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

New music review, ahoy! At the time when voting for this year’s SAY Award opened (and you can nominate your favourites here) it’s heartening to reflect on just how much good music there is at the moment, in all shapes, forms and sounds. But before you head off to add to the list, here’s the latest review of the best new music to reach SWH! in recent recent weeks.

There’s a nice balance this month – at least we like to think so – not just in terms of the return of well-loved regulars and warm welcomes to the new-to-us, but also in the way that, as with the best stories, it has a beginning, middle, and an end. The perfect soundtrack to your weekend? It’s that and so much more, starting with…

..The Pearlfishers – and a long-awaited new album in the form of Love And Other Hopeless Things, the first since 2014’s Open Up Your Colouring Book. If you aren’t familiar with their music, boy are you in for a treat as this is a band steeped in classic pop. You can detect the influence of Bacharach, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Paul Simon, The Carpenters, Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout, and – well, you get the idea with that. Suffice to say that this is a band whose standards are set sky high.

This is in no small part down to David Scott, one of the finest songwriters/arrangers around. He appears to live and breathe music, as anyone who has listened to his essential BBC Radio Scotland series Classic Scottish Albums will know. Scott is the main driving force behind The Pearlfishers, and from the opening chord to the last his influence is clear in every note. Have I convinced you yet to investigate further? Then perhaps this will seal the deal. From Love And Other Hopeless Things this is ‘Could Be A Street Could Be A Saint’. Sit back, relax, and enjoy:

While we’re on the subject of Scotland’s finest, there’s a new single from Tenement & Temple, who are Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie. It’s called ‘Loving Arms‘ (the second single from their forthcoming album which can’t come quickly enough) and it is a thing of fragile beauty with Queen’s heartbreaking vocals and Smillie’s understated guitar proving the perfect partnership.

This is appropriate as, while the two regularly collaborate and work with others (to great effect), Tenement & Temple feels intensely personal, a statement of who they are individually, but, more importantly, who they are together – making music, and creating an ambience, which is theirs alone. ‘Loving Arms’ is a song which can’t fail to move you. Are you ready to be heartbroken…?

Andrew Howie contacted SWH! last month to suggest we listen to his latest music, and we couldn’t be happier that he did as his new single ‘Fragile‘ is really something special. That slightly unwieldy term ‘folktronic’ sprang to mind on first listen, but the song needs further explanation. As its title suggests, it’s a song which is delicate, but it’s also insistent – creating an atmospheric sound which demands repeated listening.

For SWH! regulars I’ll go with some familiar references. It’s the place where Blue Rose Code meets OK Button, or if Findlay Napier were remixed by L-Space – and hopefully you’re beginning to get the idea as to what Andrew Howie is about. Of course, the easiest way to do that is to listen to ‘Fragile’ right here, right now:

Also new to SWH! are HYTTS, whose single ‘Car Crash Carnivore‘ is one of those dance tracks that has the people who say they don’t dance out of their seats and on the floor before they even realise it. It’s a belter of a tune – falsetto vocals, finger clicks, disco beats, and a pop production which is pitch perfect. It was then no surprise to find out that Gary Clark (of Danny Wilson/King L/Sing Street fame), has been a musical mentor to HYTTS as few know their way around a pop song like he does. ‘Car Crash Carnivore‘, like much of the best electronic music (and the best clubs, come to that), hints that something dark is going on, and is all the better for it. Are you dancing?

With each release wojtek the bear get better and better, adding new ingredients to an already winning formula. The latest single is ‘tonic youth’, a wry reflection on, and ironic paean to, so called wasted youth and the long-lasting influence of those ‘wonder years’. There are few bands better at marrying acerbic lyrics to a deceptively upbeat and melodic soundtrack, in the long and fine tradition of Jimmy Webb, Elliot Smith, The Beta Band, and far too many others to mention here. Prick up your ears – while you were looking elsewhere wojtek the bear have become one of the best bands around. This is ‘tonic youth’.


