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?

swhfavicon

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.

Melody Makers: The SWH! Podcast Talks To Half Formed Things…

Cover for ‘To Live In The Flicker’, credit – Louise McLachlan

For the latest podcast Ali went to Edinburgh to talk to Edwin McLachlan and Morgan Hosking, two members of Half Formed Things (unapologetically one of SWH!’s favourite bands). They talk about their astonishing album To Live In The Flicker, the origins of the band, what it’s like to work with close friends and family, the importance or otherwise of place, their shared philosophy, themes, influences, and a whole lot more.

Half Formed Things – (l-r, Morgan, Matthew, Nici, Edwin), credit – Louise McLachlan

You’ll also get two tracks from the album which will give you a clear idea as to just how good it is. And if the other two members of the band, Nici Hosking and Matthew Bakewell, disagree with any of what was said we are more than willing to record a follow up to give their side of the story! If you are interested in making music, or in how music is made, then this is a must listen, and one of the most in-depth and interesting podcasts to date.

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:

Here’s an extract from SWH!’s review of To Live In The Flicker,
“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.”
And you can read the full review here.

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

Man O’ Pairts: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Kevin P. Gilday…

For the latest podcast Ali headed to Glasgow’s Tron Theatre to talk to poet and polymath Kevin P. Gilday about his Edinburgh Fringe show ‘Suffering From Scottishness‘, his new collection of poetry ‘Sad Songs For White Boys‘ (right), his work with Cat Hepburn as the instigators and organisers of spoken word house party Sonnet Youth, his band Kevin P. Gilday & the Glasgow Cross, and a whole lot more.

It’s a fascinating chat, one which, when taken as a whole, is an instructive insight into what it takes to make your living as an artist today. All that and Kevin reads his poetry as well – we always aim to please!

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 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…

We try and make these reviews as varied and diverse as possible to showcase the full range of the music on offer. However, you can’t force these things and often certain themes, styles and genres dominate, and if we want to point you in the direction of the best music – and we do – then you have to face facts, and the facts are the following…

This month’s review is bookended by two of the best, and most thought provoking, albums of the year so far. Between them you will find a righteous celebration of great pop music, songs that will go some way to soundtracking your summer. When taken together you have a perfect balance of light and shade, yin & yang, upstairs for thinking, downstairs for dancing, and…well, you get the idea with that. What we always aim to give you is the best new music to reach us over the last month.

First off we have the double-album Crow Hill from Meursault, which is so much more than a collection of songs. The titular ‘Crow Hill’ is a town full of interesting characters whose stories need to be told, with each track doing just that. It’s dark, disturbing, and completely absorbing. It’s an album to get lost in as it demands your attention and time. You can’t just decide to sit down and listen to track 2, side 3. This has be listened from start to finish as it has a narrative throughline to follow.

The music can be delicate and harmonious, then moves to discord, storm and stress, and at one point almost primal scream (but not Primal Scream). If you want a comparison then I could suggest early-mid period Nick Cave, but not just his music – I would also ask you to consider his novel And The Ass Saw The Angel. But have no doubt – Crow Hill is a singular vision unlike any other. Some may call it a concept album, but that description sells it seriously short. It’s fiction, musical theatre, poetry, graphic novel, and more. Put simply, it’s art – using the personal to make comment on the universal. I recommend you invest, make yourself comfortable, dim the lights, put your headphones on, and take a trip to Crow Hill. And it is a trip.

If ever anyone deserves praise for their name alone it is surely Edwin Organ, a Glasgow-based producer and songwriter about whom little is known. Or, to put it another way, about whom I know little. But as TV detectives tell us you begin with the clues in front of you, and exhibit A is his single ‘Gabriel’. On first listen it’s a catchy bittersweet indie pop song in the vein of Tracey Thorn, Aberfeldy, Camera Obscura, or the Magnetic Fields. But after spending time with it, and absorbing his lyrics, you soon realise that Organ is looking at modern masculinity and wider societal considerations, all through the prism of exquisite and unusual music. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship – No shit, Sherlock.

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.

We all love a good comeback. Be it Elvis in a leather suit, or Robert Downey Jr in an iron one, there is something to be celebrated when the good and the great return to us once more. Which brings me to The Martial Arts who are back for the first time in a long time with a new EP, the aptly titled ‘I Used To Be The Martial Arts’.

