If this summer was defined by great singles from the likes of L-Space, Half-Formed Things, Errant Boy, and Radiophonic Tuckshop, to name just a few, then it looks as if Autumn is going to spoil us with some special albums. With the nights fair drawing in, the music featured this month shares a suitably reflective sensibility as some of our finest songwriters sing their songs accompanied by, and often collaborating with, like-minded musicians – warming hearts, firing minds and nourishing the soul as they do so.
We start with Annie Booth, who may be familiar to you for her work with Mt Doubt (more of whom later). Her solo album, An Unforgiving Light, is released in collaboration with Scottish Fiction and Last Night From Glasgow. It’s a wonderful collections of songs which work on their own but which make much more sense heard together, each feeding into the next. The songs are self-reflective in a manner similar to Elliot Smith and Cat Power, with Booth’s vocals carrying more than a hint of Jenny Lewis and even Beth Gibbons. Mournful, moving and magical, An Unforgiving Light is a record to treasure. This is the first single, ‘Chasm’:
How do you follow a cultural touchstone – something which captures a moment, stands aside from what’s around it, and which moves from the reviews to the news section of the papers? If you’re The Stone Roses, after a seminal debut, you lock yourself away for five years in the studio. If you’re Sam Raimi, you basically remake your breakthrough film, Evil Dead, with a bigger budget and call it Evil Dead II. And if you’re J.D. Salinger, challenged to write a sequel to Catcher In The Rye, you admit defeat.
Graeme Macrae Burnet is faced with following his Man Booker shortlisted His Bloody Project, which, partly due to the fact it was published by Scottish indie publisher Saraband, became arguably one of the most famous contemporary novels in the English-speaking world for a time last year. For many this daunting task would be overwhelming, but Macrae Burnet has tackled this potential problem in style by writing his own sequel, and a fine one at that, but to his debut novel The Disappearance Of Adele Bedeau rather than its more famous successor. Continue reading
For the latest podcast Ali talks to Peter Mackie Burns (below, right), the director of critically acclaimed new British film Daphne, starring Emily Beecham in the title role, and which has Geraldine James among the support.
The two talk about the film, the collaborative process of building the central character, the importance of place, the influences on the film, the secret to good casting, Burns’ earlier work, and how he got to this stage in his career. It’s a fascinating insight into the film-making process and much more.
Peter tells you where and when you can see Daphne, which is distributed by Altitude Films and produced by The Bureau, and you can learn all about it, and buy tickets, at Daphne.film. The name of the composer which temporarily slipped Peter’s mind is Sam Beste, and you can listen to the soundtrack by checking out the Spotify playlist.
But before we go any further here’s the trailer for Daphne:
A new Ron Butlin novel is always eagerly awaited, so his latest, Billionaires’ Banquet, is most welcome. Described on the cover as “An immorality tale for the 21st century”, it sees Edinburgh’s ex-Makar at his most playful and devilish, looking once more at human nature and finding it fatally flawed, but not without hope. You just have to look hard to find it.
For those whose reading habits include philosophy as well as literature this novel is a joy from start to finish as Butlin name checks, among others, Seneca, Plato, Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell. His central character is also called Hume, a philosophy student who uses what he learns to make points and win arguments. Those named provide aphorisms to help him through his early life, but this is not a modern take on Sophie’s World; quite the opposite as no lessons are learned despite Hume’s education, or if they are they’re soon forgotten. Continue reading
This has been a summer of unexpected treats and great new music from the well-kent and the brand new. What you are about to listen to shows this off to full effect, but then we would say that. Suffice to say that it is all killer, no filler, and this list could have been twice the length it is. However, we prefer to keep things short and sweet.
To kick us off, it’s our album of the month, and one of the best of the year. It’s Sister John’s Returned From Sea, and it’s a delight from start to finish – a proper album where each track feeds into and enhances the rest. Comparisons can be made with the albums of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, but I was also put in mind of Conor Oberst, Micah P Hinson and even Joan Baez. If the music which has become know as Americana is your sort of thing then Sister John are the band for you. But you don’t need to take my word for it as they are undergoing a short tour, with The Braemar Gallery gig promising to be extra special, so get tickets while you can. In the meantime, this is ‘He Came Down’:
On the latest podcast, Ali spoke to journalist Peter Ross about the follow-up to his 2014 book, Daunderlust: Dispatches From Unreported Scotland, (which Peter spoke to us about in a previous podcast) The Passion Of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches From Unreported Scotland. Peter goes into some of those dispatches in detail as the two discuss how Scottish football may be a microcosm of Scottish life, the importance of tradition, post-referendum Scotland, how he was accepted in so many diverse places – from grouse shoot to sex shop, and so much more. Even then they only touch upon a handful of the stories told, so if you want to know the rest you’re going to have to read the book, the SWH! review of which you can read here.
Peter is one of Scotland’s finest writers and his type of reportage journalism is increasingly rare. The essays in The Passion Of Harry Bingo are a reminder that, to paraphrase James Kelman, “the drama of ordinary people’s every day lives” will always be compelling and will tell readers more about their country, their neighbours and themselves than fiction could ever manage.
