ll agree.

Another band new to SWH! is One Nine, who have just released their single ‘Difficult Days’. Up front and in yer face, yet laid back enough to stay the right side of anthemic, it’s a track bound to appeal to music lovers – immediate, memorable, and as hooky as that ‘Roll-ex’ you bought on holiday, all in under three-minutes. That’s how you do it – arrive, make your mark, and leave before people know what hit them. You get the feeling One Nine are only getting started. The future is bright.

Not just one of the songs of the last month, but with one of the most memorable videos of the year, Awkward Family Portraits‘ latest single ‘Ring Ring Angus!’ shows once more that they are one of the preeminent bands around, keeping the rock ‘n’ roll and roots tradition alive and thriving. Their album is out later in the year, and it is among the most eagerly awaited of 2019. Few bands live and breathe their music as Awkward Family Portraits do, and that is palpable whether recorded, or on stage. If you get the chance to see them play live then for goodness sake grab it as there are few finer, but in the meantime this is ‘Ring Ring Angus!’.

It’s been a summer of perfect pop, and Quiche‘s new single ‘Grey Matter’ adds to that list. It’s a mod-inflected psychedelic song reminiscent of The Kinks or The Zombies, but also the music of Matthew Sweet, Evan Dando, and Buffalo Tom. What comes over immediately is that this is a band who love playing music whether you like it or not, which, as is often the case, only makes you like them more. What’s that all about? While you ponder I suggest you listen to ‘Grey Matter’ and make time for Quiche. You may not know it yet, but it will all make sense in the end.

SWH! regulars L-Space’s last album Music For Megastructures was described as “a score for a city which does net exist yet”. It’s a fantastic record which I urge you to seek out, but it seems that band member Gordon Johnstone has even more urban landscapes and spaces to soundtrack. Under the name Emi James he has released Social Capital, an EP which works perfectly as an accompaniment to Music For Megastructures, and more. Possibly inspired by Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports, it makes you think about how music is used, could be used, and why.

I’m going to suggest what you are about to hear is the perfect end to any review. As Emi James, L-Space, Youth Team, Richard Luke, and others are proving, there is some incredible instrumental and ambient music being made in, and about, Scotland at the moment, and stanleystanley (Jordan Russell-Hall) further makes that case with his album beside myself.

It’s a wonderful marriage of electronic sounds and more conventional instruments which, echoing a point made in the review at the top of the page, sounds both intensely personal, timeless, yet perfect right now. It’s not a record to stick on in the background while you go about your day. It works best as an interactive album, one in which to lose yourself, but you have to want it. Put that down and pay attention at the back – this is stanleystanley and ‘palace of steam’.

That’s yer whack for this month – meet you here in September for more of the best in new Scottish music. 

But while you wait, remember that SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Monday nights, 7-9pm. 

You can catch up with the previous shows, along with all the other fantastic LP Radio shows, by following the relevant links in the sidebar.

The Scottish Opera Interviews #3: Programme Editor, David Kettle

For the third of our series of podcasts with members of Scottish Opera we spoke to the Programme Editor, David Kettle about his role and what it entails. He explains how he came to the job, the approach to writing a programme, the balance required between information and other articles and content, the collaboration required with the rest of the company, and much more.

If you have ever wondered, or even if you haven’t, how Scottish Opera’s beautiful programmes are put together then your questions are answered here. Below are just three examples that David has been involved with.

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, 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 be out in late August.

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