The ‘I’ in that title is Paul Kelly, well-known to many Scottish music lovers having played with, and continue to play with, the likes of BMX Bandits, Ette and Carla J Easton, Radiophonic Tuckshop and many more. If a great pop record has been made in Scotland in the last 10 years or so there’s a good chance that Paul Kelly has been involved. I Used To Be The Martial Arts is a distillation of all the music he has played on and listened to – in that sense it’s essential, and evidence of a musician with a pure pop sensibility. From it this is ‘New Performance’.

New music from Emme Woods is always worth raising a glass to. Whether with full band or solo (or any incarnation in-between) she is one of those musicians you never want to miss live if you can help it as she is one of the most charismatic and commanding stage presences around. Arguably previous recordings have not quite captured the magic of the live experience, but it if her latest releases are anything to go by that is about to change.

Recently she gave us ‘Kill Yer Darlin’ and now we have ‘It’s Ma Party’ both of which pare the production down so that Woods’ unmistakable – unforgettable – vocals are rightly to the fore. The latter in-particular is a song to take to your heart and cherish, with grungey guitar and driving drums building to a crescendo. Both tracks are co-written with another SWH! favourite, Barrie James O’Neill, and that is a musical marriage made in heaven. This is ‘It’s Ma Party’.

Once a member of the SWH! family you are never let go – a bit like the Cosa Nostra. So it was with great excitement that we received the news that Arran Artic, a podcast guest from many years ago, and once regularly reviewed on these pages, was back making music with a new band, The Map Dept. They released a new single last month called ‘Carousel’ and while Arran’s vocals are unmistakable, this is a full band collaboration with everyone playing their part.

And that playing is exquisite, as can only be done by musicians who know exactly what they are doing. The sound is clever, ethereal electronic pop music, not unlike Tears For Fears or China Crisis, or, (taking my faded ’80s t-shirt off for a moment), Empire Of The Sun or Phoenix. If this is the shape of things to come then we are all in for future treats.

I’ve been waiting for this for a while. St Christopher Medal’s 2017 single ‘Wayne, Moon Pilot’, (complete with a reading of Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Bonnie Broukit Bairn’) was one of those songs which have come to shape SWH!’s musical identity, one we regularly recommend when people ask, or even when they don’t. There is now an album, Hoof!, which is a collection of carefully crafted and lyrically interesting songs (Including ‘WMP”) of the kind which are all too rare.

They include the latest single ‘Fallen Angel’ which is an excellent introduction. There’s unmistakably a Neil Young feel about it, in a similar manner to The Replacments, Wilco, or Ian McNabb’s solo albums. It is said that the best things come to those who wait, and if you, like me, have been awaiting Hoof! for a long time then I am here to tell you it was well worth it. Be prepared to make way in the ‘most played’ section of your record collection for St Christopher Medal and Hoof!.

We started this review with an intensely personal and individual collection of songs, and we are going to end in similar fashion. I bought Harry Harris’ latest album after just one listen to the title track ‘I Feel Drunk All The Time’ – sometimes you just know. The album is “a guide on how to stay cool when the world is ending”, and it has the feel of a man trying to make sense of a world in turmoil. And aren’t we all? Harris’ songs are searching, heart-breaking and thought provoking. And what thoughts. Like Crow Hill it’s an album for our times, and when you consider those times then both are appropriate and considered responses.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that I made such a connection with this record when you find out who appears on it. Harris has put together a supergroup of musicians who include Martha Ffion, Rosie Bans, Pedro Cameron (Man of the Minch) and Angus Munro (among others) – favourites of SWH! one and all. It’s an indication not only of Harry Harris’ impeccable credentials, but also how seriously his peers take his music, and so should we. I Feel Drunk All The Time is the sound of a man literally fiddling (or at least having a literal fiddler) while the world burns. It just so happens that sound is spellbinding.

That’s yer whack for this month – meet you here in August 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.

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

Live In The Flicker cover – credit Louise McLachlan

It’s interesting to write this after putting together two radio shows made solely from music featured on this year’s SAY Award Eliglible Album list (Yes, we have a SWH! radio show – haven’t I mentioned it? You can catch up with all the old shows here – SWH! on LP Radio). What it proved was that last year was phenomenal in terms of Scottish music, with a huge variety of styles and genres on show, and of such high quality it’s genuinely astonishing. It fair makes yer heart swell…

This month’s review proves that situation is not only continuing, but is arguably getting even better. Without a doubt it has been one of the hardest to compile as there was so much good new music released in the last month, and to whittle it down to eight was tough. There’s a mix of noisepop, jazz/folk, electronica, gaelictronica, singer/songwriters, American roots, and much more, including at least one album (at least one) destined to become an all-time classic. Think I’m joking? Perhaps exaggerating for effect? Read on and decide for yourself…

We are going to start with Half Formed Things. Regular readers of these reviews will probably be able to write this one for themselves as I have made it clear that when it comes to Half Formed Things it was a case of love at first listen, which would have been their eponymous EP back in 2016. Since then there are few things I have been awaiting with as much anticipation as their debut album, Live In The Flicker. Now it is with us and I can assure you, and me, that it more than lives up those high expectations.