This is the 84th SWH! podcast, so if you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes 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…
..or on YouTube:
If our plans come together we’re going to have a couple of rather interesting podcasts coming soon, so keep your ear to the ground…
I’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of crime fiction lately most of which is written using short, punchy prose which drives events along – the literary version of the Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s instructions to his songwriters, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”. It’s a style which suits the substance, but, and this may just be me, as I began reading Charlie Laidlaw’s The Things We Learn When We’re Dead I found I needed a period of readjustment in terms of pace. There was some initial impatience as to who people were and what drove them. If you ever find this happening then this may work for you as well. Pour yourself a drink, find the most comfortable chair in the house, take a deep breath, and relax.
The Things We Learn When We’re Dead turned out to be the perfect novel with which to take this approach as it is a pleasure to spend time in the possible worlds Laidlaw creates. It is book which marries real life and fantasy in a manner not dissimilar to Iain Banks’ The Bridge and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark with the story split between Earthly memories and another place, one which may, or may not, be a figment of the central character’s imagination or psyche. In Laidlaw’s novel, HVN is a place just above Earth – a damaged spaceship where Edinburgh lawyer Lorna Love finds herself after her untimely and ambiguous death. As with The Bridge’s Alexander Lennox and Lanark’s Duncan Thaw, Lorna is trying to make sense of her life in what could be a dreamland, although one initially less dystopian than theirs. She has been chosen by God for reasons she has yet to understand, and which he will not divulge. In HVN God is not only male, but an ageing hippy who, while he captains the ship, may not be as in charge as he believes. Continue reading
What a difference three years makes. Peter Ross’s previous book, Daundlerust: Dispatches From Unreported Scotland was published in the Spring of 2014, a time when, in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum in September, there was a widespread sense of optimism for the future among those who saw Scottish independence as the opportunity of a lifetime, and who tended to be more vocal about it than those who did not. There was something stirring in Scotland and the stories in Daunderlust, although gathered over the years, reflected this feeling. Most of them told of people thriving and surviving, often against the odds. It celebrated individual and collective lives as the smaller yet still vital part of a larger whole. If you thought you knew what it meant to be Scottish then Peter Ross made you think again.
Cut to 2017 and the country and the people have been through a lot. It’s been emotional. The Referendum divided the nation, often friends and family, and those scars still cut deep. It’s an interesting and apposite time for Ross’s follow-up to Daunderlust, The Passion Of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches From Unreported Scotland, to arrive. It’s a more measured book, perhaps as a result of this change in the Scottish psyche. The opening chapter, ‘After The Referendum’, would suggest this is on Ross’s mind. It’s a look back at the day and the aftermath of the result and it sets the tone for the book, but only in that it accepts the importance of the vote and all that went with it, digests and attempts to comprehend what it meant and means, then moves on. And so should we, for the moment. Continue reading
The new music which made its way our way over the last month is as eclectic and unpredictable as the summer itself. There’s classic pop, alt rock, new wave, old faves, and some very welcome “new to SWH!” bands as well. It all adds up to a rather exciting soundtrack, one which will work especially well for those of you tramping up and down the streets of Edinburgh as many do this time of year. If that applies to you then SWH!’s Pick of The Fringe and Pick of The Book Festival may be of interest.
But no matter where you find yourself we hope you enjoy what you’re about to hear. Make sure you stay with it to the bottom of the page for not only one of the best songs of the summer, but a video which is a work of art in its own right.
We begin with Radiophonic Tuckshop, who are perhaps best described as an indie-pop supergroup with members whose roll call of bands includes Ette, The Martial Arts, The Owsley Sunshine, The Fast Camels and more. Their EP Running Commentary is out on Last Night From Glasgow. The title track shows that these are musicians steeped in the history of pop – opening with power chords which immediately give the listener context bringing to mind everyone from The Kinks to The Cars. The song moves on to channel Beatles and Beach Boys, but also classic Stiff Records artists such as Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Elvis Costello. Radiophonic Tuckshop take all of their influences to make music which simultaneously sounds classic yet utterly contemporary. This is ‘Running Commentary’:
From the 12th – 28th August in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens once more becomes the place for book lovers to meet, greet, and be merry as this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival takes up its annual residence. It’s an oasis of calm and conversation in a city gone daft, and it is one of SWH!’s favourite places to be. With that and much more in mind, and to help you find something just for you, here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks of what to see at this year’s book festival.
We have tried to avoid the already sold-out and high-profile to give you an alternative and achievable schedule.
FICTION’S MASTER CRAFTSMAN: James Kelman
– Fri 18 Aug 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Having said we have tried to avoid big names, the first pick is one of Scottish literature’s living legends. James Kelman is in town to talk primarily about his latest collection of short stories That Was A Shiver, and Other Stories. There is a body of thought, to which I belong, which believes that while Kelman is one of our great novelists he is an even better short story writer – a master of the art. It is a form which suits not only his style but also the content. What is unarguable is that this is a rare chance to listen to a true artist read and discuss his work. Astonishingly tickets still available at the time of writing, but I would get in there quickly to avoid disappointment. Continue reading