This review sees the return of many of SWH!’s favourites from through the years, and that certainly applies to PAWS, who initially won us over with their 2012 album Cokefloat!. Last month saw the release of Joanna‘, the first single from their new album Your Church On My Bonfire – also out now. It can be double-edged to suggest that a band have ‘matured’ in terms of their lyrics and music, but believe me when I say that in the case of PAWS it is absolutely meant as a compliment.

If their first three albums were the riotous soundtrack to the mother of all parties, Your Church On My Bonfire is something different altogether as it picks up the pieces and reflects upon what comes after, with Phillip Taylor’s songs examining life’s more sombre and sobering challenges and the way we try, and often struggle, to deal with them. It’s a record which reveals more with each listen, and it’s shaping up to be one which will stay long in the hearts and minds of those who hear it as it makes you reflect upon your own lives, loves, and losses. In all honesty, I can’t recommend Your Church On My Bonfire highly enough. This is ‘Joanna’.

Discovery of last month for me was the music of Glasgwegian composer Richard Luke, his collaboration with Scottish Chamber Orchestra violinist Amira Bedrush-McDonald, and the album Glass Island (and thanks to the legendary Jockrock for bringing them to my attention). It’s an achingly beautiful record where classical meets electronic music and they make each other better – the perfect late-night/early morning listen when you want to immerse yourself in sound that makes everything in the world seem alright, despite contrary evidence.

Out now on Canadian label Moderna Records, Glass Island could just be the record we need right now. If you’re a fan of the likes of Murcof, Nils Frahm, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, (and if you’re not, you should be) then this is your next favourite album. From it this is ‘Everything a Reason’, but believe me one track is not enough – you need the whole for full effect.

Long terms visitors to SWH! will know the high esteem in which we hold Siobhan Wilson and her music. After the well-deserved critical success of her 2017 album There Are No Saints she is back with new songs which prove she isn’t going to stop now. She is one of those musicians who carry with them a guarantee of quality and confidence in her music and songs.

Exhibit A is ‘Marry You’ with understated grungey guitars and drums supporting Wilson’s effortless vocals, reminiscent of Kristin Hersh or early Cat Power. It suggests that the forthcoming album, The Departure, is going to cement Siobhan Wilson’s reputation as one of those musicians whose records are essential – with no collection worth its name truly complete without them. While you wait for its release on May 10th, this is ‘Marry You’.

Meet you here next month for more of the best in new Scottish music. But while you wait – 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.

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

Without wanting to go in too heavy in these days of storm and stress, music becomes increasingly important to help make sense of, comes to terms with, or just forget for a while, the world and its woes. The future may be uncertain but against such a backdrop 2019 is proving to be a rich, varied, and exciting year in terms of Scottish music, as the following review will evince.

Some may say that’s small and insignificant comfort, but they are wrong. It’s important and necessary comfort, and we hope time spent with the music featured will make your day, and give it an appropriate soundtrack. There’s understated anthems, songs of fragile beauty, experimental compositions, exciting collaborations, the personal, the political, the melancholic, and the uplifting. If you don’t find something to love then we have failed you and ourselves…

First off, it’s a case of “say hello, wave goodbye” as A Mote of Dust release their new album A Mote Of Dust II while simultaneously announcing their, and musical maverick Craig b‘s, retirement. As I’m sure you’ll know, Craig b was an integral part of Ganger, Aerogramme and The Unwinding Hours before recording as A Mote Of Dust, and it’s a quite remarkable musical legacy with nary a bad song to be found from the beginning to the (in this selfish reviewer’s opinion) premature end.

The album launch/farewell gig at Glasgow’s Mono recently showed clearly just how much Craig b is respected and loved as it was packed not only with fans but also many of his musical contemporaries. I doubt anyone else was reviewed in Glasgow that night judging by the number of music writers and bloggers also in the room. So it’s a fond farewell and bon voyage to A Mote Of Dust and Mr b. If you want to show your appreciation, or discover just what all this fuss is about, get yourself a copy of A Mote Of Dust II. To convince you further, this is ‘Slow Clap’:

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’:

Citizen Bravo is the latest musical project from Matt Brennan, one-time member of the much-missed Zoey Van Goey. He has his debut album, Build A Thing Of Beauty, released on Chemikal Underground but that is only part of the story. It is also part of, and soundtrack to, Brennan’s research project which includes a film, The Cost Of Music, and an incredible one-off interactive musical sculpture called the SCI★FI★HI★FI, which will tour as part of a series of public lectures in 2019.