The album 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.

How do you follow that? Well, what about a track from an album which has now become 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 is) 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:

What I love most about these reviews is discovering someone new to SWH! and falling hard for their music. Norrie McCulloch got in touch last month and kindly sent a copy of his latest album Compass. It is packed to the gunnels with great songs, with Norrie’s voice as smooth as a Speyside single malt.

There is some great American influenced roots music being made and played in Scotland at the moment, and Norrie has made a record which stands alongside the best of them, and which deserves to be heard far and wide. If you like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, together or as seperates, then this is for you. If Haight-Ashbury had sat at the foot of Stirling Castle this is the music you would have heard. This track is called ‘Road Sign’ and it is the very definition of a great song. Listen once, listen again, and before you know it you’re hooked.

I have probably seen Lizabett Russo live more than any other artist in the last 12 months, with L-Space possibly the only exception, and I can tell you that she never gives the same gig twice. There have been nights of traditional Transylvanian songs, film soundtracks, folk and fairy tales, and then there is her own music which is a mixture of them all. Her latest album is Something In Movement, made with her regular musical collaborator, guitar virtuoso Graeme Stephen, as well as Pete Harvey, Tim Lane, and Tim Vincent-Smith.

It’s a fantastic collection of songs in every sense of the word, with Russo’s voice never better. There seems to be a new-found confidence in her work, as if this is the album she’s been wanting to make from the start. Be under no illusion, Lizabett Russo is the real deal, and one of the most interesting and intriguing musicians around. This song, ‘The Hunter & The Prey’, makes that point perfectly:

Another new band to SWH! are Bad Protagonist Club but I’m sure this won’t be their only appearance on these pages. This single is ‘Verdant Forest (Waiting For Me)’ and it’s exactly the sort of pop song which works its way into your life without you noticing. You get up in the morning, it’s just there! There are chiming guitars, drums battered to within an inch of their lives, vocal harmonies as much shouted as sung, and bursts of energy followed by periods of contemplation, before it all kicks off again – like a kid whose tooth-kind Ribena has been replaced with Buckfast. This, in case you were in doubt, is a very good thing. And this is ‘Verdant Forest (Waiting For Me)’:

Amy Duncan has regularly appeared on these pages over the years, and the reason for that is she just keeps on making music which lifts the heart and soothes the soul (hell, it might even soothe Bad Protagonist Club). Her latest single, ‘Labyrinth’, is no exception, although, like most of the music featured in this review, there is a twist in the tale. In Amy’s case it’s the electronic sounds and jazz rhythms which appear halfway through and turn what is a perfectly lovely song into something altogether more interesting. Amy Duncan’s music makes the world a better place, and right now we need her, and those like her, more than ever. This is ‘Labyrinth’:

Animation by Tracy Foster

Previous podcast guests WHYTE are back with a new album, tairm (following on from the acclaimed Fairich) and to say it’s a thing of beauty is understatement in the extreme. Once again composer Ross Whyte’s electronic music underscores Gaelic songs sung by Alasdair Whyte, and their marriage is magical. The songs are based in the folk-tradition, but Ross’s music, perhaps unexpectedly, enhances that feeling rather than diluting it.

It helps that Alasdair’s vocals sound like they are sung by an old soul, and he clearly has an inherent understanding of what he sings and where it comes from. I mentioned the SAY Award at the top of the page and I genuinely think that tairm has a chance of being the first Gaelic language album in contention. Put aside any doubts you may have and join in as it’s a record which deserves to be heard by the widest audience possible. That includes you, by the way.

Braemar’s Youth Team also have new music for our pleasure in the form of the album Threshhold Experience and it is the result of Angus Upton (for they are he) spending a winter immersing himself in Krautrock, the works of Brian Eno, and possibly The Durutti Column if the title of one track is anything to go by – an excellent way to spend those long nights. It’s certainly been time well spent as Upton proves again he is one of the most exciting young musicians around today, and if you haven’t yet got his 2018 album Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (an eligible album for this year’s SAY Award) then I advise you to do just that. But only after you listen to the following. Youth Team are in it for the long haul and that’s a journey you want to be part of.

Meet you here next month 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.

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.