Shake, Rattle & Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Review Of Martin St John’s Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer…

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When I first heard about Martin St John’s Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer: The Tambourine Years 1984 – 1987 I thought it would purely be for the demographic who once owned a pair of leather trousers, consider Forever Changes by Love as one of the greatest albums ever made, and who have a treasured copy of Sonic Flower Groove in their record collection. That would have been fine by me as it’s a demographic to which I, and our kid, are both proud to belong. This was always going to be a book for me and those like me. What’s perhaps more surprising is that it’s a book for you as well.

Martin St John was on tambourine and psychedelic vibes for the newly formed Primal Scream between 1984 and ’87, and the book relates the story of the group way before Andy Weatherall and Screamadelica brought them world-wide success and infamy. In it St John tells the tale of “six Glaswegian garage heads hell-bent on acid, hard kicks and psychedelia”, and does so with such gusto that you cannot be helped but be carried along in his wake.

The hardest thing for any writer is to get their voice across, but Martin St John’s is loud and proud, clear and irrepressible. Words and phrases are CAPPED UNEXPECTEDLY, exclamation marks regularly make their point, and the end result is all the better for it. I can guarantee that most writing class tutors, or editors, would insist such flourishes were removed, and I’m happy to have an argument about the negative results of that another time, but the way this book is written not only fits the writer, it fits the story he has to tell.

Everyone in the book has their own persona. Bobby Gillespie is “Bob G”, the late Robert Young is known as “Dungo” before he swapped one nickname for another and became “Throb”, and Jim Beattie is simply “Beattie”. There are cameos from the likes of “The Brat” and “The Rich Bitch”. It’s also a “Who’s Who” of the indie music scene of the day, full of definite articles – The Pastels, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Shop Assistants, The Soup Dragons…even bloody Bogshed get a mention.

It’s a book that will win you over with St John’s good humour and bonhomie. Even when he has a go at other bands and scenes (no fan of anoraks or Scottish white-boy soul) he does so with the good nature and assuredness of someone who is confident in his own style and tastes. The judgments are black and white. The Cramps are loved, Duran Duran are detested, and there are many such proclamations. The book is laced with references to great music. The Dukes Of Stratosphear, The 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – St John is offering the uninitiated a whole alternative musical education, and it’s one worth taking note of. His ‘Top 20 Turntable Sounds’ from each featured year are worth the price of the book alone.

The title is telling, with “Confessions of…” alluding to the, weirdly popular at the time, Robin Askwith films of the 1970s, and while the humour is nowhere near as broad as that may suggest, it is a peculiarly British story being told. One about pubs used as the unofficial band HQ (The Griffin, Glasgow drink fans), kipping on sofas and in kitchens, and decorating with silver foil. The writer always retains a healthy sense of the absurd, and the psychedelic. If Ken Russell had decided to direct a film with a Glasgow indie band instead of The Who, St John’s book would have made a fine script.

It’s funny how you get a run of books which just work well with each other, and that has been the case in the last month. They have include David Keenan’s post-punk Airdrie novel This Is Memorial Device (& he also features on a recent SWH! podcast), Cosi Fanny Tutti’s Art, Sex, Musicand Sam Knee’s A Scene In Between: Tripping Through The Fashions Of UK Indie Music 1980 – 1988 . Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer brings all of these together. There are references to the art/rock of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, mention of scenesters making the trip from ”scary Airdrie”, and St John appears in Knee’s book on pages 115 & 117 with the band. Proof, as if more were needed, that he knows cos he was there.

Martin St John has written a book which should be read by fans of Primal Scream and those who are interested in the indie music scene of the ’80s, (which appears to be having its moment in the warm glow of the nostalgic sun). It’s as close to a prescribed text as you’ll get. But even if this is not your music – if you have ever been in or near a band you’ll recognise lots of the stories and characters in Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer. It’s the story of the last gang in town who are ready to take on the world which will resonate the most, and how the sniff of potential success sows the first seeds of doubt and disharmony. What you get in spades was what it was like to be there, and how much fun was being had for the most part.  Personally, if I read a more entertaining book this year I will be both surprised and delighted.