It’s a fascinating undertaking, one which should be of interest to any music lover as Brennan looks to the history of music making, and consumption, to better understand the present and even the future. But while that is important, it would mean little for this review if the album wasn’t quite extraordinary. With a lyrical wit and insight reminiscent of Neil Hannon, a band made up of some of the finest musicians around, and a judicious use of samples, you have a record unlike any other you are likely to hear in many a year. Inform, educate, and entertain – Citizen Bravo ticks all the boxes. From the album this is ‘Limbs and Bones’:

In the space of just a few singles OK Button have proven themselves to be one of the most exciting new bands around, one who aren’t afraid to mix the political with the often intensely personal, and all to the most exquisite soundtrack. Their latest, ‘Grenade’, is arguably their finest yet, but then I previously said that about ‘The Message’, ‘Beds’, and ‘Flesh & Blood’. Suffice to say that their debut album is shaping up to be something rather special and one off the most eagerly awaited of recent times.

The band’s atmospheric electronica, and Amber Wilson’s heavenly vocals, lull you into a false sense of security and before you know it you’re floored. OK Button are going to be playing Aberdeen at The Tunnels with SWH! favourites L-Space on July 27th which promises to be a musical match made in heaven, so I recommend grabbing your tickets while you can. While you mull that over, this is ‘Grenade’:

Josephine Sillars featured recently on these pages as guest vocalist on Frog Costume’s excellent ‘A Daydream’ which, while a treat, made you long for new music from her all of her own. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long. Her latest single ‘Skeleton’ sees Josephine reunited with The Manic Pixie Dreams, and features Spring Break’s DJ Butterscotch. It’s a winning combination of ska-inflected pop, hip-hop, and Sillars’ velvet vocals, with a social-political message at its heart that has never been more relevant. It’s a fine example of the sort of agit-pop song which is all too rare these days in that it makes you dance and makes you think simultaneously. More of this sort of thing:

Next up, it’s the welcome return of Sacred Paws, last seen riding into the sunset clutching a well-deserved SAY Award for 2017’s Strike A Match. How do you follow such a success? Well, if the first single from their forthcoming LP Run Around The Sun is anything to go by Sacred Paws are going to do what they did before only better. As soon as it starts up ‘The Conversation’ (for that is its name) puts the listener at ease with the unmistakable drum and guitar sound that we have come to know, love and cherish. Sacred Paws are back with a vengeance and the world is a far better place for it:

How you feel about the next song will depend how you feel about the music of the mid-late 1980s. If, for you, it was only ever The Smiths, The Wedding Present, The Cure, The Woodentops, The Fall – and many other artists with the definite article – then move on, nothing to hear here. But if you had space in your life for Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and even, god help us, Alphaville, then Michael Oakley takes you back, way back, to that time and place. Oakley’s latest single is ‘Left Behind’ (from the album Introspect) and it is as nostalgic for the ’80s as Max Headroom drinking a can of Schlitz. If you’re going to go with Michael Oakley’s ‘New Retro Wave’ then you have to embrace it fully. Go on, try it – what have you got to lose?:

And finally…it’s the Sonic Bothy Ensemble with their album Fields – a record which almost defies definition, but here goes. It’s an experimental, at times unnerving, surprising, and always exciting composition. If you like your ambient music more challenging than chill out – think Harold Budd, Philip Glass, Tim Hecker – then you’ll love Fields. It’s an album which has you believing it’s going to be one thing, then pulls you in a completely different direction altogether.

Whereas many ambient albums are little more than aural wallpaper, Sonic Bothy Ensemble force you to listen, encourage you to engage, and never allow you to settle. It’s quite the most intriguing, hypnotic and thought provoking composition I have heard this year and I’ve been returning to it most nights (often late at night) since that first listen. If you want to know more about Sonic Bothy Ensemble then click here, but I would suggest you first settle back, relax, open your ears and mind, and expect the unexpected:

We told you it was good. Meet you here next month for more of the best in new Scottish music. But while you wait – 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.


Sunday Service: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Silvano…

2019/20 Programme

A quick look at Scottish Opera’s 2019/20 programme (right) makes it clear that the company are reaching for a balance between the old and the new, the classic and the experimental, the expected and the unexpected. It’s a tough act to pull off as there will be those who think that a national company should concentrate on the tried and tested. Others will think their remit should be groundbreaking and challenging. While you can’t please all of the people all of the time, Scottish Opera give it a good go.

While the coming season has productions of Puccini’s Tosca, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, there is also the promise of John Adams’ Nixon In China, an original piece called Amadeus & The Bard which looks at the similarities between Mozart and Robert Burns, and, most intriguing of all, Missy Mazzoli’s adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s controversial film Breaking The Waves. Add to those the Opera Highlights Tour, the Scottish Opera Young Company production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, children’s opera Fox-Tot!, and various pop-up events, and you can see that there is something for everyone, but also everything for some of us, reaffirming Scottish Opera’s reputation as a company of national and international renown.

And I haven’t yet mentioned the Opera in Concert series which puts the Orchestra (conducted by musical director Stuart Stratford) centre stage. The latest of these was at Glasgow’s City Halls on Sunday, the rarely performed Silvano. It is a dramma marinaresco, literally translated as a “seafaring drama”, by the Italian composer Pietro Mascagnic – a classic love-triangle, which, if literature, poetry, and country & western music has taught us anything, never ends well. Set at the Adriatic coast in central Italy, the plot revolves around the rivalry of two fishermen who are in love with the same woman. The drama climaxes in a duel which ends, unsurprisingly, in tragedy.

In many ways this is opera in its purest form. Being able to see as well as hear the majestic music that the orchestra makes, and the skill and passion with which they make it, is a rare treat. This style of concert is one for music lovers as you also get to concentrate on the power and purity of trained opera singers’ voices. Aexey Dolgov as Silvano, David Stout as Renzo, and Leah-Marian Jones as Rosa were all magnificent, but when Emma Bell hit the high notes as Matilde you feared for the City Halls very foundations. With strong support from the chorus in the balcony, this was a tour de force of orchestration and performance.

I have been attending and reviewing Scottish Opera for almost four years now and I can honestly say I haven’t yet had a bad experience, and more often than not have had an unforgettable one. You can find out more about what the coming season holds over at Scottish Opera, and I urge you to take a look at what’s on offer and, if you haven’t yet done so, take a chance on at least one of the shows. If you’re anything like me you won’t look back.

Musical Youth: The SWH! Podcast Talks To SOYC Artistic Director Jonathon Swinard…

For the latest podcast Ali headed to the home of Scottish Opera in central Glasgow to talk to Jonathon Swinard, the new Artistic Director of the Scottish Opera Young Company (SOYC) ahead of their production of Gluck’s Orfeo & Euridice (see right) at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock.

Over the past few years Scots Whay Hae! has reviewed many of Scottish Opera’s productions so it was a pleasure to talk to someone at the heart of the company, especially one whose concentration is on youth and the talent of tomorrow. 

As Jonathon explains, the Young Company offers the opportunity for the next generation to perform on stage, work with an orchestra, and hone their craft helping to create a legacy with real impact. The two discuss the aims of SOYC and Jonathon’s role in achieving those, overcoming preconceptions, and how Scottish Opera is managing to reach out to all ages and areas in Scotland.

Although shorter than usual, it’s a podcast which manages to pack a lot in offering a rare and fascinating insight into one of Scotland’s cultural institutions, and we hope it will encourage you to give Opera a try if you haven’t already.