Here’s Martin St John talking to The Fountain about the book:

And to take you back, way back, here are the teenage screamers in their leather trewed pomp with our hero in full effect:

You can listen to the Tambourine Man in the flesh reading from Psychedelic Confessions Of A Primal Screamer at The Carlton Studios on 13th May as part of Psychedelic Festival II.

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The Art Of Deception: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks Ten Writers Telling Lies…

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In the latest podcast Ali talks to Jim and Pat Byrne and Samina Chaudry about Ten Writers Telling Lies,  a music and literary project which has various writers and poets work collected together, as well as having them collaborate with Jim on accompanying songs.

On the podcast you’ll not only hear all about the project, its beginnings and how it has grown, but there are also a couple of examples of Jim’s songs, as well as Samina reading her short story, ‘Taxi’. It’s a fascinating undertaking which deserves to be read and heard by as many people as possible. Continue reading

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

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My, but there’s some classy music being made out there. The world may be falling down around our ears, but it’s got a hell of a soundtrack to accompany it. Who would have thought the end of days could sound this good?

The majority of those who feature in this roundup have appeared before, but we make no excuses for that as they all have excellent new music to share, and we have impeccable taste. Too much? Listen below and say we’re not right…

This Saturday (22nd April) is Record Store Day when you’ll be offered all sorts of collectibles and rarities to prise your hard-earned from your back pocket. It’s going to be an overwhelming choice, so let SWH! help by cutting the glorious wheat from the acres of chaff. This is the day Teen Canteen release their latest EP Sirens on Last Night From Glasgow, and having heard it I can guarantee you it will rank among your favourite records of the year, or your money back*. Continue reading

Future Present Tense: A Review Of Kenneth Steven’s 2020…

2020_cover.jpgLet’s begin at the end. On the final page of Kenneth Steven’s novel 2020 there is a significant Publisher’s Note which states, “Difficult though it may be to believe, the novel was not directly inspired either by the Brexit referendum or by the more recent events in Europe, the USA and around the world.” It is an interesting addendum, and understandable as there is little doubt that many would jump to the conclusion which it refutes. The reason being that Kenneth Steven has written a novel which so fits the here and now that it feels like his 2020 could be just around the corner.

I write this review the day a general election has been called, one which promises further division and increasingly extreme reactions to events and statements as people are preoccupied with individual political issues rather than along party lines, and it needs only a small leap of imagination to think that what transpires in 2020 could become prophetic. Continue reading

Back And Forth: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To David Keenan…

bHQj2XzwFor the latest podcast Ali spoke to writer David Keenan about his novel This Is Memorial Device. Anyone who has read the Scots Whay Hae! review of the book will know how highly we rate it, and it’s fascinating to hear David talk about the influences behind it, why it was always going to be an Airdrie novel, the reasons the book is structured as it is, and so much more.

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The two race through many subjects, including the legacy of post-punk, the importance of the art and music of Scottish small towns and David’s compulsion to write. This includes further novels, his journalism, and non-fiction,  (England’sHidden Reverse  is especially highly recommended) although whether talk of a West Of Scotland take on Lord Of The Rings is serious we’ll leave for you to decide.

We’re calling it one of the most interesting and engaging podcasts yet, but listen for yourselves and see if that’s a bold claim or not. If you aren’t intrigued enough by the end to read This Is Memorial Device then, frankly, we haven’t done our job. Continue reading

Take The High Road: A Preview Of Ashley Cook’s Step We Gaily, On We Go Exhibition…

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If you’re thinking about where to go and what to see this Easter weekend then the place to be is The Braemar Gallery for Ashley Cook‘s exhibition Step We Gaily, On We Go which has its opening from 2.30pm on Saturday 15th April and which runs to the 29th May.