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:

Thanks to Scottish Opera’s Press Officer, Emma Ainley-Walker, for arranging the interview with Jonathon, and credit to Sally Jubb for some of the images used.

Our next podcast will be with you soon, so don’t go too far…

 

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

..although it’s more like the best new music from the last six weeks as this review is long overdue. But, working to the saying “better late than never”, we are offering you eight examples of the quality, diverse, and sheer magic music which found its way our way in recent times.

There are old friends and new, presenting instant classics, indie pop, rock, folk, electronica, and many other random words which could also be crammed into a sentence such as this. Never mind such clumsy attempts at description, it’s all about the music, and what sweet music it is.

We begin with Lola In Slacks and their single ‘Postscript In Blue‘ which 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:

Sometimes a band come along and knock you sideways, ticking so many of your musical boxes it’s as if someone has been rifling through your record collection. That was the case with the first listen of ‘Atrocities‘ by Dundee’s Stoor. There’s XTC and Wire in there, followed by what sounds like the Psychedelic Furs if they were produced by Rick Rubin, before the appearance of glam rock riffs so bold Marc Bolan would have pinched them without batting a heavily mascaraed eyelid. Then it starts all over again and you pick up something completely different. Taken from their album Fleam, this is ‘Atroctites’ – prepared to be dazzled

The last few weeks saw the 3rd birthday of record label Last Night From Glasgow, who regular readers will be very familiar with. Suitably they celebrated with a party which featured music from Annie Booth, Cloth, Sister John, and Foundlings, one of their most recent signings. Their EP, also called Foundlings, is out now and it is a great introduction for the uninitiated to their angular and instantly memorable pop songs.

Exhibit A: ‘Enemy’, which sounds like a lost Cherry Red Records’ classic and is a must have for any discerning music lover. That’s right, I’m talking to you – you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. Everyone needs some Foundlings in their life, it’s just most don’t know it yet. Listen below and prove me right:

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.

Dead Fiction came to our attention last year with the release of their eponymous EP which announced them as a band to take notice of. Actually, you couldn’t ignore them if you tried as their epic rock sound makes them stand out in what is a crowded field. As if to prove that very point they are releasing three singles simultaneously on March 29th, ‘Modern Primitives‘, ‘A Plot or Spine‘ and ‘The Crux‘ out on Meraki Records, which may seem to be showing off, but as it promises to “mark the end of the current sound and line-up” you should make the most of them in this form while you still can. This is ‘Modern Primitives’:

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:

Frog Costume are new to these pages, but I have a feeling they’ll soon become regulars, certainly if their single ‘A Daydream‘ is any kind of indicator. It’s aching and understated pop which breaks your heart as only a great song can. Deceptively simple, yet packing an emotional and affectionate punch, ‘A Daydream’ is one of the best new songs I have heard this year and it makes me desperate to hear more. And any song which features the vocals of Josephine Sillars of The Manic Pixie Dreams fame is alright by us:

In these times of turmoil it’s good to have constants in your life, and Vukovi are definitely, and defiantly, one of those. Since first gracing these pages in 2015 with the single ‘Boy George’ they have regularly presented us with classic upon classic, and they are almost single-handedly responsible for restoring my faith in the heavier side of rock music (along with the late & lamented You Already Know).

They keep that run of success going with their latest release ‘C.L.A.U.D.I.A‘. All the elements are in place – imposing guitar riffs, driving drums, thumping bass, and Janine Shilstone’s soaring yet soulful vocals which add real feeling to their music. If you haven’t encountered Vukovi yet, then this is the perfect place to start:

That’s yer whack for now, but the next review will be with you before you know it as we try to catch up. If you have sent music expecting it to feature here dinnae panic – there’s every chance it could be included next time round. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who sends their music our way. It all gets listened to, and we couldn’t do it without you…

SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Monday nights, 7-9pm, and you can catch up with the previous shows, along with all the other fantastic LP Radio shows, right here –

LP Radio – Live

LP Radio – Previous Broadcasts on Mixcloud


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