For this exhibition, Ashley has taken some of Scotland’s best known and loved imagery and given it a modern makeover with a very personal twist, and where better to exhibit such work than the place many consider to be the heart of Scotland, both geographically and historically. Continue reading

Isle Be There: A Review Of David F. Ross’s The Man Who Loved Islands…

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Those who have read David F. Ross’s first two novels The Last Days Of Disco and The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas  will approach his third with anticipation, excitement but also a little regret as it promises to be the closing part of his “Disco Days” trilogy which means no more Max Mojo, Bobby Cassidy or Joey Miller and no more music from Heatwave Disco or The Miraculous Vespas. But put aside those fears for now and rest assured that if The Man Who Loved Islands is to be their swan song, they are leaving the stage in some style.

This is a more mature book than the other two in both content and approach. Having previously been taken back to the ’80s we are now in, or are at least quickly approaching, the present day, aside from some timely flashbacks to explain how we got here. While once the main characters had their life before them, for the most part full of promise and potential, Ross now concentrates on them as 50-something men reflecting back on their lives and finding them wanting. Continue reading

Breaking Glass: A Review Of Nasty Women…

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404 Ink’s collection of essays, Nasty Women, is unlike any other you’ll read this year, and probably for the foreseeable future. That in itself is a reason for its existence and its importance. Collecting accounts from various contributors, it comments not only on “what it is to be a woman in the 21st century”, but, when taken as whole, it asks any reader to consider their own attitudes and beliefs on a range of subjects, both specific and general. It’s also a reminder that the written word is the most nuanced, complex and complete way to tell stories and relay truths.

The importance of Punk is visited throughout. The ideas and ideals of the movement – (which have always been more important than the music itself) often mask a reality where individual and collective sexist and often abusive behaviour betray those professed principles. This is nothing new, and I recommend Cosey Fanni Tutti’s biography Art Sex Music and particularly Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys as evidence of this. In the latter Albertine describes how she and her fellow Slits were patronised and attacked, from inside as well as out. What they refused to be was ignored. Continue reading

New Musical Success Special: The Premiere of The Strange Blue Dreams’ In My Nature…

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We have long been fans of The Strange Blue Dreams at SWH!, so new music from them is always greeted with whoops, cheers and hollers. Previously on these pages we have said, “Taking ’50s influences and rockabilly stylings and adding a dash of country, (and even some southern gothic), to proceedings, they are one of the tightest and most captivating bands around. Exuding effortless cool, and knowingly noir – if you get the chance to see them live you really must.”

Well now you can see if they are as good as our word as Holy Smokes presents the launch of The Strange Blue Dreams’ new EP Towards The Warm Place at MacSorleys in Glasgow, Saturday 8th April. If you need further convincing, here is an exclusive play of one of the tracks, ‘In My Nature’:

Yesterday Once More: A Review Of David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device…

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What makes a cult novel is hard to define, but here goes. It will alienate as many people as it attracts. It will pitch itself against the status quo, answering the question “What are you against?” with “What have you got?”. It will display attitude, angst, anger and alienation. Such novels are often culturally aware and precisely of their time, yet the best ones are timeless. They are also unapologetic in their attitude of not giving a fuck. You either get it or you don’t. If you don’t, move on – nothing for you here.

Great Scottish cult novels include Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam, Toni Davidson’s Scar Culture, Martin Millar’s Lux The Poet, and Duncan McLean’s Bunker ManAnd then there’s Trainspotting, which is a reminder that cult does not necessarily mean unknown. Way before the film it was a book which was handed around school playgrounds, and shoplifted from John Menzies. Cult novels should be infamous, not necessarily unfamous or obscure. A Clockwork Orange, Naked Lunch and American Psycho can all be called cult, but are also best-sellers. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is his great cult novel, rather than the lesser known Doctor Sax. This is because the former chimed with and helped define the Beat Generation, and the latter shows that hanging out at William Burroughs’ house can seriously damage your muse. Continue reading